When I was about four years old, my sister Jenny was born with Cerebral Palsy. Jenny can’t walk or talk, eats via tube, and requires intensive assistance. Both of my parents are lawyers, and their jobs are very stressful. To take some of the strain off of them, we have in-home nursing support. Because of my parents’ long-hours at work in San Francisco, I spent a lot of time alone as a child and my sister’s nurses were sort of like surrogate parents to me.
I was diagnosed with clinical depression when I was thirteen years old and have been hospitalized multiple times for self-injuring and suicide attempts. To this day, coping with my depression is often an uphill battle, especially because I look at my sister Jenny, who can’t walk or talk, and I get angry at myself for being unable to make more forward progress in my life. After all, compared to Jenny, I have everything going for me. I can walk and talk, bathe and feed myself, determine what I’m going to do with my time. I have so many blessings, and there are still times that I can barely get out of bed in the morning.
Jenny’s disability and my depression have had major repercussions for my parents and my youngest sister Sarah. I’m talking to them about what some of the most challenging things about our living situation have been, what enables them to persevere, and what kind of insights they’ve gained interacting with Jenny and me.
I’m doing research into Cerebral Palsy, depression, the effects siblings and parents of children with severe disabilities face, the effects siblings and parents of children with severe mental illnesses face, the stigma of physical disabilities and mental illness, and some of the resources and support that exists for people facing these immense difficulties.
This project is a glimpse into a world that often goes unexplored. People with experience with depression or disabilities will be able to relate to this story, but so will people who struggle to maintain positive relationships with their friends or family. People who feel they are incapable of moving past their limitations will be heartened by Jenny’s irrepressible spirit, and by the joy she gives the people around her. If it weren’t Jenny, I don’t know how I would’ve survived my depression.
This is the story of my family, and the ways in which our struggles have made us stronger. It’s a story about sorrow, but more importantly, it’s a story about hope.