Tag Archives: University

Linguistics and Other Things I Wanted to Study in College #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day 12 in the #AoZChallenge of random reflections. Today once again I don’t know what to write about. I write this post at past 9PM on April 13 and am deciding what to write on as I go. I looked at the A to Z of me I wrote in 2015 and saw “linguistics” as my letter L word. This was my college major for the two months I studied at university in Nijmegen in 2007. Now I don’t know what to write about linguistics, so instead I’m going to write about the things I at one point considered majoring in. This may be going to be a long list, LOL.

1. Mathematics. When I was about eleven, I decided I wanted to become a mathematician. I barely knew math beyond calculus, but I liked that aspect so assumed I’d like everything about math.

2. Dutch. When I was in junior high school, I wanted to become a linguist, but I didn’t know the word, so I thought I’d become a Dutch major.

3. English. UPon high school graduation, I decided I wanted to study English, and specifically American studies. In Nijmegen, you could choose from your first year on to learn American rather than British English. I had a dream in which I’d go to America in my third year of university and never return.

4. Psychology. I really wanted to major in psychology, but my parents had a problem with psychologists, so I never took that step. I did major in applied psychology for a year at college when I was 20, but only passed communication skills because the instructor cut me some slack. I took psychology classes at Open University again while in the mental hospital.

5. Linguistics. I ultimately decided to major in linguistics at university. I was obviously still mostly interested in psycholinguistics and thought I might be able to enter the speech and language pathology program when I’d be a graduate student. I never made it that far, obviously.

A College Memory

Last week or the week before, one of the prompts from Mama’s Losin’ It was to write about a college memory. Since just yesterday I shared on my Dutch website about studying with a mental illness, I thought i’d write about it here too. It’s been 8 1/2 years since I dropped out of university, of course. For this post, I’d like to share about my first day of university.

My first day of university was September 3, 2007. I took a ParaTransit taxi to the building where I’d have my first class. As I approached what turned out to be a large lecture hall, I was immediately overwhelmed by the huge number of students. Until that day, my idea of a large group of students was my psychology class at college, where about 35 students were in the room. I had expected the same number of students in my university classes, because only about fifteen to twenty students enroll in the linguistics program each year. Turned out the class was a combined linguitics, business communications and language and cultural studies class and there were over 200 students in attendance. I had the most spectacular meltdown right there and ran off. I don’t remember much of what happened next. I think I called my home support worker, because the team manager, who also acted as my support worker, came to pick me up. She drove me to the office of the organization I received care from. This was the first time I was in such major crisis that the team manager decided to call mental health services. She later told me I was “not crazy enough” to be admitted.

I must say here that a meltdown whilst in a lecture hall is of course not in itself a reason for a mental admission. In this sense, the mental health agency was right that I was “not crazy enough”. Maybe if they’d knwon that I had meltdown after meltdown almost on a daiy basis, they could’ve offered some help. Now back in the day my only options were an admission or no help. Today, most mental health crisis services offer more varied help.

The professor for my first class – the only class I even attempted to go to that first day – was by the way one of the most supportive people in the university. He offered to have me listen to the lectures in a room attached to the lecture hall that is often used for recording lectures. I was able to attend his classes up to the moment I landed in my final psychiatric crisis in late October. His class was also the only one I took an exam for – three days before my hospitalization. This professor was the first to notice I wasn’t at university anymore and I don’t think it was solely because he was the professor for my Mondaya morning class. The director of studies E-mailed me the Monday after midterm that said professor had been missing me in his class, so had I quit my sutdies? I didn’t read this E-mail till I was home on a visit the next month.

I don’t have the greatest experiences with accommodations for me as a mentally ill, multiply-disabled student at university. I remember being told a number of times that I had a bad attitude and “we’re not a therapy center”. Though this is true, I badly did want to continue my studies for as long as I could. This one professor was, without even talking much to me, one of a few people who kept me going. He instilled a continuing interest in language composition and univesal grammar in me.

By This Time in Life…

Last week, the Finish the Sentence Friday prompt was: “I thought that by this time in life, I’d…” I discovered it on Thursday already but was busy all week-end traveling to my parents, being at their house and attending a concert and then traveling back. I can’t link up my post anymore, but that doesn’t keep me from writing about the topic.

