I really ought to go to bed, as I have to be up early for work, but I need to write to process the day.
Today was Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish year. It’s the only fast day I’m allowed to fast on given my current medication. I don’t fast well, never have done (most of my family don’t either), which always makes the day problematic. I secretly envy people who can get through the day without so much as a headache, spend the whole time davening (praying) intently in shul (synagogue) and still be in good spirits by the end.
Yesterday night (Jewish festivals start in the evening) was pretty good. I went to shul and I remember that I had a fairly moving experience, although I don’t remember the details. I know I felt very, very angry with HaShem (God) at the start. I have heard that expressing anger at HaShem in prayer is permitted because prayer is supposed to be authentic, that Chana’s (Hannah’s) paradigmatic prayer in Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) which is the model of all Jewish prayer, was an angry prayer according to the rabbis. I think after a few minutes it turned into intense sadness and perhaps also anxiety about what kind of a new year I might have.
I was tired afterwards and went to bed at 11.00pm. Unfortunately, I slept for something like fifteen hours. I spent the morning drifting in and out of sleep with bizarre dreams (meeting an old friend who promptly treifed up our kitchen; being attacked by gorillas in the garden, who turned out to be people dressed as gorillas; and, most strangely, being a Cabinet minister in John Major’s government. God alone knows what any of those dreams mean, particularly the last one (which was chronologically first)). When I was awake, I felt too drained, depressed and anxious to get up. I could tell that I had low blood sugar. I knew that all I needed was a glass of water, a bowl of cereal and a wash, but all these things are forbidden on Yom Kippur. I think for the first time I was tempted to eat on Yom Kippur (fasting on Yom Kippur is one of the most widely-accepted Jewish laws. Even people who do nothing religious all year fast on Yom Kippur). I didn’t, but I’m slightly worried by how tempted I felt. Maybe I’m just judging myself harshly. I don’t think there was a serious chance that I would have eaten something, but it was strange that the thought even entered my head.
Eventually I got up and went to shul. I arrived at about 4.30pm; Mincha (the afternoon service) had just started. I struggled through the next four hours or so. At times I felt so faint and frail that I had to sit down because I was afraid I would fall over if I stayed up, even in parts of the service where one is supposed to stand. On the plus side, I didn’t get a bad headache and most of the time I didn’t feel like I was actually going to throw up, so that’s actually an improvement on most years. But I did feel terrible for missing most of the day, even though I know I was too depressed to get through it. I know I would have felt less depressed if I had eaten, but I also know that my priorities were right (fasting is a biblical commandment and outweighs the rabbinic commandment of set prayer), but somehow this doesn’t make me feel better.
The rabbi in his drasha (sermon) before Ne’ila (the fifth and final Yom Kippur service – only on Yom Kippur do we pray so many times in one day) spoke of not being an mediocre Jew. The idea is that ten days ago on Rosh Hashanah we could be judged as righteous, wicked or in between, but on Yom Kippur HaShem takes all the in-betweens and reassigns them to one side or the other. From now on, we’re all righteous or wicked, spiritually alive or spiritually dead. No compromises.
The rabbi spoke about taking on one area to improve in, religiously, in the coming year. I had already decided I was going to focus on curtailing my negative self-perception, ending my “internal critic” as the C-PTSD book I’m reading puts it, or talking lashon hara (malicious speech) about myself as I think of it, to try and make it sound religious and therefore more important to deal with, to encourage me not to back off from it. (The Chafetz Chaim (Rabbi Yisrael Meir HaKohen) spent his life campaigning against lashon hara and he said it’s forbidden to speak maliciously about yourself too – there’s an amusing story about this which sadly I don’t have time to share now). I still feel I should do something more overtly ‘religious’ like commit to davening with a minyan more, or with more kavannah (mindfulness) or saying more of Shacharit (morning service) or studying more Torah… I feel lacking in so many crucial areas, and knowing that it’s largely due to my emotional/mental health issues doesn’t make me feel any better. But I feel that I’ve put off dealing with my low self-esteem for years and that’s probably why I haven’t succeeded at dealing with these other emotional issues.
The rabbi also spoke about the need to do something that is a kiddush HaShem (sanctification of God’s name – something that makes people think positively about Jews, Judaism and the Jewish conception of God). I don’t know that I really do that, and I’m not sure that dealing with my negative self-talk will really help with that, but I don’t think I can prioritise that today.
After Yom Tov I checked my emails and saw that the CBT therapist who I saw about my OCD and who I emailed to ask if she could help me with my self-esteem and social anxiety isn’t taking on any more clients right now, so I’ll have to find another option. I’ve got one potential idea, but I need to make some inquiries.
I never know what one is supposed to wish other people after Yom Kippur. It seems strange to wish shana tova (good new year) now the new year period is officially over and we’re moving towards Sukkot, but it also seems anticlimactic to wish people shavua tov (good new week), particularly as the week is nearly over. Technically you can wish people Shabbat shalom (peaceful Sabbath) from Wednesday onwards, but that always seems strange. Still, whatever it is you’re supposed to have at the moment, I wish you a good one.