Author

Heather Loeb

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Growth.

by Heather Loeb

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a fundraiser for Beto O’Rourke. I listened to him speak (very eloquently, I might add), and I even raised my hand during the Q&A and asked him two questions about mental health. Then I asked him if we could talk privately later. It didn’t seem weird to me then, but later as we were leaving, David commented, “I’m proud of you for asking questions. There was a time where you wouldn’t have done that.” There was a time, where I wouldn’t have left David’s side at the fundraiser, but I made the rounds, chatting people up with David no where in sight. Hell, there was a time when I would’ve begged to stay home, lost that battle, and just been miserable the whole time.

I sat there and thought about this all the way home. What was different? I definitely had social anxiety back then…where did it go? It does take me a minute to warm up to new people, but not like before. Did all those ECTs rattle my social anxiety out of me? Or maybe it’s the Adderall? Although it’s no miracle drug.

Maybe it’s because I have something to say. I have lots to say. And I’m proud of myself for all that I do. I’m passionate about it. I love talking about mental health, my columns, blogs and work with NAMI GCC. It sets my soul on fire. But at the same time…wasn’t I interesting before I started my blog and everything else fell into place? I hate to admit this, because I truly don’t believe this way, but was I embarrassed that I was a stay at home mom? That can’t be it, because that’s literally the hardest thing I’ve ever done (when the kids were smaller). It was soooo hard, and I admire any mom who does it. Obviously, I couldn’t do it, I ended up in a mental hospital.

As I’m writing this, I think I know what happened — freedom. The phoenix rose inside of me. There’s a prose poem that I feel in my core:

“Some nights the wolf inside me shrinks to nothing, she bares her teeth and runs away. The dragon in my chest rejects me, she’s so tired of being slain. There are nights when the lioness cowers, says she can’t fight it another day…”

“What about the phoenix?”

“She sits with me in the darkness. She whispers ‘we’ll rise. Just you wait.'”

/ srwpoettry
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I feel I have risen. That my soul is pouring out of me (in a good way). That I’m free. I no longer fit in any kind of box anyone has ever tried to put me in, and that feels amazing. So amazing. I’m freer than I’ve ever been. That’s where my social anxiety went — it was erased by self-confidence and not giving a crap what others think. Although I still get hurt when certain friends/family hurt my feelings, so I guess I still care what some people think. Hey, I’m not perfect.

All that said, I’m proud of myself. I’m proud that I asked a candidate for Texas Governor questions. I’m proud that I bare myself in my Caller-Times columns and in my blog. I’m super proud that that I do speaking engagements even though it scares the utter sh*t out of me. And I’ll keep doing all this, not because it benefits me, but because it helps others. That’s all I ever wanted to do when I wrote that first blog in 2018.

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The Snooze Button

by Heather Loeb

Ever since the pandemic started, my son began rising at 5 a.m., which meant I was rising at 5 a.m. He has since stopped doing that for the most part, but not I. Now I get up between 4 and 5 a.m., and I love it. I enjoy the silence, sipping my first Diet Coke of the morning in peace and making my breakfast before anybody gets up. I don’t like to be rushed at all.

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And I don’t usually have a problem getting up; I normally get up before the alarm, bounce out of the bed and go. But the past couple of weeks it has been awful. I sleep through the alarm, I snooze until the last minute then I wake up and rush around and bark orders at the kids when really we’re not late, we’re just not on my meandering schedule. And I feel like each limb is 20 pounds. I don’t put on a cute outfit, I just reach for leggings and a sloppy top, which I told myself I wouldn’t do anymore.

I don’t know what gives. During the day I take one to two small naps, and my usual Adderall does little to help. I can’t even make it to 8 or 9 p.m. I know I probably need to call my doctor to get my thyroid or B12 checked — those have been culprits in the past — but I say I’m going to do it and don’t.

Sigh, I don’t even have the energy to finish this blog.

Sorry, friends. I hope y’all are well.

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Pump My Brakes

by Heather Loeb

NAMI had an event last night, and I’ll admit, I was riled up. I don’t think in a bad way; I just get excited, talk fast and get a little high strung. I think I’m probably always high strung, but I’m ok with that.

