Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Adds and drops

It's Wednesday already. The year has at last begun its crazy spinning, and I am left feeling like suddenly there is no time left for anything. A very different feeling from the past few weeks, but a welcome one.

I have decided at last which classes I am going to take this semester. The official list: Islamic and Jewish Philosophy in the Middle Ages; Issues in the Rise of the Islamic World; Magic, Science and Religion in the World of Late Antiquity; and the Hebrew Bible in its Near Eastern Historical Context (or something like that); along with Hebrew, Arabic, and hopefully German. Hooray! My cup runneth over.

Tonight a bunch of people are coming over for sushi. Tammy is making it, and she, as usual, has gone all out. I am greatly anticipating the final result of her efforts.

If my language on this blog becomes--shall we say--slightly academic sounding, as in the previous sentence, blame it on the one hundred pages of long-winded scholarly articles I read every day. I am starting to think in that style. I am not amused by this at all.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Carrying on

I feel better today. It's odd to suffer from nameless anxiety after a year of relative calm. Not even relative calm: complete and utter normalcy. I suppose the way I felt last year is the way that normal people feel all the time. When my European friends hear that I was on Paxil, normally they smile, roll their eyes, and say something like "You Americans." And I guess that the steady rise of prescription medication is an American trend. Maybe--no, probably--we medicate ourselves way too much, treating the symptoms instead of the problem. The problem with most depressed Americans, in my opinion: work that means nothing to them, isolation, loneliness, lack of purpose and direction, lack of exercise, and overall boredom. To combat this, instead of changing jobs, joining a gym, and doing whatever it takes to end the feeling of isolation, they take an anti-depressant. I'm sure this happens a lot.

But here is where my problem lies: I am working at something that I love, that fascinates me. I have friends who care about me, (mostly) clear and defined goals, and a (decent) sense of purpose.  I am happy. The anxiety that I feel never comes from an actual situation, from something concrete. The hopelessness, the sadness--none of it comes attached with a solution, a cure, or even a reason.

Luckily, it's not that severe. It does get worse in times of high stress, but mostly it's how I described it last night: a constant, dull sort of tug on my subconscious, a feeling that something is not quite right. A bit of obsessive-compulsion helps keep it at bay: when my house is clean, my studies in order, and the dishes done, the tug is less. When everything's a mess, when things go wrong, when I'm running late, the tug gets stronger. And when things in my life are complicated or difficult, the tug becomes an out and out tug-of-war between my rational mind, which understands that this is chemical, crazy, untrue, and my irrational feelings, which tell me that something is wrong, awful, about to be lost forever.

In the past I learned certain ways of controlling this. And when it was so bad that I couldn't control it, I just kind of held on until it passed. And last year, right before I left for Israel, when it was the worst it's ever been and I couldn't eat or sleep or even stop shaking, I finally decided to try Paxil. I've known a lot of people who tried it with no effect, or who went through some really awful side effects, but I responded really well almost right away. I responded so well, in fact, that I convinced myself that it must have been the placebo effect, and went off the drug. Two weeks later I was an absolute mess. So back on I went.

And now, over the summer, I decided to go off it. My life has stabilized, the stress factors are gone, and I was ready to go back to my old methods of controlling and living with my own little insanity. And I'm fine. Most of the time I am fine. But during those weird evenings--when I wake up at six in the morning with my heart pounding and my breath coming in hysterical sips and I am gripped by a pointless panic about nothing at all--on those evenings I wonder if it might not be so bad to be on a drug for the rest of my life.

But those evenings are few and far between, and meanwhile the fact that I feel creative and even crazy again is really comforting to me. So off it I will stay.

There's my explanation for last nights whimperings.

Sunday, October 17, 2004


First day of classes. But never mind. It's all a blur to me, feeling now so acutely that odd sense of panic I used to be so accustomed to. It's just a small thing. A pea beneath a hundred mattresses kind of thing. But there nonetheless. It's like the smallest, barely detectable layer right underneath my skin: it says nothing but negative words--loss, wrong, never. I don't know what I feel, except that I feel alone again. This is not something I entirely reject. Being alone is an amazing opportunity for growth. It's just that I was hoping my days of being alone were coming to an end, and yet it seems that God is intent on wringing me dry forever.

