An F in Phys Ed

One of Mama Kat’s writing prompts for this week is whether you played sports as a child and if so, to share a memorable game. I never played sports outside of school. That is, I attended one gymnastics class with my sister and a friend of hers at around age eight. I didn’t enjoy it one bit, despite normally liking gymnastics in physical education classes.

I was, to put it plainly, horrible at sports. Any sports. While gymnastics was my favorite part of physical education, it was more because I hated team sports and athletics even more.

At the school for the blind I attended for grades four to six, I was always picked last. Not just because of my lack of athletic capacity, but also because I was the only girl in my class. I don’t blame my classmates though.

When I attended mainstream high school, my phys ed teacher was also my tutor. He was great at accommodating me up to a point. For example, he let me run with a buddy. Of course, I was the slowest runner of the entire class. Looking back, I like to blame my mild cerebral palsy, but I still struggle to figure out what is due to that and what is simply due to my being fat. Not that I was fat at the time, but I wasn’t skinny either.

In my second year in this school, I hadn’t had any failing grades until sometime in February. My classmates complained that I got it easier than them, because for example I’d get extra time on tests. Whether this motivated my phys ed teacher or not, I’ll never know. We had to do gymnastics, a particular swing on the rings. I couldn’t really see what everyone else did, but I tried my best. And failed. My teacher explained to my father that I might’ve done the best I could, but he couldn’t possibly justify giving me a passing grade.

Like I said, he was my tutor. He almost took pride in being the first to give me a failing grade that year. Except that he wasn’t. That same week, I’d gotten an F in Greek too. That one was definitely justified, as at the time I didn’t face any barriers to learning basic Greek that my classmates didn’t.

From the next year on, I started going to a gym instead of following regular PE classes. I, after all, would never be able to attain the level of physical ability required for higher secondary school sports. I continued to attend the gym regularly throughout high school and for the first several years after.

Mama’s Losin’ It

Places I and My Family Have Lived

Today, I once again looked to a book of journaling prompts for inspiration for a blog post. One of the prompts in the first chapter of Journal Writing Prompts for Child Abuse Survivors is to list all the places you’ve lived. There may not be any need to elaborate on them, but I am going to share my thoughts and feelings that come up. For this post, I’m just going to talk about the houses I lived in with my parents. Otherwise, this post is going to be way too long.

First up is my parental house in Rotterdam. My parents bought the house a year before I was born. To be quite honest, I have very few memories of this house, even though I lived there until I was nine. I do remember my and my sister’s bedroom, which had a bunk bed in it. My sister slept at the top and I slept at the bottom.

I don’t remember most other rooms in the house. I know my parents must have had a bedroom, but I can’t remember its location relative to the kids’ bedroom.

I do remember the garden. It was small, but still big enough to play in. It had swings and a sandpit. I loved to play here with my childhood friend Kim.

I also remember the neighborhood. I played in the “thick street”, a square bit of pavement between two blocks of houses. I also often went to the playground across the road from there. When I had lost some of my vision at around age eight, I felt too scared to cross the road.

Like I said, I lived here until I was nine. Then, my family and I moved to Apeldoorn. We moved to a quiet neighborhood. The house we moved into, had a large kitchen-diner and a living room downstairs. We called the living room the “library” because it housed my mother’s huge book collection. Upstairs where three bedrooms, two large and one very small. One was my parents’ bedroom. The small room was my mother’s office, while the other large bedroom was my father’s.

My sister and I each had a bedroom in the attic. I remember not wanting to have my own bedroom at first, probably because I was used to my sister’s company when going to sleep. I eventually grew to like it though. I had the same bed for all of the years I lived here, one of the original bunk beds. My sister claims I got hers and she got mine after the move.

The other two smaller rooms in the attic were a laundry room and a guest bedroom.

We had a large garden. The first summer we lived here, my paternal grandma gifted us a wooden play set that had swings and climbing equipment. I could be found on the swings many hours each dry day until I was at least fourteen.

During the first few years that I lived in this house, I loved exploring the neighborhood. It had at least four playgrounds within a five-minute walking distance from my home. I would often roam about trying to find new playgrounds farther and farther off. When I lost more of my vision at around age twelve, that mostly stopped. Besides, of course I was too old for playgrounds then. I still went to the nearby shopping center regularly, often getting lost on my way.

