Not Humiliated (Much)

I really need to have some dinner and go to bed (I went to bed late and struggled to fall asleep last night, then overslept in the morning and had to dash out to work, so I spent the day struggling with tiredness), but I thought I should add a quick post about my worries yesterday about being humiliated.

I was worried about a phone call I had to make to a rabbi I didn’t know.  Basically, some very religious Jews, before agreeing to date someone, will do a background check, even getting a rabbi or a shadchan (matchmaker) to interview the person they have been set up with (this is dating where you get set up with someone rather than asking them out yourself), getting references from their rabbis or teachers and so on.  My heretical view is that it’s a bit silly and the only way to get to know someone is to go on a date with them, but if I want to date frum women, I have to play by the community’s rules.

I had never done this before, so I didn’t know what to expect.  I think it went OK.  I made a bit of a fool of myself, but not as much as I feared I would.  I think I made a bit of a fool of myself when the rabbi asked me to describe myself and I didn’t really know what to say.  I said in the end that I am a person of integrity, family-focused.  All the other good stuff I could have said about myself (there is a bit!) went out of my head.  I hope my rabbi mentor will say some nice stuff about me when he gets asked for a reference.  I was asked what I do for recreation and I didn’t want to say “watch Doctor Who”!  I said I read a lot, write and jog.  I was worried the rabbi would ask what I write, because I didn’t want to say a book on Doctor Who and a blog about mental illness, but fortunately he didn’t ask.

I don’t know what he thought of me!

The rabbi said, “I’m sure you have questions about {woman I’m being set up with}” and I realised I hadn’t thought about that at all.  I mean, I wondered about her, but I hadn’t formulated any questions – I was so worried about what he would ask me, I didn’t even think of what I want to know about her.  I asked to know a bit about her in general terms.

One thing I was really worried about, that I didn’t study in yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) like most frum (religious) men, looks like it might not be such a problem.  So we shall have to see how it goes.

I find it hard to believe that good things can happen to me.  And if this works out, it will potentially be the best thing that has ever happened to me.  So I’m paranoid something will go wrong, that I’ll mess something up or that God is, for His own inscrutable reasons, just waiting for me to get my hopes up before He dashes them yet again.  But we shall see.

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Humiliations

I recently bought a book about social anxiety and it suggested deliberately doing embarrassing things to become accustomed to them and not worry about making a fool of yourself any more.  This was not a new idea to me; one of the mussar yeshivot (rabbinical seminaries focusing on ethical self-improvement), I think Novaradok, used to send its students on pointless errands where people would laugh at them (e.g. asking for eggs in a hardware store) so that they would learn that self-esteem comes from within, not from what others think of you.

I need to hold on to this.  Tomorrow, I am likely to be humiliated.  The person doesn’t mean to humiliate me, but he’s going to.  I can’t really go into more detail now, but my comment on this post might give some idea of what I’m currently going through.  The rabbis say embarrassment is like death, to the point where being embarrassed atones for sins for which you deserved to die.  I would say I hope the sins were worth it, but I don’t joke about things like that.  If I messed up, I deserve to suffer.  But I can’t say I relish the thought.

If I can’t be happy, why can’t I be neutral?  Why do I have to be depressed, anxious, lonely and despairing all the time?  Can’t I just be neither happy nor unhappy?  Not befriended and loved, but not cripplingly lonely?  And free of the periodic humiliations heaped on the sufferers of social anxiety?

I don’t have ideas above my station.  I don’t want to marry some impossibly good looking, perfectly kind, unbearably holy woman.  I just want to meet someone like myself.  Someone with flaws, but nice and pleasant who likes me as much as I like her.  I don’t know why this is so hard.

(Ugh, I just called myself “nice and pleasant”.  I’ll let that go for now.)

The Calm Before or After the Storm?

I was going to write a target-by-target breakdown of how I’ve been doing with the targets I set myself for the Jewish year (we’re already nearly six weeks in!) and for the half-term week, but I decided not to.  I know I’m not doing that well.  I know that the last week was pretty awful, although I did manage to do most of the chores that needed doing, despite my low mood.  I know that, whether I’m actually autistic or not, I don’t cope well with the removal of routines, even when I desperately need a break from work.  I think my ideal would be odd days off work or even afternoons off, but obviously that’s not a workable plan for a college with a strict academic timetable.

This reached a point over Shabbat (the Sabbath) where I was wondering how I could stay frum (religious) if it is so hard for me to keep the social aspects of halakhah (Jewish law) and Jewish culture (because of depression, social anxiety and borderline Asperger’s) and where I feel so distant from HaShem (God) so much of the time and get so little simcha shel mitzvah (joy in fulfilling the commandments).  Fortunately today I feel quite a lot better.  I don’t know why.  Something really scary but potentially good unexpectedly happened last night, but it will be a long wait until it comes to fruition.  Or it could just be that I’m looking forward to going back to work tomorrow.

Certainly I tried to give myself a not-too-stressful day today, as my last holiday day after a stressful ‘holiday’ week.  I did some shopping and a lot of Torah study to try to make up for the last week when I did very little (I realised that listening to shiurim (Torah classes) on my iPod while out and about is a good way of ‘multitasking’ extra Torah into the day without having to remove desperately needed relaxation time or other needed activities).  I also worked for a while on my book, which is one of my main enjoyable activities at the moment.  I will cook some plain pasta with a shop-bought sauce for dinner and I need to sew on some buttons, but other than that I am not planning on doing much else today, just watching some TV, making my lunch for tomorrow and hopefully getting an early night.

So today I feel calm and ready to go back to work, albeit not knowing if the weeks ahead will be another storm or a period of calm.

Thoughts on “Asperger’s and Me”

When I mentioned at my depression group that I had been thinking that, despite being assessed twice and told I don’t have Asperger’s Syndrome, that I do have it after all or at least am somewhere on the autistic spectrum, someone suggested that I watch Asperger’s and Me, a recent BBC documentary.  I watched it this evening and while I’m wary of posting on my blog for a third time this evening, I want to record a few thoughts I had while watching it and thinking about it afterwards.

  1. The presenter, Chris Packham, felt that he would not want to ‘cure’ his Asperger’s, because, while it caused him many difficulties, particularly with social interactions, it gave him many benefits, particularly in terms of heightened sensory awareness.  I have heard other people on the spectrum speak like this too.  I don’t want to get into the question of curing autism per se, which I know is very emotive for people on both sides, but I do feel that I don’t have many of those positives.  I don’t feel that I have particularly strong sensory awareness, for example.  I probably get irritated by noise, particularly talking, when I’m trying to work more than many people do and by light when trying to sleep, and when I was a child I was sensitive to certain fabrics, but I don’t think I would describe myself as having particularly acute senses the way Packham described his own perceptions.  I probably can immerse myself in a problem or train of thought more than some people and I have a good memory for things that matter to me (and a lousy one for things that don’t which, can be an embarrassing way of demonstrating my priorities e.g. not remembering birthdays without my diary), but that’s about as far as it goes.  I’m certainly not any kind of savant or technological whizz kid.
  2. That said, like Packham, I have managed to find a job that plays to my Aspie strengths.  He took his passion for wildlife and particularly for monologuing about it, and became a wildlife TV presenter.  I found work as a librarian, a job that needs Aspie skills of focus, attention to detail and repetitious adherence to strict rules.  The parts of my job that I don’t like and sometimes complain about here are the non-Aspie friendly bits, mostly dealing with people and their problems and moods.  I am also hoping to get some money out of one of my main special interests (Doctor Who), if I ever find a publisher for the book I’m writing on it.
  3. Speaking of special interests, I think Packham’s family sounded quite indulgent of his special interest in nature when he was growing up, inasmuch as he roped his sister into helping him find birds’ nests and his parents allowed him to keep a kestrel, which he had illegally taken from the wild.  When I was growing up, I felt that my interests were not always encouraged by those around me.  It goes without saying that the kids at school bullied me for being a geek and a Doctor Who fan (nowadays Doctor Who is a major global entertainment franchise, but in the nineties, when I was growing up, there had not been a new series for a couple of years and the programme had been a critical laughingstock for many years before that, being widely perceived as cheap, badly acted, badly made and out of date).  But harder to deal with was the attitude of certain adult authority figures in my life who branded me an “intellectual elitist”.  They thought that when I tried to talk about Doctor Who or history or any of the other subjects that interested me or even when I used long words, I was trying to show off how clever I was and make everyone else look stupid.  This was not my intention.  I genuinely didn’t realise that other people did not share my interests or that adults did not always understand the words I had found in my books and wanted to use.  But the term “intellectual elitist” has stayed with me my whole life and to this day I am wary of sharing things I know with people and absolutely hate to talk about Doctor Who except with other card-carrying fanboys and fangirls.
  4. Packham said that while he doesn’t agree with ‘curing’ autism, particularly not the ‘cures’ he investigated, he thinks there is one safe and painless cure: being alone.  However, this would not suit me.  I am an introvert and a bit of a loner and I do need time by myself.  Nevertheless, I could not cope with being completely alone.  I long for intimate company with a few good friends as well as being accepted by a religious community.  I also want to get married one day and have children.  Certainly my depression gets worse when I am forced to spend significant time alone.  Even just a day or two by myself can bring me quite far down.  I was pleased to see that Packham does have a relationship, albeit with someone he doesn’t live with, as well as having a parental relationship with his step-daughter.  His partner said after ten years she still finds the way his mind works fascinating, although I’m sceptical that anyone could ever find me fascinating.  I do think I would be more willing to force myself into social situations to please my spouse, though, although maybe that is wishful thinking on my part.  (On a related note, my parents were both insistent today that they thought that dating would be beneficial to me, but neither of them has as yet made inquiries about setting me up on a blind date with the daughter of friends of theirs who suffered from OCD.  I’m still not convinced that shared mental health issues are necessarily the best way to start a relationship, though.)

Are You Lonely Tonight?

Funnily enough, most of what I want to write about my Shabbat (Sabbath) was covered in the parasha post I just posted, about the desire for a place where I belong and for  children.  But I will quickly go into more detail.

I was thrown a bit on entering shul (synagogue) on Friday night to see it was laid out a bit differently and as a result I couldn’t sit in my usual place.  I thought I was OK with things like that, but yesterday I was not (another mark in favour of Asperger’s… I wish I had been reading autistic blogs before I had my formal assessment years ago, maybe I would have got a different outcome.  Or maybe not; it does seem that the criteria that the psychiatric community use to assess high functioning autism are not the same things that those on the spectrum see as the most notable or difficult elements of their lives).  Someone who probably counts as a friend (if I haven’t completely alienated him by turning down a lunch invitation the other week out of social anxiety… I’m never sure who I can count as my friends) asked where I was last week and if I was OK, which was nice.  I said I have some ongoing health problems but didn’t go into details because I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate and it was in a very public area.  I would have liked to have said more, but I was glad that I said anything about my health not being 100% as this is usually very hard to admit to.

I didn’t go to the oneg (Shabbat party thing) on Friday evening.  I felt too tired and was worried that I would just feel out of place and I wouldn’t be able to leave early because of the guest speaker.  I was too depressed to go to shul this morning which was probably social anxiety making me avoid it.  I’m going to have act to stop that becoming a habit, as I have missed shul on Shabbat mornings three consecutive weeks now (more if you count Yom Tov too).

I did manage to go to shul this afternoon, albeit that I dozed off after lunch and so arrived late.  We had the family seudah shlishit (third Shabbat meal) which was as awkward as I feared.  I think I was almost the only person over eighteen who wasn’t there with their spouse.  The one or two other single or divorced people must have decided to give a “family” event a miss.  Most people had children with, although I managed to sit on a table without young children, just two teenagers (twin brothers).  I sat with my friend H, but felt out of place and the noise of all the children in the room participating in a game and generally being noisy kids was difficult for me.  I was glad when it was time to daven Ma’ariv (say the evening prayers).

I actually just bought a new book about social anxiety for teenagers (because emotionally that’s where I still am, at least with social anxiety, sadly) and it says you have to force yourself to do things you don’t want to do.  From that point of view, I did the right thing in going to the seudah and the wrong thing in missing the oneg.  Yet that is not what it feels like at all.  I feel guilty for not going to the oneg, but that feels like my internal parental voice repeating what my parents would have told me when I was younger, not what I really feel, although that does not make it easier to ignore it.  I feel like I actually missed something I would not have enjoyed, because I would not have spoken to anyone there or felt that they were my friends.

On the other hand, I should feel good for going to the seudah, yet while I am glad I was seen to be joining in with the community, I didn’t really enjoy it very much (maybe a little bit).  I know I have to go to social events to make friends and to be accepted in the community, but when I manage to get to events, I find it impossible to speak to people and progress from being acquaintances to being friends.  The social anxiety book seems to be based on the premise that with repeated exposure, social interactions will become easier.  It does not seem to be geared up for people who might be on the autistic spectrum and whose brains are not designed to work in social situations the way neurotypical brains work.  And yet I really do want a few friends and a community where I belong.

