Too Much Too Much

I made some mistakes at work again.  They weren’t really awful, in the grand scheme of things, but I probably beat myself up about them more than I should.  One of the students said I had a bad attitude.  I suspect she was projecting her own anger and bad attitude onto me, but I felt guilty in case she was right and my tone of voice was harsher than I intended.  This does happen to me sometimes, probably a lot more when I was a child. I understand that it’s another Asperger’s/autism trait.  Poor executive function (another Asperger’s issue) has been a problem at work lately too.  I used to think that this wasn’t a problem for me, but now I increasingly suspect it is.  I know I’m indecisive, but I thought that was just my personality, but it could be the Asperger’s.  More pertinently, while I’m very self-motivated, I do find it hard to get down to things and to switch from one thing to another.  It’s another reason I hate being on the issue desk, because I will be doing some work and then a student will come up and ask a question or return a book and I have to go back and forth from one task to another, involving a multitude of windows and programs on my computer and I get lost.  I worry that I made a fool of myself to my boss today getting confused when switching windows and doing different tasks while we were working on something together on my computer.

Then WordPress recommended one far-right antisemitic blog and one far-left anti-Zionist/borderline antisemitic blog to me.  I think WordPress’ recommendation algorithm picked up the word ‘Jews’ and decided they must be like my blog.  This stuff upsets me more than it should.  I should be immune to antisemitism by now, having experienced so much of it, but it always gets to me.  I think it’s the injustice of it that hurts me, because unlike other unjustified criticism (e.g. that student who thought I had a bad attitude) I don’t really worry that it might be true (well, maybe some anti-Zionist criticism, but not the blog that argued that Donald Trump is a puppet of the international Jewish conspiracy and will convert to Judaism any day now).  Anyway, I don’t want to make this into a political blog, so I’ll stop there, but I can internal-monologue on this for hours (Asperger’s again).  Sigh.  As an aside, there don’t seem to be many Jewish blogs on WordPress, judging by the blogs I get recommended and the people who follow my blog, who seem to come mainly via recommendations on WordPress, so far as I can tell.  Few people seem to come here from my comments on Hevria.

I’ve had a few things I’ve wanted to blog about the last few days, but I haven’t really had the time with Chanukah and work.  I’ve been at my parents’ house for ‘candle’ lighting every night (candle in inverted commas because I actually use olive oil lamps).  This has been good but it takes a whole chunk out of my evening.  I’m desperately trying to get to the end of term in one piece.  I’ve just got to get through two ‘proper’ work days and one staff development day, then I have thirteen days off.  Thirteen days to sleep in and to work on my Doctor Who book and maybe do some of the exercising and cooking I have been neglecting lately, but also thirteen days to potentially be depressed and lonely – the depression, loneliness and self-loathing have been lurking in the background again lately.  I’ve been using very negative self-talk in my internal monologues again.  I don’t think I ever stopped really, but I think I might have done it less for a bit, but am doing more again.  I’m calling myself a “freak” a lot again, thinking I’ll never get married (the shadchan (matchmaker) I contacted never got back to me).  My parents were all excited that they have three weddings of friends’ children to go to next year and it was hard for me not to say something inappropriate about how depressed they were making me feel.  At least my sister’s marriage is out of the way, but I still need to deal with my friend’s wedding next year.  It’s a year (pretty much exactly) since I last felt suicidal, but I was feeling a bit that way today.  Not that I actually wanted to kill myself, but that I wished I wasn’t here.  The pure O (obsession/OCD) thoughts of throwing myself under a train, which is normally just a distraction that doesn’t bother me much somehow seem more worrying, less a fear that I will go crazy and impulsively jump for no reason and more a worry that one day I might really jump from real despair.

Anyway, what I wanted to write about tonight (this post has been a massive digression to vent so far) is something that happened at shiur tonight.  I realised that I knew quite a bit, Jewishly and secularly, but that I was too scared to share it.  Scared of being wrong (I did answer one question incorrectly, probably due to nerves/social anxiety as I did know the right answer), but also scared of being right and seeming ‘too clever’, like I was bullied and told off for being when I was growing up, especially if I say that someone else is wrong.  Also scared of knowing something I shouldn’t.  I’ll explain the last two points.

The shiur was about ChanukahChanukah, for those who don’t know, commemorates when the Greeks who ruled the land of Israel (actually the Seleucid (Greek-descended) rulers of Syria, but their culture was Hellenic/Greek) tried to impose Hellenic culture on the Jews there and basically destroy Judaism as a religion, or at least turn it into something less monotheistic and distinctively Jewish and more pagan and universalist.  The Jews rebelled and won, purified the Temple and struggled to light the menorah (lamp) because the Greeks had defiled all the olive oil, but found a tiny jar of pure oil that miraculously burned for eight days, exactly the time needed for them to prepare more oil.

The rabbi who gave the shiur constructed a whole philosophical structure around this about Greek culture, what it was and how it compares with Jewish culture.  It was interesting, but I had two problems.  One was I had heard a different interpretation, probably a complementary one, I haven’t really thought it through, which I was too scared to share with people in case it looked like I was criticising the rabbi or showing off.  There was also some general discussion at the end that I could have joined in with, but was scared to for the same reason.  But there were also things I was scared to say for fear of showing off secular knowledge and privileging that over Torah.  I wasn’t 100% convinced that his analysis of Hellenic culture fitted with what I have read in secular sources and I certainly wasn’t convinced that his analysis of Sadducee religion, which he brought in, was at all correct.  The Sadducees were a Jewish sect in late antiquity.  He was correct that they were heavily influenced by Hellenism, unlike the Pharisees, the ancestors of rabbinic Judaism, but I’m not convinced that they didn’t want to serve God; rather they were textual literalists who rejected the oral tradition, which isn’t the same thing to my way of thinking, even if it did lead to major differences in belief and practice from Pharisaic/rabbinic Judaism.  I suppose it says something about me that I’m still thinking about this, trying to find a way to reconcile what the rabbi said with what I have read and learnt elsewhere rather than just saying he’s wrong.  But I’m scared to ask the question for fear of looking too ‘modern’ and secular-influenced and for fear of looking like I’m attacking him with my degree in history (not that I studied ancient history or Jewish history at university).

I do feel that I often have things to share with people (comments, jokes, even quotations that I feel are appropriate or amusing), but I hold back for fear of what people would think.  Too intellectual.  Too elitist.  Too geeky.   Too weird.  Too religious.  Too secular.  Too irritating.  Maybe this is wrong of me.  Maybe I hold too much of myself back for anyone to be able to get to know, and maybe even like, the real me, let alone to build up intimacy and friendship.  But I’m too scared of rejection, from my childhood experiences and from my experiences on dates where I have opened up to women and tried to show them a bit of the real me (not the intense things I share here, but just my knowledge and personality, plus sometimes the existence of my mental health issues), only to be rejected.  I know I share a lot of things here, but I think I don’t really believe that other people are going to read this when I write, at least on some level and I do hold some things back, actually in some ways more now that I know that I have more readers and I can try to predict what they want to read (so fewer irrelevant quotations from Doctor Who, for example).

It is hard to know how I can open up to more people in an appropriate way in the future.  I guess this is something that the book I bought on social anxiety might be able to help me with (I haven’t started using it yet because I’ve been too busy), but I worry that the Asperger’s prevents me from judging when it is appropriate to say something and so I err on the side of caution and say nothing.  I worry that this is impossible to change and so I will never fit in, make friends, find a community or get married.

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Chanukah Present

It’s Chanukah!  The present I would most like (apart from things like world peace and health and happiness for my friends and family) is to be set up on a date with a woman who actually likes me and is suitable for me.  Doesn’t look like happening though.  The woman my Mum was trying to set me up with doesn’t seem to be interested and I’m still waiting to hear back from the shadchanit (matchmaker) who specialises in people with health issues or other ‘sensitive’ circumstances.  I don’t know where I go from here, as I was pinning a lot of my hopes on one of those two working.  I suppose I should go to an ordinary shadchan who might turn me away or try to set me up with a “normal” woman (we know how well that works).  Sigh.  The possibility of ever getting married seems to recede into the distance…

Addiction (Books Do Furnish a Room)

I don’t have many vices, or indeed things I enjoy, but I have an addiction to buying second-hand books.  Being a librarian allows me to feed my addiction, as I can buy cheap books off the withdrawn pile.  But whatever slight boost I get from buying them (and it is a slight boost, my anhedonia sees to that) is eroded later when I realise I’m never going to read all the books I buy.

Today I ended up with four books from the “for sale” pile.  One on Islamism, one on politics and economics (deliberately buying something that will challenge my political views, vague and contradictory as they are), one on political history (probably the most interesting-looking) and one on psychology: one of Maslow’s books on self-actualisation.  I thought should at least own the book, given that I use his hierarchy of needs to beat myself up about the impossibility of my ever being happy and having “peak experiences” when so many of my basic needs can not be met.

Goodness knows when I will get to read the books.  I don’t have much time for recreational reading as it is between my job, the book I’m writing, my blog (which is often a need for self-expression rather than a luxury) and my religious obligations; when I do have time to read I’m often too tired or too depressed to do so, and all these books look heavy-going.  I already have a huge ‘too read’ pile (or piles, plural, as I’m a re-reader – it often takes me two goes to really ‘get’ a serious book, whether fiction or non-fiction; the same goes for TV and film, incidentally) and I’m getting stack more books for Chanukah, possibly indicative of a lack of imagination on my part.  There was no point asking for DVDs as I’m going to be stuck watching Doctor Who for another year or so as research for my book.  I would like a new tie for shul, but other than that I hate getting clothes for presents, as I have little interest in them.  I wanted something I would enjoy after a difficult, tiring term with resurgent depression and lots of little somethings on several nights of Chanukah (rather than one big one on first night) so I could feel I had some parental attention after my sister’s wedding even if the monetary cost to them is the same.  We don’t do surprise presents very much in my family and anyway my sister is the only person I really trust to buy me surprise presents, so I had to choose something.  Anyway, the librarian doth protest too much, methinks.

Still, I once worked out I spend about £1 a week on books.  Even if I spend twice that, it’s still only about £100 a year and I do at least read some of them.  As hobbies go, it’s cheaper than most.  £100 would be fewer than ten trips to the cinema, and I must get more than 30 hours of pleasure out of a year’s worth of books.

Feeling like a Depressive Autistic Freak

I’m mildly snowed in, but I’ve got to go out soon to see some friends and do urgent food shopping.  It has at least stopped snowing now.  I haven’t really done anything all day except sleep and eat.  I feel depressed and lacking in motivation.  I did email the shadchanit for people with health issues.  I will have to wait and see how that turns out.

I did manage to clean the flat.  This doesn’t take very long in a flat this tiny, but it takes a lot of effort to get going, which could be depressive lack of motivation and energy, or autistic poor executive function or plain procrastination/laziness.

I texted my boss to check that college will be open tomorrow despite the snow.  I had to ask, or else risk a long trip across London for no purpose, but I’m worried she will think I’m hoping to skive (again).

