Author

Heather Loeb

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This week was a good one! On Tuesday I went to city council with my NAMI Greater Corpus Christi cohorts to accept a proclamation about suicide prevention. It went well and immediately after the program director told me she had nominated me for an award given by NAMI Texas, and I won!

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I was surprised but so happy. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with the blog and my columns, but something like this makes me realize that it’s worth it and that I’m helping people. At least I hope I am.

The Caller-Times last week told me I could continue my column into the new year, so I’m about to get busy writing columns again. I like to have a nice, fat stockpile, lol.

Everything else is going well. My family is doing well, and I feel so blessed.

I hope y’all have a great week!

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I don’t like getting out of routine. I plan things, I never fly by the seat of my pants, and I can be rigid with my schedule. I blame my anxiety on all that; I just can’t handle change, and I hate the unknown. It can really send me in a tailspin.

For instance, Eli has always had a super early bedtime. When my kids were babies, I got them into a bedtime routine, and his just stuck, even though he was going to bed at 6:30 p.m. at 4 years old. It wasn’t a problem until the pandemic hit and he inexplicably started waking up at 5 a.m. Family members and friends told me to put him down later and he’d wake up later, but that was not the case. It didn’t matter what time I’d put him down, he always woke up early. Eventually I got used to waking that early.

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But then Eli started waking up in the middle of the night or earlier than 5 a.m.

I knew I had to change his routine and get him down later, but I procrastinated. The idea of changing it up was so daunting. If he went to bed later it would affect my chill time, which is sacred to me, and also my bedtime. It would change when David and I ate dinner, usually right after Eli went to bed when I could enjoy it and not worry about him.

The more I fretted about it, the more impossible it seemed. So I kept doing the same thing, and Eli kept waking up at all hours, and I kept ignoring the problem until we went to see my parents a week and a half ago. My dad, trying to be helpful, nagged me to push his bedtime back and to do it consistently until he stops waking up early.

Not wanting to hear any more about it (no offense, dad), I let Eli stay late every night while we were visiting. He didn’t wake up at 5, but around 6 or 7. I started to think it was doable.

When we returned I kept him up later than normal, putting him to bed around 7 and 7:30 p.m. This made it easier for all of us to have dinner together, which the kids were first excited about until they learned they had to put away their phones. It was nice, though, once we got past the crying over the phones.

I started to realize that it wasn’t so bad changing things up. We still need to perfect the new routine, but I’m trying to be okay with that. It’s a big step for me, but my whole point with telling you this is that people with anxiety, like me, can build up problems or situations and make them into seemingly impassible mountains. Usually, I have to think everything over, analyzing everything to death and then wait until conditions are right — which is hard because if you have anxiety, you never think conditions are right for change and stepping outside of your comfort zone.

But I was able to do this. Usually if I let the kids stay up past their bedtime, I became tense and punchy. I worried about how much later it was and what was going to happen in the morning. I’d stay tense, which led to no chill time once the kids actually went to bed. And see, I need chill time everyday. I have to take breaks and practice self-care because I get very irritable when I can’t relax and the children (as well as my husband) pay for that. And that’s not fair.

But letting go of the rigidity was so freeing. It was amazing not freaking out Eli’s routine, and even though I have some work to do to get the new routine right, I’m happy I did it. Plus, I don’t have to hear anymore nagging from my dad, lol (I love you and I’m grateful to you, dad).

So my friends, the next time you’re facing a problem, I urge you to buck your anxiety and just do it — make a decision and move on it. I know it’s hard but sometimes you just have to say screw it and make the rules as you go, especially if you’re a parent.

Will I do this the next time a problem occurs? Knowing me, maybe, but I’m going to work on letting go real hard.

If all else fails, I’ll just call my dad.

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I start sweating.

My chest tightens, then relaxes briefly before tightening over and over.

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My heart beats faster, and there are butterflies in my stomach.

Intrusive thoughts take center stage in my brain. I start telling myself elaborate, worst-case-scenario stories that defy logic.

