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

Quote of the Day (February 19, 2020): Everyone Sees What You Appear to Be

“Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are.” – Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince

When first starting this blog, I intended to do a daily quote of the day post. I never did. In fact, my “Quotes” category has only four posts. I do like quotes though, so when I figured I had nothing else to share, I decided to do a quote post again.

Today I checked out a sort of guided self-discovery journal called Happy to Meet Me. This quote was printed above the first prompt. The prompt was about common misconceptions about you. It asks you what you wish people would automatically see about you.

This is harder than I thought. After all, the prompt isn’t what you wish people didn’t immediately know about you. I mean, that would be easy. I wish people would see beyond my blindness. But then what would they see?

I think most people would see me as still somehow disabled if they didn’t see I’m blind. Like my sister said when I was a teen, I don’t appear like someone my age judging from even my way of walking. Of course, I have mild cerebral palsy, but the average Joe won’t have a clue. They’ll most likely think I’m intellectually disabled. Until I start to talk. Then most people will be baffled and start to assume my every way of being different is due to blindness again. After all, most people here are still pretty clueless about autism.

I don’t really know what I wish people would automatically know about me. I mean, back when I was still more serious about blogging, I knew that people had their blog name printed on T-shirts and I even for a fleeting moment considered getting one myself. I’m glad I never did, as honestly in the age of smartphones I don’t think I’d want people in the streets to be able to Google me without ever having met me. I mean, my blog is way too personal for that.

I can think of things I wish professionals would automatically know about me. I wish they understood the disconnect between my intellectual and emotional functioning. I can also think of things I wish friends would automatically know. I wish they’d know about my interests. But what would I want other people in general to know? I guess I’d start with the very basic: I am a human being just like you.

What do you wish people would automatically see about you?

Writer’s Workshop: Collections

This week, one of the Writer’s Workshop prompts over at Mama’s Losin’ It is about things you collect. It definitely appealed to me, as at least as a child an teen, I used to collect a lot. Now I seem to collect things you can use and that I actually intended to use when buying them, but then I end up rarely using them. Does that count as collecting?

As a child, I, like most other children, had a large collection of stuffed animals. I also had a lot of Barbie dolls and such. In particular though, I had lots of PlayMobil® figures and stuff for them. When I was about eleven, I was even gifted a large box of PlayMobil® by someone on a garage sale. I had previously visited the garage sale and bought some of his stuff and by this time he probably wanted to get rid of it all so bad. That plus seeing how much I enjoyed it and came back each time to buy more stuff, probably convinced him to give it all to me. I however did play with it a lot until I was about fourteen. I particularly remember the games I played with some Native American-looking PlayMobil® figures whom I called Ingassa and Maranna. I had no idea at the time what were real Native American names (still don’t to be honest). I would always say these figures came from Costa Rica.

Later, I collected gemstones and crystals. I had some interest in their presumed healing properties, but mostly just liked looking at the colors and feeling their shapes. I had a lot of quartz crystals, including amethyst, rose quartz and citrine. I also loved calcites and had both the green and honey-colored ones. I at age twelve did a large research project on mineralogy. I however had no idea one of my stones was a form of asbestos. When I found out what it was while living on my own in 2007, I almost landed in crisis thinking I or one of my parents would develop cancer from it.

By the time I came to college age, I didn’t really collect anything anymore. I don’t even know where my crystals are, even though I know I had them at my student apartment. I can’t see the colors now anyway, although I at least used to have a file in which I wrote which one was which so may be able to experience some joy from them anyway.

When I was about 25 though, I developed an interest in crafting and started buying craft supplies. For some stupid reason, I started with card making, which is a pretty inaccessible craft for someone who is totally blind. I probably spent over €1000 on supplies before finally giving it up. Then came jewelry-making, polymer clay, rainbow loom and some others, all hard for someone with my disabilities. I finally settled on melt and pour soap making, although I haven’t done this since coming to the care facility. The good part is though, even if my soaps don’t turn out aesthetically well, I can still use them, so I don’t just collect soap stuff for the sake of it.

More recently, I started collecting all kinds of scented stuff. I have a large collection of essential oils at my husband’s and my home. I also have wax melts and of course the fragrance oils I use for soap making. I love those. Still, my diffuser is probably still packed from the move. I need to ask my husband where it is, so I can bring it to the facility.

