CP Conference Last Saturday

So I attended the Netherlands’ national conference day on cerebral palsy on Saturday. Before I went, i was incredibly scared. Would I be able to connect to other people or would I be left on the sidelines all day? Would there be people willing to help me navigate the school building in which the conference was being organized? Would I arrive on time? But my main worry was related to my own diagnosis of cerebral palsy, or rather the lack thereof. You see, I was never told that I have CP by my parents and was too young to understand medical jargon by the time they stopped taking me to specialists. Maybe my parents didn’t even know, as doctors do not always clearly communicate and my parents were mostly looking for reassurance.

My GP also was a bit vague when I asked him last year, citing a probably relatively recent letter saying that I had acquired brain injury. Now I do happen to know that doctors disagree on whether brain injury acquired shortly after birth counts as ABI or a diagnosis of CP or the like should be made instead. So I’m a member of Facebook groups for both CP and ABI. However, ABI is a diagnosis regardless of symptoms and CP requires mobility impairments. I wonder therefore, are my mobility impairments severe enough to count?

I arrived at the school forty minutes before the doors were officially open, but someone took me to a chair anyway and gave me a cup of coffee. Soon, a man I’d been talking to via Facebook messenger arrived too and we sat and chatted some.

Gradually, other people arrived and it was soon time for the official opening speech. This was partly about Steptember, a movement challenge to collect money for research on CP.

Then, a neuropsychology professor spoke about the effects of movement and mental or physical effort on cognition in people with and without CP. It turns out that effort, whether that be mental or physical, strengthens brain connections to the frontal and parietal cortex, which are responsible for higher-order cognitive functions such as planning, organizing and impulse control. He also briefly touched on the effects of music, which can also help strengthen these connections. In short, moving and exerting ourselves as much as we can within the limits of our CP helps our cognitive functions. Of course, past age 30, these brain areas no longer grow and actually decline, but still exerting yourself enables you to learn more effectively regardless of your age.

After this, you could choose to follow a workshop session. The one I followed was on overload. This was a bit of a chaotic workshop, as the presenter allowed for questions while presenting. I am quite familiar with overload, as a person with autism, but I loved to explore it from a CP perspective. I mean, physically I do have some more limitations than those without CP. As a result, walking may give me energy, but it also costs me energy more so than it does non-disabled people. This was rather interesting, because I often tend to sometimes give everything and more of myself physically and other times I tend not to bother. Something the presenter said that really struck a chord was that mental overload can be counteracted by physical activity and vice versa.

In the afternoon, we could also pick a workshop to follow. The one I chose was on nutrition. A registered dietitian had developed nutritional guidelines for children and adults with CP. Topics that were discussed included underweight and overweight. The presenter said that, as a general rule, people with CP need fewer calories than those without CP. The reason is that, even though our movement costs more energy and hence burns more calories, we tend not to move as much.

Another topic that was discussed was swallowing difficulties. Did you know that up to 99% of people with CP, even those with mild CP, have swallowing issues? I didn’t. This was so validating, because I happen to have some rather significant swallowing issues.

Other topics of discussion included reflux, constipation and bone development. There is little research into these, as particularly constipation and osteoporosis are common within the general population anyway.

Overall, I loved this day. It was also very validating. Not only did no-one say I don’t look like someone with CP, but I actually met several people who are at least as mildly affecte as I am.

Confessions of a New Mummy

Dreams I Had for Myself as a Child #Write31Days

Welcome to day 18 in #Write31Days. Today’s post is all about dreams and life visions. Specifically, I am sharing the dreams I had for myself as a child.

The first dream I remember having about what I’d be when I’d grow up, was a writer. I may’ve said as a KIndergartner that I wanted to be a princess or whatever, but as soon as I could write with some confidence, I wanted to make my career out of that. I remember my parents telling me pretty early on that writers usually don’t make a living writing, but I didn’t care.

