What Is She Stressed About?

My daughter has been complaining about stomachaches. At first it seemed she was saying she was sick so she could stay home and play Minecraft. The girl is addicted. But after having a talk about fibbing, she still complained every few days. I took her to the doctor, and after ruling common ailments out, the doctor concluded it was stress and anxiety. Not surprising given my severe anxiety disorder.

After the appointment I called my parents to fill them in. My concerned dad asked what is she stressed about? It’s a fair question, she’s not even seven yet. I thought about it and said it’s probably from starting a new school and not knowing anyone in her class. She’s been at the JCC preschool since she was two so it has certainly been an adjustment. Then it hit me — you don’t have to have stress to have anxiety. I could have the best day of my life and still have anxiety, and I don’t think it’s any different for children who experience anxiety. Unfortunately, my daughter might have anxiety even as an adult. I hope not, but if she does, at least she has a mother who has experienced it all when it comes to anxiety and depression.

I know what you’re thinking — isn’t she a little young to have anxiety? — but it’s more common than you think and the number of children with anxiety and/or depression is increasing each year. No doubt it will be exponential when data is collected for 2020 and 2021 because of Covid. The most recent numbers show that 7 percent of children aged 3 to 17 years (about 4.4 million) have been diagnosed with anxiety. And 3.2 percent of children aged 3 to 17 (about 1.9 million) have been diagnosed with depression, according to the CDC.

Anxiety in children manifests in different ways than in adults. Here’s what to look for if you think your child could have anxiety:

  • Being very afraid when away from parents (separation anxiety)
  • Having extreme fear about a specific thing or situation, such as dogs, insects, or going to the doctor (phobias)
  • Being very afraid of school and other places where there are people (social anxiety)
  • Being very worried about the future and about bad things happening (general anxiety)
  • Having repeated episodes of sudden, unexpected, intense fear that come with symptoms like heart pounding, having trouble breathing, or feeling dizzy, shaky, or sweaty (panic disorder)

Something I noticed that’s not on the list is intrusive thoughts. When I was young (about 12), I would have these grim and scary thoughts invade my brain, such as you’re going to die, your family is going to die, you’re worthless, etc. I didn’t realize that wasn’t normal, so I never spoke up. But if is DEFINITELY not normal.

It’s helpful that I’ve experienced stuff like that, so I know what to look for, but that’s also why I’m sharing with you now. Everybody is different and one child’s anxiety might look different than what’s generally written about.

If you think your kids are struggling, contact your pediatrician. Ask about therapy, research methods of coping, be open-minded and withhold judgement. It’s scary enough to deal with all this, much less a parent who brushes you off or doesn’t make an effort to understand what’s going on.

Other things to know:

  • An estimated 31.9 percent of adolescents had any anxiety disorder (National Institute of Mental Health)
  • Anxiety disorders affect more girls than boys
  • 80 percent of kids with a diagnosable anxiety disorder and 60 percent of kids with diagnosable depression are not getting treatment, according to the 2015 Child Mind Institute Children’s Mental Health Report.
  • Anxiety disorders are treatable

Early intervention is key. Had I had help when I was younger, I believe my life would be different. Not that I blame anyone for what’s happened to me, but the coping mechanisms I adopted were unhealthy ones and only added to my depression and anxiety (like binge eating).

If you have any questions, feel free to email me at heatherannloeb@gmail.com

Stay in the light, friends.

Let Them Be Little

I remember when I was a kid – the summertime was so magical. No homework, project deadlines and no alarm going off at 6 a.m. I try to remember that now as the kids slow down (sloth speed) on their chores and get out of routine.

But it’s hard for me. I love routine and its cousin, structure. I thrive on both because of my depression and anxiety. The summers are always hard because there’s such disruption to my day as well as vacations and road trips to see my family in Dallas. Even though I enjoy those things, it’s still hard, and I try to cling to routine where I can. I think it’s the uncertainty that gets me — I hate not knowing but with routine I always (almost always) know what’s going to happen and when.

I find myself getting mad about missed chores, Isla sleeping in late in the morning and later bedtimes. I snap at the kids and even my husband, who doesn’t run as tight a ship as I (who are we kidding, our ship’s not that tight), but then reality hits me right in the face. This is Isla’s last summer before starting “real school.” She’s about to start Windsor Park where she doesn’t know the teachers or students. She’s been lucky with JCC, it’s been a second home to her. But next week, she’ll need to wake up earlier, stay at school longer, abide by a dress code and more. It’s going to be an adjustment to say the least.

