Survival of the unFittest

I feel my skin touch in places it didn’t used to touch, like my back when I move and turn certain ways. I can tell there’s more fat around my neck, as I feel it almost choking me when I look down or lie down. There’s more of me everywhere, it seems.

I blogged a few weeks ago about gaining about 15 pounds, but now I fear that number is closer to 20. I haven’t brought myself to get on the scale in fear or a full-blown depressive episode.

Obviously, it’s a hard time — for everyone — because of the pandemic. My thoughts shift from thinking, “Do what you need to survive” to “You need to make healthy decisions,” and survival always plays out. When you have depression, there are some days you do need to just do what you can do to survive, but when you have depression AND an eating disorder, some times directives get confusing.

For some reason, “just surviving” has turned into eating junk food to make me feel good, and in that moment, I think it honestly will make me feel good. But alas, as I’ve said before, those feelings are temporary. So I keep shoveling in the unhealthy snacks to chase that good feeling. Because let’s face it, there’s not much good going on right now. And now, I’ve 20 pounds heavier, unhappy and even embarrassed. I’m probably about the same weight as I was before I had gastric sleeve surgery. So, why did I go through all that pain for NOTHING? God, it’s disappointing and shameful. But also, laughable. How am I this stupid? Or is it stubborn? Whatever it is, I’ve got it in spades.

It would be one thing if I had gained just a few pounds and started to change my habits, but I’ve done so much damage, I’m physically uncomfortable. It’s hard to breathe at times. I’m not in a good place. And you’d think that would spur change, and I hope it does, but I’ve lost confidence in myself.

My only hope (at the moment) is that I’m getting another ECT on Friday. I’m hoping it’s a hard reset this time. Usually, I dread getting them, as I hate going under anesthesia, but I’m really looking forward to this one.

The thing is, that sometimes the ECTs are a good reset, but often times, it doesn’t feel that much different. In my opinion, I shouldn’t have to rely on a hard reset from the ECTs to make a change. Damnit, I should employ the coping skills that I’ve been learning since going to The Menninger Clinic.

Why the fuck is it so hard to take care of myself?

Maybe it’s low self-esteem, the effects of trauma, a terrible case of treatment-resistant depression, my dumbass personality disorder, etc. Maybe I don’t like myself.

Maybe it doesn’t matter why I don’t do it that matters. Hell, maybe I should go to therapy more often.

Maybe I’m missing the point.

Maybe we all are.

Sense of Loss

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe it’ll be OK if I don’t.

You Might Have Anxiety If…

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

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

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

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

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.

Choke.

My best friend called me out today, and as much as I hate to admit it, she was right. As usual.

I was complaining about my weight gain and how I felt fat and ugly. My BFF was sympathetic then said, “You can’t preach self acceptance and hate yourself.”

I blog so much about body positivity and loving yourself and here I am cringing every time I pass a mirror — that’s mirror avoidance, by the way. Why is it so hard to practice what I preach?

Because there’s a deep-seated belief in me that fat equals ugly and unworthy. I’ve been trained to criticize every inch of my body, to think of fat as disgusting. I’m afraid that I won’t be able to overcome these thoughts, that I’ll always hate myself, and that’s just sad.

Weeks ago I contacted my favorite photographer and booked a photo shoot that was just for me. I wanted to celebrate how free I feel now that I’m so open with my mental disorders. I feel free from others’ opinions, too. Or I did. Now I want to cancel the photo shoot. I tried on outfit after outfit and nothing fit and if it did, it didn’t feel like me. I ended up crying about the ordeal, realizing that I’m not free at all — I’m a slave to my eating disorder and to the idea that being thin means you’re beautiful, loved and successful. I am tethered to dangerous societal norms, even though I talk about bucking them all the time.

I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I don’t want to look at myself in disgust. I want to love my body and soul. I want to be free. And in some ways, I am.

It was brave to admit to depression, anxiety, an eating disorder and a personality disorder. I didn’t bat an eye when I talked about my suicidal thoughts and subsequent hospitalizations. I don’t give a fuck what others think because I help people by talking about these issues. Friends, family and even strangers have reached out to me saying I’ve helped in some way, and that fuels me to keep writing. There was nobody to help me navigate depression and anxiety when I was at my worst, and I don’t want anyone feeling the same way. It was a terrible, dark time. And hopefully, I can shine light on other people’s journey because I know what they’re going through. That’s my goal.

