“My Un – Or – Orthodox Life”

I have been putting off watching “my unorthodox life” life for a while now, whilst the world and its sister posted in their droves either gushing over the bravery and heroism of Julia Haart or criticizing her style, her views, her way of life, everything about her.

There were a few reasons I was hesitant to watch it, mainly, I do not have the head space right now to be getting annoyed with pointless Netflix series, give me series such as: Shtisel, Friends, big bang theory, how I met your mother any day, mindless, fall asleep with your phone ( and watch an entire series in your sleep.. yes it has happened!) shallow joy. There have been however things I have watched that start to get my blood boiling, bring on my box at speakers corner, I have so much to shout about it. (Usually though, not that many people are interested in my ramblings about Netflix) Netflix has become overtly sexualised recently, a prime (get it?) example is a series aimed for children called the next step, following teenagers (some younger) as they fight and bully and bitch their way to become the next star.

So, it was with caution that I started watching my unorthodox life. Honestly? I had nothing to worry about, first off, very much like the Kardashians or Katie Price I don’t quite understand what Julia is famous for? Sure she has a business, a very successful business, but so do millions of others, yes she has left the religious lifestyle (sorry… was that a spoiler) again, so have many others. could it be her looks…?? Noooooo, she mentions over and over again how she wants the world to stop sexualising women (interesting career choice there Julia). All that kept standing out for me, over and over again was one word “Hypocrite”.

Lets start with the way Julia describes the world she left behind, she goes to great lengths to make us aware that all the Jewish modesty laws are sexualising children, are showing how weak men are, how it is a terrible, restrictive world dominated by men. That girls from the age of 3 have to live fully covered from head to toe in case a man looks at them. Julia, look at your own life, you have gone from one world which you seem to despise in to a world where women’s bodies are on show, where the thinner you are the more successful you are. Julia encourages her daughter to “be herself, respect your body” but when her daughter states that she would like to cover up a little upon returning to their home town Monsey her mother actively discourages her. When the same daughter goes on a date her mother pulls out the skimpiest dress she can find for her daughter to wear, look in the mirror Ms Haart, see what you are before you demean others.

Julia spends a lot of time on this subject. From a perspective of someone who has been on both sides of the fence (being brought up religious, leaving the life for a while, and finding my way back) bear with me a minute.

Modesty is how you look at it, If you would like to make it all about men then maybe you need to look at your own feelings of low self worth. Being modest can be, and is beautiful. With a belief in God, comes a belief that we all have a part of God inside of us. He gave me the body I have, the looks I have, why would I want to share my precious gift? why would i want to walk through the street showing off my body for anyone to see. an old saying compares this with someone who has a rare and stunning jewel. Does that person run around the street showing passers by their jewel? or do they protect it? keep it safe, keep it covered and only share it with the one they trust. I can understand that in the very Hasidic world, the way the girls dress from an extremely young age can look to us to be extreme. However it is not for someone like Julia Haart to let us know that, not when she is encouraging her daughter to go to the other extreme and let all and sundry view her body. Live and let live is a saying that keeps coming to mind.

Another aspect of the show that really struck me was how adamant Julia is to convince her one son Aron who is still religious to leave his path, a path he has thought through and made his own decision about. If Julia is so concerned with letting people be who they are, why not let him be? The pain she has caused her ex husband is clear to see. When her daughter takes it upon herself to change her surname (ridding herself of the last remnants of her previous life ) she wants to tell her father and do it in a respectful way. Her mother spends rather to much time convincing her not to have respect for the community her father lives, in, not to cover up so as not to offend that community etc. What kind of mother discourages respect from her children?

On Facebook and Instagram there are post after post from pretty religious women, smiling in to the camera, surrounded by her equally pretty family, stating look at my life. I am not the downtrodden, tied to the kitchen sink lady that my unorthodox life would have us believe. Kudos to all of them. They have such a valid message, they are saying, we are Dr’s, we are lawyers, dance teachers, scientists, an Olympic medallist! We love being orthodox, it is not a restrictive lifestyle, it is a lifestyle we choose because we are thinking people and know it is good.

Choosing to be orthodox brings its challenges, yes there are restrictions, for example now, in the heat it is hard, and there is no one who can say its not uncomfortable and sometimes restrictive to have to cover our elbows, knees and if married our hair, but we are not wearing sackcloth, we are wearing blue, black, pink, green, orange, yellow, purple, indigo (Oh I can see a rainbow…) … with the restrictions comes so much good, which far outweigh any issue we have. Community is one advantage (again this can come with challenges, if one does not quite “fit in” ) being amongst a community has so many advantages. Help when and where is needed, non profit organisations lending (for free) ANYTHING anyone could ever need. meals for the sick, organisations for children and their families who are terminally ill, food for the needy, money for those who are struggling and so much more. Self pride. Shabbat and holidays, learning the Jewish way of life, which entails from an early childhood, kindness, respect, honesty and so much more.

There are others though who do not feel they can, for whatever reason post pictures of themselves on Facebook, whether it is an inherent modesty, the knowledge that they do not need millions of people looking at their pictures, or just not having the confidence ( we are not all size 8 and lawyers.. shocker I know) we are the onlookers, the ones cheering from the sidelines. There are women out there who are not employed outside the home, but what superwomen they are, bringing up families of 10, 12 even 15 children. How talented and skillful does one need to be to cater, clean, be a therapist, nurse, financial adviser, mum, friend to so many children… I am in awe.

