My Shed

One of Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop prompts this week is to write about your very first apartment. I am going to cheat a little and write about the first apartment I rented rather than the very first apartment I lived in. The first apartment I rented was my student housing apartment, which I called “my shed”. This sounds affectionate in English. In Dutch, not so. “My cage”, though not as correct a translation, more correctly captures the feeling I had about this apartment.

When I got on the housing list in Nijmegen for the academic year starting 2007, the student counselor made sure I got a letter getting me to a priority place on the list because of my disabilities. This meant I was allowed to provide a preference for which student housing complex I wanted to live in. I had to list my top three. Based on the little information the housing association provided and what my support staff at the independence training home I lived in before moving to Nijmegen knew, my number one choice became the complex “my shed” was part of. My reasons were that its apartments reserved for disabled students were on the ground floor and the neighborhood was supposedly quiet.

Indeed, my apartment was on the ground floor, right beside the main entrance to the building. I didn’t have to enter the complex to get to my apartment.

It was a one-bedroom apartment. When you entered through the door, you were in the long, narrow living room and kitchen. Then you went through to something like a landing, with the bathroom on your right hand. Then, you’d enter another long, narrow room, which was the bedroom. The apartment altogether was 35m².

My apartment had just a few, very dim lights in the living room and one equally dim light in the bedroom. I guess my parents thought that I didn’t need much light since I was blind anyway. I had my desk, the one I currently still use to sit on whilst typing this post, in the living room. Other than that, I just had two kitchen chairs and a folding table to eat at. I did have one recliner that I’d gotten at a thrift store and a few rather tacky pillows. I had never thought of decorating my place at all. In fact, this past holiday season is the first time I’ve ever decorated my room and that’s quite a milestone.

Like I said, my apartment was very narrow and long. Its windows were on the short end of the apartment. Due to this and the lack of lighting, the apartment looked rather dark and gloomy. If I wasn’t depressed already, I’d become depressed from the lack of light in my shed.

The place quickly got rather filthy from my poor cleaning habits. I did try, but due to the combination of my disabilities, I just couldn’t keep the place properly cleaned. Looking back, I am so grateful my now husband didn’t go on a run as fast and as far as he could when I invited him into the shed on our second get-together.

I only actually lived in the shed for three months before landing in the psychiatric hospital. It is by far the worst place, in terms of interior, I’ve ever lived in.

Mama’s Losin’ It

House Inspection

One of Mama Kat’s writing prompts for this week is to tell us about a time someone showed up at your front door. Since I no longer live in regular housing since moving into the care facility, no-one ever shows up at my front door unexpectedly and, if they do, the staff will open it for me. When I still lived with my husband though, several times, people would show up at my front door unexpectedly. Not salespeople, thankfully. However, my experiences with the housing corporation were so bad that my husband actually asked me not to open the door. I always reflexively did anyway.

One time, the housing corporation, or I’m assuming some technical company sent by them, showed up when I did expect them. They were supposed to be repairing our gutter, but asked a ton of questions about where the problem was located and what kind of gutter we had. I had no idea and the people said they couldn’t just climb onto the roof and have a look. I called my husband to inquire, but he didn’t answer the phone, so they left without having done anything. This encounter led me to get into a mental crisis.

The first time the housing corporation showed up unannounced was in early August of 2017, just two weeks after the gutter repair guys had showed up. They came to ask us to weed the path behind our backyard. I had no idea there even grew plants there, but, under pressure, agreed to ask my husband to do it within a couple of weeks. Apparently, the back neighbors had been complaining, since I don’t expect the housing corporation to come out from the town to check on our tiny village house for no reason.

The other time was in September of 2019. My husband had scheduled the final inspection of our home for the 26th, when I’d be at the care facility and he’d be home alone. However, they showed up a week early when I was home alone. I was sleeping when I heard the doorbell and felt I had no time to dress into my day clothes, so quickly ran downstairs to open the door.

I told them they were a week early, but they insisted they take a look around “now that we’re here anyway”. After their inspection, they asked me to sign a document. I initially refused, but they insisted I am a renter too (I was). Then they asked: “Can you read?” I explained that I can, but not print, since I am blind. “There’s nothing to worry about in this document,” they told me. In my overwhelm, I signed and sent them on their way. My husband did complain about the way they’d treated me this time and it was my final reminder of why I want to never live in regular housing again.

Mama’s Losin’ It

Life Skills I Struggle With As a Multiply-Disabled Person

Earlier today, Ann Hickman wrote an interesting list of ten life skills she is teaching her autistic teenager. As a teen, I missed out on most of these lessons she mentioned, leading to a big gap in my skills as well as my awareness of them.

