5 Diversions That Keep Me Sane


Several years ago, shortly before George was diagnosed with autism, I realized that I needed a life. I can trace this realization to the exact moment it struck me. George, who was three, was at daycare, and one-year-old James was taking a nap. For all intents and purposes, I was alone. I was wandering from room to room picking up toys and gathering dirty laundry with only the background noise of the TV for company. The TV was tuned to TVO Kids because I had been too lazy to change the channel. An episode of Max & Ruby came on (for the uninitiated, Max & Ruby is an immensely annoying kids’ TV show featuring two child bunnies with unaccountably absent parents), and I actually sat down to watch because it was an episode that I hadn’t seen.

About three seconds later, I was struck by how ridiculous this was. Here I was, a grown woman with a university education, making a conscious choice to watch a TV show aimed at three-year-olds. What had happened to me? Clearly, I needed to take urgent action to prevent my brain from turning to mush. I decided to resurrect old interests that had gone by the wayside, and to start investing more time and effort into my friendships.

Since then, life has become more complicated for a variety of reasons, and so it has become even more important for me to have my me-time. Here are my five favourite things to do when I need to disconnect from the responsibilities of parenting.

1. Go for a run. I’m not sure whether it’s the fresh air or the motion, but there is something magical about the way running restores my mental equilibrium. This weekend, I was feeling an incredible amount of sadness. I went out for a long run, and when I got back I discovered that I had left the sadness out on the road somewhere.

2. Book, wine and bubble bath. This is my favourite way to unwind after a long day. When the kids are asleep, I run a bubble bath, and then I retreat from the world with a glass of wine and one of the Indigo Books new book releases.

3. Time with friends. The trouble with most of my friends is that they live in other countries. I don’t get out socially very much, but I still take whatever opportunities I can to grab lunch or coffee with friends. And for the friends who don’t live in the same city as me, there’s always Facebook. I have some amazing friends who I’ve never actually met in person, and those friendships are just as important to me as my “real-life” friends. While some people might criticize me for “wasting time on Facebook”, what I am actually doing is spending time with friends.

4. Learning new things. I am enrolled in a post-graduate writing certificate program, that I’m hoping will lead to a Masters degree program. Since enrolling in the program and successfully completing the first two classes, I have been reminded of how much I love to learn. Yes, it’s hard work, and I bitch and moan about deadlines and so on, but my complaints are really just hot air. I love being in school, and I love the feeling of accomplishment that I get from it.

5. Nocturnal TV time. I have bouts of insomnia from time to time, and there are few things worse than lying awake in the middle of the night worrying about stuff like whether your child with autism will be OK after you’ve shuffled off your mortal coil. When it feels as if the anxiety will overtake me, I get out of bed and curl up on the couch sipping wine and watching my Friends DVDs. Sometimes, all I need is a bit of solitude combined with feel-good comedy.

What are your go-to methods for escaping reality?

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle, published in accordance with my disclosure policy. Photo credit: jonathanhoeglund. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.


Race Report: Niagara Falls Women’s Half-Marathon

2013-06-02 15.16.27

When I am planning my race calendar each year, I tend to stay close to home. This year, I decided to break from tradition and register for not one, but two out-of-town races.

I tend to be quite laid-back when it comes to packing for a weekend away. My attitude is that if I forget something, I can just buy it when I get there. Factoring a race into my packing was a new experience for me. I had to make a list, check it twice, and obsessively check my bag of running stuff a gazillion times before we hit the road.

I headed down to Niagara Falls with my family on Saturday morning, and we drove straight to the race kit pickup area. I was given my bib and a canvas bag, and then I had to move down a row of tables while volunteers put things into the bag. I got the usual tech T-shirt (which is a little ill-fitting, but I like it and will wear it because it bears the word “Empowered”) and the usual running magazines and flyers for races and foot doctors. I also got makeup, a variety of toiletries, a miniature first-aid kit, and best of all, a bottle of wine.

This was the best race swag I had ever received.

On Sunday morning, I was a little pressed for time getting to the start line. The hotel we stayed in was fantastic, but they managed to screw up the breakfast vouchers. After a small amount of stress, I was able to grab my peanut butter toast and coffee, and I got to the start line with about forty minutes to spare.

All forty minutes were spent in the porta-potty lineup. This surprised me, since the race website had made a big deal of promising an abundance of porta-potties. In reality, this was the slowest-moving porta-potty lineup I’d ever been in, which I guess makes sense because this was a women’s race and everyone knows that women take longer. When I was done, I ran to the start line and then just kept running because the start siren went off.

It was an overcast day and just a little bit cool, but I could tell that it was going to get warm and humid. I was glad that I had decided on shorts and a short-sleeved shirt with no jacket. Before the end of the first kilometre, I was warming up, and about two kilometres later, the sun was starting to peek through the clouds. The race took us past the Falls not just once but twice, and the mist given off by the thunderous fall of water provided a very refreshing cool-down.