On the way home I felt very lonely and despairing, feeling that God hates me and wants to hurt and punish me (I’m not sure that ‘punish’ is the right word, as half the time even I don’t know what I’ve done wrong, despite my over-active conscience).  In shul the rabbi spoke of the nachas (untranslatable, sorry) that God must be experiencing from so many Jews keeping Shabbat this week (because of The Shabbat Project/Shabbat UK) especially those who don’t normally keep it.  And I thought God must love the tzaddikim, the righteous Jews, the Jews who keep Shabbat, kashrut, davening etc. flawlessly.  And He must love the tinokim shenishba, the non-observant Jews who don’t know any better because they were brought up non-religious, particularly if they take a step towards observance.  And I’m sure He loves those who left observance because they were abused or their questions were not taken seriously.  But how can He love someone like me, who ostensibly tries to be good, but screws up everything, and I mean everything?  I don’t think I keep any mitzvot (commandments) properly; even today I think I messed up something regarding serving food the appropriate way on Shabbat.  At best I rely on leniencies and bedieveds (things that are OK after the event, but which should not be done deliberately in the first instance).

In shul I was wondering if I still believe God exists.  I think I do, although I rarely feel particularly close to Him.  It is hard to do mitzvot without getting any simcha shel mitzvah (joy in fulfilling the commandments) out of them, especially without feeling like a valued member of a community and especially given that I believe I have done karet sins and have no share in Olam HaBa  (the Next World i.e. Heaven), so I can’t hope for a reward in the future.

Torah from the Depths: Lech Lecha: Progeny and Place

What resonates with me most about this week’s sedra is the idea of impossible hopes.  Rabbi Lord Sacks has pointed out that what Avraham (Abraham) is worried about in this week’s sedra (which all the avot and imahot, the patriarchs and matriarchs, were worried about) is children who will carry on his ideals and a land in which to live out those ideals.  He further points out that throughout three thousand years of Jewish history, these fears have been the same: will there be another generation of Jews and will they have a land of their own?

But I am looking here at it in a personal sense rather than a Zionist or anti-assimilation sense.  The idea of progeny and place.  Somewhere were I can be myself and someone who, while being a separate individual, will in some way carry on the ideals that I live for.  Both of those seem very distant from me, just as they did for Avraham.  More immediate is the promise of the suffering that precedes the reward, the four hundred years of exile, but the suffering seems unending.

Talking/Not Talking

I went to my depression support group last night.  I hadn’t been for a couple of months.  It’s hard to go now I’ve started my new job because I come home tired and hungry and if I was going out to depression group (which is quite a way away) I would have very little time to eat something and try to relax a bit before going out again.  Also, with the Monday meetings (meetings are on the second Monday and last Thursday of the month) I would get home late and struggle to get up early for work the next day; I don’t work on Fridays, although I do have therapy then, so the Thursday meetings would be less of a problem, so I’m hoping to get back to going to those at least, having missed some due to Yom Tov.

I did feel I wasn’t always talking entirely coherently at depression group last night.  A couple of times I started saying something and then had to break off to add in another piece of information I needed to say before I got to the next bit.  I’m not good at talking spontaneously.  I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to say anyway, I just needed to talk.

It just occurred to me that although everyone there has depression and some have anxiety too, few people seem to display the shyness and communication difficulties I have.  I don’t have problems talking about my feelings when it’s my turn to talk, but I do struggle to talk to people during the tea break and usually go and browse the books in the small library of depression books rather than make awkward small talk.  I don’t know whether this is evidence in favour of Asperger’s or just social anxiety, but it is interesting.

When I came home, someone had written a blog post that triggered thoughts of something that happened to me that I’ve been wrestling with lately, wanting to write about it here or on Hevria, but not feeling that it was a good idea.  I emailed the blogger about it, but in retrospect I wonder if that was a mistake, as I don’t really know her and it was quite private.  I had emailed some friends about it, but they were busy and never got back to me and I don’t like to chase them.  I open up to people too much online, and not enough in the real world.

I overslept again today.  I have no idea how I will get up for shul tomorrow.  I’ve discovered that the oneg (Shabbat party) tonight is open not just to my shul (synagogue), but all the shuls in the area, which has further scared me off going, even though there is a guest speaker who a blogger I read raves about.  That makes me want to see what he’s like, but also irrationally puts me off (I asked the blogger out earlier in the year, but she wasn’t interested.  Rationally that has nothing to do with the speaker she likes, but somehow it makes me uncomfortable.  I suppose, as she said we have nothing in common, I wonder whether that means I won’t like the speaker and triggers fears about where I fit in the frum community which have been further triggered by seeing the subject matter of his talks over Shabbat).

I think I need to come up with some precise targets for the social anxiety, but also to work out where my boundaries are and accept that there are some things I am never going to be able to do and probably will not want to do.   My parents used to try to send me to lots of social things and I’ve internalised the voice telling me I should go to things, but I’m not sure there’s much point going if I’m not going to enjoy them much.  However, it’s hard to know what I will enjoy in advance.

Social/Anti-Social

So here we go again with social anxiety.  Having discovered that I haven’t alienated my friends yesterday I’m now plunged into worrying what I should do about some events that are happening at shul (synagogue) over Shabbat (the Sabbath).  First is an oneg (Shabbat party thing) on Friday night, then a “family seudah” (the third Shabbat meal) on Saturday afternoon.  I would unhesitatingly go to the seudah, as I go to them every week that we have them (spring/summer time), except that it’s billed as a “family” seudah, which makes me worry that I’m going to be virtually the only unmarried and childless person there over the age of eighteen, which will prompt thoughts about being unloveable and alone forever.  Even if there is nothing out of the ordinary about the seudah, I’ve now been prepared to feel like this by the name.  But I get the impression that there is a quiz for the children at the very least.

I was going to try to go to the oneg, largely because of my resolution to try to do more social things to attack the social anxiety but, having been depressed all week, I’m not sure I can face it.  My parents are out for dinner, so I’m not sure I wouldn’t be better off having a quiet evening in by myself.  I’ve been so depressed I’ve barely opened a book all week, so it would be good to read for a bit.  However, I’ve a feeling I will end up guilt-tripping myself into going and either having a lousy time not talking to anyone or standing outside crying, unable to get the courage to go in, both of which have happened on previous occasions when I tried to go to onegs.

I find it hard to say, “I don’t like social things and I don’t want to go to them” not least because it isn’t quite true.  I do enjoy some social things, it’s just hard to predict in advance which ones I will like and which ones to avoid.  Also, I was pushed to go to a lot of social things I disliked by my parents when I was younger and I’ve internalised the voice that says I must go to these things, even though I can’t find a good reason why I must go.

I sometimes wish I could be more open about my mental health issues and possible autistic spectrum disorder at work and at shul.  My life might be a bit easier if people knew.  At the very least, it might make me less paranoid that people are judging me when I turn up late for shul or miss it completely and it would save me having to lie about how I feel at work.  I have told my boss, my rabbi and one other person at shul a bit about my mental health, but not everything; I have not told anyone about the Asperger’s because it seems wrong to bring it up when I was told I don’t have it.  I think I have only briefly mentioned to my parents that I’ve been thinking a lot more about it.  In any case, I’m worried that if I say too much about my mental health or Asperger’s at work they will find a pretext to fire me.  That’s probably paranoia, but I do worry that if I say, “Look, I struggle with being on the issue desk and dealing with students sometimes because I’m autistic and not always good at social interactions and thinking on my feet” that will be seen as making excuses or, worse, they will say I won’t get better with time and will fire me.

It isn’t just the fear of dismissal (in all senses of the term) and stigma that keep me from admitting to my mental health issues and the Asperger’s.  It’s just a big subject to ‘casually’ drop into the conversation, especially when you have poor social skills as I do.  And the more I delay having the conversation, the harder it gets to say it.  I only told my boss about the depression because I thought it was relevant to my work and my rabbi because he said something about depression in his shiur (class) and I wanted to ask him something about it.  I did mention the Asperger’s at depression support group tonight (going there was also anxiety-provoking as I haven’t been for some months because it’s hard to go after work although going today it was quite positive in the end), but I think I only managed that because I knew that someone there had a child on the autistic spectrum which made me feel more confident about it.  Someone said there was a good programme on TV the other week about Asperger’s that I might try to watch on iPlayer when I’m at my parents’ house after Shabbat (I don’t have a TV in my flat (I play DVDs on my laptop) so if I watch iPlayer I can get arrested “because of the unique way the BBC extorts money is funded”).

 

Night

This is a follow on from the previous post.

I think I’ve just annoyed or lost two of my few friends.  I’ve probably alienated everyone on Hevria too.  I feel I don’t deserve to live.  I tell myself I don’t deserve to have friends if I’m going to alienate them, but it doesn’t help.  Also, if I feel lonely, I don’t know how not to say it.  It’s not intended as a criticism, I know they don’t live locally, but I still feel lonely and want to say I feel lonely.  I know I can phone them, but I don’t know what to say (Asperger’s) and I don’t want to interrupt them or make demands on them (social anxiety).  Also, I don’t always think the same way they do, which can lead to misunderstanding.

I usually do my hitbodedut meditation/prayer in the dark, but I had to turn on the lights tonight, even though I felt stupid for doing so.  I just felt I couldn’t sit in the dark, feeling awful, hating myself.  Hitbodedut is supposed to make one feel closer to God, but I feel sure God hates me as much as everyone else does.  I feel like I’ve alienated all my friends and family, so I’m sure I’ve alienated Him too.

I want to eat, but I shouldn’t as I’m not hungry.  I’m on three psychiatric medications and they all cause weight gain and I’ve put on a lot of weight lately and am heading towards being overweight, although I don’t look it.  I’ve got rid of all the junk food in my flat so I won’t eat it (except one tiny piece of chocolate, saved for an emotional emergency), but I want to eat cereal, porridge or muesli.  It’s comfort eating, but still fattening.  I don’t know what to do.

A Day in the Life

Disjointed ‘early morning’ (actually after 11.30am, but I’d only just got up) thoughts:

“I didn’t realise I was crying until I felt the tear on my cheek.”

“Why can’t I get anything right?”

“I’ve done things that would make everyone hate me if they knew about them.”

“I am such an idiot.”

“If I’ve been shomer Shabbat for half my lifetime, why am I still having anxiety dreams about breaking Shabbos?”  [It was also a yeshiva anxiety dream, which is at least new for me.]

“The world is sick and crazy” (this on looking at the BBC news website).

“I hate myself.  I hate myself.”

“I feel sick.  I sicken myself.”

“Would I rather be dead or happy?  I’m not sure.”

“Weirdo.  Freak.”

“Why would I be happy as myself?  I hate myself.”

Afternoon thoughts:

Thoughts of scratching myself with my (very blunt) desk scissors (not acted on).

I want friends, I even try to make contact, but they don’t get back to me and live far away anyway and I lack the confidence and energy to chase them or make new friends.  I doubt that I’ll get to the oneg (Shabbat party) organised by my shul this week, and as my parents are out for Shabbat dinner it will be a lonely Friday evening, feeling everyone is having fun without me (it’s Shabbat UK/The Shabbat Project).  I will try to get to depression group for the first time in ages

Mid-afternoon:

Retail therapy: I just bought a load of books.  I bought a book on the laws of muktzah (things that can’t be touched on Shabbat) from the local Jewish bookshop and three books from the charity shop: Homage to Catalonia (which I’d been meaning to get around to reading for ages), a popular economics book and The Writer’s Tale, Russell T. Davies’ book on writing Doctor Who.  The latter was only bought as background for the book I’m writing and I probably won’t read it all, because it’s huge and because I don’t like Davies’ writing or the persona he projects very much and I doubt I can stick with it for 700+ pages.  Maybe that was a mistake, though, as I’ll probably end up reading it (I just flicked through for a couple of minutes and already found something that (a) really annoyed me (for two different reasons) and (b) is important for my book so it’s swings and roundabouts.  I just have to be able to write the chapter without it turning into abuse.  Also, Davies says that Martha is the only one of his companions who is genuinely selfless, which probably explains why she’s my favourite).

Late afternoon: I’ve been sitting aimlessly browsing online for about an hour (to be fair, I did catalogue my new books on Goodreads and eat some fruit (yes, I catalogue my own books.  I am a librarian!)).  Even though I told myself not to.  Even though I didn’t read anything interesting and mostly ended up skimming pages without reading properly (and did read something upsetting in an old blog post by someone who reads my blog – upsetting that she’s struggling with life rather than something offensive).  Even though I told myself to read a book when I’m depressed or even watch a DVD if I’m too depressed to read a book.  Actually, now I think about it, I did spend some time browsing through the Russell T. Davies book, but that was annoying too.  What I’m really doing is procrastinating to avoid cooking dinner.  I feel like crying again.

Early evening:

Still haven’t cooked dinner.  Struggled to daven Ma’ariv (say the evening prayers) when I feel so distant from God and feel like He doesn’t care about me.

I realised I have barely spoken to anyone all week, just a couple of phone calls to my parents, a few words with shop assistants and davening.  I just phoned my Dad and kept shouting at him without really intending to do so.  My parents thought that I’ve been well this week, so I’m obviously becoming a better liar, but made me think that was what prompted him to ask why I’m depressed today, so if I’d been truthful, perhaps that wouldn’t have happened.  Or maybe it was just small talk again.  I don’t see the point of small talk.

My relationship with my parents does make me wonder if I could get married.  I’m not always good at tolerating their quirks and different personalities and I think there has historically been a lot of incomprehension (unstable, unsociable introvert vs. stable, sociable introvert and extrovert, incomprehensible (to neurotypicals) Aspie tendencies, depression and OCD… the depression is probably the thing they deal with best although to be fair they have promised that at my sister’s wedding, they’ll try to get a room for me to go off and be Aspie and introverted (and probably depressed, but I shouldn’t say that)).  All of which makes me wonder if I could cope with someone who wasn’t improbably like me… and if she was improbably like me, then I still probably wouldn’t get on with her, because I hate myself!

