1 Shvat 5778 / Wednesday, January 17, 2018 | Torah Reading: Bo
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Drop the Mask    

Drop the Mask

When things are overwhelming, that is our invitation to drop the mask, stop pretending that we can do everything by ourselves, and to call out to Hashem for help...


I was talking to a dear friend of mine, who happened to tell me about a few more people she knows who have put up their white flag, and popped off to the doctors to get some anti-depressants.
I know I say this a lot, but I was taken aback that so very many people are popping the Prozac like there's no tomorrow. My friend told me that two thirds of the Western world are now taking anti-depressants, and the other third "are you and your husband…"
I don't know if that statistic is true or not. What I do know is that G-d isn't sending us tremendous stresses, strains and worries for nothing. He's doing it because He wants us to work on our emuna. He wants us to feel pain, and anguish, and worry and fear - all those negative emotions that are so unpleasant for us modern people to think about or go through - and then to use those incredibly potent 'bad' feelings as a springboard to get closer to Him, and to start feeling happy.
If we aren't feeling our own pain, we can never feel our own happiness.
But happiness, that most massive of mitzvahs, doesn't come by itself. We have to work for it. We have to pray for it. We have to invest time, effort and emuna into becoming 'happy', and most of all, we have to develop a real relationship with our Creator.
When things are overwhelming; terrifying; terrible; hard; crushing - that is our invitation to drop the mask, stop pretending that we can do everything by ourselves, and to call out to Hashem for help.
It's so hard to lower ourselves to do that, and to admit we can't get by without G-d. I believed in G-d when He started mushing me into the floor, with one test and tribulation after another - but it still took me a good year and a half to swallow my pride, and to admit I had to start doing things G-d's way.
That meant bentching after I ate bread, and not just taking all my food for granted. That meant chucking out my jeans, and covering my hair - even though I hated the very idea of being in a frum person 'uniform'. It meant thinking twice, and then a third time, about taking my kids to mixed beaches, or five star hotels in Eilat where clothing was optional (and a lot of people were opting out).
It also meant looking myself in the face, and admitting to all those things we like to think are everyone else's problems and issues: OK, G-d, I'm very judgemental. I'm selfish. I'm treating my husband and my kids horribly - work always comes ahead of them, always! I'm so arrogant - I sometimes talk to people as though I have all the answers, when really I'm struggling so much even to know what to make for supper. I'm jealous of the big houses; the new cars; the 'perfect' families…And so on, and so forth.
Then, after all that introspection and confession, came some massive changes and decisions: I'm quitting my job, and looking after my family full time. I'm moving community, to a place where my kids won't have to struggle so hard with movies, and internet, and boys and girls hanging out together without any parental supervision. I'm flying off to Uman. I'm going cold turkey on all the bonkers nut-job type people I unfortunately know, who have serious mental disorders.
Big decisions. Massive changes.
Then, came the even bigger changes, on the inside.
"G-d, I don't want to be so miserable and judgemental and so harshly critical of myself and others any more. Please fix me!" Or, "G-d, I don't want to walk around with permanent knots in my stomach, and anxiety and depression. Please take it away!" And, "G-d, I don't want to be wishing my kids' childhoods away, because I'm so poorly equipped to raise them. I don't want to yell at them any more. I don't want to hurt them. I just want to love them, and to make sure they grow up knowing that they are loved. Can you help me to do that, Hashem?"
G-d of course said yes. Continue to do your hour a day of talking to Me, and even when it's all falling apart, you'll feel Me there holding you together. You'll feel Me smoothing over the rough patches, and filling in your parenting lacks with your kids. You'll feel Me telling you that you're loved, and important, even though so much of you still doesn't believe it. You'll see the improvements in your marriage, and how much easier it seems to get by, even on less money and with more expenses.
Over time, you'll start to feel so much happier, so much lighter. You'll stop worrying about all the phantom illnesses you could develop, and all the horrible things that might happen in the world. You'll start to trust Me more, and you'll even develop some emuna along the way - and if you carry on like that, not only will your life down here get better and better, you'll also end up with a very nice chunk of the World to Come…
Amazing. What a deal.
In my life, I've dealt with pretty much every negative emotion you can mention. I've had days (and years…) where I was so seriously depressed, I was hoping that G-d would end it all right then and there. I've had fears so monstrously large and overwhelming, I literally couldn't eat for a year. I've had panic attacks, insomnia, anger, anxiety, stress, paranoia - you name it, I've had a dose of it, at some point or other.
Until I found out about Breslev, and talking to G-d for an hour a day, I simply didn't know how on earth to deal with it all. If you'd have offered me Prozac 10 years ago - and promised me it would have worked to switch all that stuff off - I for sure would have taken it.
But then, I wouldn't have started to put G-d more in the picture. I wouldn't have started fixing the problems at their root, in my soul, in my lack of emuna - and they would have continued to multiply. I would still be so arrogant, jealous, nasty, worried and depressed. I just wouldn't know that I was.
I wouldn't know how great it feels to get a hug from my nearly teenage daughter; or how good it feels to hear my kids laughing hysterically with their friends; or how many interesting, amazing things you can do when you aren't plugged into a laptop 24/7; or how many of your life mysteries you can solve when you start asking yourself some tough questions about WHY am I so stressed and miserable? WHO is sending me all these challenging situations and issues? WHAT am I really meant to be doing with my life?
This is not having a go at people who are on Prozac. I understand why you're taking it - and without Breslev, I would be doing exactly the same. But anti-depressants are not a permanent cure. Real cures, real remedies, only come about when we put G-d in the picture, and elevate our problems back to Him.
G-d, am I so miserable because me (and / or) my husband work like dogs, and I feel like I'm living with a stranger? Is it because I find my kids so challenging, because I myself wasn't raised with unconditional love and caring? Is it because I've been programmed with all these crazy expectations from other people, and I haven't given myself five minutes to explore what I really think about, and what I really want out of life? Is it because I'm so far away from You, or so far away from living the life You want for me?
If you can take Prozac, and still ask yourself those questions, great. Most of the people I know on anti-depressants aren't doing that. Whatever was bothering them, or nagging at them has receded back into the mist, and they don't want to risk it returning by trying to 'get to the bottom' of things.
It's easy to take anti-depressants. It's much harder (at least, initially), to go down the 'pro-happiness' route. But one way leads to lasting, fundamental improvements, growth and joy, and the other way doesn't.
Try a visit to Uman; it just might save you many dozens of visits to the psychoanalyst and to the pharmacy.
* * *
Check out Rivka Levy's new book The Happy Workshop based on the teachings of Rabbi Shalom Arush

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