Brave and Impulsive

I’m still all over the place, emotionally.  It’s funny how something can be amazingly good and amazingly terrifying at the same time, although I suppose ‘good’ and ‘terrifying’ aren’t opposites, so there’s no reason something can’t tick both boxes at once.

Anyway, totally unrelated to that, I have an article up on Hevria today.  It’s not really relevant to the content of the blog (i.e. it’s about my peculiar relationship with Jewish mysticism rather than mental health), but I thought some people here might be interested.

I actually wrote it years ago, intended to pitch it to Hevria, but never had the guts.  At the time they weren’t running guest posts so it would have been a bold move on my part.  Then it sat on my computer for years until a conversation with one of my non-biological sisters made me remember it.  I sent it to her to see what she thought and she said I should submit it.  I knew that if I intended to revise it, I would just procrastinate, so I sent it in without really looking at it, which is incredibly brave and impulsive for me (hmm, I was uncharacteristically brave and impulsive with the emotionally-all-over-the-place thing too).  And there it is!  I do feel a bit funny about something that is so old and not 100% what I feel now going up on the internet, but I suppose I can think of it as a sort of time capsule.

Torah from the Depths: Vayeira: Becoming Laughter

Continuing my weekly posts of mental health-inspired reflections on the weekly Torah reading.

Strangely, in a sedra that is so much about death and near death, the resonance I found with my depression was not death and destruction at all, but birth and life.

“And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me, all who hear will laugh (yitzchak) for me.” – Bereshit/Genesis 21.6

I have mentioned in the past the importance of firsts in traditional Jewish textual exegesis.  As far as I can tell, the idea of laughter is first recorded in the Torah in relation to the birth of Yitzchak (Isaac), first when God tells the elderly Avraham (Abraham) and Sarah (who is infertile as well as elderly) that they will have a son and then when he is born.  Importantly, Yitzchak means, “He will laugh” and this play on words appears in the verse I quoted above.

What resonated with me is the idea of such laughter so intense that everyone shares it, that even takes over the entirety of a person’s being (I am not enough of a dikduknik (grammarian) to be sure, but I think “tzechok asa li” “has made laughter for me” can also be translatated as “has made me into laughter”, a laughter so strong that one completely becomes it with one’s whole being).  I think this is the laughter that comes as a release after a long period of suffering, when sadness is converted to joy, as with the Avraham and Sarah miraculously having a child in old age after decades of infertility.  Happy are those who are granted such laughter.

Heaven Sent, Hell Bent; Or, Doctor Who is my Spirit Guide (Maybe)

(No wise mind today, this is too weird and it’s too late at night after Shabbat.)

I had a weird Shabbat.  At shul (synagogue) this morning, someone asked me to lunch.  I panicked and said I had to go home because my parents were expecting me, which was true, but it was early enough that I could have gone home, told Mum I was going out to lunch and gone back out again.  Really, I panicked.  It happened so fast that I’m not even sure why I panicked.  I think I was worried about not having anything to say or saying something stupid, but it might even have been more fundamental than that, just worrying that someone wants to see me socially worrying me in itself, feeling I will disappoint in someway or that some ill-defined bad thing will happen.  I felt guilty for not going, particularly as this person was going to be eating alone because I wasn’t going but also relieved.  I don’t know what I’ll do if I get asked again, by this person or someone else.  I say I want to have friends, but when I’m presented with the possibility, usually I panic and run away.

On a more positive note, I did speak a little at seudah shlishit (the third meal) at shul.  I made some suggestions about interpreting some Torah passages we were discussing and made a (very slight) attempt at humour.  So that was something positive.  It’s taken nearly eighteen months to get to this stage…

I slept a lot over Shabbat again.  I nearly dozed off during the leining (Torah reading) in shul, which was very bad.  I had a weird dream this afternoon.  I don’t normally relate my dreams, partly because I usually can’t remember them (either coherently or at all), partly because other people’s dreams are usually not terribly interesting, but I thought this one says something about me, although what it says is open to interpretation.

