One of the things I was worrying about has now been sorted out and I can go public with it: I will be increasing my work hours from three to four days a week in the autumn, which is virtually full-time employment. I’m very pleased as even a year ago this would have seemed an impossibility, although I hope I can manage it without any mental health issues. Now I can just worry about my training day in Oxford tomorrow, which is setting off my social anxieties and my borderline Asperger’s traits…
A washed-out, grey, depressed day. A day of pouring rain and depression. A day when I’m too tired and depressed to do anything. A day when prayer or Torah study or chores seem almost impossible (fortunately I do not go to work on Tuesdays). A day of being slowed down by numerous minor inconveniences. A day for sheltering indoors, drinking tea and watching Doctor Who. A day of hoping that this is just a blip on the road to recovery, that it isn’t the start of a slide back into major depression. A day of not caring, or caring too much. A day of worrying about whether I will be able to get to work tomorrow and worrying about the return of antisemitism to Western society and its acceptance as a “progressive” ideology, when I really should be focused on keeping myself safe and healthy here and now.
I don’t know why I feel so bad today, but I have a few ideas. Probably the biggest factor is my sister’s engagement party on Sunday. That must have taken its toll, another ‘mental hangover’ as I call it, but I didn’t have time to recover, to get back my energy levels and to deal with the mixed emotions it provoked (all parties tend to make me feel lonely and isolated, but my little sister getting engaged while I’m still single is even more difficult) because I had work yesterday and then rushed out to Talmud class in the evening, falling asleep again before going to bed, although this time at least in my pyjamas, but with the lights on and hence with the extractor fan on in the bathroom – I hope I haven’t burnt it out.
The other factors are the two ongoing areas of uncertainty to which I have alluded recently. I hesitate to say too much, but one area, as I have mentioned, concerns work and relates to uncertainty as to whether I can take the next step in my career, increasing my working hours even more and the fear that either this option will not be available to me, or that I will take it and it will be the proverbial camel-breaking straw and I will spiral back down into depression again, something that seems more likely today than last week.
It will probably surprise no one that the other area of uncertainty is romantic. Again, I am torn between wanting to get things off my chest by writing about them here and the superstitious fear that if I say too much I will ruin everything, or that even getting my hopes up will ruin everything. Suffice to say, I am consumed with uncertainty: hope and despair, loneliness and lust, anxiety and affection, fantasy and fear… trying to parse the slightest look or the smallest word almost Talmudically in the search for a meaning that would support my hopes or fears… trying to fight my most persistent religious challenges when I have my lowest reserves of energy (physical, mental, emotional), will-power and motivation… waiting impatiently for things to be resolved one way or the other, a process that will take at least another two weeks and maybe many more weeks, months, perhaps even years.
So, I do what I can to survive, to get through the day, to get ready for tomorrow and for Thursday (training day in, of all places, Oxford, my own personal Hell, combined with networking, my own personal Hell in a different way). Dinner and Doctor Who and trying to survive.
(I had to look up how to spell the title. I’m not as big a Star Trek fan as I am a Doctor Who fan.)
My sister and her fiancé had their engagement party today. I went. It was very difficult. I hadn’t been to a big party for a number of years. There were lots of people and lots of noise, which makes me feel anxious. Almost everyone seemed coupled up (even the babies and children were in pairs). I was initially too nervous to talk to even the people I did know, let alone those I didn’t. I was introduced to some of my sister’s future in-law family and probably made an awkward impression. I was too nervous to take any photos, which was supposed to be my job. I was just too nervous to mingle, let alone talk to people to take their photo. I spoke to a couple of my sister’s friends who are my friends too, but they soon went off to talk to other people, or strangers came up and started talking to them. I either hovered at the edge of the crowd or stood at the buffet table eating far too many carbs. I wasn’t that hungry, it was just something to do to stay occupied, distract myself and try not to attract attention. The food was strictly kosher, but the setting was a non-Orthodox synagogue hall, which set my OCD off, even though there was no logical reason to worry. I didn’t get a sugar rush, but after two hours or so I crashed (this is the story of my life: I miss the fun bit, but I pay the price as if I hadn’t. All hangover and no drink, that’s me). I texted a friend for moral support; she tried to convince me to take photos, but that just made me feel worse. Eventually I gave up and slipped away into the main synagogue and read Kafka’s Aphorisms. Not the best thing to read by any means; I only took it with because it’s basically a small pamphlet of about fifty pages that I could slip into my trouser pocket without anyone noticing.
