I woke up feeling depressed and lonely again. E. is concerned about my tendency to turn everything into guilt, that I assume that everything bad in my life is my fault and if I was a good person I could change it. She thinks that this is not really the case. She feels in particular that I shouldn’t feel guilty about not being emotionally connected to Judaism. I guess it’s hard not to when Judaism presents a lot of things (perhaps most things) in moral terms and assumes that good people can change them, at least with the right tools. It’s assumed that a person who wants a better relationship to God or Judaism can ‘fix’ that; it doesn’t take into account that my brain chemistry might prevent that, or say what I should do instead or how I should cope.
That said, I wonder if this is really guilt or if I’m misunderstanding my emotions again. I don’t think what I see as guilt is really sadness, but maybe it’s loneliness or disconnection. I was reading about domestic abuse again (see below) and came across the idea that abusive men express all their emotions as anger; I wonder if I express all my emotions as depression or guilt. I don’t know if that idea even makes sense. At the very least, alexithymia (difficulty understanding my own emotions) makes it hard to understand what I feel.
I’m worried about the future too. I want lockdown to be over, but at the same time, that would shift my worries about career and relationship up a gear as I have to confront things again. I’m already dreading the cataloguing test I have to do soon for a job application.
I’m also struggling with political thoughts that I don’t really want to write about here, worries about the situation across the Atlantic, worries about my participation in racist societies, but also about the much greater coverage of and sensitivity around racism by most people in the West compared with antisemitism. Jews aren’t more likely than most people to be killed by the police, but they are more likely than many to experience violence. In the USA, Jews are the victim of well over half religious hate crimes, far more than any other religious group. I don’t feel this is a particularly appropriate time to talk about antisemitism. We need to concentrate on racism right now. The problem is that much of the world has shown that it never thinks the time is right to talk about antisemitism.
Mind you, I can get upset by little things, for instance, a letter in an old Jewish Chronicle criticising Orthodox rabbis unfairly.
I’m not sure how these thoughts would be classified. They’re kind of on the boundary between depression and anxiety, with some anger, but not what people generally mean when they refer to those feelings in a psychotherapeutic context.
I spent an hour or more trying to work on my novel. I wrote about 450 words, which was not bad, but not great either. I procrastinated a lot, got upset about irrelevant things (see the paragraph above) then read abuse survivors’ accounts to try to get me back into the mindset of writing about abuse, but that just made me feel more miserable and made it harder to concentrate.
I tried to look at my notes from my librarianship MA on cataloguing in preparation for doing a cataloguing test some time this week or next for a job application. It was hard to concentrate because I felt so depressed, and because I was aware that I probably know this stuff as well as I ever will. I feel I probably know the stuff, I just have no confidence in my ability to show it. I’ve really lost confidence in my ability to do librarian stuff in recent years. It’s hard to remember that I once thought that I would be a good librarian, even a professional cataloguer.
I didn’t do much Torah study (about fifteen minutes). I wrote this rather long email to my rabbi mentor instead (slightly edited here):
I’m really struggling religiously lately. It’s hard to daven and to learn Torah in particular. It also feels like I have no meaningful connection to HaShem [God] and to Torah much of the time. It’s hard to work out why. Or, there are many possible reasons:
– my depression/general mental health (which has got worse the last couple of weeks) – one rabbi once told me that I wouldn’t be able to connect emotionally to God and Torah until I recover, but it increasingly looks like there is no recovery for me, just being able to manage my condition better;
– resentment of simplistic theologies in the frum world that see working at Judaism and especially having bitachon [trust in God] as immediately positive results. I think these are wrong, but they make part of my brain think, “God must be angry with me, or He would have healed me/got me a job/let me get married by now;
– feelings of despair regarding my life, relationship, career, etc. and feeling that I won’t be able to build anything because HaShem keep testing me by making me suffer and taking away what I’ve achieved;
– generally feeling like a social misfit in the frum world: the United Synagogue doesn’t take Torah and davening [prayer] seriously enough for me, in the Federation I feel like have to hide various beliefs and interests because they’re unacceptable, and the people at the London School of Jewish Studies are mostly a generation older than me. I felt in particular that my local shul has not always supported me well in terms of helping me be part of the community or regarding my mental health (as well as setting me up on shidduch dates [arranged blind dates]), although things had been a bit better at the start of the year and I felt that after four years, I was fitting in a little bit better… and then coronavirus came and disrupted even that.
Lately I wonder if I won’t fit in anywhere, ever. It seems everywhere I go, I feel that I don’t fit in, and I’m beginning to wonder if that’s just in my head, or from my autism. I really feel that I struggle to fit in and to follow the unspoken social codes, which is a classic autistic symptom. On the other hand, I’ve never had the kind of support that the frum world is said to provide to most people in need.
And underneath it all is the feeling of emptiness, loneliness, isolation. Of feeling that HaShem is so far from me and indifferent to me, or that He will invalidate all my mitzvot on some technicality. I feel I can’t connect with Him. Sometimes I feel that I don’t know what it would be like to feel joy at all. I saw something the other day about the need to have spiritual pleasure, but I’m not even able to have physical pleasure.
Sometimes I worry I’m frum more out of habit than anything else these days, which does not make me feel good. To be honest, the non-Orthodox/non-religious world is just as off-putting to me as the frum world, but I know E. finds aspects of the frum world difficult, especially the lack of appreciation of serious culture, and I find it hard to “sell” her the frum life when I feel so negative about it.
I do still enjoy Shabbat, even though I feel that is partly a relaxation thing as much as a spiritual one. Occasionally I do see Torah that resonates, but it’s hard to build on it; likewise if I daven well one day. I do enjoy writing my weekly divrei Torah [Torah thoughts], although I do experience that as a stress sometimes, and a drain on time for Torah study.
This is what I’ve been feeling. Would it be possible to discuss it, by Skype or email, please? I don’t know if there is an answer, but I feel I need to try something new. I mean a new strategy to engage with my religious life. It’s just so hard to keep going sometimes.
I’m not sure what I expect to get from it. He can’t wave a magic wand and solve my troubles and we have spoken about this in the past. I suspect if I was more confident in myself and worried less about what other people think of me, I would fit in to frum society better, and if I fitted in better socially, a lot of my lack of religious connection would go away. But I’m not sure how to do that.