Decriminalizing Mental Illness

When people started talking about defunding the police, I thought, “Oh my god, why would they do that?” until I later learned that term didn’t mean completely removing funds from the department but reallocating them to other services. I’m not saying it’s the right thing to do, and I’m NOT here to argue any one position. But reallocating money to some services makes sense to me, especially when it comes to the mentally ill.

I remember a conversation I had very recently — a friend said she was concerned that her brother, who was mentally ill, was going to get shot by the police one day because he didn’t always follow commands and had problems distinguishing his thoughts from reality. She said she told every police officer she came across to watch out for her brother. That’s sad, but for her and her family, it’s a very real concern.

Again, I’m not saying the police are bad guys, and I’m very grateful for their service and dedication to their communities. What I am trying to say is that maybe their time would be better spent on actual criminal activity and not be spent on de-escalating situations where mentally ill persons are involved. I realize sometimes it might be needed, but there is a large number of mentally ill people incarcerated when sometimes they don’t need to be.

Mental Health America, an advocacy group, says that in the past 50 years, the U.S. has gone from institutionalizing people with mental illness to incarcerating them at unprecedented rates, putting recovery out of reach for million of Americans. On any given day, 300,000 to 400,000 people with mental illness are under “correctional control.”

This is attributed to a lack of state hospital beds in the country, as well as a lack of proper training for law enforcement officials to identify mentally ill persons (which makes sense if the situation is dangerous and they don’t have time to suss out many details).

It didn’t use to be this way, though. Back in the ’50s and ’60s there was a huge call to action for states to empty out state psychiatric facilities by fiscal conservatives, civil rights activists and others. A lot had to do with the movie, “The One That Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” because people were convinced the mentally ill were being treated inhumanely. So they were “liberated.”

But now there’s a bigger problem — jails and prisons are becoming the “new asylums” for mentally ill. In 44 states, jails/prisons with both a county jail and county psychiatric facility, more seriously mentally ill (about 3 times as many) are incarcerated than hospitalized. U.S. prisons have essentially become warehouses for the mentally ill because of the decrease of state hospital beds yet the mentally ill receive inadequate care and have poor supervision. They are more likely to commit suicide as well as more likely to be sexually assaulted (1 in 4 inmates for females; 1 in 12 for males; 1 in 33 for inmates without a mental disorder). An article on Slate.com reported that in Florida, the prison staff takes pains to ensure the mentally ill patients are fit to stand trial but once convicted, they’re cut off from all services. Naturally, a lot of the inmates’ conditions worsen while in custody.

It’s also important to note that in Florida’s Orange County Jail, the average stay for all inmates is 26 days; for mentally ill inmates, it is 51 days. In New York’s Riker’s Island, the average stay for all inmates is 42 days; for mentally ill inmates, it is 215 days.

And if that’s not appalling to you, let’s also broach the subject of money. It is very costly to house a mentally ill person. It costs about $80 per day to incarcerate inmates without a mental disorder and $130 per day for mentally ill inmates. The average per year in Texas is about $22,000 for inmates without a mental disorder and it ranges from $30,000 to $50,000 per year for mentally ill inmates. This can all be found here on the Treatment Advocacy Center website.

It’s obvious something’s not right here. I’m not saying we need to increase the number of state hospitals once again, but maybe we do. I think it’s worth a discussion.

In 2019, when I was struggling with depression so badly, I went to a privately-run psychiatric facility called The Menninger Clinic. It’s one of the best in the country, but it’s also one of the most expensive. Thankfully, my family has been able to afford it as well as medications not covered by insurance and providers who don’t accept insurance — and there are a lot.

I think I would literally be dead if I couldn’t afford my meds and the services that I have received. That’s no exaggeration.

Some aren’t that lucky.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness, please visit the National Alliance on Mental Health to learn more and find resources.

Being Sick is for the Birds

I used to love getting sick. To me it meant all my troubles melted away while I sat around in my jams and watched TV. When I was in school, it was easy to catch up with what I missed. But when I started working, I met with resentment from coworkers and hostility from bosses because I missed so much work. And I was sick a lot, and sometimes I was faking for the down time or because my depression was so bad.

I wrongly thought that the world stopped when I had a migraine or virus (or when depression hit). I welcomed being ill because I thought it was a Get Out of Jail Free card, and now I know it wasn’t.

A lot of that was the depression talking. I didn’t always care who was inconvenienced by my illnesses, and now the one who is most inconvenienced is me. Go figure.

Today I woke up feeling dizzy and nauseated, among other things. I asked my husband to take the kids to school, but he couldn’t. I asked my mother-in-law to pick them up after camp, but she had an appointment. Some things can’t be helped, and it’s a reminder that now I HATE being sick because there’s only me to take care of the kids. And that’s fine. It sucks sometimes, but that’s the way it is. (Although usually I do have help with my kiddos).

When you’re an adult there’s not always someone to pick up the slack, and there’s nobody to wait on you hand and foot — believe me, I’ve looked everywhere as I love being waited on and adored.

