Tag Archives: Recovery

A Thank You Letter to a Bus Driver

This is getting old, but I have been extremely uninspired lately. It’s like everytime I try to do blogging in Dutch again, I neglect this blog. It wasn’t even so much that I didn’t want to write, but I didn’t kow what to write about. A few days ago, however, I saw a blog post in which a person wrote a thank you letter to their genetic counselor. Other people were invited to write thank you letters to people you wouldn’t expect they’d be thankful for. This got me thinking. At first, I wanted to write a thank you letter to the psychiatrist who admitted me to hospital in 2007. While writing this letter, however, I thought of another person who was important to me that night: the bus driver who overheard me make a suicidal threat and called the police. I am writing a letter to him today.

Dear bus driver,

You may have forgotten about me. At least, I hope you have. Thhat’d mean you didn’t experience too much stress from what I did while on your bus. I haven’t forgotten about you. I don’t know your name, but I want to thank you anyway.

I was the person who threatened to kill herself while sitting on your bus on the evening of November 2, 2007. I told someone’s voicemail the details of my suicide plan. You overheard me, although a fellow passenger said you merely heard me cry. She probably just said that to quiet my mind. I heard you tell the police that you would be at the train station by 8:15 PM. By that, I judged I’d got onto the 8:01 bus at the bus stop near the training home I used to reside in. You dropped me off at the train station and the police took over and took me to the police station, where I was seen by the mental health crisis service.

I want you to know that I’m well now. I’m not fully recovered from my mental illness, but I’m a lot better than I was back then. I remembered you for years, which was causing me to find it hard to travel the bus in your city. I feared I’d run into you. Now, I know that you did your job and you did it well.

I could bore you with a long story of my mental illness and recovery, but that would probably stress you out. In case you’re wondering, however, I want you to be assured that I’m happy that I didn’t kill myself that evening. Now I know that, somewhere between the bus and where I wanted to kill myself, someone probably would’ve stepped in before I would actually be dead. However, you happened to be that person to step in. Thank you for that.


In Between Mental Illness and Wellness

I have often talked about recovery on this blog. Particularly, I have talked about recovery from my disordered eating habits and to a lesser degree self-injury. I wanted to get rid of my binge eating and stop self-injuring. Today, as I gave this some more thought, I took recovery one step further. So what if I stop bingeing and self-injuring? Would that then mean I’d be cured of my mental illness?

Of course, strictly speaking it wouldn’t. However, what if it did? What if I were cured of my mental illnness? After all, I exhibit far fewer destructive and aggressive behaviors than I did years ago. If I were to check mysel finto a mental hospital just as I am now, with no history of acute mental illness, the registrar would laugh at me. I wonder even if I’d be sick enough for outpatient mental health care if I presented with jut the symptoms I’ve been having lately. My overeating may or may not meet the criteria for binge eating disorder or eating disorder NOS. My self-harm does meet the criteria for non-suicidal self-injury, but then again these crteria are quite vague. My mood does not meet the criteria for a disorder. Heck, even when I was suicidal in 2007 and was clearly in need of acute psychiatric care, the only diagnosis the psychiatrist could come up with was adjustment disorder. Adjustment disorder is no longer covered by health insurance. In other words, under DSM-IV, which doesn’t include binge eating or self-injury as diagnoses, I would hardly if at all qualify for psychiatric care.

Of course, I do have borderline personality disorder and Asperger’s Syndrome – I still meet the criteria for these. However, no general practitioner would come up with the idea that I’d have these if I asked them to refer me to mental health services, and the vague referral letter my GP wrote in 2007 would not be enough now. So if I’m not sick enough at first sight for mental health care, am I then recovered? I don’t think so.

Mental health care has in recent years been more and more reduced to mere crisis intervention or other interventions directed at averting people becoming a pain in the neck. Now I won’t say I can’t be a pain in the neck, but a GP writing my referral letter from scratch now would not know. If you aren’t a danger to yourself or others, you most likely won’t get mental health services paid for through insurance. As such, mental health treatment is focused on curing the symptoms of severe mental illness (which is in most cases impossible), whereas recovery is more than that. Recovery, after all, is getting your life back on track.

