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Where are they now: Featuring Josh Pogonitz, Past 18 Under 18 Honoree

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Josh Pogonitz

Hi! My name is Josh Pogonitz. I am 18 years-old and I live in Skokie, IL. The high school I went to is Ida Crown Jewish Academy. Currently, I am taking a gap year in Israel at a yeshiva located in Jerusalem called “Yeshivat Torah Vi’Avodah.” This upcoming Summer, I plan on working at a Jewish overnight camp called Moshava, Wild Rose, where I was a camper for four summers. In the Fall, I plan on attending Loyola University Chicago.

Throughout my life, I have struggled with anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and depression. During my sophomore and junior years, I struggled with self harm and suicidal ideation. I attended treatment programs. This journey is when for the first time in a long time, I rediscovered happiness and life worth living. This is also when I grew very passionate about mental health awareness. 

Before I went to those treatment programs, I never spoke publicly about my mental health. The reason why I started afterwards is because once I found hope and joy again, I wanted to help others find their hope and joy. Two of my struggles are feeling like an exception to therapy helping and feeling like I was a terrible person. I was so certain that the only way to feel happiness would be if I was just a better and good enough person. I felt this way for many years and so when I was able to view things differently, once I was able to fight my thoughts from imprisoning me for the first times in a long time, I thought that if I could share my experiences and what I’ve learned, then it could help people who are also struggling and who feel so certain that nobody can help them. 

During my senior year of high school last year, I was nominated to be a JUF 18 Under 18 honoree. Springboard allowed me to continue pursuing mental health awareness as I did so for my impact project. I would like to thank Springboard for the incredible experiences I had. It was such a learning opportunity and gave me a foundation that I can forever use during my further journey in mental health awareness.

This past December 2020, after speaking at mental health organization No Shame On U’s annual event in November 2019, I wrote an article for the organization’s annual report. The article included my personal mental health experiences, my experience of speaking at the annual event, and about my 18 Under 18 project itself. This past January, I spoke on Zoom with the head of No Shame On U, Miriam Ament, to the eighth grade class of Hillel Torah North Suburban Day School. I spoke about my own personal struggles and lessons I’ve learned along the way. 

As I wrote before, this year I am taking a gap year at a yeshiva in Israel. It has been a year filled with many valuable, meaningful, important, and unforgettable experiences despite COVID. I have been able to continue learning Torah, learning about my mind and emotions, and see, as well as experience the land. Going on this gap year is really one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. 

One of the many incredible experiences I’ve had was during my Passover break, I went on a program in which I volunteered on a kibbutz and army base. For the first time in my life, I was able to experience two places I always wondered what they were like. Volunteering and living at both places for a few days each were beyond cool and nothing I had ever done before. It was also a way for me to give back to Israel for my time here this year.  

Lastly, one of the many meaningful realizations that I have been able to continue to strengthen this year is as follows. My goal for combatting my mental illnesses is to manage them, not to cure them. When I started making progress during my junior year, I used to worry that when I had a setback, all of my progress would disappear. I have learned that there may be times of anxiety and depression while at the same time, that doesn’t take away from any of the progress being made. In the big picture, there can be anxiety and also happiness. During my gap year, I have struggled. And at the same time, I am having many meaningful, happy, exciting, fun, and inspiring experiences. In fact, I have even discovered new things I never knew I loved. I was able to graduate high school last year, I have been able to live away from home for eight months, I can meet with my therapist weekly, and still do what I love and live my life. 

Once again, I’d like to thank Springboard for giving me the honor and opportunity to be an 18 Under 18 Honoree. This journey is just the beginning as I hope to continue pursuing mental health awareness however I can at Loyola University Chicago and the future beyond.

Biography

Josh is currently taking a gap year at a yeshiva in Israel. For high school, he attended Ida Crown Jewish Academy. He played basketball there for three years and ran cross country for four years. During November of Josh’s senior year, he gave a speech at mental health organization No Shame On U’s annual event. This was the first time he spoke publicly about his struggles and experiences of mental illnesses. This Summer, Josh plans on working at Camp Moshava, Wild Rose and then plans to attend Loyola University Chicago in the Fall.  

Stop the Stigma By Hannah Dalinka

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Hannah Dalinka

One night, I was at my close friend’s Bar Mitzvah party (before COVID) when I heard the DJ yell, “Dance like you’re having a seizure!” The DJ probably meant that we should all dance “crazy”, but I was mortified, to say the least. This was not the first time I heard someone tell a joke about a seizure, but this was the first time it really hit me hard. I have a personal connection with epilepsy and this DJ had just joked about a serious neurological disorder in front of probably 200 people. I did not know what to do. I came home crying because of how upset I felt. My parents and I then contacted the DJ company. The people there were very apologetic and explained that they just did not realize how bad what they said was. I knew, from then on, that I needed to do something to end the stigma and “jokes” surrounding seizures and epilepsy.

In 2015, we noticed that one of my relatives started having, what we called, “space outs''. They would stare into space and their eyes would go blank. This family member was soon diagnosed with epilepsy. They had non-convulsive seizures, which do not involve the typical symptoms of a seizure that are portrayed in the media. Luckily, my relative was put on medication and has been seizure free for a very long time now. Unfortunately, my relative still does not feel comfortable discussing their condition because of all of the stigma surrounding epilepsy. They did not want people thinking they were uncontrollable or weird.

Epilepsy is a very common neurological disorder, in fact, as it states on the Epilepsy Foundation’s website, “More people live with epilepsy than with autism spectrum disorders, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy - combined.” In addition to this, 1 in 26 people in the United States will be diagnosed with epilepsy at some point in their lifetime. This number probably shocks you. This is because epilepsy is often considered a hidden disorder. Sometimes, with treatment and medication, seizures can be minimized or controlled. This disorder, therefore, is not as normalized as other, visible disorders. However, it does not make epilepsy any less real. 

