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.

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.

Independence Training: My Journey Through Rehabilitation Programs #AtoZChallenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emotion Regulation Issues: Dealing with BPD Traits #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day five in the #AtoZChallenge. When thinking of a topic for the letter E post, I was thinking of how popular yesterday’s post on depression had been and how it had helped destigmatize mental health. I thought of doing today’s post on another mental health topic. Emotion regulation disorder is the term sometimes used here in the Netherlands to describe a condition that’s still formally called borderline personality disorder. As BPD is neither borderline (bordering on what?) nor a personality disorder (in that there is very effective treatment for it), I think this is appropriate. Besides, emotion regulation disorder is a lot less stigmatizing of a word.

My husband asked me, after hearing what my first four posts had been about, whether I’d be making my letter E post about something positive. I said “No”, as mental illness isn’t generally seen as a positive thing. Indeed, I’m still feeling pretty depressed and this may be why I chose this topic. However, the stigma associated with mental illness can still be worse than the illness itself. If I can help remove a bit of that with this post, I’m happy.

I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder in 2013. I didn’t like it. This diagnosis replaced two other conditions I’m pretty sure I do have as well, namely dissociative identity disorder (DID) and PTSD. I was told that BPD is a trauma-based condition too and that dissociation really runs on a spectrum from BPD to DID. This is true, but I still wasn’t happy about the diagnosis. I had a lot of internalized stigma about it. This wasn’t helped by my therapist, who pretty much assumed my BPD was causing me to make up the DID. Well, I’m not making it up.

My husband didn’t believe I could possibly have BPD. After all, borderlines are known for unstable relationships and he had been my first boyfriend. Then again, there are nine different criteria to BPD and one only has to meet five of them to qualify for a diagnosis. Symptoms I most definitely do have include an unstable self-image, dissociation and stress-related paranoia, fear of abandonment and self-harming and suicidal tendencies. I can also have bad anger issues and react impulsively. In fact, the only criterion I’m pretty sure of I don’t meet, is the one about unstable relationships. People who do meet this criterion, often engage in what is called “splitting” within the BPD community. They alternate heavily between idealizing and devaluing their favorite person (who can be a partner, but can also be a family member or even a therapist).

In 2016, my diagnosis was downgraded from full-fledged BPD to just BPD traits. I’m pretty sure I’d still meet the full criteria, though not as strongly as before maybe. It is common for BPD symptoms to lessen as a sufferer gets older.

I prefer to refer to my BPD traits as emotion regulation issues, like I said. Not only does this sound less stigmatizing, but it feels more true to what I experience. I do experience, after all, very strong emotional outbursts. These can be of anger, but more recently also sadness or fear. I also find it hard to distinguish emotions and tend to express every strong emotion as anger.

Like I said, BPD, unlike other personality disorders, is treatable. The most evidence-based treatment is dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). DBT combines cognitive behavioral strategies with mindfulness. I tried it last year, but was finding it hard to pay attention in therapy and carry over what I learned from the manual into real life. I do however still try to apply the skills.

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.

Belated Weekly Gratitude List (September 29, 2018) #TToT

I didn’t participate in #TToT last week. Yesterday, I was going to write just when I realized it was time to go off to bed, since my husband would need to get up at 5AM this morning. I for this reason didn’t write my #TToT post then. I’m feeling slightly less depressed than I was over the past couple of weeks, but my depression is still there. I am therefore going to attempt to write a list of things I’m grateful for again.

1. Exercise. I had a pretty hard time exercsing regularly last week. This week was better. I managed around 3 1/2 hours of exercise this past week according to my Fitbit and reached my five-day goal. It does count walking as exercise, but I also managed to go on the elliptical twice.

2. Swimming. Last Tuesday, I went swimming at day activities again. I hadn’t been going the previous time two weeks ago, because I had a cold then. This time, there was no extra staff for me. The volunteer watching me however complimented me on my independence. By the way, my Fitbit is water-proof so it did record my swimming activity.

3. An afternoon at my in-laws. On Tuesday, I didn’t have support after day activities, so I asked whether I could stay at my in-laws. My mother-in-law picked me up at 3PM and I was home again by 7:30.

4. Possibly extending my day activities hours. This we discussed on Thursday, when my support coordinator and assigned day activities staff came to my home. Hopefully come October 9, I’ll stay at day activities Tuesday afternoons. I hope to eventually be able to go four full days, but that has yet to be determined.

5. A good session with my nurse practitioner. We did continue to work the DBT manual, but I felt more able to contribute my own thoughts than I was before. Before, it felt like he was just reading the manual to me and I was unable to make sense of it.

6. Buying nice things at the wholesale store today. My mother-in-law has a customer card for them and I went with her. I got a pair of warm slippers, a night gown, two bras and a chocolate bar.

7. Browsing Amazon for Kindle books. It seems as though Adobe Digital Editions eventually decided no longer to work with at least my rather outdated version of the JAWS screen reader. That’s sad, as I have a lot of DRM-proteced EPUB books in there. However, it gave me a reason to browse the Amazon Kindle store too. I haven’t bought any books, since I still haven’t finished those in my library. Still, browsing the store is already a lot of fun.

