I wrote a piece last week called Mediocrity in which I basically had a go at myself for being inadequate. E. rightly said I was being too hard on myself (have I mentioned how amazing my girlfriend is?). The funny thing is that that article had been at the back of my mind for some time without my having the time to write it. It was unfortunate that the day I did have the time I was feeling quite depressed.
What I intended to say was less to beat myself up for not achieving things and more to say that I feel a bit more comfortable lately with not being amazing. I know that I fall far short of what many (most? all?) men in my community are doing in terms of prayer (frequency; mindfulness during it; with a community) and religious study (amount; complexity; studying Talmud), but I am slowly learning to accept that I am me and I do struggle with these things and I probably always will. HaShem (God) has, for whatever reason, decided to give me these mental health and developmental issues (depression, social anxiety, religious OCD, borderline autism) and they do have a major impact on my life. Even on good days (and lately I have at least had some good days – have I mentioned that I have an amazing girlfriend?) it’s a struggle to do a lot of things ‘normal’ people take for granted, not just religious things, but going to work, making dinner, shopping, cleaning the flat and so on. I am slowly trying not to beat myself up so much about all this.
At the start of this Jewish year, nine months ago, I made three resolutions for the coming year: study a Mishnah every day; say the first paragraph of Shema, the first paragraph of the Amidah and the first paragraph of bentsching with kavannah (mindfulness); and work on my depression and social anxiety. I haven’t really managed any of these, but I have done bits. I study a Mishnah on the commute to work every work day, but generally not at the weekends and holidays (although sometimes I study other things). I daven (pray) those prayers with kavannah sometimes, but not always, perhaps not often. I have done a little work on my social anxiety, but not much and nothing on the depression other than staying in therapy and on my meds. I think most of the improvement in my mood has come from upping the dose of my meds and finding someone who really likes and supports me (have I mentioned that I have an amazing girlfriend?).
Even at the time, I thought that three targets was too many, but I didn’t know how to prioritise. I think for the last three months of the year, I will quietly drop the first and last targets (although I’m not giving up on Mishnah study completely; I will do it when I feel able, but I think E. was right to suggest I should prioritise things I enjoy more in my religious study. I will try to stick with going to my Talmud shiur once a week and at least trying to keep up with the reading for it). I will just stick with the davening target, as I usually say those prayers anyway, so it isn’t an extra time commitment (or a very slight one in terms of taking a bit more time over it; I won’t pressure myself to do it so well in the mornings when I’m usually running late) and it may have benefits beyond the spiritual, using it as a kind of mindfulness as I have tried in the past. Perhaps if I can make some improvements there, I will feel a bit better as a person and as a Jew.
There is another side to this, which I’m a bit wary of raising, as it takes me towards lashon hara (malicious speech) territory, but lately I’ve noticed recently various frum (religious) people behaving in a way that I would not and which I do not think is entirely appropriate. While I don’t want to judge them, it probably is good for me to be reminded that mitzvot bein adam leMakom (ritual commandments) are only part of the picture and mitzvot bein adam lechavero (ethical interpersonal commandments) and just being a mentsch (good person) are a big part of Judaism too and that I can try to succeed here, inasmuch as social anxiety lets me, even if I can’t always manage to succeed in other areas.
2 thoughts on “Less Mediocre”
I’m curious, do you think E.’s level of religiosity has influenced how hard on yourself you are in terms of your own religious observance?
That’s a tough one. It’s hard to separate cause and effect, because I think I might have been headed this way even before I started dating E. I do feel less pressure to be the stereotypical Orthodox Jewish man in order to get married now that I’m seeing E., but I was probably more open to dating E. than I might have been in the past because I knew I didn’t fit that mould any more, if I ever did, and that a stereotypical Orthodox Jewish woman probably wasn’t for me. Plus E. has been supportive of my religious level (she helped me work out new strategies to try to get to shul on Saturday mornings despite the depression and social anxiety). But, yes, there is probably some influence.