Tonight is the start of the fast of Tisha Be’Av, commemorating the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, the exile of the Jews from the land of Israel and pretty much every bad thing that ever happened to the Jews, down to antisemitism and terrorism today (which is a lot of bad stuff). It’s the saddest day in the Jewish calendar and a strict fast. I’m not allowed to fast on the minor fasts like this one because I’m taking lithium tablets and it’s dangerous for me to get dehydrated. I usually fast on Tisha Be’Av until midday (halakhic midday, the midpoint of daylight hours, which is around 1pm in London in the summer), but I suddenly realized about fifteen minutes into the fast that I had forgotten to take my medication before the fast started. I can usually swallow pills without water, but my lithium tablets are enormous and I have to take water with them. So I had to break my fast almost immediately, feeling stupid and guilty (again). Still, it was better to break the fast than to skip the tablets and risk becoming suicidal.
We aren’t really supposed to do anything fun today. I normally would not blog, but I’m struggling already today and I need to get my thoughts down or I won’t sleep. I am conscious that I am often posting multiple times a day at the moment, which isn’t very fair on my readers, even if I have a lot to offload while my therapist is away, so I will try to post only once a day in future.
I suspect the reason I forgot to take the tablets is that I was feeling quite anxious about going to shul (synagogue), which in turn led me to feel anxious about some quite trivial things – I think the shul anxiety was displaced (if that’s the right term) onto something else. It was very hard to go to shul. I nearly turned back while walking there. I was consumed with anxiety and self-hatred. The anxiety about shul was displaced again, this time into agitation about feeling sinful and being hated and rejected by God. As I mentioned, on Tisha Be’Av we mourn the destruction of the Temples. Jewish tradition ascribes the destruction of the first Temple to the three cardinal sins of murder, idolatry and sexual immorality (meaning primarily, in this context, adultery) and the destruction of the second Temple to baseless hatred. I felt (and I have felt this a bit recently) that I am guilty of all four of these sins, in a manner of speaking. Obviously I have not literally murdered someone or slept with a married woman, but I feel I have done things tantamount to these sins, such as speaking gossip and embarrassing others, which the Talmud considers equivalent to murder. All this was probably worsened by my guilt over taking my tablets after the fast started.
I started thinking again about the people I know through Hevria.com who talk about all the miracles they have experienced. I wondered again why I do not experience miracles. Perhaps miracles happen all the time, but it takes a certain mindset to realize that it is a miracle, not a chance event or a coincidence. This makes me feel ungrateful for what I have (my job, my flat, my friends) and for downplaying what I have (saying my friends are not my friends) and focusing on what I don’t have (a wife and children). However, the people on Hevria do seem to describe miracles far greater than anything I have ever experienced. This makes me feel like God hates me, reinforced by my feeling guilty of all those sins (murder, sexual immorality, idolatry, hatred).
By the time I got to shul, I was already quite distressed. When I got there, there were no chairs. I should explain that until midday on Tisha Be’Av we sit on low chairs as a sign of mourning (I am writing this sitting on the floor of my flat, with my laptop on the bed). All the special low chairs were gone, so I had to sit on the dirty floor, although this probably turned out well for a couple of reasons that I will explain later.
After the beginning of Ma’ariv (the evening prayers), Megillat Eichah (the Book of Lamentations) was read. Normally I would follow this in Hebrew, translating in my head and looking across to the English translation for the difficult words (of which there are quite a few). However, I quickly realized that I could not follow it at all, not even just reading the Hebrew without translating. I was too distressed. I thought of leaving, but from where I was sitting, it was impossible to just slip out; I would have had to stand up and cross the whole room and ask people to move out of my way (the shul was quite packed) and I couldn’t face making such a fuss and having everyone notice me, so I just sat there on the floor, thinking my distressed thoughts. I self-harmed a bit for the first time in some months, biting my fingers, pulling at the hairs on my arm and digging my finger nails into my hands and arm. Because I was sitting on the floor, no one could really see me.
I thought for a bit about chapter three of Eichah, which says:
It is good for a man that he bear a yoke in his youth. Let him sit solitary and wait, for He has laid [it] upon him. Let him put his mouth into the dust; there may yet be hope. Let him offer his cheek to his smiter; let him be filled with reproach. For the Lord will not cast [him] off forever. Though he cause grief, He will yet have compassion according to the abundance of His kindness. (3.27-32, translation from here)
This is a passage I think about sometimes. I suppose it should be hopeful for me, as it suggests that if you have to suffer, it is better to do so when you are young, not least because it allows God to show compassion to you later. However, I wonder if I have really internalized the message of my suffering and used it to repent and become a better person so that I will be worthy of God’s kindness in the future. This is one reason I sometimes wonder if I will ever get married, because I feel too sinful to be blessed with meeting the right woman. I started wondering about my mission in life, something I have been thinking about recently in terms of dating and trying to find a wife with a compatible life mission. I don’t know what my mission is. People help me, but I am not able to help other mentally ill people very much. I try to support my friends who have mental health issues, but they don’t usually turn to me and I don’t blame them. So I don’t know what the reason for my suffering is.
Sometimes I feel totally rejected by God for my sins, but strangely this does not make me want to stop being frum (religious). I think it is worth being a good Jew even without hope of reward. I don’t believe I can exempt myself from my obligations just because I don’t often manage to meet those obligations.
Once we got to the end of Eichah, we read the kinnot (elegies). In other shuls I have been to, these are read aloud by a reader, as was done with Eichah, but here they were read privately. I did not have the head for this. I tried reading one in Hebrew, could not concentrate and switched to English, read another one in English, but skipped the other two. Again, because no one could see me, I didn’t worry about this. Still, we got through this quite quickly compared with shuls where they read it aloud.
At the end of the service, the rabbi announced that the small chairs were actually too high for anyone to be sitting on them today, so I suppose I had a lucky escape, as being on the floor meant I didn’t feel guilty for sitting on a higher chair (even inadvertently), and it allowed me to get away with not feeling a part of the service. On the other hand, it also encouraged me to disappear into my anxious and agitated thoughts and to self-harm. So perhaps my lack of a chair was one of those hidden miracles (because I didn’t feel guilty), but it is a strange miracle that makes it easier for me to self-harm and to get lost in anxiety and despair instead of following the service. This is what I mean about not having miracles the way other people do.
I don’t plan on going to shul in the morning. The morning service will go on until about 1pm with kinnot – not just reading them as there is going to be some explanation (which is useful as they are written in very obscure, allusive Medieval Hebrew, sometimes with reference to largely-forgotten events), but I think I will just be depressed, distressed or anxious if I go. I may go in the evening, I am not sure. I do not know what I will do all day. Really one should not do anything enjoyable. Usually I read depressing texts like Eichah and Iyov (Job) or books on the tragic parts of Jewish history e.g. the Holocaust, but I am not sure I can face that this year. I feel bad about this, as I have been more deperessed in the past and not ‘chickened out’ of doing and reading appropriate things, but I just don’t feel that I can face making myself depressed this year and I can’t explain why except that I feel I have reached some kind of internal limit and to push myself further will tip me over the edge back into extreme depression again.