Rosh Hashanah (Religious Experiences)

Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) was good. I felt bad about sleeping through most of the mornings and missing the right time for most of the morning prayers. I’m pretty sure it’s mostly my meds doing that, but it’s hard to be sure, plus I wonder if that’s really an excuse. I can get up when I need to, for work, so why am I in such a deep sleep when I need to get up to pray? When I was thinking about going to shul (synagogue), social anxiety was playing a part in keeping me away, but shul hasn’t been an option for six months or more. I don’t really understand it.

Otherwise it was good. I enjoyed time with my parents and we heard the shofar (ram’s horn trumpet blown on Rosh Hashanah to acclaim God as King) at a socially-distanced outdoor blowing in my parents’ shul‘s car park. I was glad as I didn’t want to miss it; I missed it too many years because I was too depressed and socially anxious to go to shul. I did quite a bit of Torah study (Rav Kook, Mishnah, Iyov (Job)), although not much recreational reading. I don’t mind that – Rosh Hashanah is always a religious-focused time rather than a relaxing one.

I think I had reasonable kavannah (usually translated as ‘concentration,’ but I prefer to translate as ‘mindfulness’) when davening (praying). I did go into a bit of a downward spiral about that last night, thinking that my kavannah and my religious experience in general was not good enough. In retrospect, I don’t think we can expect peak experiences every time we do something religious. It takes time to build up to a peak experience, and you can kill it by overthinking it, as my guilt was trying to do. Plus, I think there still is a residue of depression that stops me from truly having wonderful experiences. At least with Judaism you’re never far from another opportunity for a religious experience, particularly this month, with so many festivals.

We didn’t do tashlich (special prayers by a body of water on Rosh Hashanah talking about God throwing our sins into the sea) because we were worried about crowds again. It’s permitted to do tashlich for another three weeks, so it’s not a huge problem, and in the final analysis it’s a minhag (custom) not a mitzvah (commandment), so I wasn’t worried about postponing it until later in the week.

And that was it, really. I’m going to get something to eat, as if I hadn’t eaten enough already.

Trying to Do Things

I think I may have found a really simple way to improve my kavannah (mindfulness) during prayer: speak slower. Like a lot of frum (religious) Jews, I have a bad habit of gabbling my prayers, perhaps because of the sheer amount of prayers that Jewish men are expected to say every day. If I speak slower, my brain gets the opportunity to take in the meaning of the Hebrew. I’m sure I will still end up gabbling them sometimes, from lack of time, energy or concentration, but it’s something to bear in mind for the coming year.

***

I got up a little earlier today again, but still later than I wanted, and, again, I ended up checking emails and blogs after breakfast because I felt too tired to get dressed straight away. I felt very drained today, perhaps a product of going to the Zoom depression group meeting yesterday, which I tend to find draining.

I applied for a school librarian job. I’m not really sure that I have the right experience for school librarianship, or that I’m really suited to it, particularly after my experiences in further education (although these children would be much younger). I applied via the job website where the job was advertised, only to get an email from HR at the school saying that they can’t accept applications that way and I have to send in an application form (one of those fiddly Word document ones too). Why did they not say that on the advert? I would not have wasted my time sending it. I don’t know why so many employers try to make things deliberately difficult for job applicants. I will try to fill out the proper application tomorrow.

The application and therapy were my main tasks today, although I had to bring in the supermarket delivery by myself as my parents were out, which seemed to take longer than usual, perhaps because I was tired. I tried to work on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week, but struggled to concentrate. I spiralled downwards towards sadness as therapy time approached and I’m not sure why.

Therapy was helpful, although I felt I struggled for words a lot and stumbled over them semi-incoherently. We spoke about career stuff, about the fact that I feel out of my depth a lot of the time with work and job applications. My therapist said that lots of people are struggling with coming out of lockdown even if they aren’t depressed or anxious and that I shouldn’t beat myself up about it and to try to stay in the present and not catastrophise. I did feel overwhelmed not just after therapy, but even during it, feeling the desire to withdraw and cut myself off from the world, to retreat to bed and wrap myself in my duvet. Just feeling too tired to say or do anything. I did get through the whole session though.

