Pre-Pesach Post

This is being written in short intervals between Pesach (Passover) preparation.

The staff development day at work yesterday was OK, but I would have enjoyed it more had it not been so close to Pesach, and had I not been tired and developing a migraine.  The migraine got bad enough that by the time I got home, I went to bed and slept for an  hour and a half, which was probably just as well as Pesach preparation went on late and I didn’t get to bed until after 1.00am.

I woke up this morning early enough to go to shul (synagogue) for the siyum that would mean I didn’t have to fast today for the fast of the firstborn (sorry, no time to explain, google if you need to), but I was so tired that I decided I would be better off sleeping and having energy for preparation and seder, as I can’t fast the minor fasts with the medication I’m on anyway.  I had some Pesach OCD last night and today, but not as much as in recent years.  I asked my rabbis a couple of questions, but I’m trying hard to sit with my anxiety, as I’m supposed to for exposure therapy, rather than ask the question and stoke the OCD flames.

Things have been better than they have been on erev Pesach for a number of years.  From an OCD point of view, the worst is out of the way now; although sometimes questions can spring out of nowhere during Pesach, the preparation beforehand is definitely more anxiety-provoking.  However, from a social anxiety point of view, I have to get through two sederim with people I don’t know well, if at all, and who I worry are going to be put off by my attempts to add ideas beyond the text of the hagadah and my ritual punctiliousness (even though I don’t make other people eat as much matzah and maror as I do).  The depression has been OK the last few days, but I know that a serious lapse with OCD or social anxiety could send me spiraling back down again.  But I am hopeful of getting through the next eight days in a reasonable state.

Chag sameach vekasher! (My rabbi mentor once put it that way round to me, to stress the joy over the ritual checking.)

Advertisements

Two Quick Observations

Crazy, difficult day.  No time to blog at length, so I’ll just observe:

  1. I realised I’m struggling with OCD and depression at the moment not just from Pesach (although that’s a big enough trigger by itself), but because I’m spending a lot more time on the issue desk because one of my colleagues has been off sick for two weeks.  I find being on the issue desk the most draining, depleting task at work, and I’ve been spending three hours or more each day there, about half my working day.  Still, term is over now (staff development day tomorrow, though).
  2. I have perhaps the worst kind of religious OCD: the kind where deep down I know everything is OK, but I won’t let myself believe it because I don’t think I deserve things to be OK.  I nearly messed things up and was saved by ‘chance’ (HaShem/God), but I don’t think I deserve things to be OK so I obsess over what might have gone wrong until I convince myself that it did.  As my rabbi mentor has said in the past, if I don’t feel I deserve things to be OK, then it won’t matter how many rabbis or books I consult, I won’t be able to accept things as they are.

“It goes ding when there’s stuff”

I wasn’t intending to write today, but I have a few minutes to offload.  Unfortunately, most of the things that I want to write about are not a good idea to share publicly, if at all, but there’s something that’s worrying me (aside from Pesach (Passover) which is still worrying me a lot), but also slightly exciting me (exciting me too much), something that’s angering me (that’s partly my fault, but only partly), and something else that’s vaguely amusing and also bewildering me and slightly worrying me.  I guess alexithymia (difficulty understanding and distinguishing emotions) is scoring highly today too.

Pesach preparations are so far mostly going according to schedule, except that I allowed myself to be talked out of cleaning my mother’s hob, which means I have to trust her to do it properly, which is troubling my OCD.  I could be in a much worse state this time tomorrow, especially as she doesn’t like me questioning everything, which is understandable, but makes it hard for me to be clear on what’s happened, which my OCD demands.  Please, HaShem (God), help me to get through the next three/five/eleven days without any major depression, OCD anxiety or arguments with my family!

Tomorrow and Thursday I have to do a big detour on my journeys to and from work because of a strike on the Docklands Light Railway.  I am annoyed about this, as I didn’t need it this week, with so much to do for Pesach.

I finished watching the original 1963-1989 run of Doctor Who the other day and have nearly finished second drafts of all those chapters for my book, although finishing the chapter I’m working on will probably have to wait until after Pesach and at least one chapter (on Patrick Troughton’s Doctorate, plus a bit more) is probably going to require extensive research before the third draft.  The new series awaits!  After the interruption of the 1996 TV Movie.  I’m thinking of halting for a bit, though, and watching some films and/or the 1960s science fiction serials A for Andromeda and The Andromeda Breakthrough which I bought a while back on DVD and haven’t seen yet.

And, lo!  In two more days I will have done a whole year at my ‘new’ job.  That’s something that I should write about, although Pesach is likely to get in the way and I don’t have time to write now (and I wouldn’t risk tempting fate, not that I believe in fate, by doing it in advance).

I am an Autistic Woman

I don’t have time to write a proper post today (Pesach in less than 100 hours!), but over lunch I read this article on the BBC news website, about women who were diagnosed with autism in adulthood, and found it resonated with me a lot.  Like the women in the article, I wonder if I was never diagnosed with autism when I was a child because I was highly intelligent and highly functional and because I was clever enough to imitate (some of) the social behaviour I didn’t intuitively know to do.  It was only when I went from school to university and onwards and especially into my current job, where I suddenly have to interact with other people in a spontaneous way for a considerable amount of time that my “social impairments” have become so painfully obvious.  I know that I have been tested for autism twice and both times told I don’t have it, yet the more I read about it, especially the personal stories of people on the spectrum, rather than the ‘outside looking in’ psychiatric diagnostic criteria, the more it seems to fit me, particularly over the last year, in my current job, where my social impairments have been more obvious than at any time in the past.

Reframing

The last few days have seen some improvement.  I seem to be OK, in terms of Pesach (Passover) anxiety, until I stop doing things, but then it really hits me.  Despite that, I was OK over Shabbat (the Sabbath), although I did spend most of it asleep.  The last few days have seen a lot of people helping me in reframing my thoughts, which has been helpful.

My therapist helped me to reframe my thoughts about my appraisal.  She said that although my boss agreed with my assessments of my weaknesses, she is still renewing my contract until August and seems to want to employ me for the 2018-19 academic year if she can get the funding.  My family also said this, but my therapist added the idea of being ‘good enough’ – I am not amazing at my job, which is frustrating for me, but I am good enough.  I don’t know how to apply this to Pesach, though, which seems more of an all-or-nothing proposition: it is either kasher lePesach or it’s not.

Shiur (Torah class) last week was also helpful.  The central concept was that all suffering Jews experience is rooted in the Egyptian slavery, and that suffering – and by extension all later suffering – was only so that we could move to a higher spiritual level, not just to leave us where we were before the suffering started.  That made me feel that maybe I would end up better off, spiritually, from my suffering, not just Pesach anxiety, but loneliness and mental health issues generally.

I spoke to the rabbi from my shul (synagogue) yesterday evening too (not my rabbi mentor, who lives in Israel).  He was also sympathetic and helpful, telling me that I don’t need to worry about unexpected Pesach problems arising.  He says that’s his job, I belong to a shul and pay my membership fees to pay his salary precisely so that he can use his halakhic (Jewish law) expertise to solve such problems.  He gave a couple of practical suggestions too.  I feel lucky to have such good rabbis (the shul rabbi, the assistant rabbi and my rabbi mentor), especially that they understand that depression and OCD anxiety are real things and not just stuff in my head that I can switch off with prayer or positive thinking.

Also, the two other people at shul who I opened up to a bit about my mental health have been thoughtful and understanding.  Perhaps I have more friends there than I thought I did.

Unfortunately, some of my other friends have been struggling.  I guess the risk of making friends largely through depression support group and mental health blogs is that at any given time, many of my friends are struggling.  I don’t always know what to do, I just try to do what I like people to do for me, to listen and validate, make suggestions if I have any, but without giving “Advice” and be supportive (and pray for them, if they want me too).  I don’t always feel that I do this well; whether I am actually autistic or not, interpersonal relationships don’t come easily to me, but I guess my friends keep coming back to me, so I must be doing something right.  It occurred to me that maybe I’m not married precisely so that I have the time and emotional energy to help my friends.  That’s a more positive way of looking at it than assuming I’m being punished.

This coming week is going to be crazy, both at work (even if the strike on the Docklands Light Railway, which I take to work, doesn’t go ahead on Wednesday and Thursday; if it does, it will add an hour or more to my working day at a time when I need to be at home to help with Pesach preparations) and especially at home, with Pesach preparations, and then Saturday and Sunday are the start of Pesach itself so I probably won’t blog much/at all before next Sunday evening, so don’t worry about me if I go quiet!  Hopefully I will be back here next Sunday evening or Monday with news of how the rest of the preparations and the beginning of Pesach went.

Panic!

I’m writing (or at least starting) a post on the train for the first time. I had a lousy day. All optimism in my writing or confidence in God’s love for me is gone.

