Tag Archives: Psychologist

Psychological Evaluation

Last week, I would’ve had my ten year Aspieversary/autiversary or the anniversary of my autism diagnosis. I did realize this and even started writing a blog post about it, but it didn’t feel right to celebrate an anniversary of something that no longer is. After all, I’m no longer diagnosed as autistic. I was also quite shocked when it dawned upon me that I’d been institutionalized for almost the entirety of these ten years. I then started thinking about the ten years before that and how much longer they seemed to have taken. Time flies when you’re getting old(er).

I then started writing a post on the psychological evaluation that I had the day before my would-be-Aspieversary. That was hard too – both the evaluation and writing about it. For the first time that I had a psycholoigical assessment, the personality testing was in fact the easiest – or least difficult – part. I just can’t get past the fact that I did rather poorly on some of the neuropsychological tests and didn’t seem to score as great on the intelligence test.

The neuropsych testing consisted of a couple of memory tests. Most went okay, but with one, I kept losing focus. Then there was a test for semantics, the way words and their meanings are formed and articulated. I had to name as may words starting with a given letter or in a given category (animals, occupations) in one minute as possible. In the animals category, I started blurting out donkey, squirrel and Brazilian wandering spider, which are three words I use repetitively, and then I got stuck. I don’t know what the average score is of course, but some of my staff tried this one and did much better than I did. Of course, they weren’t in an actual test setting.

Then I got what I think is the verbal part of the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale. Older versions of this intelligence test consist of a verbal and a non-verbal (performance) part, but the performance part isn’t possible for me because I’m blind. The current version does not provide a verbal or performance IQ score, but it still consists of verbal and non-verbal tasks. I did okay and still seemed to have the same strengths (similarities, arithmetic) and weaknesses (compreheension) as when I last had an intelligence test twelve years ago. I don’t think I scored as mind-blowingly high as my parents would want me to though. When I told my mother so, she said I just don’t want to know that I’m gifted. I don’t know whether she meant that I didn’t try my best or that I underestimated my actual performance.

I also got some tests that seem to be specific to autism. One of them was a kind of weird test that seemed to measure theory of mind. I heard these little stories and then had to say whether a character had said something inappropriate. Then there were follow-up questions abou thow each character would feel, whether they could know that what they said was inappropriate, etc. I got rather frustrated with this test.

Some of the questionnaires also seemed to be relevant to my possible autism. One was some kind of systemizing/empathizing test. I once took a similar (or the same) test online and scored below-average on both scales. I mean, I am interested in systemizing, but I can’t actually do it right in daily life. For example, I can’t balance a checkbook, but I do take an interest in random strings of information, such as share prices (yes, I did at one point perseverate on that). There was also this test that asked about the ability to read one’s own feelings. This was a rather weird one to me, but that may be because I barely understand how anyone would be able to tell the difference between for example feelign excited and feeling enthusiastic.

Lastly, I got a coping sytles questionnaire and several personality tests. I scored high on avoidance twelve years ago when I got the same coping styles questionnaire and I think that has only gotten worse. After all, all I’ve learned in the mental hospital is to distract or take a tranquilizer. This is the worst coping style according to my college psychology professor. I did okay on the personality tests. I mean, it’s likely I have at least some personality disorder traits, but that’d show in my behavior too anyway.

A week has gone by since the psychological evaluation. My husband had to fill out another questionnaire about me again over the week-end. It was some kind of executive functioning questionnaire and I felt rather awkward at how many boxes my husband ticked. I also got a call from the student doing the evaluation on Monday with one more questionnaire. It seemed to be the other half of the systemizing/empathizing thing. I got to do that over the phone. The student also asked for my E-mail address, so that the psychologist could contact me regarding some questions and concerns I had written down and taken to the assessment.

I have mixed feelings about the possible outcomes of the assessment. I mean, I don’t even know whether I want to be autistic after all. Of course, you’d think, most people wouldn’t choose to be autistic over neurotypical. That’s not what’s at stake here though, since I won’t change neurotype if the psychologist diagnoses me one way or the other. I still think I need the validation that my impairments are real. Realizing these impairments makes me feel a little inferior to the people I love, and in that sense, it’d be great if I made them all up. Of course, that may be internalized ableism.

