Sunday, February 23, 2014

Putting together the pieces

I hope that I am perhaps climbing out of this funk. I was able to get up and do a few things around the house today, though only for about an hour and now I am trembly and exhausted and overwhelmed again. But it is progress.

I have a very big week coming up. Initially I thought I would be lucky if I had any time to myself at all, and now I am realizing that I need to take time for myself. Taking a few minutes to blog might wind up saving my sanity.

Image: Valentin.Ottone/Flickr
See, I have a [censored] load of work to do. It's only when I'm hurting and vulnerable and unsure of myself that I really feel it. I need to finish (still) the re-writes on Strength to Stand, which I've been promising for four years will come out "soon," and then I work on other people's books instead. I need to create my new website, now that I've built the new company website and learned how to create a truly custom site. I need to create a mailing list (and a newsletter—Gaak!) and find people who might write blurbs and honestly, I need to take a little bit of my brain and really start thinking of myself as an author.

I was an author. And then I became a publisher, and the author part kept getting pushed aside. If I can integrate myself and Rivka, I can certainly integrate my publisher self and my author self into my workday. Can't I?

People have no idea what goes into being a publisher, which is something that I'll write more about on the Yotzeret blog sometime soon. I'm very much a one-woman shop. I read queries and consider possible acquisitions. I read manuscripts for possible contract offers. I negotiate contracts. I am editor (though when sales are good enough, I will contract out for editing, to free up my time to do other writerly or publisherly things). I am book designer, cover designer, web designer, publicist, pre-press editor. I will drive 200 miles one way to pick up a print run of books, schlepping them into my van, then into the (small) warehouse I rent for inventory. I pick and pack books to fulfill orders. I am office manager, shipping manager, customer relations, collections, and accountant. Among other things.

People depend on me for all of the above. Authors' royalty checks are determined in part by how well I do my job. As a somewhat-recovering people-pleaser, this is both a source of pride and stress. (Guess what the number one cause of fibromyalgia flares is? Stress! Ah, but I digress.)

I am also a mom, chef, chauffeur, house manager,  gardener, repair woman, school volunteer, etc., etc. All those things that go into why an at-home mom should be paid some $113K a year.

Somewhere in there, I need to reclaim myself as an author too. Because everyone needs at least three full-time jobs, right? Writing is the one thing that makes me feel fully alive. Writing is one of the key things that makes me feel Jewish. Writing helps me discover who I am, how I relate to the world, and how I relate to G-d. Writing takes me out of my body; it takes the dis out of disability. And writing is the one thing that I've been willing to give up in order to tend to all of my other jobs.

And now I realize why. Because all my other jobs, whether they benefit me tangentially or not, are primarily for other people. Writing is the only job that is just for me.

This morning I woke up to the critical voice in my head saying, "Okay, enough with all the whining all over your blog. Two posts is probably two too many. Way to alienate your readers, girl."

That's when I realized: I was no longer writing what I thought others wanted to hear. I was now writing what I wanted to write. I was writing what most needed to come out. I am writing for me.

That said, I hope you'll come along for the journey.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

For every action

. . . there is an equal and opposite reaction. —Newton's Third Law of Motion

I'm waiting for it to come. Because it always comes. My history has proven that.

The depression causes extreme fatigue, somewhat similar to the fatigue I experience with fibromyalgia, but much longer-lasting, going for weeks or even months at its worst. It's not currently at its worst. I've been way, way worse than this. But I'm still sleeping as much as 15 hours a day, when I can sleep and I'm not up with a depression-induced insomnia.

Image: Kaitrosebd-Stock
And so it was that I woke at nearly noon, having missed shul again. But that was kind of okay, because although I posted my "coming out" late on Erev Shabbat, and I knew that most of the people I would see in shul wouldn't have seen it, or read it, I still harbored this fear that I would walk into shul and get verbally attacked by people hissing, "How could you say that about us?!"

That's always been my fear: that I would tell the truth, or the truth as I experienced it, without embellishment, without judgement, and it would be followed by retribution.

That's the reason I kept all of the really personal stuff on my Rivka blog and kept the happy, interesting, writerly stuff here. I figured people wanted happy. And I didn't want a backlash. But the result is that I split myself as well.

The writer part of me couldn't also be the publisher part of me because then I'd be labelled "self-published" and in 2003, that was a dirty word. Eleven years later, I've built a company with global ties, published five award-winning books, and proven (I think) that I know what I'm doing. I can be both writer and publisher now.

I could admit that I have fibromyalgia, and that it was most likely triggered in 2007 (the same year as my worst depression in years) during the incredibly difficult pregnancy that ended in stillbirth. Physical and emotional trauma is nearly always the trigger for fibromyalgia, though why that is, no one knows quite yet. It's fantastic that science has now found that it's caused by a neurovascular disorder in the hands and feet.

