Tag Archives: depression

Every picture has its shadows, and it has some source of light

“Shadows and Light” is the name of a song by Joni Mitchell. This is her live performance of the song during her Mingus tour of 1980:

It’s worth hearing.

But the music all aside, the words are profound, and given what’s been happening in the world this week, I need to put the lyrics here and then talk about them.

Every picture has its shadows, and it has some source of light,
Blindness, blindness and sight.
The perils of benefactors, the blessings of parasites…
Blindness, blindness and sight.

Threatened by all things – Devil of cruelty,
Drawn to all things – Devil of delight.
Mythical devil of the ever-present lines
Governing blindness, blindness and sight.

Suntans in reservation dining rooms, pale miners in their lantern rays –
It’s like night, night and day.
Hostage smiles on Presidents, “Freedom!” scribbled in the subways –
It’s like night… and day.

Threatened by all things – God of cruelty,
Drawn to all things – God of delight.
Mythical God of the ever-present lines
Governing day, day and night.

Critics of all expression, judges in black and white,
Saying it’s wrong, saying it’s right.
Compelled by prescribed standards, or our own ideals, we fight –
Wrong, wrong and right.

Threatened by all things – men of cruelty,
Drawn to all things – men of delight.
Keeper of the laws, the ever-broken laws
Governing wrong, wrong and right.
Governing wrong, wrong and right.
Wrong… and right.

Now, I no longer believe God is mythical (obviously). But I think the God we build up in our heads often is. We attribute attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors to the God in our heads which don’t really belong to God at all. I don’t think the God that the Haredim believe in is really God. I think that it’s the Haredim’s excuse for their behavior – and their behavior is often vile and without excuse.

I think a lot of our world’s problems do happen, as the song says, because we are compelled by prescribed standards or our own ideals, and we fight. I can’t imagine how the stabbings (and eventual murder of at least one young woman) at the 2015 Jerusalem Gay Pride parade, or the murder by arson of a Palestinian 18-month-old by Israeli settlers, can be seen any other way. What drove the Haredi murderer at Jerusalem Pride? Prescribed standards. What drove the murder of that baby boy? Someone’s cockeyed ideals.

When can we get beyond prescribed standards and ideals and look at what’s right for the world? When will we achieve tikkun olam? Will we ever?

Do we even want to, or is it just something to which we’re paying lip service?

I have clinical depression, as I’ve already talked about elsewhere. I have a natural tendency to only see the shadows. Where is the light in any of this? Is it the international outrage against the violence? Is it the Jewish groups in the United States who are now calling on Israel to get the extremists under control? Where is the light?

I admit that today I’m having trouble seeing the light in these situations.

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Community and Hallelujah

27 Elul 5774

It’s almost Tishri, and I find myself thanking God for that.

It has been… a rough couple of weeks. Although last Friday I managed not to set the oven on fire while baking, I still managed to forget to bring the loaf of grain-free challah I’d specifically made for kiddush after services to services on Saturday morning. I’ve been facing a lot of whelm (as in, overwhelmed) at work and outside of it, even though positive things are happening. Depression – the clinical kind – has been an inconsistent, but constant, visitor. It’s been hard sometimes to keep my mind on what I’m heading for. 2014-09-19 at 18.38.53

See? And I felt so bad, and so idiotic, for not remembering to grab it on my way out the door.

But… I also got to talk about what this last Shabbat’s Torah parshah (Nitzavim – Deuteronomy 29:9 – 28) meant to me in Shul that morning. I’ll just quote the part that the rabbi had us read, and then talk about the Torah study that our rabbi makes a regular part of our Shabbat morning services, in lieu of a sermon.

 “You stand this day, all of you, before the Eternal your God – you tribal heads, you elders, and you officials, all the men of Israel, 10 you children, you women, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water-drawer — 11 to enter into the covenant of the Eternal your God, which the Eternal your God is concluding with you this day, with its sanctions; 12  in order to establish you this day as God’s people and in order to be your God, as promised you and as sworn to your fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 13 I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone, 14  but both with those who are standing here with us this day before the Eternal our God and with those who are not with us here this day.

I had tears in my eyes, reading that, for two reasons. I started out with a copy from a website, and then I went and got my copy of the Torah and copied it out here, because the wording matters.

“even the stranger within your camp” and “with those who are not with us here this day” was what brought me to tears that morning. All people who want to be part of it can be. Anyone who wants in, can be in.

I want in. I said that back at Pesach, didn’t I?

