PUPS, POTS, and PTSD – My Journey

At one point in the process of weighing the pros and cons of a service dog I remember asking, “Am I insane to completely reorient my life around having a dog?” Before this point, it seemed bizarre that I, Kaley Faith, would take the time out of my life to waste on a dog. I have things to learn, skills to master, experiences to be had. I was graduated and working in my field (as a Foodservice Assistant at Fort Wilderness), learning to manage people, and loving it. Still on my “To-Do Someday” list included buying/raising a cow, becoming a cardiologist, opening my own gourmet hotdog business (no, I’m not joking), writing a book, and getting my Masters in theology. I HARDLY had time to sit on my butt, clicking and treating a four-legged beast whose tendencies echoed that of a toddler. I recall a time, months earlier, when I was sitting at the counter of my parent’s house watching my dad scrub some dishes, and I said “you know, I don’t think I’ll ever get a dog…unless my someday-husband wants one. Then HE can have one, but he’ll have to take care of it”. Ah, the irony. 

The thing about life though, is it’s never guaranteed to behave the way we hope. Despite my eagerness to take on the world one career at a time, I was falling apart. It was 2021, and I was doing something I loved – making food, training volunteers and staff, and getting familiarized with the ins and outs of feeding a range of 1-400 people. But simultaneously I was combatting crippling PTSD, significant anxiety, and persistent depression. Each day was a war as I faced jarring symptoms, abrupt limitations, and confusing counselor experiences that formed the undercurrent of my thoughts and emotions. Each season brought new burdens to bear, and I was beyond weary. As the chaos inside of me escalated, a new breed of struggles arose. I started having trouble standing up without a rush. My heart would race. I would get home and lay on the floor for hours. But after a year and a half of random symptoms I brushed it off. Tachycardia? Just anxiety. Glued to floor? I’m depressed. The episodes became more consistent and a mentor in my life looked me in the face and told me point blank, “You need to go get checked out”. A week after that, my counselor told me, “This doesn’t entirely feel like mental health,” and requested that I go to my doctor for a checkup. I fully intended to schedule an appointment, but it was fall season at camp and it would be at least a month before I would be able to “squeeze” it into my life. A few weeks later, I found myself in the emergency room – twice. Little did I know I was embarking on a whole new journey.

We worked through a variety of intense medical moments and tackled the list of testing, and I was found to have a positive tilt table test – the diagnostic tool for POTS. Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome. In a nutshell, it means that the body does a poor job compensating for gravity. So when the person stands up, the blood rushes down, and stays there. The heart then goes into overdrive to compensate, with the result being the classic “wow I stood up too fast” symptoms (vision goes dim, ears ring, dizzy/lightheaded), paired with a pounding heart and sometimes nausea so bad ya start dry heaving. Severity ebbs and flows. Each day I wake up not knowing if I’ll feel able-bodied, or if I’ll even be able to make it to the bathroom and back without blacking out or throwing up.

And you know what every fatigued person needs in their life? A toddler in dog form. 

I’m kidding of course. 

Over the many months of dealing with the invisible torture of living life through the lens of PTSD, I came to realize what a task-trained dog had to offer. Companionship in the moments of despair. Interactive grounding when the world no longer feels safe. Interrupting escalating triggers. Comfort after nightmares. The list goes on. But at the time (last year), I was hesitant to think too much about it, thinking these kinds of dogs were primarily reserved for veterans. But then life took a plot twist in September that caught me by surprise, and medically left me with significantly limited ability to do normal life things. I was having such a hard time with circulation and heart rate, that my parents celebrated with me the day I was able to be upright (but seated) for an entire morning without severe symptoms (nap to follow). Upon the recommendations of my cardiologist, and my literal inability to work, I stepped down from my position at camp. And with the support from my counselor, I finally decided to get myself a doggo. 

The amount of deliberation that was had surrounding this topic is borderline obsessive, but it was all in the interest of making an educated, reasonable, wise, and healthy decision – now and for the long term. In addition to the mental health-related tasks, I now realized the possibility of training for POTS alert/response as well. Alerting to swings in pulse or blood pressure before they happen so I can get to a safe place, counterbalance/stability while walking, retrieving water or salt when I am suddenly unable, and laying on my legs (called Deep Pressure Therapy) to help with blood return when I’m woozy, are all specific tasks that can be trained for POTS. 

So I was in search of the perfect dog. 1-2 years old, friendly with everyone, lower energy, good manners. A dog that I can bond with, have trained, and ultimately, a dog that I could rely on. This was not the time for pleading eyes or pitiful gazes to capture my heart – I was looking for the perfect dog. 

Though not what I initially had in mind, I ultimately chose a floppy 6-month-old rescue dog who has a temperament of gold and a whole bucket of potential. 

Despite his uncanny ability to settle anywhere, he does get spurts of puppy energy which I am learning to adore. His clompy paws, goofy antics, and adorable naps have settled in my soul. During one particularly mischievous hour, I was on my knees playing fetch, confiscating pens/dead worms/fabric, and redirecting his open mouth to the variety of chewable doggie toys. Later, he launched himself onto off-limits furniture and pancaked his body with a look of innocence yet knowing defiance….for the nth time. I paused to laugh. Mom laughed too. Never have I been faced with such a degree of loving boundary-pushing. Needless to say, I am seeing a whole new perspective on perseverance and consistency.

That squishy puppy named Goose belongs to me, and I couldn’t be prouder. He will grow up to be a confident and reliable wingman – one who is by my side in the best of times and laying next to me during the worst. He’ll get to learn who I am, I’ll get to shape who he grows up to be. And someday in the not-too-distant future, I’ll get to pack up my little boy’s stuffed lobster and send him to boarding school to learn all the important ways he gets to help me live my life well. 

Chronic illness, whether mental or physical, impacts every area of life. But even though it may interfere with my ability to do normal things, I am refusing to let it steal my quality of life. Adopting and training Goose is one way I am choosing to embrace the season that I am in and to maximize the margin. Next year we’ll be a year older. A year wiser. And we might even be a service dog and handler team that is taking on the world one day, and one symptom, at a time.

{Goose didn’t quite make it as a service dog candidate, read more about our journey here or meet my new prospect here.}

 

  • I am so excited to report that after graduating from the 3-week Pain/Symptom Rehabilitation Center at Mayo Clinic in Rochester and continuing the program at home, I am nearly 100% recovered!...

  • The Valsalva maneuver is EASILY the most fascinating thing I’ve gotten to do in this entire medical adventure. On the surface, it’s a fairly quick and easy part of autonomic testing, but underneath, it’s one of the coolest and most complicated mechanisms of the human body that I’ve encountered. ...

  • With postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (or POTS), life is already a bit of a balancing act to keep all systems running smoothly, so as I prepared for surgery this fall, I was a bit nervous about how my body might handle it. The combination of drugs, the general physical trauma to the body, the emotional burden of being a bit nervous, and the recovery process were all things on my mind. Overall, the experience had its challenges, and there are some things I’d like to share with other potsies prepping to have surgery....

Kaley
kaleywied@gmail.com
2 Comments
  • Dan Lipke
    Posted at 18:44h, 11 December Reply

    Well done Kaley. As usual, you have quite a way with words. May God bless your blog and use it/ and you, to minister to and enrich the lives of others in Christ’s name. Grampa

  • Pingback:Service Dogs - Temperament, Training, and a Goose Update - Kaley Faith
    Posted at 17:01h, 11 March Reply

    […] November of 2022, I decided I wanted to pursue getting a service dog. It was a choice I made after a year and a half of struggling a great deal with increasing mental […]

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