Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Little successes

It may be a small thing for most people, but I emptied the (clean) dishwasher, filled it with a sinkfull of dirty dishes, rinsed and set aside recyclables, and washed down the counter today. For me, knowing what the last week has been like, it was a big step.

I despise a dirty kitchen. In my mind, nothing says "I'm a slob" like dirty dishes and garbage all over the place. Not to call anyone else a slob. Just me. I'm the last person who should be judging others. So cleaning it is a very positive sign.

I've been taking the increased dose of my meds as mentioned here for just over a week now, and that's about right. It usually takes a week to notice a difference. Which means I might actually be climbing out of this thing.

It worries me to think that I usually go through one of these just prior to Pesach, too. Maybe I won't this time, but October, January, and late March are frequently difficult months. Maybe I should just plan to increase my meds in mid-March.

Will I still blog when I get (even temporarily) better?

Absolutely. Because it needs to be said that I'm not depressed all the time. I have hard weeks and even months, but it's not all the time. It's not forever. And I want to be able to honestly share what I'm like when I'm not under the influence of my unstable emotions.

That said, I still have one big issue that came up this time, one I really need to deal with before I go back to "normal" life and come out of my shell. It's still morning. Maybe I can write more about it yet today.

Out in public in a big way

I went to a lecture tonight. It was very good, and I took six pages of notes. At the end, the lecturer took questions, and somehow my curiosity about an aspect of the (Jewish) topic outweighed my desire to isolate. I raised my hand and he called on me. He called on me out of about six others.

Have you ever really met someone's eyes, someone you don't know, and there's this sort of lock for a couple of seconds? Maybe not. I have, and it almost always results in some weird sort of contraction in my stomach, like I know we've seen each other. Anyway, that happened.

I managed to get my question out without stuttering or stumbling or forgetting what I wanted to ask. He spent some time answering it, confirming an observation I made as part of my question's basis.

And then after the lecture was over, I introduced myself to the primary organinzer for the lecture, someone I knew a dozen years ago, though we'd lost touch since. And then I had my copy of the lecturer's book autographed and I talked to him and he said my question "was a really good question, one of the better ones" he'd had when talking on this topic.

I was shaking after I talked to him. Just trembling. I went, I talked to people, I made a concerted attempt to include others who were on the periphery of a conversation prior to the lecture, I asked a question in a room of probably 300 people, I talked to the lecturer. And all this while still feeling like I could dissolve into tears with the right trigger.

I know my "public face" is still usable, still strong. It just hurts to put it on sometimes. Tonight it wasn't so bad. And then--and then--I met another woman I sort of know who asked me, how are you? I said okay. And she said, hmmmm, no, how are you? After getting over my surprise I said the party line was I'm okay. The truth is a much longer story. It's been a hard month. And then she said she wanted to help, or more specifically, she wanted to pursue a friendship.

I don't completely understand. This gets into a much bigger more difficult thing that I can't quite write about yet. Maybe tomorrow. I like this woman, and I'd like to get to know her better. But I fear inviting her into a friendship where my disorder lurks. I don't know what to do.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Someone commented about how it sounded that shul was a very important part of my life.

It is.

I hope someday to find better words so I can adequately explain what it means to me. I've never been one to get particularly involved in the federations and the community centers and the political or financial aspects of the Jewish community. Sometimes I think about it, but with my occasionally unstable emotions, I just think it might not be a good idea.

But shul is different. Religious Judaism is different. You can define religious however you want, whatever part of the spectrum of observance you're on.

For me it's about going through life sometimes confidently certain of and other times desperately dependent on a connection, a living covenant with

It's a little embarrassing to admit, but years ago, I wanted to be a secretary or administrative assistant at a synagogue. Just so I could be there every day. I volunteered in a shul before I had children and it was indeed fulfilling. Even when all I was doing was answering the phone and taking messages. It was great until I hit one of my emotional speedbumps and I was three months recovering.

I don't want the equivalent of a Jewish convent. I don't want to sequester myself away and spend my life 24/7 in prayer. That's not appealing. To me, shul is the center of religious Jewish life. It's the source of learning and teaching and prayer and community. It's the source of so much that's important to me. It's also the source of family.

I mentioned here that I don't have much contact at all with my biological family. I've had to adopt new family. They're at shul. Sometimes they don't see it that way, and it can hurt when, for Pesach as an example, the people I feel close to are inviting biological family for sederim and then the reality hits that my family ties to the shul are tenuous and emotional. My husband has little family left and none are close. Pesach is a hard time for lots of other reasons, but the annual temporary loss of adoptive family is one I've never talked about.

Still, shul remains the center. My center.


I know I said here that I wanted a break, wanted to withdraw. That's true.

Then here I asked you to say hi and sit for a while. That's true too.

And the inconsistency is bothering me. I can't quite figure out why it's inconsistent or why it bothers me, but it seems to be and it does.

I had a hugely painful night last night. I touched a nerve somewhere about giving and taking and selfishness and the ability to accept help. It left me questioning my contribution to my marriage, my contribution to anyone, my value to the world. It was all very much in doubt, and I think it's because I finally put my finger on a topic so central to healing. I cried hard enough to rupture blood vessels around my eyes.

I'd been worried about someplace I had to be today but my youngest woke in the middle of the night with a fever and sore throat. It hurts to see him sick, yet at the same time I couldn't help but think that, with the timing, G-d "works in mysterious ways."

I won't have to leave home until tonight when I'm attending, G-d willing, a lecture on a Jewish topic dear to me. I can't elaborate, but I'm looking forward to going. And I think it will be quite well attended and I can hide in the crowds. It's easy to be alone in a large group of people.

Mandy! [sigh]

Since I earlier mentioned Mandy Patinkin's TV spot on depression (and his effect on my pulse), I thought maybe I could dig it up.

It's here:

Part of the CBS Cares public service announcements, there is also more detailed information here:

P.S. Yes, my husband gave his support for this post and its title before I posted it. :)

Monday, January 29, 2007

Silent readers

I know there must be a bunch of silent readers out there who have stopped by here to read. I hope you're able to take something useful away. I hope maybe in some small way I can help you reach out to people you know and care about who are dealing with depression.

I changed the comments so you can now leave anonymous comments. There's no way to trace who you are. Even the statistics counters aren't that good. Please consider saying hi. Or if there's something that I could write about that would be useful, please say so. I can't promise I will, but knowing what you'd find helpful would help me.

Take a seat. Rest for a few minutes. Have a hot beverage.

If you were to meet me in real life, we couldn't have this conversation, talking so openly and honestly about depression. I could be just like your sister, your daughter, your friend.
Hi. My name is Rivka.


I'm so conflicted today. I haven't wanted to go anywhere since shul. I just want to stay home, read to my children, read to myself, sleep, read blogs. I'm supposed to be somewhere tomorrow and I don't want to go. I really don't want to go. But I'm obligated to give another woman and her child a ride and my youngest will benefit from this, too. I just don't want to leave the house.

So much of me is saying stay home, curl up, feel protected, safe. But I keep checking blogs, mine and others, for new material, comments, some sense of interaction. I don't know how much I really want to isolate. Or if I want only safe interaction. I just don't know.

That urge to curl up and hide away is so strong. Lose myself in a book or a movie. I've been making sure I get up and dressed, comb my hair, eat, brush my teeth. I've managed some time for prayer when I didn't end up sobbing. But the thing I want most is a break from the world.

Yesterday, my husband told me about a conversation he had with a mutual friend at shul on Shabbat. He'd told the friend I was going through a fairly deep depression. The friend asked if he could help and my husband said just knowing people cared helped. Then my husband said when this had passed, they (he and his friend) were probably overdue for a drink.

I asked him where my drink was for making it through this. I hadn't even finished the question when my mind came back with, you don't get a drink. You just get to stop feeling so sad. Stop complaining. Can't you see what a drain you are on him? Of course he needs to get out and vent.

It just hurt so much to think that. It still does. Even though my husband assured me I wasn't a drain, I'm not so sure I believe him. If I am a drain, then my taking a break from the world would be in everyone's best interests. I don't want to be a drain, a liability, the proverbial wet blanket. If I could snap myself out of this, I would. In a heartbeat.

It's been a week now since this got bad. I want the hurting to stop. I want to stop draining everyone and contribute something instead. I want to stop seeing myself as damaged goods. I want a break.

Depression, OCD and Judaism: a case study

I happened across this article tonight and thought it was worth sharing. While I don't have OCD itself, I've mentioned before that my hypomanic states can sometimes bring some OCD-like tendencies. She's also dealing with depression and "feelings of guilt for adding to her husband’s responsibilities."

I can completely see where this woman is coming from.

Treating an Orthodox Jewish Woman With Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Maintaining Reproductive and Psychologic Stability in the Context of Normative Religious Rituals

Sunday, January 28, 2007


When I talked to my rabbi yesterday, I said something I knew made no sense and was entirely untrue. But the well of emotion behind it, the tears that broke through as I said the words, indicated I was on to something.

