Unruly Neurons Celebrates 200th Blog Post

My last blog post (read it here) was officially my 200th blog post since I created it in 2018. I didn’t write much when I first started; I have the pandemic to thank for posting regularly and getting into a groove. And it’s led to me being a regular guest columnist at the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, one of my dreams come true.

Thank you so much for reading, leaving comments and sharing my blogs. I’m so grateful to each one of you who has aided in the small successes of this site.

I created Unruly Neurons after fashion icon Kate Spade killed herself in June 2018. Her sister gave an interview saying that Kate suffered with depression and didn’t want to seek help or speak out because she was afraid of hurting her brand. Something inside me just snapped, so I started writing Op-Ed pieces on mental health to the Caller, not knowing that within a year I would be in a mental hospital for six long weeks.

When I came back from the Menninger Clinic in August 2019, I was a bit embarrassed at first then realized that I had to talk about it. I had to be honest in my struggles and in my journey. I was hoping to free myself from the shame and silence depression and my other mental disorders had bred inside me, but it wasn’t just about me either. So many of you reached out to me, confiding that you suffered and how my writing helped you feel less alone.

If I never do anything else in my life, that’s OK. Knowing my blog helped someone, even just one person, is enough for me.

I’m proud of the work I’m doing, and I know it’s been good therapy for me to vent and talk to others going through the same thing. So thank you — all of you.

If you’re not quite ready to talk openly about depression (and other mental disorders) that’s OK. I know you’re brave and a survivor because that’s what mental illness is — a battle with yourself every single day, and it’s so hard! I just want you to know you’re not alone.

I’m going to keep writing, because I’m still battling my demons, too.

Unruly Neurons By the Numbers:
– 12,500 blog views
– 8,246 visitors to the UN site
– 200 posts
– Most viewed post: Emotional Pain
– 31,897 words

All the Versions of Me, Heather Loeb

There are many versions of me: depressed me, anxious me, on-the-ball me, manic me and happy me, just to name a few.

My moods and energy are always changing and sometimes volatile.

But there’s something bothering me: I now have to cope with actions the other Heathers have done. For instance, when I’m depressed or anxious, I have certain compulsions that (temporarily) make me feel better, such as overeating or shopping. I do these things knowing I’m not supposed to, but when I’m feeling blue I can’t — or don’t — always control it, which causes problems with my husband and is very unhealthy.

Right now, I’m on the ball Heather, and I wake up energized, exercise, brush my teeth (a big feat), make plans with friends, cook, etc. Basically, I do everything I don’t always have the mindset or energy to do. I like on-the-ball Heather. I wish she stuck around all the time, instead of a couple weeks. But I shouldn’t complain; it’s better than being depressed for sure.

So this week I’ve been worried about money — I’m (supposed to be) on a spending hiatus. I know I’ve blown my budget on my credit card (thanks, depressed Heather). And I started exercising this week — yay! — but I’m mad that I have all this extra weight caused by bingeing and eating junk. I first blamed the pandemic, but things are getting better now; there’s no need to stuff my face until I’m uncomfortably full. While we’re not out of the woods, the hardest part is over (I hope).

Even when I feel great, like right now, I still have these compulsions but it’s easier to fight them. I”m able to access logic and self-control which is hard to come by, but it’s a reminder that my depression and anxiety are always lurking. Eventually, I need to consolidate these versions of me, but right now I don’t know how to do that. For me depression and its comorbidities are going to be a life-long struggle. But that’s OK. I’m a faithful student of learning how to cope, and I will never give up the fight. And that’s exactly what it is — a battle where often I’m at a disadvantage to my brain and its misfiring neurons. That’s OK, too. I’ll get there. I’ll keep learning and working on my defensive skills.

I will win the war, if not the battles.

Thanks for reading. Stay in the light.

Like what you read? Catch my mental health column in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times and read my previous posts here.

In a Nutshell: My Week in Review

I haven’ written one of these updates in a while; I’ve gotten off my normal posting schedule since starting my column in the Caller-Times. Which reminds me, the Caller does a “Best of the Best” contest where people can vote for their favorite Mexican restaurant, etc. There’s a category for Best Columnist, so if you have please take a moment and write my name under the Media category.

