Being disabled is not easy. It is not just the physical or mental efforts to be "normal" that can be exhausting but the amount of work needed to have a place at the table and to participate can take all of my efforts. I want to contribute to the community. I want to be a valuable member of my synagogue. I want to be present but not at the cost of my own health.
This month is Jewish Disability Awareness Month. It's an observance that is very important for me and for the Jewish community as a whole. There are many in our communities with disabilities, ones we can see and ones we cannot. Often, those with "invisible disabilities" find it harder to find the acceptance and support that is needed. I am one of those Jews with an invisible disability. My Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder impact my life in such a way that it is disabling. My anxiety and depression reach levels where I struggle to function as effectively as others. I have a service dog, named Zohar, who is by my side often and helps me to cope with the struggles and situations of life that I need help handling on my own.
When I do not have Zohar with me, you would not see that I am disabled. However, that does not mean I do not need help at times too. Sometimes my panic and anxiety get the best of me. Crowds can be overwhelming, unexpected or new situations can be paralyzing. My depression is really bad at times it makes being around anyone very difficult. I have really low energy and aches and pains throughout my body. My head gets fuzzy and I get migraines. I get heart palpitations and stomach aches constantly.
This past October, I went to an overnight Shabbaton with my synagogue. My rabbi helped me a lot by calling ahead and letting the camp know that I had a service dog and would need her in order to stay the night. While on the Shabbaton, my anxiety was extra high because it was an unfamiliar location and situation. I realized the bedroom doors did not lock. I became quickly overwhelmed feeling a lack of safety, lack of a place I could go and close the door and be away from others for a few moments to catch my breath. My rabbi was so helpful. She came to the room and helped me by finding a way to get the door to stay shut so that I would feel safe. It helped lower my anxiety to a manageable level in which I could practice calming rituals effectively. Without her help, I probably would have gotten to a point of unmanageable panic and anxiety that would leave me on edge and sick the whole retreat. Since she helped, I was able to manage my anxiety, and with my service dog's help, I was able to participate and had a great weekend.
It's hard to ask for help sometimes, to ask others to take an extra step in helping me to be a part of the community. I need others for support in the moments when I get really overwhelmed and have a panic attack. I need people's help when my depression creates a barrier between me and the world that I cannot overcome on my own. I may not necessarily need physical accommodations to be included, but I need help to be included in the community. I need patience when I am not up for an activity I signed up for or a meeting I scheduled.
As Jews, it's important to include others. Everyone has a place in the community. I think in general, Jewish communities are really great at including those with disabilities. However, I think we can do more. I think we can take the extra steps towards including those with any kind of disability- those we can see and those we cannot. I want to make it my mission this month to be an advocate for those with disabilities. I want to be a friend to other Jews who made need a little extra help to be fully included in my community.
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