As I said before, I started out wanting to write fiction. I didn’t keep a journal consistently until I was thirteen and fiction was all that I knew before then. I didn’t get access to the Internet until age fifteen, but by the time I had an Internet connection, I was hooked on non-fiction.

Another dream I had for myself as an older child and teen, was to become a teacher. My ideas varied as to which grade or subject I’d like to teach. I definitely looked up to my teachers, so it’s no surprise I wanted to be one.

When I was around twelve, I started to deveop a dream of becoming a psychologist. I wanted to help children who were likely to fall through the cracks, as I had a feeling I was. I started hoping every episode of my parents’ favorite news program had a feature on kids with psychological problems. Once, there was an episode on about autism and I was hooked. This was nearly ten years before my own autism diagnosis. I had a feeling I was somehow like the boy in the program. Similar with a seventeen-year-old girl who was being restrained in a psychiatric hospital in around 1997. She was too smart for intellectual disability services but didn’t belong in psychiatry either. Something clicked with me, but obviously I couldn’t put my finger to it. I still really can’t.

When I was sixteen, I developed another dream. I wanted to study in the United States once in college. I would be majoring in American studies at university in Nijmegen, which'd offer motivated, talented students the opportunity to study in the U.S. for six months in their third year. I was at the time pretty sure I'd be talented enough. I loved reading up about American cities on City-Data.com.

Looking back, obviously, I didn’t make any of my dreams come true. I write, but not for profit and I don’t intend on it ever at all. I have some education in psychology, but am nowhere near a degree.

At the back of my mind, there always was that seventeen-year-old girl in the isolation room in the psychiatric hospital. I’ve not become her either, but I’ve come close. Then I rose up above my fate and now I’m an advocate. I’m happy as I am now.

Four Skills I’m Pretty Good At #Write31Days

Welcome to day 15 in my #Write31Days challenge on personal growth. Today, I have another list post for you. One of Lisa Shea’s journaling prompts on self-esteem has us write about our skills. What things are you pretty good at? Here goes.

1. Writing. I’m by no means a bestselling author – I have only had one piece of writing published in a book so far. I also make a lot of typeos in my writing. Overall though I consider my writing to be pretty good.

I started writing at about eight-years-old, wanting to become a children’s fiction author once I’d grow up. Now my husband is one of my worst critics when it comes to my children’s fiction, saying my stories aren’t very imaginative to say the least. Then again, when he compliments me on my blog posts, I take it all the more to heart.

2. Calendar calculation. You didn’t know that’s a skill? It is! My husband can’t tell whether October has 30 or 31 day without looking at the calendar, so I’ve got to believe that calendar calculation is a skill. It refers to being able to tell what day a given date in the past or future falls on. I’m not nearly as good at it as I used to be some twenty years ago, but am still pretty good.

3. Researching topics of interest. When a topic captures my interest, I can research it for days on end and will quickly get to know a lot about it. As such, I know a lot about psychiatry – more than some so-called professionals would like me to know. The flip side si that I cannot convert all my knowledge into practice. For example, I know a lot about soap making, but after those first few attempts, I haven’t tried making soap on my own again.

4. Relating to other people in a unique way. Particularly to people with cognitive, intellectual or developmental disabilities. I consider myself pretty good at relating to my fellow clients at day activities. As such, I have been known to come up with some ideas for sensory activities.

What skills are you pretty good at?

A Letter to My Younger Self #Write31Days

Welcome to day nine in my #Write31Days series on personal growth. Today, I chose yet another prompt from The Self-Exploration Journal. It asks what one piece of advice you would give your younger self if you could go back in time. Ths question couldn’t be more timely, as I’m facing a lot of regrets from the past right now as I face the decision to apply for long-term care. I am spinnning this questioon around a little and going to write a letter to my younger self. I don’t have an idea for the age of this younger self, but the piece of advice should be the same anyway.