What I said was this: I feel like having this problem [depression/bipolar] makes me somehow less Jewish.

He gave me a look that said there wasn't a shred of truth to that statement.

The Jewish community has only recently begun to address the issue of mental health; American society at large has only begun to address depression as a medical illness. (I just saw a TV commercial with Mandy Patinkin talking about depression as a medical illness. Not only was he doing a public service, he made my heart do a little skip with those deep brown eyes.) Even despite this, there is an overriding sense, an expectation, that we Jews simply don't have problems like that. More about this later. It's too big an issue for me to deal with right now.

I thought about this feeling of being "less Jewish" because of my wacky brain chemistry. And I realized there was more to it. I also feel like I'm not as good a mother. Not as good a wife, a friend, a contributor to society, and so on.

It's not that I feel somehow less Jewish. It's that I just feel less. Less everything that is meaningful to me.

That's the depression talking, I'm sure. And I see now what it does. It diminishes everything important. It corrodes what makes my life meaningful and powerful and profound. It eats away at what makes me me.

I need to find a way to reclaim myself. Take back what it's taking away. That's where things get complicated, unfortunately. Because my parents took away too. I've been fighting for twenty years to reclaim what they took. My self-esteem. My confidence. My security. My innocence.

If the depression makes me feel less than, it only exacerbates the wounds already there. For all I know, they feed off each other.

My experience has taught me that I have to work harder than everyone else to prove myself. To prove that I'm good enough. It's exhausting. It means I fall harder when less than comes around. But I don't know any other way to do it. Between my wacky brain chemistry and my history, there is no such thing as being good enough simply because I'm me. It doesn't exist. It's all about the struggle. The struggle to succeed, to move forward, to be happy, to give, to understand, to be.

A friend who knows a little bit of my ups and downs e-mailed me and said, when can we get together? I miss you.

My first thought was, Why? What is there to miss? Isn't it a relief not to have to deal with me?

I told my counselor that. She said that's the depression. And probably my history, too. It's big. And it might just be a key to getting better.

I cried at shul

Against my instincts to stay hidden, stay unseen while I'm feeling so much pain, I went to shul. I didn't really want to go. I knew I needed to go.

I went figuring I could hold it back, hide it, drag out my public face again. But on the way there, I remembered D's words:

"From everything you've said, Rivka, you might as well have had a neon sign above your head flashing DON'T ASK ME ABOUT ME. You didn't give anyone an opportunity, much less an opening. If you want someone to come in and sit down and have a real conversation with you, not just idle chat, you have to at least unlock the door."

Opportunity and opening, I thought. If I really want help, if I really want what I'm saying here that I want, I have to give them opportunity and opening. I have to give the congregation and the rabbi the chance to be successful. Only I can do that. If I hide it and no one notices, and I'm consequently angry or resentful or hurting because no one saw the hurt, then it's because I set them up to fail. That's not fair to any of us.

So okay. I won't lie. I won't hide. But I don't have to advertise it, either. That was my plan.

Have you ever noticed how seldom things go "according to plan"? Especially when G-d is involved?

My husband told me later that I had no sooner walked in when people wanted to know what was wrong. I didn't think it showed that much. But I was avoiding eye contact, to keep it together.

I made it before Kriat Sh'ma. Even my whisper had tears in it. Halfway through the Shacharit Amidah, I couldn't keep it in. I was silent, but my body was trembling, shaking, and I couldn't stop it. Rogue tears darkened the pages of my siddur.

I had better luck during the Torah service. I can get distracted easily by a good book. But then at the Chatzi Kaddish I lost it again. It was all I could do to stay upright. I barely remember the Haftarah. Ashrei did not make me happy. I silently sobbed my way through Musaf.

And in the midst of this, I don't even remember when exactly--it was all a blur, the rabbi called me aside and said, can you stay a few minutes after shul so we can talk?

Opportunity, I reminded myself. Opening. Don't run from this. Don't hide. Don't ask the question if you're not willing to accept the answer. I said yes.

After shul a few people came up to me. A couple asked how I was doing. One woman said she didn't mean to pry and if I wanted to be alone, that was okay, she wouldn't be offended, but it looked like I was hurting and did I want to talk? We talked a little, nothing about how I was feeling. I didn't want to get into it right then. But I accepted her gesture of friendship and was deeply touched.

And then the rabbi approached me, to see if I would talk with him. I said I would. We went to a quiet, yet still public, space. He asked me, what's going on?

That was the question I didn't know how to answer. That's what makes this whole thing so [insert profane word of your choice here] hard. Because there is nothing going on. No marital problems. No financial problems (far from rich, but at least we're not broke right now). No unemployment. No acute illnesses. All's well with my external world, baruch Hashem. The problem is all in my head.

So I told him. I told him in record time (about four minutes--there was a clock on the wall) about my far-too-few ups and my far-too-many downs and how this time was a really bad one. I told him about reliving the memories around my father's death, about some of the horrible things I had to hear and experience in the aftermath. I told him about my counseling sessions, that I had a good counselor but I was missing the Jewish piece, something she simply couldn't give me. I told him about the medication, about how it works most of the time and what happens when it doesn't. I told him about needing to stay in the moment, about the ice cream headache without eating any, about how fifteen years ago I stayed in the moment by cutting myself and now I resorted to less bloody means.

I watched him wince as I said that.

He asked some questions, ran through some ideas. I think he said he wanted to meet with me this week, that he'd make time, but now, some eleven hours later, I'm not sure if he still wants that or if that was only if I wasn't up to talking today.

We've got to get you better, he said. He made a misheberach for me. It was evident in every movement, every word, his deep sigh when I finished telling my story, his wince when I talked about the cutting, that he cared. That he hurt for me.

It was very hard for me. It was frightening, being that open. But it was a relief, too. It brought a tiny ray of hope. I just don't know if I can risk being hurt by holding on to that.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Going through the motions

I'm still exhausted and numb from this past week.

Yesterday's counseling session went well. My counselor said in all the time I've been seeing her (a few years), she's never seen me cry in a session, until yesterday. I thought I had one other time, but still, if it's twice in a few years, that says something. I guess I have strong defenses.

Today I have no motivation, no energy, no anticipation for Shabbat. I yearn for the times when the rituals are meaningful and powerful. Today I'm afraid I'll just be going through the motions.

I'm a little anxious about going to shul tomorrow. I'm not sure if I really want to be seen right now or not. If I am, I'm not sure how I'll handle it. If I'm not, will it be a disappointment or a relief? I don't know.

A good Shabbos to all.

Rivka FAQ


I need to repeat one of my statements from my first post about who I am and why I'm blogging:

This is an anonymous blog. It needs to be such, or I would lose the ability to share my truth, whether anyone else wants to read it or not. Please do not spend time trying to figure out who I am. It will do none of us any good.

There is some information I cannot share, even though it may seem like it wouldn't risk anonymity. To those who don't know me, it wouldn't affect my anonymity at all. To those who might know me and happen across this blog, it would absolutely be a risk. And what I say on this blog about what's going on inside of me must be anonymous, especially from those who know me. The only people in the world I've told that I'm keeping this blog are my husband and my counselor. I don't plan to change that.

I know from reading other anonymous blogs, in particular ones that deal with issues so many of us face, there is a tendency to wonder, "Is she like me?"

There is also a tendency to ask, "How can I help you make this easier?"

In this post, I want to address those and related questions.

1. What kind of shul do you go to? / How observant are you?

I go to a small/medium size shul with only one rabbi in a medium/large size city. I don't want to answer the "what sort of Jew are you?" question because it could change how you see me. If I get into that, no matter who sees me, I'm either going to be too frum or too liberal. Nothing is going to change the fact that being an adult Jew with a family and an emotional disorder has some challenges.

2. If your maternal great-grandmother was Jewish, why did you have to convert?

I didn't have anything other than half a dozen stories that sounded suspiciously Jewish that my grandmother had shared years earlier about her early childhood when I approached my rabbi for conversion. All I knew was that from my earliest memories, I didn't belong. I hated church, and I was starving for a religious expression that fit. It wasn't enough to just be "spiritual." I found my way to Judaism as a teenager and never went back. A few years after my conversion, my mom finally went through some of the photographs and papers passed along when my grandmother (aleha hashalom) died. We found a series of letters between my great-grandmother and her brother from 1910-1925 that left no doubts about their being Jewish.

3. How did your mom take that? / How did this discovery change your extended family?

My mom still doesn't accept it. She says she doesn't acknowledge Jewish law. She was raised a Christian and that's all there is to it. I went through some very difficult times with extended family because they were certain I was putting my soul in jeapordy, rejecting eternal life, by embracing Judaism. I was equally certain that I was finally bringing my soul home. Due in large part to my being Jewish, I have almost no contact with my extended family. It was their choice. If I wasn't going to join them for Christmas and Easter, I wasn't invited any other time. It was worth the sacrifice. I don't regret my choices for a second.

