Passing

Just a quick note about ‘passing’ in the Jewish community (of the ‘being something you’re not’ kind rather than the ‘dying’ kind).  After a somewhat difficult day at work (nothing particularly went wrong for me, I just felt quite depressed and lacking motivation), I went to the parasha shiur (class on the week’s Torah reading).  I was the first person there and the assistant rabbi was chatting to me.  Small talk generally makes me anxious, particularly when I feel I have to ‘pass’ as a frum (religious) Jew.  The assistant rabbi was asking about my job and I felt I had to hide that my previous job was at a non-Orthodox Jewish seminary because I don’t know how that would go down with an Orthodox rabbi.  He also asked me if I went to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) because (he said) I seem knowledgeable.  That made me kvell (sorry, can’t translate; the internet says ‘be joyful and proud’) a bit, for ‘passing’ as a yeshiva bocher (student), but I also feel like I have to keep saying intelligent and knowledgeable things to carry on ‘passing’ and I did feel embarrassed when I said I didn’t go to yeshiva.  I was trying to summon up the courage to explain why I didn’t go when someone else came in and the conversation moved on.

A thought that occurred to me after the shiur was to wonder if the assistant rabbi is aware of any of my mental health issues.  His parents are good friends with my parents and my issues are well-known among my parents’ friends and we did go to the same shul (synagogue) when we were growing up, so it’s possible, but if he does know, he’s too polite to have mentioned it.

Before this, I phoned the rabbi I’ve been trying to contact about my date (I know too many rabbis…).  He is still trying to get in touch with some of the rabbis I gave as references, and he asked if I know the rabbi of my old shul (synagogue) as my potential date wants to contact him for a reference.  I said yes as he knows me well.  I originally wrote a paragraph here about frum dating and the silliness (in my humble opinion) of getting references and doing a lot of preliminary research before a first date rather than just going and seeing what the chemistry is like, but I cut it because it was verging a bit on lashon hara (negative speech about people).  Suffice to say I don’t mind being investigated, but I feel it shouldn’t go on for weeks before there is even a date, particularly as I don’t know what she is trying to find out.

I tell myself that maybe this is a good sign, maybe my potential date dated a lot of jerks who passed as nice people initially and she wants to make sure that I’m not a jerk and maybe my not-being-a-jerk-ness will outweigh my being-a-mentally-ill-autistic-weirdo-who-didn’t-go-to-yeshiva-ness.  On the other hand, maybe she’s trying to check that I’m not a mentally ill autistic weirdo who didn’t go to yeshiva, I just can’t tell.  I just hope I hear soon, one way or the other, as the longer it goes on, the more sure I become that I can’t be the person she’s looking for and want to just get it over with.

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Update

Today was mostly a reasonably good day, but quite a lot happened.  I’m not sure how interesting any of it is in and of itself, but as most of it either follows on from things I have written in the past or is setting up potential things for the future, I thought I should give a quick update for regular readers and friends.

I spoke to my boss about my depression and my worries that it might get worse after my sister’s wedding.  As I hoped, but didn’t dare admit even to myself, she said I should take the next day off and make up the time by coming in for one day during the February half-term.  So that’s very positive for me (I get time off to recover) and also for my parents (I’m planning on staying the night at their house, partly for practical reasons, but, as my Mum said, it will stop them waking up feeling lonely and having empty nest syndrome).

Regarding the depression in general, she said she hadn’t noticed a change in my work, except that I’m not so pro-active in dealing with students, which she thought was probably my personality more than depression.  I didn’t say that this was more likely the social anxiety or Asperger’s because I didn’t want to complicate things, especially as I don’t have an official diagnosis of either of those things.  I said that I was worried about being late or taking time off sick and she basically said I shouldn’t worry about things that haven’t happened and which I have limited control over.  I felt afterwards that I’d said the wrong things, but that as probably just social anxiety.  On the whole the meeting went well.

At the end of the day, my boss also said that I had spent the whole day staring at books with a puzzled look on my face.  I thought that is probably how I spend all of my work days, but I didn’t say anything.  I know that while I have problems reading other people’s expressions, my facial expressions are literally as plain as the nose on my face.  It can be irritating at times, and is one of several reasons why I’m a very bad liar.

I also managed to get through a kashrut crisis at work without lapsing back into religious OCD, which was very good, although I do need to contact someone to ask if I’m still allowed to use the work kettle now non-kosher vinegar has been used to descale it.

I have managed to get myself exempted from security duty at shul (synagogue) for the moment, because the depression is likely to make me struggle to get up on time to do my slot and I don’t want to let them down by not showing up.  I am not happy to have to ask for exemption, which just puts more pressure on other people (it’s a small community, so we all have to take our turn fairly regularly), but I’m glad they were understanding (it helps the person in charge of security is my closest friend in the shul).

I just phoned the rabbi I was trying to get hold of about the date I had been set up on.  Apparently my potential date is making her own inquiries into my background.  But the rabbi said I should phone back tomorrow “at the latest.”  I do vaguely feel that if politicians were vetted the way Orthodox Jews vet people for a shidduch (match), there wouldn’t have been so many resignations from governments on both sides of the Atlantic recently…

Growing Up Neurodivergent

I’ve been reminded a couple of times today of the Red Queen in Through the Looking-Glass: “My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place.  And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.”  It feels like that at the moment, with my struggles, that I’m running just to stand still or even to go back just a little bit rather than a lot, while others are moving ahead just by casually walking.

Work today was hard.  I don’t have any great anecdotes, nothing notably bad or annoying happened, it was just a boring day doing boring work for people I can’t communicate with (I mean that literally, not in terms of Asperger’s or social anxiety – I was in our secondary campus where most of the students are either immigrants with very poor English or people with very serious learning disabilities) in a library that is dark and gloomy and generally depressing-looking.  (It also smells, which doesn’t help, especially as my boss said I can’t use air-freshener because of allergies.)  Thankfully, I only have to go to this campus once a week.  I don’t think I could stand any more.  To make matters worse, for much of the afternoon teacher was working with an adult student in the library, who was practising his reading and comprehension by reading aloud a newspaper article on Islamic fundamentalism and female genital mutilation, really not what I wanted to listen to when feeling depressed and trying to get on with my own work.

My boss has agreed to speak to me tomorrow about my mental health and I hope to mention my sister’s wedding.  I need to plan what I want to say.  I’m hoping that it goes well.

I just deleted a load of stuff because it was just whinging about an unprofessionally-run shiur (religious class) and an equally problematic GP’s surgery.  A more interesting thought occurred to me while davening Ma’ariv (saying the evening prayers).  Growing up, I was religiously traditional, but not shomer mitzvot, which means that my family kept elements of Jewish law, but not all of it.  Shabbat (the Sabbath) was special and I didn’t do homework on it, but I watched TV and my Dad went to football.  We kept a reasonably kosher home, but not entirely and we ate vegetarian food in non-kosher restaurants and so on.  Still, as I got to my teens, I began to become more interested in Judaism and Jewish study and to think about taking on more aspects of Jewish law.

I think a number of people wanted me to get more involved in Jewish life, particularly in terms of study events, shul (synagogue) youth services, religious youth movements, kiruv organisations (organisations that try to make non-religious Jews more religious, essentially a sort of internal proselytisation) and the like, culminating ultimately in my school teachers wanting me to go and study in yeshiva (rabbinical seminary.  One can study there for a year or two without obligation to become a rabbi).  I think various rabbis wanted me to go so I would become more religious; my Mum was just looking for a social outlet for me that was more introvert-friendly than sport or scouts.

At the time, I shied away from all this stuff without really being able to articulate why.  In later years I would say that these groups were too Charedi (ultra-Orthodox), which was not always true.  Later, I was able to get past that and thought that being in large crowds of people my own age brought up too many memories of being bullied at school, often by the very people attending these groups (I still find it a bit weird that some of the kids who used to mess around in school and bullied me are now super-religious and married with lots of kids.  I really can’t reconcile who they were (not like me) with who they are now (like me, or at least how I want to be).  I don’t know if that says more about me or them).

But I think there is more to it than that.  It strikes me that all this stuff is really bad for someone with social anxiety and Asperger’s Syndrome.  I certainly had the former and may have had the latter.  These things are all about crowds of people getting together and while some of them focus on study, all of them have a socialising component built in that can be overwhelming and any youth movement is going to have an element of deindividuation in a group which I find so frightening.  I correctly identified that some of that sense of being overwhelmed came from being bullied at school and fearing that the patterns would repeat in youth movements or kiruv organisations, but even without that, just being in a loud room full of strangers is always going to freak me out, no matter what the context.  Add to that the fear (justified or not, I don’t know) that some at least of the rabbis wanted to change me into something I wasn’t comfortable with being (deindividuation again) and it’s no wonder I ran a mile.  Similarly, when I got to university all my friends were on the Jewish Society committee and tried to get me to join, but I resisted.  I said it was because the society was essentially a social group, not a religious one (which was basically true) and I had nothing to offer in that context, but I was very afraid of deindividuation and being in social groups, even in an environment where I was realistically safe from overt bullying (although someone did have a real go at me for not joining in).

It’s a bit reassuring realising this after all these years.  I don’t feel I need to worry so much about what might have been if I had gone to these things, as I would probably have just panicked and stood in painful silence rather than making life-long friends or meeting my wife.  It is less helpful knowing how to apply that information to events that I could potentially go to now.  I am still trying to see how much I can push myself to fight the social anxiety.  The way to beat social anxiety, like any anxiety, is to expose yourself to what you fear, but if I am autistic, then I’m just not going to be comfortable in certain situations no matter how hard I push myself.  It is hard to know what to do, particularly given my weird non-diagnosis regarding Asperger’s.

My rabbi mentor just told me not to be so hard on myself.  He wasn’t thinking about this, but I guess it applies here too.  I just wish I knew how not to be hard on myself…

Missions and Needs

First, I emailed my boss today to arrange a time to talk about my sister’s wedding.  I’m putting it in the context of my mental health (and its deterioration) generally, rather than specifically asking for leniency regarding the wedding.  We shall see what happens.

I was given some personal/religious tests over the weekend and I failed them.  I won’t go into many details.  The hardest one might have been a test I could never have passed, only one should not say such things.  At any rate, I failed it, and even if I was set up to fail, I might have done better than I did.  This all makes me feel singularly unprepared to date for marriage (rather than for fun), which is what I am on the point of doing, assuming that rabbi ever gets back to me.  I am not in the best of moods at times at the moment and I continually feel burnt out.  I miss shul and do not always daven (pray) at home in full or with kavannah (concentration).  I skip Torah study.  I skip household chores.  I have little time to relax.  I feel at the end of my tether at times.  How can I date like this?  How could I be remotely attractive or ready to marry?  Certainly how can I date a frum woman?  How could she be remotely interested in me?

My parents think that dating will help me, arguing that if I find someone to love me, I will feel better.  This may be true, but I doubt anyone could love my current irritable, sarcastic, burnt out self.  Everything I’ve read about dating for marriage (which is the Orthodox way of dating) says that one should be ready for marriage and its demands, that one should have resolved one’s inner problems and know who one is.  I have not resolved my inner problems, and given that I have been struggling with them for perhaps twenty years or more, I probably never will do so.  Which means I will never be ready to marry or be loved.

Someone whose blog I read is contemplating divorce from a husband of many years, on the grounds that his depression makes him emotionally distant and unresponsive.  She married him to fix him and now realises that she can’t fix him.  I fear that that could be me and my wife if I got married.

Related to this is the issue of values, of knowing one’s mission in life.  I have heard from a couple of sources that one can find this by looking at what you would do if you had a very large sum of money (millions) and six hours a day to do what you want.  Related to this is what, of all the things you have done, has brought you the most pleasure.

I have no idea what I would do with a large sum of money.  If I had free time and no financial needs, I might write, but then again my self-criticism of my writing is strong enough that I might not, and even if I did, I don’t know what I would write about.   I have no confidence in my writing.  I enjoy writing about Doctor Who, but I can’t imagine that is my mission in life, nor that I can do it particularly well in a crowded marketplace; I feel it is unlikely that I will manage to sell my book if I finish it.  Other than that, I don’t know.

