Growing up as a child, I bounced around a lot when it came to extracurricular activities. I did a lot of things for one year. The only thing I ever really stuck with was horseback riding and I never became the blue ribbon winning wonder that I hoped I would be. Consequently, I never really learned anything well enough to master it.
The same thing happened with my majors in school and my jobs after college. Right now I am in an extremely stressful position as a manager of a clinical laboratory. We are a start-up company – so not only do I have a high stress job, but the things I do on a weekly basis can change drastically and I am always having to learn new things.
I am a mother of two young children who are like night and day. Tyler has autism, is extremely organized, and has always been very independent. Ash is a very social, dramatic, chaos bomb that constantly craves attention. Raising Tyler for eighteen months before Ash came along gave me very little experience in how to raise Ash, because even as babies they had different needs.
So I realized about half a year ago, as I was trying to sew a bib with perfectly aligned stitches like all of the other bibs on Etsy (another hobby), that I have managed to become extremely accomplished in anything. I am not an expert on anything. There is nothing that I do that I feel extremely comfortable in or that I am massively successful in.
I have never found MY niche.
In addition to this, I also know that I set very high standards for myself. Everything needs to be perfect. And if it isn’t perfect, it needs to be beautifully and artistically imperfect. I know I need to give myself a break. But for some reason I can’t help but feel that if I could find that one thing that I was made to do, that the high standards would be easily achievable.
So naturally, when I started my Tyler’s Train journey I told myself to not set high goals. That lasted for about 5 seconds after I posted my first comment on Facebook about the Walk Now for Autism Speaks I was doing in October. I am, in theory, a very reasonable person. I should not feel like I have failed if I did not reach my lofty goal of $1000 for the Walk within the first 24 hours. In reality, however, I had felt like I had failed. Not my friends, who have bills and troubles and journeys of their own…but myself.
You want find out how big my goals became? Within two weeks I had signed up for a 5K Walk, written a book and published it on Barnes and Noble, started putting items back up for sale on my new Tyler’s Train Etsy store, and then I started this blog. Why?
Because for the past three years I have experienced more pain, heartache, and confusion than I ever thought imaginable. Because my son wouldn’t talk, or eat, or let us go to the zoo without us having to carry him out while he screamed over and over. Because I was terrified to go out in public with the boys because I didn’t think I could handle it if something were to go bad. Because doctors and insurance companies made it almost impossible to find out what our next step needed to be. Because with every day that passed, every screaming/word-chanting episode Tyler had, every dead-end that we hit, and every therapy session that we paid for out of pocket, I felt another little part of me slip away until all that was left was survival, anger, and weariness.
Tonight I was painting wood cutouts. They are my latest project for Tyler’s Train. I bought them for a dollar, spent about a dollar in paint on them, and then post them on Etsy for $12 with $10 of it going to Autism Speaks if they sell. My plan was to make them customizable so that people could order the colors they want and I paint them a new one and ship it out. It is taking forever to paint each one and I haven’t sold any yet. I have two styles in my store already. So I began thinking this might be another dead end on my journey. My book isn’t selling, the only donation I received this week was my own, and my other Etsy items aren’t selling.
AND I WAS OKAY WITH IT!!! Absolutely no sense of failure. In my Silver Linings post, I wrote about how the mental mindset you get immersed in while advocating for something can change you on the inside. I think I am beginning to see the effects of this. I have never really put all of my effort into something that was so personal and so meaningful in my life. A week ago I do not think I could have been sitting there taking forever to paint a little sun cutout and felt completely at peace that this may or may not work out.
Do I want to make a difference, do I want to be effective? YES!!!! But my ego is no longer the main player of this show. I am doing what I can and I am doing it with love in my heart. The level of success is not nearly as important as the following things that I was able to pull out of my camera roll on my phone and see in a way that I could not have just a short time ago.
I was able to have a conversation with my son tonight when I took this picture. At age 3, this would not have been possible and many caregivers of autistic individuals will never have this.
Even though out trip to the Great War Memorial Balloon Race went badly and we all left pretty quickly (husband was sick, it was super hot, and we saw no hot air balloons), we did get to see this gentle giant and it brought pure joy to the boys faces.
And finally, even thought I might never be able to sell one of these for my cause and if I don’t know how to spend less than three hours painting it (which is ok if someone wants one!), I can still paint a butterfly.
And even though work is hard and I have to use a lot of my time off on doctor’s appointments and evaluations (best time I ever spent), I still get up each morning and go every day that I can – which is not something I was good at doing before I became a mother. I have also met some wonderful people and developed long-term relationships with some people at UAMS. People I greatly respect and who I suspect are starting to respect me back.
People who I haven’t seen in years are reading my blog and encouraging me.
My husband of 5 years still loves me, accepts my crazy, and is in the trenches with me every day. And my mother supports me completely, even when I am texting her 10 seconds after I launch a new post or idea and want to know what she thinks (sometimes at 7 AM – sorry mom!).
These things I would have told you that I knew before, but now for the first time in a long time I can celebrate them. I am no longer just surviving. I am no longer only angry. I am no longer the center of my universe.
I do not know what is in store for us tomorrow. I do not know if Tyler will be potty trained by the time he goes to school, or if he will have friends, or get married one day. I don’t know if Ash is suffering from the extra attention that Tyler needs. I don’t know if I can keep holding together all the loose strings at work that I am responsible for. I don’t know if we will ever be out of credit card debt or be able to afford a bigger house. I don’t know if I will every feel like I have done enough for autism advocacy. But I do know that I love my family and I am no longer interested in allowing my ego to dictate how I approach each of these issues. Will I relapse? Probably. But I know how to be different, how to be better and so I will work on getting back to this place every time I need to.
Thank you for reading,
(C) Rachel Flinchum 6/30/2013