Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Psychoanalysis on Eeyore's Dilemma

What is wrong with me?!? Last night I came home from the law firm drained of energy, and so I thought it would be exciting to get a full night of sleep. I came home, had a cup of soy milk, and at 9:30pm I was in my green pajamas, in bed with a book, and within a few minutes, I was falling peacefully asleep.

I was so convinced that eight hours later (5:30am), my body would wake up full of energy. I even set my alarm clocks for 5:30am. Wrong. 7:49am, my eyes opened, and I was groggy with a headache (or shall I say it felt more like a hangover). I didn't even hear any of the alarm clocks, although I vaguely remember snoozing them every few minutes -- but they didn't interrupt my deep sleep. I suppose I shut them off while I was still asleep, and then I went back to my bed and continued whatever dream I was in.

Now I am awake, and I am totally confused. How could I have not woken up after 8 hours? I am so used to sleeping on 3 - 5 hours. 7 hours has been my treat to myself these past two weeks in an attempt to regain a sense of normal functioning because I was starting to get mood swings, going from full energy and happiness to anger or severe lack of energy or desire to do anything, back to full energy a few days later. I noticed this, and I realized this wasn't normal. I was writing about these weird experiences around the time when I first started the blog. I spoke with my mashpia (spiritual guide/rabbi) and others, we decided that getting more than 3 hours of sleep would make the mood swings go away, and it has.

Since then I've been sleeping normally, and occasionally my rabbi calls me up to make sure I am sleeping well and for an adequate number of hours. But as you can tell from the previous posts:

I am feeling a contradiction in emotions that has not yet sorted itself out. If you asked me how I felt, I would tell you that overall, I am cheerful and I am relatively happy, except for the stresses I am under from law school, from being lonely, and from not being able to manage my energy and my time to do the daily or weekly tasks I need to do. But otherwise, I am excited for the direction things are moving in life. According to my goal list, I am achieving my goals and I am right on schedule. These past few weeks and with the help of the blog, I have been given a chance to re-evaluate my goals, my character, and my activities which is a valuable gift because it allows me to re-align myself with the values I set out to live by. The sleep has given me the clarity to undertake these exercises.

Yet along with the sleep has come a not so good feeling of general fuzziness where I am having a difficult time focusing. These feelings can be described as a combination of oversleeping and of having a hangover from too much alcohol the night before. Mind you, I don't drink alcohol and I don't do drugs. So there should be no reason for this; things in life objectively seem to be going pretty well. Yet I am saddened and drained of my life force that I would get on three hours of sleep and a large cup of coffee. From this description, perhaps I am feeling what it feels to be normal without my high-energy over-tired caffeinated lifestyle that I have become so accustomed to. But I am sad (not crying sad, but heavy eyebrows sad, like Eeyore the donkey from Winnie the Poo) and I don't have an explanation for this other than the single-lonely-law student explanation. But this isn't something new. Why is it getting to me now?

Okay, the donkey bit might get a bit annoying, but the point I wanted to express is that Eeyore was known for being depressed, but look! He has a smile in both pictures! Could it be a remote possibility that despite the smile often has a home on my face, that I have fallen into a depression? My mom has been telling me for years now (well, since around September 11th, 2001) that I've changed and that I've become depressed. She often shows me a picture from earlier that year [at a sheva berachos (post-wedding party) from a friend prior to me becoming religious] and says "See? That is how you were -- that was the look in your eye. I haven't seen that look in such a long time!"

I remember that time -- it was then that I thought I could conquer the world. I was working the mortgage business and making absolutely nothing (compared to what I set my goals to make) and I was working a prospecting business (cult promoting lawlessness) that focused my attention on selling a product in a pyramid scheme that I later found out to be illegal and I was the chump at the bottom who lost all my money in the process. But that is not what got me down. Perhaps it was the fact that I felt that I lost all my friends for the moral decisions I made (more like a moral shakedown), and even the friends that have stuck with me (come along for the ride) until today have become somewhat estranged from me because my decisions took me away from our activities that made our friendship so strong. Becoming religious wasn't the cause of all this, it was the after-effect. After all this happened, I turned to G-d and said "if this is the way life is, and if you have a set of rules (a map) that I can use to navigate through life, then I need your help to guide me through whatever is on its way". So I slowly became religious, taking one thing at a time [in rapid succession]. I think my mom is right though -- I am still not the person I used to be, and as wonderful as being religious is (and I plan to continue it for the rest of my life), it wasn't the elixir [, the silver bullet] I was looking for to pull me out of my depression. Nevertheless, I stumbled onto religion in the process and I am comforted that it is here to stay.

