Feeling Inadequate

I have been feeling pretty inadequate all day today, in pretty much every aspect of my life from my job (where I am constantly undermined by my mental health) to my inability to understand my emotions (although I might understand them more than I give myself credit for), but, for the sake of brevity and focus, I’m just going to concentrate on two areas, my religious life and the book I’m in the process of writing.

Religiously, a lot is expected of Orthodox Jews.  Men in particular have a host of daily obligations that women are exempt from, particularly set prayer and Torah study.  Prayer is supposed to be three times a day, preferably with a community of at least nine other men (minyan), at set times and with kavannah (concentration, understanding of the Hebrew words and a sense of being in God’s presence).  I mess up almost all of this.  I only pray with a community on Shabbat (the Sabbath) and even then I’m sometimes too burnt out to go to shul (synagogue).  On work days, I only manage to pray for about ten minutes in the morning, about a quarter of the morning service.  I do daven Mincha and Ma’ariv (say the afternoon and evening services), but by myself and with poor kavannah.  I feel inadequate just thinking that there are plenty of men who do daven with a minyan three times a day.   I don’t know how good their kavannah is, but it would be hard to be worse than mine.

Similarly with Torah study.  In theory, a Jewish man should be studying Torah whenever he has a free moment.  In practice, life gets in the way and we are allowed some downtime.  Still, I feel I should be studying for an hour or two a day (as I have done in the past, even when the depression has been bad, albeit when I was not working as long hours, if at all), preferably Gemarah (the larger and more difficult part of the Talmud, consisting largely of complex legal arguments).  What I do is study for anything between five minutes to an hour, focusing on the week’s Torah reading (Torah in the narrow sense of the Five Books of Moses rather than the wider sense of ‘Torah study’ i.e. any Jewish religious study) and one or two Mishnayot.  The Mishnah is the shorter and simpler part of the Talmud, being composed mostly of simple legal statements, although the commentary in the edition I use often seems incomprehensible to me, especially as I have to do my Mishnah study on the Tube into work, when I’m still half asleep.  Again, I am conscious that there are men who spend their evenings studying the Gemarah, alone, with a chevruta (study partner) or at a shiur (class).

 

Then there is my general religious practice and mitzvah (commandment) performance.  Now the religious OCD is more under control, I am no longer terrified that all my food is treif (non-kosher) the whole time, but I do feel that my performance of mitzvot, both ethical and ritual is lacking.  I lack the sense of connection to God or joy in fulfilling His will that I am supposed to feel.  I have even been told that I will not feel that joy while I’m depressed, which seems to indicate that I will never feel it as I don’t think I will ever be free of the depression.  Nor do I think of myself as a particularly kind or generous person.  I help others more out of a sense of obligation than love.  I feel bad about this, but I often feel trapped in a solipsistic prison of depression, social anxiety and borderline Asperger’s and it’s hard to get out of that to connect with other people.

 

It’s hard even to have a benchmark by which I can measure myself.  In theory, in Judaism “According to the pain is the reward” (Pirkei Avot 5.23) – we are judged according to the effort we put in rather than on some absolute scale of achievement.  What is easy for one person might be very difficult for another for all kinds of reasons and worthy of greater reward and the Jewish religious literature from the Talmud to the tales of the Chasidim are full of stories of unlearned and even sinful people who achieved saintly status with a single, simple good deed.  In reality, though, it is hard for me to feel this.  I look for excuses to judge myself negatively and beat myself up and feel guilty about things.  I compare myself to other people, even though I know I shouldn’t, even though I see only a fraction of their lives and don’t know at all what is going on in their heads.  I feel that other people are judging me, and reading articles and blog posts where other people reflect on what they see as the narrow-minded and judgmental attitudes of the frum (religious) community doesn’t help, even though I have had little personal experience of such attitudes.  It does, as I’ve said before, make me assume that no frum woman would want to marry someone as religiously inadequate as me.  It also makes me feel that I have no share in Olam HaBa (the Next World i.e. Heaven).  I have no rational grounds for thinking this, just an intuition that good things simply don’t happen to me and that if I haven’t done an act bad enough to forfeit my share of Olam HaBa (and I often feel I have, even if I can’t pinpoint one), then the cumulative nature of my sins will stop me meriting my place there.  As I’ve said before, I just have a feeling of wrongness and I assume that everyone else, including God, feels the same way.

 

The other thing I have been feeling inadequate about lately is very different.  I have mentioned that I am writing a non-fiction book about Doctor Who.  I don’t want to go into it too much here as it’s not really relevant and might compromise my pseudonym (as I’m reworking material from my real name blog).  Suffice to say it’s an analytical book on Doctor Who.  But I worry that my writing isn’t good enough.  Writing on Doctor Who seems to come in two forms at the moment, the popular and opinionated and the academic and critical theory-rich.  I have no grounding in critical theory to write anything academic,  nor have I done research in production documentation or looked at the secondary literature in anything but a haphazard way.  But I worry that my work is too dry and too often slips into the passive voice for a more informal work and that anyway that market is already saturated.  The popular books annoy me anyway (too informal, too dismissive of what the authors dislike (in Doctor Who and outside it), too quick to bring in the authors’ politics and assume that all sensible people agree with them, too quick to show off wider knowledge which is often incorrect) and I suppose to some extent I’m writing in opposition to those books, that I’m thinking, “Well, if they can do it, so can I!”  But I’m worried that that is pride and we know what that comes before.  And having catalogued a book on writing style at work today, I just feel that my writing simply isn’t good enough to compete in a crowded marketplace.  The passive voice has always been a problem for me in my non-academic writing.

 

I have a new post up on Hevria today.  Only one person seems to have liked it so far.  It was probably a mistake to let them cut the bit where I explained that all the stories are exactly fifty words long.  I feel inadequate.

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Six Bullet Points in Search of a Blog Post

  1. I did over five hours (out of seven) on the issue desk today.  Also, this was at the secondary campus, where people are harder to communicate with (either little, if any, English or serious learning disabilities) so it was seriously draining and depleting.  This was partly my fault as I was supposed to split the issue desk time 50:50 with my colleague, but I miscalculated and didn’t feel able to ask to switch, but it was also because we had VIPs turn up so I had to do extra time on the desk while my colleague showed them around.  My mood was variable, to say the least.  Most of the time I was OK, but after a while, doing a boring repetitive task in a gloomy room, my mood would dip (probably also correlating to low blood sugar level as well as tiredness and boredom).  I’ve actually just dipped again, which can’t be low blood sugar as I’ve just eaten.
  2. Calvin Coolidge is still my mentor (not words I ever expected to write).  Stonewalling is the only way to deal with students who swear blind that they have returned books they have lost.  I’m still not good enough at playing psychological chicken like this though and either back down a little (“You can pay the fine next time”) or my colleagues get involved, either at my request or of their own initiative, which is what happened today.
  3. I have been beating myself up again today.  I listened to a Hevria podcast (Rivka Nehorai) and felt guilty about not being at all creative any more and generally feeling inadequate compared to Hevria people.  I left a loooong comment about art criticism and why I felt it was a good thing.  I left a fairly long comment on another post on Hevria too.  I suspect that deep down I just want people to notice me and I abuse the blog comments to be seen.  It’s like trolling, except that I’m polite and try to say constructive things.  I have a vague plan about going to New York in the summer to meet Hevria people (NB: this will probably never happen because I will chicken out for multiple reasons) and today I was imagining meeting Elad, Rivka and others so I could beat myself up in person instead of online.  You could say I have issues.
  4. Not only are two women I’ve dated (out of a grand total of six, count ’em) going to be at my sister’s wedding on Sunday (fortunately we still get on), it’s possible that the woman my Mum wants to set me up with will be coming, due to a complicated set of circumstances that I won’t go into here.  I’m really not sure that this is a good idea, but don’t feel able to say anything about it and in any case am flirting with the idea of being resigned to being single and virginal forever and never trying to date anyone ever again.  Anyway, I’m too busy being apprehensive about the wedding in general to worry about this in particular.
  5. I honestly have no idea how I’m going to get through the wedding.  Sundays are the most depressed day for me and I usually do nothing except sleep, eat, procrastinate online and watch a bit of Doctor Who.  Saturday is going to be extra draining because I’ve got my uncle, aunt and five cousins staying with my parents for the wedding alongside my sister, so meals (Friday night and Saturday lunch) will be LOUD and draining and there will be an energy and mood debt to be repaid the next day.  I’m not sure if it’s good or bad that I volunteered to walk back to the flat and stay there overnight so my cousins can have my room in my parents’ house.  It means I have a fifteen minute walk in the cold and dark, but at least I can get some quiet and some personal space on Friday night.  As long as that doesn’t feed the loneliness and depression that I’m certain to feel over the weekend, as my sister gets married off and I contemplate being lonely and single forever etc. (did I mention one of my exes who is going to be at the party recently got engaged?  I assume her fiancé will be there too, but no one has told me).
  6. I don’t really have anything else to say, having cut a point since coming up with the title, and I feel exhausted, lonely and depressed now and need to go to bed, but I need a sixth point for the Six Characters in Search of an Author joke to work.  It’s not even that funny a joke.  (This is beating myself up again cf. point 3).

Life vs. Lifestyle

I got ‘sunk’ again at work today.  I struggled all day, doing a quite boring, very slow and long task (it will certainly take longer than my current contract) because there were no books to catalogue (three boxes full arrived around midday, but they have to be processed by the library assistants before I work on them).  I don’t know if it was the boredom or something else, but in the mid-afternoon I just felt exhausted and depressed.  It was a real struggle to keep going, even more of a struggle than before.  I got through it and carried on working and I don’t feel that my work was noticeably inferior, but I was struggling with my thoughts.  Hours later I can’t remember what I was thinking, but I suspect it was mostly self-critical thoughts of one form or another.

I should be at my Talmud shiur (class) now, but I’m too tired.  I think I’m going to have to give up on it soon, as I’m just too tired to study the technicalities of halakhah (Jewish law) after work, nor do I really have the time to go and then still get to bed at the time I need to have the seven to eight hours of sleep I need to function at work and keep the worst part of the depression at bay.  Things are only made worse by the fact that the style of teaching is not ideal for me and the way the shiur is run, from an administrative point of view, is something of a shambles, with shiurim frequently cancelled at short notice (once without me even being told until I got there) even before the teacher’s son became seriously ill (which only makes me feel guiltier about stopping going).  I really want to learn the study skills that will one day let me learn Gemarah (another name for Talmud (actually not quite, but near enough)) independently or with a chevruta (study partner), but this shiur is not teaching me that.  To be honest, the main reason I’m going is that I like to be able think of myself as a frum (religious) Jew who studies Gemarah and I won’t be able to do that if I stop going.  It’s more about self-esteem and fitting in to the frum community than about the shiur itself, which is a really bad and shallow thing to do.  That and wanting to be attractive to frum single women who are looking for someone who studies Gemarah, which is probably an even worse reason to do something.

I guess I’m drifting back into that old feeling of not being good at anything.  I think that’s what I was feeling at work this afternoon, the feeling that I’m not that good at my job.  Two of my colleagues were talking about their children and they said that I “have that to look forward to” but I’m exactly the same age as one of them and only two or three years younger than the other with no sign of getting married.  I try to tell myself that marriage, children, sex, even love aren’t everything.  But they are quite a lot, at least they seem that way when I feel lonely and lacking… purpose? motivation? a focus? focus for what? for my love?  I’m not sure that any of those really fits what I feel.  I just know I keep thinking of the young daughter I had in my dream last week, the one with Down Syndrome, wanting to hug her.

