On January 9th, 2020, I could not get out of bed. I called in sick that day, and the next. The sick days turned into an extended Restoration of Health
Leave, for which I was eligible and which was approved by my employer. At the time, it felt like a cataclysmic crisis, a weakness on my part, an indication that I had failed.
Almost a year later, I have fresh insight on what happened that day. I was engulfed in a perfect winter storm. When I say “perfect”, I mean it in the most positive sense of the word. After all, I believe that everything that happens in life is uniquely designed for my benefit, and that of the world as a whole. Hashem is perfect, therefore, the storm was perfect, for me.
According to Wikipedia, a perfect storm is defined as “an event in which a rare combination of circumstances drastically aggravates the event”
So what was the rare combination of events in my life that resulted in my personal “crisis of 2020”?
On June 25, 2020, I turned 50 years old. On the same day, my two youngest children, twin daughters, turned 21. They were now officially adults in NY legal terms. They were also both Kallahs, getting ready to be married that summer, 5 weeks apart. By the end of August 2020, my nest was officially empty.
The weddings were joyful and beautiful. Luckily, I thought, school started immediately after the sheva brochos were completed. Being a teacher, the start of the school year would keep me busy enough to blunt the quiet and emptiness of our home.
In November, I noticed that I woke up feeling nauseous every morning. Where I normally woke up early and ate a hearty breakfast, I now had difficulty getting out of bed, and getting food into my mouth. It felt exactly like the morning sickness I had experienced during some of my pregnancies.
I was 50 years old, and decidedly not pregnant, so I began to Google “nausea as a symptom of menopause”. Turns out, there were a few reputable sources that listed nausea as a rare, but possible, symptom of menopause.
However, the dread I felt each morning before heading to work was palpable, and getting worse. This despite the fact that I adored my students and was passionate about my teaching. A toxic culture had emerged on my grade level team, and particularly, in the relationship with my new co- teacher. The prospect of setting boundaries and being assertive created intense anxiety in me.
On January 9th, that anxiety paralysed me. I could not face another day in the school which had, for 16 years, been a place of growth, learning, camaraderie and success. After three days of this paralysing anxiety, and intense feelings of failure, I realised something. I realised that my body was telling me that it was time to take care of me.
It struck me that my children were now all adults with lives of their own. They did not need me on a daily basis, as they had when they were little. They could take care of themselves, and their spouses could pitch in as needed. That ball was out of my court. I opted to apply for a Restoration of Health Leave, as mentioned above. This gave me time to consider my options. It also gave me time to rest and heal.
By February, my husband and I realised that in order to survive with our now reduced income, we needed to reduce our expenses. We did our research, asked Daas Torah, and decided to sell our small Brooklyn home. Hashem sent us the perfect house, in Toms River, NJ, on a perfect property, for a price that we could easily afford.
The property has all the elements of our dream home. It is a little piece of country with a simple but spacious home, whilst being in close proximity to the Torah infrastructure that was so crucial for my husband. In this fresh milieu, I am making a new start. I am gardening, writing, hosting my visiting offspring, and tutoring a delightful 1st grader. I am healing, and I am finding new joy and purpose in life. Chasdei Hashem. His ways are mysterious, but they are perfect.
L’iluy Nishmas Nesanel ben Yitzchak– my dear grandfather, the rock of my youth and the meilitz yosher of my adulthood.