Thursday, August 16, 2007

Done and yet just beginning

I had my meeting with my rabbi. It was very good. He will help me.

He said this was the month to do this, to get my team together, to look ahead proactively. I think it is no accident that I should first talk to him about this at the beginning of Elul. Even when the world around me is ignorant of the Jewish calendar, something inside me is well aware of it and embraces it. It becomes my inner time.

My psychiatrist's assistant had said two of the things I should ask for are my rabbi's support and his understanding of what I go through. In fact, in my first post on what I'd want my rabbi to know, I said I wanted him to understand me, to understand my disorder.

I started to tell him about what depression feels like to me, the things I listed in my post about depression as adversary. I fear I was not doing a very good job at first, and then he said he throught of depression as attacking one's sense of legitimacy to simply be. It is a relief to know he understands. Only someone who understood could say that.

I told him I was not looking for therapy from him. I said only some things needed problem solving. Some of it I just felt a strong need to share and I had nowhere else to take it. Some of it involved shul and it seemed inappropriate to take it anywhere but to him.

My anxiety is a different issue and it sometimes stands in my way even when the depression does not. We talked about it a little bit. I feel I have a little clearer view of what is real and what is perceived. We will meet again just after the holidays and I feel reassured by that. I feel like I don't have to do this all alone.

My family has been invited to Shabbos dinner at a friend's house tomorrow. I feel so moved by that. It has been a year or more since we were invited anywhere for Shabbos. I have to try hard not to think of the past eight months, but to think of the promise for what the future holds, what tomorrow may bring.

The day has worn me out so please forgive me for any omissions. Adequate sleep is still a need I haven't yet met.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Giving until it hurts

As most of you know, my beautiful baby girl, may her memory be only for a blessing, died halfway through my pregnancy in May of this year. As many of you know, I have a small group of local women friends who are all moms of young children, though I am the only Jew.

These two facts are important to bear in mind during this post.

For lots of reasons, I am opposed to baby showers. In my case, for instance, had I had a shower just before finding out my baby had died? Or had to come home to a decorated nursery with empty arms? That pain can be avoided in most, but admittedly not all, situations. In a way I was fortunate; except for the memory book of the all too short time with our daughter and the pile of now unused maternity clothes, everything looks pretty much the same. (There are a few exceptions--a painted porch and a garden--but they are not important to this post.)

However, the mom friends I have wanted to have a party to celebrate the fact that there are so many babies being born among our friends. Five moms, me among them, were due between July and October. Now there are four.

Despite wanting to have a party--more a celebration of new life than a baby shower, I was assured--few were willing to volunteer to plan it. Isn't that the way it always is?

I didn't want to seem the resentful mom, especially because I never felt resentment toward the other pregnant moms. In fact, I struggled with my own fears for their babies' safety and safe deliveries. And I worried the moms would not want to be around me because it would remind them that pregnancy is risky and what happened to me could happen to them, too.

So I volunteered to help plan it. Now I am one of only three who are doing nearly all the work for a party early next week and I am conflicted.

I feel sad. The wounds of last May are being tugged at, scratched, irritated, and some I fear are beginning to weep. I was supposed to be pregnant at this party. I was supposed to be expecting my own baby in just over a month. G-d had other plans.

Yet it is hard for me to help plan a party celebrating new life when I so recently lost the new life I'd nurtured. We still hope, b'ezrat HaShem, to get pregnant again. But it is still too soon for that.

I sense my emotions being stuffed away, tucked into a dark corner somewhere until they eventually emerge and cry out in the light of day. My sadness is under the surface but each day I feel ambivalence growing stronger. I am distracted, distant.

I want this party to be over so I don't have to think about it anymore. I want to simply not go, but that seems so selfish. My loss shouldn't diminish the joy at those lives that have already been born or, G-d willing, will soon be within our group. My absence would be felt more palpably than my presence.

And still it hurts.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Happy shul day

I had a great day at shul this past Shabbos. Davening was meaningful. I didn't feel self-conscious. I was able to contribute in a small way to the morning. A woman I admire greatly greeted me with a hug and seemed genuinely pleased to see me. My children were even fairly well behaved.

