Also, as a quick addition to the last post (maybe better if it’s read first), for non-Jewish/non-frum readers not sure of what this whole ‘repentance’/confession/fasting thing is about, The Safek has a great short post on it here.
The Happiest Day of the Year
(The title isn’t ironic, it’s a reference to how Yom Kippur is describedin the Mishnah and for once it seems semi-appropriate.)
This is quite a long post, perhaps appropriately for a long fast. Here we go:
This was the weirdest Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) ever for me. Possibly the best, but definitely the most all-over-the-place emotionally.
Yesterday evening, Kol Nidrei evening, was moving. I had what can only be described as An Experience. I think it was an emotional experience rather than a purely religious one (certainly it was more existential than mystical), but it was powerful and fairly positive. I’m not going to talk about it in more detail, though, because it was personal and anyway, I doubt I could put it into words.
The flip side of that was that, although I went to bed fairly early, I slept for ten hours, waking up around 9.00am (after briefly waking up earlier). Even then I felt completely drained and was unable to get up until around 10.30. I tried, I even sat up a couple of times, but I kept going back to bed with depressive exhaustion. Normally I would at least try to drag myself downstairs to the kitchen and eat some cereal to boost my blood sugar level, but Yom Kippur is a strict twenty-five hour fast (it actually works out nearer to twenty-six hours by the time you factor in getting to/from shul and saying Ma’ariv (the evening service)), no food, no drink, not even water. (This is now the only fast that I’m allowed to fast; it’s dangerous to fast while taking lithium. When I was put on lithium for my depression about ten years ago or more I consulted with my rabbi mentor and my psychiatrist and thankfully they both agreed I should fast on Yom Kippur but not the minor, rabbinic fasts.)
I got to shul (synagogue) around 11.10am, which was incredibly late as they had started at 8.00am. I felt terrible walking in so late (this is a frum (religious) shul where pretty everyone, or at least all the men, turns up on time and stays all day, not one where people are constantly drifting in and out all day). I was worried people were watching me and judging me. I know that I have a valid reason for being late, I know that HaShem (God) knows and I know the rabbi knows, but literally no one else in the community knows of my mental health struggles (I’d like to open up to a couple of people, but I don’t know how). I know I shouldn’t care what other people think, but it’s hard not to. Someone was really staring at me later in the day, and I wondered why and if he was judging me. Sigh. I love all those stories about hidden tzadikim (saintly people) who seem vulgar and ill-educated and receive a certain amount of social scorn and judgment, but who actually turn out to be super-pure and holy and wise and full of Torah knowledge (I don’t have time to relate any, but you can look up the story of the Ba’al Shem Tov, his wife and his brother-in-law or the story of the Holy Miser of Warsaw (the location varies with the telling) for a couple of my favourites. They might even be true. Maybe). But it’s hard to experience it first-hand knowing that, even on Yom Kippur, I’m not super-pure and holy and wise and full of Torah knowledge.
I caught up most of Shacharit (the Morning Service) and davened Musaf (the Additional Shabbat (Sabbath)/Yom Tov (Festival) Service) with the community. We had a break of a bit over an hour before Mincha (the Afternoon Service) and I went home. By this stage I was getting a headache and feeling light-headed and wobbly on my legs. By the time Mincha started, I was feeling quite ill. I went through the Amidah faster than I would have liked and skipped my personal Vidui. To explain (because even my frum readers might not know this): on Yom Kippur we confess our sins, but we don’t confess to a rabbi or anyone human. Twice in each of the five Yom Kippur services there is a set confession (Vidui) we all recite, once whispered in the private Amidah, once all together during the public repetition by the Chazan (cantor). There are various reasons given for doing a set, fairly short, confession that focuses more on broad categories of sin (“And for the sin we have sinned before You in speech”) and negative personality traits (“And for the sin we have sinned before You in hardness of heart”), but I think the main reasons are so that no one is ashamed to mention his or her sins in case someone else overhears and because of the concept of collective responsibility, that all Jews are responsible for each other. The categories listed are broad to cover all possible sins in a reasonably short confession. However, precisely because the list is so vague and impersonal, some people add in a list of specific things they have done that they want to put right. I have been doing this for a number of years, making a list of the things I feel bad about from the last year and adding it in the private Amidah (not the public repetition). (It was when I was doing this that I noticed someone staring at me, so maybe he didn’t know you could do this. Or maybe he was just shocked at the length of my list…) But I felt so ill during Minchah that I skipped my personal Vidui and just did the set one. As I didn’t add in my own Vidui in Ne’ilah (the fifth service, unique to Yom Kippur) because the Vidui there is structured somewhat differently, this meant I didn’t say my private Vidui after Musaf. I tried not to feel bad about this. I told myself maybe it was HaShem telling me I was forgiven, but obviously I can’t know that.
Anyway, I rushed through Minchah because I was feelings so ill that I was worried I was going to throw up. I dashed to the nearest loo, which happened to be the ladies’. To be fair to me, the men’s was down a long corridor and up a long flight of stairs and I was seriously worried I wouldn’t make it. Fortunately after a minute or two I felt I wasn’t going to be sick, but I didn’t feel well enough to go back in, especially as the hall where we pray is very hot. Another digression to explain: the shul is only a shul on Shabbat and Yom Tov; most of the time it is a school and weekday services are held elsewhere. Shabbat and Yom Tov services are held in the small school hall, which is fine most of the year, but crowded and hot on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, especially as there aren’t enough windows and those there are don’t open very wide, perhaps as a security measure. So I went and sat outside for a bit.
This is the first positive bit: a few people came outside while I was sitting there and a number of them saw me and asked if I was OK. Some of them I knew, but not all of them and one was a doctor, who I didn’t know at all and who came over to check if I needed help. One other guy I know a little bit came over and talked to me for quite a few minutes (later on, after I had gone back inside, he came up to me a couple of times to see how I was doing and even offered to walk home with me if I needed help). It did make me think that I’ve definitely made the right decision in joining this shul; this type of thing would not happen at every shul; I think this is a particularly friendly and caring one, perhaps a result of its small size.
After a while I went back into shul, not because I was feeling better, but because I wanted to hear the rabbi’s drasha (sermon) and because I was feeling a bit embarrassed that people were making such a fuss of me. And this was the second positive thing: once I got back inside, I immediately started feeling a lot better. My headache and nausea both went away completely and didn’t come back. For the last two hours of the fast, and the forty-five minutes after that that it took to say Ma’ariv, get my stuff together, walk home, make havdalah and get something to eat, I was almost completely fine, just a bit light-headed near the end and with a bit of cramp in my ankles from standing for so long today. I have never had as good a Ne’ilah as this since I started fasting when I was twelve (it is customary to ‘practise’ fasting the year before one is halakhically obliged at bar or bat mitzvah). I usually spend Ne’ilah sitting with my head in my hands, vaguely aware of the service, clock-watching and hoping I can last until the end without throwing up or my head exploding from the pounding going through it. Today I was completely fine and able to daven (pray) properly. The only difficult bit was having some pure O when we make our declarations of monotheism right at the end (pure obsession – obsessive thoughts without compulsions, in this case triggered by trying to focus on monotheism, which makes my mind throw up imagery from other religions). But I have this problem every year and know to expect it and try not to worry about it too much.