8. Being at least a little inspired to write. I didn’t write everyday this past month. Not nearly. However, since having this blog, I never fell into as much of a rut as I did with my other blog regularly. That is, there haven’t been two consecutive days that I haven’t written at all since starting this blog. I should be proud of this! This really gives me hope. I will be participating in #Write31Days in October and am positive I will finish the challenge this year. Yesterday, a ton of ideas to write about started popping up into my mind again.

I notice I’m having a little bit of a hard time finding things to be thankful for this week. I wanted to mention horseback riding or the long walk on Monday, but those are on my list almost every week. I felt this’d get boring. However, I mention them here anyway to make a point out of being grateful for my everyday experiences.

Consultation Meeting at Day Activities

So I had a meeting with the Center for Consultation and Expertise consultant at day activities this morning. First, I talked some with her alone. We discussed my care needs in some more depth than we’d done when she’d visited me and my husband at our home. I still feel the ideal situation is that my husband and I could still live togehter but close by a care facility. I also mentioned that, though my husband supports me wherever I go, he has some reservations about us living in a lean-on apartment together. A lean-on apartment is where you still live independently, but close by a care facility. Since my husband and I together make too much money for renting a home too, and we don’t have a huge financial reserve, choices are limited. This means most likely I’ll either have to manage with the same amount of care I get now, but we could move to a larger town, or I’ll need to go the long-term care route and essentially live away from my husband during the week. I can manage okay’ish now and I don’t want to risk my marriage for better care, so I’ve already reluctantly set my mind on the former.

We also discussed my needs for mental health treatment. We discussed the insiders and I named a few. The consultant, herself an educational psychologist, took my experience surprisingly seriously. I had expected she wouldn’t, given how she seemed to respond when my husband said he’s married to Astrid, “pieces” or not. I mentioned having come out to my psychiatrist. I’ll have a meeting with her and my nurse practitioner on October 2. I mentioned the psychiatrist having said that my treatment may take another five years. Again surprisingly, the consultant didn’t react negatively to that, saying instead that if I felt it’d be beneficial in the end, I should go for it. We also went into childhood trauma a bit, which is the reason the insiders are here. The consultant recommended I discuss getting EMDR with my psychiatrist and nurse practitioner. I said this had been recommended by the psychologist who rediagnosed me with autism in 2017 and on whose report my treatment plan is based. However, that psychologist recommended I do dialectical behavior therapy first. The consultant disagreed, saying that nowadays, people who aren’t very stable or even people with intellectual disabilities can benefit from modified EMDR. She mentioned a therapist’s name that I couldn’t fully understand and a quick Google search came up with nothing.

Then, we drank coffee and after that, the consultant talked with my day activities staff. She asked what activities I do during the day. She also recommended my staff respond proactively to my becoming overloaded. I’m not so sure I like that, but I think it’s for my own good anyway. I mean, we again went on a long walk this morning and I couldn’t fully keep up. As a result, at the end the staff decided not to take me on the full, hour-long walk again for now. I so badly want to meet my goal of 10,000 steps a day, so I feel pretty awful having to cut back.

On October 4, the consultant will make her recommendations at a meeting with my home support coordinator, assigned day activities staff and me. I’m hoping for the best.

Embracing My Neuroses

A lot has been on my mind lately, but for whatever reason, I can’t get it out onto the screen. As such, I keep reverting back to standard, mundane blogging features such as #TToT and the like. I don’t mean these aren’t important to me and they are among my most popular posts, but I intended this blog for myself, not (primarily) for my readers. Of course, now that my blog is off to a start, I do worry about my stats.

As I was browsing Paperblanks, a journal writing prompts app on my iPhone, I came across an interesting prompt in this respect. It is: “This year, I’ll learn to embrace my neuroses, such as ___”.

Embracing neurosis. That seems like quite a counterproductive thing to do, as neurosis often is seen as something negative, something we need to overcome. Then again, in dialectical behavior therapy (I think), it is said that you cann’t change something without accepting it.

This year, I will learn to embrace my neuroses. I will learn to accept them as they are and move on from there. I have several neuroses that I need to embrace.

My main neurosis is my heighteneed response to being triggered or criticized. Pete Walker calls this the fight-flight-freeze-fawn response. I tend to lean towards fight. As such, I tend to perceive an outer critic as more severe than it is intended as due to my own inner critic chiming in. I am to an extent aware of it, but not usually when it happens. By practising mindfulness, I hope to become more aware of this response.

I also want to embrace my freeze response of retreating into my inner world. I am often judgmental of myself and my alters when not online, but this doesn’t seem to do us well. I am going to learn to validate myselves.

I have a lot of little “neuroses” that I’ll want to embrace and not change much at all. These include my stims, such as twirling my hair. I will write more about stimming on the upcoming International Day of the Stim.

What is a neurosis you need to embrace?