If All Else Fails, Call Your Dad

I don’t like getting out of routine. I plan things, I never fly by the seat of my pants, and I can be rigid with my schedule. I blame my anxiety on all that; I just can’t handle change, and I hate the unknown. It can really send me in a tailspin.

For instance, Eli has always had a super early bedtime. When my kids were babies, I got them into a bedtime routine, and his just stuck, even though he was going to bed at 6:30 p.m. at 4 years old. It wasn’t a problem until the pandemic hit and he inexplicably started waking up at 5 a.m. Family members and friends told me to put him down later and he’d wake up later, but that was not the case. It didn’t matter what time I’d put him down, he always woke up early. Eventually I got used to waking that early.

But then Eli started waking up in the middle of the night or earlier than 5 a.m.

I knew I had to change his routine and get him down later, but I procrastinated. The idea of changing it up was so daunting. If he went to bed later it would affect my chill time, which is sacred to me, and also my bedtime. It would change when David and I ate dinner, usually right after Eli went to bed when I could enjoy it and not worry about him.

The more I fretted about it, the more impossible it seemed. So I kept doing the same thing, and Eli kept waking up at all hours, and I kept ignoring the problem until we went to see my parents a week and a half ago. My dad, trying to be helpful, nagged me to push his bedtime back and to do it consistently until he stops waking up early.

Not wanting to hear any more about it (no offense, dad), I let Eli stay late every night while we were visiting. He didn’t wake up at 5, but around 6 or 7. I started to think it was doable.

When we returned I kept him up later than normal, putting him to bed around 7 and 7:30 p.m. This made it easier for all of us to have dinner together, which the kids were first excited about until they learned they had to put away their phones. It was nice, though, once we got past the crying over the phones.

I started to realize that it wasn’t so bad changing things up. We still need to perfect the new routine, but I’m trying to be okay with that. It’s a big step for me, but my whole point with telling you this is that people with anxiety, like me, can build up problems or situations and make them into seemingly impassible mountains. Usually, I have to think everything over, analyzing everything to death and then wait until conditions are right — which is hard because if you have anxiety, you never think conditions are right for change and stepping outside of your comfort zone.

But I was able to do this. Usually if I let the kids stay up past their bedtime, I became tense and punchy. I worried about how much later it was and what was going to happen in the morning. I’d stay tense, which led to no chill time once the kids actually went to bed. And see, I need chill time everyday. I have to take breaks and practice self-care because I get very irritable when I can’t relax and the children (as well as my husband) pay for that. And that’s not fair.

But letting go of the rigidity was so freeing. It was amazing not freaking out Eli’s routine, and even though I have some work to do to get the new routine right, I’m happy I did it. Plus, I don’t have to hear anymore nagging from my dad, lol (I love you and I’m grateful to you, dad).

So my friends, the next time you’re facing a problem, I urge you to buck your anxiety and just do it — make a decision and move on it. I know it’s hard but sometimes you just have to say screw it and make the rules as you go, especially if you’re a parent.

Will I do this the next time a problem occurs? Knowing me, maybe, but I’m going to work on letting go real hard.

If all else fails, I’ll just call my dad.

Anatomy of an Anxiety Attack

I start sweating.

My chest tightens, then relaxes briefly before tightening over and over.

My heart beats faster, and there are butterflies in my stomach.

Intrusive thoughts take center stage in my brain. I start telling myself elaborate, worst-case-scenario stories that defy logic.

My hands start to shake. When I stand up it feels like I have eaten in two days because I’m so lightheaded. I try to find somewhere quiet where I can be alone, but thats not always feasible. I try to hide from the kids, but there’s no hiding my swollen eyelids, blotchy cheeks and how hard it is to take a breath.

I try to quell the intrusive thoughts and stories, but rational thought is no match for my anxiety.

Tears brim my eyelids and threaten to fall.

I start to lose my breathe and with that I start to cry. Big sobs escape in between ragged breaths.

