The Staff Have the Key

I have a morbid sense of humor that has sustained me through the darkest times of my life. I remember when I was in a suicidal crisis in 2007, being held at the police station while waiting for the crisis service to assess me, telling the officers how I wasn’t all that creative, since I had thought out only a few ways to die. I think one of the officers tried to distract me by saying that I must be creative, since I have a blog, but I wouldn’t listen.

Once I had been admitted to the psychiatric hospital, locked ward, with no privileges (as they are called) to leave the ward unsupervised by staff, I started to crack jokes. They were rather lame jokes if you ask me, jokes I’d plucked off the Internet, such as those about the differences between the patients and staff on a psychiatric ward. First, the patients get better and leave; second, not all patients believe they’re God; lastly, the staff have the key.


This post was written in response to this week’s Six Sentence Story Link-Up, for which the prompt word is “key”.

Things That Have Changed Since I Started Blogging

One of Mama Kat’s writing prompts for this week is to share what’s changed since you started blogging. My current blog turns four next month and not much has changed over those years. However, I’ve been blogging on WordPress for over fifteen years and a lot changed in those years.

Back in the day, blogging was still the main sort of social media. I think Facebook might’ve existed and Twitter certainly did, but neither was as popular a means of connecting with other people online as they’d become over the next couple of years. Don’t even get me started on Instagram, on which I uploaded five photos tops since getting an account in 2017. I just don’t get it. Not that I ever really “got” Twitter or Facebook. Give me my blog please.

Back in the early days of my blogging journey, I wrote mostly about my own life, but this quickly changed to blogging about disability advocacy. I participated in an annual event called Blogging Against Disablism Day on May 1 and would connect to many of the bloggers I met there throughout the rest of the year. Many would follow me on Twitter, Tumblr (which again I didn’t really get), etc. I loved being part of a community working towards the greater good!

I stopped blogging on that blog in 2011 or 2012. In August of 2013, I started Blogging Astrid, the blog I usually now refer to as my “old blog”. I started it on Blogger but moved to WordPress in November. This is when I started to interact with the Writer’s Workshop community and learned about link parties. For a while, I blogged more for my stats than for self-expression or the greater good. Getting tired of that was a big reason I moved on to my current blog, which had as its original aim that I could write from the heart. As had been the case in the very early days of my original blog and even before, when my original blog was still an online diary.

Until I started this blog, I didn’t really know there was a community specific to WordPress.com and that it’s still alive and kickin’, despite the folks at Automattic trying to kill it off by making WordPress less and less attractive particularly to new customers. Then again, maybe blogging is dying after all. I try to realize people have said that for at least a decade and I still can find a pretty large circle of people to interact with in the blogosphere. They aren’t usually the same I’ve known since 2007, but that’s totally okay.

Mama’s Losin’ It

Unconsciously Incompetent #SoCS

When I was in college studying applied psychology (it was really an orientation year to Bachelor’s of social work or related fields), my tutor had an interesting theory about how we learn by first being unconsciously incompetent. Then we move on to being consciously incompetent, by which she meant we are aware of our lack of knowledge and skill. Then, after years of college, we move on to being consciously competent. Once being experienced in the workforce, we then become unconsciously competent, which means we no longer need to be aware of our competence, since it’s become muscle memory.

I reached the stage of conscious incompetence when my tutor told me flat out that she was passing me for communication skills only if I promised never to enter the field of social work, psychology or any related field of study or work again. Thankfully, I was aware that my communication skills exam had really gone badly just before she told me, so I didn’t just need to be dragged into conscious incompetence.

I think I might need a similar experience with macrame. I started practising on Thursday and, though I managed the square knot, spiral knot and lark’s head knot quite easily eventually, I am pretty sure I’m still unconsciously incompetent. In other words, my work is horribly ugly but I think it will do.

The only thing is, because I sort of know I might never reach the stage of even conscious competence, I am too scared to show my work online for judgment. After all, as much as I am self-conscious about it, I also would really like this to work out!

Similarly, though I knew before that horribly messed-up communication skills exam at least on some subconscious level that I’m not suited to become a social worker or psychologist, I wanted to be one. That’s probably why I went into linguistics, which, though it isn’t necessarily within the helping profession, is still a communicative field of study. I only went into it to have a student psychologist tell a newspaper that “a blind autistic who wants to study something communicative” is going to have a pretty hard time of it, when they were promoting their autism buddy program. That pretty much sent me into conscious incompetence as soon as I read it, which thankfully was six weeks into the academic year. I guess that’s what happened the time the first person to comment on my question about macrame told me it would be really hard too. Only that’s before I’d started. I’m not sure that’s conscious incompetence though. It looks rather like low self-esteem.

