Sentenced to Life

Please note that this was written two weeks ago and I feel better.

Last week I had a much needed ECT. When I awoke from the short procedure, I felt strange. Usually, I have a terrible migraine, I’m confused and fatigued, but this time I was alert, I knew what had just happened and there was no sign of a migraine. Good, right?

During the two-hour drive home, I kept thinking that it was amazing that I didn’t feel like crap. I looked over the papers the hospital gave me and saw that I had a short, 42-second seizure, which is good — the shorter, the better. But something was bothering me.

It’s now been several days since the ECT. I don’t feel as different as I’d like. I don’t have much energy, I’m not as optimistic as usual and at times I’m just sad. I hate to say it, but I don’t think this treatment worked. It’s happened before — the ECT leaves me feeling no different or actually worse, but it’s rare. It scares me, because getting treatments is the main part of my treatment plan. I rely on them to feel better.

This is just a very sad reminder that I’ve been sentenced to life with major depression/anxiety, and there is no cure. I’m treatment resistant, meaning most medications won’t help. Therapy, ECTs and behavioral modification are the only things keeping me from slipping back into a depressive episode. And I’ve worked too hard to go back.

I don’t mean to be gloomy. Maybe it’ll take a week before I feel better. Maybe I’ll have to work harder on self-care and turning to healthy coping mechanisms. I hope to hell I don’t, but maybe I’ll need another ECT before the next one scheduled in eight weeks. Maybe that one will work.

It’s just hard not to feel betrayed right now. I hate getting ECTs, but I continue to get them because I know they help make me a better mom, wife and friend…they usually help, anyway. But this time was different — I feel bamboozled. I went to all that trouble for what? To still feel out of gas and like there’s nothing to look forward to? I hate my brain! Even if I do (most) everything right, my efforts are thwarted. It just doesn’t matter, my brain’s gonna do what my brain’s gonna do. And that, my friends, is depressing in itself.

I’ll give it a few more days. I’ll do my best, practice self-care, go to therapy. I’ll drudge on, but I have a feeling I’ll be making another trip to San Antonio sooner than expected. And that’s OK, if the next time works.

But what in the hell will I do if it doesn’t?

I can’t really entertain that thought, because it’s so suffocating. I feel the urge to stomp my foot like a child and scream, “It’s not fair!” Because it sure the fuck isn’t.

It’s just not fair.

All About ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy)

I’ve had a lot of questions about ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) lately, so I thought I’d talk about it more today.

I’ve been doing ECT treatments since 2019, after I stayed at the Menninger Clinic for six weeks. My doctors all agreed that I was treatment-resistant, meaning most depression medications would be ineffective in helping me, and ECT has a high success rate.

I’ve had about 30 treatments, and I can honestly say they have changed my life for the better. I have more energy, more patience, I’m not sad as often, and I’m able to function pretty well for a girl with no serotonin, lol.

I now do my treatments at the Laurel Ridge Treatment Center in San Antonio; there are no doctors who do them in Corpus Christi where I live.

When I arrive at the treatment center, I fill out paperwork on how I’ve been feeling and whether I’ve been suicidal. I talik to the nurses and PA, discuss the depression symptoms I’ve experiencing then they move me to a bed. A nurse then puts in an IV and they give me medication for nausea, just in case. Next, they wheel my bed into the treatment room where an anesthesiologist, a doctor and nurse are waiting. They attach electrodes to my forehead and temple, then add a blood pressure cuff and pulse oximeter. Usually at this time, my blood pressure gets higher and my pulse races because I’m scared, even though I have no reason to be.

The docs chat with me for a bit and then they put me under anesthesia. After I’m out, they put a bite guard in my mouth and give me the oxygen mask. The nurse starts up the ECT machine which will send electric pulses to my brain, triggering a brief seizure. They also give me a muscle relaxant, so I’m not moving a whole lot. Once the seizure is started, they wait for my brain to stop it. My brain works hard to stop it as fast as it can, but sometimes the docs have to administer medication to stop it. The shorter the seizure, the better the outcome I usually have. This past ECT I had a 42-second seizure but I’ve also had ones that last up to a minute or longer.

After the seizure, I’m sent to a recovery area. It usually takes about 20 to 30 minutes for me to wake up. After I’m looked over by the nurses, I’m free to go home. I usually have a killer headache, so I get something to eat, take my migraine meds and sleep on the way back to Corpus Christi.

I can see how reading this would surprise some people — one person described it as barbaric after I explained the treatments, but it is not barbaric. For someone like me, it’s life-saving, and even though I don’t like getting them done, I’m grateful for treatments.

