Love yourself

A story about a young struggling girl

Young woman watching the sunset at the beach (illustrative) (photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
Young woman watching the sunset at the beach (illustrative)
(photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
Two years ago I met a girl in her early 20s with a light in her eyes but surrounded by sadness and confusion.
She told me that she had studied theater in high school and dreamed of being an actress. She was beautiful, talented and intelligent, but was overtaken by something greater and more powerful than her – the schizophrenia that eventually took over her life.
Born in Brazil, she arrived in Israel as a youngster with three other Brazilian children, all adopted by the same family. Life was never boring for her in this family. She went to an arts school in Jerusalem and hung out on the streets, smoking, singing and meeting up with a challenging crowd. She would come home to her “colorful family,” but never felt connected there, feeling more comfortable in the streets.
“At home I didn’t find the serenity that I found in the street,” she says.
Theater was her life. In school she immersed herself in acting, connecting to herself, discovering herself and finding freedom.
When she graduated and went into the army, her disease started to erupt. Her imagination ran rampant and she had nowhere to express her thoughts in a healthy way and no space to find herself. She had wanted to be in a combat unit but apparently realizing she had issues, the army put her in a unit with “unhealthy” soldiers, where she began to fall apart. After a year they decided that her mental state of mind was too tenuous for the army and she was released.
When she went home, her parents rejected her because she had left the army and continued her involvement with drugs, a habit she began at the age of 14. She believes that this was her parents’ biggest mistake, rejecting her at this point in her life.
She found a job and a place to stay in the Arava, but it did not work out for her. She felt alone and secluded – a “strange bird.” The kibbutz didn’t accept her as she was and their rejection hurt her. In her lonely life in the desert heat, her increased drug use and illness affected her. For the first time she “came in contact” with God; in the middle of the desert, she heard music from a violin and felt God’s presence.
The schizophrenia-driven experience frightened her, complicated by other life issues: drug dealers, gangs, men trying to rape her, fighting out of self-defense and more. All of this caused her to end up in psychiatric hospitals on medication.
Ultimately, she feels, the schizophrenia saved her life by guiding her. It helped her to come in contact with her own deeper consciousness and that of others. It made her shy and scared, yet helped her to see and connect with people in an “intelligent way.”
She feels that she can now use her condition in a helpful way.
For two years she was in and out of hospitals, and in between linked up with “crazy boyfriends.” Finally she met a man who saw beyond her beauty and sense of humor.
He showed her that she had issues with her drugs and disease and advised her to “get out from her game.” He saved her life by convincing her that she needed to make changes.
“He told me that I would be alone and I needed to be strong.” At his urging, she checked into a drug rehabilitation center.
In rehab she gave up everything – drugs and boyfriend – and got stronger. Off drugs for nine months, she realized that her focus was on her boyfriend and not on herself. She loved him. No more escaping. It was just herself that she didn’t love.
Crushed by the realization, she jumped from the roof of a building. Her boyfriend caught her, but said it was too much for him and asked her to leave. With her parents rejecting her as well, she had nowhere to go but the Kfar Shaul Mental Health Center in Jerusalem.
This psychiatric hospital wouldn’t admit her because she wasn’t deemed psychotic.
She had been living in the streets for three days when I first found her dragging her suitcase behind her. I asked her where she was going and she told me her parents had kicked her out of their house. She came home with me and has been with me ever since.
What does she have to say to us as parents? “First be a human being, then a parent, then be a friend. If my parents had asked me what I wanted to do with my life and tried to help me, I would be in a different place. I needed a quiet, loving space and time to make myself strong and then go off on my journey again.
“A person in a difficult situation needs to know that his family is there for him even when he is alone, knowing that there is light and love awaiting him. Everyone wants to know they can come in from the rain to find nice, warm soup.”
Most important, she says, is to “love yourself”; only then can you believe that others love you.
The writer is a teen and young adult counselor specializing in addictions, who has been working with youth and their parents for over 26 years.;