Added 8.45pm: I’m just back from dinner with some friends.  I feel the Asperger’s and the social anxiety won out over me.  My friends asked about my sister’s wedding and I was unable to answer the way they wanted.  Things like the food, the decor and my sister’s dress don’t matter much to me and I didn’t really notice much or have the vocabulary to describe what I did notice.  I was surprised that one (female) friend who has never shown much interest in fashion or the like before was suddenly desperate to find out what my sister’s dress looked like (it was white and had a long train and beyond that I neither know nor really care).

One of my other friends who was there recently got engaged and his fiancée came.  I had not known of her existence until I heard they were engaged a few weeks ago, but apparently they have been together for three years.  You may guess from this that most (all?) of my friendships are not close.  I can’t go to the wedding because it’s in another city in term time and I won’t be able to get the time off work, but I didn’t say anything because I’m too embarrassed and ashamed, although I don’t know why.  Maybe because part of me is secretly glad not to have to go to another party.

I tried to make a good impression on his fiancée, but found myself unable to say much; when she tried to engage me in conversation directly, I was unable to say anything other than “yes” and “no,” although I wanted to be more communicative.  My friend pointed out that I was wearing my college scarf (we were at the same Oxford college) and she asked if I’ve ever been back.  I said yes and she asked if I enjoyed going back; I didn’t like to say that I felt terrible when I went back because all I could think of were the places where I was lonely, the places where I was despairing, the places where I was suicidal…  Then I had to run off to catch my bus to avoid waiting in the cold for twenty minutes, which was probably rude.  So she probably thinks I’m a freak (she would be correct).

I’m glad that my friend has got engaged, but I feel secretly envious that he has a pretty, friendly and intelligent fiancée and I’m a freak who will be lonely forever.  I also felt envious that everyone at the table had a good job, whereas I’m a “poor devil of a sub-sub-librarian”.  That said, I wouldn’t want to be a property or tax lawyer, but I did envy the doctor and the academic.  I don’t even work full-time.

The score from the weekend: Luftmentsch 1, depression 1, social anxiety 1, Asperger’s 1.  So Luftmentsch 1, mental health and developmental disorders 3.  And that’s probably being generous to myself.

(I wonder if this bad mood is entirely from feeling I did badly from a socialising point of view or whether the rich chocolate mousse-meringue-cake I had for dessert has led me to have a blood sugar crash?  I always crash when I eat out with friends or family and I always assumed it was from feeling lonely and incompetent (I worry about saying the wrong thing at the meal, eating with people reminds me how rarely I see friends, and seeing couples out makes me feel painfully single), but maybe it’s a blood sugar thing.  In which case I will have to cut back on one of my few pleasant luxuries, the occasional piggy chocolate dessert.  Blast.)

Thoughts I’ve had this Evening

Someone as messed up as me doesn’t deserve to be happy…

…so it’s just as well that I can’t ever be happy.

I just want someone to tell me I’m a good person…

…and let myself believe them, which is harder.

I feel so lonely…

…I wish there was someone here with me…

…which I can now understand as wanting someone I feel comfortable talking to or just being with, but also someone I feel comfortable touching and letting her touch me, gently and affectionately more than just sexually…

…One of my (female) friends once said that I tend to fall for “alpha women” who aren’t interested in me.  I’m not sure if that’s completely true (about them being alpha women, they certainly aren’t interested in me), but I guess some of them would qualify…

…but saying I’m looking for someone gentle, caring, quiet and family-focused is hard, because I feel like I’m saying that I’m looking for some stereotyped pre-feminist Victorian Stepford Wife, when really all I’m saying is that I want to marry someone like myself (I’m not sure if I’m caring, but I’m gentle, quiet and family-focused)…

…for the record, I cook, clean, grocery shop and can launder, iron and sew (the latter very badly).  I’m not looking for a domestic servant or living doll.  I have no problem with my wife going to work leaving me as a house-husband if it makes economic sense for us.  I just want to meet someone like me, someone I would feel able to trust: thoughtful, intelligent, gentle, caring, quiet, family-focused and with a sense of integrity both in terms of being honest and in terms of being true to herself and her unique character…

…Maybe if I show that last paragraph to the shadchanit she might know someone suitable?

On a different note, I spent much of the evening downloading photos from my sister’s wedding.  I didn’t even take that many, and some came out blurred because of problems with my camera’s flash, or off-centre because I had to stay out of the way of the official photographer.  Oh well.  I don’t know if anyone’s interested in seeing them.  I can’t put them up here because of my anonymity and because there are photos of young children that I wouldn’t put up without their parents’ permission, but if anyone I know in real life (or have known online for a long time) wants the Snapfish link, please email me.  I didn’t take many photos (even fewer once I weeded out the really bad ones).  Maybe I was too busy experiencing the event or maybe I just felt too nervous too much of the time.  I’m not sure.  Certainly I spent a lot of the evening elsewhere, during the dancing.

New Perspectives

I had a fairly awful Shabbat (Sabbath), but I think I realised some new things about myself.  Firstly, I seem to be OK during the work week.  In the mornings I feel depressed, but I have to rush to work.  Then work is a distraction and in the evenings I’m exhausted and just eat and go to bed.  On Thursday evening I can begin to wind down a bit and Friday is rushing with therapy and Shabbat preparations, but then I go to shul and suddenly I have limited distractions for the next twenty-five hours and not much distraction for a day or so after that and things can get difficult.

In shul I was feeling very depressed and self-critical.  I can’t remember exactly what I was feeling, but it was stuff like, “I’m a freak, I’m a bad person, God hates me, I’m much worse than everyone else in my community, I have no share in Olam HaBa (the World to Come i.e. Heaven)…”  I started thinking about what would happen if, It’s a Wonderful Life-style (I’ve never seen the film, but I know the plot),  I was shown what life would be like for those around me if I had never been born.  I found it hard to imagine that it would be much different.  My parents would still have my sister.  My friends all have other friends.  I’ve done one or two good things in my life, but not many, certainly not many that were difficult enough that I can really take credit for the effort involved.  I carried on thinking like this until I got home, depressed enough that I crawled into bed fully dressed (this would be about five o’clock) and eventually dozed until dinner at six.  (This meant I couldn’t sleep later.)  I felt better at dinner, but was probably a bit irritable and felt worse for quite a while after dinner, although I improved before bed.

I woke up at 8.00am today and should have gone to shul (synagogue), but was feeling too depressed and just went back to sleep.  I didn’t get up until something like 1.00pm and it took even longer to get dressed, even after I’d had some breakfast.  By that time there were only a couple of hours of Shabbat left, so that was spent mainly eating and davening (praying).  I didn’t do much Torah study as I have a bit of headache, not a bad one, but it won’t shift.  I was too tired/depressed/lazy to go back to shul for Ma’ariv (the evening service).

I hadn’t felt that self-loathing and depressed for a while.  I had decided that I was going to email the shadchan (matchmaker) I found who specialises in people with medical and other ‘issues’ (having given up waiting for my parents to contact the friends whose daughter they want to set me up with and not being at all sure that she is frum (religious) enough for me anyway), but now I wonder if that’s at all a good idea.

The other thing worth noting happened today when I realised that what I describe is loneliness really is loneliness, but also sexual frustration.  It’s hard for me to describe that because, being a virgin (at thirty-four!) I don’t really know what I want nor do I have a vocabulary to describe it (even without alexithymia making it hard to understand what I feel), plus as a frum Jew I’m not supposed to talk about sex at all, really, especially as I’m single; it’s something that is supposed to happen between husband and wife and isn’t supposed to be mentioned outside that context.  When I had an essay published on Hevria about being scared of sex, I didn’t show my family for fear of what they would say and I didn’t let Hevria publish it under my real name.  I wanted to talk about sex to my therapist this week, but somehow we got distracted on to something else, but I didn’t really know what I wanted to say anyway.

I’ve mentioned that sex for me is tied up with feelings like love, intimacy and acceptance.  I can’t imagine that I could ever be promiscuous, even if I wasn’t frum.  So it’s easy to see that sexual frustration is part of what I feel when I experience what I call ‘loneliness’, because my desire for love, intimacy and acceptance (loneliness) is inseparable from my desire for sex.  It might (I’ll put it no stronger than that) explain why, since I was eighteen (i.e. about half my life) all my closest friends have been women.  Since then I’ve generally had one close friend (inasmuch as I have close friends) who ‘happens’ to be female, and usually I feel that, if things were different, I would like to go out with her.  Usually I can’t because she’s not Jewish or not frum or not interested in me like that; sometimes there’s some other reason of incompatibility.  It’s very frustrating.

Right now I’m supposed to be downloading my photos from my sister’s wedding or doing some Torah study (now my headache has mostly gone), but I just want to go to bed (my flat is freezing – I’ve got my dressing gown on over my clothes (several layers) and I’m thinking of boiling some water on the hob just to warm the flat up!) or, failing that, watch Doctor Who, which is probably a better idea given what happened yesterday when I went to bed early (i.e. insomnia later).

More Psychologically-Inspired Thoughts (Empathy, Alexithymia and Asperger’s)

I mentioned the other day that I wonder if I have a proper theory of mind (intuitive understanding that other people think differently to me, thought to be absent in autistic people – I’m going to assume for this post (and in most of my posts) that Asperger’s Syndrome is synonymous with high functioning autism).  Today I was flicking through a book at work, deciding whether to withdraw it, and came across a theory of mind test.  It is hard for me to analyse myself properly using these, as I have seen them before and know the right answer (when I first saw them, I was unaware that I might be autistic and did not use them to test myself), but I was skim reading fast enough that I was not so aware of the context.  I think I failed it (i.e. failed to realise that another person would not know something I knew, indicating that I might be autistic), with the caveat that I was skimming very fast and so (a) am not 100% sure what I answered and (b) am not 100% sure whether I read the question properly.  So the result is rather suspect, but suggests that I might be more autistic than I thought.  I suspect that I have learnt logically how to work out what other people might be thinking to avoid obvious social blunders, which would fit with specifically high functioning autism.

This prompted me to go online to see if I could find a version of the theory of mind test that I hadn’t seen before to get a more objective answer.  I could not find one, but I did find tests of empathy and alexithymia (inability to identify, describe and interpret emotions) and the scores did not surprise me at all with the caveat that these tests done online are not always scientific and even scientific ones can be controversial in what they test, how they test for it and how they interpret the results.  So take this post with a pinch of salt.  I scored somewhat below average for empathy, again indicating Asperger’s/autism.  I do feel some empathy; when the depression is bad, I avoid the news because it is so depressing.  However, I find it hard to know intuitively what other people are thinking.  I think I have learnt how to hypothesise what other people are feeling (from experience observing other people and their actions and from reading novels, which are a way of learning what other people’s inner worlds look like) and to interpret their cues in a very laboured and conscious way, rather than an intuitive way like neurotypical people.  Again, this mixture of problems with empathy and moderately successful workarounds fits with being both autistic and high functioning, as I understand it.

