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  • Writer's pictureDev Friedlander

Breaking Open

I have done my best to stay positive. I kept a blithe attitude towards the isolation, the mask-wearing, and the many, many Zoom meetings. I have done my best to put on my happy face, roll up my sleeves, and fight my daily battles. But lately, that smile has been hard-won, because the truth is, the struggle exhausted me, and I gave in to the darkness.

This time I was triggered by the news of the passing of a dear relative, my husband’s grandmother, who had lost her short fight with cancer. The sadness I felt from her passing, along with a recent writing submission rejection, suffocating temperatures, and whisperings that there might be a “second wave” of Covid-19 set in motion my emotional crumbling.

It was a couple of weeks ago, while cooking for Shabbat, that these feelings of sadness and anxiety overwhelmed me to the point that I could no longer stand. I left the food simmering in the pot, I left the laundry in the machine, I ignored the texts from friends and even my girls asking me for help with schoolwork. I left it all and went to my room, put on my headphones, and cried.

Ugly awful thoughts went round and round in mind, rooting me in place, telling me that nothing would ever be alright again. One hour went by, then two. I knew that I needed to move, that there were people and things that needed my immediate attention, yet I was too worn down by feelings of hopelessness and anxiety; feelings that I just could not shake from my head. Then one of my daughters shouted, “Mommy, come see this.”

With tears still in my eyes, I trudged to the other room. I saw that my youngest daughter had her shirt on backward and was laughing at her reflection in the mirror. It was not all that funny, but I laughed anyway, and then I thought to myself, “why would I want to miss this?” The thought was so powerful, it shattered all the ugly feelings of doom and gloom that were swirling in my mind a few minutes before. I decide to spend the rest of the day looking for other joyful things that my sadness had hidden from me.

It started with my middle daughter proudly showing me a hairstyle she had perfected; then I learned my eldest daughter was going to direct a small film at school. Friday night, we joined my in-laws for a meal. When we walked through the door, the lights were out due to a power outage at the worst possible time, which meant we would be eating cold chicken in the dark. The gloominess began to chirp in my mind again, but I firmly reminded myself that I was focused on looking for things to enjoy.

That’s when I noticed the row of tea candles that flickered and danced on the table. The ambiance reminded me of a fancy restaurant, like the ones my husband and I would go out to on special occasions. I sat down to a lovely meal, and I found myself appreciating the food, even though it was cold.

My youngest asked me to go on one of our special walks home, where we would talk and make up stories. Again, my mind whispered, “why would I want to miss this?” A meow greeted us at our front door, another joy in my life that I often took for granted.

A few days followed, and I was able to find more wonderful moments. A sweet collage my middle daughter had made for me, a text from a friend who had sent a kind word about my writing, some more sales of my book were reported, and some more Corona restrictions were lifted by the government.

While positivity is a key element of good mental health, I realized that if I wanted to stay healthy in the long term, I would need some help. Admitting this to myself wasn’t easy. It made me feel broken and weak. Yet I realized that is exactly what I would stay if I didn’t seek treatment. So, I did.

I never realized what a slave I was to my anxiety until I had help in lifting it. There have been so many things I wish I had tried but my worries about failing had held me back. Now instead of being focused on the price of reactions, I stay focused on the cost of inaction, reminding myself “why would I want to miss this?” I look back at my breakdown rather as a break open. Now that my eyes are opened, I am grateful for the bounty of joy that surrounds me.

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