I woke up with a headache in the middle of the night and took ages to get to sleep again, which was a bad start to the day. I’ve been anxious about my job, my career, my future and Pesach (Passover) all day. Then I had a panic attack, or something approaching one, while on the library issue desk. For an hour or so I felt simultaneously claustrophobic (tight muscles, hard to breathe, feeling crushed) and agoraphobic (exposed and open to critical observation, unable to run away), plus sweaty and dry-mouthed – typical anxious fight or flight reactions.. I somehow got through the hour, but I don’t know how. I certainly wasn’t doing my job well, even worse than usual. I worry I have withdrawn books that shouldn’t have been withdrawn, or kept ones that should not have been kept.  My Mum says that at least I didn’t give in to it as I have done in the past, although I’m not quite sure how I could have run away without causing more anxiety by telling my boss that I was in the middle of a panic attack.

Just to make things worse, I had to flick through Eat Pray Love at work to catalogue it, the famous memoir of self-fulfilment through food, meditation and love/sex.  It just makes me feel that other people are doing spirituality and love (and sex) a lot better than I am, although I’m wary of the type of spirituality that promises the most benefits for the least effort.  Also, Elizabeth Gilbert left the man she married at the end of the book for a woman with terminal cancer, which at the very least should be a warning to me about thinking I can understand other people’s lives from the outside, let alone decide to envy them.

I ran into someone from shul (synagogue) and shiur (Torah class) on the way home from work.  I must have had a bad day, because when he asked how I was feeling, I was honest.  My therapist has so confused me about opening up to people I don’t know if I was supposed to do that or not.  To paraphrase Mostly Harmless, I know there are times to open up to others about my mental health and I know there are times not to open up to others about my mental health; I just need to be able to tell the difference between the two.  It didn’t help that, as often happens with anxiety-provoking conversations, I completely lost my ability to understand the ‘he talks, then I talk, then he talks again’ nature of a conversation and kept inadvertently interrupting.  This is probably Asperger’s again.

I’m not sure if I’m going to shiur tonight. I’d like to, but I’m pretty tired (anxiety is exhausting) and I need to be up early in the morning for a doctor’s appointment.  The appointment was booked a month ago, when I was so depressed that the doctor increased my medication, but it’s probably come at a good time, considering the state I’m in.

Further Thoughts

Home now (the previous post was written at work, on my lunch break).  I feel somewhat calmer, but not great.  More worried about Pesach kashering than work, though.  Some thoughts:

  1. As my parents said, my boss can’t be very disappointed in me, because she’s renewed my contract until August.  At the very least, I’m worth more than the cost of searching for a replacement (although I’m not sure exactly how good that is).
  2. I need to find a way to get paid for writing.  It’s the only thing I think I enjoy, difficult though it is to tell through the depression and alexithymia (difficulty feeling and understanding emotions).  It’s certainly the only thing I don’t do with one eye on the clock (not excluding recreational reading and TV, even Doctor Who).
  3. I’ve always associated professional writing with writing fiction for an adult audience, possibly because I grew up with my Dad telling me I was going to be a writer (much to my annoyance) and for him the two were synonymous.  I’ve always felt that I couldn’t be a writer because I can’t write like that, certainly not in the quantity needed for a career.  Likewise, when I decided I couldn’t become a historian, as I wanted for a while (admittedly out of desperation as much as anything positive), I thought of history writing as doing primary source-based research leading to innovative conclusions.  But today, perhaps as a result of the appraisal, my mind has been thinking about other types of writing: popular history, textbooks, children’s books (fiction and non-fiction), plus, of course, there’s my desire to find a way to get someone to pay me to write about Doctor Who and other classic British TV science fiction.
  4. Many of these have the research-collate-write pattern that is familiar to me from my history BA and librarianship MA and which I know I can do at least adequately and to order.  Most of them also might have the feeling of making a tangible difference to people’s lives in the way that librarianship does while accountancy or stockbroking, for example, don’t.  Plus writing would allow me to set my own hours, within reason, not to have to worry so much about Yom Tov or burn out.  I suspect I would find it more intellectually stimulating and enjoyable than my current job too.  And I would be using my research skills, so those degrees wouldn’t be a total waste.
  5. I think I would miss being on a team, though, and I would need some kind of structure to keep the depression at bay.
  6. It seems very odd to be thinking of writing children’s books, given that I don’t have children and have spent very little time around young children since becoming an adult, but some of the ideas that I have are focused on writing for children.  I don’t know how to go about that, though.
  7. I do worry about flitting from career to career without focusing on anything or staying long enough to hone my skills.  Not having a great idea of who I am doesn’t help.  But I think there’s a limit to how much longer I could stay in further education libraries and I don’t think I have the specialist skills to go back into higher education as I originally assumed I was going to do.

Job Problems

I feel terrible.  Anxiety and depression are battling for my soul.  I had quite bad Pesach OCD anxiety this morning, but this has now been drowned out by despair and self-hatred.  I had an appraisal at work, my first annual appraisal in this job.  My boss still thinks I’m working too slowly and am not good enough at dealing with the client-facing side of the library.  I said that the depression makes it hard to concentrate and slows me down and I think she accepted that up to a point at least, but I didn’t want to over-stress it, lest I make it sound like they would be better off terminating my contract and hiring someone else.

I didn’t like to mention the social anxiety and Asperger’s/autism with regard to interactions in the public part of the library because I don’t have an official diagnosis of either of those things, so I couldn’t substantiate my claims.  But I know how I feel, and I feel panicked and confused when confronted with a lot of the students and with a lot of requests, even from the well-behaved, polite students.  My boss asked if I get anxious about going on the issue desk and I said no, because I’m not conscious of feeling nauseous or panicked beforehand, but I do feel anxious when I’m interacting with the students.  Afterwards I told her that I feel that I do have that anxiety in my interactions, so at least I’m being honest there, even though it feels like I’m using my mental health for special pleading again.

To be fair, we did discuss changing or shortening work hours to try to help, but I’m not convinced that either of those could help.  I just feel like I’m in the wrong job.  The problem is working out what the right job would look like and then finding something that approximates to it.

This is painful for me because I have always been good at my work, whether at school, university or in my previous job.  I have always taken pride in doing well.  It’s about the only thing I’ve had to hang my self-esteem on.  Now it’s gone and I don’t know what to think about myself.  I feel like I’m a terrible person.  I feel like I’m stealing from the college by not doing the amount or quality of work that they were expecting, even though I’m trying my hardest, and even though every day is a struggle against depression just to get up and come in.

I worry what this means for me.  Will I ever manage to do a ‘proper,’ adult, 9 til 5, five days a week job?  (This job is two thirds of full time – I don’t work on Fridays or much of the school holidays.)  And if I can’t hold down a full-time job, what does that mean about living away from home, marriage, children… ?  My parents help me with rent and food bills as it is, living in my tiny, one person studio flat (a converted garage).  Am I going to be dependent on my parents forever?

Anxious/Loved

I struggled to fall asleep last night.  I got home late from my parents’ house, as I had stayed to have dinner with my parents, sister and brother-in-law.  Although I drove everyone crazy saying I had to leave early, I was still home much later than I wanted.  I got to bed by 11.15pm, which shouldn’t have been too bad, but I was alert and couldn’t sleep; after twenty minutes or so I got up, took a sleeping tablet and watched Doctor Who until it kicked in.  I was probably too stressed and anxious to sleep, but the stress and anxiety isn’t going to go away until after Pesach now and that was my last sleeping tablet, which is a little ominous.

Today was difficult.  There was a lot of anxiety.  It feels odd to have anxiety predominating over depression, which probably hasn’t happened since Pesach last year, which I guess proves that the OCD is under control for eleven months of the year.  The surprise was that not all of the anxiety was OCD-related, or Pesach-related, as my religious OCD focuses on Pesach more than anything, especially now I feel I’ve more or less got to grips with my ordinary kashrut (dietary law) OCD.  I was worried about various potential infringements of the Pesach laws that may have happened last year resulting in us not being able to use our utensils this year and in cleaning and kashering this year.  I also knew that I shouldn’t ask for reassurance from my rabbi, as that fuels the OCD, but should just accept the anxiety and uncertainty, particularly as I was fairly sure that things were OK.  However, in the end I gave in and asked about two of the four questions that were bothering me.  Predictably, the anxiety has shot up since asking (I haven’t heard back yet), so I must try not to ask any more questions unless I’m really sure that something is wrong, or at least that I don’t know the answer.

The other thing I was worrying about is my sister’s welfare.  She’s really stressed at the moment, with Pesach and with work.  She said that she will be fine in three weeks, once Pesach is over, but I catastrophise and worry that something terrible is going to happen to her.  I feel that I would accept suffering to protect my little sister from it, but I don’t think that life works like that.

I had a thought today, building on what I wrote yesterday.  It really hit me that there isn’t really a way I could get karet (spiritual excision, probably losing one’s share of Olam HaBa (the Next World)) for eating chametz (leaven) on Pesach.  Obviously that is the biblical punishment, but (even ignoring the idea that no one gets karet any more), it’s hard to imagine a situation where we would deliberately eat chametz on Pesach.  It is true that for most of my life we didn’t kasher our kitchen properly for Pesach, but that was through ignorance.  I do have particular worries about things that I shouldn’t share here, but for the moment the only way an issue would arise is if something happens that my parents think is OK, but I do not think is OK.  The only thing I can imagine in this category at the moment is if someone brings some questionable food to our house that my parents think is OK, but I don’t.  I know we have not-so frum guests who are bringing food, but I think I can trust them to buy from a kosher for Pesach shop out of respect for our standards and my parents have said I can check the hechshers (rabbinic certification) before we put it out.  What I really worry about is the potential argument more than anything.  It’s the human element that worries me, the having to navigate the feelings that get aroused when my understanding of kosher (kosher for Pesach in this instance) doesn’t correspond with other peoples’.  This can happen, but the fear is the argument more than the sin, the re-enacting of the arguments that have terrified and upset me since I was a small child.  I have to tell myself that I’m not a small child any more, I’m an adult, I can state my case and am usually taken more seriously than I was as a child; if no one accepts what I say, I have the right to make my own decisions for myself.  That’s hard to admit, though, and I do worry about a situation arising where my standards conflict with those around me causing a huge argument and a week-long stand off.