ECT helps as many as 80-85 percent of patients who receive it and is the most effective treatment option for those who are treatment-resistant.

Most people have an initial course of ECT then do maintenance treatments every now and then. I haven’t gotten to the point where I don’t need them, so I go every four to eight weeks. I’m working on stretching out the treatments, and maybe one day I won’t need as many.

I hope I haven’t shocked you — haha, get it? If you’d like to know more, please leave a comment on email me heatherannloeb@gmail.com

What Will Your Kids Think?

Ever since I started blogging and writing columns for the local newspaper, friends and even strangers have asked me if I’m going to let my kids read my articles when they’re older and what will my kids think about what I’m writing. When first asked, I thought it was strange, but it’s been asked many times. It’s odd to. me because I’m very open in my struggles and don’t mind sharing them. To me, and maybe I’m wrong, there’s the implication that I’m writing something that my kids shouldn’t see, which is bullshit.

In my house, we talk openly of me depression. My kids know I struggle at times and understand to the best of their ability. We don’t talk about my suicidal thoughts, but they realize when I’m not doing well. It’s kind of hard not to notice.

Maybe people don’t mean it that way but aren’t I doing this all for my kids? And their generation? When I first started this blog (spurred by Kate Spade’s suicide), it was to stop hiding, to eradicate the stigma associated with mental illness. I want it to be second nature for someone to talk about their struggles and illness in general. I don’t want them or anyone to feel the shame and guilt that seem to come with every depression diagnosis.

Lying and keeping my illness to myself only worsened by condition. Not being educated about mental disorders only hurt me; had I had early intervention when I first started showing signs of anxiety and depression, I might not have ended up at a psychiatric facility. I certainly would’ve been better off learning about coping skills at that age. I’m not trying to blame anyone in particular but society as a whole. When you know what to look for, it’s a lot easier to get help.

And now we know what to look for, but we’re still thwarted by the stigma, thwarted in our recovery and maintenance.

So, yes, I do want my kids to read my articles and blogs. I want them to be aware that it could happen to them. I want them to know that even if they don’t struggle with mental illness, they still need to be empathetic and not cast judgement on others. I need them to know that it can happen to anyone and that you can’t just wish it away. I surely would have done so a million times by now.

I also need them to know that it’s not their fault that I’m the way that I am. It’s not theirs, and it’s not mine. It’s a disease like any other, and that’s something people choose to ignore.

I’ve had many people send me messages and emails saying they love my blog but can’t talk to their family and friends about their mental illness because they were afraid of the consequences — I know them too well. The ridicule and ignorant statements that it’s something that we choose. Just the other day, a good friend came over and was admiring how new house. He then looked at me and said, “I wouldn’t have any mental health issues in this house.”

I scoffed. I thought he was kidding, and maybe he was, but it’s not funny. I am blessed and fortunate to say the least, but even my good blessings can’t keep the dark, lonely, violent throes of depression. That’s the kind of thinking that keeps people quiet. And when people keep quiet about their struggles, they’re more prone to kill themselves. We must stop that dangerous rhetoric now.

Honestly, it will probably be a little painful when my kids read what I write, but at least they’ll know that I’m honest and authentic in my struggles and I worked very hard to lend my voice to those who couldn’t quite find theirs, by no fault of their own. That I stood up for people like me, that I demanded change. That I fought for their generation to be different. That ever since I gave birth to Isla, I’ve been fighting every single day for my life, and it’s because of them that I will never stop fighting.

Never.

I Hate My Brain

Ever have a long day and think to yourself you deserve a treat? So you get ice cream and start to feel better? That sounds normal to me. My problem is that I think I deserve a treat multiple times a day. I constantly want to feel good. To feel happy. I compulsively eat to get that high and, enjoy that “treat.” Then I feel sick. After I’ve recovered, I look for another treat, forgetting how sick I felt earlier. It’s a vicious cycle.

I do this a lot but especially when the kids are away at my mother-in-law’s. I tell myself that I need to relax, enjoy the quiet and that I need to feel good. Last night, even after I had a big dinner, I sat there thinking of what I could eat that would make me feel good. And I even tried many things, despite being uncomfortably full already. M&Ms didn’t work. Neither did peanut butter crackers, ice cream or SweeTARTS.

But there is nothing I can eat that will make me truly happy.

Now, I’m trying to give myself a break because I am in need of an ECT treatment, which is scheduled for Friday. Usually the week before treatment I run out of gas, and I try to cope however I can. BUT this doesn’t just happen in the weeks leading up to treatment. This happens all the time, even when I’ve just had an ECT.

