The Sky Falls

I feel terrible right now, despairing and self-loathing.  I wish I wasn’t a delicate snowflake (in the fragile sense, not the political sense) who gets upset by everything.  I know life has to be hard so that we grow, but I wish it didn’t have to hurt quite so much, so much of the time.  I wish I could be happy for more than a couple of months at a time, before being separated by several years of depression and things going wrong.  I wish I could have the everyday happiness that other people seem to get, even when things are hard.  I wish I could cope with disappointment and failure better.  I wish I could just deal with things the way other people are able to do, to just get up and get a new job, a new home, a new life.  And I wish I didn’t blame myself for everything.

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Less Mediocre

I wrote a piece last week called Mediocrity in which I basically had a go at myself for being inadequate.  E. rightly said I was being too hard on myself (have I mentioned how amazing my girlfriend is?).  The funny thing is that that article had been at the back of my mind for some time without my having the time to write it.  It was unfortunate that the day I did have the time I was feeling quite depressed.

What I intended to say was less to beat myself up for not achieving things and more to say that I feel a bit more comfortable lately with not being amazing.  I know that I fall far short of what many (most? all?) men in my community are doing in terms of prayer (frequency; mindfulness during it; with a community) and religious study (amount; complexity; studying Talmud), but I am slowly learning to accept that I am me and I do struggle with these things and I probably always will.  HaShem (God) has, for whatever reason, decided to give me these mental health and developmental issues (depression, social anxiety, religious OCD, borderline autism) and they do have a major impact on my life.  Even on good days (and lately I have at least had some good days – have I mentioned that I have an amazing girlfriend?) it’s a struggle to do a lot of things ‘normal’ people take for granted, not just religious things, but going to work, making dinner, shopping, cleaning the flat and so on.  I am slowly trying not to beat myself up so much about all this.

At the start of this Jewish year, nine months ago, I made three resolutions for the coming year: study a Mishnah every day; say the first paragraph of Shema, the first paragraph of the Amidah and the first paragraph of bentsching with kavannah (mindfulness); and work on my depression and social anxiety.  I haven’t really managed any of these, but I have done bits.  I study a Mishnah on the commute to work every work day, but generally not at the weekends and holidays (although sometimes I study other things).  I daven (pray) those prayers with kavannah sometimes, but not always, perhaps not often.  I have done a little work on my social anxiety, but not much and nothing on the depression other than staying in therapy and on my meds.  I think most of the improvement in my mood has come from upping the dose of my meds and finding someone who really likes and supports me (have I mentioned that I have an amazing girlfriend?).

Even at the time, I thought that three targets was too many, but I didn’t know how to prioritise.  I think for the last three months of the year, I will quietly drop the first and last targets (although I’m not giving up on Mishnah study completely; I will do it when I feel able, but I think E. was right to suggest I should prioritise things I enjoy more in my religious study.  I will try to stick with going to my Talmud shiur once a week and at least trying to keep up with the reading for it).  I will just stick with the davening target, as I usually say those prayers anyway, so it isn’t an extra time commitment (or a very slight one in terms of taking a bit more time over it; I won’t pressure myself to do it so well in the mornings when I’m usually running late) and it may have benefits beyond the spiritual, using it as a kind of mindfulness as I have tried in the past.  Perhaps if I can make some improvements there, I will feel a bit better as a person and as a Jew.

There is another side to this, which I’m a bit wary of raising, as it takes me towards lashon hara (malicious speech) territory, but lately I’ve noticed recently various frum (religious) people behaving in a way that I would not and which I do not think is entirely appropriate.  While I don’t want to judge them, it probably is good for me to be reminded that mitzvot bein adam leMakom (ritual commandments) are only part of the picture and mitzvot bein adam lechavero (ethical interpersonal commandments) and just being a mentsch (good person) are a big part of Judaism too and that I can try to succeed here, inasmuch as social anxiety lets me, even if I can’t always manage to succeed in other areas.

Mediocrity

Most things are average, by definition, but it is hard to accept one’s own mediocrity.  As a lonely and bullied child, I comforted myself, at least on some level, with the thought that I was somehow different to the children who rejected and hurt me, that I was more intelligent and a better person morally and that one day I would get my reward.  I thought that when I got to university I would come into my own among like-minded people, but in Oxford I was distinctly average compared to some of the geniuses there and it became clear that I lacked the social skills to make friends and that even in a community that might be expected to have an above-average amount of geeks, I didn’t fit in.  I did well in my first year exams, but as the depression took hold in my second year, I achieved less and my final grade at the end of the BA was distinctly average.

This struggle over my identity has never really gone away and lately I have been thinking a lot about what I want out of life.  Some of it comes from dating E. and discussing what kind of a life we might build together, but I was thinking along these lines even before we started dating.  A lot of the things that I told myself were important to me have come to seem unattainable, at least for me and in some cases I am losing interest in them, particularly regarding religious activities.

