What Does the Month of Iyar Have to Do with Healing?

Iyar is known as a Month of Healing.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

What connects them? Healing.

Phew! I can relax about my back surgery now since it’s on the 20th of Iyar. 

During this month of healing, the focus is not solely on the name of an illness one is suffering, but one with many connections, internally and externally. (Aish.com).

I am having back surgery on the 20th of Iyar, or the 11th of May.

My surgery is due to degenerative disc disease, meaning two discs have become too close together and a new “disc” is inserted and screwed in. It involves one night in the hospital but possibly two (please let it be one!).

I am not worried about the post-surgery experience, both in the hospital and at home. I have many supports and feel quite lucky.

Unfortunately, there is a negative connection to 55 difficult times in my life when I received anesthesia for Electroconvulsive Treatment (ECT). Yes, 55 times, and the result is an intense phobia of anesthesia.

I warned my neurosurgeon and will talk with the anesthesiologist the morning of the surgery. I will need medicinal comfort, that’s how intense it is for me. I will be sobbing, fearing each person I see and worrying I will not be “comfortable” enough and will see the Operating Room as I am brought in.

The fear is real and even though I can think rationally about it, the terror remains. I will cry hysterically and hope they allow my husband to be with me at that point in the process.

What can one say of “healing?” I think many think of the prayer Mi Sheberach (prayer for the sick). It states to: restore her, heal her, to strengthen her. (myjewishlearning.com).

For me, in my current medical situation, I would ask God to restore me, heal me and strengthen me – not just physically, but mentally, as well.

My anxiety is severe right now, my terror of anesthesia has overtaken me, and my bipolar disorder is controlled, but my APRN and I are still working on the best dose of Lithium for me.

When I think of healing, I think of what we see in Exodus 15:2, which has had great meaning to me from when I first heard it at a women’s retreat through my then, Rabbi, and forever friend.

The more we sang it, the more meaning it had for me: 

עזי וזמרת יה ויהי־לי לישׁוּעה

God is my strength and my song and will become my deliverance

What this means to me is that God plays many roles. God gives me strength and provides me with a song and as a result becomes my restoration. Here, God’s role is focused on the other, not on itself.

My great fear, pre-surgery, about the anesthesia can’t simply be taken away, however, I can rely on my own strength, this song and my own part in my restoration. I have the will to do these things, just as it is written in Exodus 15:2, and can at least try to remember its meaning for me. 

Fear is fear and it can’t be washed away so easily, but it is Iyar and I am having back surgery and I am scared. I am scared of the anesthesia but perhaps I can remember people and things that feel supportive, to at least help guide me through this scary and difficult time.

I will focus on my own healing, remember that it is the month of Iyar and that on the 20th day of Iyar, I will have my back surgery and I will endure what I must in order to properly care for myself.

I will take part in my healing, both physically and emotionally, and I will not only rely on God’s strength, but the strength of myself and all those around me who mean so much to me. 

So, Iyar, healing and Mental Health Awareness Month are linked and for me it’s connected to being given comfort, emotionally and medicinally, hoping I will endure the process and ask for help and support when I need it.

It’s post-surgery when I can take a breath and really work on my own healing: using my own strength, humming this song and doing the work to help heal myself.

עזי וזמרת יה ויהי־לי לישׁוּעה

 God is my strength and my song and will become my deliverance


  • Risa has an MSW from Fordham University and attended The Jewish Theological Seminary’s List College and has a BA from Columbia University. She has spoken about her history with mental illness for the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving and was featured in Women's Health Magazine's May 2016 issue regarding mental health. Risa was also a panelist on AOL Build discussing the effects of stigma on those with mental illness. In 2017, Risa was also featured in an episode of Dr. Oz discussing her success with ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) and was a featured speaker at Jewish Family Services of Greater Hartford’s first annual event: Embracing Possibility for Mental Health Awareness and was awarded the 2018 Humanitarian Award at the second annual event. She has written for Huffington Post, Psych Central, Kveller, Keshet, The Mighty, Bring Change 2 Mind and was published in the 2nd and 3rd volumes of Stigma Fighters Anthology and on her own blog, risasreality.com. Risa lives in central CT with her husband and their 13 year old child.

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