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Mental Health

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Pump My Brakes

by Heather Loeb

NAMI had an event last night, and I’ll admit, I was riled up. I don’t think in a bad way; I just get excited, talk fast and get a little high strung. I think I’m probably always high strung, but I’m ok with that.

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I didn’t feel stressed at all — I was speaking at the event, and I wasn’t in charge of anything except our stuffed llama and his accessories (that’s another story for another time). Well, I had misplaced his accessories and started asking my cohorts if they had seen the llama’s accoutrements. One of my buddies helped me look, and after finding them, he said he could teach me some strategies to decrease my anxiety.

I didn’t even feel anxious, but perhaps I was. I told my cohort that I did have ways to help me calm down and that I appreciated the offer. He told me to visualize my mind as a garden. That you can’t help what grows there, such as weeds, but you can pull the weeds out and keep you garden looking good. He said it a lot more eloquently.

I loved that.

And he’s not the first one to suggest I’m too anxious.

So maybe what I think is baseline for me is really a bit much for others. Granted I had taken my Adderall late in the day yesterday, but still. The point is maybe I should pump my brakes and keep a tighter hold on anxiety. Or loosen my grip?

I’ve never had a “green thumb” but it sounds like my garden could use some weeding.

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Recently I posted on Facebook about this, but I think it merits a blog. I came across some papers from the Menninger Clinic as I was cleaning my sunroom the other day, and they threw me for a loop. The papers were test results I had taken shortly after I arrived at the hospital. We had to take a lot of tests. They tested my quality of life, which was at 25 percent, physical disability caused by my depression/anxiety at 48 percent and cognitive function at 33 percent. My memory was at 3 percent, which was the most shocking. I guess being on all that medication and abusing my anxiety meds really screwed me up. My memory just got worse after the ECTs if you can believe it.

I felt so many emotions as I cradled these papers. I was heartbroken that I let myself get that bad but elated that I’ve come so far. I’m certain my quality of life has improved, somewhere in the 90s, I’d say and my disability is near non-existent. I still get migraines and sometimes I have bad days, but overall I get out of bed every morning and get on that grind. It’s amazing what I can do now.

  • Run my Unruly Neurons blog
  • Write a column for the Caller-Times
  • Make #MentalHealthMonday videos for State Rep. Todd Hunter
  • Work as the Communications Manager at NAMI Greater Corpus Christi
  • Sit on the board at JCC
  • Be a member of State Rep. Todd Hunter’s Suicide Prevention Task Force
  • Join NAMI Texas’ State Advocacy Networking Team
  • Regular contributor to the national NAMI blog
  • Do public speaking

Plus, I have two kids, lol. That takes up quite a bit of my time. And my husband.

It may seem like I’m bragging, but I’m just amazed. I look at this list and know that I couldn’t do that four years ago. But I’m doing it now, and I’m so proud of myself. Yes, that’s it. I’m just so proud of myself. I’ve done it — I’m in recovery. I’ve made it to the other side, with help from my support system, of course.

All these good things keep happening to me, and it’s unbelievable to me sometimes. I can’t help but think when is the other shoe going to drop. And maybe it won’t. Maybe I deserve these good things. That’s hard to admit. All I know is that I’m grateful, so grateful.

I get to do what I love and love what I do — help others. I didn’t have a lot of help when I was first diagnosed, and I don’t want anyone to feel alone on their mental health journey.

I’m always here. And I mean that.

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A friend asked me to send her a link of my articles regarding anxiety and what helps. I quickly did a search for my columns at the Caller-Times, but I noticed that 1. there weren’t many and 2. I didn’t give any advice about what to do, I just talked about what it was.

I did write more blogs about it, so I sent those. But it made me think — I still don’t have a handle on my anxiety. It has been three years since leaving the Menninger Clinic yet I have few ideas on how to cope, even for myself.

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As of now, I’ll do some deep breathing or box breathing. I’ll take some anxiety meds (which usually help very little). I’ll talk to my husband or a friend about what I’m feeling. I’ll get under my weighted blanket, which honestly feels the best — when an anxiety attack occurs, I often feel like my insides are trying to get outside of my body. Weird, I know. I digress. A lot of times, I’ll slip and overeat on snacks or candy. That would be an unhealthy coping skill. I used to get weekly massages, but now I don’t. I haven’t seen a difference in anxiety levels.

