Monday, November 30, 2009

Off my game

Three days at Jerusha's -- Friday, Saturday, Sunday -- means three days off the light box. I used it today, but probably not long enough. So when I got to work I was kind of relieved that a few of my clients didn't feel like showing up.

My newest client, however, was so eager for treatment that he arrived half an hour early. (I'm still getting used to having clients who voluntarily sign up for treatment, instead of being coerced by parole or probation.) And appeared disheveled and distraught. I was so busy soothing him and trying to hear his story, I completed the biopsychosocial assessment but completely forgot the confidentiality paperwork.

Confidentiality is extremely important in mental health care. Clients have the right to have their information protected to the greatest legal extent. They also are entitled to read and sign the program contract, so they know what's expected of them, and to designate an emergency contract.

I forgot to do all of that, so I'm pretty appalled at myself. True, nobody is going to die, but it's a pretty serious mistake. How could I forget it? I'm going to have to talk about it in supervision. I'm pretty sure my supervisor will cut me some slack, but seriously: this is a mistake a first-year social work student wouldn't make.

The distraught client left the office in a pretty good mood. Said that was mainly because my voice was so soothing. (I speak very differently in therapy session than I do in my personal life or staff meetings.) I also talked another voluntary client out of leaving the program after he relapsed, and even got him to give up a urine sample when he felt it was sufficient to tell me it would be positive and initially refused to pee in a cup.

So I guess I got a few things right. But I'm not functioning at 100% of capacity. Tomorrow I'm watching the light box for at least half an hour.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Valerian hangover

The day after I took one capsule of valerian, I had a slight headache and assumed my sinuses were bothering me. The day after I took two capsules of valerian, my whole head felt like a bruised peach. Took me all day, but I finally made the connection: no more valerian for me.

Thanksgiving day itself was pretty miserable, with the whole headache. Yesterday my family -- cousins Yaffa and Yonina, Yonina's two kids, my sister and her kids, my mother, and my aunt -- went to visit more distant relatives. It was fine -- Jerusha's been civil, and even liked the earrings I got her for her birthday -- but I missed JV and felt disconnected from him.

I'm really trying not to screw this up, but I don't know how well I'm succeeding. I feel incredibly insecure this time around. When we were in college, JV told me I was beautiful and he loved me 50 times a day. For some reason that annoyed me and I broke up with him.

Now he never says it, and I feel insecure when I'm not with him. When I'm with him, it's not so bad; I guess he's pretty good at showing affection and attention. But when he's away, it's hard to remember, for some reason. I wish he would call more often -- like most men, he's not a big fan of long phone conversations -- and I wish, once in a while, that he would tell me he still thinks I'm attractive.

The more I like him, the more I'm afraid he won't love me again.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


There is a health food store near work where I get soy yogurt-rice milk-agave nectar-fruit smoothies. They taste a lot better than they sound.

You can spice up your health smoothie with a number of add-ins. If you were at TCBY, add-ins would be something like crushed Heath bars or Oreo cookies. At the health food store, add-ins range from protein powder to wheatgrass extract. I've been adding in camu-camu, a fruit derivative with tons of antioxidants that supposedly aids with many ailments -- including anxiety, depression, and joint pain. Since I suffer from all three, I throw it in when I order a smoothie.

The store stocks tons of supplements. So today I asked if they had anything to lower cholesterol. I know, I know, I could lose 30 pounds and lower my cholesterol dramatically. But I figured taking a supplement would be easier.

The store manager recommended red yeast rice. I'd actually read about it online, when I Googled "supplements to lower cholesterol." Unlike garlic, green tea, and guggulipid, there actually seems to be some evidence that red yeast rice lowers cholesterol. So I bought a bottle. I'm supposed to take one per day and lower my cholesterol one point per day. Pretty sweet, if it actually works.

Tonight, my medication regimen consisted of:
  • 45 mg Remeron (antidepressant)
  • 60 mg Cymbalta (antidepressant)
  • 900 mg Lithobid (mood stabilizer)
  • 1 capsule of red yeast rice (to lower cholesterol)
  • 2 capsules of cranberry extract (UTIs are the unfortunate side effect of romance)
  • 1 melatonin pill (sleep aid)
  • 1 capsule of valerian (sleep aid)
  • 1 chromium picolinate tablet (supposed to aid with weight loss)
  • 1 vitamin B12 tablet
  • 1 vitamin K tablet
I can't remember why I started taking B12 and K -- I think someone on Facebook recommended them to me because I was feeling run down. I'm feeling less run down lately, which could be the vitamins, the romance, or the relief that comes from settling into a new work environment. The valerian is new; I'm trying it for the first time tonight. Hopefully I'll sleep more soundly.

A few years ago, I listed my nightly medication and supplement regimen. Slightly different from my current regimen. The prescriptions are the same, though, which I find heartening. I spent so many years hopping from medication to medication -- it's nice to have a little stability.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Monday, November 23, 2009

I'm not much of a writer

I have not done a good job describing how wonderful JV is, and how happy I am when I'm with him. Except when we're arguing about religion.

