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to select and purchase new books for the library, alongside clearing out old stock that is either falling to pieces or out of date (obviously books date at different rates in different subjects.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.