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What You Learn in the Desert and Mountains: A Q&A with Open Sky Alum Olivia

Open Sky Alumni Student

Olivia came to Open Sky after struggling with debilitating anxiety and depression for years. These challenges were severely and negatively impacting her mental health and quality of life. In this Q&A, Olivia shares how Open Sky empowered her to take control of her life and offers words of encouragement for others considering treatment.  

Open Sky Wilderness Therapy alum Olivia stands and smiles on a sunny street.

What were the challenges or issues that led you to Open Sky?

I have struggled with anxiety for years. I have been having debilitating panic attacks since third grade and developed agoraphobic tendencies and separation anxiety from my mom at a young age. I wasn’t able to do anything in high school. I eventually started having depressive episodes and couldn’t pull myself out of them. After my second attempt at my junior year in high school, I realized I needed more significant help than what my family could provide. 


How did the staff and your fellow students impact your experience at Open Sky?

My therapist was Mariah. Mariah pushed me but was also gentle with me. She let me grieve when I needed to and also empowered me to take control of my life. She is honestly the best therapist I have ever worked with. 

The field guides also had a major impact on me. They all challenged me while still supporting me and helped me learn that the things my mind tells me aren’t always true. They also made moments of wilderness fun.  

I started in an adolescent team and then spent my last two weeks in a young adult team. The adolescent team helped me learn to take uncomfortable feedback, and I really connected to the girls in my group. They pushed me to hold myself accountable and to step into independence. Going to the young adult team was the highlight of my stay. My teammates welcomed me with open arms and were very, very supportive. I didn’t know I could create bonds with others that fast. They also empowered me and gave me the final encouragement I needed to finish the program. 

How have your family relationships changed?

My parents were very involved in working with my therapist and educational consultant. My brother, grandma, and parents sent me letters every week. My parents and I have learned to communicate with each other in a healthier way than before, and we also learned how to set boundaries with each other. 


What did you value most about your time at Open Sky?

My last two weeks were incredible; I think my favorite memories are in those last two weeks. I hiked harder than I’d ever hiked before and busted more coals than I had in my whole stay. I just remember my heart feeling very full. I often think about the desert and canyon country. It has a very special place in my heart. Nothing empowers you quite like being out there. 


What has your life been like since graduating Open Sky?

I’m in an aftercare program in Maine right now and am about to graduate and go home. Before I went to Open Sky, I could barely stay the night at a friend’s house, and now I’ve been away from home for several months. I completed a math course and recently volunteered alone for the first time for two and a half hours. That was huge. I also had my first job and am now working a new one. This is something I never could have imagined doing before treatment, and I want others to know that life after treatment is so full of possibilities! I imagine someone like me reading this, and I want them to know they have every reason to be hopeful for the future.  


What would you say to a new Open Sky student or someone considering enrolling?

I know this is terrifying. I know it feels eternal. It’s not. You learn things in the desert and mountains that you can’t learn anywhere else. Open Sky is the best decision I’ve ever made. It’s not easy, but it is certainly worth it. Open Sky saved my life. 

Open Sky Wilderness Therapy alum Olivia sits and smiles in a bed with a gold retriever on her lap.

February 22nd, 2022

Open Sky Alumni Student