A Timeline of My Mental Health

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

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

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

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

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

2009: I moved to the resocialization unit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mental Health Ramble

The month of May is mental health awareness month. I’m not sure how much I can contribute to it. In fact, I only found out about it today. Since I have a cold right now, I really don’t feel like writing. Or really, I do, but my brain is too foggy I can’t come up with a coherent topic to write on. So I’m just going to ramble.

Since it’s mental health awareness month, I could share my story of how I found out I’m mentally ill. Then again, I honestly don’t know. Autism, which was my first diagnosis, isn’t a mental illness. Adjustment disorder, which I got diagnosed with upon my breakdown in 2007, isn’t really either. Thank goodness, it still qualified me for care back then. Since insurance coverage of care is diagnosis-based in the Netherlands, and adjusmtnet disorder is no longer covered, I wouldn’t have been able to get care with just that diagnosis later on. In this sense, it’s good that I was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder and PTSD in 2010, then borderline personality disorder in 2013.

I am not even 100% sure I identify with mental illness myself. It’s really weird. If I were mentally ill, wouldn’t I need therapy? I don’t get any unless you count the meetings with my nurse practitioner every few weeks.

I don’t feel able to ask for more help on my own accord, even though I’m pretty sure I need it. I have been having a ton of weird symptoms lately and, though I’m getting by, is this really all there is to it?

I had a physical check-up at the mental health agency last February. I have a ton of issues that could be related to my mental health and/or the medication I take for it. Yes, despite the fact that I don’t even know whether I am currently diagnosed with anything other than autism, I take high doses of an antipsychotic and antidepressant. I don’t mind, but I do feel they need regular monitoring.

My psychiatrist would’ve seen me in March, at least that’s what she intended on in December. I still haven’t seen her. I do need to schedule an appt, but I’ve been taught through my years in the mental hospital that, unless you are a pain in the neck of others, there’s no need for you to see your treatment provider. I challenged this belief last year by scheduling an appot for my depression, but I”m not sure I can do it again.

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.

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.

Cerebral Palsy: And Other Effects of my Brain Injury #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day three in the #AtoZChallenge. I am feeling a little off today, as my support worker canceled our appointment tomorrow and my husband will be home from work late this evening. For this reason, I’m feeling a little unmotivated to write. I hope that forcing myself to write today’s A to Z post anyway will help me snap out of the bad mood. Today, I am sharing about a disability that I have had since infancy, but that I didn’t know much about till a few years ago.

Like I mentioned on Monday, my autism diagnosis got taken away in 2016, because my then psychologist thought my having had a brain bleed as a baby precludes an autism diagnosis. It doesn’t, but it did help me gain some new perspective on my issues. Could I possibly be suffering from the effects of neonatal brain injury?

I asked my parents, starting with the obvious. I have left-sided weakness, affecting both my arm and leg, which I assumed was due to the brain bleed. I had heard of cerebral palsy and had figured out I might have this. I asked my father, but he didn’t answer my question. Possibly, he wasn’t told by the doctors, because my mobility impairment is relatively mild.

I did see a rehabilitation physician and had regular physical therapy until I was around eight. I also needed a cast on my left foot because my achilles tendon was at risk of becoming too short. Later, at age fifteen, I was diagnosed with scoliosis. This isn’t so uncommon that it alone warrants another diagnosis. However, coupled with all the other issues, I put two and two together.

Cerebral palsy, for those who don’t know, is basically a mobility impairment due to a brain injury acquired in utero, at birth or in the first year of life.

I finally went to my GP in 2017 to ask him, again focusing on my mobility impairment. This, after all, is the defining characteristic of cerebral palsy. I was just told I had acquired brain injury.

Still, in late 2018, I joined the national CP charity in my country. When I went to their conference in November, all puzzle pieces fell in place. Not only were my symptoms – not just the walking difficulties – characteristic of CP, but I met people with milder walking difficulties than mine who had been diagnosed as having CP.

There are five different levels of CP, depending on gross motor functioning (ability to walk or otherwise move around). People in level 1 and 2 can walk independently, though those in level 2 require some handheld mobility aids for long distances or on uneven ground. I would probably score as level 1 or maybe 2, but this motor functioning assessment is appropriate for children and adolescents only. There are also several different types of CP, depending on which limbs are affected and how. I probably have spastic hemiplegia, meaning CP affects one side of my body only.

