Social Anxiety Victories

Some good news regarding social anxiety: I did most of an induction today for about twenty English as a second language students (I would have done the whole thing but I had to leave as I was due at the other campus).  I hadn’t done one by myself before.  Not only did I do it, without any of my colleagues around to help if I got stuck, I even turned down an offer to switch lunch breaks to get out of it.  I did ask my colleague what I should say, but I don’t consider that cheating as the difficulty for me is presenting, not working out what to say.  Not only that, but I didn’t shake either, despite being worried that I might, which can trigger it in itself.  I don’t know how much of the induction the students understood (although some of them seemed to have reasonable English), but it’s always pot luck on that score anyway.  To some extent it’s just a formality so that when we give them overdue fines, they can’t say they weren’t warned (although they say that anyway).  The important thing for me was actually presenting to a group fluently (well, reasonably fluently) for the first time in a very long time.

Even more good news: I asked some rowdy students in the library to be quiet and get on with some work.  They even listened to me (for a bit).  I always get scared of doing this, not just because of social anxiety, but because I’m worried they’ll get argumentative or even violent.  I’m not sure if this fear is rooted in tabloid journalism or memories of being bullied at school, although no one was actually violent towards me at school.

Today I did feel like I’m a bit more confident at the library issue desk and able to deal with more problems, although I still have difficulty thinking of solutions while someone is standing over me with a problem.  Let me go off for five minutes and I can usually find some kind of solution, even if it’s not ideal, but with someone standing over me the social anxiety makes me panic and my mind goes blank and all I can think is that I want to get out of there (probably the adrenaline rush).  And generalizing from knowing specific solutions to specific problems to finding general solutions for whole classes of problems and then narrowing that back down to specific solutions for different specific problems is difficult.  This may be a borderline Asperger’s thing.

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Just Plain Wrong? (Rosh Hashanah Post)

I had a longish post in my mind all over Yom Tov, but I don’t really feel well enough to write it now.  To summarize, (sorry, not translating Hebrew to save time.  Google is your friend) I had a really bad cold over Rosh Hashanah.  I made it to shul first day Rosh Hashanah, but I missed second day (including the shofar blowing) and Shabbat Shuva.  I spent most of the day in bed, with what might have been a temperature and certainly was a lot of acheyness, tiredness and congestion.  I felt really bad about this.  I was excited that I would hear the shofar properly both days which the depression has stopped me managing for many years and I was very disappointed when I missed second day.  It really felt like I was trying hard to come closer to God and He was pushing me away (again).  I was supposed to go out for lunch on the second day too, which would have been the first social thing I’ve done in ages, but I missed that too and felt I let my would-be hosts down.  I part-missed another social thing, which was when my second-cousins came over with their young children today.  I slept through most of their time here and although I joined them at the end, I was wary of playing with the kids because I didn’t want to give them my cold, which was a shame as I had been looking forward to playing with them (I like children, but don’t get to be around them much).

Just to make it worse, on first day Yom Tov, on saying the word “be’ahavah” in the Amidah, I really felt that God loved me, which I don’t usually feel.  Of course, there was a downside, which was that I immediately felt utterly unworthy of His love and started crying (in shul).  I felt, not that I had done something wrong, but that I am intrinsically wrong.  Just plain wrong.  And then the next day God stopped me fulfilling His commandments.  It is hard to know what to feel about this.  Certainly feeling that I am wrong is abused child territory.  I was not abused as a child, but I suffered a lot of bullying and emotional neglect and it left me with a lot of self-loathing.  So I don’t know what to think about all of this.

The one good thing that came out of this was that I forced myself to go to shul for Ma’ariv tonight to pick up my tallit and machzor so that they would not get lost (the shul is only a shul on Shabbat and Yom Tov; in the week it is a school and stuff left out goes missing).  A couple of people asked where I had been and if I was OK, including someone I don’t even know very well.  So that did at least make me feel that I’m beginning to be accepted into the community.

Anxieties

I had a tough day, a lot of anxiety and depression at work.  At lunch time I started writing a blog post listing the anxieties I have regarding the (nearly upon us) chaggim (Jewish festivals), but I was running out of time and decided to work on my Doctor Who book instead.  Suffice to say every festival (and we have one a week for a month now) has its own unique anxieties, alongside general anxieties like the fact that I’m finding it harder and harder to get up in the mornings for work and shul (resurgent depression), I keep being too tired to go to Talmud shiur (class) and general social anxiety and work anxiety.  I just sent an email to pretty much every Jewish relative, friend and acquaintance in my address book wishing them shana tova tikatev vetikatem (may you be written and sealed for a good new year), but even that was a struggle with social anxiety.  I kept asking myself if they would want an email from me, maybe they would even be offended by it (now I’m worrying if my non-Jewish friends and readers would want to be included… if you do, consider the greetings extended to you too).

Work was hard not just because of anxiety and depression, but because I was cataloguing a lot of books on childcare (and I have literally just discovered that the catalogue was spelling ‘childcare’ wrongly as ‘child care’ – I should have caught that earlier and am now worried I will get in trouble, although I am really supposed to stick with what is already in the catalogue, which I did) and catalogued a book on learning disabilities and read a lot about Asperger’s Syndrome and autism which reminded me of my odd non-diagnosis.  I was assessed twice for Asperger’s and was told that I have a lot of the symptoms, but not broken down in the right way across the diagnostic categories to be diagnosed.  Then another psychiatrist said she thought I did have it, but without doing an assessment (I think by that stage she didn’t know what to do with me and was just throwing stuff out there).  These days I think I probably don’t have it, as my early childhood was fairly free of symptoms.  I think a naturally introverted personality developed a lot of social anxieties and had somewhat retarded social development as a result of family stress, school bullying and a degree of emotional neglect, but I do feel a certain kinship with people who have Asperger’s and have never worked out quite what to do with my non-diagnosis.  So the book I was cataloguing raised questions I wasn’t really in a fit state to answer, as well as reminding me of some of the more upsetting parts of my childhood.

I missed Talmud shiur again tonight, as I hinted above.  I was too late to say most of Shacharit (morning prayers) this morning too.  I’m struggling to keep my head above the water at the moment and it’s going to get worse before it gets better, with the chaggim and the onset of winter, which always triggers depression in me.  It occurred to me over Shabbat (the Sabbath) that both my rabbi mentor and the rabbi of the shul I am joining are aware that my mental health issues affect/reduce my Torah study and davening (praying) and both are supportive of what I am currently managing to do, so if they are OK with it, maybe I should stop beating myself up.  It’s hard, though.

Anyway, shana tova tikatev vetikatem to anyone I missed out before.  May 5778 be a year of blessing, health, prosperity and peace for us, the Jewish people and the world as a whole.

 

I Am OK (Explosion on the Tube)

Just wanted to reassure anyone who heard the news about the explosion on the London Underground that my family and I are OK.  I don’t use the Tube on Fridays as it’s my day off work and my therapy is now over Skype, although when I was having therapy in person I actually went through Parsons Grove, where the attack was.  I do worry sometimes, not quite in a mental-health-anxiety way, about how dangerous the Tube is, not just from the point of view of terrorism, but of fires.  It really is a death trap, especially at rush hour: deep underground, hundreds of people packed like sardines in tiny trains and tiny corridors…  I try not to think about it or I freak myself out.

I guess no where is safe, though.  I get haunted by a story from the 7/7 bombings.  One of the victims was Israeli and had moved to the UK because she was frightened of being killed by Palestinian terrorism in the second Intifada.  She narrowly escaped being on one of the trains that was blown up only to be murdered on the bus that was blown up as she was going to (as she thought) safety.  It’s a real Death in Tehran story.

The psychologist Viktor Frankl tells the story of Death in Tehran in his book Man’s Search for Meaning:

A rich and mighty Persian once walked in his garden with one of his servants. The servant cried that he had just encountered Death, who had threatened him. He begged his master to give him his fastest horse so that he could make haste and flee to Teheran, which he could reach that same evening. The master consented and the servant galloped off on the horse. On returning to his house the master himself met Death, and questioned him, “Why did you terrify and threaten my servant?” “I did not threaten him; I only showed surprise in still finding him here when I planned to meet him tonight in Teheran,” said Death.

I guess you’re going to go when you’re going to go, which is the message of the next few weeks in the Jewish calendar, with the exception that “repentance, prayer and charity, avert the evil decree.” (Unetaneh Tokef, from the prayers for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur).  May we all be written for life this year, physically and spiritually.

I wasn’t intending to blog today, but I seem to have written a fairly substantial post, but I must leave things here and get on with lunch and pre-Shabbat (Sabbath) chores.

“being a good kissing carrion”

Warning: this is going to be another miscellaneous post that blatantly ignores the classical unities by ranging over various places and dealing with various themes (admitedly all loosely connected with my mental health).  It does mostly stick to the last twenty-four hours, though.  One out of three ain’t bad.

I have been quite depressed again all day, but some unusual things happened at work that are worth recording, for my own records if nothing else.  I struggled to get up again and yet again had to skip most of Shacharit (morning prayers) to get to work on time.  I prayed a tiny bit in the flat and a tiny bit more off by heart while walking to the station. I felt quite down all day and intermittently wanted to just crawl into bed and give up.  (Fortunately I don’t have a bed at work, otherwise I might have got into it.)  I cried at work again.  I wouldn’t mind, but my glasses get tear-spattered even though I don’t produce that many tears and it gets hard to see out of them.

I had a Conversation with my boss.  She asked me how I was getting on with the longer hours and I surprised myself when, for the second time this week (the first being my conversation with the rabbi on Saturday night) I avoid the temptation to say “Fine” and actually admitted to having a problem.  I said my mood has been down since the summer and it hasn’t gone back to normal yet.  I could have said more, but I didn’t have enough courage.  It was a start.  My boss said that I should talk to her if I need to (I think in a practical, “I’m not coping, what can we do about work stress?” way rather than a more “shoulder to cry on” way), which was good.  Unfortunately, at that moment the phone rang and as I was due to take over on the issue desk, I couldn’t wait until she finished the call (which seemed to be too personal for me to be in the room at the same time anyway).  She did later ask if I’m still in therapy and mentioned that she wants to have weekly one-to-one meetings.  I think the latter is more a result of the new job she has given me (see below) than my mental health, but hopefully I’ll have a better idea of how I’m doing.

The new job is to select and purchase new books for the library, alongside clearing out old stock that is either falling to pieces or out of date (obviously books date at different rates in different subjects.  A computer science book from ten years ago is worthless, while an English literature book from the same time may still be very valuable).  I felt quite socially anxious while we were having this conversation.  I could feel my eyelid twitching again, as it has been on and off all day, and I was feeling overwhelmed with anxious and obsessive thoughts (pure O) and had to struggle to concentrate.  At one point I felt that I was about to have a panic attack, although I did not.  I hope I took everything in.  I also hope that this apparent upsurge in the social anxiety is merely a product of taking more notice of it to try and deal with it and not a genuine worsening of the situation.

It didn’t help that a couple of the books I was reading this afternoon triggered difficult feelings in me.  One was a book on diversity and prejudice that failed to mention antisemitism in the index or contents page; Judaism got a couple of mentions in the index, but that turned out to be only in the context of either “The Nazis persecuted lots of people, such as Jews, homosexuals etc.” or accusing Judaism of being discriminatory towards homosexuals and the disabled.  The author said that religious discrimination probably doesn’t exist in America, except for Muslims.  This despite Jews reporting experiencing more hate crime than any other religious group in the US (it was an American book).  From his name, I think the author is an assimilated Jew (the worst antisemites are all Jews).  So that triggered a lot of my politically-minded anger, which I usually try to repress (hence the lack of politics on this blog).

