Mutism or Manipulation?

When I was a teen, I’d often go mute whenever certain personal topics of discussion came up. My mental health was such a topic. Much as I wanted to speak, my mouth wouldn’t form the words I wanted to tell my teachers or other people who intended to help me.

Even though I felt intensely anxious, my silence was commonly viewed as an act of rebellion. A way of manipulating those around me into, well, I honestly don’t know what.

When my parents and high school tutor had finally agreed that I needed professional counseling – or rather, my tutor had convinced my parents of the need, I assume -, my tutor informed me that the counselor had to meet certain very specific requirements. He or she needed to know blindness, because, well, I’m blind. The second requirement, I can’t remember, but the third was that he or she had to be exceptionally intelligent. The reason for that one was the fact that I, too, was supposedly extremely intelligent. If the counselor wasn’t smart enough, my tutor explained up front, I’d outsmart them with my manipulation. By this, he meant my so-called refusal to speak.

To this day, I am still unsure as to what made him think my silence was an act of willful defiance. Of course, everyone manipulates others at times, but I am pretty sure my mutism wasn’t – still isn’t – part of it.


This post was written for today’s Word of the Day Challenge, for which the prompt is “silence”, as well as E.M.’s RWP, which is “rebellion”.

How I Was Disciplined As a Child

Hi everyone. Today’s topic for Throwback Thursday is “rules and discipline”. I am going to try to keep this post as non-triggering as possible, but if you endured childhood abuse, you might want to skip this post. Then again, maybe what I endured wasn’t abuse at all? Well, in that case actual survivors might want to skip it because it might come across as invalidating.

My parents rarely set clear rules when I was a child or teen. I can’t remember having curfews and, even at ten-years-old, I was allowed to stay awake in my room for as long as I wanted provided I didn’t wake anybody else.

In this sense, none of the provided questions in Maggie’s original post made much sense. I mean, I was often sent to my room as punishment, but I cannot remember what for. I also was never told how long to stay in my room, so I usually stayed for about an hour then slowly re-emerged.

My parents, both of them, also used corporal punishment. However, I get a feeling that they hit me more out of a sense of powerlessness than out of a righteous wish to set me straight. Unfortunately, corporal punishment didn’t stop when I got older. In fact, the last time I was hit, was when my parents more or less kicked me out of the house when I was nineteen. And then I don’t include the time my mother tried to slap away my hand from my hair to prevent me twirling it when I was 23 but I slapped her hand away.

My parents, like I said, didn’t have clear-cut rules, but they did have expectations about socially appropriate behavior. They had their own words for ridiculing me when I “misbehaved”.

The positive side of there not being many clear rules, was that my parents encouraged me to do things most other teens, and certainly disabled teens, would not have been allowed to. I was allowed on a four-week-long summer camp to Russia at age fourteen, being the youngest of the Dutch participants and the only one with a disability (the program officially catered towards the visually impaired). Then again, when I struggled socially in Russia and for this reason wasn’t allowed back the next year, my parents, especially my father, completely guilt-tripped me rather than showing me support.

I was mostly a rule-follower, insofar as there were rules at all. However, as a teen, I became secretive. I actually had my father drive me to a meeting of people with mental illness when I was seventeen, while I’d led him to believe it was a disability meeting (because one of the people there was in a wheelchair). I’m pretty sure he knew, but he never confronted me.

I don’t have children of my own, so I cannot say whether my upbringing influenced the way I discipline them. However, I did find I got easily triggered when I got the impression my sister and brother-in-law used corporal punishment on my older niece (this was before the younger one was born). Thankfully, they were able to reassure me that they didn’t.

A Courageous Choice

I was a shy, withdrawn teen who was loyal to my parents even though they didn’t have my best interest in mind. I mean, if they’d had their way, I’d have gone to university and lived on my own straight out of high school in 2005, even though I could barely take care of myself. That had been their attitude towards raising “responsible” children ever since I was a little girl: if I couldn’t – or in their opinion was too strong-willed to – learn a skill as a child, I’d learn it as an adult by myself. Or not. In any case, there was no safety net.