At the start of the dream my parents were annoyed with me.  They thought I was being short-tempered when I wasn’t intending to seem like that.  This happens to me a lot and has happened since childhood.  I think it might be one of my borderline Asperger’s symptoms, that I’m not always as expressive as I would like to be in my tone of voice and facial expressions and so I seem angry when I’m not.

My memory of the next bit is fairly incoherent (something about superheroes loosely based on the graphic novel Superman: Red Son?!).  The next bit I can sort of remember is being with characters from Doctor Who (second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe, I think).  I think there was some sort of void between universes (as in The Mind Robber) and then we were in another universe, which I somehow knew was Heaven.  I think.  This is the clearest bit of the dream for me, but I still don’t remember it coherently.  I think I felt intense pleasure in this other universe/Heaven, like nothing I had experienced before.  It made all my suffering worthwhile.  And then I was fighting against myself: part of me wanted to stay there, part of me was trying to wake up.  I felt I had to wake myself up (I have had this experience before when finishing a dream).  Eventually I woke up and it was much later than I intended and I only had a little bit of time to study Torah before going back to shul.

On waking, I wondered if this was a prophetic dream and I had really been shown that I do have a share in the next world (see my comments about feeling I don’t have a share in the next world here) and that it is worth suffering in this world to get it.  Even if I never get any joy or pleasure in this world, it would still be worth it to have the next world.  The void between universes would be Gehennom.  The longer I’ve been awake, though, the more I doubt it.  In Judaism dreams can have prophetic meaning (e.g. Yosef’s/Joseph’s dreams) but even prophetic dreams have a nonsensical element (again, even Yosef’s dreams had this) and some dreams are completely nonsensical.  Why would I be shown that I have a share in the next world?  (My only possible explanation is because I was thinking about death and suicide recently, especially after what happened regarding lunch.)  Especially when I was not even in a state of ritual purity?  And if I was shown the next world, how could I even understand it?  It makes much more sense to see this as a fantasy dream – I wrote during the week about thinking I have no share in the next world, and now my unconscious produces a wish-fulfillment dream about it.  But I can’t shake the feeling that maybe I have been shown something important, if I could just put aside my scepticism.  (Interesting article on dreams in Judaism here.)

The final distressing thing that happened to me was looking through a booklet of Torah thoughts in shul this evening.  There was an essay on prayer.  I brought the booklet home after Shabbat so I can quote it:

Being real about tefilla [prayer] means we realize we are praying to our Father in Heaven Who wants only our good and has the power to do anything.  Therefore, we should anticipate that Hashem [God] wants to help us…

If we do not expect that Hashem will answer our tefilla, Hashem will not invade our space and shock us with success.  He wants us to earn the realization that He is our Father in Heaven and that we can always count on Him.

This worries me greatly.  I suppose it could explain why I don’t get the “miracles” that other frum Jews claim to have received (you can read a million of these stories on Hevria.com, Aish.com, Chabad.org etc.).  I admit I get a few things (I’ve been fortunate with my career), but I have spent all my adult life, if not more, struggling with mental illness, loneliness and misery.  I just don’t expect things to change.  I think God wants me to be this miserable, for some reason.

I feel I have just experienced so much misery in my life, so much bullying, emotional neglect and occasionally behaviour bordering on abuse, that it is hard to believe that God only wants good things for me.  I believe that God is omniscient, omnipotent and benevolent… to everyone else.  My experience is simply that he doesn’t want me to have a happy life, for whatever reason, because I have not experienced that kind of positive experience in life generally.

And even if I can get past my own experiences, I am haunted by the Holocaust, especially by the one million babies and children who were murdered by the Nazis.  When I try and pray for good things, for myself and others, I often see the Holocaust victims, particularly the children, and I think, if God didn’t help them, what guarantee do I have that He will help me?  I can’t adopt the simplistic attitude that so many religious people seem to have that God will always step in at the last minute to stop anything terrible from happening.  I even wrote a poem about seeing the Holocaust children years ago, although I don’t really remember what I wrote and don’t intend to dig it out now.

