The Third Day of Christmas

I’ve seen a lot of people share their favorite holiday-themed memories. I’ve wanted to share mine, but also felt rather unmotivated to actually sit down and type. Today it’s Sunday and I came home to the care facility from spending the week-end with my husband earlier than usual. I guess it’s about time I share some Christmassy cheer.

My memory isn’t really about Christmas though. Or even boxing day. I know there isn’t such a thing as boxing day in the United States. Well, here in the Netherlands, what British folk call boxing day is called the second day of Christmas.

From there on, many people count the day after that, December 27, as the third day of Christmas. Some go on to count the fourth and fifth day of Christmas. I’ve never heard someone refer to December 30 as the sixth day of Christmas though, and the fourth and fifth days are rare too. But the third day of Christmas is pretty much a thing here.

I first met my now husband Jeroen six weeks before landing in the mental hospital. I was hospitalized in early November and still didn’t have independent off-ward privileges by Christmas, let alone that I could visit family.

Jeroen had family obligations over Christmas and boxing day, of course, but he was free on the third day of Christmas. That’s how came he visited me in the hospital that day, December 27, 2007. Please realize we weren’t officially in a relationship then. He probably knew that he wanted to be by this time, as he told me he loved me on January 7, but I definitely wasn’t yet sure and just saw him as a friend.

Now that I write, I realize I hardly even know what we did that third day of Christmas. He probably accompanied me to the nearby hospital cafeteria, where we had a cup of Earl Grey tea. Or maybe I had coffee. I’m pretty sure he had some kind of tea.

A year later, in 2008, we were officially in a relationship and he asked to meet me again on the third day of Christmas. Same ward still, as I spent an incredibly long time (sixteen months) on the acute ward. I had off-ward and even town privileges by this time, but I think we met again at the cafeteria. He said the third day of Christmas was our traditional day to meet from then on. I’m not sure whether we stuck to it much, but this year, inbetween the two days of Christmas and the week-end that follows, I’m also spending the third day of Christmas in our home.

Oh, Christmas Tree!

Today, the staff at day activities have been setting up the Christmas tree and other decorations. I know some people in other countries do so much earlier, but St. Nicholas is celebrated on December 5 here and it’s pretty much not done to set up your Christmas tree before then.

I have a book of Christmassy journal prompts. They start on December 1, but I haven’t written on any of them yet. Today, I’m choosing to write on the Dec 2 prompt, which is about Christmas trees.

Growing up, my family had a Christmas tree almost every year. The one or two times we didn’t, it was because of our cat. We had a live tree and our parents pretty much detested faux trees. We had the tree decorated with silver and red Christmass balls and bells that were made of glass. Almost each year, I would accidentally break at least one ball or bell. We also had a ton of wooden figurines including santas, snowmen, angels, etc. I particularly loved to play with these figurines. We had yellow Christmas lights on the tree. I’m not even sure other colors were available back then. We didn’t have a star or other large decoration at the top of the tree.

When I moved out of my parents’ house, I didn’t particularly care for decor. After all, I was totally blind by this time. No Christmas tree for me.

In the psychiatric hospital, we did have a lot of Christmas decorations. Yes, even on the locked ward. Of course, they had to be safe, so they couldn’t be made of glass or in any other way used to cause harm. I was admitted in early November and, by the time the decorations got put up, was still pretty unstable. One day, in an anger outburst, I pulled all Christmas decorations off the wall.

I still don’t really care for Christmas decorations, though I don’t really dislike them either unless they’re in my way. It is very intriguing to know how much people can put in my way in the name of decorating. At my last psych unit, I was in crisis almost every December due to having bumped into one tree or another (we had several) a little too many times.

This year, I know my staff will make sure to place the Christmas tree somewhere I won’t bump into it. Both at day activities and at the home, I’m not the only autistic or blind person. My staff asked me whether I want to make a Christmas decoration with one of them next week. I said yes.

Friday Flashback: Diagnonsense, Oh Diagnonsense!

Today I’m joining in with Fandango’s Friday Flashback and sharing a post I wrote exactly three years ago on my old blog. I let my domain registration for the blog expire this week, but it’s still available on a WordPress subdomain. With this post, I have edited out typeos and am not going to keep all the internal links. I’ll provide a link to the original at the bottom of this post.

