There is much to tell but today I am very tired, so I will only begin.
I saw my rabbi last week, thankfully. I wanted to be strong and in control but even on the way to meet him I was in tears. This recent downturn since the end of September has been hard though the increase in meds helps and I’m sleeping better and I’ve been through much, much harder. But it has kept me away from shul. Lately it has brought up too much pain, too much remembering of how it feels to be Unseen and not valued.
I know that my perspective is skewed at the moment, that the painful events feel closer and more painful than they do when I’m feeling strong and happy. I even said as much to him.
My rabbi said two things that really stuck with me. One was that he would do everything he could to prevent and help heal such painful experiences related to the shul, short of embarrassing me. I am glad and relieved that he wants to make this about the shul, not about me. I know that I am not the only one in the congregation battling depression and it would be grossly unfair for me to receive validation while others continue to remain Unseen.
The other was that he wants me to help him–and the shul by extension–learn how to help me and others like me. Already I had an idea. It is not unusual to train congregants on the mitzvah of bikkur cholim, visiting the sick. In my area it has been focused on hospital and nursing home visits. But why could we not expand it a bit to include people we see in shul, at work, friends, who are in pain?
The thing I hear most often here on the blog and in person conversations is that people don’t know what to say, how to act, so they say and do nothing.
Why can we not teach people a range of things to say and do? The question or offer that helps me might not help another, but if there is a larger range to choose from, adaptable to the situation and the people involved, it would be a starting point. It would open a door that has remained closed for too long.
As if on some divine cue, I received today an invitation to join a committee at shul to study and make recommendations on inclusion. While inclusion is often used in terms of physical, developmental and learning disabilities, there is no reason it should not also include brain disorders such as depression, anxiety, bipolar, and others. Ours is often a hidden illness, but
by nature, these disorders make it hard–even impossible–for people going through an episode to reach out, get involved, or even to come to shul.
Shul should be a place that people can bring their confusion and fear and pain, a place that should be free of stigma for what we know is a biological medical brain illness, a place where those who are able can be there for those who are not, knowing that which end of the need spectrum we’re on can change.
I went to another Jewish mental health conference, too. I wrote about last year’s conference and I’m relieved that this year’s was much, much better. I want to write more about that, too, but today I must take it slow and save my energy.