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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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A Week Of Inspiration: What I’m Taking Away

7 Jan

As 2011 drew to a close, a gave myself a mission to start off 2012 on the right note. To do that, I would approach some women who I found to be inspirational, and I would ask them to post something on my blog that would send a positive message. It started off as a simple resolution for me to start the year in a positive way to get myself out of the funk I have been in. By the time I was scheduling the posts, it had become a project to help everyone: I realized that many people – including a couple of the writers – were in need of a dose of the good stuff that life has to offer.

This would be my small way of trying to make the world a better, happier place filled with possibilities and motivation.

I took something valuable away from all of the posts this week – things that I will take forward with me as I navigate my way through the jungle of life in 2012. For that, I want to give heartfelt thanks to all of my contributors.

I am battling with some personal demons right now, and it’s hard. There are days when I can barely see my way through to getting out of bed. Ultimately, though, I have support. I have my family, I have friends, and I am in good enough health to put on running shoes and pound the hell out of the pavement when I need relief from the stress. On Monday, Kerry White gave us a reminder on perspective. It does me good to remind myself that no matter how difficult things may be, I will muddle my way through it all, aided by the support system that I have around me.

A few minutes ago, my son George – autistic, eight years old, and very long and lanky – clambered into my lap for a hug and a cuddle. As I held this treasure in my arms, I reflected on the fact that special needs parenting is sometimes as hard as hell, but life without this amazing child is just unfathomable. Sara Morgan expressed this on Tuesday, when she said that yeah, we have kids with autism, but at least we have them.

How easy is it for us to just lie down and quit when we’re faced with a personal tragedy? On Wednesday, Phaedra Kennedy took us through her heartbreaking unsuccessful quest to have a baby, and her subsequent resolve to make 2011 the best year of her life. Not only does Phaedra’s tale inspire me to set goals for this year and really work towards them, I am honoured to have her mentoring me through my next stage of evolution as a runner.

Perhaps there is truth to the idea that the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings can ultimately cause a storm on the other side of the world. In the same way, a handful of women blogging about motherhood can result in impoverished children receiving life-saving vaccinations, and fewer babies dying of pneumonia. On Thursday, Jennifer Burden told us about an idea that started small and morphed into something huge. Over the next year, I will endeavour to follow my dreams, no matter how silly they may seem. Who knows where they will take me?

There have been times in the past, when things have been rough, that I have succumbed to the temptation to just let myself go. I have asked myself what the point of it all is. If Margie Bryant had given in to that kind of negative self-talk, where would she be today? She survived addiction, a string of meaningless, emotionally empty relationships, and time in a federal prison. She kicked low self-esteem in the butt, and has turned her life around. She leads a life anyone could be proud of, and she’s found true love to boot. If she could make that kind of U-turn, surely I have it in me to control the direction of my own life.

My personal mission this year is to focus on taking care of myself. I am going to find some balance in my life and do more things that I want to do.

Will this take away the time and energy that I have always unquestioningly devoted to my husband and children? Or will doings things for myself inject me with more energy, and lead to a more enriched, satisfying life for all of us?

(Thank you again to Kerry, Sara, Phaedra, Jennifer and Margie. I am sure your tales of inspiration have touched the lives of many people reading this blog.)

 

 

Redemption: Guest Post by Margie Bryant

6 Jan

In October 2002, I experienced the heartbreak of a pregnancy loss in the second trimester. I was not given an explanation as to what had gone wrong, but the pregnancy had been riddled with problems from the start. It was devastating. As devastating as it was, though, that loss paved the way for tremendous blessings. If we had not lost that precious baby, we would not have our son George. And I would not have had my life enriched by the friendship of an incredible woman named Margie Bryant.

When George was born, I suffered from the same angst faced by most women who have had a pregnancy or infant loss. I was paranoid about every single little thing. I feared losing my child like I had feared nothing else, and my mind read every minor problem as a sign of impending disaster. Fortunately, there was an Internet group for people like me – women who are parenting children after a pregnancy or infant loss. It is through this group that I got to know Margie.