4. If your father wasn't Jewish and your mother identifies as a Christian, how did you deal halachically with your father's death? / You've stated elsewhere that your father was cremated; how do you deal with that?

It was very, very hard. One of the hardest experiences I've ever had. And even at almost three years ago, it's still too fresh, too raw to talk about in any detail. Sitting shiva with almost no support beyond my rabbi and a few friends, no funeral, no grave to visit, and being verbally attacked in public about being Jewish when I went to his memorial service (in a church), it was a very dark time.

5. Getting back to depression, is there any chance of starting a support group with other women in your shul?

Probably not. There is a group in the community, not specific to any shul. I went once. It was very much like the situation I found at the Jewish mental health conference I wrote about here. I'm not interested in being part of a group that only wants to complain and play "my disorder is worse than yours." I want to find tangible, practical ways for people in the Jewish community to reach out and help others who need it. Some of the women in our shul are having a hard enough time trying to do the same for their children with severe developmental disorders, without much success. It can only be harder for unseen disorders whose symptoms come and go. Our shul seems to only have success accommodating people with physical disabilities, though I don't think that's through any failure on the rabbi's part. Mostly I think it's people not knowing what to do or being too caught up in their own lives to do what they can.

6. You said you have a creative pursuit that helps you cope, and that you can even sell your creations. What do you create?

I can't go into that. This is one of those things that seems innocuous but isn't. I do have a creative personality and I enjoy participating in all of the arts to the extent that I can.

7. In your post Ha'azina Tefilati, you wrote, "I found my Tehillim and opened to a random page. At least I think it was random." What do you mean you think it was random? Do you believe G-d has an active role in our lives?

I can't speak for G-d, and I can't speak for anyone else. I can only speak my own reality, as I understand it. I did open Tehillim randomly. Obviously, I was going to find a psalm. Maybe I could have opened to any one of a hundred different pages in Tehillim and found something helpful. Viewed one way, it seems almost too coincidental that I should "randomly" open to that page. Maybe I was guided to open it to that page. Maybe that was my answer. I don't know.

I do know that some of my prayers seem to have gone unanswered. Or the answer was no and I could only figure that out eventually because what I asked for never happened. I mentioned that I grew up in a violent home. I don't want to get into details because this isn't a blog about child abuse. I will say that I prayed frequently for the beatings and the cruel words to stop. They didn't until I reached my teens. On a few occasions, it could have been really severe, but things happened that I can't explain, averting a hospital stay or worse. Maybe that was a qualified yes. Maybe I was just lucky.

What I do believe, perhaps because of all of this, is that I have an obligation not only to acknowledge, appreciate, and praise G-d for what I have, but also to ask G-d for what I need. Or what I think I need. And it's my responsibility to accept the answer, whether it's in my favor or not. I think perhaps because I am constantly aware of what G-d has done for me, for others, for all of us, it is ultimately less painful for me to struggle with and accept a "no" from G-d than it is to struggle with a personal rejection from another human being. I don't know why.

People have their own fallibilities, their own problems that affect how they treat others. I'd like to think G-d is beyond all that. I'd like to think that when G-d answers yes or no or something in between, G-d has my ultimate best interests in mind, and the best interests of anyone else involved. So I guess that means yes, I do believe G-d can be involved in our lives. I guess if I believed G-d were distant and remote and our lives were only affected by the laws of nature and physics and other people, then I'd lose faith in the whole concept of prayer.

I mean, maybe prayer is for us and it doesn't matter if anyone is listening or not, but that thought just leaves me feeling so sad and alone. I need to believe G-d cares and hears and acts on G-d's own timetable and if or when G-d deems it appropriate. That doesn't make me angry. It just reminds me that I don't know everything. It isn't up to me.

8. What can we do to help?

  • Visit my blog. :)
  • Read.
  • Leave comments, preferably not anything judgmental or mean.
  • Share with others.
  • Practice sensitivity.
  • Encourage rabbis to be aware of congregants with "invisible pain."
  • Be willing to talk about emotional disorders within the Jewish community.
  • Be willing to reach out to people in your own community who might need it.
  • Brainstorm ways for your own community to keep people from falling through the cracks.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

I see we're about out of time

I see my counselor tomorrow. I've printed out most of my posts, especially from It's here and more recent, for her to read.

I don't want to go. I want to stay at home and not go anywhere. But she needs to know what's going on.

The hardest part is I have to find a way to drive there competently, pay for my session, wait in a room of strangers (it's a clinic), make all the niceties on the way to her office, then drop my defenses, bare my soul, and pick it all back up within 50 minutes so I can drive competently home.

Right. And I wonder why it's so hard to feel in these sessions instead of just thinking.

P.S. I know there are some comments I haven't yet responded to. I will. I'm just trying to get through right now. Thanks for bearing with me.

P.P.S. Responses to comments are now up. A few have gone instead into a FAQ I posted here.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Three words

"How are you?"

It's a common question. It's innocuous. Often, it's not even said and meant. It's a pleasantry.

I felt well enough this evening to drive for the first time in several days. I spent some time with people I know from shul. I wouldn't say I know them well enough to be friends, but they are people with whom I really enjoy spending time. They are funny and intelligent and considerate and quite often very wise. Someday I'd like to know them well enough to be a friend.

I kept my professional mask, my public face, on during my time with them. It was the only way I could participate. Otherwise I'd be curled up in a corner and that wouldn't be very fun for anyone. And then, as we were leaving, one woman held the door for me and a few others and I heard it.

How are you?

She was talking to me, and I froze. Three little words, and I was terrified. My mouth kicked into autopilot but my body betrayed me.

Okay, I said. But as I said it, I looked down, away, anywhere but at her, so she couldn't see that I wasn't. And then in my head, that critical voice hissed back to me, Liar! And in shul, no less. Liar liar!

I'd held it together most of the day, while my husband was at work and my child was home with me. I managed to only cry once and I kept it to under half an hour. My son asked me if I was still sad because my dad died. (My father, alav hashalom, died almost three years ago.) I said yes because he'd understand.

But I couldn't hold it back now. Three little words and they cut through all my defenses. I bit my lip, stayed in the shadows, tasted blood. Like I said before, pain helps.

And then I cried all the way home. Tears obscuring my vision as I drove in the dark, thankful it was all back roads, no drunk drivers, no children in my car.

I cried and then I distracted myself. I think I should apologize to the woman for my reaction. I wanted to be friendly, but friendly and crushing depression don't mix. Mostly, I just didn't want people to know. But my brusqueness might have hurt or offended her. I don't know.

It physically hurts to expand my awareness outside of my immediate family and my home right now. Staying in my head for now is the only place that doesn't hurt. I don't mean psychic hurt. I mean head-pounding, blinding, migraine sort of hurt.

I just need to hide. And hope that

How are you?

can't find me.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

What would I want my rabbi to know? Part 1

"I want my rabbi to feel comfortable with me, with my disorder..."

Revised 1/28/07

I want my rabbi in particular to feel comfortable enough with me, comfortable enough with my disorder, that when he makes his "rounds" at shul and asks me, how are you?, he looks to see if my words and my silent signals (body language, facial expression, eyes) match.

And if they don't, that he notes the discrepancy. Maybe, if he knows he has some time, he gently suggests I come talk to him. Maybe he simply presses for a more honest answer.

Most importantly, I want him to give me every reason to trust him.

I want to trust him. Completely. And it's not that I don't. It's that I've been hurt. And with my history, it's hard to trust in the first place. That's why I don't always give him a totally honest answer. I don't lie - I couldn't bring myself to do that. But I can say I'm just tired. Or that I'm doing better (when I'm not really yet).

Most times I see him, there are dozens of other people who want to talk to him. I don't know how many want something from him, how many are requesting or even demanding his time, his energy. I see that and I know that there are people going through far worse things than I am. Unemployment, terminal illness, recent death of a loved one. My problems seem insignificant in comparison. So I don't ask. It seems selfish when I'm not even sure what I'm asking for.

A couple of times, I've been really honest. I've said I'm having a really hard time. He says, I'll call you and we'll get together and talk about it. Sometimes that happens. Sometimes it doesn't.

Sometimes I guess it's bad timing. It's so hard to have him reach out, to say let's talk this week, and then feel the crush of disappointment when it has to be rescheduled because something else came up. Sometimes I wonder if it's worth rescheduling. Most times, I don't believe the appointment will really happen until it's already underway.

I know others (men and women) in the shul who learn with him regularly. Weekly, sometimes more than once a week, and not always in a formal class sort of environment. There's a pang of hurt, when I hear this. I wonder if my struggles were with Torah and not with my place in the shul because of my illness, would I feel I have a more legitimate reason to talk with him?

And then there's a pang of guilt. I mean, he's not my therapist. I already have one of those. Even though she's not Jewish and can't give me Jewish answers to my problems. And I know he's busy. Maybe I'm just expecting too much. Maybe I'm looking for Jewish answers in the wrong place.

And then there's a pang of anger. If I can't seek Jewish answers to a huge life-altering challenge from my rabbi, then who can I seek them from?