I was reflecting on the way home today about something I heard years ago, that “our grandparents had lives, but we have lifestyles.”  I don’t have a problem with organised religion, the free market, high culture or geek culture in and of themselves, but they can, if you’re not careful, sell you a fake lifestyle and stop you getting a real life.  I try hard to have a life, not a lifestyle, but it’s hard to have any kind of life with depression.  I suppose, from that point of view, I should stop going to the Talmud shiur, because unlike the parasha shiur on Thursdays, it’s become a lifestyle thing rather than a life thing.  I’m not becoming a person who can study independently (life), but someone who goes to the shiur to show other frum Jews that I can pass as a frum Jew (lifestyle).  Sigh.  It’s not that simple though.  I worry about upsetting the rabbi who teaches it, particularly given his family issues (his son being ill and his mother died a couple of weeks ago).  I worry whether I should blame work and lack of time or be honest and open up to people a bit about my mental health.  I worry that I am burning my bridges about dating again.  I worry, I worry, I worry.

Sunk

I did indeed have difficulty sleeping last night (after having inadvertently slept for fifteen hours over Shabbat (the Sabbath)), finally falling asleep around 5.30am and sleeping through the rest of the morning.

I mostly kept today as a mental health day, as I seem to need Sundays to be at the moment now I work Monday to Thursday and have therapy on Friday; Shabbat is restful in some ways, but also often draining inasmuch as I am around people a lot at shul (synagogue) or with my parents (although not this week) and get little ‘introvert time’ when I am by myself to recharge except when actually sleeping, which be another factor in oversleeping and missing shul most weeks at the moment.

Today I did a couple of jobs that needed doing, mostly Chanukah shopping online and writing emails of complaint about various things.  I spoke to my rabbi mentor on Skype and he is pleased with my progress.  I told him that I’m struggling to get to shul even just on Shabbat and to daven with kavannah (pray with concentration) and he said that it is incredible that I’m working nearly full-time and still awake enough to daven at all, which I suppose is true, but I feel I should do more, and that other people expect me to do.  Yes, I can see the problem there, guessing what other people think and caring that they might think me lazy even though they don’t know all the facts, which I guess is social anxiety and low self-esteem again.

I was planning to go for a walk today despite it being cold out, as I had not been out of the flat for more than a couple of minutes for well over forty-eight hours and to cook dinner, but suddenly I was sunk.  ‘Sunk’ is the term I use in my head when I suddenly feel exhausted and unable to go on; the image in my mind is of a submarine that has got sunk to the bottom of the sea and can’t get off the sea bed and is slowly running out of oxygen.  This happens more than occasionally and often quite suddenly.  One moment I’m fine and the next I can’t do anything at all, as happened today.  Sometimes, if I am at work or shul or shiur (religious class), I have no option but to try to push through it.  Sometimes that works, but sometimes I just go through the motions or sit there until I can leave.  If I’m not doing anything urgent, I often tell myself I should go and do something relaxing, but I neither do what I need to do nor something really relaxing (like reading a book or watching a DVD), but I procrastinate, aimlessly surfing the internet, checking emails or (as now) blogging, because I find it hard to give myself permission to do nothing.

I also feel like the loneliness that I was worried about feeling on Shabbat alone in the flat has hit me now instead.  Somehow, speaking to my parents and my rabbi mentor as disembodied voices on the end of a phone or Skype connection feels worse than having no contact with anyone at all.  Or maybe it’s because I sent an email to the person who was trying to set me up on a date saying that unless my potential date (PD) gets in contact with me directly, then I’m not pursuing this any more, because it’s been a month and I have not heard directly from PD nor have I heard anything definite from her rabbi, who is supposed to be the middleman.  I think I mentioned that my Mum had a different suggestion of someone to set me up with, but I don’t really know anything about her, except that she has some experience of mental health issues and sounds like she’s in a similar place to me, being functional, but lapsing back at times of stress.  I think I would be happier with someone who had experience of mental health issues and I thought PD sounded out of my league, but as I really know nothing about either woman, it is hard to know who, if either of them, would have more in common with me.

At any rate, I abandoned my plans to go for a walk and to cook macaroni cheese, even though it’s one of the easiest recipes I make.  I just didn’t have the energy.  I found myself lying on my bed, feeling depressed and angry with myself for giving in to the lethargy, and to the other negative emotions that accompany the loneliness.  I think most of my worst actions/sins/mistakes/whatever-you-call-them, have been prompted by loneliness and a desire to be accepted by others.  It’s not the worst character trait one could have, but I’d rather be in control of myself.  Then again, it’s likely that I’m a control freak and I would be better off if I could let go in a ‘safe’ way.  Not that I’ve ever done anything unsafe or illegal in an objective sense, but I should do things in a controlled way rather than in an ad hoc way when I’m too depressed or exhausted to control my actions – deliberately watch that DVD instead of procrastinating online for hours, to go back to the earlier example.

In the end dinner had to be pasta with a store-bought sauce, a trusty fall back that I’m relying on too much.  I’ve done hardly any real cooking since I started working four days a week back in September and I rely on easy meals, whether cooked (pasta, jacket potatoes) or convenience food (pizza, vegetarian schnitzels, tinned vegetarian cholent).  I feel bad about this, but don’t know what to do about it.  There are only so many hours in the day and I only have so much energy, particularly on work days, but even my weekends are spent recovering from burn out.  Similarly, I only managed five minutes of very basic Torah study today when I had hoped to do more.

And so tomorrow is Monday and work again, the last full week before my sister’s wedding…

Oh Dear

In case anyone can see, yes I am posting this at 4.30am UK time.  And no, I don’t feel tired.  I slept for about fifteen hours out of the last twenty-eight or so, which was probably exhaustion from the week, but which has really messed up my sleep pattern now.

I was in the flat by myself for Shabbat (the Sabbath), my family having gone to my soon-to-be-brother-in-law’s auf ruf (call up to the Torah before getting married).  I didn’t go, for various reasons.  I was worried I would be lonely, but I was also worried someone from shul (synagogue) would find out that I was alone and ask me to dinner.  I’m not sure why I was so scared; I was looking forward to having time alone to read, but I was also worried about having to talk to people at dinner.

I wasn’t as lonely as I have been in the past when in the flat by myself over Shabbat.  I read quite a bit, some Torah, much of Doctor Who Magazine and pretty much all of a Batman graphic novel that was quite good, but disturbingly brutal in parts.  (I spent a few years reading a lot of Batman, but have largely stopped recently as I feel in the more recent stories, the content has got too graphic and sadistic.  I mean, it’s about a man who dresses up as a bat, it’s escapism rather than realism, so why include graphic torture scenes?  I suspect the influence of the Christopher Nolan films, which I really like, but which are deeply disturbing in parts.  Anyway, I digress.)

I began to feel lonely and a bit depressed late at night, but I went to bed and hoped everything would be OK.  Unfortunately, as I feared, with no one to wake me, I overslept.  I was woken by my first alarm, but felt too lethargic and perhaps too socially anxious at the thought of going to shul to get up.  I slept through the other two alarms and missed shul completely, getting up around 1.30pm, feeling a bit depressed and very lethargic.  I davened (prayed) a bit and ate a lot and mostly survived a religious OCD scare, but the flat was very cold as I hadn’t set the timer on the heater to come on early enough, although it would not have helped me if I had, as the timer turned out to be broken, running very slow.  I went into bed after seudah (the third meal) to stay warm, but I fell asleep for two hours, by which time Shabbat was long since over and I had slept for fifteen hours out of the last eighteen or so.

Unsurprisingly, I was not remotely tired by evening.  I didn’t want to waste feeling awake and not particularly depressed, so I did various chores and watched the beginning of the three and a half hour (!!!) documentary on Blade Runner included on the DVD.  I’m in something of a Blade Runner mood at the moment, having in the last few weeks watched the film for the third time, watched the new sequel, Blade Runner 2049, and read the novel it is based on, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? for the fourth time.  It’s possible that, as I’ve mentioned, the parallels and differences between the presentation of empathy in the book and films and my experiences of Asperger’s syndrome and related empathy and socialisation issues are what resonates.

I went to bed at 3.15am, but did not feel at all tired, so I got up again some time after 4.00.  I’m not sure what to do.  I will probably watch more of the documentary and eat some porridge, in the hope that warm milk will make me drowsy.  (I can’t drink milk, I can only eat it with cereal.)

Torah from the Depths: Vayetze

Continuing my weekly posts of mental health-inspired reflections on the weekly Torah reading.

Throughout this week’s sedra, Yaakov (Jacob) is cheated by his uncle Lavan (Laban), who first makes him work seven years so that he can marry Lavan’s daughter, Rachel, then tricks him into marrying her sister Leah and insists he work another seven years for Rachel.  He then encourages Yaakov to work for him for wages for another six years, but repeatedly changes the terms of the contract to try and fleece* him of his salary.  Finally, Yaakov goes back to the land of Canaan, leaving secretly for fear that Lavan will keep Rachel, Leah and their children with him by force.  When eventually Lavan catches up with Yaakov, Yaakov finally gives in and delivers a whole speech (Bereshit/Genesis 31.36-42) complaining of his ill-treatment.  Yet Lavan simply rants back at him and they end up making a truce.

From a mental health perspective, this reminds me of the way that when someone with low self-esteem starts to stick up for themselves, those around them who have been used to them being a doormat feel that they are being attacked.  They feel that the formerly timid person has become an angry monster, when they are simply establishing healthy boundaries where none previously existed.  Similarly, Yaakov, although not suffering low self-esteem, suddenly asserted himself when previously he had been quietly forgiving, but rather than admit his guilt, Lavan saw this as an unjustified attack and fought back forcing a face-saving truce rather than an outright victory for Yaakov.

 

* No pun intended, but as Yaakov was working as a shepherd, maybe this is overly appropriate.

Being an Imposter and Crossing Barriers

This post is about two topics which are not really related, but I don’t think either quite warrants a whole post.  Anyway, I’ve been thinking about both of them recently.

One is feeling an impostor.  At work today I helped a student, but I felt I handled the situation badly at first and it took me a couple of minutes to really get to grips with what I should be doing.  I think I’ve mentioned before that when someone suddenly comes to me with a problem, particularly when I’m on the issue desk, my mind freezes and it takes a couple of minutes to engage with what I can do to solve it, probably from a mixture of social anxiety (anxious about appearing stupid or having to speak to a stranger) and Asperger’s (difficulties reading people feeding in to the social anxiety, but perhaps also executive function issues making it hard to come to a snap decision and having difficulty suddenly changing tasks).  Even then, I don’t always feel like I handled the situation well and I still often have to ask my colleagues for help, even after six months here.  I feel like an impostor, like I don’t really belong in this job.

Likewise, I had to work out the long Dewey number for a book and I was dreading it.  I hadn’t had to work out a long Dewey number since my first term on my librarianship MA, seven years ago.  The previous library I worked at used a specialised, simpler, system and the books here normally come from the publishers with the Dewey number, but one book slipped through the net.  Again, I felt like an impostor.  As it happened, I was able to import the Dewey number from elsewhere and it was just a case of deducing how it had been derived so I could work out how to shorten it to fit our standard, which still took me some time, but wasn’t so hard.  I do worry about what would happen if I had to classify with long Dewey numbers as a matter of course, something I used to be able to do, but a skill I have lost with lack of use.

Sometimes, though, the opposite situation happens and I feel a connection with people who I don’t have much in common with, at least at first glance.  I have a number of non-Jewish and non-religious friends, which is quite unusual for a frum (religious) Orthodox Jew.  Most frum Jews in my experience only socialise with other frum Jews, even if they have non-Jewish work colleagues.