I generally really liked the house in Apeldoorn. When my parents were trying to sell it and my husband and I were looking for a home, my parents initially offered it for rent to us. We however had the provision that it’d go off the market for a while. Of course, this wasn’t really reasonable. My parents sold the house in December of 2013. I am glad in a way now that they did, as now I have no need to be reminded of the house and my childhood when I don’t want to be.

When I Was Fifteen

One of Mama Kat’s writer’s workshop prompts for this week is to explain how a parent or sibling would’ve described you at the age of fifteen. What an interesting thing that Mama Kat should mention age fifteen!

I turned fifteen in June of 2001. By August, looking back, I was close to insane mentally. This was the summer when I first realized I had alters inside of me, although I didn’t know what they were at the time. I just heard some type of voices that were and at the same time weren’t mine.

Neither my parents nor my younger sister knew this at the time. Still, they did realize something was up, if for no other reason, then because I didn’t care about school. I had always been a pretty studious kind of child, but this changed by November or December of 2001.

In addition, I was a rather angry, moody child. I had suffered from depression on and off since age seven or so, but it was particularly bad at age fifteen. I even made suicide plans several times during that year. My parents, being the type to dismiss mental health issues, felt I was just attention-seeking, of course.

My life turned around in a sort of positive way a few weeks before my sixteenth birthday, although no-one saw either the change or how positive it was at that point. On June 16, 2002, my father called me autistic as an insult. This led me to search the Internet for autism and to discover I may be on the spectrum myself. Although it’d take nearly five more years before I was diagnosed, in part because my parents and teachers didn’t believe me, I see this as a pivotal point in my life.

The day after this, June 17, I finally disclosed to my teacher what had been bothering me over the past year. I sugarcoated it a little, not mentioning the voices or suicidality or autism for that matter. I did tell him I was struggling with being blind in a mainstream school and that I realized I had been less than good of a student lately.

My father, at the time, worked at my school. My teacher told him that I had disclosed something to him, but he refused to tell my father what it was. This led to a really traumatic experience, because my parents demanded to know too and they weren’t kind about it at all. I am pretty sure they just tried to gain fuel for their idea that I was one giant attention-seeker.

Many years later, my parents used many of my struggles at age fifteen to “prove” this very point. I can see their perspective, sort of. Thankfully though, my current professionals don’t go along with it.

Mama’s Losin’ It

A Favorite Childhood Gift

One of Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop prompts is to share about a favorite Christmas gift you received as a child. Here in the Netherlands though, Christmas isn’t that popular for gift-giving. Instead, we celebrate St. Nicholas on December 5. I can’t remember that many gifts I received for St. Nicholas and the entire celebration was one big stressor once I no longer believed in St. Nick. We celebrated it until I was 20 in 2006. Then in 2007 I was in the psych hospital and my parents didn’t want to risk inviting me. That’s how the tradition ended.

The other major gift-receiving opportunity was and still is, of course, my birthday. It is on June 27, so pretty much as far from Christmas as you get it. Still, I’m going to share about a favorite gift I received for my birthday as a child. Mama Kat twisted the prompt too by listing several things, so oh well.

I can’t remember whether I had invited anyone to a birthday party when I turned eleven. After all, I was pretty much friendless at the time. However, I did celebrate it with my family. The main gift I remember getting was a Barbie doll with aerobic attire. I named her Teresa. I loved the doll, even though I knew already that eleven was a little old to play with it.

Later that summer, my mother took me on a “mother-daughter walk”, which was mainly an opportunity for her to tell me the school had recommended I go residential there. She claimed the reason was that I had behavior problems, which she attributed to my having too many toys. I can’t follow that train of thought other than through some idea that I was so spoiled I somehow felt entitled to have tantrums. That wasn’t true, for clarity’s sake. In any case, my mother regretted having given me the Barbie doll.

I cherished Teresa even more from that moment on. When, during the following school year, I’d have a meltdown, my mother would often pack a random number of toys and claim to throw them out. (In reality, she hid them in her room downstairs.)

