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Monthly Archives: January 2022

A Day of Rest

The defining story of the Jewish people is the story of the Exodus from Egypt. The children of Israel were slaves in Egypt for hundreds of years, and when they finally escaped one of the first things they did (at Mount Sinai) was to proclaim that there would have to be a rest day every week. And, yes, the way the Hebrew Bible is written, it’s God who tells them what the Ten Commandments are, including the commandment to keep the Sabbath day as a day of rest, but even if we believe that it’s coming directly from God and not from the people themselves, the people had a choice, to embrace the new rules or forgo them, and they chose to take them on. Imagine what having a full day of rest every week would have meant to a people who had only known life as slaves? Setting aside a full day of rest meant that, for at least one day each week, their time and their priorities were their own. We think of a day of rest as a logical necessity, because of the body’s need for rest, but that day off also creates more space in our own minds, for our hopes and dreams and plans, instead of just thoughts related to work and getting by.

I like to think of Shabbat as a time to sit and listen carefully to those quiet voices inside of us, the ones we can barely hear during the busy work week, so that we can put ourselves back together and bring our full selves back with us into our daily lives. Shabbat is a chance to heal the wounds of the week, especially the times when we’ve pushed through, despite hunger or exhaustion or pain, and never bothered to apologize to ourselves for the harm done.

“How dare you!”

But even in the United States, where we supposedly have a five day work week, with two days off, many people still work on the weekends, or set that time aside for chores and errands. Maybe they go to a prayer service, or have a family dinner, but they don’t spend a full day (and certainly not two days) napping or reading or taking nature walks; instead, they spend the time ticking things off their to-do lists. I’ve found that most people find the idea of rest, especially for a whole day, uncomfortable. Which means that the ancient Israelites knew what they were up to; they knew that rest is essential to living a full life, and that we would have to be commanded to do it.

“You need to be commanded to nap? Humans are weird.”

But even with my deep appreciation for rest, I still don’t feel like I make enough use of Shabbat each week. Part of the problem is that creating a day of rest takes effort. Shabbat is supposed to be a mini holiday every week – a mini Chanukah or Christmas or Passover – and that means a lot of planning, and cooking, and inviting, and cleaning, and dressing up. It sounds crazy to say that I am too tired for Shabbat; too tired to rest. But I am too tired to create the right circumstances for my soul to rest and recharge, instead of just my body.

            Another block to making the most of Shabbat is that I don’t really feel like I deserve a special day of rest each week, given the amount of rest I need, and take, during the work week. I feel like I should be making up for all of that laziness by doing chores on the weekend.

            And then there’s the biggest block of all: my memories of celebrating Shabbat as a kid. Before my father became more religious, when I was four, five, six, and seven, Shabbat was a good day. My brother and I went to Junior Congregation – an hour of Bible trivia and songs and prayers with the rest of the kids and with one not-so-grown up adult – and then, if we could sneak into the Social Hall after the maintenance guys had set up the tables, we could steal brownies while the adults were busy praying in the big sanctuary. And then I’d go to gymnastics with my best friend, and then me and Mom and my brother would get meatball heroes from the tiny Italian sub shop on the way home. It was pretty great.

“Meatball heroes, yes. Bible trivia? Not so much.”

            But then my father became more religious, starting when I was about eight years old, and instead of meatball heroes and gymnastics, my brother and I went from Junior Congregation in the little sanctuary straight into the big sanctuary with the adults, and then to the Kiddish in the Social Hall, where the adults drank Slivovitz and ate gefilte fish and herring and talked for what seemed like hours. We were able to eat a few more brownies, but it didn’t seem worth the trouble. And when we finally got home, we weren’t allowed to watch TV for the rest of the day, or even get homework done. The boredom was mind numbing, except for the times when we played Trivial Pursuit as a family, which were brutal. At that point in my life, the best part of Shabbat was the end.

