Basic Mistrust

I have been compelled to read up on emotional and psychosocial development. One theory is Erik Erikson’s theory, which states that, at each different stage in life (from infancy to old age), a particular conflict is present. In infancy and early toddlerhood, this conflict is basic trust vs. mistrust.

I initially thought that this stage corresponds pretty much to the first adaptation phase in attachment theory, which takes place between birth and age six months. When I checked it though, it includes this stage as well as the first socialization phase, age six to eighteen months. This may be one reason why I relate strongly to basic mistrust even though, in attachment theory terms, I function in most areas consistent with the first socialization phase.

One thing I’m facing lately is a chronic feeling of anxiety and distrust. In my care plan, my emotional development is outlined and in the fear domain, I am said to function at an age comparable to somewhere between zero and eighteen months. This includes all of Erikson’s first stage of psychosocial development. By contrast, it encompasses both the first adaptation and first socialization phase of attachment development. The reason my development in this area isn’t pinpointed to either of these two phases, is that I experience both basic fear (consistent with the first adaptation phase) and strong separation anxiety (consistent with the first socialization phase). Apparently, a baby under six months cannot yet express separation anxiety.

I have little idea why I might experience such strong anxiety, as in, what in my early development contributed to it. I mean, my parents claim I didn’t have these issues until I started to lose my eyesight at age seven. Seven is another important age in both cognitive and psychosocial development, but I don’t think that one is particularly important in my life. The earlier stages seem to make far more sense to me.

Of course, I do know that I probably didn’t have optimal care in my early life. This isn’t anyone’s fault. I was, after all, born prematurely and spent the first three months of my life in hospital. Though my parents visited me often, I don’t think I could rely upon them for meeting my every basic need. After all, they cannot possibly have been in my proximity 24/7, like the mother of a typically-developing child usually is at least for the first few weeks to months. My nurses must’ve provided me feeding and comfort at least part of the time.

As for affection, I have absolutely no idea. NICU nurses aren’t likely to be able to provide any significant level of affection to a baby at all, but I guess my parents would’ve made up for that. I went into this when discussing mother as source and mother as place of attachment. The truth is, I honestly mostly rely on my current feelings to guide my ideas. I, after all, don’t have many early memories of affection. My first memory related to it is from age four or five and it involves my mother using a nickname for me that referred to her needing to be at my side all the time. Then again, most people don’t have many early memories at all and remembering is still a form of reconstruction. In other words, because I experience a lot of basic mistrust now as an adult, it is easier for me to remember the memories that point to this.

This post was inspired by Fandango’s one-word challenge (#FOWC), the word for today being “Basic”.

Angry and Dissatisfied

Today, I feel flooded with emotional flashbacks that I’m not 100% sure about what triggered them or even what they are about. To give myself some insight, I picked up the book Journal Writing Prompts for Child Abuse Survivors again. Somehow, the prompts about anger appealed to me.

Growing up, I was always described as “too quick to anger”. There is some truth to this, in that I have and always had an extremely low level of distress tolerance.

My parents would react to this with resentment, but they’d generally solve my problems anyway. This at one point was described as having low expectations of me. When the psychologist who did my latest autism assessment, said that, I was triggered. After all, if my parents had expected me to be able to work stuff out myself, would that have been any better? I understand all about letting babies “cry it out” and I’m not a fan of it. I don’t have a clue whether I was left to “cry it out” a lot. I think so, as I was in the hospital for the first three months of my life and I don’t expect the nurses to have attended to each baby’s every cry. As such, even if my parents did attend to my every cry for attention, I must’ve been allowed to learn some self-regulation through “crying it out”.

My parents weren’t the most patient people in the world. At one point, my father explained to me that a family is like a business, in that it has to be run efficiently. As such, I can understand why my parents rarely let me work stuff out on my own. I also understand why they resented helping me.

Growing up though, my poor distress tolerance skills were seen as mere anger and oppositionality. I’m not sure why people perceived me as always angry. They weren’t just my parents, after all. Maybe I am quick to anger. I don’t know, but to be honest I think distress is different from anger.

