Life Skills I Struggle With As a Multiply-Disabled Person

Earlier today, Ann Hickman wrote an interesting list of ten life skills she is teaching her autistic teenager. As a teen, I missed out on most of these lessons she mentioned, leading to a big gap in my skills as well as my awareness of them.

Of course, lack of education isn’t the only reason autistics and otherwise disabled people may struggle with life skills. I struggle with many of them due to lack of energy, executive functioning issues and other things.

Today, I am sharing life skills I struggle with and why.

1. Personal hygiene. I remember vividly my sister gave me a deodorant for my fourteenth birthday as a hint. I didn’t get it. I wasn’t taught about hygiene much beyond childhood, but even if I were, I didn’t grasp the concept.

Similarly, because we had a bath at my parents’ house, I didn’t learn to properly shower. I didn’t know until a few years back that you’re supposed to use body wash when showering each time.

Other personal care tasks, I simply cannot do due to my physical limitations. I cannot clip my nails, for instance. I know some other blind people (presumably without physical disabilities) can, but other blind people I know go to the pedicurist for this.

2. Meal preparation. While in the training home, I tried for weeks to learn to put peanut butter or jelly on my bread without success. My mother can’t do it blindfolded either. My father can, but he assembles all his supplies around him in a very structured manner.

To be honest, I never had to prepare my breakfast or lunch before going into the training home, as we didn’t eat breakfast at my parents’ home and my lunch was always packaged by my mother (or I’d eat a sausage roll at the cafeteria).

There are probably ways I could prepare my own meals if I really need to. I mean, when living on my own, I just ate plain bread without toppings. However, I prefer my staff prepare it for me.

3. Cleaning. This is a difficult task for most blind people, but it can be done. I can dust my desk and table with minimal help if I’m reminded to do so. However, I can’t vacuum or mop the floors. I learned both, but with each house having a different way it’s set up, it’s very hard to find my way around it with a mop or vacuum cleaner.

What I struggle with most with respect to cleaning, is remembering how often each task needs to be done and actually organizing them. For example, in the training home, I’d clean the top of the doors each week despite no-one ever touching them. On the other hand, I’d procrastinate about changing my bed sheets, sometimes leaving them on for months.

4. Getting around. Ann mentions navigation for a reason: regardless of high-tech solutions to help people navigate, they still need to learn to use maps or to use public transportation. For me as a blind person, mobility was always more important, as it additionally involved safe white cane travel. I never mastered this, even with seven years of mobility training in special education and many more lessons once out of special ed. I only recently learned that more blind, neurodivergent people struggle with white cane usage.

Currently, I can for the most part move around inside the care home by myself, but I cannot at all get around outside without a sighted guide. My parents used to blame this on lack of motivation. While I am pretty sure this, as well as anxiety, does play a part, it is also about other things. Besides, lack of motivation is not the same as laziness. In my case, it feels as though the activity of independent travel overloads me cognitively to the point where I feel incapacitated.

I am assuming Ann’s son is “just” autistic, whereas I am multiply-disabled: autistic, blind and mildly physically impaired. However, with this article, I want to make it clear that there are many reasons a disabled teen or young adult might struggle with life skills and, for this reason, many different approaches to supporting them.

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday
loopyloulaura

Living With Sleep Disturbances

On Monday, I wrote about my relationship with the night. Today, I saw that the topic for Tale Weaver this week is sleep. I thought I’d use this opportunity to expand on Monday’s post a little and write about my various sleep issues. After all, being a night owl is one thing. Experiencing significant sleep disturbances is quite another.

First, there is of course plain old insomnia. I talked about this on Monday mostly. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a lot of trouble falling asleep. Once I was asleep, staying asleep usually wasn’t that hard, except during times of significantly elevated stress.

Then there was the opposite. I honestly don’t think I ever truly suffered with hypersomnia, but there were definitely times I slept far more than I should have. These were often times of low stimulation. IN other words, I was bored to the point of sleeping.