First Appointment for My Second Opinion

Like I said on Tuesday, I had my first appointment for the independent second opinion I requested regarding my diagnosis yesterday. I had chosen to be referred to my province’s university hospital, where the psychiatry department has expertise on autism as well as personality disorders. I after all wanted them not to be too prejudiced for or against an autism diagnosis for me. I mean, I have had autism diagnosed previously and think I have this, but there must be a reason my treating psychologist doesn’t agree. The most important reason for this is her believing that, because I developed hydrocephalus as a baby, my diagnosis should be some form of unspecified brain injury. Since this isn’t in the diagnostic handbooks, I’m now left with “just” a personality disorder, a diagnosis I dispute.

I had a two-hour meeting with a clinical neuropsychologist and a medical psychology intern. Because I had somehow seemed to remember the appointment would take only 30 minutes, this was quite a change of game to me. I however handled it well and was in fact glad that I could explain things. I had thought they’d just rely on the questionnaires I’d filled out last week, which couldn’t possibly give them a complete picture.

First, the neuropsych said I’d come to the right place, as this psychiatry dept know brain injury, autism as well as personality disorders. I said I knew and that I’d requested to be referred here myself. She then asked me to explain my impairments. I focused on sensory and organizational skills difficulties, as my social impairments are not too obvious in my current setting. I mean, I’ve heard nurses say I can’t possibly be autistic because I can hold down a normal-sounding conversation with them. I can, but then again conversations like this aren’t meant to be truly reciprocal. I instead gave examples of sensory difficulties and problems with daily activities.

Then we went over my struggles and strengths throughout life. I started by recounting my elementary school experiences. I realized I remembered social isolation from as early as Kindergarten on. I also mentioned I remembered feeling practically burned out by age five, insofar as a five-year-old can have this experience. I forgot to mention that my parents have always said I was a cheerful preschooler at least and didn’t start having serious trouble until I had to learn Braille by age seven, presumably because I didn’t accept my blindness. I did however explain my difficulties in accepting my blindness. I explained that I temporarily accepted my blindness, or at least pretended I did, when I went to regular school at age thirteen, but never truly accepted it.

I mentioned having some friends in first to third grade, mostly older girls who babied me. I did have one friend in later elementary school too, but did experience more social isolation and trouble navigating the more complex friending process from age nine on. At this point, my behavior problems also became worse. I mentioned screaming, self-harm and physical aggression, though I only know I was physically aggressive because my mother reported it to my diagnostician in 2007. I also mentioned being good at academics. The psychologists asked about my interests. I mentioned drawing maps and calendar calculation. She didn’t ask about play, which was one area in which I was okay if behind. I mean, I still played with dolls by age twelve, but that may be considered a strength in the realm of autism, as it shows imagination.

My parents encouraged me to develop age-appropriate intersts when I was about ten. Looking back, I don’t think they knew what my peers were into either. I told the psychologist about the Backstreet Boys poster on my wall, that I only had for the purpose of fitting in. Another example that I only remember just now is my pretending to be an Ajax fan. Ajax is a major Dutch football club from Amsterdam. I am originally from Rotterdam, which has its own major football club whose fans hate Ajax, but I went to school in another city, so all my peers were Ajax fans.

When I was thirteen, I transitioned from special education to a mainstream secondary school. I mentioned feeling extreme stress then, being bullied and isolated. I did mention the four girls I was “friends” with for a few months in my first year at this school, explaining that I was way too open and clingy to them and pushed them away. I also mentioned clinging to my sister’s friends’ big sisters in later elementary school. I mentioned seeing friends in a more materialistic way than most older children see their friends. I mean, when one girl in late elementary school gave her friends candy, I believed I was her friend when she gave me candy too. I even imitated her friends by asking this girl, in the same tone of voice as they did, “Got something to chew on?”

I didn’t go into that much detail about my secondary school struggles. Honestly, I barely remember this time period, even though I kept a diary throughout secondary school. I did mention feeling like I was out of my own body or living in a movie throughout adolescence. I am surprised as I write about and recall my meeting that I barely used technical terms. I consider this a good thing.

I went on to describe my increasing struggles with self-harm and aggression after high school. I described my crisis of 2007. I didn’t go into that much detail regarding my psychiatric hospital years. I did mention some of my current struggles, like with handling unexpected situations. The psychologist asked about my challenging behavior, such as wandering, self-harm and aggression. I said it’s a lot less frequent now that I’m on medication but still happens. The psychologist wants to speak to my psychologist at the institution regarding psychological treatments for these behaviors. I haven’t had any and have never had the impression that my psychologist feels any would be helpful. This got the neuropsychologist to say she may also write some reccommendations for treatment into her report.

