Working On Us Prompt: Sleep Disorders

The past few days have been pretty busy, so even though I did want to blog, I hardly found the time. Now it’s already latish evening too.

Today I’m once again joining in with Working On Us, for which the prompt this week is sleep, insomnia and other sleep disorders.

As a child and teen, I suffered from insomnia a lot. I would often be awake for the whole night or hardly sleep at all. On week-ends, I sometimes made up for it by sleeping in, but I was definitely chronically sleep deprived. Though my parents sometimes suggested, and I don’t know whether they were joking, that I take valerian or melatonin, I wanted nothing of it. In fact, when I was going in for eye surgery at age seven or eight, I refused the tranquilizer they offered us before the operation. I also constantly fought the anesthesia.

When I was 20, I sought treatment for my insomnia for the first time. My GP prescribed temazepam, the most commonly-used sleep medication here in the Netherlands at least at the time. I was very scared when first using it, being that I’d not taken any medication in years, not even paracetamol.

I think that what lay underneath both my insomnia and my refusal to take medication for it, was an intense fear of losing control. I was, after all, pretty compulsive particularly as an older child and teen.

My sleep issues escalated in 2007, when I lived on my own in Nijmegen. Though I didn’t sleep less than I had as a younger person, I did suffer from the effects of sleep deprivation more. When I was admitted to the psychiatric hospital, the first medication I was prescribed was again temazepam. Then followed another few benzos and even levomepromazine (Nozinan), which is normally only used for palliative sedation.

I had to take “twilight anesthesia”, which means high doses of benzos, several more times prior to procedures and chose them over the pain that would otherwise ensue. However, I still had terrible fear when I “awoke”.

Other than insomnia, I’ve had an assortment of other sleep issues. My husband said at one point that I have hypersomnia, because I slept so much. This was probably down to a combination of medication, vitamin and iron deficiencies and lack of structure.

I am a sleep talker and I snore too. The snoring got slightly better as I lost weight last year. I’m not sure whether it’s worsened again since I’ve gained weight back up again. The sleep talking comes and goes with stress.

Lastly, I suffer from vivid dreams and nightmares. They’ve gotten a little better now that the long-term care situation is more or less settled, but during times of stress, I very often awaken in a state of shock because of vivid dreams. That is, I’m not 100% sure they’re REM sleep dreams or night terrors (which happen during stage 4 sleep). I’ve never had a sleep study done either.

Working On Us Prompt: Self-Care and Personal Hygiene

This week’s prompt on Working On Us is about self-care. I initially thought of self-care as those things we do to pamper ourselves, but then when I read the questions, I realized Beckie means basic self-care. You know, personal hygiene, such as showering or brushing your teeth.

I definitely have always had trouble with this. Part of it may be due to my lack of awareness of my appearance, which may be due to both blindness and autism. However, the fact that I don’t always shower or brush my teeth regularly, certainly isn’t.

I have always had trouble with proper personal care. When I was about fourteen, my high school tutor got complaints from my classmates that I smelled a lot of body odor. He told me I really had to develop a personal hygiene routine, but didn’t explain how to go about it. He was my PE teacher and said that he personally showerd twice a day. So I initially thought I had to do that as well, so the next day, I jumped in the bath at 6AM. My parents were not amused. With my parents, I finally agreed on a routine of baths or showers three days a week, on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings. That way, if I went to school, it’d never be more than 48 hours since I’d had a shower or bath.

My parents still didn’t explain how to wash myself. Honestly, now that I’m 33, I still get told by my husband at times that I don’t do it properly.

The problem of course wasn’t just that my parents didn’t teach me. After all, presumably my sister knows all about hygiene. It was also that I had an aversion against personal hygiene activities. Here is where my mental health is involved. Like, I have executive functioning issues on the best of days, making a “simple” shower very difficult. When I’m depressed, I cannot cope with the stress of having to shower.

My lack of self-care wasn’t even picked on when I was first assessed by a psychiatrist. Maybe he did notice I smelled, or maybe that particular day my body odor wasn’t too bad or I’d had a shower. If he did notice, he didn’t tell me so or write it in the report. Neither did any of the next so many psychiatrists and psychologists I had. I only found out that my psychologist at the resocialization unit in Nijmegen had noticed because it was written in my long-term care application at the time, that I didn’t get to see until we applied again last year.

