Friends and Buddies

This week’s topic for Throwback Thursday is friendship. I was never really good at making friends. I still don’t have any real friends other than my husband. I mean, of course I could consider some of my fellow clients “friends”, but our relationship isn’t as deep as that of normal adult friendships.

In early childhood, I did have one friend. Her name was Kim and we used to make mud castles together. Or anything out of sand and water really. Kim’s last name translates to “peat” and my father used to jokingly call her “Kim Mud” rather than “Kim Peat”.

When I went to the special school for the visually impaired at the age of five, I started in a first grade class despite being of Kindergarten age. All girls in my class were at least a year older than me and they enjoyed “babysitting” me. In exchange, for the next three years, I’d help them with their schoolwork.

By the age of nine, I transferred to a different school for the blind. Though I did have a friend there, I was also an outcast and got heavily bullied.

My best time socially was my one year at the special ed secondary school for the blind. I had one good friend there, but also got along pretty well with everyone else in my class and most kids in my school in general.

All that changed when I entered mainstream high school at the age of thirteen. Within a month, everyone had formed cliques except for me. A few months later, my favorite clique took me under their wing and pretended to be my friends, only to drop me again when they’d had enough of me. I was friendless for the remainder of the six-year program. I didn’t really care. Or maybe I did, but I was determined to show my parents and teachers that I could earn a mainstream high level high school diploma. And I did. Not that I use it for anything now, but oh well.

Another topic mentioned in the Throwback Thursday post title at least is buddies. This reminds me of the autistic student buddy program I was part of during my two months of attending university. This program assigned a psychology student volunteer buddy to an autistic student to help the autistic with planning their coursework or other activities related to their studies. It worked in theory, but the catch was that these buddies were volunteers helping only with certain things for one or two hours a week at most. At the time, you couldn’t get paid support workers for assistance related to college or university studies, as the reasoning was that if you could be a student in college or uni, you should be able to do the planning and related tasks yourself. Needless to say my buddy got overwhelmed within a week. I feel intensely sorry for her.

The reason I mention this, besides it being in the post title, is the fact that I realize I struggle to maintain a distinction between social and professional relationships and, with the buddy, things got even muddier. I mean, friendships are supposed to be reciprocal, while professional relationships are not. For this reason, I am allowed to unload my shit to a professional without needing to listen to theirs. Professionals, however, get paid, while friends don’t. With the buddy, the situation got complicated, in that my fellow students called on my buddy to calm me when I was in a meltdown. That clearly wasn’t her role.

This thing about lack of reciprocity, however, also probably killed off that mainstream high school friendship I pretended to have. I don’t blame myself entirely though: my so-called “friends” also felt obligated to hang out with me out of pity, and that’s never a good reason to be someone’s friend.

Suicidal Ideation in Childhood: Some Reflections

Earlier today, someone online asked a group of autistic women about suicidal ideation in childhood and at what age it started. It is common knowledge that depression and suicidality are near-universal among autistics. After all, we are taught, be it consciously or not, that our autistic way of expressing ourselves is unacceptable.

I remember my first autistic burnout at age five. I don’t have clear, verbal memories of the experience, but my inner five-year-old might and I do experience somatic and emotional flashbacks. The family story about the event is that I was ill with the flu. At the same time (coincidentally or not) my parents were making arrangements for me to start at the school for the visually impaired. I started in mid-May, before the end of the school year.

At the time, I wasn’t actively suicidal as far as I’m aware. I started having those thoughts when I was around age seven. I have a vague memory of telling my mother that I wanted to die sometime around that age.

Interestingly, I never made suicide attempts. Even the times I planned my “final day alive”, I never had any idea how I was going to go about actually doing it. This fact was later used to “prove” that I wasn’t serious.

I mean, when I was 21 and admitted to the psych unit, my parents came to tell the psychiatrist that I’d threatened suicide ever since I was seven-years-old, almost adding triumphantly: “See, and here she is, alive!” They said I just wanted attention.

Then again, is it somehow bad that I, deep down, didn’t really want to die? I just didn’t see any alternative. Of course I didn’t want to die by suicide. I imagine at least most people don’t really want to; instead, they want a better life. But I couldn’t get that at that time or so I thought. Does that make me a bad person? I don’t think so.

It’s so sad that, at least in my family, the red flag of long-time, severe suffering was ignored as a sign of “attention-seeking”. As if a seven-year-old even has the capacity to use suicide threats to manipulate their parents for mere attention without anything else going on with them.

Too Many Toys

Today’s topic for Throwback Thursday is toys and pastimes. The first question Maggie asks in her post is: “Did you have a lot of toys?” The short answer would be that yes, I was privileged to have quite many toys, but I must say I wasn’t so spoiled that I always got the latest trendy toy.

I probably shared this story before, but I played with toys quite a lot until I was at least eleven. By that time, my parents and teachers were looking into options for secondary schools and their opinions couldn’t have been any different: while my parents wanted me to go to mainstream grammar school, my teachers felt special education at their low-level secondary school for the blind, preferably residential, was in my best interest. My mother one day took me for a “mother-daughter walk” explaining the school’s stance and said that the reason they felt I needed residential special ed, was my behavior. That, in turn, she attributed to my having too many toys. The logic, I never quite understood, but it must’ve been something like my being so spoiled that I somehow felt entitled to display challenging behavior.