I feel I can’t do as much Torah study as I would like or focus on the subjects I would or ‘should’ want to study (Talmud, mainly).  I feel I can’t daven (pray) with the right kavannah (mindfulness), the right number of times a day and with a minyan (prayer quorum).  I feel my life lacks meaning and spirituality.  I’m only vaguely aware, and by repute, of what ‘spirituality’ even is or what it means to experience God as being close.  I’ve been very religious about half my life, over a decade and was moderately religious even before then, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a “spiritual experience.”  As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve heard conflicting things from rabbis about whether it’s even possible for me to get simcha shel mitzvah, joy in Judaism, while still depressed, which makes me feel hopeless as I can’t see a time when I’m ever not at least vaguely depressed, in the background.  While I know that not everyone in the Jewish community or even the frum (religious) community is living on a permanent spiritual high, the conversations  I’ve had or heard and the fact that people persist in living a frum life, with all it’s costs (financial costs, psychological costs, opportunity costs) indicate that they are getting something out of it.

Even aside from joy, I’m living a fairly hand-to-mouth existence at the moment.  My depression is less prominent, but it is there and even when my mood is low, my energy and concentration are affected and I can’t do what I would like.  Most of my energy goes on work, some on trying to nurture my relationship with E. so it isn’t stillborn, most of the rest goes on basic chores (shopping, cleaning).  Only a small amount is available for Jewish stuff, so I don’t have much time or energy for religious study or prayer.  I’m trying to make some time at least for studying Jewish topics that interest me rather than just Mishnah and a bit of Gemarah, but, again, it’s hard, and results in my taking several big books in my rucksack to work (I will have back issues one day).  I tried to take on a volunteering opportunity, but they never got back to me.  As for other things that are important to me: cooking, exercise, writing… forget it.  These things have largely faded away lately.  I haven’t even been reading much, concentrating on watching Doctor Who as research for my book.

It is very clear now, if it was ever in doubt, that I am not a tzaddik (saintly person) Jewishly, nor am I ever going to be a great a writer, based on the quality of what I write and my failure to fight for it… a real writer would give up religious ritual, or find a way to combine the two (the Hevrian way, but Hevrians wouldn’t understand my lack of spiritual experiences, given that they all seem to experience miracles every five minutes).  And I guess that’s OK.  I have plans for low-key writing and at some point I’m going to have to decide whether to take time out from contracted work to pursue serious, but non-literary, writing as a career or not.  But a real writer wouldn’t be sitting here feeling exhausted and stressed and depressed and hot and hungry and frustrated that this post isn’t saying what I want it to say, he would make it sing!

And I guess it was silly of me to even hope that I could aspire to being a good Jew.  I didn’t even go to yeshiva!  I can’t even make it to shul more than twice a week!  I do half an hour or less of very basic Torah study a day (sometimes only five minutes, when I’m very stressed or busy or the depression is bad).  I can’t concentrate on my prayers at all and I find it impossible to get any positive emotions from my ritual observance, even if I can write long essays justifying halakhic (Jewish law) observance and ritual as a key part of the religious life.  I can engage intellectually, at least when I’m not too exhausted and depressed, but not emotionally.  I can’t live my Judaism, I just go through the motions and observe myself and others from a distance.

I’ve tried to be OK with all of this lately and I thought I was getting there.  I thought I was learning to accept that other Jews will look down on me and that on some level they are right to look down on me.  I thought I was learning to accept that while I might be able to make some kind of basic career as a jobbing writer, true literature (and acclaim) will always escape me.  But today I just feel depressed and unable to accept anything.  Part of that is work stress and part of it is probably hunger and exhaustion.  But those aren’t going away; well, the hunger hopefully will, for a few hours, but work stress and exhaustion and new relationship anxiety (worth a post in itself) and the intense heaviness of living an ordinary life: working, shopping, cleaning, cooking, showering – the heartache and the thousand chores that flesh is heir to – they aren’t going away.  So I need to find some other way to accept my mediocrity.

Not Fitting In

I feel slightly down right now.  Not really badly, but a little bit.  It doesn’t help that I have a headache (I have long been prone to headaches and migraines on Shabbat (the Sabbath) for reasons I have never really understood) and possibly a slightly upset stomach, but it’s mainly shul (synagogue) that has brought me down a bit.

It started positively.  E. brainstormed some suggestions to help me to get to shul for Shacharit (the morning service) on Shabbat, which I haven’t managed much lately.  I tried a couple of her ideas.  I’m not sure how much it was them per se, but I did get to shul for 10.00am.  Granted shul started at 8.45, but I figure that being there for the second half is better than not at all.  Even if I did eat too much cake while trying to avoid talking to people in the kiddush (refreshments after the service).  I’m being a little facetious, as I was a bit socially avoidant, but did talk a little to some people.  I did eat too much cake, though.

