This is My Fight Song

Last night, Isla had her first sleepover at the new house. We’ve never hosted one, though she went to a sleepover last year at her BFF’s. I’m not going to lie, I was scared. I wanted it to go well for Isla’s sake (and mine). I don’t know the two girls that well (thanks, COVID) but their moms are very nice, and I want to get to know them better. I know it’s silly — and these particular moms aren’t judgmental at all — but I wanted to prove to myself that I could do this, despite my depression and other mental disorders. That I’m a fun mom, a responsible one. So, it was important for me to put on a good show.

And a good show it was. We swam, ate snow cones, got in the hot tub, did facials, had a charcuterie snack board and a dance party. The last was my favorite. I started playing my music, but one of the girls requested “Fight Song,” which I didn’t have. No problem — I downloaded it and they began to sing, dance and flex their muscles. While they were singing at the top of their lungs and dancing around, tears came to my eyes. They were so happy and carefree. So strong for being only 6 years old.

Then I started listening to the words to the song and wondered why I’d never downloaded it before. It resonated with me, and I was proud that Isla somehow knew the words. I should learn them. I should be more like these 6 year olds, screaming and dancing around without a worry in sight, because my mental illness doesn’t define me. Why was I so wrapped up in the idea that this sleepover had to be perfect just because I have depression? Silly. Despite what I go through, I’m still a responsible, fun, kind, loving person. People respect me, so maybe I should follow suit.

Those kids had a blast, and so did I. I need to remember that all that hardship I endure is worth it to see moments like these in my kids’ lives. This is what it’s all about, and I refuse to worry that I’m not up to snuff anymore. This is my fight song. My anthem is written all over the faces of my kids, husband, in my blog, and this is one song that I have memorized. And it’s a happy one.

It’s OK that I’m a little broken — we’re all a little broken; that’s how the light gets in.


FIGHT SONG by Rachel Platten

This is my fight song

Take back my life song

Prove I’m alright song

My power’s turned on

Starting right now I’ll be strong (I’ll be strong)

I’ll play my fight song

And I don’t really care if nobody else believes

‘Cause I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me

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.

Gifted and Talented, Part III

As previously mentioned, I have been stressed and anxious about the results of my daughter’s gifted and talented scores. The scores determine which school she’ll attend next year, and the G/T school is amazing. My husband actually attended when he was little.

Because of the winter storm that passed through here a couple weeks ago, the results were delayed, which I understood. But my brain did not — I wanted the results and my anxiety made a mountain out of a molehill. After being told the second deadline would not be met, I was so upset. I’m so impatient, and then my anxiety made everything worse. You’re probably saying that worrying doesn’t make the results come sooner, and I know that, logically. But the logical side of my brain gets overpowered all too often.

I digress. Yesterday while I was nursing a migraine, I checked my email and there it was — an official school district email with the results. My heart started pounding (dramatic, right?) and I opened the attachment — she got in! I’m so happy that she’ll get to benefit from such an amazing school. I think it’s important for me to say that I don’t care about the “title” of being gifted and talented. I already knew she was gifted and smart, but it’s important to me that she learn critical skills needed to succeed in this world and the school can help prepare her. Not only that, but the program will challenge her and nurture her intelligence and creativity. That’s what I’m happy about. It’s just such a great opportunity.

So, I was relieved, to say the least. I feel so stupid saying this, but her getting in validated some insecurities about myself. I thought to myself, “Yes! She got David’s DNA and mine’s not going to screw her up!” And I know it sounds silly, but I’ve always been scared that she’s going to have all my bad traits — that my genetics had overpowered David’s and she was destined to be depressed and unhappy (more drama, I know). But David is just so amazing and it makes me happy knowing that she’ll follow David’s footsteps at the G/T school. Not that I’m putting any pressure on her.

I need to stop worrying about what my kids inherited or didn’t. They’re a mixture of an intelligent, generous, logical dad and a creative, kind, sensitive mom. I don’t need to concern myself with their potential flaws. We all have them, that’s what makes us us. And even if they are riddled with my flaws, it doesn’t matter — I’d love and support them anyway.

That’s what makes me me.

Success in Mediocrity

All the writing I did about Isla’s gifted and talented scores got me thinking about the idea of success and what that means for me.