When I collect something, I’m usually more interested in researching the stuff I collect than actually using it. I loved learning about lotion making when I first started soap making, but I rarely actually made any lotions. I also have a ton of books on aromatherapy (most thankfully free or through my Bookshare subscription), but rarely make any blends. Of course, the reason is partly that I cannot tell how many drops of a particular oil I put into the blend. I would love to ask my staff for some help with this, so that I can make diffuser blends or even massage oils. But first, I need to find my oils and my diffuser, as I don’t want this to end like my card making obsession, where I spend another €1000 (that this time I don’t have) before realizing this isn’t for me.

Mama’s Losin’ It

A Night-Time Crisis

So I really need to get something off my chest. Yesterday was a mostly good day, as you can see from my previous post. However, in the evening, we landed in a pretty bad crisis.

It started out with the evening staff wishing me goodnight at 9:45PM. I still had to brush my teeth, so she asked whether I would manage. Normally I do, so I said “Yes”. When I was done brushing my teeth, my gums hurt from the inflammation and I was considering asking for paracetamol. I mean, I could’ve waited till the pain got severe, as I did the previous night, but then I’d have to bother the night staff.

I also realized the evening staff had left the light on. I had asked her to switch it off (it is a truly stupid switch which I can’t work), but she had asked me how I’d manage without light if I wasn’t ready to go to bed yet. Well, like, how I manage virtually all the time without light. I have light perception, which can be useful but in this case was more bothersome, in that it meant having to go to bed with the lights on. I can write blog posts and do basically everything with the lights off, but I cannot sleep with the light on. So inbetween the argument of whether I would be comfortable in the dark, the staff actually forgot to turn off the light.

As it was only 9:50 and the staff are supposed to be here till 10:15PM, I went looking for the evening staff rather than push the call button. She was gone. Then I pushed the call button. No response. In the next 30 or so minutes, I got increasingly panicked. I heard the buzzer go off so assumed the evening staff either must be somewhere but not care, or she’d left the phone with the buzzer in the house rather than having given it to the night shift. So how would I reach anyone now?

I was very panicked, engaging in self-injurious behavior, screaming and shouting. I was so scared and angry at the same time. If the staff are supposed to be here till 10:15, why did she leave by 9:50?

At one point, I somehow opened the door to leave the unit. Our unit is at the top floor of the building. It is sort of locked, in that my fellow residents can’t work the key to open it. I thought neither could I but somehow I can.

I ran out the door, intending on I don’t know what, going outside or something. My first response in panic is either fight or flight, and in this case I utilized flight quite literally.

A staff from the downstairs unit found me crying at the top of the stairs. Another staff from our neighboring unit came to the rescue too.

It turns out the night shift doesn’t start till 10:30. This is one night staff who caters to the entire facility, so she isn’t physically present on my unit most of the time. Well, how am I going to reach a staff in an emergency if the evening shift leave at 9:50 (or 10:15 in an ideal situation) and the night shift doesn’t come on till 10:30. My staff eventually found the solution of giving their phone to the neighboring unit, where staff is available till 10:30.

Finally, the night staff, who had joined the other two staff in helping me, gave me my paracetamol, plus a lorazepam to calm my anxiety, and turned off my light. Nonetheless, I didn’t sleep till around the second time the clock hit 2:30AM (daylight saving time ending). The night staff, though she hardly knows me as she only works nights, was nice enough to sit by my bedside and comfort me for a little while.

Why I Am in Long-Term Care

The day 1 prompt for this year’s 31-day writing challenge is “Why”. I immediately thought of the question that keeps popping up in my mind whenever I meet someone new at the care facility: Why am I in long-term care? Today, for example, I met a student doctor who was touring our home. I informed her midway through our conversation that I don’t have an intellectual disability, to which she replied that she could tell. Well, duh! Even when I’m overloaded, like I was at the time, and experiencing pretty bad language problems, I still sound like someone with at least an average IQ.

So why am I in long-term care? To a casual stranger, I could just point to my lack of sight and they’d be satisfied. Not a doctor or even a medical student, I guess. The medical advisor for the funding agency understandably concluded that blindness alone doesn’t warrant 24-hour care. Neither does mild cerebral palsy. And, as regular readers of this blog know, autism, being seen as a psychiatric condition, doesn’t count.

They finally found a way around this situation by saying that my disabilities are intertwined. They are, of course. In multiple disabilities, the whole is more than the sum of its parts. For this reason, the short answer to why I’m in long-term care is because I’m blind and autistic and have mild CP, not because I have any of these alone.

