Hello! My name is Katie! I am an animal lover, a nature lover, hiking enthusiast, a yogi, wedding photographer, nanny, a student to become a therapist, a bereaved fiance, Suicide loss survivor, an Ankylosing Spondylitis Warrior, and a free spirit… This is the story of my journey to health and healing.
I was born and raised in the Sunny, hot, valley of Palm Springs. Yes, I am technically a valley girl. ( I can do the valley girl accent on command, in case you were wondering.) My parents were high school sweethearts and had my sister, my brother, and myself in their 30s. They valued kindness, family, and education above all else. We attended a nondenominational private school from 1st grade to 12th grade. Our school community was very tight knit, to say the least. I was 1 of 12 students in my graduating class. After I graduated high school, my parents and I moved up to beautiful Northern California and I got my first taste of anonymity in community college. I studied acting at first, and wanted to become an actress in the theater. However, I never desired the fame or the lifestyle that accompanied such a trade. Not that the odds of actually making it were ever in my favor. I took a few psychology classes, and found it fascinating. I was determined to switch my major to psychology and become a therapist. I was talked out of it, however, due to my lack of focus in my early years of college. I always prioritized my friendships, relationships, and life experiences over my academic accolades. That, and my free spirit and creative nature, prevented me from thriving in school in my younger years. So even though I had the passion and desire to help people through therapy, I was scared and let my “I’m not good enough” fear get in the way of pursuing my passion.
A few years in to school, I took a photography class and fell in love. I wanted to travel the world taking landscapes and photographing people. I finally felt like I found my calling, a way to feed my creative spirit while getting paid. An acquaintance of mine (later to become my best friend, Vanessa) saw my photos on Myspace (does anyone else remember the days of spending countless hours perfecting your Myspace profile?) and hired me to photograph her wedding. Along with propelling me into what would be my future career, the experience also brought many friends into my life. Two of which are my very best friends, my soul mates, my “beasties”. While doing photography on the side, I needed a full time gig. My love for working with children brought me to my work as a nanny. I went back to school and studied Early Childhood Education and became a preschool teacher. While I loved my work, I still felt something was missing.
My life with Andy…
In 2013, I met Andy on a dating app. We bonded over our love for animals, nature, the mountains, hiking, and our passion for photography. Andy lived in the Bay area and I was living in Folsom, Ca. For the first year of our relationship, we commuted and we never spent a weekend apart. A few months in to our relationship, Andy and I photographed my brother’s wedding and we realized how much we loved working together. That was when we decided to combine our photography companies, and we were off. He had the technical skills, I had the creative eye, and we both had the passion for photography. Without sounding too cheesy, we completed each other. (I know, I know, barf right?) My weaknesses were his strengths, and visa versa. We both had to sacrifice a lot in those first years, we booked photography jobs for little to no money to build our portfolio, and to buy new gear. We struggled a lot in the early days of our company, but we knew it would pay off one day. Anytime he wanted to quit, I reminded him of the reward, and anytime I wanted to quit, he reminded me that it would all be worth it in the long run. We were the dream team.
We moved in together and built a beautiful life on an acre of land. We built a beautiful home full of love and created a little family together. We rescued cats, dogs, and chickens. We made art and music and traveled out to nature as often as we could. We built each other up professionally and reached new heights together. Our relationship wasn’t perfect (no one’s is) but it was magical. Our foundation of loyalty, trust, and honesty was unlike any we’d ever experienced. We had no secrets and knew each other at our very best, and very worst. Our stubborn natures could lead to us bickering, but we always had each other’s back and loved each other more deeply than we knew was possible.
In October of 2017, I planned a trip for Andy and I to Burney Falls with our friends, Tessa and Tyson. On one of the first days there, we decided to do Andy and my favorite activity; hike to a waterfall. When we arrived at the bottom of the waterfall, with sunbeams radiating down on us through a cloud filled sky, Andy got down on one knee. He asked me to help him change a lens and I bent down to help. He pulled out a blue box wrapped in a white ribbon and he said, “would you do me the honor of being stuck with me for the rest of your life?” I couldn’t believe this was ACTUALLY happening to me, the moment I waited for my whole life and with a man I loved so deeply and respected with such fierce loyalty. I thought it was a joke at first and kept saying “Are you serious? Really?” He finally said “Yes I am serious, will you marry me?” I started crying and hugged him. He said, “So is that a yes?” I laughed and said, “Yes of course I will marry you. I love you.”
I am so thankful that our friends Tessa and Tyson captured this moment for us in photographs and videos that I will forever cherish. Andy and I decided to have a 2 year engagement, a decision I will always regret. Little did I know that a little over a year, Andy would take his life and I would never have the fortune of calling him my husband.
Andy’s struggle with depression…
This is my story so I will not share his personal details, but it is important to note that Andy always struggled with anger issues and depression from unresolved childhood trauma. Andy was a passionate, outgoing, fun loving, jovial soul, but he had a darkness that would sometimes creep in to even his happiest moments. I begged him to get counseling so many times but due to a poor childhood experience with a psychologist, he refused.
