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.

The Other Side

Depression and anxiety are at an all-time high right now.

I’ve been dealing with depression for almost my entire adult life, so I know what healthy behaviors I should be practicing in order to have some sort of control over my illness. For instance, someone with severe depression benefits from having a routine, exercising, eating healthy, etc.

I know to stay diligent when it comes to taking my meds. To keep appointments with my psychiatrist and therapist. Last year, I spent six weeks at an inpatient psychiatric facility, so I’m also equipped with healthy coping mechanisms, as well as a safety plan if I get suicidal. 

I know what to do. So, why is it so hard to do it? Why is there a part of me that doesn’t want to be healthy? There’s another side of me that I constantly battle and no matter how many positive blogs I write about fighting depression, that other side fights to be in control. There have been times where I have let it.

No too long ago before going inpatient at the Menninger Clinic, I let the unhealthy side take over. For some reason, I stopped taking my medication. It seems so stupid; taking pills is not hard but it became an impossible task. Obviously, my mood suffered from not getting my regular meds, but I just didn’t care.

That’s how it happens — you let the unhealthy part of you in just a little and soon the pull of not caring, not having to fight to be happy, commandeers you and you start to suffer in other aspects of your life. It’s easy, so easy, to succumb to this and while there are temporary moments of pleasure, there are permanent actions that are painful. Not just for you but your family, too.

Overeating or bingeing on unhealthy foods became an almost daily occurrence. I abused my anxiety medication. I wanted to escape and those actions gave me that escape, but again, it was all temporary.

Why did I want to escape? I mean, I have an amazing life — a loving family and supportive friends. I’m very fortunate and privileged. I have everything I’ve ever needed. I’m grateful for all that, but I have a very hard time lowering the volume of the voices in my head woh tell me nonstop that I’m not worthy. That I’m an unproductive loser. That there’s no point in being healthy, because I don’t deserve good things. It’s too much work.

I know that’s my depression and anxiety talking. And I know that they’re liars. I know it all, but there’s a big difference in knowing what to do and actually doing it. Therein lies the struggle everyone with depression deals with.

I’ve been inpatient, I’ve done therapy, I’ve done ECT treatments, I’ve taken dozens of medications. I’m much better than I was but that doesn’t mean it’s not a daily fight. I’ll always be saddled with this disease and I’ll always fight that darker “other side.” I pray that I’ll always win but there is a part of me that thinks I won’t.

It’s hard fighting my own brain. Believe me when I say that my brain is an adept fighter. One of its tricks is to tell me I’m amazing one minute and then next that I should kill myself. It doesn’t fight fair. None of this is fair, not that it matters.

This blog feels like some long rant, but that’s all I got today.

Everybody struggles with depression differently. If you’d like to read more about depression and mental illness, please visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

If you or a loved one is struggling with suicidal ideation, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. It’s available 24/7.

Back to School, back to school….

I know I’m not the only writing about this but I need to get it all out — I’m worried about my kids starting school tomorrow (Aug. 12).

They go to a private preschool and are starting earlier than the public schools, which are doing virtual learning until September. My daughter will be in Kindergarten and my son will be in the Pre K-3 class.

The school has a list of safety protocols that they started for summer camp from June to July. They’ll continue these, plus they are asking kids in the 3s, 4s and Kinder classes to wear face shields.

I trust the school to do every thing they can to protect the kids, but I’m still scared to send them back. Corpus Christi is being hit very hard right now with hundreds of new Covid cases and a handful of deaths every day. This past Sunday, we had more than 1,000 cases.

Having the kids at home has been nice in some ways but it’s taken a toll on my mental health. That and not having a routine or access to my usual self-care practices has stressed me out, increased my anxiety levels and forced me to turn to unhealthy coping skills at times.

I need a break from the kids, even if it’s just a few hours while they’re at school. I need to recharge, go to therapy and have some “me time.” I would be lying if I said all that didn’t go into the decision to send my kids to school. While I feel guilty about that, I know I’m not alone in feeling what I’m feeling. Every parent is battling this.

But the kids are suffering, too. Isla and Eli miss their friends. I’m sure they miss socializing at school and having contact with someone besides each other and their parents. I’ve also noticed that Eli has regressed a little with writing his name and other words. At the beginning of the quarantine, I had elaborate lesson plans for the kids but that has deteriorated into more screen time and outdoor play.