Most of my contacts of this kind are online, but not all of them.  Usually the link is mental health issues, which are a great leveller.  Mental illness is completely egalitarian.  It does not discriminate based on age, gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity or religion, it will happily take anyone.  In this way, I have come to know a number of people who I consider my friends, online (through this blog and elsewhere) and in my depression support group.  As far as I can tell, a number of the people reading regularly this are religious Christians.  There are a few Orthodox Jews and at least one atheist and one who I think self-describes as pantheist/pagan.  Of course, there are a lot of people whose beliefs or lack of I don’t know at all, it just depends on whether they say anything in comments here or on their own blogs that make it clear.

I sometimes wonder how I manage to do this, how I, a person with few friends, particularly in the real world, and social anxieties that often prevent me making contact even with people who are like me, manages to reach out and connect with people who are very different to me.  I guess some of it is that I am a fairly tolerant and non-judgemental person.  I can get along with people who believe different things to me and who do things that I would never do.  Perhaps I also have less fear that I have let them down or that they will reject me for failing to live up to the religious and social standards of the frum (religious) community.  I tend to take people at face value and if they are nice to me, I respond in kind (if they are unpleasant, I avoid them).  Plus encountering people online is easier than meeting them in real life.  Like many Asperger’s sufferers, I find written communication much easier than spoken communication, so meeting people on blogs and websites is much easier than meeting them in real life, even at my depression group.

I don’t really know what to do about either of these things, the impostor syndrome and the ability to connect.  I hope the impostor syndrome will go with time as I get more used to my still relatively new job and the very different working environment I now find myself in.  As for connecting, I sometimes wonder if this is part of my mission in life, but I don’t know in what way or how to turn it to good use.  Interfaith dialogue would be the obvious way, but Orthodox Jews tend not to get involved in interfaith dialogue, for religious and, I suspect social/traditional reasons and I have to say that it has never really interested me, for various reasons.  My friend Louise commented here a while back to suggest that maybe my mission is to testify to something.  I would hope at least that I testify in my writing that Jews are normal people (my mental health notwithstanding), that we have the same issues and worries, the same hopes and dreams as everyone else, that we (or some of us, at least) can have wider cultural and geeky interests like anyone else and that our religion offers comfort and challenges like every other great religion or philosophy.  Maybe that is all I need to testify to, at least for now.

(Just as an aside, I’m hoping to write one post a week that is like this one, more of a mini-essay on an aspect of mental health than a ‘what went wrong today’ diary type of post, perhaps using my lunch break for blogging rather than my Doctor Who book one day a week.  I am also experimenting with changing the way I use the tags in an effort to get more Jewish readers.  As far as I can tell (and I may be completely wrong) a lot of my followers have come to my blog through having my blog suggested to them by WordPress.  I’m guessing (and I may be wrong again) that WordPress’ algorithm is based on my tag usage and my existing followers (hence the exponentially increasing numbers of Christian mental health bloggers reading this, who all seem to read each others’ blogs, judging by their likes).  Up until now I have been using the tags with my librarian’s hat on, like catalogue metadata (data about data e.g. keywords to locate a book – a large part of my job involves essentially tagging books in the library catalogue) i.e. only using terms if very relevant and trying to keep a limited, controlled vocabulary for consistency.  I have bent those rules a bit, more than I would at work, to make it easier for me to find particular posts, but I am thinking of using a larger set of core tags even if they are not key parts of the post, provided I think someone might want to find the post using that term, and even if I may never use that term again.  This is intended to increase the number of people who might have my posts recommended to them.  I also intend to use more Hebrew and Yiddish tags, including tagging with the same term in Hebrew/Yiddish and English (e.g. ‘God’ and ‘HaShem‘ or ‘dating’ and ‘shidduch‘) to get my posts recommended to more Jewish bloggers.)

Dating, Students (not “dating students”, that would be very wrong) and More

I’m starting this on my lunch break at work, finishing it off later (spot the join!).  I only have ten minutes left, but I have a restless need to write something, I just don’t know what.  I’m up to date with typing up my research notes for my book, so it has to be the blog.  I don’t have much to say, though, so apologies if this is brief and/or boring.

The main thing that happened the last few days is that I’ve come to a decision regarding the person I was being set up on a shidduch date with.  At the weekend it will be four weeks since I was set up with her and I still haven’t had any direct contact with her and, aside from one ‘interview’ only brief conversations with her rabbi, who is supposed to be arranging things, but who has largely ignored my voicemail and text messages.  I have heard from him briefly to say that he and she are still inquiring about me.  This strikes me as increasingly pointless, even though I know it is the norm in the frum (religious) world.  They aren’t going to find much about me by asking the rabbis I told them about who (a) are predisposed to like me (as far as I know) or else I would not have given their names as references and (b) would be forbidden for saying anything critical about me unless it was something extremely major because of the laws of lashon hara (forbidden speech).  It’s rather offensive to think that I might be suspected of something so extreme that they would be justified in mentioning it.  It is all taking a long time and I am constantly calling and not getting through and not having my messages returned.  I don’t know if the fault is primarily with my potential date (PD in the future) or her rabbi or both, but I’ve decided that if I haven’t heard anything by Sunday, I will email the person who set me up on the date and ask her to pass a message on to PD saying that if she wants to go on a date, please could she contact me by phone, text or email and if I don’t hear from her directly within a couple of days, I will assume that she isn’t interested, because going through the rabbi just isn’t working.

I don’t know what will happen there.  I’m guessing either PD has found out something she doesn’t like about me and doesn’t want to go ahead (in which case I’d like to know ASAP) or she does want to go ahead, but is having communication problems with the rabbi, in which case it will all depend on whether she is ‘modern’ enough (or brave enough) to consider going on a date without passing it through him.  If it all falls through (and only one of those three options ends with us going on a date) I don’t know whether I will be rushing to date anyone else, but I do at least have some other options open to me and I’m currently having to push them off because I’m waiting to see what will happen here.

On the plus side, my mood has been a bit better recently, at least on work days, when my job provides some distraction, even if social anxiety and Asperger’s do rule when I’m interacting with students – a lot of my interactions seem to end with me feeling like an idiot, or that I’ve handled the situation wrongly.  I think I am learning, but slowly.  There’s a quote from US President Calvin Coolidge that I can’t find at the moment (I know what book I saw it in, but the book is at my parents’ house) where he said to his successor something like, “Many people come to see you and nine-tenths of them want something they should not have.  If you stay completely still, they will eventually run down, but if you give the slightest encouragement, even a nod or a cough, they will start up all over again.”  That’s a bit how I feel on the issue desk, dealing with students who insist they never knew that books have to be handed back on time, that they didn’t know that the due date is stamped on the inside page, that they already returned books that they have actually lost, or that there are no computers free in the computer room (when they mean that there aren’t enough computers free for them to sit with their friends and mess around) and so on.  One has to stonewall them and let them run down before insisting that they have to pay or return their books or sit separately or what have you.  This is hard for someone with social anxiety and an urge to please people stemming from low self-esteem.  My boss has been off sick since the middle of last week, so I am still on the issue desk a lot, interacting with students and staff a lot as the whole team is being stretched to cover her absence (we’re understaffed at the best of times; welcome to the public sector).

Despite this slight improvement, mornings are still a real struggle.  I just feel so tired and unmotivated.  I’m getting seven to eight hours sleep on work nights, but it’s just not enough for me at this time of year and I still crash at the weekends, missing shul (synagogue) and not doing the chores I would like to do on Fridays and Sundays, all of which is very frustratingYesterday I hoped to go to my shiur (class) in the evening, but missed it because I had a headache and felt a bit faint, which was probably exhaustion.  I don’t know if things would be better or worse if I were dating.  Dating might give me an emotional boost, but it might just be an another physically and emotionally draining thing to fit in.

On a previous posts, Angelfire suggested taking vitamin B6, zinc and omega-3 supplements.  I had a look in the chemist for kosher supplements today.  I couldn’t find vitamin B6, but they had vegetarian zinc and omega-3, which the London Bet Din says are kosher (actually, my OCD is making me slightly worried about the omega-3…).  I thought about buying both, but realised to test this scientifically, I should only make one change at a time.   I went for the omega-3, because it’s more associated with depression and because I’m now semi-vegetarian (a Rav Kook vegetarian, vehamavin yavin) and only eat meat and fish on Shabbat and Yom Tov, which means I haven’t had fish for several weeks so I probably need that even aside from the depression.  I also hope to look into getting a light-box on Sunday…

This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us

The title (taken from the song by Sparks) isn’t really relevant to the post, unless you want to see the depression as the other person, but I don’t think I can make the depression leave.  I picked the title because titles are difficult and “Depressed Thoughts” is a boring title.  Also because I’ve been listening to the song a lot recently, the way I do when I get a song in my head, even though it probably isn’t that great a song, objectively speaking.

I seem to be in a permanent state of mild crisis and stress, with occasional bursts of more extreme crisis.  I guess that’s how I’ve been since my mood deteriorated in the summer.

I didn’t get to bed until 3am this morning, due to being up late blogging and feeling agitated.  Of course, I got up late this morning and then was slow to get dressed, feeling depressed and lethargic.  I made the mistake of going online to look something up after breakfast, which dragged me into the news and feeling more depressed.  Western society seems to be centrifuging itself into radicalism, with left and right pushing themselves and each other further to extremes.  I find it worrying.  Some people I know have become very political as a result, but I’ve gone the other way.  I feel fairly disenchanted with most parties and politicians and have largely given up on the political process, preferring to concentrate on personal growth and inter-personal relationships.

The reason I was online was that I was looking for some essays by William Kolbrener, a English literature academic and Orthodox Jew.   I have a book of his essays,  but it’s at my parents’ house and I was looking for one online about one of his sons, who has Down Syndrome (apparently it is correctly spelt without the possessive).  This was because I had a dream last night about having a daughter with Down Syndrome.  I’m bad at estimating ages, but she was probably between about five and eight years old.  She was beautiful and joyous.  It left me feeling strange.  I’m not sure I can put it into words.  Some of it was happy, but also sad and I’m not sure that I fully understand why on either count.  In the dream I loved my daughter and she was happy and loved me, but it left me wondering how I would cope in real life with such a situation, a situation which gets more likely the older I get and the older my dating pool gets (there is also the increased likelihood of having a severely autistic child if I’m really on the spectrum).

More immediately, I’m worried about whether I will get in to work this week.  I feel very depressed today and lacking in energy, motivation and concentration.  I procrastinated a lot and couldn’t do all of what I wanted to do, having to cancel a Skype call with my rabbi mentor.  I worry I will be too depressed to get to work, or to work effectively once I am at work.

My family has suggested to me for a long time that I should get a light box (basically a  bright lamp for treating seasonal affective disorder (SAD) that imitates bright summery sunlight).  Even though I don’t have SAD, they think it might help, as my depression gets worse in the winter.  I did some research online and there doesn’t seem to be any clear evidence that light boxes actually do anything.  I feel pretty desperate though and might try, even though I’m usually sceptical of alternative medicines.  The other thing I’m thinking about is an alarm clock that imitates sunrise, which might help me wake up more peacefully and alertly than my sudden alarms.  If anyone has any experience with either of these, I would be interested to hear it.