The alexithymia score was even less surprising as my therapist identified that a long time ago, in a context separate from autism without knowing the name, although she was pleased when I told her, as she knows I like labels; she may have been being slightly teasing or ironic (in a friendly way), I’m not sure – another autistic trait.  I scored highly overall for alexithymic traits, which was really not a surprise.  There is a detailed breakdown into different categories: I have high alexithymic traits for identifying, describing and interpreting feelings (definitely all true and what my therapist noticed), as well as for externally-orientated thinking, which apparently is about focusing on external rather than internal events and experiences.  I am not sure about that, as I do think a lot about what I feel, but that could be a product of keeping a daily mood diary for over a decade to assess my progress with the depression.  I certainly do find it hard to say how I feel about external events e.g. my sister’s wedding.  It’s easier for me to say “Everyone else enjoyed it” or “I was not as depressed as I feared I would be” than “It went well for me; I enjoyed it.”  I also scored high for restricted imagination, which is interesting as I did well at school in English, which requires a lot of imagination and I used to write stories and poetry for fun.  However, I do find it hard to find inspiration; I’m not one of those writers who is overflowing with ideas and I am frequently ‘blocked’ and have been for most of the last couple of years, with brief intervals of inspiration.  Certainly my imagination goes round in restricted circles and probably piggybacks on ideas I have seen in books and on TV.  I apparently have some alexithymic traits in sexuality, although I found these questions impossible to answer, as I am still a virgin.  I do have my experience of moderately sexual experiences (hugging, kissing) with my ex-girlfriend, but that was complicated by other emotions and thoughts surrounding it.  I do still worry about being frigid, having scored so highly on most of the other alexithymic traits; I think the moderate score here comes from me answering ‘undecided’ in the absence of a ‘I don’t know, I’m a virgin’ button.  I do apparently have no alexithymic traits regarding problematic interpersonal relationships, but I’m not quite sure what that means.  From the questions, I think it means that my difficulty understanding emotions does not lead to conflict with others; they don’t complain that I don’t meet their emotional needs.  I think that this was more of a problem when I was a child, based on some childhood memories.  I suspect that, as with some of the empathy questionnaire questions, I have learnt rules and workarounds to let me identify what other people are feeling and respond appropriately e.g. when Mum has yortzeit (anniversary of a death), expect her to be upset and possibly irritable; phone and see how she is making sure to listen to her emotions before telling her how I feel.

I suppose that I still don’t know, and probably never will know for sure, whether I have Asperger’s, but it probably does show that I am neurodivergent in various ways.  What I do with the information is another question.  I doubt it will cause me to make allowances for how I feel/think, let alone stop beating myself up about my difficulties interacting with others and taking care of my emotional needs.

Get Out of That

There is so much I want to say here sometimes, and so much that I can’t say because it will hurt other people or because it will probably hurt me or at least make people think badly of me (and rightly so).  I think I write because I think writing will stop things hurting or at least provide some release, but it doesn’t really.  I want to get a response, more than just likes, but on the rare occasions I get a comment, they don’t help much either.  I suppose they can’t, as I want people to agree with me that my life is awful and I’m awful, but also to contradict me and tell me that the future will be good.  Maybe on some level I think that if I write about my fears for the future, they won’t materialise.  Maybe I even think that if I write about my past it will unhappen.  It’s no good though.  The past is set in stone and no one has yet reassured me that my worst fears for the future won’t happen.  “But at my back I always hear/Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near”  The future is coming, and sooner than you think…

Psychologically-Inspired Thoughts

This had various thoughts today, perhaps because I was weeding the psychology collection at work and so I was looking at books about mental health, autism, emotions and so on, throwing up all kinds of thoughts after work.  I was too tired and depressed to read on the way home and so drafted this post on paper and thought a lot about it.

It wasn’t so much clear thoughts I was having as questions and fantasies.  Questions about Asperger’s: do I have an innate theory of mind or have I just learnt to guess what others might be thinking from experience?  (It is suggested people with Asperger’s Syndrome have impaired theory of mind.)  But if I do have Asperger’s, why was I very capable of imaginative play as a child?  Then again, if I don’t have it, why did I also love to make tableaux of my toys, which seems to be a cross between autistic and neurotypical play?

I also thought about relationships.  What would it be like to be in a proper,  mutually-loving relationship?  [I had stuff here about my relationship that didn’t work out, but I decided to redact it.  Suffice to say it wasn’t my fault it didn’t work out, but it leaves me wondering if anyone could ever really love me.]  What would it be like to come home to someone who loved me and wanted to see me rather than a cold and lonely flat?  At the risk of sounding vulgar, I even found myself wondering what sex feels like.  Would I enjoy it or would it be like every other ‘normal’ pleasure that my depressive anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure) stops me enjoying?  Or another physical thing that is too difficult with my mental health issues, borderline Asperger’s and neuroses?  Like when my ex tried to kiss me and I hated it and found it initially disgusting and then when she tried to get me to trying again, I found myself literally unable to work out how to do it.  Am I frigid, as she suggested?  Will I ever get to find  out?  It seems unlikely, although I have sort of decided to go to a shadchan (matchmaker) soon if my parents don’t manage to set me up with the person they want to set me up with.

Sometimes it seems like vast, basic areas of human experience are shut off to me by my mental health, borderline Asperger’s and personality: love, sex, travel, alcohol, intense friendships, community… I don’t even remember my dreams most of the time, let alone have the kind of complex dreams with strong narratives and psychologically revealing symbolism that people like my father report.

I got upset and slightly scared by something at work which I’ve decided not to narrate as this post is too long and self-indulgent as it is (suffice to say I think I overheard some students being antisemitic).  As I mentioned above, I tried to read on the Tube home, but was overcome with sadness and tears without being sure why.  I don’t know why I write self-indulgent rubbish like this (which probably reveals too much about my ex, if anyone knows my real identity, which I don’t hide particularly well, but I need to try to process what happened to me somehow and it was several years ago, so I don’t know how many people who know me remember we dated).  I guess I want to hear that someone understands or cares.  I’m not sure that ‘likes’ on a blog post really do that,  though.

Off Sick and Romantic Probabilities

I’m home early today.  I made a cup of tea at work this morning.  I try not to drink tea in the morning except with my breakfast, as drinking it on an empty stomach seems to make me nauseous sometimes.  I thought I would be OK today as I had just eaten a banana, but within twenty minutes or so of finishing my tea, I was very sick.  I was going to stay at work, but when I asked my boss if someone could take over from me at the issue desk in case I was sick again, she insisted I go home in case it was a virus and I’m infectious.  I suppose it’s understandable that she doesn’t want to risk the whole team to going down with a virus at the same time, but I feel like I’m malingering, as I’m 99% sure it was just the tea.  I feel fine now, except for being a bit tired, probably because I went to bed a little later than intended last night and didn’t sleep well and/or the after-effects of the wedding.  So I have some time to kill this afternoon, perhaps to work on my book or download wedding photos.

One thing I was thinking about this morning which seemed too small a thought for the blog, but which can, I suppose, be added to the paragraph above to turn two small ideas into one post, concerns dating.  I have said that I haven’t dated many women and that most of the women I have dated haven’t been much like me.  I have also said that I despair of finding someone really like me: frum (Jewish-Orthodox-religious), geeky and with an understanding of mental health issues and Asperger’s, probably someone who has similar issues of her own so I’m not just making demands on her.  Every so often I meet someone who meets two of these categories or even all three, but it never works out, either because of the criterion they don’t meet or for some other reason.  I know that I should think that if I’ve met one or two women who meet some or even all of my criteria, then there must more women like that out there and I just need to work out how to meet them (which admittedly is difficult, but is another reason to go to a shadchan (matchmaker)).  However, I assume that there was only one such woman and now I’ve lost my only chance at happiness by messing up with her.  Sometimes I dangerously think I should have stayed with my ex, even though we clearly weren’t right for each other on multiple levels.

I’m not a statistician and I don’t know if it’s more true to say that the existence of one woman like me makes the existence of yet another like me more or less likely.  Does the existence of one or two frum, geeky mentally ill women mean that they are part of an existing subculture and there must be more out there for me to meet, or does it mean that I have met all (both) of them and they are unique?  I don’t know.  I also don’t know how much I need to meet someone who is geeky.  I know I need someone frum and probably with some kind of issue – not that I want her to have issues, but otherwise she is going to have to sacrifice a lot with little return which would unbalance the relationship.  But how much do I need to have interests in common with a spouse?  I don’t know.

The Wedding Part III: The Aftermath

Today has been harder than yesterday in some ways.  I woke up late, feeling OK, had breakfast and pottered around a bit.  I had stayed overnight at my parents’ house for convenience and my copy of the new Doctor Who: Shada DVD arrived there in the early afternoon (my post goes care of my parents because my flat doesn’t have a postal address, it’s just my landlords’ garage).  As the day went on my mood slipped lower and lower, especially now I am back in the flat and feeling quite depressed and lonely.  Shada provided some distraction, but I only had the energy for five minutes of Torah study and I’m missing both dinner out with my extended family and/or Talmud shiur (class) as I’m just too tired to go out, let alone be in a big, noisy group.  I don’t know what I’m going to eat for dinner, as I’m too tired to cook anything.

I just stopped myself from saying something I shouldn’t say online.  There was a post on Hevria about post-partum depression and the author was saying that until she had her baby, she was “a rockstar” religiously, going to seminary, studying a lot, davening (praying) a lot and so on and now she can’t do any of that.  She got support from people who said that pre-marriage life is “amazing” because you have no responsibilities and “you can spend hours learning Torah”.  My pre-married life (i.e. all my life) is far from “amazing.”  It’s hard to do or enjoy anything, let alone “spend hours learning Torah”.  She now feels a lot better on medication, whereas I’m on medication that makes me feel ‘awful’ instead of ‘suicidally awful’.  I wanted to say that I never went to yeshiva (although that was not entirely due to poor mental health, if at all), can’t study and can’t daven either, plus I don’t have a supportive spouse.  But it would be rude to say that and I feel bad for even thinking it.  I do really feel sorry for her and am glad she’s doing better.  But it did push my buttons, making me think that I must be so useless that even when I’m well, I can’t meet all my obligations and be a religious superstar or even just enjoy things.  And it makes me feel like a freak for being stuck in this depression for decades when other people can come out of it as soon as they get the courage to ask for a pill.

I may go to the shadchan (matchmaker) for people with health issues soon, or I may just give up on dating entirely, I don’t know.  It does seem very unlikely that there could be anyone out there for me.

Tomorrow work beckons and at some point I will have to revisit the wedding to download my photos.  For now I guess I should forget the wedding, make some dinner, watch the rest of Shada, get ready for work and try to get an early night.  Although I fear I may just procrastinate.

The Wedding Part II: The Big Day

I’m drafting much of this post old style, with pen and paper, on Sunday 3 December in the yichud room of the vast and labyrinthine shul were my sister got married a few hours ago.  The yichud room is the room an Orthodox couple go to briefly after the wedding ceremony to be alone; we have arranged with the shul to use it all evening (the party is here too) as a storage room and a ‘chill out’ room for myself and a cousin who also has mental health issues to retreat to if it all gets too much for us.  It is probably the closest I’ll ever be to being in a yichud room properly (I am literally alone here).  It is the middle of the wedding party and meal.

The day actually went reasonably well for me in the end.  I was nervous in the chatan’s tisch (refreshments for the groom and some male friends and relatives) and didn’t really talk to anyone, even the people I knew.  I was emotional in the ceremony, where I got to stand by the chuppah (marriage canopy; my brother-in-law (as he now is) has a family custom to position men at each corner pole of the chuppah) but I’m not sure why because I couldn’t separate out my feelings.  I think I felt happy for my sister, lonely for myself (thinking I will never get married), anxious from standing in front of 250 people and even upset by the thought of the many tragedies of Jewish history when the groom broke the glass to symbolise our mourning for the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.  All these feelings and maybe more bled into each other.