I can’t tell what has brought me most pleasure in life, because so few things have got through the depressive anhedonia and brought me any pleasure, at least as an adult.  I like helping people, but I’m not terribly good at it and I have to fight the social anxiety to do it.  My parents would probably say that I don’t help that much, that I’m always too eager to scurry off to my private world.  Certainly I struggle to deduce other people’s needs, to think of supplying them and to get the motivation to neglect my own tasks to help (Asperger’s again, perhaps).  Sadly, introspection is not a divinely-inspired life mission, nor does it make me happy, but more agitated and depressed.  I like playing with children, but think I’m unlikely ever to have any of my own and I’m wary of searching out opportunities to work or volunteer with them because I don’t feel that I’m good with them and worry about being responsible if something goes wrong as I have no real experience of being an adult responsible for young children, my sister being only a little younger than me and my cousins largely growing up abroad.

I used to enjoy being involved in my old shul, where I led services and gave drashot (short classes), but I feel too religiously inadequate in my current community to put myself forward for anything like that, even when the opportunities are available.  In my old community, I was one of a very small number of religiously capable people, but here everyone else is much better at that sort of thing that I am, so I leave them to it.  Anyway, I used to feel bad for enjoying those things, as it felt too much like showing off.

As I’ve mentioned before, I think love and intimacy are what I’m looking for in life, but it’s hard to be sure when they are so fraught with danger for me and hard to find so I don’t really know what they are like very well.  I don’t know if getting married and having a family can be one’s life mission; at any rate, this article, suggests otherwise, that family is a general mission everyone has, not one’s unique, divinely ordained purpose in being here.  Anyway, if it is my life mission, I’m failing at it spectacularly.

A number of books I was cataloguing today had Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in them, which I was already familiar with, but which reminded me again how few of my needs are being met.  On the lowest level of the pyramid, my basic physiological needs are met, except for sex.  In theory my safety needs are met, except that my financial position is precarious (and still dependent on my parents), but my social anxiety often leaves me feeling unsafe.  On the third, level, love and belonging, I have some friends and relatives I am somewhat close to, but my friends tend to live far away and be inaccessible, while friends and family alike do not always understand me, nor do I always understand them.  Certainly my love and belonging needs are not met enough even if they are met in part.  As for the highest levels of esteem and self-actualisation, I have zero self-esteem (I don’t know if I have respect from others) and no self-actualisation – as I say, I don’t know what self-actualisation would look like for me.

So there you go, I feel pretty useless and despairing today.  I struggled to do my work because I was feeling depressed and I spent part of my lunch break drafting this, which was a mistake, as it put me in a bad state of mind for the afternoon rather, whereas working on my book in my break is somewhat refreshing.  I suppose I’ll muddle through, I usually do, but I’m fed up of muddling through.  I want to have a proper, stable life, with love (of all kinds), friendship, stability, self-esteem and maybe even one day elements of self-actualisation.

Quick Observation

After posting my previous post it occurred to me that it’s probably not coincidence my worst day, depression-wise, in ages happens the day after my family spend hours talking about my sister’s wedding in my presence, including about what I’m going to have to do that day.

Normal, Unfortunately

“The situation, Lavel, is normal and it doesn’t get much worse than that.” – Doctor Who: Battlefield by Ben Aaronovitch

A loosely timecoded account of my day.

13.54  Utterly exhausted.  I’ve been awake about two hours, after sleeping for about ten  hours (I went to bed late because I was watching Doctor Who).  I’m still in my pyjamas.  I had breakfast, which usually gives me some energy, but hasn’t today.  I’m just too tired to do anything.

15.01  Dressed now.  Somehow I managed to just daven Minchah (say afternoon prayers), even though I have zero energy and I feel really angry with God and disinclined to pray to Him.  I was reflecting on the hasgachah pratit (Divine providence) stories that you can find on Jewish sites like Hevria.com, Aish.com and Chabad.org, where people say, “Bad things happened to me, but I trusted in HaShem (God)” and everything turned out OK in the end” or even “I didn’t believe in God, but He did some amazing miracle for me and now I’m a frum (religious) Jew.”  I try really hard to see God’s hand in my life, but mostly it’s seeing His responsibility for my suffering and pain.  Every day I try to find five things to thank Him for, even if it’s tiny things in otherwise bleak situations, for example, “Thank you that, although I was too depressed [You made me too depressed] to get up for forty-five minutes after I should have done, thank you that you gave me a tiny bit of energy so I got to work on time, even though that meant I had to skip most of davening [for which I expect You will punish me at some point].”  But despite this, He seems to hate me.  Certainly whenever something good happens, it quickly turns bad (the opposite of all the hasgachah pratit stories on those websites).  My new job seemed good, but I feel I can’t handle the hours or the commute any more, nor the other stresses of the job.

I hate myself and feel that I’m worthless and other unmentionable words.  I’m pretty sure that God feels the same way about me, otherwise He would help me or at least show me why He hates me so much, what my sins are, so I could change and be worthy of His love.  I know what my worst sins are, but they are caused by my psychological issues rather than causing them, so I don’t know how to change unless He heals me first, something He has been refusing to do for twenty years or more.

I just want to know that I’m loved, really.  By God and preferably by a woman who will let me love her too.  I don’t know which I want more.   I guess that depends how pious or lonely I feel.

Whatever.  I’m supposed to do a load of things today: Torah study, cleaning the flat, cooking, proof-reading my Dad’s speech for the wedding, and I don’t have energy for any of them.  And I slept so late and took so long to get the energy to get dressed, that ludicrously, I have to get ready for bed again in just a few hours so that I might just get up in time for work tomorrow.  I just want to watch DVDs all afternoon, really, but the flat hasn’t been cleaned for about three weeks and I really ought to cook something so I’m not eating convenience food all week.

15.58  I’ve eaten lunch and watched an episode of Doctor Who, but I still have no energy or motivation.

16.27  Still exhausted.  I don’t think I’m going to get anything done today.  I would like to go for a walk, but I don’t have the energy; even the thought of putting my coat, gloves and scarf on is intimidating.

I didn’t find a mental health Torah reflection this week.   The nearest I could find was discomfort with Yitzchak (Isaac) getting married.  At forty, he was older than me, but then living to 180, he lived rather longer than I’m likely to live.

16.54  I just managed thirteen minutes of Torah study and feel exhausted.  Mostly it was reading over a bit of the Gemarah that we skipped in Talmud shiur (class) last week because it was too mathematical and complicated.  I couldn’t understand it at all by myself, even in translation.  Going over what we did study last week was only a little easier.  I tried to skim a religious article online, but couldn’t concentrate.  I hate it when I am too depressed to read, reading is so important to me.

17.19  Phoned my parents, trying very hard not to sound irritable and depressed.  When I’m depressed it’s very hard not to be irritable, especially when I feel people are patronising me.  This is another reason I have made a mistake looking into dating again.  I’m just not good enough.

17.36 Davened Ma’ariv (evening prayers) with zero kavannah (concentration).  I would feel lousy, if I could feel anything.

18.25 Went shopping.  It was a struggle to walk home, even though it’s only ten minutes away.  I don’t know how I am going to get to work tomorrow, but I’m scared to phone in sick, both because I don’t know how my boss will react and because if I miss one day, I know I will get out of the routine of going and it will be impossible to get back into it.  I’m like a cartoon character who can run off a cliff provided I don’t look down and see that I’ve run out of road (not my metaphor, sadly.  I wish I could write that well).  A bit of me wants to just watch DVDs, but mostly I just want not to exist, although I’m not actively suicidal.  People as messed up as me don’t deserve to be happy or loved, so I guess it’s just as well I’m not happy or loved romantically (I guess a couple of people care about me platonically or familially, though sometimes it’s hard to feel it).

I guess I should make some dinner, but I don’t really have the energy.  I should at least cook some plain pasta for tonight and tomorrow and boil some eggs for lunch tomorrow and Tuesday, otherwise I’ll be eating convenience food for dinner all week and cheese sandwiches every day for lunch.  I really need to clean the flat, but it isn’t going to happen now until next weekend at the earliest.

18.40  My sister phoned about wedding stuff.  I feel bad because she’s worried she’s upset me by talking too much about the wedding and with aspects of the party.  So of course I feel bad for signposting my boredom with the wedding too obviously and for being ill and not knowing what I’m going to be able to do about the wedding until the day and not really caring about the things she wants me to do.  And then I feel guilty that she picked up that I wasn’t in a state to have that conversation today, because I should hide my feelings better to avoid inconveniencing people.  The one good thing about thinking I’m never going to get married is not having to worry about having a wedding party.  I hate parties.  I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a party since I was a young child.

Right now I just can’t cope.  I hate myself for the things I do when I’m depressed, the person I become.  I hate myself for self-sabotaging every chance I have at happiness.  I hate myself for being generally stupid and useless and I hate myself for being depressed and socially anxious and Aspie (and undiagnosed) and still sometimes OCD.

19.26  I feel numb now.  I’m not really feeling anything except wanting to curl up and sleep.  I should make dinner, but I can’t really be bothered.  Incredibly, I need to start getting ready for bed in an hour or so, even though I feel like I’ve only just got up.  I achieved more or less nothing today and don’t know how I’m going to cope with the coming week.

Shut-Down Shabbat

It was a difficult Shabbat (Sabbath).  I got to shul (synagogue) on Friday night, but that was it.  I didn’t get to the communal ‘learning’ (Orthodox Jews say ‘learning’ when they mean ‘study’ because of Yiddish influences, a fact that annoys me no end, doubly so given that it’s a bad habit I’ve lately adopted, which at least shows that I’m trying to fit in with frum people, however maladroitly) event and I missed shul today because I was feeling burnt out: exhausted and depressed.  My sister was with us all over Shabbat and her fiancé was with us today.  I got to talk about my feelings of burn out and work and dating stress at dinner on Friday, but today at lunch the talk was almost entirely about the wedding and I got bored and anxious and walked off and ate pretzels instead of joining in because I had nothing to say.  I’m a bit annoyed about something that’s happening at the wedding, but am too polite to say anything to my sister, especially as I can sort of see the reason for it, but that doesn’t make me feel any better.

I did get to speak to my parents and my sister about working the day after the wedding.  I don’t think I made it clear in my previous post that I can’t just take the day after the wedding off as holiday.  Because I work in a college, I’m not allowed to take holiday during term time and had to take Yom Tov off as time off in lieu and work it off later.   I don’t think I’d be allowed to take another day off, especially as I think my boss thinks I’ve been slacking off.  My plan is to meet with my boss and explain that I have to go to the wedding, but that I’m worried my mental health issues might make my work sub-par for a day or two afterwards and see what she says.  But I’m not hopeful.

Regarding dating, I emailed the person who set me up on the date to ask her to tell my potential date that I’m interested, but that I can’t get hold of the rabbi to arrange to meet.  She emailed me back to say that my date can’t get hold of the rabbi either.  I’m quite glad, as I’m burnt out and can’t see myself managing to date, let alone get married.  In any case, I’m pretty sure she’s going to find me not frum (religious) and religiously knowledgeable enough for her, not least because of her super-frum insistence on organising the date through the rabbi rather than in person.

I was hoping to clean my flat tonight, but I’m too tired and depressed after a busy week and a day listening to people talking about weddings and making me feel lonely, miserable and anxious (about the wedding).  Also, my family can be quite loud when they’re talking and when everyone is shouting at once the Aspie/introvert part of me spaces out and gets drained, which is how I feel now.  I plan to eat something and watch Doctor Who for a bit.

Shul and More Social Anxiety

(My last public post got eight likes.  Not much, I know, but I think it’s a record for me.)

I’m just back from shiur (religious class) and I’m still trying to process what happened.  It triggered a lot of social anxiety.