Though I do indeed feel that children benefit from learning by doing themselves, this was not how it worked in my family. I don’t blame my parents for not having the patience to teach me self-care skills, given that I got frustrated very easily, but I do hold them responsible for not having accepted the help they could have gotten. Though it might not have led to me becoming as independent as they’d want me to be, my current situation is about as far from that goal as can be. Then again, my parents hold me responsible for that. And I, in a sense, do too.

I was reminded of this situation when I read a journaling prompt that asked me to reflect on a courageous choice I made as a teen that’s still helping me today. I immediately thought of the choice to go into blindness training rather than straight to university once I’d graduated high school. Though this decision itself did not by far lead to the self-awareness I needed to try to get into long-term care, it was my first step into the care system. And, of course, as my parents predicted, I never fully got out.

Back in June of 2005, when I accepted the blindness training center psychologist’s offer to put me on the waiting list for the basic training program, I still had my head deep in the sand about my lack of independence skills. The psychologist did not. He suggested I go to a training home after finishing the program. He probably knew that, like many young people blind from birth, and especially those from families like mine who value academics over life skills, I wouldn’t be ready to move into independent living after a four-month, basic program. I wasn’t. I never would be. Till this day, I’m not sure whether this is my blindness or my autism or my mild cerebral palsy or what. I believe strongly that, with multiple disabilities, the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Thankfully, the authorities approving my long-term care funding, eventually agreed.

Illness or Injury

Today’s topic for Throwback Thursday is, as Lauren describes it, “Ouchies, owies and boo boos”. In other words, we’re asked to share our experiences of illness or injury when we were growing up. Now is an interesting time for this, as I’ve just recovered from the worst symptoms of COVID. Even though I had a mild case of it, I am tempted to take back my assertion that it’s “just a bad cold” even in my case. I’m still exhausted by 9PM, or at least was yesterday, and today just a walk around the day center had me horribly out of breath. Forget the elliptical, which I told my husband yesterday that I’d try to go onto today. Anyway, that’s as far as my current state of illness is concerned. Now, let me share about my childhood illnesses and injuries.

As a young child, until I had my tonsils and adenoids out as a Kindergartner, I was prone to colds and the flu. I can’t remember whether my parents let me stay home for most of these illnesses. Later though, we clearly had the rule that, if I ran a fever, I was sick and had to stay home. Otherwise, I wasn’t sick and had to go to school. Not that I remember ever “playing sick”.

I don’t think I was ever given medicine, such as painkillers, unless it was obvious from outward signs that I was sick either. I mean, I do remember having to take paracetamol as a child, but not for a headache or toothache. We did have a licorice-flavored cough syrup, but I only took it when my parents directed me to. In fact, it wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I first learned to ask for medication myself. For the brief time that I lived independently and could take over-the-counter medications when I felt like it, I didn’t either unless a support worker directed me to. In fact, I remember buying a talking thermometer back then because I was feeling weak often and, relying on my parents’ rule that you had to have a fever to be sick, I wanted to know my body temp.

Similarly, I wasn’t taken to the doctor for minor illnesses or injuries usually, unless my parents decided they were enough of an outward abnormality to be taken seriously. I remember my father took me to the doctor one day when I was about fourteen because I had bad eczema on my neck. I didn’t see the need, but apparently it was so ugly that my father wanted me to get treated.

When I was about seventeen, I made my first appointment to see my GP by myself. I had a horrible earache, which turned out nothing to be the doctor could do much about, by the way. However, my parents said I also had to ask about getting treatment for my toenail fungus, which I didn’t consider particularly bothersome at the time. To be fair, I do now see they were right to be worried about my toenail fungus, even though it took me fifteen more years to finally get it treated properly. However, overall, I’d had it with their message that my outward appearance alone dictates when I should get help (medical or otherwise) and this was probably my first small act of rebellion. I never quite learned to gauge when I can trust my body’s signals (or my mind’s interpretation of them) and when I can’t. I’m finding that, for this reason, even up till this day, I rely mostly on other people’s judgment.