When I got home I even kept an even temper and didn’t lapse into irritation or anger even when Someone was being a bit annoying (none of my family fast well and usually the first few minutes after Yom Kippur are spent getting annoyed with each other until we’ve had something to eat and recovered our tempers, which is a really inappropriate thing to do after spending a day fasting and saying we’re going to be better this year).
Of course, after eating, we put on the news and discovered that, no, Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn weren’t inspired to make public declarations of teshuva (repentence) and resolve to change their ways. Reality sets in. But I’m hoping to stick to my fairly limited and manageable resolutions (read an average of one Mishnah a day with commentary alongside my other Torah study – the “average” is because I know there will sometimes be days like today when I am too busy with legitimate needs or too depressed to do it, so I have a mechanism to catch up; try to say the first paragraphs of the Shema, Amidah and Bentsching prayers with good kavannah (concentration); and work on my social anxiety and depression – this one needs specific targets, which I’m still struggling with, beyond, “Try to say “Gut Shabbes” to someone I wouldn’t normally talk to each week” and also “If the social anxiety tells me not to do something, make an extra effort to do it instead”).
Inadvertent Asperger’s Post
So much to say, so little time and energy… I’ve just been told that I’ve been added to a list of autism blogs. I feel a little disingenuous being there. I have not actually been diagnosed as having Asperger’s or autism and moreover have twice been assessed and told I don’t have it (despite at least one other psychiatrist being very sure I do!). I do have a lot of autistic traits, but I’m not sure how much that’s from undiagnosed/borderline/high functioning Asperger’s or from having a number of neurotypical character traits that are just very similar (introversion, social anxiety, poor social skills, stimming etc.).
Anyway, I seem to be getting back into a routine with work again, ready for it to be disrupted by Yom Tov (Jewish festivals) again over the next two weeks (not liking disruption to routine, another Asperger’s trait!). Work seemed unproductive today, but I did catalogue ten books despite spending considerable time manning the issue desk, so it can’t have been too bad. I’m getting better at telling the students off when they break the library rules, but I do find I struggle sometimes with communication sometimes, generally less with the naughty students. The main problems are those with poor English and/or difficult accents (a lot of the students speak an accent that to my uneducated ear sounds half-Bengali, half-Cockney, which would not be surprising in this area) or who have special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). I was trying to help one student today who was having difficulty with the computers and I was aware that she seemed like she might be a SEND student, but I was unsure how to raise the subject or find out what extra help she might need and if she had a genuine technical problem or simply didn’t know how to log on properly. I do try to address the students directly, but when they have limited English, or limited verbal skills generally, I sometimes end up talking to their friends/carers/teachers out of necessity, which I feel bad about. The fact that at least some of these SEND students are themselves probably autistic, much more so than I might be, is not lost on me. There was some talk at one point of library staff getting special training for dealing with SEND students which would be very helpful, but nothing seems to have come of it.
And I seem to have turned a work post into an Asperger’s/ASD post, which wasn’t my intention!
Social Anxiety Victories
Some good news regarding social anxiety: I did most of an induction today for about twenty English as a second language students (I would have done the whole thing but I had to leave as I was due at the other campus). I hadn’t done one by myself before. Not only did I do it, without any of my colleagues around to help if I got stuck, I even turned down an offer to switch lunch breaks to get out of it. I did ask my colleague what I should say, but I don’t consider that cheating as the difficulty for me is presenting, not working out what to say. Not only that, but I didn’t shake either, despite being worried that I might, which can trigger it in itself. I don’t know how much of the induction the students understood (although some of them seemed to have reasonable English), but it’s always pot luck on that score anyway. To some extent it’s just a formality so that when we give them overdue fines, they can’t say they weren’t warned (although they say that anyway). The important thing for me was actually presenting to a group fluently (well, reasonably fluently) for the first time in a very long time.
Even more good news: I asked some rowdy students in the library to be quiet and get on with some work. They even listened to me (for a bit). I always get scared of doing this, not just because of social anxiety, but because I’m worried they’ll get argumentative or even violent. I’m not sure if this fear is rooted in tabloid journalism or memories of being bullied at school, although no one was actually violent towards me at school.
Today I did feel like I’m a bit more confident at the library issue desk and able to deal with more problems, although I still have difficulty thinking of solutions while someone is standing over me with a problem. Let me go off for five minutes and I can usually find some kind of solution, even if it’s not ideal, but with someone standing over me the social anxiety makes me panic and my mind goes blank and all I can think is that I want to get out of there (probably the adrenaline rush). And generalizing from knowing specific solutions to specific problems to finding general solutions for whole classes of problems and then narrowing that back down to specific solutions for different specific problems is difficult. This may be a borderline Asperger’s thing.
Just Plain Wrong? (Rosh Hashanah Post)
I had a longish post in my mind all over Yom Tov, but I don’t really feel well enough to write it now. To summarize, (sorry, not translating Hebrew to save time. Google is your friend) I had a really bad cold over Rosh Hashanah. I made it to shul first day Rosh Hashanah, but I missed second day (including the shofar blowing) and Shabbat Shuva. I spent most of the day in bed, with what might have been a temperature and certainly was a lot of acheyness, tiredness and congestion. I felt really bad about this. I was excited that I would hear the shofar properly both days which the depression has stopped me managing for many years and I was very disappointed when I missed second day. It really felt like I was trying hard to come closer to God and He was pushing me away (again). I was supposed to go out for lunch on the second day too, which would have been the first social thing I’ve done in ages, but I missed that too and felt I let my would-be hosts down. I part-missed another social thing, which was when my second-cousins came over with their young children today. I slept through most of their time here and although I joined them at the end, I was wary of playing with the kids because I didn’t want to give them my cold, which was a shame as I had been looking forward to playing with them (I like children, but don’t get to be around them much).
Just to make it worse, on first day Yom Tov, on saying the word “be’ahavah” in the Amidah, I really felt that God loved me, which I don’t usually feel. Of course, there was a downside, which was that I immediately felt utterly unworthy of His love and started crying (in shul). I felt, not that I had done something wrong, but that I am intrinsically wrong. Just plain wrong. And then the next day God stopped me fulfilling His commandments. It is hard to know what to feel about this. Certainly feeling that I am wrong is abused child territory. I was not abused as a child, but I suffered a lot of bullying and emotional neglect and it left me with a lot of self-loathing. So I don’t know what to think about all of this.
The one good thing that came out of this was that I forced myself to go to shul for Ma’ariv tonight to pick up my tallit and machzor so that they would not get lost (the shul is only a shul on Shabbat and Yom Tov; in the week it is a school and stuff left out goes missing). A couple of people asked where I had been and if I was OK, including someone I don’t even know very well. So that did at least make me feel that I’m beginning to be accepted into the community.