Everyone in the shul that morning who heard me say that for me, this was God saying to the stranger and the not-yet-Jew, “You are also part of this covenant,” told me that they were happy I was there and part of their community.

I’ve been going for two weeks. Then I missed a week due to the oven fire. And still, they already see me as their community member. As part of what they are doing and who they are.

I can’t express what that means to me. To already be accepted. To already belong. To be, in some small sense, already a Jew in their eyes.

This part of this parshah also speaks to me as a ger, because those who are not there in body may still be there in soul – as at Sinai, nu? And my soul is being braided into this community, into this place, into these people, with every time I go to shul.

God is in this place, and how could I not know?

Afterwards, I got to talk to J, the man who usually leads song, and asked if he could teach me some of the songs so I could maybe lead sometime when the rabbi asked. He was more than happy to have another singer in the group.

Again, belonging. Perhaps someday, mispachah.

2014-09-19 at 11.43.37

Front of Havdalah candle holder.

I also had my first-ever Havdalah this past Saturday night, and it was more special than I thought it was going to be. I made my own havdalah candle holder and my own bisamim box from crafting materials and acrylic paint over the past couple of weeks, and on Saturday night, they were ready to use for Havdalah. I’m trying to create these items just like my father created so many of my family’s holiday decorations that were so important to us every year.

Back of havdalah candle holder.

Back of havdalah candle holder.

I can’t honor my father in most ways that are religious (although I bought a yarzheit candle for him so I have one when January rolls around), but I’m going to make as many of my own ritual items as I can, and what I can’t make, I’ll purchase carefully.

2014-09-19 at 11.44.07

Bisamim box.

I plan to at least make a hanukkiah and a kiddush cup (I just have to find an appropriate cup). I may draw the line at a Seder plate, though.

I stumbled sometimes, and stammered, and I admit that I didn’t have all the prayers down, but this production from Moishe House Rocks helped me a lot (the song is also really catchy):

I’ve been thinking about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur coming up much faster than I thought they would. For Rosh Hashanah, I can only point to this rendition of Psalm 150 (Hallelujah) by Hillel Tigay and the community of IKAR, in Los Angeles, for the joy that the thought of Rosh Hashanah fills me with.

And finally, although I know I’ve shared it before, sometimes music just speaks for me more than words can. So once again, I give you the Maccabeats and their amazing Yom Kippur song, Book of Good Life.

I am thankful for all these things. I am thankful for you who read my posts. I am thankful for my life and for the people who sustain me.

On Rosh Hashanah, that’s part of what I’ll be singing Hallelujah for.

And as Yom Kippur is coming up very soon, I ask forgiveness. If I have wronged you in the past year, please let me know. I will do whatever is necessary to make amends.

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Shocheradam And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Erev Shabbat

Ever have one of those Shabbats that goes so fantastically wrong that you can’t imagine it ever going right again? Read on.


 

Sad

“Sad,” by Kristina Alexanderson on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license.

I really should know better than to write about perfection.

After I put up my post that I made just before the Friday Feature, it feels like everything just went south for me this Shabbat, or at least on erev Shabbat. I had to go to a job HR intake thing that I did not feel prepared for, for starters, having got the command, er, invitation to come in at 10 on Friday morning the previous night. I do not do well with “Surprise! Come here RIGHT NOW!” kinds of e-mails at the best of times, and this was not the best of times. It had been quite a rough week, all things considered. So, resigned to losing my entire usual erev Shabbat morning routine, I went in. The HR person was not a nice person. I felt very conspicuous in my kippah, which made me feel defensive. Probably not the best thing.

I wasn’t in the best of shape when I got out of that meeting. First there was the exhaustion that happens after I have to meet someone new under circumstances I don’t control. Then there were student emails to answer and other work to do that I normally do in the mornings, which was now pushed to the afternoon. Then there was the nap that took away most of the later afternoon. Then there was the realization that someone I’d added on Facebook was a person I had had a very bad interaction with under an IRC handle 12 years ago, and being shook up over that as I defriended them. And the issues the HR person continued to send to me in e-mail all afternoon, some of which are fires I can do nothing about until Monday. And we didn’t really have lunch as such; we just had a late breakfast, so I had a lovely low-blood-sugar episode that I didn’t realize was low blood sugar until I was far beyond the point of no return, and ended up babbling and incoherent, as well as weepy and unable to cope. The phrase that I, and most of my friends, use for this situation is “out of spoon error.” Go read this link for more on that. (Basically, when I’m that low on cope, I become a babbling idiot and I can’t even find my own feet without help.)