I have written many posts about my dreams for my adult life. When I was a young teen, I dreamt that by the time I turned thirty, I’d have completed my Master’s degree, gotten a steady job as a high school teacher and become a Mom of three (technically four, because in my dreams one pregnancy would always be with twins). Obviously, this was before the economic meltdown, because I dreamt of being a teacher within a year of earning my Master’s degree. Interestingly, though obviously these three or four children had a Dad, I never imagined meeting the man of my dreams.

Obviously, these dreams were unrealistic, though I held onto some version of them till I landed in a psychiatric crisis and had to be hospitalized. It is once again strange that, even though I met my now husband before being hospitalized, I just thought I’d meet someone “someday” and was busier with thinking up my career than thinking up relationships.

Later on, I adjusted to the idea that I would never be a high school teacher, speech-language pathologist, or anything earning me money. I did enter a relationship and get married. Still, I had and to some degree still have a hard time fitting in that one success into my life story. I love my husband and am hopefully going to live with him this summer. Still, once I landed in a psychiatric crisis, I abandoned all my dreams and replaced them with the idea that I’d be in residential care for the rest of my life.

I seriously need to let go of this idea that, if my dreams of a college degree, a job and a child or four can’t come true, I can’t get any sort of meaningful life. Maybe I can’t have the life I imagined for myself. Maybe I won’t ever live in the United States – because that was another dream of mine. I can however have a life with my husband and our two cats in our nice home in the tiny village here in the Netherlands. I really need to work towards that goal.

Fifty Years From Now

In the future… This is this week’s prompt from Finish the Sentence Friday. The future could be next week or next month or next year or fifty years from now. As I am currently in a bit of an anxious mood regarding my physical health, I am more than aware of my finite existence here on earth. This however also got me to buy a book, really to distract myself but it ties in nicely with the theme, about women who survived breast cancer twenty to fifty years past diagnosis. (No, I don’t think I have breast cancer.) Even though I am not the healthiest person in the world, it is very well possible that I’ll live for fifty more years. For this post, I am going to pretend I am 79 and look back at my life.

It is currently 2066. I am 79. I have lived a much longer life than as a twentysomething I expected to. There have been many times I thought I wouldn’t live for another year. Yet here I am in old age.

I look back on a happy marriage with my husband. We have been living in our home in the tiny village for fifty years. When the housing corporation wanted to get rid of it and my husband earned enough money, we bought the house. It now has a bathtub, which was pretty much the only thing I wanted to get added to its interior fifty years ago. Of course, now that I’m old and my mobility is failing, I can’t use it anymore.

I look back on a nice volunteering career for myself. In fact, I still volunteer. I am a language-learning buddy for an immigrant, just like my grandma was when she was my age. I haven’t earned any sort of royal recognition, but that could be because I changed volunterring careers so often I can’t say I’ve served a particular community for long enough. nO, that was a joke. If I live for another twenty years, five months and twelve days, I’ll meet the mayor because of my 100th birthday. I do plan to live that long now that I got this far, just like my grandma did, only without the cognitive decline please.

Speaking of fame though, I did get some international recognition by publishing my memoir. It wasn’t titled Some Former Preemies Will Go to University after all, because that title was ironic, referring to my lack of successful college studies. As it turned out, I did earn a college degree. It was in language and cultural studies at the university I tried studying linguistics at too. The same professor still taught the intro to linguistics class that I had completed half of just before I ended up in the psychiatric hospital in 2007. Since I didn’t go to graduate school, my sister is still the only one of our generation to have earned a Master’s degree. I don’t care about that graduate degree though, as I mostly studied for the fun of it and to prove myself that I could. After graduating, I now regularly attend sit-in classes in education, psychology and sociology. My heart’s still with the social sciences, but I still can’t do statistics.

I just mentioned the psychiatric hospital. It’s a place I’d rather not revisit. Its treatment methods have “advanced” to a level worse than they were 100 years ago. Instead of getting a sembleance of care, psychiatric patients are just drugged into submission. We have better psychiatric drugs now, at least by the sane population’s standards. There are more of them too and much more people taking them, whether they want it or not. Unfortunately, the neurodiversity and mad pride movements are dead now. The curebies got their way. I can’t say society is a better place for it.

