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Overcoming Depression and Mental Illness with Dr. Liz Hoefer
Dr. Hoefer is a Blair Chiropractor at Precision Chiropractic in Rancho Santa Margarita, California. She’s been one of the biggest influences in my life and has taught me almost everything I know about Blair Chiropractic. She is my mentor. It is such an honor to have her on the podcast today because she possesses the biggest heart and has the most compassion out of anyone I’ve ever met. She has such an amazing life story and has overcome so many obstacles in her life. I’m very excited to have her on today.
Listen To The Episode Here:
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Overcoming Depression and Mental Illness with Dr. Liz Hoefer
Please welcome, Dr. Hoefer.
Good morning. How are you doing?
I’m so good, Dr. Pecca. Good to hear from you.
Dr. Hoefer, where are you from?
I am originally from Davenport, Iowa, the birthplace of chiropractic.
Did you love growing up in Iowa?
I love being from Iowa, which means that I had a phenomenal upbringing in what good work ethic looks like and just learning how to be a kind person. But I don’t live in Iowa because there’s this thing called winter. Actually the funny thing is I was just back in Iowa a couple of weeks ago. My best girlfriend from chiropractic school had her fifth baby. I went home to help her for a week. While I was there, at the end of February, beginning of March, not only was it weird warm there but there were tornadoes. I forgot how much I disdain the violent storms that the Midwest produces. Winter and storms are not my favorite. Living in Southern California, they don’t have any of those things. It’s really nice.
You have one of my favorite life stories growing up. I like it so much because you’ve overcome so much in your life, that’s pretty amazing. If you could just talk about just your upbringing in Iowa, what was that like for you?
Overcoming Depression: I grew up under some pretty tough circumstances. There was a lot of turmoil and abuse in my life as a child.
Iowa is a great place to be from. Unfortunately, I grew up under some pretty tough circumstances. When I was two years old, actually on Christmas Eve 1982, my mother left us, my family, and she never returned. I had that abandonment issue with my biological mother. Based on that, my dad had some issues with alcohol and just brokenness. As I grew older, he was not handling all that stress very well. He was a very abusive person; physically, mentally, emotionally. There was a lot of turmoil and abuse in my life as a child.
When I was thirteen years old, I was living with him, my second stepmother and my brother in this little tiny town called Pleasant Valley, Iowa, right on the Mississippi River. I was in such a horrible place emotionally. It was just really, really, really overwhelming. It was the first time that I actually tried to kill myself. It didn’t work obviously, because I’m here talking to you today. At thirteen years old, for a young girl to make that choice, it’s just so heartbreaking. I suffered with severe depression and suicidal thoughts and attempts for many years. It wasn’t until I was 27 that my life changed. It just started out really, really tough.
I didn’t come from a place where there was a lot of emotional support. I definitely had material things taken care of. I had a roof over my head. I had clothes to wear. It’s interesting because from an outside perspective, if you were to look at me, look at my family, look at the dynamics, you wouldn’t know the amount of suffering that was happening behind closed doors. But emotionally, it was destructive.
How was high school for you? You mentioned that was middle school where everything started going on.
I lived with my father until I was about fourteen, on and off. When I was fourteen, the State of Iowa got involved in our family dynamic because my dad, like I said, was physically abusive. There were circumstances that were happening where my friends’ parents started to become aware that it wasn’t right, what was happening. They called the Department of Human Services. The Department of Human Services had come several times to do investigations. On the final investigation, they recommended that it wasn’t safe for me to live there anymore. I came home from eighth grade one day and all my stuff was out on the street at the end of my dad’s driveway. I was told, “You’re not going to live here anymore.”
Who told you that?
My father. He said, “You’re not welcome. If you step foot on my property, I’m going to call the police.” I was in eighth grade. I was fourteen at this point. I ended up moving to his mother’s house, his mother and father’s house. I finished eighth grade out at the junior high that I was going to. My grandmother drove me to school every day. In high school, I ended up going to Bettendorf High School. My grandma and grandpa, they lived in Bettendorf. I lived with them the end of eighth grade through the middle of my senior year. High school was okay. I thrived in high school as far as academics. I was involved in musical theater. I played softball. Again, outside looking in, you’d think, “What the heck does this girl have any issues with?”
Was the living situation any better? Your grandparents obviously raised your father.
Overcoming Depression: Outside looking in, you’d think, “What the heck does this girl have any issues with?”