I suppose this ties in with everything else I have written about tonight, about being asked to lunch and panicking and turning it down (running away from a potentially good thing) and then having a dream that might have a positive interpretation and insisting on giving it a negative one, even though in Judaism one can ‘force’ a dream to have a good interpretation by believing in that good interpretation.  I just can’t open myself up to the possibility of goodness, if only because of the depression and despair in which I am mired.  This seems really unfair, as it seems to guarantee that narcissists and other unpleasant people will have a good time while good people who have been made self-critical by suffering and abuse will not receive anything good.

Better

I went back on the higher dose of olanzapine this morning.  I was a bit down when I woke up and very sluggish; ate breakfast before davening Shacharit (saying the morning prayers) and said a very truncated Shacharit at that.  I was a couple of minutes late leaving for work and missed my train, but I made up for lost time and got to work on time.

I don’t know if it was the placebo effect, but the olanzapine seemed to help and I got through the day OK.  We are doing stock taking at work, so I spent most of the day scanning books into the library management system.  Very tedious and I can’t even listen to music while I do it because of the Three Weeks.  I think I was a bit slow, but got faster as I went along.  There is still some OCD fear that I have made an unspecified and hence uncorrectable mistake.  I also felt sick again after drinking tea; I am not quite sure how to work out if it is from the water or something else (what?).

I managed to get to my Talmud shiur (class) admittedly a bit late and very tired; it was hard to concentrate.

I have had a poem accepted by Hevria.com, which will be my third post and my first poem there.  I am rather nervous as this time it is somewhat political, about antisemitism.

I am also building up a stack of notes for my Doctor Who book again; I need to integrate them into the material I already have written up.  My boss asked if I was “devastated” about the new Doctor being a woman.  I’m not devastated, but I’m not sure what to think.  I’m a bit scared to say anything at all for fear of being called misogynistic or transphobic.  I do feel that Doctor Who fandom can be an oppressive place sometimes though, or at least parts of it can; very stridently “progressive” and abusive of anyone who doesn’t share the same views (political views and views on Doctor Who).   I think I’m OK with the female Doctor, but I also think someone I know online had a point when he suggested that the Doctor is virtually the only male role model for boys who is intelligent, non-violent and who does the right thing because it’s right, not for revenge or to get the girl, so taking him away might not be such a good idea.  All that said, I’m going to wait for the episodes before rushing to judgment.  I do wonder if it has disconcerted me on some level, though; part of my childhood and my identity, my sense of masculinity and self, being challenged.  I think I was more upset at having the Doctor sexualized, though.  I hope the new Doctor goes back to being asexual, unlike every other post-1989 Doctor.  That’s a bigger part of my identity.

Shul-Going

I’m feeling surprisingly good!  The day started badly when I overslept and was half an hour late for shul (synagogue), partly my fault as I stayed up late last night reading The Jewish Chronicle and feeling depressed about its contents (it’s always bad news of one kind or another; if it’s not antisemitism, it’s assimilation and if it’s neither of those, it’s some kind of communal broiges (argument), although the problem was also that I couldn’t sleep because it’s turned hot again.  But the afternoon was better.  I spent a couple of hours studying Torah and enjoying it.  A few months ago I was worried that the depression had killed my love for Torah study, as even though I was no longer depressed, I did not really enjoy it, but I spent two hours this afternoon reading the beginning of next week’s sedra, finding questions and looking for answers in Rashi’s commentary (I realized I love Rashi…) and in The Encyclopedia of Biblical Personalities followed by a lengthy read of Rav Hirsch’s Horeb, feeling glad that, as he suggested, I have a rabbi mentor I can turn to for advice (religious and general) and use as a role model.

I then went back to shul.  After Mincha there were sheva brachos for the rabbi’s daughter.  To explain: when frum Jews get married, they don’t have one party.  That would be too easy.  No, they have a party every night for a week, preferably with at least one new guest each evening (except Shabbat – Shabbat itself counts as the new guest).  (Weirdly, people think Judaism is a boring and serious religion…).  I wasn’t sure whether to go as I somehow didn’t get the email asking people to say if they were coming, but the chairman of the shul assured me they had over-catered (well, it’s a Jewish event…), so I went.  I was nervous as I still don’t feel like I’ve completely settled into the shul, large crowds make me anxious and weddings can make me feel depressed, wondering if I will ever get married.  This is especially true of very frum weddings like this one, where the couple are typically in their early twenties or even late teens, which just makes me feel on the shelf.