I wanted to go for a walk after therapy, but it was raining, so I didn’t. I still felt rather tired, but wanted to Do Stuff because I felt I hadn’t done much earlier (which is not strictly true, as I applied for a job; it wasn’t my fault I have to apply again).

I did write an email I’ve been putting off, asking a friend if they want to go on my devar Torah mailing list. This person I suspect would want to go on the list, but I was scared of asking her because of social anxiety and not wanting to appear presumptuous. I did about twenty minutes of Torah study too, which is a lot less than I’ve been doing recently, but I was very tired in the evening.

I can see that I did quite a lot today, but it never feels like I’ve done enough. That’s true every day, but particularly on a day like today when I feel I wasted time and accomplished few of my aims.

It is not yet 10.30pm, but I need to go to bed as I’m completely exhausted, so goodnight.

Day of Achievements

I’ve felt a bit better the last few days.  Maybe it’s being past my birthdays, English and Hebrew, and being past Tisha B’Av.  Being able to shave and listen to music again cheers me up in itself.  I’m not sure I’m applying for the right jobs, but it feels appropriate to be looking, and I’m making progress on my novel.  Of course, when things go better for a few days, then I start to worry that they’ll get worse again.  There is a fear that the further I get off the ground, the more painful it’s going to be when I fall down again.  I’m trying to stay positive and remember that I have made progress.  My life has a cycle of depressive episodes and better periods and maybe that will never fully go away, but the depressive episodes, though long and painful, are not as bad as they used to be.  I’m not where I was fifteen years ago, when the thought of having even a part-time job or writing a novel or ever being in a relationship would have seemed absurd.  Nor have I been seriously suicidal in a long time.

***

Achievements: I had my best-ever novel writing day, writing 2,750 words in about two hours!  It was a somewhat exciting bit, which makes me think my narrative flows better when I’m writing action rather than character bits (“action” in the sense of “stuff happening” rather than “fights and chases” although there was a bit of that here as one of my characters fled her abusive husband).  I’m nearly finished the penultimate chapter.  I’m just about OK on the word count.

I had a Skype call with my rabbi mentor.  He offered to speak to me when I was feeling very depressed the other week, but I feel somewhat better now I’m past my birthday and Tisha B’Av so I didn’t have a huge amount to say.  We spoke a bit about my novel and about writing letters you don’t intend to send to voice feelings and get them off your chest (see below).  He sounded stressed about work stuff.  I’m worrying a bit about him now, but am wary of asking for too many details in case I seem pushy.

I went for a run for forty minutes, about three miles or five kilometres.  It wasn’t a great run, probably because I hadn’t been running in the last two weeks and because it was quite hot out.  I also started to get an exercise migraine halfway through, which did not help, although I did stick with it.  Possibly I’m pushing myself too much with this at the moment, as I have a tendency to push through when feeling pain in my feet or getting a migraine.  My foot was mostly OK, but was a bit uncomfortable in the last five minutes or so.  Putting inner soles in my trainers seems to have helped a bit, but I probably do need new trainers.  I’m scared to go out shopping at the moment, though, and I’m not sure if it’s sensible to mail order them.

I managed about an hour of Torah study and brainstormed some ideas for this week’s devar Torah (Torah thought).  Also had some thoughts about the problem of suffering as presented in Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) as compared with Iyov (Job) that I want to mull over some more and maybe share here or elsewhere.

I wrote a letter (NOT to be sent) to our next-door neighbour, saying why I was so upset about the illegal minyanim (prayer meetings) he held in lockdown.  This was to voice and process my feelings.  I might try writing one to E. tomorrow about our breakup.

As this post is short, I spent some time working on another post that I’ve been writing recently, which I hope to post shortly (tonight or tomorrow).

I think I managed to stay reasonably in the present and not spend too much time worrying about the future or recriminating about the past.  I think my kavannah (mindfulness in prayer) has been better the last few days, which I think is related to this.  I think trying to limit my internet use helps.   It breaks me out of the search for instant gratification and dopamine hits that I can get locked into when looking for things to read or the wait for blog comments.  It also stops me feeling the whole time that I want to connect with people, but am unable to do so easily.  I didn’t quite make the target of only looking at emails and blogs twice a day today, but was close, although I have excluded necessary internet use for job applications and research for my novel from that limit.

