Friday, September 17, 2010

On Zayde, Depression, and why I'm not fasting this Yom Kippur

It's been a whirlwind last few weeks. Well, sort of.

Career-wise, things have stalled. Work sucks in a variety of ways. Suffice it to say that things did not pan out as I would have liked and I am stuck in the same job with more scut work, less money, less chances to do things I'd really like to do (you know, like actually teaching), and that my school has re-defined my job to classify me as more of a staff person (like the janitors) than a member of faculty (this despite them helping pay for my credential).

This has dovetailed with Shiksa Girlfriend getting a new job, which, while awesome, combined with her grad schooling, has resulted in her not getting home before 10:00 pm only about twice a week on average. So far, very few of our days off are overlapping, and in addition to missing out on companionship time, it's also becoming a lot harder to maintain our hovel.

So what this all means is I'm coming home later, more tired than usual, a lot more resentful than usual, and spending lots of time alone in the crappy apartment. Good times.

Interestingly enough, the past few weeks have also led to some interesting Jewish and family history moments. I got Zayde's tefillin in the mail and even got a chance to talk a little with his old friend, Dr. Jewman. The good doc told me, among other revelations, that the old man was actually a fellow traveler of the illustrious Skverer rebbe, not Schneerson as I have long believed. (I suppose this means I should start going slightly easier on Chabad. Or not.) Me being the obsessive Jewish trivia fiend I am, I suppose this now means I'll have to start reading up on Skver (fingers crossed that they can point to some intellectual/spiritual accomplishments beyond esteemed crack-pot and comically-tiny hat aficionado Mayer Schiller).

So I got the tefillin, and I went poking around the internet. I fiddled around with the head-strap. I looked up how to tie the knot (luckily for me Zayde-- or the sofer who checked the tefillin and mailed them out to me-- used the double-dalet, also known as a square knot, which I found far easier than the single-dalet). I practiced until I could do it again if I had to. I also practiced wrapping them around me. And then, that Sunday, I davened in "full Jew uniform"-- tallis, tall boxy yarmulke, and Zayde's tefillin.

And it was pretty darned cool. To feel so enmeshed, to feel physically changed and set apart from other activities, identifying that this was prayer and this was meant to be a connection and show and remind you and other people that you are praying, was a very different and unique experience. In a way beyond just wearing a tallis (I don't know, maybe it's the fact that you can kind of put on a tallis and almost forget it's there, particularly after doing the cool shoulder-cape-flip). And of course, having the physical connection to my grandfather, wearing the tefillin that he wore, re-affirming that connection to the past and the family and the traditions, was all feeding into my emotions as well.

So that was a very neat experience, one which I'll definitely try again. Unfortunately given my early-morning schedule and my understanding of when it's appropriate to use tefillin (most sources I looked at suggested that you generally don't use them to daven anything other than shacharis, Chabad outreach notwithstanding), I'm guessing I'll mostly only have the chance to use them on Sunday mornings, at least during the school year.

Shortly after this, I got another Zayde trinket. Less spiritual, but still very powerful.

It was his FBI file. From the late 80s, when he had a series of psychotic episodes. When he flew all over Europe (including a stop in Turkey) supposedly on a secret mission looking for stolen Nazi art that he was going to purchase and then return to survivors in Israel. After a week or so of criss-crossing Europe, sleeping in airports, and doing god-knows-what-else, he flew back to the US from Paris.

During the flight, he started hallucinating. He made threats to the flight crew. He accused people of robbing him. He tried to break down the door of the cockpit to speak to the captain. He attacked several flight attendants.

If it had happened today, he would have been shot by an air marshal. I'm absolutely sure of this. Instead he was wrestled to the floor, ziptied to his seat, and escorted off the plane by federal agents (airspace being federal jurisdiction). After attempts at defense (which included asking my father, "the lawyer son" to be a character witness-- he refused, which torpedoed their already-crappy relationship for a good seven years), he wound up being acquitted of attempted murder by reason of insanity but was sentenced to eight months in a psychiatric treatment facility.

Zayde was bipolar, and mostly manic. Most of the rest of the family have tended towards the depressive end of the spectrum.

Recently I've been realizing just how angry I've gotten. How despondent I've gotten. I've felt totally stuck, trapped on all sides. My parents will ask me how I'm doing, and my honest answer is, "Everything pretty much sucks." I don't live our living situation. I don't like my job. I don't like how little I'm seeing SG. To say nothing of our present social and community semi-isolation. It's become harder and harder to pick out silver linings, or even to conceptualize a light at the end of the tunnel to look forward to.

Abbot Yid asked me how I was feeling the other day. I said, "Depressed."

He said, "Well, no offense, but everyone else in this family is taking anti-depressants; why should you be so special?"


I've started the process of looking for a therapist. I know once I get started things will get better. And there are already some things that are starting, ever so slightly to look up. SG and I are beginning the very early stages of planning a move out of the city to find a better cost of living and also try to find some more job opportunities. I spoke with my lead teacher today and we're going to start planning out concrete lessons I can be in charge of. For the first time in a while, things don't seem to be interminable. And I know that will go a long way towards helping me see past the crappy parts and look at them as the temporary issues they are.

Last year I had a bronchial infection during Yom Kippur and decided not to fast. This year I'm struggling with major allergies and a bad cold. That wouldn't necessarily be enough to keep me from fasting. But this past week, when SG and Mother Superior Yid each asked me if I was going to fast this year, I knew immediately what the right answer was.

"No. Because I'm not healthy right now. And I can recognize that."

(Suffice it they were both very relieved to hear this. Incidentally, SG will be fasting.)

I inherited Zayde's love of Judaism. That's been apparent since I was twelve. But I have to come to terms with the fact that there's other stuff, darker stuff, that may be in the inheritance mix as well. It doesn't mean I need to live my life scared-- I certainly seem to have gotten a much better roll on genetic roulette than my brother or some of our cousins. But it's certainly important to be aware of-- and, if necessary, to get help for.

Here's to a new year, a time of learning, growth, and yes, struggle. But hopefully, also a time of strength, renewal, and healing.

...Man, I need something to lighten this mood up. Oh, I know. Speaking of tefillin (and tzitzit), this rabbi, though pretty cool considering his age and religious background, also seems a tad over the top regarding these mitzvot, perhaps verging on ADD (by his own estimate, they weigh over 40 lbs). Discuss.

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