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I didn’t feel stressed at all — I was speaking at the event, and I wasn’t in charge of anything except our stuffed llama and his accessories (that’s another story for another time). Well, I had misplaced his accessories and started asking my cohorts if they had seen the llama’s accoutrements. One of my buddies helped me look, and after finding them, he said he could teach me some strategies to decrease my anxiety.

I didn’t even feel anxious, but perhaps I was. I told my cohort that I did have ways to help me calm down and that I appreciated the offer. He told me to visualize my mind as a garden. That you can’t help what grows there, such as weeds, but you can pull the weeds out and keep you garden looking good. He said it a lot more eloquently.

I loved that.

And he’s not the first one to suggest I’m too anxious.

So maybe what I think is baseline for me is really a bit much for others. Granted I had taken my Adderall late in the day yesterday, but still. The point is maybe I should pump my brakes and keep a tighter hold on anxiety. Or loosen my grip?

I’ve never had a “green thumb” but it sounds like my garden could use some weeding.

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Recently I posted on Facebook about this, but I think it merits a blog. I came across some papers from the Menninger Clinic as I was cleaning my sunroom the other day, and they threw me for a loop. The papers were test results I had taken shortly after I arrived at the hospital. We had to take a lot of tests. They tested my quality of life, which was at 25 percent, physical disability caused by my depression/anxiety at 48 percent and cognitive function at 33 percent. My memory was at 3 percent, which was the most shocking. I guess being on all that medication and abusing my anxiety meds really screwed me up. My memory just got worse after the ECTs if you can believe it.

I felt so many emotions as I cradled these papers. I was heartbroken that I let myself get that bad but elated that I’ve come so far. I’m certain my quality of life has improved, somewhere in the 90s, I’d say and my disability is near non-existent. I still get migraines and sometimes I have bad days, but overall I get out of bed every morning and get on that grind. It’s amazing what I can do now.

  • Run my Unruly Neurons blog
  • Write a column for the Caller-Times
  • Make #MentalHealthMonday videos for State Rep. Todd Hunter
  • Work as the Communications Manager at NAMI Greater Corpus Christi
  • Sit on the board at JCC
  • Be a member of State Rep. Todd Hunter’s Suicide Prevention Task Force
  • Join NAMI Texas’ State Advocacy Networking Team
  • Regular contributor to the national NAMI blog
  • Do public speaking

Plus, I have two kids, lol. That takes up quite a bit of my time. And my husband.

It may seem like I’m bragging, but I’m just amazed. I look at this list and know that I couldn’t do that four years ago. But I’m doing it now, and I’m so proud of myself. Yes, that’s it. I’m just so proud of myself. I’ve done it — I’m in recovery. I’ve made it to the other side, with help from my support system, of course.

All these good things keep happening to me, and it’s unbelievable to me sometimes. I can’t help but think when is the other shoe going to drop. And maybe it won’t. Maybe I deserve these good things. That’s hard to admit. All I know is that I’m grateful, so grateful.

I get to do what I love and love what I do — help others. I didn’t have a lot of help when I was first diagnosed, and I don’t want anyone to feel alone on their mental health journey.

I’m always here. And I mean that.

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The outfit I wore but not the day of the photoshoot. My hair looked a lot better, lol

Some pretty cool things happened to me last week, but I can’t talk about the coolest one. I guess I can, I just can’t tell you what it was for. Anyway, I did a photo shoot for something coming up, and it was so awesome. I wore my hot pink blazer and a pink shirt with blue birds all over it and my hair looked fantastic for once. The photographer was so nice, and I warmed up to her immediately. Come back in October and find out what I’m talking about. Actually, come back every day, but definitely in October, lol.

My husband got some good news — he’s been running for the Board of Regents for Del Mar College and we found out Friday that he has no opponent, that’s amazing news. Because of that, we’re going to take the kids to Disney in October or November before the election. I’ve never been and now we’ll have a little more money not being used for the campaign.

Even though there is good news flying around, I have been struggling a bit. This weekend I couldn’t stop sleeping. I did remember that I’ve missed one or two B12 shots, so I need to take care of that Monday. But I’ve just felt off and zapped of energy. Today I’m feeling better, but I do have a case of the Sunday blues. We just came home from the movies, and that did help a bit — it was hilarious…I think it was called the League of Super Pets. The kids loved it. But hopefully after my shot of B12 tomorrow and a ketamine treat later this week, I’ll be feeling lots better because next week I have a lot of NAMI stuff going on, and I need to be 100 percent. Or somewhat close to that.

