I’ve spent the past three weeks muddling through a deep depression, and when I think ahead to the High Holidays, I literally tremble.
I think it’s Rosh Hashanah’s unrelenting insistence that the New Year is sweet. Apples and honey just don’t land well with crabapples like me. Or maybe it’s the unmistakable wake up of the shofar, when all my body wants to do is stay in bed. Tashlich, a symbolic tradition that involves tossing breadcrumbs into a body of water, demands that we cast off our mistakes; my depression demands that I wallow in them. And though Kol Nidre gets the tone right (any minor key will do), even Yom Kippur not-so-gently nudges us to stop hiding, to face the hard truth, to ask for forgiveness for our shortcomings.
What’s a depressed Jewish mom to do?
In all candor, I find times of change, times of planning, times of hosting and mingling and small-talking, to be among the most difficult to bear. The High Holidays are hard for me because of the logistics, because of the expectations, because of the thousand tiny decisions that have to be made (which synagogue for day 1? Where for day 2? Can we eat with friends? Indoors? Outdoors? Who is bringing the kugel? Does your kid eat nuts? Is my kid capable of sitting in a chair for 90 seconds?). It can be overwhelming for any busy parent of little kids, even without a depression diagnosis. But it’s beyond overwhelming to me. And when my body feels overwhelmed, it just shuts itself right down. Gently closes the door to visitors and puts up an out-of-office response. You’ll find me hiding in my bed.
This year, I have every bright-eyed hope that I will enjoy celebrating the High Holidays with my sweet little boys and my extended family. But, since I know myself quite well, I’m putting up some guardrails just in case my depression decides to try to keep me home.
I share these with you in case any of them resonate, in case any of them clear up your storm clouds, even a little bit:
May your mantra throughout this holiday season be: “I am an exceptional human being.”
This is true. You are unprecedented and there will never be anyone like you.
You can do extraordinary things with your exhausted mind and body.
I know this to be true, because you are already doing extraordinary things with your exhausted mind and body. You are reading, right now, for goodness’ sakes. Remarkable.
Everything is optional, except your well-being.
You don’t need to go to temple. You don’t need to dress your kids. You can stream beautiful services in your home, from your bed. You can just be. You can just listen. You may hear something you needed to hear.
You don’t have to cook anything.
If you choose to attend family dinners, no matter what anyone says, you don’t have to cook anything. You don’t have to bring anything. I cannot overstate this. Arrive empty-handed. There will be enough food.
Think about doing tashlich.
It is well established that water triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for telling your heart rate to relax and your blood pressure to lower. If you can manage it, find a body of water and symbolically cast off the pain you are holding in your mind and body.
Ruminate on the beauty of another year.
In your depressed state, you may be prone to ruminating. I am. There’s an opportunity to ruminate on the beauty of another year, on the beauty of knowing you remain connected to your people, in the dark and in the light.