My Top Ten Favorite Inspirational Memoirs

Hi everyone! Today I’m joining in with Top Ten Tuesday (#TTT), a weekly book-related meme. Since I don’t read nearly as much as I would want to or as book bloggers do, I don’t participate in this meme that often. I love it though! Today its topic is a freebie, so I get to pick one. And you know, I’ve always wanted to share about my top favorite inspirational memoirs. Here goes, not in any particular order.

1. The Hospital by Barbara O’Hare. This is a truly gripping memoir by a woman who survived secret experimentation and sexual abuse in a children’s psychiatric hospital. I read it back in 2018 and still love love love it.

2. Who Will Love Me Now? by Maggie Hartley. This is my favorite foster care memoir by this author. I reviewed it last year.

3. Where Has Mummy Gone? by Cathy Glass. This is another foster care memoir. It is my absolute favorite Cathy Glass memoir, but I love many others. See my review.

4. Today I’m Alice by Alice Jamieson. This is a memoir of a woman with dissociative identity disorder. Since I have this condition too, I wanted to share at least one memoir by someone wiht DID and this is the most recently-published one I’ve read. It was still published back in 2010, but I think it’s still available.

5. Let Me Go by Casey Watson. Yet another foster care memoir. Can you tell I love this genre? I was almost going to make this list all about those. Let Me Go came out last year and I reviewed it back in October.

6. No Way Out by Kate Elysia. This is a truly gripping story. It deals with sex trafficking of young women in the UK. I was going to review this one last year too, but didn’t get down to it.

7. Finding Stevie by Cathy Glass. Yes, another Glass book. This one deals with a genderfluid teen who is being exploited online. I really liked it. See my review.

8. A Road Back from Schizophrenia by Arnhild Lauveng. I had to google its English title, as I read it in Dutch. I am not sure it’s still even available, but it was definitely a great read.

9. Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet. This is another older book which I read in its Dutch translation before I had access to Bookshare or eBooks. This is a memoir by an autistic person.

10. A Real Person by Gunilla Gerland. Okay, I’m getting annoying with my older books that I didn’t even read in English. Sorry. This was one of the first memoirs by an autistic person I read after being diagnosed myself.

Do you like memoirs? Any recommendations?

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.

Recovering From Autistic Burnout

Today, the prompt for Reena’s Exploration Challenge is one word: burnout. This word evokes so many thoughts, feelings and memories in me! After all, though I was never diagnosed as suffering with actual burnout, the reason is more that burnout isn’t a DSM-IV or DSM-5 diagnosis than my not having suffered it.

That is, I did indeed not suffer the classic shutdown-type burnout where people are too exhausted to function. Rather, my burnout was more of the meltdown type, where I got so irritable and dysregulated that I couldn’t function anymore.

In 2007, I suffered autistic burnout. This is an actual thing and is more and more recognized by autism professionals too. It involves an inability to function in daily life as a whole, not just work, due to the experience of being overloaded, being autistic in a neurotypical society.

I have shared my experience of landing in a mental crisis in 2007 many times before. I was at the time living independently (though with a lot of community support) and going to university. That all changed within a matter of days: on Tuesday, I was sitting an exam, while the following Saturday, I was a patient on the locked unit of a psychiatric hospital. First, while there, I had to stabilize. I had to get back into a normal sleep/wake rhythm and regain my will to live.

Once I was no longer nonfunctioning and suicidal, however, I had to get my life back on track. My social worker thought I could go into supported housing for autistic people. I, at first, thought so too. Until I saw all the criteria relating to independence, lack of challenging behavior, trainability, etc. That wasn’t going to work out.

To be quite fair, I never fully understood my actual level of functioning until sometime in 2020. I had wanted to prove myself for so long. I had worn so many masks that hid the real, messy truth of who I am. Consequently, I constantly overestimated myself and my abilities. So did the people around me. Until one day, in November of last year, I crashed again. I probably suffered another burnout. That was when my one-on-one support was started.

There still are voices in my head telling me I could, should in fact go back to my life of before my first burnout in 2007. Back to independent living and college. Otherwise, how can I claim recovery?