The other trigger was more personal.  I was cataloguing a book on dealing with difficult children in a pre-school childcare situation e.g. kindergarden.  It reminded me of my experiences as a child, that the children who act out end up getting more attention than the “good” children, although to be fair I think the author was trying hard to avoid rewarding bad behaviour with attention.  This in turn reminded me of a story my rabbi told a while back, about a teenager called Tzvi who was dared by his friends to make a prank call on Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, probably the leading Orthodox halakhicist (Jewish legal expert) of the twentieth century.  Despite the fact that the prank call occured after midnight (the young man had got the rabbi out of bed for what he said was a life or death question, which was actually something deliberately inane), Rav Moshe Feinstein sensed the disaffection in the young man and rather than slamming the phone down on him and going back to bed, he spent an hour studying Talmud with Tzvi to prepare the teenager for his next school class, even telling him a kasha (a question or difficulty, usually a logical inconsistency found in an earlier text) he had on a comment in Tosafot (one of the main Medieval commentaries on the Talmud) that he had never put in his books so that Tzvi could impress his teacher the next day, thereby showing him that studying Talmud could be more enjoyable than making prank phone calls.  Tzvi is apparently now a Rosh Yeshiva (head of a religious seminary and about the most prestigious job in the Orthodox Jewish community).  I thought, when I first heard this story, that if I had been at that school, I would have struggled through Talmud class without ever being disaffected enough to make rebellious prank calls and have a chevruta (paired study session) with a great rabbi to teach me how to learn and fill me with enthusiasm for the Talmud.

I shouldn’t sound too put out, as I got enough attention to get to Oxford, but I do feel that I was left to my own devices a bit at home and at school growing up and no one really noticed how badly I was doing emotionally, least of all myself.  My Mum made a couple of efforts to get me to counselling, but she didn’t really convince me that I should go and I never went.  I did go to counselling when I was sixteen and having my first episode of depression, but I sat in silence for four sessions and then gave up, although I remember the counsellor trying to dissuade me and saying that she thought I really needed help.  I wasn’t really ready to talk, mostly because I wasn’t sufficiently aware of my emotions to actually be able to talk.  I remember the counsellor asked something about my sexuality and I literally didn’t know what to say.  I knew I had a massive crush on a girl who barely registered my existence and probably didn’t like me much, but I couldn’t put that into words, let alone describe my loneliness and the confusion, guilt and shame that my desires instilled in me.

I spent a chunk of my lunch break today working on my Doctor Who book at the office.  I’m not sure how ethical that is, but it actually refreshed me more than just eating my sandwich and reading would have done.  I definitely think I need more intellectual stimulation of some kind, although how I fit it in with all the other things I should be doing/want to do is another question.  The book itself is proceding too slowly and sporadically to be that intellectual stimulation in a consistent way.  I am basically working my way through fifty-plus years of episodes finding new ideas to fit into what are essentially fourteen existing chapters (originally blog posts on my other blog) with another chapter to be written from scratch (more chapters if the book takes long enough that they make a lot more episodes!).  I need something more rewarding than my current life, although depressive anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure) might prevent that.  Certainly it prevents me enjoying my religious life, as I have noted in the past.  Currently I feel like today’s Dilbert cartoon.

The other thing I might enjoy is dating.  I am still not sure whether I should be thinking of dating again soon.  One of my non-biological older sisters remarked to me recently that more interesting and rounded people find it harder to find a soul-mate corresponding to them.  I suppose that makes sense, but I know interesting people who got married at a young age and while my arrogance and tendency to solipsism half-convince me at times that I have a more fascinating and complex inner life than most people, I don’t seriously believe that that is the case.  (It would be nice, though, but also isolating.  Reminds me of this xkcd cartoon.)

I went round to my ex-date’s flat for a few minutes to give her a present to say thank you for Shabbat lunch the other week.  When I got there, someone else was there, another friend of my sister who I was once vaguely interested in only to quickly pick up the vibe that she wasn’t interested in me (not that I asked her out or even flirted, I’m not that brave).  I was surprised that she even remembered who I am.  I felt bad that my Mum had given me a lift because I don’t drive and that she saw me going to my Mum’s car and getting in on the passenger side.  (I don’t normally ask for lifts from my parents, but occasionally necessity forces me to do so.  The not driving, incidentally, is probably another anxiety I ought to confront at some point.)  Sometimes I wonder if everyone is laughing at me when my back is turned, or if they just secretly can’t stand me.  I think I’d prefer being laughed at.  I’m not sure if either is better than the most probable reality, which is simply that I’m ignored and no one actually thinks of me at all when I’m not around.  No wonder I turn to solipsism, at least if I’m the only person in the universe I can be sure exists I matter in some way.

That Was (Nearly) The Year That Was

I’m blogging in my lunch hour again (finishing, proof-reading and posting later) because in the evenings I lack the time and energy to blog.  I have a load of ideas for posts that are more in depth than these kinds of “what happened to me today” posts, but I simply don’t have the time to write them; what energy and time I have for more analytical writing goes on my Doctor Who book.

In a week and a few hours, it will be Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.  According to the Talmud on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur ten days later, we get judged for life or death in the coming year.  I can’t remember how it goes exactly, but I think with regard to physical life (whether we live or die in the coming year) we get judged on Rosh Hashanah, but with regard to spiritual reward within this world (whether we get to enjoy living a religious life in the coming year so that we can continue with it more easily), the clearly righteous and the clearly wicked are judged for spiritual life and death respectively straight away and the rest of us have until Yom Kippur to sway the balance in favour of spiritual life and enjoyment.  This being the case, I feel I must be pretty bad, or have not prayed well enough in the past, as I don’t really get much enjoyment out of my religious life, or anything else really.  I don’t know how depressive anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure) fits into this.  Still, apple dipped in honey is nice.

I feel this year has overstayed its welcome.  It was a crazy year, full of ups and downs.  At one stage I was so depressed I thought I would have to be hospitalized to stop me from trying to kill myself; at another stage I thought I had finally got over the depression and now I’m somewhere in between the two, functional, but still quite depressed.  I have got my OCD more under control, but I have become more aware of how much my social anxieties are holding me back.  I started I started a new job much closer to full time, but find myself asking if it was the right decision.  I feel I can’t think on my feet quickly enough to deal with users on a regular basis, especially teenagers, I feel I’m learning the procedures of the new job too slowly and I don’t yet feel comfortable in the working environment.  I worry that I’m not doing a good enough job.  I wonder if have over-extended myself by working so many hours.  Moving back to this year, I did try some dating again, but just ended up more lonely and depressed, although I have made some friends.  And my little sister got engaged, something that I think I’m only just beginning to process, while the thought of the party hits me with dread (including the interaction with work – my family say to ask for time off the day after the wedding, but I’m wary of asking for more TOIL given the problems I have had with it for Yom Tov (festivals) so I may end up going to work like a zombie on three hours sleep the next day).

This morning was another struggle to get up.  I actually overslept slightly, which is worrying as usually I do at least wake up on time even if I don’t get up.  I wanted to just stay in bed which is bad as it’s always a sign of depression with me.  I cried on the Tube into work, actual tears rolling down my face.  I don’t know if anyone saw (it is a point of etiquette on the Tube to take no notice whatsoever of the other passengers no matter what they do).  I cried at work yesterday too, I think.  I’m coming to think that I cry more often than I realized.  It’s hard to tell because, as I think I’ve mentioned before, I have two ways of crying, either just trying to carry on as normal with tears rolling down my face or giving in to intense sobbing without tears, but I can’t get tears and sobs together, which is what I associate with crying.  I think the “tears rolling down my face” crying happens quite a bit, but most of the time I just assume I’ve got something in my eye, as I’m not consciously more depressed than normal, although this may just be an indication of how depressed my ‘normal’ is.

Work was OK today, but slow.  Cataloguing was particularly slow because not only was I finding it hard to concentrate, but I wanted to read the books I was cataloguing.  I guess there aren’t many people who would be equally interested in books on politics, child development and neurodiversity (dyslexia in this case), but there you go.  Incidentally, I may have been self-harming a bit at work these last few days, but it may be normal ‘stimming’ behaviour for someone on the borderline of Asperger’s Syndrome (pulling hair, putting pressure on my fingers etc. as well as general fidgeting).  I really must get around to writing about that at some point as I still wonder about my non-diagnosis.

I spent a while at lunchtime agonizing about the potential date I thought I had, but it was a waste of time.  It turns out she thinks she knows me (I have no idea how, as I don’t know her, but people do sometimes know me when I don’t know them; I guess they say, “Who’s that weird guy who never talks or makes eye contact?”) and thinks our religious differences are too great.  So that’s that.  It does at least spare me a decision.  I might go to the specialist shadchan (matchmaker) at some point in the new year, if I think I’m coping with my mental health and with work (ha ha).

Another Day

I feel rather depressed and anxious today.  I made some more mistakes at work.  I know, mistakes are how we grow and no one died and the college didn’t lose any money and the mistakes were trivial in the grand scheme of things.  I still feel bad and am worried that I’ve upset my boss.  I don’t know whether I’m misreading the situation or if she’s genuinely annoyed with me (and if she is, whether she has reason to be annoyed).  I want to ask if things are OK, but I don’t want to sound needy by looking for reassurance, which would also stoke the social anxiety (which is what this is).  I’m worried that I’ll be fired, not for anything I’ve done so far, but that things will deteriorate further somehow.  I’m probably being silly, but my mood has plummeted (although it wasn’t great when I woke up – it was very hard to get going) and the muscles in my eyelid have been twitching, which is a nervous thing that hasn’t happened for a while (although I did briefly have other muscle spasms in my meeting with the rabbi on Saturday night).

Something else I’ve been thinking about recently: at the weekend, my uncle was trying to set me up on a date with a friend of a friend, but he wasn’t sure if she was frum (religious) enough for me.  I won’t go into all the details to protect her identity, but I wasn’t sure whether to say yes or not, so I asked for more details, but all I got was her name and told if I wanted to find out more about her I should go out with her.  I had sort of decided that I would go (assuming she wants to) purely because I’m trying to take the social opportunities offered to me as a way of fighting the social anxiety (for the same reason I’m probably going to go for Shabbat lunch at friends of my parents’ even though normally I would stay at home by myself), but once I knew her name I gave in to weakness and googled her (it’s an unusual name and I had been told her profession which is also unusual).  I had two responses from her Facebook page: one was wondering whether we would actually have anything in common, the other was thinking that she looks far too pretty to consider going out with me.  Really out of my league.  And she has interesting and unusual hobbies that make her seem rounded and interesting.

So now I’m nervous of saying yes, because I think it will end badly, either because she isn’t frum enough for me or because I’m basically not good enough for her.  I told my uncle it would have to wait a few weeks until we’re past the chaggim (festivals) because I want to check I’m OK with working four days a week (today I’m struggling…) and also because I want to see that I don’t fall back into deep depression over the chaggim.  Which is another reason it won’t work, of course, because I could easily fall back into depression and anxiety and OCD (like today, although no OCD so far) which makes me fundamentally unlovable cf. previous possible relationships abandoned because of my mental health and general weirdness (and I resolved to stop putting myself down so much!).

Also by unfortunately coincidence her name is the same as (a) the first woman I asked our (she said no and later stopped talking to me) and (b) the woman I had my first and thus far only relationship with… a name I associate with bittersweet memories and rejection.  I don’t know why it keeps coming up in my life.  I suppose there is some hope in there, wondering if it could work out, but it gets quickly shot down by the feeling that it would never work and it’s silly even to try.  I do feel a bit of anger mixed in with the despair, at the whole “he’s a guy, she’s a girl, let’s put them together and see what happens” school of matchmaking, rather than researching to see they have compatible interests and personalities, but I guess that’s another rant entirely…

Shul News

Today was focused on shul (synagogue) despite quite a lot happening at home.  I was with my parents as usual for Shabbat (the Sabbath) and my uncle and sister were staying with my sister’s fiancé coming for lunch.  I had some OCD, unfortunately, although it wasn’t too bad.

Shul started earlier today and unfortunately I overslept and was fifteen minutes late (so I would have been on time most weeks!).  I forced myself to talk to people at the kiddush and on the way home on Friday night which was a positive step to dealing with the social anxiety.  I was called to the Torah again, which was nice, but I wonder if it’s more than my fair share as I seem to have been called three or four times in the last few months.  The part I was called for started with curses, but ended with blessings, which part of me wants to see as a good sign, but I try not to look for signs because (a) we’re not supposed to and (b) once you get into that mindset, there is no end to the things you can convince yourself that you’ve seen, good and bad.  It’s true that last year started badly but seems to be ending a lot better.

Bizarrely, the most profound religious moment for me came during the rabbi’s sermon, when a two year old child wandered in to shul and interrupted proceedings calling “I fell over!  Where is daddy?  Where is daddy?  I fell over!”  I reflected that’s how I feel right now: I fell over and I’m looking for Daddy  (Avinu Malkeinu, our Father, our King).  I know there are militant atheists who see religion as a childish search for love and security and normally I would disagree, but at the moment I think the only mistaken word in that is “childish.”  Because adults need love and security too and I don’t see anything wrong with getting that from God as well as other people (let alone money, fame, drugs, meaningless sex or the other things some people turn to fill the void in their life).

