My Trek to Freedom: From Illness to the Promised Land

At times, we are gifted with experiences that shake us to our core and ultimately build us into the people we are meant to become. For me, this experience took the form of Postular Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), an autonomic nervous system disorder I was diagnosed with just one month into my first year at Rutgers University. The autonomic nervous system is responsible for basically everything our bodies do without us thinking about it: heart rate, digestion, breathing and more. I had always taken these automatic functions for granted—until I couldn’t anymore.

At 18 years old, my life suddenly turned upside down with debilitating symptoms ranging from near-fainting spells to extreme fatigue, dizziness, abdominal pain, insomnia…and the list goes on. POTS made everyday tasks excruciatingly challenging. Even the simple act of standing up felt like running a marathon because my body could not pump enough blood to my head. I bounced from doctor to doctor, treatment to treatment, desperately trying to get my symptoms under control. Yet nothing worked. Out of sheer desperation, I ventured into the world of holistic medicine and finally found incredible relief through acupuncture, nutrition and neurorehabilitation.

It was a long, arduous journey filled with countless trials, setbacks and many tests of faith. I was trapped in the desert of illness for four hard years. Yet I ultimately emerged safely in the Promised Land…and I mean that quite literally.

I am blessed to be living in Jerusalem for the year as a Masa Teaching Fellow with Ramah Israel. I never could have imagined I would be functional enough to commute over an hour to work, let alone teach English to rambunctious Israeli boys. I never could have imagined I would get home from school and still have the strength to attend ulpan and programming, work on my journalism—oh yeah, and share an apartment with nine other women. I never could have imagined I would be able to wake up each day and not worry about how much my body could accomplish. I was granted ultimate freedom—freedom I can only appreciate after wandering four years through the desert.

I actually just celebrated my four-year POTS anniversary on Sukkot, a holiday that commemorates G-d’s protection of the Jewish people in the desert. It is a holiday of true vulnerability, where we build temporary open-air booths called sukkot to remind us of our fragility as human beings. Four years ago, I didn’t need a reminder: my first POTS episode actually occurred in a sukkah. Yet each year going forward, I pray that I do need the reminder—a reminder of how precious our health is and how we must fiercely safeguard it each day.

My year in Israel overflows with meaning on so many fronts. I will cherish being able to run around preparing for Shabbat and still have energy for a lively Friday night meal. I will embrace complaining about “normal” things like crowded buses and long commutes. I will appreciate being able to hike through the hills of Jerusalem and swim in the Mediterranean Sea. And when life’s stressors arise, I will remind myself how fortunate I am to simply be in the Promised Land—a place that holds more than one meaning in my heart.

About the Author
Manya Goldstein is a Rutgers University journalism graduate teaching English in Jerusalem for the year as a Masa Israel Teaching Fellow.
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