My Antidepressant: An Outsider Looking In
“You know,” my school therapist suggested in one of our sessions. “Exercise works much better than any antidepressant. You should try to go on walks to alleviate your moods.”
I had recently come back from a European spring break trip that left me distraught and, on certain days, inconsolable. Let’s blame it on a boy.
Alright, I thought. It will be good to get up and out of my dorm, if only for an hour, and get my endorphins going. After a couple of failed attempts at actually doing something about my mood and perpetually blaming it on the weather, I hauled my butt off my computer chair and headed out.
Looking back now, it is hard to try and remember why I took the J train into Williamsburg from the Financial District. Why waste the time? I could easily have gone to Battery Park to get my exercise there. But, every day, once my classes were done, I dropped off my books in my dorm room and walked to the Fulton Street station. Marcy Avenue and I got to be good friends during those April weeks.
I hurriedly shoved my iPod earbuds into my ears as I tried not to fall down the steep platform stairs. I walked south on Broadway, moving onto South 8th street and taking many lefts and rights until I was deep in Chasidic country.
I blared my music, my pace quickened, and I reached into my purse to quickly find my sunglasses. Comfortably situated on my face, my shades provided a deeper window into the faces of the people I was passing. Some tzadiks sleazily looked me up and down, others averted their entire heads away from my shaded gaze.
Little girls saw me, in my jeans and leather jacket, and whispered to each other. Adult women looked harder into my face, then down at my shoes, which were bright royal blue vintage flats.
I was a walking streak of different. An outsider, with clicking shoes that turned frum heads.
Every week I did this. And, just as my therapist had suggested, I had begun to feel better. I was able to think about what was troubling me, and, most importantly, I could get out of bed and go to school again.
“And why do you think that is,” asked my therapist after I had told her what I had been doing. “Is it just getting out, being active in the fresh air? Or something else?”
“I’m not sure,” I answered. And, at that point, I really could not pinpoint what exactly I was getting out of all this.
With every step down Broadway, I took in deep breaths of my surroundings and, sometimes, I began to choke up. At first I thought I was getting upset again, realizing that I was not completely over my experience abroad, until I encountered someone.
I remember walking by one of the Division Avenue projects, and out the door walked an elderly Hasidic man walking arm-in-arm with a younger man, probably from his building or his shul, or both. His spine was so curved, it looked like he had not walked fully upright in years. His beard reached halfway down his chest, or what I could see of it. His feet, encased in orthopedic shoes, made small steps on the sidewalk.
Once on the street, he raised his head to look around at the families passing by. “Baruch Hashem,” I heard him almost inaudibly whisper to a passerby. A small smile illuminated his old, worn face. He was happy.
I felt small tears coming, so I crossed the street and headed back to the Manhattan-bound station. On the ride back, I collected myself and tried to figure out why I had been so affected by that man. It hit me—he was probably a child, or teenager, during the Holocaust. Even if he wasn’t in Europe at the time, he still seemed so to me, almost like he represented an era.
To this man, simply stepping out onto the street for a leisurely walk was enough to smile about. Being alive, able to see so much over the decades, was quite enough. The biggest atrocity of the twentieth century was long over, and he was still there, still smiling.
As the J moved over the bridge, I thought to myself, “If he could survive, so can I.”Printable Version