Currently, I am not looking for an official CP diagnosis. I probably had one as a child, so digging up my old records may reveal it, but I’m not in a position to do so at this point. I also wonder what benefit I could gain from this. The support groups for CP on Facebook allow me in based on the facts of my brain injury and resulting mobility impairment. Besides, like my GP said in 2017, a physical or occupational therapist treating me for my brain injury would have to take into account the major disability of my blindness. Maybe, should I ever go into long-term care for the blind, I’ll be able to afford support for this.

A diagnosis of cerebral palsy requires mobility impairments, but a brain injury can have other effects. At the CP conference, the first presentation I attended was on overload. The same cognitive and affective difficulties that people who acquire a brain injury later in life can endure, can affect those with neonatal brain injury. In that sense, my psychologist may’ve been correct that my emotional and cognitive impairmetns are due to that.

Autistic: Living Life on the Spectrum #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day one in the #AtoZChallenge, in which I’ll share a collection of miscellaneous musings. For my first post, I’d like to talk about a topic people who used to follow my A to Z posts on my old blog, are thoroughly familiar with, since I chose it for my theme in 2015 and 2017: autism.

I was first diagnosed with autism at the age of 20 in March of 2007. The clinician who diagnosed me, didn’t give me an Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosis, like my support staff at the time had wanted. I didn’t care, as I at the time already didn’t subscribe to the rigid subtypes of autism, be it Asperger’s, PDD-NOS or classic autism, or high-functioning and low-functioning autism for that matter. I believe autism is a spectrum condition presenting differently in every affected person.

Later, in December of 2007, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s after all. This remained my diagnosis, along with a few mental health conditions, until the summer of 2016. Then, my autism/Asperger’s diagnosis got taken away. The psychologist who changed my diagnosis, claimed that my premature birth and the brain bleed I suffered as an infant, preclude an autism diagnosis. As if those genetically wired to be autistic are somehow exempt from being born prematurely or suffering brain bleeds. I know that, because the exact cause of autism is still unknown, it may be hard to differentiate autism from the mental effects of brain injury. However, since said psychologist couldn’t diagnose me with acquired brain injury either, because I sustained the brain bleed before age one, I ended up with no diagnosis at all that could explain my social cognitive differences.

I sought an independent second opinion and, on May 1, 2017, was rediagnosed with autism spectrum disorder under DSM-5. I am diagnosed with level 1 ASD, which is the mildest kind. I am pretty sure that, if the psychologist had taken the opportunity to assess me in a more natural environment, I’d be diagnosed as level 2.

Autism is still diagnosed based on the presence of social communicative difficulties and repetitive behaviors and interests. As of the release of DSM-5 in 2013, sensory issues are finally part of the diagnostic criteria. In my opinion, they aren’t given nearly the amount of attention they deserve. Neither are executive functioning difficulties. This is a term which describes organizational skills. I scored high for ADHD on the initial screening tool, but couldn’t be further assessed for it. Though I’m pretty sure I have some ADHD-inattentive traits, they could just as easily be part of my autism.

Autism, like I said, presents with social communicative differences. These include, in my case, difficulty making and keeping friends, difficulty interpreting non-literal language and tone of voice. Of course, because I am blind, I cannot read body language. My conversations also tend to be one-sided, in which I’m either the listener or the talker.

The other criterion of autism is the presence of repetitive behaviors and interests. I engage in near-constant stereotypical, self-stimulatory movements (or “stimming”). My language can also be repetitive, but this is particularly clear when I’m overloaded. As for special interests, I don’t have a lifelong obsession, like Temple Grandin does with animal behavior. Rather, my interests, though they change often, can be obsessive in intensity and focus. For example, I used to have an obsession with calendar calculation (calculating what day of the week a certain date falls on).

My main autistic trait though is overload. This is also a common brain injury symptom. In that sense, I’m doubly blessed.. I tend to be both sensorially and cognitively very easily overloaded. This then causes me to stim more, use echolalia (repeat other people’s words) and may lead to meltdowns or shutdowns.

Something interesting about overload is that it rarely occurs when I’m engaging with my special interests. This may make you think I’m just lazy, but I’m not. For one thing, my special interests involve little offline interaction. For another, they are my special interests because I’m good at them.

