Wow, I feared that when the American Empire started to go, it wouldn’t go peacefully, but I didn’t expect a mob bearing the Confederate Flag storming Capitol Hill just yet. Crazy. Mind you, I was reading about the protests of the 1960s on my lunch break (civil rights, anti-war) and I think the scale and perhaps also the intensity of unrest greater then than now. It’s just that Twitter and 24 hour news coverage make it more visible now. Compare Capitol Hill with rioters storming the Pentagon in 1967. On the other hand, civil rights and Vietnam bubbled away for years, so who knows how things will look in 2030? The culture of the sixties was definitely better though.

Back here in London…

I had a lot of anxiety again today. I am going through an anxious time, but it occurred to me that I’m coming off olanzapine, which is probably making the anxiety worse. This morning on the Tube in to work, I was too anxious to do much Torah study as I usually do. I tried to practise mindful acceptance of my anxiety and guilt feelings. It helped a bit. The anxiety went away a bit during the morning as I was busy at work, but came back in the afternoon as there wasn’t much for me to do. Sometimes it felt like borderline religious OCD (anxiety that I’ve done/will do something religiously wrong). This leads to a feeling that everything I do to try and move my life on (careers, relationships) just provokes guilt for not being perfect. I try to tell myself it’s irrational guilt, but the slightest mishap (and mishaps are inevitable) just sets me to thinking that I’m being punished by God and that worse is in store for me. I am not sure how to cure myself of this dynamic.

I think I tend to see life very much in black and white terms (which is a classic autistic perspective), but specifically in black and white moral terms. It’s a kind of scrupulosity (religious OCD) whereby I want to be morally perfect and see any moral imperfection as heinous. This leads to things like me applying for jobs that are not right for me because I feel “ought” to do so. My moral integrity and honesty is a big part of my self-esteem (insofar as I have much self-esteem), so it’s hard to challenge it.

Similarly, in terms of dating, I’ve partly internalised a frum (religious Jewish) model of dating which sees the dating process in extremely moralised and black and white terms (e.g. avoiding platonic friendships with the opposite sex; no dating before being ready to marry, in terms of having a settled career and mental health; pre-screening dates to only date people with shared values; avoiding long-term relationships before marriage). I do this even though this model has not worked for me. This leads me to feel that everything I do in dating is wrong and that my dating difficulties are a punishment from God. However, I am not sufficiently integrated into the frum community to really be able to date that way even if I wanted to do so.

Both PIMOJ and my therapist struggled to understand yesterday how I can feel that I’ve never fitted into or been accepted by the Orthodox world and yet still want to be a part of it. I’m not sure that I have the answer to this question myself. I believe in Orthodox Judaism, even if I’m not really able to live the right sort of life, practically, that would enable me to function in the community. That’s the best answer I have. I know that many people would, if not consciously then at least unconsciously, change their beliefs for ones that fitted better with a possible or desirable lifestyle. That has just never happened with me, for whatever reason.

***

As a side-note on black and white morality, I’ve encountered quite a number of rabbis over the years who claimed to be very badly behaved in their youth. I’m not quite sure what to make of this. Are they exaggerating to try to connect with young people? Does a disobedient, questioning, cast of mind lend itself well to Talmudic study? Probably. Can the uncontrollable energy of the boisterous child be focused into the superhuman amounts of emotional energy needed by the congregational rabbi? Possibly. Sometimes I feel weirdly that if only I had been worse-behaved at school, I might be in a much better situation today. It will be weird if I go to Heaven and they tell me that I was too well-behaved to earn much reward.

***

Speaking of which, PIMOJ and I streamed (separately) Soul, the latest Pixar film, about a musician who dies, but wants to come back to Earth, and is set to mentor a soul that is resisting being born. It was amusing enough, but I found it hard to concentrate on and triggered a lot of uncomfortable thoughts about my not enjoying life or having a clear purpose (I want to be a writer, but worry I won’t make it). I couldn’t really explain to PIMOJ that I want to enjoy the small moments of life, but all too often I can’t, and I can’t will that enjoyment into being, particularly not if it’s still an element of depression.

13 thoughts on “More Anxiety

  1. Regarding fitting in and acceptance, it seems like your idea of fitting in has a strong element of sameness. Sameness-based fitting in runs the risk of putting you between a rock and hard place. For example, if you see yourself as not fitting in with frum culture because you like Doctor Who, that part of yourself acts as a wedge that keeps you apart from others. Whereas with a different conception of fitting in, the Doctor Who interest may be irrelevant.

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  2. Are you coming off the olanzapine gradually? Coming off altogether or reducing the dose? Your recent episode of nausea/vomiting can be an effect of coming off this drug. Is this being monitored by your psychiatrist, and can you increase it again if it doesn’t work for you? Or taper it more slowly? It’s never easy to reduce your medication at a time of change or difficulty in your life — but sometimes there is no alternative peaceful time. Are you sleeping well still? Lack of good sleep makes anxiety much worse.

    On black and white morality – I never put any human being on a pedestal – even the most revered outwardly religious person who holds positions of power and prestige in the religious hierarchies. I think you might be surprised at the inner lives and conflicts of many seemingly godly or saintly people. Perhaps they confess to youthful indiscretions because they cannot afford to admit that they still battle temptation and inwardly know that they are undeserving of the adulation they receive.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m reducing the dose, but I was on quite a small dose to start with (2.5mg twice a day). I’m now down to 2.5mg once a day, and it has already affected me quite badly in terms of increased anxiety, probably triggered by some external events. The idea is to replace olanzapine with haloperidol, which hopefully won’t make me so sleepy.

      I’m sleeping OK. I’ve taken longer to fall asleep the last couple of days because of anxiety, but that’s partly due to what’s going on in my life.

      I struggle to think what temptation people might be struggling with, really, although there have been so many sexual and financial scandals involving prominent rabbis over the last couple of decades that perhaps I shouldn’t feel like that.

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  3. I was awfully well-behaved at school also. What was so upsetting was that on the rare occasion I did slightly misbehave, I seemed to get punished quite heavily for transgressions that got overlooked with other students. Once I asked why — and the teacher said, “We don’t expect it from you.” The unfairness of that still upsets me today.

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  4. *hugs*

    I’m not really able to live the right sort of life, practically, that would enable me to function in the community.

    … could you say more about that? I don’t quite understand in what way(s) you are unable to live the “right” sort of life.

    Shabbat Shalom,
    David

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! Some of it is connected to an ongoing situation that I’ve alluded to here, but don’t feel able to share fully yet. But a lot of it is feeling that I struggle to fit in I guess in the grey area between the ‘religious’ and the ‘social’ aspects of Orthodox Judaism, things like regular shul attendance, talking to people in kiddush, socialising on Shabbat and also feeling that my hobbies and interests are not considered so “kosher” in the somewhat moderate Haredi shul I go to. I’ve been wrestling with this for years and some of it may be a projection of my own lack of self-esteem and feelings of not fitting in.

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  5. Re: Rabbis telling stories of their nonreligious rebellious days, it might be that some of them took this path and maybe they tell it to connect with young people, although not all young people are rebellious (I wasn’t either). But plenty of Rabbis, incl. kiruv Rabbis or Rabbis that I know who work with young people, grew up frum and stayed frum and weren’t rebellious at all. I think there is a lot of individual variation and no story or path is necessarily better than another. That said, when I was spending more time in Orthodox kiruv circles, I also felt some pressure to have my Jewish journey story fit a certain narrative.

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