I hate parties. The one advantage of being single and having (almost) no friends is that I don’t have to go to them often. Now I am terrified about my sister’s wedding in December. I don’t know how to get through it. I want to get married one day, but the thought of having a wedding party terrifies me.
You can hold yourself back from the sufferings of the world, that is something you are free to do and it accords with your nature, but perhaps this very holding back is the one suffering that you could avoid. Franz Kafka, Aphorisms
I don’t usually post links, and I know nothing about American football, so many of the references in this piece confused me, but I thought this was a really powerful article about self-esteem, addiction, suicide, kindness and repentance/personal redemption (teshuva as we would say in Hebrew). Worth reading. Oh, and there’s a library in it, which always makes me happy.
“That will be your one big regret, Ryan. It won’t be your failure to make it as an NFL quarterback. It won’t be your addiction to painkillers. It won’t even be your attempt to kill yourself.
When all’s said and done, your biggest regret will be that you didn’t treat people well.”
I felt rather out of my depth at work today. I was on the library issue desk alone quite a bit and some questions and issues came up that I was not entirely sure how to deal with. Sometimes they were new problems I had not experienced before, sometimes I had been told what to do, but I did not remember what to do properly, generally regarding things that you only really learn by doing, which can be problematic if they are situations that only arise on rare occasions (e.g. students needing to reset their passwords). As a general theme underlying several of the problems, I know there are times to enforce the rules strictly and other times when it is appropriate to look the other way or even actively to be lenient, but I struggle to tell the two apart. As a rule, I tend to be rule-based (one of my borderline Asperger’s traits, or perhaps a kabbalistic indication that I come from the side of gevurah), but sometimes I over-compensate by becoming too lenient. Lack of confidence can also lead to excessive leniency as a way of avoiding confrontation, which is problematic, particularly when my colleagues are able to enforce the rules more strictly. It does not help that I am not always 100% sure of the rules myself, particularly when faced with new situations that I have not been taught about.
I suppose the takeaway points from today is that (a) nothing I did was catastrophically wrong, (b) I usually found a work-around or managed to find one of my colleagues to help me if I was really stuck, (c) I am getting better at being assertive and (d) I think I can remember some at least of the things I was taught today, as well as my plans for strategies with dealing with frequent difficult requests e.g. the frequent request to borrow pens – I intuited that I probably should not do this, but lent the pen anyway as I was not sure why I should not and lacked the courage for a confrontation, having forgotten that we sell them. I now plan in future to suggest students buy a pen from us instead, particularly as we sell them dirt cheap. I’m not sure what to do at our other campus, though, where we don’t sell stationery. Not lending a pen seems petty, but when you consider how many people ask to borrow pens, that’s a lot of ink even if they remember to return the pen.
The other work-related problem was my realization that I may not have been prioritizing my work correctly since starting in April and indeed, that I have been neglecting certain aspects of the job entirely, albeit in part because I had been led to believe that other aspects were more important and because the relevant books had not been given to me. There is not really a lot I can do about this, except to mention it to my boss when we have a meeting on Monday about one of my main tasks (one I have been concentrating on). I have only been there two months, so I can not really have neglected anything too badly.