The evening was more positive.  I met with the rabbi of the shul I’m joining.  The meeting turned out not to be a scary interview, but simply a little chat to get to know me a bit better and to see how I will fit into the community.  I had mentioned my mental health issues a bit to the rabbi in the past and we spoke a bit about them (it was good that I felt able to speak about them), about the way that my personal growth as a Jew is tied up with managing my mental health, about the need for realistic, small goals for the future and so on.  The rabbi seemed very understanding and sympathetic, especially when I said that I struggle sometimes to get the energy or mindset for prayer or Torah study, which was good as I had been particularly worried that he wouldn’t understand and would try to cajole me into going to shul more often that I feel comfortable with.  He was pleased that I get to a weekly beginners Talmud shiur.  We spoke a bit about dealing with religious OCD and I said that while he would normally answer questions, sometimes with the OCD it’s better to say that something is not a serious concern and not get into it any further, because otherwise it actually fuels the OCD, which he seemed receptive to.  He offered to meet every few weeks if I would like just to “touch base” which I thought was a nice offer and one I might take him up on in the future.

I spoke about going down a bit over the summer and I was just going to leave it at that, but on impulse I mentioned that the low mood had been triggered by dating, by a date that seemed to be going somewhere which did not work out.  I didn’t make a huge thing about it, but I thought I would drop a hint that I am “in the parasha” as they say (literally “in the paragraph/passage” but idiomatically at a particular stage in life, usually referring to the life-stage of looking for a spouse).  Who knows, he might meet someone who he thinks is suitable for me (rabbis meet a lot of different people) and arrange a shidduch (date).  I also mentioned that there is a rabbi I speak to regularly about my mental health and personal growth (the rabbi I refer to here as my rabbi mentor) as I thought that was worth saying.  As it happens, he turned out to know him a bit, which didn’t surprise me as my rabbi mentor knows lots of people and used to live in this area and fortunately he approved of him.

One little thing I noticed that indicated that the community rabbi understands me is that he said that normally when someone joins the community, they make an announcement in shul, but he wanted to check that I was OK with that, presumably because I mentioned that I have some social anxiety.  I said I would like it, because I’ve been going to that shul about eighteen months now and I’m beginning to be recognized so I think it will be nice to announce that I’m finally paying my dues, literally and metaphorically, and becoming a proper member, but I’m glad he checked it was OK with me first.

I came away from the meeting feeling very positive about be accepted into the community more and having the positive relationship with a rabbi that is necessary to be part of a frum (religious) community.  I definitely feel that a small, friendly, observant community is the place for me to be right now.  Hopefully it will be somewhere I can grow both as a human being and a Jew and maybe even make some friends and feel accepted.

Roads Taken and Not Taken

Another miscellaneous post:

Today was probably the best work day this week, in terms of mood, energy, concentration and not making mistakes (although I still made a few), but even then on the way home I found myself reflecting that I’ll probably kill myself one day.  It’s frightening how a despairing and self-hating thought (if it was self-hating – it came more from resignation and despair than self-loathing) can spring from nowhere and make me assume that I will always be sad and lonely until eventually I won’t be able to take it any more.  On the way home I also found myself reflecting that my lapse back into depression means that I still haven’t managed to go more than six months or so without clinical depression since the start of 2003.  That’s almost the entire lifetime of some of the students I’m dealing with!  (Registering people to use the library today I reflected that many of them were born in the twenty-first century, whereas I can remember when the twenty-first century seemed a distant and unobtainable science fictional future to me).

My CBT therapist suggested a while back that my mental health is worsened by a lack of intellectual stimulation.  At the time I thought that my work was intellectual stimulation enough, but now I’m not sure.  I don’t think blogging or writing my book help either.  I don’t know what to do about this.

I have an appointment set up with the rabbi of the shul (synagogue) I am hoping to join.  I’m terrified that I’ll somehow be caught out, embarrassed and forbidden to join.  I’m sure it’s just a friendly meeting to get to know me better, but I can’t stop catastrophizing and feeling that this will be yet another situation where I don’t fit in.  I have also booked to go to the shul‘s siyum Mishnayot next week (a siyum is a big party to celebrate finishing some Jewish study, typically Mishnah or Talmud).  I’m a bit nervous and worried about who I will talk to, if I will embarrass myself, if I was supposed to do some study to be allowed to attend…

I mentioned volunteering yesterday as something that I should consider doing instead of dating.  I had a quick look on the Jewish Volunteering Network website, but there was very little that was suitable for me, although my lack of confidence in my abilities probably didn’t help; I used the site’s filters to rule out a whole load of areas assuming that I couldn’t do those things.  I’d like to do something interpersonal, maybe with children or the elderly, but I doubt that my social skills are good enough and expect that I would probably be a mess of social anxiety the whole time and be a liability rather than an asset.

So dating seems like more of an option, if I get through the chaggim (Jewish festivals) without collapsing under the strain of depression, social anxiety and OCD (I already feel anxious just thinking about them!).  But I still can’t see myself finding someone who both likes me and is compatible with me, even if I go to the shadchan (matchmaker) who specializes in dealing with people with health issues.  The better option would seem to be accepting being single and find other ways to give (but see my comments about volunteering) and receive love and companionship (unfortunately, people are not queueing up to be my friend).   I’d be tempted to get a pet, but I don’t have room in my flat and anyway I’m not really an animal person.

A thought that has bothered me for the last twenty-four hours or so: one Valentine’s Day I was on a crowded Tube train going to school.  There were some girls from my class in the same carriage.  I could hear them talking, but they couldn’t see me through the crowd and I could hear them saying that they had a Valentine’s Day card and were going to write a fake message to one of the geeky boys as a practical joke.  My name was one of the ones mentioned, I think.  At another time, I was sitting in French class working when I could here the girls behind me writing a frankly obscene “romantic” note supposedly from one of the geeky girls to me, as another practical joke.  My friend intercepted the note, not realizing that I had heard what they were saying as much as he had.  (This was the same friend who got production of our yearbook when we finished GCSEs aged 16 stopped because the writers were so rude about the geeky crowd I was friendly with.  I never found out what they said, although sometimes I wonder what they said about me.  Maybe it is better not to know.)

I don’t know why I keep thinking of these two incidents.  Maybe it’s another way of beating myself up, of saying that everyone has known for years that I am weird and unlovable, laughably so, and I should just stop trying to be happy and loved.  Maybe it’s because I wonder what would have happened if I had asked one of the geeky girls out (they were geeky in terms of being clever and academic rather than being interested in science fiction and the like, but still).  My oldest friend did that and they got married and have two children.  Most of the geeky girls were not frum, so far as I was aware, but I wasn’t frum then either.  I doubt I would have married any of them, but perhaps if I had dated a bit when I was sixteen or seventeen I would have had a better self-image.  I know, I’m frum now and supposed to disapprove of casual dating and focus on dating for marriage.  But I still wonder.  I guess my life could have gone very differently, but there is no end to self-recrimination if one goes down this route.

Envy

I don’t think of myself as an envious person, but over the last few years I have been increasingly visited by envy.  It probably started a few years ago, when Hevria was launched and I felt strongly that I wanted to write for it, but wasn’t asked.  After about six months I volunteered, only to be turned down; I’m still not entirely sure why.  I got very upset and my writing never really recovered.  I’ve written odd bits and pieces since then, including a couple of guest posts for Hevria and one piece for Den of Geek that I got paid for, but almost no poetry and it took a long time before I turned back to writing regularly when I started this blog and started editing various Doctor Who blog posts into a book.  (In the end I was sort of offered the chance to write regularly for Hevria, but I no longer have the time and I still feel blocked from that kind of writing, although I’m not sure how serious the offer was anyway.  But it felt good to be offered anyway.)

Then last year I managed, somehow, to go out for a Shabbat tisch (community Sabbath party thing) hosted by someone from the shul I’m trying to move to.  He is my age or even younger and as I walked into his house and saw his lovely home and cute children and beautiful wife (I didn’t actually see his wife.  I once saw him talking to a woman who I assumed was his wife, given that he’s very frum and probably doesn’t talk to other women if he can avoid it, but I could be wrong) and felt that he had all the things that I wanted.  I had to force myself not to feel envy and it was hard.  I felt a similar thing when I went to my ex-date for lunch this last Shabbat: her flat is so much larger and more comfortable and attractive than my tiny converted garage.  I told myself more space means more housework, but I’m not sure how convinced I was.

I envy a lot of my peers their lives, their friendships, their relationships and their children, all the things I want and lack, but I also envy their Torah learning and mitzvot (commandments).  I want to be a better Jew and I assume my peers are all doing better at that than I am.  I know we are told that what matters is the effort, not the achievement, and I have to put in a lot of effort just to stay in the same place, let alone to grow and I have no idea how much effort they put in.  But it is hard not to feel inadequate, to feel that I could be better if I was more like them.  I feel I lack the joy and passion others can find in religion; I feel as if I’m doing things out of obligation and saying prayers by rote rather than really connecting with God and Torah.  I still believe, I just don’t feel, I suspect my depression stops me feeling.  It is difficult.

I suppose what it all boils down to is a feeling that life has passed me by, that I will never have the joy or pleasure or love or simple satisfaction in my achievements that other people get to experience.  Funnily enough, it has been suggested to me that other children were envious of me at school and that this was why they bullied me.  I find this hard to believe, but also vaguely unfair, given that I think my academic achievement was the product of hard work rather than natural cleverness; I was intelligent at school, but I had to work hard for my grades.

I try to feel gratitude as the antidote to envy.  I try to thank God for at least five things every day (even if it’s “Thank you that I didn’t hurt myself when I felt so depressed”).  I get on better with my family than I used to do, certainly better than a lot of other people do.  I have a job (two-thirds of a full-time job now), which is worth something in this economy and also given that a few years ago it seemed completely impossible that I would ever be working.  I live by myself without trouble and I have some friends, even if they do largely live inside my computer.  But I feel I need something more.  I have no joy, no romantic/sexual love, no passion, no purpose and it is hard not to envy those who do have these things.

I suspect I need something else in my life.  Sherlock Holmes turned to drugs to stimulate his brain when work dried up; I suspect I too need something to fill my non-work hours, but hopefully something healthier and more socially acceptable.  My work on my book precludes other hobbies, but it offers one possible outlet, but it is going slowly thanks to my having to watch so many old episodes of Doctor Who for research.  I’m not sure my religion can offer me anything more than more frustration at the moment.  I can’t stand any party enough to get involved in politics.  That leaves dating and volunteering.  The former is tempting, but maybe the latter is more sensible (in the sense that I don’t know if I’m ready for dating, but also that I doubt anyone would want me anyway and maybe it’s just easier not to bother looking).  But I haven’t the time or energy for either at the moment; I’ll just have to hope things get easier if and when I have settled into a new work routine.

News Update

First, this is very true.

There’s a lot I’d like to say, but I’m short on time now I work four full days a week.  I sent my boss an email apologizing again for my mistake last week.  She said she was just trying to make me aware that I should see her first before talking to other staff members about rota changes, as this has caused serious problems in the past and that she was sorry if I was anxious about it (I hadn’t mentioned the anxiety).  I now have my time off in lieu sorted for the chaggim (Jewish festivals), although the OCD keeps making me double-check the dates because I’m worried I’ve got them wrong.  Sigh.

I spoke to my rabbi mentor about Jewish new year resolutions.   (To clarify, my rabbi mentor is someone I’ve known since my university days where he was the Jewish chaplain; he isn’t the rabbi of the shul (synagogue) I currently belong to or the one I’m hoping to move to.)  He said I shouldn’t push myself too hard and I should just focus on one or two key areas.  I think improving my mental health (depression and social anxiety) is the main task for this year just as much as it was for last year, even if that doesn’t seem ‘religious’ (although it is).  In terms of more overtly religious things, I am aiming to try to study one Mishnah a day on average (some days more, as I study on the train on work days and I may get the time, some days less, when the depression is bad or I want to study other things… I’m still not sure how this is going to work out exactly) as well as having kavannah (concentration) in prayer for the first paragraphs of the Shema, the Amidah and bentsching.  Anything else would probably be pushing myself too far at a time when I’m under a lot of new stress (particularly if I go back to dating soon), although I’m glad that I’ve sort of ticked the three boxes of the three things that the world stands on according to the Mishnah in Pirkei Avot (in the name of Shimon HaTzaddik): Torah study, divine service (prayer in the contemporary context) and acts of kindness, albeit assuming dealing with my mental health can be considered an act of kindness if I am the main beneficiary.