Dear Younger Self,

This is your 32-year-old self writing. I want to reassure you that I see you. I see your struggles for autonomy, for self-determination. And yet, I see your struggles with your limitations. You have yet to come to terms with the fact that you’re multiply-disabled.

I see that peope try to control you. Your parents consider you worth parenting only so long as you prove that you’re going to give back by contributing to society. Your support staff try to please your parents, sending you out to live on your own despite knowing this isn’t in your best interest. Your psychologist in Nijmegen, no matter how helpful she is in some respects, still doesn’t provide you with the opportunity to go into the right type of care. She, like eveyrone before her, values your intelligence over your need for support. Your psychologist in Wolfheze blames you. She robs you off your last bit of self-determination by kicking you out of the institution without proper after care.

I want to reassure you. I see your needs. I’m fighting for them to be met. I don’t have enough support yet, but I have people around me who are fighting for it with me. I can’t promise you that you will ultimately get into long-term care, as that’s up to the funding agency to decide. I can however assure you that I’m fighting for you.

If there’s one piece of advice I could give you, it’s to fight for yourself. No-one can live your life but you. You don’t owe your parents anything. You’re past that point. Care staff do only their job. This isn’t to discount the good work my current care staff do, but it’s just that, work. They will eventually fade out of our life. Even your husband, the only person who will most likely stick by you for a long time to come, doesn’t have the right to control you. I know you want to please him, because you love him, but that is different. Pleasing your husband is founded on love, not authority, and it is mutual. Even so, your husband does not live your life. Ultimately, the only person who will live the entirety of your life with you, is you.

I don’t mean this to criticize you at all. I see how hard it is for you to stand up to controling people. But you’ll learn to do so in time.

With love,

Astrid

What one piece of advice would you give your younger self?

My Heroes #Write31Days

Welcome to day two in the #Write31Days challenge, in which I share 31 reflections on personal growth. Today, I am going to write about my heroes.

Heroes can be ordinary people or they can be celebrities or historical figures. My first hero is someone I knew in real life: my paternal grandmother. She sadly passed last May at the age of 94, but she lived a positive life up till the last days of her life. She was one to rarely if ever complain. Even when in severe pain, she remained positive.

My grandma married my grandpa in 1948 and gave birth to five children, my father being the eldest. When the youngest was eighteen, she divorced my grandpa. She was fiercely independent, getting a career for herself as a social worker. She traveled a lot and had lots of hobbies. My grandma’s motto was “Do what you want, as long as you don’t bother me”. I am not nearly as resilient as my grandma, but I’m trying to be.

My next hero is someone I never met in real life and never even talked to. She is Cal MOntgomery, a disability rights activist. About fifteen years ago, she wrote an article in Ragged Edge Magazine that changed my life. She described for the first time what it is like to live with the identity-destroying effects of ableism. Her internalized companions Mary and Bruce are in many ways similar to my Jane and Carol. Read this if you think that ableism can’t be traumatic.

Finally, I felt I needed to include a celebrity. I’m choosing Helen Keller. I don’t know that much about her, but I do know that she was an important women’s rights activist. I love many quotes from her too.

CP Day

Yesterday, I heard about an event on November 3 that I was immediately interested in. It’s the Dutch national CP day organized by BOSK, the country’s charity for people with physical disabilities.

For those not aware, CP is an abbreviation of cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is a movement disorder caused by brain damage sustained in utero, during birth or in a child’s first year of life. In my own case, I had a brain bleed shortly after birth.

The thing is though, I was never told that I have CP. My parents just told me I’m clumsy. I did get adaptations early in life, such as a large tricycle. I also had lots of physical therapy. When I was around nine though, my parent discontinued my specialist appointments. Even when I developed scoliosis in adolescence, they didn’t tell me. Scoliosis is a common consequence of hemiplegic (affecting one side of the body only) CP.

