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14 Things I Want To Accomplish In 2014

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1. Stretch myself to run a distance longer than the half-marathon. I am registered for the Around The Bay 30K race at the end of March.

2. Publish the book I wrote for 2013 NaNoWriMo. It may not be a best-seller (or maybe it will – who knows?), but I want to end 2014 being able to say that I’m a published author.

3. Sort out, for once and for all, my messed up relationship with food. For thirty years I’ve been flip-flopping between eating disorders and I’m tired of it.

4. Bring to fruition everything I have set in motion to get funding and support for our non-profit youth recording studio.

5. Get my home office space properly organized. That includes getting a new office chair so my ass stops sliding onto the floor.

6. Declutter my house and get rid of clothing, toys and things that are no longer used.

7. Run a half-marathon faster than 2:15:00.

8. Establish a habit of going to bed by 10:30 every night.

9. Stick to my training plans, without making excuses about the weather or how hard it is to wake up early in order to run or go to the gym.

10. Learn to cook more things from scratch. This year, I learned how to make great Hollandaise sauce and cook fish. Next, I want to conquer Alfredo sauce and find a semi-healthy recipe for cheesecake.

11. Make more effort to stay in contact with my brother. He is a really awesome guy and I miss him. I want him to be a bigger part of my life.

12. Complete another two credits for my post-grad writing certification. I am working on my third right now, and I want to have five done by this time next year.

13. Spend more time with friends. Virtually all of my friendships are conducted via the Internet. While that is highly convenient for my introverted self, it is good for the soul to be in the same room as a friend having a good chat. Preferably with wine.

14. Be comfortable being me, instead of trying to be a person I think other people want me to be.

 

What are your goals for the next year?

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit: joesive47. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.

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Health Activist Writers Month Challenge

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Happy April Fools Day! This day means two things. First, we all get to play pranks on our families and co-workers. And second, it is the first day of the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge. This is a fancy way of saying that for the month of April, you will be seeing one blog post from me every day, as I try to raise awareness for the causes that matter to me. I participated in this challenge last year – miraculously, without missing a single day, and I had such a lot of fun with it that signing up again this year was not even a question.

Why am I doing this? With everything that I already have on my plate – full-time job, commute from hell, finances for the husband’s business, school, running, parenting, and a million other things – how can I commit to writing a blog post every single day? I mean, that’s a lot of effort.

I do it because I love it, and because I am passionate about the causes I write about. I have a genuine desire to make a difference through the stories I tell. I want parents whose kids have just been diagnosed with autism to know that everything will be OK. Sure, the definition of “OK” might change, but there is always hope. I want people to know that the kid they saw having a meltdown in Wal-Mart wasn’t being a spoiled brat. He was simply having immense difficulty processing all of the sensory inputs that were going on. I want other moms in my position – moms who are juggling a lot of stuff including bouts of mental illness – that it can be done, and that they should take some time out to take care of themselves.

Sometimes I simply want people to celebrate my kids’ accomplishments with me, or I want them to share my outrage at something, well, outrageous, or I just want them to have a bit of a laugh.

Yes, it’s a time commitment, but it’s one that I am more than happy to make. Because sharing a little slice of my life through this blog is my passion.

I am excited to be taking part in this challenge, and I am excited to read the awesome posts that my fellow health activists will put up.

You too can sign up for this challenge. Just visit info.wegohealth.com/hawmc and fill in your information!

What are the health concerns you care about the most?

 

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In Pursuit Of A Dream

When I finished high school 25 years ago, I had the idea that I would become a research psychologist. I was interested in the clinical aspect of it, but I did not think it would suit my socially awkward personality. If I went into research, though, I would be able to satisfy my desire to try and figure out what makes people tick. In some small way, I might even be able to make the world a better place.

I graduated high school with good grades and went off to university to pursue a Bachelors degree with a psychology major.

You know how life has this way of barging in and messing up all your plans?

