Better Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Underlying Thoughts

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

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

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

Bad Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘And your English summer’s done.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Absent Passion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Alison, I know this world is killing you”

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

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

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

Shul, God, Marriage

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

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

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

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

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

More on Love and Depression, and a Mini Break

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

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

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

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

All Work and No Play

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

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

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

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

The Die is Cast

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

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

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

Criticizing Myself

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

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

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

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

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

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

Postscript

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

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

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

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

“I will not reason and compare”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lonely in a Crowd

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

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

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

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

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

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

Observation

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

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

Trying to Push Myself Back Out There

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

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

Encountering in Love

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

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

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

Good and Evil and Other Everyday Questions

I don’t know why davening (praying) makes me cry at the moment, but it does.  Mainly Shacharit (morning prayers) for some reason.  It’s not from intense prayer, as I have zero kavannah (concentration), I just put on tefillin and rush through the two main prayers for ten minutes (out of about thirty) right before the (halakhic) midday deadline.  But I feel like crying by the time I’m finished, if not earlier, and I do.

Lately I’ve been finding myself getting caught up reading political stuff online and ending up depressed and sometimes angry.  I guess a lot of people feel the news makes them depressed and angry at the moment.  When I’m depressed, I always fluctuate between wanting to run away from the news because it’s too depressing and feeling I should at least be informed of what’s happening.  That was even before the huge events of the last year, which make me feel like a snowflake caught in an avalanche.  I feel I should know what’s happening, but I don’t feel able to change anything, particularly events abroad.  I’m not even always sure how I want to change things.  My politics, as I may have mentioned, are slightly unconventional; I don’t really want to go into it, but I’m in a liminal zone between parties.  On some issues I’m more left-wing and on some I’m more right-wing and on some I don’t really fit anywhere.  So I can’t (for instance) join a party or protest movement as some of my friends have done to cope with their feelings of disempowerment because none is a good fit for me.  In any case, I hate the adversarial nature of politics.  My instinct is for dialogue, compromise and cooperation, values currently in short supply on all sides.

I did manage to go for a jog, although I think I walked most of the last half mile.  My pace was very poor, but I was glad to get out.  I was less glad to discover that jogging seems to make me want to cry too, although I didn’t actually cry.  I did shed a tear when eating lunch and reading Daniel Deronda, though, which had nothing to do with the contents of the book.  It just happened.

I have heard from both the rabbis I asked about the OCD worry, and it was indeed OCD.  I feel a bit bad about having given in to the OCD, although I am bolstered slightly by the knowledge that I have other OCD worries that I have recognized as such and not asked about, even though sometimes they concern me.

I tried making a vegetable curry, but worrying about insects in the cauliflower sent me down the path towards OCD anxiety and despair.  Given the difficulty of checking for non-kosher insects, I’m wondering whether I should keep eating cauliflower, or at least buy the expensive pre-checked type.  There is no halakhic standard for checking vegetables for insects.  My rabbi mentor suggested finding a website of guidelines to follow, but unfortunately none of them are comprehensive, which means I can’t follow just one of them, and they do sometimes contradict each other as to the best method of checking.  For example, with cauliflower, at one extreme one site says it is better to avoid it entirely because it is so hard to check and so often infested; at the other extreme, one site says just break off the florets, examine and rinse, with other sites offering suggestions with intermediate levels of difficulty.  The real problem is that Mum cooks broccoli and/or cauliflower as the main vegetables (alongside potatoes) every Shabbat and doesn’t follow even the most lenient option; my rabbi mentor said to just surreptitiously look at the food before eating it to avoid an argument (shalom bayit) on the grounds that these vegetables are usually either fine or completely infested, in which case Mum would have noticed when cooking it, but I worry if that is too lenient.  Or do I just feel I’m not making life difficult enough for myself?  Or am I worried about an avoidable argument with Mum?  It’s very hard to tell when something that should be a straightforward practical/halakhic decision becomes an interpersonal relationship one.  I realized this is why I haven’t made a vegetable curry for months.  I need to find some substitute for the cauliflower.  I guess I could just remove it and increase the amount of potato, carrot and beans (I don’t really want to increase the onion).  At least insects can’t treif up my pots if one gets through, it’s just another big sin for me.  It’s also a bit disgusting.  I guess this must sound quite crazy to my non-Jewish readers, but I did find one definite insect today (it was moving) and a couple of possibles.

There’s an exercise you can do if you have low self-esteem and/or obsessive (OCD) thoughts of being sinful, where you imagine a scale with the most righteous person you can think of at one end and the most wicked at the other and place various people you know in between and then you try to place yourself on there.  You’re supposed to see that you’re an OK person.  Whenever I try this, I start out somewhere in the middle and slowly drift towards the Hitler end of the scale, usually ending up saying, “Well, I would be as evil as Hitler or at least as Jack the Ripper, if I had the same opportunities and experiences that they had.”  I felt like that today, trying to respond to a friend who emailed to say that God loves me.  I don’t feel that God could love someone as bad as me.  I didn’t email back, because it sounded melodramatic, but then again I know she’s reading this, so I guess I’m still being melodramatic.  Maybe I’m not as bad as Hitler, but I still feel I’m pretty bad, within the confines of normal human badness.

There’s a prominent Charedi religious leader (I won’t give him the honorific of ‘rabbi’) who was arrested for sexual assault a few months ago.  He admitted rape both in court and privately to his disciples and said he deserved to be executed for what he had done.  But he also told his followers that he was allowing himself to be framed as a suffering he has taken on himself to help the Jewish people, so a lot of his disciples still insist he is a great, saintly man.  If I think of him, I feel revulsion and disgust, but after a few seconds, I feel maybe I’m nearly that bad.  I would never rape someone (God forbid), but I feel attracted to women who I’m not in a relationship with, which feels nearly as bad (certainly some feminist literature I’ve encountered would say it’s as bad).  And I have never told a lie as big as his claim to be innocent and saintly, but I feel I let people believe I’m a better person than I really am, which is the same kind of thing.  This seems silly written down, but it is how I feel when I think about him, which I have been doing a lot recently, I guess because it upsets me (I mean, I think about it because there’s a part of my mind that wants to upset myself).

My flat is my landlords’ garage converted into a flat and the rear door opens into their garden.  I had it open today, because the flat is poorly ventilated and that’s the best way to ventilate it when it’s hot and especially when I’m cooking.  One of my landlord’s children and his brother or friend discovered me for the first time.  I clearly posed a philosophical problem for the primary school-age mind, inasmuch as he discovered, from asking me, that I’m neither a daddy nor a teenager and I don’t live with my Mummy.  This clearly exhausted all the lifestyle options that he could think of (his family is also frum).  I was actually amused by the incident (maybe my Mum and my aunt are right that I’m good with children.   I certainly find it easier to talk to pre-teen children I don’t know well than to adults I don’t know well), but it did make me feel that I’m in a very anomalous position, being a frum single thirtysomething man living alone.

Oh well, the curry is now cooked, although I need to cook some rice.  I know there are positives to focus on today: jogging, cooking, shopping for a belated engagement present for my sister without getting too depressed and hopefully I will manage a bit of Torah study before bed, but part of me wants to count on the failures: oversleeping, missing most of Shacharit again, missing shul yet again, the OCD worry that my landlords’ son might have got something in my microwave’s air vents when he put something down on it while he was standing in my doorway (for lack of space, the microwave sits on a little table in the doorway, which is not ideal)…  I must try to focus on the positives.

