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

Home Sweet Home

This week, Eugi’s weekly prompt is “Home sweet home”. I’ve never participated in this prompt before, but I thought I’d now.

Two weeks from now, I’ll be living in the care facility one year. It feels closer to home than any of the homes and facilities I’ve lived in before did. That feels weird. My parents’ house felt like home, but that’s just because I knew nothing else. My parents felt as safe as possible, but again that was because I knew nothing else.

Then I went into the training home. That was temporary, as you were supposed to live there for at most two years while training for independent living. That’s what I did eighteen months later. I cried my eyes out the first day, in front of my mother, who got angry with me.

It felt horrible to know that this was it forever. I mean, for at least the duration of my university studies, so four years, I’d live there. Then I’d live in a rented house on my own. It completely overwhelmed me.

As regular readers know, it didn’t last. Three months in, I landed in a mental crisis and was hospitalized. Though I stayed in the psych hospital for 9 1/2 years total and for over four years on one ward, it never felt like home. I knew it was temporary, after all.

And then I got kicked out. I lived with my husband in our rented house in the tiny village for 2 1/2 years. Even though I got by okay, it never felt good.

And now I’m here. I got that overwhelming feeling that this is it forever in the first weeks too, but this time, it was good.

I struggle to believe that this is not yet another temporary living arrangement or one in which I cannot cope. I act in and out a lot, probably to somehow “prove” that I’m not suited to this home. That I’m not suited to any home in the world. That there is no home sweet home for me.

Yet my staff so far say that I can stay here for the rest of my life. That, too, feels kind of overwhelming, but like I said, in a good way.

I also of course have my and my husband’s home in Lobith. That one still feels a bit odd to me. I never really lived in it, since we bought it two days after I moved into the care facility. In fact, I struggle to consider it my house too. When I write about it, I often write that it’s my husband’s house, then correct myself and add “and my”. I want to keep a connection to that house too, but it doesn’t feel like home.

Three Years Out Today!

Yay, I’m three years out of the looney bin today! In a way, I’ve come so far. I’ve genuinely tried living independently with my husband. I mean, each time I was in a crisis in 2017, I told the consulting psychiatrist seeing me in the hospital that I was fine going home. I asked for more help each time, which I was given. This little (or not so little) voice inside my mind still tells me those overdoses were manipulative and I should not have gotten the help I asked for. They were impulsive each time, but at the time of taking those pills, honestly I didn’t think: “If I do this and survive, I’ll ask for more help.” Truthfully, I didn’t think much at all.

Then in early 2018, I had a crisis at day activities. That was what started me on my journey of admitting I truly couldn’t – or wouldn’t, as this not-so-little voice tells me -, live independently. At first, when the Center for Consultation and Expertise consultant asked me what I wanted, I said I wanted to live close by a living facility so that I could walk over or call for support. On September 20, 2018, I eventually told my support coordinator that I’d really want to go into a living facility with 24-hour care. She then called the consultant, who was still willing to help us on this journey.

We filed the request for long-term care funding in December of 2018. It was denied on February 27, 2019 on pretty weird grounds. We appealed and our appeal was granted on June 4, 2019 on actually about as weird grounds. I mean, the Long-Term Care Act fails to recognize the implications of multiple disabilities, but how the appeal lawyer managed to find a workaround, still baffles me. I don’t care though, as unless the law changes, we won’t have to apply again.

And here I am, nearly eight months into living in the long-term care facility in Raalte. Still, this not-so-little voice nags me each time I try to open up about my needs. My mother’s voice speaks to me again. When I’d just landed in crisis in November of 2007, she called me to reprimand me about going into the psych hospital. “You can’t even wipe your butt without your support worker’s help,” she said. It wasn’t true then and it isn’t true now, but I feel ashamed each time I ask for help, particularly with personal care stuff.

I had a session with my CPN from mental health this afternoon. I do an eHealth module on self-image, so we got talking about that. I got to say that one of my main reasons for having a negative self-image, is that each time I think positively of myself, or validate myself, this not-so-little voice tells me again that I’m manipulative. This seems to be at the core of many of my issues and yet I cannot even say rationally that it is certainly not true.

