In a Nutshell: My Week In Review

Getting ready for a cowboy/western themed fundraiser.

I was sick this past week, but I’m starting to feel better. The most exciting part of my week was a woman from the local NAMI chapter contacting me, asking me to be a speaker at their suicide prevention symposium. They’re also going to feature my blog in their monthly newsletter. I’m so happy! I feel like I can reach a lot of people through my writing and this is a great step toward doing that.

Also, I went to a fundraiser last night and several people — strangers — stopped me and told me they appreciated my column in the paper and how I was removing the stigma from mental illness. That made me feel so good. It’s nice to know there are people besides my family reading, lol.

This coming week you won’t see any new blogs because I’ll be on vacation — I’m very excited about that, too. I hope you week goes well, and as always, stay in the light.

Don’t I Deserve a Break?

Last week was a good one. I started eating healthier, I worked (jogged) three days I week, I drank fewer Diet Cokes, replacing them with water and I kept up with personal hygiene. It wasn’t a good week, it was great.

Those kids of weeks don’t happen often, not for me. I caught myself thinking about it as a fluke, some hormonal gift that was sure to fade away because doesn’t it always?

I haven’t had more than one of those weeks in years. I didn’t want to get attached to the idea of it for good reason. Depression has reigned in my brain for too long. It always comes back, and it’s hard to beat.

But I’d be lying if I didn’t say there was a small part of me saying, wait — isn’t this what we’ve been working on? What we’ve trained for? I haven’t modified my behavior, taken all these pills and gone to therapy just so I could tread water for the rest of my life, because damn, isn’t that what I’ve been doing? Getting through the day, weeks, months and even years to only keep from drowning? NO! I have not. I want to live, really live without the ball and chain of depression and its comorbidities.

If I’m happy now, it better not be a fluke. I’ve worked too hard. There’s been literal blood, sweat and tears thrown into my recovery and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Please tell me this isn’t an accident.

I want to believe it’s real, that it’s not hormonal or manic phase. I want to believe that sometimes I can catch a break, at the very least an intermission from the pain and heartache my treatment-resistant depression and anxiety have caused me. And not to mention my family and friends.

I want to live and not just count down the minutes until I’m unconscious again. To wake up and literally smell the roses. I want to be happy and enjoy everything I’ve been given. Some may ask, can’t you do that with depression, and the answer is yes. But having depression is like only seeing in black and white when you know others can see color, that you once saw color. It dulls all your senses and sometimes, a lot of the times, you can’t feel anything at all except for loss. Heavy, penetrating , overwhelming loss.

I don’t want to feel that anymore.

Don’t I deserve a break?

Anxiety Sucks

When I start my day, I go into autopilot and make breakfast for the kids, get them dressed, pack their lunches and drive them to school. I usually have errands to run afterward, and I try to stay busy.

I look forward to hanging out with my husband (my favorite human), eating dinner and talking about our days. I try to relax, but it doesn’t always happen.

At night after the kids are asleep and my brain is temporarily relieved of keeping small humans alive, my thoughts start to race. The voice in my head is full of self-doubt, telling me I’m not worthy, that I’m a screw up. So I stay busy – I don’t like to be left alone with my thoughts because demoralizing and exhausting. Sometimes I eat to distract myself from those thoughts, to make myself feel better. Sometimes I binge, only enjoying it briefly before regret and pain set in. It’s a compulsion and it’s hard to control.

In addition to all that, I’m sensitive to noises – loud noises freak me out and make me irritable. I snap at my kids and husband over little things.

This is anxiety, what it looks like to me anyway.

Yesterday I made lunch plans with a friend, and we picked a restaurant I haven’t been to in about a decade. I wanted to seem easy-going, up for anything so I said yes and immediately looked for their menu online and choosing what I would order. I started to get anxious about going out, so I asked my friend to pick me up. I was worried about parking and whether I’d get there first. It’s just easier if I’m not alone. It irritates me though that I’m like this. I’m constantly planning and rehearsing what I will do or say in my brain before (sometimes if) I do it. Sometimes I cancel plans because I get so overwhelmed. I hate change and trying new things. That doesn’t keep me from trying, though.

For instance, next week’s menu is comprised of all new recipes. I don’t have my favorite foods, my comfort foods, planned. And I’m already dreading it.

I’ve been this way since I was in middle school. I was plagued with anxiety but didn’t know what it was, assuming my nervousness and habits were normal. They were not. I had intrusive thoughts, which I still get today. They would be things like my family is going to die, that I was going to die, and included worst case scenarios. It was hard to deal with then, I was just a child.

