February 2012

Yeah, I know I said I be blogging about our Decrapify Your Life project, which implied I’d be doing it more regularly. I guess it says something about the great challenge of this kind of life reboot that several weeks into the year I’m just now writing an update!

But I have been working on my goals, and I think I’m making some progress. Here are my goals for 2012.

  • Eliminate our revolving debt. By Dec. 31, 2012, all credit card debt will be 0. I won’t announce our starting debt amount publicly, but let’s just say it’s a lot.
  • Get serious about my freelance business, expand my work, increase revenue two-fold over 2011, and do projects I enjoy.
  • Complete and self-publish an e-book about autism.
  • Donate, recycle, or throw out 800 cubic feet of stuff. (Measuring that should be a hoot.)
  • Run 1,000 miles in 2012 and complete at least one marathon, and if I can find one nearby an ultra-marathon (something greater than 26.2 miles).

I have discovered several insights so far that I’d like to share.

You gotta start. Well, that’s pretty obvious, but often we don’t actually take the first step toward achieving what we want so it bears repeating. There’s no point in figuring out everything before you start. As a matter of fact, it’d be a huge negative because you can’t, so you’d never actually start anything. Just go do ten minutes of something and start. Eventually, you’ll get things moving.

Don’t judge yourself for the mess you’re in. Don’t lament, wail, or rend your garments in anguish. It took a long time to get here, and it’ll take a long time to get out of it. This is OK. Show yourself some compassion. Don’t give up!

It’s about building momentum. It takes a lot of energy to overcome the initial inertia of getting started making changes in your life. In the beginning, the changes are frustratingly small. But they do add up, slowly and inexorably. Keep pushing the boulder and eventually it’ll roll down a hill. With any luck, it’ll squash some things on the way down.

Growth and transformation take time, perhaps a long time. We don’t expect our kids to just try something different for a few days and suddenly master it. Why should we have the same unrealistic expectations of ourselves? Again, it took us a long time to end up where we are. It will take us a while to get out of it.

Focus your energy on one maybe two things at a time. That’s it. I have five goals for 2012, and I realized in a huge hurry that I can’t focus on them all at the same time. It was completely freaking me out. This may be the most important revelation I’ve had so far because it’s the one that got me to let go of some of my raging guilt. I can’t do it all, and that’s true for every one of us. So I focused the last few weeks on training for my marathon, which is next month, and on money-generating activities like my freelance work and working on our taxes, which will be income since we will get a good-sized refund this year. (Yay!) This has the bonus effect of getting us farther toward our goal of eliminating revolving debt in 2012 by increasing our income without stressing about the debt itself.

Debt reduction feels ten times harder than a marathon. The simplest solution to reducing debt is to make more money, send it all to your credit card companies, and stop using your credit cards. That’s all much easier said than done, obviously. I have started discovering ways we’ve been sabotaging our debt in the past that sounded perfectly rational at the time. Things like “We’ll just pay it off at the end of the month” or “We’re building up rewards points” or “The interest rate is really low, so what’s the big deal” are simply rationalizations of what is, to be honest, just bullshit. If you can pay it off every month, use cash. If you can’t pay it off regularly, the rewards are almost never worth it.

Regardless of what Dave Ramsey says, there are going to be instances, obviously, where something goes to hell and you don’t have the money. Your car needs a $2,000 repair, you get a $7,000 doctor bill, your child doesn’t stop needing therapy, and on and on. As they say, some months there’s just way too much month left at the end of the money. I do think most of us can do a lot better, though.

We are slowly trying to migrate to a cash-based plan of buying things only with either paper money or debit cards. I’m looking into using an envelope-based budgeting system as well in hopes of putting some checks and balances on spending. It’s been insightful how much you have to change to go this route, though. We’ve connected our credit cards to so many accounts and whatnot (e.g., some auto-bill pay, Amazon) that it’ll take time to unravel that.

Decluttering our house feels a hundred times harder than a marathon. We’ve made very little progress on this, and that is depressing. I decided for now to let this sit for a few more weeks without worrying about it. I really have only been able to focus on one or two goals at a time. After the marathon, I should have more energy to devote to this mammoth project. And on a related note…

Allow yourself to table goals for a while in the interest of sanity. You can’t do it all, so don’t try. And Lord knows our lives are so chaotic and unpredictable that you have to show yourself some compassion. I had really hoped to finish a small e-book in time for World Autism Awareness Day in April along with a much needed blog redesign. Most likely neither will happen by then. I’ve felt pretty much on the ragged edge lately, so I’ve tried to give myself some grace to let some things go a couple of months to promote sanity. The positive news is that in letting those things lie fallow for a while but still having them as 2012 goals, I’ve found the creative juices are still percolating under the surface and ideas are coming on how to do them well when the time comes to pick them up again.

