Mentors and Role Models

Today’s topic for Throwback Thursday is mentors and role models. Of course, last week, I already shared about my high school tutor, who was a mentor when I was a teen. Today, I’m going to share about other role models.

One of my first role models was my paternal grandmother. She was a fiercely independent, self-determined woman. In 1973, a year after women were legally equal to men here in the Netherlands, she divorced my grandpa. She went to college to become a social worker, eventually becoming the head of social work at the psychiatric institution in her area. In the mid-1990s, in her early 70s, she founded a senior citizens’ living complex, where she lived for nearly 20 years until she needed to go into a care home. She died in 2018 at the age of 94.

One clear memory I have of my grandmother that has stuck with me throughout life and which perhaps unintentionally inspired me, is her comment about her work as a social worker with troubled young people. She told me that, when some young people don’t want to go home to their parents, she had to sometimes honor the teens’ wishes rather than the parents’. Even though I was 19 when first going against my parents’ wishes, and their wish wasn’t for me to live with them, the point was that my opinion mattered even if I was “crazy”.

Later, when I was a teen and young adult, I sought out role models who shared some of my experiences. One of my first role models in this category was someone I met through an E-mail list for my eye condition. She was in her early thirties when we first met online and I was seventeen. Besides blindness, we had some other experiences in common. We eagerly read each other’s online diaries back in the day. She is still a Facebook friend of mine, but, because she has moved on to become more or less successful at life and work and I haven’t, we don’t share the same life experiences anymore.

Some people I considered inspiring, I never even talked to, such as Cal Montgomery, a disability activist whose article, “Critic of the Dawn”, I first read in like 2006.

Currently, indeed, what I look for in an inspiring person or role model is shared experience. That being the case, I consider many of the people I’m on E-mail lists or in Facebook groups with to be inspiring. Then though, our interactions are more based on equality, where any of us can be the inspiration for the others.

I don’t think that I quite have what it takes to be a mentor myself. Though I can provide people with inspiration and information, I don’t really have my life together enough to be a role model. This saddens me, thinking about the fact that I’m older now than the woman I met at seventeen was when we first met.

What do you look for in a role model?

What It Was Like Being a Patient on a Psychiatric Ward #31Days2021 #Blogtober21

I’m still not too inspired to write. Today’s optional prompt for #31Days2021 is “patient”. Obviously, most people will write about “patient” as in the adjective derived from patience. I won’t. I want instead to share what it was like being a patient in a psych hospital.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I spent 9 1/2 years in a mental hospital between 2007 and 2017. I spent my first sixteen months on the locked ward. This is pretty much as I imagined it before I entered the psych system myself: floridly psychotic patients screaming and exhibiting other erratic behavior, staff running around trying to control it. Like I said yesterday, I witnessed people being secluded and being forcibly medicated several times. I was an informally admitted patient, so I couldn’t be subjected to any form of restraint. This isn’t to say it didn’t happen, as I said.

The staff/patient ratio at my ward was around 1:5 during the day. This means there’s not much time for staff to keep regular tabs on what patients are up to if they aren’t kicking up a fuss. I, in fact, at one point got told I would be put into time-out if I “needed more care than we can provide”.

After those sixteen months, I transferred to an open resocialization unit and later another open ward. The staff/patient ratio there was around 1:10, sometimes even less. As a result, patients had to help one another out sometimes.

On the locked ward, I had treatment plan reviews once every six weeks. This was because the ward was basically a crisis intervention/stabilization unit, where officially you could stay a maximum of six months. I must say there wasn’t much in the way of therapy. Of course, most patients admitted to this unit, suffered with psychotic disorders, for which the main treatment is medication. For me, it was decided I just had to figure out a place to go after pulling myself out of the worst crisis and, for this reason, I had mostly contact with the social worker.

On the resocialization unit, I did get psychotherapy. This was where I was diagnosed with (complex) PTSD and dissociative identity disorder in addition to autism. Thing is, once I moved to the other ward, these diagnoses were all removed. It was decided I was just care seeking and dependent and needed to be kicked out of the hospital.

We did have day activities most days on each psych unit. However, not all patients were able to participate. I, for one, usually was not.

In summary, my entire psychiatric hospital stay was one lengthy journey of changing diagnoses, social workers who tried to find me a place to live but had a very narrow view of what I needed, limited nursing support and hardly any day activities. I did start two of my three current daily psych meds while in the hospital. However, I must say, looking back, I hardly made any progress during those 9 1/2 years.

The Greatest Life Lesson #Write31Days

Welcome to day eleven in #Write31Days. Today, I picked a prompt from 100 Self-Help Journal Prompts by Francie Brunswick. It asks us about the greatest lesson we’ve learned in life and what makes this lesson so important.

Here I’m going to be a bit repetitive, as I covered this topic already in my letter to my younger self. The greatest lesson I’ve learend in life is that you need to stay true to yourself.

I have some codependent tendencies. In other words, I tend to be a people-pleaser. For years, I thought that to make up for the burden that I was due to my blindness and other disabilities, I’d need to let other people make everyday decisions for me. In that sense, at age seventeen or eighteen, I definitely would’ve met the criteria for dependent personality disorder. Not because I wanted others to do stuff for me or because I claimed support I didn’t really need, but rather because I allowed others to take responsibility for my life. Conversely though, practically, I thought I had to be extremely independent, never asking for help, for fear of losing other people’s approval.

Until my mental crisis of 2007, I let my parents rule my life. That may be normal’ish for someone at that age, but it wasn’t healthy. Then when I went into the mental hospital, I let my social worker make decisions for me. She was a very authoritarian person, threatening me with forced discharge from the hospital or guardianship if I didn’t do as she wanted.

Then, of course, I let my psyhcologist on the long-term care unit make decisions for me. Ironically, when she diagnosed me with dependent personality disorder in 2016, she used as one of the reasons the fact that I wouldn’t openly disagree with her. I told her half-jokingly that I assumed she’d remove my diangosis again if I fought her hard enough on it. She wouldn’t. Her diagnosing me as dependent was based on her screwed beliefs about disability and mental health.

I am now 32. I have the most supportive care team I could wish for. However, if I ever get to deal with less supportive staff in my life again, I know I can and must stick up for myself. I cherish Leonie, my fights-like-a-lioness insider, who emerged when I most needed her, when fighting my psychologist on the DPD diagnosis. I have a right to be myself. I am not dependent on anyone for making my decisions.