Everything I know about how to be happy and productive I learned from my therapists. Of course, that’s not something I discuss regularly in my blog or even in the book I’ve written. Usually, I write about how to have a good life, despite challenging life circumstances. But I don’t speak often about the mental illness I suffered in the 1980s—I usually talk about our family experience with our son’s severe physical disabilities.
Our son Nicholas is 25 now and has severe cerebral palsy, along with a myriad of medical complications. Not many people know that I was diagnosed with manic-depressive illness in my early twenties and spent three years in hospital, undergoing multiple types of treatment.
There were many therapists along the way who helped me understand myself. If my personality was shattered, they helped me search for the shards and gently glue them back together. They helped me be whole again, so that eventually I could laugh spontaneously, immersed in enjoying the moment, completely outside of myself.
I was very sick when I was young, but in therapy, I learned valuable lessons about resilience, humility, strength, confidence, and empathy. All these I put to use in the 25 years I have parented our son, nursing him, loving him, advocating for him, and becoming an expert at helping others with their own caregiving challenges.
When people hear our family story of our son’s battles with chronic pain and life-threatening health calamities, they wonder aloud how I survived. “Love” is the answer I usually give, but I could just as easily say it was therapy. My therapy was the groundwork I needed to master in order to be a good mother and an excellent extreme caregiver. To those closest to me who know my past, I’ll say, “my mental illness prepared me for what came next. I’m the embodiment of the old adage ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’”
Do I believe therapy is for anyone who wishes to wake up each morning feeling optimistic? I sure do! And to all my therapists who helped me along my rocky path, thank you. And now, I think I’ll play some Pharrell and dance like no one’s watching.
Donna’s book, “The Four Walls of My Freedom: Lessons I’ve Learned From a Life of Caregiving,” (The House of Anansi Press, 2014) is available everywhere in Canada and will be released in the USA on August 12th. Her website is The Caregivers’ Living Room, at donnathomson.com.
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