I don’t mean to complain about adulthood (we can do that another time), but my point is that I don’t like being sick anymore because I’m not as depressed. I don’t have to fake a migraine or other illness to get some “me” time. I generally feel good and every morning I’m ready to get up and get going. It turns out, I like being healthy, and I love being happy. I’m truly miles from where I was just two years ago when I was at the psychiatric hospital.

This is progress! I welcome it because it makes me appreciate all the things I’m able to do now because my depression is managed at the moment. And I celebrate that — or I will when I’m feeling better.

To all you moms out there who don’t have help with the kids, I see you and admire you.

Fat Footsteps

Ever since I had Isla, I’ve made a conscious effort not to talk about my body in a negative light, talk about dieting or get on a scale in front of her. I NEVER say the F word (fat, not the other F word. I say that a lot)

I do this in hopes that she develops a healthy body image, unlike her mama who struggles with body image and weight on an almost daily basis. 

I don’t want Isla to suffer the way I have. I have an eating disorder — Binge Eating Disorder. I’ve been a size 10 and a size 20 (and everything in between), I’ve gained and lost the same 30 pounds over and over. I even had gastric sleeve surgery and had a tummy tuck and breast reduction because I was so unhappy with my body. And still, I suffer. 

But here’s the thing — if I know I shouldn’t do those things in front of Isla, why do do I do them at all? 

There’s no reason to talk to myself any way but kind. My body carried and birthed two beautiful babies. And even though I’ve had some struggles with my weight, my body has been good to me. It’s not my body’s fault that I haven’t always treated it right. My body is deserving of love and appreciation. And it needs grace and patience.

Sometimes the way I talk to myself isn’t the nicest — and I’m trying to change that — but I would be heartbroken if I ever heard Isla say these things about herself:

You’re fat. 
You’re ugly. 
Your stomach is huge. 
Nobody will love you if you’re fat. 

It’s not going to be easy undoing all the damage (physical and mental), but it’s time for change.

Last month, my parents came to visit for Isla’s birthday and they stayed at our house. I have no idea why, but I was embarrassed that I had gained 15 pounds. I felt guilty and shamed even though my parents are so loving and supportive. They would never mention my weight gain.

Here’s the scary part of the story — we have wood floors in our house and I noticed that while they were here, I tiptoed around the house.

I TIPTOED AROUND THE HOUSE BECAUSE I GAINED WEIGHT AND MY FOOTSTEPS SOUNDED HEAVIER (in my head).

I literally thought my footsteps sounded fat — crazy, I know. So crazy.

I’m a little embarrassed telling this story, but I’m more bewildered. Even my therapist was bewildered. How can I be that damaged about my body?

To reverse the damage, I have to silence my inner critic. She can be so mean and hateful. When an ugly thought about myself pops up, I simply say, “Stop,” I tell myself that thought doesn’t serve me. That I’m doing my best to be healthy (I quit Diet Coke and started eating healthier), and that’s all I can do. I say something positive about myself. I don’t know if the negative self talk will always be there, but I can’t let my inner critic gain control again. If I tell myself negative things all the time, I’ll start to believe them. I’ll slip into a depressive episode. I’ll stop taking care of myself. I can’t afford any of that. And I have to remember that Isla (and Eli) are watching and listening. They need to see me taking care of myself and loving myself.

Also, my voice will become their inner voice. How I talk to them is how they will talk to themselves, and that alone is enough to make me walk the straight and narrow. I want them to love themselves, because they are amazing, and I hope they never know any different.

It’s not easy, and I have a long road to undo some of the damage of hating myself but it’s worth the work.

Below are some body positive affirmations that help me:

My body deserves love and respect
Food is not the enemy and I thank the food I eat for nourishing me
My weight isn’t tied to my worth
I am beautiful
I love myself
I love my body, as it is today
I accept my body the way it is

I hope those help. Stay in the light, my friends.

“Can I go home now?” My life with anxiety, negative thinking, and chronic pain.

Guest Blog, by Lauren Logan:

I was an awkward kid. Emotional, extremely shy, overweight, curly hair that was frizzy and out of control, and freckles. I was the kid everyone made fun of and very few wanted to be friends. I don’t even need one hand to count the number of people that I would consider true friends from ages five to 14. It didn’t help that I went to a small private school with about 60 other kids in my grade, so once you’re labeled as the social outcast it kind of sticks with you for a while. The summer between 6th and 7th grade, I lost a bunch of weight and I remember it was a lot easier making friends after that. I associated “not being fat” with being accepted and being good enough.

This association started as a small passing thought, then made a hard u-turn and hit me head on. It attached itself to me at the age of 12 and would stay with me until the age of 36. (By the way, I’m 36.) From that point on, I found myself under constant fear of rejection and wanted nothing more than to just be accepted. Friendships, relationships, work achievements, social circles – I made myself into what I thought others wanted me to be and along the way, forgot to take the time to figure out who I was and who I wanted to be.