As a long-term institution patient, I struggle with this. I am relatively well mentally speaking – probably not as well as I describe in the above paragraphs, but still -, but I don’t have a life. When I was admitted to the mental hospital in 2007, I was a university freshman in a new city. Now I’m nearly 30 and have little that could fulfill my life. I have my blog, but that’s about it. It makes me depressed. Not suicidal-type depressed (or should I say “adjustment-disordered”), but it does definitely make me slightly depressed. If I am not sick enough for mental health services and not well enough to get my life back on track without help, then where do I find help in recovering my life?

I hope that outpatient mental health services aren’t really as bad as I now think they are. I can only hope the recovery model still hasn’t been killed by the push for budget cuts. It however makes me sad to read in memoirs of mental health consumers about the recovery model and using mental health services to get your life back on track. After all, I’m afraid you can’t get mental health care for that now even if you’re severely mentally ill like myself.

W – #AtoZChallenge on Mental Health

Welcome to the Letter W post in the #AtoZChallenge on mental health. This was a hard letter. In fact, up till a few days ago, I could only think of one word for it. I have however managed to think of a few more words.

Wellness Recovery Action Plan® (WRAP®)

The Wellness Recovery Action Plan® is a plan that people with mental illness use to regain their wellness if they’ve endured a distressing experience that might otherwise destabilize them. WRAP® was developed in the United States by Mary Ellen Copeland, who herself suffered from severe mental illness. It is rooted in the recovery model of mental illness. WRAP® focuses on people’s strengths rather than their deficits. However, it does include a crisis plan too. This crisis plan or advance directive is written by the patient themself and lets others know when they need to take responsibility for the patient’s care. This allows the patient to stay in control even when they can no longer make decisions for themself. I found the interesting part was also the post-crisis plan, which is meant to reflect on ways to regain wellness and prevent another crisis. In traditional crisis plans, people are not taken care of after crises and their original plan is not revised.


Of course, mental illness is not a choice. However, recovery is. It is often believed that willpower is the power to get over all one’s emotional or behavioral struggles, to be cured of one’s mental illness or addiction. I discussed willpower from a spiritual perspective a few months ago. In this light, willpower is the will to turn over one’s life to God (or another power greater than oneself). In the recovery movement, willpower is the will to take back control over one’s life in spite of mental illness. This might seem completely contradictory to the twelve-step view of willpower, ie. turning one’s life over to God. I see the two as peacefully co-existing. Allowing God to guide us on our journey, after all, does not mean we are not as humans responsible for the decsions we make.


Exercise is often thougth to greatly help with mental health. People who are depressed often benefit from getting moving. People with severe mental illness might use exercise, even if it does not cure their illness, to get into a daily or weekly rhythm.

R – #AtoZChallenge on Mental Health

Welcome to the #AtoZChallenge on mental health, day 18. Today’s letter is R. Enjoy.


Recovery is the patient-led process of learning to live a fulfilling life with or beyond one’s mental illness. It may mean overcoming one’s mental health problems, but recovery is also for people with lifelong mental illness. It is related to rehabilitation, which I’ll discuss below, but recovery is led by patients.

Like I said when discussing experience and jobs, I have participated in a recovery group. In these groups, people discuss different topics related to getting their lives on track. For example, we discuss sources of support, pitfalls in our recovery, our relation with our treatment providers, etc.


Rehablitation is the staff-led process of helping patients live a meaningful life with or beyond their mental illness. Rehabilitation has the patients’ wishes in mind but still is led by staff. It is a common belief, and I’m not entirely sure whether this is correct or not, tht rehabilitation is linked to resocialization, which I’ll discuss hereafter. As such, a patient’s wishes might only be the focus of staff support if they flow towards independence.


Resocialization is the process of going back to a less restrictive treatment setting or back into the community after institutional treatment. It may also refer to independence-focused training in general. Resocialization units in psychiatric hospitals usually allow patients to stay there for a specific time period, usually two years. Rehabilitation units in long-term care may be focused on further independence too, but they have more flexible guidelines on how long a person can stay there.