My hands start to shake. When I stand up it feels like I have eaten in two days because I’m so lightheaded. I try to find somewhere quiet where I can be alone, but thats not always feasible. I try to hide from the kids, but there’s no hiding my swollen eyelids, blotchy cheeks and how hard it is to take a breath.

I try to quell the intrusive thoughts and stories, but rational thought is no match for my anxiety.

Tears brim my eyelids and threaten to fall.

I start to lose my breathe and with that I start to cry. Big sobs escape in between ragged breaths.

I have an even harder time breathing between sobs, and I swear my heart is pounding in my throat like a jackhammer.

It’s too late for an anxiety pill; I have to ride this out for now. I try to catch my breathe, but it seems impossible. I deep breathe like they say. I try grounding techniques, but I’m already past the point of no return.

Once I’ve sobbed uncontrollably for what feels like hours, I start my descent to rational (or as close as I can get) thoughts. I try a grounding technique now that I’m more calm. I search for five things I can see, four things I can feel, three things I can hear, two things I can smell and one thing I can taste. It sorta helps.

My heart keeps pounding in my chest. I still feel the chest tightness and butterflies, although they’re calming down.

I struggle to remember what triggered this attack, but sometimes I come up empty handed. It could be anything, but like I said, no amount of logic can stop an attack. My imagination, a vivid as it is, runs away from me, never with me.

I calm down further but have intense feelings of guilt or shame — shame that I may have inconvenienced someone during my attack. I start worrying that I’ll have another.

People don’t understand. They think I’m weak, that I can’t handle things. They don’t realize that this is part of my anxiety disorder, and I can’t control it any more than an epileptic can control a seizure. I can do everything right — take my medicine, avoid certain triggers, meditate, get enough sleep, etc. — but I could still have an attack any minute.

I am not alone in my struggles: Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), people with an anxiety disorder are three to five times more likely to go to the doctor and six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders than those who do not suffer from anxiety disorders.

Anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality and life events. Women are affected by the disorder more than men. It’s not uncommon for someone with an anxiety disorder to also suffer from depression or vice versa. Also, nearly one-half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

Is what I described similar to what you experience during a panic attack? Feel free to describe yours in the comments.

Thanks for reading, and as always, stay in the light.

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Gone Fishin’

by Heather Loeb
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This week I’m out of town with the kids. It’s fall break so we headed north to Mabank to my parents’ lake house.

I probably won’t have much time to blog (we’ve been having Lego contests and enjoying the cooler weather), but below are some blogs you may have missed on depression, diet culture and anxiety. I also will include this week’s column in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

When My Daughter Said the F-Word

I’m Grateful But Still Sick and That’s Okay

I Never Do Anything Last Minute

Caller-Times: Diet Culture is Toxic

I hope you guys are having a great week.

Stay in the light, friends.

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I was playing Roblox with my 7-year-old this week when she started to describe someone as F-A-T. I can’t remember what or who it was, and I started to say, “Don’t use that word.” Then I just stopped. Why was she spelling it?

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The truth is I don’t like the f-word, and she knows that. I’ve been called fat too many times, and the memory of being made fun of for my weight still lingers and burns. It has helped create lifelong struggle with disordered eating and body dysmorphia.

But what am I teaching her by not allowing her to say it? She’ll still (like I did) think that it’s not a word that shouldn’t be used, that there are negative associations to it, and that she wouldn’t want to be called fat. I’ve tried so hard not to use it and promote body positivity that I think I’ve swung from one extreme to the other. She should be able to use it but use it the right way.

What I think I should’ve done is not ever given the word any power. I should’ve said fat is something you have, not what you are. And left it at that.

My heart is in the right place, I think. As a mother, I don’t want her to experience any of the pain that I did growing up. I don’t want her to be anxious or depressed, and I definitely don’t want her having an eating disorder or obsession about weight. Like all parents, I want to protect her, and I want better for her. I’m just not sure I’m going about the right way to do it.