First, everyone was sitting around noshing, drinking whisky and bantering (I’m not sure why whisky seems to be served at all these things; this is why I don’t believe the stereotype that Jews don’t drink).  I couldn’t do any of this because I’m trying not to eat junk food except on Shabbat (the Sabbath) because I’m putting on weight from my medication (which means I’ve cut out about the only simple pleasure I had left, hooray!), I don’t drink because alcohol is a depressant and I shouldn’t take it with my meds, but the real reason is that alcohol scares me and always has (same as I don’t drive because cars scare me) and I couldn’t banter because I was too shy and self-conscious.  At some point around this time I became (self-)conscious of being the only person in the room not married with children (not strictly true as one person is divorced, I think, but almost).  Also, I got very sweaty on the Tube today and didn’t have time to shower when I got home and so was feeling very self-conscious and glad no one was sitting too close to me… or maybe that was why no one was sitting too close to me…

Then during the shiur the assistant rabbi asked a question that he was sure no one would be able to answer.  He was so sure we wouldn’t be able to answer it, he promised to pay £50 to tzedaka (charity) if someone did.  I knew the answer.  So after that I felt bad, that maybe I had been showing off (cf. my recent comments about not knowing when I can show off) and I had cost him money and maybe I should have stayed silent.  And he made a big thing of me knowing things.  I feel inadequate when I assume people think I’m ignorant and stupid, but when I do show some knowledge, I just feel embarrassed.  The assistant rabbi apologised to me at the end, but I was having a small social anxiety panic and couldn’t actually hear what he was apologising for.  I guess he was worried he embarrassed me.  I just nodded and said I was fine, which is what I always do when people apologise to me, even when I’m not fine.

The point of the shiur turned out to be about wanting to reveal God to the world through all our actions and I felt that I used to want that, but nowadays I just want to get married, have kids and be happy.  This left me feeling even more depressed, inadequate and guilty.  Plus, talk of Olam HaBa (the Next World i.e. the afterlife) just makes me think again that I have no share in Olam HaBa.  I don’t really have any rational reason to believe this, beyond a general sense of guilt and shame about my life as well as guilt and shame about specific thoughts, words and deeds, plus an intuition that nothing good could ever happen to someone like me.  On the way home I wondered if I lived in another universe where I was really suffering and this world is the solipsistic fantasy life I have constructed to escape, but it would have to be a pretty awful ‘real’ life if this one is better.  Or maybe I just have a poor imagination.

I was actually feeling OK at work today, but I seem to have come right down now.

There’s another educational event at shul (synagogue) tomorrow evening.  I wanted to go, but I’m so burnt out from work that I think I’d better stay at home and read, or else I’m likely to burn out and miss shul on Saturday.  Tonight has just been the last straw.  There’s an oneg (Shabbat party thing) next week.  I don’t know if I’ll go to that.  I half promised myself that I wouldn’t go to any more of those, because I just sit there feeling socially awkward and miserable, not wanting to eat too much because of my weight, not drinking, sometimes not knowing the tunes to join in the singing.  There’s a guest speaker, but he’s a journalist and a lawyer and I’m not that interested in what he might say.  I had told myself that maybe I won’t force myself to go to shul social events if I go to more educational ones, but now I might be skipping tomorrow’s educational event anyway.  I’m torn between guilt for not going to these things and the awkwardness and anxiety that inevitably follows if I do go.  The depression comes either way.

In other news, I tried several times again to phone the rabbi about the date he was supposed to set up, twice during my lunch break and once after work in the hope that maybe he answers the phone during the daytime, but no answer.  I eventually left a message for him, but I did that during the week and he didn’t get back to me.  Judging favourably, he either has some major crisis or he’s lost his phone.  Either way, I emailed the person who originally tried to set me up on the date to see if she could at least tell the potential date that I’m interested, I just don’t know how to contact her (I was worried she might think I was ignoring her or had changed my mind about going out), but I haven’t heard anything back yet.  I have a suspicion that this is going to be yet another potential date that falls through.  I suppose I should just be thankful that people are trying to set me up on dates even if none of them work out.

 

Reflections on Work, Social Anxiety and Related Issues

1) My sister’s wedding is in less than a month.  I know it is likely that the morning afterwards, which is a workday, I am likely to be exhausted (I’m only expecting to get four or five hours sleep whereas I need at least seven, preferably eight or nine – at the moment I’m getting around eight hours on work nights, but that includes getting up half an hour later than I would like).  It is almost certain that being around such a big crowd of people for so long at an event that drives home my single and lonely status will push so many depressive, socially anxious and autistic buttons that I will be very depressed and struggle to work the next day.  It’s entirely possible that I simply won’t function for at least a day or two afterwards.  I mean literally not function, barely able to get up, let alone leave the flat.

My parents say I should ask for some time off in lieu from work, at least an hour or two on on the morning afterwards.  However, I have already had three days and a couple of hours off as time off in lieu for Yom Tov and I don’t want to push my luck (and build up a huge debt of time I will have to pay back at some point), especially as a couple of unfortunate events and a big mistake on my part this term have left me worried that my boss mistakenly thinks that I’m a slacker.  So I am not sure what to do.  I am thinking about ‘warning’ her and leaving it up to her to decide how to respond (give me time off, say I can phone in ill if I’m too depressed, etc.), but I’m not sure what to say or how.  She knows I have mental health issues, but not much detail.  She doesn’t know about the Asperger’s and I’m wary of mentioning it given that I don’t have an official diagnosis (indeed, have twice officially been told I don’t have it, although I have been told unofficially by a psychiatrist and I think also a therapist who knew me well that I probably do).  Any thoughts?  I would be grateful for advice from people with more experience of work.

2) My boss was shepping naches (basking in reflected glory) over her son getting a distinction in his MA and having a poem published professionally.  I decided that this was not the time to mention that I also passed my MA with distinction and have had things published professionally.  I never know when is the socially acceptable time to blow my own trumpet, so I usually stay quiet about my achievements and let people write me off as inadequate.  I know I made the right decision today, but I wish I could have the courage to speak up sometimes, when it is socially acceptable, so that I could have some esteem from my peers.

3) I work in a college where a lot of the staff and probably 80-90% of the students are Muslims.  I’ve only come across two other Jews, both students.  A couple of times I’ve thought I heard students whisper “Jewish” behind my back when I walked past, but I put it down to my paranoia.  However, today I definitely heard a girl whisper “… he’s Jewish…” after I walked past, but I couldn’t hear the context.  I don’t think she was a student, but a prospective student there for the open evening (so probably about fifteen or sixteen years old).  I don’t know what to do about this.  No one has actually done anything unpleasant or threatening and I don’t want to come across as paranoid or confrontational, but I don’t want things to escalate either.

4) I came across a ‘found story’ (like a found poem) today in the library catalogue.  The subject word authority file had four consecutive subjects that read, “Teenage boys/Teenage girls/Teenage horror/Teenage pregnancy”, which is actually a properly-structured story with a beginning, a middle and an end.

5) Not work-related, but I keep phoning the rabbi who is supposed to be finding out if my potential date wants to go out with me, but he does not answer.  This is frustrating and I don’t know what to do.  When I phoned on Friday, he hadn’t spoken to her and told me to phone on Monday or Tuesday.  I didn’t want to be too persistent (and I was running short of time anyway), so I didn’t phone on Monday.  I phoned several times on Tuesday but didn’t get through, so left a message asking him to phone me back.  I didn’t think he would phone, but I wanted to remind him that I exist.  I phoned a couple of times again too, but again no answer and I didn’t leave a message because I wasn’t sure what to say.  I feel very frustrated and am wondering if he turns his phone off after 7.00pm (which would be a stupid thing for a rabbi to do – rabbis can’t keep office hours) and if I should phone from work during my lunch break, which could be awkward.  Again, any advice gratefully accepted.

Addendum: Holidaying

I forgot the most important bit of my last post:

I really need a holiday, even though I’m not a great one for travelling.  My relaxation at the moments consists of reading a few pages of a novel on my commute home, pressed against other commuters in the horrors of the London Underground at rush hour, if I can even manage that with the crush and my exhaustion and depression, and watching an episode or two of Doctor Who (old-style 25 minute episodes).  I know asking for a holiday seems a bit much when I’ve been off work so much in the last two months or so, but taking time off for Yom Tov is actually very stressful (you probably can’t appreciate the extent of that if you aren’t Jewish and/or don’t suffer from depression or social anxiety or are on the autistic spectrum) and my ‘holiday’ at half-term mostly consisted of me feeling lonely and depressed and sleeping too much.  So I feel I need a more constructive and restorative break.  Shabbat helps, but its effects only last so long.

Another Day

Just a quick note, as I’m too tired and it’s too late for anything more involved.

My days have fallen into a pattern since I started working four days a week.  I get up later than I intended (although still before 7.00am).  I eat breakfast quickly, dress, say a tiny bit of Shacharit (the morning prayers) and dash out to work, doing some Torah study on the train.  I work, trying to snatch a little time at lunch to type up some notes for my Doctor Who book as well as davening Minchah (saying afternoon prayers).  I come home exhausted, often do grocery shopping, daven Ma’ariv (say the evening prayers), eat dinner (I try not to eat convenience food too much, but, well, it’s convenient when I’m exhausted and depressed), try to watch an episode or two of Doctor Who and sometimes force myself out again to depression group or shiur (religious class).  I make my lunch for the next day, do my hitbodedut prayer/meditation and try to get to bed between 10.30 and 11.00pm so I can get more than seven hours sleep, but I don’t always make it.  I often eat cereal before going to bed, which I probably should not do (I am already putting on weight due to my medication), but I get hungry.  I get a little exercise walking to and from the station, but not as much as I really need.

My mood is low at first, making getting up, dressed, praying and getting work hard; things are better at work, although there currently is a background level of work stress and anxiety that comes and goes.  On the way home I become tired or even exhausted and sometimes even feel faint from low blood sugar (today I was shaking on the Tube) and eat fruit and sometimes a cereal bar, which I try to avoid (too much sugar – weight!), but can’t always and by the time I’m home I’m ripe for the depression to come back, with added loneliness.  I phone my parents while I’m on the way home, but if I don’t have a shiur to go to, I don’t talk to anyone other than God until I get in to work in the morning.

I don’t know why I want to date, as I don’t have the energy or motivation.  Except I do know why, it’s because I’m lonely and want something in my life other than work and Torah and snatched moments working on my book or blog.  (I tried phoning back the rabbi who is supposed to be setting me up on a date with one of his congregants, but he didn’t answer).

Weekends, which for me includes Fridays, are another thing entirely, although it’s different challenges rather than no challenges.

 

Unintentional Mental Health Day

I spent a lot of Shabbat (the Sabbath) either asleep or in shul (synagogue), as happens a lot on Shabbat in the winter, when the daylight part of Shabbat is so short.  I had a disturbing dream which led to me oversleeping as I felt too upset to get up when I woke up at 7.15 and so I stayed in bed and fell asleep again for more than an hour, so I was very late for Shacharit (the morning service).  Still, I was there, which was more than I had managed for the last few weeks, when social anxiety defeated me.  I spoke to some people at the kiddush (refreshments after the service) including a person I have never spoken to before, which is good for fighting my social anxiety.  I even answered a question in the rabbi’s shiur (class) before Mincha (the afternoon service), which took a lot of guts, fighting the social anxiety.  I made it back for Ma’ariv (the evening service) too, despite having a persistent headache.

However, I stayed up late, catching up on the Torah study I had not managed over Shabbat because of the headache, browsing online and watching Doctor Who.  I was also eating – despite having eaten a lot over Shabbat, I was very hungry, which is probably the result of my medication, but is not good as I am putting on weight despite cutting more and more junk from my diet.  I am on three psychiatric medications and all three cause weight gain as a side-effect, but trying to come off any of them just leaves me feeling worse, even though I feel far from great while on them.  I guess depressed-and-fat-but-functional is better than slim-non-functional-and-suicidal.

I went to bed late, but got up a little earlier than I expected this morning, around 10.30, but I was too tired and exhausted to get dressed even after eating breakfast.  As a result, I missed Shacharit entirely, which I felt bad about.  I browsed online again and spent a lot of time doing the mental monologuing I wrote about yesterday, thinking about Jewish stuff and about my role in the world, feeling a bit depressed from feeling that I have a lot of love I would like to give to a wife and children, but not being able to do so, and wondering if I am going to get set up on this date or not and how that will turn out.  I’ve been lacking energy all day and am troubled by some OCD anxious thoughts (pure O rather than with compulsions).  I want to ask my rabbi mentor about them, but I know that would be feeding the OCD.  My worries aren’t likely to be correct, but if they are, the negative results would be huge, so I feel I should ask the question if there’s even a slight chance that there is a real problem.

