Missions, Marriage and Children

I went to a science fiction exhibition in London with my Dad today.  I saw, among other things, Leonard Nimoy’s spacesuit from Star Trek: The Motion Picture and John Hurt’s spacesuit from Alien (a film I have never had the guts to watch, pun intended; I’m a big scaredy cat).  That isn’t particularly relevant to this post, but while I was coming home, I thought about how I have been feeling lately, about the loneliness and sexual frustration.  I was worried that I was looking to get married purely to have sex, which is obviously a monumentally stupid thing to do.  The more I thought about it, the more I felt I was being too hard on myself, though.  Religion aside, there are certainly ways of having no-strings sex if you want it, but it doesn’t attract me as an idea, even as a fantasy.  It actually scares me as much as anything.  I think what I want is closeness, intimacy.  Love, in other words: to give it and to receive it.  I’m obviously not getting as good at reading my feelings as I thought it was if I had to reason them through like this, but I got there in the end.

And I definitely want to have children.  That’s another reason why I worry about getting older while still single.  Obviously I don’t have a biological clock per se, but I don’t intend to be a creepy older guy who trys to date nineteen year old girls.  If I want to marry someone roughly my age, her biological clock is going to be ticking loudly by this stage.  Explaining why I want to have children is hard, and again, part of me worries I’m doing it for the wrong reasons, but it would include giving love (again) and passing on my Jewish heritage and values to the next generation.  (This may seem odd, given I’m such a pessimist and given I worry about passing on my mental health issues.  I know a number of people who think that they or the world are too screwed up for it to be safe for them to have children.  I guess I trust in my values and think that the more good people who have children, the more chance the next generation has of producing people who can fix some of our screw-ups.)  I think about it a lot, about what kind of father I would like to be, what I would do in various parenting situations, how I would try to have kids who don’t go through the difficult things I had to go through (I’m sure they’ll go through traumas of their own).

Actually, I saw this article ages ago and was puzzled by the fact that it said you should know your mission in life before dating.  I didn’t know what my mission is.  I still don’t know, but I have come to the conclusion that part of it at least is about passing on values and wisdom to the next generation.  I’m not a teacher in a straightforward way, but as a librarian, this is my job too.  It’s why I feel a lot more comfortable in my current job as assistant librarian at a further education college, helping students from deprived backgrounds get essential qualifications and (in many cases) helping immigrants and people with learning disabilities with basic English literacy and numeracy than I was in my old job, helping privileged middle class people become clergy for a religious denomination that I don’t belong to.  So becoming a father is a key part of my life mission, I think.

It is still hard to answer the first question on that list in the linked article, though: what I have to offer a potential mate, because it often seems like very little except stuff that should be fitted as standard, like being dependable and trustworthy and the fact that I’m not violent or abusive.  I can’t see why someone would want to date me when there are plenty of other functional guys out there, many of them with better looks, more virtues, and more interesting personalities as well as fewer vices and neuroses than I have.  This is where I typically start worrying about the fact that I didn’t go to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) like most frum (religious) young men and that my mental health issues keep me from attending shul (synagogue) as often as I would like or from studying Torah as much and on as high a level as I would like – all things that would typically be expected of a man in the frum world and things a potential date might well be justified in asking for in me.  So I feel today I have a clearer idea of who I am and what I want, but I am still very pessimistic about being able to get it.

I also had some thoughts about platonic friendships today, but I think this post is long enough and I really ought to have some dinner and think about getting to bed, so I will leave it here for now.

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Dating Thoughts

Today was mostly good, but I didn’t get as much done as I would have liked, partly (I admit) through procrastination, partly because I went out shopping and for some reason came back feeling very faint and unwell.  I felt better after eating something, so maybe it was low blood sugar.  I got into an interesting discussion with Rivki Silver on Hevria about authenticity and identity and my feeling of having a fractured personality.  In brief, I feel there are four different aspects of my personality: the frum (religious), the geeky (particularly Doctor Who fannish), the cultured and the mentally ill and not all of these fit easily with the others.  In particular, I often feel in frum society that I shouldn’t be geeky and maybe not even cultured, and I feel generally that I can’t share my mental health struggles with others (except online!) which makes it hard to build intimacy and friendship, let alone romantic relationships.

