(Signals from Fred explained.)
The ancient Greek historian Herodotus said that the Persians would consider every great decision twice, once while sober, so they would not be lacking wisdom and once while drunk, so they would not be lacking courage. I don’t know whether this is really true or not, but it reminded me a bit of my CBT therapist trying to get me to favour my “wise mind” over my “OCD mind.” I thought I would try to write this post twice, once with my depressed mind (in black) and once with my wise mind, trying to think more positively (in red). It turned into autoanalysis.
I felt a bit better on waking than I had done for the past few days, albeit achey (I probably didn’t warm up properly before exercising yesterday), but again procrastinated, eating breakfast slowly, reading online (about social anxiety and about antisemitism, probably not the best thing to be reading) and avoiding getting dressed and davening (praying), although I did at least shave (eventually). I finally said a tiny bit of Shacharit (morning prayers) mere seconds before it was too late to do so and while I was davening I started crying, I’m not sure why. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It can be a release, although this didn’t feel much like one. I had zero kavannah (concentration in prayer). The rabbi in my shul (synagogue) spoke recently of praying rapidly without kavannah being like asking for a favour in a hurried and inattentive way, insulting to the person you are talking to, but I am incapable of doing otherwise at the moment. True, but at least I was davening. Someone once told me that a rabbi had told her that davening at all when depressed is a great thing. I don’t know how true that is.
I just heard that a friend of mine from Oxford got engaged. I’m trying to feel happy for him, but it’s hard. What I mostly feel is a sense of loneliness and isolation, as well as social anxiety about having more parties to go to and to feel awkard, bored and out of place at, as well as wondering when he got engaged and if this is another announcement I missed through not being on Facebook (his telling me was in response to my emailing him out of the blue to ask if he wanted to meet, as we haven’t seen each other for some months, maybe more than a year). I did wonder how he met his fiancée and I suppose I could have asked him, but it’s doubtful the answer would have been any help to me anyway.
Even before this, I was thinking that if I had to sum myself up in two words, they would be “lonely” and “tormented.” I meant that as a general comment, not one limited to how I feel today. I’ve felt for some time that I am fundamentally a lonely person and today I added in the tormented part. I’m not sure how to move on from them. There is probably a lot of negative self-definition here. Like I want to have problems. I wonder what my therapist would make of this. She used to talk of the “mantra” I had, telling her how bad my week had been. Most of my peers from school and university (I’m thinking mainly of Oxford, for various reasons) have long since dropped off my radar, but the Jewish community is small and I do hear from time to time what people are doing, and it’s usually very positive: high-powered careers (going to Oxford means I know a lot of over-achievers; also know quite a few who became rabbis as well as a couple of academics), marriage, children etc. I think there may have been one or two divorces, I don’t know. I just googled a few names which was very stupid of me and saw that someone who used to bully me at secondary school now has a business, a pretty wife, a baby and a dodgy beard. I don’t wish him ill, but I wonder where I went wrong. Interesting I said “where I went wrong”, not “where my life went wrong”, like I did something stupid, incorrect or immoral. Like this is all my fault.
I sometimes wish that my suffering could be some kind of kapparah (atonement) for other people, but Judaism doesn’t believe in vicarious punishment (actually, the historical reality is more complex than that, but certainly contemporary Judaism downplays it almost to non-existence and with good reason). I used to want to be a lamed-vavnik, one of the thirty-six supremely righteous people on whose existence the world depends, but I have given up on the chances of achieving that particular ambition. Ego, much? I was just thinking I’d rather be Mashiach ben Yosef than Mashiach ben David, because Mashiach ben Yosef gets killed before the messianic era begins. That’s even worse! I should probably add here I add a couple of borderline psychotic episodes at Oxford where I thought I was Mashiach, albeit only for a second or so. When I told my therapist, years later, she pretty much freaked out about it.