I managed to cook dinner in the end, and even did a few minutes (OK, about fifteen or twenty minutes) of Torah study.  I felt tearful again over dinner, watching Doctor Who (The Ribos Operation, not even a particularly bleak or emotional story).  I’ve edited out quite a bit from this post, because it was too personal and too bleak.  I didn’t want people worrying about me.  And yet, that just leaves me feeling lonelier.

There is so much pain in the world and I do so little to alleviate it.  I probably make things worse (e.g. shouting at my parents).  I wish I could do something.  I wish I could say that my suffering is somehow a kapparah (atonement) for the world.  That would make it all worthwhile.  But I’m not a tzaddik (saint).  I wish I was like my childhood hero, the fourth Doctor, saving the universe every week with a smile, a joke and bag of sweets.  There’s an often-repeated idea that your favourite Doctor is the one you grew up with, but I grew up with the first seven in rapid succession.  I think the fourth is my favourite (I have cosplayed, without calling it such) because he’s the one I most want to be: confident, casually intelligent, funny, charismatic and eccentric-yet-endearing (rather than shy, intelligent-but-too-shy-to-speak, serious and freakishly weird.  And I genuinely am as stupid as I seem).

“Quiet, you. I’ve been inside you. There’s not as much there as you think.”

I went to bed before 2.00am last night, but not by much.  I woke up late again, about 11.30, feeling lethargic and depressed, but unlike the last few days once I had managed to get up and eat some breakfast, I felt a lot better, so I decided I would go to see Blade Runner 2049 after all, despite my reservations (about my ability to concentrate, about the film making me depressed and about possible gore), primarily to try to get something positive out of this holiday other than a load of chores completed (most of which will have to be done again soon).

I tried to see it as a bit of an experiment regarding my tolerance for sensory stimulation.  I think I was mostly OK with loud noise, except when it was very loud and I could feel the vibrations.  But sudden loud noise was more problematic, not just explosions and gunshots, but people shouting and even a single note played on a piano in an echoey room.  They all made me jump and feel uncomfortable.

The film was also too gory for me, but I coped, mostly by avoiding looking at the screen during the violence.

Emotionally, I was mostly OK, but in the last fifteen minutes or so I started feeling quite lonely.  I don’t know if that was because loneliness was perhaps a theme of the film (the hero has a holographic girlfriend, presumably because as a replicant, he isn’t allowed a real one, but it could be that he just has “issues”), but in any case, going to the cinema or the theatre always makes me feel depressed and lonely particularly at the end, I’m not sure why (because there’s usually a love story?  Because people go to the cinema or theatre with their significant other?  Because the story in the film or play is neatly tied up, even if the ending is sad, whereas my life goes round in circles, on and on without getting better?  Or just because the actors get applauded for their work (literally in the theatre) and I feel no one notices me?).  I had noticed the depression before and know it’s something I just have to put up with in my very rare trips to the theatre or the cinema, but I don’t think I really registered the loneliness as something that happens until today.  But then on the bus on the way home I didn’t feel like reading and I wasn’t sure why, whether I was depressed or just wanted to rest my eyes, but listening to music I was suddenly on the verge of tears and was for some time afterwards.

Like the Doctor in Logopolis, I sometimes feel I should be running a tighter ship.  On the bus I was thinking that perhaps I should stop blogging, because it feels a bit like prostituting my deepest thoughts (well, some of them.  Most of them, if I’m being honest.  This is about as deep as it gets, sorry) for very little return.  I rarely get comments, although I love to get them (positive ones, anyway), but I think I offended the last person who commented, which wasn’t my intention.  I get a few likes on most posts, so I guess there are about a dozen people out there who get something out of what I write, although don’t ask me what.  I won’t stop, though.  I know I don’t have the self-control.  I’ve tried to stop confessional blogging in the past, but I always come back to it, unlike my other types of writing.  I’m obviously a very confessional person, at least online, which doesn’t fit at all with the image I would like to have of myself as someone self-contained and resilient.

This also makes me worry about relationships – that I’m too self-centred to cope with a proper relationship.  It’s easier to fantasise about what I would like to gain from a relationship than it is to think about what I can give.  Is that the same for everyone, I wonder, or is it just my romantic or even social inexperience?  Or am I just plain selfish?  I should have the evidence of my one previous relationship to disprove that (where my ex repeatedly told me that I was good at being there for her, better than she was at being there for me), but it’s hard to hold on to something like that when a holographic girlfriend seems like the only one who could be interested in me, and not be pushed away by my mental health issues and borderline autism and the solipsism they sometimes induce.

Words, Words, Words

It seems I can’t cope with being on holiday.  I feel very depressed again.  It’s hard to do anything.  I have a list of holiday chores.  Most of them should be relatively quick and easy: clean the flat, make some dinners at least partly from fresh ingredients (omelette tonight, more ambitiously lentil dal tomorrow), do more shopping, continue sorting out my finances, do some proper Torah study, sew two buttons on my trousers and various other things, but everything takes longer than it should because I just want to curl up in bed.  It’s hard even to watch a DVD (see below).  I spend time aimlessly surfing the net without really reading anything.

I was up late last night.  I told myself I was watching Blade Runner, but I actually watched less than an hour of it.  I kept stopping.  Partly, I kept wondering if Blade Runner is really about autistic people.  The plot is about Deckard, a detective (‘blade runner’) who hunts down rogue replicants, androids that are deemed non-human because they can’t feel emotions.  But, the subtext of the film suggests, this is wrong, factually and morally, and the replicants can learn to feel emotions and they shouldn’t be killed.  Similarly, people think autistic people can’t feel emotions whereas we simply struggle to understand and express them.  The replicants struggle to learn human emotions because although they are created as adults, they only have a lifespan of four years, so they are effectively adults learning emotions like children.  This is how I feel.  I feel not so much like a child, but like an adolescent, with my emotions and many of my life experiences (little romantic or work experience).  Maybe that’s reading too much into it.

(Also, did you notice I automatically used “we” for autistic people without qualifying it by saying that I don’t have a proper ASD diagnosis?  I guess I’ve been thinking of myself as autistic-but-misdiagnosed lately.)

It was also hard to concentrate on the film because I was angry with God for hurting good people, or letting them get hurt.  I argued with Him, pleaded with Him.  I don’t think He agrees with me.  Sometimes I think it would be easier if I didn’t believe in Him, but to me the world only makes sense with Him.  There’s too much that doesn’t add up for me without God and Torah and Judaism.  So, we’re kind of stuck with each other.

Anyway, I watched about half of Blade Runner until I was too tired to go on and finished watching it this afternoon, fast-forwarding through the gory bits.  I don’t think I’m going to see the sequel in the cinema, though.  I don’t feel up to living in that bleak future for three consecutive days.

Getting back to how I feel at the moment, there is a quote, attributed to various people, that goes, “The grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for.”  I have something to do, inasmuch as I have a job, during term time, although it isn’t enough to make my mood much better.  I don’t have someone to love and I suspect I never will.  I want someone I can love and be tender with, and who will love me the same way.  I want to marry a sweet, girl-(geek)-next-door-type, but I can’t imagine one being interested in me.

And I feel like I have nothing to hope for.  I’ve struggled with mental illness certainly all my adult life, going back an indeterminate way into adolescence and maybe even childhood.  How can I hope for things to get better?  Things are a lot better than they were… and yet I am still very depressed most of the time.   I try to open up to people a little bit to make friends, but even on the rare occasions I can open up, people aren’t interested or I don’t know what to say or how to progress the friendship.  They don’t respond to me.  I spend much of the day aimlessly surfing the internet (do people still say that?), ostensibly searching for something interesting and thought-provoking or helpful to read, but really looking for connection, for someone who thinks like me (I’m not even talking romantically or even platonically now, just a think-piece author who shares my slightly unconventional views).  Or checking email endlessly hoping someone will get in touch or will like one of my posts (I’ve given up on hoping for comments).

I feel I should give up on dating.  I don’t feel ready for it.  I’ll probably never be ready for it.  I’m just too messed up for anyone to love.  And I know that (contrary to what I quoted my father as saying yesterday), if I’m not happy by myself, I won’t be happy with someone else.  Happiness comes from within, etc., but my ‘within’ is just loneliness and despair.  The problem is, my parents are supposed to be trying to set me up with the daughter of friends of theirs.  I should tell them not to, but somehow I can’t, I don’t know why.  Maybe it’s because my parents keep telling me how well I’ve been doing lately, how proud they are of me and I don’t want to disappoint them by telling them what a mess-up their son is (I haven’t phoned them today because I don’t want to tell them how bad I feel).  Or maybe I just hope being set up with someone who has experienced mental health issues would work, somehow, even though I suspect we don’t have much else in common.

Half the time I don’t have the energy to move.  I can’t get involved in anything.  Reading is just words, music is just noise.  I can’t write coherently.  I have things to do and no energy or motivation to do them.  I can’t use my holiday productively and I can’t use it to relax.  In a few days I will be back at work and desperate for another break.  I’ve only managed a few minutes of Torah study, yet I feel bad about not joining the Mishnah study scheme I mentioned the other day.

Later: I checked two eggs for kashrut purposes without slipping into OCD and then made and ate an omelette (it fell to pieces when I lifted it out of the frying pan and ended up being more like scrambled eggs).  I read a Jewish book for a few more minutes while the eggs were cooking.  I also submitted some mini sagas to Hevria earlier, the first writing I have sent for a major forum since my attempt to sell a Doctor Who article to Den of Geek failed.  I emailed my landlady about the bathroom door jamming and I sorted out the papers in my work folder, a task I was dreading but which only took about five minutes once I sat down to it.  I also set up a direct debit and a standing order to pay my shul (synagogue) fees and emailed a friend to try to organise a social thing, although I have got problems with the direct debit that I need to sort tomorrow.

So I have achieved a few things today, but not enough to consider this a productive holiday.  At the same time, I haven’t enjoyed myself enough (at all, actually) to consider this a refreshing break.  It’s like one long interminable Sunday afternoon, and a dark and wet autumn one at that.  I wish I had someone to talk to, just to chat with (I don’t mean phoning the Samaritans), but the only people I could phone are my parents and, as I said, I don’t want to tell them how I feel.  Anyway, it’s late now.  Sometimes I just feel lost.

Up and Down

I didn’t intend to write four posts in a little over twenty-four hours, but a couple of things happened that I wanted to get down before I forgot and the day has been a rush of emotions that I needed to get out of my system.  In no particular order:

  1. I was just looking through my diary for the past six weeks or so (or two months, if you want stretch it back to when I re-started work on 21 August).  A lot has happened.  I’ve actually achieved quite a bit in terms of some social things, as well as juggling work and Yom Tov (Jewish festivals).  No wonder I’m exhausted!  That actually makes me feel a bit more positive, knowing that I have achieved some things (maybe not big things for other people, but big for me with my depression, OCD, social anxiety and Asperger’s).
  2. I spoke to my parents the other day about dating and marriage.  I said that I’m not sure whether dating is a good thing or whether I am emotionally ready to marry yet, given my mental health.  My Dad said that he felt that if I could find someone who is a good match for me, it would be very good for my mental health.  I suppose having someone who is on my wavelength to talk to would be helpful.  It is hard to believe such a person exists, though, and that my tendency to self-sabotage and my social anxiety and gaucheness wouldn’t derail things.  I hope I am ready to give to someone as well as to receive (to be fair, when I was in a relationship, I gave a lot and got very little back, so that is hopeful).
  3. A lot of people from my shul (synagogue) have signed up for a big scheme to study four mishnayot a day.  It’s supposed to take about fifteen minutes a day.  I was tempted to join, but don’t think it’s a good idea for several reasons.  I’m struggling to do just one mishnah a day (admittedly that’s with quite a bit of commentary, but I think I wouldn’t understand a lot of the mishnayot without commentary); my rabbi mentor advised me to stick to one mishnah a day; and the group study is starting with a different seder (order: the Mishnah, the primary text of the Jewish Oral law, is divided into six sedarim or orders each dealing with a different topic.  They’re starting with the second order, Moed, dealing with festival laws, presumably because it is more relevant to daily Jewish life than the first order, Zeraim, dealing mostly with agricultural laws that haven’t been practised for nearly two thousand years, but that’s where I started).  Still, it’s a shame I can’t join, as some kind of external target might have given me an incentive to keep going and while I dislike broadcasting my religiosity, it probably wouldn’t be a bad thing to show my rabbi and my community I’m not a total am ha’aretz (ignoramus, but with the implication of also not being religiously observant) because they are probably wondering just how frum (religious) I am considering my patchy attendance at shul and total non-attendance at educational events.  Religious study is REALLY important in Orthodox Judaism, particularly for men.  It’s more important than prayer and is treated as if it is more important than most of the other commandments, including acts of kindness.  I’m really bad at it, so I feel that I’m a bad Jew, and that everyone else thinks that I’m a bad Jew.  So far as I can tell, 90% of the people reading this are non-Jews and sometimes I wonder why I can’t seem to connect with my co-religionists, online or in real life.  Do they all disdain me for not being frum enough?  Or is that the social anxiety speaking?  Maybe no one notices or cares about me.  Still, joining in with my community on something would have been nice, especially as I missed the educational event on Friday and I’m not sure I’m going to get to the oneg (Shabbat party) this Friday because of social anxity.
  4. Also, right now I really hate myself for reasons I’m not going to broadcast, but I feel a lousy human being.  I’ve never read the nineteenth century Jewish mystic, Rabbi Tzaddok HaKohen of Lublin, but I’ve seen him quoted as saying, “Sometimes a person will face a test which is so great that it is impossible for him not to sin; it is as the Sages said, ‘What could the boy do, to avoid sinning?’”  It occurs to me that if this is true, then a person can be caught doing something he can’t avoid, but feeling intensely guilty afterwards anyway.  This is a hard test.
  5. Trying to watch Blade Runner, but I can’t really concentrate on it.  Doctor Who and Dad’s Army are more my level at the moment, in terms of concentration level, lighter tone and also coming in short doses (25-30 minutes rather than nearly 2 hours).  Not sure if I’m going to bother going to the cinema to see the sequel this week, might just get the DVD and watch it in bits, which is what I suspect I will do with the first film.  A pity, as I would like to use those free cinema tickets and test how I react to the cinema from an Asperger’s point of view.
  6. I just interrupted the film to check my blog reader.  I’m not sure why; call it depressive poor concentration.  There’s a blog post from someone whose blog I follow with similar problems to me, except more of them and worse.  She’s currently in hospital and suicidal after being sexually abused during a previous hospital stay.  I get angry with God over things like this.  I get frustrated enough over my own issues, but why does a pleasant and intelligent young woman with everything to live for have to get treated like this until she wants to die?  From her blog post and her Twitter feed, she sounds seriously suicidal and I’m very concerned for her.  It makes no sense to me and makes me furious with Him.