Technolgy has evolved quite a bit in the last fifty years, obviously. I can now easily take pictures with a camera that gives me spoken directions. Oh, this probably doesn’t sound that advanced to my 29-year-old self, but it opened quite the world to me. There are great imaging tools that work with screen readers now. Still doesn’t sound advanced, but I lost pace with technology several decades ago. Even though I was pretty tech savvy as a teen, I was quite a bit behind fifty years ago already, let alone now. Thankfully, I did learn to use a smartphone or I would’ve lost track much sooner than I did. My husband still keeps pace with technology, of course. He’s 77 now and “drives” an autonomous car. He didn’t like it at first, but now that he’s getting old himself, he finds it quite relaxing.

As I look back to 2016, I’m glad I made the choices I made that year. It took more than just 2016 to get physically healthy, but I did set my first steps in the right direction. I also finally left the psychiatric institution. As I said, it isn’t a nice place now, so I’m so glad I left before it deteriorated. Besides, if I hadn’t, I might not have lived this life with my husband.

How Mental Illness Has Impacted My Life #Write31Days

31 Days of Mental Health

Welcome to day 20 in the #Write31Days challenge on mental health. Today, after sharing a number of informational posts, it’s time for a personal one again. I’ve decided to pick another question from the 30-day mental illness awareness challenge. This one is about the effects your mental illness has had on your life.

In 2005, I graduated from high school with good grades. The principal held a brief talk about each student before they’d receive their diploma. About me, he said I was going to study English in Nijmegen. This was my original plan for after high school, before I’d decided I wasn’t ready for college yet and wanted to go to a rehabilitation center for the blind first.

Until I graduated from high school, I was the only person who noticed something was off with me. That is, my parents and teachers did notice, but felt I was or should be capable of solving my problems with my intellectual abilities. By 2005, I was at my highest point in terms of believing I was “just blind”. You might think I had the highest self-confidence, but I didn’t. I was fiercely independent, but also terribly isolated.

By early 2006, I entered a training home for the disabled. I was adamant that I only needed a little daily living skills training and would be off to univeristy and independent living by September. It didn’t work out that way.

Mental illness has impacted many areas of my life. Of course, you could say that it was my blindness. You could say that the people at university in Nijmegen should’ve been more accommodating of my blindness. They weren’t particularly accommodating, but they reasoned all blind students who had previously attended, had been able to succeed with the accommodations they did provide. You might also reason that I should’ve gotten more orientation and mobility training whilst living independently, but twice a week is the absolute most you could get back then and it hasn’t gotten any better. In other words, of course my blindness did contribute to my eventual failure at independent living and at university, but apparently all “just blind” individuals are able to cope. I clearly wasn’t.

It was a common misconception at the acute ward that I was falling apart because of some problem relating to my blindness. I replied to this that, if my blindness was causing me to be suicidal, there’d be much better care for blind people with mental illness, because then each week there’d be a suicidal blind person somewhere. The truth is, I am multiply-disabled, including mentally ill, and it’s not just one of my disabilities that’s causing me to be unable to function independently.

Because I’ve been mentally unstable all my life, I can also not really compare my situation before and after the onset of my mental illness. I can only compare my situation to the ideal I had in mind for myself. Doing so, I realize that mental illness has affected my education. I can no longer go to regular college and can only do distance learning courses one at a time. This means I will most likely never earn a certificate that’s worth anything.

Mental illness has also impacted my work life. That is, due to mental illness, I have none. Of course, I did get disability benefits without a problem when I was eighteen and “just blind”, but, as my parents reasoned, this would be a temporary situation. It’s now more than likely that I’ll be on disability for life.

Mental illness has made independent living essentially impossible. I pretty much need to be able to reach someone for support 24/7. It doesn’t have to be a professional carer per se. At least I hope that in time, my husband will be able to fulfill this role to an extent. This in turn obviously impacts my relationship. However, since my husband was my first boyfriend and I met him when already on the edge of mental breakdown, I have nothing to compare our relationship to. I think in this area I’m pretty well off however, in that at least I am in a long-term, loving relationship.

Ten Achievements of the Past Decade

Today in Blog Everyday in May, the prompt is to list ten achievements of the past ten years. Now I already did my 28 Before 28 post in February, so it’s an extra challenge not to repeat myself. I am just going to write, and if I don’t get to ten, well, screw it.

