#AutisticBliss Is…

A few days ago, I came across a discussion on Twitter with the hashtag of #AutisticBliss. I don’t follow many autistic bloggers, so I cannot be sure the conversation has been taken over to WordPress yet. Regardless, I wanted to write a blog post in contribution to the topic. Here are a few things I consider sincere bliss as an autistic person.

1. The sensory room at the day center. I mentioned this in my Twitter reply too. Back when I was trying to prepare for leaving the mental hospital in 2017, I asked my psychologist whether I could try out snoezelen® at the intellectual disability unit. She said I couldn’t, as it is only offered to people with severe intellectual disability. I’m so extremely grateful I ended up attending a day center for people with intellectual disability once kicked out of the hospital. Ever since, I’ve come to very much enjoy the sensory room.

2. My own sensory equipment in my room. When at my first day center after leaving the psych hospital, I discovered an online sensory equipment store while looking for birthday presents for myself. I currently own two lavender-filled, microwave-safe soft toys from that store, one in my room at the care facility and one in our house in Lobith. I also have a lot of soft toys that aren’t specifically sensory. I enjoy my exercise ball too, as well as my essential oil diffuser.

3. Being able to hyperfocus on my special interests. One of the main autistic characteristics I love about myself is my ability to perseverate. I love it when I’m in hyperfocus mode and actually have an interest I’m passionate about.

4. Being able to collect things, particularly if they’re cheap or free. For example, I have at least a dozen books of journaling prompts on my phone. Most were free either on Kindle or in Apple Books. Now that I am more money-conscious than I used to be, I no longer spend as much on my special interest du jour. However, I really love collecting free stuff.

5. Stimming. Especially if I’m happy. Stims were often so discouraged that I struggle to find ones I can engage in for fun, but when I can, that’s utter bliss.

6. Having found my tribe. I love being part of the autistic community. It helps me feel that I belong somewhere.

What surprising aspect of life do you find is utter bliss?

Writer’s Workshop: If I Could Change One Thing About Myself

Mama Kat in one of her prompts for this week asks us what one thing we would change about ourselves if we could. She also asks us to think on why it can’t be changed.

This is pretty much a no-brainer to me. If there’s one thing I could pick to change about myself, it would be to widen my window of tolerance. The window of tolerance is the window at which point someone is stimulated enough that they aren’t bored too much, but not so much that they are overloaded. Each individual’s window of tolerance is different. Some people thrive on challenging activities and exciting stimuli. Others can barely handle any sensory or cognitive demands. I belong to the latter category.

If I’m correct, the window of tolerance also refers to the ability to tolerate distress or frustration. My distress tolerance is and has always been extremely poor.

So why can’t it be changed? Well, I tried. Ever since I was a little child, psychologists have recommended I work on distress tolerance. Now I must say I really wasn’t aware of the problem at all until I was about eleven, but even when I was, I had no idea how to heighten my distress tolerance.

My tolerance for sensory and cognitive demands was manageable up until I suffered autistic burnout at age 21. I mean, I was in classrooms with 30+ students in them, doing my schoolwork at a high level high school. Ever since my burnout though, I’ve hardly been able to function in group settings without getting overloaded. I also can’t seem to handle any sort of pressure.

In 2017, when I was being kicked out of the psychiatric hospital, it was recommended that I do dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). One of the modules of DBT is distress tolerance. The community psychiatric nurse (CPN) who started DBT with me, even wrote increasing my frustration tolerance as a treatment goal without my having asked her to. I didn’t see how I could work on this. After all, seeing this goal written on my treatment plan already created such immense pressure that I felt overloaded without even trying to work on the goal.

I know I have a bit of an external locus of control. This seems to be tied in with poor distress tolerance. I mean, it isn’t that I genuinely think the world owes me a sensory-friendly, low-demand environment. However, I can’t see how I can work on changing my ability to handle sensory stimuli, demands and distress.

Mama’s Losin’ It

After Diagnosis: Dropping a Mask or Seeking Excuses?

I didn’t end up writing anything for the second and third prompt in the 10-day writing challenge. I also skipped the Insecure Writer’s Support Group day yesterday. It wasn’t really that I felt unmotivated or uninspired, but I was busy doing other things.

For example, I read a post on Facebook by a Mom of a neurodivergent child asking the autistic community whether it was possible that the child could be faking autism. That had me thinking. The short answer is that it’s highly unlikely. It is much more likely that, upon learning you are or may be autistic, you drop the mask.

