How I Cope With Stress

Today in her Sunday Poser, Sadje asks how we cope with stress. We all face stress in our lives, yes, even the most laid-back people out there. Maybe they’ve just found better ways of coping with it.

I for one find that a major stressor for me is frustration with my disabilities. For this reason, it may be that my parents thought I was very laid-back until I became aware of my blindness when I was around seven. Now, frustration in general, such as with failing technology, can set me off, but really so can frustrations when trying to accomplish something.

So how do I cope? Over the years, I’ve found several ways to ride the waves of frustration. Dialectical behavior therapy and in particular the ACCEPTS skill set has helped.

I find that distracting myself by focusing on something other than the frustrating situation or thing helps. This is hard with my autistic tendency to perseverate. For example, when I get frustrated with a polymer clay project, it’s currently hard to let go and focus on something else. But it is necessary. This is why my staff encourage me to take regular breaks and also do other activities, such as walking, besides polymer clay.

I also find that talking through my problems sometimes helps. Then, I may realize I’m catastrophizing or using other cognitive distortions. Often though, to get rid of a stressor, I need someone to take over part of the problem, or all of it, from me. After all, my problem-solving skills are practically nonexistent.

Other things I do to cope with stress include finding relaxing activities, such as diffusing an essential oil blend or lying under my weighted blanket. Lastly, writing about my stressors, problems or frustrations also helps.

What helps you cope with stress?

I’d Rather Not Ask

This week’s prompt for #LifeThisWeek is “Questions”. Denyse writes in her original post that she tended to be a question-asker until she was faced with a cancer diagnosis, when she felt too overwhelmed to ask questions. And maybe, I’m assuming here, also a little too self-conscious. She was able to ask some of her questions eventually but even still encounters things she didn’t even know she wanted to know.

I am not a huge question-asker. Like, over the past week, I’ve been asking lots of polymer clay-related questions, but I’ve felt self-conscious each time. I’d rather solve my own problems than ask for help.

Unfortunately, with me being multiply-disabled, that’s often hard. Even when my only recognized disability was blindness, I struggled with asking for help for those things that those who are just blind usually get help with. I’d rather figure things out on my own, only to get frustrated and distressed when things didn’t work out. I considered myself fiercely independent, but I really wasn’t.

As my father at one point said: “You have an issue with only saying when you think people should have helped you.” I realize that’s rather disrespectful indeed, because, well, other people are not mind readers and cannot have guessed that I wanted to ask for help. Then again, I didn’t necessarily want to ask for help.

I’m trying to learn to ask for both explanations and assistance when I need it now, but I often still feel very self-conscious. This happens especially online, where people can’t tell right away that I’m disabled. For example, people in the polymer clay Facebook groups often suggest I watch YouTube videos, so then I feel kind of obligated to say that those won’t work for me as I’m blind. I do tend to say that I’ll ask my support staff for help, because of course I can’t expect a random person online to explain everything in plain text. Each time I feel I have to mention my disabilities though, I feel some of my self-esteem go. I’m not sure that’s justified, but it’s the way it is.

I Am Not a Calculation Mistake

Like I mentioned last week, I have been doing a Bible study plan on YouVersion called Hope Heals in the Midst of Suffering. I finished it yesterday and it was awesome. It was written by Katherine, a woman who survived a severe stroke shortly after becoming a mother, as well as her husband.

The plan follows Joseph’s story, the part of Genesis I had gotten stuck on in my Bible in a Year plan. I was glad to read it now.

At one point, Katherine shares that, about a year after her stroke, she is still unable to perform many basic functions. She is still in adult diapers, unable to eat, unable to even lift up her head. Her family is having Thanksgiving dinner with her son, then a toddler. As the family are playing with her son, she wonders if there was a mistake. Should she have died from her stroke?

It was at this point that a lightbulb went off in my head. I, too, have often wondered whether my life is a mistake. A calculation mistake, to be exact.

You see, I was born over three months premature. Officially, I was born at 26 weeks 4 days gestation. However, it is quite probable given the circumstances of my conception that my mother really wasn’t yet 26 weeks along. At the time, 26 weeks gestation was the cutoff for active, life-saving treatment in the NICU.

My parents weren’t even sure I should be treated actively. At one point, when I’d suffered a brain bleed, my father asked the neonatologist what he was doing with regards to my treatment. “We’re just keeping her alive,” he said. He (or his nurse) added that my father shouldn’t interfere in my treatment or he’d lose custody of me.

In 2004, when I was eighteen, this same doctor was quoted in a newspaper as saying that he sometimes meets preemies he’s kept alive back in his early days as a doctor, about whom he wonders: “What have we done?!” I at the time tried to reassure myself that he wouldn’t have meant me. Or would he? I, after all, am multiply-disabled and in long-term care.

The devotional in the Bible plan I was reading continued. Katherine at this point heard God clearly speak: “I am God. I do not make mistakes.”

