b a r e

writing is healing. ask me anything.

Tag: Judaism

write about a time when a dream went up in flames

I have always been goal driven. Or rather, I had always been. When I was in high school Model United Nations, I knew I wanted a career in the UN. I would continue to study French, then in college study abroad in Paris, then graduate fluent and get a job in NYC at the UN building. Everything I did academically pointed in that direction. I even became president of MUN in college and went to the National MUN conference in NYC where I was on the Security Counsel. I was a the height of my academic career. I knew thousands of incoming freshmen because I was a counselor for orientation programs. I even knew the chancellor from participating in leadership conferences. I was close friends with many seniors. And I had a close knit group of friends (dare I say, a clique) that I did everything with outside of school.

Then came time to leave the country for Paris. I was distraught, I was a mess. I was about to fly to the opposite side of the world, alone.

To say the year was traumatic is an understatement. It was total culture shock. And even with 6 years of French classes behind me, I could barely communicate. But I worked very hard, and I began to find a rhythm there. Suddenly the year was over and it was time to return. Coming back home was even harder. That year had cracked the foundation of who I thought I was. I came back anonymous. The seniors had graduated. The freshmen forgot me. The chancellor changed. And I no longer fit in with my friends. I no longer fit my old role, and even if I had, that spot had been eliminated as the group dynamics shifted. I was lost. And I no longer wanted to work for the UN. I felt like I had wandered off my carefully tended path into the middle of a giant field of flowers surrounded by tall trees. Where was the path? I had no idea. I didn’t know in which direction to head, and so I was paralyzed, panicked and miserable.

As a result, when I graduated, I temped for a while before falling into an administrative role that paid well and was easy. And then I stayed in those kinds of jobs for 15 years, waiting for something, some kind of sign that would illuminate a new path.

Now that I look back, I see that I actually did receive that sign, 3 years after I graduated. I was moving from one administrative job to another, and my new boss (as awful as she was, micromanaging and manipulative) was the founding member of a synagogue. She saw the teacher in me, and brought in the educational director to meet me, who promptly offered me a job teaching Sunday school. Although I did not stay at that administrative job, I went on to teach Sunday school for 6 glorious years. My teaching only ended because I had my wedding to plan, then a child to have, then severe post partum depression. I didn’t go back to teaching. And I continued to look for a sign.

Well, the sign has just recently re-illuminated, pointing me again in the direction of teaching. And this time I will listen.

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a new year

It’s Rosh Hashanah. The head of the year. The couple of days that are supposed to represent the rest of the year. The beginning of the 10 Days of Awe. The Book of Life is open. At the end of Yom Kippur it is closed, sealed. 10 days to repent, revisit, review. 10 days to think long and hard about the year that passed, the lifetime that has passed. Time to decide on how the new year will be. So much pressure. No wonder I fought with my sister and mother every single Rosh Hashanah growing up. Where’s my life now. A husband that is working hard, doing what he always does, taking care of us, and is just a little bit out of reach, distant. My fault? A gorgeous 5 year old daughter. Super creative and a non-stop talker. Non-stop. Non. Stop. My poor brain tunes her out so I can have head space to get the every day banal necessities completed. No room in my head otherwise. I still see her as an adult-human sometimes. I forget she’s 5 and I lose my patience, lose my temper. “Stop acting like a 5 year old!” Oh wait, right.

Another set of meds I’m testing out, ever the lab rat. Is it working? How can I tell? All I know is the side-effects and how they impact my day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute. Have I improved? It feels like running in place most days. How long has it been since the last breakdown? 2 years? 3? That’s pretty good. I’m not gibbering and rocking and sobbing in a corner. So that’s a definite improvement?

What do I want for the new year? More patience. Less hurrying and adhering to the clock. More in-the-moment experiences. Those fill me with gratitude. Gratitude, the high beam that banishes my darkness. The electricity that wakes up my heart. The surge of hope that makes it possible to see more days, more moments filled with more gratitude.

I want more closeness. I’ve been holding myself out at an arms reach. Sure it’s safer. But it’s also lonely.

