I’ve Gained 26 Pounds

Last Friday I had an ECT treatment. I hadn’t been there in four weeks, so they asked to weight me (to calculate how much anesthesia I get). Usually, I avoid the scale. The number shouldn’t matter to me, but it does. Big time. I looked down after I stepped on the scale, and I was shocked. I’ve gained 26 pounds since the pandemic — 26 POUNDS! I’m almost 200 pounds, which I swore to myself I’d never be again. I mean, who has weight loss surgery and doesn’t lose the weight? Me, apparently.

I have all the reasons in the world to lose weight and be healthy, mainly my kids. I want them to see me be healthy so that they can be healthy. I want to lose the weight because I want to live a long time. It would benefit my mental health greatly if I maintained a healthy lifestyle. But I don’t.

Even after my ECT, while feeling happy and more stable, I had the intense urge to overeat and binge. And I did. The ECT is supposed to reset my brain. Last week, I was so depressed and even had suicidal ideation, so I needed the ECT. But the ECT can only take me so far. I’m responsible for making health decisions for myself. And I need to hold myself accountable. At some point, I have to make the effort to be healthy without expecting something or someone else to help me.

I don’t know what drives me to overeat or binge. It sort of makes sense when there’s conflict in my life, and I feel the need to be comforted by food. But right now, there’s no conflict in my life. There’s no logical reason for me to shove food in my face. It bothers me so much that I don’t know why I binge, and I’m not sure it would even help if I did know. It’s just frustrating. And I know it’s a hard time because of the pandemic, but we’re not getting back to any kind of “normal” I know any time soon. So, it has to be now. I have to make changes now. But honestly, I don’t know if I will. I don’t know what it will take.

I bought a treadmill that will be delivered this week. I bought a food journal to help me track my water and meals. I have a brand new pair of running shoes to use for exercise. Conditions are favorable for change. My brain, my stubborn brain, is the only thing holding me back. Even now, as I’m typing this, I want to eat, to be comforted. To lose myself in the taste and texture of something delicious. I fear my urge to escape the real world will be permanent, as it manifests in other ways, too like abusing my anxiety meds. And again, I don’t know why or what I’m trying to escape. I have a great life — better than most — and I’m so grateful for everyone in my life and everything I have. So, I really can’t tell you why I want to escape.

At one time, I thought it was emotional pain that was holding back — trauma from my past. But I feel like I’ve dealt with that. I’ve talked to my therapist about it extensively. I wrote a blog about it that I will never share. I got if off my chest, but still the pain resides. At least, I think so. Why else would I be trying to fill this unrelenting void?

I so want to be able to wake up in the morning and not immediately think about what I’m going to eat. To plan my next meal, as I’m licking off my current meal’s crumbs from my lips. I live meal to meal, snack to snack, and I hate it.

I hope this week I can make changes to my daily life and incorporate healthy habits. I pray for strength and guidance. I pray for what feels like a miracle.

Next week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. It may not seem like a big deal, but there are 30 million Americans who suffer with an eating disorder. There are so many people suffering right now, who are suffering more because of the pandemic. Only 1/3 of people receive help for their eating disorder. Eating disorders have the second highest mortality rate of any mental illness, with nearly one person dying every hour as a direct result of their eating disorder.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, please know that you are not alone. It’s a challenging time for us, but it’ll be OK.

We will be OK.

Cancelled Plans and Spoons

I’ve had to cancel plans with three different friends this week. I HATE cancelling plans — it makes me feel so guilty, because I feel like I’m letting my loved ones down. I know I can’t help it — and my friends are very understanding — but I still feel guilty and less of a friend.