That about does it for me.

I hope y’all have a great week coming up. And as always, stay in the light

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I’m a slob. A big one. I try to fight it, I really do, but I always slip back into my slovenly ways. I don’t want to be a slob; it actually stresses me out to have a messy house and clutter everywhere, but I just can’t muster the strength to do better. And I’m not even in a full-blown depressive episode.

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It’s not that I’m lazy — there’s a little of that, too — it’s that I only have so much energy, and I’d rather not allot that energy to cleaning my home (at this time). Maybe soon I’ll have enough time and energy to clean. It’s what I talked about when I blogged about the Spoon Theory. I have only so many spoons each day, and I have to save them to function. For the most part I save them for getting up in the morning, taking care of the kids, hygiene, making/cooking meals for the kids, my mental health advocacy and relationship with my husband, family and friends. That takes up a lot, even if it doesn’t seem like it. Everything takes a lot when you have depression. And anxiety. And a personality disorder. And, hell, an eating disorder.

It’s a full-time job being mentally ill.

But the thing is…I can’t stand it when the house is messy, which is 99% of the time. I even have a housekeeper who comes four days a week, but as soon as she leaves, my family *exists* and clutter starts forming in every corner. My housekeeper can only do so much. As it is now, she can only tidy up the clutter on the countertops and work around it. Don’t get me wrong — she still cleans the house, but she can’t fix the mess we’ve accumulated. That’s our job, and we suck at it super bad. It makes me anxious and stressed.

And guilty. Even my car is cluttered. If you open the doors, sometimes trash or random items fly out. So embarrassing.

As it turns out, it’s not unusual for people with depression to be messy. An article in PsychCentral.com says when you’re depressed, it’s hard to take care of yourself and get things done. I totally agree, but here’s the thing: I’m not experiencing a depressive episode right now. Or maybe I am. A small one. I’m still capable of a lot and have some energy. But some things are hard. I guess I am experiencing some hallmarks of depression:

  • decreased energy
  • fatigue
  • lack of interest
  • feeling overwhelmed

BUT before I finished this blog, I totally cleaned out my closet and arranged my clothes by type and color coded everything according to the rainbow. It took a long time and a lot of effort. It made me feel better and want to work on other rooms in the house, but it’s so daunting.

Even though it can be stressful to have clutter everywhere, Verywellmind.com says this: “…There is research that supports the idea that messiness also has an upside. Kathleen Vohs, Ph.D., and her fellow researchers did a series of experiments on the psychology of messiness. They found that while working in an orderly room encouraged behaviors such as generosity and healthy eating, working in a messy environment actually led to greater creativity.” And that Albert Einstein was known for a messy desk.

Maybe I’m a creative genius. There are times when the mess doesn’t bug me. I just can’t figure out which part of me doesn’t mind the mess or hates it.

The Verywellmind.com article ended with this, “If you function fine in a messy room, then don’t let trends pressure you into pursuing a more organized or minimalistic lifestyle. However, if the messiness is something that causes you stress or if you suspect it might be a symptom of an underlying psychological problem, consider steps you can take to address the issue.”

Maybe I have a depressed personality and a non-depressed personality. I guess I need to find a way to merge the two.

Although if I were less messy, my father would complain a lot less, lol.

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A friend asked me to send her a link of my articles regarding anxiety and what helps. I quickly did a search for my columns at the Caller-Times, but I noticed that 1. there weren’t many and 2. I didn’t give any advice about what to do, I just talked about what it was.

I did write more blogs about it, so I sent those. But it made me think — I still don’t have a handle on my anxiety. It has been three years since leaving the Menninger Clinic yet I have few ideas on how to cope, even for myself.

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As of now, I’ll do some deep breathing or box breathing. I’ll take some anxiety meds (which usually help very little). I’ll talk to my husband or a friend about what I’m feeling. I’ll get under my weighted blanket, which honestly feels the best — when an anxiety attack occurs, I often feel like my insides are trying to get outside of my body. Weird, I know. I digress. A lot of times, I’ll slip and overeat on snacks or candy. That would be an unhealthy coping skill. I used to get weekly massages, but now I don’t. I haven’t seen a difference in anxiety levels.