I can bend over backwards to try and prevent her from having mental anguish but genetics will play a starring role in how her body looks and weighs and whether she’ll have mental illness. I get that. Maybe she’ll be smarter (and kinder to herself) than I was — that she’ll see only beauty when she looks in the mirror and she’ll have so much confidence that she won’t care if she’s ever called a name. Maybe she’ll be the one to break the cycle, although I’m trying very hard to do that myself these days.

One of the most defining lessons from my childhood was that being fat is the worst thing you can be. That was confirmed through the adults in my life always dieting, unrealistic beauty standards and the terrible treatment of bigger people. So many people still buy into this crap, though. Hell, it’s still hard for me, and I’m almost 40.

We need to do better. And I know it’s difficult challenging ideals that were introduced when you were a child — ideals that are still circulating and doing harm. But we can do it.

We can work out for our health and not to lose weight. We can eat healthy to fuel our bodies. We can stop looking at our “flaws” with nothing but a critical eye. We can say no to toxic dieting culture.

Know better, do better, as I like to say.

It’s very much possible that I’m overthinking my daughter’s innocuous comment from last night. It’s possible I overthink everything when it comes to my kids, but it’s okay to question yourself and intentions. It makes you a good parent. It’s very much okay to challenge your thinking on things like this.

That makes you a great parent.

Now I guess I’ll worry about my daughter using the real f-word, but I’d argue that fat is more dangerous and carries more weight. No pun intended.

Stay in the light.

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I’ve had migraines since I was a kid. When I was 11 or 12, I started to get these awful headaches, but I didn’t know what they were. I started missing a lot of school because the only way I could get them to go away was to lie in a dark room. Noise and sounds bothered me.

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It was frustrating, because it made it harder for me to be a kid — play on sports teams and socialize with my friends at school.

The headaches continued through high school and progressively got worse. I remember when I was 18, a senior in high school, driving to a funeral in South Texas with my family. I got a headache on the way down, but this headache was different. I was so nauseated I couldn’t open my eyes. I was writing in pain on the floor of the car, because I couldn’t sit up. When we got to the funeral, I couldn’t even get out of the car.

We started the long drive back to Dallas after the funeral, and the pain just intensified. I threw up, which I had never done before during a headache. Finally, when we reached Waco, my parents couldn’t take it anymore. They stopped at an emergency room, and we were immediately seen.

The ER doc said he knew instantly what it was — a migraine. I had never heard that word before. He retrieved a shot of Imitrex and gave me the injection. Within minutes, I felt so much better. No trace of a migraine or nausea, I couldn’t believe it.

As we were leaving, he told my mom to follow up with a neurologist.

I saw a neurologist and explained my symptoms and talked about how much school I was missing. The doctor, who was very sympathetic, diagnosed me with migraines and wrote me a prescription for that magical Imitrex in pill form.

The migraines would show up somewhat randomly, but I did manage to nail down some triggers:

  • Interrupted sleep or not enough sleep
  • Certain smells, like floral scents or cigarette smoke
  • Stress
  • My period
  • Drinking alcohol

Even when I avoided these triggers, the migraines still plagued me. When I went to college, I didn’t find sympathy when I missed class, except one professor whose wife was also a migraine sufferer.

I was missing so much class that I had to file paperwork with the campus’ Students with Disabilities office in order to be granted absence leniency. I still didn’t receive sympathy from my professors. I really wasn’t looking for sympathy, just understanding, but I never found it.

When I started my first job after college, my migraines were worse from all the stress I incurred. I called in a lot. I was embarrassed and felt guilty all the time, and some of my coworkers became resentful, even telling me so. Which now, I understand as part of the stigma of migraine. Boy, it’s hard living with one invisible, let alone two (migraine and depression).

People thought I was lazy, and my friends thought I was avoiding social activity with them. I couldn’t win, not that I’m looking for pity now. It was just frustrating at the time and even now, migraines are grossly misunderstood.

There’s an article in Practical Neurology that speaks about the stigma of migraine, going back to the 18th century.

