I have been feeling pretty inadequate all day today, in pretty much every aspect of my life from my job (where I am constantly undermined by my mental health) to my inability to understand my emotions (although I might understand them more than I give myself credit for), but, for the sake of brevity and focus, I’m just going to concentrate on two areas, my religious life and the book I’m in the process of writing.
Religiously, a lot is expected of Orthodox Jews. Men in particular have a host of daily obligations that women are exempt from, particularly set prayer and Torah study. Prayer is supposed to be three times a day, preferably with a community of at least nine other men (minyan), at set times and with kavannah (concentration, understanding of the Hebrew words and a sense of being in God’s presence). I mess up almost all of this. I only pray with a community on Shabbat (the Sabbath) and even then I’m sometimes too burnt out to go to shul (synagogue). On work days, I only manage to pray for about ten minutes in the morning, about a quarter of the morning service. I do daven Mincha and Ma’ariv (say the afternoon and evening services), but by myself and with poor kavannah. I feel inadequate just thinking that there are plenty of men who do daven with a minyan three times a day. I don’t know how good their kavannah is, but it would be hard to be worse than mine.
Similarly with Torah study. In theory, a Jewish man should be studying Torah whenever he has a free moment. In practice, life gets in the way and we are allowed some downtime. Still, I feel I should be studying for an hour or two a day (as I have done in the past, even when the depression has been bad, albeit when I was not working as long hours, if at all), preferably Gemarah (the larger and more difficult part of the Talmud, consisting largely of complex legal arguments). What I do is study for anything between five minutes to an hour, focusing on the week’s Torah reading (Torah in the narrow sense of the Five Books of Moses rather than the wider sense of ‘Torah study’ i.e. any Jewish religious study) and one or two Mishnayot. The Mishnah is the shorter and simpler part of the Talmud, being composed mostly of simple legal statements, although the commentary in the edition I use often seems incomprehensible to me, especially as I have to do my Mishnah study on the Tube into work, when I’m still half asleep. Again, I am conscious that there are men who spend their evenings studying the Gemarah, alone, with a chevruta (study partner) or at a shiur (class).
Then there is my general religious practice and mitzvah (commandment) performance. Now the religious OCD is more under control, I am no longer terrified that all my food is treif (non-kosher) the whole time, but I do feel that my performance of mitzvot, both ethical and ritual is lacking. I lack the sense of connection to God or joy in fulfilling His will that I am supposed to feel. I have even been told that I will not feel that joy while I’m depressed, which seems to indicate that I will never feel it as I don’t think I will ever be free of the depression. Nor do I think of myself as a particularly kind or generous person. I help others more out of a sense of obligation than love. I feel bad about this, but I often feel trapped in a solipsistic prison of depression, social anxiety and borderline Asperger’s and it’s hard to get out of that to connect with other people.
It’s hard even to have a benchmark by which I can measure myself. In theory, in Judaism “According to the pain is the reward” (Pirkei Avot 5.23) – we are judged according to the effort we put in rather than on some absolute scale of achievement. What is easy for one person might be very difficult for another for all kinds of reasons and worthy of greater reward and the Jewish religious literature from the Talmud to the tales of the Chasidim are full of stories of unlearned and even sinful people who achieved saintly status with a single, simple good deed. In reality, though, it is hard for me to feel this. I look for excuses to judge myself negatively and beat myself up and feel guilty about things. I compare myself to other people, even though I know I shouldn’t, even though I see only a fraction of their lives and don’t know at all what is going on in their heads. I feel that other people are judging me, and reading articles and blog posts where other people reflect on what they see as the narrow-minded and judgmental attitudes of the frum (religious) community doesn’t help, even though I have had little personal experience of such attitudes. It does, as I’ve said before, make me assume that no frum woman would want to marry someone as religiously inadequate as me. It also makes me feel that I have no share in Olam HaBa (the Next World i.e. Heaven). I have no rational grounds for thinking this, just an intuition that good things simply don’t happen to me and that if I haven’t done an act bad enough to forfeit my share of Olam HaBa (and I often feel I have, even if I can’t pinpoint one), then the cumulative nature of my sins will stop me meriting my place there. As I’ve said before, I just have a feeling of wrongness and I assume that everyone else, including God, feels the same way.
The other thing I have been feeling inadequate about lately is very different. I have mentioned that I am writing a non-fiction book about Doctor Who. I don’t want to go into it too much here as it’s not really relevant and might compromise my pseudonym (as I’m reworking material from my real name blog). Suffice to say it’s an analytical book on Doctor Who. But I worry that my writing isn’t good enough. Writing on Doctor Who seems to come in two forms at the moment, the popular and opinionated and the academic and critical theory-rich. I have no grounding in critical theory to write anything academic, nor have I done research in production documentation or looked at the secondary literature in anything but a haphazard way. But I worry that my work is too dry and too often slips into the passive voice for a more informal work and that anyway that market is already saturated. The popular books annoy me anyway (too informal, too dismissive of what the authors dislike (in Doctor Who and outside it), too quick to bring in the authors’ politics and assume that all sensible people agree with them, too quick to show off wider knowledge which is often incorrect) and I suppose to some extent I’m writing in opposition to those books, that I’m thinking, “Well, if they can do it, so can I!” But I’m worried that that is pride and we know what that comes before. And having catalogued a book on writing style at work today, I just feel that my writing simply isn’t good enough to compete in a crowded marketplace. The passive voice has always been a problem for me in my non-academic writing.
I have a new post up on Hevria today. Only one person seems to have liked it so far. It was probably a mistake to let them cut the bit where I explained that all the stories are exactly fifty words long. I feel inadequate.