I decided for my mitzvah project to not only raise money for the Epilepsy Foundation, but to also educate others on epilepsy to try and break the stigma. I realized, from the experience with the DJ, that some people just genuinely do not know how horrible it is to make fun of seizures and use that word in a joking way. I created posters and gave out booklets with tons of information about epilepsy. I also gave people some surprising statistics on the number of people living with epilepsy and just how many people are affected by it. I urged people to call others out when they make jokes about someone else looking like they’re having a seizure. I talked about how it is not okay to make fun of seizures, just as it’s not okay to make fun of someone with cancer or with Alzheimer’s. All of these are unchosen, unwanted, and serious and should never be joked about or made fun of. I felt that the more people I could spread the word to, the more epilepsy would be normalized and hopefully, I would be doing my part to break the stigma. 

I will admit though, it is hard to call other people out when they use “seizure” in a joke. I have been able to call out people before but just the other day, I was on zoom with friends and one of them was showing us a tik tok where the screen was flashing lots of different colors. One of the girls said, “Stop! Are you trying to give me a seizure?” She laughed and was clearly joking. To be honest, I was not able to call her out on it. This was a newer friend and we were in front of other people and I couldn’t pull her aside and talk to her on zoom. These things are hard. Also, this was not the first friend who has said things like that. I have heard both kids and adults, some who were even at my Bat Mitzvah, make fun of seizures. 

I feel guilty, still, about not being able to call my friend out, but that only encourages me to keep going in my efforts for breaking down the stigma surrounding seizures and epilepsy. People should not feel like they should need to hide the fact that they have epilepsy in fear of what others will say about them. I genuinely believe that a majority of people who make fun of seizures do not understand that it is a serious medical disorder and one that can not be controlled by someone’s free will. I will continue to educate others to make everyone more aware of seizures and epilepsy so that they will not use those words jokingly or to make fun of others. 

Thank you so much for hearing my story. I urge you to become more familiar with epilepsy and seizures. Learn about it, and educate others. Also, try to call people out when they talk about seizures in a joking manner. I know it is hard, but it is necessary in helping to make people living with epilepsy more comfortable. I will close with this: There were about 200 people at the Bar Mitzvah when the DJ joked about seizures. Using the fact that at least 1 in 26 people will be diagnosed with epilepsy in the US, I can conclude that 7 people had epilepsy or will have epilepsy in the future who heard that comment. That is not to mention people like me, who have family members, friends, or other loved ones who they know who struggle with epilepsy. The stigma needs to stop, and it will not stop unless we work together to educate ourselves and others. I also invite you to check out the Epilepsy Foundation’s website: https://www.epilepsy.com/. This is a great resource to use for finding tons of information about seizure disorders and epilepsy.

Hannah is a Sophomore at Glenbrook North High School where she is involved in theatre, student government, Relay for Life, and speech team. Additionally she is the President of Varsity Spartan Choir, the Vice President of Ladies First (GBN Show Choir), and volunteers as an ARC Tutor. Outside of school, Hannah is a songleader and on the Mahonick Leadership Board at North Shore Congregation Israel. She is also currently in the URJ Songleading Fellowship Program. Hannah is proud to attend JCC Camp Chi and is currently the Vice President of Chi Town Connection.

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Mental Health Tips to Start 2021 by Ellen Geis, Engagement Coordinator, No Shame On U

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Alright everyone we made it! The year that somehow went by so slow, and so fast, is finally coming to a close. I’m sure many are sighing with relief at the symbolic turning of a calendar from 2020 to 2021, but many are probably still filled with unease at an uncertain future ahead as we continue to adapt to a new normal and pick up the pieces of our lives and world post-2020. 

For that reason No Shame On U is partnering with Springboard to provide you with some quick tips to set you up for 2021 on a mentally strong note. No Shame On U is a Jewish mental health non-profit dedicated to eliminating the stigma associated with mental health conditions and raising awareness.. This year has been unlike any we have ever encountered in the mental health community, with depression, anxiety, and loneliness skyrocketing in reaction to the pandemic and societal unrest. If you’re feeling a little rattled coming out of this year, it’s ok. 

Here are some tips to start 2021 with mental strength and resiliency*:

  1. Wherever you’re at, it’s ok.

If you’re depressed, it’s ok. If you’re anxious, it’s ok. If you’ve barely done anything this year but survive, it’s ok. One of the best things you can do for your mental health is to accept that wherever you are at, it’s ok. Feeling guilty or ashamed for what you are feeling will only perpetuate it more. One of my favorite phrases for when I’m having a bad day is “that’s just where I’m at today.” This takes the pressure off of how I “should be” so I don’t feel guilty and then even more depressed. In a year like this remember however you are feeling heading into the new year is perfectly ok, and “that’s just where you’re at today.”

  1. Cultivate a Healthy Lifestyle

You know the drill. Eat healthier, exercise, get more sleep, drink water, etc. There’s a reason experts continuously recommend these things, it’s because they really do make a difference. If it feels overwhelming though and like you’ll never be that perfect healthy person, then make it easier on yourself. You don’t have to be perfect, just make one small change at a time that feels fun! If lifting weights feels boring to you, then turn on some music and have a dance party. If eating healthier feels like you’ll have to give up your favorite foods, then look up recipes for healthier versions of those foods. Whatever you choose to do, just make healthy lifestyle changes one step at a time so your brain doesn’t get overwhelmed by too much change at once.

  1. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude.

