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.

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.

Good Enough

Today’s optional prompt word for #LifeThisWeek is “Good”. Denyse takes on a cynical approach to the word, which reminds me of the many degrees of being called “good” I experienced.

In my elementary school years, my parents were in a constant fight with the schools for the blind I attended about my educational needs and my potential. According to the school, I was a good enough student. That’s the literal translation of the words that appeared on my report card often. Sometimes, when I was better than average, just “Good” appeared.
My parents thought I ought to get some more recognition. They thought I was excellent, sublime, a genius.

My schools thought I should be going to their secondary school program, which at the highest level catered to average students. My parents believed I could do far better.

I doubt, to be very honest, that my teachers truly didn’t see that academically, I was above-average. At least some of my teachers must have seen this. However, socially and emotionally, I was significantly behind. This was probably the real reason my schools recommended I continue in special education. My parents disagreed. They felt that I would be overprotected and underestimated in special ed. They might’ve been right. We’ll never know, since my parents took me from educational psychologist to educational psychologist until they had the recommendation for mainstream high level secondary education in their hands.

What I do know, is that I ended up being overestimated and underprotected. My parents would love to deny this and blame the staff in independence training for essentially setting me up for long-term care. Agree to disagree. Then again, we’ll never know, because I didn’t go into independent living and on to university right out of high school.

Sometimes, I wish I was just the average, good enough student that some of my teachers saw me as. Then at least I wouldn’t have to face the enormous challenge of both a high IQ and an emotional level comparable in many ways to an 18-month-old child. Then, I might not be writing blog posts in English, but I also might not need 24-hour care.

Then again, I enjoy writing blog posts. I like my care facility. Life is good enough for me.

New Normal

Earlier today, Stevie Turner wrote a great piece on adjusting to the new normal of serious illness. In her case, it’s cancer. I have so far been able to avoid serious physical illness, but I get the idea of adjusting to a “new normal”.

In 2007, as regular readers may know, I suffered a serious mental health crisis. It was probably autistic burnout, though it got various labels over the years. I was 21 at the time and attending university and living on my own.

In the early months of my psychiatric hospital stay that followed the crisis, I was convinced I could go back to college, university or work and living more or less independently if I just had a little more support. I rejected the first place offered to me because I wouldn’t be allowed to cook in my own apartment. This, looking back, is ridiculous! After all, now, thirteen years later, I live in a group home with 24-hour care. I cannot cook, clean or even do some personal care tasks without help.

Now to be honest, I at the time didn’t have a realistic picture of what living in my own apartment in supported housing would be like. The training home I went to before living independently, had a 1:4 staff/client ratio during most of the day. That’s pretty high and it allowed for staff to help with most household tasks. If I went into supported housing in my own apartment, I’d be expected to clean it all by myself. The fact that I wouldn’t be allowed to cook, was understandable, as there wouldn’t be the staff to supervise me.

Then again, I thought I could handle a low staff/client ratio. It was 1:7 on week days at the resocialization ward and 1:14 on week-ends. I did okay with this. Now, not so much. The staff/client ratio here is 1:6 at the least and I get one-on-one for several hours during the day.

I often look back at myself before my crisis. When I was eighteen, I attended mainstream high school despite being blind. The autism or other issues hadn’t even been diagnosed yet. I coped with classrooms of 30’ish students with just one teacher. Sure, I had meltdowns multiple times a week, sometimes multiple times a day, but I somehow survived. Now, I can barely handle having my coffee in the living room without my one-on-one present to calm me if I start melting down. Oh my, this feels sick. I feel shame admitting this. Yet it’s my new normal. Whether I’m just lazy and manipulative and unwilling to be independent or I’m genuinely unable, it’s the way it is.

I often feel sad when I am reminded of my old life. I often dream that I go back to university. I most likely never will.

That being said, I’m also grateful for what I do have. I am forever grateful that my staff and behavior specialist saw the need for one-on-one. I am grateful whenever I can do a small activity, like this morning I made clay punch-out figures. Back in the psych hospital, I often couldn’t blog even once a week. Now I blog almost everyday.