One comment on facebook really struck me, a man who obviously has had some bad experiences replied to a post by a lady who is a dance teacher, a women who used to be on stage and left the life behind, realising that there is more to life then fame, who understood that yes, she could use her talents and be orthodox ( she opened a dance school for religious girls ). The gentlemen stated, “All you women who are showing us your orthodox lifestyle have been indrocrinated, you do not actually know how to think for yourselves”. What an insult! how misguided, how utterly ridiculous.

I leave you with this message. Julia Haart has done herself no favours, she has shown herself up to be an attention craving, delusional person ( preaching to us about how sexual the religious world is whilst working in the fashion industry ) Orthodoxy is a choice, an orthodox women has thought, read and understood why it is a good choice for them. We can do anything we want. We can look beautiful and be modest. We can communicate and get on with the wider world, we do not live in a little box where the outside world does not exist. Every day, we make the choice to live a respectful, fulfilling life. There are many who have suffered horrendous abuse within the orthodox community. Those who have struggled with fitting in to a certain lifestyle ( as I have) but the beauty of our religion is, there is space for everyone. There is love for every Jew, no matter how religious, there should be and can be mutual respect, but the respect has to go both ways.

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Covid -19 and Mental Illness.

Mental health is at the forefront of many people’s minds now, we are all struggling in one way or another. Whether we are at home, or at work, normality of life has disappeared. Someone may be surrounded by people for example family members yet feel incredibly alone. Thousands have been made redundant from their jobs; small businesses have been forced to shut. There are those adults, and children living in abusive, neglectful environments who have no escape. Many are finding the task of home-schooling an impossibility. The examples of those who are suffering now are endless.

The good news, the vaccine is here. every day around the worlds millions are being vaccinated, pharmacies have ques nightly with people desperately trying to be the lucky few who have the vaccines “left over”. It is a relief and a joy for those who have had the vaccine.

The order in which the vaccine is administered is:

1Residents in a care home for older adults and staff working in care homes for older adults
2All those 80 years of age and over and frontline health and social care workers
3All those 75 years of age and over
4All those 70 years of age and over and clinically extremely vulnerable individuals (not including pregnant women and those under 16 years of age)
5All those 65 years of age and over
6Adults aged 16 to 65 years in an at-risk group (see clinical conditions below)
7All those 60 years of age and over
8All those 55 years of age and over
9All those 50 years of age and over
10Rest of the population (to be determined)

These guidelines were set up  by the JCVI (Joint committee on vaccination and immunisation) (Above taken from the Mirror online.)

The elderly, frontline care staff, the clinically extremely vulnerable are rightly top of the list. Of course, those who are caring for the vulnerable must be vaccinated as a priority, and the elderly too.

Members of my own family who are physically vulnerable, over the age of 70 and those who work on the front line of health have had the vaccination. My husband was among them. He is a fit, strong 53-year-old. His health issues do not put him at any more serious risk from COVID-19 than anyone else, yet he was called and told to come in for his vaccine due to a certain medication he takes he is considered vulnerable. I am happy for him, and relieved, however, when the call came through ( being the gentleman he is…) he politely explained that his wife (that be me!) is, in his view, more vulnerable than him, and would it please be possible for her to take his spot. He explained that I suffer from health anxiety and bipolar disorder. The anxiety the current climate is causing me is affecting my bipolar, and I have had some manic, depressive episodes as a result. He is concerned that the longer I need to wait the more anxious I become.

I am not downplaying the seriousness of physical illness. Of course, people with serious physical illness are more at risk, and again, it is important to stress that YES, they should (together with the elderly and front-line workers) be at the top of the list. There is though a group of people who have been forgotten.

As mentioned earlier, every one of us is struggling in some manner. Imagine though, having a pre-existing mental health condition before COVID-19 showed itself, living every day with social anxiety, depression, health anxiety, bipolar, Schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, the list goes on. Add to that COVID-19, and what do you get. Devastation among those who suffer from the above. Surely, the mentally vulnerable should be up close on the list to the physically vulnerable.

Gov.UK reports:

1.Average mental distress was 8.1% higher in April 2020 than it was between 2017-2019.

2. The proportion of people experiencing sleep problems increased from 16% before the pandemic to 25% during April 2020.

The below has been taking directly from:

Mind responds to ONS figures showing impact of coronavirus on people’s mental health | Mind

Mind responds to figures out from Office for National Statistics (ONS) which have found that rates of depression have doubled during coronavirus pandemic. 

Figures found: 

  • Almost one in five adults (19.2%) were likely to be experiencing some form of depression during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in June 2020; this had almost doubled from around 1 in 10 (9.7%) before the pandemic (July 2019 to March 2020).
  • One in eight adults (12.9%) developed moderate to severe depressive symptoms during the pandemic, while a further 6.2% of the population continued to experience this level of depressive symptoms; around 1 in 25 adults (3.5%) saw an improvement over this period.
  • Adults who were aged 16 to 39 years old, female, unable to afford an unexpected expense, or disabled were the most likely to experience some form of depression during the pandemic.
  • Feeling stressed or anxious was the most common way adults experiencing some form of depression felt their well-being was being affected, with 84.9% stating this.
  • Over two in five (42.2%) adults experiencing some form of depression during the pandemic said their relationships were being affected, compared with one in five (20.7%) adults with no or mild depressive symptoms.

We are fully aware of the stigma, the misinformation and the lack of understanding people who live with a mental health illness endure. The governments of the world assure us again and again that they do all in their power to equalise physical and mental illness. Yet the guidelines above do not reflect this.

Agree? Disagree? let me know!

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Our own worst enemies.

