Imagine there was a day when all the religious Jews in the world celebrated the fact that they didn’t have cancer. Imagine if they read aloud a 2500 year old book about God curing all the Jews of cancer, that they gave gifts of food to help friends celebrate that they don’t have cancer, that they had big parties to rejoice in the fact that they don’t have cancer.
And now imagine what it would be like to experience this if you actually did have cancer. Imagine being told to join in when you were sick from chemotherapy. Imagine being told that you can will yourself to not have cancer, that if you drink enough alcohol, your cancer will go away.
This is what Purim (the Jewish festival that falls this coming Sunday) feels like with depression and loneliness. On Purim we celebrate the joy of salvation with gifts of food, parties with friends and family and a lot of alcohol. But to those of us with loneliness and depression it feels like a cruel joke. What is there for me to celebrate, I ask myself? I can see objectively there are some positive things in my life, even if they seem fragile and unlikely to last. I can see that however bad things are now, they have been even worse in the past. But the constant pain and loneliness just won’t go away, however hard I try to “get in the Purim spirit.” And alcohol, I am told, would just make things worse, Purim tradition or no.
I am going to try hard. I want to get to hear the Megillah (Book of Esther) at least once, preferably both readings, evening and morning. I will try to do the other mitzvot (commandments), to give charity, give gifts of food, have a seudah (party) according to the technical requirements i.e. to eat a meal containing some bread in the afternoon, although I have not been invited to a party with other people and my parents and sister are all out (technically my sister invited me to the party she is going to, but I felt awkward going to someone else’s party uninvited with lots of strangers, particularly as the party is being given by a friend of my sister who I was at university with, but who I don’t know well because I was too depressed to make friendships at the time). So my “party” will probably consist of eating a sandwich alone in my flat while watching Doctor Who (you may have already noticed a pattern on this blog of my watching Doctor Who when stressed or depressed. That’s because there is a pattern!). I was trying to psyche myself up to go a Saturday night Purim party at shul (synagogue), but I procrastinated over it so long that they sold out before I could buy a ticket. I tell myself I would have been miserable had I gone, which is sour grapes, but probably true. I will try to report back here as to how it all goes.