Once again, I wish I could just send him this post. But I can't risk the anonymity or I couldn't speak freely. If I knew he was reading this blog - and knew who I am - I couldn't write this post. I'd be too afraid of hurting him, no matter how much hurt I'm feeling.

I wish I could just schedule an appointment and tell him all this. Tell him what I need. But I don't trust that what I want, what I think I need, what I wrote at the top of this post, is appropriate. There is no solution. No magic potion. No wonder drug. No verse from Torah or even lines from a psalm that will make this all better.

I'm afraid of not getting in to see him, and at the same time, I don't even know what to ask for. Other than help. And without more detail, that request only sets everyone up for failure.

I'm slipping through the cracks and I'm allowing it to happen because anything else just hurts too much or carries too much risk.

Someday I guess I'm going to have to take that risk anyway and talk to him or show my tears in shul or somehow let it be known that I can only endure so much.

And that scares me to death.

What would I want my congregation to know? Part 1

D asked the following question earlier: what specifically do you want your rabbi or even the entire congregation to know so that your experience in shul feels safer or more comforting? And which is more important - safety or comfort?

I was just talking with my husband about opening up at shul, based on D's suggestions here. My husband said, there's not much point in opening up to some people at shul, like ... and ... because they're going to have their own agenda running.

In addition, people who know something about my struggles have been at a loss for what to say. A refuah sh'leima can seem trite, perhaps, to the person offering it, and maybe some say nothing because of that, but it actually does make a difference to me.

I've been to funerals for close relatives of friends, I've added my handful of dirt on the coffin. I've also been the mourner. Anyone who has been touched by death - pretty much all of us, I'd assume - knows that there are no magic words, nothing that eases the pain. We have our formulaic saying, "Hamakom yinachem eschem b'soch sha'ar availay Tzion v'Yerushalayim" - May G-d comfort you amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

But what does one say for someone in pain, emotional or physical, for which there is no cure and no end?

I won't try to answer that for others. I think it's individual, as unique as the person's experience. But I can try to answer it for me.

My husband's words made me realize something. The people he'd advised I not open up to, the ones with their own agendas, are trying to do one of two things: rescue people or fix people.

Opening up to them would be to invite a prescription for my ills and not much more. Some are uncomfortable around people in pain and need to make it (the pain, not the person) go away. Some need to be needed, so they seek out people to fix. Some just need to be right, to have all the answers.

None of these are particularly helpful to me. I have therapy, I have medication, I have my deep belief in and love for G-d. What I don't have enough of is supportive friends. Friends who don't try to fix or rescue. Friends who can simply listen with an understanding ear. Friends who maybe understand, maybe don't, but are honest about it and want to understand.

Some of that is my fault. My fault for not trusting people enough to be open with them. I have friends who know I have "bad days." But I've made sure they have no idea just how bad. I want to protect them from that, or preserve our friendship because I'm certain if they knew, really knew, we wouldn't be friends anymore. Yet on some level I understand that I'm shooting myself in the foot, doing this. And depriving my friends of the opportunity to be there, if they so chose.

So part of my answer to D's question is this: I don't want to be fixed or rescued. I want someone to listen, to care.

I want to be understood. I want to be seen.


I'm still here.

I guess that's good news. Tears are just below the surface, ready to fall at the slightest provocation. It's still annoying because there is nothing, nothing, wrong in my life right now. Except that I have wacky brain chemistry.

Feeling like I do now, maybe my life is something of a challenge.

For those of you new, or who only read this and the last post, there is sort of a method to the madness, if you'll pardon the pun. This most recent episode began with the post Being Vulnerable and continues with A Conversation with D After Shul, before all hell breaking loose in It's Here.

Last night, after alternating between escape into a good book and crying my eyes out, I finally took a single Tylenol PM at 1am. I had to sleep, and while I'm not in favor of using drugs unless I have to, this seemed like a "have to" situation. I fell asleep, don't remember any dreams, and woke at 11am. One of my children woke in the middle of the night with a croupy seal-bark cough, a sore throat, and a low-grade fever, so my husband decided to work from home and take care of all of us.

He is an amazing human being and I don't know what I did to deserve him.

He read "It's here" from last night. It was interesting because he said he read pain and hopelessness in the post. I didn't. I read pain and anger. Maybe it was all the references to fighting.

I'm so tired. My mind is numb. It's an effort to write anything. But at least the horiffic images of spoons becoming weapons and head-pounding and spilled blood are gone. For now.

Thanks for bearing with me.

Monday, January 22, 2007

It's here

I knew this was coming. Numb this morning, failing to dodge tears all afternoon, and now tonight it's here in all its sanity-challenging intensity.

I can't identify it, can't classify it right now. That will have to come later, when I'm not in the midst of it. Right now it's simply a struggle to stay in the moment. I have to stay grounded. I have to stay right here. Right now. Because if I don't, bad things go bump in the nighttime of my mind.

Eating helps. Drinking water. Focusing on my breathing, but that's hard to do when you're fighting a soul-wrenching wail. Writing helps a bit, but invites dips into the emotional turmoil, dips that burn like acid on the fringes of my being. Escape is the easiest: reading, TV dramas, movies without any violence. Something engaging. Sesame Street won't cut it.

And pain. Pain works the best. Did you know you can give yourself an ice cream headache in about five seconds without eating any ice cream? Just hold the container to your forehead, right between the eyebrows. If I keep it there long enough, I can temporarily blind myself from the cold. Long fingernails, dug into the fleshy centers of the palms. Anything to keep myself in the moment.

I feel like I'm crawling out of my skin, like I have to hold it in or I'm going to explode into a gazillion pieces of ravaged humanity. Why? I have no idea. It's just there, waiting.

My mind isn't racing, isn't particularly goal-oriented, isn't obsessing over anything. Not mania, that's for sure. Doesn't feel like it anyway. Feels like panic, like the sheer terror that accompanies a spiral down into one hell of a depression. I fight it. I usually lose. I'm down for the count, for a week or two anyway, and then I get to do it all over again. I hate this.

I can't be around people like this. I knew this afternoon when I wrote a comment intended to convey only sympathy and understanding, and an hour later I was convinced it might be taken as mean-spirited sarcasm. So I had to post a clarification. I'm hoping I'm the only one who read my own words wrong.

The tears, the panic, it doesn't necessarily mean catatonia is my next stop. It could just mean I hit a speed bump, some sort of emotional hiccup, and I'll be fine within a day or so. It could be, but I'm not willing to bet on it. Experience draws the road maps and mine are pretty well worn.

It's not boring, at least. I went to get a spoon for the ice cream, grabbed one out of the dairy drawer and in a flash it morphed from teaspoon to grapefruit spoon, sharp and serrated, ready and eager to cut into soft, wet pulp. Like my forearm. I had visions of stabbing myself with it, all wet and gory, and it scared the crap out of me. I had to force myself to look at it, at how it really was, the rounded edges, a harmless, not-a-weapon teaspoon.

Why am I posting this now? I've never before tried to explain what I'm feeling while in the middle of it. The images that hit me, the screaming inside that makes me want to slam my forehead against a wall just to experience that stunned oblivion, just to subdue it for a few minutes.

I won't. That would be a hell of a bruise to explain away. Pardon my language. When I get like this, it's all raw and open and I don't have the censors to keep things neat and clean and tidy.

The worst part is, I'm in it alone. I'm in house full of people and I'm alone. I can't drag anyone in here with me, not that I'd want to subject them to this, and no one else understands. No one understands that I can't control this thing. It's just part of me and it comes from some place so deep and primal that it's all pure emotional force.

Meanwhile, life goes on for everyone else. Work, school, phone calls, commitments, obligations. The world doesn't care that I've temporarily checked out for an all-expenses-paid trip to gehinom and my return ticket is as yet undated.

I can't think about how - or if - I'm going to get to sleep tonight, or how I'll feel tomorrow. It's too frightening, too close to feeling like I can't cope and I'll fall apart anyway. I have to stay in the moment. Right here. Right now. Sit on my hands if I have to and take each minute, each second as it comes.

The only monster to fight is within, and the best strategy I've found so far, the least injurious, is to force calm. Calm breaths, relaxed muscles, stay in the moment. Right now I'm still here, still hanging on by a thread. A minute from now, an hour, a day, who knows? But I'm here right now. Breathing in, breathing out. Check the major muscles, relax them again. And again. Breathe in, breathe out. In the moment.

Now's the time. Now's the time for my blog title to mean something. G-d, please hear my prayer. What are the lines from the psalm again? "My heart is sorely pained within me; and the terrors of death are fallen upon me. Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror has overwhelmed me."

Yeah. Those. Sounds about right. I could use those dove wings anytime now. Please?

Anonymity for all

Today probably isn't a good day to make any real decisions. I've spent half the day in tears, working through some long-buried stuff, and I know I'm in that place of things not going in right that I'd talked a bit about before.

