Equivocal Purim (So Far)

It’s late, I’m exhausted and I need to be up really early tomorrow, but I need to get this out of my system and if I don’t write it here, I’ll have to put it in my private diary/blog, so here goes:

Today was a mixed bag.  I got to work late because of the snow, but my boss was understanding.  I had arranged to leave half an hour early to get home in time for shul (synagogue) for the festival of Purim, but she allowed me to go an hour and a half early in case of more train delays.  So that was all good.

Shul was more problematic.  On Purim we listen to Megillat Esther/the book of Esther twice, morning and evening, and we have to hear literally every word both times.  This is made more problematic by the fact that we are encouraged to make noise at the name of the villain, Haman, the first (or second, depending on how you count Pharaoh) of many people to attempt genocide against the Jews.  As has happened every year since I developed religious OCD, I was worried that I missed a word, but that I would miss more in attempting to catch up.  To cut a long story short, in the end I decided that I probably had heard the word and didn’t go to the late evening reading (for people who work late and missed the first reading) to be sure I heard everything because I could feel myself slipping into a black hole of OCD and despair.  However, my mood stayed lower all evening.

After that there was some food and entertainment.  I put on my jester’s hat (fancy dress is another Purim tradition) and ate.  For practical reasons, the people with young children were eating in a separate room to those without, but it meant that I was eating with the teenagers and the middle aged (or older).  It was OK, as I sat with my friends, but looking back it made me feel like an unmarried misfit again as all the people my age were in the ‘with children’ rooms.  No children was a mixed blessing, as it stopped me feeling broody, but lessened the fun atmosphere of seeing kids in fancy dress.  I attempted some conversation with some success, but failed to make myself vulnerable in the way my therapist advised.  I skipped the entertainment, though, because it seemed quite child-centric.

After that I made a massive detour to my parents’ house to make a bikkur cholim (visiting the sick) call as my Mum has a bad cold and my Dad cut himself badly (doing something that I couldn’t understand with a broken bath plug).  They were pleased to see me, so at least I succeeded there.  I took home a pile of hamantaschen (Purim pastries) as my reward and walked home in what can only be described as an Arctic blizzard, feeling exhausted and depressed and not entirely sure why.

Tomorrow I have to be up about 6.00am for the morning Megillah reading, then on to work.  My Purim seudah (festive Purim meal, which has to be held on the afternoon, not tonight) will be a sandwich and a hamantashen at work.

Purim has always been hard for me.  It’s a difficult festival with Asperger’s and social anxiety because of the noise and general party atmosphere, it’s difficult with depression because everyone else is happy (and drunk, by the afternoon) and it’s difficult with religious OCD because I worry I haven’t fulfilled the various mitzvot (commandments) properly.  I used to think my depression started one Purim.  I’m not sure about that any more, as I think my depression may have extended back into my early teens (at least), but it certainly became noticeable as an illness on Purim eighteen years ago.

I feel I did OK in keeping the OCD at bay, but am still slightly anxious that I haven’t heard the Megillah properly.  I feel like this with a lot of my mitzvot, that everyone seems to think I’m pretty frum (religious), but I feel that I’m not doing anything right on even the most basic level.  Sometimes I wonder if I’ve done even one mitzvah correctly in my whole life.  I would give a lot to know that HaShem (God) finds my mitzvot precious.

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A Work in Progress

I’ve been feeling a little better the last couple of days, less despairing and self-critical, or at least concentrating those feelings into smaller periods.  That said, I’ve been recording my negative self-critical thoughts as a CBT experiment and I’ve had a few already, even though I only started recording them twenty-four hours ago.  And I did cry at work again this morning, in the strange way I do, silent tears rolling down my face.  Still, when I was put on clomipramine, my mood improved very rapidly; perhaps increasing the dosage has done the same thing.  (I’m trying not to think about what happens when I hit an obstacle and feel depressed again – the dosage only goes so high…)  That said, I drafted this at lunch time and when I got home, I discovered that I rushed out so fast this morning, I forgot to take the morning dose, which I guess might explain why I felt so depressed late this afternoon.  I had thought the trigger was having to withdraw unread books to make way for more books that probably won’t get read, and being slightly disturbed by some of the students sitting in the library and worrying that they might be being radicalised, without hearing anything concrete to report.

Tomorrow evening is the minor Jewish festival of Purim.  I’m not looking forward to it, as the carnival atmosphere is difficult with depression and social anxiety and the various commandments can be a trigger for religious OCD (particularly the requirement to hear every single word of Megillat Esther, the book of Esther, once in the evening and again in the morning), but I have booked to go to my shul‘s (synagogue’s) Purim party tomorrow evening.  I probably won’t be able to report on how it went until Thursday, though, as when I get home tomorrow I’ll need to rush to bed to be up in time for the morning Megillah reading and then on to work (it’s a minor festival, so one can work).

I had an interesting thought today about socialising.  At work, I can talk reasonably freely to my colleagues, albeit that there are some topics I avoid because I don’t know how they will react (politics, Doctor Who – strangely, I don’t mind talking about religion).  On the other hand, I find it hard to speak to anyone at shul (synagogue), even the one or two people I have seen a bit socially outside of shul and shiurim (religious classes).  I can chat a little bit, but I find it hard to make small talk generally and here more serious subjects seem too fraught with danger.

Doubtless familiarity is partly responsible for the difference.  I see my work colleagues all day, four days a week, while my shul friends I only see once or twice a week, for shorter periods.  But I think part of the problem is that at work I have a distinct place in the team.  Other than my boss, I’m the only qualified librarian on the team.  While I was worried initially that my different educational and cultural background might make it hard to talk to my colleagues, in practice, I feel like I have a niche where I fit on the team and am reasonably comfortable in that role, at least from an interpersonal point of view even if I do worry about not doing my job well enough or fast enough.  I still have to ask for help sometimes, but my colleagues sometimes come to me with questions about cataloguing and the like, which feels weird, but good, and I can join in the banter.  And maybe this is my imagination, but I feel there is a place for me as a bookish person in the library (some of my colleagues don’t read much).

However, at shul, I don’t know where I stand.  I feel unable to judge the complexities of the social and cultural life in the frum (religious) community.  I find myself fearing that I am being judged for not being stringent enough and too open to influences from the outside world: watching TV, reading novels and non-Orthodox religious books,  having non-religious and non-Jewish friends – all things that can be looked down upon in parts of the frum world, albeit to varying extents in different communities, and I doubt that many people in any community I am a part of would explicitly say that these things were forbidden, just unusual, with the slight distaste that conformist communities can have for the unusual.  Not for nothing did George Orwell argue that peer pressure was a more effective method of social control than a secret police force, the most effectively totalitarian state being one were everyone freely chooses to obey because the alternative is social ostracism.

I don’t know what to make of this thought yet.  I guess it’s a work in progress, but it feels quite important without my knowing just how yet.

Ups and Downs

The last couple of days have been fairly good.  My therapist is supportive of the idea of focusing on the social anxiety for a while.  She even suggested that I might want to take time out from our psychodynamic therapy to go back to CBT, as I did when I wanted to try CBT for my religious OCD.  There are practical problems against that, though, both financial and in terms of being able to get an appointment on a Friday, the only weekday I don’t work.  For the moment I’m not going down that route and we spoke about trying to open up to people more, but I struggled to do that over Shabbat (the Sabbath).  I psyched myself up to talk be more open about my issues and say that I’ve been struggling with them this week to the two people I sit with at shul (synagogue), who are the closest people I have to friends there, but I didn’t get a chance to speak to them and when the assistant rabbi asked how I was, I panicked and said everything was fine, partly because I was taken by surprise, partly because there were other people nearby, partly because I hadn’t prepared myself for that interaction.  I did manage to be a bit more open with my uncle, who was staying with us for Shabbat, but I’m not sure how much of a big achievement that was in retrospect.  He did say I was on form with my humour at dinner on Friday, though, which was nice.

I slept through much of Saturday again, unfortunately.  Yesterday evening I spent some time rearranging my newly-decorated room at my parents’ house (it’s not yet finished, though, as there was a problem with the new blinds), moving bric-a-brac and the wargaming miniatures I used to paint back from my parents’ study, although there are more miniatures to move next week, plus certificates and pictures to put up still.  I’m glad that it has been done now, though, because I may have to move back in with my parents if my contract is not renewed past the summer, so at least I’ll have a nice room now.  I did have a headache yesterday evening, not a really bad migraine, but still painful and it took literally hours to respond to painkillers and stopped me doing as much as I would have liked.  It contributed to my going to bed late again, although that was partly my fault, as I stayed up late reading news and politics online and being upset, angry and scared.  The news upsets me so much these days.  I guess a lot of it would upset anyone, but I also find myself thinking critically about what I’m told, whether by a left-wing or right-wing source.  I read the news less than I used to, but I feel reluctant to stop completely, as I am still a citizen of a democracy and I like to be informed about what is happening in places I care about and even generally in other countries.  I like to be well-informed, but being well-informed often means reading about lots of death and suffering.

Today, as usual, I overslept.  I don’t mind so much, as I do need to catch up my sleep by this stage in the week, and it’s not like Shabbat where part of me would like to go to shul, but I do have things to do today and I just feel a bit burnt out.  I wrote down a list of things to do last night; apart from some minor tasks that will only take a few minutes, I wanted to wipe away the mould growing on my front door (the flat gets very damp), go for a jog (not going to happen), go shopping, cook dinner for tonight and tomorrow, proof-read the second-draft of another chapter of my Doctor Who book, do some Torah study including preparing extra ideas to read out at the Pesach (Passover) seder, look at my social anxiety CBT book, email my rabbi mentor and redraft an essay I wrote years ago that one of my non-biological sisters said I should submit to Hevria.  The problem with prioritising these is that the are all important, depending on how I look at them.  Jogging is important because I do hardly any exercise at the moment and my medication is making me almost overweight, but cooking is important to try to eat less convenience food (I don’t have the time/energy to cook properly on work days), working on my book is important for my self-esteem and because I enjoy it at a time when I enjoy very little and so on.  And because of oversleeping and feeling too burnt out to get going, I have less than half a day to do them.

As indicated by the previous paragraph, we are coming up to the most stressful time of year for me, religiously.  Purim is this week, a minor festival, but with lots of commandments that can trigger my religious OCD, but also with a boisterous carnival atmosphere that can be hard with depression, social anxiety and Asperger’s (I wrote about it last year here, although the actual experience was somewhat better than I feared).  Then a month later comes Pesach, which requires a lot of preparation and has a lot of opportunities to trigger the OCD.  That said, last night I was able to feel a little bit of excitement about them and not so much anxiety.  I read something in the book of essays based on the teachings of Rav Kook that while strictness is necessary for spiritual growth, so is kindness (to oneself as well as others).  Perhaps this will inspire me to be kinder towards myself when I fall short, particularly when the failures are clearly due to my depression, social anxiety or possible Asperger’s, as is often the case.

I wrote most of the above around 1.30pm, after my I just had a late breakfast.  I mostly sounded upbeat, but now, after a late lunch things don’t seem as positive.  I was eating and watching Doctor Who (admittedly a very bad episode) when suddenly I could feel myself crying without knowing why.  I feel like I want to curl up and go back to bed, or at least eat a lot.  I’ve got to try to get on with some of the things on that list above, but it’s hard.  It’s going to be a difficult week…

Short Depression Update

Just a quick update: I went to depression group last night for the first time in some months, which was good.  I forgot that it feels good to talk, but also to listen to other people, although sometimes I find it hard not to get overwhelmed by their issues as well as my own.  I did manage to initiate conversation with two people there, which was good for my social anxiety – admittedly people I already knew, but it was still a positive achievement.  I will see if I can go to one of next month’s meetings.  The group meets meet every second Monday and last Thursday of the month.  Since changing jobs, I don’t like to go to the Monday meetings, as I don’t get home until nearly 11pm and it takes me a while to get to bed (I need to do meditation and hitbodedut, make my lunch and pack for work and do my muscle relaxation exercises which all takes time, particularly if I’m tired) and I like to get seven hours sleep before getting up about 6.45am, which doesn’t really work out, but they are talking about dealing with being depressed at work on the next Monday meeting, so maybe I’ll try to make the effort as I am stressed at work at the moment.

I saw my doctor today and he’s increased the dosage of my anti-depressant (clomipramine).  The pharmacy didn’t have the increased dose in, but hopefully will have by this afternoon so I can start the higher dose this evening, although these things take time to have an effect.  The doctor has already booked a follow-up appointment with me for next month, which is good.

