Because I’m Happy! (In Spite of Everything)

donna thomson with sonEverything 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 thomson book coverDonna’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

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  • Jackson

    July 21st, 2014 at 4:10 AM

    That’s such a great story. I am sure that you have encountered people over the years who have wondered aloud what you have to be so happy about, and those are the people who make me just want to look at them and calmly ask what they presume to be the better alternative. There comes a time in your life when you have to make some hard choices, and sometimes that all boils down to deciding if you are going to choose to be happy or to stay in a hole of unhappiness. Obviously you have chosen to be happy and not let others drag you down with them. I admire that because peer pressure can be a very strong thing and you could have just as easily let them bring you down with them but you didn’t. You prevailed and have the goods to show for it now.

  • Donna Thomson

    July 21st, 2014 at 9:46 AM

    Hi Jackson, thank you for your kind words. It is true that being happiness is essentially a decision. But that decision is impossible to make without the right medication and lots of therapy. And then, yes, it’s a decision that one needs to make every day.

  • Becca

    July 21st, 2014 at 10:33 AM

    So glad that you found your groundwork through your therapy and this has been a positive experience for you that you can now share with others. I think that more people need to hear words like this, that there is hope and that there is love ebven when the days look the darkest.

  • Seth

    July 22nd, 2014 at 3:16 PM

    I do so admire those of you who manage to always look on the bright side and find that one little ray of sunshine even on the rainy days. Alas that is not me and my personality so I am pretty sure that no matter how much therapy I ever attend I will not ever BECOME that person either. It does not mean that I wouldn’t for just once like to know what that feels like, but I am saying that I am not sure that this will ever be a possibility for me. What do you think? Am I up for that much of a change in my entire life?

  • Gracie

    July 23rd, 2014 at 3:03 PM

    Why not choose to be happy over being sad? Quite honestly it is a whole lot more appealing than the alternative, not to mention way more attractive too. No one wants to be aorund a downer all the time, and since life is mostly all about choices that we make then I would much rather choose to be happy over being down anytime, any day. I know that there are times when you just can’t help what you are feeling and there are days when you will feel a little forlorn. But for the most part the power of positive thinking can do wonders for you. Of course that won’t always solve every single problem that you have, but at least it is a start in the right direction!

  • Dell

    July 27th, 2014 at 5:27 AM

    WoW! Three years in the hospital receiving treatment is a very long time but it is evident that in your case the hard work has paid off! You are so upbeat and a true mode for any of us to wish to emulate!

    There have been challenges in your life that may have at one time shaken you to the core but it seems as if you have the grace and goodness today, as well as the survival tools that are needed to look this in the eye and never let it change this person that you have fought so long and hard to become. I am always amzed at this capacity for strength and resilience and you certainly seem to have it all.

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