Life barged in and messed up all my plans. During my second year at university, I met someone who I initially thought was charming, but who turned out to be a chaotic and disruptive force. I compare that part of my life with a tsunami. A gigantic wave rushes in and knocks over everything in its path. When the water recedes, the landscape is completely different. Some things have been turned upside down, others have completely disappeared. Virtually nothing is recognizable, and the only way to move forward is through a process of recovery and reinvention.

One thing is clear: after such a disruption, nothing can ever be the same again.

I did finish my Bachelors degree, but I abandoned the dream. I did not have good enough grades to pursue further studies, and even if that weren’t the case, my sense of self had been so completely obliterated that it would not have been possible.

In the 20-odd years since then, a lot has happened. I spent some time drifting, both metaphorically in my own mind and literally through travel, and eventually washed up in a career. I moved to Canada, had children, got married. I have buried my father, been thrust into the role of special needs mom, started running and discovered a passion for writing.

I have a lot to be thankful for, including the fact that in spite of the storm that I endured all those years ago, I have managed to make a life for myself. There has always been an undertone of regret, though. Regret for the poor decisions I made back then, and regret for the fact that I had a dream that got swept away. While the career I did end up in has been pretty good, I have never been able to shake the feeling that this is not what I want to do, that I have been living my whole adult life in response to things that happened a long time ago.

Maybe I cannot pursue the dreams I had back then. Maybe those dreams belong in the past along with all the ugly stuff that happened there.

What about new dreams, though? Is there anything stopping me from pursuing them?

In a move that has surprised absolutely no-one except myself, I have made the decision to go back to school. I have enrolled in a post-graduate certificate in fiction and non-fiction writing, and this will be followed up with a Masters degree in creative writing.

It is daunting. Quite apart from the extra time commitment that this will involve, my mind keeps drifting back to how my first shot at a university education went so wrong. I freely admit that I am scared. A part of me feels like that naive kid who made dumb choices. On the other hand, though, this might be a chance of personal redemption, an opportunity to get it right.

I owe this to myself, and I owe it to that scared, overwhelmed kid of long ago who gave up a dream.

(Photo credit: Raoul Luoar. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)
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GUEST POST: Back Into The Stride

In March, I received an email inviting me to participate in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge hosted by WEGO Health. “In for a penny, in for a pound,” I thought, and signed up. I had never participated in a month-long blogging challenge before and didn’t really know what to expect. I thought that maybe my readership would increase slightly. Perhaps I would come across a couple of blogs that interested me.

I didn’t anticipate becoming immersed in an entirely new (to me) community of bloggers. During the challenge I read many blog posts that were humourous, surprising, heart-wrenching, thought-provoking, informative, or just downright good. I have been fortunate enough to keep in touch with some of the writers, and I remain an active participant in the goings-on at WEGO Health.

One of the writers I “met” during the challenge is a woman who has much in common with me. She is the parent of an individual with special needs. She is also a runner, and therefore totally gets why the highlight of my weekend was going out to buy a new pair of running shoes.

Today, Gretchen Stahlman tells us about her train of thought as she returns to running after a break.

 

I hadn’t run in about a month, the longest stretch since I started running distance six years ago. I normally run three or four times a week, depending on what I’m training for. Last December I started training hard for the half-marathons I ran in the spring. I had a good base from running the NYC marathon in November and I wanted to capitalize on that, plus I wanted to keep myself motivated through the dark, cold winter months. And it worked: I had a PR at my half in March, and I felt like I was really coming into my own in running. But by the end of April when I ran my last half, my body and my mind were too tired to do what I wanted them to do.

Soon enough I’ll start training for the Chicago marathon, so the month of May was a good time to rest and recover and finally address that twangy right hamstring. When I traveled to Denver on business, I purposefully didn’t take my running gear so I’d be forced to take the time off. As it turns out, I liked resting. And I’m pretty good at it (better at it than running). So I took another week off. I stretched my hamstring and, amazingly, it got better when I wasn’t running on it. So I took another week off. I decided that I would run again when I felt like it. Day after day, I didn’t feel like it.

Then last week, my mind got stuck while working on a new essay. In writing, there is the required butt-to-chair time when the words manifest themselves on the page, but for me, I also need running time that frees my mind to go where it will while my body churns away at the miles.