Then there are these sleep disturbances that I cannot really classify and, since I haven’t been to a doctor with them at this point, neither can anyone else. I get really weird half-awakening states where it feels as if I’m doing something for which I should clearly be awake, only to realize later on that I wasn’t doing anything at all and was just half-awake thinking of doing something. With this come weird sensations, almost like hallucinations, too. These half-awakenings currently are very scary. I’ve heard they might be a sign of sleep paralysis, but I don’t think I experience the actual inability to move upon waking up that comes with it.

Then there are nightmares. I don’t get your standard child’s monster-under-your-bed nightmares. Neither do I get violent nightmares usually. In this sense, my nightmares don’t fit the criterion for PTSD. Then again, probably neither does most of my trauma, as most of it was mental and emotional abuse. Rather, I get nightmares that relate to my anxieties, such as of being kicked out of the care facility.

With these half-awakenings and my nightmares, it’s no wonder that sleep often invades my day-time life and vice versa. I find that nightmares often seem to go after me during the day and half-awakenings scare me too. This in turn contributes to a fear of going to sleep, which contributes to insomnia.

One sleep disorder I need to mention here, which I thankfully don’t have, is non-24-hour circadian rhythm disorder. This is common in totally blind individuals and occurs because our natural biological clocks seem not to co-occur with exactly the 24-hour clock of a day. This is corrected in people with some vision by the perception of light and dark, which regulates melatonin production. I have hardly any light perception left, but thankfully my sleep-wake cycle does not seem to be affected as of yet.

What It Was Like Being a Patient on a Psychiatric Ward #31Days2021 #Blogtober21

I’m still not too inspired to write. Today’s optional prompt for #31Days2021 is “patient”. Obviously, most people will write about “patient” as in the adjective derived from patience. I won’t. I want instead to share what it was like being a patient in a psych hospital.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I spent 9 1/2 years in a mental hospital between 2007 and 2017. I spent my first sixteen months on the locked ward. This is pretty much as I imagined it before I entered the psych system myself: floridly psychotic patients screaming and exhibiting other erratic behavior, staff running around trying to control it. Like I said yesterday, I witnessed people being secluded and being forcibly medicated several times. I was an informally admitted patient, so I couldn’t be subjected to any form of restraint. This isn’t to say it didn’t happen, as I said.

The staff/patient ratio at my ward was around 1:5 during the day. This means there’s not much time for staff to keep regular tabs on what patients are up to if they aren’t kicking up a fuss. I, in fact, at one point got told I would be put into time-out if I “needed more care than we can provide”.

After those sixteen months, I transferred to an open resocialization unit and later another open ward. The staff/patient ratio there was around 1:10, sometimes even less. As a result, patients had to help one another out sometimes.

On the locked ward, I had treatment plan reviews once every six weeks. This was because the ward was basically a crisis intervention/stabilization unit, where officially you could stay a maximum of six months. I must say there wasn’t much in the way of therapy. Of course, most patients admitted to this unit, suffered with psychotic disorders, for which the main treatment is medication. For me, it was decided I just had to figure out a place to go after pulling myself out of the worst crisis and, for this reason, I had mostly contact with the social worker.

On the resocialization unit, I did get psychotherapy. This was where I was diagnosed with (complex) PTSD and dissociative identity disorder in addition to autism. Thing is, once I moved to the other ward, these diagnoses were all removed. It was decided I was just care seeking and dependent and needed to be kicked out of the hospital.

We did have day activities most days on each psych unit. However, not all patients were able to participate. I, for one, usually was not.

In summary, my entire psychiatric hospital stay was one lengthy journey of changing diagnoses, social workers who tried to find me a place to live but had a very narrow view of what I needed, limited nursing support and hardly any day activities. I did start two of my three current daily psych meds while in the hospital. However, I must say, looking back, I hardly made any progress during those 9 1/2 years.

