…and, of course, my beautiful little boy and my incredible husband.
This is not easy for me to write. It is the first time I have spoken publicly about my illness.
But if it helps anyone who is feeling totally lost because of the current situation in the Middle East, then it is worth it.
At age nineteen I took a massive overdose. It wasn’t enough to end my life, as I was rushed to hospital and the doctors managed to save me by pumping my stomach and putting me on a drip. I remember a nurse coming in to care for me. “Why would you do such a thing?” she said. “You’re so young and beautiful.” I didn’t have the words to tell her how every time I looked at a baby or a toddler, I felt sick, fearful of the tragic and evil world they would have to grow up in, thinking it was preferable they weren’t here at all. I had also been in the middle of studying for my BA in literature, one of the modules being literature from the Holocaust. Reading book after book and seeing film after film on the largest genocide the world has ever seen certainly did not help to bring me out of my horror at the world. I had planned the suicide carefully over months, told my friends I was just feeling ‘very tired’ and waited for the right moment to get the hell out of here. It took a few psychiatrists and psychologists and doctors to discover I was suffering from depression, an illness which runs in my family. Only a few weeks after being put on anti-depressants, I was already hopeful again, began studying and even thinking about the future.
Living with depression has not been easy. There have been times in my life when I have not been able to tell whether my sadness was from the outside or from within. When I split up with my long-term boyfriend, for example, who had planned to ask me to marry him on our four-year anniversary the following week. When twin towers happened. When training to be a teacher involved trying to get the same gangsters, who had been searched by the police for guns and knives on entry to the school, simply to sit down.
The experts say chemical depression rears its ugly head a few times in a sufferer’s life, and in mine it seems to have come home around every ten years. I recognise it. I deal with it. I manage it. If I’m running in the hills and I stop suddenly and sink down and wonder what the use of anything is, why I’m even bothering; if I don’t want to go home to my life, then I know something more than simple sadness is up. It’s a terrible kind of grief at my existence in the world that overwhelms me and everyone around me. Then I know I have to return to the miraculous medication which makes me see life in the same way others do. Some things are wonderful, some things are awful, and somehow, we make sure we muddle through.
A while ago now, I had another relapse, where a close friend of mine ended up looking for me in the hills because I’d gone off ‘for a walk’ and disappeared. Once again, I started on the tablets and mostly all was well and peaceful with the world.
On October 7th, therefore, I was still taking my medication. This is the medication which has always prevented me from losing faith in a world which I know has the capacity to be unjust with great suffering. However, no amount of tablets in the past two months could help me to get up in the morning without an unbearable heaviness and brokenness in my soul. It must be the end of the world. I thought. Or at least, this is the end of my world. I was careful not to keep my feelings to myself, something I’ve always done before. My husband, who is the kindest and most selfless person I have ever met, had a right to know how I was feeling. I don’t want to live anymore. I told him. I’m not planning anything (that wasn’t quite true) and I’m not going to do anything (that was true). I just need you to know.
Let me tell you a little about my incredible husband. Since the very first day of the war, he has been working day and night towards what his organization, the Forum of Israeli Peace NGOs, is calling The Day After. He is absolutely determined for us to bring meaning and hope out of this tragedy. He will not allow any news, any images or articles, to let him lose his faith in the day after. There can only be peace through a political agreement, and he and his colleagues will make it happen.
At the same time as he was moving towards the light, is always moving towards the light, I was allowing the darkness to envelope me. On the two days I forgot to take my anti-depressants, I felt ready to give up on everything. My whole beautiful life. Because of the inhumanity I was staring at every single day, and night when I couldn’t sleep.
But there have been two magical blessings that have truly saved me. The first is our animals – our immensely cuddly, cheeky and kind seven-year-old counted amongst them – a gorgeous dog (who I have even been taking to school because she makes the students and teachers feel better too) and four cats, two kittens among them. And one of the kittens used to be completely wild, never coming close to any human. We managed to trick her into getting into a cat basket one day and took her home to keep her safe from predators. She was only small. Since then, I have been the only person she will come to, cuddle and sleep with. In fact, she calls to me with her strange, beautiful meow and she lies with me in bed every night, curled under my arm, singing with purrs. She is one of the most beautiful cats I have ever seen –like a miniature tiger. No matter what I read, what I saw, what was spoken of, what revisited me at night, there she was, purring away, telling me she needed me and she loved me and the world has softness and beauty in it too, even now. Even now!
The other magic came from a close friend of mine, with whom I run a few times a week, and she saw and heard and measured my despair and sent me the video question and answer session you see here. It is Stephen Jenkinson, the Canadian writer, teacher, and grief literacy advocate with a group of Israelis in total shock and despair a few days after October 7th. I listened to it when I was running. Then again, and again, until I had written down all the inspirational phrases which touched my very soul and woke it up. Trying to keep your heart open is your heart being open. He says, Life has to be lived now with small acts of affirmation. What do we do when we stare into the monstrous face of inhumanity? We live our life with as much humanity as we can.
It wasn’t an immediate balm. I put the quotations on my bedroom wall, sent the video to friends whom I knew also had dying souls, and spoke to others about it, trying to truly embed these life loving ideas into my sub-conscious. My sadness, after all, had been overwhelming me, my family, my friends, even strangers, and sometimes reaching my students too, though I really tried to fight against this. It wasn’t as though it would vanish overnight. But there was so much truth in what he said, so much truth in valuing our lives because there is evil in the world, because there is cruelty in the world. Because we still can.
My despair in life and my wish to die slowly lifted, and instead a sadness settled, a sadness which still gives me space to smile and to laugh if I feel like it.
I don’t think at age nineteen I was ill, in the way other people see chemical depression – as though it has nothing to do with the world outside and is simply an enveloping black cloud within. I think my depression has always been triggered by my insight into the world and the way I feel completely at one with nature, with animals, sometimes also with people. And when that oneness is threatened because of the sheer cruelty and lack of conscience and compassion of human beings, that’s when I’ve started to slide into the abyss I am so familiar with that I can almost joke about it now and say, here I go again….
But I don’t. And I won’t. Some things are worth sticking around for. Some things are worth making meaning out of. The Day After, as my husband says, needs us here, patient, compassionate, and willing to make peace with all the good people who are left alive after this horrific war is over.