I volunteered today at an asylum seekers drop in centre run by an Orthodox Jewish shul (synagogue) organisation. I was sorting donations of clothes and then looking after children in the play area. I wanted to volunteer partly because I think it’s a good cause, particularly for Jews (Jews have been refugees enough times to know what it feels like and, to be blunt, the people using the service are likely to come from countries where Jews are not always held in great esteem, so it’s good to do something positive while identifying as Jewish, in an Orthodox shul), but also because I thought it was a way of working on my social anxiety. I spoke a little bit to other volunteers, but I found it hard and there were times when I felt self-conscious when I thought that I had made a mistake, even a trivial one, or even when someone else thought that I had made a mistake when I had not.
It was good to play with the children. I often find young children (pre-school and primary school) easier to be around that adults: they can be more accepting of people who don’t know all the social codes and rules (although when they don’t accept, they can be cruel) and it’s easy to make conversation with them: ask them what their teddy is called or what colour their jumper is. Plus they have imagination and aren’t jaded by life, which is not always the case with adults, myself included – it’s good to be refreshed by them. It got off to a bad start when someone passed me a baby and I picked him up badly (or possibly he was passed badly). I get very nervous holding babies in particular because I worry about dropping them, so, again, this was something I wanted to work on and later a baby (the same one I think) got me to pick him up and seemed quite happy being held by me (although I was so nervous had some slight tremor in my legs), so I think that was a success overall.
I’ve been having weird anxiety dreams lately. I won’t bore you with the details, but they were much more vivid and with a stronger narrative than my usual dreams (I usually do not remember my dreams and when I do they seem vague stream of consciousness impressions rather than narratives) and I woke up quite distressed. On Saturday morning I woke up early enough that I could have gone to shul, but didn’t partly because I was distressed from a dream where my rabbi and/or community (I forget the details) disowned me because they found out I accept evolutionary theory. It was vivid enough to trigger my social anxiety and keep me from going to shul, even though I was aware that it was just a dream. It’s just another thing that underlined the fact that I don’t 100% fit in to the Jewish community. I like the commitment to Torah and davening (prayer) and to Yiddishkeit (“Jewishness,” a somewhat wider term than ‘Judaism’) at my shul, which is probably moderately Haredi (ultra-Orthodox), but I find it insular sometimes (I suspect some people at my shul would not see helping Muslim refugees as a priority for time and money). On the other hand, the more Modern Orthodox communities I grew up in and which run the drop in centre, while more open to the world, can be very lacking in serious commitment to Torah and davening. It’s difficult to know where I fit in, even without my mental health and borderline autism making it harder for me to fit in and meet my obligations as a frum (religious) Jew.
I felt better last week than the week before, albeit still depressed at times and worried about my forthcoming trip to New York. I wasn’t feeling suicidal any more, so I decided not to go to the doctor, while keeping the option in mind in case things get worse. It probably wasn’t surprising I got so depressed; in the last few months I’ve lost my girlfriend, my job, my home and probably my therapist in rapid succession. Part of me still feels weak and useless for being depressed, especially as I blame myself, on some level, for all four losses, and am not sure what I can do to move on. Well, I know I need to get a new job before I can do anything else, but I’m struggling with that.
I feel a lot better for having volunteered today, for all that I struggled with moments of self-doubt and social anxiety at times. Some people with depression and autism feel better with animals; with me, it seems to be small children. I guess it’s the same feeling of freedom from social conventions, joy and cuteness. I do feel utterly exhausted now, though, and I doubt I will be in a fit state to do much this evening. I only hope I feel OK tomorrow, as I need to do some things for the holiday and move the bulk of my stuff from my flat to my parents’ house (my house now, I guess) and deal with the huge pile of job search emails that have built up even over the weekend.