Pros and Cons

I haven’t posted here since early October. I haven’t taken my meds since long before that. What I said a couple of posts down was really true — before you get diagnosed with depression, make sure you’re not surrounded by assholes. My old job was a killer, quite literally. The irony of a religious institution being soul-sucking is not lost on me. It was the exact opposite of what I had expected. A place for my soul to be nourished and my faith to be strengthened.

Instead, after 5 years, I left mentally and spiritually battered, so what I did after my last day was enact a near-total separation between me and my old Jewish community and me and Judaism. I let my husband drive the kids back and forth to religious school, and I separated myself from any and all inner workings of the place. I barely skimmed the newsletter, and I didn’t care too much about what my kids were doing every week in religious school, the very same school I used to run. I became one of those disconnected parents I lamented all those years.

But I was content, if not happy. Just weeks after my last day at the school I started a new job — a job in my chosen field, and one that I really enjoy and have excelled at. I’m coming up on my 6-month anniversary and it’s going better than expected.

Except for this.

Loneliness.

At my old job I was constantly surrounded by people, many of them admiring. I was a popular teacher and had a real connection with the teenagers in my community. I miss those kids, but it’s weird for a non-teacher adult to have too close of a relationship with high schoolers. And it’s not just the kids I miss. I had a staff of 15 teachers with whom I was in constant contact, for personal and professional reasons. As frustrating, infuriating, and stressful as it could be at times, it kept me connected to people and community in person.

Now most of my social life is online. I don’t deny that those connections can be “real,” in the same way that sending letters in the olden days could maintain a real connection, but it’s still virtual and isolating. I don’t need to talk to friends on the phone any more, so I don’t. I text and I send Facebook messages, and I have political conversations through my Facebook statuses.

But when my 40th birthday rolled around 10 days ago, I realized just how lonely and alone I had become, and how many of my good friends are so very far away. The top 5 people I would have liked to celebrate my birthday with in person live in 5 different cities, none of them mine. I had a decent turnout for my birthday party at a local club — 12 people. Had I still been working at my old job there would have been at least double that, in addition to celebrations at my work.

There are three of us on my new team at work, and on any given day only 1 or 2 of us are there in the office. My new coworkers are nice and congenial, but they are not my friends, and I don’t know if they ever will be. I might miss some of the benefits, but I won’t again risk the entanglements of personal relationships at work.

I keep telling myself that my New Year’s resolution will be to reach out more and to get out into the world more, but like I said, I just turned 40. I know myself well enough to know that probably won’t happen. I am feeling old and unchangeable, physically as well as mentally and spiritually, so making another promise to break seems childish and a folly of youth. I am resigned.

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Less than Honest about the Pain

Below is the public post I made on my other blog, the one where I reveal my true identity.

While it is true that I have been open about some of the pain I am in following my accident, I have actually been quite understated about the real amount of pain. I know that, in the past, I have used illness as an excuse to escape from the world. I have exaggerated in order to receive attention. I have faked — mostly as a child — to test people’s relationships with me.

And so I feel terribly guilty about expressing the real amount of pain I am in now. It’s no joke. I birthed two children without pain-killing medication* and broken ribs are worse. Illustration: I just sat up a little straighter in bed just now. Raised my head and shoulders by no more than two inches, and had to catch my breath because of the tearing sensation in my side. I have 100 mg of tramadol and 800 mg of Advil on board and the pain remains. I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in two weeks as I wake up as soon as the night-time Percocet wears off. I can time it to the minute.

When I mention these things, however — even now, I feel like a complainer. Even though I know this post is going out into the ether, I feel guilty about being so self-centered about this experience. On a blog that has “me” in the title twice. Crimeny.

Anyway, here’s the post about the Jewish New Year.
I have a unique point of view on the High Holidays this year. I am viewing everything through the haze of pain. A little more than a week ago I broke 5 ribs in a mountain bike crash. As anyone who has broken ribs will tell you, it’s tremendously painful. Even now, post-crash, I can hiccough, burp, reach too far with my arm, twist in my seat or any number of other seemingly innocuous actions and be in agony.

Rosh Hashanah services are a social affair. I am almost universally known in my community — I held a position of leadership for 5 years and I interacted with every subgroup of the synagogue.

Pain tends to make one anti-social, however. I had no interest in the traditional Rosh Hashanah hug — especially a surprise hug or a friendly arm around the shoulder. So I wore a sling, which I don’t really need, but I figured I needed the visual signal: Don’t Touch Me.

Unfortunately, the sling also sends another message: I’m Hurt and You Need to Know What Happened. I tried to keep the explanation short and sweet every time. Broke some ribs mountain biking. Yup, it hurts a lot. Oh, about 4-6 weeks. Yes, definitely, good drugs.

And since the time for conversation during and around services is limited, the above interaction was 90% of my social interaction for the day. I had very little time to catch up on what my friends were doing, and I found myself the constant object of sympathy, which I would have expected to enjoy more than I did. Who doesn’t want to be fussed over?

Me.

Being fussed over is like receiving a constant stream of compliments. It’s nice for a while, but responding to each and every instance is exhausting.

I was also distracted by pain during the service. My attention wandered to the physical rather than the spiritual. My chair had no arm rests, so balancing myself while standing and sitting was difficult and painful. The sitting and standing itself had its own complications, and eventually I found a place in the back to stand. Sitting pushes the rib cage down into the abdomen. Owwie.

Half of the prayers flew by me. Partially because I was in pain, but also because I was not able to participate in the singing and reciting of the prayers. There just wasn’t enough breath available. Listening to prayer is not the same as praying.