Eli’s only 4 so I’m not worried so much about him but I’m a bit concerned with Isla. We work on her reading daily but I want her to improve and be in an environment that cultivates academic growth. And I’m also worried about her testing into the gifted and talented school. She’ll take the test in January and I want her to be prepared. It’s something that David really wants (because he attended the same school), so I support that — as long as she’s good with it, too. 

This all might sound selfish and maybe it is. Of course I do not want my kids or the rest of the family to get sick. It’s a hard decision to make and I pray every night that it’s the right one. I just want what’s best for my family; I know we all do.

I support every parents’ decision, whether it’s keeping kids at home, virtual learning or in-person learning. I pray for us all during this uncertain and scary time. 

I know we’ll get through this somehow, I’m just hoping it’ll be with as little damage as possible. No doubt this pandemic will leave scares on us all, especially children.

I’m also praying for teachers, administrators, parents and students. We are all in this together, no matter what decision we make.

Disorderly Eating, Disorderly Depression

I’m probably the worst person to write a blog on body positivity, but perhaps that makes me qualified to.

I’ve never liked my body. Well, maybe a couple of times I have but I’ve never been consistent in liking my body or taking proper care of it.

On top of depression, I also have an eating disorder — Binge Eating Disorder — that has made it impossible to stay at a healthy weight. And to be honest, I still struggle even though I’ve had weight-loss surgery (Gastric Sleeve). Turns out if you don’t fix your disorderly eating problems before surgery, you’ll still have them after. Go figure.

I can still remember when someone first called me fat. I was in 5th grade and a boy who I liked said to me, “I know what your phone number is: 1-800-95-JENNY,” which was a number for JENNY CRAIG back then. The following year I was at my parents’ house with friends when two of my girlfriends pulled up their shirt and tied it into a knot, making a halter top. I then went to the bathroom and tried the same but a boy said, “Hey, we don’t need to see that!” Even though he was fine with seeing my skinny friends do it. I was not fat, just shaped differently than my friends but that didn’t matter to me — only what those boys told me did.

It wasn’t their fault I struggled with my weight afterward but damage had been done. Add that to this country’s obsession with being thin and you get an eating disorder and body dysmorphia.

I’m not alone. At least 30 million people of all ages and gender suffer from an eating disorder in the U.S. That’s huge. Every 62 minutes at least one person dies as a direct result from an eating disorder. And eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, according to the ANAD (National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders).

Twenty-eight percent of American adults suffer from my eating disorder. Approximately, half of the risk for Binge Eating Disorder is genetic and nearly half of BED patients have a comorbid mood disorder. More than half also have comorbid anxiety disorders.

I’m no expert, so I can’t tell you why people binge and overeat. For me, it happens when I’m bored or emotional. Or when I just have a void to fill. Sometimes I think I do it to punish myself, like I’m not good enough to be thin or healthy. Somewhere along the way I related being thin to being happy and successful, and I’ve never been able to convince myself that’s not the case. So when my depression got very bad, so did my eating and my weight went up. I was tired of all the ups and downs with my weight so I saw a weight-loss surgeon, the same doctor that my husband had seen. I had the surgery November 2019. Let me say that is has NOT been any easier to control cravings or eat healthy foods. That void I can’t ever seem to fill is mental and my surgeon can’t fix that. It’s not his job to, it’s mine. I just happen to be a terrible “employee.”

The weight loss surgery wasn’t my first attempt to “fix” my weight. After my two babies were born, I decided to undergo a “mommy makeover,” wherein I had a tummy tuck, breast reduction and some liposuction. I was obviously thinner but I just couldn’t maintain that flat stomach, or number on the scale.

What bothers and frustrates me the most is that I try really hard to be body positive for Isla’s sake but how can I tell her to love herself and that she’s beautiful when I couldn’t subscribe to those beliefs about me? She knows that I don’t like the word “fat” when referring to others and to embrace intelligence over looks but how much is she really going to learn with such a flawed teacher?