Time-Out Rooms, Comfort Rooms, Snoezelen® Rooms: Special Care Rooms in Mental Health and Disability Services #31Days2021 #Blogtober21

Today, I’m not feeling too inspired. The optional word prompt for the 31-day writing challenge is “Comfort”. For some reason, probably the fact that I’ve been experiencing a lot of flashbacks to my time in the mental hospital lately, I was immediately reminded of comfort rooms. Then I thought, maybe I could use this post to raise some awareness of the different kinds of special care rooms used in mental health and disability services.

Back in my early days in the mental hospital in 2007, seclusion or isolation was pretty commonly the only intervention used, maybe in combination with forced medication, on disruptive patients. I was initially admitted to the locked ward only because the open ward had no available beds. During my first night in the hospital, I heard a lot of screaming and was later told that the staff “handled it appropriately”. Another patient told me that the screaming patient pretty much lived in the seclusion room. I was pretty scared out of my mind.

Once moved from my parents’ city hospital to my own city’s locked ward, I again experienced seclusion as a witness repeatedly. The ward I stayed on, was the less restrictive locked ward, so it didn’t have isolation rooms. Rather, ours were called time-out rooms, but that didn’t make them any better to be honest.

I experienced one hour forced time-out once, three months into my mental hospital stay. After that though, it was used as a threat repeatedly. This, for clarity’s sake, is illegal: seclusion can only be used to avert danger, not as punishment.

About three years into my mental hospital stay, some wards, particularly locked wards, started deconstructing their seclusion rooms and repurposing them as “comfort rooms”. A comfort room in theory looked nicer, as it had soft toys in it and maybe some special lighting. However, them being repurposed seclusion rooms did mean they still had the vibe of isolation about them. Indeed, the few times I was sent to the locked ward for a time-out once at the open resocialization ward, I spent my time in the “comfort room”. This did not feel comforting at all.

My last psych ward, which I spent four years on between 2013 and 2017, had both a comfort room and a time-out room. This comfort room was indeed actually comforting. There was an essential oil diffuser, a CD player, comfy couch and a few other things. What made it different though was the fact that you couldn’t be locked up into it. If you were to be locked up, it’d have to be in the time-out room.

At the end of my psych hospital stay, I first learned about snoezelen®. This, like I’ve explained before, is a method of helping people with significant intellectual or developmental disabilities by modulating their entire sensory environment. I wanted to experience what a snoezelen® room would be like. My psych hospital had an intellectual disability unit with a room like this, but my psychologist refused to let me visit it, claiming I’m far too capable for this type of activity. I stood my ground and got a place at my first day center with my current agency, which did have a snoezelen® room.

When I was at my first day center with my current care agency, the snoezelen® room was sometimes used as a time-out room for me, in that I was forced to go in there when I was irritable and not allowed to come out. Though the door couldn’t be locked, it did feel intensely triggering to me. It is one reason I still struggle to be in my current day center’s snoezelen® room if no staff is present.

Of course, I must say here that an old-fashioned time-out room has hardly any furniture: just a bed and a stool, both attached to the floor, as well as a toilet made of metal. The seclusion room the screaming patient from my first night in the hospital was locked into, was likely even worse. Comfort and snoezelen® or other sensory rooms are much better. Still, the idea that someone can be put into solitary confinement against their will, is rather disturbing if you ask me.

Total Blindness

A few weeks ago, the topic of MindloveMisery’s Menagerie’s Tale Weaver was the loss of the sense of hearing. I was secretly hoping for a tale weaver on its visual counterpart to come up and my wish was granted today: today we’re asked to weave a tale about a character who’s blind. It doesn’t necessarily have to be fiction or so I believe.

