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Examining the Pieces When Everything Falls Apart

Examining the Pieces When Everything Falls Apart

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By my last year of high school, I had only one thing on my mind. Only one thing got me up in the morning. It was the promise of college radiating on the horizon—a fancy, expensive, ivy-covered kind of college.

Starting my junior year of high school, my parents took me on college tours up and down the Northeast, from one grassy quad and quirky town to another. At each school, students would lead the tour, and in my young eyes, they radiated a promise of renewal. I would shedAnd undercurrent of doubt began nudging its way up out of my subconscious the scaly, tight skin of the girl I had been up until now, and a new woman would emerge. As this promise solidified in my mind, it became my future redemption. It would come. The universe owed it to me. I would flee this small town and its hold on me, and I would be reborn. But freedom was still a year away, and the waiting began to eat away at me. I wrote my college essay months before it was due, then re-wrote it and re-wrote it again. Applications became like chain mail—heavy metal loops cutting into my nerves, protecting me from my present reality.

With so much riding on this dream, an undercurrent of doubt that I would be accepted began nudging its way up out of my subconscious in the form of bouts of anxiety. I would wake up at night in a cold sweat feeling like I was dying, sure that my body would fail on me at any moment. I lost all trust in my organs, skin and bones to carry me through the world. They became my tormentors. I thought I was hiding it well, keeping up my face of serene, hard-working composure until an old friend stopped me in the hall one day and said: “What happened to you? Why do you look so sad, so small?” Like a cornered creature, I panicked even more.

When I wasn’t in it, in the place of fear, it became comical. A twinge in my arm, and I was sure it was cancer. Once I told my brother and he looked at me in disbelief, quickly hiding his laugh at the look of terror on my face. But you can’t be serious, he whispered. Finally, finally, I begged my mother to see a therapist. Until then, I had thought that doctors are only for when you are too sick to move or for a checkup, not for your mind. I ended up going to the school counselor. I remember stepping out of the rushing, between-classes hallway into her small, still room, sitting down and saying a few words before the tears came. The ford buckling in the simple quiet of that room, the simple concern in her voice, the space to be real for a moment with myself. All the pressure on my shoulders tumbled off for a moment into my hands, where I could begin to see them, recognize their form. Simply telling someone about the doubts and fears making a racket in my mind quieted their shouts and made them seem a bit less powerful.

The pressure that year subtly built a reality around me that I could not achieve. If the dream of that success failed, then everything was lost. So when the day came that I sat on the familiar carpet in the entrance to my childhood home and slowly tore through one rejection letter after another until I was left sitting in a puddle of paper scraps and my own tears, the entire world had to be reborn. When a single reality is uprooted from its foundation of truth, then the very concept of the possible alters forever. I left so much on that carpet, with the letters and drying tears. I walked away with the deep realization that I can only control my life up until a point, and beyond that point lies the glorious possibility of a Will beyond my capacity to comprehend. It would take me another year-and-a-half to tentatively call that power G‑d, but the experience of complete lack of control over my future made that calling within the realm of my new world.

Where did all my anxiety go? All the fear of my body? It vanished in a second from words written on a faded, yellowing page.Where did all my anxiety go? One day after school my mother handed me a book. Someone at the library recommended this, she said, unaware that she was holding my redemption. Unaware that at that moment, she was a messenger of G‑d. Hope and Help for Your Nerves, the title promised. Before all the disorders and diagnoses, there was simply a case of weak nerves, and that is certainly what was plaguing me. As I read about the conditions of the patients in this book, I saw a portrait of my own misery and, really, of my own mind. Each of my symptoms, which I was sure were completely original and fatal, were transcribed in this book. As intensely as my fear had plagued me, the realizations from this book washed them away. It was all in my mind. Full stop. Nothing could have made it so clear to me how much my reality, in a very tangible way, was being created every moment by my thoughts and reactions to the world around me.

These experiences in my formative years planted the seeds that would make possible a complete renewal of my spirit and mind; I would ultimately be able to exchange my previous values—and their vision of success—for the rich, soul-sustaining beliefs of my ancient Jewish tradition. The two worst things in my life—rejection from eight colleges and crippling hypochondria—became the birthing ground of the two most transformational life lessons I have ever learned. First, that there is a finite limit to the control I can have over external circumstances in my life, and that this is for my ultimate benefit. Second, that I do, in fact, have tremendous influence over my reality by how I react to those circumstances.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe describes a similar apparent contradiction in a talk about the power of trust and faith in G‑d, or bitachon. A Jew has to hold two conflicting approaches at the same time in regards to the future. The first approach is that no matter what happens, whether it appears good or bad, a Jew truly believes it comes from G‑d’s goodness. The second approach is to expect the absolute best possible outcome in a way that it actually appears good to the person. The first approach acknowledges that ultimately, only G‑d knows what is truly good for us—i.e., we will receive exactly what G‑d wants us to experience, and this is outside of our control. However, the second approach adds a disclaimer, so to speak, that when a person has complete faith that the future will hold revealed good, then G‑d brings that reality to fruition. This is summed up in the Yiddish expression, Tracht gut vet zein gut: “Think good and it will be good!” Our thoughts, good thoughts, can affect our reality in a real way.

On the flip side, perhaps my incessant fears about the possibility of not being accepted to college led toNegative thoughts close off our expansive, creative minds that very outcome. Negative thoughts close off our expansive, creative minds and all the good they can bring. Thank G‑d, after this experience, I was determined to see the positive in life. My state school had sent me an acceptance letter in the winter, but at the time I thought I was above such a thing. With a newfound humility, I decide to give it a chance and make the best of it. Turns out it was the absolute best place I could have gone to college for a number of reasons—the main one being the warm and sizable Jewish community on campus, where I was given opportunities to travel to Israel, study Jewish texts, and eventually, live with Orthodox roommates and become shomer Shabbat. It is so clear to me in hindsight that I was meant to go to that school even though it took some bumps in the road to get there. Sometimes, we are blessed to see darkness turn into light!

Chava Hinsey is a writer, teacher, and perpetual student. She graduated with her BA in Women's and Gender Studies from Rutgers University in 2014. She attended Mayanot Women's Program and Machon Alta in Tzfat. She worked for over a year as the Program Director at the Chabad at Columbia University. Her writing often focuses on the interplay between Jewish/Chassidic Thought and Feminism.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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Anonymous Ashland October 8, 2017

My daughter is in the process of graduating high school. This article means a lot to us at this time. Is there a way to contact you? My daughter is wanting to go to Machon Alta next year. Reply

Anonymous Forest Hills, NY October 2, 2017

That wonderful book, Hope & Help for Your Nerves, written by
Dr. Claire Weekes, was a lifesaver for me during a very difficult time. Glad you mentioned it and that it worked for you too! Reply

S United Kingdom October 2, 2017

Your sorrow made me cry, your hope lifted my hope and your joy made your life worthwhile reading about. May the blessings of HaShem continue to build your life. Thank you Reply

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