The Doctor: Where’s your optimism?
Romana: It opted out.
– Doctor Who: The Armageddon Factor by Bob Baker and Dave Martin
I seem to be stuck back in the habit of waking up late and depressed, even if I go to bed a bit earlier. I think some of the slump is finishing the first draft of my novel and contemplating the next mountain to climb, which is redrafting, which is looming and ominous, but which I can’t even get started on yet, as I want a short break so I can come to it fresh. Something else happened that I won’t go into here that brought me down too and is on my mind today. Plus, I had a weird, upsetting dream last night. I can’t remember the details, but it was about getting in trouble with my religious community for having the wrong religious beliefs/practices.
I looked at the chart I made for dealing with depression and, yes, some of this probably is my critical voice talking and maybe some “shoulds” and, yes, a lot of it is catastrophising. I don’t know what’s happening with my career or my writing, which is scary, and it’s hard not to catastrophise that.
There’s a lot of catastrophising about relationships too, feeling that I don’t have ways to meet someone. There are some ways, but I feel they all have drawbacks and most are unlikely to succeed. I also feel that I would have the best chance of building a relationship with someone who also has “issues,” but there’s no way of trying deliberately to meet such a person, certainly not within the frum (religious Jewish) community. There are actually shadchanim (matchmakers) in the USA who specialise in “sensitive shidduchim (matches)” where both parties have some kind of issue (not necessarily mental health), but I couldn’t get any to work with me, largely because I’m not in the US, but in one case because I’m too modern, religiously. Maybe it’s not sensible to think like that anyway; both my exes had issues and that was at least partly responsible for the failure of both relationships. Maybe I need someone very stable and kind, although what she would see in me is anyone’s guess.
I also worry that I won’t be able to have children, partly because my issues are too ever-present and exhausting to make it a good idea, particularly if I marry someone with similar issues; partly because, as I get older, having children means finding a wife significantly younger than me, which seems unlikely to happen. Some shadchanim and dating sites seem to divide the dating pool in two, under-forties and over-forties, the former being presumably for people who can have children, the latter for people who are too late, or who are assumed to already have children from a previous relationship and not to want more.
As I said, this is all catastrophising. My parents still think I’ll get married and have at least one child, which seems wildly optimistic to me. It’s hard to turn off the catastrophising voice though, particularly when there seems so little evidence against it. I need to focus on stuff in the present, as I was recently, but it seems hard today when I feel to depressed to concentrate on anything and when my mind just wanders down the path of least resistance, which is the path of catastrophising and wallowing in self-pity.
I try to tell myself that if God wants me to have a career and a wife and children then it will happen and if He doesn’t, it won’t, and there’s not much I can do about that… except that just reinforces the fear that he doesn’t want me to have those things and there’s nothing I can do about it. Certainly he hasn’t wanted me to have them so far. I don’t think belief in God is supposed to make me so fatalistic, certainly not Jewish belief, which is supposed to be proactive. We’re supposed to think that God wants the best for us, and if it doesn’t suit our desires or plans, that’s because we’re limited whereas He’s omniscient and knows what would be good for us better than we do. I just wish I knew what His plan is and had some idea if I would ever get there.
Do I even know what I want out of life? I’m not sure. Part of me suspects I wouldn’t be happy even in a loving relationship, that I’m just too negative and depressed a person to be happy for long. I don’t know what would make me happy or bring fulfilment to my life. Maybe I’ve hit on things like love and career as goals because they make other people happy and I assume they would make me happy too, but perhaps they would not.
Being frum, doing mitzvot (commandments) and studying Torah, which, according to rabbis, are what my soul wants to do and which should make me happy do very little for me. Does that make a bad Jew? Or are depression and low self-esteem just too corrosive to happiness for a frum life to make a difference? Nothing really seems to help conquer the sense of insecurity, loneliness and despair. Would it help if God Himself told me that He thought I was a good person and a good Jew? I’m not sure that it would at this stage.
I want to be grateful for the good things in my life, and I’ve been stating them each day for years, but somehow often I feel too lonely, anxious and despairing about the future to internalise that. I just end up feeling guilty for not being happier and more grateful. Maybe I’m just selfish and ungrateful, but I just feel like my psychological needs are not being met (as per Maslow) and I can’t fully function.