I guess my revelation from this blog entry is that all these issues I have with religion are not necessarily with religion, and perhaps I should stop blaming it for my problems. It was me who had the issue with creation and the hardships of life before I even became religious. My goal has always been to live a moral life, and if that means changing my habits or letting go of past pleasures is the way to do it (accepting the fact the religion is supernatural and the right way to live even if we don't understand the logic of why it wants us to be the way it does), then I suppose I shouldn't have much of a problem with it. After all, most stuff I'll be able to do anyway, just under refined circumstances. In time, that won't be so bad.

So what I am left with right now is a situation where I need to find the spark that was once shining within me. I need to re-discover that look in my eye that I once had. Whoa! Do you know my fingers just wrote the word "love" when I was writing the word "look"? Interesting. Maybe I just have nobody to love and that is causing me my depression. It will be interesting to see if [in time,] that was the answer. But there would be no way to figure that out until I was married, unless I decided to start a relationship with someone and I allowed myself to fall in love. But while you secular people are probably cheering me on at this point, I am stopping this idea immediately because 1) it would not be fair to the person I fell in love with, 2) starting a platonic relationship might end up not platonic (not allowed to touch, remember?), and most of all 3) it would be unfair to my wife, because I should already be preparing for our life together (and I have been for almost three years now). Starting a relationship with another would be cheating on my future wife, unless that person was destined to be my wife. Circular and twisty logic. Confusing.

Nevertheless, I have chosen a path based on religious principles, and as much as I have more desire than anything to break away from that path and do something else (and I think about it all the time), as I said before -- where there is desire, there is temptation which often has ungodly origins. So I must stay on my path and fight the depression as if we were both warriors fighting over mastery for the territory, namely over who will rule my mind. So even this I must fight with joy because the inactivity I have been entertaining for so long will cause depression to win the war and I will lose my footing and will fall off the path that I still believe is the right path. As much as this might be real depression, and as much as I believe the source of it is spiritual but the effects of it are clearly manifested as biological, I am sure many people would love to see me medicate away my depression and say "with this pill I say to thee, 'be gone'." But then again, if there is a disease, which this might just be due to my temporary circumstances and outlook on life, by taking a pill I would be healing the symptoms and not the source of the disease.

Wow, has this entry become interesting! Okay, so the source of my depression, namely the lack of love, loneliness, and stress which has arguably caused bad feelings within me which has arguably invited bad spiritual beings (or has simply given immense strength to my own evil inclination) to cause me strife WILL go away when my circumstances change. Or so I think it will. However, if that is the real cause of my sorrows, then in time it will pass and I can (for the time being) either medicate it away or ride it out. Or, I can fight the factor that is causing me the sadness (namely, my evil inclination or the bad spirits my thoughts may have invoked) through various practices that give my body enough strength for my mental faculties to function well enough to overcome my negative thoughts. That is the plan. This is my mission.

PS - The name of the book I was reading in bed is called Returning to Joy by Joshua Mark, Ph.D. I picked it up in a jewish bookstore, and it is a self-care guide for overcoming depression. Interestingly enough, it takes into consideration the immense stresses religion can put on an formerly secular individual with the belief changes and the new responsibilites one would normally take on upon becoming religious. Further, it supplements and supports its methodologies through Torah and Talmudic sources using Mishlei (Proverbs) and Tehillim (Psalms) to back up its claims. This makes it a perfect match for me. By the way, in the beginning, it gives a good test for depression. The funny thing is at the end of the test, it rates the results from 0-12, 0 being not depressed at all, and 12 being severely depressed. I laughed when I saw that my score was a 23.


Adam J. Leventhal said...

Hirsch, thanks for stopping by and commenting. Good to meet you. I write book reviews for enjoyment and don't get paid for them, but it's fulfilling hearing back from authors and being able to recommend books that have influenced me to others that could similarly benefit. I look forward to checking out your blog, reading this entry and past ones. Great links, by the way. I'm currently listening to the Rebbe singing tzama lecha nafshi from one of those links. I wonder if we met, since we live in the same city. Where do you daven? Have a wonderful Yom Tov.

Zoe Strickman said...

Adam, thank you for saying hello. If you are the one on your web site sitting down with a black beard, then we probably don't know eachother although it is very possible that we've been in the same room on many occasions. I have been reading your book reviews. I am impressed by your writing style. I hope to soon read some of the books you have been reviewing.

One thing that is important to me on this blog is to keep my identity undisclosed. For that reason, I have on occasion used terms like law school when I really could have meant med or dental school, etc. Or, I could still be a yeshiva bochur, although from the posts, you would see right through that one. Being anonymous gives me the ability to continue to write honestly about real issues that go on without worrying about what people will think or needing to limit my words to stay politically correct. Indicating that I am a Lubavicher in a professional school also gives the reader a way to relate to the topics about which I am writing.

