2017-03-24

OCPD, Studying Musar ('Jewish Ethics'), and Living in Israel

This week I had to decide to suspend studying Musar ('Jewish ethics'), which I started to study systematically both in a weekly study group guided by a haredi rabbi and privately. The study of Musar is supposed to improve the negative character traits of its learners. But as for me, I came to realize that this study made me become more sensitive to flaws of other people and criticize them instead of working on my own.

One of the symptoms of OCPD is that its patient is "overconscientious, scrupulous, and inflexible about matters of morality, ethics, or values (not accounted for by cultural or religious identification)" according to Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 301.4 (F60.5). My study of Musar has made me start expecting a higher level of morality (not only from myself but also) from those around me. As a result more and more situations in my interpersonal relations came to trigger more and more obsessive thoughts, which in turn triggered more and more compulsive behaviors, which in turn cause more and more conflicts with others.

In retrospect, I seem to have shown the major symptoms of OCPD even when I still lived in Japan until more than 12 years ago. But they didn't cause any serious conflict with others there as some of the core cultural values are rather similar to some symptoms of OCPD, including perfectionism, order, and morality, though I encountered other sociocultural problems there, mainly with the system, and not necessarily in my interpersonal relationships.

Living in Israel, I've been experiencing difficulties mostly in interpersonal relationships, and unfortunately, these difficulties are worsening. I can't help feeling that Israeli society is far less OCPD-friendly, so to speak, than its Japanese counterpart in that people in the former are far more egocentric and insensitive, probably except in the case of national emergency. For this reason I've been thinking of leaving this country to save my mental and subsequently physical health. But I don't think this option is viable for all intents and purposes. So I have to train myself to become more resistant of egocentric and insensitive behaviors, whether verbal or nonverbal, here. This is also part of the so-called exposure and response prevention therapy I've started receiving.

2017-03-17

Heavy Price to Pay for Remaining True to Myself

I have been paying a heavy price for remaining true to myself since I paid the first heavy price for this when I was a junior high school student. It seems I'll have to pay what seems to be the heaviest price so far - the price called divorce for the life decision I've made (and haven't changed for decades) to choose to remain childfree. Though the woman who is still my wife legally as of this writing told me before our marriage that she wasn't interested in children (and this is why I proposed her marriage in the first place), she seems to have changed since then. I heard from her for the first time yesterday that she has decided to choose her future children over me if she can't have both. I for one choose to remain childfree over her.

I don't remember meeting anyone who understood me when I told them even after marriage that I'm not interested to have my own children. Many of them were intolerant of this free choice of mine and even tried to convince me to change my mind. I have many reasons for preferring to remain childfree, but I've become tired of explaining them to those who have never doubted that having children after marriage is the only conceivable and legitimate choice. I'd like them to explain to me convincing reasons why they want or have to have children. If they accuse me for being egocentric in my decision, they look no less egocentric to me in theirs. But I'm alright with their decision as long as they don't try to impose their views upon me as I'm the one who has to pay the price of having children for the rest of my life.

Probably the sincerest account of people like myself who prefer remaining childfree by choice is Childless [sic] by Choice by Laura S. Scott, but the people described there are couples unlike myself both members of which have chosen to remain childfree. A more hilarious account is No Kids by Corinne Maier. They are far more eloquent than my possible account of myself.

PS (2017-03-19): In the meanwhile we met my spiritual mentor who also arranged our wedding. Before we met him, we were very close to divorce, but after our meeting smiles were back on our faces. Thanks to his insightful advice to focus now on the treatment of my OCPD and postpone the decision about children we seem to be able to avoid the worst scenario of divorce.


2017-03-10

Living with a Land Mine inside Myself

Before I got married in August 2016, I worked with a frum psychological counselor for half a year, and after my marriage I renewed his counseling with my wife. It took even him many weekly sessions to diagnoze me once and for all beyond any doubt (but just by chance) as someone with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5) defines it as follws:

A pervasive pattern of preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and mental and interpersonal control, at the expense of flexibility, openness, and efficiency, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by four (or more) of the following:

  1. Is preoccupied with details, rules, lists, order, organization, or schedules to the extent that the major point of the activity is lost.
  2. Shows perfectionism that interferes with task completion (e.g., is unable to complete a project because his or her own overly strict standards are not met).
  3. Is excessively devoted to work and productivity to the exclusion of leisure activities and friendships (not accounted for by obvious economic necessity).
  4. Is overconscientious, scrupulous, and inflexible about matters of morality, ethics, or values (not accounted for by cultural or religious identification).
  5. Is unable to discard worn-out or worthless objects even when they have no sentimental value.
  6. Is reluctant to delegate tasks or to work with others unless they submit to exactly his or her way of doing things.
  7. Adopts a miserly spending style toward both self and others; money is viewed as something to be hoarded for future catastrophes.
  8. Shows rigidity and stubbornness.

All the descriptions except for 5 and 7 match my daily thoughts and behaviors. An online article entitled How to Recognize Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder describes this personality disorder in a more friendly manner.

Anyway, I feel I've finally found one single unitary explanation for all the difficulties I've been feeling, especially after I moved from Japan to Israel, which I find extremely OCPD-unfriendly, in interpersonal relationships. But on the other hand, the more I read about OCPD in professional books, the more keenly I become aware that actually, I'm living with a land mine inside myself in that various interpersonal situations trigger my obsessive thoughts, which in turn trigger my compulsive behaviors, which often make my interpersonal relationships with many others, including my wife, very difficult and even problematic.

In the meanwhile I've started to work on my OCPD first and foremost in order to improve my married life with my beloved wife, who, unlike all the other people I interact with regularly, fully understands the significance and implications of OCPD. Under the guidance of my counselor I've started to try the so-called exposure and response prevention as part of the so-called cognitive behavioral therapy.

I've also started thinking about the best ways of putting some of the traits of OCPD such as orderliness and perfectionism more consciously to a positive use both privately and professionally. I've decided to come out of the closet, so to speak, hoping that non-OCPDniks will understand OCPD and us OCPDniks more.

PS: Some useful links

2017-03-03

Teaching Languages vs. Teaching on Languages

Before I started teaching on languages (i.e., teaching linguistics) after assuming the present academic position in Israel a little more than 12 years ago, I had taught several languages - Japanese, English, Hebrew, Yiddish, Esperanto, Aramaic and Arabic, if I'm not mistaken - at various settings as both a university and school teacher and a private tutor for almost 20 years.

During these 12 years I've been too busy teaching on languages theoretically to stop to think about my previous career of teaching languages practically. It was only after I resumed teaching Yiddish this academic year both communally and privately that I started to realize that actually, teaching languages is my professional anchor, so to speak, and it has laid the foundation for my present job of teaching on languages. Though there is at least one school of linguistics that seems to claim that linguistics is first of foremost the study of language, I'm more inclined to another school of thought that linguistics should at least start by empirically studying languages.

This old-new experience of teaching a language has made me realize again that teaching languages not only complements but also enriches the task of teaching on them. And just as I can't separate the learning and teaching of languages from the society and culture of their respective speakers, I can't separate the study of languages from their sociocultural settings, so many of the elective courses in linguistics I've been teaching are with a sociocultural slant.

As my communal and private courses in Yiddish will end in four months, I've already started to look for a way or ways to keep teaching languages together with their respective culture as I've also realized that I enjoy teaching languages even more than teaching on languages and that I may be able to share my practical knowledge of learning languages efficiently (but not necessarily my experience of learning linguistics) with other people who are also interested in languages.