Photo credit THW 💙
My last working day at my corporate job was February 12th 2016. When I made the decision to pursue self-employment, my vision was nothing more than teaching yoga classes and making enough money to ensure that I could feed my son, and occasionally myself. I knew that my environment was toxic and my wellbeing was more important. I also knew that embarking on your own statistically takes 5 years to become successful. In other words, I should not plan on anything more than breaking even and hopefully not eroding all of my savings. I made a conscious decision to ignore the five year statistic since I realistically couldn’t survive for more than three years.
For the first time in my life, ambition went out the window. I thought no further than the following month when I finalized what classes I was teaching. Despite that, my level of gratitude increased. I became more aware of my blessings which didn’t require finances or accumulation of materialistic wealth. And without expectations, I saw opportunities arise that I had never intended.
One year after leaving my job, I started to homeschool my son. Me who lacks any semblance of patience, who felt like pulling my hair out just from doing homework with him, decided to discard the few remaining marbles that I had and prove I was certifiably insane. Fifteen months later, we’re both still alive *bonus points* Has it been without struggles? Of course not! But has it been worth it? Most definitely. I have seen firsthand the changes in his emotional responses and his anxiety. In the past, I was always vocal about the negatives of our school system… the unnecessary pressures coupled with approaches that have been scientifically debunked as beneficial. Now I speak from experience.
While I continued to take yoga one month at a time, I saw huge improvements in our autism advocacy group. I saw our reach expanding almost daily. Our vision has always centered around empowering parents. We believe that parents are the best advocates for their children because who knows your child better than you? And as we have been able to reach more parents, we have also been able to educate a larger portion of the community. How else can you create greater awareness and acceptance if not without the support of those around you?
And then one night around midnight, I decided to start a blog. It seemed like a good idea at the time and five months later, I have over 1000 views and 700 visitors. But bigger than that was the opportunity to have two published articles through The Mighty.
The biggest success has been the growth of my yoga classes. My yoga mama said to me last week “you’re growing a business. What’s your future plans? What’s your vision?” And my initial response was “What business? No I’m not. I’m simply teaching yoga classes”. I also thought “this is adulting again! Somebody save me!” But after the initial shock, I realized the legitimacy of her statements. Without even trying, I went from a single regular client and two inconsistent ones to six regulars and additional jobs emerging daily.
Did I write this as a boastful chronicle of my successes? Nope. It’s a truthful but abbreviated narrative of the last two years. March 2018 was the first month that I felt financially secure in my decision to give up an established career of over fifteen years and two degrees that took me seven years to complete. This is an account of how my life changed when I stripped away all the non-essentials and found gratitude in less… when I changed my perspective from planning the next ten years of my life to instead a recognition of living and appreciating the moment.
My present list of achievements includes…
- Super Mommy (where is the flying cape emoji when you need it?)
- Yoga Lady 😉🕉
- Homeschooling Extraordinaire 🤓
- Autism Advocate 💙
- Social Media Butterfly with a Purpose📱
- Blogger 💻
- Writer 📝
We are guaranteed this moment and nothing more. Make sure you make the most of it 😉
April is Autism Awareness month. Last year I remembered an intense sense of dread and depression about two weeks in and I found it necessary to remove myself from the usual social media channels that I would frequent. I anticipate this year will be no different. Allow me to explain…
The ongoing battle as to what color, hashtag and symbol should reign supreme
When my son was first diagnosed, almost five years ago, one of the first organizations that I came across was Autism Speaks. It took almost a year before I learnt how vilified this organization was by the vast majority of the autism community. To my understanding, the color blue and the puzzle piece symbol were largely instituted by Autism Speaks and remain irrevocably linked to this organization. A full explanation of all the controversies with Autism Speaks would require its own separate blog post. But it can be simply stated that if you use the color blue, the hashtag #lightitupblue or the puzzle piece to indicate your support for autistics, you will be categorized as a supporter of the organization.
This places me in an awkward position. My son’s favorite color is blue and he connects with the explanation of the puzzle piece. As he gets older, his views may change and if they do, my support of him as an autistic will also change. In the meantime, I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. I’m expected to support autistics by using #redinstead and the infinity symbol. But not support my son who is autistic and the reason behind all of my efforts and advocacy since it is automatically assumed that if I use the color blue I’m supporting Autism Speaks, which could not be further from the truth.