A few weeks ago, my oldest graduated Kindergarten, and they had an amazing graduation. I’m now buying new clothes, shoes and school supplies for her new school. I know I have a couple of months, but I like to be prepared. She’ll be a first grader at the gifted/talented school, so we’re all excited.

During the summer we’re going to visit some museums in Houston and probably visit my parents in Dallas. No major plans. I am, however, really looking forward to the Olympics, which start in July.

After school starts in August, I’m thinking about having a hysterectomy. I don’t love the idea of it (because of the anesthesia), but I think it’s the best decision. If you have any experiences you’d like to share, drop them in the comments.

That’s about it in my world. I hope y’all are doing well, and as always, thanks for reading!

Stay in the light.

Love, Heather

10 Bad Habits of a Depressed/Anxious Person

Let me preface this blog by stating these are my experiences only – not all depressed people are the same, nor do they experience depression/anxiety in the same way.

When I first wrote this blog I didn’t have a problem with the title but now I do. Labeling the following as “bad habits” implies to me that these actions can be prevented but these things are uncontrollable side effects of depression and anxiety.

So let me say, “10 Things That (Almost) Every Depressed/Anxiety Person Does”

1. Cancels plans – I cancel plans a lot, and I feel really bad about it. When I’m feeling good I reach out to my loved ones and make plans but when the time comes my mood and demeanor have changed. It feels physically impossible to hang out, especially if it’s in public. My depression/anxiety is so unpredictable, and because of this, it makes it hard for me to maintain some friendships.

2. Sleeps too much – When I’m in a depressive episode I can’t get enough sleep. Mostly because I feel extreme fatigue, but I also don’t want to be awake much because it’s too much work. I get overwhelmed, and it’s painful to be awake, so I go to sleep early and take naps during the day. This is a problem because it can intensify things like obesity, headaches and backaches. You miss out on things, and it’s just not healthy. It’s definitely not a long-term coping strategy.

3. Isolates – As I mentioned earlier, when you’re depressed it’s so much effort to be awake and functioning. This includes socializing with family and friends. Even texting seems hard, so it’s easy to just withdraw but this too is dangerous. Feeling alone can increase feelings of depression — mainly loneliness and despair — which could lead to suicidal thoughts.

4. Neglects personal hygiene – Sadly, this is a huge problems for me. For a long time, I could only shower once a week. I also have trouble brushing my teeth. It seems silly because these tasks don’t seem hard but if you’re depressed, they’re an impossible task. I would feel gross, slovenly and even worse about myself.

5. Overuses drugs and alcohol – I abused my anxiety meds because I wanted to feel anything but the pain and discomfort depression and anxiety were making me feel. So I took pills to feel loopy and out of it. This obviously doesn’t aid in recovery of depression, and it can kill you. Using anything to numb the pain is dangerous, whether it’s prescription meds, drugs or alcohol. If you’re struggling with substance abuse, please reach out to your doctor.

6. Dissociates – I just wrote a blog abut this, check it out here. Dissociation is common to those who have depression. It’s one way the mind copes with too much stress or trauma. Experiences of dissociation last hours or days. That feeling that I’m detached from my body is why I like to binge eat or take pills — it’s just a feeling of escape. It doesn’t happen often with me, but I totally understand why.

7. Doesn’t eat enough or eats too much – I have Binge Eating Disorder, where I eat until I’m uncomfortably or painfully full but don’t purge. Overeating like that isn’t much different from me abusing medication — I just want to feel “good” for awhile. The problem with bingeing is that I only temporarily feel good. The aftermath and effects are terrible, but I seem to forget this when I’m bingeing.

8. Snaps at loved ones – Sometimes anxiety can manifest as anger or rage. I didn’t know that until recently. When I start snapping at my husband or yelling at the kids, I know it’s my “check engine” light coming on and I need to take a break or practice self-care.

9. Overthinks – This is called rumination, and it’s hard to stop. I’ll get a thought in my head or replay a scenario and think about it for hours, even days. It’s hard to control, and it causes me to feel shame and guilt. Believe me, I don’t need anymore of those.

