My Body, Myself

I love the bird tattoo just below my shoulder on my chest.

The tattoo I have on my left arm, a bird on a typewriter, makes me feel so sexy. And strong.

I love the Phoenix on my back that reminds me that I will always rise.

The Hebrew on my side tells the story of Ruth, the first convert, and reminds me why I’m Jewish.

I love the color of my eyes, green with a bit of brown circling my pupils. Green eyes are rare, and I enjoy being rare.

I love my curly, wild hair, because it never looks the same from one day to another.

I love my boobs, which I had surgically reduced and that’s OK. I acknowledge and appreciate that they fed and nourished both my babies.

I love my legs, which are shapely and sexy.

Sadly, I don’t love all of me. I look at my stomach in the mirror and frown. It’s swollen and puffy from weight gain and eating poorly since the pandemic started. I tell myself that I’ve carried two babies and try to appreciate my womb as much as I appreciate other parts of my body.

I ignore the guilty feeling that’s spurred when my thighs uncomfortably touch when I walk.

I also try to ignore my chins when I take a selfie and the fact that I probably “need” Botox.

I avoid jeans and opt for leggings or sweats. I pick sweatshirts and baggy shirts to hide my insecurities, but I’m pretty sure my uncertain gait gives me away.

I try to give myself some grace. Be kind and do my best but I’ve been in autopilot for months, attempting to fill whatever void I feel at the moment. It never works. It’s always there and unless I do some real, hard work it will continue to be there.

My progress is not linear; some days are better than others. But I want to love all of me.

I think I’m pretty amazing (most of the time). I fight depression, anxiety, an eating disorder and a personality disorder every single day. I’ve suffered a mental break, having to go to a psychiatric hospital for six weeks. I do ECT treatments, shock therapy, every six to eight weeks just so I can feel OK and get by. And I do it all for my family. And me, of course. I am a fighter, a survivor and advocate.

My heart, my strong yet tender heart, swells with pride when I think about it all. And how I’m setting an example to my kids by taking care of my mental health and making myself a priority. They’ll see my perseverance and resilience. They’ll also see my flaws and I’m OK with that. They need to see them, see me.

I want them to see how much I love and appreciate my body and self and I’ll continue to work on that. Even though I’m almost 40. It’s never too late to try. To love yourself.

So that’s what I’m going to do.

Teen Suicide On The Rise

To say that everyone in the U.S. — around the world, too — has struggled mentally since the pandemic begin is an understatement. The only thing “normal” happening now is that people are feeling anxiety and stress during all the uncertainty in the world.

What’s not normal is the alarming increase of suicides among teens.

Dealing with everything going on is very difficult for adults, but it’s even harder for teens because they’re a much more vulnerable population. Can you imagine yourself as a teen again, trying to navigate through coronavirus, school, hormonal changes and more?

The CDC reports that suicide rates among 10 to 24 year olds have increased 57.4 percent from 2007 to 2018. That’s insane. Between 2007 to 2009 and 2016 to 2018, suicide rates increased significantly in 42 states. Significant increases ranged from 21.7 percent in Maryland to more than doubling in New Hampshire. In 2016 to 2018, suicide rates for persons aged 10 to 24 were highest in Alaska, while some of the lowest rates in the country were among states in the Northwest. Suicide is now the third-leading cause of death among 15 to 24 year olds.

My best friend, a pharmacist at Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth, sent me data showing that the hospital has seen 192 kids admitted for attempting suicide in 2020. Compare that to the same time period in 2015 when the hospital saw 88 patients — less than half of the current statistics.

These numbers show that suicide among teens is a pandemic on its own.

In an article on the hospital’s newsroom website,  Dr. Kia Carter, the medical director of psychiatry at Cook Children’s Medical Center, the vast majority of patients treated for self harm are girls, between the ages of 13 and 15. She also said she’s seen patients in her unit as young as 4 years talking about wanting to die.

I thought the quote below was especially insightful, in terms of kids thinking about killing themselves.

“We’ve seen a huge increase with younger kids knowing what death is because of video games,” said Dr. Carter. “We have to assess their cognitive level and find out if they know what death means or do they think it’s like the video game where they die, but get a backup player.”

