Author

Heather Loeb

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Good Vibes

by Heather Loeb
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It has been 14 weeks since my last ECT (electroconvulsive therapy), a milestone for sure. That’s the longest I’ve been able to go since 2019, after leaving a psychiatric hospital for depression and anxiety.

It makes me so happy because, frankly, I hate them. I developed a phobia to anesthesia last year and have panic attacks before treatment. For those who don’t know, ECT entails going under anesthesia then doctors induce a seizure. It’s usually a short seizure and they give me a muscle relaxant so I’m not thrashing around. The seizure sort of resets my brain. Doctors aren’t sure why or how exactly it works, but it’s very beneficial to people like me who have treatment-resistant depression.

I thought since it has been awhile since my last treatment that my memory would start coming back, but there are still huge chunks of my memory I can’t recall. It’s common for people to experience retrograde amnesia, but usually memories return.

Not only can I not remember things from the past but also it affects my short-term memory. I can’t always retain new information. It’s especially hard to follow recipes or instructions on how to do something. Now I need assistance from my husband when I’m cooking.

It’s also embarrassing.

I’ll meet someone and not remember we met. Or I’ve forgotten people who I knew. People come up to me all the time and ask how David is or the kids, and most of the time I just can’t place them so I try to hide it. Hopefully they can’t see it in my face.

Still, even with the memory loss, it’s one million times better than being where I was. I was so lost and unhealthy, relying on binge eating, abusing my medication, cutting and shopping to distract me from my pain. I was suicidal all the time. Somehow I was able to take care of the kids, but my health suffered greatly. The kids sucked up everything I had. I don’t regret going to the mental hospital at all.

I wrote about ECT and losing my memory for a mental health site, The Mighty, and some people — a lot of people — thought it was so horrible that I was risking my memories. They couldn’t comprehend it, but one of the best things about my memory loss is that I don’t remember all the ugly, dark parts of my illness before I went to the hospital. It’s a blessing, actually. What I do remember is so awful and sad. There’s no part of me that wants to relive that at all.

So while my memory (what’s left of it) is terrible and it can be embarrassing, I’m so fucking grateful for where I am. For my support system, all my friends and family members who stepped up and completely support me. For being able to find joy in the little things. For being able to enjoy watching my kids grow up. For laughing until tears come to my eyes. For the growth that I’ve seen in the past three years. I’m just so grateful. I’d do it all again if I had to in order to feel as good as I’m feeling now.

I know there’s always a possibility of a depressive episode recurring, but that’s why I’m doing the difficult work of confronting my demons and putting into place healthy habits. I have to walk a fine line in order to be healthy, and sometimes that can be annoying, but it’s so worth it.

For anyone struggling with their mental health, I see you. I pray you don’t give up, and I have to tell you that it gets better. It gets sooo good.

There’s great divinity in finding the light where it is dark. And I hope you find the light.

You can do it. I clawed my way back from hell, and I’ll keep fighting to stay where I am, every single day.

Thank you to all my loved ones (and even strangers) who have been rooting me on all this time. It’s a beautiful thing to receive that kind of support.

And I love you all.

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My Dead Body

by Heather Loeb

NOTE: This post was originally written last year.
TW: suicide, suicidal ideation, depression, self harm

Last month I was asked to speak at State Rep. Todd Hunter’s Suicide Prevention Symposium. I talked about the many times I’ve been suicidal, and I realized I’ve never told the story here. While it is painful at times to retell, I think it’s so important to talk about because so many people suffer in silence. The stats on suicide have gone up, and there’s no doubt in my mind that those numbers will double, maybe even triple, because of the pandemic. If you are struggling with suicidal ideation, please seek help whether it’s your doctor, a trusted friend or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You are not alone.

Here is my story.

I was alone at my parents’ house, and my depression was out of control at the time. My parents had taken my kids to their lake house about 90 minutes away. I remember fighting on the phone with my husband, I don’t know what about. I hung up with him and I felt out of control, like my insides were trying to jump out of my body. I was pacing, sobbing and didn’t know what to do. I started to shake, sweat and suddenly I all I felt was pain. My brain was telling me to die by suicide* and I calculated how to die — I would overdose on pain pills that I knew were in my parents’ bathroom.

