When I Was Fifteen

One of Mama Kat’s writer’s workshop prompts for this week is to explain how a parent or sibling would’ve described you at the age of fifteen. What an interesting thing that Mama Kat should mention age fifteen!

I turned fifteen in June of 2001. By August, looking back, I was close to insane mentally. This was the summer when I first realized I had alters inside of me, although I didn’t know what they were at the time. I just heard some type of voices that were and at the same time weren’t mine.

Neither my parents nor my younger sister knew this at the time. Still, they did realize something was up, if for no other reason, then because I didn’t care about school. I had always been a pretty studious kind of child, but this changed by November or December of 2001.

In addition, I was a rather angry, moody child. I had suffered from depression on and off since age seven or so, but it was particularly bad at age fifteen. I even made suicide plans several times during that year. My parents, being the type to dismiss mental health issues, felt I was just attention-seeking, of course.

My life turned around in a sort of positive way a few weeks before my sixteenth birthday, although no-one saw either the change or how positive it was at that point. On June 16, 2002, my father called me autistic as an insult. This led me to search the Internet for autism and to discover I may be on the spectrum myself. Although it’d take nearly five more years before I was diagnosed, in part because my parents and teachers didn’t believe me, I see this as a pivotal point in my life.

The day after this, June 17, I finally disclosed to my teacher what had been bothering me over the past year. I sugarcoated it a little, not mentioning the voices or suicidality or autism for that matter. I did tell him I was struggling with being blind in a mainstream school and that I realized I had been less than good of a student lately.

My father, at the time, worked at my school. My teacher told him that I had disclosed something to him, but he refused to tell my father what it was. This led to a really traumatic experience, because my parents demanded to know too and they weren’t kind about it at all. I am pretty sure they just tried to gain fuel for their idea that I was one giant attention-seeker.

Many years later, my parents used many of my struggles at age fifteen to “prove” this very point. I can see their perspective, sort of. Thankfully though, my current professionals don’t go along with it.

Mama’s Losin’ It

A Favorite Childhood Gift

One of Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop prompts is to share about a favorite Christmas gift you received as a child. Here in the Netherlands though, Christmas isn’t that popular for gift-giving. Instead, we celebrate St. Nicholas on December 5. I can’t remember that many gifts I received for St. Nicholas and the entire celebration was one big stressor once I no longer believed in St. Nick. We celebrated it until I was 20 in 2006. Then in 2007 I was in the psych hospital and my parents didn’t want to risk inviting me. That’s how the tradition ended.

The other major gift-receiving opportunity was and still is, of course, my birthday. It is on June 27, so pretty much as far from Christmas as you get it. Still, I’m going to share about a favorite gift I received for my birthday as a child. Mama Kat twisted the prompt too by listing several things, so oh well.

I can’t remember whether I had invited anyone to a birthday party when I turned eleven. After all, I was pretty much friendless at the time. However, I did celebrate it with my family. The main gift I remember getting was a Barbie doll with aerobic attire. I named her Teresa. I loved the doll, even though I knew already that eleven was a little old to play with it.

Later that summer, my mother took me on a “mother-daughter walk”, which was mainly an opportunity for her to tell me the school had recommended I go residential there. She claimed the reason was that I had behavior problems, which she attributed to my having too many toys. I can’t follow that train of thought other than through some idea that I was so spoiled I somehow felt entitled to have tantrums. That wasn’t true, for clarity’s sake. In any case, my mother regretted having given me the Barbie doll.

I cherished Teresa even more from that moment on. When, during the following school year, I’d have a meltdown, my mother would often pack a random number of toys and claim to throw them out. (In reality, she hid them in her room downstairs.)

The followign year, when I turned twelve, I felt so ashamed for still playing with Barbie dolls that I claimed they’d aged with me, so it was okay. Most of the dolls are still with my parents, I think. I think at one point I broke Teresa’s leg though and had to actually throw her out.

Mama’s Losin’ 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

Millennium: Growing Up Blind in 2000 #Blogtober20

I’m a bit late to publish my #Blogtober20 post today. Well, not as late as yesterday, but then I already had a post up in the afternoon. Today’s prompt is “Millennium”.

Let’s see… we’re now 20 years into the new millennium, which I realize isn’t even the “new” millennium to some adults right now, as they were born in 2000 or later. I always find it surprising that there are people who will be legally old enough to vote in next year’s national election who weren’t even born when politician Pim Fortuyn was murdered on May 6, 2002. Yeah, I’m getting old!