Long story short, we didn’t even make it to the grocery, so I started Shabbat (such as it was) without any grape juice or challah, no new flowers on the table, and a sink still full of dirty dishes (morning stuff that didn’t get done thanks to the HR intake intervention blah blah). I resigned myself to a dinner of reheated random leftovers, with no candles, kiddush, or ha-motzi. Basically, my life became a whole big world of no, after the sun went down.

And then, thinking that at least I’d make a loaf of my grain-free challah and bring it with me to Saturday morning service’s Kiddush as I had promised to last Shabbat, I managed to instead make the stand mixer lurch across the counter, flinging hardened batter everywhere and wasting ingredients that don’t exactly come cheap.

Suffice to say that it was a really bad way to go into Shabbat.

Fortunately, after sleeping on it, things seemed some better. We did go to services on Saturday morning and it was refreshing, and my stories of the demon-possessed stand mixer after services were over made people laugh (although I promised that next time I would absolutely have grain-free challah for them for morning Kiddush). Singing the service is getting easier already; I’ve been picking up the melodies. The Torah teaching session that seems to be a standard part of the services was enlightening and made me feel like I belonged, since I could contribute to it intelligently. My partner looked, well, very Jewish in the green handmade kippah I loaned him. And just being among fellow Jews was a hugely calming thing.

Last week, when praying the Birkhot Haschachar, I sang Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha’olam with everyone else. Where our congregation then sings the rest of each prayer in English, however, I fell silent at the line “Thank you for making me a Jew.” This week, I sang it out with everyone else, with tears stinging my eyes. It was a much-needed reminder: I may still be a ways off from my entry into the mikveh and full membership in the Tribe, but my soul is a Jewish soul. And like I said on Friday afternoon, I do not have to be perfect to be a Jew. I just have to keep trying to do a little bit better each time.

Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha’olam, she’asani Yisra-eil.

 

 

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A Complaining Fast

When you have depression (as I do) it’s very easy to fall into complaining. Not because you’re a whiner, but because the world really does look that bleak and it really does feel that bad. It’s hard to find positives when you are depressed, sometimes. 

I’ve had a rough couple of days with this year’s academic hiring cycle starting up, and realizing that my best choices for a tenure-track job application are not in the city I live in, or even anywhere near it. This troubles me because I do not like change and I’m afraid to leave the familiar area I live in. I also don’t travel well – I dislike vacations that involve Going Somewhere New, and don’t understand why people want to do that when they could stay in their home and relax. 

The academic job process for a professor hire usually involves a one- to three-day-long on-campus interview where you are on display all the time. From the moment your plane lands in the airport and you are picked up by one of the hiring committee or a graduate student, you are on stage. The only time you’re not is when you’re in the hotel room that the hiring school is paying for you to stay in. It’s a grueling process even for people who are not autistic. When you’re autistic and you have phobias about new places, though… well, let’s just say I’ve done this four times now and had no offers in two years, which is really, really depressing for me. 

This year I’m going to focus mainly on places I’ve been (to cut down on the terror of “this is a completely unfamiliar place”) and that are within two to three hours’ flight of where I live now, for several reasons: my kids, my best friend, and my brother and his wife and kids all live here. If there’s an emergency for any of them I want to be no more than three hours’ flight away from them. But that still means that (assuming I get an offer) I will have to face moving away from everything familiar, and that is not easy for me to face. 

Then there’s the interview itself. Again due to the autism, I freeze when I’m around strangers. I am going to work very, very hard on pretending that they are not strangers so that I can do what I need to do. But I do not expect that to work, because at my core I’m a pessimist and, well, I’m angry that I have to go through this just to get a job that will support me and my family. 

So there’s a lot of stressors, as you can see. Disclosing the autism is not an option. Neither is disclosing the depression. So I have to pretend to these potential future colleagues that I’m just fine, peachy keen. Which brings up its own set of issues, but anyway. 

When you’re under this kind of stress it’s easy to complain. It’s incredibly easy to get depressed. I am facing this right now. I want to complain, and I want to complain a lot. I can even justify it as part of my Yiddishkeit – as several Jewish friends have said to me, kvetching is a time-honored tradition in Judaism. But I don’t think I can afford to complain. It’s too easy to slide from kvetching into outright depression. So for the next 24 hours, I am putting myself on a complaining fast. I am going to catch myself and stop myself every time I want to complain – or at least try to (setting up an absolute is a guaranteed way to make yourself fail). And when I want to complain, I am going to instead find something positive and say that instead. 

