The Irony of Having Suicidal Ideation This Week

TW: suicide, suicidal ideations, depression
Please know that while I am experiencing suicidal ideation, I have no plan, and I am completely safe.

This Thursday I’ll be the main speaker at the Suicide Prevention Coalition of the Coastal Bend’s Suicide Prevention Symposium. Say that five times fast. Last week I wrote my speech, and I’ve been practicing it, but there’s something really bothering me. I centered my speech around a time two years ago when I was suicidal after having a fight with my husband over the phone. It was a harrowing experience and shortly after that I went to a psychiatric hospital for six weeks.

I had a wonderful experience at the hospital. And I tend to think of my time as pre-psychiatric hospital and post-psychiatric hospital. Only I’ve been dealing with suicidal ideation this past week. I blogged about how my last ECT didn’t help me, it made me worse, but I wasn’t expecting to grapple with these morose and very frustrating thoughts again. Am I going backwards?

It’s a “depressing” reminder that I won’t ever be cured, no matter the strides I make with my mental health. A depressive episode could strike any time, and it feels like I don’t have any control over it. I’ve been doing everything right — I go to therapy, I’m consistent with my medications, I’ve been exercising, I practice self-care, but this time it didn’t matter. And the one thing that I know helps — an ECT — has made things worse.

So what now?

Well, for starters, I fall back on what I know to be true: my ECTs usually help me, this pain and discomfort is temporary, the suicidal thoughts are just thoughts — they are NOT fact and my support system is strong and available. My goal is to schedule an ECT for next Monday and go into Survival Mode until then. I’ll be OK.

My priority this week is to do a great job at the symposium. And to get through the week in as little pain as possible. Maybe having these thoughts will help tell me story and serve as a reminder that even a seemingly strong and successful person can still have suicidal thoughts. It’s important to know because more than half of people who die by suicide have no history of a mental disorder. And because of that, it’s important to openly talk about suicide and remove the stigma associated with it. Also, I used to think that suicidal thoughts were something that you could control, but mine are intrusive thoughts, popping in and out of my mind throughout the day. I can’t control them anymore than I can the weather, and I think people need to understand that, too.

I don’t know why this is happening to me again (and again), and it certainly feels unfair, but if a single person is helped in some way by hearing me speak or reading my blogs, then maybe it’s worth it. Because I know I’ll be OK. I’m strong, I’ve been here before, and my life is just too good not to fight for.

It just sucks in the meantime.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. If you are in immediate danger of harming yourself, please go to the nearest emergency room. Please do what you need to do to stay safe and healthy. You are not alone, and you are not a burden.

In a Nutshell: My Week in Review

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

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

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

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

Stay in the light.

Why I’m Mad about My Last ECT Treatment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s to good seizures and strong medication.

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

The Drama with Trauma

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

Me, about 2 or 3 years old

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As always, stay in the light, my friends.

Update: Day After ECT

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

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

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

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

Stay in the light.

Unraveled

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I’m not OK today.

Sense of Loss

A friend of mine came to visit this past week, one I’d met while at the Menninger Clinic. While we were catching up, I learned that he had been great since our six-week stint at the psychiatric facility. I was happy, for sure. When you suffer with a mental disorder, you wish only happiness on your brethren going through the same. But something started to nag at me. I heard him say that he’s off some of the medication the hospital had prescribed and doesn’t need to go to therapy any longer….and there it was. A sense of loss.

I’m so happy that things are going well for my friend but damn I get upset thinking how the doctors told me my diagnoses — yes, there was more than one (more than five actually) — were likely to be lifelong. And even after having more than 30 ECT treatments, I still need them on a regular basis, whereas most people only do a couple of maintenance treatments a year, if that.

I still need to be monitored closely by a psychiatrist and will need to do weekly therapy for God knows how long. I don’t pretend to know what my friend goes through, if things are ever hard for him, but they sure as shit are still hard for me. I know I’m better than I was, that I’ve made improvements, but I feel so much loss when contemplating my depression and anxiety. It has taken so much from me.

And it’s OK for me to say that. It’s OK for me to think that way. Most of the time, it doesn’t bother me, and I shouldn’t compare my life to others’ anyway. But it’s OK to feel — and even mourn — that loss. As a mother, I’ll always have limitations. Hell, as a human being, I have limitations — we all do. I’ve lost so many memories (thanks to ECT). I’ve lost time to my illness. No matter what I might’ve gained from having depression, I’ve still lost so much.

