Don’t I Deserve a Break?

Last week was a good one. I started eating healthier, I worked (jogged) three days I week, I drank fewer Diet Cokes, replacing them with water and I kept up with personal hygiene. It wasn’t a good week, it was great.

Those kids of weeks don’t happen often, not for me. I caught myself thinking about it as a fluke, some hormonal gift that was sure to fade away because doesn’t it always?

I haven’t had more than one of those weeks in years. I didn’t want to get attached to the idea of it for good reason. Depression has reigned in my brain for too long. It always comes back, and it’s hard to beat.

But I’d be lying if I didn’t say there was a small part of me saying, wait — isn’t this what we’ve been working on? What we’ve trained for? I haven’t modified my behavior, taken all these pills and gone to therapy just so I could tread water for the rest of my life, because damn, isn’t that what I’ve been doing? Getting through the day, weeks, months and even years to only keep from drowning? NO! I have not. I want to live, really live without the ball and chain of depression and its comorbidities.

If I’m happy now, it better not be a fluke. I’ve worked too hard. There’s been literal blood, sweat and tears thrown into my recovery and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Please tell me this isn’t an accident.

I want to believe it’s real, that it’s not hormonal or manic phase. I want to believe that sometimes I can catch a break, at the very least an intermission from the pain and heartache my treatment-resistant depression and anxiety have caused me. And not to mention my family and friends.

I want to live and not just count down the minutes until I’m unconscious again. To wake up and literally smell the roses. I want to be happy and enjoy everything I’ve been given. Some may ask, can’t you do that with depression, and the answer is yes. But having depression is like only seeing in black and white when you know others can see color, that you once saw color. It dulls all your senses and sometimes, a lot of the times, you can’t feel anything at all except for loss. Heavy, penetrating , overwhelming loss.

I don’t want to feel that anymore.

Don’t I deserve a break?

Anxiety Sucks

When I start my day, I go into autopilot and make breakfast for the kids, get them dressed, pack their lunches and drive them to school. I usually have errands to run afterward, and I try to stay busy.

I look forward to hanging out with my husband (my favorite human), eating dinner and talking about our days. I try to relax, but it doesn’t always happen.

At night after the kids are asleep and my brain is temporarily relieved of keeping small humans alive, my thoughts start to race. The voice in my head is full of self-doubt, telling me I’m not worthy, that I’m a screw up. So I stay busy – I don’t like to be left alone with my thoughts because demoralizing and exhausting. Sometimes I eat to distract myself from those thoughts, to make myself feel better. Sometimes I binge, only enjoying it briefly before regret and pain set in. It’s a compulsion and it’s hard to control.

In addition to all that, I’m sensitive to noises – loud noises freak me out and make me irritable. I snap at my kids and husband over little things.

This is anxiety, what it looks like to me anyway.

Yesterday I made lunch plans with a friend, and we picked a restaurant I haven’t been to in about a decade. I wanted to seem easy-going, up for anything so I said yes and immediately looked for their menu online and choosing what I would order. I started to get anxious about going out, so I asked my friend to pick me up. I was worried about parking and whether I’d get there first. It’s just easier if I’m not alone. It irritates me though that I’m like this. I’m constantly planning and rehearsing what I will do or say in my brain before (sometimes if) I do it. Sometimes I cancel plans because I get so overwhelmed. I hate change and trying new things. That doesn’t keep me from trying, though.

For instance, next week’s menu is comprised of all new recipes. I don’t have my favorite foods, my comfort foods, planned. And I’m already dreading it.

I’ve been this way since I was in middle school. I was plagued with anxiety but didn’t know what it was, assuming my nervousness and habits were normal. They were not. I had intrusive thoughts, which I still get today. They would be things like my family is going to die, that I was going to die, and included worst case scenarios. It was hard to deal with then, I was just a child.

They’re still hard to deal with. I’ll be interrupted by the thought of my husband or kids dying or that I’d get a painful, terminal disease. Most of the time I’m able to stop the thoughts and reset my thinking, but they leave a gross residue in my mind that’s hard to clean up. A lot of the time, my anxiety manifests as irritability or rage.

I’m not trying to bum you out. My goal is to point out that anxiety is not just being nervous about something. It affects my daily life and sometimes paralyzes me from getting things done and living a somewhat normal life. Others have it even worse. Anxiety presents differently people, so it’s best to be compassionate and empathetic to others who suffer.

To sum up, anxiety sucks.

Unruly Neurons Celebrates 200th Blog Post

My last blog post (read it here) was officially my 200th blog post since I created it in 2018. I didn’t write much when I first started; I have the pandemic to thank for posting regularly and getting into a groove. And it’s led to me being a regular guest columnist at the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, one of my dreams come true.