That was actually a digression!  What I wanted to say was that today I had a sense of my worst Pesach sins being accidental and HaShem (God) forgiving me for them.  I have never really had this feeling before, it felt new and pleasant.  I don’t want to be one of those people who assume that God agrees with whatever they do, however bad (that way lies terrible behaviour to people as well as to God), but I did feel… I’m not sure that I can put it into words, but accepting that this is partially rationalisation after the event, I felt that He accepts that I am doing my best, that He has given me a lot of tzores (suffering) and challenges that other people don’t have, and that He forgives me.  Maybe even that He loves me, but I’m not sure about that.

Although reading the last two paragraphs back, the bit about arguments and people bringing the wrong food seems really true and worrying, while the bit about being loved and forgiven seems like wishful thinking!  I obviously have some way still to go…

Insight into my Trouble Trusting HaShem (God)

I had a thought about feeling that HaShem (God) hates me and that I have no share in Olan HaBa (the Next World/Heaven).  I have known for a long time that these fears are connected with the family trauma I suffered as a young child and from which I have never fully recovered, which made me fear that my parents would abandon me.  My feeling that HaShem hates me is holding all my fear and anxiety about that, which I have never been able to express to my parents, because obviously they didn’t actually abandon me, it was just my childlike understanding of the problems that were around at that time, and what happened wasn’t their fault and I don’t want them to blame themselves for my issues by opening up to them about this.

I realised that the Pesach (Passover) fears are a precise parallel to this.  If one deliberately eats chametz (leaven) on Pesach, one is theoretically liable to karet, which is generally accepted to mean losing one’s share in Olam HaBa (although there are other interpretations.  Also, in practice most people probably wouldn’t get such a severe punishment, or at least so I was taught at school).  The idea is that one does something so bad that one is completely cut off from HaShem (karet mean literally ‘cut’).  For me, this is the equivalent of worrying that my parents would abandon me and so my anxieties got focused on Pesach.  No matter that, as one rabbi said to me, to incur karet you have to deliberately and knowingly eat chametz on Pesach; you don’t get it for doing the wrong thing through ignorance of the law or accident.  I was just fixated on the fact that we had done our Pesach preparations wrong in the past (through ignorance) and I was worried that we would do them wrong again even if it would be an accident.

Of course, this has now been going on so long that it is mixed up with my feelings that I can’t trust HaShem for other reasons, that I have suffered so long with the depression and other issues that I can’t trust that He will heal me or help me to get married.  I don’t know how to resolve this.  It is very hard to trust when I feel that I have been struggling certainly all my adult life and, on some level, even for much of my childhood.  I don’t know how to achieve the level of bitachon (trust in God) that I should have.  Although the funny thing is that it’s only regarding recovering from depression and getting married that I feel like this.  I have no problem trusting that I will muddle through somehow financially, despite my somewhat precarious employment position (maybe because I’ve never really been on the breadline, even though my parents have always had to help me), nor do I really worry too much about the survival of the Jewish people, something that historically has never been assured, although I do worry somewhat about serious persecution or another war in Israel.  But it’s only about achieving some kind of mental health and managing to get (and stay) married and have children that I feel absolutely pessimistic.

A Mixed Bag

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was a mixed bag.  On Friday night I chickened out of wishing “Gut Shabbos” to the rabbis at shul (synagogue), which seems like a small thing, but is something I struggle with every week, even though just a couple of months ago it was something I could do without thinking, so every week that I fail to do it, I feel bad.   I did, however initiate conversation with an acquaintance and spoke confidently and not about my mental health, so I guess there was some positive in there.  There was some tension at home over dinner, partly from my saying the wrong thing, partly as a result of a build up of tension about my parents not telling me things and the new family dynamic now that my sister is married and my difficulty adjusting to that and feeling that I’m being pushed away by people I don’t know and trust yet.  There wasn’t a blazing row, it just got tense for a bit, but at least it was one of those discussions that does genuinely clear the air, rather than people just shouting or sulking and nothing changing.  I do feel somewhat better about having my sister’s in-laws over for seder in a fortnight.

I did, however, sleep for twelve hours last night, miss shul again and then doze for another two hours this afternoon, which is not good, as I won’t sleep tonight and I wanted to try to go to shul today.  I don’t know what to do about this.  I don’t know if I sleep extra long at the weekend because I’m sleep-deprived (I get seven or eight hours most weekday nights, but my depressed body/psyche demands more) or because of depression (depression has historically made me sleep longer) and social anxiety (I sleep to avoid shul).  I think that knowing which of these it is might help me to work out how to change it, but I don’t know how to work that out.  I am at least hoping that as the days get longer I might sleep less, as I think I hibernate more in winter.

This evening, after Shabbat has been taken up with Pesach (Passover) preparations, cleaning kitchen cupboards and reading some of Rabbi Lord Sacks’ introduction to his Pesach Mahzor (Passover Prayerbook) as intellectual preparation and looking for ideas to share at the seder.  I am a bit nervous at how to pitch the sederim this year, as we have so many people who haven’t been to us for seder before and a real mix of intellectual and religious levels.  It doesn’t help that I have left things late for various reasons, not least my mental health, and there isn’t much time left to plan things.

My Dad spoke to the assistant rabbi and his wife at his shul today about the contact details of the shadchan (matchmaker) they had promised to send me.  They sent that on after Shabbat.  I have no plans to do anything about it until after Pesach.  I don’t know what I’ll do after that.  I was more hopeful about the matchmaking service my sister mentioned, that matches people according to their values, but as my Dad says, I can go to both.  I just don’t know whether I should be dating at all.  My therapist has made me wonder if I’m too depressed and messed up to be able to date.  Not worried that no one will accept me because of my mental health (although that is a fear), just that I’m not well enough to go through the process of dating.  The problem is that I can’t see myself being much better than this in the foreseeable future and I would like to be married and have children, and feel very conscious of running out of time for that.

Socialising

I had a rather… combative session with my therapist.  It didn’t help that it was marred by technical problems.  I have therapy over Skype now and Skype had somehow lost my contact list when I logged in so I couldn’t call my therapist, then we had connection problems, so I logged out and tried to log in on my old computer, but it wouldn’t accept the password it had accepted on my current computer two minutes earlier.  We did eventually connect and have most of a session.

We spoke about dating.  My therapist thinks that I try to tell people about my mental health issues too early.  I don’t deliberately try to do that, but it almost invariably comes up by the second date, simply because it’s shaped my life so much that it’s hard to have a conversation about who I am without it coming up.  So, of course, they get overwhelmed and can’t cope and dump me.  We didn’t really have a solution to this, except that I shouldn’t tell people early in a relationship, which is pretty much impossible to do without lying (which I also shouldn’t do).  She wasn’t too happy with me telling a shadchan (matchmaker), but I felt there is a moral obligation; shadchanim do say that you should tell them about long-term health issues and it affects who they set you up with.

Then we got on to socialising with people in general.  My therapist felt that I shouldn’t talk about my issues to people at shul (synagogue) or shiur (class), again because it’s off-putting for people, but she felt I should still be honest and just say I’m feeling sad, lonely, worried etc.  I’m not quite sure how that will work, or that I would have the confidence to do it.  I feel that we’re English, the only acceptable answer to “How are you?” is “Fine, how are you” (or at least “Mustn’t grumble”),  not an honest answer and to be honest about feeling bad without using my mental health to explain that is just inviting trouble.  I actually cope OK with talking to people at work without talking about my issues, because we have work in common to talk about, but I don’t know what I can talk to people at shul about (if I even get the confidence to talk to them at all).  My therapist says not to talk about my mental health, I can’t talk about Judaism because mention of it just makes me feel inferior to everyone else who knows and does a hundred times more than I do (because of the mental health issues which I’m not allowed to mention…) and I can’t talk about Doctor Who because being a total fanboy is embarrassing enough in general circles, but in frum (religious) circles one shouldn’t even admit to watching TV.  So I’m not sure what I can actually talk about, which is why in the two years I’ve been going to this shul, I’ve hardly said a word to anyone.

My therapist says that this is rooted in my childhood experiences, being a brainy and intellectual, somewhat autistic, child who tried to talk about his special interests, particularly history and Doctor Who only to be dubbed an “intellectual elitist” by adult authority figures and bullied and stigmatised by my peers.  My therapist says that I’m not a child any more and people won’t bully me, but I find it hard to believe.  My therapist is insistent that this is the only way forward, and I kind of see her point, but I don’t know what to do to have these conversations, which just bring out the socially anxious autistic child in me.  My therapist also said that I want to be special, so I make out that there’s no one like me, when I’m actually fairly normal, which may also be true.  At any rate a friend implied as much recently.  However, it’s hard to accept that I might be the same as everyone else when so much of my self-esteem is based on feeling myself to be different – better, worse or more intense, but at least different.