“The heartache and the thousand natural shocks/That flesh is heir to”

When I set up this blog, I wanted to write less personal, more objective essays about Judaism and mental health.  Somewhere along the way that got abandoned, as my creative energies went into my Doctor Who book and this blog became a place to vent.  I’m afraid this post is no exception.

I seem to have already drifted into holiday depression, although unlike in the previous school holiday, I was pretty depressed before this one even started.  Lacking a clear objective during the day, not to mention a distraction, it is all too easy to fall back into depression.  Even trying to create objectives does not help as, unless they carry some kind of externally-enforced penalty for non-completion, it is too easy to postpone them until late at night or tomorrow (or indefinitely) when the depression is strong and my willpower is weak.

I let myself sleep in this morning.  Having fallen asleep around 3.00am (very bad, I know – I slept too much during the day), I woke up at 11.30am.  I was too tired to really get going.  I got up and ate some breakfast, but mostly wasted the next couple of hours reading aimlessly online and doing the Doctor Who Magazine crossword and occasionally going back to bed.  I felt incredibly lethargic, totally lacking in energy.  It’s hard to describe this kind of feeling to someone who hasn’t experienced depression, how you can sleep for over eight hours after a day of napping and still wake up exhausted.  It’s a bit like jet lag, but permanent.  I missed Shacharit (morning prayers) completely and tried not to feel bad about it, but it’s hard.

Aside from doing some shopping, I haven’t managed to do very much today.  I’m very much in the “depressive holiday” mode of sleeping late, struggling to get the energy, motivation and enthusiasm to do very much and spending ages aimlessly browsing online (I should at least read some of the various books and journals I’m trying to read at the moment!).  I always feel drained coming back from shopping and I’m not sure how much is being physically tired because of the depression (I don’t drive, so I have a twenty or forty minute round trip (depending which shops I am going to) excluding the actual shopping itself, the latter half of the trip with heavy bags) or emotionally drained from being around other people from the social anxiety and Asperger’s.  It doesn’t help that I usually do shopping on the way home from work, when I’m already exhausted.  I suppose it doesn’t really make much difference, I’m just curious.

I’m trying to make  up my mind whether to go to the cinema to see Blade Runner 2049.  The first Blade Runner film is great (based on an equally great, but rather different book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, one of my favourite authors).  The problem is Blade Runner already pushes my tolerance for gore, and it’s only a twelve certificate whereas the sequel is a fifteen.  I’m a wimp and I don’t like gore, I freely admit it (I’m also not sure why improbable science fiction and fantasy films suddenly need to be full of ‘realistic’ gore).  I’m tempted to just get the DVD, watching on my laptop being a less immersive experience and one that allows me to fast forward the gory bits.  Also, the original film is fairly bleak and I suspect the sequel is equally bleak (again, not sure why people equate ‘adult’ with ‘bleak’ in science fiction these days – an argument with a long pedigree in Doctor Who fandom) and I don’t really have a head for that right now.  And it’s long.  Nearly three hours excluding the trailers.  Again, concentrating like that is hard with depression, whereas with a DVD you can have a break.  On the other hand, it would be nice to do something out of the ordinary with my week off work and I do have free cinema tickets from a promotion my bank was running.  I also want to test how I deal with being in the cinema.  I don’t go to the cinema much (only about once a year) and I want to see if that’s just because I’m not that interested in film as an art form, or if the cinema actually sets off Asperger’s triggers with noise and light and crowds.  I know I often feel depressed after going to the cinema or the theatre.

Speaking of Asperger’s, I just did this test for Asperger’s from Cambridge University’s Autism Research Centre.  Apparently I have an AQ or Autism Quotient of 37, where 16 is the average in the general population and 32 or higher is the usual for people on the autistic spectrum.  The test isn’t supposed to be a diagnostic test per se, but I guess it does show what I’ve been saying, that I’m very autistic-like even if I’m not actually autistic.  I will probably never know for sure if I’m “really” on the autistic spectrum.  Some of the questions were a bit odd though, particularly the one about not liking reading fiction (the assumption seems to be that autistic people can’t understand emotions and therefore would get little out of reading fiction), which anecdotal evidence says is wrong-headed.  I’m certainly an avid reader and always have been, although I guess my preference is for novels of ideas and plot rather than character – my favourite genres are science fiction and golden age detective fiction, both plot- and, in the case of SF, ideas-driven rather than character driven, although I do read and enjoy character-driven classics (I’m currently reading and loving Daniel Deronda by George Eliot, which is very much a novel of character).  But I think I do sometimes struggle to fully understand motivation in character-based fiction and I certainly prefer the plot-driven original run of Doctor Who to the character-based modern iteration.

I should really do some Torah study, but I feel so down and drained that it’s hard to do so, certainly hard to do any Mishnah study.   I was reading something today on whether Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) Jewish society is good or bad for people with Asperger’s.  The argument goes that, on the one hand, people on the autistic spectrum tend to be individualistic and quirky and Charedi society discourages a lot of individuality, particularly in terms of dress and outside interests (depending on just how Charedi you are, you might not be allowed any outside interests at all other than Torah study, particularly if you are a man).  On the other hand, people on the autistic spectrum tend to like clear and precise rules for everything, especially social interactions and have difficulty intuiting things and Orthodox Judaism has a wealth of explicit regulations, both halakhic (from Jewish law) and societal.  Personally, speaking as someone who does not really consider himself ideologically Charedi, but who attends a moderate-Charedi shul (synagogue) for non-ideological reasons (I basically consider myself Modern Orthodox Machmir but attending a moderate Charedi shul), I’m not sure.  I don’t know how things would work out for women at all, I just don’t know enough about Charedi women and the social and religious expectations on them.  As for the men, I think if you can make your special interest Torah study, specifically Talmud study and your Asperger’s manifests in a love of and skill at detailed, hairsplitting argument then you will go far in the Charedi world, maybe even ending up as a Gadol (a great scholar and religious leader).  On the other hand, if, like me, you find Talmudic study difficult and boring (I would rather study Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible), Midrash or Jewish history) and your love of details does not manifest as a head for complex Talmudic arguments and, worst of all, you have a special interest in something from secular culture (Doctor Who in my case), then the living in the Charedi world will be rather difficult.  Even beyond the normal social interaction problems experienced by people on the spectrum, Jewish men in the frum (religious) world are expected to invest significant amounts of time in Torah study at the expense of other hobbies and interests.  Modern Orthodox culture would allow a certain amount of cultural interests (Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, one of the leading Modern Orthodox leaders of recent years, had a PhD in English literature from Harvard and wrote about the ways that a knowledge of literature can help with religious study and understanding; also, the Modern Orthodox world increasingly allows more leeway for non-Talmudic religious study), but I feel I have to hide my Doctor Who fandom in shul.  This is not new to me, as I grew up as a Doctor Who fan when Doctor Who was deeply unfashionable and had to be hidden even in secular society for fear of being branded a geek and, out of habit, I largely hide my fandom even at work, but it is frustrating to have to hide it at shul.  On the plus side, though, I think dating for people with Asperger’s is somewhat easier in the Charedi world.  While there is more stigma around neurodiversity and mental health in the Charedi world than the secular world, in the Charedi world one does not have to actively approach strangers in bars and singles events to date them; rather, one is (hopefully) set up on blind dates with strangers who are deemed to be compatible and although the actual dating is still hard at least it is easier to get a date in the first place.  I dated three women this year which doesn’t sound a lot, but is as many as I have dated in the rest of my life, and two of those I only met because I was set up on a blind date with them.

Torah from the Depths: Noach: Just for a Day

I thought I would write about Noach’s (Noah’s) drunkenness, what Rabbi Lord Sacks describes as his survivor syndrome, but oddly the thing that grabbed my attention this week was the rainbow and God’s promise not to destroy the world in a flood again.  It’s an oddly circumscribed promise, as if God had His lawyers draft it: I won’t destroy the world in a flood again (but maybe some other way, or maybe I’ll let you destroy it yourselves).  Not that I think that God will destroy the world like that, but that He isn’t giving any real reassurance here.

From a mental health point of view that resonated with me.  I have lost track of the number of times I have felt myself to be “recovered” only to fall back into depression.  I think the message here is that every recovery is only in this partial way.  Every recovery is only for today.  And from this we have to try to build a new world, without any strong guarantees that the sky won’t fall on our heads tomorrow.

Insecurity

It’s been a tough couple of days.  I don’t normally work on Fridays, but I had to yesterday as it was a staff development day.  Part of the training was a lecture on Prevent, the government’s counter-extremism programme.  One slide on the slideshow showed the factors that should be warning signs of potential extremism.  I didn’t take notes, but I noticed that I had a lot of the signs, even more when I was an adolescent.  Things like social isolation, mental illness, anger at people around me and things in the news… it’s quite scary.  This was not the first time I have had a thought like this – there but for the grace of God, etc.  Maybe I’m lucky that there aren’t any Jewish terrorist groups out there.  Still, I took those negative feelings in different directions than violence.  I turned the anger inwards into depression and OCD, which wasn’t good, but was probably better than projecting it onto others and hating them (God forbid).  And I took my pain and turned it into empathy.  But it is still a scary thing to confront the potential for violence and anger that lurks inside you.  Growing up, my sister used to hit me and my Mum would tell me to hit her back and she would stop, but I never did.  I was too scared of where that road would take me.  I don’t drink for the same reason, I’m too worried what alcohol or drugs could do to me.

Having had to go in to work on Friday, I was exhausted today.  I need that day at the end of the week to unwind before Shabbat (the Sabbath) and especially before shul (synagogue) and the socialising that entails.  I missed shul this morning, but I was due to do security duty at 11.30am, so I dragged myself out of bed shortly beforehand and walked down there, only to find the person doing the shift before deep in conversation with someone else.  They both said they would stay out there to continue their conversation and I should go into shul instead.  I felt bad about this, but they insisted.  I wouldn’t go into shul, though, because I thought they would be nearly finished or already on the kiddish (refreshments after the service), but it was hard to explain that I didn’t want to go in.  I said I had davened  (prayed) elsewhere (which was basically a lie, as I’d only had time to say about five minutes of prayers before leaving and I implied I was at another shul when I meant I was at home) and, after asking (I think jokingly) why I was davening somewhere else, they said I should go to the kiddush.  I didn’t feel like doing that either as I was feeling too depressed to be in a social situation and I couldn’t face eating cake and crisps so soon after getting up, so I said I wasn’t feeling well (basically another lie as I implied I was physically ill when it was more mental illness that was the issue).  So I went home, but I felt bad as these were two of the friendlier people in the shul to me and they were both being nice to me, but I slunk off back home because I felt depressed and socially anxious, but I couldn’t even be honest with them about my behaviour.  I felt like I should get a badge that says “HI, I’M LUFTMENTSCH!  I’M DEPRESSED, SOCIALLY ANXIOUS AND BORDERLINE AUTISTIC!” to “warn” people about me or even just to explain my eccentric behaviour and the white lies I continually tell about how I am (saying I’m OK when I’m not, implying I’m physically ill when I’m mentally ill, making excuses to avoid social events – this is hard because I’m basically a very honest person, but it is hard to be honest about mental health and neurodiversity).

This came the day after the rabbi had asked me to attend an educational event on Friday evening, and I said I would consider it, but didn’t show up because I was too tired from work, again leading to my feeling bad for lying to him (as I knew I was unlikely to go) and for missing something that would have helped me to meet more people from the shul.  (I reckon that if I want to meet more people, attending educational events is a better bet than social events, because it’s easier to deal with a text or a class than just talking, even despite my feelings of religious and intellectual inferiority around the other men from the shul, who all seem to be better Jewishly-educated than I am.)