At the end, she concluded she does see signs of autism, but wants my parents (likely my father) and husband to fill out some questionnaires too. I will also get a bunch of questionnaires. Since they are in print only, I said I’d need help filling them out. The psychologist offered to have the intern help me, as I would not feel truly free to be honest to my nursing staff or even my husband. I liked that. She also said she wants me to get some neuropsychological testing done to provide further validation for my strengths and weaknesses. I said my psychologist had not felt this would be possible or even necessary. Some tests may not be possible but others are and this psychologist does feel it’d be helpful.

I also got a bunch of questions regarding depressive symptoms. The psychologist at one point pulled out what sounded like the DSM criteria for major depressive disorder. She didn’t finish questioning me on them, as she drifted off a bit.

I had to have bloodwork done to rule out physical causes of psychiatric symptoms. The intern took me to the waiting room, where my sister-in-law was waiting. She came to me, but I didn’t recognize her and the intern had not seen her before, so she assumed my sister-in-law was the nurse for the blood draw. As she lead me out of the psychiatry department, I remembeed to ask who she was and to say I needed to have bloodwork done. We returned and a real nurse came to do the blood draw. I am extremely hard to draw blood from, so the nurse tried three times, then called a colleague. After he drew blood, he asked whether this had been an intake interview. Since that’s what it’s called, I said “Yes”. This meant I had to have my blood pressure (pretty high), temperature, weight and height (I’m still obese) and waist and hip measurements taken. I forgot to say I’m not going for treatment here, which seemed to be the reason the nurse wanted these numbers. I had not grown in abdominal measurements since they were last taken last year, thank goodness.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with the way this appointment has gone. I will get a letter setting a date for an appointment for the questionnaires and tests.

Spectrum Sunday
Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

If I’m Not Autistic, What Am I?

My psychologist removed my autism diagnosis, which I’d been first given in 2007, last summer. After a long process of negotiations, she decided to diagnose me with dependent personality disorder, borderline personality disorder traits and depressive disorder NOS. I strongly disagree particularly with the DPD label, but more importantly, I want my autism diagnosis back. I requested an independent second opinion, which I’ll be getting the first appointment for this Thursday. Just this evening, I told a leader of an autism group in the Netherlands that I’d be closing the autism chapter if the second opinion provider agreed i’m not autistic after all. Then I’d definitively consider myself, well, what? I’ve rarely used the word “allistic”, which is someone who isn’t autistic. I feel that all people with neurodevelopmental conditions essentially fall on the same spectrum. Many autistics disagree and would not allow, say, a person with ADHD into their community. Indeed, if I’m not autistic, I’m allistic, period.

There used to be some concept of “cousins” in the autistic community, which included people with other neurological or neurodevelopmental differences, such as ADHD, Tourette Syndrome or hydrocephalus. Maybe I could consider myself a “cousin”, since I was at one point diagnosed with hydrocephalus and that’s a far more hard-wired diagnosis than is autism. So I’d be an allistic cousin to the autistic comunity. The concept of “cousins”, however, is barely accepted anymore.

Besides, it’s not just about community. It’s about identity. If I’m told that after all I’m not autistic, a vital part of my identity is being destroyed. Someone compared it to losing their status as an animal lover. It’s far worse. It’s like being told I’m not blind – there is another reason I’m unable to see, but that’s not called blindness. Besides, there’s no ICD-10 or ICD-11 or where are we these days code for it. This is analogous to what my psychologist has done with respect to my autism: it isn’t there, because there is another reason I have cognitive and sensory and social-communicative difficulties, but there’s no DSM-IV code for that.

It affects services, too. If I lost my status as a blind person, I would no longer be allowed to use my white cane. I would no longer be provided with reading materials in accessible formats. I would no longer have access to services for the blind. If there’s no ICD-whatever code for explaining my lack of sight, there won’t be any other way to gain access to these accommodations or supports. I can imagine this is in part the reality for people with conversion disorder manifesting as blindness, since some service and accessible reading material providers ask for verification of the “physical basis” of one’s blindness.

If I lose my status as an autistic person and there’s no diagnosis to replace it with, I’ll not be able to access services that take into account my cognitive, sensory and social-communicative difficulties. In fact, my psychologist has already voiced her disagreement with me applying for day activities for people with traumatic or acquired brain injury. She says I have “congenital brain injury”. At least, that was her reason for removing my autism diagnosis. Since “congenital brain injury” isn’t acquired or traumatic brain injury, I won’t qualify for services for that. Since in fact “congenital brain injury” does not exist in the diagnostic handbooks, there is no help for it. It’s worse even than conversion blindness, since that can be treated somehow.

Now imagine that I, who clealry has an eye condition causing blindness, were told I had conversion blindness for lack of a better diagnosis. That’s about what it feels like being diagnosed with dependent personality disorder as a clearly neurodivergent person.

