I was referred to therapy through my medical doctor, who informed me that I was suffering from moderate-severe depression. This did not come as a surprise to me, since I already knew that I was not functioning normally. Both my sons, ages six and seven, have learning disabilities. This translated into two children who were very difficult to manage both at home and in school. I felt totally justified in feeling helpless and hopeless, and of course useless and worthless.

With the help of my therapist, I journeyed back to my childhood in an attempt to discover what early traumas could be affecting the way I was responding to my current struggle.

I felt totally justified in feeling helpless and hopeless, and of course useless and worthlessOne of the most difficult factors in my childhood was the extreme poverty in which I was raised. I remember at dinnertime we were given some bread, and it had pretty bluish dots on it. I showed it to my mother, who replaced it with stale bread which had not yet gone moldy. One day in elementary school, we were given bananas as a dessert. Bananas were my favorite food, and a rarity in our home. Not only was I allowed to eat it, but I could have as much as I wanted. After lunch was over, I ran to my classroom and brought my worn backpack downstairs, to the lunchroom. I went from table to table, stuffing my bag with these yellow delights. I came home that day and hid my precious treasure in the hallway behind some boxes. They lasted for about a week, assuaging the pangs of hunger that were usually the order of the day.

An even greater issue was the fact that we weren’t provided with books, toys, or anything to stimulate healthy development and academic growth. In school, I was always lagging behind. I remember feeling incompetent and humiliated. As the years wore on, I realized that the only way to be heard was to make “noise.” And so I made noise, and lots of it. It was negative noise that manifested itself in class disruption and truancy. The noise worked. The school became involved, and at the age of fourteen, through the help of social services, I was removed from my home and sent to live with a foster family.

Having an ambitious personality, I saw this as an opportunity to make a fresh start. Although my foster parents were distant and cold, I received my own room, adequate access to the fridge and pantry, clean clothes and a weekly allowance. I tried to stay out of their way, and found that if I did so, I could come and go as I pleased. At fifteen I joined the ranks of adulthood, and threw myself into my studies with one goal in mind: Success!

Having an ambitious personality, I saw this as an opportunity to make a fresh startAlthough I started my new journey with huge deficits, I never lost hope-the hope to overcome my past and make a better future for myself and my children! There was one teacher who recognized me for what I was. She saw the fighter in me who worked hard and persevered. She also saw my pain and my fear. She spent hours after school talking to me and studying with me. Because of her, I made it through the years of high school without drowning in its icy waters.

For me, success meant graduating high school and marrying a husband who would provide for me. I would have children. With my help and encouragement, they would have it all and do it all. My children would be mightily successful in becoming rich and living the good life. And then, I would be happy.

It did not happen that way.

My children struggled with reading, writing and focusing. At home, it was difficult to motivate them to complete basic tasks such as personal hygiene and household chores. Not only were they not at the head of their classes, they were lagging behind. I relived my childhood traumas, as I tasted failure again and again.

While exploring my thoughts and feelings, my therapist asked me to reevaluate the two most important words in my vocabulary, success and happiness. I had always assumed that success was having beautiful, popular, straight‑A children, who would eventually become the proud owners of sleek cars and designer clothes. They would own mansions and take exotic vacations. Happiness would inevitably follow.

Again I journeyed into my childhood. I realized that the pangs of hunger were not only for food, but also for love and affection. It was the emotional neglect that robbed me of my self-esteem and made me feel ashamed at my very core. Understanding the true source of my angst helped me redefine my goals. I reminded myself that my husband was making a decent living and we had a roof over our heads; food that was fresh, wholesome and tasty; and a playroom full of bikes, books and building toys.

I lowered my standards. I learned to refrain from making an “issue out of a tissue.” I studied my children’s abilities, and created a structure of rules and routines that were doable for them. I looked for—and found—opportunities to compliment and praise my children. I accepted my role as mediator between my children and the school environment, becoming involved and cooperative, while advocating for services and considerations for their disabilities.

I began to give freely of myself, discarding my dreams of how my children’s life should unfold, and focusing on what was best for them. I slowly developed an appreciation of the term unconditional love. I realized that success is about mastering my mind and overcoming my weaknesses. It is about living and loving in the here and now, and graciously accepting G‑d’s will for us. It is about believing that our struggles come from a source of ultimate compassion, and have the potential to lead to happiness and a sense of accomplishment.

I began to give freely of myself, discarding my dreams of how my children’s life should unfoldAlthough I have always practiced traditional Judaism, my religion had been habitual, as part of the social-cultural aspect of my life. Thankfully, my therapist, who also belonged to a Jewish community similar to my own, did not point out the discrepancy between my attitudes and my religious beliefs. She understood that in healing myself, I would reconnect with my soul and come to understand and appreciate that my needs were in fact spiritual. As I invite G‑d into my life, I know that He is as proud of me as I am of my two sons. We are taking it one day at a time, and we happily celebrate our mini-victories. As I tuck my sons into bed each night, I see their smiles and the love in their eyes. If that’s not success, what is?