Today’s guest, Zahava List, is a woman of great strength, belief and challenges. Zahava took her struggle and turned it into courage and a salvation for others.
As a child, Zahava was quiet and introverted; a follower. She would never have been chosen as a leader and innovator – a founder of an organization, Chazkeinu, which reaches out to hold the hands and bring fellowship to religious Jewish women suffering from mental health issues.
At age twelve, upon viewing a sample of her writing, a handwriting analyst told her that she possessed leadership qualities. When she eventually became a teacher, Zahava first felt the actualization of that possibility.
She married young and moved with her husband to Israel, away from family and all that was familiar. Months later she was pregnant. During those months Zahava languished and didn’t have much desire to be active or leave the confines of her bed. She chalked it up to the strain of pregnancy, but looking back, it was likely a mild depression.
“From the moment of birth, my mind was constantly racing and I was unable to sleep. I called my friend and instead of talking about the baby, I got busy micro managing her life. her relationships and analyzing her childhood. I thought I could read minds, that I possessed powers that other people don’t. I had become manic and psychotic. I had less inhibitions. By the time my baby was ten days old I was severely psychotic and delusional.”
“During the daytime I thought I was fine, on a high, even though I did things that now I am ashamed of. When night descended so did a depression that held me tight. I needed help but was in another galaxy that made me think I was on top of the world.”
“Someone who I looked up to came to visit and told me outright, ‘You need help NOW. I know, because I was just like you after my third child was born.’”
Zahava went to a psychiatrist who got her started on medication and she began seeing a psychologist. It wasn’t easy giving in to the fact that she was psychotic and bi-polar, but somewhere inside of her she knew that things weren’t right. A stranger had invaded her body and she had kidnapped the real Zahava and was keeping her hostage .
“As a person with bi-polar when I was no longer manic I veered into depression. Depression is not about being sad or being angry. It’s when you feel dead inside. The worse was when people would say, ‘You look like you’re getting so much better’ and inside I would cry, ‘No, I’m not better; I’m miserable.’ “
“I was never able to hide my illness, because I had been acting so out of character and calling people I knew all over the world saying weird, crazy things. It was out in the open so I was like the person with a stain on their shirt walking into a room full of people. I could have worried the whole time what are they thinking and trying to find ways to hide it, but instead I just announced, ‘Hey, look I have this stain on my shirt. Now let’s talk about something else.’”
“My first episode was precipitated by my giving birth, but subsequent episodes had nothing to do with birth. I believe that even if I had never given birth, something would have triggered my mental health issues. After being in therapy I discovered that I had experienced trauma in my youth and it was festering in my subconscious for years awaiting a trigger to allow it to break through.”
When asked if she has healed from her issues Zahava answers in the affirmative. “I am on medication and likely will be for the rest of my life as well as seeing a therapist. But healing is so much deeper than that. My self awareness is so much greater now. Life’s challenges brings us highs and lows. That means we are alive. What I learned about myself and about how to deal with what comes my way – I feel that is healing.”
“One thing I learned is to look at the world and myself as a panoramic picture. I want to be in the center, that means I want to be balanced. There is going to be good, there are going to be hard things and I want to be in the center throughout. If I notice myself veering too much to one side of the picture, then I consciously pull myself toward the other side. If I am manic I will say, ‘Zahava, what about that insecurity?’ “
Due to the medication Zahava was taking she put on extra weight and it bothered her. She joined and OA group and found that the 12 steps really helped her. This group understood each other’s needs and challenges and it was a great support when facing challenges. We were assigned a buddy to call in times of stress – and they stood by and walked us through the hardship.
Eventually, Zahava took this idea of a phone support group and applied it to helping people with mental health issues. This then gave birth to an organization called, Chazkeinu, which in Hebrew means, strengthen us. ”More than anything else, I felt I needed to be strengthened, so I said I am going to make a meeting for Chazkeinu.” Together with two partners, Tamar and Naomi, Chazkeinu was formed to reach out to the Jewish woman struggling with mental health challenges.”
“Women who were embarrassed to share their struggles with others or who thought they were the only ones in their predicament found friends who could relate, support and champion them in theirquest for stability.
In my healing process I had the medication and therapy but the third side of my recovery triangle was peer support. In Chazkeinu we say, ‘Stigma stops here!’ “
Chazkeinu can be found on Facebook, Instagram and we have a website,
w.w.w.chazkeinu.org. Our phone number is 314-346-7414. Everything is free, but we have volunteers from within Chazkeinu interviewing people to make sure that we are a good fit for them. These volunteers thought that they would never be able to be productive and help others and now are helping others find meaning in their lives. Please contact us and remember,
H.O.P.E. stands for Hold On, Pain Ends!