***

Achievements of another kind: there were two “mazal tov” notices from my shul (synagogue) today: the wife of someone I know slightly had a baby and the daughter of my closest friend in shul got engaged.    I felt genuine happiness for my friend and was pretty good about not having depressed “I’m never going to get married and have kids” thoughts, even though the daughter who got engaged is about twelve years younger than me, which would normally prompt, “I’m on the shelf and there are no women left for me to marry” thoughts.

Love Your Neighbour

I don’t have much to write today.  It was a normal lockdown Shabbat.  I slept too much, and at the wrong times, but that’s also normal.  I won at Scrabble this week.  I started playing strategically.  I think in the past I would just have gone for the longest or most obscure word, but sometimes a really basic word can get a higher score, if it has a high-scoring letter or hits a double word (etc.) square.  I do get a bit frustrated that it’s hard to play a lot of obscure words that I know, but I guess that’s just showing off.

I tried to stay in the present and not worry about the future or beat myself up about past decisions (breaking up with E., going to the school I went to and not the one my Mum wanted me to go to).  I probably have made some bad decisions in my life, albeit partly because a big part of my life was unknown until recently (high functioning autism – which technically has still not been diagnosed, so who knows where this will go?).  There’s not a lot I can do about that now, though.  If I do manage to build a career as a Jewish author, then I think a lot of my past decisions and difficulties will have led me to it.  If I can’t do that…  who knows, really?

My big struggle today is with loving my neighbour, literally and metaphorically.  Literally, I have a lot less time for our Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) neighbours than I did in the past, because of the illegal minyanim (prayer service).  They have stopped most of these since shuls (synagogues) reopened (although they are still doing Saturday nights).  I still feel angry and resentful.  I still feel that they were risking our lives, especially Mum’s life, for the sake of their spirituality, even though the actual risk to Mum was probably small, even when she was in our garden at the same time they were davening (praying) in their garden.  People breaking the rules annoys me a lot.  In my experience, people on the autism spectrum either obsess over every tiniest rule and can’t bend a rule no matter how justified or alternatively can’t stand any rules at all, however logical.  I’m definitely in the former camp.  It was not always easy at work to work out when I should bend the rules for people and when I should be strict.  Maybe I should write a letter to the neighbours and not send it?  That was a technique my therapist suggested for dealing with feelings about E.; I should probably try it there too.

In a more general sense, I am in this weird situation of being frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) and wanting to stay frum, but also having a lot of resentment against the frum community.  I think it’s mainly about feeling I don’t fit in, which is probably largely because of the lack of a vibrant, committed, Modern Orthodox community in this country, unlike America and Israel.  Here the United Synagogue has a hashkafa (philosophical outlook) I agree with, but most US members are not shomer mitzvot (keeping the commandments), not even close.  Most are “traditional” and are members of an Orthodox shul (synagogue) out of family tradition, convenience or a vague sense that Reform Judaism isn’t “real” Judaism.

The Haredi world is a lot more committed to Torah study, meaningful prayer and mitzvah performance (keeping the commandments), yet has an outlook I often disagree with, whether over the place of secular study and the sciences, the role of women or various other things.  I could probably cope with that if that was all, although it does make me feel that I’m hiding myself, but I feel there is a level of casual sexism, racism/anti-non-Jew feeling and so on that sometimes appears and upsets me.

I think there is a lot of hesed (kindness) in the frum world, but not much empathy.  If you have a “normal” problem, people will help, but if you have an unusual situation or something that is stigmatised and not spoken about (the classic “bad for shidduchim” (potential marriage chances) problem) people won’t help and probably won’t even be able to understand what your problem is.  My thought on this matter were provoked from reading about a Haredi woman who adopted a black girl and has experienced a huge amount of unthinking racism, but it applies to mental health stigma, homosexuality, children who stop being religious… lots of things.

