The Things We Hide Part 2

“The empty bed to my right.

The master bedroom in my home has two full size beds with matching custom made headboards, nightstands and beautiful linens. Items bought at the time by two newly engaged young adults, filled with so much excitement and love. Every time I walk into our room, my sanctuary, these furnishings are a reminder of all that we had and all that I have lost.

After long days filled with single handedly caring for my three wonderful, but appropriately needy, children, going to a physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding job as a nurse, followed by mundane household responsibilities I approach the threshold to my empty room and pray that tonight will be different. Please G-d let tonight be less painfully lonely, less pointedly hurtful. Please G-d let me sleep for more than an hour at a time without waking up in a cold sweat reliving the nightmare that is my life. Please G-d, help me sleep as I am just so tired. So tired of putting on a happy face all day. So tired of lying my head down on my pillow, on the bed on the left, and looking at the empty bed on my right. Most nights I pray for my children, that they never know of this pain and loss. That they do not lose sleep over it as children or as adults. That they not be affected by the empty bed that is to my right. I step over that threshold and as per my ritual tell myself that tonight will be different. Tonight I will wish my loving, attentive, hardworking husband good night and fall asleep peacefully. Tonight I will sleep through the night, though if I do suddenly wake up I will look to my right and he will be there, and I will take a deep breath of relief, maybe even caress his sleeping face and easily fall back asleep. And as per my ritual none of these actually happen.

Instead the nightmare that is my reality occurs again. I watch mindless tv for hours, I watch Instagram story after story, read novels, anything to take my mind off of his absence. I actively keep my attention to my left, anything to take my mind off of the empty bed to my right. Eventually I force myself to stop procrastinating the inevitable poor nights sleep ahead. I finally look to the empty bed on my right and allow myself one more prayer. I pray that wherever my husband is he knows how fiercely my kids and I love him and miss him. I pray that tonight is the last night without him home. I pray that when I open my eyes mid sleep he will be there and life can be as it was before. Before the bed to my right was empty more than it was used.

In the morning I will wake up after a restless nights sleep. I will say modeh ani and thank G-d for my children and the roof over my head. Then I will allow myself one quick glance at the bed to my right, praying that it isn’t empty like it was the day before, and the day before that.

Before my husband started spending his nights alternating between cheating on me with prostitutes and gambling excessively.

I know the inevitable questions/comments/eye rolling that this will lead to. I have asked myself every question that you are asking and then some. I have thought every thought and then some. And I have rolled my eyes at the damsel in distress girls. I know it could be worse, my husband isn’t actually dead. I know it could be worse, he isn’t physically or verbally abusive. And yes, I know that his resuming that role of loving husband does not undo his horrifying ‘extra curricular activities’. I am stuck. I could get divorced, but I do not want to be a divorcee. I could confront him daily, but I will not do so in front of my children and he is almost never home when they aren’t as well. I could shame him in public, but could never do that to my children who will wear just as much of a scarlet A as he will.

I have tried the therapy route but it is a very very temporary fix. I have all the proof, he cannot and does not deny the truth. That is why I am stuck. That is why I am left with the empty bed to my right. At times he is there and we pretend like everything is normal, though my mind is running a mile a minute. The nights when I wake up and he is sleeping next to me, I worry if I will get an STD, or he will be arrested for soliciting. I worry that he will get involved with the wrong bookie. On those nights, I pray fervently for my children and myself.

On those nights, I wish the bed to my right was empty.”


This week on The Layers Platform one of our writers mentioned concern about STD’s. We received some feedback from other readers, that perhaps now was a good opportunity to talk about STD’s, what they are, how to recognize them, and what to do about it. So many of us who went to Jewish schools growing up were never properly educated about the risks, warning signs, or even how sexually transmitted diseases come about. It is definitely something that some of us may be uncomfortable asking, but we need to know for our health. We reached out to Miriam Sapeika, PA-C, who is an incredible resource about all things sexual health to give us a rundown about STD’s:

“Could I have a sexually transmitted infection? A question that may be on many women’s minds but are too scared to ask the question. Is it possible for someone who is married, in a committed relationship, or never even had full intercourse to have an STD? What are the signs? What should I do?

A sexually transmitted infection is an infection that is passed from person to person through blood, semen (which is the fluid that comes out of a man’s penis when aroused and ejaculates), or vaginal or bodily fluids. You can be exposed to infected body fluids and skin through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. A sexually transmitted infection can even be passed from person to person without having sex. Anyone who has had “sexual contact” can get a sexually transmitted infection.

