Scars Remind Us #WQWWC

“Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real.” ― Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses

Today’s topic for Writer’s Quotes Wednesday Writing Challenge (#WQWWC is “Healing”. I originally intended to post another quote, but then I had to address the fact that the source person isn’t an author. Not that I’ve read anything by Cormac McCarthy. Frankly, I just stumbled upon this quote on Goodreads by looking for quotes on this topic. However, the quote really speaks to me.

My psychiatrist’s appointment last week opened me up to a whole lot of trauma memories. Up until that point, I hadn’t thought that anyone would ever believe me again, after my dissociative identity disorder and PTSD diagnoses had been removed and everyone had basically decided I wasn’t a real enough trauma survivor at least until or unless I got re-assessed. That’s how I interpreted my psychiatrist’s insistence that I get evaluated for dissociation when I was still living with my husband. She was a great psychiatrist, but she never quite considered helping me with my trauma symptoms without a diagnosis. Then again, neither did I. Now I may even be ready, sort of, to ask for the re-evaluation myself.

The memories have been coming flooding back at me over the past week or so. I mean, I had flashbacks before, which is why the psychiatrist proposed I start topiramate, but they weren’t as bad as they are now. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to start on the topiramate until next week, as my care facility’s physician is on vacation and she needs to okay the prescription.

That being said, the fact that my psychiatrist is willing to prescribe me this medication specifically for my trauma-related symptoms, to me means she takes my trauma seriously. No-one before has ever suggested I try any medication or therapy for my trauma without my first going through the assessment process. Which, to me, means needing to prove my past and the resulting experiences are real first. Well, I can’t, because my dissociation makes me doubt my own reality.

Besides, one of my core traumas is not being validated for who I am. This has meant I’ve had to wear one mask or another, or sometimes several at once, my entire life. For this reason, I do not know who I am at all and constantly doubt my reality of experiencing post-traumatic stress symptoms.

In this sense, it is rather hard to process that most of my trauma didn’t leave physical wounds and that the traumas that did cause physical wounds, aren’t the worst ones. If my traumas had left physical wounds, there would be physical scars to remind me that the traumas were real. Now, there are mostly just emotional scars. I am still learning to validate the experience of my emotional wounds.

An Unbelievably Good Psychiatrist’s Appt Yesterday

Yesterday, I didn’t blog, because I was overwhelmed and frustrated all evening. The frustration is a topic for another time. My overwhelm was mostly positive in a way, in that I’d had a psychiatrist’s appointment in the morning and was overcome with disbelief at how understanding she was. That in turn triggered feelings of disbelief at my current life situation in general, which triggered memories of trauma.

I’d seen this psychiatrist once before, last December. Then, she had switched my PRN medication from lorazepam to quetiapine. Now was the time to discuss whether this was the right medication for me. I wasn’t sure to begin with. I explained truthfully that, while the medication helps somewhat with my oversensitivity to stimuli like noise, it doesn’t help with the anxiety and PTSD symptoms. I didn’t mention PTSD as such, but I did mention that my basic level of arousal is already pretty high. She asked me to describe how I moved from my baseline, which I explained was already a five on a 1-10 scale, to a level ten. I explained that I move very quickly and, once I’m at a ten, I’m too overwhelmed and unable to process stuff to take a quetiapine. Then, when I recover slightly to, say, a level eight, I can take the medication and it helps me get back to my baseline level of five.

I can’t remember how we got talking about it, but I assume my nurse practitioner already told her some things about my anxiety. I mean, we got talking about my fear of going to sleep, which I up to that point had hardly realized was maybe an actual fear of going to sleep because of nightmares. Until this point, I’d always assumed it was some form of fear of abandonment, as the night staff isn’t in my home all the time.

