I feel really depressed again today. I lay on my bed for an hour or more this afternoon because I was too depressed to do anything. This level of depression seems to be normal on Sundays right now, as I recover from ‘peopling’ on Shabbat (the Sabbath) and is reinforced by the sombre atmosphere of the fast day today. I’m eating, as I only fast on Yom Kippur because it’s dangerous to fast while taking lithium. I don’t eat junk and I don’t brush my teeth, which sounds minor, but makes me feel that I’m in “Just woke up” mode all day.
Given how depressed I feel, E. suggested that, far from not doing enough on Shabbat, I do too much and am burnt out the next day. This is without going to shul (synagogue) in the morning, just going in the evenings and going to shiurim (religious classes) and seudah (the third Sabbath meal, in the synagogue), particularly given the social interactions that can arise. I don’t know if this is true. It sounds true, but in the past I’ve gone to shul in the mornings too and been fine (although I can’t remember how I was on Sundays then). I don’t know what it means for me if I can’t go to shul as I should, because I doubt that I will ever become part of the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community if I don’t go to shul on Shabbat mornings, let alone find someone willing to marry me. It’s the focus of the religious/social week.
I have half a dozen jobs I can apply for, but two are too senior for me, one is too junior, two aren’t really in the right sector and one is at an institution that isn’t right for me and is term-time only, which might be problematic about taking time off for Jewish festivals. I’ve applied for one (via an agency I’m already registered with, so that only took a few minutes to ask them to submit my CV) and started to apply to another.
There is a lot of needless hate and aggression online. But sometimes I see something that just breaks my heart. I was looking at a website of ‘Ask the Rabbi’-type questions and a woman had written clearly in great distress. Her question was not always easy to understand (English was clearly not her first language), but she was writing about being wracked with guilt for having abortions. It was clear from what she wrote that she had been raped as a teenager (it wasn’t clear if that was one of the abortions) and it seemed that she was probably suffering from psychosis as she spoke about hearing voices telling her negative things. She spoke of performing all kinds of ascetic practices to try and atone for her sins, things far outside of standard Jewish practice.
The rabbi’s answer was reasonable in that he told her she shouldn’t feel guilty for things she regrets, especially if she wasn’t raised to know they are against halakhah (Jewish law) and that the ascetic practices are not how God wants her to relate to Him. He did say she should seek psychiatric help for the voices, although I think he could have stressed it more. I would have added that some rabbis permit abortion in the case of rape, if that was her situation. Also to acknowledge the abuse and to tell her that God doesn’t hate her for it, and that it likely led her on to the other things she feels guilty about, and He doesn’t hate her for those either.
I just wanted to tell her that she’s a good person who has been treated brutally by other people and that God doesn’t want her to hate herself because of it. But the web page was two years old, so it seemed unlikely she would see anything I wrote there.
There is so much suffering and pain in the world and sometimes I just can’t bear it. One can ask, “How can a benevolent God allow this?” but as much of the pain is from human wickedness, God could equally ask how a supposedly benevolent humanity allows it. I just wish there was something I could do for this woman. I hope she got some psychiatric care, although my personal experience of that is that it is no guaranteed cure.
On a different, but still mournful, note, a commenter on a blog about Jewish rationalism and mysticism quoted a New York Times book review that said of people raised in fundamentalist faiths that, “they experience a totalizing indoctrination that so severely limits the formation of an adult psychology that many don’t ever achieve maturity in the way secular society conceives of it, a state of empowered capability that permits complex life choices, a state in which contradictory ideas can be held in tension without psychic recoil. Instead, the fundamentalist child, raised on fear and limitation, lives a life of diminished options, constrained by strict dualisms: black and white, good and bad, God and Satan, and (perhaps most alarmingly for the broader culture) us and them.” Aside from the hypocrisy of damning religion for creating divides of “us and them” while proceeding to turn religion into a dangerous and irrational “them” contrasted with rational, disenchanted “us” (as if every atheist understands the empirical method and always thinks critically even about emotional issues like politics and identity; nor does someone like Richard Dawkins strike me as someone able to hold contradictory ideas without psychic recoil) and the simply untrue assertion that religious people are immature and unable to make complex life choices, it did make me realise how lonely I am, standing on a mountain peak, trying to balance modernity and postmodernity on the one hand with tradition and belief on the other, to do justice to both while avoiding the absurdities and extremes of either. I’m not absolutely alone, but I am quite alone and I worry that I will not find friends or my soul mate.
Life just seems this terrible thing I have to get through somehow, with no chance of happiness or reward, in this world or the next. I don’t know how realistic that thought is. I know theologically I should say it’s wrong to say there is no reward, but that isn’t how my life feels. And I know my CBT therapist would say that it’s wrong to say I have no chance of getting better, but based on the last twenty years, that is what it feels like.
On a more cheerful note, my parents booked tickets to take me to see The Play that Goes Wrong next month as a birthday treat. There was money leftover in the budget, so I bought a couple of books and DVDs, of which the DVD of I Claudius (highly regarded 1970s BBC drama about the early Roman emperors) arrived today. I look forward to watching that when I’ve finished Smiley’s People.
I did also continue working on my Doctor Who book today for about two hours, redrafting another chapter and cutting about eight hundred words. I feel less guilty about working on it when I could technically be job hunting or studying Torah now that I am somewhat hopeful of getting it published, as I think of it as my parnassah (sustenance) and being as important as job hunting or Torah. Of course, I may not get it published…