As most of my readers know, I have always been legally blind. I at best had around 20/800 visual acuity in both eyes, although I claimed to have 20/400 for a long while. By the time I was eight or nine and was pretty much given up on vision-wise by my doctors and parents, I had roughly 20/1000 vision in my left eye at best and my right eye was even worse. For those who have no clue what visual acuity means in daily life, I was able to see someone raise their hand at one meter’s distance but not count their fingers.

Even so, I didn’t consider myself functionally blind until I was thirteen and transferred from special education to a mainstream setting where I was the only person with a visual impairment. There, there was no point in accentuating my tiny bit of vision, since compared to my peers, I was as blind as a bat.

To this day though, I find it hard to accept the fact that, in essence, I’m now totally blind. I only started considering this possibility after my most recent visual screening at the blindness agency, which revealed that I only have a small window of light perception left in the central part of my left eye’s visual field. For those unaware, light perception is the ability to detect the presence of the eye doctor’s flashlight, but notably not the ability to detect what direction it is coming from (that would be light projection). In other words, I am no longer able to tell where a window or other light source is located within my visual field or even whether there is a light source present if I’m not directly looking at it.

Since I always had some residual vision, no matter how little, I have always wondered what total blindness would look like. One day in fifth grade, one of my support staff told us about having been blind for two weeks due to some disease and it not looking like darkness at all. Other blind people have asked rhetorically: “Does your forehead see darkness?” No, of course it doesn’t.

Like I said, I was given up on by the eye doctors when I was eight or nine. For this reason, I didn’t have regular visual check-ups. I had one in 2005 at the blindness rehabilitation center and then again in 2013 in preparation for cataract surgery. In 2005, I had light perception and some level of environmental light awareness in both eyes. By 2013, I had gone completely, totally blind in my right eye. However, I was unaware of this until the optometrist tested my light perception in both eyes.

Since being made aware that I’m totally blind in one eye, I’ve tried to cover my left eye to see what total blindness looks like. I seriously don’t get a clue. In fact, the closest I come is that blindness, indeed, is the absence of any sight at all, including the sight of darkness.

This does make me think that, when (I’m pretty sure it’s “when”, not “if”) I’ll have lost that last tiny bit of light perception in my left eye, I won’t be aware of it at all for a while. It terrifies me.

My Medication Musings: Abilify

It’s been a while since I last did a post on my medications. Today I’m writing about the medication I’ve been on the longest: aripiprazole (Abilify). I’ve been taking this second-generation antipsychotic for over ten years.

When I first got prescribed Abilify in 2010, I had been on no psychotropic medications except for PRN oxazepam for over two years. I was having a lot of meltdowns though and the staff at the psych hospital couldn’t adequately care for me. I was sent to the locked ward for a time-out shortly before starting on Abilify.

When my psychiatrist proposed this medication, he made a pun about the drug’s name by saying it makes things a little easier. I didn’t like that, but agreed to take a low dose of Abilify anyway. I started at 5mg a day.

Within half a year, I had had my dose upped to 15mg a day. I did pretty well on that moderate maintenance dose for several years, until I moved to another hospital. There, the staff/client ratio was lower and besides, staff weren’t as willing to accommodate for my needs. I quickly had to up my dose again to eventually 30mg a day.

I wasn’t so sure I wanted to go beyond 15mg, as most clinical guidelines recommend a higher dose for acute mania or psychosis only. My new psychiatrist disagreed and seemed to have no interest in lowering my dose once I had upped it. For this reason, I’m still on 30mg a day.

When I first came here, I expressed a wish to lower my dosage once I’d settled into the care facility. The intellectual disability physician for my facility as well as my psychiatric nurse practitioner recommended I wait at least six months. I’ve now been in the care facility for a year, but haven’t felt comfortable asking to be tapered yet.

Now I must say I don’t experience any of the more major side effects, such as akathisia (a form of physical restlessness). I however do feel slightly sedated.

