Monday, July 4, 2016

A Different Kind of Independence

         Between food, fireworks, and friends there is a lot I look forward to each Fourth of July as we celebrate Independence Day.

         I love my country. I am thankful for my country. I strive to be aware of what the price was and is for the freedoms I enjoy every day. The cost of independence is not an easy one.

        As I am looking back at the many milestones happening in my life I find it fitting that this Independence Day marks one year since I brought my service dog, Jenny, home to be my forever companion. Jenny is a huge symbol of my personal independence.

        For two years I struggled through anxiety, depression,  medications, hallucinations, psychotic symptoms, misdiagnosis, and hospital admissions. I felt surrounded by darkness and could not see any spark of hope. I would be hospitalized almost every six months just to get stable enough to come back home and try and deal with the mess inside my head. I traveled from doctor to doctor, no one knowing what was wrong with me, everyone throwing different medications at me. One day, a nurse practitioner made a suggesting that would change everything: a dog.

         My loving grandparents got my sweet little Yorkie, Oliver for me. With Oliver came hope. I loved him with emotion deeper than anything I had felt in a long time. He was able to pull me out of episodes and comfort me like nothing had in over a year.

         Oliver continues to be a huge blessing in my life, however as time went on my family and I realized I needed something that I could have outside the walls of my home.

          When the idea of a service dog was first brought up I went back and forth. I didn't know if I was "bad enough" to be able to have one. When my Junior year started and I only made it a week and a half before going back on Home Study I knew I was ready to pursue a service dog.

          This meant I would have to share my story also. Up until this time I did not like to talk to anyone about what I was experiencing. I was embarrassed and ashamed. Thankfully, the people in my life and community rallied around me and became a huge part of why I was able to get a service dog so quickly. Sooner than we all expected the email came one day that Jenny was ready for me. All I remember that day is hugging my dad while we both cried.

          A few days later my mom and I headed up to San Diego for two weeks of Handler Training where I learned how to work with Jenny and she learned how to work with me. At the end of training, on the July 4, 2015 I brought Jenny home with me as my forever companion.

          Jenny has been such an enormous blessing in my life. We work together and flow together 24/7
as if we were one and the same. Since bringing Jenny home I have become more stabilized and received the correct diagnosis and medication. Last month we were able to walk the stage together as I graduated high school. A feat I never could have done without her. Sometimes Jenny knows me better than I know myself.

          This doesn't mean that I don't still have issues. I do. I am on medication and I have things I am still working through in therapy. I use my coping skills and techniques to help me live. I have to fight hard every single day for my mental health, but Jenny meets me part way.

          Together we stand. Together we live. Together we thrive.

Commencement Speech

This is the speech I had the opportunity and privilege to give at my high school graduation last month.

The theme given to us for this year’s graduation is “We fly high.” I chose the word “given” carefully because like many things in our past twelve years of school, this theme was given to us. We’ve been fortunate to have family members, administration, and teachers pushing our development forward to get us to where we are today. Tomorrow, when we walk out the school gates for the last time that aid is over. We are adults now. If we are going to progress and move forward any more in our lives it will be up to us to make that happen.
Our theme of “we fly high” certainly has the potential to be true, but it will not be for all of us. It is our choice to either fly or fall.
A few years ago I found myself falling fast. A battle with anxiety and depression was controlling my life and threatening my ability to graduate on time. The days I was not in school outnumbered the days that I was. Thankfully my amazing family and a few great teachers helped me be able to succeed. I've learned a lot from the past four years here at Independence and I found that the most important lessons did not come from within the pages of textbooks. The time I spent in AVID taught me that if I wanted to advance I had to do it through my own individual determination and the Forensics program and my amazing coaches taught me how to speak and be heard. Those are the lessons I will forever carry with me.

Life is not meant to be easy. Growing hurts, but we each have it within us to soar. When an obstacle presents itself go around it, climb over it, crawl under it if you have to but move past it and you will fly high.