Weekend Post

I haven’t written for a couple of days because I’ve been busy.  On Friday I went for a run without a cap because why would you need a hat in London in April?  I got sunstroke.  Ouch.  Climate change!  It left me feeling so ill that I missed shul (synagogue) in the evening, which I felt bad about.

Yesterday I overslept and missed morning shul again, but I did at least stay awake in the afternoon instead of napping, which gave me time for extra Torah study and a stroll outdoors.  I went to a sheva brachos (marriage celebration) in shul between Mincha and Ma’ariv (the afternoon and evening services) for a couple I didn’t know, but I wanted to be part of the community, who were all invited.  This is a normal type of thing to do in frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) circles.  It was difficult, as I didn’t get to sit with the people I knew best and made awkward small talk with some people I didn’t know so well.  The father of the bride used so much Yiddish in his speech that I couldn’t really understand all he said, which made me feel a bit of a misfit, then the groom’s best friend made a speech that made me feel even more of a misfit, because it was basically about how we should only learn Torah and not have outside interests. This tied in with what one of the people next to me had said, that he used to be a bookworm before he was frum, but now he only reads Torah and Talmud.  It made me wonder if I am in the right community, although I don’t know of another that fits me better, and at least I share some values even if I can’t always live up to them with my mental health issues.  Then I spent the evening writing an email and having serious conversations with my parents and then eating lots when I suddenly got really hungry late at night, so I didn’t get to bed until nearly 3.30am.  Admittedly watching Doctor Who late at night didn’t help (I’ve finished the ninth Doctor’s run now, but have several pages of notes to write up for my book because I haven’t had long enough lunch breaks at work to work on it), but I needed to unwind after the sheva brachos and serious conversations.

I went jogging again today and still did poorly.  I’ve been jogging for about three years now, maybe four (admittedly I barely went out for the last eight or nine months), but I still can’t go more than a couple of minutes without slowing to a walk because of pain and exhaustion.  I can’t work out how other people can push through this.  Am I a wimp?  Do I have a low pain threshold (possible, as I think there is some evidence that depressed people are more sensitive to pain)?  Or do I have some undiagnosed physical health condition (that’s probably hypochondria)?  Certainly at school we had to do a fitness test every term.  I was never amazingly fit, but when I was about thirteen, my fitness suddenly dropped dramatically and never recovered.  No one ever followed it up; the PE teachers were not the best and they ignored me because I was bad at PE; probably there was a government regulation that a fitness test must be given each term, but no regulation that the results should be analysed and followed through, so no one did.  Still, in retrospect, I wonder if that marked the start of my depression.

I found out today that the son of the rabbi of my parents’ shul got engaged.  He must be only a little more than half my age.  I’m trying hard to feel happy for him, and for the couple yesterday (who I’m guessing were also young, although probably not quite so young), but it’s hard.  I don’t want to take away anyone’s happiness, and I tell myself that the world is so painful and upsetting for so many people that more bracha and simcha (blessing and happiness) in it can only be a good thing for everyone, but I feel left out and wonder if I will ever experience real joy or romantic love.

It’s funny, I tell myself that the Orthodox world contains many diverse and varied types of people, with different opinions and interests and if I took my time to get to know more of them better, I would find many interesting and unusual people… yet the ease with which so many frum people manage to pair off and marry at such a young age makes me wonder if 80% of them are basically interchangeable in terms of personality, values and interests (if they have any interests outside of Torah and chesed (acts of kindness) as per that speech yesterday) and can basically marry almost anyone else in the community.  It’s only the 20% of us who are quirky and eccentric (or freakish and weird, if you want to be less charitable) who end up alone.

I’ve mentioned a couple of times that over the last few weeks, I’ve been describing my emotions to myself and trying to accept them for what they are, which seems to help a little with the depression and alexithymia (difficulty feeling and understanding emotions).  I guess it’s a kind of mindfulness technique although, while I’ve tried mindfulness before, I don’t think I saw this technique anywhere in exactly this way.  One thing I’ve noticed since I’ve been doing it is that I have a lot more emotions than I thought I did.  I thought I was mostly feeling depression, loneliness and despair, with a bit of anxiety at times, but actually there are a lot more emotions in there.  Many of them are very difficult to deal with, like loneliness and lust (because I don’t really have an outlet for them) or depression and anxiety (because I don’t really have any practical way of coping with them), but just narrating them to myself does help a bit.  I’m also trying to learn how not to judge myself for feeling things, because emotions are just emotions, although it’s hard when they lead on to actions that are not ideal e.g. when I get depressed and irritable and am sarcastic and short with my parents.

I feel depressed again now, which I hadn’t felt for most of the weekend.  I don’t know if getting tired jogging triggered me or something else.  I could just be hungry.  I know I seem very open about my issues here, but there’s a lot that I don’t share, because it’s too personal, or because it involves other people, or because I don’t understand it well enough to articulate it, or because it’s too shameful.  Quite a few of those lights are flashing now and it’s always frustrating when that happens, as blogging is one of my few ways of at least trying to deal with my feelings.  A lot of it boils down to feeling that I will be alone and unloved forever, and not knowing how I will live with that, and how I can live with my human desire to give and accept love (physically and emotionally) when no one is willing to receive or give to me.  There’s also a fear that just maybe there is someone out there for me,  but because of my social ineptitude or procrastination I will somehow miss her and we will both be alone forever, which somehow seems even worse than there simply not being anyone weird enough to take me.

I started this post saying that I had been busy, but now I feel depressed, I feel I haven’t done much this weekend, between losing a chunk of Friday to sunstroke, oversleeping on Saturday morning (yet again) and oversleeping this morning (yet again).  I went to the sheva brachos yesterday and did some Torah study (at home and in the new Talmud shiur at shul, where I actually understood the topic for a few minutes), wrote an email, went for a not terribly successful run today and cooked dinner.  I guess that’s not nothing, but it’s not everything I wanted to do either: I didn’t book the holiday I want to go on or do any Torah study so far today (I wanted to get a proper look at this week’s page of Talmud in advance of next Shabbat’s shiur).  I guess I should be thankful for small victories, and I try to be, but it’s hard and I never seem to get any credit for trying.  Actually that’s not quite true as my Mum praised me for going to the sheva brachos and trying to talk to people yesterday.  It is hard to be happy with who I am, though.

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No Time

I don’t really have time or energy to blog today, so I can’t talk about the Yom HaZikaron (remembrance day for Israelis killed in war or by terrorism) service I went to (moving, but inevitably very upsetting) or the Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) celebration that followed (good food and entertainment, but too loud and noisy for me at times, too many people I didn’t know, too much conversation that didn’t interest me and just too long – I left early because I was tired and knew I had to be up early the next day.  Also, the comedian who entertained us had some scary stories about antisemitic audiences.  Apparently just mentioning having been to Israel can prompt hecklers these days), nor the insomnia that followed that or the latest struggles at work.  No time either for the essay that suggested that gossiping is the way to join a community, even a community that officially disapproves of gossip, and the implication that this is one reason I have so few friends.  Or the events of the shiur (Torah class) that might lead to rethinking of where I stand in my community (in a good way, I hope, at least a bit, even though the process was somewhat uncomfortable), although I wouldn’t say a lot of that in public anyway.

The unseasonably good weather does at least seem to have improved my mood, even as I worry about global warming.

See-Saw

I sometimes wonder what happened to the people I was at school and university with, the people who were indifferent to me, the people who might have been my friends if I had had more confidence and social skills and the people who bullied me.  (I don’t know why they bullied me.  Because I was clever?   Because I was awkward and Aspie?  Because I was a Doctor Who fan?  Because it was easy?  All of the above?  I don’t know.)  I think sometimes about the girls I could have asked out who might have said yes, but who probably would have said no.  I can’t remember all the names or even all the faces, just a sense of not fitting in, of not being accepted.

I assume they are all happy, successful and loved, no matter how unpleasant and socially maladjusted they seemed twenty years occur.  It occurs to me that this might not be true.  Yet it seems pretty impossible for them to be miserable if I am miserable.  Like Yaakov and Esav (Jacob and Esau), Jerusalem and Rome, if one goes up the other must surely see-saw down.  If I’m miserable, they must be happy.

Sometimes I tell myself that my suffering is a kapparah (atonement) for the world.  This is a lie, but it helps me to get through the nights.

Anxious About Being Anxious

I don’t want to write much today as I’ve got other writing projects to write for.  Suffice to say that I made more mistakes at work and felt more incompetent.  I honestly don’t feel that this is the right job for me; the problem is that I don’t know what I should be doing instead, both in terms of what would be right for me and what is available for my skill and experience levels, near enough to where I live and where I can work part-time and have Yom Tov (Jewish festivals) off.  I do feel that if they don’t renew my contract, it will be a mercy killing.  However, my colleague who was ill last term is still off sick (I don’t like to ask what the problem is), so we are understaffed again and I suspect this makes it more likely that my contract will be renewed.  Which I guess is good, ish.  It would buy me more time, anyway, and push off the day when I have to move back in with my parents for financial reasons.

I do feel that I’m only getting through the days at the moment thanks to my friends.  I don’t have many friends in London who I can see or talk to (a couple of friends/acquaintances at shul who I don’t really talk to about personal things and one or two other distant friends), but I have a few friends who I can email or text which gets me through the day.  Some of them have issues, which means that I have to be there for them sometimes, which stops the whole relationship becoming one-sided and a burden to them, I hope.  I just hope I say the right things.  Sometimes I worry that I’m not good at friendships.

I went to bed late last night because I was struggling to do everything that needed to be done, but then I couldn’t sleep because I was tense and anxious.  I got about four hours sleep in the end.  Fortunately, my boss asked me to take a half-hour lunch tomorrow to cover the short-staffed issue desk, which means I get to come in to work half an hour later in the morning as compensation, which means I get a precious thirty minutes more sleep tonight (hopefully.  If I don’t end up going to bed late tonight too, because I’m feeling anxious and might email friends about the anxiety…).  Other than that, I’m glad I discovered coffee, because I don’t know how I would get through the mornings without it.  I wish I liked the taste more, though; I drink it like medicine.

I started work on writing a science fiction story, the one I said I wanted to write, but couldn’t.  I decided to try anyway.  I don’t want to say too much about it, because I might not finish it, if I run out of time, energy, patience, confidence, inspiration… a whole bunch of things.  I have a lot of unfinished projects, most of which never even got started, victims of my low self-esteem.  We’ll see.  It’s supposed to be a non-sensationalist story with a religious theme (no bug-eyed monsters or time machines).  In the past, I would have hammered the religious theme home; I’m hoping not to this time.

I’m still having anxiety, not just about my job.  The stupid thing, as I think I’ve mentioned before, is that some of my anxieties cancel each other out.  I shouldn’t worry about losing my job and having to stay in my job feeling I do it badly.  Only one of those can happen!  But I worry about both.  Anyway, there’s a lot of anxiety around about a lot of things that I can do very little about, and about which I can do nothing at all for the foreseeable future.  I hate this kind of situation, when something lurks on the horizon and I can’t do anything but sit and plutz (literally to explode, metaphorically to be anxious and agitated).  It reminds me of the Jewish joke about the man who sent a telegram (this is a long time ago) to his family that said, “Start worrying.  Details to follow.”  On which note, I bid you goodnight.

“Overweight, under-powered museum piece”

And after a couple of somewhat good days, it all comes crashing down again…

I wish I could stop myself shluffing (napping) after Shabbat (Sabbath) lunch.  I don’t think I can cope with such a large meal at that time of day.  I couldn’t sleep last night from having slept too much during the day.  Eventually I got up and did some stuff in my room (I was still at my parents’ house) while watching Doctor Who until I got tired.  I am overweight and out of shape; the title quote (from Doctor Who: The Claws of Axos) is the Master’s view of the Doctor’s TARDIS, but fits how I feel about myself lately.  I try telling myself the C. S. Lewis thing that I’m a soul with a body not a body with a soul, but I’m not enough of a mystic and that’s always seemed fairly un-Jewish to me (I’ve heard frum Jews quote it, but I’m not sure they knew they were quoting on of the twentieth century’s foremost Christian apologists).

This morning I inevitably overslept.  I tried to go for a run, but it was pretty poor.  I stopped after twenty minutes because I was feeling faint and light-headed (possibly because it was gone 3.00pm and I hadn’t had lunch, but I’d only had breakfast at noon, so I’m not sure it was that), having walked a lot instead of actually running.  At least I got home before the rain.  I suppose I got into my jogging stuff and out the door twice in three days, which I hadn’t managed since last August.

I read in a book about depression not to take any serious decisions while in the midst of an episode.  This is probably good, as if I followed every thought coming into my head at the moment I would:

  1. resolve to date only women at least as frum (religious) as me;
  2. resolve to date only women less frum than me;
  3. give up on the idea of dating and marriage and children altogether;
  4. stick with my job;
  5. change job;
  6. change employment sector;
  7. change career completely and become a writer;
  8. write a religious science fiction story;
  9. give up on writing a religious science fiction story;
  10. give up on writing a fictionalised version of my depression/childhood story;
  11. give up writing my Doctor Who book;
  12. give up writing my blog.

Of these only the last two can really be dismissed as passing whims: I get enough out of both to want to stick with them even if the book never gets published and even though the blog just seems like attention-seeking whining most of the time.  At any rate, I’ve made friends through the blog and get positive feedback from people who get something out of it, so it’s obviously fulfilling some sort of purpose, even if I’m not entirely sure what that purpose is.  Of the others, I have given up on writing about my childhood experiences (somewhat to my annoyance) and also on the science fiction story (which is annoying in a different way).  I don’t think I can write poetry or fiction any more, if I ever could.  I’m stuck with non-fiction prose, which means confessional (on the blog) or about Doctor Who and other TV science fiction (on my other blog and book(s)), which I suspect is a saturated market that I don’t quite fit into.

You may have guessed that I’ve been feeling depressed again.  Fortunately, I found out there is a heter (permission) for clinically depressed people to listen to music during the omer, so that’s helped a little bit, although I’m only listening when I feel I need to and not when I’m just bored while walking home.  I’m catastrophising again, though.  I feel nothing can work out well for me hence, I suppose, the comprehensive list of thoughts about what to do, or not to do, with my life, as I try to find an option that looks likely to succeed when nothing seems to look likely to bring anything other than more misery.  I suppose the answer is to wait a few months until I find out if my work contract is being renewed for the next year and wait to see if I can make progress with the social anxiety over the next few months before dating.  That said, I’m not convinced that the social anxiety is the major problem there, I think the depression and not being a good fit for the subculture (the frum (religious/Orthodox Jewish) world) I want to marry into are much bigger issues.  Actually being able to get to shul (synagogue) for Shabbat morning services would be a good start, if I could work out how to do that.