Then I hear the voice in my head say, let them be little.

So I do.

On the weekends, we stay in the pool on Sunday afternoons until our fingers prune. We float on flamingo floats, sunbathe on a giant unicorn or pretend we’re mermaids. We eat brunch at the Yacht Club, eating more of the chocolate muffins in the breadbasket than our order. We have movie nights where we buy sweets and make popcorn and attempt to watch a movie that never really gets watched. We have dance parties and stay in our pajamas all day.

We have fun because that’s what the summer is about in our house. Our kids are going to grow up no matter how much routine and structure fills their days. I just think we need to add a little fun to their days, too while we can. And a little magic.

What kid doesn’t need a little magic? What ADULT doesn’t need magic?

I know I do, especially right now as COVID cases climb once again. But I’m not too sad to see summer go. I’m looking forward to the fall months, using new fall decorations for the house, buying Halloween costumes, making Thanksgiving dinner, the High Holy Days and more. I’m getting excited just thinking about it. But I won’t get too carried away. I’l enjoy the days of summer we have left as much as I can.

I hope your summer was good. Here’s to a wonderful (and healthy) fall.

Long Live Weerow the Sea Horse

One of the things you hear as a new mom is that it goes by fast — the days are long, but the years are short. And it’s true. All of a sudden I have an almost 7-year-old and almost 5-year-old. They’re not babies, and they’re not toddlers. How did this happen?

My oldest doesn’t want to kiss us anymore, and she’s very independent. My youngest is entering Pre-K, but still likes to cuddle and give kisses. But he is starting leave his stuffed seahorse at home more instead of hiding him in his backpack every day for school. He’s sleeping with other stuffies at night, too. This is what bothers me the most. I didn’t expect him to go to college with Weerow (the sea horse), but it’s so bittersweet watching Eli not cling to his buddy so much.

I remember when Eli first found Weerow, he wasn’t even a year old. I originally got the sea horse at McDonalds in a Happy Meal when I was in high school (1999). Beanie Babies were all the craze then and for some reason, I kept it. It was just small enough for Eli’s hands and soon he carried it everywhere. He wasn’t walking that well yet so sometimes he put the sea horse in his mouth while he crawled.

One day he started referring to it as “Weerow,” and that’s the name that stuck. I found a larger version of the sea horse online so he’d have extra We probably have 10 extras in waiting. Boy, do they get dirty fast. Eli chews on the eyes — well, chews on the whole thing. Honesty, Weerow (still) smells like dirty mop water, but Eli loves it. He still takes whiffs of his pal here and there. Weird, I know, but it somehow calms him. I was hoping we’d have Weerow in our lives for a couple more years, and maybe we will.

I know it’s not the sea horse I’m upset about — it’s the fact that my babies are growing up. They’re changing and entering new phases I know nothing about yet. I blinked, and now they’re big (ish) kids.

Next time I’m counting down until the kids’ bedtime (which is often), I’ll try to remember that I need to appreciate my kids and the fact that their childhoods won’t last forever. Time is so fleeting, and we have to make it count as much as possible. I’ll probably still count the minutes some days, I mean come on, but I’ll do my best. I’ll take mental pictures. I’ll take real pictures. I’ll be present and mindful.

Sigh. On second thought, I wouldn’t mind if Eli took Weerow to college.

A Letter to My Daughter on Social Media

Dear Daughter,

Let’s not rush this. Social media can be so great, a way of meeting others and catching a glimpse of the world you might not see otherwise. But there are sinister parts to social media, too.

My worry is your self-image and self-esteem. Pictures on Facebook and Instagram aren’t always real, and if they are real, they don’t exactly depict reality. It’s hard to tell the difference, even for me at 37. I look at some of the pictures on Insta and I can’t help but compare the thin, beautiful pics of friends and strangers to myself. And if you don’t know, comparison is the thief of joy. I start comparing my body to others’ (whose bodies haven’t been through what mine has) and I’m doing myself a disservice. There’s no reason to compare, and definitely not a reason to compete, yet I do it anyway. We’re all beautiful and special in our own ways.