So I don’t really know what to do.  I’d like to try to get to shul tomorrow morning, less for the davening (praying) and more to see if I can talk to people at the kiddush, but I’m not sure if this will happen or if depression and social anxiety will defeat me again as they have been doing almost every Shabbat (Sabbath) this winter.

Set-Backs and Achievements

Today was a day of minor set-backs, but also some achievements.  Mostly, I was able to stay positive, but not always, particularly where social interactions were concerned.  I won’t narrate everything that went wrong; suffice to say there are big structural changes coming at work, which may impact on whether my contract is renewed past the summer, but I I can’t work out whether the changes make renewal more or less likely; that I made another mistake at work; that I struggled with various other work activities (possibly not my fault) and that I felt I wasn’t sure if I said the wrong thing when I bumped into someone from shul (synagogue) on my way home.  This was particularly difficult, as I’ve often felt that he might be a good friend for me to have, but I’ve never felt sure how to talk to him – I don’t often get the chance to speak to him and he went to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary), so immediately triggers my feelings of inadequacy, and he gives the impression of being someone who avoids mainstream culture (no TV etc.), so I wonder what he would make of me.  But I just generally don’t know how to keep a conversation going with him, which was what happened today.

I tell myself that I’m individual and eccentric, that I am tuned on a different wavelength to most people, frum (Jewish and religious) or otherwise and that’s OK, that it’s OK to stop on my way home from work and just watch the water flowing in the nearby stream or eschew modern television in favour of DVDs of programmes from fifty years ago… and that’s all OK until I meet actual real people and don’t know how to talk to them and then I feel like a freak all over again.

I had wanted to speak to the assistant rabbi of my shul (synagogue) after parasha shiur (Torah class) about my feelings of not fitting in but he had another commitment.  This would have been my main exposure to what I fear from my social anxiety this week.  I did still try to do a CBT exposure to my social anxiety, so I decided I would be honest about my mental health this week to the first person who asked me how I was at shiur (I thought, correctly as it turned out, that it would not be practical to open up to anyone else, as once the room starts to fill up it’s hard to have a serious conversation – too much noise and too lighthearted and I wouldn’t necessarily be asked how I was as people just drift into general chitchat).  As it happened, the first person was someone who I have told a little bit in the past about my mental health, but I decided to go through with it, so rather than saying that I was fine, as I would normally do, I said I’ve been struggling over the last few weeks.  He was very understanding and asked how I’m coping at work.  I have to fill in forms for the CBT exposure and one of the questions is what I learnt from doing the exposure, which in this case was that other people are genuinely concerned about me and don’t think I’m a freak just because I have mental health issues (I mean people away from this blog.  I know there are people here who are concerned about me, but this is a self-selecting group of people predisposed to like me.)

Anxiety and Comparing

I had quite a bit of anxiety today.  I’m going to have it every day for the next three or four weeks, until Pesach (Passover) is here, if not until Pesach is over.  There’s too much fear of doing the wrong thing in kashering or having an argument with my parents about what we’re doing.

Otherwise I was mostly OK, although I overslept this morning and had to go to work unshaven (which I hate) and get the bus to the station instead of walking (which is more expensive and deprives me of the little exercise I get).  I think there was a bit of depression and maybe of crying this morning, but not too much.  Although it’s probably not a good thing that I can tolerate any amount of crying at work or on public transport.

I was speaking to the temp at work today (actually, I was trying to work and she was speaking to me), so I used the opportunity to mention my mental health issues, as my therapist wants me to do.  She carried on talking without saying anything about it, so I guess the experiment was partially successful in that she didn’t say that I’m a freak, although I’m not sure if she didn’t follow up on what I said because she was scared to or just because she wasn’t interested.

I did struggle at a couple of points.  The temp was complaining that her friends all have houses and children “and all I have is a guy and a dog.”  I pointed out that I’m about seven years older than her and I don’t even have a girlfriend or a dog, let alone a house.  Later, on the way home, the most romantic song I know (Fields of Gold by Sting) came up on my iPod on shuffle; I hurried on to the next track.  And characters kissing in Doctor Who tonight also made me feel lonely and wistful.

I try not to compare myself.  I try to tell myself that life is not a race and Olam HaZeh (This World) is for growth, not for happiness, but it’s hard.  It’s hard when I feel that everyone is happy and I’m not, even if know rationally that it isn’t the case that everyone else is happy, or that I’m the most unhappy person ever, or that there’s nothing good in my life.  I do feel that, compared to most people, I probably have had an objectively more miserable life than most, certainly than most people my age, and I do feel I have genuine reasons to doubt whether I will ever have the life I want to lead.  I want to make something productive out of that, but I don’t have a clue what.  I can’t go down the misery memoir route, for various reasons, and I’m not sure the world needs another misery memoir anyway.  I couldn’t be a mental health campaigner and I can’t think how I could be a volunteer.  I was going to go on the committee of the depression support group I go to, but then I started working much longer hours and that was no longer possible.  I’m trying to learn from the things that went wrong in my childhood how to make things better with my own children… except the problem is that I don’t have children in the first place, and am increasingly scared that I never will (I get really broody at the moment).  It’s all very well to say that if life gives you lemons, make lemonade, but that relies on having water and sugar as well as lemons.  I have lemons, a little bit of water and no sugar.

Sigh, now I’ve just talked myself back down into depression…

Work, Guilt and the Family Dynamic

Yesterday was difficult, but today was somewhat better, so there isn’t much to report.  My contract has now officially been extended until the end of the academic year (mid-August, although I assume if the contract is not extended into the 2018-19 year I would finish sometime in late July because I’m only contracted for term time plus a week or so of the school holidays).  So that’s good news.  Coincidentally, I have an appraisal next week, which I’m a bit anxious about.  I just have to keep telling myself that they have chosen to keep me working for them for another three or four months when they could have let me go, had they not been pleased with my work.

I left a drama queeney comment on someone’s blog the other day and rather than ban me (which I probably deserved) the blogger gently suggested that I should stop hating myself so much.  Although, as I said there, it’s one thing to know rationally that my self-perception is probably wrong and that excessive guilt and self-flagellation just makes it more likely that I will act out with the behaviours that I’m trying to stop, it’s another to internalise them in a manner that will let me cope with things in a healthy way.

I had an insight tonight that I wanted to share: I have already worked out that my sister’s marriage probably worsened my depression somewhat as my (younger) sister found the happiness I was seeking for myself.  But it just occurred to me how much it has destabilised things.  My parents get on well with my brother-in-law and also with his family, so it feels like my family has suddenly more than doubled in size (brother-in-law, his parents, his sister, his brother, sister-in-law and their four young children) to the extent that many of them are coming to us over Pesach (Passover).  So it feels like the whole family dynamic has changed and I don’t know where I fit any more.  Obviously my parents aren’t really going to replace me with my brother-in-law, but, given that I have family attachment/abandonment issues going back to childhood, it isn’t really surprising that this should have affected me so much.

Confusion

I realised that I can’t date before Pesach, from a practical point of view, because I’m going to be too busy with Pesach preparations over the next three weeks, so that resolves one problem, although I have no idea how I will decide if I’m ‘ready’ to date afterwards, or what ‘ready’ even means in this context, as I don’t think I know any more.

I’ve asked so many people for advice and just got confused.  And saying, “Follow your heart” doesn’t help either, because that’s confused too.  Part of me wants to try to find a wife right now, but part of me thinks that I’m too mentally ill for anyone to be able to love me and I should postpone even looking for years until I might one day be managing my mental health better, even though this increasingly looks like accepting that I won’t be able to have children, which I want more than almost anything in the world.

Part of me wishes I could seek out some prophet or wise man (no offence to my rabbi mentor and other rabbis) who could tell me what to do with some certain knowledge of what God’s plan for me is and what I should do so that I do what He wants.  Or even if I could find out that I will or won’t be happy one day (even if I was happy for just a couple of years at the end of my life, it might be worth it).  Or even just to find out that HaShem (God) loves me and that He is on some level pleased with my inadequate efforts to serve Him.  That would mean so much to me.  But there has been no prophecy for over two thousand years.

I don’t know how I can carry on working in the dark, trying to be a good person and a good Jew, always worried that I’m getting it wrong and that HaShem is angry with Me and regrets having created me.  But we are supposed to be perfect with God, meaning (according to Rashi, quoting the Midrash), “ Conduct yourself with Him with simplicity and depend on Him, and do not inquire of the future; rather, accept whatever happens to you with [unadulterated] simplicity and then, you will be with Him and to His portion.” (translation from Chabad, because I don’t have enough time to translate myself).  It’s hard to trust, though, when it feels like most of my life I’ve been unhappy and struggling to do what I should do; how can I trust that things will get better or that I’m doing what I’m supposed to do?

