Book Review: Let Me Go by Casey Watson

Last week, I found out Amazon.nl now accepts iDEAL, the Dutch payment method via your bank account. Unfortunately, as of yet, it doesn’t accept this method for digital purchases such as Kindle books. I didn’t realize this until I had already bought a book with my husband’s credit card. Honestly, I think it’s stupid that they won’t accept iDEAL for digital purchases, but oh well. Anyway, looking back maybe I should’ve purchased a book that isn’t on Apple Books, but I ended up purchasing Let Me Go, Casey Watson’s latest foster care memoir. This book came out last August, but I wasn’t really interested in reading it up till now. Read on to see what I thought.

Summary

Let Me Go is the powerful new memoir from foster carer and Sunday Times bestselling author Casey Watson.

Harley, 13, has been sectioned under the mental health act after attempting suicide. She was spotted climbing the railings on a footbridge that crossed a busy motorway and pulled to safety by a member of the public. After six weeks in hospital, social services are looking for a short-term placement so she can be kept safe while family therapy takes place. Harley has a family – a widowed mother and an older sister, Milly, who left home with her long-term boyfriend just over a year ago. There is no prospect of Harley going home just yet though, as her mum, who has learning difficulties and addictions issues, feels she cannot cope. So she arrives with Casey and Mike under a twenty-eight day care order.

As Harley tries to hurl herself out of the moving car on the way home, it quickly becomes clear she is in urgent need of help. Three weeks into the placement, after Harley has made various attempts to abscond, it seems like zero progress is being made. Then all of sudden there is an unexpected breakthrough, and light at the end of a long dark tunnel, but only once Harley is finally able to share the truth about the abuse she suffered at the hands of a very dangerous man.

My Review

This book is a sad look into the errors of the care system. Harley is deemed “care-seeking” (the politically correct term for attention-seeking) by the mental health professionals and is, for this reason, refused mental health care even though she’s clearly at risk. I mean, I honestly don’t feel that anyone in their right mind would make multiple even half-hearted attempts at suicide. In fact, I’m so happy the mental health system here in the Netherlands at least allowed care based on “adjustment disorder” (serious distress due to environmental circumstances) back in my day. It doesn’t anymore, unfortunately.

I was, at first, convinced Harley was at least at risk of developing emotionally unstable (borderline) personality disorder. This can’t be diagnosed in children her age, but it sure seemed she would meet the criteria at some point. BPD is, though, usually a trauma-based condition. So is Harley’s condition, as it turns out.

I had lots of sympathy for Harley, even as Casey and Mike almost lost it with her. This is in part due to the similarities between her experience and mine, but also due to Casey’s caring writing style.

Still, the book dragged a little at first. That’s probably to illustrate how little progress was made at first. Once Harley’s real situation is clear, things after all move more quickly.

At the end, Casey explains some of the issues with the 28-day care order. This was really interesting to read.

Overall, I really loved this book. I should’ve read it as soon as it came out.

Book Details

Title: Let Me Go: Abused and Afraid, She Has Nothing to Live for
Author: Casey Watson
Publisher: HarperElement
Publication Date: August 6, 2020

Read With Me

What Recovery Means to Me

Yesterday, one of the daily word prompts here on WP was Recovery. I didn’t see it till it was already time for me to go to bed, so I’m writing about this word today. Today, I am sharing with you what recovery from my mental health conditions means to me.

First, there are a few things recovery doesn’t mean to me. Recovery isn’t the same as being happy all the time – that’d be an unrealistic goal. It also isn’t the same as independence. I don’t intend on ever living independently again and there are few things with respect to life skills I’d really still want to learn.

Recovery does mean no longer being scared when I’m able to do something independently. Currently, I constantly expect people to overestimate my abilities, so when I can do something independently, I think people will expect me to do it all the time.

Similarly, recovery means no longer being afraid of my feelings, both good and bad. Affect phobia is a thing, you know? I currently tend to dissociate from my feelings a lot. I also often counter joy or sadness with anger, because that’s the easiest emotion for me to express.