10. Worries too much about the future – Sometimes I’ll get caught up on the future. I’ll worry excessively about it (and even ruminate), even though I know it’s irrational to do so. Mainly, I’ll think about finances or my husband dying. It’s unpleasant and just causes more anxiety. This is also hard to control.

Any others you can think of? Leave them in the comments.

Home, Sweet Home

This morning I woke up in my parents’ lake house in Mabank. The kids and I stayed 10 days with my parents and later my brother’s family.

Once I woke up I had just one thing in mind: get home. It’s about seven hours to Corpus Christi where my husband, cats and lizard await. It’s not an easy trip, especially going home. Driving up the kids were excited and they behaved because the reward at the end of the trip was seeing my parents. On the way home, they were sad and grumpy, even though they admitted they missed home.

I was sad and grumpy, too. I hate leaving my parents and my brother’s family, especially my parents. We haven’t seen them as much as usual because of Covid. I spent more than a week with them yet I still felt I didn’t get enough time.

There’s never enough time.

But we had to leave today, so I left one home for another. It breaks my heart every time. I cringed as I told the kids we were headed home because it feels like the lake house is home.

I love spending time with my family and when I visit them, I feel happy and sad. Happy because I enjoy being with them but I also feel so out of place. I’ve had to build a life in Corpus Christi, and I’ve worked hard at it, for me and my kids. I’ve had to detach a bit from my (Dallas) friends and family so I could survive without them. And it’s hard. So hard. I hate being away from everyone, but I love my life in Corpus.

What I’m discovering is that there will always be a piece of me in Dallas.. The past 10 days were so nice, even when we weren’t doing anything. I loved taking drives with my dad in the passenger seat, even though we didn’t speak much. I loved eating my mother’s famous chocolate cake. I really loved seeing my kids play with their cousins. It makes the seven hour drives worth it. All the conflicting feelings I feel are put aside when I see how happy Isla and Eli are. They’re making memories that they’ll hopefully cherish when they’re adults. I have nothing but fond memories of spending time with my Mema and cousins.

When I walked into my house today I couldn’t help but cry because it wasn’t my mother’s house, but that’s OK. I miss them. I’ll always miss them, but I live in Corpus for a reason. I’m meant to be here raising kids and being with my husband. That doesn’t take away from how I feel about my parents and my other home.

And that’s OK. I can have two homes. My heart is big enough, I think.

Sense of Loss

A friend of mine came to visit this past week, one I’d met while at the Menninger Clinic. While we were catching up, I learned that he had been great since our six-week stint at the psychiatric facility. I was happy, for sure. When you suffer with a mental disorder, you wish only happiness on your brethren going through the same. But something started to nag at me. I heard him say that he’s off some of the medication the hospital had prescribed and doesn’t need to go to therapy any longer….and there it was. A sense of loss.

I’m so happy that things are going well for my friend but damn I get upset thinking how the doctors told me my diagnoses — yes, there was more than one (more than five actually) — were likely to be lifelong. And even after having more than 30 ECT treatments, I still need them on a regular basis, whereas most people only do a couple of maintenance treatments a year, if that.

I still need to be monitored closely by a psychiatrist and will need to do weekly therapy for God knows how long. I don’t pretend to know what my friend goes through, if things are ever hard for him, but they sure as shit are still hard for me. I know I’m better than I was, that I’ve made improvements, but I feel so much loss when contemplating my depression and anxiety. It has taken so much from me.

And it’s OK for me to say that. It’s OK for me to think that way. Most of the time, it doesn’t bother me, and I shouldn’t compare my life to others’ anyway. But it’s OK to feel — and even mourn — that loss. As a mother, I’ll always have limitations. Hell, as a human being, I have limitations — we all do. I’ve lost so many memories (thanks to ECT). I’ve lost time to my illness. No matter what I might’ve gained from having depression, I’ve still lost so much.

But no worries. I still subscribe to sunshine and good thoughts in the grand scheme of things. But I believe in being honest with myself, too. And stewing. Sometimes it can give you new perspective when you stew in negativity or just realistic thoughts. You tend to grow more too, which I’m all about. There’s no growth if you can’t get uncomfortable from time to time.