I know, everyone is talking about gratitude right now, but again that’s because it really does help! Taking a moment every day to reflect on what you’re grateful for cultivates a mindset that focuses on what you do have, instead of dwelling on what is wrong. The more you cultivate this attitude of gratitude the more you’ll notice the good in life, and the bad will affect you less and less. One of my favorite practices is everytime I catch myself complaining I say three things I’m grateful for about what I was complaining about. Try it out for yourself! You’ll be amazed at how your mood and perspective can shift!

  1. Bonus Video! 5 Proven Ways to Build Mental Toughness and Resilience:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OpwC5ztY-3c

This is a great animated video with additional tips and explanations for how to build mental strength, especially during a year like this one.

There are a million more tips out there for cultivating mental strength and resiliency, but these are the ones that have been most impactful and effective at getting me through 2020. I hope they’re able to help you start 2021 mentally strong. And remember, you don’t have to change everything all at once. For strong, consistent habits and mindset changes that support your mental health, the best thing you can do is take it one small step at time.

Happy New Year!

*This article is not a replacement for therapy or medication. If you are having thoughts of suicide please don’t hesitate to reach out for help. 

National Suicide Prevention 24/7 Hotline: 1-800-273-8255 

24/7 Crisis Text Hotline: Text “HOME” to 741741

Ellen Geis

Ellen Geis is the Engagement Coordinator at No Shame On U and a certified Health and Life Coach. Ellen understands first hand what it takes to survive and overcome mental illness and believes strongly in people’s ability to heal themselves and transform their lives. She is passionate about creating interactive community programming that supports peoples’ holistic well-being, and is deeply inspired by the intersection of spirituality and mental health.

Self-Care Tip: Living Authentically

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Self-care has become a buzzword during this time, so we want to hear from different people in our community what self-care means to them. This blog from Claire is the first of this series. If you would like to share what self-care means to you, contact Springboard@juf.org

I still remember the day I got my first “alternative” haircut. I had no idea at the time how changing how I looked was about to affect my entire life; if I had, well, I still would have done it.

I have learned that expressing the way that I feel internally must be a top priority in order to survive. But this knowledge doesn’t change the fact that being visibly different is a really hard thing. After I got that haircut and changed my clothes, I noticed a change in the way people treated me. This new look wasn’t louder, but it was harsher. More masculine. My identity that used to be fairly inconspicuous now inadvertently shoves its face under the noses of people who really don’t care to acknowledge that kind of difference. Simply existing in the world as my true self takes a toll on my mental health, my relationships and my professional life. But it’s also invigorating, spiritual, and vital.

My self-care is pushing through self-hate. Because I know that I can’t change or hide who I am anymore. That part of my life is over. 

Claire Katz Mariani

Claire Katz-Mariani is passionate about social service in all forms. Claire is a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where Claire is pursuing a BFA in Theatre Studies as well as a BS in Community Health with an emphasis on Health Education & Promotion. Claire is the president of LGBTJew, U of I Hillel's student group for promoting inclusion in Jewish spaces.  


A Letter to My High School Self Written by Emma Bliwas

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What would you say to your middle school, or grade school self if you had the chance? What would future you say to present day you? In the spirit of the new school year, and Rosh Hashana, let's take some time to reflect, re-energize, and rewind.  Let this be a year full of self improvement, reflection, and mindfulness. Here is what Emma Bliwas would like to say to her high school self from her current perspective as a college student at the University of Denver.

Dear Emma,  

These four years really do fly by. It is cliché and hard to process when you are going through high school. However, you will be looking back on this experience and reflecting if you got involved with all the extracurricular activities you strived to be a part of. Did you get to know lots of different people or did you spend too much energy trying to feel a part of a singular friend group? It is so important to create your own friend circle. It is easy to get sucked into your own friend group because many high schoolers do. Instead of focusing on getting close with your friends’ friends who you feel absolutely no connection to, get out of your comfort zone. Try new activities where you meet people who are different from you that may become your new best friends. If you are interested in a course on debate or photography, sign up for it. Don’t choose the same elective each year because high school is an opportunity to start discovering your passions.  

Thank your parents for driving you to high school football games and tennis practices. Soon, you will be able to drive everywhere and you won’t get to jam out to Michael Franti every day while your mom drives you to school. Appreciate the neighbors you have grown up around. After high school, many people move away to the city or to a different state. Just take in walking down the halls and seeing the same people during your five-minute passing periods.  

Appreciate the now. Don’t take the ACT five times because you will likely still end up at your dream school. The college process is stressful enough and you don’t need to compare your GPA or ACT score with your friends. When you graduate high school, no one ever mentions it. Focus on memories, not numbers. 

From, 

Emma

Emma

Emma Bliwas is a junior at the University of Denver (DU) studying International Business, with minors in Business Ethics/Legal Studies, Journalism and Spanish. Emma believes that transparency, integrity and accountability are crucial for success in school and the workplace. At DU, Emma is involved in Delta Gamma, DU Programming Board and Club Tennis. After her undergraduate career, she wants to pursue a career where she can directly communicate with clients and give back to her community.  

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Cycle Forward and Sophie Draluck

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Cycle Forward

Why is it that we feel a need to hide our tampons up our sleeves like some kind of contraband as we sneak off to the bathroom at school or work? And why is it that we whisper about our periods to our friends for fear of being overheard? When women menstruate, historically, we view that as something to be ashamed of, something that is handled in private—just one of those things we don’t really talk about. My name is Sophie Draluck, and I am here to talk about it. I am here to discuss menstruation openly and proudly in an effort to shed the stigma that often surrounds our periods, and to address the lack of access to menstrual products that far too many women around the world face. According to data from the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics, 500 million people experience “period poverty” around the world, or in other words, do not have access to menstrual products. Globally, period poverty causes millions of women and girls to miss work or school, and in many cases, drop out altogether. Because of the harmful stigma surrounding menstruation, most people are not even aware that period poverty is a pervasive issue across the entire world.  