Oh Well

Today was a somewhat stressful day.  I didn’t want to write about it, but I thought the way I left things yesterday meant that I should, especially as I might not get time to write tomorrow.

Yesterday I phoned the Samaritans (UK crisis line) after I found myself counting how many pills I had in the flat, just out of curiosity, I told myself, to see if I could overdose.  I actually tried to phone my sister first, but couldn’t get hold of her.  I spoke for about half an hour, which was good, but by the end I was exhausted and just wanted to crash, but then I needed a shower and to make my lunch and pack for today and do my meditation and hitbodedut and then I got hungry, so I was still late to bed.

Today I was exhausted, which is not surprising because (a) I have only had seven or so hours of sleep for the last few nights (I need at least eight if not nine) and (b) because being severely depressed and suicidal is more exhausting than you might think.   I struggled to get to work despite transport trouble, then I struggled to get through work despite exhaustion and difficult students.  I did less of the main part of my job than I would have liked (dealing with students is not supposed to be the main part), but at least I tried my best with the students.

Then a Christian guy tried to proselytise me when I was doing my shopping in the supermarket.  This always annoys me more than it should.  It annoys me that visible Jews (which basically means religiously-dressed ones) are singled out for this, even though we’re probably the least likely people to be convinced and even though Judaism is a non-proselytising religion.  I didn’t really need it after a stressful day.

Anyway, I’m writing mainly because I probably won’t get time to write tomorrow.  I’m hoping to get to my depression support group for the first time in months.  It depends on my parents being awake enough to give me a lift, though (they are flying back to the UK tonight), because if I go on public transport I won’t have time to have dinner before going out.  It’s a shame I have to miss shiur (Torah class) to go, as shiur is really my only social activity, but I think this is more important this time.  Then on Friday morning I’m seeing my doctor about increasing my medication and talking to my therapist about what we can do about my social anxiety.  Hopefully we can think of something to do that I haven’t tried so far.

Head Games

Today was a rotten day.  I felt I was failing at work.  I spent much of the day alone in the library office crying, struggling to work.  I don’t know which of these (the feelings of failure and the crying) is the cause and which the effect.  My boss operates on the system of not praising achievement, but criticising failure, so I don’t know if the fact I haven’t been told I’m doing things wrong means that I’m not doing things wrong or she just hasn’t noticed my mistakes yet, especially as she’s been at one of our other colleges much of the time for the last few weeks.  I feel like I’m doing tons of stuff wrong and am going to get told off sooner or later.  I almost wish they would tell me my contract isn’t being renewed past the summer and put me out of my misery.

I sent a text on the way home today that read: I feel like a loser, a freak and a failure.  I can’t do my job, I don’t know how to get better, I spend the whole time at work crying, I think God hates me, I don’t know how to stay frum (religious) and I don’t know how to stop the suicidal thoughts and keep going.

I do need to find away out of the depression before I hurt myself and I need to find a way out of the social anxiety, because I keep causing problems through not asking questions or raising issues.  But I don’t have a clue how, because I do feel like I’ve tried everything possible (except some problematic medications and ECT; I’ve tried to get the latter, but the NHS is reluctant to prescribe it).

I wrote a whole post about my issues, but I realised I’ve said it all before.  I’m sorry.  I’m boring myself.  I’d be as happy as anyone – more! – if someone could find me a genuine way out of depression and social anxiety and genuine coping strategies for what may or may not be autism/Asperger’s, but which is certainly disruptive of the life I want.  But so far no one can and I’m stuck on a loop.  I’ve compared myself to Humpty Dumpty here before, but when I fell off the wall, I broke really well.  Yolk everywhere.  Can’t be put together again.

 

The Embarrassing Truth

There’s a joke about a man who is lost in the countryside and asks a farmer for directions and the farmer says, “Well, I wouldn’t start from here…”  That’s how I feel today.  I feel like I’ve got to get somewhere and not only do I not know how to get there, but I can’t even get there from where I am now.  More than that, I feel that I could be a great person if I wasn’t me, that I have some good components, but my essential me-ness stops them working properly.

These feelings are in response to an email I got from a friend about my last post about being too shy to talk to people, especially about myself.  She said to talk to one of the people from shul about Doctor Who and see what happens.

There’s about a million things I can see that can go wrong here.  First, I don’t even get to shul (synagogue) any more on Shabbat (Sabbath) mornings, so I’m not in kiddush (refreshments after the service) to even have this conversation, but we’ll skip over that and assume I make it one week.

The most basic problem is that they probably don’t like Doctor Who and think I’m crazy for trying to talk about it.  Even if they don’t actively dislike it and mock me for it (and I’ve been laughed at, quite literally, for my love of this TV programme before), it’s just a strange non-sequitur to bring up.  “Why are you asking me this?”

In fact, I only talk about Doctor Who with other card-carrying fans.  My parents have seen every episode since the series returned in 2005, yet if they try to talk to me about it, I give short answers and try to change the subject.  I have been far too badly burned by the hatred I got for this programme in the nineties and early noughties to feel comfortable sharing it with other people – too scared of mockery, too fearful of being exposed as a superfan who knows the difference between Steven Moffat and Steven Taylor.  As a child I was always being bullied for being too clever and knowledgeable by other kids, and told off for showing off  that intelligence and knowledge by adults and for trying to send the conversation to my favourite topics (what I now think of as my Aspie special interests), even though it was never my intention to shame or show off anyone, so I’m now too scared to show any kind of enthusiasm or knowledge about anything, particularly my subject of subjects, Doctor Who (now you get a glimmer of how hard it is for me to go to shiur (religious class) each week and answer questions – to show off to the people there, even though the assistant rabbi encourages it, indeed, actually asks me questions directly).  Plus, I get a bit proprietorial about this silly kids show that I’ve stuck by over the years.  I feel a bit resentful about people who have only joined since 2005 calling themselves fans when they’ve never seen a black and white episode or winced at bad CSO (early greenscreen, except on Doctor Who it was usually yellow).

But let’s assume that I can talk about Doctor Who on this day.  There is still worse to come.  Worse is if they are too frum (religious) to own a TV.  In my head, I can see the whole shul lapsing into a horrified silence as everyone turns to stare at me, the apikoros (heretic) who watches TV and, worse, is writing a book about it!  The rabbi points silently to the door as I leave, shamefaced, no one making eye contact with me as I go.  I can never return.

(Seriously, this is how I feel about watching TV, just think how I feel about my really heretical opinions…)

But worst of all is this: I do not know how to start a conversation.

I will say that again in case you missed it:

I am thirty-four, I have two degrees and I do not know how to start or keep up a conversation.  Just asking how my colleagues are in the morning is an effort.  I’m so terrified of saying the wrong thing, intruding on a personal area or being so arrogant as to believe that someone might want to exchange words with me (I generally assume people are too important to talk to someone as insignificant and irritating as me) that I can’t actually get the words together into sentences, let alone get the courage to walk up, open mouth and let them out.

I do not know what to do about this.

I’m sure it’s a mixture of low self-esteem, bad childhood memories and Asperger’s symptoms, but I don’t know how to move on.  I literally can not talk to people.  If they talk to me, I answer briefly, but try to shut the conversation down, because I can’t cope with it.  If I’m trapped with someone (e.g. they are giving me a lift in their car), I panic about what is going to happen.  I worry that whether I speak or whether I stay silent, I will be found boring and stupid, but at least if I stay silent I can’t reveal any of my crazy opinions or interests, so staying silent seems preferable.

I know some people on the autistic spectrum see autism as nothing bad, even something good, but I feel I get no positives whatsoever from it and my communication difficulties are a massive, massive burden that I can’t cope with any more.  Because I want friends, I want a community and I desperately, desperately want a wife and children, and autism, low self-esteem and social anxiety are stopping me getting those things that are essential to my sanity.

Goodbye, Frum Geeky Girl

I haven’t written my blog on my lunch break since my boss found out about it, but I’m very depressed today and need to off-load before I go on the issue desk for two hours this afternoon.

I spoke to my rabbi mentor last night.  I mentioned my problems finding a shadchan (matchmaker) who will take me on.  He asked why I need a professional shadchan, why people I know aren’t setting me up on dates informally, as is common in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world.  I said that I don’t know many people in the frum world: most of my family are not religious or live abroad and I don’t have many friends and most of the ones I do have are not frum.  He was a bit surprised and said who do I talk to about Doctor Who and other stuff that I’m interested in and I said most of the time I don’t talk about that stuff, certainly not at shul (synagogue) or shiur (religious class), which,  other than work, are the main place I see people at the moment.  I said I’ve been going to this shul for two years and there are two people I’m a bit friendly with and three or four more I’m slightly friendly with and that’s it.

I don’t talk about Doctor Who from a feeling that a frum person shouldn’t be obsessed with a TV programme, although I don’t really talk about it to non-religious people either, which I guess is a legacy of being bullied about it growing up, when it was not a popular thing to like. Actually, I don’t really talk much to people about anything at all, I usually just listen for fear of saying the wrong thing, particularly in frum circles, where I’m not always sure what is permissible to show an interest in.  I don’t know how to explain my mental health issues to people at shul or work who don’t have the same issues (actually someone at work has anxiety and claustrophobia, but I still haven’t said anything to her about my issues because I don’t know how to bring it up).  And I certainly don’t know how to explain to a ‘normal’ person that I’m obsessed with a children’s TV programme that I have been watching since I was eight years old and which has massively informed my worldview, shaped my wider cultural interests, brought me friends and perhaps helped me to interpret my depression and Asperger’s (it’s certainly helped me to survive them).  I wouldn’t know how to say this to a ‘normal’ person, even though Doctor Who is now one of the most popular programmes on British TV, let alone a frum person who sees TV as a source of impurity, something that is owned as a concession to human weakness at best, ideally not brought into the house at all.

My rabbi mentor thought that this inability to open up about myself and my interests to others was really significant and that I should concentrate on dealing with this in therapy.  He felt that if I really concentrate on improving my social skills, I could be significantly better in six months.  However, I know that my therapist won’t give me practical advice (she has a traditional psychodynamic outlook) and I can’t change therapists because I won’t get one who can fit with my work times or who will charge me a significantly subsidised rate (because I’m on a low income) like my current therapist.  It would be a huge upheaval too.

And I didn’t even mention to my rabbi mentor the way my possible Asperger’s Syndrome stops me ‘reading’ other people and communicating effectively with them because I know my rabbi mentor is a bit sceptical about my being on the spectrum.  Autistic or not, I keep quite from fear of saying the wrong thing or misunderstanding what others are saying.  Nor did I say that I think the social anxiety is itself rooted in my cripplingly low self-esteem.  Actually, that’s putting it mildly: I loathe and hate myself and can’t stand being me.  I know that no one will care for me until I care for myself, but I don’t know how to do that and it seems wrong to try, because I don’t deserve to care for myself (as proved by the fact other people don’t love me – circular logic).

I took this conversation to mean that I shouldn’t date until I sort out my social anxiety, which I can’t see ever happening, although my sister said it wouldn’t hurt to give my profile to a matchmaking website if it’s free.  As I rely on others to guide me with difficult problems due to low self-esteem and (perhaps) Aspie poor executive function (or common indecisiveness), I’m not sure what to do about that.  The whole conversation seemed to be saying that I can never have the wife-children-friends-community-happiness I want until I can open up to people about myself, which I will never be able to do because I was taught as a child that my interests are childish and stupid and I shouldn’t tell other people about them and, paradoxically, that I’m an “intellectual elitist” who can’t hold a “normal” conversation and who wants to be too serious all of the time (another childhood image of myself presented to me by others).  At the root of all of this is my poor self-esteem and inability to feel that I am justified in being myself.  I feel I try so hard, but nothing helps and no one, even those close to me, believes I’m trying.  It’s always, “But if you tried X…” when I’ve usually tried X and failed with it.

I can’t even go off the derekh (become non-religious).  Even though I’ve been slipping lately with prayer and Torah study because of the depression, I still push myself.  I slipped in a big way over the weekend and feel terrible because of it.  My soul said “Na’aseh venishmah (We will do and we will understand)” at Sinai, it just didn’t realise that it would be given a brain that couldn’t do or understand.