“In the late 18th century, people with migraine were represented as privileged, self-absorbed individuals, who used their migraine as an excuse for shirking social duties and avoiding social responsibilities. By the 19th century, migraine was perceived as a weakness of women in the lower socio-economic classes. Physicians caring for patients with migraine were also ridiculed as out of touch, incompetent practitioners who encouraged their patients’ neurotic tendencies. A negative, feminized view of the person with migraine has persisted since, whether migraine was viewed as a psychological defect or as the result of an excitable, feminized brain.”

The article includes a 2016 survey by a medical insurance provider that found just 22 percent of employers deemed migraine to be a “serious enough reason for an employee to be absent from work,” lower than for any other reason, including depression, anxiety, stress, the flu, or the common cold. People with migraine must choose which parts of their lives to sacrifice, frequently prioritizing work over others (social, personal, leisure).

That’s so accurate — that migraine sufferers have to choose which parts of life they have to sacrifice.

Between the chronic pain and sacrifices that migraine suffers do make, it takes a toll on mental health. I started experiencing depression an anxiety after my headaches started, so I’m not sure which came first, but I do know that my depression symptoms were intensified by missing school and work, and the pressure and guilt I felt about it.

There is data that shows a connection between migraine and depression. People with migraine are about five times more likely to develop depression than someone without migraine, according to Dawn Buse, PhD, the director of behavioral medicine at the Montefiore Headache Center.

Ms. Buse says that about 20 percent of people with episodic migraine—headaches on 14 or fewer days per month—may also have depression, and that number goes up as the number of headache attack days per month increases. Similarly, about 20 percent of people with episodic migraine have anxiety, and between 30 percent and 50 percent of people with chronic migraine also have anxiety.

None of that is surprising to me.

Here are some stats on migraine in the U.S.:

  • Nearly 1 in 4 U.S. households includes someone with migraine
  • Amazingly, 12 percent of the population – including children – suffers from migraine
  • 18 percent of American women, 6 percent of men, and 10 percent of children experience migraines
  • Migraine is most common between the ages of 18 and 44

You can see that migraine is not a rare disease — 12 percent of the population is huge. I also found this interested:

  • Migraine is the sixth most disabling illness in the world
  • Every 10 seconds, someone in the U.S. goes to the emergency room complaining of head pain, and approximately 1.2 million visits are for acute migraine attacks
  • While most sufferers experience attacks once or twice a month, more than 4 million people have chronic daily migraine, with at least 15 migraine days per month
  • More than 90 percent of sufferers are unable to work or function normally during their migraine

Facts provided by the Migraine Research Foundation.

Just like with any other invisible illness, more attention needs to be paid to migraine — more understanding needs to be applied to migraine as well. You can help end the stigma of migraine by educating yourself and others about it.

Risk Factors for Migraine Sufferers

  • Family history. If you have a family member with migraines, then you have a good chance of developing them too
  • Age. Migraines can begin at any age, though the first often occurs during adolescence. Migraines tend to peak during your 30s, and gradually become less severe and less frequent in the following decades
  • Sex. Women are three times more likely to have migraines
  • Hormonal changes. For women who have migraines, headaches might begin just before or shortly after onset of menstruation. They might also change during pregnancy or menopause. Migraines generally improve after menopause

To learn more about migraine, visit the Migraine Research Foundation here.

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So I’m a day late with this (and a million dollars short), but I had a busy weekend.

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Last week was very hard, I’m not going to lie. I struggled a bit, but I’m hoping last week was a fluke and I can get back to my “normal” self, whatever that is. This week I’m going to focus on self-care and try to stay busy. I’m sure I won’t have a problem; I need to start preparing for a road trip to Dallas with the kids. My husband is staying behind, but I’ve made the trip several times without him. I get there faster than when he drives.

I’m so excited it’s October. October through January is my favorite time of year. I’ve already got the house decorated and my porch. It’s such a magical time, and I can’t wait to celebrate Halloween, Hanukkah and Christmas.