When I became an adult and was admitted to the psych hospital, my nursing diagnosis at least off the record was “angry and dissatisfied”. Again, I’m pretty sure the staff confused distress with dissatisfaction. Distress is an inability to cope. Dissatisfaction is an unwillingness to accept the situation. I was perfectly willing to be discharged back into independent living if that was what was deemed necessary, but I didn’t promise I’d cope. This was considered blackmail.

Now that I’m in long-term care, my staff no longer see me as angry or dissatisfied a lot. Even so, I haven’t changed much. I still swear and scream when my computer or iPhone won’t cooperate. Staff do help me now, but they don’t resent it anymore. This has also allowed me to practise asking for help in more productive, proactive ways, which, in turn, helps me become frustrated less easily. I like it that way.

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

Good Enough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Truthful Tuesday: Birthdays

Hi all! It’s Tuesday and I’m feeling a little better still than I was yesterday. I’m still having a cold, but it’s mostly manageable now.

Today I’m participating in Truthful Tuesday. This week’s question is: as you have gotten older, do you still celebrate your birthday, or has it become just another day to you?

The presumption behind this question is that, as we get older and the effects of aging become less positive than they were when we were a child or teen, some people no longer appreciate their birthdays.

I find, and maybe this will change when I get even older, that the opposite is true. I will be 35 in June and have found that, with increased age, does come increased wisdom. I am probably not old enough yet to start feeling depressed about my life’s regrets. That doesn’t mean I don’t have many, but they don’t weigh me down that much as of yet. I hope that won’t come either, but I’m pretty sure it will.

In contrast, when I was a child, I feared growing up. My birthdays were fun because of the gifts I got, but that’s about it. I never felt that flash of excitement that some children and teens feel as they get older. No, not even (or especially not) when I turned twelve, sixteen or eighteen.

When I turned 30 in 2016, I did have some mixed feelings. I was excited to be allowed into the over-30s groups on Facebook but also felt that, at my age, I could no longer have emotional outbursts. I still did. That latter feeling subsided over time though as I realized a neurotypical ten-year-old wouldn’t have meltdowns like mine.

My birthday has always been an exciting yet stressful event. Now though, it’s more exciting than stressful usually. My parents don’t make a point of telling me to act grown-up anymore. For this reason, them visiting me for this occasion – usually the only time a year I see them in real life -, is mostly fun.

I do indeed still celebrate my birthday. Months in advance, my husband starts asking me what I want for my birthday. It’s also a bit of a tradition that he takes the week around my birthday off from work.

Most years, I spread out my birthday party over several days, as I don’t want to have the house full of visitors. Last year, the visiting restrictions due to COVID were lifted the day before my birthday. This meant that my parents could actually take me out for a ride in their car rather than having to sit in the care facility’s garden for the entirety of the visit.

My mother-in-law visited me the day before and brought me the giant bear soft toy. That’s another thing that makes birthdays fun: I love getting gifts. Of course, I can buy myself the things I really want too, but I actually like the fact that people give me something I wouldn’t buy myself.

Maybe, now that I’m inn my thirties and don’t have to act grown-up, as I’m on disability and in long-term care, I can finally feel the excitement of being a kid at heart.

Places I and My Family Have Lived

Today, I once again looked to a book of journaling prompts for inspiration for a blog post. One of the prompts in the first chapter of Journal Writing Prompts for Child Abuse Survivors is to list all the places you’ve lived. There may not be any need to elaborate on them, but I am going to share my thoughts and feelings that come up. For this post, I’m just going to talk about the houses I lived in with my parents. Otherwise, this post is going to be way too long.

First up is my parental house in Rotterdam. My parents bought the house a year before I was born. To be quite honest, I have very few memories of this house, even though I lived there until I was nine. I do remember my and my sister’s bedroom, which had a bunk bed in it. My sister slept at the top and I slept at the bottom.

I don’t remember most other rooms in the house. I know my parents must have had a bedroom, but I can’t remember its location relative to the kids’ bedroom.

I do remember the garden. It was small, but still big enough to play in. It had swings and a sandpit. I loved to play here with my childhood friend Kim.

I also remember the neighborhood. I played in the “thick street”, a square bit of pavement between two blocks of houses. I also often went to the playground across the road from there. When I had lost some of my vision at around age eight, I felt too scared to cross the road.