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I went over and over my plan, and I started to shake harder. I had to sit. I didn’t want to die, but my brain was telling me everything would be better if I did. And my family would be better off, too. I thought of my kids and the guilt overwhelmed me. Then I thought about my mother coming home from the lake house and finding my dead body. My dead body. Those words gave me the chills, and I cried harder.

I called my mom in hysterics. She tried her best to calm me down. I hung up with her and texted my best friend, who urged me to go to the nearest emergency room. I was really scared I would die, so I went.

When I got there, I whispered, “I’m suicidal.” And the tears kept coming. A nurse took me to a room, and asked me routine questions about my health, then my mental health. I saw a doctor, although I don’t remember our conversation. They left me in the room for almost an hour, waiting on transport to an acute psychiatric facility.

The men in the ambulance didn’t talk to me the entire ride. They joked and laughed from the front of the ambulance and then pushed me on a stretcher into the building. When I got inside, they asked me to change clothes into scrubs they provided, asked me questions about my plan to die and mental health history. I was taken to a room and told to go to sleep, it was late then. I had a roommate who I didn’t meet until the next morning.

I can’t say I received the help I needed while I was there; the doctor, a man, was rude and condescending and told me I couldn’t go home until he talked to my husband (who was in Corpus Christi at the time). Once he talked to David, he said I could go. The whole experience was humiliating, and I hope to never repeat it.

I don’t mean to discourage those who are suffering to go an emergency room — please do so if you are in immediate danger of killing yourself. My bad experience doesn’t mean you’ll have one. My point, and I could go on and on, is that the way we treat the mentally ill MUST change.

But I regress. I’d like to say that was the last time I was suicidal, but it was not. When it does happen, I know to text my best friend, to call the Lifeline and to reach out to my husband. Most of the time, I’m about to tell myself that those feelings are temporary, and that they will pass, as painful as it us at that moment.

Being suicidal is the scariest thing I’ve ever gone through — I feel severe pain, I wrestle with the idea that I’d be leaving my kids and family, then I feel extreme guilt. The guilt just makes me feel more out on control. It’s awful. Let me be clear: I hope to never hurt my children, family and friends because I’ve killed myself. I love them more than anything, but when I become suicidal, I obviously am not thinking clearly. The only thing I truly feel is to end the pain. I don’t even want to die, but I do so long to end the pain.

That’s why I can’t stand when people say that those who die by suicide are selfish. They weren’t being selfish; they just wanted their anguish and pain to go away. And it’s completely understandable, having been in that position myself.

Again, that’s why we need to talk about this and expel the myths and misconceptions. We need to be able to discuss suicide like it’s any other topic, because too many are dying. What’s scary to me is that it’s the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. The CDC reports that someone dies by suicide ever 12 minutes. Even scarier is that more than half — 54 percent — of people who die by suicide have no known history of a mental disorder. This means that a lot of people are struggling, not disclosing they are struggling and killing themselves without reaching out. It comes from out of the blue. How incredibly tragic and painful.

So, let’s end the cycle. Let’s be open about mental illness and suicide and resist the taboo and social constraints that are clearly killing people. Because it’s only going to get worse, thanks to COVID-19 and the lasting effects of the virus.

It is beyond tragic when we lost someone to suicide; I imagine someone in crisis, feeling overwhelmed and in pain. It hurts me to think that one of their last thoughts may have been, “I’m alone. I am worthless. I’m better off dead.” And that they die not knowing how special and needed they are in this world. It’s painful to think about, but that’s what we must do in order to change things.

And we must change things.

If you are in crisis, please reach out. If someone reaches out to you, please be open and supportive. Offer to drive them to the emergency room, sit with them or give them the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Do your part. Show compassion. Give love and support.

That’s all I got.

*Instead of saying, “committed suicide,” please say, “die by suicide.” There’s a lot of judgement when you use words like commit and it implies that they are doing something wrong (like committing a sin) when really they’re sick and need medical attention.

