By Malkie Gordon Hirsch
Sometimes, I’ll speak to someone and they’ll proudly mention that they’ve never attended a therapy session.
Most of the time, these are old-school types who think it’s an accomplishment that they’ve been able to avoid having a public panic attack at a 7-Eleven.
Or maybe they might think that they’d be labeled as crazy if they’d have to ask for help. To which I usually respond, “It’s never too late to see someone! You need it, trust me.”
Because who doesn’t need a sounding board in some capacity, in today’s day and age?
Feelings are messy. They don’t stay in the lines. There’s no specific order and they’re unpredictable. They’re confusing and, at times, don’t even make sense to the one running things—you.
A deep and dark subcategory to the feeling is grief. Sometimes grief feels like an imbalance; at times there’s too much emotion and sometimes there’s a lack of feeling, a numbness that takes over.
There’s an entire self-help genre of literature written on the subject but that won’t really help much when someone’s in the throes of emotional flooding, can’t focus on words, and definitely can’t process whole paragraphs and pages.
You keep reading the same word, the same line, until you realize that nothing you read will penetrate because your mind is too busy racing about the feelings within you to really care about what’s happening on some page of what might be a well-written book.
You’ll never know what the words say because you can’t focus.
In the beginning, grief hits like a wave in the ocean. It takes over all of your senses and you try swimming to the surface for a breather, for relief, but it’s so powerful that you don’t know which way will supply you with much-needed air.
You finally get to the surface, suck in a deep breath and prepare for another bout of complete emotional immersion.
Imagine if this was you during school hours when your kids were safely away from the house for a guaranteed portion of the day. But the clock would tick down the hours and once you heard the doorknob turn, you’d need to be ready to set those feelings aside and once again be the mother your kids need you to be.
When they’d bound through that door, they would need to see a smiling face greeting them. You need to be that person for them.
But is it possible? How does someone compartmentalize feelings this way? How do they get to be what their kids need but also come to terms with their feelings as well?
Is it possible to have the best of both worlds? Is it possible to freely admit to having mental-health struggles without getting labeled or suffering from the stigma associated with admitting that you suffer and desperately need help?
It actually is entirely possible.
And this is the part of what I do that makes me so thankful that I’m witness to ordinary people who have suffered unimaginably who are now trying to make meaning out of the sadness, the grief, and the adversity they’ve been through. I’m very open about the fact that we sought professional help to address our family’s grief, and that we continue to use therapists as resources in our lives. And I don’t believe it’s only tragedy that warrants therapy. Especially now, we live in a fast-paced, anxious, high-stress world. The same way we go to doctors if something feels off balance physically, we can go to mental-health professionals if and when we feel dysregulated emotionally. And many, many people get to feeling like this at some point in life—either due to circumstances or their own inner world.
A few posts were forwarded to me from an organization called CATCH (Creating a Team of Courage and Hope), but I didn’t realize what they truly did until I was invited to a meeting with the founder (Jessica Tsur), some therapists who ran her group therapy programs, and some social media people who would market this worthwhile cause.
Also, there were desserts from Patis, so that’s really all I needed to know when I agreed to meet at a woman’s house at 8:30 a.m.
Jessica asked about our histories with mental health, if we had bouts of anxiety or feelings that overwhelmed us at times. Some opened up and were candid about their struggles and I suddenly realized how tricky it was to be ill with something you can’t see. It’s a silent killer at times and it affects friends, neighbors, and family, and sometimes we only realize after the fact that something was amiss.
It happens more often these days—we hear about people who live within our community and struggle with their feelings of hopelessness inside. Sometimes they don’t have the courage to speak about it, for fear of being found out or being spoken of or judged unfavorably. Not every psychological struggle has a clear identifiable cause or diagnosis, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t benefit from intervention. There’s a Torah source for this as well. The pasuk says: “Da’agah b’lev ish, yashchenu—worry in the heart of man, he can banish it.” The Gemara asks: “How? Don’t read it as yashchenu, (banish it) but as yisichenu l’acherim (talk about it with others). The pain and shame of struggle is exacerbated by loneliness and secrecy. But talking about it with others is therapeutic and reduces the distress.
CATCH is a group therapy model that’s designed to have a therapist working with a small group of people who struggle with some variety of anxiety and depression. These words are thrown around so often today but there are so many women whose lives are debilitated by it and no one around them has any idea. The CATCH groups are truly safe havens. Once they’re in their group and are able to feel less alone in their struggles, a world of connection and support opens up. Jessica has a lot of plans for CATCH and as I sat there with the therapists and the patients and even the cheesecake eaters (that’s me), I realized that she’s tapped into an important niche. This type of therapy can save lives and be a support group for some who might have previously felt alone in their struggles.
I’m part of a support group for young widows with children that truly helps me. We’ve all got one thing in common—our husbands have passed. Our kids deal with different issues, we run the gamut when it comes to frumkeit, but we’re a tremendous support to one another when a yontif comes around and the newbie hasn’t done it alone yet. Or someone’s making a simcha and there’s anxiety over hosting alone. They know within our group they’ve got people who can relate to their worries and fears. And sometimes feeling less alone is all you need. Just ask anyone who uses the 12-step groups as their lifeline to sobriety.
My kids have support groups in the form of an afterschool program where the kids are from homes that have lost a parent or have someone dealing with illness. I’ve seen firsthand how this helps them feel—where they can hang out with other kids and counselors without feeling different. They come home from i-Shine with huge smiles and I know they feel special, cared for, and loved.
It might be just because they’ve gone through too much life for too young an age, but a place like i-Shine celebrates these kids instead of making them feel like they’re at a disadvantage.
But it’s not only children who need help handling big feelings and to be surrounded by others who’ve walked through similar challenges. If this type of support can be offered for people suffering in silence, I feel the need to involve myself and see it through to its fruition. There’s a lot of talk about destigmatizing mental-health treatment, but we still have a way to go. I’d like to add my voice to a growing number of others who proudly express the value of support groups and of seeking therapy. If this can prevent others from feeling hopeless and like there’s nowhere to turn, and that there’s a resource available to aid people who suffer, then I want to see what I can do to help organizations like this actualize their potential.
CATCH (Creating a Team of Courage and Hope) is an organization that provides affordable group therapy to those suffering with anxiety and/or depression. For further information, visit catchsupport.org or contact us at email@example.com or 917-791-0818.
Malkie Gordon Hirsch is a native of the Five Towns community, a mom of 5, a writer, a social media influencer, veteran real estate agent, and runs a patisserie in Woodmere.