Contact that can spread an STD includes: ● Kissing-the passing of spit can pass with it oral herpes- the virus that causes cold sores ● Oral sex- if an individual with active oral herpes performs oral sex on their partner they can transfer the infection to their partner’s genitals, causing genital herpes. ● Skin to skin contact- spreading an infection is less likely this way but still possible. Hand to genital contact is a way to spread infection. ● Sharing toothbrushes or razors with someone who has hepatitis B ● Blood transfusion ● Tattoos- where needles are shared from one person to the next ● Sharing needles – drug use


What are the signs of a sexually transmitted infection? ● Small red bumps, Sores or blisters on or around the genital area ● Sores or blisters in the mouth ● Pain or burning during urination ● Unusual discharge from the penis or vagina ● Itching of the penis or vagina ● Swelling of the penis or vagina ● Pain in or around the vagina or penis ● Pain in the pelvic area- lower stomach, vagina, perineum-area between your vagina and rectum ( where you have a bowel movement) ● Pain in your stomach sometimes with fever and chills ● Vaginal bleeding other than your period ● Pain with intercourse ● Painful bowel movements ● Anal itching ● Strong vaginal odor ● Fever ● Headache ● Sore Throat ● Swollen lymph nodes ● Rash ● Fatigue ● Small , flesh colored or gray swellings in your genital area ● Genital Warts


What will my doctor do?

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and are concerned; go to your health care professional. You will be examined- which most likely will consist of a visual and internal examination. A swab will be taken – which is a large “q-tip” that will be gently and quickly placed inside your vagina, much like a tampon but much smaller, and rubbed along your vaginal wall to get a sample. This should be painless. Your healthcare professional may do bloodwork and ask for a urine sample. This should all be done with minimal discomfort. Depending on the STI treatment usually consists of one of the following: ● Antibiotics- often given in a single dose can cure many sexually transmitted bacterial and parasitic infections ● Antiviral drugs- if your infection is viral this treatment will lessen the risk of infection and recurrence and possibly lower your virus count to nearly undetectable levels.

If you are concerned that you have, or have been exposed to, any STI; it is reason enough to get checked out. Timely diagnosis and treatment are important! You as the patient have every right to ask questions and be made to feel comfortable with what is being done. If tests show that you have an STI it is important that you let your partner, and any past partners, know. Make sure to ask your doctor how long to abstain from any sexual interaction after treatment and when to get retested.”

To learn more about your sexual health, or for more resources check out Miriam’s website www.softtouchsolutions.com.


“They’re not hidden, you just can’t see them…any of them.

From my very first ailment people didn’t believe me. I was in first grade and my teachers thought I was just trying go home. To be honest I was trying to go home, but not for the reasons they thought. My head was going to explode, every sound was too loud, every light was too bright. I wanted to turn off all the lights, draw the curtains, wrap my head in an ice pack and sleep. I got Juvenile Migraines and was placed on a strict diet to limit my intake of a specific enzyme.

That was my first introduction to invisible disease. No one else can see it and they don’t understand it. What 7 year old suffers from debilitating migraines?

Migraines have no external symptoms, you can’t see them, they’re hidden.

At 10 I had my first bout with Acid Reflux I was in pain that I’d never felt before, I thought my chest was going to explode, an elephant was sitting on me, I wanted to throw up. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t sit still, shaking and panting I hobbled into my parents room to wake up my mother. She was barely conscious standing over me with my head in the toilet and nothing happening. I lost the ability to stay still again and got up and jerked my body around rubbing at my chest. I was 10. I thought I was dying. My father drove us to the hospital and I was hooked up to an IV and continued to throw up. My parents didn’t know where it came from, I didn’t know where it came from. Still no one could see it.

At this point I was on a restrictive diet for migraines and now for Reflux. I was mocked and teased for it and even called a hypocrite, all because I claimed to suffer from something no one could see.

I always had a bad stomach but what Ashkenazi Jew doesn’t? I spent a lot of time in the bathroom but so did the rest of my family.

At 15 I started experiencing some strange…sensations. I was constantly going to the bathroom but not actually eliminating. It got to the point that I would sit on the toilet until everyone else had left the house to get in the car. Otherwise I would need to run back to the bathroom again. At the same time I was experiencing super severe pain and tension in my neck and shoulders. The longer time I spent on my feet the more pain I was in. After helping to cook for Shabbos I would be forced to lie flat on the hardwood floor, but my mom saw that as lazy teenager behavior. I was “avoiding” being around my parents or “avoiding” helping to clean up the kitchen.

One day I went shopping at the mall with my mother. After two hours I sat down and asked to go home. The pain may not have been visible but this behavior was and it wasn’t the normal behavior of a teenager. At 15 I had voluntarily given up on a day of shopping.

