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.