Life and Death

I was the first person to get to shiur (religious class) last night.  The assistant rabbi, who takes the class, made the usual small talk gambit of asking how I am and if I had any news.  I didn’t really want to get into talking about myself, but I don’t like to lie and I’m a bad liar, so I started to tell him about my job situation.  I felt really stupid telling him about leaving my old job, as if it was a stupid thing for me to do, which perhaps it was.  Fortunately we got interrupted by other people arriving.

I found it hard to concentrate at shiur.  I kept thinking about dying and being dead.  When I got home I flicked through a book on complex PTSD (which I’m still not convinced I have) which said that “passive suicidality” (fantasising about death without actively planning suicide) is common among people with complex PTSD.  That is probably the case with me, regardless of whether I have complex PTSD, as I think about death and dying a lot when depressed, but don’t usually make plans to kill myself, although I do sometimes take precautions in case I do impulsively try to hurt myself.  The author of the book felt that passive suicidality is a form of childish fantasy, of wanting to remove oneself from the situation one finds oneself in, which fits the way I experience it (“childish” in the sense of its something a child without power to alter his/her environment would fantasise as an escape, not making a value judgement about it).

The shiur was about seeing HaShem’s (God’s) sovereignty everywhere.  The assistant rabbi said that we don’t really experience this in our lives.  I felt that I do see it a bit, but because I don’t experience HaShem as benevolent, it is hard to be glad about it or trust that things will turn out well.  So, I can acknowledge that HaShem gave me a job really quickly after leaving my old job, within a week but it’s hard to hold on to that, partly because it is not really a career-enhancing job, nor is it likely to last more than three or four months, but mostly because when something good happens to me, I assume that something bad is going to come out of it sooner or later, even if the bad is only the loss of the good (which is more frustrating in some ways than never having the good in the first place).  I feel when something goes well, I’m just waiting for it to go disastrously wrong.  This is how my life seems to have gone: every good thing being short-term and leading to bad things that are long-term and painful enough to outweigh the short-term good things.

***

I came across this article on identifying your life’s mission that I’ve read in the past again.  It reminds me of something the assistant rabbi was saying yesterday about needing to know what you want out of life at this time of year so you can pray for it.  I still have no idea how to answer the article’s questions that are supposed to help find your mission in life: what are the five or ten most pleasurable moments of your life? (I don’t know.  I can’t think of many overwhelmingly positive moments.)   And what would you do with a billion dollars and six hours a day of discretionary time? (I have absolutely no idea.)  Mostly I want to be dead, inasmuch as my fantasy is just not to have to engage with the world any more, because I can’t face it and I don’t feel I do very well at living in it.  The thought of actually doing something just triggers anxiety as I’m sure I can’t do it.  I’m certainly struggling with career choices.  As my new job is short-term, I’m still looking at career emails from agencies and websites, but I don’t know what I want to do.  I was reminded today of my boss in my old job asking me if I really wanted to be a librarian when she told me that she didn’t think I was able to meet the revised job specification.  I do feel that I don’t seem to be as suited to librarianship as I thought I would be, but I don’t have a clue what to do instead.

I just looked at the cheshbon nafesh (self-assessment) I did this time last year.  I was stressed, but feeling positive: I felt I had brought the OCD under control with CBT and I was making significant improvements with my depression on clomipramine and was trying to see myself as ‘someone with depression’ rather than a ‘depressive’ i.e. not to be defined by my illness.  I was positive about my job and living away from home.  I felt that I was making friends at shul (synagogue).  I had read or re-read quite a few religious books over the previous year, although I felt I had missed most of the (far too long) list of targets from the year before.  It feels like almost all these things have disappeared now, except controlling the OCD.  Even the clomipramine doesn’t seem to be doing much.

***

I just bought the complex PTSD book that I was looking at last night.  It may have been a stupid thing to do given that (a) it is far from clear that I have complex PTSD; (b) I have a huge pile of books to read already; and (c) I do not have such a good record with self-help books (e.g. the social anxiety book I bought that was useful for understanding social anxiety, but which I could not follow through with the practical steps to recovery).  I bought it because, regardless of whether I have PTSD, it looks like it has some useful stuff about self-love.  Anyway, that’s my salary for my first hour and a quarter of work next week gone.