Restraint is the physical, mechanical or chemical restriction of a person’s movement. Holding someone down or tying someone onto a bed are often recognized as restraint, but giving a person a high dose of an antipsychotic or benzodiazepine to tranquilize them is a form of restraint too. Restraint, like seclusion, can only be used to avert the patient being a danger to themself or others. In the Netherlands, mechanical restriants are hardly ever used in psychiatric hospitals. They were up till recently commonly used in nursing homes on patients with dementia who run a risk of falling, but I believe regulations have changed on this. Chemical restraints are still used, though not as often here as in other countries.


I am a member of a few general recovery groups on Facebook. Most of the members are addicts or alcoholics. I am not. I consider myself addicted to food in some ways, but it isn’t like I can just stop eating, like an addict can quit their substance of abuse. I’m not saying that’s easy either. That’s my point of this post.

Most recovery groups are based on some twelve-step model. As such, we see a lot of references to a higher power or God in the posts. One that I came across recently was that we have to redefine willpower. Willpower is the will to turn over the reigns of our life to God.

I like this statement. It doesn’t mean we don’t have to attempt abstinence (or in the case of an eating disorder, balance). We do still need to refrain from engaging in addictive behaviors. The difference is, God is guiding us on our journeys. If we turn over the reigns of our life to God, we are realizing that we need to follow His lead, not the road of addiction.

I am a person who often turns over the reigns of her life to other people. I allow others to make decisions for me and in some ways, I’d like them to make the decision that I can’t have binge food, too. Staff won’t do this, as I’m an adult and responsible for my own recovery. My husband sometimes gets me a small bag of candy when I’d intended on eating a far larger quantity. This may lessen the physical effects of a binge, but it still means I engage in compulsive eating.

The first step of Overeaters Anonymous is to say we’re powerless over food. (The same statement is used in Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, with “alcohol” or “drugs” instead of “food”.) Therefore, we need to find a power greater than ourselves to help us recover from our addiction. Note that this higher power doesn’t necessarily have to be God: for atheists and agnostics, it can be the OA group they participate in. This signifies that, while no-one is taking responsibility for another’s choices, it is the guidance of our higher power, be it God or the group, that leads us into recovery. Even as believers, we believe that we have free will, but we can still turn the reigns of our life over to God. If we do this, we learn to rely on Him for paving the way for us into recovery. It isn’t that we are no longer ourselves in recovery or not, but we rely on God for facilitating our process of recovery.

I am nowhere near recovering, as regular readers of this blog know. My last binge was last Friday, and I was tempted to give in again today. I didn’t, which is a small win, and my thoughts on willpower contributed to that. I realized that God doesn’t want me to binge, and He gives me the means to resist the urge. Today, I was led to write this post instead of binge. It may sound like I don’t practise what I preach, as someone who’s still pretty deep in her eating disorder, but it personally helps me to preach recovery.

Milestones in My Mental Health Recovery

This week #theprompt celebrates its 100th edition. I was guessing at the prompt for this week, as I often do, and this time, I was right: milestone. There are many milestones in one’s life. Birthdays, particularly important ones like eighteen or thirty. Graduations, be it from preschool, high school or college. Getting married, the birth of a child or grandchild, and the list goes on. When I thought of the word “milestone”, however, I thought of the milestones in my recovery from mental health problems. I am going to share them here. I include steps I’ve taken in my journey with autism here too.

1. Realizing I have a problem. In a way, I was always aware of my being different, but I didn’t realize there might be somethng really, clinically “wrong” with me till I was fifteen. Then I realized I may be autstic. Or something else. I quickly developed quite the obession with about half of the DSM-IV. Then, when I was seventeen, my parents talked me out of thinking I was autistic or otherwise anything other than blind and extremely intelligent and oh maybe a hypochondraic. Never mind that hypochondriasis is a real mental illness.

