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Connected

My doctor said I was in perfect health. But I could barely move

As told to Baila Vorhand by Raizel S.

While all new mothers are weak and tired, I was unusually exhausted following the birth of my second child. For months, I dragged myself through the day bleary-eyed, barely able to care for myself and my children.

I blamed my weakness and dizziness on the baby waking me up at night, but when my baby was 16 months old and sleeping through the night, and I still could barely put one foot in front of the other, I realized something really was wrong.

I figured I might need structure, stimulation, and a change of scenery, so I started working part time in my sister’s business. While I did enjoy seeing the blue sky on the way to work, I found that the tension of working made things worse.

And then came a sibling’s wedding, Purim, and Pesach.

Completely washed out after that, I got myself checked by a doctor, but he declared me to be of perfect health.

I’m blessed with opinionated sisters who drowned me in advice. One, who was feeling great on a cleansing diet, pushed me to try it. Enthusiastically hoping that this would be it, I stocked up on organic fruits and veggies, and whole grains. My desire to overcome my exhaustion motivated me sufficiently to spend the hours necessary to prepare my food. But after a few weeks with no improvement, I gave up.

Another sister recommended fermented foods, especially fermented borsht — it had helped her son’s immunity and her own digestion. Perhaps it would help me feel better. I dutifully downed the stuff, but to her chagrin and my own enormous frustration, I felt as exhausted as ever.

At this point I started suspecting that this was an emotionally rooted problem. I was feeling overwhelmed with caring for my kids, and I was full of anxiety over the fact that I wasn’t feeling well. Whenever things didn’t go my way — do they ever, for a mother of little children? — I’d feel myself getting tense all over.

I went to a psychologist, but she didn’t see anything wrong with me. “I know a chiropractor who has helped many people,” she told me.

Shelling out the hundreds of dollars he charged, I gave it a try. He was sure he knew exactly what my issue was and promised that after few sessions I’d start to feel a noticeable difference. Two, three, four times, but I didn’t feel one iota better. After three months, I stopped going to him.

Next was a reflexologist. Aside from massaging my feet, she recommended I get off caffeine and try a supremely salty fermented Japanese food — umeboshi. There was no change.

What would be? Was I doomed to spend the rest of my life feeling miserable?

Someone recommended I study the Sarno method. Of all the techniques I’d tried, this one worked. I started feeling markedly better.

But then, baruch Hashem, I became pregnant with my third child. Sarno works, but implementing it takes a certain amount of energy, and now I was completely wiped. I was sick and tired, in a literal and figurative sense. At this point, I’d unofficially diagnosed myself with chronic fatigue syndrome and was on the lookout for any article talking about it to see if I could find the key to my solving my health problems. I remembered reading that mold could cause chronic fatigue, so I had the mold in our home removed, but I felt just as miserable as before.

After my baby was born we — hurray! — moved to a brand-new, spacious apartment! Meshaneh makom, meshaneh mazel. Probably all I needed was a more airy apartment. But even in the new house, I was feeling physically and emotionally miserable.

Another sister waxed enthusiastic about Dr. Limoge, who recommends eating only raw fruits and vegetables, preferably juiced, and before I knew it, I was juicing away. I also started doing a daily brisk walk. Feeling no better, I dropped both. My sister-in-law recommended I drink coffee — it gave her so much energy. But drinking coffee helped me as much as going off it!

My family had already used up all of their tricks, but my friends had more to share. One gave me the phone number of an energy lady who would for sure heal me, but as you probably can guess, I felt just as heavy, though my wallet was lighter… My husband decided that I was simply working too hard. “Let’s hire a lady to help with laundry and bedtime.” The cleaning help was good, but my kids wanted mommy. I started sending my baby to a babysitter. I had more time for myself during the day, but what did it help if I spent that time sleeping without feeling refreshed?

One Shabbos, I was standing on the stoop of the stairs when my daughter pushed the baby carriage down. In horror, I watched it tumble all the way to the ground. Baruch Hashem the baby was strapped in, and only her face was bruised. But I was badly shaken.

Shortly afterwards, my husband miraculously survived a horrible car crash. A car was stuck in middle of road. The driver of the car my husband was in saw it a moment too late and smashed into the stalled car. Both cars went careening across multiple lanes of speeding cars, crashing into the barrier at the opposite side of the highway. There was hardly a chance anyone would make it out alive from such an accident. But my husband and the friends who were with him were perfectly fine, albeit shaken.

It was then that I realized that I was so obsessed over how exhausted I was feeling that I ignored all of the beautiful blessings of my life. True, I was constantly tired and couldn’t do much, but I had three beautiful children who were healthy and sweet. My husband was kind to me and brought in a generous income. I lived in a beautiful home, and I had wonderful friends. I’d totally ignored the goodness in my life!

When I shared these feelings with my mother-in-law (did you notice what a good shvigger she is? She hadn’t given me any advice!), she gave me the phone number of a hotline where women shared what they had to be grateful for with each other. Like everything else I’d done to heal myself, initially I was very excited about this hotline. This time, however, instead of my enthusiasm fading, it became stronger and stronger. I was blown away when the woman who ran the hotline shared the idea of thanking Hashem for everything He gives us, including things that don’t go our way, or when we experience suffering.

As I listened to these ideas, I realized that I wanted my life to be perfect. When the juice spilled, or my son missed the bus, or the kids didn’t go to sleep nicely, I became angry, tense, and upset. These women were demonstrating, day by day, how they didn’t emotionalize trivialities, how they focused on the good, let go of impossible standards.

I’m now busy thanking Hashem all day long! Thanking Him for the fact my baby is developing well; that I can walk, see, eat, own a peeler, knife, and have running water. My gratitude notebook was getting full very quickly. I even jotted down stuff that didn’t seem too great, like when the baby cried for hours, because, hey, isn’t everything from Hashem? And isn’t everything that’s from Hashem good? So I had to thank Him, because it’s a blessing that my baby can cry!

I stopped feeling so fatigued. Was I getting better? Or was I just distracted by my gratitude lists? No, this was unmistakable; I really was starting to have more energy!!

The woman running the hotline kept on sharing an idea that I found downright weird: Make a seudas hoda’ah for your problems. When I had a sinus flare-up, I decided to make a seudas hoda’ah as a means of strengthening my connection to Hashem. I got the entire family into it. We set the table elegantly, shopped, and prepared. We all sang a song I’d composed for the occasion.

What this journey taught me is that the mind has an incredible power over us. Whether my illness was rooted in physical causes or the result of an accumulation of bad emotional habits, through sincere, honest recognition of Hashem’s goodness, I started healing.

As I listened to other women share their personal stories, I realized I’m not alone. One woman talked of over two decades of therapy not making a dent and how learning to truly trust Hashem and thank Him healed her psyche. Others talked of yeshuos of other kinds.

But my eye wasn’t on the yeshuos. My primary reward for my efforts was the loving connection I developed with Hashem as a result of my efforts to recognize and appreciate Him. I feel much closer to Hashem then I ever have before, enveloped by His loving embrace.

And that’s my primary yeshuah.

 

(Originally Featured in Family First, Issue 684)

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