KC: Tell me about your blog, Unruly Neurons, and its mission to normalize depression and other mental illnesses.
HL: I started my blog in 2018 after fashion icon Kate Spade died by suicide. The media was reporting that, according to her sister, Spade had depression but didn’t seek help because she didn’t want to hurt her brand. I was infuriated — but my rage was misplaced. I was mad at myself for keeping my depression and anxiety a secret, too. I didn’t want to be seen as weak — I bought into the stigma. But I wanted my blog to be different. I didn’t want the stigma to win; I wanted to be totally honest about what I was feeling, and to normalize talking about depression, anxiety and my other diagnoses. I decided I would no longer be silent, and I haven’t shut up since.
KC: Whether it’s with your blog, your column in the Corpus Christi-Caller Times or speaking engagements, you talk openly about your own mental health struggles. Why is that transparency important to you?
HL: When my depression was very bad, it felt like nobody was talking about mental illness. None of my family or friends discussed it, because it was more taboo than today. At this point, I had postpartum depression, and my mom friends all seemed fine while I was suicidal. I felt like I was in a vacuum, so I started writing more about my experiences. My goal has always been transparency … to let others know they aren’t alone. Recently, I read that some people heal in public so that others can heal in private and keep going. I love that. I’d go through everything I’ve been through again if it means I’m helping people heal in any way.
KC: You mentioned postpartum depression being a part of your journey with mental health. I’d love to hear your perspective on how motherhood and mental health intertwine.
HL: I had depression and anxiety before having kids, so I knew it could get worse during postpartum, but I had no idea it would bring me to my knees. I was hospitalized at The Menninger Clinic for six weeks, where I had a team of doctors, a lot of medicine changes and ECT (electroconvulsive therapy). It saved my life. When I returned home, I had trouble
readjusting. I set boundaries, I made time for myself and I practiced self-care that the kids could see me doing and hopefully understand. And — gulp — I put my needs before theirs because you can’t pour from an empty cup. I’m a much better mom because of it. I also started talking to them about my depression and mental health. I felt I needed to explain why I was lying down, napping or crying. My daughter was very interested in mental health and asked for mental health days when she was overwhelmed at school (mostly due to COVID and her friends getting sick).
KC: I’d love to hear about your work with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) local chapter.
HL: NAMI Greater Corpus Christi saw me speak at a virtual suicide symposium in 2021 and later asked me to join their team. So I did, and not to sound corny, but it has changed my life. This organization is amazing, and they have so much heart and grit. I wouldn’t be so far into my recovery without them. We offer classes to those with mental health conditions and to family members/friends who are impacted by said mental health conditions. NAMI has support groups, programs that go into schools, classes to take and much more. All of this to reduce stigma and educate about mental illness. NAMI also works on advocacy on a local and state level. I can’t say enough about them — they’re like family to me, and their support has never wavered, even when I’m going through hard times and can’t help as much.
KC: What is a harmful stigma surrounding the topic of mental health you’re actively working to undo?
HL: I think it’s important to know mental illness can happen to anybody — it’s not any of the cliches that often come to mind. I think I’m a good example of that. I’m a college-educated, well-off white woman, to be brazen. I’ve been hospitalized twice for suicidal thoughts. My point is that mental illness doesn’t discriminate. 1 in 5 people will have a mental health condition at some point in life; and 1 in 20 will have a serious mental health condition, like me. People may not be talking about it, but it’s more common than you think, which is why we need to be open and honest. Some great conversations are happening now, but we have more work to do.
KC: As a mental health advocate, what is something you wish more people knew or understood about mental health?
HL: I get told to “snap out of it” or “you need fresh air/sunshine” and while the latter may help a little, it can’t cure depression. Telling someone to snap out of it won’t remedy any mental health condition that I know of. It’s really frustrating to get that kind of “advice” when you’re fighting so hard just to make it through the day. You can’t control depression — or any mental health condition — but many don’t understand that. People might think you’re “faking it.” People don’t fake depression; they fake being okay, and that’s even scarier.
This brings me to the subject of suicide. It’s important to know that suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10-34. Suicide is also the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S. Ninety percent of people who die by suicide have experienced symptoms of a mental health
condition (NAMI.org). Mental illness is serious and should never be belittled, especially if someone is suicidal.
If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please go to your nearest emergency room, call 911 or call/text 988, the mental health crisis hotline.
KC: Looking forward to the upcoming holiday season, what are a few tips you can share on managing the stress, anxiety or depression that often come with the time of year?
HL: Gosh, I love fall and winter, but it’s such a hard time, especially for moms. As I mentioned earlier, you must put your needs first so you can take care of others. I would recommend meditating, box breathing (look it up on YouTube), planning ahead as much as possible, budgeting (this is a big one; money is so tight during the holidays), stretching and taking breaks. This is a priority for me. I must accept that I have limitations, and I must set boundaries around those limitations or else I’ll become irritable. I also try to take things day by day, and if that doesn’t work, hour by hour. I hope that helps. If all else fails, play your favorite music in your car as loud as it goes and sing at the top at your lungs. It’s very cathartic.
KC: Are there any projects and/or initiatives you’re currently working on you’d care to share?
HL: Recently, I’ve been working with State Rep. Todd Hunter’s team a lot. He’s one of my favorites to work with because he’s big on mental health, and he has helped me build a bigger platform. He’s asked me to do Mental Health Monday videos on social media, and it has been so fun. But I’ll be going up to Austin and testifying on mental health bills, and soon work closely together on that.
It coincides with my other news that NAMI Texas has recently asked me to join its State Advocacy Network that will disseminate NAMI’s state legislative agenda and promote local awareness of NAMI’s policy priorities and issues (and so much more). It’s a dream come true to get to shape laws that help people like me who have serious mental health conditions. I am very grateful for the opportunity to help others in this way. NAMI has done so much for me, and I want to give back as much as I can.