Learning to Swim

Today’s topic for Throwback Thursday is “learning to swim”. There are no specific questions, but we are allowed to interpret the topic as we see fit. Here goes.

I got my first swimming lessons at the special school for the visually impaired I attended from first up to third grade. I, however, was very scared of the water and particularly of the deeper end. I vividly remember my teacher taking me to the deep end and my anxiously asking her if she could stand there. She was quite tall, but even so, she couldn’t. That scared me intensely.

According to my parents, my teachers were just overprotective, so my parents put me in swimming lessons at the pool close by their home. I didn’t need to start at the really shallow end, as I had had some swimming experience already, but could start at the 90cm deep second pool. Within a week, I was moved to the 110cm deep third pool, even though I think I protested.

It took me several more years before I earned my first swimming diploma. This first diploma at the time required students to be able to do breaststroke and backstroke, to swim one pool length with loose-fitting clothing, to tread water, etc., but it did not require students to swim underwater.

By the time I got my diploma, I had transferred to another school for the blind, where I had once again been put into the relatively shallow pool. I proudly showed my teachers my swimming diploma that I’d earned at home and was reluctantly transferred to the deep end.

From earning my first swimming diploma to my second, it took me only about eight months. The second diploma required students to swim 7m underwater. There was no way I could see whether I’d passed the 7m mark, so I had to guess. According to my parents, I swam about 11m.

After that, I had swimming lessons for the next three years that I was at various schools for the blind, but I never earned any more diplomas or certificates. The reason was, once again, the fact that my fear started to act up. After all, I wouldn’t swim under a mat. My parents, however, were okay with it this time. After all, my sister never moved beyond her second swimming diploma either.

I now can swim in a pool or lake. When my parents took me and my sister on vacation to Vlieland, I would also sometimes swim in the North Sea. I doubt I’d be able to save myself should I get underwater unintendedly though.

Childhood Creative Endeavors #AtoZChallenge

Hi everyone and welcome to my letter C post in the #AtoZChallenge. Today, I initially wanted to write about cardmaking, but I don’t feel like that now. Instead, I’m going to talk about my creative endeavors as a child.

As a young child, I had a bit of useable vision that allowed me to use colors sort of appropriately (that is, as appropriately as a sighted child my age could). I loved learning about the names of unusual colors. I remember, in particular, learning that the sixth color of the rainbow is indigo, which I was fascinated by.

I could do some basic drawing too. In Kindergarten, I went to mainstream school with hardly any accommodations. I remember having to color inside the lines of a piece of paper, giving each little shape within the drawing a different color and not leaving any white. When, several years later, I looked at it, I saw considerable white. I have no idea how I compared to the other kids though.

By the age of eight, I’d lost the ability to tell most shades of green and blue apart, but I continued to love drawing until I was about age twelve. Then, I realized I’d lost so much vision that it’d make no sense. Even so, before then, my drawings up till that age remained comparable to a Kindergartner’s in quality.

When I went to special education, I was taught other creative activities. I remember making at least a dozen origami frogs in second grade. However, my teacher did at one point write on my report card that she wished she were two teachers so that she could teach together. In other words, I required so much attention that she’d really need to split herself in half to be able to teach the class too.

My parents bought a pottery kiln when I was about eleven, so I also tried my hand at ceramics. I wasn’t too good at it, leaving fingerprints on my work all the time, but at least I enjoyed the process.

Writing also was a lifelong passion of mine. I can’t, in fact, remember a time when I didn’t enjoy writing. At first, I’d make up stories to go along with my drawings. As a tween and teen, I wrote stories that were somewhat or very much related to my real life. My greatest achievement is a work in progress, a young adult novel by the working title of “The Black Queen” about a teen whose mother has multiple sclerosis. This story, though it had autobiographical elements, was inspired by a conversation I overheard about a classmate.

Did you love creative activities as a child?

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?

Generosity

Today’s prompt for #JusJoJan is “Generosity”. I don’t tend to think of myself as a particularly generous person. That would not only be arrogant, but it would be incorrect as well. Particularly as a child, I liked receiving more than I liked giving. I was a very jealous child, often envying my sister for what she got and I didn’t.