While my sister and brother-in-law were in the yichud room, I got to meet my sister’s new nephew and nieces.  They took a bit of a shine to me, particularly one of the two year old twins who smiled whenever she saw me.  Eventually my sister and b-i-l came out and we had various family photos taken.  I avoided shaking as I feared I would.  In fact, I think the only time I really shook badly was when one of my b-i-l’s friends pinned a buttonhole flower on me where the anxiety was probably from a total stranger invading my personal space.

I took some photos here and throughout the evening.  Most didn’t come out that well as people were moving  and the lighting was very dim.  I was worried, perhaps unnecessarily, about shaking when asking people to pose, so I tried to surreptitiously take ‘action shots’, but most came out blurred, perhaps due to the long shutter time on that light level or simply due to the very dim lighting.  I got a few nice photos of four of my cousins, although the youngest was camera shy and kept pulling faces.  Got a lovely photo of cousin 1 (the trainee rabbi) looking very rabbinical as if he is pondering a complex Talmudic problem, although he was actually opening the wine. I also got a quite nice shot of my sister’s twin nieces facing each other which looks initially like a trick shot of one girl and her reflection until you realise they are standing at different angles.

After we had our photos taken, I was supposed to go into the reception, but ran into friends of mine who are also friends with my sister, along with their baby daughter.  I chatted with them for a while and let their daughter try out her emerging teeth on my finger.  She was also very cute and smiled at me a lot.  It makes me wonder again that if I can’t have my own children, I should try to find a way of volunteering with children because I can let my guard down with them in a way that I can’t with adults despite my fears of not knowing what to do if there is a problem.  Most of the bits of the wedding I enjoyed most were playing with the children, to be honest.

There was Israeli dancing/simcha dancing before dinner.  I stood and watched for a long time before eventually forcing myself and tentatively joining in.  I mainly did it for my Dad and my sister and I didn’t really enjoy it.  It was OK if a bit anxiety-triggering to dance arm in arm with my Dad and cousin 1 (I felt a bit stupid), but doing circle dancing with people is hard as I don’t like holding hands with strangers or putting my arms around them and having them put their arms around me.  I guess the world didn’t end, but I do wish I could be the type of person who found this type of thing easier or more fun.

The dinner/dancing hall was very noise with music and guests and I felt a bit overwhelmed especially during the dancing when the music was very loud.  It’s hard when my parents’ friends and family keep coming up to wish me mazal tov and I feel funny, I’m not sure why.  I suppose I feel I don’t deserve that or something.  Only one person wished me “Please God by your wedding” (note to non-Jewish readers: “please God by you” is an awful insensitive phrase that people say to unmarried people at weddings or childless couples at brits (circumcisions) and baby-welcoming parties.  It’s well-meant, but really insensitive to a lot of single or infertile people).  At any rate, I think she’ll have a long wait for my wedding, and I wouldn’t want a big party like this anyway (not that I’ll get much say if it ever happens).

I made motzei (the blessing on bread) for everyone OK, except that there was some confusion about where I was supposed to wash my hands (ritually) beforehand, which meant everyone had to wait while I went out, washed and come back in again, which looked unprofessional on my part, even though I was told the wrong thing.

I spent much of the second half of the party in the yichud room, drafting this post and reading the latest Jewish Review of Books.  I was pleased to get texts from three friends during the evening checking that I was OK, so I guess a few people care about me.  I did go back for the cake-cutting and speeches, so I heard b-i-l compliment me on my “sharp, insightful humour.”

Overall, the wedding went better than I expected.  I enjoyed bits of it, particularly playing with children and eating (the vegetarian option was very good) and I was glad that my sister, b-i-l, their parents and b-i-l’s siblings all seemed to have a good time.  I managed to keep going when I had to and put on a brave face for a few people, but when I stopped I sometimes felt depressed and lonely again, beating myself up over silly things and feeling tired.

The Wedding Part I: Prologue

My Israeli family (uncle, aunt, five cousins aged between twenty-five and eleven) are in the country for my sister’s wedding.  They came for dinner on Thursday night.  They are a very loud and boisterous family (one cousin has ADHD and we strongly suspect that another also has it and that a third has ADD; my uncle might have one or the other too).  Hyperactivity, argumentativeness and shouting do not always mix well with Asperger’s and social anxiety, even within family.  The first hour was good, but after that I felt I needed to get away.  I chatted with my Dad in another room for a bit.  By the time I got back to my flat, I was very overwhelmed and depressed.  I don’t remember what I did exactly; I think I procrastinated online for a bit, read a bit, maybe watched a DVD.  Whatever I did, I didn’t get to bed until gone 3.00am which was very bad of me.  Having to go to bed and get up early for work often seems to provoke a reaction in the opposite direction on non-work nights.

My extended family stayed with my parents for Shabbat (the Sabbath).  I stayed in the flat so people could sleep in my room and walked over for meals.  Friday night was good.  Really good.  Everyone was in a good mood, we had a long dinner, lots of talking and joking.  I discovered that cousin number 4 is also turning in to a bit of a geek.  I saw the cover of the book she was reading and asked her if it was fantasy fiction and she said yes “because realism is boring!”  (Her eldest cousin, No. 1 is already a bit of a geek; he’s a sofer (religious scribe) and is also training as a rabbi and is about to start training as a civil engineer (if this sounds a strange combination, bear in mind that ‘rabbi’ in the Orthodox world is an educational qualification like a PhD, not a vocation like priestly ordination.  Lots of rabbis get smikhah (rabbinical ordination) and then go and work in the private sector e.g. my rabbi mentor.)  Cousin No. 5 (the eleven year old) gave me mussar, telling me, “It doesn’t matter if you aren’t good at something – if you enjoy it, do it!”  I wish I could think like that.

However, by the time I got back to my flat, I was exhausted from being around people for so long.  I read for a while, did some Torah study and just lay on the bed too tired to move, but the wrong sort of tiredness to sleep, if that makes sense (if the train companies can complain of the “wrong sort of snow”…).  I went to bed at about 12.20am, which wasn’t too bad.  It was better than Thursday night at any rate.  However, I overslept (one alarm briefly woke me, but the other two didn’t even manage that) and I didn’t get up until something like 11.30am, maybe even later.  I had some breakfast, which I needed as I was feeling drained, dressed and davened before walking over to my parents’ house.

I had missed shul, which I was a bit upset about as my Dad was giving a dvar Torah (Torah thought) and various relatives were leading parts of the service.  I got to my parents’ house a bit late, only to discover my Dad was walking over to my flat to find me even though I had been told they were not waiting for me.  Unfortunately, we missed each other (there is one point where you can walk down one of two parallel roads and we both took different ones) and we had to wait half an hour for him to return.

Lunch was harder.  There were some kashrut issues which I think were genuine and not my OCD, but I was given short shrift.  I think they were OK in the end, but they did genuinely need thinking through and I feel uncomfortable enough that I want to double check my reasoning with my rabbi mentor.  (My extended family is as frum as my parents, but they don’t know my parents’ kitchen or cooking habits as well as they think they do and sometimes put the wrong spoons in things without asking first.)  The noise and bickering was more exhausting this time around.  I gave a little dvar Torah, not a chiddush (novel interpretation) of my own, just something from Rav Kook that I read last night, but I managed to make it segue into a blessing for my sister and her fiancé (who wasn’t here, the custom being for the bride and groom not to see one another for a week before the wedding).

I made it back to shul for Ma’ariv (the evening service) with cousin No.1, which I did mainly because I needed to get out of the house.  I had been thinking of singing havdalah (the end of Shabbat prayer) at home for my sister, but I had a headache and let my cousin do it, but it just reminded me of how little I will be doing tomorrow.  I’m making motzei (the blessing on the bread) and that’s it.  I was offered one of the sheva brakhot (seven blessings on the newlywed couple) at the meal, but turned it down because one has to hold a full cup of wine to make it and I was worried my anxiety would make me shake as happened when I did one of the sheva brakhot for a friend a number of years ago (this was originally to do with drug side-effects rather than pure social anxiety, but now it has happened so often in different situations that simply being in certain situations can trigger it) so I turned it down.  Other than that, I am to stand by one of the poles of the chuppah (wedding canopy) during the service and that’s it.  There are people much more distant from the bride and groom who are doing more than me.  I feel surplus to requirements, but I’m also worry that I will get so nervous that I won’t even be able to make motzei.

I’m worried about the wedding tomorrow.  I have a headache (which is finally shifting) and I’m not sure if it’s from anxiety about tomorrow or the noise today.  Apparently there will be what my parents are calling a ‘chill out room’ for me tomorrow and potentially for another of my cousins, who also has mental health issues, but it is still going to be a tough day.

For now I need to have something to eat, take my medication and get an early night.  I plan to watch a DVD, but I’m not sure what (my Doctor Who viewing is on pause while I wait for Shada‘s DVD release on Monday*, it having come at the exact right time on schedule.  I do feel strange tonight, though.  Not lonely exactly, but wishing I had a frum, geeky, calm wife to watch a geeky DVD with.  There has to be one single, frum, geeky, Asperger’s-and-mental-illness-accepting, family-centred woman my age out there somewhere, right?  Except somehow it doesn’t seem likely that there is, or that I could meet her if she does exist.

* For those who don’t know Shada is a Doctor Who story written by The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams that, uniquely, was only partially filmed and so never broadcast due to a strike at the BBC.  Every ten years or so it gets sort-of completed in another format (video of the filmed footage with added narration to bridge the gaps; an audio drama with primitive animations; a novelisation) and everyone goes wild about it ‘finally’ being as finished as it ever will be, even though most fans don’t even like Adams’ other work on the show (not me though, I really like it).  This latest version marries the filmed footage to new animation voiced by the surviving cast members.  It is being released on Monday exactly in the place it would have been broadcast in my viewing of all of Doctor Who as research for my book.  To be honest (and don’t tell my family I said this), but it’s mostly the thought that I have Monday off work to recuperate and watch the DVD that is getting me through the wedding weekend..

Thoughts on my Last Post

I really need to go to bed, but I do need to note, if only for myself, that, looking over my last post, the self-pity really hits me.  I am aware that I do tend to wallow in self-pity when depressed and lonely, and that blogging isn’t necessarily the answer to that.  A better solution is to be around other people, although this is hard as I have few friends locally and none I feel able to just drop in to see.  I have some friends I can text or email (or, I suppose, phone, but I hate using the phone at the best of times), but I’m always reluctant to be a burden on people by getting in contact like that.  I did text some friends tonight and felt better for it.

It also hit me, really for the first time, how much I compare myself to others and how much this makes things worse by making me feel a failure and even someone who can never succeed, because I am too much of a freak or weirdo to succeed in the way ‘normal’ people can.  I’m not sure where this comes from.  I don’t remember doing it much at school, but that might be faulty memory.  My parents certainly weren’t the type of parents who wanted their children to be top at everything; they always stressed effort over achievement per se.  Perhaps it comes from seeing my life drift away from that of my peers over the last fifteen years or more as they moved into friendships, careers, relationships and parenthood and I seem stuck by myself struggling to keep my head above water emotionally and financially.  This is probably silly, as my life is much better than it was even a year ago, when I was seriously suicidal, even if there is much that is still painful and difficult for me.  I need to stop doing it, but I don’t know how.