JV is a profoundly kind and gentle person. A great listener, who thinks carefully before he speaks. He cares more about more people than anyone else I know. Brilliant, well-read, bilingual. And believe it or not, he respects me and accepts me as a whole person, not some disease-ridden pity case.

We have a wonderful time together when we're not discussing religious practice. We talk, we laugh, we make each other think. I enjoy his company, whether we're talking or just being quiet.

JV is probably the only person who could even make me think about relaxing my halachic standards. Scratch the probably; I wouldn't do this for any other man, because no other man has made me feel as good about myself or believed in me as much as he does.

When I was in college, I went through a mercifully brief period of wanting to go to med school. Everyone thought it was a terrible idea and I couldn't do it. Except JV.

"How am I going to take the MCATs?" I asked him. "I didn't like physics in high school."

"I'll teach you physics, Ayelet," JV said urgently. "If this is what you want to do, I'll help you."

I'm not just in love with the idea of marriage. I'm in love with the idea of JV being the father of my children, and being the (step)mother of his. I don't know exactly how we're going to negotiate our differences, but there has to be a way. Because nobody else, aside from my family, has ever loved me or believed in me like this.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

I am the biggest rat in my apartment

I have the feeling I'm going to compromise most of my principles and try to marry JV.

It's funny. A few months ago, I was frothing with rage when Ziva Kramer set me up with a guy who wasn't shomer Shabbat. I turned down the not-yet-shomer-Shabbat Baltimore Guy, although in part because he had teenage children. And it bothers me that JV is unable to meet me where I am, the way I'm trying to meet him. That bodes ill, right?

But I also feel he's my last chance to find mutual love and have a family. After 20 years of completely fruitless dating, I have very little hope that an orthodox man remotely close to my age will ever want to marry me. I guess I could marry someone 15-20 years my senior, but that thought makes me ill.

So call me a hypocrite. Or a cop-out. Or worse. I'm going to try to make this work.

My frum friends have mainly been supportive. Those I've confided in have told me, "If it makes you happy, do it." They'll dance at my wedding even if I'm wearing a dress with spaghetti straps. And I know my family will be thrilled. Some friends believe that eventually JV might be willing to keep more of the halachot than he currently does. I don't think so, but I suppose anything is possible.

Yesterday I got together with Ruth, my friend from grad school who converted to Judaism. She's 9 months pregnant and looks 6 months, but in spite of this I love her. We talked about the compromises that marriage renders essential; apparently she's had to make several, and continues to work at it.

I always had an unrealistic fairy-tale idea about marriage; I'm well aware of that. But I never thought I'd have to change so much to accommodate someone else. It will be really humiliating if I make all these changes and JV doesn't ask me to marry him.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Following my followers

I have 15 followers, which delights, amazes, and humbles me. I've started looking at their blogs. "Daughter of Light" posted a song by REM that struck me as heartrendingly appropriate for me right now:

Oh, life is bigger
It's bigger than you
And you are not me
The lengths that I will go to
The distance in your eyes
Oh no, I've said too much
I set it up

That's me in the corner
That's me in the spotlight, I'm
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don't know if I can do it
Oh no, I've said too much
I haven't said enough
I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

Every whisper
Of every waking hour I'm
Choosing my confessions
Trying to keep an eye on you
Like a hurt lost and blinded fool, fool
Oh no, I've said too much
I set it up
Consider this
Consider this
The hint of the century
Consider this
The slip that brought me
To my knees failed
What if all these fantasies
Come flailing around
Now I've said too much
I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

But that was just a dream
That was just a dream

(repeat chorus)

But that was just a dream
Try, cry, why try?
That was just a dream
Just a dream, just a dream
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

He's not as think as you bad he is

Very few of the men I write about read this blog; I think there have been three. JV has stopped reading it, at my request, and I believe him because he is an honorable man. Which you might not think, but please trust me on this one. Whatever his faults, or defenses, or conditioned responses, JV is a man of tremendous honesty and personal integrity.

ET is another man I've blogged about, and he's frequently taken issue with how I depicted him. Sometimes rightly so. Thus, first and foremost, I want to say that JV is probably not nearly as bad as I've made him out to be. I'm good at writing about bad men -- apparently I'm not as good at writing about good men.

JV is not trying to change me, although he thinks my life would be better and I would be happier if I changed. He never intended to get romantically entangled with me or any other orthodox woman -- I forced the issue, and I knew how adamant he was about not being orthodox when I seduced him. So this mess is largely of my own making.

Several of my friends have given their input. Some were blunt:

Why not marry a goy? maybe you'll find 'love' there?
You can't slap the creator in the face by lowering your standards and expect Him to help you find true love.
If he would love you he wouldn't pull you down.

Thanks, DT. Don't hold back; tell me how you really feel.

Gloria Chang was kinder:

In my own religious tradition (which as you know gets its best ideas from Judaism :-)) the key questions to ask about a potential marriage partner are, "Is this person the one who can help me become a saint? Will I grow closer to Gd faster with this person?"