Awareness vs Acceptance
Another recurring sore point is the argument of which is more important… awareness or acceptance? People are encouraged to support #AutismAcceptance and constantly told that #AutismAwareness isn’t enough and to eschew awareness. The comments on social media are often brutal.
But here’s my thought process… when my son was diagnosed, he was the first official autistic person I knew and that extended also to most members of our family. I was then tasked with having to explain exactly what autism is and there are several members of my very large extended family who have limited education. I had to break this down to bare basics. How can I press for acceptance to individuals who have no understanding of the situation? It quite simply doesn’t make sense. So as much as awareness has grown, I believe it is still a crucial aspect towards achieving acceptance.
Autism awareness month is every month
Look out in April for the multitude of posts proclaiming “every day is autism awareness day in my house” and “autism awareness month is also January, February, March, May, etc”. Here’s the thing… my son is autistic and yes, we live with autism every single day. But the average person doesn’t. And while I want that person to figuratively walk in my shoes or my son’s and understand the challenges we face and how they might be able to support better, I want them to live the life that they have been dealt. That means every day will not be autism awareness day in their household and every month will not be autism awareness month either. By having a specific time, conversations are created with those who are outside the community and I believe that is the major route towards acceptance.
Person-first vs identity-first
This argument tends to intensify during April. Let’s explain first… person-first language is where the person comes before the condition e.g. my son with autism. Identity-first language places the condition e.g. my autistic son.
Going back to when we first received the diagnosis, we were encouraged to use person-first language. The essence of this approach is that we recognize the individual most importantly and I value that viewpoint. Truthfully though, I always found that it seemed very wordy and not particularly fluent. However, this wasn’t about me so I continued.
The turning point happened about a year later when my son described himself as autistic. We sat down and spoke about the two different ways of describing autism and I asked him which he preferred. His response was what guided me to switch to identity-first. Aside from him also thinking that person-first language was superfluous and wordy, he said to me “won’t I always be autistic? Isn’t this a part of me for life?” And he’s right. There are many more aspects to his life and personality but autism shapes a lot of them. We choose to celebrate autism so why not allow it to be forefront in who he is.
Here’s my issue… when individuals are berated and belittled for their choice of language. If someone uses person-first, they shouldn’t be criticized for that unless it is clear that their decision to do so is from a malicious intent. The larger autistic community prefers identity-first, but there are some who don’t. And that should be respected without needing justification.
I hope this April will be different… a month when we can show greater respect and tolerance for all of the different ways that autism is represented. And if not 2018, maybe the following year.
I haven’t written a blog post in over a month. I’ve played it off to some people as a bit of writers block or being super overwhelmed with yoga classes or life being good so I haven’t had much to say. The truth is I’ve had things to say but sometimes I need to take a step back. For me, it’s difficult to put myself out there. It’s a challenge knowing that you may get criticism, knowing that you are being brutally honest but some people won’t get it. It’s tough to lay yourself bare and wonder if people might misinterpret your efforts as pleas for sympathy or pity when all you’re trying to do is generate empathy through the journey in someone else’s shoes.
The reality is that I’ve received only encouragement and love for everything I’ve put out. And for that there are no words to express my appreciation and admiration. I am constantly inspired by my son, by brave lionesses, by strangers, by my followers. All I can say is that I am overwhelmingly grateful. However, fighting the thoughts in your head is an internal struggle that I don’t think any amount of external support can get rid of. It takes time, kindness to yourself. Knowing that any fight is not without wounds. Knowing when to walk away and knowing when to come back again.
I think I’m back 😉
In April of 2015, Joaquin had the worst meltdown of his life: the meltdown that devastated me for weeks and made me question every ability in me as his mother. A series of events led up to the breakdown and throughout each one, I kept thinking that he was doing so well. In retrospect, I should’ve known this was a recipe for disaster in progress.
#1 – He had no school the day before… schedule out of whack.
#2 – We couldn’t find his iPad that morning… but he’s still good.
#3 – We couldn’t find his dark blue track pants that he always wears on Saturday mornings.
#4 – The big one, eye doctor visit… invasion of personal space and being poked and prodded.
All of these are not things that my boy takes very well without ample preparation and even then, I can usually only hope for the best. So what was the trigger? In order to keep him calm, I promised him at the ophthalmologist that he could use my phone after to play games. We got into the car and while we are driving, he asked for my phone. I then decided to change the arrangement and told him that we should do spelling first. All hell broke loose… screaming, shouting, he tried punching me while I was driving.
