I Lost My Job and My Best Friend, But Gained a Positive Perspective
Last February, I sat in my local park, holding a set of papers that said I had been laid off from my job.
I tried to figure out what my next step was. The notice in my hands wasn’t exclusively for me. My entire department was getting laid off for financial reasons. I worked in a community college as an English tutor for over three years. I connected with my students and played a small part in giving them the tools to believe they could actually write and be good at it.
Being someone that attaches purpose to her work, this job gave me fulfillment. Coming in every day, working alongside brilliant women, and complaining about bad coffee and bad dates was my haven.
For weeks, I tried to find some form of employment that could mirror that atmosphere. But as reality set in, I broadened my options, and I heard nothing back. I grew discouraged and wouldn’t leave the house for days, feeling it wasn’t even worth it.
One morning, I woke up to a text from a friend asking me to watch Shlomo, her 10-year-old autistic son for a few hours. I felt like sulking and sleeping in, but decided not to let this mitzvah (good deed) go to waste.
Shlomo was charismatic. He spoke frankly with me and said my shoes didn’t match my outfit. I laughed and then agreed with his statement. I was shocked to discover how brilliant he was. He analyzed Van Gogh’s Starry Night and quoted Abraham Lincoln to me.
When I got home later that day, I felt a twinge of fulfillment and decided I wanted more of that. I began to help where I could, starting with family. The Jewish guilt of not being there when I was working gnawed at me and I needed to make up for lost time. When my sister found a new place to live, I helped her pack and move. We went through old remnants and thought fondly about their nostalgic significance.
When my grandmother got dementia, I would stay with her a few nights a week. This was particularly difficult, because her insomnia kept us both awake. Sometimes I would cuddle up with her and let her tell me the same stories over and over again.
After her dementia got significantly worse, I would visit her in the nursing home, a place I wanted to avoid because of how emotional it was to see her in such a declining state. Sometimes she’d talk to me, and other times she’d barely look at me.
These days, she doesn’t quite know who I am, but visiting her makes me realize it’s perfectly normal to feel helpless at times. And when I manage to make her smile, she momentarily remembers who I am: “Leora, the girl with long black curls,” she says. Then I smile, too.
On days when there wasn’t anything for me to do, I could’ve stayed in and done nothing, but the idea repulsed me. I would continue to take Shlomo out after school and we’d engage in fascinating conversations. I had to constantly remind myself this was a 10-year-old kid.
I also began exploring my city, Brooklyn. I discovered hidden walkways and resumed old hobbies, like photography and birdwatching. In total, I sighted 60 species!
I began to develop this immense appreciation for life and doing things for sake of doing them, expecting little in return.
While I found balance in this one aspect, things weren’t all chipper. I struggled with my weight all my life. Doctors bluntly told me to simply lose weight and only then would I feel like a functioning human again. This didn’t help me. I felt dejected and humiliated by their lack of compassion. I knew there was a professionalism between doctor and patient, but I honestly felt judged with every, “heavy girl” remark that came my way.
After finally finding a physician with a decent bedside manner, she empathetically told me, “Honey, you have PCOS. Just like me!”
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is a disorder that causes imbalance of reproductive hormones, resulting in cystic ovaries. PCOS is also one of the leading causes of infertility.
As my doctor animatedly delivered this news, she assured me it was a relief waiting to happen. At first, I couldn’t understand it. She told me that I needed to do my homework and research a great deal to understand why she felt relieved for me and in time, why I would feel the same.
I left that office feeling angry and overwhelmed, but in an attempt to be a good patient, I sifted through the sources she gave me. And then everything began to make sense.
It’s still uncertain to the medical world what causes PCOS. However, because of high androgen levels, women with this syndrome tend to hold onto more weight, especially in the upper part of the body. So, no matter how hard I was trying, if I was still consuming mostly gluten and not exercising vigorously, no progress would be made.
For years, I could’ve been kinder to myself, to my body, and not beaten myself up over things that were for the most part out of my control.
I’m 23 and not married, but I wanted to spare myself the pain of infertility later on in life. I knew I needed to make adjustments to my lifestyle. I read about women that took on lifelong commitments for their health, not their appearance, and that’s how I chose to look at it.
I remember thinking, this is going to be such hard work, but I davened (prayed) for Hashem’s help each and every morning to grant me the energy and the will to take this on. I also began following PCOS-friendly Instagram accounts and joined a few Facebook groups that gave me support and encouragement.
I began with small changes. Ten-thousand steps a day turned into 20,000. Jogging turned into running. My doctor told me I had to be gluten-free, and it wasn’t nearly as bad it seemed. She also suggested I give up processed foods, which was the real challenge. Having to cook all my meals instead of relying on packaged products like I used to was a tough change to make.
Eventually, it did get easier, and I came to learn something extraordinary: good habits are just as hard to break as bad habits. However, there were definitely days I didn’t want to be as optimistic as I was the day before, but I wasn’t willing to sacrifice how far I’d come just to feel sorry for myself.
Around this time last year, my best friend’s birthday was coming up, but I hadn’t seen or spoken to her for a while. She chose to no longer be religious and though I still wanted to be supportive, this strained our relationship. We’d grown apart and presumably handled our lack of communication in a juvenile way.
When I did reach out to her, our conversations turned hostile. Neither one of us would listen to the other. After being certain there was no room to reconcile, we cut off contact. The finality of it left me hurt and alone. She was one of the few people in my life who I truly trusted.
My older sister always offered to listen to me, but up until that point, I didn’t feel I could share certain parts of my life with her. Last summer, the two of us took a trip upstate for a Torah retreat. It was an annual event that brought many women of different Jewish backgrounds together to learn, grow, and connect.
On the last night there, I found myself bawling uncontrollably to my sister, detailing everything that had been going on in my life, all the while apologizing for burdening her. She stared at me wide-eyed and lovingly yelled, “I’m your sister and I’m always here for you so stop apologizing!”
After I calmed down, we sat outside and talked for hours. I guess I really needed to reach a certain point of lonesomeness to realize I wasn’t truly alone.
As Rosh Hashanah approaches and we commit to self-reflection, attend lectures that highlight what we need to hear, and delve into books on such themes, I succumb to a similar pattern. I reflect on the negative aspects and genuinely look for the good in spite of it.
At the time, I cried and lamented over the fact that so much was being taken away from me. I didn’t try to look for the good.
But now, after a year, I can see it.
Being let go from my job allowed me the luxury to go out and help people, which in turn, helped me.
Finding out I had PCOS was the biggest blessing in disguise. I managed to turn my life around from this very diagnosis. I’ve never been happier, never felt stronger.
What I truly learned from ending my toxic friendship: if we hold onto false closeness, it hurts everyone involved. It wastes precious time. There are two solutions: either mend it or move on. Not everything is going to be mendable, and that’s okay too.
This Rosh Hashanah, I intend to move forward with a full heart. To love myself and those around me. To take advantage of free time, be more attentive, smile often.
I daven that Hashem grants us all the clarity to shine a positive light on the seemingly negative things and to show us how strong we are when all we feel is powerless.
Wishing everyone a Shana Tova.
Leora Ifrailova is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has been featured in Lilith Magazine, The Jewish Voice, among various online publications. She is an avid reader, explorer, and proud bird-nerd.