I had a tough day, a lot of anxiety and depression at work. At lunch time I started writing a blog post listing the anxieties I have regarding the (nearly upon us) chaggim (Jewish festivals), but I was running out of time and decided to work on my Doctor Who book instead. Suffice to say every festival (and we have one a week for a month now) has its own unique anxieties, alongside general anxieties like the fact that I’m finding it harder and harder to get up in the mornings for work and shul (resurgent depression), I keep being too tired to go to Talmud shiur (class) and general social anxiety and work anxiety. I just sent an email to pretty much every Jewish relative, friend and acquaintance in my address book wishing them shana tova tikatev vetikatem (may you be written and sealed for a good new year), but even that was a struggle with social anxiety. I kept asking myself if they would want an email from me, maybe they would even be offended by it (now I’m worrying if my non-Jewish friends and readers would want to be included… if you do, consider the greetings extended to you too).
Work was hard not just because of anxiety and depression, but because I was cataloguing a lot of books on childcare (and I have literally just discovered that the catalogue was spelling ‘childcare’ wrongly as ‘child care’ – I should have caught that earlier and am now worried I will get in trouble, although I am really supposed to stick with what is already in the catalogue, which I did) and catalogued a book on learning disabilities and read a lot about Asperger’s Syndrome and autism which reminded me of my odd non-diagnosis. I was assessed twice for Asperger’s and was told that I have a lot of the symptoms, but not broken down in the right way across the diagnostic categories to be diagnosed. Then another psychiatrist said she thought I did have it, but without doing an assessment (I think by that stage she didn’t know what to do with me and was just throwing stuff out there). These days I think I probably don’t have it, as my early childhood was fairly free of symptoms. I think a naturally introverted personality developed a lot of social anxieties and had somewhat retarded social development as a result of family stress, school bullying and a degree of emotional neglect, but I do feel a certain kinship with people who have Asperger’s and have never worked out quite what to do with my non-diagnosis. So the book I was cataloguing raised questions I wasn’t really in a fit state to answer, as well as reminding me of some of the more upsetting parts of my childhood.
I missed Talmud shiur again tonight, as I hinted above. I was too late to say most of Shacharit (morning prayers) this morning too. I’m struggling to keep my head above the water at the moment and it’s going to get worse before it gets better, with the chaggim and the onset of winter, which always triggers depression in me. It occurred to me over Shabbat (the Sabbath) that both my rabbi mentor and the rabbi of the shul I am joining are aware that my mental health issues affect/reduce my Torah study and davening (praying) and both are supportive of what I am currently managing to do, so if they are OK with it, maybe I should stop beating myself up. It’s hard, though.
Anyway, shana tova tikatev vetikatem to anyone I missed out before. May 5778 be a year of blessing, health, prosperity and peace for us, the Jewish people and the world as a whole.
I Am OK (Explosion on the Tube)
Just wanted to reassure anyone who heard the news about the explosion on the London Underground that my family and I are OK. I don’t use the Tube on Fridays as it’s my day off work and my therapy is now over Skype, although when I was having therapy in person I actually went through Parsons Grove, where the attack was. I do worry sometimes, not quite in a mental-health-anxiety way, about how dangerous the Tube is, not just from the point of view of terrorism, but of fires. It really is a death trap, especially at rush hour: deep underground, hundreds of people packed like sardines in tiny trains and tiny corridors… I try not to think about it or I freak myself out.
I guess no where is safe, though. I get haunted by a story from the 7/7 bombings. One of the victims was Israeli and had moved to the UK because she was frightened of being killed by Palestinian terrorism in the second Intifada. She narrowly escaped being on one of the trains that was blown up only to be murdered on the bus that was blown up as she was going to (as she thought) safety. It’s a real Death in Tehran story.
The psychologist Viktor Frankl tells the story of Death in Tehran in his book Man’s Search for Meaning:
A rich and mighty Persian once walked in his garden with one of his servants. The servant cried that he had just encountered Death, who had threatened him. He begged his master to give him his fastest horse so that he could make haste and flee to Teheran, which he could reach that same evening. The master consented and the servant galloped off on the horse. On returning to his house the master himself met Death, and questioned him, “Why did you terrify and threaten my servant?” “I did not threaten him; I only showed surprise in still finding him here when I planned to meet him tonight in Teheran,” said Death.
I guess you’re going to go when you’re going to go, which is the message of the next few weeks in the Jewish calendar, with the exception that “repentance, prayer and charity, avert the evil decree.” (Unetaneh Tokef, from the prayers for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur). May we all be written for life this year, physically and spiritually.
I wasn’t intending to blog today, but I seem to have written a fairly substantial post, but I must leave things here and get on with lunch and pre-Shabbat (Sabbath) chores.
“being a good kissing carrion”
Warning: this is going to be another miscellaneous post that blatantly ignores the classical unities by ranging over various places and dealing with various themes (admitedly all loosely connected with my mental health). It does mostly stick to the last twenty-four hours, though. One out of three ain’t bad.
I have been quite depressed again all day, but some unusual things happened at work that are worth recording, for my own records if nothing else. I struggled to get up again and yet again had to skip most of Shacharit (morning prayers) to get to work on time. I prayed a tiny bit in the flat and a tiny bit more off by heart while walking to the station. I felt quite down all day and intermittently wanted to just crawl into bed and give up. (Fortunately I don’t have a bed at work, otherwise I might have got into it.) I cried at work again. I wouldn’t mind, but my glasses get tear-spattered even though I don’t produce that many tears and it gets hard to see out of them.
I had a Conversation with my boss. She asked me how I was getting on with the longer hours and I surprised myself when, for the second time this week (the first being my conversation with the rabbi on Saturday night) I avoid the temptation to say “Fine” and actually admitted to having a problem. I said my mood has been down since the summer and it hasn’t gone back to normal yet. I could have said more, but I didn’t have enough courage. It was a start. My boss said that I should talk to her if I need to (I think in a practical, “I’m not coping, what can we do about work stress?” way rather than a more “shoulder to cry on” way), which was good. Unfortunately, at that moment the phone rang and as I was due to take over on the issue desk, I couldn’t wait until she finished the call (which seemed to be too personal for me to be in the room at the same time anyway). She did later ask if I’m still in therapy and mentioned that she wants to have weekly one-to-one meetings. I think the latter is more a result of the new job she has given me (see below) than my mental health, but hopefully I’ll have a better idea of how I’m doing.