However, I had a good time.  I sat with someone I know from Talmud shiur (class) and spoke a bit to him and to some other people, including a blueberry-scoffing young boy of five or six, who was fascinated by a kiwi fruit that had been cut into the same shape as the opened-up satsuma (“They’re the same!  This one’s smaller!  It’s the baby!”  That was the kid, not me).  There was singing, some divrei Torah, lots of jokes (including a surprisingly risqué one from the chairman), some alcohol (I didn’t have any, I don’t risk it with the depression and anti-depressants) and, inevitably, lots and lots of food.  I thought that there was going to be dancing after Ma’ariv and havdalah (Jewish dancing, where you just go around in a circle holding hands with the people next to you and maybe stamping or clapping), but after one dance people started drifting away.  Still, the fact that I was looking forward to the dancing is nothing short of amazing, considering normally I hate it and slip away to avoid getting involved (I usually find Simchat Torah really tough), so I do feel that I’ve come a long way tonight.

I enjoyed the evening and it made me feel more sure that I should formally join the community soon.  Currently my membership is at a shul I go to sometimes in the week, but rarely on Shabbat or Yom Tov; the rabbi there has been incredibly supportive of my mental health and the official hashkafa (religious philosophy) there is closer to my own than at the shul I do go to on Shabbat, but I find the community not focused enough on davening (prayer) with too much talking in the service (there is no talking at all at my Shabbat shul, even though decorum at Orthodox shuls is often surprisingly poor), but above all it’s just too big and unfriendly compared with the tiny and welcoming shul I go to on Shabbat.  Also, my parents go to the shul I am currently a member of and I feel that I don’t exist in my own right there, even though the rabbi and assistant rabbi have invited me to dinner without my parents on occasion.  Going to a different shul to them over the last year and a bit has helped me develop my own sense of identity and independence for the first time in a very long time, so I think it’s about time I took the plunge and formally joined.  I’m just slightly nervous of the fact that I have to have a talk with the rabbi before I can join, though.  I don’t think they turn anyone away, but I’m still nervous of being judged in some way and I don’t really know how to describe myself, my level of Jewish education and observance or my outlook.

Waiting Anxiously

I’m currently frustrated because I normally have therapy over Skype at this time.  My therapist phoned me a minute or so before the start time to say it would have to be over the phone this week because she was having phone and internet problems because of the heat.  I assumed she meant her landline was faulty, as she was phoning on her mobile, but in retrospect this may have been a mistake on my part.  I wasn’t quite ready, so I asked if I could phone back in a minute.  I’ve phoned fifteen or more times in the last hour or so but I keep getting a message that her phone is unavailable.  I tried texting, but no response to that either.  I’ve sent emails and tried to Skype her, but now I’m having problems with Skype and I just got an email from her implying she hasn’t seen my emails.  I am not at all sure what happened there.  I assume something has gone wrong with her phone suddenly (or, more likely, again).  I don’t know why she didn’t give me her landline number when I phoned, if she knew she was having problems with her mobile, or why she didn’t try to phone me back when I failed to get through to her, or why she’s sent me emails that imply that she hasn’t read my emails or texts.

I suppose this sums up how I feel at the moment.  As I’ve hinted, there are a couple of things in the pipeline that could be really good for me, both at work and in my private life, but I’m having to wait a lot for them and still don’t know if they will come about.  I want to talk about them, but don’t dare to.  I suppose it’s silliness and superstition really (I’m not normally superstitious), but I feel talking about them will somehow make them less likely to happen.  Certainly if I talk them up now and they don’t happen then I have to go round to everyone I told about them and say they’ve fallen through, which is always frustrating; last time I spoke about something like this, someone congratulated me on it after it had fallen through because they hadn’t seen my latest post, which was awkward and just brought up difficult thoughts when I wanted to draw a line under the situation.  I will say that the work thing seems to have a strong chance of working out, but that the personal thing is still up in the air and is likely to be for some time.