I Need an Instruction Manual for Life

I feel confused.  I’m clearly not happy in my job, but working out why, and what I should do about it, is harder.  It’s hard even to work out if it’s actually the job that is upsetting me or if I’m upset because I’m depressed and I just happen to spend a huge chunk of my week at work, so it feels like I’m always depressed there.  Working out whether I should leave and go elsewhere is harder still; finding a better job is hardest of all.  Similarly, I want to get married, but, despite (because of) having had a lot of conflicting advice in the last few days, I have no idea whether I’m ready to date.  My therapist says not to date, but that was conditional on wanting to date for the ‘wrong’ reasons (being lonely and wanting someone to fix me) and I have no idea if I do want to date for those reasons or not.  My rabbi mentor said not to date until I’ve sorted out the social anxiety, but I’m a lot less confident than he is about my ability to do that.  My parents say I should date because that might make me feel better, as does one of my friends, who thinks I do want to marry for the right reasons.  Yesterday I found a draft post that stated that I want to get married so that I can give to someone, which I suspect is what my therapist wanted me to say on Friday.  But I’m now so confused that I don’t know if I really feel like that or not.  It’s hard to know what, if anything, to do.  At least regarding jobs I can keep a vague look out for new work, especially as my contract may not be renewed at the end of the month anyway, but I don’t think I should be joining dating services or sites without being sure that I am ready to marry.

Frum (religious) Jews are apt to describe the Torah as an instruction manual to life, but it doesn’t have an index and, anyway, it’s rarely clear cut as to how to apply its teachings in the complexity of life – or is that me being borderline heretical again?  It can tell you what to do on Shabbat (the Sabbath) or how to have a kosher kitchen, but it’s not always clear on what to do about the unique circumstances of one’s day to day life.  I suppose this is why people go to rabbis, but my rabbi mentor has just confused and worried me more on this matter and I’m not the kind of person who takes his troubles to a gadol (great Torah scholar) for advice.  I wouldn’t know how one even goes about it, although the teacher at the Talmud class I used to go to said he could arrange for us to meet one famous rabbi who his brother knew.

Contrary to what Elton John sang, I don’t believe there’s a light where the darkness ends, and I have been told not to seek someone who can heal me with her love.   It all seems so hopeless.  Sometimes I feel like the most alone person in the world.  That’s not really fair, as I have my parents and my sister and my non-biological sisters (friends) all of whom do at least respond to texts and phone calls and who do sometimes inquire after me without my seeking them out, even if they don’t always understand why I’m so upset about things.  But that just makes me feel more guilty for feeling so alone!  At any rate, when the front door of my flat shuts, I’m so alone with no one to hold me or talk to me.  Plus, I want the type of love that can’t be provided by parents or sisters or friends.  Is that so wrong of me?  And I want to be able to give to someone as well as to take, but no one seems to trust me to do that, or they have other people who do it for them better already.

If someone could say to me that I would struggle for the next five years, but after that I would be able to manage my mental health and find a wife and have children, that would be difficult, but it would be better than this.  At least I would know that I won’t be lonely and miserable for my entire adult life.  But no one can give me those kind of guarantees and even if I knew that in five years I would manage my mental health better, I still doubt that I could get married and have children given my age (I would be nearly forty by then), my geeky interests and atypical personality and the fact that the depression would probably still be lurking in the background.

I once came across an idea in Judaism that when someone dies, a sword of judgement is suspended over the family for a year afterwards and if they sin, they are more likely to be punished (a lot of my episodes of depression have started a few months after the death of one or more grandparents).  I had hoped that the reverse might be true, that when my sister got married, maybe some of her blessing and happiness would overflow and hit me, but it doesn’t seem to have happened.  I didn’t even feel able to ask for her to pray for me under the chuppah.

I feel selfish and self-centred.  All I talk about here is myself.  No wonder my therapist thinks I only want a wife to ‘fix’ me.  My Mum says that it’s not my fault, that depression is a selfish illness, but I feel I should push past that.  But I’m in such psychological pain so much of the time that it’s hard to feel anything else.  Which I suppose is evidence that I shouldn’t be looking for a wife until I’m better.  Except that it’s been made quite clear to me, by psychiatrists and by experience, that there is no ‘feeling better’ just ‘coping better.’  If I was in a relationship I might be better at looking after someone else.  At any rate, my ex (who also had a lot of issues that she was dealing with) used to say that I was better at caring for her than she was for me and in retrospect I look back at that time and wonder if I was too caring and just encouraged her to walk all over my boundaries because she knew I would keep coming back.  Or is this justifying myself?  I honestly don’t know any more.  After that experience, I find it hard to imagine being in a healthy relationship.

Ugh, this post is just nonsense.  I’m hurting today and this is an inarticulate cry of pain.  All I feel today is despair and self-loathing, I can’t even feel anxiety.  Please forgive me.

Obsessive? Psychotic? Criminal?

I had a fairly bad Shabbat.  At shul I wanted to speak openly to a friend (if I can call him that… he’s the closest person I have to a friend there, anyway) after the service about having struggled with my depression this week, but when it came to it, I panicked and said everything was fine.  Then I got too anxious and depressed to speak to the rabbi and just went home quickly to avoid talking to anyone else.  I had a difficult dinner with my parents.  They didn’t really agree with my therapist that I shouldn’t be looking to get married because I only want to get married because I’m lonely and I want someone to “fix” me, but they thought my main (only?) reason for wanting to get married is that it’s a mitzvah (religious commandment).  It seems that no one thinks I’m capable of wanting to give to someone and to share my life with her.  This just confuses me and brings me down.  (Ironically, my ex used to say that I did take care of her and her issues well, better than she took care of me, which was more or less true.)  It didn’t help that my father said that he can’t talk to me at the moment, which my Mum thinks is because of my borderline Asperger’s.  My father has a roundabout way of talking, going off at tangents which is confusing to someone who likes communication to be clear and direct, while he misinterprets my bluntness and confusion as anger.  Still, I probably could understand him if I tried harder.

I don’t know what time I went to bed or how long I slept, but I think it must have been for ten or eleven hours, with a two hour plus nap this afternoon.  This will probably mess up my weekend sleep pattern, as it usually does (it’s 10.00pm and I haven’t had dinner and have things to do before bed).  I had a really disturbing dream on Friday night/early Saturday morning.  I don’t want to relate it, but it was very upsetting.  I don’t know whether that dream or the therapy session and conversation with my parents yesterday triggered the thoughts I had this afternoon, but they may have done.  To be blunt, I started wondering if I was the reincarnation of someone completely evil, a rapist or murderer.

Reincarnation is not an idea non-Jews or non-religious Jews typically associate with Judaism, but actually it has been part of Jewish mysticism for a thousand years or more.  However, usually I have a more rationalist approach to religion, which sees reincarnation as an idea extrinsic to Judaism, borrowed from other religions and not part of Judaism’s understanding of the soul and life after death.  Still, Ramban (Moses Nachmanides), one of the most important Jewish thinkers of the Middle Ages, saw the reincarnation of the wicked as the big solution to the problem of theodicy.

This idea of being a reincarnation of someone evil to explain my suffering is not new for me.  Still, in the afternoon I became fixated on the idea of being a reincarnated rapist as it seemed to explain so much: my suffering; my terror of my sexuality; why sex and self-loathing seem to be so mixed up for me; my desire for a violent, redemptive death; my violent thoughts (usually directed against my self, but sometimes pure O/OCD fears about hurting others) and horror of violence; my self-hatred out of all proportion of what I might have done; my feeling that HaShem (God) hates me, letting me suffer even as a child and not doing the ‘miracles’ that other frum (religious) people report; feeling sure that I won’t have a share in Olam HaBa (the Next World)*; my susceptibility to sexual temptation; and especially the reason it looks like I will never manage to get married or have another relationship.  I guess it would explain why the one relationship I did have turned out to be a situation where my girlfriend didn’t respect my boundaries and why I feel so confused about my boundaries and how I would like them to be respected.

I don’t think that I really believe that I am a reincarnation of someone evil, but it would seem to explain so much that I became pretty focused on it for a couple of hours, becoming even more depressed and unable even to read a novel to distract myself.  I know that OCD can make people feel that they have committed crimes that they have not done and wonder if this is something like that.  I’ve had that a bit in the past, usually in the form of OCD worries that I might have opened a webpage that had illegal content on it without knowing that I had done so.  But it really did seem to explain so much of my life, I think I almost wanted it to be real, because then at least it would explain why I suffer, why I hate myself, why I will never get married.  I often feel I could cope better if I was told for sure that I will never get married than to live with the constant hope and feeling that I ought to be trying to build a relationship and that if I don’t do the right thing (whatever that might be), I will sabotage my chances of love and happiness – I will never be happy and it will all be my fault (I suppose by extension I will be making my would-be wife unhappy too, although I don’t usually follow through to that extent).

* Actually, it seems to me that these things more or less cancel out, although that’s not how they have always been seen.  As I understand it, the whole idea of reincarnation is so that you have an opportunity of earning a reward in the Olam HaBa by suffering in this world.  One might spend hundreds of years here rectifying everything you’ve done wrong, but eventually you will earn Olam HaBa.  Although I suppose in an extreme case one might be denied reincarnation deliberately in order to prevent you getting Olam HaBa.
It has to be said that compared to many (most?) other religions, Judaism is really vague about the soul, the afterlife, reincarnation and the like with such issues either being ignored completely or generating so many contradictory interpretations that it’s hard to know what “the Jewish view” of reincarnation or Heavenly punishment is.  There’s almost nothing on life after death or the soul in Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) and very little in the Talmud.  Many people see this as a feature rather than a bug, that Judaism wants us to focus on the here and now and not worry about the afterlife.