I have an even harder time breathing between sobs, and I swear my heart is pounding in my throat like a jackhammer.

It’s too late for an anxiety pill; I have to ride this out for now. I try to catch my breathe, but it seems impossible. I deep breathe like they say. I try grounding techniques, but I’m already past the point of no return.

Once I’ve sobbed uncontrollably for what feels like hours, I start my descent to rational (or as close as I can get) thoughts. I try a grounding technique now that I’m more calm. I search for five things I can see, four things I can feel, three things I can hear, two things I can smell and one thing I can taste. It sorta helps.

My heart keeps pounding in my chest. I still feel the chest tightness and butterflies, although they’re calming down.

I struggle to remember what triggered this attack, but sometimes I come up empty handed. It could be anything, but like I said, no amount of logic can stop an attack. My imagination, a vivid as it is, runs away from me, never with me.

I calm down further but have intense feelings of guilt or shame — shame that I may have inconvenienced someone during my attack. I start worrying that I’ll have another.

People don’t understand. They think I’m weak, that I can’t handle things. They don’t realize that this is part of my anxiety disorder, and I can’t control it any more than an epileptic can control a seizure. I can do everything right — take my medicine, avoid certain triggers, meditate, get enough sleep, etc. — but I could still have an attack any minute.

I am not alone in my struggles: Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), people with an anxiety disorder are three to five times more likely to go to the doctor and six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders than those who do not suffer from anxiety disorders.

Anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality and life events. Women are affected by the disorder more than men. It’s not uncommon for someone with an anxiety disorder to also suffer from depression or vice versa. Also, nearly one-half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

Is what I described similar to what you experience during a panic attack? Feel free to describe yours in the comments.

Thanks for reading, and as always, stay in the light.

Gone Fishin’

This week I’m out of town with the kids. It’s fall break so we headed north to Mabank to my parents’ lake house.

I probably won’t have much time to blog (we’ve been having Lego contests and enjoying the cooler weather), but below are some blogs you may have missed on depression, diet culture and anxiety. I also will include this week’s column in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

When My Daughter Said the F-Word

I’m Grateful But Still Sick and That’s Okay

I Never Do Anything Last Minute

Caller-Times: Diet Culture is Toxic

I hope you guys are having a great week.

Stay in the light, friends.

When My Daughter Said the F-Word

I was playing Roblox with my 7-year-old this week when she started to describe someone as F-A-T. I can’t remember what or who it was, and I started to say, “Don’t use that word.” Then I just stopped. Why was she spelling it?

The truth is I don’t like the f-word, and she knows that. I’ve been called fat too many times, and the memory of being made fun of for my weight still lingers and burns. It has helped create lifelong struggle with disordered eating and body dysmorphia.

But what am I teaching her by not allowing her to say it? She’ll still (like I did) think that it’s not a word that shouldn’t be used, that there are negative associations to it, and that she wouldn’t want to be called fat. I’ve tried so hard not to use it and promote body positivity that I think I’ve swung from one extreme to the other. She should be able to use it but use it the right way.

What I think I should’ve done is not ever given the word any power. I should’ve said fat is something you have, not what you are. And left it at that.

My heart is in the right place, I think. As a mother, I don’t want her to experience any of the pain that I did growing up. I don’t want her to be anxious or depressed, and I definitely don’t want her having an eating disorder or obsession about weight. Like all parents, I want to protect her, and I want better for her. I’m just not sure I’m going about the right way to do it.

I can bend over backwards to try and prevent her from having mental anguish but genetics will play a starring role in how her body looks and weighs and whether she’ll have mental illness. I get that. Maybe she’ll be smarter (and kinder to herself) than I was — that she’ll see only beauty when she looks in the mirror and she’ll have so much confidence that she won’t care if she’s ever called a name. Maybe she’ll be the one to break the cycle, although I’m trying very hard to do that myself these days.