            I gave up on celebrating Shabbat entirely in my twenties, going to therapy and writing workshops and shopping trips on Saturdays, because it was easier to think of it as just another day than to wrestle with the fish hooks of the past, the memories that cut so deep into my skin that it’s hard to pull them out without damaging my internal organs. And even after joining our current synagogue, nine years ago, and consistently going to Friday night services each week, I still couldn’t find a comfortable way to bring Shabbat home with me.

            But I want to be able to find some peace each week. I want there to be a day set aside where I can put down my big bag of anxieties and truly rest and recharge. But while I know people who are good at dissociating from their feelings, who can even be specific in which of their feelings and memories to “put on a shelf” and out of their minds, for a time, I can’t do it. My internal shelves are not well constructed, so the nasty things keep falling back into consciousness, often in dreams or nightmares, or just in triggers throughout the day that I can’t control or ignore.

“The shelves are falling! The shelves are falling!”

So I’m left with all of my memories and emotions and internal conflicts, even on Shabbat, and no amount of challah, or grape juice, or matzah ball soup, seems to be able to overcome that. Except, if I look back at the beginning of this essay, the purpose for Shabbat that I came up with wasn’t to be happy and carefree, it was to take the time to put your whole self back together, to take ownership of your time, and your internal life, so that when you go back to your daily working life you can bring your whole self with you. Maybe, on those terms, I’m doing Shabbat pretty well after all. Maybe the real problem is that I expect my version of Shabbat to match what I’ve seen in other people’s homes. Maybe it’s not so much that I’m flawed and broken beyond repair, but that my expectations of myself just don’t fit me. And maybe, my goal for Shabbat each week should be to gradually change my expectations of myself until they match the person I actually am. Maybe if I can do that, some peace will follow.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?         

I Don’t Want To Go To the Doctor

            I got a call on the answering machine (yes, they still exist, as do land lines), cancelling an upcoming appointment with the cardiologist. And I was thrilled! It’s not that I particularly hate my cardiologist, but every time I go to a doctor, whether it’s my primary care doctor, or a rheumatologist, a pulmonologist, an endocrinologist, a cardiologist, etc., they weigh me and then tell me that my real problem is my weight, and proceed to lecture me on how to go on a diet.

“I’m not fat, I’m fluffy.”

            I have been on every diet, and read every diet book, and lost and gained weight multiple times, and now I am working on Intuitive Eating with a Nutritionist and trying to undo all of that damage, but even so, every time I see a doctor they insist that if I just ate less and exercised more it would all be fine – as if my problem is that I’ve never heard of a diet before.

            Or as if my weight is my primary medical issue, which it’s not; the added weight is a symptom of both the psychological trauma of my childhood and the medical disorders I have had to deal with as an adult (and the medications I need to take to manage both). I’ve said this to my doctors over and over and over again, but it doesn’t seem to make a difference.

            When I told my nutritionist about all of this – and about my rage at the doctors, and adults in general, who encouraged my eating disorder when I was a child, and who have continued to push me into disordered eating as an adult, without ever feeling shame or responsibility, let alone bothering to educate themselves about an alternative way to address issues of nutrition and weight in their patients – she said, well then, that should be our next project.

            Huh?

            She said, you need to practice setting boundaries with your doctors around weight, and even try to educate them about the pervasiveness of the Diet Mentality and the endless Mobius strip of weight loss and weight gain that they seem to think of as such a wonderful idea but that has actually been shown to cause more health problems than remaining steadily overweight your whole life.

            But I’ve tried, and they never listen to me, and it’s not fair, and why don’t they have to learn this in school, and why is it my job to teach them and…

            And she agreed with me, and listened to me, and said, we need to work on setting boundaries with your doctors around the subject of weight.

            But, but, but…they never learn, and they keep repeating the same things, and whenever they tell me that I should just stop eating so much I believe them and…

            Oh.

            I had the aha moment at the same time she did: the real problem is that I don’t have confidence in what I already know and have worked so hard to learn, so that when they challenge me, I give in.

“Never give in!”

            I’ve worked so hard this past year to learn how to hold my ground when the “You just need to stop eating,” and “You’re less of a person because you are overweight” messages are said by movie stars, or social influencers, or random people in my life; but when a doctor says it, the ground under my feet still gives way. I sit there feeling small and hopeless and I forget everything I know, and believe everything they tell me – that if I would just stop eating so much I’d never have health problems again.

