Tag Archives: Growing Up

Life Events and My Mental Illness #Write31Days

31 Days of Mental Health

Welcome to day 8 in the 31 Days of Mental Health. Today, I have yet another post inspired by the 30-day awareneess challenge. This one is a personal post. Two fo the questions in the chalenge are about when your symptoms started vs. when you were diagnosed and what important life events affected your mental health for the better or worse.

I have in a way always had mental health problems. That is, I was always a socially and emotionally delayed child, but my parents say I was relatively calm and cheerful until I was about seven or eight years of age. At age seven, I started learning Braille. I hated it with a vengeance. It probably was my increased awarneess of my blindness that set off my mental health problems, but it could also have been my becoming aware of my social deficits.

After all, my problems didn’t start to become severe till I moved schools at age nine, and this was precisely the time my peers stopped being protective and started excluding me. At my old school, I’d always gravitated towards older girls, most with mild learning difficulties, who acted like they were my babysitters while I showed them my academic ability. At my new school, I started in a combined fourth/fifth/sixth grade class and I was a fourth-grader. The other girls were all sixth-graders, so they knew more than did I. I did have a friend in third grade, but even with her my social deficits were becoming more pronounced.

Once I entered secondary school, my problems became even more severe. I was twelve when I experienced my first state of depression. That is, the first I can clearly remember. I do vaguely remember being suicidal (or parasuicidal) for a while when i was around eight or nine, but I’m not too sure of this. When I was twelve, I became acutely aware of my social difficulties. I devised my own interventions, but never quite knew how to follow through and, when people tried to help me, I was resistant.

At age thirteen, I went to a mainstream secondary school. I stayed there for six years and was mildly to moderately depressed all along. In fact, I think I may’ve been diagnosable with dysthymia at the time.

In the summer after my eighth grade year, when I was fifteen, I started experiencing dissociation. I felt as though I was in a movie a lot of the time and my alter parts appeard. I had had imaginary friends before, just like most girls, but this was different. I may or may not have been hearing voices at the time. I think it was more an overactive imagination coupled with some dissoication than something akin to psychosis, but my diary entries of the time make me wonder whether I was slightly out of touch with reality.

I spent the last three years of my secondary school experience functioning on autopilot most of the time. I had meltdowns several times a week and started self-injuring at age sixteen. I had been head-banging from a young age on, but had stopped more or less. At age sixteen, I started cutting.

After I graduated high school at age nineteen, I had a few months of relative calm. I went to the blindness rehabilitation center, where we had a lot of structure and one-on-one therapies. I for a bit thought I must be okay. Then when I moved to a training home for the disabled in early 2006, after a few months, the mask fell off and I crashed. I started dissociating more than I’d done before and experienced severe emotional dysregulation. Finally, in early 2007, I was diagnosed with autism.

I moved into independent living that summer and broke down within months. I was hospitalized on the acute unit in November of 2007.

To be honest, I don’t know what led to me being diagnosed with first DID/PTSD and then BPD. I mean, I know when I was diagnosed but I don’t know what got me to share my experiences of dissociation. In hindsight, however, it surprises me that BPD wasn’t diagnosed on the acute unit, because I displayed many classic signs.

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When I’d Grow Up…

Last Friday when I was at my parents’, we had a long discussion. We often do. My sister was frustrated that she still doens’t have a “real” job at 27. Neither do I at 29, but it doesn’t frustrate me as much unless others are talking about how much of a failure they are for not having a “real” (or “real” enough) job. After all, we measure what we want to achieve by what the people around us (want to) achieve.

My sister is the only memeber of my family with a college degree. Nonetheless, my father attended college and my mother would’ve wanted to attend post-secondary education at least, which she never got the opportunity for. Therefore, it was instilled in me that I need to achieve. I knew at an early age that I was later going to a high level high school and maybe even university. When I was twelve and starting secondary education, I wanted to be a mathematician or a linguist when I grew up.

It hadn’t always been this way. When I was in Kindergarten, probably I wanted to be a princess or a Mommy like every other girl in my class. Starting by first grade however, I wanted to be a writer and I continued to want to be a writer far into high school.

My parents did of course tell me that you couldn’t make a lviing out of writing, so I had various other aspirations throughout school. For the longest time, I wanted to be a teacher, switching form elementary education when I was myself in elementary school to various secondary subjects when I was in high school to finally wanting to be a college professor when I’d finished high school. I did have some bad thoughts about burning out while teaching and landing on disability, but never quite gave into these thoughts.