I mentioned dating and I’m still not sure what to do about that.  I’m very tempted to see if the shadchan (matchmaker) who deals with people with health issues can help me, but I’m still worried she only deals with Charedi people and only with physical, not mental illnesses.  I suppose the worst that can happen is that she turns me away.  More pertinently, I wonder how sensible it is to let myself be set up only with people with issues, to some extent in case I can’t deal with them (in which case I shouldn’t expect anyone to deal with my issues), but more because of fear it plays to my desire to be a white knight and ‘save’ a woman who probably doesn’t see herself as needing or wanting saving.  Regarding the former point, I stayed with my ex for a long time after her undiagnosed issues came out and I only left her because she was refusing help while increasingly hurting me.  Regarding the latter point, I have no idea what to make of it and would probably have to try it and see what happens.  I do wonder if I’m ready to date seriously for marriage though.  I’m not quite sure how I could tell.  I certainly need to wait until I’m more settled with my longer hours and past the chaggim.  On days like today I’m happier with myself than I’ve been in the past and not really lonely, but that doesn’t say very much.  I feel I want to give to someone, but I have such little experience of anyone accepting anything from me that it is hard to tell if I am willing to do it enough.  I am happier when I’m seeing someone who I think likes me, but I’m not sure that that really proves anything.

Luftmentsch 1, Social Anxiety 0

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was mostly good, somewhat to my surprise.  I woke up a bit late, but I was overwhelmed by anxiety about work and stayed in bed for twenty minutes or so, making me very late for shul (synagogue).  I did manage to meet my social anxiety CBT target of wishing a “gut Shabbos” to someone I don’t normally talk to (actually to two people) and I spoke to someone who started a conversation with me.

Then I walked to the flat of the woman I was dating a few weeks ago for lunch.  The walk itself was about six miles and took just under an hour and a half, so a twelve mile, three hour round trip, by myself and without music etc.  It was a little boring, but manageable, although I should have worn thicker socks and a hat as I ended up with blisters on my feet and a migraine in the evening.  I have been so consumed with work anxiety this week that I ‘forgot’ to worry about lunch until I was walking there, when I suddenly started worrying that I would be too shy to talk to anyone and also that I would get lost and not be able to find the flat (I didn’t).  Initially I did find it hard to speak to people, but once we all sat down to lunch I became more confident.  It probably helped that I was next to someone who seemed quite talkative (in a good way) and asked me lots of questions about myself.  I tried to speak quite freely about myself for a change, even though it took me to areas I normally try to keep quiet i.e. Doctor Who fandom and mental health (although I didn’t quite say that I have mental health issues).  After a while I felt confident in joining in the general discussion around the table.

Unfortunately I couldn’t stay as long as I would have liked, as I wanted to be back in time for shul, but it was a boost to (a) be able to converse with other people my age and level of frumkeit (religiosity) about myself and my interests and (b) to realize that there are still plenty of other frum people roughly my age who are unmarried (of the eleven adults (plus one baby) present, only two were married) and none of them, male or female, seemed the unmarriable freaks I sometimes fear I am.  This makes me feel more confident about resuming dating in a couple of months’ time, although I still think contacting the shadchan (matchmaker) who specializes in matching up people with health issues or other issues is probably the place to start.

On the way home I reflected that I might be more interesting than I usually assume.  I do have a range of interests and hobbies, from Jewish learning and reading (Torah and Jewish history, nineteenth century Yiddish literature) to general history to science fiction, particularly vintage British TV science fiction to creative writing to jogging.  I’ve met (and dated) plenty of people who struggle to find so many interests.  This was not the first time I have thought this recently, but it is still a new and unusual enough thought that it is hard to believe it or think it without a degree of effort.

With these boosts to my self-esteem, my anxiety faded somewhat on the return trip.  I managed to talk to people a bit at seudah (the third Shabbat meal) at shul and listened with interest to the shiur (class), although unfortunately it was around this time the migraine kicked in, so I couldn’t concentrate as well as I would have liked.  (I’m going to get religious for a few lines so feel free to skip ahead if this doesn’t mean much to you.)  The rabbi was talking about the paradoxical nature of the forthcoming Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) festival where we are supposed to feel fear of God, but also love of God.  This seems contradictory, but he argued we start feeling fear that our lives for the next year are being decided today, move to a feeling of dependence when we realize that not just every year, but even every moment of life that we have is given by God and that we have no ultimate control over the matter, but this dependence in turn leads to appreciate for the lives we have and the realization that God has given us this life to grow into the best people we can be, which in turn leads to love for God.  This was what I really needed to hear right now and it was unfortunate that my head was aching and I couldn’t take it all in.

I had to leave shul early during  Ma’ariv because I felt too ill: my head was pounding and I felt sick; the fact that the shul is a very hot and poorly-ventilated building didn’t help.  Again, there was a positive here as in the past I would have forced myself to say the whole of Ma’ariv despite my headache and stay until the end, whereas today I said the essential prayers quickly to myself and went home long before the rest of the congregation, which I think shows that I am beginning to put my own needs first when necessary and to worry less about the negative judgment of others.

So all in all a positive day.  I have a busy day ahead of me tomorrow, so I should get to bed soon.

More on Social Anxiety

It’s 2.00pm.  I’ve been up about an hour and am still in my pyjamas.  I’ve spent the time I’ve been awake feeling incredibly depressed and anxious about work.  I need to get myself together as it’s Shabbat in a few hours; also, I’m out for lunch tomorrow and need to be in a good state of mind if possible.  It’s hard, though.  I was too tired and depressed to daven Shacharit (say morning prayers); normally I would say a couple of important prayers in my pyjamas before eating if I was too depressed to get dressed and pray properly first, but today I couldn’t even do that.  I want to email my boss apologizing again for my mistake and promising to do better in future, but I feel too depressed to do that properly too.  I’m not really in a fit state to blog, but I wrote this post about social anxiety yesterday and saved it for today as I had already written one long post.

I feel vaguely disingenuous writing about social anxiety, as I had a psychological review a number of years ago that suggested I have strong anxieties about social situations, but not enough to be classified as social phobia/social anxiety.  It’s pretty undeniable I get anxious about social situations, though.  I was just looking at a check-list of social anxiety symptoms and I came across this: “I avoid speaking to co-workers or superiors for fear of being negatively evaluated.”  This was more or less exactly what got me into so much trouble this week: I was worried how my superior would react to my question and so didn’t ask it, relying on information from colleagues instead when I should have gone straight to my boss.  I guess we live and learn; I just hope there aren’t any negative long-term effects.

The same check-list also said, “I avoid dating due to my fear of being negatively evaluated” and while I’m not avoiding dating due to fear of being negatively evaluated per se, I am assuming that anyone I would like would evaluate me negatively and avoid me.

Incidentally, the same website suggests that social anxiety is related to OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder).  I knew that OCD was an anxiety disorder (the obsessions cause anxiety which the patient attempts to dispel with the compulsions), but it was interesting to learn how closely related it is to OCD, which I have been observing in myself lately.  I am anxious that as a result of my mistake this week, I will not be allowed to take off the time I need for religious purposes in a few weeks’ time resulting in extreme anxiety (like when I have strong OCD anxiety) and ‘checking’ – in this case reassuring myself that I won’t get fired or be banned from taking time off or even that I could cope if I was fired or had to quit.  I also ask my family for reassurance that this won’t happen.  Compulsive avoidance of triggering situations and the cycle of compulsion worsening the illness are also said to be common to both OCD and social anxiety.  As with OCD the solution (at least in part) is exposure to the fear, which is scary and difficult.

Oh, and on a not-quite unrelated subject, the shadchan (matchmaker) I mentioned who specializes in people with health issues was, according to google, brought up in England.  No word on whether she deals with ‘modern’ people though.  Hmm…  It is tempting to get in touch with her, if I’m feeling better in a few weeks time, after the craziness of the chaggim (festivals) is over.  It can’t hurt, anyway; the worst that can happen is that she says she doesn’t deal with people like me.

Better Day

Today was a better day.  I’m pretty tired, though, so I will quickly go through a few things.

I was worried I was about to have a panic attack on the Tube this morning thinking about yesterday, but I managed to calm myself down.  I spoke to my sister this evening about the last few days.  I should have thought of speaking to her earlier as she is really good at job advice (I’m sure her advice about my CV and application got me this job in the first place!).  I spoke to her this evening and she gave me some tips about handling situations like this in the future and what to say to my boss in the immediate future.  For what it’s worth, I saw my boss today and she seemed OK with me.  I do need to ask her for some time off in lieu in the next week or so for the chaggim (festivals) – I’ve already done three days unpaid overtime to cover the chaggim themselves, but I need to do another three or four hours so I can leave early the days before the chaggim and be home before sunset.  I hate to ask for this stuff (even without yesterday), I hate to be a pain (my Muslim colleagues ask for two days off a year, I’m asking for three and a half just this term, although to be fair I should only need one or two and maybe a late start for the rest of the year), but there is no halakhic (in Jewish law) way around it: I absolutely need to be the other side of London less than an hour after my official end time, which is impossible without leaving early.  (I guess it’s a reason to live in Israel…)

I spent four hours doing enrollment and the rest of the day cataloguing.  I finally began to get to grips with the enrollment process: what I was supposed to be doing, how it fitted in with the rest of the enrollment process and therefore to be able to improvize a bit when people had unexpected questions.  A pity it was on the last day, but it will hopefully stand me in good stead for next year, even if they give me a different job.

Things were really slow with the enrollment, though, or at least my part of it, so I had a lot of time to think about some things.  I spent some time doing more cheshbon nafesh (soul-searching over the past year) and thinking about how I am doing with things.  I think I need to talk to my rabbi mentor about my davening (praying) and Torah study, because I feel that I just have to accept that they will be sub-optimal for the foreseeable future (e.g. davening late, without a minyan (quorum), with poor concentration, skipping parts of the service) as a result of my not being 100% recovered (or anything close… at my best I’m perhaps 80% recovered, but then I have days like yesterday when I’m more like 50% and struggling to hold on to that), but I’m reluctant to make that decision for myself without talking it through with a rabbi.  I also feel I need to really deal with the social anxiety as a matter of urgency and halakhic importance, because it has really got me into trouble this week.  Last year I wanted to deal with the OCD and depression and although I actually failed to meet the targets I set for myself, I tried other approaches and I’m a lot better than I was one year ago, so perhaps I will be able to make similar strides if I prioritize dealing with my social anxiety.  It is a genuine mitzvah (commandment) to care for your health and one too many people neglect.  It is a bit hard to know what to do though.

As a result of this, on the Tube home I finished reading the CBT booklet I have on social anxiety and want to try out some of the techniques, but they are scary and I have had mixed results with CBT in the past (it worked for my OCD, but not for my depression).  I think I do need to re-read the booklet to make sure I’ve learnt the techniques, but I want to make a start so I don’t procrastinate over it.  I thought I would start by trying to say “Shabbat shalom” to one person I wouldn’t normally talk to on Shabbat.  It’s very small, but I think anything bigger (e.g. starting a full conversation with a stranger) would be too much at this stage.

I found a list of shadchanim (matchmakers) who deal with people with health issues online.  All US-based, of course, and probably all more Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) than I am.  Still, one of the shadchanim says she deals with Europeans, although she seems to deal with people with physical health issues more than mental; also, she lives in Lakewood NJ, which, from my limited knowledge of American Jewish culture, is ultra-ultra-Orthodox i.e. people who wouldn’t want to date me because I’m not religious enough, didn’t go to yeshiva, have a job instead of studying Torah all day etc.  I don’t know if I should email anyway and see what happens…

Underlying Thoughts

I was trying to get out of the habit of posting multiple times in one day, but this is related to what I wrote in the last post and short.  It strikes me that there are some underlying beliefs I have from childhood experiences that are unhelpful and which cause me problems on days like today:

  1. If someone is angry with me, it means they dislike me; in fact they will never like me again.
  2. If someone is different to me, they won’t like me.
  3. If I make a mistake, I can never put it right.
  4. In fact, if I make a mistake, I must be a terrible person, morally as well as in terms of competence.