As for brushing my teeth, I hated toothpaste. I still do, but at age 18, finally forced myself to use it. I never brushed my teeth properly until I got an electric toothbrush for my birthday this year. Now I’m still not sure I do it right, but I at least brush for the required two minutes. Interestingly, the elctric toothbrush is less horrible sensorially than the handheld one.

I find it interesting that, though lack of personal hygiene is part of an assessment of mental functioning, so few mental health practitioners take the time to discuss it with their patients. Like, when I was in the mental hospital, no-one offered to teach me personal hygiene. Not even when the dentist recommended I get help brushing my teeth. They said it was my responsibility. I really hope that, when I’m in a care facility for people with developmental disabilities, that will change.

Working On Us Prompt: Pets and Emotional Support Animals for Mental Health

This week’s Working On Us prompt is all about pets and emotional support animals. There are several questions to answer as a prompt or you can write a narrative. I am going to go with the latter, but also incorporate the questions into my post.

I have never had a formal emotional support animal. I do hope to get a guide dog for the blind somedday that will hopefully be in some ways capable of supporting me emotionally too. I know of several people with guide dogs who feel their dogs serve them a purpose related to their mental health too.

For now, I have a cat. His name is Barry and he’s a six-year-old European shorthair (the “standard” breed for Dutch cats). We adopted him from the animal shelter my mother-in-law and sister-in-law work for in 2014. At the time, we had another cat too named Harry, but Harry was extremely hyperactive. We hoped that a companion for him would help him let out his hyperness in a healthy way. Barry however couldn’t handle it, so eventually we rehomed Harry to my sister-in-law.

I never quite bonded with Harry. I was always worried he’d shove my Braille display or other expensive equipment off my desk if he got the chance. At the time, I still resided in the mental hospital so only got home on week-ends. I really didn’t like Harry to be honest.

With Barry, I initially didn’t bond well either. Barry was very shy and reserved to begin with. I remember clearly when Barry first came to me for a cuddle.

Now that I live with my husband, I am Barry’s main feeder, so he’s taken more to me. As a result, he definitely supports me emotionally. He sometimes lies next to me in bed when I’m sleeping off a depressive state. His care also provides me with some much-needed structure. Barry isn’t an emotional support animal officially, but having him around definitely helps me sometimes.

In my opinion, any animal that can be kept as a pet can be an emotional support animal. So can farm animals. In 2005, I went cow-cuddling with the blindness rehabilitation center. I didn’t like it at the time, because I didn’t see the purpose. Now I would love to go cow-cuddling again.

Similarly, horses are definitely useful as therapy or support animals. As regular readers of my blog know, I go horseback riding at an adaptive riding school once a week. Though it isn’t officially therapeutic, it definitely helps my mood and overall mental health.

I also have experience caring for horses that I didn’t ride. In 2012, I went to a horse stable as part of my day activities. I had a horse there named Flame, a Shetlander, whom I often brushed, went for walks with or just cuddled. Flame could’ve been my emotional support animal.

Working On Us Prompt: Coping With Crisis

Today, I’m once again joining in with Beckie’s Working On Us Prompt. This week, the topic is to write a narrative of what works for you when facing a panic or anxiety attack, manic episode or other crisis. I don’t get panic or anxiety attacks much or mania at all, so I’m going to describe what works for me when I’m in an emotionally dysregulated crisis.

Like I’ve said before, I have BPD (traits). These are also known as emotion regulation issues. I also experience complex PTSD symptoms. Both can cause me to suffer emotional outbursts. In addition, I can get severely overloaded due to my autism. This can cause me meltdowns, which in some ways are similar to BPD outbursts. In fact, I’m not 100% sure my BPD diagnosis is correct given that autistics, particularly women, are often misdiagnosed as BPD.

Anyway, I usually notice an outburst coming on when I experience an increase in sensory reactivity. I also often start to experience a decrease in my language abilities. I start to stutter or can only make humming noises and repeat the same phrases. My staff at day activities say that when in this state, my communication abilities resemble those of a toddler. It is interesting, in that we have only one toddler alter. When I can’t do something to calm down, I may progress to a full-blown state of meltdown, in which I become angry and sometimes aggressive or self-injurious.