This was what I needed to hear! I have tried to find my neonatologist on Google several times since that newspaper article. However, I don’t need his opinion. I have talked to my father about his views on my quality of life several times, but it hasn’t helped. I don’t need my father’s opinion either. God chose for me to be kept alive and that’s what matters.

Grace and Truth

Also joining Friendship Friday this week.

Independence

In last week’s Sunday Poser, Sadje asked what independence means to you. Her question was related to Independence Day in the United States. Of course, one can view independence and freedom in light of one’s national political situation. For example, the Netherlands is a pretty stable democracy. The country has been independent in its current form ever since 1815, though Wikipedia even lists 1648 as the Netherlands’ independence year.

I for one, however, tend to apply independence and freedom much more personally. By independence, I refer to the skills I can do by myself, ie. self-reliance. This includes eating, toileting, dressing myself, writing my blog, etc. But it also includes the skills of self-determination.

I think self-determination is particularly important. By this I mean the ability to know what you want and make it clear in some way or another. Everyone, the disability rights movement assumes, has this capacity. Yes, even people who can’t talk and are labeled as profoundly intellectually disabled. However, it is so commonly overridden by well-meaning family or “helping” professionals.

I remember a client at the first day center with my current care agency for people with intellectual disability I attended. This client had severe cerebral palsy, was profoundly intellectually disabled, couldn’t speak, had epilepsy and was blind. However, somehow, the staff had figured out that bergamot essential oil was her favorite scent.

The same client was also sometimes called “spoiled” when she cried and then was quiet once the staff put a vibrating hose around her body. I’d say she was making known what she wanted. She was using her independence!

With respect to independence as freedom, I, for one, think that self-determination is more important than self-reliance. For example, I get help with my personal care. I myself asked for this after I noticed that it cost me a lot of energy to do it myself. Even though I could, with a lot of verbal instruction, take care of my personal hygiene independently if I really needed to, I decided this isn’t a priority for me. My staff, thankfully, agree.

What is important to you where it comes to independence?

I am also joining MMA StoryTime’s Word of the Day.

First Impressions

I’m rather late to write today. I wasn’t sure what to write about, if anything, for all of today. Then I came across
Fandango’s provocative question for this week. This definitely inspires me. Fandango asks what impression you think you make when people first meet you?

Well, let me start by saying it depends. The factor that makes the difference is largely whether I’m using my white cane. When I am, that’s obviously the first thing people notice. Then most people will immediately know that I’m blind and their further impressions of me will be as much based on me as on their views and prejudices about the blind.

When I’m not using my white cane, people will usually still immediately notice that I am disabled, but be unable to tell what my disability is. This surprised me for a long time, as I always thought the fact that I’m blind is obvious from the way my eyes look. Apparently not, at least not since my cataract surgery in 2013.

In fact, I didn’t know that it’s not obvious somehow until I attended my second online cerebral palsy meeting. In the first, I had mentioned my additional disabilities immediately, but I had no reason to the second time around. Midway through the meeting, I got to mention it and the people who hadn’t attended the previous time all said they hadn’t known.

Generally speaking, I allow strangers and near-strangers to make their own judgments about me and my disabilities based on the first impression, be it that I’m blind or that there’s something “wrong” but they cannot be sure what. Sometimes I correct them, but less and less so. I mean, I could correct taxi drivers that it’s not obvious that all blind people live in care facilities, but why should I? I don’t think I have an obligation to justify why I need 24-hour care and people who are just blind don’t. I honestly don’t feel it’s my responsibility to set an example of competence that I cannot live up to just so that others won’t stereotype other blind people.

I once was approached by a police officer, because I had been wandering the neighborhood without my white cane. That policeman assumed I was either high on drugs or intellectually disabled, as he asked me whether I’d used or had eloped from the local institution. At the time (when I was around eighteen), I had virtually no understanding of the impressions I made on people and I initially corrected him. My father thought the police officer was stupid for assuming I had used drugs or belonged in the intellectual disability facility. I think my father’s preconceived judgments about me and anyone interacting with me, were farther off than that police officer’s.

Mother’s Day

Today is Mother’s Day in the United States as well as here in the Netherlands. I’ve seen lots of ads for it floating by for weeks. It’s probably been this way forever. That being said, I never quite paid much attention to Mother’s Day after getting out of elementary school. Back in the day we did the obligatory Mother’s Day crafts. Since my mother has her birthday in late April, she never quite cared (or we conditioned her not to).

I started caring again, at least a little, when I got out of the psychiatric hospital and started day activities at a center for people with intellectual disability. Most other clients still made crafty things for their mothers. I decided to join in and create something for my mother-in-law.

You see, I have never had the best relationship with my own mother. She no doubt loves me, but the way she expressed it when I was growing up is, well, kind of odd.

That plus my mother’s late April birthday means I never quite honored her for Mother’s Day. My mother-in-law though has her birthday in late November.

My own parents have always been big on independence. I understand, but they took it a bit too far given that I’m multiply-disabled. They pretty much left me to my own resources by the time I left high school at age nineteen.

