Friday, July 30, 2010

Strong and healthy

Met up with the beautiful Gloria Chang to tour the Art Institute, Chicago's world-class museum. I haven't seen her since high school, and she's different and the same. Same eyes, same smile, same gift for listening deeply without comment (something my vocal Jewish family is not overpracticed at).

Gloria is a sincere Episcopalian, almost ecstatically so. She teaches Sunday school and volunteers at the church camp, playing music for the 4-to-6-year-olds. "I try to balance it between sacred songs and silly songs," she told me. She was enthusiastically in favor of my orthodox practice, so I was wondering how she'd feel about the changes I've made.

"JV believes in living Judaism, not just rote practice," I told her. "It's in the way he treats people and lives his life with integrity and honesty."

"What do you believe?" Gloria asked.

Good question. It forced me to verbalize the metamorphosis I've been going through.

"For the past several years, I've been moving away from the orthodox community," I said. "Not going to shul on Shabbat or holidays, not going to community events unless they were for singles to mingle. And I've been feeling let down and rejected by the community. I think I began practicing because I liked what I saw about the community, how it was warm and welcoming in my small hometown. But when I moved to New York City, it was different. I had to work hard to find my place in the community, and honestly, I'm not sure I ever did.

"I think I've always been something of a square peg, even though I ultimately did manage to make friends. But then they kept getting married and moving away, and I'd have to make a whole pack of new friends. It was exhausting, and eventually I stopped trying, so I felt isolated and cut off, like it was too much effort to stay in touch with people and they weren't staying in touch with me. Not sure if that's fair, since I was isolating myself and I did have friends I could visit. But I got tired of begging for a place at other people's Shabbos tables, and I was tired of making meals by myself. So I would be alone all weekend.

"On Shabbat at my apartment, I wasn't observing the laws. I didn't light candles or make kiddush. I'd go online, just avoiding Facebook so people wouldn't see me there during shabbat. I wouldn't really talk on the phone, since most of my friends were shomer shabbat and I guess I didn't want to openly admit I wasn't keeping Shabbat. I guess I was still hoping I'd somehow meet a shomer shabbat guy and then go back to keeping Shabbos along with him. But I didn't. I met JV.

"It was a process. It was weird at first, cooking and turning on lights in front of JV, since I'd only done that by myself in my apartment and was pretending I didn't. He forced me to be honest. And he told me why he found the orthodox community so inauthentic -- focused on superficial things like how big your house or black hat is, how strictly you practice and take on additional stringencies, but not really concerned with people's feelings or needs. He was treated very badly by the community during his divorce from Mara. He's also got more of a Jewish education than I do, so he doesn't believe the current state of American orthodox Jewry is an authentic continuation of Jewish practice. For him, it's more important to visit his elderly grandmother on a Saturday, even if he has to drive there, than just to walk to synagogue."

"What about you?" asked Gloria. "What do you think?" Long pause, while I girded up my loins with courage to answer her honestly.

"I think it's also more important to visit her," I said. "She took care of other people all her life, now she needs us. I'd rather drive to see her than walk to shul, honestly. I was never much of a davener."

Gloria was quiet for a moment, and I was afraid she was disappointed in me. I didn't look at her; we were in front of an interesting painting, and I focused on that.

"Do you know how strong and healthy you sound, Ayelet?" she asked me.

Whew! Gloria has blessed my relationship with JV. And that means a hell of a lot.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Not by my clock

I'm having trouble resigning myself to the fact that if I do marry JV, it won't be by my clock but only when he is good and ready. My cousins and sister aren't interested in hearing about our relationship or looking at swatches or bridal dress styles.

Actually, one cousin is (Yaffa) and the other (Yonina) is not. Yaffa wanted to see the bridesmaid dress JV and I picked out. Her girlfriend isn't too fond of dresses, so I said Chrissy could wear a matching blouse and black pants. (The manufacturer makes dresses and separates, so Chrissy can easily get a top in the same fabric.)