An amusing thing at work was getting invited to an Eid party by one of my Muslim colleagues. I politely refused. I think he thought that I was worried about antisemitism, but I was more concerned about halakhic implications of going to a religious event and also by my anxieties about going to new places, meeting new people and being around big crowds (again borderline Asperger’s symptoms and social anxieties). I did manage to have my photo taken yesterday without shaking and I have generally been able to talk to people without shaking even when nervous or stressed (things that in the past have triggered shaking when suffering from medication side-effects), which indicates that the nervous shaking I experienced recently is not as bad as it has been in the past, although I have emailed my psychiatrist about it.
I have now been living alone in my own flat for a year, which is impressive when I was not sure I was going to make it through even a few months. It is doubly impressive given that now I am paying a lot more of the rent and not relying so much on my parents now that I have a new job with longer hours. In theory I could just about manage to support myself without my parents now for the first time in my life, albeit with no real money for luxuries or savings. I am also glad to say that I generally feel confident about the kashrut of my flat, without the OCD worries that I had failed to kasher it correctly or had managed to treif it up that tormented me for the first eight or nine months here.
I just finished the second draft of the fifth chapter of my non-fiction Doctor Who book, which pleases me no end. So far I have written about 67,000 words: second drafts of chapters one through five, first drafts of chapters six through fourteen, with a fifteenth chapter still to be written (and possibly more, if it takes me so long to finish that they make a lot more episodes in the meantime!). I have got a long way to go before I am finished, though, largely because of the sheer number of Doctor Who episodes to re-watch as research. I hope to binge watch when I have a month off work in the summer, as I’m not going on holiday. It will still take a long time, though, which I suppose is the problem with writing about something with such a long history. I lack the time to watch a lot when I am working and anyway I generally feel uncomfortable about watching a lot of TV, or doing any relaxing activity for long periods.
Sometimes I wonder if the Doctor Who book is a worthwhile project to pursue. I am not sure if the people at my shul (synagogue) and shiur (religious class) would approve, or even understand. Writing about a television programme, and a children’s (OK, family) one at that is an odd thing to do and I can see why people (especially in my somewhat Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) shul and shiur) would see it as bittul Torah, a waste of time that should be spent in religious study. In my defence, I don’t think that I am such a tzaddik (saint) that I can realistically spend all my non-working time in prayer and Torah study and if I need a hobby, then tinkering with this book is a harmless one. The Orthodox world and especially the Charedi world can be sceptical of secular culture and of all the media, television is probably viewed most critically, but I think there is something positive in writing something that expresses admiration for art that has made me happy in the hope that my writing will help others find meaning and beauty in it too (and while I hesitate to call all Doctor Who artistic and beautiful, I think some of it, old and new, is). I’m not sure I could really express that in religious terms though. Maybe there’s a Hevria article in that…
I’m typing hurriedly in my lunch hour again. I was going to enjoy the sunshine, but fled a park full of rowdy teenagers. Why must they swear so much and bully each other? I hated my teenage years, and I hate being reminded of them.
Much of post was in fact drafted the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper, on the Tube to work this morning. There are some minor things I wanted to complain about, but I am trying to cultivate a positive attitude and complain less, so I will try not to mention them (except for the rowdy teens).
I feel a bit bad regarding my second post yesterday. I don’t mind having posted it here, but I probably should not have posted it as a comment on Hevria.com. I did get a sympathetic response from the original writer, but I wonder if she was annoyed with me underneath [EDIT: she has since said that she’s not annoyed]; I certainly feel as if I was being difficult, really saying, “I’ve had it worse than you” which is unfair, as well as violating my new no complaints rule! My therapist thinks that I might not have had my my emotions mirrored back to me enough when I was a child, leaving me with difficulties in understanding what I feel and dealing with it (I suppose that’s an alternative explanation for the Asperger’s symptoms). It’s possibly why I need external validation from my blog and commenting on Hevria and elsewhere. At any rate, I feel I came across as grumpy and rejecting the author’s feelings in favour of saying that my own are worse, which is not polite.