You might promise to never compare your body to other’s, but because of society’s toxic diet culture, you’ll end up doing it anyway. It’s in some people’s — industry’s — best interest to perpetuate the allure of being thin, young and beautiful, but just think what it would mean to not want, or need, beauty products, dieting services, plastic surgery and so much more. I don’t think anything is wrong with using said products or services — I certainly do — but I think it’s dangerous to want and need them so badly, to think you’ll be ugly, fat or old without them. Or that you’d be unworthy.

I hope you never feel those things, but I understand if you do. Let me tell you that you are beautiful, not just outside, but inside. You are amazing for more than your looks. You are a kind, loving, generous, passionate kind of girl, and I have no doubt that you’ll grow into a wonderful adult. Because I’m your mother, I want to protect you and shield you from things like body dysmorphia, low self-esteem and eating disorders. I’ve struggled with them for the majority of my life, and it has been no picnic. I’ve dieted and lost the same 40 pounds over and over again. I have had plastic surgery and gastric sleeve surgery. I’m still not thin. I’m trying to be OK with that but can you imagine being almost 40 years old with the same body image issues from the sixth grade?

I don’t want you to go down the same road, and you might think I’m a hypocrite because I’ve gone to so many extremes to be thin, but trust me, the path I’ve taken is full of heartache and self-hate.

You might also think I’m a stick in the mud, but I don’t even want you using filters on your selfies. You don’t need to change a thing; there’s nothing to improve upon, and I mean that as a compliment.

Stay away from bullies and trolls — those people are deeply unhappy to want to hurt others. Don’t waste a tear or a minute on them. I hope if you are being bullied, you’ll speak up. You can tell me anything, I’ll lock it in the vault.

Childhood and adolescence are hard. There are so many changes happening and you might feel awkward but please know every kid feels that way regardless how they act. You’ll get through it, you’ll flourish. It’ll be OK.

I’m always here, and I’ll love you (just the way you are) forever.

Love,
Mama

p.s. Stay off Tik Tok, too lol

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.

Where Does the Time Go?

Today I got an email saying that Kindergarten graduation pictures were next week. This stopped me in my tracks, and I couldn’t help but tear up. My daughter has been going there since she was 2. She’s now 6. Everyone tells you when you have kids to slow down and enjoy it because it goes by fast, and it’s cliche but true.

I remember not even wanting to take Isla to JCC, because I had her at a different day care, but David insisted because he went there. I just didn’t want to change my routine, but God, am I glad I did. I found a home at JCC. The teachers and directors were so nice, and I met amazing mom friends. I even joined the PTO and ran the book fair for two years, which I both dreaded and loved. I’m also on the board.

I love that the kids are learning about Jewish traditions, holidays and culture. I love the diversity and inclusion taught by the school. I love everything about it except for the fact that it doesn’t go all the way up until college.

My kids are so blessed to be there, and I’ll still be around because Eli has two more years. But it just tugs at my heart that Isla will be graduating and leaving this place we both cherish. Isla made her first best friend there. She learned her ABCs and now she’s learning how to read, write and how to do fractions.

The JCC has always been there for our family, a home away from home. They’ve been accommodating and so caring toward Isla and Eli. I can’t say enough good things about the J. And I’m so proud that my kids have followed in their dad’s footsteps.

Next year, Isla will start a new adventure at Windsor Park, the gifted and talented school, and I know she’ll do great because everyday for the past four years JCC as prepared her.

And not just academically.

Just Say No

I don’t like saying no to my kids, big surprise, right? In the past, I haven’t wanted to hear them scream, whine or cry because I didn’t say yes. It makes me uncomfortable when they do that, and as you know, I hate being uncomfortable. So, if the kids wanted junk food, I’d say yes and if they wanted some kind of new toy, yes again.

Then it dawned on me — I got everything I ever wanted growing up (which I’m grateful for) but I never learned how to work hard for anything, and I don’t want that for my kids. I had no work ethic, and I never learned struggle or how to cope with it. Already, my kids are privileged and spoiled. They are accustomed to the finer things in life, and the last thing I want them to be are entitled assholes when they grow up. You see — I don’t need to be in the business of saying, “yes.” I NEED to say, “no,” because I want to raise them to be healthy adults. It’s not going to hurt them to hear, “no,” and it’s not going to hurt me, despite what I’m feeling at the time.

