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TOPIC TITLE: Hide or Seek
Created On 7/24/13 5:49 PM
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7/24/13 5:49 PM
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(Originally appeared in the May 2013 issue of Mind, Body & Soul)

By Janet Abed, LCSW

No one can know,” she begins to tell me.

I watch her as she talks. Her eyes are strong; her face creased with worry and frustration.

I assure her of privacy as I find myself soaking in the world of her hurt. She shares concerns that have been floating in the canals of her mind all the while aware of what she hopes for and envisions for her future.

It is my duty to sensibly safeguard all I am told. And I do. This is a dear responsibility to me and I do not take for granted that I have been invited to share in someone else’s real life.

You see, I am a social worker. I have had the privilege and honor to work with community members whose will to survive past all else is stronger than any adequate piece of writing can depict. I, personally, hold in high esteem respect for the struggle and the drive to surpass. When I think about the challenges that each of us faces every day whether with family, friends, work or our own selves, I think about what I have learned about the will to fight forward. I come to the realization that while the will to survive is an innate one, the actions we take to better our lives are conscious choices we make. Or don’t make, for that matter.

“I don’t want anyone finding out,” she continues, “because who knows what will happen if they do.” I hear what she has to tell me and understand why she says this. She and I share a collective awareness of how hard it can be to expose our vulnerabilities to any one at all, even to ourselves.

But here she was. Sitting in front of me. Talking to me. Letting me in. Trying to help me understand what it meant for her to make the choice to no longer hide behind anonymous walls but to seek help.

I sit with these thoughts and ponder until she teaches me a lesson; so simple in its message and so abundantly difficult in its delivery. Seeking help by its very definition means wanting something to get better and then attempting to accomplish “better”. It means wanting more in life; an obligation we all owe ourselves. It doesn’t matter why she sits across from me or what challenge brought her my way. What matters is that she made the choice to be there.
But as she continues, I realize that she is afraid to talk to me; to share what weighs on her mind. All she looks for is the kind of help that, if nothing more, would allow her to know she does not walk alone on the quest to find light at the end of her dim tunnel.

I contemplate if this fear serves a good purpose. Giving this thought, I take a trip along the shore of factors that can influence how we make the choice on whether or not to shoulder a burden in silence.

The need for privacy is nearly universal when seeking help for a medical concern. Yet, when it comes to any issue of emotional wellness, the need for privacy exponentially increases.

“What will the community think,” she explains her concerns more. “What about the future. And my children getting married.” She is pleading and questioning at the same time.

All valid points. But I ask her back, “What about the future? What happens when you don’t at least try to find a way to make this better? To heal yourself? To heal your child?” I inquire and wonder all the same and then ask her only in my mind, ‘what happens if you don’t get help?’

She is reluctant and so am I. I do not want to rock the boat too roughly. My goal is not to see her sink but swim. Yet, I gently prod and encourage her to see the truth. The problem exists and looking away from it doesn’t mean it disappears. It will only serve to concentrate future pain. Her own pain. Her children’s pain.

I return to my own thoughts as she readies herself for the next steps that she will need to take. This will mean transforming her worry about the future into her will to build a greater one.

At this time, allow me to pose to you, the reader, a question: Can you understand?

Do you know what I mean when I say that she is afraid? Most importantly, do you know who “she” is?

I challenge you to read this article over and in every sentence that contains the word “she” substitute the word “community”. Read over how each one of us as members of our communities ask the same questions that “she” asked. We all achingly inquire “what about the future? What if people find out? What about my children getting married?”

My intent is in no way to minimize these questions. Conversely, I am asking us to look at them more deeply. To really examine the effect of choosing not to get help if it is needed. In considering these notions, I ask you to recall our national day of mourning, Tisha B’av. On that day, we recognize our galus (exile) more than ever. Yet, do we really consider that our galus is all encompassing? It is on a national level and an individual level. The longer we make the choice to stay in our own personal distress, the more we maintain our own private galus.

So where do we start? In the vast bigness of worries and concerns what is the first step?

With no simple answer, I venture-- an acknowledgement that there may actually be a problem and the willingness to find out what the remedy may be. This is a powerful awareness and what you do with it-whether you consider accepting help or not- is entirely your decision. More than that, it’s your responsibility.

I write this article as a “call to arms” of sorts, or rather more fittingly, a “call to heal.” I respectfully put forward to all community Rabbanim and leaders, doctors, schools, centers, and most importantly parents, to recognize the magnitude of making sure we and our children are healthy in every way: mind, body, and soul. We are fortunate to have in the midst of our special community various different organizations, professionals, and liaisons that can all be links to a bright hope for ‘better’.

But better can’t happen if we shun what’s in front of us. “You can always close your eyes to the things you don’t want to see,” there is an aptly stated adage that says, “ but you can never close your heart to the things you don’t want to feel (-unknown). ” Concede to this truism. Then ask…

Can we open our eyes and allow ourselves the chance to heal? Are we making sure our children’s emotional health becomes priority too?

In keeping with my earlier line of thought…I call upon “her” again and I hope “she” can hear me. We’ve been playing hide or seek for too long.

Janet Abed, LCSW is the Early Recognition Specialist for the JBFCS Early Recognition Program (ERP). The Early Recognition Program seeks to bring emotional health and awareness to the Orthodox community through the use of screenings and anti-stigma activities. Screenings are being utilized by yeshivas, pediatric practices, and community centers. For more information or to partner with the ERP please contact 718-676-4310.

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