“To me it was only the relief of a personal and wholly insignificant grouse against life; it is just a piece of rhythmical grumbling.” – T. S. Eliot on The Waste Land
A dull, exhausting day at the library. I originally wrote in some more detail about this, but then worried that there would be consequences if anyone cracked my not-very-secret secret identity. So, I will leave it at dull and exhausting.
I’m tired, very tired. I have to get through another compressed day tomorrow, six hours of work with only half an hour for lunch, then leaving early and rushing to get home and get ready in time for Yom Tov (festival). Shmini Atzeret on Wednesday night and Thursday should be fine, no special mitzvot (commandments) ergo no OCD or anxiety (I hope), but Simchat Torah on Thursday night and Friday is likely to be difficult. It is mainly celebrated with ecstatic dancing in shul (synagogue), often whisky- or vodka-fuelled, difficult with depression or social anxiety, let alone both, and that’s before taking into account the fact that two of the three honours are going to people I was at school with, now both rabbis and married with children, presumably not intentionally chosen to make me feel inadequate, but that’s how it feels, and then, incredibly, there’s another Shabbat to get through before a full work week (only my second in the last month) and finally half-term.
I came home to find the latest issue of The Jewish Review of Books had arrived. This is good, but flicking through it, I wonder if there’s a parallel universe where I’m an academic actually writing challenging and opinion-forming articles and books rather than just reading and cataloguing them, just as I wonder if there are parallel universes where I went to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary, not necessarily leading to smikhah (ordination)) or made aliyah (emigrated to Israel) and, of course, one where I married (but who? And happily or unhappily?). My job is socially worthwhile and reasonably well-paid (I think… having been unemployed for so long, I’m just glad to be well enough to work and am rather of hazy on what constitutes a good salary, especially for someone working part-time with rather less work experience and career advancement than someone my age should have) and every so often I come across a teenager who seems to genuinely like serious literature or a couple of students from the college get to Oxbridge or some other good university, as happened this year, and I glow with job satisfaction for a moment, but often it’s hard work and dull and I can’t work out if that’s a genuine problem with the job or just depressive anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure) yet again. It was probably worsened today by working on weeding the stock today, getting rid of books – good books – that have been unread for twenty-five years. But between my poor mental health and the choices I’ve made, I’m not sure there’s an alternative right now.
Speaking of bad choices, I am already failing at my targets for the new year. My three targets were:
- Study one Mishnah a day (on average);
- Daven (pray) the first paragraphs of the Shema, Amidah and Bentsching with kavannah (concentration);
- Work on my depression and social anxiety.
I have mostly been keeping up with the Mishnah study and for a while was even managing two or three Mishnayot on some days (albeit occasionally missing it completely due to depression or lack of time), but I’m not sure how much I understand, still less remember. The last few days it has just left me feeling inadequate, even without comparing myself to people my age who seem to be mastering vast tracts of Talmud (those three honourees again). I thought I was doing OK with the davening with kavannah, but lately that has been getting harder, especially as I rush through davening to get to work or to get through it and have dinner and try to relax. I have at times been repeating parts of prayers when I thought my kavannah was poor, which I probably shouldn’t do, because halakhically one probably should not (although I’m not sure about this) and because it can fuel the OCD (a common type of religious OCD is repeating prayers until they are said ‘right’). As for point three, I still don’t know how to formulate more specific targets here. I have been socialising a little bit over Yom Tov, but it’s hard. I ducked out of a shul event last night because I thought I would be miserable there. I suppose I need to set small targets like trying to talk to people at kiddush for the social anxiety although I still don’t know what would be reasonable targets for the depression.