Even if some combination of these things helps, it doesn’t make it go away completely. And the anxiety always comes back. Most people think it’s just everyday worries, but it’s not like that. It’s often worst-case scenarios that get trapped in my brain and intrusive thoughts that I can’t control. I counter them by praying over and over to the point where it gets obsessive. I’ll try to distract myself. It’s hard. And depression is hard, too. I am in no way saying it’s easy, but at least I get relief from the crushing sadness, fatigue and apathy. I never get a break from anxiety.

And if you Google tips on coping with anxiety, you get some annoying answers. I say annoying, because while these tips do help some, they don’t help someone like me who does them anyway and who has a severe anxiety disorder.

For example:

  • Get enough sleep
  • Exercise
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Maintain a positive attitude
  • Try yoga
  • Watch for triggers

I guess we get the same trite answers because nobody knows how to really help — and again, I’m talking about people with severe anxiety, not those with day-to-day worries (not that I’m discounting them either).

So really all I know that helps in the moment in my weighted blanket. But the problem with that is I’m not always home when anxiety strikes. Breathing helps, too. Sometimes singing at the top of my lungs in the car helps. Oh, and bingeing on my favorite shows. I’ve watched them all 100 times. The familiarity is comforting. Nothing new is going to surprise me. It’s just the same old characters doing the same old things. That may seem sad to you, but it’s calming.

I gotta do what I gotta do.

It’s just that sometimes that’s not enough.

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I always hated going back to school and leaving summer vacation behind. I would get anxious about the new year, wondering what friends I’d have in my class and which teacher I’d get. And I would worry about hypothetical tests and projects that I just knew I’d get bad grades on. There was such a heaviness when school rolled around, erasing all the chill I had acquired that summer.
I can’t imagine what it’s like as a kid now. They’re dealing with so much more: the pandemic, trauma of frequent school shootings and increased bullying. It’s scary, and it’s something that none of our generations has seen before.
So here’s what I’m going to do with my soon-to-be second grader and Kindergartener to help with the transition. I hope it helps our collective mental health.

  1. We’re going to get back into our school routine, i.e. waking up earlier, getting dressed first thing and eating breakfast right away
  2. Talk about what’s making them nervous. Both of my kids have new teachers this year, so I know that’s a source of anxiety. We can talk about that and anything else that’s bothering them.
  3. Empathize with my kids. Whatever it is that’s causing anxiety, I need to listen and show empathy. I’ll try not to brush off their feelings, instead I’ll validate their worries and concerns.
  4. I’ll encourage my kids to talk about their fears or how their day went. I’ll also give them tips on self-care (healthy self-care and coping skills) and how it can help their stress levels.
  5. I’ll be present. When my kids get home, I’ll push my work aside, put my phone away and concentrate on them. They may want alone time to decompress, but they will know that I’m available and there.

Signs of Anxiety in Kids (www.verywellfamily.com)

  • Appear more clingy than normal
  • Be restless and fidgety
  • Complain of stomachaches
  • Display changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Express negative thoughts or worries
  • Get upset or angry more quickly
  • Have bouts of unexplained crying
  • Struggle to concentrate

To learn more about kids and mental health, please visit the NAMI.org website.

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First let me start by saying this is not a real thing. I mean it’s real because people are making it real, but high-functioning depression (or anxiety) is not a medical diagnosis.

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As previously mentioned, I’ve been feeling down for the past couple of weeks; I had to go into Low Battery Mode to conserve energy. But even though almost every day has been a struggle, I’ve still been functioning at a high level. It’s odd, because I’m used to extremes — down and out or walking on sunshine. Here I am able to get up early in the morning, take a shower, get the kids to camp, do the work I need to do for NAMI GCC, get school paperwork organized, etc.

Maybe it’s not about being highly functional — maybe it’s about keeping busy so I don’t have time to think about how depressed I am. Epiphany…?

No, I don’t think that’s it, because if it were a bad depressive episode I were going through, I wouldn’t have the energy to do any of those things. This is just a blip; I already feel better and the waves of sadness, loneliness and self-loathing are fewer and farther between. Thank God. It’s terrifying to think all the progress I’ve made could be erased, or that my happiness could be taken away so fast and for no reason. I guess the reason is because my neurons are unruly. That’s hardly fair. But it does makes me grateful for the precious time I have with my friends and family and the time I spend with myself smiling and enjoying the color of the water, a good book, the taste of Chick-fil-a nuggets, laughing with my best friend, a nap under a warm blanket and bingeing on my favorite shows. Totally priceless.

I can’t wait to get back there. I’m so close, I know it.