What helps me when I’m in such a state, is to physicaly remove myself from the situation. This is hard though, as often it feels as though everything that happens around me is important. Usually, my staff help me by clarifying what’s important and what is not.

Of course, now that I still live independently, I don’t always have a staff member available to help me sort through a crisis or make suggestions on how I can cope. I, however, have a phone number of a psych hospital I can call in a state when I’m close to a crisis. They can’t do much but listen to me and try to offer advice, but it’s definitely been helpful in some situations. The mental health team that treats me also has a staff available on the phone for crisis intervention during office hours.

Sometimes, when I’m in a really bad crisis, I take my PRN lorazepam. However, I have some experience with it being overused on me in the psych hospital. Like, whenever I’d react to a sound in an irritated tone of voice, staff would tell me to take a lorazepam rather than helping me to figure out what was causing me overload. This has really gotten me weary of PRN medication.

Working On Us Prompt: Suicide and Suicidal Thoughts

I have lots of things I want to write about, and yet all I do is sit behind my computer and try to figure out which feed reader would be best (or least bad) on my Windows PC. I’ve yet to make a final decision, but I’m frustrated with it for now.

I’m joining in with Beckie’s Working On Us Prompt again. This time, the topic of discussion is suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.

As regular readers of my blog know, I do experience suicidal ideation on a regular basis. I have in fact lived with re-occurring suicidal ideation ever since the age of seven or so. My most severe suicidal break however was in 2007, when I was 21. Ironically, my parents thought that, since I had had suicidal thoughts on and off ever since age seven, I must not be serious and it all must just be “for attention”. Well, let me be very clear on this: suicidal thoughts are no fun and, if they ever happen “for attention”, there probably is a very good reason the sufferer is seeking attention.

I had never attempted suicide when I had my break in 2007. This break too involved “just” threats. However, it doesn’t mean I wasn’t genuinely struggling. I genuinely thought death was my only option. Same when, in 2002, I wrote a goodbye letter but had no idea how to go about actually taking the final step. People commonly say that, if you truly want to end it all, you will and, if a suicide attempt fails, it must not have been serious. That’s not necessarily true. People die from impulsive suicide attempts and people who’ve tried to kill themselves many times and are adamant they want to die, may still be alive.

In 2007, I was hospitalized, because my suicidal ideation was so serious that I needed help for it. That is, because I was suicidal due to be overwhelmed living independently and going to university, it helpd already to be taken out of the situation. That doesn’t mean my suicidal thoughts were gone immediately. That took at least three months and they’ve returned frequently since.

I did not actually get much help overcoming my suicidal thoughts. When I was on the locked unit, I had no therapy and no medication other than PRN oxazepam. I started therapy at the resocialization unit, but it was mostly just supportive.
In 2017, after my discharge from the psychiatric hospital, I made two suicide attempts by overdosing on medication. I am hesitant to call them suicide attempts, because both were impulsive and I’m not sure my intent was to die. I was most definitely depressed though. My suicide attempts were “for attention”, yes, but I had a very valid reason to seek attention.

Working On Us Prompt: Depression

Oh my, I seriously haven’t blogged in nearly a week! It’s not that I have nothing to share. In fact, a lot has happened this past week. However, I’m struggling to put these experiences down into words on the page. I feel terribly uninspired and also held back by my own inner critic. You know, the voice that says posts have to be “blog-worthy” to publish. I remember I originally intended this blog for me to let go of this idea. Not so, apparently.

Today, I’m joining in with Rebecca’s Working On Us Prompt. This week, it is all about depression.

The first question is to share what type of depression you suffer from. Well, it seems simple and yet it’s complicated. When I had my original mental breakdown in 2007, I was assessed for depression, but the psychiatrist couldn’t diagnose me with it. I just about didn’t tick enough boxes, probably because I didn’t understand half the questions. I was most definitely depressed, but acted it out as agitation. My diagnosis was adjustment disorder.

Fast forward nine years. I had lost my autism diagnosis, which had been replaced by dependent personality disorder (DPD). Because just an axis II diagnosis didn’t qualify you for this inpatient unit, my psychologist gave me an additional diagnosis of depressive disorder NOS. Yes, I kid you not: she seriously gave me an additional diagnosis so that I could stay on the psych ward for a bit. One of the nurses said she did me a favor, because in fact, the whole DPD diagnosis saga was meant to eventually kick me out of there.