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Messed Up

I have a somewhat strange relationship with anxiety.  On the one hand, I have had a number of psychological assessments over the years and I often surprised the psychologists at how little anxiety I registered on their questionnaires, considering how strongly depression registered (the two usually go hand-in-hand).  On the other hand, I am no stranger to the gnawing feeling of dread about the future.  When I was at school and university, I used to feel particularly nauseous on Sunday evenings, dreading the coming week, and first thing in the mornings.  It was the latter that brought my mental health problems to light for the first time.  I went to the doctor complaining of disrupted sleep and inexplicable nausea during the day, especially on the way to school.  It turned out, after a number of physical tests had drawn a blank, to probably be my first major depressive episode with anxiety explaining the nausea, although this was not diagnosed at the time.

One therapist suggested that the depression was so strong that it ‘drowned out’ the anxiety except at certain points when the anxiety was very strong.  That may be true, although I think it may also be the case that the anxiety had been present for so long that I stopped noticing it, at least the morning/Sunday evening type of anxiety, and/or that as far as possible I dealt with the anxiety by avoidance, particularly in the years 2005-2008 or so, when I simply stopped functioning and spent all my time in my bedroom, reading and blogging online and watching Doctor Who, only going out for meetings with psychiatrists or therapists, being too depressed to work.

Sometimes the anxiety shades into pure O OCD, where I go from worrying that I’ll be fired to obsessing that I’m going to do something that would get me fired even though I know it to be wrong and have no conscious intention of doing it.  OCD is classified as an anxiety disorder (although apparently this has recently changed in DSM-V, but not ICD 10), so I guess that isn’t surprising.  At other times the anxiety would catastrophise into despair, where I would stop worrying that something bad would happen and just assume it would happen and feel depressed as if it already had happened, particularly regarding careers, dating and recovery.

***

I was a drama queen on someone’s blog again yesterday.  I wish I didn’t do this.  It was about the coming Yom Tovim (Jewish festivals) and setting targets for growth over them and in the Jewish new year.  I just feel that I can’t cope with any of that right now, that I’ve got a lot of anger and resentment issues with God and I can’t cope with the idea of making him my King (which is what Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) is all about) or asking for forgiveness (Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement)).  I feel, if anything, that He should be asking me to forgive Him for everything that He’s done to me over the last twenty years, but then I feel bad for feeling that.  I’m hopefully speaking to my rabbi mentor on Sunday, but I’m not sure how much of this I will be able to bring up.

***

I just feel tired a lot of the time.  Physically tired and tired of life.  I’ve felt like this on and off for many years.  I just feel that my life is not good, that I don’t enjoy it or have meaning or purpose, or feel that I’m doing anything useful with it.  I feel I have no reason to want to stay alive.

I feel confused too.  I don’t know where my life is going.  I have ideas for what I could do, but I don’t know how feasible they are or whether I would actually enjoy them.  The world frightens me, both on a personal level and, increasingly, on a social/political level.  This doesn’t feel like my world, but I don’t think it ever was.  I don’t know what’s going to happen with me and E. and I’m not sure I really know what I want to happen or what would be sensible.  To be honest, I don’t know what I feel about HaShem (God) either.  It’s easy to say that I hate Him and am angry with Him, but I’m not sure that that’s an accurate picture of what I feel, at least not all the time.  I don’t know if this is alexithymia (difficulty feeling and understanding emotions) again.  It’s hard to know what I feel about HaShem.  I feel strongly that He exists and is omniscient, omnipotent and benevolent.  I’m not doubting in that sense (and I have had times of doubt in the past, so I know what I’m talking about).  But I find it hard to believe that He cares about me and even think that He hates me, which I guess means that I think that I deserve to be hated.

I just wish I could sort out my life somehow, but I’m not sure what a ‘sorted out’ life would look like.