I also for a long time wanted to get married and start a family. When I was an adolescent, I for a while thought I was a lesbian. I can’t remember what I thought regarding marriage and children at that time. Of course, gay couples have been able to legally marry since 2001 here in the Netherlands, but this was the same time when I thought (as it turns out correctly) that I was on the autism spectrum. I thought this meant (as it turns out incorrectly) that autistics didn’t marry, so probably neither would I. In fact, I didn’t give a long-term relationship much thought until it happened with my husband.

As it turns out, I did study linguistics for a bit in 2007 and was planning on becoming a scientist in this field. It never worked out. Obviously, I never even attempted to become a teacher. I am however somewhat of a writer now, having had my first piece published in a book last June. I am also of course married and happily so!

Mama’s Losin’ It

Everyday Gyaan

Letter to My Baby Self

A few weeks ago, I discovered the Tuesday at Ten linky. This is a weekly linky that starts on Tuesdays at 10:00 AM, but you can link up posts throughout the week. Unfortunately, I was just a bit too late for that week’s prompt and the one the week after didn’t appeal to me. This week’s prompt is “If I could write a letter to the past me”. Having written many letters to myself in the past or future, you’d think I didn’t feel inspired to write one again. You’re wrong. I love writing letters that reflect on my life experience and the wisdom I’ve gained from it.

The challenging bit is to myself at what age I’d like to write a letter. I wrote a letter to my twelve-year-old self already. I have written a poem for my baby self as well. Let me make a twist on these two previous posts and write a letter to my baby self. She wouldn’t be able to read it, but isn’t that the case with any letter that requires time travel to be delivered?

Dear baby self,

Sometimes, in my dreams or daydreams, I see you. You were just born, June 27, 1986. The name tag on your incubator side says “baby”, since Mom and Dad didn’t have the time to think of a name before Mom went into premature labor. That’s what they’ve told me.

Let me tell you who I am. I am you, but older. I am 29-years-old now. Isn’t that a big number? Ha!

As you lie there in the incubator, Tigger the stuffed tiger by your side, I want to remind you that you are cherished. I don’t have Tigger now – he is probably at Mom and Dad’s if he hasn’t long been thrown away -, but I do have two other stuffed animals. One is Wally, the whale I got when I got home from the neonatal unit. Wally will forever be a reminder that I survived neonatology. I am here to write to you, because YOU survived.

The other one is an unnamed stuffed cat. I got it at an age when I thought I was too old for stuffed animals. I was almost nineteen and graduated from high school. The cat will forever be a reminder that I am now an adult, old enough to make my own decisions, and I don’t have to live up to anyone’s expectations but my own. You will still have to fight for your life. You will feel later on that you had to fight for so much more than just life. Whether this feeling is justified, I do not know, but you, or rather I can let go of it now.

You are now a grown woman. I remember, at the time I graduated from high school and got the stuffed cat, that this idea scared me. I feared being grown-up meant needing to prove myself to my family without my family’s ongoing support. In truth, being grown-up means letting go of the idea of having to prove yourself to anyone but you. Also, it doesn’t mean you won’t be supported anymore. I now have my husband and still have my family at a distance, after all.

Above all, I want to remind you, as well as myself, that you and i are good enough. We’ve proven ourselves by surviving so far and making it to 29. I hope you realize that you are loved.

Astrid

Parent Appreciation: Realistic Limits

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother – which is the first commandment with a promise – so that
it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” (Ephesians 6:1-3 NIV)

It’s Mother’s Day today. I am a bit late to post for it, as I couldn’t think of a theme to write on. Then I read Nicole’s post over at One Picky Chick, in which she lists ten reasons why she’s the meanest Mom (and wouldn’t change it) and I thought of the ways in which my parents set rules. The above Bible quote only popped up when I chose a memory verse for a Christian women’s group I’m a co-admin for. My parents are atheists, so they’ll probably not like it that I start a post honoring them with a Bible quote, but it’s fitting. This post isn’t focused specifically on my Mom, as my father was my primary caregiver, but I still want to say I definitely appreciate my Mom.

My parents weren’t perfect, of course. When I was in schema-focused psychotherapy and reading up on the things children need from their parents in their upbringing, I had negative comments on about everything mentioned. However, the last one was “realistic limits”. Though I had some negative experiences with those, most times my parents in fact provided me with good enough realistic limits.

My parents had some non-negotiable rules. School was pretty much the most important thing in life and always came first. We didn’t get to stay home from school unless we ran a fever, because, if we didn’t run a fever, we weren’t sick. Of course, there likely would’ve been exceptions to this rule, but at least it was clear that seeking an excuse to stay home in a slight tummy ache was not acceptable.