I sought to get my autism diagnosis back through an independent second opinion. For the initial assessment, I was given a ton of questionnaires I had to fill out online. Among them was of course the autism spectrum quotient questionnaire, some ADHD screening tools but also a depression inventory. I filled it out as honestly as I could. It seemed as though the questionnaire had been designed for me! I scored as having severe depression. Eventually, I was diagnosed with moderate recurrent major depression. I also got my autism diagnosis back and DPD was removed.

Rebecca’s second question is about treatments. I have been on the SSRI antidepressant Celexa ever since 2010, so years before my depression diagnosis. I hardly knew why I took it and had no idea whether it was helping. This is until I noticed my mood dropping significantly in late 2017. I waited for six months for it to pass – because I didn’t want to misuse care – and then consulted my psychiatrist. She increased my Celexa dose. It has been a godsend. Without it, I’m pretty sure I’d still be very depressed.

A Timeline of My Mental Health

And yet again, I did not write for almost an entire week. My cold is gone, but now I’m fighting the strong pull of depression. I’m having really dark images in my mind, particularly at night. During the day, I can manage, but often feel too unmotivated and/or uninspired to write.

For this reason, I dug up one of my many collections of journaling prompts. A prompt that spoke to me is to draw a timeline of my life. I’m pretty sure I did this already, but can’t remember whether it was here or on one of my old blogs. I searched this blog for “timeline” and nothing came up, so if this is a duplicate post, I’m sorry. I think I wrote a timeline of my mental health on my previous blog in 2015 or 2016, but I’m just going to write one again.

2006: This was when I entered mental health services for the first time. I had my first appointment with a psychiatry resident on December 12. I was very nervous and could hardly speak a word.

2007: The most eventful year. First, in March, I got diagnosed with autism. I started treatment with a community psychiatric nurse. In July, I started my first psychiatric medication (other than sleeping pills for a while in 2006), an antipsychotic called Risperdal. This was a week before I moved out of independence training to go live on my own. In October, I stopped my antipsychotic again. In November, I landed in a suicidal crisis and was hospitalized.

2008: I remained on the locked acute unit for this entire year. Various follow-up placements were discussed, but none wanted me.

2009: I moved to the resocialization unit.

2010: I got diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder and PTSD in addition to my autism. I started medication again. First, just Abilify (an antipsychotic), but then, Celexa (an antidepressant) was added. I also was put on the waiting list for a workhome for autistic people.

2011: The workhome didn’t work out (no pun intended). Other options were unsuitable for various reasons.

2012: I started to think that maybe I could live with my husband. This wasn’t because I really wanted it (or thought I could do it), but because every other option seemed to have been exhausted and at least my husband wasn’t going to refuse to be with me for needing too much care.

2013: I moved to the hospital closest to where my husband and I had rented an apartment. This was one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in life. First, my diagnosis of DID and PTSD got changed to borderline personality disorder. This should’ve been a warning sign.

2014: I had to change psychologists. My new one said at our first appt that she didn’t believe I’m autistic.

2015: My husband moved to our cuurrent house. I tried to arrange to be transferred again, but this was refused by my social worker and psychologist. I tried to make arrangements to be placed in supported housing in my new area, but got told that the train has to move on and I had to live with my husband.

2016: My autism diagnosis got removed and replaced by dependent personality disorder, BPD traits and depression not otherwise specified. The process by which this diagnosis came to be, was the weirdest I’ve ever seen.

2017: I got kicked out of the hospital with almost no after care. In my final week, I got some day activities arranged, but that was it. Thankfully, I did get my autism diagnosis back after seeking a second opinion. My current treatment team agree with this diagnosis.

2018: I had a mental crisis at day activities and was told I had to leave that place. Thankfully, I found another place. I started dialectical behavior therapy and movement therapy, but quit again too because I couldn’t really apply what I’d learned. I finally got put on an effective dose of my antidepressant.

2019: I currently get only suppportive counseling with my nurse practitioner. I still take the high dose of both Abilify and Celexa. Would someday like to lower my Abilify dose, but that’s something for the future.