2. Admitting I need help. I first admitted this the day after I decided I might be autistic, so when I was still fifteen. Then again, I was too shy to tell my parents or my teacher or basically anyone that I really needed more than a teacher with a social skills checklist telling me all that I was lacking in terms of social skills. I remained too shy to directly ask for help for years. They were other people asking for help for me. First, it was the teachr with the social skills checklist calling the blindness rehabilitation center for me. Then it was my staff at independence training calling mental health services. Then it was the police calling the crisis service after I’d made a suicidal threat in public. I still have a problem asking for help directly.

3. Starting counseling. My first experience with counseling was at the blindness rehabilitation center I went to after high school. That wasn’t all that successful. Then, at the mental health agency where I was diagnosed with autism in 2007, I started sessions with a community psychiatric nurse. This was quite helpful. It was probably my most successful counseling experience so far.

4. Starting medication. I first started medication in the summer of 2007. That wasn’t a success. I hadn’t expected the psychiatrist I saw to suggest I go on an antipsychotic, because the nurse I mentioned above was suggesting a benzodiazepine on an as-needed basis. I did end up taking said antipsychotic, but stopped taking it again several months later. The second time I went on medication, another antipsychotic this time, I was extensively educated and got plenty of time to think it through and make a decision. I consciously decided I wanted this medication and it’s been a great help (with an antidepressant and several PRN meds added later on).

5. Checking myself into a mental hospital. Of course, it wasn’t literally that I checked myself in. I didn’t take the initiative to call the crisis service or my treatment provider, which I didn’t even have at the time. After all, I’d moved a few months prior and the new mental health agency was doing the diagnostic testing all over again. Nonetheless, I consider it a major milestone that I agreed to be admitted into the psychiatric hospital.

6. Moving to a resocialization unit. I spent sixteen months on a locked unit, largely because my meltdowns and emotional outbursts were too severe for any less restrictive unit to want me. Finally, however, the resocialization unit did want me after I half lied myself into being accepted. I think this was a major step, as I got much better care on the resocalization unit than on the locked unit. After spending over four years there, I moved to my current unit, which is also rehabilitaiton-oriented but doesn’t have as strict guidelines on how long you can be here. Not that they were followed by the other unit either. I really went here to be closer to my husband, whicch I currently am not anymore since the move, but oh well.

7. Discharge. This milestone is to come this summer. I’m going to move out of the psychiatric instituttion and live with my husband. I’ll continue to get some form of psychiatric treatment, but of course this is a step towards recovery of a “normal” life.

You Baby Me Mummy

Book Review: Believarexic by J.J. Johnson

I have published a few posts that were inspired by my reading of the book Believarexic by J.J. Johnson already. I didn’t share many opinions on the book itself though. Early this morning, I finished the book, so I’d like to post a review. This review contains some spoilers.


Fifteen-year-old Jennifer has to force her family to admit she needs help for her eating disorder. But when her parents sign her into the Samuel Tuke Center,
she knows it’s a terrible mistake. The facility’s locked doors, cynical nurses, and punitive rules are a far cry from the peaceful, supportive environment
she’d imagined. In order to be discharged, Jennifer must make her way through the strict treatment program – as well as harrowing accusations, confusing half-truths, and startling insights. She is forced to examine her relationships, both inside and outside the hospital. She must relearn who to trust, and decide for herself
what “healthy” really means.

Punctuated by dark humor, gritty realism, and profound moments of self-discovery, Believarexic is a stereotype-defying exploration of belief and human connection.


This book is an autobiographical novel. The author describes this quite poignantly at the end of the book as “true make-believe”. What this means is that the author did really get inpatient treatment for her eating disorder in 1988 and 1989, but the details and characters may’ve been changed or simplified. I haven’t yet checked the bonus material, so I cannot be sure whether some of the pretty intriguing events in the book did really happen. For instance, one of Jennifer’s fellow patients is signed out by her parents because they don’t believe the program is working. They decide instead to take her to an orthodontist to have her mouth wired shut. Even though this book takes place in the dark ages of the 1980s, I find it hard to believe such a procedure would be legal even then. I do still see the stark contrast between psychiatric treatment then versus now.