I returned to the doctor circuit. I was soon diagnosed with Crohns, which is an autoimmune disease of the digestive tract and often comes in conjunction with other autoimmune diseases. For my neck we went to an orthopedist who eventually led us to a rheumatologist. I was diagnosed with Spondyloarthropathy, another autoimmune disease, arthritis of the spine where the ligaments and tendons attach to the bone.

With all of my travels to and from the doctor my bathroom issue became more and more distruptive. After consulting with a pediatrician we went to a urologist. She diagnosed me with Interstitial Cystitis. A chronic bladder pain syndrome which over stimulates the nerve to the brain, telling it to empty the bladder. My doctor said she found it often coupled with Crohns.

Now I was taking multiple medications, undergoing painful procedures, therapies and tests, all while in high school. I was on a steady doctor’s appointment schedule ranging from every few weeks to 3 months. We were testing drug combinations, trying different therapies and diets, while monitoring my blood work and symptoms.

I had frequent absences in school but no obvious excuses. It was all invisible. I suffered in silence. No one knew unless I told them and in high school I was too scared to find out what it all meant, so I told no one.

There were even moments when I thought I had made it all up. Maybe I was being lazy and tired, maybe I didn’t have to go to the bathroom, maybe I was just over-thinking it. People love to suggest their opinions on your ailments. “Sounds like a UTI to me, did they check for that?” “Have you ever had a massage? That always does the trick when my neck hurts.” “Maybe you’ll grow out of it.” “You know that medication has serious side effects.”

My sister was in college at the time, she told me not to tell anyone,”people don’t understand, they’ll tell other people about it and they won’t know what to say.” She was right about one thing no one ever knows what to say.

While all the diagnoses are debilitating, they are being treated and are under control. I take a significant amount of oral medication daily as well as infusions, but I still work full time and have a part time job, both with inflexible hours.

I fight through each day because I know no other way and I’ll have it no other way. On a pain scale a regular day for me is a 5. At a 5 I:l go to the gym after work, eat 3 regular meals and probably make a trip to the grocery store. If I were to ask you for your seat on the bus, you would probably look at me weird or pretend you didn’t hear me, it’s the NYC way. There is nothing visibly wrong with me. I don’t limp, I’m not hunched, I don’t wear braces or use a cane.

You can’t see the searing pain running down from my right ear to my shoulder blade, causing tingling and numbness in my fingers as my cervical spine is inflamed and pressing on the nerve. You have no idea that the arthritis in my knees causes them to straighten slower and painfully after a long ride on the subway, or that on a rainy day I have to grit my teeth to pick up the pencil I dropped, or will simply leave it for someone else to find. You certainly have no idea that there is an implanted device on the left side of my lower back that I can control via remote so that I can get out of the bathroom and on with my day.

I’m not trying to hide, anyone who knows me knows that I am an open book. If you ask I will tell you and sometimes I’ll tell you even if you don’t. Later I’ll wonder why I shared that and what you now must think of me. I can feel you looking at me wondering what you should say or the pity in your eyes. When I down a fistful of medication in one swallow, each morning, I feel your eyes grow wide. I don’t need you to react, you don’t have to comment, fein aww at my ability to swallow pills or even express sadness for my struggles. I don’t wake up and think poor me. Not anymore. That’s not why I told you, I told you because you can’t see it. Its hidden, and there is nothing I can do about it. But if we mention the elephant in the room it won’t be so taboo and we can all get on with our day.”


“It was never how it was shown in the movies. In high school and college, I was normal. Things that were stressful were stressful and I had my regular dose of teenage angst and “I hate my parents,” but I wasn’t self-destructive or wild.

I started going by my Hebrew name instead of a nickname to help find peace, and my year in Israel dramatically helped me with that.

In college, even though Stern is a hub of it, I wasn’t interested in dating or going out with guys. My goal was to finish my degrees, get a job, and start my life. I had a plan.
As they say, of course, man plans and G-d laughs, and I became friends with a great guy I met at the Seforim Sale (I know, cliché) and we got married about two years later, less than two months after I graduated.

From there, I had an accidental pregnancy which resulted in our daughter being born barely a week after our first anniversary and I started to settle into a new routine.
Yeah, things were stressful, who wouldn’t be stressed with a newborn? As health-minded people (and with a Psych major under my belt) we kept an eye out for the not-expected-but-always-possible Post-Partum Depression. Weeks flew by and by the time our daughter was 3 months old, we considered ourselves in the clear. One less thing to worry about.

Phew.

That changed when she was about 5 months old. I felt ready to get a job, but was disheartened at my lack of job prospects and was feeling really worthless and got into another fight with my husband, who finally said something along the lines of, “I’ve never known you to give up this much this easily about anything!” Suddenly, it clicked and all anger literally fell out of my body. “That sounds like Post-Partum Depression,” I said.

