meeting adversity with companionship
In a Pursuit of Fresh Air
By: Kate Speer
Kate is a passionate writer, a longtime friend of Skida, and dog enthusiast. Kate has two service dogs, Tugboat and Waffle. A skilled writer, speaker and marketing professional, Kate writes with brazen honesty about mental health and her past experiences with a decade-long, psychosis-inducing misdiagnosis. Kate lives in Vermont with her husband, Dave and their two pups.
My family didn’t go to church. We went to the mountains. They taught me to be me - wild, bold, challenging, unabashedly myself, and worth every single moment of discomfort and challenge. Mountains were both a manifestation of my humanity and my greatest teachers.
When I was misdiagnosed at 18 with Bipolar Disorder, the medications stole many things from me. They didn’t just take my mind or my twenties though. They took my body too. Originally an athlete recruited to play lacrosse at a D1 school, my fortitude and athleticism were somehow gone, almost overnight.
In place of weekends spent climbing mountains and family vacations in the Cascades or Whites, I found myself on the bathroom floor violently nauseous from medication side effects or in a locked psych unit as I battled a bout of psychosis.
I often wonder how I did it – how I survived like that for a decade. But the truth is, it wasn’t revolutionary & it certainly wasn’t anything miraculous. I just kept going, like you always do after a false summit or exhaustion-induced sandwich break. And after a decade of persistence and almost landing in a locked psychiatric unit in perpetuity, I was granted a second chance at life. A doctor discovered that my symptoms were not the result of Bipolar Disorder but instead, side effects of the very medications I was taking for the condition which I did not actually have.
I took this second chance at life and threw everything I had at it – grit, tenacity and so much gratitude. I also took a chance and got a dog, Waffle, to join me as I fought my way off disability and towards a future worth living. Trained in cortisol alerts and PTSD tasking, she opened door after door and soon enough, she also opened back up the possibility of trailhead after trailhead.
"I also took a chance and got a dog, Waffle, to join me as I fought my way off disability and towards a future worth living. Trained in cortisol alerts and PTSD tasking, she opened door after door and soon enough, she also opened back up the possibility of trailhead after trailhead."
We’ve spent the greater part of the last 8 years together in pursuit of fresh air and adventure. Each day outside holds something I never thought possible – true freedom.
A couple of weeks back, my family & I climbed Mount Moosilauke — it’s a short hike for my fam — a nice 10-mile loop we packed into an afternoon. At the top, the breeze was ripping so my parents & sister began to descend before Waffle, Tugboat (her successor and our newest pack member) & I did. But we don’t mind the breeze or the wind. We don’t mind the thunderstorms approaching. No, we don’t mind at all because together, we got my body back and my mind back too.
And finally, finally, I have my mountains again and I know that they gave me my stubborn fight to keep going no matter the rage of the weather, the beast of the climb, or the hell of the doubt the mind conjures at every single heavy step."
Here's how you can help 🐾
During the month of May, we are donating a portion of all dog bandana proceeds to Foliage Retrievers Service Dogs, a non-profit that trains psychiatric service dogs for civilians facing PTSD.