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Dear Dr. Batya, Having heard the preliminary findings from the Winograd Report, I wonder what we have to celebrate these days. Is it the threat of another war, not having our soldiers back, missiles targeting Sderot, corruption or Iran intent on our demise? The country has changed so much in the past decade and it makes me sad. I sometimes question whether aliya was the right decision for our family. How do you as a psychologist view this?
- G.E., Jerusalem
You are not alone in your thoughts and feelings. Many people have expressed similar sentiments of late. It has been a rough few years and while we're incredibly resilient and have bounced back, it has been at a high cost. Many people are feeling despondent, helpless, anxious, confused and sad. Many are walking around mildly depressed and most if not all of us are "lightly injured," even if we are experiencing nothing more than having a hard time coming to grips with our beliefs versus our current reality.
That said, you can choose whether to feel demoralized or to mobilize your sentiments productively. Here are some suggestions for facing these challenges:
1) Israel is a wonderful but intense country. Take breaks or vacations to better appreciate what you have here. Vacation without leaving the comfort of your home by turning off the TV and other potentially upsetting sources. Learn relaxation strategies and distract yourself by having fun. In other words, give yourself permission to leave behind the daily stresses of being here.
2) Look for adaptive ways to deal with the challenges that living here presents. Acknowledge your negative feelings but let them go and move on as you systematically work to change what you don't like. Don't just complain. Get involved and make your voice count. Stand up for what you believe in. Write letters, speak with people or simply become involved by doing something. Studies suggest that those who don't will feel helpless, less hopeful and more negative.
3) Look inward at your own behavior. What can you do to be a better person and member of society? Do you give to others what you yourself would like to receive? What values and priorities need to change? What is important in your life and are you going after it? Does your life have meaning?
4) Plan and be better prepared in the days ahead by examining how you have responded to past challenges.
5) Evaluate how your outlook on life impacts on your happiness. Focus on the future by working together to make the country better and stronger. Remember your reasons for coming here and why you thought the country was the right place to raise a family. What can you do personally to make the country better for all of us?
6) Look at who you've become. In fighting "collective depression" many of the same rules apply that would apply to individuals. Get out and see the country and appreciate what it offers. Exercise, enjoy the fresh produce and eat well. Leave the comfort of your computer and television, which can be depressing in themselves, to enjoy the museums, the parks and even the nightlife. Get plenty of sleep and fresh air.
I leave you with an updated version of the final paragraphs from a column I wrote for Yom Ha'atzmaut, 2004: Pretend that you are from another planet. Life is not what you knew back home. Appreciate all that your new life offers and enjoy your adopted country's strengths: Trees replete with olives, pomegranates, dates and citrus; pink and red flowers growing on the same bush; landscape which changes dramatically in 15 minutes and provides an important teaching moment where the Bible, history, geography and culture all come alive.
Holidays here are amazing, the depth of Jewish life is incredible and ours for the taking, and you have to be moved when the bus driver, the woman at the supermarket checkout and the gym instructor all say Shabbat Shalom. Jerusalem is at the very most a few short hours away and yet feels like the center of the world, and the Mediterranean is at our back door. What could be better?
Recognize that things happen here slowly. Appreciate the pace. It is a gift although your first inclination may be to fight it. People may seem rushed but sit for hours over coffee. No one has time for sleep, which may impact on road rage and temper outbursts. If you accomplish one thing per day be grateful. Be patient and polite. Change takes time so work to help implement it. There is lots of bureaucracy. Accept it and move on. Don't make comparisons or you will become frustrated. This is the Middle East and Israel is a very young state. Life here is different, not necessarily better or worse.
You will be happier if you can learn to celebrate and be respectful of these differences. Some days it is easier than others. Be prepared for some things to make no sense. No matter how hard you try you won't understand. Why are banks and the post office not open late on the same day? Why do children get snacks at nursery school just before lunchtime? Why do grown men urinate outdoors in full view of the public? Why is the person who yelled at you yesterday your dear friend today? Why does a complete stranger think it's okay to park in your driveway and when you ask him nicely to move he tells you he will in a few minutes?
These are just simple facts of life here and really not worth fighting over. People also do amazing acts of kindness here, and everyday miracles really do exist if you stop long enough to notice. Just about everything imaginable is collected for the less fortunate. Strangers come forward and offer to help, many talented people give tremendous amounts of time that they don't have for many wonderful purposes. For a country at war, your children feel safe when going out alone and, finally, we really do look out for each other.
With all that we have going for ourselves, fly your flags proudly and ask, does the small stuff really matter?
The writer is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra'anana.