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.

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.

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.