I slept quite a bit when I got home and again after lunch, so goodness knows how I’m going to sleep tonight (last week I slept so much on Shabbat that I couldn’t sleep on Saturday night at all and went through to Sunday evening without sleeping).  But I did get to shul for the Talmud shiur (class) and Mincha and seudah shlishit (the third meal).  This was what brought my mood down, because the shiur over seudah was on Maimonides’ thirteen principles of faith.  It got off to a bad start with the rabbi rubbishing a book he apparently hadn’t read and seemed to be dismissing on the basis of its title.  I have read it, and I don’t think it says what he thinks it says (what the book actually says is not dissimilar to some of the opinions he mentioned as legitimate (if not necessarily what he believes) later on).  The shiur itself was mostly introductory (it’s the first of a series) and while the rabbi didn’t say anything about Jewish belief that I outright disagreed with, the general attitude made me uncomfortable and left me looking for legitimate alternative opinions within the masorah (Jewish tradition).  It just reinforced a feeling I’ve had for a long time that this shul is not a good match for me in terms of hashkafa (religious philosophy), which is a shame as it is a good match in other ways.

But the thing that really upset me was feeling that the rabbi and congregation might not accept E. if we get married.  E. is Jewish, but she isn’t as religious as I am, and I’m worried that the rabbi/congregation will say I should marry a ‘typical’ frum (religious) woman.  As far as I’m concerned, the typical frum women had their chance with me and blew it.  They were mostly not interested because of my mental health or because of my geekiness or because I didn’t go to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary).  So I ended up open to someone who isn’t frum, but who isn’t turned off by my mental health and is supportive of my geekiness, my writing ambitions and, yes, my frumness, even if she doesn’t share it (see what I said above about E. brainstorming ideas to help me get to shul – it was her idea to do that, not mine).  In any case, I’m not exactly a typical frum man, so why would a typical frum woman be right for me?

I think E. is a really good match for me in so many ways, not least how supportive she is of me (again, something I haven’t experienced much of in the frum world, in relationships or otherwise).  But I worry that other people won’t see it that way.  Still, my rabbi mentor (whose judgement, as I’ve mentioned before, I respect more than that of pretty much anyone I know) is also really supportive of me being with E. and is hoping it turns out well for us, as are, I think, my parents, although they seem to be a little shocked at how serious the relationship has become so quickly (to be honest, E. and I are more than a little shocked by that ourselves).

The formula I came up with for how much I respect and listen to people turned out to be:

God > E. > my rabbi and congregation

(Don’t ask me where my rabbi mentor fits in on that.  Or my parents, sister and friends for that matter.  It’s simplified.)

The other thing I that made me feel out of place was a tangent the rabbi went off on about imagination.  He seemed to be positing ‘imagination’ as the opposite of ‘reality’ and criticising imagination as something that distracts from real things like God.  To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what he meant, as he did the frummie thing of not explicitly stating what he was annoyed about because it was too treif (non-kosher) to spell out.  He started with computer games, but I’m not quite sure where it went from there; possibly to internet pornography, but apparently also to imagination generally.  I’m not sure if he meant to say that any immersive fiction that is not reflective of “spiritual reality” is problematic, but that was what it sounded like.

I don’t share this view of imagination and I’m fairly sure that other major Jewish thinkers of the past didn’t either.  I’m pretty sure that Maimonides himself saw the imaginative faculty (to use his neo-Aristotlean language) as the source of prophecy.  Certainly Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in the nineteenth century thought along those lines and his thirteen allegorical stories, sometimes seen as the start of modern Yiddish literature, are full of symbolic ideas, incidents and characters that have no literal relation to ‘real life’ yet are symbolically linked to spiritual concepts.  Many take the form of quest narratives and feature imagery that would fit in folklore or fantasy fiction; I have a secular anthology of Jewish fantasy fiction that features several of his stories.  This was very much on my mind, as I’m kicking around ideas for a writing project of my own rooted very much in Rabbi Nachman’s stories, for which I have a great love, despite not really understanding them in all their details; I just love their the language and imagery and every so often a part of the meaning slots into place for me.

So, here I am, wondering if I’m in the right community.  I probably am, inasmuch as out of all the communities I could join at this moment in my life, this is probably the best one for me.  It’s small, it’s friendly, the rabbi and the assistant rabbi have a reasonable understanding of mental health issues and they take davening (prayer) and Torah study seriously, with a strict ‘no talking’ rule during davening.  But I do wonder if I will ever find the community that is 100% right for me and this is not the first time that I have wondered this.  Maybe no one finds that, any more than anyone finds the spouse who is 100% right for them.  But I do wonder if I will ever find a shul where I feel a reasonably good fit.

