Please read the story below from one of Jami’s service users Rivkah, who is an active blogger, aiming to reduce stigma through sharing her story. You can read Rivkah’s blog at whenblackbecomesarainbow.blogspot.co.uk
My name is Rivkah and I hope you will take a few minutes to read my letter.
For as long as I can remember I have been different to those around me; my interests were unlike others my age, my ability to express myself was limited and instead of being able to verbalise my struggles, I only managed to keep them inside of me. From a young age these internalised struggles rapidly turned into anxiety, depression and anorexia.
By 16, I was severely depressed, unable to even get out of bed most days. I stopped eating and rapidly fell into the depths of starvation and depression.I could see no way out of the darkness. I had no understanding of mental illness at this age; this wasn’t something taught about in school, not something spoken about at home and certainly something seen as ‘taboo’ within the Orthodox Jewish Community. My parents recognised the illness, but I refused to listen to them. I worried what people would think of me if they knew how crazy I really was. The stigma within the community at the time was tangible and I struggled to allow anyone in to my world because of this. For months I felt this pain that I could not express.
My teacher saved my life. She listened to me, she dragged me off to see professionals, and was there for me when I started my first anti-depressant. She even took me to see a therapist.
A few years back I started volunteering at one of Jami’s hubs where I saw first-hand how much it benefited those who are so stigmatised and cut-off by their illness. I attended a course where I spent several weeks learning under the guidance of knowledgeable and well-informed professionals. This made me realise how much I wanted to continue on the journey of helping others with mental health problems.
Two years ago I moved out of home into my own flat. Jami helped me in applying for a grant to help furnish my new home and supported me in this transition. I am very lucky to have a lovely flat of my own – not something I ever thought I could manage. I settled in and was proud of what I had achieved with help of others. Living in my own flat has allowed me to move on with many areas of my life, giving me the space to live fully independently.
Unfortunately, as is extremely common, I became unwell again and instead of spending last Pesach with my family, I was in a hospital 2 hours away from home. I was then moved nine times, spending more than six months in hospital. I was finally discharged last summer with little self-confidence, in fear of becoming unwell in such a way again that I would have to be readmitted. It was a daily battle where every minute felt like an hour; each hour like a day.
At this point I reached out to Jami once again and met a wonderful Occupational Therapist who is still working with me today. I still struggle daily but compared to this time last year I am a different person. I have completed my degree in Law and am currently studying towards a Masters.
I meet weekly with my Jami Occupational Therapist and plan activities that I still struggle with. Activities such as cooking, shopping and cleaning are all difficult for me. I have elements of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and therefore find it hard to limit my cleaning rituals. Having struggled with my eating for over a decade, I struggle to plan meals, cooking and shopping without support.
Mental illness is brutal. It strips you of your dignity, your freedom and anything that you love. Depression isn’t just about being sad, it’s a place of darkness where you see no way out. Anxiety can be crippling. It can take a hold on you and stop you living any kind of meaningful life. Eating disorders are not just about weight or food, but take over your life. When you have spent a decade counting calories, weighing yourself multiple times a day and being afraid of your own reflection, you forget what normality is. You forget that eating with your family for a Shabbat meal or at a Seder is normal, you forget that being a healthy weight, is just that – being healthy.
I feel there has been so much movement towards openness within the Jewish community and this is largely thanks to Jami who are working so hard to push the boundaries we as society have put up. Jami is helping over 1200 people a year like me who have experienced mental ill health and supporting us with our daily struggles.
Jami are almost solely reliant on the support of the community to fund their vital services. By supporting Jami, you are helping individuals like myself move on with our lives. With the right support, I can give back to the community and help others who may be suffering.
I feel privileged to have been asked to write to you and open up about these matters. Mental illness is not a defect, it isn’t anyone’s fault. It’s no different to physical illness. I wish that no-one ever had to feel the pain of depression, the distress that anxiety brings, or the confusion that comes along with any mental health diagnosis, but I have no control over this. However, I do hope that my openness helps someone somewhere see they are not alone in their pain.
Wishing you a happy and healthy Pesach.