It has been a long time since I have written, perhaps this is not the time, perhaps I have no buisness writing this, maybe I should be worrying about myself and my family instead of focusing on what is going on out there, in my community, with my neighbours, friends and Jewish brothers and sisters ( Because, that is what we are, a Jew in Australia is my family even if we have never met). However it is bugging me, it is upsetting me, and the thing I do best when upset is write. So here goes.

I glanced at a newspaper this week, the London Jewish News, the journalist’s had taken on themselves to “expose” a terrible crime within the what they call “ultra- orthodox community”, see, it is only the ultra orthodox who are disobeying the rules, it is only them who are having parties, rioting, weddings, get togethers, that is why it was IMPERATIVE that the London Jewish News focused on the ultra orthodox.

Now, before you all start yelling at me saying how terrible they are, how could they be having weddings, hiding from the police etc. This is not what this blog is about. Hey, you dont need me to add to the obvious vitarol directed at the “ultra – orthodox” ( I would like someone to actually explain to me what ultra orthdox actually is… are they people who follow the word of the Torah to their best ability? the ones who wear big hats? the ones who wear small hats? or are they just Jews who dress differently to you and me and for some reason you have an issue with those who “flaunt” their Judiasm? )

Why, though do the so called Jewish newspapers need to add to the ferocious antisemitism that is already out there?

So, here is my take on what I would have loved to read in the newspaper this week. (sorry its not as gossipy and hate mongering as some seem to thrive on).

AND HERE IS TODAYS NEWS:

ORTHODOX AND ULTRA ORTHODOX SHOW US WHAT TRUE JUDISAM IS!

Friday January 29th.

This is Sara Benbassat reporting for the London Jewish Issues.

The house I have dropped off my package to is full. The dining room is a factory of food, toys and goodies for those in the community who are isolating due to one or both parents having Covid. As I arrive there are boxes being taken out the house for delivery. “6 families this week” my friend reminds me. 6 families whom will have their whole Shabbat catered, I do not mean they will get just the traditional gefilta fish, chicken soup, kugel and cholent, no, what these families will receive is, enough food for a month, toys suitable for each child’s age and preference, cards, and sweets.

What is important in this story is that none of the food items are shop brought. There is a system in place, via a Whatsapp group. The group has 65 ladies on it, every week the administrators of the group put out a message, detailing how many families, how many children in each family (if there are children) and preferences, within 10 minutes the group will have offered to make the whole Shabbat, some will make cakes and cookies, some soups, some sides, some desserts etc. On Thursday night the organisers will painstakingly and lovingly put together the boxes of food which are then delivered to the families in need.

This is one of many organisations.

Shabbat Walk, an amazing concept. Since the beginning of lockdown they have supplied an extraordinary amount of toys and gifts to families in need. They have sent volunteers to help out in a Covid safe way. They have saved families financially and emotionally.

Bikor Cholim (Meaning, visiting the sick). Another organisation run by orthodox and ultra orthodox ladies. Providing hospital rides, shopping and any other errands and support elderly people in the community may need.

Hatzola. A voluntary paramedic service. members from the orthdox and ultra orthodox community. Risking their lives to get to those who need help the most. At all times of the night, they are there, saving lives. transporting the vulnerable, never asking for thanks.

Shomrim, patrolling our streets keeping us safe. At the start of lockdown, the orthodox and ultra orthodox volunteers tirelesly drove round the streets with large speakers attached to their cars, playing music for all of us who felt alone, tired, desperate.

The orthodox therapist who started a Whatsapp group giving inspirational messages, and encouragment every day in a one or two minute clip.

The Ultra orthodox and orthodox synagogues ( I am not discounting non orthdox communities rather I am trying to portray the forgotten good in our community) who arrange care, food, financial aid.

The list goes on and on. I could open the Jewish phone book I have and find page upon page of orthodox organisations created to help people in any way you could imagine.

We have enough people hating Jews in the world, there is so much hatred towards our people. Why do we need to hate each other. Because you wear a blue hat, and I a black one? because you have a long beard and my family don’t have beards? Because you make a wedding and I would not go to one now? Yes, we can object, we can cry out the injustice of what others are doing, but look at yourself closely, are you following to the letter of the law?

As a Jews, ask yourself this with honesty, do you shake your head and spout nastiness upon the whole of the orthdox and ultra orthodox world becasue the London Jewish News has told you to?

Who will stand up for you if Jews are attacked, I do not mean orthdox jews, reform jews, ultra orthdox jews, conservative jews etc. JUST JEWS.

What is happening in our society? there is so much good out there, lockdown has brought people together in most communities throughout the world, yet the Jewish community, the community who we are told have a duty to “be a light unto the nations” is filled with self hatred and hatred towards our brothers and sisters, no matter what denomination they are. At a time when love and companionship is most needed, the Jewish world should be ashamed of how they are treating each other. A police officer mentioned to someone recently “your community is the only community spying on each other” and that, is the true Chillul Hashem, that is what brings shame to us.

Seek the good.

We have enough people to despise us, lets not despise ourselves.

How to protect yourself from corona.

See what I did there with that title?∧

Got your attention didn’t it.

So, follow these instructions carefully and within minutes your self protection will kick in.

  1. Log on to Facebook, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Instagram and Pinterest
  2. Go to settings.
  3.  Scroll down till you reach the log out button
  4. Click on it.

 

Repeat steps 1-4 on all social media platforms.  then sit back, take a deep breath and revel in the quietness.

Having just typed the word Corona in to my WhatsApp search bar revealed that in the last 4 days I have received 46 messages with the word Corona in them.  This is after leaving a public group that I was on, if I was still  on the group the number would have been vast. Typing in to the Facebook search bar the word “Corona”, the first hit that appears is a group with the title “Corona” in big, dark scary looking font, the group had, when I last checked 15 million likes.  What there is to like about Corona escapes me, but each to their own.