I did not learn of this glaring issue until 2017, after reading an article in the Chicago Tribune about teens in Uganda missing a week of school a month because they lacked access to menstrual products. As I dug deeper, I discovered that this lack of access isn’t just a problem facing women in remote African villages, but that the problem is global. Even in my “comfortable” hometown of Highland Park, I learned that women are struggling to afford menstrual products due to their high cost and unattainability through food pantries and government assistance programs, and when I met with my local food pantry, I discovered that menstrual products were among the most requested, yet least donated items. 

Deeply disturbed by these realities,, I set out to tackle period poverty by starting Cycle Forward (www.cycleforwardnow.org), a non-profit aimed at empowering women and girls by promoting menstrual equity, or equal access to period products. Cycle Forward creates a positive and immediate impact by collecting in-kind and cash donations that are used to fund the bulk purchase of menstrual  products, which we then distribute to women in need through food pantries, shelters, and other organizations that directly serve under-resourced women and teens. So far, we have donated over 75,000 tampons and pads across the Chicago area, Florida, U.K., India, and Haiti. Cycle Forward also seeks to reduce the negative stigma surrounding periods by educating others about period poverty through events and speaking engagements and by encouraging open dialogue about periods and menstrual inequity.  

As a way to increase awareness and to empower more women and teens, Cycle Forward launched a High School Outreach project this year, partnering with school service clubs, and working with them to hold a period product drive for a local pantry. Organizing a school or community period product drive to support your local food pantry is a great way to get involved and ensure that women and teens in your area have the access to menstrual products they need to fully participate in their communities. Please know that Cycle Forward and I stand ready to work with you to help launch a project! 

Because raising awareness is so essential to making progress, I’m especially grateful to announce my receipt of a 2020 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award! Tikkun Olam means “to repair the world,” and the Tikkun Olam Awards are given annually to Jewish teen leaders committed to addressing the most pressing challenges in their communities. I’m excited at the opportunity this award gives me to grow as an activist and to continue working to achieve menstrual equity. You can learn more about @dillerteenawards and the other powerful young changemakers making a difference in their communities as this year’s awardees at  https://www.dillerteenawards.org/  Additionally, to keep up with our fight for menstrual equity or to join us in becoming part of the solution, please follow us on Instagram @cycleforwardnow or email me at cycleforwardnow@gmail.com for more information. And remember, when girls win, we all win, even if it’s by one boldly displayed tampon at a time. 


Self-Validation By Josh Pogonitz

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don't let yourself ...

Over the course of the past few years, I have learned about self-validation and how helpful it is to practice each day. I want to share with you all knowledge and insight that I have learned. I hope it can be helpful to you as well! 

Many, many times in my life, I have invalidated how I was feeling. For me, as someone who is hard on themselves, a lot of my anxiety stems from worries that I am a bad person based off whether or not I am enough as a person, etc. As a result, I often invalidate myself as a person. My anxiety and OCD want to imprison me by my emotions and thoughts creating a barrier that is comprised of self-invalidation and being hard on myself. One way I avoid defining myself by these worries, by this anxiety, and instead combat them, is by validating what I am feeling and thinking, as well as validating myself in general.  

you're worthy

What are some ways to self-validate? 

1) Actively listen and pay attention to our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and behaviors  

2) Allow and be tolerant of ourselves to feel whatever we are feeling whether it is anxiety, depression, distress, anger, or other. Also, trying not to judge ourselves for how we are feeling can be very valuable.  

2a) Similarly, it can also be helpful to not “should“ on how we’re feeling. For example, “I should not be feeling depressed.” By trying not to use these types of phrases, we are allowing ourselves to feel.  

2b) Judgements include both positive and negative ones. An example of not judging how we are feeling is, “Wow, I am feeling very sad right now.”  

3) Respond to how you’re feeling in a way that we’re taking ourselves seriously by accepting that how we’re feeling is okay. An example: “it is not pathetic, soft, nor stupid to be feeling how I am feeling.”  

3a) This step, in particular, may be subconsciously skipped over and so it is important to pay attention to not doing so. 

4) Perceive our emotions, feelings, and thoughts as acceptable, making sense, and accurate in a current situation even if it is not felt to be necessary. 

4a) Oftentimes, we may feel that self-validation is not going to be helpful, necessary, or is not deserving. It can be difficult to practice it, and still it is important that we still self-validate until we reach a point where our mindsets are clearer so we can then better deal with the pain we're experiencing.  

4b) I can’t count how many times I have felt that I did not deserve validation and/or it would not help. Then, after some time, it helped me cope with my anxiety and depression. 

5) What would you say to your friend if he or she came to you about how he or she was feeling? For me, this can be a helpful technique while self-validating because I find it beneficial to imagine a friend coming to me about how he or she is feeling. I would never tell a friend that he or she deserves to feel the pain they are experiencing. I would only treat myself like that. So, I like to tell myself to validate myself like I would validate a friend, or to “be my own friend.” 

6) When it comes to being harder on ourselves, it is important that we try and resist saying invalidating and mean things to ourselves.  

7) It can be helpful to hang up a sticky note on our bedroom walls, make a background, or even just keep a card in our wallet that reminds us to validate ourselves  

What are some signs of self-invalidation? 

Sometimes invalidation can be unintentional, so I wanted to share a few ways we recognize it. Some signs include associating our emotions, thoughts, and feelings as an overreaction, pathetic, stupid, soft, weak, not tough, not worthy of our time 

What are some of the benefits?  