However, while I never thought of myself as impatient person, it turns out I’m really rubbish at just waiting indefinitely for stuff that may never happen.  I want to get on with my life and feel that my life as it is at the moment is both bad for me (it makes me depressed) and bad for the world (I’m not contributing anything worthwhile e.g. doing a worthwhile job well (I do a moderately worthwhile job badly in my paid work), doing something positive Jewishly or raising children).  I suppose I feel that being in my mid-thirties without a ever having had a full-time job, having only had one relatively short-lived serious relationship (five years ago) and having no children, I’m entitled to feel that my life went wrong somewhere and to wonder how I get it back on track.  I know I shouldn’t compare myself to other people and I know everyone has issues, but somehow I feel many other people’s issues aren’t quite as serious or long-lasting as mine.  I don’t know whether that’s true.  No one goes on about their issues as much as I do, but then most people don’t have a blog, and perhaps most people use social media to present an idealised perfect version of themselves rather than stressing the negatives of their life, the way I do.  Perhaps I give as unrealistic a presentation of my life as my peers who (I assume) post pictures of their perfect spouse/children/home on Facebook and Instagram.

I was close to tears again while cooking dinner (spicy bean burgers, the trickiest item in my repertoire) and actually burst out crying when davening Ma’ariv (saying evening prayers).  I only really cooked dinner from necessity and not wanting to be beaten after being defeated by jogging.  Am I lonely?  I don’t know.  I don’t know that I necessarily want someone to talk to anyone, although my sister phoned before and I cheered up a bit while talking to her, if only because I feel I need to put a brave face on around other people, so I don’t bring them down and because they don’t really understand what I’m going through, even my family, who have been around me like this for years and years (I guess I assume that my blog readers either understand or don’t get dragged down by me).  Perhaps I want someone to be around, but I’m not even sure about that.

I don’t know what I want right now, except that this isn’t it.  I don’t feel competent to work or maintain friendships, let alone relationships or being a parent.  I feel sure that HaShem (God) is gearing up to break my heart again, but I don’t know how to stop it.  If He wants to do it, I don’t suppose I can, or should.  I suppose it will make me a better person in fifty years time and when I get to one hundred and twenty and die I’ll reap the rewards – except that I feel I will screw up my response to the tests and end up getting karet again, and never get to know where my life was supposed to be going (although maybe that would be worse: knowing how good things could have been if I hadn’t mucked them up).

I don’t know what I actually feel competent doing or enjoy doing, except for one thing (writing about Doctor Who and science fiction TV), which  I don’t know how to monetise or subsidise from paid work, nor does it feel particularly socially useful.  I don’t think writing yet another book about Doctor Who is going to fix the economy, cure cancer or bring world peace.  I can’t even guarantee that it will bring much in the way of enjoyment to its readers (if anyone will actually buy the thing).

There probably is more to say, but it’s late, I need to get to bed, and I feel too stressed, depressed, agitated and angry to sleep.  I’m not sure what I do now to get to sleep.

Half Full

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was, depending on whether I want to be a glass half full person or a glass half empty person, quite good or not so good.  The not so good was that I didn’t get to shul (synagogue) Saturday morning, even though I really wanted to go and that I slept too much last night/this morning and again after lunch, which will probably keep me up late tonight.  The quite good was that I had reasonably good concentration in shul on Friday evening and that I went to the shiurim (classes) I wanted to go on Shabbat, including the Talmud one, which I mostly followed despite having something wrong with my ear which stopped me hearing all of it. I guess that’s perhaps slightly more than half full.

One of the shiurim did make me feel a bit of an inadequate Jew again, for not davening (praying) enough/with a minyan (quorum)/with kavannah (mindfulness), for not studying Torah enough and for not being kind enough, although it was a bit of a jump from what the rabbi was saying to beating myself up about it.  I don’t really know what I can do about those things right now anyway, given my  mental health situation.  Someone on Hevria told me that she thinks Judaism is geared up to mentally healthy and neurotypical people, which would make sense.  Maybe it’s good that I’m even trying to stay frum (religious), as someone else on Hevria said to me.  I try to tell myself I’m a work in progress and for all I know I might have another fifty years to grow.  Or I might get hit by a bus tomorrow, but I can’t live like that.  (Reminds me of a joke about a chazan (synagogue cantor) who gets into debt.  His community organise an interest-free loan, to be repaid from his wages.  He says, “Thank you!  I can repay the loan over the next five years.  And if I die before then, well, that’s just my good luck!”)

Understanding and Accepting My Emotions

I went to bed just after 1.00am, but I woke up before 7.00am.  I’m not sure why.  It was possibly related to a strange dream I had that mixed my previous job with the shul (synagogue) where I used to volunteer and a bit of my current job.  I felt tired, but I knew I wouldn’t go back to sleep.  I lay in bed for a while, thinking and trying to understand my emotions.

This seems like a good time to talk about the way I have been trying to cope with my alexithymia (inability to feel and understand emotions), as I know there is at least one person reading who also suffers from it.  (I should say that I’m somewhat self-diagnosed.  At least, my therapist noted that I have difficulty understanding my emotions, but she didn’t know there was a technical term for it.)  I have only been trying this method for a week or so, and it is something I improvised for myself rather than having learnt it from someone else, but it seems to be helping, so here goes.

When I have a strong emotion, rather than be scared of it or try to repress it or even to wallow it, I simply try to describe to myself what I am feeling and accept the feeling as a feeling, nothing more or less.  So, this morning I was lying in bed, wishing I had a wife to snuggle up to.  In the past, I would have felt guilty for this and tried to repress it or else wallowed in it and made myself feel lonely and frustrated at my apparently permanently single state.  But today I simply told myself, “I wish I was snuggled up with my wife.”  I think I may have described a bit the warm feeling I thought this would give me.  Then I just accepted the feeling and sat with it, neither feeling guilty nor wallowing in loneliness.

So far I have mostly been using this method to deal with the feelings of loneliness and sexual frustration that overwhelm me so much of the time.  I haven’t tried it so much with the depression because it is hard to remember that I can do this when I feel very depressed.  Nor have I tried it with the violent ‘pure O’ OCD thoughts because I haven’t had many of those this week.  An example of these thoughts would be when I am waiting at the train station and imagine jumping in front of the train as it comes in.  This is a common thought for me and I think it is an OCD fear rather than a suicidal/depressive fantasy.  I don’t really want to jump in front of the train, I just worry that I will do so.  What I hope to think when I have these kinds of thoughts in the future is, “I am afraid that I will jump in front of the train” and sit with the fear, rather than panic that I am actually going to jump in front of a train one day or wallow in suicidal fantasies.

It is useful to me just to put a label on my thoughts and feelings.  For so much of my life, I have not really understood what I have been feeling or why.  I have usually been scared of my feelings, particularly strong sexual or angry feelings, which I feel I should repress for religious reasons.  In fact, Judaism generally teaches that our inner drives and emotions are neither good nor evil.  Good and evil applies to our actions rather than our emotions.  Although there are different ideas about dealing with emotions, Judaism generally teaches that all our emotions have at least the potential for goodness, otherwise God would not have created them.  It is up to us to decide to use them in a responsible and ethical way.  With some exceptions, the rabbis did not generally feel that negative-seeming emotions can actually be repressed indefinitely.  One Hasidic rabbi was asked by his student how to “break” his desire for a particular sin.  He responded “you can break your back, but you won’t break a desire.”  Instead, he counselled sublimating the feelings in more positive activity.  For instance, lust can be used to build a loving and nurturing relationship with a spouse, while envy and greed can be used to spur us to greater meaningful achievements.  Even hatred, the most negative emotion, can be used to hate injustice and suffering and work to end it.

I don’t know why I have suddenly started being able to do this.  Some of it probably comes from years of my therapist asking what I am feeling and trying to get me to label my emotions in therapy.  I suppose that this is a good time of year to be doing this, inasmuch as the period between Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot (Pentecost) is a time favoured for personal growth in Judaism, being the period between the exodus from Egypt and the revelation at Mount Sinai when the Israelites worked on their character traits to be ready for the giving of the Torah.

Stuck in the Middle with Who?

I finally feel I achieved something this holiday: I went for a run for the first time in nearly eight months.  My trainers were covered in dust from lack of use.  To be honest, I walked quite a bit of it, which was bad even by my standards (I still find it hard to run continuously for twenty minutes or more and I do wonder how much is the depression depleting my stamina), but at least I was out for half an hour when I only expected to manage fifteen or twenty minutes.  I came back exhausted and a bit faint, but also somewhat reinvigorated.  So that’s a positive result.  I’ll try to go for another run on Sunday.  I’d like to build a run every Sunday and Friday through the summer, although the latter might be harder to fit in between therapy and Shabbat (the Sabbath).

I guess I’ve achieved a couple of things this holiday, actually.  I managed to get through Pesach OK, albeit with depression and some religious OCD, but less than the last couple of years except for one bad twenty-four hour hour period.  I did some chores that needed doing and I went out yesterday with my Dad.  I proof-read another two chapters of the second draft of my Doctor Who book today and have been taking notes for revisions on the next chapter.  I realised that writing the book has required me to read the feelings and motivations of various characters implied, but not explicitly stated, by the scripts and body language and intonation of the actors.  I think I’ve done this better than I expected, but it is something I often have to do consciously and struggle with sometimes; I’m not always sure I’ve read them correctly.  I’m not sure where that puts me on the autistic spectrum inasmuch as I find this hard (autistic),but I can do it to some extent (not autistic).  I guess it is a spectrum, with various degrees of severity.

I’m also trying a couple of new techniques for dealing with the depression, using my davening (prayers) as a mindful meditation technique (as per Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan in Jewish Meditation) and trying to accept my difficult thoughts and emotions rather than repressing them or getting anxious or depressed about them or indeed encouraging them, but I’m still trying to learn how to deal this and I wouldn’t like to say if they’re working at this stage.  Maybe I will write more on this when I’m more certain of how I’m managing it.

I suppose that those are all positive achievements, considering I was only off for two weeks and most of that was Pesach.  It’s always hard to accept that I’ve achieved things, though.

The rest of this post might be considered a very long digression, but it’s necessary to shed some light on something I’ve referred to here before more than once.  In fact, there might be a couple of people reading this who know that this is something I’ve been writing about and worrying about for many years, but I’ve seen something that makes me think this isn’t just my paranoid/introverted/depressed/autistic/whatever feelings, but something that others have observed in more objective ways.  If you want the short version, it’s mainly just me saying that a clever academic somewhere else online agrees with me about my being socially isolated in the Jewish community.  As for the long version:

On the Judaism Without Apologies blog Israeli polymath (computer scientist, political scientist and Talmudist) Moshe Koppel has been writing a sort of comparative psycho-sociological study of Orthodox Judaism and the Orthodox community versus the liberalism of non-religious American Jews.  I find it fascinating, even though I would query some of it and need more time to digest more of it (I’m hoping there will be a book version, because I suspect I internalise and evaluate information better in book format than blog format), partly because of the light it has shone on my evolving political views and my uncomfortable position in the Orthodox world.  I’m going to leave my (possibly somewhat unusual) politics out of this post and just look at the sociological side of things.

Koppel has been making his study concrete by looking at a couple of stereotypical fictional characters to represent each world, primarily Shimen, an Orthodox Jew and Holocaust survivor, and Heidi, a fairly secular American Jewish baby-boomer.  His most recent posts have been looking at the fine balance of Shimen’s religious world and the way this world has vanished in the next generation to be replaced by two streams of Orthodoxy going in opposite directions: a religious fundamentalism rejecting Western culture and a somewhat conflicted (or hypocritical), accommodationist attitude in more moderate religious thinkers.  Broadly, the former corresponds to Charedi (Ultra-Orthodox) Judaism, the latter to Modern Orthodoxy (I would question this a bit, as I felt he was taking examples from the extreme of Modern Orthodoxy and Open Orthodoxy and ignoring what is sometimes described as Centrist Orthodoxy, but we can leave such hair-splitting of practice aside for now).  Various posts have used game theory and sociological theory to show how forms of communal identification and ideological progression in both worlds result in a need for ever more extreme virtue signalling and radicalisation in both directions i.e. the fundamentalists become ever more fundamentalist to prove they aren’t liberal, while the liberals become ever more liberal to demonstrate they aren’t conservative.

The reason I bring this up is that the most recent posts explained to me my position in the Jewish world, and it is precarious.  Koppel describes Shimen’s generation as neither Charedi nor Modern Orthodox, preceding the evolution of these viewpoints, taking what it wanted from the wider world (some secular education, some bits of mainstream culture) while quietly ignoring what it deemed problematic.  Likewise, Shimen was able to balance the universal and particular elements of Jewish ethics.  Shimen probably didn’t know many non-Jews, but he probably didn’t really hate them either or think about them much at all, really, as long as they left the Jews alone.  But the next generation, confronted with an increasingly seductive, but increasingly anti-religious (both in the formal, atheist sense, but also in the sense of simply having ethical norms that are very different) wider culture is locked into one of two responses: build a ghetto and shut out Western culture as much as possible by demonising it or bend halakhah (Jewish law) as far as possible, if not further, to accommodate as much of contemporary Western thought and practice/society as possible.  Again, the former is the Charedi way, the latter the Modern Orthodox.

My rabbi mentor once said I have a strong dislike of religious hypocrisy.  It’s one of the most treasured things anyone ever said about me.  As a result, I find both approaches problematic.  I feel uncomfortable bending halakhah to fit ever-changing political and social mores and I have enough of a philosophical problem with postmodernism to be wary of trying to live my life in accordance with postmodern liberal standards.  But I also disagree with entirely shutting out Western civilisation, which has many good points (as a geek, I have to say there is little geek culture in the Charedi world).  Neither approach seems to me to do justice to the entirety and complexity of Jewish thought, the former prioritising liberal values ahead of problematic Jewish ones, the latter downplaying the universalist aspects of Jewish thought and at times adopting a prejudiced attitude to non-Jews and non-religious Jews that I can not share.  Hence the aspects of my life that I am wary of sharing with my fellow shul (synagogue) congregants: my love of Doctor Who and other vintage television science fiction; my deep and treasured friendships with non-Jews and non-religious Jews, some of them female; my reading of non-Orthodox theologians and bible critics; the fact that I used to work for a non-Orthodox rabbinical college and so on.  And, I suppose, the aspects of Judaism I don’t talk about much here, where I have a mostly non-Jewish audience, although this is due to irrelevance to my blog’s main topics as much as controversy.