The thing is, people who experience work-related burnout, usually don’t go back to their exact jobs from before their burnout either, if to the same job at all. Why should I then go back to a life I hated from the get-go? I try to see recovery from burnout not in terms of recovering lost functioning, but in recovering lost pieces of myself.

I’m Not Broken (And Neither Is Anyone Else)

A few days ago, I got a notification on WordPress that someone had liked a post of mine called “People Aren’t Broken”. It was probably on an old blog of mine and I can’t remember exactly what the post was about. From what I remember, it was written in response to a person being officially diagnosed as autistic and seeing this as a reason they weren’t “broken”.

Indeed, before my autism diagnosis in 2007, I always thought I was “broken”. Same once my autism diagnosis got taken away in 2016. I still had a personality disorder diagnosis (dependent personality disorder and borderline traits), but I believed strongly in the stigma attached to it. That wasn’t helped by the fact that my psychologist at the time used my diagnosis to “prove” that I was misusing care. I wasn’t.

Today, I found out people applying for benefits are completely screened by some kind of information gathering agency. It made me worry that the benefits authority or long-term care funding authority will do the same, even though I already have both.

It’s probably the same internalized ableism (discrimination against people with disabilities) speaking up that tells me that, if I don’t have a “legitimate” disability (like autism) that warrants me getting care, I’m just manipulative and attention-seeking and generally broken. I am not. And neither is anyone else. Including those who actually do have personality disorders.

This post was written for today’s Five Minute Friday, for which the prompt is “Broken”. Of course, I could have (should have?) written a more spiritual post and, from that perspective, everyone is in fact broken. What I mean with this post, though, is that there’s nothing that makes certain people broken based on disability or diagnosis.

Angry and Dissatisfied

Today, I feel flooded with emotional flashbacks that I’m not 100% sure about what triggered them or even what they are about. To give myself some insight, I picked up the book Journal Writing Prompts for Child Abuse Survivors again. Somehow, the prompts about anger appealed to me.

Growing up, I was always described as “too quick to anger”. There is some truth to this, in that I have and always had an extremely low level of distress tolerance.

My parents would react to this with resentment, but they’d generally solve my problems anyway. This at one point was described as having low expectations of me. When the psychologist who did my latest autism assessment, said that, I was triggered. After all, if my parents had expected me to be able to work stuff out myself, would that have been any better? I understand all about letting babies “cry it out” and I’m not a fan of it. I don’t have a clue whether I was left to “cry it out” a lot. I think so, as I was in the hospital for the first three months of my life and I don’t expect the nurses to have attended to each baby’s every cry. As such, even if my parents did attend to my every cry for attention, I must’ve been allowed to learn some self-regulation through “crying it out”.

My parents weren’t the most patient people in the world. At one point, my father explained to me that a family is like a business, in that it has to be run efficiently. As such, I can understand why my parents rarely let me work stuff out on my own. I also understand why they resented helping me.

Growing up though, my poor distress tolerance skills were seen as mere anger and oppositionality. I’m not sure why people perceived me as always angry. They weren’t just my parents, after all. Maybe I am quick to anger. I don’t know, but to be honest I think distress is different from anger.

When I became an adult and was admitted to the psych hospital, my nursing diagnosis at least off the record was “angry and dissatisfied”. Again, I’m pretty sure the staff confused distress with dissatisfaction. Distress is an inability to cope. Dissatisfaction is an unwillingness to accept the situation. I was perfectly willing to be discharged back into independent living if that was what was deemed necessary, but I didn’t promise I’d cope. This was considered blackmail.

Now that I’m in long-term care, my staff no longer see me as angry or dissatisfied a lot. Even so, I haven’t changed much. I still swear and scream when my computer or iPhone won’t cooperate. Staff do help me now, but they don’t resent it anymore. This has also allowed me to practise asking for help in more productive, proactive ways, which, in turn, helps me become frustrated less easily. I like it that way.

Things That Made Me Smile (March 22, 2021) #WeeklySmile

Hi all on this lovely Monday! I am so excited to have discovered the Weekly Smile. This is, as the name suggests, a weekly blog event in which participants share what made them smile. Having discovered this meme itself is a reason to smile. I love being positive! Let me share what else made me smile.