I see his objections to your practice as a problem. It would be one thing if he simply disagreed with you, but didn't object to YOUR keeping kosher and Shabbat. That he does object, means that he wants to change you, and pretty radically too.

You are probably not able to see this, but your devotion to Gd and His laws is a beautiful thing. It is, in fact, shalom. Every time you post about Jewish issues or "how I spent Shabbat" or agonize over how to treat others ethically, that shalom shines through. It is a nourishment to me personally and I am certain that it is to others as well. Again, you may not be aware of just how far your influence stretches.

Wasn't it Abraham Heschel who called Shabbat "a cathedral in time"? I wish the Christian world had such a cathedral.

I never considered myself a spiritual role model. I'm kind of panicked at the thought, since I'm so incredibly imperfect and right now, my faith is at a very low ebb.

The Kallah sent me some inspiration:

I only know what you write on your blog, so forgive me for being forward.

I'm a little leery of how controlling JV sounds, but I thought you might get some clarity from re-reading this article which I posted on FB a long time ago. It's the true story of a woman who decided to marry a man who was considerably less frum than her.

I bentch you that Hashem should give you clarity (and that you give yourself the time for clarity). And also that while it may hurt right now, it's a blessing that JV is being so upfront with you about who he is and what he's willing to do. (or not do). But I don't think it's fair of him to expect you to give up shabbos & kashrus just because he doesn't like it.

I wrote back:

Thanks. You're not being forward, you're being a caring friend. And to be fair to JV, he's extremely wounded by his toxic marriage and horrific divorce.

I love this article. But it's not going to be JV's story. He is incredibly bitter and angry not only at his evil ex but at the orthodox establishment, which treated him with incredible contempt. I can't blame him for how he feels, but I also don't know how much I can change to satisfy him.

Unfortunately, he was and is the man who loved and respected me the most. I'm afraid if I let him go I will never find anyone who will care about me half as much. I'm incredibly torn.

Right now I can only take it day by day. My psychiatrist says that the less I work at it, the better it will go. I'm going to try that for a little bit.

Dr. R actually thinks this relationship has potential -- and that if I don't meet JV's need for control with confrontation, he's more likely to relax. Sort of the same principles I use when counseling substance abusers. If you demand that they change, they resist. If you roll with the resistance instead of meeting it head-on, you help them realize how using is causing problems in their lives, and they develop their own motivation to change.

Of course, when I'm working with clients, my own emotions aren't directly engaged. It's funny -- people assume that therapists somehow have an unfair advantage in personal relationships. I don't think that's really the case. When it's about you, and your own feelings, it's very hard to maintain a professional distance and operate your skills and tools.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Monday, November 16, 2009

Can I still be in Nefesh if I'm not shomer shabbat?

JV and I had a long talk last night. The good news is, he doesn't want to waste my time. He knows that this is dating for marriage, not just for fun, and he doesn't want to shlep it out.

So while he still can't say he loves me (he referred to his past feelings for me as "interference" that prevent him from getting an accurate read on the current "signal"; engineers...) he knows that if he does fall in love with me, he'll want to marry me. And he believes he will fall in love with me.

The bad news is, he's completely opposed to me keeping kosher or Shabbat. Since his family doesn't, and he's no longer willing to do anything that would upset or discomfit them. Thanks to the Evil Ex and her horrible treatment of them. He used to compromise all the time to try to keep her happy. He's no longer willing to compromise on certain things. At all.

I don't know what to do. On the one hand, he's probably my best option for getting married before I turn 40 and having a baby before I hit menopause. Am I willing to give up keeping Shabbat and kosher in order to find love and have a family?

I've tried for 20 years to find and marry a man who's shomer shabbat, and it got me nothing but grief, gray hairs, mind games, and wasted time. JV is a good man who lives his Judaism in the way he treats others, and doesn't feel bound by rules and strictures. He bases this in part by how he was raised, and finds further support for it in an article by Haym Soloveitchik.

"If you convince me to give up shmirat shabbat, my whole family will send you baskets of mini muffins," I joked.

"Which I can't eat because I'm on a low-carb diet," JV responded.

I should have said, "But that would hurt their feelings. I thought your whole personal philosophy is based on not hurting people's feelings."

I always think of my best lines after I hang up the phone.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Sunday, November 15, 2009

What wakes you up faster than a cup of coffee or a shot of adrenaline straight to the heart?

You'll never guess, so I'll tell you: A dead rat under your kitchen sink.

After I finished screaming, I slammed the cabinet door shut and called the super. Not home. And the landlady. No answer. And my boyfriend, who was home with a sick child. And 311, which said they couldn't do anything. (Big surprise.) By that time, though, the super had gotten my message and texted the landlady, who called to say she was sending someone to dispose of the vermin.