I made my triumphant return to running last Saturday. Just three miles and I knew it would be hard, making me wonder how I had ever run 26.2 miles before and how I would ever do it again. I ran with a new friend on a route I like a lot, one that takes us on the canal path where there are always other runners, owners walking dogs, couples strolling with cups of coffee. We ran smoothly over the brick sidewalk, saying good morning to those who came our way.

A white haired man in old-school running gear came our direction, not terribly fast and with a little lurch in his stride. His left hand held his right arm to his chest as he ran, and when we drew closer, I could see that it was shriveled to half the density of his left. I said Good morning as we passed, and then Wow to my friend when the man was out of earshot. Wow, she said back.

When my friend slowed to walk, I ran on by myself. Now free of conversation, my thoughts drifted to my son who is 22 and only recently diagnosed with Asperger’s although he’s been this way his entire life. He hit a dark skid last fall where he stayed in bed all day, didn’t shower unless told to, didn’t go out, shrank back from the difficulties of the world. That’s when we sought professional help, that’s when the diagnosis came, and now he’s getting out of bed and doing a few things on his own, more each week, a slow stuttering rise to a new life. The social interactions are hard for him, going new places, doing new things, but equally hard to go old places and see people he already knows. But he’s doing it. He’s putting himself out there, making the effort, like the old man who has found his own way to run, holding himself together, not letting what he can’t do prevent him from doing the things that he can.

The route I ran turned down a dirt road and then along a short stretch of trail. The wet of the morning grass come through my running shoes. The trees arched over the path, dimming the sun, muting the world. When I picked up my right foot to clear the rocks and roots, that old achy hamstring sang out like an old friend. The path ended and I turned onto the road, the one that lead me back to where I started. My first run was done, not as hard as I thought it would be. It felt good to be back, in both mind and body, ready to begin my own arduous climb to the marathon.

To learn more about Gretchen Stahlman, check out her website!

(Photo credit: Gretchen Stahlman)

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Writing: Beyond The Challenges

2012 is shaping up to be a busy year. In the last five months, I have taken an emergency trip to South Africa, run three races, and had my website revamped. I have also participated in two consecutive month-long blogging challenges, ending yesterday.

Today I am publishing a post for the 62nd day in a row. While I have thoroughly enjoyed these opportunities to indulge my passion for writing, I am ready to change the pace for a brief period of time. Blogging every day in addition to holding down a full-time job, parenting two young kids, and training for a half-marathon – well, it can be tiring.

I’m not planning on fading away into the sunset (particularly today, since it’s raining and there will be no sunset). Instead, I am going to work on other parts of my website that I have not had the time to get to yet.

I will be putting together a blogroll (if you would like your blog to be included, send me an email). I will be creating resources pages for the autism and running communities, and once I have made up my mind about the rest of the racing season, I will be updating my list of races.

My actual blogging will take a backseat for the next week or two, but I have lined up some guest writers to take care of that. I am truly excited to bring you some great stories from different walks of life, starting on Monday.

Before I quietly slip out through the side door to get more coffee, I will leave you with some highlights of the last two months of blogging. The posts mentioned below are the ones that have attracted the most views.

Highlights of the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge in April:

In Week 1, I described a conversation I had with my younger son about his understanding of his brother’s autism.

In Week 2, I wrote a letter to my 16-year-old self offering some words of hard-earned wisdom – not that she would listen to an old fogie like me.

Do you ever get stressed out about little things that really don’t matter? In Week 3, I gave myself a bit of advice, the gist of which was to just chill out.

I ran my second race of the season in Week 4, and wrote about how I found the zone.

Highlights of the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon in May:

I keep hearing people talk about how kids with autism are incapable of affection or empathy. In Week 1 of the Blogathon, I decided to try and bust that myth.

In Week 2, my younger son lost his first tooth, in more ways than one. We had to get the tooth fairy to come, even though we didn’t have the actual tooth.

May was Mental Health Awareness Month, and during Week 3 of the Blogathon, there was a Mental Health Blog Party. I wrote about postpartum depression, in hopes that sharing my experiences would help someone.