A few months ago, I wrote about my changing diagnosis. My autism diagnosis that’s been confirmed three times since 2007, was removed. That left me with just borderline personality disorder (BPD) as a diagnosis. If you thought I gracefully accepted this, you do not know me. I consulted with the patient liaison person at my institution, who recommended I seek a second opinion at another hospital. Now, three months on and we’re back at square one, and it’s not because an independent provider agreed with my psychologist.

On August 15, I talked to the patient liaison person, who on that same day E-mailed my psychologist asking her to make the necessary arrangements for me to get a second opinion. Instead, my psychologist told me she wanted to contact a psychiatrist at the brain injury unit first to inquire about the diagnosis of autism in people with brain injury. This doctor told her that indeed autism shouldn’t be diagnosed in people with brain injury, but the same is true of BPD. My psychologist would need to diagnose personality change due to a general medical condition instead. I stupidly agreed with her changing my diagnosis herself rather than sending me to an independent psychiatrist or clinical psychologist.

My psychiatrist, who is the head clinician responsible for my care, however, disagreed with my psychologist’s diagnosis. My named nurse said they were throwing around all sorts of diagnoses at my treatment plan meeting last month. Eventually, my psychologist informed me they’d settled on dependent personality disorder, borderline personality disorder traits and a developmental disorder NOS. I hate the DPD label, but can see how I might have some of its features. I needed to see my treatment plan to see what they’d meant with developmental disorder NOS, which isn’t a diagnostic code in DSM-IV unless prefixed by “pervasive”. That would essentially mean autism. As it turned out, they hadn’t settled on this diagnosis, as the developmental disorder was gone.

Instead, I now have DPD, BPD traits and depressive disorder NOS. I asked my psychologist whether this was a coding typeo, but it wasn’t. Her explanation was that I may formally meet the criteria for this, but the main reason for the diagnosis is for insurance purposes. You see, I can’t be in the mental hospital without a diagnosis on axis I (anything that isn’t a personality disorder). A nurse even twisted my psychologist’s actions like she’d done me a favor.

Last week, when I found out my final diagnosis, I lost it pretty much and was considering checking myself out of the institution. My psychologist was called, because the nurses thought I said I was definitely leaving, which I can’t remember having said. My psychologist encouraged me to leave right then, which I refused. My husband instead came to pick me up the next day for a night at home to have some distance.

Today, I spoke to the patient liaison person again. She was not happy at the fact that my psychologist had failed to cooperate with me in getting me a second opinion. This essentially means we’re back at where we started and I’m probably going to ask my psychologist to get me a second opinion again soon.

https://bloggingastrid.wordpress.com/2016/11/22/diagnonsense-oh-diagnonsense/

Working On Us Prompt: Psychiatric Medication

I’ve been thinking of doing some posts on the medications I’ve been prescribed so far, but didn’t get down to it till now. Today, Beckie’s topic for Working On Us is psychiatric medication. Beckie asks a few interesting questions I didn’t think of.

First, she asks whether, when you were first diagnosed with a mental illness/disorder, it took you a while to get used to the medication prescribed. Well, my first diagnosis from a psychiatrist was autism, for which there are no specific medications. It took four months after that diagnosis before I first got put on a daily psychiatric medication. That was Risperdal (risperidone). I didn’t like it at all, even though it took only a few days to kick in.

I remained on Risperdal for 2 1/2 months, and then took myself off. I felt that the medication was merely used to keep me just contained enough that I didn’t qualify for more care. Well, it is my firm belief that medication is not a substitute for proper care.

Going off Risperdal was a mixed bag. I felt okay the first few weeks, but three weeks after having stopped taking the medication altogether, I spiraled into crisis.

After taking myself off of the Risperdal, I was without daily medication for nearly 2 1/2 years. I was in a psych hospital, so I can tell you right away that the crisis service nurse was wrong to say hospitalization would mean being put straight back on meds. Apparently my psychiatrist agreed medication is no substitute for proper care. That was until, despite mostly adequate care, my irritability got so bad I just needed something. I was put on Abilify (aripiprazole) and remain on that ever since.