Pocket Money Tales

Today’s topic for Throwback Thursday is chores and allowances. Let me share my experiences.

Regarding chores, I could easily be short and sweet: no, I did not have any. Neither did my sister. We were raised with the expectation that we’d leave the house as soon as we graduated high school, but we were hardly taught any of the skills of independence, much less expected to contribute to the household on a regular basis. My sister was occasionally expected to do the dishes once she was about twelve or so. Same probably for me, but my parents quickly decided I took too long, didn’t do it right or made too much of a fuss over it, probably all three.

My sister, who’s non-disabled, somehow managed the skills of independence by observing my parents anyway. I, being blind and multiply-disabled, did not. When I left for the independence training home right after high school, I had virtually no skills necessary for living independently. I am forever grateful I persevered and decided to take this step rather than moving out on my own right away.

Regarding allowances, or pocket money as it was known in our family, the situation was a little more interesting. I got my first pocket money at age seven. I got one guilder a week. A few months later, I’d turn eight and my father promised me I’d get two guilders a week provided I’d stop leaving the lights on in my bedroom when I wasn’t there. The reason being that, if I no longer left the lights on, he would save on electricity and could give me more pocket money. I doubt it’d seriously make a difference of one guilder a week, but I’m not entirely sure he hadn’t possibly calculated it somehow. That’s how he is, after all.

That brings me to my next pocket money story, some eight years later.
I originally couldn’t remember whether we already used euros at the time. Not that it matters for the morale of the story, but I saw the official documentation relevant to this story and now know we already had euros. I must’ve been sixteen and was rather angry because my sister got a higher allowance than I’d gotten at her age, so I now wanted more too. At first, my parents got all defensive, calling me selfish because I was playing the “not fair” card. Then, after both of us at calmed down, my father asked me to write a budget of things I’d need pocket money for. If it was within reason, I’d get what I’d asked for.

I had asked for €10 a week. I created a budget (that’s the “official documentation” I referred to above!) fitting all my personal expenses, including candy, jewelry, memberships to the children’s choir and the political party I was a member of at the time, into this budget. Ultimately, my budget showed I needed €555,60 a year. When my father saw it, he commented that I’d been far too careful to try to fit my budget into what I’d demanded. I particularly remember him saying he couldn’t believe I’d just spend €2,50 a week on candy, for example. And I must admit he was right. My father told me that €100 a month was a more reasonable allowance and so it happened that I got more than twice the amount of pocket money I’d originally fought for!

Were you taught about budgeting as a child?

A Very Intense Day Today

Today was an intense day. I started it with a weigh-in. To my surprise, I had lost almost 2kg. Last week, I had gained 1kg compared to the week before, so I had decided to try to cut back on snacks. That lasted all of one day and then I was back to snacking as usual. I don’t really trust my scale, as it isn’t officially calibrated, but well, who cares? I feel pretty fit and healthy and at least remain within the same 2kg range.

At 11:30AM, I had a nurse practitioner’s appt. My new’ish assigned home staff attended it with me rather than my assigned day activities staff, who usually does. Yesterday, this staff had been my one-on-one too and we had discussed my frequent dissociation and switching. She asked me whether I wanted to talk about it to my nurse practitioner and at first I said yes. Then later in the evening, I got anxious and decided to E-mail my nurse practitioner. I explained about the frequent switching and flashbacks. I also expressed my concern that, if the alters take over too much, my team will resort to denying their reality and ultimately to denying my reality as a whole. Then I will have lost all the trust I’ve gained in my team so far.

I can’t remember the entire appt, but at one point, Jane popped forward. She is the one most in denial of my trauma-related symptoms and yet it seems like she’s always the first to pop out and reveal our being multiple to a professional. My staff had probably already met her, and I think so has my nurse practitioner, but not to this extent. Thankfully, neither one objected to her being openly out.

