Today was pretty awful. It started OK, but things went wrong across the morning, until by the afternoon I just wanted to go home. I didn’t, but I fear that I was neither productive nor careful enough in my work. I just tried to do the best I could, given the circumstances, but I’m not sure that that was good enough.
In a way that fits with this post, which I actually wrote last week (bar a few edits), but sat on for a few days while I checked with my rabbi mentor that I hadn’t breached the rules of lashon hara (forbidden malicious speech).
I had a moment of insight the other week doing my hitbodedut spontaneous prayer/meditation. I was actually feeling very depressed, despite being rather better during the day. The feeling of being alone with God is very over-powering and triggers a lot of self-hating thoughts and despair, to the extent that I recently stopped doing hitbodedut for a couple of days or cut it short. (I usually only do ten minutes, but even that is hard; on Shabbat it tends to become more intense for some reason and I let it run on for half an hour or even an hour, mostly just sobbing, which I shouldn’t really do on Shabbat, but it feels like the only really authentic religious experience I have all week, so I am loath to stop it.) It wasn’t a new insight. Rather, something that I have known cognitively for a long time hit me with added emotional force.
I had a difficult childhood in some ways, although I feel guilty for saying that, as nothing serious, nothing illegal happened to me. There was the bullying at school, which I’ve mentioned before. But not all bullied children have mental health issues in adulthood and in any case, bullies pick targets who are likely to react as victims. There were some issues when I was primary school aged, maybe also a bit older. I don’t want to go into details. It was, as I said, nothing illegal or immoral. My parents were not aware of the effects that events were having on me, I’m sure, or they would have done things differently. But for a long time, several years, when I was impressionable I was in a situation where I was being sent signals that I was not valued and no one really noticed, because I was not the epicentre of the difficulties, just a bystander. No one was aware of it at the time, but my self-esteem was being eroded. The lesson I was learning was that even though I was well-behaved and hard working, things could go disastrously wrong and I could be left alone in the world to fend for myself and that no one really cared what I thought or wanted. That I was not lovable or worthwhile or valued.
Adults can cope with cognitive dissonance, but children can not. A child can not think, “Bad things are happening to me, but that doesn’t make me a bad person” and certainly can not think, “I am being treated unfairly, but it isn’t anyone else’s fault, it’s just life.” A child feels, “I am being treated like I am worthless, therefore I am worthless.” I didn’t consciously think that I was worthless. I can’t remember much of what I consciously thought and felt at that time, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t anything like what I feel about myself now. But I internalised the messages that I was worthless and unlovable and that whatever I did, however good I was, it would never be good enough, I would always be rejected, I would always meet with disaster and isolation. I could never express these feelings, perhaps because I didn’t understand them (I’m not sure if the alexithymia (inability to feel or distinguish emotions) is a cause or an effect of this) and partly because I thought I couldn’t influence events, perhaps also because I had built my self-image into that of a ‘good’ boy. So the feelings were repressed and probably worsened by my experiences at school, where I was further bullied and devalued by my peers.
Nowadays I have a good relationship with my parents. It’s taken some work on my part and it’s taken a long time, but I can talk about a lot of my issues to them. They’re never going to fully understand my mental health issues or my borderline Asperger’s traits and there probably will be some things we will always disagree on (as in any relationship), but we get on well, especially now I live away from them and only go home for Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbaths and Jewish festivals). But the feelings don’t go away. So I think I project them onto my cosmic parent, God. I feel that He hates me and that everything I do is wrong. I can marshal some evidence in favour of these assertions, but, rationally, it probably isn’t much. It’s very emotional. For a long time it was focused on, or perhaps through, my religious OCD, but in the last ten months or so that has been a lot better, so it has become more free-floating, just a general all-pervasive sense of sinfulness and uselessness, combined with some more concrete anxieties (getting time off work for Yom Tov, Pesach cleaning etc.). Obviously my anxieties over marriage come into play here, as it feels like something that God is withholding from me deliberately and also because I feel that no woman frum (religious) enough for me to want to marry would consider someone as sinful as I feel I am.
Unfortunately, this intuitive, rather than reasoned, nature of my feelings means that it is hard to address them. I have known more or less all of what I have written here for a long time, it has just been hard to feel it, and lately the emotional part of my brain has been running over the cognitive part. Still, maybe it means something positive that I felt this for a bit recently even though it’s been a struggle to remember it sometimes.