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.

In a Nutshell: My Week in Review

I hope y’all are doing well. It’s been awhile since I posted an update, so here goes. First of all, I want to wish everyone who celebrates a Happy Easter. We’re Jewish but we still do an Easter egg hunt and the Easter Bunny drops off goodies in their baskets.

This past week was a little trying for me. I’ve had an ECT appointment scheduled for next week, which is the eight-week mark. I really thought I could push past eight weeks but I’ve noticed I’m more irritable and my temper is shorter than normal, so I should probably just do it. It’s hard for me to admit that I need one because I hate them so much. I really dislike going under anesthesia; it makes me anxious and scared. My pulse quickens and my blood pressure goes higher than normal, and I have to use all the strength I have not to start bawling and begging to get me out of there. I know it doesn’t make sense — I’ve had almost 30 treatments, and I’ve never had a bad experience. But that’s just how it is. Anyway, I’ll try not to focus on that this week; I’ll just think how much better I’m going to feel and what a difference it’ll make.

In other news, tomorrow (Monday), one of my latest columns will be printed in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. They’re letting me write some more mental health columns, and I’m hoping it turns into a regular columnist job — it would be a dream of mine. So if you’re not too busy, go to Caller.com tomorrow and check it out.

That’s it for now. I hope you guys have a happy, healthy week.

Stay in the light.

Favorite Products That Help Me Keep My Chill

I’ve really been focusing on self-care lately. My goal is to space out my ECT treatments to eight to 12 weeks, so in between sessions I need to step up my self-care game. That includes exercising more and eating a healthy diet. It also includes taking advantage of the little things at home that add up to a lot when you’re trying to take care of yourself. Remember, self-care is not selfish — it’s necessary.

Below you’ll find my favorite things around the house and products that help me keep my chill and decrease anxiety.

My favorite books — I don’t get to read much these days but when I do, I usually go for a book I’ve already read. There’s no mystery, no twists and turns to upset my anxiety, just my favorite characters and their stories. I’d also add The Red Tent to this list — that’s another of my faves but not an easy read. You’ll also see The Big Activity Book for Anxious People, which always helps me feel better. It’s not a boring workbook, it’s a hilarious take on how to calm down and I love it.

Lauer Under Eye Patches — I found these on Amazon , and I really like them. They’re inexpensive but feel so good under my eyes after a long day. They feel cool to my skin, and I think it helps minimize some of my lines. It definitely helps with puffiness.

Not Your Mother’s Butter Masque (Green Tea and Apple Blossom) — I follow the Curly Girl Method for my hair, so after using my conditioner on my curls, I put this hair mask on and it makes me hair feel so hydrated and helps with the curls. The mask is inexpensive and can be found in a number of places. I use Target and Amazon.

OPI Nail Colors — I went more than a year without going to a nail salon, so I quickly learned to do my own manicures. Every few days, I change the color and it makes me so happy to see all the bright colors. I recommend getting a cheap manicure set and buying your favorite colors. Definitely get a Base Coat and a Top Coat, too.

Sephora’s The Peeling Mask — This a disposable face mask that you do for just a few minutes, but I love how relaxing it is to lie down with this mask on after the kids are asleep. It brings a touch of luxury to my day that’s usually not luxurious at all. The mask is under $10; I usually find it for $4.

Candles — In the past I’ve never been able to tolerate candles, because fragrance can cause migraines, but I’ve been able to use more, sometimes every day. I love waking up in the morning and lighting a candle while I’m getting the kids ready for school. It’s calming and certain smells can definitely reduce the amount of stress you feel and decrease anxiety. My fave candle right now is Cactus Blossom from Bath & Body Works. The three-wick candle usually sells at $24.50, but they have sales quite a bit.

Slippers — When we moved to the new house, my feet started hurting from all the back and forth I was doing while organizing. I put on a pair of Ugg slippers and rarely take them off. They are so comfortable! Sometimes I forget I’m wearing them and accidentally leave the house in them. I love that they have a strap around the back and how cushy they are. They are expensive but in my opinion, they’re worth it. I love putting my comfy clothes on at the end of the day and sliding into my slippers. I feel it helps me relax better.

Soft Touch Foot Peel Mask — This is another Amazon find. I bought it after I saw a video of a woman peeling off dead skin after using the peel mask. It was so satisfying. What you do: put the mask footie on your feet and leave on for an hour. Then you wash your feet off and in a couple of days your feet will start to peel. Not only is it fun to peel them, but it leaves your feet so soft. I used these every few months. It was especially helpful because I couldn’t go to the nail salon for a pedicure. It’s affordable too — about $20 for a two pack.
Udderly Smooth Hand Lotion and Body Cream — The lotion is no joke. I use it on my hands (and sometimes my feet) and it makes them feel so soft, and I hope it’s helping all the wrinkles on my hand. I have old lady hands. But this stuff goes on and makes your hands soft like buttah. It costs $16 for a 12-oz pack of two.

