Are you Insane?

No, I am just different. Why when someone is labelled as mentally ill, do we suddenly see them as less than? Why when someone leaves the orthodox derech, do they suddenly become inferior, a no good free person? Because I am different? Deep down, each of us is different. I have my struggles, you have your strengths, I put my shoes on left to right, you put your shoes on right to left. We are different, but we are equal.

When a person seeks help for depression, anxiety, one is showing one’s own vulnerability, but also one’s own strength.To even recognize and be willing to reach out for assistance takes an inner strength, because you are admitting your shortcomings and attempting to deal with your demons.

There are so many depressed, worried, compulsive people who cannot get over the barrier of denial and they are in danger, far graver danger than anyone who willingly puts their shortcomings in front of another human being to ask for assistance.Torn up and tortured inside, their strength ebbs away.

But the barrier of denial is both inside the individual and between us, when we label the mentally ill as inferior. We all have our strengths and weakness and it is not a weakness to seek help, if anything that shows incredible strength.

When I think about how the late Deb Tambor put herself up for scrutiny by seeking psychiatric help, I think of how her strength to admit and deal with the trauma and depression that had weakened her, was turned into a reason to label her as inferior, incapable of being the strength she could be to so many others and her own children.

Deb Tambor was the strength for so many of us, because she had pushed through her own demons, because she had taken the first step to acknowledge and deal with weaknesses that we all have but often push down into a dark place of fear of the label of inferiority.

Untreated depression can incapacitate you, make functioning day to day difficult. But she wasn’t in denial and she was seeking treatment. And for her courage to seek help and make herself whole again, she was punished with the stigma of mental illness, with the denial of her abilities to take control of her life and the future of her children.

And she was a strong and capable woman, who reached out and helped so many of us in Off the derech. But she was denied that role of being a source of strength to her own children and that is unjustifiable.

An Off the Derech Manifesto

On the eve of Deb Tambor’s Off the Derech Memorial, may her memory be for a blessing.

I am feeling, we are feeling like we are at a turning point in our history. It’s hard to put your finger on a turning point, so many things preceded that brought us to this moment. But tonight we are seeing the first signs of what the OTD community is becoming. We didn’t necessarily come to this community because we wanted community. We were suffering alone, becoming disengaged from our communities of origin. We had no idea that a community could even exist outside the confines of “the derech”. For many of us it felt like anarchy, faced with so many decisions and possibilities, each as promising or disappointing as the next. There was no clear path.

But we have grown. Our members have brought new members into what we called Off the Derech and some have said “my own derech”. As we gathered we became increasingly aware not just of our own pain and our own discoveries: we began to empathize, to see commonality, to see the value of being oneself within a larger whole.

You are not alone. When you take your first bite into a non-chalav yisroel cheese, or treif turkey, or even ham sandwich, you are following down the path of so many of us who have gone before.

When it starts to dawn on you that what is divine cannot be contained in a single text, a single religion, you are not alone.

When it hits you that as a thinking, feeling human being, your purpose and morality does not come from peer pressure or rigid rules, but rather from within, you are not alone.

You/We are not alone. We are on this path of going down our own path together. I am holding hands with you, you are holding hands with another, and it is a very broad path and a way open to many possibilities, many different ways of being.

We are not alone. We are on our own derech together.