Today ended up being a wasted day.  It wasn’t very Shabbosdik (Shabbat-like), but it wasn’t exactly a relaxing mental health day either.  After having slept in late then dashing to shul for security and then coming straight back home, I dozed before lunch and then slept for longer after lunch.  I was feeling too lethargic and depressed to go back to shul in the afternoon for Minchah, seudah and Ma’ariv (afternoon service, the third Shabbat meal and the evening service).  I only did a few minutes of Torah study.  I read for fun a little bit, but not much.  I was too lethargic and depressed to do much.  Mostly I ate, slept and talked to my parents.  The OCD was a bit worse too.  And now it’s gone 10.30pm and I haven’t had any dinner.  I feel vaguely hungry, but I don’t really feel like eating, but I need to eat something to take my medication and, anyway, if I don’t eat something I’ll get hungry when I want to go to bed.

Finally, as a supplement to what I wrote about my financial situation the other day, I spoke to my parents after Shabbat about my financial situation and dating, particularly my feelings that I don’t earn enough because I can only work part-time and am ten years behind my peers on the career ladder from having been unemployed through illness for so long.  My Dad said I’m never going to be rich, which I knew already (I’m a librarian, for goodness’ sake!), but he felt I could get married, but this was because he was willing to help support me, which wasn’t really what I wanted to hear.  I still feel like I’m a child, having to rely on my parents so much and being aware that I would probably never be rich enough to help my own children in the same way (if I ever manage to have any).  I don’t really want to be rich, I don’t need much money, particularly if I don’t ever get married, but I would like to be independent and more settled and secure and to at least have the possibility of getting married some day.  Because right now I feel no one would ever want to marry me for financial reasons as well as my weird interests and personality, unclear position in the Jewish community and mental health issues.

(I also realised today that I’ve experienced romantic rejection about seven times this year, which is some kind of record for me.  Two of those were mutual things, but all of them were frustrating and upsetting.  I suppose it’s good that I’m putting myself out there, but it frustrating when no one the only people who are interested are not compatible.)

Stuff Happens

“I might as well be useless for all it means to you”

I have been feeling better at work the last few days, although I made another mistake yesterday.  It was pretty much all my fault this time.  I’m not sure if I had Asperger’s “rigid thinking” and “poor social interaction” or if I was just stupid and inept this time.

“You’ve had your fun, you don’t get well no more”

The price for feeling well at work seems to be feeling terrible before and after it.  I still struggle to get up and get going in the mornings because I feel tired and depressed.  I’m barely saying anything at all of Shacharit (morning prayers) and I worry that if things get any worse I’ll have to skip it entirely.  The news and social media the last few days have left me feeling alternately angry, depressed, anxious, despairing, frustrated, silenced, guilty, ashamed, self-loathing and righteously indignant.  I started to write a blog post yesterday, decided it was better not to post it, emailed a friend saying some of the embarrassing stuff I would have said in the post and then somehow managed to send it to her sister too.  Not my finest hour.

“You said, ”Young man, I do believe you’re dying'”

My commute to and from work has been getting harder too.  I’ve been having intense ‘pure O’ (obsessional) thoughts about jumping in front of a train.  I’ve had these on and off for years, but at the moment they’re really intense and distressing.  It’s not suicidal ideation as I don’t want to die, I just think about it.  I can’t even stand back from the edge of the platform until the train comes in as at rush hour only those people standing closest to the train can squeeze on to the over-crowded train (don’t even mention how much of a death trap the London Underground would be in the event of a terrorist attack or even an accidental fire, I’ve spent years staying sane by not thinking about that.  Today the train smelt like it was catching fire; the driver said it was just the brakes overheating, but it was quite scary, and we weren’t even underground at the time and could theoretically have escaped).

I also find it harder and harder to stay on the crowded trains in the morning and evening rush hours, not that there is anywhere to go.  The morning isn’t so bad as my station is the first on the line, so I always get a seat and I try to bury myself in a Jewish book (if I’m awake enough), but I still get somewhat more anxious as the train fills up.  The evening is harder, though, as I generally don’t get a seat for the first twenty minutes or so, standing pressed against other people and unable to read, listening to music on my iPod (listening to a lot of Elvis Costello recently was probably a bad choice).  I don’t know what the difficulty is, if it’s invasion of space or the fear of being trapped and not being able to get off at my stop, but I just feel hot (which I probably am, dressed for winter in a tiny metal cylinder full of equally hot people), oppressed and suffocated.  A couple of times I’ve been worried that I’m about to have a panic attack, as my father has had on crowded Tube trains.  I hope I’m not developing another neurosis, because that would be too much.

“But there’s no danger, it’s a professional career”

I catalogued a career guidance book today and, flicking through it, I whimsically looked at the entry for librarians.  Big mistake.  I should say I’m vague about money.  I’m neither spendthrift nor miserly, I can budget and I know how much my rent and food cost, but money doesn’t matter much to me and I’m only vaguely aware of what is a ‘normal’ salary and how much many things cost.  My Dad is always trying to get me to move my money to better bank accounts, but my parents have never spoken much about how much they earn or how much things cost, which probably contributes to my vague feelings of unease about money.  My parents still help me out financially, somewhat against my will.  I would still need their help a bit, even on my new salary, but I could just about pay most of my bills.  But my parents want to help me more so I can save a bit, and have some money for luxuries, although luxuries for me are a few second-hand books and DVDs (I bought two good-condition books for 50p each today from the library withdrawal pile, one popular history, one popular science) and I really don’t spend much other than that.  I don’t really go out, as my friends all live on the internet.

However, looking at how much a librarian should be earning compared with how much I am actually earning, and how much other professionals are earning (most people in my milieu, by which I mean educated young professionals, are accountants, doctors, lawyers, the traditional Jewish professions), drove home a few things that I’ve been vaguely-but-not-concretely aware, mostly that while I am not on the breadline, I am far from rich, mostly because I am still working part-time (and the experience of the last few weeks has shown me that I’m not ready to work five days a week, although I would still like to work through some of my enforced holidays), because I lost about ten years of my professional life to depression, being too ill to study or work, and because I have chosen to work in a lower-paid sector.  I can’t really complain about the last one, as I knew that going in, but the others worry me a bit.

As I said, my income is low, but so is my expenditure, hence happiness in a Dickensian balanced-budget sense (except for my parents helping me).  I’ve been a bit envious of my friends and peers before for having large flats or houses, but more for the lifestyle they entail in terms of being able to invite friends over, needing a house because of starting a family and so on.

No, the problem is I still want to marry and start a family of my own.  I obviously don’t want to marry someone who just wants to marry someone rich, but I would want to marry someone who wants a family and she would be entitled to expect me to be able to at least contribute something reasonable to the family budget, especially given that the default in the Orthodox-but-modern community is for the man to be the main breadwinner in the household.

“They beat him up until the teardrops start/But he can’t be wounded ’cause he’s got no heart”

This led me to think that I shouldn’t be thinking about marriage.  Not now, probably not ever, really.  It’s silly really.  I spent the last six weeks waiting for the end of the Yom Tov (festival) season so I could start dating, if I was well enough, but given the state of my mental health the last couple of weeks and my financial worries, I am too scared of rejection to go to a shadchan (matchmaker) or pursue the match my Mum suggested.  I’m too fearful that I’m too depressed, too screwed up and now too poor for anyone to be interested in me.  But I still get lonely.

“I woke up and one of us was crying”

Autumn Thoughts, Depressive Thoughts, Obsessive Thoughts

The nights are drawing in, literally and metaphorically.  I can’t believe it’s starting to get dark at 6.00pm; it seems like only a few weeks ago I had to stay up late for sunset to daven Ma’ariv (say the evening prayers).  My depression, bad enough during the summer, often seems to get worse in October-November time.  Most of my episodes have started in autumn or winter.

I was off work today to balance having to go in this Friday for a staff development day (I usually work Mondays to Thursdays).  I managed to transfer my therapy session to today.  I let myself sleep in, waking naturally around 11.00am feeling quite exhausted and depressed.  I wasn’t able to daven Shacharit (say the morning prayers) at all as I was just too depressed and tired to get dressed.  I wanted to take today as a mental health day after having spent the last few weeks rushing through work, Yom Tov (festivals), preparation for Yom Tov and other chores with little real break, Yom Tov itself mostly being occupied with sometimes pleasurable, but draining activities like shul (synagogue) and socialising as well as long meals with my family which were generally good, but left me coping without my much needed ‘introvert time’ (as I call it), time alone to read and watch favourite DVDs, that I need for my mental health.

It was not to be.  After a rushed lunch and therapy over Zoom (video conference software like Skype, but less temperamental) I spent two hours going over my accounts, trying to make them balance properly (I eventually succeeded in finding the errors); the rest of the afternoon was spent in my eternal battle with mould in my flat and in reading things online, mostly depressing news or news-inspired articles about antisemitism, sexual abuse and domestic violence that I haven’t been able to get away from last night and today.

I don’t know why I’m wallowing in this stuff.  I don’t want to read it, but I find it compulsive.  Perhaps the depression and anxiety feeds on the antisemitism to make me feel even more isolated, anxious and despairing, as well as justifiably angry at the way antisemitic discourse has re-entered our political life, often introduced by those who claim to be most ‘tolerant’ and ‘progressive.’

As for the stories of abuse, my heart is in such pain reading them, but I can’t stop.  Sometimes I worry that I could hurt someone if I let my guard down, that I’m really an evil person and I need to be on my guard the whole time against doing anything wrong.  This is really the ‘pure O’ (pure obsession), which makes me torment myself with fears that I am a terrible, wicked person, even though, according to the CBT therapist I saw for my OCD and the books I have read on the subject, people with these obsessions are the least likely to ever act on them; it is because they are anathema to the sufferer that the mental illness takes this form to torment them.

I guess I also feel sad, maybe frustrated, that so many people are trapped in violent and abusive relationships, while I want to have to love someone fully and selflessly yet am unable to find anyone who will let me love her.  I guess my ‘white knight’ fantasies of ‘saving’ someone come into play here, even though I know that women do not need ‘saving’ and that salvation isn’t a sound basis for a relationship, which should be built on mutual care, good communication and shared values.  But I’ve never been able to shake the feeling that I would only be considered marriageable material in contrast to the very lowest forms of human life.

Perhaps related to this, my Mum was trying to set me up with someone on Saturday, the daughter of some friends of hers who also has mental health issues.  I actually know this person by sight, although I have never spoken to her, and find her attractive, but I’m terrified of going on a date with her because I’ve irrationally convinced myself that we would have nothing in common besides OCD and that she isn’t frum (religious) enough for me.  I’m not quite sure how things have been left; I think my Mum is planning on trying to quietly find out if the woman is single or not and if she might be interested.  But it is another thing making me feel hopeless, a mixture of more self-sabotage and being convinced that there is no one out there who would be a good match for me.  I guess it is a bit silly to feel depressed because I might have to go on a date with a woman I really fancy…

And suddenly it was dinner time and I had done almost nothing all day.  The time that I could have spent on my Mishnah study has gone on my Torah-themed post, which is probably a worthy trade-off, but perhaps not.  I’m postponing my other outstanding chores until I am off work on half-term next week as I’m too tired and anyway I need to get ready for bed so I can be up early for work tomorrow.  I feel like I haven’t really caught my breath for about a month and even today was not a relaxing day in the end, between bank accounts and poor mental health and not getting out of the flat all day (except to throw some rubbish in the recycling bin, which doesn’t count).

Torah from the Depths: Bereshit: God’s Depression

Orthodox and Conservative/Masorti Jews read through the whole of the Torah (Five Books of Moses) each year, one section a week.  Each weekly section is called a sedra or a parasha.  I had the idea of writing something related to mental health each week on the sedra, not a devar Torah as such, but just a reflection, letting the Torah illuminate mental health or vice versa.  This is probably impossible (the run of sedrot from the second half of Shemot (Exodus) through Vayikra (Leviticus) and on to the beginning of Bamidbar (Numbers) is going to be difficult), but I thought I would try.

Traditional Jewish hermeneutics (textual interpretation) places great emphasis on opening words, first appearances, first lines of dialogue.  Obviously the early chapters of Bereshit (Genesis) are full of firsts, but I noticed one I hadn’t noticed before this week.  Right at the end of the sedra it states that God saw the evil of mankind (which has only been around for a few generations at this point) “And the Eternal regretted that He had made the man on the earth and He was pained to His heart” (Bereshit 6.6).  This, so far as I can tell, is the first time that an emotion is imputed to God.  He isn’t said to be happy with His universe in the creation story (He says it is good, but we do not hear what He feels about it) or angered by the sins of Adam and Chava (Eve) or Kayin (Cain), but He is pained by the evil of mankind as a species.  Without getting into the theological question of whether God really experiences emotions or whether (as per the Rambam) He is merely described as having them for educational purposes (an argument I do not feel qualified to enter into), I think it is significant that He is described as feeling regret and inner pain and that this is in fact our first introduction to His emotional life (or “emotional life” if you prefer). While on one level this sets the scene for Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) as a whole, which is one big story of God’s usually unrequited love for mankind in general and the Jewish people in particular, it also seems to be a way of legitimating depressive emotions as natural and suggesting that they should be expressed and not repressed or sublimated as some Jewish thinkers (particularly Chassidim) would say.

Happiness vs. Service

I’m typing hurriedly in my lunch break again and this may be too big a subject to deal with in fifteen minutes, but here goes: I had a sobering, if not shocking thought last night.  For years I had been telling myself that what I want most of all in the world is to serve God wholeheartedly.  This, I realised yesterday, is a lie.  What I most want is to be happy: to have a reasonable degree of psychological stability, a loving wife, happy and healthy children and enough money that they don’t have to worry about the basics in life.

