A little over a week ago, I was speaking to a friend of mine late at night. He heard something was off in my voice and asked if I was ok. I shared that I was feeling depressed, and he asked if I wanted to talk about it. “I don’t know what to say,” I replied. “I don’t know why I’m depressed. I’ve just been feeling this way for a while.”
My friend encouraged me to talk, and when I started fishing around for the root of my feelings, I ended up hitting the core and bawling my eyes out. I’m living with the fallout of about six layers of exile, I realized:
My dad is an exile from Iraq (1). His exile is just a drop in the bucket of exile of the entire Jewish community indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa. Meaning that after nearly 2,700 years, this community no longer exists. Which in turn means that our stories, music, prayers, and other cultural aspects are on the verge of extinction (2).
Today these refugees and their descendants are spread across the world, but our histories and cultures are not recognized or incorporated into mainstream identity narratives, in the Jewish community or otherwise. So we face invisibility and invalidation — exiled, if you will, from the public arena (3).
In my own family, various levels of abuse, and the unwillingness to confront or heal it, has made it unsafe for me to stay connected with almost every single family member and/or has motivated family members to cut me out of their lives (4).
Meanwhile, I grew up with and whole-heartedly embraced a headstrong Iraqi Jewish identity, learning all the songs, prayers, and stories that I could absorb. But in the Middle Eastern/North African Jewish community, the rampant levels of sexism and the unwillingness to acknowledge or confront domestic abuse and family dysfunction have made it both humiliating and unsafe for me to participate in community life, much less be my natural leader self in it. As an upshot, I have been forced to isolate from my community, so as to preserve my mental and emotional health (5).
Meanwhile, my identity, spirituality, and emotional sensibility are inextricably intertwined with the history and heritage of Iraqi Jews. So ultimately, I am cut off from myself (6). Ergo my depression.
What does this have to do with chronic pain? I need every cell in my being in alignment with transcending and transforming all the trauma I have endured in my nightmarish journey through the health care system. I need love and light and joy to actively pump through my nervous system, my heart, my brain. The sadness and depression I feel — not only around the community and family tragedies themselves, but also around their invisibility and invalidation – are like suction cups, siphoning from my self-healing resources and energy.
And this gets back to something I’ve been harping at recently: Individual healing is inextricably intertwined with community support, which in turn is inextricably intertwined with social activism. Take the example of falling down a flight of stairs: Being immediately cared for and embraced and responded to and treated and supported throughout the healing process is a far cry from being pushed down the stairs, then being blamed for falling, refused treatment, isolated from community, and shamed for not getting better.
To deal with both an unhealthy medical system and an unhealthy family and community just adds layers pulling at my energy — which, ironically, I desperately need in order to heal from both systems.
Of course, I as an individual only have so much power. I cannot control historical reality or family psyche or grand social response to events that ultimately have shaped or otherwise impacted my life. I can, however, acknowledge and identify them publicly, write my feelings about them, and do my own internal healing around them. And so this blog, and my process getting closer and closer to writing my story and releasing it to the universe, is a major part of my healing.