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Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Beginning

My mom was worried about me at age two when I had not yet started to walk. The doctor told her to just buy me a pair of high top shoes for more support. She did it and I started walking that day, so she stopped worrying, but the trouble was just beginning.
At age four, I was on a trip from Kentucky to California with my mom, brothers, and grandpa to go to my aunt's graduation from college. My grandpa had a pickup truck with a hard top, so the boys and I rode in back. I fell asleep and was rudely awakened when it was time for a bathroom break. As I scooted out of the pickup and climbed down, I immediately fell to the ground, screaming. My left hip seared with pain and I couldn't walk. Grandpa carried me to the bathroom and ended up carrying me everywhere for several days.

When we arrived in California, the tests began. Doctor after doctor examined me and could not figure out what was wrong. Finally, a specialist discovered that I had contracted a rare hip virus. Through all the testing, it also became evident that I had cerebral palsy on the left side of my body, the affects of which had been triggered by the hip virus. Some of us feel that we've gone from doctor to doctor, enduring test after test, medication after medication, from one therapist to the next with little to no results, temporary results, or treatments "for our own good" that are exactly opposite of that. Sometimes the mental illness is triggered by an event, sometimes like cerebral palsy, it's something that we're born with that reveals itself at an inopportune time (because there is really no "opportune" time for mental illness).

Though I couldn't tell the difference at all, I walked heel to toe on my right foot (which is normal), but toe to heel on my left foot, causing me to limp around. While my uneven gait was obvious to others, I was blind to it. I just knew that something was "wrong" with me because of all the doctor visits and the worried looks my parents would exchange when discussing what to do about Larissa. Depression in my life has been a little like that. I've dealt with it all my life, not even knowing that there was another way to live. Though I knew other people were not depressed, I didn't even know that there was any other option for me--like they had some secret I couldn't access but there was something fundamentally wrong with me; something people could point out, but do nothing to fix.

There is no cure for cerebral palsy. It is caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain at birth and the severity of the illness depends on how long the brain is deprived of oxygen and what kind of treatment is administered. There are several kinds of cerebral palsy, and as I mentioned, mine affects only the left side of my body. The earlier the illness is discovered, the better for the patient, as it can be monitored and treatment can be provided to minimize the affects of the illness in the patient's life. As a child at age four, I did not consider my hip virus any kind of blessing because of the physical pain it caused and the humiliation of undressing in front of doctor after doctor for examinations. However, the hip virus was what triggered all the doctor visits that eventually revealed my cerebral palsy and allowed doctors to intervene before it was too late to prevent my symptoms from worsening.

Those of you who deal with depression or mental illness may have experienced that the sooner you are able to start receiving treatment, whether it be through medication, counseling, support groups or some combination of the three, the sooner life starts to get easier. Don't get me wrong here, I am well aquainted with relapse and the devastation it brings, but I do believe (and have experienced) that the more treatment I receive that works...the less likely I am to relapse or the less harmful the relapse is. My point is that for a lot of us, depression is a lifelong companion once it arrives and it sucks. Treatment is often painful and we'd like to avoid it--the undressing of our souls for doctors and peers to examine--but like cerebral palsy, avoidance serves only to worsen the symptoms and prevent recovery.

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