In Week 4 I wrote about the most precious of gems: those little moments with my family that make me feel like the richest person in the world.

I was feeling introspective for much of Week 5, and wrote about how I made peace with a decision that parents all over the world wrestle with.

The blogging challenges are done – at least for now. But the writing continues, because I will never run out of words.

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A New Look

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

When I first started this blog, I had no idea what I was doing. I had a vague notion that I wanted to write, but I didn’t know how to put a blog together. I had a bit of a dilemma: I wanted my blog to be visually appealing and inviting, but I have the design skills of a praying mantis – a dead praying mantis.

Fortunately, I had some templates to choose from. I experimented with a few of them, and settled on one that looked nice but was impossible to read. Small white text on a black background – what was I thinking?

People started emailing me telling me that I was ruining their eyes. I don’t want to be responsible for anyone’s failed eyesight, so I knew a change was necessary. I went back to the templates and picked out a new one. Black text, light background, bigger font – all-round easier to read. The new design looked a lot nicer too. It looked calmer somehow, less austere and cold.

When I launched the new design, everyone loved it. People thanked me for saving them from a trip to the optometrist. I myself was immensely proud of the new improved Running For Autism.

After about a year, though, something started to happen…

I started to realize that I was actually taking this blogging thing very seriously. I liked to write, and I wanted  to write. And I wanted a more professional, unique site on which to showcase my offerings.

Again, I have the design skills of a dead praying mantis. This might be a problem.

Just then, a fellow blogger launched her new site and I loved it. It looked clean and sleek, professional yet fun. I got in touch with the blogger and asked her who had designed her site.

That is how I got in touch with Courtney.

A few short months later, I have a new website that is so beautiful I could cry.

Courtney has been fantastic to work with. She has been fast and professional, receptive to my ideas and forthcoming with her own suggestions. When I had technical trouble with my domain name, she patiently put up with my frantic email harassment and helped me get sorted out. She has always been there to answer questions and calm my fraying nerves.

And look at the website she made me. I mean, look at it! I wouldn’t have been able to come up with this in a million years.

Now I begin the task of bullying harassing nagging sweetly asking my subscribers to move their subscriptions from my old site to my new one.

I am excited to launch this website, which heralds a new phase in my writing. I hope you will all stay with me for the ride!

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cecphotography/4747271873. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

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Goodbye WEGO Health Challenge, Hello Blogathon

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

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.
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Getting It Write

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 15 – Writing with style: What’s your writing style? Do words just flow from your mind to your fingertips? Do you like handwriting first? Do you plan your posts? Title first or last? Where do you write best?

The fact that my older son’s childhood development is almost a carbon copy of my own leads me to believe that I am somewhere on the autism spectrum. I had the same speech delays, the same geekiness with numbers, and the same tendency to play by myself in spite of being in a room full of other kids.

To this day, I experience social anxiety, although I have learned how to mask it well enough for other people not to notice. I am not fond of social gatherings where I do not know at least one person very well. During times of stress or conflict I struggle to coherently express my thoughts verbally. Let’s not even get started on the telephone. I am downright terrified of the telephone.

My ineptitude and discomfort with the spoken word is what led me to the written word. Writing is marvelous. It gives me a voice. It provides an outlet for the creativity that I have, to my complete surprise, discovered within me, and it eliminates the problem I have with conversation, where my words frequently get lost between my brain and my mouth.

When I was in high school, I used to get somewhat disillusioned when my creative writing projects were marked down “for lack of structure”. We had it drummed into us that our stories had to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. We were supposed to rigidly plan our essays and then stick to the plan. If the ending did not clearly tie in to the beginning, that was the mark of a Bad Essay.

The problem was that this whole beginning-middle-ending thing didn’t work for me. I understood the theory, but I couldn’t make my mind work in such a linear pattern. As long as the stuff I wrote made an impact, and as long as my readers were engaged throughout, did it really matter? Whenever I tried to write in the prescribed way , the finished product came across as stilted and awkward, and just not me.