A few years ago, Margie went through a major turning point in her life. Today, she tells us about her experiences, and how they motivated her to change her life completely. She is truly one of the strongest, most inspirational people I have ever known. She has turned her life around in a spectacular fashion. If anyone is in doubt that they will be able to improve their lives, they need look no further than Margie to know that the sky is the limit.

I can still remember the exact moment that I exited the white bricked Receiving and Discharge building, wearing commissary purchased gray shorts, short sleeved shirt and white Reeboks. In my arms, I carried the cardboard box taken from my last kitchen shift and it was filled with my possession of the last seven months: a crocheted purple and white blanket, two Bibles, the few paperback books that I didn’t leave behind and the multitude of letters that had sustained my sanity. The sun was already beaming a warm Texas ray on my pale skin and I could feel my face perspiring under the borrowed cosmetics. My thick strawberry blond curls were pulled tightly into a corkscrew bundle with just a tendril framing my face. It felt odd to be “pretty” again after months of a bare face and ponytail existence.

It was surreal that this hell was finally over; the worst experience of my thirty four years had come to an end. There would be no more sleepless nights in the frigid tiny room that contained two sets of metal bunk beds with thin mattresses that made your bones ache, four tall metal lockers, a small desk and chair, a roof that poured rain from eight holes in the ceiling and the lone window that looked over the razor wire fence. I would no longer have to take eighteen steps up the stairs in my black, ten pound steel toe boots, just to get to the cramped space that I shared with three women.

As I walked toward the green sedan where my Dad and step-mom sat waiting to drive the five hundred miles home, it felt almost surreal to be leaving this enormous, overcrowded encampment. A quiet, empty home was waiting for me, with a private bathroom and a large, comfortable queen size sleigh bed. There would be no more monitored phone calls, I would not have to dress in the drab khaki uniforms worn by one thousand others and I had eaten my last bland, overly starched meal served on a heavy plastic tray. I was free to be myself again, not merely a last name and a nine digit number.

After placing the box in the trunk of the car and waving my final goodbye, I climbed into the back of the sedan and my Dad steered us out of the parking lot. I will never be the person I was before I left the Texas federal prison camp on a steamy and humid July day. As we drove past the security gate and onto the street that would take me home, I did not look back. Sinking into the comfort of the seat, I relaxed and allowed the joy of freedom to stream down my face.

Four and a half years later, my redemption has been paved with a loving family and generous friends who never gave up on me.  Prior to my incarceration, my low self esteem and emptiness were filled with drugs, alcohol and numerous worthless men. Literally, I had to learn the truth in the cliché about loving myself first and sobriety made that possible.

Simply, I finally stopped running from myself. I was able to look into the face of my children and know that I had the capability to be an outstanding mother. It still makes me emotional to remember my oldest son, who tried to have the strength of an adult, breaking down and crying on the morning that I left for prison. The constant ache of missing them and not seeing them for seven months is a memory that still causes physical pain. My redemption has not been about me; it is about my children.

It amazes me on an extremely regular basis that my life is full of such joy and pure happiness now. No, things are not always easy (I will be paying a monthly bill to the United States government for the rest of my life. Literally. ) but I have far more than I expected after almost losing everything. In the last four years: I went back to school (will graduate with a Bachelors degree next December), worked my way up to a well paying position in the field of my study, have a closer relationship that ever before with my family and more importantly, my children.

And….

At long last, I found love. True, functional, healthy, romantic, laughter filled, passionate love. I met him two week after I came home from prison and last weekend, on Christmas Eve, in front of my family, he asked me to be his wife. My heart and my home are finally complete.

As I said though, my life isn’t a carefree romp down Easy Street. My self esteem is daily work and something that I must continually improve upon. I wake up every day and have to make a choice to continue in a new and better direction. The problem with old, lifelong habits is that they die painfully slow. However, when times are extremely hard, I think back to those seven months in 2007 and know that very few things could be that dreadful again.

Throughout my journey over the last four and a half years, here is what I have learned to be true: change for the better is extremely difficult and takes constant work. However, once you start making positive changes, life starts to become incredibly astounding.

(Photo credit: Dave Hopton)