I don’t think I’m a particularly impatient person, but I do find it hard to wait for something when I don’t know how it will turn out, being caught between hope and despair.  I’m a pessimistic person, but I do hope a lot that things will improve, but then I seem to be more upset when they don’t, even though part of me was expecting things to fall through all along.  The nineteenth century rabbi, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov said that if you say that things are bad, God says, “You think this is bad?  I’ll show you what bad really is!” but if you say that things are good, God says, “You think this is good?  I’ll show you what good really is!”  I’m not sure how much I feel comfortable with that (I dislike the idea of such a capricious-seeming deity), but it’s probably true that people who see life positively and with gratitude experience more joy than those who are constantly anxious or complaining.   You can become less of a complainer and more grateful, but I’m not sure how to become less pessimistic and despairing, particularly if, like me, you’ve tried CBT for it without success.

EDIT: I’ve now found out what the problem was earlier: it’s a long story, but it basically amounts to me getting confused about which of my therapist’s phones was broken and the caller ID on my mobile just confusing me further.  I feel pretty stupid, although it was an easy enough mistake to make.  I’m not quite sure why my therapist didn’t try calling me back on her functional landline (which I thought was broken, and which I didn’t think I had the number for anyway, although it turned out I did have it).

Progress Report

I haven’t written much lately (again).  To tell the truth, I have been very busy, fortunately in a good way.  But it has been hard to find the time to write.  I wrote the first part of this at work during my lunch break.  Also, a couple of good or potentially good things have happened, but I am reluctant to write about them until they are more certain, partly out of a vaguely superstitious fear that if I write about them, they will go wrong, partly out of a fear that if they do go wrong or fail to materialize, then I will have to come back here and tell everyone about the failure when I will just want to move on.

I have managed to do a few social things lately.  The assistant rabbi at the shul (synagogue) I am a member of invited me for Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner last week, which I went to.  There were a couple of people I didn’t know there, but I was able to join in with the conversation, at least after an initial period of shyness.  The next day I went to a shul I had never been to before for my Talmud class teacher’s son’s bar mitzvah and then on to his house for kiddush (refreshments) afterwards.  To be honest, I didn’t enjoy it much.  I overslept and got to shul late, which didn’t help, but it was more Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) than I feel comfortable with and I could not understand all of the sermon, as a lot of untranslated Hebrew and Yiddish was being used.  I felt a bit of a fish out of water.  The food at the kiddush was good, but it was completely packed with people in a tiny room.  I only stayed for about ten minutes, but I was glad I went as I think I was the only person from the class to go to the shul and only one other person from the class went to the kiddush.

I gave a short talk about my depression and how I have coped with it at my depression group, part of an evening in which several of us were asked to speak in more detail than we usually do at these evenings.  I think it went well, but I shook quite a bit, especially during the questions and answers.  I was not really expecting Q and A, certainly not so many questions.  I didn’t think people would be that interested in what I had to say!  I am not sure where this shaking has suddenly come from.  I suspect it’s a medication issue.  In the past it has usually been from olanzapine, but it may be the clomipramine, in which case I’m really stuck as I’m doing too well on the clomipramine to come off it.  It is not too bad at the moment and I don’t seem to be catastrophizing it the way I have in the past, when I assumed everyone around me was aware of it and thinking critical or worried thoughts about me.

I had a meeting with my boss this afternoon to finish off induction things from two months ago (I actually still have some training to go to at the end of the month before I am fully past the induction (fully induced?) and to look at my progress, as well as outlining the extra work I will have come September, which will involve liaising with academic staff to check our library content is relevant and then buying new books, which I will then have to catalogue.  This will be the first time I get to buy things at work!  My boss is pleased with my work and didn’t really have a lot to say in terms of things I could be doing better, which is good.

I have now been reasonably well for about six months, so in a few weeks, all being well, I will have been mentally healthy for the longest period in over fourteen years, although I am still a little worried about how I will cope with the winter, which is traditionally when my depression sets in.  I guess time will tell.

