When other bloggers first discovered this blog and started commenting about it a response I saw a lot, mostly from bloggers who are not observant, was something like “Is this what Judaism has come to, making someone suffer so much that she is considering suicide? What kind of religion is this? Are we really to believe that the Orthodox community would rather she hurt herself or be this unhappy than just kiss a man?”
When I first started the blog my answer was to write a post directed to the Orthodox community saying that before you tell people to be Shomer Negiah at least consider the possibility of what you are committing them to, possibly a lifetime of not just loneliness (which no one can control) but also sexual frustration that may indeed culminate in suicidal thoughts or even attempts or other self destructive things. For a long time that is what this post was going to say.
But I have thought it over and I admit that writing that would be partly irresponsible because it would be blaming the Orthodox community for something which is my fault and my fault alone which is not getting professional mental help earlier.
It was maybe two years ago that I started feeling even sadder than before about being single. It was not only being single, there was also my health issue and some other things and I started feeling even sadder than before. If I had seen a therapist then perhaps I would have worked out my issues better. Yes it is true that maybe I would have decided not to be S.N. anymore. Perhaps I (or other people in a similar situation) may have come to the conclusion that indeed it is a choice between breaking the laws of S.N. and becoming completely depressed. Then I could have made an informed decision to avoid becoming almost suicidal by breaking halacha. But a more likely possibility is that I would have found ways to be S.N. and happy as well. I would have been making decisions more consciously and feeling more strong about them. Who knows which way I would have gone then? The important thing I am saying is that what was important was not necessarily deciding to be not S.N. anymore, it was getting professional mental help. What you should be saying is not “what kind of religion is this” but instead “if she is feeling so bad why did she not seek help earlier?”
Instead of getting help when I should have I did nothing and the feelings got worse and worse. Over time I stopped participating in activities I had previously enjoyed because I no longer wanted to bother. I was crying myself to sleep every night and then later I started crying at other times like on the subway on the way to work. Then I stopped being able to sleep. I was tired all the time but jittery and would spend all night watching the food channel and nickelodeon. Then I started spacing out at work and forgetting things. This all happened slowly over a period of months and weeks. Finally there came a day that I could not get out of bed in the morning and I called in sick. And the next day too, and the next. I used all my sick days to lie on the couch watching the Iron Chef and wanting to die. When I ran out of sick days I called my doctor and made an appointment and that is how I started getting help. I wish I had called my doctor before that when I first started feeling so sad but you live and you learn. The feelings I express in this blog are not half as depressing as what I would have said just a few months before.
In therapy and frankly through this blog I am indeed feeling much stronger and happier about being S.N. No I am not happy that I am alone. I still feel lonely. But I do not feel as pathetic as I did a few months ago because I have never been kissed. It means a lot to me to know that there are others in my situation who are strong and relatively happy and it also means a lot to me to know that there are people out there who have been kissed and even had more sexual relationships who also are feeling sad. Depression is something that both Orthodox and non-Orthodox people can relate to because people of all religions experience it for all sorts of different reasons. In my case it was triggered by my feelings of loneliness and sexual frustration but once I was in it it was not about those things anymore, it was a medical condition requiring professional help. The problem in my life right now is not in the Torah but in my head.
Anyway one reason I am writing about this is that it does have to do with singles becoming less frum over time. You see when my depression was at it’s worst I did stop keeping Shabbos for a few weeks unfortunately. This was not the same as what I described in my last post although once again it was not a rational decision that I think the Torah is wrong or that keeping Shabbos is not important. It was more a feeling that nothing is important. Not me and not Shabbos and not whether I might go to hell for breaking it. I did not care about anything any more and so I did not care about Shabbos either. It says in the Torah that one must serve Hashem “with your whole heart and your whole soul.” A person who is severely depressed has no heart left with which to serve Hashem.
So to answer all those critics who wondered “is this what our religion is really all about” I say no. Being suicidal is not what it is supposed to be about. But if I had gotten help earlier I would not have become so depressed. Probably I would have found a way much earlier to feel “shalem” (whole) about being S.N. and maybe even single and there never would have been a reason for this blog.
To all the Orthodox people who are reading this and saying “you see, there is no problem with halacha or with our community. Torah is perfect” I have to say that I do see a problem in our community, which is that as a community we often prioritize halacha over emotional and psychological well being. I understand why this is the case. If we started saying that “the most important thing is to be happy” then everyone would start saying “I am having sex when I am 18 because that will make me happy” or “wow keeping Shabbos feels so confining, I will feel more happy if I break it.” Orthodoxy is not for wimps, it takes fortitude to keep the mitzvos day after day year after year.
Yet there is a difference between “taking the easy way out” and “trying to stay functional in life.” Once again I ask you to not immediately and negatively judge an Orthodox person who seems to have “fallen” somehow. You cannot judge until you have been in their shoes. Perhaps right now for some reason “casting off the yoke of Torah” is the only way they know how to stay functional instead of lying on the couch wanting to die. Of course that is rarely really their only choice, there is usually some better way they have not learned yet. But until someone figures out in therapy what they really need people often do irrational things because that is the only way they know how to survive. Baruch Hashem I have realized that indeed I have some fortitude left and I am recovering and staying frum both. But I cannot bring myself to tell a person who lacks it “well halacha is halacha so you have no choice. Orthodoxy sure is tough is it not? It sure is hard to be a Jew.” For most people it is hard but for some people I can easily imagine that it is so hard that they can not get to work in the morning and they cry on the subway. Not because Orthodoxy is hard but because life is hard, and when a person is desperately unhappy they are unhappy with everything, which for a frum person includes being frum. That is what happened to me. I was in so much pain and I got angry at everything including and especially Torah which is an easy target. Being observant is a lot of pressure and I can understand why a person who feels unhappy and trapped would choose to try relieving the religious pressure even if it is not the religion itself that is causing the unhappiness. Still I would urge others in this situation to get professional help too! After a while I changed my mind, maybe others would too or maybe not.
Also I emphasize once again that the singles crisis is affecting people in serious ways. Depression is a physical problem but for me and for many other people it was triggered at least in part by the ongoing loneliness and the strain of denying our bodies for so long from something it needs. Yes it is possible to be Shomer Negiah until you are 35 and beyond as I have proven by experience but it should not be surprising that the strain of it led me to a psychiatrist office.
To anyone who is S.N. and reading this thinking “I do not want to be S.N. anymore if it leads to depression” I have to say: there is no way to tell if it will lead to depression for you. Maybe you are not wired to get severely depressed or maybe you will get married soon. And also one thing I have realized from therapy and from doing this blog is that if I had done something rash like hire a prostitute or sleep with a guy I hardly knew it definitely would have made my depression worse. I would have felt not only lonely but cheap and I do not think I could survive if I felt cheap.
To anyone reading this who is showing signs of depression for any reason please take care of yourself and make an appointment with your doctor or with a psychiatrist. You do not have to feel this way forever. It can get better. You can be O.K.