Kate Thompson, a Hudson Valley native who is pursuing a master’s degree in social work, did not know what to do after getting laid off from her restaurant job during the pandemic.
She was interning for a nonprofit organization that offers home-based therapy in North Carolina, where she moved to after getting her bachelor’s in sociology from Queens College, so she decided to embark on starting an e-commerce business selling apparel with a message.
Waves of Wellness sells clothing items that feature inspiring slogans promoting mental wellness, an issue she became passionate about after suffering from mental health issues during her college years. Thompson was studying in Salem, Massachusetts when she started suffering from what would eventually be diagnosed as anxiety, depression and PTSD.
“I noticed that my mental health was getting was slowly declining. My parents thankfully noticed it,” she said. “They drove through the night to come pick me up and bring me back home. I opened up about a lot of the things that I was going through, and they looked at me and said, ‘what do you want to do?’ And I was like, ‘I don’t really know. I just know that I need help.'”
She checked into a local psychiatric ward, which then made treatment recommendations for providers in the Hudson Valley area. Her parents wanted her to stay home, but she decided to try EDMR (or Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy in Massachusetts.
“I would go once or twice a week, depending on the week that I was having,” she said. “It really changed my life.”
Having majored in marine biology at the time, Thompson decided to switch majors and move back to New York, this time to attend Queens College in the city.
“I came to the conclusion that I wanted to work with people instead of animals because I enjoyed that interaction,” she said. “I can do stuff with the ocean, and I can help out as a hobby, but it’s not something I wanted to make out of my career.”
On a whim, she ended up moving to Southport, North Carolina, and after experiencing a mental health setback with an unhealthy romantic relationship, she eventually started pursuing work in the mental health field before meeting a social worker at a nonprofit organization for teens where she worked as a behavioral health technician.
It was then when she decided to pursue a master’s in social work. She is expected to graduate from Arizona State University’s online program in December.
To support herself, she started bartending and waitressing before the pandemic shut down much of the hospitality industry. During the pandemic, she got the idea to start an online brand as a way to make money while still going to school and interning.
“I like being busy. It’s kind of the way that I cope. I did some DIY projects during the pandemic and that kind of helped me relax,” she said. “I had no knowledge on how to start a brand. I had to do so much research, it was just like a lot of research and reaching out.”
She relied on friends in the area who had also started businesses for guidance. There was, however, some hesitancy on her part to start a business opening up to the world about her mental health journey.
“It was scary,” she said. “Not only sharing my story, because it’s just something that I’ve only opened up to about with close people. There was an emotional aspect to it.”
Thompson relied on her friendships with people both in North Carolina and her hometown to help get the business off the ground. Two of her most prominently featured shirts are “the Catie” and “the Reach Out sweatshirt,” the former of which was named after her childhood friend Catie Barber, who shared her COVID diagnosis and mental health issues in an email she sent after learning about Waves of Wellness.
“I was like, this is the perfect opportunity to start that part of my mission with giving back and it’s with someone that I know,” she said. “I knew what she had been going through with COVID, but I didn’t know about the mental health aspect of it, and she shared it with me. Then that really triggered me to want to help.”
Barber shared her experience working with Thompson in an article recently.
“We both know each other from way back when so it was just nice to work with an old friend,” she said at the time.
Thompson’s personal life has also hit a stride. She has been dating her boyfriend Zachary for three years and they have a dog named Fin.
“He has been my biggest support. One of my biggest fans, alongside my family,” she said. “It was very stressful, opening up the business, so he has been an amazing support through it all, and he’s always encouraging me.”
She believes that being forced to stay apart during the pandemic has created a common cause in raising awareness for mental health issues.
“I do see a lot more like Instagram accounts that are trying to raise awareness on mental health or spreading positivity, so I do think that it has come a long way,” she said.
For more information on Waves of Wellness, visit: https://www.wavesofwellnessco.com