It could be worse. I could be told I’m not neurodivergent at all. This would go beyond saying I am an unfortunate case of falling between the cracks with my useless diagnosis of “congenital brain injury”. To use the blindness analogy again, this’d be like being told I am fully sighted, yet only believe I’m blind for attention, because I don’t accept my status as a short person, or whatever nonsense claim people have made as to why I erroneously believe I’m neurodivergent. This is a possible outcome of my second opinion too. After all, though I have hydrocephalus, there is no proof as per a neuropsychological evaluation that this has caused me lasting impairments. My psychologist is of this opinion to an extent and so are my parents and sister, believing I have problems because I think I do.

Back to my autism diagnosis or the lack thereof. Some people say you’re autstic if you’re autistic no matter how many professionals say you are not. They say that, if support tailored to autistics, including being part of the autistic community, works, you must be autistic. With my poor self-image, I’m not so sure this would be the case for me.

Thoughts on Self-Diagnosis by #ActuallyAutistic People #SelfDXIsValid

Today, Autistic Zebra wrote an interesting post on self-diagnosis by autistic people. They are a self-diangosed autistic who have no intention of seeking an official diagnosis. They embrace the hashtag #SelfDXIsValid on Twitter, a hashtag used to make it clear that you don’t need a professional diagnosis to be autistic.

I was “self-diagnosed” for years before my official diagnosis in 2007. At the time, I didn’t like the word “self-diagnosis”, because it presumed people who “self-diagnose” are akin to professionals making an official diagnosis. I felt people should state, as is the norm in the Dutch autistic community, that they suspect they are autistic. I myself didn’t even want to post to a main autism forum, even though I’d been reading it for a few weeks, till the day I got my official diagnosis.

Years went by in which I remained officially diagnosed. I had no problem with self-diagnosed people, even though I (not always consciously) often saw them as less obviously autistic than I saw those who had an official diagnosis. The reasoning was that, if they were struggling as badly as those who needed an official diagnosis were, they would’ve been formally diagnosed. I based this reasoning upon the way I had myself been diagnosed: I was falling apart and the staff at the home I lived at at the time, sent me for diagnosis. Now I realize how lucky I was to have had staff who suspected autism in me and not, say, dependent personality disorder.

Now that I’m no longer formally diagnosed as autistic, I can see that not everyone who struggles with autistic issues can get a formal diagnosis or gets one right away. I do not struggle any less than I did when I still had an official diagnosis.

I am also more aware that professional diagnosticians are human too with their own weaknesses and strengths. Some use “clinical judgment” only, like my current psychologist. She flat out denies I can or should receive any testing. Others rely heavily on testing or on developmental interviews. Professionals also have different areas of expertise. My first diagnosis was made under supervsion of the psychiatrist at the autism center in the city I lived in at the time. My second diagnosis was also made by a psychologist with expertise in autism. My third official diagnosis, which was partly based on the second, was made by a psychologist with mainly expertise on blind people.

When I lost my formal diagnosis, I became incredibly distressed. It wasn’t helpful that some autistic people said that no longer having a formal diagnosis meant I wasn’t autistic after all (and had never been). Supposedly my nine years in a mental hospital made me act autistic (desptie the fact that I was first diagnosed before I was hospitalized). Some of these people also twisted my words by saying I was going for a “second or how-many-have-you-had-already opinion”. The truth is none of my diagnostic assessments or changing diagnoses were at my own request, except for the current second opinion I’m waiting for. Besides, if three diagnosticians say I’m autistic and one says I’m not, apparently that one last diagnostician is right and those how-many-have-I-had-already who validated my autism “self-diagnosis” are not.

Of course, there may be people who self-diagnose who aren’t actualy autistic. However, by the logic that I’ve been hearing over the past half a year, there are also officially diagnosed autistics who aren’t autistic after all. Indeed, I did not suddenly become non-autistic when my psychologist dropped my diagnosis. Either I am still autistic or I never was.

Dear Psychologist: Why I Believe I’m Autistic (And Why It Matters)

My psychologist wrote the referral letter for my second opinion last Wednesday. Because this second opinion thingy is now becoming real, I have been thinking of why I believe I’m autistic after all – and why it matters. I have tried to explain this quite a few times already, but nobody amongst my staff seems to understand. Because some of my readers just might actually get it, I’m writing it on my blog. I chose to write this in the form of an open letter to my psychologist, but I’m not sure I’ll ever consciously point it out to her.