            Depending on how brittle the doctor is in presenting their message on my weight, it can take me hours, or days, or even weeks to get back to solid ground and remember that, actually, my weight is not the problem. And diets have never been a long lasting solution even to the weight issue, never mind for my health overall.

            So what can I do to fix this? And can it be fixed before my rescheduled appointment with the cardiologist which is coming up way too soon?

            The nutritionist suggested that I remind myself that, on this subject, the doctors don’t know me better than I know myself. She said to tell them – I know you’re going to bring up my weight, but I am working with a nutritionist on Intuitive Eating and I am making progress at my own pace, and, for now, your advice is not helpful on this subject. My weight is the least of my problems, and if we can focus on the physical pain and exhaustion that make life so difficult for me, and the connective tissue and auto-immune disorders that cause the pain and fatigue, and numerous other symptoms, that would be a more productive use of our time together.

            But I’ve said all of that, or at least most of it, to my doctors, and they just talk over me. Though maybe I haven’t said it with confidence. Maybe I’ve said it with my eyes on the floor, afraid of what they would say in response, afraid of their disapproval. Because even when I’ve said “the right things” I’ve only said them once; and when the doctor, inevitably, pooh poohed it, I shut up. Because I freeze in the face of their disapproval. I forget everything I know, and I let them talk down to me and blame me without contradicting them. And, no, it’s not my responsibility to teach them, or change them. But if I could stand up for myself, maybe I wouldn’t be so negatively impacted by each doctor visit.

            But how do I get there? How do I hold onto what I know when I start to feel shaky and small? How do I convince myself that I do know my body better than they do, and that I have done the research and I’m not just believing what I want to believe because it sounds easier?

            The temptation to just cancel appointments, or to go but shut off my brain for the duration, is very deep, because I don’t feel strong enough to stand up for myself effectively.

“Yeah, let’s stay home.”

            I wish I could promise myself that next time will be better, and that I will be different. But I don’t know how to make that happen. I had hoped that writing this essay would give me the confidence to believe that I can stand up for myself, but instead it has made it clear to me how much more work I need to do.

“Oy.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?   

                        

           

           

           

           

           

           

          

         

           

           

           

           

           

           

           

           

           

Cricket Had To Get Her Teeth Cleaned

            Cricket had to get her teeth cleaned, and I was scared. The doctor first mentioned to us that Cricket’s teeth needed cleaning around two years ago, I think. It’s possible he’d mentioned it earlier, but if so, I blocked it out. We were able to put it off at that point, because Cricket was dealing with other health issues that were more pressing, but since she’s been doing better the doctor’s insistence has been growing. Both Mom and I have been concerned about putting Cricket through such a procedure, because of her age and because we’ve heard so many horror stories about dogs dying from regular teeth cleanings, because of the anesthesia. The doctor has tried to reassure us, and at Cricket’s most recent checkup he gave her a battery of tests to make sure she would be safe undergoing anesthesia, and the doctor said that he was confident Cricket would be fine. I wanted to be as confident as he was, and I wasn’t, but Mom and I decided to go through with the procedure anyway, because Cricket’s quality of life was in the balance. The pain in her mouth, especially when she was eating, and the bacteria running through her system, weren’t doing her any good. But I was still scared.

            Cricket is fourteen and a half years old, and as of her latest checkup she was three pounds lighter than the fourteen pounds she’s weighed for most of her life; also, her eyes are a bit blue from cataracts, she’s on medication for incontinence, she seems to hear things that aren’t there, her hair is thinning, and, of course, she has bad teeth. When we first adopted her, I saw a chart that said that a Cockapoo her size would live around 20 years, but given the way she’s been aging lately, I’ve had to recalibrate my expectations. But even so, I’m nowhere near ready to lose her.

“I am a puppy. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

            Cricket is a difficult dog, she demands what she wants in life and never tolerates no for an answer. She is prickly and feisty and temperamental and adorable, and she has only recently discovered the joys of play (with a Golden Doodle puppy named Kevin who lives in our complex). And no matter how often she gets on my nerves, I can’t imagine my life without her.

