I slept until 11am, which I probably needed.  Then I spent a while in bed, which was a mistake, as I fell asleep until 12.30pm, which I did not need and was not good.  I felt self-recriminatory after that, and about the over-excited post I wrote yesterday.  Sometimes I get stuck in fantasy that things are suddenly going to improve and then it’s painful coming back down to earth.

I also noticed that I’ve had a lot of difficult thoughts lately, not self-criticism so much as pure O OCD-type thoughts (e.g. thoughts about saying hurtful things to strangers).  Apparently everyone has these thoughts, or thoughts like them, all the time, but people with OCD can’t dismiss them as ‘just thoughts.’  I do wonder why people don’t discuss them more if this is true.  They do lead on to self-criticism, because I think, “How can I have thoughts like that in my head, even subconsciously?  I don’t want to say these things, so why is my brain suggesting that I should?”  I’m not obsessing over them and I don’t really think I’m a bad person, so it’s not reached OCD-level, but I just wish it would shut up.

To be honest, I would probably be a lot happier generally if my brain would just shut up sometimes.  I know someone who seems to wander around broadcasting their entire inner monologue constantly to avoid the silence.  If that really is what they’re doing, their inner monologue is a lot quieter and more banal than my inner monologue.  I do wish I could turn things down sometimes.

***

I felt down today, I’m not sure why.  The day has been a bit of a struggle.  I don’t have anything insightful to say about this.

I did phone the GP surgery this afternoon and managed to get an appointment with the doctor I spoke to last time.  This was regarding wanting to reduce my medication and being told by the psychiatrist not to do so.  The GP seemed a bit annoyed that I hadn’t been able to speak to the psychiatrist directly to explain my situation, but had to speak through a “link worker.”  This was the person I spoke to on the phone, who I thought was a psychiatrist, but apparently was not.  The GP is going to write again to request a direct phone call between me and the psychiatrist.

I spent a while psyching myself up to phone the United Synagogue about moving forward with E and my marriage application paperwork, but got the answer phone.

So many things at the moment can’t be done in one go.  A lot of this relates to going to the US and getting married, but also to other things like filling in my tax return (which I’ve never had to do before).  I just keep pushing things off or only managing to do the next step and I find it frustrating that nothing is ever finished.  Maybe that’s contributed to feeling down.

***

Sometimes I wonder how I’ve stayed frum (religious Jewish).  It’s hard to stay frum if you don’t feel connected to the community, or aren’t getting positive feelings from Jewish practice, or are just struggling to do all the stuff that being Jewish entails, and I’ve struggled with all three things at different times.  I guess I’m struggling with most or all of them now, if not necessarily to the same extent as in the past.  And autism/Asperger’s and mental health issues just makes everything even harder.  My main mental health issue at the moment is social anxiety, which isn’t as bad for me as depression and OCD were, but it’s particularly good at sabotaging anything I try to do related to being in a community, and a lot about Orthodox Judaism is ideally done in a community.  Alexithymia (difficulty sensing and understanding my feelings) probably also means that I miss some positive feelings from Judaism and community, strange though that may seem.

Does that make me a good Jew for persisting despite all this or a bad one for not being so enthusiastic, committed or involved?  I don’t know.  I feel like a good Jew wouldn’t be struggling with these things in the first place, but I also feel that I didn’t choose to be in this situation.   I once saw one rabbi write that “A good Jew is trying to be a better Jew,” but I worry that in the last few years, rather than improving, I’ve even cut back on things to try to consolidate what I’m still doing.

I am aware that people on the fringes of the Orthodox Jewish community, for whatever reason, tend to drop out.  I’ve known a number of people who became frum as a young adult, but dropped out of observance later due to mental health issues (sometimes becoming observant is a symptom of mental illness, although I don’t think that was the case with me).  So I know I should feel that I’m doing OK.  It would just be nice to have some certainty that I’m a good Jew and a good human being.  Although, as I realised a while back, but still haven’t internalised, there isn’t going to be a day when someone gives me a medal to officially recognise that I’m a good person or a good Jew, and I should really stop wanting it to happen.  At least E thinks I’m a good person and a good Jew; it probably is too much to hope for other people to say the same.

Tangentially-related to this, on one of the Orthodox Conundrum podcasts I listened to, Elisheva Rishon (fashion designer and Jew of colour) spoke about connecting with other Orthodox Jews online, but struggling to overcome stigma in real-world Orthodox settings.  I don’t think I experience stigma per se (although it’s easier for me to mask), but it nudges me towards going back on social media to try to find people I can connect with.  But then I remember how awful being on Facebook was, and I scare myself off it.

***

I am currently reading The Third Reich in Power by Richard J Evans; When Rabbis Abuse: Power, Gender, and Status in the Dynamics of Sexual Abuse in Jewish Culture by Elana Sztokman; and Lamentations: Faith in a Turbulent World by Yael Ziegler[1].  These are all good books, but very heavy-going [2].  I tried to read the Third Reich book this evening and struggled with it.  I think I have to throw a novel in there or something lighter.  It’s frustrating, as the Third Reich book is very long and I don’t want to be reading it for months on end.  I don’t want to take any of those books to New York in a few weeks (not least because they’re too heavy in a literal sense), so I’ll have to start something soon anyway.  I do want to finish the spring Jewish Review of Books first (the summer issue is out, but it takes ages to get to the UK).