Of course, lack of education isn’t the only reason autistics and otherwise disabled people may struggle with life skills. I struggle with many of them due to lack of energy, executive functioning issues and other things.

Today, I am sharing life skills I struggle with and why.

1. Personal hygiene. I remember vividly my sister gave me a deodorant for my fourteenth birthday as a hint. I didn’t get it. I wasn’t taught about hygiene much beyond childhood, but even if I were, I didn’t grasp the concept.

Similarly, because we had a bath at my parents’ house, I didn’t learn to properly shower. I didn’t know until a few years back that you’re supposed to use body wash when showering each time.

Other personal care tasks, I simply cannot do due to my physical limitations. I cannot clip my nails, for instance. I know some other blind people (presumably without physical disabilities) can, but other blind people I know go to the pedicurist for this.

2. Meal preparation. While in the training home, I tried for weeks to learn to put peanut butter or jelly on my bread without success. My mother can’t do it blindfolded either. My father can, but he assembles all his supplies around him in a very structured manner.

To be honest, I never had to prepare my breakfast or lunch before going into the training home, as we didn’t eat breakfast at my parents’ home and my lunch was always packaged by my mother (or I’d eat a sausage roll at the cafeteria).

There are probably ways I could prepare my own meals if I really need to. I mean, when living on my own, I just ate plain bread without toppings. However, I prefer my staff prepare it for me.

3. Cleaning. This is a difficult task for most blind people, but it can be done. I can dust my desk and table with minimal help if I’m reminded to do so. However, I can’t vacuum or mop the floors. I learned both, but with each house having a different way it’s set up, it’s very hard to find my way around it with a mop or vacuum cleaner.

What I struggle with most with respect to cleaning, is remembering how often each task needs to be done and actually organizing them. For example, in the training home, I’d clean the top of the doors each week despite no-one ever touching them. On the other hand, I’d procrastinate about changing my bed sheets, sometimes leaving them on for months.

4. Getting around. Ann mentions navigation for a reason: regardless of high-tech solutions to help people navigate, they still need to learn to use maps or to use public transportation. For me as a blind person, mobility was always more important, as it additionally involved safe white cane travel. I never mastered this, even with seven years of mobility training in special education and many more lessons once out of special ed. I only recently learned that more blind, neurodivergent people struggle with white cane usage.

Currently, I can for the most part move around inside the care home by myself, but I cannot at all get around outside without a sighted guide. My parents used to blame this on lack of motivation. While I am pretty sure this, as well as anxiety, does play a part, it is also about other things. Besides, lack of motivation is not the same as laziness. In my case, it feels as though the activity of independent travel overloads me cognitively to the point where I feel incapacitated.

I am assuming Ann’s son is “just” autistic, whereas I am multiply-disabled: autistic, blind and mildly physically impaired. However, with this article, I want to make it clear that there are many reasons a disabled teen or young adult might struggle with life skills and, for this reason, many different approaches to supporting them.

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday
loopyloulaura

Loneliness Comes From Within: Some Reflections

I am still struggling badly. I have been having flashbacks of the time when I lived on my own in 2007. When I told my husband this tonight, he asked whether any traumatic events happened there. Not really in the classic sense of the word, but I did suffer intensely. The “cage”, as I called my apartment, was a filthy, dark and gloomy place. Neither I nor anyone else had ever thought of making it into a home.

I was intensely lonely during the three months that I lived in that place. Nonetheless, people did reach out to me. I was in touch with several of my fellow students in the linguistics program at university, one of whom lived in my housing complex too.

When I mentioned this, my husband said that loneliness rarely comes from the environment. It wasn’t that no-one cared, as had been the case during most of my high school years. In fact, multiple people reached out to me, but I was closed off to contact with others. I was so convinced that I was unloveable that I didn’t attempt to form genuine bonds with people.

Sadly, it’s still mostly this way. Just a few days back, I was telling my husband that all caring staff eventually leave, referring to the idea I’ve gotten in my head that my assigned staff is not coming back. Indeed, a number of staff have left in the past or told me they had to distance themselves from me due to my behavior. However, a number have stayed too. In particular, my support coordinator from when I lived with my husband, stuck by me till the end.

Of course, staff/client relations are different from friendships. Staff might leave for reasons that have nothing to do with me. Others will come in their place, sad as it may be. Friends though will not necessarily be replaced. And that’s where it hurts more: I feel intensely incompetent at forming friendships.

