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.

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.

Love: How I Met My Husband #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to the #AtoZChallenge day 12. Today I am going to share a positive story, because I am going to write about love. I have known my husband, Jeroen, for 11 1/2 years and love him to pieces. I want to share how we met in today’s post.

In September of 2007, I was living on my own in Nijmegen. I struggled a lot and felt extremely lonely. I at the time frequented a message board, where I posted that I felt alone. Jeroen was on this forum too. He had been wanting to expand his social circle, so he had decided to get to know some fellow forum members better. He read my blog, which I’d kept on WordPress since early 2007. From that, he decided he wanted to meet me. He sent me a PM asking to have a coffee or tea somewhere in Nijmegen. I accepted.

At first, I was unsure whether I’d be safe. What if Jeroen wasn’t the 18-year-old guy he claimed to be? To be honest, I didn’t know much about him from the forum even though he was an active member. He offered to meet me at the forum meetup in Utrecht, but I didn’t have the spoons to travel there, so I agreed to see him at the bus stop closest to university that the bus I knew drove by.

On our first “date”, we were both stressed. I fell off a step and dropped my coffee. When we sat down on a bench, he asked what type of music I liked. I answered “world music”, as I mostly listened to Latin American music.

After our first time meeting, he PM’ d me to tell me he had mixed feelings about it. So did I. But a few weeks later, he again PM’d me to ask whether we could meet again and I invited him to my apartment. That was probably a bit weird, but I knew no other place in Nijmegen.

When we had just planned our fourth “date”, I was admitted to the psychiatric hospital. I didn’t have his phone number, nor did I have Internet access. I gave my support worker my login details for the message board and asked her to contact Jeroen.

A few weeks later, my father called asking whether he could give Jeroen my phone number. I agreed. Jeroen had found my father’s E-mail address through the whois of his website (that he doesn’t do a thing with). I”m so glad he was (and still is) such a tech savvy person and didn’t give up.

It took us six more months from that point on to agree that we would be calling our involvement a romantic relationship. I am so glad I eventually agreed to love him back, as he’d been the first to say he was in love with me. We will be celebrating our 11-year anniversary of being a couple next month. We got married on the day we knew each other exactly four years on September 19, 2011.

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.

Healing From Childhood Trauma: Progress I’ve Made #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to the #AtoZChallenge, day eight. It’s already nearly 9PM as I start writing this post. I wasn’t home from day activities till 5PM, then had dinner and then drove 50 minutes one way with my husband to pick something up he had bought. On our way back, we stopped by McDonald’s, which was fun.

Anyway, today’s theme is healing. I was inspired to choose this theme by yesterday’s post, in which my final goal was to heal from my childhood trauma. Let me share today how far I’ve come on my journey.

My trauma-based symptoms first became fully apparent in 2009 or 2010. I had moved from a locked acute psych unit to a resocialization unit in early 2009. Once I developed trust in my staff, I apparently felt more ready to uncover the trauma-based conditions I’ve been living with all my life. You see, my trauma started early on and is in some respects ongoing.

When I started to open up about my symptoms, it still took a long time for them to be diagnosed as first dissociative identity disorder and PTSD and later borderline personality disorder. Borderline personality disorder shares a ton of symptoms with complex PTSD and I think that’s what I have.

I have never been in formal trauma therapy. The reason is that, first, it was hard to find a therapist with expertise on DID. Once I’d found one, my diagnosis had been changed and I was assumed to be making it up.

As a result, I’ve done most healing on my own. I got the book Coping with Trauma-Related Dissociation as soon as it came out in 2011. I worked through some of it on my own, but that wasn’t helping much. Talking a lot about my experiences was.

After I’d been talking through my experiences for a long while with my resocialization unit staff, my classic PTSD symptoms started to fade. Unfortunately, they’ve been back to an extent lately. However, my emotion regulation issues are a lot less pronounced.

I still have dissociative symptoms. Accepting them and validating my alters has helped me manage these symptoms.

Since I experience ongoing stress that reminds me of my trauma, I don’t expect to find the peace to fully heal anytime soon. However, I really hope I can continue to make progress.

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.