Rivki said that there are many frum geeky women out there, which is good to know, but I really don’t know how to meet them.  I’ve only met a couple in person.  I’m guessing most of them live in Israel and the US, simply because that’s where most Jews live.  There are about fourteen million Jews in the world, six million in Israel, another six million in the US and the other two million spread thinly over the rest of the world, mostly in Europe and Canada.  There are only about 400,000 Jews in the UK.  Only a tiny percentage of these are frum and only a tiny percentage of that tiny percentage are geeky; divide by two to remove the men and that’s a tiny, tiny bunch of women before you even take into account age, philosophical outlook, marital status, personality etc. – all the things that go into choosing a partner.  So the odds of my finding someone easily are not good.

Because of all this, I’ve been thinking for a while of going to a professional shadchan (matchmaker) because I think the chances of finding a wife by myself are slim.  I’m thinking of going in about three months time, after I have got used to doing four days of work a week as well as having got through the autumn Yom Tovim (festivals).  It’s scary though, as it will be hard to admit to a frum stranger that I’m looking for a geeky wife and that I have mental health issues.  I have also heard so many horror stories about shadchanim even for ‘normal’ people!  In addition, I don’t know whether to be open to dating women from abroad, given what I said about American and Israeli Jews being the majority of the world’s Jewish population.  It’s scary, both to think I might have to move abroad to get married and also because I think dating someone from abroad is somewhat artifical even in the age of email and Skype.  I know from my recent ‘relationship’ (which didn’t really last long enough to be a real relationship) that it’s easy to think a relationship is going well based on a few thoughtful texts (no, not flirty ones!  Just “How was your day?  Something interesting happened to me” ones), but then when you meet in person you suddenly realize you have nothing in common and can’t stand each other (well, I liked her, but apparently she didn’t like me, or at least my social anxieties).

I’m not sure if it’s because of this, but I have drifted back into agitation and pessimism this evening, which is a shame, as things seemed to be coming along better during the day.  I’m hoping to go to a science fiction exhibition tomorrow with my Dad, which should at least stop me bombarding you with blog posts (I was hoping only to send one today, but I felt I needed to get this off my chest before I went to bed).

Pure Obession

I woke up late this morning, about 9.30, but actually earlier than I expected to wake up (I was expecting to still be asleep at 10.00, if not 11.00).  I had a bit of a headache that was threatening to become a migraine, though, so I took some painkillers and ate breakfast and went back to bed, reading and thinking.  After the headache started to go I felt tired (as I usually do after a migraine), but better than I have done since breaking up a week and a half ago.  I had a supportive email from my therapist, which was good too.

davened (prayed) most of Shacharit (the morning service), which again is more than I’ve done for a while, albeit rather late.  I noticed the OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) was bad again, though.  In fact, it has been for a while (probably since I broke up), but I hadn’t fully registered it.  Like the depression, it tends to flare up at times of stress, so it is no surprise that it has returned after my breakup and my worries about being single and lonely forever.

I don’t think I’ve really explained my religious OCD (scrupulosity).  I was going to link to the article I wrote about it for Den of Geek‘s Geeks vs. Loneliness slot (the only writing for which I’ve actually been paid!), but the page currently seems to be down.  Basically, rather than worrying about cleanliness, safety or order (which is what most people associate with OCD), my OCD takes the form of worrying about religious things, which is known as scrupulosity.  The most difficult aspect, in terms of the amount of distress and disruption to my life, has been with the Jewish food laws: the everyday laws of kashrut and the special food laws of Pesach (Passover).  This has been better recently, since I had some CBT a number of months ago, but it lurks in the background and comes to the fore at times of stress, and I’m often still not 100% convinced that my flat is really kosher; I do live with the vague expectation/fear that I’m going to have to replace all my crockery at some point.  The thoughts are the obsession; the compulsion is either to wipe and clean crockery or to check with a rabbi that all is OK – the latter is particularly difficult to deal with, as normally one would check a question with a rabbi, but here it fuels the OCD so it is hard to know what to do.