I have put on a lot of weight this last year since being on clomipramine.  All three of the psychiatric medications I’m on can cause significant weight gain, but clomipramine seems to be the main culprit, as I was doing OK on olanzapine and lithium.  The problem is I was even worse this time last year, before I was put on clomipramine (I was not going to work, feeling seriously suicidal and fairly convinced I needed to be hospitalised), so coming off isn’t really an option, even though it seems to be doing a lot less for me than it was in the spring, when I felt I was really getting better (before breaking up brought me down again).  I only eat junk food on Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbath and festivals) now.  But I feel I cut out one of the few things I enjoy with nothing to show for it except that I’m not quite overweight yet.  I eat too much convenience food, but I don’t have the time or energy to cook from fresh ingredients often.  I’ve definitely gone backwards in terms of cooking and exercising since increasing my work hours, but I just don’t know what I can do about it.  I have so many demands on my time and I know that getting seven to eight hours sleep a night is the most important priority, as I simply can’t function at work without it.

Reunion

I didn’t want to write another post today (the previous one, which was supposed to take five minutes, took well over an hour and completely messed up my plan for the evening), but I slept over twelve hours last night (completely missing shul (synagogue) this morning) and dozed for another forty-five minutes this afternoon and unsurprisingly am not at all tired now.  What I am is agitated and introspective, pacing my room agitatedly like Patrick McGoohan in The Prisoner (I’m a pacer when I’m agitated or even just thoughtful, much to the annoyance of my parents when I lived with them and they could hear me downstairs.  Solvitur ambulando, it is solved by walking (except it isn’t).  Also, when am I not introspective?  Maybe that’s why the depression makes me sleep so much, because it’s the only way to turn my brain off).

I was chatting to one of my sort-of-friends from shul last night.  I suppose I should stop calling them sort-of-friends and just call them friends.  I think they would want to be my friend, despite being quite a bit older than me, if I would let my defences down.  He was asking about work and it came out that I don’t work on Fridays.  So he asked what I do instead and I was too scared to say it’s my psychotherapy day, so I just muttered something about getting ready for Shabbat (the Sabbath).  And afterwards I thought that this was a prime opportunity to open up a bit about my issues and I fudged it, as usual, because I didn’t know what to say and was too frightened of how he would respond; I also don’t know how to casually drop something that big into the conversation (there is only one friend from my new shul who I have told about my issues and I carefully chose my moment for that and planned in advance what to say).

Then today I missed shul in the morning, as I said, and when I went back for Ma’ariv (the evening service) I felt people wanted to know where I had been.  Not in an intrusive way, but in a worried-about-me way.  But, again, I was too shy to say anything, I just said I was OK and avoided conversation because I was too scared how people would react.

I’m trying to work out if, on the whole, people are OK about hearing about my mental health.  Some people have been, some have not.  It’s hard to tell, because I don’t really open up to people about my depression away from the blog and depression group.  If I ever have to say something, I say it quickly and try to move on.  I don’t really tell people what it’s like to be depressed.  I have had a couple of bad experiences, although they mostly centre on dating and depression and it’s probably not reasonable to extrapolate from them to other cases.  There was the woman who seemed to be interested in seeing me until I mentioned I was depressed at which point she just ran a mile and cut off all contact with me, saying she would get back to me and not doing so, but the big one is the friend I had at university who was really supportive, but got worried that I would commit suicide because of something she would say or do because I was in love with her and she just wanted to be friends.  Eventually she broke off contact with me too, to the point of cutting me dead in the street or not looking at me at the Jewish Society, which was just embarrassing.  I do sometimes wonder what happened to her (she was basically the first and almost the only person I may have been really in love with as opposed to just crushing on and I wonder if I will ever feel like that about anyone else, and whether it will be reciprocated).  I know she moved to Israel and got married; I think she has children, but I don’t know for sure.

This train of thought got me thinking about people I have known in my life, people I have loved or crushed on, people I wanted to be friends with, but was too shy to talk to or too afraid I would run out of things to say or would otherwise seem boring and weird, people who bullied me… Sometimes I wish I could see the people from my life and tell them who I am, who I really am, with the depression and the OCD (which was worse today, don’t know why, mostly pure O thoughts about idolatry) and the social anxiety and the possible Asperger’s and see what they think of me, and how they treated me (for good or for ill).  If I could be known.  I think that’s what lies behind my desire for love and intimacy (which, as I’ve said before, is the main thing I want/need).  To be known and accepted for who I am.  Except, a few lines up I defined myself entirely by my mental health issues and neurology.  Not my personality.  Not my interests.  Perhaps because I just want to make excuses for myself.  Or perhaps because even in a fantasy scenario constructed in my head, I’m still too scared to open up about my interests or personality because that seems even more likely to lead to rejection than being depressed or neurodivergent.  Because I fear I come across as a geeky freak who ‘normal’ people and frum (religious) people could never understand.

I think writing this has made me feel more agitated rather than less.  I guess I should try to go to bed.

Anyway, good news: I finished Daniel Deronda after over four months!  It took so long because there was a month where I don’t think I read any of it at all because I was so depressed, and many other days when I read little or nothing because of the depression.  Off to read some lighter books, both in terms of physical weight (taking Daniel Deronda to work every day has not been fun, especially as I take Torah books too) and ease of reading/subject matter.

Torah from the Depths: Toldot

Continuing my weekly posts of mental health-inspired reflections on the weekly Torah reading.

I didn’t write a Torah reflection last week, as I couldn’t see anything in the sedra (Chayei Sarah) that resonated with me.  This may have been my unconscious refusing to connect with a sedra that centred almost entirely around the idea of marriage (most of the sedra dealt with Yitzchak’s (Isaac’s) marriage, with Avraham’s (Abraham’s) remarriage added as an epilogue).

This week as well I struggled to find a direct connection with the sedra, but I did connect with Rabbi Lord Sacks’ essay on the sedra (it doesn’t seem to be up on his website yet; I subscribe to get it in email form each week).  In it he asks why Yitzchak was chosen as the next generation in the line of the covenant rather than his half-brother Yishmael (Ishmael)?  And similarly why Yaakov (Jacob) over his twin Esav (Esau)?

Rabbi Sacks notes the traditional reason, rooted in the Midrash, that Yishmael and Esav were simply evil and unsuitable for that reason, but he challenges the reading of Midrash back into the peshat in this way.

(A side note to explain: there are four traditional levels or types of Jewish biblical hermeneutics (interpretations), indicated by the acronym PaRDeS (‘orchard’, but related to ‘paradise’): peshat, the literal meaning (or perhaps more accurately, contextual or ‘straightforward’ meaning, as Jews are not textual literalists, and there are occasions where we reject the literal meaning even on a peshat level e.g. physical descriptions of God); remez, ‘hint’ i.e. the allegorical meaning; drash (from which we get Midrash), the halakhic (legal) and ethical meaning of the text; and sod, the ‘secret’ or esoteric meaning i.e. the philosophical or kabbalistic meaning, depending on whether you are a rationalist or a mystic.  What Rabbi Sacks is saying here is that we shouldn’t read the level of drash into peshat, which is completely true, although he’s fighting a losing battle in terms of how most Jews have understood Midrash now and in the past.  Most Jews have blurred the lines between the two, with many Midrashim being more well-known than the biblical text.  This is far off-topic, but I can’t resist sharing the anecdote of the great Orthodox educationalist Nechama Leibowitz playing a practical joke on some Israeli army officers she was teaching, when she told them to turn in the Tanakh (Hebrew bible) to the story of Avraham breaking his father’s idols.  She left them leafing through Tanakh in vain for some minutes before revealing that the story appears only in the Midrash.  The fact is, most Jewish children learn the story before they ever open a Tanakh or a Chumash and it’s hard to see it as a later rabbinic construction rather than The True History of Avraham.)

To get back to the point, Rabbi Sacks argues that we are told that Yishmael was “a wild donkey of a man” (16.12) and “a skilled archer” (21.20) and Esav was “a skilled hunter, a man of the field” (25.27), men who were at home in nature and who might have been seen as heroes or even gods in the pagan cultures of the time.  Unlike them, Yitzchak and Yaakov needed the help of the God who is beyond nature just to survive (in fact, even to be born – both were born from one or two infertile parents), rather than their own skills and the natural world itself.

Although this is perhaps not entirely what Rabbi Sacks meant, this seemed to me to be supportive of the neurodivergent and the mentally ill, the people who don’t go through life winning easy victories.  In fact, almost the whole of the book of Bereshit (Genesis) is about how the people who easily get married, have children, find a home, defeat enemies and so forth are not the people who God chooses.  God chooses those who struggle to find their soul mates, the infertile, the homeless, the weak and persecuted and so on.  This is in fact an idea that Rabbi Sacks has returned to time and time again in his sedra essays over the years: that in Judaism it is never the obviously successful who are the religious heroes, but always the underdogs.

None of the founders of Judaism is explicitly identified as mentally ill or neurodivergent (although to return to Midrash, Yaakov might have been depressed for the twenty-two years that he thought Yosef (Joseph) was dead; I have seen some discussion online as to whether Yitzchak might have had Down’s Syndrome.  There is obviously difficulty diagnosing something thousands of years later, but it’s an interesting idea), but one can obviously extrapolate that deviating from the social norm is not something that means rejection by God; in fact, it might be the reverse.

Passing

Just a quick note about ‘passing’ in the Jewish community (of the ‘being something you’re not’ kind rather than the ‘dying’ kind).  After a somewhat difficult day at work (nothing particularly went wrong for me, I just felt quite depressed and lacking motivation), I went to the parasha shiur (class on the week’s Torah reading).  I was the first person there and the assistant rabbi was chatting to me.  Small talk generally makes me anxious, particularly when I feel I have to ‘pass’ as a frum (religious) Jew.  The assistant rabbi was asking about my job and I felt I had to hide that my previous job was at a non-Orthodox Jewish seminary because I don’t know how that would go down with an Orthodox rabbi.  He also asked me if I went to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) because (he said) I seem knowledgeable.  That made me kvell (sorry, can’t translate; the internet says ‘be joyful and proud’) a bit, for ‘passing’ as a yeshiva bocher (student), but I also feel like I have to keep saying intelligent and knowledgeable things to carry on ‘passing’ and I did feel embarrassed when I said I didn’t go to yeshiva.  I was trying to summon up the courage to explain why I didn’t go when someone else came in and the conversation moved on.

A thought that occurred to me after the shiur was to wonder if the assistant rabbi is aware of any of my mental health issues.  His parents are good friends with my parents and my issues are well-known among my parents’ friends and we did go to the same shul (synagogue) when we were growing up, so it’s possible, but if he does know, he’s too polite to have mentioned it.

Before this, I phoned the rabbi I’ve been trying to contact about my date (I know too many rabbis…).  He is still trying to get in touch with some of the rabbis I gave as references, and he asked if I know the rabbi of my old shul (synagogue) as my potential date wants to contact him for a reference.  I said yes as he knows me well.  I originally wrote a paragraph here about frum dating and the silliness (in my humble opinion) of getting references and doing a lot of preliminary research before a first date rather than just going and seeing what the chemistry is like, but I cut it because it was verging a bit on lashon hara (negative speech about people).  Suffice to say I don’t mind being investigated, but I feel it shouldn’t go on for weeks before there is even a date, particularly as I don’t know what she is trying to find out.

I tell myself that maybe this is a good sign, maybe my potential date dated a lot of jerks who passed as nice people initially and she wants to make sure that I’m not a jerk and maybe my not-being-a-jerk-ness will outweigh my being-a-mentally-ill-autistic-weirdo-who-didn’t-go-to-yeshiva-ness.  On the other hand, maybe she’s trying to check that I’m not a mentally ill autistic weirdo who didn’t go to yeshiva, I just can’t tell.  I just hope I hear soon, one way or the other, as the longer it goes on, the more sure I become that I can’t be the person she’s looking for and want to just get it over with.