Christmas 2018 was brutal for us…
In November of 2018, after years of dealing with chronic pain and failed treatments, I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis. Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) is an autoimmune disease that attacks your spine and large joints. It can cause spinal fusion and hip (SI) joint deterioration. Some people have an aggressive and progressive form of the disease that leaves them in chronic pain, and essentially crippled. While others find treatment that helps them and allows them to lead relatively normal (yet modified) lives. One day my disease got so bad that I couldn’t walk, stand up, go to the bathroom, or even get dressed by myself. Andy was an amazing caretaker (taking me to endless ER visits, trips to Napa to see my Rheumatologist, and always taking care of me when I couldn’t get out of bed or lift something heavy) and I knew he took my diagnosis just as hard as I did. We were terrified what my cureless, potentially debilitating, disease would mean for the future of my health, my life, and our company. I told Andy that I know he didn’t sign up for this and told him that if he wanted to walk away and find a healthy partner that he wouldn’t have to take care of, I completely understood. He sent me a text that read: “I just want you to know that I would never leave you because of a sickness. So don’t feel like I’m gonna run just because shit gets hard.”
As if my diagnosis wasn’t stressful enough, in December, our beloved dog, Symba, of only 5.5 years, became extremely ill. He stopped eating and withered away before our eyes. He started having neurological issues, was having seizures, and eventually had a stroke. We took him to countless vet visits and drained our bank accounts in a desperate attempt to find answers that would return him to the healthy loving dog he was just months before. After weeks of watching him suffer and trying to get him to eat, we started to realize it might be his time. After a very awful stroke, we had to put him down. It was heartbreaking for us. We once again bonded in our loving of him and our deep missing of him. We both said it felt as if a piece of us, a huge part of our family, had died. Andy told me that drinking helped ease his pain, a cry of depression I wish I had heard more clearly. He started withdrawing from social situations (feigning the flu to avoid meetings and family gatherings) and even began drinking on weekdays, something that was very out of his character.
The night I will never forget…
On January 13th, 2019, we decided to have someone over that we thought was a friend (she unfortunately turned out to be the opposite of a friend to Andy and I, and betrayed us in a very cruel way). Andy had said that he had already had several beers when she arrived and told us to take shots. We all took a few shots for Symba, our dog, and we quickly noticed Andy was acting very strange. Andy had taken a pain pill and was extremely intoxicated (according to what I witnessed which was also later confirmed by the toxicology report) and we kept asking Andy what was going on with him. We jokingly asked Andy what he was on and kept saying “what has gotten into you tonight?” Even when Andy drank, he typically had a reserved nature, he didn’t like to be out of control. But that night, he seemed uncharacteristically and euphorically happy.
The moment we were alone, however, something snapped in him and he went from the happiest I have ever seen him, to the angriest I have ever seen anyone. I still want to keep parts of that night private, out of respect for Andy’s memory, but he was filled with a rage I had never seen. It was beyond terrifying and disorienting. I looked into his eyes and it was as if he was gone, a temporary break in reality. In the heat of a moment, after an outburst of rage, Andy took his life. He ended his life with his shotgun, right in front of me. I know that if he had one more second to think with a clear head, he never would have done that. I’ll never know if it was his depression, the sleepless nights leading up to that night, if he blacked out from being under the influence, or quite possibly a terrible combination of all the above, that lead to his impulsive act.
I can’t explain to you the horror of that night and I don’t wish to. I will simply say that I will never again take for granted the fragility of life. I will never be able to unsee what I saw and unfortunately I am now left with my PTSD to deal with. Suicide is a beast all of it’s own. It destroys everyone it touches for a time and it rips people apart. The hardest part of suicide is the placement of anger and blame. So many people want to find someone else to blame. After all, the person responsible is now gone. How can you blame someone that you miss with every fiber of your being? It’s all too common for people to lash out to those closest to those that are gone and try to assign blame. Unfortunately when the act is as impulsive as Andy’s suicide was, there is no way to have seen it coming and therefore no way to prevent it. If you are dealing with suicide loss, I beg you to not blame yourself or others. I beg you to take time to heal and surround yourself with positive people that offer a helping hand. Please avoid toxic people that want to latch on the drama, my therapist calls them crisis seekers. (It was so crazy to see people that had only hung out with Andy a handful of times suddenly insert themselves in the situation as if they were family, they loved the attention and sympathy they received.)
I miss Andy more than words as I know so many of us do. His death has touched the lives of SO MANY. I wish he could see how deeply he was loved by myself, my family, his family, our friends, and so many people he came into contact with over the years.
This is my story of hope, healing, and my journey to health after the most tragic loss I have ever experienced. I have seen the darkest of days and because I have an amazing support system, I have been able to find tiny rays of light in the most difficult times. A lot of times, I am not okay, and that’s okay. At times, I don’t want to get out of bed and can’t even check emails because of overwhelming anxiety. But some days, I go out and have a laugh with my family and my friends, and those days make the hard days worth it. There is always another day and a light that can shine through the darkness.
Through therapy, EMDR treatment, meditation, exercise, and lots of soul searching, I am healing my heart and finding hope for the future. Thank you for reading about my journey. I hope to offer hope to anyone going through something similar. Or even to offer solidarity so we realize we aren’t alone in our suffering. I have always valued my “wealth” on the quality of my connections with those I hold dearest, so why not use this blog as a means to connect to even more people. Stay tuned for more of my journey…
Thank you for sharing your story. I appreciate your openness and honesty.
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Thank you for reading it, Sara!
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