This post was written for Stream of Consciousness Saturday, with the prompt of a word containing “Comp”.

Accepting My Ordinary Identity in Christ #Write28Days

Welcome to day two in #Write28Days. Today’s optional prompt is “Ordinary”. Immediately, I thought: what a dull prompt! I don’t want to be ordinary. I don’t even want to write about it!

Like I said yesterday, I am an Enneagram type Four. One of the descriptors for type Fours is “The Individualist”. Another, less kind one, is “Specials”. As these denominators say, we don’t want to be boring, like everyone else, ordinary.

When I had just been admitted to the psychiatric hospital in 2007, my parents came to talk to my doctor. They said that, in order to avoid accepting the fact that I am blind, I sought out to be different in every other way possible. For example, as a teen I thought I was a lesbian. I had just gotten acquainted with my now husband at the time that my parents used this against me, but we were by no means dating yet. Besides, in my mental state at the time, my sexual orientation was about the last thing on my mind. That being said, at the core, my parents were probably right: I saw myself as a complicated, unique, special person. Extraordinary.

Now we’re nearly fifteen years on. In a way, I still see myself as different from “ordinary” people in many ways. For instance, I am multiply-disabled, including blind and autistic. I am a trauma survivor and identify as a plural system (dissociative identity disorder). I, however, also now see that I am loved by God and by others as I am. And that is what matters most: my ordinary identity in Christ.

I still sometimes focus on the aspects of my identity that make me different from most other human beings. That’s okay though, as long as my “otherness” doesn’t become all-encompassing. Ultimately, my main identity is as a person loved by God.

My Shed

One of Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop prompts this week is to write about your very first apartment. I am going to cheat a little and write about the first apartment I rented rather than the very first apartment I lived in. The first apartment I rented was my student housing apartment, which I called “my shed”. This sounds affectionate in English. In Dutch, not so. “My cage”, though not as correct a translation, more correctly captures the feeling I had about this apartment.

When I got on the housing list in Nijmegen for the academic year starting 2007, the student counselor made sure I got a letter getting me to a priority place on the list because of my disabilities. This meant I was allowed to provide a preference for which student housing complex I wanted to live in. I had to list my top three. Based on the little information the housing association provided and what my support staff at the independence training home I lived in before moving to Nijmegen knew, my number one choice became the complex “my shed” was part of. My reasons were that its apartments reserved for disabled students were on the ground floor and the neighborhood was supposedly quiet.

Indeed, my apartment was on the ground floor, right beside the main entrance to the building. I didn’t have to enter the complex to get to my apartment.

It was a one-bedroom apartment. When you entered through the door, you were in the long, narrow living room and kitchen. Then you went through to something like a landing, with the bathroom on your right hand. Then, you’d enter another long, narrow room, which was the bedroom. The apartment altogether was 35m².

My apartment had just a few, very dim lights in the living room and one equally dim light in the bedroom. I guess my parents thought that I didn’t need much light since I was blind anyway. I had my desk, the one I currently still use to sit on whilst typing this post, in the living room. Other than that, I just had two kitchen chairs and a folding table to eat at. I did have one recliner that I’d gotten at a thrift store and a few rather tacky pillows. I had never thought of decorating my place at all. In fact, this past holiday season is the first time I’ve ever decorated my room and that’s quite a milestone.

Like I said, my apartment was very narrow and long. Its windows were on the short end of the apartment. Due to this and the lack of lighting, the apartment looked rather dark and gloomy. If I wasn’t depressed already, I’d become depressed from the lack of light in my shed.

The place quickly got rather filthy from my poor cleaning habits. I did try, but due to the combination of my disabilities, I just couldn’t keep the place properly cleaned. Looking back, I am so grateful my now husband didn’t go on a run as fast and as far as he could when I invited him into the shed on our second get-together.

I only actually lived in the shed for three months before landing in the psychiatric hospital. It is by far the worst place, in terms of interior, I’ve ever lived in.

Mama’s Losin’ It

Reclaiming November

Tomorrow is November 1. November is the hardest month of the year, since it is the month in which I ended in crisis in 2007.