Update

Today was mostly a reasonably good day, but quite a lot happened.  I’m not sure how interesting any of it is in and of itself, but as most of it either follows on from things I have written in the past or is setting up potential things for the future, I thought I should give a quick update for regular readers and friends.

I spoke to my boss about my depression and my worries that it might get worse after my sister’s wedding.  As I hoped, but didn’t dare admit even to myself, she said I should take the next day off and make up the time by coming in for one day during the February half-term.  So that’s very positive for me (I get time off to recover) and also for my parents (I’m planning on staying the night at their house, partly for practical reasons, but, as my Mum said, it will stop them waking up feeling lonely and having empty nest syndrome).

Regarding the depression in general, she said she hadn’t noticed a change in my work, except that I’m not so pro-active in dealing with students, which she thought was probably my personality more than depression.  I didn’t say that this was more likely the social anxiety or Asperger’s because I didn’t want to complicate things, especially as I don’t have an official diagnosis of either of those things.  I said that I was worried about being late or taking time off sick and she basically said I shouldn’t worry about things that haven’t happened and which I have limited control over.  I felt afterwards that I’d said the wrong things, but that as probably just social anxiety.  On the whole the meeting went well.

At the end of the day, my boss also said that I had spent the whole day staring at books with a puzzled look on my face.  I thought that is probably how I spend all of my work days, but I didn’t say anything.  I know that while I have problems reading other people’s expressions, my facial expressions are literally as plain as the nose on my face.  It can be irritating at times, and is one of several reasons why I’m a very bad liar.

I also managed to get through a kashrut crisis at work without lapsing back into religious OCD, which was very good, although I do need to contact someone to ask if I’m still allowed to use the work kettle now non-kosher vinegar has been used to descale it.

I have managed to get myself exempted from security duty at shul (synagogue) for the moment, because the depression is likely to make me struggle to get up on time to do my slot and I don’t want to let them down by not showing up.  I am not happy to have to ask for exemption, which just puts more pressure on other people (it’s a small community, so we all have to take our turn fairly regularly), but I’m glad they were understanding (it helps the person in charge of security is my closest friend in the shul).

I just phoned the rabbi I was trying to get hold of about the date I had been set up on.  Apparently my potential date is making her own inquiries into my background.  But the rabbi said I should phone back tomorrow “at the latest.”  I do vaguely feel that if politicians were vetted the way Orthodox Jews vet people for a shidduch (match), there wouldn’t have been so many resignations from governments on both sides of the Atlantic recently…

Growing Up Neurodivergent

I’ve been reminded a couple of times today of the Red Queen in Through the Looking-Glass: “My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place.  And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.”  It feels like that at the moment, with my struggles, that I’m running just to stand still or even to go back just a little bit rather than a lot, while others are moving ahead just by casually walking.

Work today was hard.  I don’t have any great anecdotes, nothing notably bad or annoying happened, it was just a boring day doing boring work for people I can’t communicate with (I mean that literally, not in terms of Asperger’s or social anxiety – I was in our secondary campus where most of the students are either immigrants with very poor English or people with very serious learning disabilities) in a library that is dark and gloomy and generally depressing-looking.  (It also smells, which doesn’t help, especially as my boss said I can’t use air-freshener because of allergies.)  Thankfully, I only have to go to this campus once a week.  I don’t think I could stand any more.  To make matters worse, for much of the afternoon teacher was working with an adult student in the library, who was practising his reading and comprehension by reading aloud a newspaper article on Islamic fundamentalism and female genital mutilation, really not what I wanted to listen to when feeling depressed and trying to get on with my own work.

My boss has agreed to speak to me tomorrow about my mental health and I hope to mention my sister’s wedding.  I need to plan what I want to say.  I’m hoping that it goes well.

I just deleted a load of stuff because it was just whinging about an unprofessionally-run shiur (religious class) and an equally problematic GP’s surgery.  A more interesting thought occurred to me while davening Ma’ariv (saying the evening prayers).  Growing up, I was religiously traditional, but not shomer mitzvot, which means that my family kept elements of Jewish law, but not all of it.  Shabbat (the Sabbath) was special and I didn’t do homework on it, but I watched TV and my Dad went to football.  We kept a reasonably kosher home, but not entirely and we ate vegetarian food in non-kosher restaurants and so on.  Still, as I got to my teens, I began to become more interested in Judaism and Jewish study and to think about taking on more aspects of Jewish law.

I think a number of people wanted me to get more involved in Jewish life, particularly in terms of study events, shul (synagogue) youth services, religious youth movements, kiruv organisations (organisations that try to make non-religious Jews more religious, essentially a sort of internal proselytisation) and the like, culminating ultimately in my school teachers wanting me to go and study in yeshiva (rabbinical seminary.  One can study there for a year or two without obligation to become a rabbi).  I think various rabbis wanted me to go so I would become more religious; my Mum was just looking for a social outlet for me that was more introvert-friendly than sport or scouts.

At the time, I shied away from all this stuff without really being able to articulate why.  In later years I would say that these groups were too Charedi (ultra-Orthodox), which was not always true.  Later, I was able to get past that and thought that being in large crowds of people my own age brought up too many memories of being bullied at school, often by the very people attending these groups (I still find it a bit weird that some of the kids who used to mess around in school and bullied me are now super-religious and married with lots of kids.  I really can’t reconcile who they were (not like me) with who they are now (like me, or at least how I want to be).  I don’t know if that says more about me or them).

But I think there is more to it than that.  It strikes me that all this stuff is really bad for someone with social anxiety and Asperger’s Syndrome.  I certainly had the former and may have had the latter.  These things are all about crowds of people getting together and while some of them focus on study, all of them have a socialising component built in that can be overwhelming and any youth movement is going to have an element of deindividuation in a group which I find so frightening.  I correctly identified that some of that sense of being overwhelmed came from being bullied at school and fearing that the patterns would repeat in youth movements or kiruv organisations, but even without that, just being in a loud room full of strangers is always going to freak me out, no matter what the context.  Add to that the fear (justified or not, I don’t know) that some at least of the rabbis wanted to change me into something I wasn’t comfortable with being (deindividuation again) and it’s no wonder I ran a mile.  Similarly, when I got to university all my friends were on the Jewish Society committee and tried to get me to join, but I resisted.  I said it was because the society was essentially a social group, not a religious one (which was basically true) and I had nothing to offer in that context, but I was very afraid of deindividuation and being in social groups, even in an environment where I was realistically safe from overt bullying (although someone did have a real go at me for not joining in).

It’s a bit reassuring realising this after all these years.  I don’t feel I need to worry so much about what might have been if I had gone to these things, as I would probably have just panicked and stood in painful silence rather than making life-long friends or meeting my wife.  It is less helpful knowing how to apply that information to events that I could potentially go to now.  I am still trying to see how much I can push myself to fight the social anxiety.  The way to beat social anxiety, like any anxiety, is to expose yourself to what you fear, but if I am autistic, then I’m just not going to be comfortable in certain situations no matter how hard I push myself.  It is hard to know what to do, particularly given my weird non-diagnosis regarding Asperger’s.

My rabbi mentor just told me not to be so hard on myself.  He wasn’t thinking about this, but I guess it applies here too.  I just wish I knew how not to be hard on myself…

Missions and Needs

First, I emailed my boss today to arrange a time to talk about my sister’s wedding.  I’m putting it in the context of my mental health (and its deterioration) generally, rather than specifically asking for leniency regarding the wedding.  We shall see what happens.

I was given some personal/religious tests over the weekend and I failed them.  I won’t go into many details.  The hardest one might have been a test I could never have passed, only one should not say such things.  At any rate, I failed it, and even if I was set up to fail, I might have done better than I did.  This all makes me feel singularly unprepared to date for marriage (rather than for fun), which is what I am on the point of doing, assuming that rabbi ever gets back to me.  I am not in the best of moods at times at the moment and I continually feel burnt out.  I miss shul and do not always daven (pray) at home in full or with kavannah (concentration).  I skip Torah study.  I skip household chores.  I have little time to relax.  I feel at the end of my tether at times.  How can I date like this?  How could I be remotely attractive or ready to marry?  Certainly how can I date a frum woman?  How could she be remotely interested in me?

My parents think that dating will help me, arguing that if I find someone to love me, I will feel better.  This may be true, but I doubt anyone could love my current irritable, sarcastic, burnt out self.  Everything I’ve read about dating for marriage (which is the Orthodox way of dating) says that one should be ready for marriage and its demands, that one should have resolved one’s inner problems and know who one is.  I have not resolved my inner problems, and given that I have been struggling with them for perhaps twenty years or more, I probably never will do so.  Which means I will never be ready to marry or be loved.

Someone whose blog I read is contemplating divorce from a husband of many years, on the grounds that his depression makes him emotionally distant and unresponsive.  She married him to fix him and now realises that she can’t fix him.  I fear that that could be me and my wife if I got married.

Related to this is the issue of values, of knowing one’s mission in life.  I have heard from a couple of sources that one can find this by looking at what you would do if you had a very large sum of money (millions) and six hours a day to do what you want.  Related to this is what, of all the things you have done, has brought you the most pleasure.

I have no idea what I would do with a large sum of money.  If I had free time and no financial needs, I might write, but then again my self-criticism of my writing is strong enough that I might not, and even if I did, I don’t know what I would write about.   I have no confidence in my writing.  I enjoy writing about Doctor Who, but I can’t imagine that is my mission in life, nor that I can do it particularly well in a crowded marketplace; I feel it is unlikely that I will manage to sell my book if I finish it.  Other than that, I don’t know.

I can’t tell what has brought me most pleasure in life, because so few things have got through the depressive anhedonia and brought me any pleasure, at least as an adult.  I like helping people, but I’m not terribly good at it and I have to fight the social anxiety to do it.  My parents would probably say that I don’t help that much, that I’m always too eager to scurry off to my private world.  Certainly I struggle to deduce other people’s needs, to think of supplying them and to get the motivation to neglect my own tasks to help (Asperger’s again, perhaps).  Sadly, introspection is not a divinely-inspired life mission, nor does it make me happy, but more agitated and depressed.  I like playing with children, but think I’m unlikely ever to have any of my own and I’m wary of searching out opportunities to work or volunteer with them because I don’t feel that I’m good with them and worry about being responsible if something goes wrong as I have no real experience of being an adult responsible for young children, my sister being only a little younger than me and my cousins largely growing up abroad.

I used to enjoy being involved in my old shul, where I led services and gave drashot (short classes), but I feel too religiously inadequate in my current community to put myself forward for anything like that, even when the opportunities are available.  In my old community, I was one of a very small number of religiously capable people, but here everyone else is much better at that sort of thing that I am, so I leave them to it.  Anyway, I used to feel bad for enjoying those things, as it felt too much like showing off.

As I’ve mentioned before, I think love and intimacy are what I’m looking for in life, but it’s hard to be sure when they are so fraught with danger for me and hard to find so I don’t really know what they are like very well.  I don’t know if getting married and having a family can be one’s life mission; at any rate, this article, suggests otherwise, that family is a general mission everyone has, not one’s unique, divinely ordained purpose in being here.  Anyway, if it is my life mission, I’m failing at it spectacularly.