One of the most defining lessons from my childhood was that being fat is the worst thing you can be. That was confirmed through the adults in my life always dieting, unrealistic beauty standards and the terrible treatment of bigger people. So many people still buy into this crap, though. Hell, it’s still hard for me, and I’m almost 40.

We need to do better. And I know it’s difficult challenging ideals that were introduced when you were a child — ideals that are still circulating and doing harm. But we can do it.

We can work out for our health and not to lose weight. We can eat healthy to fuel our bodies. We can stop looking at our “flaws” with nothing but a critical eye. We can say no to toxic dieting culture.

Know better, do better, as I like to say.

It’s very much possible that I’m overthinking my daughter’s innocuous comment from last night. It’s possible I overthink everything when it comes to my kids, but it’s okay to question yourself and intentions. It makes you a good parent. It’s very much okay to challenge your thinking on things like this.

That makes you a great parent.

Now I guess I’ll worry about my daughter using the real f-word, but I’d argue that fat is more dangerous and carries more weight. No pun intended.

Stay in the light.

In a Nutshell: My Week In Review

So I’m a day late with this (and a million dollars short), but I had a busy weekend.

Last week was very hard, I’m not going to lie. I struggled a bit, but I’m hoping last week was a fluke and I can get back to my “normal” self, whatever that is. This week I’m going to focus on self-care and try to stay busy. I’m sure I won’t have a problem; I need to start preparing for a road trip to Dallas with the kids. My husband is staying behind, but I’ve made the trip several times without him. I get there faster than when he drives.

I’m so excited it’s October. October through January is my favorite time of year. I’ve already got the house decorated and my porch. It’s such a magical time, and I can’t wait to celebrate Halloween, Hanukkah and Christmas.

That’s really all that’s going on with me. I’ve finished all my columns for the rest of the year so that’s a relief. In November and December I’ll start stockpiling again. Hopefully the Caller-Times will let me continue to write about mental health. Honestly, I didn’t think I could talk about it so much without being repetitive, but I’ve had no problem finding topics that are timely and relevant. If you haven’t checked out my column, please visit Caller.com and search for my name, Heather Loeb.

That’s all for now. I hope you guys have a great week. Stay safe and healthy.

I Never Do Anything Last Minute

I was scrolling on Facebook yesterday and someone had made a comment that they waited until the last minute to buy a garter for Homecoming, which is coming up this week.

Just reading that post made me anxious. I felt a knot in my stomach, and I felt a tightness in my chest. I don’t have kids old enough for Homecoming. I think I have one mom friend with a kid in high school. I have no skin in the game, as my dad would say, but it freaked me out nonetheless. The words “last minute” were enough to get me ruminating about chores or tasks I have to get done.

I never do anything last minute, ever. I prepare for events months in advance. For instance, I already have Hanukkah presents for my kids and enough holiday decorations to fill a museum. When my kids have a party or start school, everything is purchased and organized in advance. Not only that, but I mentally rehearse every situation I’m in and even practice what I’m going to say (i.e. during a dinner party). Don’t get me started on last minute plans.

When the pandemic hit we didn’t run out of toilet paper because I had already stocked that, paper towels and hygiene items. I have enough toothpaste to last a couple of years.

That’s anxiety for you. I’m practically a doomsday prepper the way I prepare for things and worry. One, I don’t know when a depressive episode will hit so I make sure my family has everything we need. Two, preparing for things in advance gives me a sense of control. It feels like I’m not in control when it comes to anxiety, so the only thing I can do is just work around it.

I recently read that there’s a purpose for anxiety, that it helps us deal with stress and meant to sharpen our minds to the flight-or-fight response, meaning it protects us from danger and allows us to react faster to emergencies and alert us to potential threats, according to MentalHealth.org.uk

That’s all fine and good, but I feel that’s speaking to normal anxiety that everyone faces, not a condition like 40 million other Americans and I who have an anxiety disorder. Not-so-fun fact: About 7 percent of children ages 3-17 experience issues with anxiety each year. Most people develop symptoms before the age of 21, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). These are also outdated numbers; I imagine they’ll be much higher because of the pandemic.

