“I’m So Tired”

I feel a bit washed out today.  Not depressed, but tired and lethargic.  It’s a Jewish fast day, which doesn’t help; I can’t fast for medical reasons (it’s dangerous to get dehydrated while taking lithium tablets, so I asked my rabbi mentor and my psychiatrist when I was put on them and they said fast Yom Kippur, but not the rabbinic fasts), but I usually feel subdued on these days.

It’s probably not surprising that I’m tired, as I’ve had a busy three days with the sheva brachos on Shabbat, being out on Sunday and then having a strategy thing at work yesterday, which was actually quite interesting and fun, but pushed me far outside my comfort zone in terms of going to a different campus (and getting lost on the way there – Google Maps showed that the Tube station I would get out at was by a roundabout, but I didn’t realize until I got there that four or five major roads intersected with totally inadequate signposting to show me the way) and participating in discussions with strangers.  It doesn’t help that I haven’t slept well the last few nights, probably because it has been very hot again.

So I am not surprised that today I feel washed out.  Rather than beating myself up for oversleeping and not achieving much, I’m just focusing on a few key tasks and hoping to let myself relax and prepare for tomorrow, when I have a team-building exercise at work, doing conservation work in a Victorian cemetary that is now a park (not sure what it’s going to involve exactly and I’m slightly apprehensive, not least because it might rain).  I do worry a bit about how I will cope from September, when I am working four days a week, but I guess I will just have to wait and see.  After all, I have coped with moving from working three afternoons a week to three full days without a relapse of the depression.

I have also reduced the dose of olanzapine that I take recently and am hoping to stop it completely.  My current psychiatrist doesn’t like prescribing it (it was prescribed by my previous psychiatrist) and I think it has caused me to shake a bit recently, so I will be glad if I can come off it completely, especially as I think it’s the clomipramine that is really helping me.

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Shul-Going

I’m feeling surprisingly good!  The day started badly when I overslept and was half an hour late for shul (synagogue), partly my fault as I stayed up late last night reading The Jewish Chronicle and feeling depressed about its contents (it’s always bad news of one kind or another; if it’s not antisemitism, it’s assimilation and if it’s neither of those, it’s some kind of communal broiges (argument), although the problem was also that I couldn’t sleep because it’s turned hot again.  But the afternoon was better.  I spent a couple of hours studying Torah and enjoying it.  A few months ago I was worried that the depression had killed my love for Torah study, as even though I was no longer depressed, I did not really enjoy it, but I spent two hours this afternoon reading the beginning of next week’s sedra, finding questions and looking for answers in Rashi’s commentary (I realized I love Rashi…) and in The Encyclopedia of Biblical Personalities followed by a lengthy read of Rav Hirsch’s Horeb, feeling glad that, as he suggested, I have a rabbi mentor I can turn to for advice (religious and general) and use as a role model.

I then went back to shul.  After Mincha there were sheva brachos for the rabbi’s daughter.  To explain: when frum Jews get married, they don’t have one party.  That would be too easy.  No, they have a party every night for a week, preferably with at least one new guest each evening (except Shabbat – Shabbat itself counts as the new guest).  (Weirdly, people think Judaism is a boring and serious religion…).  I wasn’t sure whether to go as I somehow didn’t get the email asking people to say if they were coming, but the chairman of the shul assured me they had over-catered (well, it’s a Jewish event…), so I went.  I was nervous as I still don’t feel like I’ve completely settled into the shul, large crowds make me anxious and weddings can make me feel depressed, wondering if I will ever get married.  This is especially true of very frum weddings like this one, where the couple are typically in their early twenties or even late teens, which just makes me feel on the shelf.

