“The Big Purple Dog Walk helps my mental heath”

Larissa’s pounding the pavements this March with her pooches Buzz Lightyear and Woody

My Buzz Lightyear and Woody are my partners in crime, and both are accompanying me on the MS-UK Big Purple Dog Walk! They’re amazing companion dogs.

Over the last two years I’ve suffered badly with depression and severe anxiety especially panic disorder. My dogs have improved my mental health massively. They’re my everything. I’ve had to move around a couple times due to my health issues, and they provide such support and comfort.

They bring so much joy, I couldn’t live without them. They have helped improve my mental health drastically as they get me up in the morning and seem to just understand my feelings – they always seem to know how I feel without me saying a word. When I am not OK and on my worst flare ups days, they cheer me up with the simplest of things. I couldn’t ask for anything more – they are my best friends by my side.

Both of them are cross breeds and full of love. Buzz Lightyear is a five-year-old Parson terrier Jack Russell cross. He suffers with epilepsy and is more independent but will do anything for a ball.

Woody is more a Velcro dog, he’s a four-year-old Patterndale Yorkiepoo cross and is more laid back and loves cuddles. They’re my balance – I don’t have children, so I think they deserve to be treated to the best life because they bring such joy to mine. I love to spoil them both so much. Buzz and woody are family members in my eyes, they’re not just pets.

The main struggles of doing the Big Purple Dog Walk are the great British weather, plus having to anticipate whether or not my condition is going to be playing up.

I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in July 2016 when 21 years old. I went completely numb from the waist down and I suffered with pains in my lower region and issues with leg spasms numbness, and severe pins and needles. It was really difficult to walk properly, and I lost complete bladder control.

I was admitted to hospital and got my diagnosis of relapsing remitting MS. I also have permanent damage in my nerves in my lower back and legs. I am on a disease-modifying therapy and had to train my body back to health with physiotherapy, oxygen therapy talking therapies.

I still have issues with senses, spasms and blurred visions but nothing compared to what my relapse was. I take a lot of medication on a daily basis in order to stay stable.

Everything in my life has changed from having issues with my short-term memory loss, forgetfulness and numbness, plus mental health issues. I was also diagnosed with panic disorder and generalised anxiety disorder. I’ve had a lot change in my life in the last 18 months and been diagnosed with lupus syndrome and alopecia and other various skin conditions that also cause me physical daily struggles. All of this started when I was diagnosed with MS.

My dogs are so good for me, they give me a routine and keeping me smiling when I don’t feel positive. Routine is key, as is resting up and listening to my body needs. I used to have the fear of missing out, but now I’ve learnt as I’m getting older that actually is better to miss out on activities and events that can cause me more harm than good in the long run.

Walking my dogs every day and helping a charity close to my heart is helping my mental health, plus helping me to make healthier choices within the limits of my disability.