I’m a firm believer that when you face challenges, you cultivate growth and maybe having an eating disorder along with depression and anxiety, this is just another opportunity to grow. I’ve had a lot of “growing opportunities” in the past few years and I’m actually a little sick of it. But I guess I’d be even sicker if I let another generation struggle with this mentality. I can’t just stand helplessly by. I honestly don’t know if this is a trivial matter to be concerned with or if my neurotic mom brain just doesn’t want Isla to make the same mistakes. Regardless, I’m committed to ensuring that Isla remembers a few things:

  • She is beautiful, no matter her size or who tells her she’s not
  • But…beauty isn’t everything. Kindness and intelligence are more important
  • Ideally, you shouldn’t care about others think
  • To find friends who support her and celebrate you successes. And who will call you on your bullshit
  • That no matter who she becomes or what she does, I will always love and support her
  • Being different isn’t a bad thing
  • When you hurt someone, always apologize
  • Be healthy, not thin

That’s obviously not a comprehensive list but it’ll do for now; after all, she’s not even 6 years old but it’s never too early to teach kindness and self love.

As I wrap this up I can’t help but think about all the times I was embarrassed or felt shame about my body. What a waste of all those years. But I too deserve love, even self love. Real change sometimes comes in baby steps. It’s not too late to eat healthy, to feel good in my clothes, to reconcile the thought that I’m amazing with what I see in the mirror. I’m no stranger to conflict, so there’s no reason to shy away from it now.

Maybe while Isla’s growing up, I will too.

To learn more about eating disorders and how to support a loved one who has one, go here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Genetics and Depression

Isla, Eli and me. Family portraits 2019

When I was pregnant with my oldest in 2014 I was worried about a lot of things, which is completely normal for a first-time mom. One thing that surprisingly didn’t worry me was my child inheriting depression and anxiety. That came later.

By the time I was pregnant with Isla, I had been managing my depression for about 11 years. It was not severe, just required medication and therapy. It was a struggle for sure, but nothing like the all-consuming depression I faced after having Isla and then again after having Eli.

My anxiety was out of control and I felt overwhelmingly sad. Plus, I was suicidal. My doc was not helpful. He labeled me “treatment resistant,” but didn’t offer any more help. So in 2019, I went to an inpatient facility in Houston for six weeks. Long story short, I got better and found a combo of meds, therapy and ECT (electroconvulsive therapy). It’s still hard but I feel more in control and have more clarity with my illness.

My anxiety is still bad and sometimes I get obsessive thoughts that will cycle in my head. One of them is worry for Isla. I want her to be like me in so many ways, but I desperately hope she’s able to bypass mental illness. While there isn’t a single “depression gene,” genetics do play a part. A Standford.edu study says that scientists have looked at patterns of illness in families to estimate their “heritability,” or what percentage of their cause is due to genes. They did that by finding people with the disease who have a twin, and then find out whether the twin is ill. Identical (monozygotic) twins share 100 percent of their genes, while non-identical (“fraternal” or dizygotic) twins share 50 percent of their genes.  If genes are part of the cause, then you can expect a patient’s identical twin to have a much higher risk of disease than a patient’s non-identical twin.  That is the case for major depression.  Heritability is probably 40-50 percent and might be higher for severe depression.

I’ve already noticed that Isla can be high-strung and a little anxious. She has big emotions, which is normal for an almost 6-year-old. Still I worry. You might think, “What about Eli?” Depression and anxiety hit women harder; twice as many women than men experience major depression. The only thing I’ve observed in Eli is that he’s weird, which is fine by me, even preferred. He’s not out of the woods in regards to mental illness but really I don’t recognize “signs” of a mood disorder or depression.

Am I overreacting and seeing things that aren’t there in Isla? Maybe. Isla’s 5 and Eli’s 3. That’s too young for a diagnosis but if someone has a family history of severe depression, they (parent or a child) has a greater risk (2-3 times higher) of developing depression. If a parent or sibling develop depression in childhood, that rate is probably around 4 to 5 times higher.

As a mom with severe depression and anxiety, I’ll probably always worry and I think that’s normal, for whatever “normal” is worth. For now, my focus is to not focus on any markers I think I see. And while I am open with them about my depression, I don’t want it to define our relationship. But I refuse to totally keep it a secret, because that only creates a breeding ground for shame. Also, I think they sense it, to a degree, but they’re too young to experience and understand the complex emotions that depression and anxiety bring with it. I think it’s good for them to see me cry and it’s a goal of mine to instill the belief that showing your feelings and emotions are OK. That you’re strong when you can sort out and talk through your emotions. And I’m all about them being strong.

Some view sharing emotions as a weakness, but I’ve been through enough in my life to I know it is my strength, and if my kids do become depressed in the future, it will be my strength that can help them find their way out of the darkness.

I can remember times in 7th grade where I had anxiety and what seemed to be depression. I couldn’t verbalize my fear and pain, and because of that, I never got help. That won’t be my kids, I won’t let it.