Last year, I asked my GP about it and was told I have acquired brain injury. Usually though, when someone acquires their brain injury in the first year of life, it doesn’t “count” as ABI. Instead, diagnoses are then made based on symptoms, such as CP in the case of movement difficulties.

CP is classified in five levels of severity. Obviously, since I don’t even know whether I was diagnosed with CP as a child, I’m not sure of my level either. I would have to guess I’m probably level 1 or 2, which are the mildest levels.

CP is not progressive and yet in some ways, it is. The brain damage that causes it doesn’t get worse, but adults can experience worsening pain, muscle stiffness and symptoms related to overuse and overcompensation.

On the CP event, there’ll be various workshops for adults with CP and parents of CP children. The morning workshop that most appealed to me, is about overload. I’d love to explore this from an a CP perspective rather than an autism perspective.

In the afternoon, the workshop I’m wanting to attend is on nutrition. A dietitian will speak about nutritional guidelines for people with CP. While CP affects movement in the limbs mostly, it can also impact on one’s gastrointestinal tract, because after all these are muscles too. I suffer with both constipation and reflux, which will be discussed.

Obviously, I still feel a little self-conscious about going due to my uncertainty about my diagnosis. Because I am sure I had a brain bleed in infancy, my main concern in thsi respect is that I’m not “bad enough”. My parents at one point tried to get me into a school for the physically impaired and were told (or so ‘ve heard) that I wasn’t disabled enough. Now of course I don’t mind not being that disabled, but then of course I shouldn’t be going to an event like this.

Seven Things I Wish My Unsupportive Parents Understood About Me

I just read BPD Bella’s post about ten things she wishes non-borderlines knew about her. I have only some BPD traits and couldn’t relate to everything she describes. However, this post inspired me to do my own list. I’m dedicating this list to my parents by sharing some things I wish they understood about me. For those who don’t know, my parents are particularly unsupportive of my disability experience.

1. I am not “just blind”. I know that many blind people like to minimize the impact of their disability, to prove that they’re competent adults, blindness and all. My mother at one point told me about one of my sister’s college friends, who is blind. She then remarked she wished every blind person had the same abilities. That’s not how it works. But guess what? Sighted people vary in their abilities and difficulties too.

2. My needs are valid. I wasn’t being “manipulative” when I threatened suicide in 2007 while living on my own. I was desperate. If I had really been able to cope, I would have. Similarly, I’m not being “manipulative” by trying to get into supported housing now. No, I’m not in a suicidal crisis on a daily basis anymore, like I was in 2007. However, I want to prevent it from getting that far.

3. If you want me to have a skill, teach me. This is too late, since my parents should’ve gotten this message when I was young. They expected me to be able to live fully independently right out of high school in 2005, though I didn’t have most daily living skills. I appreciate how hard it was for them to teach me growing up, but that’s no excuse to drop the ball.

4. A family is not a business. One of the reasons my parents didn’t teach me independence, was that it got in the way of them running their family efficiently. That’s not an excuse.

5. Not everything is my IQ. My parents are convinced that I am such a genius intellectually that I should be able to use it to overome all of my difficulties (except maybe my social ineptness). Also, this genius IQ enables me to manipulate the world into believing what I want them to believe, which is apparently that I’m weak and dependent and need lots of care. (I am not trying to say needing lots of care makes a person weak and dependent.) No. I would’ve graduated university and gotten a job if I could.

6. Depression is real. Some professionals believe that my childhood irritability stems from depression. I’m not sure that’s entirely true, but it’s possible. I definitely suffer from depression on and off in adulthood. My parents instead say it’s an attemtp on my part to make other people feel miserable, presumably because I refuse to accept the fact that I’m blind. Well, going blind can be traumatic and is not something you “just need to accept”.
Besides, depression is an illness, not a weakness or choice. When depressed, I do make other people feel miserable, but it’s not because I want to.