I hope that through this post, you’ve gotten a little glimpse into my life with autism and learned something new. For those not aware, April is autism awareness month. I encourage you to read other blogs by autistic people. You will find that most have a kind of difficult relationship with autism awareness month. I, like them, prefer autism acceptance.

DID Awareness Day and Plural Pride Day 2019

Today is DID Awareness Day and Plural Pride Day. I really want to share something for it, but I struggle with knowing what to share. I haven’t written about our experience of being plural in a long while, so maybe today I should jump at the opportunity. For today’s post, I am just going to introduce the subject of DID and our system to people who may not be aware.

Dissociative identity disorder (DID) is a trauma-based mental health condition in which the sufferer experiences two or more distinct identities or personality states, each with their own unique way of perceiving and relating to the world. People with DID also have amnesia for important information either in the present or past that is too extensive to be due to ordinary forgetfulness. People who do not have this type of amnesia, or whose identities are not fully formed, may be diagnosed with other specified dissociative disorder (OSDD) type 1A or 1B.

We were diagnosed with DID in 2010. At the time, we could be pretty in your face about ourselves, because we were in an environment where we felt relatively safe to be ourselves. This, however, also opened us up to suggestion, as our therapist concluded pretty early in the process that we have DID. Normally, a diagnosis of full-fledged DID is not made after initial assessment, but requires at least six months of therapy with a DID therapist.

Anyway, we probably do experience some level of amnesia, but didn’t know how to explain it to our therapist. For this reason, we would report we didn’t remember something, even though we showed in our actions that we did. This got people to assume we were faking our amnesia and by extension the whole dissociative experience.

When we moved from one psychiatric institution into another in 2013, we no longer felt safe. We actively denied the alters and started to explain ourselves away as bad moods. That’s probably one reason our diagnosis was changed from DID to borderline personality disorder (BPD). My next psychologist, some years later still, went so far as to say we invented our DID because we felt it’d be an interesting diagnosis. Well, no.

We first became aware of ourselves in the summer of 2001, when the body was fifteen. At the time, the host didn’t see the alters as part of herself. In fact, if I reread my diary from back then, it felt as though I was bordering on psychosis. I wasn’t though.

In early 2004, the alters started to appear more and claim their own names. We denied having “multiple personalities”, but only on the grounds that we didn’t lose time. Like I said above, while this could rule out full-fledged DID, it doesn’t necessarily do so (identity amnesia and amnesia for past events also counts), and it still means we’re multiple, ie. diagnosable with OSDD.

Currently, we don’t have a diagnosis of a dissociative disorder. We’re not ready to undergo the assessment process for it, as psychological assessments are a huge trigger for us. However, here we are, all 26 or so of us.

Psychiatrist’s Appointment Next Week

Next week, we’ll meet with our psychiatrist to discuss how to proceed in our mental health care. Whether we want to continue at all, and if so, how. We’re very nervous and still haven’t made a definite decision yet.

Our nurse practitioner is still off sick. Until a few days ago, I thought that we didn’t need any mental health care, so we were more or less okay with him having been off for over a month already. I felt that getting assessed for trauma-related conditions, as our psychiatrist had originally wanted, was just stressing us for no reason. Most likely, we wouldn’t be believed so just end up where we’re now, with a BPD diagnosis and required to do DBT. I guess we’d rather keep the status quo than be told we definitely don’t have trauma-related issues.

Then we thought, so what if we keep on merely surviving like we do now? If we don’t get therapy, will our mental health ever get any better? Besides, our psychiatrist had been talking discharge, even though she called it a break. So what if we end up in crisis?

Some of us were also feeling like our psychiatrist wants to get rid of us. Like we’re a pain in her neck. Lots of pain has been coming up and today, we nearly landed in crisis because of it. We called the mental health team, even though we’ve been feeling like we shouldn’t need them. Our former assigned nurse called us back. Thankfully, we had a good talk with her.

She said that not doing DBT or trauma therapy doesn’t mean we’d be discharged altogether. We could also just have an occasional supportive check-in with a nurse. That’s not what our psychiatrist said, but oh well. It also doesn’t mean we’ll never get therapy again, or something. Maybe we could take a break for half a year and see whether we want the assessment an dpossibly therapy then.

