Before he became a Taliban prisoner, before he wrote in his journal "I am the lone wolf of deadly nothingness," before he ever joined the Army, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was discharged from the U.S. Coast Guard for psychological reasons, said close friends who were worried about his emotional health at the time.
The 2006 discharge and a trove of Bergdahl's writing — the handwritten journal along with essays, stories and emails provided to the Washington Post — paint a portrait of a deeply complicated and fragile young man who was by his own account struggling to maintain his mental stability from the start of basic training until 2009 when he walked off his post in eastern Afghanistan.
"I'm worried," he wrote in one journal entry before he deployed. "The closer I get to ship day, the calmer the voices are. I'm reverting. I'm getting colder. My feelings are being flushed with the frozen logic and the training, all the unfeeling cold judgment of the darkness."
"I will not lose this mind, this world I have deep inside," he wrote a few pages later. "I will not lose this passion of beauty."
"Trying to keep my self togeather," he wrote at another point, using his often unorthodox spelling. "I'm so tired of the blackness, but what will happen to me without it. Bloody hell why do I keep thinking of this over and over."
On June 9, two weeks before he walked away, Bergdahl sent an email to a friend.
"l1nes n0 t g00 d h3rE. tell u when 1 ha ve a si coure 1ine about pl/-¼ns," read the partly coded message, one of Bergdahl's many references to unspecified plans and dreams of walking away — to China, into the mountains, or, as he says at one point, into "the artist's painted world, hiding from the fields of blood and screams, hidden from the monster within himself."
Several days after he vanished, a box containing his blue spiral-bound journal, his Apple laptop, a copy of the novel Atlas Shrugged, military records and other items arrived at the home of his close friend Kim Harrison, whom Bergdahl designated in his Army paperwork to receive his remains.
Harrison said she shared the journal and computer files with the Post because she is concerned about the portrayal of Bergdahl as a calculating deserter, which she contends is at odds with her understanding of him as a sensitive, vulnerable young man.
Bergdahl's parents declined to be interviewed about their son's writings and mental health.