But I’m not truly free until I break these tired old chains.

A friend had a shirt on today that said, “I will no longer be shrinking myself to be more digestible.You can choke.” That’s the attitude I want to have. I’d be healthier if I lost some weight, sure, but being overweight doesn’t mean I’m ugly or less than. It doesn’t change anything — I’m amazing for so many reasons and none of those reasons has to do with weight.

My kids are watching. Their ideas of self-worth come from me (and my husband), so I’d better get it together. There’s no way I want either of them to deal with low self-esteem and self-hate. I want them to celebrate who they are outside of their appearance. And if I want them to do that, why can’t I want that for myself? I’m almost 40, and it’s hard to reverse some thoughts, but I can do it. I’ve battled depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember — I’ve come so far. I’m not going to let a few pounds (or 26) take me down. No, I’m stronger than that.

From now on, I’m celebrating who I am despite my appearance. If people don’t like it, they can choke. I refuse to shrink any more than I have.

Freedom

When I started this blog, I was not free. I hid my depression, anxiety and binge eating disorder from the world, mostly because I was embarrassed. I also have a personality disorder, but I didn’t know it when I started writing.

I felt weak because of the depression. That’s not uncommon, mostly because society still buys into the stigma surrounding depression and other mental disorders.

It took going to a mental hospital for me to finally “come clean” about my disorders. Before I left for The Menninger Clinic, I was abusing my anxiety medication, suicidal and it was hard to get out of bed. I was at my lowest.

Then, surrounded by people just like me, I realized that I wasn’t weak — it takes a strong person to fight their own brain in order to stay alive. And that’s what I was doing. My brain was telling me I needed to kill myself and that nobody wanted me around. That I was a burden. But I resisted.

Depression not only made it hard to get out bed but also it was difficult to brush my teeth and shower. I also started isolating, not answering texts from my friends and wanting to spent more time by myself. That’s depression’s game — to isolate you and make you think you’re not worthy. And what helped me while hospitalized was discovering that it wasn’t my fault. It’s nobody’s fault. It’s situational and genetics. Anyone can become depressed — just think about what the pandemic has done: people have lost loved ones, they’ve gotten sick themselves, they’ve lost jobs and people are isolated from family and friends. It’s just a hop, skip and a jump over to depression right now, for anyone.

And it’s so lonely. So, so lonely.

My goal starting this blog was to help others not feel so lonely. So ostracized. To fight the weariness that you feel in your bones when struggling with depression. I want those suffering to know that you are worthy and not alone in this fight. There is light at the end of the tunnel, at least I think so. I’m still trying to get there.

What I’ve come to know is this: It’s OK to have depression. It’s OK to admit it and talk about it freely. There’s nothing wrong with having a mental disorder. People who suffer with mental illness are survivors, warriors. I am a warrior.

Every single day I wake up and fight depression and anxiety. I fight body image issues and experience terrible, hateful intrusive thoughts telling me I’m ugly, fat and a loser. Or that I’m going to die. Sometimes, it’s no picnic. But again, I’m a warrior.

I’ve learned that I can run on hate, so I’m learning to love myself. On a good day, I see a beautiful, wild-haired woman who loves her friends and family fiercely. Who has awesome tattoos and is not afraid of speaking her mind about anything. An advocate who desperately wants to help others.

I’ve come a long way, and this blog has helped me navigate my journey, which is just beginning.

What I am now is free — free from the shackles of other people’s opinions and the stigma surrounding mental disorders. I have major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, avoidance personality disorder, binge eating disorder and I have problems abusing prescription medication. I’m still amazing. I’m brave. I’m a fighter.

I’m unapologetically me and so fucking free. Join me.

In a Nutshell: My Week in Review

I hope y’all are doing well. It’s been awhile since I posted an update, so here goes. First of all, I want to wish everyone who celebrates a Happy Easter. We’re Jewish but we still do an Easter egg hunt and the Easter Bunny drops off goodies in their baskets.