Recovery means having a relatively stable sense of self. I don’t necessarily want to integrate all alternate parts of my personality, although it’s okay if it happens spontaneously. We do want to achieve cooperation among ourselves. This also means being able to accept the seemingly opposite sides of me.

Recovery means, as a result of the above, no longer needing to rely on negative coping strategies such as self-harm, rage or impulsive behavior. I will no doubt still have times when I indulge into an unhealthy habit such as overeating or buying stuff I don’t need. That’s okay, since I don’t think total self-control is a realistic goal. I just don’t want to use these as coping skills when feeling overwhelmed, and I no longer want to engage in self-harm at all.

Lastly, recovery means no longer expecting people to abandon me if they know the real me. Currently, I have such a negative self-image that I believe any positive aspects of me are a façade and at the core I’m so wicked no-one should want to be associated with me. Overcoming this is probably the hardest thing to achieve, as expectation of abandonment is such an ingrained thought pattern. I really hope to someday stop seeing myself as one giant manipulator though.

In addition to the word prompt, I am linking up with #LifeThisWeek and #SeniSal.

In Crisis Yet Again #Blogtober20

Okay, this may not be the most appropriate post for #Blogtober20. After all, the prompt for today is “relax”. It is also World Mental Health Day. Most people would use this to advocate for better mental health services, or to share tips on coping with mental health issues. Tonight, I’m too stressed out to do either. In fact, this is just going to be a raw post on my having been in crisis tonight – and not having fully recovered yet as I write this, in fact.

I was on edge all day. By mid-morning, I started feeling irritable, but it was still manageable. When it was time for lunch, a different staff from the one assigned to my side of the home came to eat with us. We also didn’t get the usual weekend lunch stuff, such as sausages, pancakes or soup. We did get a baguette with cream cheese on it. It was okay. IN fact, I much prefer that to our weekday lunches. I don’t think it’s even the fact that I didn’t get the treat I wanted, that set me off, but the fact that so much was different about the lunch. Thankfully, after being on the verge of a meltdown for a bit, I was able to calm down.

Then in the evening, I spiraled into crisis. I don’t even know why honestly. I was getting very irritable about the staff having the TV on even though the volume was turned to low. Within the next fifteen minutes or so, I landed in a full-blown meltdown that seemed to last forever. I eventually asked the staff to fetch me a PRN lorazepam, but then somehow got it into my mind to climb over the balcony railing. I didn’t, but the mere fact that I was standing on my balcony on bare feet in the rain and disclosed my thoughts, worried the staff.

I was near a staff all the time until I had to go to bed at 10:15PM because the evening staff were leaving. They did remove the knob on my balcony door, so that for now I cannot go on there. I gave them permission for this, for clarity’s sake.

The lorazepam has started to kick in, but I’m still pretty tense. I must say that I am completely in awe of how my staff handle my challenging behavior too. It must be hard having a mentally disturbed person on an intellectual disability unit. In psychiatric care, they’d probably have sent me for a time-out off the ward. After all, psychiatric professionals commonly see me as a borderline case. I’m not sure my current place is the most suitable for me, but the staff definitely are.

#Blogtober20

Empathy

I’ve been thinking about empathy lately. A few weeks ago, I wrote that I have been looking at my personality from a highly sensitive person or empath theory perspective. Though this is still somewhat fitting, I indeed experience this strange mix between low empathy and hyperempathy.

I mean, I pick up on the general atmosphere in a room pretty easily. I also absorb others’ emotions. I feel when other people are sad or angry in distress. I cannot pick up on happiness as easily, but I’m learning.

Then again, when presented with a social situation, be it in theory or in real life, I show very little empathy according to neurotypical standards. I have absolutely no idea how to articulate how people are feeling.

I recently saw a post by Ashley on alexithymia. Ashley contrasted alexithymia with borderline personality disorder, in which people are overly emotionally sensitive. Well, I have both. Or maybe I just have the autistic women’s general mix between high and low empathy.