Depression is such a complicated disease and not everything is understood. It has handicapped me at times, each time making me stronger. Depression may be hereditary, but I’ll teach my kids how to fight and adapt. How to dig deep and find strength. I come from strong stock, and I will teach them to live life even when you have obstacles in the way. Hopefully, they’ll be better and stronger than I’ve ever been. But if they’re not, that’s OK too.

I hope I don’t sound defeatist in this blog, but I do think being open and honest is a must when you fight depression. I would never wish this struggle on anyone else, least not my kids, and I pray that I never have to hear them them cry as many tears as I have or hear them say they wish they were dead. Nobody does, and that’s why I will never stop talking about mental health.

If you or someone you love is struggling with depression, please reach out to a doctor. If you or a loved one is suicidal, please call the Lifelife Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

Read more about depression here.

As always, you can contact me at heatherannloeb@gmail.com

Stay in the light, my friends.

 

 

Anxiety and Depression

I talk a lot about depression, and while that’s important, my anxiety can be just as debilitating, if not more. And if you’re (un)lucky like me, they go hand-in-hand.

When I think back, I can remember having anxiety as young as 12 years old. I can remember having intrusive thoughts about my family dying and I would be obsessively praying they wouldn’t. I also watched The Weather Channel around the clock because I had developed a phobia of storms. I’d watch even if it was good weather. When it would storm, I would get a stomachache and pray over and over.

My anxiety went largely untreated until after I had kids. After my first child, my anxiety manifested itself in weird ways, and if you would’ve asked my then if I had anxiety, I would’ve told you it was just fine. But I wasn’t. When Isla was born I freaked out about the temperature of every room in the house. I had read an article about the “ideal temperature” for babies and couldn’t help but worry about it. I bought little thermometers for each room the baby would be in at any point in the day and adjusted the air/heat accordingly.

I also obsessed over breastfeeding. I kept a detailed log on when I fed Isla and which breast I used and for how long. I kept it for the entire eight months I breastfed. I logged her diapers, too whether it was wet or poopy and how many times throughout the day. I did that for an entire year. That embarrasses me now but anxiety will do what anxiety does — makes you obsessed, worrying about things that aren’t always worth worrying about. But the thing is you can’t stop.

I obsessed over the baby monitor, watching it until I couldn’t stay away any longer. I worried about how loud or quiet the sound machine was and if David and I were too loud downstairs. You’d think as my kids got older I would relax a little but you’d be wrong.

Loud noises would freak me out and it’s still a trigger to this day. I don’t really obsess about those little things anymore but my anxiety is still here and at an all-time high because of the coronavirus. I have panic attacks, some that work me into a complete frenzy. I still feel panic and dread on Sunday nights, like when I was a kid. Sometimes I create problems in my head that aren’t real problems — like someone is mad at me and I worry about thinks I did or said to make them feel that way. My imagination runs away from me and I usually let it.

My anxiety gets really bad around the time of an ECT treatment. It stresses me out to think about going under general anesthesia and I have to talk myself down beforehand. My anxiety hasn’t gotten any better, even after having about 20 treatments.

I take meds for my anxiety and I try to employ coping skills that I’ve picked up in therapy but sometimes it still gets to me. Little things like taking a shower stress me out but I have no idea why. I think that’s what bothers me most — there’s no rhyme or reason to it and it’s hard to control.

A couple of weeks ago I had an anxiety attack at the dentist (which has never happened before). I was supposed to get some fillings replaced but before they could get started I panicked as they put the nitrous gas mask over my nose. It was embarrassing how much I cried but I couldn’t do anything about it.

A lot of people experience anxiety. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, more than 40 million Americans have an anxiety disorder. There are different types, such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder and Phobias. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. Half of people with depression are also diagnosed with anxiety.

I’m lucky to have a great therapist and psychiatrist who help me deal but only one-third of those suffering with anxiety are treated. Medication and talk therapy can help manage anxiety. I depend a lot on my medication but they only do so much. I have a list of coping skills I use, read more about that here. It’s also important for me to keep a schedule/routine. Interruptions can be a huge trigger, which is why it’s so hard right now with coronavirus. It’s also crucial that I question my thinking when I get caught in a cycle of negative thinking. I ask myself if my thoughts are true and if I’m being realistic or catastrophizing.