But no worries. I still subscribe to sunshine and good thoughts in the grand scheme of things. But I believe in being honest with myself, too. And stewing. Sometimes it can give you new perspective when you stew in negativity or just realistic thoughts. You tend to grow more too, which I’m all about. There’s no growth if you can’t get uncomfortable from time to time.

And even though I’m constantly trying to avoid being uncomfortable, I end up feeling that more than anything else which gives me hope that I’ll outgrow it all. And maybe I will.

Maybe it’ll be OK if I don’t.

Sentenced to Life

Please note that this was written two weeks ago and I feel better.

Last week I had a much needed ECT. When I awoke from the short procedure, I felt strange. Usually, I have a terrible migraine, I’m confused and fatigued, but this time I was alert, I knew what had just happened and there was no sign of a migraine. Good, right?

During the two-hour drive home, I kept thinking that it was amazing that I didn’t feel like crap. I looked over the papers the hospital gave me and saw that I had a short, 42-second seizure, which is good — the shorter, the better. But something was bothering me.

It’s now been several days since the ECT. I don’t feel as different as I’d like. I don’t have much energy, I’m not as optimistic as usual and at times I’m just sad. I hate to say it, but I don’t think this treatment worked. It’s happened before — the ECT leaves me feeling no different or actually worse, but it’s rare. It scares me, because getting treatments is the main part of my treatment plan. I rely on them to feel better.

This is just a very sad reminder that I’ve been sentenced to life with major depression/anxiety, and there is no cure. I’m treatment resistant, meaning most medications won’t help. Therapy, ECTs and behavioral modification are the only things keeping me from slipping back into a depressive episode. And I’ve worked too hard to go back.

I don’t mean to be gloomy. Maybe it’ll take a week before I feel better. Maybe I’ll have to work harder on self-care and turning to healthy coping mechanisms. I hope to hell I don’t, but maybe I’ll need another ECT before the next one scheduled in eight weeks. Maybe that one will work.

It’s just hard not to feel betrayed right now. I hate getting ECTs, but I continue to get them because I know they help make me a better mom, wife and friend…they usually help, anyway. But this time was different — I feel bamboozled. I went to all that trouble for what? To still feel out of gas and like there’s nothing to look forward to? I hate my brain! Even if I do (most) everything right, my efforts are thwarted. It just doesn’t matter, my brain’s gonna do what my brain’s gonna do. And that, my friends, is depressing in itself.

I’ll give it a few more days. I’ll do my best, practice self-care, go to therapy. I’ll drudge on, but I have a feeling I’ll be making another trip to San Antonio sooner than expected. And that’s OK, if the next time works.

But what in the hell will I do if it doesn’t?

I can’t really entertain that thought, because it’s so suffocating. I feel the urge to stomp my foot like a child and scream, “It’s not fair!” Because it sure the fuck isn’t.

It’s just not fair.

All About ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy)

I’ve had a lot of questions about ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) lately, so I thought I’d talk about it more today.

I’ve been doing ECT treatments since 2019, after I stayed at the Menninger Clinic for six weeks. My doctors all agreed that I was treatment-resistant, meaning most depression medications would be ineffective in helping me, and ECT has a high success rate.

I’ve had about 30 treatments, and I can honestly say they have changed my life for the better. I have more energy, more patience, I’m not sad as often, and I’m able to function pretty well for a girl with no serotonin, lol.

I now do my treatments at the Laurel Ridge Treatment Center in San Antonio; there are no doctors who do them in Corpus Christi where I live.

When I arrive at the treatment center, I fill out paperwork on how I’ve been feeling and whether I’ve been suicidal. I talik to the nurses and PA, discuss the depression symptoms I’ve experiencing then they move me to a bed. A nurse then puts in an IV and they give me medication for nausea, just in case. Next, they wheel my bed into the treatment room where an anesthesiologist, a doctor and nurse are waiting. They attach electrodes to my forehead and temple, then add a blood pressure cuff and pulse oximeter. Usually at this time, my blood pressure gets higher and my pulse races because I’m scared, even though I have no reason to be.