Postscript

I just tried to talk to my Dad about the bank account I mentioned in the last post and he got frustrated with me.  I honestly don’t know if I was being unintentionally difficult because I’m feeling depressed or if he was explaining himself badly.  I got annoyed with him when he asked why I’m depressed today, which was bad of me, although I wish, after fourteen years, I could help my parents to understand that you don’t have to have a reason to be clinically depressed any more than you have to have a reason to have cancer.  (Sometimes I wish my parents read my blog, although usually I’m glad they don’t.)  And then Dad got frustrated with me because he’s also sure that I haven’t made the kettle milchig and he can’t understand why I think it’s a problem.

So I’m kind of glad today that I’m single and have no one else around me that I can annoy and argue with, because I’m obviously in one of those moods where everything everyone says to me sounds stupid and offensive even if they don’t mean it to; everything I say to everyone else sounds angry and aggressive even if I don’t mean it to; and where my depression and OCD are making me worry about stuff that seems incredibly worrying to me and completely stupid to everyone else.  On days like this I can see myself staying single for a very long time.

Buried Alive

I wanted to write something more discursive than I’ve written previously today, but I feel terrible and don’t have the brainpower to write anything other than what is going through my head right now.

I obviously spoke too soon about the OCD being under control, as I’m suffering with it at the moment.  I’m really worried I made my parents’ kettle milchig, and, as my Mum doesn’t believe me that there might be a problem, I’m worried she’s going to make the parev stuff milchig too, and the fleshig stuff treif.  I tried emailing first one rabbi then another, but I think both are away; certainly neither has yet got back to me.  I don’t know what to do.

The only things I’ve done today is to have a therapy session and go shopping.  Therapy was hard, as we focused on my break-up of three weeks ago, which may have been a mistake.  I think my therapist wanted me to stop repressing my feelings and express them, but I think it’s just brought everything back, although I’m not consciously thinking about the break-up.  I do feel pretty broken, though.

I nearly had some kind of breakdown in the supermarket.  I wanted to buy some vegetables to make vegetarian curry tomorrow, but I stood in front of the cauliflowers thinking that I wouldn’t have the energy to cook and especially to check the cauliflower for insects (not sure how much that is OCD or genuine worry) and I nearly just left it and decided not to cook or at least to come back later in the week when I was more sure of what I wanted to do.  I got a bit worried about being seen buying food that people from shul might see as insufficiently kosher (cauliflower, because of the difficulty of checking for insects, and also milk, because I rely on the leniency for drinking ordinary cows’ milk in the UK (chalav stam), but I suspect most people at my shul don’t, so I’m always worried about being caught with ordinary milk).  I did buy the food in the end, but I’m not sure I’m going to use it.

I have come back from the shops feeling very depressed and despairing.  I had vaguely suicidal thoughts.  I’m not going to hurt myself (please don’t worry or phone, those of you who know my number), but it is hard to keep going today.  I worry how I’m going to be able to go back to work next week, while also hoping that I do manage it, because I think the structure and social environment will help me.  But right now it’s hard to do anything.  I actually feel a bit light-headed and faint since coming home, which probably means my blood sugar has dropped and I should eat something, as low blood sugar makes me physically and makes the depression and OCD worse.

My Dad wanted me to open a new bank account with a better interest rate now I’m earning more money, but I need to ask him some questions about the account he recommended, but I don’t feel up to it.  I’m scared to phone my parents because I feel guilty about feeling so depressed today, because I feel I’ve let them down.  On the other hand, I was saying too much on Hevria again.  My poem there didn’t make much of an impression, although I did get two positive comments and a couple of likes.  Nothing negative, thankfully.  So that was good.  But it’s hard to hold onto the good today, when it feels like the world is just collapsing and I’m stuck under the rubble unable to get out.

Three-Quarters of the Way Through My “Holiday” Post

I’m three-quarters of the way through my holiday and I feel I’ve wasted it all in depression.  To be honest, I’m anxious to go back to work, despite my nervousness over working on enrollment when I return and the vague (probably OCD) worry that I’ve got the wrong date for restarting.  All support staff have to help with exam invigilation and enrollment of new students.  I will be given a job for enrollment pretty much at random when I get to work next Monday.  I’m hoping it’s something like entering data rather than speaking to new students or, my absolute fear, directing people around the building.  It’s not a huge building, but it is a rabbit warren and after a couple of months there I know where the library is and where reception and HR are and not much else.  Given that my depression has got worse over the last few weeks, I am worried about whether I will be able to get up in time and do a full day’s work at the moment, even before I move from three to four days a week in September, as well as whether I will end up in the library office quietly weeping, but I think having a routine, something to focus on and (maybe) feel good about and being around other people will help to dispel at least some of the extreme depression I’m currently experiencing.  It will also give me an opportunity to try to work more on my social anxiety in smaller steps than I can take at the moment, where the opportunities are more ‘all or nothing’ (see below).

I suppose the holiday hasn’t been a total waste.  I survived being dumped on virtually my first day off, even if it did push me into depression again.  I survived Tisha Be’Av too.  I’ve continued going to shul on Shabbat, even managing to go on Shabbat mornings, when the depression and social anxiety would have stopped me in the past, although I feel frustrated that I haven’t managed to go on weekdays as I originally intended.  I did a tiny bit of socializing.  I want jogging less often that I would have liked, but more often than would have been the case if I’d let my depression win.  I said I was going to work on my Doctor Who book and while initially I feared I was just going to be watching old episodes, I think I must have written somewhere between two and four thousand words in three weeks, probably nearer the latter, having gone through a lot of television episodes and taken a fair amount of notes on them.  I still have my concerns about what I’ve written (there’s definitely a fear that cutting and pasting new observations into an existing structure could lead to a very bitty and incoherent argument, but that’s something to work on at the third draft stage, I think, when I’ve finished all the research and the bulk of the writing.  I also worry about not being able to expand the later chapters enough or to write a new chapter covering the last few seasons), but on the whole I’m making progress, and faster than I expected.  I’ve blogged a great deal.  Whether that’s a good thing is open to question, I suppose, but at least writing here has largely stopped me drama queening on Hevria and elsewhere.

I tried going through more of my social anxiety self-help book.  It’s difficult, as it’s cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and I’m having the same difficulty I’ve had with CBT for depression: CBT tries to replace negative or anxious thoughts with more helpful ones, but my negative thoughts are so deep-rooted that it’s hard to change them.  I believe them too much.  It’s worth noting here that the CBT I had for the OCD was very different, being exposure therapy, where you expose yourself to the things that provoke the OCD anxiety until the anxiety naturally disipates rather than trying consciously to change how you think about things.  Incidentally, I guess it’s worth noting that even though my depression and social anxiety have been bad over the summer, the OCD is mostly under control, which is something positive.  I still have obsessive, anxious thoughts, but I’m better at fighting against them rather than looking for reassurance from my parents or rabbis.

In a comment on yesterday’s post, my friend Louise said that maybe I should see bearing witness as my life’s mission.  It’s a tempting idea.  I’m not quite sure what to do with it yet, though.  I mentioned in my response a study covered in the Jewish press that found  mental health sufferers stigmatized and ignored in the Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) world and while I am not Charedi, I do have a foot in that world these days and maybe just writing here from a Jewish perspective will help someone, although at the moment  I only know of a couple of Jewish readers.

On the surface, bearing witness seems, I suppose, more of a Christian idea than a Jewish one.  It is certainly found in biblical and rabbinic Judaism but in a modern context is used for Holocaust commemoration more than for anything religious.  I suppose my writing is a form of bearing witness (which was Louise’s point), I’m just not sure where to take it from there.  Certainly my posts on Hevria have all been about bearing witness to feelings that are marginalized in one way or another (sexual anxiety, loneliness, the experience of antisemitism).