Ten More Episodes of Patrick Troughton

“Some kind of solitude is measured out in you./You think you know me, but you haven’t got a clue.” – Hey Bulldog, The Beatles

My cold continues to persist (or persists in continuing), but I feel a lot better.  I feel better moodwise too, although I still brood on whether I will get married and generally feel I won’t.  I’m more accepting of my sister’s marriage, but I’m developing another crush that won’t work out, so the less said about that the better.  I hate the fact that I move from crush to crush without ever developing a real relationship (OK, once I managed that) and usually without even getting a date out of it.  It all feels so superficial and adolescent, a way of life that I should have moved on from years ago.  I want to develop meaningful relationships, but I can’t.  I was thinking yesterday that I actually have quite a developed personality, in terms of emotional maturity, wide interests and interesting views on a number of topics, but I don’t have anyone to share them with.  To be honest, today I feel a lot less positive about myself, but I still feel desperately alone.  I don’t just mean romantic relationships either; a couple of people tried talking to me at shul (synagogue) over Shabbat (the Sabbath), but I was too shy and nervous to respond particularly coherently.  I did at least answer a couple of questions at the shiur (religious class), albeit shyly and quietly and after letting several questions I knew the answer to go.

I’ve been trying to be more creative, starting to write mini sagas (fifty word stories) with a view to sending them to Hevria.com.  Normally with creativity I lose my nerve part-way through and give up on what I’m writing, convinced that it’s awful or I just run out of imagination and enthusiasm, but mini sagas seem to be short enough to carry me through them to completion.  I am also still carrying on with my Doctor Who book, both watching episodes (the title of this post marks my progress towards the end of sixties Who), redrafting the existing essays that will form the bulk of the book and looking into secondary material, although I’m not sure how much of that will be utilized in the end.  It’s going to take me a long time though.  Even just looking at television episodes without the spin-offs, not to mention the enormous secondary literature,  Doctor Who is big.  Really big.  According to Wikipedia (I was too lazy to count) it’s 833 episodes* as of yesterday (with seven more due this year) comprising 270 stories** and 36 seasons.  I’m up to season six, story 50, episode 243 and it’s taken me about six months to get this far…

 

* Episodes vary in length, but original series episodes are usually about 25 minutes; new series episodes are usually 45 to 50 minutes.

** Although counting stories in the new series, with individual episode titles, but no overall story titles can be hard.  Is Utopia part of The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords?  What about Face the Raven, Heaven Sent and Hell Bent – one, two or three stories?  And let’s not get started on the “Is Shada canon, and if so which version?” debate.

Adventures in Searching for a Soul Mate

It’s been a busy twenty-four hours, leaving me with mixed emotions.

First the good news: my sister got engaged over Shabbat!  I’m very happy for her.  Her fiancé is a really nice guy and I get on well with him (fortunately).  I think they will be very happy together.  I’m also happy for my parents, who have watched from the sidelines as most of their friends’ children have married and had children.  At least my parents have a chance of being grandparents now.

The not-so-good news: I have been on two dates with someone over the last week, the second being a walk in the park on Shabbat (as she lives locally).  I thought it was going well even though my mental health issues came up.  But at the end she said she wants some time to think about whether she wants to go out with me again, which I took as an indication that she probably isn’t that interested, although maybe that’s reading too much into it.  Maybe she just wanted time to think about my mental health.  I don’t know.

It was quite difficult that both these things happened within a few hours of each over.  I have some really conflicted emotions right now.  Fortunately my mood overall is still OK, although because of it I did go to bed really late (after 3am) because I was watching Doctor Who and emailing a friend, trying to process everything that had happened and to relax.  Then I slept through the whole morning and got up at noon.  I am trying to be more forgiving of myself when I do things like this now as I know I need to do it sometimes for my mental health, even though I missed most of Shacharit and lost the morning.

Right now I have two verses going through my head.  One is, “Is not Aharon (Aaron) the Levite your brother?… and also behold he is coming to meet you and when he sees you he will rejoice in his heart.” (Shemot 4.14 concerning Aharon rejoicing over Moshe (Moses) becoming the leader of the Israelites, even though he was displacing his elder brother Aharon who, unlike Moshe, had been with the Israelites in their suffering in Egypt).  The other is “This is not done in our place, to give the younger in marriage before the elder.” (Bereshit 29.26, concerning Yaakov (Jacob) being tricked into marrying Leah before her younger sister Rachel).  I feel happy for my sister, but also frustrated that my little sister is getting married and I might not even have another date.  When we have two conflicting verses we search for a third to reconcile them, but I haven’t found it yet.