The Way of the Worrier

I’m trying to get back in the habit of writing more regularly again.  I’ve had a few emotionally draining days, but I don’t really want to go into details here.  Suffice to say that, while it’s all resolved now, I wasn’t surprised that I was burnt out today and slept through the morning and missed shul (synagogue) again.  I feel bad about it, but I don’t think there’s much I can do about it at the moment.  I slept again after lunch, so I’m not sure how I will sleep tonight.  It didn’t help that we start dinner late on Friday nights at the moment because Shabbat (the Sabbath) starts so late in the middle of the summer and we usually spend a long time over Shabbat meals, generally for good reasons (we have a good time and talk a lot) but then we finish and I usually still have Torah study and hitbodedut meditation/prayer to do and I need a few minutes of what I call my ‘introvert time’ – time to unwind by myself.  So most Friday nights in the summer I get to bed any time between midnight and one in the morning, after a day that has included a lot of draining activities for me (therapy, being around people in shul and at home), so it’s not surprising that I oversleep the next day, even though I really want to get back into shul attendance.  I probably need a new strategy, but I don’t know what.

My OCD has got a bit worse lately.  Not really bad, but it is more noticeable.  It’s mostly ‘pure O’ OCD, so stuff in my head rather than wanting to do nullifying actions of some kind, although there still can be checking behaviours, either going over stuff with other people or in my head.  It’s hard, but I’m trying not to let it take over.  I know where it’s coming from.  Just as my first clear bout of religious OCD was triggered by the stress of moving house three years ago, I’m sure that this is triggered by my relationship with E.  Obviously a serious relationship that could lead to marriage is a major life change even without the fact that in E. and my case there are the complications of the relationship being long-distance and the fact that we have different levels of religious observance.  So my OCD is increasing in response to the stress, but the relationship is too good for me to let it win!  I’m trying to remember the coping strategies that I learnt from my CBT therapist, using my ‘wise mind’ (logic) against my ‘OCD mind’ and telling myself that even when I think X (e.g. that I could become a violent person), that “That’s just a thought, and a thought can’t hurt me.”  It is hard though.

The shiur (class) at shul this afternoon over seudah shlishit (the third meal) was about desires.  I couldn’t follow all of it, as it started at 9.30pm and I was tired and had a bit of a headache, but part of it was about replacing desires for physical things with desires for spiritual things.  Apparently a barometer for how spiritual we are is how much we desire to do Torah study, prayer, mitzvah (commandment) performance and acts of kindness as opposed to doing them by rote.  I score very badly on this at the moment, as my enthusiasm for all of them has dried up in recent years.  I still believe in God and Torah and I still want to be a religious Jew, but I just get no ‘buzz’ out of it.  It’s hard to be sure that I ever did.  I’ve mentioned before that the rabbi from my shul feels that I won’t get any simcha shel mitzvah (joy of performing the commandments) while I’m depressed, but my rabbi mentor thinks I should be able to get some.

I’m not sure where this leaves me, especially as I think I’m always going to be depressed, at least on some level.  It probably makes me want to get married and start a family even more, as I feel I failed at Torah study and davening (praying) and mitzvot and acts of kindness, so the one frummy (religious) thing I haven’t tried is having a family.  I haven’t failed at that one yet!  But it does make me worry that I would fail at that too.  Trying to be more positive, E. says I’m a supportive boyfriend, so I’m apparently not failing there, surprisingly, and certainly she is an amazingly supportive girlfriend to me, so that would hopefully be a base from which to grow religiously, if we could find the right community that fits both our needs (this is IF we get married, which is still some way away!  Don’t leap to conclusions yet!).  Also, even though I’m usually super self-critical, I have a gut instinct that I would be a good father.  Certainly a number of people have told me that I’m good with children or that they think I would be a good father.  So it’s not just a case of hoping I would succeed at something I haven’t tried yet.  And I still have some ideas for writing projects that I haven’t tried yet, and which E. is really encouraging me about, projects that might give me a way to tie my religious and non-religious areas of my life together better.

But as with the relationship itself, this is all in the future.  I’m trying to just live in the present and at the moment, while the present has some bad things (work), it has some very, very good things (E. and my current writing project).  But it is very hard not to worry about the future at all, particularly when I am a pessimist and a worrier by nature.

Half-Term Halfway

Hi!  I’m still here!  I haven’t written much lately because my relationship with E. continues to be great and I’m scared of tempting fate by writing about it (not that I believe in fate, but you know what I mean), but the rest of life is a struggle at times.  I’m on half-term this week.  It had been going OK, but not great, catching up on chores I don’t have time to do in term time and wishing I could have a proper break, but today has been difficult.  I’ve been slipping further behind with my chores (I wanted to work on a short story I started writing months ago and haven’t even been able to sit down to it; likewise I haven’t done much of the Torah study I had planned), but today I found I couldn’t find one of the ingredients for a recipe E. recommended, so I can’t make it and now I have the other ingredients sitting in my fridge with me not sure what I can do with them.  (If anyone knows of uses for corn flour, spring onions, feta cheese and yoghurt, I would like to hear from them.  The spring onions and maybe the yoghurt are the only ones I think I could eat by themselves, although maybe I should summon up the courage to try the feta by itself.)

