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Mental Health

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So I’m a day late with this (and a million dollars short), but I had a busy weekend.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Recently I talked about entering into recovery for my binge eating disorder. I knew there would be bumps in the road, but I was doing well. Until last night.

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Yesterday I had a bad day. Nothing really happened, I was just short-fused and irritable. I snapped at the kids and my husband. I didn’t like the way I felt so I took the maximum (prescribed) dose of my anxiety meds. It turned out to be a mistake, I think. While it did take the edge off, it also numbed me a bit. I started eating snacks around 4 p.m. and was still eating at 9 p.m. One snack after another. I was uncomfortably full, but I kept going.

I binged. Big time. I ate candy, cookies, popcorn, Chinese food for dinner, more cookies and more popcorn. I usually don’t keep that in the house, but I indulged. I don’t like to restrict myself from foods (because I’ll rebel) but I don’t like to set myself up for a binge either. I have to find that fine balance.

This morning when I woke up I didn’t feel so angry and blue. I remembered that today is a new day, and I can do better. I’m grateful for that because that’s what recovery is about — you can keep starting over as many times as it takes to reduce the problem. I’m still reading a book on BED recovery, and that has helped. I just need to apply what I learn to my daily life.

I also asked my friends and family what they do to cheer themselves up after a bad day, and I got a lot of good ideas for the next time I’m not feeling up to par. My favorites were pray, sew, walk, go outside, eat chocolate, take a hot bath, meditate, count blessings and journal. I think those are really good ideas, and I sometimes employ similar coping methods when I’m depressed, but yesterday was just so hard. It was hard to get to the point where I wanted to take care of myself instead of just numbing myself where I didn’t feel anything at all.

Today is different. I’m grateful for my friends and family and everything I have. I will take care of myself, and I will listen to my body and mind.

I will show up for myself, and I will tell myself I’m enough. Because I am.

Today I pray for an attitude adjustment and patience. I am grateful for a new day, and there’s no need for me to look back.

I’m more than my mistakes. So much more.

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I didn’t know what hard work was until I had my first child. I was 30 years old and had never stayed at a job longer than two years, so it shocked me to my core how hard caring for a newborn was. I always hated working and the responsibility that came with it, but this was a million times harder than any job I temporarily held.

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I didn’t have much help with my daughter because my husband was dealing with his father’s death just months before Isla was born. I don’t blame him now, because the loss of his father, his best friend, was gut wrenching and tragic. But back then I resented it. My husband also was dealing with serious family turmoil after his dad’s death and that was almost as tragic. My family all lives in Dallas, but my mom would try to come down and help some.

I didn’t get much sleep; I was exhausted all the time. I was breastfeeding, and I think that made everything harder. I breastfed for eight months, which I considered a feat, but I also became severely depressed and believed I couldn’t take any antidepressants while breastfeeding. My psychiatrist told me that. He was dead wrong.

There was nobody to pick up the slack while my husband was at work or at night, which made the depression and anxiety worse. At the time I didn’t have a housekeeper, so household chores fell by the wayside. I wanted to be like my mom friends who seemed to do it all — take care of a newborn, work, clean the house, etc. They all looked like they were handling being a new mom so well; it made me feel like a failure. I felt guilty all the time, too. I didn’t lose the baby weight I had gained, and my self-image went down the toilet.

I was in bad shape, to say the least, but my psychiatrist didn’t seem to care about the issues I told him about. He told me I had treatment-resistant depression and didn’t change a thing in my treatment plan, despite my suicidal ideation at times. I felt hopeless and wanted a new doctor but there aren’t a lot in Corpus Christi. The ones I called had months-long wait lists.

When my daughter was still little, we decided to get pregnant again. Immediately the depression lifted, thanks to a ton of feel-good hormones. I was tired a lot but it was a nice respite from the darkness I faced after having my daughter. But all good things come to an end. After my son was born I had severe postpartum depression. This time I talked with my OBGYN about taking antidepressants, which she assured me was fine to do while breastfeeding.