I did think on Friday, before all this started, that if I have to be single my whole life, I can accept it.  I’m lonely, I want to love and be loved, to have companionship and children and being a virgin in my mid-thirties is increasingly difficult, but I can cope with those things.  I have lived by myself for nearly a year now and I have survived (admittedly mostly going home for Shabbat and Yom Tov).  I see no reason why I can’t survive indefinitely like this.   But I don’t want to just survive, I want to be happy and loved.  I wonder if that will ever happen.

Reasons to Be Cheerful (About Being Jewish)

Despite the fact that I am very religious, it can be easy for me to get despondent about Judaism.  My OCD focuses on my religious practices and my depression has introduced doubts about whether God loves me, whether I am worthy of His love and my whole experience of mental illness has made me question God’s existence and benevolence at times.  I spend a lot of time thinking that I’m a bad Jew.  So I thought I would note down the reasons why I rejoice in being Jewish!

I was going to explain the more obscure ones, but I don’t have time.  Feel free to ask questions in the comments!

So, in no particular order:

  1. Jews are encouraged to ask question and are even allowed to argue with God.
  2. The feeling of continuity with my ancestors over a period of 3,000 years.
  3. Judaism’s concern with the dignity of all human beings.
  4. Judaism was perhaps the first civilization to encourage people to speak truth to power.
  5. The structure Judaism gives to my days, weeks and year.
  6. Halakhah (Jewish law) takes abstract concepts about ethics and theology and turns them into concrete actions.
  7. The focus on personal growth and the practical strategies for achieving it.
  8. Shabbat (the Sabbath).  Everything about it, from the tunes to challah bread, to the rest from work and from electronic devices to time with family to the feeling of peace and “having a second soul” that descends eighteen minutes before sunset on Friday.
  9. Enjoyable marital sex is a mitzvah (commandment).  In particular, a man has an obligation in the ketubah (marriage agreement) to satisfy his wife and it’s grounds for divorce if he doesn’t.  This has been the case for thousands of years!
  10. Judaism teaches that everyone has access to God without an intermediary.
  11. Teshuva (repentance): no matter what you’ve done, there is always a way back.
  12. My religious heroes: Yitzchak (Isaac), Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah), Iyov (Job), Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, the Kotzker Rebbe, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Rav Kook… the list goes on!
  13. The thoughtfulness and complexity of Jewish thought and especially halakhic thought and the way they refuse to accept easy answers, instead following thoughts to their conclusion.
  14. The Jewish sense of humour, present even in religious texts.
  15. Finding God in the mundane.
  16. The fact that Judaism has helped the Jews survive millenia of persecution.
  17. The emphasis on relationships, joy and love.
  18. The fact that embarrassing others and spreading gossip, even if true, are seen as some of the most serious sins (unlike wider Western culture, where gossip and embarrassment are used to sell newspapers and win ratings wars).
  19. The down-to-earth practicality of Judaism.
  20. Chessed (kindness) and the striving for what Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein termed “social beatitude.”
  21. The bond between all Jews, left and right, religious and secular, Orthodox and Progressive: if one suffers, we all feel it.
  22. The lack of dogma and acceptance of multiple opinions.
  23. The concept of argument for the sake of Heaven.
  24. The multiple ways of looking at the world: halakhic and aggadic, rationalist, mystical and existentialist.
  25. The depth, complexity and beauty of our holy texts from Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) through Midrash and Talmud to Hasidic tales and philosophical tracts – even law codes are examined stylistically.
  26. This is a list about religion, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t proud of the Jewish influence on science, the humanities and the arts, from Kafka to Chagall to Wiesel to Simon and Garfunkel to Freud to Einstein to Disraeli to Marx (I mean Groucho) to all those Nobel Prize winners who are Children of Israel… not to mention the co-creators of Superman, Batman and Doctor Who.  And William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy (that one’s for you, Alex!).
  27. I’m going to say it… Pesach is stressful and sets off my OCD like crazy, but deep down, I think it’s still my favourite Yom Tov (festival): the weirdness of covering the house in tin foil and plastic, the novelty of crockery used for only eight days a year, the special foods (ritual and cultural), the seder service where we spend an evening eating symbolic foods and discussing religious texts and thinking about what it really means to be free… underneath the stress and the OCD, I think I still love it!

