When I was eleven years old I received a package in the mail. It wasn’t my birthday or Chanuka or any other special occasion but it was addressed just to me. Inside was a beautiful boxed set of floral stationery from my aunt in Chicago. The attached note read ‘mazel tov on becoming a woman – we love you’ and I remember feeling excited (and a bit embarrassed) that someone had sent me a present to celebrate my first period. That was over fifty years ago and the positive message of that note has stayed with me to this day. My mother and her sisters successfully conveyed a powerful lesson to their children – the healthy development of our bodies is a gift to appreciate, a blessing to applaud. [Read more…]
I live in Elazar, one of the Yishuvim of Gush Etzion. This summer we will celebrate 10 years of Aliyah, and I am often teased by my sister that I live on another planet, Planet Israel. We made Aliyah ready to live the dream. A dream that my grandparents almost 80 years ago at Auschwitz’s gates, could not have even thought to dream of.
You see on my planet, I live in a Jewish State, a religious community, and a hub of growth and religious development. I am blessed to run the mikveh on our Yishuv, and as I turn the key of the mikveh doors the reality of where I am and the piece of Jewish history that we are writing is never lost on me. [Read more…]
The mikveh. The waters. The place we are supposed to pour out our hearts and ask for renewal.
While I struggled with infertility and subsequent neonatal loss, the mikvah experience was a scary, emotional, overwhelming, and often confusing one. It was a place that at my most broken moments I often felt unsure of what to say or think or feel or do in those waters. The waters that are supposed to represent rebirth – and yet they were not the birth I had been hoping for. The waters that I knew to be symbolic of the womb – yet served as a reminder of the stark emptiness of my womb. How was I to invoke the tefillot of a “shaat harachamim (time of mercy)”? And yet I so yearned for the renewal of those waters.
Recently, someone told me that sometimes the most important things to daven for are the things we “want to want,” because in our moments of crisis it’s often the best we can hope for and the most we can ask from ourselves. I think in a certain way this is ultimately how I related to the mikvah and found it to be a healing experience during my journey. In the times that I didn’t know how or what to say or daven for – or even if I wanted to immerse at all – I prayed for a day that I would want to be there again. And it was thinking about the waters that helped me do this.
I would close my eyes and let the tears stream down as I hoped that somehow my tears would be translated into prayers as they fell into the mikvah. These were tears that I never knew before and could have never imagined I would know how to cry. As I watched my tears converge with the waters of the mikvah I was overcome with the magnitude of what this small pool of water represented. It held not only my tears but the tears and hopes and prayers of all of women who came into the mikvah before me and will come after. For me, this is what made the waters I immersed in so powerful and ultimately healing. Suddenly, it was the waters themselves that allowed me to feel less alone and find the strength to move on.
שְפִכיַ כַּמִיםִ לֵּבך
Sometimes– we are able to pour out our hearts like water… and sometimes I need the waters to speak for me…
Post-trauma is a psychiatric issue that stems from an external event in a person’s life, one that includes an element of danger or the chance of danger (for instance, having a personal experience involving murder, rape, or violence; a car accident; or battle — or even being a spectator). The experience a person has, even if he or she remains physically intact, immediately calls up feelings of shock, fear, and vigilance. Oftentimes it takes a while until these feelings pass, much like a physical wound, and sometimes they leave their imprint on a person’s mental world, which becomes more sensitive to things that are related to the harrowing experience the body has undergone. This is post-trauma. Post-trauma is a problem that can be solved through a long and complex mental process; in some cases, feelings of desperation, guilt, and anger can prevent healing.
Two and a half years ago, I was in a car accident. A car that was behind me reversed, hitting me, resulting in back and head injuries, a number of fractures, and most importantly, post-trauma. I cannot bear to be touched on my back. I cannot leave my house unaided. I have stopped driving and cannot ride on the bus. I cannot be with a group of people if my husband is not with me; in effect, I am unable to be far from him for extended periods of time. So, for example, I was employed at a workplace where my husband worked too; when he stopped working there, I resigned.
Obviously, the state of affairs makes daily life difficult; however, immersion in the mikveh has become even more problematic. My very arrival at the mikveh is fraught with fear. Being naked in such a place constitutes an opportunity for a tremendous number of triggers that I cannot always control. Not knowing whether the mikveh attendant will be kind and enabling or uncompromising and argumentative makes it impossible to mentally prepare for the complicated experience, making coming to the mikveh a trial. For the most part, when I do go to the mikveh, on my arrival I have difficulty breathing and an overwhelming desire to escape as quickly as possible.
Being in the mikveh itself is also no easy task. Some mikveh attendants allow themselves to touch my back without my permission in order to remove hairs, which is an immediate trigger for me. Moreover, because of my back’s sensitivity, the fact that a woman is standing behind me, while I am naked, sets off anxiety and fear. This anxiety, my awareness of what might happen, leads to a terrible mental state and a sense of disadvantage; being there at all is painful for me, and all I want is to flee.
There have even been a number of times when I chose to forgo immersion because I did not have the mental strength to withstand the tension that surrounded it. [Read more…]
Endometriosis is a condition in which the layer of tissue that normally covers the inside of the uterus grows outside of it. Most often this is on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and tissue around the uterus and ovaries; however, in rare cases it may also occur in other parts of the body. The main symptoms are pelvic pain and infertility. Nearly half of those affected have chronic pelvic pain, while in 70% pain occurs during menstruation. Pain during sexual intercourse is also common. Infertility occurs in up to half of women affected. Less common symptoms include urinary or bowel symptoms. About 25% of women have no symptoms. Endometriosis can have both social and psychological effects. (Wikipedia)
I wanted to die last night. There, I said it. Ugly thing to say, right? Might even make you want to inch slightly away from me. Feel free to. Sometimes I want to inch away from myself. But before you judge, try to listen to what I have to say. Assess my words with an open, empathetic heart, and think about the way you would feel if you were in my shoes. It may sound as though I am trying to pull at your heartstrings, to make you feel depressed for me and my life. I am not. I want you to understand what it’s like to be a woman who suffers from endometriosis. I just want you to understand.
These are the realities of living with endometriosis.
Dealing With the Physical Reality of Endometriosis
Pain. Imagine your abdomen and pelvis are encased in barbed wire, the spikes of the wire are piercing them, stabbing them sharply every time you move. Now imagine that in addition the barbed wire is attached to an electrical current that shoots electricity through the spikes, increasing the intensity of each penetration. Next, add a machine that alternates shooting the electrical spikes into the body and pulling them out again in random intervals, thus adding a surprise and shock factor to the pain. Lastly, in addition to the shocking electrical stabbing pain, there are deep, underlying waves of pain that crush and release the muscles, causing a cramp so excruciating it takes your breath away. Imagine living with that agony everyday.
I don’t imagine. I live with a veil of pain draped over my body. Not stubbed toe pain, sprained ankle pain, or even broken heart pain. The pain that I feel every day is an all-encompassing event, which breaks both my body and my spirit. It is a visceral and animalistic torture that brings me to my knees in surrender. That is the reality of living with the pain of endometriosis.