The rest of my shopping trip today was more successful, resulting in a new tie (a very belated Chanukah present from my parents), two new pairs of work trousers (sadly a larger size than in the past with the weight I’ve put on since being put on clomipramine), a new drainer for the kitchen and a picture frame to replace one I broke nearly three years ago and had been unable to replace (it’s an unusual shape, being nearly square).  And my Mum said she really enjoyed going shopping with me as a mother-son bonding thing.   So that was all positive.

What was less positive was the drive home, which took about fifty minutes, two or three times longer than it should have done.  By the time I got home, I was feeling incredibly depleted from the drive home and from the shopping itself.  I don’t find shopping centres as difficult as some autistic people do, but the noise, the people and perhaps also the lighting do seem to be tiring for me after a while and I spent about three hours shopping today.  So it probably isn’t a surprise that I feel depleted, doubly so as I feel vaguely as if I’m coming down with a cold.

I also felt bad that E. is having a bad day, and I felt powerless to do anything practical to help her, stuck on the other side of the Atlantic.  She was very good natured about it (because she’s awesome), but I felt a bit like a bad boyfriend, even though I know it’s not really my fault.  It’s at times like this that I wish I could find better words, though.  I know I can write about depression and Judaism and Doctor Who, but it’s hard sometimes to express how I feel, even to myself, let alone to anyone else.

I’m going to have dinner in a minute, watch some Doctor Who and write off the rest of the day.  Things seem a bit better just for writing this down and putting it in perspective: I can see that the day wasn’t so bad.  And whatsapping E. has cheered both of us up, I think.  I just wish that I didn’t spiral so easily down into the black hole of depression, anxiety and autistic traits.

Anxious Child Mode

I guess I’m in my anxious child mode again.  Shavuot  was quite good, but one day later it feels like ancient history besides work.  Work at the moment is dull.  I haven’t been blogging about it much because it’s persistently dull.  There’s stuff that needs doing and I’m doing it, but it’s dull and no one could possibly enjoy doing it, at least, not to the extent that I’m required to do it.  I tell myself that if it was fun, they wouldn’t pay me to do it.  I also have to do my first exam invigilation this week, which I’m dreading, partly because I’m worried I’ll do something so disastrously wrong that the exam will be voided, all the students will be failed and the college will lose the right to hold any exams in the future, but mostly because I have to get up half an hour earlier, when I’m persistently unable to get up any earlier than I usually do.  I also come home from work exhausted and depleted, which just triggers depression and anxiety.

The other reason I’m in anxious child mode is the Big Secret I’ve been alluding to in recent weeks.  The secret, in case anyone didn’t guess, is that I’m in a relationship for only the second time in my life.  This is very good and happiness-inducing, but also anxiety-provoking because (a) relationships are scary, (b) this is a long-distance relationship, which I’ve never had before and (c) because there’s a big difference in our respective religious levels (my girlfriend has a strong Jewish identity, she just doesn’t express it so much religiously).  We set out our red lines regarding points (b) and (c) before starting the relationship and we seemed to have a basic level of compatibility, but it’s still a scary thing to go into a relationship with, particularly for someone with minimal relationship experience like me.   Everything else is amazing; my girlfriend (I’ll call her E.) is everything I could have wanted: gentle, caring, intelligent, interesting and fun to talk to, understanding of my mental health and borderline Asperger’s, encouraging of my writing ambitions and, weirdly, really into me.   But I still worry that nothing really good ever happens to me, that something will go wrong sooner or later.

The journey home from work turns out to be the real killer, when I’m exhausted and hungry and stressed and probably a bit dehydrated and packed into a tiny Tube train with a thousand other exhausted, hungry, stressed people, fighting for space, not to mention air… it’s easy to give in to catastrophising in such a situation.  I have sufficiently little successful dating experience, or any dating experience, really, that it’s easy to convince myself that I’m feeling the ‘wrong’ thing or the ‘wrong’ amount of the ‘right’ thing.  It’s a lot harder to just relax and enjoy the ride, which is what my parents and my rabbi mentor said to do (yes, my rabbi mentor has been actively encouraging me to date E., religious differences notwithstanding!).

This whole situation made me aware of an aspect of my personality that I hadn’t really noticed before.  Some people are rational and some people are emotional, and in and of themselves, both modes of thought have their advantages and disadvantages.  However, I’m emotional, but I’m convinced that I’m rational (or have been until the last week or so), which means that I get overwhelmed by emotional inputs (particularly due to depression, anxiety, alexithymia etc.), but I treat them as if they are rational data points.  This has a particular tendency to happen on that journey home, when I start thinking, “I’m really anxious that this won’t work, therefore there must be strong logical reasons that this won’t work” or “I don’t feel as overwhelmingly ‘in love’ as I did this morning, therefore I’m not feeling anything romantic any more.”  It’s rather crazy as it’s clearly being driven by my anxiety and by other factors affecting my mood (tiredness, hunger, etc.), but I’m treating it as if it’s an objective fact.  I’m trying not to pay too much attention to these thoughts, but as someone who overanalyses himself, it’s hard.

