I had a weird dream about my maternal grandparents last night. They were doing decorating or something and then my grandma dropped dead (after doing a flip while dressed as a dog, rather improbably). I had to call for an ambulance and for my Mum and somehow ended up locked out of the house and unable to unlock the front door while Muppets (actual Muppets, from The Muppet Show) crowded me and put me off. It was a pretty weird dream, but I think it’s an attempt to process feelings about my parents’ mortality after Mum being ill on Sunday and her cancer in general (it was her parents in the dream).
Perhaps because of this, I felt pretty depressed on waking. Or maybe I just did too much yesterday. Plus, it was a fast day today in Judaism, one of the sadder days of the year, which always brings me down, even though I’m not allowed to fast on most of them any more because I’m on lithium. I usually at least don’t brush my teeth on fast days as a small gesture, but I forgot and did that. It’s hard to stay in the fast day state of mind when not actually fasting. Similarly, in previous years I would have drunk just water today, but I drank tea and coffee and I doubt I would have got through the day easily without them. The longer my depression goes on, the harder I find it to get into the mindset of the “sad” days of the Jewish calendar. I guess I just feel that I’m depressed all the time and I’m struggling to get to normality even on a sadder day.
I did have depressed feelings about the future on waking. The usual thoughts that I won’t ever get married, or probably even be in a relationship again, rooted in fears that I will not find another job, which seems to be necessary to find a girlfriend, and that I will not get over the depression, which would also be good to get rid of before dating. My unemployment may be fixable. I hope it is, at any rate. My depression I suspect is here to stay, on some level at least.
I wrote a lot more about this, but deleted it, as I don’t want to wallow in depression again. I know I have made progress with the depression over the years and I’m certainly not as bad as I was circa 2003 to 2008 or even later, but it’s still a struggle and I don’t know what my improvement is down to, which makes me worry that I will relapse somehow. Medication is certainly part of the improvement. Maybe a certain amount of occupational therapy in terms of keeping active. Psychotherapy has helped me understand myself a lot better and to deal with some short term problems, but I’m not sure it’s really helped me resolve much in the long term. It is certainly helpful to talk to a therapist on a week-by-week basis to vent, but I’m not sure how much it helps in the long term.
Achievements: despite feeling very depressed, I spent two hours or so working on my novel, fairly absorbed and “in flow.” I finished another chapter and did some reorganising of the plan for the last few chapters. Once I started work, the depression feelings did subside quite a bit. I am concerned that I don’t quite have enough plot left to generate the 13,000 or so words I need to make this acceptable even as a short novel.
I had to do some shopping and wanted to go further afield than I’ve been for a while. There are basically two places to shop around here: a small parade of shops less than ten minutes’ walk away, and a big high street and shopping centre about fifteen or twenty minutes away. I hadn’t gone further than the “less than ten minutes away” shops since lockdown started and felt I should push myself to go further, plus the thing I needed was more likely to be in the shops on the high street.
So, I set out. The weather was horrible, but I saw it as exposure therapy as much as anything, as I’ve been worried about how I will adapt to “normal” post-lockdown life. I wore a mask when I arrived at the shops, and then wore it home. I was OK, albeit annoyed that it was often not possible to distance myself from other people as I would have liked. I went into the Judaica shop too, which was a bit of a reward for getting down there, but I didn’t buy anything. I still find masks uncomfortable. I think I will still avoid the shops unless absolutely necessary, at least while Mum is immunosuppressed.
I also wrote my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week. I realised I’ve never really written about these here in detail. These thoughts are short essays, typically 800 to 1,000 words on the week’s Torah reading. I started writing them at the start of the Torah reading cycle last autumn, initially just to read aloud to my parents at the Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner table, but I now send them to a few friends and family too. I do feel the pressure of the weekly deadline sometimes, but it can be quite a rewarding experience to think about the text, look at commentaries, and set out some ideas about it.
I’m slightly curious to look back over the ten months or so and see what themes emerge. Even without doing that, I know there are some writers I quote a lot. It’s pretty much inevitable that anyone writing on the Torah portion in the mainstream Jewish tradition is going to quote Rashi and Ramban (the two greatest Medieval Torah commentators) a lot. More personal is my looking to the Kotzker Rebbe and (lehavdil bein chaim lechaim) Rabbi Lord Sacks a lot for inspiration.
One theme that I know has come up a lot, including this week, is the concept of individuality in Judaism, the idea that we all have a unique outlook on life and that this is, or should be, a theme of Jewish life over and above the conformist nature of a community. The idea that God sees our individuality and that therefore we should strive ourselves to see and accept individuality, and that leaders in particular should do this. I’m sure on some level it’s from feeling that I am not always accepted as an individual that I feel the need to stress these ideas, but that does not make them less valid or true.
From Sacred Fire: Torah from the Years of Fury 1939-1942 by Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira, the Piaseczno Rebbe (emphasis added):
Moses was the most humble person ever to walk the earth. He was constantly asking himself, “Who am I? And how can I possibly… ?” So God said to him, “It is not true that you are not fit, and it is not true that you have faults and blemishes, God forbid. Your self-doubting is itself a form of worship, the type of worship that illuminates the world, coming as it does through a chain of causality from the name of God that is the future.” It comes from the name of God, EHYE — “I will be.” When a person feels that there is nothing worth looking at in his heart, but says, “I am nothing right now, but from now on I will try to be something,” his worship takes on the aspect of God’s Name, EHYE — I will be. It draws out a reciprocal promise of EHYE — I will be.