Goals: Major Things I Hope to Achieve in Life #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day seven in the A to Z Challenge. I’m finding that, even though ideas spin through my mind to blog about, I’m already less motivated to write and especially so for the #AtoZChallenge. Today’s post is a list, so I’m not sure it fits in with the theme of miscellaneous musings. I am feeling a bit uninspired though and lists are the easiest to write posts. I am sharing my major goals in life.

1. Find myself a satisfactory living situation. When I wrote a list of goals I had for myself on my old blog, buying a house was on it. Not that I’d ever be able to buy a house on my own, but divorcing my husband wasn’t on the list. This (buying a house) was however more my husband’s goal than mine. When I finally decided to try to get into long-term care, I felt much calmer than I did before. Even though the process is now going on for six months and counting, I’m still sure of myself on this part. This is the reason finding a satisfactory living situation tops my list.

2. Write my autobiography. I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since I was a young child. Of course, I am a writer with my blog and I also got a piece published in an anthology in 2015. I would love to publish more pieces, but I’d also love to write a memoir.

3. Find a hobby (other than blogging) that I can do independently. Or almost independently. I’m in a course now at day activities to explore this. We’ve been trying soap making for the last two weeks, because I used to enjoy that, and it’s going okay.

4. Visit the United States. I have a few long-time online friends from there whom I’d love to visit. I’d also love to visit carol anne of Therapy Bits in Ireland.

5. Heal from my childhood trauma. I hope to be able to someday access a qualified therapist able to treat me for my trauma-based symptoms. Even if I can’t do that, I hope to heal.

What are your major goals in life?

Frustration: A Vent Post About My Mac #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day six in the #AtoZChallenge. Today, I’m not in the mood for deep discussions, so I won’t write about something too meaningful. Rather, just allow me to vent a little.

I am increasingly frustrated with my Mac. My iPhone is still useful, but the Mac is very hard to get used to. Yes, I’ve had it for over two months and am still in the getting-used-to phase. To be honest, I rarely use my Mac, because it’s so hard to work.

Particularly Safari, Apple’s default browser, is hard to use. Navigating web pages, particularly large ones, is a pain. I am not in the mood to explain it in English and had some trouble explaining it in Dutch to my husband too. Suffice it to say that the issue is because of VoiceOver, Apple’s built-in screen reader, so Chrome or other browsers give me the exact same trouble.

I have been doubting whether my choice to buy a Mac was right ever since I got it. I know I can’t get JAWS, the good but expensive screen reader, because health insurance is giving me a hard time on covering it. This was the main reason I got a Mac, since it has a built-in sc reen reader.

Now I know I could be idealizing my old Windows PC. It didn’t work well in the end either. Two keys were broken. My rather outdated version of JAWS was giving me increasing trouble with an increasing number of programs. I had NVDA, JAWS’s open source alternative, installed, but was struggling using just Braille. Now I can’t do that on my Mac either. I have to always have speech on. This is okay with me.

I was probably idealizing the Mac before I bought it and this may be one reason I’m disappointed now. I’m not sure it was wrong to buy it, but I’m not 100% sure it was the right choice either. Ideally, I would’ve tried Windows 10 with NVDA on my old PC first, but I didn’t. Then again, my old PC isn’t useful now because of the broken keys.

Today, as I was discussing my concerns with my husband, he offered me his laptop to try. I may have to buy a Windows license, but that’s okay. I don’t like it that I can’t make just one device work fully, but that’s probably the thing with accessibility.

Emotion Regulation Issues: Dealing with BPD Traits #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day five in the #AtoZChallenge. When thinking of a topic for the letter E post, I was thinking of how popular yesterday’s post on depression had been and how it had helped destigmatize mental health. I thought of doing today’s post on another mental health topic. Emotion regulation disorder is the term sometimes used here in the Netherlands to describe a condition that’s still formally called borderline personality disorder. As BPD is neither borderline (bordering on what?) nor a personality disorder (in that there is very effective treatment for it), I think this is appropriate. Besides, emotion regulation disorder is a lot less stigmatizing of a word.

