I Am Overwhelmed

Yesterday I sat in front of my computer for an hour or more typing up a blog post, only to erase it again because I couldn’t find the proper words to finish it. Today I’m trying again.

I am horribly overloaded. To be honest, even the mere thought of having to write a blog post, adds to that. So why do I do it? I guess this post won’t get many views or much engagement at all, so why bother? Then again, I may be able to get my rollercoaster of emotions to slow down a bit if I write stuff down.

Last Saturday, I attended an online meeting of CP Netherlands, the national charity for people with cerebral palsy and their parents. I wasn’t sure whether to attend, as I’m not 100% sure my mobility impairment is severe enough to count as CP. Of course, the other attendees advised me to get a referral to a rehabilitation physician to find out.

Of course, just self-understanding isn’t a reason to get assessed for CP as an adult. However, I’m noticing that my mobility gets somewhat worse and I experience more pain. This could be my being overweight, of course. I will also get orthoses soon to help with the position of my feet. This might help.

In the meeting and later in the CP Facebook group, I shared how all my past professionals said my issues weren’t due to the disability they were assessing for. For example, the occupational therapist from the blindness agency said that my difficulties weren’t due to blindness. The OT for the psych hospital said my motor ability was more or less fine. At least, I didn’t have significantly less strength in my left hand than my right. The neurologist consulted when I earlier complained of worsening mobility, said it wasn’t my hydrocephalus either or if it was, my issues were not severe enough to warrant risky surgery. I agree. However, ultimately, my psychologist concluded everything was fine and I was just being dependent.

I asked my staff to talk to the physician for my facility and maybe the physical therapist about my mobility impairment. I after all do experience worsening pain and what may be spasticity. I’ll hopefully hear back soon.

Then today I experienced terrible sadness. I was overwhelmed by some sounds other clients made in the living room, but felt bad going to my room. My assigned staff said maybe I expect too much of myself. I mean, I’m half convinced that I’m deteriorating, which my staff doesn’t see. Maybe I indeed need to take a break. Lower the bar on my step goal now that my broken Fitbit won’t notice anyway. Stop wanting to write a blog post everyday, or really more than one. Be content with just two or three 20-minute walks a day and relaxing the rest of the day. I’m not sure. This feels so much like giving up.

Emotional Development

Last Tuesday, I discussed my care plan with my support coordinator. She needed to update it because the facility is going to apply for a higher care profile for me. Besides, it needed to be made current for my living in the facility rather than at home anyway.

My care plan is divided into several sections, including general health, diagnoses, intellectual, emotional and social functioning. The part about my intellectual functioning unfortunately still lists my IQ as measured 20 years ago. Since it according to the test dropped some 35 points between 1999 and 2017, I’ve wondered whether this is merely due to Flynn effect or something or I’m actually experiencing cognitive decline. Still, my IQ as measured in 2017 was above-average, so it doesn’t really matter for long-term care funding anyway.

In the part about my emotional functioning, I saw for the first time the results of the emotional development impression the consultant from the Center for Consultation and Expertise had written in 2018. This was a bit shocking to be honest. I knew I’m thought of as functioning at an emotional level equivalent of a toddler. It was difficult though reading that in several areas, i’m supposed to function at a level of less than 6 months. This wasn’t surprising though.

For instance, one area in which I function at a level of 0-6 months, is body awareness. The reason the consultant listed was my inability to make contact when overwhelmed. I would add to that my inability to distinguish different bodily sensations, such as hunger and pain. I tend to react to everything that’s physically overwhelming by acting in a self-stimulatory way. The consultant also listed my craving physical stimulation such as rocking as a reason for this.

I also apparently function at 0-6 months with respect to differentiation of emotions. In other words, I don’t do that. The consultant explained that I have a lot of distress and am hardly ever relaxed. While this is true, I’d like to add that I don’t generally distinguish between different strong emotions. Like, at all. Each strong emotion feels equally overwhelming to me, even strong “positive” emotions.

With respect to verbal communication, my level is 3-7 years. Because this scale was developed for people with intellectual disability, the highest level is 7-12 years and I in some ways expected to be qualified as functioning at that level. I do with respect to handling familiar tools, such as my computer. However, the consultant apparently recognized my less-than-great (understatement!) language comprehension.