The consequences of not saying, “no,” are dire. I’ll admit that I’m not a healthy adult, but let me be clear — it’s not because of anything my parents did or didn’t do. My shortcomings are due to crappy genetics, crappy coping skills, among other things. But they’re there. I don’t want my children to suffer the way I do now. For example, I have an eating disorder — I don’t take care of myself the way I should by eating healthy; instead I binge eat when I’m stressed — alas, a crappy coping skill. I’ve also never had a job for more than three years. I’m dependent on my husband, which isn’t necessarily unhealthy, but I’d like both of my kids to be financially independent and have a good worth ethic.

I’ll confess that sometimes I feel like they’re getting the short end of the stick by having a severely depressed mother. Buying them toys, clothes and other crap is probably me trying to compensate for being ill. But logically, I know that material things don’t matter — experiences matter. Teaching them how to be healthy matters. Showing them how to overcome adversity matters, and I can do that. I’m resilient and scrappy, two traits I want them to have, too. I may not be the healthiest, but being sick all the time has made me stronger. I hope that’s what my children will see — that even though I suffer with a chronic, invisible disease, I still show up to fight….for myself and my family.

Ann Landers said, “It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.” She’s not wrong.

And that’s what I have to remember every time I say no. I’m not depriving them of anything — I’m shaping them into good people (I hope). I also need to remember this when I don’t feel like taking care of myself, because they’re watching and learning. It’s up to me to model healthy behavior, as hard as it is.

Parenting is hard. We all mess up and think we’re not good enough, me especially. Then I remember how Isla collected more than 1,000 toothbrushes for the homeless because she was worried they didn’t have money to brush their teeth. I recall how Eli puts his hand on my face and tells me he appreciates and loves me. They’re loving, kind and a product of their environment, which I’m extremely proud of. Learning to say no will be hard but it will definitely help in shaping them into healthy adults. I truly believe that.

And while I’m at it, maybe I can be shaped into a healthy adult, too.

Gifted and Talented, Part II

I’ve been thinking so much about Isla’s gifted/talented test this Saturday. It makes me think of my own education. When I was younger, I was in the G/T program in the third grade at Carrollton Elementary, but when I switched schools to Good Elementary, I was taken out of the G/T classes. I didn’t think much of it until middle school, when the powers that be placed me in remedial English for the seventh grade. I felt insulted, and it was my first inkling that I didn’t test well.

In high school, I made As and Bs, and even some Cs. I absent-failed every year. I bombed the PSATs so badly, that I was too scared to take the real test, instead opting for the ACT, which I did OK on.

As far as Isla goes, I think she’ll probably do well tomorrow. She’ll go into the G/T program and she’ll do great, because she’s bright, caring and unique. But if she doesn’t get in, I’ll remind myself that as far as test scores go, I am neither gifted nor talented. But I am exceptional, regardless. I’d like to avoid the “…but I did OK” cliche, because that’s not what I’m trying to say. I guess I did do “OK,” but only because of a handful of teachers that made me feel gifted and encouraged me. These teachers and mentors are the real heroes in my story, along with my mother, who always encouraged me to read. One cannot write well and not read.

Mr. Dycus, Chris and me

These teachers/mentors did not have to take time to give me encouragement, but I’d like to believe that they saw something special in me, something not detectable by those stupid tests. One such teacher was Ms. Jackie Morgan, who taught ninth grade English. I remember at a parent/teacher conference, she told my mother I had a real writer’s voice, and she’d be surprised if I didn’t become one. When she said that to my mother, my ears perked up, and a light turned on inside of me. At that time, I had wanted to be a copy editor at a publishing house, never thinking I could actually write myself. Ms. Morgan planted that seed and help nurture it. Writing is what helped me get through the rest of high school.

When I started college at the University of Texas at Arlington, I was accepted as a writer for the college’s magazine, Renegade. There was a small team of writers and editors, as well as a staff member. I didn’t get a lot of guidance on the pieces I wrote there, and when I made a huge mistake (rather, mistakes) in one issue, I was degraded and humiliated by the staff advisor. I wasn’t asked to come back to write for the magazine, and I was so hurt. I thought my dream of writing was over, until I applied to be a reporter with the college newspaper. When I turned my application in, I was in fear that I would run into that staff member who had been so mean to me, but I didn’t. I was told later by the wonderful person who hired me (hi, Melissa!) that the staff member tried to dissuade her from hiring me, but she went with her gut. Thank God.