And even though I’m constantly trying to avoid being uncomfortable, I end up feeling that more than anything else which gives me hope that I’ll outgrow it all. And maybe I will.

Maybe it’ll be OK if I don’t.

You Might Have Anxiety If…

Anxiety presents differently in people, so my list may be different from yours and that’s OK. There are also different anxiety disorders that I didn’t mention: generalized anxiety disorder (me), social anxiety disorder (also me), panic disorder and separation anxiety. You can have more than one, unfortunately. Everyone at some point experiences anxiety, but you need to seek help if it’s significantly interfering with your life.

This list is supposed to be lighthearted, but anxiety is serious and can make life difficult to get through the day. If you are struggling with anxiety or depression, please contact your primary care doctor, find a therapist, join a support group or talk to a trusted friend. You’re not alone.

Do you have anything to add to this list? Drop it in the comments. Stay in the light, my friends.

Please note that I am not a medical doctor and cannot diagnose anxiety through this blog.

Signs That I’m Slipping Into a Depressive Episode

Up until a couple years ago I thought that if you were depressed it meant being sad all the time. Now, I know that if you have major depressive disorder, your depression comes in waves or depressive episodes. Like right now, I’m not experiencing one but I’m still depressed because it’s a chronic condition. It can be confusing but below you’ll find out what it’s like (for me) to experience a depressive episode.

  1. My anxiety manifests as anger — I recently discovered that anxiety can be masked by anger, or in some cases, rage. Sometimes, it’s not apparent that I’m anxious, even to me, but I realize my “check engine light” is coming on when I snap at the kids or my husband. Other times, I see red and want to throw or kick something. Regardless, I now know that anxiety is most likely the culprit and I need to resolve whatever it is I’m feeling. When this happens repeatedly, I know a depressive episode could be on the horizon.
  2. I overeat and binge — When I’m upset, I purposely overeat or binge. Unfortunately, this is my go-to coping mechanism and not a very good one. I think that by overeating I’ll forget whatever pain I’m experience, but the relief is only temporary (the weight gain often is not). It takes a lot of strength for me to bypass this behavior and choose something healthier, something that will actually be helpful.
  3. I sleep more — Usually, I wake up from 5 to 6 a.m. and go to sleep between 9 and 10 p.m. If I’m adding a nap during the day or going to bed before 9 p.m., that usually means something is up. Sometimes I have to force myself to go to bed on time because I’ll want to stay up in the name of alone time. I know I’m headed for trouble when I’m in so much pain that I can’t stay awake any longer than necessary.
  4. My temper is shorter — I have two small children, so patience is critical for my mental health. But there are times, when I lost it easily over seemingly innocuous things, such as the kids being too loud. See no. 5 below, lol.
  5. Loud noises freak me out — When I’m in the “danger zone” of a panic attack or depressive episode, loud and unexpected sounds (such as the kids dropping something) make me angry, scared and out of control. Going somewhere that’s usually loud is out of the question, too. I suspect that I have Misophonia, a disorder in which certain sounds trigger emotional or physiological responses that some might perceive as unreasonable given the circumstance. But I already have enough diagnoses, so I haven’t checked into it.
  6. I want to crawl into bed after I take the kids to school — Sometimes I need a nap during the day, and that’s OK, but I try not to make it a habit anymore; it just reminds me of when I was super depressed before going to psychiatric hospital. If I’m crawling into bed more than usual during the day, say more than once a week, I know to assess what’s going on.
  7. I cry more — This is pretty straight forward. I’m a crier anyway, but I start to cry like every day, then something’s up.
  8. I don’t do my favorite activities and hobbies — This is one of the most annoying part of depression but a good barometer on what’s going on in my head. Typically, I like to write, sing, read, sew, etc. but when I’m depressed I watch more TV than usual and all my other hobbies fall to the wayside.
  9. My anxiety is through the roof — Also straight forward. When I’m anxious there’s an uptick in my anxiety medication, and I tend to be very jumpy and short tempered.
  10. I stop wearing “real” clothes — I”m started to waver on this one. By real clothes, I mean a nice bra, jeans, a blouse, etc. — anything that’s not leggings, basically. BUT we are in a pandemic and I just don’t see that many people so I’ve been wearing more loungewear than normal. But usually when I’m depressed, I’m in oversized sweats and my hair is dirty.