The most frustrating aspect of my “new normal” is not knowing why. I constantly second-guess myself, wondering if I’m truly such a terribly manipulative attention-seeker. That thought is scary. Worse yet is the fear that this might be some type of neurological thing, that I might actually be deteriorating. There is apparently no reason to think this, but it’s still on my mind. Then again, it is what it is and I’ve got to deal with it.

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.

Some Might Say: Judgments About Me #Blogtober20

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

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

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

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

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

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

#Blogtober20

X-Patient: Psychiatric Rehabilitation and the Recovery Movement #AtoZChallenge

Okay, welcome to my letter X post in the #AtoZChallenge. I’m not really motivated for this one, but I don’t want to give up on the challenge either. My topic today doesn’t really fit in with the rest, but well. Today I’m writing about what it is like to be an ex-psychiatric patient. In the anti-psychiatry movement, some people choose to write this without the E, so it counts.

When I first heard of psychiatric rehabilitation around a year into my psychiatric hospital stay, I hated the entire concept. It was all based on training people to be more independent whether they wanted to or could do this at all. I knew already that I needed long-term care, so I was like: “Didn’t I just complete 18 months in a training home only to have it fail?”

Then, a few years later, I heard of the recovery movement. Unlike psychiatric rehabilitation, this is entirely patient-led. I signed up to participate in a recovery course. What surprised me immediately was the fact that my mental hospital chose to only allow those staying there as inpatients on the course. They later started a course for outpatients too. I loved this course. Going into long-term care wasn’t frowned upon but seen as a means of getting my life back on track. Unfortunately, that’s not how most professionals, at least on my last unit, saw it.

A few weeks ago, I watched a short video on a Center for Consultation and Expertise case in which the recovery viewpoint was misapplied to an autistic man. Indeed, I’ve never felt that concepts like “rehabilitation” apply to autistics. I mean, the idea that we all want a meaningful life, is good. However, considering a meaningful life as the same as independent living, is in my opinion rather misguided.

Feelings After Watching a Documentary on the Blindness Rehabilitation Center

Today, I got a subscription to see past episodes of Dutch television programs mostly so that I could see a documentary series called Five Days Inside. It’s where three presenters rotate to visit mostly health care settings or other institutions that are not commonly shown to the general public. The episode of four weeks ago was about the blindness rehabilitation center I attended in 2005. I actually still recognized some of the staff talking to the presenter from when I went there.

Watching it had me very emotional. I don’t know why. I guess because most of the clients who were featured, some roughly my age when I attended the program, are so optimistic about their future despite sometimes having recently lost their vision. When I attended the program, I often felt way ahead of these people and way behind of them at the same time. After all, I had pretty good Braille reading skills. My reading speed at the start was more than twice that which is the ultimate goal of the rehabilitation program for adults. As I learned today while watching the episode, some people don’t even have the tactile ability to ever learn Braille. Most will only be able to use Braille for simple labeling, not for reading books, like I do.

On the other hand, I never learnd to cook. Not in those four months in the center or the eighteen months in an independence training home that followed. It wasn’t for lack of teaching, but I couldn’t manage these tasks. Or even simpler tasks such as putting peanut butter on bread.

Today, I talked to my CPN from the mental health agency. We were talking about my skills or lack thereof. She seems to blame my parents for not having taught me properly. I understand. Then again, with my having had a meltdown each time my parents tried to make me learn new practical skills, it’s only understandable that they gave up. My CPN acknowledged this is a common autistic trait. My parents would say I’m not autistic, just stubborn. Apparently I decided from as early as age seven on that I would never learn practical skills because I couldn’t do them visually. Or maybe because I thought I was too smart for them. I don’t know what my father’s theory boiled down to exactly.

And now I see these blind or partially sighted people who are planning on working or going to college. I don’t know how I feel towards them. On the one hand, I feel envy. I wish I could cook tuna macaroni or zucchini soup. I wish I could ride the bus on my own, then go into town to buy raisin rolls. I wish six months of training could teach me the skills to live independently and go to college or work.

