Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Depression

This is probably the hardest post I have written so far. It has gone through many many drafts. I hope it is finished now because the time has come to post it already!

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.

22 Comments:

Anonymous admirer said...

NJG,
You are amazing !
I went through your fascinating blog, and I see how you found all the answers yourself. Your writing is phenominal, your self-awareness and openness are a source of inspiration.
I think the writing also helped you out a lot - although through a relatively short period , the mood change is quite outstanding.
I really wish you all the good fortune you wish yourself, and definitely deserve !
And after you find your own hapiness, I think you can become world's best ever shadchan - you are so sensitive and understanding !
All the best - and a happy Pesach !

4/12/2005 06:22:00 AM  
Blogger The Rabbi's Kid said...

NJG,

I hope you claw yourself out of this pit of depression and bask in the warm glow of life, love and G-d's goodness. Stay strong and keep going, we are all rooting for you. Come back and let us know how you are progressing.

TRK

4/12/2005 07:31:00 AM  
Anonymous justme said...

Is your therapist Orthodox - did you have a hard time explaining your commitment to being shomer negiah?

Also, why is it easier (or is it easier) to share intimate thoughts than physical closeness? I suppose I am just commenting that for many people, it is as hard or harder to self-disclose than to share physical intimacy. Did it take you a long time to find a therapist you could open up to, or was that relatively easy for you?

4/12/2005 07:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Nice Jewish Girl said...

Justme . . . my therapist is not Orthodox but does work with Orthodox Jews a lot and is familiar with our culture. I met with a few different therapists before I decided which one I feel most comfortable with. It is not so hard to "open up" because I see it like going to the doctor. I know they cannot tell anyone else what I tell them. The hard part is figuring out what I think/feel, not telling the therapist once I figure it out.

4/12/2005 08:21:00 AM  
Anonymous eeshaish said...

I was wondering if you would consider organizing a singles group?

I imagine that there is no doubt many men who would like to meet you at this time. Well, you can't marry them all, but between the singles that have read or commented on this blog, I feel there is a common bond to them. You could be creating marriages besides your own!
I am interested in helping set this up. Please let me know, or if we have too much baggage, speak w/ others.

4/12/2005 08:25:00 AM  
Anonymous FDC said...

Don't blame yourself for not getting help sooner. Recognizing depression in oneself is not easy. Usually it is those around who recognize the changes and urge the sufferer to get help. When you are alone, there is no one to do this. You did get help by yourself, and that takes a lot of courage. Don't beat yourself up more for not going sooner.

4/12/2005 11:36:00 AM  
Anonymous ClooJew said...

In an otherwise gripping and courageous post, you stumble again with the comment, "we often prioritize halacha over emotional and psychological well being."

Sweetheart, please get it straight: We prioritize halachah over everything because halachah--when practiced properly--includes all everything.

A person whose psychological and/or emotional well-being is in danger, is patur from many (but by no means all) halachos. People need to view halachah--literally "the path"--as a companion on the often difficult journey of life, and not as some smug, black-hatted Ayatollah, rolling its eyes and wagging its finger when we veer from the straight and narrow.

I still love ya, babe; but some of these fakrumta hashkafos have GOT to go.

4/12/2005 06:42:00 PM  
Anonymous ClooJew said...

To be clear:

It was an absolutely gripping and courageous post.

4/12/2005 06:44:00 PM  
Blogger The Rabbi's Kid said...

cloojew,

maybe what we need are more frum therapists, who have the ability and backbone to decide for a person those difficult decisions as to when to bend/break a halachah for their personal well being and sanity.

TRK

4/12/2005 06:52:00 PM  
Anonymous ClooJew said...

TRK,

You are begging the question.

If a medical professional determines that a person is sick enough to warrant that he "violate" a particular halachah, then that halachah obviously does not apply to him at that moment.

We transgress Shabbos, kashrus, even Yom Kippur to make room for illness--and it is not, lulei demistafina, a violation. The question--the big question--is where are those lines drawn.

Here are some excellent, frum therapists in New York: Yoel Lipsett, Naftali Reich, Shmuel Stauber.

4/12/2005 10:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Another Nice Jewish Girl said...

> 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.