She went on to explain that, at the residential school, I would only be allowed one doll and one soft toy. She had given me a Barbie doll for my birthday earlier that summer, but told me she regretted it as soon as she received the school’s report. Needless to say, I always felt weird about playing with dolls from that age on, even though I continued to play with toys and dolls and everything until I was at least fifteen.

Fast forward some ten to fifteen years. When I was in my mid-twenties and diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, I felt it might help my littles (child alters) if we had toys again. I first bought a box of old Barbies for €70 on a marketplace site. That wasn’t a wise decision as, though the box did arrive, the Barbie dolls were in such bad condition I eventually threw them away. I then decided to buy a couple of new ones at a toy store, but the littles hardly played with them. They prefer soft toys.

Speaking of which, one of Maggie’s questions is whether you still have any toys from your childhood. I don’t, as they’re probably all at my parents’. However, I do still have my stuffed whale Wally, whom I got when I left the NICU at three-months-old. I still sometimes sleep with it.

Wally

Did you have many toys growing up?

Lifelong Learning

I discovered 10 on the 10th last month, but didn’t feel like joining in at the time. Yesterday, a new edition went live and the topic is lifelong learning in honor of back-to-school season. I’m joining in today, as I loved the questions. Here goes.

1. How old were you when you started school? Did you attend pre-kinder and/or kinder or go straight into first grade?
I started in preschool at age three and in Kindergarten at age four. Here in the Netherlands, Kindergarten takes two years, although the first year (when children are four) wasn’t mandatory back in my day. It is now.

2. Were you a good student? What was your favorite subject?
In terms of academic performance, I was above-average in most subjects once I was properly educated. I added that last bit because, at my first special education school for the visually impaired, where I attended first till third grade, I was a little behind in reading and writing due to several factors. These included poor teaching and the fact that I didn’t start learning Braille till second grade, so had to pretty much start over learning to read and write then.

In terms of behavior, I did okay. I am autistic (undiagnosed at the time), so I did have my challenges, but I wasn’t the type to stir up trouble in school on purpose.

My favorite subject was math for most of elementary school and my first year in secondary school. Then, once I was mainstreamed at a high level high school and math became one of my hardest subjects, I started to like languages more. At the end of secondary school, my favorite subject was English.

3. As a child, did you take music lessons? Or play a sport? Do you still play an instrument now?
No, not at all! Contrary to the stereotype of blind people, I’m not musically-talented at all. Neither am I good at sports. I did attend a children’s choir for some years though, but mostly just hummed along.

4. Did you attend any kind of training or classes beyond high school? If so, what did you study? Did you wind up working in a profession or job for which those classes or training prepared you?
I went to college for one year to study applied psychology and to university for two months to study linguistics. I did get my foundation (first year certificate) in applied psychology, but didn’t get any credits in the linguistics program. Oh, I did take some classes at Open University (psychology once again) in 2009. I don’t need any education for what I do now (day activities for the disabled).

5. Have you taken any personal growth or adult education classes for fun? During the year that was Covid, did you home school, learn a new app to work from home, teach yourself to do something you might have paid someone else to do for you?
Uhm, not really. I am mostly self-taught where it comes to crafts and stuff. I would really like to take some classes in maybe crafting or writing someday, but not sure.

6. What would you like to learn how to do that you don’t know how to do already?
Right now, obviously I’d like to learn more crafting techniques, particularly polymer clay.

7. Name something that you learned easily. Then name something that was a struggle for you to learn to do.
As a child, reading print came easily to me. I taught myself to read at about age five. Reading Braille, on the other hand, was a struggle, mostly because I didn’t accept the fact that I was going blind.

8. What’s the last thing you remember learning? What kind of learner are you: visual, auditory, hands-on/kinesthetic, verbal, logical/mathematical?
The last thing I learned was moving a polymer clay slab from the work surface without distorting its shape (too much). I am probably a mix of a kinetic/hands-on and a verbal learner. I don’t do well with spoken instructions though. Rather, I need to read them.

9. Hard to teach an old dog new tricks, school of hard knocks, pass with flying colors, learn by heart, burn the midnight oil, pull an all-nighter, play hooky – which of these expression best fits your life lately? Why?
Pull an all-nighter, I guess. I’m often up late hyperfocusing on my latest obsession (currently polymer clay) and learning new things about it.

10. What is something you’ve learned from past mistakes?
To follow my own plan rather than relying on what others want me to do. As regular readers may know, I suffered autistic burnout in 2007 when at university trying to live on my own. This was what my parents wanted me to do. I ended up in the psych hospital only to be kicked out 9 1/2 years later almost with no after care even though I had hardly improved, only because I’d met my husband and my psychologist figured that if I was married I should be able to live with him. I didn’t cope and thankfully successfully fought for long-term care. This has been the best decision of my life.

What have you been learning recently?

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.