At least now I can tell them the truth — I’m too depressed to leave the house. Before I went to The Menninger Clinic, I didn’t tell the truth, and I probably seemed like such a flake who didn’t care about spending time with her friends. But now, I’m honest. I said that I was having intrusive thoughts about suicide (not suicidal thoughts per se) and I just didn’t have the energy. I call it survival mode. You see, I’m getting an ECT treatment on Friday, so I just have to make it until then. The ECT should reset my stupid brain and maybe I won’t be so depressed and fatigued. I’m hoping that I won’t have as many migraines after this treatment, too. For some reason, my migraines have ramped up the past few weeks, and it’s been really annoying. I hate being limited by my illnesses, and on that note, I’m reminded of an article I read about the Spoon Theory by Christine Miserandino, who suffers with lupus. She writes about the physical and mental toll an invisible, chronic illness can take. And I relate.

While describing what it’s like to have a chronic illness, Miserandino grabbed spoons and used them to represent finite units of energy. Healthline.com writes this of Miserandino’s theory, “Energy, for many of us with chronic illness, is limited and depends on many factors including stress levels, how we’re sleeping, and pain. Miserandino then walked her friend through the friend’s normal day, taking spoons, or energy, away from the friend as the discussion went on. By the end of the day, her friend wasn’t able to do as much as she wanted. When she realized Miserandino went through this every single day, her friend started crying. She understood, then, how precious time was for people like Miserandino, and how few ‘spoons’ she had the luxury of spending.”

I feel this in my soul. Especially right now. I have to save every waking minute in order to do what is absolutely necessary, what I deem necessary, at least. This includes taking care of the kids and all their needs. This, to me, comes first. My remaining energy, if you can call it that, goes to taking care of myself. Many people would argue that it should be reversed, and I don’t totally disagree, but this is how it is right now. I hope to change it, because I know you can’t pour from an empty cup, and if I don’t start taking better care of myself, my cup will stay empty. I’m working on that, too.

It dawned on me this week that I could probably space out the ECTs more if I just put in the hard work of self care. I don’t mean getting a massage every week, although that would be nice right now, but I mean taking my medicine as I should, taking breaks and eating healthier. And actually sitting and exploring my emotions instead of burying them then stuffing my face. That happens a lot, almost every day. I also would like to increase my therapy sessions to twice a week — I have a lot to do, lol.

That’s OK though. I’m worth the work; I just need to remember that every single day.

Thank you to my friends who were so gracious about me. cancelling on them. I love y’all and appreciate your support.

Imaginary Brakes

Sometimes my anxiety runs rampant. I catch myself moving my foot as if I’m slamming the brakes in a car. I guess I want time to come to a screeching halt, as if I’m in the driver’s seat. But I’m not. It’s the out of control feeling I can’t stand. And though I have anxiety every day, Sundays are the worst, as documented here.

I’ve always hated Sundays from the time I was little, I guess because I NEVER wanted to go to school, especially on Mondays. I used to get a feeling of dread when I got older, too when I had a full-time job. The Sunday Night Blues or Case of the Sundays was always present, no matter what age or circumstance I faced.

And today, even though I don’t work outside the home, I feel it. The threat of responsibility looming is just too much to take and I feel the tightness in my chest and butterflies in my belly. It makes no sense to me — I don’t have anything unusual happening this week, nothing to be all doom and gloom about. But it’s there. At least, it’s consistent.

I try really hard to have a “countdown” methodology about anything — like countdown to Christmas, to the weekend, to my birthday, etc. So, as much as I’d like to look ahead to Valentine’s or my birthday, I need to be here, now. I look ahead at this week’s events, but that’s as much as I’ll let myself look.

It may sound silly, but as depressed as I am and how often, I get wrapped up in looking ahead and squander the perfectly good time I already have. I don’t want that. I don’t know how much time I have where I’m lucid and not depressed. I need to make hay when the sun shines, as my daddy says.

I still feel a nagging feeling in my belly, and I realize that I have an ECT treatment Friday. I wasn’t supposed to have it until March 5, but last week I felt the all-too-familiar signs of a depressive episode, so I moved my appointment up to stop it in its tracks. And even though I know it will make me better, I still get anxious and scared. Even though the past couple treatments have been pleasant. Even though…

Just thinking about it, I have a white-hot feeling pass from my head to my toes. It’s adrenaline, I think. And fear. I feel my foot try and stomp on the imaginary brakes and start to sweat.