However, I had a good time.  I sat with someone I know from Talmud shiur (class) and spoke a bit to him and to some other people, including a blueberry-scoffing young boy of five or six, who was fascinated by a kiwi fruit that had been cut into the same shape as the opened-up satsuma (“They’re the same!  This one’s smaller!  It’s the baby!”  That was the kid, not me).  There was singing, some divrei Torah, lots of jokes (including a surprisingly risqué one from the chairman), some alcohol (I didn’t have any, I don’t risk it with the depression and anti-depressants) and, inevitably, lots and lots of food.  I thought that there was going to be dancing after Ma’ariv and havdalah (Jewish dancing, where you just go around in a circle holding hands with the people next to you and maybe stamping or clapping), but after one dance people started drifting away.  Still, the fact that I was looking forward to the dancing is nothing short of amazing, considering normally I hate it and slip away to avoid getting involved (I usually find Simchat Torah really tough), so I do feel that I’ve come a long way tonight.

I enjoyed the evening and it made me feel more sure that I should formally join the community soon.  Currently my membership is at a shul I go to sometimes in the week, but rarely on Shabbat or Yom Tov; the rabbi there has been incredibly supportive of my mental health and the official hashkafa (religious philosophy) there is closer to my own than at the shul I do go to on Shabbat, but I find the community not focused enough on davening (prayer) with too much talking in the service (there is no talking at all at my Shabbat shul, even though decorum at Orthodox shuls is often surprisingly poor), but above all it’s just too big and unfriendly compared with the tiny and welcoming shul I go to on Shabbat.  Also, my parents go to the shul I am currently a member of and I feel that I don’t exist in my own right there, even though the rabbi and assistant rabbi have invited me to dinner without my parents on occasion.  Going to a different shul to them over the last year and a bit has helped me develop my own sense of identity and independence for the first time in a very long time, so I think it’s about time I took the plunge and formally joined.  I’m just slightly nervous of the fact that I have to have a talk with the rabbi before I can join, though.  I don’t think they turn anyone away, but I’m still nervous of being judged in some way and I don’t really know how to describe myself, my level of Jewish education and observance or my outlook.

Social Anxiety Update

I’m still keeping a lid on certain things in my life at the moment… hopefully some news soon, but who knows?  One little thing I’d like to record: I went to my Talmud class today.  Usually we are taught from handouts, but for the last couple of weeks we haven’t had the handouts, so the teacher has lent me a Talmud.  I decided this week to bring my own copy of the volume of Talmud.  This was a big step, as I use the Steinsaltz translation.  This is a controversial translation among Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews like my Talmud teacher and perhaps the other students*, ostensibly because Rav Steinsaltz changed the traditional pagination of the Talmud (you see how conservative the Orthodox community can be) and because of ill-defined “heresy” which seems to have been based around interpretations of biblical figures that were deemed inappropriate (don’t ask me why), although I have seen it suggested that the controversy was as much due to Rav Steinsaltz being an unconventional figure as anything else: he was raised secular and became religious before his bar mitzvah, he was previously a university lecturer in maths and physics, he is affiliated somewhat with the controversial Chabad Hasidic movement, he has even written detective novels!  None of these are normal for Charedi rabbis!  (Which is one reason why I love him)  Reading between the lines in his Talmud commentary, it looks like he may have even used secular academic archaeological and linguistic studies where they can elucidate a point about the life and language of the Jews in Roman Judea and ancient Babylon, another no-no.  So taking my copy of his Talmud translation and commentary was a big step, risking rejection by the rabbi taking the class and perhaps by my peers (although I doubt they would be aware of the controversy).  As it happens few people were there; the rabbi saw the commentary, but if he noticed that it was the Steinsaltz edition, he didn’t pass comment.  So a positive step forward in taking the Talmud with, although it was rather a relief that I avoided any negative comments.

*There isn’t a clear line between Charedi and Modern Orthodox Jews, no clear differences of belief or practice.  There’s just some general trends that are more or less modern or more or less conservative.  The shul I go to, and to which most of the other students in the class go, is somewhat Charedi, but some of the people are probably more “modern” than others and the people in the class are drawn more from the modern end.