Still, today has been a mixture of positive and negative.  I overslept again (unsurprising given that I didn’t go to bed until after 2.30am) and struggled to get going again.  I drifted into depressive thoughts while out shopping, thinking morbid thoughts about my own funeral (I think about that a lot, wondering if there will be anyone there and what the eulogies will be) as well as some OCD thoughts (having already written here that I was doing well on that front), which fortunately I managed to push away fairly quickly.

On the plus side, I read a few pages of Daniel Deronda over lunch for the first time in weeks (it’s very well-written and I hope to read more of it).  I’ve nearly finished Horeb, at last (hopefully by the end of the week IF I can keep reading ten pages a day, which is a big if).  And my therapist is back in the UK and we have a session tomorrow, my first since my break-up.  The depression always gets worse when she’s on holiday and unfortunately she now takes longer holidays, as, due to Brexit, her husband has had to relocate to the continent, so whenever her children are on school holidays she goes off to Spain.

The final good thing (at least, I hope it’s good) is that, for better or for worse, my poem about antisemitism is up on Hevria.  I think people will assume that it’s about Donald Trump and the alt-right in the USA and/or about Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum on the hard left in the UK, but actually I wrote the poem back in June 2013, when Trump was just a property tycoon and reality TV star and Corbyn was an obscure backbench MP, although recent events did push it back into my mind and prompted me to dig the poem out and submit it.  Unfortunately, the events of Saturday have made it more relevant, although the discussion of the events have largely ignored the antisemitism of the white supremacists to focus on the race issue (the race issue is obviously very real, but the antisemitism should be covered too – the flyer for the rally called on people to “end Jewish influence in America”).  I can’t remember exactly what caused me to write the poem, but a lot of the feelings in it come from my personal experience of antisemitic abuse on the streets (the use of profanity, which I would not normally use, is partly a direct quotation of things shouted at me).

I can’t bear to re-read the poem now it’s up and I’m nervous about what kind of response it will get, both artistically and politically.  So far it’s had a couple of likes and shares on Facebook, but nothing more.  Maybe I’m being greedy after my last two posts had more readers.  My first post was about sex, so inevitably it got a lot of readers…  Whenever I get something published on Hevria, I feel a bit of an interloper, as everyone there seems comfortable in their Yiddishkeit (Jewishness), very creative, very open, self-confident and optimistic.  Well, I suppose I’m open about my feelings here, and on Hevria, in my posts and comments (too open, probably), even if it’s a depressive sort of openness, which doesn’t seem very ‘Hevrian’ somehow.  Still, I have made friends through Hevria, from my comments there as much as from my posts, which is something, even if I do wonder about people who want to befriend me after my drama queening, although I suppose my comments aren’t all drama queening, I do try to write perceptive comments most of the time, it’s just that if I’m having a bad time or someone writes something that triggers me, it’s hard to hold back my feelings.

I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down

“He talks to himself sometimes because he’s the only one who understands what he’s talking about.” Doctor Who: The Ark in Space by Robert Holmes

I couldn’t sleep last night.  Pretty much immediately after havdalah I spent over an hour writing a blog post to try to get my anxiety out of my system, then spent half an hour looking at the news (depressing) then I watched some Doctor Who to unwind from everything else which probably amounted to far too much blue light late at night and certainly amounted to being up too late, which, combined with self-loathing and agitation, meant I didn’t fall asleep until some time around 3.30am.  I don’t remember what I was thinking about when I was trying to fall asleep, but I got pretty agitated about something to do with my depression and mental health.

Whatever hope I might have had yesterday that I have some kind of share in Olam HaBa (the next world) has dissipated.  Thinking about my posts about not knowing what my mission is (which is obviously connected to having a share in Olam HaBa – our reward depends on fulfilling our missions) – I found this article I’d saved to my bookmarks ages ago and forgotten about which asks two questions to find your mission:

Rabbi Nivin offers two methods for discovering your mission:

  1. Ask yourself (and write down): What were the five or ten most pleasurable moments in my life?
  2. Ask yourself: If I inherited a billion dollars and had six hours a day of discretionary time, what would I do with the time and money?

I honestly don’t know the answer to either question.  Regarding the former, I find it hard to remember any pleasurable moments in my life since adulthood.  Anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure) is a key symptom of depression.  I think I’ve found socializing with known friends somewhat pleasurable, but I can’t do that for long without needing to be alone to recharge and anyway it can’t be my mission to socialize and it’s almost impossible for me to socialize anyway, due to lack of friends and social anxiety about making new ones or getting in contact with existing ones.  Likewise it’s doubtful that watching and writing about science fiction counts.  Before I moved communities two years ago, I used to get something from leading services in shul and giving drashot (religious talks), but with one very tiny exception, I haven’t done that since moving, partly from lack of opportunity, partly from lack of confidence now I’m in a much frummer community, partly from the fear that enjoying doing them was pride and that it would be punished by my making a fool of myself if I ever tried to them again.  Other than that, things I might enjoy are mostly stuff that I wouldn’t want to encourage myself to do, like self-harm (which can be a real release) or posting self-loathing comments here and on Hevria.  Jogging?  We’re getting silly now.  As for the second question, I don’t have a clue at all.  I know I’m supposed to say Torah study or maybe chessed (acts of kindness), but I know I wouldn’t do that really.

This is why I will have no share in Olam HaBa, because when I die they’re going to ask me, “Why didn’t you do X?” and I’ll say, “Because I didn’t think I was good enough to do it” or even “I never even thought about doing it.”  I want to be a husband and a father, but I don’t think that’s a life mission (otherwise most people would not have a mission beyond that) and it’s not going to happen anyway.

I just tried looking at some blog posts about how to hate myself less, but they either list things I’ve tried without success (think of my skills, achievements and virtues; write a list of my values; say positive affirmations every day) or stuff that I don’t think I can do (worry less about what other people think of me (this was why I got dumped a few weeks ago); accept other people’s positive views of myself as being as valid as my negative ones (why should I when they clearly don’t know me as well as I know myself?  And what about people’s negative views of me – how can I accept one and not the other)).  In particular, everyone says not to care what other people think of me, but no one can give me a practical way of reaching this zen-like state.  What’s the point of telling me, as one site did, “You may be in a tough place right now where you feel lonely or like a loser. No worries, we’ve all been there. But it’s time for you to realize how common these things are, and that they’re experienced by even the most successful and happiest people in the world. Those people get past them, and you will too” when for twenty years I haven’t managed to get past these feelings?

This article says that when you criticize yourself you should imagine part of you shouting abuse at the other part of you, perpetrator and victim, so you can see you have learned the hatred (the perpetrator) and direct love at the victim part of you.  The problem is, when I was thinking “Luftmentsch, why don’t you just **** off and DIE!” I tried to imagine seeing the perpetrator-me and tell him to **** off himself, but I automatically imagined him shouting it back at me (the real me, not the victim-me) so vividly and loudly that I actually flinched in real life.  Now I’m being bullied by imaginary people…  Maybe some people are just messed up beyond all hope?

I managed to go for a jog, at least and now feel too exhausted to hurt myself, which I suppose is good, although I also feel too exhausted to make dinner, which is less good.

Tune in tomorrow when you can see how much flak I’ll have taken for my poem on antisemitism on Hevria…

Heaven Sent, Hell Bent; Or, Doctor Who is my Spirit Guide (Maybe)

(No wise mind today, this is too weird and it’s too late at night after Shabbat.)

