My first book WHEN YOU ARE MINE, releases today, June 17. It is the fulfillment of more than one dream. I’ve wanted to be a published writer since I was a little girl, and there are so many things about this process I am enjoying. You might be surprised by the thing that may be bringing me more joy than just about anything else. The chance to give back a sliver of the love and support a special community of folks demonstrated to me when I needed it most. I’ll explain.
A NIGHTMARE OR A JOKE?
My son was diagnosed with Autism when he was two years old. To say I was devastated would put it mildly. Maybe if you throw in confused, afraid, angry, frustrated – you might approach the tornado of feeling ripping through me that Thursday afternoon 11 years ago. All I knew was Rain Man. And the little bit of info my cousin had shared with me when she worked at a special needs camp during college. What she had shared terrified me. As the doctor’s words fell on my numb heart, and he literally told me I should grieve my notions of what motherhood would be (wow, thanks for that, by the way), I just kept thinking it was some kind of joke. Or a nightmare I would wake up from the next day. If anything, the next day took my little family further downhill. My husband came home from work and told me they were downsizing, and he would be in the group who would have to go.
I will never forget closing the bathroom door, sitting on the edge of the bathtub and crying til my stomach ached from gut wrenching sobs. One blow after another. Back to back. It was all so unfair. These were the early, naive days when I thought life owed me an easy ride with fewer bumps and potholes than other people had.
Okay. So my son has autism. My husband has lost his job. We are now a one-income family rocked with a diagnosis we have really no idea how to deal with. I considered myself a fighter, but I didn’t know where to swing. Who would I hit? The doctor? My husband’s boss? God? Felt like the only person getting their butt kicked was me. Things couldn’t get much worse, though, right? This felt like bottom my nails were scraping.
Imagine my shock when Monday morning my insurance company told me they didn’t cover Autism. Was there anything else wrong with my son they could help me with? Um, no. Autism is quite enough, thank you. My research revealed more than $50,000 a year in out-of-pocket medical and therapy expenses we needed to help my son. We wouldn’t have been able to swing that with TWO jobs, much less my one average salary. Folks, I was floundering. I was sinking. I was drowning with no idea where to turn.
We were determined to get our son as much help as we could, so we used credit cards, robbed Peter to pay Paul. Did whatever we could, even though we were ruining our credit and barely paying our bills. I can still taste that desperation. Still remember my husband waking me up in the middle of the night because I was crying in my sleep. Still remember the depressing darkness that seemed to hover over every aspect of my life back then. Parenthood. My marriage. Our finances. Our friendships with people who just didn’t “get” what we were going through, and really didn’t know how to help or understand.
IN THIS THING TOGETHER
A turning point came when I sat down with an Autism mommy who had been at this for awhile. In an afternoon, she gave me hope. Not that everything would be better overnight, because it wasn’t. She gave me a different kind of hope. The kind that comes from knowing no matter how bad it gets, that you will not be alone. She introduced me to an autism support group, and that changed my life. I found my greatest resource to be these brave, brilliant warrior mothers and fathers who were further down this path than I was. They helped me find the right therapies, set me on the path to getting as much funding as I could, and gave me an outlet for all the emotional tumult I hadn’t known what to do with. I will never forget how that group, and others from the Autism community, befriended and guided me. It saved my family in more ways than one. I promised myself that any time I was ever in a position to do that for someone else, I would.
Fast forward a few years, and I started a foundation to do just that. A non-profit organization to provide financial and emotional support for families living with Autism in Georgia. The rush I got from helping others in this way; the incredible perspective it gave me – well, there’s nothing I can compare to it.
Fast forward six more years, about a year and a half ago. I had written a novel. It wasn’t easy. I worked a demanding full-time job, ran my foundation, raised my son, who is on the more severe end of the Autism spectrum, managed his services and the “industry” that is this kid’s life, and managed to keep my man happy. (Can’t leave that out! Holla!) But there was one thing I had always wanted to do that was just for me, and that was to become a published author. How my little story went from something languishing on my laptop to a 3-book deal with Grand Central Publishing in a year or so is another post for another day, but suffice it to say, it happened. The first thing I thought about was giving back to the people who had been so generous and supportive to my family when we were flailing and stumbling in the dark. Ask my agent. One of the first things I asked her was can I have money automatically donated to Autism from royalties without me ever even seeing it. That was how urgent it was to me. That was how eager I was to do my part, whatever that was.
A TIME TO GIVE
And now it’s here. My book releases today, and it is time to carefully place my money where my mouth is. I am donating 25% of any royalties from this book to resourcing families living with Autism. My foundation, Myles-A-Part, will receive 10% for Georgia families, and Talk About Curing Autism (TACA), my national charitable partner, will receive the remaining 15%. I had the privilege of interviewing Lisa Ackerman, co-founder of TACA, awhile back for Modern Mom. Read my article HERE to see what an incredibly intelligent, passionate, vigilant woman stands behind the organization effectively and compassionately assisting families all over the WORLD. And it started in a living room!
I understand small beginnings. In many ways, this is one for me. I don’t know if I’ll sell a lot of books, or just a few. I’m not a big name, but I don’t want to wait until I have a surplus and say now’s the time to give. Start the way you mean to go, they always say. Well, I will always give back to the Autism community. I survived the hardest decade of my life because of other gracious, compassionate ASD families. I will not forget them now.
Why? Because I know what it’s like to stand in front of an empty pantry wondering how your family will eat, only to have someone show up with a bag of groceries. I know what it’s like to choose between that therapy bill or your car payment, and to wake up to an empty driveway. Only to have someone GIVE you a car free and clear. And when that car breaks down and you take it to the mechanic and know you can’t afford the bill that’s coming, he tells you someone anonymously paid the bill. I know what it’s like to RECEIVE! And if you’ve ever been in that humbling position, one thing that motivates you to fight and survive is the promise of one day being able to give.
To whom much is given much is required. I am requiring this of myself. It is not a ploy to sell books. It is my privilege, my absolute pleasure to give back to the compassionate, generous community of warriors fighting not only for their kids, but for the families to the left and to the right in the trenches with them. And for the kids to come.
I don’t know who Autism thought it was messing with when it came to my house, but I didn’t get the woe is me memo. I didn’t buy into self-pity, or roll over and die. I learned to fight. I learned to thrive in the dark. I found joy and contentment when happiness was nowhere in sight. Experiences like that transform you. They deepen you. They have the power to make you better if you let them. And this person, this woman who sat on the edge of a bathtub and wondered if she would make it, survived. Thrived. Lived to tell it. Will always shout about the folks who helped me grow and survive. And for me, giving back is not an option. I’m simply putting the money where my mouth is, and I do it with a smile.
Click HERE for all the e-tailers selling WHEN YOU ARE MINE!
Go to Goodreads to learn more about the book and see what early reviewers are saying!