The interesting bit about alexithymia is, when being assessed for it in 2017 as part of my last autism assessment, one of the scales was on interest in talking about emotions and such. I scored normal if not high on that one. Similarly, when taking personality tests like those based on the MBTI, I usually score higher on feeling than thinking. That’s because I somehow want to see myself as a sensitive person. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I am though. Like I said before, my husband sees me as an obvious INTJ.

My community psychiatric nurse signed me up for a psycho-education course on autism this past week even though I know quite a bit about it already. Looking over all the criteria, I thought: “That must be so hard to deal with… Oh wait, that’s supposed to be me.” There was a bit about lack of empathy too and that made me feel awful. As much as I “wanted” an autism diagnosis when last assessed for it, I don’t want to be seen as having low empathy.

This post was inspired by today’s RagTag Daily Prompt.

What Day Is It Anyway? (March 23, 2020) #WDIIA

Well, this thing called What Day Is It Anyway? (#WDIIA) is presumably a daily feature during the COVID-19 crisis. However, I won’t promise I’ll make it a daily feature. I’d like to participate when I can though, as I must admit I lose track of the days too.

Today is Monday, March 23. I awoke at 8:29AM according to my Fitbit activity tracker. I got showered, brushed my teeth and got dressed. I then had nice yoghurt with crunchy muesli with nuts for breakfast. I bought it with the staff on Saturday.

Then I went back to my room for a bit, until it was time to have coffee in the living room, which is our day room now that the day center is closed. The day activities staff are still figuring out how to best help all clients in the seven homes that are part of the facility.

I went for two walks during the day, one in the morning and another in the afternoon. Then after dinner I went on the elliptical. Then finally while prime minister Rutte was delivering a press conference on the COVID-19 situation, I took another long walk. I reached nearly 12000 steps today.

As such, I didn’t hear myself what the prime minister had to say. I later heard on the news that people found gathering in even small groups can be fined up to €400 per person. It’s up to each city’s mayor though to take appropriate safety measures. Shops can (and probably should) have strict limitations on the number of people entering at a time. All events and festivals have been canceled until June 1. The prime minister will give out further details about school closures next week. But the good news is… no complete lockdown for now! Though the prime minister did say that people should really go outside alone if they’re outside at all, I doubt I’ll be fined for taking walks outdoors with just one staff. I hope not at least, as walks are true stress-relievers for me in normal times already and this time is definitely more stressful than normal.

Then again, I’m not sure I’m affected more by this situation than most others, or maybe even less. I am constantly on edge, but that’s my normal. That’s what living life with (C-)PTSD and BPD traits is like everyday. My distress level simply is never at a one and this time is no exception. Though obviously the lack of routine is distressing, I must honestly say it’s really more the usual things that cause me overwhelm.

Friday Flashback: Diagnonsense, Oh Diagnonsense!

Today I’m joining in with Fandango’s Friday Flashback and sharing a post I wrote exactly three years ago on my old blog. I let my domain registration for the blog expire this week, but it’s still available on a WordPress subdomain. With this post, I have edited out typeos and am not going to keep all the internal links. I’ll provide a link to the original at the bottom of this post.

A few months ago, I wrote about my changing diagnosis. My autism diagnosis that’s been confirmed three times since 2007, was removed. That left me with just borderline personality disorder (BPD) as a diagnosis. If you thought I gracefully accepted this, you do not know me. I consulted with the patient liaison person at my institution, who recommended I seek a second opinion at another hospital. Now, three months on and we’re back at square one, and it’s not because an independent provider agreed with my psychologist.

On August 15, I talked to the patient liaison person, who on that same day E-mailed my psychologist asking her to make the necessary arrangements for me to get a second opinion. Instead, my psychologist told me she wanted to contact a psychiatrist at the brain injury unit first to inquire about the diagnosis of autism in people with brain injury. This doctor told her that indeed autism shouldn’t be diagnosed in people with brain injury, but the same is true of BPD. My psychologist would need to diagnose personality change due to a general medical condition instead. I stupidly agreed with her changing my diagnosis herself rather than sending me to an independent psychiatrist or clinical psychologist.

