angst-807726__180For most of my life, I have suffered (and am regarded as someone “recovering”) from OCD, often accompanied by depression. Though I am post-menopausal, my mental condition always had a significant negative influence on my mikveh experience that cannot be erased from my memory. My personal experiences related to mikveh are very personal and too painful to disclose, but I hope that what I do share will have emotional and practical value for balaniot and other women.

The biggest issue was that I would sometimes put off going to the mikveh for days or longer. During the halachically-permissible time for me to go to the mikveh, I would often experience debilitating anxiety often dragging on for days and nights in the confines of my home. I literally felt trapped in my body (meaning the emotions shut my body down) and I had absolutely no kochot to go there. This created tremendous marital strife which I knew was against halacha, and that made me feel ashamed of myself as a Jewish woman and wife. To this day, it is very painful to remember how I felt then.


“Getting me” to the mikveh was the issue, but once I showed up, I probably acted like everyone else there, and didn’t show any vulnerabilities or insecurities (manifested in obsessions or compulsions) out of the norm. Something that a balanit should consider is that somebody who shows up at the mikveh at the last minute (right before it closes) is possibly someone who has been experiencing anxiety about getting to the mikveh. If a woman is struggling to get to the mikveh, she will feel even worse if she is looked upon by the balanit as irresponsible or inconsiderate.

I always took seriously that according to the halacha I was responsible for doing all the preparations and for checking my own body before immersing in the mikveh. I was never fully comfortable with the idea of a balanit checking me and judging me. Over time, I got used to it, and there were some particular balaniot that I even looked forward to seeing (more than others).

I never felt like any balanit recognized how careful I had been to cut and clean my nails– perhaps I would have liked some positive feedback that my nails were in good shape for the mikveh, not just an arbitrary scan by the balanit.

Because I usually had very long hair it required painstaking effort and time to free my body of stray hairs during my preparations. In the bath and shower I would spend extensive time combing out my hair (which is more difficult without hair conditioner), and just when I thought there were no more tangles, or loose hairs to remove I would find more. Then, while looking in the mirror, I had to thoroughly scan my body in search of hairs. That was frustrating because I literally “felt” stray hairs clinging all over my skin. And because there are blind spots that I couldn’t see on my back I was never quite sure if I picked off all the hairs.  I absolutely relied on the balanit’s thoroughness and yirat shamayim to double check and to help me remove any stray hairs at the mikveh. But before I was about to descend the steps to enter the mikveh it would upset me (and take me out of my “spiritual” comfort zone) to see other women’s stray hairs  floating on the water surface. I would discretely articulate my concern. I don’t think that most balaniot took it seriously– even after I would ask her to clean the water with the net I could still see hairs in the mikveh water before I immersed. And I had to have emunah that those hairs would not create a chatzitza on my body, though I often worried that they did.

Because of my personal pride, my deep regard for shalom bayit in my marriage, and the need to protect my children, if you were to meet me, you would not realize that I suffer from OCD. I put up a very strong front to the world, and let only the closest people “into my world” to reveal to them the extent to which my life is impaired because of OCD. That premise means that there are frequent times that I can’t be “in the world.” I am just too vulnerable, and can’t leave home with any feeling that I might break down in front of others, and cause myself to be a spectacle to be potentially misjudged and subsequently labeled (as mentally ill).

For a woman in a precarious and vulnerable mental state, going to the mikveh can be an experience that takes a consistent toll on her sanity. Yes, baruch Hashem, I have many comforting memories of going to the mikveh, of feeling clean and pure, of having that closeness with Hashem in His holy waters, and then affirming my deepest connection with my beloved husband. But what overrides is the pain and shame that preceded me getting to the mikveh. I cannot elaborate further; only my husband and Hashem will ever know . But I hope that what I have been comfortable to share (anonymously) is enough to potentially give chizuk to help another woman like me.