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

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