I have long had an intuition that I have no share in Olam HaBa, the World to Come (essentially the Hebrew idiom for Heaven). I can’t prove this to anyone, obviously. Then why do I believe it? Usually I’m reluctant to believe things without proof, purely on the basis of intuition. Why is this different to ghosts, reincarnation, near death experiences and other things I’m sceptical of? I’ve done some pretty bad things, but I don’t know that they will cost me my share in Olam HaBa. Right. But conversely, no one can reassure me that I do have a share. At school I was taught that almost everyone has a share in the next world and there is a famous teaching that all Jews have a share in the world to come, yet the Talmud lists a load of biblical characters who don’t have a share in Olam HaBa and with one exception they are all Jews. At any rate, sometimes I feel I have done the three cardinal sins of murder, sexual immorality and idolatry. ?! Obviously I haven’t literally done those things. I haven’t literally killed anyone or slept with a married woman. But I feel I’ve done things equivalent to that e.g. the rabbis say that gossip and embarrassing someone in public are equivalent to murder and I’ve done those. But regardless of what the rabbis say, there isn’t a literal equivalence. You are supposed to die rather than murder, but you aren’t supposed to die rather than gossip. I suspect I’ve also experienced baseless hatred, which is considered as bad as the three cardinal sins put together. I said “suspect” because I can’t actually think of an instance of really hating someone, even someone who hurt me. Dislike, yes, but not hate. I can’t really think of very much positive that I’ve done. I can think of two good things I did, which is not much, but more than nothing. I don’t always keep Shabbat properly and I worry I don’t keep kashrut and Pesach properly. Translation: sometimes I have accidentally broken Shabbat and my OCD tells me that I don’t keep kosher or Pesach properly, not my rational mind. I don’t daven with kavannah, I skip a lot of Shacharit and I don’t do enough Torah study. True, but as I said above, doing any Torah study or davening while depressed is impressive. I did a lot of bad stuff before I became frum. No, I did some fairly tame stuff that happens to be against halakhah before becoming frum, like eating vegetarian food in treif restaurants and watching TV on Shabbat. I was a tinok shenishba and can’t be held responsible for it. True, but it took me a long time to become frum and I made some mistakes. I also had serious personal reasons for not becoming frummer sooner. But there are still big things I still do that are against halakhah that I can’t mention here. I have no reply to this, except that my mental health pushes me to do things I would rather not do e.g. being irritable and sarcastic to my parents.
Other people seem to have managed to do a lot more good than I have. I just feel too paralyzed by my mental health, which isn’t really an excuse, as I know people who also have mental health issues who have triumphed over them, whether individuals I know (at least online) like Elad and Rivka Nehorai and Matthe Roth of Hevria or famous people like Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill (and possibly various eighteenth and nineteenth century Hasidic rebbes, although it’s hard to diagnose people in retrospect). Sometimes I daydream about being murdered by terrorists to have some kind of redemptive death al kiddush HaShem. The irritating thing is, you would think if I have no Olam HaBa, I would at least have some Olam HaZeh (this world). I suppose I have food, water and shelter, so maybe that’s all I deserve. And at least I’m doing a job that feels socially useful.
I guess the last few paragraphs are a fairly transparent attempt at getting people to disagree with me and say I’m a good person. I doubt it will work, but I shouldn’t even be manipulating people (my friends!) like this.
Oh well, I did at least manage to finish my painting of the bathroom woodwork today, to go for a walk and do some shopping as well as managing forty minutes of Torah study (which is all good!), again mostly Horeb which I have to say I am anxious to finish as I’m not getting much from it (I have about eighty pages left), which is probably not the right attitude (but at least I’m reading it and I’m doing it so I can move on to other things). On the downside, I got involved in writing this post and making myself depressed googling people I knew and forgot to sort through my work papers, which was supposed to be one of my tasks for today. I did manage to do a few things, though. It wasn’t a totally wasted day and I did this experiment of trying to argue with my negative thoughts here.