Like I said, I lived here until I was nine. Then, my family and I moved to Apeldoorn. We moved to a quiet neighborhood. The house we moved into, had a large kitchen-diner and a living room downstairs. We called the living room the “library” because it housed my mother’s huge book collection. Upstairs where three bedrooms, two large and one very small. One was my parents’ bedroom. The small room was my mother’s office, while the other large bedroom was my father’s.

My sister and I each had a bedroom in the attic. I remember not wanting to have my own bedroom at first, probably because I was used to my sister’s company when going to sleep. I eventually grew to like it though. I had the same bed for all of the years I lived here, one of the original bunk beds. My sister claims I got hers and she got mine after the move.

The other two smaller rooms in the attic were a laundry room and a guest bedroom.

We had a large garden. The first summer we lived here, my paternal grandma gifted us a wooden play set that had swings and climbing equipment. I could be found on the swings many hours each dry day until I was at least fourteen.

During the first few years that I lived in this house, I loved exploring the neighborhood. It had at least four playgrounds within a five-minute walking distance from my home. I would often roam about trying to find new playgrounds farther and farther off. When I lost more of my vision at around age twelve, that mostly stopped. Besides, of course I was too old for playgrounds then. I still went to the nearby shopping center regularly, often getting lost on my way.

I generally really liked the house in Apeldoorn. When my parents were trying to sell it and my husband and I were looking for a home, my parents initially offered it for rent to us. We however had the provision that it’d go off the market for a while. Of course, this wasn’t really reasonable. My parents sold the house in December of 2013. I am glad in a way now that they did, as now I have no need to be reminded of the house and my childhood when I don’t want to be.

Gratitude List (March 5, 2021) #TToT

It’s Friday again and I badly want to write. I’m feeling quite distressed by emotional flashbacks right now. To turn my mood around, I thought I’d do a gratitude list again. As usual, I’m joining in with Ten Things of Thankful (#TToT).

1. I am grateful to live in a care facility. I feel very insecure about my living arrangement right now, but my staff reassure me that I don’t have to leave. I am so extremely grateful for my staff’s patience with my anxiety!

2. I am grateful my staff make sure someone comes to sub when a staff is ill or has other obligations. Today, my day activities staff had to leave unexpectedly at around 1PM, but the staff made sure someone came to take her place. In the psychiatric hospital, we’d just be left with fewer staff if this happened.

3. I am grateful for chicken Siam. A fellow client and staff cooked that up for this evening and I totally love it! This client can’t have the cashews that normally go in, so there’s more left for me. 😉

4. I am grateful I got my second shot of the vaccine yesterday. I am also grateful that I didn’t experience any side effects. In fact, I hardly even felt the needle go in, so worried at first that they were doing something wrong. I try to trust that I got the vaccine correctly though.

5. I am grateful for God’s presence in my life. I have been extra involved with my Bible reading lately. I am grateful I finally figured out how to bookmark, highlight or copy verses in the YouVersion app and how to add notes or prayers.

6. I am grateful for all the lovely treats the staff who left our home last week, left for us. We had winegums, candy bars, ice cream and more.

7. I am grateful for no rain this week. It’s cold outside, but usually sunny. For this reason, I was able to get in over 10K steps each day of the week so far (not counting today, but I will later).

8. I am grateful I’m done with dentistry appts for at least another several months. My experience at the dentist’s was pretty bad last Tuesday, by no fault of the dentist. Let me just say I’m glad I’ve got it over with.

9. I am grateful I got to talk to my parents on the phone on Monday and that they are well. I had a nice chat. I will need to phone my sister later too. My parents were going to visit her and her family on Tuesday.

10. I am grateful for the ability to chat to other clients, including those from other homes within my care facility. I chatted some with a guy from the home next to us while we met outside of the day center a few days back. We used to go on walks together with the staff and also have coffee at each other’s homes, but due to COVID restrictions we no longer can. I am looking forward to being able to hang out more with him and other clients once the restrictions are lifted.

Wow, this turned out much better than I expected and it certainly did help.

What are you grateful for?

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