My husband asked me, after hearing what my first four posts had been about, whether I’d be making my letter E post about something positive. I said “No”, as mental illness isn’t generally seen as a positive thing. Indeed, I’m still feeling pretty depressed and this may be why I chose this topic. However, the stigma associated with mental illness can still be worse than the illness itself. If I can help remove a bit of that with this post, I’m happy.

I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder in 2013. I didn’t like it. This diagnosis replaced two other conditions I’m pretty sure I do have as well, namely dissociative identity disorder (DID) and PTSD. I was told that BPD is a trauma-based condition too and that dissociation really runs on a spectrum from BPD to DID. This is true, but I still wasn’t happy about the diagnosis. I had a lot of internalized stigma about it. This wasn’t helped by my therapist, who pretty much assumed my BPD was causing me to make up the DID. Well, I’m not making it up.

My husband didn’t believe I could possibly have BPD. After all, borderlines are known for unstable relationships and he had been my first boyfriend. Then again, there are nine different criteria to BPD and one only has to meet five of them to qualify for a diagnosis. Symptoms I most definitely do have include an unstable self-image, dissociation and stress-related paranoia, fear of abandonment and self-harming and suicidal tendencies. I can also have bad anger issues and react impulsively. In fact, the only criterion I’m pretty sure of I don’t meet, is the one about unstable relationships. People who do meet this criterion, often engage in what is called “splitting” within the BPD community. They alternate heavily between idealizing and devaluing their favorite person (who can be a partner, but can also be a family member or even a therapist).

In 2016, my diagnosis was downgraded from full-fledged BPD to just BPD traits. I’m pretty sure I’d still meet the full criteria, though not as strongly as before maybe. It is common for BPD symptoms to lessen as a sufferer gets older.

I prefer to refer to my BPD traits as emotion regulation issues, like I said. Not only does this sound less stigmatizing, but it feels more true to what I experience. I do experience, after all, very strong emotional outbursts. These can be of anger, but more recently also sadness or fear. I also find it hard to distinguish emotions and tend to express every strong emotion as anger.

Like I said, BPD, unlike other personality disorders, is treatable. The most evidence-based treatment is dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). DBT combines cognitive behavioral strategies with mindfulness. I tried it last year, but was finding it hard to pay attention in therapy and carry over what I learned from the manual into real life. I do however still try to apply the skills.

Depression: What It Feels Like #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day four in the #AtoZChallenge. Today I am once again struggling to find the motivation to write. I also didn’t think up a topic for today until just now. Today’s topic is depression. Most people will have some basic knowledge of it, so this isn’t going to be a primarily informative post. Rather, I am sharing what depression feels like to me.

From age seven or eight on, I experienced depression. However, in my case, its main manifestation wasn’t sadness. I wasn’t crying all day. In fact, I rarely cry unless I’ve had a meltdown. Rather, my main manifestation was irritability. This is common in children and adolescents.

However, because my most obvious mental health symptom continued to be irritability into adulthood, I wasn’t diagnosed with depression until age 30. I had some assessments for it when in my twenties, but always checked off just a little too few boxes.

When I got diagnosed with depression in 2017, I first had a screening tool administered. This tool covered some of the more atypical symptoms of depression, such as feeling like a weight is on your body, gastrointestinal symptoms, etc.

Depression to me feels like a constant heaviness on my body. I can literally feel it weighing down on my shoulders.

Another important aspect of depression is feeling low. When I was first assessed for depression in 2007, I didn’t know what the feeling of depression meant, so the psychiatrist clarified it by asking if I’m sad. The thing is though, sadness and depression are very different. Though some people with depression cry all day, most don’t feel particularly sad. It also isn’t a situational thing, as sadness often is.

Another thing about depression is that most sufferers have trouble sleeping, eating and maintaining weight, resulting in weight loss. However, in my case, I sleep too much, eat too much and gain weight.

Suicidal thoughts are also a part of depression, but most severely depressed people are too lethargic to actually be actively suicidal. When I have vivid thoughts of ending my life, I can tell it’s usually more situational and due to emotion regulaiton issues. When I’m “just” depressed, the thought of ending my life is a constant lingering presence at the back of my mind.

Lastly, a common symptom of depression is psychomotor agitation or retardation. This means people get slower or conversely more restless. I tend to experience a mixture of both, but usually when I’m purely depressed, slowness is the overriding symptom.