Most, if not all conversations the last couple of weeks have revolved around the virus, the panic buying of toilet paper, pasta and hand sanitizer, the mass global panic, the hoards of people stampeding a supermarket is something I do not remember ever experinacing before.

It was only a matter of time before the jokes started, and below i have selected 2 just in case you are the only person in the world whose phone has not stopped pinging with these pictures:

 

 

My daughter has been very  anxious this week, due I am sure, partly to my own anxieties, which have been difficult to hide.  She is mostly worried about us running out of food, which, in a child’s mind is one of the biggest calamities that could happen.

(Side note to adults: wherever I  have written the word grass, feel free to insert toilet roll)

Trying to explain to her the concept of herd mentality helped me to clear the space in my own mind to start to be slightly rational.  I compared us all to a herd of sheep in a field.  One sheep whispers in to the others ear “Have you heard, grass is disappearing, you had better get all the grass you can really quickly otherwise you will surely starve”.  The sheep hearing this, runs off in a wild panic gobbling up all the grass he can find, other sheep start muttering to themselves, they look at panicky sheep and they to feel the panic start to take hold, and off they go, not exactly knowing why they are running madly towards the panicked sheep, but nevertheless copying what he is doing, because she obviously knows something we dont, all of them gobbling and snatching at the grass.  Except one little black sheep, the black sheep stands bewildered, she sees grass all around her, she knows that it will rain, which will make more grass grow, she sees her mummy and daddy black sheep sleeping peacefully in the corner and knows they will keep her safe, and as she happily goes back to minding her own business and grazing on her grass she thinks to herself “boy, all those white sheep are sure going to have an awesome stomach ache”.

The herd mentality is something we are all experiencing now.  Think about it  for a minute, the panic buying of toilet paper.  Huh?? why toilet paper of all things? surely it would make more sense to be panic buying every food good we can, toothpaste, batteries, medication etc.  One person somewhere in the world decided that toilet paper is the most crucial item to have at home in case of a world wide pandemic and the herd have followed.  ( Saying that though, I think I will take a break to check how much we have………ok, checked, we have 12 which I think, with rationing of 1/3 a sheet each should do us nicely for the near future )

On a more serious note, this week has found my “normal” anxiety levels ( which you may know are high at any given times) reach new levels. For those who have to self isolate, those who experience health anxiety, are vulnerable both physically and emotionally the period we are going through now must be awful.  Pictures coming out of China and other countries with a high rate of Corona shows people throwing themselves out of buildings, gangs beating people in the streets and more. The fear that is provoking some to act in ways that would and should be seen as horrendous.  As I washed my hands for the 7th time today the thought struck me that  for those who experience OCD with thoughts such as “if I do not wash my hands something bad will happen” their condition is now becoming even more extreme then usual.  The cancer patients who can not get hold of essential hand sanitiser for their hands, the elderly and the people who are socially isolated how scared and worried they must be.

Last night on the phone a friend imparted wise words.  Take yourself off WhatsApp groups, do not listen to the news, turn of the TV or only watch mind numbing series, take yourself off certain Facebook  groups for a while. If there is anything crucial you need to know, you will find out.  I can attest that she was correct, not having my phone beep every 10 seconds with another catastrophic news report, or even having the constant jokes has brought down my anxiety substantially.

Perhaps a way to calm our own anxiety is to reach out to those who, due to many reasons are even more socially isolated now, offer to cook for them, shop for them or just have a chat on the phone.  This morning I received an email from the Chief Executive of the organisation I work for.  He quoted a Rabbi from Los Angeles, Rabbi Yosef Kanevsky, the Rabbi writes:

“Every hand that we don’t shake must become a phone call that we place. Every embrace that we avoid must become a verbal expression of warmth and concern. Every inch and every foot that we physically place between ourselves and another, must become a thought as to how we might be of help to that other, should the need arise”.

How beautiful, how perfect for today when we find ourselves in states of high anxiety, fear, illness and worry, to be able to take a deep breath, and ask what we can do for others who are in the same situation, or far worse off than we are.

Wishing you and all your loved ones, Health and well being.

 

 

Anxiety and Purim.

Generalised anxiety disorder is defined by Wikipedia as “An anxiety disorder characterized by excessive, uncontrollable and often irrational worry about events or activities. This excessive worry often interferes with daily functioning, and sufferers are overly concerned about everyday matters such as health issues, money, death, family problems, friendship problems, interpersonal relationship problems, or work difficulties.

Symptoms may include excessive worry, restlessness, trouble sleeping, feeling tired irritability, sweating, and trembling.

Fear of escalator’s, pigeons, sitting at a red light, being home alone may seem irrational, yet, those who experience daily anxiety will be able to relate to the ones I feel.
Anxiety disorders are on the rise, although some are easy to understand, the ones we all experience at some points, whether before an job interview, or long journey the nervousness we feel is considered “normal”, but what happens when anxiety follows you around like an annoying shadow, and no matter how we try to weave, and prance our way around it, it sticks to us wherever we go, whatever we are doing.
Those of us whom have generalized anxiety disorder will ask for constant, repeated reassurance and it is completely understandable that after being asked for that over and over again the one doing the reassurance will respond with a lot of eye rolling, believing we being hypochondriac’s, will not understand whey we cant just ” think positive” and will wonder why we need to over dramatize everything

