I am humbled by the amount of feedback my article on emunah and anxiety has received. I am also a bit saddened by the amount of people who have sent me messages regarding their personal stories. So many mothers, daughters, and sisters who are silently suffering. Unfortunately, there is a stigma attached to anxiety and depression, which leads people to hide their struggle from others.
Through hearing so many personal stories, I have come to the conclusion that anxiety and depression are natural, common occurrences. With menstrual cycles, pregnancy, and childbirth, it would seem miraculous for one to not experience some sort of mental anguish.
So the follow up question I’ve received is, “What now? We know that we are struggling, but what can we do about it? How can we live a life of emunah with this pain?”
Before I provide some suggestions, let me make some disclaimers: First, I am not a professional. My advice is simply what has worked for me. Second the things I have tried have been in conjunction with medication and therapy. If you feel that you may need medication or another means of intervention, please speak to your doctor.
Accept Where You’re At
The first and most important thing to do is be realistic about your situation. A mainstay of emunah is accepting that everything is for the best, however, that doesn’t negate the fact that your situation is difficult. Accept that your situation is challenging. Accept your emotions, and recognize that you will not always feel that G-d is with you, though you logically know He is. Accept that you were given this challenge for a reason, and that G-d wants you to grow through the experience. Once you have accepted the reality of your situation, you are ready to take steps toward improving it.
Ask For Help
One of the hardest things for me was to learn to ask. I am someone who likes to do everything by myself, and that often gets me into a bad place. Overwhelming myself can turn into a complete shutdown. I have learned that asking my husband to watch the baby for an hour while I napped was better than me shaking and crying, saying that I wasn’t a good mother. I also learned that hiring a cleaning lady made my life much easier by having a clean living space. There is no shame in inviting yourself out for Shabbos meals. You can’t and shouldn’t do everything alone. If someone asks if they can help, say yes!
Find Someone to Talk to
Dealing with anxiety and depression is tough, no one should have to go through it alone. Find a friend, mentor or professional to talk to about your struggles and worries. You can also find a support group; you’d be surprised by how many women are going through similar struggles. Organizations like Chazkeinu offer partner programs and support conference calls. Chazkeinu is an organization by women, for women. They have created a support network for frum women struggling with mental illness. To learn more about their incredible efforts, please check out Chazkeinu.org.
This seems like something that should be part of the emunah section, not hishtadlus. Truth is, it’s a bit of both. Prayer is something G-d requests of us; but it’s not for His sake, it’s for our own. Prayer provides us with an opportunity to really be honest with ourselves. It allows us to open up, like we would to a close friend or mentor. Putting your thoughts into words is a means by which you can come to realizations that you would not have been able to through thinking alone. Additionally, prayer is a constant reminder that you are not the one in control of the situations going on around you. Rather, you can only control how you handle yourself in those situations. Tell G-d that you believe that, or are trying to, and request the strength to overcome the darkness.
Guard Your Tongue
This one is simple: less gossip, less jealousy and negativity. Last year, I took learning “A Lesson A Day” upon myself. Each day, I’d learn something new about the laws of Lashon Hara, forbidden speech. I worked tirelessly at not speaking about others, even if I was mad or upset at them. Most of the time the reasons I would be mad would be because of emotional beliefs rather than fact. When my gossip and malicious speech decreased, so did my anger. I no longer looked at others in the judgemental, angry way that I was used to. This decrease in negativity provided me with more headspace to focus on myself and my family.
Try Your Best
Hishtadlus (doing your part) goes hand in hand with emunah. One cannot simply hope for a salvation without taking action. The list above is merely a few suggestions on how to take steps in doing your part. However, don’t be hard on yourself when you’re still struggling. It’s hard to fight a force that is so strong! Take your time, be patient with yourself. With the combination of faith and action, you will begin to uncover the light in the darkness.
Stay strong, you got this.