***

Just further to what I wrote here over the last few days, I did a tiny bit of reading on complex PTSD.  I did seem to have quite a few of the symptoms and certainly there was an ongoing situation in my childhood that seems to my unprofessional mind to be potentially traumatic, but in my mind I would not feel confident at all to say I’m a sufferer.  I suppose I feel that I have so many issues that have not been ‘officially’ diagnosed (autism being the big one, as I have had repeated and conflicting diagnoses, but also I was never officially diagnosed with OCD or social anxiety, even though both seem very likely) that I am wary of adding any others, especially as my therapist feels I have a tendency to want to be The Most Mentally Ill Person in the World.  So, I’ll probably shelve that for now, but it is at the back of my mind.

***

I just got back from shopping.  This led to several bad things: the realisation that even walking briskly for five or ten minutes exhausts me; the discovery that there is a supply problem with my antidepressants again, leading me to suspect that they are no longer being produced; and suicidal thoughts.  In just over a week, Jews all over the world are going to be literally praying for their lives, hoping for a good new year, a year of life, and part of me just wants to die.  I do not want to be here any more.  I feel that I’m a disappointment to everyone and that it would be no different if I was never born.  I’m just holding on because a few people care about me, which I don’t understand, but I don’t want to upset them, and because I’m a coward and scared of making a failed suicide attempt and ending up physically damaged, but still alive and depressed.  I don’t feel I have any real hope for the future.  I’ve been depressed for so long now, it’s impossible to believe things can get better.  In fact, I think things will probably get worse.  I just screw everything up.

People tell me I have to stop comparing myself to other people and to learn self-love, but no one tells me how to achieve these things.  I don’t feel I deserve to love myself, I don’t understand how other people could love me, I don’t believe that HaShem loves me and I don’t know how to love myself without becoming even more wicked than I already am, because I’ll just end up ignoring or justifying all the bad things I do.  I don’t know what the way forward from this is.

(I’m not sure how much of the last two paragraphs is true.  It feels true, but it also feels true that there’s part of me that doesn’t want to die, although it’s pretty confused about why, as it’s not much more hopeful for the future.)

Exhausted

I went to bed late last night.  Having stayed late talking to someone at autism group, I came home ‘buzzing’ a bit from a successful social interaction (which of course I was over-analysing and over-intellectualising), but also perhaps over-analysing said interaction.  There was perhaps likewise mixed feelings of excitement and nervousness about my new job (although that getting the news in the morning seemed a long time ago).  I was also hungry, unsurprising as it was 10.00pm by the time I got home and I hadn’t eaten anything other than fruit and a cereal bar since lunch (which admittedly was late).  Then I got very tired, but too tired to get to bed quickly, so I eventually crawled into bed about 2.30am and slept for about eleven hours, waking up at 1.30pm feeling very ‘mentally hungover,’ as I get after draining days, especially those involving socialising.  I ate some cereal and drank a lot of caffeine (coffee for caffeine, tea for more caffeine and to take away the taste of the coffee, which I don’t like very much and only drink when I need to wake up), then a while later had lunch and more tea, but I still felt pretty wiped out, not just exhausted, but even a little faint.  It’s only in the last hour or two that I’ve begun to wake up, just in time for me to need to start winding down, although I have a lot of chores to do (it’s now 9.00pm).  It took over an hour to read and sign the contract I had been sent, although that was partly due to my having problems downloading the online signature app.

When I told my parents I had got the job, I said I would relax a bit over the coming days, whereas they felt I should continue with job applications as the new job will only last a few months.  I see their point, but I do feel that I need to take a few days to relax and also to catch up on some non-work chores, otherwise I’m not going to last long in the new job before burn out.  I’m really bad at doing what I feel to be right when other people have different ideas, but I think I’m probably right here.