For those with this condition can be such a burden or hinderance to everyday life. I experience intrusive thoughts along with my anxiety which basically means terrible thoughts invade my mind, and I can’t do much to stop it. I get panic attacks. I worry about stupid things like lightbulbs burning out and the air in my tires. I worry about things I’ve done and said in the past. I worry about loved ones dying and making mistakes in my writing. I worry way too much about my weight and what people think of me. But that’s the “anxiety version” of me. The real Heather doesn’t care what people think. She’s easy going and preps to make sure her family has everything they need — not fueled by anxiety but out of love and diligence.

As I’m typing this I’m starting to see that there are advantages of having anxiety. It does ensure I’m ready for every possible scenario. My house is already decorated for the holidays, and I won’t have to rush to get gifts this year. My family has everything they need and that’s because I work hard to give them the life they deserve.

That and I’m certainly not going to run out of toothpaste anytime soon.

When You Accept Yourself Everything Changes (I Think)

There’s nothing like therapy to knock you down a peg or two. Yesterday I was complaining about an old friend who rarely talks to me anymore, spurring me to feel bad about myself. I hate rejection. I told my therapist that she didn’t accept who I was anymore. Her withdrawal from me started when I went to a psychiatric hospital so I assumed that was the reason and the fact that now all I do is talk about mental health. Of course I don’t know why she has withdrawn from the friendship because she’s not a touchy-feely type so I haven’t asked.

She and I are so different, and I admitted that I walk on eggshells sometimes to avoid conflict with her. This led my therapist to tell me that it doesn’t sound like I’ve accepted her, so why should she accept me? It’s especially hard for her to accept me, she said, because I haven’t shown her the real me. I keep parts hidden from this person but here I am complaining she doesn’t know me or doesn’t care to know the current version of me.

Damnit. My therapist is right. Again.

But I don’t know why we’ve grown apart. I’m only assuming and we all know what happens when you assume.

My therapist then said that I’ve been growing so much that even I don’t know who I am fully. I didn’t like hearing that, but it’s true. In the past two years, since going to the hospital, I’ve changed a lot, evolved even. But my journey is still not finished. I’ve got more growing to do.

This all led me to think whether I’ve accepted myself. I’d like to think I have, but then again not being my authentic self leads me to believe that there are parts I’m not happy with or have come to terms with. I want to think that I’m this badass writer who helps others with mental illness. That I have a generous heart and good friend. That I’m a good person who’s strong and has grit. But do I really believe that? I don’t think so. I’m scared that others will see me as weak, that I breakdown at the slightest thing. I know that’s not the truth, but the stigma of mental illness is so strong and I don’t doubt that others have thought that, but the thing is I SHOULDN’T CARE ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE’S OPINIONS. In fact, it’s none of my business what others think.

I know that I’ve been through Hell and back, that my mental health journey will never be finished. I know I’ve fought almost every single day to be happy or something closely related. I’ve battled my own brain, which tells me I should kill myself sometimes. I do electroconvulsive therapy on a regular basis. Doctors literally have to induce a seizure in order for me to be somewhat “normal.” That is the badass part. I not weak in the slightest. I get weary, sure, but I’ll keep fighting for my life no matter what.

And if my friend can’t see all of this, so the fuck what?

My therapist said that maybe my friend is uncomfortable around me now because I have changed so much. That maybe she sees me as the person I was long ago and not who I am now. My therapist also said that my friend has a limitations, that she lives in small space, but I don’t. Since my “breakdown” in 2019 I’ve tried to take up as much space as possible, because I deserve it.

I no longer want to worry that I’m good enough for someone, and I don’t want to beg for someone to love me. I have plenty of people who do, which I’m grateful for.

I want to continue to grow, to find the light like a plant. I want to take up space and relish in it. I want people to accept me for all my flaws and attributes. I want to drop the facade, starting now. I know I’m not perfect, but who is? That’s what makes us so interesting and unique.

