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What Am I Missing?

“Doctor Freedman, I’ve got to tell you, I’m having a great time at home"

 

Nimi was a complex fellow.

To start with, his name was Nimrod and yet he wore a kippah, which means that he came from a vehemently secular background and had done teshuvah.

But his newfound Judaism was just a part of the picture. He was a driven young man who was the first in his Libyan family to graduate college, let alone with honors and a law degree. He was offered an entry-level position with a top firm in Tel Aviv and was happy to work the 95–100 hours per week required to achieve promotion after promotion. Ten years later, he was set to become the youngest junior partner in his company’s history and, energetic as ever, showed no signs of wear and tear.

But Hashem has other plans and his girlfriend’s sister had somehow won a bet to schlep them to a weekend getaway with Hidabroot. Before they knew what’d hit them, Nimi and Nili were talking about marriage and raising a family.

“Sephardim are like that,” he told me. “You have to understand that even though my father hated religion and the only thing he prayed to was Beitar’s football team, my sabba rabbah was a dayan in Benghazi. The sparks were always there.”

Nimi and Nili got married and established a halachic Jewish home. But life doesn’t always go as planned, as they waited four years for their only child.

And that’s when I first met Nimi — it was during his wife’s pregnancy, and he came to me at his wife’s insistence when he began having panic attacks triggered by out-of-control fear of another loss. He’d been self-medicating with alcohol, and combined with his intense drive for success at work, he’d spend long days at the office and then long nights killing his worry about his wife and their unborn child with liquor.

One night after screaming uncontrollably and putting his fist through the wall, Nili made him an ultimatum: He had to stop drinking or she’d take drastic measures. Nimi was ready to listen and was stubborn enough to give up drinking cold turkey with a little help from a medication called Disulfiram — a daily pill that would make him violently ill if he even touched a drop of alcohol.

Unfortunately, Nimi stubbornly refused therapy, which could have helped him really take charge of his life, instead of just popping a pill — although it did keep him sober. But he wasn’t willing to do the necessary work to address his intense drive for success that turned him into a workaholic. Perhaps it was the fact that he grew up as a poor Sephardi kid in abject poverty with an alcoholic father — but whatever the reason, he wasn’t interested in addressing it and I couldn’t force him. I had to be grateful that he was sober and hadn’t had any more anger eruptions.

That was three years ago. Baby Eliyahu turned Nimi and Nili into parents, and Nimi continued to be a three-time-a-year patient who came for a check-in and a medication refill. We’d always have the same routine: I’d encourage him to start therapy, he’d tell me it was too expensive, I’d remind him he was filthy rich, he’d tell me he was too busy and his wife needed him at home, and I’d remind him that all he did was work and he was never home anyway. In the end, he’d book an appointment for a few months down the line and we’d wish each other hatzlachah.

And then three weeks ago, I got a call from Nimi telling me that he had just been quarantined because of potential exposure to the coronavirus at the office.

“Do you have any suggestions?” he asked, obviously quite irritated by his homebound situation.

“Yeah, enjoy your time with your wife and kid.”

“Hahaha. No, seriously, how do I keep from going crazy?”

“You build a daily schedule where you keep working on the projects you can, exercise on your treadmill, make sure to get dressed, don’t let your work environment turn into a sloppy mess, watch a shiur or two each day, and spend some quality time holding Eliyahu.”

It was the same advice I’d given to just about every patient that I’d spoken with. I even made an online video of it.

Baruch Hashem, the tools were working for Nimi. I was thrilled to get a message from him on day three of his quarantine that he was “doing fantastic and loving the extra time with my son.”

By day five, Nimi sounded the best I’d ever heard him.

“Doctor Freedman, I’ve got to tell you, I’m having a great time at home. I never would have imagined how amazing it is to wake up with my son and to play with him, to eat breakfast with him, to say Shema with him. He even takes his own siddur and davens with me, grabbing my tzitzit so I’ll look at him and see how hard he’s praying! And guess what, I’m still able to be productive from home. I’m getting my work done, my team hasn’t collapsed with me at home, and Nili and I are playing Shesh Besh every night after Eliyahu goes to bed.”

I’d never heard him sound so relaxed, and so I had to ask, “And you’re still sober?”

“Of course — three and a half years, bli ayin hara.”

By the time we spoke on the final day of his quarantine, many offices had already shut down and most people were working at home.

“So, you going to race to the office to get in a few more days before they close the building?” I asked Nimi.

“Dr. Freedman,” he said, totally catching me off guard, “I’m a father and a father first. I’m not giving this up for anything.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that I took a voluntary pay cut of 50 percent and I’m working a few hours a week, but I’m basically on paid time off to be with my family.”

“Nimi, you see? Anyone can be a lawyer, but only you can be a husband to your wife and a father to your son.”

I got an e-mail from him a few days later. “I also started learning Torah for the first time. I’m doing a Chumash and Pirkei Avot shiur with Rav Zamir Cohen, and his Hidabroot videos have made us all calmer. I can’t believe I’m finally free of that crazy schedule that had me in a chokehold.”

“Reb Nimrod, you’ve inspired me,” I said aloud, as I went into the dining room to start a chavrusa with my oldest son.

“You know, Moshe David,” I told him, “everyone is so worried about getting out of their houses already, I’m just trying to make sure we get in some good learning time together.”

“And maybe, Abba, you can make your own siyum on Erev Pesach, so you won’t have to do a taanit,” he responded with a determined smile while handing me my Gemara. Reframe. Recalibrate. Slow down. Who says being homebound has to stress you to your limits?

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 806)

 

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