I had a weird Shabbat.  At shul (synagogue) this morning, someone asked me to lunch.  I panicked and said I had to go home because my parents were expecting me, which was true, but it was early enough that I could have gone home, told Mum I was going out to lunch and gone back out again.  Really, I panicked.  It happened so fast that I’m not even sure why I panicked.  I think I was worried about not having anything to say or saying something stupid, but it might even have been more fundamental than that, just worrying that someone wants to see me socially worrying me in itself, feeling I will disappoint in someway or that some ill-defined bad thing will happen.  I felt guilty for not going, particularly as this person was going to be eating alone because I wasn’t going but also relieved.  I don’t know what I’ll do if I get asked again, by this person or someone else.  I say I want to have friends, but when I’m presented with the possibility, usually I panic and run away.

On a more positive note, I did speak a little at seudah shlishit (the third meal) at shul.  I made some suggestions about interpreting some Torah passages we were discussing and made a (very slight) attempt at humour.  So that was something positive.  It’s taken nearly eighteen months to get to this stage…

I slept a lot over Shabbat again.  I nearly dozed off during the leining (Torah reading) in shul, which was very bad.  I had a weird dream this afternoon.  I don’t normally relate my dreams, partly because I usually can’t remember them (either coherently or at all), partly because other people’s dreams are usually not terribly interesting, but I thought this one says something about me, although what it says is open to interpretation.

At the start of the dream my parents were annoyed with me.  They thought I was being short-tempered when I wasn’t intending to seem like that.  This happens to me a lot and has happened since childhood.  I think it might be one of my borderline Asperger’s symptoms, that I’m not always as expressive as I would like to be in my tone of voice and facial expressions and so I seem angry when I’m not.

My memory of the next bit is fairly incoherent (something about superheroes loosely based on the graphic novel Superman: Red Son?!).  The next bit I can sort of remember is being with characters from Doctor Who (second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe, I think).  I think there was some sort of void between universes (as in The Mind Robber) and then we were in another universe, which I somehow knew was Heaven.  I think.  This is the clearest bit of the dream for me, but I still don’t remember it coherently.  I think I felt intense pleasure in this other universe/Heaven, like nothing I had experienced before.  It made all my suffering worthwhile.  And then I was fighting against myself: part of me wanted to stay there, part of me was trying to wake up.  I felt I had to wake myself up (I have had this experience before when finishing a dream).  Eventually I woke up and it was much later than I intended and I only had a little bit of time to study Torah before going back to shul.

On waking, I wondered if this was a prophetic dream and I had really been shown that I do have a share in the next world (see my comments about feeling I don’t have a share in the next world here) and that it is worth suffering in this world to get it.  Even if I never get any joy or pleasure in this world, it would still be worth it to have the next world.  The void between universes would be Gehennom.  The longer I’ve been awake, though, the more I doubt it.  In Judaism dreams can have prophetic meaning (e.g. Yosef’s/Joseph’s dreams) but even prophetic dreams have a nonsensical element (again, even Yosef’s dreams had this) and some dreams are completely nonsensical.  Why would I be shown that I have a share in the next world?  (My only possible explanation is because I was thinking about death and suicide recently, especially after what happened regarding lunch.)  Especially when I was not even in a state of ritual purity?  And if I was shown the next world, how could I even understand it?  It makes much more sense to see this as a fantasy dream – I wrote during the week about thinking I have no share in the next world, and now my unconscious produces a wish-fulfillment dream about it.  But I can’t shake the feeling that maybe I have been shown something important, if I could just put aside my scepticism.  (Interesting article on dreams in Judaism here.)

The final distressing thing that happened to me was looking through a booklet of Torah thoughts in shul this evening.  There was an essay on prayer.  I brought the booklet home after Shabbat so I can quote it:

Being real about tefilla [prayer] means we realize we are praying to our Father in Heaven Who wants only our good and has the power to do anything.  Therefore, we should anticipate that Hashem [God] wants to help us…

If we do not expect that Hashem will answer our tefilla, Hashem will not invade our space and shock us with success.  He wants us to earn the realization that He is our Father in Heaven and that we can always count on Him.

This worries me greatly.  I suppose it could explain why I don’t get the “miracles” that other frum Jews claim to have received (you can read a million of these stories on Hevria.com, Aish.com, Chabad.org etc.).  I admit I get a few things (I’ve been fortunate with my career), but I have spent all my adult life, if not more, struggling with mental illness, loneliness and misery.  I just don’t expect things to change.  I think God wants me to be this miserable, for some reason.

I feel I have just experienced so much misery in my life, so much bullying, emotional neglect and occasionally behaviour bordering on abuse, that it is hard to believe that God only wants good things for me.  I believe that God is omniscient, omnipotent and benevolent… to everyone else.  My experience is simply that he doesn’t want me to have a happy life, for whatever reason, because I have not experienced that kind of positive experience in life generally.

And even if I can get past my own experiences, I am haunted by the Holocaust, especially by the one million babies and children who were murdered by the Nazis.  When I try and pray for good things, for myself and others, I often see the Holocaust victims, particularly the children, and I think, if God didn’t help them, what guarantee do I have that He will help me?  I can’t adopt the simplistic attitude that so many religious people seem to have that God will always step in at the last minute to stop anything terrible from happening.  I even wrote a poem about seeing the Holocaust children years ago, although I don’t really remember what I wrote and don’t intend to dig it out now.

I suppose this ties in with everything else I have written about tonight, about being asked to lunch and panicking and turning it down (running away from a potentially good thing) and then having a dream that might have a positive interpretation and insisting on giving it a negative one, even though in Judaism one can ‘force’ a dream to have a good interpretation by believing in that good interpretation.  I just can’t open myself up to the possibility of goodness, if only because of the depression and despair in which I am mired.  This seems really unfair, as it seems to guarantee that narcissists and other unpleasant people will have a good time while good people who have been made self-critical by suffering and abuse will not receive anything good.

Flow My Tears, The Librarian Said

I’m carrying on with my depressed mind in black and my wise mind in red.

I keep crying today without really knowing why.  I just sit there and suddenly my eyes are moist and I really want to let go and sob, but I can’t.  It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it could just be a release, although as I don’t know why I’m crying and as I find it hard to really cry, it probably isn’t much of a release.

I overslept again and struggled to get going, managing very little of Shacharit again.  At least I did some.  I’m achey (I must have pulled a lot of muscles doing aerobics), lacking motivation and energy and I want to comfort eat (resisting so far).  I did manage to spend thirty-five minutes proof-reading the second draft of the sixth chapter of the book I’m writing on Doctor Who covering the bulk of Jon Pertwee’s time in the role and Tom Baker’s first story (the odd divisions are from my following stylistic changes, usually revolving around changes of producer or script editor, rather than lead actor).  The chapter nearly doubled in size for the second draft, weighing in at nearly 8,200 words.  This is now the longest chapter in the book (so far), but rather than feel good about it, I just worry I won’t be able to increase the later chapters to the same length, or write a new chapter on Peter Capaldi’s time on the show.  I certainly don’t feel much of a sense of achievement in having written it, just frustrated that it’s not as good as I would like it to be.  This is still good, even if I don’t feel anything.  It’s done for now and I can move on to the next chapter.  I have also sort of restarted my Doctor Who blog (no link as it’s currently under my real name), not for anything detailed, just odd reflections, quotes and silly jokes.  Not sure how long I’ll continue with it.  It’s good that I’m reaching out there too.

