Names: The Story Behind My Name #AtoZChallenge

Okay, it’s time for day 14 in the #AtoZChallenge and I’m feeling incredibly uninspired. That is, I have a ton of ideas floating through my mind, but none that I can get ahold of. For this reason, I am choosing the same topic I used last year for my letter A post for the letter N. I am going to share the story behind my name.

I used to be very interested in names. I still am to an extent, but I don’t know nearly as much as some of the onomastics (namesakes) bloggers I know. I know what my name means only because I googled it last year. In fact, when I was still big into names, it was more a matter of listing as many interesting and foreign names as possible.

I have no middle name. My name is just Astrid. Because I was born prematurely, my parents didn’t yet have a name picked for me when I was born. For this reason, my incubator was for a few hours labeled “Baby Van Woerkom”. My father was so annoyed by this that he quickly came up with a name and that became Astrid. I am supposedly named after Swedish Author Astrid Lindgren.

Astrid means “beautiful god” or something like that. It is derived from norse mythology.

I at one point asked my mother what she’d have named me had I been born a boy. She said “Lennaert” and wasn’t sure how to spell it. I am currently using the Belgian spelling (I think). My father preferred “Leonard”, which I think is much better. Still, I”m glad I was named Astrid.

That being said, I’d like to have a middle name. In my teens, I variously used Elena (which matches horribly with Astrid) and Kirsten as my chosen middle names. Both are alters in my system, the ones most active at the time. I don’t think I can choose a middle name though, in case someone in my system would like to claim it. I don’t want to play favorites, after all.

Kids: Being Childless Sort Of By Choice #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day 11 in the #AtoZChallenge. For those who followed me on my old blog last year, I chose “children” for the letter C post then. I can’t remember what I did my K post on and am too lazy to look it up, so I’m just taking the opportunity to talk about children again. I hate the word “kids”, but oh well.

You see, I have no kids. At 32, this is a bit abnormal already and it’s becoming more so as I age. The reason I don’t have kids, is complicated. Let me explain.

As a child and teen, I always thought I’d have children as an adult. Even during the time, in my mid to late teens, when I thought I was a lesbian, I thought it would be a given that I’d have children. I didn’t imagine a man in my life, nor did I think of how else I’d conceive, but I always knew I would have kids.

This changed after my major psychiatric crisis when I was 21. For the first year or so, I was busy with merely surviving and getting to see a future for myself other than suicide. Then, my post-traumatic stress symptoms started to emerge.

When I was 27, I made the conscious choice not to try to conceive. I had in the meantime met and married my husband and he agreed. He would even support me if I’d want to get sterilized and said I would most likely have no problem geting the procedure done, given that I’m multiply-disabled. He’s likely right, even though this is extremely ableist.

I know I, personally, couldn’t care for a child. This doesn’t say anything about other people with my combination of disabilities, but it is true in my case. Having made this decision puts me somewhere on the fence between childless and childfree. I am in communities for both on Facebook and find that I’m a little out of place in both. Over the years, I’ve moved more towards the childfree side, as I am realizing I don’t experience my biological clock ticking. Rather, my wish to be a parent is more based on societal expectations. As I once said, I’d want to be a Mommy blogger. Well, I guess that’s not the right reason to try for kids.

Job: What I’d Want to Do If I Were Employable #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day ten in the #AtoZChallenge. As with most difficult letters, I’ve had a theme word for today’s post in mind for a few days but wasn’t sure how to go about it. I am pretty tired already, so this will be a bit of a random ramble.

I am unemployable according to the Dutch social security administration. The guidelines for this were revised in 2015 and I was scared that I’d be deemed employable. After all, the guidelines say that someone who can do at least one task that is part of a job (so not a full job) and who has basic employee skills, is often employable. These skills that are part of a job, include for example doing the dishes. I thought I could do this until my husband informed me that I can’t. He also felt I didn’t have basic employee skills such as coming on time and accepting leadership. Apparently, the social security people agreed.

Until I had my major crisis at age 21, I thought I’d be perfectly employable and not just by the current standards. I was convinced I’d be able to have a regular, in fact high-level job. I studied linguistics and wanted to become a speech-language pathologist.

If I were to design my ideal job, I’d however be a type of social worker with some educational psychology involvement. I would be the person to find out what people in complex care situations really need and try to deliver that. Of course, with my poor social-communicative skills, I will never be a social worker. Educational psychology is also pretty much inaccessible a field to the blind because of its heavy reliance on statistics.

I think I’m pretty good though at coming up with creative solutions to problems at least when they are within my field of interest. I can be critical of my staff and often ask them why they do things a certain way. They are not always able or allowed to tell me, as I’m just a client. However, if I were a support worker, social worker or the like, I would not run into this.