This is the legal answer. The way the funding agency found around the stupidly close-minded look at disabilities the law requires medical advisors to have. The long answer is, of course, that my individual care needs mean I need 24-hour proximity of care.

I have significant executive functioning issues. These cannot be objectified by tests because I’m blind and the tests of executive functioning that are available, are all visual. For this reason, the medical advisor wrongly concluded that I don’t have cognitive impairments. I don’t have an intellectual disability, but that’s not the same.

These executive functioning difficulties make it hard for me to take care of myself. I can do basic self-care activities with reminders and prompting, but then still I often mess up.

People, including my support staff, have used my blindness as an excuse for my difficulty with basic self-care. Of course I can’t see when my clothes are dirty, but if I were just blind, I would be able to prevent the most common causes of my clothes getting dirty. Like, I would be able to prevent myself from drooling over them, or I would be able to find other ways around it.

People also use my blindness as an excuse for my needing proximity of care. If I were just blind though, I would still struggle to know when staff had left the room, but I wouldn’t feel overwhelmed by it.

But I’m not just blind. Had I been just blind, I wouldn’t have needed to apply for long-term care. And yet, paradoxically, my care ground is blindness.

Blue to the Blind #SoCS

Today’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday (#SoCS) is “blue”. The idea is to write about the firsst blue object you see when sitting down to write your post. Well, I am blind, so I don’t see anything blue as I sit here to write. I could be writing about things I know to be blue. The sky is blue. The ocean is blue. Or at least, they’re both seen as blue due to the sun’s reflection on them, or something.

I could be writing about my sensory cat, the soft toy I got for my 31st birthday from my sister. I think the cat is blue. It is filled with lavender, which I know is kind of blue too.

How would I describe blue to a person who’s never seen it? I can, at least, having had color perception as a child, still imagine blue in my mind’s eye. Someone born totally blind can’t. I once wrote a post describing the color green to blind people on my old blog. This was a journaling prompt, just so you know that no actual blind person asked me to describe the color green. Which, I should say, I really can’t.

I mean, synesthesia may be able to help. Blue is a “cool” color. It is the color of the number three in my synesthetic perception. Then again, even with synesthesia, everyone’s perception is different, so that wouldn’t make sense.

Interestingly, there are no blue letters in the word “blue” and the overarching color in the word is orange for the letter B.

I wonder now, does my synesthesia always make words look like the color associated with their first letter. I’m not sure, but the word “green”, even though the two E’s are green, isn’t really green overall. It’s more red with a touch of green. The G is red.

Mondays are green too, even though the word “Monday” has no green letters in it. Fridays are blue and yet again, there’s no blue letters in the word. Isn’t that fascinating?

It’s My Choice

Yay, I got accepted into a living facility. The one in Raalte that I visited about six weeks ago. I will hopefully move before I’d otherwise move to the house my husband and I are buying in October.

It is mostly very exciting. I love the place and am really glad that the physician, psychologist and the team all agreed that I’d be a good fit for the place.

But… There is of course a but. I haven’t told my parents yet. I told them I got long-term care funding, but told them it makes it possible for my husband and me to live together wherever we want, not being restricted by our local authority. It could do that too, but that’s not the plan. And I didn’t tell them I’m moving into a care facility.

They will hopefully say that it’s my choice. That’s the best response I can get. Not that they support me, but that it’s my choice and I’m an adult so I’m allowed to make that choice. After all, they still feel I don’t need 24-hour care. They still feel that I’m just blind and extremely intlligent and using my IQ to manipulate the world into providing me care.

Well, so what? Of course, I don’t want to be manipulating everyone into providing me care. I don’t want to be a little attention-seeker who thinks the world owes her a living. I wish I could snap out of my need for care and live a successful life by non-disabled standards.

At the same time, maybe if I didn’t care that I’d have to be sedated to the point of sleeping all day, I could do with less care than I’ll be getting in the living facility. As someone once asked, how can you literally need 24-hour care, since you’re (hopefully) sleeping during the night? This person was by no means trying to suggest that sedation could lessen my care needs, for clarity’s sake, but it could. And I’m making a choice not to sleep the day away. If you think that’s me being manipulativve, fine by me. That’s your choice.

I am writing this post for today’s Daily Addictions. The prompt is “Choice”.

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.

