• Courtney Phillips

My story of healing – Michael Bassett

Updated: Apr 2, 2019

Micheal Bassett suffers from complex PTSD, anxiety disorder and bipolar disorder stemming from years of military service and a traumatic incident while deployed. He’s been a fighter since childhood and continued to fight his demons as he struggled to find care. Michael’s found “freedom, health and happiness” again with the help of his friends, wife, meditation and his motorcycle.

Learn more about his story of healing below:

Tell me about yourself. I joined the Army in 1998 and proudly served as a Soldier, contractor and civil servant in many overseas and “Inside-the-Beltway” positions. I served in every position on M1A1 Abrams tanks then progressed to reconnaissance, information warfare, public diplomacy, public affairs and military intelligence. My service ended on honorable terms due to medical reasons in March 2018 because I could no longer perform my duties due to my disabilities.

My story: I grew up a very determined fighter who defied the odds and excelled at everything I did. As a teenager, We were so poor that I delivered newspapers and worked in cornfields to survive. I was constantly bullied for being severely underweight and dirty in class. However, I still managed to earn a scholarship to Dan Gabel’s Technique and Training Camp for wrestling and was selected as part of the prestigious “Dirty Dozen” team.

During my career, I was selected to deploy as an attachment to the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment by the commanding general for my performance in the field. I was personally selected to be part of the Army Chief of Staff’s special security team for a deployment. I was continually promoted ahead of my peers, and I led my platoon to win division Top Tank Platoon despite being the youngest overall platoon in the division.

As a contractor, I briefed politicians, ambassadors and intelligence community senior leaders, while launching major international programs -- some received international recognition and were highly commended by senior leaders.

What happened to cause your anguish? Many years ago, I was selected for an extremely challenging and confidential mission on the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). However, things went horribly wrong. Many in my small squad left the Army or went AWOL [absent from one’s post without intent to desert] because of this experience. I had what was diagnosed as “a psychotic break” and attempted suicide. I was rescued and hospitalized for several weeks.

Unfortunately, I was unable to snap out of this psychosis, and I was medevaced to Brooke Army Medical Center, in San Antonio, where I spent a year in rehabilitation. At that time, I was medically discharged from Active Duty and given a 100% disability rating from the VA.

From there, I went into another rehabilitation program but continued to work as a contractor as I struggled through college and graduate school. I was able to graduate from college with a 3.74 GPA and continue working. However, I was caught in a deadly cycle where my anxiety attacks were debilitating and triggered my PTSD, which triggered the spikes and dips of bipolar mania and depression. One of my symptoms constantly triggered another, and I struggled to stay balanced, or “flatlined” as I call it.

During that period, I became obsessed with resolving the Korean War, as the DMZ was the location where my injuries first occurred. I planned numerous public diplomacy projects, information warfare projects and policy briefings as a contractor -- with the grandiose and delusional hopes that resolving the Korean conflict would also resolve my personal conflicts. Instead, some of my projects were unsuccessful and only made my issues worse.

Luckily, a Marine veteran that I met in college took me under his wing and has helped to keep me alive ever since. I also met my current wife during my graduate school and my contractor years. She’s helped me navigate away from that conflict, and after I became more balanced, I started working more broadly in public affairs and military intelligence as a civil servant. Unfortunately, these positions proved to trigger my issues again and I suffered a nervous breakdown, despite taking medications as instructed, receiving regular therapy and being afforded reasonable accommodations. I finally resigned for medical reasons and was totally lost.

What was the instance that caused you to realize that you needed to seek care?

After resigning from the government because I couldn't find recovery in that line of work, my wife and I travelled to Thailand where were spent the better part of a month meditating in the jungle and mountains with Buddhist monks. We spent time on the beach. I was broken, lost and hopeless, so I applied for Social Security, but I was denied several times. That devastated me to the core. It was as if they didn’t believe I had injuries, because they could not see them. I actually begged the VA for a lobotomy and told the Social Security Administration judge I’d rather be a double amputee than suffer from the illnesses I had. It then became my thinking that “drastic times called for drastic measures.” All I wanted was to heal and live a normal life. So, I took drastic measures to not only recover but to find a new path in life.