Can deescalate intense emotions 

Helps self-esteem and helps to increase self-love 

Can be used as one of the first steps to coping  

Last but not least, a concept I have found interesting when it comes to self-validation is that in order to validate, we do not have to agree with, nor justify, the situation at hand. Even if we do not agree, it is important that we still validate how we’re feeling. For me, sometimes I do not agree, and after I validate and practice another coping technique, I have been in a clearer mindset and can better cope and soon love myself more, as well as be less hard on myself. An example of this concept is a case of mindreading a situation. The behavior of assuming and making judgement is unjustified and while the worry and anxiety associated with it is unjustified, the feeling is still valid.  

Once again, I hope sharing what I have learned about self-validation can be helpful to some of you readers! 

Sending my love to you all! Peace out! 

#selfvalidation #selfesteem #selflove #copingtechnique #youarenotalone #yougotthis #wegotthis  

What are Cognitive Distortions? By Josh Pogonitz

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cognitive distortions

One helpful way to cope with mental illnesses is to recognize the different ways that we are thinking. Learning about, recognizing, and then challenging cognitive distortions does just that.  

So, what are cognitive distortions? “Cognitive distortions” are unhelpful thinking styles. The word “cognitive” means the mental action or mental process of taking in knowledge and understanding of something through thoughts, experiences, and senses. In other words, it means a perception, sensation, notion, or intuition. A thought that is “distorted” is twisted, falsely interpreted, and misleading. 

The 10 different common cognitive distortions I have learned about are as follows. I have shared with you short explanations from two of the sheets I was given while in therapy. They contain explanations, different examples, and different ways to cope with each of them. Feel free to print them out!   

  1. All or nothing/black and white thinking - viewing situations, people, or yourself as entirely bad or good, there being nothing in between.    

  1. Mental filter - only paying attention to certain types of evidence.   

  1. Jumping to conclusions - the two different kinds of this distortion are mind reading (thinking that we know what someone is thinking or thinking they know what we are thinking) and fortune telling (predicting the future).  

  1. Emotional reasoning - thinking that the way we feel or the thoughts we have must be true. 

  1. Labelling - labeling ourselves or others.  

  1. Over-generalizing - based on a single event, we then make broad conclusions.  

  1. Disqualifying the positive - discounting the positives that have happened and only focusing on the negatives.  

  1. Magnification (catastrophizing) and Minimization - blowing things out of proportion and shrinking things to be less important.  

  1. “Should” Or ”must” - using terms like “should,” “must,” or “ought” 

  1.  Personalisation - blaming ourselves for things we are not actually responsible for or conversely.  

While in therapy over the past few years, I have learned about these cognitive distortions. Without realizing it, I often think in these ways. Also, for me, my anxiety and OCD tint my perceptions of life, causing me to think and believe in these ways. What this coping technique is, is to learn about and separate ourselves from them, from our mental illnesses. For me, that means separating myself from how my OCD wants me to think which is in the form of these distortions. 

I truly believe that it can be super helpful to learn about these unhelpful thinking styles, gain awareness about how these patterns fit our thought processes, and then challenge them. It may be difficult and painful to practice recognizing these thinking patterns, and that is okay and even normal. You are not alone. Everyone struggles with cognitive distortions. After deeply learning about them in treatment last year, I still find it difficult to challenge my cognitive distortions. Sometimes, it is very difficult to do so because I may strongly believe in the thought distortion I experiencing.  

Two cognitive distortions that I experience are “all or nothing thinking” and “mindreading”. Below are personal examples: 

  • An all or nothing thought- “I did a great job today at basketball practice for the first hour and 45 minutes, but that does not matter at all because I missed the last three shots I took. I played horribly today.” This is similar to other types of distortions.  

  • Mindreading - I often feel tremendous guilt and shame because I feel worried that someone is feeling angry, anxious, or depressed because of me. I may think this way because I worry that I offended them, or triggered anxiety or depression when I did not.  This is also similar to Personalization.  

I hope that learning about and recognizing what cognitive distortions are can bring a sense of hope and relatability to any of you readers. 

We can do this! Sending my love to you all! Peace out! 

#selflove #cognitivedistortions #copingtechnique #youarenotalone #fighter #warrior #yougotthis #wegotthis 

Imperfectionism By Josh Pogonitz

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self love

Since elementary school, I have struggled with perfectionism in many different forms. Here are a few examples of my perfectionist nature, I often tried to make sure my handwriting was perfect, when I worked really hard on an assignment I tried to make sure the paper I handed in was perfectly clean and not bent, and I was often hard on myself for not being a the nicest person I could possibly be.   


While in high school, my struggle to be perfect spiked off the charts. Different from elementary and middle school, I didn’t always realize that I was striving for perfection. The reason for this is because my perfectionism was a part of my OCD and became more surrounded with ”just right” feelings.  


A “just right” feeling is when we pursue whatever we are doing until we feel ”just right”. More so in the past, but still sometimes today, I may worry that I am not enough. I may worry that I am not working hard enough at the work I am doing, or being a good enough person. To illustrate, I have often tried being a perfect person who worked for a “just right” amount of hours and who put enough thought into the answers I wrote down for a school assignment. I have also strived to be someone who never metmy  own needs before meeting the needs of others. Someone who never yelled at anyone, someone who was never mean to anyone, and who never made any mistakes. In addition, I have struggled with perfect organization. Especially in my bedroom, I often feel that all of the things in my room must be organized and arranged in good enough ways, everything must be perfectly clean.  


One of the reasons why this was so painful to be living through is because the perfect and “just right” feeling standards changed over time. For example, when I would meet the perfect standards of hard work by working for three hours, then I would feel like I have to work four, then five, etc. If I did not meet these “just right” standards, I would feel a lot of distress, and a lot of anxiety. I have been extremely hard on myself and believed that I did not have any self-worth. It became extremely difficult to function.  