It was rather interesting to read this assessment, even though of course the concept of mental age used here is a bit off to say the least.

Not Their Baby Anymore

Tomorrow is my 34th birthday. My parents came for a visit today. My mother, for the first time in so many years, didn’t openly reminisce about the time I was a baby. In fact, she seemed rather relaxed.

I was born three months prematurely. My due date would’ve been September 29, 1986 instead of June 27. Most if not all of my multiple disabilities are the direct result of my premature birth. I mean, it’s controversial to say this about autism, as most people in the autistic community claim it’s purely genetic. I have some genetic risk factors too, in that both my father and paternal grandfather are/were of the broader autistic phenotype. We can never be sure though how much my genetics contributed and how much the brain bleed and subsequent hydrocephalus I suffered did. In any case, my blindness and mild cerebral palsy are both due to my premature birth. My blindness is caused by an eye condition called retinopathy of prematurity and my CP is due to the aforementioned brain bleed.

As much as I sometimes seek to discuss my early childhood with my parents, I’m happy neither brought up the topic this year. They were in some rather brutal ways confronted with my current life. After all, due to the COVID-19 measures, I couldn’t be at my husband’s home when they visited. This was one of the first times my parents actually visited me in a care facility. When I was in the psychiatric hospital, either they’d visit me at my student apartment or later at my and my husband’s home. I think there were a few years, probably 2010 and 2011, when I had neither, but they always managed to take me out to some restaurant or something then. They were probably confronted with care facilities a few more times, but not in the past eight or so years.

A fellow resident tried to hug my mother when she came in. She didn’t comment. She did ask at some point whether my fellow clients can talk and I honestly replied that most can’t. When I told her there are clients in other homes I can talk to, she did ask why I didn’t live there then. I just said I didn’t have the right care profile for those homes or there was no available room.

Honestly, I’m totally relieved that my parents didnt’criticize me. I know they don’t agree with my being in a care facility. Still, they probably realized I’m not their little baby anymore.

Written for Fandango’s One-Word Challenge (#FOWC): baby.

I Saw…: Coping with Vision Loss in the Age of Social Media

Today’s optional prompt at Life This Week is I Saw…. We are supposed to share photos of what we saw lately. This got me thinking. I saw… nothing really, as I am blind.

I have been totally blind with some light perception since the age of eighteen or so. At age eight, my parents decided to give up on my eyesight, so all reports say I went blind at that age. I didn’t. Legally, yes, but I’ve always been legally blind. Functionally, maybe. I started learning to read Braille at the age of seven. Then again, as a person who lost his vision gradually later in life told me, going from 20/1000 vision to none is worse in some ways than going from 20/40 to 20/1000.

I have more or less accepted my blindness now. Even so, with just a tiny bit of light perception left, I still use it. Maybe I shouldn’t, but I do.

One of the most annoying aspects of blindness for me, as a blogger, is being unable to take pictures. I know some blind people have learned to take pictures, but my parents always instilled in me that photos are for the sighted and I shouldn’t want to pursue a visual activity like this. For this reason, I don’t feel comfortable trying to learn to take pictures. I mean, I feel pretty arrogant for believing I could even ever learn to take pictures.

I did mention to my staff that I may want a tripod or selfie stick or whatever for my birthday. Then again, I fear I’ll knock it over and ruin my phone if I’m not careful.

Maybe I need to ask other totally blind people how they take pictures and how they make sure they are blog-worthy or whether they don’t care.

I remember one day, when I was at the blindness rehabilitation center, the staff asked each of the clients in my group what would be the most important thing we’d do if we regained our sight. Many said they’d be able to travel more independently. I said I’d go into nature and enjoy the sights. Right now, I’d say I’d take lots of photos for my blog.

Reflecting on My Life: 2003

Last night, I couldn’t sleep. I was looking for some link-up parties to join in and came across the Life This Week linky. In this week’s edition, host Denyse shares her memories of the year 2003. As this is my first time participating in the linky, I should really start my story from the beginning on, but for some reason, I can’t.

