Mikve Night with OCD by Anonymous

Mikve Night with OCD by Anonymous

I received this article yesterday, and it really warmed my heart to read how the author helped her friend with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder prepare for the mikve, transforming mikve for her from a difficult mitzvah into a more enjoyable one.

As I climbed the stairs to the mikve that wintery Friday night, I was met by 2 other women who were waiting for the mikve attendant to arrive.

“How long did it take you to prepare today?” inquired one of the women.

Sheepishly, I replied that since the children were home from school that short winter Friday, I had to cut my preparations down to a bare minimum.

“Nu, so how long was that?” she asked.

“Well, I managed 45 minutes,” was my reply.

I could see she was shocked.

“Don’t think I am any frummer than you because it took me longer. I’m just trying to figure out how you could do your preparations in such a short time. Tell me exactly what you did.”

I realized something was not quite right. It’s not a usual question. It came tumbling out of her mouth as soon as she saw me. Her voice sounded frustrated and annoyed!

We talked for a few minutes more, until the mikve lady arrived. The realization that someone Chassidish could get ready for the mikve in a reasonable amount of time while it took her 3 hours was very depressing for her. Why did it take her that long?!

As a result of her insecurities she spent so much time preparing that it made her resent this important mitzvah. She would become jittery and even panicky at the thought of having to prepare.

From that conversation I learned that my friend has OCD- obsessive-compulsive disorder. No. Not for everything. But when it comes to mikve preparations she becomes illogical and her preparations take forever.

After that time we met, we had monthly conversations. Each time I gave her a few tips on how she could cut down the time she spent preparing for this important mitzvah without compromising on the halacha. I spoke several times with an experienced Mikve lady and got advice which I would pass on to my friend. Each time she thanked me for the amount of time I had helped her cut down from her mikve preparations- half an hour, an hour. We were getting somewhere.

One month, we met in the fish store…..

Again she asked me quietly “So tell me again, what exactly do you do? Tell me, from the beginning of your preparations.”

After I finished my purchase, we stepped outside the store and spoke at length. “First I take a shower and wash my hair. That takes 5 minutes. Then I get into the bath for half an hour. In the bath I do all the rest. Wash myself, cut nails, brush and floss teeth, clean ears.. Then I get out and comb hair and check in the mirror. That takes another few minutes. Then I shower to rinse off and I’m done.”

I could tell from her questions that she was probably going to the mikve following next day. The same day as me…

My mind started racing as I walked away from her. Should I tell her? Should I prepare with her? All the rest of the day my mind was preoccupied with these thoughts.

Am I allowed to tell her that I am going? Usually, under normal circumstances, a woman never tells anyone which night is her mikve night for modesty reasons. However this situation felt different.

How could I not do it? It seemed to me that this was the only way to cure my friend, by going through the process with her, step by step.

When else would she have this opportunity? Isn’t it Hashgacha Protis (Divine Providence) that we happened to be going on the same night?!

Isn’t it Hashgacha Protis that we met that Friday night and that she opened up to me?

How else would I have known and been able to help her? And now I have the chance to really help! So what am I deliberating about? The next morning I woke up and made my decision based on the good old Chassidic teachings in the Hayom Yom: If you’re not sure if something is coming from your Yetser Hora (evil inclination) or Yetser HaTov (good inclination), look at the outcome of your deeds. So I did, and I knew that only good would come out of this.

I sent my friend a text message. Safest way. I didn’t want to put her on the spot. Maybe she’s was going to the mikve but didn’t want me to know?

A few hours later, I got a text message back. She was also going that night! And yes she would love to take me up on the offer to do the preparations together. What Hashgacha Protis!

That afternoon we discussed the logistics. I read my friend’s checklist to see if all was in order. I gently crossed out an item or two that were unnecessary. I called the mikve attendant and asked her to reserve 2 rooms at the back- away from the other rooms so no one would hear us. We both made sure that our phones were recharged. We both left our homes in time to arrive at the mikve a half hour earlier than I usually come, and about an hour later than she was accustomed to.

Together we prepared. We called or texted after each part:
“Finished shower?”
“Yes.”
“OK, bath now. ONLY HALF AN HOUR.”

I erased those texts we sent back and forth from my phone (so they wouldn’t be viewed by others). But they are kept in my mind. The feeling of being able to help someone else at the same time that I myself was preparing for the mikve was incredible and incomparable.

We were ready only a few minutes after toiveling time!! I wanted her to go first so she wouldn’t have time to look back and decide to clean anything over again, but she wasn’t quite ready. When I got back to my room I could hear that she was ready, so I left reassured to know that she had completed her journey.