I also have a poem coming out on Hevria.com on Monday.  That’s also good.  I suppose it’s all go, creatively, except that I wrote the poem years ago, but didn’t show it to anyone.  So?  It’s still my poem.   Perhaps that gives me some distance on it, not to feel so worried about it or critical of it.   Or maybe not, as I am still somewhat nervous about it, as it’s about antisemitism and might be seen as controversial.  It also has some profanity (use of the f-word, quoting things that have been shouted at me in the street), which I don’t normally use, but  which seemed necessary given the context.

I feel a bit bad because my Mum just phoned me with some sad news from her work (someone died), but after listening politely for eight minutes I said I need to go (which was true) because it’s hard to empathize over the death of someone you never knew and she had even finished talking about work and was just going through everything that had happened to her today.  I didn’t think I was rude, but I think she got upset anyway, so now I feel bad for upsetting her.  It’s my fault, I was trying really hard to be patient, but I slipped up and probably annoyed her.  I can’t be responsible for other people’s reactions.  I did try to be polite and she had finished telling me about her issues at work.  I probably could have been more polite and waited a bit longer, though, if I had tried.

Signals from Fred

(Signals from Fred explained.)

The ancient Greek historian Herodotus said that the Persians would consider every great decision twice, once while sober, so they would not be lacking wisdom and once while drunk, so they would not be lacking courage.  I don’t know whether this is really true or not, but it reminded me a bit of my CBT therapist trying to get me to favour my “wise mind” over my “OCD mind.”  I thought I would try to write this post twice, once with my depressed mind (in black) and once with my wise mind, trying to think more positively (in red).  It turned into autoanalysis.

I felt a bit better on waking than I had done for the past few days, albeit achey (I probably didn’t warm up properly before exercising yesterday), but again procrastinated, eating breakfast slowly, reading online (about social anxiety and about antisemitism, probably not the best thing to be reading) and avoiding getting dressed and davening (praying), although I did at least shave (eventually).  I finally said a tiny bit of Shacharit (morning prayers) mere seconds before it was too late to do so and while I was davening I started crying, I’m not sure why.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  It can be a release, although this didn’t feel much like one.  I had zero kavannah (concentration in prayer).  The rabbi in my shul (synagogue) spoke recently of praying rapidly without kavannah being like asking for a favour in a hurried and inattentive way, insulting to the person you are talking to, but I am incapable of doing otherwise at the moment.  True, but at least I was davening.  Someone once told me that a rabbi had told her that davening at all when depressed is a great thing.  I don’t know how true that is.

I just heard that a friend of mine from Oxford got engaged.  I’m trying to feel happy for him, but it’s hard.  What I mostly feel is a sense of loneliness and isolation, as well as social anxiety about having more parties to go to and to feel awkard, bored and out of place at, as well as wondering when he got engaged and if this is another announcement I missed through not being on Facebook (his telling me was in response to my emailing him out of the blue to ask if he wanted to meet, as we haven’t seen each other for some months, maybe more than a year).  I did wonder how he met his fiancée and I suppose I could have asked him, but it’s doubtful the answer would have been any help to me anyway.

Even before this, I was thinking that if I had to sum myself up in two words, they would be “lonely” and “tormented.”  I meant that as a general comment, not one limited to how I feel today.  I’ve felt for some time that I am fundamentally a lonely person and today I added in the tormented part.  I’m not sure how to move on from them.  There is probably a lot of negative self-definition here.  Like I want to have problems.  I wonder what my therapist would make of this.  She used to talk of the “mantra” I had, telling her how bad my week had been.  Most of my peers from school and university (I’m thinking mainly of Oxford, for various reasons) have long since dropped off my radar, but the Jewish community is small and I do hear from time to time what people are doing, and it’s usually very positive: high-powered careers (going to Oxford means I know a lot of over-achievers;  also know quite a few who became rabbis as well as a couple of academics), marriage, children etc.  I think there may have been one or two divorces, I don’t know.  I just googled a few names which was very stupid of me and saw that someone who used to bully me at secondary school now has a business, a pretty wife, a baby and a dodgy beard.  I don’t wish him ill, but I wonder where I went wrong.  Interesting I said “where I went wrong”, not “where my life went wrong”, like I did something stupid, incorrect or immoral.  Like this is all  my fault.

I sometimes wish that my suffering could be some kind of kapparah (atonement) for other people, but Judaism doesn’t believe in vicarious punishment (actually, the historical reality is more complex than that, but certainly contemporary Judaism downplays it almost to non-existence and with good reason).  I used to want to be a lamed-vavnik, one of the thirty-six supremely righteous people on whose existence the world depends, but I have given up on the chances of achieving that particular ambition.  Ego, much? I was just thinking I’d rather be Mashiach ben Yosef than Mashiach ben David, because Mashiach ben Yosef gets killed before the messianic era begins.  That’s even worse!  I should probably add here I add a couple of borderline psychotic episodes at Oxford where I thought I was Mashiach, albeit only for a second or so.  When I told my therapist, years later, she pretty much freaked out about it.

I have long had an intuition that I have no share in Olam HaBa, the World to Come (essentially the Hebrew idiom for Heaven).  I can’t prove this to anyone, obviously.  Then why do I believe it?  Usually I’m reluctant to believe things without proof, purely on the basis of intuition.  Why is this different to ghosts, reincarnation, near death experiences and other things I’m sceptical of?  I’ve done some pretty bad things, but I don’t know that they will cost me my share in Olam HaBa.  Right.  But conversely,  no one can reassure me that I do have a share.  At school I was taught that almost everyone has a share in the next world and there is a famous teaching that all Jews have a share in the world to come, yet the Talmud lists a load of biblical characters who don’t have a share in Olam HaBa and with one exception they are all Jews.  At any rate, sometimes I feel I have done the three cardinal sins of murder, sexual immorality and idolatry.  ?!  Obviously I haven’t literally done those things.  I haven’t literally killed anyone or slept with a married woman.  But I feel I’ve done things equivalent to that e.g. the rabbis say that gossip and embarrassing someone in public are equivalent to murder and I’ve done those.  But regardless of what the rabbis say, there isn’t a literal equivalence.  You are supposed to die rather than murder, but you aren’t supposed to die rather than gossip.  I suspect I’ve also experienced baseless hatred, which is considered as bad as the three cardinal sins put together.  I said “suspect” because I can’t actually think of an instance of really hating someone, even someone who hurt me.  Dislike, yes, but not hate.  I can’t really think of very much positive that I’ve done.  I can think of two good things I did, which is not much, but more than nothing.  I don’t always keep Shabbat properly and I worry I don’t keep kashrut and Pesach properly.  Translation: sometimes I have accidentally broken Shabbat and my OCD tells me that I don’t keep kosher or Pesach properly, not my rational mind.  I don’t daven with kavannah, I skip a lot of Shacharit and I don’t do enough Torah study.  True, but as I said above, doing any Torah study or davening while depressed is impressive.  I did a lot of bad stuff before I became frum.  No, I did some fairly tame stuff that happens to be against halakhah before becoming frum, like eating vegetarian food in treif restaurants and watching TV on Shabbat.  I was a tinok shenishba and can’t be held responsible for it.  True, but it took me a long time to become frum and I made some mistakes.  I also had serious personal reasons for not becoming frummer sooner.  But there are still big things I still do that are against halakhah that I can’t mention here.  I have no reply to this, except that my mental health pushes me to do things I would rather not do e.g. being irritable and sarcastic to my parents.