Dear Psychologist,

You have been telling me ever since you became my responsible clinician in late 2014 that you don’t believe I’m autistic. You initially said brain injury explains my symptoms far better, but you seemed not to care. We needed to treat symptoms, not syndromes, you said. Yet last summer, you changed my diagnosis. And you changed it again. And again. You claim this was at my request. Fair enough, I told you I wasn’t happy with just a borderline personality disorder and adjustment disorder diagnosis and I wanted a second opinion. However, it was you who offered to change my diagnosis to brain injury-related personality change, apparently to avoid me getting a second opinion. I was stupid enough to go along. The further diagnostic changes were solely your responsibility.

Yes, I told you it doesn’t matter whether my diagnosis is borderline personality disorder and adjustment disorder or dependent personality disorder, BPD traits and depressive disorder NOS. To me, neither diagnosis explains why I’ve been having problems all my life. After all, personality disorders first become apparent in a person’s teens or early twenties, not when a person is a young child.

There were – or at least, there should’ve been – many signs of a developmental disability when I was young. Even things that my parents tout as signs of genius, should when combined with the signs that point to delay, signal a developmental disability. Like my ability to calendar calculate. Or my first word. It was “aircraft industry”, echoed from my grnadpa when I was ten-months-old (seven months corrected).

These are cute factoids about me. They don’t necessarily signal autism when taken alone. Then there are the signs that point to delay. I had motor skills delays, but these could be due to dyspraxia or mild cerebral palsy. My parents don’t know whether these were ever labeled as such. I was a toe-walker – still am when stressed. Though I walked on time (at fourteen-months-old), I didn’t sit or roll over without physcal therapy intervention.

My language development was quite advanced. I did reverse pronouns, but my parents say this happened only for a short while. I took many things literally growing up. I also had one word that I’d use obsessively and often out-of-context after another. The psychologist who diagnosed me with Asperger’s in late 2007 brushed this off because I couldn’t come up with examples right then. I can now, but I don’t have the energy to elaborate in English.

My social and emotional development was delayed from a young age on. Even though I didn’t have many meltdowns or temper tantrums until I was about six, I did have my problems. I couldn’t talk to children my age. I had trouble forming friendships. I was even more self-centered than any young child.

When I became aware of my differences, I started acting out. Educational psychologists blamed this on my difficulty adjusting to blindness. What if I’d become aware of my social difference then, too? Even though I didn’t start regularly having temper outbursts till I was about six, I remember head-banging and hand-biting from a younger age. I also had this crawling movement in bed that parents of other kids went to the doctor for when the children were toddlers. Well, let me tell you I did this till I was nineteen.

When I became a teen, I had many more difficulties. One could no longer blame my high IQ, because I was in a high-level high school were 30% of the students were intellectually gifted. Maybe then I did it all because I’m blind, even though no-one at the school for the blind had displayed these behaviors either. Or maybe I was precocious for developing a personality disorder. I guess your logic would go like this.

I could give you dozens more examples of why I believe I’m autistic. I have been thinking on these for the last few days. Many, however, are just too embarrassing to go on my blog.

My parents may not be involved with my care now, but you never asked them participate in a developmental interview. Not that I’d want you to do an autism assessment on me, after all the flawed arguments you’ve spun. You won’t believe that someone with hydrocephalus can be autistic, even though there’s plenty of literature showing that they can. You won’t believe that preemies are more likely to develop autism than children born full-term. I even didn’t bother correcting you when you wrote in my referral letter that I had had a stroke. News flash: an intraventricular hemorrhage, which is the most likely cause of my hydrocephalus but was never ascertained, is not a stroke. I don’t expect you, a psychologist, to know the difference, but then at least stop basing your diagnosis on it.

But you’ll say we should look at symptoms, not syndromes. You’ll say it doesn’t matter for my care whether I’m diagnosed with brain injury, even if it isn’t in my DSM-IV classification, autism or a personality disorder. To be honest, the main reason this whole diagnosis thing is important to me, isn’t care. It’s understanding. I need recognition of my struggles. I need to know I’m not the only one. As much as you hate this, I need something I can google and join support groups for. I’m tired of shooting in the darkness. Granted, care matters too. Personality disorder patients have far fewer self-care problems than autistics and warrant a totally different approach. I wouldn’t mind that approach if it turly worked for me, but it doesn’t. However, I don’t mind having a personality disorder diagnosis along with autism – I had one for nearly three years.

You won’t understand a thing about autistic culture. I won’t explain. I don’t have the spoons for that. (Google the spoon theory if you want to know what I mean, if you even care.) Suffice it to say that autism is not just a disorder – it’s an identity. It’s something, unlike brain injury, that is part of us before we’re old enough to realize it. It’s not a disease – it’s a part of who I am.

