Sarah Paterson of the Piner High Class of 2000 is an astounding young woman who went to war and then struggled with post-traumatic stress she didn’t talk much about.
Sarah, barely 30, has just begun to tell the world about her darkest days. She’s doing it because she’s deeply pained by all the soldiers and vets who are taking their own lives.
She hopes that if GIs and vets will more speak more freely about stress, depression and thoughts of self-destruction, “perhaps we can slowly strip away the stigma surrounding mental health issues, people will get the help they need and we will see a decline in suicide.”
Sarah is a Iraq war veteran whose day job is serving as the civilian executive officer to an Army intelligence program at the Pentagon. On the side, she and a friend she served with in Iraq have just this week posted their personal stories of post-war mental distress on a new website they named Shedding the Stigma.
Sarah recounts in her online story that her rage showed itself one day in a chow hall, the moment she discovered there were no more Honey Nut Cheerios:
A fire burned inside me unlike anything I had ever felt. I wanted to scream, punch something or someone, to push over the bin of cereals. It was an anger that I had never felt. It took everything inside of me not go crazy right then and there. It was my breaking point.
She told how she came to learn that the problem was not the unavailability of her favorite breakfast cereal.
In reality my issue was about being mortared and shot at; it was about detainees describing in detail the atrocities they had committed against my brothers in uniform; it was about the endless videos of beheadings and pictures of dead burned bodies. It was about War.
She said in an email exchange from D.C. that she and her fellow vet were spurred to action by the cover story, “One a Day,” in the current TIME magazine. It reports that there were 154 U.S. military deaths in the first 155 days of 2012 – 50 percent more deaths than were suffered in combat in Afghanistan during the same period.
Sarah and her friend agreed they had to do something to demonstrate to distressed warriors that they are not alone and to encourage them to talk about and seek help with what’s haunting them.
Both wrote and posted their stories. Sarah told me, “It’s been six years since I first felt the affects of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) … It is something I never thought I would admit to openly and, uip until now, have only shared the details with closest friends and family.
“However, when I read the article in TIME I knew I needed to come forward with my story.”
The former Piner High senior-class president said the brand-new Shedding the Stigma site quickly drew more than a 1,000 views from across the country and around the world.
“I finally feel ready to talk about, and judging by the views on our site already, people are ready to listen.”
That Sarah has launched this effort against the epidemic of military suicides is all the more remarkable when you consider what else she has going on in her young life. Apart from her post at the Pentagon, she is married and has a 6-month-old daughter, and she’s pursuing a double masters.
Did I mention that the attacks of Sept. 11 occurred minutes after she recited the oath of enlistment in the army?