For most of the race I ran at a consistent pace of around 6:30 minutes per kilometre. I felt good: I was reasonably confident that I would hit my target of 2:20:00. Somewhere around the halfway mark, I was feeling so good that I increased my pace quite substantially. I paid for it when I hit 15km or so. My legs suddenly turned to Jello and I started to struggle. I wouldn’t say I crashed and burned, but I definitely slowed down for the next 4km.

With 2km to go, I picked up the pace again, knowing that I only had about 13 minutes of running left. At the final aid station, volunteers were handing out mini-donuts and candies. I grabbed a little cup of jellybeans and munched them down. Not my usual race fare, but at that point I knew that I could really do with a sugar-rush.

Shortly before the 20km mark I slowed to a walk just for long enough to drink the last couple of mouthfuls of my Gatorade. I started to run again, and after what felt like an eternity but was only about six minutes, I crossed the finish line. I was absolutely spent but still had the energy to raise my arms in a victory salute.

My time was 2:17:52 – just 20 seconds off my personal best. It was a performance that gives me great hope for new personal records this season. I even had an extra little sparkle at the end of the race: for the first time ever, I heard my name announced over the loudspeaker as I crossed the finish line.

As always, I am immensely grateful to the race organizers and volunteers for putting this event together. Apart from the shortage of porta-potties, the race was very well organized. The aid stations were well-run and the route was fantastic. I am also grateful to the people who took time out of their day to stand on the sidelines and offer much-needed encouragement to the runners.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)



Autism and Bedtime: 11 Steps For Not Going Completely Insane


The Hyperactive Neurotypical Child

Since the beginning of time, when Adam and Eve got talked into eating an apple by a psychotic snake, women – and to a lesser extent, men – have been pondering the same question. It is a question that crosses all geographic, ethnic, cultural and religious boundaries, one that unites mothers in a way that nothing else can.

How am I going to get this child to sleep?

When there’s a child with autism in the family, that question crops up with frightening regularity. It becomes an automatic response to just about everything. Here’s a typical conversation between husband and wife while the kid with autism bounces on the ceiling like a yo-yo:

Husband: What should we have for dinner tonight?

Wife: How am I going to get this child to sleep?

Husband: Ummm. I don’t know. So, dinner. What do you think? Chinese takeout?

Wife: Sure, sure. How am I —

Husband: Do you want chop suey or chow mein?

Wife (sobbing): How am I going to get this child to slee-eee-eeeeeep?

Husband (fumbling awkwardly with takeout menu): OK, I’ll just order something.

For you autism parents who are feeling a little desperate, I offer you my Bedtime Survival Tips.

1) Make sure you have wine. You won’t need it for the bedtime ordeal itself, but it will a great reward for you to give yourself if when the kids get to sleep.

2) About two hours before bedtime, sweetly ask the fruits of your loins to put on their pajamas. You’ll have to ask both of them about a gazillion times before they comply, so the more lead time you give yourself, the better.

3) An hour before bedtime, calmly talk to the Hyperactive Neurotypical Child and ask him to put on his pajamas. If When he argues on the grounds that his brother doesn’t have pajamas on, explain to him that you need him to lead by example. Bribe him with a donut.

4) Send your husband out to buy donuts.

5) Repeatedly tell the Autie to put on his pajamas, with your voice gradually increasing in pitch and panic. Right before you hit your breaking point, sob with relief when you hear your husband return with the donuts. Armed with your confectionary currency, coax your kids into their pajamas and then give them their reward. Fail to care when they wipe their gooey hands all over the fronts of their nice clean pajamas.

6) Sergeant-Major the kids into the bathroom one at a time to pee and brush their teeth. Do the Autie first. If you do the Hyperactive Neurotypical Child first, the Autie will head for the hills and you won’t see him until next Christmas.

7) Get the kids their bedtime milk. Remember to break a Melatonin capsule into the Autie’s milk, otherwise he will spend the entire night gleefully and vigourously rubbing the top of your head.

8) Channel the days when you used to herd cats and get your kids moving in the general direction of their rooms. Naively believe the Hyperactive Neurotypical Child when he says he’ll quietly try to go to sleep.

9) Kiss the little darlings goodnight and retreat into the living room. If When one of them makes a sudden appearance by your side, calmly shepherd them back to bed.

10) Repeat Step Nine 84 times.