Until then, I’ll remind myself that these blues hanging around are temporary. My head is still above water. I’m still highly functional.

So, I guess it is a real thing.

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I was curled up on my hot pink couch under a weighted blanket. I needed the extra weight; it felt like my insides were trying to get on the outside. It isn’t a pleasant feeling. It only happens when I’m very anxious. I had just burst into tears on a Zoom call with my NAMI cohorts, and I just wanted to feel safe. I had determined that I needed to take a break from karate, which I felt guilty about. By the way I’ve been feeling these past few weeks (depressed and anxious), it’s clear that I need to go into Low Battery Mode and conserve what energy I have and save it for getting in a better place. My NAMI pals made me feel better and told me I had their support, but I still went to the couch for comfort.

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I was feeling pretty sorry for myself, and that heavy weight on my chest and in my belly weren’t going away. I tossed the weighted blanket off me and looked up.

My gaze stopped at a print on my wall of a woman with her head back and arms up by her sides. You can’t look at it without feeling the happiness and fulfillment she’s obviously experiencing.

That picture is what recovery means to me. That’s how I aspire to feel all the time, and most of the time, it’s how I truly feel — blissful, lucky and grateful.

So then it hit me. Sure, I’m going through a hard time. But my god, I’ve gone through way, way, way darker times than this. I’ve crawled back from the darkest depths of hell, and I’ve far from that place now.

If I could do it then, with so much baggage, self-loathing, negative thinking and hate, I can do it now with love and the support of my family and friends (and even strangers). People are praying for me, rooting for me and sending me good vibes. I’m smarter now, I know better so I can do better. Part of recovery means preparing for relapse, and I’m so prepared.

I know I’ve discussed Low Battery Mode before, but this is what I’m focusing on now:

  • Stick to a consistent sleep schedule and attempt to get the kids out of my bed
  • Drink lots of water and lay off the Diet Cokes
  • Avoid junk food and eat healthier
  • Take lots of breaks whenever I need them
  • Ask for help when I’m feeling overwhelmed
  • Give myself some grace when I slip up
  • Go to my support system whenever I need to
  • Cut back on activities that aren’t a “priority”
  • Read and write
  • Be consistent in self-care routines
  • Go to therapy consistently

I’m sure there’s more that I’m missing right now, but this is a good start. This is what I need to do to take care of me and subsequently, my family. I know it’s hard right now, but I’ll be back to that woman with the sunshine in her face in no time.

I’ve got this. And if I don’t, I know y’all will be there to help me.

Thanks for listening.

If you have any ideas or suggestions on how to avoid relapse, I’d love to hear them. Drop them in the comments.

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Happy Sunday, everyone. I’m trying to have a good day, but man, this is been a hard week. I’ve been feeling depressed, sad and fatigued. I was going to scheduled some ketamine treatments, but I started feeling better Thursday and Friday. Then we had to put down my favorite cat, Possum, because she was having severe kidney and liver problems. We’ve had her for 10+ years, and it was very hard to say goodbye, but I’m glad she’s no longer hurting. The kids are okay. Isla went with us to say goodbye; Eli declined, saying it was too hard, which I totally understand. He’s already asked for a new cat. Sigh.

I think I will call Monday to set up some ketamine treatments, I don’t want this crappy mood to continue and get out of hand. This coming week is going to be a busy one — my husband has a fundraiser (he’s running for a board position for the community college here) and NAMI GCC is holding a panel discussion for Minority Mental Health Awareness month. I’m pretty excited about that. I think it’s going to be very eye opening. What I’ve learned from doing research on it for my column and our event has shocked me — read my column here. I’m always thinking about my mental health and problems; I didn’t even think about the hurdles that others have to go through to get just a quarter of the quality care I get. It needs to change, for sure.

Oh, I almost forgot! I made it through the first round of voting for the Caller-Times’ Best of the Best. I’m up for Best Columnist. Please vote for me daily. You can vote here.

That’s it for me. I hope you guys are well. As always, stay in the light.

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Often when I describe recovery to someone, I say it’s like walking a tight rope. One false move and your ass is back on the ground. And sometime you can get back up there, no harm, no foul. But there are times when you can’t. To switch metaphors, you’ve already let depression’s foot in the door and that bitch got in just a bit. That’s all it takes.

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For weeks I’ve been letting her in, it just took until now to notice. My hygiene is slipping. I’m sleeping more, even past my alarm, which I never do. I’m so tired; my limbs feel 50 pounds each. I’m sad and worn out. I feel insecure and not excited about writing or work events. I’m even having trouble getting my thoughts out in this blog.

