In a Nutshell: My Week in Review

Yesterday I blogged about my ECT not being as effective as in the past, but today I’m feeling a little better. I’ve been productive, cleaning and organizing various parts of the house , so that’s something. I’m trying not to be negative about the situation, but sometimes it’s hard to get past “it’s not fair!” especially when I try so hard to maintain my mental health. So hard.

It’s all I ever think about sometimes, and despite my habits in the past, I haven’t done anything to sabotage it (such as missing my meds, not going to therapy, etc). Nearly every one of my actions is to ensure I’m healthy as possible, so it’s very offensive when my ECTs don’t echo that. OK, I’ve stewed enough about it.

This coming week is a big one — I’m the main speaker at the Suicide Prevention Symposium put on by the Suicide Prevention Coalition of the Coastal Bend. I’m very excited and a lot nervous, but I wrote my speech last week so I should be good to go after practicing it 800 times before Thursday night.

I’m going to take the next couple of days and decide if I need another ECT next week. I’m hoping I’ll inexplicably bounce back. Any good vibes you want to send, please do. I hope you all have an amazing Labor Day weekend and week to follow.

Stay in the light.

Why I’m Mad about My Last ECT Treatment

I am so frustrated, y’all. Two weeks ago I went to get an ECT treatment because I could feel depression trying to set in, so we drove two hours to San Antonio, and I actually had a very nice treatment, I didn’t get too upset, and I felt calm before going under anesthesia.

But now, I feel worse than I did before getting the ECT. I hate that. It doesn’t happen all the time, but there has been at least one other treatment that made me feel worse afterward. And at the risk of sounding like a child, it’s not fair!

I hate getting ECTs, but the whole experience was so nice this past time. So why do I feel worse? My fuse is so short, I’m very irritable, doing even small things takes a lot of effort, and I just want to binge every meal. I’m worked hard to lose 19 pounds, and I’d hate, hate, hate it to go backwards. I’ve made strides in my recovery from binge eating, and I’m just so scared I’m going to lose my momentum and progress that I’ve made. And I don’t want to be the mom that yells and has a short fuse. That’s no fun for anyone.

The only thing I can think to do is just get another ECT. Only I can’t next week because I have the Suicide Prevention Symposium and I’m the main speaker on Thursday night. I guess I could go that Friday, and it’d be OK.

I wonder if other ECT patients notice such huge differences between treatments or if this is just me because my brain is special. I’m getting tired of having a special brain. It should be studied after I die for sure. I went a whole four months without needing a treatment, so it’s bothers me A LOT that now I can’t even go three weeks.

Now, I don’t want to dissuade anyone from getting ECTs. They are life changing, and I’ll never regret getting them, even the ones that seemed to make me worse. They have made my life so much better — I’m light years away from where I was after I was hospitalized at Menninger. So if you have treatment-resistant depression and no other therapies have seemed to work, I’d highly recommend trying ECT. It has the highest success rate when compared to other therapies and is not as scary as I sometimes (by accident) make it sound.

That being said, I’m going to schedule another one and show myself some compassion. I’ll treat myself with kid gloves and do what I need to do to take care of me and my family until I can get back on that table. Because that’s the ultimate goal right — to be the best version of myself. And I’ll keep going until I get there.

That’s the version of Heather I want to experience, one that doesn’t give up and does anything and everything for herself and her family.

Maybe the last ECT wasn’t so bad after all. But I want better for myself, and that’s OK. After the past four months, I’ve seen my potential and all I was able to accomplish, so I know it’s in there. I guess I just have to try harder to shake it loose.

Here’s to good seizures and strong medication.

To learn more about ECT treatments for depression (or other mental condition) go to the Mayo Clinic here or feel free to email me at heatherannloeb@gmail.com

I Bid You Farewell, Eating Disorder

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and reading about my binge eating disorder, and I can finally say that I’m moving into recovery for the first time ever. That doesn’t mean I won’t binge anymore, but now I’m actively trying to stop. If it does happen, I’ll practice self-compassion and jump back on the horse.