My dad was a broken person from the failed relationship with my mother. Obviously, that had taken place sixteen years or something before that. I wasn’t abused physically from my grandparents, absolutely not. I think the generation gap and the era of my grandparents. In the Midwest, it’s just this different culture where you don’t talk about things, everything gets swept under the rug. I was struggling. I was sad. I was depressed. I would tell my grandmother, “I’m hurting. I need help.” She would just tell me, “You just need to suck it up and get over it.” That’s the attitude that they had growing up. She was born in 1936. She was literally born during the Depression. There was no, “Let’s talk about our feelings.” It was just, “Get up. Do work. Move on.” Unfortunately, there was this gap in understanding. It’s not like I blame her, I totally understand where she was coming from, but at the same time I was a very hurting person.
I got through high school by the skin of my teeth. My junior year, I met my oldest daughter, Lauren’s dad, Robert. I met him and we started dating. By the middle of my senior year, I was so discontented living with my family and I just thought, “If I could just get out of here, my life will get better.” I ended up moving in with Robert when I was seventeen and a half. I moved in with him and his mom and his sister. Basically, not legally, but I just emancipated myself. I just decided, “I’m transferring high school.” I changed everything. I moved across town and I ended up graduating high school with Robert.
I had a couple of jobs when I was in high school. I saved up enough money by the time that I was eighteen and a half, in all of my wisdom, to get my own apartment. I actually was on my own fully. The issue with that is, as soon as I moved into my own apartment, Robert of course moved in with me. Literally a month after getting my own apartment, I got pregnant with my eldest daughter, who’s about to turn eighteen. I went from this emotionally dysfunctional place to all of a sudden being a pregnant unwed teenager. There was a lot of stress that goes along with that. I had Lauren when I was nineteen. Two months after she was born, Robert and I got married. We were married at nineteen.
When you come from dysfunction and when you come from not so much support emotionally, you don’t really pick people that are emotionally stable to be your partner. I went from one bad situation to another. We weren’t in any position to necessarily make that choice to get married. My family pushed me into it. Obviously I made the decision, but I was heavily influenced by people saying things like, “You’re never going to find anybody to love you. You’re lucky he pays attention to you. You have a kid, you need to marry him.” That circumstance obviously sets one up for a phenomenal success in life, right. Here I am, nineteen years old, married, have a brand new baby. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I just knew that I needed to take care of my baby and not abandon her the way that my mother abandoned me. Meanwhile, I’m dealing with a raging mental illness, depression and suicidal ideology.
Were you diagnosed with anything at this point?
At this point, just depression. I had been on and off medication. They had given me Zoloft and Effexor. I think even some thyroid medication.
Did any of that stuff work for you?
It did not work. In fact, it just made me sicker. I kept going to the mental health professionals in my town and they just kept making me more sick with medication. It was just a really horrible situation. Unfortunately, I made another decision when I was 20 that I was going to move to California and start over. It wasn’t like it was a bad decision, but it wasn’t the right time. I always say California is the right place, it just wasn’t the right time. I had gotten into a fight with Robert and I just realized this in an unhealthy situation. For my daughter, I can’t have her be around this. It’s just not appropriate. I moved to California and lived in Lakewood in Long Beach for about nine months.
While I was in California, I literally had a mental breakdown. I had psychotic episodes. I was having all these crazy thoughts. I got checked into a mental hospital in Anaheim where they were able to diagnose me with bipolar disorder. They said that I was bipolar too with rapid cycling. That’s pretty much one of the worst diagnosis as you can get. They put me on Lithium and Risperdal. Risperdal is an antipsychotic. All the while, I’m just pumping this medication into my system and not getting any better. It’s actually ruining my body and my thyroid. I’m packing on weight, getting puffy and not getting better.
You just had no control over your thoughts. You probably desperately wanted to get better and feel better, but did you have any control over those thoughts that were coming to you?
I didn’t have control over the thoughts. I definitely wanted to get better and that’s why I kept seeking out mental health professionals because that’s what I thought was wrong. I just had this overwhelming desire to not live anymore. The only thing that really kept me going was the fact that I needed to be a mom for Lauren. It’s so sick because even though I was present with her physically, emotionally and mentally, I wasn’t present because I was so ill. Thankfully, I had some really incredible people in my life who believed for me and just kept showing up. My friends, Amy and Bryan Smith, my friend Kim Hutchinson, these people were instrumental in keeping me alive because they wouldn’t let me give up and they just kept saying, “Just get up one more day.” Even though it was miserable, I just kept going forward. I had some angels in throughout my life that kept me going.
Overcoming Depression: I definitely wanted to get better. That’s why I kept seeking out mental health professionals. That’s what I thought was wrong.
Kim was the one that was responsible for me getting a job at Palmer. She had just mentioned, “When you figure out what you want to do with your life, go to school. But until then, why don’t you work at Palmer College?” After I had the diagnosis of bipolar disorder and had that breakdown, I moved back to Iowa so I could have a little bit more support for Lauren. It was a lot less expensive to live in the Midwest and being a single mom. I moved back and I got the job at Palmer College in May of 2001. I really loved working there. I loved what I was seeing.