Doing Good and Feeling Loved

I looked online for “Does HaShem [God] hate me?” (I have a habit of using search engines like a magic 8-ball or the I Ching when depressed, albeit not literally taking the results as prophetic, more to find reasons to make myself more depressed.)  I found an article on Chabad.org (deliberately not going to link to it) that wasn’t helpful.  It said that I only think that HaShem hates me to give myself an excuse to carry on sinning and that I should accept that He loves me and therefore be good.  It would have been better if it had said that I only think HaShem hates me because I’ve been so bullied, neglected, belittled and boundary-trampled by my peers and especially by some of the authority figures in my life that I can’t believe that anyone could love me and that I need to accept that HaShem doesn’t have the hang-ups and inadequacies that they had that led them to put me down or prevented them for being there for me.  But now it just reinforces the feeling that I’m a terrible person who tells himself that HaShem hates him so he can sin even more.

I tried doing what Rebbe Nachman of Breslov suggests and focusing on good things I’ve done.  It’s hard.  I can think of two things, but the amount I had to do in both cases was trivial and anyone could/should have done it.  I don’t like to boast, but I did something on on two separate occasions that may have saved lives.  Yet they seem such trivial affairs.  All I did was alert the relevant authorities to the danger in time.  I didn’t do anything difficult, dangerous or brave (unless you count overcoming my social anxiety to speak up), I was just in the right place at the right time.  Anyone could have done it.  Perhaps someone would have done it if I wasn’t there.  But perhaps they wouldn’t, and looking at the outcome, what I did had very positive effects, even though my action was trivial and could have been done by anyone who was there.  It’s very confusing.

The Talmud says that saving a single life is like saving the universe.  I don’t think of myself as someone who has done great things, yet the Talmud would say that I did do two great things.  So why don’t I feel better?  It reminds me of a Doctor Who comic strip where the Doctor is feeling depressed in a bar.  The bartender asks what he does and he says he helps people.  The bartender asks how many people he’s saved and he says that he doesn’t really know because the number is too big and the bartender says if it’s that big, he should basically give himself a break and relax occasionally.  But if I relax and rely on past success which, even if non-trivial, were a long time ago and could, and perhaps would, have been done by anyone with little effort or cost, then I fear I will go downhill rapidly into arrogance and sin.  Even just thinking of this makes me feel overwhelmed (by what?  I don’t know) and want to act out to escape my thoughts.

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of comparing myself to other people.  Hevria.com sometimes (often, if I’m honest) makes me feel so stupid and inadequate, everyone seems to have led ten lives and achieved great things while I haven’t even lived one.  I haven’t done anything, really.  Not anything difficult or worthwhile.  Nor do I expect to ever do so any more.  It’s no wonder I have such difficulty finding someone willing to spend time with me, as a friend or partner.  I don’t exactly have much to offer, whether to a potential friend or wife or to God.  I can’t spend my life living on the benefit of what I may or may not have done years ago.

I guess it’s also easy to fall into the trap that because ‘older singles’, people with mental health issues and people with unusual interests or hobbies are not always treated with respect in the frum (religious) community, that somehow makes me any less worthy of love, just because other people are too short-sighted to see my virtues.  But it’s difficult to believe that I’m worthy of love in the abstract by God if hardly anyone down here on Earth loves me.  In any case, I don’t just want to be loved in the abstract.  I want to be loved by physical people.  I suspect that the only people who really care about me are my parents, my sister, maybe my brother-in-law and one or two friends.  Which I guess is more than some people have, so I feel bad for saying that it’s not enough, but it isn’t enough.  Which I guess is because I don’t love myself, otherwise it wouldn’t matter to me who loved me.  But – and this is the circular logic – it’s hard to love myself when society is sending messages that I’m not worthy of love, even though society tends to love people who loves themselves (and who behave “normally”).

Sometimes I wish I could just open up to people in my community about my mental health and my geeky interests and see what would happen.  Maybe they wouldn’t care (even though mental health is stigmatised in mainstream culture as much as in frum culture, and even though just owning a TV is considered at least vaguely disreputable in frum culture, let alone writing a book about a TV programme).  But I don’t have the social skills to direct the conversation like that or the confidence to do it.  I find mentioning long-term health issues difficult because it’s a big thing to casually drop into the conversation and unless you’ve only just been diagnosed, there’s a feeling of, “Why are you telling me this now?”

One minute I think that God hates me and that I’m a terrible sinner, the next I think maybe he loves me, but then why don’t more people love me and maybe He doesn’t love me if no one else does… it’s very confusing.  I wish I knew what to do.

I feel nauseous with anxiety right now and I don’t even know why.

Follow Up Post

My parents’ house was fine.  I have no idea why the alarm went off, or why it stopped after twenty minutes for that matter.  I was out for well over two hours in the end, including two fifteen minute walks in the cold and dark.  I did at least manage to finish sorting out the bookcases in my room there.  Once the blinds are fitted (coming later this week, hopefully) I’ll just need to move my bric-a-brac and the war gaming miniatures I used to paint in and put up my certificates and 3D map of Israel for it to be home.  Which it might have to be, if my contract doesn’t get extended past the summer and I can’t find a new job, in which case I won’t be able to afford to carry on living in my flat and will have to move back with my parents.

I am now worried that I left my father’s computer on after I needed to use it to look up something.  I suppose it will go into hibernate eventually.  At least I know I set the burglar alarm and locked the front door.

***

I brought back a heater.  My landlord doesn’t like me using ordinary convection heaters, on the grounds that they use too much electricity (my electricity is included in my rent, so the more I use, the more the landlord has to pay).  However, it is freezing and I have no intention of dying of hypothermia.

***

When I listed everything I’ve done, without success, to try to cure the depression the other day, I forgot to add practising gratitude (I thank God every day for at least five things) and trying Rebbe Nachman of Breslov’s idea of finding good things that you have done to hold on to when you feel overwhelmed by guilt.  The problem is, there are only a couple of good things I can think that I have done in my entire life, and I think even these would have been done by someone else if I hadn’t been around.  So this just makes me feel even more useless and sinful.

***

A couple of people have suggested that I take vitamin B (either B6 or B complex).  I don’t know.  I’ve been taking zinc for a couple of weeks and omega-3 for about six weeks and neither seems to be doing anything for me.  Between prescription medication and vitamins, I’m taking ten tablets a day.  I think I rattle when I move.

***

I do feel that nothing helps.  People try to be helpful and suggest things, but (unless it’s alternative medicine or segulot (magic charms), which I don’t believe in) I’ve usually tried it before, without success.  But if I say that, people think I’m just being obstinate.

***

I wonder sometimes if anyone really connects to my blog or if I’m doing any good generally.  I’ve never seen It’s a Wonderful Life (it sounds too depressing), but I suspect that if I was shown the effect my life had had on those around me, the impact would be minimal.  Certainly not enough to justify the promise I supposedly showed as a child.  I have just hit ninety followers on WordPress, and I think there are a couple of people reading in other ways, so someone must find all this verbiage meaningful, but then again, a lot of my followers seem to be from dubious sites that only exist to sell things, rather than from legitimate bloggers,  so perhaps I should not read too much into it.  I think some people follow blogs just to boost their own follower numbers.

I do really wonder what it would be like to see the impact I had on those around me, though, especially as I’ve been thinking about death (my death, I mean) and suicide a lot recently, but it scares me to think how minimal it probably is.  I know Freud is rather out of favour with the psychological establishment these days, but my life does seem like a constant struggle between eros and thanatos, between the desire to love and be loved (which I know isn’t quite what Freud meant by eros) and the desire to die.  Because life without love seems pretty pointless, really, and while I’m holding on to the fact that, for some strange reason I don’t understand, my parents and sister love me and I have a couple of friends who seem to like me, I want more.  I don’t think it’s selfish to really want to have a proper relationship for more or less the first time at the age of thirty-four.  (I had one previous relationship, that lasted eight months on paper, but was actually in crisis for much of that period, although I was just too glad to finally be in a relationship to realise it.  I got badly hurt by the whole experience.)

***

It occurs to me that this week was a ‘perfect storm’ with my parents being away at the same time as my therapist.  All are back by the end of next week, plus I have a meeting on Friday morning (just before therapy) with my doctor to discuss increasing the dosage of my medication, although I suspect he’ll just refer me on to a psychiatrist, which will take time.

Mind you, it’s easy to dismiss my feelings as a ‘perfect storm’ of bad things, while ignoring how many ‘perfect storms’ I seem to have been experiencing lately.

Feeling Evil

That was an awful Shabbos (Yiddish pronounciation of the Hebrew Shabbat, the Sabbath.  I tend to flip between the two in real life, although I generally use the Hebrew here).  I have a stack of washing up to attend to and I need to walk round to my parents’ house soon (more on that below), but I need to get this out of my system first.

I did manage to get to my parents’ house yesterday and left most of my meds there because I didn’t feel safe having them in the flat over Shabbos.  This was probably a good thing.  While I was there, I spent some time reorganising the bookshelves in my room there, which got mixed up when the room was decorated recently, although there is still a lot more to do there.  Then I did some grocery shopping and headed home.

I don’t know if I got my timings wrong or if I was just feeling depressed and tired when I got back to the flat and everything took longer than I expected, but I was running late for shul (synagogue), so late, in fact, that had I left when I was ready, I would have arrived too late for Mincha (the afternoon service), so I davened (prayed) that at home and then set out.  On the way, I kept stopping and feeling awful, a wicked person and a hypocrite for pretending to religious when I’m a terrible sinner.  The later it got, the more self-conscious I became of walking in late, everyone seeing me coming in late and thinking badly of me or, worse (in my mind), coming up to me and checking that I was OK and my either having to lie and say I was fine or admit to the depression in more detail than I felt entirely comfortable doing.  Eventually I got so overwhelmed by social anxiety that I turned back home.

I kept thinking about a particular Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) religious leader (I won’t give him the honorific ‘rabbi’) who was accused of sexual assault, rape and statutory rape; there was also an audio recording where he seemed to conspire to murder the husband of one of his victims.  He went to jail (although I don’t think he was convicted on all counts because of a plea bargain, but he confessed to some of them), but he got released on compassionate grounds as he’s dying of cancer.  He told his followers that he was innocent and had taken on suffering to avoid suffering happening to the Jewish people.  A lot of them seem to believe him.  I kept thinking about him, how bad he is, and how I’m really the same, even though I haven’t raped anyone, because I’m a religious hypocrite like him, I’ve convinced people I’m religious when really I’m not.  I just felt disgusting, like I was full of black slime inside.  When I got home I just went to bed for an hour, because I couldn’t face davening Ma’ariv (saying the evening prayers).

Eventually I got up and davened, made kiddush and motzei and had dinner.  I read a little bit and did a tiny bit of Torah study (about ten minutes), but mostly I was caught up in my thoughts (and eating junk food).  As well as the guilt, there was a really powerful loneliness and longing to have someone to care about and who would care about me.  I have experienced this feeling as a crush on a specific person before, but this was just a free-floating feeling of loneliness and wanting someone to be here with me.  The self-hatred would subside a little after I ate something and my blood sugar level rose, but it was still there along with the loneliness.  Eventually I calmed down a bit and read in bed until about 1.00am and then went to sleep.

I was woken at about 6.15am by my phone ringing and then by a text.  I couldn’t use the phone because of Shabbos, but I was immediately worried that something had happened to my parents who are away (after Shabbos I would check my texts and see it was my parents’ neighbouring phoning to say their burglar alarm had gone off).  Despite my anxiety, I fell asleep again and didn’t wake up again until something like 1.30pm.  It took another hour to get the energy just to get up and eat some cereal, but even that didn’t really help me and I went back to bed for another hour.  I did eventually manage to get up, get dressed daven a tiny bit of Mussaf (the additional Shabbat service) and have some lunch, but I went back to bed afterwards, fell asleep again and missed Mincha (the afternoon service) entirely.  I opened my eyes and I had missed Mincha; I shut them and opened them again and Shabbos was completely over.  I decided that if I didn’t make havdalah yet, I could have seudah shlishit (the third Shabbat meal) and so ate some limp matzah with jam; I have no idea if this was the right thing to do.  I davened Ma’ariv (said the evening service) and made havdalah.

My feelings of inadequacy and guilt persisted all day.   Today the feelings from yesterday were joined by a further feeling: that the religious leader I was thinking about told his followers that he was suffering to save the Jewish people and that sometimes I console myself by hoping that my suffering takes away somewhat from the suffering of the Jewish people.  This felt like I was completely on his level of arrogance and evil.