The new job is to select and purchase new books for the library, alongside clearing out old stock that is either falling to pieces or out of date (obviously books date at different rates in different subjects. A computer science book from ten years ago is worthless, while an English literature book from the same time may still be very valuable). I felt quite socially anxious while we were having this conversation. I could feel my eyelid twitching again, as it has been on and off all day, and I was feeling overwhelmed with anxious and obsessive thoughts (pure O) and had to struggle to concentrate. At one point I felt that I was about to have a panic attack, although I did not. I hope I took everything in. I also hope that this apparent upsurge in the social anxiety is merely a product of taking more notice of it to try and deal with it and not a genuine worsening of the situation.
It didn’t help that a couple of the books I was reading this afternoon triggered difficult feelings in me. One was a book on diversity and prejudice that failed to mention antisemitism in the index or contents page; Judaism got a couple of mentions in the index, but that turned out to be only in the context of either “The Nazis persecuted lots of people, such as Jews, homosexuals etc.” or accusing Judaism of being discriminatory towards homosexuals and the disabled. The author said that religious discrimination probably doesn’t exist in America, except for Muslims. This despite Jews reporting experiencing more hate crime than any other religious group in the US (it was an American book). From his name, I think the author is an assimilated Jew (the worst antisemites are all Jews). So that triggered a lot of my politically-minded anger, which I usually try to repress (hence the lack of politics on this blog).
The other trigger was more personal. I was cataloguing a book on dealing with difficult children in a pre-school childcare situation e.g. kindergarden. It reminded me of my experiences as a child, that the children who act out end up getting more attention than the “good” children, although to be fair I think the author was trying hard to avoid rewarding bad behaviour with attention. This in turn reminded me of a story my rabbi told a while back, about a teenager called Tzvi who was dared by his friends to make a prank call on Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, probably the leading Orthodox halakhicist (Jewish legal expert) of the twentieth century. Despite the fact that the prank call occured after midnight (the young man had got the rabbi out of bed for what he said was a life or death question, which was actually something deliberately inane), Rav Moshe Feinstein sensed the disaffection in the young man and rather than slamming the phone down on him and going back to bed, he spent an hour studying Talmud with Tzvi to prepare the teenager for his next school class, even telling him a kasha (a question or difficulty, usually a logical inconsistency found in an earlier text) he had on a comment in Tosafot (one of the main Medieval commentaries on the Talmud) that he had never put in his books so that Tzvi could impress his teacher the next day, thereby showing him that studying Talmud could be more enjoyable than making prank phone calls. Tzvi is apparently now a Rosh Yeshiva (head of a religious seminary and about the most prestigious job in the Orthodox Jewish community). I thought, when I first heard this story, that if I had been at that school, I would have struggled through Talmud class without ever being disaffected enough to make rebellious prank calls and have a chevruta (paired study session) with a great rabbi to teach me how to learn and fill me with enthusiasm for the Talmud.
I shouldn’t sound too put out, as I got enough attention to get to Oxford, but I do feel that I was left to my own devices a bit at home and at school growing up and no one really noticed how badly I was doing emotionally, least of all myself. My Mum made a couple of efforts to get me to counselling, but she didn’t really convince me that I should go and I never went. I did go to counselling when I was sixteen and having my first episode of depression, but I sat in silence for four sessions and then gave up, although I remember the counsellor trying to dissuade me and saying that she thought I really needed help. I wasn’t really ready to talk, mostly because I wasn’t sufficiently aware of my emotions to actually be able to talk. I remember the counsellor asked something about my sexuality and I literally didn’t know what to say. I knew I had a massive crush on a girl who barely registered my existence and probably didn’t like me much, but I couldn’t put that into words, let alone describe my loneliness and the confusion, guilt and shame that my desires instilled in me.
I spent a chunk of my lunch break today working on my Doctor Who book at the office. I’m not sure how ethical that is, but it actually refreshed me more than just eating my sandwich and reading would have done. I definitely think I need more intellectual stimulation of some kind, although how I fit it in with all the other things I should be doing/want to do is another question. The book itself is proceding too slowly and sporadically to be that intellectual stimulation in a consistent way. I am basically working my way through fifty-plus years of episodes finding new ideas to fit into what are essentially fourteen existing chapters (originally blog posts on my other blog) with another chapter to be written from scratch (more chapters if the book takes long enough that they make a lot more episodes!). I need something more rewarding than my current life, although depressive anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure) might prevent that. Certainly it prevents me enjoying my religious life, as I have noted in the past. Currently I feel like today’s Dilbert cartoon.
The other thing I might enjoy is dating. I am still not sure whether I should be thinking of dating again soon. One of my non-biological older sisters remarked to me recently that more interesting and rounded people find it harder to find a soul-mate corresponding to them. I suppose that makes sense, but I know interesting people who got married at a young age and while my arrogance and tendency to solipsism half-convince me at times that I have a more fascinating and complex inner life than most people, I don’t seriously believe that that is the case. (It would be nice, though, but also isolating. Reminds me of this xkcd cartoon.)
I went round to my ex-date’s flat for a few minutes to give her a present to say thank you for Shabbat lunch the other week. When I got there, someone else was there, another friend of my sister who I was once vaguely interested in only to quickly pick up the vibe that she wasn’t interested in me (not that I asked her out or even flirted, I’m not that brave). I was surprised that she even remembered who I am. I felt bad that my Mum had given me a lift because I don’t drive and that she saw me going to my Mum’s car and getting in on the passenger side. (I don’t normally ask for lifts from my parents, but occasionally necessity forces me to do so. The not driving, incidentally, is probably another anxiety I ought to confront at some point.) Sometimes I wonder if everyone is laughing at me when my back is turned, or if they just secretly can’t stand me. I think I’d prefer being laughed at. I’m not sure if either is better than the most probable reality, which is simply that I’m ignored and no one actually thinks of me at all when I’m not around. No wonder I turn to solipsism, at least if I’m the only person in the universe I can be sure exists I matter in some way.
That Was (Nearly) The Year That Was
I’m blogging in my lunch hour again (finishing, proof-reading and posting later) because in the evenings I lack the time and energy to blog. I have a load of ideas for posts that are more in depth than these kinds of “what happened to me today” posts, but I simply don’t have the time to write them; what energy and time I have for more analytical writing goes on my Doctor Who book.
In a week and a few hours, it will be Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. According to the Talmud on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur ten days later, we get judged for life or death in the coming year. I can’t remember how it goes exactly, but I think with regard to physical life (whether we live or die in the coming year) we get judged on Rosh Hashanah, but with regard to spiritual reward within this world (whether we get to enjoy living a religious life in the coming year so that we can continue with it more easily), the clearly righteous and the clearly wicked are judged for spiritual life and death respectively straight away and the rest of us have until Yom Kippur to sway the balance in favour of spiritual life and enjoyment. This being the case, I feel I must be pretty bad, or have not prayed well enough in the past, as I don’t really get much enjoyment out of my religious life, or anything else really. I don’t know how depressive anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure) fits into this. Still, apple dipped in honey is nice.
