I got up at 10am again today.  I tried to make it for 9.30, but I kept drifting in and out of sleep, having weird dreams.  I did go online before getting dressed though.  I try to tell myself I am a work in progress.  The problem is that, particularly early in the day, when I’m not doing anything, the depression rushes in.  It stops me getting started on my day and it can also creep in when I’m doing other things.  I felt pretty depressed while davening (praying) this morning, for instance, without an obvious trigger.

I had another day that got away from me, another autistic-bad-at-planning day when I made an over-enthusiastic plan and quickly drifted away from it.  Actually, it’s as much depression’s fault as autism’s, given that I would be OK for a bit and then suddenly hit by a wave of depression.  I feel like I use autism and depression to make excuses for myself, but then again maybe I just use them to blame myself in different ways.

I did manage about an hour and a half on my novel, just over a thousand words, battling procrastination and not really wanting to confront some of my less than stellar times at Oxford.  I would have liked to have written some more, but I could feel the kind of tension inside my skull that I associate with exhaustion and imminent burn out, so I stopped.  By that stage I had also drafted my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week, done some hoovering to help with the housework, and been for a forty-five minute walk.  I did about twenty minutes of Torah study too.  So, not a bad day productivity-wise, even if I would like to do MORE all the time.

***

(The next paragraph or two gets a bit theological, so you might want to skip ahead.)

This evening is the start of my paternal grandfather’s yortzeit (death anniversary).  Usually my father would go to shul (synagogue) for Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers) and say the Mourner’s Kaddish prayer.  This has to be said with nine other men, and doing it on Zoom is not permitted.  Instead, we davened Ma’ariv on Zoom, with a whole bunch of Dad’s friends and some family, but without Kaddish (and one or two other things that can’t be said remotely).  Instead, following rabbinic advice, afterwards I read out and explained a Mishnah (the oldest part of the Talmud, the Jewish oral tradition).  I just read the most recent Mishnah in my ongoing study of Seder Zeraim, the order dealing with agricultural law, specifically Terumot chapter one, mishnah one, the volume dealing with the portion of the crop given to the priests in ancient times.  It’s really not the best thing to pick, but I wasn’t sure what else to do and picking another mishnah at random seemed a bit arbitrary.  At least it wasn’t a very complicated one to explain.  The idea is that by us studying the mishnah together my grandfather has prompted Torah study, which results in him attaining greater reward in Heaven.

My problem is that I struggle theologically with the idea that we can do anything meaningful to help the dead.  I see Kaddish as being primarily for the mourner, to reconnect with God after loss.  The idea that Torah study by a person’s descendants can help a dead person is only about a hundred and fifty years old, which is yesterday in Judaism.  Not ancient at all.  Even Mourner’s Kaddish “only” goes back about 1,000 years.  Before teaching the Mishnah on Zoom, I was supposed to say “May my grandfather’s  neshama (soul) have an aliyah (be elevated), but I really feel uncomfortable saying that, as I’m really not sure reward works that way.  I feel very uncomfortable with the idea, widespread in contemporary Orthodox Judaism, that we can transfer our merits around to anyone in need, living or dead.  I don’t believe reward (and punishment, for that matter) is something external.  As the former rabbi of my shul said, “Heaven isn’t a palace in the sky and if you do enough good things they give you the keys.”  Occasionally, we get material reward in this world, which is external, but usually reward is in the next world, where I believe it is a form of closeness to and understanding of God, a product of what we made our souls into in this world, not an external gift given to us by God.  As one rabbi said, it is like memory, and just as you can’t give your memories to someone else, you can’t give the connection you made with God from doing a mitzvah or studying Torah.

I think this is perfectly Orthodox, but I know that 99% of Orthodox Jews disagree with me, so it’s a(nother) thing I just keep quiet about.

Anyway, in my head I was teaching the mishnah in memory of my grandfather (to perpetuate his memory among the living), but I said something like “hopefully it will be an aliyah for his neshama.”  I felt I had to say it because people might have prompted me if I didn’t and partly just in case I’m wrong and it could do something for him.  But I feel vaguely dishonest and hypocritical.

I also felt a bit bad that I had written an explanation of the mishnah and just read it out.  When I do public speaking, I usually prefer to write notes and speak partially from memory rather than reading out, but I didn’t feel that I understood the mishnah well enough to do that.  At least I didn’t shake.

