Here the Jew and Muslim are Labeled Depressed…boo hoo…or woo hoo.

What’s great about depression…is you get this label. And when you are living in the Middle East, especially in one of the most heated areas of the world (not because of the sun), Jerusalem, to be depressed and not the Jew and the Muslim, is somewhat refreshing.

Sure the label comes with society’s stigma of crazy, which I am not too crazy about (look at me, playing with words); but still it’s something different from the usual divide. There, in our outpatient facility, we, Jews, Muslims, religious, secular, punk, conservative, bisexual, gay or lesbian, or even asexual, we’re all just a bunch of depressed people.

That said, our group therapy sessions proved that depression is more on a spectrum with grief, long-term, triggers, manics, personality disorders, traumas and everything inbetween. But to the public, we’re crazies. Easier to not talk about us, notice us or care. I’m not angry with you. It just makes me depressed. I mean crazy.

Anyway, forget all that ranty stuff for a second. I want to write about how I am living in Jerusalem and as a Jewish Israeli citizen, I made a real connection with an Arab Muslim woman from East Jerusalem. She has the saddest eyes. And her pain is something, all of the group can relate to. Because here we aren’t in the conflict you watch on TV with sexy headlines full of bullshit and lies.

Here, in our group, we see her sad eyes, not her hijab. And here, she can be free from all her restraints. I’m not talking about separation fences, or equality, I mean, trying to be a strong woman for her daughter, husband and community. Here she can say how she feels taken advantage of at work. How she can’t get out of bed. How her daughter looks at her with disappointment. Or her friends and family tell her she’s not really sick and to get back to life. And how cooking, once a pleasure, is now a chore.

She cried a lot in the first group session. And in group, you are not allowed to console…well not physically. It was so hard for me to watch her. Her sad eyes. The tears. She was just another depressed person that my heart ached for. I was already on my healing path, having been in the group for two months. She was a new referral. After group ended I got her water. She smiled and hugged me. I told her I understood. And that her pain was real. And we could get through it together. We need to be each other’s strength.

Both of us speaking in broken Hebrew, my American accent and her thick Arab accent. No translation needed. We got each other. After that, on a daily basis we found ourselves speaking before or after the group sessions. Mainly outside, where the Middle East sun could shine on us. Give us light. I felt her soul. That sounds like a hallmark card. Or something you say on a Tinder date. But for all the cliche, it is true. So I did my best to tell her that she was making progress. It wouldn’t be easy but she would get there.

She would cry about dreams turned into nightmares. Then she would smile and say I am giving her hope. Which is all I wanted. Finally, I cut up some Oprah magazines and made her a visionary board of powerful quotes (which was really easy, since Oprah literally writes in poetic affirmations from ads to articles). She took it with joy, even though I wasn’t sure how much of the English she would understand

On my last day at the facility (I wasn’t cured but my time had run out and new patients needed the help more than me), she came up to me with her sad eyes and beautiful smile. She told me that she put the board on her fridge. That she made her daughter read it to her. And that her daughter said the quotes were really about her mom. Remaking yourself, finding your passion and story. And so this time she cried, but cried tears of happiness. Finding herself in a new place on the spectrum.

We shared our hopes. Dreams and nightmares. Music. Phone numbers. And realized we are more alike than the media will let you think. Because we never saw each other as more than two crazy depressed people. And that gave us strength to heal. And hope for both our futures.

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