My mother-in-law, on the other hand, has offered to be my informal representative with my care agency. This means that she’s invited to care plan meetings and would be appointed as my guardian should I ever become incapable of making my own decisions.

One time before I was dating my now husband, I too had to appoint an informal representative for a living facility I was on the waiting list for. I appointed my father, but wasn’t happy about it. I do trust my parents to leave me to my own resources, but I don’t trust them to be there when I actually do need them. What I mean is, I am confident that they won’t approve of restrictive care measures without my consent, but I am pretty sure they will rather advocate for me to be kicked out of care.

With my mother-in-law, I am pretty much on the same page. I am not sure she’s seen my current care plan, but she has talked about it in a way that suggests she knows and understands my need for intensive support. Even my husband doesn’t know some details she appears to be in the know about.

My husband jokingly calls my mother-in-law my adoptive mother. If adults can adopt a mother, that’s quite exactly her. I am glad to have her. And just in case you were wondering, yes, my own mother is happy for my mother-in-law to be my informal representative.

#WeekendCoffeeShare (May 8, 2021)

Hi and welcome to my #WeekendCoffeeShare post for this week. Grab a cup of coffee, be it Senseo or traditionally-made, a glass of your favorite soft drink or a glass of water and let’s catch up.

If we were having coffee, I’d share that the weather here is still all over the place and mostly not in a good way. It’s mostly rather chilly for the time of year and has been raining everyday for the past week. Tomorrow, the temperature’s supposed to rise to a whopping 25°C, but we’re still supposed to get rain and of course thunderstorms. Not fun!

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that, despite the weather, I still managed to get in an average of about 8000 steps each day. I’m still experiencing foot pain when wearing my AFO for longer than say fifteen minutes at a time, but it’s okay if I don’t go for long walks.

If we were having coffee, I would share that I am so happy that my Braille display got fixed. Like I said yesterday, it was quite the ordeal.

If we were having coffee, I’d also share that the construction crew finally came by my and my husband’s house in Lobith to get us a new front door and backdoor. They still need to fix one window, which has a crack in it. Thankfully, they weren’t as stubborn as the Braille display company, so my husband won’t have to pay for the broken window.

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you about the talk I had with my facility’s behavior specialist on Thursday. I was able to express my continuing feelings of not belonging in my current care home. This, for clarity’s sake, has nothing to do with the care home itself or the way the staff treat me, which is great. I am pretty sure it’s my search for some ideal that really doesn’t exist. After all, wherever I go, I always take my insecure self with me.

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you about the online cerebral palsy (CP) meeting I had this morning. It was a regional meeting, because in the future CP Netherlands hopes to organize them in real life. It was quite an interesting meeting. Having recently become more and more aware of my CP, I was able to feel validated by people’s experiences of the long-term effects of this disability.

I also signed up for an online workshop on aging with CP that’s being held next month. I am still considering whether to sign up for the workshop on development of people with CP from birth to age 35, as it sounds interesting despite the fact that I’m nearly 35 myself.

If we were having coffee, lastly I’d share that my husband and I are planning on having lunch tomorrow. As usual, we’re going to get a takeout lunch at Subway.

How have you been?

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.

An F in Phys Ed

One of Mama Kat’s writing prompts for this week is whether you played sports as a child and if so, to share a memorable game. I never played sports outside of school. That is, I attended one gymnastics class with my sister and a friend of hers at around age eight. I didn’t enjoy it one bit, despite normally liking gymnastics in physical education classes.

I was, to put it plainly, horrible at sports. Any sports. While gymnastics was my favorite part of physical education, it was more because I hated team sports and athletics even more.

At the school for the blind I attended for grades four to six, I was always picked last. Not just because of my lack of athletic capacity, but also because I was the only girl in my class. I don’t blame my classmates though.

When I attended mainstream high school, my phys ed teacher was also my tutor. He was great at accommodating me up to a point. For example, he let me run with a buddy. Of course, I was the slowest runner of the entire class. Looking back, I like to blame my mild cerebral palsy, but I still struggle to figure out what is due to that and what is simply due to my being fat. Not that I was fat at the time, but I wasn’t skinny either.

In my second year in this school, I hadn’t had any failing grades until sometime in February. My classmates complained that I got it easier than them, because for example I’d get extra time on tests. Whether this motivated my phys ed teacher or not, I’ll never know. We had to do gymnastics, a particular swing on the rings. I couldn’t really see what everyone else did, but I tried my best. And failed. My teacher explained to my father that I might’ve done the best I could, but he couldn’t possibly justify giving me a passing grade.

Like I said, he was my tutor. He almost took pride in being the first to give me a failing grade that year. Except that he wasn’t. That same week, I’d gotten an F in Greek too. That one was definitely justified, as at the time I didn’t face any barriers to learning basic Greek that my classmates didn’t.

From the next year on, I started going to a gym instead of following regular PE classes. I, after all, would never be able to attain the level of physical ability required for higher secondary school sports. I continued to attend the gym regularly throughout high school and for the first several years after.

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.