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.

Five of the Most Significant Events in My Life

And once again, I didn’t post for nearly a week. I am beginning to feel pessimistic that I’ll complete the A to Z Challenge in April. However, I still would very much love to make it happen. I am pretty uninspired though.

To get back into the writing habit, I am choosing to write about a topic I’ve already posted about on my old blogs a couple of times. It is good though for my new readers of this blog to get to know me. I am going to share a list of important events in my life. Because I need to explain a little about each, this post may become a bit long.

1. The day I left the hospital at three months of age. I was born over three months premature and had to spend the first 94 days of my life in hospital. The unit I was on is commonly referred to as neonatal intensivecare unit or NICU for short, though I wasn’t in actual intensive care the whole time. I was on a ventilator for the first six weeks and, after I learned to breathe on my own, was moved to medium care, the general ward and eventually home. In the NICU, I sustained a brain bleed and developed an eye condition called retinopathy of prematurity. These two conditions are the main cause of my disabilities. I was finally discharged from the hospital on September 29, 1986.

2. The day I started special education. I started school, as most children here in the Netherlands did at the time, on my fourth birthday (June 27, 1990). I started in the first year of Kindergarten, which takes two years here. Just before the end of my second year in Kindergarten though, on May 11, 1992, I was moved into special education for the visually impaired.

The reason why I had to transfer remains a mystery. My parents say it was because I had to learn Braille, but I didn’t get to learn that till over a year later and only because a totally blind boy joined my class. The school was generally only equipped to educate those with low vision. Besides, the first special school my parents chose for me, was for those with mobility impairments. I was turned down because cerebral palsy isn’t my primary disability.

My inner five-year-old holds some memories of this situation. In our memory, I was ill with what could’ve been a partly psychosomatic illness just before moving to special ed. I cannot prove this though.

3. The day I started mainstream secondary school. My parents fought for years to get me out of special ed again. If I have to believe them, they fought from the moment I started in special ed to get me out again. They were convinced I’m far too intelligent for special ed, despite the fact that most schools for the blind offer a normal elenentary school curriculum. Anyway, they finally succeeded after taking me to the third ed psych in eighteen months, a psychologist who’d never even seen a blind person in his practice. This was also when I got labeled as gifted with a verbal IQ of 154. These three digits haunt me till this day.

I started mainstream secondary school on August 25, 1999 at my city’s grammar school. Those six years were awful. I scored above-average academically, but struggled socially and emotionally. I dissociated through most of my time there and hardly have any real memory of it.

4. The day I suffered my psychiatric crisis. After graduating high school in 2005, I’d taken two gap years to work on independence. While in my second gap year, I was diagnosed as autistic. Leading up to this was my increasingly falling apart at the independence training home. I got sent out to Nijmegen to live on my own on August 1, 2007 though. I fell apart within three months. By late October, I was wandering everyday, had multiple meltdowns a day and ended up suicidal. I was eventually hospitalized on November 3.

5. The day I got kicked out of the hospital again. I remained in a psychiatric hospital for 9 1/2 years, but eventually got kicked out on May 8, 2017. I believe the real reason is the government budget cuts to mental health, but my treatment team at the time blamed me. I have been living semi-independently ever since. As regular readers know though, I’m in the process of hopefully getting into long-term care again.

PoCoLo

Recovery

Today’s Sunday writing prompt over at Mindlovemisery‚Äôs Menagerie is “recovery”. This is such a commonly used word in mental health. “Recovery” is the ultimate goal for any mental health consumer or so it is assumed.

I attended a recovery course while in the mental institution in 2010-2011. It was very interesting. It was made clear that recovery is not the same as cure. You can be recovered and still live with a mental illness. Rather, recovery refers to getting as positive and fulfilling a life as possible. It is commonly used in conjunction with “rehabilitation”. The difference is though that rehabilitation is a treatment approach and is hence centered on the professional relationship, whereas recovery is completely patient-centered.

The recovery course I took was specifically for those residing on one of the long-term wards in the psychiatric hospital. This at first surprised me, since being hospitalized is clearly not having a fulfilling life. Or is it? I mean, if you can’t live independently, can you still consider yourself recovered.

I was at the time not planning on ever living independently. In fact, though I was engaged to my now husband, I was planning on going into a workhome, a long-term living environments for autistic people.

Here, it is important what I wrote above, that recovery is completely patient-centered. This means that, though it is believed that most people would want to live as independently as possible, if you don’t, that’s okay too. You are encouraged to make your own decisions, no matter how ill you are.

I have always been of the opinion that self-determination and self-reliance are not the same and shouldn’t necessarily be connected. I am pretty determined, but I’m not very self-reliant. I think personally that self-determination should be more important. Clearly, my last psychologist at the institution disagreed. She diagnosed me with dependent personality disorder, which according to the DSM is characterized by passiveness and an inability to stand up for oneself. I didn’t meet those criteria, but she felt I was asking for care she felt I didn’t need. She kicked me out of the institution almost with no after care. I survived, but I don’t feel well. Now it’s time to focus on self-determination. To try to reach the goals I set for myself.