***

One of the things I was thinking about last night was what the person I was talking to at autism group said about unconditional self-love.  I find that impossible and I’m not sure how much of that is because I experienced a lot of rejection and bullying growing up and how much is a quasi-religious, feeling that if I love myself I will turn into a selfish person.  The Jewish tradition teaches self-love: the rabbis said that the commandment to love our neighbours as ourselves (which Rabbi Akiva, one of the greatest rabbis of the Talmudic period, said is the fundamental principle of the Torah) implies a commandment to love ourselves.  I guess I struggle partly from my own personal background and partly because the Kotzker Rebbe, who I admire greatly, also struggled with the idea of self-love, which he was pretty opposed to, but maybe I shouldn’t follow him here (he probably had his own issues – he spent the last nineteen years of his life locked in his study and not seeing many people).  Maybe I should read or re-read stuff by or about Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, who also had his own issues, but who taught his Hasidim to find positive points in themselves that they could use to build self-regard[1].  I don’t know.  Certainly I feel that, although I still haven’t done a cheshbon nafesh (review of my actions over the last year) and although I still feel a degree of distance from, and even anger towards, God and Judaism, maybe I should make this my one target to work on in the coming Jewish new year, maybe through CBT.

(Although just looking online for things about Rebbe Nachman I see someone has beaten me to my idea of re-writing some of his Tales as children’s stories, which I thought was a really good, original idea!  Although as there another three books I want to write (the Doctor Who one I’m working on, the one about Doctor Who comics and the fictionalised misery memoir) perhaps that’s not such a huge issue.)

***

Talk of cheshbon nafesh makes me realise that this Jewish year I have not been keeping track of my Jewish reading.  Looking at Goodreads (which measures according to the Gregorian calendar and doesn’t include keep separate records for my box set Mishnah Zeraim books, of which I have read two or three this year), it looks like I have hardly done any religious reading in the last year, although to be fair I’ve done hardly any reading at all lately (twelve books completed so far in 2018 when normally it would be around forty at this stage of the year, albeit including some graphic novels that don’t take long to read, which I have hardly touched this year).  I’m not sure when I finished reading Yechezkel/Ezekiel in Hebrew, but I’ve certainly done hardly any reading of Nakh (the non-Mosaic books of the Hebrew Bible) this year.  I’ve read a couple of volumes of Mishnah and I’ve kept up with reading the Torah portion each week, which should take me through all Five Books of Moses by Simchat Torah.  Still, it feels a bit pathetic, both the lack of religious and secular/fun reading.  I feel that my energy and time are so limited that having a job and working on my blogs (plural now) and my Doctor Who book take a lot of time and energy away from reading, even though reading is really important to me, both in itself and as ‘fuel’ for ideas that I want to write about.  I’m not sure what to do about this.

***

[1] This is not 100% relevant, so I’m putting it in a footnote, but in his academic biography of Rebbe Nachman, Tormented Master, Arthur Green quotes one of Rebbe Nachman’s last homilies:

The main thing is this: It is forbidden to despair!  Even a simple man who cannot study at all, or one who finds himself in a place where he is unable to study, or the like, should in his very simplicity be strong in worship and in the fear of God.  Even at that very moment he is receiving life-giving sustenance from the Torah, through the great simple one, the great zaddiq [saintly person], who has himself undergone that simplicity and therefore can sustain them all.

Even he who stands on the very bottom rung, God forbid, or in the very depths of hell, may God protect us, should nevertheless not despair.  He should fulfil the Scripture: ‘Out of the belly of the deep I cried’ (Jonah 2:3), and be as strong as he can.  Even he will be able to return and receive the Torah’s sustenance, by means of the zaddiq.  The main thing is to strengthen yourself whatever way you can, no matter how far you have fallen.  If you hold on even just the slightest bit, there is yet hope that you will return to God. (Arthur Green Tormented Master: The Life and Spiritual Quest of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav  p. 264)

Green concludes the main section of the biography describing him as “a man who had suffered all the torments of hell in his lifetime, but had refused to give in to ultimate despair.” (p. 265)

Busy Day

Today was a day when a lot seemed to happen, even though I don’t necessarily have much immediately obvious to show for it.

