Posted on February 13, 2007

I am a little overwhelmed and a little surprised and a little sad that this blog has apparently touched so many others. Overwhelmed and surprised because I didn’t think people would be that interested in reading depressing posts or posts on depression. Sad because so very many people are struggling with the same thing or know someone who is or see that people in their communities need help with this and there’s only so much that the individual can do.

In a moment of irony, I’m tempted to say that what I’m doing right now contributes to the problem. I’m typing words onto a computer screen instead of reaching out to others in my immediate community. Two close friends and members of my congregation have had a parent die in the past week. I need to get myself together enough to make another shiva call.

Others may argue that I’m making connections here even if it’s through this electronic medium. That this still helps, and maybe eventually will help my congregation too. Perhaps that’s the reason I said okay when D suggested starting this blog instead of haranguing me yet again to journal on paper. Certainly I do not want to just spew negativity into the universe. We have enough of that. I want to find a way to articulate the problems and find solutions. Even if the ultimate problem for my life lies in my own brain chemistry.

One commenter said something that is very true, but still bothers me. Maybe it’s this lens through which I’m viewing everything. Anon identified him/herself as someone else who struggles with depression and said:

But part of the pact is that we have to be willing to help ourselves, otherwise this places a responsibility on others which they may not be emotionally equipped to handle. If someone is acting in a way that seems irrational and unstable, they can’t realistically expect people around them to be lining up to hug and soothe them in any situation.

I need to respond to this, for me if not for the commenter. I do take issue with the description of “irrational and unstable.” Those are loaded words that bring to my mind a break with reality, more descriptive of psychosis than depression. What people around me would have seen was me crying. They would not have known if I was irrational or not and I doubt that “unstable” would have been in the first five words they’d use to describe me. I could be wrong, but don’t think I am. There is already enough stigma attached to depression. Irrational and unstable fuels that stigma. It doesn’t lessen it.

Anon does have a point, however. I would never suggest that I or anyone else ought to simply do nothing and expect the community to pick up the slack. I don’t know if that’s what he/she had in mind or not. It could be read that way or it could be read simply that support needs to come from professional sources and not from one’s faith community.

It reminds me of Benjamin Franklin’s quotation that “G-d helps those who help themselves.” From what research I’ve attempted, Franklin was predominantly a Deist and believed that G-d did not have a hand in human affairs. This, to me, could easily be turned into help yourself because no one else is going to.

Is that what we want? It’s not what I want, not for me and not for my congregation. Yes, we each need to take responsibility for ourselves, for our care and our safety. This is why I am in therapy and have been for a very, very long time. It is why I have been diligent about taking my medication for almost four years since it was prescribed. While it now needs adjustment, I cannot be considered negligent in this area.

The fact that I do not have a psychiatrist is an unfortunate intersection of managed health care and a clinic more focused on policy than people. It is not because I expected others to care for me instead of helping myself.

I don’t work outside the home so I do not have friends or a support network through work. I used to have a support network of other stay at home mothers but our group grew and gained many new and enthusiastic Christian members. It was wonderful for the group, but as the only Jew, I became something of a non-entity. I’m not sure if I still have that support. I have little contact with my biological family. I do have a handful of close friends. And I have my shul, which is very important to me. It seems natural to me that I should look to my faith community as a support network.

Every professional–doctor, counselor, psychiatrist, psychologist, rabbi, social worker–has stressed the need for a support network. We all need people to turn to when we are in need, people we can give to when they are in need. Perhaps the Internet and iPods and handheld video games have eroded support networks and we are far more alone than we think we are. Perhaps, but I have hope for my congregation.

I should post the good things my congregation does. Unfortunately, much of it would risk my anonymity. I don’t believe they are “heartless and self-involved” as the same Anon wrote, though I can see why he/she might read that into what I’ve written. I do believe we have some problems, some tendencies to stick to old cliques and not be as welcoming or outgoing or receptive to those in pain as we could be.