Like I said, recovery is completely patient-centered. This is what I strive for. To me, recovery is feeling as well as possible. This means I can still work on recovery while going into long-term care.

Where Do I Belong? #Write31Days

One of the questions in The Self-Exploration Journal is simple, yet not so simple to answer. It is: “Where do you belong?” For today’s #Write31Days post, I am going to attemtp to answer this question.

I am a restless person. Even though I crave stability, I keep fleeing from wherever I am. I can never seem to find a place where I feel I belong.

I must say though, it probably has to do with control. I have a pretty horribly external locus of control. This means that I have a feeling that others or circumstances control my life, rather than life being a bunch of choices I make. This isn’t necessarily healthy, but in y case, it is somewhat realistic.

I grew up with parents who had my life planned out for me. I knew by the time I was nine that I’d leave the house at eighteen to go to university. It scared the crap out of me. Lately, I’ve been feeling an insider who holds these memories.

I left the house at nineteen to go into independence traing. That wasn’t what my parents wanted, but I for the first time in my life showed some major rebellion. Even then, I needed my parents’ albeit reluctant approval to actually take the step.

I continued to consistently seek approval from others for my major decisions. This may’ve been a major reason I got moved into independent living after the training home despite the fact that the staff and I agreed this wasn’t the best possible placement for me. The staff after all, had promised my parents they’d prepare me for independence.

I landed in a mental hospital three months into independent living. By this time, I’d lost every bit of self-determination I had. I didn’t know what I wanted and just let the psychiatrist admit me to the hospital.

I regained a small amount of self-determination over the years of my hospital stay, only to have it all destroyed by my last psychologist. She said I was being dependent, not for letting others make choices for me or for needing their approval, but for demanding care she felt I didn’t need.

Now I’m living with my husband. I don’t feel safe here. Not relationally – my husband is lovely. I mean that I lack the support I feel I need.

So I often flee this place too. I don’t feel like I belong. But will this ever change? Will I ever find the peace of mind to live a stable life without needing to constantly be on the run?

Maybe if I get into long-term care, I will. After all, then I’ll hopefully finally feel safe without the pressure of needing to be re-assessed for care at least every year. Then I can have goals that I can take years to maybe meet or maybe not. Maybe then I will find a place where I belong.

Lessons Learned from Regret #Write31Days

Welcome to day three in my #Write31Days challenge on personal growth. Today, I picked a writing prompt from The Self-Exploration Journal, which is a 90-day challenge. The prompt is about something you regret. What did this experience teach you in the end?

I am choosing my decision to move from the city of Nijmegen psychiatric resocialization unit to a long-term care unit in Wolfheze, a town near Arnhem in 2013.

The rationale for this decision was totally understandable. My husband lived in Doorwerth, a town neighboring on Wolfheze. Since we were exploring the possibility of me moving out of the mental institution and in with him, it seemed just about logical that I’d move to Wolfheze.

What I hadn’t anticipated was that I’d encounter less than supportive staff in Wolfheze. When I went for an intake interview, the responsible psychologist wanted to place me in a sociotherapeutic house, whch meant you’d live practically independently with a few other clients but the staff would come to your house at set times. They reasoned this would be the best preparation for independent living. I don’t think they’re wrong about that, but it became more and more apparent that I couldn’t cope with independent living like this.

So I opted to go into the long-term unit with 24-hour care instead. Even this was a huge adjustment, as staff started expecting me to learn practical independence skills that were too overwhelming.

My new psychologist also pretty soon removed my diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder and PTSD, changing it to borderline personality disorder. From there, it went further downhill. My first psychologist was good enough. She eventually did realize that I’d need lots of long-term support even when going into independent living.

In 2014, I got a new psychologist. This wasn’t my decision, but the old one was leaving. This psychologist had the worst impact on me of all mental health professionals I’ve had in those 9 1/2 years in an institution. She decided right from the start that I’m not autistic. She started to tell me I have acquired brain injury and need to go into a training home to learn independence skills for that. Now let me tell you, i already went into a training home that caters to among other people, those who are blind and those with acquired brain injury. I am confident that this training home offered me the best possible independence training. Yet because it failed, I had failed and I had to try all over again. Since I didn’twant that, I was dependent and misusing care and needed to be kicked out of the institution.

I was eventually kicked out of the institution in 2017. I only later learned that it wasn’t about me, but about the huge budgets cuts to mental health. Of course, the Nijmegen institution would have to face budget cuts too, so I might’ve gone the same route had I stayed in Nijmegen. However, then at least I’d have had supportive staff.

What I learned from this whole thing is that supportive people are the most important. You can live in a better home or a better area, but if the people who support you through and through aren’t there, it’s not going to work.

Emotional Flashbacks: I Tend to Fight

I just read up on trauma-related symptoms and was flooded with emotional flashbacks. An emotional flashback is where you are reminded of a past traumatic event but don’t remember it in visual detail. Rather, you feel the emotions associated with the event. You then respond in a usually maladaptive way that is associated with your trauma.