Hannah Spannah

Diagnonsense, Oh Diagnonsense!

A few months ago, I wrote about my changing diagnosis. My autism diagnosis that’s been confirmed three times since 2007, was removed. That left me with just borderline personality disorder (BPD) as a diagnosis. If you thought I gracefully accepted this, you do not know me. I consulted with the patient liaison person at my institution, who recommended I seek a second opinion at another hospital. Now, three months on and we’re back at square one, and it’s not because an independent provider agreed with my psychologist.

On August 15, I talked to the patient liaison person, who on that same day E-mailed my psychologist asking her to make the necessary arrangements for me to get a second opinion. Instead, my psychologist told me she wanted to contact a psychiatrist at the brain injury unit first to inquire about the diagnosis of autism in people with brain injury. This doctor told her that indeed autism shouldn’t be diagnosed in people with brain injury, but the same is true of BPD. My psychologist would need to diagnose personality change due to a general medical conditon instead. I stupidly agreed with her changing my diagnosis herself rather than sending me to an independent psychiatrist or clinical psychologist.

My psychiatrist, who is the head clinician responsible for my care, however, disagreed with my psychologist’s diagnosis. My named nurse said they were throwing around all sorts of diagnoses at my treatment plan meeting last month. Eventually, my psychologist informed me they’d settled on dependent personality disorder, borderline personality disorder traits and a developmental disorder NOS. I hate the DPD label, but can see how I might have some of its features. I needed to see my treatment plan to see what they’d meant with developmental disorder NOS, which isn’t a diagnostic code in DSM-IV unless prefixed by “pervasive”. That would essentially mean autism. As it turned out, they hadn’t settled on this diagnosis, as the developmental disorder was gone.

Instead, I now have DPD, BPD traits and depressive disorder NOS. I asked my psychologist whether this was a coding typeo, but it wasn’t. Her explanation was that I may formally meet the criteria for this, but the main reason for the diagnosis is for insurance purposes. You see, I can’t be in the mental hospital without a diagnosis on axis I (anything that isn’t a personality disorder). A nurse even twisted my psychologist’s actions like she’d done me a favor.

Last week, when I found out my final diagnosis, I lost it pretty much and was considering checking myself out of the institution. My psychologist was called, because the nurses thought I said I was definitely leaving, which I can’t remember having said. My psychologist encouraged me to leave right then, which I refused. My husband instead came to pick me up thee nxt day for a night at home to have some distance.

Today, I spoke to the patient liaison person again. She was not happy at the fact that my psychologist had failed to cooperate with me in getting me a second opinion. This essentially means we’re back at where we started and I’m probably going to ask my psychologist to get me a second opinion again soon.

Transitioning: The End of the Tunnel

On May 1, Mari L. McCarthy started the 22-day life transitions journaling challenge. I didn’t sign up, since I had just failed on committing to the whole health challenge in April. However, today I bought the challenge eBook – from KObo, not Mari’s own site, since it’s much cheaper on Kobo. Since I am about to start in what may be the most important transition of my life, I thought I’d try my hand at the challenge. For day one, we’re supposed to meditate on where we are right now and where we want to be headed.

I visualize the point where I’m now as being at the beginning of a tunnel. It’s not necessarily a dark tunnel, but I can’t see the end of it as I look into it. Nonetheless, i know it will end somewhere in the tiny village, in my husband’s and my home. I can only head this way, but since I can’t see what’s inside the tunnel, I cannot see what’s going to come onto my path as I head into the tunnel. I know where this will end, but I don’t know how or when. After all, no definite date has been set for my discharge from the institution. Though I will have the “kitchen table talk” with the social consultant on Monday, right now I have no idea how I will cross this tunnel and what I’ll find at the end of it.

I can however hear my husban calling me from the other end. I can hear him cheer me up that it’d be so great and utterly exciting to be together at last. I can hear my psychologist and social worker on my current end of the tunnel telling me that I wanted to go into it and come out at home. Even as I sit here, more than a year into the process of arranging for my transition out of the institution, I still am not sure that this is really what I want.

Sometimes, I idealize the end of the tunnel, what it’ll be like to be home. I see my husband lovingly embracing me. As he takes me into his arms, I know that I’m happy being with him and this was the best decision I could’ve made. I go to day activities. My psychologist already shot the snoezelen idea I came up with a few months ago, so I’ll go swimming and doing yoga and going for walks instead. I will meet some nice people at day activities or through the community. I’ll be much more independent than I am now, being able to do some cooking and cleaning on my own. I’ll eventually take up some classes again. My husband loves me when he comes home from work and we’re both happy.