I had hoped to get back into a good routine for Sundays, having had it disrupted first by increasing my working hours (and so needing Sunday to catch up with chores I used to do during the week) and then by a month of Yom Tov, but I am too exhausted and running too late to go for a jog and I am not sure I will be able to do much cooking or writing for my book, all things I want to get back in the habit of doing.  I write paragraphs of my book at work during my lunch break, but I don’t really have any time for jogging or cooking other than Sundays at the moment.  I did at least manage to do some shopping, which was a more important priority.  I would like to cook a recipe I have not tried before, but I think I will probably just cook plain pasta and eat it with bought sauce, as I’m too tired to cook anything from scratch.  I’m probably not even alert enough to write some more of my book, although I would like to do so, as I’m falling behind with it, watching episodes and making notes on them far faster than I can write those notes up (which I guess is at least better than the reverse).

So overall today has become an unintentional mental health day, reserved for doing very little and getting my emotional strength back after a very stressful week of work stress and dating stress and pushing myself far out of my comfort zone in terms of my social anxiety as well as combating the OCD to try to stop it coming back (which I haven’t really written about, but which I had to do during the week).  As one off, that’s OK, but I hope it doesn’t happen every Sunday from now on.

Monologuing

I slept too much over Shabbat and don’t feel tired now, even though it’s past 1.00am, so I thought I would write a few words about monologuing.

It’s quite well-known that people with Asperger’s Syndrome often have special interests that can be quite all-absorbing.  It is also well-known that they can launch into monologues on these subjects very easily.  This occurs a lot as children, but it often results in a frosty reception from adults and other children, who either find the monologue subject too obscure or simply object to being talked at without being allowed to get a word in edgeways.  This often means that adult Aspies are scared to monologue and simply stay quiet the whole time, but sometimes monologuing does continue into adulthood.

I think this was my experience growing up.  I honestly don’t remember whether I literally monologued, in the sense of delivering a long and perhaps (to others) tedious lecture on a subject, but I did like to talk about things that Other People perhaps did not want to talk about: history, politics, science (I think), Judaism (probably, I can’t remember for sure) and especially Doctor Who, about which I knew a lot (although nowhere near as much as I know now – my eight year old self couldn’t have written the book I’m currently writing and not just for the obvious reasons!).  I don’t know if I literally monologued about these, but I did like to talk about them, and the people around me often did not.  I was told that Other People did not want to talk about these things, and that I should talk about things that Other People wanted to talk about, like football and gossip.  I did not want to talk about football or gossip, particularly once I found out that Judaism is strongly opposed to gossip.  (Actually, there were periods when I was more interested in football.  When I was a toddler, I could apparently name all the players in Tottenham Hotspur’s squad.  It’s slightly bizarre that despite behaviour like that, two psychologists insisted that I’m not on the spectrum!)  Worse, Other People said that I was an “intellectual elitist” for wanting to talk about these things, and for using long words that Other People could not understand.  (They thought I was showing off, but I actually did not realise that they did not know these words.  I don’t know if that was naivety or an autistic failure to understand others.)

This label of “intellectual elitist” has haunted me all my life.  I’m sure it makes me wary of sharing my passions with others.  I am particularly reluctant to talk about Doctor Who with anyone other than die-hard fans and tend to change the subject quickly if it comes up.  I am certainly no monologuer now.  I am very quiet in person and say very little, generally just listening to Other People’s conversations and not having the courage to join in much.

For this reason, I assumed that I was not a monologuer and thought that was more evidence of me not having Asperger’s (remember that I’ve had mixed messages about this from mental health professionals).

However, recently I have been reconsidering this.  I think I do monologue, but not out loud.  I go through long monologues in my head, about Judaism, Doctor Who, history, politics… much the same stuff as I used to like when I was a child, but on a more sophisticated (I hope) level.  It’s not spoken, but it’s hard to stop, particularly if the thoughts are triggered by something that I’m upset or anxious about.  Then it can become a runaway anxious thought as I try to solve the world’s problems in my head or justify myself to an imaginary critical audience (e.g. regarding my political or religious beliefs, if I’ve read something attacking them).  The thoughts can be so strong that it is hard to do anything else and they can loop round so that no sooner have I got to the end than they start again (this is probably the obsessive part of my personality).

The other place I monologue is online.  Obviously I have my blogs, which are often written to try to exorcise thoughts from my head.  That’s why I write in my lunch break at work sometimes – to get the thoughts that were distracting me in the morning out of my system before the afternoon’s work is ruined too.  But I also monologue on other people’s blogs, in the comments section.  I am ashamed to say I have become quite notorious on Hevria.com for my long self-pitying posts about my mental health, which I can shoehorn in on quite unrelated topics when there is something I want to say.  In my defence, I suppose I should say that quite a few people have said they find my comments interesting, informative and well-written, so I probably stick to the point better than I’m making out here.

Do you monologue internally like this?  Please let me know in the comments!

Torah from the Depths: Vayeira: Becoming Laughter

Continuing my weekly posts of mental health-inspired reflections on the weekly Torah reading.

Strangely, in a sedra that is so much about death and near death, the resonance I found with my depression was not death and destruction at all, but birth and life.

“And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me, all who hear will laugh (yitzchak) for me.” – Bereshit/Genesis 21.6

I have mentioned in the past the importance of firsts in traditional Jewish textual exegesis.  As far as I can tell, the idea of laughter is first recorded in the Torah in relation to the birth of Yitzchak (Isaac), first when God tells the elderly Avraham (Abraham) and Sarah (who is infertile as well as elderly) that they will have a son and then when he is born.  Importantly, Yitzchak means, “He will laugh” and this play on words appears in the verse I quoted above.

What resonated with me is the idea of such laughter so intense that everyone shares it, that even takes over the entirety of a person’s being (I am not enough of a dikduknik (grammarian) to be sure, but I think “tzechok asa li” “has made laughter for me” can also be translatated as “has made me into laughter”, a laughter so strong that one completely becomes it with one’s whole being).  I think this is the laughter that comes as a release after a long period of suffering, when sadness is converted to joy, as with the Avraham and Sarah miraculously having a child in old age after decades of infertility.  Happy are those who are granted such laughter.

Went the Day Well?

Sometimes I write here because I have something that I really want to say; other times I just want to update the people who I know are reading regularly about something that happened in my life.  This post falls in the latter category and although the update isn’t particularly major, I wanted to record a small, but significant victory after some recent difficulties.

I overslept this morning quite dramatically, by about half an hour, but I managed to rush out and actually left the flat ten minutes early for work.  Between arriving early for work and leaving late because I was working on something, I did nearly half an hour of (unpaid) overtime.  Unfortunately my boss was not around to see this.  I think I managed it because I went to bed early last night and that combined with oversleeping meant that I got nearly eight hours of sleep last night and for once I actually woke up feeling refreshed rather than lethargic and depressed, so I want to see if I can go to bed around 10.30pm on work nights in the future, even if it means getting very little of an evening, although I am not sure how I will manage it, particularly not on nights when I have Talmud shiur (class).

I managed to go to the parasha shiur (class on the week’s Torah portion) at the assistant rabbi’s house that I mentioned a day or two ago.  I was somewhat nervous about going, but not as much as I might have been in the past.  There were about ten people there, all people that I recognised from shul (synagogue) and a few who I would consider myself friendly with (I get nervous of referring to people as my friends, but probably one or two would count as friends).  I was the first person to arrive, which may have been good – at least I didn’t have to walk into a room full of people.  There was some food and drink, but I didn’t have any, partly because I’m watching my weight (I have put on a lot of weight on clomipramine), but also because I was worried I might shake if I was eating in front of other people, although I don’t generally have a problem with that at the moment.  I guess I was just feeling extra-nervous.  I had a slight moment of embarrassment when someone asked me to pass him a can of coke, but I did not hear properly and passed him various other things until I realised what he said.

The shiur was interesting and pitched at a good level: not so basic as to be boring, but not so complicated as to be hard to follow after a long day at the end of a long week.  The assistant rabbi directed a few questions straight at me i.e. he asked me by name.  He has done this before in his shiurim when I have been to them, but he doesn’t seem to ask anyone else by name, although he did ask one person if they followed a particular point.  I don’t know if he thinks I must know the answer and he is letting me show off or if he thinks I am drifting off or not following and he wants to involve me.  I have been told that when I don’t follow something, it is very obvious from my face and sometimes people even think from my expression that I am not following when I actually am following, so maybe that is what is going on here.  At any rate, I don’t think he is doing it to catch me out or anything troubling like that as he is too nice a person, but I do worry that one day he will ask something and I won’t know the answer.  I guess that would just be good exposure therapy as my new book says, doing things that feel embarrassing to learn not to be embarrassed.  I do wonder why he is doing it, though.  If you remember, he also tried to get me to ‘bid’ study Mishnayot in order to get an honour on Simchat Torah, which I was reluctant to do for various reasons, although he did that to other people too and he think he was just trying to involve me.  The thing is, he was at school with me (he was in the year below) and his parents are good friends with my parents, so I feel like there is a connection between us there, but a tenuous one and one that I don’t fully understand.  This is probably me being an Aspie again and not understanding how to interact with people.

At any rate, it was a victory against social anxiety and in favour of getting more involved in my shul (synagogue) community and doing more Torah study generally, given that I have worried recently that I am not doing enough of it.

The Downward Spiral

I just started writing something about the bad day I’m having, but I realised (a) it was going to bore everyone if I just moan about what went wrong and (b) if I carried on writing in as much detail as I was, it would be very impossible not to write in far too much detail to protect my anonymity, so I will just briefly state that a couple of bad things happened at work that really upset me.  Nothing horrendously bad, no disciplinary procedures or bruises (except to my fragile ego), but stuff that upset me a lot.

The first thing was partly caused by, and also reinforced, my social anxiety.  The second thing was linked to my Asperger’s.  Essentially, a student told a fairly transparent lie to myself and my boss, but while my boss immediately realised he was lying, I initially assumed that he was telling the truth and that there had been some kind of misunderstanding.  Naivety is not a crime, but it is a symptom of autistic spectrum disorder, in terms of taking people at face value and not thinking that they might be deliberately saying something they know to be wrong.  I know that I tend to be very trusting, and also that the students sometimes tell fibs when they want to avoid overdue fines and the like and I need to be more cynical.

I can learn to be less trusting (I no longer think it’s an amazing coincidence when a shop assistant claims that the item I’m dithering about buying is exactly the one they use), but it’s hard.  I guess everything just felt hard today.  I went into a downward spiral, thinking I am not suited to this job, that I should leave further education and go back into higher education where at least the library users are mature adults (except that I always felt inadequate hanging around academics) or that maybe I can’t cope with working at all and that I’ll have another episode of depression so severe that I won’t be able to work and how can I even think of starting dating-for-marriage again (and my phone conversation yesterday made it very clear to me that that’s what I’ve started doing) if I can’t even work part-time without cracking up…

…pause for breath…

I know that I need to stop the downward spiral.  I know I need to spend tonight eating pizza, watching Doctor Who, forgetting about work and low self-esteem and depression and social anxiety and Asperger’s and dating and marriage and just relaxing so I can get through work tomorrow and hopefully even stick to my plans to go to a Torah shiur (class on the week’s Torah portion) in the evening (doubly nerve-wracking as I haven’t been to this one before and it’s at the assistant rabbi’s house, really out of my comfort zone).  And I will probably manage to do some of that.  But it’s hard.  It’s hard when it feels like every few days I get reminded of how much I struggle with things that other people get to take for granted.

To end on a happy note, I mentioned the other day writing a really long and self-pitying comment on Hevria.  It was about struggling to be a depressive, socially anxious introvert Aspie in the frum (religious) world.  Someone wrote a really nice comment to me which you can see in the link, but I’m going to copy and paste it here anyway, because it’s my blog and I can blow my own trumpet occasionally:

Hi there. I just wanted to say that I am so impressed that rather than letting your challenges in life break you down, you are still working hard to build the life that you want for yourself and stay committed to yiddishkeit. It seems like you struggle with some things that you could use an excuse to give up but you aren’t and that is awesome!

So that does give a bit of strength to pick myself up and get back in there.

 

Not Humiliated (Much)

I really need to have some dinner and go to bed (I went to bed late and struggled to fall asleep last night, then overslept in the morning and had to dash out to work, so I spent the day struggling with tiredness), but I thought I should add a quick post about my worries yesterday about being humiliated.