1. Graduated from high school. This happened just shy of a decade ago. I am not particularly proud of myself for graduating, probably because my parents were super over the top proud of me and I still can’t let go of a little parent-defying. I forgot most of what I learned in high school anyway.

2. Learned to clean and cook semi-independently. I went to an independence training home for the disabled in 2006 and 2007, where I learned many skilsl ncessary for independent living. I lost most of these skills again, but the fact that I learned them once, makes me confident that I can relearn them.

3. Overcame a mental crisis. It surprises me that, in the 28 Before 28 list, though I did include my diagnoses, I didn’t include the actual achievement of overcoming the darkest of aspects of mental illness. In all honesty, and I hope this doesn’t get me kicked out of care before I’m ready, I can say I’m much better able to cope than I was back when I was first hospitalized in 2007.

4. Finished two Open University psychology courses with a passing grade. IN 28 Before 28, I did mention that I took five courses in total, but the achievement of passing two of them in 2009 was largely overshadowed by the fact of the three that I didn’t pass.

5. Was able to let go of some of the darker trauma-based emotions and perceptions. As regular readers might know, I’m a childhood trauma survivor, which largely came to the surface when I was at my old rehabilitation unit in 2010. Though I got no evidence-based treatment for PTSD or dissociation, through a lot of talking and some work done on my own, I overcame most of the classic PTSD symptoms. I still have attachment issues, emotion regulation difficulties, etc., but I am confident that I will overcome the debilitating effects of these too.

6. Got married. I don’t usually credit myself for our relationship success, but then again it’s a mutual effort I guess, so I should deserve half the credit. If not, then well, I’m still happy I got married, so this fact still belongs here!

7. Started and restarted yoga. I took yoga classes in 2009 or 2010, but eventually quit because the emotions it brought on were too overwhelming. I recetnly restarted and am becoming quite successful at basic poses and exercises.

8. Was able to participate in group recreational therapy. In my old institution, I used to get individual day activities only. Due to budget cuts, I couldn’t get these for a long while in my current institution so I tried the day activity group. It’s still quite hard, but I can at least usually keep up.

9. Was able to enter the recovery stage with regards to my eating disorder. That is, I comletely stopped purging and recently was able to reduce my binge eating significantly too. I gained lots of weight in the past decade and have only started losing it again little by little over the past couple of months, but at least I’m improving. I also haven’t self-harmed in a few months, but that has not been a conscious effort as much.

10. Am generally much happier than I was ten years ago. This pretty much sums up all of my achievements. I didn’t earn the Ph.D. or get the high-profile job I thought I envisioned for myself ten years ago, but so what? I’m generaly less angry, less hostile and also less anxious than I was in 2005. I’m still not the shiniest example of positivity on the planet, but I’m trying to keep a positive outlook, and that’s what matters!

Found Love. Now What?
The List

If I Had to Choose a Career Path…

One of Mama Kat’s prompts for this week is quite interesting. It says: “You have to go back in time and choose a different career path for yourself.” Now I for one don’t have a career, so I could just choose my favorite career. Then again, what’s that?

I could go back to 2007 and decide to finish my studies in linguistics. When I started, I had it in my head to eventually pursue a Master’s degree in speech and language pathology. You don’t become a speech therapist then, although there was a program at a different university where you could do a speech therapy minor during your undergradaute studies and then become a speech therapist and speech and language pathologist at the same time. The difference is that speech therapists treat patients, whereas speech and language pathologists with a background in linguistics do research and development.

I’d love to be a speech therapist, but it’s most likely not possible for a blind person. I once read a story on the American Foundation of the Blind’s CareerConnect program about a person who was partially sighted and became a speech therapist and audiologist. Both were quite hard. So not that path.

Then I could go back to 2006 and finish the foundation in applied psychology I took at the time. This was an orientation-based foundation where, for the last quarter, you’d choose between psychodiagnostic work and human resource management (don’t ask me why this is one program), social work, social pedagogical care, or elementary education. I chose psychodiagnostic work and human resource management, but if I had to go back, I’d choose social work. This would then become my major during the rest of college and I’d become a social worker. Not quite suitable for an autistic perosn though, and in fact going back in time wouldn’t change the fact that I only passed communication skills training because the teacher let me pass provided I quit.