I also feel that the medication’s effect has worn off over the years. I recently learned that your neurotransmitter receptors overgrow when you’ve been on psychotropic drugs for a long while. At least, that seems to be the case for the dopamine D2 receptor, the one Abilify mainly acts on. Recommended action is lowering the dosage or trying another medication. I will definitely raise this issue with my nurse practitioner.

As a side note, like I said, I had my dosage upped once I moved to a psych ward with a lower staff/client ratio and less willingness to accommodate my needs. This is not an appropriate reason for medication increases, but I didn’t know what else to do.

My Medication Musings: Phenergan

It’s been a while since I last did a post talking about one of my medications. Today, I want to talk about one I’ve not used in a while: promethazine or Phenergan.

Phenergan was the first PRN medication I got prescribed while in the mental hospital. I remember clearly the state of mind I was in. I had been irritable for most of the afternoon and finally burned my hand using boiling water. This act of self-harm got the nursing staff to fetch the physician. I apparently had a smile on my face when I disclosed my having self-harmed, so he said there was nothing to laugh about. Obviously not, but I struggled to express my emotions. He offered me a PRN medication. I’d heard of Phenergan before and what I’d heard about it from autistic people, wasn’t good. However, I still agreed to take it.

Phenergan, for those not familiar with it, is a low-potency classic neuroleptic. It is currently mostly used as an antihistamine to treat allergies and such.

That evening, I was totally wiped out from the effects of the medication. I just lay on the couch or in bed feeling stoned out of my mind. That was what I needed at that point.

After that, unfortunately, I was prescribed oxazepam as my default PRN medication. Some years later though, I got prescribed Phenergan again after I’d pretty much exhausted all benzodiazepine options.

Unfortunately, by then, Phenergan did nothing. I only took it to make myself and others feel like I was doing something about my distress. At one point, my new psychiatrist once I was living with my husband, even suggested I swap it for a vitamin C pill so that I would still have the placebo effect but not the side effects. Not that I was having any side effects.

A few months later, however, I took an overdose of Phenergan that landed me in the general hospital. That was when I decided not to request a refill of the Phenergan. I by that time had lorazepam, which worked some but of course had the addictiveness as a negative. However, I’m not supposed to take PRN medications regularly anyway.

My Medication Musings: Risperdal

I started this should-have-been-series a long time ago, but never got beyond the first post. Today I’m not very inspired to write, but I want to write something anyway, so I am deciding to continue with my medication musings. The medication I’m covering today, is the first daily medication I was evver prescribed.

Risperdal, which is now sold under its generic name risperidone, is an atypical antipsychotic. It was approved by the U.S. FDA for use against irritability in autistic children in 2006. I was not a child when I was prescribed Risperdal in 2007, but I was definitely irritable and autistic.

I remember very clearly when I saw a psychiatrist I’d never met before and who may or may not have read up on my psychiatric history on July 25, 2007. She had a strong Flanders accent. My CPN had referred me to her after my staff at the independence training home called her because I had been very irritable of late. Looking back, it’s no wonder, since I was due to move out of the home and into independent living the next week. But my staff were desperate and so was I.

My CPN had suggested a sleeping medicationor tranquilizer, as I was also sleeping very poorly. Not that the psychiatrist agreed, since when I reported how many hours of sleep I got at a later phone consultation, she said that wasn’t worrysome. The psychiatrist listend to my symptoms and suggested Risperdal.

I agreed without much further questioning. That evening, I wrote a blog post saying antipsychotics in autistics are a matter of really well-informed consent. The post was a response to the general consensus at the time among vocal autistics that antipsychotics should never be considered.

Looking back, while I don’t feel that antipsychotics are completely off limits for autistics – I still take one -, I do agree with another notion from said vocal autistics: psychiatric medication is no substitute for proper support. And yet, at the time, there was no convincing my staff that I shouldn’t move into independent living, so I felt I had no other option if I wanted to have somewhat of a life worth living.