According to Pete Walker, there are four types of trauma responses related to emotional flashbacks: fight, flight, freeze and fawn. I have yet to read up on them all in Walker’s book Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving, but I think I most relate to fight, followed by freeze and fawn. Interestingly, in this book, Walker also discusses specific combinations of responses, such as the fight-fawn hybrid (I think that would be me).

I feel sad, because Walker calls the fight response, which is my most common first reaction, “narcissistic” and on his website relates it to being spoiled. I have yet to read up in his book on whether this is the only trauma that can elicit a fight response, as I was not usually spoiled. Or was I?

When discussing my upbringing with the psychologist who gave me my autism diagnosis back in 2017, after another psychologist had taken it away, I mentioned my parents not letting me develop my independence skills. That is, when I tried to develop independence skills, I was often left to my own resources and not consciously taught. Then as soon as I got frustrated (which I reckon is a natural response), my parents gave up and would do stuff for me. The psychologist called this simultaneous over- and underestimation.

I was rather frustrated with the fact that I was seen as having been underestimated, as this didn’t resonate with my feeling of chornic overwhelm. Also, it somehow feels like it’s a character flaw on my part that I got let off the hook, whereas I consider other forms of bad parenting that I endured to be my parents’ responsibility. Really though, ultimately, it’s my responsibility to heal.

Linking up with RDP #83: Remember.

It Was the Summer of 2007

Today, for the first time in a long while, I’m linking up with Finish the Sentence Friday (yes, on a Sunday, but I wasn’t inspired on Friday). The prompt this week is “It was the summer of…”.

Last Wednesday marks eleven years since I started living independently in the city of Nijmegen, where I’d go to university. It was a Wednesday back then too. It was the summer of 2007. We’d had a heatwave in July, but as far as I remember, the weather wasn’t good in August.

On August 1, 2007, my parents drove the 40’ish miles from the independence training home in the city of Apeldoorn to Nijmegen with me. The car was packed full of my belongings. While the training home apartments were furnished, I still had some ofmy own furniture. Besides, my new apartment was only partly furnished.

I didn’t feel much on my way to Nijmegen. I was drugged up with the antipsychotic a psychiatrist had prescribed just a week before. I still find it rather weird that I’d started a new medication just a week before a majr transition, because how would we know whether it was working then?

When my parents had put together my new furniture, we went to the nearby Chinese takeaway. I had learned to cook in the independence training home, but I don’t think my parents trusted me enough to do it for them.

After finishing our food and putting the leftovers in the fridge for the next day, I crashed. I cried. I still find it painful to remember, as I was always taught not to cry. My mother saw me cry, whcih was terribly embarrassing. She didn’t comfort me. I was 21-years-old, after all, and no longer my parents’ responsibility.

Pineapple

Last week, I discovered a writing prompt on a blog that asked us to share our favorite recipes incorporating pineapple. Now I really cannot cook that well, so other than a pineapple and banana smoothie, I have no idea. However, something else came to mind.

One of my main hobbies is soap making. I started this hobby in 2016 after having tried out many other creative hobbies unsuccessfully before, including card making, jewelry making and polymer clay. It’s so frustrating to be blind and extremely clumsy sometimes. As a result of this, I often need a lot of help on any of my creative endeavors except for writing. That includes soap making.

Earlier last week, I’d been thinking of a way to pick up the soaping craft again. I’d not been doing it much for over a year due to not having the support system to help me. Before that, I’d made soap at my old day activities in the institution, but my new place couldn’t help me with this.

I started looking for a soaping buddy. No luck. Then I thought maybe I could try soaping independenty after all. After all, it’s not more dangeorus than cooking and, though I just said I cannot cook, I in fact did cook independetnly many yeas ago. Making a simple melt and pour soap requires less preparation than cooking a meal.

So last week when my husband was at work, I went to business. I deliberately chose to soap when my husband was at work rather than when he was home, so that I couldn’t take out my frustrations on him. As it turned out, the soaping went pretty well. I decided to make a simple soap with just one colorant and one fragrance oil and no additional ingredients. That fragrance oil was pineapple. So here you have our favorite recipe incorporating pineapple.

Yellow soap with pineapple fragrance oil

You just need three ingredients:


  • White melt and pour soap base

  • Yellow water-soluble colorant

  • Pineapple fragrance oil


First, I cut the soap base into small cubes. Guessing how much soap I’d need, didn’t turn out to be as difficult as I’d expected. Then I melted the soap base in the microwave. This is not ideal, as the heat may not be evenly distributed through the soap, but I didn’t want to add complexity by melting my soap base in a double boiler. It worked fine for me. Once the soap was melted (which takes only about 30 seconds in the microwave), I added in a few drops of colorant and fragrance oil. The colorant and fragrance oil bottles I used have a dropper, but I just guessed how much I’d need, as you can never be sure the dropper works properly. Then I stirred quickly and poured the soap into the mold. You only have a few minutes from taking the soap out of the microwave to pouring it into the mold. If you see or suspect bubbles in your soap, you can spray alcohol over them, but I didn’t do that this time, as I cannot actually see where the soap bubbles are. I then left my soap to harden for about 45 minutes. It turned out pretty good.