#IWSG: The Ebb and Flow of My Writing

This is going to be a quick post, as it’s already 9PM and I’m off to bed soon. I have to check in with the #IWSG community though. I did plan on writing, but then my time and energy got taken up by the A to Z Challenge. I don’t know how the other writers who participate in both, do it.

I wanted to touch on something I’ve discovered regarding my motivation for writing. At the beginning of each month, it’s usually much higher than at the end. Readers of my blog can see this by the number of blog posts I write per week.

I have yet to figure out what is causing this decline in motivation. Or is it inspiration? I don’t know. There are enough prompts and ideas to choose from to write about for each day of the month.

I noticed also that, when I started this blog, I had a lot more inspiration and motivation than I did after even a month. It can’t be because I touched on every topic I wanted to cover already, as I didn’t. But why then is it so? I am not going to answer this question right here, but this is something I need to think on in the coming month.

In contrast to this, I do manage to write something almost everyday. It just isn’t always blog-worthy. Or I think it isn’t. Which is strange, since, when starting this blog, I didn’t give blog-worthiness a thought. Well, now apparently I do.

Cerebral Palsy: And Other Effects of my Brain Injury #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day three in the #AtoZChallenge. I am feeling a little off today, as my support worker canceled our appointment tomorrow and my husband will be home from work late this evening. For this reason, I’m feeling a little unmotivated to write. I hope that forcing myself to write today’s A to Z post anyway will help me snap out of the bad mood. Today, I am sharing about a disability that I have had since infancy, but that I didn’t know much about till a few years ago.

Like I mentioned on Monday, my autism diagnosis got taken away in 2016, because my then psychologist thought my having had a brain bleed as a baby precludes an autism diagnosis. It doesn’t, but it did help me gain some new perspective on my issues. Could I possibly be suffering from the effects of neonatal brain injury?

I asked my parents, starting with the obvious. I have left-sided weakness, affecting both my arm and leg, which I assumed was due to the brain bleed. I had heard of cerebral palsy and had figured out I might have this. I asked my father, but he didn’t answer my question. Possibly, he wasn’t told by the doctors, because my mobility impairment is relatively mild.

I did see a rehabilitation physician and had regular physical therapy until I was around eight. I also needed a cast on my left foot because my achilles tendon was at risk of becoming too short. Later, at age fifteen, I was diagnosed with scoliosis. This isn’t so uncommon that it alone warrants another diagnosis. However, coupled with all the other issues, I put two and two together.

Cerebral palsy, for those who don’t know, is basically a mobility impairment due to a brain injury acquired in utero, at birth or in the first year of life.

I finally went to my GP in 2017 to ask him, again focusing on my mobility impairment. This, after all, is the defining characteristic of cerebral palsy. I was just told I had acquired brain injury.

Still, in late 2018, I joined the national CP charity in my country. When I went to their conference in November, all puzzle pieces fell in place. Not only were my symptoms – not just the walking difficulties – characteristic of CP, but I met people with milder walking difficulties than mine who had been diagnosed as having CP.

There are five different levels of CP, depending on gross motor functioning (ability to walk or otherwise move around). People in level 1 and 2 can walk independently, though those in level 2 require some handheld mobility aids for long distances or on uneven ground. I would probably score as level 1 or maybe 2, but this motor functioning assessment is appropriate for children and adolescents only. There are also several different types of CP, depending on which limbs are affected and how. I probably have spastic hemiplegia, meaning CP affects one side of my body only.

Currently, I am not looking for an official CP diagnosis. I probably had one as a child, so digging up my old records may reveal it, but I’m not in a position to do so at this point. I also wonder what benefit I could gain from this. The support groups for CP on Facebook allow me in based on the facts of my brain injury and resulting mobility impairment. Besides, like my GP said in 2017, a physical or occupational therapist treating me for my brain injury would have to take into account the major disability of my blindness. Maybe, should I ever go into long-term care for the blind, I’ll be able to afford support for this.

A diagnosis of cerebral palsy requires mobility impairments, but a brain injury can have other effects. At the CP conference, the first presentation I attended was on overload. The same cognitive and affective difficulties that people who acquire a brain injury later in life can endure, can affect those with neonatal brain injury. In that sense, my psychologist may’ve been correct that my emotional and cognitive impairmetns are due to that.