Even if some combination of these things helps, it doesn’t make it go away completely. And the anxiety always comes back. Most people think it’s just everyday worries, but it’s not like that. It’s often worst-case scenarios that get trapped in my brain and intrusive thoughts that I can’t control. I counter them by praying over and over to the point where it gets obsessive. I’ll try to distract myself. It’s hard. And depression is hard, too. I am in no way saying it’s easy, but at least I get relief from the crushing sadness, fatigue and apathy. I never get a break from anxiety.

And if you Google tips on coping with anxiety, you get some annoying answers. I say annoying, because while these tips do help some, they don’t help someone like me who does them anyway and who has a severe anxiety disorder.

For example:

  • Get enough sleep
  • Exercise
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Maintain a positive attitude
  • Try yoga
  • Watch for triggers

I guess we get the same trite answers because nobody knows how to really help — and again, I’m talking about people with severe anxiety, not those with day-to-day worries (not that I’m discounting them either).

So really all I know that helps in the moment in my weighted blanket. But the problem with that is I’m not always home when anxiety strikes. Breathing helps, too. Sometimes singing at the top of my lungs in the car helps. Oh, and bingeing on my favorite shows. I’ve watched them all 100 times. The familiarity is comforting. Nothing new is going to surprise me. It’s just the same old characters doing the same old things. That may seem sad to you, but it’s calming.

I gotta do what I gotta do.

It’s just that sometimes that’s not enough.

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Recently I was in a meeting, a mental health-related meeting, and an attendee was talking about his substance use disorder. He did so openly — as he should — and it got me thinking…Why don’t I talk about mine?

I’m so open about my other mental health conditions, but I tend to ignore my substance use disorders (for the most part). I did write a column about it months ago, but that’s about it.

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But this man made me want to be more open.

So here it is — I have two substance abuse disorders: Opioid Use Disorder (Moderate) and Sedative, Hypnotic and Anxiolytic Use Disorder (Moderate). The last one means I was abusing benzodiazepines.

This was not a good time in my life, obviously. I had not recovered from postpartum depression. I had two kids under 2 years old, and I didn’t have a lot of mom friends. The women I did know with children that age didn’t seem to be suffering like I was. I tried to be like a close family member who is a wonderful, active and caring mom, always on the go, but I couldn’t keep up. My depression was a crushing weight and even worse was my anxiety. I talked to my psychiatrist, but he (wrongly) told me I couldn’t breastfeed and take antidepressants or meds for anxiety. So I stopped breastfeeding, another disappointment wrapped in guilt. But that I mean I could take antidepressants and anxiety medication, benzodiazepines. Honestly, those never really helped cope with my anxiety, they just made me feel numb. My anxiety would be waiting for me shortly after the high wore off. I took more and more to ward my worries and emotional pain away.

Now, the opioids. During my pregnancy, I had to limit the number of migraine pills I could take for the baby’s safety. My migraines still came though, so my doctor told me I could get a narcotic shot to help with the pain, which I did and it helped. The only problem is that I kept going back for shots after I had my babies. And when I had a “mommy makeover” years down the line, I abused the pain medicine I was given, even asking for a refill because the “pain was too bad.” I flat out can’t be trusted around anybody’s pain medicine, frankly. Even now.

Finally I got tired of it all.

I’ve never seen any life transformation that didn’t begin with the person in question finally getting tired of their own bullshit.

Writer Elizabeth Gilbert

I told my husband what was really going on. We had tried multiple treatments and doctors at this point, and my best friend had recommended we go to the Menninger Clinic in Houston. So I did. I stayed for six weeks. I’m glad I did — in hindsight, I should’ve stayed longer and dealt with my eating disorder and honed my coping skills, but here I am.

I’m not embarrassed about these substance use diagnoses, but these are harder to admit to (stigma). My husband says I’m an addict, but I don’t feel that way. I don’t spend time thinking about opioids or benzos. I don’t feel addicted. I don’t go to meetings, but if a bottle of pain meds somehow arrived at my house, I would take the pills, and take more than I should. I don’t know why. My therapist says I’m always trying to escape, which is weird to me because now I love my life and appreciate it more than I ever have because I’m in recovery and I can recognize that. But I guess my demons have really never gone away. And they likely never will. Odds are I’ll have depressive episodes and anxiety for life. I’m not being negative; those are truly the odds based on my diagnoses.