I feel that I do have a lot of anger and resentment towards what really is my own community that I have to work through somehow if I’m to keep functioning and I’m not really sure how to do it.  I kind of hope that one day I’ll marry someone who fits into the community better than I do and somehow things will slot into place, that suddenly I’ll have more frum friends and feel able to be myself, but I’m not sure that that’s a realistic idea.  Realistic in that I don’t think finding a wife would necessarily let me fit in a lot better and in that I’m not sure how likely it is that I will find a frum wife.

Like a Lion

I’ve been struggling to get to sleep this week, not hugely, but persistently.  I woke up early (for me) this morning and rose “like a lion,” like I’m supposed to (per Jewish texts).  I managed to get going quite quickly and say the Shema prayer and the Shacharit Amidah (the main Morning Prayer) on time, which I almost never manage these days because of depression, even though I skipped most of the other morning prayers.

My mood was quite good today, except while I was davening (praying) I suddenly had self-critical thoughts about myself, thinking that I must be a disappointment to my parents compared with my sister.  Still, I’m trying not to get sucked into depression and negativity.  I try to tell myself I’m on my own path.  Try to focus on the present.

***

Today is 10 Av, according to the Jewish calendar, and my Hebrew birthday.  The morning is still a sad period from Tisha B’Av and the Three Weeks of mourning, but from the afternoon, the mourning restrictions are lifted and one can listen to music, go on holiday, shave, trim nails etc.  I’ve done or am looking forward to doing all those things, except no holidays this year because of COVID and Mum’s cancer.  I’m not a great traveller anyway.  Maybe it’s good that my Hebrew birthday always starts sad and gets better (except when 9 Av falls on Saturday, then the fast is postponed to 10 Av and the whole day is miserable).

***

I tried to apply for a librarian job at a charity, but the online application system said I have already applied there.  I have actually applied for three different roles there, most recently in February.  I assume they never recruited because of COVID and are looking again.  I emailed them to check that my previous application will still be considered.  I did get called for interview for one of the three jobs, so I think it’s worth applying again.  I’m unsure about applying to a different institution where I also had an interview, but I felt that I wasn’t a good match for the institution’s culture.  I also applied for a job I don’t think I’m qualified for, because it was an easy LinkedIn application that only takes two minutes.  I’m not sure how sensible that was.  My thinking was that if I’m really not qualified, they won’t even call me to interview and that the risk was worth it considering how little time it took to apply.

I’m still concerned that most jobs in my sector are full-time and I don’t think I can cope with more than three days a week (at most) at the moment.  My parents say, “Apply and worry about that when you get the job.”  I’m not sure.  I think I need to think about other jobs in other sectors.  I did go to a careers advisor before COVID, but I felt he didn’t know the library sector and skill set so well.  He suggested being a private tutor, but I feel I need training in how to teach someone (including how to mark work, not something I’ve had to do before) and was not sure how to get it.

***

Achievements: aside from the job stuff and the usual pre-Shabbat chores, I went for a walk and worked on my novel.

***

I’m feeling pensive at the moment because today I’ve been reminded of a number of my friends and friends of my parents who are struggling with major health issues for themselves or their families right now.  It makes saddened and empathetic, and also puts one’s own problems in perspective.  The only way I can really believe in God, given the amount of suffering in the world, is to assume that this world is a “vale of soul-making” as Keats put it or the “ante-chamber” to the “banquet hall” as the Mishnah says and that we are here purely to grow, not to be happy.  Not that there is anything wrong with accepting happiness where we find it, but happiness is the natural state of the Next World; in This World our natural state is to struggle so that we can make our souls (Keats) and prepare ourselves (the Mishnah), which are really two ways of saying the same thing.

I didn’t really want to end on a down note, but I need to go as we’re heading towards Shabbat now, so Shabbat shalom (peaceful Sabbath).

Tisha B’Av in Auschwitz

Today I felt depressed and subdued, but it kind of goes with the territory, as it was Tisha B’Av the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, the day we’re supposed to be sad to mourn the destruction of the Temple as well as subsequent tragedies of Jewish history.  (It might sound surprising, but we’re not supposed to be sad most of the time.)  I read some more of Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust.  I’ve been reading this book for about five or six years, only on Tisha B’Av.  I can’t bear to read it on any other day, it’s too upsetting.  I hope to finish it in a couple of years.  Some of the stories did move me to tears, I admit, although I’m probably more sceptical about the supernatural than some of the people who related the stories.  I also went to some online shiurim (religious classes) via my shul (synagogue).