So Lonely

“Such a lonely little boy. Lonely then and lonelier now. How can you bear it?” Doctor Who: The Girl in the Fireplace by Steven Moffat

My therapist thinks I don’t know the difference between excited, stressed and scared.  This is probably true (alexithymia, Asperger’s).

My therapist also thinks that it’s a bad idea to date purely because I feel lonely and that I just want someone to fix me.  This is what I have suspected for a while, but I don’t know what to do, particularly as my parents have been encouraging me to date.  Part of the problem is that (as my therapist also said), I feel a lot safer with women than with men (just don’t ask me why, as women on the whole have hurt me a lot more than men in the past; maybe that’s it, maybe I want to retroactively vindicate past relationships, although it’s probably more that I have some stereotypically ‘female’ character traits, doubly so now there are a lot more women (or a lot more visible women) in Doctor Who fandom).  This means that I form friendships with women more easily than with men.  This is problematic as (a) sex/love does get in the way sometimes, at least unconsciously, even if I say it shouldn’t and (b) in the Orthodox Jewish community male-female platonic friendships are more or less prohibited.  So the only way I’m allowed to talk to like-minded women in my community is to ask them to date me.

I do also wonder how I’m supposed to cope with my feelings of loneliness and my sexual desires without even the hope of dating.  I don’t know how to make new friends, or to turn my existing friendships (most of which are fairly formal and distant (emotionally and often geographically too) into closer friendships.  And I don’t know how to cope with my sexual desires, which both my religious beliefs and my personal character restrict to marriage (I know I couldn’t cope emotionally with being promiscuous).  I don’t even feel comfortable having crushes on people.  I wanted to write a jokey thing on my Doctor Who blog about having a crush on a character in Remembrance of the Daleks (a crush on the actual fictional character, not (just) the actress who plays her), but I was scared to, ostensibly because I felt a frum (religious) guy shouldn’t write about having a crush even (or especially) jokingly, but also because I was scared to open up about my feelings like that.  To be honest, if I feel desire for a woman (and I do, a lot, I have strong emotions and sex, love, loneliness, despair and self-loathing are all mixed up in me (alexithymia again)), I feel guilty, partly from religious reasons, partly from feminist reasons, both of which in different ways tell me that male sexuality is dangerous.  I feel it to be dangerous.  My worst mistakes come from loneliness and social anxiety rather than from sex per se, but sex is obviously part of the loneliness and my biggest sins (from both a Jewish and feminist viewpoint) have all been sex-related, even though, rather pathetically, despite all this I’m still a virgin (despite being headed towards thirty-five!).

The worrying thing is that if my therapist is right, and I think she is (and my rabbi mentor was saying something not entirely dissimilar), I have to deal with my loneliness and social anxiety before I can date.  This might mean I will never be able to date, as my loneliness and social anxiety have been intractable for even longer than the depression (the depression has lasted eighteen or twenty years, maybe more, but the social anxiety at least goes back ten years further; the loneliness is harder to judge, but at least twenty years like the depression).  Which means I might never know romantic love, and sex, and – even if I assume some middle aged romance – I will probably never have children.  And I really want to have children.  I see it as one of  my main missions in life.  I ended two promising relationships at least in part because of wanting to have children.

I feel pretty awful.  I know I’ve said too much here and it will probably come back to haunt me, but I don’t care right now.  Maybe I’ll edit later.

Beating Myself Up, Again

Today was probably a bad day.  Nothing momentous went wrong, it was just a lot of trivial things.

Work was tiring.  I was at our secondary campus, which always leaves me feeling depleted.  I’m not sure why.  Perhaps it is because the office is not at all sound-proof, so I can here the noise in the library (there was a teacher and a couple of noisy teenage girls sitting the library discussing things; every couple of minutes the teacher would shush the girls, which quickly became even more irritating than the talking/shouting) and the library itself suffers from having an upstairs IT area which a corridor cuts through with a partition wall that doesn’t reach anywhere near the ceiling, so all the noise from the corridor can be heard in the library.  It’s not the ideal layout for a library, and I find it draining, particularly when coupled with dim lighting, little natural light and a strange smell (apparently the building used to be a school, so it may be the ghostly memory of Victorian school dinners).  And I was there by myself for the last hour and a quarter.  I had to phone our main site when a problem I couldn’t solve came up.  And then some kids openly flouted my authority when they came in as I was about to lock up, wanting to use the photocopier.  I said we had shut, but they used it anyway.  It seemed quicker and easier to let them get on with it, but I wasn’t pleased with losing what little standing I felt I had before a bunch of fifteen year olds.

I felt pretty incompetent on the way home, too, when it turned out that I couldn’t even cross the road or the station corridors competently.  Sometimes I wonder if I’m really autistic, but other times my complete inability to read people or situations is painfully obvious.  I cried quite a bit on the way home, even though I was reading (and not something sad – Dracula), just as I had done at work.  Sometimes I wonder if this crying is really triggered by depression or if I have an undiagnosed dust allergy or similar, because I don’t always feel consciously depressed when it happens, except that it mostly happens when I’m at work, particularly when I’m alone with my thoughts, and not at all when I’m at home except when I’m doing my hitbodedut prayer/meditation.

I had a cursory look at some emails advertising jobs once I got home, but nothing seemed suitable.  They all seem to require either much more experience, skill and confidence than I actually have, or are far too basic.  I can’t find anything that’s similar to what I’m doing now, but less stressful (i.e. not at a school or FE college) and with a shorter commute.  I realised I want to explore the idea of research because it’s basically the nearest thing I can think of to being back at Oxford studying history, spending all week researching a topic and then writing an essay on it.  My ideal job would be if someone would actually pay me to write the Doctor Who books I’m writing for fun, but I can’t see that happening.

My therapist wanted me to challenge my social anxiety by talking to the assistant rabbi of my shul (synagogue) about my feelings of not fitting into the frum (religious) world, which I intended to do after shiur (Torah class) tonight.  I had been psyching myself up all week, deliberately trying not to plan what I would say the way I normally would, as my CBT for social anxiety book says that’s a safety behaviour.  And then I found out the shiur was cancelled and assistant rabbi is out of the country.  So I don’t know where I stand with that.  I guess I should try again next week, but I feel I should do something this week, I just don’t know what.  At least I had a conversation with the temp yesterday.  That was a big achievement, silly though it seems to say that.

The other thing I’m beating myself up about is being sarcastic to my Dad.  I didn’t intend to, sometimes things come out harsher than I mean.  And I did feel that he was treating me like a child.  When that happens, I never know how to react, so I tend to resort to sarcasm.  So I feel bad about that, although I’m not sure what I should have done instead, because I felt I needed to say something to stress that I’m old enough to decide what time I go to bed and pretty much anything would have come out aggressively.

With all of this, particularly sitting alternately in a drab office and a library by myself most of the day, it’s no wonder I got to feeling lonely again.  I was thinking that there are 3,500,000,000 women in the world, but there doesn’t seem to be one who can love me (romantically/sexually).  Of course, that’s not really an accurate argument.  If you rule out all the ones who aren’t Jewish, that leaves about 7,000,000, which is a much, much smaller number.  Cutting out the ones who aren’t frum enough for me is harder to judge, but probably leaves under a million.  And then you have to rule out the ones who are too old, too young, married, Haredi… you’re left with a tiny number even before taking into account the usual stumbling blocks of geekiness, mental illness and poor chemistry.  Sigh.  I’m probably feeling desperate enough to apply to that matchmaking service in the next few days, though.  I’m almost tempted to do it now, but it’s late and I’m tired and there are other things I should prioritise ahead of it.  It’s better than doing nothing, and being one of the “strange nutty ones” left behind.

“Waiting for the train that never comes”

(The title quote is from (Waiting for) The Ghost Train by Madness, which turned up on shuffle three times this evening, so I decided it must Mean Something.)

Not a lot happened today, except for a few annoying things (or annoying people) I’m trying not to gripe about (I save my moaning for big things… I’m not on Twitter, but if I was, I might start #meJew to call out antisemitism).  I’m writing mainly to record that, because I’m trying to deal with my social anxiety, I made sure to talk to the temp who I’m currently working with, even though I only met her yesterday, and that was really only to say hello.  Today I even made myself open up and make myself a bit vulnerable, as my therapist said I should, by talking a little bit about my confusion about what direction my career should go in.  She said she thought I would be suited to a “scholarly” job.  She said this after talking to me for all of five minutes; I must be quite transparent (similarly the occupational therapist at work said I was intelligent after a similar length of time; I didn’t think I’d even said anything that intelligent.   I suppose I do find it hard to believe that I’m intelligent sometimes).  She said she had seen a research librarian post advertised at the NSPCC.  I did make a half-hearted attempt to search for it this evening, but decided that I would be too depressed if I had to spend my whole day researching child abuse.

