Posted on January 28, 2007

When I talked to my rabbi yesterday, I said something I knew made no sense and was entirely untrue. But the well of emotion behind it, the tears that broke through as I said the words, indicated I was on to something.

What I said was this: I feel like having this problem [depression/bipolar] makes me somehow less Jewish.

He gave me a look that said there wasn’t a shred of truth to that statement.

The Jewish community has only recently begun to address the issue of mental health; American society at large has only begun to address depression as a medical illness. (I just saw a TV commercial with Mandy Patinkin talking about depression as a medical illness. Not only was he doing a public service, he made my heart do a little skip with those deep brown eyes.) Even despite this, there is an overriding sense, an expectation, that we Jews simply don’t have problems like that. More about this later. It’s too big an issue for me to deal with right now.

I thought about this feeling of being “less Jewish” because of my wacky brain chemistry. And I realized there was more to it. I also feel like I’m not as good a mother. Not as good a wife, a friend, a contributor to society, and so on.

It’s not that I feel somehow less Jewish. It’s that I just feel less. Less everything that is meaningful to me.

That’s the depression talking, I’m sure. And I see now what it does. It diminishes everything important. It corrodes what makes my life meaningful and powerful and profound. It eats away at what makes me me.

I need to find a way to reclaim myself. Take back what it’s taking away. That’s where things get complicated, unfortunately. Because my parents took away too. I’ve been fighting for twenty years to reclaim what they took. My self-esteem. My confidence. My security. My innocence.

If the depression makes me feel less than, it only exacerbates the wounds already there. For all I know, they feed off each other.

My experience has taught me that I have to work harder than everyone else to prove myself. To prove that I’m good enough. It’s exhausting. It means I fall harder when less than comes around. But I don’t know any other way to do it. Between my wacky brain chemistry and my history, there is no such thing as being good enough simply because I’m me. It doesn’t exist. It’s all about the struggle. The struggle to succeed, to move forward, to be happy, to give, to understand, to be.

A friend who knows a little bit of my ups and downs e-mailed me and said, when can we get together? I miss you.

My first thought was, Why? What is there to miss? Isn’t it a relief not to have to deal with me?

I told my counselor that. She said that’s the depression. And probably my history, too. It’s big. And it might just be a key to getting better.


  1. Rivka

    anon: I need to cling to that. My first big depression was when I was 16, but my dad said he saw signs when I was around 7 or 8. 16 was the first time I tried to hurt myself to make it go away. Lots of years of therapy, some horrible and some very good, several hospitalizations, several different medications, and yes, an undying certainty that G-d could and would help.

    One doctor said the four most important things to my emotional health were sleep, exercise, avoiding stress, and a strong faith/faith community. I’d add medication and therapy now, too, but I think he was right on.

    I’m glad you are coping so well with yours. that gives me hope. 🙂

  2. Anonymous

    It gets better, I can tell you. I have been dealing with depression since before I even knew that that was the word. (age 6! OY!) But I am now 27, and with the help of Gd, therapy, meds, Torah, exercise, and myself, I am here, present, and only occasionally really really bad. I promise you, if you do the work required to get and stay healthy, it will work, IY”H.

  3. Rivka

    Are Jews allowed to have epiphanies? 😉

    I’m all over the place today. Yesterday I thought maybe I was on to something here. Today it seems like I was just rambling. I have to remember not to push myself too hard. Too much therapy isn’t good for anyone.

  4. Ayelet

    wow. I think that’s a brilliant epiphany.

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