To a parent, who is unaccustomed by this behavior, the first thought is that this is a lack of discipline. But for a child who has extremely established routines, who needs forewarning before the plans change, who needs to go through all possible outcomes, so he can determine how he will address every possibility… this is not unexpected. If I had given him the phone and said “you have it for 1 minute and then we do spelling”, he would have been fine.
But instead, I changed the agreement completely and his brain isn’t always able to process that in the best way. So aside from attempting to physically hurt me, he will also hurt himself because he cannot verbally communicate his heightened emotions. On this occasion, he tried to open the car door while we were moving. I was able to pull over and after about 30 minutes, of him screaming and crying and me doing nothing more than bear hugging him, while trying to calm him, he said “mummy, I don’t want to be alive”.
My heart broke completely. I had no words. All I could do at that moment was hug him and allow the tears to flow from us both. I felt emotionally and physically ill for weeks after. I questioned the need for spelling, my need for discipline. Why didn’t I just give him the phone? I believed at that time that I was the worst mummy ever… that a good mummy would’ve been able to fix his hurt instantly. Or better yet, would not have caused his hurt in the first place.
But as with all challenges, there comes a time when we have no choice but to dust ourselves off, pick up the pieces and continue to fight. I know that I’m not perfect. I also know that I’m the best mummy my son has and I will do any and everything to help and support him. This is simply one more challenge to overcome.
If you’ve ever experienced anything like this, know that you are not alone. Know that there is at least one mummy who feels all the emotions you’re going through. Know that this will get better.
In 2012, I was officially diagnosed with major depressive disorder and anxiety. Truthfully, this was something I had always battled with, but getting it on paper meant confronting the demons. I finally understood that this wasn’t a bad day or week. This was something that I needed to accept was going to be present, probably for the rest of my life. I fought the perceived stigma of taking anti-depressants for years until I realized that if I didn’t, my suicidal ideation would eventually become a reality and my son would wake up one morning without a mother. I took 3 different tablets before I found the one that worked for me.
In the following months, I was forced into a great deal of introspection and slowly, the realization hit that I was not getting as much joy from my work, as I had in the past. I started wondering if my state of mind was boredom and stagnancy… maybe 12 years with one company had made me lose my drive for more. The undeniable fact sank in that I didn’t want to be in the corporate world anymore. But what do you do when all of your education has prepared you for the path that you no longer want to follow?
Some people may think that maybe I chose the wrong path. But I always loved sciences and still do. I pursued my Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry and Biochemistry and then followed with my Master of Science degree in Food Science and Technology. Those choices always felt right and allowed me a very comfortable career. Why then did I suddenly feel as though I had made the wrong decision? And was it possible to fix at this stage of my life?
I restarted practising yoga with no other intention than relaxation and after a few months, my yoga teacher offered her first training program… a 500 hour Yoga Alliance certified program. Some aspects were opened to the public as individual sessions and I signed up for all. Those sessions dealt a lot with yoga philosophy and really understanding the roots of where yoga came from. As soon as I attended, I knew without a doubt that I wanted to do this training.
I started planning for 2014. Being a single mother with a recently diagnosed autistic son didn’t make matters easy. However, planning a year in advance was a huge advantage. Godparents were called on for babysitting duties and support as I embarked on yoga teacher training in 2014.
On the 2nd day of training, I told my yoga teacher that I wanted to do this full time. As much as she wanted to, I’m not sure she believed me. But all of the ambiguity in my life suddenly made sense. Turning my back on 14 years of building my career to become a yoga teacher, with an unreliable income, having to hunt for work made sense. And if you don’t know me… I’m a Type A personality, very OCD, Virgo, who plans my life to a T. Yet casting everything to the wind somehow made me feel more confident and secure than I had in years.
I spent the next two years fine-tuning my skills and building my financial safety net. On February 12th 2016, I officially left the corporate world and adopted the new job title of yoga instructor.
Fast forward two years… no regrets but sometimes worrying moments. Finances are tighter than when I had the luxury of a consistent, unvarying pay cheque, but so far I’ve been comfortable and blessed. The one lesson I’ve learnt is that you cannot put a price on peace of mind. I’ve now made peace with myself that my depression and anxiety are not something I can snap out of. They are as a result of a chemical imbalance and I will likely be on medication for the rest of my life. But I’m ok with that. And being in a profession that allows my mental strength to develop is always a benefit. Having a profession that allows me to be connected with a passion that I never imagined possible brings me a greater level of positivity and joy which never previously existed in my life.