.
Having bipolar, combined with anxiety can at times be a daily struggle, from waking up till falling in to a usually highly charged/ disturbing dreaming sleep, somewhere at the back of my mind are those worries, those negative thoughts, “Do I look OK today” “Who will I talk to in the playground at school today” “Am I a good mother, wife, friend, employee” “there is a pigeon over there….. runnnnnn”!!
Carolyn M. Drazinic, MD, PhD, assistant professor in psychiatry, genetics and developmental biology at the University of Connecticut Health Centre in Farmington says, “It is very common to see an anxiety disorder coexisting with bipolar disorder”
Having a combination of Bipolar and anxiety can produce so many extra challenges. 2 people with the same symptoms ( in my case long lasting, stomach pain ) will have completely different conversations with themselves.
Person 1:”This pain is so annoying, it disturbs me every day, I just cant wait for the scan so I can deal with it, I am a little worried because its so often, but the Doctor’s have checked me over and over, they have sent me for tests, if they were overly concerned they would have ordered urgent tests, I will just have to wait and see”
Person 2:”OMG! what’s with this pain? I am so sure that the Doctor has missed something. When I have the scan they are going to find something life threatening, so scared, its just not normal to have stomach pain all day every day. What about that story I read on line?? I am just terrified, should I go to the emergency room tonight?? I need to tell people about this so that they can reassure me, ill just text my husband, friend, therapist, colleague to tell them my stomach is hurting again, and ask them if they think it is something serious? Shall I call an ambulance? No I cant, come-on you know its nothing serious right? No I don’t know that, I am sure they have missed something”.
I think it is pretty obvious which person suffers from anxiety. Yes it sounds laughable, and as I wrote the above I found myself smiling, as I see clearly how often I have the above conversation with people.
Anxiety together with bipolar can cause so much unhappiness and exhaustion, coupled with the obsessive thinking that most people with bipolar tend to have, it can become overwhelming.
Presenting itself in many ways, anxiety can effect us physically, usually through a panic attack. The experience of a panic attack is terrifying. You feel as though your heart is beating at extremely high speed, breathing becomes shallow and you find yourself gasping for oxygen, sweating, trembling, and severe panic are all symptoms of a panic attack. I have not Thank God had a panic attack for a long time now, but I clearly remember the all consuming fear, the all encompassing thought that I was about to die. Eventually I found ways to control and keep the attacks short. This was through deep breathing, reassurance (again!) and listening to sleep mediation videos on you tube. I am ashamed to admit how many time I called Hatzola!

To paint a picture of what anxiety feels have a quick internet search for the Eshima Ohashi bridge in Japan, a a towering monster of a bridge, stretching in to the sky, once you have driven to the dizzying heights of the top, you are faced with the terrifying prospect of driving down the sheer, vertical road ahead of you. The fear you feel is akin to what someone with anxiety will feel going about their daily business, for example when for an unknown reason I developed an irrational fear of elevators , the picture in my mind was the same as I would feel driving up or down the Eshima Ohashi bridge. The elevator looming before me challenging me to step on. Thankfully now through sheer determination on my part ( pat on the back for me!) I am able to cautiously step on, though it takes me time and I dread to think what I look like to other elevator users, as I stand, a panic stricken look on my face, willing myself to take that first step.

With Purim just around the corner I am mindful of the stress and anxiety this Chag can bring. Social, financial, interpersonal anxiety can rear its head. This year I will let myself “off the hook” I will repeat the mantra that has become a lifeline, “I am OK, I am doing my best” and hopefully this year the costume I don will not be used to cover up my anxiety and fear but will bring me true happiness, free of worry.

Keeping Shtum

Last night I was on a battlefield

A war broke out on a WhatsApp group I am on.

The name of the group is “Chessed” which is Hebrew for kindness, on this group you can find messages relating to just about anything you may need at any time, it is a community group and extremely helpful. Need a ride somewhere, go ahead, ask on the group, a recipe, you can get that from someone, opening hours of a certain shop, someone on the group is bound to know.

Last night battle commenced on the group. an innocent post designed to help and educate people caused aggression, disagreements, anger and rudeness, the admins of the group tried to keep the situation calm, removed certain people from the group and informed us that the offending post was “completely unsuitable for our group”.

So what I hear you ask in bewilderment was the offending post? Brace yourselves, a screen shot of the post is below:

 

carolines law

And there you have it, a post encouraging people to sign a petition which could go some way in preventing future suicides, or attempted suicides.

The “offending” post was removed as was the person who posted it.

What ensued was a heated discussion, with people becoming very emotional.  As one person put it “if someone asks to borrow a phone, and someone lends it, that’s a chessed (kindness) but saving a life is not??”

It is situations like the one above which ensures the stigma and shame of Mental Health still continues to strive.  By banning posts which bring awareness to the sensitive subject of suicide we are in our own way reinforcing the message that Mental Health is not to be spoken about.

Saving a life is the biggest Chessed a person can do.

As I pointed out to the admins of the group ( after very emotionally and “loudly” expressing my disgust at them removing the post from the group) Caroline’s law, comes after a tragedy, a lady in the public eye, a beautiful person whom it seemed had everything to live for, at the time that she needed support, love and friendship the most there was no-one. How can we as empathetic, moral people stand back and let others suffer. Sadly the admins response was “remove your comments or be removed from the group”.

Our community is affected by Suicide as much as any other community, and until we are all able to stand tall, shoulder to shoulder and talk about it, nothing will change.

 

How visiting a friend in hospital can affect our own Mental health.

On Monday night I visited a lady I know in the psychiatric ward.  There were a few feelings and emotions that I had no choice but to acknowledge, both before the visit, during and after the visit.