I suspect that a lot of my issues with social anxiety/family and social interactions and depression stem from these beliefs.  3 and 4 probably even influence the OCD too (if I make a mistake with kashrut, I won’t be able to put it right and I will be a bad Jew).

Bad Day

If the title seems prosaic, it’s because I’m restraining myself from melodramatic phrases.  I suppose the background to all of this is that I slept badly; I got to bed early, around 11.10pm, but woke up about 4.40am and I don’t think I went back to sleep, although I lay in bed for over an hour and a half.  So I was probably a bit sleep-deprived when all this hit.  I was certainly bored out of my skull, as you shall see.

I’m trying not to write about work, but I have to record that I got told off today for a situation where I was trying hard to do the right thing according to the inadequate information I had been given and without knowing that the information I had was inadequate (to be fair, it didn’t help that I had forgotten something I did know, but I was told it once, at my job interview about six months ago when I was nervous and not focused on taking in information).  I could have argued back, but I had no desire to escalate the situation, so I took it as a kapparah (atonement).  (I should learn to do this with my parents.)  Ironically, if I had given in to my social anxiety in the first place, none of this would have happened, which is probably not a good lesson to learn.

Enrollment was tedious and the job I was given was largely superfluous.  Fortunately, this has been realized by the management and I have been told that I only need to do half a day on enrollment tomorrow and can go off to the library office and catalogue on the other half.  More serious is that the enrollment seemed to trigger some strong social anxiety problems in terms of panicking about situations when they didn’t go the way I had been prepared for them to go and not knowing what to do to resolve situations.  I mostly did resolve things eventually, I hope correctly.  It makes me worry that my social anxiety is worsening in the way that my OCD got worse at a time of stress (moving house).  I am worried that this may impact my ability to do my job.  Not the enrollment, which is only a couple of days in the year, but being on the library issue desk.  My job is mostly in the office, but I have to spend some time on the issue desk every day and it can be hard sometimes, particularly when I’m being asked about things that I am still not familiar with.  I feel guilty for asking my boss or my colleagues (and it’s going to be harder to do either after today), but I sometimes have to do so.  I’m worried that I should know more by now.  However, the fear that my social anxiety will impact on my ability to do my job may simply be another example of my anxiety!  It may also be the case that I am becoming more aware of the problem (I mean social anxiety in general) as I try to focus on it and resolve it.

When someone asks me a question that I don’t know the answer to, my mind shuts down and rather than thinking of solutions (ask someone, look it up, ask a question to understand what they are asking etc.) I sit there like a rabbit caught in the oncoming car headlights.  It doesn’t help that sometimes it is hard to understand the library users, as they sometimes speak quietly and often have thick accents (bear in mind that to some of them English is a second language and one they are not very fluent in).  I suppose I must usually understand and think of an answer, or ask someone, or one of my colleagues comes to help me out.  I am beginning to learn how to deal with problems and develop ‘scripts’ for frequently occurring situations, but I feel like I’m doing it very slowly.  I’m assuming that as my boss has not complained, she is not worried about my progress; I don’t like to ask her opinion as that would seem needy.

Perhaps fortunately I had my CBT for social anxiety book with me and read some of it on the way home, but I am not sure how to implement what I read.  It encouraged me to take risks and see what happens.  I feel like I am unlikely to take risks at work for fear I will get fired, especially after today, while taking risks at shul (synagogue) and ‘being myself’ (let alone talking to women) seems a surefire way to become a social pariah.

It’s worrying how quickly I drift from “a bad thing happened” to “I’m a bad person” to “I wish I was dead.”  Given the way I impulsively finished my post yesterday my negative emotions seem to be overwhelming me again.  I wonder if I should try to get an appointment with a psychiatrist again, although I am not sure what exactly he could do.  It is tempting, though, as I need to respond to an email from the last psychiatrist I was seeing and it is hard enough to see psychiatrists on the NHS that I am tempted to ask for an appointment.  I also wonder if I should tell my boss that my mental health has worsened recently.  I feel that the more urgent a conversation about mental health is, the harder it is to have it.

So, dinner beckons, probably vegetarian cholent as Jewish comfort food, from a tin, sadly, and a cup of tea, because I’m still upset and while I usually avoid caffeine in the evenings, I’m English too.

‘And your English summer’s done.’

Today was the last day of my mini-holiday.  I go back to work tomorrow and from then on I should be working four days a week, health permitting.  Onwards through enrollment, a longer week, the Yom Tovim (festivals) and into the autumn, when my mood traditionally drops.  I am feeling rather apprehensive about all of this and the effect it might have on my mental health.

Today wasn’t a totally wasted day, although I did oversleep again.  I had therapy, finished reading Rabbi Lord Sacks’ introduction to the Koren Sacks Yom Kippur Mahzor (prayerbook for the Day of Atonement), so I feel marginally better-prepared for Yom Tov (Jewish festivals) than I did last year, went shopping and pitched an article proposal to a geeky website.  This last was scary, as it involved confronting my social anxiety, even if only by email, and risking rejection, the two things I most hate.  Whenever I’ve had articles rejected in the past, it has sent me into deep despair and writer’s block, so I hope that won’t happen this time when if I get rejected again.

Therapy was mostly spent thinking about social anxiety, dating and my rabbi’s questions about what I would wish for and what I can never get enough of (all interrelated for me), so these questions have been on my mind a bit this afternoon.  In particular, I was thinking again about stopping dating, or rather not re-starting dating.  I shocked my therapist a bit by explaining frum (religious) dating, that people are not really supposed to ask each other out (although this varies from community to community – in some parts of the Orthodox community, even the Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) community, there are singles events, speed-dating (which was invented by an Orthodox rabbi!) etc. or even, in the Modern Orthodox world, casual interactions between the sexes that can lead to dating), but get set up on dates (shidduchim) by third parties, either professional matchmakers (shadchanim) or friends or friends-of-friends.  This is where I suffer from being on the fringes of the community, because no one really knows that I am looking for a wife and what type of person I am and what type of person I’m looking for and not many people know that I even exist.  I don’t consider myself fully in the Charedi community, but still part of the Modern Orthodox community even if I go to a somewhat Charedi shul (synagogue), so I would be open to going to events where the sexes mix and asking women out myself and have asked women out in the past, but in reality I don’t go out much or meet women and when I do I’m too shy to speak to them or ask them out.

I do feel depressed today and I’m not sure if these lonely thoughts are a cause or an effect of the depression.  Over dinner I was fighting back both tears and OCD anxieties.  Hopefully I’ll feel better once I’m back at work except that, as I mentioned above, it will be stressful heading towards the chaggim (festivals).  Related to them, I’ve been thinking again about feeling hated by God.  It does feel like He’s arranged things so that I can’t be a good Jew and do mitzvot, while I can’t get any joy out of this world either.  There are people on Hevria who claim to have had open miracles in their lives, but I’ve never experienced anything remotely like that, which makes me feel hated by God.  They do say that you have to believe you can have a miracle to get one, which does make it seem even more like God has deliberately set things up so I can’t get help by giving me years of loneliness and abandonment so I can’t trust Him to step in to help me.  I believe God can and does help people, I just thinks He hates me too much to do anything for me.  To be fair, as I mentioned the other day, with regard to career and income I’m OK.  Not rich or financially secure, but OK for now.   I only work part-time (67%) and technically my contract expires in eight months and I don’t know if it will be renewed, but with my parents helping me out I can pay my bills for now.  And I acknowledge that that’s a big thing that not everyone has.  And I mostly get on with my parents and sister these days.  But with regard to mental health, friendship, love, joy, community, most of the things that make life worth living, I seem to have very little, although not quite nothing, so I still feel bad on some level for complaining.

I seem to have drifted into self-pity and despair again, which wasn’t my intention.  (My non-biological sisters decided that I’m a Marsh-wiggle which is probably true.)  I do try to cultivate an air of gratitude.  For many years I’ve been thanking God for at least five good things every day, but it’s hard to internalize that when I feel so depressed for reasons that have as much to do with brain chemistry than positive thinking.  It’s also hard to truly feel grateful when some days you’re reduced to saying, “Thank you that I didn’t hurt myself although I really wanted to.”

The bottom line, I suppose,  that unites these ideas and others I’ve been writing about recently is that I can’t be grateful for life, or be ready to ask God for another (good) year of life, or be satisfied with my work or creativity or allow anyone to like me (friendship) or love me (marriage) unless I love myself.  But I loathe myself and it seems dishonest to do otherwise, knowing myself and my deeds and thoughts as well as I do.  I’ve read stuff on self-esteem and even did a year-long confidence and self-esteem adult education course, but nothing seems to work in the long term.  I can feel better for a few months (as happened earlier this year), but then I hit an obstacle and back I go again.  I haven’t gone more than six months without serious depression since I was nineteen.

I mentioned Rabbi Lord Sacks above (I consider him one of my main teachers, although I have never personally interacted with him, although I have heard him speak once or twice) and writing this reminded me of a story he told in one of his Covenant and Conversation parsha emails.  The story can be found here but he concludes:

The idea that each of us has a fixed quantum of intelligence, virtue, academic ability, motivation and drive is absurd. Not all of us can paint like Monet or compose like Mozart. But we each have gifts, capacities, that can lie dormant a throughout life, until someone awakes them.  We can achieve heights of which we never thought ourselves capable. All it takes is for us to meet someone who believes in us, challenges us, and then, when we have responded to the challenge, blesses and celebrates our achievements.

I feel that I lack those people who believe in me; or at least, a few people do believe in me (my parents), but I find it hard to accept that because of things that happened to me when I was growing up and I rationalize away any praise I get.  I have four A4 sheets of positive emails and blog comments from friends and even from strangers blue tacked to my cupboard door that I printed out to try to boost my self-esteem, but it is hard to believe in them.  And I tend to run away from challenges, or to insist I have failed them even if other people say I did well e.g. letting my creativity stagnate because I suffered rejection, even though I also received praise.  Rabbi Lord Sacks talks in that essay about celebrating something – anything – to boost self-esteem and drive, but my depressive anhedonia stops me celebrating anything even if I had something to celebrate and even if I could celebrate, practically I don’t know how.  I don’t drink and with my mental health and medication I shouldn’t start.  I’m trying to cut down on food as my meds are making me put on weight even without the depression making me want to eat more.  I have a couple of friends, but I can’t celebrate with them because they mostly live elsewhere or are too busy to see me.  And so on.  This all seems like refusing to take responsibility for my life, though, which in turn just leads to more self-loathing.

I’ve now read over this essay a couple of times trying to make it work.  It’s rubbish.  I should delete it, but I’m too much of a drama queen and want people to see that I’m not functioning.  I have no idea how I’m going to deal with enrollment at work tomorrow and Thursday or with going out for lunch on Saturday.  My writing is rubbish and I’m sorry I churn this stuff out every day and expect people to read it.  It’s no surprise no one likes me.  I don’t even like myself.  I’m sorry, really.

Absent Passion

No work again today as it’s a public holiday in the UK, although I’ve had some slightly OCD anxiety about it and keep checking my diary and phone to see that it really is a holiday.  Sigh.  I went to bed very late again last night (this morning, really), because I got upset and agitated late at night, as sometimes happens.  Then I overslept this morning.  It was a struggle to get up again.   I think there was some mild depersonalization.  I wanted to get up, but my legs wouldn’t move and for a brief period they some seemed not to belong to me.  Things like this happen to me occasionally.  It’s a bit disturbing, although it’s hard to tell how much is actual depersonalization from my depression and how much is me thinking it’s happening from the fear that it is happening, if that makes sense.

I achieved one or two things, like doing more Torah study/preparation for the forthcoming Yomim Noraim (High Holidays) and going for a run, but my heart was not really in anything.  So much of my life seems to be done by rote, out of obligation or need rather than desire or will (ratzon).  I suppose this goes back to my rabbi’s questions on Shabbat (the Sabbath): what would I ask for if God offered me one wish?  And what, when I get it, can I never have enough of?  I have some ideas what the answers to these questions are, but they aren’t anything I can currently get in the way I want and feel I need.