First up is my new assigned staff’s kindness. Like I said in my #WeekendCoffeeShare post on Friday, I have a new assigned staff. She is calm, kind and very dedicated to her job. I initially worried she might get too attached and then have to withdraw as my assigned staff. She reassured me though that she maintains her professionalism.

Yesterday, I was feeling a bit triggered. The student staff, with whom I am not fully comfortable yet, had been my one-on-one for the evening. In addition, a male staff may get to work in my home soon. He seems kind enough, but still, it’s an adjustment. All this led me to feeling a bit stressed out when I was going to bed. Thankfully, my new assigned staff comforted me.

After the staff had taken me to bed, I pressed the call button a few times for the staff to come back, but she didn’t mind. She has this little rhyme she tells me each time she puts me to bed. It goes something like this:
Sleep well,
Head on the pillow,
Ass in the straw,
Then Astrid sleeps soon.

This time, the staff adjusted the rhyme to address not just me, but all of the voices (alters) inside my head. That definitely made me smile.

Second is my sensory room experience that I was able to create in my own bedroom. First, I found a calming essential oil blend to put in my diffuser. Then, I found the album on Spotify that I used to have in the CD player in the day center’s sensory room. It is called Songbird Symphony. Lastly, I crawled under my weighted blanket and had my staff cover me with the ball-filled blanket that came with the sensory bed from our makeshift sensory room. In total, I had at least 20kg of weighted blankets on top of me. This probably isn’t healthy for actual sleeping, so I threw off the ball blanket before actually drifting off to sleep. However, the feeling before this was so peaceful. It reminded me of Temple Grandin’s “hug machine”. Reading about that introduced to me the comforting effect of deep pressure years before I felt able to explore my own sensory experiences. Now, I totally appreciate my care staff, physical therapist and the manager for having helped me find my sensory comfort.

What made you smile this past week?

Learning Never Stops #Write28Days

Okay, here’s my post for #Write28Days for today. I know I already wrote a post today and at first I wasn’t inspired to write another. The prompt word for today is “Learn”. This at first didn’t inspire me, until I read Carrie Ann’s response. It completely resonates with me!

As regular readers of my blog will know, I did college for one year in 2006-2007, doing an orientation in psychological and social studies. I only passed the year because the communication skills instructor had given me a passing grade on the condition that I never continue into this field. I was diagnosed with autism a few weeks before the dreaded communication skills exam. Now I did poorly on the exam and don’t really want to use autism as an excuse. Other autistics, in fact, can become social workers or psychologists or work in other such fields the program would be training me for. But I cannot.

Then I transferred to university to become a linguistics major, only to drop out two months in. I took a few psychology classes at Open University in 2009, of course skipping the practice ones and doing only theoretical ones. I think that instructor back in 2007 was right, after all.

Despite the fact that I haven’t been in formal education in over eleven years, I however still learn. At times, it feels like I don’t. I mean, I am not in any type of training or education.

The last time I was in formal training, was to learn to use the iPhone in 2017. I fully expected I would no longer be capable, but thankfully I was.

And now, having become a Christian within the last two months, I am trying to learn all about the faith and memorize scripture. It’s hard, but I trust that with God’s help, it is possible.

Carrie Ann truly motivates me to keep trying to learn. I really want to learn to write better. I also still want to take some free classes. I mean, ideally I’d sign up for some university courses in education or psychology, but these usually require a prior college degree. Maybe I can use FutureLearn or the like. In any case, I really hope that, like Carrie Ann says, learning never grows old even when I do.

New Normal

Earlier today, Stevie Turner wrote a great piece on adjusting to the new normal of serious illness. In her case, it’s cancer. I have so far been able to avoid serious physical illness, but I get the idea of adjusting to a “new normal”.

In 2007, as regular readers may know, I suffered a serious mental health crisis. It was probably autistic burnout, though it got various labels over the years. I was 21 at the time and attending university and living on my own.