7. I am an adult, I make my own life choices. In 2006, my parents threatened to abandon me over my wanting to delay university one year. In 2008, they showed up at my hospital ward to take me home with them, because they didn’t agree with the social worker’s plan for my follow-up care. I’m pretty sure that, if I go into supported housing, they’ll try to guilt trip me into not doing it. I couldn’t handle that in 2006. I could in 2008. I am pretty sure that, should they decide to abandon me for good this time, I’ll be able to handle it.

I see this list sounds rather accusatory towards my parents. It is. I don’t even intend for my parents to read it. I know that I’m past setting things straight with them. They won’t change. Besides, my childhood and early adulthood won’t change. I can change to an extent, but I doubt this will lead me closer to my parents. I don’t care.

Struggle #WotW

I want to write so bad, but I’m struggling. Struggling to get myself motivated for writing. Or for anything. Struggling to write coherent sentences. Struggling with my thoughts floating through my mind. Struggling with pretty major depression. I’ve been in survival mode just a bit too long. Now I’m ready to crash.

I am participating in Word of the Week (or #WotW) for the first time on this blog. My word for this week isn’t a shiny, happy one. It’s “struggle”.

This week was an eventful one, yet nothing really did happen. If that sounds like a contradiction, it’s because it is.

Early in the week, it became obvious to me that my depression wasn’t lifting like I’d hoped it would. I mean, I’d hoped that, once my support coordinator was back from vacation and I’d have home support three times a week again, I would feel better. I didn’t. I felt worse.

Thankfully, my support coordinator offered to come by on Tuesday for an extra hour of home support. I am so happy she did, for I didn’t know how else to make it through the day.

On Wednesday, my support worker came by in the afternoon. We ran some errands and I thought I’d do better that day. Not so. In the evenng, when it became apparent my husband wouldn’t be home till past 7PM, I had a meltdown.

On Thursday, I slept in till past noon and again lay in bed for a bit at 2PM. I could’ve been in bed all day, but my support coordinator would be here by 3PM. Thankfully, she was able to motivate me to go for a walk. That was when I decided to start the process of hopefully getting into supported housing. I don’t have my hopes up, of course.

I know that if the powers that be see this post and conclude from here that I’m just struggling with depression, they’ll not provide funding. After all, treatment precludes support. Besides, mental illness only qualifies you for temporary support. So I’m hoping the powers that be will see my needs beyond depression. I’m also blind and have a brain injury and autism, after all.

Interestingly, I had no problem convincing my psychiatric nurse practitioner that I do need 24-hour support. He was one of the first to ditch the dependent personality disorder label I’d been given by my last institution psychologist. As he said when I called him on Friday, I may be a little dependent, but that’s normal because, duh, I’m blind. I’m not sure that’s entirely true, in that to my knowledge most people who are “just blind” don’t need as much support as I do. However, I’m not “just blind”.

The Reading Residence

Tuesday Ramble

I don’t really know what to feel. Today was, well, chaotic. It started out with me getting up at 7:10AM as usual, still tired as usual. My energy level usually rises during the day, but being on high doses of psychotropics still means I’m at least somewhat tired all the time.

At day activities, everyhing went okay. I did some table-based activities and went for a walk with one of the staff trying to learn the route around the building. Meanwhle, a lot was on my mind. Yesterday, the staff had been telling the new intern how one of the clients acquired his cognitive disability. This was such a sad tale. I mean, yes, it may not be ideal to be born with a severe intellectual disability, but at least then you don’t know better. This man, the staff said, probably doesn’t realize much of what his life was like before his brain injury.

Still, it made me sad. I, after all, do know about my life before my extreme autistic burn-out in 2007. I could reason that, since high school was hard for me too, I should be happy I no longer experience that level of pressure. And I am. But that part of me, the would-be-university-professor, is still there.

