Empathy

I’ve been thinking about empathy lately. A few weeks ago, I wrote that I have been looking at my personality from a highly sensitive person or empath theory perspective. Though this is still somewhat fitting, I indeed experience this strange mix between low empathy and hyperempathy.

I mean, I pick up on the general atmosphere in a room pretty easily. I also absorb others’ emotions. I feel when other people are sad or angry in distress. I cannot pick up on happiness as easily, but I’m learning.

Then again, when presented with a social situation, be it in theory or in real life, I show very little empathy according to neurotypical standards. I have absolutely no idea how to articulate how people are feeling.

I recently saw a post by Ashley on alexithymia. Ashley contrasted alexithymia with borderline personality disorder, in which people are overly emotionally sensitive. Well, I have both. Or maybe I just have the autistic women’s general mix between high and low empathy.

The interesting bit about alexithymia is, when being assessed for it in 2017 as part of my last autism assessment, one of the scales was on interest in talking about emotions and such. I scored normal if not high on that one. Similarly, when taking personality tests like those based on the MBTI, I usually score higher on feeling than thinking. That’s because I somehow want to see myself as a sensitive person. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I am though. Like I said before, my husband sees me as an obvious INTJ.

My community psychiatric nurse signed me up for a psycho-education course on autism this past week even though I know quite a bit about it already. Looking over all the criteria, I thought: “That must be so hard to deal with… Oh wait, that’s supposed to be me.” There was a bit about lack of empathy too and that made me feel awful. As much as I “wanted” an autism diagnosis when last assessed for it, I don’t want to be seen as having low empathy.

This post was inspired by today’s RagTag Daily Prompt.

COVID-19 Worries

The coronavirus came to the Netherlands a few weeks ago. Yesterday, we had the first case in the care facility’s town. The care facility hasn’t yet been affected as far as I know, but still, I grow more scared as the days go by.

I’m not scared of falling seriously ill or dying from the virus. Though some of my fellow clients are in their sixties, we don’t have anyone in my home who is otherwise at risk of serious illness or death as far as I know. I am not really sure whether I should worry about my family in this respect. So far, the thought has only fleetingly crossed my mind.

What I do worry about though is the consequences this will have for our society at large. I worry about people stockpiling food. I know my husband got some extra stuff a few weeks ago already when he saw it coming.

I worry about another economic meltdown. My husband has a pretty secure income, having just been hired indefinitely at his job a month ago. He might be forced to take time off, leading to a significant decrease in income, but he won’t be jobless. I am not sure about my income, as I’m on benefits. I don’t know that I will be able to handle yet another round of budget cuts to health care though.

More importantly in the short term, I worry about the need to isolate if you’re infected. What if I get the virus and need to stay in my room 24/7 for two weeks, not being allowed any human contact? Some other blogger idealized this by writing they’d finally have time to read all the books and binge watch all the Netflix series they wanted. As much as I’d like to escape the day center at times and just hide out in my room, I don’t think I could make this work for two weeks straight.

I also worry about staff needing to self-isolate if they get infected. Will this mean there won’t be staff to care for us? My staff has been trying to reassure me, but the letter sent out to clients’ family yesterday, had no information about what if the virus enters the facility in it. Which seems to be more of a “when” than an “if”.

I’m linking up with today’s RagTag Daily Prompt, for which the word is “Isolate”.

Something Between Me and God

So Christmas is over. My own family doesn’t care about it much. We didn’t visit my parents this year. My sister, brother-in-law and three-month-old niece saw our parents for a few days before Christmas. My husband had to work, so we didn’t have time to come over then. We could have come over today, but I personally don’t like visiting my parents if my sister and brother-in-law aren’t there too. All of us live in different corners of the country and my sister and husband both work irregular hours, so ideally we find a day when we can all be together. That doesn’t have to be at Christmas. It helps that my family aren’t religious. My parents are both atheists.

I am not an atheist, but I prefer not to subscribe to organized religion. Yes, I derive meaning from reading Christian devotionals and listening to Christian music. I also sometimes pray. I no longer attend church and never attended regularly. I take the Bible with a large bucket of salt. Yet I feel very touched by the nativity story.

Recently, when going through my Facebook profile and privacy settings, I chose to delete my religion off my profile altogether. It listed “progressive Christian” up to that point, but really I think it’s none of my 500+ friends’ business. My husband says religion is something between him and whatever higher power he believes in or not. It is not that I don’t want to share – I am doing that now -, but I don’t want to label my belief system. Maybe in some respects I’m still a seeker.

And yet, sometimes I wish I subscribed to an organized belief system. I mean, I love to connect to spiritual and religious bloggers, but it’s hard to find this connection without sharing their doctrine. Am I truly being honest when I tell a Christian blogger that I agree with their spiritual message even though on fundamental matters of doctrine, we most likely strongly disagree. I mean, my husband at one point read me the Nicene creed, on which all Christianity is based and I didn’t agree with some points.

Then again, it’s not up to the humans who wrote that creed to judge me at the end of times. They may kick me out of their blogging communities, but they won’t ultimately decide whether there’s an afterlife and if so, how I get to spend eternity in it.