I’ve read one great book on BED recovery, and now I’m reading a second. The takeaways are amazing, even though there are differing thoughts on what causes the disorder. For instance, the first book says that a BED episode is triggered from emotions or stress — that bingeing is a learned. way to self-soothe and feel better when there’s a lot going on. I agree with that; I also have the urge to binge when I’m stressed or unhappy about something.

“It is often an inherent drive to survive and feel safe by disconnecting from fear and shame.”

The other book says that binges are triggered by urges sent from the “lower brain,” or primal brain, also known as the limbic system (pleasure center). The limbic system has three objectives: to survive, to seek pleasure and to avoid pain, both emotional and physical. The book says the reward system is activated by healthy, life-promoting activities, such as eating and sex. But also destructive habits that have become connected to reward and reinforced over time, especially habits that involve pleasurable substances like drugs and large amounts of binge foods.

The book says that people can learn to “override” the primal or lower brain with their higher brain, the prefrontal cortex that’s responsible for rational thinking. It’s very interesting, and I have a lot more reading to do on that book.

I recommend both to anyone with BED. The first book is Binge Eating Disorder: The Journey to Recovery and Beyond by Amy Pershing and Chevese Turner. The second is The Brain Over Binge Recovery Guide by Kathryn Hansen.

A couple things that the books agree on is that restricting calories and having a list (even unspoken) of “bad” foods is detrimental to recovery. I completely agree. I think the best thing to do is eating healthy foods but allow all foods in moderation. There should be no shame tied to eating a particular food. I’ve lost 19 pounds recently, and I eat all kinds of foods. If I want donuts, I eat donuts, but usually I’ll try to have protein for every meal (because I’ve had gastric sleeve, I need protein the most).

Last weekend was my kids’ birthday party and I ate cake and didn’t feel guilty at all. In the past, I would’ve obsessed about the cake, trying to avoid it, then eventually break and eat too much. The book also says that those with BED, binge eating can be an act of rebellion, which I agree with too. If I know a certain food is “off-limits” then I will purposely eat food. I don’t know why I’m like that but apparently it’s common.

Both books point out that BED is the most common eating disorder in the U.S. by fivefold. Most struggling with BED are female but it’s suggested that 40 percent of people with the diagnosis are male. That surprised me. Also, of those with BED, 60 percent struggle with at least one other diagnosable mental health issue, including PTSD, depression and anxiety disorders. That’s me.

What strikes me about those high numbers is the fact that so many are struggling with BED yet nobody talks about it, at least in my little world. I don’t know if it’s the stigma, keeping people from speaking up or maybe it’s because an eating disorder is so public, for lack of a better word. When I’m bingeing consistently, my weight goes up dramatically. There’s no getting around the fact that my body is changing and everyone is so obsessed with being thin, so I feel powerful bouts of shame and self-hate. It’s a very public failure, rooted in deep-seated shame. Mostly shame that I’m not good enough.

But I am. And so are you.

If you think you might have Binge Eating Disorder, take a look at the clinical definition that’s now part of the DSM-V.

  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating occurring at least once a week for three months
  • Eating a larger amount of food than would be considered “normal”
  • Feeling out of control/unable to stop the binge episode

Binge eating episodes are also associated with three or more of the following:

  • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
  • Eating large amounts of food when not physically hungry
  • Eating much more rapidly than normal
  • Eating alone out of embarrassment over quantity eaten
  • Feeling disgusted, depressed, ashamed or guilty after overeating

I still have a long way to go; you can’t undo decades’ worth of bingeing overnight, but I have hope for the first time ever. I can do this, and I feel like I have to if I want to give Isla and Eli any kind of support or advice if they go through the same. And I sure as hell hope they don’t.

For more information on eating disorders, go here.

Stay in the light, friends.

The Drama with Trauma

If you ask my therapist, she will (rightly) tell you I have some kind of unresolved trauma I need to sort through. Even though I feel I had an idyllic childhood, she insists there’s still something going on with me based on how my depression and anxiety manifests. Signs of unhealed trauma include depression, rage, addiction, PTSD, pain, guilt/shame, sleep issues and fear of abandonment — just to name a few.