I mean, though I did have contact with fellow students and people in my housing complex while living on my own, I mostly sucked up their energy. I feel intensely sad about this. I still feel like I’m not able to make friends ever at all. However, there is hope. Now that I (hopefully) am in a stable living situation, I may be able to build on some genuine friendships after all. I already consider some of my fellow clients my friends. I don’t need to rely on them for support, as I (hopefully) have my staff for that. That should be a relief.

My Worst Fear

This week, one of Mama Kat’s writing prompts is to share one of your fears. I have a lot of fears and phobias, to be honest. I probably would even meet the criteria for generalized anxiety disorder if it weren’t for my autism, which encompasses a lot of worry in itself already. In fact, when my former psychologist had removed my autism diagnosis, she at one point considered diagnosing me with GAD.

She ended up diagnosing me with dependent personality disorder though. And, as much as I used to fight this diagnosis, it fits in some important ways: being left all alone is probably one of my worst fears.

I obviously didn’t tick that box when filling out the screening questionnaires for my independent second opinion after said psychologist’s diagnosis. I also ticked the box for “very difficult” rather than “impossible” on the WHODAS (assessment of level of disability) question on being on your own for a few days. Obviously, that only got me assigned a lower number on level of disability, not a different diagnosis, but I wasn’t aware of this. Besides, my diagnostician was able to see through my not having ticked that one box, so, though she didn’t diagnose me with DPD, she did recommend I work on my self-confidence.

Whether it means I’m pathologically dependent or not, I don’t care though: I fear being left to my own resources. And to be honest, no amount of kicking me in the butt has helped with this so far. Neither have so many years of independence training and therapy. I guess I just need to live with it. And that’s okay at least as long as the authorities aren’t going to see this as a reason to revoke my access to long-term care.

I mean, it’s not just fear. I fear being left to my own resources because I legitimately have no clue how to live my life independently on a daily basis. I can, with a lot of difficulty, perform most activities of daily living, such as showering, brushing my teeth and getting dressed. I now mostly get help with these, because it costs me a ton of time and energy having to do them on my own. For those saying I used to do these things by myself, I would like to add that this came at a cost to my dental health and physical hygiene. But if I really had to, I probably could do all of this. However, where it comes to housework, I’m pretty much lost. I cannot prepare my own food. Like, when I lived on my own in 2007, I ate bread without toppings because I couldn’t put them onto my bread. I wouldn’t die doing this for a few days, of course, and there the “very difficult” answer on the WHODAS may be correct. But it would be my worst fear come true.

Mama’s Losin’ It

Free to Belong in Long-Term Care

Today, one of Mama Kat’s writing prompts is to write a blog post inspired by the word “Free”. This definitely appealed to me, as a survivor of childhood trauma as well as abuse in the psychiatric system that continued until I was 30.

Last Tuesday marked the five-year anniversary of the opening of my current care facility. It also was the day I was here eighteen months. Five years ago, I myself still resided in the psychiatric hospital. Some of the worst abuses of power of my psychiatric hospital stay hadn’t even happened yet.

As a child, I suffered significant trauma both at home and at school. Most of it left only invisible wounds, but these are as deep as any physical wounds could’ve been.

Like I said on Sunday, my parents fought my schools, especially special ed, all the time. As a result, I endured frequent school changes and was at the center of conflicts pretty much my entire childhood. Whenever I had adapted to a school environment, I was removed again. I also didn’t have the opportunity to form lasting friendships. The feeling that I didn’t belong anywhere, was instilled in me from an early age.

When I finally moved to the mainstream high school my parents deemed best for me, I knew within a month that I didn’t belong here either. I managed to finish the grammar school program and graduate in 2005.

Then started my long journey through the adult disability and mental health care systems. My parents wanted me to go to university and live independently right away, but I asserted myself and sought help first.

I eventually lived independently for three months in 2007, but then landed in a mental crisis and was hospitalized. Over the following 9 1/2 years, I endured a lot of ongoing trauma at the hands of the psychiatric system. I eventually got kicked out of there and started living with my husband. That didn’t work out either. That is, our marriage is still strong, but I couldn’t cope living semi-independently.

All this to say, now I’m in long-term care and finally free. I am able to make my own choices now. It’s still a little hard to grasp that I am asked to sign for any restrictions to my freedom that may be needed for my safety. In the psychiatric hospital, seclusion and restraint were just shoved down my throat even though I was an informal admission. Either that or I was basically left to my own resources, since, being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, I needed to take responsibility. Both of these extremes left me feeling unsafe.

Now, I not only am asked to sign for restrictive measures, but I am allowed to request extra support. This allows me freedom as well as safety. I am free now and yet I belong. If only I felt this way already. That may take a long while still.

