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Goodbye WEGO Health Challenge, Hello Blogathon

1 May

In April I participated in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, in which I published a post every day for the month of April, based on health-related prompts.

I am now participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

When I first started Running For Autism a little over two years ago, my blogging was an airy-fairy kind of affair. My original intent was for this to primarily be a running blog, but it morphed very quickly into far more than that. Running is such an important part of who I am, and it is frequently difficult to squeeze it in with all of the other responsibilities I have, and I found impossible to write about it without adding the context of my life. For example, how could I write about running to raise funds for autism without trying to raise some awareness about the impact of autism on my life?

And so my subject matter started expanding to include posts about parenting and autism. As my wedding day approached and I started feeling the typical angst of a bride-to-be, my blog became a place for me to vent about my stress and toss around ideas for how to plan a wedding that both of my children could be fully involved in. At some point I started to try my hand at fiction in the Indie Ink writing challenges. A little while after that, I felt a little glimmer of bravery that allowed me to tentatively start discussing my struggles with depression.

Even as I cast my net of topics wider and grew my audience, I found it difficult to prioritize my blogging. I have a lot on my plate. I am a wife and mother. I have a child with autism. I have a full-time job outside of the home that involves two hours of commuting each day. I help my husband with his business and take care of making sure bills are paid and taxes are filed. I run. I have a commitment to write three articles a week for an ezine.

Inevitably, blogging took a back seat to all of this, and I was posting once or twice a week if I was lucky.

When WEGO Health sent me an email inviting me to participate in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to see it through to completion. I mean, we were talking about a blog post every day for a month. In the end I signed up, spurred on by the fact that the challenge coincided with Autism Awareness Month. This seemed like a great opportunity not only to give my writing a boost, but to spread the word about autism and offer some hope and encouragement to parents feeling overwhelmed by a newly acquired diagnosis.

We have now reached the end of what turned out to be a very successful challenge. The prompts that were provided offered new ways for me to think about the health focuses that matter most to me – autism, mental health and running. I had to really dig deep and be honest with myself and with the world – or at least, the corner of the world that reads my blog. I had some moments of soul-searching, and I found myself addressing questions that I’ve never had the courage to ask before.

There were two days on which the prompts just couldn’t work for me. Try as I might, I could not get past the writer’s block. The challenge rules allowed two “get out of post free” days, but I was loathe to use them. Instead, I turned to the list of bonus prompts that were provided just for occasions like that. As a result, I published a post every day in April.

Through this challenge, I gained some new readers, and some great new blogs to follow. I read some incredible stories of courage and perseverance. So many aspects of health were covered in this challenge: diabetes, cancer, mental illness, special needs parenting, and so many others.

When you read so many stories of people fighting to survive, going to the ends of the earth for their children, and using their own painful experiences to help their fellow man, it really gives you renewed faith in the awesomeness of humankind.

Thank you to WEGO Health for putting this challenge out there. Thank you to my fellow bloggers for taking me on journeys that I could never have otherwise imagined. And thank you to everyone who reads my blog, who leaves comments or clicks the “like” button, or who shares my posts on Facebook or Twitter. It means a lot to me to know that my voice is being heard.

I am compiling a list of fellow bloggers who took the challenge, and when my new website is launched, they will be on the blogroll.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mariareyesmcdavis/2890706354/. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

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The Good And The Bad

26 Apr

I am participating in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, in which I publish a post every day for the month of April, based on health-related prompts.

April 27 – 5 challenges, 5 small victories: Make a list of the 5 most difficult parts of your health focus. Make another top 5 list for the little, good things (small victories) that keep you going.

Autism can be a very complicated thing to live with. Its manifestations change from day to day. One day, my son will be able to tolerate loud noises but a small change in routine will send him into meltdown. The next, we’ll be able to turn his entire routine upside down but anything louder  than a whisper will set him off. Different strategies work for different kids on different days, and everyone you might see guidance from is convinced that their opinion is the right one.

The things I find most challenging about being an autism mom don’t really have to do with the autism itself. Whatever might be going on with my child on any particular day, I just deal with it. Sometimes it’s hard, but I always know that I’m doing my best, my son is doing his best, and at the end of the day we’ll all survive.

My challenges tend to come from sources other than my son and his autism. I list them in no particular order.