Aside from that my other triggers include interrupted/not enough sleep, socializing, traveling and loud noises. When I’m triggered by these things, an attack can feel like someone sitting on my chest. I sweat, shake and can even work myself up to being hysterical if it’s really bad. At times, I feel like throwing up and that I have a million butterflies in my stomach.

Sometimes anxiety attacks can feel like something else, so here’s a list of symptoms you could possibly experience:

  • a feeling of impending doom
  • a feeling you are in danger
  • dizziness
  • heart palpitations
  • trembling/shaking
  • chest pressure

Anxiety is so difficult to manage. I’ve been dealing with it since I was a kid, so I get that it’s not easy. Nothing is easy when it comes to mental illness. But I think the best thing to do is talk about it. I mean, 40 million Americans have it but it’s not widely understood and doctors don’t always screen for it and some don’t even accurately diagnose it. We need to keep the conversation going until it’s normalized — and that goes for all mental illness.

Misconceptions About Depression

A few years ago I posted an Instagram photo with me crying and a caption that said, “This is the face of depression. Be kind to others because you don’t know what they’re going through.” That photo upset some of my friends because I hadn’t really discussed my depression before in such an open way. To them I was happy and a goof ball. What most didn’t see was I was moody, miserable and even suicidal at times.

Though I was diagnosed with depression 17 years ago, it was after my babies were born that it really got bad — and scary. I had dealt with postpartum and post-weaning depression but had inadequate psychiatric care.

On the outside I was posting pics of my kids in cute outfits and everything online told a completely different story.

Many people mask their pain for different reasons. I had the idea that depression wasn’t talked about, that having depression makes you weak. That it was a matter of willpower. I didn’t want to be the depressed mom, I wanted to be the mom that does it all, which is a dangerous and unrealistic expectation for anyone. That stigma that I was buying into keeps a lot of people silent about their struggle. It can be especially hard in certain cultures, such as Asian cultures (read more about that here.)

There are definitely common misconceptions about what depression looks like. In my case, I’m not sad every minute of everyday. There are good and bad days, just like anyone else. Sometimes my depression manifests in other ways, such as overeating or binge eating; sleeping too much; having a short fuse; or partaking in other unhealthy behavior.

I was freed of the heavy weight depression holds when I admitted to all my friends and family that I went to a psychiatric hospital in 2019. I even wrote a forum piece about my experience for the local paper. It was not easy, in fact it was a little terrifying knowing that essentially the whole city knew my secret, but like I said, it set me free. I just didn’t care about anyone’s opinion anymore. I know it can be annoying when I plug my blogs or pieces in the paper but I’m hoping they will reach someone who needs to hear what I’m saying — that it’s OK having depression and there is no shame in it. Those who I’ve met who struggle with depression are the strongest people I know. We are fighters. We are survivors.

Ideally, everyone should be able to talk about their mental illness but I understand why people don’t. It’s terrifying being vulnerable, especially when there’s a chance someone will react negatively. But I urge everyone to reach out, even if it’s to one person. You’d be surprised how free it makes you feel, and by telling a friend or family member, you’re lightening your load. Your support system can help you carry that load, and you should take help where you can get it.

If you can’t reach out to someone, please know there are several online resources that can help. To learn more about depression or find resources visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. They have a 24-hour helpline.

Other Misconceptions About Depression:

  1. “It’s all in your head.” – Depression is a psychological and biological disease. You have no control over it, so if someone tells you to “buck up” just know that the problem is not with you — it’s with them and their lack of understanding. You don’t have to pretend or fake it, just do you.
  2. Depression = being really sad. – Sure, you get sad when you’re depressed but someone equating it to “just being sad” is trivializing your feelings and your disease.
  3. Depression means you’re weak – I already touched on this but it’s worth repeating — I think people with depression are so strong. Depression can wreak havoc in all areas of your life. Some people deal with suicidal ideation daily and others have to tap into a reserve of strength and energy just to take a shower (me!) or go to work. Often that reserve is depleted.
  4. Depression is not treatable – There are a variety of medications that are safe and effective in treating depression. There might be side effects and it might take a while before finding the right combination, but (most of) patients feel better. There are also therapies you can try, such as talk therapy, TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation), ketamine infusion therapy, and my favorite, ECT (electroconvulsive therapy). Please consult your doctor before trying any medication or other treatments.

These myths are damaging, but again, please reach out if you are struggling. It gets better.

If you are suicidal, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit their site for chat support.