So I pose this question, “Why do I feel the need to be happy all the time?” Honestly, that question was asked by my therapist last week. She following up with, “Can’t we sit with other emotions? Nobody is happy every minute of the day.”

And she’s right. We don’t need to be happy every minute. I think my problem is that I HATE being uncomfortable, so I’ll do anything to push those negative emotions aside. Emotions like anxiety, stress, anger or sadness. It’s clearly not working for me to ignore these problems, and even if overeating has helped in the past, it sure as hell is not working now.

This may sound strange, but I think I need to acknowledge and honor whatever feelings I’m having. Maybe I need to grab my journal whenever I’m feeling negative emotion, talk about what’s going on and then release that feeling. I don’t know.

All I know if that I need to stop coping by bingeing. It’s made me gain a bunch of weight and really, aren’t I just eating my emotions?

Sometimes I really hate my brain, which I hold responsible for my debilitating-at-times depression and anxiety. I hate that it doesn’t respond to other treatments. I hate that my mental health is so precarious, and I resent that I have to be so careful as to not disturb it. I hate that happiness seems so fleeting at times. I’m not a big fan of my eating disorder either.

I don’t like to say hate; It forces a dichotomy with the idea that I should love and respect myself. I’m trying really hard to love myself, even almost 30 pounds heavier and a handful of mental disorders. But I feel betrayed by my brain. I know I need to reconcile those ideas. I know there is more benefit in loving all of me. I’ll get there. Despite everything that my brain has thrown at me, I’ve only become stronger. Take that, asshole.

And there are times that I think God made me this way because He thought I could handle it. I can, and I will. I remember this quote: “Your talent is God’s gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God.” I don’t mean to sound haughty, but maybe He knew I would use my voice and (hopefully) help others through my writing. That’s why I can’t stop blogging so much about mental health; there are so many who feel alone and haven’t found their voice yet. I certainly don’t mind lending mine in the meantime.

I guess my brain is just as much a blessing as a curse.

In a Nutshell: My Week in Review

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

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

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

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

Stay in the light.

The Dark Always Precedes Light

Before the pandemic started, I was experiencing a depressive episode. It wasn’t too bad but enough to struggle day to day with some activities. With Major Depressive Disorder, people like me experience episodes where they’re moderately or severely depressed for more than two weeks. Nobody knows exactly what triggers the episodes, and they recur periodically throughout one’s life. There is no cure, just treatment.

When I’m experiencing an episode, my symptoms can be what I consider mild — loss of interest in hobbies and activities, feelings of sadness, fatigue, headaches and changes in my eating habits (read about my eating disorder and how it plays a role in my depression here). During a severe episode, it’s hard to get out of bed. I feel weighted down all the time and very emotional, weepy even. I can’t take a shower, as gross as that may be. I can hardly brush my teeth. Every little thing feels overwhelming and impossible. In the past, I abused my anxiety medication because I just didn’t want to feel what I was feeling. And I have thoughts of suicide. I don’t want to die, but my brain focuses on it and tells me I should kill myself. It’s awful.

Anyway, I was experiencing a mild to moderate episode before the pandemic hit. When the schools closed and we went in lockdown, instead of crumbling into a more severe episode, something just clicked in my brain. A survival instinct maybe? I don’t know, but all of a sudden I had more energy and even more patience with the kids, even though I had no breaks or backup. I had to dig deep, become more mentally tough. David and I learned to cook, I learned to bake bread, I started sewing again, I took showers more frequently and everything stopped feeling so damn hard. I also started blogging more consistently, once a week, then twice weekly. I didn’t realize it at the time, but blogging helped me so much. I needed to get everything off my chest and be honest about what I was experiencing. Soon, others were telling me how much I helped them, so I kept going, and a year later I haven’t stopped. If I helped even one person, I’m happy. And I’m proud of myself.

Now I easily take showers every day to every other day. I brush my teeth more and sleep a lot less (no naps during the day). It’s easy for me to get out of bed every morning at 5 a.m. (when Eli wakes up) and the sadness I felt before only comes and goes. My anxiety is still pretty bad, but I’m able to manage it with therapy and healthy coping skills — most of the time.

I don’t know what it was about the pandemic that caused this seismic shift, and maybe it has nothing to do with it, but I’m so grateful. I’m still continuing therapy and ECT treatments, but I’m able to go longer in between treatments, which is a huge accomplishment for me. Before, I was going every four to six weeks, and as previously mentioned, I hate them!

