It’s back

Posted on October 2, 2007

This year I had questions I’ve never had before. I wanted to run from Rosh Hashanah, hide from Yom Kippur. And now the old feelings have crept back into my life and as much as I try to stand strong against them, I have had to increase my meds and I still fight anxiety that several times a day is nearly debilitating.

On New Year’s Day the decree is inscribed and on the Day of Atonement it is sealed; how many shall pass away and how many shall be born; who shall live and who shall die…

Is this why my baby daughter died four months ago? Did I not pray hard enough last year?

It’s a question my counselor would say is ridiculous. G-d doesn’t work that way. Yet here it is. In writing. We daven it. Do we say the words but not mean them? Or do we mean them and if we do, how do I take them? When does prayer move from metaphor to the literal?

I visited my baby’s grave site twice during the ten days. Two friends who had wanted to be with me when she was buried, I took them each separately and we paid our respects. I could not cry.

…who shall have rest and who shall go wandering; who shall be tranquil and who shall be disturbed; who shall be at ease and who shall be afflicted…

The question comes naturally, is my depression, my panic attacks, my distorted lens through which I see the world the result of some divine decree? If I were a better Jew, would I get past this? And what would that mean? Whose definition of a better Jew?

How can I do teshuva more than I can do it? How can I give tzedaka more than I can give it? Can I possibly pray harder than I can pray?

There are some who would of course say yes. There are those who claim the Shoah happened because Jews were not religious enough. Without a doubt they would blame my illness on my failings. But theirs is not the voice I want to hear. Extremism is never the answer, no matter what the question.

Would it make any difference if I did my own Vidui?

I have raised my voice to my children; I have raised my voice to the heavens and doubted I would get an answer; I have lost faith in humanity when reading the news; I have lost faith in G-d when my depression tosses me into the depths; I have blamed others for not doing enough to help; I have blamed
G-d for giving me this challenge in the first place; I have berated myself for all the weaknesses my illness makes acute; I have berated myself for not being stronger…

It didn’t even wait until October. I saw the first signs nearly a week ago. The red flags, the things that alert me to another onset of anxiety and depression, they started coming quickly and went from nonexistent to frequent in 24 hours. On the third day, I increased my meds from 30mg to 40mg. I see my counselor and the psychiatrist’s assitant this week.

I gave my rabbi two weeks worth of available times when we could meet again, but I have not heard from him. I fear he is angry with me or disappointed because I could not face the crowds at shul. I could not stay. That may have been the first red flag and I missed it.

I noticed it when the first signs of hoplessness returned, the sense of being overwhelmed, of fearing attack from every side. Every e-mail, every phone call, every knock at the door I fear is someone unhappy with me. I couldn’t possibly confess enough to satisfy the yetser hara’s depression inside of me.

This is not how I wanted to start the year. On New Year’s Day the decree is inscribed and on the Day of Atonement it is sealed. Have I already been assigned some horrible fate because of my anxiety over the Days of Awe? Has my next baby’s death warrant been signed (G-d forbid) because of my depression’s timing?

I don’t know how to come to terms with the liturgy. I have no answers.


  1. Anonymous

    I hope you can feel me reaching out to comfort you with hugs, tears, whatever will help. I feel your suffering because I am where you are and it hurts so bad. Sometimes the only thing that snaps me out of my fog for awhile is knowing someone else is hurting as much as I am. It sounds like you are. I don’t have the guts to post the things you have. Take care.

  2. Shira Salamone

    Rivka, listen to Daniel. I think he’s got it right. Easy answers don’t exist, just hard questions.

    Most of all, don’t blame yourself for things that you can’t prevent.

    “Near is HaShem to the brokenhearted, and those crushed in spirit He saves.” (Psalm 34) In my book, G-d doesn’t cause or solve problems, He just comforts you as you’re dealing with them.

  3. Anonymous


    I recently started reading your blog. I too have depression (as well as other mental health issues on the borderline of diagnosis). While I am afraid I don’t have any answers for you, there are a couple of thoughts that have helped me over the last few years, since I have been depressed, which I hope you don’t mind if I share with you.

    I have drawn great comfort – and also a little fear – from a mishna in Pirkei Avot: (4.19) “Rabbi Yannai said, “It is not in our power to explain either the peace of the wicked or the suffering of the righteous.” Fear, because it means that whatever we do, we may end up suffering. Comfort, because whatever we suffer, we know it does not prove that we are wicked.

    There is one specific point you raise, “I have raised my voice to the heavens and doubted I would get an answer”. And yet, you still raise your voice to the heavens, despite the doubt. This reminds me of a second, related, point.

    The Book of Job is one of the most perplexing in the whole of Tanakh, and I do not pretend to be any kind of expert on it, but I find its structure very comforting. Job undergoes many tragedies, resists all attempts by his friends to blame himself for them and instead blames G-d, challenges G-d to debate with him, but doubts he will receive an answer. Finally, G-d does speak to him “out of the whirlwind,” but instead of answers, He just gives him more questions, points out the limits of human comprehension.

    And yet, just when we think the moral is that people should be passive and accepting, G-d delivers a surprising final message: that it was Job who spoke correctly of Him, not Job’s friends, who blamed him and mouthed platitudes at him.

    Job knew two truths: that he had done nothing to deserve his suffering, and that G-d is righteous and does not cause suffering for no reason. G-d spoke to Job as perhaps he speaks to all of us, from the whirlwind, from upheaval, chaos and destruction, and Job, in his limited, human comprehension, could not answer G-d’s questions. Yet finally Job was vindicated, because he refused to accept easy answers that would end his philosophical problem (to believe that he was wicked, or that G-d is uncaring), because that would be untrue. He raised his voice to heaven without expecting an answer (indeed, he never got an answer he could understand), yet in raising his voice to G-d, even in anger, he was more righteous than his friends who gave him easy, untrue answers.

    These two related ideas have been a source of strength to me as G-d as been speaking to me out of the whirlwind. I hope very much that you too can draw strength from them.

  4. Jendeis

    I agree with Mother in Israel. You have to remember that a lot of your feelings and insights will be twisted through the prism of depression.

    I don’t believe that your baby passed away because you didn’t pray enough or weren’t good enough.

    Does prayer help? I think so, but I also believe that our actions alone do not answer for everything. Where would G-D be then? Only G-D knows the answers to these questions of ours.

    I am so proud of you, Rivka, for reaching out and seeking the help that you need. I wish you strength and hope.

  5. mother in israel

    “I fear he is angry with me or disappointed because I could not face the crowds at shul.”

    You realize that that is the depression talking, don’t you? Your rabbi is not disappointed or angry with you for missing shul. He is probably overwhelmed with the holidays and who knows whatever crises.

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