I have no energy. Gone is my pep. Maybe it’s time to try ketamine again, I don’t know. But I need to do something. I don’t like this version of Heather. Definitely not. I know I can achieve more than this, and I know I don’t need to compare this Heather to my most motivated and winningest one. It’s okay to have bad days. It’s when the days become months that I need to worry.

I won’t lie, I’m pretty worried now. It’s not completely dark now, but conditions are right for it to get darker – and fast. But it’s hard to say that this isn’t just a brief mood swing or if it’s going to last 6 to 8 months. My brain can’t tell the difference.

So here’s my plan: I go into Low Battery Mode which includes asking for help when I need it, taking more breaks than usual, try to eat healthy diet, see my therapist more often, do self-care as much as I can and celebrate the little things. That’s not much but it is when you’re floundering. I’ll really try hard on personal hygiene and getting enough sleep.

I’ll try.

That’s the least and most I can do.

Try.

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This week wasn’t a great one, but it wasn’t terrible either. It sure was busy. I tried to get back into my routine after being in Jamaica for a week but I couldn’t get as much done as I liked.

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The kids complained about going to summer camp and stayed home a couple days — I know, I know — why did I let them? So that had a lot to do with me not getting much work done. But they were sick at the beginning of the week so I had good reasoning then.

I was also stressed because when we came back from out trip, our older cat, Possum, looked terrible. You could tell that she was sick, so I made an appointment for her at the vet and she ended up staying the whole week. They aren’t sure what’s going on, they think she has a blood parasite which should be confirmed on Monday they receive blood work. If it’s not, I have no idea what’s going to happen. They let her come home with us this weekend, and she’s barely eaten or drank water. She’s lost weight and looks so different. If you’re the praying type, please send one up for Possum. She’s my favorite cat, and the kids will be devastated if we have to put her down.

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In other news, both kids earned their green belt this past week. Read about Eli’s green belt test here. I also was an honoree for CC Under 40, which is an event honoring the accomplishments of men and women under 40 years of age who have made significant contributions in their professional fields as well as through service in the community. I was so excited to make it — I didn’t have much more time seeing as I’m 38, lol. But I was very honored, and it makes me want to work even harder on my blog, column and work at NAMI Greater Corpus Christi.

I guess that’s enough for one week. I hope y’all have a great week coming up.

As always, stay in the light.

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It happened yesterday. Eli was scheduled to test for his green belt, his older sister tested earlier in the week, but Eli didn’t want to. Before we got to karate, Eli threw a fit about not wanting to go and wanting to quit, but I made him get dressed anyway so he could tell the instructor himself he wanted to quit or work something out if he wanted to continue.

I admit, I don’t want him to quit. Both kids have to do some activity. They can’t just stay on the phones/computers all the time. And when he goes to class he has fun. I don’t get it. But on the way over he said he didn’t want to quit, he just didn’t feel like testing.

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I didn’t listen. We got to karate and the instructor was talking to him, telling him that he could test today or he could wait until the next cycle but he would remain an orange belt until them. Then I butted in saying that his sister would be a green belt and it would only take a few minutes to take the rest.

Why was I rushing him?

I then heard the instructor say to Eli that he could go at his own pace. I heard him say it, but I wasn’t listening.

I butted in again saying it wouldn’t take long and reminding him that Isla would be ahead of him.

I said this because I didn’t want Eli to get down on himself for not being a green belt. I didn’t want him to get discouraged and really want to quit. But I was so pushy!

The instructor told Eli again that it was at his own pace and he didn’t have to test. I truly heard him this time, but Eli had already decided to test.

He passed and earned a green belt, but I walked out there cringing because I had been one of “those moms” — a helicopter parent, a bossy, I-know-everything kind of mom. And I hate that.

I should’ve listened to Eli when he said he didn’t want to do it that day, even though he was obviously ready because he passed. But I shouldn’t have pushed and manipulated.

My kids are totally different, and I shouldn’t expect them to do the same things at the same times. I should listen to their needs and evaluate them separately.

I should remember that Eli gets so overwhelmed sometimes (part of having ADHD) and needs breaks to process things. I’m no different. None of us is.

I expect people to cater to my needs and diagnoses (depression, anxiety, eating disorder, etc) all the time, fair or not. I should do the same with my family. I’m going to start by listening more.

Thanks to the karate instructor (he’s mine, too) for teaching me a valuable lesson. I’m sure they’ll be many more.

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