What rules like this taught me, is to be quite a rule-abiding person. I only learned in my teens to early twenties that you could actually get away with not doing your chores, but even now, I don’t like to break rules like this one. When I don’t do chores, it’s usually because I flat out forget.

On other rules, my parents were more flexible. When I was young, bedtime was bedtime. However, as I had trouble sleeping, my parents eventually relaxed this rule. I still had to go to bed at a certain time, but I didn’t have to go to sleep right away. Particularly once my sister had moved to a room of her own, this meant a lot less stress and less bothering of my sister and parents (at least at night).

I was an irritable child, but, thanks to my parents’ realistic limits, I didn’t become a defiant child. It also caused me to gradually learn self-determination. For example, the above example about bedtime taught me to regulate myself re sleep. I had my own rules about how much sleep I needed so when I needed to go to bed. I never slept in on school days.

When I think of what I’d do if I were a parent, I think of setting rules in a similar way that my parents did. Some things are non-negotiable and a child will just have to obey. When things are not that important and particularly the child isn’t a threat to themself or others (physically or psychologically), I’d be more flexible. My parents had a hard time with me sometimes, because, though I wasn’t openly defiant that much, I did have quite severe behavior problems. It must’ve been a tough balancing act between giving me too much room for self-determination and not allowing me to develop that sense of self-determination. I thank my parents for setting realistic limits.

Equipping Godly Women
Found Love. Now What?

Growing Up: Autism and the Teenage Years #AtoZChallenge

Welcoe to another day in the A to Z Challenge in which I focus on autism. Today’s post is all about growing up. After all, autistic children grow up to become autistic teens and eventually autistic adults. Growing up isn’t easy for anyone, but it is harder for autistic young people. Last year, I already wrote a post on what it was like for me growing up with undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome.

Growing up brings many changes to the lives of autistic young people. For example, social and academic expectations increase rapidly especially in middle and high school. This is why some autistic children don’t get properly diagnosed till they reach puberty and start falling apart. I cannot stress the importance of a proper diagnosis enough, so if your child has difficulty meeting the increased developmental expectations of growing up, it is possible that autism or another neurodevelopmental disorder is the problem and you may want to get them assessed.

Once your child is properly diagnosed, or even if they are not, it is important to support them as they mature. Help them adjust to the changes of puberty. For example, their body will start to change and they will need to be extra aware of their personal hygiene. Since autistics have a hard time handling change, as a parent, you may want to educate them early on about what’s happening to their bodies and how they need to take care of themselves. Unfortunately, due to their delayed social and emotional development, autistic young teens might not feel ready for “grown-up talk”. It is important to seek the balance between overwhelming your child with “mature” information and not preparing them for what will inevitably come.

I cannot begin to give comprehensive advice on parenting teens with autism. There are, however, a few good books available on this subject. For example, Parenting a Teen or Young Adult with Asperger Syndrome (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) by Brenda Boyd is full of tips on parenting higher-functioning autistic teens. Growing Up on the Spectrum by Claire LaZebnik and Lynn Kern Koegel is also a good book.

We Don’t Stop Playing Because We Grow Old

This week’s spin cycle theme is “grow”. Ginny Marie over at Lemon Drop Pie asks: “Are your kids growing like weeds? Are the weeds growing in your garden? Does your garden have vegetables growing? Or are the veggies in your fridge started to grow mold?” Since I don’t have kids, a garden or a fridge, I need to invent another topic to post about. After reading Ginny Marie’s contribution, I thought of something. I want to write about growing up, too, but I struggle. As a kid, I always feared growing up, because it’d mean I needed to stop playing.

For a long time, from around age twelve on, I thought playing meant you were childish and being childish meant you were bad. When I was eleven, the school psychologist wanted me to become a residential student at the school for the blind. My mother explained to me that I was troubled because I had too many toys. I till this day don’t see the connection. Sure, I had quite the toy collection, but so did other kids. Sure, I had trouble making friends, and my interests were not the same as those of my age peers. I doubt they were all into books, which my mother said I had to be into in order to fit in. Books or music. While my age peers in the neighborhood were into music, I didn’t fit in once I listened to the music they were into and had Backstreet Boys posters covering my walls. Not that this period lasted long, because I’d quickly had enough.

Besides, I wasn’t troubled because I had few friends. That wasn’t the reason the school psychologist wanted to institutionalize me. The reason was my meltdowns and tantrums, and I have no clue what they had to do with toys. Sure, I had a tantrum when my Barbie doll’s leg broke off, but I had and still have similar outbursts when my computer crashes. Maybe that means computers aren’t the right interest either.