Koppel’s argument is that Shimen’s middle ground has largely vanished.  I think, for various reasons (smaller community size; older communities; more antisemitism; different attitudes to religious education in state schools; a non-Jewish political culture that is different and where religion and identity politics are less contested) the division isn’t quite as stark in the UK and perhaps other European countries as in the USA (Israel is certainly a whole other kettle of fish which Koppel hasn’t got on to yet).  But it did give me some sociological back up for why I feel so alienated in my religious community, why I have the classic moderate Orthodox dilemma of “The people I pray with, I can’t talk to; the people I talk to, I can’t pray with” and why that makes it difficult for me to achieve the intimacy needed for close friendships and marriage within the community.

I do feel nostalgic for Koppel’s (or Shimen’s) world of “Litvishe gedolim [Lithuanian Talmud scholars] playing chess at the opera” and am saddened that it’s a world that has largely gone for good.  I don’t know what the solution is, either for me or for the wider community.  Koppel has hinted that he sees the possibility of growing a uniquely Jewish culture in Israel, which might be possible if the religious and secular communities don’t tear each other apart and if the Arab-Israeli Conflict doesn’t flare up again, neither of which looks likely to happen for long.  But even if that’s the case, while an idealistic part of me would like to make aliyah (move to Israel), I don’t see it as a realistic idea for me for a whole tranche of reasons, not least my mental health situation and the language barrier.  So I don’t know what I can do about meeting people like myself.

Maybe compartmentalisation, keeping my geeky friends/life and frum (religious) friends/life separate, is the only solution, but it doesn’t feel like a long-term answer.  Unless I can find a wife as unusually positioned as my self, my children are likely to end up significantly more fundamentalist or significantly less religious than I am*.  But I’m not sure how to find such a woman (even aside from all my other issues – mental health, geeky, etc.), but then, I don’t suppose many Charedi or less-frum/fundamentalist women would be particularly interested in me with my traits from the other side of the divide.

* And perhaps not even if I do find such a wife, as school and yeshiva mould character as well as parents and there is a well-known phenomenon of teenagers becoming significantly more or less religious/fundamentalist than their parents due to these influences.

Elementary Success and Elementary Errors

“Like most people who lead a lonely life, she was shy at first, but ended by becoming extremely communicative.”  – The Adventure of the Cardboard Box by Arthur Conan Doyle

I had a weird anxiety dream last night about sitting an exam I was not prepared for, partly in French and I realised I could not remember any French.  I kept drifting into Hebrew.  We kept having to move rooms and none of the rooms was really suitable for an exam anyway, being run down at best and lacking suitable tables.  One of them looked like a shop.  Other students kept cheating without the invigilators noticing or caring, but when I couldn’t get one of the invigilators to understand my ID number and went to type it in on her computer directly, I was ‘arrested’ for cheating myself.  And there were some antisemitic students who wanted to kill me or at least threaten me.  I don’t know if this is a general anxiety exam or specifically related to having to do exam invigilation this coming term and being terrified of doing the wrong thing.  I’m specifically worried about students asking me something they shouldn’t (which apparently they do) and panicking and giving an answer instead of stonewalling.  But it could have just been an ordinary anxiety dream.  I’ve got other things to make me anxious.

The dream at least meant I was wide awake at 8.30am, even though I hadn’t got to bed much before 2.30am.  I managed to get up before 9.00, which is a recent record for a non-work day.  I started the day feeling bad and it still took me a long time to get going.  I suddenly burst into tears while eating my lunch and watching The Andromeda Breakthrough.  One minute I was OK, the next there were tears running down my face.  I have no idea what triggered it.  This usually only happens to me at work, not when I’m on holiday.

As I’m on holiday, I went to visit The Sherlock Holmes Museum in Baker Street with my Dad.  It was expensive, but I did enjoy it.  The museum basically bought period rooms in Baker Street near (but not quite at) 221b and did them up like Holmes and Watson’s rooms from the stories with some things taken from the stories (like the VR in bullet holes in the living room wall shot by Holmes when bored and wanting to do shooting practice) and others taken from the period (the slightly freaky stuffed owl in the bathroom).  I’m a big Holmes fan (incidentally, my reading of Holmes is that he’s autistic and bipolar), so I enjoyed it, but even as a collection of late-period Victoriana it was interesting.  We were allowed to take photos; I tried to take some with my phone, but I’m not sure how well they will come out as I had some tremor and the light levels weren’t great.  Afterwards my Dad and I wandered around Regents Park in the cold for a bit, but my mood was already starting to drop again and I was glad that Dad didn’t want to stay out too long.  On the train home I was largely too exhausted and depressed to read.  I started a big book about two weeks ago (Voyage by Stephen Baxter) and I’m only twenty-five pages in largely because of my mood and energy levels although I did read A for Andromeda scripts in that period and we did have Pesach too, so I probably shouldn’t be too hard on myself.

On the way home my thoughts were drifting towards loneliness and broodyness again.  There was a frum woman on the train, probably a bit younger than me, saying Tehillim (Psalms) with a toddler who looked like I did at that age (blue eyes, blonde curls) although she was a girl, which just made me feel lonely and broody.  Again.  I was thinking that Sammy Davis Junior used to say, “I’m black, Jewish and Puerto Rican, when I move into an area, I bury it!”  I must be the equivalent for the shidduch world.   I’m a borderline autistic, depressed, geeky, not particularly employable ba’al teshuva with no yichus.  The only person willing to date me would have to be so desperate that I’d have to worry what her issues were.  I would probably date her anyway, though.  This led on to thinking about my needing to make compromises to get someone to marry someone as ineligible as me and feeling that because of my autistic inflexibility, I’m not sure how many concessions I would actually be able to make (religious concessions, personal trait concessions, anything), which led on to thinking that I think my boss must regret hiring me at work, the honeymoon there having lasted somewhere between six months and a year (at the end of my six month probation period my boss said I was doing fine; six months later, she was expressing dissatisfaction with my work), so how long would the honeymoon period in a relationship last?  It probably lasted about four months in my previous relationship, although I convinced myself everything was fine until right near the end when I should have noticed the red flags much earlier.

What I’m trying to do when I feel like this is simply to acknowledge my more negative, or just plain difficult, emotions rather than repress them or fight them or label them as ‘bad’ or get caught up in fuelling them.  I’ll have to wait and see how this goes.  Certainly on the train just now, and writing here, I got carried away with the thoughts in the last paragraph rather than just noting them and trying to move on.  I feel it’s what my therapist would want, although it’s hard to tell as I’m halfway through a month-long enforced break in therapy due to bank holiday, Pesach and my therapist going on holiday.

Pain, Suffering and Being There

In Why Bad Things Don’t Happen to Good People, Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt distinguishes between pain and suffering.  “When pain matters to us more than anything else, we suffer.  When it does not, we do not.  The more we have in life that matters to us over and above the pain, the more that pain recedes into the background.  When nothing matters more than the pain we are going through, it comes into intense focus and overwhelms us.  That overwhelmingness, we refer to as suffering.”

I don’t know what I can do any more to move on from my pain.  My job just makes me feel worse.  I want to help people, but I don’t know how.  In any case, my friends and family rarely turn to me when in need (possibly they think I’m too selfish, autistic or incompetent to be of any use).  I desperately want to have a wife and children to love and give to and (I’ll admit it) to love me, but it looks like it’s never going to happen.  I don’t really have any other ambitions, except perhaps to write, which I also struggle with.  I can’t seem to move on in my life at all.

Rabbi Rosenblatt says that ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in this world only relate to God.  Something that brings us closer to God is good, even if it’s painful; something that moves us away from God is bad, even if it’s pleasurable.  I feel my depression driving me away from God.  It stops me praying with kavannah (mindfulness), with a minyan (quorum) or, sometimes, from praying at all.  It stops me studying Torah, the primary ongoing religious obligation on Jewish men.  It stops me building a family.  It stops me doing mitzvot (commandments) and acts of kindness.  It makes me angry and distrustful of God.  And I don’t know how to move on from this.

I think Rabbi Rosenblatt gets on to trust in HaShem (God) later in the book.  I haven’t got to that bit yet, but I skimmed ahead a bit.  I know that, because of some things that happened in my childhood, I can’t trust God and I don’t know how to get around that.  I understand what happened to me as a child and I can see how the events that made me distrust God do not logically prove that God is not worthy of being trusted, but I can’t undergo the emotional catharsis to move on.  For years I’ve been thanking God for five or more things every day (something else Rabbi Rosenblatt suggests, although I was already doing it), but I still find it hard to trust that He loves me or wants good things for me or that He won’t overwhelm me with suffering.  I feel that, like Charlie Brown and Lucy, every time I come to kick the ball, HaShem moves the ball away at the last moment and I fall on my back again, usually in the form of another episode of depression (although sometimes He throws other things at me, instead of or as well as the depression, to keep me on my toes e.g. my OCD).

I feel that I want to give, but I can’t.  My social anxiety holds me back from reaching out to people who need help.  My friends and family, as I’ve said, rarely come to me with their problems.  Unfortunately I do know people with similar problems to my own, but as I said, I’m generally not the person they call when they’re down, although I do try to text or email when they’re down or I haven’t heard from them for a while.  I guess many of them have other friends, siblings or spouses who look after them better than I could.  And it looks like there isn’t anyone out there who wants me to be her husband, even though I want so much to be there for someone (this is actually a somewhat dangerous thought, as it means I get attracted to people who I think need ‘rescuing’, which isn’t particularly healthy, doubly so as I feel that only someone with serious issues would accept dating someone with as many issues as I have).

I’m trying to entertain the idea that things might turn out well, even if they will probably turn out very differently to how I would currently like.  It’s hard though.  I strongly suspect that I won’t get any of the things that I think would make me happy; I just hope I can find something that makes me genuinely happy instead.  Otherwise life seems an endless cycle of disappointment.  The problem is that I can’t attain even the things that I think would make me genuinely happy (religious growth, real love) let alone more transient things that make life bearable for people.

The Talmud and Me: A Tragic Love Story

I guess I have a crush on the Talmud from afar without having the experience to say I really understand and love it.  I would like to get to know it better, but, like all my female crushes, it holds itself aloof, uninterested in me, unwilling to pour its secrets in my ear.

I mentioned in my last post that my shul (synagogue) is starting a new weekly Talmud shiur (class).  I brought the relevant volume of Talmud over from my parents’ house.  I started the first page.  The first third of the page or so is a Mishnah and can read and understand well and remember it from when I’ve studied it before… and then I suddenly hit the Gemarah (commentary on the Mishnah) and I don’t understand a word.  Literally not a word, because it’s all in Aramaic (the Mishnah is in Hebrew, the Gemarah is in Aramaic; my Hebrew is not great but OKish, my Aramaic is virtually non-existent).  I might see if I can just read the English translation, but I vaguely remember it all being very confusing stuff about what time you can say the Shema in the evening.  I think there are five or six different opinions, which may or may not be mutually exclusive.  This is how the Talmud goes, lots of highly technical legal arguments that I just can’t follow.

I would really like to do some weekly Talmud study and I would really like to take part in more shul events, especially given that I’m struggling to get up in time for shul on Shabbat mornings, but I can’t see myself managing this, even if I find a way to prepare in English during the week.  I imagine I will feel out of my depth in the shiur, as I’ve felt out of my depth even in beginner’s Talmud shiurs and I imagine that here everyone will be much more advanced than I am.

I get so frustrated at my lack of Talmudic knowledge and skills.  It’s not just that I feel stupid and inadequate compared with other frum men or that I feel that frum women aren’t interested in marrying me because of it.  It’s the feeling that I’m missing out on such a major part of being Jewish and being Jewishly educated.  I guess I’m not used to being the stupid one in the class, or the one who isn’t clever/knowledgeable enough to join in the conversation (as opposed to having things to say, but not joining in out of shyness).  I felt so isolated when people were bidding to do Mishnah and Talmud study on Simchat Torah to get honours on Simchat Torah and I couldn’t join in.  Admittedly that was only partly because of my lack of Talmud skills; I could have bid to study Mishnayot (not that I understand anywhere near every Mishnah I study) and I was partly upset by the whole idea of publicly bidding to do Torah study, which did not seem tzniut (modest) to me.  Still, a big part of why I left the room that night and didn’t join in was feeling that I have no share in the Talmud, in the bulk of the Torah.

I’ve made about five different attempts to study Talmud, in a class, with a chevruta (study partner) and on my own, in the original but using different translations.  Almost every time there is the excitement about finally engaging with what is in many ways the most important book in Jewish thought (in some ways more so than the Torah) and it has almost always defeated me.  There was just one exception, when I was going to a beginner’s Talmud class at a Modern Orthodox adult education centre, where I learnt not just individual sugyot (topics), but study skills to help me learn in general.  If I had been able to go for another year or two I might have learnt enough to be able to study away from the class, but, alas, the class was cancelled before I got to that stage.

Orthodox Jewish life, at least for men, revolves largely around Talmud study and thrice daily prayer, neither of which I can manage with my mental health, although my difficulty with the former is as much about not having learnt the techniques when I was younger and my brain more plastic than it does the depression.  I feel cut off from the community, even in a sense emasculated, a fear reinforced by my failure to marry and procreate, not to mention my fear that that failure is caused by not having studied enough.  I feel so inadequate compared to other Jewish men – ordinary people without smicha (rabbinic ordination) – who have mastered entire masechtot (tractates/volumes) and I can barely master a single sugya (a legal argument, usually a couple of lines long).  I feel so ashamed whenever anyone holds a siyum (party for finishing study) at shul, knowing that I will never be able to do it, probably not even for Mishnah (I do study Mishnah, albeit with varying frequency, but I don’t feel I understand enough to justify holding a siyum if/when I finish a seder.  I often just read the words without understanding).