My therapist is away, and maybe that’s hard too. I share a lot of my life here on the blog, but not all of it. There’s some that seems too trivial, or too personal, or too shameful or perhaps too weird to share here. I’m not sure how much of that I would share with my therapist either, but some of it. Lately it’s also been hard to tell my parents when I feel depressed and to talk to them about things and I’m not sure why. I think on some level I feel I’ve let them down by being depressed for so long. I could phone Samaritans. I’m not suicidal, but the service is technically not just for people who are suicidal or even intensely depressed, but somehow I can’t bring myself to phone just to chat, perhaps because I can’t bring myself to open up to a stranger unless in serious need.
This week I’ve been writing letters to people who have upset me or aroused strong, difficult emotions in me. The letters are not intended to be sent, just to work my feelings through. I decided to write one to the frum community, which was a slightly flippant idea, but I thought I would see what came out, as I’ve been writing these letters in a fairly stream of consciousness way. I was quite surprised that it really didn’t go the way I expected, so I thought I’d share:
Dear frum community,
I tried so hard to fit in, but I never felt accepted. That’s my gut feeling. Is it true? I don’t know. I think people were willing to accept me at youth stuff at shul when I was a teenager, but I was too scared, and maybe a bit arrogant. Did I think I was better? Or smarter? Or did I just think I could not be friendly with someone who was not a geek? To be fair, I was carrying a lot of hurt, trauma and guilt, and that only got worse at Oxford, where people were also willing to accept, but I was too scared again.
Nowadays I’m terrified I’m too Modern, too “heretical,” too weird, too guilty to fit in, especially being single, childless, depressed and autistic. Is that your fault or mine? Neither really, it just is.
It’s true you do stuff that upsets me. The casual sexism and racism that exists [in the frum community]. The focus on ritual over ethics. The anti-gentile feeling. The lack of culture and imagination, the conflicts over science and sex and gender and work and Israel. But I think ultimately that’s not the point. The point is that I think I don’t deserve you and that I think you couldn’t cope with me.
Reading back this letter makes me think that if I look back at thirteen year old Bar Mitzvah Me, I see the me who tried going to the shul (synagogue) youth service, but who couldn’t talk to anyone there, and who was scared of being bullied, as some of the kids there went to his school and weren’t always nice to him and he couldn’t always tell if they were bullying him or not. The me who got fed up with no one talking to him even though he wouldn’t have known what to say if they had. The me who was being asked (which he understood as “pressured”) to lein (chant from the Torah) in the youth service because he “leined so well at his bar mitzvah,” but who was suffering from extreme stage fright post-bar mitzvah because he felt overwhelmed by praise that he didn’t think he deserved and who didn’t want to lein ever again. The me who was going to start feeling increasing guilt over the next few years about his family’s lax standards of Shabbat and kashrut observance, but not know how to change that, and who was soon going to start feeling a lot of guilt around sex, and not know how to change that either. And I suppose I should say that I want to hug him or tell him not to worry, but I just feel angry and want to shout, “Why couldn’t you just cope with it? Why couldn’t you just stick it out and make friends and become part of the community? And then maybe I wouldn’t be depressed and single and childless and lonely.” That’s not really very self-loving.
I could say the same about Oxford Me, which was probably the last chance I had to really turn things around. “Just talk to people! Just go to events, even if they bore you! Go on the Jewish Society committee, even though you hate the idea of doing so and you think you have no talents to bring to the table, and even though you think your tutorial work leaves you no time for things like this! Make the time! Ask girls out, even if you’re not sure they’re 100% compatible! Just do something!”
But even now I would make the same mistakes again, there just isn’t the social circle to make it in. Everyone’s got their friendship circle now, and usually their spouses and children (some I guess are on Spouse Number 2 by now). There aren’t organisations that cater for single frum people approaching forty (nebbukh). I wouldn’t be able to go anyway, for the same reason I didn’t go then. Getting angry with Past Mes is just getting angry with Present Me. I can’t even keep close friendships going any more. I don’t really have any close friends any more, and the only people I really open up to (aside from my blog) are my therapist and my rabbi mentor.
Achievements: some time finishing off my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week (although I had some negative thoughts about that, about my divrei Torah not being worthwhile). I did a bit of Torah study. I read more of Healing from Despair too, which is a Jewish book, but the chapter I read had no religious content and was just about the author’s experience of feeling suicidal, which was probably not the best thing to read.
I did some chores and went for a walk. I basically did what I normally do, without two hours of writing my novel, so I feel a bit like I underachieved. The time I would normally spend on the novel was partly spent on procrastination, partly on fiddling around with playlists on iTunes, and writing this mammoth post.