The interesting thing is, I grew up under chiropractic care. I just was never educated about the power of chiropractic. It was like if you have a headache, if you have back pain, if you get in a car accident, you go see a chiropractor. We really went based on symptoms. We didn’t have this philosophy of, “I need to do this for wellness.” I got a job working at Palmer and I saw these student doctors helping these people from the community. People would come in and their lives would be changing. I was just like, “This is fascinating. I can’t believe I never even recognized this about chiropractic.” I started doing more investigation and I learned about the Chiropractic Technology Program that Palmer offered. I thought, “I could do this. It’s a two-year degree. I could be a bigger part of these people’s lives. I could take the exams, take the X-rays, bill the insurance, assist the doctor. What a great career that would be.”
That’s all I thought for myself because I barely graduated high school not because I wasn’t smart, but because I had such horrible depression. It was hard for me to show up every day. I just knew that I wanted to be a bigger part of this profession. In March of 2002, I actually started college on my 22nd birthday. It was the associate’s degree. It was just so exciting. About halfway through that program, I started really understanding more about this thing called chiropractic and the power that is in what we do. I realized that I didn’t want to just be an assistant the rest of my life because I was so interested in understanding how the body works and why these things happen. I really wanted to know more about the cycle of when patients come in and what they get done, how it works and track them along the way. Also, I knew that I couldn’t really take direction for the rest of my life because I have a big personality.
Halfway through the CT program, I started looking into what it would take to become a doctor of chiropractic. I was terrified because I was still suffering from depression but it was a little bit more under control because I was getting regular chiropractic care. At that point, I wasn’t taking medication anymore. I was just getting adjusted and getting checked. It kept me going, but I would still have these overwhelming suicidal thoughts. Even though I wasn’t on medication and I wasn’t having these highs and lows, I was still overwhelmingly occupied with, “I don’t want to live anymore.” The thing that kept me going was, “I’ve got to provide a better life for Lauren.” I feel like God doesn’t make mistakes and He gave me my beautiful Lauren to keep me going. Full spine chiropractic got me through enough so that I didn’t take medication and I wasn’t being drugged and I was able to think a little bit clearer. I started chiropractic college, Doctor of Chiropractic program in November of 2004.
I remember I sat down on the bench in one of the rooms at Palmer College. I circled the date October 24th 2008. I knew that was the day I was going to be graduating as a doctor. I envisioned myself getting to that point. I had absolutely no clue what it was going to take to get me there. It was an incredible journey. I made some amazing friends that are lifelong, that were instrumental in my advancement through the program. Angela Ference, Jackie Dukes, and Patrick Newhouse, these people were instrumental in my journey. It wasn’t until I was a year away from graduating chiropractic school that my life changed for the better and a complete twist in the course of the way that I was going to live the rest of my life. It came because I was slipping back into some severe depression.
Jackie, my best girlfriend, who was the one that had the fifth baby and still lives in Iowa, her and her husband have a practice. She told me, “Listen, you’ve done everything you can. You’ve taken medication. You’ve done full spine chiropractic. You’ve done all these other stuff. Why don’t you try this thing called Blair Upper Cervical?” We had learned about it as an elective. I said, “Jack, there’s no way that one bone is going to make that big of a difference. I’ve been under chiropractic care my entire life. I’m not willing to pour my heart and soul out to some poor intern at the student clinic and subject myself to this technique that isn’t going to make a difference.” She said, “If you don’t get adjusted by Blair, I’m going to stop being your friend.” It was this crazy ultimatum. I believed her. I believed she would stop talking to me. She was a huge support to me in chiropractic school.
I didn’t want to risk the rest of my chiropractic education and not having her in my life so I said, “Fine, I’ll go do it.” I subjected myself to the student clinic. This doctor, who’s amazing, who practices in Washington, his name is Dr. Kevin Leach. He was my student intern. Dr. Todd Hubbard was my faculty doctor at the college. They took my exam and they did my narrative. They took my X-rays. Thank God Dr. Hubbard was there because if you were to look at my X-rays and you were a brand new chiropractor, you wouldn’t even see the misalignment. He had been in practice for more than a decade and was trained to see the insidious misalignment that existed in my upper cervical spine.
We’re talking millimeters.
Overcoming Depression: On the table, my life changed. Instantaneously, the depression and the suicidal thoughts lifted.
