I never used to talk a lot about religion. It just never really had a place in my life. I come from a long line of atheists and agnostics including my parents and, while they never discouraged me from exploring things for myself, they never really brought up religion or God ever (my mom, however, does believe in angels but it seems pretty far removed from any kind of specific theological beliefs). I was pretty comfortable identifying as atheist or agnostic for much of my life, even as I developed a greater and greater interest in religion from an academic perspective. I spent grades four through eight in a Catholic school and that period affirmed for me that I would not be converting to Catholicism (or any kind of Christianity). To make a long, long story… kind of short: I discovered that my background was filled with Crypto or “secret” Jews (Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity during the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions but secretly continued to practice Judaism and privately identified as Jewish), and suddenly things made sense to me. I continued to dig around and, by the time I moved to Toronto for university, discovered that I am “Jewish enough” to identify as Jewish. From there, I became very active within the Jewish community: I became a member of a Reform congregation, headed up the Jewish Student Life club at my campus, and graduated from an Orthodox fellowship program. Needless to say, being Jewish is a really important part of my identity.
So, why am I posting about this on a blog dedicated to mental illness and self care?
I am really proud of my family history and being Jewish is something that I do take pride in. However, I did debate with myself over whether or not I should talk about Judaism on this blog since it isn’t inherently related. Ultimately I decided that I actually can’t separate my own personal self care journey from my Jewishness. I don’t always feel like I believe in God, but Judaism has such a strong focus on action and being your best self and I find that incredibly motivational and encouraging as someone who suffers from myriad mental health conditions. I find this particularly significant right now, in the hours following Yom Kippur begins, when the Jewish community comes together to make amends for wrongdoings from the previous year.
I personally love the High Holidays and how introspective this time encourages us to be, despite how solemn it can also be. We come together as a community to repent, but we also look within ourselves and examine our behaviour, apologize for our misdeeds, and commit to doing better in the future. This time allows us to look back on transgressions in our personal lives – things we’ve done to or against our friends and family and encourages us to make amends. As I said before, this is one of my favourite aspects of Judaism – the focus on action, whether it’s personal improvement or social betterment. We have a concept called “tikkun olam” or repairing the world, which is one of the most important things about the covenant between the Jewish people and God. It’s also something that I find incredibly meaningful from a self-care perspective: it gives me a chance to recognize that, as a human, I will make mistakes and may not always be my best self, but there is always an opportunity to learn from and move past those mistakes.
In honour of Yom Kippur, I wanted to make a list of some mental health-related commitments for this new year and going forward. An important part of self care is also a really tough one – taking responsibility for our actions and behaviours. It’s really hard (impossible, even) to change a behaviour that we won’t even admit to or face ourselves, so this is really the first step in healing and changing ourselves for the better. However, I tend to obsess over things I’ve done wrong to a very unhealthy degree and it causes me to “split” on myself (a symptom of Borderline Personality Disorder), so instead of listing off my various transgressions, I’m going to focus on what I can do better and how I can be better.
- I will challenge my catastrophic thoughts and try to rationalize my thinking when I can sense an oncoming panic attack. This is will help me manage my symptoms of agoraphobia, the main thing that causes me to withdraw and avoid spending time with friends and family (or attending events that I was looking forward to), and therefore work to improve my relationships.
- I will ask for help and/or admit that I’m struggling instead of making up excuses to get out of things. If I’m having a bad mental health day, week, or month, my friends and loved ones will understand, won’t judge me for it, and will want to help me through it. Sometimes I can’t do things because of my mental health and it’s okay to say that that’s why.
- I will actually remember to use my self care kit (as outlined in this post). I’ll also make more of them to fulfill different needs (ie. a travel version) and have them all readily accessible for whenever I need them.
- I will focus on my physical health, even when things like depression make it difficult to do so. I will stick to a regular exercise routine, take vitamin supplements daily, and remember to eat breakfast. I will also not “cheat” on my gluten free diet, because no amount of bread is worth what happens to my body after eating it. Overall, the healthier I make my body, the easier it will be to take care of my mind.
- I will not let shame or guilt stop me from accessing supports, whether it’s at school or through my doctors and therapists. I will be honest about what it is I need and not downplay my symptoms or experiences for the supposed benefit of others. If I need to take fewer classes per semester, for example, I will do so without shame. If I need extra time to hand in an essay, I will ask for it (or, at least, contact my disability counsellor to request it on my behalf… which is another thing I will allow myself to do).
- I will be nice to myself for a change.
I think these things cover a wide range of behaviours that have impacted the way I function internally and externally, and if I can make some improvements in these areas – even small ones – my relationships with friends, family, and myself will only benefit. The overarching themes of 5777 (the current year according to the Hebrew calendar) for me are patience, honesty, understanding, and love.