Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Help! I'm Freaking Myself Out

Received this email from a reader... Advice?  Thoughts?  Have you been there?

Good morning Ruchi,

I wanted to thank you for so many wonderful blog posts. I have learned a lot from your blog, as well as the people who respond to you. When we met... we both saw some striking differences between our "growing up" years. The one example that I mentioned was that I had only dated one Jewish man (he was a confirmed Atheist).

As summer has moved forward, I am back to learning several days a week. There are moments, and even hours, that I feel safe, comfortable, and "at home" with my return to Jewish learning and growing. There are other moments and hours, that I can feel overwhelmed, and needing to come back to my house, literally, so that I can re-gain and re-integrate the ME that is changing. I love that I can lock my door! 

Last year I became overwhelmed with the amount and content of learning I was doing. It was just after Succos that I called some friends, and said, I need a break. Please don't invite me for Shabbos.

What I learned from that experience, is that I need to pace myself! VERY IMPORTANT LESSON.

I am starting to feel that way again. I see classes that look interesting, so I go, I have purchased more skirts, and tops that have a higher neck lines (this is a big deal for me). I am going to homes for both Shabbos dinner, as well as Shabbos lunch. I love this part very much. I don't have a female person in my life that can really walk with me, and help me with my questions and challenges. The friends that I do ask, have been Frum (observant) for so many years, that I feel heard, but not understood.

Many times, I have wanted to call you, and talk with you personally about my journey into Judaism. Pacing, pause, digesting. I sometimes just ride the horse until we are both worn out, and then need to pause. I just don't want to stop [completely].

What would be really helpful is to know exactly what pages to bench (NCSY version if possible). I want to learn the meaning of the Siddur, not just the words. They are rich with deeper meaning and reasoning. I want to know WHY I am doing WHAT I am doing. I am losing track of what is helpful to read during the day and evening. At this point, I need sticky tabs to help me. I don't want to fake that I know what I am doing. I sort of do, but I really need assistance.

I did meet with a Rabbi a few times to explain more in-depth meanings of some of the readings. It was helpful. Appropriately, there was a monetary fee for the Rabbi's individual hour and  I don't really want to do that right now. Again, I have a strong need and desire to understand what I am reading, and the deeper meaning behind what our Sages wrote. Otherwise, the literal reading leaves me unsatisfied and yearning for more.

PS I am also attempting to learn Hebrew with [my study partner]. We are singing the alphabet! My post graduate degree doesn't help in this area, and I find learning frustrating, hard, challenging. No wonder I zoned out when I was a kid!

What do you say, readers?  
Too fast/too slow?  
Freaking yourself out/freaking others out?  
Healthy growth/slow growth/stagnation/reaching a plateau?



  1. You're not alone!!!! I had a lot of the same feelings when I was first becoming frum!! Partners in Torah is a wonderful organization--- you can be set up with a woman who will learn with you weekly--- and if you want to start with learning which pages to bentsch, that's a great place to start! With Partners in Torah, they try to set up the not yet so knowledgable with the more knowledgable--- I've been in a partnership now for over 8 years!!!

    Where do you live-- in what city? that will help us guide you towards what you might be looking for in your area. Partners in Torah is nationwide but you've probably got great beginner's stuff going on in your area too.

    Best of luck to you!

  2. Another you're not alone post... This for me is one of the hardest parts of being frum. I didn't go to day school. I didn't grow up with frum role models. I have all these questions and no one to ask without burning people out (yes, I have a rav and many frum friends, but I have LOTS of questions).

    And, sometimes it is hard to ask questions because you are afraid someone will say (or think), "What? You don't know that yet?" or "What you don't do that yet?"

    On the other thing, the issue of pacing and losing yourself, that's a struggle. You want to be growing and learning, but you don't want to push yourself so fast that you walk away. It's a big, big change to make. And, you have to pick which pieces of your old life you are going to hold on to as you build a new life. (I kept my pants in my closet for two years after I stopped wearing them. I'm still not ready to give up listening to secular music. Maybe I won't ever be.)

    Oh, one piece of concrete advice. Browse the Jewish book stores. The interlineal translations of texts (where the Hebrew and English are right above each other, rather than on opposite pages) are often more true to the original Hebrew. And I have found some great books of commentary on Tehillim (Psalms) and others, to guide me.

  3. I remember feeling so frustrated that I was so behind. The five year olds knew more than me, until my ah ha moment when I was watching a baby learn to crawl. Rock back and forth, fall, cry, get up and try again. He did this over and over until he made some progress. Those five year olds were five years ahead of me. I could be patient with myself. Growth is a process, we often have set backs, but as long as we keep reaching up, we will progress.

  4. Pacing is definitely important. I used to feel like I had to take on something the moment I heard/learned about it. Now, I realize that I have to really look inside myself to see if I am ready to make that change or if I am just doing it to fit in or be more accepted. Just remember that we're all on our path and that G-d just wants you to do your best as you seek Him. The best friends you can have are the ones that support you on your journey as you travel at your own pace. Wishing you l'shana tova u'metukah with lots of new friends and a heart at peace with your path.

  5. As a convert - coming from a non-observant life to an observant life has been a HUGE challenge. For me it's 3 steps forward and one back after I freak myself out. At first this scared me! I thought "oh no! this must mean I don't have what it takes to me observant!"

    But the truth is, even though the soul needs to grow, the mind needs to pace itself. There is a good reason to this process. Hashem made us this way for a reason. You need to be kind to your emotions! Consider your feelings, don't ignore them.