Beckie also asks about withdrawal. I have been on the same antipsychotic and antidepressant ever since 2010 and never lowered my dosage yet. However, I did for a while take Ativan (lorazepam) at a relatively high daily dosage. Then when I wanted to quit, my psychiatrist said he’d prescribe it as a PRN med. Well, I didn’t need it for the first few days, so I didn’t take it. That was until I started experiencing tremors a few days into withdrawal. I am lucky I got only those and didn’t get seizures or the like. Thankfully, I got put back on lorazepam and tapered safely.

Beckie’s last question is whether you work closely with your doctor in managing your meds. Well, I just had a meeting with the intellectual disability physician for my facility last Monday. She is making sure I get my medications and will also order yearly bloodwork to check for metabolic issues etc. I haven’t seen a psychiatrist with my new mental health team yet, but will soon enough. I want to eventually try to lower my Abilify dose. The intellectual disability physician advised me to wait at least six months to get used to living here though.

The Wait Is Over…

Today, V.J.’s Weekly Challenge is all about waiting. It’s an interesting topic, considering that, as I said before, it’s been twelve years this week since I embarked on my journey to finding the right care. The wait is over. On June 4, exactly five months ago today, I was granted long-term care funding. I moved into the care facility on September 23.

It was an extremely long wait. Twelve years is roughly fifteen percent of a person’s lifetime, and they covered almost my entire adult life so far. In other words, I spent most of my adult life waiting. And now it’s over.

And yet, I don’t feel the sense of relief I was sort of expecting to feel. I, after all, hadn’t put my life on hold while waiting for this magical moment. I’m glad I didn’t, as that would’ve meant I didn’t have a husband now. You see, originally, when he told me he was in love with me in January of 2008, I planned on waiting to reciprocate his love until I’d moved into supported housing. I’m glad I didn’t wait.

And yet, my life did seem on hold in other areas for all of these years. I was always in a waiting position at least on some deep, emotional level. And now I can stop waiting and start living. I hope.

Then again, can I truly let go of that paralyzing feeling of apprehension that I’ve carried with me all this time? I still feel like I’m in waiting mode. Hibernation. This long-term care placement still feels temporary to me. Then again, well, guess what, life is temporary. I’d rather get a grip on it than spend the next so many years waiting for some magical miracle that won’t ever happen to make me feel all good.

Lately, I’m constantly reminded of a comment one of my fellow patients on the locked psychiatric unit made in those early days of my hospitalization. I can change my environment all I want, but I’m still me and I need to look to change myself instead.

Tomorrow, I’ll have a review with the behavior specialist and my home and day activities staff. I already discussed with my home staff wanting to get more out of my day than I do now. I came up with the idea of taking my Braille display and external keyboard with me to day activities, so that I can do more stuff on my iPhone than simple dice games and texting. I did this today and unfortunately felt immediately overwhelmed when I tried to read a blog post while a fellow client was making noise playing with macaroni. That almost made me give up and retreat into hibernation mode again. I hope I won’t give up though.

Moving to the Care Facility Soon!

As regular readers of this blog know, I’ve been planning on moving into long-term care for nearly a year. That is, that’s how long it’s taken me to decide I for sure want to apply for long-term care funding, to apply for it, to appeal the decision denying me the funding, to win the appeal and then to find a place. Honestly, this whole journey has been going on much longer. Twelve years ago this month, I told my support coordinator in Nijmegen that I wanted to get into one of their living facilities for people with mobility impairments. Due to my psychiatric hospitalization, this idea got trashed and we ended up looking for places for people with mental illness or “high-functioning” autism. That took many years and was unsuccessful in the end. I got kicked out of the mental hospital in May of 2017 for supposedly wanting to remain institutionalized forever. Well, the psychologist was right in that I feel I need 24-hour care for the rest of my life, but I most definitely didn’t intend on staying in the psychiatric hospital forever. I’d much rather go into a facility for people with developmental disabilities. Thankfully all this time of battling the system that says that an IQ above 85 means you should be pushed towards independence forever, ultimately paid off. I will be moving to the care facility in Raalte on September 23.

