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.)