I guess I’m so used to wanting to escape from depression/anxiety it has now become a habit.

Maybe things will change and start coming up Heather.

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School starts next Tuesday. My son’s birthday party is this Saturday. My daughter’s birthday party is next month, and even though I have prepared from these things (like a doomsday prepper), I feel my chest tighten, a heavy feeling in my stomach and my face is contorting this very minute. I don’t need a mirror to see the frown lines, pursed mouth and concerned eyes.

School is exciting! It means I get to go back to my routine — I can’t say that I care for summer’s willy nilliness. The kids won’t be hanging around the houses stating that they’re bored, running my phone battery down, leaving snacks everywhere as well as trails of clothes and mess wherever they go. I should be looking forward to this. But I guess I’ve gotten use to the “routine” of summer. Anytime mine is changed, it’s stressful, even when I prefer the school routine. Even thought I know it’s better for me.

I guess it’s just my anxiety, acting like my brain’s hype man when really my brain could do without.

That’s why the kids and I took a last minute trip to see my parents at their lake house. And it’s been so fun, but now we’re getting ready to leave on Thursday, and I’ll be sad to leave and I’ll have to jump into party planning mode for Eli’s party on Saturday. This year he wanted to go to Jumping World, which stresses me out a bit. I’ve never hosted a party there, and his parties always fall right before school, so I’m afraid none of his friends are going to come. I know it will be fine, but my anxiety never takes a break. Ever.

But he’ll have friends there. He’ll have fun. His cake is a Pokemon cake, and he has lots of gifts (from me and his dad). He’ll be so happy. That’s what’s important. Then next week, he’ll start his final year at JCC, his Kindergarten year. (I’m not tearing up, I just have something in my eyes). It’ll be great. *sniff, sniff*

I think what I need to do is take one day at a time. I’ve obviously prepared from school and the kids’ parties, but worrying about each event is not getting me anywhere. So, first up…Eli’s party. I need to wrap gifts and get the goody bags ready, which will be a cinch.

One day at a time. So really, I just need to worry —think—about today. This afternoon we’re going to a fun park where they have a carousel, bumper cars and games. Maybe slamming into my kids in a bumper car will relieve some of this stress.

Sounds pretty good to me. Maybe I need a “fun park” in my backyard…

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I always hated going back to school and leaving summer vacation behind. I would get anxious about the new year, wondering what friends I’d have in my class and which teacher I’d get. And I would worry about hypothetical tests and projects that I just knew I’d get bad grades on. There was such a heaviness when school rolled around, erasing all the chill I had acquired that summer.
I can’t imagine what it’s like as a kid now. They’re dealing with so much more: the pandemic, trauma of frequent school shootings and increased bullying. It’s scary, and it’s something that none of our generations has seen before.
So here’s what I’m going to do with my soon-to-be second grader and Kindergartener to help with the transition. I hope it helps our collective mental health.

  1. We’re going to get back into our school routine, i.e. waking up earlier, getting dressed first thing and eating breakfast right away
  2. Talk about what’s making them nervous. Both of my kids have new teachers this year, so I know that’s a source of anxiety. We can talk about that and anything else that’s bothering them.
  3. Empathize with my kids. Whatever it is that’s causing anxiety, I need to listen and show empathy. I’ll try not to brush off their feelings, instead I’ll validate their worries and concerns.
  4. I’ll encourage my kids to talk about their fears or how their day went. I’ll also give them tips on self-care (healthy self-care and coping skills) and how it can help their stress levels.
  5. I’ll be present. When my kids get home, I’ll push my work aside, put my phone away and concentrate on them. They may want alone time to decompress, but they will know that I’m available and there.

Signs of Anxiety in Kids (www.verywellfamily.com)

  • Appear more clingy than normal
  • Be restless and fidgety
  • Complain of stomachaches
  • Display changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Express negative thoughts or worries
  • Get upset or angry more quickly
  • Have bouts of unexplained crying
  • Struggle to concentrate

To learn more about kids and mental health, please visit the NAMI.org website.

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