I don’t think this is a particularly shocking or unusual desire, but it does reframe my life.  When I told myself I wanted to serve God, I felt I should be satisfied with my mental health issues (because obviously He wants me to have them, so I was serving Him) and felt guilty for feeling pain and wanting the misery and loneliness to end.  Now I feel that my desires are at loggerheads with His desires for me, an argument I can not win.  I think I also consoled myself, at least unconsciously, regarding my perceived lowly position in the community by telling myself that even if I achieved less than others, I was aiming at a complete, wholehearted service that they probably did not even think about.

This morning, I was worried that I was losing my emunah, usually translated as ‘faith,’ but more accurately ‘fidelity,’ loyalty to God and the covenant despite obstacles.  I do not think that this is the case.  I still believe in God and I still want to serve Him and fulfil His commandments, despite the pain and suffering they often cause me (because of my mental health).  However, I can not lie to myself any more and say they are what I most want out of life and it is hard to know what I would do if presented with a direct choice between service and happiness, although for various reasons I suspect such a choice will never be presented to me in such stark terms.  For example, I would increase my dating pool enormously by dating non-Jews, but it is far from certain that I would find a wife even then e.g. my mental health issues would still be a problem and I am so steeped in Judaism that I would find it hard to build a relationship with someone totally estranged from it, so the stark choice of “Judaism or marriage” is unlikely to ever precisely manifest.

I do believe that God wants ‘good Jews’ to have successful, happy and loving marriages, happy, healthy children and financial security.  I do believe God wants us all to be happy, at least in the long-term, albeit that that happiness comes from growth which is often stimulated by pain and suffering.  Many Jews do get this on some level, so they are never faced with the choice between happiness and Jewish observance the way I have been faced with it, although so have even harder choices than I do (e.g. homosexual Orthodox Jews).  I do feel that I have had so much suffering that it is impossible to make anything other than getting away from such suffering my goal right now (right now or forever?  I just don’t know).  I do believe that happiness in this world rarely comes as an end in itself, but as a by-product of other ends, such as loving someone or pursuing a project or a cause.  Unfortunately, at the moment I do not have such a person to love or such a cause to pursue, so I am not sure where I go from here.

A Difficult Mastery of the Usual

I’m still at my parents’ house, having been here for nearly two weeks now.  I hope to get back to my flat this evening, but it will depend on my parents.  They are going to my sister’s future sister-in-law’s birthday party soon, which I have ducked mostly because I felt I just would not cope.  I don’t drive, so I need a lift to take all my stuff back to the flat.  Although I have a lot to do, I wanted to take today as a mental health day to recover from Simchat Torah, but had to help Dad take down more of the sukkah and then go to Brent Cross Shopping Centre to buy a dinner suit (translation for Americans: tuxedo) for my sister’s wedding.  I hate shopping, I hate shopping for clothes and I hate big busy shopping centres (I’m not by any means an anti-capitalist, but I felt a bit sick about the advertising and consumption and that’s aside from the sensory overload and the people), so I’m glad I’m not going to the party.  Even without that, I’ve got to do some Torah study and cook dinner as well as packing and getting home in time to get an early night before work tomorrow, so I doubt I’m going to get much of a mental health break.  It will be nice to have the house to myself for a bit, though.

I’m still slowly working my way through Daniel Deronda and came across a great quote that I meant to append to the Simchat Torah post, but forgot: “To be an unusual young man means for the most part to get a difficult mastery over the usual” which sounds a lot like me and Asperger’s/mental health/generally being considered academically ‘gifted’ and socially inept.

I had my end of probation period review at work on Wednesday.  My boss seems pleased with my work and I was surprised and pleased to get an “excellent” for the “Work relationships (team work and interpersonal communication skills)” tick box.  I’m not sure how much that relates just to working with the team and how much is about interactions with students, but either way it’s good.

The slightly negative thing that happened at work is that I have to work this coming Friday because of a staff development day that my boss wanted me to attend (I usually work Monday to Thursday).  She has said that I can leave early to get home before sunset and the start of Shabbat (the Sabbath) (I want to leave at 3.15pm, but may have to leave at 3.30pm which will be tight) which I hope will be OK.  I can see her point in wanting me there for team-building reasons, but it is another disruption to my routine after months of enrolment and Yom Tovim (festivals) disrupting work.  I think I’ve only had one or two ‘normal’ weeks this term, if that, and it’s half-term the week after next.  On the plus side, I am getting Tuesday off to compensate and not only have I been able to switch therapy from Friday to Tuesday for one week (therapy has also been disrupted because of Yom Tov and my therapist being away), but I will at least have some time for the chores I won’t be able to do today.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been listening to Lehodos Lecha by Eitan Freilich, a modern arrangement of a traditional Jewish prayer that translates as “If our mouths were as full with song as the sea/And our tongues with joy as the multitude of its waves…/We would still be unable to thank you/HaShem our God and God of our forefathers.”  I try to feel this, but I don’t.  I feel like a hypocrite, particularly as the song is catchy and I find myself singing it.  If Yisrael (Israel) is One-Who-Wrestles-with-God, Yehudi (Jew) is One-Who-Gives-Thanks, but I can’t feel grateful.  I’m better off than a lot of people, but I just feel lonely, depressed and social awkward and isolated.  I’m supposed to feel happy with my lot, but because of depressive anhedonia, I can’t enjoy anything, not even simple pleasures or mitzvot and it’s hard to be grateful if you feel like that.  I just feel frustrated with my lot and occasionally angry and bitter.

Simchat Torah

It’s been a busy few days with through Chol HaMoed (the intermediate days of the festival) including my end of probation review on Wednesday and then straight into Yom Tov (festival) on Wednesday evening until Shabbat (Sabbath) today and then helping take down two sukkot (shul (synagogue) and home) (actually, there is more to do on both of them tomorrow).  I have a lot to write, but I will split it into two or three posts for time reasons and to avoid a mammoth post.  Today I am going to slip out of chronological order and focus on Simchat Torah (the festival of the Rejoicing of the Torah, really day two of Shmini Atzeret, itself a semi-independent holiday, but in some sense the eighth day of Sukkot (Tabernacles)) and then hopefully I will go back to what happened at work tomorrow or during the week.

I went into Simchat Torah badly, having missed shul on Thursday morning (Shmini Atzeret) as I was too exhausted and depressed.  It seems to be hard for me to go directly from work mode to Shabbat/Yom Tov mode without an intervening day to adjust.  I went to shul on Thursday evening nervous about what to expect as I hadn’t been in my new shul for Simchat Torah before.  It is a boisterous festival, the second most boisterous after Purim and is celebrated with ecstatic dancing in shul.  I have never liked it much for reasons I will explore below.  In short, it is hard for me to enter into the appropriate spirit of things.  Once or twice I have managed it, but very rarely.

Ma’ariv (evening prayers) started OK, but once we finished the bulk of the prayers, the difficulties began.  First, they started auctioning off honours.  I had heard of shuls where honours (e.g. reciting passages aloud in the service or carrying the Torah scrolls) are auctioned off for charity on Simchat Torah.  This was different, as the ‘price’ of the honours was a commitment to study a specific amount of Torah in the coming year.  The first few honours went for a low ‘price’, forty or fifty chapters of Mishnah, but the more important honours went for literally hundreds of pages of Talmud.  (I think the rabbi bid something like 400 daf (800 pages) of Talmud for one honour, which is a lot.)

I felt uncomfortable with this.  Partly it’s my inner Kotzk Hasid being angry at public declarations of goodness, even good intent, as well as anything that seems to set some people up as better than others.  But mostly it was that I felt unable to join in.  As I have written, I am struggling to keep up with my private decision to learn one Mishnah a day without taking on an additional set to study and even if I could count my current Mishanyot for the bidding (which I don’t think I could, as people were assigned particular Mishnayot so the community would complete certain Sederim) I do not know if I will be able to continue studying them if I get too disheartened or too depressed to set aside much time to study each day.  I already feel inferior to people who can study a lot of Gemarah without having this to rub it in.  The assistant rabbi, who was the auctioneer, tried to get me to bid, so I left the room and stood in the corridor because I was worried I would be forced to bid for something.  I didn’t want any of the honours either – I didn’t really want to read anything out aloud because of social anxiety and I didn’t want to carry a sefer Torah (Torah scroll) in case I dropped it.  Standing in the corridor did attract a certain amount of attention, but I thought it was safer than going back inside.  I stood in the doorway so I had some idea of what was going on and so I looked like I was involved in some sense.

Then they started the hakafot, the circuits around the shul carrying the sifrei Torah and dancing.  The dancing was Jewish dancing, which is dancing in a circle holding hands with those next to you or with your hands on their shoulders and vice versa.  I tried to join in, but I couldn’t manage it and ended up standing at the edge watching.  Pretty much every single one of my issues except the OCD was triggered here.  I was too depressed to get the sense of joy needed to dance, I was too socially anxious to do anything that would risk people looking at me and my borderline Asperger’s was stopping me from being touched by other people or just standing close to them and sharing personal space.  I was generally to inhibited and repressed to let go of my depression and anxieties and just join in.

On top of all this was my usual aversion to being part of a big group and being deindividuated and losing my sense of self.  This is always scary for me and explains why I don’t like big crowds especially when designed to unite everyone there in some way e.g. political rallies, concerts (public transport is less of a problem because you are not supposed to give up your identity, accept a political or religious viewpoint or listen to the same music).  I don’t know why I have this problem.  It may stem from having a weak sense of self and being worried about losing it, it may stem from being bullied at school and associating crowds with bullies or it may be because the bullying meant I had to fight hard for my identity and I’m reluctant to let go of it, even for a few hours.  (Incidentally, this article talks about why we do circle dancing; he talks about what I say about deindividuation, except from a positive viewpoint.)

Whatever the reason, I just could not join the crowds dancing around the shul.  I stood there for the beginning of the first hakafa (of seven), before I felt awkward just standing there and went into the corridor again.  I came back for the start of the second hakafa thinking maybe it would be easier to quietly and unobtrusively join this one, but it wasn’t.  I was sort of hoping one of my “friends” (the people I like; I don’t know if they think of me as their friend) would see me and drag me in, to give me the boost I needed to get in (I thought once I started I would probably be OK), but no one did.  The rabbi did try to get me to join and dragged me towards the circle, but he then went off somewhere else before I got there and I lost my nerve again and went back away.  So I gave up and went home.

I should say that the Simchat Torah dancing is fuelled by whisky.  Aside from the children and the young men, I think most people would have difficulty getting past their inhibitions without alcohol.  I can’t drink because of medication interactions and because alcohol is a depressant.  Also, based on the one time I accidentally tried whisky, I think it’s disgusting.  I was also struggling because most of the men vaguely my age were dancing with their young children, so I just felt a failure for not getting married and having kids.  This is before taking into consideration the fact that two of the three most important honourees were people I was at school with, who now have families and rabbinic ordination and basically seem to be better than me in every possible way.

On the way home I was feeling very depressed and self-harming (hitting myself).  I felt bad for missing shul and not being involved.  I also felt bad because I was thinking that I had missed a lot of shul this Tishrei and as I was using the Yom Tovim as a test to see if I was ready to date again, I thought maybe this means I shouldn’t date, in which case, will I ever be ready to date?  I have only managed to dance once or twice on Simchat Torah in my entire life!  If I wait until I manage that again, I might never date again.  Even waiting to have a ‘perfect’ Rosh Hashanah or Sukkot could take a long time.  I came home and told my parents that I hadn’t stayed “because I’m crap.”  I don’t usually use even mild profanity, but I did here because I hated myself so much.

What I omitted to say is that when I was trying and failing to join the dancing, I really wanted to curse God for making me like this, making me so I can’t even enjoy my own religion (which matters to me more than anything else, even Doctor Who) or do the simple things that most people do to get some enjoyment out of life, which is often fairly miserable for most people unless you can seize the day and enjoy basic pleasures like dancing with your friends (assuming you have friends; I don’t always feel like I do.  I suppose I shouldn’t say that, as I do have a couple of friends, but it’s hard to feel it sometimes).  I wasn’t even that angry with God, I just wanted to “act out” and get His attention as I learnt from childhood that the children/people who misbehave the most are the ones who get the most attention.  I do wonder what I’ve done to make Him punish me like this when all I want is to be a good Jew.  If He does miracles for people at Hevria to get them to become frum, maybe He’s telling me to go away because He hates me and doesn’t want me to frum any more.  But Judaism is a one-way ticket; you can convert in, but once you’re in (by birth or conversion) there’s no way out.

I felt terrible the rest of the evening.  I missed shul the next morning fairly deliberately, because I couldn’t face the second lot of dancing.  I went for Shabbat in the evening, but missed Shabbat morning today because I was still feeling depressed and nervous about going back to shul after what I did (or didn’t do).  I managed to go back this evening for Minchah, seudah and Ma’ariv and to help take the sukkah down which made me feel a bit better, as I was doing something for the community in a way that I could manage, but writing this has just brought it all back and I think I had better stop now.

The Waste Land

“To me it was only the relief of a personal and wholly insignificant grouse against life; it is just a piece of rhythmical grumbling.” – T. S. Eliot on The Waste Land

A dull, exhausting day at the library.  I originally wrote in some more detail about this, but then worried that there would be consequences if anyone cracked my not-very-secret secret identity.  So, I will leave it at dull and exhausting.