Outside of school, my social life wasn’t any better. Even family gatherings were incredibly stressful for me. A few people at a time was okay, but when I say I have a big family, I’m talking about eight aunts and uncles and over 20 first cousins. By the time I was born, my oldest cousins had their own kids. I’m not going to do all the math, but I remember Christmas Eve was always a bunch of kids sitting on the floor waiting to open presents and if you had to get up, it was like walking through a maze and trying not to step on someone. It’s a great memory, but the other half of that memory is that although I loved my family, I did not like the feeling of being so overwhelmed by people. At any function with more than a few people, I would take safety by hiding behind my mom or my grandmother. If that wasn’t an option, I would follow around whoever I was most comfortable with (usually my cousin, who you know as the creator of Unruly Neurons). At my own birthday parties, I would beg my parents to please skip the “Happy Birthday” song because people staring at me and singing was unbearable.

My mom did everything she could think of to help me. Although we never actually talked about it, I imagine she realized that me hiding behind her for the rest of my life wasn’t going to work out very well. So, I was in Girl Scouts, basketball, drill team, even tried volleyball for a year but I wasn’t any good at it. (I actually wasn’t that great at sports in general, but I really loved basketball – thank God for B teams who will let anyone play.) And finally – I found theatre, which quickly became my first love. It didn’t help with social anxiety at all, but it was the one thing that I could truly escape to and the only thing I would stick with throughout junior high, high school, and some of college. Probably because it was fun to be someone else for a while.  

Throughout all that, I had lost and gained weight so many times throughout my life, I lost count. What I didn’t lose is the thought that in order to be worthy of love, I needed to keep the weight off. This is not only how I believed others saw me, but it is also 100 percent how I see myself, and it has been that way for a very long time. But the weight issue would just be a foundation for me to continue to pile on horrible thoughts about myself. I won’t list them all here but trust me when I say it’s nothing good. And the sad thing is that it gets easier and easier to add on those other negative thoughts the older I get. I’ve had counseling, I’ve taken medication, I’ve journaled, I’ve poured my heart out to a few people, I’ve latched onto my faith which tells me that all those negative things I think about myself are lies. But when the foundation of what you believe about yourself starts with what you look like, it is really, really hard to believe anything else. It all starts with something like, “If I were prettier… If I were skinner… If I were smarter… I can’t do anything right… I’m a failure… How could anyone love me… I hate my body… I’m disgusting…” Then it transitions from thinking it to saying it, and eventually believing that my entire identity and worthiness is completely dependent on what I see in the mirror. When I lose weight, I am a better person. When I gain it, I am nothing.

Enter permanent nerve damage and chronic pain. Do you know how hard it is to keep an active lifestyle when you’re in pain 98 percent of the time? Yes, I can lose weight by focusing on nutrition, but to actually get the body I’ve always wanted, working out is a major factor. When I met my husband, who is truly the best person I’ve ever known, I was introduced to weight and resistance training and I fell in love with it. It was fun, it made me feel good, I started thinking more positively, I had more energy, I was able to focus better, and I was way more motivated to keep a good diet. The thing about nerve pain is that it really doesn’t care about all that. It doesn’t care that I would have months of working out consistently, only to have to stop for weeks at a time because I could barely stand up straight. It doesn’t take into consideration that if I don’t stay active, I have nothing that makes me feel good about myself and all those negative thoughts I was working to push away are actually just hiding behind a corner, waiting to jump out at me. It certainly doesn’t ask me about how starting over time and time again is so mentally draining, and most days I just want to give up on ever being happy with myself because I’ll always be stuck in this cycle, so what’s the point? Also, I’ve been dealing with this nerve pain for almost twenty years now. I’ve done physical therapy, shots, medication, had surgery, and I’m told it’s something I will have for the rest of my life.

On top of that, when it comes to socializing, not only to I have to deal with what is now pretty serious social anxiety, but even routine things (going to church, going to work, etc.) become difficult because there’s physical pain that never goes away. But people don’t always understand what they can’t see, so when I opt out of social gatherings because I need a mental break or because I have pain in most of my body and it hurts to move – it’s not because I’m flaky. It’s not because I don’t want to see friends and family. It’s not because I’d rather stay at home and read all day or binge watch The Big Bang Theory or Stranger Things (I mean, that is what I’d rather be doing over most thing, but that’s not the point). It’s because I’m drained – mentally, physically, or most of the time it’s both – and I just can’t force myself to do it. Yes, I miss out on holidays and I feel horrible for disappointing people. I’ve missed weddings and birthdays and those are things I’ll never be able to get back. I’ve let people down because I didn’t show up. I’ve tried my best and at times, it wasn’t even close to good enough. I’m trying to do lot better.