Sometimes, I find that characters have been oversimplified in terms of them being either good or bad. Dr. Prakash, Jennifer’s psychiatrist, is nice from the beginning to end, whereas nurse Sheryl aka Ratched is bitchy and controling throughout the book. Still, some characters make quite a transition through the book, and there are incredible twists and turns.

The book starts out a bit triggering with for example the hierarchy of eating disorders being quite extreme. Nonetheless, this book is clearly pro-recovery. At the end of the book, the author encourages people who even have an inkling of an idea that they might have an eating disorder to seek help. As may’ve become clear through some of my previous posts inspired by this book, Belieivarexic led me to some interesting insights.

Book Details

Title: Believarexic
Author: J.J. Johnson
PUlbisher: Peachtree Publishers (eBook by Open Road Media)
Publication Date: October 2015

For more information on the book and its author and for resources for people with eating disorders, go to Believarexic.com.

Fighting My Disordered Eating

“Fight” is one of the writing prompts from Mama’s Losin’ It for this week. The first thing that came to mind as I reflect on this word is my fight against my eating disorder tendencies. This fight has been on my mind a lot lately.

Last week, had a bad binge and then in the evening, a fellow patient gave us cake. A nurse was joking about all the calories in the cake, poking my tummy as she asked: “Do you want whipped cream on your cake?” This was extremely triggering to me. At first, I thought “screw you” and decided to indeed get whipped cream on my cake. As time went by and I ruminated on what had happened, the nurse’s words and actions took on a life of their own, causing me to doubt my will to recover from binge eating. Not that I didn’t want to lose weight, but my initial instinct was to move back in the direction of bulimia by starting to purge again.

I later told the nurse that what had happened had been immensely triggering and she assured me that she’d just been fooling around a bit. Usually, this nurse has quite good ideas for helping me recovr from my disordered eating tendencies, so I took no further offense.

This doesn’t mean the doubts about how to fight my obesity have gone. In fact, the only thing holding me back from starting to purge again is my chronic heartburn, for which I’m getting an upper GI endoscopy done to see what might be wrong. I don’t have that long of a history of purging, but that doesn’t mean that the purging I did do can’t have caused damage. It certainly won’t get better if I resort back to purging now.

However, eating disorders are not just about preserving one’s health. After all, they often do the exact opposite. There is this hierarchy in eating disorders where restrictive anorexics rank as most perseverant and stubborn, followed by binge/purge anorexics, bulimics depending on their weight and the biggest losers (no pun intended) are the compulsive overeaters. In other words, as someone who suffers from binge eating only, I’m a total failure of an eating disorder sufferer. Yet I am not just an eating disorder sufferer, I am a person who happens to have disordered eating tendencies and who wants to fight these tendencies.

This hierarchy of the eating disordered is, however, also reflected in how seriously I take myself and am taken by other people with regard to my disordered eating tendencies. When I still purged, my GP put in my file that I had bulimia. I didn’t – bulimia has very strict criteria that I didn’t meet -, but it was in my records nonetheless. Now that I probably do meet the criteria of binge eating disorder, I’m commonly seen as just a little overweight at best and as an unmotivated, lazy fatass at worst. It’s probably crazy that I’d rather be seen as sick than lazy.

Mama’s Losin’ It

How Far I’ve Come on My Mental Health Journey #Write31Days

31 Days of Mental Health

Welcome to day 4 in the #Write31Days challenge. Sorry for being a bit late to publish my post. Today, I’m sharing a personal post, describing how far I’ve come on my journey of learning to cope with mental illness.

I sought mental health help for the first time in early 2007. I was severely behaviorally disturbed at the time, having aggressive meltdowns several times a week. Though I didn’t physially attack other people, I was quite verbally aggressive and threw objects a lot. This behavior lessened with some counseling from a community psychiatric nurse and eventually medication, but it didn’t completely disappear.

When I was admitted to the psychiatric unit on NOvember 3, 2007, I was seriously suicidal. I had spiraled down into a crisis while living independently. I at the time showed classic borderline behavior, making suicidal threats when I was seriously distressed. I no longer threw objects as much as I’d done before, but I was still verbally aggressive.