Dr. Carter also acknowledged that social media plays a role in the mental health of children in teens. For example, they can be bullied online, or feel like they’re not good enough when comparing themselves to others on sites, such as Instagram. She said that a lot of kids are getting ideas on how to kill themselves or harm themselves online.

Dr. Carter went on to say that some teens research how many pills to take in order not to wake up.

Some kids — about 30 percent — were diagnosed as having gender dysphoria, which can spur feelings of depression and hopelessness in children and teens because of the discomfort and stress these kids face. Not to the mention bullying that the kids can face.

According to the Mayo Clinic, most kids with depression have a mental disorder, and because of that, have trouble coping with the stress of being a teen. Things like rejection, failure, breakups and family turmoil are some examples of what they might be dealing with. The Mayo Clinic also states that teens might also be unable to see that they can turn their lives around and that suicide is a permanent response to a temporary problem.

Risk factors for teen suicide include:

  • Having depression or another psychiatric disorder
  • Loss of or conflict with close friends/family members
  • History of physical or sexual abuse
  • Exposure to violence
  • Being the victim of bullying
  • Being adopted
  • Family history of mood disorder or suicidal behavior

Warning signs that a teen might be suicidal include:

  • Talking or writing about suicide
  • Withdrawing from social contact
  • Having mood swings
  • Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
  • Changing normal routine, including eating and sleeping patterns
  • Doing risk or self-destructive things
  • Developing personality changes or being severely anxious or agitated when experiencing the warning signs above

It’s important to note that some children and teens do not show any warning signs before attempting or dying by suicide. My best friend, the pharmacist, told me a story about one of her neighbors killing himself. He was only 13 years old, and according to the family, was a happy, healthy kid. But one day he took his life for reasons unknown. Sadly, this is not uncommon.

It’s also important to know that a lot of the the times, attempting suicide is an impulsive act, so they might not have considered reaching out for help.

There are also instances of kids reaching out to their parents, but the parents don’t seek help because they feel that antidepressants are dangerous for their kids to take. What’s dangerous is to allow misinformation to cloud their judgement and not rely on experts. Not believing psychiatric drugs are helpful is part of the stigma, too.

A common problem that kids/teens face is that if a 12-year-old, for example, needs psychiatric help, they sometimes slip through the cracks because they’re too old for pediatric psychiatry help but too young for adult psychiatry. Because of this, it’s important to do all the research you can and to find a good doctor who has an understanding of major depression in teens. You must be an advocate for your child, because they don’t know how to navigate such complex problems.

I don’t mean to scare anybody reading this, but it’s a huge (and overwhelmingly sad) problem that we must take care of.

I urge you to talk to your children about having feelings of hopelessness and help them learn coping skills to deal with the everything that goes along with being teen. This is especially important now because of coronavirus. Everything has changed, including their routines and being able to hang out with friends.

If you see that your child is struggling, please seek help. Early intervention is key. Consult their doctor, find a therapist and talk to them about depression. Normalizing depression and other mental illnesses will help your family be more comfortable with talking about big and overwhelming feelings.

Check out my blog on what it feels like to be suicidal here.

If your child is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Life line at 1-800-273-8255. To learn more about suicide in teens, visit this website.

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.

Mental Illness on the Front Lines

A dear friend texted me the other day, and after chatting a bit, I asked how she was doing. She’s an ER nurse in Florida, so I was concerned. Florida, if you don’t already know, is a hotspot for coronavirus and the governor is incompetent, in my opinion. This was her reply: 

It’s bizarre and sad. The first wave was mainly elderly folks from nursing homes mixed with regular people; some very sick, some not. In the beginning we had a tent outside where we tested people with minor symptoms, when it declined they took it down. The numbers we saw in the beginning don’t even compare to now. Every room with a door has a COVID patient. Four units have been converted and they’re full. Our governor was actually at the hospital today talking about how everything is fine. It’s not fine. This new wave is younger, mainly Hispanic; people who are low income and work either illegally or in cramped factories, they live in multi generation homes, so they all get sick. I feel relatively safe though, we have enough PPE. It’s just crazy. The saddest part is nursing home patients; they literally haven’t seen their families for months, even if they don’t have it, if they come from somewhere that has people who are positive, no visitors. I try to find beauty and love in tragedy when I can. 

