Mental Illness is Killing Us – Literally

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My heart is breaking for the 150 families of the passengers who were killed in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525. It is also breaking for Andres Lubitz and all those who suffer from mental illness.

Don’t get me wrong; I am not justifying what he did. He is a murderer.

However I can’t stop thinking about our collective responsibility in this tragedy.  We don’t want to talk or deal with mental illness. We just want it to go away.

Yet mental illness is ubiquitous in society. According to the Mayo Clinic, 7 out of 10 Americans take at least one prescription drug. Second only to antibiotics, the most common prescription is for anti-depressants, and 13 percent of the population are currently on anti-depressants. The use of this medication has increased by 400% in the last decade.

But how many of your friends have disclosed to you that they are being treated for mental illness? Even if a few have, the numbers do not match up.

Here is why: If you are diagnosed with a mental illness you are in a lose–lose situation.

When a horrible tragedy occurs like this one, mental illness is vilified.

But when genius comes from it, such as Tolstoy or Dickens, we turn a blind eye to it.

Rabbi Nachman of Brestlov, who suffered from mental illness, was well known for having said, “It is a great mitzvah to be happy always.” Now we understand why – he wasn’t.

Enough is enough.

Andres Lubitz knew he was ill. He was in treatment for depression and he was even excused from work by his neuropsychologist for a […]

Fasting From Judgment

Extending-Love

The other day driving my daughter home from school, I see a new anonymous face holding a sign on the street asking for money. After wondering for a moment about what happened to the previous man, I began to judge him.

Is he really deserving of my $1.00?

Then I stop myself. Who I do think I am?

Peering through a car window for 15 seconds evaluating the story of his life without knowing one single detail about him. I am certainly not the decent kind Jew that I purported to be last week walking into synagogue greeting everyone in my comfort zone with a hearty “Shabbat shalom”.

I cringe at the thought of God seeing me in this moment. The light will be changing soon and I don’t have time to grab my purse, reach into my wallet and give him a dollar.

What can I give him instead?

In that split second, I wave and smile.  In return the face in front of me lights up. He could have not responded. He could have looked at me with disappointment and disgust driving my Volvo with a latte in hand. But instead he responded with a wave and a smile back.

Suddenly we were seeing one another, eye to eye, face to face. Instead of two people seemingly utterly disconnected, we became two of God’s creations intersecting at the corner of Wilshire and San Vincente- connected for a moment.

He did not become my best friend.

I did not invite him home for dinner.

But in that split second, all the lines that divided us disappeared.

It does not […]

We interrupt your regularly scheduled Purim…

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If you have never heard Megillat Esther, the story of how Esther and Mordechai saved the Jews from the evil Haman, you must run, not walk to a synagogue tomorrow night. It is not just the story which is an awesome telling about the strength and fight of a WOMAN in Jewish history; but, it is also how the story is read.

All other public readings of sacred texts in the synagogue are usually done with a level of decorum and respect, but not this one. People come dressed in costume, a little tipsy and at the mere mention of Haman, the bad guy, everyone erupts into a cacophony of hissing and booing.

While the commandment is to HEAR the Megillah read twice, once at night and once during the following day, there is an equally important obligation to NOT HEAR the name of Haman.

“To Hear or not to hear” – Is this the question?

In the Mussar tradition these loud disruptions are not just a ritual of fun and jest. Rather they are “interruptive” commandments that force us to wake up from sleep walking through our lives. The loud noise is not to prevent us from listening; it is to force us to listen more carefully to eradicate the Haman, the evil in our lives?

Tomorrow night when you hear the groggers shake and the clergy bringing down the house of prayer, let the noise rouse you out of the evil of denial. Ask yourself, what truths am I hiding from others, from myself and from God?

During the 24 hour holiday of Purim:

  • Give yourself the gift of self-honesty.
  • Give yourself the courage to face the shame and indignities of your life.
  • Give yourself the chance to have a new freedom.

Haman […]

Oscars Highlight: Letter to Susan Sher

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Dear Susan Sher,

Thank you.

Last night at the Oscars your son, Graham Moore gave inspiration and hope not only to every adolescent that feels “weird and different” but to all the parents working desperately everyday to raise these children and to convey to them that “weird and different” is the stuff of greatness.

I know firsthand how hard it is to raise a child that does not fit into that proverbial box. I know how many days and nights you stayed awake praying that he would find solace in being himself. I know the pain and suffering that you endured when he believed at the core of his being that his life was not worth living.

And last night, when your son stood up in front of an audience of several hundred million people (at a time that he could have promoted himself) and spoke so honestly, he gave me and millions of other mothers around the world hope that our own sons may one day believe that they too matter in this world.

I have no dreams of having a son win an Oscar. But I  dream of having a self-actualized child who is comfortable being himself and confident enough to share this message with others.

Ms. Sher,  I hope you are floating today. You deserve it. You raised a boy that took the stage last night and gave all of us the courage and the faith to know that as hard as this moment may be, it will not last forever and it may lead to something great.

With the deepest of gratitude,

Rabbi Sherre Hirsch

 

A Valentine’s Day Special: Engagement Drama

A must read for anyone whose engaged or knows someone getting engaged!

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Love is in hyper-drive mode this week. Whether you celebrate Valentine’s Day or not, tune into the Today Show or scroll through your Facebook feed, you’ll see yet another perfect couple is getting engaged.

Except the reality is that engagement is far from perfect. What I often tell engaged couples that come to me for pre-marital counseling is that engagement is like being stuck on the tarmac for 12 hours. You are not in flight; and you are not in the airport lounge. You are betwixt and between. You are in transition.

This is the painful truth. Engagement is supposed to be the “happiest” time in your life; but it is often one of the most difficult. Every bride is expected to gush with joy and excitement. Except most brides feel a tremendous amount of pressure and stress. And most grooms feel confused and helpless.

A few reasons why:

  1. Planning an event together is a herculean task. Weddings, big or small, are productions; and everyone has an opinion — especially the people (read parents) that have been waiting for years to give you away. It takes a lot of compromising, people pleasing and rationalizing to create the show.
  2. Getting married is highly emotional. Everyone has high expectations of the wedding, but also of this time period. Each decision feels like life or death. Questions like should we have a small wedding and put a down payment on a house, or should we have a more extravagant dream wedding and stay in our rental, become sources of conflict rather than opportunities to dream and plan together.
  3. It is easy to lose sight of the goal. Engagements focus on the wedding not the marriage (This is why I […]