Sarah is a mental health blogger, who is a member of the Jewish community and has bipolar disorder. Sarah talks to us about her inspiring journey and how the Jewish community supported her through hard times.
I have grown up in the English Jewish community, which is a close knit, family orientated community with giving to charity at its heart.
From going to synagogue and Sunday school, to getting involved in youth movements, I am still very much an active member of the community. `
I was diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder at the age of 16, after a period of depression, anxiety and hypomania (pre cursor to a manic episode). I had grown up in a small town with the same friends, most of whom were Jewish and some weren’t. My bipolar is hereditary, believed to run in my family and this causes the low and high moods. I have Bipolar 1 disorder which means I have more acute episodes and psychosis when I have manic episodes (which are not as frequent for me).
From the age of 16, I had experienced anxiety and social anxiety, triggered by being diagnosed at a young age. I had so much support as a teenager, and people in my school year made me massive cards, cakes and showed so much love.
I then went on to go to university and get my BA and MA degrees in my chosen field, I went travelling to India and volunteering in Africa and I tried my best to live life, despite the depression and anxiety that it threw my way. My tutors on both the drama and English side of the course gave me so much support, especially my dissertation tutor who was Jewish himself. If ever I had panic attacks or anxiety about acting, my tutors were there to help me through it and send me alternative assignments if needed.
Almost 13 years later, I have been on a rollercoaster ride. I have known the depths of suicidal depression and self harm thoughts. I have been so frightened I couldn’t leave the house and had panic attacks daily. In 2014, I was sectioned under the mental health act due to mania and psychosis (delusions that weren’t real) and spent 4 months on a psychiatric ward, then 3 more months in a Day ward doing group therapies where I met some amazingly brave people. I loved doing art therapy and other healing therapies, and was put on the right medication for the first time- Lithium.
This was extremely challenging. However, the love and outpouring from my friends and Rabbis helped me so much. Every Friday, Jewish Sabbath, I was brought warm chicken soup from a Rabbi who hardly knew me. My childhood Rabbi came to the ward to see me and talk, giving comfort. This was the same amazing man who visited my Mum in hospital when I was born! My friends made me cakes, lit candles on the Sabbath for me with a blessing that I would get well, put my name as a prayer in the cracks of the Western Wall in Israel and prayed for me from our prayer books. I also prayed almost daily in hospital. It was a help and a saviour from being in hospital and not in my home environment. The nurses were hugely supportive and did all they could to get me well and feel safe, but I missed my home environment.
My experiences inspired me to raise money for the Jewish Association of Mental Illness (Jami). They are a small charity serving those with mental illness in the Jewish community, who needed donations. They help befriend people in hospital, run support groups and do many other wonderful things. For example. Jami is now opening a café for sufferers in North London where they can come and socialise and chat in a safe space with people with similar worries or illnesses.
I wanted to raise money for Jami when I left hospital and a year later on my 27th Birthday, I asked friends to donate in honour of my birthday. Amazingly, the total crept up and up until we raised almost £1000. I couldn’t believe it. It was the best feeling knowing it helped others.
It means so much that friends and family would donate so much and so much kindness was sent my way.
I have had a lot of support from our community but am not fully ‘out’ with my illness yet, however the support from people when I was in hospital was overwhelming.
There is hope, a candle of light, despite the darkness that mental illness can bring.
To read more from Sarah, take a look at her blog http://www.diaryofanearlythirtyyearold.wordpress.com