I was worried about a phone call I had to make to a rabbi I didn’t know.  Basically, some very religious Jews, before agreeing to date someone, will do a background check, even getting a rabbi or a shadchan (matchmaker) to interview the person they have been set up with (this is dating where you get set up with someone rather than asking them out yourself), getting references from their rabbis or teachers and so on.  My heretical view is that it’s a bit silly and the only way to get to know someone is to go on a date with them, but if I want to date frum women, I have to play by the community’s rules.

I had never done this before, so I didn’t know what to expect.  I think it went OK.  I made a bit of a fool of myself, but not as much as I feared I would.  I think I made a bit of a fool of myself when the rabbi asked me to describe myself and I didn’t really know what to say.  I said in the end that I am a person of integrity, family-focused.  All the other good stuff I could have said about myself (there is a bit!) went out of my head.  I hope my rabbi mentor will say some nice stuff about me when he gets asked for a reference.  I was asked what I do for recreation and I didn’t want to say “watch Doctor Who”!  I said I read a lot, write and jog.  I was worried the rabbi would ask what I write, because I didn’t want to say a book on Doctor Who and a blog about mental illness, but fortunately he didn’t ask.

I don’t know what he thought of me!

The rabbi said, “I’m sure you have questions about {woman I’m being set up with}” and I realised I hadn’t thought about that at all.  I mean, I wondered about her, but I hadn’t formulated any questions – I was so worried about what he would ask me, I didn’t even think of what I want to know about her.  I asked to know a bit about her in general terms.

One thing I was really worried about, that I didn’t study in yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) like most frum (religious) men, looks like it might not be such a problem.  So we shall have to see how it goes.

I find it hard to believe that good things can happen to me.  And if this works out, it will potentially be the best thing that has ever happened to me.  So I’m paranoid something will go wrong, that I’ll mess something up or that God is, for His own inscrutable reasons, just waiting for me to get my hopes up before He dashes them yet again.  But we shall see.

Humiliations

I recently bought a book about social anxiety and it suggested deliberately doing embarrassing things to become accustomed to them and not worry about making a fool of yourself any more.  This was not a new idea to me; one of the mussar yeshivot (rabbinical seminaries focusing on ethical self-improvement), I think Novaradok, used to send its students on pointless errands where people would laugh at them (e.g. asking for eggs in a hardware store) so that they would learn that self-esteem comes from within, not from what others think of you.

I need to hold on to this.  Tomorrow, I am likely to be humiliated.  The person doesn’t mean to humiliate me, but he’s going to.  I can’t really go into more detail now, but my comment on this post might give some idea of what I’m currently going through.  The rabbis say embarrassment is like death, to the point where being embarrassed atones for sins for which you deserved to die.  I would say I hope the sins were worth it, but I don’t joke about things like that.  If I messed up, I deserve to suffer.  But I can’t say I relish the thought.

If I can’t be happy, why can’t I be neutral?  Why do I have to be depressed, anxious, lonely and despairing all the time?  Can’t I just be neither happy nor unhappy?  Not befriended and loved, but not cripplingly lonely?  And free of the periodic humiliations heaped on the sufferers of social anxiety?

I don’t have ideas above my station.  I don’t want to marry some impossibly good looking, perfectly kind, unbearably holy woman.  I just want to meet someone like myself.  Someone with flaws, but nice and pleasant who likes me as much as I like her.  I don’t know why this is so hard.

(Ugh, I just called myself “nice and pleasant”.  I’ll let that go for now.)

The Calm Before or After the Storm?

I was going to write a target-by-target breakdown of how I’ve been doing with the targets I set myself for the Jewish year (we’re already nearly six weeks in!) and for the half-term week, but I decided not to.  I know I’m not doing that well.  I know that the last week was pretty awful, although I did manage to do most of the chores that needed doing, despite my low mood.  I know that, whether I’m actually autistic or not, I don’t cope well with the removal of routines, even when I desperately need a break from work.  I think my ideal would be odd days off work or even afternoons off, but obviously that’s not a workable plan for a college with a strict academic timetable.

This reached a point over Shabbat (the Sabbath) where I was wondering how I could stay frum (religious) if it is so hard for me to keep the social aspects of halakhah (Jewish law) and Jewish culture (because of depression, social anxiety and borderline Asperger’s) and where I feel so distant from HaShem (God) so much of the time and get so little simcha shel mitzvah (joy in fulfilling the commandments).  Fortunately today I feel quite a lot better.  I don’t know why.  Something really scary but potentially good unexpectedly happened last night, but it will be a long wait until it comes to fruition.  Or it could just be that I’m looking forward to going back to work tomorrow.

Certainly I tried to give myself a not-too-stressful day today, as my last holiday day after a stressful ‘holiday’ week.  I did some shopping and a lot of Torah study to try to make up for the last week when I did very little (I realised that listening to shiurim (Torah classes) on my iPod while out and about is a good way of ‘multitasking’ extra Torah into the day without having to remove desperately needed relaxation time or other needed activities).  I also worked for a while on my book, which is one of my main enjoyable activities at the moment.  I will cook some plain pasta with a shop-bought sauce for dinner and I need to sew on some buttons, but other than that I am not planning on doing much else today, just watching some TV, making my lunch for tomorrow and hopefully getting an early night.

So today I feel calm and ready to go back to work, albeit not knowing if the weeks ahead will be another storm or a period of calm.

Thoughts on “Asperger’s and Me”

When I mentioned at my depression group that I had been thinking that, despite being assessed twice and told I don’t have Asperger’s Syndrome, that I do have it after all or at least am somewhere on the autistic spectrum, someone suggested that I watch Asperger’s and Me, a recent BBC documentary.  I watched it this evening and while I’m wary of posting on my blog for a third time this evening, I want to record a few thoughts I had while watching it and thinking about it afterwards.

  1. The presenter, Chris Packham, felt that he would not want to ‘cure’ his Asperger’s, because, while it caused him many difficulties, particularly with social interactions, it gave him many benefits, particularly in terms of heightened sensory awareness.  I have heard other people on the spectrum speak like this too.  I don’t want to get into the question of curing autism per se, which I know is very emotive for people on both sides, but I do feel that I don’t have many of those positives.  I don’t feel that I have particularly strong sensory awareness, for example.  I probably get irritated by noise, particularly talking, when I’m trying to work more than many people do and by light when trying to sleep, and when I was a child I was sensitive to certain fabrics, but I don’t think I would describe myself as having particularly acute senses the way Packham described his own perceptions.  I probably can immerse myself in a problem or train of thought more than some people and I have a good memory for things that matter to me (and a lousy one for things that don’t which, can be an embarrassing way of demonstrating my priorities e.g. not remembering birthdays without my diary), but that’s about as far as it goes.  I’m certainly not any kind of savant or technological whizz kid.
  2. That said, like Packham, I have managed to find a job that plays to my Aspie strengths.  He took his passion for wildlife and particularly for monologuing about it, and became a wildlife TV presenter.  I found work as a librarian, a job that needs Aspie skills of focus, attention to detail and repetitious adherence to strict rules.  The parts of my job that I don’t like and sometimes complain about here are the non-Aspie friendly bits, mostly dealing with people and their problems and moods.  I am also hoping to get some money out of one of my main special interests (Doctor Who), if I ever find a publisher for the book I’m writing on it.
  3. Speaking of special interests, I think Packham’s family sounded quite indulgent of his special interest in nature when he was growing up, inasmuch as he roped his sister into helping him find birds’ nests and his parents allowed him to keep a kestrel, which he had illegally taken from the wild.  When I was growing up, I felt that my interests were not always encouraged by those around me.  It goes without saying that the kids at school bullied me for being a geek and a Doctor Who fan (nowadays Doctor Who is a major global entertainment franchise, but in the nineties, when I was growing up, there had not been a new series for a couple of years and the programme had been a critical laughingstock for many years before that, being widely perceived as cheap, badly acted, badly made and out of date).  But harder to deal with was the attitude of certain adult authority figures in my life who branded me an “intellectual elitist”.  They thought that when I tried to talk about Doctor Who or history or any of the other subjects that interested me or even when I used long words, I was trying to show off how clever I was and make everyone else look stupid.  This was not my intention.  I genuinely didn’t realise that other people did not share my interests or that adults did not always understand the words I had found in my books and wanted to use.  But the term “intellectual elitist” has stayed with me my whole life and to this day I am wary of sharing things I know with people and absolutely hate to talk about Doctor Who except with other card-carrying fanboys and fangirls.
  4. Packham said that while he doesn’t agree with ‘curing’ autism, particularly not the ‘cures’ he investigated, he thinks there is one safe and painless cure: being alone.  However, this would not suit me.  I am an introvert and a bit of a loner and I do need time by myself.  Nevertheless, I could not cope with being completely alone.  I long for intimate company with a few good friends as well as being accepted by a religious community.  I also want to get married one day and have children.  Certainly my depression gets worse when I am forced to spend significant time alone.  Even just a day or two by myself can bring me quite far down.  I was pleased to see that Packham does have a relationship, albeit with someone he doesn’t live with, as well as having a parental relationship with his step-daughter.  His partner said after ten years she still finds the way his mind works fascinating, although I’m sceptical that anyone could ever find me fascinating.  I do think I would be more willing to force myself into social situations to please my spouse, though, although maybe that is wishful thinking on my part.  (On a related note, my parents were both insistent today that they thought that dating would be beneficial to me, but neither of them has as yet made inquiries about setting me up on a blind date with the daughter of friends of theirs who suffered from OCD.  I’m still not convinced that shared mental health issues are necessarily the best way to start a relationship, though.)

Are You Lonely Tonight?

Funnily enough, most of what I want to write about my Shabbat (Sabbath) was covered in the parasha post I just posted, about the desire for a place where I belong and for  children.  But I will quickly go into more detail.

I was thrown a bit on entering shul (synagogue) on Friday night to see it was laid out a bit differently and as a result I couldn’t sit in my usual place.  I thought I was OK with things like that, but yesterday I was not (another mark in favour of Asperger’s… I wish I had been reading autistic blogs before I had my formal assessment years ago, maybe I would have got a different outcome.  Or maybe not; it does seem that the criteria that the psychiatric community use to assess high functioning autism are not the same things that those on the spectrum see as the most notable or difficult elements of their lives).  Someone who probably counts as a friend (if I haven’t completely alienated him by turning down a lunch invitation the other week out of social anxiety… I’m never sure who I can count as my friends) asked where I was last week and if I was OK, which was nice.  I said I have some ongoing health problems but didn’t go into details because I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate and it was in a very public area.  I would have liked to have said more, but I was glad that I said anything about my health not being 100% as this is usually very hard to admit to.

I didn’t go to the oneg (Shabbat party thing) on Friday evening.  I felt too tired and was worried that I would just feel out of place and I wouldn’t be able to leave early because of the guest speaker.  I was too depressed to go to shul this morning which was probably social anxiety making me avoid it.  I’m going to have act to stop that becoming a habit, as I have missed shul on Shabbat mornings three consecutive weeks now (more if you count Yom Tov too).

I did manage to go to shul this afternoon, albeit that I dozed off after lunch and so arrived late.  We had the family seudah shlishit (third Shabbat meal) which was as awkward as I feared.  I think I was almost the only person over eighteen who wasn’t there with their spouse.  The one or two other single or divorced people must have decided to give a “family” event a miss.  Most people had children with, although I managed to sit on a table without young children, just two teenagers (twin brothers).  I sat with my friend H, but felt out of place and the noise of all the children in the room participating in a game and generally being noisy kids was difficult for me.  I was glad when it was time to daven Ma’ariv (say the evening prayers).

I actually just bought a new book about social anxiety for teenagers (because emotionally that’s where I still am, at least with social anxiety, sadly) and it says you have to force yourself to do things you don’t want to do.  From that point of view, I did the right thing in going to the seudah and the wrong thing in missing the oneg.  Yet that is not what it feels like at all.  I feel guilty for not going to the oneg, but that feels like my internal parental voice repeating what my parents would have told me when I was younger, not what I really feel, although that does not make it easier to ignore it.  I feel like I actually missed something I would not have enjoyed, because I would not have spoken to anyone there or felt that they were my friends.