Ugh, I’m not a stupid person. I should be able to address my fear and anxiety with the logic that I mentioned. Tears are threatening. I’m scared.

But come Friday, I will joke with the nurses. I will ask my favorite nurse to hold my hand while they put me under anesthesia. I will wake up 15 to 20 minutes later, not even knowing whether I’ve had the treatment. I’ll irritate David by (unknowingly) asking him the same questions over and over on the way home. I’ll get Chick Fil A on the two-hour drive and fall asleep until we reach home. I will be a better version of myself, a more patient and loving one. I’ll be free (for now) of self hatred and self judgement. And if that’s not the case, I’ll go back weeks later and repeat the same thing, always hoping to get the best version of Heather I can get, born out of fear and an induced seizure.

Whatever version, I know it will be a pretty perfect version of myself….just with amnesia and neurons that are unruly af. And hey, maybe the Sunday Night Blues will disappear for awhile. But I won’t countdown until they do. That, I refuse.

Retrograde Amnesia

As many of you know, I have retrograde amnesia, caused by the many ECT treatments I’ve had to do in order to obtain relief from my depression. For the record, I must have these treatments — my depression is treatment resistant, meaning that most medications can’t help alleviate my symptoms. Not much does except the ECTs, which I started in 2019.

During a treatment, I’m anesthetized and electric currents are sent through electrodes that are placed on my forehead, inducing a seizure. It’s not known exactly how the treatments help; I’ve always looked at it as a hard reset of my stubborn brain.

I would be lying if I said I don’t mind the treatments — I actually hate them, because over time I’ve developed a phobia of the anesthesia. And it’s definitely bothersome that I can’t remember some things. My memory loss goes back years, decades even, and it’s very hard to retain information even now. It’s also pretty embarrassing. I’ve forgotten who some people are, their names and how I know them. And when I say I have amnesia, I’m met with blank stares. And then I have to explain ECTs, which sounds unbelievable if you’re not used to it.

When I do try to recall something, I see only a gray wall where the memory once resided. Things aren’t just fuzzy — they’re just not there most of the time.

This must sound awful, but there is one good thing about my memory loss: the memory loss.

That’s not a typo.

I’ve suffered for decades with major depressive disorder, an anxiety disorder and a personality disorder and it’s unbelievably painful. But, just like I can’t remember who I ran into at the grocery store last week, I also can’t remember the most painful, darkest moments of my depression. I only know about it from my husband’s or best friend’s account of it. Or previous blogs.

Even with the ECT treatments, I still suffer with depression, just on a much lighter scale. I’m glad I can’t remember every time I couldn’t get out of bed or every time the pain was so deep that I wanted to end my life. Because if I sit and dwell on just how bad it was or can be, then I might forget that I do want to live — and live happily.

I don’t know if that makes much sense, but I do know that I (likely) will be struggling with depression and anxiety for the rest of my life. That thought alone makes me sad, and I can see how that thought can make me — and others — lose their faith in life and just put their suffering to an end. Mental illness can be so lonely when you’re in such pain all the time. And people still don’t understand it; the stigma of having a mental disorder is still there, too. So, if you do know someone who struggles, please be more understanding and empathetic. It’s just so lonely.

Even if I have to go under anesthesia and have electric currents sent through my brain every eight weeks, it’s not so bad. Not compared to the reality I was living without the treatments.

I just have to remember to take notes anytime I’m awake.

Self Destruct Mode: OFF

I’ve been feeling pretty great lately, which is a bit unusual, but hey, I’ll certainly take it. When I feel this good I tend to treat myself better, I’m more productive and generally in a good mood.

But I’ve noticed, even with these good moods, there’s still a part, albeit a small part, of me that looks for ways to be unhealthy. For example, I’ll get the urge to overeat, even when I’m not hungry. I’ll think, “What pills can I take to feel good?” even though I have no such pills. Images of cutting myself will appear, even though I surely don’t want to do that.