A number of books I was cataloguing today had Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in them, which I was already familiar with, but which reminded me again how few of my needs are being met.  On the lowest level of the pyramid, my basic physiological needs are met, except for sex.  In theory my safety needs are met, except that my financial position is precarious (and still dependent on my parents), but my social anxiety often leaves me feeling unsafe.  On the third, level, love and belonging, I have some friends and relatives I am somewhat close to, but my friends tend to live far away and be inaccessible, while friends and family alike do not always understand me, nor do I always understand them.  Certainly my love and belonging needs are not met enough even if they are met in part.  As for the highest levels of esteem and self-actualisation, I have zero self-esteem (I don’t know if I have respect from others) and no self-actualisation – as I say, I don’t know what self-actualisation would look like for me.

So there you go, I feel pretty useless and despairing today.  I struggled to do my work because I was feeling depressed and I spent part of my lunch break drafting this, which was a mistake, as it put me in a bad state of mind for the afternoon rather, whereas working on my book in my break is somewhat refreshing.  I suppose I’ll muddle through, I usually do, but I’m fed up of muddling through.  I want to have a proper, stable life, with love (of all kinds), friendship, stability, self-esteem and maybe even one day elements of self-actualisation.

Quick Observation

After posting my previous post it occurred to me that it’s probably not coincidence my worst day, depression-wise, in ages happens the day after my family spend hours talking about my sister’s wedding in my presence, including about what I’m going to have to do that day.

Normal, Unfortunately

“The situation, Lavel, is normal and it doesn’t get much worse than that.” – Doctor Who: Battlefield by Ben Aaronovitch

A loosely timecoded account of my day.

13.54  Utterly exhausted.  I’ve been awake about two hours, after sleeping for about ten  hours (I went to bed late because I was watching Doctor Who).  I’m still in my pyjamas.  I had breakfast, which usually gives me some energy, but hasn’t today.  I’m just too tired to do anything.

15.01  Dressed now.  Somehow I managed to just daven Minchah (say afternoon prayers), even though I have zero energy and I feel really angry with God and disinclined to pray to Him.  I was reflecting on the hasgachah pratit (Divine providence) stories that you can find on Jewish sites like Hevria.com, Aish.com and Chabad.org, where people say, “Bad things happened to me, but I trusted in HaShem (God)” and everything turned out OK in the end” or even “I didn’t believe in God, but He did some amazing miracle for me and now I’m a frum (religious) Jew.”  I try really hard to see God’s hand in my life, but mostly it’s seeing His responsibility for my suffering and pain.  Every day I try to find five things to thank Him for, even if it’s tiny things in otherwise bleak situations, for example, “Thank you that, although I was too depressed [You made me too depressed] to get up for forty-five minutes after I should have done, thank you that you gave me a tiny bit of energy so I got to work on time, even though that meant I had to skip most of davening [for which I expect You will punish me at some point].”  But despite this, He seems to hate me.  Certainly whenever something good happens, it quickly turns bad (the opposite of all the hasgachah pratit stories on those websites).  My new job seemed good, but I feel I can’t handle the hours or the commute any more, nor the other stresses of the job.

I hate myself and feel that I’m worthless and other unmentionable words.  I’m pretty sure that God feels the same way about me, otherwise He would help me or at least show me why He hates me so much, what my sins are, so I could change and be worthy of His love.  I know what my worst sins are, but they are caused by my psychological issues rather than causing them, so I don’t know how to change unless He heals me first, something He has been refusing to do for twenty years or more.

I just want to know that I’m loved, really.  By God and preferably by a woman who will let me love her too.  I don’t know which I want more.   I guess that depends how pious or lonely I feel.

Whatever.  I’m supposed to do a load of things today: Torah study, cleaning the flat, cooking, proof-reading my Dad’s speech for the wedding, and I don’t have energy for any of them.  And I slept so late and took so long to get the energy to get dressed, that ludicrously, I have to get ready for bed again in just a few hours so that I might just get up in time for work tomorrow.  I just want to watch DVDs all afternoon, really, but the flat hasn’t been cleaned for about three weeks and I really ought to cook something so I’m not eating convenience food all week.

15.58  I’ve eaten lunch and watched an episode of Doctor Who, but I still have no energy or motivation.

16.27  Still exhausted.  I don’t think I’m going to get anything done today.  I would like to go for a walk, but I don’t have the energy; even the thought of putting my coat, gloves and scarf on is intimidating.

I didn’t find a mental health Torah reflection this week.   The nearest I could find was discomfort with Yitzchak (Isaac) getting married.  At forty, he was older than me, but then living to 180, he lived rather longer than I’m likely to live.

16.54  I just managed thirteen minutes of Torah study and feel exhausted.  Mostly it was reading over a bit of the Gemarah that we skipped in Talmud shiur (class) last week because it was too mathematical and complicated.  I couldn’t understand it at all by myself, even in translation.  Going over what we did study last week was only a little easier.  I tried to skim a religious article online, but couldn’t concentrate.  I hate it when I am too depressed to read, reading is so important to me.

17.19  Phoned my parents, trying very hard not to sound irritable and depressed.  When I’m depressed it’s very hard not to be irritable, especially when I feel people are patronising me.  This is another reason I have made a mistake looking into dating again.  I’m just not good enough.

17.36 Davened Ma’ariv (evening prayers) with zero kavannah (concentration).  I would feel lousy, if I could feel anything.

18.25 Went shopping.  It was a struggle to walk home, even though it’s only ten minutes away.  I don’t know how I am going to get to work tomorrow, but I’m scared to phone in sick, both because I don’t know how my boss will react and because if I miss one day, I know I will get out of the routine of going and it will be impossible to get back into it.  I’m like a cartoon character who can run off a cliff provided I don’t look down and see that I’ve run out of road (not my metaphor, sadly.  I wish I could write that well).  A bit of me wants to just watch DVDs, but mostly I just want not to exist, although I’m not actively suicidal.  People as messed up as me don’t deserve to be happy or loved, so I guess it’s just as well I’m not happy or loved romantically (I guess a couple of people care about me platonically or familially, though sometimes it’s hard to feel it).

I guess I should make some dinner, but I don’t really have the energy.  I should at least cook some plain pasta for tonight and tomorrow and boil some eggs for lunch tomorrow and Tuesday, otherwise I’ll be eating convenience food for dinner all week and cheese sandwiches every day for lunch.  I really need to clean the flat, but it isn’t going to happen now until next weekend at the earliest.

18.40  My sister phoned about wedding stuff.  I feel bad because she’s worried she’s upset me by talking too much about the wedding and with aspects of the party.  So of course I feel bad for signposting my boredom with the wedding too obviously and for being ill and not knowing what I’m going to be able to do about the wedding until the day and not really caring about the things she wants me to do.  And then I feel guilty that she picked up that I wasn’t in a state to have that conversation today, because I should hide my feelings better to avoid inconveniencing people.  The one good thing about thinking I’m never going to get married is not having to worry about having a wedding party.  I hate parties.  I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a party since I was a young child.

Right now I just can’t cope.  I hate myself for the things I do when I’m depressed, the person I become.  I hate myself for self-sabotaging every chance I have at happiness.  I hate myself for being generally stupid and useless and I hate myself for being depressed and socially anxious and Aspie (and undiagnosed) and still sometimes OCD.

19.26  I feel numb now.  I’m not really feeling anything except wanting to curl up and sleep.  I should make dinner, but I can’t really be bothered.  Incredibly, I need to start getting ready for bed in an hour or so, even though I feel like I’ve only just got up.  I achieved more or less nothing today and don’t know how I’m going to cope with the coming week.

Shut-Down Shabbat

It was a difficult Shabbat (Sabbath).  I got to shul (synagogue) on Friday night, but that was it.  I didn’t get to the communal ‘learning’ (Orthodox Jews say ‘learning’ when they mean ‘study’ because of Yiddish influences, a fact that annoys me no end, doubly so given that it’s a bad habit I’ve lately adopted, which at least shows that I’m trying to fit in with frum people, however maladroitly) event and I missed shul today because I was feeling burnt out: exhausted and depressed.  My sister was with us all over Shabbat and her fiancé was with us today.  I got to talk about my feelings of burn out and work and dating stress at dinner on Friday, but today at lunch the talk was almost entirely about the wedding and I got bored and anxious and walked off and ate pretzels instead of joining in because I had nothing to say.  I’m a bit annoyed about something that’s happening at the wedding, but am too polite to say anything to my sister, especially as I can sort of see the reason for it, but that doesn’t make me feel any better.

I did get to speak to my parents and my sister about working the day after the wedding.  I don’t think I made it clear in my previous post that I can’t just take the day after the wedding off as holiday.  Because I work in a college, I’m not allowed to take holiday during term time and had to take Yom Tov off as time off in lieu and work it off later.   I don’t think I’d be allowed to take another day off, especially as I think my boss thinks I’ve been slacking off.  My plan is to meet with my boss and explain that I have to go to the wedding, but that I’m worried my mental health issues might make my work sub-par for a day or two afterwards and see what she says.  But I’m not hopeful.

Regarding dating, I emailed the person who set me up on the date to ask her to tell my potential date that I’m interested, but that I can’t get hold of the rabbi to arrange to meet.  She emailed me back to say that my date can’t get hold of the rabbi either.  I’m quite glad, as I’m burnt out and can’t see myself managing to date, let alone get married.  In any case, I’m pretty sure she’s going to find me not frum (religious) and religiously knowledgeable enough for her, not least because of her super-frum insistence on organising the date through the rabbi rather than in person.

I was hoping to clean my flat tonight, but I’m too tired and depressed after a busy week and a day listening to people talking about weddings and making me feel lonely, miserable and anxious (about the wedding).  Also, my family can be quite loud when they’re talking and when everyone is shouting at once the Aspie/introvert part of me spaces out and gets drained, which is how I feel now.  I plan to eat something and watch Doctor Who for a bit.

Shul and More Social Anxiety

(My last public post got eight likes.  Not much, I know, but I think it’s a record for me.)

I’m just back from shiur (religious class) and I’m still trying to process what happened.  It triggered a lot of social anxiety.

First, everyone was sitting around noshing, drinking whisky and bantering (I’m not sure why whisky seems to be served at all these things; this is why I don’t believe the stereotype that Jews don’t drink).  I couldn’t do any of this because I’m trying not to eat junk food except on Shabbat (the Sabbath) because I’m putting on weight from my medication (which means I’ve cut out about the only simple pleasure I had left, hooray!), I don’t drink because alcohol is a depressant and I shouldn’t take it with my meds, but the real reason is that alcohol scares me and always has (same as I don’t drive because cars scare me) and I couldn’t banter because I was too shy and self-conscious.  At some point around this time I became (self-)conscious of being the only person in the room not married with children (not strictly true as one person is divorced, I think, but almost).  Also, I got very sweaty on the Tube today and didn’t have time to shower when I got home and so was feeling very self-conscious and glad no one was sitting too close to me… or maybe that was why no one was sitting too close to me…

Then during the shiur the assistant rabbi asked a question that he was sure no one would be able to answer.  He was so sure we wouldn’t be able to answer it, he promised to pay £50 to tzedaka (charity) if someone did.  I knew the answer.  So after that I felt bad, that maybe I had been showing off (cf. my recent comments about not knowing when I can show off) and I had cost him money and maybe I should have stayed silent.  And he made a big thing of me knowing things.  I feel inadequate when I assume people think I’m ignorant and stupid, but when I do show some knowledge, I just feel embarrassed.  The assistant rabbi apologised to me at the end, but I was having a small social anxiety panic and couldn’t actually hear what he was apologising for.  I guess he was worried he embarrassed me.  I just nodded and said I was fine, which is what I always do when people apologise to me, even when I’m not fine.