I took some really disgusting pictures of the dead beast, along with pictures of rat droppings in various places and the holes they chewed in my screens. And the crumbling ceiling and peeling paint in my bathroom, for when I file my complaint against my damn slumlord. After the rat was taken away I poured an entire bottle of Pine-Sol under the sink, but I'm afraid to clean down there. I did some more cleaning in the living area of the apartment, but I'm staying out of the kitchen as much as possible.

I also spoke to a few people in the building. They've seen mice but not rats. Now they're kind of freaked out. Unfortunate, but what can I do?
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Winter of my discontent

I hate the time change. Already I'm slowing down. I had two offers to go out tonight -- dancing with friends, or to another friend's birthday party. And I don't want to go anywhere or see anyone. Well, anyone except JV, but he's got his children.

I become passive in the winter, inward-focused. I don't like to go out and do things unless someone takes me. I sit around at home and actually want people to tell me what to do. So this is a dangerous time for me to get involved with someone who wants to radically change me. He might succeed.

It's possible I'm looking for an escape. When JV and I were dating the first time, and I didn't like him much, he met up with a childhood friend who had just emigrated from Russia. He described how they went for a walk and talked about the old days.

I saw an opportunity. Somehow, I knew there was more than just a walk and a chat.

"You kissed her, didn't you?" I accused.

He hemmed and hawed, but whatever his other faults, JV is painfully honest. "Well, yes, but once. Just once."

"Why?" I demanded.

"Because... she was something familiar, a memory. It didn't mean anything."

"You cheated on me!" I cried. I seized that as a pretext and broke up with him.

Is JV my escape from orthodoxy? Is that what I really want?
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Friday, November 13, 2009

Still dizzy

I had a very disgusting conversation with an exterminator today. He said, among other things, that sealing off my apartment won't do me much good unless the building gets rid of the rat infestation. Which they don't seem to be doing. I also found out that rats climbed the outside of the building and chewed holes through my screens to get into my apartment. I still have the holes.

It's making me feel sick and dizzy. Or the essential oil fumes are. This morning I had trouble focusing on a client as he talked about what's been going on in his life. I feel kind of stoned, which is not a good frame of mind to be in when you're trying to be a drug counselor. Maybe the foam sealant they used in my radiator is emitting some kind of fumes. I'm not sure what the deal is.

So I'm not sure what to do at this point. I can't afford to pay $600 more in rent each month. And I don't know what's making me so spacey and foggy -- which has me a little worried about permanent brain damage.

Today in art therapy (yes, apparently Ayelet is now an art therapist; I run a group every week) I put out Elmer's Glue and feathers and pipe cleaners so the clients could make Thanksgiving turkeys. I thought we'd talk about what we're thankful for -- such as sobriety, for example.

Instead: "You got any rubber cement?" asked one.

"Try that white stuff!" suggested another. The first client put her nose to the orange spout and inhaled deeply. "Nope," she shrugged. "Nothin'. How come you don't have rubber cement?"

"That would not be therapeutic," I said. "And might cost me my license." It led to a nice conversation about the first time each of them tried huffing (i.e., glue sniffing).
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Thursday, November 12, 2009

How much peppermint oil is too much?

Peppermint oil is a home remedy for rat and mouse infestation. Geranium oil is supposed to drive away bugs as well as rats. So I've been sprinkling them around the apartment where I know the rodents congregate, and diffusing them. Thus far effectively -- I didn't see or hear anything last night. But today I've been in kind of a fog, and I'm wondering if I inhaled too much essential oil.

Guadalupe (seriously, who names a boy Guadalupe?) told me the landlady wasn't having their exterminators find and seal the rat holes; they just put down poison and traps. That's clearly inadequate. The lawyer I met with suggested I have an exterminator give me an estimate of what it would cost to seal off my apartment from vermin and send my landlord a copy of the invoice, notifying them that it will come out of the rent. I'm also pro-rating the next rent check to reflect the 10 days I've been forced to sleep elsewhere.

There's a newly renovated apartment right above mine that the landlady is trying to talk me into -- but it's $600 more per month than my apartment. Also, if there are rats in my apartment, they might be elsewhere in the building. I haven't heard anything from the Department of Health or Housing Preservation about those complaints I filed. I guess I'll call them tomorrow.

All of this should have me much more stressed out than I am. It's nice having a boyfriend.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Rats. AGAIN.

I saw a rat again this morning. Called 311, filed a couple of complaints. My landlady sent over a very flirtatious exterminator named Guadalupe. He put down some poison and snap traps. I am once again couch-surfing, and tomorrow I'm going to talk to a lawyer.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Monday, November 09, 2009


Ever since I helped Jurassic Vassilievitch get a 21st-century haircut (which has completely reverted to type by now), I've been trying not to try to change him too much. It's not fair to him, and it might not always be justified. The haircut was a badly needed and fairly obvious change. Challenging his religious practices and beliefs might not be as warranted.

Similarly, JV's trying not to try to change me too much, unless he feels it's strongly warranted. Which sometimes includes my religious practices and beliefs. Since his education in this area exceeds mine -- he's a big reader of nonfiction books on Jewish history and philosophy; I tend to read murder mysteries and articles about substance abuse treatment -- I'm having trouble arguing with him.

