Finding Strength and Support in My Community
I remember when I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I was shocked and upset, depressed and crying - but in a way, I was also relieved. There was a name for what I was feeling, for what I was doing.
Depression is a part of the disorder, and I was really depressed at times - depressed to the point that I planned out my suicide, down to what to send to each friend as a remembrance of me. Depression can cause all sorts of bad thoughts swirling in your head: I’m not good enough, no one would miss me, I have no one that understands, there is no help for me, I am worthless.
It doesn’t matter if it’s not true. You really believe all those bad thoughts.
And the other side of the bipolar coin is the queen-of-the-world part. You climb so high that your head is filled with unrealistic expectations. Sometimes it comes out as anxiety or rage over something stupid.
What to do? You are not in this alone. You may feel like it. You may feel as I do, that you are becoming more isolated. That people don’t really want to be around a person with so many problems. You retreat and pretty soon you don’t want to expose yourself to anything. It becomes harder to leave the house. Your day to day living is hard enough.
What you need is help. That help can save you from yourself. You have to reach out to someone and tell them how you feel. A friend, a loved one, a clergy member. There are resources, but you have to take advantage of them.
It took me a long time but, I did start talking about my illness and found out that there were people like me. Not exactly like me but a number of people related. My congregation knows, and that’s important.
Of course your clergy wants to know if you are suffering. They want to help you, but you have to tell them what is going on. I came out as bipolar in a big way. I wrote about it and sent it off to over 340 people at the temple, knowing that the clergy would also know. It was easier to write about it at first than to talk about it. But in truth, I could have walked into any clergy office and told that person what was going on and been received with kindness. You just have to try to take a step back and really see and know that your clergy is not going to think you are wasting their time. They can help you in different ways. Just getting a phone call from a concerned rabbi - and I have received that call - can make a difference. But you have to go further than that.
My congregation is a place where people are beginning to understand how to help the ones who are sick in their minds, not just their bodies. And other congregations can do the same thing. All it takes is for the clergy and staff to recognize that there are people suffering mentally, not just spiritually or physically. Then someone needs to bring that conversation into the open. A sermon, a special event addressing mental illness and what the congregation can do to help others, a support group perhaps.
I have been on the receiving end of this kindness. Our synagogue's Angel Network, which helps those congregants who need any kind of help, illness, deaths, rides to services, and support for people like me, keeps on top of things. I get a phone call and sometimes a visit at my house because I don’t leave it much. I am lucky that my fellow congregants understand my limits and roll with them. I am lucky because I haven’t been written off as a lost cause.
I depend on a number of things to get me though my challenges which occur almost every day. I need my bi-polar cocktail to try to balance the disorder, I need ongoing therapy to deal with my problems, I need my temple to understand me.
But I have those things. Life is still difficult for me but I would not have made it this far if I didn’t tell someone how I feel and have a loving response from the place I love. My synagogue is the right place for me. I am grateful for all that they do for me. I hope others that read this will have hope for their own mental illness. Because hope is out there and we are stronger, together.
Michele Holtz is a member of Temple Isaiah in Lafayette, CA.