I’ve started thinking seriously about my cheshbon nafesh (self-analysis of what I’ve done and how I’ve grown over the last year).  On the whole, I would have to say it was a good year.  I brought my depression and OCD under control (to varying extents, but I stopped being suicidal and self-harming), I got a new job with much longer hours in a very different environment and seem to have adapted to it and to getting up earlier reasonably well.  I continued living by myself and managed to keep up with cooking, cleaning and shopping.  I kept up with my religious obligations (prayer, study including my Talmud shiur (class)) to some extent and I now to get to shul (synagogue) for every service on Shabbat.  I made a couple of new friends, began to fit in better to my new community, coped with my sister’s engagement and had a significantly less stressful Pesach (Passover) than I’ve had for the past couple of years.  I started writing a book, or at least making one out of blog posts.  I started this blog and have a couple of regular readers and I write fewer drama queen comments on Hevria now I can write here instead.

Still, it is difficult not to see the negatives too: I still work significantly less than full-time, I still don’t daven (pray) as often as I would like, with as good kavannah (concentration) as I would like or, on weekdays, with a minyan (prayer quorum).  I still feel lonely, but I’m on the point of giving up on making new friends or dating again because they are so hard and they hurt so much.  I still get tired very easily and I still have some religious problem areas, mostly triggered by stress or depression, but probably not excusable (e.g. irritability and sarcasm at times, particularly towards my parents).  Like I said, so much of my life seems to come from routine rather than passion.  My life at times runs like clockwork, which is certainly an improvement from the depths of paralyzing depression, but it’s about as interesting and joyous as clockwork too.  I’m still lonely and miserable a lot of the time and I still feel like a misfit in too many situations, particularly among my co-religionists.  Perhaps related to this stagnation, my creativity has suffered.  I write here about how I feel and I’m working on re-writing and editing that Doctor Who book, but I have not written much in the way of poetry or fiction or articles for Hevria.  I still feel blocked creatively, partly from experiencing rejection (it all comes down to rejection with me).

Going back to my rabbi’s questions, I enjoy work quite a bit, but not fully; I can tell, because I clock-watch a lot.  I enjoy jogging and cooking sometimes (not simultaneously!), but they also both feel like chores a lot of the time.  I’m not sure whether I enjoy writing or I just need to do it, I feel a compulsion to get my feelings down on paper (I think I do enjoy writing about Doctor Who, but it’s increasingly hard to feel I have something new to say, and I feel my style of writing doesn’t really fit in with the trends in critical thought in fandom).  Religiously, I do enjoy Torah study at times, but not as much as I feel I should.  I don’t really enjoy prayer or find it meaningful much of the time, I do it from obligation and because I know that to get to the few times when it is meaningful, I have to go through all the times when it is not.  I don’t get much in the way of simcha shel mitzvah (joy in the commandments).  I meet my religious obligations not from fear, habit or social conformity, but from strong belief, understanding and acceptance of the teachings of the Torah and perhaps from love of God and Judaism, which is all good, but I don’t perform them from joy, as I should do.  I have been told by my rabbi that I won’t be able to feel simcha shel mitzvah until I’m over the depression, but I don’t think I will ever fully be over the depression.

I can’t tell how much of this is depressive anhedonia (the inability to feel pleasure, caused by depression) and how much is that I’m living the wrong life, doing the wrong things, trying to please the wrong people.  I know that I love Judaism (not just the religion, but the history, the culture and the people, frustrating though all that can be at times) and I could never be happy without it, but I wonder if I need a different approach, somehow, but I’ve never really got into mussar and I can’t see myself as a Hasid and non-Orthodox Judaism wouldn’t work for me on multiple levels, would, in fact exacerbate my problems.

On another note, albeit related to personal growth and forcing myself to do things, I watched more of King Lear.  It was probably not the best thing to watch, not just because it’s bleak, tragic and violent (“Out, vile jelly!”), but because it probably requires too much attention in my current state.  It’s hard to tell what to do about serious culture when I’m depressed.  I like reading big nineteenth century novels and reading and watching Shakespeare, but when I’m depressed it can be hard to get into the appropriate state of mind.  However, I don’t want to give up on them long-term (given that I don’t think I will ever be fully recovered), so every so often I steel myself and try them, as with my currently reading Daniel Deronda and watching this.  I guess it’s like jogging and writing and Torah study and prayer: I have to put a lot of effort in to get something out of it eventually and I just hope the cost-benefit ratio is good enough.  I think I’m still getting something out of King Lear, though.  It’s not my favourite Shakespeare play, but I think it is the most powerful in some ways.  It’s a play that takes us to the limits of betrayal and madness, and beyond.  It has a sort of nightmarish power even when I can’t take in the poetry and I’m going on my memory of the plot rather than what I see.  And the production I’m watching is very well-acted.

“Alison, I know this world is killing you”

I’m writing this paragraphy just after 3.00pm.  I’ve been awake since about 12.15pm, but I’m still in my pyjamas.  I’ve had breakfast and read a bit of the latest Doctor Who Magazine, but that’s about it.  I’ve spent most of my awake-time today so far lying in bed thinking.  I feel really drained and I’m not sure why.  Perhaps it’s the cumulative effect of my first week back at work, enrollment and a reasonably busy Shabbat yesterday, with some social interaction (at least by my standards).  But I just have no energy at all, as if I was physically ill with the flu or something, but with no physical symptoms other than no energy.  I don’t even feel particularly depressed, just drained and a little bit lonely.  The heat in the flat doesn’t help.  I only have a small window, so I mainly ventilate my flat by opening the front and back doors, which I obviously don’t want to do while I’m in my pyjamas.  I was too tired to get up properly, too tired to get dressed and daven Shacharit (say the morning prayers), which I feel bad about, as I was awake, I just literally could not move.

It’s now the evening.  I lost most of the day to that drained feeling.  I did eventually get dressed and do some things, but I was unable to go for a jog as I intended.  I did go for a walk and do some shopping, which was boring but necessary.  I did some Torah study, although not as much as I would have liked.  More enjoyably, I spent an hour and a half working on my Doctor Who book, writing about 1,500 words, which was very productive.  I’m writing about the era of the mid-seventies (broadly, the stories script edited by Robert Holmes and produced by Philip Hinchcliffe), the most popular period of the classic series with fans and the only era of the classic series to consistently rival the new series in ‘best story’ polls, so I feel an obligation both to do justice to the era and to try to say something new about it (well, I want to do both those things in the whole of my book, but particularly here), which can be difficult as in many ways it is a fairly straightforward period in terms of its aims and influences especially when compared with the three or four following years which were more complex in their intentions and allusions and more controversial in their reception.

I wanted to go back to what I blogged yesterday and expand on it a bit, but I’m too tired to write any more.  Maybe tomorrow, if I get time in amongst catching up with the chores I was supposed to do today.  I suppose today wasn’t a total waste – in some ways it was very productive, at least in terms of catching up on the big backlog of notes for my book – but I wish I could have done more.  It is what it is, I suppose, but what is is wrong, as the Doctor said.  So, dinner and more of the DVD of the 2007 RSC production of King Lear with Sir Ian McKellen as Lear and Sylvester McCoy as a slightly Doctorish Fool (in a good way); at least I’m feeling not-depressed enough for Elizabethan tragedy as I’ve had the DVD sitting on my shelves for weeks if not months now.  To be honest, I’m not sure I’m well enough to completely follow it, especially as it’s some time since I read or saw the play, but the acting is of a very high standard.

Shul, God, Marriage

Today was focused around shul (synagogue), as Shabbat (the Sabbath) often is, although I managed to do a fair amount of religious reading this afternoon, looking at some things the former Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks has written on the Yamim Noraim (High Holidays) in preparation for them as well as going for a thirty-five minute walk, which was all good.  In shul, the rabbi said he knows he owes me an email regarding meeting before I join the shul, which means I shouldn’t have to phone him (hooray!), but I will have to see him, probably this week (scary!).  I know I have to do this to join the shul, which I really want to do, especially as I even managed a few brief conversations with people after shul on Friday evening and at the kiddush (refreshments) today, but it is scary.  I generally don’t mind talking to rabbis per se, I seem to be able to get on a similar wavelength even if I haven’t been to yeshiva (the wavelength in any case seems to be as much about rabbinical humour (clean, often punning, occasionally sarcastic) as Torah or religion), but I’m scared about what he might ask me.  I don’t know how to describe my religious background, personal journey or level of knowledge.  I feel uncomfortable mentioning my interests and hobbies.  I feel guilty for only really attending shul on Shabbat and only attending one shiur (religious class) a week, but at the moment I don’t see what else I can do with my mental health.  I have actually told the rabbi a bit about my mental health, but not much and I don’t know how much more to say.

I did admit to myself today that my non-attendance at shul is as much about anxiety/social anxiety as depression and low energy: my community davens (prays) in a school on Shabbat and Yom Tov (festivals), so during the week, when the school is in use, they use a room in a different shul, and I have never been and am terrified of not being able to find it.  I know where the building is, but I don’t know the code for the security lock on the door (although I could find out easily enough) and don’t know where to go once past the door.  The whole thing has got out of proportion in my head, so it’s easier to say, oh, I’m too tired and depressed to go (plus it is quite a way to walk for a short weekday service compared with the other shul I do occasionally go to on weekdays).

In his shiur tonight the rav (rabbi) was talking about finding our essence.  He asked what we would ask for if God offered us one wish (and rejected all the frummie cop-out answers like wanting to be better Jews (or wishing for more wishes, which someone suggested…)).  He asked what is the thing that, when we get it, we can never get enough of it.  This was all a prelude to the Yamim Noraim, when we pray for a good new year and try to repent and reorient ourselves to have a better year (morally, spiritually, physically) next year.  It’s a tough question.  I think I know what my answer would be to the one wish question and from that I can work out the one thing that drives me question, but I’m not sure I like the answer.  It’s not the worst possible answer, but I’m not sure how great it is.  I’m not sure that I should share it, given that the rav said it’s a private question, although you can probably make a good guess from what I write anyway; the answer didn’t particularly surprise me, although it did seem quite stark thinking of it as the one thing I want and that drives me.

I did have another interesting thought over Shabbat related to the forthcoming new year.  There is a concept in Judaism that all our income for the year is determined on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year).  You have to do some work to earn it and you can increase it by giving more to tzedaka (charity), but beyond that, no matter how much you work, you can’t get any more.  Similarly, there is a concept of bashert (soul mates), that a person’s spouse is decided before birth.  I believe in the former completly and I don’t generally worry about money, even though I’m in a somewhat financially precarious position (my contract expires in April, there is the risk of my getting ill again and losing my job and although I’m earning more than I used to, I’m still on a fairly low income and my parents are still helping me out despite the fact that my Dad’s been unemployed for about nine months).  On the other hand, I’m terrified that I’ve somehow missed my bashert or that God doesn’t want me to marry.  To be fair to myself, the income idea is pretty much universally accepted as far as I know, whereas the latter is subject to interpretation as to both its existance and its parameters, although as a folk belief it’s very strong.  Of course, the former is also untestable (whatever a person earns, we can only assume it is the ‘right’ amount), while bashert seems to me demonstrably false, at least in the simplistic way people seem to think of it (there is someone who you will marry): some people never marry; the theory tries to account for not marrying, divorce, widowhood and remarriage, but tends to become very complicated and far from the simplistic folk version.  At any rate, I wonder if I should be working on my bitachon (trust in God) in the area of marriage.  It probably wouldn’t affect whether I got married, but I might feel less anxious.  Trusting God feels like not doing my histadlut (effort), which is required even for bashert, but I can trust God and do my histadlut regarding work with no problem.  It’s very confusing.  I suppose deep down I simply don’t trust God, which is a terrible thing for a religious person to say.  I trust He wants the best for me, but I fear He has created me in a way and for a purpose that the best for me involves mostly suffering and loneliness.  I don’t know how much this is a realistic fear and how much the consequence of years of mental illness, loneliness, misery and poor treatment by authority figures when growing up.

As I said, I did manage to speak to people a little bit at the kiddush, albeit not very much.  I have mentioned before that all the men tend to stand on one side of the tables and all the women on the other.  This means that if I’m eating instead of talking, I end up facing the women, which might not have been the intention of whoever decided on this layout.  I saw a woman there I had seen before but never paid much attention to.  I noticed today that she seemed to be like me inasmuch as she seemed to be standing by herself or hovering on the edge of groups without talking to anyone.  I wondered if she is also shy or if her usual friends are away (a lot of people are still on holiday).  I have no idea if she is my age (she has the kind of face that could be any age between twenty and forty-five), but she wasn’t wearing a ring and I don’t think her hair was covered, so she’s not married.  Part of me wanted to talk to her, but I wouldn’t have had a clue to what to say or the confidence to say it, even if it was possible from across the table.  I don’t even know what her name is.  I’m bad enough with the names of the men (I’m not great with names generally, at getting the confidence to ask for them or remembering them), but I don’t know the women in my shul at all.  In nearly eighteen months I think I’ve spoken to two women, one is the wife of one of my male friends (because they invited me for Shabbat dinner) and one was the woman who said something to me across the kiddush table the other week, I think because I was the nearest person.  I do find the Orthodox division of the sexes a bit disconcerting sometimes as generally speaking I often find it easier to talk to women than men for some reason.