More importantly, I didn't feel like I was on the outside looking in. At kiddush, I felt confident to initiate conversations. I didn't stutter as I often do when I'm anxious.

I even joked at one point that I'd learned life was easier when I recognized that I really didn't know everything. I was a tiny bit afraid people would respond with a negative, oh she thinks she's so special, but they didn't. They laughed, and it felt like laughing with me, not at me.

My meds are working. :) And maybe all the work I'm doing, hammering away at the way I perceive the world is helping too.

My appointment with the rabbi has been rescheduled for this week and while I am still a little nervous about what I'm going to say and how it will turn out, I am also trying to see things differently. Very differently. Partly because when he rescheduled our appointment, he was funny about it, too, and that didn't seem like the part of him I know. I have to remind myself that I see what he wishes to share, and what he's willing to share may change over time or as our rabbi-congregant relationship evolves.

More soon but tonight I am tired.

126 reasons to read Jewish blogs

It is Tuesday already but it is still very worth pouring over Jack's presentation of Haveil Havalim, and I thank him very much for the link.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Credibility, expertise, authority, esteem, respect--what am I looking for?

I decided to write about this because it's on my mind a lot and because it's been an issue for a long time, yet one I've rarely ever talked about.

I wrote just a bit ago about who is the expert on fringe Jews. I am interested in what others think about that. Do you go to the source to understand an issue, or do you trust the doctor who has studied it but never known it with the intimacy the source has? Or is it that the topic of mental illness in general automatically discredits anyone with one?

But this is part of a larger issue. RWAC wrote in a comment on one of his posts that "people with titles are taken seriously - and it makes sense that someone who has put in the time to study and work in a given field should be taken seriously, until proven unworthy. But at the same time, people who don't have the degrees should still be taken seriously, to whatever degree they have expertise and are able to communicate it."

This seems like complete, respectful, common sense to me. If everyone practiced this, there would be a lot fewer people who feel invalidated in this world.

That said, I'm still not quite sure what I'm looking for. This all came about because I felt that being female and title-less restricted me from accomplishing much of anything other than birthing and raising Jewish children.

But that's not exactly true either. I said I didn't have a title or initials after my name, but I do, technically. I just don't have the sort of initials to put after my name that wouldn't look pretentious. I have earned several degrees, though none of them in Jewish topics. I can't explain further without compromising myself, but the feeling I get in my community is that unless I hold specifically a PhD, JD, MD or semicha, none of the rest of it matters. And I don't have any of those four, for all sorts of obvious and not so obvious reasons.

At the same time, I can't help but think that the loudest most powerful force standing in my way is me, though I do not believe the entire problem resides in my head. My own lack of confidence, my hesitation in thinking I could be helpful to anyone at the very same time I want to be helpful with what I know and have learned and experienced, my fear of ever being anything close to arrogant.

My counselor thinks that I could allow myself a little arrogance, that my boundaries against that are so strong and so far out that what would seem to me to be slightly arrogant (in myself) would likely appear to everyone else as simply self-confident. That scares me a bit but I'm working on it.

Meanwhile I feel ineffective. Unheard, unseen, not taken seriously, without credibility despite initials I've earned and experiences I've lived, something.

I can't be the only one. Can I? Do others ever feel like this? What do you do? How do you deal with it?

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

And so it begins

I had an appointment with my rabbi for this week. I arranged for child care so I could meet with him uninterrupted. I was nervous, but as I wrote earlier, I am jaded when it comes to appointments with the rabbi. I usually don't expect it will actually happen until it's already underway, and even then I expect it to be interrupted by something.

And so it has happened again.

It's not anyone's fault. A funeral had to be scheduled and that takes precedence. He told me he needed to reschedule but gave no indication of when that might take place. I guess I will wait until a day or so after the funeral and contact him again. After the second rescheduling is historically when I have given up.

I understand--more than many readers may think--that this is how it is. There are life cycle events that fall under a narrow time contstraint. Babies are born and if a boy, the bris is set. Sadly, people die and the funeral cannot wait, nor should it.