There is also the confessional element in the post, which I suppose involves confessing my real or perceived failures in the hope that someone will absolve me of them or say that they are just in my head.  People generally refuse to play games like this, but it doesn’t seem to stop me.  I suppose deep down I really want God to tell me that I’m not as bad as I think I am, but He doesn’t speak to me either.  Sometimes I think I confess my failures to try and remove them – if I admit to them, maybe they will go away.  I am fairly sure I have written about my perceived failures with davening and Torah study in the past and I think I want someone to tell me I’m doing OK in these areas and am still a good Jew – except that my rabbi mentor did more or less say that to me last week and it hasn’t stopped the feelings of inadequacy, and especially not the feelings that others will see this failure and punish me in some way, probably by leaving me without friends or spouse.  Again, recognising this tendency in my thought is one thing; changing it is another.  This is the problem I always had with CBT: it was relatively easy to see the way my thoughts spiral in on themselves and get worse, but it is a lot harder to send them spiralling the other way, back up and out into happier thoughts.

Feeling Inadequate

I have been feeling pretty inadequate all day today, in pretty much every aspect of my life from my job (where I am constantly undermined by my mental health) to my inability to understand my emotions (although I might understand them more than I give myself credit for), but, for the sake of brevity and focus, I’m just going to concentrate on two areas, my religious life and the book I’m in the process of writing.

Religiously, a lot is expected of Orthodox Jews.  Men in particular have a host of daily obligations that women are exempt from, particularly set prayer and Torah study.  Prayer is supposed to be three times a day, preferably with a community of at least nine other men (minyan), at set times and with kavannah (concentration, understanding of the Hebrew words and a sense of being in God’s presence).  I mess up almost all of this.  I only pray with a community on Shabbat (the Sabbath) and even then I’m sometimes too burnt out to go to shul (synagogue).  On work days, I only manage to pray for about ten minutes in the morning, about a quarter of the morning service.  I do daven Mincha and Ma’ariv (say the afternoon and evening services), but by myself and with poor kavannah.  I feel inadequate just thinking that there are plenty of men who do daven with a minyan three times a day.   I don’t know how good their kavannah is, but it would be hard to be worse than mine.

Similarly with Torah study.  In theory, a Jewish man should be studying Torah whenever he has a free moment.  In practice, life gets in the way and we are allowed some downtime.  Still, I feel I should be studying for an hour or two a day (as I have done in the past, even when the depression has been bad, albeit when I was not working as long hours, if at all), preferably Gemarah (the larger and more difficult part of the Talmud, consisting largely of complex legal arguments).  What I do is study for anything between five minutes to an hour, focusing on the week’s Torah reading (Torah in the narrow sense of the Five Books of Moses rather than the wider sense of ‘Torah study’ i.e. any Jewish religious study) and one or two Mishnayot.  The Mishnah is the shorter and simpler part of the Talmud, being composed mostly of simple legal statements, although the commentary in the edition I use often seems incomprehensible to me, especially as I have to do my Mishnah study on the Tube into work, when I’m still half asleep.  Again, I am conscious that there are men who spend their evenings studying the Gemarah, alone, with a chevruta (study partner) or at a shiur (class).

 

Then there is my general religious practice and mitzvah (commandment) performance.  Now the religious OCD is more under control, I am no longer terrified that all my food is treif (non-kosher) the whole time, but I do feel that my performance of mitzvot, both ethical and ritual is lacking.  I lack the sense of connection to God or joy in fulfilling His will that I am supposed to feel.  I have even been told that I will not feel that joy while I’m depressed, which seems to indicate that I will never feel it as I don’t think I will ever be free of the depression.  Nor do I think of myself as a particularly kind or generous person.  I help others more out of a sense of obligation than love.  I feel bad about this, but I often feel trapped in a solipsistic prison of depression, social anxiety and borderline Asperger’s and it’s hard to get out of that to connect with other people.

 

It’s hard even to have a benchmark by which I can measure myself.  In theory, in Judaism “According to the pain is the reward” (Pirkei Avot 5.23) – we are judged according to the effort we put in rather than on some absolute scale of achievement.  What is easy for one person might be very difficult for another for all kinds of reasons and worthy of greater reward and the Jewish religious literature from the Talmud to the tales of the Chasidim are full of stories of unlearned and even sinful people who achieved saintly status with a single, simple good deed.  In reality, though, it is hard for me to feel this.  I look for excuses to judge myself negatively and beat myself up and feel guilty about things.  I compare myself to other people, even though I know I shouldn’t, even though I see only a fraction of their lives and don’t know at all what is going on in their heads.  I feel that other people are judging me, and reading articles and blog posts where other people reflect on what they see as the narrow-minded and judgmental attitudes of the frum (religious) community doesn’t help, even though I have had little personal experience of such attitudes.  It does, as I’ve said before, make me assume that no frum woman would want to marry someone as religiously inadequate as me.  It also makes me feel that I have no share in Olam HaBa (the Next World i.e. Heaven).  I have no rational grounds for thinking this, just an intuition that good things simply don’t happen to me and that if I haven’t done an act bad enough to forfeit my share of Olam HaBa (and I often feel I have, even if I can’t pinpoint one), then the cumulative nature of my sins will stop me meriting my place there.  As I’ve said before, I just have a feeling of wrongness and I assume that everyone else, including God, feels the same way.

 

The other thing I have been feeling inadequate about lately is very different.  I have mentioned that I am writing a non-fiction book about Doctor Who.  I don’t want to go into it too much here as it’s not really relevant and might compromise my pseudonym (as I’m reworking material from my real name blog).  Suffice to say it’s an analytical book on Doctor Who.  But I worry that my writing isn’t good enough.  Writing on Doctor Who seems to come in two forms at the moment, the popular and opinionated and the academic and critical theory-rich.  I have no grounding in critical theory to write anything academic,  nor have I done research in production documentation or looked at the secondary literature in anything but a haphazard way.  But I worry that my work is too dry and too often slips into the passive voice for a more informal work and that anyway that market is already saturated.  The popular books annoy me anyway (too informal, too dismissive of what the authors dislike (in Doctor Who and outside it), too quick to bring in the authors’ politics and assume that all sensible people agree with them, too quick to show off wider knowledge which is often incorrect) and I suppose to some extent I’m writing in opposition to those books, that I’m thinking, “Well, if they can do it, so can I!”  But I’m worried that that is pride and we know what that comes before.  And having catalogued a book on writing style at work today, I just feel that my writing simply isn’t good enough to compete in a crowded marketplace.  The passive voice has always been a problem for me in my non-academic writing.

 

I have a new post up on Hevria today.  Only one person seems to have liked it so far.  It was probably a mistake to let them cut the bit where I explained that all the stories are exactly fifty words long.  I feel inadequate.

Six Bullet Points in Search of a Blog Post

  1. I did over five hours (out of seven) on the issue desk today.  Also, this was at the secondary campus, where people are harder to communicate with (either little, if any, English or serious learning disabilities) so it was seriously draining and depleting.  This was partly my fault as I was supposed to split the issue desk time 50:50 with my colleague, but I miscalculated and didn’t feel able to ask to switch, but it was also because we had VIPs turn up so I had to do extra time on the desk while my colleague showed them around.  My mood was variable, to say the least.  Most of the time I was OK, but after a while, doing a boring repetitive task in a gloomy room, my mood would dip (probably also correlating to low blood sugar level as well as tiredness and boredom).  I’ve actually just dipped again, which can’t be low blood sugar as I’ve just eaten.
  2. Calvin Coolidge is still my mentor (not words I ever expected to write).  Stonewalling is the only way to deal with students who swear blind that they have returned books they have lost.  I’m still not good enough at playing psychological chicken like this though and either back down a little (“You can pay the fine next time”) or my colleagues get involved, either at my request or of their own initiative, which is what happened today.
  3. I have been beating myself up again today.  I listened to a Hevria podcast (Rivka Nehorai) and felt guilty about not being at all creative any more and generally feeling inadequate compared to Hevria people.  I left a loooong comment about art criticism and why I felt it was a good thing.  I left a fairly long comment on another post on Hevria too.  I suspect that deep down I just want people to notice me and I abuse the blog comments to be seen.  It’s like trolling, except that I’m polite and try to say constructive things.  I have a vague plan about going to New York in the summer to meet Hevria people (NB: this will probably never happen because I will chicken out for multiple reasons) and today I was imagining meeting Elad, Rivka and others so I could beat myself up in person instead of online.  You could say I have issues.
  4. Not only are two women I’ve dated (out of a grand total of six, count ’em) going to be at my sister’s wedding on Sunday (fortunately we still get on), it’s possible that the woman my Mum wants to set me up with will be coming, due to a complicated set of circumstances that I won’t go into here.  I’m really not sure that this is a good idea, but don’t feel able to say anything about it and in any case am flirting with the idea of being resigned to being single and virginal forever and never trying to date anyone ever again.  Anyway, I’m too busy being apprehensive about the wedding in general to worry about this in particular.
  5. I honestly have no idea how I’m going to get through the wedding.  Sundays are the most depressed day for me and I usually do nothing except sleep, eat, procrastinate online and watch a bit of Doctor Who.  Saturday is going to be extra draining because I’ve got my uncle, aunt and five cousins staying with my parents for the wedding alongside my sister, so meals (Friday night and Saturday lunch) will be LOUD and draining and there will be an energy and mood debt to be repaid the next day.  I’m not sure if it’s good or bad that I volunteered to walk back to the flat and stay there overnight so my cousins can have my room in my parents’ house.  It means I have a fifteen minute walk in the cold and dark, but at least I can get some quiet and some personal space on Friday night.  As long as that doesn’t feed the loneliness and depression that I’m certain to feel over the weekend, as my sister gets married off and I contemplate being lonely and single forever etc. (did I mention one of my exes who is going to be at the party recently got engaged?  I assume her fiancé will be there too, but no one has told me).
  6. I don’t really have anything else to say, having cut a point since coming up with the title, and I feel exhausted, lonely and depressed now and need to go to bed, but I need a sixth point for the Six Characters in Search of an Author joke to work.  It’s not even that funny a joke.  (This is beating myself up again cf. point 3).

Life vs. Lifestyle

I got ‘sunk’ again at work today.  I struggled all day, doing a quite boring, very slow and long task (it will certainly take longer than my current contract) because there were no books to catalogue (three boxes full arrived around midday, but they have to be processed by the library assistants before I work on them).  I don’t know if it was the boredom or something else, but in the mid-afternoon I just felt exhausted and depressed.  It was a real struggle to keep going, even more of a struggle than before.  I got through it and carried on working and I don’t feel that my work was noticeably inferior, but I was struggling with my thoughts.  Hours later I can’t remember what I was thinking, but I suspect it was mostly self-critical thoughts of one form or another.