Yesterday, we twice came close to an argument over food. First, JV picked me up and took me to lunch at a very mediocre fish restaurant in Jersey. He spotted something on the dessert menu that he thought was hilarious and pointed it out to me: a deep-fried Milky Way bar.

I started hyperventilating. Ever since I learned about deep-fried Twinkies and Snickers bars a few years ago, in a New York Times article about country fairs, I've been dying to try one. I assumed the only place you could get one was at the fair -- and those venues usually aren't kosher. But this restaurant is.

"I want that!" I cried.

"You're not having that," JV stated flatly.

Russian fathers. So directive. I laughed. "It's cute," I said. "You think that because you sometimes get your way this time around, you always get to tell me what to do. This is not your area."

(We decided -- well, I decided -- that JV is more skilled and knowledgeable in certain "areas," such as fixing things, Russian language and culture, and getting places without getting lost, whereas I am more skilled in other areas, such as psychotherapy, clothing and hairstyles, and food. So when a question comes up and a decision needs to be made, it makes more sense to defer to the person whose area it is. By and large we stick to this agreement.)

"In this case I do," he asserted. "I'm not letting you eat that heart attack on a plate."

"Not letting me?" Normally that kind of statement would infuriate me, but it's difficult to contest when what I want is so patently not what I need.

"You know when you can have one of those?" he asked.

"My birthday?"

"I'm taking you someplace nicer for your birthday," JV said, glancing behind himself to make sure the proprietor wasn't within earshot.

"Chanuka?" I asked. That would actually be kind of appropriate; it's the festival of fried things.

"When you get your cholesterol level down to a number that doesn't need to be medicated," said JV. He crossed his arms and smirked. He was pleased with himself, and rather pleased that the kosher restaurant was so bad.

Unfortunately, I couldn't argue with him because he was completely justified. "You were much more compliant in college," I grumbled.

"You don't know what you've got till it's gone," he retorted. True enough. And I didn't like always being in charge back then. It's still an adjustment letting him make some of the decisions.

I had wanted to take him for another haircut, but unfortunately there were no salons open that he felt comfortable entering. (The ones that were open tended toward the "ethnic," and JV didn't want to risk leaving with his hair in cornrows.) We shopped for some jeans for him, which I probably enjoyed a lot more than he did, and desk chairs and a bookcase for his kids.

"What do you want for dinner?" JV asked as we drove away from The Door Store. It was about 6 p.m., and quite dark. I was feeling a little subdued, as I often do at night during the winter.

"Whatever you want is fine," I said. He glanced over at me, startled.

"Are you okay?" he asked warily. I'd been quiet for the past half-hour as JV and the loading dock employee tied the bookcase to the top of the car -- physics and other practical things are definitely his areas.

Based on what I knew about his previous marriage and ex-wife, Mara, I sensed he thought I was incubating resentment that would eventually lead to a very unpleasant explosion. "I'm not being passive-aggressive," I said. "I know some women say they're fine and expect men to figure out what's bothering them and fix it. I don't have the patience for that tactic. If I'm mad, I'll tell you and tell you how to fix it. If I say I'm fine, I mean it. Or I'm not, but there's nothing you can do except give me space and give it time."

"Okay," said JV, not sure he believed what I was saying but hoping I meant it. "What do you want for dinner?"

"Whatever you're in the mood for," I said.

"It's your area," he said. "And you've been really nice all day."

"I'm supposed to be nice to you," I said. "I'm a better girlfriend this time around."

"Doesn't mean I shouldn't appreciate it when you're nice," he said.

"Well, thank you for the validation, and it wouldn't kill you to tell me I'm pretty once in a while," I said.

"You're beautiful," he said. "What do you want for dinner?"

"I'm up for anything," I said. I wanted him to make the decision. When I'm mildly depressed it's hard to make decisions, so I actually don't mind people telling me what to do. It's reassuring and makes life easier.

"In the mood for more fish? How about salmon?" he asked.

"Fine with me," I said. We went to the supermarket, and I talked him out of farm-raised and heavily dyed "Atlantic" salmon in favor of "wild catch." (My area, after all.) He made the salmon, I made some rice. And we had an argument about Jewish weddings.

I honestly am not sure how the topic came up. I know I asked him what his wedding to EE was like, but I can't remember why I asked. I don't think it came out of nowhere. Doesn't really matter, because he was willing to discuss it. And it wasn't so much an argument as his insistence -- again -- that it's not important to follow Jewish rituals and traditions to the letter.

"A wedding is your first statement of who you are as a couple," JV said. "It's more meaningful if it reflects who you are, rather than just an impersonal ceremony. I prefer something more egal."
To me that sounded kind of like do-it-yourself, make-it-up-as-you-go-along Judaism. Of which I am not a fan. But I couldn't really explain why the ancient rituals mean so much to me.

