Guilt

Shabbat was OK. There was all the usual stuff: praying, eating, sleeping, Torah study and recreational reading (mostly The Islamist and the latest Doctor Who Magazine, my subscription to which I am contemplating cancelling. I have contemplated cancelling it every couple of years since about 2003, but this time I’m really not sure what’s stopping me).

The afternoon was hard. I was reading The Lights of Penitence by Rav Kook (in the volume Abraham Isaac Kook: The Lights of Penitence, The Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters, and Poems) and came across a passage that talks about someone who feels pervaded by sin, immoral, uneducated, distant from God, and “stirred by dark and sinister passions that revolt him.” I thought, “This is me.” Unfortunately, the passage goes on to say that penitence will cure this and all healing and acceptance. Nothing about what happens if a person does teshuva (repentance) and feels just as wicked as before.

If I recall correctly, Rav Soloveitchik says something similar about repentance curing self-criticism in Halakhic Man, so that’s the two greatest “Modern Orthodox” rabbis, of very different outlook and temperament, agreeing that teshuva should remove self-hatred and needless guilt. I don’t know how to feel that. No wonder that in recent years Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement, the holidays of judgment and repentance) have been hard for me and I struggle to get to shul (synagogue). Of course, this year I have decided not to go for Rosh Hashanah at least because I’m so worried about COVID and passing it on to Mum (who has surgery a week before Rosh Hashanah). I haven’t had to decide what I’m doing about Yom Kippur yet.

The guilt is pervasive and multifaceted. Some of it is feeling disconnected from God, which I’ve felt for a long time. Feeling that I don’t pray well enough, don’t study Torah enough, don’t connect enough. Feeling that I don’t have enough spirituality or meaning in my life. I don’t have much of either. But I also have guilt around my sexuality. Feeling that it’s pretty much impossible to get to the age thirty-seven as an unmarried virgin without having infringed on some at least some of the Jewish sexual laws, but as no one talks about it, I feel that maybe it is just me. Maybe I could do better. Maybe other people do manage to do better.

So, I spent the afternoon somewhat depressed because of this. I was initially upset to have napped for an hour and a half after lunch, but when I started to feel depressed, I was glad to have escaped being trapped in my head for a while. Despite Shabbat finishing nearly two hours earlier than at the height of summer, it’s still hard to get through when depressed.

I worry what PIMOJ (as sarnhyman has suggested I dub the Person I’m Messaging On JDate) would make of this. I’ve told her about my depression, but presented it in the past tense. Well, I thought I was mostly over it and now it was just reactive to things in my life, not an ongoing presence. I should have remembered that whenever I declare my depression over, it returns. PIMOJ works in mental health and I don’t know how that would shape her reaction to me. I want to open up to her about some things, but I’m scared. I want to get to know her better and get to a stage where we can both be more open, but I don’t know how to do that or how to judge when we’ve got there.

It’s not just the persistence of depression, but also the fact that she comes across in her messages as an ebullient person and one with a deep and sincere ahavat Shamayim (love of God). I had hoped some of that would rub off on me, but now I feel it’s more likely that I’ll scare her off. That she wouldn’t want to be with someone so quiet and downbeat, and intermittently (at least) depressed.

***

I just found this quote from Rav Kook, from The Lights of Holiness further on in the same volume:

The greater the person, the more he must seek to discover himself. The deep levels of his soul remain concealed from him so that he needs to be alone frequently, to elevate his imagination, to deepen his thought, to liberate his mind. Finally his soul will reveal itself to him by radiating some of its light upon him.

Social Interactions and Being Too Hard on Myself

I’m a bit scared to write anything today as, looking at the responses I wrote to the comments on yesterday’s post, I’m worried I’m so negative that I’m going to scare everyone off.  Shabbat (the Sabbath) at least was quite good.  My sister and brother-in-law were here, which was fun, but made meals super-draining.  I woke up on time to go to shul (synagogue) this morning, but was too tired.  I kept thinking, “I’ll get up in five minutes” until I eventually fell asleep again.  This upset me, as I would have liked to have kept the shul-going momentum going, but as I struggled to go to shul in the afternoon maybe I was at the limit of my energy level anyway.