I could also go back to 2005, when I graduated from high school, and go straight to university rather than taking a gap year for blindness rehabilitation. My intention was to major in English, specifically American studies. I have no clue what type of career I envisioned for myself, because all I dreamt about was going to the United States on a student visa and somehow never returning.

Then again, if I had to choose a career for myself that I want to pursue now, I’d become a journalist. Not very suitable for an autistic person who has the worst typing skills ever, but who cares? I don’t believe any career is suitable for me, which is why I’m on disability. I’d ultimately still like to publish a book, but not sure I ever will.

Mama’s Losin’ It

Autism and Blindness: Reflections on My Diagnosis

Today, I read a post by an autism MOm feeling lucky that her children were diagnosed relatively early on. It caused me to reflect on my late, but not exceptionally late diagnosis of autism. I was diagnosed at age twenty. This was not because no difficulties were noted early on, but because my parents felt a diagnosis would be limiting me, so they didn’t seek one. And I can see why.

I was autistic all my life. I was autistic when the school questioned my intelligence because of my poor behavior and what I can only think was underachievement. I was autistic when I was finally accepted into a high level, mainstream high school. In 2003, I attended a performance by some of my teachers who were mocking school policy, and one of the things they mocked was the school’s overrepresentation of special needs and gifted students. I had three of the conditions they mentioned the school had perfect programs for: intellectual giftedness, autism and blindness. Nonetheless, if my autism had been diagnosed before my acceptance into this school, I most likely wouldn’t have been accepted. In a way, I applaud my school for accepting me as an individual. I didn’t fall apart, or at least not while still there, so probably they met some of my needs to a reasonable degree.

I was autistic when going to blindness rehab and independence training. I was autistic when enrolling as a psychology major at the nearby college. Had I been diagnosed before my enrollment, I would most likely not be accepted regardless of my qualifying high school diploma. I was diagnosed while at this college and in independence training.

I was autistic and diagnosed with it when I enrolled as a linguistics major at university. I was autistic and diagnosed with it when I dropped out. I was autistic and diagnosed with it when I was admitted to the psychiatric unit, although this unit wouldn’t accept my diagnosis at first.

My parents believed that an autism diagnosis would limit my ability to become independent. It did. I believe that a lack of diagnosis would limit my ability to have a good quality of life. It did. And I for one believe that quality of life is more important than independence.

Some people believe that an autism diagnosis would enable a child’s or adult’s care team to cut the child or adult some slack with regard to their behavior. I believe that my parents and teachers in high school cut me more slack than my support staff at independence training or the college teachers did, and this is why I needed a diagnosis. They sought a diagnosis because they knew my behavior wasn’t normal. Accpeting my behavior as normal for me might’ve worked when I was a child, but in the real world, it doesn’t work.

I recetnly read an article in a magazine for parents of blind children about a mother whose child was suspected of having autism in addition to being blind. Eventually, the parents decided not to pursue a diagnosis, as they reasoned the child’s behavior was understandable given her character and blindness. My first reaction to this article was that I’d trade my diagnosis any day for true understanding of me as an individual. The thing is, the systmem doesn’t work that way.

Books #theprompt #WotW

This week, the prompt over at Mumturnedmom is “books”. I’ve also been doing a relatively great amount of reading this week, so thought I’d choose it as my word for the week too.

Books were a significant part of my life growing up. Both my parents used to read to me and my sister from an early age on. My father would read us comic and picture books such as Winnie the Pooh. He’d use these weird voices for the characters, which I always hated. As I got older, he read me a children’s book of Greek mythology. My mother read us the likes of Annie M.G. Schmidt, a very famous Dutch poet and children’s book writer.

I learned to read at around age four or five. My mother made little books for me with one or two words on each page. She used rub-on letters so that the print was clear and large enough for me, being partially sighted, to read it. There were books themed “house”, “school” and many others but these are the ones I remember. Later, I’d borrow large print books from the library children’s section, but many had too small print and yet were too easy for me in terms of vocabulary.

As my vision got worse and I had to learn to read braille, my interest in reading books decreased. I’d still read the odd children’s book, but most of the time, I’d stick to the library for the blind’s audio magazine for children age five to nine. I don’t think I read many audio books at the time, and as I said, I didn’t like reading braille.