Things were different after I had my son, Eli. First of all, I had help; my mother in law moved to Corpus Christi and helped out with the kids a lot. And we were able to get a housekeeper, which lightened my load a lot. Despite things being somewhat easier, my depression continued. I started abusing my anxiety medication and was suicidal again.

One night I made a plan to die by suicide. I didn’t make an attempt, but I was close. I was sobbing and hysterical. My best friend told me to go to the emergency room, so I drove myself and was hospitalized for two days. When I left, I didn’t feel any better, but I did find a new psychiatrist from Southlake who could do phone visits.

I was still suffering though, which led me to enter an inpatient program at the Menninger Clinic in Houston, TX. I stayed there for six weeks. My medications were changed, I was introduced to new therapies, and most importantly, I was given hope that I would feel better. And eventually I did.

I know I talk a lot about my hospitalization, but I have a point — postpartum care, well, mental health care in general, is bullshit. I reached out to my doctor and the doctors at the hospital where I first stayed. But it didn’t matter. I was flailing, about to kill myself, before getting actual help. WE SHOULDN’T HAVE TO BREAKDOWN IN ORDER TO GET CARE WE NEED. I know that not everybody can go to a high dollar hospital and stay for six weeks. A lot of people can’t afford to pay out of pocket for mental health care, which I do a lot. My therapist and psychiatrist don’t even take insurance.

We must change the way we care for new mothers. We must change mental health care and make it affordable to all. One in five adults in the U.S. experience mental illness. One in 20 experience serious mental illness. Only 45 percent of people with mental illness get treatment in a given year. About 1 in 8 women experience symptoms of postpartum depression. These other types of postpartum depression include postpartum anxiety, postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), postpartum panic disorder, postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and postpartum psychosis. It’s not a minor illness; it affects a lot of women on a daily basis.

I feel like if it happened to me, it’s happened to many others (especially women of color) who didn’t fare quite as well as I did. The National Institutes of Health reports this: Nine percent of white women initiated postpartum mental health care, compared with 4 percent of black women and 5 percent of Latinas. Black women are more likely to have PPD and are less likely to receive help.

There’s so much more to say, but I’m going to wrap it up. I just want to leave you with this: We need to do better. Mental health care is health care, and it’s absolutely a necessity.

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, go to the emergency room or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

See below for symptoms of postpartum depression.

According to the CDC, symptoms of PPD include:

  • Guilt
  • Fears of harming the baby
  • Feeling angry
  • Isolating from family
  • Feeling disconnected from their baby
  • Crying more than normal

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As some of you know, last week was a hard one. A very hard one. I was severely depressed and had intrusive suicidal thoughts. My best guess as to why is that I mixed up my birth control pills when I was organizing my pill box and it caused a huge hormonal shift. It’s scary that it can happen over a mistake like that, but I am feeling better now, and that’s all that matters.

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My priority last week was pulling myself together to be the keynote speaker at a Suicide Prevention Symposium. I was really nervous, but I think it went well. I had a lot of positive feedback. I wish they had recorded it so I could share it but because there was sensitive information in the presentation, they decided not to. I get that. My main messages were 1. You are not alone 2. Mental illness is normal and we need to keep normalizing it 3. We need to be able to openly discuss suicide and remove the stigma so people can reach out without feeling shame or fear.

If you are ever struggling with suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. If you are in immediate danger, go to the emergency room. If you ever need to talk, you can email me at heatherannloeb@gmail.com

This week I have a lot to look forward to because my parents are coming to visit. We haven’t seen them in awhile, so the kids and I are very excited. I’m also happy to get back to my usual routine after last week of conserving energy (Go here to read about spoon theory).

That’s it for me. I hope you guys have a great week, and as always, stay in the light, my friends.

Go here to read about how you can prevent suicides.

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

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

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

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

So what now?

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

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

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

It just sucks in the meantime.

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

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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.

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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.