The psychiatrist pretty quickly got to her suggestion, which is adding a low dose of topiramate (Topamax) to my daily medications. I had heard of this medication before and a person I know online, had gotten it at his own request to help with PTSD-related nightmares. This person got it only for a few nights when he had to endure a triggering situation though. Besides, I don’t have nightmares every night. So before I agreed to it, I asked the psychiatrist to explain what it would do. She said it’s normally prescribed for epilepsy or migraine, but low doses are also found to be effective for trauma-related symptoms. She explained that some people love this medication and some hate it due to its side effects. At first, I’ll get one 25mg tablet to be taken at night. I’ll notice any side effects I’m going to get within the first several days and can then stop right away if they’re too unpleasant. If I tolerate this medication, the dose can be upped, in which case I’ll need to take the medication twice daily. The highest dose she usually goes to for PTSD is 150mg a day. She said that it should help with nightmares, but also could be helpful in preventing me getting triggered and having flashbacks often during the day.

I loved how understanding she was of my symptoms. I can’t even remember having said that I experience flashbacks, but I quite often do indeed. She said that, though I can continue to take my PRN quetiapine, that one dulls me a bit, while the topiramate should actually make me less susceptible to flashbacks. It reminds me of an explanation of the different effects of antipsychotics vs. anticonvulsants in helping with sensory overreactivity that I once read. It said something like, imagine overload is hearing a hated radio channel at top volume in your head. Both antipsychotics and anticonvulsants change the channel, but while antipsychotics give you headphones, anticonvulsants actually lower the volume of the radio. Of course, I will continue to take my daily antipsychotic (aripiprazole) and antidepressant (citalopram).

A possibly not-so-undesirable side effect of topiramate is decreased appetite. Other than that, side effects include drowsiness, sleepiness, double vision and tingling in the hands or feet. That last one, particularly if it’s going to effect my fingers, sounds annoying, but I’ll get to experience that if it happens.

Since my nurse practitioner will have to talk to my care facility’s physician before the medication can actually be started, I don’t expect this to happen till sometime next week. It’s also been decided I will start this when a trusted staff is on shift.

Now this did get me into an excited yet overloaded state yesterday evening. I mean, seriously, how can it be that someone truly understands? It baffles me but I’m so relieved.

Gratitude List (December 26, 2020) #TToT

Hello everyone and a belated merry Christmas to you all! As usual on Saturdays nowadays, I’m writing a gratitude list. I’m joining in with Ten Things of Thankful (#TToT). Enjoy!

1. I am grateful for Jesus! I’m so grateful I became a Christian this year and this time hopefully for real. I say this because I’ve been a progressive believer for many years but hardly took my faith seriously at all. I still could take it more seriously and I’m praying God will open my heart and mind to him even more.

2. I am grateful for my family. My parents sent me a Braille-typed Christmas card and my sister sent me a card too. This reminds me that, even though we don’t have the closest relationship, I still matter to them.

3. I am grateful for my husband and in-laws.

4. I am grateful for great Christmas meals. Yesterday, my husband and I made use of the fact that people can legally have two (actually three on Christmas and boxing day) visitors and celebrated Christmas with my in-laws. We had a delicious dinner.

Also, the bakery in a nearby village sent the entire care facility a Christmas lunch of freshly-baked buns. Normally they give it to the day center in that village, where the clients help package their goods. However, that day center is closed due to COVID. Most clients from my care facility don’t work at the day center there, but some do and the bakery was so generous as to give us all the lunch.

5. I am grateful for my psychiatrist. As we wrote on Tuesday, she completely validated us. I haven’t yet needed my new PRN medication.

6. I am grateful the days are getting longer again. Ugh, how I hate the dark days!

7. I am grateful for the motivation and focus to be able to read again. I’m reading a middle grade novel, but that’s okay.

8. I am grateful for uplifting, Christian music. My husband has some on in the car and I discovered some on Spotify.

9. I am grateful for sausage rolls this morning. My husband joked that he was going to eat them all if I didn’t make it downstairs soon enough. I guess I did though.

10. I am grateful for a lie-in this morning. My husband didn’t get up at 7:30AM like usual on Sundays (maybe because it’s Saturday today), so I slept in longer than usual too.

I hope you all had a very happy Christmas. What have you been grateful for lately?

A Really Validating Psychiatrist’s Appt

Today, we had our first appointment with the psychiatrist from the local mental health team. To my surprise, our nurse practitioner came to get us out of the waiting room. He attended the appt too though and looking back, it was really good.

