… and that goes double for members of traditional communities, who find themselves with strong communal obligations, but not necessarily communal support.  To put it another way, I had a good Shabbat (Sabbath) on a personal level, but a not so good one on a communal level.

On the plus side, I did a chunk of Torah study and mostly followed the Talmud shiur (class) this week.  I had mild insomnia again, but I read quite a bit of the novel I’ve just started, Penguin Lost, the sequel to the novel Death and the Penguin, about a Ukrainian obituary writer and his pet penguin who get involved with the Russian Mafia.  I read the first book in the worst period of my life, the winter of 2003-04, when I was in Oxford, depressed, suicidal, feeling desperately lonely and unable to work, but my tutors wanted me to stick around to see if my antidepressants could kick in at some point (they didn’t).  I’m not sure why I decided to read it then, as it has comedic elements, but is dark.  The sequel came out fairly soon afterwards, but I didn’t get it, although I enjoyed the first book, as I didn’t feel like re-reading the first one in preparation.  I eventually decided that Death and the Penguin lingers in my memory much more strongly than books I’ve read far more recently, so I might as well just get the sequel and read it.  So far it’s good, but not as good as the first one, although I might be mis-remembering after sixteen years.

The other good things were not freaking out with religious OCD when someone did something that I would not have done, but which my rabbi mentor tells me is OK; and not being jealous of the person my age at shul (synagogue) whose eldest son was bar mitzvah.  I think I can see other people’s lives as just so ridiculously different to mine that there is no point even getting upset over the differences any more.  While it’s still possible that I’ll work full-time, get married and have kids some day, it’s clearly not happening any time soon.

On the downside…

As I mentioned, there was a bar mitzvah in shul over Shabbat so there were a lot of extra people on Friday night and I couldn’t sit in my regular seat or anywhere near it.  This is the type of thing that I used to think didn’t worry me in an autistic way, but I now realise actually does throw me, particularly if there are knock-on social anxiety implications.  In this case, I was sitting next to someone I didn’t know so well and was worried about who I would have to shake hands with and wish gut Shabbos to after the service.  After Lecha Dodi, there was circle dancing again and this time I left the room because I just couldn’t face it… and one of the bar mitzvah guests followed me out!  On one level, I was kind of glad that I was not the only person who couldn’t cope with the dancing, but I also worried that he would initiate conversation, particularly about why I wasn’t dancing, so I spent several minutes moving around the rest of the shul trying to avoid him, which probably seemed rude or just weird.  I did manage to shake hands with the rabbi and father of the bar mitzvah boy after the service and wished the latter mazal tov, which for a while looked far too difficult for me to manage.

Then on the way out the person with some authority in the shul who has criticised me for not going to Shacharit (Morning Service) on Shabbat and made light of my saying that I have health issues asked if I was going to come the next day as he would call me to say the brachot (blessings) over the Torah.  I muttered something noncommittal, but I’m sure it made me feel super-anxious on Shabbat morning and unable to get up despite waking up early for once.

When I went to shul for Mincha (Afternoon Service) this afternoon, no one was willing/able to lead the service.  I wanted to volunteer as I used to do it in my old shul, but I was too shy.  It was partly social anxiety, partly fear of shaking and partly the fact that there’s a big paragraph of Aramaic in Mincha in this shul that we didn’t say in my old shul and which I read really slowly because I don’t understand Aramaic and I was worried about delaying everyone.  I felt bad, because, as with the divrei Torah (Torah essays) that I write, but am too scared to share with my community, it feels like a waste of whatever talents God has given me, but I’m just too scared of messing everything up and/or getting rejected by people.  I don’t know if they would even believe I can lead Shabbat Mincha if I volunteered, so little have I shown myself able to do things in this shul.