If you have some tell-tale signs of entering into a depressive episode, I’d like to hear them. Drop them in the comments.

Thanks for reading. Stay in the light.

Goodbye, Kindergarten..Hello, World

Isla was two when she started preschool at JCC. I have a photo on our doorstep before our, I mean her, first day with her “packpack” and lunch. At the time I was unsure about starting a new preschool, but David told me how much he loved the J when he was a kid and what a great school it was. I was so nervous that first day and just counted down until I could pick her up.

But I didn’t have anything to be nervous about. The teachers were (and are) amazing. In the almost five years I’ve had a kid there, I’ve never met a teacher or staff member I didn’t like. I remember getting pictures of Isla “hiding” under her nap mat, trying to trick the teachers and making Challah with her, which I had never done before. I loved that she was learning the culture and traditions of our “tribe.” And how each summer she’d learn to swim every day at summer camp. There’s not a whole lot I didn’t (and don’t) love.

The JCC parents are great, too. I find them to be very friendly, helpful and inclusive. I guess that’s why I was talked into running the book fair two years in a row. I remember being so anxious that I wouldn’t do it right or make any money for the school, but I guess both Isla and I have grown. I even liked being part of the parent/teacher organization (PTO). Just like Isla, I’ve made great friends.

All that — and more — is why I have a lump in my throat about Isla’s last week of school and subsequent graduation. Our experience has been so good at JCC, and I know Isla will miss it so much. She’s already said she doesn’t want to leave. I’m sure, like me, she feels she’s leaving behind her second family. One that has shaped who she is, and let me tell you, she’s amazing. And now the tears are falling.

I know Isla will do great at Windsor Park because JCC has prepared her better than anyone else could have. She’ll make new friends, and I’m sure I’ll like the teachers, but I’ll always have a soft spot for the J.

I’m so thankful that my youngest still has two more years at JCC……that I have two more years, too.

Sometimes Family is Not Forever

I’ll start by saying this blog isn’t about anyone in particular, it’s only an acknowledgement that sometimes families fall apart. Family members become toxic and estranged, even when you thought you were close. It pains me to write about this because I always had this idea that families are forever — the whole idea that blood’s thicker than water.

But sometimes it’s necessary to cut a loved one(s) out of your life if they are abusive and/or affecting your mental health. A couple of my friends have talked to me about this — how a family member oversteps their bounds and constantly berates or belittles their existence. Teasing is one thing, but it should never go as far as repeatedly hurting someone’s feelings.

My immediate family is not perfect, and sometimes I feel like the black sheep, but I know they support me and have my back. Honestly, I used to feel so left out and admired other families. But then I was witness to an “ideal family” coming undone and my opinion changed. I’m very grateful for what I have in my own family.

No matter what, your boundaries should be respected. They are so important and needed in every relationship. These guidelines establish how you want to be treated and it’s critical to create and maintain healthy relationships. If you have someone in your family disrespecting your boundaries, you should talk to them, tell them they’re hurting your feelings and address how you want to be treated. I realize this is easier said than done. Sometimes, you feel indebted to a loved one or feel like you’re obligated to keep them in your life. But love, support and understanding are not guaranteed in a family member. And if you’re not getting any of that and are constantly ignored and hurt, feel free to cut that person out of your life. Again, I realize that’s easier said than done.

Life is too short to deal with a toxic person. Even if you don’t think their antics affect you, it does. Being manipulated and exposed to emotionally violent behaviors causes depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. Plus it’s stressful. If you’re dealing with this, I’m so sorry. If you’re still being bullied and ignored, try talking to a trusted family member or therapist. They might have an idea on how to approach that family member. Remember, you are not responsible for their behavior nor the job of maintaining the unhealthy relationship.

If you do cut someone out of your life, don’t feel guilty. Make your mental health and wellbeing a priority because you matter, your feelings are valid and there’s no reason you should deal with toxic family members (or friends). Putting yourself first doesn’t make you selfish, it makes you smart and healthy.

Stay in the light.