I’m tired, very tired.  I have to get through another compressed day tomorrow, six hours of work with only half an hour for lunch, then leaving early and rushing to get home and get ready in time for Yom Tov (festival).  Shmini Atzeret on Wednesday night and Thursday should be fine, no special mitzvot (commandments) ergo no OCD or anxiety (I hope), but Simchat Torah on Thursday night and Friday is likely to be difficult.  It is mainly celebrated with ecstatic dancing in shul (synagogue), often whisky- or vodka-fuelled, difficult with depression or social anxiety, let alone both, and that’s before taking into account the fact that two of the three honours are going to people I was at school with, now both rabbis and married with children, presumably not intentionally chosen to make me feel inadequate, but that’s how it feels, and then, incredibly, there’s another Shabbat to get through before a full work week (only my second in the last month) and finally half-term.

I came home to find the latest issue of The Jewish Review of Books had arrived.  This is good, but flicking through it, I wonder if there’s a parallel universe where I’m an academic actually writing challenging and opinion-forming articles and books rather than just reading and cataloguing them, just as I wonder if there are parallel universes where I went to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary, not necessarily leading to smikhah (ordination)) or made aliyah (emigrated to Israel) and, of course, one where I married (but who? And happily or unhappily?).  My job is socially worthwhile and reasonably well-paid (I think… having been unemployed for so long, I’m just glad to be well enough to work and am rather of hazy on what constitutes a good salary, especially for someone working part-time with rather less work experience and career advancement than someone my age should have) and every so often I come across a teenager who seems to genuinely like serious literature or a couple of students from the college get to Oxbridge or some other good university, as happened this year, and I glow with job satisfaction for a moment, but often it’s hard work and dull and I can’t work out if that’s a genuine problem with the job or just depressive anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure) yet again.  It was probably worsened today by working on weeding the stock today, getting rid of books – good books – that have been unread for twenty-five years.  But between my poor mental health and the choices I’ve made, I’m not sure there’s an alternative right now.

Speaking of bad choices, I am already failing at my targets for the new year.  My three targets were:

  1. Study one Mishnah a day (on average);
  2. Daven (pray) the first paragraphs of the Shema, Amidah and Bentsching with kavannah (concentration);
  3. Work on my depression and social anxiety.

I have mostly been keeping up with the Mishnah study and for a while was even managing two or three Mishnayot on some days (albeit occasionally missing it completely due to depression or lack of time), but I’m not sure how much I understand, still less remember.  The last few days it has just left me feeling inadequate, even without comparing myself to people my age who seem to be mastering vast tracts of Talmud (those three honourees again).  I thought I was doing OK with the davening with kavannah, but lately that has been getting harder, especially as I rush through davening to get to work or to get through it and have dinner and try to relax.  I have at times been repeating parts of prayers when I thought my kavannah was poor, which I probably shouldn’t do, because halakhically one probably should not (although I’m not sure about this) and because it can fuel the OCD (a common type of religious OCD is repeating prayers until they are said ‘right’).  As for point three, I still don’t know how to formulate more specific targets here.  I have been socialising a little bit over Yom Tov, but it’s hard.  I ducked out of a shul event last night because I thought I would be miserable there.  I suppose I need to set small targets like trying to talk to people at kiddush for the social anxiety although I still don’t know what would be reasonable targets for the depression.

 

Never Give a Sukkah an Even Break

(I can’t claim the dubious honour of having written the pun in the title.  I heard it years ago, from someone whose name I have forgotten.  I guess it makes a change from lines from Hamlet and Elvis Costello songs.)

It was lucky that I am still staying with my parents, as I overslept this morning.  Despite going to bed at 10.45pm last night (too tired to relax in front of a DVD), I slept through my first two alarms (or was it three?), being woken at 6.15 by my Dad and my alarm going off more or less at the same time.  I was feeling pretty depressed, though, and it took me an hour to slowly get dressed (I have no idea what I was doing, probably sitting on the bed staring into space and thinking), leaving me without enough time to daven the whole of Shacharit (say the morning prayers) including the long Chol HaMoed (intermediate days of the festival) prayers.  I davened a bit and felt guilty about missing so much when I could have said more had I got going faster.  I then had about five minutes to make and eat breakfast in the sukkah before going to work (work being permitted on Chol HaMoed if there is no alternative or one would incur significant loss (e.g. being fired!)).

Dad gave me a lift to the station and I got to work on time, but it just reinforces the feeling of not being well, of having to rely on special consideration that other people wouldn’t need.  I feel that other people are able to live a frum (religious) life without too much difficulty and even to enjoy much of it, whereas I struggle to do the most basic things and don’t really enjoy that much of it.  I started crying while trying to do my daily Mishnah study on the Tube, perhaps because I couldn’t understand the Mishnah and felt so stupid in comparison with people at my shul (synagogue) who can study not just Mishnah, but Gemarah too.

Other things that have upset me today are: reading about child-on-child sexual assaults skyrocketing in the last year on the cover of the newspapers other people were reading on the Tube; reading about an abused child on a blog I read written by a primary school teacher (she has called the police, but is scared the abuser (the child’s guardian) will run off with the child before the child can be taken into care); reading real-life stories about people being murdered because they were disabled or because they were Goths in a book I catalogued on hate crime; worrying about someone who reads this blog who I don’t know in person, but who is really suffering right now; and reading in sociology textbooks I was cataloguing about the education system and how it (supposedly) works in favour of middle class, clever children, who (supposedly) get more attention from the teachers.  This isn’t exactly how I remember my childhood (my teachers largely ignored me, although I had friends who seemed to be more memorable to them), but I still felt guilty in case someone under-achieved because of me, somehow.

The bottom line is that everything just seems to set me off today, even if I don’t actually cry.  I feel lousy: depressed, exhausted and hungry and only the last of those has a quick fix.

There is a Simchat Beit Hasho’eva party (Sukkot party) at shul (synagogue) tonight, but I can’t face going after my mixed success at socialising on Friday and in any case I feel too tired.  I wish I were the type of person who could actually enjoy things, by which I guess I mean I wish I were a normal person rather than an anhedonistic depressed one.  My friend (I hope she won’t mind me calling her that) Rivki Silver posted a piece on Hevria today about the simcha (joy) that comes with persevering with something despite difficulty and eventually achieving a goal, which leads on to greater achievements, whether in creativity, marriage, other relationships or in character development.  I just barely managed to restrain myself from posting a comment about the fact that I never get any joy from anything, which is why I rarely persevere with my creativity or personal growth.  I wouldn’t know about marriage and relationships, as I’m not sure how good my relationship is with my parents and my sister, objectively.  I guess I have a few friendships, but I don’t really have to persevere with difficulty there, because I don’t open up so much and they don’t open up to me.  I’ve only had one proper romantic relationship and I persevered with that for months despite getting hurt more and more.  I don’t know what that proves.

I’m Too Depressed to Think of a Witty or Appropriate Title

It’s probably a mistake to post two long posts in one day, but I feel depressed and need to vent, so here goes.

I went to bed late last night.  I’m not sure exactly when as, unusually, I didn’t look at the time, but it was around 1.15am.  I intended to sleep in this morning, but, perhaps because I slept so much yesterday when I was burnt out (at night and in the afternoon), I woke up about 7.15am and couldn’t get back to sleep.  Eventually I got up, lethargic and a bit depressed, too down to daven (pray).  I ate some cereal (mezonot so I didn’t need to go in the sukkah in my pyjamas) and watched some Doctor Who.

I did eventually get dressed and start the day properly.  I managed to sort out my desk drawer, which was the big achievement of the day.  I’m usually tidy, but since moving out of my parents’ house I had been shoving post in there to be dealt with later (my post still comes to my parents’ house because my flat doesn’t  have a postal address, being a converted garage, and I don’t want it to go to my landlords’ house), so I finally dealt with that.  Some of the papers had been sitting there for eighteen months or two years!

Other than that, and writing my blog post about Asperger’s Syndrome, I’ve been fairly lethargic and a bit depressed.  I’ve taken today as a mental health day.  I think I accidentally messed up eating in the sukkah yet again.  I won’t go into how, because I would have to go into a lot of technical detail about halakhah (Jewish law) and you wouldn’t thank me for it.  I wonder how I keep messing things up, though.  Some of it comes from living (even if only temporarily, for Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbaths and festivals)) in my parents’ house.  When I’m in my flat, I can do things my way, use various safeguards, maybe accept some chumrot (protective stringencies).  But here sometimes I have to do the bare minimum required by halakhah, or do ‘risky’ things and try to remember to watch out.  Inevitably, sometimes I slip up.  I haven’t freaked out about it and gone into an OCD spiral the way I did last year, which is good, but it is contributing to my air of depression today.

I went out shopping, briefly.  I hoped to see the cat I saw on Friday night and be brave enough to pet it, but I didn’t see it.  I continued trying to catch up on the classes I missed from my Talmud shiur when I was too tired and depressed to go, but I couldn’t really understand any of it, even the stuff I was actually in the class for.  It’s at times like this I regret not having gone to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) or having the skills to study Talmud independently, like the people I was with at the oneg on Friday night.  To be honest, I struggle sometimes with my daily Mishnah study and Mishnah is the beginner’s slopes compared to Gemarah (to explain: the Oral Law that discusses, clarifies and analyses the Written Law (Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, but especially the Torah, in this case the Five Books of Moses) stems from the Talmud and contains two parts.  The Mishnah is a series of legal statements and arguments in deceptively simple form from late antiquity.  The Gemarah, redacted a couple of centuries later, discusses the Mishnah at great and complex length and goes off at tangents covering anything from elaborations of the biblical text (narratives and legal texts) and stories about famous rabbis to folk sayings and recipes.  While technically Talmud is Mishnah plus Gemarah, the term is usually treated as synonymous with Gemarah alone because the Mishnah only takes up a small proportion of the total length of the Talmud).

Let’s face it, in Jewish terms I’m an am ha’aretz, idiot and an ignoramus.  I find this hard to accept, just as it was hard to go to Oxford and realise that I’m not particularly clever, although even at school I was aware that I was far from being the cleverest person in the year.  It’s horrible to realise that, actually, the kids who bullied me at school were right, and I am nothing special.  All those years I told myself they were wrong to bully me and one day I would… not have my revenge (I’m not a vengeful person), but be vindicated in some sense, that I would do something that would show that the world, or someone in the world, in some way benefits from my existence.  But it seems like it’s not to be.  No wonder I retreat into solipsistic fantasies (my own and other people’s; I was  hoping to to re-watch Blade Runner in preparation for seeing the new sequel when I’m on half-term later in the month, but I think I’m out of time, which sums up the day pretty well).

Asperger’s Syndrome and Me

I’ve been meaning for a while to write about how I fit with the symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome/high functioning autism.  I’ve had two formal assessments, which said I wasn’t on the spectrum, but on the other hand, my former psychiatrist said I was.  She didn’t do a formal assessment (and by that stage in my treatment she was saying some unhelpful things e.g. “You’re on the autistic spectrum, so you’re never going to understand people and you should stop trying”), but she had seen me for a long time by then.  Looking at the report from the assessment I had in September 2006 at the Maudsley Hospital, they found no significant symptoms of any developmental disorder whatsoever.  On the other hand, I find when people write about their experience of autism or Asperger’s Syndrome online, I find I share a lot of the experiences and difficulties and when people on the spectrum have produced their own lists of the symptoms that they consider significant, I tend to score more highly.

It is hard to know what to think about this.  I tend to respect the opinion of medical professionals (unlike some people I have encountered on the spectrum, who insist that psychologists have no real knowledge of the experience of autism and are just trying to pathologise people for neurological variation).  On the other hand, since childhood (maybe not early childhood though) I have felt ‘different’ and not just because of my mental health issues, which came later.

I really do feel I think differently to other people, that I have genuine problems with socialising, making eye contact and making small talk (which bores me).  I don’t speak in a monotone, but my voice sometimes seems to come across as flatter than I intend, which sometimes makes me sound angry when I’m not (I was often told off by my parents as a child for looking or sounding angry when it was not my intention).  I can understand non-literal language, but I do like taking idioms literally for humorous reasons.  I learnt to read early and have always been an avid reader with a vocabulary that was in advance of my years, but I can be quite pedantic about language use, although I have learnt to be less so in recent years.

I much prefer interacting one-to-one or in small groups to big ones, although this could be introversion or social anxiety.  I think I get sensory overload sometimes, particularly at busy restaurants and parties (if I can’t avoid going to them) and I think I do stim in various ways, mostly fairly subtle, although there may have been a stimming aspect to my self-harming when the depression is bad.  I’m not sensitive to normal levels of light or sound, but I can’t sleep with the light on (noise is fine; my flat backs on to the A41 and I have no problem with the traffic noise, but the light from my neighbour’s security light, even with blackout blinds, makes it hard for me to sleep and I use an eye-mask).

I have a strong interest in Doctor Who and can reel off lots of lists about it (episode titles, writers, producers etc.).  I’m probably less interested than I used to be, but as a child it was an all-consuming interest.  Judaism might also count as a special interest, albeit a more socially acceptable one where one is actively encouraged to learn, memorise and think about information.

I’m not clumsy, but have never had great hand-to-eye coordination.