Perhaps this (the Talmud inadequacy, perhaps even the singleness, the childlessness) is my punishment for not going to yeshiva (rabbinic seminary) after school when a number of my friends went, when my school teachers wanted me to go.  But what I had encountered of the Talmud didn’t really grab my attention and make me want to go.  Even at that stage, I found it difficult and boring.  I would rather have studied Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) although at that stage I didn’t know that there are yeshivot where that is possible, albeit alongside traditional Talmudic study.  But I felt that I wasn’t frum enough to go and I didn’t think my father wanted me to go and I was nervous enough about going to university fifty miles from home, let alone to a yeshiva on the other side of the world.  There was no one in my family who had been to tell me about it and the teachers who wanted me to go didn’t sell it to me or guide me to the right yeshiva, they just acted disappointed when I went straight to university.  I guess I felt I wasn’t frum enough to fit in; at that stage I had only just started keeping Shabbat and I wasn’t fully keeping the laws of kashrut (the dietary laws), partly because I was trying to avoid confrontations with my parents, so I felt I couldn’t in good faith go to yeshiva.  Maybe I was wrong, maybe if I had gone I would have found a way to study and understand and move on with my religious growth.  Or maybe if I had gone, my mental breakdown would have just come earlier in an institution with less pastoral support than university.  I will never know.  I just know that I’m excluded from the mainstream of Jewish religious life.  That’s not entirely the fault of my not having gone to yeshiva and my not having learnt how to study Talmud, but that is a part of it.

“I bet you were the school swot and never got kissed”

I went to bed at 2.30am last night/this morning and I don’t know why.  Actually, that’s not true.  I do know why, I just don’t want to admit to it.  I spent ages procrastinating before cooking dinner, because I wanted to cook something from fresh ingredients, but felt too depressed to do so.  Then after dinner I spent ages emailing and procrastinating online again.  I slept until 1.00pm, which was far too long, with weird dreams (from what little I can remember – more on this below).  Then I procrastinated, getting in and out of bed for hours, eating breakfast but not being dressed and having lunch until after 4.30pm.  I still watched Doctor Who while eating lunch, because I’m on holiday and I can (since you ask, it was The End of the World, an episode that has grown on me over the years, although I still don’t know what I think about the line I quoted in the title of this post).  I just feel so burnt out, like I’m recuperating from a physical illness.  I guess depression will do that to you, but somehow I feel like I should be able to power through the exhaustion somehow, even if I can’t get through the low mood.  I wanted to go jogging today, but I just don’t have the energy, or the time now, as I want to do some other chores.

I was thinking today that postmodern Western society today offers us more choices than probably in any other society in history: choices about work, free time, sexual partner(s), food and drink, fashion, everything and anything.  And, on the whole, this is  probably a good thing, but even when it doesn’t get confused by our more negative emotions (particularly our tendency to choose immediate gratification over patience and pleasure over personal growth) it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the choices, particularly if, like me, you don’t always have such a clear idea of who you are, what you want and what is good for you (not always the same thing).

I don’t really know what I should be doing career-wise, or when/how to look for a wife and what I should be looking for.  My job is what I saw myself as doing when I started down the librarianship road, but I don’t think I do it very well.  And as for dating… well, I’m not sure that any of the women I’ve dated are really who I would have thought I should date, except perhaps my ex when we started going out (less so as I learnt more about her, and as she changed over the course of the relationship).  I don’t know whether the problem is that I get attracted to the wrong women (due to ignorance, fantasy or self-loathing) or if it’s more that the people around me set me up with the wrong women.  Probably a bit of both, given that some of the women I’ve dated I’ve asked out, while others have approached me or I’ve been set up with them by third parties.  It’s probably too small a sample size to draw any real conclusions from.  So I guess my dream job and dream girlfriend turned into difficult situations and I don’t know how much that was my fault or how to avoid making the same mistakes again.

Admittedly my ignorance and naivety plays a part here.  Although I’m in my mid-thirties, I’m only on my second job and I’ve only had one real relationship (maybe one and a half), so I don’t really know what I can do and what I want in either sphere.  Worse than that, my low self-esteem and depressive sense of self actively distorts what I think I want, what I think I value, and what I think my abilities are, so that what I think I want might just be the opposite of what I really want or need.  Even worse than that, I don’t really know how to decide, except by trying different jobs and dating different people, but, aside from being a strategy for getting hurt and aside from feeling like I’m running out of time as it is with both work and marriage, it’s hard enough to get people to pick me as an employee/partner without even going into the situation thinking, “This probably isn’t The One, I just want to see what it’s like” (which also seems pretty manipulative of the other people involved too).

On that note, I still can’t decide whether to ask for a reduction in my working hours.  I did a pros vs. cons list and there were more pros, but I worry that the cons carry more weight.  Certainly the pros are largely unknowns that I hope will turn out well, and hopes don’t usually turn out well for me*.  LinkedIN just recommended a librarian job at Penguin Books to me.  I was actually tempted, even though – or especially as – it was entry level, on the grounds that I can’t operate at the level my training and experience suggest I should be operating at.  However, the job was in Northamptonshire, which saved me a difficult decision.

I was supposed to be reading Halakhic Morality by Rav [Rabbi Joseph] Soloveitchik over the holiday and I even read the preface, but I was feeling too depressed to deal with dense religious philosophy, so I picked up Why Bad Things Don’t Happen to Good People by Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt instead.  It’s a theodicy book, but it’s based on his experiences when his first wife died of cancer leaving him with four young children and then marrying his second wife and is written in a very readable way.  Still, there’s a fine line at the best of times between encouraging people to look for positives in terrible situations and victim-blaming people who are unhappy.  To be fair, the book isn’t written for people with messed-up brain chemistry that is physically incapable of being happy (there’s an excerpt from the first edition of the book, which had a different title, here if you want to judge for yourselves).  Yesterday the book seemed encouraging and helpful; today I just feel jealous that both his wives seem like total angels, and resentful that having smicha (rabbinical ordination) carries so much weight in the frum (religious) marriage market, then feeling guilty for being jealous of someone whose wife died of cancer.

Speaking of Jewish stuff, my shul (synagogue) is starting a programme where the men of the community are to study a page of Talmud each week, followed by an explanatory shiur (class) on Shabbat (the Sabbath).  I would like to be a part of this, particularly as they are starting with Brachot, one of the few parts of the Talmud that I have studied a little bit of, but I don’t know if I will have the time or energy to do it.  One page a week doesn’t seem much, but a page of Talmud is incredibly densely written, full of complicated legal reasoning.  Frankly, it makes my head hurt.  It pains me greatly that I just don’t have the head for Talmud, given how vital its study is to Orthodox Jewish life, but feel I can’t pretend to be something I’m not any more (except when I do, because of social anxiety at being myself – see above about being in the wrong jobs and dating the wrong people).  I don’t know when I would even get the time to study it; I do most of my Torah study on the train into work and I don’t want to take a heavy volume with me.  On days when I don’t work, it can be hard to do any Torah study at all.  Maybe I’ll just go to the shiur and see how much I can take in without the preparation, although I suspect that the answer will be very little.  I had an anxiety dream about this last night, which probably does not bode well.

I feel I said stuff I shouldn’t say on Hevria again yesterday, although I was fairly restrained by my usual standards.

On the plus side, last night by “chance” I found a quote I had been needing for my Doctor Who book while flicking through an old Doctor Who Magazine.  It’s not the greatest hashgacha pratit (Divine Providence) story in the world (I can’t see Aish.com running it), but I need to take my hashgacha pratit moments where I can get them, given that my life feels so rudderless and uncontrolled right now.

 

* Pros: I could get more sleep; I would have more time at home to relax; I would be more alert; I would have to travel less at rush hour; it might increase my concentration.
Cons: it feels like a backwards step; my boss might not like it; I feel I take too much already (particularly in terms of poor concentration and time off for Yom Tov); it might lead to my contract not being renewed in August.
There are more pros, but I feel they are repeating the same idea (more sleep and relaxation leading to greater concentration and alertness), while the cons have more weight and are more certain.

The Death of a Thousand Cuts

I still feel exhausted and depressed, although not as much as yesterday (I’m off work this week as it’s still the end of term break).  I was texting a friend who asked how I was.  I said that I was OK, just burnt out and down, before realising that that meant that I’m not OK, even if that is how I have felt most of the time for as long as I can remember.  The weather doesn’t help: rainy, but not even a proper storm (I like thunderstorms), just interminable drizzle.  I’ve also got food cravings, which is probably partly boredom, partly clomipramine.  I’m trying to graze on fruit, nuts and vegetables rather than carbohydrates and processed sugar, but it’s hard when I feel so down and could do with comfort eating.

I’m still struggling with concentration.  My boss noticed that at work a while back.  For example, today I needed to get my wallet.  I went to the cupboard, opened the door, stood there looking at my books for a couple of seconds, thinking about what I should be reading and trying to work out why on earth I was standing at the cupboard looking at the books.  Then I remembered I wanted my wallet, which is in my coat pocket, which is in the wardrobe next to the cupboard.  So I went to the wardrobe, opened the door and again stood staring for a second before I realised that the coat isn’t there, because when I came home it was wet from the rain, so I left it to dry in the bathroom.  This all takes time, even before I got back to my desk, wrote this paragraph and then wondered where I’d put my wallet in the meantime.  It doesn’t take a lot of time, but the cumulative effect is quite a lot of time, particularly at work, where I struggle every time I have to shut one computer window or open another (and I have to do that a lot on our library management system).  I don’t know how much of this is depressive poor concentration and how much is autistic poor executive function.  Having been depressed most of my adult life, it is hard to tell.

I went to the dentist today.  My teeth are fine, but I was upset that I shook a little.  It was my desire not to shake that triggered the shaking.  I had to just try to relax and not try not to shake, which is difficult.

My depression group meets this evening, but I don’t feel I have the stamina to sit through an hour and a half talk about medication options when I know none of them really work for me, except clomipramine, which works a bit, but has led me to put on a ton of weight.

Following on from recent posts, I’ve sort of come to the conclusion that I probably shouldn’t date for a while.  It’s probably sensible not to put a time limit on it, but I suspect I should wait at least six months to see if I can sort out the social anxiety as my rabbi mentor suggested, although I’m more sceptical than he is as to whether I will suddenly get a rush of people offering to set me up on dates if I do wait that long, and I’m pretty sceptical of ever meeting someone who ticks all my boxes: compatible religious beliefs and practices; compatible character; compatible values (integrity, family, growth, learning); tolerates my geekiness; and tolerates my mental health issues.  As I can’t do anything about my geekiness and mental health or her tolerance level, it’s easy to think I should at least compromise on religion, character or values, as I think I mentioned the other day.  Likewise, I feel that I might possibly be an OK person by the not-very-stringent standards of pluralistic/permissive Western society, but that I’m a very bad frum (religious) Jew, so the temptation is to date non-frum women (who might think I’m OK) rather than frum women who will be angry that I don’t daven (pray) enough or with a minyan (quorum), that I didn’t go to yeshiva (seminary), that I don’t study Talmud and so on.

Nevertheless, I think that compromising religiously would probably be a mistake, at least beyond a certain point.  Identifying that point is difficult, though, as some compromise is necessary in a relationship.  My Mum likes to ask hypothetical questions about whether I would marry someone who disobeyed such and such a Jewish religious law, but it’s impossible to tell in the abstract.  My gut instinct is never to compromise on religion, because it will just lead to problems down the line, but surprisingly my rabbi mentor didn’t think it should be an automatic red line for me.  I can’t remember exactly what he said (it was some years ago), but he was of the opinion that chemistry and trust were the key elements in a relationship and that a relationship with partners on different religious levels could work if they trusted each other and compromised.  This is quite different to what the frum websites and dating advisors say and seems strange to me, yet my rabbi mentor is the wisest person I know and not usually radically wrong.

It’s hard to know where to draw the line, though.  I know someone who doesn’t want to have a TV for religious reasons who was dating someone who does watch TV.  She was willing to give it up for him, but he still stopped seeing her, because he was afraid she would come to resent him for getting her to give it up.  I can see where he’s coming from, but I still feel he made the wrong decision.  Then again, I don’t know what I would feel if a less frum (religious) woman was offering to become more frum for me.  To be honest, I can’t really see myself as enough of a catch for that to actually happen, but if it did, I would probably feel that a big burden was being placed on me to be a super-good husband to be worth the change.  And the bigger the change, the expectation to be super-good.  I suppose I should try to avoid the question by dealing with my social anxiety and self-esteem such that frum people will set me up with frum women as normally happens in the frum community, rather than leaving me to find my own dates in situations where most of the women I meet are not frum.  I just can’t really see that happening.

I think I’ve mentioned that I have emails and blog comments from friends printed out and blue tacked on my cupboard doors to build confidence.  One thing I want to put up somewhere, if I can find somewhere respectful to put it, is Rashi’s commentary on Devarim/Deuteronomy 18.13.  The verse says, “You shall be perfect [tamim] with HaShem your God.”  The obvious question is how can human beings be perfect?  Rashi quotes the Midrash (Sifrei) and answers, “Walk with Him with simplicity [temimut – the same etymological root] and depend on Him and do not inquire of the future, rather, everything that comes upon you accept with simplicity [temimut] and then you will be with Him and His portion.”  Inquiring of the future is really about not soothsaying and fortune telling, but I it’s not too much of a stretch to see it as a warning against the anxious procrastination and catastrophising that I do too much.

The other thing I mentioned the other day was trying to use mindfulness techniques when davening (praying), as I wasn’t having much success in doing breathing meditations.  I think it’s helping me to have kavannah (concentration), but just now I found myself bursting into tears while davening Mincha (afternoon prayers).  I suppose that’s good in a way, but I’m not sure how good.  I should be cooking dinner now, but I feel too sad to do anything.

“You’re tired of life, but afraid of dying”

(Don’t worry, I’m not suicidal.  I just watched the (not very good and occasionally laughably bad) 1996 Doctor Who TV Movie, for my sins, and the quote leapt out at me as being vaguely relevant.)

I’m obviously scatty today and I forgot some things in my last post.  Then some other things happened after I posted.  For a day in which nothing happened, I have a lot to say.  Anyway…

I wanted to go for a run, but even walking back from the shops was a painful effort.  It was actually quite upsetting.  Even unpacking my bags from shopping and staying at my parents’ house took ages, although that was probably due to getting distracted as much as to lack of energy.  So I didn’t exercise today.