Writing them down here, my thoughts seem insignificant and silly, but they were incredibly powerful, overwhelming, and true-seeming.  I wish I could have been able to record them yesterday, so people can see how I felt.  I can’t begin to put in to words now how lonely I felt and how absolutely evil I felt myself to be; even to me, still feeling somewhat wicked and lonely, the thoughts of yesterday seem unbelievable.  The feelings were so overpowering that I couldn’t make it to shul for Ma’ariv, even though it’s the one time of the week when I always go to shul.  I spent the whole evening wrapped up in my self-loathing thoughts, unable to break out of them, being totally at their mercy.

Anyway, now Shabbat is over, I have to put aside these thoughts and engage in activities.  I need to go over to my parents’ house and check it’s OK, although it’s far too late to do anything if anyone did break in.  (My sister is out, so she can’t go.  She’s at the hen party for a friend of hers, the first person I ever dated.  I’m not carrying a torch for the friend or anything, but it does make me feel that everyone gets married except me.)  I also need to pick up a heater, as the heater in my flat burnt out this afternoon.  I guess it was on too much, even though I put it on a timeswitch so it wouldn’t be on the whole time.  It might just be that the fuse has gone, but I don’t have any spare fuses in the flat and I don’t know where my parents keep theirs.  I can’t stay here without a heater, though – even just a couple of hours since it went off, it’s already far too cold for comfort.  I might also collect my meds for the rest of the week, so I don’t have to go back to my parents’ house as I intended tomorrow, given that the chores I intended to do tonight will now have to be done tomorrow.  I also have a huge pile of washing up to attend to before I go.  I guess this will at least distract me from feelings of guilt and self-hatred.

The Mountaineer

I got up surprisingly early this morning considering I didn’t get to bed until 2.00am, so I’m hoping to get the time, amid preparations for Shabbat (the Sabbath) by myself in my flat, to walk round to my parents’ house and leave some of my medication there out of the way of temptation.  I’ll still need to have a week’s worth or so in the flat, though.

A metaphor came to my mind that I originally heard in quite a different context, of being like a climber stuck on a high mountain at night.  If he stops moving,  he will die, but it is dark and cold and he is tired and wants to sleep.  That’s how I feel with my depression.  I know I have to keep moving, but I no longer have the energy or hope to do so.

I made a list last night of things I’ve tried to cope with my depression.  There may be stuff I’ve missed, but I think these are the main things:

  • Working,
  • Volunteering,
  • Being frum (religious),
  • Positive affirmations,
  • Medication.  Lots of medication,
  • CBT,
  • Counselling,
  • Psychotherapy,
  • Vitamins,
  • Exercise,
  • Socialising (a bit, anyway),
  • Opening up to people (a tiny bit),
  • A sunlight-simulating alarm clock,
  • Dating,
  • Prayer (set, spontaneous, Hebrew, English),
  • Meditation/mindfulness,
  • Phoning the Samaritans,
  • Keeping a diary and blogging.

Also, things I would like to try, but have not been able to:

  • Taking vitamin B6,
  • Using a light box.

I feel the only things I haven’t tried are alternative medicine and segulot (protective charms or rituals), as I don’t believe in either of them.

This is why I feel rather pessimistic when people suggest something that I should do to deal with the depression, because I’ve usually tried it already or if I haven’t, then I don’t feel particularly confident that it will work when nothing else has done.

Today the world feels set up for mentally stable, neurotypical people and not for those with depression, social anxiety or Asperger’s Syndrome, let alone all three.  It’s going to be an effort just to go to shul (synagogue) for an hour this evening, let alone to do anything more social or energy-depleting.

So Lonely: Jumbled Thoughts from a Lonely Day

I’m off work today, which is probably just as well, as I need to get ready for spending Shabbat (the Sabbath) alone in my flat (usually I stay with my parents).  This can get pretty lonely.  I’ve got stuff to read: Dracula, which I am very much enjoying re-reading, the latest Doctor Who Magazine, and volume two of Vampire Knight (manga comic aimed at teenage girls (vampire romance/school story) which I can’t work out if I like.  I like the main character, but a volume and a half in, the plot is only really starting).  Still, it looks set to be a lonely Shabbat.  Most single people in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community would get themselves invited out if they were by themselves for Shabbat, but I don’t know that many people and I’ve never felt comfortable inviting myself around to people’s houses, even though I know that English and Jewish customs are at variance here and that most frum people would consider it perfectly acceptable behaviour.  Of course, eating at other people’s houses can be just as difficult for me, trading loneliness for social anxiety.

I was in bed for about twelve hours last night/this morning.  I’m not sure how long I actually slept, as I lay in bed for a while feeling too depressed and exhausted to get up and put some cereal and milk in a bowl, even though I knew I would feel better if I ate and restored my blood sugar level, but I must have been asleep for at least eleven hours, which isn’t good.  I somehow slept through the racket of building works two houses away (it’s sounds like they’re demolishing the house brick by brick).  I dreamt about Groundhog Day which wasn’t that surprising as my parents had borrowed the DVD from me and I’ve often reflected that I seem to be in a Groundhog Day-type situation of repeating the same actions again and again without breaking out of the loop, but it was disturbing to dream of myself being in such a situation for millions of years (or was it billions?) without breaking free.  That’s how I feel with my depression and loneliness.  Also some weird stuff about falling into the Thames with someone (someone female, not sure who, but I think I liked her in the dream) and her being rescued without me and (nearly?) abducted while I couldn’t do anything to save her, because I was stranded holding on to a fence that stuck out over the river (?), trying to avoid drowning.  My sister was involved too, somehow, and Jack the Ripper was in there too, for some disturbing reason.  I don’t usually remember my dreams, or only in fragments; maybe this should make me glad.

Today is Rosh Chodesh (New Moon of the Jewish month of) Adar.  The Talmud says that with the start of Adar, we increase in joy, as we head into the month of Purim, the most carnivalesque Jewish festival and then into the month of Nisan, the month of redemption and Pesach (Passover), the festival of redemption.  I, however, feel extra anxious and depressed at this time of year.  The enforced jollity of Purim sets of my depression and social anxiety.  The many commandments of Purim and especially of Pesach, set off my religious OCD.  I find the whole time of year a struggle.  Just seeing the bags of Purim food in the kosher shops just now made me feel anxious and depressed and, I suppose, lonely, knowing that most people don’t feel like this and are looking forward to spending enjoyable times with friends and family (I don’t have friends nearby to spend time with).

It occurs to me that to the lists I made about myself yesterday to try to understand what I should be doing with my life, I could add another matched pair of lists with things that are depleting and things that are restoring to me (I can’t remember where, if anywhere, I read this idea).  In the depleting box goes work, shul and pretty much all socialising.  And more or less everything else, really: housework, cooking, shopping, commuting on the Tube, davening (praying), Torah study.  In the restoring box goes a tiny amount of socialising (unfortunately it’s hard to tell in advance what will be restoring or depleting), possibly writing my blog and certainly writing my Doctor Who book (it’s telling that I work on it in my lunch break at work without worrying about my energy levels).  Also watching classic Doctor Who and some new Doctor Who (which sometimes presses a whole load of my buttons about emotional relationships, love, loneliness and not fitting in, not least when the Doctor turned into one of the kids who used to bully me at school) and watching my favourite vintage TV science fiction series on DVD.  I’m not sure where watching Sherlock fits into this, but it seems to have finished and I haven’t bought any DVDs because I can’t work out if it’s sufficiently triggering to steer clear.  And that’s pretty much all the TV I watch.  I’m not sure about recreational reading.  I do tend to like reading ‘heavy’ books (fiction or non-fiction), but I do enjoy them, even though they can feel like a slog and take ages to read because a lot of the time I don’t feel up to it.  I have some lighter reading piled up on my ‘to read’ pile, though.  Perhaps depleting and restoring in equal measure.

Hmm, looking at this, I’m really not sure how I increase the restoring activities and decrease the depleting ones, as most of the depleting ones are unavoidable and crowd out the time available for the restoring ones.

I’ve pretty much given up on waiting for the shadchanim (matchmakers) to get back to me.  As far as I can see, they aren’t interested in looking for someone for me, whether because of my geekiness, mental illness, ‘modern’ outlook or some other reason.  I don’t know where to go from here.  I could try Shidduch.im, the UK affiliate of Saw You at Sinai, which is kind of a cross between a dating site and a shadchan, inasmuch as they send you profiles each week and if you like the profile you are sent and she likes yours, you can date.  It’s a paid site, so they would be legally obliged to send me profiles each week, but there’s no guarantee they will find anyone suitable (rather than randomly matching me up to see if anything sticks) or that the woman in question would want to meet me.  I’m not sure I’m willing to pay for more rejection.

I went into the Jewish bookshop today and saw various books on dating.  The questions seem pretty remote from me.  Should you start at 22 or 25?  (I couldn’t find someone willing to go out with me until I was 27.)  What should you do if you’re dating someone, but someone else suggests someone even better-sounding to you?  (I can’t imagine that ever happening to me.)  Nothing about, “What if you’re such a freak that no one wants to set you up with anyone, let alone actually date you?”

“Where do I go from here?” is question I keep asking myself about my mental health, dating, my career and my religious practices, and I don’t have any answers at all, which is scary.  I honestly don’t know where I’ll be in one year’s time, except that I will almost certainly still be mentally ill and I hope I will still be frum, but I don’t think I can guarantee even that.  It probably isn’t true that I haven’t felt this hopeless for a long time, as I feel hopeless a lot of the time, but I haven’t felt challenged in so many ways at the same time for some years.  I keep hoping that this is the ‘darkest before dawn’ moment that always seems to come in tales of hasgacha  pratit (Divine intervention), but somehow I just bumble through without really resolving things very much, at least until the next crisis.

I want to go to my parasha shiur (weekly Torah reading class) tonight, as it’s likely to be the only really social thing I’ll manage over the next few days, but I don’t really have the energy, plus I need to cook dinner and clean the flat (which hasn’t been cleaned for weeks).  Also, the assistant rabbi always seems to ask me the hardest questions, or at least expects me to answer them, which is nice on some level (he asked me how I know so much if I didn’t go to yeshiva), but also puts me on the spot on nights like tonight when I don’t really want to be around people very much.  Can you be lonely and withdrawn at the same time?

Tu B’Av for Non-Jews

I don’t really have anything to say today, but I need to say something to someone and my parents are currently not around, so I blog instead.

I was very depressed on waking again.  I was going to enjoy being able to sleep a little later on a work day.  I was starting at 10.00am rather than 9.00am, but working on another campus so the commute was even longer than usual, but I should have been able to get up a little later, but I had missed one of my many alarms when resetting them last night, so I still got woken up at 6.05 (how it woke me today when I normally sleep through it is beyond me).

I was too depressed to do more than a cursory bit of Torah study on the train.  I had hoped that studying Mishnah would be easier than Gemarah, but it isn’t.  The Artscroll commentary doesn’t help, as rather than just explain the simple meaning of the text, it brings in every possible interpretation from the Gemarah and the Medieval and modern commentators, so that rather than understanding the Mishnah more, I understand it less, which surely can’t be right.  I read through literally pages of this stuff (admittedly not many pages) on the train every work day and understand almost nothing whatsoever of what I read.  I wonder if it’s a waste of time, but I feel I should be doing some kind of Torah study other than just the weekly sedra (without commentary) and that it ought to be something related to the Oral Torah, rather than just reading Jewish philosophy or Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) as I used to do.  Admittedly this is partly from feelings of guilt and inadequacy over never having gone to yeshiva and partly because I feel that a prospective frum wife is going to want a husband who knows at least some Gemarah.  Studying Mishnah seemed like a start (after attempts at going to Talmud shiurim (classes) that have never lasted longer than a year, due to factors out of my control), but it hasn’t worked.  I don’t know what else to do, and the Artscroll commentary is at least handily pocket-sized.  Sadly, Artscroll has cornered the market in Mishnayot; the more succinct Kehati is out of print, although I have the volume on Brachot (from one of my ex-dates, funnily enough.  One of the ones I still talk to).

I took the time on the train saved by not studying to finish something I started yesterday, doing a SWOT analysis of myself (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) as well as comparing the pros and cons of working as a college librarian with working as a research librarian/researcher and writing a list of my current anxieties.  None of these lists told me anything I didn’t already know, though, which made me doubt the point of the exercise or if I was doing it right.  I tend not to be good at these kind of things.  By “these kind of things” I meant ‘blue sky thinking-type planning’, but I’m not particularly good at ‘self-awareness’ either.