There’s also the points that Telushkin makes in the Book of Jewish Values, about how asking cheerfully is not a choice, and that we should occasionally go on a “complaining fast” and remind ourselves of what we’re thankful for. Kvetching may be culturally Jewish, but being thankful is spiritually Jewish. And I need to remember to be thankful, even when things look dark or frightening or both. 

We’ll see how it goes, eh?

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On Robin Williams and Depression

This post might look like it has nothing to do with Judaism, but bear with me. It does.

Ever since I found out about Robin Williams’ death yesterday I’ve been sort of in a state of shock. The man who created Mork, Garp, Airman Cronauer, the Genie, John Keating, Armand Goldman, Peter Banning/Pan, and Vladimir Ivanoff dead? Impossible.

But even worse: his death was by suicide? Incredible. Unbelievable. This brilliant, vibrant, funny, successful man killed himself? How can that be?

And yet. And yet.

Finding out that he suffered from depression makes all of that completely believable – both his successes and his death.

You see, I have depression. I have always had it. I always will have it. It doesn’t go away. It doesn’t disappear. And I have heard that inner voice saying in a very calm, rational, completely believable way: “Nobody would miss you if you died. They’d celebrate if you were gone because you’re a waste of space, energy, and air. You’re worthless. You’re pointless. Anyone could have done the things you did. You’re not that special. You deserve to feel this way because you are scum. Your partner could do better, and probably is doing better. Your kids are ashamed to be seen with you. Your family thinks you’re an embarrassment. So why don’t you just give them all a break? The knife is right there on the kitchen counter. The pills are in the medicine cabinet.”

Life with depression is a constant fight against that voice, because that voice never shuts up. I’ve had three suicide attempts in my life. The first one was when I was fifteen. The second one, I was sixteen. The third one was in my thirties and very few people knew about that one until just now. Thankfully none of them were successful, but at the time I was just disappointed (and ashamed) that I couldn’t even kill myself correctly.

It. Never. Stops.

If you have depression you find ways around it. You find ways to shore yourself up against it. Comedy is a big one. Music is another. Publishing a book. Writing a screenplay. Getting a doctorate. All of these are bulwarks against depression and the lies that it tells. But even those ways don’t always work. Sometimes the levees break. Sometimes the foundation crumbles.

To this day I still have far too many times when I don’t think I’m a very good or important person. Despite all my accomplishments, I still have depression living in my skin. It tells me that my doctorate is no big deal, that the students I’ve reached would have succeeded anyway, that my family and friends see me as a bother rather than a blessing. Sometimes I believe it. Sometimes I fight it. Not always.

If you have never known true, clinical depression, be thankful. It is worse than being sad. It is worse than being “blue” or down in the dumps. It is worse than feeling grief when a loved one dies. Depression is the sense of total worthlessness, of feeling that you deserve every bad thing that happens to you and that you don’t deserve any good that is part of your life. Depression is an endless black hole of suck, like a tar pit. On a good day you might be able to claw your way up to only waist-deep in it. On a good day you might be able to draw a few breaths thinking that you will be able to keep breathing without a struggle tomorrow.

But it never goes away. Medication can help manage it for some people. Therapy can help manage it. Learning strategies to cope like cognitive behavioral therapy can help manage it. But it never. goes. away.

Robin Williams’ death and the circumstances surrounding it serve as a stark reminder that we must address this problem as a national public health issue, just as Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death reminds us that we must address addiction as a national public health issue. But in the meantime, until our policymakers get off their collective asses and start doing something about depression, here’s what I have for you. And here is where Judaism informs my approach. When I am in pain nowadays, when that low, rational voice is telling me that I’d be better off dead, I turn to G-d as well as to my friends. I cry out for help instead of holding it in. I pray. And when I see someone else in this kind of pain, it is a mitzvah to reach out to them and help.

If you have a friend in pain, reach out to them. Reach out to them. Reach out to them. Send them a note, an e-mail, give them a hug or a phone call. Take them to a movie or out to lunch. Don’t let them struggle alone in the endless black hole of suck that is depression. And don’t be fooled by their shiny happy exterior – it’s a front. Let them know you’re here. Let them know you care. Let them know they matter. And say it again, and again, and again, because depression can be louder than you are.

If you are in this kind of pain, if you think that ending it would be better than going on, if you can’t see the point any more, please, please get some help. Please reach out. Please call a suicide helpline –http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ even has an online chat program if you can’t handle a phone call. But don’t wait. Don’t give up.

Because my life is better because you’re in it.

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