I started to explain that our PRN lorazepam hardly worked at all. The psychiatrist seemed to think that’s a bit odd. We ultimately came to the conclusion that it does do something but the anxiolytic effect causes more emotions to surface.

The psychiatrist then started to talk about the “pieces”, as we call ourselves when talking to mental health professionals. She asked whether I’d ever been in touch with people with similar experiences. This utterly surprised me, as our nurse practitioner had said comparing our experience with others’ is useless. I felt able to share that I’d Googled my symptoms and come across dissociation and had met other people with similar symptoms that way. I did say I don’t really want a diagnosis.

The psychiatrist asked whether each of us experiences the effects of medication differently. Thankfully not, but some are more willing to take medication and to let it work than others. She explained that the mind is stronger than a pill, so if we don’t want to calm down, no medication can make us.

She ended up prescribing us a low dose of quetiapine (Seroquel). This is an antipsychotic when used at higher doses (like in the 100s of mg) but has a greater calming effect when prescribed at lower doses. She told me she had learned how this works – why its calming effect is greater at lower doses -, but had forgotten. I said I’d find out about it someday and let her know.

At one point, I started zoning out. The psychiatrist as well as the care staff who attended, noticed. I honestly had no idea other people, let alone virtual strangers like the psychiatrist, could tell if I didn’t say I was feeling out of it. The psychiatrist told me it’s a coping mechanism and fighting it will only make it last longer. I will work with my nurse practitioner on ways of coping with it when alone.

I also mentioned compulsively looking up things that trigger us online. Like, I now remember yesterday someone was reading a newspaper story about Russian opposition leader Navalny’s poisoning. Then one of the littles got triggered into thinking someone had put poison in her underwear too. The same happens on a more severe scale with us compulsively looking at other places to live. Our nurse practitioner said he’s definitely going to remember this for our upcoming appts.

Looking back, I’m so glad we had this appointment and also so glad our nurse practitioner attended too. He had seemed a bit dismissive when we had an appointment on Thursday, but we were able to express that via E-mail too.

Clarissa

Another Appointment With My CPN

Today, I had an appt with my CPN again. I can’t remember all the details, but I did tell her that I had had a breakdown on Sunday. I was completely honest, sharing that I had seen and heard things that aren’t there. It was as if something was truly telling me I’m a monster and everyone will leave me. Then I saw some form of Heavenly light. I can’t describe it really and it wasn’t very vivid even then, but it was more than mere wishful thinking.

My CPN encouraged me to discuss this with the psychiatrist when I see her on the 22nd. I really hope she can help me. My husband later asked me whether it was truly psychosis or a panic attack. I don’t think I was full-on psychotic but my perceptions and thoughts were definitely headed that way. My CPN agreed.

I can’t remember whether I told my CPN, but I had these thoughts and perceptions once before. Well, a few weeks ago I had them too, back when this depressive stuff all started, but then it wasn’t that bad. Back in December of 2009, I think it was even on Christmas, it was. I had run off from the psych ward in the snow. I picked up snowballs and somehow was convinced they contained drug needles. I wasn’t depressed at the time, just batshit crazy. It lasted only for a few hours though, but came back several times within the next few months, only disappearing when I was put on Abilify.

Now I’m pretty pessimistic. After all, I’m already on the highest dose of both Abilify and the antidepressant Celexa. (I mention this because I’m pretty sure I’m depressed, whether clinically or not.) I’m hoping though that the psychiatrist can put me on some PRN medication other than lorazepam, which I can use if I fully break down again. I know I have had experience with Phenergan (promethazine, a low-potency neuroleptic) and that worked great when I was on no other medication but not at all once I was on my current regimen. Maybe the psychiatrist can prescribe me something similar but different.

I also talked to my CPN about the incessant crying. She told me this may be useful. After all, I learned from a young age on to hide all negative emotions except for frustration (because I couldn’t hide that). In fact, I was told that I was “too quick to anger”, but this was used as an excuse to force me to repress every emotion other than a smile. I hadn’t been able to cry unless I was angry first until only a few months ago. As such, my CPN reasoned that I might have a lot of catching up to do.

