“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist
A Jewish depression blog is an idea I’ve been playing with, on and off, for many years. I think there is a need for more Jewish mental health resources. That said, it is a leap into the unknown. This is not my first experience of blogging, but I have never been a particularly successful blogger. The blog comes at a stressful time for me, in the run up to Purim (which I find difficult with depression) and then Pesach (which is very difficult with OCD) and then a job change right after Pesach and possibly being set up on a shidduch date at some point during these weeks. Paradoxically, it is the stress and busyness that has prompted me to write: as Rav Kook said, it is not that I have the strength to speak, rather I lack the strength to remain silent. I think I need somewhere to vent, and a blog of my own is more socially acceptable than drama queening in the comments on Hevria.com. More positively, although I’m dismissive of my comments on Hevria as “drama queening”, people do seem to respond positively to my honesty, so this is perhaps somewhere to be honest about mental health issues.
I thought I would say a few words about myself before the first proper post. I don’t want to go too much into my family background as my anonymity is not perfectly protected with this username, but I thought people would want to know a bit about me. I had quite a difficult time as a child: I was bullied and had some family dynamic issues that left me with strong feelings of loneliness, abandonment and very low self-esteem that have in turn led on to issues with trust and rejection and difficulties socializing. Always an introvert, I am strongly withdrawn and fear I come across as aloof and anti-social in the real world, although that is not my intention. I probably had my first episode of clinical depression aged sixteen, although I was not diagnosed until I was nineteen; since then the depression has lifted at times for a few months, but never for longer. I may also be somewhere on the autistic spectrum (the “may” hides a long story which would probably require a post in itself). I lost most of my twenties to depression, struggling through two degrees and some voluntary work and spending lots of time in bed – a couple of whole years were complete wipe outs, just sleeping and watching TV. I developed religion-based OCD a couple of years ago, mainly obsessing over perceived kashrut and Pesach problems, although sometimes obsessing about other things too (e.g. if the decorations in the sukkah were too low). I’ve made significant improvements with the depression and OCD in recent months, thanks to medication and therapy (I have a psychodynamic therapist who I have been seeing for years to help with the depression and underlying issues, but I interrupted that for a short while to focus on some CBT to deal with the OCD; a recent medication change has led to a fairly strong and sudden improvement in the depression, thankfully), but stressful times can trigger relapses of depression and/or OCD – the last week or so has been tough due to the aforementioned chaggim, job stress and dating stress. I sometimes self-harm in minor ways, and have come close to making suicide attempts on a couple of occasions, but have never gone through with it.
I’m hoping things will improve with time, but I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that I will probably always have to be aware of my mental health and may never quite get the type of life I want for myself, from major things like perhaps never marrying and having children, to more minor things like not being able to do as much Torah study as I would like and not being able to daven with kavannah and with a minyan, or even being up in time to daven Shacharit every day.
I had a traditional, but not strictly shomer mitzvot upbringing. I began to become more frum in my teens and am now shomer mitzvot. My family have also become more frum, but I have always been further on in my journey than them, which leads to some tension sometimes and fuels the OCD. I now live alone, but go back to my parents for Shabbat and Yom Tov, so the tension is still there, if not to the same extent.
I am an academic librarian by profession, a sector which thankfully has quite a bit of part-time work, as I’m still not ready for a full-time job. A bookworm, my favourite fiction writers are Jorge Luis Borges, Franz Kafka and Philip K. Dick, my favourite poet is T. S. Eliot and my favourite non-fiction author is George Orwell (even though I disagree with his socialism and anti-Zionism). My writing about Judaism, mental health and Doctor Who has appeared in various places, professional and amateur, under my pseudonym and real name (the pseudonymous writing can be found on denofgeek.com, hevria.com and popchassid.com; I’m obviously not going to link to the non-pseudonymous stuff). I am, as you might guess from my having written professionally about it, a massive Doctor Who fan, not just in the sense of watching it, but reading non-fiction books about it, writing a blog about it (rather neglected lately, but I am working on a non-fiction Doctor Who book that I would like to get professionally published) and socializing with other fans at least online. This is something I feel I have to hide in frum circles, which probably does not do my self-esteem much good.