Work was OK, a lot of dull scanning of books and then a lot of unexpected cataloguing with the usual fears of going too slowly and not doing enough balanced by fears of going too fast and making mistakes.  I have no idea if I’ve achieved the right sort of balance.  There was some strange confusion at one point about where the keys to the room we were working in were when I was the only person back from lunch that I don’t understand well enough to relate and it’s probably not very interesting either.  I don’t know why these things happen to me, though: do I attract strange incidents or do I simply fail to understand normal events in the world around me (Asperger’s/high functioning autism?)?  My boss and I left at 4.30pm, but two of my colleagues stayed on.  This led to further anxiety,  which was probably bordering on ‘pure O’ (obsession) OCD, on the way home, as I worried that I should have told them where I left the keys, although they were in plain sight on the desk.

Someone was playing music while we were working because most of the team were doing menial work while I was cataloguing.  Unfortunately, I can’t work with the radio on (Asperger’s again?), but I felt it was wrong to impose my views on everyone else, so I put up with it.  There were a lot of mushy Valentine’s dedications.  Up until that point I had somehow managed to remain largely in ignorance of Valentine’s Day this year, so it took me a bit by surprise.  I was cheered up a bit later when my non-biological sisters (friends who are like sisters) texted me with emoji flowers and teddy bears, which is the first time in thirty-four years that anyone has ever done anything for me on Valentine’s Day (although one year when I was at school I overheard a couple of girls planning to send me an anonymous card as a hilarious prank, but they didn’t do it).  I doubt I would do anything for Valentine’s Day even if I was in a relationship (it’s not very Jewish), but having every couple in the world advertise how blissfully happy they are to be in love (yeah, right) doesn’t do much for me right now.

Mind you, the radio news bulletins, which were full of children being murdered by their families, did not exactly cheer me up either.  To be honest, the news generally is depressing, either terrible things happening or the mundane lives of “celebrities” that I am supposed to care about.

Back to dating: my rabbi offered to talk to me about dating a few weeks ago and I still haven’t got back to him (this was after I asked if he knew a shadchan (matchmaker) who works with people with mental health issues; he didn’t just decide to offer me advice on  my private life).  To be honest, I’m not really sure what to say to him and have been procrastinating over it for some days now.  I’m not really sure what advice my rabbi can give me that would possibly apply in my unique situation.  On the other hand, I don’t want to be rude and I do want it to be known in the community that I’m looking to date as there’s an outside chance that someone will know someone right for me.  And there is still a lot I don’t know about dating in the frum (religious) community, which I have only really just started doing.

I feel despondent.  I’ve emailed ten shadchanim in the last couple of weeks.  Some didn’t respond or said they couldn’t help because they don’t deal with people with mental health issues or because they only work with people in the USA.  Two asked for my shidduch profile (dating profile), but didn’t respond after I sent it, all of which just reinforces my feeling that, between my mental health issues and my geeky interests, I’m just too weird for anyone to date.  I’m open to the idea that there are frum geeky women out there who could tolerate someone with mental health issues, but I don’t know how to meet them as they are surely being marginalised as much as I am.  I also feel lately that I’ve sunk deeply back into depression and anxiety and I shouldn’t even be thinking about dating, although my parents are still hopeful that finding the “right woman” will help me, if not recover, then at least feel a bit better and my rabbi mentor (not the shul rabbi mentioned above) seemed to think it was worth trying.  To be fair, do tend to feel better while dating, at least up until the point when I get told that my inamorata can’t cope with my depression/social anxiety/geekiness/etc.

I sank back into semi-suicidal thoughts on the way home.  I don’t particularly feel like killing myself, although this morning I was feeling bad enough to wonder if I should leave most of my meds at my parents’ house, a precaution I take when I feel very despairing.  I might do that soon, even though it will take a huge chunk out of my day to walk there and back and probably again on Sunday.  I don’t want to kill myself, I would rather find a way to be, if not happy, then at least content with my life, but I worry that I will sooner or later.  The main things stopping me are worries about my parents and fear of pain and of making a failed suicide attempt that leaves me in pain, but alive.  When I feel bad, it doesn’t usually occur to me that suicide is forbidden in Judaism.  I suppose I feel that I don’t have any share in Olam HaBa (the Next World) anyway and that things can’t get any worse, or perhaps I simply can’t think that abstractly when so depressed.  I worry that all it would take is one bad day or moment of weakness and I would just give up.

I don’t know how to deal with this long-term, as all the coping measures I have been told about are short-term (distract myself; stay alive for five minute increments; keep my meds elsewhere (although I can’t keep them all elsewhere, nor can I get rid of my kitchen knives); phone the Samaritans; go to my doctor, phone the NHS mental health crisis team or go to A&E (ha ha ha, anyone who has been suicidal in the UK can tell you how useless the NHS is at dealing with suicidal people.  Last time I phoned the crisis team, I was told that unless I was literally about to kill myself that very minute, they couldn’t do anything for me, no matter that I had been thinking of killing myself a few hours before and was worried I might do it again).  Other than that it’s just a case of sticking with therapy and medication, neither of which seems to do more in the long-term than maintain a level of barely tolerable despair, with occasional better periods lasting no more than six months.  I do at least have an appointment with my doctor for Friday week to talk about increasing the dosage of my clomipramine, although I expect that would make my weight gain even worse, which in turn just lowers my self-esteem.

For someone who didn’t have anything to write about, I seem to have written a lot, although I can’t imagine that any of it interests anyone.  It all seems fairly mundane, although I suppose I’m in a bad state when serious suicidal fears seem mundane.  I guess I should go and have dinner.

Quod Erat Demonstrandum

This is the worst feeling.  For much of the afternoon I’ve had a mixture of depression, agitation, despair and loneliness and maybe anger, envy and paranoia running through my head.  I feel that God hates me, that my life is awful and will always remain awful until I die, that everyone hates me, that even my friends and parents only talk to me out of pity and that they secretly don’t like me.  I feel that nothing can ever change for the better and that I am powerless over my own life.  I just want to die and fantasise endlessly about hurting or killing myself, without having the guts to do anything about it.  I wrote stuff I shouldn’t write on Hevria again.

I know that no one can ever love me unless I love myself, but I don’t know how to love myself when there is so little about me that is lovable, and the proof of that is that no one loves me, so how can I break out of this circle?  My therapist once said I was “lovable”, but I don’t see anything about myself that seems remotely lovable.  Surely if I was lovable so people would, you know, love me?

I even found a proof-text that God hates me: “[Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa] would also say: One who is pleasing to his fellow men, is pleasing to God. But one who is not pleasing to his fellow men, is not pleasing to God.”  (Pirkei Avot 3.10, translation from Chabad.org because I was too depressed and lazy to look elsewhere or translate it myself.)  I don’t think I’m very pleasing to my fellows, given that I have about three real friends at most (as in people who actually contact me rather than waiting for me to contact them) and I worry they only contact me out of pity or worry that I’m going to hurt myself.  I seem to alienate all my friends sooner or later with my depression (or by falling in love with them, I’ve done that a few times).

Or maybe I alienate people by saying that they don’t really like me, as I did here.  It’s very confusing, when you are not good at reading people, to tell if people really like you, particularly if it’s a long-distance friendship over email, text and blogs, as all of my close friendships are (if that doesn’t stop them not being close friendships.   I mean, I would associate close friendships with actually seeing each other sometimes).  I guess that’s why I see marriage as the ultimate seal of approval, because then someone would have chosen to actually see me every day and not just that but to live with me.  So then she would have to really like me.  Except that I would probably worry that she didn’t love me any more and would probably end up pushing her away with my self-loathing and paranoia.

A blogger I really admire who recently got married at the “ancient” (for frum Jews) age of 32 (younger than me) said frum singles should trust in God because there isn’t much else we can do.  But what do you do if you are convinced that God hates you and is deliberately sabotaging your life to make you miserable for reasons unknown (but probably to do with you being evil and wicked)?  And that He wants you to be alone and miserable forever (because you’re so wicked) unless you repent (which you can’t do because you’re too wicked and also too mentally ill and because He’s really trying to make it as hard as He can, within the bounds of free will, for you to be frum because He hates you)?  There isn’t really a lot you can do if an omnipotent being is out to make your life miserable.

I feel like my reasoning went wrong somewhere in this post, or maybe in several somewheres.  Maybe my friends do like me and I am lovable and God doesn’t hate me.  Maybe.   Maybe, as Philip K. Dick said, I either invented a whole new logic or I’m not playing with a full deck.  Maybe.  Either way, it doesn’t change what I feel and the way I get carried away by my feelings when the depression and agitation are so powerful, like an ocean wave against the tiny wooden canoe of my reason and self-esteem.

(At least I’m a bit better at recognising and distinguishing these emotions than I used to be – alexithymia.)

“There’s a beautiful sadness that runs through him”

You know the drill: bed late, slept more than ten hours, up late, feeling depressed and depleted (low blood sugar after not eating for ten and a half hours doesn’t help).  I should have been doing some thing much more exciting last night than just staying up late writing about (not very good) Doctor Who episodes to end up with this much of a “mental hangover,” the term I use for exhaustion and depression after something fun.  But watching and writing about Doctor Who is pretty much the only enjoyable thing in my life right now (oh, I just started re-reading Dracula.  That’s good too).  Sad.

I feel that there isn’t really anything that I think or do that is uniquely me.  Everything I do is done better by someone else.  Or done to more acclaim, which isn’t always the same thing.  Even my Doctor Who book, which is about the best thing in my life at the moment (pathetic I know) is mediocre at best, especially when compared with other writers who, I feel, vocalise their political biases too much (Doctor Who fandom has long been very political) and don’t do enough research and make whopping mistakes.  Certainly I don’t have a hope of getting so many readers, if I even manage to get published.

I have ideas for stories, or at least images that might be made into stories, but I don’t know what to do with them.  The stories I used to write were really rubbish.  As someone who is probably somewhat autistic and alexithymic (unable to feel or describe emotions), I feel that I could never empathise with a character to accurately describe their mental state.  I can’t even describe my own mental state as well as I would like.

I feel inadequate and inauthentic.  Like nothing I do is really good or really me.  When am I going to see the real, unique, me?  Or is the real me just rubbish?  This blog is, I suppose, as near as I ever get to me, unfiltered, outside of my head.  And it’s garbage (and no one reads it).

I also feel like giving up on ever getting married.  I still haven’t heard back from the shadchanim (matchmakers).  I feel that even professional matchmakers have no hope of my ever getting married and I should just give up and accept that I will always be a lonely single virgin.  I do wonder what I did to make God hate me so much.  Sometimes I wonder if I could have a chance meeting with someone (these do happen, even in the frum (religious) world).   But I can’t really see it happening.  I’d be too shy to talk to some stranger on the Tube anyway.

There’s a real-life story on Aish.com (I can’t find it right now) about a Jewish guy who was not religious, but who went to Israel.  Standing at the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism, he asked God to send him a sign that He exists and immediately a guy tapped him on the shoulder and asked if he would like to learn about God in a yeshiva (rabbinical seminary).  Which he did, perhaps surprisingly.  Then a few months later, while studying in yeshiva in Jerusalem, he saw a Jewish woman in the street who looked “graceful” and prayed to God that he should meet someone like her.  A few months later, he finished at yeshiva, went home and went to shul (synagogue) one Shabbat (Sabbath) and saw the exact same woman.  Turned out they lived in the same city.  They dated (they were allowed to talk to members of the other sex at kiddush?) and got married.  Happy ever after.  Stories like this make me jealous and a bit angry.  I know what I said a few days ago about not having miracles being greater than having miracles, but couldn’t I have something to be going on with?  I believe in God, but I don’t believe in myself and sometimes I feel like I’m holding on to halakhah (Jewish law) with just the tips of my fingers and I don’t care what happens to me any more because whatever I do, God hates me and I have no share in Olam HaBa (the Next World).  Couldn’t I have something to help me?  Or does God really hate me so much that he wants to “make my heart heavy” like Pharaoh to stop being frum so He can destroy me completely?

Anyway, I really hate myself today.  I have a really long to do list, including getting my hair cut, which is pretty much my most hated thing ever (I hate the intrusion on my personal space and then there’s the fear that I’ll start shaking).  I don’t know if I’m going to have the energy or inclination to daven (pray) or do any Torah study.  I’m trying really  hard not to do what I did yesterday and leave a self-loathing comment ruining the blog of someone I respect.  But I really do feel (contrary to what she was writing) that God hates me and wants me to be lonely and miserable forever and it isn’t just a question of waiting for things to go right for me.  After eighteen years or more (possibly much more) it’s clear that things are not going to go spontaneously right for me, but also that I’ve tried pretty much everything and nothing helps.