Gratitude List (December 5, 2020) #TToT

Hi everyone. I hope you’re well. Last week, I said I’d like to make gratitude lists a weekly habit again. Here goes. As usual, I’m joining in with Ten Things of Thankful (#TToT).

1. My mood being slightly better than it was last week. I seem to be slowly climbing out of the pit of depression and overload. I am still in crisis multiple times a week, but it’s no longer an almost-daily occurrence.

2. St. Nicholas. This is celebrated today here in the Netherlands. Usually, kids get gifts then. We no longer celebrate it in our family and my niece is probably too young to understand the concept too. We don’t really celebrate it in the care facility this year either. However, we do have lots of special St. Nicholas candies.

3. My mother-in-law. She visited me on Thursday, which was good. I really had a good time.

4. Reading. Like I said earlier, the second novel in Kenneth Oppel’s trilogy is out this week and I immediately downloaded it off Bookshare. It’s a true page-turner.

5. Playing cards. I love to play the game of mau-mau or “bullying”, as it is called here.

6. A rainbow-colored ball. I can’t remember how I got it, but it’s among my toys. I have been loving throwing it back and forth with the staff.

7. The snoezelen® equipment we got at the home now. I may have said before that there’s an empty room that the staff had turned into a snoezelen® room when the day center closed. Then we got a client temporarily placed in that room, so its sensory equipment had to be removed. That client left though and it’s unlikely we’ll get a new placement anytime soon. So our staff bought some more sensory equipment. We now have a special sensory bed with speakers installed in it. I lay on the bed yesterday and loved feeling and hearing the soothing music.

8. Getting to the psychiatrist sooner than expected. Originally, I heard me appt isn’t till sometime in January. Thankfully though, the psychiatrist had a cancellation or something, so I was fitted in for December 22. Though my mood is slowly lifting, I am still glad I can see her.

9. Essential oils once again. Okay, I’ve shared about those before, but I keep discovering new blends. Yesterday I had one that included geranium and I hated the smell. I quickly emptied the diffuser though and then tried another blend.

10. Sleep. I haven’t had nightmares in a week or so. At least not ones that haunt me during the day. That’s definitely a win!

Yay, I got to ten. I know some are repeats, but that’s okay. And at least I didn’t include a ton of food-related thankfuls.

What have you been grateful for lately?

A Profound Appt with My CPN

Yesterday I had another appt with my community psychiatric nurse (CPN). At first, we went into how I’m doing at the moment. Then my CPN scheduled some appts for me with my nurse practitioner. Last Monday, after all, he and the behavior specialist from my care facility had finally come to the conclusion that I need to do some work on stabilizing myselves and developing inner cooperation before I can do EMDR or another form of trauma therapy. At first, the secretary said the first appt she had available was late December. It turned out to be December 17, so that’s pretty early considering how long I’ve been waiting already.

Then we got to discuss some issues relating to my diagnosis or the lack thereof. These were mostly theoretical, since I have no idea what my current diagnosis is and I really don’t care. I mean, the most recent treatment guidelines here in the Netherlands for complex dissociative disorders, aren’t suited to me (or most plurals, honestly), so I have no reason to want such a diagnosis. All I want is help in getting the inner turmoil under control.

Then I somehow got to mention my former psychiatrist’s comment when first considering assessing me for DID/OSDD in the summer of 2018. She held both of my hands and said: “You have just one body.” Then she went on to explain that, while she was holding our hands, none of us could put our fingers in our ears and pretend not to listen.

We then repeated this exercise. A staff always attends our appts with mental health with us. She now held both our hands and said that we can stay at the care facility. Someone asked cautiously: “Even if I need more help than I get now?” She then reassured us that yes, even if we need more help, we can stay here.

Then the staff asked our CPN what she’s supposed to do when we openly switch, as we had the day before. My CPN seemed not to know, so I suggested she do not elicit it, but do not fight it when it happens either. After all, when she insists that “Astrid” come back, this may create some trouble since “Astrid” is either everyone or no-one at all.