Ever since I was old enough to be aware of my own unique situation within the care system at around age twelve, I’ve been wanting to be this kind of ed psych/social worker mix. I was convinced I could help prevent other people in similar situations to mine from falling through the cracks.

I tried to study applied psychology at college one year. With this one year behind me, I could’ve chosen a major such as social work or psychodiagnostics. I didn’t, after all, because my communication skills teacher told me I would be passed on the oral test if I didn’t continue in this field. This feels a little sad to me, but I still have the capacity to learn on my own terms. I will most likely never be employable, but I can still learn new things in this field.

Independence Training: My Journey Through Rehabilitation Programs #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day nine in the #AtoZChallenge. I wasn’t sure what to write about till literally minutes ago. My support coordinator was in touch with the long-term care funding agency today. I still can’t disclose details, but it brought back memories of all the rehabilitation and training programs I’ve been in. Let me share.

I didn’t get a lot in the way of independence training while at the school for the blind, but I got some. It wasn’t efffective though. I don’t know why, but part of the reason was probably my parents constantly arguing with the school on what was important for me to learn. Another reason was my struggle with generalizing skills I’d learned at school into other settings. Once I went to mainstream secondary school, I didn’t get any independence training at all. I was pretty bad at life skills by the time I graduated high school.

I decided not to go straight to university after high school. Instead, I chose to go into the country’s only residential rehabilitation center for the blind’s basic program. I learned some skills, but still had trouble making use of them in the real world.

The same happened when I went into an independence training home. At first, I thought highly of myself and wanted to do things independently I really couldn’t. My plan was to get training for eight months and then leave for university. Those eight months became eighteen and then I was basically made to go to university.

I tried a ton of independence training while hospitalized on the psych unit too. It didn’t work. Whenever I tried to do something independently, such as clean or travel using my white cane, I struggled greatly. I didn’t fully realize this, not even at the long-term care assessment last January, but I really overestimated myself. My husband can attest to that. He’s had to get me out of trouble many times.

Why I struggle so much, no-one has been fully able to figure out. It’s probably a combination of my multiple disabilities (blindness and cerebral palsy) and my emotionally low functioning level.

It’s been recommended that I get more independence training. Maybe, after I complete dialectical behavior therapy for my emotion regulation issues, I’ll not feel as frustrated with myself and be more able to learn. I don’t think this is going to solve the problem though, since doing something with someone present, isn’t the same as doing something on your own.

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.

#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.

A Time I Ignored My Intuition: Moving Institutions

I haven’t written at all this past week. It was an eventful week, but I feel reluctant to disclose details. I have also been feeling uninspired to write about anything that isn’t just a diary-style entry starting with the phrase “Today I did…”. Well, that’s not what feels right to me.

I was talking to my assigned day activities staff this afternoon. We were casually discussing places I’d lived in before and I mentioned having moved from one institution to another to be closer to my husband in 2013. That was a big mistake.

The memory came back again when I read a journaling prompt in one of my many collections of prompts. It asked me to reflect on a time I had ignored my gut feeling or intuition. This was a time I did. Let me share.

In late 2012, my husband and I had accepted a rental home in a town near Arnhem, Netherlands. I was at the time living in an institution in Nijmegen, about 30km away. There was a lot of turmoil going on about the unit I resided on. For example, there was talk of us moving to another building. We’d just moved from an old building to a newly-built one in September of 2012 and I didn’t like yet another move. Unless it was closer to my husband. So even when the plan for yet another move was canceled sometime in April or May of 2013, I still said I wanted to move to the other institution, which was in the town next to the town in which we’d rented our home.

I had an intake interview in June of 2013. The psychologist was quite mental if you ask me. I’d come from a unit with 24-hour care and he was expecting me to move into a house with a few other patients and staff dropping in once or twice a day. Well, no way! He said that’d be better preparation for my moving in with my husband than going to another unit with 24-hour care and the in-between unit was full. He gave me the choice though, but I had to be quick. It was Thursday and I was expected to move before the week-end, because if I waited till Monday, the bed on the 24-hour care unit may have been filled already.

I felt rather off, but I reasoned my feelings away. I wanted to be closer to my husband, after all, and I wanted to ultimately live with him. Or so I thought. So I moved the next day.

Let me explain that my staff at the ward in Nijmegen had been as supportive as psychiatric care staff can be. I mean, they were sure I needed a lot of support at least. They had denied me the opportunity to go into a housing unit for people with visual and intellectual impairments in 2011, but it takes a lot for a psychiatric professional to go beyond their expertise and see that a person might be best served in developmental disability services even if they have a high IQ.

The staff in the new institution were not so supportive. Even though they allowed me to stay there for nearly four years eventually, they were adamant that I go live with my husband and eventually kicked me out with almost no after care, reasoning that I had refused to go into any home with more care they’d offered. Which, frankly, was none.