On the other hand, I should feel good for going to the seudah, yet while I am glad I was seen to be joining in with the community, I didn’t really enjoy it very much (maybe a little bit).  I know I have to go to social events to make friends and to be accepted in the community, but when I manage to get to events, I find it impossible to speak to people and progress from being acquaintances to being friends.  The social anxiety book seems to be based on the premise that with repeated exposure, social interactions will become easier.  It does not seem to be geared up for people who might be on the autistic spectrum and whose brains are not designed to work in social situations the way neurotypical brains work.  And yet I really do want a few friends and a community where I belong.

On the way home I felt very lonely and despairing, feeling that God hates me and wants to hurt and punish me (I’m not sure that ‘punish’ is the right word, as half the time even I don’t know what I’ve done wrong, despite my over-active conscience).  In shul the rabbi spoke of the nachas (untranslatable, sorry) that God must be experiencing from so many Jews keeping Shabbat this week (because of The Shabbat Project/Shabbat UK) especially those who don’t normally keep it.  And I thought God must love the tzaddikim, the righteous Jews, the Jews who keep Shabbat, kashrut, davening etc. flawlessly.  And He must love the tinokim shenishba, the non-observant Jews who don’t know any better because they were brought up non-religious, particularly if they take a step towards observance.  And I’m sure He loves those who left observance because they were abused or their questions were not taken seriously.  But how can He love someone like me, who ostensibly tries to be good, but screws up everything, and I mean everything?  I don’t think I keep any mitzvot (commandments) properly; even today I think I messed up something regarding serving food the appropriate way on Shabbat.  At best I rely on leniencies and bedieveds (things that are OK after the event, but which should not be done deliberately in the first instance).

In shul I was wondering if I still believe God exists.  I think I do, although I rarely feel particularly close to Him.  It is hard to do mitzvot without getting any simcha shel mitzvah (joy in fulfilling the commandments) out of them, especially without feeling like a valued member of a community and especially given that I believe I have done karet sins and have no share in Olam HaBa  (the Next World i.e. Heaven), so I can’t hope for a reward in the future.

Torah from the Depths: Lech Lecha: Progeny and Place

What resonates with me most about this week’s sedra is the idea of impossible hopes.  Rabbi Lord Sacks has pointed out that what Avraham (Abraham) is worried about in this week’s sedra (which all the avot and imahot, the patriarchs and matriarchs, were worried about) is children who will carry on his ideals and a land in which to live out those ideals.  He further points out that throughout three thousand years of Jewish history, these fears have been the same: will there be another generation of Jews and will they have a land of their own?

But I am looking here at it in a personal sense rather than a Zionist or anti-assimilation sense.  The idea of progeny and place.  Somewhere were I can be myself and someone who, while being a separate individual, will in some way carry on the ideals that I live for.  Both of those seem very distant from me, just as they did for Avraham.  More immediate is the promise of the suffering that precedes the reward, the four hundred years of exile, but the suffering seems unending.

Talking/Not Talking

I went to my depression support group last night.  I hadn’t been for a couple of months.  It’s hard to go now I’ve started my new job because I come home tired and hungry and if I was going out to depression group (which is quite a way away) I would have very little time to eat something and try to relax a bit before going out again.  Also, with the Monday meetings (meetings are on the second Monday and last Thursday of the month) I would get home late and struggle to get up early for work the next day; I don’t work on Fridays, although I do have therapy then, so the Thursday meetings would be less of a problem, so I’m hoping to get back to going to those at least, having missed some due to Yom Tov.

I did feel I wasn’t always talking entirely coherently at depression group last night.  A couple of times I started saying something and then had to break off to add in another piece of information I needed to say before I got to the next bit.  I’m not good at talking spontaneously.  I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to say anyway, I just needed to talk.

It just occurred to me that although everyone there has depression and some have anxiety too, few people seem to display the shyness and communication difficulties I have.  I don’t have problems talking about my feelings when it’s my turn to talk, but I do struggle to talk to people during the tea break and usually go and browse the books in the small library of depression books rather than make awkward small talk.  I don’t know whether this is evidence in favour of Asperger’s or just social anxiety, but it is interesting.

When I came home, someone had written a blog post that triggered thoughts of something that happened to me that I’ve been wrestling with lately, wanting to write about it here or on Hevria, but not feeling that it was a good idea.  I emailed the blogger about it, but in retrospect I wonder if that was a mistake, as I don’t really know her and it was quite private.  I had emailed some friends about it, but they were busy and never got back to me and I don’t like to chase them.  I open up to people too much online, and not enough in the real world.

I overslept again today.  I have no idea how I will get up for shul tomorrow.  I’ve discovered that the oneg (Shabbat party) tonight is open not just to my shul (synagogue), but all the shuls in the area, which has further scared me off going, even though there is a guest speaker who a blogger I read raves about.  That makes me want to see what he’s like, but also irrationally puts me off (I asked the blogger out earlier in the year, but she wasn’t interested.  Rationally that has nothing to do with the speaker she likes, but somehow it makes me uncomfortable.  I suppose, as she said we have nothing in common, I wonder whether that means I won’t like the speaker and triggers fears about where I fit in the frum community which have been further triggered by seeing the subject matter of his talks over Shabbat).

I think I need to come up with some precise targets for the social anxiety, but also to work out where my boundaries are and accept that there are some things I am never going to be able to do and probably will not want to do.   My parents used to try to send me to lots of social things and I’ve internalised the voice telling me I should go to things, but I’m not sure there’s much point going if I’m not going to enjoy them much.  However, it’s hard to know what I will enjoy in advance.

Social/Anti-Social

So here we go again with social anxiety.  Having discovered that I haven’t alienated my friends yesterday I’m now plunged into worrying what I should do about some events that are happening at shul (synagogue) over Shabbat (the Sabbath).  First is an oneg (Shabbat party thing) on Friday night, then a “family seudah” (the third Shabbat meal) on Saturday afternoon.  I would unhesitatingly go to the seudah, as I go to them every week that we have them (spring/summer time), except that it’s billed as a “family” seudah, which makes me worry that I’m going to be virtually the only unmarried and childless person there over the age of eighteen, which will prompt thoughts about being unloveable and alone forever.  Even if there is nothing out of the ordinary about the seudah, I’ve now been prepared to feel like this by the name.  But I get the impression that there is a quiz for the children at the very least.

I was going to try to go to the oneg, largely because of my resolution to try to do more social things to attack the social anxiety but, having been depressed all week, I’m not sure I can face it.  My parents are out for dinner, so I’m not sure I wouldn’t be better off having a quiet evening in by myself.  I’ve been so depressed I’ve barely opened a book all week, so it would be good to read for a bit.  However, I’ve a feeling I will end up guilt-tripping myself into going and either having a lousy time not talking to anyone or standing outside crying, unable to get the courage to go in, both of which have happened on previous occasions when I tried to go to onegs.

I find it hard to say, “I don’t like social things and I don’t want to go to them” not least because it isn’t quite true.  I do enjoy some social things, it’s just hard to predict in advance which ones I will like and which ones to avoid.  Also, I was pushed to go to a lot of social things I disliked by my parents when I was younger and I’ve internalised the voice that says I must go to these things, even though I can’t find a good reason why I must go.

I sometimes wish I could be more open about my mental health issues and possible autistic spectrum disorder at work and at shul.  My life might be a bit easier if people knew.  At the very least, it might make me less paranoid that people are judging me when I turn up late for shul or miss it completely and it would save me having to lie about how I feel at work.  I have told my boss, my rabbi and one other person at shul a bit about my mental health, but not everything; I have not told anyone about the Asperger’s because it seems wrong to bring it up when I was told I don’t have it.  I think I have only briefly mentioned to my parents that I’ve been thinking a lot more about it.  In any case, I’m worried that if I say too much about my mental health or Asperger’s at work they will find a pretext to fire me.  That’s probably paranoia, but I do worry that if I say, “Look, I struggle with being on the issue desk and dealing with students sometimes because I’m autistic and not always good at social interactions and thinking on my feet” that will be seen as making excuses or, worse, they will say I won’t get better with time and will fire me.

It isn’t just the fear of dismissal (in all senses of the term) and stigma that keep me from admitting to my mental health issues and the Asperger’s.  It’s just a big subject to ‘casually’ drop into the conversation, especially when you have poor social skills as I do.  And the more I delay having the conversation, the harder it gets to say it.  I only told my boss about the depression because I thought it was relevant to my work and my rabbi because he said something about depression in his shiur (class) and I wanted to ask him something about it.  I did mention the Asperger’s at depression support group tonight (going there was also anxiety-provoking as I haven’t been for some months because it’s hard to go after work although going today it was quite positive in the end), but I think I only managed that because I knew that someone there had a child on the autistic spectrum which made me feel more confident about it.  Someone said there was a good programme on TV the other week about Asperger’s that I might try to watch on iPlayer when I’m at my parents’ house after Shabbat (I don’t have a TV in my flat (I play DVDs on my laptop) so if I watch iPlayer I can get arrested “because of the unique way the BBC extorts money is funded”).

 

Night

This is a follow on from the previous post.

I think I’ve just annoyed or lost two of my few friends.  I’ve probably alienated everyone on Hevria too.  I feel I don’t deserve to live.  I tell myself I don’t deserve to have friends if I’m going to alienate them, but it doesn’t help.  Also, if I feel lonely, I don’t know how not to say it.  It’s not intended as a criticism, I know they don’t live locally, but I still feel lonely and want to say I feel lonely.  I know I can phone them, but I don’t know what to say (Asperger’s) and I don’t want to interrupt them or make demands on them (social anxiety).  Also, I don’t always think the same way they do, which can lead to misunderstanding.

I usually do my hitbodedut meditation/prayer in the dark, but I had to turn on the lights tonight, even though I felt stupid for doing so.  I just felt I couldn’t sit in the dark, feeling awful, hating myself.  Hitbodedut is supposed to make one feel closer to God, but I feel sure God hates me as much as everyone else does.  I feel like I’ve alienated all my friends and family, so I’m sure I’ve alienated Him too.

I want to eat, but I shouldn’t as I’m not hungry.  I’m on three psychiatric medications and they all cause weight gain and I’ve put on a lot of weight lately and am heading towards being overweight, although I don’t look it.  I’ve got rid of all the junk food in my flat so I won’t eat it (except one tiny piece of chocolate, saved for an emotional emergency), but I want to eat cereal, porridge or muesli.  It’s comfort eating, but still fattening.  I don’t know what to do.

A Day in the Life

Disjointed ‘early morning’ (actually after 11.30am, but I’d only just got up) thoughts:

“I didn’t realise I was crying until I felt the tear on my cheek.”

“Why can’t I get anything right?”

“I’ve done things that would make everyone hate me if they knew about them.”

“I am such an idiot.”

“If I’ve been shomer Shabbat for half my lifetime, why am I still having anxiety dreams about breaking Shabbos?”  [It was also a yeshiva anxiety dream, which is at least new for me.]

“The world is sick and crazy” (this on looking at the BBC news website).

“I hate myself.  I hate myself.”

“I feel sick.  I sicken myself.”

“Would I rather be dead or happy?  I’m not sure.”

“Weirdo.  Freak.”

“Why would I be happy as myself?  I hate myself.”

Afternoon thoughts:

Thoughts of scratching myself with my (very blunt) desk scissors (not acted on).

I want friends, I even try to make contact, but they don’t get back to me and live far away anyway and I lack the confidence and energy to chase them or make new friends.  I doubt that I’ll get to the oneg (Shabbat party) organised by my shul this week, and as my parents are out for Shabbat dinner it will be a lonely Friday evening, feeling everyone is having fun without me (it’s Shabbat UK/The Shabbat Project).  I will try to get to depression group for the first time in ages

Mid-afternoon:

Retail therapy: I just bought a load of books.  I bought a book on the laws of muktzah (things that can’t be touched on Shabbat) from the local Jewish bookshop and three books from the charity shop: Homage to Catalonia (which I’d been meaning to get around to reading for ages), a popular economics book and The Writer’s Tale, Russell T. Davies’ book on writing Doctor Who.  The latter was only bought as background for the book I’m writing and I probably won’t read it all, because it’s huge and because I don’t like Davies’ writing or the persona he projects very much and I doubt I can stick with it for 700+ pages.  Maybe that was a mistake, though, as I’ll probably end up reading it (I just flicked through for a couple of minutes and already found something that (a) really annoyed me (for two different reasons) and (b) is important for my book so it’s swings and roundabouts.  I just have to be able to write the chapter without it turning into abuse.  Also, Davies says that Martha is the only one of his companions who is genuinely selfless, which probably explains why she’s my favourite).