I didn’t stay for the lechaim (drink) afterwards as I don’t like Zoom and it sounded like the organised chaos of twenty or thirty people on Zoom at the same time, talking at the same time, shouting to be heard, and interrupting each other, plus, of course, I don’t drink.  Eventually my Dad’s friends left the call and it was just family.  I felt like I should have been there for more of the family call, but I needed to eat and unwind a bit.  Only a few hours earlier I was writing about my fictionalised younger self’s tendency to withdraw and not connect with people when the opportunity presented itself and then I was falling into the same patterns of avoidance.  I did eventually decide to go down and join in the rest of the call after I had eaten, so there is some progress since I was in my early twenties.

***

I have a folder where I save positive blog comments and emails that I’ve been sent.  I use them to cheer myself up and boost my self-esteem when it’s low.  The problem is that I don’t remember to look at them.  I used to have some printed out and blue tacked to my cupboards so I saw them.  Speaking about this to my new therapist on Monday, I decided that I should do that again.  I’ve been cutting and pasting some quotes from people and feel quite emotional… there’s a lot of people, most of whom I’ve never met in person, who seem to have positive things to say about me and my writing and I’m not entirely sure how to deal with that.  My mind is trying to make me beat myself up for losing contact with some of them, but I know that the way the online world works; long-term contacts are rare.  I’m more inclined to beat myself up about people who were once my friends, but who have fallen out with me, usually for reasons I do not fully understand or agree with.  I have thought about deleting these comments and emails in the past, but so far I have not done so.  Aside from it seeming a bit like a Stalinist rewriting of history to pretend that we were never friends, I like to remember that we were friends once, even if it didn’t last.  I’m not really a grudge-bearer.

Also, while looking in the folder, I found the first email E. ever sent me, which I thought I had lost forever, so that cheered me up.  It’s weird to think if she had never sent that email, both our lives would have gone on completely different paths.

6 thoughts on “Avoidance, Esteem and Too Much Theology

  1. That’s great that you found your first email from E! Back in December, my iPhone automatically updated and for some reason I lost a bunch of texts from a certain period of time. (my techie son-in-law tried to get them back, but to no avail) The first communications with my current guy friend were permanently gone, and that makes me sad. I like to re-read them sometimes. I also have a folder for blog comments or emails. It’s interesting to read them, especially the older ones. I agree with you about Zoom; I’m not a fan.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is sad about losing texts.

      Yes, I can’t work out what it is about Zoom that I don’t like. I’m OK with one to one calls on Skype, but for some reason I can’t cope with the group calls.

      Like

  2. It doesn’t seem like there was much talk about the afterlife in the Tanakh. It has bothered me that many prayers are written “we do such-and-such as you have commanded us,” when I can’t find the commandment anywhere.

    I wonder if most people who have clinical depression tend to be night owls? I am definitely a night owl. In speaking with my therapist, I was saying I wanted to be up at 6, and she said that was too early for the reason you gave–you’ll be up too early, before a lot is happening, by yourself, and the thoughts will come and make you more anxious and depressed. She encouraged early, but not too early. I don’t know about you, but since this COVID19 started, I have been having a lot of trouble with insomnia.

    Nice work on your novel and great that you were aware enough to recognize when you needed to stop. I hope you give yourself credit for doing all the self-care you do. I’m continually impressed when you go for runs, make dinner, study Torah, write and more. It’s a lot to juggle.

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    1. There is not really much talk of afterlife at all in Tanakh.

      It has bothered me that many prayers are written “we do such-and-such as you have commanded us,” when I can’t find the commandment anywhere.

      This is kind of a big area to get into in a blog comment, but the Orthodox understanding is that the oral tradition was imparted simultaneously with the written Torah (although how much is a subject of debate). In many ways Orthodox Jews view the oral tradition as the core and the written Torah almost as a summary, which is probably a view that sounds strange to people outside the community. If something was transmitted orally we still say that we are doing it as God commanded in the blessing. Moreover, some commandments were authorised by the rabbis (like Chanukah candles, which is completely post-biblical), but because the Torah tells us to follow the rabbis, we take that as saying that God has OKed what they command in advance and it’s as if it comes from him.

      Most depressed people I know are night owls. OTOH, if you look in diagnostic criteria, insomnia and early waking (being unable to get back to sleep) are key symptoms.

      I used to have bad insomnia when the depression started, but mostly my medication knocks me out these days. In fact, if I can’t sleep, it’s often a sign that I forgot to take my meds at dinner.

      Thanks, I find it hard to praise myself for self-care. I guess I get stuck feeling I want to do more.

      Liked by 1 person

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