I may have shared this before, but in secondary school, I always had this superstition that life ran in circles. There’d be a year of struggle and crisis, a year of renewed hope and finally a year of disillusionment, after which I’d spiral back to struggle and crisis. The year 2003 was a year of disillusionment.

In 2003, I was sixteen. I turned seventeen at the end of June. I was in the tenth grade for the first half of the year and in the eleventh for the last half.

In the summer of 2002, I had barely moved up a year. My grades weren’t that good and I only moved up because I worked very hard the last few weeks of the year. I had been struggling with feeling like an outcast due to my blindness the entire 2001/2002 school year. That was to change by late 2002, or so I believed. My high school tutor promised me he’d help me feel better.

What he did was come up with a social skills assessment for blind students and have the teachers fill it out. That was no good for my self-esteem, as I showed considerable weaknesses. No-one knew at the time that I was also autistic, even though I suspected it.

The year 2003 was the year I started to learn about myself from a possibly autistic point of view. Even though I had started suspecting I was on the spectrum in mid-2002, I didn’t feel comfortable joining online support groups for it till 2003.

This was also the year I expanded my horizons where it came to using the Internet in general. I had gotten an Internet connection in May of 2002. By April of 2003, I started keeping an online diary on DiaryLand, which several years later morphed into my first WordPress blog.

In the summer of 2003, I attended the International Computer Camp for blind students in Switzerland. I had attended it the year before, when it was held in England, too. This year, I felt a bit disappointed in the end, because it didn’t provide me with the cathartic experience I’d felt the year before.

In 2003, I also explored fictional storytelling as a way of expressing myself. I was experiencing some significant selective mutism at the time, which I could circumvent by pretending I wasn’t talking about myself. This is how my “mirror image”, Kirsten, came to be. She is one of my main alters to this day.

Finally, this was the year I was first starting to explore future planning. Here in the Netherlands, students with disabilities attending mainstream education didn’t get any type of special transition planning at the time. I was expected to just get by and go to university straight out of high school in 2005. In 2003, I started to doubt this would be a success, but I didn’t voice my doubts yet. As it is, I didn’t actually make it clear that I wasn’t going to university right out of high school until April of 2005.

Where were you on the path of life in 2003?

Top Ten Books Younger Me Would Have Loved

I’m a day late joining in with Top Ten Tuesday (#TTT), for which the theme this week is books your younger self would have loved. I wasn’t much of a reader as a child. I loved being read to, but hated reading myself, especially in Braille. I was fourteen when I first discovered reading for pleasure through Caja Cazemier’s books.

I didn’t know enough English to read any of these books at the appropriate age. Actually, I didn’t know enough English to actually understand most books much until I was at least fifteen. Even then, only classics were available in accessible formats here in the Netherlands. For this list, I’m pretending that either younger me knew enough English or the books were available in Dutch. Most of these books weren’t published when I was young anyway.

1. Peter’s Asparagus by Angela Nicole Krause. This is a chapter book about a young boy with Asperger’s (autism). I read it in early 2014 and loved it. Of course, younger me didn’t know I am autistic and Asperger’s wasn’t even added to the DSM as a diagnosis till 1994, when I was eight. Still, well, my inner children find it incredibly validating.

2. A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold. This is a book for slightly older children on the same topic. I read it in like 2018 and really feel it would’ve been a delightful read for younger me, even though it isn’t as relatable as the above one.

3. Deaf Child Crossing by Marlee Matlin. I didn’t finish this one, but I think my younger self would have loved to read it.

4. Lila and Hadley by Kody Keplinger. Okay, I see a theme emerge here. This one wasn’t published till a few weeks back and I haven’t read it. I want to, but it’s nowhere to be found in Dutch eBook stores. This one would definitely have encouraged younger me.

5. Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan. As a child and tween, I loved learning about different cultures. There was a whole series of children’s books about different countries and cultures out there back then, but as far as I know, the authors weren’t from those cultures. Khan is Pakistani-American and I loved her book. See my review.

6. Pictures of Me by Marilee Haynes. I read this one over New Year’s and loved it. It’d for sure be a comforting read to fifth-grader me.