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Dear Binge Eating Disorder,

I have to let you go. It has served me in the past to have you near, but I can no longer run to you to hide from my emotions. You and I lived together for many years, and I know you started out with good intentions, but I’m becoming another person, and those intentions are now holding me back from who I want and need to be.

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The person I want to become no longer needs a crutch, no longer needs a distraction and to hide from uncomfortable emotions. I have to sit with those feelings and grow into them.

Oddly enough, I appreciate you and everything you’ve done to protect me and help me. I know you tried hard to protect me, to give me comfort when I was in pain. You saw me through depression and anxiety. And so much more.

But things are so different now. You’re hurting me; I’m hurting me. Lately I’ve been turning to you everyday because things have been hard, and I’ve been struggling. It’s easy to turn my higher brain off and plan a binge. And so easy to enjoy the first few bites of food and forget what made me sad or mad in the first place. I love shoving food in my mouth — but wait, it’s not food I’m shoveling in, it’s my emotions. I can’t keep doing that.

I’ll miss the feeling I get when I binge, that high that makes me forget. I’ll miss the anticipation of a binge; the feeling that I’m about to feel happy and full.

But I won’t miss the pain that bingeing brings. The indigestion and guilt. Oh the guilt, is so strong and partnered with shame. I won’t miss the scale going up, up and up even though I’ve had weight loss surgery. I won’t miss hiding food from my family. I definitely won’t miss eating so much that I throw up (because my stomach is surgically smaller, or was).

As I write this, tears are streaming down my cheeks. There’s a huge part of me that doesn’t want to let go. You’ve been a security blanket to me. I always used you to feel safe and comforted and now it feels like I’m losing it all. Like we’re breaking up.

I’m scared. There’s so much fear inside me that I’ll never feel safe and comforted again — that you’re irreplaceable. But my higher brain tells me you’re not.

This is will be hard, and I will likely stumble along the way, but that’s OK. The need to be a new person propels me forward, whether I’m ready or not.

Again, I’m grateful to you because you helped me survive. I’m just not that person anymore. I’ve been surviving; now it’s time to thrive.

Goodbye, old friend. I wish you no ill will.

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This past week went by so fast. I can’t believe Thanksgiving is coming up. but I’m excited. I’m even more excited to go get a Hanukkah bush (Christmas tree) with the kids and decorate the house. This is my favorite time of the year, and I’m really enjoying the cooler weather and holiday vibes.

In other news, I’ve been working on a new website for the past year or so and it’s finally going live this coming week. It looks good; a lot better than my plain blog now. I’ll announce when it goes live so you guys can take a look.

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I’ve been struggling lately, but I’m confident that I can push through without getting an ECT. We’ll see. I’m really trying hard to heal right now. I’m examining my core beliefs and trying to shed that person I became to survive to become a stronger person. A new, better version of myself.

I hope you guys have a great Thanksgiving. Stay safe and healthy, and as always, stay in the light.

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Truth Hurts.

by Heather Loeb

Last week I received an award from NAMI Texas for portraying and advocating for mental illness. It was a huge honor of me, and I felt very validated. I think it was probably the best award I’ve ever received in all my life. But just days after winning, I was sobbing in my therapist’s office.

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I feel like I have overcome something — being suicidal and getting help for my terrible depression and anxiety. I feel like I give good advice in my columns and blogs. I feel like my hard work has been noticed and that people are listening. But I’m a far cry from the “badass” in my columns or the rockstar everyone in NAMI thinks I am. I don’t mean to sound conceited or like I’m bragging; I only mean to highlight the dichotomy between healthy me and not-so-healthy me.

I’ve never claimed that I’m totally fixed or anything. As a matter of fact, I talk about how another depressive episode is likely and that I’ll never be “cured.” But surely I can take my own advice as I’m penning my innermost thoughts. No, I definitely don’t practice what I preach.

You see, today, as I was sobbing in my therapist’s office, we determined it was because I wasn’t being honest with myself. It was like I’d never met the Heather in the paper and on my blog. Red flags warning of relapse were flying by me, but I couldn’t have told you one healthy thing to do to fix it. Except go to my therapist’s, so I guess that counts.

