By Mike Jiggens
April 2, 2019 – The head groundskeeper at Boston’s Fenway Park has written a new book that chronicles his experiences with post-traumatic stress disorder and serves as an inspirational story for others suffering from PTSD. The book, by David Mellor, is called One Base at a Time: How I Survived PTSD and Found My Field of Dreams.
Mellor shares with readers not just a compelling chronicle of his traumatic experiences, but also first-person insights on the importance of finding help to overcome the worst of what life throws at you.
Buster Olney, a columnist for ESPN: The Magazine, who wrote the foreword to One Base at a Time, called Mellor’s story, “One of baseball’s most inspirational stories.”
In 1981, Mellor suffered a freak accident when a car pinned the then-18-year-old against a wall outside a McDonald’s, tearing up his knee and ending the pitching prospect’s big-league hopes. Even more shocking, in 1995, Mellor was working on the field as a groundskeeper for the Milwaukee Brewers when a driver with a history of mental illness busted her car through a security gate and ran him down on the warning track.
These and many other traumas and dozens of surgeries recounted by Mellor left him physically and psychologically scarred for decades, and triggered in him a malady that wouldn’t be diagnosed for decades: post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Mellor suffered mood swings, irritability, restlessness, extreme sensitivity, screaming nightmares and more.
“David’s long battle with PTSD and chronic debilitating pain, all while he worked a demanding job full time, is a powerful story that will help many who suffer silently with these conditions,” Prof. Padma Gulur, MD, vice chair for operations and performance at Duke University’s Department of Anesthesiology, said. “You cannot help but be captivated and inspired by his road to recovery, fueled by a determination to never give up, never give in.”
Tom Werner, the chairman of the Boston Red Sox, said, “This is a powerful memoir, taking David from his days as a potential big league pitcher through the time when, after his dreams came to a traumatic halt, he battled PTSD and eventually returned to the diamond after conquering his demons. It is an inspiring story, and I encourage all baseball fans to read this motivating book.”
Mellor said he felt ashamed as he struggled through PTSD in the days before his diagnosis: “I assumed that I was just weak and wondered why it was that I couldn’t handle everything and move on.”
Then, by chance, Mellor read a magazine feature on PTSD. He instantly recognized his own condition in the description. He said, “I started ticking off the symptoms that had haunted me for almost 30 years. Involuntary trembling? Sometimes. Irritability? Often. Restlessness? Yes. Depression? Absolutely. Nightmares? Always. Insomnia? Definitely. Emotional numbness? Yes. Sensitivity to noise? Yes! A tendency to seek relief in alcohol? I had!”
Mellor said, “I had always thought PTSD was a condition only soldiers who had dealt with the horrors of war could have, but today we understand that PTSD can be caused by all sorts of trauma, from warfare to assault, from sexual abuse to being in a car accident. I went nearly three decades before I made the connection between my symptoms and PTSD.”
He found great relief in finally understanding what he had been suffering from all those years. “There was a lot of fear but there was something else – hope. For the first time ever, I thought I might have some idea about what was wrong with me, that there may be a way to stop the nightmares and panic attacks, and that I might finally become the husband and father I wanted to be.
“Before the diagnosis,” Mellor said. “I worried that, if anyone found out how messed up I was inside, I’d be viewed as crazy or soft. I was clinically depressed, and for a long time I opted to go it alone.”
To hide his condition, Mellor worked long hours to exhaust himself, then went home and drank increasing amounts of beer, then fell asleep listening to the television as loud as he could so if he woke up screaming in a nightmare, which was a regular occurrence, his wife and daughters would attribute the sound to the TV and not to him.
Mellor urges those who think they might be suffering from PTSD to get help immediately: “I wish I had dealt with all my emotions sooner, because I let them fester inside me and grow to a point where they were bigger, stronger, and much worse in my mind than they really were. I let these emotions control me for too long, hurting everyone closest to me.”
He cautioned, “It is important to understand, for anyone beginning PTSD treatment or any other kind of psychotherapy, that positive results are not instantaneous. Your first doctor and first method of treatment might not be ideal matches. Each case is unique, as is each doctor and each treatment protocol. The process itself is progress. To that end, it’s critical to give the process a chance and allow for the fact that you might have to change doctors or treatments.
“For someone just opening up and coming forward for the first time, this can be incredibly difficult to accept,” which Mellor said he experienced himself. “Years before, I had seen a psychiatrist a single time and never returned. Fortunately, my more recent experience with pain management at Massachusetts General Hospital taught me that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to medicine. It’s like dieting or exercising. You can’t lose all the weight or build all the muscle in a day or a week or a month.”
Mellor explained, “I wrote this book so others won’t suffer as long as I did, and those around them won’t suffer either. I want this book to be the start of a life-changing journey of healing for those who are suffering from PTSD. There is help out there.
“To all who suffer from PTSD, know this: In spite of it all, today, against all odds, I am making progress and you can, too.”
A key part of Mellor’s recovery, which he discusses in his book, came about thanks to the introduction of his service dog, Drago, into his life – a story featured on ESPN.
“Drago has had a powerful and life-changing impact on me,” Mellor said. “He is always by my side, on and off the field.”
Mellor concluded, “I will continue to take the same approach that has carried me this far: One step at a time; one base at a time. It is never too late to take that first step.”