I think my particularly bad day, depression-wise, on Friday was a result of forgetting to take my lithium on Thursday evening (so it does do something). The last couple of days have been better, but somewhat listless. I’m trying to gather my resources for the final Yom Tov (festival) of the Jewish autumn holiday season.
Friday evening was difficult. My sister, her husband and his sister were here, but the atmosphere was subdued. I don’t want to go into details, as I don’t know if they would want it online, but my sister’s in-laws are going through a serious health crisis, so there was a heavy cloud over the evening as we were all worried, particularly my brother-in-law and his sister.
I was up late yesterday evening, which was not my intention. I wanted to catch up on some emails after Shabbat (the Sabbath), which have been neglected lately because of Yom Tov and inter-Yom Tov busyness at work. In particular, I wanted to respond to an acquaintance who wrote to say that she thinks that she is on the autistic spectrum and wonders if I might be too. That was a difficult email to write, as I wasn’t sure how much I wanted to reveal. I opened up a bit about my autism non-diagnosis and mental health issues, but I refrained from mentioning the blog (at this stage). But I obviously found it hard to write, as I kept letting myself get distracted with aimless internet surfing. The result was a very late night (I think I got to bed around 3.00am) and a late start today. I feel depressed and drained. Just getting dressed was a tremendous effort.
I’ve neglected my non-depression writing of late, partly due to the job change and Yom Tovim. I wanted to write a Doctor Who blog post today and even wrote the first paragraph, but I just feel too drained. I hope it wasn’t a mistake paying for a professional (advert-free) blog to use to promote my Doctor Who writing, because I have hardly posted anything on it so far.
I am trying to get back into the habit of regularly studying Nakh, the post-Mosaic books of the Hebrew Bible. It is hard, as I tend to do much of my Torah study on the train, and taking a big Tanakh (Bible) along with the smaller JPS English-only Bible (because the translation is sometimes more accurate, particularly with obscure words) is impossible, even without the heavy Brown-Driver-Briggs biblical Hebrew dictionary. I do sometimes find it somewhat restoring, rather than draining (as Talmud is), although I do not know how much is down to being inspired by the subject matter or how much due to the literary qualities of the poetry and prose and how much just from the challenge of translating and understanding an ancient language.
We are headed for the last forty-eight hours of the month long Jewish holiday season. I can cope with Shmini Atzeret as there aren’t really any special mitzvot or practices, but Simchat Torah is very hard for me. I suspect it’s a nightmare for anyone with introversion, depression, social anxiety or autism, let alone all of them. It’s mostly celebrated through ecstatic (alcohol-fuelled) dancing with the Torah scrolls in shul (synagogue) to celebrate completing the annual cycle of reading the Torah. Once or twice, when the depression has been in remission, I have given myself over to it and those experiences were liberating, but mostly I just feel overwhelmed by noise and embarrassment and not wanting to be there, feeling a Bad Jew and a failure as a human being for not joining in, even for not feeling able to join in. Standing on the sidelines watching everyone else dancing reminds me of how many things there are that other people enjoy that I can’t experience because of my depression, anhedonia and social anxiety: simple everyday things like happiness, love, friendship, community, family (people dance with their children or grandchildren), simcha shel mitzvah (joy of performing the commandments),religious meaning, love of Torah, even just whisky…
Even worse, at my current shul they auction off honours at the start of the service. I had heard of honours being auctioned on Simchat Torah in return for gifts to tzedaka (charity) or to the shul, but until last year I had not seen them auctioned off for ‘learning’ (Torah study). The idea is to get the whole community to study the whole of the Mishnah each year, so Simchat Torah honours are auctioned off for a number of chapters of the Mishnah and sometimes for pages of Talmud.
I don’t like this for a couple of reasons. At the moment I can’t commit to much in the way of Torah study because of my depression. Last year the bidding started at thirty chapters of Mishnah; I’m not sure that I managed that number over the last year (I think I managed about twenty-nine). Plus I’m working my way through the Mishnah in order, whereas people seemed to be assigned Mishnayot based on the number of chapters they bid for, so I would probably get some other section to what I am currently studying. Plus, as I’ve said before, I’m really sensitive about how much Torah study I do and the fact that I never went to yeshiva and can’t really study Talmud independently, so this is very anxiety- and inferiority-provoking for me (from that point of view, bidding in terms of study is more equitable than bidding in monetary donations, but still creates a hierarchy of high-achievers and under-achievers, and I’m very much in the second category). In any case, I object to advertising how much Torah study I do and I don’t even want the honours on offer (mostly reading stuff out or carrying the Torah scrolls in the dancing).
So, I had decided to skip Simchat Torah this year, although I’m undecided about how much to skip: leave before the dancing starts or miss Ma’ariv (the evening service) too? Or don’t even go for Mincha on Shmini Atzeret? I’m not sure, and it will partly depend how depressed I feel and when they do the auctioning. The problem is that the three biggest honours (chatan Torah, chattan Bereshit and the person called to the Torah with all the community’s children), which are not auctioned, but given to three people who have done a lot for the community, are going to friends of mine. I feel I ought to go to support them, but I just can’t face it. My Dad said to email them to apologise, but I can’t face admitting to all my issues (one knows a bit about my issues, one knows that I have some health problems, but not that they are mental health problems and one doesn’t know why I’m mysteriously absent from shul for long periods at all). So, this will be a more difficult Simchat Torah than most. I hope I can just quietly slip away after Shmini Atzeret Mincha, but I have a feeling that it won’t be that easy.