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My Life, Disrupted
Dear Emuna

My Life, Disrupted

I went from over-achiever to someone absorbed with medical issues mourning the life I’ve lost. How do I move on?


Dear Emuna,

I am a young woman who went from being a perfectionist/over-achiever to someone with medical problems that have transformed my life into something totally different from what I was expecting. As much as I want to let go of mourning what I've lost or what could have been, I find I am sabotaging myself left and right. Instead of pulling myself up and making the best of life, I frequently escape into other things or just feel angry/bitter. How can I let go of the fear and sadness to move on?

Recovering Perfectionist

Dear Recovering Perfectionist,

You are not alone. We are all recovering perfectionists in one way or another. There comes a time in all of our lives, some earlier, some later, when we have to come to terms with the fact that a) perfection is unavailable in this world,
b) the search for perfection is a guaranteed recipe for bitterness and resentment (as you have discovered)
and c) our lives will not turn out exactly as we have expected.

The fact that we live in a material world means that nothing can ever be perfect. It is inherent in the nature of a material existence. Accepting this and not expecting otherwise is one of the secrets to a happy experience. Attempting perfection is usually a means of trying to exert control over the circumstances of our lives, whether it’s our closets, our weight, our children or ourselves.

Recognizing that the Almighty is in control helps alleviate this need. You don’t mention the exact nature of your challenge – how deep, how great, how lasting and impactful the implications. But the basic response is the same: The world is unfolding exactly the way the Almighty wants it to. (I tell myself this repeatedly all day every day!) We all have challenges and struggles and I use this tool to remind myself that it’s in the Almighty’s hands – and that it’s good.

Of course there is a period of mourning when life hands you challenges and pain, when things don’t work out as expected or imagined. But as you seem to recognize, this is not a healthy long-term strategy. It’s okay to mourn, it’s okay to be sad, it’s even okay to be angry. But don’t remain stuck there. As hard as it may seem right now, you need to adjust your focus. Instead of thinking about what you don’t have/what’s missing, focus on what you do have. Concentrate on the joy and opportunities that are available to you instead of the ones that aren’t.

In short: count your blessings. I know it may seem trite, I know you may not be in the mood (I hate when my husband tells me to do that when I’m feeling grumpy) but it does work. If you are sincere in your desire to move on – and I think you wouldn’t have bothered to write this letter if you weren’t – then this is the key. It’s not a novel idea but it’s one of those tried and true strategies that really work. I wish you success and a complete healing.

Too Sensitive to Have Friends

Dear Emuna,

I'm 35 and always wonder why friendships can be so much more difficult when you are a highly sensitive person like me. I realize that pretty much everyone will struggle in friendships at some point, but I find that being so sensitive, I have more difficulty in making and maintaining friendships. With pretty much all of the friendships that I've ever had, I've always been the one making all the effort-calling, arranging to go places, etc. I meet so many people that I could call acquaintances, but so few real friends who I can really pour my heart out to. I also find that friends dispose of me if I speak to them about my feelings. I don't actually think I have any true friends at this point and find it difficult to make meaningful friends in my mid 30's. Looking for help.


Dear Lonely,

You are not really alone, at least in your experience. It is difficult for all of us to make true lasting friendships. It is difficult for all of us to find people we trust, people who are loyal, people we can really count on. In fact, if we have one good friend, one person we can really rely on, we should consider ourselves lucky indeed. (Click here to watch Rabbi Noah Weinberg, obm, tell a story about this.)

Most of what people call friendships are something else altogether – from acquaintances to situations of kindness (i.e. one party is the giver and the other is the recipient) to complete illusions. And yet having said all that, it is natural and human to want to share our lives in a meaningful way with others. Being highly sensitive can certainly be a challenge to friendships. You may have expectations of others that they just can’t live up to. You may take offence where they don’t mean to give any. Even in the best of friendships, there will be struggles and misunderstandings. There will be different viewpoints and needs and availability.

You need to be able to roll with the punches so to speak. You need to understand when other demands on their time may make them unavailable to you. You need to learn to let go – of comments and actions that may (usually unintentionally) hurt your feelings. Once in a while, if it’s very serious, you can confront them but if it happens too frequently, chances are they will conclude that the friendship is just not worth the stress and effort.

You need to have patience – to let the friendship grow slowly and at a pace good for everyone. Once you have this recognition, then I think it is possible to find new friends whatever your age. Look for them at places where you already know you are something in common – Jewish groups, political groups, organizations whose goals you share, get-togethers over hobbies you enjoy.

And finally, not only does the Almighty make Himself the third friend for two good friends (this is a test to see if you watched that video I mentioned above) but when we feel alone, we know that He is always there for us, always loyal, always reliable, always loving.

December 24, 2017

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Visitor Comments: 2

(2) Ravella, December 28, 2017 4:09 PM

Empathy and a push

I know exactly what you are talking about from the perspective of having my dreams demolished. I'd thought I found my home, thought I'd found my success path, fought hard to get in that door, and believed the harder I worked the more I'd become.

The thing is, grief can be exactly what keeps you stuck. I know your dreams are hidden or demolished. But what new dreams can you build? What new future can you imagine?

There is a book written many years ago called The Artist Way by Julian Cameron. It was quite helpful to me when I'd suffered the biggest disappointment and failure I could fathom at the hands of family. My lifelong dream was shattered, and while I wasn't physically ill, I was emotionally destroyed.

What I found in this book was an opening to creative new dreams..which led to new ways, new dreams, new everything.

I am living with a now disabled husband who was once the overachiever like you. His disability came completely unexpectedly. He struggles with the exact same dilemma. He loved his life, was highly successful, and then suddenly couldn't do anything. One more thing he did was find a mental health counselor who specializes in helping those who are chronically ill. Perhaps you can find one in your area. That really helped him accept his illness, find a little more purpose, and end the constant cycle of depression.

I wish you the best.

(1) Eli, December 26, 2017 8:33 AM


I totally sympathize with over-achiever/perfectionist. I have been through EXACTLY the same thing this year. I used to be able to do it all. I worked, studied, exercised, played music, as well as take care of my family. My recent illness has limited me in EVERY respect and it is SO hard to let go of the feeling that I can do it all. I can't anymore. The more I try to do that, the sicker I get and the more miserable my family is. And the more miserable I am. Emuna, your advise is really, really helpful and timely. It is going to take time to recover in many ways. Thank you, over-achiever/perfectionist, for asking this question. Wishing you all the best and a positive outlook.

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