In the early months of my psychiatric hospital stay that followed the crisis, I was convinced I could go back to college, university or work and living more or less independently if I just had a little more support. I rejected the first place offered to me because I wouldn’t be allowed to cook in my own apartment. This, looking back, is ridiculous! After all, now, thirteen years later, I live in a group home with 24-hour care. I cannot cook, clean or even do some personal care tasks without help.

Now to be honest, I at the time didn’t have a realistic picture of what living in my own apartment in supported housing would be like. The training home I went to before living independently, had a 1:4 staff/client ratio during most of the day. That’s pretty high and it allowed for staff to help with most household tasks. If I went into supported housing in my own apartment, I’d be expected to clean it all by myself. The fact that I wouldn’t be allowed to cook, was understandable, as there wouldn’t be the staff to supervise me.

Then again, I thought I could handle a low staff/client ratio. It was 1:7 on week days at the resocialization ward and 1:14 on week-ends. I did okay with this. Now, not so much. The staff/client ratio here is 1:6 at the least and I get one-on-one for several hours during the day.

I often look back at myself before my crisis. When I was eighteen, I attended mainstream high school despite being blind. The autism or other issues hadn’t even been diagnosed yet. I coped with classrooms of 30’ish students with just one teacher. Sure, I had meltdowns multiple times a week, sometimes multiple times a day, but I somehow survived. Now, I can barely handle having my coffee in the living room without my one-on-one present to calm me if I start melting down. Oh my, this feels sick. I feel shame admitting this. Yet it’s my new normal. Whether I’m just lazy and manipulative and unwilling to be independent or I’m genuinely unable, it’s the way it is.

I often feel sad when I am reminded of my old life. I often dream that I go back to university. I most likely never will.

That being said, I’m also grateful for what I do have. I am forever grateful that my staff and behavior specialist saw the need for one-on-one. I am grateful whenever I can do a small activity, like this morning I made clay punch-out figures. Back in the psych hospital, I often couldn’t blog even once a week. Now I blog almost everyday.

The most frustrating aspect of my “new normal” is not knowing why. I constantly second-guess myself, wondering if I’m truly such a terribly manipulative attention-seeker. That thought is scary. Worse yet is the fear that this might be some type of neurological thing, that I might actually be deteriorating. There is apparently no reason to think this, but it’s still on my mind. Then again, it is what it is and I’ve got to deal with it.

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

Sky Is the Limit #SoCS

Today’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday (#SoCS) is “Sky’s the limit”. I was immediately reminded of a story in Stephanie Kaars’ book Speciale mama’s (Special Mommies), in which this phrase inspired a mother to challenge her son, Sky, who had severe cerebral palsy, beyond his apparent limits.

It then made me think of how challenging someone beyond their apparent limits, doesn’t mean expecting them to be “normal”. I mean, the phrase which inspired the mother says that her son is the limit. In other words, each child or adult is their own limit of what they can achieve and this should not be defined by the person’s characteristics, such as disabilities.

I don’t have as severe a disability as Sky. I mean, yes, of course blindness is seen as a “major” disability for statistical purposes, but it alone doesn’t qualify anyone for long-term care. Severe cerebral palsy does. That being said, I do have a significant combination of disabilities: blindness, autism and mild CP.

I don’t think these disabilities, or rather the stereotyped perception others have about them, limits me. I mean, of course my disabilities impair me, but that’s totally okay. I am not limited by others’ ideas of what a blind person (as that’s my most visible disability) can or cannot do. Because, you know, even though I am in long-term care with the highest care profile in the visually impaired category, people still sometimes say I’m quite capable for a blind person. No, I’m not.

I am also reminded of the current slogan for the National Federation of the Blind: “I can live the life I want; blindness doesn’t hold me back.” The old slogan was: “With proper training and opportunity, an average blind person can do a job as well as an average sighted person.” This may or may not be true for the hypothetical average blind person, but it certainly isn’t true for me.

Is the new slogan? Yes, I think so. I could really go to university if I pushed harder, maybe. Maybe not, I’m not sure. However, I have no desire to go to university anymore. Similarly, I wasn’t dying living semi-independently. Well, I almost was, if you count the two medication overdoses I took, but those weren’t due to blindness. Then again, I am happy to live in my current care facility. I may still have things I want to improve on, but I for the most part do live the life I want.