As you could probably tell from the image, the head of my photo is from and the face is that of a furry animal. The body - well, while you could probably figure that one out, I wish it were of me.

You visited at a very high-pressured moment in my life where I am overwhelmed with school and the other factors I've written about on the site. I invite you to be a reader and a friend (if we don't already know each other), and I ask hesitantly that the web site not get too well circulated, especially because you and the web sites that you comment on and frequent are too close to home. The goal of the web site is two-fold: 1) to reach out to other religious individuals (chozer b'teshuva or ba'al teshuva) and show them the things that go through the mind of a regular religious guy after yeshiva, and 2) to reach out to the secular Jews to show them that it is possible to live a chassidish lifestyle and still get by fine in the secular world. My third goal and now selfishly the most relevant goal due to the circumstances in my life is to figure out how to get past the shtus that has surfaced so that I can keep increasing in my yiddishkeit and so that I can prepare myself to build a family, a parnossa, and a home.

It's good to see you online. Feel free to comment on any of the posts; I am sure that most of the time, my integration of chassidic philosophies into my life may be misapplied or misunderstood, so feel free to correct me if I make any mistakes.

Warm regards,

Victoria said...

I'm a little bit ignorant in this dept., but why can you not have a platonic relationship? For that matter, how will you finally get a wife when it is time if you're not allowed to look for one....
It seems to me like the main thing that's getting you down is lonliness and there is no better way to cure this than a friend (and I don't mean internet, i mean real live friend). I live in rural japan as you know and it get's pretty lonely out here, but having friends helps. You can love and be loved by a friend even without touching...

Zoe Strickman said...

Allow me to introduce you into the world of matchmaking, often referred to as Shidduchim. Man and woman are united through the action of a third party who puts the two couples together based on common goals and other factors. They date a few times, maybe five, ten, or fifteen times, and after each date they go back to the designated intermediary and voice their issues open and honestly without fear of hurting the other’s feelings. At the end of this discussion is a decision – a yes or a no – whether or not to move on to the next date. If one person answers no, the dating is over between these two people and the matchmaker moves onto the next potential match. If the answer is yes, after enough dates where both are convinced that it is a good match, they get engaged. Soon after is the marriage. Welcome to the world of religious dating.

I have female friends and women I study with. However, there is only so close I am willing to go before we could chance moving from acquaintanceship to friendship to relationship. I avoid getting close to them or even engaging in accidental contact because I feel that it is so important that I don’t get mixed up in a relationship, especially since I firmly believe that I am potentially days, weeks, or months away from meeting the woman who will become my wife. The last thing I want is to hurt someone’s feelings or to start a relationship with someone based on a physical desire for intimacy. I think that wouldn’t be fair to either of us. But you are right –Loneliness is one of the darkest feelings I have ever felt. If you are referring to friends with benefits without strings, even if the benefits are holding one another or kissing, but not engaging in intimate acts of sexual intercourse, nevertheless (aside from the fact that relationships like this without the covenant of marriage are forbidden by the Torah and I take Torah seriously), I know myself. If I were close to someone, even platonically, after so many years, I would guarantee that I would fall in love. This wouldn’t be so bad if this was with my wife. But as much as I sometimes engage in thoughts of entertaining a fling or just throwing the sexual morality rules out the window and giving into my carnal desires, I know that no real good can come of it. Last thought – religious guys don’t have many female friends after they are married, except those they have a professional relationship with. It would be terrible to start a friendship only to end it later on if it threatened the marriage. This is, as you can see, a complicated issue. I hope my explanation has been the least bit helpful.

Victoria said...

I wasn't speaking of a physical relationship at all. I have many friends that I love and have never kissed. And many friends that I will love forever even after I marry someone else. You love a friend in a different way. That's what I was talking about

Zoe Strickman said...

Yeah, sorry for the tangent. I don't know what I was thinking. Your point sounds wonderful in theory. In practice, the conversation reverts back to the question of whether a man and a woman can ever truly be friends without some ulterior motive. (From "When Harry Met Sally".)

I have surrounded myself with women I would normally never be interested in so that I can develop something similar to the close bond you were talking about. I wouldn't call it love, but even this kind of friendship has its limits.

There is only so much of a connection you can get with a member of the opposite sex without one of them thinking there is a relationship forming. Actually, if it were moral, I would posit that friends with benefits is probably the best vehicle for getting this close relationship, but then again, this is completely a male "Mars" opinion. The problems with FWB lie in an inherent relationship and love that is bound to form. I still don't know how someone can stay close without touch. Talking can only go so far.