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.

Let Them Be Little

I remember when I was a kid – the summertime was so magical. No homework, project deadlines and no alarm going off at 6 a.m. I try to remember that now as the kids slow down (sloth speed) on their chores and get out of routine.

But it’s hard for me. I love routine and its cousin, structure. I thrive on both because of my depression and anxiety. The summers are always hard because there’s such disruption to my day as well as vacations and road trips to see my family in Dallas. Even though I enjoy those things, it’s still hard, and I try to cling to routine where I can. I think it’s the uncertainty that gets me — I hate not knowing but with routine I always (almost always) know what’s going to happen and when.

I find myself getting mad about missed chores, Isla sleeping in late in the morning and later bedtimes. I snap at the kids and even my husband, who doesn’t run as tight a ship as I (who are we kidding, our ship’s not that tight), but then reality hits me right in the face. This is Isla’s last summer before starting “real school.” She’s about to start Windsor Park where she doesn’t know the teachers or students. She’s been lucky with JCC, it’s been a second home to her. But next week, she’ll need to wake up earlier, stay at school longer, abide by a dress code and more. It’s going to be an adjustment to say the least.

Then I hear the voice in my head say, let them be little.

So I do.

On the weekends, we stay in the pool on Sunday afternoons until our fingers prune. We float on flamingo floats, sunbathe on a giant unicorn or pretend we’re mermaids. We eat brunch at the Yacht Club, eating more of the chocolate muffins in the breadbasket than our order. We have movie nights where we buy sweets and make popcorn and attempt to watch a movie that never really gets watched. We have dance parties and stay in our pajamas all day.

We have fun because that’s what the summer is about in our house. Our kids are going to grow up no matter how much routine and structure fills their days. I just think we need to add a little fun to their days, too while we can. And a little magic.

What kid doesn’t need a little magic? What ADULT doesn’t need magic?

I know I do, especially right now as COVID cases climb once again. But I’m not too sad to see summer go. I’m looking forward to the fall months, using new fall decorations for the house, buying Halloween costumes, making Thanksgiving dinner, the High Holy Days and more. I’m getting excited just thinking about it. But I won’t get too carried away. I’l enjoy the days of summer we have left as much as I can.

I hope your summer was good. Here’s to a wonderful (and healthy) fall.

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.

Thanks For Not Canceling On Us

Last night I had a movie night when two of my girlfriends. We didn’t get to hang out much last year (Covid), but we’ve had about two movie nights this year, which is better than nothing. Time with them is something I need. We eat junk, talk through whatever movie we’re watching and laugh. Laughter is the thing I need the most.

Three friends watching romantic movie on tv sitting on a couch at home

At the end of the night, one of the girls texted that it was fun and thanked me for not canceling on them. For about two seconds my feelings were hurt, but then I realized me canceling plans is status quo. I do it a lot. There are many times I feel good so I make plans but by the time the date rolls round, I’m feeling terrible, depressed and need to conserve energy in order to take care of my kids.

I imagine it’s not fun being cancelled on so many times, but my friends seems to take it in stride. They know what’s going on with me now as opposed to a couple of years ago when I wasn’t always honest about my depression and anxiety. It took a psychiatric hospital stay for me to be upfront about what I was dealing with. The stigma of mental illness kept me quiet before. And since telling them the truth, they’ve been so supportive. I’m lucky to have them. They check in with me to make sure I’m doing OK, and if I’m not, they ask how they can help. And I know they really mean it.

So I read my friend’s text again after climbing in bed and mulled it over. My friend was NOT trying to hurt my feelings. She knew I had a rough week and was acknowledging the fact that I kept our plans despite struggling (and having a migraine). That’s never really happened before. I feel like it’s a sign that I’m miles away from where (and who) I was. I’m better now and I’m coping. I’m not letting depression run my life. I’m evolving.

Depression may win the battle from time to time, but I’m winning the war. All the literal blood, sweat and tears that have poured out of me has been worth it. I look at my life, and I’m so grateful I’m where I am. I fought hard to get here, and I’ll have to be dragged away kicking and screaming.

I’m perseverant, and I have grit. And I’m not going any damn where.

Survival of the unFittest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe I’m missing the point.

Maybe we all are.

Long Live Weerow the Sea Horse

One of the things you hear as a new mom is that it goes by fast — the days are long, but the years are short. And it’s true. All of a sudden I have an almost 7-year-old and almost 5-year-old. They’re not babies, and they’re not toddlers. How did this happen?

My oldest doesn’t want to kiss us anymore, and she’s very independent. My youngest is entering Pre-K, but still likes to cuddle and give kisses. But he is starting leave his stuffed seahorse at home more instead of hiding him in his backpack every day for school. He’s sleeping with other stuffies at night, too. This is what bothers me the most. I didn’t expect him to go to college with Weerow (the sea horse), but it’s so bittersweet watching Eli not cling to his buddy so much.