I will no longer apologize for being me because even with my many flaws I’m still pretty great, and I’m worthy.

So are you, friends.

Redemption in (BED) Recovery

Recently I talked about entering into recovery for my binge eating disorder. I knew there would be bumps in the road, but I was doing well. Until last night.

Yesterday I had a bad day. Nothing really happened, I was just short-fused and irritable. I snapped at the kids and my husband. I didn’t like the way I felt so I took the maximum (prescribed) dose of my anxiety meds. It turned out to be a mistake, I think. While it did take the edge off, it also numbed me a bit. I started eating snacks around 4 p.m. and was still eating at 9 p.m. One snack after another. I was uncomfortably full, but I kept going.

I binged. Big time. I ate candy, cookies, popcorn, Chinese food for dinner, more cookies and more popcorn. I usually don’t keep that in the house, but I indulged. I don’t like to restrict myself from foods (because I’ll rebel) but I don’t like to set myself up for a binge either. I have to find that fine balance.

This morning when I woke up I didn’t feel so angry and blue. I remembered that today is a new day, and I can do better. I’m grateful for that because that’s what recovery is about — you can keep starting over as many times as it takes to reduce the problem. I’m still reading a book on BED recovery, and that has helped. I just need to apply what I learn to my daily life.

I also asked my friends and family what they do to cheer themselves up after a bad day, and I got a lot of good ideas for the next time I’m not feeling up to par. My favorites were pray, sew, walk, go outside, eat chocolate, take a hot bath, meditate, count blessings and journal. I think those are really good ideas, and I sometimes employ similar coping methods when I’m depressed, but yesterday was just so hard. It was hard to get to the point where I wanted to take care of myself instead of just numbing myself where I didn’t feel anything at all.

Today is different. I’m grateful for my friends and family and everything I have. I will take care of myself, and I will listen to my body and mind.

I will show up for myself, and I will tell myself I’m enough. Because I am.

Today I pray for an attitude adjustment and patience. I am grateful for a new day, and there’s no need for me to look back.

I’m more than my mistakes. So much more.

We Must Do Better When it Comes to Postpartum Care

I didn’t know what hard work was until I had my first child. I was 30 years old and had never stayed at a job longer than two years, so it shocked me to my core how hard caring for a newborn was. I always hated working and the responsibility that came with it, but this was a million times harder than any job I temporarily held.

I didn’t have much help with my daughter because my husband was dealing with his father’s death just months before Isla was born. I don’t blame him now, because the loss of his father, his best friend, was gut wrenching and tragic. But back then I resented it. My husband also was dealing with serious family turmoil after his dad’s death and that was almost as tragic. My family all lives in Dallas, but my mom would try to come down and help some.

I didn’t get much sleep; I was exhausted all the time. I was breastfeeding, and I think that made everything harder. I breastfed for eight months, which I considered a feat, but I also became severely depressed and believed I couldn’t take any antidepressants while breastfeeding. My psychiatrist told me that. He was dead wrong.

There was nobody to pick up the slack while my husband was at work or at night, which made the depression and anxiety worse. At the time I didn’t have a housekeeper, so household chores fell by the wayside. I wanted to be like my mom friends who seemed to do it all — take care of a newborn, work, clean the house, etc. They all looked like they were handling being a new mom so well; it made me feel like a failure. I felt guilty all the time, too. I didn’t lose the baby weight I had gained, and my self-image went down the toilet.

I was in bad shape, to say the least, but my psychiatrist didn’t seem to care about the issues I told him about. He told me I had treatment-resistant depression and didn’t change a thing in my treatment plan, despite my suicidal ideation at times. I felt hopeless and wanted a new doctor but there aren’t a lot in Corpus Christi. The ones I called had months-long wait lists.

When my daughter was still little, we decided to get pregnant again. Immediately the depression lifted, thanks to a ton of feel-good hormones. I was tired a lot but it was a nice respite from the darkness I faced after having my daughter. But all good things come to an end. After my son was born I had severe postpartum depression. This time I talked with my OBGYN about taking antidepressants, which she assured me was fine to do while breastfeeding.