Late afternoon: I’ve been sitting aimlessly browsing online for about an hour (to be fair, I did catalogue my new books on Goodreads and eat some fruit (yes, I catalogue my own books.  I am a librarian!)).  Even though I told myself not to.  Even though I didn’t read anything interesting and mostly ended up skimming pages without reading properly (and did read something upsetting in an old blog post by someone who reads my blog – upsetting that she’s struggling with life rather than something offensive).  Even though I told myself to read a book when I’m depressed or even watch a DVD if I’m too depressed to read a book.  Actually, now I think about it, I did spend some time browsing through the Russell T. Davies book, but that was annoying too.  What I’m really doing is procrastinating to avoid cooking dinner.  I feel like crying again.

Early evening:

Still haven’t cooked dinner.  Struggled to daven Ma’ariv (say the evening prayers) when I feel so distant from God and feel like He doesn’t care about me.

I realised I have barely spoken to anyone all week, just a couple of phone calls to my parents, a few words with shop assistants and davening.  I just phoned my Dad and kept shouting at him without really intending to do so.  My parents thought that I’ve been well this week, so I’m obviously becoming a better liar, but made me think that was what prompted him to ask why I’m depressed today, so if I’d been truthful, perhaps that wouldn’t have happened.  Or maybe it was just small talk again.  I don’t see the point of small talk.

My relationship with my parents does make me wonder if I could get married.  I’m not always good at tolerating their quirks and different personalities and I think there has historically been a lot of incomprehension (unstable, unsociable introvert vs. stable, sociable introvert and extrovert, incomprehensible (to neurotypicals) Aspie tendencies, depression and OCD… the depression is probably the thing they deal with best although to be fair they have promised that at my sister’s wedding, they’ll try to get a room for me to go off and be Aspie and introverted (and probably depressed, but I shouldn’t say that)).  All of which makes me wonder if I could cope with someone who wasn’t improbably like me… and if she was improbably like me, then I still probably wouldn’t get on with her, because I hate myself!

I managed to cook dinner in the end, and even did a few minutes (OK, about fifteen or twenty minutes) of Torah study.  I felt tearful again over dinner, watching Doctor Who (The Ribos Operation, not even a particularly bleak or emotional story).  I’ve edited out quite a bit from this post, because it was too personal and too bleak.  I didn’t want people worrying about me.  And yet, that just leaves me feeling lonelier.

There is so much pain in the world and I do so little to alleviate it.  I probably make things worse (e.g. shouting at my parents).  I wish I could do something.  I wish I could say that my suffering is somehow a kapparah (atonement) for the world.  That would make it all worthwhile.  But I’m not a tzaddik (saint).  I wish I was like my childhood hero, the fourth Doctor, saving the universe every week with a smile, a joke and bag of sweets.  There’s an often-repeated idea that your favourite Doctor is the one you grew up with, but I grew up with the first seven in rapid succession.  I think the fourth is my favourite (I have cosplayed, without calling it such) because he’s the one I most want to be: confident, casually intelligent, funny, charismatic and eccentric-yet-endearing (rather than shy, intelligent-but-too-shy-to-speak, serious and freakishly weird.  And I genuinely am as stupid as I seem).

“Quiet, you. I’ve been inside you. There’s not as much there as you think.”

I went to bed before 2.00am last night, but not by much.  I woke up late again, about 11.30, feeling lethargic and depressed, but unlike the last few days once I had managed to get up and eat some breakfast, I felt a lot better, so I decided I would go to see Blade Runner 2049 after all, despite my reservations (about my ability to concentrate, about the film making me depressed and about possible gore), primarily to try to get something positive out of this holiday other than a load of chores completed (most of which will have to be done again soon).

I tried to see it as a bit of an experiment regarding my tolerance for sensory stimulation.  I think I was mostly OK with loud noise, except when it was very loud and I could feel the vibrations.  But sudden loud noise was more problematic, not just explosions and gunshots, but people shouting and even a single note played on a piano in an echoey room.  They all made me jump and feel uncomfortable.

The film was also too gory for me, but I coped, mostly by avoiding looking at the screen during the violence.

Emotionally, I was mostly OK, but in the last fifteen minutes or so I started feeling quite lonely.  I don’t know if that was because loneliness was perhaps a theme of the film (the hero has a holographic girlfriend, presumably because as a replicant, he isn’t allowed a real one, but it could be that he just has “issues”), but in any case, going to the cinema or the theatre always makes me feel depressed and lonely particularly at the end, I’m not sure why (because there’s usually a love story?  Because people go to the cinema or theatre with their significant other?  Because the story in the film or play is neatly tied up, even if the ending is sad, whereas my life goes round in circles, on and on without getting better?  Or just because the actors get applauded for their work (literally in the theatre) and I feel no one notices me?).  I had noticed the depression before and know it’s something I just have to put up with in my very rare trips to the theatre or the cinema, but I don’t think I really registered the loneliness as something that happens until today.  But then on the bus on the way home I didn’t feel like reading and I wasn’t sure why, whether I was depressed or just wanted to rest my eyes, but listening to music I was suddenly on the verge of tears and was for some time afterwards.

Like the Doctor in Logopolis, I sometimes feel I should be running a tighter ship.  On the bus I was thinking that perhaps I should stop blogging, because it feels a bit like prostituting my deepest thoughts (well, some of them.  Most of them, if I’m being honest.  This is about as deep as it gets, sorry) for very little return.  I rarely get comments, although I love to get them (positive ones, anyway), but I think I offended the last person who commented, which wasn’t my intention.  I get a few likes on most posts, so I guess there are about a dozen people out there who get something out of what I write, although don’t ask me what.  I won’t stop, though.  I know I don’t have the self-control.  I’ve tried to stop confessional blogging in the past, but I always come back to it, unlike my other types of writing.  I’m obviously a very confessional person, at least online, which doesn’t fit at all with the image I would like to have of myself as someone self-contained and resilient.

This also makes me worry about relationships – that I’m too self-centred to cope with a proper relationship.  It’s easier to fantasise about what I would like to gain from a relationship than it is to think about what I can give.  Is that the same for everyone, I wonder, or is it just my romantic or even social inexperience?  Or am I just plain selfish?  I should have the evidence of my one previous relationship to disprove that (where my ex repeatedly told me that I was good at being there for her, better than she was at being there for me), but it’s hard to hold on to something like that when a holographic girlfriend seems like the only one who could be interested in me, and not be pushed away by my mental health issues and borderline autism and the solipsism they sometimes induce.

Words, Words, Words

It seems I can’t cope with being on holiday.  I feel very depressed again.  It’s hard to do anything.  I have a list of holiday chores.  Most of them should be relatively quick and easy: clean the flat, make some dinners at least partly from fresh ingredients (omelette tonight, more ambitiously lentil dal tomorrow), do more shopping, continue sorting out my finances, do some proper Torah study, sew two buttons on my trousers and various other things, but everything takes longer than it should because I just want to curl up in bed.  It’s hard even to watch a DVD (see below).  I spend time aimlessly surfing the net without really reading anything.

I was up late last night.  I told myself I was watching Blade Runner, but I actually watched less than an hour of it.  I kept stopping.  Partly, I kept wondering if Blade Runner is really about autistic people.  The plot is about Deckard, a detective (‘blade runner’) who hunts down rogue replicants, androids that are deemed non-human because they can’t feel emotions.  But, the subtext of the film suggests, this is wrong, factually and morally, and the replicants can learn to feel emotions and they shouldn’t be killed.  Similarly, people think autistic people can’t feel emotions whereas we simply struggle to understand and express them.  The replicants struggle to learn human emotions because although they are created as adults, they only have a lifespan of four years, so they are effectively adults learning emotions like children.  This is how I feel.  I feel not so much like a child, but like an adolescent, with my emotions and many of my life experiences (little romantic or work experience).  Maybe that’s reading too much into it.

(Also, did you notice I automatically used “we” for autistic people without qualifying it by saying that I don’t have a proper ASD diagnosis?  I guess I’ve been thinking of myself as autistic-but-misdiagnosed lately.)

It was also hard to concentrate on the film because I was angry with God for hurting good people, or letting them get hurt.  I argued with Him, pleaded with Him.  I don’t think He agrees with me.  Sometimes I think it would be easier if I didn’t believe in Him, but to me the world only makes sense with Him.  There’s too much that doesn’t add up for me without God and Torah and Judaism.  So, we’re kind of stuck with each other.

Anyway, I watched about half of Blade Runner until I was too tired to go on and finished watching it this afternoon, fast-forwarding through the gory bits.  I don’t think I’m going to see the sequel in the cinema, though.  I don’t feel up to living in that bleak future for three consecutive days.

Getting back to how I feel at the moment, there is a quote, attributed to various people, that goes, “The grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for.”  I have something to do, inasmuch as I have a job, during term time, although it isn’t enough to make my mood much better.  I don’t have someone to love and I suspect I never will.  I want someone I can love and be tender with, and who will love me the same way.  I want to marry a sweet, girl-(geek)-next-door-type, but I can’t imagine one being interested in me.

And I feel like I have nothing to hope for.  I’ve struggled with mental illness certainly all my adult life, going back an indeterminate way into adolescence and maybe even childhood.  How can I hope for things to get better?  Things are a lot better than they were… and yet I am still very depressed most of the time.   I try to open up to people a little bit to make friends, but even on the rare occasions I can open up, people aren’t interested or I don’t know what to say or how to progress the friendship.  They don’t respond to me.  I spend much of the day aimlessly surfing the internet (do people still say that?), ostensibly searching for something interesting and thought-provoking or helpful to read, but really looking for connection, for someone who thinks like me (I’m not even talking romantically or even platonically now, just a think-piece author who shares my slightly unconventional views).  Or checking email endlessly hoping someone will get in touch or will like one of my posts (I’ve given up on hoping for comments).

I feel I should give up on dating.  I don’t feel ready for it.  I’ll probably never be ready for it.  I’m just too messed up for anyone to love.  And I know that (contrary to what I quoted my father as saying yesterday), if I’m not happy by myself, I won’t be happy with someone else.  Happiness comes from within, etc., but my ‘within’ is just loneliness and despair.  The problem is, my parents are supposed to be trying to set me up with the daughter of friends of theirs.  I should tell them not to, but somehow I can’t, I don’t know why.  Maybe it’s because my parents keep telling me how well I’ve been doing lately, how proud they are of me and I don’t want to disappoint them by telling them what a mess-up their son is (I haven’t phoned them today because I don’t want to tell them how bad I feel).  Or maybe I just hope being set up with someone who has experienced mental health issues would work, somehow, even though I suspect we don’t have much else in common.

Half the time I don’t have the energy to move.  I can’t get involved in anything.  Reading is just words, music is just noise.  I can’t write coherently.  I have things to do and no energy or motivation to do them.  I can’t use my holiday productively and I can’t use it to relax.  In a few days I will be back at work and desperate for another break.  I’ve only managed a few minutes of Torah study, yet I feel bad about not joining the Mishnah study scheme I mentioned the other day.

Later: I checked two eggs for kashrut purposes without slipping into OCD and then made and ate an omelette (it fell to pieces when I lifted it out of the frying pan and ended up being more like scrambled eggs).  I read a Jewish book for a few more minutes while the eggs were cooking.  I also submitted some mini sagas to Hevria earlier, the first writing I have sent for a major forum since my attempt to sell a Doctor Who article to Den of Geek failed.  I emailed my landlady about the bathroom door jamming and I sorted out the papers in my work folder, a task I was dreading but which only took about five minutes once I sat down to it.  I also set up a direct debit and a standing order to pay my shul (synagogue) fees and emailed a friend to try to organise a social thing, although I have got problems with the direct debit that I need to sort tomorrow.

So I have achieved a few things today, but not enough to consider this a productive holiday.  At the same time, I haven’t enjoyed myself enough (at all, actually) to consider this a refreshing break.  It’s like one long interminable Sunday afternoon, and a dark and wet autumn one at that.  I wish I had someone to talk to, just to chat with (I don’t mean phoning the Samaritans), but the only people I could phone are my parents and, as I said, I don’t want to tell them how I feel.  Anyway, it’s late now.  Sometimes I just feel lost.