Thank you so much for reading, leaving comments and sharing my blogs. I’m so grateful to each one of you who has aided in the small successes of this site.

I created Unruly Neurons after fashion icon Kate Spade killed herself in June 2018. Her sister gave an interview saying that Kate suffered with depression and didn’t want to seek help or speak out because she was afraid of hurting her brand. Something inside me just snapped, so I started writing Op-Ed pieces on mental health to the Caller, not knowing that within a year I would be in a mental hospital for six long weeks.

When I came back from the Menninger Clinic in August 2019, I was a bit embarrassed at first then realized that I had to talk about it. I had to be honest in my struggles and in my journey. I was hoping to free myself from the shame and silence depression and my other mental disorders had bred inside me, but it wasn’t just about me either. So many of you reached out to me, confiding that you suffered and how my writing helped you feel less alone.

If I never do anything else in my life, that’s OK. Knowing my blog helped someone, even just one person, is enough for me.

I’m proud of the work I’m doing, and I know it’s been good therapy for me to vent and talk to others going through the same thing. So thank you — all of you.

If you’re not quite ready to talk openly about depression (and other mental disorders) that’s OK. I know you’re brave and a survivor because that’s what mental illness is — a battle with yourself every single day, and it’s so hard! I just want you to know you’re not alone.

I’m going to keep writing, because I’m still battling my demons, too.

Unruly Neurons By the Numbers:
– 12,500 blog views
– 8,246 visitors to the UN site
– 200 posts
– Most viewed post: Emotional Pain
– 31,897 words

In a Nutshell: My Week in Review

I haven’ written one of these updates in a while; I’ve gotten off my normal posting schedule since starting my column in the Caller-Times. Which reminds me, the Caller does a “Best of the Best” contest where people can vote for their favorite Mexican restaurant, etc. There’s a category for Best Columnist, so if you have please take a moment and write my name under the Media category.

A few weeks ago, my oldest graduated Kindergarten, and they had an amazing graduation. I’m now buying new clothes, shoes and school supplies for her new school. I know I have a couple of months, but I like to be prepared. She’ll be a first grader at the gifted/talented school, so we’re all excited.

During the summer we’re going to visit some museums in Houston and probably visit my parents in Dallas. No major plans. I am, however, really looking forward to the Olympics, which start in July.

After school starts in August, I’m thinking about having a hysterectomy. I don’t love the idea of it (because of the anesthesia), but I think it’s the best decision. If you have any experiences you’d like to share, drop them in the comments.

That’s about it in my world. I hope y’all are doing well, and as always, thanks for reading!

Stay in the light.

Love, Heather

10 Bad Habits of a Depressed/Anxious Person

Let me preface this blog by stating these are my experiences only – not all depressed people are the same, nor do they experience depression/anxiety in the same way.

When I first wrote this blog I didn’t have a problem with the title but now I do. Labeling the following as “bad habits” implies to me that these actions can be prevented but these things are uncontrollable side effects of depression and anxiety.

So let me say, “10 Things That (Almost) Every Depressed/Anxiety Person Does”

1. Cancels plans – I cancel plans a lot, and I feel really bad about it. When I’m feeling good I reach out to my loved ones and make plans but when the time comes my mood and demeanor have changed. It feels physically impossible to hang out, especially if it’s in public. My depression/anxiety is so unpredictable, and because of this, it makes it hard for me to maintain some friendships.

2. Sleeps too much – When I’m in a depressive episode I can’t get enough sleep. Mostly because I feel extreme fatigue, but I also don’t want to be awake much because it’s too much work. I get overwhelmed, and it’s painful to be awake, so I go to sleep early and take naps during the day. This is a problem because it can intensify things like obesity, headaches and backaches. You miss out on things, and it’s just not healthy. It’s definitely not a long-term coping strategy.

3. Isolates – As I mentioned earlier, when you’re depressed it’s so much effort to be awake and functioning. This includes socializing with family and friends. Even texting seems hard, so it’s easy to just withdraw but this too is dangerous. Feeling alone can increase feelings of depression — mainly loneliness and despair — which could lead to suicidal thoughts.

4. Neglects personal hygiene – Sadly, this is a huge problems for me. For a long time, I could only shower once a week. I also have trouble brushing my teeth. It seems silly because these tasks don’t seem hard but if you’re depressed, they’re an impossible task. I would feel gross, slovenly and even worse about myself.