In the afternoon I went on a virtual tour of Auschwitz organised by a Jewish educational group.  (Thanks to Eliza for pointing me in their direction!)   I’ve never been there in person.  I feel vaguely uncomfortable about going to Holocaust sites, although I can see why it’s important for some people.  I discovered there’s not actually much there at Auschwitz any more, which I think I knew, but it had never really registered.  The Nazis destroyed the gas chambers and the crematoria to hide the evidence of the Holocaust.  I was surprised how big the site it was.

It was quite moving, but sometimes with Holocaust things I feel I’m not feeling what I “should” feel, maybe because most of my family did not directly experience it.  Perhaps it’s also hard in a way for me, being frum (religious).  With some secular Jews, their entire Jewish identity is built around the Holocaust and/or Israel; whereas I have so much more to my Jewish identity than that.  There is definitely a danger of being overly-obsessed with how Jews died rather than how they lived (to paraphrase Rabbi Lord Sacks*), but Tisha B’Av is a day to confront these memories.

I still would like to feel that I’m moving on somewhere as well as just focusing on the past.  It’s easier to focus on the Holocaust rather than the destruction of the Temple, because the former is more relatable.  There hasn’t been Judaism based around the Temple ritual for nearly 2,000 years, so it’s difficult to understand what it was like.  But the Holocaust isn’t much easier to focus on, although it has the human dimension, because it’s just unlike anything else.

(As an aside, it’s depressing doing a virtual Auschwitz tour and then after the fast was over going online to see the latest iterations of the “Jews are all rich, powerful, privileged and racist” stuff that’s been coming out in the last few weeks.)

In this respect the rabbi leading the virtual tour said something similar to what my shul (synagogue) rabbi said yesterday, about trying to find areas to grow.  I’ve already said here that I want to focus more on being present in the present and not obsessing over the past or worrying about the future.  That doesn’t sound a very Jewish or religious thing, but I think it is.  It’s connected with ideas like bitachon (trust in God) and kavannah (mindfulness, particularly in prayer).  But to do that, I need to be able to trust that God has my best interests at heart, even if painful things happen to me.  That’s hard on a day like today, when I confront the many tragedies of Jewish history, including the Holocaust.

It’s just an effort to focus on NOW with gratitude and mindfulness, not what I fear/hope will happen in the future.  I will try it for six or seven weeks until Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and see what happens.

***

I already mentioned I believe less in the supernatural than some Orthodox Jews, so I’m taking this with an Everest-sized mountain of salt, but at one of the shiurim today, the guest rabbi presenting told a story about a frum (religious) Jew who was in a coma four days with COVID and had a near-death experience.  He says that his soul was tried in Heaven and he discovered that although keeping all the mitzvot (commandments) are important, the afterlife primarily depends on loving other people and being kind.

As I say, I am sceptical about how true that story is, but it did make me think that while I agree that love and kindness are of the utmost importance (regardless of the afterlife), I struggle to show them the way I should.  I get irritable with my family.  I get annoyed by other people and although I don’t usually show it, I find it hard to love people sometimes (as Linus said in Peanuts, “I love mankind, it’s people I can’t stand!”).  I have a some inchoate anger and resentment towards the frum (Orthodox Jewish) community sometimes because of how I feel I’ve been treated, which I need to work through in a healthier way.  I want to be kind, but so often social anxiety stops me from acting on my kind impulses, or autism means that I can see someone is in need, but don’t know how to respond correctly.  My parents say I’m kind (usually when I say I have no assets to attract a potential spouse), but I guess they would.

I know this is turning into yet another “should” and another “beat myself up” session, so I don’t want to pursue it too far, but it has been on my mind this evening, thinking about how I could be more kind and loving in the future.