I wish I had a brilliant roadmap on how to make big changes in your life, but I don’t yet. About the clearest insight I can offer right now is, this stuff is hard. One more hard thing isn’t exactly what any of us need right now, but look at it this way. As parents, we know a lot about things that are really challenging. Think of all the obstacles and barriers we’ve overcome before. We’ve done it before, repeatedly, and we can do it again.

What fuels me here is that this is one challenge I know will pay huge dividends when it’s done. A more decluttered life with much less debt, fruitful work I feel good about, autism resources I can contribute to helping the entire community, and a continued commitment to maintaining good health.

So maybe this is better wisdom. Imagine the person you want to be and the life you want to have. Then imagine yourself not as a person striving toward that goal but instead as the person living that life. I imagine my life with less clutter and debt, work I enjoy, and being a positive contributor for many things autism, and I draw energy from that. Give it a try. And if you have ideas about what works for you, let us know!

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Someone asked me what advice I would give to parents who just got an autism diagnosis for their child. I have lots of information I can give them, but so does everyone else. All you get when you get a diagnosis is information. You are buried in handouts, books, professionals telling you stuff, and all sorts of random people giving you advice.

So I’m not going to offer any practical advice here. Instead, I’m going to pretend we’re in a locker room getting ready for the biggest game of our lives against the most powerful challenge we’ve ever faced, which is essentially true. We could all use a good pre-game speech.

Listen up, everybody.

You got an autism diagnosis. I know you feel like someone just dumped an avalanche of rocks on you and then threw the mountain on top out of spite. You are angry. You want to go kick something’s ass. You don’t know how you’re going to do this. You want to blame somebody. You want vengeance to rain down upon whatever brought this on your child and you.

You will become too exhausted for this anger, then you will despair. You will plead and bargain with any deity you can think of. You will become too exhausted for anything at all. You will think you can’t do this.

And you will be wrong.

Right now the odds are piling up against you like water in a tsunami coming onshore. You will never run low on people telling you how hard this is and how desperate it will all get. No shit. Life is hard. Anything worth doing is hard. And when something is this hard, there will be times when you think you cannot possibly make it. You will think there’s no way you can get up off the ground again let alone kick ass and thrive.

But you are strong.

People and institutions will try to kick you down. Some will succeed. But decide right now that you are going to get up every time — every, single, damn time — no matter how much it hurts, no matter how much your body and your will refuse to cooperate. Decide now that you will not quit, no matter what it takes. Promise this. Swear it to all you are and upon every fiber of your being and every last thing you hold dear in this world. Swear that you will give everything you have to this mission that is now your life’s work.

You are scared now, likely more than you’ve been in your whole life. I hate to break this to you, but the fear will certainly get worse. You will swing between every extreme emotion like a pendulum on amphetamines. The lows are awful. The highs are transcendent beyond words. This is your life now.

And you are going to make it. I promise.

At some point, everything will go to crap. You will reach the point where you feel broken and undone. It will happen more than once. No, no BS today. This is how it is: It may happen every damn day. You will want to quit. You will be sure you’re a failure. You will not know what to do, where to turn, or how to even begin climbing out of the mess you see your life has become. If I’m scaring you right now, I’m sorry. I really am. You need to know what you’re up against. We’ve all been through this valley of shadow again and again, and so will you.

But I’m saying all this now so you’ll understand something absolutely fundamental. Every autism parent has been through this. But look around you. Look at us, all of us. What do you see?

We. Are. Still. Here.

And you bet your ass we are not about to quit. We may get so tired we can’t even stand, but we are still here beating down every wall, taking on every challenge, tearing apart every obstacle because we believe. We believe in our children. Somehow, someway every time we end up in that valley of shadow, we believe we will keep finding our way to the promise at the other side because that is who we are. And somehow, someway, we prove ourselves right time and time again.

Whether it feels like you’re just yelling at an unbreakable wall, keep going. No battle we fight is in vain. Even if all you do is knock a little dust off that wall, there will be less wall there than there was before. It does matter. It all matters. Push a stone an inch or throw it through a window. It all makes a difference.

When you find yourself at the bottom of that valley, face down in the dirt, with the weight of everything bearing down on you, remember. Remember the promise you made this day.

And remember that we are still here. And we will face each and every challenge together.

Now, go. Shake the earth so that no one will ever forget everything our children are and can be. Shake the foundations of anyone and anything that stands in their way.

Today is your moment. Not tomorrow or next week. Today. Right now. Go yell it out your window. Better yet, go outside and announce it to the world. A new era is dawning in our lives. Claim your power. Our cause is just and right. Call out to the world that we are here and our children are amazing. Shout that we are coming to change the world, and together we are unstoppable.

Our children look to us to make their world a place where their light can shine. Let’s go make it happen.

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