11) When there has not been any activity for three geological eras, you can safely assume that the kids are asleep. Pour some of the wine from Step One into a glass and drink. If you’re feeling really frazzled, cut out the middleman and just drink straight from the bottle.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)


Ten Pieces of Stuff About Blissdom


The Pantry Girls with Top Chef Carl Heinrich

Ten days after The Bliss, I am finally sitting down to write about it, and I find myself not knowing where to start. It is impossible to capture everything about an event like Blissdom in a single blog post. Should I talk about the ten best things I learned? A chronological account of the whole weekend? Selected highlights? Profiles of some of the people I met?

Initially, I was going to cheat and collect tweets about Blissdom from fellow delegates. Having just come off a half-marathon, Blissdom, and a three-day autism symposium all in the space of two weeks, I was tired, and I was tempted to write my Blissdom post using the words of other people. With full accreditation, of course.

In the end, I decided to keep it simple – and in my own words –  and talk about Ten Pieces of Stuff About Blissdom, in no particular order. Because putting these into any kind of meaningful sequence could make my brain explode.

1. If you’re planning to leave your kids and husband at home in order to have a relaxing Blissdom weekend, it’s not going to happen. The relaxing part, that is. When you have a gathering of a couple of hundred moms who don’t get out much, the socializing and wine drinking gets a little intense. You will have an awesome time, but you will not be relaxing.

2. There were microsessions on the Saturday morning that I absolutely loved. The microsessions are round table discussions with a small group of people, facilitated by an expert, and it’s an opportunity to really focus on the specifics that apply to you. It was such an honour to meet and talk to renowned Canadian writer Ann Douglas, and I learned a lot from her.

3. I collected many business cards, each representing a new contact. Said business cards are currently sitting in my purse, and I need to spend a bit of time going through them and getting in touch with everyone, so that those contacts stay active. The people I met were awesome, and there is potential to do great things with them in the future.

4. On the Friday morning, some of us were in the studio audience of the Marilyn Denis show, which is a popular Canadian daytime TV talk show. It was fun to be there, and it was interesting to get a behind-the-scenes look at what happens during these shows. Also, my co-workers got a kick out seeing me on TV during my three seconds of fame.

5. At blogging and social media conferences, there is free stuff. A lot of it. I really needed to allow extra space in my bag to bring home the books, the coffee mugs, the pillow, the samples of food, and so on.

6.The costume and karaoke party was a blast. I got into the spirit of things and dressed up as The Flash, but no amount of money would make me take part in the karaoke. It was fun to see other people take the stage, though. It was also fun to see the creative costumes that people were wearing. There was a Christmas tree, Facebook, Cher, Mitt Romney’s binders full of women, and much more. I was one of a posse of superheroes, but on that particular night, we all took a much-needed break from fighting crime and saving the world.

7. As a slightly neurotic person with social anxiety issues, I was not wild about the idea of sharing a room with people I did not know. But my roomies – Nolie and Jenn – were fantastic to spend time with. They were an essential part of my Blissdom experience and I am immensely grateful to them for putting up with me.

8.Due to the aforementioned neurosis and social anxiety, I tend to feel a little out of place when I’m among other people. I envy the ability of others to converse with ease with complete strangers, and I feel awkward as I stand in a quiet corner with my wine, desperately scanning the room for someone I might know. At Blissdom, I did not feel this way. I was among other writers, many of whom are just as introverted and socially anxious as me. I felt as if I was hanging out with my own kind. Ironically, being with fellow introverts helped draw me out of myself a little.

9. On the Friday night, I went out to dinner as part of a group that christened itself the Pantry Girls. Our dinner was prepared by the winner of Top Chef Canada, and it was outstanding. The food was good, the wine was good, and the company was a lot of fun. We were in an alcove area that appeared to function at least partially as a pantry, hence the name of our little group.

10. The whole weekend was capped off with a wine-tasting excursion in the Niagara region on the Sunday. I almost bailed – I had gone to bed at about two in the morning and woke up with a hangover for the second consecutive day. Was more wine really what I needed? In the end, my inner wine affectionado prevailed and I had a great day.

Now I am left with memories, a ton of people to contact, Blissdom swag. I am also left with the goal of losing some weight before next year’s Blissdom with the intention of being a slicker looking Flash!

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)


A Friend Who Saved The Day (And My Sanity)

I met my friend Fran about fifteen years ago. We met more or less by default: my boyfriend and her boyfriend were old high school buddies. We always got along well enough, but we didn’t really become firm friends until just over two years ago, when Fran emailed me to tell me she was moving to Canada. By then both of us had long split from the boyfriends who had been responsible for us meeting in the first place.

Despite living on the other side of the country, since Fran came to Canada she has visited me in Toronto several times. During her first visit we ran a race together. I did the 10km race and Fran – running in her first race ever – did the 5km. During that same visit, she assembled an outdoor grill that I had been given and that had me stumped. This is why you have friends who can put helicopters together. Seriously. That is what Fran does for a living.