I feel this year has overstayed its welcome. It was a crazy year, full of ups and downs. At one stage I was so depressed I thought I would have to be hospitalized to stop me from trying to kill myself; at another stage I thought I had finally got over the depression and now I’m somewhere in between the two, functional, but still quite depressed. I have got my OCD more under control, but I have become more aware of how much my social anxieties are holding me back. I started I started a new job much closer to full time, but find myself asking if it was the right decision. I feel I can’t think on my feet quickly enough to deal with users on a regular basis, especially teenagers, I feel I’m learning the procedures of the new job too slowly and I don’t yet feel comfortable in the working environment. I worry that I’m not doing a good enough job. I wonder if have over-extended myself by working so many hours. Moving back to this year, I did try some dating again, but just ended up more lonely and depressed, although I have made some friends. And my little sister got engaged, something that I think I’m only just beginning to process, while the thought of the party hits me with dread (including the interaction with work – my family say to ask for time off the day after the wedding, but I’m wary of asking for more TOIL given the problems I have had with it for Yom Tov (festivals) so I may end up going to work like a zombie on three hours sleep the next day).
This morning was another struggle to get up. I actually overslept slightly, which is worrying as usually I do at least wake up on time even if I don’t get up. I wanted to just stay in bed which is bad as it’s always a sign of depression with me. I cried on the Tube into work, actual tears rolling down my face. I don’t know if anyone saw (it is a point of etiquette on the Tube to take no notice whatsoever of the other passengers no matter what they do). I cried at work yesterday too, I think. I’m coming to think that I cry more often than I realized. It’s hard to tell because, as I think I’ve mentioned before, I have two ways of crying, either just trying to carry on as normal with tears rolling down my face or giving in to intense sobbing without tears, but I can’t get tears and sobs together, which is what I associate with crying. I think the “tears rolling down my face” crying happens quite a bit, but most of the time I just assume I’ve got something in my eye, as I’m not consciously more depressed than normal, although this may just be an indication of how depressed my ‘normal’ is.
Work was OK today, but slow. Cataloguing was particularly slow because not only was I finding it hard to concentrate, but I wanted to read the books I was cataloguing. I guess there aren’t many people who would be equally interested in books on politics, child development and neurodiversity (dyslexia in this case), but there you go. Incidentally, I may have been self-harming a bit at work these last few days, but it may be normal ‘stimming’ behaviour for someone on the borderline of Asperger’s Syndrome (pulling hair, putting pressure on my fingers etc. as well as general fidgeting). I really must get around to writing about that at some point as I still wonder about my non-diagnosis.
I spent a while at lunchtime agonizing about the potential date I thought I had, but it was a waste of time. It turns out she thinks she knows me (I have no idea how, as I don’t know her, but people do sometimes know me when I don’t know them; I guess they say, “Who’s that weird guy who never talks or makes eye contact?”) and thinks our religious differences are too great. So that’s that. It does at least spare me a decision. I might go to the specialist shadchan (matchmaker) at some point in the new year, if I think I’m coping with my mental health and with work (ha ha).
I feel rather depressed and anxious today. I made some more mistakes at work. I know, mistakes are how we grow and no one died and the college didn’t lose any money and the mistakes were trivial in the grand scheme of things. I still feel bad and am worried that I’ve upset my boss. I don’t know whether I’m misreading the situation or if she’s genuinely annoyed with me (and if she is, whether she has reason to be annoyed). I want to ask if things are OK, but I don’t want to sound needy by looking for reassurance, which would also stoke the social anxiety (which is what this is). I’m worried that I’ll be fired, not for anything I’ve done so far, but that things will deteriorate further somehow. I’m probably being silly, but my mood has plummeted (although it wasn’t great when I woke up – it was very hard to get going) and the muscles in my eyelid have been twitching, which is a nervous thing that hasn’t happened for a while (although I did briefly have other muscle spasms in my meeting with the rabbi on Saturday night).
Something else I’ve been thinking about recently: at the weekend, my uncle was trying to set me up on a date with a friend of a friend, but he wasn’t sure if she was frum (religious) enough for me. I won’t go into all the details to protect her identity, but I wasn’t sure whether to say yes or not, so I asked for more details, but all I got was her name and told if I wanted to find out more about her I should go out with her. I had sort of decided that I would go (assuming she wants to) purely because I’m trying to take the social opportunities offered to me as a way of fighting the social anxiety (for the same reason I’m probably going to go for Shabbat lunch at friends of my parents’ even though normally I would stay at home by myself), but once I knew her name I gave in to weakness and googled her (it’s an unusual name and I had been told her profession which is also unusual). I had two responses from her Facebook page: one was wondering whether we would actually have anything in common, the other was thinking that she looks far too pretty to consider going out with me. Really out of my league. And she has interesting and unusual hobbies that make her seem rounded and interesting.
So now I’m nervous of saying yes, because I think it will end badly, either because she isn’t frum enough for me or because I’m basically not good enough for her. I told my uncle it would have to wait a few weeks until we’re past the chaggim (festivals) because I want to check I’m OK with working four days a week (today I’m struggling…) and also because I want to see that I don’t fall back into deep depression over the chaggim. Which is another reason it won’t work, of course, because I could easily fall back into depression and anxiety and OCD (like today, although no OCD so far) which makes me fundamentally unlovable cf. previous possible relationships abandoned because of my mental health and general weirdness (and I resolved to stop putting myself down so much!).
Also by unfortunately coincidence her name is the same as (a) the first woman I asked our (she said no and later stopped talking to me) and (b) the woman I had my first and thus far only relationship with… a name I associate with bittersweet memories and rejection. I don’t know why it keeps coming up in my life. I suppose there is some hope in there, wondering if it could work out, but it gets quickly shot down by the feeling that it would never work and it’s silly even to try. I do feel a bit of anger mixed in with the despair, at the whole “he’s a guy, she’s a girl, let’s put them together and see what happens” school of matchmaking, rather than researching to see they have compatible interests and personalities, but I guess that’s another rant entirely…
Today was focused on shul (synagogue) despite quite a lot happening at home. I was with my parents as usual for Shabbat (the Sabbath) and my uncle and sister were staying with my sister’s fiancé coming for lunch. I had some OCD, unfortunately, although it wasn’t too bad.
Shul started earlier today and unfortunately I overslept and was fifteen minutes late (so I would have been on time most weeks!). I forced myself to talk to people at the kiddush and on the way home on Friday night which was a positive step to dealing with the social anxiety. I was called to the Torah again, which was nice, but I wonder if it’s more than my fair share as I seem to have been called three or four times in the last few months. The part I was called for started with curses, but ended with blessings, which part of me wants to see as a good sign, but I try not to look for signs because (a) we’re not supposed to and (b) once you get into that mindset, there is no end to the things you can convince yourself that you’ve seen, good and bad. It’s true that last year started badly but seems to be ending a lot better.