As I said before, not realizing that I was striving for perfection was because it is a part of my OCD. Until the third month of residential treatment, when I was confronted by my treatment team and by my parents that I was trying to be perfect, I ALWAYS disagreed with them. For many years, I wasn’t separating myself from my OCD, and therefore it took control of me. My OCD was distorting my thinking and tinting my perception, which caused me to solely think how my OCD wanted me to think.  


I have learned that the first step to healing is identifying what needs to be worked on and recognizing the mental illness. The reason why I could not see any other way of living besides being perfect was because for so long I had not separated myself from my OCD. 


One day while at art therapy in residential, I was making an object that I could use while experiencing high levels of anxiety and depression to ground and comfort myself. I was gluing together felt, faux fur, and other materials. At the time, I was feeling very passionate about writing and drawing the word “LOVE,” and so I cut out the letters using felt. When I was gluing the letter “L” to the object, I glued it on backwards. I was feeling so upset that I messed up; I was being hard on myself, and giving myself negative self-talk and then I realized something: it is okay to not be perfect. My backwards L became a  symbol that it is okay to make mistakes. We are human. I created a logo out of it that says “Self Jove.” In the logo, I colored in the letters outside the lines and colored them in in an intentionally scribbled and imperfect way. The logo represents that even though we make mistakes and that we are imperfect, it is important that we still love ourselves. 


It is important that we separate ourselves from perfectionism. In therapy, I have practiced challenging my anxiety and OCD by trying not to meet the “just right” standards and trying to live differently. 


We are not our mental illnesses. We can be imperfect and still love ourselves. We can be imperfect and still be worthy. There is hope.  


I hope this symbol can resonate with some of you and that my struggles with imperfection can, too. 


Sending my love to you all! Peace out!  


#selflove #imperfection #perfectlyimperfect #youareenough #weareenough #happiness #fighter #warrior #youarenotalone#yougotthis #wegotthis 


Path to Healing by Josh Pogonitz

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healing graph

Often in my life, I have experienced setbacks. Especially when I feel like I am making progress, setbacks occur. These setbacks can include me being really hard on myself; sometimes I recognize that a coping mechanism is necessary, but I don't use one. Other times, I may feel like I have failed to challenge my mental illnesses, or I may have an anxiety attack. While I was at my residential program last year, every time I really began loving myself, and feeling hopeful, I would experience a setback and I would strongly believe that all of my progress disappeared. 

What I have learned is that the path to healing is not about eliminating all pain. If one does have a setback, that does not mean the progress is erased. 

serena williams quote

Let’s visualize together - imagine progress as a line graphed on a chart. Personally, without even realizing it, I perceive progress to be a constant line that only travels upwards. Throughout therapy, I have been internalizing the idea that the line is all over the chart. And it is important to remember that it is okay for progress not to be linear, it is simply what being a human is about. 

To quote Serena Williams, “A champion is defined not by their wins but by how they can recover when they fall.” Here is my interpretation of what she is saying, what matters is what happens after we fall, for we are not defined by the pain or by the fall. Our wins are not the only thing that matter, for they are just a part of the journey. In order to get to those wins, we have to get back up after falling. All we can do is move forward. Another meaningful quote is: “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.” In other words, just when we may think our progress has reached its end, we end up blooming. Just when we think our fight is over, we keep on fighting. And remember, it is okay to take moments to cry, to allow ourselves to feel the pain instead of shoving it down.

Another helpful coping technique I like to use when I have a distorted view of progress is really checking the facts of what happened. I have been constantly practicing this because I while I am certain that my thoughts, feelings, and beliefs are true about progress, this does not make them facts. For example, just because I am certain that I do not deserve to feel happy, that does not make it true that I am undeserving or unworthy. Sometimes, separating myself from this can be very challenging for me to do because these thoughts can be so strong. It can be difficult to even identify how I have progressed because my thoughts, feelings, and beliefs interfere. 

It is possible to heal. “Trust the process” - I am sure a lot of us have heard this phrase before. For so long, I hated hearing this phrase because I felt so hopeless. It was meaningless to me that therapy has helped so many people because I saw myself as the exception It was not until I truly began trusting my treatment team, began challenging my Anxiety, OCD, and Depression, and began separating  myself from my mental illnesses, that I began to see my progress. I needed to trust them and my parents that I even had OCD in the first place. I needed to challenge my OCD, even though most of the time I didn't even recognize it for what it was. I needed to stop challenging my team on the idea that something needed to be challenged. I had to trust them that they were right. I had to do this until I saw it for myself. 

We can do this! Sending my love to you all! Peace out!

#selflove #healing #hope #weareworthy #warrior #thoughtsarenotfacts #feelingsarenotfacts #youarenotalone #yougotthis #wegotthis

Response for Teens and Mental Health Awareness Month

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It has been said repeatedly that, “we are in the same storm, but we are not all in the same boat.”  We have all been suffering the storm of social distancing and stay-at-home orders.  You miss your friends. You miss the people at school that weren’t your friends, like the kid that sat next to you in Bio and made jokes about the teacher. You miss the freedom to be yourself without the gaze of your parents. But for most, while social distancing is difficult, it is not social isolation.  If you identify as LGBTQ+, however, being cut off from support networks, like friends and GSAs, and possibly living in non-affirming spaces, may be truly taking its toll.  Along with providing networks of support and chosen family, school and camp offer safe spaces for you to express your identity and find community. Without those, it may feel like you have fallen overboard without a life preserver.  But, you are not alone.

Response for Teens seeks to educate and empower you with the tools to navigate life.  The blog post is filled with advice from experts at The Trevor Project, information and links to programs for social connection, and crisis lines to call if you need help for yourself or your friends. 