I just submitted something to Hevria (about mysticism and religious existentialism).  I wrote it over three years ago, but I’ve only showed it to one person until now.  I was naughty/daring and didn’t actually re-read it before submitting, because I’ve been putting that off for ages.  I’ve tinkered with it on and off over the years and I knew that if I waited until I had re-read it again, I would just procrastinate indefinitely.  I just sent it as is and hoped I’d got it into a good enough state.  To be honest, I don’t really care if they reject it.  I’m not particularly invested in it, I just want to do something with it.

I was trying to write something semi-autobiographical recently.  I thought that I can’t tell the story of how my mental health issues started (outside therapy) without hurting a lot of people and violating various Jewish laws, but I wanted to try to write a sort of exaggerated absurdist or magic realist Alice in Wonderland/The Prisoner version of my childhood, interspersed with more philosophical chapters that are like my blog posts.  I kicked ideas around for a few weeks and then spent about half an hour on it last week and have now completely lost any enthusiasm I might have had for it.  I can’t see how I ever thought it could have worked, or at least how it could have been within my extremely limited capabilities.  This type of thing happens to me a lot, the initial burst of enthusiasm and then the loss of confidence once I realise how big an undertaking a project is and how little skill I have for doing it.

I’m losing confidence in my Doctor Who book too.  I had a couple of ideas for non-fiction books about Doctor Who or science fiction and this is probably the least adventurous or original.  I went with it because it was essentially largely written in blog form already – except that as I began to expand and redraft, it grew rather bigger than expected (good), but I’m not sure it’s really worth the expanded word count (bad).  Does the world really need another analytical book on Doctor Who, even one without the snark and politics that characterise so many of the others?  I don’t know any more.  I just feel there isn’t enough chiddush (novelty) to justify its existence.  Still, at least I’m enjoying working on it, which is more than I can say about pretty much anything else in my life at the moment, except perhaps the Thursday evening shiur (Torah class).

I had a bit of a paradigm shift realising that ‘kavannah‘ in prayer can be loosely translated as ‘mindfulness’ (a conceptual rather than a literal translation).  I’ve never really managed to do mindfulness meditation, although I have tried.  Now I’m trying to use my davening (prayer) as a mindfulness practice.  This is similar to something Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan writes about in Jewish Meditation.  I will try to remember to report back on how that goes.  Hopefully it will be a way to practise mindfulness and improve my kavannah in davening and score two wins rather than one (or zero).

I’m in two minds about whether to include the following paragraph.  I’ve decided to include it as a record of how I was feeling earlier today, although I don’t feel like this at the moment.  (Eating pizza in my pyjamas while watching even quite bad Doctor Who is obviously helpful.  I wonder how I would feel if I had been watching something good.)

Also, have I mentioned lately that I hate myself?  Because I do, very much.  Days like today feel like a struggle just to stay where I am and not go backwards, let alone move forwards.  It’s so tempting just to give in and let go, but if I do that, I know I’ll never get up again.  I’m not supposed to be listening to music for the next month (it’s a period of Jewish national mourning for a month between Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot (Pentecost) each year, although there are different customs about when exactly; listening to music is forbidden, as is shaving, cutting hair and holding celebrations, especially weddings), but just one day in and I’m not sure if I can do it this year.  It feels like it would be better to listen to music than to do something more serious.  But just presenting the situation like that seems wrong, when one thing has nothing to do with the other.

Back to Reality

Things are mostly back to how they were before Pesach (Passover).  Unfortunately, this includes the weather (a dull, wet, depressing day) and my mood, which is still low.

I’m trying to work out if I should try dating again.  I suspect I’m not ready, but I also suspect that I will never be ‘ready.’  I also suspect that the only person who would be in a relationship with me is someone with similarly serious issues.  This isn’t necessarily a problem in itself, but my only previous relationship resulted in my having to take care of myself and my girlfriend, while she ignored my issues and was in denial about her own (her words, more or less, not mine) and I couldn’t cope with that any better now than I did five years ago (is it really five years ago more or less exactly that we broke up?).  I suspect I find it easy to fall for vulnerable women who (a) are less likely to reject me for being broken myself and (b) have mental health issues in common with me (because so few people have anything else in common with me).  I also probably feel that I don’t deserve, and couldn’t find, someone without major issues willing to go out with me for more than one or two dates.

I know logically I shouldn’t be dating, but I worry that I’ll never be ready, for all that my rabbi mentor suggested that I could be a lot better in six months.  I can’t see the self-administered CBT for social anxiety really going anywhere, although I’ve promised myself to have a proper go at it now that Pesach is over.  Nor do I know how to deal with the loneliness.  All the cures for loneliness I’ve heard of (talk to people, do a group activity, attend a place of worship) presume neurotypicality or at least an absence of social anxiety and depression.  For me, doing those things just increases my sense of being socially incompetent and alone forever, if I’m even able to do them in the first place (cf. my failed attempts to get to shul (synagogue) in the mornings recently).

Another reason I’m likely to struggle to maintain a romantic relationship is the problems I have maintaining a good relationship with my parents when I feel like this.  There’s a vicious circle that goes: someone shouts at me for something that is or isn’t my fault (it doesn’t matter which) –> I feel more depressed –> I snap at others –> other people shout at me –> I feel more depressed (etc.).  This is why I couldn’t cope with being paired up and it’s better that I live on my own.  I’m dreading having to move back in with my parents if my work contract isn’t renewed.  I could cope with getting married if my wife was particularly understanding, but I don’t deserve such a wife and couldn’t get one anyway (not least because of the loop noted above, although I have lots of other off-putting bad habits and vices too that I don’t generally blog about), so anyone I could marry would likely get into arguments with me a lot, which I couldn’t cope with.  Hence, I should/will be single forever.

I feel so alone today.  It’s not even loneliness in the usual sense of the word, because I’m not wishing someone was here with me.  It’s more feeling that no one can understand, accept or even tolerate me.  I feel like I’m walking on eggshells with my parents and I suspect that they feel the same about me, with good reason, which saddens me, but my attempts to be more sociable seem to make things worse.  I don’t even feel like I want anyone today, as a friend or girlfriend or wife.  I just feel so different to everyone else, that no one could understand me, and that I’m such a bad person and a bad Jew that no one could ever like or accept me.  I feel bad that I get no joy out of Judaism or Jewish festivals, for example (I didn’t enjoy Pesach at all, not even seder which I used to love), and telling myself that that’s because of my mental health and family situation doesn’t really help.  I know other people with mental health issues and families much less religious than mine who live joyous and meaningful Jewish lives.  Admittedly getting married and having kids seems to have been a big part of that, as does a period of sustained religious study in yeshiva or seminary.  Still, I feel that if they can manage it, I should too and God is angry with me for not doing so, and for acting out.

The quote of the day on the Jewish site Aish.com today says, “If you are not happy with what you have, you will not be happy with what you get.”  This just seems to tell me that I’m going to be miserable forever and there’s nothing I can do about it, because every attempt to move past the depression to get meaning and joy out of life ultimately fails.

There are a lot of disturbing thoughts in my head, and I don’t know how much is depression, how much is pure O OCD, how much is loneliness and how much is that I’m just a terrible, terrible, depraved person.  Or just someone who can’t cope with what’s going on in his head and as a result acts out in various bad ways, of which sniping at my parents is the least problematic.

More on neurotypicality, or otherwise: when I was young, I was sensitive to certain fabrics, particularly woolly ones.  Over time, this seemed to go away, but lately it seems to have come back somewhat.  I have a sweater that I’m finding it hard to wear suddenly because it feels too uncomfortable, even though I’ve been wearing it for years without a problem.  This is weird.  I haven’t heard of sensory sensitivity like that changing back and forth over time.  I suppose my sensitivity to noise varies with time, mood, activity and so forth too, but not in such a big way.

Excused

I’ve been excused post-Pesach tidying because I’m too depressed, both in terms of exhaustion and low mood.  I guess it was good that I lasted this long.  I feel a bit bad that I noted the arguments that I had with my parents in the previous post, as it was really just a blip; most of Pesach we survived without much tension.  Considering Pesach stress usually induces at least one meltdown on someone’s part, this was a positive thing.  I edited the previous post (although it didn’t say anything really bad), but I feel bad that I posted it in the first place, particularly as people who get my posts via email will see the original version, not the edited version.

The other thing I feel bad about in that post is that, after over a year, I finally wrote a political post.  These days I’m not much of a party political person in the left-right sense.  I think both sides have a lot to answer for, and beg a lot of questions.  I don’t think I can think of a single political leader who I can really say I admire.  Even Aung San Suu Kyi has become tarnished by the reality of power.  But I am political in the sense of caring about people and wanting the world to be better, but that’s pretty unfocused.  I do also care about my own people, the Jewish people, and our place in the world and particularly about the constant threat of anti-Jewish hatred and violence.  I don’t feel the need to apologise for this, but I do try to keep it away from the blog, as this is really a mental health blog, although it is a Jewish mental health blog, and I think attempts to separate the Jewish people and the Jewish state from the Jewish religion are artificial and question-begging, if not outright antisemitic.  So, although I have been worrying a lot about antisemitism lately, I will try to keep it off the blog.

Mene, Mene, Tekel Ufarsin

Pesach is over for another year (or thirteen months, as next year is a Jewish leap year, which means an extra month added in).  I made it through, just about.  I had one twenty-four hour period (over two days) of more bad OCD, but was mostly OK, which is to say some OCD, but not overwhelming.

The last two days were hard in other ways, though.  I’ve been anxious/angry about antisemitism and thinking that this is the beginning of the end of Anglo-Jewry, that what is happening in France, where brutal antisemitic murders are increasingly common and largely ignored by the police for political reasons (because they are carried out by certain members (by no means all) of a particular minority group that the politicians don’t want to antagonise) and where the Chief Rabbi has told Jewish men not to wear kippot (skullcaps) in public because it’s too dangerous, is going to start happening here soon.  Over the last twenty years there has been a massive increase in aliyah (immigration to Israel) from the French Jewish community (many of whom only moved to France in the post-war era, fleeing antisemitic violence in previously French-occupied North Africa).  I could see myself moving to Israel some time in the next thirty years.  I could see myself having to move.

That said, while historically there has been a lot of intellectual antisemitism in the UK, including from the left (Bernard Shaw (as far as I know, the first person to say that the Jews are the same as the Nazis, less than a week after Kristallnacht), the Webbs, Chesterton, Belloc, Eliot, etc.) and although England had one of the earliest blood libels, in the modern era there has been little in the way of popular antisemitism in this country.  Mosley’s Black Shirts were never a mass movement in the way political antisemitism created mass movements across Europe in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries or in the way political antisemitism has returned (on the left as well as the right) in the last twenty years or so.  I believe that Momentum is largely antisemitic, but I don’t believe that the majority of Labour Party members, let alone the population at large, are antisemitic.  The fear is that Corbyn and Momentum will offer enough bread and circuses that people will vote for them anyway, because while most people don’t agree with antisemitism, they don’t strongly disagree with it either, or even understand it will enough to disagree with it, particularly after decades of the BBC (which has a massive news monopoly in this country) insinuating that Jews (sorry, Israelis) are a uniquely racist and imperialist people/religion.

Such has been part of my thinking over Yom Tov, along with general thoughts about Western Civilisation tearing itself to pieces as the far-left and the far-right take over, or come close to taking over, in one country after another.  And, lo, I look at the news after Yom Tov and there’s been another terrorist attack in a European city.  The Jews’ revenge for being demonised by Europe: your cities are now as unsafe as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and for the same reasons.

However, all this has been a distraction from more personal angst.  I’ve felt very depressed for the last couple of days.  The OCD has been at bay, but I’ve been feeling cut off from God again, lonely and misunderstood.  I feel bad that I didn’t make it to shul (synagogue) in the mornings.  My parents say I need more “will power” which I find a bit upsetting.  I have the will to go to shul, I just don’t have the power, ha ha.  It’s hard to do things when the depression and social anxiety team up against me.  I was thinking again in shul today that God should have created me as a FFB (frum from birth) yeshiva bochur (Talmudic student) because He clearly loves them all much more than He loves me.

I argued with my parents a bit today.  I could see that I had woken up depressed and in a state where everything I say is going to sound grumpy and critical (I’m not sure how much this is depression and how much autism), so I tried to apologise in advance and say I didn’t mean to sound grumpy, I just couldn’t help it, and I tried to sound even-tempered but somehow there was still an argument.  I guess it was not entirely my fault.  I tried to defuse the situation.

What I have learnt from all this is that I probably do need to date only frum (religious) women.  I had been wondering, as frum women apparently aren’t interested in dating me, whether I should date non-frum Jewish women, if we had other values in common (integrity, family, love of learning, personal growth).  A lot of people in my family have done this, my Mum has long been encouraging me to do this (I have no idea why) and even my rabbi mentor surprised me by saying it wasn’t necessarily a bad idea, but I feel that if I marry a non-frum woman the mitzvot (commandments) will become a focus for resentment and argument.

Anyway, I’ve avoided the post-Pesach tidy up too long by writing this so off I go…

Bedroom Picspam

Oh dear, the OCD has come and gone all day (I’m currently resisting the temptation to ask if the superglue I got all over my fingers earlier is OK for Pesach; given my rabbis have found it funny when I asked if kitchen wipes and hair dye are OK, I’m going to assume that superglue is definitely not food and therefore not subject to the Pesach kashrut laws).  I’m also trying not to let J*r*my C*rb*n (yemach shemo) spoil my chag.  And now there’s pre-Yom Tov (festival) stress and resultant family tension.  So, something nice: my room!

My parents had my old room at their house decorated a couple of months ago, but it stretched on and was only finished a week or so ago.  Actually, it’s not quite finished; there’s a picture I still want to put up, but I can’t find a frame that fits.  The room looks a lot fresher and more welcoming than it did when we moved in over two and a half years ago.  This is good, as I come back every week for Shabbat (the Sabbath) and if my contract isn’t renewed past August I will probably have to move back in permanently, at least until I can find a new job.  It’s a pity we didn’t have the budget to do anything with the black wardrobe doors, but the rest of the room looks brighter.

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The view from my desk, with some of my 1,000-plus books (horizontal, vertical, two rows deep in places) on the left, guarded by the wargaming miniatures I used to paint/still occasionally paint and my DVDs on the right, with gaps where DVDs in my flat should be.

 

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The view from the door as you come in.