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

My Medication Musings: Risperdal

I started this should-have-been-series a long time ago, but never got beyond the first post. Today I’m not very inspired to write, but I want to write something anyway, so I am deciding to continue with my medication musings. The medication I’m covering today, is the first daily medication I was evver prescribed.

Risperdal, which is now sold under its generic name risperidone, is an atypical antipsychotic. It was approved by the U.S. FDA for use against irritability in autistic children in 2006. I was not a child when I was prescribed Risperdal in 2007, but I was definitely irritable and autistic.

I remember very clearly when I saw a psychiatrist I’d never met before and who may or may not have read up on my psychiatric history on July 25, 2007. She had a strong Flanders accent. My CPN had referred me to her after my staff at the independence training home called her because I had been very irritable of late. Looking back, it’s no wonder, since I was due to move out of the home and into independent living the next week. But my staff were desperate and so was I.

My CPN had suggested a sleeping medicationor tranquilizer, as I was also sleeping very poorly. Not that the psychiatrist agreed, since when I reported how many hours of sleep I got at a later phone consultation, she said that wasn’t worrysome. The psychiatrist listend to my symptoms and suggested Risperdal.

I agreed without much further questioning. That evening, I wrote a blog post saying antipsychotics in autistics are a matter of really well-informed consent. The post was a response to the general consensus at the time among vocal autistics that antipsychotics should never be considered.

Looking back, while I don’t feel that antipsychotics are completely off limits for autistics – I still take one -, I do agree with another notion from said vocal autistics: psychiatric medication is no substitute for proper support. And yet, at the time, there was no convincing my staff that I shouldn’t move into independent living, so I felt I had no other option if I wanted to have somewhat of a life worth living.

And yet, I was scared. When, after two days, I started experiencing palpitations, I was extremely anxious. It happened on a Friday night when my staff were already gone. Don’t ask me how I got through that night. The next morning, I rang the out-of-hours GP, who recommended I stop taking the medication for a few days and consult my psychiatrist on Monday. Said psychiatrist didn’t believe that this could be a Risperdal side effect or I’d have experienced the palpitations right from the start. So back I was on Risperdal.

I was on a low dose of 0.5mg twice a day. My psychiatrist was in the training home’s city, so when I moved the next week, I had no psychiatrist nearby. My GP ended up prescribing my medication. When I complained to both the training home city psychiatrist and my new GP about continuing palpitations, both dismissed me. The psychiatrist even suggested I up my dose. I refused.

Because of the abrupt change in my living situation soon after starting Risperdal, I had no idea whether it was working. I was still experiencing a lot of meltdowns.

After two months, I took myself off of the medication. I more or less informed my GP, because she was really against me going off of it. I probably lowered my dose way too quickly, going from 1mg a day to 0.5mg for a week and then stopping altogether.

We will never be sure whether Risperdal worked for me, as I never went back on it. However, three weeks after stopping the medication, I started to spiral down into crisis and had to be hospitalized four days later. The crisis service psychiatrist didn’t say a thing about me having discontinued Risperdal.

An interesting thing I need to note, is the fact that Risperdal is notorious for increased appetite and weight gain. However, I experienced the opposite if anything. This could’ve been due to stress though.

A Day I Will Never Forget

I’m a day late with this topic in 7 Days 7 Posts. The Tuesday topic didn’t appeal to me and besides, I was really anxious then. Yesterday I had a lot of meetings to discusss my anxiety and the reasons for it. I made it clear that I really needed some more care and particularly more consistency and clarity in my day. I went to bed at 8:15PM, having taken an Ativan to help me sleep.

Yesterday’s topic was to describe a day you’ll never forget. I already described how I met my husband sometime during the #AtoZChallenge last April. Another day I will never forget, though for less pleasant reasons, is the day I landed in crisis in 2007. I probably described that day a few times before already, but right now I can’t find where. If you’ve read this before, I apologize.

On November 2, 2007, I was in my parents’ city to get a landline phone I wanted to use in my student apartment. The reason I wanted a landline was the fact that I was scared of mobile phone radiation causing Alzheimer’s. It’s weird that now I use my iPhone like all the time and don’t worry about it much.