Mama’s Losin’ It

PoCoLo

Knowing God When I’m at a Fork in the Road

Yesterday, I finished the First steps with Jesus Bible plan on YouVersion and I immediately wanted to start a new Bible reading plan. I looked through the most recently added plans and found one called: Hey God, Can We Talk? I’m at a Fork in the Road. I clicked on it and apparently loved its description, although I can’t remember it right now. So I decided to start the plan.

The plan walks us through Jacob’s story. For the first day, we were asked to read the verses in Genesis 28 where Jacob leaves for Bethel after Esau plans to kill him. I had no idea about this. I mean, I thought the idea that Jacob would receive Isaac’s blessing rather than Esau had been mutually agreed upon. That’s how my father explained it once when we ate lentils for dinner: that Esau voluntarily swapped his firstborn’s right for a bowl of lentils. He then personalized the story to my younger sister and me. I probably thought to myself that my sister could keep her yucky lentils and eat mine as well.

Anyway, apparently not. Rebekah had urged Jacob to escape the family home and go to her brother. This, the plan author compares to us leaving home to go off to college. Except, she says, Jacob didn’t have his family to support him should catastrophe strike. This hit home to me.

When I lived independently in Nijmegen in 2007, I didn’t have my parents’ support either. That is, when I wasn’t coping, they made it very clear that I wasn’t to rely on them. I had my community support staff, of course, but they too had their conditions for supporting me.

At one point while resting in Bethel, Jacob has a very important dream. In it, the Lord speaks to him and promises him the land on which he lay. Okay, fine by me. I don’t need land. but I do need comfort.

The plan then goes on to highlight verse 16: “When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.'” (Genesis 28:16 NIV)

This, then, was comforting but also slightly scary to Jacob. This is so relatable! In 2007, I had no idea there was even a God, let alone that He cares about my life. Now I do know, but it’s sometimes scary too. Maybe because I am not used, with the exception of my husband (and I doubt that all the time), to being loved unconditionally.

Of course, Jacob’s story takes place long before Christ. However, the God of the Old Testament, unlike what some atheists told me when I first learned about religion, isn’t a horrible dictator. He is still the same and He was with Jacob. I love this. Do you, too?

Linking up with Grace and Truth.

Five Years Ago #Write28Days

Welcome to day four in #Write28Days. Today, I am not going with the word prompt. It is “Make” and maybe I can make the prompt fit into my post somehow (pun intended). Not sure though. Instead, I picked one of Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop prompts. It asks us what, if we could give ourself a snapshot five years ago of what our life would be like now, it would look like and how we would’ve felt.

Five years ago, I still resided in the psychiatric hospital with the intention of leaving for my and my husband’s then home by my 30th birthday on June 27, 2016. I still trusted my mental health professionals to a degree and had at least some trust in my ability to live with my husband. The whole saga of my changing diagnosis, or diagnonsense as I called it, hadn’t happened yet.

I just checked my old blog for what I’d written in February of 2016. I admitted, in some posts, that I still struggled with the reality that I hadn’t fulfilled most of my childhood dreams and yet wasn’t a total failure, in that I’d be living with my husband. I didn’t use the word “failure”, but my writing certainly connotes that I should feel like a failure if I need residential care for the rest of my life. Which possiblity I held open to an extent, and which indeed came true.

I mean, I got kicked out of the psych hospital not by the summer of 2016, but by May of 2017. Then lived with my husband for nearly 2 1/2 years, until I was accepted into the care facility.

If I could give myself a snapshot of my life right now, it’d likely be of my room here at the care facility with my one-on-one staff in it. I might give myself an additional snapshot of my and my husband’s house in Lobith to convey that we’re still together.

Honestly, I have no idea how I’d have felt about these snapshots back then. I mean, four years ago is easier. Then I’d certainly have been elated at knowing I’d eventually end up in long-term care despite all the attempts my psych hospital staff took to prevent me getting the care I need. But in early 2016, I may not have seen this need.

Probably, the most likely emotion I’d have felt is mistrust. I mean, how could I possibly ever get the level of care I never even openly admitted I needed? I mean, I never asked for one-on-one, but got it anyway. How is it possible that people truly saw this? I can hardly believe it now, let alone five years ago.

Looking back at my life five years ago, however, makes me so intensely appreciative of the life I have now! I thank the Lord for sending my former support coordinator, the Center for Consultation and Expertise consultant and my current staff into my life, as well as the funding authority people in charge. Without these people, I honestly don’t know where I’d be right now.

Mama’s Losin’ It

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.

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