***

At shul this afternoon we had the siyum (celebration for finishing religious study) for communally studying three sedarim (orders) of the Mishnah in memory of someone who died last month.  This was the “learning” that I had mixed feelings about joining as I wanted to be part of the community, but felt I could not currently commit to any learning and also I don’t believe that studying Torah helps the dead anyway.  Listening to the eulogy was weird, though, as it could have been for me (quiet, sits at the back without saying much – plus, the unspoken thing, single and childless) except that I doubt so many people would turn out for me.  Nor do I send out a weekly devar Torah (Torah thought) the way this person did and, for all the rabbi said someone should take over, I don’t really want to do that.

At the siyum I also felt depressed by the number of people my age there with many children.  I don’t want to have seven or eight children as one or two couples in the community have, but lots of people my age have two or three.  I completely failed to successfully interact with any of the children sitting near me, which only reinforced my feelings about not being a teacher/teaching assistant.  Mind you, I largely failed to successfully interact with any of the adults too.  I’m pretty rubbish at social interactions, really.

A friend of mine just had a baby.  I’m really excited about this.  I can be pleased for people I know well who have children, it’s when I don’t really know anything about the people except that they’re my age and have children that it upsets me.  I don’t know why that is.  I suppose it depends on whether I can connect with them positively as friends or just as “parents.”

***

On my last post sarnhyman said that I’m too hard on myself.  S/he is not the first person to suggest that.  I suppose I’m reluctant to be less hard on myself because I feel I have lots of bad traits that I need to remove.  I feel that I shouldn’t have missed shul this morning.  I suppose if I hadn’t missed shul, I might have struggled to go in the afternoon (it was hard enough as it was).  Also, it’s debatable whether being hard on myself has ever really helped me improve.  I suppose I don’t know how to not be hard on myself.

There are a couple of areas of my life that I really struggle with all the time, but particularly at this time of the (Jewish) year when the focus is on teshuva (repentance) and growth.  One is arguing with my parents, as I mentioned the other day – not generally full blown rows (haven’t had one of those for ages, thankfully), just bickering and sarcasm, and snapping at each other unnecessarily.  There is another thing… I’m not sure whether to mention it, but I feel hugely guilty while also recognising that it’s a common thing to struggle with in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world.  I guess there are some sins that no one would publicly admit to committing (e.g. breaking Shabbat), then there are others, like lashon hara (improper speech) that everyone feels able to say they struggle with and it would seem arrogant not to confess to doing, then there are some where everyone admits everyone struggles to some extent, but no one talks about how it impacts on them…  It’s very confusing to me.  It was something I always wanted to talk about in therapy, and sometimes I did, but we often got side-tracked and I feel that I don’t understand myself at all in this area.  I don’t know what to do about it, as I’ve been struggling with it for years.  Maybe talking about things just encourages them though, as is the general thought in the frum world.

The Day of the Great Fast

I really ought to go to bed, as I have to be up early for work, but I need to write to process the day.

Today was Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish year.  It’s the only fast day I’m allowed to fast on given my current medication.  I don’t fast well, never have done (most of my family don’t either), which always makes the day problematic.  I secretly envy people who can get through the day without so much as a headache, spend the whole time davening (praying) intently in shul (synagogue) and still be in good spirits by the end.

Yesterday night (Jewish festivals start in the evening) was pretty good.  I went to shul and I remember that I had a fairly moving experience, although I don’t remember the details.  I know I felt very, very angry with HaShem (God) at the start.  I have heard that expressing anger at HaShem in prayer is permitted because prayer is supposed to be authentic, that Chana’s (Hannah’s) paradigmatic prayer in Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) which is the model of all Jewish prayer, was an angry prayer according to the rabbis.  I think after a few minutes it turned into intense sadness and perhaps also anxiety about what kind of a new year I might have.

I was tired afterwards and went to bed at 11.00pm.  Unfortunately, I slept for something like fifteen hours.  I spent the morning drifting in and out of sleep with bizarre dreams (meeting an old friend who promptly treifed up our kitchen; being attacked by gorillas in the garden, who turned out to be people dressed as gorillas; and, most strangely, being a Cabinet minister in John Major’s government.  God alone knows what any of those dreams mean, particularly the last one (which was chronologically first)).  When I was awake, I felt too drained, depressed and anxious to get up.  I could tell that I had low blood sugar.  I knew that all I needed was a glass of water, a bowl of cereal and a wash, but all these things are forbidden on Yom Kippur.  I think for the first time I was tempted to eat on Yom Kippur (fasting on Yom Kippur is one of the most widely-accepted Jewish laws.  Even people who do nothing religious all year fast on Yom Kippur).  I didn’t, but I’m slightly worried by how tempted I felt.  Maybe I’m just judging myself harshly.  I don’t think there was a serious chance that I would have eaten something, but it was strange that the thought even entered my head.