I love to derive meaning from all sorts of spiritual sources. Most are either Christian or New Age-based. I don’t think believing in God and Jesus contradicts belief in one’s inner spiritual power. I don’t think I need to take the Bible literally or even semi-literally to consider myself religious. Like I said, my spirituality is something between me and God.

I’m joining in with RagTag Daily Prompt, for which the word today is Spiritual.

My Favorite Ways of Staying Active

Today, I am joining in with the RagTag Daily Prompt for Thursday. It is “Exercise“. I am a pretty sedentary person, but nonetheless, I love getting moving every once in a while. Here are my favorite ways of staying active both physically and mentally.

1. Walking. My absolute favorite way of physical exercise has to be walking. Due to my disabilities, I am not safe leaving the house on my own for a walk, but I do enjoy walks with my support staff or other people. As regular readers of this blog know, I go for a long walk each Monday at day activities. This week, unfortunately, it started to pour when we’d just been out of the door for five minutes, so we had to return. Both today and yesterday though, I went for an hour-long walk with my support coordinator.

2. Swimming. My second most favorite way of exercising physically has to be swimming. We do it at day activities every other Tuesday. My Fitbit activity tracker is water-proof, so it tracks my swimming activity too.

3. Going on gym equipment. I have an elliptical at home, which I really need to use more often. I manage twice a week on average, but sometimes I don’t go for over a week.

I also discussed with my support worker getting myself a gym membership. There’s a gym in the nearby city that has services for people who suffered brain injury. I’d love to go there.

4. Yoga. I used to take yoga lessons at the institution in Nijmegen many years ago, but I quit eventually. Then I tried to practise on my own. My husband eventually borrowed my yoga mat for his own exercise, then threw it out because it’d disintegrated. I just ordered myself anew one, which should arrive tomorrow. I tried to do yoga on my bed today, but that wasn’t really ideal.

5. Horseback riding. This isn’t particularly exercise-y if you ask me, since we just step around. However, it is an activity that I commit to once a week and that keeps me healthy – or so I’d like to think.

What are your favorite ways of staying healthy?

Emotional Flashbacks: I Tend to Fight

I just read up on trauma-related symptoms and was flooded with emotional flashbacks. An emotional flashback is where you are reminded of a past traumatic event but don’t remember it in visual detail. Rather, you feel the emotions associated with the event. You then respond in a usually maladaptive way that is associated with your trauma.

According to Pete Walker, there are four types of trauma responses related to emotional flashbacks: fight, flight, freeze and fawn. I have yet to read up on them all in Walker’s book Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving, but I think I most relate to fight, followed by freeze and fawn. Interestingly, in this book, Walker also discusses specific combinations of responses, such as the fight-fawn hybrid (I think that would be me).

I feel sad, because Walker calls the fight response, which is my most common first reaction, “narcissistic” and on his website relates it to being spoiled. I have yet to read up in his book on whether this is the only trauma that can elicit a fight response, as I was not usually spoiled. Or was I?

When discussing my upbringing with the psychologist who gave me my autism diagnosis back in 2017, after another psychologist had taken it away, I mentioned my parents not letting me develop my independence skills. That is, when I tried to develop independence skills, I was often left to my own resources and not consciously taught. Then as soon as I got frustrated (which I reckon is a natural response), my parents gave up and would do stuff for me. The psychologist called this simultaneous over- and underestimation.

I was rather frustrated with the fact that I was seen as having been underestimated, as this didn’t resonate with my feeling of chornic overwhelm. Also, it somehow feels like it’s a character flaw on my part that I got let off the hook, whereas I consider other forms of bad parenting that I endured to be my parents’ responsibility. Really though, ultimately, it’s my responsibility to heal.

Linking up with RDP #83: Remember.

Challenge: The Skill of Dialectics

“The best person you can become is yourself.” I once read this in an advert for a personality disorders treatment center. It seems so true, and yet it suggests that people with personality disorders are not being themselves. As if a personality disorder is somehow superimposed upon the otherwise healthy person. That’s probably not how it works.

I was reminded of this as I thought of my meeting with my mental health nurse today. I was very open about my thoughts regarding treatment and its effectiveness and my maybe wanting to stop it. The challenge, in this respect, is figuring out which aspects of myself I still want to improve on and which I want to accept as part of myself.

I clarified that I’m afraid treatment is always focused on making the patient more independent. That’s not a problem, but it is when practical independence comes at a cost to autonomy. I am and will always be multiply-disabled. No amount of mental health treatment will change that. My nurse agreed, but said that she doesn’t feel I’m at a point where I can accept myself and just live yet.

The biggest challenge in my life seems to be and always has been to find the right balance between apparent opposites. Between my intellectual capacity and my social-emotional disability. Between my wish for autonomy or self-determination and my need for support. Between my desire to progress and my desire to just be.

I remember several years ago checking out a dialectical behavior therapy self-help manual that started with the skill of dialectics, of finding the right balance between two opposites. This is such a cool skill. I think I’ll accept the challenge and work this skill again tonight.

I am joining RDP #63: Challenge with this post.