An F in Phys Ed

One of Mama Kat’s writing prompts for this week is whether you played sports as a child and if so, to share a memorable game. I never played sports outside of school. That is, I attended one gymnastics class with my sister and a friend of hers at around age eight. I didn’t enjoy it one bit, despite normally liking gymnastics in physical education classes.

I was, to put it plainly, horrible at sports. Any sports. While gymnastics was my favorite part of physical education, it was more because I hated team sports and athletics even more.

At the school for the blind I attended for grades four to six, I was always picked last. Not just because of my lack of athletic capacity, but also because I was the only girl in my class. I don’t blame my classmates though.

When I attended mainstream high school, my phys ed teacher was also my tutor. He was great at accommodating me up to a point. For example, he let me run with a buddy. Of course, I was the slowest runner of the entire class. Looking back, I like to blame my mild cerebral palsy, but I still struggle to figure out what is due to that and what is simply due to my being fat. Not that I was fat at the time, but I wasn’t skinny either.

In my second year in this school, I hadn’t had any failing grades until sometime in February. My classmates complained that I got it easier than them, because for example I’d get extra time on tests. Whether this motivated my phys ed teacher or not, I’ll never know. We had to do gymnastics, a particular swing on the rings. I couldn’t really see what everyone else did, but I tried my best. And failed. My teacher explained to my father that I might’ve done the best I could, but he couldn’t possibly justify giving me a passing grade.

Like I said, he was my tutor. He almost took pride in being the first to give me a failing grade that year. Except that he wasn’t. That same week, I’d gotten an F in Greek too. That one was definitely justified, as at the time I didn’t face any barriers to learning basic Greek that my classmates didn’t.

From the next year on, I started going to a gym instead of following regular PE classes. I, after all, would never be able to attain the level of physical ability required for higher secondary school sports. I continued to attend the gym regularly throughout high school and for the first several years after.

Mama’s Losin’ It

Five of the Most Significant Events in My Life

And once again, I didn’t post for nearly a week. I am beginning to feel pessimistic that I’ll complete the A to Z Challenge in April. However, I still would very much love to make it happen. I am pretty uninspired though.

To get back into the writing habit, I am choosing to write about a topic I’ve already posted about on my old blogs a couple of times. It is good though for my new readers of this blog to get to know me. I am going to share a list of important events in my life. Because I need to explain a little about each, this post may become a bit long.

1. The day I left the hospital at three months of age. I was born over three months premature and had to spend the first 94 days of my life in hospital. The unit I was on is commonly referred to as neonatal intensivecare unit or NICU for short, though I wasn’t in actual intensive care the whole time. I was on a ventilator for the first six weeks and, after I learned to breathe on my own, was moved to medium care, the general ward and eventually home. In the NICU, I sustained a brain bleed and developed an eye condition called retinopathy of prematurity. These two conditions are the main cause of my disabilities. I was finally discharged from the hospital on September 29, 1986.

2. The day I started special education. I started school, as most children here in the Netherlands did at the time, on my fourth birthday (June 27, 1990). I started in the first year of Kindergarten, which takes two years here. Just before the end of my second year in Kindergarten though, on May 11, 1992, I was moved into special education for the visually impaired.

The reason why I had to transfer remains a mystery. My parents say it was because I had to learn Braille, but I didn’t get to learn that till over a year later and only because a totally blind boy joined my class. The school was generally only equipped to educate those with low vision. Besides, the first special school my parents chose for me, was for those with mobility impairments. I was turned down because cerebral palsy isn’t my primary disability.

My inner five-year-old holds some memories of this situation. In our memory, I was ill with what could’ve been a partly psychosomatic illness just before moving to special ed. I cannot prove this though.

3. The day I started mainstream secondary school. My parents fought for years to get me out of special ed again. If I have to believe them, they fought from the moment I started in special ed to get me out again. They were convinced I’m far too intelligent for special ed, despite the fact that most schools for the blind offer a normal elenentary school curriculum. Anyway, they finally succeeded after taking me to the third ed psych in eighteen months, a psychologist who’d never even seen a blind person in his practice. This was also when I got labeled as gifted with a verbal IQ of 154. These three digits haunt me till this day.

I started mainstream secondary school on August 25, 1999 at my city’s grammar school. Those six years were awful. I scored above-average academically, but struggled socially and emotionally. I dissociated through most of my time there and hardly have any real memory of it.

4. The day I suffered my psychiatric crisis. After graduating high school in 2005, I’d taken two gap years to work on independence. While in my second gap year, I was diagnosed as autistic. Leading up to this was my increasingly falling apart at the independence training home. I got sent out to Nijmegen to live on my own on August 1, 2007 though. I fell apart within three months. By late October, I was wandering everyday, had multiple meltdowns a day and ended up suicidal. I was eventually hospitalized on November 3.

5. The day I got kicked out of the hospital again. I remained in a psychiatric hospital for 9 1/2 years, but eventually got kicked out on May 8, 2017. I believe the real reason is the government budget cuts to mental health, but my treatment team at the time blamed me. I have been living semi-independently ever since. As regular readers know though, I’m in the process of hopefully getting into long-term care again.

PoCoLo