Me, about 2 or 3 years old

Aside from the flashbacks, PTSD and fear of abandonment, I experience all those “symptoms.” Nothing terrible happened to me when I was a kid. I had two eye surgeries when I was three and four years old, and I was in a bad car accident with my mom when I was 12. The thing my therapist and I keep coming to is that the trauma is from my eye surgeries. I had to have surgery to correct a lazy eye that would wander outwards, then another surgery to correct that one (my eyes were too close and on the verge of crossing).

I can remember having the surgery. I remember being in a room with a nurse who was trying to put electrodes on me, but I was peeling them back off. She told me to stop that or we’d have to start all over. I also remember my Mema being at the hospital crying, but I think that’s a memory I created from listening to my mom talk about it. After the second surgery, I refused to open my eyes. My mom would try and ply me with popsicles and toys that would make noise (like the Fievel toy whose ear would squeak). But I wouldn’t open my eyes.

I never really thought it was weird that I didn’t open my eyes until my therapist asked me how hard would it be for Isla or Eli to keep their eyes closed for one to two days. Then it seemed really strange. There’s no way I could walk through Target with them closing their eyes, not even being persuaded with the offer of toys.

I started thinking about the surgery again. I’m not sure how much I understood what was going on, but obviously, I was scared. Then I realized something — I’ve developed a phobia of anesthesia, which is unfortunate because I have to have an ECT treatment every eight to 16 weeks. When I’m wheeled into the room, they start to put electrodes on me, and I panic. I wasn’t always like this, but during one treatment in 2020 it felt like the anesthesia was taking too long to work, and I was scared I wouldn’t be under during the seizure. It hasn’t been the same since. Was I suffering a flashback? Maybe. I’m able to go through with the procedure now, but it’s still hard, and I still cry, and the nurse still has to hold my hand and talk me down.

I didn’t think trauma could work like that — where one seemingly insignificant event could affect me now, but at this point it all adds up, in my opinion.

Maybe I’m wrong, and they weren’t significant. Closely related, sure. I still owe it to myself to explore all the areas of my life where trauma could’ve sneaked through and caused so much chaos. Because that’s what this feels like — total chaos in my mind. I don’t like feeling rage and yelling at my family. I really hate binge eating, and feeling so much guilt and shame. So, my therapist and I are going to do Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) this week or next. I’m interested in how that will go because I haven’t done EMDR in years.

My whole point in writing this is that you don’t always know what emotional or psychological trauma you’re trudging through life with. It can be painful, but it cannot be ignored because one way or another, it will find you. I’ve been binge eating like crazy lately, and I can only attribute it to what I’ve been talking to my therapist about. I like this from HelpGuide.org, “There is no “right” or “wrong” way to think, feel, or respond, so don’t judge your own reactions or those of other people. Your responses are NORMAL reactions to ABNORMAL events.” The site also says that trauma can be caused by commonly overlooked causes, such as surgery, especially in the first three years of life. Well, there you have it.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to work through it. I’ve come this far.

As always, stay in the light, my friends.

Update: Day After ECT

Yesterday I did an ECT, and it went well. I’m usually very anxious before a treatment because I don’t like the anesthesia, but I felt peaceful before they knocked me out, and I’m thankful for that. Overall, I did very well considering that my favorite nurse wasn’t there. She always tells them to put the bite guard in and the oxygen mask on after I’m out so I don’t panic. For some reason, it really freaks me. I woke up and thought to myself “Wow, I already did the treatment. Yes!” I love when I don’t realize I’ve already gone then I get a huge sense of relief washing over me. Let’s hope this treatment lasts as long, or longer, than the previous one. I was able to go more than four months without one, the longest I’ve been since starting the treatments in 2019.

Today I feel OK. I’ve been battling a migraine, which is typical after an ECT, and I have this insane amount of anxiety. I’m not really sure what that’s about. Maybe I always have anxiety after one. Maybe I should be writing all this down in my ECT notebook, so I don’t forget. I’m betting that I probably will forget though.

In other news, literally, my daughter is collecting donations for the local homeless shelter, and the news is doing a story on her. Last year, she collected more than 1,000 toothbrushes. I’m really proud of her for thinking outside herself. That’s hard even for adults to do. If you want to donate, you can send money through PayPal or Venmo.

That’s all for now. I hope you guys have a good week.

Stay in the light.