If I can get through this work week, next week is half-term.  I don’t have anything particularly exciting planned, aside from my Mum’s birthday dinner, but it will be good to have more time to Skype E. and to plan a trans-Atlantic trip for later in the year to meet her in person.  Naturally, I’m catastrophising on that already, from “What if I get lost?” to “What if I get mugged?” to “What if E. breaks up with me and I’m left on a romantic holiday by myself?”  However, trans-Atlantic trips can’t be planned at the last minute, so eventually one has to hope and pray that the relationship will last the next two and a bit months (at least).

Bijou Postette

Today has been hard.  Lately the exciting-but-anxiety-provoking-thing has been if anything even more exciting and slightly less anxiety provoking, but I think yesterday I had a surfeit of good feelings (for once) and ended up feeling totally burnt out and depressed today.  I went to bed late, slept for ten hours or more and struggled to get up and get dressed (I didn’t have work today as my boss asked me to work on this coming Friday, which I don’t normally do, instead of today).  I had hoped to do various important chores, but was just too burnt out.  It’s good that I can recognise these days when they come and accept that there isn’t much I can do other than sit with my feelings and exhaustion and try not to beat myself up too much about not doing things, but it is difficult that I am still prone to these types of depression days, even when things are going better.  At least I went shopping (more for something to do and to get out than because I needed much) and cooked dinner and felt a bit better after that.  I’m going to bed soon, as I feel less depressed, but completely exhausted.

Brave and Impulsive

I’m still all over the place, emotionally.  It’s funny how something can be amazingly good and amazingly terrifying at the same time, although I suppose ‘good’ and ‘terrifying’ aren’t opposites, so there’s no reason something can’t tick both boxes at once.

Anyway, totally unrelated to that, I have an article up on Hevria today.  It’s not really relevant to the content of the blog (i.e. it’s about my peculiar relationship with Jewish mysticism rather than mental health), but I thought some people here might be interested.

I actually wrote it years ago, intended to pitch it to Hevria, but never had the guts.  At the time they weren’t running guest posts so it would have been a bold move on my part.  Then it sat on my computer for years until a conversation with one of my non-biological sisters made me remember it.  I sent it to her to see what she thought and she said I should submit it.  I knew that if I intended to revise it, I would just procrastinate, so I sent it in without really looking at it, which is incredibly brave and impulsive for me (hmm, I was uncharacteristically brave and impulsive with the emotionally-all-over-the-place thing too).  And there it is!  I do feel a bit funny about something that is so old and not 100% what I feel now going up on the internet, but I suppose I can think of it as a sort of time capsule.

The Blog Post That Dares Not Speak Its Name

I know, I’m still not blogging much.  And when I do, I’m still alluding to things without spelling them out.  The anxiety-provoking-thing is still provoking some anxiety, but is also really amazing and wonderful.  Although I’m still not going to talk about it in detail for fear that it will evaporate if I do.  Work is tedious at the moment, as I’m mostly scanning and tagging books that will need to move to our secondary site in the summer as part of a massive reorganisation of the college.  It’s just scan, click, click, scan, click, click all day, with long spells on the issue desk (my least favourite part of the job), because we’re understaffed as one of my colleagues is still off sick (actually, we’re understaffed even if she’s here, but her being off just makes it worse).  It’s all tedious, but very necessary.  Actually, there’s an anxiety-provoking-but-hopeful thing at work too, but I don’t want to talk about that yet either.

I’m trying really hard to have bitachon (trust) in HaShem (God).  The main anxiety-provoking-but-hopeful thing came about through a concatenation* of different events, so I’m pretty sure that, for whatever reason, this is where HaShem wants me to be right now; He’s made this happen very deliberately.  The hard part is accepting the hope that He wants this to turn out well for me and that He hasn’t taken me up the mountain just to make it hurt more when He throws me off the peak.  I’m trying really hard to trust that He’s doing this because He loves me and wants me to be happy, but whenever I start thinking that, I tell myself that I’m too bad to deserve to be happy and, anyway, my life so far seems to indicate that He wants me to be miserable, for whatever reason.  The hopeful thing (or one of them) is that a lot of the miserable events in my life have led me to the anxiety-provoking-but-hopeful thing, so perhaps they were necessary to get me here to have things go well.  Hopefully…

* I like that word.

Update

I haven’t blogged publicly for a few days, and this is really just a pause to draw breath.  Some very anxiety-provoking stuff is going on and while some of it could be very good indeed, I don’t really want to talk about it, partly for magical thinking reasons (if I say it’s good, it will go wrong), partly because I don’t know what I want to say or what I should say.  Also, work is really tedious at the moment, with me spending all day scanning and tagging books to help plan a site move, which is about as exciting as it sounds, interspersed with hours-long stints on the issue desk where I feel I regularly make a fool of myself in front of other people by not knowing how do my job and also get humiliated by teenagers.  Those are jobs that need doing, and my boss is doing them too, but they just fuel my depression, especially as my brain is unoccupied by much of this work leaving it free to wander into all kinds of anxieties.