7. Wonder by R.J. Palacio. I am 75% done with this one and think it’d for sure have given younger me some perspective.

8. Unspeakable by Abbie Rushton. Okay, I’m branching out into young adult books now. I really loved this one when I read it some five years ago and teen me would have loved it too.

9. Scars Like Wings by Erin Stewart. This would definitely have comforted teen me that she’s not alone in having problems. See my review.

10. Diagnosis Asparagus by Catherine O’Halloran. Okay, there are no doubt a ton of other books in the fiction category that younger me would have loved, but I just had to include this one. This one provides a teen’s perspective on being diagnosed with Asperger’s.

As a bonus, I’m going to mention Freaks, Geeks and Asperger Syndrome by Luke Jackson. That one was published around 2003, when I was self-diagnosed with Asperger’s. I would have loved it if my parents had allowed me to read it then.

What books would you wish your younger self had had access to?

After Diagnosis: Dropping a Mask or Seeking Excuses?

I didn’t end up writing anything for the second and third prompt in the 10-day writing challenge. I also skipped the Insecure Writer’s Support Group day yesterday. It wasn’t really that I felt unmotivated or uninspired, but I was busy doing other things.

For example, I read a post on Facebook by a Mom of a neurodivergent child asking the autistic community whether it was possible that the child could be faking autism. That had me thinking. The short answer is that it’s highly unlikely. It is much more likely that, upon learning you are or may be autistic, you drop the mask.

I was self-identified as autistic for some years before I was formally diagnosed. However, my parents and high school tutor shamed me out of seeking an official diagnosis, claiming I was a hypochondriac for believing I’m autistic. Never mind that hypochondriasis is as much a mental condition as is autism.

At the time of my official diagnosis, I was resisting it a bit. I was in college with a psychology major and I didn’t want a diagnosis to stand in the way of my completing the program. Never mind that I was already failing and a diagnosis in fact helped me get some accommodations.

Then after I was diagnosed with autism, I started dropping the mask. Some people, including my parents and staff at the time, thought I was using my diagnosis as an excuse. Well, I wasn’t. I was experiencing what eventually turned out to be extreme burnout.

To get back to the topic of “faking” autism, I won’t deny that a small percentage of people may want to fake a disability to get services or financial help they don’t need. Others might be encouraged by family or friends to “just” go on disability. At least, I know some people who say they experience this. However, with how strict the social security and care systems are here, it is highly unlikely that someone would be granted benefits or care based on just a diagnosis. After all, a diagnosis is just a label.

Besides, said child had already been diagnosed with a neurodivergent condition. More labels doesn’t necessarily mean more care. It can mean more self-knowledge. It did in my case at least.

For example, I’ve over the years been given at least ten different diagnoses. Some may be correct while others most likely aren’t. Exploring these conditions did give me more understanding of myself. Especially with autism, there is a very positive community surrounding it. That definitely helps me finally find my tribe.

Today’s prompt in the 10-day writing challenge was “After”. The idea of the challenge is to write for five minutes. This post took me much longer, but that’s okay too.

Today I Feel…

Today I feel pretty awful. Several of my day activities staff were off sick, so I got assigned a relatively new staff. This was hard enough. To make matters worse, I was pretty badly overloaded all day. I did try to relax in the sensory room, but really couldn’t find my calm.

In the evening, I started a Dutch blog again. It’s been the umpteenth time that I started one and I’m not feeling too optimistic about how long I’ll be able to keep it up. Then again, I did finally find a way to link to it from this blog, so that I don’t have to keep switching primary sites each time I comment on a Dutch blogger for them to see it. Of course other bloggers seeing your content shouldn’t be the point of blogging. At least, it wasn’t my point when I first started blogging. I didn’t care about my stats. But that was over thirteen years ago. Now, of course I do care.

I saw a post by a Dutch disability blogger. That blogger in fact inspired me to start a Dutch blog again. She was discussing the notion of “mild” forms of impairments. I generally hate that notion, even though I still often fall into the trap of judging people, including myself, by it.

For example, I am diagnosed with level 1 autism spectrum disorder and probably level 1 cerebral palsy too. Only my blindness can be seen as “severe”. Even so, it’s of course the combined effect of these disabilities that causes me to need the support I need. Thankfully, the long-term care fudning agency got that in my case eventually. It doesn’t get it in some other cases.