I've been thinking about how my comments don't allow for any anonymous comments. I did that initially because I was afraid of anonymous commenters saying really cruel or insulting things. I see that on other blogs, where people seem to think that it's okay to be insulting and disrespectful or even to rip someone else to shreds because they're anonymous and it's easier to tear someone down from behind a computer screen than it would be in real life.

Maybe because of the depression, maybe just because I'm one of those sensitive souls, I don't have that thick skin that others do. So I chose to prohibit anonymous comments. It won't eliminate the threat, but at least commenters would need a profile, if not their own blog. It seemed to be a bit of protection.

But then I thought that there might be people like me, who struggle with the same issues, but don't want to "come out" on their own blog or elsewhere, and might comment positively or share their own experiences if they could be anonymous.

So now I'm not sure what to do. My gut says to keep it as it is for the protective aspect. My mind wonders if I'm missing out on an opportunity to connect.

And so few posts have comments anyway, that I'm not sure it would make a difference.


A conversation with D after shul

I told D that when I went to shul this past Shabbat, I thought about the question D had asked earlier, what would I want my rabbi, my congregation to know about my experience. I thought about safety and comfort. I kept all that in mind as I wandered among people during the kiddush luncheon after shul.

A few people said hi or wished me a Gut Shabbos or Shabbat Shalom. I returned their greetings. Only one person asked me how I was, though I usually assume most people don't really want to know. She might have, but I just said I was tired and asked about her. D makes me laugh when asking how I am and I say fine and then D says, that's nice, now tell me how you're really doing.

One woman shared with me a very moving story about her son returning to Judaism after a ten-year absence and how she felt about it. Another woman shared her frustration over writing a doctoral thesis. Yet another expressed disappointment over the tendency of others to gripe about a situation but never do anything to change it, or even to brainstorm possible solutions.

Over the course of an hour, I must have talked to half a dozen people, all of whom shared some tension in their lives, and it finally hit me. I'm very good, maybe too good, at deflecting attention off of me and onto the person I'm talking to. And people love to talk about themselves. We all do, for the most part.

Please don't get me wrong: I love to hear people share what they feel safe sharing about their lives. I'm endlessly intrigued by other people's careers and motivations and what brings them to make the choices they make in life. I know I'm a student of humanity and have been since I was a child. But what hit me was that what I was giving to others is what I wanted for myself.

I wanted someone to want to hear what was going on in my life as much as I wanted to hear them share. Safety and comfort are important, yes, but what I felt I was lacking at shul was someone who cared. And maybe people do, but I'm not getting that message.

I fear that if I came out and publicly admitted my emotional struggles, they'd see it as a ploy for attention, or making mountains out of molehills, or worse, they'd avoid or disregard me. On a few rare occasions, when I thought it was safe, I did disclose my disorder. None, not a single time, did it result in any sort of sensitivity. When I explained to one woman I had considered a friend how the anxiety involved makes me terrified - to the point of severe panic attacks - of making cold calls to solicit donations or volunteers and I asked to help in some other way, she simply dropped me from the committee. She hasn't talked to me since, and that was over a year ago.

It hurts. It hurts to be cast aside because of my limitations. I have seen this happen to others, and it is a sad reality in our shul. It hurts to think that I'm valued only for my contributions, financial or otherwise. I have seen this happen to others as well, some of whom have left the shul as a result. It is another sad reality. And it's devastating to think that in a real crisis, no one from the shul would be there for me.

I know that every time the words always, never, or no one enter my thinking, it's not true. Like Avraham Avinu arguing for the ten righteous in Sodom (not that I'm implying shul is anything like Sodom-it's not!), I am sure there are, if not fifty, at least ten people in the shul who would care. I just don't know how to find them.

When I told D all this, D told me the following (paraphrased, since I wasn't taking notes during our conversation):

They're not mind-readers, Rivka. When you give them a pat answer to their "How are you?" you may be telling them what they want to hear, but you may also be telling them that you don't want to talk about yourself. And when you keep the conversation focused on them, that can also be a sign not to pursue how you're really doing.

Or, I argued, they're just as happy to talk about themselves and even if I took the opportunity to say I'm having a really bad day, they'd give me a patronizing oh so sorry and go right back to talking about themselves. That's not a fear - that's actually happened. Repeatedly.

It comes down to what you want from the conversation, from that person. Is it an appropriate relationship to share something personal? If so, is it an appropriate time? Place? If your answers are all yes, then sometimes the initiation has to be up to you. You have to let them know that you need something more than small talk. And you need to be aware that they have to be in a place to give that to you, as well.

What about yesterday at shul?

From everything you've said, Rivka, you might as well have had a neon sign above your head flashing DON'T ASK ME ABOUT ME. You didn't give anyone an opportunity, much less an opening. If you want someone to come in and sit down and have a real conversation with you, not just idle chat, you have to at least unlock the door.

I don't know how to do that.

That's why you have therapy. Rivka, we've discussed and learned Torah for well over two decades. When you want to engage the texts, engage G-d, what does it start with? Always?

A question.

Change it from a noun into a verb. What do you have to do?

I have to ask.

Exactly. It's no different here. You don't go around shul looking for people who appear to be in distress so you can break down their personal barriers and drag the truth of what they're feeling out of them. But if they ask, you'd be there if you can. Put yourself in their place. If you were talking to someone who was intentionally aloof, would you really violate that in case, deep down, they wanted someone to care? Or would you respect their signals and give them their space?

Okay, I get it.

So we're back to my question. In order to unlock that door and invite someone in to have a real conversation with you, what do you need to feel safe, or to feel comfortable? What do they need to know before coming through that door?

(If I haven't mentioned it before, D is quite fond of metaphors.) I don't know.

Think about that. Maybe that's the key to unlocking the door.

We talked some more, but D's perspective--as usual--helped. Sometimes I think one of the major symptoms of depression is that I get too stuck in a perspective that's flawed. And maybe that's why my creative pursuits are so helpful, because they force me to think outside of my own perspective.

Meanwhile, I guess I still have questions to answer.

Being vulnerable

My sleep has been all messed up, not getting to sleep Saturday night until 4:45am. I guess that makes it Sunday morning. I was up at 9am. Last night I finally fell asleep just after midnight and was able to sleep until 8:30 this morning, but I feel horrible, like my body is lead and not flesh.

I talked with my friend D last night. More on that in a separate post. D has been a trusted friend since I was a child. How we've maintained a friendship that's lasted through school and adolescence and college and marriage, I'm not sure, but I'm grateful for it. D read my blog since we last talked and reminded me that I shouldn't neglect myself here in my pursuit of helping others understand.

It's easy for me to fall into a teaching mode about everything I've learned over the past 20+ years about depression and the strong relationship between religiosity/spirituality and mental health. It's much harder to make the conscious choice to type how I really feel, to allow myself to be vulnerable, even electronically.

Sometimes it's like admitting failure. I can't keep my house clean, can't give my children the experiences I think I should, can't hold down a job outside the home. In a society that values self-sufficiency, it is a huge blow to my self image.

And sometimes I do keep the house spotless, take the kids on fun excursions without another adult present, make a sale and bring in some money for the family. But sometimes isn't enough when I know that lurking around the next corner is a day or a week or a month where the best I can expect of myself is to get up and get dressed.

I do work in a creative field and I've found some small success selling the product I create. It helps to have that outlet, to know that people appreciate what I pour my soul into. Of course, criticism can cut just as deeply, and it takes a supreme act of self talk to remind myself that this is an opportunity to make it better next time. Either that or the critic had no idea what he or she was talking about.

But without this outlet, without this purpose, I don't know what I'd do. I'd be lost.

It could be worse

A really funny Haveil Havalim is up. I'm not in it; I guess I didn't really have anything worth submitting last week. But I read it and laughed because it reminded me that my life could, if you'll pardon the language, really suck.

I could be single and dealing with my disorder. Alone, G-d forbid. Or a single parent. I can't even imagine how hard it would be to try and date while struggling with this. Speed dating while depressed and anxious? Yeesh.

And I'm sure there are those in exactly that position. I don't know how they do it. They have my admiration.

It makes me feel so very blessed to have my husband in my life. Baruch Hashem a million times over.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Money is the root of all anxiety

In my all too rare barely manic episodes, I have to be very careful about money. It ceases to mean anything to me and if I'm not vigilant, I can get in a lot of financial trouble. Three main things happen when I'm what's called hypomanic (a low level mania): I don't sleep much, I develop distinct obsessive/compulsive tendencies, and I go shopping.

Now it's funny, but one of my worst episodes involved a clock radio. I wanted to get a new clock radio for my husband. His had broken and he relied on his watch alarm to wake up in time for work, which didn't always succeed. The new clock radio needed a digital display that did not glow red, because red glowing things in the dark freaks me out. Guess how many that eliminated? Bear in mind this was before Internet shopping. I had to go out to the store and physically look at all the clock radios. On a sane day, I would have chosen a store with a good selection, picked out the best for my needs, and gone home. But it wasn't a sane day.