The house I will be placed in, has room for twelve residents, divided between two groups of six. There’s always at least two staff in the house during the time the residents are home and awake. During the time we’re supposed to be at the day center, there’s an on-call staff for the entire living facility, but of course there’s staff at the day center. During the night, there’s a sleeping staff at my house, but there’s also a staff who is awake and serves the entire facility.

I will get a room with its own bathroom. This room is a bit further down the hall than the other currently available room, but that room has a shared bathroom. At first, I said I didn’t mind, but the staff warned me that the other clients don’t clean up after themselves. I will get a call button to alert a staff member, so if I can’t get out of the rooom for whatever reason, I can still call the staff if they don’t hear me shouting.

On Thursday, the staff will be discussing what day center group I’ll be placed in. The day center manager did say, after I asked it, that my elliptical can be placed there. They have day activities Monday through Thursday and on alternating Fridays.

They will make sure they have an extra staf available on the 23rd when I move in. They asked my day center’s coordinator whether either she or my support coordinator can come the next day for proper handover.

After a month, we will have a review of how things are going. They made it clear that this is not for the staff to decide I need to be moved out again, but for us to discuss ways the staff could possibly better accommodate me.

I am very excited to go to Raalte! My husband may ask for time off work to move me, especially since this week is also the week we’ll meet with the solicitor for property handover on the house we’re buying. It all is a bit stressful still, but I”m so glad I’ll finally find a place that’s not for independence training or treatment or the like. Finally, I’ll be able to stop merely surviving and start living.

Working On Us Prompt: Self-Care and Personal Hygiene

This week’s prompt on Working On Us is about self-care. I initially thought of self-care as those things we do to pamper ourselves, but then when I read the questions, I realized Beckie means basic self-care. You know, personal hygiene, such as showering or brushing your teeth.

I definitely have always had trouble with this. Part of it may be due to my lack of awareness of my appearance, which may be due to both blindness and autism. However, the fact that I don’t always shower or brush my teeth regularly, certainly isn’t.

I have always had trouble with proper personal care. When I was about fourteen, my high school tutor got complaints from my classmates that I smelled a lot of body odor. He told me I really had to develop a personal hygiene routine, but didn’t explain how to go about it. He was my PE teacher and said that he personally showerd twice a day. So I initially thought I had to do that as well, so the next day, I jumped in the bath at 6AM. My parents were not amused. With my parents, I finally agreed on a routine of baths or showers three days a week, on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings. That way, if I went to school, it’d never be more than 48 hours since I’d had a shower or bath.

My parents still didn’t explain how to wash myself. Honestly, now that I’m 33, I still get told by my husband at times that I don’t do it properly.

The problem of course wasn’t just that my parents didn’t teach me. After all, presumably my sister knows all about hygiene. It was also that I had an aversion against personal hygiene activities. Here is where my mental health is involved. Like, I have executive functioning issues on the best of days, making a “simple” shower very difficult. When I’m depressed, I cannot cope with the stress of having to shower.

My lack of self-care wasn’t even picked on when I was first assessed by a psychiatrist. Maybe he did notice I smelled, or maybe that particular day my body odor wasn’t too bad or I’d had a shower. If he did notice, he didn’t tell me so or write it in the report. Neither did any of the next so many psychiatrists and psychologists I had. I only found out that my psychologist at the resocialization unit in Nijmegen had noticed because it was written in my long-term care application at the time, that I didn’t get to see until we applied again last year.

As for brushing my teeth, I hated toothpaste. I still do, but at age 18, finally forced myself to use it. I never brushed my teeth properly until I got an electric toothbrush for my birthday this year. Now I’m still not sure I do it right, but I at least brush for the required two minutes. Interestingly, the elctric toothbrush is less horrible sensorially than the handheld one.

I find it interesting that, though lack of personal hygiene is part of an assessment of mental functioning, so few mental health practitioners take the time to discuss it with their patients. Like, when I was in the mental hospital, no-one offered to teach me personal hygiene. Not even when the dentist recommended I get help brushing my teeth. They said it was my responsibility. I really hope that, when I’m in a care facility for people with developmental disabilities, that will change.

