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.