My psychiatrist, who is the head clinician responsible for my care, however, disagreed with my psychologist’s diagnosis. My named nurse said they were throwing around all sorts of diagnoses at my treatment plan meeting last month. Eventually, my psychologist informed me they’d settled on dependent personality disorder, borderline personality disorder traits and a developmental disorder NOS. I hate the DPD label, but can see how I might have some of its features. I needed to see my treatment plan to see what they’d meant with developmental disorder NOS, which isn’t a diagnostic code in DSM-IV unless prefixed by “pervasive”. That would essentially mean autism. As it turned out, they hadn’t settled on this diagnosis, as the developmental disorder was gone.

Instead, I now have DPD, BPD traits and depressive disorder NOS. I asked my psychologist whether this was a coding typeo, but it wasn’t. Her explanation was that I may formally meet the criteria for this, but the main reason for the diagnosis is for insurance purposes. You see, I can’t be in the mental hospital without a diagnosis on axis I (anything that isn’t a personality disorder). A nurse even twisted my psychologist’s actions like she’d done me a favor.

Last week, when I found out my final diagnosis, I lost it pretty much and was considering checking myself out of the institution. My psychologist was called, because the nurses thought I said I was definitely leaving, which I can’t remember having said. My psychologist encouraged me to leave right then, which I refused. My husband instead came to pick me up the next day for a night at home to have some distance.

Today, I spoke to the patient liaison person again. She was not happy at the fact that my psychologist had failed to cooperate with me in getting me a second opinion. This essentially means we’re back at where we started and I’m probably going to ask my psychologist to get me a second opinion again soon.

https://bloggingastrid.wordpress.com/2016/11/22/diagnonsense-oh-diagnonsense/

Working On Us Prompt: Coping With Crisis

Today, I’m once again joining in with Beckie’s Working On Us Prompt. This week, the topic is to write a narrative of what works for you when facing a panic or anxiety attack, manic episode or other crisis. I don’t get panic or anxiety attacks much or mania at all, so I’m going to describe what works for me when I’m in an emotionally dysregulated crisis.

Like I’ve said before, I have BPD (traits). These are also known as emotion regulation issues. I also experience complex PTSD symptoms. Both can cause me to suffer emotional outbursts. In addition, I can get severely overloaded due to my autism. This can cause me meltdowns, which in some ways are similar to BPD outbursts. In fact, I’m not 100% sure my BPD diagnosis is correct given that autistics, particularly women, are often misdiagnosed as BPD.

Anyway, I usually notice an outburst coming on when I experience an increase in sensory reactivity. I also often start to experience a decrease in my language abilities. I start to stutter or can only make humming noises and repeat the same phrases. My staff at day activities say that when in this state, my communication abilities resemble those of a toddler. It is interesting, in that we have only one toddler alter. When I can’t do something to calm down, I may progress to a full-blown state of meltdown, in which I become angry and sometimes aggressive or self-injurious.

What helps me when I’m in such a state, is to physicaly remove myself from the situation. This is hard though, as often it feels as though everything that happens around me is important. Usually, my staff help me by clarifying what’s important and what is not.

Of course, now that I still live independently, I don’t always have a staff member available to help me sort through a crisis or make suggestions on how I can cope. I, however, have a phone number of a psych hospital I can call in a state when I’m close to a crisis. They can’t do much but listen to me and try to offer advice, but it’s definitely been helpful in some situations. The mental health team that treats me also has a staff available on the phone for crisis intervention during office hours.

Sometimes, when I’m in a really bad crisis, I take my PRN lorazepam. However, I have some experience with it being overused on me in the psych hospital. Like, whenever I’d react to a sound in an irritated tone of voice, staff would tell me to take a lorazepam rather than helping me to figure out what was causing me overload. This has really gotten me weary of PRN medication.