(Incidentally, I heartily recommend the Steinsaltz edition of the Talmud and fantasize about one day having a complete set and “learning” the whole way through it.  Good translation, helpful commentary and very useful addition of vowels to the traditionally unvocalized text of the Aramaic Talmud itself and to Rashi’s important Hebrew commentary alongside it, although doubtless some will complaint that this is a crutch.  If it is a crutch, it is one I am willing to use at this stage of my education.  It has nice and helpful pictures too!)

“It is a Great Mitzvah to be Happy Always”

I’m running very late today, but I wanted to quickly write down a few thoughts that have been running through my head over the last couple of days.  Warning: if you aren’t religious, this may come across as insufferably pious.

A while back I made the mistake of googling my ex-girlfriend and found her blog.  I won’t go into details as my identity here is not entirely private and I don’t want to hurt her, but it turns out that from the way that her life has gone, we could not have stayed together.  To be honest, this is not a surprise, as most of what she wrote on her blog was known to me when we were still together, I just naively thought our relationship was strong enough for us to work through it together.

I have mixed feelings though: I can sort of see God’s hand in ensuring that the relationship ended when it did before we were married with children (a few months earlier, before the troubles really started, I was assuming we would be engaged fairly soon), but also worried that I could easily make the same mistakes again, especially as my big mistakes consisted of not recognising early danger signs and thinking that almost any relationship could be saved if both participants were willing to work on it enough, which I’ve always been taught was the correct way to view relationships.  To be honest, there probably were other warning signs that I missed or dismissed in my excitement at finally having a girlfriend for the first time in my life (I was nearly twenty-seven when we started going out) and I worry that it could easily happen again.  But I can’t see what the alternative is to going out there and trying to find someone more compatible, more stable in her lifestyle choices and worldview and hope that this time I can spot any warning signs in advance from my experience.  I guess being in my mid-thirties finally works to my advantage, as someone my own age is likely to be more settled in her life and views than my ex was (she was quite a bit younger than me, in her early twenties when we started going out, a time of personality formation and sometimes radical new lifestyle choices).

There’s a parable by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov that I’ve been thinking of yesterday and today.  It’s only a page and a bit long, but it’s quite complicated and as I don’t have my copy with me, I’ll have to summarize.  Basically, a peasant finds a precious stone and goes on a trip to have it valued and to sell it.  En route the jewel is lost, but because the peasant stayed happy despite this, he is able to make another business deal involving selling a large quantity of wheat that suddenly came into his possession that nets him much more money than selling the jewel would have done.  The moral, as it usually is with Rebbe Nachman, is that one should always be happy; the jewel was not really the peasant’s so he lost it, but the wheat really was his, so he kept it, but only because he stayed happy.  So my ex was not my bashert (soulmate) so I lost her, but perhaps, if I stay happy and trust in God, I will meet someone else who will be my bashert and we will stay together.  Or if God has decreed that I shouldn’t ever get married, as I often fear… well, being happy and trusting that He has His reasons seems a lot better than the alternatives of being depressed, angry and bitter.  Believe me, I’ve been depressed, angry and bitter, and happiness and trust are a lot more fun and somehow a lot more adult than adolescent despair and rage (I don’t by the militant atheist view that nihilistic doubt is more adult than faith, but that’s a whole other post).

This is a viewpoint that does not come easily to me and I was resistant to it for a long time, but I do think it leads to a happier, more well-adjusted life if one can manage it.  (Note that Rebbe Nachman himself, despite his exortations to his Hasidim, seems to have spent his whole life wrestling with his own doubt and despair and what may have been bipolar disorder – see Arthur Green’s excellent biography, Tormented Master: The Life and Spiritual Quest of Rabbi Nahman [sic] of Bratslav, which I had to read to really be able to accept Rebbe Nachman’s thought as more than just simplistic positive thinking; according to Rabbi Green it’s a proto-existentialist wrestling with one’s inner demons and rescuing faith and joy from the jaws of doubt and despair).