I even admitted, albeit offhandedly, to having depression, anxiety, OCD, and PTSD. But reconciling my writer/publisher self with Rivka was harder, because as Rivka, I was completely, brutally truthful. I never named names (and still won't). I was extremely careful about lashon hara (gossip). I wrote about my experience, my truth, without embellishment, without judgment. And I exposed how things were not working, how congregants were getting marginalized, how I could be in the middle of a crowd of people who had known me for over a decade and still be invisible.

And that is where the fear comes in. Because I've had some very positive experiences in shul, and some very negative ones. I wrote each one truthfully, as I experienced it. No holds barred (a wrestling term, even though I hate wrestling). Now that people know who I am, what I've experienced, what my experience has been like in my Jewish community, will they be angry that not every experience was positive? That I exposed hurtful words and actions, brought some of the shul's closet skeletons out into the light, and dared identify them as problems?

What will they do about it? Will they make sure it doesn't happen again, to anyone else (which is hard work and takes commitment)? Or will they attack me (which is easy and often makes others feel better about themselves, even as their target retreats, broken and bleeding)?

I guess I will find out.

Friday, February 21, 2014

I am Rivka

I've been thinking about posting this for two days. Actually, that's not entirely true. I've been thinking on and off about posting this since 2011.

There's a piece going around Facebook about "10 Ways to Show Love to Someone With Depression" and the timing was impeccable. Because I'm intimately familiar with depression. In fact, I wrote a list from the other side in 2007: "What not to say to someone who is depressed." I joked (only in part) that it should be a chapter in a book titled The Care and Feeding of Your Bipolar/Depressed Friend.

For those who click that second link, you might be confused. Wait, you might say, this is another blog. By someone named Rivka."

Yes. It is. I am Rivka.

My Hebrew name is SheynaRivka. I blogged about depression and Judaism for five years, between 2007 and 2011. It's taken me seven years to lose enough of my fear of being cast out, rejected, shunned, blacklisted, or whatever else might happen to "come out" as Rivka. I'm not going public on that blog. It stands well on its own, giving voice to so many who feel they don't have a voice, so many whose circumstances make it too dangerous for them to speak up.

I was first diagnosed with major clinical depression and anxiety when I was 15, but that was only after it got so bad that I couldn't hide it anymore. After child protective services stepped in and made therapy a requirement to avoid foster care. I can't say exactly when it started, but I remember the feelings as far back as age 12.

My mother had it. Her mother had it. There's some indication that her father had it too. And so when my youngest told me a few months ago, "There is no use for me in the world" after a couple weeks of low energy, low appetite, zero motivation, and bouts of crying, there were huge red flags waving in front of me. I was able to get him in to the doctor the next day to be seen.

Because depression isn't something to mess with. I'm not going to risk my child's life by saying, "He's a tween; it's hormonal."

Today I'm realizing that my own unrelenting fatigue and growing withdrawal and increasing sadness that's been going on for a couple weeks now is not my usual fibromyalgia-related depression, which comes with the pain and goes just as quickly. No, this has a different flavor. This is dark and heavy and makes even the smallest daily tasks nearly impossible. This is the real thing. And it followed a couple weeks of high anxiety and near obsession with finishing and perfecting the website for work. My depression is back, and while I know it will pass, I have no idea how long it will take me to climb out of the hole this time.

Seven years ago, I got through one of the worst depressions of my life (and the subsequent death of my unborn daughter) by writing about it. Maybe it will work again this time.

Seven years ago, as Rivka, I wrote about viewing my depression as an adversary. As the adversary—the yetser hara. I wrote:

  • it breaks me down and consumes me and spits out what's left, and

  • I have this black cloud over my head or in my head and I can't see (both from here)

  • [it] takes that and twists it all around, that I don't deserve success, that my faults are too many, that I'm simply not good enough (from here)

  • I'm ... under the influence of my unstable emotions (from here)

  • It left me questioning my contribution to my marriage, my contribution to anyone, my value to the world (from here)

  • It's that I just feel less. Less everything that is meaningful to me, and

  • It diminishes everything important. It corrodes what makes my life meaningful and powerful and profound. It eats away at what makes me me (both from here)

  • Today, as I sit here, unable to come up with the strength to bake challah, or contemplate going downstairs to light candles, or even to reheat my coffee, all I can think of is that I'm letting my family down, that I'm letting down my child fighting depression because he loves lighting candles, that somehow I'm betraying my Judaism.

    I know that's the depression talking. I know that giving in to it will only sap my strength further. I know that I need to tell it, "Stop! Enough!" even as I'm yelling it from the bottom of this pit. Someday soon (please, G-d) I will see my lifeline again.