And yet, I was scared. When, after two days, I started experiencing palpitations, I was extremely anxious. It happened on a Friday night when my staff were already gone. Don’t ask me how I got through that night. The next morning, I rang the out-of-hours GP, who recommended I stop taking the medication for a few days and consult my psychiatrist on Monday. Said psychiatrist didn’t believe that this could be a Risperdal side effect or I’d have experienced the palpitations right from the start. So back I was on Risperdal.

I was on a low dose of 0.5mg twice a day. My psychiatrist was in the training home’s city, so when I moved the next week, I had no psychiatrist nearby. My GP ended up prescribing my medication. When I complained to both the training home city psychiatrist and my new GP about continuing palpitations, both dismissed me. The psychiatrist even suggested I up my dose. I refused.

Because of the abrupt change in my living situation soon after starting Risperdal, I had no idea whether it was working. I was still experiencing a lot of meltdowns.

After two months, I took myself off of the medication. I more or less informed my GP, because she was really against me going off of it. I probably lowered my dose way too quickly, going from 1mg a day to 0.5mg for a week and then stopping altogether.

We will never be sure whether Risperdal worked for me, as I never went back on it. However, three weeks after stopping the medication, I started to spiral down into crisis and had to be hospitalized four days later. The crisis service psychiatrist didn’t say a thing about me having discontinued Risperdal.

An interesting thing I need to note, is the fact that Risperdal is notorious for increased appetite and weight gain. However, I experienced the opposite if anything. This could’ve been due to stress though.

My Medication Musings: Celexa

Like I said last week when participating in Working On Us, I wanted to write a series of posts on the medications I’ve been on. I won’t promise this will be anything like a regular feature. However, today I saw that Medication Monday over at The Dark Tales Project is about a medication I currently take: Celexa. I already wrote several posts on this medication in the past, so may be repeating myself. Let me share though.

I was first prescribed Celexa in September of 2010. At the time, I had just finished a book whose title translates to Prozac Monologues, which was about the positives and mostly negatives of antidepressants. I didn’t really care. One comment I remember, by one of the pro-Prozac people, was that she’d become nicer on antidepressants. That comment was on my mind when my psychiatrist suggested Celexa and boy did I hope it’d do this for me. I was a definite bitch! The saying that depression makes you feel as though you’re not okay and neither is anyone else, definitely related to me.

The thing is though, I wasn’t sure I was depressed. No proper assessment of my mental state preceded my being prescribed Celexa. Yes, I was irritable and no amount of tranquilizers or antipsychotics could help that. But is that depression? Would Celexa help?

As it turned out, it helped a little with that. I felt a little calmer, a little nicer on the medication. I never asked my husband to comment on the level of my irritability and can’t remember for sure whether he ever made any positive comment on it. If at all, that must’ve been in 2018, when my dosage got increased.

I actually wasn’t diagnosed with depression till 2017. At the time, my irritability was one symptom that prompted the psychologist to diagnose me with major depression. I’m pretty sure I have persistent depressive disorder (formerly known as dysthymia) too though, but I don’t think I’m currently even diagnosed with any mood disorder at all.

It took another year before my Celexa dosage finally got increased to first 30mg and then my current dosage of 40mg.

I was very irritable at the time of seeking my psychiatrist’s help with my depression. I was also most definitely depressed, in that I didn’t have much energy or motivation for anything. As is known for Celexa and other SSRIs, the medication caused my energy to go up first before actually helping with my mood. My mood however did eventually lift. I am pretty sure that, had it not been for Celexa, I would’ve sank deep into depression during the long process of applying for long-term care.

But the story isn’t all positive. Aside from the side effects, Celexa (and Abilify) took only the edge off of my irritability. I’m in fact noticing it getting worse again. I’m not exactly sad, but I’m most definitely pretty negativistic lately. I’m not sure why. I mean, maybe it’s something to do with the lack of an over-the-moon sense of relief at going into long-term care. Or maybe it’s the other way around and my negativistic state prevented that. I’m not sure.

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.