Hi everyone! I am thrilled to be here and that all of you are on the line tonight. Chazkeinu has been a dream that I wasn’t sure would ever happen, and I thank Hashem and those who have been so supportive in making Chazkeinu a reality. I am thankful for the opportunity to share my story with all of you, and hopefully share my experience, strength, and hope. I ask Hashem to give me the words to say that can inspire all of you.
To start I would like to give you a little background. As a child and teenager whenever I heard about a mental illness, a psychiatric ward or as some called it “an insane asylum,” I always pictured a scary vision of crazy people who could not function in this world. It was so far removed from me what a mental illness truly is. I remember in elementary school hearing that a girl in my class’ mother had a sickness called “manic depressive” and that frightened me. I couldn’t understand how someone couldn’t be in control of their mood. I grew up hearing about my great grandfather who used to hallucinate and think how can an otherwise creative and intelligent person be so far from reality?
It wasn’t until I actually went through it did I completely understand. In my childhood, elementary, middle school and high school years I did not experience any mental issues. I Baruch Hashem met my husband when I was 22. We got married, moved to Eretz Yisroel where my husband learned in Kollel. I became expecting right away and I was living a life where all my dreams were coming true. Little did I know how drastically my life would change in just a short amount of time.
It was just a day or two after my beautiful baby boy was born that I started having psychotic symptoms. It progressively became worse and worse until it became full blown mania. I remember becoming obsessed with the whole Mashiach idea. I was convinced that my husband was Mashiach and that we were going to be responsible to bring the geula. I was making phone calls to everyone I can possibly think of and spending day and night telling everyone my personal thoughts and feelings and becoming more and more out of reality. My inhibitions went out the window, and I was doing things I never imagined I would ever do. When the idea of taking medicine and seeing a psychiatrist came up I was completely in denial and claimed that I didn’t need that stuff, I’m not crazy, I am just excited to have a new baby. I was completely consumed with not wanting to give up nursing to take medicine, and I wouldn’t budge even though my illness was taking over every fabric of my being.
This was until 10 days after my baby was born. I can’t believe it was only 10 days, it felt like a lifetime. It was at night I was nursing my baby and making phone calls at the same time that a woman who I had met when we moved to Eretz Yisroel and became a mentor to me walked into my bedroom. I looked up to her so much. She sort of adopted us since she knew that we didn’t have any family nearby she hosted us for Shabbos often during those 10 months before the baby was born. She came in to my bedroom and I was very surprised to see her. She told me that she had something to talk to me about. She then proceeded to tell me that she went through post-partum psychosis and had manic symptoms. I was shocked that such a put together “normal” person went through that. She began to tell me her journey and how grateful she was that there was medicine and doctors who took care of her. She said, “Zahava, think of this as strep. If you had strep, would you take anti-biotics?” I thought, of course. She continued, “Zahava this illness is just like strep, she encouraged me to go to a doctor and be willing to take medicine”. She said, “You have nothing to be embarrassed about. You are still the great person you were before this.” I told her I don’t want to give up nursing, she said, “wouldn’t you rather be a mother to your baby?” Those words she told me that night give me so much strength until this day.
The next morning, 11 days after I gave birth, I started my journey that led me to this phone meeting tonight. I was diagnosed with Bipolar 1. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this, it is Bipolar with primarily manic/psychotic symptoms. I was put on medicine and began seeing a therapist.
At first I felt like my illness was totally taboo, and I was so embarrassed of anyone who knew my situation. I was grateful for all those who helped me realize that mental illness is just like any other illness, and I have nothing to be embarrassed of. That first therapist I had also changed my perspective of medication. She said I should think of medicine as a good friend. Whatever I don’t have a good friend can fill in the gaps. This has been my outlook every time I feel like the medicine is controlling me, and I can’t accomplish anything because the medicine is taking over. I know now that my medicine is helping me, and giving me the chemicals I lack so that I can live a normal, productive life.
This has now been 10 and half years since my first episode and diagnosis. I have gone through several relapses, medicine adjustments, and ECT treatments. I Baruch Hashem have 2 more boys and each time I gave birth my mania reappeared. I feel with each relapse the sickness became even more intense. After each mania episode came a depression and that was extremely painful and felt like a lifetime. I felt the darkness consuming me and thought there was no way out. The depression was of course harder for me to handle, and I was grateful every time I was able to recover from it after a long drawn out process.
This has not been an easy journey there have many bumps along the ride. Hearing hurtful comments from people who don’t know any better, being refused a dream job because of my illness, and of course the pain of being sick and not feeling in control.
I want to share what has helped me along the way and I hope this can be of help to all of you. Firstly, being open about my illness and sharing it with others who have gone through it has brought me so much peace. To know that I can give strength to others because of what I went through gives so much meaning to my life. Speaking about my illness in a completely open and normal way makes me feel that I don’t have anything to be embarrassed about. I have come to talk about my illness just like I am talking about anything else going on in my life. I sometimes talk about my experience with people, and they say, “You don’t have to feel like you have to share this with me” and I say “I don’t feel like I’m telling you anything secretive or embarrassing about me. This is a part of me, and I want to be able to help others.”
This brings me to the next thing that helps me. For so long I felt like this illness defined me. I kept asking myself am I Zahava the normal one or Zahava bipolar? As if those words were just one. I came to realize I am Zahava with all the qualities and talents that Hashem gave me, and I happen to have a sickness that is called bipolar. This gave me a true feeling of who I really am and a healthy way of looking at my illness.
Another thing is that I often remind myself is that Hashem gave me this illness for a reason. Even though I don’t know why I was chosen to have this, I know that Hashem gave it to me to help me be the best Zahava I can be. I do see that through my illness I was able to accomplish things that I never would imagine I would be to do. I am grateful for that and hope to accomplish even more.
I realize that this illness is something that many want to keep quiet, and I respect that. I would never want to make someone feel pressured to share. I just want to share that mental illness is really just like any other illness, and there is nothing to be embarrassed about. We want to remove the stigma so that no one should feel like there is something to hide. This outlook has given me so much freedom.
Thank you all for listening to my story and again I hope my words can help others. I
would be more than happy to speak to anyone and connect over the phone. My number is 314-346-7414 that is Central Standard Time, and you can call me anytime. I thank you all for listening and wish everyone much hatzlacha and bracha with everything and only health, stability, and happiness.