More on Love and Depression, and a Mini Break

I’ve been thinking more about what I wrote yesterday, about stopping dating and giving up on finding a wife.  I feel frustrated about this.  I’m not the most demonstrative person and I’m far from “romantic” (in the Hallmark-and-Valentine’s-Day sense), but I feel I do have a lot of love to give to a wife and children.  But I still can’t see myself finding someone.  I probably will date again at some point, maybe even in the not too distant future, but I’ll be going in with a sense that it will fail (like the man in Kafka’s parable of the law, I’m just doing it to know that there was nothing else I could have done), which probably increases the chances that it will fail.

I do also feel that I’m never going to be 100% over the depression.  I have good times and bad times.  At the moment I’m probably in an in-between time, functional, but not doing much more than the bare minimum needed to survive.  Well, maybe a little more… and living away from home the bare minimum is actually quite a bit.  But I feel bad for not davening (praying) more or studying more Torah or getting to shul (synagogue) more often and I don’t always keep my flat as clean as I would like (which admittedly is pretty clean).  I ask myself how I can really justify putting a wife and children through this.  Or why anyone would continue a relationship with me knowing this (unless she also had serious issues, which might not be a good combination).

In other news, I fell asleep last night without consciously going to bed.  One moment I was changing into my pyjamas and listening to the news on the BBC World Service, the next it was morning and I was in bed.  I know I didn’t brush my teeth or check the doors were locked and I’m usually very punctilious about those things.  I must have slept for nearly twelve hours, though, which makes me worry a bit about whether I’m going to be able to cope with longer work hours from two weeks time.  It’s certainly hard to balance work obligations, religious obligations, household chores and some relaxation.  I guess everyone has that problem, I just have the disadvantage of added low mood and lack of energy from the depression.

At any rate, the fact that I don’t start working on Tuesdays until September, combined with the bank holiday means I have a mini-break of five days from now until Tuesday.  I hope to write up some of the notes I have on Doctor Who circa 1975 for my book, revise some mini sagas with a view to submitting them to Hevria.com and maybe rewrite a Doctor Who article and submit it to denofgeek.com (which is scary, as it entails a risk of rejection).  I also need to phone the rabbi of the shul I want to join to arrange to meet him.  (Phone… I hate phoning, too scary, but he didn’t reply to my email) and maybe meet him so I can get my membership processed by Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year, in one month).

All Work and No Play

I’m back from my first day of enrollment.  I have a lot to complain say about it, but I’ve decided that I had better not go into too many details about work as my false identity here is far from secure and there aren’t that many further education colleges in London.  I already spent a chunk of today feeling anxious about something I wrote in a blog comment (probably innocuous, but I suddenly became paranoid it could be misinterpreted and get me in trouble – this may have been OCD and/or a response to stress).  So I will just say (a) some teenagers would lose their heads if they weren’t screwed on and then deny that they ever had a head in the first place when you tried to talk to them about it and (b) I coped reasonably well, considering the job I was given was not a great one for someone with social anxieties and difficulty making quick decisions especially when surrounded by people I don’t know well (I’m not sure if this is just my personality or my borderline Asperger’s, poor executive function (decision-making) being a symptom).   I felt I was checking with my colleagues a lot that I was doing the right thing, although they were more experienced than I am both with enrollment and with the college in general (knowing who people are and where places are) and I may have made a few mistakes, which I hope were not too significant.  I only called one person back once to check I had given him the right papers (OCD).

The other thing I wondered about at work was opening up to people about my mental health issues.  My boss knows about this a little bit because I told her when she gave me the option to increase my hours per week, but when she asked how my holiday was today I just said it was OK and quickly asked how hers was to divert the conversation from my depressive episode.  I am not sure if it would have been good or bad to be more open about my depression with her, especially as I recently advised someone to be open about mental health at work and that didn’t work out too well.  My other colleagues don’t know about my mental health at all and I’m not sure how to have a conversation about it.  In theory I’m in favour of openness about mental health, but in practice I find it almost impossible.  I’m not sure if I feel ashamed of being ill or scared of the response, or if it’s just a very English/masculine reserve about talking about emotions (at least in person – no problem writing about how I feel here).

On a somewhat related note, I feel pretty despondent about dating and am semi-seriously considering giving up, at least for a while.  The factors in favour of dating are my extreme loneliness and desire for a family, as well as the religious obligation, and my desire to be able to love someone and give to her.  Plus I do actually have a libido (I think it’s at the back of the cupboard).  Against this is that dating is just soul-destroying, or rather being dumped is soul-destroying and dating leads pretty swiftly to being dumped for me.  Given my weird interests and my brokenness (mental health issues plus character defects plus general emotional/relationship problems) I seriously doubt that I could meet the right person even with a shadchan (professional matchmaker), at least not without moving to New York where there are more Jews per square mile than anywhere outside Israel and perhaps weirder and geekier Jews than anywhere at all, although that may be biased by the fact that most of the New York Jews I know are geeky (and not interested in me, so moving may not work either… not that immigration to the US is going to be any easier (or more sensible) under Trump).  I was going to wait until after the chaggim (Jewish autumnal festivals) before going to a shadchan, about two months but now I wonder if I should wait longer, much longer, maybe six months or even longer, to really get settled into the longer work week, plus set aside some time to work on my book.  Against this, my CBT therapist said I’m as ready as anyone to date and while everyone laughs at me if I say I have a biological clock, given that I want to have children and given that I have no intention of cradle-snatching, I think time is an issue.  Of course, I could just procrastinate as usual, which is tantamount to deciding to wait.

EDIT: one good thing: I finished two Jewish books in the last two days (Horeb and God, Man and History).  My tally of Jewish books read this Jewish year is disappointingly low with less than one month left, but I’m glad to have finally finished Horeb after over a year, probably nearer two.

The Die is Cast

Well, I’ve finally taken the next step in transfering my shul (synagogue) membership i.e. I have sorted out the fees and have emailed the rabbi to arrange a time to meet, which is the thing that has been scaring me for weeks.  We shall have to wait and see how that goes.

I’m currently beating myself up far too much for a blog comment I left before.  I can make excuses for myself: I was tired and hungry and a bit ill (I have a cold and I had a headache) and I had had an idea about the causes of antisemitism a while back that I was waiting for an opportunity to share without thinking too much about how much sense it made or how I phrased it because it all seemed so elegant.  Doesn’t change the fact that I shouldn’t have written anything until I was feeling better and not making sweeping statements of the kind that normally annoy me when made by other people.  Sometimes things make sense in my head and it’s only after I’ve hit ‘post’ that I see all the flaws in the argument.  Unfortunately, I can’t delete the comment, but I have left another comment trying to narrow its terms somewhat to something more realistic.

I still feel very bad about it.  I know I’ve gone against my values and I know I’ve been stupid.  I suppose the temptation is to talk or write about it in the hope that that will somehow it, which it won’t.  Alternatively to think about it endlessly for the same reason.  Ugh.  I need to just accept that I’m human, sometimes I do stupid things and sometimes I make mistakes and (especially thanks to the internet) sometimes I do both very publically and the thing to do is just to accept it, learn from it and move on.  I find moving on hard, though.  Much easier to wallow in guilt and self-loathing.

Criticizing Myself

Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, known as the Chofetz Chaim, spent a lifetime lecturing on the dangers of lashon hara (loshon hora, as he would have pronounced it), malicious language (in a somewhat broader sense than the English word ‘gossip’).  He was once traveling by train to lecture somewhere and struck up a conversation with the person opposite him.  The fellow traveller clearly didn’t recognise him, as he said he was going to see the Chofetz Chaim lecture and waxed lyrical about his piety and scholarship.  This embarrassed the Chofetz Chaim, who didn’t reveal his true identity, but started to say that he thought the Chofetz Chaim was not so wise or pious, only for the man to slap him in the face.

After the lecture the man obviously realized who he had slapped and came trembling to apologize.  The Chofetz Chaim said he had nothing to apologize for: “For years I have been preaching that one should not speak lashon hara about others, but you have taught me something new, that one should not speak lashon hara about oneself!”

I think I have been speaking lashon hara about myself a lot recently.  I have accused myself of all kinds of things here and in my head.  I feel deeply embarrassed about what I wrote yesterday, which at least four people saw before I edited the post.  Apart from airing communal dirty linen in public, I more or less accused myself of terrible things that I have not done, using the flimsy justification of, “If I had the opportunity to do it, then I might do it” without any real evidence to support that.  It is very easy to convince myself that I could do terrible things if I had the opportunity.  If I say, “I could become a murderer under certain circumstances” it is almost impossible to put that statement to the test, as the circumstances in question are usually unlikely to arise.

I certainly do keep up an often critical monologue in my head much of the time, calling myself stupid and berating myself for mistakes, while never praising myself for achievements.  It is no wonder that I assume that no one would want to be my friend and that I tend to run away from people who try to befriend me before they discover what (I think) I am ‘really’ like, nor is it a wonder that women are not interested in me romantically.

I don’t know how to change this.  I’ve tried repeating praise or positive affirmations, but find they don’t really help and are hard to remember to do anyway.  The negative remarks are always easier to repeat.  I don’t like myself very much and sometimes I wonder how well I really know myself.  I sometimes think perhaps I’m not as bad a person as I think I am (if that makes sense).  At any rate, a couple of people seem to like me, albeit mostly online, where they don’t actually know me.  I think I’m more my real self online, so maybe it’s encouraging that people seem to like me there, although I’m probably most my real self when I’m alone in my head and that’s when I really hate myself.

Today I’m beating myself up about various things I feel I did wrong, from snapping at my parents to not handing in a key I saw on the pavement because I was worried I would miss my train (and had no idea where anyone would look for it anyway) to making some rather sweeping comment in a blog comment about antisemitism which I now wish I had phrased differently.  I ought to eat something as I’m hungry and tired and have a headache and a mild cold and am facing a stressful day tomorrow at work, having social anxiety and having to deal with dozens, maybe even hundreds of strangers in an environment that I’m still not completely comfortable in, with limited training for these exceptional tasks that aren’t in my regular job description…  I also need to try and write a batch of emails this evening to deal with transfering my membership from one shul to another… at the moment I want to just curl up and sleep.

Postscript

I’m not sure how many people saw my earlier post before I edited it.  I know a couple of people liked it before I changed it and I know at least two others get the posts by email, so they would be sent the original version.

I feel I cheapened myself, in a strange way.  I feel I made myself out to be worse than I am and in the process I publicised other people’s sins in a way that perhaps I should not, even though it was anonymous.  Except part of me wonders how much worse I am… I sometimes feel like I have a lot on my conscience, even though the people I’ve opened up to don’t always see it that way and think I’m too hard on myself, that I’m basically a good person who struggles in a few areas largely due to my loneliness and mental health issues.  Like anyone who isn’t a tzaddik (saint), I have my problem areas that I need to work on.

It’s hard to know what to do sometimes.  I don’t want to be too easy on myself, but being too hard on myself doesn’t help either.  This is always the challenge for me at this time of the year, as we head towards Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (the Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement) with their emphasis on judgment, reward and punishment, repentance, return, growth, renewal and new beginnings… how to change without hating myself, how to see my flaws without just wanting to die from shame…

I don’t have an easy answer.  It’s practically midnight, I’ve been awake for eighteen hours and struggling with the darker side of my psyche for most of them.  I just really wanted to put this little postscript of a post out there as a counter-weight to what I wrote before, to say that I’m trying to see myself realistically, rather than assuming the worst all the time.

“I will not reason and compare”

Today was my first day back at work.  I actually achieved quite a bit, but it was also a day when I compared myself to a terrorist (semi-jokingly).

