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.

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

Life Challenges I’ve Overcome

Earlier today, I saw Emilia’s post about challenging life lessons. It was based on a prompt from Listify. I have this book too and thought it’s an interesting prompt indeed. It asks us to list the challenges we’ve overcome in life and explain what life lessons we’ve learned from them. Here goes.

1. I spent the first three months of my life in the hospital. I was born prematurely and had to be in the incubator and on a ventilator for several weeks. Then I spent the remaining time I should’ve been in the womb in hospital. Of course, I can’t remember this at all, but it might’ve caused some early attachment issues.

2. I lost my vision. Okay, I was born legally blind, but still relied on my vision quite a bit until I was around twelve. All official documents say that I lost what little vision I did have at the age of eight, because that was when my parents and doctor decided not to pursue further sight-saving treatment. In truth, though right now I consider myself totally blind, I still have light perception in one eye and had it in both eyes until at least age nineteen. At that interesting age of eight, I still had about 20/1000 vision. Yes, I was considered functionally blind. That’s how sighted people look at it. However, when I attended the rehabilitation center for the blind in 2005, I was told by someone who’d gone from fully sighted to totally blind, that losing the last bit of residual vision was harder than losing most of the sight he’d had before.

3. I endured childhood trauma. I wrote some about this before, but I don’t know whether my family reads this blog, so I won’t go into detail right now. It mostly boils down to my parents not having a clue how to raise a multiply-disabled child and as a result being pretty harsh. None of the trauma I endured was severe, but the long-term nature of it still means I have significant complex PTSD symptoms.

4. I was bullied. At the school for the blind as well as the mainstream school I attended, I was regularly bullied by my peers. It didn’t help that my teachers and parents more or less blamed me for the bullying. I was too nerdy, too socially awkward, too dependent, too much and not enough.

5. I endured some medical trauma. Well, I’m not 100% sure of this being genuinely traumatic, but I certainly endured a lot of hospital stays, surgeries, etc. Most times, the doctors and nurses were really caring. A few times, they were ignorant. For example, when I had my wisdoom teeth extracted in 2010, the medical staff almost didn’t put a sheet over my face because “she’s blind anyway”.

6. I experienced long-term psychiatric hospitalization. I’m realizing more and more how much of an impact this has on me. With my not having felt safe with my parents at least some of my life, and me having been more or less in temporary placements most of my adult life, I’ve never felt that I can be safe anywhere. As a result, I’m constantly challenging my current staff, believing they’ll kick me out of here anyway.

7. I survived two medication overdoses. Both happened in 2017 and I wasn’t really suicidal at the time, but I wasn’t coping either. I never actually realized how things could’ve gone until my mother-in-law told me after my second overdose that the medical staff had asked me whether I wanted to be resuscitated should it come to that. I can’t remember the question or what I said. Both of these made me realize that I needed more help than I was getting at the time. At the time, unfortunately, I had a rather unsupportive psychiatric treatment team, who were very much focused on my independence. As a result, it took me a year from my second overdose to be truly honest that I needed long-term care.

Some Might Say: Judgments About Me #Blogtober20

Okay, I said I wasn’t going to take part in the #Blogtober20 prompts anymore, but this one did speak to me. Today’s prompt is “Some Might Say”. People can be incredibly judgmental. Today, I will write about some things people have said about me that indicate they are clueless or insensitive or both.

The first things people notice about me, are my blindness and the fact that I’m relatively well-spoken. This often leads people to assume that I either should be able to be independent or that I am obviously not because I’m blind.

My parents and other people who are relatively educated about blindness, often assume that I should be able to live independently and be employed. Even if they are fine with my “choice” of not pursuing a career, their idea of me is to live independently. Some people who don’t know me that well, ask whether my husband and I have or want kids. To me, it’s obvious that we don’t, but then again that may be internalized ableism. After all, I for one am not able to take care of kids, and besides I value my freedom. Others with my disabilities may definitely be able and willing to parent.

Another judgment I often get is that my marriage isn’t strong because we don’t live together. My last psychologist at the mental hospital even dared to say my marriage isn’t worth anything if I don’t intend on living with my husband. Well, when we got married in 2011, we had zero intention of living together. I was on the waiting list for a permanent workhome for autistic people. It is only because that didn’t work out, that my husband asked me whether I wanted to live with him. And just so you know, our reason for getting married is that we love each other and want to show each other that this is for life. And in my opinion, that’s the essence of marriage. Okay, I know that at least a third of marriages end in divorce, but I hope that if couples get married, they at least hope this is going to be for life.

Like I said, some people, particularly strangers who are clueless about disabilities, think that it’s perfectly understandable that as a blind person I live in a care facility. This misconception often feels as uncomfortable to me as the idea that I am or should be independent. I used to want to educate people that most people who are just blind, can live independently. I no longer do this though. Not only is it none of random strangers’ business that I’m not just blind, and isn’t it my obligation to educate, but I might also be adding to the stigma I fought so hard against as a teen.

By this I mean the National Federation of the Blind’s philosophy that blindness shouldn’t hold you back. It in fact used to say that the average blind person is just as capable as the average sighted person. That led to the idea that, unless you had severe or multiple other disabilities, you were to be pushed to achieve whether you could or wanted to or not. That just doesn’t work for me and it doesn’t work for many blind people.

#Blogtober20

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

This Is Me: Beyond the Labels #Blogtober20

A few days ago, I discovered Blogtober, a month-long event aimed at bloggers writing a post everyday during the month. There are prompts for each day of the month. They’re based on song titles, but you can do whatever you want. You don’t even have to follow the prompts! The first prompt is “This Is Me”.