I was woken up by the phone ringing at 10.00am.  It turned out to be the person who interviewed me last week.  I got the job!  It’s for twelve weeks with the possibility of being extended for a few more.  I was told at the interview last week that the job is boring and not something I would want to do as a career, but I’m glad not to be unemployed.  Although I’m nervous about going into a new job and then almost immediately going into the autumn Yom Tovim (Jewish festivals), which are going to disrupt the first month or so.  At least my employer seems to be OK with that.  I’ll be working Monday to Thursday most of the time, so I won’t have to worry about leaving early on Fridays to be home for Shabbat except for the first few weeks when I’m making up Yom Tov time on the Fridays.  The job is ‘data researcher’ which sounds very grand, but I’ll basically be googling people’s contact information on company websites and cutting and pasting into a spreadsheet.  The offices looked really expensive, though, which I guess I found a bit intimidating, coming from the education sector.

Already I’m feeling anxious and telling myself that I won’t be able to do it, that I’ll be too slow, that I’ll get fired (although I would have to do something really bad for them to try and end such a short contract early) and so forth, but I’m glad that I’ve got some money coming in and something else to put on my CV and I feel a bit excited.  I rewarded myself with scrambled eggs on toast for lunch, which I hadn’t had for ages.

***

Yesterday I realised I was making sloppy mistakes in my job applications.  Mostly things like spelling and grammar, things which I’m usually very good at getting right.  I think I mistook a recruitment agency for the law firm I was applying to work at (law librarian), although to be honest their website is not entirely clear on this.  I find it easy to make that mistake when a job is advertised by a recruitment agency without the name of the company they are recruiting for being given.  I don’t know why so many jobs are advertised that way.

I know what it means: it means I don’t want to be job hunting and I probably don’t want to be working in this sector, so my brain is simply refusing to cooperate, the way it does sometimes.  Usually it does this by just shutting down and going into depressed mode.  I suppose, as it was already doing that, and I was trying to push through it, it felt the need to up its game.  I’m not sure what to do about job hunting now.  Obviously this job isn’t going to lead to a career and probably by the end of 2018 I’ll need another new job, so I need to keep looking, but I don’t need to keep applying for every job that looks vaguely doable as I am at the moment.

***

The comment I mentioned in this post led to a blog comment conversation in which I said some stuff I had been thinking for some time without saying: I know I compare myself to other people too much, but I have the impression, which may be completely wrong, that everyone in my shul (synagogue) is basically a tzaddik (saint). OK, not a tzaddik exactly, but that they are all doing exactly what they should be doing and only need to refine their middot (character traits) even more.  Whereas I feel that I have a lot more to do even to get back to where I was the last time the depression was in remission for a long time, let alone to move forwards.

I wonder sometimes what sort of targets people have if they’re FFB (frum from birth i.e. raised religious) or if they’ve been a BT (ba’al teshuva, someone who became religious late in life )or a ger (convert to Judaism) for a long time.  When they do all the ‘basic’ stuff (Shabbos (the Sabbath), kashrut (the dietary laws) etc.) and their goal is just to be even more grateful or patient or generous or whatever.  I guess I mean that I know that we’re all on a never-ending life-long journey, but everyone else seems to me to have arrived, and I haven’t even left yet.

I’ve been mentally ill for as long or longer than I’ve been frum (religious) and certainly longer than I’ve been an adult, so I don’t really know who I am away from mental health issues. Because of that, it’s hard to tell what is the ‘me’ that needs to be worked on and what is just poor mental health.

The person I was communicating with in that exchange opened up about some of the things that challenge her, which was a bit reassuring that even other frum (religious) people have difficulty with fairly basic things, but I still can’t shake the feeling that I should be better at things than I am.  People say I’m a perfectionist, but certainly in my last job my boss was not entirely happy with my work, which suggests to me that I’m not very good in at least some areas.  It’s hard to work out what those areas are though.

I still feel that, even at the age of thirty-five, I don’t know why I’m here on earth, what my unique mission is.  I don’t know what I bring to the table, so to speak, and I don’t know how to find out.  I feel that I’m probably doing the wrong sorts of things without knowing what the right sorts of things would be.  I feel I need to find out soon, as I feel it would take a lot of work to complete my mission and I need to start on it soon, but I don’t know how to find out what to do.  Maybe I’m wrong and I’m already doing it, but that seems unlikely as I don’t seem to be doing much that’s worthwhile.  This is where I end up comparing myself to friends and peers who seem to be doing a lot more than me and/or a lot better than me.