Moving to our new house has improved my quality of life as well. For one, I don’t have to share a tiny shower in the kids’ bathroom. Now it’s enjoyable to take one and I have lots of space and hot, hot water. Having my own office is nice, too. And a laptop — now I can blog from anywhere in the house and am able to write more during the day while keeping an eye on the kids.

All in all, I’m happy. I have my moments, we all do, but I’m so, so much better. I didn’t ever think I could be this happy again. And I told David that I’d NEVER shower every day, that it just wasn’t possible. I’d be thrilled if this lasted awhile, even forever. I could do this forever.

I know I’ll still have bad days, be uncomfortable and have spells of great sadness even, and that’s OK. Because now I know that darkness isn’t forever. That it always precedes light — warm, beautiful light where I can shine and grow. But to be honest, I can grow in the dark, too.

That’s the thing about depression — it makes you stronger and beautifully resilient. One of my favorite quotes is “Sometimes when you’re in a dark place, you think you’ve been buried, but you’ve actually been planted.”

And my friends, I’ve been planted.

This is My Fight Song

Last night, Isla had her first sleepover at the new house. We’ve never hosted one, though she went to a sleepover last year at her BFF’s. I’m not going to lie, I was scared. I wanted it to go well for Isla’s sake (and mine). I don’t know the two girls that well (thanks, COVID) but their moms are very nice, and I want to get to know them better. I know it’s silly — and these particular moms aren’t judgmental at all — but I wanted to prove to myself that I could do this, despite my depression and other mental disorders. That I’m a fun mom, a responsible one. So, it was important for me to put on a good show.

And a good show it was. We swam, ate snow cones, got in the hot tub, did facials, had a charcuterie snack board and a dance party. The last was my favorite. I started playing my music, but one of the girls requested “Fight Song,” which I didn’t have. No problem — I downloaded it and they began to sing, dance and flex their muscles. While they were singing at the top of their lungs and dancing around, tears came to my eyes. They were so happy and carefree. So strong for being only 6 years old.

Then I started listening to the words to the song and wondered why I’d never downloaded it before. It resonated with me, and I was proud that Isla somehow knew the words. I should learn them. I should be more like these 6 year olds, screaming and dancing around without a worry in sight, because my mental illness doesn’t define me. Why was I so wrapped up in the idea that this sleepover had to be perfect just because I have depression? Silly. Despite what I go through, I’m still a responsible, fun, kind, loving person. People respect me, so maybe I should follow suit.

Those kids had a blast, and so did I. I need to remember that all that hardship I endure is worth it to see moments like these in my kids’ lives. This is what it’s all about, and I refuse to worry that I’m not up to snuff anymore. This is my fight song. My anthem is written all over the faces of my kids, husband, in my blog, and this is one song that I have memorized. And it’s a happy one.

It’s OK that I’m a little broken — we’re all a little broken; that’s how the light gets in.


FIGHT SONG by Rachel Platten

This is my fight song

Take back my life song

Prove I’m alright song

My power’s turned on

Starting right now I’ll be strong (I’ll be strong)

I’ll play my fight song

And I don’t really care if nobody else believes

‘Cause I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me

Where Does the Time Go?

Today I got an email saying that Kindergarten graduation pictures were next week. This stopped me in my tracks, and I couldn’t help but tear up. My daughter has been going there since she was 2. She’s now 6. Everyone tells you when you have kids to slow down and enjoy it because it goes by fast, and it’s cliche but true.

I remember not even wanting to take Isla to JCC, because I had her at a different day care, but David insisted because he went there. I just didn’t want to change my routine, but God, am I glad I did. I found a home at JCC. The teachers and directors were so nice, and I met amazing mom friends. I even joined the PTO and ran the book fair for two years, which I both dreaded and loved. I’m also on the board.

I love that the kids are learning about Jewish traditions, holidays and culture. I love the diversity and inclusion taught by the school. I love everything about it except for the fact that it doesn’t go all the way up until college.

My kids are so blessed to be there, and I’ll still be around because Eli has two more years. But it just tugs at my heart that Isla will be graduating and leaving this place we both cherish. Isla made her first best friend there. She learned her ABCs and now she’s learning how to read, write and how to do fractions.

The JCC has always been there for our family, a home away from home. They’ve been accommodating and so caring toward Isla and Eli. I can’t say enough good things about the J. And I’m so proud that my kids have followed in their dad’s footsteps.

Next year, Isla will start a new adventure at Windsor Park, the gifted and talented school, and I know she’ll do great because everyday for the past four years JCC as prepared her.