I was self-identified as autistic for some years before I was formally diagnosed. However, my parents and high school tutor shamed me out of seeking an official diagnosis, claiming I was a hypochondriac for believing I’m autistic. Never mind that hypochondriasis is as much a mental condition as is autism.

At the time of my official diagnosis, I was resisting it a bit. I was in college with a psychology major and I didn’t want a diagnosis to stand in the way of my completing the program. Never mind that I was already failing and a diagnosis in fact helped me get some accommodations.

Then after I was diagnosed with autism, I started dropping the mask. Some people, including my parents and staff at the time, thought I was using my diagnosis as an excuse. Well, I wasn’t. I was experiencing what eventually turned out to be extreme burnout.

To get back to the topic of “faking” autism, I won’t deny that a small percentage of people may want to fake a disability to get services or financial help they don’t need. Others might be encouraged by family or friends to “just” go on disability. At least, I know some people who say they experience this. However, with how strict the social security and care systems are here, it is highly unlikely that someone would be granted benefits or care based on just a diagnosis. After all, a diagnosis is just a label.

Besides, said child had already been diagnosed with a neurodivergent condition. More labels doesn’t necessarily mean more care. It can mean more self-knowledge. It did in my case at least.

For example, I’ve over the years been given at least ten different diagnoses. Some may be correct while others most likely aren’t. Exploring these conditions did give me more understanding of myself. Especially with autism, there is a very positive community surrounding it. That definitely helps me finally find my tribe.

Today’s prompt in the 10-day writing challenge was “After”. The idea of the challenge is to write for five minutes. This post took me much longer, but that’s okay too.

Today I Feel…

Today I feel pretty awful. Several of my day activities staff were off sick, so I got assigned a relatively new staff. This was hard enough. To make matters worse, I was pretty badly overloaded all day. I did try to relax in the sensory room, but really couldn’t find my calm.

In the evening, I started a Dutch blog again. It’s been the umpteenth time that I started one and I’m not feeling too optimistic about how long I’ll be able to keep it up. Then again, I did finally find a way to link to it from this blog, so that I don’t have to keep switching primary sites each time I comment on a Dutch blogger for them to see it. Of course other bloggers seeing your content shouldn’t be the point of blogging. At least, it wasn’t my point when I first started blogging. I didn’t care about my stats. But that was over thirteen years ago. Now, of course I do care.

I saw a post by a Dutch disability blogger. That blogger in fact inspired me to start a Dutch blog again. She was discussing the notion of “mild” forms of impairments. I generally hate that notion, even though I still often fall into the trap of judging people, including myself, by it.

For example, I am diagnosed with level 1 autism spectrum disorder and probably level 1 cerebral palsy too. Only my blindness can be seen as “severe”. Even so, it’s of course the combined effect of these disabilities that causes me to need the support I need. Thankfully, the long-term care fudning agency got that in my case eventually. It doesn’t get it in some other cases.

Like, a friend of mine shared a newspaper article a few weeks ago about an elderly man who was profoundly hearing impaired, nearly blind and hardly able to walk but still too “mild” for nursing home funding. This man ended up taking his own life. I was incredibly saddened by this and at the same time, it made me feel guilty. I’m trying to turn this guilt into gratitude though.

This post was partly inspired by the first prompt in a 10-day writing challenge I participate in. The prompt was “Today”.

Feelings After Watching a Documentary on the Blindness Rehabilitation Center

Today, I got a subscription to see past episodes of Dutch television programs mostly so that I could see a documentary series called Five Days Inside. It’s where three presenters rotate to visit mostly health care settings or other institutions that are not commonly shown to the general public. The episode of four weeks ago was about the blindness rehabilitation center I attended in 2005. I actually still recognized some of the staff talking to the presenter from when I went there.

Watching it had me very emotional. I don’t know why. I guess because most of the clients who were featured, some roughly my age when I attended the program, are so optimistic about their future despite sometimes having recently lost their vision. When I attended the program, I often felt way ahead of these people and way behind of them at the same time. After all, I had pretty good Braille reading skills. My reading speed at the start was more than twice that which is the ultimate goal of the rehabilitation program for adults. As I learned today while watching the episode, some people don’t even have the tactile ability to ever learn Braille. Most will only be able to use Braille for simple labeling, not for reading books, like I do.

On the other hand, I never learnd to cook. Not in those four months in the center or the eighteen months in an independence training home that followed. It wasn’t for lack of teaching, but I couldn’t manage these tasks. Or even simpler tasks such as putting peanut butter on bread.

