What Is Joy, And Where To Find It

"When the month of Adar enters, we increase in joy" - Talmud, Taanit 29a

I love this particular month in the Jewish calendar. Honestly, if you look at Jewish history, joy isn't something that particularly stands out. Sure, we have parties, and more parties, and, you know, parties. But joy? joy is something that is only found in a handful of places, and maybe, from a handful of people.

See, I've never been one to shy away from vulnerability, so the fact that joy feels to be lacking in my life at this particular time shouldn't be a surprise. 

We are slowly but surely approaching the one year mark for what feels like a century long process. We have now been, in one way or another, deprived of human contact and functional peace for almost a year. We no longer question whether we have enough time to pivot our planned services and events, but rather, we are now looking at how we can improve an already tested system of virtual gatherings. 

It's funny, in a dark, twisted way, how we have easily adapted functioning in an isolated world. I use the word "adapted" cautiously, since sometimes it feels more like a fear driven forced reaction rather than willingness, but for the sake of my mental health, adapting will have to do.

Here is the thing for people like me, though. I have OCD. It's not the "counting things" or "wash hands 20 times" type of OCD. My OCD comes with a (sometimes) uncontrollable (again, sometimes) need to ruminate over things, which often snowballs into a spiral of shame and self-doubt. It makes maintaining any form of relationship with another being difficult, and it often results in me bulldozing a situation, especially when it brings me joy. I did that this week, I spiraled. I had multiple things happen all at once, and lost control. I've managed to gain some of it back, and life is starting to normalize, but let us be honest with ourselves: no amount of adapting to isolation prepares you for a crisis. Yes, you will have developed a cornucopia of coping skills, and sure, you've managed to create a support system for yourself. But when you have spent the better part of a year on fight or flight mode, and you've relied on fight, flight is the most likely result when you become emotionally overwhelmed and too frazzled to fight. 

So, back to joy. I sat down and started thinking about that quote from the Talmud. How are we supposed to increase joy in a world full of sorrow? How do we let joy in when we feel like we are drowning in darkness? I tried my regular choices: a walk at the beach (so many layers of clothes...), classical music, a good book. I tried crafting with the kids, and by myself. I tried reaching out to friends. All of this gave me joy, don't misunderstand me, but not that permanent, "erase all the sorrow" joy that I was craving. Looking back at it, I'm starting to wonder if I just set myself for failure by expecting to draw permanent joy from something...

Spoiler alert: I failed. There is no such thing as permanent joy.

And before you say "oh lord why is she being SO negative", let me clarify. I failed in finding "permanent" joy. But what I did find, and which I am hoping will be infinitely better, was a way to let go of the sorrow. The fact is, one doesn't find joy or is able to maintain it when you are filled with darkness. And that needs to be addressed.

So, for the month of Adar, I'm making a conscious effort to redefine joy. I am no longer looking at it as that "jump out of your skin from happiness" feeling, but more of a state of mind that grants me peace, and that lets me be and live my authentic self, whether that self feels sad, happy, overwhelmed... that feeling, is who I am, and I intend to draw joy out of feeling what I need to feel. That is the only way I know how to function. I want to feel what I need to feel, without it scaring me. I want to do what I want to do without fearing a negative response. I want to be who I want to be: someone who loves fiercely, and feels unapologetically. That is my joy. Being myself, despite my flaws.


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