I really hope our nurse practitioner isn’t going to insist people only talk to “Astrid”, as the current guidelines on DID/OSDD seem to suggest as far as I know. I mean, we are okay all listening to the body’s name and won’t sign our names on E-mails or the like when it’s not appropriate, but one of our main issues is that there is no host who somehow “owns” the others. As such, the daily living parts or apparently normal parts or whatever don’t have access to every bit of information needed to cooperate.

Appointment With My CPN

Yesterday, we had an appt with our community psychiatric nurse (CPN). I can’t remember all that we discussed. I went into some detail about our sadness and overwhelm over the last few weeks and explained that we had signed a letter to the manager requesting more help.

I tried to ask my CPN to get me an appt with the psychiatrist to discuss my meds, as my overload and irritability are increasing. While I was trying to get this out, I constantly heard someone in my mind say I shouldn’t be asking this as it’s attention seeking or drug seeking or whatever. I don’t even want a med increase per se. In fact, I’m at the maximum dose for both my antipsychotic and antidepressant already. I might want something to help with sleep and especially the restless dreams/nightmares. I feel intense shame about discussing that though, as my nightmares aren’t your standard PTSD nightmares. In fact, my trauma isn’t your standard PTSD trauma.

That is another issue I’m facing. Yesterday, I read an elementary school friend’s story of child abuse. It triggered me to an extent, because I can relate. Still, my trauma wasn’t that bad. She is a child sexual abuse survivor. I am not. Though I endured some physical abuse, it wasn’t that which caused my complex PTSD and dissociative symptoms. The most significant trauma in my life was the emotional abuse and neglect.

Of course, I just told another survivor that childhood emotional neglect and emotional abuse can cause C-PTSD and dissociative disorders too. In fact, dissociative disorders are largely attachment-based, so anything that disrupts normal attachment, can cause it. Still, to apply that knowledge to myself, is quite a bit harder.

I eventually did ask my CPN to refer me to the psychiatrist. My nurse practitioner would normally prescribe my medication, but he does consult with the psychiatrist also. Besides, I’ve never even seen the psychiatrist. So my CPN was more than happy to get me an appt.

My Medication Musings: Abilify

It’s been a while since I last did a post on my medications. Today I’m writing about the medication I’ve been on the longest: aripiprazole (Abilify). I’ve been taking this second-generation antipsychotic for over ten years.

When I first got prescribed Abilify in 2010, I had been on no psychotropic medications except for PRN oxazepam for over two years. I was having a lot of meltdowns though and the staff at the psych hospital couldn’t adequately care for me. I was sent to the locked ward for a time-out shortly before starting on Abilify.

When my psychiatrist proposed this medication, he made a pun about the drug’s name by saying it makes things a little easier. I didn’t like that, but agreed to take a low dose of Abilify anyway. I started at 5mg a day.

Within half a year, I had had my dose upped to 15mg a day. I did pretty well on that moderate maintenance dose for several years, until I moved to another hospital. There, the staff/client ratio was lower and besides, staff weren’t as willing to accommodate for my needs. I quickly had to up my dose again to eventually 30mg a day.

I wasn’t so sure I wanted to go beyond 15mg, as most clinical guidelines recommend a higher dose for acute mania or psychosis only. My new psychiatrist disagreed and seemed to have no interest in lowering my dose once I had upped it. For this reason, I’m still on 30mg a day.

When I first came here, I expressed a wish to lower my dosage once I’d settled into the care facility. The intellectual disability physician for my facility as well as my psychiatric nurse practitioner recommended I wait at least six months. I’ve now been in the care facility for a year, but haven’t felt comfortable asking to be tapered yet.

Now I must say I don’t experience any of the more major side effects, such as akathisia (a form of physical restlessness). I however do feel slightly sedated.

I also feel that the medication’s effect has worn off over the years. I recently learned that your neurotransmitter receptors overgrow when you’ve been on psychotropic drugs for a long while. At least, that seems to be the case for the dopamine D2 receptor, the one Abilify mainly acts on. Recommended action is lowering the dosage or trying another medication. I will definitely raise this issue with my nurse practitioner.

As a side note, like I said, I had my dosage upped once I moved to a psych ward with a lower staff/client ratio and less willingness to accommodate my needs. This is not an appropriate reason for medication increases, but I didn’t know what else to do.

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.