After about three months on the locked unit, my disturbed behavior became less severe, but I still had many milder meltdowns. I’d also display rigid behavior. For example, I had a crisis prevention plan and i’d tell the nurses when they weren’t following it. Now the staff at that unit were quite authoritarian, so I was threatened with seclusion for telling staff they weren’t following the rules. I don’t see this as disturbed behavior on my part now, but I do see how, in the insane place of a psychiatric hospital, it was.

My meltdowns and outbursts didn’t lessen in frequency till I went back on medication in early 2010. It also helped that I’d transferred to the less restrictive resocialization unit. I eventually was quite stable there on a moderate dose of an antipsychotic and a low dose of an antidepressant. I still had my moments where I’d act out, but they were manageable.

This changed when I transferred to my current long-term unit in 2013. I transferred in the summer, so there were often fewer staff available. I also couldn’t cope with the fact that my part of the unit was often left to our own resources when the staff were catering to the needs of the presumably less independent people on the other floor. I started eloping regularly, something I’d previously done sometimes but not nearly as often as I did now. At one point, it eventually led to the staff considering having me transferred to the locked unit. That fortunately never happened. Instead, my antipsychotic was increased to eventually the highest dose. I have been relatively stable for about nine months now.

What helped me along this way was a building of mutual trust and cooperation. An example was that the staff would often offer to allow me into the comfort room when distressed. At the resocialization unit, when I’d have severe meltdowns, I’d be transferred to the locked unit and made to sit in their comfort room. Their comfort room was really a reconstructed seclusion area and there was little comfort to be found. Consequently, I saw the comfort room as punishment, but on my current unit, it isn’t. We have a really good comfort room which is truly calming. I learned to realize that the offer to have me sit in there was an offer for help, not punishment.

Eight years into my mental institutionalization, I still cannot say I have fully overcome my destructive ways. They have significantly lessened, but I still have my moments. That probably won’t be over with for a long while.

Mental Health Recovery #Write31Days

31 Days of Mental Health

Welcome to day 2 in the #Write31Days challenge on mental health. When you are diagnosed with a mental health condition, you often wonder how you’re going to get your life back. Ideally, you’d be cured of your mental health condition, but this is not always possible. When you have a severe mental illness such as schizophrenia or borderline personality disorder, this is often going to be lifelong. Therefore, the goal does not become cure, but living a meaningful life in spite of your mental illness. It is here that recovery comes into play.

The mental health recovery movement may be seen as an offshoot from the psychiatric survivor movement from the 1970s and 1980s. Back then, people who couldn’t be cured of their mental illness within a short while, were institutionalized on long-term units essentially for life. The worst part was that they lost all control over their lives. They couldn’t even decide what they were having for breakfast, let alone how they wanted to live their lives. Many were heavily medicated without their informed consent.

In the 1970s, psychiatric patients and activists started to protest the forced institutionalization of mentally ill people. My mother was one of those activists. Part of this protest was asking who is normal. People would wear mirror buttons with this text on them.

The truth is, everyone experiences mental setbacks in their lives. The recovery movement assumes that even people with severe mental illness can and should have control over their own lives. Recovery includes being an active participant in your treatment and the director of your own life.

In 2010, I participated in a recovery group at my former institution. One of the main positives of this recovery group was that it deliberately consisted of institutionalized people. This sent the message that, even as a long-term psychiatric inpatient, you can and should have control over your life. We discussed such topics as sources of support, pitfalls in our recovery and getting our lives back on track. Most people participating in the group, even those who did not originally intend on taking leaps in their treatment, were improving their lives at the end of the course.

I want to clarify here that the goal of recovery is self-direction, not necessarily self-reliance. I for one was planning on transferring to a workhome, which is essentially a permanent institution placement. I didn’t end up going there, but still five years later reside on a long-trem treatment unit. That doesn’t mean I didn’t take steps towards recovery. I took more responsibility for my own life and took steps towards being an active participant in my treatment. For example, I searched for a therapist who would treat my complex trauma once I’d transfer to the workhome. As I said, it didn’t work out, but the recovery course taught me that I could and should take my life and treatment in my own hands.