Nishmat's Women’s Health and HalachaIn memory of Chaya Mirel bat R' Avraham

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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

4 May, 2008

Question:

I have a problem, and I don’t know who else can help me. Your team has always been so helpful and understanding, so I figured maybe you could help somehow.

I have been married for 5 years and find I have become increasingly nervous and uncertain with taharat hamishpacha. To the point where I ask many (pointless) sheilot to my rav and even here and on your hotline. Not a cycle goes by that I don’t have several freak outs, about a pale color on a bedikah (most of which have been okayed before), or about my preparations for immersion and even to the point where I cannot get home without returning to double check with the mikvah ladies and often taking a last dip,”just in case.”

My therapist has said I may have OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). It’s not only about this process, but also other things. It has gotten to the point that it takes about 4 hours to prepare and immerse, not including the stuff I do the day before–shaving, etc– and the morning of, like cutting my nails! When I come home, I can’t stop worrying that I might have missed something. This month it was small scabs on each of my hands that I tried to remove and I KNOW what was left was softened in my long bath.

The saddest part is I KNOW it’s not right, and it’s not halachically correct to behave this way, and that shalom bayit and the mitzvah of onah is JUST as important as being thorough when I perform taharat hamishpacha!

So my question to you is this: is there anything YOU might suggest to try and help deal this stress and this obsession? Anything practical? The one downside to my wonderful therapist (who isn’t Jewish–we don’t have frum therapists where I live) is that she does NOT have the slightest idea of what the process of Taharat haMishpacha entails, although she has tried very hard to understand all these rules. So she can’t give me truly practical solutions in that sense.

Please, I need help. This is putting incredible strain on my marriage, although my husband is incredibly kind and patient and knows this is an illness. I need structure, something I can follow to try to alleviate the doubt I feel every single month and know I am still keeping the halachot correctly.

I apologize for the length of this email, but I don’t know who else to turn to.

Thank you so much for your patience and your wonderful help. I don’t know where I’d be without you.


Answer:

There is no need to apologize.  We are sorry to hear of the strain you are under and hope to help you meet the challenges you face.

We would like to emphasize that the laws of niddah, like the Torah itself, are designed for human beings in all their imperfection, and not for angels.  The laws as you know them already have many protective layers and stringencies built into them.  (For example, many halachic authorities do not consider scabs to be chatzitzot, even if they are not soaked.)  Thus, our sages ensured that, for someone making an effort to avoid transgression, it is very unusual for a serious transgression to take place.  And an unwitting transgression is not regarded with the same severity as a willful one.

The Torah entrusts each woman to observe these mitzvot as necessary and HaShem is forgiving.  B”H, you will find the strength to be more trusting and forgiving of yourself.

On a practical level, you should not ask about or doubt a yellow or light tan bedikah, even on a hefsek taharah.  Typical mikveh preparation time is from forty to ninety minutes.  Print out a copy of our article “How to Prepare for Mikveh Immersion” or a checklist from your local mikveh.  Check off each step with a pen when complete.  Do no more than what is listed.  Once you have immersed, DO NOT look yourself over again.  (If need be, stay away from mirrors.)  Try to shift your focus to the next mitzvah, onah, and to your love for the person you plan to fulfill it with.

It would be helpful for your therapist to learn more about taharat hamishpacha.  Our sister site for healthcare professionals, www.jewishwomenshealth.org, is designed to provide background information to clinicians.  For starters, the articles “Introduction to the Laws of Niddah” and “Pscyhological Issues in Halachic Observance” may be of use. (You can print these out for her if you like.)  It could also be important for her to develop a working relationship with your rabbi.  You could ask her and your rabbi if they are open to being in contact as part of your treatment.

Please don’t hesitate to be in further contact with us.


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