I’m strongly tempted to join up for that Jewish matchmaking service I mentioned the other day, the one that pairs people up according to their values.  My worries are partly that I could soon be unemployed (and it’s not like I’m earning enough to support a family even if my contract gets renewed – I still rely on my parents to help me out), partly that I’ll be told that I should wait until I’m not depressed, even though I don’t think there will ever be such a time.  The other big worry is that until now there have been several reasons women haven’t wanted to date me (aside from the ones who turned out to be seeing other guys or who didn’t tell me why they turned me down): that we don’t share values, that we don’t share interests, that there is no chemistry and that they can’t cope with my mental health (possibly there were other reasons I can’t remember).  This only deals with the first of those and the others still seem pretty big obstacles.  I admit I do find it hard to believe that I can find someone who matches me in all those ways, or is willing to overlook the differences, and particularly to overlook my poor mental health.  Because up until now my luck in this area has been awful and I can’t see how it could possibly change.  I just feel too weird and broken to be loved.

It occurs to me that two things are said to be predetermined in Judaism: one’s (first) spouse (determined before birth, maybe, possibly, according to some interpretations, but widely accepted on a popular level) and one’s wealth for the year (determined on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year)).  I’m fairly relaxed about my finances and the thought of being made redundant with all that that would entail (moving back in with my parents, job hunting, interviews, rejection, career changes), but I can’t believe at all that HaShem (God) will let me get married at any point.  Maybe this comes from never having really experienced poverty (my parents have helped me, but in any case, my expenditure is pretty low.  Aside from food and rent and occasional books and DVDs, mostly second-hand and cheap, I don’t really go out or buy things), but having spent much of my life starved of love and affection and wanting it to be otherwise.

This evening I keep thinking of a fridge magnet my Mum has.  It says, “Men are like chocolates; wait too long and only the strange nutty ones are left”.  Quite what my Dad makes of this is not recorded, but I hate it.  No one else in my family was single at my age, in their mid-thirties, and I feel I must be one of those “strange nutty ones” mouldering in the box that no one wants to pick.  Just when I was trying to convince myself that I can think of myself as “eccentric” or even “(an) original,” I suddenly start to think of myself as strange, nutty and unwanted.

A Great Original

Today wasn’t a great day.  I overslept, felt very dizzy on waking, did even less davening (praying) than usual, had to catch the bus to the station instead of walking to save time, discovered that, due to someone else’s error, I had wasted a day and a half’s work and then got a migraine.  That isn’t why I’m writing, though.

My sister sent me the link for another Jewish dating site, but this one looks interesting.  It was founded by Rabbi Naftali Brawer, who I’ve briefly met (well, stood within a few metres of – he officiated at my great-aunt’s funeral and tombstone consecration) and whose answers to the Ask the Rabbi column in the Jewish Chronicle I admire for their thoughtfulness and sensitivity.  I say this to prove that I know he’s not just some crazy crank with a weird idea.

Basically, the idea is that they match you with someone based on shared values rather than interests or personality.  I think that shared values are really important in a relationship, and my only previous relationship floundered because of a lack of them, but I find it hard to talk about them on dates or to observe them in my date’s actions, so it would be good to meet someone who is likely to share my values from the start.

My concern – aside from the fear that, like lots of other shadchanim (matchmakers), they will run a mile as soon as I say the magic words “mental health issues” – is that Rabbi Brawer is considered to be on the ‘left’ of Orthodoxy (we use ‘left’ and ‘right’ for less or more traditional/strict.  It doesn’t strictly speaking correspond to politically left and right, although there is often an overlap).  I wonder if this would make it less likely for me to meet someone on my level – if I even know where my level is!  People can slice the Orthodox community into very fine strips, which probably isn’t terribly helpful.  So I worry about only meeting women to my ‘left’ who won’t approve of my shul or conversely of being shunned by my current community if they find out I’m using this service[1].  To be honest, I would rather find my wife even if it means a few people shun me.  I guess this is all grist to the mill of the conversation I’m supposed to have with the assistant rabbi from shul (synagogue) on Thursday about feeling I don’t fit in,a conversation I’m already very nervous about.

That said, lately I find that I’m a bit happier about not fitting in.  I’ve started singing in public again.  Not aloud, but mouthing the words along with my music.  I don’t really care who sees, at least until I get self-conscious and stop.  I know I like things that most people consider trivial, stupid or kitsch, but which I see value in, from Doctor Who and other classic television science fiction to Orthodox Judaism.  I call myself ‘eccentric’ because it sounds nicer than ‘weirdo’ or ‘freak’ or even ‘autistic.’  In the eighteenth century, eccentrics were known as “originals,” (as a noun rather than an adjective) meaning ‘unique, a one-off.’  People would say, “Do you know Sir Thomas Winstanley?  He’s a great original.”  Which could mean anything from, “He’s slightly unconventional” to “He’s mad as a hatter.”  But it had a more positive sense than ‘freak’ or even ‘eccentric.’  A great original was someone to be treasured, if not necessarily imitated.  Maybe that’s what I should aim for.  I just need a wife who can appreciate my originality.

[1] I imagine a gameshow called How Frum Are You? (or maybe Have I Got Jews for You?) where contestants have to compete to prove their religiosity.  “Do you have a TV?  Do you have any secular educational qualifications?  Do you say tachanun on Yom Ha’atzmaut?”  The winner gets to become the godol hador (leading Torah scholar/religious leader of the generation).  But if you lose, you get put in herem (excommunicated, although the term means something rather different for Jews than for Christians) and your children will never get married.

“there is nothing more wonderful than a list”

(Quote from Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose)

My mood was down again today, just to serve me right for telling people I thought my meds were working.  I phoned my parents and said I was fine because I didn’t want to worry them, or field questions about why I feel down.  I feel a bit guilty.

As to why I feel down… well, your guess is as good as mine, but things to choose from are:

  1. making more mistakes at work;
  2. worrying that I’m working too slowly at work;
  3. fear of being told off at work for making mistakes and being slow;
  4. said mistakes making me feel that I’m not competent at my job and maybe not at any job;
  5. remembering that I could be unemployed in a month when my contract ends;
  6. remembering that it’s Pesach (Passover) in less than a month, with attendant stress, work and possibly OCD;
  7. having thoughts that I worried were the return of non-Pesach pure O/OCD and struggling against them;
  8. remembering my therapist wanting me to tell the assistant rabbi of my shul (synagogue) about my worries about not fitting in to the community because I’m too ‘modern’ and geeky later in the week;
  9. everyone I know getting married;
  10. the assistant rabbi of my parents’ shul not getting back to me with the name of the shadchan (matchmaker), making me wonder if there hasn’t been some misunderstanding and he and his wife didn’t have the name of a shadchan for me after all (there was some talk of helping me with my confidence (as if that’s the main reason I’m unmarried) and I wonder if that was the name they were going to give me);
  11. the new temp at the library where I work starting tomorrow;
  12. remembering being told repeatedly over the years that I should marry someone significantly less frum (religious) than myself and pondering this, even though I know it’s not right for me and even though the non-frum women (okay, woman) I’ve liked have never liked me (or possibly were scared off by my frumkeit) and my only real relationship failed when (among other things) my ex started to become less religious and the existing gaps between us became unmanageable;
  13. the fear that my book will never get published;
  14. the return of my negative self-talk;
  15. feeling very autistic in that other people just seem to like talking, without thinking whether the people they are speaking to are interested or even upset by what is being said.  The newspapers are just as bad as people here;
  16. all of the above;
  17. none of the above, which is possibly the scariest, because it suggests my moods swing completely independently of external stimuli.

At school we used to get marked a lot (excessively, some would say), so I always knew where I stood, what I was doing OK and what I needed to work on.  But life doesn’t get marked, so I don’t know how I’m doing with my job or my friendships and other relationships (community, dating) or my religious life or my personal growth… it’s very confusing to someone who likes clear rules and instructions (autism again).

Worst Case Scenario

(The title is another Hoosiers quote.  To be honest, the whole song could be written about me e.g. “You can’t see past the worst case scenario/You’d be happy at this stage if you’d stayed in bed/I pray one day I’ll live to see you break a smile” and especially the bit about the only love you get is unrequited.)

I had a feeling I might have spoken to soon by saying I could post in the afternoon as I was feeling OK.  I sunk back into depression around 4.00pm or 5.00pm.  My flat seems dark and unwelcoming (I did wonder if a light bulb had blown, but it’s just dark).  I did manage to do some chores, but not as many as I would have liked.  Anxiety about Pesach (Passover) and it’s many difficult laws came back, although it has been lurking for a while (I’m worried about practical things – getting the time to help my parents with cleaning and kashering and preparing things to say at the seder – as much as OCD about not kashering things properly).  At least I texted the assistant rabbi of my parent’s shul (synagogue) asking for the details of the shadchan (matchmaker) his wife suggested, but felt depressed about the whole thing.  I also cleaned the flat, albeit not as well as I would have liked; the bathroom in particular needs a more thorough clean than it’s likely to get before Pesach, the fridge drawer could do with washing out and I’m fighting a constant running battle with mould everywhere.  But at least the basic requirements of hygiene have been met.  Dinner had to be couscous (the large kind) and vegetables out of a packet, though, because I ran out of the time and energy to cook anything else.