We agreed to keep an eye on it, but neither of us thought it was real. It was just sleep deprivation and stress.
We realized things were different about two weeks later, right around a visit from my in-laws which coincided with my birthday, and I went to the doctor shortly after and got an “official diagnosis” of Post-Partum Depression and Anxiety.

Time passed slowly and quickly. I cannot begin to describe it from such an impersonal space like the screen you’re reading this on, but I was ashamed. And I was ashamed of being ashamed. I, who majored in Psychology and ranted against the horrible stigma that surrounded mental illness was going to fall into that same trap?

Yes. Because it’s hard. Because it isn’t what they show in the movies. Contrary to the dramas and the heart-breaking news articles that are often all people see about PPD, I never had a desire to harm myself or my daughter. NEVER. Sometimes I wanted to not exist, sometimes I wanted to run away, but the idea of harming her made me feel ill. But I knew that’s how people would see me: broken and untrustworthy. And if there was ever an issue, it would come out, “well of course, she has PPD, that’s why this happened, of course.”

My husband was (and is) an amazingly supportive man (the therapists in my therapy group were in awe of him, as were the therapists on the hotline I called a few times) and helped me through the horribly bad times.

Time continued to pass, and we saw dramatic improvement. But then, just this past summer, about a year after I was diagnosed, I began thinking about when it would be over. Really, really over. About when my mind would be my own again and small obstacles would stop giving me panic attacks and I could reflect logically on a series of events and not assume that everyone was mad at me or hated me.

As I learned in my group, PPD is situational depression: it’s depression you get after having a baby. It doesn’t stay forever. “If,” as they said, “your kid is 10 and your still feeling this way, you don’t have PPD, you’re just depressed.” So when, I wondered, would this be over? A year is usually the limit, so is it gone yet?

We decided it was. That I was just feeling residual effects as my brain got back to normal. That only occasional things would get me really anxious, that only occasionally I’d get depressed, but that was normal as my body and my brain got back to normal.

Right?

Honestly, it’s been only a few weeks since we finally accepted that it isn’t. Our daughter just turned two, making it about a year-and-a-half since my formal diagnosis, and we’ve accepted that this isn’t going to end.

See, in some cases, if the person has a family history or genetic predisposition toward depression and anxiety, getting PPD can trigger it for life.

My brain is never going to be what it was in high school or college, when I was the rational friend, the one who could think logically about things. It’s a new brain, one that I haven’t accepted and still don’t really like.

It’s frightening to see it. To know that there was a time that this would not have made you sink this low, that you could handle a set back like this, and then have your brain betray you and flood your body with stress and feelings of worthlessness. To see your brain work against you and all you can do is cry because it just makes you feel even more like a failure.

For example: my in-laws came for my daughter’s birthday. I tried to make something impressive, a two-toned potato roll. It didn’t turn out how I wanted it to and after another setback, I went into another room and SCREAMED, bringing my husband running. And as much as he assured me that we would have enough food, that it would be fine, my brain was telling me that this dish not being perfect = that it’s ruined = it can’t be eaten = we don’t have enough food = my MIL will “know” that I can’t cook = I’m a terrible wife and mother = she’ll try to get my husband to divorce me. This “minor setback” was interpreted by my brain as a major fiasco.

But that all processed instantly, my brain jumping from one idea to the next immediately, not giving me time to think, “wait, really? That doesn’t make sense.”

The worst part has been, of course, that I haven’t been able to share this with most people because I still LOOK like I’m fine. People assume that I am and that I’m still that confidant, intelligent, strong, motivated, rationalist person I was in high school and college.

I’ve only recently accepted that that person isn’t coming back. That she is intrinsically changed and I need to work every day for the rest of my life to try to find her again while getting used to learning how my new brain processes thoughts, ideas, and emotions. A lot of it is being aware of what triggers me and being cognizant of the fact that how my brain interprets things may not be real.

Because it isn’t how they show it in the movies. Pills don’t fix things and frankly, neither does love. We’ve accepted that this will be a struggle for the rest of our lives, one that we didn’t expect or sign up for when we stood under the chuppah three years ago or that crossed our minds when we met five years ago.

But because of the stigma, we’ve told very few people. No one else can ever know.

Because I don’t want the world to know how broken I feel.”


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Shira Lankin Sheps graduated from Hunter College School of Social Work with an MSW in clinical social work. After working in the clinical field, marketing and photojournalism, she decided to start The Layers Project to help break down stigma and promote healing within our Jewish community. She feels strongly about presenting women, who are so often shown as shallow characters or fully removed from Jewish media spaces, as three-dimensional individuals whose lives are full and rich with resilience. Shira is the founder, Publisher and CEO of The Layers Project Magazine.