After lunch, I went home. I wasn’t even home for ten minutes when we had a massive power outage. I didn’t discover it at first, only noticing my Internet connection had gone. Then, I discovered that my computer was running on battery power, so I went to check the rest of the house to see if we still had power anywhere. That’s hard, being blind with light perception, as I’m not sure I trust my vision enough to check the lights but I tried to anyway., I eventually went to check some other electronic devices throughout the house. Then, I called my mother-in-law and texted my husband. My mother-in-law texted back that she couldn’t find any news about a power outage, but my husband called back to let me know the whole village was out of power. Later, we joked that I had somehow caused the power outage.

My mother-in-law came to pick me up, so that while at my in-laws’ home I could at least do something on the computer. Which reminds me of how dependent on electronics I am, especially when alone. Like, I hardly ever touch my phone while at day activities, but at home, practically the only thing I do involves my computer or phone.

In the evening, my father called me by accident. He never calls me and even when my paternal grandma was dying, all I got was a text message from my mother. As such, I immediately panicked, because why in the world would he suddenly want to call me? As it turned out, it was nothing.

Now I’m supposed to feel good, or at least okay, but I don’t. Oh well. No time for processing, as I’m off to bed in about fifteen minutes.

Dropping the Mask: Does It Take a Diagnosis? #TakeTheMaskOff

Today, the theme for #TakeTheMaskOff is diagnosis or self-discovery and its effects on masking. This is applied mostly to the experience of being autistic, but I can relate to it from a trauma survivor perspective too.

I haven’t yet read any of the other contributions for this week, but I assume the idea behind this challenge is that discovering you’re autistic, either through professional diagnosis or not, can help you drop a facade.

This is definitely true for me. When I was first diagnosed with autism in 2007, my staff claimed that I was using it as an excuse, because I reacted more to for example loud noises than I’d done before diagnosis. Similarly, my parents claimed that I was over-protected by the staff who felt I’m autistic and this led to my psychiatric hospitalization in November of that year.

To be honest, yes, I may’ve started to use autism more as an explanation for my behavior once I was diagnosed than I did pre-diagnosis. Note that I say “explanation”, not “excuse”. I don’t feel I need an excuse to act like myself, unless acting like myself were harming other people. Saying that we use autism as an excuse for our behavior is really saying that we should conform to non-autistic standards of behavior at any cost. Autism is an explanation for why I can’t conform to these standards, but even if I could, that doesn’t mean I should.

Then again, once my autism diagnosis was taken away in 2016, I did feel like I needed an excuse. And so did many other people. I was kicked out of autism communities that I’d been a valued part of for years. Suddenly, I’d been faking and manipulating and “acting autistic-like” all those years rather than just having been my autistic self. One Dutch autistic women’s forum’s members and admins were notorious for spinning all kinds of theories on why I’d been pretending to be autistic all those years and had finally been unmasked.

<PAnd at long last, I started to believe these people. I started to believe that self-diagnosis may be valid for other people, but it isn't for me. I started to wonder whether my parents were right after all that I'd been fooling every psychologist and psychiatrist before this one into believing I'm autistic.

This process of self-doubt and shame led to my first real episoede of depression. After all, if I’m not autistic, why did I burn out and land in a mental hospital? I’d been diagnosed with dependent personality disorder by the psychologist who removed my autism diagnosis, so were my parents right after all? I suddenly felt like I needed an excuse to act autistic-like, as if being autistic is indeed less than, not just different from being neurotypical.

I sought an independent second opinion and was rediagnosed with autism in May of 2017. I still am not cured of the idea that it takes a professional diagnosis to “excuse” a person from acting non-autistic. I don’t apply this to other people, but I do still apply it to myself and that’s hard.

I use this blog to counteract this self-stigmatizing attitude. This, after all, also applies to my status as a trauma survivor. I got my autism diagnosis back, but I never got and most likely never will get my trauma-related diagnoses back. I still mask, hiding my trauma-related symptoms when I can. And that’s not usually hepful in the long run.