I started feeling depersonalized after Jane was back inside and it didn’t fully clear up till just about an hour ago. In the evening, it got particularly bad.

Then for whatever reason, Karin, one of our fourteen-year-olds, popped out and started talking about a high school memory. We were still partly in the here and now, as she apparently recognized our one-on-one. Thankfully, our one-on-one reassured Karin that she’s now safe and the memories are in the past. She also told us that our teachers and parents, while probably meaning well, didn’t really help us and that none of our issues is our fault. That still feels rather off. I mean, of course I didn’t choose to be blind, but my parents reminded me over and over again that my behavior was definitely a choice. They always saw (and maybe still see) me as one giant manipulator, not an autistic, multiply-disabled trauma survivor. And they’re not the only ones. If I’ve learned one thing in my nearly 35 years of existence, it’s that sooner or later, people will always come to the conclusion that I’m one giant manipulator.

Not Quite California Dreamin’ #SoCS

SoCS Badge 2019-2020

When I was a teen, I dreamt of going to the United States in my third year of college. After all, I was going to be an English major, choosing American studies as my specialty. Then in my third year, I would be incredibly motivated and talented and would be allowed to go on an exchange student visa to the United States.

I had already picked my preferred cities to go to. Most were suburbs of Boston. First, it was Lynn. Then Somerville.

Then, at one point, I got obsessed with Columbia, Maryland, a suburb of Baltimore. Then, finally, Silver Spring, MD, a suburb of DC.

None of these were college towns as far as I know, but I always dreamt of going to college in the city and living in the suburbs eventually. Because, after all, with my incredible talent (ahum) and affirmative action, I calculated that I’d be allowed to stay for some professional career and never go back to the Netherlands again.

Now that I think of it, it’s interesting that I never dreamt about going to California for my studies. I would say that most people choose either the east or west coast. At least people from Europe most likely do, with the Midwest, South and Great Plains being far more conservative. I just envisioned living in New England or the DC area.

And just for the record, it all never came true. I never even majored in English at university. I still haven’t been to the United States, though I hope to visit there someday. Mostly to meet some people I know.

This post was written for Stream of Consciousness Saturday (#SoCS), for which the prompt this week is “Cal-“. I could’ve written about calendar calculation, calories or Calibre (an eBook management tool). Instead, some of the other participants’ posts inspired me to write about my American dream.

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

My Taste in Music as a Teen #Blogtober20

Today’s prompt for #Blogtober20 is “Fame”. For this reason, I’m going to share some music that was famous or that I liked as a teen. I once heard that people’s lifelong taste in music is shaped between the ages of 14 and 24. I don’t know how true that is, as I’m still developing my taste. Anyway, here goes.

1. The Backstreet Boys. Okay, I didn’t really like those, but I pretended to. When I was about eleven, so still a preteen, my mother encouraged me to develop a taste in music, because that was what my peers were into or so she thought. I have shared before that I hung Backstreet Boys posters on my wall without ever having heard any of their songs.

2. Anouk. She is a Dutch pop singer. I had two of her CDs, although I was never a huge fan.

3. ABBA. Well, the A-Teens, an ABBA remix band. Until I was about 20, I didn’t even know they were an ABBA imitation and spelled the band name “Eighteens”. I thoroughly enjoyed this music though and often danced to it.

4. The Corrs. I got a CD because it was recommended in my high school newspaper. Then I got two more CDs. Unlike Anouk, I truly loved this music.

5. World music. Particularly Latin. I had a lot of CDs with Latino music on them, although that included Spanish pop music like Macarena too. When I first met my now husband, he asked what type of music I was into and I said “world music”. I later played one of my favorite Latin music CDs for him and he was glad he hadn’t known this was what I’d meant by world music.

6. Protest songs, particularly Dutch ones. These were the songs my parents listened to on LP. I had some copied onto cassette tape too, specifically an LP from Robert Long. He was a protest singer in the early 1970s, but converted to Christianity later on and his older songs are hard to come by now.

What was your taste in music like as a teen?

#Blogtober20

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