***

I went to autism group in the evening.  I was somewhat quiet at first, even though it was a much smaller group than last time.  I did manage to join in though.  I ended up having a really long conversation with someone.  The group was sitting outside on the terrace at the Barbican.  About 8.00pm, people started to leave, but the two of us were still talking as the light got dimmer and the outside got colder and we eventually relocated inside.  We were talking about autism and mental health issues.  In particular, she felt a lot of people on the spectrum have undiagnosed complex PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) or post-traumatic stress without it being a disorder.  I had never really considered the possibility before, as I associated it purely with war veterans and survivors of abuse.  The part that particularly interested me was the idea of emotional flashbacks, where you experience the emotions of a traumatic time in response to a contemporary trigger without the memories of the original event experienced in other flashbacks.  I think I do experience things like this, although it could just be my awareness of my emotional history from therapy.  Having briefly looked online since getting home, I’m far from convinced that I have some kind of trauma issue, but I think it’s worth looking into further.

We also spoke about unconditional self-love as a way of dealing with trauma or depression and she gave me one or two tips for this.  I was already thinking about going back to the CBT therapist who helped me with my OCD to try to deal with self-esteem and/or social anxiety issues, although a lot will depend on fitting in with work, which is going to be in flux for a while longer.  Still, it was all worth thinking about and it was nice that I was able to talk to a stranger for so long.  It certainly seems like a friendly group, and I would want to keep going (despite the uncertainty over whether I have autism), although juggling autism group, depression group and shiur might prove a challenge, especially while working.

Missing a Plan

I was expecting to be burnt out and oversleep after volunteering yesterday, so I was surprised to wake up and get up before 9.30am.  However,  I turned out to be exhausted in a more subtle way.  I was OK doing basic tasks, but tasks requiring brainpower or needing to force my way through poor motivation (such as applying for jobs I don’t want and don’t think I could get e.g. today’s application for a law librarian post that said that experience of a law firm was essential, which I don’t have) were much harder and I even went back to bed for a bit after lunch.  It’s hard to sound enthusiastic about such jobs.  I did manage to fill in a job application, but as I had to do little for this one other than make slight changes to my CV and template cover letter (I wish all applications were so easy), it doesn’t feel a great achievement – it probably only took me about an hour when I’m aiming to do three hours of ‘work’ on job hunting a day.  Still, I had to save some energy for shopping and cooking as my parents are away.

I was going to post this as a comment on this blog post, but I decided I was drama queening again and only posted a shorter comment, so here is the longer version: I haven’t done a cheshbon nafesh (self-appraisal) yet this year and it’s looking like I might not do one for the first time in twelve years or more.  I failed miserably at last year’s targets.  I’m dreading Yom Tov (Jewish festivals) and I’m not sure how much time I’m going to be in shul (synagogue) for due to depression, social anxiety.

More to the point, I feel really angry with HaShem (God) for the way my life has gone.  I acknowledge that I’ve made some bad choices, but mostly I feel I was set up to fail and even a highly competent person (which I am not) would not succeed with the mental health and other issues I’ve been given from childhood onwards.  I have no simcha shel mitzvah (joy in performing the commandments) and have realised I never really have had any.  I’ve asked rabbis about this and been told that I won’t have any until I’m not depressed (which is scary as I don’t think I’m ever not going to be depressed) or that I should be able to get a bit (which just makes me feel a terrible person for not having any as if I’m deliberately stopping myself enjoying my religious life). I feel like I can’t actually do this any more without getting something back from it, selfish and wicked though that is i.e. I know I should be frum (religious) lishmah (for its own sake), but I’m just not that good a Jew.  I don’t think that most frum people are doing what they do 100% lishmah and not because they enjoy or get satisfaction from Shabbat, Torah study, davening (prayer) etc. at least a bit of the time.  Halakhically, there is nothing wrong with enjoying one’s religious life, quite the reverse.