Today, I talked to my CPN from the mental health agency. We were talking about my skills or lack thereof. She seems to blame my parents for not having taught me properly. I understand. Then again, with my having had a meltdown each time my parents tried to make me learn new practical skills, it’s only understandable that they gave up. My CPN acknowledged this is a common autistic trait. My parents would say I’m not autistic, just stubborn. Apparently I decided from as early as age seven on that I would never learn practical skills because I couldn’t do them visually. Or maybe because I thought I was too smart for them. I don’t know what my father’s theory boiled down to exactly.

And now I see these blind or partially sighted people who are planning on working or going to college. I don’t know how I feel towards them. On the one hand, I feel envy. I wish I could cook tuna macaroni or zucchini soup. I wish I could ride the bus on my own, then go into town to buy raisin rolls. I wish six months of training could teach me the skills to live independently and go to college or work.

Then on the other hand, I feel an enormous sense of relief. I feel relieved that somehow my support coordinator was able to convince a long-term care funding lawyer that it’s at least partly due to blindness that I can’t.

PoCoLo

Fidgeting

A few months ago, one of the staff at my day activities showed me a fidget spinner. I’d never seen one before, although I’d heard of it, of course. It was a little disappointing, to be honest. I mean, yes, you can fidget with it, but it doesn’t have as many features as some of the other toys at day activities. I didn’t really understand the hype.

Last week, the things my assigned staff had ordered for me to play with, came in the mail. There was a deck of cards to play games with, a set of dominoes, but also a fidget toy. This one had a lot more buttons and things.

I often love to fidget, but not necessarily with standard fidget toys. I have a set of makeup brushes at day activities that I like to stroke.

Then again, my main stim (the autistic term for fidgeting activity) is hair twirling. I remember my second autism diagnostician telling me I really needed to unlearn it, as it was a “serious social handicap”. I was at the time in my first month of my psychiatric hospitalization for suicidal ideation, so even if it were a serious social handicap, I had other things to worry about. Turns out my parents and said diagnostician are the only people truly offended by this behavior.

Speaking of which, everyone stims. I have mentioned this a few times before but I remember one day sitting in on a demonstration some social services students were giving of their work. The student pretending to be the social services person was constantly clicking his pen when talking to the client-student. I thought this was odd, but no-one else noticed.

Still, I may want to get myself a stim toy to replace the hair twirling with. I saw some on Stimtastic.com that I may love, but the shipping cost from the United States to here holds me back from ordering anything.

Linking up with today’s Daily Inkling.

A Phone Conversation with My Mother

Last Monday, my mother called me. She rarely if ever used to call me when I still lived with my husband, but now she’s been the first to attempt contact a few times already. I don’t know whether I need to feel bad about not contacting her first, as conversations usually get uncomfortable for both of us.

Like, on Monday, I had just been in an angry outburst when she called. I couldn’t avoid telling her, as I needed a few minutes to regroup. That caused the conversation to center on my (perceivped by either of us) problems and my mother’s attempt to solve them. She was offering me all kinds of advice. If I just stop panicking at frustrating situations or learn to cope with unexpected change, I’ll be able to live with my husband again. I never even said I want to leave the care facility. Of course though, I’m supposed to have this as my ultimate goal anyway. Who, after all, would choose to live in care if they didn’t absolutely need to?

I was terribly triggered by my mother’s unwanted advice. When processing this conversation with my husband yesterday though, I was reminded of her perspective.

You know, I was born prematurely. My mother already feels guilty about that to some extent, as if she was the one kicking me out of her womb. Well, obviously she wasn’t.

Then in our discussion, I disclosed to my husband that I was most likely exposed to valproic acid, an anticonvulsant, in utero. My mother isn’t certain of it, as she took different anticonvulsants for her epilepsy over the years. However, all valproates and most other anticonvulsants have some risk of affecting the fetus when taken by pregnant women. The realization that this might’ve contributed to my developmental disabilities, didn’t happen right away even though in the 1980s, valproates carried warning labels already. It probably came when I was last assessed for autism in 2017 and my mother was asked whether she took any substances or medications during pregnancy. At around the same time or shortly before, there was an article in the newspaper my parents read about large numbers of French women being given valproic acid during pregnancy as late as 2014. This lead to over 4000 children having serious birth defects and even more having developmental disorders. Up to 40% of children exposed to valproates in utero are autistic.

My husband expressed that this may be a factor in my mother’s trying to deny the significance of my autism. After all, if she did something to contribute to me being disabled, she’d have to deal with immense guilt if admitting its full significance. Then it is more understandable that she’s in some denial. It may also explain, I now realize, why she’s trying to “fix” me. I told her she doesn’t need to, but she remains my Mom.