As I got older, the gap between my potential and my reading ability widened. From fourth or fifth grade on, my parents began insisting I read books even if the school hadn’t assigned it. They probably felt the school underestimated my abilities and cut me too much slack. I remember at one point in fifth or sixth grade being up till what in my memory seems like the middle of the night because I still craved my goodnight kiss and my parents refused to give me one until I’d read a certain number of pages. My parents also tried to positively stimulate me to read. For example, I at one point had the Dutch translation of Alice in Wonderland in braille and, to show me he was taking on a challenge too, my father decided to read the book in English at the same time that I read it in Dutch.

I never became an advanced or avid fiction reader. In high school, I hated having to read adult literature. In reality, I didn’t start enjoying middle grade fiction until I was at least fourteen. By then, while all my classmates were reading young adult or even adult literature, I enjoyed every book written by an author named Caja Cazemier I could get my hands on. I still enjoy reading her books.

In high school, I read exactly the amount of Dutch and foreign-language literature I was required. I got many literary novels from my parents, but still have only started on a small percentage and finished only the humorous ones. One of the main reasons I didn’t end up majoring in English at university was the vast amount of fiction reading required. I was in fact scared when, having singed up for linguistics, I was sent an at the time quite popular literary novel to read in prep for freshman introduction. It was also said that humanities department students would frequently hear this book mentioned during lectures. Fortunately, the linguistics majors didn’t have to read this book after all. Either that, or I dropped out soon enough for the book never to be mentioned in lectures when I was in attendance.

Perhaps paradoxically, as a teen, I had the ambition of writing books when I grew up. I wrote a few, very autobiographical attempts at children’s novels. My most successful attempt is a half-finished novel called The Black Queen about a high school student whose mother suffers from multiple sclerosis. It was one of the less (though still somewhat) autobiographical novels I wrote, and for once it was never my intention of having people “get me” through it. I still someday want to finish this book. Unfortunately, as I started writing mainly in English, I lost my ability to write fiction due to my relatively poor vocabulary and sense of style.

I still don’t particularly enjoy fiction. I do have a few children’s and teen fiction books on my to-be-read list, but the majority of what I still want to read, are autobiographies or non-fiction. This week, I have been reading Angels at Our Table by Ann Breen, a book of stories from families with children with Williams Syndrome. I also started reading Two Bipolar Chicks Guide to Survival by Wendy K. Williamson and Honora Rose. It’s a very humorous guide to living with bipolar disorder, in my opinion also relevant for people with other mental illnesses.

The Reading Residence

A Can of Choices?

There is a Dutch TV show where a high school class meets so many years after graduation. At the beginning of the show, a survey is discussed which the former students have been sent in preparation of the show. One of the regularly returning questions is whether life just happens or it’s a can of choices. Most people say it’s a can of choices, and at least cognitively I have to agree.

With the idea that life is a can of choices comes the possibility of looking back at life and wondering “What if”. If life just happens, this is meaningless. I mean, you can wonder what if life hadn’t dealt you the cards it dealt you, but it isn’t like you’d have any influence on it. This is easier sometimes. At least there’s no need for regrets or guilt. You could be angry with God, fate or whatever you believe in, but at least you’d know that you couldn’t have done anything different to make life not as it is now.

Then again, seeing life as a can of choices has the advantage of you being able to do something about your life. In this sense, the “What if”‘s can drive you to make different choices for the future.

I often wallow in wondering what if. What if I’d gone to university straight out of high school instead of to blindness rehab and independence training? What if I had not gone to my university city at all, or had gone into supported housing out of independence training. What if I hadn’t agreed to be hospitalized when I was in a crisis. What if I’d gone to any of the numerous supported housing options that have come up over the years instead of staying in the psychiatric institution. What if I hadn’t moved to my current institution and had stayed in the one in my university city? What if I’d moved into living with my husband when we rented our apartment? What if I’d actually finished the two Open University courses I didn’t complete? What if I hadn’t stopped blogging in 2011?

The thing is, I can look back to the past and regret the choices I’ve made, but at the time, I couldn’t look to the future to see what life would be like in 2014 if I made the choices I did or didn’t make. I can only try to make better choices now. Like, I did start up blogging again last year and continue to try Open University courses. This however will not be a guarantee for a better life. In this sense, life just happens to some extent.