I should be at my Talmud shiur (class) now, but I’m too tired.  I think I’m going to have to give up on it soon, as I’m just too tired to study the technicalities of halakhah (Jewish law) after work, nor do I really have the time to go and then still get to bed at the time I need to have the seven to eight hours of sleep I need to function at work and keep the worst part of the depression at bay.  Things are only made worse by the fact that the style of teaching is not ideal for me and the way the shiur is run, from an administrative point of view, is something of a shambles, with shiurim frequently cancelled at short notice (once without me even being told until I got there) even before the teacher’s son became seriously ill (which only makes me feel guiltier about stopping going).  I really want to learn the study skills that will one day let me learn Gemarah (another name for Talmud (actually not quite, but near enough)) independently or with a chevruta (study partner), but this shiur is not teaching me that.  To be honest, the main reason I’m going is that I like to be able think of myself as a frum (religious) Jew who studies Gemarah and I won’t be able to do that if I stop going.  It’s more about self-esteem and fitting in to the frum community than about the shiur itself, which is a really bad and shallow thing to do.  That and wanting to be attractive to frum single women who are looking for someone who studies Gemarah, which is probably an even worse reason to do something.

I guess I’m drifting back into that old feeling of not being good at anything.  I think that’s what I was feeling at work this afternoon, the feeling that I’m not that good at my job.  Two of my colleagues were talking about their children and they said that I “have that to look forward to” but I’m exactly the same age as one of them and only two or three years younger than the other with no sign of getting married.  I try to tell myself that marriage, children, sex, even love aren’t everything.  But they are quite a lot, at least they seem that way when I feel lonely and lacking… purpose? motivation? a focus? focus for what? for my love?  I’m not sure that any of those really fits what I feel.  I just know I keep thinking of the young daughter I had in my dream last week, the one with Down Syndrome, wanting to hug her.

I was reflecting on the way home today about something I heard years ago, that “our grandparents had lives, but we have lifestyles.”  I don’t have a problem with organised religion, the free market, high culture or geek culture in and of themselves, but they can, if you’re not careful, sell you a fake lifestyle and stop you getting a real life.  I try hard to have a life, not a lifestyle, but it’s hard to have any kind of life with depression.  I suppose, from that point of view, I should stop going to the Talmud shiur, because unlike the parasha shiur on Thursdays, it’s become a lifestyle thing rather than a life thing.  I’m not becoming a person who can study independently (life), but someone who goes to the shiur to show other frum Jews that I can pass as a frum Jew (lifestyle).  Sigh.  It’s not that simple though.  I worry about upsetting the rabbi who teaches it, particularly given his family issues (his son being ill and his mother died a couple of weeks ago).  I worry whether I should blame work and lack of time or be honest and open up to people a bit about my mental health.  I worry that I am burning my bridges about dating again.  I worry, I worry, I worry.

Sunk

I did indeed have difficulty sleeping last night (after having inadvertently slept for fifteen hours over Shabbat (the Sabbath)), finally falling asleep around 5.30am and sleeping through the rest of the morning.

I mostly kept today as a mental health day, as I seem to need Sundays to be at the moment now I work Monday to Thursday and have therapy on Friday; Shabbat is restful in some ways, but also often draining inasmuch as I am around people a lot at shul (synagogue) or with my parents (although not this week) and get little ‘introvert time’ when I am by myself to recharge except when actually sleeping, which be another factor in oversleeping and missing shul most weeks at the moment.

Today I did a couple of jobs that needed doing, mostly Chanukah shopping online and writing emails of complaint about various things.  I spoke to my rabbi mentor on Skype and he is pleased with my progress.  I told him that I’m struggling to get to shul even just on Shabbat and to daven with kavannah (pray with concentration) and he said that it is incredible that I’m working nearly full-time and still awake enough to daven at all, which I suppose is true, but I feel I should do more, and that other people expect me to do.  Yes, I can see the problem there, guessing what other people think and caring that they might think me lazy even though they don’t know all the facts, which I guess is social anxiety and low self-esteem again.

I was planning to go for a walk today despite it being cold out, as I had not been out of the flat for more than a couple of minutes for well over forty-eight hours and to cook dinner, but suddenly I was sunk.  ‘Sunk’ is the term I use in my head when I suddenly feel exhausted and unable to go on; the image in my mind is of a submarine that has got sunk to the bottom of the sea and can’t get off the sea bed and is slowly running out of oxygen.  This happens more than occasionally and often quite suddenly.  One moment I’m fine and the next I can’t do anything at all, as happened today.  Sometimes, if I am at work or shul or shiur (religious class), I have no option but to try to push through it.  Sometimes that works, but sometimes I just go through the motions or sit there until I can leave.  If I’m not doing anything urgent, I often tell myself I should go and do something relaxing, but I neither do what I need to do nor something really relaxing (like reading a book or watching a DVD), but I procrastinate, aimlessly surfing the internet, checking emails or (as now) blogging, because I find it hard to give myself permission to do nothing.

I also feel like the loneliness that I was worried about feeling on Shabbat alone in the flat has hit me now instead.  Somehow, speaking to my parents and my rabbi mentor as disembodied voices on the end of a phone or Skype connection feels worse than having no contact with anyone at all.  Or maybe it’s because I sent an email to the person who was trying to set me up on a date saying that unless my potential date (PD) gets in contact with me directly, then I’m not pursuing this any more, because it’s been a month and I have not heard directly from PD nor have I heard anything definite from her rabbi, who is supposed to be the middleman.  I think I mentioned that my Mum had a different suggestion of someone to set me up with, but I don’t really know anything about her, except that she has some experience of mental health issues and sounds like she’s in a similar place to me, being functional, but lapsing back at times of stress.  I think I would be happier with someone who had experience of mental health issues and I thought PD sounded out of my league, but as I really know nothing about either woman, it is hard to know who, if either of them, would have more in common with me.

At any rate, I abandoned my plans to go for a walk and to cook macaroni cheese, even though it’s one of the easiest recipes I make.  I just didn’t have the energy.  I found myself lying on my bed, feeling depressed and angry with myself for giving in to the lethargy, and to the other negative emotions that accompany the loneliness.  I think most of my worst actions/sins/mistakes/whatever-you-call-them, have been prompted by loneliness and a desire to be accepted by others.  It’s not the worst character trait one could have, but I’d rather be in control of myself.  Then again, it’s likely that I’m a control freak and I would be better off if I could let go in a ‘safe’ way.  Not that I’ve ever done anything unsafe or illegal in an objective sense, but I should do things in a controlled way rather than in an ad hoc way when I’m too depressed or exhausted to control my actions – deliberately watch that DVD instead of procrastinating online for hours, to go back to the earlier example.

In the end dinner had to be pasta with a store-bought sauce, a trusty fall back that I’m relying on too much.  I’ve done hardly any real cooking since I started working four days a week back in September and I rely on easy meals, whether cooked (pasta, jacket potatoes) or convenience food (pizza, vegetarian schnitzels, tinned vegetarian cholent).  I feel bad about this, but don’t know what to do about it.  There are only so many hours in the day and I only have so much energy, particularly on work days, but even my weekends are spent recovering from burn out.  Similarly, I only managed five minutes of very basic Torah study today when I had hoped to do more.

And so tomorrow is Monday and work again, the last full week before my sister’s wedding…

Oh Dear

In case anyone can see, yes I am posting this at 4.30am UK time.  And no, I don’t feel tired.  I slept for about fifteen hours out of the last twenty-eight or so, which was probably exhaustion from the week, but which has really messed up my sleep pattern now.

I was in the flat by myself for Shabbat (the Sabbath), my family having gone to my soon-to-be-brother-in-law’s auf ruf (call up to the Torah before getting married).  I didn’t go, for various reasons.  I was worried I would be lonely, but I was also worried someone from shul (synagogue) would find out that I was alone and ask me to dinner.  I’m not sure why I was so scared; I was looking forward to having time alone to read, but I was also worried about having to talk to people at dinner.

I wasn’t as lonely as I have been in the past when in the flat by myself over Shabbat.  I read quite a bit, some Torah, much of Doctor Who Magazine and pretty much all of a Batman graphic novel that was quite good, but disturbingly brutal in parts.  (I spent a few years reading a lot of Batman, but have largely stopped recently as I feel in the more recent stories, the content has got too graphic and sadistic.  I mean, it’s about a man who dresses up as a bat, it’s escapism rather than realism, so why include graphic torture scenes?  I suspect the influence of the Christopher Nolan films, which I really like, but which are deeply disturbing in parts.  Anyway, I digress.)

I began to feel lonely and a bit depressed late at night, but I went to bed and hoped everything would be OK.  Unfortunately, as I feared, with no one to wake me, I overslept.  I was woken by my first alarm, but felt too lethargic and perhaps too socially anxious at the thought of going to shul to get up.  I slept through the other two alarms and missed shul completely, getting up around 1.30pm, feeling a bit depressed and very lethargic.  I davened (prayed) a bit and ate a lot and mostly survived a religious OCD scare, but the flat was very cold as I hadn’t set the timer on the heater to come on early enough, although it would not have helped me if I had, as the timer turned out to be broken, running very slow.  I went into bed after seudah (the third meal) to stay warm, but I fell asleep for two hours, by which time Shabbat was long since over and I had slept for fifteen hours out of the last eighteen or so.

Unsurprisingly, I was not remotely tired by evening.  I didn’t want to waste feeling awake and not particularly depressed, so I did various chores and watched the beginning of the three and a half hour (!!!) documentary on Blade Runner included on the DVD.  I’m in something of a Blade Runner mood at the moment, having in the last few weeks watched the film for the third time, watched the new sequel, Blade Runner 2049, and read the novel it is based on, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? for the fourth time.  It’s possible that, as I’ve mentioned, the parallels and differences between the presentation of empathy in the book and films and my experiences of Asperger’s syndrome and related empathy and socialisation issues are what resonates.

I went to bed at 3.15am, but did not feel at all tired, so I got up again some time after 4.00.  I’m not sure what to do.  I will probably watch more of the documentary and eat some porridge, in the hope that warm milk will make me drowsy.  (I can’t drink milk, I can only eat it with cereal.)

Torah from the Depths: Vayetze

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

Throughout this week’s sedra, Yaakov (Jacob) is cheated by his uncle Lavan (Laban), who first makes him work seven years so that he can marry Lavan’s daughter, Rachel, then tricks him into marrying her sister Leah and insists he work another seven years for Rachel.  He then encourages Yaakov to work for him for wages for another six years, but repeatedly changes the terms of the contract to try and fleece* him of his salary.  Finally, Yaakov goes back to the land of Canaan, leaving secretly for fear that Lavan will keep Rachel, Leah and their children with him by force.  When eventually Lavan catches up with Yaakov, Yaakov finally gives in and delivers a whole speech (Bereshit/Genesis 31.36-42) complaining of his ill-treatment.  Yet Lavan simply rants back at him and they end up making a truce.

From a mental health perspective, this reminds me of the way that when someone with low self-esteem starts to stick up for themselves, those around them who have been used to them being a doormat feel that they are being attacked.  They feel that the formerly timid person has become an angry monster, when they are simply establishing healthy boundaries where none previously existed.  Similarly, Yaakov, although not suffering low self-esteem, suddenly asserted himself when previously he had been quietly forgiving, but rather than admit his guilt, Lavan saw this as an unjustified attack and fought back forcing a face-saving truce rather than an outright victory for Yaakov.