Then Yaffa, Malka and I started looking at the site's featured bridal gowns. Then gowns on another site I like a lot, RK Bridal. (Discount designer fashions.)

And then Yaffa said, "Why don't we go try some gowns on?"

I should have said no, not until I have a ring and a date. But I don't know when I'll be able to try on dresses with my family, since none of  them but my sister live in the NYC area, and I know I won't want to shop for this dress with my sister.

So we went to a boutique that thinks I'm a size 14, since all the size 12 dresses were too tight. I tried to feel bridey, but I couldn't. First of all because I felt like I looked like an eggplant in ivory organza, even though Malka and Yaffa thought I was beautiful. Also because I couldn't really wear any of the dresses; the designer had to hold them together behind me, since they were all too small. Still, I could see that some of the styles looked better than others, and I also decided that although in theory I like the idea of a very simple gown, in practice I love the big elaborate crinolined affairs.

But that's it. I can't afford to keep thinking about a wedding that may never happen. The more time I spend away from JV, the more insecure I feel. We talk on the phone, but he never says anything about us getting married. And I can't force it.

How can I stop wanting this so badly? How can I uproot the poisonous envy in my heart, seeing so many women with diamond rings? And how can I stop idealizing how marriage is supposed to work, how it's supposed to make me feel? Because I strongly suspect that even if we do get married, it won't make me as happy as I assume it will.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Jersey is a small, small world

Remember Kalev, the divorced classmate who asked to buy me a cup of coffee after giving his wife her get? As in, right after:

I was wondering if you would be interested in going out for coffee sometime? We are scheduled for me to give my wife her Get tomorrow, so sometime after that.

Yeah. How about not. Anyway, Kalev posted a status update on Monday:

Wishing all of those who will be fasting tonight and tomorrow a safe, easy and meaningful fast.

Mara Dreck "Liked" it. So -- and I realize this was petty of me -- I commented:

you too, KL :) (His last name is "Levy.")

So today I get this email from Kalev:

Hi Ayelet, Thanks for your well-wishes response to my pre-Tisha B'Av posting! I hope that you're doing better now than you were a few weeks ago? I can certainly relate. My civil divorce is still not done, G-d willing some day soon!

In the interest of "full disclosure", I am very good friends with JV's ex-wife, so please don't go into any meaningful details about your relationship if/when you respond. M2 and M1 are great kids, though I'm sure that you've spent much more time with them than I have. :-)

I wish you only the best and much happiness!  Good luck with the job hunt and be well, Kalev

I can barely imagine what she must have said to him. And how in the middle he must feel. Jersey is a small world indeed.

Doing better, thanks. M1 and M2 are indeed great kids; it's a privilege to be part of their lives. Not sure what kind of details you thought I'd share about my relationship with their dad, but I will spare you, aside from saying that he's a wonderful guy and I'm lucky to have him. Good luck finalizing your divorce :) I'm not exactly unemployed, just restructured.

That ought to settle his concerns.

I'm happy to hear that! I wasn't sure either (some people seem to share every detail of their lives on facebook... not sure why? ;) ), which is why I decided to mention it. I'm very happy to hear that your happy and things are going well... you're a very nice person and you certainly deserve it.

Ouch. Kalev, you oughta read my blog.

It's my fault. I should stop trying to force myself upon Mara's FB awareness. It's petty, it's beneath me, and it could lead to custody complications. Yet another issue to bring up in therapy with Dr. R....
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

I suppose it's only fair

I made JV wait 20 years between breaking up with him in college and crawling back to him in hopes of reconciliation. And he was nice enough to reconcile, and never holds my college-era behavior against me. Only fair to let him have as much time as he needs to get engaged. Especially after he had to spend so much time with me in the ER and the psych ward.

Doesn't make it much easier to wait, though. I think part of the problem is that my work life is also somewhat up in the air. I know I'm not fired -- I'm pretty sure -- but I don't know what my job will be like when I go back. I hate all this limbo, having half my stuff at my place and half at his. But I have to deal with it.