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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

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I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and reading about my binge eating disorder, and I can finally say that I’m moving into recovery for the first time ever. That doesn’t mean I won’t binge anymore, but now I’m actively trying to stop. If it does happen, I’ll practice self-compassion and jump back on the horse.

I’ve read one great book on BED recovery, and now I’m reading a second. The takeaways are amazing, even though there are differing thoughts on what causes the disorder. For instance, the first book says that a BED episode is triggered from emotions or stress — that bingeing is a learned. way to self-soothe and feel better when there’s a lot going on. I agree with that; I also have the urge to binge when I’m stressed or unhappy about something.

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“It is often an inherent drive to survive and feel safe by disconnecting from fear and shame.”

The other book says that binges are triggered by urges sent from the “lower brain,” or primal brain, also known as the limbic system (pleasure center). The limbic system has three objectives: to survive, to seek pleasure and to avoid pain, both emotional and physical. The book says the reward system is activated by healthy, life-promoting activities, such as eating and sex. But also destructive habits that have become connected to reward and reinforced over time, especially habits that involve pleasurable substances like drugs and large amounts of binge foods.

The book says that people can learn to “override” the primal or lower brain with their higher brain, the prefrontal cortex that’s responsible for rational thinking. It’s very interesting, and I have a lot more reading to do on that book.

I recommend both to anyone with BED. The first book is Binge Eating Disorder: The Journey to Recovery and Beyond by Amy Pershing and Chevese Turner. The second is The Brain Over Binge Recovery Guide by Kathryn Hansen.

A couple things that the books agree on is that restricting calories and having a list (even unspoken) of “bad” foods is detrimental to recovery. I completely agree. I think the best thing to do is eating healthy foods but allow all foods in moderation. There should be no shame tied to eating a particular food. I’ve lost 19 pounds recently, and I eat all kinds of foods. If I want donuts, I eat donuts, but usually I’ll try to have protein for every meal (because I’ve had gastric sleeve, I need protein the most).

Last weekend was my kids’ birthday party and I ate cake and didn’t feel guilty at all. In the past, I would’ve obsessed about the cake, trying to avoid it, then eventually break and eat too much. The book also says that those with BED, binge eating can be an act of rebellion, which I agree with too. If I know a certain food is “off-limits” then I will purposely eat food. I don’t know why I’m like that but apparently it’s common.

Both books point out that BED is the most common eating disorder in the U.S. by fivefold. Most struggling with BED are female but it’s suggested that 40 percent of people with the diagnosis are male. That surprised me. Also, of those with BED, 60 percent struggle with at least one other diagnosable mental health issue, including PTSD, depression and anxiety disorders. That’s me.

What strikes me about those high numbers is the fact that so many are struggling with BED yet nobody talks about it, at least in my little world. I don’t know if it’s the stigma, keeping people from speaking up or maybe it’s because an eating disorder is so public, for lack of a better word. When I’m bingeing consistently, my weight goes up dramatically. There’s no getting around the fact that my body is changing and everyone is so obsessed with being thin, so I feel powerful bouts of shame and self-hate. It’s a very public failure, rooted in deep-seated shame. Mostly shame that I’m not good enough.

But I am. And so are you.

If you think you might have Binge Eating Disorder, take a look at the clinical definition that’s now part of the DSM-V.

  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating occurring at least once a week for three months
  • Eating a larger amount of food than would be considered “normal”
  • Feeling out of control/unable to stop the binge episode

Binge eating episodes are also associated with three or more of the following:

  • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
  • Eating large amounts of food when not physically hungry
  • Eating much more rapidly than normal
  • Eating alone out of embarrassment over quantity eaten
  • Feeling disgusted, depressed, ashamed or guilty after overeating

I still have a long way to go; you can’t undo decades’ worth of bingeing overnight, but I have hope for the first time ever. I can do this, and I feel like I have to if I want to give Isla and Eli any kind of support or advice if they go through the same. And I sure as hell hope they don’t.

For more information on eating disorders, go here.

Stay in the light, friends.

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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.

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