As a learned the ropes of being a journalist, it was like I had found what I was meant to do with my life — and I was good at it! But this didn’t just happen overnight. I was encouraged by the staff advisor, Chris, and another advisor, Mr. John Dycus. Both men told me that journalism is where I needed to be. They believed in me, and I will forever be grateful for their kindness and praise.

And years later, when journalism didn’t pan out, Mr. Dycus told me to keep writing. He told me to keep believing in myself. He has continued to be supportive — no matter what I’ve done — to this day. He is without a doubt one of my favorite human beings, the nicest man that ever lived, and when he gives you praise, you feel like you are the only one on Earth who can do what you do. I love him, and I’ll admit, he still edits my writing. And I’m better because of it.

But I digress. No, Heather Ann White Loeb doesn’t look great on paper. My grades and test scores were meh. My journalism career never took off. Who cares? I still do great things. Things, I’m proud of every day.

And if Isla doesn’t make it into the G/T program, I pray that she’ll find her a Ms. Morgan and Mr. Dycus — mentors who help you believe you can fly and that you look real damn good doing it.

I know my Isla will be fine. If you are so inclined, please pray for her tomorrow as she takes the test — not necessarily that she gets in, but is calm and does her best. I’ll be praying for all those sweet Kindergarteners.

Thanks for reading.

My Eye’s on Eli’s Eye

When I was little, around 3 years old, my parents noticed that one of my eyes drifted outwardly — like a “lazy eye.” I had to wear patches on my eye to try and strengthen the muscle, I think. And when that didn’t work, I had two surgeries to correct it. They’re still not straight and my scars are minor. Not a huge deal to me.

Until I noticed that Eli’s eye drifted. It’s so slight, but I’ve been noticing it more and more. My mom commented on it as well, so I know I’m not “crazy.” Well, I am but not for this.

After my mom confirmed that she had noticed it too, I started to panic. Even though it’s barely noticeable and probably could be corrected by wearing patches, I was scared. I don’t want him to go through what I went through, especially the surgery. I started to think that Eli might have inherited more than the likelihood of a lazy eye, for instance my fucked up brain.

Wearing patches is one thing, but I desperately want him to avoid the migraines, major depression, anxiety, personality disorder and more. Logically, I know that him having a slight lazy eye doesn’t mean he’ll suffer my fate. But still, I worry.

He is, without question, my mini me. If you look at my school photos from when I was kid, it looks like Eli in a dress. There’s no denying our genetic connection. And I love that, but now it terrifies me, too.

It’s every parent’s wish that no harm befall their child, and adversity is supposed to make people stronger. It certainly has made me stronger, braver too. But oh my God…I’ve been through so much. I still go through so much just to try and live a somewhat “normal” life. Taking meds, going to weekly therapy appointments, doing electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) treatments — it takes a toll. Especially the ECT, where I literally have electric currents passing to my brain to induce a seizure. I talk about this a lot, I know, but it’s unbelievable to me at times that I have to go through extreme measures like that — just to be moderately depressed, not severely depressed. Just typing all that bums me out.

But — epiphany! — I still live a good life. It’s been hard as hell, I won’t lie. I’ve been so depressed that I couldn’t take care of myself and I’ve been suicidal. I’ve contemplated ending my life so many times that the thought is not alarming as it should be. But still, I’m happy with my life, despite what my brain tells me at times. I have it so good — good friends, amazing husband, wonderful children and beautiful home. I’m proud of myself for fighting everyday, and I’m proud of the mental health advocate I’ve become.

So, here’s my point: I suppose even if Eli (or Isla) has to face some sort of adversity, he will likely emerge stronger, wiser. Like me. Just like me. Because I’ve been through hell and back, I can guide and support him.

It’s so hard to let go of the worry, but he’ll be OK. Isla will be OK — more than OK. I believe they are destined to do great things. But if they don’t I have to be OK with that, too. God it’s hard being a parent, lol.

All this rambling over a slight lazy eye, but this is where my brain goes. I just have to remember that IF there’s a chance Eli can inherit my disorders, then there’s also a chance he will inherit my resilience and grit, too.

After all, he is my mini me.