Just feeling awful today, depressed and exhausted, and I’ve got so much to do. I had anxiety dreams last night about Pesach and, bizarrely, my MA. I feel exhausted, perhaps from the intense emotions and agitation yesterday. The books on depression and anxiety don’t tell you just how tiring they can be. Suicidal thoughts in particular can be utterly draining and I’m guessing that’s why I feel so exhausted today. I can’t really face job-hunting at the moment, which will make things worse in the long-run. I’m just glad I’m not working today. I just wanted to watch TV, but I needed to go out and get a prescription and was supposed speak to someone from The Network (who run the group therapy/courses I did recently) and do various things for family, although the person from the Network never phoned (the public sector is so lousy at this sort of thing). I’ve got a huge pile of emails too, mostly job alerts for jobs that are of no interest and which I don’t think I can do. I’d like to work on my Doctor Who book, which is a more achievable task, because I enjoy it more and because at the moment I’m just tidying up the second draft by standardising spelling and layout, which I can do while feeling bad, but I feel bad about doing that when I ‘should’ be job-hunting. I don’t know whether I will get any of these things done. I fell asleep for an hour after lunch, which I guess is a sign I was tired, although I slept for nine hours last night. I couldn’t really afford to lose the time, though.
I woke to find an email about the my university’s Doctor Who Society’s anniversary party. I was hoping to go to this, but I realise now I’m probably not going to be able to do so, as it falls in the Jewish national mourning period after Pesach. I thought I could justify going if it was just to socialise and watch Doctor Who, but I think it’s more of a party party, which doesn’t seem right for me to go to. I was already missing the dinner, for kashrut reasons. I enjoyed going there more than anything else at university, but even then I missed out on social trips to restaurants and location trips that were always on Saturdays for the sake of people who had early lectures on Monday morning. I know Jewish law is supposed to reduce social and romantic involvements between Jews and non-Jews and even between frum (religious) and non-frum Jews, and up to a point, I accept that, but it’s hard when you have limited social and romantic possibilities, and people within the frum community aren’t always the most friendly or just aren’t on my wavelength.
I try not to perform mitzvot (commandments) in expectation of reward, but sometimes when I look at everything I’ve sacrificed to be frum, and what I may have to sacrifice to stay frum, it’s hard not to feel that I want something in return. Worse, I feel that deserve something in return, which is very wrong of me.
Lately I’ve felt my religious observance slipping a little as I noted in yesterday’s post. Nothing big, just little things. Some of it might not even be bad, like beating myself up less for davening (praying) in a less ideal way or not at all and for studying less Torah. Sometimes it’s hard to care when one feels so depressed. If I’m thinking about suicide, which is virtually the biggest no-no in Judaism, then nothing else seems that important, doubly so if I don’t think I’ve got any reward coming to me.
At any rate, today it was hard to “learn” Torah (as the Orthodox say) and I didn’t really manage much. As an Orthodox Jewish man, I’m supposed to think that I exist to “learn,” particularly Gemarah (the main part of the Talmud). I’m supposed to do it day and night, at every free opportunity. It’s supposed to give meaning to my life and be more important than all other mitzvot (commandments) and acts of chessed (kindness); as the saying goes, when we pray, we speak to God, but when we “learn,” God speaks to us, which is supposed to be more amazing – thinking God’s thoughts and in some sense joining with Him (this is why it is seen as meaningful even if you don’t understand what you are studying or if it is aspects of Jewish law no longer practised). This may have been the case for me once. I used to study for an hour or more a day, even though I was very depressed, but that was when I wasn’t working or was working less, and it gave some kind of meaning to my life, to my illness. But nowadays I do at most twenty to thirty minutes, sometimes just five minutes, although I feel I should still study as much as I used to on days when I don’t work. However, it’s hard to care from depressive lack of energy, concentration and motivation and because it doesn’t speak to me any more. I know the Talmud says that that’s my fault (“If it is empty, it is from you”). I don’t like the atmosphere so much at parsha shiur (Torah class) either, too boisterous and masculine, but that’s a slightly different issue.
I’ve always struggled with learning halakhah (Jewish law) and Talmud, but I used to enjoy other aspects of Jewish study, Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and Jewish philosophy, but lately I don’t (to be honest, “lately” is probably for a year or more). Some of it is depression making it hard to concentrate, engage with things and enjoy things, but I was “learning” more when I was more depressed than I am now. Some of it is the feeling of rejection I have from God and from the Orthodox world. It’s hard to engage with them. Some of it is doubtless repressed guilt and wanting to isolate myself, not to mention envy of people who spend longer in study and get something out of it (e.g. the semi-retired person at my shiur who studies Talmud for something like four hours a day and loves it).
It’s not just hard to be a frum Jew without studying Torah, it’s hard to be a frum Jew without a spouse and children and that might be another reason I’m slipping. There are push and pull factors with families that keep a person frum. The push factor is that shuls are centred around families and if you have a family it’s much easier to fit in. You have something to talk to other people about after shul (school, bar/bat mitzvahs, weddings, grandchildren, great-grandchildren) and you can go to family-centred social events without feeling out of place (I’ve mentioned in the past that I rarely see the few other single people at my shul attend social events). The pull factor is that if you have a family, it’s harder to stop being religious, because it can lead to conflict with your spouse and because you don’t want to negatively affect your children’s marriage prospects by leaving the community, which would be seen as reflecting badly on them. I have heard that unscrupulous kiruv professionals try to get new ba’alei teshuva (people who are ethnically Jewish, but raised non-religious) married as soon as possible to ‘lock them in’ to a frum lifestyle.
I heard of frum “older” singles (“older” in inverted commas because it means over the age of about twenty-five in the frum community) get criticised for being “picky” or being patronised or given unwanted advice. I guess I’m lucky that I’m invisible enough in the frum world to mostly avoid that sort of thing, but that brings the drawback that no one is actually setting me up on dates, when being set up by a third party is the main way of dating in the frum world. I would be terrified to go to singles events and there aren’t many of them advertised anyway (apparently it’s too dangerous to let large numbers of single men and women talk to each other, even with a view to getting married). I’ve thought recently of trying internet dating sites again, but no one really responded to me on them, plus I have heard that, like job applications (something else I’m bad at), it’s a numbers game: you need to message hundreds of women to get a handful of responses and one date. There simply aren’t enough women of anything approaching my particular level of frumkeit (religiosity) in the UK for that to work (even ignoring whether I’m in a strange place between Modern and ultra-Orthodoxy).
Sometimes I feel like I just want to be held, but I’m sufficiently self-aware to question that. My first girlfriend thought I was frigid and I fear she was right. I could ask my parents for hugs, but I usually don’t, but then again that relationship is difficult at the moment in some ways. I worry that I wouldn’t cope with a relationship if I actually had one.