I wish I could leave you with a list of things that have worked for me to overcome social anxiety, chronic pain, and negative thinking. To be honest, I wish I had that list for myself. I have found some things that help from day to day, but that’s the key – these are things I struggle with daily. So, I won’t be able to share any quick fixes that have magically solved everything, but I will share what gets me through.

  1. My people.
    It’s important to have people in your corner that love you and accept you. People that are okay with me following them around the room a few times until I’m comfortable enough to find my own space. People who will be my human shields when needed because I. Do. Not. Like. Strangers. Hugging. Me. Or shaking hands. Ew. At the same time, they know how to get me out of the house because it’s good for me, and they do it without a guilt trip. My husband and my best friend are pros at this. It doesn’t have to be a huge circle of people. I’ve found that it’s okay to not need an entire hand to count the people I consider true friends. Quality over quantity. Always.
  2. Things that truly make me happy.
    I love books. I always have and I’m certain I inherited this from my Mema. I love reading them, I love looking at them, and the smell of old books is the best thing in the world. I also love writing them. Even if no one else ever sees them, it’s okay. Reading and writing is as close to my true natural state as I can get, and it’s when I feel the most like myself. It’s not just an escape for me, it’s something that keep me going.
  3. Doing the hard things.
    It’s not easy and it’s not comfortable, but the only way I know I can overcome things is to actually do them. Most of the time, I get something out of it and I feel proud of myself afterwards. I still know when I really need to say “no” to something, but I try not to overthink it or agonize over things for days before they actually happen. Last February, I was asked to be on the committee for a two day women’s conference at my church. I knew not a single other person on the committee going into it and I only casually knew a few people that would be attending the conference. Was I scared? Heck, yes. Did I almost back out? Absolutely. But I went through with it because I started thinking that maybe there was a reason why I needed to be there, and if nothing else, that reason would be showing me that I could do these things and it would turn out okay. (It turned out more than okay.) Another really hard thing to do is to confront the actual issues behind negative thinking. There are lots of things and memories that I’ve pushed aside and avoided dealing with because it’s too painful. I would rather continue thinking negative things about myself than deal with why I think those things in the first place. But I do have to deal with them. There is no substitution for digging up the dead roots in my life and getting them out of there so that something better can grow.   
  4. Consistency and preparation.
    This one is hard for me because not knowing what my nerve damage is going to do one day to the next can really throw things off. I also can’t predict when something is going to trigger my anxiety and thought spirals and I end up spending the day in bed avoiding everything. But you make the best of the good days and do what you can with what you have. I try to stay as prepared as possible and take advantage of the time that I’m feeling good. This is especially true for days when my nerve pain isn’t as bad – I make it a priority to work out and meal prep, and focus on what I can do, and what I can control.
  5. My faith.
    This is different and personal for everyone. I was raised Catholic, and when I was in my early 20s, I stopped practicing Catholicism and became a non-denominational Christian. I don’t have a go-to scripture that makes everything better the instant I say it. I do have a couple of favorite worship songs that help when I listen to them, but overall, what I really need is Jesus and the love, grace, and forgiveness that comes with Him. I know not everyone reading this will be of the same faith, and that’s okay. I’m not here to write a faith blog. I included this because it is something that has truly saved my life and has brought me through some really dark times. It is the one thing I know that takes my broken pieces and puts them back together, and I come out better than I was before. My hope is that everyone has something like this on their list.

Finally, know that you are not alone. Everyone has struggles that are unique to them and our stories may not read the same, but the more I open up to people about what I’m dealing with, the more I hear “I thought I was the only one who felt this way.” We were not meant to do life alone, and we are not meant to live feeling defeated. Do the best you can today with what you have. Kindness, compassionate, and grace can go a long way when we extend it to others, but don’t forget about extending it to yourself, too. 

Lauren Logan lives in Plano, Texas, with her husband Tyrone. She’s also a writer, and my beloved cousin.

How to Deal with Election Stress

You’d have to live under a rock not to notice that tensions are running high with the presidential election coming up. (In 39 days, if you’re counting).

No matter which way you lean, it can be overwhelming when there is so much drama surrounding the candidates and so much turmoil when it comes to social justice issues across the nation.

I’m a highly sensitive person, and when I’m inundated with negative political ads and negative news stories, I get stressed out.

As much as I’d like to bury my head in the sand and ignore the political climate, I can’t. I feel people who can “ignore the news” for any length of time are privileged in doing so. And there’s too much going on in this country that cannot and should not be ignored

I’m not the only one who’s stressed about the election. More than 60 percent of Republicans and nearly 80 percent of Democrats report being stressed out about the current political climate, according to the Stress in America 2020 report from the American Psychological Association (APA). The report is from July, so numbers could be a lot higher since so much has happened.

With the coronavirus wreaking so much havoc on our lives and the fact that it somehow became political, every single American has skin in the game, so keeping up with the news is crucial. But how do you do so when both parties are causing more polarization than there’s ever been (at least in my lifetime)?

