the light gets in

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in. (Leonard Cohen)

As I’ve mentioned several times in this space, my first year of rabbinical school was really difficult for me, for a number of reasons. For one, everything was new: We moved to a new city so that I could start a graduate program in an area I’d never done academic study before after being out of school for more than 10 years. Plus I was being asked to make myself vulnerable on a daily basis with people I didn’t know at all — and to think about some of the most profound questions that we ask ourselves as human beings. Then, add all of this to the fact that the people I was with eight hours a day (my first-year cohort) had a fair amount of trouble trusting each other and meshing as group.

I started seeing a therapist here in December of 2012, just a few months into my first year of school. I know it was a good idea in a general way — if I’m going to be in a pastoral role, I need to have dealt with my own issues so that I’m not holding my own pain while holding others’ — but what motivated me to seek help then was an explosive incident in class. My intense reaction to the discussion took me by surprise (and, if I’m being honest, embarrassed me, too).

I completely lucked out in my “search” for a therapist in the area: I visited just one woman, who had been recommended to me, and I felt like it was a good fit immediately. I’ve been seeing her ever since.

I’ve been in therapy on and off since college when I first started seeing someone in the university’s health services department. I didn’t go regularly until I lived in D.C. and I needed support for my volunteer work at the rape crisis center. I now go once a week, and I feel like I need every hour.

everything is broken (source: moshe giventhal)

everything is broken (source: moshe giventhal)

Sometimes it’s frustrating to think about how many years I’ve been working on my issues, for indeed, I am still dealing with a lot of the stuff that I first started talking about in college. There’s a part of me that wants to just be done with it and move on. But I also know that’s not really how it works. I do hope, however, that my need for help will someday not feel as urgent as it does now. Right now, I at times feel broken beyond repair. I wonder if I’ll ever feel whole, or anything like it.

There are definitely bright spots, though. I know how absolutely privileged I am to even be able to see a therapist, let alone be free to find a good fit and not have the choice be limited by insurance. (My insurance does cover part of the cost, but I’m reimbursed at the out-of-network provider rate, and paying for part of expensive is still expensive.) I also am beyond grateful to my husband, who also recognizes how important this is for me and has agreed to prioritize the expense. I am also fortunate to have been able to find medication that very effectively helps with my depression. Most of the time, I feel “normal” — or more accurately, I feel like myself. And that is a relief.

This is not to say, however, that I don’t have times when I feel depressed, when I can’t do much of anything. It doesn’t happen a lot, but when it does, I feel helpless. I have a hard time accessing my own strength and resources that I know theoretically that I have. (For a good illustration of how depression works, see these posts from Hyperbole and a Half: Adventures in Depression and Depression Part Two.) All I can do most of the time is wait for it to pass, which it usually does within a couple of days (which relatively short period of time I am extremely grateful for — though it doesn’t always feel “short”). I wake up one day feeling better, and I pick myself up and go back to my life.

I write this because I think sharing my story, my journey with mental illness, is an important part of destigmatizing it and destigmatizing seeking help for it. I write this for myself, too: I can’t always convince myself of the fact that my depression is not a moral failing on my part, even though I know intellectually that it is so. It’s chemical, and it’s genetic (several members of my family also have experience with depression). I continue to work on accepting the fact that I will probably struggle with this my whole life — and that I’ll be on medication for the rest of my life. And some days that feels more acceptable and manageable than others.


  1. And Mordecai said to Esther: “and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” ….and then Esther, as the next 5-6 chapters unfold, works with grace, entertaining and making her case and gaining in confidence so that the “whole” person, Esther is present by the end of the story……and you too, will be whole, for “who knoweth”? Nicely written and a strong tribute to the vulnerability which makes one hold. Keep praying, writing and when you can….run/walk, or get on the yoga mat and let the body release; if you are especially blessed you will have good days when you: laugh, cry and sweat all in one day. Love to you

  2. AMEN SISTER. I hear you. Love, Deena

  3. Salem, I would love to talk with you more about this. -Andrea (formerly Ryan with DCRCC)

  4. Thanks for the affirmation–I’ve been a silent reading partner for several months. Hello.

  5. My rabbinic program (ALEPH) all but required its students to be in therapy. 🙂 We were all required to be in spiritual direction, and I think most of us were in therapy at least some of the time we were in school. (Me — the whole time.) I’m grateful for that. How can I try to help others through their own stuff if I don’t have a good handle on my own?

    Also — as a fellow sufferer of depression, I raise my cup of tea to you, both for navigating the depression and for being “out” about it. This may sound corny but I think it’s really important for clergy to be open about the fact that we too struggle with things, including depression. That makes us seem less superhuman to our congregants/communities, to be sure, but I’m not sure we were ever superhuman to begin with — and maybe it’s useful to burst that bubble from the get-go…

    (Also, hi, sorry about the wild flurry of comments! I am enjoying reading a bunch of your posts today.)

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