What does your recovery look like? I spent several weeks at an undisclosed location with a best friend trying some mild-altering substances -- smoking hashish, eating psilocybin mushrooms -- and practicing yoga and meditation. This short period had a profoundly healing effect on me. I was not only able to move past my trauma and let the Korean War go, but I was able to focus more on loving myself and seeing all the beauty that existed in the world and in everything around me. I laughed naturally for the first time in ages. I felt deeply appreciative and grateful for life. I wanted to find freedom and feel constant love, health and happiness. I actually even went vegan for a month but had to start eating meat again because I did it wrong and got really anemic.

I returned feeling a renewed connection with nature and started landscaping and decorating my house. I rescued several cats and made new friends who’d had similar experiences with trauma and were working to end the stigma of mental health. For the first time in my life, I felt comfortable in my own skin and comfortable being honest with my family, friends, and the rest of the world about what I’d been through all these years.

My Marine brother had been watching my transformation from afar and convinced me to take a motorcycle safety course. I’d always been a little scared of motorcycles, but I went in spite of my fears. From the moment I put that helmet on and rode on two wheels, I felt a clear-headedness, freedom and love that I hadn’t ever known. I immediately bought a Dyna and just as quickly upgraded to a Street Glide.

I was also very blessed to have had a fantastic psychotherapist whom I met with on a weekly basis over the course of several years thanks to the Veterans Choice Program. She worked wonders in terms of helping me be comfortable in my own skin and manage my conditions in everyday life situations. I couldn’t have made the progress I did without her.

Where are you now?

I have been clean and sober since my trip to the undisclosed location and am feeling happier and healthier than ever. I signed up for a Harley Davidson tech program with the support of my wife and friends and am doing that for the next year. I’ve planned several gorgeous rides through the beautiful Southwest to raise awareness and support for veterans suffering from mental health issues and for ending the stigma. I hope my advocacy and story will help veterans suffering from mental health issues to know they can seek care, know there are other options than suicide and feel comfortable coming to terms with their issues and coming out of the closet with them so they don’t have to go through everything I went through to get themselves in a better place.

One piece of advice you would give someone in a situation like yours trying to decide whether or not to seek care:

I know how hard, painful and humiliating it is to suffer from mental health issues. But you have to know that even though it doesn’t seem like it some days, each and every one of us has value, has a purpose and is indeed loved. Remember when things get tough that you have made it through every single moment you thought was impossible. Through that you grew and became stronger. It will indeed get better. Asking for help doesn’t make you a weak person. If you need help please tell someone. Anyone. For me it was a matter of just telling two people – my wife and a Marine veteran – and those two people carried me every step of the way.

Mental Health Resources If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, don’t suffer in silence! There are free and affordable resources to help you get through these times. Here are just few options for you below:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255): Trained crisis workers are available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Your confidential, toll-free call goes to the nearest crisis center in the Lifeline national network. 

  • Some federal agencies offer resources for identifying practitioners and assistance in finding low cost health services. These include:

  • Health Resources and Services Administration works to improve access to health care. The website has information on finding affordable healthcare, including health centers that offer care on a sliding fee scale.

  • Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has information on its website about benefits and eligibility for its programs and how to enroll.

  • The National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus website also has lists of directories and organizations that can help in identifying a health practitioner.

  • Mental Health and Addiction Insurance Help from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers resources to help answer questions about insurance coverage for mental health care.

  • Service members and Veterans have unique needs. https://www.mentalhealth.gov/get-help/veterans provides for their specific needs.

  • National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) offers peer-to-peer support groups in most locations. This in-person group experience provides the opportunity for mutual support and positive impact. You can experience compassion and reinforcement from people who relate to your experiences. 

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