Bizarrely, the most profound religious moment for me came during the rabbi’s sermon, when a two year old child wandered in to shul and interrupted proceedings calling “I fell over! Where is daddy? Where is daddy? I fell over!” I reflected that’s how I feel right now: I fell over and I’m looking for Daddy (Avinu Malkeinu, our Father, our King). I know there are militant atheists who see religion as a childish search for love and security and normally I would disagree, but at the moment I think the only mistaken word in that is “childish.” Because adults need love and security too and I don’t see anything wrong with getting that from God as well as other people (let alone money, fame, drugs, meaningless sex or the other things some people turn to fill the void in their life).
The evening was more positive. I met with the rabbi of the shul I’m joining. The meeting turned out not to be a scary interview, but simply a little chat to get to know me a bit better and to see how I will fit into the community. I had mentioned my mental health issues a bit to the rabbi in the past and we spoke a bit about them (it was good that I felt able to speak about them), about the way that my personal growth as a Jew is tied up with managing my mental health, about the need for realistic, small goals for the future and so on. The rabbi seemed very understanding and sympathetic, especially when I said that I struggle sometimes to get the energy or mindset for prayer or Torah study, which was good as I had been particularly worried that he wouldn’t understand and would try to cajole me into going to shul more often that I feel comfortable with. He was pleased that I get to a weekly beginners Talmud shiur. We spoke a bit about dealing with religious OCD and I said that while he would normally answer questions, sometimes with the OCD it’s better to say that something is not a serious concern and not get into it any further, because otherwise it actually fuels the OCD, which he seemed receptive to. He offered to meet every few weeks if I would like just to “touch base” which I thought was a nice offer and one I might take him up on in the future.
I spoke about going down a bit over the summer and I was just going to leave it at that, but on impulse I mentioned that the low mood had been triggered by dating, by a date that seemed to be going somewhere which did not work out. I didn’t make a huge thing about it, but I thought I would drop a hint that I am “in the parasha” as they say (literally “in the paragraph/passage” but idiomatically at a particular stage in life, usually referring to the life-stage of looking for a spouse). Who knows, he might meet someone who he thinks is suitable for me (rabbis meet a lot of different people) and arrange a shidduch (date). I also mentioned that there is a rabbi I speak to regularly about my mental health and personal growth (the rabbi I refer to here as my rabbi mentor) as I thought that was worth saying. As it happens, he turned out to know him a bit, which didn’t surprise me as my rabbi mentor knows lots of people and used to live in this area and fortunately he approved of him.
One little thing I noticed that indicated that the community rabbi understands me is that he said that normally when someone joins the community, they make an announcement in shul, but he wanted to check that I was OK with that, presumably because I mentioned that I have some social anxiety. I said I would like it, because I’ve been going to that shul about eighteen months now and I’m beginning to be recognized so I think it will be nice to announce that I’m finally paying my dues, literally and metaphorically, and becoming a proper member, but I’m glad he checked it was OK with me first.
I came away from the meeting feeling very positive about be accepted into the community more and having the positive relationship with a rabbi that is necessary to be part of a frum (religious) community. I definitely feel that a small, friendly, observant community is the place for me to be right now. Hopefully it will be somewhere I can grow both as a human being and a Jew and maybe even make some friends and feel accepted.
Roads Taken and Not Taken
Another miscellaneous post:
Today was probably the best work day this week, in terms of mood, energy, concentration and not making mistakes (although I still made a few), but even then on the way home I found myself reflecting that I’ll probably kill myself one day. It’s frightening how a despairing and self-hating thought (if it was self-hating – it came more from resignation and despair than self-loathing) can spring from nowhere and make me assume that I will always be sad and lonely until eventually I won’t be able to take it any more. On the way home I also found myself reflecting that my lapse back into depression means that I still haven’t managed to go more than six months or so without clinical depression since the start of 2003. That’s almost the entire lifetime of some of the students I’m dealing with! (Registering people to use the library today I reflected that many of them were born in the twenty-first century, whereas I can remember when the twenty-first century seemed a distant and unobtainable science fictional future to me).
My CBT therapist suggested a while back that my mental health is worsened by a lack of intellectual stimulation. At the time I thought that my work was intellectual stimulation enough, but now I’m not sure. I don’t think blogging or writing my book help either. I don’t know what to do about this.
I have an appointment set up with the rabbi of the shul (synagogue) I am hoping to join. I’m terrified that I’ll somehow be caught out, embarrassed and forbidden to join. I’m sure it’s just a friendly meeting to get to know me better, but I can’t stop catastrophizing and feeling that this will be yet another situation where I don’t fit in. I have also booked to go to the shul‘s siyum Mishnayot next week (a siyum is a big party to celebrate finishing some Jewish study, typically Mishnah or Talmud). I’m a bit nervous and worried about who I will talk to, if I will embarrass myself, if I was supposed to do some study to be allowed to attend…
I mentioned volunteering yesterday as something that I should consider doing instead of dating. I had a quick look on the Jewish Volunteering Network website, but there was very little that was suitable for me, although my lack of confidence in my abilities probably didn’t help; I used the site’s filters to rule out a whole load of areas assuming that I couldn’t do those things. I’d like to do something interpersonal, maybe with children or the elderly, but I doubt that my social skills are good enough and expect that I would probably be a mess of social anxiety the whole time and be a liability rather than an asset.
So dating seems like more of an option, if I get through the chaggim (Jewish festivals) without collapsing under the strain of depression, social anxiety and OCD (I already feel anxious just thinking about them!). But I still can’t see myself finding someone who both likes me and is compatible with me, even if I go to the shadchan (matchmaker) who specializes in dealing with people with health issues. The better option would seem to be accepting being single and find other ways to give (but see my comments about volunteering) and receive love and companionship (unfortunately, people are not queueing up to be my friend). I’d be tempted to get a pet, but I don’t have room in my flat and anyway I’m not really an animal person.
A thought that has bothered me for the last twenty-four hours or so: one Valentine’s Day I was on a crowded Tube train going to school. There were some girls from my class in the same carriage. I could hear them talking, but they couldn’t see me through the crowd and I could hear them saying that they had a Valentine’s Day card and were going to write a fake message to one of the geeky boys as a practical joke. My name was one of the ones mentioned, I think. At another time, I was sitting in French class working when I could here the girls behind me writing a frankly obscene “romantic” note supposedly from one of the geeky girls to me, as another practical joke. My friend intercepted the note, not realizing that I had heard what they were saying as much as he had. (This was the same friend who got production of our yearbook when we finished GCSEs aged 16 stopped because the writers were so rude about the geeky crowd I was friendly with. I never found out what they said, although sometimes I wonder what they said about me. Maybe it is better not to know.)
I don’t know why I keep thinking of these two incidents. Maybe it’s another way of beating myself up, of saying that everyone has known for years that I am weird and unlovable, laughably so, and I should just stop trying to be happy and loved. Maybe it’s because I wonder what would have happened if I had asked one of the geeky girls out (they were geeky in terms of being clever and academic rather than being interested in science fiction and the like, but still). My oldest friend did that and they got married and have two children. Most of the geeky girls were not frum, so far as I was aware, but I wasn’t frum then either. I doubt I would have married any of them, but perhaps if I had dated a bit when I was sixteen or seventeen I would have had a better self-image. I know, I’m frum now and supposed to disapprove of casual dating and focus on dating for marriage. But I still wonder. I guess my life could have gone very differently, but there is no end to self-recrimination if one goes down this route.
