Do you feel lost, alone, and depressed? Like your life has no purpose? I did, too, and I managed to find myself again.

We hear a lot about the brocha “Shelo asani isha,” translated to mean “Who did not make me a woman”, supposedly thanking G-d for the additional mitzvos which men are commanded to do, and conveying that they are an honour, and not a burden. Needless to say, this blessing is very controversial, and detracts attention from the blessing said by women, “Who has made me according to His will”. Personally, this blessing always interested me more than shelo asani isha. Yes, it’s less controversial, and thus perceived as less interesting, but to me, this prayer has taught me, and reminded me of, one of life’s greatest lessons.

It’s easy to lose yourself. I, personally, have spent much of my life changing- and losing parts of myself in the process- in an attempt to become someone else. I lost money, time, and, eventually, my own identity, in the pursuit of happiness, and only now can I look at my life and realise that this self-destructive cycle has distorted my life and made me feel unhappy and unworthy. When I compromise on my morals in order to make friends, or find a partner, I send a message to myself, saying ‘You’re not good enough the way you are. No one will love you unless you change’.

And I believed this for many years. I genuinely thought that if only I changed who I was, then I would finally unlock the metaphorical door between happiness and myself. If only I was more beautiful; if only I was thinner; if only I was less frum; if only I was more cultured; if only I pretended to be one of the cool, glamorous women I envied, then everything would be alright- and even if it wasn’t, then I would be surrounded by people who made the not alright things seem bearable.

I was wrong, and I almost died trying to be that popular, perfect woman whom I’ve since come to realise doesn’t actually exist. As I changed everything about myself, the cruel words which had led me down this path stuck in my head, and as I starved, I cried bitter tears, eventually finding that my life had lost its meaning, somewhere along this journey. I spent some months barely able to leave my bed, and in those dark, lonely days, I started to pick up the pieces, beginning with the tattered siddur which had accompanied me through the horrible mess which was now my life.

Looking back, I came across something I wrote at the time; “I’m suffering here and haven’t felt worse in a very long time. The only thing which has kept me going is the conviction that someone is praying for me and that G-d is listening… I’m convinced things will change because of your prayers“. I remember writing that, and I remember much later, how my belief in prayer led me out of that deep, dark pit. I started to look at what was right in front of me: the blessing which I knew so well, I’d forgotten what it actually meant.

“Blessed are You, G-d, Who has made me according to His will”. It took a long time before I realised what I’d been saying, and what it meant to me. If G-d made me according to His will, perhaps I wasn’t so imperfect after all. Perhaps, I had a purpose on this earth after all. I dug deeper and found a quote by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov; “The day you were born was the day G-d decided the world couldn’t exist without you”. I photographed that quote and looked at it quite often for quite a long time, as I began to figure out why exactly the world couldn’t exist without me.

I did some soul-searching and I continued to change, but this time, my change wasn’t spurred by a desire to please others. I wanted to please G-d, and I wanted to please myself. I realised that I had forgotten who I actually was, in my hurry to become one of the people I envied. And so I set about doing what felt right, waiting for the pieces to fall into place, and waiting for the day when I felt like myself again.

I’m not there yet. I still have doubts. I still have weaknesses. Sometimes, I still shed a tear when I look at the beautiful women on Facebook who are a thousand times more glamorous than me, before I remember that I would never be comfortable- or ‘myself’- if I dressed the way they did. Other times, I desperately wish that I were one of the amazingly clever women who my friends fawn over, until I realise that G-d gave me a perfectly good brain, and it’s no good wishing I had theirs instead. I’ve got a long way to go, but I know that I’m never going to lose myself again the way I did before- not while I keep saying the blessing which changed my life.

Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the Universe, Who has made me according to His will.

Published by Lily Smythe