Like I said, I really hate myself today.

L’Espirit de L’Escalier (Or, Why I Write Stupid Comments on Other People’s Blogs)

This is a follow-up to the post I posted a few minutes ago.  I suddenly had a thought about it while writing my private journal which I wanted to share.  I don’t want to go back and edit the old post, because the people who subscribe by email (which includes two of the three people I know for sure regularly read this) will miss it.  It would probably help to go back and read the original post first.  So here goes:

I wrote about writing self-pitying comments on other people’s blogs, particularly on Hevria.com.  I couldn’t work out why I do this.  The comments are usually about my intractable mental health issues, my insecure and part-time employment and especially my single status.  I write that my life has always been bad and will never get better.  I sort of dare people to contradict me, or to agree with me.  I don’t know which, because neither option seems good.

It occurred to me that it’s not really about what people say in response, it’s more that they say anything at all (if they do, which normally they don’t).  I want someone to show they care about me.  I don’t know if I want someone to say that I definitely will get better or that I definitely won’t get better, that I will definitely find my other half or I definitely won’t find her, but I do want people to acknowledge my pain and my feelings of isolation and loneliness and how they are worsened in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community where almost everyone my age is married with children and where singledom is seen as a bizarre and suspect aberration.

Hyberbolic Self-Loathing

I haven’t been to my depression support group for ages, mostly due to being tired and late home from work and/or needing to get up early the next day for work.  As I’m off work tomorrow, I thought about going tonight, but decided I was too tired, especially as they were holding a creative writing class, which I decided I didn’t have the head for.  I was worried that a six hour work day, plus nearly four hours of travelling to and from work (to another campus) plus the trip to and from depression group itself would leave me exhausted and depressed tomorrow.  And, anyway, I didn’t feel that depressed, so I wasn’t sure what I would share.  So I thought I would come home, have something to eat, watch Doctor Who and try to get an early night.

Big mistake.

I came home and spent half an hour or more writing another over-sharing, attention-seeking, drama queening, self-loathing, self-mocking, unfunny, depressive comment on poor Rivki Silver’s Hevria post (Hevria.com is a Jewish religious/cultural website/collective blog I have contributed to.  I don’t know why I seem to pick on Rivki more than anyone else except maybe Elad and Stephanie.  I think I just respond to people who are nice to me, which isn’t very fair).  It’s just an attempt to get people to say they like me or are worried about me (it generally doesn’t work) or that things might work out better than I think or that things really are as bad as I fear (I don’t know which of these I want more.  I want to be told that things could get better, but I never believe it when I am.  Being told things will stay bad at least supports my worldview).  This combines with jealousy on my part,  that other people have lives they like, have families, are doing something useful and worthwhile and are paid to write (on Hevria, which I got rejected from for reasons that were never made entirely clear, as I never cease to remind myself).  I then had to write a second post clarifying the first comment, saying that I was using hyperbole for comic effect.  This was sort of true – it started out as a ‘woe is me’ comment, which I realised and felt guilty about, but couldn’t stop myself writing, so I went deliberately over the top for comic effect, but then thought that no one would see the funny side.

Honestly, it’s a wonder no one at Hevria has had me banned yet.  I almost wish they would, it would stop me embarrassing myself there.  According to Hevria’s Facebook page, nearly 11,000 people follow Hevria on Facebook.  That’s a lot of people for me to embarrass myself in front of every couple of weeks!

I was going to joke that I have punished myself by watching episode two of Timelash, one of the worst ever episodes of Doctor Who, except it ends with the Doctor telling the villain/monster that he’s too ugly to ever get married and no one cares about him (seriously…), so maybe watching it really was a punishment.

No news from any of the shadchanim (matchmakers), which is probably part of what prompted the comment.  I know, I should wait longer.  But I still don’t believe there’s someone out there for me.  Now I don’t even believe there’s a shadchan out there for me, and they get paid!

I feel OKish now.  I discovered that in my rush to get to work this morning, I forgot to take my meds.  Taking that into account, I probably did well just to leave a couple of embarrassing comments and not have a full-scale meltdown.  It probably helped that work was somewhere new and hence distracting, but with few new people around to provoke anxiety and certainly no students, just getting on with cataloguing and doing that at high speed with little time for thought, although now I worry that I made mistakes going at speed.  I just indulged and let myself stay up late, spending over an hour on my non-fiction Doctor Who book, which was actually something really enjoyable for the first time in a while.  I really do need to try to find a way to get paid for writing things I enjoy.

I ought to take down that comment, but I can’t face it.  Maybe I do want someone to email me and say they’re thinking of me.  Plus Disqus won’t let me delete a comment.  I have to manually delete the contents, but it leaves an empty box.  I think I’ve left empty boxes all over Hevria…

Eeyore

I had a couple of insights into myself and my recent thoughts in the last few days.  One was reading Gold from the Land of Israel, Chanan Morrison’s elucidation of ideas from Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook.  The idea was familiar to me, but hit me with a force that it hadn’t had before.  The idea was that experiencing miracles is not the highest level of righteousness; the highest level is not needing overt miracles because one sees God’s hand in apparently natural events (this is, although he didn’t say it, the meaning of the forthcoming minor festival of Purim, which I am already dreading).  This made me think that I shouldn’t see myself as inferior to those people on Hevria.com or Aish.com who claim to have experienced miracles, except that I don’t know that I really do see God’s hand in natural events; at any rate, it’s hard to think of much that has happened to me that seems unequivocally good in the way that this does.  Usually if something good happens to me, as soon as I let my guard down and give thanks for it, I get whacked with something awful.

The other thing that occurred to me was that a lot of the pressure and anxiety I feel at moment stems from my perfectionism.  I feel I have to be perfect at my job to avoid getting fired (and to prevent my colleagues and the students thinking I’m an idiot).  I feel I have to be religiously perfect in order for God to love me and to have a share in Olam HaBa (the Next World).  Perhaps most of all, I feel I have to be a perfect person in order to be accepted into the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community and to get married, and that this perfection basically includes getting rid of my eccentricities and unusual character traits (secular interests, geekyness, mental health issues, autistic traits).  Underlying most, if not all of these things, is a belief that no one will like me for who I am, flaws and all, and that there isn’t anyone else who struggles like me or who has unusual traits like me.

I want to believe there is a frum geeky woman out there who maybe has experienced some difficulties and will be a good match for me, but I can’t believe it is true or, worse, I think maybe she does exist, but we will never meet or even know of each other’s existence because God hates me and doesn’t want to bring us together.  The evidence for my views is mostly that it hasn’t happened until now, so I doubt it ever will, but also from various near misses where I met someone I thought was like me, but then they turned out not to be a good match, or simply not to like me.  In the last year or so I’ve “met” (in real life or online) three frum geeky women who I thought might be right for me, but they weren’t (they didn’t want children, or at least weren’t certain (I very much do) and in some cases weren’t interested in me anyway).  Plus I dated one frum geeky woman years back, but that didn’t work out for reasons I probably shouldn’t mention here, but it left me very hurt and sceptical of finding someone like me or who could at least accept me, feeling that the only person who would accept me would be even more messed up than I am and would hurt me. I don’t know what I can do about these feelings.

To be fair, the frum community is quite old-fashioned and conformist, and rather bourgeois in its outlook.  Then again, I can perhaps over-stress that.  It hasn’t been my experience so much as what I’ve picked up from reading Hevria and other frum blogs, but I suppose they are often written by people with a grievance, real or imagined, so maybe I shouldn’t pay too much attention to them.  The Hevria people in particular are fairly counter-cultural and Bohemian and most of them are ba’alei teshuva (Jews who became religious late in life) who reached Jewish observance via counter-culture, drugs and Eastern mysticism so I guess they were always going to struggle to conform in a way that I wouldn’t necessarily do.

(I’m not really part of a specific counter-culture.  My mental background is a bit like this quote: “Doctor Four and Romana Two… were unfettered by popular culture, adrift in a time-warped world that was a liberal intellectual’s wet dream, a weird wonderland formed from bits of the 1890s, 1960s, the future, a higher plane, a secondhand bookshop, an ivory tower, and the anti-bourgeois underground…”  From The Lovers by Ian Berriman in Purple Haze #1 reprinted in Licence Denied: Rumblings from the Doctor Who Underground edited by Paul Cornell)

It’s going to be a strange week, anyway.  It’s half-term, so I’m supposed to be off, but there’s a major project going on at one of the colleges that my college merged with.  We’re basically setting up a library there from scratch with thousands of books to process in a few days.  I’m going there on two days to help with the job and pay off the time I took off for my sister’s wedding in December and maybe earn some overtime; the other days I’m having off, as I needed a break and have things to do, especially having a long-needed haircut (I hate having my haircut, but I don’t like leaving my hair long these days either).  It’s right the other side of London, even further than my usual commute, so I’ve arranged to come in around 10.00am and leave around 4.30pm, maybe a little earlier.  I still have to leave home almost as early as usual, though, as the commute looks like being anything from an hour and a quarter to two hours each way compared with my usual commute of an hour and twenty minutes, which is bad enough.  I hope to get some reading done, but if I’m tired or depressed or can’t get a seat in rush hour, I might end up just sitting feeling awful.  Ugh, I’m going into full Eeyore mode again.  (Heh, the WordPress spell checker recognises ‘Eeyore’.  But not ‘WordPress’, weirdly.)

In terms of moving my life on, I’ve got in contact with an old friend of mine who works as a researcher to ask if we can meet and discus my options in that field, although he warned me that he might not be the best example, as he doesn’t earn much from it.  I’d like to catch up with him anyway as we haven’t seen each other for months.  I’ve also thought that it might be worth contacting CILIP, the Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals, of which I am a member, to see if they offer any careers advice or information.  Make them earn their membership fee for a change.  I actually felt a bit positive about this recently, although when I stop to think about it in depth, I start worrying again.

My father asked his rabbi if he knows a shadchan (matchmaker) who works with people with health issues.  He didn’t, but recommended the shadchan his daughter used.  I am sceptical, but have emailed her with my shidduch profile (dating profile).  As I said above, though, it’s hard to believe there’s someone compatible with me out there, still less that the one shadchan I go to will happen to know her.  Hello again, Eeyore.

“They say the future’s out to get you”

(Title quote from Worried about Ray by The Hoosiers.)

My boss mentioned today that the situation with my contract (which expires in April) is as precarious as I feared.  Apparently things are “up in the air” (which I assumed alluded to the internal politics and economics of the college in ways that I don’t fully understand and wouldn’t share here if I did).  So I’m somewhat worried about my financial position in the months ahead.  A cost-saving move back to my parents’ house later in the year might be on the cards.  I guess it gives more urgency to the thought I wanted to give about my career direction during half-term next week.  I’m not overly worried, though, perhaps a sign of the relatively low importance I ascribe to money in my life (money bores me, really), or perhaps a sign that I find it easier to believe the Talmudic teaching that all of one’s income for the year is decided on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and, as long as one does a minimum of work, how much you do makes no difference to what you earn than I find it to believe the other Talmudic teaching, that one’s spouse is ordained before birth.

Speaking of half-term, I’m doing some extra work, partly to pay of my time off in lieu, partly to earn overtime.  There’s a library project at another campus (not the one I go to once a week, one a lot further away) that my boss is concerned enough about to offer overtime to those of us willing to help out, hours negotiable.  I thought I would burn out if I did four days in a week (my usual hours) even without the extra-long travel time and, anyway, I have things I need to do at home, but I volunteered to do two slightly shorter-than-usual days on Monday and Wednesday.  Hopefully alternating work and holiday days will keep at bay some of the extra depressive feelings I get on holidays.  And I arranged for a 10.00am start so hopefully I won’t have to leave earlier than usual and may even get to leave a little bit later despite the longer travel time.  I’m also doing an extra two hours tomorrow (we open late on Thursdays) to cover my boss being away, again to pay off more of my TOIL and basically to get in my boss’ good books after making mistakes this year.  It does all mean that I’m unlikely to get the time to sort out my books and DVDs at my parents’ house after they got boxed up because my parents wanted the room decorated.  I don’t know when I’m going to do that, as it’s a big job.