Yes, I call it a journey for it wasn’t just that night that she managed to prepare in a normal amount of time. Since then she has been able to prepare in a healthy way on her own. She just needed someone to hold her hand that once. To go through it step by step.

Incidently, that night I became pregnant. Hashem approved!

For more information on Mikve for women with OCD, visit
Yoatzot.org
Mikvah.org
www.OU.org

photo credit: rose770 via photopin cc

14 comments

  1. Great post. There’s a question on this topic on the yoatzot site at http://www.yoatzot.org/question.php?id=7305.

  2. Wow! what an original article!
    TY Chana!

  3. This brings an important issue up. This is one of the topics specifically dealt with in the Eden Center (http://theedencenter.com ) Balaniyot course (mikvah attendant course), how balaniyot can help women with OCD.

  4. Interesting story, Chazakah U´Brucha! , sometimes, we need to give a litte help. It happened to me once, Iam the balanit of our mivkeh in the city, I had a woman that fears the water, and also swallow the water in the first inmersion, because of that it was hard to make the second inmersion after the beracha, so I got an idea, and told her nicely and patient, to put the hands in the corner, inside the mikveh, and then push herself inside the mikveh, so she can make her tevilah in a fast way and relax, then it was amazing, she could make a Kosher tevilah, she was happy , less stressed , and grateful with the advice, for now on, she make always like that, all the body stay inmersed and a relax, when she make the tevilah, she is not afraid anymore, and she doesn’t swallow water .

  5. Hashem should bless you for the beautiful mitzva that you did. Anxiety and pain of preparation should never have to come with mikva night. You helped her like someone helped me. I will never forget the woman who helped me stay calm and reasonable during my preparations. It is still a journey every time but now I know I can do it. From someone on this side of the issue, I can’t express how grateful I am that there are women like you with patience and sensitivity. You should be blessed forever.

  6. The issue of OCD and mitzva observance is a painful one. Sadly sometimes this is confused with being machmir and in many cases goes undetected early on because people mistakenly derive nachas from their children who seem to be “particularly diligent”. Such a poignant article and reminder of where this innocence (best case) or ignorance (worst case) can lead.

    Kudos to the writer for sharing, and Jewish Mom for posting, and mostly, kol hakavod to the poor woman who had the courage to reach out.

  7. When I teach kallas, I always give them a time framework for how long it should take to prepare (I usually say 45 min – 1 hour)because I know how easy it is to become obsessive about this even if you don’t have OCD. This particular area of halacha is very much one which people can become excessive – my husband and I have had people asking “how long should my preparations take?” and we’ve given them very firm instructions not to take longer than an hour, because it’s obvious from the way they’re asking that they are taking a lot longer and getting very stressed about it. I’m pleased to hear that mikve ladies are getting training in this area too.

  8. Sorry – forgot to say what a lovely post this is!

  9. well said and in a tastefully done.

  10. I went through an anxious phase with mikvah prep–I do not have OCD, but am a frustrating combination of absent-minded and detail-obsessed. I would notice things after I dipped and get worried. A kind balanit once helped me by saying firmly, “When we say ‘kasher’ that makes it so. The responsibility is on us.” I’m not sure I agree halachically, but it helped emotionally, and I think of her words all the time.

  11. Thanks for all your feedback on the article. I hesitated to send it in but now I see that it is important for all to be able to learn and either reach out for help or be on the giving side of helping. I am glad that baalonioyot are coming to the front to and teaching kallot with time frames. very helpful! Also what Chaya H. said is true. When a blanit says kosher it is a psak din. The woman is kosher. Don’t doubt. My mother is a balanit and has to go into the water (in bathers) with some very frightened women to hold their hands.

    • Hi. Thank so much for this article. I was wondering if Chana could do a followup telling us what advice the mikvah lady gave her to pass on to this lady. I think I and probably others would be able to benefit from it.
      Thank you.