I remember one day, when my sister and her friends had been participating in the four-day walking event in my city. It was the last day of the event and I was allowed to walk with them for this occasion. At the finish line, a parent of one of my sister’s friends had lots of candy for my sister and her friends, but he had none for me. I had a full-on tantrum in the car home even though my sister and her friends ended up giving me more candy than they kept for themselves. It caused the oldest friend, a girl my age, to cry. I was ten at the time, so far too old for toddler tantrums like this. I feel intense shame about this incident as I look back, seeing that I should have known it wasn’t fair of me to expect candy since I hadn’t walked the entire event. Much less should I have tantrummed about it in the car.

Now that I’m an adult, I am a little less worried about material goods and a lot less jealous of others, but it still doesn’t come natural to me to give material things away. Thankfully, generosity comes in different ways and I do love expressing it in other ways. I love to create my own gifts for people. Yes, of course they are material too, but that feels different.

Still, I am often reminded of the Sesame Street episode in which Bert and Ernie have a cake and Ernie gives Bert the smaller slice. Bert teaches him that he’s supposed to offer Bert the larger slice first. Then Ernie asks: “So what would you do if you were to offer me the cake?” Then he replied he’d take the smaller slice and offer Ernie the larger slice. “But you have the smaller slice now, like you wanted!” Ernie objects. This is child logic and it is incorrect. It is not how we’re supposed to be generous. We are supposed to love others like ourselves. Others before ourselves, even.

I pray God leads me to a life of greater generosity. I know I am supposed to love others as myself and that includes giving generously of myself to others. Like I said yesterday, when I trust that God will provide for my needs, He will. As a follower of Christ, I have no need to worry. In the end, everything will work out okay.

Suicidal Ideation in Childhood: Some Reflections

Earlier today, someone online asked a group of autistic women about suicidal ideation in childhood and at what age it started. It is common knowledge that depression and suicidality are near-universal among autistics. After all, we are taught, be it consciously or not, that our autistic way of expressing ourselves is unacceptable.

I remember my first autistic burnout at age five. I don’t have clear, verbal memories of the experience, but my inner five-year-old might and I do experience somatic and emotional flashbacks. The family story about the event is that I was ill with the flu. At the same time (coincidentally or not) my parents were making arrangements for me to start at the school for the visually impaired. I started in mid-May, before the end of the school year.

At the time, I wasn’t actively suicidal as far as I’m aware. I started having those thoughts when I was around age seven. I have a vague memory of telling my mother that I wanted to die sometime around that age.

Interestingly, I never made suicide attempts. Even the times I planned my “final day alive”, I never had any idea how I was going to go about actually doing it. This fact was later used to “prove” that I wasn’t serious.

I mean, when I was 21 and admitted to the psych unit, my parents came to tell the psychiatrist that I’d threatened suicide ever since I was seven-years-old, almost adding triumphantly: “See, and here she is, alive!” They said I just wanted attention.

Then again, is it somehow bad that I, deep down, didn’t really want to die? I just didn’t see any alternative. Of course I didn’t want to die by suicide. I imagine at least most people don’t really want to; instead, they want a better life. But I couldn’t get that at that time or so I thought. Does that make me a bad person? I don’t think so.

It’s so sad that, at least in my family, the red flag of long-time, severe suffering was ignored as a sign of “attention-seeking”. As if a seven-year-old even has the capacity to use suicide threats to manipulate their parents for mere attention without anything else going on with them.

Thieves!

When I was little, my parents would store their sweets (usually licorice but sometimes other sweets too) on a shelf just within my and my sister’s reach in their pantry. I’m pretty sure they’d tried putting them in higher places but we’d just climb up stairs or other furniture to reach them.

Invariably, on Saturday and Sunday mornings, when my parents slept in, I’d lead my sister to the pantry and we’d steal some sweets. Yes, I am pretty sure I took the lead.

I obviously thought they were unaware. That is, until one day when I was five and had just learned to read. There it was, on the sweets shelf, a paper that read “BOEVEN” in large print. This is Dutch for “crooks” or “thieves”. My parents never actually confronted us about grabbing their candy except on this one playful occasion.

In reality though, I still wasn’t truly aware that my parents knew. In fact, I remember one day when I was about fifteen, my parents had left like eight hamburgers on a plate in the kitchen and I sneaked into it to eat one at a time. My parents never confronted me and it wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized they must’ve known. That is when the shame at having eaten this many hamburgers caught up with me.


This post was written for Friday Writings, for which the optional prompt this week is food. It is a an autobiographical piece.