They’re still hard to deal with. I’ll be interrupted by the thought of my husband or kids dying or that I’d get a painful, terminal disease. Most of the time I’m able to stop the thoughts and reset my thinking, but they leave a gross residue in my mind that’s hard to clean up. A lot of the time, my anxiety manifests as irritability or rage.

I’m not trying to bum you out. My goal is to point out that anxiety is not just being nervous about something. It affects my daily life and sometimes paralyzes me from getting things done and living a somewhat normal life. Others have it even worse. Anxiety presents differently people, so it’s best to be compassionate and empathetic to others who suffer.

To sum up, anxiety sucks.

Unruly Neurons Celebrates 200th Blog Post

My last blog post (read it here) was officially my 200th blog post since I created it in 2018. I didn’t write much when I first started; I have the pandemic to thank for posting regularly and getting into a groove. And it’s led to me being a regular guest columnist at the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, one of my dreams come true.

Thank you so much for reading, leaving comments and sharing my blogs. I’m so grateful to each one of you who has aided in the small successes of this site.

I created Unruly Neurons after fashion icon Kate Spade killed herself in June 2018. Her sister gave an interview saying that Kate suffered with depression and didn’t want to seek help or speak out because she was afraid of hurting her brand. Something inside me just snapped, so I started writing Op-Ed pieces on mental health to the Caller, not knowing that within a year I would be in a mental hospital for six long weeks.

When I came back from the Menninger Clinic in August 2019, I was a bit embarrassed at first then realized that I had to talk about it. I had to be honest in my struggles and in my journey. I was hoping to free myself from the shame and silence depression and my other mental disorders had bred inside me, but it wasn’t just about me either. So many of you reached out to me, confiding that you suffered and how my writing helped you feel less alone.

If I never do anything else in my life, that’s OK. Knowing my blog helped someone, even just one person, is enough for me.

I’m proud of the work I’m doing, and I know it’s been good therapy for me to vent and talk to others going through the same thing. So thank you — all of you.

If you’re not quite ready to talk openly about depression (and other mental disorders) that’s OK. I know you’re brave and a survivor because that’s what mental illness is — a battle with yourself every single day, and it’s so hard! I just want you to know you’re not alone.

I’m going to keep writing, because I’m still battling my demons, too.

Unruly Neurons By the Numbers:
– 12,500 blog views
– 8,246 visitors to the UN site
– 200 posts
– Most viewed post: Emotional Pain
– 31,897 words

In a Nutshell: My Week in Review

I haven’ written one of these updates in a while; I’ve gotten off my normal posting schedule since starting my column in the Caller-Times. Which reminds me, the Caller does a “Best of the Best” contest where people can vote for their favorite Mexican restaurant, etc. There’s a category for Best Columnist, so if you have please take a moment and write my name under the Media category.

A few weeks ago, my oldest graduated Kindergarten, and they had an amazing graduation. I’m now buying new clothes, shoes and school supplies for her new school. I know I have a couple of months, but I like to be prepared. She’ll be a first grader at the gifted/talented school, so we’re all excited.

During the summer we’re going to visit some museums in Houston and probably visit my parents in Dallas. No major plans. I am, however, really looking forward to the Olympics, which start in July.

After school starts in August, I’m thinking about having a hysterectomy. I don’t love the idea of it (because of the anesthesia), but I think it’s the best decision. If you have any experiences you’d like to share, drop them in the comments.

That’s about it in my world. I hope y’all are doing well, and as always, thanks for reading!

Stay in the light.

Love, Heather

10 Bad Habits of a Depressed/Anxious Person

Let me preface this blog by stating these are my experiences only – not all depressed people are the same, nor do they experience depression/anxiety in the same way.

When I first wrote this blog I didn’t have a problem with the title but now I do. Labeling the following as “bad habits” implies to me that these actions can be prevented but these things are uncontrollable side effects of depression and anxiety.

So let me say, “10 Things That (Almost) Every Depressed/Anxiety Person Does”

1. Cancels plans – I cancel plans a lot, and I feel really bad about it. When I’m feeling good I reach out to my loved ones and make plans but when the time comes my mood and demeanor have changed. It feels physically impossible to hang out, especially if it’s in public. My depression/anxiety is so unpredictable, and because of this, it makes it hard for me to maintain some friendships.

2. Sleeps too much – When I’m in a depressive episode I can’t get enough sleep. Mostly because I feel extreme fatigue, but I also don’t want to be awake much because it’s too much work. I get overwhelmed, and it’s painful to be awake, so I go to sleep early and take naps during the day. This is a problem because it can intensify things like obesity, headaches and backaches. You miss out on things, and it’s just not healthy. It’s definitely not a long-term coping strategy.