The followign year, when I turned twelve, I felt so ashamed for still playing with Barbie dolls that I claimed they’d aged with me, so it was okay. Most of the dolls are still with my parents, I think. I think at one point I broke Teresa’s leg though and had to actually throw her out.

Mama’s Losin’ It

A Winter Memory

One of Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop prompts for this week is to share a favorite winter memory. Now I don’t personally like winter. I however have this weird kind of love/hate relationship with it and especially with snow. It looks beautiful, but my already almost nonexistent orientation and mobility skills go out the window entirely when it snows. Still, I am going to share a memory involving snow. It’s not really a cherished memory, but I’d really like to share it.

On Friday, November 25, 2005, the eastern half of the Netherlands was suddenly hit with a big snowstorm. I lived in Apeldoorn in the central-eastern part of the country. During the week, I attended a rehabilitation center for the blind also in Apeldoorn at the time. It was a residential center, because blind people from all over the country went to it. That being said, the center closed on Friday afternoon for the week-end.

The snowstorm started at around noon. I left the center to go to the bus stop for the bus home at around 1PM. I hardly made it to the bus stop, only to find out public transportation had been canceled because of the weather.

I walked back to the center to call a ParaTransit taxi home. They first informed me it might take several hours for the taxi to arrive, then called me to inform me all transportation had been canceled.

By 4PM, my sister offered to come to the center by tandem bike to take me home. This sounded crazy even to me, but she persisted.

I need to add here that, like I said, clients of the center came from all over the country. The day staff were calling the manager by this time to request clients who lived out of city could stay at the center for another day. This would’ve been doable, as the center did have beds for during the rest of the week and the staff offered to get them some takeout food and stay for the night. The manager though refused.

By 4:30, a staff had decided to drive me home. My sister did end up cycling through the snowstorm to the center, but thankfully she didn’t have to make the way back with me on the tandem as well. That would’ve been nearly impossible, as I struggle to put in enough strength to do my part of the biking even in normal weather.

Some clients ended up staying with staff for the night, including blind staff who didn’t really feel comfortable with it. Of course, the manager didn’t take in any clients. Some other clients ended up being taken home by taxis in the evening. One of them made it home to southern Limburg, which is normally about a 2 1/2 hour’s drive, at five o’clock in the morning. The taxi driver ended up hitting the crash barrier on the way back north.

Needless to say the resident council, which I was a member of, filed an official complaint about the manager’s way of handling the situation. The man from southern Limburg was the resident council representative for the broader organization’s client council. He and the clients who’d had to stay with staff, were offered a sheepish apology and some flowers. The staff involved didn’t even get those.

Now that I’ve written this post, I realize November isn’t technically winter. Let’s call this a snowy memory then.

Mama’s Losin’ It

Six Is a Blank

Today, in The 365 Journal for Empaths and Healers, I came across a prompt that asked me what the six-year-old version of me would think about my life today. This is really hard. I have very few direct memories from before the age of around eight. Those I do have, are clouded by the stories my parents told me.

I mean, they said I was a very cheerful, laid-back child before the age of seven. I am pretty sure I wasn’t. Lisel (formerly Little), my 5-year-old insider, holds some very distressing memories. These concern both my time at the mainstream school Kindergarten and my time in hospital at the age of four.

Then six is a blank. I do have a six-year-old insider, but she most likely formed much later. Same for seven. Suzanne is seven, but she only feels she has to grow up too quickly.

To be honest, yes, six is a complete blank. While I do have some memories of age five and seven, I don’t have any of the year I was six. I know I transferred to the school for the visually impaired about six weeks before my sixth birthday. I know I laid the first stone for a new care home for visually impaired children just before my sixth birthday. Then I remember learning Braille with giant dots, but that wasn’t till age seven.

I am tempted to think six was uneventful. Then again, when I was asked to recall a memory from age four for an interview at age seven, I didn’t mention going to Kindergarten, being in hospital or any such to an adult significant events. Instead, I recalled my getting my favorite doll at age three. It isn’t that significant events just aren’t stored in a child’s memory, since a classmate was very clear about the year he developed a brain tumor and lost his sight. Could it be I dissociated at such an early age already? Or does this mean my going to mainstream school, being in hospital etc. just didn’t have the impact I think they had now? I’m not sure.