[1] I am also occasionally reading The Television Companion: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who by David J. Howe and Steven James Walker, which is annoying in another way entirely, but that’s not a topic for now.

[2] When Rabbis Abuse is also in desperate need of a proof-reader, as I’m not sure I’ve seen a professionally-published book with so many typos and errors, but, again, that’s not a problem for now.

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22 thoughts on “Difficult Thoughts, and Staying Frum

  1. Same, though my opinion on Jewishness has no weight. But anyone who cares as much as you do about being a good person, thinking good thoughts, and doing the right thing is miles ahead of most humans who (imo) do not give a fig about anything other than their own selfish desires. Of course, some might say that a focus on being good is an ego trip too… I mean who do you think you are trying to be a good person when others aren’t?! What makes you so special?! Kidding 🙂

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  2. Probably people don’t talk about thoughts like saying hurtful things to strangers because it’s not really socially acceptable to give things like that public airtime. But in terms of inside the head, people who don’t have OCD are less likely to have thought-action fusion and believe that having a thought about an action is the moral equivalent to performing the action.

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    1. I sort of get that it’s not socially acceptable, I just wonder why, if it’s so common. This is possibly another autistic “not getting unwritten rules” situation.

      True about thought-action fusion.

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      1. As an example, let’s say I think every so often that it would be nice to push an annoying person in front of a bus. I know that’s not something I would actually do, and it’s just a thought floating through my head. But if i go around talking about those thoughts, that gives more substance to them than they actually deserve. Such thoughts may well be involuntary, but voicing them is not. If I voluntarily voice thoughts about performing an action that’s socially unacceptable, other people are likely to be unimpressed by my conscious choice to put that out there into the world rather than keeping it inside my head.

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          1. But who says they’re not allowed? I think there’s a difference between me saying “I think about pushing people in front of buses” for no reason other than just announcing it to the world and me saying “I keep having these thoughts of pushing people in front of buses and it’s really bothering me.”

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            1. True. I was also thinking of why things like this don’t turn up much in fiction, but I guess there’s a lot to be written about poor treatment of mental health issues and related things in fiction.

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  3. When you want to get something done and due to circumstances beyond your control get bogged down in the process, that would be frustrating. And depressing. I do think you need a novel to lighten your reading. I can’t stand poor editing/proofreading and it seems to be more and more common these days.

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  4. It’s hard to stay frum if you don’t feel connected to the community, or aren’t getting positive feelings from Jewish practice, or are just struggling to do all the stuff that being Jewish entails, and I’ve struggled with all three things at different times.

    Yes, yes, yes to this!

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  5. Your worry about being a good person and a good Jew is very alien to the Christian way of looking at the self. The Christian standpoint is that no one is righteous – we have all sinned and come short of God’s perfect standards. The focus we have is gratitude for being forgiven, and relief that when we slip up again, God is merciful and forgiving when we repent. I’d feel rather worried if I needed to be sure that I am a good person because this could lead me to becoming proud and complacent – and also because I know that however good I might be, I could be better. Perfection is not attainable in this life. I’d rather know that God has forgiven me and is giving me the desire and the ability to serve him better each day. And achieving this is itself a gift from God – not just down to my efforts. I think it is best to focus on God and his perfect nature (mercy, love, compassion), rather than on the self (achievements, how others see us etc) as far as possible.

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    1. Well, I don’t think I’m trying to be perfect. But I’m not sure what to say about the rest of it. We do have these thoughts somewhat in Judaism, but mainly focused on specific times of year (really from now to Yom Kippur in the early autumn). There’s no constant consciousness of sin and the need for forgiveness.

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  6. Poor proofreading and editing frustrate and annoy me, especially when I see it in a book that would otherwise be excellent. How someone can take the time and effort to write an entire book but not have it checked thoroughly mystifies me.

    I would give you an award for being a good Jew and a good human, for what it’s worth. You are always striving, and those things you’ve cut or reduced from Jewish observance are in effort to balance the whole of life and keep functioning.

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  7. I think that you are being the kind of Jew you need to be right now. You’re trying to heal your emotional self, and you are growing in your relationship, and you are coping with all those thoughts. (Oy, those intrusive, obsessive thoughts. I literally talk back to them: THAT’S JUST THE OCD TALKING. IT SAYS NOTHING ABOUT ME. But this doesn’t always work.)

    That you are persisting in frumkeit despite these challenges says a lot about you–a lot of good things.

    I’m amazed you are even trying to read serious books in the state you are describing. When I’m having a tough time, it’s comfort reading all the way! (Now, what does that say about me? 😉 )

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    1. Thanks for this. When my OCD was very bad a few years ago, I would tell myself that “My thoughts are not always my friends.” I don’t always remember to do that, though.

      Re: serious books, I do find “heavy” books (serious fiction or non-fiction) interesting. I used to postpone reading them when I was depressed, but then my depression went on for so long that I thought I would never get to those books, so I started reading them anyway. Mostly I’ve been feeling OK/good emotionally recently, but the wedding, and the travel for it, is a major stressor.

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