Like, a friend of mine shared a newspaper article a few weeks ago about an elderly man who was profoundly hearing impaired, nearly blind and hardly able to walk but still too “mild” for nursing home funding. This man ended up taking his own life. I was incredibly saddened by this and at the same time, it made me feel guilty. I’m trying to turn this guilt into gratitude though.

This post was partly inspired by the first prompt in a 10-day writing challenge I participate in. The prompt was “Today”.

Quote of the Day (February 19, 2020): Everyone Sees What You Appear to Be

“Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are.” – Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince

When first starting this blog, I intended to do a daily quote of the day post. I never did. In fact, my “Quotes” category has only four posts. I do like quotes though, so when I figured I had nothing else to share, I decided to do a quote post again.

Today I checked out a sort of guided self-discovery journal called Happy to Meet Me. This quote was printed above the first prompt. The prompt was about common misconceptions about you. It asks you what you wish people would automatically see about you.

This is harder than I thought. After all, the prompt isn’t what you wish people didn’t immediately know about you. I mean, that would be easy. I wish people would see beyond my blindness. But then what would they see?

I think most people would see me as still somehow disabled if they didn’t see I’m blind. Like my sister said when I was a teen, I don’t appear like someone my age judging from even my way of walking. Of course, I have mild cerebral palsy, but the average Joe won’t have a clue. They’ll most likely think I’m intellectually disabled. Until I start to talk. Then most people will be baffled and start to assume my every way of being different is due to blindness again. After all, most people here are still pretty clueless about autism.

I don’t really know what I wish people would automatically know about me. I mean, back when I was still more serious about blogging, I knew that people had their blog name printed on T-shirts and I even for a fleeting moment considered getting one myself. I’m glad I never did, as honestly in the age of smartphones I don’t think I’d want people in the streets to be able to Google me without ever having met me. I mean, my blog is way too personal for that.

I can think of things I wish professionals would automatically know about me. I wish they understood the disconnect between my intellectual and emotional functioning. I can also think of things I wish friends would automatically know. I wish they’d know about my interests. But what would I want other people in general to know? I guess I’d start with the very basic: I am a human being just like you.

What do you wish people would automatically see about you?

Three Wishes

I’m trying to participate in 7 Days 7 Posts organized by Jessica from Daysixtyfive. That is, I won’t promise I’ll complete the challenge, as I’m having a nasty cold. Yes, again. I hope I don’t end up with a fever this time. That being said, if it doesn’t get worse than it is now, I’ll probably be able to do fine.

Today’s topic is about wishes. You have just been granted three wishes. What are they?

I initially thought that we’re supposed to have big, world-changing wishes like peace everywhere. Then I saw Jessica’s post and her first two wishes are just for herself and her family. Maybe we all are self-centered like this, so I don’t need to feel shameful about wishing stuff for just myself. Here goes.

1. Physical and mental wellbeing. I purposefully wish for wellbeing, not health, as the genie might interpret health to mean I want to get cured of my disabilities. I don’t. I want to remain blind and autistic and having mild cerebral palsy. I even don’t want to be cured of my dissociative disorder, in that I want to remain multiple. What I do want is to be is stable mentally, less anxious. I also want my chronic physical ailments to go away. And while we’re here, I wish this nasty cold away and not to return.

2. To be close to my husband. I would wish for a suited care facility in my husband’s area, so that I could visit him more often. A suited care facility would be much like the one I’m in now, with a day center on grounds, lots of sensory equipment, the staffing level for me to be able to enjoy regular leisure activities, etc.

3. Unlimited ParaTransit access. This was the first that came to mind after a care facility close by my husband. Bigger things like wellbeing hadn’t even come to mind yet. I could wish for an endless stream of money, so that I can hire my own taxi drivers, but I don’t think I’d feel any better then. However, the ability to travel wherever I want without having to worry about public transportation, is very high on my list of desires. Interestingly, for the cost it took to make all trains and buses wheelchair-accessible, the government could have made this a reality for all majorly disabled people.

What would you wish for if you were granted three wishes?