A lot of us are feeling all sorts of things. We feel attachment pain, which scares the crap out of some of us and makes some of us feel shameful. After all, our overreliance on mental health was the exact reason we got kicked out of the mental institution last year.

It doesn’t help that our support coordinator has also been off sick for over a week. I hope it’s just the flu. She’s supposed to go to the appt with us next week, but if she’s still sick, of course she won’t come. We did discuss our concerns with our staff at day activities yesterday and they offered to write our questions down for us.

As a side note, we had a very validating experience at day activities. When discussing our issues with mental health care, we mentioned DID (calling it multiple personality). Our staff said she’d seen us switch to a little girl. Wow. I didn’t know anyone could tell unless we use our own names.

Phone Appt With Our Psychiatrist

Like I said last week, we’d have a phone check-in with our psychiatrist on Tuesday. We called the team’s secretary fifteen minutes after the psychiatrist was due to call us. Normally we wouldn’t be so impatient, but we were at day activities and didn’t have our phone with us all the time. The secretary put us through to the psychiatrist.

The phone appt was better than some of us had expected. That was mostly due to the fact that the psychiatrist didn’t berate us for trying to get into supported housing. She didn’t comment on it at all, which confuses us a little.

The psychiatrist talked about her proposal in early October to get us on the waiting list for a trauma/dissociation assessment. This had given us a lot of stress. Some of us want it, because they feel it’ll enable us to get trauma-informed therapy. Most of us are scared though. Some of us don’t even believe we’re dissociative. Some of us do, but don’t think anyone will believe us. In short, most of us would only want the assessment if we knew it’d validate us. That’s unlikely though.

The psychiatrist also talked about our E-mail to our nurse practitioner. We had written to him that we’re unsure whether we want to continue with our DBT skills training, because we fear we’ll need to make ourselves look better than we are. I’m not even sure what whoever wrote that E-mail meant by it, but I know change is scary.

The psychiatrist now proposed to give us a “break” from treatment. This’d mean our GP would handle our medications and we’d basically be discharged from the mental health team. We could still get some sessions with our nurse practitioner to help us create a good crisis prevention plan for our support staff.

Many of us have all sorts of mixed feelings about this. Some feel relief, while others feel fear. Some cling to the wish for a trauma-informed therapist. Particularly the littles wish to be validated. I don’t know though whether that needs to be by a trauma therapist. They have so far felt most validated by our intellectual disability agency staff, after all.

Mental Health Ramble

I want to write, but I’m feeling stuck. A thousand thoughts are going through my mind. I’m not even sure that I’m being myself as I write this. Who am I, anyway? I don’t know. I can pinpoint it fairly clearly when I’m in one of my ego states. When I’m not, I doubt everything.

I would’ve had DBT yesterday, but my nurse practitioner was off sick. The psychiatrist would be calling me, but when she did, I pushed the wrong button. She left a message saying she wanted to call me because my nurse practitioner is off sick, but also to discuss “how things are progressing”. I’m guessing she’ll tell me off for wanting to go into supported housing, for feeling happy in developmental disabilities services and for not being sure I feel mental health treatment is benefiting me.

Right now, I’m not sure I care. I’m not sure whether I want to go the route my psychiatrist is wanting me to go, which is do DBT for now and be put on the list for trauma diagnosis. I don’t even know for sure whether my trauma symptoms are severe enough to warrant treatment, or whether I want them to be. Usually whenever I doubt this, it’s a sign that some memory or new aspect of myself is surfacing. I have no idea this time.

I feel, above all, that what I need is safety. This means being assured that I get the support I need. I’m mot sure my psychiatrist is of that opinion too. She told me at our last meeting in early October, that she felt day activities were underserving me, not challenging me enough. I panicked, called my support coordinator, who called the consultant psychologist involved in my case. She then E-mailed my psychiatrist. Maybe the way I did it, it feels as though I’m trying to use the cosultant to tell my psychiatrist off. That wasn’t my intention.

That being said, I do feel much more comfotable with my support team from the intellectual disability agency than with my treatment team from mental health. I don’t know whether that means I’m too comfortable being taken care of. I don’t know whether I care.

Anyway, my psychiatrist will be calling me again on Tuesday. Then I’ll be at day activities, so if I feel distressed by something she says, I can go to one of the staff.