This sentence rang particularly true for me. And I side with those who point out that halacha includes mental and physical well-being, and that there are exceptions for those in severe emotional distress. I got psak to eat on fast days when I was struggling with an eating disorder kind of thing. For example. The Torah says, "V'chai bahem"--and live by them. They (the halachot) were not meant to deepen/worsen medical conditions, including depression. "Relieving the religious pressure" is NOT a second-best choice in my opinion. It is one viable option out of many.

I do not think we want frum therapists to give psak halacha. What we really need are more rabbis and rebbetzins who are sensitive to people's emotional states and can give psak taking those things into consideration.

4/12/2005 10:33:00 PM  
Anonymous eeshaish said...

There is a problem w/ going to a frum therapist. I went to one in the past when at that time I had shed the yarmulke, and was not
really observant. He admitted that in certain areas, he could not advise say to be mechalell Shabbos, let us say if I wanted to go on a date.

imo, it is more important to get well, and if this means, dropping some of the observances, this is the more important step.

4/13/2005 10:00:00 AM  
Blogger Eliana said...

Thank you for this post.

You wrote about depression so very well, your clarity is remarkable. Honestly, I'm in the medical profession and I'd love to distribute what you wrote to medical students; it is incredibly instructive.

I have so many thoughts and feelings when I read your blog; the paths we are on are parallel and my thinking mirrors yours. But I feel speechless when I read your powerful, on-target, frank prose. You really show such strength--not just dealing with your sexual frustration, but strength of character. I admire you.

4/13/2005 05:05:00 PM  
Anonymous ClooJew said...

To address, Another Nice Jewish Girl's point: All of the therapists I mentioned are in touch with Major League Poskim for any halachic questions that arise during therapy. It is generally these poskim who recommend the therapists.

4/13/2005 06:06:00 PM  
Blogger Safiyyah said...

I'm not a Jew myself, but I've been following your blog for quite some time and I have to say this post in particular really moved me. Thank you for sharing this.

4/15/2005 05:22:00 AM  
Anonymous you've made me think said...

I don't know where to begin except to say thank you for writing all that you have.

I decided to comment because this particular post made me think hard about something that's bothered me for a while. I am married (in my early 30s, FWIW), and less than a month after my wedding I discovered that my husband had been involved with a non-Jewish woman for around two years. This happened after his conversion, so he knew full well that it was wrong. Learning that he had done this devastated me -- especially knowing that he'd done it not for the sex but out of despair at being totally alone for so long. (He had a very rough time with shidduch dating -- not that I had an easy time, but it was a cakewalk compared to his experience.) It brought out a lot of my own insecurities -- it made me wonder, if he did this, what's left of him for me? (I couldn't help but think of it from my own POV since becoming frum made me think hard about the fact that jumping straight into a physical relationship with a man felt like giving away pieces of myself.) Knowing this about him hurt so badly, even though I also knew he had in the end summoned up the strength to break it off though he loved her enough to wish he could marry her. It hurt even though I loved him deeply, even though I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was the man Hashem chose for me. It hurt partly because I remember so many nights of lying in bed and crying in frustration and anger during those very long five years when I didn't go anywhere near a man, when the closest I ever came to a single guy was on another jaw-droppingly dull first date that never led to a second. I asked myself so many times, if I did it, why couldn't he? I came up with plenty of answers, not least among them the fact that working as a nanny, while it may have been hard on my finances, probably saved me emotionally because I knew every day I would at least get a hug and an "I love you" from a toddler if not from a husband. But it still hurt.

So I want to thank you for bringing another point forward. I have thought before about the fact that I cannot fully understand what he did because I do not know what it is like to be motivated by despair. But you really brought it home with this line: "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." This reminded me -- I truly do not know what this is like. My husband does. My own depression, as horrible as it is, does not work this way; I can, thank G-d, always find motivation for wanting to stay alive. His depression does work this way sometimes -- and certainly did at that point in his life. Thank you again for helping me remember that I can't project myself onto my husband, and may Hashem bless you with joy, success and peace.

4/27/2005 01:36:00 PM  
Anonymous another nice jewish boy said...

I just started reading your blog and I really appreciate it. As a guy who is still somewhat shomer I can tell you that it's at least equally as hard. For you it's a harmless vibrator, for us its hotza'as zera levatalah. I feel for you. I did once hire a prostitute, and it was the worst feeling during and afterwards. Stay strong.