3. Isolates – As I mentioned earlier, when you’re depressed it’s so much effort to be awake and functioning. This includes socializing with family and friends. Even texting seems hard, so it’s easy to just withdraw but this too is dangerous. Feeling alone can increase feelings of depression — mainly loneliness and despair — which could lead to suicidal thoughts.

4. Neglects personal hygiene – Sadly, this is a huge problems for me. For a long time, I could only shower once a week. I also have trouble brushing my teeth. It seems silly because these tasks don’t seem hard but if you’re depressed, they’re an impossible task. I would feel gross, slovenly and even worse about myself.

5. Overuses drugs and alcohol – I abused my anxiety meds because I wanted to feel anything but the pain and discomfort depression and anxiety were making me feel. So I took pills to feel loopy and out of it. This obviously doesn’t aid in recovery of depression, and it can kill you. Using anything to numb the pain is dangerous, whether it’s prescription meds, drugs or alcohol. If you’re struggling with substance abuse, please reach out to your doctor.

6. Dissociates – I just wrote a blog abut this, check it out here. Dissociation is common to those who have depression. It’s one way the mind copes with too much stress or trauma. Experiences of dissociation last hours or days. That feeling that I’m detached from my body is why I like to binge eat or take pills — it’s just a feeling of escape. It doesn’t happen often with me, but I totally understand why.

7. Doesn’t eat enough or eats too much – I have Binge Eating Disorder, where I eat until I’m uncomfortably or painfully full but don’t purge. Overeating like that isn’t much different from me abusing medication — I just want to feel “good” for awhile. The problem with bingeing is that I only temporarily feel good. The aftermath and effects are terrible, but I seem to forget this when I’m bingeing.

8. Snaps at loved ones – Sometimes anxiety can manifest as anger or rage. I didn’t know that until recently. When I start snapping at my husband or yelling at the kids, I know it’s my “check engine” light coming on and I need to take a break or practice self-care.

9. Overthinks – This is called rumination, and it’s hard to stop. I’ll get a thought in my head or replay a scenario and think about it for hours, even days. It’s hard to control, and it causes me to feel shame and guilt. Believe me, I don’t need anymore of those.

10. Worries too much about the future – Sometimes I’ll get caught up on the future. I’ll worry excessively about it (and even ruminate), even though I know it’s irrational to do so. Mainly, I’ll think about finances or my husband dying. It’s unpleasant and just causes more anxiety. This is also hard to control.

Any others you can think of? Leave them in the comments.

You Might Have Anxiety If…

Anxiety presents differently in people, so my list may be different from yours and that’s OK. There are also different anxiety disorders that I didn’t mention: generalized anxiety disorder (me), social anxiety disorder (also me), panic disorder and separation anxiety. You can have more than one, unfortunately. Everyone at some point experiences anxiety, but you need to seek help if it’s significantly interfering with your life.

This list is supposed to be lighthearted, but anxiety is serious and can make life difficult to get through the day. If you are struggling with anxiety or depression, please contact your primary care doctor, find a therapist, join a support group or talk to a trusted friend. You’re not alone.

Do you have anything to add to this list? Drop it in the comments. Stay in the light, my friends.

Please note that I am not a medical doctor and cannot diagnose anxiety through this blog.

Signs That I’m Slipping Into a Depressive Episode

Up until a couple years ago I thought that if you were depressed it meant being sad all the time. Now, I know that if you have major depressive disorder, your depression comes in waves or depressive episodes. Like right now, I’m not experiencing one but I’m still depressed because it’s a chronic condition. It can be confusing but below you’ll find out what it’s like (for me) to experience a depressive episode.