Childhood Ambitions

Last week’s topic for Truthful Tuesday was what we as children wanted to become when we’d grow up. I already discussed this at length last year, so really didn’t feel like boring my readers with the same old stuff again. I mean, I didn’t end up becoming a professor, a psychologist or a published author, or for that matter any of the other things I wanted to be when I’d grow up. Then I saw the topic is being continued this week. That got me thinking. Maybe, if I look at it differently, I did fulfill some of those childhood ambitions.

For example, I may not be a published author yet. Well, I am, if you count that one short piece of writing published in an anthology back in 2015. But I hardly count that. What I do count, is my blog. Back in my childhood years, the Internet hardly existed, so if I wanted my diary published, like Anne Frank, I’d have to have it traditionally published. Well, thank goodness I don’t strive for that at all now. If I’m ever going to get anything published in print in the future, it will be something much better than those crazy diary entries. But I digress.

Another ambition I reached, is inspiring others, including professionals. As a young teen, I wanted to become a psychologist so that I could help improve care for children or people in general with complex care needs. Though I’m not even a peer support worker by qualification, I have given informal lectures to medical students and other professionals.

Thirdly, I have vastly expanded my knowledge of psychology, education and related topics. I may not actually be of value to anyone with this knowledge except in the ways I mentioned above. However, if you asked my parents what my ultimate passion was as a child, they’d invariably say “collecting knowledge”. I may not have graduated college or even come close. I may live in a long-term care facility for people with intellectual disability. I may not be as much of a nerd as I was when I was younger. However, I still definitely use my brains.

Other ways in which I contribute to the world that I couldn’t even imagine as a child, include my creative endeavors. I bring a smile to my fellow clients’ faces when I bring them handmade gifts. I also am much more empathetic and sensitive than I could’ve imagined I would be. That makes me much prouder than having achieved my high level high school graduation.

What childhood ambitions did you manage to fulfill?

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.

Places I and My Family Have Lived

Today, I once again looked to a book of journaling prompts for inspiration for a blog post. One of the prompts in the first chapter of Journal Writing Prompts for Child Abuse Survivors is to list all the places you’ve lived. There may not be any need to elaborate on them, but I am going to share my thoughts and feelings that come up. For this post, I’m just going to talk about the houses I lived in with my parents. Otherwise, this post is going to be way too long.

First up is my parental house in Rotterdam. My parents bought the house a year before I was born. To be quite honest, I have very few memories of this house, even though I lived there until I was nine. I do remember my and my sister’s bedroom, which had a bunk bed in it. My sister slept at the top and I slept at the bottom.

I don’t remember most other rooms in the house. I know my parents must have had a bedroom, but I can’t remember its location relative to the kids’ bedroom.

I do remember the garden. It was small, but still big enough to play in. It had swings and a sandpit. I loved to play here with my childhood friend Kim.

I also remember the neighborhood. I played in the “thick street”, a square bit of pavement between two blocks of houses. I also often went to the playground across the road from there. When I had lost some of my vision at around age eight, I felt too scared to cross the road.

Like I said, I lived here until I was nine. Then, my family and I moved to Apeldoorn. We moved to a quiet neighborhood. The house we moved into, had a large kitchen-diner and a living room downstairs. We called the living room the “library” because it housed my mother’s huge book collection. Upstairs where three bedrooms, two large and one very small. One was my parents’ bedroom. The small room was my mother’s office, while the other large bedroom was my father’s.

My sister and I each had a bedroom in the attic. I remember not wanting to have my own bedroom at first, probably because I was used to my sister’s company when going to sleep. I eventually grew to like it though. I had the same bed for all of the years I lived here, one of the original bunk beds. My sister claims I got hers and she got mine after the move.

The other two smaller rooms in the attic were a laundry room and a guest bedroom.

We had a large garden. The first summer we lived here, my paternal grandma gifted us a wooden play set that had swings and climbing equipment. I could be found on the swings many hours each dry day until I was at least fourteen.

During the first few years that I lived in this house, I loved exploring the neighborhood. It had at least four playgrounds within a five-minute walking distance from my home. I would often roam about trying to find new playgrounds farther and farther off. When I lost more of my vision at around age twelve, that mostly stopped. Besides, of course I was too old for playgrounds then. I still went to the nearby shopping center regularly, often getting lost on my way.

I generally really liked the house in Apeldoorn. When my parents were trying to sell it and my husband and I were looking for a home, my parents initially offered it for rent to us. We however had the provision that it’d go off the market for a while. Of course, this wasn’t really reasonable. My parents sold the house in December of 2013. I am glad in a way now that they did, as now I have no need to be reminded of the house and my childhood when I don’t want to be.