The other set of obsessions don’t have accompanying compulsion (known as pure O).  I am better at dealing with them these days, so I tend to mean the dietary worries when I talk about OCD, but actually the pure O has been around for much longer, on and off, since not all that long after I was diagnosed with the depression, back in 2003.  Sometimes it takes the form of violent thoughts that I worry I might act on one day.  I have been reassured that people who have such obsessive thoughts are the least likely to be violent, as they are generally gentle people who are horrified by their thoughts; that is why they find them so disturbing.  I should probably point out here the nature of OCD: everyone has potentially disturbing thoughts from time to time, but people who develop OCD take them very seriously as meaning something true and important about themselves and become unable to stop thinking about them (the analogy usually used is that if someone says to you, “Don’t think about a white bear” it becomes impossible for you to think of anything except a white bear).  In short, they become an obsession and the compulsions develop to try to control the obsessive thoughts.  So I am aware of the violent thoughts, but I try not to let them worry me, although it is difficult.  I really want to have a family (my wanting to have children has been in part responsible for breaking two potential relationships recently), but sometimes I worry that I should not do so if there is even the slightest risk that I have violent thoughts lurking inside of me.

More disturbing, at least recently, is the fact that I do also get idolatrous thoughts, basically thoughts of other religions and deities than the One I believe in, which tend to be worst when I am davening.  As one is supposed to keep one’s thoughts clear, I worry that my prayer is worthless or, worse, actually considered idolatrous, praying to a false god.  I know that worrying about these thoughts just makes them worse, so I try not to let them get to me, but just to ‘wash out’ of my mind as they washed in, but it can be very hard.  This is what happened this morning, leaving me feeling a bit self-critical and annoyed with myself.  So I hope I have not just traded the depression for more OCD.  I know the depression and OCD will probably always be there on some level, but I would like to go back to how I was in the months before the breakup, with the depression and the OCD firmly in the background.

Tisha Be’Av Part II

Weirdly, even though it’s the saddest day of the Jewish year, and even though I was in a terrible state last night, I’m actually OK today.  I slept through the whole morning, fairly deliberately.  I didn’t set my main alarm, thinking my phone alarms would wake me, but I forgot I had turned them off in case I wanted to go to shul (synagogue), so I slept until about 11.30 or 12.00, eventually getting up around 12.30.  I waited until 1.07pm (halakhic midday) until breaking my fast properly (not counting taking my tablets last night).  I felt better for eating; since childhood my mood has been strongly affected by my blood sugar levels.

I spent a couple of hours writing emails and sorting through my accounts.  Not stuff I would normally do on Tisha Be’Av, but I was wary of going too far into the depression after last night.  I tried reading Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust, but didn’t get very far with it.  It set off a load of difficult thoughts, partly obvious upsetting thoughts about the Holocaust, but also thoughts closer to home, about lost childhoods, loneliness, thinking that my lot in life is obviously enormously better than that of the Jews in the Holocaust, so why am I so depressed?  I should stop being depressed, I don’t ‘deserve’ to be depressed!  Also conflicted thoughts about stories of people’s lives apparently being changed by blessings from rebbes – I am enough of a Mitnaged in outlook to be sceptical of such things, but sometimes I wish I could find an easy answer, go to some rabbi and get a blessing for health and marriage.

I spent a lot of the day sleeping or lying in/on the bed or working on my Doctor Who book.  I don’t know why I can’t get motivated to read depressing Tisha Be’Av books as I would normally do.  It can’t be because of the depression, because I have gone through many years of being depressed, far more so than I am today, on Tisha Be’Av while reading appropriate books.  Maybe because I hope I’m coming out of the hole I’ve been in for the last week and a bit and don’t want to risk pushing myself back into it.  Or maybe that’s just rationalizing.  I feel a bit guilty about it all, but I just can’t do it this year.  Maybe I’m scared after last night: I hadn’t been that depressed and anxious in shul for nearly a year (when I had a panic attack in shul on Rosh Hashanah last year).  That’s why I didn’t go back to shul today, which in retrospect was probably a mistake: one needs to confront anxiety rather than letting it grow.  I must make sure I get to shul on Shabbat this week.

Less than forty minutes left…