 

* What he actually said was that an educationalist complained to him that at Jewish schools, students “Learn about the Greeks and how they lived, and they learn about the Romans and how they lived, and they learn about the Jews and how they died.”  Both Rabbi Sacks and the educationalist felt that with a curriculum like this, it was no wonder so many Jews are just looking to escape from their Jewish identity through assimilation.

Anxiety and OCD

I didn’t mention a dream I had the other day when I was doing my Mum’s job and doing it well.  I wouldn’t do my Mum’s job in real life because it’s very much a people person job that I would not cope in due to autism and social anxiety.  I don’t know if doing it in the dream was a sign of anxiety that I feel out of my depth with my new job as if it was my Mum’s job, or of confidence that I can do it like I did the dream job.  If my unconscious wanted to tell me something, I wish it would speak more clearly.

***

I led Mincha (the Afternoon Service) in shul (synagogue) on Friday.  I shook badly again, but somewhat less severely than last time and I was able to have a bit of kavannah (mindfulness, concentration) on the meaning of the Hebrew words this time, so at least the trend is good.  I don’t think anyone noticed the shaking, but someone said something to me that I could only half hear that could have been about it.  I’m not sure.  It took me about fifteen or twenty minutes to feel calm again afterwards.  Gone are the days when I could lead Mincha without breaking a sweat and step down from the bimah afterwards feeling fine.  Blame my olanzapine for making me shake when nervous, plus I feel less at home and secure in this shul than in the one I grew up in.

***

I enjoyed the long winter Shabbat evening, doing Torah study, meditation and recreational reading.  I finally got in to the novel I’m reading (a re-read of A Perfect Spy, a semi-autobiographical bildungsroman disguised as a spy novel by John le Carré, which I read for the first time about twenty years ago), which I’ve been trying to read all week without much success.  I went to bed early and had mild insomnia, but was probably asleep by 12.30am or so.  I did still sleep through the morning and missed shul.  It’s still hard to unpick why I can’t get up for shul: is it depression, social anxiety, or an unconscious rejection of the community or at least discomfort with it… ?  Consciously I want to go, but obviously a part of me very much does not want to go, and sabotages things week after week.

There was no second Mincha today, so by missing morning shul I missed that too.  There was no Talmud shiur (class) either, although it was replaced with another shiur which was OK, but not great being somewhat lightweight and unfocused.

***

I’ve had a worsening of OCD symptoms lately, some religious OCD (about the Jewish dietary laws), but most non-religious.  I’m wary of talking about it here because of what people might think of me, as it sounds pretty crazy, but I basically worry that I’ll commit a crime without realising it and get arrested.  I know this is rooted in guilt about stuff I do which is not by any means illegal, but is against Jewish law.  No one can arrest me for breaking Jewish law, so my guilty conscience imagines that God will arrange for me to do something illegal without realising it (because I would never consciously do anything illegal) so that I get my just deserts (which is the correct way of spelling ‘just deserts’ by the way).

I don’t know why these feelings have become more frequent recently.  Some of it is the increase in anxiety from the new job, I’m sure.  Something I saw online on the BBC news website also triggered intense OCD thoughts and fears.

This probably sounds crazy, and sometimes I feel pretty crazy, but my thoughts fall in a recognised sub-genre of OCD thoughts, like people who are worried that they ran over someone in their car without realising it and retrace their journeys looking for dead bodies.  This is “pure O” OCD, i.e. obsessions (guilty/anxious thoughts) without compulsions (actions done to try to calm down the obsessions).  Normally one deals with OCD by doing things that provoke the obsessions and then sitting with the anxiety without doing the compulsions, but with pure O OCD this can be hard because there aren’t compulsions to control so it feels unfocused; it’s not clear what ‘winning’ feels like.  I guess I just need to sit with the thoughts and accept that there isn’t anything I can do about it and accept the uncertainty of life – I can’t guarantee that I will never go to jail for a crime I didn’t commit, or didn’t mean to commit, it’s just very unlikely that I will.

***

Just to make things worse, I wanted to work on my novel, but that currently involves researching domestic abuse, so I spent forty minutes doing that and inexplicably did not feel full of the joys of spring afterwards.  I intend to watch Wallace and Gromit: The Wrong Trousers (as a break from James Bond) and go to bed, even though it violates my rule against watching TV late at night (because the light wakes you up) because I desperately need to watch something silly.  (I thought about an episode of Fawlty Towers, but if I’m trying to switch off from domestic violence I don’t really need John Cleese banging Andrew Sachs round the head with a frying pan.)