At other times, such as right now, I devalue the end of the tunnel. I look at it as one dark pit in which I’ll fall. My husband and I constantly step on each other’s toes. When he’s home, I’m annoyed by him and he’s annoyed by me. When he’s at work, I’m at home alone sleeping the day away or daydreaming of harming myself. I don’t even have my blog anymore, since my husband doesn’t want me to write about my life at home and I can’t think of anything else to write about. I have nothing left except myself.

However, I will get through. I say this so that even if I don’t believe in it now, I won’t leave a bad omen by being all negative. I will make this transition and it may be hard, but it’s also good. No matter what, my husband loves me.

P – #AtoZChallenge on Mental Health

Welcome to day 16 in the #AtoZChallenge on mental health. Todays’letter is P. There ae many obvious mental health terms starting with P, but also some you may not know.

Privileges

Privileges are what freedom of independence and movement someone has while in the mental hospital. In Believarexic, the book by J.J. Johnson I read a few months ago, the main character rightfully says that what are called privileges in the mental hospital are basic rights in the real world. For example, every adut in the real world is allowed to shower independently, whereas some people in mental hospitals need to do such basic tasks under staff supervision.

Of course, restrictions to someone’s freedom even in the mental hospital need to be motivated. If a person isn’t a danger to themself or others, they should really be allowed to go wherever they want unless this is a hindrance to their treatment. What I mean by this is of course even a person with full privileges should show up for their treatment appointments. Usually, even people with full privileges need to ask for permission from their clinician to leave the hospital overnight.

Psychiatrist

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor specializing in mental illnesses. NOwadays, they’re commonly seen as human pill dispensers, because prescribing medication is their primary task. However, in the Netherlands every psychiatrist is also a qualified psychotherapist. A psychiatrist is usualy a person’s head clinician. Head clinicians are the only ones who can open diagnosis-treatment combinations in the Netherlands. Diagnosis-treatment combination is insurance lingo for the patient’s diagnosis and the treatment that is suited to that diagnosis according to protocols. As such, a head clinician is the only one who can change a patient’s formal diagnosis. By the way, clinical psychologists and psychotherapists can also be head clinicians.

Psychologist

Psychologists do most of the talk therapy part of mental health treatment. There are three levels of psychologists employed by mental health agencies in the Netherlands. Basic psychologists are fresh out of college with a Master’s degree in psychology. We have a basic psychologist employed at my unit but I’m clueless as to what his duties are. Anyone can call themself a psychologist. Then there is the health care psychologist, which is in fact a protected title. Only someone who has completed two years of additional trainign after college and is licensed can call themself a health care psychologist. This is the most common type of psychologists employed by mental health agencies. They can do basic psychotherapy but cannot be head clinicians. Last are cliniical psychologists, who’ve got two more years of specialized training and many also have a Ph.D. These people can be head clinicians and do more specialized psychotherapy too. Clinical psychologists are often assigned to the more complex cases. My unit currently does not employ a clinical psychologist.

Psychotherapy

There are many forms of psychotherapy, both individual and in a group. Psychotherapy usually employs talking to help the patient recover, though some psychotherapies are partly non-verbal too. In many countries, the term psychotherapist can be used by anyone who so desires. Not so in the Netheraldns: psychotherapists are psychologists who’ve had I believe it’s four years of training in psychotherapy techniques. They are bound by the same laws as doctors and health care and clinical psychologists. A psychiatrist is registered separately as a physician and as a psychotherapist. As such, they can lose one license but keep the other. I once read about a psychiatrist who mostly practised psychotherapy and due to abuse of power lost his license, but only his physician license at first.

Disordered Eating: A Cry for Help

One day when I was probably in seventh grade, I read an audio magazine for blind teens. It was really a mixture of its own content with content from other teen magazines read aloud. One of the articles from another magazine was about an eating disorders unit. I just remembered this as I read a passage in J.J. Johnson’s Believarexic, in which Jennifer remembers learning about anorexia for the first time in fifth grade and wondering how the celebrity who died of it, got as skinny as she did. Later on, Jennifer learns about people being hospitalized for eating disorders. She envies them because of their size but also because of the attention they get.

This hit home with me. Back in seventh grade, I had already firmly embarked on the binge eating boat, but since I was at a healthy weight for my age and height, I didn’t notice my eating had spiraled out of control already. I remember once, probably in the same year, being confronted by my classmates about getting five candy bars out of the vending machine and eating them all in one sitting. However, I just got annoyed and didn’t realize that my classmates may have wanted to protect me from unhealthful choices.