I tried to photograph some of my fantasy wargaming miniatures (I never much liked wargaming, but I like to think I painted the miniatures well), but the photos didn’t come out well.  This was about the best photo, although far from the best paint job, a Dark Elf lord riding a dragon.

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I have to say, I used to paint these things a lot better when I was in my teens than I do now, although I haven’t painted for a year or more.  I don’t know if I have less patience or a less steady hand or what.  Someone has released a new Doctor Who game and I’d like to paint some of the miniatures, but Daleks, Cybermen and other Doctor Who monsters tend to be predominantly one colour (green or black, usually) and aren’t particularly interesting to paint.  I’d like to paint all the Doctors at least.

Canary in a Coal Mine

The OCD thoughts chase each other.  You resolve one and then another comes in its place.  I thought I was over this, but I seem to have unravelled through the progress I made in the past year.  Pesach (Passover) does that to me.  I feel terrible for bothering my rabbi, I feel terrible for giving in to the OCD, but it’s compulsive (hence ‘obsessive compulsive disorder’).  I just want Pesach to be over now.  I suppose I was lucky to get through four or five days before I got to this state.  (My rabbi just told me to listen to some relaxing music after I sent him a bizarre OCD question…)

Someone at Hevria commented on a post I wrote so long ago I had forgotten it, saying it was “well-written, courageous and honest”, that I am “Kind and sensitive” and should keep sharing my thoughts.  I should feel happy, but I just feel embarrassed, like I’ve stolen the praise someone else deserves.

I feel bad for undervaluing my friendships.  I talk all the time about wanting to be married and forget that I have friends who are there for me, like when my non-biological sister emailed me last night after seeing my last post.  I suppose some of it is wanting to have a proper sexual/romantic relationship, but some of it is probably just fantasy, hoping things would be easier with a mythical ‘someone’ to care for me.  No one should  have to “care” for me, I should be able to care for myself.  Another reason not to start dating again.

I suppose I do have legitimate sexual needs that can’t be catered for with other family/friend relationships.  I can admit that.  It’s harder to admit that I have emotional needs for intimacy that can’t be catered for with family or friends, because it feels like I’m blaming people for not being there for me.  I’m not blaming anyone, just acknowledging that there are different types of relationship.  But it’s hard.  I want to be loved, I want to be held, I want to be forgiven (although I’m not sure of what).  And I am, but not the way I need.

I am, more broadly, fed up of being a spectator of other people’s lives.  I want a life of my own.  But I don’t know how to get it and I’m scared of trying.

I feel I should send Hevria one of the posts sitting on my computer, to try and jump-start some creativity, but I’m scared of that too.  I write too much and do too little.

I’m just trying to do my best, but even that is really hard at the moment.

Whoops

“A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.” – Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams

You remember before Pesach when I said that it should be impossible for me to think that I might end up accidentally eating chametz (leavened bread, food made with it or made or served on utensils that have been used with it)?  Famous last words.  Someone just did something I would never have done and we have a Problem.  I think it’s OK, but I’m not sure.  I messaged my rabbi on whatsapp, but the message hasn’t registered as being seen.  He’s probably in bed.  So, it’s another anxious night.

It’s at times like this that my OCD reinforces my depression and social anxiety and I just want to avoid other people so I can do things my way without having to worry about other people messing things up.

In other mistake news, I did another autism online test.  Then I discovered I already did it last year.  At least the results were almost the same: 117/200 both times for neurodiversity (Asperger’s), 77/200 for neurotypicality as opposed to 84/200 last time.  So I read as about 60% autistic, which I guess would fit with the psychiatrists being contradictory about whether I’m on the spectrum or not; I have some symptoms strongly, but not others.

Tonight I feel lonely and want to be hugged, but I’m nervous of talking to my parents for fear of my OCD and irritability triggering an argument or something.  I wish I was in a relationship with someone who really understood me and was able to show affection for me and calm me, but I don’t think that such a person exists.

“These fragments I have shored against my ruins”

I somehow overslept this morning.  I heard my Mum shout goodbye when she left for work (I guess just before 9.00am) and I thought I stayed awake, but I must have dozed off because next thing I knew it was 10.20 and my Dad was worried I was going to miss my blood test (a routine check because I’m on lithium tablets).  I must have slept through both my alarms.  I got to the blood test on time, but only because Dad was able to give me a lift.  I was worried that I was going to shake, but I didn’t, although I clearly looked worried enough that the nurse had to reassure me.  I didn’t like to say that the problem is less the needle and more my fear of shaking.

I did at least walk home, which took half an hour.  I was thinking the whole time about antisemitism.  When the depression is bad, I sometimes fixate on it.  As I said yesterday, I don’t want to turn this into a political blog, but it does upset me.  I couldn’t really focus on the music I was listening to again.  I feel a sense of religious certainty that Jews will survive somewhere in the world; we have, after all, survived 3,000 years of persecution while our persecutors have vanished into history, which is, after all, what Pesach (Passover) is about, the festival of redemption.  Still, I hate injustice and I hate feeling hated for no good reason.  I hate feeling hated at all, but these days (i.e. since leaving school) I’m mostly hated by antisemites, not people who actually know me.

I more or less burst into tears while davening Shacharit (saying morning prayers).  I’m not sure if it was because of antisemitism or just depression or something else entirely.  Certainly I had almost no kavannah (usually translated as ‘concentration,’ but ‘mindfulness’ might be a better word), but then I haven’t had much kavannah for ages.

Aside from a half hour walk and ten minutes of very difficult Torah study (reading Yechezkel/Ezekiel in Hebrew – from the really difficult chapters at the end), I haven’t really done anything today.  I just feel too drained.  I don’t really have the motivation to do anything fun for Chol HaMoed (the intermediate days of Pesach) and it’s not appropriate to do chores unnecessarily.  I can’t think of anything to do and when I try the religious OCD makes me panic about taking food anywhere.  I might go to the Sherlock Holmes Museum next week (after Pesach).

I feel lonely and unlovable again.  More unlovable than lonely, I think, although it’s hard to tell (alexithymia).  I can’t imagine that anyone could care about me.  This is a silly thing to think as my parents and my sister care about me and even if that’s because we’re family, I do have a couple of friends.  It never feels enough, though.  I want a deep, intimate relationship and have no idea how to get one or whether I could really manage one.  My experience of my one previous relationship suggests I might be able to, but so much seems different since then.  I was supposed to decide over the holiday whether to go back to dating and, if so, whether to go to the Jewish dating site that matches people based on their values or to a shadchan (matchmaker).  To be honest, I don’t think I have the courage to do either.  I want to be in a relationship, but I don’t feel I currently have the stamina to find and build one.  Sadly, Hevria never acted on my suggestion to find a Hevria shadchan for weird, geeky creative frum (religious) Jews, although as most Hevrians live in America and most of the ones that don’t live in Israel it’s doubtful that they would have been able to help me much anyway.

I just feel so exhausted.  I tried to read, but I just don’t have the energy (it apparently takes less energy to write than to read.  I don’t know what that says about my writing).  I left the following comment on the blog of one of the presenters of Are You Autistic? yesterday: “I have been thinking of being reassessed but I’m terrified of being told I’m neurotypical again. I know that sounds a strange thing to say, but an autism diagnosis would explain so much about me: my treatment-resistant depression, OCD and social anxiety would actually seem like the logical outcome of something ‘real’ rather than a over-reaction to very normal childhood stresses.”  It’s strange to feel that my experiences somehow don’t count just because I’m different in personality, but not medically different, but I do feel as if I “shouldn’t” be depressed and anxious from such relatively trivial childhood experiences, that there has to be a deeper explanation of my depression.  Maybe there isn’t.  Maybe I’m just messed up and that’s all there is to it.  I don’t know how I get unmessed up, or at least learn to manage my messed upness.

The first woman I asked out (this was when I was approaching twenty and at Oxford) said when she turned me down that if I liked myself more, I would want to date someone more like myself.  Aside from the fact that I thought that she was quite like me, this is made problematic by the fact that there are so few people like me.  I won’t quite say there’s no one like me any more as I have met a couple of people somewhat like me (albeit mostly over the internet), but I don’t know how to meet a woman who shares my interests AND values AND can cope with my issues AND whose issues I can cope with (bearing in mind that someone who can understands my issues probably has issues of her own).

My friend Elad Nehorai of Hevria and Popchassid said that writers of personal writing (which I guess is what I am doing here, although calling it ‘writing’ probably gives it more dignity than it deserves) can choose whether to portray themselves as victims of circumstance, witnessing changes around them, or as people with agency who grow, learn and evolve from their experiences.  He obviously sees the latter as better.  I very much fall into the first category.  I don’t think I’ve learnt anything from my depression, OCD, social anxiety or autistic traits.  It’s just a daily struggle to survive each day with them, to go to bed at night still alive and in one piece and not consumed by powerful negative emotions.  Which is another way of saying that I didn’t do any creative writing again today.  I know I should write even when I don’t have inspiration, but I have… is there an opposite of inspiration?  (Exhalation?)  Whatever it’s called, the depression has sucked all creativity out of me.  I’d like to work on my Doctor Who book, but I decided it wasn’t right to do that on Chol HaMoed as I am hoping to earn money from it (ha ha ha) so it felt too much like doing paid work, which is to be avoided if possible on Chol HaMoed.

On the plus side (I have to take the good where I can), I realised that the A for Andromeda DVD had the scripts of the missing episodes as pdfs, so I’ve been reading those.  I should have realised it earlier, given that they did something similar with The Quatermass Experiment.  The episodes are much better read than watching still pictures and text summaries, but reading is hard and slow, doubly so when the text is laid out as a shooting script, not a transcript, with handwritten emendations and technical instructions and the reproduction is not very clear (it’s nearly sixty years old).  The problem is that I feel too depressed and exhausted to do anything other than vegetate in front of the TV, but I have another three episodes to read before I get to the sole surviving TV episode.  I can’t move on with Doctor Who because I’m at my parents’ house and the DVDs are in my flat and, as I said, I don’t really want to move on with my book this week.  So do I watch something else?  Star Trek comes from a very different science fiction tradition and I’m not sure I feel like it.  The Lego Movie is a possibility, but I’m not sure that I’m in the mood for something so upbeat.  It’s a problem.  A first world problem, admittedly, but a problem when I’m depressed and just trying to keep my head above the water.

“It’s a pity/That I’m like me”

(Another one of my written-piecemeal-during-the-day update posts.  And a super-mammoth one at that.  Possibly I should just go on Twitter or Facebook, except that neither is good for my mental health.)

12.10pm  I don’t know what time I went to bed last night.  I know it was very late, probably around 3.00am, but earlier than two nights ago (about 4.30am).  I got really hungry late at night and stayed up late eating matzah and jam and junk food.  Not good on any level, really.  I have been eating more junk food over the last few days, which I tell myself is OK because of being happy on Yom Tov (Jewish festival), but is more comfort eating than anything else, and the cravings I’ve had since I was put on clomipramine.  Anyway, I woke up today about 11.30am after a strange Doctor Who dream.  I feel completely drained.  My Dad just asked if I was OK because I was huffing and puffing as I went up the stairs.  I just want to go back to bed.

1.50pm  Still in pyjamas, having got no further towards getting dressed than putting on socks.  Idly browsing the web was a mistake, because it led to politics which led to antisemitism.  Depressing.  I should avoid this stuff, but I care too much.  I wrote a long paragraph about antisemitism here, but cut it because this is a mental health blog, not a political one and I don’t have the stamina to get arguments.  I will say that I believe the way forward is empathy and dialogue, but I don’t know how you enter into dialogue with people who have already judged that you have nothing to say to them.

2.40pm  Dressed.  Davened Musaf and Hallel (said the additional Pesach prayers and Psalms), but left Minchah (the afternoon service) and tefillin (my custom is to wear them on Chol HaMoed with a silent bracha) until after lunch because I’m still too exhausted.  I suddenly had intense religious OCD while davening.  I asked my rabbi mentor something about Pesach two years ago that he said was fine, but I’m worried (this is where the OCD comes in) that I didn’t explain it well enough, so I asked him again the other day, but he hasn’t got back to me.  (I’m guessing that he’s not checking email over Chol HaMoed (the intermediate days of the festival, where some work is allowed) or is busy with his children off school.)  Deep down I know that if there is an issue, it’s not my fault, as he said it was OK, but I worry that I didn’t ask the question properly and that it is my fault.

3.30pm  I watched Are You Autistic? (recorded last week) over lunch.  It just confused me.  It made me wonder if I’m not autistic after all, which, of course, was what I was told when I was assessed.  It’s hard to process the fact that I have lots of autistic traits, but am also missing lots of traits that should be present for diagnosis.  Perhaps my difficulties really do stem from strong introversion and social anxiety (which I was also told I don’t technically have); reduced concentration from depression could account for the poor executive function.  I don’t know how many of my non-autistic traits can be attributed to social masking and other coping mechanisms (see this post I wrote recently).  I feel that if I was diagnosed with autism, I would be able to understand myself and seek support, not least at work, but just being a bit weird leaves me confused and unable to ask for help.

I had more OCD over lunch too.  I sort of kept it under control, but I have a nagging feeling of having done something wrong (religiously) and that I should ask a rabbi about what happened, even though I know that would also be wrong (psychotherapeutically).

4.00pm  There’s more feelings of inadequacy around my writing.  The feeling that I should have been a regular writer for Hevria, but I got turned down for reasons I never really understood and feel guilty about mentioning so often.  What should have been a boost to my confidence (that they’ve published me several times) turns into another reason to beat myself up (that they didn’t want me to write regularly and pay me.  The payment is more symbolic than mercenary – it would show that someone values my writing.  I’ve only been paid once for a piece of writing, two if you count the professionally-published piece where the writers’ fees were donated to charity).  I wouldn’t have been able to cope with writing regularly anyway.  I have several pieces for Hevria on my computer that I’ve never submitted, I’m not sure why.  I don’t know if it’s fear of rejection or, worse, fear of acceptance.  There’s the worry that I’ll never sell my Doctor Who book(s),  that I don’t write well enough, that I don’t write originally enough, that I’m too out of sync with standard fan criticism (which these days is just identity politics and sarcasm)…

I feel too exhausted to do any creative writing today.  It would just be painful.

Edited 10.30pm  I think when I wrote this, the previous two paragraphs were not connected in my mind.  Reading them back, they clearly are connected.  It’s easier not to even try to do something than to try and fail, or be rejected.  I guess I will have to try harder to write tomorrow.  This is why I’m not cutting the previous paragraphs, even though I do not come out well from them; in fact, I come across as petty and bitter.  I hope that’s the depression talking.