Premature Birth: Living with “Preemie Syndrome” #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day 16 in the #AtoZChallenge. I am feeling very uninspired and unmotivated once again. In fact, when my husband suggested I postpone today’s post to tomorrow and do it on procrastination, that felt tempting for a bit. Instead, I am doing it on the effects of premature birth.

I was born at 26 weeks gestation. This means I was over three months premature. I weighed only 850 grams. I had to be put into an incubator and had to be on the ventilator for six weeks.

I already shared in my B and C posts about the effects of my premature birth on my eyes and brain. Retinopathy of prematurity caused me to go legally blind. A brain bleed, called an intraventricular hemorrhage, caused me to develop hydrocephalus and possible cerebral palsy.

Because some preemies have a ton of hard-to-explain issues that fall under no one particular diagnosis, the members of the PREEMIE-CHILD mailing list coined the term “preemie syndrome”. This is of course not a real syndrome, but it is used to describe the fact that many children who were born prematurely fit into multiple boxes of disability to a certain extent, but may not meet the full criteria. For instance, some children’s motor impairments are too mild to be classified as cerebral palsy. Mine might be.

It is known that preemies are at an increased risk of developing neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism or ADHD. Then again, some clinicians don’t diagnose these conditions in preemies, as they reason this is somehow a different condition. I am not sure how I feel about this, as I don’t care about the exact syndrome but more about the symptoms. This was exactly what my psychologist told me to do, and then she changed my diagnosis for all kinds of weird reasons. But I digress.

I don’t mean “preemie syndrome” as yet another label to identify myself with. It’s not that simple. It’s just that we tend to fall through the cracks and I want to prevent that.

Multiplicity: Living with Dissociative Identity Disorder #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day 13 in the #AtoZChallenge. I had today’s theme in mind for a while, but then I realized I already shared about my experience of being multiple in early March for DID Awareness Day and Plural Pride Day. Several other possible topics floated through my mind, but none felt right. So instead of choosing a topic I don’t know what to write about anyway, I”m choosing multiplicity again. I will try not to repeat myself in this post. As such, I recommend those unfamiliar with dissociative identity disorder read the post I wrote last March first.

We are a system of, last time I counted, 26 alters. Most are female, ranging in age from one month to 42-years-old. Each has a different role in our system (the whole of me). We don’t subscribe to rigid categories of alters. Like, the currently most scientifically proven theory of dissociation distinguishes between apparently normal parts (ANPs) who do the daily living and emotional parts (EPs), who are stuck in trauma time. Though most of us can be put into one of these two categories, we prefer to refer to them by different terms. We for a while tried dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), in which the different states of mind are called rational, emotional and wise mind. We see the ANPs as rational mind, the EPs as emotional mind and wise mind would be if all these parts can constructively cooperate.

Another way of distinguishing alters is by categories such as protector, persecutor (often a perpetrator introject), inner self helper, etc. We do have an inner self helper of sorts. Other than that, our roles are more complex than these. I mean, some of our protectors can be highly destructive relationally.

As you may know, dissociation stems from severe, repeated trauma in early childhood. This used to be thought to only encompass sexual and ritual abuse, but more and more people are realizing that physical and emotional abuse and neglect can also cause DID. There is no evidence that the severity of one’s trauma can predict the extent of dissociation. For example, we didn’t endure major sexual violation at all, but still have a pretty large system. DID is largely seen as an attachment-based disorder now, so insecure attachment early on could predispose one to further dissociation even in the event of relatively “minor” trauma. I, for one, was at a disadvantage already due to being born premature.

I also think that people on the autistic spectrum are more likely to develop DID than neurotypicals, because living in a neurotypical world predisposes us to a lot of trauma. I remember once, when in a Dutch DID community, being told that autism is so pervasive a disorder that it keeps us from developing multiple personalities. There is absolutely zero evidence for this.

I had a nurse practitioner’s appointment last Thursday. At the end of it, we got to debate the end goal of treatment (even though I haven’t even been formally diagnosed with DID yet). The three phases in treatment are stabilization (learning coping skills and internal cooperation), trauma processing and finally integration. There are some DID therapists who believe merging of all alters is a requirement for completing DID treatment. Others mean rehabilitation into society when they say integration. We prefer cooperation to a full-on merger. We wouldn’t mind if alters merged spontaneously, but we have zero interest in forcing it.

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.