I love the tune of Ani Maamin. It’s haunting melody wells my eyes up with tears every time I hear it. It feels a little bit like the song of my heart.
You know the kind. The song that every time you hear it, you feel like something or someone really understands you. Or it reaches an even deeper part, a part you don’t quite understand.
Ani Maamin means I believe.
What do you believe? What does your faith say about you?
I used to suffer from depression and anxiety. There is a significant fear in my community that if you speak about suffering from mental illness you will be shunned, looked down on, or worse, your kids won’t get married.
Our people, whose entire belief system is based on an unshakeable faith that God runs the world, think that our children won’t be able to meet the “right one” because we had an illness that we couldn’t control.
I've had countless women confess to me in secret that they too had depression, or anxiety, or felt terror, or helpless or overwhelmed. I’m sure you can relate to how isolating this must feel. To feel trapped within your own terror for fear of what others will think of you.
Last year I spoke at the Chizuk Retreat in Cleveland, Ohio. It’s an incredible retreat for Jewish women that is chock full of speakers, great food, dancing, and time for introspection. I was asked to speak because I worked in the community as a speaker and coach. After recovering from a particularly difficult bout of depression, I decided to talk about my experience. It took many weeks of fine tuning, crying to friends, and discussions with my Rabbi and therapist to figure out exactly what I wanted to say, and not to say.
I have a strong pull to the truth. I hate lying, I despise injustice, and gray areas make me nuts. For me, it’s all or nothing. I needed to let the people in my life who love me help me decide how vulnerable to be.
I was so nervous before that speech I thought I was actually going to pass out. I walked up to the podium and put down my notes. I looked out into the audience. A few rows in sat my best friends. The friends I had made in my stretch of time connected to the Cleveland community: when I was first learning about Judaism, after I got married and visited for the summer, and when we moved there with four kids in tow with big dreams. There they were, all seated next to each other, with the most incredible love I have ever experienced radiating from their faces. They were waiting for me to hit this one out of the park, because they knew I would.
And I did.
I spoke about being a coach and having depression. About being a mom and a wife and having to give so, so much. About being in a position to help others and therefore feeling like I couldn’t show any vulnerability.
Ultimately, it was so worth it to give that speech. Many women came up to me afterwards and shared that they silently suffered. Several were therapists or women who worked in the helping industry.
This week I read an interview in Mishpacha Magazine, facilitated by author, speaker (and friend) Moe Mernick. He interviewed billionaire Howard Jonas about work life balance and what it means to be an Orthodox Jew in the world of business. Surprising to me, powerhouse Jonas told a story of incredible faith and perseverance. He discussed his battle with depression:
In addition, I do think it’s important for me to discuss my experience with depression. Especially during these rocky, unusual times, mental health and wellbeing is getting a lot of attention — and justifiably so. I wrote about my depression in my book, I’m Not the Boss. Today I know that many others suffer as well, including plenty of people in our community. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. With support from doctors, loved ones, and emunah, one can battle it with success. If you need help, ask for it, so you can move forward.
We are human. We get sick, mess up, get confused and yes, sometimes depressed.
When I hear Ani Maamin, it speaks to the part of me that knows that I will never give up. God will never give up on me. I remember so clearly a time when I couldn’t even get out of bed. I thought of my children and how much they needed a mom. I pulled myself up with what felt like superhuman strength and started walking up and down the hallway, knowing that some movement, any kind of exercise, could help me get back to where I wanted to be.
Today I feel healthy and stable. I thank God for that miracle. I also thank my friends, therapists, rabbanim, parents, husband and my children for helping me to get to a healthy and stable place.
Ani Maamin, I believe I can go on. I believe I have a mission. I believe I’m here for a reason.