 

* No pun intended, but as Yaakov was working as a shepherd, maybe this is overly appropriate.

Being an Imposter and Crossing Barriers

This post is about two topics which are not really related, but I don’t think either quite warrants a whole post.  Anyway, I’ve been thinking about both of them recently.

One is feeling an impostor.  At work today I helped a student, but I felt I handled the situation badly at first and it took me a couple of minutes to really get to grips with what I should be doing.  I think I’ve mentioned before that when someone suddenly comes to me with a problem, particularly when I’m on the issue desk, my mind freezes and it takes a couple of minutes to engage with what I can do to solve it, probably from a mixture of social anxiety (anxious about appearing stupid or having to speak to a stranger) and Asperger’s (difficulties reading people feeding in to the social anxiety, but perhaps also executive function issues making it hard to come to a snap decision and having difficulty suddenly changing tasks).  Even then, I don’t always feel like I handled the situation well and I still often have to ask my colleagues for help, even after six months here.  I feel like an impostor, like I don’t really belong in this job.

Likewise, I had to work out the long Dewey number for a book and I was dreading it.  I hadn’t had to work out a long Dewey number since my first term on my librarianship MA, seven years ago.  The previous library I worked at used a specialised, simpler, system and the books here normally come from the publishers with the Dewey number, but one book slipped through the net.  Again, I felt like an impostor.  As it happened, I was able to import the Dewey number from elsewhere and it was just a case of deducing how it had been derived so I could work out how to shorten it to fit our standard, which still took me some time, but wasn’t so hard.  I do worry about what would happen if I had to classify with long Dewey numbers as a matter of course, something I used to be able to do, but a skill I have lost with lack of use.

Sometimes, though, the opposite situation happens and I feel a connection with people who I don’t have much in common with, at least at first glance.  I have a number of non-Jewish and non-religious friends, which is quite unusual for a frum (religious) Orthodox Jew.  Most frum Jews in my experience only socialise with other frum Jews, even if they have non-Jewish work colleagues.

Most of my contacts of this kind are online, but not all of them.  Usually the link is mental health issues, which are a great leveller.  Mental illness is completely egalitarian.  It does not discriminate based on age, gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity or religion, it will happily take anyone.  In this way, I have come to know a number of people who I consider my friends, online (through this blog and elsewhere) and in my depression support group.  As far as I can tell, a number of the people reading regularly this are religious Christians.  There are a few Orthodox Jews and at least one atheist and one who I think self-describes as pantheist/pagan.  Of course, there are a lot of people whose beliefs or lack of I don’t know at all, it just depends on whether they say anything in comments here or on their own blogs that make it clear.

I sometimes wonder how I manage to do this, how I, a person with few friends, particularly in the real world, and social anxieties that often prevent me making contact even with people who are like me, manages to reach out and connect with people who are very different to me.  I guess some of it is that I am a fairly tolerant and non-judgemental person.  I can get along with people who believe different things to me and who do things that I would never do.  Perhaps I also have less fear that I have let them down or that they will reject me for failing to live up to the religious and social standards of the frum (religious) community.  I tend to take people at face value and if they are nice to me, I respond in kind (if they are unpleasant, I avoid them).  Plus encountering people online is easier than meeting them in real life.  Like many Asperger’s sufferers, I find written communication much easier than spoken communication, so meeting people on blogs and websites is much easier than meeting them in real life, even at my depression group.

I don’t really know what to do about either of these things, the impostor syndrome and the ability to connect.  I hope the impostor syndrome will go with time as I get more used to my still relatively new job and the very different working environment I now find myself in.  As for connecting, I sometimes wonder if this is part of my mission in life, but I don’t know in what way or how to turn it to good use.  Interfaith dialogue would be the obvious way, but Orthodox Jews tend not to get involved in interfaith dialogue, for religious and, I suspect social/traditional reasons and I have to say that it has never really interested me, for various reasons.  My friend Louise commented here a while back to suggest that maybe my mission is to testify to something.  I would hope at least that I testify in my writing that Jews are normal people (my mental health notwithstanding), that we have the same issues and worries, the same hopes and dreams as everyone else, that we (or some of us, at least) can have wider cultural and geeky interests like anyone else and that our religion offers comfort and challenges like every other great religion or philosophy.  Maybe that is all I need to testify to, at least for now.

(Just as an aside, I’m hoping to write one post a week that is like this one, more of a mini-essay on an aspect of mental health than a ‘what went wrong today’ diary type of post, perhaps using my lunch break for blogging rather than my Doctor Who book one day a week.  I am also experimenting with changing the way I use the tags in an effort to get more Jewish readers.  As far as I can tell (and I may be completely wrong) a lot of my followers have come to my blog through having my blog suggested to them by WordPress.  I’m guessing (and I may be wrong again) that WordPress’ algorithm is based on my tag usage and my existing followers (hence the exponentially increasing numbers of Christian mental health bloggers reading this, who all seem to read each others’ blogs, judging by their likes).  Up until now I have been using the tags with my librarian’s hat on, like catalogue metadata (data about data e.g. keywords to locate a book – a large part of my job involves essentially tagging books in the library catalogue) i.e. only using terms if very relevant and trying to keep a limited, controlled vocabulary for consistency.  I have bent those rules a bit, more than I would at work, to make it easier for me to find particular posts, but I am thinking of using a larger set of core tags even if they are not key parts of the post, provided I think someone might want to find the post using that term, and even if I may never use that term again.  This is intended to increase the number of people who might have my posts recommended to them.  I also intend to use more Hebrew and Yiddish tags, including tagging with the same term in Hebrew/Yiddish and English (e.g. ‘God’ and ‘HaShem‘ or ‘dating’ and ‘shidduch‘) to get my posts recommended to more Jewish bloggers.)

Dating, Students (not “dating students”, that would be very wrong) and More

I’m starting this on my lunch break at work, finishing it off later (spot the join!).  I only have ten minutes left, but I have a restless need to write something, I just don’t know what.  I’m up to date with typing up my research notes for my book, so it has to be the blog.  I don’t have much to say, though, so apologies if this is brief and/or boring.

The main thing that happened the last few days is that I’ve come to a decision regarding the person I was being set up on a shidduch date with.  At the weekend it will be four weeks since I was set up with her and I still haven’t had any direct contact with her and, aside from one ‘interview’ only brief conversations with her rabbi, who is supposed to be arranging things, but who has largely ignored my voicemail and text messages.  I have heard from him briefly to say that he and she are still inquiring about me.  This strikes me as increasingly pointless, even though I know it is the norm in the frum (religious) world.  They aren’t going to find much about me by asking the rabbis I told them about who (a) are predisposed to like me (as far as I know) or else I would not have given their names as references and (b) would be forbidden for saying anything critical about me unless it was something extremely major because of the laws of lashon hara (forbidden speech).  It’s rather offensive to think that I might be suspected of something so extreme that they would be justified in mentioning it.  It is all taking a long time and I am constantly calling and not getting through and not having my messages returned.  I don’t know if the fault is primarily with my potential date (PD in the future) or her rabbi or both, but I’ve decided that if I haven’t heard anything by Sunday, I will email the person who set me up on the date and ask her to pass a message on to PD saying that if she wants to go on a date, please could she contact me by phone, text or email and if I don’t hear from her directly within a couple of days, I will assume that she isn’t interested, because going through the rabbi just isn’t working.

I don’t know what will happen there.  I’m guessing either PD has found out something she doesn’t like about me and doesn’t want to go ahead (in which case I’d like to know ASAP) or she does want to go ahead, but is having communication problems with the rabbi, in which case it will all depend on whether she is ‘modern’ enough (or brave enough) to consider going on a date without passing it through him.  If it all falls through (and only one of those three options ends with us going on a date) I don’t know whether I will be rushing to date anyone else, but I do at least have some other options open to me and I’m currently having to push them off because I’m waiting to see what will happen here.

On the plus side, my mood has been a bit better recently, at least on work days, when my job provides some distraction, even if social anxiety and Asperger’s do rule when I’m interacting with students – a lot of my interactions seem to end with me feeling like an idiot, or that I’ve handled the situation wrongly.  I think I am learning, but slowly.  There’s a quote from US President Calvin Coolidge that I can’t find at the moment (I know what book I saw it in, but the book is at my parents’ house) where he said to his successor something like, “Many people come to see you and nine-tenths of them want something they should not have.  If you stay completely still, they will eventually run down, but if you give the slightest encouragement, even a nod or a cough, they will start up all over again.”  That’s a bit how I feel on the issue desk, dealing with students who insist they never knew that books have to be handed back on time, that they didn’t know that the due date is stamped on the inside page, that they already returned books that they have actually lost, or that there are no computers free in the computer room (when they mean that there aren’t enough computers free for them to sit with their friends and mess around) and so on.  One has to stonewall them and let them run down before insisting that they have to pay or return their books or sit separately or what have you.  This is hard for someone with social anxiety and an urge to please people stemming from low self-esteem.  My boss has been off sick since the middle of last week, so I am still on the issue desk a lot, interacting with students and staff a lot as the whole team is being stretched to cover her absence (we’re understaffed at the best of times; welcome to the public sector).

Despite this slight improvement, mornings are still a real struggle.  I just feel so tired and unmotivated.  I’m getting seven to eight hours sleep on work nights, but it’s just not enough for me at this time of year and I still crash at the weekends, missing shul (synagogue) and not doing the chores I would like to do on Fridays and Sundays, all of which is very frustratingYesterday I hoped to go to my shiur (class) in the evening, but missed it because I had a headache and felt a bit faint, which was probably exhaustion.  I don’t know if things would be better or worse if I were dating.  Dating might give me an emotional boost, but it might just be an another physically and emotionally draining thing to fit in.

On a previous posts, Angelfire suggested taking vitamin B6, zinc and omega-3 supplements.  I had a look in the chemist for kosher supplements today.  I couldn’t find vitamin B6, but they had vegetarian zinc and omega-3, which the London Bet Din says are kosher (actually, my OCD is making me slightly worried about the omega-3…).  I thought about buying both, but realised to test this scientifically, I should only make one change at a time.   I went for the omega-3, because it’s more associated with depression and because I’m now semi-vegetarian (a Rav Kook vegetarian, vehamavin yavin) and only eat meat and fish on Shabbat and Yom Tov, which means I haven’t had fish for several weeks so I probably need that even aside from the depression.  I also hope to look into getting a light-box on Sunday…

This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us

The title (taken from the song by Sparks) isn’t really relevant to the post, unless you want to see the depression as the other person, but I don’t think I can make the depression leave.  I picked the title because titles are difficult and “Depressed Thoughts” is a boring title.  Also because I’ve been listening to the song a lot recently, the way I do when I get a song in my head, even though it probably isn’t that great a song, objectively speaking.

I seem to be in a permanent state of mild crisis and stress, with occasional bursts of more extreme crisis.  I guess that’s how I’ve been since my mood deteriorated in the summer.

I didn’t get to bed until 3am this morning, due to being up late blogging and feeling agitated.  Of course, I got up late this morning and then was slow to get dressed, feeling depressed and lethargic.  I made the mistake of going online to look something up after breakfast, which dragged me into the news and feeling more depressed.  Western society seems to be centrifuging itself into radicalism, with left and right pushing themselves and each other further to extremes.  I find it worrying.  Some people I know have become very political as a result, but I’ve gone the other way.  I feel fairly disenchanted with most parties and politicians and have largely given up on the political process, preferring to concentrate on personal growth and inter-personal relationships.