This past week was a little trying for me. I’ve had an ECT appointment scheduled for next week, which is the eight-week mark. I really thought I could push past eight weeks but I’ve noticed I’m more irritable and my temper is shorter than normal, so I should probably just do it. It’s hard for me to admit that I need one because I hate them so much. I really dislike going under anesthesia; it makes me anxious and scared. My pulse quickens and my blood pressure goes higher than normal, and I have to use all the strength I have not to start bawling and begging to get me out of there. I know it doesn’t make sense — I’ve had almost 30 treatments, and I’ve never had a bad experience. But that’s just how it is. Anyway, I’ll try not to focus on that this week; I’ll just think how much better I’m going to feel and what a difference it’ll make.

In other news, tomorrow (Monday), one of my latest columns will be printed in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. They’re letting me write some more mental health columns, and I’m hoping it turns into a regular columnist job — it would be a dream of mine. So if you’re not too busy, go to Caller.com tomorrow and check it out.

That’s it for now. I hope you guys have a happy, healthy week.

Stay in the light.

I Hate Asking For Help – Guest Blog

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest blog, written by a dear friend. If you’re interested in being a guest blogger, please email me at heatherannloeb@gmail.com

I hate asking for help.

Which is what makes dealing with stress, anxiety and depression even worse. We all hear help is out there. That all we need to do is ask. I have made these same sentiments countless times.

Yet, I hate asking.

Some might think it’s out of pride, that I don’t want to be seen as weak. Others assume that I’m Wonder Woman and act envious or surprised about how I have it all together.

I wish it was that simple. I wish I had it all together.

No, it’s more about the feeling of betrayal.

By no means am I the best: friend, sister, or even mother out there. I have never claimed to be and never will. Yet, I know in my heart that when I can, I help my loved ones even in the smallest ways.

When they’re sick, or injured I check in. I may not always say the right thing or give the best advice. A lot of the time I probably don’t even say what they want to hear.

But I show up. At least I think I do. I did. Hell, maybe I don’t anymore. Maybe that’s why at the end of the day I don’t ask for help.

I don’t ask because it always feels like anytime I do ask, there isn’t a helping hand.

So instead I usually stay silent. I continue to suffer and drown in my own pain because in my experience.

It’s easier than being ignored or brushed off.

It’s easier than being told, “It will get better.”

It’s easier than being told, “Maybe…”

It’s easier than being let down again and again by my loved ones.

It’s easier to put on the fake smiles and forced laughs.

I recognize to some this sounds like a pity party. But when you’re the one who is always seen as the one who has it together, or the one who can be relied on, it’s hard to ask for help because you’re the one who is supposed to be doing the helping.

I also know full well that others can’t always help. They have their own lives. Their own problems. Which makes me hate asking for help even more.

I’ve Gained 26 Pounds

Last Friday I had an ECT treatment. I hadn’t been there in four weeks, so they asked to weight me (to calculate how much anesthesia I get). Usually, I avoid the scale. The number shouldn’t matter to me, but it does. Big time. I looked down after I stepped on the scale, and I was shocked. I’ve gained 26 pounds since the pandemic — 26 POUNDS! I’m almost 200 pounds, which I swore to myself I’d never be again. I mean, who has weight loss surgery and doesn’t lose the weight? Me, apparently.

I have all the reasons in the world to lose weight and be healthy, mainly my kids. I want them to see me be healthy so that they can be healthy. I want to lose the weight because I want to live a long time. It would benefit my mental health greatly if I maintained a healthy lifestyle. But I don’t.

Even after my ECT, while feeling happy and more stable, I had the intense urge to overeat and binge. And I did. The ECT is supposed to reset my brain. Last week, I was so depressed and even had suicidal ideation, so I needed the ECT. But the ECT can only take me so far. I’m responsible for making health decisions for myself. And I need to hold myself accountable. At some point, I have to make the effort to be healthy without expecting something or someone else to help me.

I don’t know what drives me to overeat or binge. It sort of makes sense when there’s conflict in my life, and I feel the need to be comforted by food. But right now, there’s no conflict in my life. There’s no logical reason for me to shove food in my face. It bothers me so much that I don’t know why I binge, and I’m not sure it would even help if I did know. It’s just frustrating. And I know it’s a hard time because of the pandemic, but we’re not getting back to any kind of “normal” I know any time soon. So, it has to be now. I have to make changes now. But honestly, I don’t know if I will. I don’t know what it will take.