I came home today in a bit of a state: exhausted (despite having slept for eight hours last night, oversleeping this morning), stressed, hungry and probably a bit dehydrated, resulting in my being very depressed and anxious.  I feel a bit better now and I want to get to bed, but I have various things still to do.  I’m only getting through the mornings on coffee at the moment because I’m so tired.  There just aren’t enough hours in the day.  I’m glad it’s a bank holiday next Monday, as the flat needs a good clean, which it hasn’t had for a month and the mould is spreading in the bathroom again.  Oh, and watching Doctor Who in order to research my book, I’m stuck in my least favourite period of the show (2006-2009) and I’m reading book I’m not enjoying much (Voyage by Stephen Baxter), but I don’t like leaving books half-read and I’m getting vaguely invested in the characters (at page 200 or therabouts!), so even relaxation isn’t much fun at the moment.

The sensible thing would be to do nothing (as per one of my desert island Doctor Who stories, Warriors’ Gate).  I mean that seriously.  OK, not literally nothing, but to keep on as I am, do the work I have to do, do the housework that needs to be done, meet the religious obligations that I can meet and let the anxiety-provoking things work themselves through in their own time, let the good ones happen (or not) and don’t do anything about the bad ones until nearer the time, when there are actually things I can do about them, because few of the anxiety-provoking things are imminent enough to do much about them yet.  That’s hard, though.

Hey, it’s Lag Ba’Omer, so I can listen to music and shave again!  That’s positive!

A Good Shabbat

Just a quick post to say that I had a good Shabbat after a crazy week in which I’d had good, if anxiety-provoking news (because all change is anxiety-provoking, this more than most), but also had some bad news possibly for myself and certainly for some people close to me.

I got to a shalom zachor hosted by a friend from shul (synagogue) on Friday evening.  A shalom zachor is a small gather with food and alcohol to welcome a new baby.  This wasn’t really a shalom zachor as neither baby nor parents were present; my friends were grandparents (they are quite a lot older than me), but they wanted to do something.  I got lost on the way there in the pouring rain and eventually arrived soaking wet.  The conversation was mostly about football, which I have little interest in or knowledge of and my main attempt at participating was a joke which my friend liked, but which fell rather flat with everyone else; I have a horrible feeling that they thought I was being serious, and stupid.  Still, I was glad to go, because I wanted to support my friend and it felt good to be part of a community.

Despite getting to bed late after the shalom zachor, I somehow managed to get to shul this morning.  It is true that I was nearly an hour and a half late, but I was there for some of the leining (Torah reading) and Musaf (the additional service) and I even managed to stay for kiddush (refreshments).  I didn’t have the courage to initiate conversation with anyone I didn’t know, but someone I didn’t know came and spoke to me and I think I mostly avoided coming across as a total idiot, even if I found it hard to explain why I have not been at shul much in recent months.  I did find the courage to talk a little bit to some other people too, so I think that counts as a success.  I slept for nearly four hours this afternoon, though, so I’m a bit worried about whether I will fall asleep tonight.

I got to shul tonight for Talmud shiur (class) and Mincha, seudah and Ma’ariv (the afternoon service, the third meal and the evening service) plus I heard from two people I know whose children have been very sick that they have made full recoveries, so that cheered me up a little after hearing of other people becoming sick earlier in the week.

I had a thought today that instead of thinking, “I can make friends with people who are very unlike me (different age, different religion, different nationality), but not with people who are like me (other Orthodox Jews)”, maybe I should stop thinking of Orthodox Jews as being automatically like me (which in many ways they aren’t) and instead say, “I can make friends with people who are very unlike me, including other Orthodox Jews.”  Because I think I can make friends with some of them, just not necessarily as close friends as some of my other friends.  (My closest friends tend to be people who have experienced mental health issues, especially if they are also into science fiction.  I have good friends who are significantly older than me (like my friends who hosted the shalom zachor, who are probably in their late fifties) and I get on well with my Muslim colleagues at work.  It’s making friends with other frum people that I find hard, probably because of my eccentricities and especially my feeling of being a misfit and not being a ‘good’ Jew or a ‘normal’ Jew, not that the two are necessarily the same thing.)

Equanimity and Its Absence

No time/energy for a proper post today, so I thought I would share a passage from Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik that is relevant to how I feel at the moment, and how this blog usually goes.  It’s from one of the end notes in his book Halakhic Man; the end note (this is just part of it) is practically a mini essay in its own right on the subject of the idea of equanimity, or the lack of it, in Judaism.