The point of the shiur turned out to be about wanting to reveal God to the world through all our actions and I felt that I used to want that, but nowadays I just want to get married, have kids and be happy.  This left me feeling even more depressed, inadequate and guilty.  Plus, talk of Olam HaBa (the Next World i.e. the afterlife) just makes me think again that I have no share in Olam HaBa.  I don’t really have any rational reason to believe this, beyond a general sense of guilt and shame about my life as well as guilt and shame about specific thoughts, words and deeds, plus an intuition that nothing good could ever happen to someone like me.  On the way home I wondered if I lived in another universe where I was really suffering and this world is the solipsistic fantasy life I have constructed to escape, but it would have to be a pretty awful ‘real’ life if this one is better.  Or maybe I just have a poor imagination.

I was actually feeling OK at work today, but I seem to have come right down now.

There’s another educational event at shul (synagogue) tomorrow evening.  I wanted to go, but I’m so burnt out from work that I think I’d better stay at home and read, or else I’m likely to burn out and miss shul on Saturday.  Tonight has just been the last straw.  There’s an oneg (Shabbat party thing) next week.  I don’t know if I’ll go to that.  I half promised myself that I wouldn’t go to any more of those, because I just sit there feeling socially awkward and miserable, not wanting to eat too much because of my weight, not drinking, sometimes not knowing the tunes to join in the singing.  There’s a guest speaker, but he’s a journalist and a lawyer and I’m not that interested in what he might say.  I had told myself that maybe I won’t force myself to go to shul social events if I go to more educational ones, but now I might be skipping tomorrow’s educational event anyway.  I’m torn between guilt for not going to these things and the awkwardness and anxiety that inevitably follows if I do go.  The depression comes either way.

In other news, I tried several times again to phone the rabbi about the date he was supposed to set up, twice during my lunch break and once after work in the hope that maybe he answers the phone during the daytime, but no answer.  I eventually left a message for him, but I did that during the week and he didn’t get back to me.  Judging favourably, he either has some major crisis or he’s lost his phone.  Either way, I emailed the person who originally tried to set me up on the date to see if she could at least tell the potential date that I’m interested, I just don’t know how to contact her (I was worried she might think I was ignoring her or had changed my mind about going out), but I haven’t heard anything back yet.  I have a suspicion that this is going to be yet another potential date that falls through.  I suppose I should just be thankful that people are trying to set me up on dates even if none of them work out.

 

Reflections on Work, Social Anxiety and Related Issues

1) My sister’s wedding is in less than a month.  I know it is likely that the morning afterwards, which is a workday, I am likely to be exhausted (I’m only expecting to get four or five hours sleep whereas I need at least seven, preferably eight or nine – at the moment I’m getting around eight hours on work nights, but that includes getting up half an hour later than I would like).  It is almost certain that being around such a big crowd of people for so long at an event that drives home my single and lonely status will push so many depressive, socially anxious and autistic buttons that I will be very depressed and struggle to work the next day.  It’s entirely possible that I simply won’t function for at least a day or two afterwards.  I mean literally not function, barely able to get up, let alone leave the flat.

My parents say I should ask for some time off in lieu from work, at least an hour or two on on the morning afterwards.  However, I have already had three days and a couple of hours off as time off in lieu for Yom Tov and I don’t want to push my luck (and build up a huge debt of time I will have to pay back at some point), especially as a couple of unfortunate events and a big mistake on my part this term have left me worried that my boss mistakenly thinks that I’m a slacker.  So I am not sure what to do.  I am thinking about ‘warning’ her and leaving it up to her to decide how to respond (give me time off, say I can phone in ill if I’m too depressed, etc.), but I’m not sure what to say or how.  She knows I have mental health issues, but not much detail.  She doesn’t know about the Asperger’s and I’m wary of mentioning it given that I don’t have an official diagnosis (indeed, have twice officially been told I don’t have it, although I have been told unofficially by a psychiatrist and I think also a therapist who knew me well that I probably do).  Any thoughts?  I would be grateful for advice from people with more experience of work.

2) My boss was shepping naches (basking in reflected glory) over her son getting a distinction in his MA and having a poem published professionally.  I decided that this was not the time to mention that I also passed my MA with distinction and have had things published professionally.  I never know when is the socially acceptable time to blow my own trumpet, so I usually stay quiet about my achievements and let people write me off as inadequate.  I know I made the right decision today, but I wish I could have the courage to speak up sometimes, when it is socially acceptable, so that I could have some esteem from my peers.

3) I work in a college where a lot of the staff and probably 80-90% of the students are Muslims.  I’ve only come across two other Jews, both students.  A couple of times I’ve thought I heard students whisper “Jewish” behind my back when I walked past, but I put it down to my paranoia.  However, today I definitely heard a girl whisper “… he’s Jewish…” after I walked past, but I couldn’t hear the context.  I don’t think she was a student, but a prospective student there for the open evening (so probably about fifteen or sixteen years old).  I don’t know what to do about this.  No one has actually done anything unpleasant or threatening and I don’t want to come across as paranoid or confrontational, but I don’t want things to escalate either.

4) I came across a ‘found story’ (like a found poem) today in the library catalogue.  The subject word authority file had four consecutive subjects that read, “Teenage boys/Teenage girls/Teenage horror/Teenage pregnancy”, which is actually a properly-structured story with a beginning, a middle and an end.

5) Not work-related, but I keep phoning the rabbi who is supposed to be finding out if my potential date wants to go out with me, but he does not answer.  This is frustrating and I don’t know what to do.  When I phoned on Friday, he hadn’t spoken to her and told me to phone on Monday or Tuesday.  I didn’t want to be too persistent (and I was running short of time anyway), so I didn’t phone on Monday.  I phoned several times on Tuesday but didn’t get through, so left a message asking him to phone me back.  I didn’t think he would phone, but I wanted to remind him that I exist.  I phoned a couple of times again too, but again no answer and I didn’t leave a message because I wasn’t sure what to say.  I feel very frustrated and am wondering if he turns his phone off after 7.00pm (which would be a stupid thing for a rabbi to do – rabbis can’t keep office hours) and if I should phone from work during my lunch break, which could be awkward.  Again, any advice gratefully accepted.

Addendum: Holidaying

I forgot the most important bit of my last post:

I really need a holiday, even though I’m not a great one for travelling.  My relaxation at the moments consists of reading a few pages of a novel on my commute home, pressed against other commuters in the horrors of the London Underground at rush hour, if I can even manage that with the crush and my exhaustion and depression, and watching an episode or two of Doctor Who (old-style 25 minute episodes).  I know asking for a holiday seems a bit much when I’ve been off work so much in the last two months or so, but taking time off for Yom Tov is actually very stressful (you probably can’t appreciate the extent of that if you aren’t Jewish and/or don’t suffer from depression or social anxiety or are on the autistic spectrum) and my ‘holiday’ at half-term mostly consisted of me feeling lonely and depressed and sleeping too much.  So I feel I need a more constructive and restorative break.  Shabbat helps, but its effects only last so long.

Another Day

Just a quick note, as I’m too tired and it’s too late for anything more involved.

My days have fallen into a pattern since I started working four days a week.  I get up later than I intended (although still before 7.00am).  I eat breakfast quickly, dress, say a tiny bit of Shacharit (the morning prayers) and dash out to work, doing some Torah study on the train.  I work, trying to snatch a little time at lunch to type up some notes for my Doctor Who book as well as davening Minchah (saying afternoon prayers).  I come home exhausted, often do grocery shopping, daven Ma’ariv (say the evening prayers), eat dinner (I try not to eat convenience food too much, but, well, it’s convenient when I’m exhausted and depressed), try to watch an episode or two of Doctor Who and sometimes force myself out again to depression group or shiur (religious class).  I make my lunch for the next day, do my hitbodedut prayer/meditation and try to get to bed between 10.30 and 11.00pm so I can get more than seven hours sleep, but I don’t always make it.  I often eat cereal before going to bed, which I probably should not do (I am already putting on weight due to my medication), but I get hungry.  I get a little exercise walking to and from the station, but not as much as I really need.

My mood is low at first, making getting up, dressed, praying and getting work hard; things are better at work, although there currently is a background level of work stress and anxiety that comes and goes.  On the way home I become tired or even exhausted and sometimes even feel faint from low blood sugar (today I was shaking on the Tube) and eat fruit and sometimes a cereal bar, which I try to avoid (too much sugar – weight!), but can’t always and by the time I’m home I’m ripe for the depression to come back, with added loneliness.  I phone my parents while I’m on the way home, but if I don’t have a shiur to go to, I don’t talk to anyone other than God until I get in to work in the morning.

I don’t know why I want to date, as I don’t have the energy or motivation.  Except I do know why, it’s because I’m lonely and want something in my life other than work and Torah and snatched moments working on my book or blog.  (I tried phoning back the rabbi who is supposed to be setting me up on a date with one of his congregants, but he didn’t answer).

Weekends, which for me includes Fridays, are another thing entirely, although it’s different challenges rather than no challenges.

 

Unintentional Mental Health Day

I spent a lot of Shabbat (the Sabbath) either asleep or in shul (synagogue), as happens a lot on Shabbat in the winter, when the daylight part of Shabbat is so short.  I had a disturbing dream which led to me oversleeping as I felt too upset to get up when I woke up at 7.15 and so I stayed in bed and fell asleep again for more than an hour, so I was very late for Shacharit (the morning service).  Still, I was there, which was more than I had managed for the last few weeks, when social anxiety defeated me.  I spoke to some people at the kiddush (refreshments after the service) including a person I have never spoken to before, which is good for fighting my social anxiety.  I even answered a question in the rabbi’s shiur (class) before Mincha (the afternoon service), which took a lot of guts, fighting the social anxiety.  I made it back for Ma’ariv (the evening service) too, despite having a persistent headache.

However, I stayed up late, catching up on the Torah study I had not managed over Shabbat because of the headache, browsing online and watching Doctor Who.  I was also eating – despite having eaten a lot over Shabbat, I was very hungry, which is probably the result of my medication, but is not good as I am putting on weight despite cutting more and more junk from my diet.  I am on three psychiatric medications and all three cause weight gain as a side-effect, but trying to come off any of them just leaves me feeling worse, even though I feel far from great while on them.  I guess depressed-and-fat-but-functional is better than slim-non-functional-and-suicidal.

I went to bed late, but got up a little earlier than I expected this morning, around 10.30, but I was too tired and exhausted to get dressed even after eating breakfast.  As a result, I missed Shacharit entirely, which I felt bad about.  I browsed online again and spent a lot of time doing the mental monologuing I wrote about yesterday, thinking about Jewish stuff and about my role in the world, feeling a bit depressed from feeling that I have a lot of love I would like to give to a wife and children, but not being able to do so, and wondering if I am going to get set up on this date or not and how that will turn out.  I’ve been lacking energy all day and am troubled by some OCD anxious thoughts (pure O rather than with compulsions).  I want to ask my rabbi mentor about them, but I know that would be feeding the OCD.  My worries aren’t likely to be correct, but if they are, the negative results would be huge, so I feel I should ask the question if there’s even a slight chance that there is a real problem.

I had hoped to get back into a good routine for Sundays, having had it disrupted first by increasing my working hours (and so needing Sunday to catch up with chores I used to do during the week) and then by a month of Yom Tov, but I am too exhausted and running too late to go for a jog and I am not sure I will be able to do much cooking or writing for my book, all things I want to get back in the habit of doing.  I write paragraphs of my book at work during my lunch break, but I don’t really have any time for jogging or cooking other than Sundays at the moment.  I did at least manage to do some shopping, which was a more important priority.  I would like to cook a recipe I have not tried before, but I think I will probably just cook plain pasta and eat it with bought sauce, as I’m too tired to cook anything from scratch.  I’m probably not even alert enough to write some more of my book, although I would like to do so, as I’m falling behind with it, watching episodes and making notes on them far faster than I can write those notes up (which I guess is at least better than the reverse).