Thirteen years later, it was also the month in which I finally broke down and admitted I needed more support than just the care facility’s group home support. On November 8 of last year, I broke down when a staff (the same staff who is now my assigned home staff) asked me to either calm down or go to my room when I was acting irritated at the other clients’ noises. My reaction wasn’t pretty: I hit the staff, screamed I hated her and cried out that indeed, as I’d been saying all along, if I showed who I truly was, she’d abandon me. She didn’t.

During the days that followed, I experienced significant dysregulation, including some near-psychotic symptoms and a lot of sadness. One day, I was crying my eyes out in my room when another staff came in and said she was going to spend her entire two-hour shift with me. We talked and she asked me whether I’d ever heard of one-on-one support. I had, but asked her to elaborate anyway. She did and asked me whether I wanted that. “Yes,” I said. The next day, the staff I’d hit and my then assigned home staff made the paperwork in order, because I had to sign a letter to the manager formally asking for more support. By mid-November, the wheels were set in motion for me to get one-on-one support and my one-on-one was pretty soon effectively started.

Now, as we’re approaching another November, I’m reclaiming the month. I don’t want this to be the month I landed in crisis so many years ago for the rest of my life. Instead, I want it to be the month I chose to get the support I need. I am choosing to stand up for myself, not just because crisis states force me, but because I have a right to do so.

Joining My Vivid Blog’s prompt: “Tomorrow”.

The Best Decision of My Life

I really want to write, but, as usual when I’m like this, so much is spinning through my mind that I cannot ultimately get anything out of my fingertips. To get myself started, I decided to look at the book Journaling with Lisa Shea and picked one of the journaling prompts on gratitude. It asks us what the best decision of our life was. Was it an easy decision or a hard one? I’m pretty sure I already covered this topic several years ago, but the answer may be different now.

After all, up till quite recently, I would have said the best decision I ever made was to consent to being admitted to the psychiatric hospital in 2007. That, after all, set in motion the wwheels that ultimately got me into the care system. However, looking back, I could just as easily have selected my choice to go to the blindness rehabilitation center in 2005 rather than to university. After all, that was what led me to the training home and to my autism diagnosis.

I honestly don’t want to give the psychiatric hospital people, particularly my last treatment team, the credit they get if I say that getting admitted was my best decision ever. After all, like I have said before, I didn’t make much progress in those 9 1/2 years in the hospital. Worse yet, the only difference between my care arrangement before the hospital and after it, was that my husband was now in my life. My husband deserves the kudos for that, not any mental health professional.

Instead, the best decision I ever made, I made rather offhandly on September 20, 2018. This was the decision to allow my support coordinator to schedule an appointment with her regional care consultant on getting me into long-term care. The appointment itself took place on October 4.

I say I made the decision rather offhandly, in that we were discussingn living options and I eventually said, sort of half-heartedly: “Okay, you can ask your care consultant to come.” In truth, the decision was a really hard one.

Even though I had planned on going into supported housing ever since my initial psych hospital admission in 2007, it felt kind of like I was betraying my husband, my parents, my former treatment team and everyone else by admitting this is what I needed. For this reason, my husband’s first words when I said my support coordinator had scheduled the appt with her care consultant, were very comforting: “You know I support you, right?”

Loneliness Comes From Within: Some Reflections

I am still struggling badly. I have been having flashbacks of the time when I lived on my own in 2007. When I told my husband this tonight, he asked whether any traumatic events happened there. Not really in the classic sense of the word, but I did suffer intensely. The “cage”, as I called my apartment, was a filthy, dark and gloomy place. Neither I nor anyone else had ever thought of making it into a home.

I was intensely lonely during the three months that I lived in that place. Nonetheless, people did reach out to me. I was in touch with several of my fellow students in the linguistics program at university, one of whom lived in my housing complex too.

When I mentioned this, my husband said that loneliness rarely comes from the environment. It wasn’t that no-one cared, as had been the case during most of my high school years. In fact, multiple people reached out to me, but I was closed off to contact with others. I was so convinced that I was unloveable that I didn’t attempt to form genuine bonds with people.

Sadly, it’s still mostly this way. Just a few days back, I was telling my husband that all caring staff eventually leave, referring to the idea I’ve gotten in my head that my assigned staff is not coming back. Indeed, a number of staff have left in the past or told me they had to distance themselves from me due to my behavior. However, a number have stayed too. In particular, my support coordinator from when I lived with my husband, stuck by me till the end.

Of course, staff/client relations are different from friendships. Staff might leave for reasons that have nothing to do with me. Others will come in their place, sad as it may be. Friends though will not necessarily be replaced. And that’s where it hurts more: I feel intensely incompetent at forming friendships.