In 2000, I turned fourteen. I was in my first year at a mainstream grammar school. I had already decided I hated it, but my parents and teachers had decided that, if I failed, I’d fail within the first three months and those were up. Woohoo, my mainstream education was a success! Okay, it was, since I did graduate with pretty good grades in 2005, but yeah.

In January of 2000, I suffered a bad case of the flu. I rarely got the flu back then and still get it only once every five years or so, so I remember. In fact, I’m not 100% sure of this but I think it was my only time being off school sick in my entire grammar school career.

In February, my outreach teacher for the visually impaired came to talk to my classmates. They had already decided they didn’t like me one bit. In fact, when the teacher asked casually what having me, a blind student, in their class evoked in them, they didn’t think of a single positive. They started saying that I was being favored by the teachers. They also resented the need to help me get around. This instilled in me the feeling that I had to make up for my blindness in some way by being extra, well, anything.

I had read a book called Het instituut (which translates to The Institution) by blind comedian Vincent Bijlo in 1998. This book is about a boy who goes to a boarding school for the blind and his teachers constantly instill in him the idea that the “sighted school” is really hard and that he’ll need to compensate for his sight loss. For all I knew, my parents and teachers at the grammar school agreed: I was an inherent burden due to my blindness unless I showed my classmates I was more independent, nicer, more hard-working and in any way better than them. Then when I tried to work hard and got good grades, my classmates decided I must be favored by the teachers.

My idea about myself as an inherent burden on the world around me due to my blindness didn’t change till I went to an international computer camp for the blind in 2002 and discovered the English-language Internet in that same summer. It never completely disappeared though.

Later in the year 2000, my classmates started openly bullying me. Again, my parents and teachers blamed me. I was too dependent, too unsociable, too much of a burden in general. I had ruined the only friendship I had developed (which in hindsight was based on pity mostly) by getting my “friends” an only average grade in a music performance in October. Though these girls didn’t actively bully me, they mostly ignored me.

I realize, looking back, that the attitude towards people with disabilities was generally very hostile back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when I was growing up. I mean, I bullied a girl with a visual and intellectual impairment on the special needs bus to the school for the blind in the late 1990s. Though my parents disapproved of it, both they and my teachers didn’t do much to stop me. When this girl was dying of a brain tumor, my parents even openly criticized her religious parents’ hope that the girl would miraculously survive.

I can only hope that, with more children with significant disabilities being mainstreamed nowadays, that attitudes have changed.

#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.

Advice to Today’s High Schoolers

This week, one of the prompts over at Mama’s Losin’ It is to share advice you’d give today’s high school students. I cringed a lot at Mama Kat’s own post, as it was based on the idea that all high schoolers have parents who have their best interest in mind. I mean, I lied regularly as a teen. Though I wouldn’t advocate for that, it was all I could, because honesty led to harsh punishment.

I am not sure how much of my experiences was shaped by my neurotype, ie. being autistic. I mean, the main reasons I was ridiculed and punished harshly were because I was “weird”. However, there are lots of high schoolers who for whatever reason cannot follow Mama Kat’s advice, either because of their own situation or because of their parents.

For this reason, the main piece of advice I would give any high schooler is that it’s okay to be themselves no matter what. Whether your parents accept you, is something about them, not you. Do stand up for yourself if they are abusive or hurtful. You may be a minor, but that doesn’t mean your parents are all-powerful and all-knowing (especially that).

Also, seek out adult role models other than your parents. I felt helped a lot by being in contact with disabled adults. Even for neurotypical, non-disabled teens, it is useful to have people that inspire them other than their own parents.

Use social media, but of course use it wisely. There are spaces on social media for people just like you. Of course, I know most parents supervise their teens’ social media use and I think there is some good reason for that. Mine thankfully didn’t, but then again I was pretty careful not to engage in unsafe behavior online.

I do agree with Mama Kat that honesty is part of a good family dynamic. It has to come both ways though. As teens, it will help you to not give your parents reasons to snoop on your private life by being open about it. If your parents aren’t safe, seek out another adult to talk to.

What advice would you give current high school students?

Mama’s Losin’ It

A Trip to Berlin

Fandango has started a new challenge for the month of August and the prompt word for today is Trip. I’m going to write about a train trip my parents, sister and I took to Berlin in 2002.

At the time, you had this bargain called “schönes Wochenende” in Germany, which meant that for just €28, four people could travel all over Germany by train on a Saturday or Sunday. The only catch was that you had to take local railroads.