5. Overuses drugs and alcohol – I abused my anxiety meds because I wanted to feel anything but the pain and discomfort depression and anxiety were making me feel. So I took pills to feel loopy and out of it. This obviously doesn’t aid in recovery of depression, and it can kill you. Using anything to numb the pain is dangerous, whether it’s prescription meds, drugs or alcohol. If you’re struggling with substance abuse, please reach out to your doctor.

6. Dissociates – I just wrote a blog abut this, check it out here. Dissociation is common to those who have depression. It’s one way the mind copes with too much stress or trauma. Experiences of dissociation last hours or days. That feeling that I’m detached from my body is why I like to binge eat or take pills — it’s just a feeling of escape. It doesn’t happen often with me, but I totally understand why.

7. Doesn’t eat enough or eats too much – I have Binge Eating Disorder, where I eat until I’m uncomfortably or painfully full but don’t purge. Overeating like that isn’t much different from me abusing medication — I just want to feel “good” for awhile. The problem with bingeing is that I only temporarily feel good. The aftermath and effects are terrible, but I seem to forget this when I’m bingeing.

8. Snaps at loved ones – Sometimes anxiety can manifest as anger or rage. I didn’t know that until recently. When I start snapping at my husband or yelling at the kids, I know it’s my “check engine” light coming on and I need to take a break or practice self-care.

9. Overthinks – This is called rumination, and it’s hard to stop. I’ll get a thought in my head or replay a scenario and think about it for hours, even days. It’s hard to control, and it causes me to feel shame and guilt. Believe me, I don’t need anymore of those.

10. Worries too much about the future – Sometimes I’ll get caught up on the future. I’ll worry excessively about it (and even ruminate), even though I know it’s irrational to do so. Mainly, I’ll think about finances or my husband dying. It’s unpleasant and just causes more anxiety. This is also hard to control.

Any others you can think of? Leave them in the comments.

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.

10 Benefits of Having Depression

Don’t let the title of this blog fool you — depression definitely sucks. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone; however, there are some things that having severe depression (and anxiety) have taught me. If I’m going to deal with these disorder for the rest of my life, I better make hay when the sun shines.

1. I’m empathetic – Depression is a chronic disease, an invisible one, and so many people misunderstand just how bad it can be. A lot of people put on a happy face while they go to work and in front of their friends even when inside they feel like they are slowly dying a painful death. I have learned not to judge others as much, because we truly don’t know what’s going on with someone unless they confide in us. And those who are suffering from a chronic or invisible illness, I have so much more empathy toward. I know what it’s like — the pain, the judgement from others, etc. Having depression has taught me to respect other people’s health journey, no matter what that may be.

2. I’m also resilient – I’ve been through a lot, and even though it’s still painful at times, I fight. I bounce back. I shake it off.

3. I’m able to help others – I’ve had depression and anxiety since I was about 12 years old. I’ve taken tons of different medications, I’ve been hospitalized at a psychiatric facility, I’ve abused my anxiety meds, I’ve self harmed and I have an eating disorder. These experiences help me relate to others and I can share what I’ve gone through, hopefully so they don’t repeat my mistakes.

4. I have lots of patience – During a depressive episode, I can get so frustrated with my brain for not working correctly, but I’ve learned that if I just stick it out, the sun will shine again and my pain will fade. I just have to be patient — with my brain, with my medications, the ECTs (electroconvulsive therapy), etc. With the right combination of therapy, medication and coping skills, life gets better. It will always get better.

5. I appreciate the little things in life – This is hard to do during a depressive episode, because everything feels like hard work. (See my spoons blog). It’s hard to shower, eat, sleep and take care of my family, etc. That’s why I have to force myself to appreciate the little things — a cold Diet Coke, fresh flowers, painting my nails, playing with my kids and binge watching TV shows with David. “Indulging” in these things helps me to remember that life is good, despite what my brain is telling me and that I have to continue to take care of myself to experience the good.

6. I’m confident I can handle anything – I’ve battled severe postpartum depression, I’ve fought off suicidal thoughts more times than I can count, I’ve been hospitalized for six weeks and I continue to fight my major depression on a daily basis. These are not easy feats. It’s especially hard when you’re fighting a disease in which your own brain tells you to kill yourself or you’re not worthy. Yet, here I am despite it all. I’m strong, and I know I can handle anything that comes my way.

7. It’s taught me who I am – I kept quiet about my depression, anxiety and eating disorder because I learned somewhere along the way that these things were character flaws. I thought I was broken and flawed and didn’t get the help I needed. That’s the stigma of mental health talking. Depression is just a disease I fight — it’s not who I am. I’m the strong, resilient, loving woman who kicks depression’s ass everyday. Everything I went through was a major gut check, and even though I hate what depression has done to me, it’s made me a better, stronger version of myself and I can’t hate that. I’m proud of my journey and I’m proud that I can be so open about it. My hope is that others will read my blogs and feel free to share their journey as well.