  1. The judgmental critics. It’s a moment every autism parent has lived through at least once. You and your child are in a grocery store, which let’s face it, is a mecca for sensory overload, and your child is getting more agitated by the second. You throw things into your cart at quickly as you can, but just as you get to the checkout, your child reaches his breaking point and explodes. As you are trying to calm him down, some snarky stranger loudly proclaims, “What that child needs is a good hiding.” I once heard someone say (referring to me), “If that mother was doing her job properly, this wouldn’t be happening.” Like I’m not already carrying around enough angst with me. With my social anxiety, I’m not great at the quick comeback, although I’m definitely better than I used to be.
  2. The third-person talker. These are the people who will talk about someone who is present as if that person were not in the room. The chances of this happening increase exponentially if the subject of conversation happens to have autism. I get it all the time. “Would George like a hamburger?” they will ask. My answer always seems to throw them a little: “Ask him,” I say. Yes, it is true that George is not the world’s greatest talker, and may not respond to everything that is said to him. But, you know. At least give the kid a chance to try. If he struggles to answer, I will help him.
  3. Guilt. I was educated at a girls-only Catholic school run by nuns, and I am married to an Irish Catholic man. I can therefore say with some authority that the Catholics turn guilt into an art form. And some of the guilt that I feel as a special needs parent (hell, forget special needs – just as a plain old parent) almost makes me think I should just convert. I feel guilty about everything. Did the Taco Bell I ate during pregnancy cause George’s autism? Did I give him enough affection as a baby? Am I paying enough attention to my other son? Did I get too mad at George when he tipped over the laundry basket?  The list goes on and on, and my guilt makes me constantly second-guess myself when I should just be following my parental instincts.
  4. Time. Time very often seems to be my enemy, so much so that I sometimes regard it as a person. Time with a capital T. No matter how much I try, Time seems to run away from me. At the end of each day, there is always something that remains undone. Parenting is my absolute number 1 priority, so my kids’ needs are always taken care of. But I tend to let other areas of my life slip occasionally, and that is detrimental to my physical and mental health.
  5. The Internet. When George was diagnosed with autism five years ago, the first thing I did when I got home was Google autism. I obsessively read web page after web page. Every link that I clicked on seemed to have some information that flatly contradicted something I’d read somewhere else, and in the end my brain was hurting from information overload. I was overwhelmed by not knowing what information to trust. Since then, I am wiser in my use of the Internet and I have learned, for the most part, how to tell the good information from the noise. But the Internet, with all of its gazillion theories about the causes of autism, can still hinder more than it helps a lot of the time.

In my house, there is no such thing as a “small victory”. Every single accomplishment, all of the positive things in our lives – are massive, big things. That’s the way it often is in special needs families. We tend to place extra stock in things that other families take for granted. And as hard as it can be to live with autism, there are many things that I am grateful for, that enable me to keep chugging along even at times when I just want to cry.

  1. Love. Love really does make the world go around. Out of all the challenges my son has, lack of affection is definitely not one of them. Both of my sons give the best hugs that I can carry around with me all day. My favourite moments are when my boys somehow manage to squeeze onto my lap together to give me a hug. I sit there, with my arms full of squirmy, giggling kid, and never want the moment to end.
  2. Running. Yes, running keeps me sane, and when something stops me from doing it – like illness or injury – depression starts to creep in. The fact that it keeps me in good physical health is almost a by-product of running. My prime reason for doing it, along with raising funds for autism, is to keep my mental health on an even keel. I struggle with mental illnesses like depression and anxiety, and there’s no better way to combat my darker moments than a good long run. I am stubbornly resistant to using medication to deal with my issues, and running acts as a decent substitute for chemicals most of the time.
  3. Therapy. It has been said that running is cheaper than therapy, and while that is certainly true, I actually do need both. The therapist/client relationship is a very strange one. It involves the client placing complete trust in someone they actually know nothing about. I have been going to my therapist for a little over a year now, and it has taken me almost all of this time to build up my trust to a level where I can really open up during my sessions. Sometimes the sessions are very hard and they make me feel all weirded out for a while, but the truth is that once a week, I get the opportunity to talk without reservation in the sanctuary of my therapist’s office. I can say whatever I like and there will be no judgment or anger.
  4. Writing. I am somewhat inept as a verbal communicator, and I experience high levels of anxiety in social situations. When I am talking to other people, I hold back a lot, not only because of my natural shyness, but because my brain actually doesn’t work well during conversation. I can formulate a completely coherent thought in my mind, and even mentally phrase how I want to say it, but when it comes time for me to speak, my words get lost somewhere between my brain and my mouth. With writing, that doesn’t happen. I truly have a voice, and I treasure the opportunities to speak my mind on things that are important to me.
  5. The Internet. The Internet is both a blessing and a curse. Despite the evils described in my “bad” list, the Internet is a haven of sorts. I belong to two Internet support groups – one for moms who have suffered pregnancy or infant loss, and one for parents of children with autism. Both of these groups are places where I can vent my concerns, ask for advice, or celebrate good news. Some of my best friends are people who I have known online for a long time, but have never met in person. Here’s the wonderful thing about the Internet: no matter what I am going through on any particular day, I will always be able to find someone who knows, at least to some extent, how I feel.