I don’t think of myself as an envious person, but over the last few years I have been increasingly visited by envy. It probably started a few years ago, when Hevria was launched and I felt strongly that I wanted to write for it, but wasn’t asked. After about six months I volunteered, only to be turned down; I’m still not entirely sure why. I got very upset and my writing never really recovered. I’ve written odd bits and pieces since then, including a couple of guest posts for Hevria and one piece for Den of Geek that I got paid for, but almost no poetry and it took a long time before I turned back to writing regularly when I started this blog and started editing various Doctor Who blog posts into a book. (In the end I was sort of offered the chance to write regularly for Hevria, but I no longer have the time and I still feel blocked from that kind of writing, although I’m not sure how serious the offer was anyway. But it felt good to be offered anyway.)
Then last year I managed, somehow, to go out for a Shabbat tisch (community Sabbath party thing) hosted by someone from the shul I’m trying to move to. He is my age or even younger and as I walked into his house and saw his lovely home and cute children and beautiful wife (I didn’t actually see his wife. I once saw him talking to a woman who I assumed was his wife, given that he’s very frum and probably doesn’t talk to other women if he can avoid it, but I could be wrong) and felt that he had all the things that I wanted. I had to force myself not to feel envy and it was hard. I felt a similar thing when I went to my ex-date for lunch this last Shabbat: her flat is so much larger and more comfortable and attractive than my tiny converted garage. I told myself more space means more housework, but I’m not sure how convinced I was.
I envy a lot of my peers their lives, their friendships, their relationships and their children, all the things I want and lack, but I also envy their Torah learning and mitzvot (commandments). I want to be a better Jew and I assume my peers are all doing better at that than I am. I know we are told that what matters is the effort, not the achievement, and I have to put in a lot of effort just to stay in the same place, let alone to grow and I have no idea how much effort they put in. But it is hard not to feel inadequate, to feel that I could be better if I was more like them. I feel I lack the joy and passion others can find in religion; I feel as if I’m doing things out of obligation and saying prayers by rote rather than really connecting with God and Torah. I still believe, I just don’t feel, I suspect my depression stops me feeling. It is difficult.
I suppose what it all boils down to is a feeling that life has passed me by, that I will never have the joy or pleasure or love or simple satisfaction in my achievements that other people get to experience. Funnily enough, it has been suggested to me that other children were envious of me at school and that this was why they bullied me. I find this hard to believe, but also vaguely unfair, given that I think my academic achievement was the product of hard work rather than natural cleverness; I was intelligent at school, but I had to work hard for my grades.
I try to feel gratitude as the antidote to envy. I try to thank God for at least five things every day (even if it’s “Thank you that I didn’t hurt myself when I felt so depressed”). I get on better with my family than I used to do, certainly better than a lot of other people do. I have a job (two-thirds of a full-time job now), which is worth something in this economy and also given that a few years ago it seemed completely impossible that I would ever be working. I live by myself without trouble and I have some friends, even if they do largely live inside my computer. But I feel I need something more. I have no joy, no romantic/sexual love, no passion, no purpose and it is hard not to envy those who do have these things.
I suspect I need something else in my life. Sherlock Holmes turned to drugs to stimulate his brain when work dried up; I suspect I too need something to fill my non-work hours, but hopefully something healthier and more socially acceptable. My work on my book precludes other hobbies, but it offers one possible outlet, but it is going slowly thanks to my having to watch so many old episodes of Doctor Who for research. I’m not sure my religion can offer me anything more than more frustration at the moment. I can’t stand any party enough to get involved in politics. That leaves dating and volunteering. The former is tempting, but maybe the latter is more sensible (in the sense that I don’t know if I’m ready for dating, but also that I doubt anyone would want me anyway and maybe it’s just easier not to bother looking). But I haven’t the time or energy for either at the moment; I’ll just have to hope things get easier if and when I have settled into a new work routine.
First, this is very true.
There’s a lot I’d like to say, but I’m short on time now I work four full days a week. I sent my boss an email apologizing again for my mistake last week. She said she was just trying to make me aware that I should see her first before talking to other staff members about rota changes, as this has caused serious problems in the past and that she was sorry if I was anxious about it (I hadn’t mentioned the anxiety). I now have my time off in lieu sorted for the chaggim (Jewish festivals), although the OCD keeps making me double-check the dates because I’m worried I’ve got them wrong. Sigh.
I spoke to my rabbi mentor about Jewish new year resolutions. (To clarify, my rabbi mentor is someone I’ve known since my university days where he was the Jewish chaplain; he isn’t the rabbi of the shul (synagogue) I currently belong to or the one I’m hoping to move to.) He said I shouldn’t push myself too hard and I should just focus on one or two key areas. I think improving my mental health (depression and social anxiety) is the main task for this year just as much as it was for last year, even if that doesn’t seem ‘religious’ (although it is). In terms of more overtly religious things, I am aiming to try to study one Mishnah a day on average (some days more, as I study on the train on work days and I may get the time, some days less, when the depression is bad or I want to study other things… I’m still not sure how this is going to work out exactly) as well as having kavannah (concentration) in prayer for the first paragraphs of the Shema, the Amidah and bentsching. Anything else would probably be pushing myself too far at a time when I’m under a lot of new stress (particularly if I go back to dating soon), although I’m glad that I’ve sort of ticked the three boxes of the three things that the world stands on according to the Mishnah in Pirkei Avot (in the name of Shimon HaTzaddik): Torah study, divine service (prayer in the contemporary context) and acts of kindness, albeit assuming dealing with my mental health can be considered an act of kindness if I am the main beneficiary.
I mentioned dating and I’m still not sure what to do about that. I’m very tempted to see if the shadchan (matchmaker) who deals with people with health issues can help me, but I’m still worried she only deals with Charedi people and only with physical, not mental illnesses. I suppose the worst that can happen is that she turns me away. More pertinently, I wonder how sensible it is to let myself be set up only with people with issues, to some extent in case I can’t deal with them (in which case I shouldn’t expect anyone to deal with my issues), but more because of fear it plays to my desire to be a white knight and ‘save’ a woman who probably doesn’t see herself as needing or wanting saving. Regarding the former point, I stayed with my ex for a long time after her undiagnosed issues came out and I only left her because she was refusing help while increasingly hurting me. Regarding the latter point, I have no idea what to make of it and would probably have to try it and see what happens. I do wonder if I’m ready to date seriously for marriage though. I’m not quite sure how I could tell. I certainly need to wait until I’m more settled with my longer hours and past the chaggim. On days like today I’m happier with myself than I’ve been in the past and not really lonely, but that doesn’t say very much. I feel I want to give to someone, but I have such little experience of anyone accepting anything from me that it is hard to tell if I am willing to do it enough. I am happier when I’m seeing someone who I think likes me, but I’m not sure that that really proves anything.