I mean, though I did have contact with fellow students and people in my housing complex while living on my own, I mostly sucked up their energy. I feel intensely sad about this. I still feel like I’m not able to make friends ever at all. However, there is hope. Now that I (hopefully) am in a stable living situation, I may be able to build on some genuine friendships after all. I already consider some of my fellow clients my friends. I don’t need to rely on them for support, as I (hopefully) have my staff for that. That should be a relief.

My Relationship With the Night

I have a really complicated relationship with the night. On the one end, I’m a true night owl and can enjoy sitting up late reading a book or browsing the Internet. Before the Internet, I used to listen to a talk show on Dutch public radio called “Night shift” on weekend nights between 2AM and 6AM. The show might’ve aired on week nights too, but I wouldn’t allow myself to stay up past 1AM then. (Yes, I wouldn’t allow myself. My parents didn’t set a bedtime for me past age ten or so.) In the show, people called in to ask for advice or opinions on sometimes rather mundane topics, such as the difference between fruit and vegetables.

One time, a woman called in to ask for opinions on her eye condition. She literally had a hole in her eye, she explained, which she could see when there was static on TV. The hole, however, also meant she was unable to see facial expressions, which limited her card-playing ability. She assumed that and wanted opinions on whether she could have gotten the hole because of fifteen years of almost daily crying. I don’t know whether she ever received a satisfactory answer, but I do know that story brought chills to my spine.

As I said, I’m a true night owl. Others might call me an insomniac. In fact, I’m pretty sure my relationship with sleep and the night was rather unhealthy for most of my life. As a young child even, I used to stay up late at night worrying about things I’d seen in the news, things I’d heard or experienced during the day, etc. My parents hardly comforted me. In fact, they pretty much left me to my own resources. That’s one reason they didn’t set a bedtime for me.

When I lived on my own in 2007, I had an even worse relationship with the night. I developed something akin to OCD that mostly showed up at night. I had to check each night whether my alarm was on, door locked, windows open, heating off, electronics unplugged and I’m pretty sure I forgot something. I’d spend hours going through my apartment checking each several dozens of times.

During the last week of my living on my own, I’d often leave my apartment in the dark to go outside and wander the streets. I still get flashbacks of this darkness now.

Once in the psych hospital, the first medication I was put on, was temazepam, a sleeping pill. That worked for all of two weeks. Then I got put on Nozinan, a strong sedative, which however kept me drowsy for most of the day too. Then followed nitrazepam and diazepam until I finally decided I’d rather have insomnia without meds than with meds.

I eventually did have to go on meds after all, but these were daily meds. I currently don’t experience severe insomnia, but I do experience disrupted, restless sleep and nightmares. I did back in 2007 too, but, though I did mention it when admitted to the hospital, it never got paid attention to. Thankfully, my latest addition to my psych med combo, topiramate, does help with this.

This post was written for today’s Tourmaline’s Halloween Challenge prompt: night.

Hope and Faith

Today, Sadje’s Sunday Poser is about your rock in the storm. Who or what keeps you going when the times are tough?

For now, I could – should, maybe – easily say it’s my faith. I became a Christian last year and feel very much comforted knowing that, in the end, it’ll be okay. Not in this life, mind you. Jesus never promised us that there would not be any obstacles in this earthly life for us. Quite the opposite, in fact. We will still physically die and the Bible doesn’t promise Christians any easier end to their earthly life than non-believers. But in the end, in the Kingdom of God, it will be okay.

However, like I said, I didn’t become a believer until last year. I did kind of believe in “something” for many years, but that didn’t quite amount to much. So what kept me going until I started following Christ?

I guess the answer is as simple as the one above, and somewhat related too: hope. I always kept hope alive that, in the end, things would be okay. Even in the darkest depths of my suicidal crisis in 2007, there must’ve been a reason I in fact called my support worker to say goodbye rather than just killing myself without informing anyone. I felt, deep down, that there was still a way out of my darkness, even if I didn’t know what it was right at that moment.

At the time, my rescuers were the crisis service people in my parents’ city, who proposed I get admitted to the mental hospital.

That being said, I’ve never really felt that specific people are my rock in the storm. I mean, of course I appreciate my husband supporting me through everything. However, as unlikely as it is, I always have at the back of my mind the possibility that I’ll lose him at some point. That’s a residual effect of my having had very little stability in my life.

However, hope has always kept me going. It is interesting in this respect that most people who superficially know me, see me as a pessimist. I might look at things from a negative angle most of the time, but when it ultimately comes to it, I always have hope.