“Religion is not, at the outset, a refuge of grace and mercy for the despondent and desperate, an enchanted stream for crushed spirits, but a raging, clamorous torrent of man’s consciousness with all its crises, pangs, and torments. Yes, it is true that during the third Sabbath meal at dusk, as the day of rest declines and man’s soul yearns for its Creator and is afraid to depart from that realm of holiness whose name is Sabbath, into the dark and frightening, secular workaday week, we sing the psalm “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters” (Ps. 23), etc., etc., and we believe with our entire hearts in the words of the psalmist. However, this psalm only describes the ultimate destination of homo religiosus, not the path leading to that destination. For the path that eventually will lead to the “green pastures” and to the “still waters” is not the royal road, but a narrow, twisting footway that threads its course along the steep mountain slope, as the terrible abyss yawns at the traveler’s [sic] feet. Many see “the Lord passing by; and a great and strong wind rending mountains and shattering rocks… and after the wind an earthquake… and after the earthquake a fire” but only a few prove worthy of hearing “the still small voice” (I Kings 19:11-12). “Out of the straights have I called, O Lord” (Ps. 118:5). “Out of the depths I have called unto Thee, O Lord” (Ps. 130:1). Out of the straits of inner oppositions and incongruities, spiritual doubts and uncertainties, out of the depths of a psyche rent with antinomies and contradictions, out of the bottomless pit of a soul that struggles with its own torments I have called, I have called unto Thee, O Lord.

And when the Torah testifies that Israel, in the end, would repent out of anguish and agony… “In your distress when all these things are come upon you… and you will return unto the Lord your God” (Deut. 4:30), it had in mind not only physical pain, but also spiritual suffering. The pangs of searching and groping, the tortures of spiritual crises and exhausting treks of the soul purify and sanctify man, cleanse his thoughts, and purge them of the husks of superficiality and the dross of vulgarity. Out of these torments there emerges a new understanding of the world, a powerful spiritual enthusiasm that shakes the very foundations of man’s existence. He arises from the agonies, purged and refined, possessed of a pure heart and a new spirit. “It is a time of agony unto Jacob, but out of it shall he be saved” (Jer. 30:7) – i.e., from out of the very midst of the agony itself he will attain eternal salvation and redemption. The spiritual stature and countenance of the man of God are chiseled [sic] and formed by the pangs of redemption themselves.”

From Halakhic Man by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, translated by Lawrence Kaplan pp. 142-143

Trying to Trust

I’m still feeling very anxious and I still can’t say why (and might not say why for a long time).  I was so anxious last night it was a struggle to eat anything and I couldn’t even watch Doctor Who.  I stopped after three minutes.  I’m not that bad today, things seem to be moving OK at the moment, but they could change in an instant.

I’ve mentioned before that I sometimes feel like Charlie Brown coming to kick the football: I try so hard, but it’s always moved away at the last minute.  It’s funny, I think I’m actually a trusting person overall.  I think I trust most people unless they show me I shouldn’t.  But it’s so hard to trust HaShem (God).  I wasn’t abused as a child, but I did have a difficult childhood, with a lot of isolation and bullying and I guess that’s left me feeling like a lot of abused children, feeling that I can’t trust HaShem to be there for me, or at least assuming that His plan for me probably includes a predominant amount of loneliness and pain.  It’s hard to believe things could suddenly swing around and get better, although as a Jew I have to believe this, and recent events have at least shown that things can change very quickly (it’s hard to believe it is less than a month since Pesach; it feels like something from years ago as so many things seem to have happened in between).

So, I’m trying to have bitachon, to trust that good things can happen to me.  It’s hard though.  I know that trusting HaShem is the religiously correct thing to do, but I’m so scared that if I do, He’ll turn around and say, “How can a sinner like you think you deserve good things?  For that, I’m going to make things even worse.”  I know rationally it doesn’t work like this, but it’s hard to push through thirty years of emotional programming.

The fact that the freak heat wave we had earlier this week seems to have gone and April showers have set in probably doesn’t help my mood.  I don’t know whether the heter (permission) I had to listen to music in the mourning period of the omer, when music is normally forbidden, applied to anxiety too, but I had to take a chance and listen to some music on the way home, because I could feel my anxiety slipping down into depression again.  It helped a little.  I’m trying to hold on.  But it’s hard.

I just commented on AshleyLeia’s post about writing a letter to one’s younger self that, “for many years, long before this fad, I’ve wanted to go up to my really young self (about five years old) and just hug him and tell him that he’s OK.”  And I kind of wish someone would do that to me now, really.

Anxious Thoughts

I’ve got a lot of anxiety today, and I can’t say why on the blog, but it’s BIG.  My intestines are in knots, my mouth is as arid as a desert and my stomach seems to be trying to climb up my throat and out my mouth.

On an unrelated note, I did something rather stupid at work.  It wasn’t catastrophic, but it was a bit stupid.  I just wish that when I do these stupid things, it wasn’t always when my boss is watching me…

I did reflect that when I’m dead and gone, my stupid mistakes and weird habits will seem like endearing character quirks to those who remember me.  I’m not sure if this is reassuring or morbid.

On the plus side, I saw the written copy of my annual appraisal today and it didn’t seem as critical of me as I thought it was at the time.  Maybe I’m not as bad at this job as I thought I was.

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.

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.