Despite all of the obstacles I have had to overcome throughout the years, battling PTSD was my Everest. After numerous years struggling to overcome a painful illness incurred during my military service, I met Waffles, an angel who helped me survive the most difficult year of my life.
This is my story.
Military service has always been a big part of my family. My grandfather fought in the Battle of the Bulge in WWII, my father is a retired Colonel in the U.S. Army, and two of my brothers are Army veterans as well. After 9/11, I joined Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) and started active duty after graduating from Wellesley College.
Four years of active duty in the Army and 14 months in Iraq did a lot of damage to my health and well-being. I left the military and immediately transitioned to a Wall Street sales and trading job in the aftermath of the financial crisis, which frankly compounded the issue. Those who know me would agree that I wasn’t the same. I struggled with severe abdominal pain, relentless and debilitating migraines, physiological issues, depression, anger, and I struggled to find a new purpose in my life.
Seeking escape from the “concrete jungle” stress of New York City, my husband and I moved to a serene neighbourhood of San Francisco in 2014. This was the first step in my health journey, but there was a long road ahead of me.
My fight or flight response was on a hair trigger, and my adrenal gland would pump cortisol into my body without much provocation. Occasionally, but far too frequently I’m afraid to admit, I broke down and my family and my husband helped put me back together.
After countless appointments, different doctors, medications and treatments, chronic stress seemed to be the only consistent diagnosis. After almost ten years of trying my best to hide my “weakness,” San Francisco Kaiser Permanente’s Intensive Chronic Pain Management Program encouraged me to finally accept that I had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Acceptance was a therapy that I had yet to try. As I look back, my healing journey truly began once I acknowledged my illness and listened to my doctors’ requests to make my health my first priority. I left my job and immediately started to plan how I could try to calm down my nervous system.
Fast forward to the summer of 2015, when I met my angel: Waffles, a 13-pound ball of furry puppy happiness. She helped me to focus on the present and realize that we were “in it” together as a team—she curled up next to me when I was in pain and forced me to get fresh air and exercise on days I wanted to stay indoors. And, she brought out the loving side in me that I feel had been missing for years. I started to connect with new people in a positive way—all because of her. (I now call this the “Waffles introduction.”) She comforted me when I needed it most, and never failed to put a smile on my face. Her love is contagious—she spreads laughter and happiness to anyone she meets. She reminded me every day to embrace life and search for love and joy.
Out of all of the various therapies I tried, surfing, traveling to tropical beach paradises, and spending time with Waffles were the most significant moments of self-reflection and growth. After speaking with a close mentor of mine in the finance industry regarding my departure from JPMorgan, he was thrilled to hear that I was taking time to heal and told me, “Sometimes you need a catalyst event to push you to achieve your fullest potential, and you definitely have to focus on health. You have to take care of you so that you can be the best ‘you’ for others.” I was beyond touched.
Throughout my healing journey, I have often reflected on his thoughtful and kind words of wisdom. He was absolutely right. This healing journey transformed not only my health, but my entire life. I found my passion in helping others deal with similar invisible suffering. In turn, I became healthier and stronger for myself and as an advocate for them.
My hope is that by sharing my story and my struggle to find a cure, I will help instil strength and courage for those who are also struggling to recover from PTSD—you are not alone. Those fighting to recover from PTSD need more help and resources. And, from my experience, stress disorders, chronic stress and PTSD insinuate that PTSD, depression, anxiety etc. are a choice—encouraging the shame aspect towards those who a) have the illness and b) can’t recover despite all of their efforts; they feel that they are failing. I believe more people would seek help if PTSD was titled differently—something that highlighted the need for repair.
Throughout the past year of raising Waffles, I discovered that I wasn’t alone in this love that I felt for her—that there were other women that were as passionate about their dogs as I was, who wanted to include their dogs in their daily lives. Being Waffles’s mama, I’ve also learned many of the unique traits of poodle-mix breeds. So every time another doodle mama shared a similar silly anecdote, trait, mannerism, and/or story, how their doodle was helping her health and/or relationship (out of the 1000+ submitted stories), I knew that this breed (and all breeds) have a unique story to share. We started to work on Raising a Doodle—with the goal to share the stories of other breeds as well in future books.
In spring 2016, I was thrilled to be accepted into the Stanford Ignite program for entrepreneurs, and it afforded me the opportunity to build out my initial concept and develop it with the incredible business school faculty at Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Puppy Mama, Inc. was born. Our mission is to advocate for a pet-friendly world and for those in need to discover canine therapy. At Puppy Mama, we are developing a community—a safe place for women to share their stories of how their dogs have saved their lives, and we will encourage this community to rate businesses, restaurants, bars, transportation, and workspaces according to their dog-friendliness. Through power by numbers, we believe businesses will change their policies to enable our best friends to join us in our daily lives.
Canine therapy is very helpful for many illnesses—not just PTSD. While with Waffles, every interaction we have had together with other people was (and remains) positive and joyful, and I’ve learned how powerful building a positive community could be for others. She inspired me to start our loving and compassionate community, and a safe and supportive place for other women coping with pain to share their stories—a place where they were heard, understood and welcomed.