It’s late (Shabbat goes out too late in the summer in this country), but I need to off-load some stuff that happened over Shabbat (the Sabbath).
I’m really struggling with my sleep at the moment. I know I’ve written before about my curious obsession with my sleep pattern and my tendency to write too much about it, but messed up sleep has always been my most persistent depression symptom, and one of the most difficult to deal with. I wanted very much today to get to shul (synagogue) particularly as there was a kiddush (refreshments afterwards) for the rabbi and rebbetzin, who are leaving soon. Shul starts at 8.45am, but I knew I wouldn’t make it for then. I just wanted to get there by 10ish. I even asked my Dad to open my blinds at 8.30am in the hope that that would wake me up. It did bring me out of my deep sleep, but I spent the rest of the morning in a not-very-deep sleep, at times almost waking up and being conscious enough to feel I should get up, but not actually waking up enough to do so. I slept through my alarms as usual. It was very frustrating. I eventually got up about midday, much too late for shul. Once I’d eaten, I felt somewhat better, as is usually the case. It’s just getting up in the first place that’s the problem.
The silly thing is that I can get up for work or job interviews or health appointments, just not for shul or to start my day at a reasonable time. I don’t know why this is the case.
And then I did it again after lunch! I wanted to stay awake and read, but I felt drowsy, probably from overeating and being in a warm room and I slept for two more hours! I have no idea how I will sleep tonight.
At seudah shlishit (the third Shabbat meal, between the afternoon and evening services) the rabbi was doing a Q&A because he is leaving soon. I’m not sure if this was his intention, but people mostly asked him about his achievements and regrets in the eighteen years he was our rov (rabbi). He spoke a lot about trying to get people involved with the shul, turning up to weekday services and so on, which made me feel bad for not doing that. Before we moved to our current area nearly four years ago, I was present almost every day at Mincha and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Services) and was trying to go to Shacharit (Morning Service) more often, sleep problems notwithstanding. But when we moved, social anxiety and depression undid a lot of the good work I had done over the years in getting to that point of regular attendance and I’m still struggling to get back to that level. I go to my father’s shul midweek sometimes, but not usually to mine. I’ve told myself I will try to get to one weekday service a week at my shul for a bit and see what that does. I’m hoping it will have some kind of unconscious effect on my Shabbat attendance too, but that may be wishful thinking.
The rabbi also spoke about the need to cultivate a relationship with your community rabbi and asking him shaylas/sha’alot (religious questions, usually practical questions on relevant points of Jewish law) and about the need to have friends in your community. He presented an idyllic picture of a community united by common values and helping each other with personal/spiritual growth. I would really like to be part of such a community, but I struggle with these things. I tend to take my sha’alot to my rabbi mentor even though he lives abroad, largely because he knows me very well now (he’s known me for about seventeen years) and he has had some training with mental health issues (many of my questions are mental health-related, on some level). He is also sensitive with questions about dealing with family members who are less religious and when one can be lenient for shalom bayit (peace at home – again, many of my questions fall in this category). For those reasons it probably is best for me to keep taking my sha’alot to my rabbi mentor, but it does put me in an odd situation, not quite fully in the community. It doesn’t help that I have many friends outside the community, and indeed a number of my friends are not Jewish or not frum (religious), which is not typical for Orthodox Jews.
But above and beyond this, there is an issue about my fitting in that has made it hard to open up to people in the way that the rabbi was suggesting, either to a rabbi or to friends. I know my shul isn’t a perfect fit regarding hashkafa (religious philosophy, which relates to a lot of things, but broadly attitudes towards those things known as modernity and postmodernity). I like that my shul takes davening (prayer) and Torah study very seriously, but I know I’m more ‘modern’ than many of the community, in terms of things like attitudes to science, to broader Western culture and popular culture, to non-Jews and so on. But I’m not sure that there are really many shuls in the country that are a good fit for me; United Synagogue shuls (like my old shul and like my parents’ shul) are more modern in outlook, but tend to have a mostly less religious community. My parents’ shul has a larger than average cohort of committed, frum Jews, but it was far too large and unfriendly for me.
The rabbi’s words did make me worry again about whether I’m in the right place with the right rabbi and the right community/friends. I think I’m probably in the right place at this precise moment in the sense that there is realistically no better fitting community for me at the moment. Where I am in five years time, particularly if I get married (it could happen)… well, I suppose that’s another thing to consider as and when.
As an aside, there’s a quite famous anthropology/history book about the shtetl (the small Jewish townships of pre-Holocaust Eastern Europe) called Life is with People*. I think the title sums up how focused Jewish life is on family and community, and how difficult it is if you have issues like autism and social anxiety that inhibit socialisation.
* It’s quite a good book, but apparently methodologically problematic as one of the academics who worked on it faked his academic credentials and seems to have been a KGB spy who probably assassinated Trotsky’s son. At any rate, he was obsessed with issues of class and status and, as was pointed out in The Jewish Review of Books, spends some time in the book describing in detail who gets to sit in the best seats in shul.
When I dozed this afternoon I had a weird dream. Aside from totally surreal or random elements (carrying a large dining room table up and down escalators in a department store; a box of weird Doctor Who toys based on the Dapol range), the main thing that stuck with me was talking my parents and possibly someone else (I think a former boss (one I got on with), but here she was some sort of teacher or even governess) about some subjects I was studying (A-level? BA?). There were two subjects and I was sure I was going to fail both of them, but my parents disagreed. When I woke up, I thought perhaps my mind was expressing anxiety over the career I’m trying to grow (librarianship) and the career I’m trying to build from scratch (writing), both of which I fear I’m going to fail at, but that the fact that my parents didn’t agree that I was going to fail perhaps indicated a deeper belief in myself.
Or it could just be a silly dream.
(Plus, in real life they really would insist that I won’t fail anyway.)