Yoga is an experience that will transform your thinking, your views on life and the world. Working hard for something that you love is called passion and I have found my passion in yoga.
My son’s name is Joaquin, his name meaning “God will determine”. For many years, I believed that motherhood was not in the cards but in 2008, I happily discovered that I was pregnant. My pregnancy was perfect in every way and I was given my son as a gift and for a purpose I never imagined.
At 4 weeks, Joaquin had surgery for pyloric stenosis, an abnormality of the lower stomach muscle that caused him to reject all oral feed. At 2 years of age, he had eye surgery to correct a squint, without which, his vision would have been severely affected. I thought that was enough, but God already had a predetermined plan.
In 2013, at 5 years of age, he was refused admission to several primary level schools. The explanations were vague and I was completely stunned. These schools were saying he wasn’t ready. But this was the same child who was talking in full sentences at 14 months, knew his alphabet at 16 months and could count to 20 by 18 months. What exactly did they expect from him?
On our 11th attempt at a primary school, a single question changed our lives. “Has anyone ever suggested to you that your son may be autistic?”
I was devastated. I considered myself to be reasonably educated, but I knew nothing about autism. I ignorantly thought that anyone with autism was below average intelligence and unable to speak. So why was someone now suggesting that he was autistic? What were they seeing that I was missing?
And slowly the signs emerged. The little things that I thought were quirks were the glaring signs that had been right in front of me. But I simply didn’t know any better.
- Joaquin very rarely made eye contact. But I thought this was as a result of his eye surgery.
- He always hated people in his personal space. Hugs were always a very rare occurence and often reserved for the most loved people in his life.
- His need for routine… when he woke up on a morning, he would take 15 minutes to watch cartoons, then he would use the washroom and brush his teeth. He had 2 toothbrushes: a spiderman toothbrush and an ironman toothbrush, and they had to be alternated every day. Then breakfast and dressing for school. Whenever something happened to disrupt the pattern, his behaviour would descend into madness. The worst crying and screaming! I thought he was being rebellious. It never occurred to me that it was something more.
- Three straight years of hearing about nothing other than Lightning Mc Queen. Gift buying was easy so I never questioned anything.
- Toy cars in line… and don’t you dare take one out of sequence! Refer to the latter portion of point #3 – crying and screaming!
For over a year, I blamed myself. Obviously if I was a better mother, I would’ve known. But the reality was that I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know a single autistic person and at that point, I don’t think I had even interacted with one.
To the mom or dad reading this and you’ve just gotten your little one’s diagnosis, and you’re wondering as I did if you’re at fault. The answer is NO! If you’re confused and overwhelmed by the deluge of information out there, know that this is not an illness or a disease. It’s simply a different way of processing. And in time, things will start to make more sense. Know that there will be good days, and not so good days, but there is a community of us who understand and will always support you and encourage you.
Yesterday I completed my very first yoga challenge… you know those ones where you practice every day for a month and post a pic every day 😣😮 Yup, that kinda yoga challenge! And I did it! Now this isn’t the first time I’ve tried something like this. But it’s definitely the first time that I truly committed 110% and for that reason, I achieved a much higher degree of success than in the past. I’m usually the person who always over-commits to everything… so why was this such a stumbling block when I attempted it in the past? Because often the emotional struggles are the ones which threaten to defeat us more than the physical.
Day #1 – Padmasana or Lotus Pose
My self-esteem has always, and continues to test me. The image in the mirror doesn’t always reflect as I think it should… so the first few days of the challenge, I literally took 2-3 dozen pics each day to find the perfect one to post. Either the lighting looked weird or there was a shadow falling on my face or it wasn’t centred or I knew I could go deeper into the pose.. to the more critical issues of my alignment being a bit off or the pic giving a wrong impression of what the pose should be about.
That obsession bothered me internally and by day #4, I knew that it was something I needed to address. The practice of ahimsa or non-harming as one of the yamas (moral restraints) of yoga is an integral part of one of the eight limbs of yoga. Very often, we forget that non-harming doesn’t only apply to those beings around us, but also to ourselves. And if our words and our thoughts to ourselves are those that criticise and undermine our efforts, then we are causing emotional harm to our inner being. I then promised myself that the first step in breaking this pattern would be to take no more than three pictures each day and accept that whatever those pictures captured, would be where my journey was on that day.