Anyone who has been in the psych ward will know the deep emotional connection we can have with it, the smells, the sounds, especially the aggressive sound of the alarm bell ringing, signalling staff members from other wards that help is needed, the staring faces, the atmosphere of sadness.

Whilst in the ward a few things occurred. First, a nurse who was on duty greeted me, asked me who I was seeing, told me she liked my earrings, all the while not recognising me as the same patient whom had been in her ward a mere few weeks ago. The blank look she gave me spoke volumes, sending a clear message, “I did not see you, really see you as a human, as a person whilst you were in hospital.

Sitting with my friend was a revelation.  As I experience my Bipolar with manic highs, sitting with someone who was suffering with her illness in an aggressive and frankly scary way shook me to my core.  She is an extremely clever lady and whilst with her she rattled off all the names of the people who had proposed to her, the list was never ending, starting with a list of celebrities, going on to a list of people she had known since childhood, her memory for names and places amazed me.  She has not yet accepted that she is ill and currently is refusing medication. She shouted at me that she was the Messiah and they are trying to kill her and silence her voice.  All in all it was  a scary experience.

It naturally made me draw comparisons, the exhaustion I felt after the visit, the low mood, the sadness I feel for her all compounded the emotional reaction I experienced from being in the ward as a visitor. It gave me more awareness of how different Mental Health Illness are experienced, it gave me gratitude that when I am unwell I am not aggressive, in fact I am the opposite, love flows freely, this is not diminishing anyone who suffers from the manic highs, rather it can be just as dangerous and terrifying as living with the illness experienced with lows or anger.

The thought kept and still does keep going around in my mind, asking myself if those who visit me in hospital feel the same or similar emotions after being with me?

The visit, though fleeting left a lasting impression, has affected my mood, things have seemed bleaker, regular situations  I have had to deal with this week have become mountains, my thinking has been black and white with regards to daily struggles, and once again I am experiencing transference to my therapist.  She is occupying far to much space in my mind, the feelings of love I have whilst feeling vulnerable are unhealthy  to the extreme, the panic knowing that I will not see her for 2 weeks overtaking me.  I believe all these are the result of a highly charged visit to the psychiatric ward.

We have to be so aware of “where we are emotionally” before carrying out certain activities, for example visiting the psych ward very soon after being released from one yourself, taking on to much and saying “yes” to everything is a warning sign.  There are times that we are able to help, be there, support and encourage those who need us, but when living with a Mental Health issue caution must always be taken.

Ethics of the Fathers 1:14 states, Hillel says ” If I am not for myself, who will be for me? but if I am only for myself who am I? If not now, when?” The genius of these words are so clear, and can be interpreted on so many levels. Each person will have their own way of looking at these words, taking their own message.

The message I see in these words is ” If not for myself who will be?  Who will look after me if I do not look after myself, who will keep my emotional health and wellbeing at the forefront if not me?”   He continues, “But if I am only for myself who am I?” It is interesting that Hillel started the verse with self care, self love telling us that  only once we have looked after ourselves, made sure we are healthy and well, can we then be there for others.

Saying No!

My therapist has a few phrases she loves to say, wise and always practical, she will often remind me of two vital components to living a healthy life, ( its been 4 years, and yet she perseveres, got to give it to her, she doesn’t give up) these two things are:

Self Care and the stories we tell ourselves.

I have been asking myself, what was  it that made me land up in the psychiatric ward last week? There must have been a build-up, a pressure boiler getting hotter and hotter, a story  occurring that eventually led me to my massive Bipolar manic episode.

My episodes are usually few and far between, and are usually over within a few hours. So what was different this time? Why, on this occasion was I unable to stop the racing thoughts, the need to be moving, the terrifying (for myself on some level , for others too) manic behaviour I was unknowingly displaying?

I think the answer is in those two words, self care.

The ability to say no is a skill that the sensible among us have learnt, to know your limits, to be able to say ” I would love to help you out, give you that ride, cook those meals for you, help organise the party, be class mum, take out that sick person, babysit your children, etc, but right now I need to focus on myself”

Its interesting, even writing the above, I felt selfish, as I type the thought  kept running through my head, ” but what if they are relying on you, need you to do that, the fact that they asked you means they thought you were the one to approach”.  The saying goes, “if you want something done, ask a busy lady”. Perhaps that busy lady is indeed so busy because we all keep asking her to do things for us?

Whilst in hospital a close friend came to visit, “Sara” said Abigail in her strictest tone of voice ” You have to stop doing so much for everyone else, do you think that by saying yes all the time, you are maybe covering  up for some kind of insecurity?”. Her perception really surprised me, at first a little hurt by her words but quickly recognising the absolute truth in them.

Do we say yes to people all the time, even when we are falling apart, even when we are crying inside for someone to give to us, even when we are just so tired of doing and doing and doing until we fall, exhausted and worn out in to bed because we have some constant voice in our minds, replaying the narrative that most of us have learned throughout our lives, “good people are the ones who do for others”. We see on all forms of media, the good of humankind, those that risk everything, those that stop at nothing to help the vulnerable, the suffering, the children who are hurting and hungry and that voice will tell us, in order to be seen as “good” this is what you have to do.

No one wants to, or should want to live a selfish life, we all need and aspire to do the best we can with the tools we have been given, but I have learned the hard way over the last few weeks, PRACTICE SELF CARE!

The stress I have been under wasn’t anything radical, we all deal with daily stresses, and need to be able to develop inner strength to cope with them, but it was a drip drip build up, it was a friends illness, a stillborn for someone else, another illness, being confided in about a the state of a friends sadness with her marriage, hearing about loss of finances for another, just doing, doing and doing more.