I Was Taught to Believe…

That, if I didn’t have my parents’ support, I had no-one’s and I would never get anyone’s support. “You are socially inept,” my mother said, “and you got it from us.”

This exchange happened in late April of 2006, when I had just been kicked out of my parents’ house. Not that I still lived with them, and not that I was ever planning on doing so again, but my parents made it very clear that they would no longer support me. I don’t even mean financially, but practically and emotionally.

What had I done to deserve this? I had told them I was delaying going to university one more year. I wasn’t giving up on it. I was still going to meet their expectations of me that I become a university student, grad student, Ph.D., professor, you name it.

And then I didn’t. In the fall of 2007, while attending the university I had originally been meant to go to in 2006, I gradually fell apart and was ultimately admitted to the psychiatric hospital. Though I was discharged in 2017, I never went back to university.

Though my parents and I are still in limited contact, I know I don’t genuinely have their support. Not emotionally. I mean, I see them twice a year, talk to them on the phone about once a month and get €1000 at the end of the year to spend on new technology mostly. I don’t know whether this will remain the same when I go into long-term care (or when they find out about it). And I’m not sure whether I care. They aren’t the type to stop talking to me at funerals or the like and I don’t really need their money or birthday presents or phone chatter, though they’re nice. I won’t go no contact, but if they decide to abandon me, that’s their choice.

Because, though I was taught that without my parents, I had no-one, this isn’t true. I met my husband in the fall of 2007. You know, the fall that was supposed to be the start of my academic career and ended up being the catalyst to my getting a life of my own. My husband supported me through the psychiatric hospital years. He supports me through the years we live together. I trust that he’ll support me through the coming years when I’m in long-term care. I may be socially inept, but that doesn’t mean no-one will support me. Love me even.

This post was written for V’J.’s Weekly Challenge. V.J. challenges us to think about the untrue things we were led to believe as children or in other dysfunctional relationships.

Working On Us Prompt: Suicide and Suicidal Thoughts

I have lots of things I want to write about, and yet all I do is sit behind my computer and try to figure out which feed reader would be best (or least bad) on my Windows PC. I’ve yet to make a final decision, but I’m frustrated with it for now.

I’m joining in with Beckie’s Working On Us Prompt again. This time, the topic of discussion is suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.

As regular readers of my blog know, I do experience suicidal ideation on a regular basis. I have in fact lived with re-occurring suicidal ideation ever since the age of seven or so. My most severe suicidal break however was in 2007, when I was 21. Ironically, my parents thought that, since I had had suicidal thoughts on and off ever since age seven, I must not be serious and it all must just be “for attention”. Well, let me be very clear on this: suicidal thoughts are no fun and, if they ever happen “for attention”, there probably is a very good reason the sufferer is seeking attention.

I had never attempted suicide when I had my break in 2007. This break too involved “just” threats. However, it doesn’t mean I wasn’t genuinely struggling. I genuinely thought death was my only option. Same when, in 2002, I wrote a goodbye letter but had no idea how to go about actually taking the final step. People commonly say that, if you truly want to end it all, you will and, if a suicide attempt fails, it must not have been serious. That’s not necessarily true. People die from impulsive suicide attempts and people who’ve tried to kill themselves many times and are adamant they want to die, may still be alive.

In 2007, I was hospitalized, because my suicidal ideation was so serious that I needed help for it. That is, because I was suicidal due to be overwhelmed living independently and going to university, it helpd already to be taken out of the situation. That doesn’t mean my suicidal thoughts were gone immediately. That took at least three months and they’ve returned frequently since.

I did not actually get much help overcoming my suicidal thoughts. When I was on the locked unit, I had no therapy and no medication other than PRN oxazepam. I started therapy at the resocialization unit, but it was mostly just supportive.
In 2017, after my discharge from the psychiatric hospital, I made two suicide attempts by overdosing on medication. I am hesitant to call them suicide attempts, because both were impulsive and I’m not sure my intent was to die. I was most definitely depressed though. My suicide attempts were “for attention”, yes, but I had a very valid reason to seek attention.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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