"Tell me, my dear," JV continued, "which rabbi said that the wedding ring should be placed on the bride's right forefinger?" This is another example of where his Jewish education (but not his faith) outstrips mine.

"Rambam?" I guessed.

"No," said JV. "Rav Aristotle."

Logic is clearly one of his areas. "So what would you want to do?" I asked him. "Write your own vows?"

"No, but I would want to follow the example that friends of mine have set," he said.

The discussion didn't really go anywhere -- honestly, there was nowhere for it to go, since we're not actually planning a wedding. I'd like to think that it brought us closer to negotiating a compromise, but I can't really say that it did. Still, dinner was lovely, and the day overall was pretty nice. I guess it's more of a process than a switch.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

It's not just me

Two friends recently sent me the link to an article published in the New York Post:

November 1, 2009

There's an epidemic of kosher cradle snatchers -- and a group of rabbis is out to tame them.

The Talmudic titans, based here and in Israel, are calling for matchmakers to stop setting up Jewish men with much younger women, claiming the practice is leaving too many older women unmarried.

Matchmakers should set up men only with women whose ages are "within a year or two of the boy's, or even older," the 60 yeshiva rabbis declared in a letter.

The marriage missive, issued in late September, also suggested that shadchanim -- Jewish matchmakers -- concentrate on girls "age 20 and above."

Local singles bristled at what they saw as an implication that women who aren't even of the legal drinking age are already old maids.

"That mindset is the reason there's a crisis," said Allison Witty, 30, a communications director. "Women in the Orthodox Jewish world shouldn't have an 'expires by' stamp on them."

Sima Greenstein, a volunteer matchmaker in Cedarhurst, LI, had "mixed feelings" about the letter.

"When 30-year-old men say they want a 19-year-old girl, it's just unfair to the ones who are the right age for them," she said.

But, she added, "I'm not closing my doors to anybody. There are some 19-year-old girls who want to get taken by an older man."

About five years ago, the rabbis assembled an emergency meeting to address the growing number of single Orthodox women -- the so-called shidduch crisis.

Those rabbis concluded that older men marrying teen women was the primary cause.

They sponsored ads in Jewish publications promoting close-in-age matches. Some even suggested that matchmakers get paid double for making such connections.

Rabbi Shmuely Boteach, author of "The Kosher Sutra," a relationship guide, welcomed the latest edict.

"Men need to grow up," he said. "Rather than appreciating a woman who has matured like a fine wine, they often look for someone who is all cover and no book."

He said he knows many women in their 40s and 50s who have completely given up on love.

"This is getting worse because we live in a visual age. Men are only looking for wrinkle-free women," he said.

Michael Salomon, author of the book "The Shidduch Crisis," said the rabbis need to do more.

"I think this [edict] is a feeble attempt to address a situation that has never been addressed properly," said the Orthodox Jewish psychiatrist from Long Island.

He said the crisis is also reflected in spiking divorce rates and domestic violence among observant Jewish couples.

Singles are being bullied into marriage by pushy matchmakers, the therapist said.

Ilana Hostyk, 18, called it "good advice" to marry someone close in age, but noted, "When love comes around, I don't think you can place rules on it."

I don't often agree with what's published in the Post -- or with Shmuley Boteach, for that matter -- but I think this is on the money. Maybe my mother is right, and I'm single because of the frum community, not despite it.

Is it better to marry a frum man many years my senior, when I'm not comfortable with that kind of age difference, or to marry a Jewish man who's not 100% shomer shabbat? A good friend sent me what was supposed to be an encouraging email:

There is a ray of hope -- my daughter's sister-in-law is 39.75 and she finally got engaged to a man 50 years old. They met on

(Jwed is Frumster's dating service for non-orthodox singles.)

I know he meant well, but that's not the kind of hope I want. Which is not to say it's not what I need.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Guest post on treatment-resistant depression

The following guest post was written by Christine Howell, who writes about online degrees and college-related topics for Online College Guru, an online college directory and comparison website.

If your depression has been treated with medication or psychotherapy, but your symptoms have not improved, you may have treatment-resistant depression. You may still feel sad, hopeless, and disinterested in the world around you. You may have experienced a temporary relief of your symptoms, which then returned. If this happens, then you have treatment-resistant depression and may need to try a wider range of treatments until you find one that works for you. Don’t give up; up to a third of people treated for depression do not respond to the first few rounds of treatment.

What causes Treatment-Resistant Depression?

The underlying causes for treatment-resistant depression are the same as any other form of depression. You just are not responding to treatment. When discussing this condition and treatment options with your doctor, there are several things you should consider.

Have you been taking your medication properly?

The treatment may not be working because you haven’t been administering your medications properly. Check with your doctor on what medications you should be taking, the dosage, and the quantity. Ensure that you are following these instructions precisely. It may take a while before you see results. Do not just assume the medicine is not working and stop taking it. First talk to your doctor; he or she will tell you if it is too soon to make that determination.

Is the diagnosis accurate?