Unraveled

A couple of weeks ago I realized that I needed another ECT, but I didn’t admit it because I hate them so much (really, it’s the anesthesia). But after confessing it to my therapist and husband this week, I’ve noticed that I’m not trying to hard to hold it together. And man, I must’ve been trying hard because right now I’m a mess. I’m exhausted and have been riddled with a migraine this week. My old, not-so-healthy coping habits are making an appearance, and I just feel so blah. My limbs feel so heavy and tired. My heart hurts.

I keep thinking to myself that I put up a good fight — I lasted more than four months without a treatment, but maybe I shouldn’t look at it as fighting. I should view it as fueling up to go farther on my mental health journey, even if it does sound cheesy. The ECTs only benefit me and that trickles down to my family and friends. I’m a better person because of them, and there’s no need to “fight” or deny that I need one. But I do.

So, here I am. I’m depressed, exhausted, fatigued, forgetful and battling a migraine. I’ve been binge eating for the past couple of weeks and have heavily relied on my anti-anxiety meds. I’m irritable, and I’ve been snapping at everyone. I know it won’t be this way forever. I have an ECT scheduled for Monday, so I just have a few more days. It’ll get better, it always does.

I don’t need to lie about anything, because that only hurts me. I have a lot on my plate right now, but if I’m not honest with myself and others, it’ll just keep overwhelming myself. I’ll keep bingeing. I might stay in bed all day. I might even make poorer decisions than those.

But it’s so freeing being honest. I’m not without limitations, I’ve always admitted to that, but I still find myself trying to be everything to everybody and going at a pace that I can’t keep up with.

I’m in pain, and I know it’s temporary, but I have to cop to that pain and honor it. That might sound weird, but remember it’s OK not to be OK.

And I’m not OK today.

What Is She Stressed About?

My daughter has been complaining about stomachaches. At first it seemed she was saying she was sick so she could stay home and play Minecraft. The girl is addicted. But after having a talk about fibbing, she still complained every few days. I took her to the doctor, and after ruling common ailments out, the doctor concluded it was stress and anxiety. Not surprising given my severe anxiety disorder.

After the appointment I called my parents to fill them in. My concerned dad asked what is she stressed about? It’s a fair question, she’s not even seven yet. I thought about it and said it’s probably from starting a new school and not knowing anyone in her class. She’s been at the JCC preschool since she was two so it has certainly been an adjustment. Then it hit me — you don’t have to have stress to have anxiety. I could have the best day of my life and still have anxiety, and I don’t think it’s any different for children who experience anxiety. Unfortunately, my daughter might have anxiety even as an adult. I hope not, but if she does, at least she has a mother who has experienced it all when it comes to anxiety and depression.

I know what you’re thinking — isn’t she a little young to have anxiety? — but it’s more common than you think and the number of children with anxiety and/or depression is increasing each year. No doubt it will be exponential when data is collected for 2020 and 2021 because of Covid. The most recent numbers show that 7 percent of children aged 3 to 17 years (about 4.4 million) have been diagnosed with anxiety. And 3.2 percent of children aged 3 to 17 (about 1.9 million) have been diagnosed with depression, according to the CDC.

Anxiety in children manifests in different ways than in adults. Here’s what to look for if you think your child could have anxiety:

  • Being very afraid when away from parents (separation anxiety)
  • Having extreme fear about a specific thing or situation, such as dogs, insects, or going to the doctor (phobias)
  • Being very afraid of school and other places where there are people (social anxiety)
  • Being very worried about the future and about bad things happening (general anxiety)
  • Having repeated episodes of sudden, unexpected, intense fear that come with symptoms like heart pounding, having trouble breathing, or feeling dizzy, shaky, or sweaty (panic disorder)

Something I noticed that’s not on the list is intrusive thoughts. When I was young (about 12), I would have these grim and scary thoughts invade my brain, such as you’re going to die, your family is going to die, you’re worthless, etc. I didn’t realize that wasn’t normal, so I never spoke up. But if is DEFINITELY not normal.

It’s helpful that I’ve experienced stuff like that, so I know what to look for, but that’s also why I’m sharing with you now. Everybody is different and one child’s anxiety might look different than what’s generally written about.