Millimeters. It’s not even visible to most people. He saw it. Kevin adjusted me and literally on the table, my life changed. Instantaneously, the depression and the suicidal thoughts lifted. I felt so much hope and joy. I had never felt that before in my entire life. I got off the table and I swear to God, the colors in the room went brighter and the sounds were clearer. I knew that I had to spend the rest of my life doing what they just did. They were scared because I jumped off the table and I was like, “What did you do to me?” They were a little overwhelmed with how excited I was. They were scared; they thought maybe I was upset. I was like, “What did you do?” I was telling them how much better I felt. Like I said, in that moment, I knew that I was going to have to learn the Blair work and then practice that because that was what made that difference. There was something very tangible in my body and my mind. It literally changed the course of my life.
It was crazy. I was one year away from graduating. I was already in eighth trimester. I immediately enrolled in the elective that, thank goodness, was happening at the campus. I took the class and literally within four months, I became the top student Blair doctor in the country. I was able to secure the Blair Scholarship. They gave me money for my accomplishments and my desire to learn Blair. It was absolutely incredible. I was able to bring a record number of new patients to the student clinic at Palmer College just by simply going out and telling people about what it is that Blair Chiropractic is.
This is in a town where chiropractic was founded. This is in a town where there are literally more like four chiropractors on every corner. The school has all the chiropractors there that teach, educate and train and then you’ve got probably 700 chiropractors in the Quad Cities itself that practice chiropractic. The population of Davenport, Iowa is maybe a little over 70,000 at this point. If any place in the world that’s going to have a “saturation”, it’s going to be that place. I was able to get 26 people to come in as new patients in the clinic and let me be their doctor, even though I was a student. It was pretty incredible.
It changed your life right away.
It did. That’s why I am so excited that I came to California and I get to do this for the people that I take care of. I moved to California with $2,000 of student loan money and I knew two people in Lakewood. I started my internship and I hadn’t even met the doctor that I was going to be interning for. It was insane. Now, almost nine years later, I had the opportunity to be a part of an incredible practice and build up an immense patient base. I get to love on people every day and I get to care for people. I get to share the truth about what Blair Chiropractic is and how my life is a living example that chiropractic saves lives. Because without Blair Chiropractic, I absolutely would not be here.
There’s a quote. I forgot the guy’s name, but he own Virgin Airlines. One of his quotes is, “If someone gives you an amazing opportunity, take it and figure out how to do it later.” That’s pretty much what you did. You knew what the end result was, you had no idea how you’re going to go about it, but it happened for you because you stayed on the path. That’s pretty amazing.
That’s exactly what happened when I circled that date on the calendar, the first day that I sat down at chiropractic school. I looked at October 24th 2008 and I knew that that was the day I was going to become a doctor. I had no idea all the struggles I would have to get through to get there, but it happened and I had that vision. As soon as I got that adjustment, and it’s crazy, October 27th 2007, it literally changed my life. Less than a year later, I graduated and moved to California and the rest is history.
Overcoming Depression: It’s my purpose in life to continue to educate and inspire people to understand this incredible thing called Blair Chiropractic.
Now, there are thousands of lives that I’ve been able to touch because of the work that Dr. Blair did, that BJ Palmer did, that Dr. Hubbard did. It’s my purpose in life to be able to continue to educate people and inspire people to understand what this incredible thing called Blair Chiropractic is. That’s why I’m so passionate about pouring into the next generation of students. That’s why I’m so proud of you because you’re my first chiropractic son. I get to live through you in what you do. Everything you’re doing on the East Coast, I get to be a part of that because I got to train you. It’s so rewarding.
I shadowed you for two years. I was in your office for two years. I saw the most amazing things, especially when people did come in with the anxiety and the depression and people just literally, I’d be in the room and they just be crying their eyes out, have no hope. You knew exactly what to do with those people because you’ve been there and you knew how to get rid of this depression. Sometimes the miracle doesn’t happen right away, sometimes it takes a couple months or two, but you reassure them that their life is going to better if they just hang on tight.
You’ve gotten thousands of people better at this point. You’ve saved so many lives. It’s just amazing to see. I saw that firsthand when I was just starting to figure out what Blair was. I had my own story, but to see it happen in all those people, I’m just like, “This is the most amazing thing ever.”
It’s outstanding. I just love what you’re going to be able to do. I’m so proud of you. I’m excited that the name of your podcast is Expect Miracles, because literally when you become a Blair Chiropractic patient, that’s what you can expect, is a miracle in your life in one form or another. Like you said, it may not be instantaneous like my recovery was, but everybody’s story is important, every journey is important. I love being a hope dealer. I love being able to look somebody in the eye and tell them, “We’re going to make a difference in your life.” I’m so excited. Thank you so much for letting me share my story with you. Thank you for letting me be a part of your life. I’m so thrilled to see you go and take what I’ve taught you and take it to the next level. It’s going to be incredible.
Thank you so much. Love you so much.
I love you, Dr. Pecca.
You are more than welcome to come back anytime. Hopefully, we’ll get you back on here soon.
I’ll see you soon, bud.
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