***

I can empathise with this tweet I saw tonight: “I still haven’t processed how people with nerdy, bitter, angry, over-analytical pop-culture blogs, like the ones I used to read 10-15 years ago, managed to channel their personality disorders into academic careers.”

To be honest, I hoped to be one of those nerdy, bitter over-analytical bloggers, but I never got the breaks.  My Doctor Who book is still languishing on my laptop and I really should have another go at finding a publisher, although there are only half a dozen small publishers who publish books on Doctor Who and none of them want it.  I did get over my anger and bitterness which is probably just as well, although I’m still nerdy and over-analytical.

Less Mediocre

I wrote a piece last week called Mediocrity in which I basically had a go at myself for being inadequate.  E. rightly said I was being too hard on myself (have I mentioned how amazing my girlfriend is?).  The funny thing is that that article had been at the back of my mind for some time without my having the time to write it.  It was unfortunate that the day I did have the time I was feeling quite depressed.

What I intended to say was less to beat myself up for not achieving things and more to say that I feel a bit more comfortable lately with not being amazing.  I know that I fall far short of what many (most? all?) men in my community are doing in terms of prayer (frequency; mindfulness during it; with a community) and religious study (amount; complexity; studying Talmud), but I am slowly learning to accept that I am me and I do struggle with these things and I probably always will.  HaShem (God) has, for whatever reason, decided to give me these mental health and developmental issues (depression, social anxiety, religious OCD, borderline autism) and they do have a major impact on my life.  Even on good days (and lately I have at least had some good days – have I mentioned that I have an amazing girlfriend?) it’s a struggle to do a lot of things ‘normal’ people take for granted, not just religious things, but going to work, making dinner, shopping, cleaning the flat and so on.  I am slowly trying not to beat myself up so much about all this.

At the start of this Jewish year, nine months ago, I made three resolutions for the coming year: study a Mishnah every day; say the first paragraph of Shema, the first paragraph of the Amidah and the first paragraph of bentsching with kavannah (mindfulness); and work on my depression and social anxiety.  I haven’t really managed any of these, but I have done bits.  I study a Mishnah on the commute to work every work day, but generally not at the weekends and holidays (although sometimes I study other things).  I daven (pray) those prayers with kavannah sometimes, but not always, perhaps not often.  I have done a little work on my social anxiety, but not much and nothing on the depression other than staying in therapy and on my meds.  I think most of the improvement in my mood has come from upping the dose of my meds and finding someone who really likes and supports me (have I mentioned that I have an amazing girlfriend?).

Even at the time, I thought that three targets was too many, but I didn’t know how to prioritise.  I think for the last three months of the year, I will quietly drop the first and last targets (although I’m not giving up on Mishnah study completely; I will do it when I feel able, but I think E. was right to suggest I should prioritise things I enjoy more in my religious study.  I will try to stick with going to my Talmud shiur once a week and at least trying to keep up with the reading for it).  I will just stick with the davening target, as I usually say those prayers anyway, so it isn’t an extra time commitment (or a very slight one in terms of taking a bit more time over it; I won’t pressure myself to do it so well in the mornings when I’m usually running late) and it may have benefits beyond the spiritual, using it as a kind of mindfulness as I have tried in the past.  Perhaps if I can make some improvements there, I will feel a bit better as a person and as a Jew.

There is another side to this, which I’m a bit wary of raising, as it takes me towards lashon hara (malicious speech) territory, but lately I’ve noticed recently various frum (religious) people behaving in a way that I would not and which I do not think is entirely appropriate.  While I don’t want to judge them, it probably is good for me to be reminded that mitzvot bein adam leMakom (ritual commandments) are only part of the picture and mitzvot bein adam lechavero (ethical interpersonal commandments) and just being a mentsch (good person) are a big part of Judaism too and that I can try to succeed here, inasmuch as social anxiety lets me, even if I can’t always manage to succeed in other areas.