A friend I haven’t seen for years emailed this morning, and I was pleased and responded, but it also made me feel bad for not getting on with my life the way she had done and other people do, as well as prompting more wondering about my friendships with people that my community might not approve of (women, non-religious Jews, non-Jews, etc.) and my unwillingness either to sacrifice my friendships to gain acceptance in the community or, on the other hand, to boldly state to the community, “This is me, accept me or reject me, I don’t care which, but I know who I am and I’m not changing.”  Both of these options (cutting off friends or deliberately flouting the community’s norms) seem morally wrong, but doing neither leaves me hiding aspects of my life from everyone except my immediate family and my blog and its readers (including a couple of friends who read it).

I feel lonely, but too exhausted and self-hating to contact any friends (aside from the one I wrote to earlier).  I just haven’t got the energy to contact anyone and feel too irritating, annoying and self-centred for anyone to want to talk to me and too scared of upsetting people.  I also feel pessimistic: even if text or email someone, chances are they will be out or too busy to respond.  It’s one of those sorts of days.

It scares me that my mood can plummet so totally like this even when I seemed to be on the upswing.  It just reminds me that I haven’t had more than six months at a time of being psychologically ‘healthy’ (whatever that means) for fifteen years or more.  I suppose the fact that it happens on days when I don’t have work for distraction (chores at home aren’t the same) and am not around other people (I usually spend Friday nights and Saturdays with my parents) indicates that it’s imperative that I should try to find more work if my contract doesn’t get renewed, preferably with other people, and that my father might be right that dating will help me, although it still feels wrong to me to date when I feel like this even some of the time.  But this just makes my fears that I’m unemployable and unmarriable more pointed, as well as heightening my confusion about what line of work I should be in.  Perhaps I will feel better at work tomorrow, although I’m already apprehensive about meeting the new library temp on Tuesday, even though she’s only here for a month and I will only see her on two days a week during that time.

I do feel like I have two lives, my Monday to Thursday life, where I’m completely focused on work to the exclusion of all else (except a little bit of work on my book at lunch) and just plough through my depression and anxiety, somehow, and my Friday to Sunday life, where I try to do chores and frum (religious) things like shul and Torah study, but tend to get overwhelmed by negative emotions.  Only my Thursday evening shiur (Torah class) seems to get the best of both worlds, and I feel vaguely functional and liked there.

At times like this, I sound like various people who have been in my life in different ways at different times, who are overwhelmingly negative, except that while they are negative about everyone and everything other than themselves, I’m negative only about myself, the things I do (or don’t do) and the things I expect to happen to me.  This probably annoys everyone else as much as their negativity drained me, but I don’t know how to change it.

Relationships, Again

The first woman I ever dated (six years ago) is getting married today.  I don’t mind so much, as I’ve long since got over her (we only went on two dates.  I run into her every six months or so as she’s close friends with my sister and her parents are friends with my parents and I’m fine chatting with her) and she had some difficulties finding someone too, so I’m glad she finally managed it, but it does make me feel a bit… not so much lonely as odd.  Well, maybe a bit lonely too.  My sister is bridesmaid and my parents are going too, for the reasons given above, so I feel left on my own a bit, although to be honest I wouldn’t really want to go.

The Jewish Chronicle has a regular ‘ask the rabbi’ section where a Modern Orthodox rabbi and a Reform rabbi answer questions.  This week they were asked how young people can meet their partners.  I was glad to see that even in the less ‘right-wing’ (less strict or traditional) and non-Orthodox worlds people still struggle to find their partner.  I’m not glad people are lonely, but I’m glad it’s not just me, or just my community.  Although I was annoyed that, as well as giving some practical suggestions, the rabbis both went for the “but young people today are also too picky and commitment-phobic” approach.  Maybe some people are too picky, but I’ve always been ready to continue relationships even if it didn’t look like we had a huge amount in common to see where they went unless there was a major values mismatch and in fact got badly hurt thinking I had to keep a relationship going because all problems can be solved with self-sacrifice when it clearly wasn’t working and I was in pain and should have got out of it.

My parents decided that they should speak to the assistant rabbi at their shul (synagogue) about my dating situation (as opposed to the assistant rabbi at my shul, who my therapist wants me to talk to about my feelings of not fitting in to the community – doubtless more about that later in the week).  They felt he is roughly my age and might be more likely to know someone for me than other rabbis I’ve spoken to.  I was a bit sceptical, but these days I generally let them get on with these type of things so that they feel useful and so that I don’t come across as refusing to do anything proactive.  My father didn’t get a chance to talk to the assistant rabbi, but he did talk to his wife and she suggested another shadchan (matchmaker) (I think.  I’m slightly confused about how the conversation went, which could be embarrassing down the line).  My father seems to think that the rabbi’s wife knew about my mental health issues and that she picked a suitable shadchan with that in mind; I think he’s making some big assumptions there (I’m not convinced she even knows about my issues), so I remain somewhat sceptical, especially after my rabbi mentor was very sceptical of professional shadchanim.  Still, I googled the shadchan after Shabbat (the Sabbath) and she is a trained counsellor and her husband, as well as being a rabbi, is a professional psychotherapist, so maybe she will be more understanding and helpful than the others.  However, I am not overly hopeful any more.

I seem to have got in the bad habit of sleeping through most of Shabbat, then staying up late on Saturday night because I don’t feel tired and then sleeping through much of Sunday.  I did at least get a number of chores done last night before going to bed, but 4.00am was far too late to be up.  It’s 2.00pm and I’m still in my pyjamas, having only just finished breakfast.  I have a lot of things to do today, so I’m going to post this now and see if I can get away with not blogging again today, as long as nothing goes seriously wrong or something upsetting happens.  Famous last words?

Mirror Image

I wasn’t planning on writing today.  A few things happened over Shabbat (the Sabbath), but I was going to leave them until tomorrow or later.  I slept through too much of the day again and am not tired now (it’s midnight as I begin to type), but that’s a minor thing.  But then I read a post on a blog I follow that upset me.

I won’t link to the blog as I comment there under my own name.  But it’s the blog of someone else Jewish very much like me: frum (religious) upbringing, but I think not currently frum, but severely depressed, lonely, social anxious, autistic and possibly also with OCD.  Also PTSD from being abused in hospital, which I don’t have.  She is currently very depressed and suicidal.  I have been praying for her for some months, since finding out how depressed she is, and hoping that things will improve for her because I know exactly what she is going through.  I comment on her blog when she posts, which is very irregularly, but she never responds and I worry that I am making things worse, although I’m not sure how I would be doing that.

It’s very frustrating seeing her like that and knowing that there is nothing I can do to help her.  I’m reluctant to give her my email address in case she misinterprets and given that she has never responded, I doubt she would want to email me anyway.  I just wish there was something I could do to help her.  I guess I know how my family and friends feel about me now.

Fancy Dress and Aliens

I mentioned that at shul (synagogue) for Purim a lot of people were in fancy dress, as per custom.  I forgot to mention that a lot of people were in costume as characters from popular culture (Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Batman, those adverts with the Russian meerkats) so maybe having a TV is more acceptable than I thought/feared.  Maybe I’ll wear my Doctor Who scarf next year.  Although I still think that extreme fandom (i.e. writing a book about Doctor Who) is seen as eccentric in lots of places, not just frum (religious) ones.

Also, I discovered today that the Dewey schedules have a number for the history of extraterrestrial worlds.  They marginalise non-Christian religions in the religion section (Christianity gets over sixty classes, and several more are about religion in general, but assume a Christian viewpoint and sense of priorities,  while other religions are divided up over just eight classes.  Also, the Bible is seen as a Christian book, not Jewish one), but if there are aliens out there, we’re ready to write about their history and put those books in the library!

More Purim

Not much to report.  I somehow managed to get up in time for the Megillah reading at shul (synagogue) this morning.  True, I missed the first half of the service, but I got there for the whole Megillah reading, which was the object of the exercise.  I also got to work, although shul and train delays from the snow led me to arrive an hour and a half late.  I do feel a bit left out at not going to a Purim seudah (festive meal) and having to work instead, particularly seeing the jokey messages on the shul Whatsapp.  Another reason to think about changing job, I guess.  Not to mention finding friends who I can eat with.  To be fair, I did get myself invited to the seudah my sister went to last year and someone at shul offered to find me a seudah this year if I wanted, but I had to work.

I seem to have done OK this week.  I have felt a bit better, and haven’t been crying at work so much, so perhaps the higher dosage of clomipramine is helping, although something is stopping me from falling asleep at night, despite being exhausted.  I have also started drinking coffee instead of tea at breakfast.  I don’t like coffee much (although I do like coffee ice cream and coffee chocolate), but it seems to do a better job of keeping me awake until lunch time.  I’m also trying to use my self-help CBT book to help with my social anxiety, but I’m not sure I’m going to have the confidence to face my fears as required.

Oh, and apparently some company has developed a hologram image for virtual assistants like Alexa and Siri.  Apparently they want her to be a companion for people living alone (sounds scarily like Blade Runner 2049).  My immediate thought was, I would probably get desperate enough to ask her to marry me.  My second thought was, what if she tells me that she thinks she can do better?