Even if you don’t suffer from depression now, chronic stress can increase your risk of developing depression. I’ve been suffering with depression for years, so I know if I stress too much I can fall into a depressive episode. It’s easy to do, so I have to stay present and set boundaries for myself.

Here are some of the ways I cope:

1. Set limits on how long you watch the news/read the news – I don’t ignore what’s going on around me, but I do set what I think is a healthy goal in how much negative content I consume. I’d recommend reading the news and not watching. Sometimes news shows can be dramatic and anxiety inducing.

2. Don’t be goaded or provoked into an argument – This is a hard one because everybody’s passionate and has an opinion about what’s going on, but don’t be tricked into arguing with someone on the other side, especially if they’re internet strangers. I totally support political discourse but both sides must be willing to stay calm during discussions. Set boundaries for yourself and observe others’ boundaries if you are going to discuss politics.

3. Limit time on social media – Right now I get slammed with political articles on Facebook or people sharing their opinion about different issues. I used to get on social media to relax and share my life with friends, but it’s no longer that relaxing.

4. Make self care a priority – Continue to do things like exercise or meditation. My go-to self care practices include getting a massage, exercising, drinking lots of water and eating healthy foods.

5. Realize that the election happens in November, and there’s no sense in stressing about something that hasn’t happened. Make sure you’re registered to vote. Tell your friends to vote, and show up come November 3. It helps me remember that voting is the one thing I have control over.

Do you have suggestions on how to cope with the election stress? Drop them in the comments.

I beg of you, please vote in November. Too much is at stake. You can register to vote at Vote.org.

Postpartum Care Needs Dramatic Changes

I breastfed Isla for eight months before I started showing signs of depression again. Pregnancy hormones and breastfeeding gave me a temporary boost, but I could feel the darkness try to creep back in. My doctor (wrongly) told me I couldn’t breastfeed and take antidepressants, so I stopped. (Some antidepressants are safe to take while breastfeeding. Read more here and always consult your doctor if you need medication).

Heather and Eli, 2016

I weaned Isla somewhat abruptly and started my meds, expecting to immediately feel better, but Zoloft was no match for my hormones. I cried all the time. I had suicidal thoughts. I felt out of control and that scared me. I had experienced depression before but not on that level.

After talking to other moms and doing research, I discovered I had post weaning depression, something I’d never heard of, but it’s real. When you stop breastfeeding you experience a drop in prolactin and oxytocin levels, according to Parents.com. Prolactin, needed for milk production, causes calmness and a sense of well-being. Oxytocin, needed for milk ejection, increases relaxation, lowers stress levels and lowers blood pressure.

It’s no wonder that my hormones caused such a violent reaction when I abruptly stopped breastfeeding. I turned back to my doctor but he wouldn’t acknowledge that post weaning depression was real. I got the impression he didn’t deal with pregnant or postpartum patients at all. Later he labeled me “treatment resistant”, which felt like he was giving up on me. So, I gave up on him and found a new psychiatrist — a woman.

I received inadequate postpartum mental healthcare. I’m hardly the only one who has experienced this, which got me thinking — I was able to afford new medication ($300!) to combat my depression. I was able to find a new doctor, even though she lives in the DFW metroplex (near my parents’ house) and doesn’t accept insurance. She charges $125 per hour. I was able to get the help I needed, but there are women who aren’t as lucky, especially women of color. There’s a huge disparity when it comes to the risk of experiencing postpartum health issues. This is likely due to the fact black women are more likely to have traumatic births and other complications, such as maternal hemorrhaging. Read more about that here. Also, black women are less likely to reach out, most likely due to the stigma associated with mental illnesses.

Nationally, postpartum depression affects 1 in 8 women. New mothers of color have rates of postpartum depression close to 38% compared to the 13 to 19% rate all of new mothers, according to the Psychology Benefits Society.

A disproportionate number of women of color are not even screened for depression and don’t receive the services and treatment they need. Up to 60% of women of color don’t receive any services at all. That’s crazy! Proper screening of women of color during pregnancy and postpartum is known to reduce the symptoms of depression, yet there’s still this great disparity.

There’s also this — there are documented racial and ethnic differences in perceptions and treatment experiences of low-income women of color vs. white women, including limited access to health care, a disconnection with providers, lack of access to providers that look like them and unavailability of culturally/linguistically appropriate services, Psychology Benefits Society says.

A study questioned new mothers of color about what they needed in order to access screening and treatment and it shows mothers of coloring lack the following:

  • Access to information and resources
  • Access to services (insurance coverage, transportation, childcare services, etc.)
  • Flexibility when making appointments and flexibility when finding a doctor
  • Community-based support services

This is not OK. All those numbers are probably much higher in reality than what’s being reported. Again, the stigma keeps women of color from reporting and reaching out. It is still common for people — no matter what their background — to view depression as a weakness. New moms could also fear people thinking they aren’t fit as a mother if they are experiencing depression. That was a huge concern of mine.

I’m not trying to make this about me, but I can’t help but think what if I didn’t have the means and flexibility that I do to receive quality mental health care?