However, I internalized the idea that to play is to be childish and to be childish is bad. I remember when I was thirteen I kept track of my behavior problems, like tantrums, and soon added any sort of childlike behavior, including playing with Barbie dolls. I was going to regular education in a month, and it had become very clear to me that regular kids my age don’t play with Barbie dolls.

Once at regular school, I listened to the right music and read the right books. It didn’t change my outcast status. It didn’t lessen my meltdowns. It didn’t make me not fear growing up. It did make me grow old. We don’t stop playing because we grow old, after all, but we grow old because we stop playing, according to George Bernard Shaw.

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Growing Up with Undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome

The Spectrum Bloggers Network is a network of bloggers with learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, etc. The founder uses the abbreviation SpLD, which stands for specific learning difficulty, though I would use neurodevelopmental disisability. I’ve been a member of this blog network for about a month, and this is my first time participating in topic Tuesday, which was posted a bit late on Wednesday. The topic is “children”. What this means is a bit vague, andd it can be interpreted in several ways.


  • What does it mean to be a child with a neurodevelopmental disability?

  • What advice would you give to parents of children with a neurodevelopmental disability?

  • Having or wanting children as a person with a neurodevelopmental disability.


I could write on all of these topics, but am going to focus on the first.

I grew up in the 1990s. This means that, while autism, including Asperger’s, was known to the psychiatric community, the general public wasn’t nearly as aware of it as it is now. My parents knew some about autism, as they later told my diagnostician that they’d suspected it in me from an early age on. Then again, the idea that autism affected those with an intellectual disability only, was still pretty prevalent especially when I was a young child in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Asperger’s wasn’t added to the DSM as a specific condition till 1994, after all.

My parents recognized my intelligence very early on too, and they wanted to challenge me as much as possible. I cherish early memories of learning difficult math concepts like squareroots and calendar calculation. Unlike what is thought about intellectually disabled calendar calculation savants, I understood the underlying concetps. Nonetheless, calendar calculation was definitely a perseveration of mine.

I was largely unaware of my social and behavioral difficulties. I did realize I spent many hours in my room as a punishment, but didn’t know why. I also knew that I had few friends. That is, when I still went to the school for the partially sighted for first, second and third grade, I had some friends, mostly older girls. They mostly admired my advanced academic abilities and other than that liked to baby me. In regular Kindergarten, I had one friend. Other children didn’t really bully me yet, but they obviously didn’t accept me.

My parents claim that the real problems didn’t start until I was around nine. When I moved to a new school for the blind in 1995 and moved to a new city the next year, I started noticing that I had few to no friends. Looking back, I realize that I approached potential friends in a hugely childish way. One of my classmates used to ask her frieend for candy, saying: “Got something to chew on?” in a certain tone of voice. I don’t think I realized these girls were friends for other reasons than candy, and I often imitated the one girl asking the other for candy myself. In fourth grade, I had only one friend, a third-grader who remained my friend till I left elementary school, but I wasn’t really excluded or bullied. In fifth and sixth grade, I was. In the neighborhood, my only “friends” were my sister’s friends’ big sisters.

I don’t know at what age my temper outbursts became abnormal. Like, I know that, at five, I had a temper outburst over my father saying only kids under six could access a treehouse, worrying what would happen to me accessing the treehouse next year. This worry seems a bit silly to me for a five-year-old, but having a temper outburst is normal at that age, right? When I was still having these temper outbursts at ten, this became a significant problem. The fact that I still have them now that I’m nearly 28, well, you get the idea.

I was nine when my paretns were pressured by the school into sending me to play therapy. I don’t remember that play therapy was all that useful. I threw out purple miniature dolls because people aren’t purple, tried to get the water tray to overflow just to see if I could, and fought using toy swords with the therapist. After four sessions, summer vacation arrived and my parents took me out. I hated having to miss out on biology class anyway.

I didn’t have an extreme need for predictability. I was somewhat resistant to change, particcularly if plans that I’d been made aware of, were changed. This however looks like a bit of a “my way or the highway” attitude, and maybe it was. I do admit that I was particularly self-centered. I still am somewhat, having to really consciously think about taking another person’s perspective into account. This, rather than rigid routines, seems to be more why I am and was resistant to change. Please note that self-centeredness is in fact common in autistics, and it is not the same as selfishness.

I was eight when Asperger’s was added to the DSM. Then again, none of my school psychologists suggested I had it. My parents did take me to many different psychologists for second and third opinions, but this was mostly to validate that I was indeed intelligent, which the school for the blind often questioned or outright denied. The focus as far as social/emotional issues were concerned, lay on my temper outbursts. It is in this sense kind of interesting that these same outbursts weren’t looked upon as anything other than low tolerance for distress in the 1990s, but were seen as the reason for an autism assessment by 2007.