Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Reaching out to heal

There is much to tell but today I am very tired, so I will only begin.

I saw my rabbi last week, thankfully. I wanted to be strong and in control but even on the way to meet him I was in tears. This recent downturn since the end of September has been hard though the increase in meds helps and I'm sleeping better and I've been through much, much harder. But it has kept me away from shul. Lately it has brought up too much pain, too much remembering of how it feels to be Unseen and not valued.

I know that my perspective is skewed at the moment, that the painful events feel closer and more painful than they do when I'm feeling strong and happy. I even said as much to him.

My rabbi said two things that really stuck with me. One was that he would do everything he could to prevent and help heal such painful experiences related to the shul, short of embarrassing me. I am glad and relieved that he wants to make this about the shul, not about me. I know that I am not the only one in the congregation battling depression and it would be grossly unfair for me to receive validation while others continue to remain Unseen.

The other was that he wants me to help him--and the shul by extension--learn how to help me and others like me. Already I had an idea. It is not unusual to train congregants on the mitzvah of bikkur cholim, visiting the sick. In my area it has been focused on hospital and nursing home visits. But why could we not expand it a bit to include people we see in shul, at work, friends, who are in pain?

The thing I hear most often here on the blog and in person conversations is that people don't know what to say, how to act, so they say and do nothing.

Why can we not teach people a range of things to say and do? The question or offer that helps me might not help another, but if there is a larger range to choose from, adaptable to the situation and the people involved, it would be a starting point. It would open a door that has remained closed for too long.

As if on some divine cue, I received today an invitation to join a committee at shul to study and make recommendations on inclusion. While inclusion is often used in terms of physical, developmental and learning disabilities, there is no reason it should not also include brain disorders such as depression, anxiety, bipolar, and others. Ours is often a hidden illness, but
by nature, these disorders make it hard--even impossible--for people going through an episode to reach out, get involved, or even to come to shul.

Shul should be a place that people can bring their confusion and fear and pain, a place that should be free of stigma for what we know is a biological medical brain illness, a place where those who are able can be there for those who are not, knowing that which end of the need spectrum we're on can change.

I went to another Jewish mental health conference, too. I wrote about last year's conference and I'm relieved that this year's was much, much better. I want to write more about that, too, but today I must take it slow and save my energy.

Monday, October 1, 2007

It's back

This year I had questions I've never had before. I wanted to run from Rosh Hashanah, hide from Yom Kippur. And now the old feelings have crept back into my life and as much as I try to stand strong against them, I have had to increase my meds and I still fight anxiety that several times a day is nearly debilitating.

On New Year's Day the decree is inscribed and on the Day of Atonement it is sealed; how many shall pass away and how many shall be born; who shall live and who shall die...

Is this why my baby daughter died four months ago? Did I not pray hard enough last year?

It's a question my counselor would say is ridiculous. G-d doesn't work that way. Yet here it is. In writing. We daven it. Do we say the words but not mean them? Or do we mean them and if we do, how do I take them? When does prayer move from metaphor to the literal?

I visited my baby's grave site twice during the ten days. Two friends who had wanted to be with me when she was buried, I took them each separately and we paid our respects. I could not cry.
...who shall have rest and who shall go wandering; who shall be tranquil and who shall be disturbed; who shall be at ease and who shall be afflicted...
The question comes naturally, is my depression, my panic attacks, my distorted lens through which I see the world the result of some divine decree? If I were a better Jew, would I get past this? And what would that mean? Whose definition of a better Jew?

How can I do teshuva more than I can do it? How can I give tzedaka more than I can give it? Can I possibly pray harder than I can pray?

There are some who would of course say yes. There are those who claim the Shoah happened because Jews were not religious enough. Without a doubt they would blame my illness on my failings. But theirs is not the voice I want to hear. Extremism is never the answer, no matter what the question.

Would it make any difference if I did my own Vidui?

I have raised my voice to my children; I have raised my voice to the heavens and doubted I would get an answer; I have lost faith in humanity when reading the news; I have lost faith in G-d when my depression tosses me into the depths; I have blamed others for not doing enough to help; I have blamed
G-d for giving me this challenge in the first place; I have berated myself for all the weaknesses my illness makes acute; I have berated myself for not being stronger...

It didn't even wait until October. I saw the first signs nearly a week ago. The red flags, the things that alert me to another onset of anxiety and depression, they started coming quickly and went from nonexistent to frequent in 24 hours. On the third day, I increased my meds from 30mg to 40mg. I see my counselor and the psychiatrist's assitant this week.

I gave my rabbi two weeks worth of available times when we could meet again, but I have not heard from him. I fear he is angry with me or disappointed because I could not face the crowds at shul. I could not stay. That may have been the first red flag and I missed it.

I noticed it when the first signs of hoplessness returned, the sense of being overwhelmed, of fearing attack from every side. Every e-mail, every phone call, every knock at the door I fear is someone unhappy with me. I couldn't possibly confess enough to satisfy the yetser hara's depression inside of me.

This is not how I wanted to start the year. On New Year's Day the decree is inscribed and on the Day of Atonement it is sealed. Have I already been assigned some horrible fate because of my anxiety over the Days of Awe? Has my next baby's death warrant been signed (G-d forbid) because of my depression's timing?

I don't know how to come to terms with the liturgy. I have no answers.