What I experienced with postpartum and post weaning depression was not good, and to be honest, it was dangerous (not for my kids, just me) because of my suicidal thoughts. I could have easily killed myself but my support system and options for healthcare saved me.

But there are others who need saving. All women need quality healthcare, and closing the gap between treatment of mothers of color and white mothers should be a priority. It should’ve already happened. The U.S. is supposed to be “best country in the world” but it ranks among the last compared to other first-world countries in terms of healthcare. I love my country, but it’s not the best if the majority of women are receiving little to no healthcare postpartum or otherwise.

Make Hay While the Sun Shines

Me cheesing after a workout.
This is my happy face
.

A week ago I was in bad shape — severely depressed, anxious and suicidal. I went for an ECT treatment and my psychiatrist altered my medications. This week has been unbelievably better. I expected to feel a bit better because of how low I was, anything is an improvement when all you can think about is dying. What I didn’t expect was how good I’m feeling. I have energy, motivation, mental toughness and this fire in my belly that I haven’t felt in oh so long. I almost didn’t recognize it. Is this what it’s like to be happy?

Let me walk that back. I’m always happy with my life and everything I have. I’m so fortunate and grateful, even in times of deep depression. But this is something else — this is me acknowledging the “inner me,” my utmost self and she is fierce. She radiates happiness. She loves every inch of herself. She advocates for those who struggle with mental health. Her mission is to help and heal this world through whatever means possible (Tikkun Olam). She relishes in spending time with her family (for more the most part) and laughing loudly with her friends. She has grit.

I’ve been cleaning, planning and getting those annoying tasks on my to-do list checked off. That might not sound very fun but I’m doing it with joy because I just can’t do much when I’m so sad and fatigued.

This is what I aspire to and how I want to feel all the time but there are days where the only thing I can aspire to is getting dressed and taking care of the kids. But that’s OK. Not every day will be a good one but that’s exactly why I need to write this blog. I must remember this feeling when I’m down deep in the black pits of darkness and depression. I need to tell myself that happiness and wellness are attainable. That it’s possible to feel so good that your cheeks hurt from smiling and you can’t stop singing, despite complaints from your family. I just want to sing, for my heart to sing. I want to reach my potential. I want people to assume I’m manic (or on drugs, LOL) because I’m so productive and happy.

And maybe I am manic right now but I’m going to make sweet, sweet hay while the sun shines.

It’s a great day to be alive and not in bed. I cherish this day, this feeling and all of you who support me when I’m utterly depressed, manically happy and everything in between.

To learn more about depression and you can help others suffering, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Love The One You’re With

I really liked what I said in my previous body positive blog and it felt so freeing. But I’m far from being more than just OK with my body. It’s a hell of a long way from being happy with it. 

In the past week I’ve caught myself two times feeling shame about my weight and appearance. First, I was in my bathroom, and against my better judgement, I got on the scale. It was just as I expected — 180 pounds — which is 10 more than when COVID started to spread and 30 from my goal weight that my gastric sleeve surgeon set for me. Anyways, Isla came in just as I was stepping off the scale and for some reason I yelled, “I need privacy!” and became flustered. It took me a minute to realize that I was embarrassed by that number. I didn’t want her to see it. It took another minute for me to realize that number doesn’t mean anything to her and shouldn’t mean anything to me. Just to reiterate, we’re going through a pandemic and it’s OK and understandable that my stress eating has led to a weight gain. It’s not an excuse to discard healthy eating habits, but I can give myself some grace. I should, anyway. 

It’s also important for me to say, and for me to hear, that my worth is not tied to my weight. My worth is not tied to my weight. I’m still beautiful and smart. My hair still curls the way I like it. My husband still loves me and tells me I’m beautiful every day. I still have amazing friends and family who have my back no matter what. My kids are still amazing and have hearts of gold. My small community still respects and supports me. My weight shouldn’t dictate how I feel about any aspect of my wonderful life. So, why does it? 

What I have learned in the past 20 years or so is that the flawed thinking surrounding women’s — and girls’ — bodies is deep seated. Women are bombarded with the notion they should be thin and to be beautiful, that they should fit a near-impossible mold. This is done through TV shows, advertising, social media, magazines, etc. According to http://www.centerforchange.com, young girls are exposed to 400 to 600 media images per day. That same site says a study found that 63% of female participants identified weight as a key factor in determining how they felt about themselves, more important than family, school or career. While it’s a bit comforting knowing I’m not alone, it’s also very depressing to hear.

That’s why we need to keep exploring this issue. There is a body positive movement but we need a body positive revolution, to discard these very dangerous bullshit ideals that only fuel eating disorders, depression, anxiety and body dysmorphia disorder.

Body dysmorphia can lead to unnecessary plastic surgery. Personally, I’ve had a “mommy makeover” which included lipo, a breast reduction and tummy tuck. I also had the gastric sleeve surgery in an attempt to control my weight and eating disorder (Binge Eating Disorder).  