I get stressed or even panicked if I have to deviate from my routines.  I think part of me likes to create systematic theories about things that interest me, even as another part is aware that these theories are often not true, or at least simplistic; I certainly love order and clarity.  I can concentrate on things that matter to me to the exclusion of all else for long periods.

I don’t know how I fit in with empathy.  I can feel a lot of empathy for, say, things on the news, particularly anything involving children.  On the other hand, sometimes it is hard to empathise with my family if they are complaining of something I feel is trivial.  Also, even when I do empathise, it is hard to know what to do or say to make someone feel better.  I remember when I was a child and we were on holiday.  I was in bed and my mother leant over me to kiss me goodnight and hit her head on a low beam.  I knew she was in pain, but I didn’t know what to do and my Mum got annoyed with me for not hugging her, which did not occur to me.

I do find it hard to recognise my own emotions, as my therapist pointed out to me.  It’s hard to tell how much is not knowing what I feel and how much is the depression drowning out everything else, especially as I’ve probably been depressed since my mid-teens (at least).  I suspect that at times I have a maelstrom of negative emotions in which it’s hard to identify particular feelings, so I just tell people I’m depressed (by “people” I mean my parents and my therapist and maybe my sister, as I don’t tell other people how I’m really feeling).  I do cry sometimes without knowing why, including at work, but that’s probably the depression again.

It is very confusing to know what to do with all of this.  It clearly is important to me to think of myself as potentially being on the spectrum, because I still go on about it eleven years after being told that I’m not on it.  I used to say that it was enough that I know who I am without having a label, but I think I do want a label.  I guess some of it is the desire for neatness and being systematic, to know for sure who I am.  Some of it comes from worries about dating, feeling I should tell the shadchanit (matchmaker) everything about me and therefore needing to know where I stand as well as wondering if I would be a good match for a woman on the spectrum.  Less positively, perhaps part of me wants an excuse to feel bad about my difficulties socialising and my burn out afterwards (although my depression and social anxieties arguably already provide this).

I would particularly like to hear from other people on the spectrum about this post.  Please do comment!

(Ideas about autistic traits from people on the spectrum from here and here.  I also found this useful.)

Sukkot Part 2: The Sukkah that isn’t a Sukkah and Guilt

We’re sitting in the sukkah and I’m feeling pleased that I’m not too anxious when Dad suddenly announces that he’s forgotten to remove the removable roof that protects it from the rain when we’re not in it.  This means that we haven’t technically been sitting in the sukkah, in a halakhic sense, because there is supposed to be only a foliage cover through which the sky can be seen, not a proper roof.  I had assumed the roof was off when I came out because everyone was already sitting there and eating.

I suppose there is a funny side to this, but I find it hard to see it.  I just feel really guilty that I was eating bread outside the sukkah on Sukkot when I shouldn’t have been.  This is the kind of thing that sends me spiralling back down into depression and OCD anxiety.  I see everything as my responsibility and my fault even when it isn’t and I assume that God is going to be angry with me.

Sukkot Part 1: Socialising, Burn Out and Talking to a Cat

I don’t really feel like blogging, but I want to get my thoughts down from the last three days.  We had another three day Yom Tov (Jewish festival: actually two days Yom Tov, one day Shabbat (Sabbath)) – the way the festivals this time of year are spaced out, if you get one three day Yom Tov, you get three (got another one to look forward to next week…) and those are draining even for people without mental health issues.  Three days of prayer and over-eating is probably too much even for the super-frum (pious) (i.e. people not like me).

Tuesday night I went over to my parents’ house to help prepare for Sukkot (Tabernacles) and went to bed quite late as a result.  Wednesday was spent hurrying around.  I did six hours at work (my usual work day is seven hours, so this was nearly a full day) with only half an hour for lunch so I could leave at 3.30pm to get home in time to get ready for Yom Tov).  I went to shul in the evening and atein the sukkah (the makeshift hut in the garden where we eat and ideally sleep (not usually in England, though!) during Sukkot to remember the Israelite’s life in the wilderness) was fine, with no real religious OCD (it was very bad at Sukkot last year).

However, by Thursday morning I was burnt out from a couple of busy days and couldn’t get up.  I missed the whole of shul (synagogue) that morning.  In the evening I was out to dinner at the sukkah of a friend from shul (I’ll call him H) with his family another shul friend.  The OCD was a little worse, but mostly under control and I had a good time without social anxiety.  When the second friend had left and the family had gone indoors I was sitting in the sukkah with H talking and I opened up a bit about my mental health issues.  Not a lot, just a little bit to see if I could do it.  That seemed to go OK.  I don’t think I need to tell everyone all about my depression, OCD, social anxiety and borderline Asperger’s, but I think I can open up a little to selected individuals to explain things like why I wasn’t in shul that morning.

On Friday morning I got to shul very late, but I did make it.  I hate walking in late feeling like everyone is judging me, but I managed it.  I was given an honour of holding the Torah scroll when the community processes around the shul singing Hoshanah.  This is usually given to a mourner (as they aren’t allowed to join the procession), but my shul is small and doesn’t always have a mourner present, which I guess was why they needed someone else, although I have no idea why the shammash picked me.  I made the mistake of telling my Dad, though, as he gets superstitious about it – he was given the honour one year and his mother died a few months later, so I did wish I hadn’t said anything to him.

On Friday evening there was an oneg at the assistant rabbi’s sukkah.  An oneg is a sort of Shabbat party with drinking, junk food, singing and religious stories and chat; this was combined with a Simchat Beit HaSho’evah which is a Sukkot party.  I forced myself to go thinking I wouldn’t like it.  I got in this time, which is more than I managed last time I tried to go to one.  It was OK, but not great.  I seemed to be very sensitive to the noise and found it uncomfortable; I can’t tell if I noticed this because I’ve been thinking about sensory sensitivity because I’ve been thinking about having Asperger’s lately or if I would have felt like this anyway.  I also felt religiously inadequate compared with everyone else there.   It was the usual feeling of feeling bad for not having gone to yeshivah, not doing enough Torah study or Torah study of a high enough standard (Talmud), not being married and not having kids unlike everyone else (in reality or in my head).  Also a bit of envy of people who can keep and enjoy Yom Tov (simchat Yom Tov) as a Jew should without having OCD and anxiety about whether they have kept all the halakhot (laws) properly that stops me fully enjoying it.  To make it worse, the assistant rabbi (whose house it was) and one other person there were people I was at school with and whenever I see them, I reflect on how our lives have led us in different directions, them to get smichah (ordination, although I don’t know if the second one works as a rabbi in some capacity or has a ‘normal’ job), get married and have children and me… not having any of those positive things.  It didn’t help that I didn’t know many of the songs people were singing and I don’t drink so I don’t have the benefit of the good whisky that is always provided at these things and even a lot of the food didn’t really appeal and the food I really wanted was at the other end of the table and I was too shy to ask someone to pass it down.

I did manage to stay for an hour and I wasn’t crawling up the walls trying to escape, so I must have enjoyed it a bit on some level and I will probably try to go to another one before I give up on these things completely.  At any rate, it was good to get seen as part of the community and participate in a collective event, but it was hard and it did make me a bit envious of people who can easily enjoy these types of social events and the camaraderie there is at them.

On the way home I saw a cat I used to see sometimes when I went to my parents’ shul.  I stood in the road talking to the cat for some reason, making silly jokes, including one bilingual one.  I am probably a bit crazy for speaking more to a cat than to the people in the oneg.  I’m not even an animal person.  The cat must have liked me, because it kept purring and trying to rub against my legs and get me to pet it, but the laws of petting animals you don’t own on Shabbat are complicated so I thought it was best not to touch it; I was also worried it would bite or scratch me.  Maybe I’ll walk back to that road tomorrow and see if I can see it again so I can stroke it.  I would have liked to have stroked it, I think.

I came home a bit depressed that the evening didn’t quite go the way I liked and I was still feeling that religious envy, wishing I could be a good Jew, feeling lonely and wishing I could get married and so on.

I was burnt out again today and missed shul in the morning again although I did go in the evening.  I feel really bad about this.  I also wonder if it means I shouldn’t date.  I was trying to use the Yom Tovim to gauge whether I am ready to date, to see if I was able to get to shul, to socialise and if I was consumed with depression, OCD and social anxiety.  I hoped I would get a clear answer, but it’s mixed: I have had some depression and social anxiety, but not all the time and the OCD has mostly been under control.  Simchat Torah next week will probably be extra-hard and confuse things even more, but I will probably write more on that next week.  My Mum said to contact the shadchanit (matchmaker) who specialises in people with health issues and see if she can match me with someone who might accept that I can’t always do the ‘normal’ frum male things (have spent serious time in yeshivahdaven three times a day every day, preferably in shul; go to shul on Shabbat and Yom Tov; do serious Torah study regularly if not every day).  Of course, this makes me wonder if I’m mature enough to accept her issues because undoubtedly I will need to make compromises, more than in a ‘normal’ marriage…  We were talking in the sukkah one night about how many of my parents’ friends children are now divorced.  It’s scary.  I was envious of them when they got married and now I’m scared I’ll end up like them, because I’m not great at interpersonal stuff, although I think like a lot of people with depression or Asperger’s, I’m very loyal to the few people I open up to.

I’m off to have a bite to eat in our sukkah, hopefully before it starts raining again.  My parents have friends here in the sukkah, which is not ideal for me, but I get on with them so it should be OK.  I would like to unwind in front of some Doctor Who later although I don’t know how much time I will get; unfortunately as I’m watching Doctor Who in order, I’m stuck on Underworld which is probably my least favourite story of the seventies.  It isn’t even amusingly bad, it’s just D-U-L-L.

The Rest is Silence

I was going to write a whole post about how depressed I’m feeling today, that I was struggling at work, wondering if I need to give up Talmud shiur (class) because it leaves me too drained, wondering if I’m doing my job properly and well, wondering if I’m too depressed to think of dating again… then I got thrust back into the news from Las Vegas, which I’ve been aware of since waking up this morning.  I pushed it out of my mind at work, although it drifted back a bit during the day (the library subscribes to a news service for teenagers which we print out and put in a stand on the issue desk and it was all about the shooting and gun control today), but then on the way home all the newspapers people were reading on the train were full of it and the six o’clock news on Radio 4.  I had to turn the news off because it was too upsetting.

I’m not sure what to feel.  I feel bad, but I’ve been feeling bad all day, because of my own personal reasons.  What should one feel about something happening on the other side of the world to people one has never met?  And why is this in my head (and in the media) more than Mexico or Syria or Burma or a hundred other things?

Some of the Hevrians wrote a response.  I wanted to write a comment there, but it sounded cheap and show-offey.  Likewise, I’m trying not to make this about me, but it keeps slipping back to whether I think I’m a bad person for not reacting in the way I would like myself to react (whatever that is).

I’ve noticed that the secular West has evolved a series of rituals for dealing with national tragedy now it can no longer use traditional religious ones (I think it started around the time Princess Diana died): the flowers, the eulogies, the reprinted poor-definition photos, the sending of “thoughts and prayers” (but how do you send prayers if you don’t believe in God any more?), the vague statements about the dead being at rest, the opprobrium heaped on the villain, if there is one, the resolve to “solve” whatever problem has caused this mess, quickly shelved when the political deadlock over what solution will work becomes clear.  But nothing about meaning or the fragility of human existence, the heartland of religion.

We Jews have just done the fragility of human existence, we’ve done Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and the Unataneh Tokef prayer.  Who will live and who will die.  The starkness of it.  The inscrutability of the future.  The attempt to find meaning in something that defies meaning (death).  Does that help?  No, not really.  Or maybe yes and no.  Yes, that we have our own rituals and theodicies.  No, that it can’t bring anyone back or explain the inexplicable, why someone would want to murder a bunch of people he never even met, apparently without even an ideological motive or hatred behind it.  In the end, the only meaningful response is to turn back outwards, to life, to meaning, to purpose, however brutal that seems.

The Four Horsemen of the Self-Destructive Apocalypse

Tiring day.  I had some bad news this morning (my sister’s future grandmother-in-law died), but it was fairly distant from me (I never met her) and I wasn’t desolated.  I also had some good news, being invited out for dinner on second night Sukkot (this Thursday), going to the people I was supposed to go to on Rosh Hashanah, before I got ill.

But the day was just tiring.  I struggled at work, cataloguing some difficult books and while I managed to offset the difficult ones with some easy ones to get through a reasonable amount, I gave up some of my lunch break because I thought I had been wasting time.  I need to have some familiarity with our stock to help students find books and to know which new ones to buy.  I also need to skim over books to catalogue them.  However, being an avid reader with a wide range of interests, it’s easy to get caught up in a book (fiction or non-fiction) and I tell myself off if I think I’m reading for too long.  As “too long” is entirely subjective, this is another opportunity for self-loathing, blame, shame and guilt, who I suppose are the Four Horsemen of the Self-Destructive Apocalypse (not that that’s a Jewish belief).

On the Tube home I sat opposite a beautiful, heavily pregnant woman (who looked a bit like Freema Agyeman from Doctor Who) and her husband.  I sat there, trying not to stare at them, feeling envious.  This is what I want: spouse, children, love.  Of course, the Four Horsemen ride in immediately.  I said this year would be different.  This year, I would stop envying others their lives.  This year I would accept HaShem’s (God’s) plan for me.  If He says jump, I say, “How high?”  If He says, “You will be lonely forever,” I say, “You know best.”  But I can’t do it.  I just can’t do it.  I want to be happy too much, I want to be loved too much.