Her response broke my heart. I’ve read that it’s bad but to have my sweet friend recount the chaos and horror just shook me. Can you imagine what first responders, nurses and doctors feel being bombarded with sick patients who can’t see their family and those who die? A local friend who is a doctor said her friends cry in their cars after working a shift because there are so many codes. 

Unfortunately, there is no where you can go to escape the pandemic, the divisiveness that’s occurring or the uncertainty. Corpus Christi is especially bad and has made national news, for all the wrong reasons. We have more cases than the larger cities (Dallas, Houston, Austin) per capita. Since March, 85 babies have tested positive for COVID-19. 

My Florida friend also told me that she had to start taking antidepressants because of stress and trauma of it all. Thankfully, the meds are helping and I’m so glad she reached out for help, but I couldn’t help but think of Dr. Lorna Breen, the ER doctor in New York who killed herself. She had no history of depression, other mental illness or suicidal ideation, according to her father. I can’t say for sure why she killed herself but I imagine the weight of so many people getting sick and dying was too heavy. Not only were people dying, but at that time, medical providers in New York struggled with a shortage of personal protective equipment. Dr. Breen also contracted the coronavirus before her death. 

The trauma of everything she faced every day could’ve changed her brain. Trauma has a way of doing that – just think about our vets who suffer with PTSD and depression. Trauma can also cause feelings of despair, and right now, who isn’t in despair? A 2013 study done by researchers at the University of Liverpool showed that traumatic life events are the single biggest cause of anxiety and depression, followed by a family history of mental illness and income and education levels.

It’s enough that our front lines workers have to worry about contracting coronavirus, but it can be just as bad developing depression (or other mental illness). Both diseases are ravaging and both can kill. I don’t really know what I can do to help these heroes other than bring awareness to mental health and the consequences of untreated mental illness. It’s overwhelming and I hope lawmakers will keep all of this in mind, because make no mistake, this will be a real problem — one that can’t be ignored. America’s supposed to be the greatest country in the world — so what does it say if we don’t take care of those who take care of us? It’s happened before.

After texting me about the chaos and death that surrounded my friend, she left me with this: “It’s so unfair that what should be an exciting time is tainted by all this but find the joy in it, too.” 

My friend is so strong and has such a good heart. She’s doing God’s work and she is more than worth protecting and taking care of.

G, if you’re reading, I love you and cherish our friendship. I’m so proud of you. Just keep swimming, my love.

If you know somebody struggling with mental illness or suicidal ideation, please direct them to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

To learn more about depression, please visit the National Institute of Mental Health.

Trauma and Depression

Dr. Lorna Breen. Photo from Ny Times

A couple weeks ago a well-liked ER doctor at a Manhattan hospital killed herself. Dr. Lorna Breen, the medical director of the emergency department at New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital, had been reportedly working long hours and on the front lines fighting the coronavirus. She was 49 years old. Her father, also a doctor, said Dr. Breen had no history of mental illness or depression, but sometimes that doesn’t matter. Dealing with trauma, be it a one-time situation or an ongoing ordeal, can lead to depression and I imagine that was the case for Dr. Breen. She saw hundreds, if not more, of people suffering. People who couldn’t be with their loved ones during their final moments. Just thinking about how scary it must be for those dying alone makes me so overwhelmingly sad – not just for those dying but their loved ones who couldn’t say goodbye. Couldn’t tell their loved ones, “I love you,” or pray with them.

As of April 7, there had been 59 patient deaths at Dr. Breen’s hospital, according to an internal hospital document.

New York continues to be a hot spot for COVID-19, with 333,000 people infected and more than 21,000 dead. The weight of those numbers is so heavy, it hurts my heart. And I feel a combination of compassion and pain for nurses, doctors, first responders and others who are fighting this battle that has no end in sight. These people are heroes. They continue to fight a losing battle with not enough personal protective equipment and other life-saving medical supplies.

Everything I just mentioned can have a huge toll on anyone, and sometimes traumatic events can actually change your brain and can cause depression. A 2013 study done by researchers at the University of Liverpool showed that traumatic life events are the single biggest cause of anxiety and depression, followed by a family history of mental illness and income and education levels.

According to the National Institutes of Health, some depression can be situational and with life changes, medications and therapy, it can be manageable. Other times, depression, anxiety or PTSD can be life-long problems.

