In honor of World Mental Health Day (Wednesday, October 11), I wanted to write an article and share my story of my time in Israel as an Oleh, and a lone soldier the IDF in hopes to inspire others to be shameless with their conditions. I don’t know if many of you remember me, but a year and a half ago in February 2016, I had made Israeli news for being a former American Idol who would make aliyah and soon join the Israeli Defense Forces. Once I came off the plane, I was carrying a giant teddy bear, walking down to baggage claim only to be surprised by a crew of producers about to interview me for the news. I was going to be a soldier in the elite army band unit. From that point on, up until about August, I had been on top of the world.
I remember the days where I lived in Ramat Gan in which I worked at an amazing Bet Cafe in which my coworkers became my family. I can still smell the night air as I rode my bike from a stimulating night out in Tel Aviv with friends back to Ramat Gan, feeling so much life I had never felt before. Beyond that, I can taste the excitement of Israeli life on my taste buds because that was what I tasted every single day. However, behind all of that excitement was my dance with the demons that kept tormenting me each and every day as I woke up and went to sleep. See, the thing is, I have struggled with Bipolar Disorder and eating issues for many years. These issues don’t just disappear. I may of left behind my life in the states to start fresh, but I certainly did not leave behind my condition.
I remember vividly the amount of times I had to sit down at work because of my constant anxiety attacks and overall depressed state of being. I still remember to this day the conversation I had with my psychiatrist at the time, telling him my meds were making me feel more manic, only to hear that he just could not help me and I needed to be hospitalized; no I didn’t, I just needed him to listen to me and what I needed. Beyond that, there were many times I was super impulsive and blew all of my money on meaningless things only to find myself starving at the expense of my own problems.
At the same time, I had the army to look forward to. It had always been my dream to perform for the soldiers of our precious state, and do what I can to contribute in inspiring my fellow Israelis. At the first meeting, I was told by my advisors to not mention the word “Bi-polar” or anything of the sort. So, when the doctor asked me why I took meds, I simply said that sometimes I get a little depressed, that’s all, no big deal. It did not cross my mind that my dreams of being a singing soldier in our homeland, and the reality of a condition that, even if it were manageable, would still inhibit my peace of mind and stability. That was the biggest mistake I could have made.
The whole year I had spent before the army post summertime was what would have been the hardest year of my life. The biggest move I made was to Tel Aviv from Ramat Gan into a beautiful studio I called home. However, it wasn’t a beautiful time: I blew money, adopted a dog when I could barely care for myself, and spent many days in bed crying out of frustration with myself and how I could not get up to go out and enjoy Tel Aviv.
I remember quitting jobs left and right because I could not handle more than an hour of being in one place. Most of my nights were spent alone, walking the streets with my dog, feeling these emotions so deeply that it was a sharp pain in my spirit every single day. One of the most important factors was that I could not find the right psychiatrist to medicate me properly, and that had sent me down a spiral up until I drafted into the army in March, 2017.
Here it was, my moment of excitement and dreams right at my fingertips. I could smell the scent of my uniform and feel the sensation of pride that would consume my heart as I knew I would be a part of something much greater than anything in life. Still I had the question in my mind: what kind of treatment could I obtain that would help me stay stable in the army so I could enjoy life and give my all to my fellow soldiers and the State of Israel?
If any moment I mentioned here before was to be a wake up call, the moment I stepped onto the bus to get to the base was when the alarm started singing at full frequency with no snooze button. From day one of my training, I could not go a day without crying in fear and anxiety. This was all new, a place where I was an outsider in an accepting and tolerant environment, yet one where I was still confused. Each day was something else that kept me down in the day, and somewhat high on joy and pride of being a soldier in the night. My biggest fear was that I would not be on the right medication, and that I would continue in the same darkness I was throughout the year beforehand.
To make a long story short, after begging and pushing to see a psychiatrist in the army (bureaucracy is real), I saw one on my last day before graduation. This time, I felt comfortable enough to say I have Bipolar Disorder and not hide behind the blanket term, “depression”. I had to put my health first because it was a breaking point in which I had enough. At that point, I had been released and ten days later after Pesach I boarded a plane home feeling ashamed, guilty, sad, yet somewhat excited to start fresh.
The pain and sadness still sits within me as sometimes I feel like I failed. I had dreamed of this moment since I was seventeen, yet because of a serious condition that truly does consume the mind, I had to go home to recover my broken spirit. However, this was a blessing from above because being home has helped me dig inside my soul and begin a healing process that I can never stop enduring nor do I want to stop my transformation. Each experience teaches you a lesson about yourself and the path you’re being led on from above.
My moral of the story is this: Israel is an amazing country, the IDF is a beautiful army of dedicated soldiers who devote their lives to the safety of all people, Arab and Jewish alike. My gratitude for what the country provided me is everlasting, and I still call myself an Israeli no matter what. For some people, it can be challenging and even more so if you struggle with a mental illness and can’t find the help and support you truly need. I still cry and think of the memories, wishing things were different, but everything happens for a reason. In honor of World Mental Health Day, I am writing this personal and very vulnerable story in hopes of inspiring struggling Olim Chadashim, Lone Soldiers, and all citizens of Israel alike.
Your mental health must come first. Don’t be ashamed to demand the help you need, because you deserve it more than anything else. Life in Israel can be very stressful, and stress can trigger so much darkness in you, so make sure you have a support system around you so when your wings are broken, their love and care can help you fly. Take good care of yourselves and never be ashamed. If you get up out of bed and go out during a rainstorm above your head, that is already an achievement in its own. I am sending every single reader so much love and light and the energy of shamelessness, as that’s how we must be. Shameless warriors in our day to day lives.