Luftmentsch 1, Social Anxiety 0
Shabbat (the Sabbath) was mostly good, somewhat to my surprise. I woke up a bit late, but I was overwhelmed by anxiety about work and stayed in bed for twenty minutes or so, making me very late for shul (synagogue). I did manage to meet my social anxiety CBT target of wishing a “gut Shabbos” to someone I don’t normally talk to (actually to two people) and I spoke to someone who started a conversation with me.
Then I walked to the flat of the woman I was dating a few weeks ago for lunch. The walk itself was about six miles and took just under an hour and a half, so a twelve mile, three hour round trip, by myself and without music etc. It was a little boring, but manageable, although I should have worn thicker socks and a hat as I ended up with blisters on my feet and a migraine in the evening. I have been so consumed with work anxiety this week that I ‘forgot’ to worry about lunch until I was walking there, when I suddenly started worrying that I would be too shy to talk to anyone and also that I would get lost and not be able to find the flat (I didn’t). Initially I did find it hard to speak to people, but once we all sat down to lunch I became more confident. It probably helped that I was next to someone who seemed quite talkative (in a good way) and asked me lots of questions about myself. I tried to speak quite freely about myself for a change, even though it took me to areas I normally try to keep quiet i.e. Doctor Who fandom and mental health (although I didn’t quite say that I have mental health issues). After a while I felt confident in joining in the general discussion around the table.
Unfortunately I couldn’t stay as long as I would have liked, as I wanted to be back in time for shul, but it was a boost to (a) be able to converse with other people my age and level of frumkeit (religiosity) about myself and my interests and (b) to realize that there are still plenty of other frum people roughly my age who are unmarried (of the eleven adults (plus one baby) present, only two were married) and none of them, male or female, seemed the unmarriable freaks I sometimes fear I am. This makes me feel more confident about resuming dating in a couple of months’ time, although I still think contacting the shadchan (matchmaker) who specializes in matching up people with health issues or other issues is probably the place to start.
On the way home I reflected that I might be more interesting than I usually assume. I do have a range of interests and hobbies, from Jewish learning and reading (Torah and Jewish history, nineteenth century Yiddish literature) to general history to science fiction, particularly vintage British TV science fiction to creative writing to jogging. I’ve met (and dated) plenty of people who struggle to find so many interests. This was not the first time I have thought this recently, but it is still a new and unusual enough thought that it is hard to believe it or think it without a degree of effort.
With these boosts to my self-esteem, my anxiety faded somewhat on the return trip. I managed to talk to people a bit at seudah (the third Shabbat meal) at shul and listened with interest to the shiur (class), although unfortunately it was around this time the migraine kicked in, so I couldn’t concentrate as well as I would have liked. (I’m going to get religious for a few lines so feel free to skip ahead if this doesn’t mean much to you.) The rabbi was talking about the paradoxical nature of the forthcoming Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) festival where we are supposed to feel fear of God, but also love of God. This seems contradictory, but he argued we start feeling fear that our lives for the next year are being decided today, move to a feeling of dependence when we realize that not just every year, but even every moment of life that we have is given by God and that we have no ultimate control over the matter, but this dependence in turn leads to appreciate for the lives we have and the realization that God has given us this life to grow into the best people we can be, which in turn leads to love for God. This was what I really needed to hear right now and it was unfortunate that my head was aching and I couldn’t take it all in.
I had to leave shul early during Ma’ariv because I felt too ill: my head was pounding and I felt sick; the fact that the shul is a very hot and poorly-ventilated building didn’t help. Again, there was a positive here as in the past I would have forced myself to say the whole of Ma’ariv despite my headache and stay until the end, whereas today I said the essential prayers quickly to myself and went home long before the rest of the congregation, which I think shows that I am beginning to put my own needs first when necessary and to worry less about the negative judgment of others.
So all in all a positive day. I have a busy day ahead of me tomorrow, so I should get to bed soon.
More on Social Anxiety
It’s 2.00pm. I’ve been up about an hour and am still in my pyjamas. I’ve spent the time I’ve been awake feeling incredibly depressed and anxious about work. I need to get myself together as it’s Shabbat in a few hours; also, I’m out for lunch tomorrow and need to be in a good state of mind if possible. It’s hard, though. I was too tired and depressed to daven Shacharit (say morning prayers); normally I would say a couple of important prayers in my pyjamas before eating if I was too depressed to get dressed and pray properly first, but today I couldn’t even do that. I want to email my boss apologizing again for my mistake and promising to do better in future, but I feel too depressed to do that properly too. I’m not really in a fit state to blog, but I wrote this post about social anxiety yesterday and saved it for today as I had already written one long post.
I feel vaguely disingenuous writing about social anxiety, as I had a psychological review a number of years ago that suggested I have strong anxieties about social situations, but not enough to be classified as social phobia/social anxiety. It’s pretty undeniable I get anxious about social situations, though. I was just looking at a check-list of social anxiety symptoms and I came across this: “I avoid speaking to co-workers or superiors for fear of being negatively evaluated.” This was more or less exactly what got me into so much trouble this week: I was worried how my superior would react to my question and so didn’t ask it, relying on information from colleagues instead when I should have gone straight to my boss. I guess we live and learn; I just hope there aren’t any negative long-term effects.
The same check-list also said, “I avoid dating due to my fear of being negatively evaluated” and while I’m not avoiding dating due to fear of being negatively evaluated per se, I am assuming that anyone I would like would evaluate me negatively and avoid me.
Incidentally, the same website suggests that social anxiety is related to OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). I knew that OCD was an anxiety disorder (the obsessions cause anxiety which the patient attempts to dispel with the compulsions), but it was interesting to learn how closely related it is to OCD, which I have been observing in myself lately. I am anxious that as a result of my mistake this week, I will not be allowed to take off the time I need for religious purposes in a few weeks’ time resulting in extreme anxiety (like when I have strong OCD anxiety) and ‘checking’ – in this case reassuring myself that I won’t get fired or be banned from taking time off or even that I could cope if I was fired or had to quit. I also ask my family for reassurance that this won’t happen. Compulsive avoidance of triggering situations and the cycle of compulsion worsening the illness are also said to be common to both OCD and social anxiety. As with OCD the solution (at least in part) is exposure to the fear, which is scary and difficult.
Oh, and on a not-quite unrelated subject, the shadchan (matchmaker) I mentioned who specializes in people with health issues was, according to google, brought up in England. No word on whether she deals with ‘modern’ people though. Hmm… It is tempting to get in touch with her, if I’m feeling better in a few weeks time, after the craziness of the chaggim (festivals) is over. It can’t hurt, anyway; the worst that can happen is that she says she doesn’t deal with people like me.