Yesterday was a stressful day anyway, with my problems with therapy and a general feeling of not being able to achieve much. I went out for a run in the early evening, even though it was probably too hot, just so I could work off some tension and feel that I had accomplished something. I’m glad that I seem to be coping with stress better, without falling back into depression. The OCD has got marginally worse in the last few weeks, but I think it’s still mostly under control. The winter will be the big test as it’s usually when the nights start getting longer and earlier that I fall back into depression. But that is still some months off, with a lot to happen between then and now. I just hope I can keep going as I am now through all the scary things on the horizon, especially the ones that I don’t feel able to talk about here yet.
I wrote this as a comment on this post. Given Hevria is having mammoth posts, it seemed appropriate to leave a mammoth comment, but no one will read it there and I thought it deserved a wider audience.
I hadn’t “rocked” at school. I was the weird geeky kid that even most of the other geeky kids (the subversively cool ones) didn’t want to know. But that didn’t prepare me for university. I didn’t really have fun. I was in Oxford for three and a bit years and I didn’t really have fun. I had a few good times at the Jewish Society and the Doctor Who Society, but mainly I was desperately lonely and miserable. I spent most of my time there clinically depressed, sometimes suicidally so. Few friends, no girlfriend (I wouldn’t find someone who would actually agree to go out on a date with me until I was twenty-seven. I swear I don’t have a personal hygiene problem…).
No one ever told me I was supposed to have the time of my life at Oxford, to have joy and pleasure (good, because I would hate to think my life couldn’t get better than those three and a bit years), but clearly other people were enjoying themselves and some of them were even doing it in halakhically-acceptable ways, but I wasn’t. My work life wasn’t unstructured, I made it OVER-structured. The thing about Oxford is, everyone works hard and plays hard. I managed the working hard OK (too well, actually, I was a workaholic), but I couldn’t play at all. I would have dinner and Shabbat meals at the Jewish Society and if I was lucky I would get to a Doctor Who Society meeting, but that was all my socializing for the week. I didn’t really have friends. By my last year I was so severely depressed that I was taking books to JSoc dinners to avoid talking to people.
On the other hand, religion didn’t really help either. I became frum, but I never went to yeshiva, for various reasons. I’ve never been in Israel for more than a fortnight at a time. I avoided Chabad at Oxford as much as possible (never been a Chabad person, probably never will be). Nowadays I have found a shul that is 75% right for me, but the missing 25% is hard sometimes. (And even in a 100% right shul, my social anxieties would be an issue.) I have never found “my people”. As I’ve said before, I don’t experience epiphanies or miracles. I just slog away, trying to be a good Jew, trying to connect to God and Torah and other Jews and other people and usually failing, but trying to fail well (and probably failing to fail well too).
So, I was severely depressed about a decade and a half. I won’t go into that again, as I’ve been into it so many times already. But I’m trying to put the pieces of my mind back together. I’m not “rooted”, I haven’t found “my core”. I don’t have inner peace. At the age of thirty-four (next month), I feel I only vaguely know who I am (I may be wrong, I may know myself better than I feel). I’m doing all the learning about myself that most people were doing in their teens and early twenties, only without the intense friendships, alcohol, lazing around and sex-and-drugs/yeshiva-and-kiruv-trips (delete according to taste) that my peers had to make it more fun. I survive. No, more than that, I’m doing well at the moment (albeit worried about when my next crash will be), I just wish I could enjoy life more. I don’t believe life is made to be enjoyed, but I believe in seizing joy where you can, but I’m monumentally bad at doing so. I wish I knew for sure that one day I would have the right community, maybe a couple of really close friends. I wish I knew for sure that one day I would have that special someone to share my life with, to have children with. It seems doubtful, even in these better times. But I continue, mostly because I don’t believe that happiness is the point of life and I can try to be a good Jew even if I’m lonely and unhappy.