Blindness: Dealing With Vision Loss #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day two in the #AtoZChallenge. Today, I am going to tell you about my most obvious disability: blindness.

I was born prematurely. When premature babies could first be kept alive in incubators in the 1940s and 1950s, thousands of children became blind due to a condition first known as retrolental fibroplasia (RLF). The first known cause of RLF was excesss oxygen, as these babies were kept alive because of ventilators and no-one knew that too much oxygen could do harm too. Once doctors and nurses started being more careful with oxygen, the number of RLF cases decreased. However, still, babies develop this condition until today. The name of the condition got changed sometime in the 1970s to retinopathy of prematurity (ROP).

I was born in 1986. At the time, the first sight-saving treatments for ROP had become available. However, early detection is still key to timely intervention. At the time of my neonatal intensive care stay, the pediatric ophthalmologist specializing in ROP was unavailable, so my ROP remained undetected until it’d reached an advanced stage. I did have sight-saving surgery when I was about five-months-old, but I still had only about 20/400 vision left in my better (left) eye.

The bad thing about ROP is that, even though it isn’t in itself degenerative once the baby is out of the NICU, it can lead to further complications throughout life. These can then lead to further vision loss. I developed a cataract on my right eye at age seven. I got it removed, but couldn’t get a lens implant at the time. I could’ve gotten one when I was older, but by this time, my vision had already further deteriorated.

At age eight, when I had only “hand motion” vision (which corresponds to about 20/1000) in my better eye, my parents and the doctors decided to give up on further treatment. I didn’t like it, but I had no say in the matter.

From that point on, i was treated like I was totally blind. I wasn’t, but to a sighted person, 20/1000 looks like not worth it.

At age twelve, I suffered a retinal detachment in my right eye. From that point on, I was blind apart from slight light perception in that eye. I also suffered decreased vision in my left eye, though I considered myself having some minimal functional vision until I was around 17.

Now, I measure as having light perception in my left eye only and no vision in my right eye at all. Light perception is the ability to discern whether it’s dark or light in a room. For example, people with just light perception, can tell the difference between daylight and nighttime, but nothing else. I have some environmental light perception too. Not sure what the correct term for this is, but it means I can detect where for example a window is located. Occasionally, when the light is right, I still have object perception for large objects such as cars or people (within a few feet’s distance). I do not have form perception though, so I do not see the outline of objects.

In 2013, I had cataract surgery on my left eye. I had suffered a cataract on that eye ever since 2001, but, in keeping with my parents’ view, wasn’t going to have it removed. I finally took the step to ask for surgery when I was 27. I didn’t have my hopes up too high. I mean, the university hospital ophthalmologist had gotten my old records from age eight and hoped I’d get that amount of vision back. I just hoped for some color perception mostly, The surgery again was a partial technical success, in that they couldn’t give me a lens implant again. They offered me a second surgery to place it, but the doctors were by this time able to see my retina had atrophied and offered me little hope. I decided not to pursue the second surgery.

Dealing with vision loss can be hard. I mean, to a sighted person, I am considered blind from birth, but I still valued my residual vision when I had it and miss it now that it’s gone.

Autistic: Living Life on the Spectrum #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day one in the #AtoZChallenge, in which I’ll share a collection of miscellaneous musings. For my first post, I’d like to talk about a topic people who used to follow my A to Z posts on my old blog, are thoroughly familiar with, since I chose it for my theme in 2015 and 2017: autism.

I was first diagnosed with autism at the age of 20 in March of 2007. The clinician who diagnosed me, didn’t give me an Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosis, like my support staff at the time had wanted. I didn’t care, as I at the time already didn’t subscribe to the rigid subtypes of autism, be it Asperger’s, PDD-NOS or classic autism, or high-functioning and low-functioning autism for that matter. I believe autism is a spectrum condition presenting differently in every affected person.