I made more of those mistakes today, although some of them might be me being hard on myself.  I’m not sure how I should have dealt with the student who insisted a book must be in the library because her teacher told her it was even though the catalogue was showing that all copies were on loan.  The other mistakes might stem from depression-induced lack of concentration or Aspie poor executive function or social anxiety in dealing with people, but they might just stem from incompetence on my part.  After all, I made a real mess of using the self-service check out at the supermarket this evening even though I’ve used it hundreds of times before.  I did at least make a phone call for work today, which is a big thing as I hate using the phone.  It seemed to go OK, but writing this I realised that the person I spoke to didn’t get back to me as she said she would, which might mean a follow-up call or might mean that I gave the wrong email address, which would be embarrassing.  I certainly began to give the wrong address, but I thought I corrected it in time.

I’m still waiting for a response from several of the shadchanim (matchmakers) who deal with people with health issues.  One asked for my shidduch (dating) profile, but hasn’t said anything since I sent it, although it was only yesterday.  My Dad spoke to his rabbi to see if he knew any suitable shadchanim.  The rabbi suggested that the shadchan his daughter used might help, even though she doesn’t specialise in people with health issues.  I’m sceptical, but will probably send my profile off in a day or two anyway, although as my financial future is now as uncertain as my mental health future, I’m not at all sure that I should be doing this any more.  I think this whole dating business is not only more an art than a science, but probably pot luck more than an art.  One has to be lucky not just to find one’s spouse, but to find the shadchan who will bring you together.  Someone I know online who recently joined the ranks of the marrieds thinks that most matches are made by friends or relatives who know both parties, not by professional shadchanim, but as I don’t know very many people in the frum (religious) world, this leaves me in a difficult position.

Today’s moment of insight: I want to be part-Jewish tzaddik (saint), part eccentric English intellectual, part geeky fanboy, equally at ease discussing Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, the English Civil Wars, Lewis Carroll or Doctor Who.   The reality is that all of these things are forced poses, at least to some extent, rather than who I really am (whatever that means) and they wouldn’t really fit together even if my mental health and borderline Asperger’s weren’t wild cards that would make operating with even one of these identities almost impossible.  I’m not sure where that leaves me.

I don’t know what to call this. One day really blurs into the next.

Today was hard again.  I haven’t slept particularly well the last few nights, but I’ve been waking up at 6.00am, which when I’m supposed to wake up, but not being able to actually get up until the last minute, which is 6.45am (the big gap is (a) because I know that I normally sleep through the first few (!!!) alarms and (b) because I hope one day to do the whole of Shacharit (morning prayers) again (about thirty to forty minutes) instead of just ten minutes).  I couldn’t do any Torah study on the train because I felt too depressed and was even too depressed to read The Jewish Review of Books, the only other reading matter I had with me.  I didn’t feel like listening to music on my iPod, so I just sat silently for three quarters of an hour, ruminating anxiously and depressively.

I felt pretty depressed at work too.  It was a struggle to stay alert and concentrate at least vaguely on what I was supposed to do.  I find it increasingly hard to believe that my contract will be extended in April.  Even putting aside the financial climate and the squeeze on expenditure in state schooling, I feel that everyone thinks I’m incompetent.  I certainly feel I’m incompetent.  I probably shouldn’t say this aloud in a place that work knows about, but I feel that I’ve already lost this job and it’s pointless to care now.

I did rally a bit in the afternoon (lunch seems to help, but eating is a problem as, for the first time in my life, I’ve over-weight, due to the medication I’m on.  This depresses me even more), but then some things online were triggering, posts about fitting in to the frum (religious) Jewish community (or not) and dating.  I probably said too much in the comments, as usual.  I regret what I say, but not enough to avoid saying it again.  I don’t know if I’m a narcissist who needs constant attention or a solipsist who doesn’t believe that other people exist and thinks that writing stuff online is no different to just thinking something, even when posted under my real name, because I’m the only real person in the world.

Such self-doubt brings me on to dating.  I emailed nine shadchanim (matchmakers) on a  list of shadchanim who specialise in people with health issues on Sunday to see if they could help someone (a) with mental health issues, (b) in the more ‘modern’ part of the community and (c) in the UK.  Three emails didn’t send properly.  One only deals with people in the US.  One turns out not to deal with people with health issues after all.  One asked for more details about my “background”, which doesn’t sound encouraging to me; I suspect she’s about to say I’m too modern.  I was truthful in my response, though, because I don’t see the point in lying.  I don’t want to be set up with Satmarers*.  I don’t know what to do if the other three don’t get back to me or can’t help.  I could go to Shidduch.Im, which is the European affiliate of Saw You At Sinai (SYAS), which is a sort of cross between an online dating site and a shadchan.  I’m sceptical, though.  I think I’m too much of a misfit even for the shadchanim to take a chance on me, let alone an actual woman.

 

* The Satmarer Hasidim are considered one of the most conservative groups in contemporary Judaism, not quite Amish, but very opposed to a lot of the modern world.

Hated By God

Today was pretty awful.  It started OK, but things went wrong across the morning, until by the afternoon I just wanted to go home.  I didn’t, but I fear that I was neither productive nor careful enough in my work.  I just tried to do the best I could, given the circumstances, but I’m not sure that that was good enough.

In a way that fits with this post, which I actually wrote last week (bar a few edits), but sat on for a few days while I checked with my rabbi mentor that I hadn’t breached the rules of lashon hara (forbidden malicious speech).

I had a moment of insight the other week doing my hitbodedut spontaneous prayer/meditation.  I was actually feeling very depressed, despite being rather better during the day.  The feeling of being alone with God is very over-powering and triggers a lot of self-hating thoughts and despair, to the extent that I recently stopped doing hitbodedut for a couple of days or cut it short.  (I usually only do ten minutes, but even that is hard; on Shabbat it tends to become more intense for some reason and I let it run on for half an hour or even an hour, mostly just sobbing, which I shouldn’t really do on Shabbat, but it feels like the only really authentic religious experience I have all week, so I am loath to stop it.)  It wasn’t a new insight.  Rather, something that I have known cognitively for a long time hit me with added emotional force.

I had a difficult childhood in some ways, although I feel guilty for saying that, as nothing serious, nothing illegal happened to me.  There was the bullying at school, which I’ve mentioned before.  But not all bullied children have mental health issues in adulthood and in any case, bullies pick targets who are likely to react as victims.  There were some issues when I was primary school aged, maybe also a bit older.  I don’t want to go into details.  It was, as I said, nothing illegal or immoral.  My parents were not aware of the effects that events were having on me, I’m sure, or they would have done things differently.  But for a long time, several years, when I was impressionable I was in a situation where I was being sent signals that I was not valued and no one really noticed, because I was not the epicentre of the difficulties, just a bystander.  No one was aware of it at the time, but my self-esteem was being eroded.  The lesson I was learning was that even though I was well-behaved and hard working, things could go disastrously wrong and I could be left alone in the world to fend for myself and that no one really cared what I thought or wanted.  That I was not lovable or worthwhile or valued.

Adults can cope with cognitive dissonance, but children can not.  A child can not think, “Bad things are happening to me, but that doesn’t make me a bad person” and certainly can not think, “I am being treated unfairly, but it isn’t anyone else’s fault, it’s just life.”  A child feels, “I am being treated like I am worthless, therefore I am worthless.”  I didn’t consciously think that I was worthless.  I can’t remember much of what I consciously thought and felt at that time, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t anything like what I feel about myself now.  But I internalised the messages that I was worthless and unlovable and that whatever I did, however good I was, it would never be good enough, I would always be rejected, I would always meet with disaster and isolation.  I could never express these feelings, perhaps because I didn’t understand them (I’m not sure if the alexithymia (inability to feel or distinguish emotions) is a cause or an effect of this) and partly because I thought I couldn’t influence events, perhaps also because I had built my self-image into that of a ‘good’ boy.  So the feelings were repressed and probably worsened by my experiences at school, where I was further bullied and devalued by my peers.

Nowadays I have a good relationship with my parents.  It’s taken some work on my part and it’s taken a long time, but I can talk about a lot of my issues to them.  They’re never going to fully understand my mental health issues or my borderline Asperger’s traits and there probably will be some things we will always disagree on (as in any relationship), but we get on well, especially now I live away from them and only go home for Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbaths and Jewish festivals).  But the feelings don’t go away.  So I think I project them onto my cosmic parent, God.  I feel that He hates me and that everything I do is wrong.  I can marshal some evidence in favour of these assertions, but, rationally, it probably isn’t much.  It’s very emotional.  For a long time it was focused on, or perhaps through, my religious OCD, but in the last ten months or so that has been a lot better, so it has become more free-floating, just a general all-pervasive sense of sinfulness and uselessness, combined with some more concrete anxieties (getting time off work for Yom Tov, Pesach cleaning etc.).  Obviously my anxieties over marriage come into play here, as it feels like something that God is withholding from me deliberately and also because I feel that no woman frum (religious) enough for me to want to marry would consider someone as sinful as I feel I am.

Unfortunately, this intuitive, rather than reasoned, nature of my feelings means that it is hard to address them.  I have known more or less all of what I have written here for a long time, it has just been hard to feel it, and lately the emotional part of my brain has been running over the cognitive part.  Still, maybe it means something positive that I felt this for a bit recently even though it’s been a struggle to remember it sometimes.

Another Wasted Day

I went to bed late again last night.  I’m not sure why, probably partly because I slept so much over Saturday, but probably partly because I like sleeping late on non-work days, despite the fact that I should be up earlier for Shacharit (morning prayers) and to get through my ever-growing to do list.

I’m not sure when exactly I woke up or got up.  I think I got up around 2.30pm, so I must have woken up somewhat before, as I think I lay in bed for a while.  It took me two hours to eat breakfast and get dressed, though, not least because I wrote a thousand word Doctor Who review in the middle for my other blog.  It just flowed out.  It’s enjoyable to write when it flows like that.  I have a vague idea of writing a book of 1-2,000 word reviews of every televised Doctor Who story (which is a lot of stories… the exact number depends on how you count various things but somewhere in the region of 260 and growing), but which also goes off at tangents to explore more personal topics about Doctor Who and its fandom, like why do some fans (me) want the Doctor to be asexual/celibate, what do you do if the Doctor’s/writers’ political or religious views clash with your own or (more pertinently here) why is mental illness presented so badly in the series.  I’m not sure if this should be two books or one book (one book of reviews, one of essays or if the more general thoughts are needed to elevate the reviews over all the other reviews available in books and online).  I also wonder if I could be published and if it would be better or worse, from a publishing point of view, if I blogged some or all of the reviews first.  Of course, I doubt I would get a publisher or a blog audience.  I probably should abandon hope of being more ‘really’ published than the little that I already have been.

I do enjoy writing about Doctor Who, and classic British science fiction generally.  One of the few things I do enjoy at the moment (mental health blogging is more like meeting an urgent need, like (I have to say it) going to the toilet when really desperate).  I suppose, given my current thinking that I should try to do things I enjoy, and particularly try to get paid for them, I should focus on trying to do it more often, but it seems such a bizarre way to spend one’s free time and such an improbable way of earning money.  Plus – and this worries me more than it probably should – how would I explain it to people in my community?  Some of them surely don’t have a television (too ‘modern’ and corrupting) and those that do probably see it as bedieved, something that is sort of OK as a necessity, to unwind when exhausted, but not something they would have in an ideal world.  If I say I’m writing a book, they will assume a sefer, a religious book, or at least a Jewish novel, not a book about a cheap science fiction family TV.

I was supposed to get a haircut, but didn’t, again.  I didn’t shave either.  I’m going to look like Robinson Crusoe.  I wanted to go to see my sister and brother-in-law who are at my parents’ house for dinner, but I don’t have the time or energy.  I feel bad, but no one actually asked me what day would be good for me, I was just given the time and told I could come.  I would have had a better chance of coming next week (going into half-term), but that didn’t work for my Mum.  I think coordinating five people is going to be hard from now on, especially as my sister and brother-in-law don’t want to come for Shabbat (the Sabbath) any more so that they can entertain friends.  I feel bad for missing them, but I do also have a life (sort of) and things that I want or need to do with my time and I do have mental health issues that need to be worked around and an introvert/Aspie need for alone time to recharge.  I spent the whole of Shabbat with my parents, I need some time to watch TV and chill out before another stressful work week.

There was a ton of other stuff I was supposed to do today.  The only thing I’ve done (as of 7.30pm) is email a bunch of shadchanim (matchmakers) who specialise in people with health issues to see if they can help someone who (a) lives in Europe not the USA, (b) has mental health issues rather than physical ones and (c) is on the more ‘modern’ end of the Orthodox spectrum.  Out of nine emails, one wouldn’t send and two bounced, which probably isn’t bad going considering I was working from two lists I just found on blogs, one of which was undated and the other of which was eighteen months old.  I’ll have to wait and see if anyone can help me, but I feel pessimistic.