The Kindness of Strangers

Okay, it’s past 2:30AM and I just said I wasn’t going to blog right now, but CrunchityFrog’s prompt for today (well, yesterday) has me thinking. This is supposed to be a daily prompt thing, so I might join in more often. Anyway, the prompt is to write about the kindness of strangers.

I’ve probably written many times already about overbearing, intrusive strangers. Particularly when I was a teen, I didn’t realize that my autistic behavior (of which I was unaware that it was autistic) combined with my blindness often caused people concern. I am more appreciative of people’s attempts, even awkward ones, to help now. That probably changed on the evening of November 2, 2007.

Okay, I’ve shared the story of my mental crisis probably more often than anyone cares to know. Today I’d like to focus on the kindness of the people who helped me stay alive and safe.

As regular readers of my blog will know, I was in a suicidal crisis that evening. I had left the training home I was a former resident of and had hoped to find safety in, because I was told the staff had no responsibility for me and I was to leave.

I took the bus to the city’s train station, talking into my former care coordinator’s voicemail. I told her I was going to take my life that night. I was completely unaware that people could hear me until a woman across the aisle from me started to talk to me. She told me that the bus driver had heard me, which initially only caused greater panic. She kept saying over and over again that he was getting help for me. (“Help”, of course, came in the form of the police, as is customary here in the Netherlands if someone’s safety is in question.) I was in utter shock, constantly crying and very overwhelmed. I am forever grateful for this woman’s kindness. And of course for the bus driver’s. It most likely, after all, wasn’t within his duty to report his concerns to the police.

Looking back, I realize I rightfully worried random people on the streets many times before and they were kind enough to help. Even if “help” meant to call the police. My parents often felt that people were just stupid, assuming that a blind person shouldn’t be traveling independently. Some were, indeed, but in some cases my parents were stupid, assuming that I was just blind.

Millennium: Growing Up Blind in 2000 #Blogtober20

I’m a bit late to publish my #Blogtober20 post today. Well, not as late as yesterday, but then I already had a post up in the afternoon. Today’s prompt is “Millennium”.

Let’s see… we’re now 20 years into the new millennium, which I realize isn’t even the “new” millennium to some adults right now, as they were born in 2000 or later. I always find it surprising that there are people who will be legally old enough to vote in next year’s national election who weren’t even born when politician Pim Fortuyn was murdered on May 6, 2002. Yeah, I’m getting old!

In 2000, I turned fourteen. I was in my first year at a mainstream grammar school. I had already decided I hated it, but my parents and teachers had decided that, if I failed, I’d fail within the first three months and those were up. Woohoo, my mainstream education was a success! Okay, it was, since I did graduate with pretty good grades in 2005, but yeah.

In January of 2000, I suffered a bad case of the flu. I rarely got the flu back then and still get it only once every five years or so, so I remember. In fact, I’m not 100% sure of this but I think it was my only time being off school sick in my entire grammar school career.

In February, my outreach teacher for the visually impaired came to talk to my classmates. They had already decided they didn’t like me one bit. In fact, when the teacher asked casually what having me, a blind student, in their class evoked in them, they didn’t think of a single positive. They started saying that I was being favored by the teachers. They also resented the need to help me get around. This instilled in me the feeling that I had to make up for my blindness in some way by being extra, well, anything.

I had read a book called Het instituut (which translates to The Institution) by blind comedian Vincent Bijlo in 1998. This book is about a boy who goes to a boarding school for the blind and his teachers constantly instill in him the idea that the “sighted school” is really hard and that he’ll need to compensate for his sight loss. For all I knew, my parents and teachers at the grammar school agreed: I was an inherent burden due to my blindness unless I showed my classmates I was more independent, nicer, more hard-working and in any way better than them. Then when I tried to work hard and got good grades, my classmates decided I must be favored by the teachers.

My idea about myself as an inherent burden on the world around me due to my blindness didn’t change till I went to an international computer camp for the blind in 2002 and discovered the English-language Internet in that same summer. It never completely disappeared though.