Toronto Women’s Half-Marathon: Training Week 2

12 Feb

2012-02-12 07.16.16This week of training has been dismal. That’s putting it mildly. News of my aunt’s very unexpected death threw me into a tailspin, and I was focused first on making arrangements for a very long journey, and then on actually making the journey itself. With all that has been going on, I have barely been able to run this week.

Monday

Today was a designated rest day. I felt good after yesterday’s 12K run. I thought about going for a short run this evening, but since I had to pack for my trip, I did not have the time.

 

Tuesday

I was supposed to do a tempo run today, and I had every intention of doing so. But since (a) all of my running stuff was securely packed in my luggage, and (b) I had to get to work super-early so I could leave early, I was not able to run. I guess it was always wishful thinking. I am consoled by the fact that high anxiety has been burning up plenty of energy for the last week.

 

Wednesday

I spent the better part of today at Heathrow Airport. It’s not a situation conducive to exercise, although I did spend a lot of time walking around. It took almost 25 minutes just to walk from the main part of the terminal to the gate. Just as well, because I spent the next 12 hours stuck on a plane.

 

Thursday

I arrived in Johannesburg today. It was an exhausting trip, and although I didn’t go to sleep until bedtime, I did spend the day kind of slouched on a chair without the ability to move or form a coherent thought.

 

Friday

Today was my aunt’s visitation. An intensely emotional experience. After we paid our respects we assembled at my aunt’s house talking and sharing memories. Running was the very furthest thing from my mind today.

 

Saturday

Jet lag hit me like a ton of bricks today. My body clock kept telling me it was the middle of the night while the bright sunshine outside said the opposite. I lazed around in a semi-conscious state for most of the day before going to see a movie with my brother.

 

Sunday

Finally! I woke up this morning, put on my running clothes, and off I went. I didn’t really know what to expect, how far I was going, or even what route I was taking. About a kilometre down the road, I looked to my left and saw a nice little trail down by the river. It was fantastic. It was warm but not to hot, and the trail was challenging but manageable. I ended up doing 8km. This was far short of the distance I was supposed to do, but considering that I’m not used to trail running, and considering that I was running in an altitude almost 6000 feet above what I’m used to, I’m glad I managed to go that far.

 

Conclusion

This was a tough week, made so by circumstances. Although I did the best I could considering everything that was going on, I would not deem this to be a successful training week. I will definitely have to make up some ground when I return home. This week may be difficult as well, and any run that I can get in will be considered a bonus.

Embracing Autism

1 Nov

If there was a cure for autism, would you use it for your child?

This question was posed to me recently by a non-autism parent, and it really made me think. Before I was an autism mom – indeed, before I was any kind of mom – my immediate instinct would have been to say “Yes! Absolutely! What kind of parent would choose for their child to have a disability?”

Now that I can speak with the voice of experience, my answer to that question is very different. There are some aspects of autism that I would get rid of in a heartbeat. When my son, now eight, has his meltdowns, the expression of anguish in his eyes breaks my heart. If I could wave a magic wand, I would give him the ability to communicate the pain that he feels during those outbursts. I would make the changes of seasons easier for him, I would make Christmas less overwhelming, and I would give him the skills to play with his little brother.

On the other hand, there are things that I would not change in a million years. Someone once told me that my son is very smart “in spite of his autism.” I gently corrected this person by telling her that my son is very smart because of his autism. His mind works in a very unique way. Thanks to his out-of-the-box thinking, this kid can problem-solve rings around the rest of us. He can do multiplication in his head, and this is something that no-one has ever taught him. He just figured it out himself. He sees patterns that are lost on everyone around him: once, when he was putting coloured pegs into a board, I literally had to squint at the board from a number of angles before the pattern he was creating suddenly jumped out at me. If he was given a cure for autism, that incredible way of thinking would disappear.

In the eyes of society, my son has a disability. The education system regards him as having special needs, autism is classified by the medical community as a disability, and the government has granted us a disability tax credit for him. And rightly so: my son definitely needs special accommodations. There is no way he can function in a neurotypical world without assistance. Although I believe he will be capable of great things as an adult, I see the possibility of him being unable to live completely independently. But as much as there are things that he cannot do as well as other people, there are things that he does better. He may frequently take the scenic route from a problem to the solution, but his route can cover a lot more ground, solve problems that no-one else even knew existed, and frankly, the scenic route often has a better view than the highway.

When this amazing boy with his sweet, sweet disposition curls up on the couch with me, wraps his little arms around me, and allows me the privilege of being in his world with him, I feel a love for him that is too big to put into words.

Would I ever want my son to be “cured” of autism? No. Because the challenges just make us stronger, and his autism is a part of the beautiful person he is.