When I started this blog just over two years ago, I promised myself that I would remain true to my natural style. I try to make sure my writing flows, and that it’s easy on the eye. I have a goal to leave my audience with some kind of message, whether it’s an idea, a call to action, or an emotion. How I accomplish that depends on my subject matter and what my state of mind is like as I’m writing. Sometimes my posts do follow a traditional structure, and when that happens, it’s just because the topic lent itself to that.

Many times, I will change direction midway through a post. I will allow my train of thought to drive my writing. In that sense, my blog posts are often a true reflection of how I think. They are a glimpse into the part of my soul that’s open for public viewing. I may struggle from time to time to come up with the first sentence, but usually, once I achieve that, I’m off and running. I don’t always go to where I had intended. My destination can be a surprise even to me.

The journey is always a lot of fun too.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kharlamovaa/6016780468/. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

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Blog Beginnings: A Funny Guy Made Me Do It

Tim "Red Barren" Carter, who gave me the idea for my blog

Two years ago today, my blog was born. When I wrote my first post, I didn’t really give much thought to where it would all lead me. I wouldn’t have even started the blog if I hadn’t been pushed into it.

Here’s what happened:

Over a decade ago, a super-cool dude by the name of Bruce started a super-cool ezine called Really Good Quotes, and I was one of the original subscribers. In the early days of the ezine, Bruce did everything himself: the research, the writing, the sourcing of quotes, and the compilation of the issues. Five days a week he did this.

After a while, Bruce realized that it would be nice to have a life, so he cut back from five days a week to three, and he started enlisting help. He recruited a couple of writers and asked me to be the editor. And so it became my responsibility to collect everyone’s submissions and format them into something resembling a respectable ezine. When I’d been doing this for about a year, Bruce offered me my own column. I handed off the editing responsibilities to a guy named Cliff, who does it far better than I did (and writes an awesome column to boot), and I started focusing my attention on writing.

Through this whole process, I became friends with the other writers on the ezine. We were a close-knit little group from the start and our friendships started to extend beyond the bounds of Really Good Quotes. One of my fellow writers – a guy who, sadly, is no longer with us – was called Tim. Tim had a heart the size of Texas and he was an amazingly funny guy. He was also a technogeek, so in addition to being a friend, he became my unofficial tech support person.

It was Tim who got me into writing outside of Really Good Quotes. My older son’s autism diagnosis came when I was in the midst of post-partum depression, and I felt myself buckling under the weight of everything. Tim contacted me during this dreadful time and told me that perhaps I needed an additional forum for my writing.  He offered me a space on his website where I could write whenever I wanted. There was no requirement to post, there was no pressure and no expectation. I simply had a place to go when I needed to vent.

One day more than a year later, Tim told me I needed to spread my wings. He wasn’t booting me off his site, and in fact he wanted me to stay and continue posting, but he felt that my writing was good enough to warrant a wider audience. He encouraged me to sign up with one of the well-known blogging platforms that came complete with a large community of bloggers. At first I was resistant to the idea. It sounded like more hard work than I was in the mood for.

Tim’s idea would turn out to be a bug that, once planted in my mind, kept nagging at me. After a couple of months, I thought, What the hell? I signed up, and here I am, celebrating my blog’s second birthday.

Many things have happened since then, both in my blog and in the broader context of my life. I have seen all kinds of growth in my kids, I have watched my son beat out all of the doctor’s predictions, and I have done some growing up myself. I have run all kinds of races and beat my own personal best times. I have voted for the first time as a Canadian citizen, I have tied the knot with my long-time partner and I have taken on extra responsibilities at work.

As far as my writing goes, I still write for Really Good Quotes. I am also a writer and scheduling editor for World Moms Blog and I participate regularly in the Indie Ink writing challenges. I have been invited to participate in the Health Activists Writers Month Challenge which runs in April. I have been voted as one of the Top 25 Canadian Mom Blogs. And very soon, my website will be going through an overhaul. I am excited at the prospect of launching a new look to showcase my writing.

I feel like I am entering a whole new phase and I cannot wait to see where it brings me.

Happy 2nd birthday, blog!

(Photo used with the kind permission of Kristen Carter)