EFFINGHAM — A man who has battled post-traumatic stress disorder is walking across the country to bring awareness to the condition.
Stephen Meyers, 44, of Kansas City, Missouri, a retired U.S. Army soldier and veteran of the wars of Iraq (2005-2007) and Afghanistan (2013) made a stop at the Suzette Brumleve Memorial Effingham Public Library Friday.
Meyers was diagnosed with PTSD in 2015, but struggled for seven years before that. His goal is to help those suffering in silence with the condition.
He started walking for two reasons. One as part of his continuing care plan. He took up walking last January and was inspired by his grandfather, who passed last year in January. Meyers’ grandfather walked 10 miles a day until he reached 100.
He started walking three miles a day and by last Thanksgiving worked his way up to 25 miles a day. He started his 6,000-plus-mile trek on Feb. 15.
Meyers said his mileage can vary day to day. Near St. Louis he walked 26-27 miles in a day and last Thursday he walked 17 miles.
“Mileage is important but not as important as reaching out and talking to people,” Meyers said.
Along the way, he has stayed the night at a firehouse, hotels and in people’s homes. Meyers said people have been donating things along the way. Someone paid for him to spend the night at the Holiday Inn when he was in Effingham.
His primary purpose for the walk is to raise awareness, while a secondary purpose is to raise money. The first $10,000 he raises will be going to the Disabled American Veterans and money raised after that will go to the VFW, American Legion and Gary Sinise Foundation.
After leaving Effingham, Meyers was headed to see Mike Bowman in Indianapolis, a man who has helped others with journeys across the United States. From there, he will head to Jacksonville, Florida, then head back west toward Dallas, eventually making it back to Kansas City, Missouri, where he will end up around mid-August.
Meyers is going back to Kansas City so that he can spend four to six weeks with his 7-year-old son, Karl, during summer break. Toward the end of his journey is a gold line on the map which is a 118-mile stretch between Blythe and Indio, California.
Meyers said there is nothing between those cities.
“I will start my journey at midnight and see how many miles I can go,” he said.
If he needs help during that stretch, his girlfriend, who is a nurse practitioner, will be his support during that section of the trip.
The end point of the walk he hopes to make just before Thanksgiving at the USS Midway floating museum by the kissing statue in San Diego.
When he’s walking, Meyers listens to audio books on different topics, some of them on PTSD and others on mental wellness. Outfitting his clothes for the variance in temperature has been a challenge. When he started his journey, it was 18 degrees and nearing 60 when he was in Effingham last Friday.
He is currently only set up for cold weather but once he reaches Indianapolis he will start wearing clothing that is better suited for warmer weather.
Meyers also has to make sure he stays nourished.
He burned about 8,000 calories at the beginning of his trek and averages around 3,000 to 4,000 calories now. When he started the journey, he was 240 pounds with his pack and estimates that he is down to 190 now.
His preferred option for hydration is water and his meals are dependent on the weather and how rigorous the walk is that day. Meyers caloric intake is based on weather and the terrain. His food is usually bags of dried fruit and protein bars. He does supplement if he has to skip a meal.
One of the people Meyers has met on the walk is Joshua Echoff of St. Louis, who was injured in Iraq by a roadside bomb that destroyed the right hemisphere of his brain. Meyers said Echoff had to use a communication board and learn to walk, talk, eat and drink all over again.
“I don’t know if I would have had it in me to do that,” Meyers said.
When it comes to PTSD, Meyers says everyone has their own specific and individual situation. Some of the symptoms include avoidance, isolation, and being triggered by certain things.
Appearances can be deceiving when it comes to walking into a new location, according to Meyers.
“I’ll walk into a place and think it’s a hole in the wall but talk to 15 people,” he said.
Meyers is being followed by Darrin Dressler, a documentarian who is trying to capture people doing good things in the world. Meyers has spread the word of his cause through the local paper in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, Facebook, Instagram and television.
For more information on Stephen Meyers visit his website at www.ptsd-walk.com.