Things were different after I had my son, Eli. First of all, I had help; my mother in law moved to Corpus Christi and helped out with the kids a lot. And we were able to get a housekeeper, which lightened my load a lot. Despite things being somewhat easier, my depression continued. I started abusing my anxiety medication and was suicidal again.

One night I made a plan to die by suicide. I didn’t make an attempt, but I was close. I was sobbing and hysterical. My best friend told me to go to the emergency room, so I drove myself and was hospitalized for two days. When I left, I didn’t feel any better, but I did find a new psychiatrist from Southlake who could do phone visits.

I was still suffering though, which led me to enter an inpatient program at the Menninger Clinic in Houston, TX. I stayed there for six weeks. My medications were changed, I was introduced to new therapies, and most importantly, I was given hope that I would feel better. And eventually I did.

I know I talk a lot about my hospitalization, but I have a point — postpartum care, well, mental health care in general, is bullshit. I reached out to my doctor and the doctors at the hospital where I first stayed. But it didn’t matter. I was flailing, about to kill myself, before getting actual help. WE SHOULDN’T HAVE TO BREAKDOWN IN ORDER TO GET CARE WE NEED. I know that not everybody can go to a high dollar hospital and stay for six weeks. A lot of people can’t afford to pay out of pocket for mental health care, which I do a lot. My therapist and psychiatrist don’t even take insurance.

We must change the way we care for new mothers. We must change mental health care and make it affordable to all. One in five adults in the U.S. experience mental illness. One in 20 experience serious mental illness. Only 45 percent of people with mental illness get treatment in a given year. About 1 in 8 women experience symptoms of postpartum depression. These other types of postpartum depression include postpartum anxiety, postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), postpartum panic disorder, postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and postpartum psychosis. It’s not a minor illness; it affects a lot of women on a daily basis.

I feel like if it happened to me, it’s happened to many others (especially women of color) who didn’t fare quite as well as I did. The National Institutes of Health reports this: Nine percent of white women initiated postpartum mental health care, compared with 4 percent of black women and 5 percent of Latinas. Black women are more likely to have PPD and are less likely to receive help.

There’s so much more to say, but I’m going to wrap it up. I just want to leave you with this: We need to do better. Mental health care is health care, and it’s absolutely a necessity.

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, go to the emergency room or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

See below for symptoms of postpartum depression.

According to the CDC, symptoms of PPD include:

  • Guilt
  • Fears of harming the baby
  • Feeling angry
  • Isolating from family
  • Feeling disconnected from their baby
  • Crying more than normal

In a Nutshell: My Week In Review

As some of you know, last week was a hard one. A very hard one. I was severely depressed and had intrusive suicidal thoughts. My best guess as to why is that I mixed up my birth control pills when I was organizing my pill box and it caused a huge hormonal shift. It’s scary that it can happen over a mistake like that, but I am feeling better now, and that’s all that matters.

My priority last week was pulling myself together to be the keynote speaker at a Suicide Prevention Symposium. I was really nervous, but I think it went well. I had a lot of positive feedback. I wish they had recorded it so I could share it but because there was sensitive information in the presentation, they decided not to. I get that. My main messages were 1. You are not alone 2. Mental illness is normal and we need to keep normalizing it 3. We need to be able to openly discuss suicide and remove the stigma so people can reach out without feeling shame or fear.

If you are ever struggling with suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. If you are in immediate danger, go to the emergency room. If you ever need to talk, you can email me at heatherannloeb@gmail.com

This week I have a lot to look forward to because my parents are coming to visit. We haven’t seen them in awhile, so the kids and I are very excited. I’m also happy to get back to my usual routine after last week of conserving energy (Go here to read about spoon theory).

That’s it for me. I hope you guys have a great week, and as always, stay in the light, my friends.

Go here to read about how you can prevent suicides.