A Personal Message on Sukkot

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From the outside, most people think that I’ve got it all together.  Successful marriage, two cute kids, nearly completed Masters Degree, clean and orderly household, great tasting healthy food…..  Yeah, those things are true.  I am a very capable, organized, successful person and in a lot of ways I am a “superwoman.” 

I’ll let you in on a secret – sometimes I get anxious and sometimes I panic, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in that.  This is not the kind of anxiety that keeps people from getting up in the morning and functioning throughout the day and not the kind of anxiety where panic attacks creep up on you out of nowhere.   I get anxious when I am in certain uncomfortable situations where I feel out of control. 

You might be thinking, oh, ok she’s a control freak.  Nope, that’s not it either.  I get anxious when I’m overwhelmed by too many pressures in my life; too many meals to cook, two independent and curious toddlers to take care of (yes, the twins are one and a half now), too much school work to hand in and too much laundry to fold all in one day.  I get anxious when I bump into people from my past who make me uncomfortable, people who might make inappropriate comments about why I have twins and how long it took me to get pregnant or the fact that I was divorced (five years ago?)  I get anxious when people push my personal boundaries and violate my privacy or my children’s privacy, and I get anxious when I know I have to say something to those people and tell them (politely) to back off. 

 These anxious feelings are not something I ignore and not something I’m in denial about.  In fact, over the past year, I have been working on new strategies on how to deal with these feelings.  This doesn’t mean I will no longer get anxious or panic, this just means I will have new skills and new ways to combat them or prevent them from happening in the first place.  I know that many of you reading this post probably go through the same kinds of challenges so I will share with you my strategies for dealing with them.  I hope that, in turn, you will share yours with me.

 

1)      Be assertive!  I am in control of myself.  I have the right to my own personal space, boundaries and time.  I am entitled to say no, ask someone to leave, or choose not to share personal information with people, even if they ask for it.  It is ok to ask for help when I need it, or even just want it, as long as it is reasonable.

2)      Learn to let go.  If the Shabbos or Yom Tov meal has four dishes instead of five, nobody will notice.  If the laundry isn’t folded by the end of the day, life will go on.  If I see someone whose behavior made me uncomfortable in the past, who cares?  This is the present.  I am successful, happy and I look good for a mother of twins!  They can say or think whatever they want.  It is only a reflection of them.

3)      Remember that G-d is the boss.  I know I tried my best to be on time for this appointment, but the traffic is heavy.  Panicking will not make the cars drive faster. 

4)      Remember that you cannot please everyone.  I don’t know about you, but I’m a people pleaser and I hate letting people down.  However, if pleasing someone comes at the expense of overexerting yourself or having your boundaries violated, it is not worth it.  Your spouse, children and emotional well-being come first.  Pleasing everyone else comes later.

Last but least, (you may not agree with this one)…….

5)      If you know that there are certain people or places that make you uncomfortable, try your best to avoid them.  Sometimes, you will have to be around them, but not as much as you may think.  If it is people that are making you uncomfortable, avoiding can also mean making yourself busy in the kitchen when they’re at your house or keeping the conversation light when you see them.  If you find yourself confronted, you are entitled to be assertive and disengage.

These are all great strategies, but it is important to allow yourself the freedom to not always be successful with them.  We are all works in progress and change takes time.

We are now in the middle of the holiday of Sukkot.  For those of you who are not Jewish or who are Jewish but not observant, Sukkot is the holiday that comes right after Rosh Hashana (the Jewish new year) and Yom Kippur (day of atonement).  Each family is instructed to build a temporary dwelling outside of their home and dwell in it for one week.  Sukkot falls during the time of the harvest for the Jewish people.  This is a time of plenty and a time of success; a time when the Jewish people feel powerful.  Just as the Jewish people are at the height of their material success, they are instructed to leave their homes and dwell in a temporary “sukkah” for one week.  By dwelling in a sukkah with shaky walls and a roof made out of branches, the Jewish people are reminded that any materialistic pleasures which we bring upon ourselves are simply temporary and they can be taken away in one instant, if that is what G-d chooses for us.  The idea is not to get too comfortable in the lives that we create for ourselves because, at the end of the day, we are not in control.

 I haven’t blogged in a while.  Since April, I have been working on my practicum hours for my Masters degree at an amazing Jewish agency where I counseled clients with various different issues.  It was a fantastic experience and I feel blessed and thankful to have done my placement there.  Between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, I went to meet with my supervisor to go over my evaluation, sign it and fax it to my professor.  (I did really well!)

While rushing to get home before the nanny had to leave and I found myself in rush hour traffic.  Part of me was so excited about my evaluation; the other part of me was a bit panicked about the time.  About ten blocks before my street I realized that I would have to move into the right-hand lane before turning.  I signaled and tried to speed up a little to move ahead of the car beside me.  He sped up too.  I slowed down to let him pass.  He slowed down too.  This happened about three times.  I realized that something was wrong.  I glanced beside me and saw a light brown, 1970’s Cadillac with an old, creepy man at the wheel.  He had white hair in a ponytail and a button-down polyester shirt.  He rolled down his window and started yelling at me.  “Follow me!  You must follow me and pull over!  There is something wrong with your car!  There’s something coming out of the bottom of your car!”  At first I was confused as my car was driving just fine.  My gut told me that this man was lying or delusional and probably dangerous.  He wouldn’t let me go and kept following me.  I must lose him, I thought to myself.  Eventually, I reached a street where I could turn left and slowed down to put on my left-hand signal.  He tried to stop but with all the traffic behind him he couldn’t, and he was forced to drive away.  I happened to be right at the parking lot of a kosher grocery where I know the owners.  I pulled in, parked, got out of the car and walked into the store, shaking.  I told the owners what happened and the husband came out to inspect my car.  Of course, the car was fine. 

To make a long story short, I went home, called my husband who advised me to file a police report, did so, and tried to calm down while feeding my girls supper and getting them to bed.  You can bet that I had trouble sleeping that night and the next.  All I kept thinking was, what if this had happened on the highway where there was nowhere to pull over or what if I had my kids in the car?  My husband kept trying to reassure me, “You would still be smart and do the right thing, just like you did today.  You would drive away and lose him, you would call the police, you would get his license number, etc……”  True, I can think fast on my feet and if it happened again, I would deal.  I was just so shaken up and so scared.  Then I decided to do what I always do.  What can I learn from this?

Well, it happened during the ten days of repentance, right before Yom Kippur when we recite, who will live and who will die, who will prosper and who will be impoverished…..  After that comes Sukkot, the holiday all about giving up control and being thankful for what we have.  So I guess that’s what it all comes down to for me.  I can’t control everything that happens to me and in this scary situation, I was fortunate enough to have the help I needed right away.  It didn’t happen on the highway and it didn’t happen when my kids were in the car. 

I guess that’s really what this whole challenge about getting anxious sometimes is all about as well.  I can’t control everything that happens to me and I can’t always control how I feel.  I CAN control how I react to, deal with and approach uncomfortable situations and I SHOULD be honest with myself about what I need, want and can handle.  I should also remember to be grateful for all of the blessings, revealed and hidden that G-d gives to me, as well as the challenges that he feels I can handle. 

So now I want to hear from you.  For those of you who get anxious, how do you handle it?  And for everyone, how do you view the challenges in your life?  What about the blessings?

Wishing everyone a chag sameach.  Happy holiday.

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