Then on the other hand, I feel an enormous sense of relief. I feel relieved that somehow my support coordinator was able to convince a long-term care funding lawyer that it’s at least partly due to blindness that I can’t.

PoCoLo

The Summer After High School

It is still incredibly hot here. That is, it should be a lot cooler than it was yesterday. I’m not feeling it though. Probably my room, which is at the front of the house, keeps the heat.

I want to write, but I don’t know what about. For this reason, I looked up writing prompts for the month of June on Google. A prompt I liked is to share about the summer after you graduated high school.

This was in 2005. Man, can you believe it’s already been fourteen years? I remember finding these odd lists of things that mean you live in 2005, such as “You have lost touch with old friends simply because they don’t have an E-mail address”. E-mail is way outdated now. However, I think WordPress already existed, though I didn’t have an account. But I digress.

I graduated from high school on June 24, 2005. Two weeks prior, I had finished the assessment week at the country’s residential rehabilitation center for the blind and had been advised to attend their basic training program. It was expected that I couldn’t start until October.

However, in early August, I received a phone call telling me I could start on August 22. So that’s where I spent the last few weeks of the summer holiday and the rest of the year.

The summer of 2005 was also the summer I had a ton of health worries. Most of them were just health anxiety, but one of these scares did get me sent to a neurologist for suspected shunt malfunction. That was when I first learned about the possible impact of my hydrocephalus on my life. I never had a shunt malfunction *knock on wood*.

The summer of 2005, essentially, was the time I left my parental home and entered the care system. Even though I was supposed to get independence training, my father predicted I would never leave the care system. He was right, but so what?

Today, I had a meeting with the blindness agency which the rehabilitation center is part of to see if I can live with them. I won’t, because their living facilities are all over an hour’s drive from my husband. This meeting did remind me of how I entered the care system fourteen years ago with the aim of doing training for a year (at the center and an independence training home) and then leaving for Nijmegen to live completely independently. It didn’t work out. The disparity between this overly-normal, independent self, the one who is married now and doesn’t need help, and the multiply-disabled self, is still hard to deal with.

Independence Training: My Journey Through Rehabilitation Programs #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day nine in the #AtoZChallenge. I wasn’t sure what to write about till literally minutes ago. My support coordinator was in touch with the long-term care funding agency today. I still can’t disclose details, but it brought back memories of all the rehabilitation and training programs I’ve been in. Let me share.

I didn’t get a lot in the way of independence training while at the school for the blind, but I got some. It wasn’t efffective though. I don’t know why, but part of the reason was probably my parents constantly arguing with the school on what was important for me to learn. Another reason was my struggle with generalizing skills I’d learned at school into other settings. Once I went to mainstream secondary school, I didn’t get any independence training at all. I was pretty bad at life skills by the time I graduated high school.

I decided not to go straight to university after high school. Instead, I chose to go into the country’s only residential rehabilitation center for the blind’s basic program. I learned some skills, but still had trouble making use of them in the real world.

The same happened when I went into an independence training home. At first, I thought highly of myself and wanted to do things independently I really couldn’t. My plan was to get training for eight months and then leave for university. Those eight months became eighteen and then I was basically made to go to university.

I tried a ton of independence training while hospitalized on the psych unit too. It didn’t work. Whenever I tried to do something independently, such as clean or travel using my white cane, I struggled greatly. I didn’t fully realize this, not even at the long-term care assessment last January, but I really overestimated myself. My husband can attest to that. He’s had to get me out of trouble many times.

Why I struggle so much, no-one has been fully able to figure out. It’s probably a combination of my multiple disabilities (blindness and cerebral palsy) and my emotionally low functioning level.

It’s been recommended that I get more independence training. Maybe, after I complete dialectical behavior therapy for my emotion regulation issues, I’ll not feel as frustrated with myself and be more able to learn. I don’t think this is going to solve the problem though, since doing something with someone present, isn’t the same as doing something on your own.