Response for Teens and Mental Health

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Finding Hope By Josh Pogonitz

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the strength within you

Throughout my life, I have been struggling with anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and depression. I’ve been seeing a therapist since fifth grade. Beginning in seventh and eighth grade, my mental illnesses became immensely painful. One of the worries that pained me the most was the thought that I rarely worked hard enough for school, sports, and being a good person. Because I considered myself not enough, I so strongly believed that I did not deserve to feel happy, to eat, or deserve love. This was a part of my OCD. When I dealt with loved ones and mental health professionals, I rejected that I even had OCD. I had been entraining in my head that all the disturbance and pain I was experiencing was my fault. Because of this disturbance and other struggles, as well, I began to self-harm and have suicidal thoughts and desires. I felt that the only solution was suicide.  

During my junior year of high school, I went to inpatient hospitalization, a day program, and then an out of state residential program. One of the first things I told my new treatment team at residential was, “I am sure you are good at your job but trust me you won’t help me. I’m a hopeless cause and everything's my fault.” Two months went by. Still, I was feeling so much pain, so much hopelessness. I thought that I would never leave the residential program. It had been so long and still nothing had changed, I thought. I just could not agree with everyone, for I was still ingraining in my head that there was no chance they were correct. I would not even consider that it may have not been.  

Then, around week number 10.5, I surrendered to everyone that maybe my struggles were not my fault. Maybe there was another way to live. Maybe I did have OCD. I rediscovered happiness and that life is worth living. I began feeling more hope.  

It all started with that first time I practiced challenging my anxiety and OCD, trying to learn more about and fighting my OCD in a whole other way. 

Fighting our demons and mental illnesses may take time, sometimes it may just be one little thing that you recognize you’ve progressed in and that makes all the difference. “Sometimes the strength within you is not a big fiery flame for all to see, it’s just a tiny spark that whispers ever so softly, ‘You’ve got this, keep moving.’” 

Hold 

O

Pain 

Ends 
 

For so long, I was so certain that I was that exception to mental health treatment helping, I was infinity percent certain that I did not deserve to live. As I stated before, after around 10.5 weeks, I began separating myself from my mental illnesses and still today, I struggle. But that’s okay. It does not mean anything less of myself or my fight if I still do struggle, because with that whisper that I tell myself to keep going, that I recognize even if it is a small fiery flame in the moment, there is still hope, I got this. And so do all of you. 

I love you all! Peace out!  

#selflove #hope #mentalhealth #fighter #warrior #anythingispossible #youarenotalone #yougotthis #wegotthis 


A Prayer for Hope written by Daniel Warshawsky

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warshawsky prayer

It is Okay to Cry and It is Okay to Feel Afraid By Josh Pogonitz

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Often in society, there is a stigma surrounding crying and feeling fear as they are emotions associated with weaknesses. If a male cries, in particular, he may be seen as weak, soft, and not “tough.” Other times, in a comforting way, someone may tell someone else not to cry and that everything is going to be okay.  

In my opinion, crying is a sign of strength. It means you are releasing and embracing your emotions, as well as living healthily. It means that we are willing to deal and cope with our emotions instead of shoving them away. G-d gave us this natural ability to cry for a reason. Throughout my journey of mental health, I have learned that if we do not cry while thinking lowly and shamefully of ourselves, eventually we will emotionally explode, like a shaken-up soda bottle.  

One of my favorite quotes related to this topic is as follows: “A strong person is not the one who doesn’t cry. A strong person is one who is quiet, and sheds tears for a moment, and then picks up her/his swords and fights again”. In other words, having strength includes practicing that it is okay to have a setback and that it is okay to cry.  

A Strong Person

As stated before, the emotion of fear is also often viewed as a weakness. Many people may say to be fearless. But, how can we control whether or not we feel afraid and what is so wrong with feeling that way? Another favorite motivational quote of mine is “You do not have to be fearless. Doing it afraid is just as brave.”  

Act with Bravery

While at the residential program I attended, I thought of an interesting idea: A lot of people say to approach difficulty in life without fear and instead with bravery and courage. I disagree with this, for one could only act with bravery and courage if there is fear in mind. So, if it is so wrong to feel afraid, then how can we live with bravery and courage?  

Lastly, I have learned about the concept relating to the word “should.” It can be super helpful to not place this word on ourselves. Below are two examples of how it is not helpful use the word upon us and our feelings from the past or in the present moment: 

I “should not” cry or be feeling this way.  

I “should have” just done ____ instead of doing ___.  

It can be very difficult to not use the word “should.” It takes practice. From my personal experiences, when I catch myself using this word and then reframe the thought by saying it in another way, I feel this sense of freedom. It is one way that I am not allowing my demons of mental illnesses overcome me.  

So, if someone tells you or you tell yourself to stop crying and feeling afraid, tell them or yourself, “No. I am going to allow myself to feel what I am feeling and that is okay!” 

I hope that at least even just a little part of this post resonates with any of you readers and that it can help you in any way. Sending my love to you all! Peace out!  

#selflove#fightthestigma #fighter #warrior #selfvalidation #yougotthis #wegotthis#youarenotalone  

Meditation as a coping mechanism for mental health by Josh Pogonitz

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My name is Josh Pogonitz and I am a Senior at Ida Crown Jewish Academy. I ran for my school’s cross-country team for all four years of high school and the basketball team for three. I struggle with anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and depression. Beginning in eighth grade, I struggled with suicidal thoughts and desires, as well as self-harming throughout my life. Last year, during my junior year of high school, I rediscovered happiness and that life is worth living while in residential and outpatient treatment at Rogers Behavorial Health for seven months. I spoke at No Shame On U’s annual event in November of 2019 about my journey and experience. Additionally, as an 18 Under 18 Honoree, I am pursuing a project in the Jewish community by presenting mental health workshops that talk about my personal experiences and what I’ve learned throughout my mental health journey. My goal is to continue dealing with my own struggles while also shedding hope for other struggling with mental illness.


