Sunday, January 04, 2009

My first Nefesh conference

Here's a brief summary of the Nefesh conference I attended:

Am I the only woman not wearing a sheitel in this room? Nefesh members run to the more observant end of the orthodox Jewish spectrum. I felt very single. Of course, my hair still looks amazing from the Brazilian keratin treatment and blowout, but I almost felt naked compared to all the women covering their hair.

I have to say, though, that a lot of the very "black-hat" types were very sensitive and cool. Not at all insular or narrow-minded. One guy in chassidish garb and payos made a joke about hiring divorce lawyers that included the phrase, "You pays your money and you takes your chances." I was mildly shocked -- and impressed.

There were a ton of social workers there, which made me happy, along with some very cool psychiatrists and even some decent psychologists. I saw a person I recognized from The Bad Place (a fellow student, not one of the resident torturers) and avoided him. I don't know if he recognized me.

You're HOW old? During lunch one of the other participants, Anita, asked me where I was from. Turns out she knows people in my hometown, including a girl I went to high school with, Aliza, who's now married and living in Israel with three sons.

"You were the same year as Aliza?" asked Anita. "But she's 39!"

"So am I," I said. Ouch.

It's not "me," it's "she." I attended a psychopharmacology session in the afternoon. One of the presenters talked about Wellbutrin "allegedly" increasing seizure risk. I raised my hand and contributed that fasting can also lower the seizure threshold. She disagreed. I got her business card and might write her a little note about my experience fasting on Wellbutrin.

Another psychopharmacologist gave a talk on insomnia and sleep aids. After he finished, I approached him, intent on asking about my terminal insomnia. But I didn't want to disclose anything personal. I'm very new to the organization, and I don't want to call attention to myself in a bad way.

"I have a client," I said, "with seasonal affective disorder. She's using a light box, and it's helping her mood tremendously, but it seems to have reactivated her terminal insomnia. She's only getting about 3 hours of sleep a night."

It was so easy, I almost felt guilty lying to him. He suggested I have "my client" discuss a sleep aid with her psychiatrist, just for the winter months when she's using the light box. "She" will do that this Wednesday when "she" sees Dr. R.

The Rov doesn't think I should get married. I had the choice of attending a session for new professionals starting their careers or "Ask the Rov." I'd been doing a lot of networking and had made a lot of great contacts. So I was curious to see what the Rov would say.

The Rov was a gentle, white-bearded man with a sweet smile and a fantastic sense of humor. Very charismatic and caring. He elucidated a number of issues in what I thought was a very thoughtful and sophisticated way, balancing halacha with secular professional ethics and responsibility.

Then he said that while a clinician who is treating a patient for mental health issues can't be expected to discuss the client's mental health if asked for shidduch purposes, since that would be unethical, as a rov he would advise a person not to marry someone being treated for a mental illness, since the risk is too great that the person would have another breakdown. I felt kicked in the chest.

After his speech I went up to him and said plaintively, "So people with mental illnesses shouldn't get married?"

"Chas v'shalom!" he said. "But I wouldn't advise someone without a mental illness to marry someone who has one."

"Damaged goods for damaged goods?" I asked. Tears in my eyes.

"Listen, should a person who survives cancer get married?" he asked. "Of course! But what would you advise someone who's considering marrying a cancer survivor? That's too great a risk."

His marital calculus didn't seem to leave us damaged goods with many options. I'd actually considered going to this Rov for paskining on another shaila. Now I know I won't.

A Nefesh friend of mine who also attended the conference, and who's attained substantial psychiatric as well as halachic knowledge, reframed what the Rov was saying. "You're stabilized on medication," he said. "You have a responsible job, you live on your own. I wouldn't put you in the same category as a person who's suffered acute psychosis, can't work, and has to live with their family. That person might not be able to get married and be a parent, but I don't see why you couldn't. You'd have to disclose your condition to the person you wanted to marry -- "

"Of course I'd disclose it!" I interjected indignantly. "I'd bring him to meet Dr. R."
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"


  1. I'm shocked at the Rov's comments. I must be misunderstanding him because I couldn't disagree more. Everyone, no matter what their challenges deserves to have the chance to get married. They are obligated to disclose their challenges before the relationship gets serious and that's it. A man will make a decision whether or not to marry someone. We don't need to make that decision for him. BTW I have a student with a history of alcoholism, anorexia, and other issues that require medicaiton. I was instrumental in introducing her to a great guy who accepted her with all her challenges. They've had a rocky start but are happy and feel meant for eachother. Everyone has a zivug. From Rabbi Weiman (accidentally logged on as Chava)

  2. Thank you, Rabbi Weiman. I guess I haven't given up hope that some man will accept me with my flaws and disorders. Glad to hear you agree.

  3. Rabbi Yaakov Reisman, Morah D'Asrah of Agudath Israel of Long Island, has a few sons with mental disabilities. I have heard from someone that no matter what the situation may be, he believes there is a zivug for all of them!

  4. If i had a nickel for every time someone asked me if i was sure about marrying my bipolar husband...

    I stumbled upon your blog while googling. My husband and I have been married for just a year (we've been together for 3). We've been through a hospitalization, therapy to deal with the obstacles we've faced and to prepare us for the ones we'll face in the future, and meds. I don't think the key is for one bp to marry another, I think the key is for a couple to be committed to the bp spouse's treatment, together. You cannot choose who you fall in love with.

    I attended a Nami family to family workshop and it was mostly parents/siblings of those suffering with a mental disease and most had a look of concern on their faces when I said my hubby and I were due to marry in a month. They also looked relieved.

    Life's a crapshoot and I could discovered I married an axe murder several years into being married. I know what I'm dealing up front with and thankfully, we both have the support network and resourcefulness to commit to a treatment plan.

    I like your blog. I'm not Jewish, but I plan to return!

  5. Thanks, Anonymous. You give me hope!