Giving into my eating disorder is me lying to myself. Taking too much anxiety medication is me lying to myself. Cutting, sleeping too much, isolating — it’s all a big fat lie I tell myself to get by. And it never works.

It’s just so goddamn painful being me sometimes that I will find any way I can to escape. So I do. But in the end it only hurts me and subsequently my friends and family.

My therapist says I have to sit with my feelings, in addition to being honest. I can’t just get uncomfortable and run (or overeat or get high). I have to sit there and explore what those feelings mean and find out who I really am. As I’m writing this, I’ve daydreaming of my next meal, or rather, what I can binge eat. That’ll make me feel good…for about five minutes.

I feel like a fraud. I feel like I’ve portrayed myself as a well-adjusted, healthy woman, but that’s just not the case. My journey with mental illness is far from over. Right now it’s very turbulent, and I might puke. It feels like I’ll never stop battling my demons.

I don’t know why it’s so painful being me, but I suspect it’s because I have a core belief that I’m not good enough, that I’m a bad person, and that fuels my compulsions and bad habits. I don’t know how to fix that though. I tell myself that I’m a good, worthy person, but it never seems to stick.

I’ve really got to dig deep right now and give myself some grace. I’m going to try meditating about my core beliefs. I’m going to try to dispel all the negative core beliefs and come up with new ones.

I can do this. I feel so close to a breakthrough, and it’ll be a long time coming. Before when I struggled with my anxiety and depression, I just accepted it and didn’t try to get better, not really. I would ignore all the demons in my head and pay the price of binge eating, abusing meds, etc. I’d cut myself, get new tattoos and compulsively shop. One months the credit card bill was over $10,000. Ludicrous.

It’s time I grow up, experience negative emotions and not ignore them. I have to get this right.

Because now it’s all wrong.

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Lately I’ve noticed that I’m starting to struggle mentally. It’s frustrating because I’ve been doing well and been very productive, but that all seems to be slipping away.

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I haven’t been eating a healthy diet, I haven’t kept up with my blog, I haven’t showered as much, and everything seems a more daunting and harder than usual. It’s frustrating for me because I feel like I’ve made so much progress. Sometimes I’m able to get so much done and now not so much.

It’s probably because I’ve been putting too much on my plate. I’ve been highly functional this past year, and I’ve tried to say yes to every new opportunity I have, but I’m starting to think it’s more important to say no. At least right now when I’m struggling.

Room mom at my son’s preschool? Yes.
Volunteer with NAMI Greater Corpus Christi? Yes.
Make mental health videos for my favorite state representative? Sure.
Become Communications Manager for NAMI GCC? Absolutely.

There’s a lot more, at least it’s a lot to me. I have to remember that while saying yes is good, I have to recognize my limitations. I can’t just do it all. My anxiety and depression are hard to manage, and I never know when it’s going to get worse, like now. I try to make hay while the sun shines, but it’s so much harder to do right now.

The only thing I can do is set boundaries — this is especially important now that the holidays are coming up, and it’s going to get more stressful. I need to be honest with myself, take breaks and focus on what I can do (in a healthy way).

I know these feelings I have are overwhelming now, but it’s just temporary. All the bad moods, anxiety and depressive episodes are all temporary. My true state is happy and productive even though it doesn’t feel like it at times. It’s OK to not be OK.

“Depression is like a bruise that never goes away. A bruise in your mind. You just got to be careful not to touch it where it hurts. It’s always there, though.”

― Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot

And right now, I’m just not OK.

Now’s the time to fall back on healthy habits I put in place while I did feel better: going to weekly therapy, taking all my medications, eating healthy, getting enough sleep, practicing self-care and asking for help when I need it. And taking breaks!

I have to put the work in, especially now. That’s hard to do when I just feel like giving up on everything, but I’ll never get better if I don’t do the work.

I can do this. I can do hard things. I’ve done them before, and this time is no different.

Stay in the light, my friends.