5.00pm  I finally managed to daven Mincha.  It felt like an endurance test with depression and exhaustion, with OCD thoughts in the background.

5.35pm  Fighting the urge to go back to bed and start the day over again.  Or just to go back to bed.

6.10pm  Back from a twenty minute walk.  I didn’t realise how cold it was and went out without a coat.  Thoughts about antisemitism mutated into general despair about politics and the Western world.  I could hardly hear the music I was listening to, my thoughts were so loud.  (Does that even make sense?  It happens to me a lot.  I get sucked into a maelstrom of thought and lose contact with everything around me.  Sometimes at work I’m trying to work, but my depressive thoughts start and become so vivid that I don’t even notice my physical surroundings any more.  When I’m with my parents, they see me staring into space sometimes and ask if I’m OK when I’m just thinking, which of course breaks the concentration, for good or for ill.)

6.50pm   Feeling lonely and unlovable.  I don’t have the energy/motivation to actually talk to anyone, but I wish there was someone to (literally and metaphorically) hold my hand and watch TV with me.  I feel more unmarriable than ever, particularly as I’ve more or less decided that I shouldn’t date until I’ve made progress with my social anxiety, which seems unlikely to happen any time soon, and that the depression is constantly going to hold me back from forming a serious relationship, which also doesn’t seem like changing any time soon.  I found myself thinking that maybe I shouldn’t have broken up with my ex (five years ago this month!), which is a scary thing to think when she herself admitted that she wasn’t really there for me and our religious paths had diverged.

It seems unfair that other people get to have fun and I don’t (not that marriage is just for fun by any means, but I’m talking generally).  I tell myself that this life is for growth, not for pleasure, but that just seems like “the opiate of the masses.”  Anyway, Judaism is not opposed to the sensual pleasures of this world, it merely seeks to harness them for a holy purpose.  Which reminds me that my shul (synagogue) rabbi said I won’t feel simcha shel mitzvah (the joy of performing the commandments) until I’m over the depression (which makes me despair) and that my rabbi mentor disagreed and said I should feel a bit (which just makes me feel guilty for not feeling it at all).  I am nearly halfway through Pesach and while I am not as OCD anxious as I feared I would be, I have not really had any simcha shel mitzvah (unless you count playing with my friends’ children) and am not sure how to get it in the next four days.

8.00pm  Just watched the first two episodes of the DVD of 1960s science fiction thriller A for Andromeda.  I knew that all bar one of the episodes were missing and reconstructed from photos, surviving clips and captions, but for some reason I thought there was audio too (as per missing Doctor Who episodes), but in fact this is not the case and watching the episodes was harder work than I expected, probably harder than I really needed.  I do feel calmer for having watched it, although this partly because OCD anxiety and depression have been replaced by feeling too exhausted to care about anything.  Still, it was involving enough, if showing its age in places.  I really like old British TV science fiction and feel they don’t really make anything like it any more.  I look forward to reaching the surviving sixth episode and then the sequel, The Andromeda Breakthrough, which survives in its entirety.  Apparently there was a remake of A for Andromeda a while back which I will probably check out at some point.  Another book I could write at some point: something about the Quatermass and Andromeda serials and their various spin-offs and remakes.  Although I don’t know who would buy it…

9.00pm  Over dinner I thought that I want to feel reciprocated love, even (I’ll say it) to feel lust that is reciprocated for once.  I’m fed up of having my most powerful emotions being invalidated by others by their one-sided nature.  I suppose no one can actually invalidate my emotions, but I’ve been told a couple of times over the years by women I’ve liked, “You don’t love me,” which was probably true, I probably didn’t literally love them, but in my naivety I thought I did love them and being told that I didn’t hurt.  It’s hard to have a good understanding of love and related emotions when (a) you have an alexithymic incomprehension of all your emotions and (b) every time you feel something romantic or sexual you end up rejected and burdened with guilt.

10.40pm  Another day over with very little done.  I did manage fifteen minutes of Torah study, which was fifteen minutes more than I thought I would manage, but other than a short walk and this post I haven’t achieved much.  I haven’t even hoovered the bedroom carpet, which is filthy and which I haven’t got around to doing since last week.  Tomorrow, I suppose, is another day, one on which I have a routine blood test, so I will at least have to be up earlyish.

Fragmented Thoughts

I’m off work for the end of term holidays.  I don’t feel particularly depressed or anxious (despite waiting to hear back from my rabbi mentor about a couple of Pesach (Passover) anxieties – I suspect he is going to be out of email contact until after Pesach now), but I do feel exhausted.  I behaved a bit in a way that I wish I hadn’t done, which was probably a delayed reaction to the stresses of the last few weeks and especially the last few days.  Then I had to ask my rabbi a technical (non-OCD) question and felt like a fraud for making myself appear frum (religious) after behaving in a less than ideal way.  The reality is that I have spiritual ascents and descents, same as most people who aren’t either tzadikim (saints) or completely wicked, but I feel like a fraud whenever I do things that I consider wrong.

I did some creative writing for the first time in ages, forcing myself to spend half an hour writing something I’ve been thinking about for a while, a sort of fact/fiction fantasy/memoir hybrid.  I don’t think it’s going to work, but I thought I would pursue it for a while, especially as I decided not to work on my Doctor Who book this week (it felt wrong to write it on Chol HaMoed as I intend to write it for profit).  I kept stopping to look at my emails or things online.  I don’t have this problem with my Doctor Who book or blogging.  I don’t know if this was because I feel so exhausted or because fiction (or “fiction”) is much harder for me to write than non-fiction.  I don’t know where I’m going with the fiction and I don’t trust myself to get there, which is not really a problem I have with non-fiction.  I hope to write for half an hour every day except Shabbat and Yom Tov (the Sabbath) for the two weeks of my holiday.  If I can do that, I should end up with about 5000 words by the end of my holiday, if I write at the same rate as today (which is a big assumption) which might give me an idea of whether to continue with this.  I’m still trying to work out if God really wants me to write, and if so what He wants me to write.  I remember what David Bowie said, that the worst joke God can play on you is to make you an artist, but a mediocre artist.  That seems to apply to me a lot.  Although I’m not quite sure that I see that as the worst thing in my life.  I could cope with being a mediocre writer if I was happier and more fulfilled in other areas e.g. my religious life, my social life.

Today was full of other frustrations.  I wanted to go to shul for Mincha and Ma’ariv (afternoon and evening services), but felt too tired.  I wanted to watch some of A for Andromeda, the 1960s British TV science fiction serial, but I feel too tired for half-reconstructed, half-audio only sixties science fiction and opted for something less challenging.  Still, I haven’t felt this calm at Pesach for many years, so I probably shouldn’t complain.  The day does feel a bit of a waste, though, and I wonder if I should make plans to Do Something on a couple of days over the next two weeks.

I feel lonely again.  It probably didn’t help that I watched Superbob, a film I bought on DVD to watch at Pesach last year, but was too anxious to watch, a low-budget British comedy about a lonely superhero going on his first date in six years, quite funny, in a very British way, but also about loneliness and geeky people who can’t get dates even if they have superpowers (“I just got to be myself, right?”  “Not if you want her to like you.”).  And I also read an essay by Rabbi Lord Sacks about Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs/Song of Solomon) and romantic love in Judaism from the introduction to his Pesach Mahzor (festival prayer book).  However, I was pretty lonely before I did either of these things, so something else must have triggered it, not that it takes much to make me feel lonely.

I think I’ve written before that I think there are different types of loneliness e.g. loneliness for friends, loneliness for community.  I feel the loneliness for a spouse most often and particularly today.  I don’t know why I feel it today.  It’s not as bad as many times in the past, but it’s there.  I don’t know if it’s being around my sister and her new husband the last few days or just coincidence.  One of my non-biological sisters sent me some links about introversion, which confirmed what I already knew, which is that you can be an introvert and lonely because introverts aren’t misanthropists, they just need intimate relationships and deep conversations, not superficial relationships and banal small talk.  Even being around a loved one without talking is good for an introvert.

I feel I am no closer to finding my other half.  To be honest, over the last few days I have been thinking that I should deliberately avoid dating for a while, until I at least try to work on my social anxiety some more.  The problem is that if I do that, it could easily be a year or more until I start dating again, dependent on my success (or otherwise) at working on the social anxiety and my employment situation in the coming months.  I don’t know if I could bear that and certainly it would make it even less likely that I will be able to have children, assuming I marry a woman around my own age.  Plus I feel I should date in the spring and summer, because my mood then is likely to be better than the autumn and winter, so if I miss the coming window of opportunity, it could be another six months before one comes around again.  Even if I’m sceptical of my rabbi mentor’s theory that if I become more sociable, people in my community will automatically start setting me up on dates with women like me, I guess it makes sense not to do an intensely social thing until I have improved my social anxiety.  But there is also the fear of procrastination and of waiting until things are perfect, which they never will be.

I guess that in my head there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ reasons for wanting to be in a relationship or get married.  For example, wanting to be in a relationship simply to have sex isn’t likely to lead to a successful relationship, nor is wanting to get married just because it’s a mitzvah (religious commandment) whereas wanting to be in a relationship to give to someone else or to grow as a person or to have a deep and intimate relationship with someone are more likely to lead to a lasting marriage (although still a scary number of marriages end in divorce, even in the frum community, where divorce is less common).  The problem is, all the reasons are jumbled up and confused in my head.  There are some where I’m not sure if they’re good or bad reasons (e.g. wanting to have children), but more often the good and bad reasons are mixed together.  I know that I want to have a deep and intimate relationship with someone.  I also know that I want to have sex and that probably I wouldn’t be a normal heterosexual young male if I didn’t.  But does the latter wipe out the validity of the former?  It’s hard to unscramble these things in my head, especially as sex is such a primal driving force.  I also find it hard to believe that frum people who get married in their early twenties or even late teens (which seems ridiculously young to me) are motivated entirely by love and the desire to give and grow, rather than, at least in part, things like peer pressure, social conformity, libido, lack of other options and the assumption that this is what you do (I suspect that the supposed “shidduch crisis,” if it really exists, is caused at least in part by people marrying later because, consciously or unconsciously, they aren’t ready or willing to get married at nineteen or twenty).

I also find myself wondering about people who used to read this blog who I haven’t heard from for a while.  I wonder if I have said something to offend them and chase them away or if they just got bored of my negativity.  It feels sometimes like people drift in and out of my life and it’s hard to find a way to get people I like to stay.

Oh well.  It feels like the words are chasing themselves round and round on the page today without actually making any sense.  I’ve been cutting and editing, but it’s hard to say what I feel today, not least because I’m not really sure what I feel and I want to talk about publicly and what I want to hold on to by myself for now.  So, I suppose, bed now.

Pesach 1 and 2

The first two days of Pesach (Passover) have been and gone.  I spent a lot of them waiting to get on the computer to send a panicked email to my rabbi mentor asking about things I was anxious about or writing here to offload, but now the first two days of Yom Tov (festival) are over, that seems less urgent, which I suppose is good.

The positives: I got to shul (synagogue) every evening and even walked home with someone who lives in the same road as my parents, making conversation with him, which was good for social anxiety.  The sederim went reasonably well in terms of doing all the mitzvot (commandments).  I learnt on Friday night that I probably hadn’t been leaning correctly to fulfil the mitzvot of leaning while drinking wine and eating matzah in the past, so I was able to do that correctly this year, albeit that I felt bad for not having done it in the past, but I guess I am a tinok shenishbo (literally a Jewish child raised by non-Jews and hence ignorant of the halakhah (Jewish law) and not culpable for violations until he or she learns about it, but used by extension to apply to Jews raised in a non-observant way) here.  I enjoyed the second seder in particular with my sister’s in-laws.  I managed to talk a bit to my sister’s sister-in-law, who has special needs; she wanted to hug me when she left (she’s very affectionate and likes hugging everyone), which I guess means that she felt comfortable with me.  I usually try to be shomer negiah (not having affectionate physical contact with members of the opposite sex other than close relations), but I thought that in this instance I wouldn’t be able to explain myself to her because of her special needs and it was better just to avoid upsetting her.

The other positive experience was that some family friends came over today for kiddush (refreshments before lunch) and I got to spend some time playing with their young children (aged one and three or four), which I always enjoy.  I know that some autistic people find it easier to be with animals than people; I get nervous around animals, but I like young children.  I feel children just accept me for who I am without my needing to pretend to be anything I’m not.  And it’s easier to make conversation with young children than adults; just point to something and ask what it is or what colour it is and they’ll be happy to tell you and if you can’t think of anything to say, they don’t care about that either.

The more negative side of Yom Tov was that parts of the sederim were difficult (the seder is the meal on the first two nights of Pesach when we recite the story of the slavery and exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and eat symbolic foods).  The first night in particular we had some guests who weren’t particularly religious or into the seder service and I struggled to involve them.  I always find a few commentaries to go a bit deeper than the basic text of the story of the exodus, but I felt, perhaps wrongly, that people weren’t that interested.  I would like to ask some open questions to involve people (e.g. “do you think we are still enslaved today?” type questions), but I always find that hard – it always sounds a bit fake to me, or perhaps fake coming from me, as I don’t really speak like that generally.  I also worry that people will feel put on the spot and forced to join in.  I would love to go to a seder where there is a deep religious discussion of the exodus story and the Jewish conception of slavery and freedom, going much further than the prescribed text, but instead every year I find myself trying to involve other people.  To be fair, it varies from year to year and the first seder this year was a particularly difficult one, but I feel a bit like I’m doing kiruv (trying to get non-religious Jews to be aware of their heritage), which is not something I’m naturally good at.  I don’t want to sound arrogant or snobbish, but it can be very frustrating being the most Jewishly-educated and Jewishly-involved person at the seder, trying to learn something myself and pass on some of my enthusiasm to others, all the while dealing with my own social anxiety, depression and/or borderline autism.  I don’t think I managed it very well, although, as my parents say, these relatives do keep coming back year after year, so they must get something out of our seder.