    Sometimes my weeks are filled will shiurim and meeting with my study partner, and other weeks I lay back and just think. Sometimes I make a point not to learn. I give everything time to gel. Let it take root into my being. Before I know it I feel that familiar tingling in my heart again -- an excitement. A thirst to know more. and I jump in again.

    What you are going through, in my opinion, is not only a normal but also a necessary part of the process.

  6. Good topic Ruchi! Starting the path to change is supposed to be slow...or it won't stick. Whenever I teach or learn, I remember it usually takes a full year to feel comfortable with the new challenge. I didn't want to change certain things at first because they were too overwhelming. This was a sign I wasn't ready, either!! I was afraid if I went too fast, I would fall away just as fast. It can be intoxicating sitting at a warm, inviting, spiritual shabbos meal and feel even more motivated to do more , like an urgency! But this isn't balanced or a healthy approach. I wanted this information to stick--so I didn't do anything til I really knew I wasn't going to have a resentment about it.
    After the long chags, I also can feel burnt out and I'd "phone a friend" and share the feelings. Eventually that passed and I was rejuvenated for the next chag or shabbos. I had to respect my need to "not do" , or just back off on extra learning or extra mitzvahs for the time being til I felt rebalanced. Be gentle. It's a journey,not a sprint!

  7. Dear Ruchi's friend,
    (I could'nt think of anything else to call you, although a friend of Ruchi's is a friend of mine.)
    I come from those who can only hear and not understand, but I can understand that I will never understand. All I can do is admire the many people I know who have made such drastic changes in their lives to become closer to Hashem and true Judaism. I only hope that I can continue to look up to people like you and realize what a responsibilty I have to keep growing and moving upward as much as those who have not had the upbringing I so often take for granted. Even if it may seem sometimes like I or those like me are being judgemental, know always that we admire your tremendous growth and can't even fathom the effort in each baby step. We just have to keep reminding ourselves that we really don't understand...and that is sometimes hard to understand and eternalize.
    Miriam Rivkin

  8. This sounds exactly like the path of many gerim I know, including myself. I've literally burnt myself out on Judaism three times in the decade it took me to convert. I took breaks each time, and I learned.

    I learned Judaism wasn't going anywhere. I learned about the pace of change I am comfortable with. I learned, in many cases, what I think G-d is trying to tell us about Jewish identity, the mitzvot, Jewish community, and Jewish identity.

    That’s because I learned that each Rosh HaShannah, I was going to make one, and only one, New Year’s resolution. I am going to really work on this one thing, I’m going to let myself feel its highs and lows (to mourn, to adapt, to ponder, to gain confidence, to feel, and eventually, to be), I’m going to let me discover where I fit into this aspect of Judaism, authentically, and committed-ly.

    5769's? Address my issues with Reform Judaism.
    Result: Feels uncomfortable because it’s not for me. Go to Conservative. It fits! Woot!

    5770's? Make Jewish friends my age.
    Result: Go to Hillel. Go to Young Adult events. Join Gesher City. Really engage in online communities. Have three or four really good Jewish friends from different streams.

    5771's? Enter the mikvah already, would ya?
    Result: B’H, ani yehudi!!

    5772? Learn Hebrew.
    This year I anticipate learning something new about G-d’s methods of communicating with us in this holy, holy tongue in Torah. We’ll see if I’m right.

    Moral of story? I’ve found that when I was working at a pace that was HEALTHY for me, that I have become a much better and happier Jew.

  9. All,
    I am touched and humbled by the honesty and support in your responses. One of my limitations as a born-and-bred orthodox Jew (Miriam, I'm with you in this) is that I will never know what it's like to not know.
    It's the curse of knowledge - one of my very first posts was on this.

    So the knowledge, wisdom, and experience of my readership is incredibly valuable to me.

  10. Again, I find myself agreeing with MikvahBound. I think this is one place where BTs and gerim are very similar. I also took about ten years to get from going to Hillel and being involved in the Jewish community to physically hitting the mikvah. There were (are!) definitely highs and lows; observance, IMHO, is not a switch. It's a continuum, and it's not always consistent, it ebbs and flows. I think for anyone working on observance (and at the end of the day, aren't we all, to one extent or another?), the key is to know yourself. What can you handle, and how fast? There's nothing wrong with taking a step back and reevaluating before making a decision to go forward. To me, that's a healthy part of the process; there's no point in doing it if you don't think about what you're doing and why.

    And, y'know, it's right in the name, isn't it? Israel, wrestling with G-d. At least no one can say that there's no truth in the advertising. Heh.

    Oh, also, Laura, over here has done something I think is a great idea. She's made a list of various mitzvot that she's taken/ing on and jotting down where she is in terms of each mitzvah. I'm going to do the same thing; I think it's a really good way to be able to look at something and say, "Hey, see how far I've come? Maybe I'm not so bad at this stuff, after all," when you're feeling like you've fallen off the Jewish wagon.

  11. interesting and enlightening talk about taking the time to absorbing things. I could learn a thing or two - could only help me on my own journey. (although I did start out also FFB, I made my way through different "labels" on the way.)

    This discussion reminds me of a story I heard of two Jews meeting for the first time.

    A: are you a BT?
    B: No
    A: why not?

    May we all merit to continue to grow - slowly but surely - in our Judaism every day of our lives, wherever our starting point may have been.


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