Some time ago a congregant who also suffered from depression and who had been open about it with those he felt he could trust was in such pain from his depression that there seemed only one way out. After his death and the subsequent shock to the community, the rabbi sent out information to every congregant about helping the surviving family to reintegrate into shul life. What to say, what to do, what not to expect. It was extremely helpful and informative to me as a congregant who didn’t know the family well.

We used to have a committee that looked at how to provide the opportunity for further connections within the shul. But that committee went through some turnover and changes and now focuses almost entirely on new members. We have another committee that focuses on the needs of those just out of the hospital, new mothers, bereaved families. Needs are attended to by volunteers. People volunteer to cook meals, bring a Shabbos meal, whatever they can help with. It depends on a coordinator and those volunteers. How to contact that committee remains somewhat of a mystery. Most of the names on their need list are supplied by the rabbi.

I have honestly done everything I can think of within the time and financial and legal limits I have to ask for help in the past two weeks short of screaming, I need help! from the bima. I’ve come to believe that the response from those in the congregation who saw me and said nothing to me or my husband or the rabbi has more to do with them simply not knowing what to do, what to say. That’s something I want to change.


  1. Jack Steiner

    I’ve come to believe that the response from those in the congregation who saw me and said nothing to me or my husband or the rabbi has more to do with them simply not knowing what to do, what to say.

    That is quite reasonable and to me a sound analysis. People are sometimes afraid to say the wrong thing so sometimes they simply do nothing.

  2. Remson Wood

    I truly do not believe you are spewing negativity into the universe by sharing your thoughts. And I do believe you are helping. Whether one can offer help within one’s immediate community, or to strangers, you, in your own fashion, are imbuing the universe with light. Everyone has different strengths. This online venue is a community, too. It offers empathy, compassion, understanding, kindness, ideas & news of research & treatment.

  3. Anonymous

    Thanks for the shout-out 😉

    In all fairness, I don’t know you (aside from your writing) and therefore I only know what I’m able to interpret and infer from your posts. I apologize if I’ve missed the mark, but my message can also be seen in a more general way.

    My use of the words “irrational” and “unstable” were meant to describe what an onlooker might perceive if they saw someone crying without any obvious provocation, seeming out of place for the setting. Unfortunately, human nature gives us the ability to look away when we sense discomfort. If not, there’d be no one sleeping on the streets in the winter, right?

    But you also have to keep your expectations realistic. Perhaps you could approach your rabbi and suggest that he organize a learning group and selectively invite several people to participate. Even though it seems so, you’re probably not the only one in your congregation struggling with emotional issues. You could use this as an opportunity to reach out to them, as well.

    My husband once pointed out that depression is like looking through binoculars the wrong way- you’re “big” while everything else becomes teensy tiny and distant. That was the moment when I really snapped to. Depression, I came to realize, is selfish. It wants attention and sees itself as the center of the universe.

    And so, despite still experiencing the same sensations a lot of the time, I’ve learned to recognize the feelings, sort through the fiction, stop and put things in perspective- and I’m able to feel a lot better (and cut down on meds!). I know, I know- that’s only my experience. But I know it worked, and it just might work for at least one other person in the whole wide world, if they can force themselves to see that little “sliver of light”. Who knows, maybe you’re that person and there was a reason we found each other.

    My own shul has a lesser degree of clique-ness, or maybe I just don’t see it because I tend to hop from table to table and group to group (something which would have mortified me in high school, btw). If I just stand around, the predictable people come up to me. I have a better time when I control who I talk to and how long we talk. It was uncomfortable- okay, hard– at first, but no one has bitten me (yet).

    As far as professional help- yay for you for keeping on top of it. I know that the right therapist makes all the difference between sorting things out and falling deeper into the dark. I’ve talked with both kinds. And I know all about health plans… But the work pays off when you find the right person.

    Good luck!

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