I’m currently frustrated because I normally have therapy over Skype at this time. My therapist phoned me a minute or so before the start time to say it would have to be over the phone this week because she was having phone and internet problems because of the heat. I assumed she meant her landline was faulty, as she was phoning on her mobile, but in retrospect this may have been a mistake on my part. I wasn’t quite ready, so I asked if I could phone back in a minute. I’ve phoned fifteen or more times in the last hour or so but I keep getting a message that her phone is unavailable. I tried texting, but no response to that either. I’ve sent emails and tried to Skype her, but now I’m having problems with Skype and I just got an email from her implying she hasn’t seen my emails. I am not at all sure what happened there. I assume something has gone wrong with her phone suddenly (or, more likely, again). I don’t know why she didn’t give me her landline number when I phoned, if she knew she was having problems with her mobile, or why she didn’t try to phone me back when I failed to get through to her, or why she’s sent me emails that imply that she hasn’t read my emails or texts.
I suppose this sums up how I feel at the moment. As I’ve hinted, there are a couple of things in the pipeline that could be really good for me, both at work and in my private life, but I’m having to wait a lot for them and still don’t know if they will come about. I want to talk about them, but don’t dare to. I suppose it’s silliness and superstition really (I’m not normally superstitious), but I feel talking about them will somehow make them less likely to happen. Certainly if I talk them up now and they don’t happen then I have to go round to everyone I told about them and say they’ve fallen through, which is always frustrating; last time I spoke about something like this, someone congratulated me on it after it had fallen through because they hadn’t seen my latest post, which was awkward and just brought up difficult thoughts when I wanted to draw a line under the situation. I will say that the work thing seems to have a strong chance of working out, but that the personal thing is still up in the air and is likely to be for some time.
I don’t think I’m a particularly impatient person, but I do find it hard to wait for something when I don’t know how it will turn out, being caught between hope and despair. I’m a pessimistic person, but I do hope a lot that things will improve, but then I seem to be more upset when they don’t, even though part of me was expecting things to fall through all along. The nineteenth century rabbi, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov said that if you say that things are bad, God says, “You think this is bad? I’ll show you what bad really is!” but if you say that things are good, God says, “You think this is good? I’ll show you what good really is!” I’m not sure how much I feel comfortable with that (I dislike the idea of such a capricious-seeming deity), but it’s probably true that people who see life positively and with gratitude experience more joy than those who are constantly anxious or complaining. You can become less of a complainer and more grateful, but I’m not sure how to become less pessimistic and despairing, particularly if, like me, you’ve tried CBT for it without success.
EDIT: I’ve now found out what the problem was earlier: it’s a long story, but it basically amounts to me getting confused about which of my therapist’s phones was broken and the caller ID on my mobile just confusing me further. I feel pretty stupid, although it was an easy enough mistake to make. I’m not quite sure why my therapist didn’t try calling me back on her functional landline (which I thought was broken, and which I didn’t think I had the number for anyway, although it turned out I did have it).
I haven’t written much lately (again). To tell the truth, I have been very busy, fortunately in a good way. But it has been hard to find the time to write. I wrote the first part of this at work during my lunch break. Also, a couple of good or potentially good things have happened, but I am reluctant to write about them until they are more certain, partly out of a vaguely superstitious fear that if I write about them, they will go wrong, partly out of a fear that if they do go wrong or fail to materialize, then I will have to come back here and tell everyone about the failure when I will just want to move on.
I have managed to do a few social things lately. The assistant rabbi at the shul (synagogue) I am a member of invited me for Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner last week, which I went to. There were a couple of people I didn’t know there, but I was able to join in with the conversation, at least after an initial period of shyness. The next day I went to a shul I had never been to before for my Talmud class teacher’s son’s bar mitzvah and then on to his house for kiddush (refreshments) afterwards. To be honest, I didn’t enjoy it much. I overslept and got to shul late, which didn’t help, but it was more Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) than I feel comfortable with and I could not understand all of the sermon, as a lot of untranslated Hebrew and Yiddish was being used. I felt a bit of a fish out of water. The food at the kiddush was good, but it was completely packed with people in a tiny room. I only stayed for about ten minutes, but I was glad I went as I think I was the only person from the class to go to the shul and only one other person from the class went to the kiddush.