Eventually I got up and went to shul.  I arrived at about 4.30pm; Mincha (the afternoon service) had just started.  I struggled through the next four hours or so.  At times I felt so faint and frail that I had to sit down because I was afraid I would fall over if I stayed up, even in parts of the service where one is supposed to stand.  On the plus side, I didn’t get a bad headache and most of the time I didn’t feel like I was actually going to throw up, so that’s actually an improvement on most years.  But I did feel terrible for missing most of the day, even though I know I was too depressed to get through it.  I know I would have felt less depressed if I had eaten, but I also know that my priorities were right (fasting is a biblical commandment and outweighs the rabbinic commandment of set prayer), but somehow this doesn’t make me feel better.

The rabbi in his drasha (sermon) before Ne’ila (the fifth and final Yom Kippur service – only on Yom Kippur do we pray so many times in one day) spoke of not being an mediocre Jew.  The idea is that ten days ago on Rosh Hashanah we could be judged as righteous, wicked or in between, but on Yom Kippur HaShem takes all the in-betweens and reassigns them to one side or the other.  From now on, we’re all righteous or wicked, spiritually alive or spiritually dead.  No compromises.

The rabbi spoke about taking on one area to improve in, religiously, in the coming year.  I had already decided I was going to focus on curtailing my negative self-perception, ending my “internal critic” as the C-PTSD book I’m reading puts it, or talking lashon hara (malicious speech) about myself as I think of it, to try and make it sound religious and therefore more important to deal with, to encourage me not to back off from it.  (The Chafetz Chaim (Rabbi Yisrael Meir HaKohen) spent his life campaigning against lashon hara and he said it’s forbidden to speak maliciously about yourself too – there’s an amusing story about this which sadly I don’t have time to share now).  I still feel I should do something more overtly ‘religious’ like commit to davening  with a minyan more, or with more kavannah (mindfulness) or saying more of Shacharit (morning service) or studying more Torah… I feel lacking in so many crucial areas, and knowing that it’s largely due to my emotional/mental health issues doesn’t make me feel any better.  But I feel that I’ve put off dealing with my low self-esteem for years and that’s probably why I haven’t succeeded at dealing with these other emotional issues.

The rabbi also spoke about the need to do something that is a kiddush HaShem (sanctification of God’s name – something that makes people think positively about Jews, Judaism and the Jewish conception of God).  I don’t know that I really do that, and I’m not sure that dealing with my negative self-talk will really help with that, but I don’t think I can prioritise that today.

After Yom Tov I checked my emails and saw that the CBT therapist who I saw about my OCD and who I emailed to ask if she could help me with my self-esteem and social anxiety isn’t taking on any more clients right now, so I’ll have to find another option.  I’ve got one potential idea, but I need to make some inquiries.

I never know what one is supposed to wish other people after Yom Kippur.  It seems strange to wish shana tova (good new year) now the new year period is officially over and we’re moving towards Sukkot, but it also seems anticlimactic to wish people shavua tov (good new week), particularly as the week is nearly over.  Technically you can wish people Shabbat shalom (peaceful Sabbath) from Wednesday onwards, but that always seems strange.  Still, whatever it is you’re supposed to have at the moment, I wish you a good one.

Inspirational Article

I don’t usually post links, and I know nothing about American football, so many of the references in this piece confused me, but I thought this was a really powerful article about self-esteem, addiction, suicide, kindness and repentance/personal redemption (teshuva as we would say in Hebrew).  Worth reading.  Oh, and there’s a library in it, which always makes me happy.

“That will be your one big regret, Ryan. It won’t be your failure to make it as an NFL quarterback. It won’t be your addiction to painkillers. It won’t even be your attempt to kill yourself.

When all’s said and done, your biggest regret will be that you didn’t treat people well.”