Later, in December of 2007, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s after all. This remained my diagnosis, along with a few mental health conditions, until the summer of 2016. Then, my autism/Asperger’s diagnosis got taken away. The psychologist who changed my diagnosis, claimed that my premature birth and the brain bleed I suffered as an infant, preclude an autism diagnosis. As if those genetically wired to be autistic are somehow exempt from being born prematurely or suffering brain bleeds. I know that, because the exact cause of autism is still unknown, it may be hard to differentiate autism from the mental effects of brain injury. However, since said psychologist couldn’t diagnose me with acquired brain injury either, because I sustained the brain bleed before age one, I ended up with no diagnosis at all that could explain my social cognitive differences.

I sought an independent second opinion and, on May 1, 2017, was rediagnosed with autism spectrum disorder under DSM-5. I am diagnosed with level 1 ASD, which is the mildest kind. I am pretty sure that, if the psychologist had taken the opportunity to assess me in a more natural environment, I’d be diagnosed as level 2.

Autism is still diagnosed based on the presence of social communicative difficulties and repetitive behaviors and interests. As of the release of DSM-5 in 2013, sensory issues are finally part of the diagnostic criteria. In my opinion, they aren’t given nearly the amount of attention they deserve. Neither are executive functioning difficulties. This is a term which describes organizational skills. I scored high for ADHD on the initial screening tool, but couldn’t be further assessed for it. Though I’m pretty sure I have some ADHD-inattentive traits, they could just as easily be part of my autism.

Autism, like I said, presents with social communicative differences. These include, in my case, difficulty making and keeping friends, difficulty interpreting non-literal language and tone of voice. Of course, because I am blind, I cannot read body language. My conversations also tend to be one-sided, in which I’m either the listener or the talker.

The other criterion of autism is the presence of repetitive behaviors and interests. I engage in near-constant stereotypical, self-stimulatory movements (or “stimming”). My language can also be repetitive, but this is particularly clear when I’m overloaded. As for special interests, I don’t have a lifelong obsession, like Temple Grandin does with animal behavior. Rather, my interests, though they change often, can be obsessive in intensity and focus. For example, I used to have an obsession with calendar calculation (calculating what day of the week a certain date falls on).

My main autistic trait though is overload. This is also a common brain injury symptom. In that sense, I’m doubly blessed.. I tend to be both sensorially and cognitively very easily overloaded. This then causes me to stim more, use echolalia (repeat other people’s words) and may lead to meltdowns or shutdowns.

Something interesting about overload is that it rarely occurs when I’m engaging with my special interests. This may make you think I’m just lazy, but I’m not. For one thing, my special interests involve little offline interaction. For another, they are my special interests because I’m good at them.

I hope that through this post, you’ve gotten a little glimpse into my life with autism and learned something new. For those not aware, April is autism awareness month. I encourage you to read other blogs by autistic people. You will find that most have a kind of difficult relationship with autism awareness month. I, like them, prefer autism acceptance.

Dealing with Some High School Memories

We are struggling quite a bit. We hardly know why, but yesterday, a memory appeared. It’s not like we weren’t aware of this having happened before, so it’s not a repressed memory. However, it still feels as though only certain insiders can “own” the memory, if this makes sense.

This is hard, because we got told last Thursday by our nurse practitioner that it’s good people aren’t validating our experience of dissociation. For example, they’re reminding us that the body is 32 and we’re all Astrid. That may be so, but it’s only getting us to further disconnect from ourselves.

He told us that being a child at heart is not wrong, but claiming to be a child is. Or something like that. He more or less told us to look beyond the emotional parts’ words to what was actually troubling us. For example, Jace saying she has to move out by age eighteen meant we’re afraid we won’t get long-term care funding. Fine by me but I think it’s not that simple. I think this may be an actual memory bothering Jace and it was just triggered by the long-term care stuff.

Anyway, yesterday evening we started experiencing high school memories. Our high school tutor was our safe person at the time. We trusted him more than we did our parents. Our parents weren’t okay with this. When in ninth grade, we had been struggling and our schoolwork was suffering. Our tutor asked us to tell him what was going on. We wrote it down. Then our tutor told our father, who worked at our school. He refused to disclose what we’d written though. I understand this, but it got our parents angry and led to an incident of bad mental abuse.

Anyway, like I said, this tutor was our safe person. He was the first one to know about our being multiple other than a handful of readers of my online diary at the time. He wasn’t impressed by it as much. In fact, he told us we’re just manipulative. This got us to go in denial and not tell anyone else.

