A few weeks ago, I shared material from this blog, in person, with a group of people. Their reaction was underwhelming, leading me to wonder why I embarked on this project in the first place and whether I should continue. However, one person, at least, from that group seems to have “gotten” it, and told me–nay, commanded me–that I had to keep writing even when I felt terrible.
Here’s the thing that I was not able to articulate to her at the time, but that I have spent a lot of time thinking about since. When I started this project, I was in a very different place. I was, quite frankly, not depressed and had not been for some time. This is important for two reasons:
(1) The stakes were different. I wasn’t “outing” myself, to the extent that writing this is “outing” myself as someone currently somewhat incapacitated by depression. (So many qualifications! “Outing” in the sense that people will not hire, befriend, or date me if they know that I suffer from the nasty scourge of depression. “Somewhat incapacitated” because if I said “totally incapacitated,” which is honestly how I feel a lot of the time, I would be digging my own personal/professional/educational grave.)
(2) The experience was different. Writing about depression having come through it is disconcerting, but also empowering: “Wow! Look at how terrible I felt and look at how much better I feel now!” It reconfirms my belief in hope, change, and the potential for a less-depressing future for myself. Writing about depression while depressed feels extremely unhelpful. I will even go as far as to say that it feels destructive. In some ways, it makes the feelings more real and more intractable to see them written out as harsh black letters on a blindingly white background. Although any number of people will tell you that the alternative–bottling it all up–is much less helpful, it seems to me that talking about the feelings in therapy or with a sympathetic, human, flesh and blood listener maybe the best way to prevent the bottling effect. Writing about it actually makes me feel worse right now.
So, it’s not that I don’t have anything to say. Of course I have things to say. I am a spewing volcano at the moment, spewing mostly tears, but also rage and disappointment and regret and trembling fear.
It’s that I don’t have things to say that I want to say.
I want to say that
…my belief in God gives me hope that things will improve.
…my belief in God makes me think that there is a reason that things go bad, when they do. That there is some grand plan.
…my membership in the Jewish people makes me feel less alone in the world.
…my observance of Shabbat gives me a break, in time, from the unending grind of depression and anxiety.
…my dedication to a tefillah practice makes me feel heard and listened to, even when depression does bring me down or otherwise make me feel alone.
…my engagement in the study of Jewish texts reaffirms my belief that Judaism deals with, and accepts, both the good and the bad. Life is hard. Judaism sees that.
All of those things are sometimes true or were once true. In that sense, Judaism has been extremely life-affirming for me. It’s been a salvation of sorts, and I don’t use that term lightly.
But, really, at the moment, I’m feeling that
…if and when I believe in God, I rail against him for producing someone who scorns life and generally makes a mess of it. Really, God? This is your idea of tselem elohim, a being created in the Divine image?
…my membership in the Jewish people makes me feel utterly alone. Everyone else is out there, being all communal, and nobody is noticing my immense pain and suffering. Nobody cares. (Of course nobody cares! I am far too wrapped up in my own misery to notice anyone else’s pain; why should they notice mine?)
…my membership in the Jewish people makes me wonder why nobody says anything when I cry in shul. All the time. I guess they don’t want to get involved. I can’t say that I really blame them.
…Shabbat is the world’s loneliest day when all you feel is pain and your normal modes of tempering that pain–through the numbing and relatively non-destructive distractions of the television and internet are forbidden. On Shabbat, there is nothing to do but contemplate the misery of your existence and of life itself.
…it is inherently lonely to observe Shabbat alone when the rest of the world mostly celebrates it in family units or groups of friends.
…I am so done with tefillah. Not because I don’t think God is answering. I don’t know if that was ever a primary reason for me to pray. And maybe it would be good for me, just like exercise is good for me. But I mostly can’t bring myself to do it, except sometimes when I make it to shul on Shabbat. That’s been true for a very, very long time and not the sort of thing that you generally want to admit on a blog dedicated to the intersection between prayer and depression.
…my engagement in the study of Jewish texts reaffirms my belief that Judaism expends a lot of time and energy worrying about small, inconsequential minutiae, at the expense of ignoring real human suffering.
Wow. See, that is all very depressing and I don’t feel at all better, having written it. I imagine that you don’t, either.
Although a blog that’s going to make me and you both feel worse does not have much point, in my eyes, I also feel that there is some inherent value in shining a spotlight on the parts of Judaism that make life harder to bear, not easier to bear.
You few who are reading–do you want to read this kind of thing? Does it add anything positive or worthwhile to the world? Maybe it’s time to take a hiatus from this project until my brain is functioning better, which is probably going to be after I’m feeling less depressed.
At one time, I had a vision of fostering the creation of a warm and embracing Jewish community that wouldn’t let people like me–and all of you–feel through the cracks and feel so utterly uncared for. I no longer really think that vision is realistic. I think it’s probably up to each one of us to save ourselves and ask as little from others as possible. What a terribly depressing thought…
I promised you, last time, that I would tell you what I am doing instead of “waiting around for Christmas to dry up all my tears,” but since nothing I am actually able to get myself to do is making a difference, so far, I don’t think I’ll go into details about that. I’ll just share the advice that I gave to an acquaintance who came to ask me how to deal with depression, knowing that I’ve dealt with it. It’s the same advice that any website will give you: Therapy. Drugs. Exercise. Sunlight. Rinse and repeat. Over and over again. And try not to do too much permanent damage to yourself in the meantime.
I also wanted to leave you with these two things to read:
- “Don’t Go,” a post on the Ask Moxie blog (read the comments, too). This blog is mostly a parenting blog, and I am not a parent, but I find Moxie and her readers’ attitudes refreshing.
- “Among Rocks and Stones,” by Peter Bebergal from Tablet Magazine. I no longer remember exactly why I wanted to share this second piece, only that I had a strong desire to after I read it several months ago. Maybe it will do something for you.
I’m sorry, also, for the somewhat scattershot nature of this post, and perhaps some other recent posts, as well. This is my brain on depression. It does not function nearly as well.