Author Paulo Coelho once said, “If we want to change the world, we have to go back to a time when warriors would gather around a fire and tell stories.”
Two years ago, ‘Humans of New York’ (HoNY) did a series on Headstrong’s veterans that really resonated with people and helped spread awareness about the stigma that surrounds the invisible wounds of war.
Two years later, in the spirit of the HoNY series, we are determined to bring veteran’s stories to the forefront, to lead the way in stomping out the stigma around mental health, for our community and the country as a whole.
Each week, we will highlight a veteran’s story that depicts the arc of each individual’s personal trials and triumphs. These brave veterans will range from well-known veterans to leaders in the veteran space to the very clients we serve here at the Headstrong Project.
To change the world it starts with one action, one person, one story.
Please meet Army veteran Jasper Lo
Growing up I went to a private school in Queens. Most of my friends were Black or non-white. When you grow up Asian in New York or Asian in America, you grow up afraid of people. By the time I got to high school, I was ingrained in what you would consider everyday American culture. It was intimidating and weird because I wasn’t used to being around white students. I couldn’t really hold conversations because we didn’t really have anything in common or anything to talk about. That all changed when I went to college my freshman year and joined ROTC. Going through ROTC was a confidence builder and gave me the realization that I wanted to join the military after that because — in a way — it was legitimizing. It’s like you can’t f**k with my “American-ness” now. Not to mention, around that same time people started to say, “We’re at war, but America is at the mall.” It felt immoral to ignore the fact that this was going on, so I made the decision to join the Army in 2007.
My friends and I always have this joke about the military where we say, “Individual experiences may vary”. I say that because I was a combat arms officer who got stationed at Fort Bliss in El Paso, TX. There’s not a lot out there and it felt like a hopeless place to me. Our unit wasn’t deployable, and you couldn’t transfer out. It was like a brigade that was in prison. Our command Sergeant Major ended up dying by suicide from drinking bleach. To have that violent of a death is pretty telling of what his mental state was like and the environment we were in. By the end of my time in Texas, I was pushing the limits of common sense and what was safe. I would drink a six pack of beer, a bottle of wine, and pass out. I’d wake up the next day and do the same thing. I became very self-destructive, and it’s one of the reasons I asked to see a therapist the first thing after I separated.
I ended up getting into therapy for my anxiety and depression which I didn’t realize were there until I started therapy. After separating it was the first time I allowed myself to really feel those things. A lot of my therapy has been identifying who I am, and what really helped was envisioning a better life for myself and treating myself better. I think the path to feeling better was a culmination of reconnecting with old friends, getting therapy, and writing. The writing wasn’t necessarily a cure-all, but it helped a lot. Writing poetry doesn’t really provide any answers for you but it’s therapeutic in a sense. I realize now, had I not gone through such hard times I don’t know if I’d be as creative. There’s something incredibly liberating about going through all the ups and downs and making it to this point. I’m proud of the person that I am.
To hear more stories in the coming weeks, make sure to click here and follow/like our page on Facebook.