8. I’m brave – It wasn’t easy being honest about my mental disorders and sharing that I’ve been hospitalized and suicidal. Although it was freeing later in the process, it was really painful when I initially shared everything because so many people don’t understand mental health. But that just means we have to work harder at normalizing it and sharing factual information about it. I’m brave for putting it all out there, I’m brave for doing ECTs every eight weeks and I’m brave for getting up every morning and fighting for my life.

9. It’s shown me who my real friends are – Being depressed is a real drag. I cancel plans with my friends quite a bit, and I know that gets annoying hearing that I’m depressed every. single. day. I get it. When you’re dealing with such a debilitating illness, you find out real quick who will stick by you and support you. It ain’t for sissies. I’m thankful for my girlfriends who continue to stick by me and give me unlimited support, no matter what’s going on with me.

10. It’s forced me to be more mindful – I have to keep very close tabs on my emotions and actions so I don’t slip into a depressive episode. I have to make sure I’m getting enough sleep, water, alone time, vitamins and more so I can be as healthy as possible. Monitoring my emotions is no different — I have to make sure that I’m processing and dealing with my feelings, especially if it’s a negative emotion. For example, if I’m feeling uncertainty or fear, I have to cope with that in a positive way and not a negative way, such as binge eating. It’s very easy to turn the feelings monitor off and try to fill that void with food or other unhealthy coping skills. So, I’m mindful of how I feel and in dealing with how I feel.

Any benefits I missed? Drop ’em in the comments. Thanks for reading. Stay in the light.

Sentenced to Life

Please note that this was written two weeks ago and I feel better.

Last week I had a much needed ECT. When I awoke from the short procedure, I felt strange. Usually, I have a terrible migraine, I’m confused and fatigued, but this time I was alert, I knew what had just happened and there was no sign of a migraine. Good, right?

During the two-hour drive home, I kept thinking that it was amazing that I didn’t feel like crap. I looked over the papers the hospital gave me and saw that I had a short, 42-second seizure, which is good — the shorter, the better. But something was bothering me.

It’s now been several days since the ECT. I don’t feel as different as I’d like. I don’t have much energy, I’m not as optimistic as usual and at times I’m just sad. I hate to say it, but I don’t think this treatment worked. It’s happened before — the ECT leaves me feeling no different or actually worse, but it’s rare. It scares me, because getting treatments is the main part of my treatment plan. I rely on them to feel better.

This is just a very sad reminder that I’ve been sentenced to life with major depression/anxiety, and there is no cure. I’m treatment resistant, meaning most medications won’t help. Therapy, ECTs and behavioral modification are the only things keeping me from slipping back into a depressive episode. And I’ve worked too hard to go back.

I don’t mean to be gloomy. Maybe it’ll take a week before I feel better. Maybe I’ll have to work harder on self-care and turning to healthy coping mechanisms. I hope to hell I don’t, but maybe I’ll need another ECT before the next one scheduled in eight weeks. Maybe that one will work.

It’s just hard not to feel betrayed right now. I hate getting ECTs, but I continue to get them because I know they help make me a better mom, wife and friend…they usually help, anyway. But this time was different — I feel bamboozled. I went to all that trouble for what? To still feel out of gas and like there’s nothing to look forward to? I hate my brain! Even if I do (most) everything right, my efforts are thwarted. It just doesn’t matter, my brain’s gonna do what my brain’s gonna do. And that, my friends, is depressing in itself.

I’ll give it a few more days. I’ll do my best, practice self-care, go to therapy. I’ll drudge on, but I have a feeling I’ll be making another trip to San Antonio sooner than expected. And that’s OK, if the next time works.

But what in the hell will I do if it doesn’t?

I can’t really entertain that thought, because it’s so suffocating. I feel the urge to stomp my foot like a child and scream, “It’s not fair!” Because it sure the fuck isn’t.

It’s just not fair.

What Would Make This Better?

I remember when I was much, much younger and was dating an older boy. We were picnicking at the park, and it was a beautiful day. It was one of those moments I thought that I would remember forever; however, now I remember it for the wrong reasons.

As I was enjoying the day and our time together, my boyfriend asked, “Do you know what would make this better?” Fully expecting him to say, “Nothing!” I asked what. Then he said, “Alcohol!”

Now, I don’t drink and am not against it at all, but I was so annoyed. We didn’t need alcohol to make anything better — it was perfect as it was. He then said, “Or maybe smoking a joint.” I was really pissed after that, even though I’m not against marijuana either.