So, my mind buzzing and whirling from lack of sleep and whatever else goes on when I'm manic, I got out the telephone book and made a list of every electronics store in the city. I had about two dozen stores listed. Then I organized them so that I could visit one after the other in a largish circle rather than driving haphazardly around. I started this at 7:00am and timed my departure from my home so that I would arrive at the first store when they opened at 9:00am. I had a spreadsheet I'd drawn by hand (and ruler - to get the lines straight because what good is a spreadsheet with crooked lines?) so I could "comparison shop."

Yes, that's right. I was going to visit every single store and evaluate all of the clock radios and once I'd seen every available one, I'd choose the best and go back and get it.

Do you have any idea how long it takes to visit two dozen electronics stores over a ten-mile radius? I finished, exhausted, well after dinner. I had ruled out every clock radio I'd seen for one reason or another. But I did come home with a new answering machine, a new telephone, and a really nice mini-cassette recorder. None of which we needed, and none of which we could afford.

I love the energy I have when I'm hypomanic; I hate the behaviors. And I use the word hate sparingly and purposefully.

On the flip side, when I'm anxious or depressed, I'm constantly stressing about money. Constantly stressing that we never have enough. I know probably all of you stress about money too, but I really think this is different. At the first sign that we might not have quite enough money to meet our financial obligations, I am immediately certain that if we spent less on food, we'd come out ahead, or at least break even. So I will solve that problem by not eating. If I don't eat, that's one less person to feed and that much more money for our other commitments.

I've been doing this for over twenty years and I can't stop. As a teenager, when my depressions first started and were severe, I had to be force-fed because I'd lost 25 pounds in two weeks, dropping me to 80 lbs. My relationship with food is completely messed up, because it's both a luxury (when I think I can afford it) and a consolation (when I'm so tired and depressed and I detest myself anyway so who cares if I eat an entire pint of ice cream?).

The fear of not having enough money, even before I sit down and figure out the numbers, is enough to drive me to panicked tears, feeling overwhelmed and hopeless and looking for any reason - any reason at all - to punish myself for not making sure we had enough.

My youngest (so far) is ready for preschool. More than that, he needs the socialization and physical and mental stimulation preschool can give him that I simply can't at home. During the day, it's just the two of us. We looked into preschool and as anyone who's sent a child to preschool lately knows, it's expensive. Even the most accommodating cheders are still not free and I wouldn't want a charity education even if it were available because, in part, I know there are others who need it even more than we do.

We will work the numbers and try to make it fit and meanwhile I will try to do everything I can to not panic or starve myself or bawl my eyes out unnecessarily. It is hard. It's hard for anyone; it's a real feat when wacky brain chemistry turns a financial challenge into a feast or famine, walking that thin line between inner peace and inner punishment.

I try to remind myself of the hopes, the promises. I try to remember Yaakov avinu, whose story strikes such a chord in me. He left home under less than desirable relations with his family (like me), and years later found love, wealth, and reconciliation. His encounter with and promise from G-d is profound, and his realization that G-d is here and I didn't know it - these at least open the door to me for accepting that all will be okay, if only I let it.

Does trust negate fear? Does belief overcome doubt? Can reliance upon G-d eliminate so much dependence on money in today's world?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A single step

Today is one of those days it was hard to get out of bed. All of my individual depression indicators are present: decreased appetite, extreme lethargy, physical sense of heaviness, feeling overwhelmed by even the smallest tasks, severe anxiety especially in social situations and very especially on the telephone, overpowering need to isolate (perhaps related to the anxiety), lack of interest in anything I normally enjoy except forms of escape (reading, television, movies, sleep).

Since late last week, I've been taking my medication daily rather than the usual every-other-day but it typically takes a week before I start to notice a difference. I guess that means I'm almost out of this. I hope.

I talked last week with my counselor about medication. She was concerned because I was so concerned about increasing them to every day. Both she and my doctor have said that what I'm doing is nothing to be concerned about, and in fact demonstrates responsibility for dealing with my illness and appropriate treatment protocol. Were I to be haphazard in my dosing or constantly increasing, there would be concern. But both want me to ease up on myself and not worry about the handful of times I need to increase from alternating days to daily for a week or two.

I explained to my counselor that it's not that easy. I was raised with that stoic, self-sufficient, pull yourself up by your bootstraps mentality. To rely on medication is tantamount to admitting some life failure, even though I know that without the medication I will likely wind up hospitalized again and it is - and must become - a part of my life. It is hard to see my emotional illness on the same par with diabetes or arthritis or hypertension or any other physical illness that requires daily medication. It is the hiddenness of the illness and accompanying stigma that make it so different from many physical challenges, though I know it was not long ago that diabetes and epilepsy and a plethora of other clearly medical illnesses were subject to a similar stigma or worse.

Last night I barely slept even though sleep was all I wanted to do. I don't think it's from the medication. My mind wasn't racing or spinning or doing much of anything other than ruminating on things I'd rather not think about. Bad childhood memories, the deaths of family and friends, fears every mother has for her children, guilt that I'm not the mother I think I should be for them, guilt that I'm not the wife I think I should be for my husband.

Yesterday I had the insane urge to send a link to this blog to my rabbi. He would understand, I thought. People dealing daily with emotional challenges are, fortunately or unfortunately, not unknown to him. And while there is a part of me that wants him to know some of the things I write about in this blog, he cannot know it's me. The only way I can continue to write is if I feel some sense of safety that no one knows who I am. Or if they suspect or have figured it out despite my best efforts, they will remain silent about my identity.

I've talked with my friend D - whom I might write about more later - once since starting this blog. Yesterday, in fact. D, unfortunately for me, lives far enough away that we rarely see each other, but we talk regularly. Sometimes several times a week and sometimes not for a few months at a time. My husband knows about D and encourages this friendship.

Aside from suggesting (somewhat in jest, I think) that I work on saying more in fewer words, D asked me to address the question, what specifically would I want my rabbi or even the entire congregation to know so that my experience in shul feels safer or more comforting? And, D added, which is more important - safety or comfort?

I don't know yet, but they are good questions and I'll work on answering them. Safety and comfort both I find in the presence of G-d, but sometimes that feels elusive and even when it's not the community is still paramount to me as it should be.

So I will work on answering those questions. Maybe that will be my next post.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The end of laughter

Nice depressing title, isn't it? I am actually joking, though.

Thanks to NewsGuy at's JBlog Central my blog's name was changed from Ha to Ha'azina Tefilati.

Not much else to say right now, I guess.

I'm so vain, I probably think this blog is about me

The title is my attempt at humor tonight. I just got done adding my blog to's JBlog Central and I didn't realize it wouldn't accept the apostrophe in Ha'azina so it got listed as - are you ready?


It seems like that must be some sort of cosmic joke. Here is a blog that has some raw and painful entries and it's listed like it's about laughter. I am trying to change it and give it the angst it deserves. (another attempt at humor)

I'm having a hard time understanding how that whole JBlog Central thing works and it gave me a headache.

A much easier to understand and easier to navigate J-blog collection is this week's Haveil Havalim, and SoccerDad very generously not only linked to me, but added information about King Saul's battle with depression and King David's music and Psalms (including the one for which I named this blog) being helpful to him (King Saul), too. I guess I'm in good company. Thank you, SoccerDad.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

What's in a Name?

I guess I'm wordy tonight.

As a means of dealing with my sometimes unstable emotions, my past, and all the resulting issues, I'm in therapy. I have been for quite some time, though not all with the same provider. I've had bad ones and awesome ones, men (very uncomfortable for me) and women, young and seasoned, status-oriented and altruistic. My current counselor is an open-minded religious Christian, in addition to being a licensed, degreed professional. It's interesting that her not being Jewish helps me figure out exactly where I stand in my own religious observance. It makes me stronger as a Jew.

But that's not what I wanted to write about. I wanted to write about why I call her a counselor. It's because of something I saw the last time I wrote down in a paper journal about seeing someone for psychotherapy. I was writing and crying and dripping tears on the paper and as I was trying not to rip the damp paper but write around it, therapist became the rapist. Even when I went back to the overly syllabic psychotherapist, it became psycho the rapist. And then I couldn't write that anymore. So I went with counselor. Or "doctor" when I'm talking and I don't want anyone to know what I'm doing or where I'm going.

This can't be easy for any professional who provides therapy to read or hear, and maybe they've already seen or heard this before and it hurt or angered or irritated them. I certainly don't think the overwhelming majority of therapists are anything but decent, professional, well-trained, compassionate people.

I just can't write that word anymore.


That last post was really long. My apologies. I know this isn't exactly the most fun blog to read, and long posts make it even less appealing. So as a courtesy to my readers (and thank you for reading!), you can skip to the most important part of that post.

Also, I'm just going to put it here for now as a reminder... I feel the need to explain a little bit about medication and something my counselor told me a few days ago related to meds that surprised me. So I will write on that shortly.