Work with your doctor to confirm the diagnosis of depression. Be very clear about all of the symptoms you have experienced; do not leave anything out. Sometimes there are subtle differences between depression and other mental health disorders, such as mild forms of bipolar disorder, that can result in a wrong diagnosis. Although the symptoms may be similar, the treatments are very different. If the diagnosis is incorrect, you may be receiving the wrong treatment.

Do you have any other health issues?

Some other underlying health problems can mimic depression, or may enhance the depression you are experiencing. Get a thorough physical including blood tests for liver, kidney, and thyroid functioning, and report these results to your mental health care provider.

Who can help you with Treatment-Resistant Depression?

You may have sought initial treatment for your depression from your primary care physician. If the symptoms persist and do not respond to treatment, then you need to see a specialist, like a psychiatrist or mental health counselor—especially if you have tried several medications. Treatments other than medication may help your depression, but these must be administered by an expert.

Do not give up hope; there are many treatment options, and a qualified mental health provider will find the one that works best for you.

Other Treatment Options for Depression

Besides medication and psychotherapy, there are two other treatment options for depression: electroconvulsive therapy and transcranial magnetic stimulation. These are slightly more invasive treatments, but have proven to be very effective.

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is recommended for patients with severe depression who have failed to respond to medication. To receive ECT, a patient is put to sleep with a general anesthesia. Electrodes are placed on the patient's scalp and a trained doctor applies a precisely controlled electrical current, causing a brief brain seizure. The treatment is generally repeated two to three times a week for about four weeks. ECT has proven to be very effective in treating patients with severe depression.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is much more precise and less invasive than ECT. A TMS device creates a magnetic field that induces a very small electric current in a specific part of the brain. The current level is so low that it does not induce a seizure; therefore the patient does not have to be put to sleep for this treatment. TMS is administered as an outpatient service and given about 4 to 5 times a week for several weeks. TMS is most helpful in patients with milder cases of depression who have not responded to an antidepressant.

Christine writes about accredited online degrees and college-related topics for Online College Guru, an online college directory and comparison website. She can be reached at
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor" and Christine Howell

Apparently it IS still karaoke even if you don't make out with a 20something

ET threw another karaoke night to celebrate finishing the NY marathon. Joining him were the 24-year-old who thought I was younger than ET, along with sundry other men many years my junior. And I did not make out with any of them, because I have a boyfriend and he would be upset if I did.

It actually wasn't too difficult to comply. The 24yo is now interested in another girl. The insanely hot RSX didn't show. And the guys who hit on me were 31 and 33, nice enough but neither young nor hot enough to really stoke my ego and tempt me to pucker up.

It was fun they assumed I was about 27. The 31-year-old asked where I go to shul.

"OZ?" he guessed.

"Guilty as charged," I said. "Where do you go?"

"Shaarei Tzedek," 31yo answered.

"Oh, that's where my boyfriend goes -- I mean, where he went when he lived on the West Side," I said. "Now he lives in Jersey."

"That answers that," he said. "So it's a long-distance relationship?"

"Not really," I laughed. "He's close enough."

"Why isn't he here?" 31yo asked.

"Working," I said. "He did tell me I'm not allowed to make out with anyone tonight. That's how I usually operate at karaoke."

"My bad luck this is my first time karaok'ing with this crowd," 31yo said ruefully. "Are you two serious?"

"I think so," I said. "We actually dated back in college, and broke up, and then reconnected on Facebook and got back together."

31yo asked where I went to college and said his older brother must have gone there "before your time." His brother graduated two years after I did. That was nice.

Less nice was when the 33-year-old had four beers and started getting handsy while dancing with me. I had to say, "No, no, sorry, I have a boyfriend!" 33yo bounces back pretty quick, though, because I saw him getting handsy with a few other girls.

I woke up this morning stiff and achy from dancing. I figure I got in my 15 minutes of daily exercise, but I feel like I've been steamrollered. I definitely need a new chair at work.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Guest post (sort of) published an article called "Private Pain, Public Remarks." Tagline:

Why do people think my private dating life is up for public discussion?

The article begins:

I sometimes wonder if people realize that a slight comment can cause so much pain. Why is it that just because your plight is well-known, people assume they can ask you anything about it, in public? Couples who are childless, people who are sick or disfigured, someone who is having business trouble or going through a divorce; the list goes on. Being single in a marriage-minded world is my public experience of pain.

I identified highly with this article, and posted a link to it on my Facebook profile. My good friend S., who has helped me clear up so much clutter from my apartment, commented

I can't quite "like" this but I posted a minor diatribe in comments that I doubt will get posted.

They posted part of it, so I want to post the whole thing here, because S. has a lot to say and she says it very well:

Shifra, you and people like you... I really want to know if you have any idea how many times I wanted to just sink through the floor and disappear, how many nights I cried myself to sleep after one of your CARING comments.

(Shifra commented that she wanted to know what to say, since total silence seemed uncaring.)

As for Ms "oh thank God I'm engaged, i'm mid-20s", how do you think it feels to be one of those "mid-30s" talked about in hushed and horrified whispers, even by my family members, even straight to my face?