Whatever it takes to need him alone, I suppose. Only: am I this strong that I need this kind of desperation?

Monday, October 11, 2004


So today is one of those days. I find myself, in my loneliness, searching for things to fill up the hours between sleep and sleep: surf the net--one hour; go to the library--three hours; study hebrew and arabic--two hours; watch tv--two hours; read "the story of art"--two hours. That still leaves me with six unused hours. I have options; I can do the touristy thing, go hang out with Gosia, take a walk. But loneliness is a paralysis for me, so I do nothing.

I spent one of these six unused hours talking to Jef, which was, of course, wonderful. He did his best to pull me from my stupor, and meanwhile I nagged him with questions he can't answer. Will all my dreams come true? Will I be happy? Will I die alone? Will I get to have children? He was amused/frustrated/...Jef. I miss him a lot. Difficult to write too much on a website that I know he reads; suffice to say: talking to him made me happy, for a little while.

Ksenia gets home tomorrow, Luise on Thursday, Tammy on Saturday, then school starts on Sunday. So much outside stimulation in rapid succession (is that spelled right?) is bound to liven me up. I should end up with less than one unused hour a day!

Monday, October 04, 2004

I am safe and sound

I came back to Jerusalem last night in a terrifyingly crowded bus. I can definitely tell that I'm no longer taking Paxil, as I was panic-stricken the whole way. The bus seemed to stop every few yards to pick up more people, and while normal Israelis slept or listened to their walkmans, I stared at every face that entered, positive that a suicide bomber was going to take advantage of so many Israelis packed like sardines into one tiny space and blow us all to hell. I miss medication sometimes.

Well, back to my travels. The day after I went to Akko, Dror and his family, who were all on vacation, took me sightseeing around the area. We stopped at a village called Paki'in, or something like that, where Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Druze all live together in relative harmony. We paid a visit to a friend of the family, a wonderfully friendly Druze man who insisted on feeding us his wife's stuffed grape leaves and Kube, salads and potatos, and numerous other treats. After that we went to see an old Crusader fortress that had been rebuilt by the Ottomans--a recurring theme in the North--from the top of which we could see all the way to Haifa. Finally we stopped at what Dror claimed to be the best sweet shop in Israel--nay, the world--where we ate something called ktufa(?), a middle eastern pastry covered with syrup and pistachio nuts. It was extremely yummy.

That night, we joined a bunch of neighbors from the village and ate outside (near the sukkah, but not in it, as it was too small--but that counts, doesn't it?) and made fresh pita on the fire, bedouin style. By this time I noticed a dramatic improvement in my Hebrew, as I hadn't spoken English in two days, and I got along quite nicely in the conversation. Slowly, slowly. Anyway, it was a beautiful night. One with just the right amount of magic.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Tel Aviv

I'm back in Tel Aviv with Tammy's family, getting ready to head out to the beach. I'm itching to get back to Jerusalem, but there's still a week and a half before school starts, so I might as well take advantage of it and travel some more.

My weekend up North was wonderful. I stayed with a family who I contacted through the hospitality club, an organization that I have come to love. Basically, it's a community of travelers who open up their homes to each other. So I e-mailed this guy, and asked him if I could stay there, and stay there I did--for three days. His name was Dror, 26, and I stayed in his parents house with his family. They lived out of the way in a lovely little village, so every day he drove me to the nearest city, where I could pick up a bus to whatever sight I planned to see that day.

The first day I went to Akko, an ancient port town built during the Crusades, and rebuilt and beautified during the Ottoman period. I toured through the old Turkish Bath-house, the ancient fortress, and several Khans, or city squares, built by the Turks. I walked along the city walls and ate some excellent hommous. There was a festival set to begin the next day, so the city was already buzzing. I took many pictures, then headed back to Dror's house for one of the best dinners I've had yet in Israel.

Time to go sit on the beach, so more tomorrow? Okay.