I remember when Eli first found Weerow, he wasn’t even a year old. I originally got the sea horse at McDonalds in a Happy Meal when I was in high school (1999). Beanie Babies were all the craze then and for some reason, I kept it. It was just small enough for Eli’s hands and soon he carried it everywhere. He wasn’t walking that well yet so sometimes he put the sea horse in his mouth while he crawled.

One day he started referring to it as “Weerow,” and that’s the name that stuck. I found a larger version of the sea horse online so he’d have extra We probably have 10 extras in waiting. Boy, do they get dirty fast. Eli chews on the eyes — well, chews on the whole thing. Honesty, Weerow (still) smells like dirty mop water, but Eli loves it. He still takes whiffs of his pal here and there. Weird, I know, but it somehow calms him. I was hoping we’d have Weerow in our lives for a couple more years, and maybe we will.

I know it’s not the sea horse I’m upset about — it’s the fact that my babies are growing up. They’re changing and entering new phases I know nothing about yet. I blinked, and now they’re big (ish) kids.

Next time I’m counting down until the kids’ bedtime (which is often), I’ll try to remember that I need to appreciate my kids and the fact that their childhoods won’t last forever. Time is so fleeting, and we have to make it count as much as possible. I’ll probably still count the minutes some days, I mean come on, but I’ll do my best. I’ll take mental pictures. I’ll take real pictures. I’ll be present and mindful.

Sigh. On second thought, I wouldn’t mind if Eli took Weerow to college.

In a Nutshell: My Week In Review

Getting ready for a cowboy/western themed fundraiser.

I was sick this past week, but I’m starting to feel better. The most exciting part of my week was a woman from the local NAMI chapter contacting me, asking me to be a speaker at their suicide prevention symposium. They’re also going to feature my blog in their monthly newsletter. I’m so happy! I feel like I can reach a lot of people through my writing and this is a great step toward doing that.

Also, I went to a fundraiser last night and several people — strangers — stopped me and told me they appreciated my column in the paper and how I was removing the stigma from mental illness. That made me feel so good. It’s nice to know there are people besides my family reading, lol.

This coming week you won’t see any new blogs because I’ll be on vacation — I’m very excited about that, too. I hope you week goes well, and as always, stay in the light.

A Letter to My Daughter on Social Media

Dear Daughter,

Let’s not rush this. Social media can be so great, a way of meeting others and catching a glimpse of the world you might not see otherwise. But there are sinister parts to social media, too.

My worry is your self-image and self-esteem. Pictures on Facebook and Instagram aren’t always real, and if they are real, they don’t exactly depict reality. It’s hard to tell the difference, even for me at 37. I look at some of the pictures on Insta and I can’t help but compare the thin, beautiful pics of friends and strangers to myself. And if you don’t know, comparison is the thief of joy. I start comparing my body to others’ (whose bodies haven’t been through what mine has) and I’m doing myself a disservice. There’s no reason to compare, and definitely not a reason to compete, yet I do it anyway. We’re all beautiful and special in our own ways.

You might promise to never compare your body to other’s, but because of society’s toxic diet culture, you’ll end up doing it anyway. It’s in some people’s — industry’s — best interest to perpetuate the allure of being thin, young and beautiful, but just think what it would mean to not want, or need, beauty products, dieting services, plastic surgery and so much more. I don’t think anything is wrong with using said products or services — I certainly do — but I think it’s dangerous to want and need them so badly, to think you’ll be ugly, fat or old without them. Or that you’d be unworthy.

I hope you never feel those things, but I understand if you do. Let me tell you that you are beautiful, not just outside, but inside. You are amazing for more than your looks. You are a kind, loving, generous, passionate kind of girl, and I have no doubt that you’ll grow into a wonderful adult. Because I’m your mother, I want to protect you and shield you from things like body dysmorphia, low self-esteem and eating disorders. I’ve struggled with them for the majority of my life, and it has been no picnic. I’ve dieted and lost the same 40 pounds over and over again. I have had plastic surgery and gastric sleeve surgery. I’m still not thin. I’m trying to be OK with that but can you imagine being almost 40 years old with the same body image issues from the sixth grade?

I don’t want you to go down the same road, and you might think I’m a hypocrite because I’ve gone to so many extremes to be thin, but trust me, the path I’ve taken is full of heartache and self-hate.

You might also think I’m a stick in the mud, but I don’t even want you using filters on your selfies. You don’t need to change a thing; there’s nothing to improve upon, and I mean that as a compliment.

Stay away from bullies and trolls — those people are deeply unhappy to want to hurt others. Don’t waste a tear or a minute on them. I hope if you are being bullied, you’ll speak up. You can tell me anything, I’ll lock it in the vault.

Childhood and adolescence are hard. There are so many changes happening and you might feel awkward but please know every kid feels that way regardless how they act. You’ll get through it, you’ll flourish. It’ll be OK.

I’m always here, and I’ll love you (just the way you are) forever.

Love,
Mama

p.s. Stay off Tik Tok, too lol