Then, after Mincha, when we were sitting around waiting for the Talmud shiur to start, someone asked why I led weekday Mincha the other week when I visibly did not look like I wanted to do it.  I didn’t realise it was so obvious.  I don’t know if he actually saw me shaking, but it will make me feel more self-conscious about it next time.  The dislike is more because of the shaking than anything else.  If I could get rid of that, I would feel a lot better about leading services, although I doubt I would actively volunteer for them (not least because that always seems arrogant and wrong to me).  Unfortunately, the shaking is caused by my taking olanzapine.  Various psychiatrists have tried to cut out the olanzapine, because it’s difficult to see what it’s doing for me when I’m also on clomipramine and lithium, but every time we try, my mood plummets dangerously and I have to come back on it.  So I guess I won’t be comfortable leading services for some time yet.

I wish I was good at something religiously in a way that I could use to fit in to my shul community.  If I could daven from the amud (lead services), write divrei Torah that I felt comfortable sharing, participate in the Talmud shiur more actively (ask and answer questions) or even just get to more services (like Shabbat mornings) so that I was a very regular shul-goer, particularly on weekdays when they struggle for a minyan (prayer quorum) it would be a start.  It’s things like that that help someone get accepted in a new community.  I feel I don’t have anything to buy my way in with (so to speak).

Oh, and someone told the story about when the rabbi of the Thursday shiur bet a £50 gift to tzedaka (charity) that no one would know the answer to his question and I answered it correctly.  I almost wish I hadn’t answered, so much has that question followed me around for the last few years.  So, on the whole a mixed Shabbat.

Motzei Shabbat (Saturday evening) has been a bit better.  I came back to see that an issue that has been ticking away in the background for a week and a half is still ticking away and I don’t know where it’s going or what I can do about it.  It’s worrying.  I did at least work for forty-five minutes or so on my novel, procrastinating a bit at the beginning, but being quite productive once I got down to it and writing 600 words (613 to be exact, a number loaded with Jewish significance).  I then watched Quantum of Solace, which apparently has a reputation for being one of the worst James Bond films.  I think it lived up to its reputation.  I am vaguely nostalgic for it, though, as I saw it in the cinema (one of only three Bond films I’ve seen in the cinema) with a group of people from a Jewish mental health support group.  I even squeezed in a Skype call with E., so the evening was better than the day.

6 thoughts on “No Man Is an Island

  1. Interesting question. I think they’ve been OK, but big mistakes don’t happen often because only a small subset of the community would have the confidence/ability to lead services, hence the discussion yesterday over who would lead when no one wanted to. My problem is I basically have the ability, but not the confidence, and the tremor issue just makes things worse.

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  2. Would you ever consider being a little more open with your friends at the synagogue in explaining that you have been reluctant to lead sessions due to the medication side effects (tremor), or even just down to being anxious about speaking in public? That is nothing to be ashamed of! You might be surprised how many people can relate to social anxiety and related mental health issues. In my own experience when I have been open about my own mental health I am often surprised how many people confide back to me about themselves or a family member! People may be seeing you as someone who is aloof and difficult to approach and may warm to you more if you show a chink in your armour. I really hope you can eventually break through this barrier and offer to lead a session because once you do it you may find it becomes a lot easier the next time… Glad the day went well in other respects. I read Death and the Penguin myself ages ago and loved it!

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    1. I don’t think I would have the confidence to really talk about my issues in the context of leading services, bearing in mind that when I’ve told people a bit about my issues, they either go silent and never mention them again or, in one case, were dismissive of them. People may be seeing me as aloof and unapproachable, but I’m too scared to open up more, although part of me would like to. I have led services twice in this synagogue now, but had issues with tremor the whole time.

      Glad to see someone else who has read Death and the Penguin.

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  3. Would it be possible to simply let others know your hands tremble as a result of a medication that you need to take? I know that might take some nerve, but it would sort of address the elephant in the room (more likely what *you* feel everyone else is noticing and they’re probably not much). Once it’s out there, maybe you can move on and not worry about it as much. I’ve heard similar advice given to people who are nervous about public speaking.

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    1. Well, the tremor is more than just my hands; my whole body shakes, but I’m not sure how noticeable it is to outsiders, particularly when I’m wearing a big tallit. I’m not sure how to really make that known to people in a way that doesn’t sound weird.

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