It still upsets us that we could’ve had a chance for real help if we hadn’t been in denial at the time. I mean, the tutor told our first psychologist about our experience. This psychologist suspected DID, but we denied everything. It’s understandable, because we were still in somewhat of an unsafe situation at the time.

We trusted our high school tutor, but he betrayed our trust in some rather overt ways. He told our parents that we suspected we were on the autism spectrum. Not that there was no other way for them to find out, as we wrote about it in our public online diary. However, he told them that we’re a hypochondriac for it. In this sense, he was on our parents’ side. And yet, we didn’t see it.

Then again, is it okay for me to think in terms of being on someone’s side or not? I mean, our parents were supportive in some ways. Our mother was at least. Our father was and still is too self-absorbed to actually care about anything other than his intersts and opinions. It’s not black-or-white. People can be good and still do bad things. Or something like it.

Five of the Most Significant Events in My Life

And once again, I didn’t post for nearly a week. I am beginning to feel pessimistic that I’ll complete the A to Z Challenge in April. However, I still would very much love to make it happen. I am pretty uninspired though.

To get back into the writing habit, I am choosing to write about a topic I’ve already posted about on my old blogs a couple of times. It is good though for my new readers of this blog to get to know me. I am going to share a list of important events in my life. Because I need to explain a little about each, this post may become a bit long.

1. The day I left the hospital at three months of age. I was born over three months premature and had to spend the first 94 days of my life in hospital. The unit I was on is commonly referred to as neonatal intensivecare unit or NICU for short, though I wasn’t in actual intensive care the whole time. I was on a ventilator for the first six weeks and, after I learned to breathe on my own, was moved to medium care, the general ward and eventually home. In the NICU, I sustained a brain bleed and developed an eye condition called retinopathy of prematurity. These two conditions are the main cause of my disabilities. I was finally discharged from the hospital on September 29, 1986.

2. The day I started special education. I started school, as most children here in the Netherlands did at the time, on my fourth birthday (June 27, 1990). I started in the first year of Kindergarten, which takes two years here. Just before the end of my second year in Kindergarten though, on May 11, 1992, I was moved into special education for the visually impaired.

The reason why I had to transfer remains a mystery. My parents say it was because I had to learn Braille, but I didn’t get to learn that till over a year later and only because a totally blind boy joined my class. The school was generally only equipped to educate those with low vision. Besides, the first special school my parents chose for me, was for those with mobility impairments. I was turned down because cerebral palsy isn’t my primary disability.

My inner five-year-old holds some memories of this situation. In our memory, I was ill with what could’ve been a partly psychosomatic illness just before moving to special ed. I cannot prove this though.

3. The day I started mainstream secondary school. My parents fought for years to get me out of special ed again. If I have to believe them, they fought from the moment I started in special ed to get me out again. They were convinced I’m far too intelligent for special ed, despite the fact that most schools for the blind offer a normal elenentary school curriculum. Anyway, they finally succeeded after taking me to the third ed psych in eighteen months, a psychologist who’d never even seen a blind person in his practice. This was also when I got labeled as gifted with a verbal IQ of 154. These three digits haunt me till this day.

I started mainstream secondary school on August 25, 1999 at my city’s grammar school. Those six years were awful. I scored above-average academically, but struggled socially and emotionally. I dissociated through most of my time there and hardly have any real memory of it.

4. The day I suffered my psychiatric crisis. After graduating high school in 2005, I’d taken two gap years to work on independence. While in my second gap year, I was diagnosed as autistic. Leading up to this was my increasingly falling apart at the independence training home. I got sent out to Nijmegen to live on my own on August 1, 2007 though. I fell apart within three months. By late October, I was wandering everyday, had multiple meltdowns a day and ended up suicidal. I was eventually hospitalized on November 3.

5. The day I got kicked out of the hospital again. I remained in a psychiatric hospital for 9 1/2 years, but eventually got kicked out on May 8, 2017. I believe the real reason is the government budget cuts to mental health, but my treatment team at the time blamed me. I have been living semi-independently ever since. As regular readers know though, I’m in the process of hopefully getting into long-term care again.

PoCoLo