I suddenly feel overwhelmed with depression and some anxiety about everything: about dating, about work, about the Jewish festivals coming up in the next two months that are very triggering of depression, social anxiety and religious OCD…  I need to quickly cook something basic for dinner (probably pasta with a bought sauce and vegetarian sausages) and do a tiny bit of Torah study, but I just want to curl up and sleep or, failing that, vegetate in front of a DVD.

Individualism (Enneagram)

Shabbat was reasonably good, although I chickened out of shaking the rabbis’ hands again at shul (synagogue) for spurious social anxiety-related reasons.  My parents talked me into contacting the American shadchanim (matchmakers) who specialise in people with health issues to see if any of them deal with people who are (a) ‘modern’, (b) mentally (as opposed to physically) ill and (c) in the UK, or at least in Europe.  I’m still sceptical, though, but will try to send some emails tomorrow.  Also to email the rabbi of my shul who offered to talk to me about dating.

I also had the idea of doing a SWOT analysis of myself.  SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses Opportunities, Threats) analysis is a type of business planning that I learnt about on the library management part of my MA.  I thought I would analyse what I’m good at and what I enjoy to try to get an idea of where I should be going with my life and especially with my career.  It’s possible that there are some things that I think I can’t do or needs that I think can’t be met that I’m trying to meet in the wrong way or in the wrong area of my life, although I’m unsure about what these things might be.  I’m also increasingly clear about wanting to write more on Doctor Who, for my blog initially, but with an aim of getting published and paid for it.  Work is going quite well on my Doctor Who book, but unfortunately I now have to watch a load of awful episodes for a bit for research.  Aside from the book I’m working on, I’ve had an idea for a second book for some time now and I’m kicking around ideas for a third.

I also want to write a list of everything I feel anxious about right now, as anxiety has been more of an issue than depression this week and I think it would be worth looking at which anxieties I can potentially do something about and which I just need to push away until later (e.g. Pesach anxiety) and which I can’t do anything about at all and are simply not worth thinking about (e.g. not having my contract renewed).

I went to bed late last night, thinking about things and finishing reading The Prime Ministers.  I overslept again today, which was probably inevitable, but I slept for eleven hours or so last night, followed by another hour and three-quarters this afternoon, so I’m worried about whether I’ll sleep tonight.  Sleeping this afternoon meant I haven’t done any Torah study yet, but walking back from my parents’ house in the dark, wet and cold has left me tired and somewhat depressed and I had a slight headache that has only just gone (and not entirely gone).  So I probably won’t do much Torah study today.  I feel bad about this, but I also feel that I need to be/am slowly becoming more aware of my limits and not to push past them out of workaholism, religious perfectionism, low self-esteem or comparing myself to other people (particularly not healthy people, but even mentally ill people because everyone is different).

My non-biological sisters (older friends who have ‘adopted’ me as their younger brother) sent me what they think my enneagram personality type is.  I’m not particularly interested in personality testing and the enneagram seems rather New Agey and unscientific for me, but I found it frustrating that of the nine personality types, the one they ascribed to me (probably correctly), “The Individualist, The Sensitive Introspective Type” was the only one that read like a criticism to me.  I don’t know if that is my paranoia, finding the bad everywhere, or if I dislike myself so much that I read everything as criticism of me or if I really am a disturbed person.

Individualism is good, something I’ve always striven for without, I feel, ever really achieving it.  Introspective is true and neutral.  However, “Sensitive” has always felt like a criticism to me, even though it probably isn’t (“Luftmentsch is a sensitive child” is something I heard more than once growing up, and it always seemed like a criticism) and as for the more detailed description of “Withdrawn, Expressive, Dramatic, Self-absorbed, and Temperamental”… Well, I spend most of my non-work hours alone in my room, so withdrawn is true.  And anyone who has seen my drama queening posts here or on Hevria.com knows I’m dramatic online (although not in person, at least not when other people are around – I suppose self-harming counts as dramatic, though) and I write a blog where I talk endlessly about myself, so I’m self-absorbed.  I don’t think I’m temperamental though as my mood is low fairly constantly…  But it’s all so negative!  I guess “Expressive” is positive at least.

At any rate, this bit, from the longer description (which I only skimmed, because I was feeling too depressed) is true: “The “romantics” of the Enneagram, they long for someone to come into their lives and appreciate the secret self that they have privately nurtured and hidden from the world. If, over time, such validation remains out of reach, Fours begin to build their identity around how unlike everyone else they are. ”  [Emphasis in original.]  I guess that’s why I blog, and why I guard my uniqueness.  I complain that I don’t fit in with other frum (religious) Jews because of my geekyness or with other geeks, because of my religion, but I don’t do much to try to fit in and I have twice picked a job that would automatically isolate me from people like me and put me with very different people, so on some level I must get something out of always being the token Jew/token Orthodox Jew/token geek.

“As long as they believe that there is something fundamentally wrong with them, they cannot allow themselves to experience or enjoy their many good qualities. To acknowledge their good qualities would be to lose their sense of identity (as a suffering victim) and to be without a relatively consistent personal identity (their Basic Fear). Fours grow by learning to see that much of their story is not true—or at least it is not true any more. The old feelings begin to fall away once they stop telling themselves their old tale: it is irrelevant to who they are right now.”  I have said this to myself before, but it’s hard to change how I see myself (as fundamentally unlikable) when that feeling keeps being reinforced by events.  It’s hard to feel that I’m likeable when no one seems to like me very much and it’s hard to feel ‘normal’ when everyone else is so different to me.

Oh, and this warning about unhealthy Individualists is true (except for the bit about drugs and alcohol, although I probably have other, not much healthier, escape routes): “Despairing, feel hopeless and become self-destructive, possibly abusing alcohol or drugs to escape. In the extreme: emotional breakdown or suicide is likely. Generally corresponds to the Avoidant, Depressive, and Narcissistic personality disorders.”  It also says “Instead of spending time imagining your life and relationships, begin to live them” which is also true but I don’t have a flipping clue how to stop living in my head when I struggle at work, have few social outlets and where pretty much all my friends are reachable only via email most of the time.  There isn’t really anything good in my life other than fantasy of one kind or another right now.

Well, I guess I ought to have something to eat rather than just sitting here all evening…

Pedestals

I just had a difficult therapy session.  I don’t really write about therapy here much, probably because I have it on Friday (over Skype) and then it’s a rush to get ready for Shabbat (the Sabbath), so I don’t have time, but I feel I really need to write this and my therapist was encouraging me to do so.  It’s difficult to shift from therapy mode to Shabbat mode today and I need to try to move on a bit.

We started with my mistake (which wasn’t really a mistake) at shiur (Bible class) yesterday.  I only intended to mention it in passing, but as sometimes happens, it became the dominant topic.  We spoke about what it means to make a mistake, especially in front of people I want to impress.  We spoke about why it’s harder to fit in with other frum (religious) Jews than with non-Jewish work colleagues (or people I know through Doctor Who fandom or mental health blogging, although I didn’t mention that).  We said I put other people on a pedestal and think that I’m inferior to them, particularly frum Jews, who I see as completely perfect, even though I know that that’s not the case.  I feel that if I admit to mental health issues, or missing shul (synagogue) because of those issues, or to religious doubts, or committing sins, or thinking that God hates me or anything like that, frum people will reject me.  If I see myself as human, I see other people as angels; if I see other people as human, I see myself as… I don’t know, some kind of animal I guess (perhaps fortunately we don’t have devils in the Christian sense in Judaism so I can’t see myself as one of those).  I can’t connect with people because I’m too ashamed to show them my real self for fear of rejection.

It’s even worse with dating, because I put frum women on an even higher pedestal than frum men, thinking that not only do they not sin, but that they are full of chessed (kindness) and pure faith and are also all very pretty, far out of my league in terms of personality, religious standing and looks and that none of them would ever come down to my level to marry me or even date me.

However, I there is a part of me that also sees myself as better than everyone else.  I see myself as some kind of Romantic hero (Romantic in the artistic, sturm und drang, sense), fighting an epic battle with my internal demons, with mental health issues, temptation and doubt and that other people living ordinary lives could never hope to understand my deep and difficult struggles.  So from this point of view I’m above everyone else, a sort of hero struggling with forces beyond the comprehension of the average person (maybe that’s why I’m a Doctor Who fan…).  So again it’s hard to relate to other people, because I feel that I’m on a level far above ordinary mortals and that no one could understand what I have gone through.  (World War I often appears as a metaphor for my depression and I sometimes feel like those who fought in the war and returned unable to describe their experiences or relate to those who were too young, too old, too infirm or too female to fight).

That was really where the session ended.  We ran out of time.  I felt really tense talking about this, clenching my hands, curling up my legs a bit, bending my spine and really just wanting to curl up in a ball and stop talking, so it was obviously really difficult and important for me to say this.  I don’t really know how to process these thoughts (hence writing them down).  I don’t know where I go from here.  My experience is that understanding myself doesn’t necessarily lead to changing how I live, especially in very emotionally challenging areas such as this, so it is hard to know how I can move on from this outlook and adopt a healthier one.  I guess it’s a bit of a catch-22 situation, that until I can relate to other people, particularly other frum people, more as real people, I won’t be able to open up to them, but until I open up to them (and encourage them to possibly open up to me), I won’t be able to relate to them more as real people.

A Better Week

It has been, mostly a good week, what seems like the first for a long time when I got through work without making any major mistakes, being told to do things differently/better or having a major embarrassing situation with students (or teachers).  Mornings are still hard in terms of depression (low mood and extreme lethargy plus oversleeping), but I actually enjoyed work a bit the last few days, which made me wonder again about where I want my career to go.  I get terribly anxious about interactions with students, but when I do know how to help them there is a genuine feeling of satisfaction.  I guess this isn’t something I can decide overnight, although finding out if my contract is to be renewed might help.

I do still worry about shaking though.  I haven’t shaken at work for a week or two, but when dealing with students or teachers I feel tense and worry that I’m about to shake.  I try to ignore it, because I know that worrying about it is likely to provoke it (it is basically a type of panic attack and they are worse the more conscious you are of them and feel you need to stop them) and so far that has been OK, but it is at the back of my mind as a worry.

Speaking of questions, I’m just back from my shiur, where I answered a difficult question right, but got an easier one wrong.  The latter felt like a punishment from God, as when I answered the question correctly, the assistant rabbi made a joke about me being the star player on the team and I felt a bit of pride, so making an embarrassing mistake later seemed like God punishing me for the tiniest sin.  In Judaism there is a concept that the tzaddikim (saints) are punished for the tiniest imperfection, but I don’t think I’m on that level, so the whole things was a bit disheartening especially after my feeling earlier this week that maybe my feeling of sinfulness and being hated and punished by God has more to do with me than with God (I have written a post on this but not posted it yet because I was concerned about some aspects of it and wanted to check with my rabbi mentor that it was OK to post).  My social anxiety CBT book (which I have neglected through exhaustion, lack of time and focus on depression) says it is good to let oneself make mistakes or even deliberately make them to learn to cope with embarrassment.  Hmm.  I should say that even when I am wrong, I am actually right.  The question I got wrong was “Who is the friend of God?”  The answer that the assistant rabbi was looking for was Yitro (Jethro) who is also known as Reuel, which means ‘Friend of God’ (as he had just said).  I said Avraham (Abraham).  When I got home, I looked it up and, sure enough, as I thought, Yishayahu (Isaiah) 40.8 describes Avraham as “My friend” (different etymological root, though, and some Bibles translate as “Avraham who loved Me”).  It’s nice to know I wasn’t completely crazy though and I was remembering a genuine pasuk (verse).  It stuck in my mind as whenever I see the verse, I always think that that would be an amazing thing, if God calls you (me) His friend.  Part of me wants to text the assistant rabbi this to save face, but part of me thinks I should accept this as an anxiety-fighting CBT experience and that it would be petty and arrogant to tell him.

I still don’t know what to do about dating.  I might use Shabbat to talk to my parents about it.  I’m tempted to try to see the rabbi over the half-term break in a fortnight and see what he suggests.  Also to email some of the shadchanim (matchmakers) who deal with people with health issues to see if any of them do deal with people in Europe.  Otherwise maybe to try a UK-based ordinary shadchan and be honest about my issues and needs and see what they suggest.  Although part of me feels I’m not ready to date, I never will be ready to date and I shouldn’t even think about it considering how depressed and non-functional I was just a few days ago.