When I was younger (high school-ish), I would’ve told you being successful was having a good job, being well-off and married. I thought my parents were successful, which they are, so I intended on emulating their lifestyle. But when I did go out into the “real world” after college, I couldn’t hang. I got a job hundreds of miles away, working as a reporter to a mid-size daily newspaper, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. I missed my family, and even though I made friends, it was still so hard. My depression worsened for one, probably from being away from home and stress of my first job. I got in trouble a lot for calling in sick (either depression or migraines), and I ended up quitting just short of a year. I quit journalism too, even though I thought being a journalist was my calling. I felt like a loser, and I was really anxious and embarrassed about the whole thing.

I eventually got a new job where I could use my writing skills, but I still mourned the idea of not being a journalist.

I never found another job that made me feel as good as writing for a newspaper did. After a few years of working various jobs, I stopped working all together so I could get healthy enough to have a baby. People judged me for not working, but to be completely honest, it felt amazing to get that pressure off me. I did become healthier and had two beautiful babies within two years. I still haven’t gone back to work, and I like it that way.

When people ask me what I do for a living, and I say stay-at-home mom, it sometimes stings but I think that’s because society has conditioned us to believe that success only lies in one’s occupation. And for a lot of people, that’s true. But not I. It never occurred to me back then that that a job is just a job — it’s not who you are. And just because I don’t have one (that pays) doesn’t make me less of a person.

But it’s not about a job, house, how much money you have, etc. For me, it’s about happiness and being fulfilled. I was never the brightest, thinnest, most athletic, most ambitious person. I’m not even sure I’ve been the best at anything, and I say that not fishing for compliments but to proclaim that I might be mediocre in many ways but I’m also exceptional in others. I celebrate the fact that my life doesn’t have to parallel my parents’ or anyone else’s. I celebrate my strengths, even though they may not match others’. God made me the way I am for a reason. And you, too.

Success should look different for everyone, because we’re not all the same. We don’t have to be. We don’t have to join the rat race, either. All those “flaws” I thought I had before aren’t flaws at all, and I should celebrate them because they make me, me. I don’t get paid, but I write everyday and blog about a topic that I’m very passionate about. It makes me happy, and hopefully, I’m helping others in the process.

I will remember this about my kids as they grow up and try to figure out life as they know it. And I’ll support them, no matter what success means to them. Just like my parents did with me.

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.

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.

Hangin’ Tough

It’s been three weeks since the kids have been home with me all day every day. Three long weeks. I know every parent is struggling right now, trying to figure out how to balance work and kids. They probably aren’t going back to school this academic year. And while it has been stressful with the kids home, I’m proud to say I haven’t lost my shit.

There’s been yelling and some tears but something inside my brain switched and now I feel mentally tough for the first time in a long time. I guess I realized I don’t have another choice. I have to show up and be a mom. There is no end to the quarantine in sight and there’s nothing to do but be strong. Usually, uncertainty and this amount of stress would trigger me, causing panic attacks and rendering me useless. I know everybody is in the same boat and I don’t mean to whine about this situation but I don’t know if everyone realizes how hard it is for parents right now. We can’t go anywhere or do anything the kids usually like to do. What bothers me most is knowing that my babies surely are feeling stressed and out of control. They need routines and structure. I imagine they are scared and completely overwhelmed. I know I am.

My days have started around 5:30-6 am and end around 7-8 pm. That’s a lot for me. In the good old days, I would go to bed at 9 pm so I would be well rested. Now, I get the kids down, eat dinner and barely have anytime to discuss things with my husband and just relax. I know going to bed at 11 pm will make me tired and break up my routine but I NEED to chill, not be touched, not be yelled at or asked to do a million things. The struggle is real. Now, more than ever self care is crucial and carving out time with the kids here is hard. But I have to do it. Everybody does, even if you’re not depressed and ridden with anxiety.

Self care right now looks like reading my favorite book, watching my fave shows, doing Sticker by Number puzzles and taking hot baths. Most days none of that happens but I’m trying harder to incorporate it in our new daily life.

I worry that this will break me, that I won’t feel tough and be able to handle the kids. I worry for everyone who struggles with mental health. This pandemic is enough to deal with without the added stress of thoughts of worthlessness, suicidal thoughts or debilitating anxiety.

I did see that Health and Human Services launched a mental health hotline to help anyone who needs it. People are available 24/7, 7 days a week. If you need help or want to talk, you can always email me at heatherannloeb@gmail.com or call the hotline at 833-986-1919.

Be safe. Be well.

 

Mac & Cheese

This is Macaroni and Cheese, named by our 4-year-old, of course. Our other three, yes three, cats seem to be ok, although one cat, Fifi, is simply not acknowledging his presence. Enjoy.