I actually managed to get to bed by just after 11.30 last night, which was a pleasant surprise considering I was out late with my family, but I couldn’t sleep, perhaps from blogging shortly before bed or perhaps because I was a bit stressed and not relaxed from being out with people I didn’t know well.  I don’t know what time I fell asleep; any time between 00.30am and 1.00am would be my guess, but I’m not a good judge of time.  I had strange dreams, which I don’t really remember, except that one of them concerned The Shining, a film I have never seen nor planned to see (I don’t watch horror films).

Surprisingly I managed to wake up at 6.00am, but it took me nearly half an hour to get up and I ate breakfast and dressed very slowly, so much so that I could only say a little of Shacharit (morning prayers).  I left a few minutes late and then went back when I was halfway down the road to check I’d locked the door; I know this happens to everyone sometimes, but it makes me worry about my OCD, especially as the kashrut OCD has been worse the last few days.  I caught the bus to the station rather than walking to try to make up lost time and should have got to work on time, but there were train delays when I was halfway there, so I was half an hour late.

It turned out most of my colleagues were on holiday, as was my boss, and enrollment doesn’t start until Thursday, so I got on with cataloguing.  I hope I’ve done the right things, though, as I’m worried that I haven’t.  I still feel like I’m learning the ropes, which is a bit worrying as I’m going to have new responsibilities added to the existing ones this term.

I was very tired during the morning, perhaps unsurprisingly.  I found myself crying a bit too, just sitting there working with tears suddenly coming.  I was glad that only one of my colleagues was around and she was on the issue desk while I was in the office so she didn’t see me.  I felt better after lunch, so low blood sugar was probably a factor.  Late morning is often a bad time for me in terms of tiredness and depression and I have been known to start falling asleep around 10.30 at work or in shul on Shabbat.  I usually take a banana with to eat around then for a boost, but it doesn’t always work and hot drinks are a problem at work as we have to boil the water from the water cooler which seems to make me feel nauseous.  Then in the afternoon I began to feel ill, as I had felt last Thursday and Friday, like the beginnings of a cold that never really comes out, achey and hot with a sore throat and dry eyes.

I did at least achieve quite a bit over the day.  I catalogued about thirty books, which was very good, even if they were fairly easy, but whenever I do something well, I worry that I have done it incorrectly.  I feel guilty about not working at my optimum all day long, particularly regarding slowing down in the late morning, but deep down I know that it is impossible to work for seven hours with only one break (especially as that break was cut short today to catch up time lost due to train delays).

I feel a lot less depressed today and glad to be back at work, but I still have some OCD thoughts that I am struggling with and I have a stack of emails to answer tomorrow that are panicking me a bit (psychiatrist, joining the new shul, Shabbat lunch with my ex-date, landlady).  Hopefully I’ll feel better after having eaten and relaxed a bit, if not after having had a night’s sleep.

The downside is that despite feeling a bit better, I still put myself down.  I’ve found out that I’m probably OK eating before Shacharit if I do it because of my depression, which is good to know (eating is permitted even for strong hunger, according to Rav Hirsch in Horeb, if I understand it correctly, so I’m assuming that kol vachomer (a fortiori) it’s OK to eat to get past the depression-induced lack of energy and motivation.  I still struggle to like myself, though, or to work out how to get my life really back on track.  I should probably start by admitting that it is a lot more on track than it was a year ago, when I was much more depressed (suicidal), having much stronger OCD thoughts, sleeping through whole mornings, working far fewer hours and sometimes failing to get to work completely and hardly going to shul at all.  But in a day’s time we’re going to be in the Hebrew month of Elul, which is the start of the five or six weeks of introspection and self-evalution running up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, a time when it’s easy to give in to the despair and self-loathing, at least for me.

Example number one of deep-rooted, instinctive self-loathing: I had been planning to go to a shadchan (professional matchmaker) after the Yom Tovim (festivals), but now I’m not so sure that I’m ready.  I was thinking today that no one could ever love me and that if it wasn’t a mitzvah to get married, I would just resign myself to being single forever and not even bother to look for a partner.  It’s all just too painful being rejected all the time.  People have told me that it will happen when I don’t expect it, but it doesn’t really work that way (a) if you’re too shy to start spontaneously talking to women and (b) if you’re frum and events where the sexes can mingle casually are increasingly rare.  I am not sure that there are single women my age at my shul, for example, but if they are, I wouldn’t be able to talk to them even if I had the courage, as men and women stand separately even at the kiddush.  It’s true that there is no halakhic reason for this and often one or two people talk across the table or even go round to the other side, but this is rare and I would never have the confidence to do it, even though I think the whole idea is silly and unnecessary.

Examples number two: I compared myself to a terrorist.  There was a headline in the newspaper about the man wanted in connection with the terrorist attack in Barcelona.  It said something like “THE MOST WANTED MAN IN THE WORLD” so inevitably I wryly put myself down by describing myself as “the least wanted man in the world.”  It was a fairly tasteless joke on multiple levels and I’m not proud of it, but it just came into my head.  I don’t really think I’m like a terrorist, but I don’t want to go down that path in case I start proving to myself that I am like a terrorist. [I decided to edit out the next bit because it was too self-loathing.  Suffice to say, I was blaming myself again for things I haven’t done and making myself out to be a worse person than I am.]

So, on the whole it was a goodish day, at least in terms of getting to work, getting quite a bit done, and being less paralyzingly depressed, but there is obviously a long way to go still in terms of self-esteem and OCD if I’m going to struggle with OCD and self-loathing thoughts.

(Also, if this post suddenly disappears or gets dramatically edited, it means I’ve decided I have made it much too personal and want to take it out of the public domain.)

Lonely in a Crowd

I’m writing in my pyjamas.  I need to go to bed soon, as my holiday is now over (I lost more or less the whole thing to depression) and I need to get up at 6 o’clock tomorrow morning for work.  I’m glad to be going back, as I hope the structure and distraction will help my mental health.  However, I need to write to get my thoughts down otherwise I won’t sleep, as I’m quite emotional.  I will try to write quickly.  Apologies if this isn’t up to my usual standard (assuming I have one).

I went out this evening to my sister’s fiancé’s flat with my parents, my sister and my sister’s fiancé’s parents.  There were some kashrut issues, so I wasn’t sharing my food with everyone else.  I won’t go into all the details, but I was mostly OK with it, but there was a bit of OCD.  At least I think it was OCD and not a genuine concern, but I’m worried I may ask a rabbi during the week.

I found it hard to join in the conversation at first.  It got easier as the evening went on, but I still found it hard to look at my sister’s fiancé’s parents or make eye contact with them, which I worried made it look as if I was talking to everyone else but them.  Also, as time went on the conversation focused more and more on wedding arrangements and I felt left out and also depressed, as I can’t imagine ever having a wedding of my own.

On the way home I was feeling quite depressed and I now feel very depressed (and worried about how I will cope at work tomorrow, but I guess that’s another story).  Someone at shul yesterday said, “Joy by yourself is nothing, but joy shared with others is something special.”  I found myself wondering who I can share joy with.  I have my parents and my sister and now her fiancé, but I don’t have many friends and those I do have tend to live far away and I rarely see or hear from them.  Sometimes I wonder if I mean as much to them as they mean to me.  I think they matter to me a lot, but I find it hard to express it, in words or actions (e.g. seeing them – the social anxiety can still kick in and prevent me from seeing them as much as, on some level, I would like) and sometimes it’s hard to work out what I feel towards them.  Another issue with sharing joy is that I often feel conscious of mortality, my own and those around me.  I know my parents will not be here forever and, selfishly, I worry what will happen to me then.  I sometimes start thinking about death at inappropriate times, as happened this evening.

I’ve heard a lot in the last few days of people with real tzores (suffering): divorce and single-parenthood, cancer, extreme poverty, gender dysphoria.  My heart bleeds for these people, but I still feel depressed.  For years I have been finding at least five things every day to thank God for, which was supposed to build gratitude, but I still feel depressed and lonely, and now I just feel guilty and ungrateful too.  God has given me so much, and yet my parents and the few friends I have are not enough; I want more and closer friends, a community where I really belong and a wife and children I can love and who love me.  I feel selfish and ungrateful for saying all this, but that is what I want.  Someone on the denofgeek.com Geeks vs. Loneliness thread said that the worst thing that ever happened to you is still the worst thing that ever happened to you, even if much worse things happen to other people (and I guess my suffering, even if it isn’t as bad on some kind of scale of suffering as that of other people, has been going on for most of my life, so I haven’t really experienced true happiness since I was a young child).  I suppose that’s true, but I still feel fairly selfish and ungrateful, but also still depressed and lonely.

There is probably more to say, but I must go to bed now.

Observation

I think I tend to make my worst mistakes (including the religious mistakes termed chata’ot, which is usually translated ‘sins’, but which really means ‘missing the target’) when I’m too tired to fight, too depressed to care and too hopeless to feel anything I do can make a difference.

Similarly, low blood sugar, fatigue and stress are all triggers of depression, OCD and irritability (not so sure about how they affect social anxiety).

Trying to Push Myself Back Out There

I’ve re-started my Doctor Who blog lately (no link as it’s currently under my real name, although that might change).  I wrote something as a post for there, but am currently trying to decide whether to submit it on spec to denofgeek.com as it will get a much wider readership and (the real reason) they pay for posts.  The worst that can happen is they say no and I put it on my blog anyway, but I’m finding it hard to get the courage and indeed to work out the appropriate way to word the email (do I send the article with it or just a proposal?  Not sure).  It’s very hard to push myself forward for things.

I got an email from the woman I was dating up to a month ago asking me for Shabbat lunch in a couple of weeks.  I said yes, although I’m nervous about it.  Normally if I break up with someone or have a crush on someone and it doesn’t work out, I keep my distance for a long time, but I think I’m over her well enough not to worry about that.  My shyness and social anxiety are screaming “DON’T GO!!!” but maybe that in itself is reason to go, especially after turning down an invitation last Shabbat.  And I’m guessing there will be other people there, so it’s a chance to socialize with other frum people my age, which I generally struggle to do.  Pretty much all of my contact with other people (work, shulshiur) is with people in very different age groups and at different life stages.  Who knows, there might even be a frum single woman there (not that I would talk to her let alone ask for her number if there she was there, but I can dream).

Encountering in Love

I have been thinking about the following story from the Talmud (Menachot 44a).  The story is about a young Jewish man who went illlicitly to visit a prostitute, but as he undressed, he saw his tzitzit, the fringes on a four-cornered garment that Jewish men wear, and can’t go through with the act.  He sat naked on the floor and the woman joined him, asking what flaw he saw in her; he said that she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, but that his tzitzit seemed like four witnesses testifying that God punishes sin and rewards virtue and he could not go through with the sin.  The woman asks the man to write down his name, the name of his city, the name of his Torah teacher and the yeshiva where he studies.  This the man does and leaves.  Meanwhile the woman sells her property, gives a third to the government and a third to the poor and uses the remainder to travel to the man’s city, where she asks his rabbi to convert her.  He is sceptical, thinking she wants to convert simply to get married to a Jewish man, but when he sees the list of names he seems to intuit the story and oversees her conversion and she marries the man who came to her.

I should say that I have not seen the story in the original, only quoted in various places, particularly Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits’ essay A Jewish Sexual Ethics in Essential Essays on Judaism.  I don’t have my copy in my flat, but from memory of what he says, the part of the story that has always struck me most strongly is the bit where the man and woman sit naked on the floor innocently, like children.  Rabbi Berkovits describes this in terms of Jewish religious existentialism, as an I-Thou encounter (cf. Martin Buber) where two people relate to each other from the depths of their internal worlds, really relating to each other as human beings and not as objects (which is how they had been behaving up until that point: he wanted her body, she wanted his money).  I have got quite interested in Jewish existentialism in recent years, but even before I was conscious of it, this part of the story spoke to me as a very touching encounter: the depersonalized sexual urge suddenly transmuted into something much more vulnerable, human and emotional, yet also in some ways more erotic than the purely physical.

I think that when I think about marriage, it is this that I have in mind, even if I am not consciously thinking of this story.  The moment of human connection, of sitting naked with someone (literally or figuratively) and being able to be accepted as myself with all my flaws and to accept my wife for herself, with all her flaws.  That to me is more powerful than mere sex without emotion.  I’m not really able to achieve that connection in a non-sexual way in real life, with friends or peers.  Rightly or wrongly, I do open myself up a bit in that way here and in my comments on Hevria and Geeks vs. Loneliness, but maybe it’s a mistake to try to do this too much or too publically.  But I do long for that intimacy and understanding and I wonder if I will ever find it, if I’m even capable of it.