I want more energy. How do I achieve that? Probably not on my current meds… More walking. More yoga. Less cell phone and tv time. An easy time waster/time sucker, that brings me to bedtime, and morning, and a repeat of the repeat of the repeat. Which is not a motivator.

I stopped wishing for my old self back long ago. Who or where she is, I don’t know, she’s long gone. This me is a little more serious, a lot wiser, and a bit more compassionate. I’m okay with the current me. That surprises me. I never thought I’d think that. I’m glad I do. Acceptance is way smoother and easier than the alternative, fighting and thrashing against the perceived loss of the stronger, stabler me I used to be. I remember taking for granted the day to day, it was so easy. Was it? I don’t really remember. Everything’s a blur. It’s not helpful to imagine a time that I can never get back. I’ve mourned it already. I’m ready to be in the now. I’m ready to look forward to the year. One year at a time. One day at a time. One minute at a time. So far, so good.

Identity

I got as a gift a necklace with a religious symbol. Wearing it I feel exposed. It’s so different than it was 10+ years ago. I had that same symbol, a larger one actually, proudly displayed around my  neck. I was an in your face kind of gal. I wrapped myself up in all sorts of layers of my identity. And I hid behind them all. It was a construct. A construct I believed in, but a construct no less. I felt safe and powerful. Fast forward 10+  years and I no longer wish to display who I am. I no longer want that kind of attention, or any kind of attention really. And wearing that symbol makes me feel naked. It’s no one’s business what religion I am. My religion is private, personal and I want to decide when and with whom I share that information. I can’t really do that with it hanging around my neck.

All vows

I have sinned. I am not so arrogant as to say I have not sinned. For I have indeed sinned.

For the sins I have done on purpose, please forgive me. For the sins I have done accidentally, please forgive me. For the sins I have done with my eyes, my hands, my mouth, my thoughts, please please forgive me. For the sin of hating my life, please forgive me. For the sin of hating my child, please forgive me. For the sin of hating myself, please forgive me. Forgive me, pardon me, grant me atonement.

For the sin of wishing harm unto others, please forgive me. For the sin of wishing harm onto myself, please forgive me. For the sin of judging others, please forgive me. Please, Hashem, forgive me, pardon me, grant me atonement.

I have lied, I have cheated, I have led others astray. I have disrespected, I have caused shame, I have excluded and have preyed upon weakness. I have taken joy in causing the suffering of others. I have willfully neglected the feelings of others. I have willfully ignored the needs of others. I have hardened my heart at the sadness of others. I have sinned, Hashem, please please forgive me.

I am not anywhere near perfect, Hashem. I am broken, damaged, limping along. I am lost, Hashem. I am wandering around in total darkness, bumping into things as I try to go forward, my arms reaching out grasping at air. I am hollow, Hashem, a large part of who I thought I was has been scooped out, leaving a messy shell that aches and throbs in pain. I am desperate, Hashem, I need your help. I am desperate for the sun’s warmth on my face. I am so cold here, Hashem, and I feel so alone. You above all others can help me. So here I am, prostrate before you, admitting that I am nothing, surrendering to Your wisdom and Your judgment. Please, oh please, forgive me.

May it be your will that I, and my family, and all the people of Israel, and all the people of the world, be inscribed in the Book of Life this year.

Amen.

Do you feel you see any significant changes in your personality/thinking as a result of your illness? What? Why?

All I’ve ever wanted was to be “normal.” Up until the age of 12 – when my mom, sister and I ran away to a shelter for battered women and children – I thought everyone’s home life was like mine. I only ever left the house to go to school, never had friends over, never went to anyone’s house. I didn’t know that most people didn’t live in fear while trying to love someone who could erupt and beat you with words and belts at any moment. When my eyes were opened at 12, I was angry, I was liberated. And I was very different than anyone I knew.