And not just academically.

Gifted and Talented, Part III

As previously mentioned, I have been stressed and anxious about the results of my daughter’s gifted and talented scores. The scores determine which school she’ll attend next year, and the G/T school is amazing. My husband actually attended when he was little.

Because of the winter storm that passed through here a couple weeks ago, the results were delayed, which I understood. But my brain did not — I wanted the results and my anxiety made a mountain out of a molehill. After being told the second deadline would not be met, I was so upset. I’m so impatient, and then my anxiety made everything worse. You’re probably saying that worrying doesn’t make the results come sooner, and I know that, logically. But the logical side of my brain gets overpowered all too often.

I digress. Yesterday while I was nursing a migraine, I checked my email and there it was — an official school district email with the results. My heart started pounding (dramatic, right?) and I opened the attachment — she got in! I’m so happy that she’ll get to benefit from such an amazing school. I think it’s important for me to say that I don’t care about the “title” of being gifted and talented. I already knew she was gifted and smart, but it’s important to me that she learn critical skills needed to succeed in this world and the school can help prepare her. Not only that, but the program will challenge her and nurture her intelligence and creativity. That’s what I’m happy about. It’s just such a great opportunity.

So, I was relieved, to say the least. I feel so stupid saying this, but her getting in validated some insecurities about myself. I thought to myself, “Yes! She got David’s DNA and mine’s not going to screw her up!” And I know it sounds silly, but I’ve always been scared that she’s going to have all my bad traits — that my genetics had overpowered David’s and she was destined to be depressed and unhappy (more drama, I know). But David is just so amazing and it makes me happy knowing that she’ll follow David’s footsteps at the G/T school. Not that I’m putting any pressure on her.

I need to stop worrying about what my kids inherited or didn’t. They’re a mixture of an intelligent, generous, logical dad and a creative, kind, sensitive mom. I don’t need to concern myself with their potential flaws. We all have them, that’s what makes us us. And even if they are riddled with my flaws, it doesn’t matter — I’d love and support them anyway.

That’s what makes me me.

Success in Mediocrity

All the writing I did about Isla’s gifted and talented scores got me thinking about the idea of success and what that means for me.

When I was younger (high school-ish), I would’ve told you being successful was having a good job, being well-off and married. I thought my parents were successful, which they are, so I intended on emulating their lifestyle. But when I did go out into the “real world” after college, I couldn’t hang. I got a job hundreds of miles away, working as a reporter to a mid-size daily newspaper, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. I missed my family, and even though I made friends, it was still so hard. My depression worsened for one, probably from being away from home and stress of my first job. I got in trouble a lot for calling in sick (either depression or migraines), and I ended up quitting just short of a year. I quit journalism too, even though I thought being a journalist was my calling. I felt like a loser, and I was really anxious and embarrassed about the whole thing.

I eventually got a new job where I could use my writing skills, but I still mourned the idea of not being a journalist.

I never found another job that made me feel as good as writing for a newspaper did. After a few years of working various jobs, I stopped working all together so I could get healthy enough to have a baby. People judged me for not working, but to be completely honest, it felt amazing to get that pressure off me. I did become healthier and had two beautiful babies within two years. I still haven’t gone back to work, and I like it that way.

When people ask me what I do for a living, and I say stay-at-home mom, it sometimes stings but I think that’s because society has conditioned us to believe that success only lies in one’s occupation. And for a lot of people, that’s true. But not I. It never occurred to me back then that that a job is just a job — it’s not who you are. And just because I don’t have one (that pays) doesn’t make me less of a person.

But it’s not about a job, house, how much money you have, etc. For me, it’s about happiness and being fulfilled. I was never the brightest, thinnest, most athletic, most ambitious person. I’m not even sure I’ve been the best at anything, and I say that not fishing for compliments but to proclaim that I might be mediocre in many ways but I’m also exceptional in others. I celebrate the fact that my life doesn’t have to parallel my parents’ or anyone else’s. I celebrate my strengths, even though they may not match others’. God made me the way I am for a reason. And you, too.

Success should look different for everyone, because we’re not all the same. We don’t have to be. We don’t have to join the rat race, either. All those “flaws” I thought I had before aren’t flaws at all, and I should celebrate them because they make me, me. I don’t get paid, but I write everyday and blog about a topic that I’m very passionate about. It makes me happy, and hopefully, I’m helping others in the process.

I will remember this about my kids as they grow up and try to figure out life as they know it. And I’ll support them, no matter what success means to them. Just like my parents did with me.