But I’m here to tell you that didn’t help my self image, except maybe the breast reduction. I just didn’t feel the need to have size HH breasts. Let me also say I don’t mean to knock anyone who does get surgery. I’m all for supporting anyone’s decision to change their body, so long as it makes them happy.

I’ve canceled plans because I’ve felt fat and ugly. I’ve hidden in baggy clothes. I’ve dieted too many times to count. I’ve convinced myself that people don’t like me because I’m ugly and fat. I’ve ducked out of photos or refused to even take them. I’ve fed my body nothing but hate and junk and expected it to be healthy and perfect.

But no more. I don’t want to be boxed in by impossible standards. I want to have wild hair, wear crazy bright colors and patterns. I want to show off my tattoos. I want to take all the photos. It’s cliche but I want my little light to shine and not be dimmed by a little extra weight. I want — no, need — for my children (especially Isla) to see my live unapologetically, with confidence and love. I want them to laugh in the face of anyone who dare criticize their body or appearance. I want them to be everything I am and everything I’m not, all at the same time. I just want them to be happy and that starts with self love and care.

I’m going to stop hiding in photos and nitpicking about “bad angles.” I’m just going to live. Freely. That scale means, and measures, nothing. My children are watching, so I am morally responsible to let my light shine and shine brightly.

Please do the same.

If you or a loved one struggles with an eating disorder, I urge you to visit the National Eating Disorders Association.

When The Bad Thoughts Win

Trigger Warning: Suicide, Suicidal Ideation
Please note that this blog was written last week and I am no longer experiencing suicidal ideation.

I was told not to write this blog but I’ve always had trouble being compliant. You see, the past week has been extremely difficult. My depression became unexpectedly worse and I’ve been suicidal. Please know that I have a safety plan and am not a danger to myself or others.

Depression can leave you feeling suicidal, please seek help if that’s the case.

But I feel the need to describe this pain because I know others experience it but few talk about it. It’s too lonely, heavy and dangerous to keep to yourself, no matter how uncomfortable it makes others. Sharing and normalizing these feelings could be life saving, though.

Right now I’m exhausted. I feel completely empty but so full of anxiety, fear and sadness all at once. I just put down the kids and as I walked down the stairs I realized I’m not going to be distracted by them for the next few hours. There’s nothing but pain to feel now. I immediately thought, “What pill can I take to not feel this way?” But the answer is always nothing, no matter what meds you have.

Tomorrow I plan on getting another ECT treatment, the one a couple of weeks ago just didn’t take. I’ll take my meds as prescribed. I’ll go to therapy. I’ll do what I need to do, even though it feels so futile sometimes. I’m holding out for hope and I’m so fortunate to have the support and therapies in place to give me that hope. Some don’t ever find it. There are those who die by suicide, and I would never judge them for that. You can’t judge others for the choices they make when you don’t know the options they had to choose from. You might even think it’s the “easier choice” to let go but you would be wrong. Nothing about mental illness, especially depression, is easy.

This past week hasn’t just been a heaviness on my chest. It’s intrusive thoughts telling myself I’m not good enough. That my family doesn’t need me around to fuck them up. That I should literally kill myself and do everyone a favor. During depressive episodes, these thoughts, sometimes worse, are on repeat in my head. And it is so, so hard to say, “Stop!” You get to the point where you think, “Which voice is right??”

But I do know. I’ve been through enough to know that my lying ass brain is just that — a liar. If you are in that headspace where you don’t have the clarity to see what’s a lie and what’s the truth, seek outside counsel. Ask your friends, (maybe) your family, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. No matter what crisis looms, you will be OK. It may hurt some more and get uncomfortable but that just means growth is coming. You are valuable and loved and needed on this Earth. I turned to my beloved mom’s group to hear this myself, and I’m so glad I did because their words helped me push through.

I can’t promise your pain will ever go away — mine hasn’t yet — but leaving this world before God calls you home will only bring pain to your loved ones. I’d like to hope all depression sufferers can tolerate the pain just long enough to find a support system, resources such as a good psychiatrist, therapist, medications and develop self-care practices. It’s also good to have a safety plan, in case you “come off the rails” and if that does happen, go easy on yourself.

Again, I’m not saying any of this is easy and I definitely don’t have all the answers. I probably won’t ever but maybe we need to ask ourself different questions…?

This shit is hard and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone but it has made me stronger (sometimes annoyingly so). I have to let go of the fact that my brain isn’t “normal,” that I’ll have a life-long struggle with this disease and that sometimes I might feel like dying. That’s OK, because most of the time I want to live, and what a sweet life I lead.

I’ll leave you with something one of my mom friends said to me when I admitted I was suicidal. I hope it helps you as much as it did me.

“You are so loved. So valued. I know your heart hurts. I know your mind lies to you. Trust me when I say you are worthy, loved and freaking amazing. You are needed here.”

And I am. Thank you for everyone helping me out when I was so low.