Yesterday was JV's day with the kids, and I was at the house when they got home from camp. They were a little surprised to see me.

"But it's a good surprise," M1 decided. Whew. "Why are you here?" he asked.

"Your dad didn't tell you? My apartment is being painted, and it smells really bad," I said. "I needed someplace to stay."

"It's good that you're here. You know why?" M1 thought for a moment. "Because if you breathe in that paint smell, it's bad for you. And then you smell like paint, which is also bad."

"Did you fast, Ayelet?" asked M2.

"I did," I said. No sense explaining modified fasting to a 6.5-year-old.

"My mom fasted," he told me eagerly, "and then she drank some orange juice, and then she threw up four times."

"Wow!" I said. "Did you take care of her?"

"Well... she was mostly lying on the couch," he said, still enthralled by the thought of someone vomiting four times in a row. Boys.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Still here, still unofficial

Saw Dr. R yesterday, and he agreed to see me weekly. A good start. I'll go back to work on August 2.

Right now, job-hunting and house-hunting are indefinitely tabled. So is the wedding. JV needs to process what he went through, supporting me through the latest crisis. He still loves me, I still love him, we still think we have a future. But it's not going to be on the timeline I want, so I have to cope with that as best I can.

Hope everyone has an easy fast.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Thursday, July 15, 2010

You know I'm in trouble when I start writing songs....

So my mother's a little worried that I'm becoming hypomanic. Now I am too. I only slept one hour last night, I came up with a whole new therapy group concept, and I started writing a song.

Here's the therapy group concept:
Music, Poetry, and Thought, aka “the corny music group”—a combination of music therapy, CBT (reframing, confronting irrational thoughts, etc.), laughter yoga, and practicing trying something new/different, since they might not be familiar with the songs. Same principle as using Japanese or Chinese poems, sayings, and parables to provoke discussion on a variety of relevant topics. We could let the clients suggest songs and even perform their own poems or music (after strict rules have been established).

Tentative starter songlist:
  • Billie Holliday, “Strange Fruit” (or the documentary)
  • Brad Paisley, “Alcohol”
  • Eric Clapton, “Cocaine”
  • Wicked, “Defying Gravity”
  • Selena, “Como la Flor”: accepting loss graciously
  • Jimmy Buffett, “Margaritaville”: accepting responsibility
  • Beatles, “Hey Jude”
  • “Playing for Change” documentary
  • Fort Minor, “Remember the Name”
  • Bob Marley, “One Love,” “Three Little Birds,” “Buffalo Soldier,” “Redemption Song”
  • Amy Winehouse, “Rehab”
  • Temptations, “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”
  • Marvin Gaye, “What’s Going On”
  • Ray Charles, “Let’s Go Get Stoned”
  • Michael Jackson, “Man in the Mirror,” “Black or White”
  • Gloria Estefan, “Reach,”
  • “We Are the World” and “Do They Know It’s Christmas/Feed the World”: nice gesture, not enough, or cultural colonialism?
  • Stevie Wonder
  • Eddie Floyd
  • “Born Under a Bad Sign”
So far the idea has generated some positive buzz, although granted, the buzz has been generated among my Facebook friends. When I'm back from disability leave and vacation, I'll see if the clinical director likes the idea.

I wrote a whole passel of songs during one of  my worst hypomanias, more than 10 years ago. Most of them were lost when my last computer crashed, and most weren't very good, although one was. Wish I could fully remember it. Anyway, lyrics and melodies started coming to me again as I was thinking back over the past year or so, trying to figure out what I did wrong, when it seemed that crisis just piled on crisis:
  • October-November 2009: rats
  • January 2010: gum surgery
  • March: bronchitis
  • April: pregnancy scare and return of the rats
  • May: major sinus infection and fight with the landlady, including a nasty letter from her illiterate attorney
  • June: "abnormal" Pap smear and colposcopy, and following up with Dept. of Health and Housing Preservation to prove that I wasn't the reason there were rats in my apartment
I think we remember what went wrong on the last day of June and the first three days of July. And the work stress was pretty much constant and high since June 2009. Is it any wonder I ended up on the psych ward?