Losing Myself and Finding Myself (Reena’s Exploration Challenge #96)

I remember when and where I lost myself. My old self, that is. It was November 2, 2007 at 8:01PM when I stepped onto the bus at Balustrade bus stop in Apeldoorn. I had decided this was it.

I phoned my old support coordinator at the training home. I’d just been told to leave the home’s premises, because according to the on duty staff, I was making them take unwarranted responsibility for me. I had come there in distress and a housemate had offered for me to spend the night with her, so that we had time to find me a new place to stay in the morning.

I wasn’t homeless. That is, I had a roof over my head. In the Netherlands, the word that translates to “homeless” also refers to people who are wasting away in their residence. And I was.

At 8:01PM November 2, I phoned my old support coordinator to tell her I was going to kill myself. I was on the bus and the bus driver and fellow passengers heard me. They called the police and, after a long wait at the police station, I was admitted to the psychiatric hospital in the middle of the night.

At that point, my old self went away. I lost the self that went to college, had plans for working and lived independently.

I’m still not 100% sure who will replace her. When and where I’ll find myself. My new self, that is. I know my old self is gone. Even though I live semi-independently now, I do not have anything close to a “normal” life, whatever that may be. But that’s okay. I know I will ultimately find a new eqwuilibrium, when I’m in a living facility that suits me.

In September of 2006, I wrote a post in my online diary about the two different images I had of myself. One was “white”. This image represented a “normal” life. Living independently, going to university, finding a job, marrying, getting children and whatnot. The other image, the “black” one, represented my need for support. It wasn’t that I needed 24-hour care, but that I needed more than just the once-a-week visit from a support worker to read me my mail that’s normal for people who are just blind.

By April of 2007, I knew the “black” image was coming true, but I was seeing the colors in it. I eventually did live independently and go to college, but I would get sixteen hours of home support a week.

And then that image too died, on November 2. It was hard. I grieved. But I didn’t give up. Gradually, I started to see how colorful a life I can have if I accept care.

The care facilities I’m looking at moving into, couldn’t be closer to the “black” image of myself. They are 24-hour intensive support facilities. Yet I don’t see that life as bad. I see it was exactly as colorful and rich as, or even more so than the “normal” life I envisioned for myself.

I am joining in with Reena’s Exploration Challenge #96.

Progress in Finding Long-Term Care

It’s been exactly six weeks since I got approved for long-term care, so that we could finally start finding me a supported housing facility. Things are moving slowly but steadily. Today, let me share how we’re doing.

Immediately after we heard I was approved for long-term care funding, my support coordinator contacted the care consultant for my current care agency. She made sure to get the paperwork in order so that, while we’re waiting for supported housing, I can retain my current support. After all, community support through the local authority was immediately stopped. My support coordinator also contacted the care consultant for the living facility in Raalte, which is with my current care agency too.

When it turned out the process with that living facility would be slow-moving, I proposed to contact the two blindness agencies to explore the possibility of my living there. One of them responded immediately with an appointment for an intake interview. This is, unfortunately, the one with the facilities in the far north and south and west of the country. Of course, we are talking the Netherlands, not America. However, my husband isn’t happy to travel up to two hours each week to visit me. We agreed on a maximum distance of one hour. This agency has nothing within an hour’s driving distance. We did however request that they help us by recommending accommodations a future living facility could make for my blindness. They will come by to observe me at day activities next week.

The other blindness agency has my file, but they haven’t yet scheduled an appoitnment to meet me.

I went to have a look at the facility in Raalte last week. It was great. The staff/client ratio is 1:6 to even at times 1:4 during the day and there is an awake night staff. They also have tons of sensory supplies, including a sensory room, rocking lounger and a bathroom with a tub. I will hear more about whether the psychologist and physician for this facility find me a good fit soon.

Then today I heard about another facility. It is with a countrywide Christian care agency. It is in the city of Ede, which is about a 45-minute drive from my current home. The facility primarily serves elderly people with intellectual disabilities. I don’t know whether that would be a problem. It might be, as the other clients are probably a lot less mobile than I am. Clients only have a bedroom to themselves, but I don’t mind. The care consultant would send my file to the psychologist for this facility too and then I may come for a tour.

It all makes me feel a bit confused but overall excited too. I mean, I still feel off applying to live in intensive support living facilities, being that I now live semi-independently. Of course, my husband does all of the housework, but still. It’s hard to believe that people suddenly aren’t rejecting me, saying I misuse care and leaving me to my own resources.