So overall today has become an unintentional mental health day, reserved for doing very little and getting my emotional strength back after a very stressful week of work stress and dating stress and pushing myself far out of my comfort zone in terms of my social anxiety as well as combating the OCD to try to stop it coming back (which I haven’t really written about, but which I had to do during the week).  As one off, that’s OK, but I hope it doesn’t happen every Sunday from now on.

Monologuing

I slept too much over Shabbat and don’t feel tired now, even though it’s past 1.00am, so I thought I would write a few words about monologuing.

It’s quite well-known that people with Asperger’s Syndrome often have special interests that can be quite all-absorbing.  It is also well-known that they can launch into monologues on these subjects very easily.  This occurs a lot as children, but it often results in a frosty reception from adults and other children, who either find the monologue subject too obscure or simply object to being talked at without being allowed to get a word in edgeways.  This often means that adult Aspies are scared to monologue and simply stay quiet the whole time, but sometimes monologuing does continue into adulthood.

I think this was my experience growing up.  I honestly don’t remember whether I literally monologued, in the sense of delivering a long and perhaps (to others) tedious lecture on a subject, but I did like to talk about things that Other People perhaps did not want to talk about: history, politics, science (I think), Judaism (probably, I can’t remember for sure) and especially Doctor Who, about which I knew a lot (although nowhere near as much as I know now – my eight year old self couldn’t have written the book I’m currently writing and not just for the obvious reasons!).  I don’t know if I literally monologued about these, but I did like to talk about them, and the people around me often did not.  I was told that Other People did not want to talk about these things, and that I should talk about things that Other People wanted to talk about, like football and gossip.  I did not want to talk about football or gossip, particularly once I found out that Judaism is strongly opposed to gossip.  (Actually, there were periods when I was more interested in football.  When I was a toddler, I could apparently name all the players in Tottenham Hotspur’s squad.  It’s slightly bizarre that despite behaviour like that, two psychologists insisted that I’m not on the spectrum!)  Worse, Other People said that I was an “intellectual elitist” for wanting to talk about these things, and for using long words that Other People could not understand.  (They thought I was showing off, but I actually did not realise that they did not know these words.  I don’t know if that was naivety or an autistic failure to understand others.)

This label of “intellectual elitist” has haunted me all my life.  I’m sure it makes me wary of sharing my passions with others.  I am particularly reluctant to talk about Doctor Who with anyone other than die-hard fans and tend to change the subject quickly if it comes up.  I am certainly no monologuer now.  I am very quiet in person and say very little, generally just listening to Other People’s conversations and not having the courage to join in much.

For this reason, I assumed that I was not a monologuer and thought that was more evidence of me not having Asperger’s (remember that I’ve had mixed messages about this from mental health professionals).

However, recently I have been reconsidering this.  I think I do monologue, but not out loud.  I go through long monologues in my head, about Judaism, Doctor Who, history, politics… much the same stuff as I used to like when I was a child, but on a more sophisticated (I hope) level.  It’s not spoken, but it’s hard to stop, particularly if the thoughts are triggered by something that I’m upset or anxious about.  Then it can become a runaway anxious thought as I try to solve the world’s problems in my head or justify myself to an imaginary critical audience (e.g. regarding my political or religious beliefs, if I’ve read something attacking them).  The thoughts can be so strong that it is hard to do anything else and they can loop round so that no sooner have I got to the end than they start again (this is probably the obsessive part of my personality).

The other place I monologue is online.  Obviously I have my blogs, which are often written to try to exorcise thoughts from my head.  That’s why I write in my lunch break at work sometimes – to get the thoughts that were distracting me in the morning out of my system before the afternoon’s work is ruined too.  But I also monologue on other people’s blogs, in the comments section.  I am ashamed to say I have become quite notorious on Hevria.com for my long self-pitying posts about my mental health, which I can shoehorn in on quite unrelated topics when there is something I want to say.  In my defence, I suppose I should say that quite a few people have said they find my comments interesting, informative and well-written, so I probably stick to the point better than I’m making out here.

Do you monologue internally like this?  Please let me know in the comments!

Torah from the Depths: Vayeira: Becoming Laughter

Continuing my weekly posts of mental health-inspired reflections on the weekly Torah reading.

Strangely, in a sedra that is so much about death and near death, the resonance I found with my depression was not death and destruction at all, but birth and life.

“And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me, all who hear will laugh (yitzchak) for me.” – Bereshit/Genesis 21.6

I have mentioned in the past the importance of firsts in traditional Jewish textual exegesis.  As far as I can tell, the idea of laughter is first recorded in the Torah in relation to the birth of Yitzchak (Isaac), first when God tells the elderly Avraham (Abraham) and Sarah (who is infertile as well as elderly) that they will have a son and then when he is born.  Importantly, Yitzchak means, “He will laugh” and this play on words appears in the verse I quoted above.

What resonated with me is the idea of such laughter so intense that everyone shares it, that even takes over the entirety of a person’s being (I am not enough of a dikduknik (grammarian) to be sure, but I think “tzechok asa li” “has made laughter for me” can also be translatated as “has made me into laughter”, a laughter so strong that one completely becomes it with one’s whole being).  I think this is the laughter that comes as a release after a long period of suffering, when sadness is converted to joy, as with the Avraham and Sarah miraculously having a child in old age after decades of infertility.  Happy are those who are granted such laughter.

Went the Day Well?

Sometimes I write here because I have something that I really want to say; other times I just want to update the people who I know are reading regularly about something that happened in my life.  This post falls in the latter category and although the update isn’t particularly major, I wanted to record a small, but significant victory after some recent difficulties.

I overslept this morning quite dramatically, by about half an hour, but I managed to rush out and actually left the flat ten minutes early for work.  Between arriving early for work and leaving late because I was working on something, I did nearly half an hour of (unpaid) overtime.  Unfortunately my boss was not around to see this.  I think I managed it because I went to bed early last night and that combined with oversleeping meant that I got nearly eight hours of sleep last night and for once I actually woke up feeling refreshed rather than lethargic and depressed, so I want to see if I can go to bed around 10.30pm on work nights in the future, even if it means getting very little of an evening, although I am not sure how I will manage it, particularly not on nights when I have Talmud shiur (class).

I managed to go to the parasha shiur (class on the week’s Torah portion) at the assistant rabbi’s house that I mentioned a day or two ago.  I was somewhat nervous about going, but not as much as I might have been in the past.  There were about ten people there, all people that I recognised from shul (synagogue) and a few who I would consider myself friendly with (I get nervous of referring to people as my friends, but probably one or two would count as friends).  I was the first person to arrive, which may have been good – at least I didn’t have to walk into a room full of people.  There was some food and drink, but I didn’t have any, partly because I’m watching my weight (I have put on a lot of weight on clomipramine), but also because I was worried I might shake if I was eating in front of other people, although I don’t generally have a problem with that at the moment.  I guess I was just feeling extra-nervous.  I had a slight moment of embarrassment when someone asked me to pass him a can of coke, but I did not hear properly and passed him various other things until I realised what he said.

The shiur was interesting and pitched at a good level: not so basic as to be boring, but not so complicated as to be hard to follow after a long day at the end of a long week.  The assistant rabbi directed a few questions straight at me i.e. he asked me by name.  He has done this before in his shiurim when I have been to them, but he doesn’t seem to ask anyone else by name, although he did ask one person if they followed a particular point.  I don’t know if he thinks I must know the answer and he is letting me show off or if he thinks I am drifting off or not following and he wants to involve me.  I have been told that when I don’t follow something, it is very obvious from my face and sometimes people even think from my expression that I am not following when I actually am following, so maybe that is what is going on here.  At any rate, I don’t think he is doing it to catch me out or anything troubling like that as he is too nice a person, but I do worry that one day he will ask something and I won’t know the answer.  I guess that would just be good exposure therapy as my new book says, doing things that feel embarrassing to learn not to be embarrassed.  I do wonder why he is doing it, though.  If you remember, he also tried to get me to ‘bid’ study Mishnayot in order to get an honour on Simchat Torah, which I was reluctant to do for various reasons, although he did that to other people too and he think he was just trying to involve me.  The thing is, he was at school with me (he was in the year below) and his parents are good friends with my parents, so I feel like there is a connection between us there, but a tenuous one and one that I don’t fully understand.  This is probably me being an Aspie again and not understanding how to interact with people.

At any rate, it was a victory against social anxiety and in favour of getting more involved in my shul (synagogue) community and doing more Torah study generally, given that I have worried recently that I am not doing enough of it.

The Downward Spiral

I just started writing something about the bad day I’m having, but I realised (a) it was going to bore everyone if I just moan about what went wrong and (b) if I carried on writing in as much detail as I was, it would be very impossible not to write in far too much detail to protect my anonymity, so I will just briefly state that a couple of bad things happened at work that really upset me.  Nothing horrendously bad, no disciplinary procedures or bruises (except to my fragile ego), but stuff that upset me a lot.

The first thing was partly caused by, and also reinforced, my social anxiety.  The second thing was linked to my Asperger’s.  Essentially, a student told a fairly transparent lie to myself and my boss, but while my boss immediately realised he was lying, I initially assumed that he was telling the truth and that there had been some kind of misunderstanding.  Naivety is not a crime, but it is a symptom of autistic spectrum disorder, in terms of taking people at face value and not thinking that they might be deliberately saying something they know to be wrong.  I know that I tend to be very trusting, and also that the students sometimes tell fibs when they want to avoid overdue fines and the like and I need to be more cynical.

I can learn to be less trusting (I no longer think it’s an amazing coincidence when a shop assistant claims that the item I’m dithering about buying is exactly the one they use), but it’s hard.  I guess everything just felt hard today.  I went into a downward spiral, thinking I am not suited to this job, that I should leave further education and go back into higher education where at least the library users are mature adults (except that I always felt inadequate hanging around academics) or that maybe I can’t cope with working at all and that I’ll have another episode of depression so severe that I won’t be able to work and how can I even think of starting dating-for-marriage again (and my phone conversation yesterday made it very clear to me that that’s what I’ve started doing) if I can’t even work part-time without cracking up…

…pause for breath…

I know that I need to stop the downward spiral.  I know I need to spend tonight eating pizza, watching Doctor Who, forgetting about work and low self-esteem and depression and social anxiety and Asperger’s and dating and marriage and just relaxing so I can get through work tomorrow and hopefully even stick to my plans to go to a Torah shiur (class on the week’s Torah portion) in the evening (doubly nerve-wracking as I haven’t been to this one before and it’s at the assistant rabbi’s house, really out of my comfort zone).  And I will probably manage to do some of that.  But it’s hard.  It’s hard when it feels like every few days I get reminded of how much I struggle with things that other people get to take for granted.

To end on a happy note, I mentioned the other day writing a really long and self-pitying comment on Hevria.  It was about struggling to be a depressive, socially anxious introvert Aspie in the frum (religious) world.  Someone wrote a really nice comment to me which you can see in the link, but I’m going to copy and paste it here anyway, because it’s my blog and I can blow my own trumpet occasionally:

Hi there. I just wanted to say that I am so impressed that rather than letting your challenges in life break you down, you are still working hard to build the life that you want for yourself and stay committed to yiddishkeit. It seems like you struggle with some things that you could use an excuse to give up but you aren’t and that is awesome!

So that does give a bit of strength to pick myself up and get back in there.