the light gets in

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in. (Leonard Cohen)

As I’ve mentioned several times in this space, my first year of rabbinical school was really difficult for me, for a number of reasons. For one, everything was new: We moved to a new city so that I could start a graduate program in an area I’d never done academic study before after being out of school for more than 10 years. Plus I was being asked to make myself vulnerable on a daily basis with people I didn’t know at all — and to think about some of the most profound questions that we ask ourselves as human beings. Then, add all of this to the fact that the people I was with eight hours a day (my first-year cohort) had a fair amount of trouble trusting each other and meshing as group.

I started seeing a therapist here in December of 2012, just a few months into my first year of school. I know it was a good idea in a general way — if I’m going to be in a pastoral role, I need to have dealt with my own issues so that I’m not holding my own pain while holding others’ — but what motivated me to seek help then was an explosive incident in class. My intense reaction to the discussion took me by surprise (and, if I’m being honest, embarrassed me, too).

I completely lucked out in my “search” for a therapist in the area: I visited just one woman, who had been recommended to me, and I felt like it was a good fit immediately. I’ve been seeing her ever since.

I’ve been in therapy on and off since college when I first started seeing someone in the university’s health services department. I didn’t go regularly until I lived in D.C. and I needed support for my volunteer work at the rape crisis center. I now go once a week, and I feel like I need every hour.

everything is broken (source: moshe giventhal)

everything is broken (source: moshe giventhal)

Sometimes it’s frustrating to think about how many years I’ve been working on my issues, for indeed, I am still dealing with a lot of the stuff that I first started talking about in college. There’s a part of me that wants to just be done with it and move on. But I also know that’s not really how it works. I do hope, however, that my need for help will someday not feel as urgent as it does now. Right now, I at times feel broken beyond repair. I wonder if I’ll ever feel whole, or anything like it.

There are definitely bright spots, though. I know how absolutely privileged I am to even be able to see a therapist, let alone be free to find a good fit and not have the choice be limited by insurance. (My insurance does cover part of the cost, but I’m reimbursed at the out-of-network provider rate, and paying for part of expensive is still expensive.) I also am beyond grateful to my husband, who also recognizes how important this is for me and has agreed to prioritize the expense. I am also fortunate to have been able to find medication that very effectively helps with my depression. Most of the time, I feel “normal” — or more accurately, I feel like myself. And that is a relief.

This is not to say, however, that I don’t have times when I feel depressed, when I can’t do much of anything. It doesn’t happen a lot, but when it does, I feel helpless. I have a hard time accessing my own strength and resources that I know theoretically that I have. (For a good illustration of how depression works, see these posts from Hyperbole and a Half: Adventures in Depression and Depression Part Two.) All I can do most of the time is wait for it to pass, which it usually does within a couple of days (which relatively short period of time I am extremely grateful for — though it doesn’t always feel “short”). I wake up one day feeling better, and I pick myself up and go back to my life.

I write this because I think sharing my story, my journey with mental illness, is an important part of destigmatizing it and destigmatizing seeking help for it. I write this for myself, too: I can’t always convince myself of the fact that my depression is not a moral failing on my part, even though I know intellectually that it is so. It’s chemical, and it’s genetic (several members of my family also have experience with depression). I continue to work on accepting the fact that I will probably struggle with this my whole life — and that I’ll be on medication for the rest of my life. And some days that feels more acceptable and manageable than others.

mourning

Next week is Tisha B’Av (literally, the ninth day of [the month of] Av), a holiday in the Jewish year cycle that commemorates the destruction of both the First and the Second Temples in Jerusalem. Tradition also ascribes to this day various other tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people, including the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. Observance often includes fasting and reading the book of Lamentations — as befits a day of mourning.

Preparation for the holiday begins three weeks before, on the 17th of Tammuz, when (according to the Mishnah) Moses is said to have come down from Mount Sinai, with the first set of the 10 Commandments, seen the children of Israel worshiping the golden calf, and smashed the tablets. My teacher Ebn Leader connects this event with Yom Kippur, when it is said that Moses came down again from Mount Sinai with the second and final set of tablets, and thus the people knew that they were forgiven. Indeed, during these many weeks between 17 Tammuz and 10 Tishrei (Yom Kippur), we carry out a process of forgiveness.

But first we mourn. This has been a powerful metaphor for me lately. I’ve faced some painful realities, and so I’ve had to give up hope for a relationship of mine. (I apologize for the lack of specificity: I’m trying to be discreet without being overly cryptic. And it’s not my husband!)

I’m not sure what mourning looks like in this context. I feel loss. Devastating loss. But I am still in relationship with this person — it’s just not going to be the relationship that I had hoped. And certain limitations mean that this person will likely never be aware of the shift. So I’m dealing with this on my own, and I’m left to wonder: What can that relationship look like now? Am I able make the adjustment? How do I deal with my feelings about the change? Where can I find what I need (what I had once hoped to get from this relationship)? Will I ever be able to forgive the many ways in which this person has let me down?

As Ebn notes in his d’vrei Torah about Tisha B’Av (and it’s really worth reading the whole thing!):

The ninth day of Av is the day we acknowledge Hurban Yerushalayim. We usually translate this as the “destruction of Jerusalem,” but Jerusalem is also “yir’eh shalem”: a vision of wholeness. Tish’ah b’Av is the destruction of the vision of wholeness that we may have had, that may even be the driving force of our life, that is now shattered on the rock of evil and suffering. When we acknowledge that shattering, our love gives birth to disappointment, anger and deep sadness.
I don’t know the answers to any of the questions that I have. This situation and this realization offend my commitment to recognizing the humanity in every person: I don’t ever want to give up on someone. And I know I can’t keep making myself vulnerable in the ways I have in the past. That pain is overwhelming.

happy first birthday

On Tuesday No Power in the ‘Verse turned one! I started this blog in the midst of applying to rabbinical school, and I am now trying to finish up my first semester. In that time, I’ve written 63 posts — more than my goal of once a week! Thank you, dear reader(s?), for accompanying me on this journey.

where the magic happens

where the magic happens

Some of my favorite posts:

My most popular post (because, I think, my husband shared it on Facebook) was about my being forced to think about what makes a marriage.

I continue to enjoy writing posts about the books I read, but those don’t seem to garner many readers. But that’s okay: They, like this blog in general, are first and foremost for me.

This space is proof that writing is a very effective form of therapy.

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