I’m aware that it’s happening and I know it’s 100-percent my lying ass brain spreading more lies. It’s just a malfunction. It’s not really real, but emotions are energy in motion, and I can’t let these awful thoughts fester in my head.

If I do, unhealthy behaviors take control and with them come intrusive, unhealthy thoughts. My control over these thoughts and behaviors loosens, and just like that, I’m in a dark, ugly place that I can’t find my way out of. It’s like being in a deep hole and my depression is just too heavy, weighing me down and preventing me from climbing out.

It’s a slippery slope, a dangerous one for me, given that I can become suicidal very quickly.

I have to take inventory of my emotions constantly to prevent this. I have to be fully aware of how I feel and avoid switching to autopilot where I might miss something. I have to be so diligent so I can avoid that hole. And honestly, it’s exhausting and feels like sometimes it’s too much or not worth doing. Before I’d try to figure out why I was having these thoughts and ask what it meant, but like I said, it’s just a malfunction. I need to stop wasting time wondering why and just dismiss the thoughts. They’re not worth thinking.

I must release the energy that fuels these damaging thoughts and refocus if in a productive way, channeling it into exercise and writing, etc.

A self care check list is helpful to have so I can stay on top of the things I need to do to prevent self destruction. Just thinking about all the work I have to do to stay healthy is daunting and tiring. But I have to do it if I want to be happy. This past week has made me realize how much I’ve missed being happy — singing at the top of my lungs in the car and shower, truly enjoying spending time with my kids, reading for pleasure, writing my ass off and exercising. Medicine, ECT and therapy just aren’t enough to maintain my good mood and healthy behaviors. I have to put in the work at it, just like anything else. Sometimes it bothers me that other people don’t have to work as hard at life.

But I don’t do happy-go-lucky — I physically can’t. Happiness, for me, is hard work. It’s sticking to a strict schedule, taking an assortment of pills daily, going to therapy, keeping a close eye on my emotions and lots of prayerThere’s nothing lucky about it. 

I do have to work hard, but the payout is so, so good and that’s what I need to remember. What is the point in having an amazing life if you can’t enjoy it? Why do I spend so much time self-sabotaging? Again, with the “why?”

I’m going to work at my life like it’s my damn job and like it pays, because it is and it does.

It pays so much.

This is the Self Care Checklist that I created. It’s super simple; feel free to download:

Real Me vs. Depressed Me

This past two weeks have been amazing. My demeanor has changed. My mood has lifted. And I’m able to do things that were near impossible before. The ECT treatment I had two weeks ago must have been a good one. I’ve seen a glimpse of my authentic self, who wants so badly to be set free from wherever she goes when a depressive episode hits. Before this past ECT, I was suicidal. I was unbelievably sad and anxious. I thought I was doing OK but I can see now that I wasn’t.

I didn’t recognize this feeling of joy and happiness, and I can’t tell you the last time I felt it either. I’m more familiar with “Depressed Me,” a slower, sadder, less efficient version of me, riddled with depression symptoms, who seems to be the reigning champion of my brain. But now that I am feeling happy and I see the “Real Me,” I’m going to fight tooth and nail for it. I refuse to go down without a fight. How I’m feeling and what I’m able to do right now — that’s worth fighting for.

In the mornings, I don’t immediately feel weighed down and already exhausted before even starting my day. I have energy and am excited about the day. The chores and tasks I absolutely have to get done don’t seem so taxing and annoying. Showering is now relaxing and not a daunting chore I’d put off for days (yes, days!). I don’t feel the need to stuff with my face with food that I don’t want or need, which is a battle for most everyone. I’m more cheerful and attentive to my kids. The Real Me is kind of a badass.

I could name so many more examples. I don’t know if it was the last ECT. I don’t know if it was a new medication I started the same day as my last ECT. I don’t know how long this will last, but again, I gotta make hay while the sun shines. And I have to fight.