What’s scary to me is that Dr. Breen’s depression (I’m assuming it was depression brought on by severe trauma) came on fast. There wasn’t much time to prepare for COVID-19, as fast as New York was hit. I’m sure priorities were treating sick patients, providing PPE to health care workers among numerous other jobs that had to get done. Which means, there was no time for Dr. Breen to get help. She felt she was best needed at the hospital and no doubt she helped hundreds of people and supported everyone in the ER Department, even after contracting COVID-19 herself.

Dr. Breen was no doubt a hero and dying by suicide doesn’t change that. It just emphasizes the need for better mental health care, more support for those struggling and more understanding from the public, who still support the stigma of mental illness and depression.

Look for these symptoms of trauma-induced depression:

  • Extreme sadness
  • Frequent crying
  • Feelings of loss
  • Emotional numbness
  • Disillusionment
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Recurring memories/flashbacks
  • Nightmares about the traumatic event
  • Social withdrawal

If you know somebody struggling, please direct them to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

To learn more about depression, please visit the National Institute of Mental Health.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bad Day

For the past few weeks I have (mostly) been rocking the quarantine by staying on top of school work, baking, cooking more, sewing and I even learned to make bread. Good bread. I kept repeating myself, “When is this period of productivity going to crash down on me?” Because it always does, and today was that day. This whole week, actually. I stopped home schooling the kids, my sleep schedule is messed up, I haven’t done anything but lie on the couch and have a migraine.

I know everyone has bad days but why does something so good get taken away from me, just like that? Why can’t I go a long time being productive and happy?

I don’t mean to whine because there are people out there who have it so much worse and I want to remember that. I’m just sad. I’m in mourning of the me that got so much done, the me I was so proud of myself. It hurts to say this but I don’t know which one is the real me, the baseline Heather. I’d like to say the productive, happy one is but I’m better acquainted with this Heather – the one who feels buried beneath judgment, worthlessness, hopelessness and inadequacy.

I want to tell myself that it’s just hormones and/or only anxiety, and if I know anything, it’s that anxiety is a big, fat liar. It can take over your brain, meld your thoughts with those of the devil. And it feels so real. So, so real.

I know I’ll pull out of this little funk in time but I’m so afraid I won’t get back to the point where I was doing all the things I love, not just loafing on the couch wishing it would happen again. I waste so much of my life waiting for the good to come. But most of the time I’m too tired to breathe. So I just wait some more.

Fragile Psyche

Edit: This post was originally slated to run Sunday, April 19.

I am desperately missing my life of mediocrity. I realize that everybody’s lives have been turned upside down but I’m wading through some uncomfortable feelings that are starting to challenge my mental wellness.

I want to preface this post by saying it’s Sunday, and I always get the “Sunday Night Blues,” but it’s even worse knowing my kids will be spending all their waking hours with me and I’ll have little to no break.

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful or whiny; I know there are lots of families who can’t stay safely at home, away from the virus, but it’s just so trying right now. I needed a lot of mental breaks before all this chaos and that was with the kids being at school from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. I was able to cope (for the most part) because I had time to decompress. But now looking at the week ahead the every day mundane tasks I have to complete in order for all of us to function seems insurmountable.

These uncomfortable emotions also are challenging my treatment plan — the plan I have outlined that helps me stay on track mentally. Instead of using my healthy coping skills, I want to turn to my bad habits, which caused my breakdown (last summer) in the first place. This includes: overeating, over spending, not sticking to a sleep schedule and wanting to abuse my meds (which is hard because I don’t have anything to abuse anymore).

I don’t know why I would want to fall back on these negative behaviors, especially when I’ve worked so hard to get where I am. I guess sometimes it feels good to be “bad” but the thing is, I’ve seen the endgame to that. I know where it leads you.

I know it’s ok not to feel ok right now, so that’s what I’m repeating to myself. Tomorrow’s a new day and I plan on reviewing my Self Care 101 list, which is abbreviated here:

  • Get good sleep
  • Know and accept limits
  • Eat healthy foods
  • Decompress throughout the day
  • Feed spiritual sel
  • Remember to love myself

If I just go back to the basics I know my fragile psyche will recover. And getting all this out has actually helped, too.

Ultimately, I need to make good decisions and take each day hour by hour. That’s what I need to do to survive right now.