I can't write sheet music, so you can't hear the song as it's supposed to be sung, but these are the lyrics so far:

So Glad I Don't Have to Get Over You

It’s been a hard few days, and months,
It’s been a crazy year.
The joy of having you in my life,
Tempered—with pain and stress and fear…

I don’t know how I’d have survived,
If I’d been without you,
I’m glad I’ll never have to know,
And so glad I don’t have to get over you.

It is of course possible that watching 14 episodes of "Glee" back to back has me thinking in song. And maybe I'm not hypomanic. Maybe I'm just the Tracey Ullman of therapists.

Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Fate is apparently untemptable

I way overreacted.

JV loves me and we are still engaged, despite Malchick 1's reaction. JV spoke to my psychiatrist friend Joey, who talked him down off the ledge, and we're going to work on solutions together. Which will probably involve postponing the wedding, but that doesn't matter. I think we should make it official, so the kids know it's really happening even if they don't (yet) want it to happen, but have a long engagement, so they have enough time to process it.

And also tell them they'll get a Nintendo wii with all kinds of attachments as a wedding present. 

I am also going back into psychotherapy to work on other issues, like interpersonal effectiveness. Because why do I have problems in every workplace or school situation I enter? And work-life balance, and trying to achieve the believe that even if I never get married, my life will still have purpose and meaning.

I'm pursuing laser treatment for my knee pain, so that I won't feel like a geriatric cougar instead of a luscious youthful cougar. And I'm going to make more of an effort to take care of myself -- more massages, manicures, and healthy indulgences like exotic fruit and healthy take-out food such as broiled fish.

Thanks to everyone for their love and concern.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Friday, July 02, 2010

That's what I get for tempting fate

JV spoke with his children about me on Wednesday night, asking them what they think about me.

"She spends too much time here," complained M1.

M2 agreed. "Maybe she could come every other Shabbos."

"What if we got married?" asked JV. "Then she would live here with us."

"Okay," said M2.

M1 buried his face in a pillow and refused to talk. And JV freaked out. He doesn't know what to do. It's one thing if his parents don't want him to marry me; he's an adult, he doesn't need their approval. But if his kids are dead-set against it, that's a different matter.

I suppose this is what I get for starting to plan and talk about the wedding before it was official. Now it looks like it won't happen.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Demoted. Sort of.

A few weeks ago I found out that our psychiatrist will no longer be working at the Brooklyn site of our agency. Yesterday I found out that we're not getting a replacement. Instead, all clients with mental illnesses will need to see outside psychiatrists, and their individual counselors will work with them on that. I will no longer be the dual diagnosis recovery program coordinator; I'll be a regular substance abuse therapist again.

It's a disappointment, but also a relief. Because I never got the support or structure I was promised to make the program work -- and it wasn't working. I was always frustrated and angry. Now I don't have to be. They're not saying it's my fault or the result of my inability to make the program work; they just said they couldn't find a psychiatrist and they're going to focus on other populations, not clients with mental illness.

I do have to make some quick referrals for the clients who need the most psychiatric care -- it wouldn't be ethical to keep them at our agency if they can't receive on-site medication management. And it will be a hassle and a half helping the others find outside psychiatrists. But not as much of a hassle as trying to get other counselors' clients to attend their psychiatric appointments -- and trying to get counselors at both Brooklyn offices to follow the procedures and policies we set up for the dual diagnosis program.

And this makes it even easier for me to leave. Because now anyone can take over the clients I'll be keeping. They won't need my medication management skills.

I'm more concerned that now the higher-ups are saying they won't provide documentation so I can get my LCSW, which is what a co-worker recently told me has been happening. I haven't heard this directly. But I have enough supervised hours to get my New Jersey LCSW, and I hope the agency will live up to the promise they made me when I interviewed.

Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"