That’s really all that’s going on with me. I’ve finished all my columns for the rest of the year so that’s a relief. In November and December I’ll start stockpiling again. Hopefully the Caller-Times will let me continue to write about mental health. Honestly, I didn’t think I could talk about it so much without being repetitive, but I’ve had no problem finding topics that are timely and relevant. If you haven’t checked out my column, please visit Caller.com and search for my name, Heather Loeb.

That’s all for now. I hope you guys have a great week. Stay safe and healthy.

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I was scrolling on Facebook yesterday and someone had made a comment that they waited until the last minute to buy a garter for Homecoming, which is coming up this week.

Just reading that post made me anxious. I felt a knot in my stomach, and I felt a tightness in my chest. I don’t have kids old enough for Homecoming. I think I have one mom friend with a kid in high school. I have no skin in the game, as my dad would say, but it freaked me out nonetheless. The words “last minute” were enough to get me ruminating about chores or tasks I have to get done.

I never do anything last minute, ever. I prepare for events months in advance. For instance, I already have Hanukkah presents for my kids and enough holiday decorations to fill a museum. When my kids have a party or start school, everything is purchased and organized in advance. Not only that, but I mentally rehearse every situation I’m in and even practice what I’m going to say (i.e. during a dinner party). Don’t get me started on last minute plans.

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When the pandemic hit we didn’t run out of toilet paper because I had already stocked that, paper towels and hygiene items. I have enough toothpaste to last a couple of years.

That’s anxiety for you. I’m practically a doomsday prepper the way I prepare for things and worry. One, I don’t know when a depressive episode will hit so I make sure my family has everything we need. Two, preparing for things in advance gives me a sense of control. It feels like I’m not in control when it comes to anxiety, so the only thing I can do is just work around it.

I recently read that there’s a purpose for anxiety, that it helps us deal with stress and meant to sharpen our minds to the flight-or-fight response, meaning it protects us from danger and allows us to react faster to emergencies and alert us to potential threats, according to MentalHealth.org.uk

That’s all fine and good, but I feel that’s speaking to normal anxiety that everyone faces, not a condition like 40 million other Americans and I who have an anxiety disorder. Not-so-fun fact: About 7 percent of children ages 3-17 experience issues with anxiety each year. Most people develop symptoms before the age of 21, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). These are also outdated numbers; I imagine they’ll be much higher because of the pandemic.

For those with this condition can be such a burden or hinderance to everyday life. I experience intrusive thoughts along with my anxiety which basically means terrible thoughts invade my mind, and I can’t do much to stop it. I get panic attacks. I worry about stupid things like lightbulbs burning out and the air in my tires. I worry about things I’ve done and said in the past. I worry about loved ones dying and making mistakes in my writing. I worry way too much about my weight and what people think of me. But that’s the “anxiety version” of me. The real Heather doesn’t care what people think. She’s easy going and preps to make sure her family has everything they need — not fueled by anxiety but out of love and diligence.

As I’m typing this I’m starting to see that there are advantages of having anxiety. It does ensure I’m ready for every possible scenario. My house is already decorated for the holidays, and I won’t have to rush to get gifts this year. My family has everything they need and that’s because I work hard to give them the life they deserve.

That and I’m certainly not going to run out of toothpaste anytime soon.

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There’s nothing like therapy to knock you down a peg or two. Yesterday I was complaining about an old friend who rarely talks to me anymore, spurring me to feel bad about myself. I hate rejection. I told my therapist that she didn’t accept who I was anymore. Her withdrawal from me started when I went to a psychiatric hospital so I assumed that was the reason and the fact that now all I do is talk about mental health. Of course I don’t know why she has withdrawn from the friendship because she’s not a touchy-feely type so I haven’t asked.

She and I are so different, and I admitted that I walk on eggshells sometimes to avoid conflict with her. This led my therapist to tell me that it doesn’t sound like I’ve accepted her, so why should she accept me? It’s especially hard for her to accept me, she said, because I haven’t shown her the real me. I keep parts hidden from this person but here I am complaining she doesn’t know me or doesn’t care to know the current version of me.

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Damnit. My therapist is right. Again.

But I don’t know why we’ve grown apart. I’m only assuming and we all know what happens when you assume.

