The High Holidays Trigger My Depression

My first eating-disordered thought that led to my relapse happened on Rosh Hashana last year. This spiraled into a full-blown relapse, and within months, I was whisked away to a treatment center to begin my healing process. I was in intensive therapy for the past eight months. The whole year of 5780 was dedicated towards my eating disorder; first the relapse, and then the recovery.

I’ll be honest: in residential treatment, I was not eating kosher. I was writing on Shabbos. I was being lenient on muktzah [things forbidden on Shabbos]. This was all done with my Rabbi’s permission, and I still feel so guilty about it. It was needed at the time, yet I do think that my Yiddishkeit [way of living as a Jew] suffered because of it.

My Feelings Towards The Holiday Season

In the midst of celebrating the High Holidays, I feel so disconnected from Hashem. I don’t want to turn to G-d–I don’t want to have a relationship with Him, which is ironic, because in my worst days, all I was doing was praying to Him. I do not want to sit in a shul [synagogue] for hours on end and daven. Honestly, I will probably be faking it. My whole Yiddishkeit feels like a sham right now. That being said, I am dreading the holidays because of it, and I feel like a fraud: instead of wanting to get closer to Hashem at this auspicious time, I want nothing to do with Him.

Why The High Holidays Trigger Me

I just spent the past 32 weeks in recovery, examining myself and my past. I have been looking at my history of trauma and recognizing how it affects me; at the same time, I have been learning to acknowledge that I don’t have control of then, but I do have control of now. I can change the present, even if I can’t change the past, simply by doing small grounding techniques.

I have spent so much time focusing on the past because of my trauma symptoms, and it’s been nearly impossible to live in the present. I find that the theme of the High Holidays is reflecting on the past, which makes them really triggering for me. I am being asked to do the exact thing which I am working so hard not to do.

Elul [the month leading up to the High Holidays of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot] is supposed to be a time of reflection; it’s a time where we look back and see what went right and what we could have done better in the past year. Rosh Hashana is when we are judged and the fates of our next year are decided, and on Yom Kippur is when they are sealed. I have depression and anxiety, and I already reflect on the past all of the time. I know every single thing that has gone wrong and what I could have done better. I know them so well that I can likely tell you those things in my sleep.

The Proper Approach

For people like me, who find it difficult or hurtful to dwell on the past, I don’t think this time should be taken as seriously as it tends to be. It can drag us down, and it takes away the time for connection with G-d, instead putting us in a state of dread–and I don’t think that is the purpose of this period. I don’t have a conclusion to this. All I know is that I am scared, both because of the meaning of the High Holidays and because of the way it affects me going into them.

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3 Comments on “The High Holidays Trigger My Depression

  1. Wow – this is so reflective of my own experience. I have suffered from trauma, depression, anxiety and eating disorders, as well.
    After close to 30 years in a similar cycle as the one you describe, I am now in my mid-fifties, and I have finally come to recognize that Elul, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are not about the past – they are about the future. I need to take stock of where I am right NOW and move forward. Am I headed in a (generally) positive direction? Looking back at the past is not helpful and is SO triggering.

  2. It would be helpful if a rabbi or frum therapist would post a supportive reply and steps to correct this problem. My panic attacks during the chagim have hurt my now adult child so much that she doesnt want anything to do with frumkeit. (plus her step father molested her and she was bullied in Jewish day school.) I had to do yoga on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur because I was getting triggered (thoughts of self harm).

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