This community is seriously broken and distorted when so many "wonderful young women" cannot find a normal guy to date. Believe you me, it's not for lack of trying that I'm single, and it's not because there's something so terribly wrong with me. I'm constantly approached by (very nice, attractive, successful) non-Jewish guys who think I'm a lovely, kind, attractive, intelligent woman. I have to keep turning them down, because I want a Jewish home and children raised with a Jewish father. But that guy doesn't seem to exist... that normal, reasonably decent looking, single guy MY AGE.

Women of the Jewish community, you have raised your sons to believe that it's all coming to them. To believe that they all DESERVE a woman 20 years younger, no matter that they've wasted the best years of their lives that will never come back. To believe that no woman is good enough. When I was younger, I didn't dress fancy enough and my family had no money. Too bad my father spent all those years in kollel so that his daughter could be turned down by the "learning guys". Now that I'm older, well... I'm just "older" so no matter how well I dress, how poised and intelligent I am... I'll never be 21 again, so according to the shadchanit mafia... I am worthless in their eyes. No, I'm not PICKY. I just wanted a nice, caring, decent guy, that I would be able to spend the rest of my life with. I dare you to tell me... when someone cannot hold a normal conversation or eat their food politely, is 200 pounds overweight, or old, bald and just plain strange... that I'm TOO PICKY.

I'm sure someone will come up with some perfectly lovely platitudes to respond to this comment, if it's even posted. But you know what. It doesn't matter.

So now, you "caring" individuals... next time, keep silent.

What the hell is wrong with frum men? I understand why I might be a tough sell, given the illness and previous psych hospitalization, but why is S. only pursued enthusiastically by non-Jews?
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Waking up is hard to do

(I wrote this piece about my overdose/coma not long after waking up, and found it while cleaning my apartment with Hurricane S.)

I felt very, very tired; my eyelids were heavy, and the room seemed dim. I couldn't move. But I realized instantly that I was in the hospital, and I was happy.

"You're in St. Luke's/Roosevelt Hospital!" cried my mother. She was sitting next to my bed. I tried to turn my head toward, her but my body felt stiff and my wrists were tied to the bedrails.

Okay, I thought, this is what you get for taking such a big overdose. Of course they're going to tie you to the bed; they think you'll try to kill yourself again the first chance you get.

I tried to choke a few words past the ventilator in my throat, which was pressing painfully against my jaw and made it even harder to move my head. My throat was raw. Every part of me ached; for injections, IVs, three bouts of dialysis, and blood work, needles had been stuck up and down my body. My arms were a spectacular patchwork of green and purple. I bruise easily under normal conditions; after a week in intensive care, I looked like I'd been hit by a truck.

"You're in St. Luke's/Roosevelt Hospital!" my mother repeated.

I heard you the first time, I thought peevishly; say something else, I can't talk. I hazily noticed she was holding one of my restrained hands. My aunt, sitting on the other side of my bed, squeezed the other. I turned toward her and felt the catheters tugging at my nether parts. The thicker tube was discharging black sludge; my bowels were processing the charcoal pumped into me, which had absorbed some of the drugs I'd swallowed.

Was I glad to be alive? I thought so. It felt good to be in the hospital, to have so many people concerned with my survival and well-being. Being tied to a bed meant they understood how desperate I was, how awful I felt -- which I hadn't been able to convey. Depression makes it hard to concentrate, to think, and if you can't think straight, you can't communicate. Nobody understood how much pain I was in.

Dr. Incompetent's last words to my mother, before I was found, were, "Ayelet's out of control." Neatly placing the blame for my illness on my bad behavior. I was skipping my twice-weekly appointments with her (for which, needless to say, she was still charging me) and not going to work -- not even calling in sick. My mother came in every weekend to spend time with me, which wasn't helping. On the days I managed to get out of bed, I went to a nearby library and read fat, distracting books -- Gone With the Wind, Memoirs of a Geisha.

I had turned off the ringer on my phone. Every so often I'd check my voicemail, deleting messages from my boss -- ranging from annoyed to deeply concerned; my mother, deeply concerned; and my therapist, annoyed.

The therapeutic relationship, like any other, depends heavily on the personal chemistry of the two people involved. I always experienced Dr. Incompetent as cold and aloof. I can't explain why; she often made great efforts to see me, and was in contact with my mother and psychiatrist. But I never felt close or comfortable with her, and many times I felt she completely misread what I was trying to say.

After eight years, I wasn't getting better. I didn't need a therapist, I needed a hospital, and she was grossly incompetent for keeping me out of one. The year before I went through a similar episode. My mother wanted to hospitalize me. My therapist told her it would ruin my life -- I'd never get another job, never get married, never have a normal life again.

Well, I haven't gotten married, but I don't think that's because I was hospitalized. I got other jobs, and two master's degrees. Being in a psychiatric ward was an incredibly positive experience for me. I only wish I hadn't been so afraid to go.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"