Believing the Worst

The Doctor: Where’s your joy in life? Where’s your optimism?
Romana: It opted out.
K9: Optimism: belief that everything will work out well. Irrational, bordering on insane.
– Doctor Who: The Armageddon Factor, Bob Baker and Dave Martin

My father doesn’t get angry often, but he lost his temper at me yesterday.  I had gone home to pick up my post (my parents’ house is still my postal address, a long and uninteresting story).  Dad gave me a lift back to my flat and I started drama queening, saying how awful my life was, that I will be too depressed to do my new job properly and will get fired, that the first date I’m going on on Sunday week will end badly because of my mental health issues, that my Purim will be miserable, that even if my Pesach will be kosher (which is debatable), it will be stressful, OCD-anxious and full of arguments with Mum about kashering and keeping things kasher lePesach.  I didn’t actually say all of this, but I would have done had I had the time.  I do this on Hevria a lot.  Really it’s game playing, but I can’t stop.  I either want people to agree with me that everything is awful or to give me sympathy.  Usually they walk off, because people can tell when they’re being manipulated, so I’m left unsatisfied and do it again until I get the response I want (rarely) or until my mood improves of its own accord, which can take days.

As I said, I did  not actually go through that whole list of things, mostly because Dad got annoyed with me.  He didn’t shout, he just assertively told me that I don’t know that any of those bad things are going to happen and I should just accept that the fact that lots of bad things happened to me in the past does not mean that they will continue to happen to me in the future.  He brought up God.  I am more religious than my father, but he talks about God more comfortably than I do, probably because He sees God as basically benevolent, whereas I have a lot of anger issues with Him; theologically, I see God as benevolent, but emotionally I feel victimized.  For reasons rooted in childhood experiences, part of me perceives God as bullying and vindictive, even sadistic.  I am not proud of this, which flies in the face of my ‘official’ beliefs, but it is how I feel when the depression is bad, when I’m drama queening on Hevria complaining that other people get miracles and I don’t (as if I had a right to demand miracles!) or brooding over my life and telling myself I’m “owed” a better life (as if I did some kind of deal before being born, a deal that I have kept without reward).

I felt bad, but it did bring me down to earth.  I don’t know that I will be too depressed to do my new job or that I will have trouble finding a new job when my new contract expires next year.  I don’t know that the woman who has agreed to go on a date with me will reject me because of my depression or anything else.  I don’t know that Purim will be lonely and depressing or that Pesach will be anxiety-provoking and argument-provoking or that my I won’t have time to talk to my rabbi mentor about my Pesach fears before Yom Tov starts.  I just fear all these things because I have been hurt so many times in the past.  And even then, I  have had good things happen to me.  I have two degrees, both obtained at great difficulty, battling with depression.  I have family who care about me, even if we don’t always see eye to eye.  I am not, as I like to pretend I am, entirely friendless, even if I don’t have close friends or people I can just “hang out” with (“hang out” in inverted commas because even as a teenager, I never just “hung out” with people, partly because I generally was not invited to, partly because I was too afraid of rejection to see people in a relaxed environment without some common task, even if that task was simply eating dinner).  I have a job for a year, which in this current climate is something to be thankful for.  Someone has agreed to go on a date with me, the first time this has happened in four years and only the fourth person ever to agree to date me.

This is basic CBT stuff, disproving negative thoughts, and CBT never really worked for me with depression.  The weight of my childhood experiences was too strong, I suppose, to be counteracted so easily.  I don’t know how helpful this will be, but for the first time in a while it brought me up short and stopped me wallowing in my pain (something I do far too much for my own good), at least for a while.  I can’t share Dad’s belief that maybe this is the time God will change my life and things will start going right for me, that I might be getting a good job and meeting my future wife, but I will try not to assume that everything must be for the worst in the worst of all possible worlds.