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Snake in the Grass

by Heather Loeb
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There are many things I’ve come to hate about depression in my 37 years. I hate how it steals joy out of your life, how bone tired you can be from doing the bare minimum and how long it takes for medications to help. But what I hate most is the sneaking. You feel like you’ve been making progress. You feel pretty good, actually. You sing and dance. You eat and enjoy your food. You enjoy your family and work. But depression is always lurking, a deft snake in the grass. I get too confident in my life and abilities then it happens. It’s a seemingly subtle shift, but you notice right away. You feel it. You loathe its presence in your body, the poison in your blood.

You break plans with your friends because you can’t get out of bed. You have to conserve your energy so you can do things like shower (if that’s even possible), brush your teeth and do your hair. You’re forced to take more breaks because your body can’t keep up. The guilt comes; you feel bad for being a different person than when you made plans with your friends or promised a deadline to your boss. You’re starting to realize that it’s only a matter of time before people see you for the fraud you are. You are only capable of naps now and languishing in a familiar pit of despair.

It’s hard to see that things will go back to normal. What, even, is normal at this point? Which part of you is the real you or the depressed you? It feels like it doesn’t matter. Maybe it doesn’t.

Your body starts to hurt, producing aches and pains all over. Your jaw and shoulders stay tense. You grind your teeth. It’s irritability that sometimes accompanies anxiety, depression’s very best friend. And it ain’t pretty. You snap at loved ones, roll your eyes, beep the horn. But you don’t know what you’re mad, not really anyway. You don’t know anything.

Except that you don’t think that you can’t handle another episode, that you’re just not strong enough.

I realize that it will get better. I know that depressive episodes are temporary. But it just makes me a bit sad that happy times are just as temporary as the bad ones, and it always seems like there are double the bad times.

I feel like I know true joy because I’ve experienced real pain. But must it be pain almost all the time?

Can I not catch a fucking break?

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Well, I’m a day later again, but I’ve just been so busy. It’s a good busy though.

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As I mentioned last week, I’ve joined the leadership team at NAMI Greater Corpus Christi as the Communications Manager. I’m in charge of newsletters, social media, and I’m trying to update the website a bit, but a web developer I am not.

This weekend is the NAMI Texas awards ceremony where I’ll virtually accept a media award (For accurately covering stories on mental health, reporting the injustices those with mental illnesses face, and sharing the successes in the mental health field). I’m pretty psyched about that and so grateful.

Otherwise I’m just counting down until Thanksgiving. We’ll be able to travel to Dallas to see my family this year because the kids are now vaccinated. I’m really psyched about that.

One other thing…I wanted to ask your help. If you’d like to see a certain mental health topic covered on my blog, please leave your idea in the comments. I want to make sure I’m providing helpful material that everyone is interested in — not just stuff about my life.

That does it for me. Have a great week, and stay in the light.

In case you missed it, here are the past week’s blogs:
Roll With It
Which Voice is Right?

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Roll With It

by Heather Loeb

Today my husband and I had a teacher conference about my 5-year-old son. It was no shock when the teacher said he’s fine academically, that she’s not worried about that department, but she did mention some behaviors that need to be corrected. For instance, Eli will walk around and get in the kids’ faces and annoy them. I mean, he does the same to me. He gets up a lot, doesn’t always finish his work and he rushes through everything.

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As soon as the teacher (who is amazing) started detailing these behaviors I knew where it was headed. A couple months ago I took Eli to be evaluated for his stutter. I got to stay in the room during the assessment and was stunned. Here he was in a classroom setting (minus the other kids) and he was squirming, not listening, playing with things he wasn’t supposed to, etc. The speech therapist made a note of it in her paperwork, and I remember thinking, “Wow, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was an ADHD diagnosis in his future.”

But I put it out of my mind until this morning.

I’m trying (as always) to not put the horse before the cart. We don’t know if he has ADHD. He’s 5 and lots of 5 year olds are like that. We have to do this one step at a time.

Having said that, it’s really hard for me not to catastrophize and assume he has it. Of course I Googled it and couldn’t help search for a correlation between kids with ADHD and parents with a mood disorder. There’s a link. For a moment tears gathered in my eyes. I felt like it was my fault, that genetics have wronged my kids. That I have wronged my kids with not only bad genes but also my behavior and parenting style which is dictated by my depression and anxiety.

