Growing up, I was never really happy being me. When I was very little, I wished I was my little brother, who always seemed to have my parents on his side, when we argued (and we argued a lot…)
When I was a bit bigger, I wished I was Sarah Flack. Sarah Flack only had sisters; Sarah Flack’s parents both obviously went to church (a big bonus, if you’re in a ‘church’ school); Sarah Flack went on holiday to interesting places, and had friends (my friends…), and had teachers who liked her at school, and was still allowed to play soccer with the boys.
Then I hit secular secondary school, and a whole, horrible year of being seriously teased and bullied for being ‘different’ – and I wished I was just about anyone else in the world. Never mind being ‘popular’, or ‘pretty’, or ‘smart’ – it would have been enough for me just have been one of those anonymous, mousy girls that no-one can remember the name of a month after school is out.
But I wasn’t.
The bullying eased off a bit by the second year, and by the third year, I felt that I was starting to find my ‘group’, and to be a bit happier being me. Which is when my family moved to Canada.
We moved to Montreal, then three months later, we moved back to the UK. Then four months later, we moved back to Toronto. Then six weeks later, we moved to Vancouver, BC. Then two months’ later, we moved to Nova Scotia – and so on and so forth, for a whole year, pinging backwards and forwards between Canada and UK, looking for the ‘perfect place’.
I was 15. I was stuck with my parents and four siblings 24/7 for a whole year.
I so hated being me that even now, it’s a bit hard to write about it.
We finally ended up in Montreal for two years, where I got stuck in the same ‘class d’accueil’, or ‘welcome class’ with my younger brother, learning French. We’d just spent that last year stuck together 24/7 in cars and trains and hotel rooms and planes – and we really needed a bit of space from each other.
I hated that he was in my class, and I hated all the public fights we were having that was preventing either of us from making friends. I hated being forced to stand on a chair in my ‘class d’accueil’ while my teacher told me I’d learn the language much faster if I got a French-speaking boyfriend…
I hated being me.
I hated everything about it.
I hated that my parents were about to move back to the UK again, and that I had no say in the matter. I hated that the only chance I had for my education not to get ‘messed up’ was to study for my A-levels – alone – at home, and try to do them in a year, instead of two.
I hated feeling so lonely and alone.
My one bright spot was the local synagogue, where snow, hail, humidity or thunderstorms, I would go every single Shabbat.
I didn’t fit in there either, especially right at the beginning, when I had no idea when-to-sit-down-or-stand-up-or-what-to-say-how. But ‘Something’ there was accepting of me, for the first time in my life. ‘Something’ in synagogue made me feel welcome, even a little a bit like I belonged – and it was such a novel, amazing feeling that I kept going back for more.
That ‘Something’ was G-d, but it took me ages to really work that bit out.
In the meantime, I moved back to the UK – away from ‘my’ synagogue – and then, a year later, I moved back to Montreal, for university. I spent most of university hating being me – although less so, because ‘weird’ was cool in university – until my last year, when I met my husband.
Once I found him, I started to be quite a bit happier about being me. But not always. I still had days, lots of days, when I wished I was less complicated; less emotional; less worried; less ‘deep’; more happy-go-lucky.
But I wasn’t, so I tried to drown it all out with ‘busyness’. For five or six years, I was so busy! I worked so hard! I had so many guests for Shabbat and Pesach Seder! I had so many outside interests! I had two kids!
And from the outside, I thought that maybe, just maybe, now I was happy being me.
But I wasn’t really.
Then we made aliya, and all the sticking plasters that I’d stuck over my existential angst got ripped off in one crazy, hectic, horrible, amazing year: Rrrrrip! No business. Rrrrip! No big house on the ‘right’ street. Rrrrrip! No money. Rrrrrip! No-one to talk to about everything we were going through. Rrrrrip! No family to help me with the kids, or give me a shoulder to cry on.
Once again, I absolutely hated being me. I’d look at all these people who seemed to be having a much, much easier aliya, a much, much easier life, and I cried myself to sleep at night. Why couldn’t I be them? Why couldn’t I be immersed in a ‘career’, and not having to think about G-d? Why couldn’t I be having more kids, and not having to think about what G-d wanted from me? Why couldn’t I be shopping, and travelling, and socializing, so I wouldn’t have to face my incredible existential loneliness?
Thank G-d for Rebbe Nachman. Thank G-d for Rabbi Brody and for Rav Arush, who popped up in my life with answers to these questions, just as I was approaching the limit of what I thought I could endure.
I started to listen to the emuna CDs, I started to read the emuna books, and for the first time in my life, I was happy, or at least, happier, being me.
For the last two years, my existential angst more or less disappeared. I was happy not working. I was happy with just two kids. I was happy being on a budget. I was happy talking to G-d and focussing on my soul.
But then, I went to London for a week for my sister’s wedding, and the existential angst was waiting for me at the gate of Ben Gurion airport.
What’s the point of me, it wanted to know? What’s the point of a person who only cooks, cleans and writes a bit for BreslevIsrael? What’s the point of a person who still has all these overwhelming doubts and spiritual failures all the time, even though she’s been talking to G-d for five years already? What’s the point of all your prayers for ‘happy’, when you’ve been feeling so down lately? What’s the point of trying so hard for kedusha, when you got to the UK and everything went out the window?
What’s the point?
And for the last two weeks, I haven’t known what to answer.
What is the point of waiting for geula and moshiach, when it seems like nothing’s ever going to change? What is the point of all my praying, when I still have so many ‘old’ issues re-surfacing, that I thought I fixed already in 2009? What is the point of writing this stuff, or talking about this stuff, when I feel that I’m so far away from ‘happiness’ and ‘emuna’ myself?
What’s the point?
Today, I tried to take my mind off it all by painting the kitchen. Ok, I’m rubbish at everything else at the moment, but even a five year old can paint a wall… Half-way through, I burst into tears and my husband made me stop.
“I can’t even paint a wall anymore!” I sobbed. “I’m useless! I can’t do anything, I’m a complete waste of space!” My husband thought for a moment, then told me that I couldn’t paint the wall, because that’s not what G-d wants from me at the moment. He is the One who decides who does what, when. He made me the way He made me, and I need to be happy with it.
Happy being me?
Happy being me, when I sit alone with so much heaviness of spirit still? Happy being me, when I feel that I spend most of my day failing miserably, from keeping my temper to cooking a good meal to having patience with the kids? Happy being me, when I’m 38 years’ old and I still don’t know what ‘me’ is for?
Because however I am, that’s how G-d made me. However I’m ‘stuck’ – and I’m feeling so stuck in so many ways at the moment – that’s how G-d decided it. However low I feel, however low I get, it’s just so I can turn around there, at that darkest point, and see that G-d is right next to me.
It’s a spiritual rule that you have to go ‘down’ before you can go ‘up’. I’m down at the moment. Very down. But I’m going to continue to talk to G-d every day, even if I’m struggling for words, even if I feel very far away from Him at the moment, because I know that despite all my struggles and doubts, He’s happy with me being me.
And one day, I will be too.