For clarity’s sake, a pregnant woman getting a seizure may be harmful to both mother and child and my mother said this risk was fairly high in her case if she didn’t take meds. I don’t know, as my mother has been seizure-free for 30+ years and off meds for as long as I can remember. However, I mean this to undo the blame. The doctors did what they thought was best, at least that’s what I assume. My mother and I have some questions here too, as my mother also took part in a trial of aspirin to prevent premature birth, which obviously didn’t work. My mother at least did what she thought was best. She never intended to have me early or cause me fetal anticonvulsant syndrome. More importantly though, there’s no need to fix me. I’m content the way things are right now.

Friday Flashback: Diagnonsense, Oh Diagnonsense!

Today I’m joining in with Fandango’s Friday Flashback and sharing a post I wrote exactly three years ago on my old blog. I let my domain registration for the blog expire this week, but it’s still available on a WordPress subdomain. With this post, I have edited out typeos and am not going to keep all the internal links. I’ll provide a link to the original at the bottom of this post.

A few months ago, I wrote about my changing diagnosis. My autism diagnosis that’s been confirmed three times since 2007, was removed. That left me with just borderline personality disorder (BPD) as a diagnosis. If you thought I gracefully accepted this, you do not know me. I consulted with the patient liaison person at my institution, who recommended I seek a second opinion at another hospital. Now, three months on and we’re back at square one, and it’s not because an independent provider agreed with my psychologist.

On August 15, I talked to the patient liaison person, who on that same day E-mailed my psychologist asking her to make the necessary arrangements for me to get a second opinion. Instead, my psychologist told me she wanted to contact a psychiatrist at the brain injury unit first to inquire about the diagnosis of autism in people with brain injury. This doctor told her that indeed autism shouldn’t be diagnosed in people with brain injury, but the same is true of BPD. My psychologist would need to diagnose personality change due to a general medical condition instead. I stupidly agreed with her changing my diagnosis herself rather than sending me to an independent psychiatrist or clinical psychologist.

My psychiatrist, who is the head clinician responsible for my care, however, disagreed with my psychologist’s diagnosis. My named nurse said they were throwing around all sorts of diagnoses at my treatment plan meeting last month. Eventually, my psychologist informed me they’d settled on dependent personality disorder, borderline personality disorder traits and a developmental disorder NOS. I hate the DPD label, but can see how I might have some of its features. I needed to see my treatment plan to see what they’d meant with developmental disorder NOS, which isn’t a diagnostic code in DSM-IV unless prefixed by “pervasive”. That would essentially mean autism. As it turned out, they hadn’t settled on this diagnosis, as the developmental disorder was gone.

Instead, I now have DPD, BPD traits and depressive disorder NOS. I asked my psychologist whether this was a coding typeo, but it wasn’t. Her explanation was that I may formally meet the criteria for this, but the main reason for the diagnosis is for insurance purposes. You see, I can’t be in the mental hospital without a diagnosis on axis I (anything that isn’t a personality disorder). A nurse even twisted my psychologist’s actions like she’d done me a favor.

Last week, when I found out my final diagnosis, I lost it pretty much and was considering checking myself out of the institution. My psychologist was called, because the nurses thought I said I was definitely leaving, which I can’t remember having said. My psychologist encouraged me to leave right then, which I refused. My husband instead came to pick me up the next day for a night at home to have some distance.

Today, I spoke to the patient liaison person again. She was not happy at the fact that my psychologist had failed to cooperate with me in getting me a second opinion. This essentially means we’re back at where we started and I’m probably going to ask my psychologist to get me a second opinion again soon.

https://bloggingastrid.wordpress.com/2016/11/22/diagnonsense-oh-diagnonsense/

Working On Us Prompt: Psychiatric Medication

I’ve been thinking of doing some posts on the medications I’ve been prescribed so far, but didn’t get down to it till now. Today, Beckie’s topic for Working On Us is psychiatric medication. Beckie asks a few interesting questions I didn’t think of.

First, she asks whether, when you were first diagnosed with a mental illness/disorder, it took you a while to get used to the medication prescribed. Well, my first diagnosis from a psychiatrist was autism, for which there are no specific medications. It took four months after that diagnosis before I first got put on a daily psychiatric medication. That was Risperdal (risperidone). I didn’t like it at all, even though it took only a few days to kick in.

I remained on Risperdal for 2 1/2 months, and then took myself off. I felt that the medication was merely used to keep me just contained enough that I didn’t qualify for more care. Well, it is my firm belief that medication is not a substitute for proper care.