I tried, really tried to fit in. But now were were in an Orthodox Jewish junior high. And I was not like these other girls who came from wealthy families and had lived an orthodox Jewish life always. We didn’t live like that at home. And I didn’t have the benefit of years of indoctrination. I felt like I didn’t belong. Half of one thing, half of another, really neither of both. Finally, I begged to go to public school. And now, I was really not like anyone else. And since I couldn’t be like the others, I reveled in being different. I went goth. Black trench coat  black hair. You don’t want to know me anyway, so I’ll make it even harder. That way if you do become my friend, I’ll know you really wanted to.

Thankfully, my college years and beyond cured me of this intentional distancing. And truly, I still never felt like I belonged. But I was okay with that. I could live with it.

Then came my husband and my pregnancy, and despite pain and discomfort and exhaustion, I was doing something normal! I had joined a club of women who had gone through what I was going through. I was accepted! I was embraced as one of them.

Then came my traumatic birth and the lowest place I had ever been. And I felt utterly alone. And even though this too has been experienced by many many many women, I didn’t know. I was lost in worthlessness, shame, and guilt. It wasn’t until the ray of light shone in, and I hauled myself out millimeter by millimeter  that I finally saw the faces of those who had gone before me. I was not alone.

Well this second episode is not related to that birth, not exactly. It has shown me that this depression and anxiety is here to stay. Not in that I’ll always feel it. But in that I will always have to fight it, watch out for it, be careful because of it.

And now I am different again. I am not “normal.” And that does make me sad, sometimes. But I have also met some truly amazing people who are fighting these demons too. And they inspire me. They are brave and caring, they are generous of heart and mind and words. They accept me, as is, with no judgment whatsoever. They are mine. I claim you. You are one of me. I am part of you. Together we form a different normal. Together we are strong. Together we know we will succeed. And we know it’s okay too if sometimes we don’t succeed. Because ultimately we are family. Different backgrounds, different families, different cultures, different religions – no matter. We are one. And just knowing that you all exist bouys me with strength and fortitude to not give up. I reach out and you are there. And I know you will always take my hand. And I know that I am safe.

What steps are you taking to prepare for the holidays?

I hate the holidays. I’m sure having my only other past, intense relationship crumple around this time of year doesn’t help. Neither do the short, gray days that reflect the gray inside my head and heart. But most of all I blame my orthodox Jewish education who said we are the minorities – we are – and we are not part of everyone else – not true. They reveled in being separate and persecuted. We were special, in that we did not belong. And not belonging created (so far) a life-long wedge between me and the xmas commercial crap that is shoved down our throats each year. You’re probably thinking, “bah humbug!” But I know all the xmas songs by heart and I’ve never tried to learn any of them. And when I lived in Paris I loved the holidays. Beautiful decorations everywhere, but no intense commercial marketing. When I babysat for a Mormon family in high school and college, I really felt a warmth about the holiday. For them it was, yes about Jesus, but more importantly it was about family. Now, as a parent, I find my anger about the holidays returning. From every direction, in all forms of media, everyone is telling you to buy stuff. And my toddler is caught up in this tsunami because she doesn’t understand this forced consumerism. I try to shield her as best as I can, but the decorations, like the marketing campaigns, are colorful and distracting and everywhere. And I have to explain to her that they are not for us, because we’re Jewish. She quiets and looks thoughtful after I say this. And I wonder how the wheels that are turning in her head are processing this. I don’t want her to feel excluded, but unfortunately that might be the end result anyway. At least, in our home. We’re headed to the mid-west at the end of the month to visit my in-laws, who are Catholic. She’ll get her fill of xmas there, grandma will see to it. I guess I just really hope she won’t try to talk to my daughter about Jesus. Even though I have no control over who my daughter becomes – gay? conservative? athiest? – I really want her to feel pride in being Jewish. And let’s face it, xmas is alluring, with its shiny decorations and its mountain of gifts (a sure thing from grandma – my daughter is the first grandchild, and she’s adorable). As for preparing, I’m not sure there’s much I can do except be flexible and be aware of my state of mind so I’m not triggered. Do I ask grandma not to talk religion with my daughter? Do I dare? Maybe after I first see what she’s bought me.