Today was the last day of my mini-holiday. I go back to work tomorrow and from then on I should be working four days a week, health permitting. Onwards through enrollment, a longer week, the Yom Tovim (festivals) and into the autumn, when my mood traditionally drops. I am feeling rather apprehensive about all of this and the effect it might have on my mental health.
Today wasn’t a totally wasted day, although I did oversleep again. I had therapy, finished reading Rabbi Lord Sacks’ introduction to the Koren Sacks Yom Kippur Mahzor (prayerbook for the Day of Atonement), so I feel marginally better-prepared for Yom Tov (Jewish festivals) than I did last year, went shopping and pitched an article proposal to a geeky website. This last was scary, as it involved confronting my social anxiety, even if only by email, and risking rejection, the two things I most hate. Whenever I’ve had articles rejected in the past, it has sent me into deep despair and writer’s block, so I hope that won’t happen this time
when if I get rejected again.
Therapy was mostly spent thinking about social anxiety, dating and my rabbi’s questions about what I would wish for and what I can never get enough of (all interrelated for me), so these questions have been on my mind a bit this afternoon. In particular, I was thinking again about stopping dating, or rather not re-starting dating. I shocked my therapist a bit by explaining frum (religious) dating, that people are not really supposed to ask each other out (although this varies from community to community – in some parts of the Orthodox community, even the Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) community, there are singles events, speed-dating (which was invented by an Orthodox rabbi!) etc. or even, in the Modern Orthodox world, casual interactions between the sexes that can lead to dating), but get set up on dates (shidduchim) by third parties, either professional matchmakers (shadchanim) or friends or friends-of-friends. This is where I suffer from being on the fringes of the community, because no one really knows that I am looking for a wife and what type of person I am and what type of person I’m looking for and not many people know that I even exist. I don’t consider myself fully in the Charedi community, but still part of the Modern Orthodox community even if I go to a somewhat Charedi shul (synagogue), so I would be open to going to events where the sexes mix and asking women out myself and have asked women out in the past, but in reality I don’t go out much or meet women and when I do I’m too shy to speak to them or ask them out.
I do feel depressed today and I’m not sure if these lonely thoughts are a cause or an effect of the depression. Over dinner I was fighting back both tears and OCD anxieties. Hopefully I’ll feel better once I’m back at work except that, as I mentioned above, it will be stressful heading towards the chaggim (festivals). Related to them, I’ve been thinking again about feeling hated by God. It does feel like He’s arranged things so that I can’t be a good Jew and do mitzvot, while I can’t get any joy out of this world either. There are people on Hevria who claim to have had open miracles in their lives, but I’ve never experienced anything remotely like that, which makes me feel hated by God. They do say that you have to believe you can have a miracle to get one, which does make it seem even more like God has deliberately set things up so I can’t get help by giving me years of loneliness and abandonment so I can’t trust Him to step in to help me. I believe God can and does help people, I just thinks He hates me too much to do anything for me. To be fair, as I mentioned the other day, with regard to career and income I’m OK. Not rich or financially secure, but OK for now. I only work part-time (67%) and technically my contract expires in eight months and I don’t know if it will be renewed, but with my parents helping me out I can pay my bills for now. And I acknowledge that that’s a big thing that not everyone has. And I mostly get on with my parents and sister these days. But with regard to mental health, friendship, love, joy, community, most of the things that make life worth living, I seem to have very little, although not quite nothing, so I still feel bad on some level for complaining.
I seem to have drifted into self-pity and despair again, which wasn’t my intention. (My non-biological sisters decided that I’m a Marsh-wiggle which is probably true.) I do try to cultivate an air of gratitude. For many years I’ve been thanking God for at least five good things every day, but it’s hard to internalize that when I feel so depressed for reasons that have as much to do with brain chemistry than positive thinking. It’s also hard to truly feel grateful when some days you’re reduced to saying, “Thank you that I didn’t hurt myself although I really wanted to.”
The bottom line, I suppose, that unites these ideas and others I’ve been writing about recently is that I can’t be grateful for life, or be ready to ask God for another (good) year of life, or be satisfied with my work or creativity or allow anyone to like me (friendship) or love me (marriage) unless I love myself. But I loathe myself and it seems dishonest to do otherwise, knowing myself and my deeds and thoughts as well as I do. I’ve read stuff on self-esteem and even did a year-long confidence and self-esteem adult education course, but nothing seems to work in the long term. I can feel better for a few months (as happened earlier this year), but then I hit an obstacle and back I go again. I haven’t gone more than six months without serious depression since I was nineteen.
I mentioned Rabbi Lord Sacks above (I consider him one of my main teachers, although I have never personally interacted with him, although I have heard him speak once or twice) and writing this reminded me of a story he told in one of his Covenant and Conversation parsha emails. The story can be found here but he concludes:
The idea that each of us has a fixed quantum of intelligence, virtue, academic ability, motivation and drive is absurd. Not all of us can paint like Monet or compose like Mozart. But we each have gifts, capacities, that can lie dormant a throughout life, until someone awakes them. We can achieve heights of which we never thought ourselves capable. All it takes is for us to meet someone who believes in us, challenges us, and then, when we have responded to the challenge, blesses and celebrates our achievements.
I feel that I lack those people who believe in me; or at least, a few people do believe in me (my parents), but I find it hard to accept that because of things that happened to me when I was growing up and I rationalize away any praise I get. I have four A4 sheets of positive emails and blog comments from friends and even from strangers blue tacked to my cupboard door that I printed out to try to boost my self-esteem, but it is hard to believe in them. And I tend to run away from challenges, or to insist I have failed them even if other people say I did well e.g. letting my creativity stagnate because I suffered rejection, even though I also received praise. Rabbi Lord Sacks talks in that essay about celebrating something – anything – to boost self-esteem and drive, but my depressive anhedonia stops me celebrating anything even if I had something to celebrate and even if I could celebrate, practically I don’t know how. I don’t drink and with my mental health and medication I shouldn’t start. I’m trying to cut down on food as my meds are making me put on weight even without the depression making me want to eat more. I have a couple of friends, but I can’t celebrate with them because they mostly live elsewhere or are too busy to see me. And so on. This all seems like refusing to take responsibility for my life, though, which in turn just leads to more self-loathing.
I’ve now read over this essay a couple of times trying to make it work. It’s rubbish. I should delete it, but I’m too much of a drama queen and want people to see that I’m not functioning. I have no idea how I’m going to deal with enrollment at work tomorrow and Thursday or with going out for lunch on Saturday. My writing is rubbish and I’m sorry I churn this stuff out every day and expect people to read it. It’s no surprise no one likes me. I don’t even like myself. I’m sorry, really.