My parents, sister and I at the time lived in Apeldoorn, Netherlands, which isn’t too far from the German border. So we drove to Bad Bentheim to go on the train. The first train we took, drove us to Osnabrück. Then we took three more trains until we finally arrived at Berlin Hauptbahnhof. The last train we took, I remember, had Frankfurt an der Oder as its final destination. I found that fascinating.

I at the time had train routes as one of my autistic special interests. It was totally awesome learning all about the German local railroads.

The holiday in Berlin itself wasn’t a good experience. I had a lot of meltdowns and was pretty confused. I did like visiting a street called Straße des 17. Juni, because that year on 17 June I had first opened up about my distress that I’d suffered with for years. The street was named after a protest in east Berlin in 1953.

This was, actually, the last trip I took with my parents. The next year, I went to computer camp in Switzerland and the year after that, to blindness skills camp at the country’s training center for blind people. The year after that, I graduated from high school.

I feel pretty sad that I don’t have many memories about the trip to Berlin and the ones I do have, aren’t good. I guess trips rarely were enjoyable for me. That’s probably why I haven’t been on vacation with my husband in six years.

Something I Struggle With

A few weeks ago, Marquessa over at The Next Chapter started a writing challenge to get herself motivated to write everyday. Yesterday, I saw that Cyranny had joined in. Cyranny started with the first prompt. That one didn’t appeal to me, so I will go to the second. It is to share something you struggle with.

Regular readers may be able to guess what I’m going to share. It wasn’t the first thing that came to mind, but I got inspired by Marquessa’s post. She shared that she struggles with being called “pretty”. She then goes on to say that brains matter more to her than beauty. Well, I wouldn’t exactly say I’m the opposite, but I do struggle with being called “intelligent”.

As a child, I was often called intelligent. My parents loved bragging about my so-called genius. After I had an IQ test at age twelve, this became even worse. The IQ test, though not the first one administered to me, was the first one about which the assessor actually told my parents the exact IQ outcome. My performance IQ can’t be measured because I’m blind, but my verbal IQ was identified as being 154 on the Wechsler scale. This means I was supposedly within the highly gifted range.

As a preteen and early teen, I didn’t mind my parents bragging about this three-digit number as much. I was proud that, according to my mother, I had the same IQ as my father. Now the only time my father had an IQ test administered, he at least told me that was in the pub with a psychologist friend and he was rather drunk. I’m assuming his real IQ may be higher.

As I grew older though, my apparent high IQ more and more stood in the way of my being myself. It was frequently used by my parents and professionals to “prove” that I should be capable of solving my own problems in social situations. This got me interested in the concept of giftedness as asynchronous development. Later, I was diagnosed with autism. Still, my parents reasoned that I was just extremely intelligent.

The reason I struggle greatly with being called “intelligent” is the assumption that I am smart enough to solve non-intellectual problems. This may be so in most gifted people – I think I remember recent research disproves the theory of asynchronous development -, but it isn’t the case for me. Like I mentioned a few weeks ago, my emotional level is equivalent to someone approximately 18 months of age.

Last year, my IQ was used against me to deny me long-term care. I mean, due to my multiple disabilities and low emotional functioning level, I do best in a care setting normally catering towards severely intellectually disabled people. Because of my IQ though, I can’t get funding based on developmental disability. I am lucky that I’m blind in this respect, because I ultimately did get funding based on that.

Contrary to Marquessa, I do not struggle with compliments about my intelligence because I don’t agree with them. I mean, the IQ test I took at age twelve is rather outdated now and I scored much lower when I took another one in 2017. However, I still know I’m indeed intelligent. That being said, that’s not all I am. In the future, I’d like to be able to take pride in my intellectual abilities without them triggering the fear that I’ll need to be good at other things too.

Not Quite a (Traumagenic) System?

I feel so awful right now. The visit from my parents went so well and this is actually confusing me. I mean, I consider some of my childhood experiences traumatic. Quite a few, in fact. How can this be the case if I have such loving parents? I mean, yes, they’re still a bit odd. My father just talked about the birds and butterflies and flowers we encountered. He didn’t ask me any questions or share anything about himself. That doesn’t make him a CPTSD-engendering parent though.

I had a dream yesterday about me needing to take the SCID-D assessment for dissociative disorders and it came back showing that I don’t have a dissociative disorder. It was probably triggered by my having read a message in a DID support group about how plurality is now something anyone can claim because of endogenic (born multiple) systems etc. We’re not an endogenic system, but can we claim to be traumagenic? Can we even claim to be a system at all?