I had come to my parents’ the previous evening and was planning on going back home to Nijmegen that Friday afternoon. However, on the train station, I had a meltdown. The police were called and removed me from the station.

I went to the independence training home where I used to live until that summer. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted, but I needed to look up some phone number on my laptop. I knew I shouldn’t go back to my parents’, as they’d probably be angry with me.

After having called whoever I needed to call, I wandered around the training home neighborhood for some hours, not sure what to do. At one point, a fellow client at the training home realized I was struggling, so she offered me to come into her apartment and stay for the night, so that we could find a more long-term solution the following day. However, the staff came to her and told me to leave. They weren’t going to take responsibility for me.

At that point, I had another meltdown. I walked to the nearby bus stop, catching the 8:01PM bus to the train station. In my memory, it was still light outside, even though that’s not possible at such a time in early November. I called my support coordinator to let her know I was going to commit suicide. The bus driver overheard me and called the police.

I was terribly scared, because the police had kicked me off the train station that afternoon. However, I willingly went with them to the police station. They called someone called a community physician, who is in charge of triaging people not known to that city’s mental health agency. He was a really blunt man, telling me that I made people feel responsible for me in a way as if I was just seeking attention. He even used a kind of threatening voice when he said he was going to call the crisis service. I didn’t mind.

The crisis service psychiatrist and CPN came out to the police station. After assessing me, they asked me what I wanted. To this day, I’m not sure whether I really didn’t know what I wanted or felt too embarrassed to ask for help. After all, when talking to the behavior specialist for my current care facility yesterday, I also said I didn’t know what I needed even though I did. Anyway, the psychiatrist proposed that I be admitted to the mental hospital and I agreed.

Losing Myself and Finding Myself (Reena’s Exploration Challenge #96)

I remember when and where I lost myself. My old self, that is. It was November 2, 2007 at 8:01PM when I stepped onto the bus at Balustrade bus stop in Apeldoorn. I had decided this was it.

I phoned my old support coordinator at the training home. I’d just been told to leave the home’s premises, because according to the on duty staff, I was making them take unwarranted responsibility for me. I had come there in distress and a housemate had offered for me to spend the night with her, so that we had time to find me a new place to stay in the morning.

I wasn’t homeless. That is, I had a roof over my head. In the Netherlands, the word that translates to “homeless” also refers to people who are wasting away in their residence. And I was.

At 8:01PM November 2, I phoned my old support coordinator to tell her I was going to kill myself. I was on the bus and the bus driver and fellow passengers heard me. They called the police and, after a long wait at the police station, I was admitted to the psychiatric hospital in the middle of the night.

At that point, my old self went away. I lost the self that went to college, had plans for working and lived independently.

I’m still not 100% sure who will replace her. When and where I’ll find myself. My new self, that is. I know my old self is gone. Even though I live semi-independently now, I do not have anything close to a “normal” life, whatever that may be. But that’s okay. I know I will ultimately find a new eqwuilibrium, when I’m in a living facility that suits me.

In September of 2006, I wrote a post in my online diary about the two different images I had of myself. One was “white”. This image represented a “normal” life. Living independently, going to university, finding a job, marrying, getting children and whatnot. The other image, the “black” one, represented my need for support. It wasn’t that I needed 24-hour care, but that I needed more than just the once-a-week visit from a support worker to read me my mail that’s normal for people who are just blind.

By April of 2007, I knew the “black” image was coming true, but I was seeing the colors in it. I eventually did live independently and go to college, but I would get sixteen hours of home support a week.

And then that image too died, on November 2. It was hard. I grieved. But I didn’t give up. Gradually, I started to see how colorful a life I can have if I accept care.

The care facilities I’m looking at moving into, couldn’t be closer to the “black” image of myself. They are 24-hour intensive support facilities. Yet I don’t see that life as bad. I see it was exactly as colorful and rich as, or even more so than the “normal” life I envisioned for myself.

I am joining in with Reena’s Exploration Challenge #96.