Crossed Wires

There's a saying I heard in school a long time ago, that communication isn't what you say, it's what your listener understands. Normally, I guess that's pretty true. But all the best advice from communications experts flies out the window when it comes to communication through the filter of depression.

My husband and I recently hosted a birthday party for one of our children. We encouraged the parents to drop their children off for two and a half hours during the party, which included a child-friendly kosher dairy dinner. Baruch Hashem, I was in a good enough place to remain calm and engaging while entertaining and feeding thirteen children ages three to six.

One mom remained with her child for a while because he was feeling a little unsure about the whole situation. As one would expect, there were some rowdy kids and some calm, polite kids. The mom who remained came over at one point when I started serving dinner and commented that she was impressed with how I dealt with so many children. I was admittedly pleased that she thought so. Her comment eased any worries I had about my losing control of the party.

I finished making sure all the children had enough to eat and drink, which meant multiple trips into the kitchen where my husband was in charge of cooking. A few of the kids had finished eating early and had gone to my birthday child's room to play until the others were done. It was a little noisy, but not excessively so (I didn't think) and everyone was playing nicely together.

At that point, the one mom's child "gave her permission" to leave until pickup time. She came over and said to me that where she's from, parents don't leave the children, and the children are consequently much better behaved. I immediately thought she meant me. I thought she meant that she disapproved of my leaving the children for a minute or two in order to get more plates and drinks. I thought she disapproved of the children who'd left and were playing noisily in the bedroom.

I didn't know how to take that, and I made some vague sympathetic agreeing noises and accompanying expression. But inside I was waging a war with myself. I knew I was doing the best I could, that if I didn't leave the room to get food and drink, the children would have gone hungry, which wasn't an option. But maybe I had failed to provide adequate supervision. Maybe, even with the best of intentions, I had done something very wrong.

It wasn't until the next day that I finally figured out she probably meant the other parents, who had dropped their children off and quickly disappeared. I let myself off the hook. The parents appreciated an evening to themselves, the children had fun, no one was in tears at any point, and my birthday child was happy with the evening.

This particular situation ended well, but I'm using it as an example. The pervasive fear that we're just not measuring up, that we'll never be good enough, that not only what we do but the very nature of who we are is wrong, these are all common feelings among those with depression. They're fears I fight frequently. And that's on a good day.

On a bad day, it's not only a failure to correctly understand what someone is telling me, but what I hear is twisted and warped through the lens of my depression so that I understand it in the worst possible way.

Please understand, I don't do this consciously or on purpose. If there was a way to not feel this way, believe me, I would. I talk about this to my counselor and usually to my husband, and I try as hard as I can to use "self talk" and back out of the emotions into a rational place. I try to avoid social situations when I know I'm in a vulnerable space, to minimize this happening in public. I don't always have a choice.

One of the worst times in recent memory was a Sunday brunch at shul, followed by a lecture I really wanted to hear on women and Talmud. Those of you with small children know that leaving the house by a certain time is not always easy. We were one of the later families to arrive; most had already found spaces at the tables and were serving themselves from the buffet-style dairy brunch. There were four of us - two adults and two children. Only a few of the tables were completely full. Most had some empty chairs.

We wandered among the partially full tables, hoping to sit with someone. The only other choice was to go to an empty table and sit by ourselves. At one table, there were four empty chairs with no obvious signs that they were taken. But as we approached the empty chairs, one of the women sitting there looked at me, not entirely friendly, and said, these seats are saved. At another table there were three empty chairs and room, if they moved just a few inches, to add a fourth, especially for a small child. I asked if we could join them and they said no, they were holding two of the chairs for someone who hadn't arrived yet but might, before the morning was over.

At each table we went to, they turned us away. Not enough room, chairs reserved for someone not yet present, and in one horribly painful instance, those present at one table were looking around for a fourth chair to add for us when they spotted another family - of four - and waved that family over, encouraging them to sit at that table. One of the women said to me, sorry you'll have to find another place.

In my vulnerable, already depressed state (though I was fighting with everything I had not to show it), the message was clear: we don't want you.

We don't want you translated in my chemically imbalanced brain into you're not worth it, which in turn became my life isn't worth living.

I ran from the room and made a beeline for the restroom. Why I always choose the restroom to do my crying, I don't know. But I sobbed in the stall, carefully listening in case anyone came in, because if they did, I'd have to be totally silent so they'd never suspect.

I didn't want anyone to know how I felt. I didn't want their pity. I didn't want to be invited to sit with someone because they felt sorry for me or felt guilty. I wanted to be invited because they enjoyed my wit or my perspective or wanted to get to know me. I wanted to be invited because I had something to offer to the table conversation. Instead, what I heard was that I had nothing worth offering.

In the back of my mind, in the small, rational, sane place, I was hurt and I was angry, especially at that last table. I thought it was rude and very un-Jewish. That small part of my mind wanted people to know how I felt, because maybe, just maybe, they'd figure out that their actions and words were hurtful, and no one else would have to be turned away the way I was. But I couldn't get past the overwhelming feelings of rejection, and the certainty that I was rejected because of who I am, or conversely, who I am not.

My brain is quick with the reasons why I'm unworthy, especially in shul situations.

  • I'm not a man
  • I'm not rich
  • I'm not nationally famous
  • I don't have a professional degree
  • I converted (most don't know about my convoluted family history and my maternal grandmother being born and raised Jewish)
  • I'm me

Sobbing in the restroom, the feelings were overwhelming. No matter what wisdom that small rational part of my brain had, it couldn't break through the feelings. I couldn't talk myself out of it. The pain was so deep and so all-encompassing that I honestly thought it would kill me. I needed to let it out, to give some physical or visual representation to what I felt inside, yet I couldn't show my tears.

So I did the only thing I knew worked: I bit off part of my fingernail to create a ragged edge and I cut myself. I dreamed of deep cuts, of all the pain flowing out of me in a cascade of blood. I understood, not for the first time, how people can be in so much emotional pain that they lose their connection with G-d and the world and commit suicide. I wasn't quite to that point, but gouging myself with a jagged fingernail couldn't be any more acceptable even if it made me feel better.

Fortunately in my mind, perhaps unfortunately under the circumstances, I wore long sleeves so no one saw the cuts. I barely drew blood (it's hard with a fingernail), but it was enough to allow me to go back to the room and sit alone with my family at a table where no one else joined us the entire morning. A couple of people came by and greeted us with that "Hi how are you?" where you know they don't really want an answer.

No one saw. No one knew. No one suspected, or if they did, they never said anything that got back to me.

Even the rabbi didn't seem to notice, despite the fact that he made eye contact and I knew my eyes were still red and puffy even after pressing cold paper towels to them in the restroom.

I got what I wanted. I was successful hiding it all, the hurt, the anger, the cuts, the feelings of worthlessness. I was convinced that morning that I could disappear from the face of the earth and no one aside from my husband and children would notice. Or if they noticed, they wouldn't care.

It took me two weeks to come out of that depression. I won't say that it was caused by the rejections at brunch because that's simply not true. But those rejections didn't help matters, and may have sped up or made worse an already bad situation.

In the months after, I tried wherever appropriate to stress the importance of welcoming others, not only strangers but even those whom we know. I tried to stress the importance of being attentive to each other, of not just hearing but really listening to each other. I tried to explain that making room, or not, at a table during a meal at shul - something not earth-shattering - could make a difference in someone's life. I tried to explain it all without disclosing my own pain.

I don't know if any of it was heard, or if it made any difference. I still don't to this day know how much of that morning's experience could have been avoided by one compassionate table. I know that similar things have happened to me and others at shul since that day. I know that I'm very sensitive to people sitting alone at a table, especially if they'd rather not be alone. I know that the world is largely made up of fend-for-yourself people who are only looking out for #1 and would ignorantly tell me to quit being so sensitive and buck up and stop whining.

Sometimes my depression makes me more sensitive to others in pain. Sometimes it's a curse and can turn even the most enjoyable social event into an ugly and painful experience.

I don't know how to tell people that sometimes our wires get crossed and what they meant to say turns into something completely different in my head. I don't know how to change it. And I don't know how to stop the tears right now.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

I have confidence in something... maybe?

I just got my blog listed with some of the J-blog aggregators and was looking at what others are posting. There's always a part of me wondering if someone might dare post the same sort of thing, how they're really feeling on the inside, behind the safety of presumed anonymity and a computer screen.

And then this post caught my eye. My first thought was, How funny! - I wonder if anyone will do it?

My second thought was, I wish I could do something like that. No, I take that back. I wish I could do something like that and have people do it.

But I'm convinced, without ever having tried, that no one would. Isn't that sad? Because already my self-worth is tied up in how many visitors I have (20 at last count) or how many comments I have (none as of this writing) or how many people might link to me, were I to try something funny and confident and utterly not tied to self-worth.

My mind says my blog has only been up for two days, and it takes time to build readers. My mind says not everyone is interested in reading what it's like to live as a Jew with a mental illness (Oy I HATE that term!). My mind reminds me that I'm keeping this blog for me, not for readers, and though readers and support would be nice, they're not necessary.