Other people seem to have managed to do a lot more good than I have.  I just feel too paralyzed by my mental health, which isn’t really an excuse, as I know people who also have mental health issues who have triumphed over them, whether individuals I know (at least online) like Elad and Rivka Nehorai and Matthe Roth of Hevria or famous people like Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill (and possibly various eighteenth and nineteenth century Hasidic rebbes, although it’s hard to diagnose people in retrospect).  Sometimes I daydream about being murdered by terrorists to have some kind of redemptive death al kiddush HaShem.  The irritating thing is, you would think if I have no Olam HaBa, I would at least have some Olam HaZeh (this world).  I suppose I have food, water and shelter, so maybe that’s all I deserve.  And at least I’m doing a job that feels socially useful.

I guess the last few paragraphs are a fairly transparent attempt at getting people to disagree with me and say I’m a good person.  I doubt it will work, but I shouldn’t even be manipulating people (my friends!) like this.

Oh well, I did at least manage to finish my painting of the bathroom woodwork today, to go for a walk and do some shopping as well as managing forty minutes of Torah study (which is all good!), again mostly Horeb which I have to say I am anxious to finish as I’m not getting much from it (I have about eighty pages left), which is probably not the right attitude (but at least I’m reading it and I’m doing it so I can move on to other things).  On the downside, I got involved in writing this post and making myself depressed googling people I knew and forgot to sort through my work papers, which was supposed to be one of my tasks for today.  I did manage to do a few things, though.  It wasn’t a totally wasted day and I did this experiment of trying to argue with my negative thoughts here.

“I have of late – but wherefore I know not – lost all my mirth”

I wrote most of this post earlier today (in fact, one paragraph was written last night), but at 6pm I had a short Skype call with my rabbi mentor which made me feel a lot better.  I didn’t want to delete the post I had written, because it was true this morning and may be true tomorrow, but I didn’t want to ignore how I feel now either.  So I decided to make a sort of mosaic: the bits in black ink are from earlier, the red bits have been added after 6.15.

I feel lethargic and depressed again.  I couldn’t be bothered to shave today, always a bad sign.  I had enough energy and motivation to shave by the evening, but it seemed a bit pointless that late in the day.  This really does look like another full-blown episode of depression.  I really thought I was over it (again).  I’m very worried about working four days a week from September now.  Maybe it will help me feel better… or maybe I won’t make it at all.  Ugh.

I’ve been feeling tired of life a bit again recently.  I didn’t think very much of this as I’m not actively suicidal, but this article says I should be concerned.  Also that I should be taking care of myself and of others and I’m not sure that I’m doing either of those.  Looking again, it also says I should be doing the things I love and which make me feel alive and excited and I’m not really doing that either.  I don’t know what I love, really, and nothing really makes me feel alive and excited (writing about Doctor Who?  Maybe, but that’s problematic on multiple levels).  Ugh.  Similarly, this second article states:

“Most people who don’t feel good about themselves want frequent reassurance that they are loveable and worthwhile, and become upset if it is missing. They expect a partner always to be warm, happy, and uncritical. That is hard for most partners, and unrealistic to expect of a mate. Instead, insecure people should do whatever is necessary to feel less dependent on others’ positive feedback. That may require psychotherapy, a job change, or appreciating aspects of themselves that they now denigrate.”

I know that this is true, but I don’t know how to change.  Years and years of therapy have not made me like myself more (although perhaps I did like myself a bit more a few months ago, before the depression started again) or less dependent on the praise of others.  It sometimes seems to me that the people who need praise and reassurance most are the ones who get it the least.  The article goes on to say, “Nothing external can undo years of emotional deprivation. If we can’t make ourselves happy, no one else will be able to do so.”  I don’t think this leaves me much hope, as so far I have not been able to change myself.

I feel these posts are getting repetitive and just voicing my self-loathing.  Ugh again.  And I’ve put on weight eating too much and not exercising while on “holiday” (and, to be fair, being on medication that causes weight gain as a side effect) and my work trousers are now tight.  Everyone puts on weight on holiday, though.  Ugh, ugh, ugh.

I didn’t have the energy to do any exercise again today.  I was at least going to try to go for a walk, but it was raining too heavily.  It was too wet outside to jog, but I did twenty-five minutes of aerobics and got quite tired in a good way.

I did manage to paint the woodwork in the bathroom.  It only took about twenty minutes, admittedly excluding preparation and cleaning up and it will probably need a second coat tomorrow.  So that is something achieved, even if it doesn’t seem like very much.  I managed half an hour of Torah study too, although I don’t think I managed to take anything in.  I also managed to do some work on my Doctor Who book for fifteen minutes.  I’m still a bit worried about wasting my time on it, but my rabbi mentor said that if I enjoy writing it and think other people might enjoy reading it, it’s enough reason to write it.

As mentioned, I also had a fifteen minute Skype call with my rabbi mentor, which was positive, partly just from talking to someone about how I’ve been (he’s a trained counsellor, so I feel comfortable sharing things with him that I’m reluctant to tell my parents; my therapist has been on holiday for a month, which always leaves me feeling depressed).  He suggested that I try gardening, which my non-biological “twin sister” also suggested.  I don’t have a garden, but I will see if my parents need anything done in theirs, even if it’s just harvesting the apples and pears from the trees.  I also felt good for not asking some of the questions I had that I thought were probably coming from OCD (asking questions seems a positive way to deal with OCD doubts, but it is actually a form of compulsion that perpetuates the obsession).  I did ask him a non-OCD question and he gave me a much more lenient answer than I expected, which was nice.

I am experiencing a lot of loneliness at the moment (another reason to look forward to going back to work).  I wander aimlessly around the internet looking for something I can relate to or someone I can communicate with.  I look for things written by people I know (at least online) so I can comment.  I’m sure my drama queening on Hevria is just trying to get a response because I’m lonely.  Is it trolling if I’m just trying to get a reaction if I don’t say anything rude and just want to be told I’m a good person?  Or alternatively, that I’m just a bad person.  As long as people interact with me, treat me like I exist.  I googled a couple of old loves, which I really shouldn’t have done.  No, I really shouldn’t.  I didn’t really learn anything new, but it just makes me feel depressed that other people are happy and moving on with their lives and I’m stuck here alone and miserable.

I saw this article about making friends yesterday, but I didn’t want to post a third time in one day.  My response was that it’s very hard to “just be myself.”  At shul and shiur I fear that just being myself will lead to me being ostracized for having weird or even forbidden interests and for not being a straightforward conservative (in all senses of the word) Orthodox Jew.  Among Doctor Who fans I fear that just being myself will lead to my being ostracized for being religious and not being a straightforward liberal.  At work I fear that just being myself will lead to me being ostracized for being too clever or for being a Zionist.  On Hevria I fear that just being myself will lead to me being ostracized for drama queening, for not being a mystic/Chabadnik and for fairly deliberately repressing my creative urges (especially as it was rejection from Hevria that led to that repression).  Everywhere I fear that just being myself will lead to me being ostracized for being mentally ill – even if people aren’t prejudiced against mental illness per se, it’s almost impossible to ‘casually’ bring up an ongoing history of serious illness of any kind without seeming like a drama queen, especially after not having mentioned it previously.  It’s no wonder I mostly hang out online where the few other people also in that tiny overlap on the Venn diagram of my life (frum, geeky, cultured, mentally ill) can say “Hi” (I admit it happens occasionally) and the rest can just ignore me rather than having actual negative interactions.  Actually, it’s worse than that, as usually I don’t say anything at all, even online.  But I’ve had so many rejections over my life and especially over the last few months that it’s hard to keep hoping and not to give up.  At times it’s tempting just to retreat to my flat and focus on my books and DVDs and forget about having friends or getting married.

