Thursday, October 05, 2006

The first meeting

Fabulous initial meeting with the local rabbi, the UJA liaison, and the social worker who's a Partner in Caring (PiC) at a few other shuls. A PiC (social worker or psychologist) at our shul will enable us to do many things and will help us maximize the strengths and talents of our community.

First, we can identify and mobilize mental health professionals in the community who can either provide short-term, pro bono services, or who can accept new clients into their practices -- a referral list. (Which will NOT include my former therapist. Not because I'm spiteful -- because she was either grossly incompetent or grossly negligent. I don't want her telling some other family not to hospitalize their loved one, and have that person succeed where I failed.)

The PiC will be able to make a shidduch between the client's needs and the community member's clinical strengths. Of course, if the person doesn't want to see a community member, the PiC has access to UJA's vast array of services and treatment options as well. (Which, the rabbi advised me, I should avail myself of as well. I beat him to it; I've already got my eye on their program for people facing huge medical crises. If I'm off my feet for two weeks in January, recovering from knee surgery, I'm going to need some home care, and they might be able to help.)

Second, we can recruit and develop community volunteers to provide empathetic support systems for vulnerable people. I have a few ideas, and there were some suggestions from the Safe Spaces meetings this summer. We can put some of those into development. Ultimately, I think we'll also develop support groups; for dating, troubled marriages, bereavement, caregivers -- whatever are the largest needs we identify.

The PiC will also be able to make short-term interventions and either resolve situations or stabilize them, then refer the person/s for longer-term treatment. All of this will make our congregation more responsive and supportive for people facing serious crises.

I am very excited to be the synagogue's point person on this initiative. It was also great to speak openly about my disorder with the PiC, the liaison, and the rabbi, because I knew they wouldn't judge me. In fact, the rabbi said something that was actually very sweet, although I found it a bit annoying at the time. He told me that I shouldn't view it as a "disorder" -- it's an aspect of me that was given me by Gd so that I can do the work I'm embarking upon. He told me about a family that gave birth to a child with severe disabilities, and their advocacy and drive to secure services for that child ultimately led to the founding of the March of Dimes.

I'm well aware of the role grassroots advocacy can play in building engines for change; NAMI is but one excellent example of this. But -- here's the rub: he said, "It's not a disorder," and it IS. It's a disability.

I'm happy to assign meaning to it -- I wasn't targeted randomly; instead, Gd chose me to have this so that I would become more compassionate and work to help others . (Although He could have just sent me a dream or a vision.)

I can't, however, see my disorder as something discrete and in the past. My suicide attempt is a thing of the past, and I truly hope and believe there will be no follow-up. But the effects of my illness are with me every day. Every time I get angry and wonder if I'm spiralling into a depression. Every time I'm tremendously happy and, in the back of my mind, feel a pinch of fear that it's the onset of mania.

The rabbi was doing his job, of course; he's supposed to provide pastoral counseling and he's pretty good at it. He's very in touch with the empathetic aspect of being the leader of a big congregation, and he is a very sensitive, caring person. I have to let him know that I don't see myself as inherently damaged or blemished -- I have a disorder, but it doesn't define me. If we used psychiatric labels, then I'd be nothing more than a narcissistic manic-depressive. Does that fit with the entirety of my actions? Not really (I guess I do love the sound of my own voice. Maybe my TA had a point).

He thanked me for being persistent in setting up the meeting and told me to continue to remind him to speak, in his sermons and other communications, about how having the need for care and support is normal, human, and something we want to help with. Next time I remind him to sermonize about it, I'll tell him I see myself as he sees me.
Copyright (c) 2006 "Ayelet Survivor"

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