  1. My anxiety manifests as anger — I recently discovered that anxiety can be masked by anger, or in some cases, rage. Sometimes, it’s not apparent that I’m anxious, even to me, but I realize my “check engine light” is coming on when I snap at the kids or my husband. Other times, I see red and want to throw or kick something. Regardless, I now know that anxiety is most likely the culprit and I need to resolve whatever it is I’m feeling. When this happens repeatedly, I know a depressive episode could be on the horizon.
  2. I overeat and binge — When I’m upset, I purposely overeat or binge. Unfortunately, this is my go-to coping mechanism and not a very good one. I think that by overeating I’ll forget whatever pain I’m experience, but the relief is only temporary (the weight gain often is not). It takes a lot of strength for me to bypass this behavior and choose something healthier, something that will actually be helpful.
  3. I sleep more — Usually, I wake up from 5 to 6 a.m. and go to sleep between 9 and 10 p.m. If I’m adding a nap during the day or going to bed before 9 p.m., that usually means something is up. Sometimes I have to force myself to go to bed on time because I’ll want to stay up in the name of alone time. I know I’m headed for trouble when I’m in so much pain that I can’t stay awake any longer than necessary.
  4. My temper is shorter — I have two small children, so patience is critical for my mental health. But there are times, when I lost it easily over seemingly innocuous things, such as the kids being too loud. See no. 5 below, lol.
  5. Loud noises freak me out — When I’m in the “danger zone” of a panic attack or depressive episode, loud and unexpected sounds (such as the kids dropping something) make me angry, scared and out of control. Going somewhere that’s usually loud is out of the question, too. I suspect that I have Misophonia, a disorder in which certain sounds trigger emotional or physiological responses that some might perceive as unreasonable given the circumstance. But I already have enough diagnoses, so I haven’t checked into it.
  6. I want to crawl into bed after I take the kids to school — Sometimes I need a nap during the day, and that’s OK, but I try not to make it a habit anymore; it just reminds me of when I was super depressed before going to psychiatric hospital. If I’m crawling into bed more than usual during the day, say more than once a week, I know to assess what’s going on.
  7. I cry more — This is pretty straight forward. I’m a crier anyway, but I start to cry like every day, then something’s up.
  8. I don’t do my favorite activities and hobbies — This is one of the most annoying part of depression but a good barometer on what’s going on in my head. Typically, I like to write, sing, read, sew, etc. but when I’m depressed I watch more TV than usual and all my other hobbies fall to the wayside.
  9. My anxiety is through the roof — Also straight forward. When I’m anxious there’s an uptick in my anxiety medication, and I tend to be very jumpy and short tempered.
  10. I stop wearing “real” clothes — I”m started to waver on this one. By real clothes, I mean a nice bra, jeans, a blouse, etc. — anything that’s not leggings, basically. BUT we are in a pandemic and I just don’t see that many people so I’ve been wearing more loungewear than normal. But usually when I’m depressed, I’m in oversized sweats and my hair is dirty.

If you have some tell-tale signs of entering into a depressive episode, I’d like to hear them. Drop them in the comments.

Thanks for reading. Stay in the light.

Freedom

When I started this blog, I was not free. I hid my depression, anxiety and binge eating disorder from the world, mostly because I was embarrassed. I also have a personality disorder, but I didn’t know it when I started writing.

I felt weak because of the depression. That’s not uncommon, mostly because society still buys into the stigma surrounding depression and other mental disorders.

It took going to a mental hospital for me to finally “come clean” about my disorders. Before I left for The Menninger Clinic, I was abusing my anxiety medication, suicidal and it was hard to get out of bed. I was at my lowest.

Then, surrounded by people just like me, I realized that I wasn’t weak — it takes a strong person to fight their own brain in order to stay alive. And that’s what I was doing. My brain was telling me I needed to kill myself and that nobody wanted me around. That I was a burden. But I resisted.

Depression not only made it hard to get out bed but also it was difficult to brush my teeth and shower. I also started isolating, not answering texts from my friends and wanting to spent more time by myself. That’s depression’s game — to isolate you and make you think you’re not worthy. And what helped me while hospitalized was discovering that it wasn’t my fault. It’s nobody’s fault. It’s situational and genetics. Anyone can become depressed — just think about what the pandemic has done: people have lost loved ones, they’ve gotten sick themselves, they’ve lost jobs and people are isolated from family and friends. It’s just a hop, skip and a jump over to depression right now, for anyone.

And it’s so lonely. So, so lonely.

My goal starting this blog was to help others not feel so lonely. So ostracized. To fight the weariness that you feel in your bones when struggling with depression. I want those suffering to know that you are worthy and not alone in this fight. There is light at the end of the tunnel, at least I think so. I’m still trying to get there.

What I’ve come to know is this: It’s OK to have depression. It’s OK to admit it and talk about it freely. There’s nothing wrong with having a mental disorder. People who suffer with mental illness are survivors, warriors. I am a warrior.

Every single day I wake up and fight depression and anxiety. I fight body image issues and experience terrible, hateful intrusive thoughts telling me I’m ugly, fat and a loser. Or that I’m going to die. Sometimes, it’s no picnic. But again, I’m a warrior.

I’ve learned that I can run on hate, so I’m learning to love myself. On a good day, I see a beautiful, wild-haired woman who loves her friends and family fiercely. Who has awesome tattoos and is not afraid of speaking her mind about anything. An advocate who desperately wants to help others.

I’ve come a long way, and this blog has helped me navigate my journey, which is just beginning.

What I am now is free — free from the shackles of other people’s opinions and the stigma surrounding mental disorders. I have major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, avoidance personality disorder, binge eating disorder and I have problems abusing prescription medication. I’m still amazing. I’m brave. I’m a fighter.

I’m unapologetically me and so fucking free. Join me.

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.