At the same time, it is one more rescheduling that makes me wonder if we will get to meet at all before he is too busy with the Yamim Nora'im and before my own depression cycle starts again.

This should not further wound the trust I have that he will follow through, yet it does. If it were only the occasional disappointment, it would be easier to take, but it is not. It happens almost every single time.

I know it is not me. I have talked to others who have difficulty getting in to see him. One woman joked that he is improving and now keeps a full third of the appointments he schedules. So I don't take it personally. Yet it's still a disappointment. Each rescheduling, especially when I have to fight for it, makes it harder the next time I need to reach out.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Answer: a)Not enough sex; b)Too much sex; c)What's sex?

Yehuda has this week's Haveil Havalim on his blog and said that depression is "something that even sex can't always help you with."

I agree, from experience. Endorphins only go so far. And unfortunately for otherwise happily married couples, depression kills all desire. It can be a strain on a healthy marriage.

But Yehuda's post is very much tongue in cheek, which is probably better than tongue in other places, and I'm not feeling altogether capable of being funny right now, so I will leave it at that.

Note: I just saw how the original title of this post showed up on the links to Yehuda's post and it looked to me like I was being very judgmental or critical, neither of which I intend, so I'm changing the title and hoping it will come across better.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Who is the real expert on fringe Jews?

I have an appointment with my rabbi for next week.

I am scared.

The problem is that I can't trust what's in my head. I can't trust my emotions. My counselor has observed this, too, saying that I can't approach situations from a purely emotional stand. I have to go back to the facts, to what I know is real.

Sometimes, though, it is hard to differentiate between what is my interpretation of what I see around me and what is actually real. It is particularly hard when it concerns me.

There is a woman at my shul who has a child with a fairly severe disability. There is little hope for this child to successfully navigate any sort of shul-offered children's programming or bar mitzvah studies without individual and long-term assistance, such as a personal tutor. This woman has been an advocate for children with disabilities and their parents since her own child was diagnosed shortly after birth. Not one visible change has been made to the children's programming. No tutoring has been offered. This woman cannot enjoy Shabbos at shul because she is spending every moment assisting her child. She told me in tears that she is considering leaving the shul because it seems blind and deaf to her needs.

Not long after she told me this, another woman, a medical doctor who has children of her own but none with a diagnosed disability, spoke up at shul on behalf of children with disabilities and how to integrate them better within shul programming. Suddenly the board was interested. A committee was formed to study the issue.

When I discretely asked why no one was interested when the mother spoke but were after the doctor spoke, I was told that the disabled child's mother was seen as too close to the issue and as such, was too emotional to be trusted. Yet the doctor, being a doctor and not having any children with disabilities, was an impartial, trusted source. Now they could listen.

By this logic, I am too close to the issue of depression. I am too emotional to be trusted. Even though I know my depression inside and out and can usually find words to express what's going on. Even though I have perhaps identified some of the problems--lack of communication, insufficient community education--and proposed solutions that would accommodate a medium-sized shul with an overworked rabbi and a strapped budget.

Certainly, it would be nice to make a difference for me, to find the Jewish support I need. But that is not enough. There are far too many others, such as this woman with the child with the disability, such as Rabbi WAC's Fringe Jews, who are not finding support either. Someone needs to speak up for them. If that responsibility falls to me, I will accept it and do the best I can.

But how can I provide insight or guidance or be effective in any way if I can be written off as too close to the issue, too emotional, or worse yet, just another of the mentally ill?

It would seem to me that, having lived with this illness for most of my life, I would be something of an expert on it. Yet expertise is not something I can attribute to myself if it is not corroborated by others, is it? Can a teacher really call himself a teacher if he has no students?

And even if I could attribute expertise to myself, how does that have any impact on those many who will only listen if the speaker is objective, rational, and preferably has formal, post-graduate level training on the topic?

Or maybe my feeling ineffective and powerless is all coming from within, a product of the very illness I feel ineffective speaking about.

Too many questions for this erev Shabbos. I'm going to go braid the challah.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Promise fulfilled but still waiting

I contacted my rabbi today and left a message. I have not yet heard back but it is early yet.

I agonized over what to say, how to say it. How much do I say? How little? I found myself using words like, if it is at all possible, and, is there any way.

