In Your Words

By Jamie Bornstein

Several days ago I posted an anonymous survey on Facebook with one open-ended question:

“What is at the core of your mental health struggles? Be as specific as possible.”

My initial intention was to categorize the responses and share the main points in my own words. After reading them, though, I simply can’t reduce them to categories. Each response took courage to share, and deserves to be read exactly as originally expressed.

My question was not a scientific one. This is neither a data set not an academic study, and the “results” of this poll are not being shared here in order to make a point about what they reveal when examined as a group. These are simply a collection of personal struggles, shared here in the hopes that others who are fighting similar battles might read them and feel a little less alone.

Thank you to the many people who responded. And now, in your words:

“Substance abuse, racing thoughts, chronic stress, not enough sleep.”

“Anxiety. Particularly when I feel claustrophobic in life, like on a trip, solo parenting, or having a huge work project…times when I feel like I can’t bail out at all.”

“I have mild depression – chemical imbalance that came from my mother, grandmother, and great grandmother. A little (consistent!) SSRI and I’m all good.”

“The need to be perfect and feeling worthless when less than perfect.”

“Anxiety about my children.”

“Anxiety about my health and having no support system.”

“OCD, with especially bothersome religion-related symptoms. I’ve sort of adopted a very fearful view of Hashem [God] from having OCD for many years without realizing it. Some days it is hard to do many mitzvot or even daven or learn, and the constant comparison in the Jewish community about frumkeit makes it even harder, because for one thing if I am not as learned because it’s so hard for me to learn than I end up learning less objectively (i.e. I need to read something a few times until I feel that I “understand it right” or else I feel I’m committing avodah zara) and feel judged when nobody knows what is going on and especially that I am putting in even more effort perhaps than the average person in my learning in this sense.”

“My son experienced bullying in middle school which continued into high school. This led to anxiety and depression and PTSD about the bullying. He still is triggered by certain situations and can have anxiety and depression as a result.”

“Social anxiety: Constantly revisiting things I said and wondering if I offended anyone. Re-playing conversations in my mind and worrying about what I said. Thinking someone is mad at me if they don’t text back right away. Basically constantly doubting myself and worrying, even when I appear outwardly confident, outgoing, and entirely fine.”

“Perfection, work related stress, anxiety about the health and well-being of my children, and fear of death.”

“This question seems to imply there is some trauma or fear or event that is at the core of my mental health struggle, perhaps something that could have been stopped. Why does that have to be the case? My struggle may manifest in a particular way, but I believe at the core there is something physical/chemical in my brain. If someone has cancer, it might be related to genetics or a carcinogen, but would we ask what is at the core?”

“Self-hatred (eating disorder).”

“I don’t have any formal diagnosis but I struggle with intermittent depression and sometimes anxiety. The issues I’m struggling with include having been doing things ‘for other people’ my whole life, and now needing to figure out who I am and what I want, and it’s terrifying to realize that I have no idea. I’m 45 years old, married…”

“Obsession with and insecurity about sex.”

“Unsupportive and unrealistic work environment.”

“Confidence issues and constant self-doubt from a combination of abusive family dynamics, being gaslit, not fitting in as a child, and struggling in school due to my ADHD and slow processing speed. Anxiety about school work and large projects due to ADHD making it harder and the self-doubt (caused by above issues) making it harder. Repressed emotions from that invalidating family environment.”

“Fear that I will be rejected if I’m not good enough/don’t do well enough/don’t conform, and then I’ll end up alone.”

“A bad man and the emotional abuse he put me through in our relationship (my first and only relationship), which culminated in revelations of his rampant cheating.”

“My feelings not being validated and that my anxiety is simply me being ridiculous. I am made to feel guilty about my feelings and expected to have control over them when un-medicated, and sometimes while medicated, I really can’t. My mom used to ask me if I will ever be able to get off my meds now that I am feeling better. She never asks me about my meds for my more physical chronic condition…”

“A deep anxiety over bodily ailments/getting sick/dying. I find it almost impossible to feel safe or at ease, to the point that I cannot sleep.”

“Not feeling good about myself.”

“Family genetics for anxiety and depression.”

If these quotes resonate with you and you would like to share your story on this blog, contact Mental Health Safe Space at mhsafespace@gmail.com.

Jamie Bornstein is the founder of Mental Health Safe Space. He lives in Sharon, MA with his wife and three children. He is the Senior Director of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, North America. He can be reached at mhsafespace@gmail.com.

Like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/mhsafespace.

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