            But I trust her doctor, and he was getting more and more insistent that a teeth cleaning was necessary for her overall health, and I could see his point.

Ellie was still skeptical.

            I didn’t want to think about the small chance that she wouldn’t come back from the doctor’s office, but that was all I could think about. Cricket has never been a good patient. She resents both the illness and the treatment, and she absolutely blames me for whatever awfulness she’s feeling. I couldn’t even check her teeth myself, to see if the doctor was exaggerating about how bad it was in there, because she’d bite my fingers off. I wish I were exaggerating, but she recently bit me, hard enough to break through the skin on my thumb, just because I dared to try and wipe the goop from under her eye.

            We made an appointment for the dental procedure for during the winter break and I crossed my fingers – or braided them like a challah – in the hopes that Cricket would come back from the vet, and come back in better shape than she’d been in for a while, ready to chew and bark and play for all she was worth. That was the result I wanted, and I did my best to follow Cricket’s lead and refuse to accept no for an answer.

“No is my favorite word, but only when I say it.”

            The night before the procedure we had to put the food and water bowls away at nine pm, but Cricket barely noticed. Ellie on the other hand found the whole thing upsetting. And so did I. I had nightmares that whole night, and when it was time to leave in the morning, Ellie and I were wrecks, but Cricket was still fine. She was thrilled when Mom took her out to the car (so that I could put the food and water bowls out for Ellie), but Ellie was freaking out. Instead of eating or drinking, she stood by the door and cried as I left to catch up with Mom and Cricket.

I wasn’t freaking out, Mommy. I was just expressing my opinion.”

            Cricket was her usual anxious self in the car, shivering behind my neck, because she knew she was either going to the vet or the groomer and both are horrifying. And, of course, I had a hard time handing her off to the vet tech once we arrived, especially after signing the card that said I knew she would be undergoing anesthesia and recognized the risks. I watched the vet tech carry Cricket inside (the vet still doesn’t let people in the building, only pets, because of Covid) and tried not to panic.

“What are we doing at the vet?”

            By the time we got home, Ellie had pooped up a storm in the quilting area, and even after three treats and a lot of cuddles she still couldn’t settle down, shivering and breathing heavily in my lap. We both tried to take a nap, but the anxiety made it difficult.

            The call came around Noon that Cricket was “Great” and that we could pick her up between three and five pm. I watched TV and did jigsaw puzzles and tried to believe that Cricket was fine, but I had convinced myself so thoroughly that her life was at risk that I really couldn’t take in the idea that she was okay.

We got to the vet at 2:45 pm, but the vet tech understood. The vet came out to give us the bill (oy), and told us that they’d had to remove 7 rotten teeth, and that Cricket would need to take antibiotics and painkillers for a few days. And then there was Cricket, trying to jump out of the vet tech’s arms to get into the car. We thanked the vet and the vet tech and Cricket climbed all over me and her grandma, ready to get the hell out of there. She may have been a little high from her painkillers, but she was herself, and kept climbing all over me, and around my neck, and back down to my lap through the whole drive, until her leash was wrapped tight around my neck, twice.

            I’m sure it was unintentional. Or, I hope it was.

            When we got home, Ellie had to check Cricket out and sniff her everywhere, while Cricket kept pushing her sister out of the way so she could get to the water bowl (though she was only allowed a few sips of water at a time). And then Cricket spent the rest of the afternoon barking and complaining, as usual, because she wanted more water, and she wanted treats, and she wanted…everything.

            After all of the anxiety, and really expecting to get bad news from the vet, the idea that my fourteen and a half year old dog came through anesthesia with flying colors, and almost no after effects, feels like a miracle. And now she seems to be eating more and even starting to gain some of the weight back, and giving me hope that the original chart that said she would live to age twenty, might not have been so far off after all.

            I really needed a miracle right about now, to keep me going. Leave it to curmudgeonly Cricket to make it happen.

“I’m looking cute.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?