The thing that strikes me about all this is how disproportionate the fears are compared to what I have actually experienced as an adult.  Yes, as a child I was bullied mercilessly by the other kids and even adult authority figures were dismissive of my interests and attempts at conversation.  But as an adult, outside of dating (where I have been rejected for my interests and my mental health), I have rarely experienced real rejection for these things, mostly because I haven’t flagged them up enough to even find out how people will react.  At Oxford I did get laughed at by one or two people at the Jewish Society when it came out that I was a Doctor Who fan, but that’s twelve years ago.  I’m assuming that people will react to my political and cultural views in a particular way, based on my fears and on the experiences of other people (e.g. Orthodox Jews who have been verbally abused by other Orthodox Jews for being anti-Trump) rather than based on my own experiences, which probably isn’t sensible.

I wish I hadn’t started Daniel Deronda, it’s become just another thing to beat myself up about.  Well, that’s silly.  What’s really annoying is that I was actually enjoying it, before I stopped reading because of the depression, so I don’t want to give up on it completely.

Watching the Defectives

(Did you see what I did with the title?)

I’ve been feeling pretty bad again, with a head full of brain fog, and it seems to be going on too long to be simply the result of the break up of my non-relationship two weeks ago.  I’m worried that I’ve drifted back into another episode of full-blown depression, two weeks being the minimum period for a diagnosis.  It would fit my general pattern of recovering for six months or so every few years and then falling straight back into depression again.  My lithium level was a little low at my last blood test and I’ve used this as an excuse to try and get an appointment with a psychiatrist, or at least to get some advice.

Today felt like a wasted day because of the depression.  I wish I had work to distract me, but I worry I couldn’t make it in if I did.  I suppose the day wasn’t entirely wasted, but I failed to achieve several objectives.  I wanted to repaint the (now mould-free) woodwork in the bathrooom and to go for a run.  I didn’t manage either.  I did at least manage to walk down to the shops and to somehow find the energy and motivation to cook dinner.  I had to fight the OCD to do this, which I suppose is good (good that I fought it, not that I had to fight it).

I also managed about forty minutes of Torah study, mostly Horeb, Rabbi S. R. Hirsch’s book on the philosophy of the mitzvot (commandments).  I have been reading this, or rather, re-reading it (as I read it many years ago) for a long time now, certainly well over a year, possibly over two years (I don’t like giving up on books).  It is written in a flowery nineteenth century style that is not easy to read while depressed (the same reason I haven’t made much progress in Daniel Deronda lately).  I was hoping to finish it this holiday.  I might still manage it, as I only have one hundred pages left, but it will depend on how depressed I am over the next week and a half before I go back to work.  I did read some depressing political and cultural stuff on Mosaic Magazine, however, which was probably a bad idea.

I feel pretty exhausted now.  I feel bad that when I saw Dad before, I lied and said I was feeling fine today and he believed me.  I didn’t want to admit that I feel depressed, because I feel like a failure, and because he’ll ask why I feel depressed and I’ll get annoyed and say I don’t know, because non-depressed people don’t realize you don’t need a reason to feel depressed (although you can have an obvious trigger, like my break-up), just as you don’t need a reason to have cancer (although you can have one, like smoking).  I don’t think I’m depressed because of my break-up, I’m over the woman I was seeing, but once the depression has started, it becomes self-sustaining.

I have, however, been drama queening on Hevria again.  I suppose I do feel envious of someone who is twenty-one, married and feels her life is going well, even if she does seem to be suffering from mild anxiety; when I was twenty-one I was struggling to finish my BA, feeling utterly alone and unloved in Oxford, semi-seriously contemplating drowning myself in the weir… I wouldn’t take away anyone else’s happiness, but I wish they could share some round with me.  I feel bad about drama queening as however bad my life is, other people have it worse (my parents’ friends’ son has leukemia and he’s considerably younger than me), although someone once said that the worst thing that happened to you is still the worst thing that happened to you, even if others have had it even worse.

I actually wasn’t drama queening too badly this time… but here I am drama queening here instead.  I do wonder why people read and like this stuff.  I wish people would comment more, though.  My friends are almost all virtual friends.  To quote Hancock: The Radio Ham (by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson) “I’ve got friends all over the world… none in this country, but friends all over the world.”  I have one friend in London and I haven’t seen him for months, maybe over a year.

I’m still procrastinating over joining the shul.  I’ll need to do it soon if I want to daven there on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  I haven’t emailed the rabbi yet (I think he’s on holiday anyway), but I did just email the administrator to check what the fees are and when they are due.  I had to really fight my social anxiety even to do that, I was so worried that it would be considered a rude or stupid question, I don’t know why.

I don’t know if I’ve described my flat.  It’s a garage that my landlords converted into a flat.  75% is taken up with the bedroom/living room/dining room – basically the room with my bed, main storage space and tiny tables and desk.  Behind that is a tiny kitchenette and behind that is a similarly tiny toilet/bathroom.  The window of the main room looks onto the street, albeit that it is set back somewhat from the road.  There have been glaziers at work fitting new windows and doors to my neighbours’ house the last two days.  If I leave the blind up, they can stare right in at me and my bedroom.  If I draw the blind, it’s really dark.  Difficult.  There’s quite a bit of noise too (banging and radio), although I’m better at mentally tuning that out.

On the plus side, my viewing of Doctor Who in order has very nearly reached Tom Baker’s time in the lead role, my favourite era (or eras plural, but you’ll have to buy my book when it comes out to learn why!) of the show.  If I’m going to be too depressed to do anything other than vegetate in front of a DVD, I might as well vegetate in front of something good.  But for now I am watching Planet of the Spiders in a flat infested by spiders.

Marrying Young and Stereotypes

I woke up about 8.30, possibly woken by the building work going on next door.  I certainly felt lethargic and a bit down.  I’ve got the ‘brain fog’ feeling of not being able to think properly and I struggled even to get the energy and motivation to get dressed.  I skipped a lot of Shacharit (morning prayers), relying on the Talmudic idea of “it doesn’t matter whether you do a little or a lot, provided you direct your heart to God,” except that I couldn’t concentrate well enough to direct my heart very well.  Again.

I’m procrastinating about emailing the shul (synagogue) I want to join to ask about their fees and especially about meeting with the rabbi, because I’m worried about being judged or even being told that I’m not right for the community.  Which brings me to:

The daughter of a rabbi I know from a different shul got engaged.  I guess she’s in her late teens, early twenties at most, likewise her fiancé.  I started looking online for anything to tell me how frum (religious) people manage to get married so young which might give me a clue about what I should do.  As frum people we are constantly told that common values are more important than physical attraction or even common interests, but we are also told to marry young, when surely most people don’t know what their values are, or at least only vaguely.  I’m in my mid-thirties and I’m still exploring who I am (and I’m very introspective and have been in therapy for years).  I searched online for an answer, but only came up with this article about marrying young: apparently people who marry young are richer, happier, more fertile and have a more satisfying sex life… so, even if I do find a woman weird enough or desperate enough to marry me, I’ll still be poor, miserable, childless and sexually frustrated, all because I was too shy and mentally ill to talk to women when I was in my twenties.