If you or someone you know is struggling, please direct them to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit their site here.

Edit: Please read this article about what to do if someone you love is suicidal and in immediate need of help.

The Heavy Burden of Others’ Opinions

You’ll never lose more weight than the weight of others’ opinions of you. Let it go.

I’ve decided to lose some more weight. This time instead of worrying about what the scale says, I’m going to drop the weight of people’s opinions. It’s a heavy burden. Too heavy, if you ask me. And while I’ve begun the process of letting go, I have A LOT more work to do. I’ve come to terms with my depression and I’ve been fighting the stigma, which has been so freeing. So, why did I not let go sooner? And why do I aspire to other unrealistic or antiquated beliefs? 

I unabashedly talk about depression and it’s (usually) pretty hard to shame me these days. Why would anyone shame me about an illness that I can’t control? Because there are people who think that if you have depression you’re lazy, or that depression is solved by simply thinking positively. Newsflash — it’s not. Just yesterday one of my loved ones told me, “Don’t be depressed! Why are you depressed?” I answered, nicely, the only way I could: because I have a chemical imbalance. That my brain works differently than others’. She meant well but when you talk to someone with depression like that it only makes the one suffering feel even worse. Trust me. That’s why, up until a few years ago, I didn’t discuss my depression or anxiety. I didn’t want the judgement. But when I went to a psychiatric hospital in 2019, I simply didn’t give a fuck about hiding it. There’s nothing wrong with admitting you need help. With bettering yourself for your husband and kids. With teaching your kids to value their health — physical and mental. I regret nothing and I’ve written pieces in the local paper discussing my decision as well as other aspects of mental health. Was it easy? No, but what makes it worthwhile is that others have reached out to thanked me and told me that my words have helped them seek help. 

All of this has made me realize that there are other areas where I have subscribed to unhealthy, hurtful or judgmental beliefs, and I need to be free of that. If I had given in completely to the thought that having depression is because you’re lazy, I surely would be dead by now. Let me be clear — I’d be dead because I would’ve killed myself. The stigma surrounding mental illness is literally deadly. Normalizing it is the antidote, so I will never stop talking about it. 

But it’s not enough for me to disregard societal norms in dealing with depression. There are other things that also have contributed to my lack of self worth, mainly my weight. If I don’t get these toxic standards and behaviors out of my life, I might as well have never gone to the psychiatric hospital. For 36 years, I’ve been told — by society, family, friends, peers — that being fat means you’re ugly, slovenly, lazy, unworthy, unsuccessful. Before I even reached middle school I was called fat and I believed it. I developed an unhealthy relationship with food and declared war on my body again and again. Even when I was “skinny” I didn’t think so. I’ve 36 years old and I’ve never been the same weight for more than a few months. In fact, I got the gastric sleeve surgery last year because I was tired of my weight yo-yoing, but I’ve never hit my goal weight because I’ve never changed my behaviors and thoughts. I don’t know why I continue doing the same thing over and over again and expect different results. At first, I was ashamed that even though I got surgery I’m still not “skinny.” That I have an eating disorder.

I’m hardly the first woman to struggle but I am hoping that I’ll be the last in my family to do so. I certainly don’t want my daughter hating herself, because hating myself has only led to me learning unhealthy behaviors and those behaviors have only bred more unhealthy — and painful — habits.

Just like with the stigma of depression, I have to let go. Why do I need to be skinny for others to approve of me or like me? For ME to like me? Truly, the only thing holding my back is me. I might actually have different opinions about myself if they were unfettered by others’ judgement. I might even — gasp! — love myself. 

And while I’m at it, here are some things I’m no longer accepting opinions on: 

  • How much money I spend. I like nice things and I deserve to treat myself 
  • Just because my 4-year-old son wears nail polish doesn’t mean he’s a “sissy” or gay (But make no mistake, we’d support him if he were)
  • My family is going to hell because we’re Jewish 
  • My husband/son are less than a man because they don’t love sports
  • My nine tattoos. I love them and they make my happy
  • My use of curse words. I love those, too
  • My “bleeding heart” liberalism 
  • My passion for inclusivity….and pizza
  • My curly hair and how “it looks better straight” 
It’s ok if you sit and you have rolls. Embrace them.

I truly believe if I can let go of putting more weight on others’ opinions of me, I will become stronger and healthier, and that’s more important than being skinny or well liked. I mean, hey, I’m not everyone, and that’s fine by me.

I am a beautiful, smart, talented woman. I really want to love myself, so for fuck’s sake, let me.

I don’t want to leave this world thinking I’m not good enough. I’ve wasted enough time on that already. I’ve seen glimpses of the bright light inside me and nothing would mean more to share that light and encourage others to share theirs. So let’s normalize mental illness. And normalize normal bodies and normalize loving ourselves, no matter what type of packaging it comes in.

I’m done judging myself and everybody else should be, too. But if they aren’t done judging me, I have zero fucks to give.