The reason I was online was that I was looking for some essays by William Kolbrener, a English literature academic and Orthodox Jew.   I have a book of his essays,  but it’s at my parents’ house and I was looking for one online about one of his sons, who has Down Syndrome (apparently it is correctly spelt without the possessive).  This was because I had a dream last night about having a daughter with Down Syndrome.  I’m bad at estimating ages, but she was probably between about five and eight years old.  She was beautiful and joyous.  It left me feeling strange.  I’m not sure I can put it into words.  Some of it was happy, but also sad and I’m not sure that I fully understand why on either count.  In the dream I loved my daughter and she was happy and loved me, but it left me wondering how I would cope in real life with such a situation, a situation which gets more likely the older I get and the older my dating pool gets (there is also the increased likelihood of having a severely autistic child if I’m really on the spectrum).

More immediately, I’m worried about whether I will get in to work this week.  I feel very depressed today and lacking in energy, motivation and concentration.  I procrastinated a lot and couldn’t do all of what I wanted to do, having to cancel a Skype call with my rabbi mentor.  I worry I will be too depressed to get to work, or to work effectively once I am at work.

My family has suggested to me for a long time that I should get a light box (basically a  bright lamp for treating seasonal affective disorder (SAD) that imitates bright summery sunlight).  Even though I don’t have SAD, they think it might help, as my depression gets worse in the winter.  I did some research online and there doesn’t seem to be any clear evidence that light boxes actually do anything.  I feel pretty desperate though and might try, even though I’m usually sceptical of alternative medicines.  The other thing I’m thinking about is an alarm clock that imitates sunrise, which might help me wake up more peacefully and alertly than my sudden alarms.  If anyone has any experience with either of these, I would be interested to hear it.

I have put on a lot of weight this last year since being on clomipramine.  All three of the psychiatric medications I’m on can cause significant weight gain, but clomipramine seems to be the main culprit, as I was doing OK on olanzapine and lithium.  The problem is I was even worse this time last year, before I was put on clomipramine (I was not going to work, feeling seriously suicidal and fairly convinced I needed to be hospitalised), so coming off isn’t really an option, even though it seems to be doing a lot less for me than it was in the spring, when I felt I was really getting better (before breaking up brought me down again).  I only eat junk food on Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbath and festivals) now.  But I feel I cut out one of the few things I enjoy with nothing to show for it except that I’m not quite overweight yet.  I eat too much convenience food, but I don’t have the time or energy to cook from fresh ingredients often.  I’ve definitely gone backwards in terms of cooking and exercising since increasing my work hours, but I just don’t know what I can do about it.  I have so many demands on my time and I know that getting seven to eight hours sleep a night is the most important priority, as I simply can’t function at work without it.

Reunion

I didn’t want to write another post today (the previous one, which was supposed to take five minutes, took well over an hour and completely messed up my plan for the evening), but I slept over twelve hours last night (completely missing shul (synagogue) this morning) and dozed for another forty-five minutes this afternoon and unsurprisingly am not at all tired now.  What I am is agitated and introspective, pacing my room agitatedly like Patrick McGoohan in The Prisoner (I’m a pacer when I’m agitated or even just thoughtful, much to the annoyance of my parents when I lived with them and they could hear me downstairs.  Solvitur ambulando, it is solved by walking (except it isn’t).  Also, when am I not introspective?  Maybe that’s why the depression makes me sleep so much, because it’s the only way to turn my brain off).

I was chatting to one of my sort-of-friends from shul last night.  I suppose I should stop calling them sort-of-friends and just call them friends.  I think they would want to be my friend, despite being quite a bit older than me, if I would let my defences down.  He was asking about work and it came out that I don’t work on Fridays.  So he asked what I do instead and I was too scared to say it’s my psychotherapy day, so I just muttered something about getting ready for Shabbat (the Sabbath).  And afterwards I thought that this was a prime opportunity to open up a bit about my issues and I fudged it, as usual, because I didn’t know what to say and was too frightened of how he would respond; I also don’t know how to casually drop something that big into the conversation (there is only one friend from my new shul who I have told about my issues and I carefully chose my moment for that and planned in advance what to say).

Then today I missed shul in the morning, as I said, and when I went back for Ma’ariv (the evening service) I felt people wanted to know where I had been.  Not in an intrusive way, but in a worried-about-me way.  But, again, I was too shy to say anything, I just said I was OK and avoided conversation because I was too scared how people would react.

I’m trying to work out if, on the whole, people are OK about hearing about my mental health.  Some people have been, some have not.  It’s hard to tell, because I don’t really open up to people about my depression away from the blog and depression group.  If I ever have to say something, I say it quickly and try to move on.  I don’t really tell people what it’s like to be depressed.  I have had a couple of bad experiences, although they mostly centre on dating and depression and it’s probably not reasonable to extrapolate from them to other cases.  There was the woman who seemed to be interested in seeing me until I mentioned I was depressed at which point she just ran a mile and cut off all contact with me, saying she would get back to me and not doing so, but the big one is the friend I had at university who was really supportive, but got worried that I would commit suicide because of something she would say or do because I was in love with her and she just wanted to be friends.  Eventually she broke off contact with me too, to the point of cutting me dead in the street or not looking at me at the Jewish Society, which was just embarrassing.  I do sometimes wonder what happened to her (she was basically the first and almost the only person I may have been really in love with as opposed to just crushing on and I wonder if I will ever feel like that about anyone else, and whether it will be reciprocated).  I know she moved to Israel and got married; I think she has children, but I don’t know for sure.

This train of thought got me thinking about people I have known in my life, people I have loved or crushed on, people I wanted to be friends with, but was too shy to talk to or too afraid I would run out of things to say or would otherwise seem boring and weird, people who bullied me… Sometimes I wish I could see the people from my life and tell them who I am, who I really am, with the depression and the OCD (which was worse today, don’t know why, mostly pure O thoughts about idolatry) and the social anxiety and the possible Asperger’s and see what they think of me, and how they treated me (for good or for ill).  If I could be known.  I think that’s what lies behind my desire for love and intimacy (which, as I’ve said before, is the main thing I want/need).  To be known and accepted for who I am.  Except, a few lines up I defined myself entirely by my mental health issues and neurology.  Not my personality.  Not my interests.  Perhaps because I just want to make excuses for myself.  Or perhaps because even in a fantasy scenario constructed in my head, I’m still too scared to open up about my interests or personality because that seems even more likely to lead to rejection than being depressed or neurodivergent.  Because I fear I come across as a geeky freak who ‘normal’ people and frum (religious) people could never understand.

I think writing this has made me feel more agitated rather than less.  I guess I should try to go to bed.

Anyway, good news: I finished Daniel Deronda after over four months!  It took so long because there was a month where I don’t think I read any of it at all because I was so depressed, and many other days when I read little or nothing because of the depression.  Off to read some lighter books, both in terms of physical weight (taking Daniel Deronda to work every day has not been fun, especially as I take Torah books too) and ease of reading/subject matter.

Torah from the Depths: Toldot

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

I didn’t write a Torah reflection last week, as I couldn’t see anything in the sedra (Chayei Sarah) that resonated with me.  This may have been my unconscious refusing to connect with a sedra that centred almost entirely around the idea of marriage (most of the sedra dealt with Yitzchak’s (Isaac’s) marriage, with Avraham’s (Abraham’s) remarriage added as an epilogue).

This week as well I struggled to find a direct connection with the sedra, but I did connect with Rabbi Lord Sacks’ essay on the sedra (it doesn’t seem to be up on his website yet; I subscribe to get it in email form each week).  In it he asks why Yitzchak was chosen as the next generation in the line of the covenant rather than his half-brother Yishmael (Ishmael)?  And similarly why Yaakov (Jacob) over his twin Esav (Esau)?

Rabbi Sacks notes the traditional reason, rooted in the Midrash, that Yishmael and Esav were simply evil and unsuitable for that reason, but he challenges the reading of Midrash back into the peshat in this way.

(A side note to explain: there are four traditional levels or types of Jewish biblical hermeneutics (interpretations), indicated by the acronym PaRDeS (‘orchard’, but related to ‘paradise’): peshat, the literal meaning (or perhaps more accurately, contextual or ‘straightforward’ meaning, as Jews are not textual literalists, and there are occasions where we reject the literal meaning even on a peshat level e.g. physical descriptions of God); remez, ‘hint’ i.e. the allegorical meaning; drash (from which we get Midrash), the halakhic (legal) and ethical meaning of the text; and sod, the ‘secret’ or esoteric meaning i.e. the philosophical or kabbalistic meaning, depending on whether you are a rationalist or a mystic.  What Rabbi Sacks is saying here is that we shouldn’t read the level of drash into peshat, which is completely true, although he’s fighting a losing battle in terms of how most Jews have understood Midrash now and in the past.  Most Jews have blurred the lines between the two, with many Midrashim being more well-known than the biblical text.  This is far off-topic, but I can’t resist sharing the anecdote of the great Orthodox educationalist Nechama Leibowitz playing a practical joke on some Israeli army officers she was teaching, when she told them to turn in the Tanakh (Hebrew bible) to the story of Avraham breaking his father’s idols.  She left them leafing through Tanakh in vain for some minutes before revealing that the story appears only in the Midrash.  The fact is, most Jewish children learn the story before they ever open a Tanakh or a Chumash and it’s hard to see it as a later rabbinic construction rather than The True History of Avraham.)

To get back to the point, Rabbi Sacks argues that we are told that Yishmael was “a wild donkey of a man” (16.12) and “a skilled archer” (21.20) and Esav was “a skilled hunter, a man of the field” (25.27), men who were at home in nature and who might have been seen as heroes or even gods in the pagan cultures of the time.  Unlike them, Yitzchak and Yaakov needed the help of the God who is beyond nature just to survive (in fact, even to be born – both were born from one or two infertile parents), rather than their own skills and the natural world itself.

Although this is perhaps not entirely what Rabbi Sacks meant, this seemed to me to be supportive of the neurodivergent and the mentally ill, the people who don’t go through life winning easy victories.  In fact, almost the whole of the book of Bereshit (Genesis) is about how the people who easily get married, have children, find a home, defeat enemies and so forth are not the people who God chooses.  God chooses those who struggle to find their soul mates, the infertile, the homeless, the weak and persecuted and so on.  This is in fact an idea that Rabbi Sacks has returned to time and time again in his sedra essays over the years: that in Judaism it is never the obviously successful who are the religious heroes, but always the underdogs.

None of the founders of Judaism is explicitly identified as mentally ill or neurodivergent (although to return to Midrash, Yaakov might have been depressed for the twenty-two years that he thought Yosef (Joseph) was dead; I have seen some discussion online as to whether Yitzchak might have had Down’s Syndrome.  There is obviously difficulty diagnosing something thousands of years later, but it’s an interesting idea), but one can obviously extrapolate that deviating from the social norm is not something that means rejection by God; in fact, it might be the reverse.

Passing

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

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

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

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

Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growing Up Neurodivergent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Missions and Needs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick Observation

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