My body and my mind were telling me to say no, to let them know gently that right now I could not be present, I needed to look after me, but the insecurity inside, the part that drives us to try and please everyone, that part won.

So, what will I do next time? will I be able to say no when that person asks that favour? I hope so, even if it will be uncomfortable, even if my brain is rebelling against the words my mouth is speaking, I hope that I will be able to look deep inside, see what I need to do to be my best self, perhaps take on a little less, indulge in some me time, close the curtains, dont rush to answer those phone messages, learn that, hey, you know what, they will find someone else to do that thing that “only you” can do. Have a haircut, massage, nails done, a day away from everyone an everything.

Most of all, tell, tell the person who loves us most that we need to be selfish, if that person is ourselves, or a spouse, parent or friend, tell. We all need appreciation we all need physical and emotional acts of love.

Please take care of you.

Sara.

 

 

A week in the ward.

Since last Monday I have been on the psychiatric ward.

I tend to sometimes go on and on, trying to get people to understand mental health, to get people to realise that mental health is no different to physical health, that from a very young age it is essential that children are given the tools to understand there is no shame in talking about mental health.  This week  though I have realised that huge steps have been taken, during my first admission many years ago the messages, phone calls and visits were few and far between. The difference is so clear now, I have never had, whilst on the psychiatric ward so many supportive messages, people  wanting to visit and people actually visiting me.  The stigma and fear of mental health issues is slowly ( very slowly) disappearing.

I am aiming this article at staff, those who have chosen to work in a mental health ward, those who, when they started training wanted to do it in order to help those are  vulnerable and unwell.

Control. A word with so many meanings, mainly used in the negative, however there are many positives within the word, control of our spending, health, diet, home environment, hygiene, work life balance and more. We all need to have an amount of control over aspects of our lives.

When a person enters the psychiatric ward, there is no control, every decision is made for us, from the time we eat, sleep, take our medication to the amount we are allowed out, if we are allowed out on our own or need to be escorted, and in extreme cases whether one is able to visit the bathroom alone.

Every person on the ward is suffering in their own way, the staff have a duty of care to ensure we feel safe, cared for and are not invisible. The things  I have experienced within the last week goes directly against the above ethos.

There are staff who will take the time, who will listen to you, who you do not have to beg to be heard by.  Sadly though many staff are cold, uncaring and patronising.

Below I have pasted a few things I have written whilst on the ward.  I have also made a formal complaint, which I have copied  below.

A Poem I wrote after being admitted to the psychiatric ward:

I am back inside
the doors are locked
there is nowhere to hide

It all started I would say a while ago
when the stress built up
I just couldn’t say no

watching your every move and noting the way you have behaved
telling you they don’t understand why your so stressed
to their wants you have become enslaved

is this a hospital or a prison cell
where is the love? the warmth and care
that would make us feel well

fast asleep way before dawn
the monotony of the day making you so folorn
even sleep can not bring escape for the situation
the nurses standing around like statues at their assigned station.

Everything I ask the answer is no
its like they think I am stupid and slow
they say I can not have my phone wire in my room
each time I ask for something the answer is “soon”

Show some respect is what I scream in my mind
I am just as human as you all
please please just be kind

They say that we are here for our own protection
They assume we have no comprehension
Everyone here living a nightmare whilst awake
Honestly I dont know how much more living I can take

The bipolar that I need to live with for the rest of my life
all I want is a quiet brain free of racing thoughts and inner strife.
it may sound so bad for me to proclaim
That I wish I was diabetic, had epilepsy, is that completely insane?

None sets up a meal rota for those with struggling with mental health
All meetings and appointments are carried out with stealth
Just this morning I was hit and my phone thrown to the ground
that incident increased my fear, no peace for my brain can be found

Please someone take this illness away
I dont want to live with this each and every day
always having to be on alert
making sure that myself I never hurt

Can no one understand what I am feeling right now

PLEASE HELP ME SOMEONE, SOMEHOW.

Email ( Formal Complaint):

To whom it may concern.

Please treat this as a formal complaint.

Last Monday (16.12.2019) I was admitted on to the ward above.

I was unwell with my Bipolar and was very manic.

The day staff on the whole are good, kind people, who greet you, take time to talk to you and ensure that you are made to feel like a human being who is unwell.

Everyone on the ward is here for our safety, for support and the care we need to recover.

Thankfully I have almost recovered and hope to be discharged tomorrow.

I would like to make a formal complaint regarding the night staff on the ward.

First, they are just plain rude, I know they are busy but they ( and I mean all of them) do not talk to patients unless they are being disruptive, they talk loudly between themselves, and medication is given at 9pm. We are not children, giving us our medication at such an early hour, ensures for them that the patients will fall asleep and they will have a quiet night. When I requested that medication be given slightly later, again I was ignored, it was as if I was invisible.

This morning I was woken at 5am by a staff member walking down the corridor jingling her large bunch of keys so loudly, the staff member then proceeded to noisily open my door saying to someone else this is Sara.

I have requested a few times that we are shown respect, when we are sleeping ( and sleep is essential for recovery) the staff should not be in the corridor by the bedrooms, laughing and joking on top of their voices.

Every request we make is greeted by eye rolls, sighs and being told, like we are children that “you have to wait, we are busy”. When it is perfectly clear they are not busy, rather shouting and laughing with each other, discussing their secret Santa gift exchange or their Christmas party.

Every morning I have been wakened ( and so have others) by the staff just barging in to the room. Each room has a window with blinds which can be opened from the outside, there is no reason the staff need to wake people so early.