I wanted to share something with you that has helped me along my journey. I personally love meditations, because they help calm me down when I’m experiencing a lot of emotional pain, like anxiety. Often before I do a meditation, such as before I did this one, (https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=F8EIbBR43Q0&feature=youtu.be) I may strongly not want to do it because I may be experiencing so much emotional pain, like anxiety. And that is okay, it is normal to feel these ways. While it is okay to feel this way, that does not mean it still cannot be helpful. I cannot count how many times I’ve not wanted to utilize a coping mechanism because of the pain I was experiencing, and it ended up helping. There isn’t a single way in which meditation can help us, in fact it often ends up helping us in ways we do not expect. Some ways that are helpful for me to do this meditation are by closing my eyes and lying down or sitting in a chair. Also, trying to sit or lay down without fidgeting is helpful. When I feel anxious, for example, I often tend to nod my leg up and down very quickly. I’ve learned that this can trigger and cause anxiety in and of itself, and so trying to refrain from doing this can also be super helpful. Another thing that helps me is not focusing on whether the meditation is “working” or not. It may not seem as if it is helping at first but try and give it some time. We can do this, one step at a time!! I love you all! #meditation #selflove #mentalhealthawareness #yougotthis #wegotthis #warriors #together #youarenotalone 


Sababa Surf and Self Care

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Sababa Beach Camps is stoked to partner with Springboard Chicago and the Teen Midrasha Coop to provide a week of "no worries." Teens today are over programmed, over stressed, and are swept up in the Race to Nowhere culture. This trip is a direct response to help you find balance, have fun, and gain self-worth. Not only is this trip a respite from the pressure; it also provides tools from a Jewish lens to help you live a more emotionally healthy lifestyle. 

Weather on a surfboard or deciding what to do on a Saturday night, life can seem like a series of balancing acts! We often want to see friends, but we also have a ton of homework. We want to eat healthy, but we are craving ice cream! We want to see the world, but we would miss our family! Sababa is all about finding your balance. Not only do you need a week at the beach, just to get away, but in Cocoa Beach with Sababa you will also meditate to yourself and discuss with friends how to live a more healthy lifestyle that reflects your true sense of self! 

For those of you who cannot attend this wonderful experience, please accept this gift from Sababa that will help slow the world down when life gets a little overwhelming! 

Let Every Breath Praise You

A beautiful concept in Judaism, and a primary teaching at Sababa, is that even a breath can be your prayer. Not every word you say is prayer, and obviously not every breath you take is prayer.

However, a deep breath taken with intention, focus, and reflection is certainly a prayer. We are taught ...

Kol haneshama tehalel Yah Halleluya

כל הנשמה תהלל יה הללויה

With every breath I praise You

A Kol Haneshema breath is inhaled  through your nose and exhaled through your mouth. The goal of Kol Haneshama breathing is to focus entirely on you and your breath; to let nothing else distract you.

Of course new thoughts or a distraction will enter your mind, but acknowledge them and return your focus back to your breathing!

Breathe in through your nose

Follow your breath down to your stomach

Now exhale slowly out your mouth. 

That exhale is your prayer; let it be filled with positive energy that you are putting out to the world!!! 

Let’s take 5 kol Haneshama breaths in as much silence as possible, doing our best to rid ourselves of any distractions. We will break the silence with…

Kol haneshama tehalel Yah Halleluya

כל הנשמה תהלל יה הללויה

With every breath I praise You


Chicago Makes Youth Mental Health a Priority in Our Community

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National Institute of Mental Health

Today, teens and young people are struggling.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health,more than 3 million adolescents, representing over 13% of the population, have experienced a major depressive episode.  The numbers are equally high for adolescents experiencing eating disorders, substance abuse and a variety of other mental health challenges.  Attempted and completed suicide rates continue to rise.  

Jewish teens are not immune.  This is why Springboard, Chicago’s Teen Engagement Initiative, is making adolescent wellness a priority in our community. In January 2019, Springboard hosted its first training course in  Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA). The certification program, first developed in Australia, teaches participants to better understand typical adolescent development, spot signs and symptoms of mental health challenges, and respond to a youth experiencing a crisis.  The session was attended by 24 participants representing Jewish overnight camps, teen program directors, synagogue clergy and mental health professionals.  

This year, Springboard increased its support of adolescents and youth experiencing mental health challenges. The Jewish Teen Education and Funder Collaborative, the convening body for Springboard and nine other community initiatives around the country, created a community of practice, inviting each community to send a representative to a three day “train-the-trainer” program led by the National Council of Behavioral Health. To enrich the YMHFA training and ensure its relevance for the unique needs of the Jewish community, the Jewish Teen Funder Collaborative partnered with The Jewish Education Project to create a  companion guide for YMHFA facilitators to help infuse Jewish wisdom, values and context into the program.   

Springboard’s representative in this community of practice, the first of its kind in the Jewish community, is Lisa Ehrlich, Manager, Outreach and Community Education at Response for Teens. On January 16th Lisa will lead Springboard’s second YMHFA training in Skokie.  Learn more. “This subsidized training is one of many ways that Springboard is ensuring that Jewish experiences continue to be places where teens feel supported and safe to explore their own identities,” explains Sarina Gerson, Director of Springboard.  

Springboard is a community initiative created with the support of JUF/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, the Jim Joseph Foundation and a consortium of local funders.


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