Working On Us Prompt: Stigma

For the fourth time, Rebecca of Beckie’s Mental Mess hosted the Working On Us prompt last Wednesday. I didn’t get to participate before and I really wasn’t sure I could make it this week. After all, I couldn’t load the post at first and then it was my birthday yesterday, so I was occupied all day.

The topic of this week’s prompt is stigma. I forgot the exact wording of the questions, but I’m just going to use the opportunity to ramble.

In 2013, I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. This is, as many sufferers will know, a highly stigmatized diagnosis. Borderlines are thought of as manipulative, unfaithful, volatile, generally awful.

It wasn’t like I wanted this diagnosis. I didn’t feel I fit the criteria. I mean, I had at the time been in a relationship for over five years and it wouldn’t cross my mind to cheat. I wasn’t particularly attention-seeking either. I didn’t go around manipulating my therapist into offering me more and more support and threatening to kill myself if she didn’t.

Yet these are stereotypes. I do have a really unstable sense of self. I do have a lot of rapidly shifting emotions. I do fear abandonment. I do self-harm. I do dissociate and suffer with stress-related paranoia.

I must add here that my diagnosis of BPD replaced DID and PTSD, which generally get a lot more sympathy. The reason my diagnosis got changed, is that my therapist went along with a DID peer support group leader’s opinion that I had imagined my dissociative symptoms.

Years later, my BPD diagnosis got downgraded to BPD traits, but I got an additional diagnosis of dependent personality disorder. DPD is characterized by an inability to stick up for oneself, passiveness and clinginess. I don’t think I meet the criteria at all. The reason I got labeled with DPD is because I thought I neeeded long-term supported housing and my psychologist thought I didn’t. She told my mother-in-law upon my discharge from the mental hospital that I can stick up for myself really well. She said that the DSM diagnosis that comes closest when a patient suffers institutionalization, is DPD. Well, there is a difference between a dependent dynamic and a dependent person.

The same goes for all personality disorders: they describe patients, not dynamics. A person with a personality disorder may be more likely to engage in a certain dynamic, but the disorder isn’t the same as that dynamic. This is the reason narcissistic abuse really isn’t a thing. Yes, people with NPD are more likely to be abusers than those without NPD, but abuse is a dynamic, whereas NPD is something affecting the patient. Let me tell you here that I’m in Facebook groups for narcissistic abuse survivors, but only because they’re the only groups that acknowledge the specific psychological damage dysfunctional families can cause.

I fought the BPD and DPD diagnoses, because I didn’t feel I met the criteria. However, this does allow the stigma to continue. Of course, I do have BPD traits. That doesn’t make me a monster. And of course I was a pain in the ass of my last psychologist. That doesn’t mean I have DPD.

A Timeline of My Mental Health

And yet again, I did not write for almost an entire week. My cold is gone, but now I’m fighting the strong pull of depression. I’m having really dark images in my mind, particularly at night. During the day, I can manage, but often feel too unmotivated and/or uninspired to write.

For this reason, I dug up one of my many collections of journaling prompts. A prompt that spoke to me is to draw a timeline of my life. I’m pretty sure I did this already, but can’t remember whether it was here or on one of my old blogs. I searched this blog for “timeline” and nothing came up, so if this is a duplicate post, I’m sorry. I think I wrote a timeline of my mental health on my previous blog in 2015 or 2016, but I’m just going to write one again.

2006: This was when I entered mental health services for the first time. I had my first appointment with a psychiatry resident on December 12. I was very nervous and could hardly speak a word.

2007: The most eventful year. First, in March, I got diagnosed with autism. I started treatment with a community psychiatric nurse. In July, I started my first psychiatric medication (other than sleeping pills for a while in 2006), an antipsychotic called Risperdal. This was a week before I moved out of independence training to go live on my own. In October, I stopped my antipsychotic again. In November, I landed in a suicidal crisis and was hospitalized.