If you think your kids are struggling, contact your pediatrician. Ask about therapy, research methods of coping, be open-minded and withhold judgement. It’s scary enough to deal with all this, much less a parent who brushes you off or doesn’t make an effort to understand what’s going on.

Other things to know:

  • An estimated 31.9 percent of adolescents had any anxiety disorder (National Institute of Mental Health)
  • Anxiety disorders affect more girls than boys
  • 80 percent of kids with a diagnosable anxiety disorder and 60 percent of kids with diagnosable depression are not getting treatment, according to the 2015 Child Mind Institute Children’s Mental Health Report.
  • Anxiety disorders are treatable

Early intervention is key. Had I had help when I was younger, I believe my life would be different. Not that I blame anyone for what’s happened to me, but the coping mechanisms I adopted were unhealthy ones and only added to my depression and anxiety (like binge eating).

If you have any questions, feel free to email me at heatherannloeb@gmail.com

Stay in the light, friends.

In a Nutshell: My Week In Review

This past week was a hard one. The kids went back to school, and it’s been an adjustment to have the kids at different schools. But we’re getting there.

Both kids had a great first week, and I’ll get used to the new schedule. We all will. I’m looking forward to having more time for myself, but I don’t know how realistic is because I’ve been asked to be a part of the leadership team for the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). I’m very excited. I’ll be doing their monthly newsletter and speaking at the suicide prevention symposium in September. I’m very honored.

I haven’t had much time to blog lately, but maybe that will change with the kids in school. You can still catch my column tomorrow and on every other Monday.

That’s it for now. I hope back to school went great for y’all. stay in the light.

Anxiety Flies Free

Note: This blog was written last week. No airbag sickness bags were actually used, lol

I’m on a plane as I’m writing this, on the way to enjoy a much needed getaway with my husband, but I just can’t get in vacation mode because of my brain. Always my brain.

I’ve been on at least 20 flights in my life, and they’ve always gone smoothly. But that doesn’t stop my anxiety from putting a damper on the trip. Apparently, anxiety flies for free along with my bags.

Here I sit arguing with myself whether the plane is going to crash. This is what people misunderstand about anxiety — these aren’t fleeting thoughts I have as I’m boarding. No, this is my brain telling me over and over again that I’m going to die despite part of me knowing I’ll be just fine. It causes a physical reaction, and my body becomes full of tension. My head starts to hurt, and despite the comfortable temperature, I’m sweating. I look for the air sickness bag but can’t find it..

I did find a seat in the exit row because my husband wanted more leg room, so then I worry that I won’t be able to get the door open in an emergency. That I’ll accidentally touch the door and get sucked out into the air, and again, die. That’s not a logical thought, and I’m clear enough in my thinking to know it’s illogical. But I can’t stop that stream of thinking. Even with three anxiety pills I may or may not have taken.

I kid, but it’s important to know that anxiety takes over your thoughts and catastrophizes. It’s not like I’m nervous about a job interview or going to the dentist. This is my own treasonous brain, betraying me and making me wonder how my kids are going to live without me with every bout of turbulence.

I can learn tricks to distract myself. I feel I have an arsenal of coping mechanisms, but it’s still hard. My anxiety doesn’t just manipulate me when it comes to death and disasters. There are times I hear that nobody likes me, I’m unlovable and unworthy. It exploits me in almost every aspect of my life. And at times, it’s debilitating.

I can do everything right when it comes to being mentally healthy, but my anxiety will still be there, waiting to pounce. I haven’t been able to escape it since the seventh grade.

Anxiety is all-consuming and causes pain. I know being a friend to someone with anxiety is at times exhausting. I know those struggling need lots of reassurance, among other things, but please know they’re needy for a reason — it’s uncontrollable and scary. Please know that people with anxiety almost always have another diagnosis. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), some estimates show that 60 percent of those with anxiety also have depression. Some of us are dealing with a lot of demons, and patience and understanding is a must. It isn’t always talked about, but it needs to be.

And just like that we’ve cleared 20,000 feet, and it’s smooth sailing. It’s peaceful, even. A brief respite. I can see everything on the ground, looking so small and far away. I’ve stopped sweating. Worry has loosened its grip on me as we cut through more clouds clouds. I can finally look forward to my vacation.

Right after we land.

Being Sick is for the Birds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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