So, who am I? When introducing myself, I tend to focus heavily on my labels. I tend to say that I’m blind and autistic and that I have mild cerebral palsy. I tend to say that I live in a care facility. I tend to say that I don’t work, but do day activities at my facility. Then again, are these the things that define me?

I could also be focusing on my passions. I am a blogger. I love to read memoirs and young adult fiction. I love to make soap and other bath and body care products. I am interested in aromatherapy. I am passionate about mental health and disability rights.

These are more “me” than my disabilities, but they’re still labels. Who I am at the core is not a blind or autistic person, or a blogger even.

Still, it is hard to define myself beyond the labels. Here are, however, a few things I think make me me.


  • I am open to new experiences. For example, I love to discover new hobbies. I am also open-minded to differences in people’s identity.

  • I am passionate. When I have an idea in mind, I can truly focus on it for a while. This means I can really be enthusiastic, but it also means I tend to perseverate.

  • I am sensitive, both to emotions and to physical stimuli. This may or may not be a positive characteristic, depending on how much I can handle on a given day.

  • I am intelligent. This is often the first positive quality people mention about me and I tend to hate that. After all, my IQ was often used to show that I should be able to solve my problems in other areas. Now that I am in an environment that doesn’t judge people by their IQ – I live with people with severe to profound intellectual disability -, I tend to appreciate my intelligence somewhat more.

  • I am a go-getter. Some people would disagree, because I have very poor distress tolerance and because I haven’t achieved their goals for me. They see the fact that I’m in a care facility and not working as a sign that I’ve given up. I haven’t. I have just focused on my own true needs and desires.

What are some things that make you uniquely you?

#Blogtober20

A Sunny Monday

Hi all on this beautiful Monday! It’s mid-September but the temperatures rose to 29°C here anyway. Tomorrow we’re supposed to get even hotter weather, with temperatures rising to 34°C in some places in the south of the country.

I went for three walks today. In the morning, my regular day activities staff was in a meeting, so a substitute came. She took me on a long’ish walk. I think we took over half an hour. Then in the afternoon, I took my usual 20-minute walk when the regular staff had returned.

I was originally planning on taking some pictures, but ultimately I didn’t really have the courage. That little voice that says as a blind person I shouldn’t be interested in visual stuff like photographs, was pretty prominent in my mind.

In the evening, I took another longer walk. The staff who took me pointed out that there were some cows real close. I asked her to take a picture with my phone. Both Seeing AI and Envision, my two image description tools on my phone, didn’t get beyond calling it livestock, but my iPhone itself did identify cows in the picture.

Ultimately, I took over 12K steps so far today. This gives me an excuse to take it easy tomorrow, when it’s going to be so hot. I might make a soap then or maybe I’ll try out the matcha green tea in a smoothie. I doubt I’m going to try it as regular tea, as I’ve heard it tastes pretty bitter then.

I may also visit the sensory garden attached to the day center. I went there some weeks ago and loved smelling the herbs. There’s a birdcage there too, although at the time the birds didn’t make a sound.

I may try to take some pictures myself. What do you think? As a blind person, should I be interested in pictures, and if so, is it worth it if I try to take them myself? I mean, would you like to see more pictures on this blog even if they’re not good?

The Ordinary Moments

Something I Struggle With

A few weeks ago, Marquessa over at The Next Chapter started a writing challenge to get herself motivated to write everyday. Yesterday, I saw that Cyranny had joined in. Cyranny started with the first prompt. That one didn’t appeal to me, so I will go to the second. It is to share something you struggle with.

Regular readers may be able to guess what I’m going to share. It wasn’t the first thing that came to mind, but I got inspired by Marquessa’s post. She shared that she struggles with being called “pretty”. She then goes on to say that brains matter more to her than beauty. Well, I wouldn’t exactly say I’m the opposite, but I do struggle with being called “intelligent”.

As a child, I was often called intelligent. My parents loved bragging about my so-called genius. After I had an IQ test at age twelve, this became even worse. The IQ test, though not the first one administered to me, was the first one about which the assessor actually told my parents the exact IQ outcome. My performance IQ can’t be measured because I’m blind, but my verbal IQ was identified as being 154 on the Wechsler scale. This means I was supposedly within the highly gifted range.

As a preteen and early teen, I didn’t mind my parents bragging about this three-digit number as much. I was proud that, according to my mother, I had the same IQ as my father. Now the only time my father had an IQ test administered, he at least told me that was in the pub with a psychologist friend and he was rather drunk. I’m assuming his real IQ may be higher.

As I grew older though, my apparent high IQ more and more stood in the way of my being myself. It was frequently used by my parents and professionals to “prove” that I should be capable of solving my own problems in social situations. This got me interested in the concept of giftedness as asynchronous development. Later, I was diagnosed with autism. Still, my parents reasoned that I was just extremely intelligent.

The reason I struggle greatly with being called “intelligent” is the assumption that I am smart enough to solve non-intellectual problems. This may be so in most gifted people – I think I remember recent research disproves the theory of asynchronous development -, but it isn’t the case for me. Like I mentioned a few weeks ago, my emotional level is equivalent to someone approximately 18 months of age.

Last year, my IQ was used against me to deny me long-term care. I mean, due to my multiple disabilities and low emotional functioning level, I do best in a care setting normally catering towards severely intellectually disabled people. Because of my IQ though, I can’t get funding based on developmental disability. I am lucky that I’m blind in this respect, because I ultimately did get funding based on that.

Contrary to Marquessa, I do not struggle with compliments about my intelligence because I don’t agree with them. I mean, the IQ test I took at age twelve is rather outdated now and I scored much lower when I took another one in 2017. However, I still know I’m indeed intelligent. That being said, that’s not all I am. In the future, I’d like to be able to take pride in my intellectual abilities without them triggering the fear that I’ll need to be good at other things too.