I guess it’s made easier for very frum people inasmuch as frum society seems to limit what values and interests are seen as acceptable and in what order of priority, e.g. chessed (kindness) is rated highly for women, but ranks below studying Torah for men; personal growth, caring for family and hospitality are seen as very important while creativity and environmentalism are vaguely suspect.  I don’t know what stereotypical frum women are interested in, but judging by conversations at kiddush and seudah in shul stereotypical frum men are mostly interested in Torah (meaning Talmud), whisky, politics and sport, which are not key interests of mine (I do love Torah, but aspects of it other than Talmud).  Then again, I suppose most stereotypical men in wider Western society are interested in beer, politics and sport, at least judging by what the culture seems to prioritize in newspapers and television.

But how many stereotypical people (frum or otherwise) actually exist, that is the question?  Do stereotypes exist because lots of people broadly fit that category or do they have no relationship to reality (e.g. the antisemitic stereotype of the money-grabbing Jew)?  Maybe this isn’t the case, maybe frum people are interested in other things if I had the courage to talk to them more, to raise unusual topics of conversation.  I don’t know.  I  heard recently about a Facebook group for frum female science fiction and fantasy fans, which is good (I wish I knew how to meet some in real life!).  I’ve met some of geeky frum men online, but haven’t known any in real life since leaving school half a lifetime ago.  It can certainly be hard being unusual in either frum or Western society.  Sometimes I wish I lived in New York, so I could go to Hevria events and meet other geeky and creative frum people, but then again, maybe I would just feel too shy and too much of a fraud (I don’t feel like I’m particularly creative) to go or to talk to anyone there.

Shelo Asani Psychopath

I felt quite washed out and a bit down today.  I woke reasonably early (OK, about 9.30am, but that’s early considering (a) how late I went to bed last night and (b) how late I was waking up over the last couple of weeks rather than by comparison with my waking up at 6am on work days), probably the result of yesterday, not just going out with my family, but also something that happened in the evening.  I had some OCD thoughts late at night and then I got very agitated about something in the Jewish world and how that made me see myself.  I’m not sure what that agitation would count as, possibly OCD or anxiety, possibly neither.  I did write a blog post about it, but I decided not to publish it, for various reasons.  I’m actually still a bit agitated about it, actually.

I don’t really want to re-write that post here, but the bottom line is that although I know there are problem areas of my life, things I want to change and repent from, I am slowly accepting that my worst sins are generally the result of years of loneliness and bullying resulting in my mental health issues or from the mental health issues themselves (e.g. the fact that I was too tired and depressed to daven Shacharit (say the morning prayers) until 12.35 today and even then had to skip parts of the service).  I feel genuinely grateful to God that He implanted a conscience and a sense of integrity in me such that there are certain things that I simply would not do even if I wasn’t told not to do them by the Torah and that however bad I think I am, most of my sins are between me and God, not me and my fellow human beings.  For all I sometimes lose my temper with my family or make a joke that is a little more hurtful than intended, I would never seek to harm someone in a serious or premeditated way and I do try hard to guard my speech and actions and not to hurt people even in minor ways, even unintentionally.  I don’t think this makes me a particularly outstanding human being, just an ordinarily good one, but unfortunately we live in an age where violence and abuse are rife and perhaps even being averagely good is extraordinary.

So there are mixed feelings today of depression and guilt (for davening late), but also of disgust with corruption in high places and thankfulness that God made me an ordinary person and not a psychopath, let alone a psychopath masquerading as a tzaddik (saint) (the worst sort of psychopath).  I’m supposed to be getting on with some chores, but I just feel tired and lacking in motivation, as well as a bit lonely.  I need distraction from brooding about myself and the ills of the world, other than internet browsing, which just keeps bringing me back to the things that upset me.  I guess I just need to take the plunge and start doing something.


I realized that I am halfway through my holiday and have not done very much because of the depression.  Maybe I need to let myself be depressed a bit sometimes.  I have also hardly done any reading since going on holiday over two weeks ago.  I haven’t really made any progress with Daniel Deronda, it’s just too heavy going, and the chapters too long, for me to feel like picking it up when my mood has been down, plus I have been watching Doctor Who as research for my book rather than pure enjoyment.  As someone who always has a book on the go (several in fact: Jewish books, a novel, sometimes secular non-fiction) this feels wrong, although I have done a bit more reading than this would imply (some Jewish reading, Doctor Who Magazine, some of the latest Jewish Review of Books).

Family Weekend

I think I’ve returned to where I was before I broke up two weeks ago, emotionally.  I managed to navigate a number of things this weekend without falling back into depression, social anxiety or OCD (at least not too much).

The background to the weekend is that my aunt and one of my five cousins were over here from Israel.  I was a bit nervous about how I would be over the weekend in terms of my mental health.  The plan was that my aunt and cousin would be with us (me and my parents) over Shabbat alongside my sister and, on Shabbat lunch, my sister’s fiancé and then I would go out with my parents, aunt and cousin on Sunday.

Shabbat meals passed off well.  No arguments or anything like that.  Across the whole weekend I didn’t have much depression or social anxiety around my aunt, cousin or my sister’s fiancé (who asked my advice on what Yom Tov machzor (festival prayer book) to buy – he was probably just making conversation, but it was nice that he asked me).  There were a few OCD thoughts, but I tried hard to keep them under control, with a reasonable degree of success.

My sister was the only person who noticed that I’d deliberately left my sideburns a bit longer and more tapered than usual when I shaved off my Three Weeks beard last week.  Somehow I thought she would notice.  It was a bit of a whim on my part.  I’ve always liked long sideburns (although my sideburns aren’t hugely long) and have been toying with growning the longer for a while.  I felt facial hair is back in fashion, so I decided to go for it.  I’m vaguely nervous about how they will be seen at work and especially at shul (synagogue) as peyot (sidecurls) are common, but not long sideburns.  I guess this is something where I have to be willing to stand out, as with wearing a kippah sruga (crocheted skullcap) and coloured shirt.

I got to shul on Shabbat morning, albeit quarter of an hour late (I somehow slept through my alarm).  I still didn’t really talk to anyone in the kiddush, but I did talk a little bit at the seudah shlishit (third meal).  I nearly answered a question in the shiur (class) during seudah, but chickened out at the last minute.  I guess social anxiety won that one.

On Saturday night, after Shabbat went out, I sat around in the kitchen with my parents, aunt and cousin, just chatting.  I’ve written before here about not being good at just “hanging out” with people and tending to go off by myself either because I don’t think I’ll enjoy being with other people or because I’m worried what they will think of me or what I will say, so it was good that I managed to do this.  I then went to bed, but couldn’t sleep because of a migraine, so I ended up lying in bed watching Doctor Who, waiting for my painkillers to kick in (in the end a Cool ‘n’ Soothe strip proved more effective).  Death to the Daleks is far from being seventies Doctor Who at its best and it wasn’t improved by being watched at 2.00am with a sick headache.

Today I went out to the park with my parents, aunt and cousin.  Again, it’s something I might have used the depression to avoid in the past, but I wanted to spend as much time as I could with my family, particularly as I’ve now realized how important family is to me.  We had a good time and bumped into a couple of people we knew, including my primary school teacher from when I was about five.  She hadn’t changed.  She said I hadn’t changed either, but I’m not sure if that was because I do tend to run into her every couple of years.

The last hour or two has been a bit harder.  I’m back in my flat by myself now and I’m tired from the afternoon out (I do worry a little that my energy levels are still low; I’m not sure how much it’s depression or just that I’m older now.  It makes me worry about being able to cope with having children) and ended up feeling a little down and OCD, although I’ve mostly kept things under control.  Eating the wrong food probably doesn’t help (my Mum took a lot of junk food out with us, but no fruit other than grapes; I would have taken apples and bananas).  Hopefully eating dinner will help.