I bought a treadmill that will be delivered this week. I bought a food journal to help me track my water and meals. I have a brand new pair of running shoes to use for exercise. Conditions are favorable for change. My brain, my stubborn brain, is the only thing holding me back. Even now, as I’m typing this, I want to eat, to be comforted. To lose myself in the taste and texture of something delicious. I fear my urge to escape the real world will be permanent, as it manifests in other ways, too like abusing my anxiety meds. And again, I don’t know why or what I’m trying to escape. I have a great life — better than most — and I’m so grateful for everyone in my life and everything I have. So, I really can’t tell you why I want to escape.

At one time, I thought it was emotional pain that was holding back — trauma from my past. But I feel like I’ve dealt with that. I’ve talked to my therapist about it extensively. I wrote a blog about it that I will never share. I got if off my chest, but still the pain resides. At least, I think so. Why else would I be trying to fill this unrelenting void?

I so want to be able to wake up in the morning and not immediately think about what I’m going to eat. To plan my next meal, as I’m licking off my current meal’s crumbs from my lips. I live meal to meal, snack to snack, and I hate it.

I hope this week I can make changes to my daily life and incorporate healthy habits. I pray for strength and guidance. I pray for what feels like a miracle.

Next week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. It may not seem like a big deal, but there are 30 million Americans who suffer with an eating disorder. There are so many people suffering right now, who are suffering more because of the pandemic. Only 1/3 of people receive help for their eating disorder. Eating disorders have the second highest mortality rate of any mental illness, with nearly one person dying every hour as a direct result of their eating disorder.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, please know that you are not alone. It’s a challenging time for us, but it’ll be OK.

We will be OK.

The Personality Disorder I Didn’t Know I Had

In 2019 I went to a psychiatric hospital (The Menninger Clinic) after battling suicidal thoughts, abusing my anxiety meds and hitting a low I didn’t know was possible. For six weeks, I was away from my family, which is almost as painful as fighting depression and anxiety.

While I was there, I was assigned a psychiatrist, social worker, therapist and a psychologist. I underwent many psychiatric tests and was taken off all my psychiatric medications. It was rough.

I knew I had major depressive disorder, because I’ve struggled with depression for almost two decades. I knew I had anxiety, because of the crippling panic attacks and intrusive thoughts – thoughts telling me I should kill myself or that my family was going to die.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the diagnosis of Avoidant Personality Disorder. I had never even heard of it. Avoidant Personality Disorder, which affects about 1 percent of the general population, is described as having feelings of extreme social inhibition, inadequacy and sensitivity to negative criticism or rejection. It’s more than being shy or awkward in social situations (which I am). It makes it hard for those suffering with the disorder to interact with others and maintain relationships. It’s also common for “us” to avoid work or school, mostly because of extreme low self-esteem.

It was hard hearing this new diagnosis. For one, I already felt saddled by depression and anxiety. I wasn’t fond of the idea that I had this disorder, another albatross around my neck. And yet, I couldn’t deny it. Reading about the disorder was like reading from my memoir; I knew the symptoms and behavior well. I’ve always been social awkward. I avoided school like the plague, and later when I worked, I avoided that, too. I haven’t worked outside the home since 2013.

There was no denying the diagnosis. And, even though I’d probably been dealing with it since adolescence, I felt more broken because my many flaws were well documented and it was “official.”

But that’s bullshit. I was broken but not because of the diagnosis. I was broken because I had kept my struggles to myself and hadn’t reached out until it was almost too late. I was stifled by the stigma that surrounds depression and other mental disorders. The stigma and keeping my struggles to myself almost killed me.

Having depression, anxiety, a personality disorder and binge eating disorder is nothing to be ashamed of. That’s what I have – not who I am.

Now, I blog about my troubles and speak freely to others about anything and everything mental health related. I’m no longer afraid of being judged. The weight of others’ opinions is far too heavy to bear.

Now, I’m free.

Reject the stigma. Be proud of the fighter that you are. Seek help if you need it. By doing so, we help eradicate the judgement and stigma. Be free with me.

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, go to the nearest emergency room or call a trusted friend. You are not alone.