We didn’t learn about binge eating disorder or compulsive overeating in health class. All we learned about eating disorders was about anorexia and bulimia. I even did one of my gifted program projects on these eating disorders. I didn’t tell anyone that, as I was writing the paper, I was trying to figure out how I could become anorexic.

No, I didn’t “want” anorexia, like some teens say they do. No-one consciously decides to develop an eating disorder. But I did want the perseverance that I perceived anorexics had. So I began keeping food diaries. This was before I had access to the Internet and I couldn’t read packaging, so I couldn’t check calories. In truth, as I look back at my food diaries of the time, they show a pretty typical overeater’s pattern. But I wanted to have some control over my food intake by keeping these diaries. Not that it worked, of course. Over the years, my binge eating got worse.

Back to the article about the eating disorders unit. For some reason, I felt compelled to be like these patients. I don’t know whether it was pure attention-seeking. I mean, I got plenty of attention from my parents and teachers. What I might’ve been missing was someone who saw how much I was struggling. Maybe, if I became anorexic, they’d see how miserable I was.

The other day, I had a meeting with my psychologist. She wa spushing me to take steps towards independence in preparation for my move in with my husband. I can’t remember whether she said so, but she gave me the impression that she felt I was doing better because I had much fewer meltdowns and emotional outbursts. In truth, I may be a little better, but I still have a pretty miserable life and feel pretty crap. Instead of becoming self-destructive or aggressive, I lie in bed or resort to overeating. A fair quality of life is not just not being a pain in the neck, but also being able to experience pleasure every once in a while. It isn’t that I never do, but it’s quite rare that I do things that bring me any sort of satisfaction. For example, I don’t craft nearly as much as I used to, because I can’t handle the noise and crowdedness at day activities.

I was also telling my psychologist that I’m completely dependent on my treatment team. What I meant was close to the exact opposite: I have no control over what goals are set for me, but it is my sole responsibility to reach them.

In a sense, maybe this whole disordered eating thing is a way of showing peope I need help. It sounds so pathetic though: someone who’s nearly thirty-years-old needing to be taken care of like a little child. IN truth though, often I feel that vulnerable.

What to Do If You Think You May Have a Mental Health Issue #Write31Days

31 Days of Mental Health

Welcome to day 31, the last day in the #Write31Days challenge on mental health. The month has gone by with me discussing lots of mental health issues. I have shared information and personal experience and hope you’ve been able to get something out of it. You might recognize some experiences or features of mental health issues I have discussed. Today, I will share what you can do if you suspect you may have a mental health problem.

First, like many people, I consulted Dr. Google when I realized I might have a mental health problem. You have already gotten some information on mental illness if you’ve read any of my posts in this series. You being a blog reader means you are familiar with the Internet. If you don’t know where to find reliable information on mental health, Psych Central is a good place to start. This site also has a forum and chat room for support. Obviously, no-one can there is equipped to diagnose or treat you.

If you decide you might need to see a mental health professional, it is good to know where to start. In some countries, you can consult a psychologist or therapist without a referral. In others, like the Netherlands, you can go see a counseling psychologist for short-term treatment withut a referral, but if you have more serious mental health problems, you need your GP’s referral to go see a mental health professional.

If you see a mental health professional for the first time, it is advisable to take your questions and issues with you on a piece of paper. You may want to bring a friend or family member to the introductory session, but that’s up to you. Most mental health professionals will know that patients today consult Dr. Google and will help you find reliable information about your concern. Those who are overly arrogant and pretend they know infinitely more than you do, may not be suitable. On the other hand, I’ve heard that some professionals tell patients to do their own research and don’t offer directions. I don’t see that as okay either.

Don’t come into a mental health professional’s office announcing you are sure you have a condition you’ve read about on my blog, on Psych Central or elsewhere. Making a diagnosis takes more than the patient’s report of their symptoms. Competent mental health professionals will not take your reported symptoms at face value. It may seem as though a mental health professional does not believe you when they ask to speak to a family member or do some tests on you. This is not the case, but family members can provide information you may not see as the affected person yourself, and tests ask questions you may not have thought of. They also help the clinician get a more objective idea of what to diagnose you with, if anything.

If you do not feel comfortable with a mental health professional at first, it may be because you feel uncomfortable talking about your mental health. However, if you don’t click with the provider, it’s totally okay to say so and ask for a referral to someone else. Every competent mental health professional should be okay with this.