During Fran’s visits, we always seem to go through an inordinate amount of wine. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Most recently, Fran came to my wedding. I can safely say that if she hadn’t been there, I would have been lost. She arrived three days before the wedding, when I was roughly halfway through a week-long nervous breakdown. By this point, she had already helped immensely, having offered to play flute music at the wedding ceremony (Fran can fix helicopters and play the flute like an angel).

On the day she arrived, Fran and I went driving all over the place, picking up the guest favours, sorting out a camera for the as-yet unconfirmed photographer, buying crafty stuff to make the guest favours look pretty.

The following day, while I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off and doing frantic last-minute shopping, Fran calmly took charge of the guest favours. She spent the day wrapping them, putting ribbon around them and even adding a bit of hand-written calligraphy to finish them off. They looked gorgeous.

I have to pause at this point to give credit to my Mom. She helped with the guest favours too. Enormously. For a day and a half the two of them – Fran and my Mom – were at it, working hard to make everything look perfect. If it hadn’t been for them, I honestly don’t know what I would have done.

Fran also helped keep me from unraveling completely at the seams. During the day, she was offering practical help with all kinds of things. During the evenings, she kept me supplied with wine, good humour and great conversation.

On the day, she drove back and forth to the reception hall with her friend Corrigan, dropping off things that needed to be dropped off and helping keep everything in line.

And of course, there was the music at the ceremony. It was beautiful, it was personal, it made the ceremony complete in a way that some random organist could never have managed. The musical interlude continued at the reception, where Fran and Gerard’s cousin Liam played a wonderful set of Celtic music. They played together effortlessly, despite having met and practised together for the first time the previous day.

Then there was the photography. We had a number of people present with cameras, many of whom are very capable photographers, and Fran was one of them. She took hundreds – literally hundreds – of fantastic pictures that are a wonderful record of a perfect day.

Fran, if you’re reading this, thank you does not begin to be enough. You came through for me in so many ways at a time when I really needed it.

Next time you’re coming to town, let me know and I’ll stock up on wine.


Rough As A Badger’s Arse

To say that I am feeling rough today would be an understatement. I have that exhausted, fuzzy-in-the-brain, all-over achy feeling that is usually associated with the aftermath of a weekend of heavy drinking and dedicated partying.

I guess this is partly true. On Saturday our bridal party threw a Jack & Jill party for us. One of the groomsmen showed up with several bottles of wine and a beer-filled cooler that could have sunk a small ship. “Drink!” he commanded. “Enjoy!”

Well, orders are orders. I drank. I enjoyed. The guys crowded around the cooler of beer like bees around a honeypot, while me and most of the other women present tucked into the wine.

It was an outstanding evening. There was food, there were happy people, there was a lovely raffle prize (which was won by my five-year-old), and there was the incredible spectacle of my soon-to-be mother-in-law enthusiastically throwing a pie into the face of her firstborn son, the groom-to-be.

Eventually the guests left, leaving Gerard and I to settle our over-excited children. By the time we fell into an exhausted sleep ourselves, it must have been close to two in the morning.

I woke up yesterday morning with a well-earned hangover – the kind that comes complete with a queasy stomach, an excruciating headache and a death wish. I stumbled into the bathroom to get some extra-strength Tylenol and some water. Then I somehow – probably by luck more than anything else -found my way back to bed, and with the room spinning around me, I went back to sleep.

For a change, the kids were not up at the crack of dawn, as they usually are on weekends. They let me sleep, the little treasures.

When I woke up for the second time, I still felt kind of gross, but at least I felt as if I was going to live. I got up and went for a run (I say that as if it was a seamless event – the process of getting up and going for a run actually took about three hours).

The run was hard. The weather was bad. I was exhausted at the end of it – as if I hadn’t already been exhausted to begin with.

You’d think I would have slept last night, but no. Not only is George going through one of his phases of not sleeping, my mind is chock-full of details right now and just isn’t letting me rest. I tossed and turned and eventually fell into a fitful sleep, not long before I had to wake up.

To borrow a wonderful phrase from a book I read (This Charming Man by Marian Keyes, if you’re interested), today I am feeling as rough as a badger’s arse.

After another seventeen or so cups of coffee, I might start to feel normal.


Performing Artist In The Making?

Sometimes it is just not possible to write a post. People get sick or busy, unexpected things happen, and life just gets in the way.

Or sometimes people throw bridal showers for you – or in my case, Jack & Jill parties – and you spend the day drinking red wine and watching your future mother-in-law pay $50 for the privilege of throwing a pie in your fiance’s face.

The last of the guests has left, and the last glass of wine for the evening has been drained. It was a good, good day – one that I needed, because my stress levels have been through the roof. I’m in no fit state to write because I’ve had a lot of wine and I’m slurring my words. Instead, I offer you this picture of James acting like a ham.