If you have some self-care tips you’d like to share, drop them in the comments. Thanks for reading. Stay in the light.

The Struggle is Real

“Do I stay up, relax and watch trash TV or do I go to bed at a decent hour?” For weeks I’ve been having this internal debate and I know I can’t be the only one. I used to go to bed at 9 pm (in the good old days) because I need A LOT of sleep but now I blow past that 9 pm mark knowing that I’ll likely regret it but I also know I need “me time.”

Surely I’m not alone in this. Especially now because the coronavirus is holding us all hostage. Don’t get me wrong, I do like being around my children but after 8-12 hours of their incessant arguing, watching freaking Peppa Pig and wanting to climb on me and whatever else, I’ve just had it. I’m touched out. I want to be on the couch, watching my shows and not asked to do one single thing, even by my husband. I don’t even like the cats on me until after I’ve chilled for an hour. It’s too much. And I know y’all feel me. At least I hope you do otherwise I need to up my meds, lol.

My usual self-care routine includes massages, getting my nails done, reading and napping. I would also go to therapy. But none of that is plausible now and I think it’s ok to mourn that. It’s ok not to enjoy every second with your kids, because this shit is hard even when you do have outlets and self-care rituals.

Staying home with the kids right now is one of the hardest things I’ve done. My 3-year-old wakes up at 5 am every morning, which means I’m up. He’s clingier than usual, most likely from the uncertainty of life, which he can probably sense from us adults. But despite his 5 am wake calls, I’ll still probably go to bed late because that’s the only alone time I’ll have all day. The only time I can eat the kids’ cupcakes. The only time nobody is shouting, “Mommy!”

This precious time to myself has become a ritual and until the schools open back up, I’ll just be exhausted and crazy looking because frankly, I’d rather have bad TV and cupcakes.

If you’d like to share your self-care rituals, please do so in the comments.

I don’t do math.

This week I have made sure that my oldest (who is in pre-k) is doing some kind of work. Last week was such a shitshow and probably the week before that. But guess what? I can’t remember. I’m proud of us for doing some of the work provided by her teachers and also doing ABCmouse. I’m also proud of us for not getting into a knife fight with each other, but that could still happen, especially since this week’s worksheets involve fractions and a bit of math.

Anyone who knows me well can attest to my hatred of and subpar skills in math. I failed math courses in junior high and high school. Amazingly, I did fine in college but I think I took “Math for Liberal Arts Majors,” so there’s that. I know that I am not a dumb person but I just can’t do math problems. The numbers get scrambled in my head and even on paper I invert them. I wish I could blame my ECT treatments for my stubborn and forgetful brain when it comes to math but those treatments came decades later.

When I had children, I can clearly remember telling my husband, who is a literal genius, that he would have to help the kids with their math homework. And even though this is just the most basic preschool math in the homeschool packets, I still start sweating and stammering while I’m trying to give instructions to my poor daughter. She’d tell me how to do it and I’d get flustered because how would I know if she were right? Lol. Nothing makes you feel like a bigger moron than being confused over your kid’s homework.

What also doesn’t help is my daughter’s attention span (or lack thereof). She has no interest in doing worksheets and I can’t say I blame her. I can’t imagine how she feels – her impatient, non-math knowing mom trying to teach her when she wants to go outside or play with dolls or get on the iPad. Or stick a pencil through her eye, lol.

But the truth is that I’m lucky to be able to teach her during these times, and though she might deny it, she’s lucky too. To have a parent who has time to devote to her work. We are a privileged family, and in addition to math, I also hope she learns how good she has it and is appreciative.

I make light of the this situation because I’m hopeful it will be over in a few months. I’m hopeful she’ll enter Kindergarten and do great. I’m also hopeful her teachers can correct any wrongdoing on my part.

But she’ll be fine. I’ll be fine (so long as I never have to do math).

We will all be fine. Our children will thrive and be stronger for what they’re having to endure. They will probably learn more about love, strength, community and generosity – along with other things you don’t always find in a textbook. And to me, that’s most important to learn.

 

 

Darkness

In the throes of despair

I summon my fickle resilience to fight the unfathomable chaos that plagues us all

I search for love, though hate abounds

My anxiety paralyzing, my tender heart threatened

Thus, I continue, reluctantly adapting to this oppressive darkness that will eventually swallow me whole