5/10/2005 04:06:00 PM  
Anonymous other troubled guy said...

for me all the S"N stuff was terrible, with all the other problems sometimes a hug was all that could keep me from ending things and i couldn't have that, (not to mention the fact it's taxing just to talk to guys normaly) eventualy i had to say well you know, this one female friend respects my trying to be S"N already i can't turn down (emotionaly) a hug from her, i guess, if hashem would pardon that, then i can keep the rest, but mind you she never offered unless she knew i had to have one or else i'd spiral out, and you know what? that led to me becoming truely S"N but still the strain is crushing, made worse by not being alowed to talk to girls (and in general i get along with them easier) so yah for me to it led to less and less observence and rochmonos once i did break shabbos over the loneliness

6/05/2005 10:33:00 PM  
Blogger mnuez said...

C'mon, NJBoy, YOU may have felt guilty with a prostitute, but not everyone does. Not at all. It really all comes down to your culture and what it tells you is right or wrong. If you think casual sex is a great evil then you'll feel like shit "giving in" (like a Bhuddist on a hunger fast would feel about "giving in" to drinking water on day six, or R' Yosef Karo (for another example) who believed that the world was going to be destroyed and he was chayiv klayah because HE drank water on Friday night. I kid you not, look it up (M"Meisharim)). It's all cultural my friend.

Were you an American soldier in WWII, you'd have no problem at all fucking around with prostitutes to you heart's (read: wallet's) content. In fact, the US army (in Hawaii at least) REGULATED the brothels. Set the price, the time limit, etc. And soldiers of all types felt just fine about it and managed to get on with their days - (and happier than they were before!)

An' you know what? Once you make that decision that there's nothing wrong with that (provided you BELIEVE that, of course), sex ceases to be this grand ole' bear that you have to think about not thinking about all the time.

For some of us it's mariage and for others it's not seeing premarital sex as a sin. Either way you win. (provided you don't get AIDS and die, of course :-)

6/09/2005 11:15:00 PM  
Blogger Zoe Strickman said...

I feel that reading your post and your comment, you've hit a nerve in the jewish community that so many of us are experiencing in some form. I am 28, shomer negiah for five years now, frum Lubavich, and I go through the same things you write about in your posts.

After days of sitting alone not needing other people, I've thought so many times to get help because it's likely I am clinically depressed. Nevertheless, you are a good writer. I wish your posts were shorter because I find it difficult to read such a mouthful at once; I have that same problem on my blog -- my entries are too long.

Anyway, I hope things are going well for you, and I believe the effect you are having for others can not be quantified. I will be reading your whole blog carefully over the next few days.

-Zoe

6/22/2005 11:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i can only tell you that i can empathise with your experience having been thru something similar my self! ;)

9/01/2009 04:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I admit not reading everything, I felt a bit sad and impatient.

I am Jewish but I'm not Orthodox nor am I super-crazy religious.
I'd love to be though.
But all in due time, I am probably not ready for all of it.

Anyways, what I like about being Jewish is mostly the fact certain good things take priority.

For example, if something that isn't normally allowed can save lives, you're permitted to do that thing.

And then there's the fact depression is not acceptable in Judaism, it's like an illness that needs to be cured.

Or the idea of love that can be found in this religion...

There's plenty of pretty concepts, I've yet to bump much trouble.
I think that sometimes people take things to the extreme trying to be perfect but they forget important things.

People will often judge without considering how someone else actually feels about what they do and what makes them do it.

It's not that they're evil, they're just silly, me included.

Anyhow, that's my thoughts about the few stuff I read.

I'd also like to add, you seem like a very intelligent woman, I find it odd that you're single.

As a male, I don't know how it works for females or other, I'd love to find someone I could feel comfortable around and spend my life with, sex/touching is hardly an issue, if I can find someone I can talk to that'll be wonderful, then again I am only 19 and virgin, I am always told by people not to look down on sex till I try it (I obviously still think sex is overrated compared to a proper chat with someone you love).

I hope and pray you will find someone like that, loneliness sucks.

Because you are at the right age, have you ever considering adopting a child?
Even if you can't get married, raising a child is certainly something you can do.

Hebrew would be my first language, I apologize for any English mistakes I made in this comment.

10/16/2012 02:46:00 PM  

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