Later in the year 2000, my classmates started openly bullying me. Again, my parents and teachers blamed me. I was too dependent, too unsociable, too much of a burden in general. I had ruined the only friendship I had developed (which in hindsight was based on pity mostly) by getting my “friends” an only average grade in a music performance in October. Though these girls didn’t actively bully me, they mostly ignored me.

I realize, looking back, that the attitude towards people with disabilities was generally very hostile back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when I was growing up. I mean, I bullied a girl with a visual and intellectual impairment on the special needs bus to the school for the blind in the late 1990s. Though my parents disapproved of it, both they and my teachers didn’t do much to stop me. When this girl was dying of a brain tumor, my parents even openly criticized her religious parents’ hope that the girl would miraculously survive.

I can only hope that, with more children with significant disabilities being mainstreamed nowadays, that attitudes have changed.

#Blogtober20

A Time I Decided to Speak Up for Myself

The weather has cooled off some, but I’m still somehow lacking motivation to do much. For this reason, I scrolled aimlessly through some journaling prompt books I have in my Kindle app. In one of them, one of the prompts that caught my eye was to recall a time when you spoke up for yourself.

I am usually not one to speak up for myself easily. Especially not when the person I’m needing to advocate to is an authority figure. The memory I’m going to describe involves my last psychologist at the psychiatric hospital.

She was somehow convinced that I have dependent personality disorder. There are good reasons to think so, but her reasons were not among those. To put it bluntly, she thought I misused care.

More importantly than her diagnosis of DPD though was her removing my autism diagnosis that I’d had for nine years. She believed that I could not possibly be autistic because I had a brain bleed as an infant and that instead my diagnosis should be some form of brain injury. She ended up putting hydrocephalus (which I’d developed as a result of the brain bleed) on axis III of the DSM-IV classification and that apparently should suffice in explaining my difficulties. That plus, of course, DPD. Well, it didn’t.

Like I said, I have trouble sticking up for myself. This is indeed a DPD criterion. Honestly I don’t even care whether I might have DPD actually. I can see how I have some traits. But DPD is different from care misuse. And that’s what my psychologist was accusing me of.

So I finally decided to stand up for my rights and demand an independent second opinion. This was extremely hard and my psychologist had been successfully trying to talk me out of it before. Not this time though. In February of 2017, I had an appointment with a clinical neuropsychologist at Radboud university medical center in Nijmegen. Three months later, on my would-be discharge date from the mental hospital, I got my autism diagnosis back.

Autism, of course, doesn’t explain everything I experience. I might have DPD too. And God knows what else. But I don’t misuse care.

My psychologist, interestingly, claimed that I spoke up for myself really well. That’s a rather contradictory statement to the DPD diagnosis. After all, dependents are often seen as passive. I still wonder why she didn’t have the balls to “diagnose” me as a malingerer.

A Trip to Berlin

Fandango has started a new challenge for the month of August and the prompt word for today is Trip. I’m going to write about a train trip my parents, sister and I took to Berlin in 2002.

At the time, you had this bargain called “schönes Wochenende” in Germany, which meant that for just €28, four people could travel all over Germany by train on a Saturday or Sunday. The only catch was that you had to take local railroads.

My parents, sister and I at the time lived in Apeldoorn, Netherlands, which isn’t too far from the German border. So we drove to Bad Bentheim to go on the train. The first train we took, drove us to Osnabrück. Then we took three more trains until we finally arrived at Berlin Hauptbahnhof. The last train we took, I remember, had Frankfurt an der Oder as its final destination. I found that fascinating.

I at the time had train routes as one of my autistic special interests. It was totally awesome learning all about the German local railroads.

The holiday in Berlin itself wasn’t a good experience. I had a lot of meltdowns and was pretty confused. I did like visiting a street called Straße des 17. Juni, because that year on 17 June I had first opened up about my distress that I’d suffered with for years. The street was named after a protest in east Berlin in 1953.

This was, actually, the last trip I took with my parents. The next year, I went to computer camp in Switzerland and the year after that, to blindness skills camp at the country’s training center for blind people. The year after that, I graduated from high school.

I feel pretty sad that I don’t have many memories about the trip to Berlin and the ones I do have, aren’t good. I guess trips rarely were enjoyable for me. That’s probably why I haven’t been on vacation with my husband in six years.