Sunday, May 16, 2021

“אם אשכחך ירושלים תשכח ימיני”

“If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget itself.” (Sefer Tehillim)

One of the most meaningful wedding gifts my husband and I received was a mezuzah case that contained some of the shards of broken glass from our chuppah ceremony. The breaking of the glass under the chuppah symbolizes two things. One, the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash and how no celebration can be complete without it. Two, it represents a marriage. Marriages contain both difficult and joyful times, and it is showing the commitment that the couple has to stand by each other even during hard times. I have found that you can’t appreciate where you are in life without remembering the struggles you’ve overcome. It is those struggles that make the happier times even greater.

I have always been a big believer that for better or for worse, I am the person who I am today because of my scars. Some of these scars are physical, others are emotional. In the past I engaged in self harm because I didn’t know that I was suffering from an actual disease, and I didn’t know who or what to turn to. It was the only thing that made me feel better, when nothing else could. With the help of an excellent mental health team and strong support system, over the years I was able to overcome it. From these self-harming behaviors I still suffer some of the effects today, from the way I eat and drink down to how I dress. I am proud to finally be at the point where I can look at the scars and be grateful for how far I’ve come as opposed to feeling ashamed. It’s part of who I am. I don’t feel like I have to cover up anymore. Speaking at a college a few years ago about eating disorders was something I never thought I would have the courage to do. The difference was that I didn’t publicize it to my social network and I didn’t know anyone there personally. This is my first time speaking out about self harm. It’s not discussed enough and there are definitely not enough resources out there for people to access.

When suffering from a mental illness, one often feels alone. It’s not something that people can see and it is unfortunately still stigmatized. When I first came out publicly with part of my story a few years ago, I was stunned by the positive response that I received. Unfortunately, I still do receive some ignorant comments such as “just get over it already,” or “everyone feels that way sometimes,” and “go get a manicure, you’ll feel better.” Mental illness is not something that gets treated overnight, but at the same time I understand that the stigma attached to it will not go away overnight either.

This is why saving the shards of glass from my chuppah is so important to me. People can have physical scars from surgeries, illnesses or injuries; people could have emotional scars from abuse or trauma; people overcome difficulties every day. But what do they all have in common? The scars reflect the dark place that a person was in and the ability one had to power through. It may not have been perfect. At times your goal may seem insurmountable, but at least I know that when I look at my scars, I’m proud of who I am because of those scars, not in spite of them.

Shelli Sussman is working to destigmatize mental illness in the Jewish community. She has also written articles for the Refuat Hanefesh blog. Shelli has compiled a spreadsheet of mental health resources for the Bergen County Jewish community, which includes specific lists for pediatric, adult and geriatric mental health. For a copy of the spreadsheet, or to add another resource to it, please email her: [email protected]