I didn’t understand my boyfriend. He was always trying to drink or smoke, and I didn’t realize why until I began abusing my anxiety pills several years ago — he was trying to escape pain. He had many problems that he never dealt with and unfortunately never really got a chance to because he died in a suspected drunk driving accident. He was in his 20s, a kid almost.

When I was severely depressed and suicidal, I started abusing benzodiazepines, which are highly addictive. I was still dealing with postpartum depression, although I didn’t realize it until things got dire for me. I remember thinking to myself that the pills made everything better, and I’d take them every chance I got, eventually working my way up on the dosage. Even when I wasn’t anxious, I’d take them. I too was trying to escape. And even though I thought the pills were helping me and making me happier, they weren’t. They were just numbing me to the pain. Whatever relief I got from those tiny little pills was temporary, and I was doing much more harm than good.

I was lucky; I could’ve easily overdosed on those pills and died. So many people do but when I went to the psychiatric hospital for my depression, I was encouraged to take the addiction classes and deal with my demons there, too. Even though I don’t miss the pills, I still get the desire to escape in some form. That has never gone away and because of that it’s wise that I avoid drinking, benzodiazepines and other mood altering substances.

This is such an important topic. I have everything I’ve ever wanted — great family/friends, a wonderful husband, great kids, beautiful home — so why do I need to escape? My therapist asks me that all the time and for the life of me, I just can’t think of an answer.

That’s the thing about depression, even when you’re happy with your life it still drags you down like a ball and chain. I can fight it with positivity all I want, but it will still be there, lurking in the dark corners of my fragile mind. So I embrace it — the good days and the bad. I know that when things get gloomy, it’s only temporary, and it will always get better. I’ll keep fighting the good fight and when someone asks me, “What could make this better?” my answer will be, “Nothing.”

Nothing at all.

All About ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy)

I’ve had a lot of questions about ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) lately, so I thought I’d talk about it more today.

I’ve been doing ECT treatments since 2019, after I stayed at the Menninger Clinic for six weeks. My doctors all agreed that I was treatment-resistant, meaning most depression medications would be ineffective in helping me, and ECT has a high success rate.

I’ve had about 30 treatments, and I can honestly say they have changed my life for the better. I have more energy, more patience, I’m not sad as often, and I’m able to function pretty well for a girl with no serotonin, lol.

I now do my treatments at the Laurel Ridge Treatment Center in San Antonio; there are no doctors who do them in Corpus Christi where I live.

When I arrive at the treatment center, I fill out paperwork on how I’ve been feeling and whether I’ve been suicidal. I talik to the nurses and PA, discuss the depression symptoms I’ve experiencing then they move me to a bed. A nurse then puts in an IV and they give me medication for nausea, just in case. Next, they wheel my bed into the treatment room where an anesthesiologist, a doctor and nurse are waiting. They attach electrodes to my forehead and temple, then add a blood pressure cuff and pulse oximeter. Usually at this time, my blood pressure gets higher and my pulse races because I’m scared, even though I have no reason to be.

The docs chat with me for a bit and then they put me under anesthesia. After I’m out, they put a bite guard in my mouth and give me the oxygen mask. The nurse starts up the ECT machine which will send electric pulses to my brain, triggering a brief seizure. They also give me a muscle relaxant, so I’m not moving a whole lot. Once the seizure is started, they wait for my brain to stop it. My brain works hard to stop it as fast as it can, but sometimes the docs have to administer medication to stop it. The shorter the seizure, the better the outcome I usually have. This past ECT I had a 42-second seizure but I’ve also had ones that last up to a minute or longer.

After the seizure, I’m sent to a recovery area. It usually takes about 20 to 30 minutes for me to wake up. After I’m looked over by the nurses, I’m free to go home. I usually have a killer headache, so I get something to eat, take my migraine meds and sleep on the way back to Corpus Christi.

I can see how reading this would surprise some people — one person described it as barbaric after I explained the treatments, but it is not barbaric. For someone like me, it’s life-saving, and even though I don’t like getting them done, I’m grateful for treatments.

ECT helps as many as 80-85 percent of patients who receive it and is the most effective treatment option for those who are treatment-resistant.

Most people have an initial course of ECT then do maintenance treatments every now and then. I haven’t gotten to the point where I don’t need them, so I go every four to eight weeks. I’m working on stretching out the treatments, and maybe one day I won’t need as many.

I hope I haven’t shocked you — haha, get it? If you’d like to know more, please leave a comment on email me heatherannloeb@gmail.com