Pain in Patriotism

There are two things just about every house in The Heartland (Indiana) have hanging up: a basketball hoop and a flag. Raised as a good old country girl, patriotism was woven into my psyche as a child. As the words of Lee Greenwood’s song, I was always, “Proud to be an American . .”

Throughout the years my patriotism has shifted in some ways and deepened in others. What started out with the faithful recitation every morning of the “Pledge of Allegiance” in elementary school, was later augmented by my history classes and the stories of my grandfather and uncles who served in WWII and Vietnam, only to be deepened by the honor of representing my country in the Olympic Games in 2004. All of these events instilled in me an overwhelming sense of pride and love for our country and what it stands for—but over the last year my innocent paradigm has shifted as I learned, like many others, that there can be immense pain in patriotism.

A year and a half my elder, my sister, Rachel, was my rival and my best friend growing up. Upon our graduations from Notre Dame, I proceeded to enter the WNBA as she found her passion in life in the Army. She fell in love with the camaraderie, purpose and challenge she found there, first becoming and Arabic linguist and then proceeding on to become a Blackhawk pilot. As I was preparing for the 2006 WNBA Finals, my sister was also preparing for battle—only the real one.

For those who have had loved ones bravely lose their lives to protect our freedom, my heart goes out to you. Thankfully, my sister was not one of them. Physically she returned a few months later to be medically discharged with severe depression and PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), but my best friend, the sister, the daughter, the wife, and the mother are in essence still missing in action.

Over the last year and a half I have watched my sister battle an opponent far greater than one that I will ever face on the court—it is the one she faces every day in her mind. The anger, frustration, doubt, hopelessness and depression are a constant reality. Although this is an extremely personal matter to me, I write because I believe it is one worthy of discussion. Soldiers returning home with physical wounds or injuries are applauded and revered (and rightfully so), yet how are the 1 in 8 soldiers who suffer from PTSD received? There is a certain stigma related to mental illness, as if it is a sign of weakness that should be only discussed in secret, if at all. I write because these men and women deserve more than isolation and silence—their service and sacrifice demands our understanding! I write because I know the pain, and severe helplessness that family members feel. I write because we all have a part in reducing the stigma that keeps so many soldiers from even admitting their symptoms or seeking help.

Admittedly, over the last year, I went through a stage of selfishness, where my patriotism was challenged. I was angered by the condition my sister returned in and frustrated at the side-effects of her service. Over time, I realized that it was not my love for this country that was challenged, but rather my childish view of what that should look like . . . I now know there is as much pain as there is pride in patriotism!

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