Now, nearly two years into living with my husband, I”m facing the pain. I’m still feeling angry towards the staff at the last institution and regret that I decided to move. From now on, I’ll twust my gut feeling when something doesn’t sit right with me.

#IWSG: Finding My Voice

Today, it is once again time to share our thoughts with the Insecure Writer’s Support Group (#IWSG). The optional question assigned for this month is to write about from whose perspective you like to write best. Since I rarely write fiction nowadays, my answer is simple: my own.

I didn’t do much blogging in the past month. Part of the reason is the need to remain silent about some recent occurrences in my life. This means some diary-style writing is out of the question right now. Unless, that is, I do it offline.

Which brings me to the fact that I rediscovered Dyrii, an app on my iPhone and now on my Mac too, which you can use for keeping a journal. It still needs a little getting used to on my part, but overall, I like it. It helps me find my voice again, even if it isn’t in public.

I seem to have been able to write some more again in the past week. It feels good. I always feel good when I write.

I am also seriously thinking of starting up my fiction writing again, even though I am told that it generally lacks imaginativeness. I will see if tomorrow, which is my day off from day activities, I can write some fictional piece again.

In other news, I got myself the Dictionary.com app on my iPhone. I am loving looking up new words and idioms. As you might know, English is my second language and half the words that I come across in word-of-the-day challenges, I do not know the meaning of. I’m told this isn’t so unusual and that I’d benefit more from learning idioms rather than vocabulary. I don’t care. It’s cool to learn either way.

#IWSG: Creative Outlets Besides Writing

I have a ton of things I want to write about, but somehow I can’t get myself to actually write. I started trying to use my new Mac Saturday evening. So far, it works but is still a bit hard to use. The WordPress app for Mac isn’t available in the app store, so it is a pain to install. I’m just using my phone now rather than WordPress.com in Safari, because at least I know how to work this.

It’s time again for our Insecure Writer’s Support Group or #IWSG check-in. This month’s question is about creative outlets other than writing.

I must say I”m not terribly creative. I don’t do any artsy things and am no good at music either. No, not all blind people are musically talented! I tried my hand at learning to play the keyboards and guitar for a bit, but didn’t like either. Granted, my guitar lessons were while I was at summer camp in Russia and the instructor spoke Russian and English only. This was before I knew English, so it took me half an hour to figure out what he meant by the “strings”.

If we expand creativity a bit to include crafts, I have tried a ton of them. I started out trying to make cards in 2012, not realizing how inaccessible this craft is to blind people. I should’ve known, since the blindness agency used to offer card making courses but specifically to the partially sighted only.

Then I tried mixed media, which was similarly inaccessible. Then came polymer clay, which should be doable but not by me. I tried to learn to crochet and loom knit too.

Lastly, I tried soap and bath and body product making. I still love that craft and would someday like to pick it up again, but I can’t do it independently. This is when I realized that the problem may not be exclusively with my blindness, but my cerebral palsy affecting my fine motor skills too.

So in short, no, I don’t do any creative things other than write. But I’d love to learn.

Determined

I want to write so bad, but my shoulder is still hurting. Not as badly as it was, but there’s some kind of bulge on it that keeps acting up whenever I lift my arm up even slightly, as I do for typing. I am determined to beat this stupid thing though.

Determined. That’s Fandango’s word for FOWC today. I rarely participate in these one-word challenges, although I’m subscribed to most blogs that offer them, including Fandango’s. However, today’s word struck a chord.

I told my named support worker at day activities about my crisis of 2007. I realize I’ve never shared my life story on here yet, so some readers will not know what I’m talking about. Let me explain. In 2007, I was living independently and going to university. I had been forced to go that route after essentially being kicked out of an independence training home that I had attended because I’m blind. I had been diagnosed with autism just a few months prior. Neither autism nor blindness alone should keep someone from living independently and going to university, but the combination did cause me a lot of trouble. Within three months, I was in a suicidal crisis. I had to be admitted to the psych ward. Not because I wanted to per se, but because that was what I needed at that point.

Fast forward 9 1/2 years and I was kicked out of the psych unit again. Yes, I stayed in a psychiatric hospital for 9 1/2 years. Not because I wanted to, but because no other place wanted me. Those for people with just autism, couldn’t deal with my blindness and vice versa. There are places for people who are blind with multiple disabilities, but most of the clients going there have some type of intellectual disability. That was obviously not where I belong. Or was it?

I’ve now been living independently with my husband since May of 2017. Despite lots of support, it’s a struggle. I am surviving, but I’m barely living.

So I decided to apply for long-term care. Which had originally been determined to be best for me by the psychiatrist who admitted me to hospital in 2007. I am determineed that, if we stop looking at just my labels and start looking at me, we’ll find someplace for me.

Then again, is this determination? Am I not essentially underachieving if I admit I need 24-hour care? Or am I actually determined to follow my own path to happiness and the best possible quality of life?