I wrote this as a comment on this post. Given Hevria is having mammoth posts, it seemed appropriate to leave a mammoth comment, but no one will read it there and I thought it deserved a wider audience.
I hadn’t “rocked” at school. I was the weird geeky kid that even most of the other geeky kids (the subversively cool ones) didn’t want to know. But that didn’t prepare me for university. I didn’t really have fun. I was in Oxford for three and a bit years and I didn’t really have fun. I had a few good times at the Jewish Society and the Doctor Who Society, but mainly I was desperately lonely and miserable. I spent most of my time there clinically depressed, sometimes suicidally so. Few friends, no girlfriend (I wouldn’t find someone who would actually agree to go out on a date with me until I was twenty-seven. I swear I don’t have a personal hygiene problem…).
No one ever told me I was supposed to have the time of my life at Oxford, to have joy and pleasure (good, because I would hate to think my life couldn’t get better than those three and a bit years), but clearly other people were enjoying themselves and some of them were even doing it in halakhically-acceptable ways, but I wasn’t. My work life wasn’t unstructured, I made it OVER-structured. The thing about Oxford is, everyone works hard and plays hard. I managed the working hard OK (too well, actually, I was a workaholic), but I couldn’t play at all. I would have dinner and Shabbat meals at the Jewish Society and if I was lucky I would get to a Doctor Who Society meeting, but that was all my socializing for the week. I didn’t really have friends. By my last year I was so severely depressed that I was taking books to JSoc dinners to avoid talking to people.
On the other hand, religion didn’t really help either. I became frum, but I never went to yeshiva, for various reasons. I’ve never been in Israel for more than a fortnight at a time. I avoided Chabad at Oxford as much as possible (never been a Chabad person, probably never will be). Nowadays I have found a shul that is 75% right for me, but the missing 25% is hard sometimes. (And even in a 100% right shul, my social anxieties would be an issue.) I have never found “my people”. As I’ve said before, I don’t experience epiphanies or miracles. I just slog away, trying to be a good Jew, trying to connect to God and Torah and other Jews and other people and usually failing, but trying to fail well (and probably failing to fail well too).
So, I was severely depressed about a decade and a half. I won’t go into that again, as I’ve been into it so many times already. But I’m trying to put the pieces of my mind back together. I’m not “rooted”, I haven’t found “my core”. I don’t have inner peace. At the age of thirty-four (next month), I feel I only vaguely know who I am (I may be wrong, I may know myself better than I feel). I’m doing all the learning about myself that most people were doing in their teens and early twenties, only without the intense friendships, alcohol, lazing around and sex-and-drugs/yeshiva-and-kiruv-trips (delete according to taste) that my peers had to make it more fun. I survive. No, more than that, I’m doing well at the moment (albeit worried about when my next crash will be), I just wish I could enjoy life more. I don’t believe life is made to be enjoyed, but I believe in seizing joy where you can, but I’m monumentally bad at doing so. I wish I knew for sure that one day I would have the right community, maybe a couple of really close friends. I wish I knew for sure that one day I would have that special someone to share my life with, to have children with. It seems doubtful, even in these better times. But I continue, mostly because I don’t believe that happiness is the point of life and I can try to be a good Jew even if I’m lonely and unhappy.