I stopped Googling and then thought, “So the fuck what?”

ADHD — and any other mood/behavioral disorder — is not the end of the world. If my son does have it he might need behavioral therapy or medication. Also not a huge deal. We’ll do what we need to do, and it will be fine.

And aren’t I the queen of adapting? There was a time when I thought my life was over because of depression and anxiety., but here I am highly functional, volunteering my time, writing for the paper, and managing the kids and their activities. I’m a different person. I’m not cured; I’ll be living with depression, anxiety, a personality disorder and an eating disorder likely forever. But I roll with it. Any diagnosis he may receive doesn’t define him or ruin his life, just like mine don’t.

He’ll adapt (if he does have it), and I’ll adapt.

He’s still an amazing, loving and sweet boy, and I wouldn’t change anything about him. Not one thing. Through my mom glasses, he’s perfect. Perfectly imperfect.

So we’ll just roll with it and do the best we can do. That’s all anyone can do.

Note: I want to be clear that I don’t have any experience with ADHD and don’t mean to discount anyone’s feelings or experiences. I don’t mean to trivialize the diagnosis. These are merely my musings and do not reflect what it’s really like to live with a child with ADHD.

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“You don’t fit the mold,” my therapist told me.

I tried to ignore her statement, but I knew she was right.

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“You’re different now,” she continued. “It can be scary for people who live inside their own world and don’t stray far. It just scares them.”

I had spent half an hour complaining that I don’t get any acknowledgement for my work — my columns in the paper, working with NAMI Greater Corpus Christi, and the most difficult: the positive changes in my life since coming out of a depressive episode in 2019. It’s night and day, at least to me. I’m so grateful, and I want to make sure nobody else feels alone in their struggle, so now I talk non-stop about every aspect of my recovery. I’m sure my family and friends have felt weary listening at times. But scared? I don’t know about that.

Regardless, I have to keep talking.

I don’t do what I do for acknowledgement, but it feels like a slight with family or friends when they don’t bring it up or ask about it. A big slight. I take it personally, and I know I shouldn’t, but at times I obsess about it. Honestly, it makes me feel like I’m not good enough, even though I’ve worked very hard to get where I am.

I’ve never felt good enough. But some part of me must think I am because I marvel at the depressed, anxious person I was just three years ago. I’m highly functional now — I can volunteer at my kids’ schools, go to lunches with friends, work, write, practice self-care on top of everything else. I’ve proven I can do hard things. Yet…there’s that deep-seated nagging feeling that makes me feel rejection, hurt, confused and angry. And poof! The visual of myself stronger and happier vanishes from my thoughts.

My anxiety and Avoidance Personality Disorder no doubt stokes this fire, but where did it come from? I guess that doesn’t really matter, does it?

It’s there, and likely always will be unless I do an exorcism of these thoughts, and for that, you have to put in the work with honesty, therapy and introspection. Who has time for that?

What I need to remember is that my worth isn’t tied to anyone’s opinion, no matter what. I need to tell myself every day I can do hard things — that I’ve done hard things. That I crawled my way back from the darkest pits of despair. At one point, I thought that I was just biding time until I killed myself. I slept all day. I engaged in self-mutilation and abused my medication. I lied to get narcotics from the doctor. I wanted to feel anything but the awful pain I was in.

That’s not me anymore.

I am more than my worst mistakes and moments. I wake up at 5 a.m. I take care of my kids and husband. I work to spread awareness about mental illness. I take my medications, I see my therapist weekly, and I do the work, even when it’s hard. I can see my transformation reflecting in my family’s eyes.

I made it. I lived. I survived.

So it makes me wonder if the reason I get so upset at my loved ones’ apathy is not because it’s painful but because I deep down I “know” I’m not good enough — that I’ve put up a farce. That I’m not worthy of their love.

Once again my brain is telling me conflicting things. And it’s scary when there’s such dichotomy in those thoughts. I mean, who do I listen to?

More importantly, which one is right?

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