I gave a short talk about my depression and how I have coped with it at my depression group, part of an evening in which several of us were asked to speak in more detail than we usually do at these evenings. I think it went well, but I shook quite a bit, especially during the questions and answers. I was not really expecting Q and A, certainly not so many questions. I didn’t think people would be that interested in what I had to say! I am not sure where this shaking has suddenly come from. I suspect it’s a medication issue. In the past it has usually been from olanzapine, but it may be the clomipramine, in which case I’m really stuck as I’m doing too well on the clomipramine to come off it. It is not too bad at the moment and I don’t seem to be catastrophizing it the way I have in the past, when I assumed everyone around me was aware of it and thinking critical or worried thoughts about me.
I had a meeting with my boss this afternoon to finish off induction things from two months ago (I actually still have some training to go to at the end of the month before I am fully past the induction (fully induced?) and to look at my progress, as well as outlining the extra work I will have come September, which will involve liaising with academic staff to check our library content is relevant and then buying new books, which I will then have to catalogue. This will be the first time I get to buy things at work! My boss is pleased with my work and didn’t really have a lot to say in terms of things I could be doing better, which is good.
I have now been reasonably well for about six months, so in a few weeks, all being well, I will have been mentally healthy for the longest period in over fourteen years, although I am still a little worried about how I will cope with the winter, which is traditionally when my depression sets in. I guess time will tell.
Shavuot (Pentecost) was pretty good. I managed to get to shul (synagogue) for all the services and to participate in the communal Torah study that happened every day, tikkun leil (staying up all night studying Torah on the first night of Shavuot) on the first night and a mixture of group or paired study and shiurim (classes) on first and second afternoons, culminating in a inter-shul study-and-singing event in the closing hours of the Yom Tov (festival) which was very good idea. One thing I like about this area is that the various Orthodox communities collaborate and people attend different shuls; there isn’t so much of the “They’re too modern/conservative for us” attitude.
However, there has been a price and I feel totally drained and a bit depressed today. I wanted to go for a run (I have eaten a lot of junk over Yom Tov…), but got up too late and I have had strong OCD over the last day or two for the first time in a couple of months, panicking about kashrut issues again. This might be due to general exhaustion as going to shul and doing communal study is exhausting in itself, but I also found it particularly draining as I felt quite inferior during the group and paired study, as lots of people seemed to be more adept than I am. I don’t know if they’ve been to yeshiva (seminary) or have studied a lot of Talmud or if they are just more quick-witted in a group study situtation – my shyness holds me back from asking or answering questions (although I managed to do both a little bit) and I take in information better when I’m reading by myself with time to re-read and digest, rather than in a group situation where I’m listening as much as reading and have no time to think about what I hear and process it. Either way it brought back feelings of inferiority to other frum (religious) Jews. The feeling of being drained and having resurgent OCD has led to worries about the date I’m going on on Sunday, worrying if I will be able to cope with it and if my mental health issues will lead to rejection at some point.
In other news, I’m still having internet connection problems in my flat. Currently I can sometimes get a bit of a connection if I sit in the doorway with my laptop on my lap but sticking outside, but this is uncomfortable and problematic if it is raining, as it was before. I need to get this sorted, although I suspect I will be told it’s just because the hub is in my landlord’s house and my flat is too far away (but why was it fine for the last ten months?!).
I need to go out to collect a prescription before Shabbat, as well as doing all my usual chores so I should go and have some lunch and get a move on. You’re Only Human (Second Wind) by Billy Joel has come up on shuffle on iTunes which is probably telling me something…