My birthday is the first day of Rosh Hashanah. I don’t know why that thought makes me feel so happy, or so important, but since I was a child it always made me feel special. I was born on the Day of Judgement – Hashem, while judging the world, approved my existence. I also grew up going to a local Chabad, where I was told that you have a special connection with Hashem on your birthday. How cool was I, having that connection on the day he was judging me.
Of course, to a child who had a very basic understanding of God and Judaism, this meant on Rosh Hashanah I could get whatever I wanted. From the ages of 11 to 17, I wished for the same thing, in different words.
“I don’t want to be alive anymore. I don’t want to do this another year. I want to disappear and never come back. I can’t live another year — please please please please do not make me do it another year God. Please.”
(Spoiler alert: my birthday wish never came true.)
I started to love Tishrei not just because it was my birthday, but it seemed like the opportune time of year to be unabashedly critical and hateful of myself. All of the pent up feelings of self hatred that I hid behind long sleeves got to be open.
Avinu Malkenu – my existence is a sin.
Avinu Malkenu – I would say have mercy but I don’t with myself so why should you?
God is My King – the only evil decree against me is the one where I’m doing this next year.
God is My King – “favorable deeds” isn’t something I’m capable of doing.
I can’t say things like that about myself. Right? Forgive everyone else, don’t forgive me. I don’t deserve it. You know that.
As the anniversaries go by of the last time I took a blade to my skin, Tishrei becomes that blade all over again.
You are nothing. A speck of dirt on the pristine glass of the universe. You are horrible. You’re actively making the world a worse place. God isn’t going to kill you this year. Because you’ve got so much to do. No matter how much you want an out. You don’t deserve to be better. You don’t deserve to live, so feel guilty every day this year until the next time you’re standing here.
Life is meaningful but you are meaningless.
Just because you’ve stopped physically hurting yourself that doesn’t mean that you’re not still self abusive. I don’t know what it’s like to consistently feel or think healthily about myself but I also know that it can’t be where my mind goes on the yamim noraim. It’s not that I feel this way for weeks and hours at a time, but these thoughts come up and it all comes back and it takes a lot of mental energy to pull myself out.
I spend most of my time on my birthday closing my eyes and trying to scrape off parts of my brain that have been stuck on for ages, that grow back anytime I’m not paying attention or think that I’m finally, peacefully, “better”. No one teaches you how to do teshuvah or to navigate the yamim noraim when you have self abusive tendencies. Just know that your friends and community members who deal with these things are not in need of being told how wrong or bad they have been, but need to take this time to rebuild and reaffirm their relationship with themselves. Their lives depend on it.
Avinu Malkenu – the biggest sin I’ve committed this year is not believing you put me here for a reason.
Avinu Malkenu – this year I will tread more carefully around myself.
God is My King – the most evil decrees against me live in myself, but they are not who I am.
God is My King – my “favorable” deeds are not the ones people will be able to see.
Last year as neilah was coming to an end and they prepared the shofar, my breathing became labored and my stomach clenched onto nothing. Yom Kippur was about to end. I felt like I did not make a good enough case for myself to get another year. I was involuntarily shaking, genuinely scared. For the first time in many years, I was genuinely scared of dying. (Spoiler alert: I’m still here.)
For me that’s a quiet victory.