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.

Healing From Childhood Trauma: Progress I’ve Made #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to the #AtoZChallenge, day eight. It’s already nearly 9PM as I start writing this post. I wasn’t home from day activities till 5PM, then had dinner and then drove 50 minutes one way with my husband to pick something up he had bought. On our way back, we stopped by McDonald’s, which was fun.

Anyway, today’s theme is healing. I was inspired to choose this theme by yesterday’s post, in which my final goal was to heal from my childhood trauma. Let me share today how far I’ve come on my journey.

My trauma-based symptoms first became fully apparent in 2009 or 2010. I had moved from a locked acute psych unit to a resocialization unit in early 2009. Once I developed trust in my staff, I apparently felt more ready to uncover the trauma-based conditions I’ve been living with all my life. You see, my trauma started early on and is in some respects ongoing.

When I started to open up about my symptoms, it still took a long time for them to be diagnosed as first dissociative identity disorder and PTSD and later borderline personality disorder. Borderline personality disorder shares a ton of symptoms with complex PTSD and I think that’s what I have.

I have never been in formal trauma therapy. The reason is that, first, it was hard to find a therapist with expertise on DID. Once I’d found one, my diagnosis had been changed and I was assumed to be making it up.

As a result, I’ve done most healing on my own. I got the book Coping with Trauma-Related Dissociation as soon as it came out in 2011. I worked through some of it on my own, but that wasn’t helping much. Talking a lot about my experiences was.

After I’d been talking through my experiences for a long while with my resocialization unit staff, my classic PTSD symptoms started to fade. Unfortunately, they’ve been back to an extent lately. However, my emotion regulation issues are a lot less pronounced.

I still have dissociative symptoms. Accepting them and validating my alters has helped me manage these symptoms.

Since I experience ongoing stress that reminds me of my trauma, I don’t expect to find the peace to fully heal anytime soon. However, I really hope I can continue to make progress.

A Very Validating Experience

As I write this, I deal with a nasty cold that I’ve been feeling come on for a few days but wasn’t willing to accept was coming on. Not that there’s anything I can do about it. Whenever one of us has a cold, my husband always searches the Internet to find out whether they’ve found a cure yet. So far, no luck. I’m not terribly sick as of yet anyway. I think my husband suffers almost more from the weird noises my body makes when I can barely breathe than I do.

A lot has been on my mind lately. I could of course write a gratitude list and devote a sentence or two to each thing. I may do that eventually, but right now, I want to share about a specific experience in more detail.

Last week, we told our staff at day activities about ourselves. We disclosed that we may have dissociative identity disorder (calling it multiple personality) and explained that it’s a trauma-based survival mechanism. The staff member we told was totally fine with it. She actually validated us, saying she’d seen a little come out to her.

Then on Monday this week, we had a flashback while at day activities. A fellow client needs to be given oxygen at times. This reminded one of our littles of the time we needed oxygen as a four-year-old because our trachea had closed up. An adult alter was able to explain this to a staff before the little came out, but then we could no longer keep ourselves from switching and the little popped out.

This little started talking to our staff, the one we’d come out to the week before. She asked to sit on the staff’s lap. We had agreed when we first came out as multiple that this is okay with both the staff and us. It was such a nurturing experience.

Afterwards, an adult did feel the need to check with this staff that it’d been alright with her, but it had been no problem. That’s a good thing about doing day activities at a center for intellectually disabled people. I’m pretty sure that in psychiatric care, we’d not be allowed to express such a “childish” need for affection.

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.

Preverbal Trauma

Today, I wrote in a Facebook group about preverbal trauma. I know for a fact that I endured a lot that could have caused PTSD from birth on. I was born prematurely, spent the first three months of my life in hospital and was hospitalized several more times before the age of five.

About seven or eight years ago, I started experiencing body memories that I immediately associated with a medical emergency that I endured at age four. At the time, my trachea closed up and I as a result had difficulty breathing. I never completely repressed that memory, always knew that it’s something that actually did happen.

So I wonder if I made said association because it makes more sense than connecting the body memory to preverbal trauma. I mean, preverbal trauma is very controversial, because people do not form that clear memories until the age of three. That doesn’t mean people cannot be affected by preverbal trauma. It just means the memory is hard to recover.

I have alters. About six years ago, an alter emerged that is constantly curled up in a fetal position. We don’t know more about her. A seven-year-old alter who also emerged around that same time talks about that alter as a baby in the incubator. Now of course babies in incubators are not in the fetal position, so yeah.

Still, it all makes me wonder whether I’m making all this trauma stuff up. I mean, yes, I was born prematurely. Yes, I spent three months in hospital and had repeated re-admissions before the age of five. But my parents say that until age seven, I was completely fine and carefree. I mean, it’s not like everyone who endured trauma develops PTSD. So could it be I’m just making this whole preverbal trauma thing up?

In a preemie parent support group, I asked whether anyone has experience with their child getting EMDR for medical trauma. I have always wondered whether EMDR could help me. It was recommended when I had just been diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder in 2010. Then I heard it’s not recommended unless you’re very stable otherwise. Well, the consultant I talked with on Monday said that’s no longer the case. So maybe I could benefit from it. Several parents responded about reading their child a “life story” about their birth and hospital stay while the psychologist did the EMDR. Since my parents aren’t very supportive, I cannot ask them to help me with this, but I could create my own life story based on what my alers tell me.

#WeekendCoffeeShare (September 8, 2018)

This week, I’m once again joining in with Weekend Coffee Share. On the surface, I don’t have much to write about, but I’ll try anyway.

If we were having coffee, I’d ask you how you have been. It’s sometimes hard for me to remember this, but when I’m feeling like I’m now, I’d genuinely much rather hear about your day than share about mine. Since I don’t know who will be joining me for coffee, as this is just a writing exercise, this is rather fruitless though.

If we were having coffee, I’d try to share how off I’ve been feeling lately. Most people notice right away, but it’s hard for me to put my finger onto what is going on. I guess I may be in a prolonged freeze mode. This is one of Pete Walker’s four types of trauma responses and it describes a state of dissociation. I’m so disconnected from myself that I can’t even tell who I am right now. I mean, yes, I respond to the name given to me at birth, but I hardly connect that name, or any of y alters’ names, to my current experience.

I don’t know what triggered it. I’m not having flashbacks. I’m not even having memories that aren’t full-blown visual flashbacks. Rather, I retreat into my own inner world with a book. Currently, this is Where Has Mummy Gone? by Cathy Glass. This is a very sad foster care memoir. I know I’m supposed to feel sympathy for the child who is the main character in this memoir and on some level I do, but it’s all very distant.

If we were having coffee, I’d then chatter on about random happenings. I’d share that I did finally go on the elliptical yesterday evening after not having been on it in over a week. I’d share that we had pizza for dinner yesterday. It was salami day or so I’ve heard, so I had a delicious salami pizza.

If we were having coffee, ‘d tell you that yesterday marked 130 years since the first incubator was used for a baby. My mother posted that on my timeline on Facebook last night. Since I was born prematurely and spent time in an incubator myself, this is rather intriguing to me.

If we were having coffee, I’d try to round up the conversation then, because I feel my shoulder hurting badly, so I want to do some exercise.

How is your weekend going so far?

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.