I mean, other than online and to a few specific people who know us closely, we don’t share our names. It could just be that I gave names to different emotions or aspects of myself that I find hard to understand. This is what my community psychiatric nurse said on our last appointment. She said the consultant recommending EMDR for my traumatic experiences hadn’t recommended any type of “deep-digging” therapy. Not that I want that, but on some deep level (no pun intended), her claim that my parts are feelings, made me feel invalidated.

I told my CPN that, whichever treatment approach I try, my parts always show up and disrupt the process. She countered that we hadn’t tried EMDR yet. I know, but this approach is known to cause worsening of dissociation in those with dissociative disorders. Can it get me to “split” even more, even if I’m not a genuine multiple in the first place?

When I shared my doubts/denial on an E-mail list for DID, someone replied that I sign my E-mails with lots of different names. Well, that’s as easy as typing on a keyboard. No-one needs to have any special characteristics to be able to do this. It doesn’t prove my multiplicity. Besides, I know there are parts and they have names, but are these parts truly differentiated enough?

In a sense, it doesn’t matter. I’m not planning on seeking a DID/OSDD diagnosis anytime soon and by the time I might have overcome my fear of psychological evaluations, I guess DID has been removed from the DSM. Either that or Onno van der Hart and other scandalous therapists have given it such a bad name that no-one in the whole country will support me. And that’s even assuming that said assessment would show some type of dissociative disorder. Then again, if I’m claiming plurality for the sake of it, am I not contributing to the stigma surrounding DID myself?

In addition to the dream I had yesterday, I have recurring dreams about my parents finding out I’m in childhood trauma survivor support groups. They always confront me and my husband always sides with them. I guess I should leave those groups in case it really happens. I mean, I’m not an adult child of normal parents, maybe, but then again who is?

#WeekendCoffeeShare (June 27, 2020)

Happy late Saturday evening everyone! Welcome to another edition of the #WeekendCoffeeShare. Today is my birthday. I think I still have tompouces in the fridge, so grab a cup of coffee, tea or your favorite cold drink and let’s catch up.

If we were having coffee, I would share that I was stressed out all week about my parents visiting yesterday. As regular readers of my blog may know, my parents are big on independence and in denial of most of my disabilities. They don’t think I should be in a care facility. Like I said yesterday though, they weren’t overly judgmental. My father made a rather bad pun on the facility’s name and my mother asked whether no-one had taught my nonspeaking fellow clients to talk, but that was about it.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you about all the lovely presents I got for my birthday. My parents gave me a drinking bottle with fruit infusion filter. I’d had it on my wishlist for years and am now loving making fruit-infused water. They also gave me a spiky or hedgehog ball. My father said it looked like a virus and my husband joked that they’d gifted me corona. Lastly, they gave me some punches, which I can use in cardmaking or other craft projects. They got these as well as the spiky ball at the thrift store.

My husband gave me a sturdy bookcase for my iPhone. It’s supposed to protect your phone against dropping from 2 meters. I’d rather not try it out though.

Lastly, my mother-in-law gifted me this giant teddy bear! It’s 1.60m tall, which is even taller than I am. I love it!

Giant Bear

I’m still not sure what to call it. I initially called it just Giant Bear, because my big panda was called Big Bear and my not even that little bear stuffy was called Little Bear. Or something. I can’t remember, honestly. Then I figured I should be calling it Joenie, which is my nickname for my husband. My husband said to call it Baloo after the bear in Jungle Book. I guess I’ll call it whatever strikes my fancy at that moment. Rainbow/Sofie, the unicorn, also has two names, after all.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you I ate some delicious Domino’s pizza this evening. My husband and I had it delivered to the care facility. I had the spicy chicken pizza and so did he, as my husband usually ends up liking my pizza more if we each order something different. I loved it! Then I had some ice cream for dessert. I got a nice present from the care facility too: a Domino’s gift voucher. I already have a reputation for eating lots of yummy food, even though today was the first time I’d ordered Domino’s since coming to the care facility last September.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that next week, I have a meeting with my community psychiatric nurse and nurse practitioner from mental health. We’re going to discuss my possibly getting EMDR treatment for some of my traumatic experiences. Now that my visit with my parents went well, I feel slightly guilty about considering some of my experiences with them traumatic, but well.

If we were having coffee, I would report on my steps as usual. This week so far, I reached just over 60K. I managed 69K last week and am doubtful I’ll reach that this week, as I’m probably going to have a lazy Sunday tomorrow.

How are you all doing?