Fighting looks like me not solely depending on my medication and ECT treatments. It means exercising, going to bed early, eating healthily, keeping a strict routine and reaching out the minute I feel like things are slipping. It sounds like a lot, or maybe it doesn’t, but I’m done with my rebellious, depressed part of me that refuses to comply with even the simplest of instructions.

When I’m not handicapped by severe depression, I’m so powerful. I radiate love and happiness. My writing flows onto paper, because my words are powerful, too. I utilize my limitless ability to care for my loved ones. I’m able to reach my full potential, instead of being a shadow or fraction of my true self. Like the phoenix, I am rising and there’s not a whole lot that can stop me.

Here are some examples of what the Real Me versus the Depressed Me are like:

The Real Me exercises, reaches out to friends, eats healthy foods, writes/blogs, goes outside, puts the TV remote down, reads for pleasure, sings all day (to the point where her family complains), cooks, bakes, showers, brushes her teeth, laughs loudly, plays with her kids even more, styles her hair, gets massages (or goes to any self-care appointment).

Depressed Me sleeps more, watches TV until having to get the kids, endlessly scrolls social media, gets in bed until she absolutely has to move, doesn’t shower, blows off doctors appointments, gives into sadness/anxiety, doesn’t smile as much, has a short fuse, is impatient and more.

Depressed Me goes to sleep at night because she can’t stand to be awake one second longer than she has to. She’s judgmental and mean about her appearance and body.

The Real Me looks forward to the future but enjoys the present.

I’m certainly enjoying right now, and although I’m cautious about the future, my outlook is finally optimistic.

As I’m writing this, I’m hoping that you don’t get the wrong idea about Depressed Me. While I would love not to experience depression and anxiety, I respect Depressed Me. She fights hard and doesn’t give into her suicidal thoughts. She’s a fighter. She’s scrappy. She has grit, and without her efforts, the Real Me wouldn’t appreciate what it’s like to be happy.

For that, I’m grateful.

To learn more about major depression and signs of depression, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness website.

If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit the website here.

My bad

I have been remiss in updating my blog since I returned from the good ol’ mental hospital, so my apologies. The hospital actually helped me quite a bit. I was there for 6 weeks, which was terrible in terms of being away from my family, but I was able to get help for my depression, anxiety and my tendency to over medicate. I left with a brand new diagnosis, too, so that’s fun. Turns out I have Avoidant Personality Disorder, along with depression, dysthmia and generalized anxiety disorder. I also started up ECT treatments while I was there, which I am continuing now. It’s not as scary as it sounds – I know a lot of people think negatively about “shock therapy” – they seem to be working, for the most part. The only sucky part is that I have to drive two hours away to get the treatments, as Corpus Christi doesn’t have a place here to do it.

Things were going really well but honestly right now I am on the struggle bus. Even though I’ve been compliant with meds and going to therapy, my depression has returned as has my binge eating disorder. I got a lot of problems, right? Feels like it. I’ve gained a lot of weight in a very short amount of time and even as I write this blog, I am miserably overfull from a binge.

I plan on calling a nutritionist and upping my therapy appointments, among other healthy ideas but it’s really hard not to feel bad about myself right now. Bad that I am so depressed and not a lot seems to help it. Bad that I’ve gained weight and feel so horrible. Bad that I’m not the best example for my kids. I’m trying to pull myself out of this funk, but it’s so hard. It’s getting really hard to take care of myself, at least in the healthy way I learned about in the hospital. OK, so now that I’m typing all this it doesn’t seem like the ECT and new meds are helping. Sigh.

Even with all this crap going on, I still feel hopeful that I can get back on track and live a healthy and happy life. At least my hope isn’t gone. I have my friends and family to think for that – they all have provided me with more support than I ever could have imagined. I’m a lucky girl. And of course, my beautiful children keep me going.

So, I can beat this. I will. I’ll feel better soon. It wouldn’t hurt for y’all to pray for me, though. I’ll take whatever I can get.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for sticking around through all my mess. Much love.