  12. overwhelmed husband

    My wife has OCD. She told me on our second date. She was afraid of how I would feel about it. Despite her worries, I didn’t feel anything negative at all. I wanted ot reassure her, and make sure she felt comfortable and seen for the wonderful person she is. I respected and appreciated that she had the courage to tell me, despite her anxieties about it, and felt lovingly towards her for what that struggle in her life might have entailed. I didn’t know much about OCD, but it certainly didn’t detract from my appreciation of her at all. I simply told her it was like she told me she was wearing two different colours of socks 🙂 … Anyhow, it’s now a few years later, and yet again, before mikvah night, I am overwhelmed and stressed out because she is already ramping up her anxiety. She’s planning days ahead about how much time she will need in the bath to get ready… and it makes me want to scream for help. From before we got married I was aware that taharat mishpacha could become an issue easily entangled with OCD (I think it’s called scrupulosity?). I was concerned what other women’s well intended suggestions about mikvah prep would entail and what spiral of anxiety it would lead my wife on. I contacted a Rav of mine from yeshiva in Israel to ask him if he knew anyone who had in depth knowledge of not only the halachot of this issue, but with breadth of Torah knowledge to apply other principles, like overall health, and harmony in the relationship, and can balance things out to take care of her better than giving one size fits all halachic info. I also, in particular wanted to find someone with knowledge of mental health struggles, who could be supportive and compassionate to her, and who could tailor her instruction specifically knowing how compelled she will feel to do everything to the strictest degree that she is told. Thank G!d my Rav knew of a woman in Israel who is absolutely brilliant in Torah (my Rav really looks up to her as an amazing scholar) and someone with the kindness, and love, and wisdom, to carefully give guidance to my wife that would hopefully allow her to make this a positive thing in her life, and not something that becomes a strenuous burden. She has been amazing. Nontheless, over the years my wife has slid into feeling rigidly compelled to do a very lengthy prep before the mikvah, and the result of all of that stress is that specifically when we can finally be closer, we usually end up with strife and at a distance. It’s so painful. …I’m pausing to take a deep breath. I just wish this process could be one that is a minor and normal thing, and surrounded in positive, happy anticipation and warmth. I just want to be able to look forward to this time together. The way it has been is so hard – so painful.

    I’m not a Rav, though I studied for about 5 years in yeshiva, but it seems to me that:

    a) even if one doesn’t have OCD, that norms around preparation have become excessive (as with many things in current chumra leaning trends in Judaism, which is a broader issue). HaShem asked of us, that after the flow has stopped, to immerse before being together. We’re meant to not have things stuck to our bodies, separating between our skin and the water – i.e. our immersion isn’t effective if we are caked in dust and dirt that comes between us and the water. But nowadays people living in cities are rarely that kind of dirty. Unless we were just doing some gardening, we don’t have real dirt under our nails. Under our nails is probably cleaner now without doing anything that for people in the past after trying to clean them. We get sweaty or whatever, but we aren’t dirty in a way that would constitute coming between us and the water. Out of respect for the others who need to use the mikvah, it’s good to have a normal quick shower first (I kow from guys’ mikvahs that the water gets gross when too many people use the water without a shower first)… however that is a separate issue from the requirement not to have something between us and the water. Our hair is rarely ever tangled in the ways that would constitute an actual issue, unlike people in the past who might have had real rats-nest matted hair issues, which would be a problem. If we can run our fingers through our hair in the shower, like normal, then that should be more than fine. We don’t need to be making an ordeal of cleaning between our teeth. For most of history people didn’t have toothbrushes, not to mention floss. If you look up the history, people used to use a stick to pick between their teeth. The only issue would be if you had a piece of steak or celery, or asparagus – like actual strands of food – stuck between your teeth. Otherwise a normal toothbrushing should be more than enough, and even that might not in truth be required if there isn’t chunks and strands of food between our teeth. In general for intimacy purposes it’s obviously good to make ourselves smell and look nice, but that’s a separate thing from what the Torah is asking of us here.
    b) BUT for someone with OCD… there is another Torah principle at play – we are meant to LIVE by the mitzvot. We take care of the individual and it is truly NOT a one size fits all thing. If the person is distressed and unhappy and it’s harming their emotional and mental wellbeing, then it’s assur for them. If it’s messing up the happiness of the connection between the couple, then it’s assur for them. Everything needs to be adjusted according to what people can do in a healthy and positive way. It needs to be balanced, and sustainable, and only if more can be added in overall health and happiness, do we add more. This is such a critical foundation for how we live in Torah, and it gets so vastly undervalued and under-emphasized. A person is not only allowed to eat on Yom Kippur when needed for health reasons – it becomes an issur to fast, AND it is their mitzvah to eat. Taharat mishpacha for someone with OCD should be approached in the same way that takes great care with the overall wellbeing of the individual. Women need to be aware of the intense suffering of other women around them, and to be educated enough about it to be mindful not to make their fellow women think they are doing it wrong, or casually implying that they are proud of doing the chumras, without thinking of what road this can lead their OCD friend down.
    As I said, I’m not a Rav, and I hope anything I’ve said is correct and not misleading. I think it’s correct though, and I wish this would become a topic dealt with in greater care and thoughtfulness. I really hope it gets better in my home. It’s been really distressing for too long now.

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