I had a comment conversation on an old post the other day in the course of which I noted that in my experience, frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) people with mental health issues tend not to stay frum. The person I was talking to agreed. That is, on one level, an indictment of the frum community and its treatment of mental health issues, which are not really addressed meaningfully a lot of the time and can even be ignored by sufferers and their families as something damaging to shidduch (dating) chances, for the sufferer or their family.
Nevertheless, I was thinking on a personal level, about how I have tried to stay frum all these years as I’ve seen my peers go on to very different lives (community, careers, marriage, children) while I’m stuck in the same difficult situation. This is, I suppose, a positive achievement on my part, but I struggle to see it as such. I keep thinking that I should be doing better: more davening (prayer) with better kavannah (mindfulness), more Torah study and of a higher standard (more Talmud, basically), more kavannah on mitzvot, and working harder on my middot (character traits) especially having a strong connection to HaShem (God). It’s hard to admit that I’ve been struggling hard and not giving up even though the temptation at time has been overwhelming, particularly when my religious OCD was at its height a few years ago and again this year when I’ve been feeling very distanced from HaShem and Judaism as well as from the community.
As I say, it is hard to give myself praise for that; much easier to criticise myself for not being good enough, to think that if I was a good enough Jew, I would do all those things despite being very depressed, or that just thinking about the concept of God would comfort me. As it is, I worry that one day it will all be too hard for me and I will “go off the derekh” (literally “go off the path,” a horrible frum expression for stopping being frum). Sometimes it just seems too hard, especially as I’m aware that my dating chances would be vastly improved if I wasn’t limiting myself to just the frum community or even just the Jewish community (the Jewish community worldwide is about fourteen million, one of the smaller religions. I haven’t seen statistics for the frum community globally. In the USA it’s about 10% of the total Jewish population; it’s probably a bit more elsewhere, especially Israel, but still probably no more than about 15%, so maybe about one to two million people). Of course, much of the frum community would not consider me frum enough to marry them/their daughters, so that limits it even further.
Looking over what I’ve written, it’s strange how thinking about my standing religiously and with regard to the frum community always ends up as a discussion about marriage and loneliness. I suppose it’s an indication of how lonely I feel generally and how hard it feels to gain acceptance to the frum community without a spouse. So much of Jewish life revolves around family – family and community, but community centres around family.
There is the issue of God and loneliness which I have been thinking about lately too. In The Lonely Man of Faith, Rav Soloveitchik writes about loneliness as an essential part of the human condition and the basis of the “covenantal community” which includes God as well as other people. He is writing primarily about existential loneliness, about the alone-ness that comes from being an individual with unique thoughts and perspectives, rather than just being single and having few friends.
There is a concept of the Shekhinah, the Divine Presence (the feminine aspect of God), that is present over a sick person’s bed. I’m not sure if that applies to mental illness (it’s talking about someone bed-bound). Likewise it is said that the Shekhinah followed the Jews into exile and that She can be present in a marriage if a couple are worthy, but I’m not sure there is anything about Her being present to the lonely. (I think I can accept God as loving more easily as She than He and I’m not sure why.)
I tried to work on my novel today, but I found it hard to concentrate. I tried for about an hour and wrote less than 300 words. It’s always hard to write on Fridays for some reason, even in the summer when Shabbat (the Sabbath) starts late, giving me more time. I was feeling very lonely, wondering when (or, more likely, if) I will be well enough and earning enough to date, and especially wondering if I will ever find someone on the right religious level who can look past all my “issues” and see that I do have some things to offer in a relationship. It all seems very unlikely, and I looked online endlessly for stuff about mental health and shidduchim. I’m not sure what I wanted. Maybe something to say I will get married, or conversely that I won’t get married, just something clear that would end the painful uncertainty. I found it all very unlikely.
I am very lonely and that’s unlikely to change any time soon. It’s been my default position since I was a teenager. I don’t know why it’s so hard for me to accept that. Unsurprisingly, this has been making me feel more depressed.
I dreamt about my novel last night, not the one I’m currently writing, but the vague (slightly more than vague) idea for the next one. It possibly helped me out on a plot point, although I’m not sure yet. It’s weird to have characters I’ve created permeate my subconscious almost before I’ve set pen to paper (I’ve written a few notes). I guess it’s a good sign.