My husband says I do this routinely, asking for a favor instead of asking for what I want. He says what I project is a sense that I am not worthy of asking you for this terrible imposition so I will request it as a favor and if you deny it I will completely understand since I am not worthy to be asking in the first place.

I did not know I do that, but once my husband pointed it out, I saw it very well in what I originally planned to say to my rabbi. I had built in escapes for his benefit and at my expense.

I didn't think my self esteem was quite that low. I thought I had made much more progress.

I hope that this projection of not being worthy is not the reason behind my not finding or receiving the support I need, or even why my suggestions for ways to help provide others with support are brushed aside.

I wonder if I can fix this before I meet with my rabbi, if I really do get to meet with him. Would that really make a difference?

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Gathering strength and information: why is contacting the rabbi so scary?

I saw my regular counselor today and I told her of my dream and what my PA said yesterday. I also told her what I posted yesterday and what readers had commented and specifically Rabbi WAC's suggestions. She really liked the team approach.

The team approach is basically this. The biggest responsibility is mine. I have to speak up about what is going on in my head, my heart, my soul. I have to tell appropriate people about when things are good, when I'm concerned, side effects, thought patterns that don't seem right. I have to ask for reality checks and be as accurate as possible in my descriptions of how I'm doing. To not downplay what's going on. I have to be diligent about taking my meds, exercising daily, getting enough sleep, pursuing stress reduction as needed.

The next one in line is my husband. He sees me every day and might notice something I'm missing. He might catch inconsistencies between my words and behavior, or sense that something is just off. He will ask me about it, and using his discretion, may or may not make sure someone else on the team knows about it, too.

My psychiatrist's assistant (PA)/counselor will handle the medication aspect. Do we need to adjust meds, add something, scale it back, try something different, all this is her area of expertise.

My regular counselor will handle most of my other issues: ongoing relationship with my mom, parenting my children, anxieties, negative self-talk, coping with depression, social anxiety, high self-expectations, and so on.

The last ring is the one I'm uncertain of. That's my rabbi. I would like very much for him to be part of the team. I want very much not to be afraid of that, too. I want him to be available to handle my religious and spiritual concerns, issues around and in shul. He sees me most every Shabbat. We have a history together, for over a dozen years. He has played a very important role in my life. I'd like that to continue. I'd like to have someone to take my religious and spiritual concerns to, because right now no one is there to offer Jewish answers.

Many years ago, a psychiatrist told me I needed to focus on both aspects of my life in order to get better: physical and emotional.

Not two, I told him. Not both aspects. There are five: physical, emotional, intellectual, social, spiritual. All five need attention. I was under his care when I began my formal conversion studies. Shortly after my conversion and just before he left the clinic, he began researching and then publishing articles in psychiatric journals on the importance of spirituality to psychiatric healing. It would be nice to think maybe I helped a bit with that, though I'm not sure.

At any rate, only four of the five are getting attention now. I need to follow my own advice and see to that fifth.

One concern my counselor raised was that my rabbi might not be the right person for this. She suggested that I ask him outright, after explaining what I need from him, is this something you can provide? If not, that's okay, just please refer me to someone--perhaps another rabbi--who can.

She is concerned that he might be stretched too thin, too distracted, focused on too many other areas. She was certain that my falling through the cracks is not intentional on his part (I am certain of this, too), but that there is the possibility I am looking for support in the wrong place.

I'm not ready to say that, yet. I haven't ever before asked him for regular, ongoing support. I want to give him that chance.

She said I should have a full year of regular support from him before I bring up past issues. My relationship with my rabbi is not broken but it is wounded. It needs time to heal, she said. I can do that.

She also said that she is concerned that the sometimes lack of follow-through issue is sort of like intermittent positive reinforcement. That is, sometimes I get the reward of a meeting with him. It is the type of reinforcement of slot machines and it is dangerous for me because it keeps me hanging onto a relationship that may or may not be healthy for me.

But she is optimistic that it might work. I did, at any rate, promise her I would contact my rabbi and ask to schedule a meeting with him. I would do my part to see this happen. Then it is up to him.