Up and Down

I didn’t intend to write four posts in a little over twenty-four hours, but a couple of things happened that I wanted to get down before I forgot and the day has been a rush of emotions that I needed to get out of my system.  In no particular order:

  1. I was just looking through my diary for the past six weeks or so (or two months, if you want stretch it back to when I re-started work on 21 August).  A lot has happened.  I’ve actually achieved quite a bit in terms of some social things, as well as juggling work and Yom Tov (Jewish festivals).  No wonder I’m exhausted!  That actually makes me feel a bit more positive, knowing that I have achieved some things (maybe not big things for other people, but big for me with my depression, OCD, social anxiety and Asperger’s).
  2. I spoke to my parents the other day about dating and marriage.  I said that I’m not sure whether dating is a good thing or whether I am emotionally ready to marry yet, given my mental health.  My Dad said that he felt that if I could find someone who is a good match for me, it would be very good for my mental health.  I suppose having someone who is on my wavelength to talk to would be helpful.  It is hard to believe such a person exists, though, and that my tendency to self-sabotage and my social anxiety and gaucheness wouldn’t derail things.  I hope I am ready to give to someone as well as to receive (to be fair, when I was in a relationship, I gave a lot and got very little back, so that is hopeful).
  3. A lot of people from my shul (synagogue) have signed up for a big scheme to study four mishnayot a day.  It’s supposed to take about fifteen minutes a day.  I was tempted to join, but don’t think it’s a good idea for several reasons.  I’m struggling to do just one mishnah a day (admittedly that’s with quite a bit of commentary, but I think I wouldn’t understand a lot of the mishnayot without commentary); my rabbi mentor advised me to stick to one mishnah a day; and the group study is starting with a different seder (order: the Mishnah, the primary text of the Jewish Oral law, is divided into six sedarim or orders each dealing with a different topic.  They’re starting with the second order, Moed, dealing with festival laws, presumably because it is more relevant to daily Jewish life than the first order, Zeraim, dealing mostly with agricultural laws that haven’t been practised for nearly two thousand years, but that’s where I started).  Still, it’s a shame I can’t join, as some kind of external target might have given me an incentive to keep going and while I dislike broadcasting my religiosity, it probably wouldn’t be a bad thing to show my rabbi and my community I’m not a total am ha’aretz (ignoramus, but with the implication of also not being religiously observant) because they are probably wondering just how frum (religious) I am considering my patchy attendance at shul and total non-attendance at educational events.  Religious study is REALLY important in Orthodox Judaism, particularly for men.  It’s more important than prayer and is treated as if it is more important than most of the other commandments, including acts of kindness.  I’m really bad at it, so I feel that I’m a bad Jew, and that everyone else thinks that I’m a bad Jew.  So far as I can tell, 90% of the people reading this are non-Jews and sometimes I wonder why I can’t seem to connect with my co-religionists, online or in real life.  Do they all disdain me for not being frum enough?  Or is that the social anxiety speaking?  Maybe no one notices or cares about me.  Still, joining in with my community on something would have been nice, especially as I missed the educational event on Friday and I’m not sure I’m going to get to the oneg (Shabbat party) this Friday because of social anxity.
  4. Also, right now I really hate myself for reasons I’m not going to broadcast, but I feel a lousy human being.  I’ve never read the nineteenth century Jewish mystic, Rabbi Tzaddok HaKohen of Lublin, but I’ve seen him quoted as saying, “Sometimes a person will face a test which is so great that it is impossible for him not to sin; it is as the Sages said, ‘What could the boy do, to avoid sinning?’”  It occurs to me that if this is true, then a person can be caught doing something he can’t avoid, but feeling intensely guilty afterwards anyway.  This is a hard test.
  5. Trying to watch Blade Runner, but I can’t really concentrate on it.  Doctor Who and Dad’s Army are more my level at the moment, in terms of concentration level, lighter tone and also coming in short doses (25-30 minutes rather than nearly 2 hours).  Not sure if I’m going to bother going to the cinema to see the sequel this week, might just get the DVD and watch it in bits, which is what I suspect I will do with the first film.  A pity, as I would like to use those free cinema tickets and test how I react to the cinema from an Asperger’s point of view.
  6. I just interrupted the film to check my blog reader.  I’m not sure why; call it depressive poor concentration.  There’s a blog post from someone whose blog I follow with similar problems to me, except more of them and worse.  She’s currently in hospital and suicidal after being sexually abused during a previous hospital stay.  I get angry with God over things like this.  I get frustrated enough over my own issues, but why does a pleasant and intelligent young woman with everything to live for have to get treated like this until she wants to die?  From her blog post and her Twitter feed, she sounds seriously suicidal and I’m very concerned for her.  It makes no sense to me and makes me furious with Him.

“The heartache and the thousand natural shocks/That flesh is heir to”

When I set up this blog, I wanted to write less personal, more objective essays about Judaism and mental health.  Somewhere along the way that got abandoned, as my creative energies went into my Doctor Who book and this blog became a place to vent.  I’m afraid this post is no exception.

I seem to have already drifted into holiday depression, although unlike in the previous school holiday, I was pretty depressed before this one even started.  Lacking a clear objective during the day, not to mention a distraction, it is all too easy to fall back into depression.  Even trying to create objectives does not help as, unless they carry some kind of externally-enforced penalty for non-completion, it is too easy to postpone them until late at night or tomorrow (or indefinitely) when the depression is strong and my willpower is weak.

I let myself sleep in this morning.  Having fallen asleep around 3.00am (very bad, I know – I slept too much during the day), I woke up at 11.30am.  I was too tired to really get going.  I got up and ate some breakfast, but mostly wasted the next couple of hours reading aimlessly online and doing the Doctor Who Magazine crossword and occasionally going back to bed.  I felt incredibly lethargic, totally lacking in energy.  It’s hard to describe this kind of feeling to someone who hasn’t experienced depression, how you can sleep for over eight hours after a day of napping and still wake up exhausted.  It’s a bit like jet lag, but permanent.  I missed Shacharit (morning prayers) completely and tried not to feel bad about it, but it’s hard.

Aside from doing some shopping, I haven’t managed to do very much today.  I’m very much in the “depressive holiday” mode of sleeping late, struggling to get the energy, motivation and enthusiasm to do very much and spending ages aimlessly browsing online (I should at least read some of the various books and journals I’m trying to read at the moment!).  I always feel drained coming back from shopping and I’m not sure how much is being physically tired because of the depression (I don’t drive, so I have a twenty or forty minute round trip (depending which shops I am going to) excluding the actual shopping itself, the latter half of the trip with heavy bags) or emotionally drained from being around other people from the social anxiety and Asperger’s.  It doesn’t help that I usually do shopping on the way home from work, when I’m already exhausted.  I suppose it doesn’t really make much difference, I’m just curious.

I’m trying to make  up my mind whether to go to the cinema to see Blade Runner 2049.  The first Blade Runner film is great (based on an equally great, but rather different book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, one of my favourite authors).  The problem is Blade Runner already pushes my tolerance for gore, and it’s only a twelve certificate whereas the sequel is a fifteen.  I’m a wimp and I don’t like gore, I freely admit it (I’m also not sure why improbable science fiction and fantasy films suddenly need to be full of ‘realistic’ gore).  I’m tempted to just get the DVD, watching on my laptop being a less immersive experience and one that allows me to fast forward the gory bits.  Also, the original film is fairly bleak and I suspect the sequel is equally bleak (again, not sure why people equate ‘adult’ with ‘bleak’ in science fiction these days – an argument with a long pedigree in Doctor Who fandom) and I don’t really have a head for that right now.  And it’s long.  Nearly three hours excluding the trailers.  Again, concentrating like that is hard with depression, whereas with a DVD you can have a break.  On the other hand, it would be nice to do something out of the ordinary with my week off work and I do have free cinema tickets from a promotion my bank was running.  I also want to test how I deal with being in the cinema.  I don’t go to the cinema much (only about once a year) and I want to see if that’s just because I’m not that interested in film as an art form, or if the cinema actually sets off Asperger’s triggers with noise and light and crowds.  I know I often feel depressed after going to the cinema or the theatre.

Speaking of Asperger’s, I just did this test for Asperger’s from Cambridge University’s Autism Research Centre.  Apparently I have an AQ or Autism Quotient of 37, where 16 is the average in the general population and 32 or higher is the usual for people on the autistic spectrum.  The test isn’t supposed to be a diagnostic test per se, but I guess it does show what I’ve been saying, that I’m very autistic-like even if I’m not actually autistic.  I will probably never know for sure if I’m “really” on the autistic spectrum.  Some of the questions were a bit odd though, particularly the one about not liking reading fiction (the assumption seems to be that autistic people can’t understand emotions and therefore would get little out of reading fiction), which anecdotal evidence says is wrong-headed.  I’m certainly an avid reader and always have been, although I guess my preference is for novels of ideas and plot rather than character – my favourite genres are science fiction and golden age detective fiction, both plot- and, in the case of SF, ideas-driven rather than character driven, although I do read and enjoy character-driven classics (I’m currently reading and loving Daniel Deronda by George Eliot, which is very much a novel of character).  But I think I do sometimes struggle to fully understand motivation in character-based fiction and I certainly prefer the plot-driven original run of Doctor Who to the character-based modern iteration.

I should really do some Torah study, but I feel so down and drained that it’s hard to do so, certainly hard to do any Mishnah study.   I was reading something today on whether Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) Jewish society is good or bad for people with Asperger’s.  The argument goes that, on the one hand, people on the autistic spectrum tend to be individualistic and quirky and Charedi society discourages a lot of individuality, particularly in terms of dress and outside interests (depending on just how Charedi you are, you might not be allowed any outside interests at all other than Torah study, particularly if you are a man).  On the other hand, people on the autistic spectrum tend to like clear and precise rules for everything, especially social interactions and have difficulty intuiting things and Orthodox Judaism has a wealth of explicit regulations, both halakhic (from Jewish law) and societal.  Personally, speaking as someone who does not really consider himself ideologically Charedi, but who attends a moderate-Charedi shul (synagogue) for non-ideological reasons (I basically consider myself Modern Orthodox Machmir but attending a moderate Charedi shul), I’m not sure.  I don’t know how things would work out for women at all, I just don’t know enough about Charedi women and the social and religious expectations on them.  As for the men, I think if you can make your special interest Torah study, specifically Talmud study and your Asperger’s manifests in a love of and skill at detailed, hairsplitting argument then you will go far in the Charedi world, maybe even ending up as a Gadol (a great scholar and religious leader).  On the other hand, if, like me, you find Talmudic study difficult and boring (I would rather study Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible), Midrash or Jewish history) and your love of details does not manifest as a head for complex Talmudic arguments and, worst of all, you have a special interest in something from secular culture (Doctor Who in my case), then the living in the Charedi world will be rather difficult.  Even beyond the normal social interaction problems experienced by people on the spectrum, Jewish men in the frum (religious) world are expected to invest significant amounts of time in Torah study at the expense of other hobbies and interests.  Modern Orthodox culture would allow a certain amount of cultural interests (Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, one of the leading Modern Orthodox leaders of recent years, had a PhD in English literature from Harvard and wrote about the ways that a knowledge of literature can help with religious study and understanding; also, the Modern Orthodox world increasingly allows more leeway for non-Talmudic religious study), but I feel I have to hide my Doctor Who fandom in shul.  This is not new to me, as I grew up as a Doctor Who fan when Doctor Who was deeply unfashionable and had to be hidden even in secular society for fear of being branded a geek and, out of habit, I largely hide my fandom even at work, but it is frustrating to have to hide it at shul.  On the plus side, though, I think dating for people with Asperger’s is somewhat easier in the Charedi world.  While there is more stigma around neurodiversity and mental health in the Charedi world than the secular world, in the Charedi world one does not have to actively approach strangers in bars and singles events to date them; rather, one is (hopefully) set up on blind dates with strangers who are deemed to be compatible and although the actual dating is still hard at least it is easier to get a date in the first place.  I dated three women this year which doesn’t sound a lot, but is as many as I have dated in the rest of my life, and two of those I only met because I was set up on a blind date with them.