Pain also makes you grumpy. My patience with the rabbi’s 45-minute sermon was nil. When my children dragged their feet about leaving, neither of them wanting to part with friends, I was snappish. In short, I didn’t feel very spiritual at all.

The irony of Rosh Hashanah is that it is all about renewal and second chances, but there is only one chance per year to be part of the kehilah, the community that only comes together for High Holidays. I feel as if I was distracted and absent.

Most of all, I am saddened by the missed opportunity I had to share with my community. I was originally slated to speak from the bimah today about the Akedah, the Near-Sacrifice of Isaac by his father, Abraham. I have been thinking about it for weeks and working through idea after idea. After all, it’s quite possibly the most-discussed story in all of Judaism, and it’s so important that we read it every year on Rosh Hashanah. I was excited to write it (made impossible by the drugs) and deliver it (made impossible by the lack of stamina and breath). I miss being a teacher, and this was a way back in. Perhaps I will post it here. It is still asking to be written.

So I am poised to move on through the 10 Days of Awe to Yom Kippur in a continuing haze, one which I can only hope will lift occasionally. I am at once too distracted to partake in self-reflection and so isolated and alone that self-reflection is the only option some days.

Relapse?

A physical injury may have sidetracked my “recovery” from depression. I’ve been doing well for a long time — months — but feel myself slipping back into depression a bit since I had a bad cycling accident on the 18th in which I separated my shoulder and broke 5 ribs.

The pain is tremendous. Only childbirth (no meds) has been worse, and that ended quickly. This is pain every time I breathe, only being able to sleep a few hours at a time and a constant reliance on tramadol, vicodin and percocet.

I have to admit looking at those bottles a little wistfully today — they have the power within them to make all the pain go away.

has anyone else been in this place? Did the slide toward depression end when the physical recovery began?

I am off all of my depression meds now — as I said, Iv’e been doing well — and I don’t want to restart them. The side effects were very difficult to deal with.

But right now feels like a very slippery place.

Did I bring the crazy?

I’ve written and thought a lot about my last employment situation and how “crazy-making” it was. But as I watch my replacement do her job, and I hear reports about the functioning of the organization, I’m beginning to wonder — did I bring the crazy? Apparently, things have settled down a lot there — there is less contention with the bosses; the Board is running smoothly, and meetings (which I am not attending) are going well.

Was it me?

I admit that I was a force of nature around there, and I was emotionally involved in ways that I perhaps should not have been — but I was passionate about my work. So I spoke up at community meetings. I advocated for things I believed in. I stood up to the truly crazy, and I challenged the status quo. But there is a price to all of those things, and I’m not sure I saw it when I was in the thick of it. How much, really, do we need to stand on principle when it causes contention in a community? How much should these things have mattered?

Not as much as they did.

I am happy for everyone who has a smoother ride now — and I have detached myself completely from the organization emotionally. And I have noticed a marked increase in my own sanity, stress level and emotional health.

Looks like everyone wins.

The Age of Reason

This might be a little bit of a rant, but lately I’ve been on a bit of a ranty rampage. It began with some interactions with my husband’s family. We are Jews. (Oh sure, I’m an atheistic Jew, but I’m still a jew…more on that some other day.)

They are fundmentalist Christians.

And they are really nice people. Polite. Nice to my children. Intereted in our lives. Not pushy or proselytizing (in person). Seemingly smart.

And yet, some of them are creationists/young earth believers. The earth is no more than about 6,000 years old. Yup. 6 with three zeroes.

And they really and truly believe that God is active in their lives. He cares about who they date and who they marry, and he answers personal prayers. At a recent wedding we stood by and listened to the newlyweds, in 100% seriousness, talk about how God brought them together — not in a grand-scheme-of-things kind of way, but in a “I logged onto this web site because God told me to because He knew she was there waiting and logged in,” kind of way.

So when a hurricane comes into the news, like Irene did this past week, I see all of their prayer requests on Facebook. They pray for all of their friends and family to be safe. They pray for God to watch over people.

But I have noticed that they do not pray for God to stop making hurricanes.

Or for God to stop killing the other people who die in hurricanes.

They often ask for prayers for healing, and brag about how the prayers are working when the person’s health improves.

Funny, however, that I never see them saying that, “Oh, well, prayer must not have worked” when the person is not healed.

Theodicy — why bad things happen to good people — is always explained away as “God’s mysterious ways”.

I would really like to pin them down on some of these questions some day, but them being the in-laws, I’m not sure that will ever happen. In addition to their Midwestern religion, after all, they also have those damn Midwestern manners. If they were loud-mouth Jews, life would be so much easier!

Physical Illness

I’ve been very ill for the past week. Stomach stuff — not for polite conversation. But it’s now been 7 days and I just spiked my nightly fever. Unfortunately, I’m working the night shift tonight, and cannot go to bed for another 3 hours. It’s midnight.

I’ve had “bipolar illnesses” before, which were just really depression manifesting itself as physical symptoms. This is not that. It’s very real, and it’s been a bit debilitating. However, I have not stayed home from work. My job is too new (July 5) and the last things I want is a reputation, which I believe I got at my old job, of being “sick all the time.” I may have worn a path to the bathroom and back to my desk, but I made it into the office every day and got all of my projects done.

At home, of course, I spent the entire week in bed. And it scared me, because it felt like depression, even though I knew it wasn’t. I am NOT depressed. I’m just sick. It’s a new feeling to recognize that.