Going off Risperdal was a mixed bag. I felt okay the first few weeks, but three weeks after having stopped taking the medication altogether, I spiraled into crisis.

After taking myself off of the Risperdal, I was without daily medication for nearly 2 1/2 years. I was in a psych hospital, so I can tell you right away that the crisis service nurse was wrong to say hospitalization would mean being put straight back on meds. Apparently my psychiatrist agreed medication is no substitute for proper care. That was until, despite mostly adequate care, my irritability got so bad I just needed something. I was put on Abilify (aripiprazole) and remain on that ever since.

Beckie also asks about withdrawal. I have been on the same antipsychotic and antidepressant ever since 2010 and never lowered my dosage yet. However, I did for a while take Ativan (lorazepam) at a relatively high daily dosage. Then when I wanted to quit, my psychiatrist said he’d prescribe it as a PRN med. Well, I didn’t need it for the first few days, so I didn’t take it. That was until I started experiencing tremors a few days into withdrawal. I am lucky I got only those and didn’t get seizures or the like. Thankfully, I got put back on lorazepam and tapered safely.

Beckie’s last question is whether you work closely with your doctor in managing your meds. Well, I just had a meeting with the intellectual disability physician for my facility last Monday. She is making sure I get my medications and will also order yearly bloodwork to check for metabolic issues etc. I haven’t seen a psychiatrist with my new mental health team yet, but will soon enough. I want to eventually try to lower my Abilify dose. The intellectual disability physician advised me to wait at least six months to get used to living here though.

Working On Us Prompt: ADHD

It is Wednesday and that means Beckie has launched another topic in the Working On Us Series. I badly wanted to participate last week, when the topic was (complex) PTSD. However, I felt too low on energy then. This week, the topic is ADHD.

I was never diagnosed with ADHD, so in this sense I have little to add here. I, however, do experience many symptoms that could be signs of particularly inattentive-type ADHD. They overlap a lot with autistic symptoms though, which I do have a diagnosis of. At this point, I don’t think it’s necessary for me to get an official ADHD assessment. Most groups for adult ADHD/ADD welcome self-diagnosed individuals and those who are questioning, like me.

Symptoms I relate to include restlessness, both physically and mentally. I’m not necessarily hyperactive in that I blurt out random things, but I do fidget like all the time and my mind is usually racing. That is, it is either racing or completely shut off, like when I’m low on energy.

The same really goes for impulsiveness: I’m not impulsive in the typical way, but I am in less typical ways. For example, every need feels urgent to me. This applies to basic human needs like eating – when I feel hungry, it feels as though I’m literally starving -, but also to other wants and needs. This could be related to autistic sensory processing issues, but I believe it’s more than this, especially since it doesn’t just apply to sensory or bodily needs.

As for inattentiveness, I can’t usually pay attention to something unless it really interests me, in which case I hyperfocus and become totally absorbed to the exclusion of other activities. I know this is an ADHD trait, but it is also common in autistics and I’ve always wondered whether everyone doesn’t have this issue to an extent.

Lastly, my executive functions seem to suck. My memory for random words or digits is about average and used to be above-average, but for everyday life experiences (particularly others’ experiences) and daily tasks, it’s pretty bad. I was told when I did a behavioral memory test (where you have to retell a short newspaper story) as part of my autism assessment, that my memory is detail-oriented.

With respect to planning and organizing tasks, I suck at those and always have. I used to do pretty well when faced with a deadline, but even then I struggled to organize tasks. I recently read that ADHD children often learn to do tasks on high adrenaline. The reason is often that neurotypical adults assume that, if a child is capable of something relatively difficult once, they must be able to do it all the time and must be able to do all assumed-to-be-easier tasks in that category. For this reason, neurotypical adults often force ADHD children into doing tasks they cannot yet do, assuming they can, and as such cause the child high anxiety. This causes an adrenaline rush, which temporarily increases the child’s ability to perform.

When I read this conversation on Facebook (it was originally posted to Tumblr but I don’t know where), so many bells rang in my head. Like many people referred to in this conversation, I can sometimes do seemingly more complex tasks while not being able to do simpler tasks in that same category. I am also very inconsistent in my abilities, usually being able to perform a task under pressure better, but with less pleasure. For clarity’s sake, this conversation was meant to explain the harmful effects of forcing children to do tasks they feel they are not capable of.

Since I do not have an ADHD diagnosis, I’ve not had any treatment specific to it. I’m also not on ADHD medication. I, however, find that some coping strategies that work for ADHD individuals, do work for me.