Day #11 – Viparita Virabhadrasana or Reverse Warrior
Did I love my pics everyday? Often no… and it required huge amounts of positive self-talk in order to persevere and continue. However, by limiting myself to only three pics, I was able to let go of the expectation of something perfect and instead, truly focus on a positive practice. The pic became a bonus, if it happened. And by day #19, I realized that I was genuinely enjoying the experience.
Day #19 – Matsyasana or Fish Pose
I would love to say that since becoming a yoga instructor, that I practice religiously every single day, but it would be a lie. This was the first time in my life that I did practice daily. Sometimes it was a hot, sweaty, super intense practice. Sometimes it was no longer than ten minutes of easy, gentle stretching. And a few times, it was awesome fun with my favorite #hunnybunny as we played with different poses.
Day #25 – Forearm Plank or Dolphin Plank
Feel free to check the social media links for my yoga journey… Breathe In Yoga:
Several weeks ago, I was sent a link for a “business” offering stem cells for autism, purportedly to reduce stimming, end meltdowns, reduce aggression and improve clarity of mind and speech. Their website defined autism as a devastating disease linked to vaccine injury and heavy metals. A highlighted video titled “How adult stem cells can help autism” showed numerous reviews from parents applauding the “success” of the treatment. In the midst of the technicalities and in fine print was this statement “We are not suggesting that adult stem cell therapy is a cure for autism, nor can we promise or guarantee results.”
That seems contradictory! However, as a parent seeing the most extreme manifestations of autism in your child, you will grasp at any straw that offered hope and you might want to believe the headline and ignore the details, which I did four years ago when my son was diagnosed. At this time, there was extensive hype created by Jenny Mc Carthy who claimed vaccines caused her son’s autism and supported by her then boyfriend, Jim Carrey.
In retrospect, taking medical advice from Jenny probably wasn’t on my top ten list of smartest decisions but I was desperate. I didn’t understand autism or where to get information and together they sold a convincing story. Fortunately, I’m one of the most cynical and suspicious people you will ever meet. While I initially felt there was some degree of truth to the “autism / vaccine” link, I started reading more and was baffled. How could I Google and get such opposing views all from seemingly reputable sources? Which side of the story was true? Instead of continuing to research “do vaccines cause autism?”, I decided to change my approach and started looking into where and when was the autism / vaccine link discovered?
The change in perspective altered findings dramatically. Here’s what I found… in 1998, The Lancet, a reputable and established peer-reviewed medical journal, published research by a doctor named Andrew Wakefield supporting a link between the MMR vaccine and the appearance of autism. Questions started being raised when other researchers were unable to reproduce the findings or prove the original hypothesis. In 2004, an investigation identified financial conflicts of interest with the original research, as well as skewed and exaggerated results to support the hypothesis. It was also discovered that Wakefield did not have required ethical approval for the testing he conducted. By 2010, further investigations proved that Wakefield was dishonest and irresponsible in his research. He lost his medical license for deliberate falsification and The Lancet issued a retraction.
The damage was done and an anti-vaccination movement was created. Parents were deliberately deciding to not vaccinate for diseases that were almost completely eradicated. A huge part of this movement is the argument that if other children are immunised, non-vaccinated children would be safe. To understand why this is a very dangerous viewpoint, you need to understand the concept of herd immunity. There are people who CANNOT be vaccinated – because they are too young, or ill, or have a compromised immune system where vaccinations could be a risk. Herd immunity aims to protect those individuals but is dependent on the vaccinated population being as large as possible. When the vaccinated population starts to wane, as happening nowadays, herd immunity decreases.
Before the measles vaccination program in the United States in the mid-1960s, there were 3-4 million cases each year, with approximately 450 annual deaths, 48,000 hospitalizations, 7000 cases of seizures and 1000 cases of permanent brain damage or deafness. In 2000, the US was declared free of measles with only 911 cases in the following 10 years. However, between 2014 and 2015, there were two major outbreaks and 542 cases were reported, 90% of those in unvaccinated individuals. Worldwide, no other vaccine-preventable disease causes as many deaths despite the proven fact that life-threatening adverse reactions occur in less than one per million vaccinations.
Look out for a continuation of this blog post very soon where I’ll discuss my views on how the anti-vax movement has affected resources for autism and the impact on families.
This is the original version of the article written for Care Parenting for publication in the Trinidad Guardian
And feel free to check the social media links for our support group Autism Spirit:
Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/autismspirit