I am an Ashkenazi Jew. Ashkenazi Jews are often anxious. We can also be high-strung, irritable, obsessive, depressive, creative and brilliant – think Woody Allen. It can be irresponsible to typecast a group of people. But being Jewish gives me inside information.
We can be hard to live with and the diagnosis of anxiety doesn’t seem to explain why.
Jews love therapy and we always seek a good diagnosis. It’s like analyzing Torah, the nuances are endless and different interpretations exciting. We love a good argument. Where there is ambiguity, there is room for a good argument.
“You are just wrong” is my mother in law’s favorite phrase about pretty much every opinion that differs from her own.
I may be wrong about the diagnosis being insufficient, but I don’t think so.
I don’t think the correct diagnosis is anxiety alone, I think there is a mood disorder particular to being Jewish.
I call it Ashkenazi Diaspora Mood Disorder.
Remember the word “moody?”
“She’s moody” my mother would tell anyone and everyone, with a shrug of her shoulders and a flip of her head. Being a moody teenager was something of a crime scene in my house. But today, I would be diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder. It’s the current en vogue diagnosis for those lucky enough to afford a therapist.
My beef is that this diagnosis does not, in my opinion, go far enough. Who doesn’t have anxiety? Even my dogs have anxiety. Actually, my dogs have a ton of separation anxiety.
I am referring to the unique way Jews have of being anxious. It’s not just anxiety, it’s ANXIETY!!! It’s irritability, energy and depression all mixed together into constant drama and destabilization.
I am driving at the heart of behaving Jewish.
What if there is a link between our most profound personality traits and Jewish history? Beyond nature and nurture, is a third choice – Epigenetics.
Epigenetics is the science of how environment informs genetic expression, changing DNA over time. What if we all suffer to some degree or another from Diaspora Disorder? Has the pattern of struggle and survival in the diaspora created specific personality traits that while working pretty well when the going gets tough, are also debilitating? As survivors, we are resilient, quick-thinking, funny, clever, and community-oriented. But common behavioral problems include anxiety and obsessive-thinking bordering on catastrophizing.
Anna Deavere Smith references epigenetics in her ground-breaking, one-woman show – Notes from the Field when she talks about behaviors informed by generations of slavery. Her show delves deep into the overwhelming experiences of African-Americans too often going from education to incarceration. She draws a link from the trauma of multi-generations of slavery to the prevalence of imprisonment.
Certain diaspora tropes stand out.
Young Russian immigrants on the below-decks of steamer ships, escaping pogroms and arriving at Ellis Island. Assigned names that sounded reasonably close to the names they came with, they went to work where ever they could.
Nazi Europe – escaping in whatever means possible.
Even Christopher Columbus could have been a Morano, escaping the Spanish edict to die or convert to Catholicism. And look at what he accomplished?
Surviving in the Diaspora requires guile, ingenuity, intelligence, risk-taking behavior, and the ability to function and keep functioning in a crises.
Problem is what do you do when life is fine? When extreme risk taking is no longer necessary or desirable?
What works in a crises can be a mess in a home.
Sublimation is the heathy alternative to the Jewish tendency towards self-aggrandizement, catastrophizing and somatizing.
Sublimations include channeling anxiety and manic energy into work, exercise and socializing. Jews run hedge funds and TV networks, compete in marathons and Iron Man triathlons, build hospitals and museums. Sometimes, sublimation means taking too much risk and misjudging outcomes. Plenty of Jewish people end up in prison or worse, very sick.
Jews also self-medicate. ADMD can be so overwhelming that we reach for anything to self-soothe. Ativan, Ritalin, alcohol, and at worse Oxycontin. “Wake and Bake” says my daughter about people who self-medicate with pot.
Lucky people have a well-developed internal regulation system to manage their moods and behavior. The rest of us have to work on it, every day all day.
The diagnosis is key. The label matters because of the power of pharmaceuticals.
Ashkenazi Diaspora Mood Disorder sufferers are similar to bipolar sufferers and we benefit from a combination of mood stabilizers and antidepressants. The label of anxiety alone would dictate different treatment. Since the pharmaceutical industry is not advanced enough to create bespoke medication, the diagnosis is critical.
Other than anesthesizing oneself with food, drugs, and alcohol, what else really works?
Good old-fashioned talk therapy combining all the tools of the trade such as dream analysis, behavioral modification, dialectical thinking, and building a relationship with a person to be trusted and entrusted.
As a mom, it’s my job to stop the intra-generational transfer of trauma caused by generations of stress. My family’s anxiety is written in our DNA and rooted in our cultural traditions. But just because it’s familiar doesn’t make it acceptable. Living with debilitating anxiety and moodiness can be very successfully treated with combinations of medicines. Suffering with this disorder is no longer necessary.
Takeaway – Diagnosis is critical because untreated Ashkenazi Diaspora Mood Disorder can lead to disruptive personality disorders including borderline personality disorder or sociopathic behaviors such as addictions and suicidality. Differential Diagnosis is absolutely necessary.
Recipe – Mood stabilizers and antidepressants taken together can build a base upon which good therapy can work.
Brisket also helps
My Maternal Grandma Sonia’s Brisket Recipe –
This is the most complicated dish I know how to make. It is very complicated.
- (Only 3 ingredients but a complicated process)
- Need heavy-duty aluminum foil and the blue factory–made broiler pan that came with your oven
- First Cut Prime Briscuit with slab of fat on one side –
- Seasonall spice
- 6 onions chopped onto 1/8 inch pieces
- The key to this recipe is to use the blue broiler pan that comes factory shipped with your oven.
- Place meat in blue pan and season both sides of meat. Refrigerator for up to 10 hours.
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
- Scatter chopped onions around and on top of meat.
- Boil four cups water on stove.
- Place pan with meat and onions into hot oven and let onions start to brown.
- As they brown, use a wooden spoon and the boiling water to deglaze the pan.
- This is hot, sweaty work. You will be standing in front of a boiling hot oven with boiling water in a ladle and a wooden spoon scraping onion bits off the pan. If you use too much water, the onions won’t brown, if you use too little water, the onions will burn. You have to use just enough boiling water to unstick the brown onions and to rotate the raw onions to the bottom of the pan so they also have a chance to brown.
- When all of the onions have been rotated and browned, about 45 minutes of work, lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees.
- Pour boiling water into the pan and have it reach halfway up the meat. Add boiling water if you don’t have enough.
- Cover pan VERY tightly with heavy-duty foil.
- Cook for 3 more hours.
- Remove pan from oven, remove foil and let meat cool in pan.
- Put cool meat on cutting board and slice AGAINST THE GRAIN PAPER THIN. This is very hard to do.
- All of the onions and liquid in the pan is the sauce. Save every drop and put in container. If it is too thick, add some boiling water.
- The meat can be refrigerated whole or in slices, but if you choose to slice and then refrigerate, layer meat in a container with the onion sauce.
- Serve meat and sauce mixed together and hot. Be careful handling the thin slices because they can disintegrate.