The docs chat with me for a bit and then they put me under anesthesia. After I’m out, they put a bite guard in my mouth and give me the oxygen mask. The nurse starts up the ECT machine which will send electric pulses to my brain, triggering a brief seizure. They also give me a muscle relaxant, so I’m not moving a whole lot. Once the seizure is started, they wait for my brain to stop it. My brain works hard to stop it as fast as it can, but sometimes the docs have to administer medication to stop it. The shorter the seizure, the better the outcome I usually have. This past ECT I had a 42-second seizure but I’ve also had ones that last up to a minute or longer.

After the seizure, I’m sent to a recovery area. It usually takes about 20 to 30 minutes for me to wake up. After I’m looked over by the nurses, I’m free to go home. I usually have a killer headache, so I get something to eat, take my migraine meds and sleep on the way back to Corpus Christi.

I can see how reading this would surprise some people — one person described it as barbaric after I explained the treatments, but it is not barbaric. For someone like me, it’s life-saving, and even though I don’t like getting them done, I’m grateful for treatments.

ECT helps as many as 80-85 percent of patients who receive it and is the most effective treatment option for those who are treatment-resistant.

Most people have an initial course of ECT then do maintenance treatments every now and then. I haven’t gotten to the point where I don’t need them, so I go every four to eight weeks. I’m working on stretching out the treatments, and maybe one day I won’t need as many.

I hope I haven’t shocked you — haha, get it? If you’d like to know more, please leave a comment on email me heatherannloeb@gmail.com

I Hate My Brain

Ever have a long day and think to yourself you deserve a treat? So you get ice cream and start to feel better? That sounds normal to me. My problem is that I think I deserve a treat multiple times a day. I constantly want to feel good. To feel happy. I compulsively eat to get that high and, enjoy that “treat.” Then I feel sick. After I’ve recovered, I look for another treat, forgetting how sick I felt earlier. It’s a vicious cycle.

I do this a lot but especially when the kids are away at my mother-in-law’s. I tell myself that I need to relax, enjoy the quiet and that I need to feel good. Last night, even after I had a big dinner, I sat there thinking of what I could eat that would make me feel good. And I even tried many things, despite being uncomfortably full already. M&Ms didn’t work. Neither did peanut butter crackers, ice cream or SweeTARTS.

But there is nothing I can eat that will make me truly happy.

Now, I’m trying to give myself a break because I am in need of an ECT treatment, which is scheduled for Friday. Usually the week before treatment I run out of gas, and I try to cope however I can. BUT this doesn’t just happen in the weeks leading up to treatment. This happens all the time, even when I’ve just had an ECT.

So I pose this question, “Why do I feel the need to be happy all the time?” Honestly, that question was asked by my therapist last week. She following up with, “Can’t we sit with other emotions? Nobody is happy every minute of the day.”

And she’s right. We don’t need to be happy every minute. I think my problem is that I HATE being uncomfortable, so I’ll do anything to push those negative emotions aside. Emotions like anxiety, stress, anger or sadness. It’s clearly not working for me to ignore these problems, and even if overeating has helped in the past, it sure as hell is not working now.

This may sound strange, but I think I need to acknowledge and honor whatever feelings I’m having. Maybe I need to grab my journal whenever I’m feeling negative emotion, talk about what’s going on and then release that feeling. I don’t know.

All I know if that I need to stop coping by bingeing. It’s made me gain a bunch of weight and really, aren’t I just eating my emotions?

Sometimes I really hate my brain, which I hold responsible for my debilitating-at-times depression and anxiety. I hate that it doesn’t respond to other treatments. I hate that my mental health is so precarious, and I resent that I have to be so careful as to not disturb it. I hate that happiness seems so fleeting at times. I’m not a big fan of my eating disorder either.

I don’t like to say hate; It forces a dichotomy with the idea that I should love and respect myself. I’m trying really hard to love myself, even almost 30 pounds heavier and a handful of mental disorders. But I feel betrayed by my brain. I know I need to reconcile those ideas. I know there is more benefit in loving all of me. I’ll get there. Despite everything that my brain has thrown at me, I’ve only become stronger. Take that, asshole.

And there are times that I think God made me this way because He thought I could handle it. I can, and I will. I remember this quote: “Your talent is God’s gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God.” I don’t mean to sound haughty, but maybe He knew I would use my voice and (hopefully) help others through my writing. That’s why I can’t stop blogging so much about mental health; there are so many who feel alone and haven’t found their voice yet. I certainly don’t mind lending mine in the meantime.

I guess my brain is just as much a blessing as a curse.