3 Tips to Happiness

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How one successful woman has fashionably kicked Parkinson’s to the curb

As a young 34-year-old mother with a baby on the way, Tonya Walker began to notice that she was losing dexterity in her left hand. Soon, she was struggling to dress herself. As fears of being unable to care for both herself and her child began to swirl, she sought out medical help. The diagnosis? Young onset Parkinson’s disease.

Ten years, two brain surgeries, and one successful fashion blog later, Tonya has learned to not only cope with the chronic, debilitating disease but to pretty much own it. Tonya’s ultimate goal is to share her story with as many people as possible and hopefully inspire not just those living with Parkinson’s, but anyone living with a chronic disease. Tonya feels many people can better overcome medical trials by choosing joy, following their passions, and finding a group of like-minded individuals. Here’s why:

Choose joy

As American philosopher and psychologist William James put it, “The greatest discovery of any generation is that a human can alter his life by altering his attitude.” Happiness is a choice, and Tonya knows this firsthand. “Choose joy,” she advises. “Wake up every day with the most positive outlook. If you wake up thinking you’re going to have a bad day, then chances are you are going to have a bad day! However, you have the power to change that.”

One of the best ways to beat the blues is to make happiness a priority. Tom G. Stevens, Ph.D., and author of You Can Choose to Be Happy, tells WebMD: “Choose to take advantage of opportunities to learn how to be happy. For example, reprogram your beliefs and values. Learn good self-management skills, good interpersonal skills, and good career-related skills. Choose to be in environments and around people that increase your probability of happiness. The persons who become the happiest and grow the most are those who also make truth and their own personal growth primary values.”

Choose joy. Decide to be happy. It is within your power.

Follow your passion

Tonya has loved shoes her whole life. When she was three years old, she’d stop people at a store and say, “I really like your shoes.” Despite having a “classic case of Parkinson’s,” as Tonya’s doctor declared when she was diagnosed, she maintained her passion for fashion, particularly for shoes, even though it affected her balance greatly. Parkinson’s took away her ability to balance in high heels for a time, but that didn’t stop her. After her second brain surgery, Tonya fought to rediscover her coordination and once again wear heels. Her successful fashion blog, The Shoe Maven, originated from her love of shoes and her desire to share this love. However, the blog became so much more as she taught her followers that life goes on and that you can find happiness regardless of the challenges you face.

Psychologist and writer Caroline Beaton said, “Passions help us understand who we are and what we want. They bring vitality and joy to our days. But following your passion is a deceptively slow, uncertain way to purpose.” Purpose coincides with passion. A certain kind of greatness is transmitted when passion connects with purpose. Background noise, outside concerns, and the distractions of social media all seem to fade away when we channel the strength of our passions for a purpose.

“People who are connected to their passion can be spotted from a mile away. They unleash their energy to make our clients win,” said Mark Shearer, Executive Vice President and President of Global SMB Solutions at Pitney Bowes.

Undeterred by her trials, Tonya’s passion and vitality for life can be spotted from countries away—as is evidenced by her global following—thanks to her courage to share.

Find a group of like-minded individuals

For almost six years, Tonya was in denial of her disease and just kept living life. She didn’t even want her husband discussing it. In her attempt to hide something as life-altering as a progressive disease, she began to experience depression, hopelessness, and agitation. It wasn’t until Tonya and her husband moved to a new city and began meeting with professionals in the medical community that she decided to tell her loved ones that she had Parkinson’s. They instantly supported her to consider Deep Brain Surgery (DBS).

Tonya’s breaking point was when she was in the airport on her way to celebrate her 40th birthday in Puerto Rico. Her husband had to wheelchair her to the gate because her toes started to cramp and her feet began to turn in at a 90-degree angle—symptoms of Parkinson’s. “It was humiliating, and I had been praying to God about brain surgery,” she said. On a Sunday, toward the end of her trip, she received a call from the clinic to prepare for a DBS in the coming weeks. She knew this was the right decision and finally told her extended family and friends about what she had been dealing with, because, she admitted, “It’s kind of hard to hide brain surgery!”

Having ”strength in numbers” isn’t just a catchy idea but, rather, an incredibly truthful and meaningful concept for Tonya. If it weren’t for her group of supportive friends and family, Tonya may not have ever taken the leap toward recovery. Another supportive group that has made a positive impact on Tonya is Parkinson’s More than Motion, a community dedicated to portraying the full realities of living with Parkinson’s disease.

America’s very first First Lady, Martha Washington, had it right when she said, “I am determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may find myself. For I have learned that the greater part of our misery or unhappiness is determined not by our circumstance but by our disposition.” Happiness is a choice, passion brings purpose, and there is strength in numbers. By embracing these concepts, we really can overcome and be joyful.

tonya walker

Tonya Walker. Courtesy of The Shoe Maven.

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About Author

Dianne Isom Mineer

Dianne Mineer is a writer, editor, and graphic designer with a passion for all things social. She has an extensive background in the hospitality industry which took her throughout Switzerland and Austria. She enjoys writing about healthcare, business, and anything that has to do with food. She holds her Bachelor's degree in German Literature with a minor in Communications, from Brigham Young University. She enjoys running marathons, speaking German, and golfing.

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