The other biggish problem was OCD.  Over the last two days I had quite a bit of this, albeit at a much less intense level than in the past.  Some of it was the usual Pesach OCD, worrying that I had come into contact with chametz (leavened bread and food cooked with it or in vessels it has been cooked in, all forbidden on Pesach), which I expected, but some of it was new.  Lately I find that I have had a bit of OCD in prayer and mitzvah performance, worrying that I don’t have enough kavannah (usually translated as ‘concentration’ or ‘intent’, but perhaps a more appropriate word is (to use an overused buzz word) ‘mindfulness,’ being aware of the meaning of a prayer or mitzvah and doing it consciously and thoughtfully).  I worried that I had the wrong intention in listening to prayers and doing mitzvot and repeated them, or I felt I hadn’t listened to my father’s prayers properly and repeated them quietly, then worried that I had upset him or shamed him in front of others by implying that I didn’t think that his recital was good enough.  I don’t quite know what to do about this, other than trying to speak to my rabbi mentor about kavannah at some point.  It is not a bad thing to be aware of kavannah, and it is essential for both prayer and mitzvah performance, but as always with the OCD it gets out of control and becomes an impediment to spiritual growth rather than an aid to it.

I also slept rather too much.  I actually dozed off for twenty minutes or so during Pesach preparations on Friday, which was probably a good thing overall, but I felt a bit bad about sleeping when there was so much to do.  Obviously the sederim meant the last two nights were very late, but I slept late into the morning both yesterday and today, sleeping right through my alarms, being exhausted and having what I term a ‘mental hangover’ from late nights and intense social interactions during then days and then sleeping for another two hours after lunch, waking just in time to go to shul (synagogue) for Mincha and Ma’ariv (afternoon and evening prayers) before starting the cycle all over again.  Sleeping too much during the day probably led to my being insomniac last night, lying in bed with racing thoughts and not able to do much to calm down (I did eventually read a little bit until I felt more tired).  It’s nearly midnight now and I don’t feel at all tired and I still have to have something to eat and to shower before I go to bed.

It has to be said that things were much better than they had been for the previous few years.  The OCD, when it came, was much more subdued, with none of the extreme agitation and fear that God hates me and most of the time there was at least part of my mind that had things in the right perspective; I was often able to do things that the OCD was telling me were wrong because part of my mind told me that they were not wrong, and if they were, that would be a genuine mistake, not a deliberate sin.  I held on to a few anxieties all through Yom Tov to ask my rabbi mentor about afterwards, but having now sat down with them, most of them seem obviously trivial and OCD and I don’t know if I will ask about all of them, although I will probably ask about some.

One last thing that happened was that some of the yeshiva bachurim (rabbinical seminary students) at shul gave ten minute divrei Torah (religious talks) today between Mincha and Ma’ariv.  While this did make me feel a bit upset that I no longer feel able, or have the opportunity, to give such divrei Torah as I have in the past, I got a lot out of the talks.  In particular, it was interesting to see that the four men had different personalities, educational styles and topics, which reassured me a bit that becoming frum (religious) doesn’t necessarily mean becoming a conformist, although I do still fret that I’m too much of a non-conformist.  One thing that did resonate was a little one-line tangent in one of the divrei Torah; the main theme was the idea that everything comes from God and that we should use it to serve Him.  As an aside, the person noted that while people understand this to mean money, it really means everything, including things such as talents.  It resonated with my current thinking that I need to use my writing in a more productive way.  I don’t know why God would give me a talent for writing about science fiction television – it seems a very strange talent or mission to have, from a religious point of view – but that seems to be where He wants me to be right now.

OK, off to eat matzah and cheese and/or matzah and jam now, which, perhaps surprisingly, I haven’t had yet this Pesach (not jam and cheese at the same time, though, that wouldn’t be good).

Pre-Pesach Post

This is being written in short intervals between Pesach (Passover) preparation.

The staff development day at work yesterday was OK, but I would have enjoyed it more had it not been so close to Pesach, and had I not been tired and developing a migraine.  The migraine got bad enough that by the time I got home, I went to bed and slept for an  hour and a half, which was probably just as well as Pesach preparation went on late and I didn’t get to bed until after 1.00am.

I woke up this morning early enough to go to shul (synagogue) for the siyum that would mean I didn’t have to fast today for the fast of the firstborn (sorry, no time to explain, google if you need to), but I was so tired that I decided I would be better off sleeping and having energy for preparation and seder, as I can’t fast the minor fasts with the medication I’m on anyway.  I had some Pesach OCD last night and today, but not as much as in recent years.  I asked my rabbis a couple of questions, but I’m trying hard to sit with my anxiety, as I’m supposed to for exposure therapy, rather than ask the question and stoke the OCD flames.

Things have been better than they have been on erev Pesach for a number of years.  From an OCD point of view, the worst is out of the way now; although sometimes questions can spring out of nowhere during Pesach, the preparation beforehand is definitely more anxiety-provoking.  However, from a social anxiety point of view, I have to get through two sederim with people I don’t know well, if at all, and who I worry are going to be put off by my attempts to add ideas beyond the text of the hagadah and my ritual punctiliousness (even though I don’t make other people eat as much matzah and maror as I do).  The depression has been OK the last few days, but I know that a serious lapse with OCD or social anxiety could send me spiraling back down again.  But I am hopeful of getting through the next eight days in a reasonable state.

Chag sameach vekasher! (My rabbi mentor once put it that way round to me, to stress the joy over the ritual checking.)

Two Quick Observations

Crazy, difficult day.  No time to blog at length, so I’ll just observe:

  1. I realised I’m struggling with OCD and depression at the moment not just from Pesach (although that’s a big enough trigger by itself), but because I’m spending a lot more time on the issue desk because one of my colleagues has been off sick for two weeks.  I find being on the issue desk the most draining, depleting task at work, and I’ve been spending three hours or more each day there, about half my working day.  Still, term is over now (staff development day tomorrow, though).
  2. I have perhaps the worst kind of religious OCD: the kind where deep down I know everything is OK, but I won’t let myself believe it because I don’t think I deserve things to be OK.  I nearly messed things up and was saved by ‘chance’ (HaShem/God), but I don’t think I deserve things to be OK so I obsess over what might have gone wrong until I convince myself that it did.  As my rabbi mentor has said in the past, if I don’t feel I deserve things to be OK, then it won’t matter how many rabbis or books I consult, I won’t be able to accept things as they are.

“It goes ding when there’s stuff”

I wasn’t intending to write today, but I have a few minutes to offload.  Unfortunately, most of the things that I want to write about are not a good idea to share publicly, if at all, but there’s something that’s worrying me (aside from Pesach (Passover) which is still worrying me a lot), but also slightly exciting me (exciting me too much), something that’s angering me (that’s partly my fault, but only partly), and something else that’s vaguely amusing and also bewildering me and slightly worrying me.  I guess alexithymia (difficulty understanding and distinguishing emotions) is scoring highly today too.

Pesach preparations are so far mostly going according to schedule, except that I allowed myself to be talked out of cleaning my mother’s hob, which means I have to trust her to do it properly, which is troubling my OCD.  I could be in a much worse state this time tomorrow, especially as she doesn’t like me questioning everything, which is understandable, but makes it hard for me to be clear on what’s happened, which my OCD demands.  Please, HaShem (God), help me to get through the next three/five/eleven days without any major depression, OCD anxiety or arguments with my family!

Tomorrow and Thursday I have to do a big detour on my journeys to and from work because of a strike on the Docklands Light Railway.  I am annoyed about this, as I didn’t need it this week, with so much to do for Pesach.

I finished watching the original 1963-1989 run of Doctor Who the other day and have nearly finished second drafts of all those chapters for my book, although finishing the chapter I’m working on will probably have to wait until after Pesach and at least one chapter (on Patrick Troughton’s Doctorate, plus a bit more) is probably going to require extensive research before the third draft.  The new series awaits!  After the interruption of the 1996 TV Movie.  I’m thinking of halting for a bit, though, and watching some films and/or the 1960s science fiction serials A for Andromeda and The Andromeda Breakthrough which I bought a while back on DVD and haven’t seen yet.

And, lo!  In two more days I will have done a whole year at my ‘new’ job.  That’s something that I should write about, although Pesach is likely to get in the way and I don’t have time to write now (and I wouldn’t risk tempting fate, not that I believe in fate, by doing it in advance).

I am an Autistic Woman

I don’t have time to write a proper post today (Pesach in less than 100 hours!), but over lunch I read this article on the BBC news website, about women who were diagnosed with autism in adulthood, and found it resonated with me a lot.  Like the women in the article, I wonder if I was never diagnosed with autism when I was a child because I was highly intelligent and highly functional and because I was clever enough to imitate (some of) the social behaviour I didn’t intuitively know to do.  It was only when I went from school to university and onwards and especially into my current job, where I suddenly have to interact with other people in a spontaneous way for a considerable amount of time that my “social impairments” have become so painfully obvious.  I know that I have been tested for autism twice and both times told I don’t have it, yet the more I read about it, especially the personal stories of people on the spectrum, rather than the ‘outside looking in’ psychiatric diagnostic criteria, the more it seems to fit me, particularly over the last year, in my current job, where my social impairments have been more obvious than at any time in the past.

Reframing

The last few days have seen some improvement.  I seem to be OK, in terms of Pesach (Passover) anxiety, until I stop doing things, but then it really hits me.  Despite that, I was OK over Shabbat (the Sabbath), although I did spend most of it asleep.  The last few days have seen a lot of people helping me in reframing my thoughts, which has been helpful.

My therapist helped me to reframe my thoughts about my appraisal.  She said that although my boss agreed with my assessments of my weaknesses, she is still renewing my contract until August and seems to want to employ me for the 2018-19 academic year if she can get the funding.  My family also said this, but my therapist added the idea of being ‘good enough’ – I am not amazing at my job, which is frustrating for me, but I am good enough.  I don’t know how to apply this to Pesach, though, which seems more of an all-or-nothing proposition: it is either kasher lePesach or it’s not.

Shiur (Torah class) last week was also helpful.  The central concept was that all suffering Jews experience is rooted in the Egyptian slavery, and that suffering – and by extension all later suffering – was only so that we could move to a higher spiritual level, not just to leave us where we were before the suffering started.  That made me feel that maybe I would end up better off, spiritually, from my suffering, not just Pesach anxiety, but loneliness and mental health issues generally.

I spoke to the rabbi from my shul (synagogue) yesterday evening too (not my rabbi mentor, who lives in Israel).  He was also sympathetic and helpful, telling me that I don’t need to worry about unexpected Pesach problems arising.  He says that’s his job, I belong to a shul and pay my membership fees to pay his salary precisely so that he can use his halakhic (Jewish law) expertise to solve such problems.  He gave a couple of practical suggestions too.  I feel lucky to have such good rabbis (the shul rabbi, the assistant rabbi and my rabbi mentor), especially that they understand that depression and OCD anxiety are real things and not just stuff in my head that I can switch off with prayer or positive thinking.

Also, the two other people at shul who I opened up to a bit about my mental health have been thoughtful and understanding.  Perhaps I have more friends there than I thought I did.

Unfortunately, some of my other friends have been struggling.  I guess the risk of making friends largely through depression support group and mental health blogs is that at any given time, many of my friends are struggling.  I don’t always know what to do, I just try to do what I like people to do for me, to listen and validate, make suggestions if I have any, but without giving “Advice” and be supportive (and pray for them, if they want me too).  I don’t always feel that I do this well; whether I am actually autistic or not, interpersonal relationships don’t come easily to me, but I guess my friends keep coming back to me, so I must be doing something right.  It occurred to me that maybe I’m not married precisely so that I have the time and emotional energy to help my friends.  That’s a more positive way of looking at it than assuming I’m being punished.

This coming week is going to be crazy, both at work (even if the strike on the Docklands Light Railway, which I take to work, doesn’t go ahead on Wednesday and Thursday; if it does, it will add an hour or more to my working day at a time when I need to be at home to help with Pesach preparations) and especially at home, with Pesach preparations, and then Saturday and Sunday are the start of Pesach itself so I probably won’t blog much/at all before next Sunday evening, so don’t worry about me if I go quiet!  Hopefully I will be back here next Sunday evening or Monday with news of how the rest of the preparations and the beginning of Pesach went.

Panic!

I’m writing (or at least starting) a post on the train for the first time. I had a lousy day. All optimism in my writing or confidence in God’s love for me is gone.

I woke up with a headache in the middle of the night and took ages to get to sleep again, which was a bad start to the day. I’ve been anxious about my job, my career, my future and Pesach (Passover) all day. Then I had a panic attack, or something approaching one, while on the library issue desk. For an hour or so I felt simultaneously claustrophobic (tight muscles, hard to breathe, feeling crushed) and agoraphobic (exposed and open to critical observation, unable to run away), plus sweaty and dry-mouthed – typical anxious fight or flight reactions.. I somehow got through the hour, but I don’t know how. I certainly wasn’t doing my job well, even worse than usual. I worry I have withdrawn books that shouldn’t have been withdrawn, or kept ones that should not have been kept.  My Mum says that at least I didn’t give in to it as I have done in the past, although I’m not quite sure how I could have run away without causing more anxiety by telling my boss that I was in the middle of a panic attack.

Just to make things worse, I had to flick through Eat Pray Love at work to catalogue it, the famous memoir of self-fulfilment through food, meditation and love/sex.  It just makes me feel that other people are doing spirituality and love (and sex) a lot better than I am, although I’m wary of the type of spirituality that promises the most benefits for the least effort.  Also, Elizabeth Gilbert left the man she married at the end of the book for a woman with terminal cancer, which at the very least should be a warning to me about thinking I can understand other people’s lives from the outside, let alone decide to envy them.

I ran into someone from shul (synagogue) and shiur (Torah class) on the way home from work.  I must have had a bad day, because when he asked how I was feeling, I was honest.  My therapist has so confused me about opening up to people I don’t know if I was supposed to do that or not.  To paraphrase Mostly Harmless, I know there are times to open up to others about my mental health and I know there are times not to open up to others about my mental health; I just need to be able to tell the difference between the two.  It didn’t help that, as often happens with anxiety-provoking conversations, I completely lost my ability to understand the ‘he talks, then I talk, then he talks again’ nature of a conversation and kept inadvertently interrupting.  This is probably Asperger’s again.

I’m not sure if I’m going to shiur tonight. I’d like to, but I’m pretty tired (anxiety is exhausting) and I need to be up early in the morning for a doctor’s appointment.  The appointment was booked a month ago, when I was so depressed that the doctor increased my medication, but it’s probably come at a good time, considering the state I’m in.