Dr. Teal’s Pink Himalayan Bath Foam, Body Lotion and Salt Scrub – I LOVE the smell of the pink himalayan salt. It smells so good, and I instantly relax in the tub when I use the bath foam. There’s nothing like taking a long hot bath, using the bath foam and the salt scrub. Followed by the lotion. It makes me feel like I’m at a spa. None of the products are expensive. You can find them at HEB, Target and Amazon. I heard the lavender fragrance is good, too but that’s an instant migraine trigger for me.

Last but not lease — Karribi Paint by Number Kit — I thought doing a paint by number piece would be relaxing and help me to focus on something other than my anxiety. I love putting my headphones in and painting these kits. There are several kits that have birds, so I bought all of those. It’s relaxing, it gives me some uninterrupted “me time” and I get a beautiful bird painting afterward. I highly recommend this for anxiety and stress. It looks like Amazon no longer carries this particular kit, but there are tons of paint by number kits for adults.

I am in no way being paid for these endorsements — I just wanted to share what goes into my self-care routine. If you want to add anything, please feel free and drop it in the comments. I’m wishing you all good health and peace. Thanks for reading.

Stay in the light.

In a Nutshell: My Week in Review

I’m proud of myself this week. I had to move up my ECT (to this past Friday) because I quickly became depressed after the last one, which was four weeks ago. I hate getting them, but I knew I needed it. I went into survival mode last week (and had to cancel plans) and made it to Friday.

I was more nervous about this one, but I don’t know why. When we got to Laurel Ridge, I started pacing in the waiting room. Luckily, there was only one girl ahead of me, so I didn’t wait long. But when a bed was available, the nurses couldn’t get my IV in. This made me incredibly nervous. I was afraid that they would do a bad job with the IV, then I wouldn’t get all the anesthesia I needed. I know that’s not likely, but that was the thought racing around my head. One of my favorite nurses finally got it, but to be honest I had shed some nervous tears. I tried to chat about my kids to take the focus off, and it helped.

When I went into the room, everyone was really nice and accommodating because of my anxiety and I had a good seizure — 72 seconds long. I was told the shorter the seizure, the better, but looking at my records, all my seizures are kinda long, over a minute. One was two minutes long — after that seizure, I was doing very well and was able to go nine weeks without an ECT. So, who knows. I am keeping a notebook where I’m documenting my symptoms a week leading up to an ECT and immediately after. I think it would be helpful to find patterns or correlations.

Enough about that. My birthday is this coming Saturday, so I’m looking forward to that.

That’s really all I got for now. Y’all have a good week, and stay in the light.

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.

At My Worst

The thing I hate the most about depression is that I can be feeling so good about myself and then — bam — something triggers me or I get into an argument with my husband or best friend. It could be something small, but it can throw me into a downward spiral of despair and pain.

That’s what happened tonight. I was reflecting on my day and how good it was. I made progress with my intuitive eating program (I didn’t overeat at all). I started to put more work into my blog, which excites and drives me.

Then it hit — self doubt, self loathing and despair after an argument with a loved one. All of these things were lurking in the shadows of my obstinate brain, and it didn’t take much to pull them out of hiding. It scared me. I began having intrusive thoughts that I should kill myself* and that my family didn’t need me. I tried to sort through my thoughts, desperately trying to determine which were true and which were lies. Normally, I don’t entertain my intrusive thoughts; as soon as they enter my head I stop the thought and release it, thinking of something happier. But I didn’t have the strength to stop them this time. It was a barrage of darkness and sadness. And I’ll just stop there, because this is making me sad.

All the progress that I had made during the day was gone, so it seemed. I got ice cream and binged on a couple servings, even though I didn’t really want it.

I didn’t have much time to wallow after that because both of my kids came into the room claiming they couldn’t sleep. It was several more hours of coaxing them and threatening before they finally went down. I felt depleted and frustrated.

The argument I had was inconsequential, forgotten by morning. But what stayed with me was the idea that this — me and my mental health — is probably as good as it’s going to get. I don’t mean that like I’m giving up and in to depression — I mean that I don’t know if I’ll ever feel better than I do right now. Every day, I hustle to stay on top of my depression. I take my meds, I got to weekly therapy appointments, I do ECT treatments, I avoid sleeping during the day, I stay busy with the kids, writing, hobbies, etc. And there is always room for improvement, but I think I need to be OK with the fact that this may be as good as it gets.

It’s not so bad. I’ll probably always live with these demons, but what I need more than to accept that this is my fate and life is that everybody else accepts it, too. That they love and support me at my worst, which is kind of scary sometimes. But in the same breath, it’s taught me to be grateful for all the good in my life and happy moments. And there are many.

It’s hard for me to talk about the dark or bad side of my depression (is there a good side, lol), because it’s hard for people who don’t suffer with a mental disorder to understand. It’s unknown and scary to them. But if you have a loved one who does suffer, love and accept them at their worst. And let them know that you do.

It makes this “journey” a lot easier.

*Please note that I am not in crisis or suicidal. Intrusive thoughts are just thoughts — not desire. I am safe.