2008: I remained on the locked acute unit for this entire year. Various follow-up placements were discussed, but none wanted me.

2009: I moved to the resocialization unit.

2010: I got diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder and PTSD in addition to my autism. I started medication again. First, just Abilify (an antipsychotic), but then, Celexa (an antidepressant) was added. I also was put on the waiting list for a workhome for autistic people.

2011: The workhome didn’t work out (no pun intended). Other options were unsuitable for various reasons.

2012: I started to think that maybe I could live with my husband. This wasn’t because I really wanted it (or thought I could do it), but because every other option seemed to have been exhausted and at least my husband wasn’t going to refuse to be with me for needing too much care.

2013: I moved to the hospital closest to where my husband and I had rented an apartment. This was one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in life. First, my diagnosis of DID and PTSD got changed to borderline personality disorder. This should’ve been a warning sign.

2014: I had to change psychologists. My new one said at our first appt that she didn’t believe I’m autistic.

2015: My husband moved to our cuurrent house. I tried to arrange to be transferred again, but this was refused by my social worker and psychologist. I tried to make arrangements to be placed in supported housing in my new area, but got told that the train has to move on and I had to live with my husband.

2016: My autism diagnosis got removed and replaced by dependent personality disorder, BPD traits and depression not otherwise specified. The process by which this diagnosis came to be, was the weirdest I’ve ever seen.

2017: I got kicked out of the hospital with almost no after care. In my final week, I got some day activities arranged, but that was it. Thankfully, I did get my autism diagnosis back after seeking a second opinion. My current treatment team agree with this diagnosis.

2018: I had a mental crisis at day activities and was told I had to leave that place. Thankfully, I found another place. I started dialectical behavior therapy and movement therapy, but quit again too because I couldn’t really apply what I’d learned. I finally got put on an effective dose of my antidepressant.

2019: I currently get only suppportive counseling with my nurse practitioner. I still take the high dose of both Abilify and Celexa. Would someday like to lower my Abilify dose, but that’s something for the future.

Healing From Childhood Trauma: Progress I’ve Made #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to the #AtoZChallenge, day eight. It’s already nearly 9PM as I start writing this post. I wasn’t home from day activities till 5PM, then had dinner and then drove 50 minutes one way with my husband to pick something up he had bought. On our way back, we stopped by McDonald’s, which was fun.

Anyway, today’s theme is healing. I was inspired to choose this theme by yesterday’s post, in which my final goal was to heal from my childhood trauma. Let me share today how far I’ve come on my journey.

My trauma-based symptoms first became fully apparent in 2009 or 2010. I had moved from a locked acute psych unit to a resocialization unit in early 2009. Once I developed trust in my staff, I apparently felt more ready to uncover the trauma-based conditions I’ve been living with all my life. You see, my trauma started early on and is in some respects ongoing.

When I started to open up about my symptoms, it still took a long time for them to be diagnosed as first dissociative identity disorder and PTSD and later borderline personality disorder. Borderline personality disorder shares a ton of symptoms with complex PTSD and I think that’s what I have.

I have never been in formal trauma therapy. The reason is that, first, it was hard to find a therapist with expertise on DID. Once I’d found one, my diagnosis had been changed and I was assumed to be making it up.

As a result, I’ve done most healing on my own. I got the book Coping with Trauma-Related Dissociation as soon as it came out in 2011. I worked through some of it on my own, but that wasn’t helping much. Talking a lot about my experiences was.

After I’d been talking through my experiences for a long while with my resocialization unit staff, my classic PTSD symptoms started to fade. Unfortunately, they’ve been back to an extent lately. However, my emotion regulation issues are a lot less pronounced.

I still have dissociative symptoms. Accepting them and validating my alters has helped me manage these symptoms.

Since I experience ongoing stress that reminds me of my trauma, I don’t expect to find the peace to fully heal anytime soon. However, I really hope I can continue to make progress.