My therapist then said that I’ve been growing so much that even I don’t know who I am fully. I didn’t like hearing that, but it’s true. In the past two years, since going to the hospital, I’ve changed a lot, evolved even. But my journey is still not finished. I’ve got more growing to do.

This all led me to think whether I’ve accepted myself. I’d like to think I have, but then again not being my authentic self leads me to believe that there are parts I’m not happy with or have come to terms with. I want to think that I’m this badass writer who helps others with mental illness. That I have a generous heart and good friend. That I’m a good person who’s strong and has grit. But do I really believe that? I don’t think so. I’m scared that others will see me as weak, that I breakdown at the slightest thing. I know that’s not the truth, but the stigma of mental illness is so strong and I don’t doubt that others have thought that, but the thing is I SHOULDN’T CARE ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE’S OPINIONS. In fact, it’s none of my business what others think.

I know that I’ve been through Hell and back, that my mental health journey will never be finished. I know I’ve fought almost every single day to be happy or something closely related. I’ve battled my own brain, which tells me I should kill myself sometimes. I do electroconvulsive therapy on a regular basis. Doctors literally have to induce a seizure in order for me to be somewhat “normal.” That is the badass part. I not weak in the slightest. I get weary, sure, but I’ll keep fighting for my life no matter what.

And if my friend can’t see all of this, so the fuck what?

My therapist said that maybe my friend is uncomfortable around me now because I have changed so much. That maybe she sees me as the person I was long ago and not who I am now. My therapist also said that my friend has a limitations, that she lives in small space, but I don’t. Since my “breakdown” in 2019 I’ve tried to take up as much space as possible, because I deserve it.

I no longer want to worry that I’m good enough for someone, and I don’t want to beg for someone to love me. I have plenty of people who do, which I’m grateful for.

I want to continue to grow, to find the light like a plant. I want to take up space and relish in it. I want people to accept me for all my flaws and attributes. I want to drop the facade, starting now. I know I’m not perfect, but who is? That’s what makes us so interesting and unique.

I will no longer apologize for being me because even with my many flaws I’m still pretty great, and I’m worthy.

So are you, friends.

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Recently I talked about entering into recovery for my binge eating disorder. I knew there would be bumps in the road, but I was doing well. Until last night.

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Yesterday I had a bad day. Nothing really happened, I was just short-fused and irritable. I snapped at the kids and my husband. I didn’t like the way I felt so I took the maximum (prescribed) dose of my anxiety meds. It turned out to be a mistake, I think. While it did take the edge off, it also numbed me a bit. I started eating snacks around 4 p.m. and was still eating at 9 p.m. One snack after another. I was uncomfortably full, but I kept going.

I binged. Big time. I ate candy, cookies, popcorn, Chinese food for dinner, more cookies and more popcorn. I usually don’t keep that in the house, but I indulged. I don’t like to restrict myself from foods (because I’ll rebel) but I don’t like to set myself up for a binge either. I have to find that fine balance.

This morning when I woke up I didn’t feel so angry and blue. I remembered that today is a new day, and I can do better. I’m grateful for that because that’s what recovery is about — you can keep starting over as many times as it takes to reduce the problem. I’m still reading a book on BED recovery, and that has helped. I just need to apply what I learn to my daily life.

I also asked my friends and family what they do to cheer themselves up after a bad day, and I got a lot of good ideas for the next time I’m not feeling up to par. My favorites were pray, sew, walk, go outside, eat chocolate, take a hot bath, meditate, count blessings and journal. I think those are really good ideas, and I sometimes employ similar coping methods when I’m depressed, but yesterday was just so hard. It was hard to get to the point where I wanted to take care of myself instead of just numbing myself where I didn’t feel anything at all.

Today is different. I’m grateful for my friends and family and everything I have. I will take care of myself, and I will listen to my body and mind.

I will show up for myself, and I will tell myself I’m enough. Because I am.

Today I pray for an attitude adjustment and patience. I am grateful for a new day, and there’s no need for me to look back.

I’m more than my mistakes. So much more.

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