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Stephanie and K-9 Indie

K-9 Indie

I am a military-trained photographer, writer, editor and videographer. While in the service it was my job to help tell the Army story by documenting military missions at home and abroad. I went outside the wire with civil affairs units in Iraq as they worked to help women in Iraq become entrepreneurs, documented National Guard efforts during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and tagged along on countless missions to help showcase the important work our service members were doing. I loved the camaraderie of the military, connecting with all different types of people, and working a job where every day brought something different. I thrived in my role, earning a Meritorious Service Medal, National Guard Media award and regional Emmy award during my time. Unfortunately, like many Veterans, my service came at a cost physically, mentally and spiritually, as I was exposed to dangerous situations and lost people in my unit.
At the insistence of a good NCO who had been there before, I was seen at our combat stress clinic in Iraq, but returned home a bit different than when I left. As time progressed, I stopped doing things that I used to enjoy due to depression and panic attacks that would cause me to pass out or become paranoid or irritable. Medications weren’t helping much. I began to struggle with self-care as my depression worsened. Holding down a regular job became unsustainable, and I left my federal government career 6 months shy of tenure as I was burning through leave as quickly as I was earning it in order to accommodate my bad days. I wound up hospitalized in a psychiatric ward in 2016, and shortly thereafter was diagnosed with depression and PTSD. Since then, I have been in regular care with therapists and healthcare providers to manage medication. The anxiety, depression, panic and isolation I experience can at times make it feel that the world would be better off without me. But I live for the better days and continue to fight to be there for my kids.
Having children has been a challenge in light of all of this, but I do my best to stay present and find things that enrich their lives. Sports, activities, good schools, you name it. I have also been fortunate to have a good partner to coparent with who can pick up the slack when I’m having bad days. Still, I often struggle to do things I want to as a parent, like take my children to sports games, museums, busy shopping areas and community events, as it can be a challenge for me to be in unfamiliar/unpredictable spaces where there are a lot of people.
I moved home to Minnesota in 2022 hoping it would ease some of my stress and provide a bit of extra support. Having my mom within driving distance, and some good friends who are veterans has helped a lot. But the most helpful thing for me has been adopting my battle buddy Indie. I’ve never had a dog before, so we are both learning a lot. He is affectionate, playful, energetic, and above all loyal. Since having Indie in my life I’ve been able to do some of the things I had stopped doing– like going on walks and exploring new trails and outdoor spaces. I feel safe with him and motivated to get outside, even when the weather is bad or I am having a rough day. This is huge for me, and it has had a good effect on my well-being. Having such a devoted friend in Indie has been a huge blessing, and seeing the impact he has made has opened my eyes to the possibilities of how independent and active I can be with him by my side. With Indie, every day is an adventure and I am grateful to him for making me a more present person and active parent.
Thank you for reading my story, and thank you to Ed, Dana and the trainers at Soldier’s 6 for helping open the door for me to be part of a community again.

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