My heart, on the other hand, feels like trying the same thing would be a setup for failure, a way to "prove" (though there's no proof actually involved) to myself that all my worst thoughts are true.

I so admire people who can do something confident and funny like this and who get a response and it still doesn't affect their sense of who they are. I'd like to have that kind of confidence. Until then, I'm left with, as the song goes, having confidence in sunshine, confidence in rain, confidence that spring will come again, and we'll work on the me part.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Sometimes it's safer in the closet

I went to a Jewish mental health conference a while ago, hoping to find... something.

I did find something. I found professionals who wanted to provide education and information to the Jewish community, especially that the Jewish community is not immune to mental illness, and in fact has an incidence of depression that equals and sometimes exceeds that of the general population, made all the more problematic when rabbis refuse to acknowledge depression as a real problem.

I also found family members and friends of people with depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, and schizophrenia looking for information and resources.

And I found people who were themselves dealing with depression and bipolar and anxiety and a host of other problems.

I had so wanted to be able to come clean, to come out, to reveal what I've hidden behind my "professional" mask. I wanted to say yes, I have screwy brain chemistry too.

I wanted to belong. Until I saw who I would be "belonging" to.

I'm sure these were nice folks. I really want to believe they're nice folks. But my experience during the few hours I was there was anything but nice. They were whiny and clingy and needy and complained about providers and meds and side effects and how the government has thrown them away. They were so negative and everywhere they turned, they were desperate for some unsuspecting codependent caretaker to be their friend.

Not only did I want nothing to do with that, I never wanted to be perceived that way. I shored up my mask, my competent front that I show the world, and I pretended I had nothing in common with them at all.

And then I figured I could never talk to anyone about how I felt, especially when I was feeling low, for fear I'd become one of them.

It makes me want to take this blog down, for fear I'm spreading negativity throughout the blogosphere. I know that I don't have to be happy all the time, but I don't want to be down all the time either. And I don't want to drive people away with my feelings the way these other folks created an environment I didn't want to be in.

My answer so far has been to share my feelings with my husband and my counselor. And now, my blog. To the rest of the world, I'm intelligent and competent and respectful and considerate and empathetic and all those things that are moral and valued and not associated with depression. Were you to meet me in real life, you would probably never know the pain I hide.

Because sometimes it's just safer that way.

Borei Cafe

Shouldn't there be a special b'racha just for coffee? It can do such wonders, bringing us from sleep into wakefulness, darkness into light, oblivion into coherence.

Today's a better day than yesterday. At least I'm up and awake (though on my third cup of coffee). And my youngest has a play date for tomorrow.

I'm trying hard not to think about the guilt. I was in bad enough shape yesterday that my husband decided to stay home from work. He doesn't stay home often, but when he does I feel so incredibly guilty. He's had jobs before where his bosses were not particularly family-friendly and they didn't care that he took time off to visit me in the hospital or take me to the doctor when I couldn't drive. Baruch HaShem that's not the case with the job he's had the past three years. As long as he gets his work done and makes it to required meetings, he has some leeway. But there's still the fear that I'm going to be at the mercy (or lack thereof) of my sometimes unstable emotions and that's the day his work will be less than undertsanding, G-d forbid.

He assures me everything is fine and if it wasn't, he'd tell me and we'd find another way to deal with those bad days. I have some friends, but few who really know how bad this can get. It's not a part of me that I want to share, and I don't ever want to feel like they're friends out of pity or sympathy. And I fear that if I relied on my friends when things got this bad, I'd lose them as friends. Helping a friend through a difficult pregnancy or post-partum depression or an acute illness is one thing, but chronic depression that comes and goes and is lifelong? How can that not tax a friendship?

From time to time I've thought about talking to my rabbi about this, but then I think, "What's the point? He can't do anything about it." There's no fix for this, and no end in sight. So why waste his time that could be better spent helping someone who really needs it?

Some other time I'll write more about something our shul tried to do a while ago. They wanted to make the shul more accessible to people with disabilities, and not just physical disabilities like use of a wheelchair or vision and auditory challenges. I wanted to speak up about people who have emotional disabilities, who need a little extra sensitivity, a little extra reaching out. But I couldn't find the words, and it seemed redundant anyway. Shouldn't we be reaching out with sensitivity to everyone?

But it hasn't happened and there are times I go to shul and feel like I haven't connected with anyone, that no one - the rabbi included - has seen the tears just beneath the surface, pain I can't share because there's no event, no cause. It's just my brain chemistry again.

I feel like I need to find a way to deal with this myself, without anyone's help. Except maybe my coffee.

Baruch HaShem for coffee.

To P or not to P

When you're dealing with depression (or sleep deprivation - BTDT too), even little questions become huge.

Tonight's big question: do I take my meds (Prozac) or not?

The uncomplicated answer is a big, fat DUH!

But my case is complicated. Three years of medication management has demonstrated beyond a doubt that I function best on what the experts call a "sub-clinical dose." That is, a lower dose than doctors would normally prescribe, probably because I'm so sensitive to medication.

Prozac comes in 10mg pills. That's the smallest dosage made. My "therapeutic dose" (where I function best) is generally at 5mg per day. Due to all sorts of logistical reasons that would bore you to tears, two years ago we decided that I'd be best served by taking one 10mg pill every other day.

But sometimes, for reasons that are unclear, I need a bit of a boost, and I was given the go-ahead to take one 10mg pill every day for up to two weeks, then bring it back down to every other day.

I can't stay at 10mg/day for too long or it interrupts my sleep and I run a greater risk of triggering a manic episode.

Don't get me wrong. I love my "normal" manic episodes. I feel good, I'm cheery and happy and I get a lot done. I'm the best volunteer anyone has ever seen! But if it goes too far, it can be detrimental, and I don't want to go there.

I'm in one of those slumps now, and so I wonder, do I bump it up for a week or not? I'm already having problems sleeping, not getting to sleep until 3 or 4 in the morning, and having to get up with my children, one of whom is too young for school.

Even now, thinking about tomorrow, I'm feeling overwhelmed, and I don't have to be anywhere except home! Yet dealing with e-mail that needs answering and planning a child's birthday party and some of the other volunteer activities I've taken on... they're just so hugely overwhelming that all I want to do is curl up in bed and cry.

So I guess the answer is to P after all.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

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Ha'azina Tefilati

I was talking with D, a dear friend of mine, about depression, about how alone I felt, about how friendships and community and love seemed so very far away. I was already doing the other things D suggested--talking with my husband, seeing a therapist, taking my antidepressants regularly--and I said that it was so difficult to maintain my connection to Judaism, to G-d, to everything that flowed from that, when I was in the midst of this pain.

I mean, things in my life are actually going really well. Better than they have in quite some time. There's no reason for me to feel the way that I do, except that I do feel the way that I do. I feel like there's been a death in the family and I can't stop mourning. I feel like everything I love is on the verge of total disaster, even when it's not.

D has always had a penchant for returning to the text and encouraged me to do so again. I don't think there's a whole lot written about depression in Torah, I said. D disagreed, and suggested I take a closer look at Tehillim--Psalms. If ever there was a collection of writings about pain and aloneness, D said, it would be Tehillim. I found my tiny book of Tehillim and opened to a random page.

At least I think it was random. It hit me so strongly that I was immediately in tears. Someone did know how I felt! And later, when D suggested an anonymous blog since I have rarely been able to maintain an offline written journal, this Psalm--Psalm 55:2-7--seemed the obvious place to start.

It is from this dark depression that this blog name sprang:

ב הַאֲזִינָה אֱלֹהִים, תְּפִלָּתִי; וְאַל-תִּתְעַלַּם, מִתְּחִנָּתִי.
ג הַקְשִׁיבָה לִּי וַעֲנֵנִי; אָרִיד בְּשִׂיחִי וְאָהִימָה.
ד מִקּוֹל אוֹיֵב--מִפְּנֵי, עָקַת רָשָׁע: כִּי-יָמִיטוּ עָלַי אָוֶן, וּבְאַף יִשְׂטְמוּנִי.
ה לִבִּי, יָחִיל בְּקִרְבִּי; וְאֵימוֹת מָוֶת, נָפְלוּ עָלָי.
ו יִרְאָה וָרַעַד, יָבֹא בִי; וַתְּכַסֵּנִי, פַּלָּצוּת.
ז וָאֹמַר--מִי-יִתֶּן-לִי אֵבֶר, כַּיּוֹנָה: אָעוּפָה וְאֶשְׁכֹּנָה.

2 Give ear, O G-d, to my prayer; and hide not Thyself from my supplication.
3 Attend unto me, and hear me; I am distraught in my complaint, and will moan;
4 Because of the voice of the enemy, because of the oppression of the wicked; for they cast mischief upon me, and in anger they persecute me.
5 My heart is sorely pained within me; and the terrors of death are fallen upon me.
6 Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror has overwhelmed me.
7 And I said: 'Oh that I had wings like a dove! then would I fly away, and be at rest.