15 thoughts on “Catastrophising and Fatalism”
It probably feels quite anticlimactic and depressing(on top of everything else) to finish the novel. The anticipation of the writing is gone, and the revising and editing part isn’t glamorous at all–just a necessary slog. It’s difficult not to want what others have, and what society says is “normal” like a spouse and children. I have several friends who aren’t married (including me, although I was) and/or don’t have children. They seem mostly well-adjusted to their lives, although it sounds like there is more pressure to have a family in your religion, like many. I don’t know that any of us can know what is best or what our futures will look like. I do hope that yours holds positive surprises! You did accomplish several things, even working on playlists is something. Procrastination has become my middle name lately, and I hate myself for it.
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It’s not just religious pressure to have a family. I crave emotional intimacy, which would incline me towards marriage anyway, but I find close friendship easier with women than men, but Orthodox Judaism frowns on platonic male/female friendships, plus with most women in relationships, there are fewer interested in close friendships with single men.
I haven’t had many positive surprises in life until now, but thank you.
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This makes me sad.
You are never a bad jew. There is no such thing. You area striving jew. You are a growing jew. You are a perfect jew. The definition of what a jew is (l
R yitzchok Berkowitz jewish philosophy on aish audio, can send you them if you ever want, based upon rambam – maimonides) is a thinker. A connector. Someone who is aware of the infinite and connects. Mitzvah – good deed comes from tzav – connection. The point of the bible is that it’s supposedly a document that tells us how to become infinite like,how to be like a source of the world, thereby how to connect. Okay,this is becoming a ramble so I’ll leave off here.
I had other thoughts on the rest of what you wrote. Hmm. Oh, yeah. About what you’re noticing. That’s amazing. Because once you’re aware of what you’re doing then you can change it. Have you ever done any mindfulness courses? The only ones I found really useful was MBSR for it was a proper structured one that actually taught you.
Love, light and glitter
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Thank you for this comment. I’m sorry my post made you sad.
I would like to be a striving Jew and a growing Jew. I guess it doesn’t always feel that I am. I don’t feel that I connect with God and Torah very well any more, although I try.
I haven’t done a mindfulness course, although I worked through a self-help book on mindfulness a couple of years ago. I did do some mindfulness meditation for a while afterwards, but I fell out of the habit because I felt it wasn’t helping much and it just became another thing I “should” do. I’ve thought about trying it again, but you have to commit to about twenty minutes a day initially and I don’t feel able to do that at the moment.
You don’t have to commit to anything. I did an MBSR course and they said try do 20 minutes but don’t make it a should. You do what you can and don’t do what you can’t. I’d look at MIND where you are and see if they offer one. I know there are free MBSR courses in London but it may be specific to boroughs…. the one I’m going to do will be free, and the other area wouldn’t be free. Funny how this works because most help I can’t access because it’s not for my area.
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I think the book I used did make it sound a lot like a should. Maybe I’ll try to do a few minutes a day and see how I get on.
Shabbat shalom to you too!
I found following a structured course easier.
Hope your shabbat was okay…
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Shabbat was OK. How was yours?
I think okay.
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I think you should phone Samaritans. Also, it might be very helpful to use a different name and find a supportive mental health community online. Those things can help tide you over between appointments.
Mental illness and social anxiety can be so debilitating, and I think they also cloud the truth and make us feel that nobody would like us, that we’re worthless and have nothing to offer, etc. I was talking with my psychologist today about this, and she said the stuff is just in my head. There ARE people out there who are compatible with us as friends and possibly more. We can believe the lies the mental illness and our low self-esteem/confidence tell us, or we can keep reminding ourselves that this is very possibly a large % due to the illness and then just try to press on with pursuing what we want in life. I see the latter as the only chance at happiness.
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I didn’t phone Samaritans in the end. I just watched TV and went to bed early.
Re: mental health community – that idea does appeal a bit, I just worry about spending more time online, especially now I’m trying to limit it quite dramatically.
I do find it hard not to believe what my mind is telling me, because I’ve lived in my head so much all my life. Plus, even if I could believe someone could love me (which I sometimes do), it’s a lot harder to believe I could actually find that person, because I think there are very real barriers there to finding someone, in terms of not being integrated into the frum community and so on.
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I see depression, at least when it’s chronic and not situational, as an internal capacity issue rather than a lack of engagement with external sources of happiness. I remember someone who was interviewed for a documentary saying that if getting a cheque for a large amount could make you happier, then you probably don’t have a mental illness.
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I think maybe I’m encouraged to view it as about engagement because I feel that the NHS pushes me down that view, towards looking at situational factors and external sources of happiness via CBT and other quick fixes, because it’s all about treating people quickly and getting the waiting lists down.
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