It is a matter of respect, of empathy, of understanding that we, just like them are adults, with lives, with jobs, family and community.

The nights here are horrendous, staff so cold and rude.

Please let me know how you will be proceeding with this complaint.

Yours sincerely.

I am not a trained nurse, rather an observer, some may say I have no idea what it is like to be a nurse on this ward, however, I feel that even those of us who do not have any formal training can give our view, even if that view is met with scorn and dismissal.

A list I wrote, which I will be giving to the ward manager:

Some advice from a patient:

1. We all understand that staff are humans, that they have stressful days, but please don’t take that out on us. We can all hear you yelling at your colleges, or when you come out the office and are snapping at each other.
2. Please smile at us, know that we have a mental health issue, just like others may have a physical health issue, we are not criminals, we have jobs, families, a community, friends etc.
3. It is so upsetting when we are talking to you and you shrug us off, or as we are speaking completely ignore us.
4. We are not in prison, this is a hospital not a jail, give people respect, let those who are able to have certain things, like their phone chargers in their rooms. At times like this when we are in hospital our possessions are everything to us.
5. The rooms are like cells, clinical, cold and bare, perhaps think of something that can be put in to the rooms to make them a bit warmer and homely.
6. Don t be so strict on allowing those who are able to only come and go at prescribed times, if you think that someone is trustworthy but have only been given 4 times fresh air breaks maybe use your initiative and let them go once or twice more.
7. When you promise a patient you will be with them in 5 minutes, then ignore them for hours don’t be surprised if he/she gets angry and upset. We have so little that we control, that when we are told 5 minutes and it turns out not to happen we get upset.
8. If you tell a patient you are going to do something for them, don’t make them ask 100 times. Just do it.
9. We appreciate you have a hard job, but you have chosen to be in the care profession, so do just that “care”.
10. Give people dignity, it is not acceptable that a patient is sitting on the toilet and a nurse is standing outside and the door is wide open, so everyone walking by sees the patient sitting half naked on the toilet, give people the dignity you would want for yourself, sure if you have to watch her, do that but close the door half way, so that the poor girl isn’t sitting there with everyone being able to see her.
11. Today I was attacked twice, for no reason, a girl punched me and then later on she cornered me and threw my phone on the floor twice, a nurse was standing right there and did nothing to intervene, I was terrified, I called help a few times but none came. The nurse saw everything going on and did nothing.
12. Thank you for everything you do for us.

My hope and wish is that someone, even it is one person will read this, and accept that whilst psychiatric nursing is a really stressful job, we all deserve to be treated with dignity. To have our fears heard, to not be ignored and treated like filth on the street.

Thank you to all those staff who do this job for the love of helping people.  It is you who help us recover.

 

With love

Sara.

 

 

 

There is no one available to take your call…..

So, its been a while since I have heard those words, speaking to someone on the phone is a rare, strange, antiquated idea.  Why speak, when you can text, instant message, snapchat, tweet, WhatsApp  etc. etc.

Sending someone a message asking if they can talk usually is met with silence whilst they stroke their chin thoughtfully pondering the correct response to such an unusual and absurd suggestion.

Therapists, especially therapists, NEED! to answer immediately to a message, its a thing us in therapy know, if they don’t answer when we NEED them it is to quote Anne (with an E…great Netflix show!) “truly tragical”.

In our minds, at certain times, especially when we are feeling low or vulnerable sending a message to our therapist is our call out, we want to feel remembered, that we are of some importance to them, that they are there for us. Its a little like a child  meeting a teacher outside of school, children worldwide are continuously shocked that a teacher has a life outside school ( who knew… huh !) Surely the teacher/therapist is sitting, quietly awaiting her pupil/client to show up, contemplating everything that was discussed at the last lesson/session. Her thoughts completely focused on that particular person.

Some things a therapist does not have are these:

  • Family
  • Friends
  • Shopping to do
  • Chores or other issues to deal with
  • Work
  • Other clients
  • Appointments
  • Their own issues and worries
  • Other places to go/other people to see.
  • Holidays
  • Self care time
  • Illness
  • Childcare

And the list goes on.

The last couple weeks have been stressful, lots of different sad situations coming my way, so obviously am feeling a wee bit vulnerable.  If I messaged a friend and they did not reply, I would (rarely) A. pick up the phone to them. B. wonder if I had done something to upset them, and then pick up the phone and call  them. C. Get mad at them and then pick up the phone and call them. D. Forget about it and then eventually pick up the phone and call them.

The relationship to a therapist is obviously unique, as much as we would sometimes like them to be, or on a bad day even have a little fantasy that they are our friends ( or mother/father… but that’s a whole different conversation) they are not, and they have boundaries which can not be crossed.

It is difficult though to remember that even if your ( or mine.. because ultimately I am actually talking to myself here) therapist does not reply immediately, or one day later or two, or even acknowledges your message at all, that does not mean that they  think you (or me) are:

  • Annoying
  • Needy
  • Demanding
  • Pathetic
  • Have no boundaries
  • Selfish
  • Not important
  • your issues are meaningless ( to those they see with “real” issues).

And any other millions of tangled messages your brain sends to you, hitting you over and over again, bringing down your self love and self esteem.

I know that I and others, will scribble a message and press send, swearing or “shouting ” at the therapist, telling them in our frustration that we don’t need them, want them, they are no good anyway etc, then quickly try to “delete for everyone” in the warped hope that maybe they would have glanced at the message, and seen you have deleted a message, and as a consequence we hope they have thought of us, even if for  a fleeting moment.

So, next time your feeling low, and really really need some care from your therapist, here’s something to try…. write a blog!

 

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