I don’t feel particularly accepted in the frum world and part of me wonders if I really do want to be accepted there.  So, at the moment I’m basically sulking in my room (having left my job recently) and I worry that I’m going to do that over Yom Tov as well and just not go to shul.  I ask myself why should I apologise to HaShem when surely He has plenty to apologise to me for (making me depressed and lonely all my adult life for starters).  I feel like He hates me and spends all His time trying to make me miserable and I don’t know why.  I feel bad just thinking that let alone typing it, and I wasn’t really conscious of it until I wrote it just now, but I think it’s true (I mean, it’s true that I feel He should apologise, not that I think that an objective observer would say He should apologise. I haven’t gone that far yet).  It’s hard to do a realistic cheshbon nafesh coming from this place, where at least part of me feels unable to take responsibility for my actions, rightly or wrongly.  I know I recently quoted Rabbi Lord Sacks as saying that we can see ourselves as victims or we can take responsibility for our lives and he made it very clear that the latter is better, but I genuinely do not know how I can honestly take responsibility for things that seem to have been largely out of my control.  Nor do I feel able to make positive changes to my life.  I feel zero motivation to actually do mitzvot, except that I know I’ll be hit by guilt if I skip anything or do sins.

An analogy: I’ve put on a lot of weight since being put on clomipramine and it doesn’t seem to bear much relation to what I’m eating.  I’ve tried cutting back, but when I’m this anhedonic (unable to feel pleasure) it’s difficult to stop doing one of the few things I enjoy, to the point where it’s hard to care about my weight or health sometimes.  I haven’t gone completely over-the-top in eating, but I just ate a load of corn chips as a mid-afternoon snack more because it was too hard to resist rather than from real desire and that isn’t something I would have done in the past.  Likewise with my religious life, it’s getting harder and harder to motivate myself to follow those 613 dos and don’ts.  Concentrating on reward and punishment or the meaning of life and Jewish history or what HaShem wants from me is difficult when concentrating on anything is hard and it feels like HaShem is trying to hurt me.   It just seems so pointless to expend so much effort on a religion that I’m not good at and which gives me no satisfaction, joy, sense of community, meaning or purpose.

Rationally, cognitively, intellectually, theologically – whatever you want to call it – when I’m using my intellect, I don’t think that HaShem really hates me.  I’m not sure that He really hates anyone.  But I feel emotionally that He hates me, because He hurts me so much.  I know I’m supposed to assume it will be for the best in the end, but it’s hard to accept that anything good can come of this, particularly as my low self-esteem means I don’t think I’m getting any reward in the next world for everything I’ve suffered here.  Even when I say HaShem doesn’t hate anyone, part of me feels I should make an exception for very evil people like Hitler and then I’m off wondering if maybe I’m that evil.

Coming up to Rosh Hashanah without having done that cheshbon nafesh, I do feel that my life lacks focus and drive.  I’ve never really found my mission in life, the thing that is uniquely me, that I can do indefinitely without becoming depleted and that would make a positive difference to the world.  I thought it might be librarianship for a while, but now that looks unlikely.  Perhaps because of that lack of focus and joy, my relationships (in the broadest sense) and my everyday Jewish practice have to bear a huge burden of providing meaning and satisfaction which perhaps they could never realistically bear.

Well, it took just eight hours for me to start having suicidal thoughts after my parents left on holiday.  I don’t feel seriously suicidal, inasmuch as it’s possible to have non-serious suicidal thoughts.  I just feel that I don’t want to be here and no one would be worse off if I wasn’t here.  The people from my Thursday night shiur (religious class) are having a collection for the assistant rabbi, who gives the shiur, as his wife just had a baby daughter.  This just reinforces my feeling that only people with spouses and children really count in the frum community, even though that isn’t the intention.  Also the suggested donation seemed quite a lot to me, given that I’m unemployed, but I don’t like to ask for special treatment or for financial help from my parents, although I’m sure I would get either if I asked.  I have got an invitation for dinner on second day Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) today, so I’m not feeling totally unwanted, but I do feel on the fringes of the frum community right now.

I feel that there must be some secret to being frum that I’m missing.  I’ve seen people I was at school with who were perhaps not the cleverest or the most academic or the most well-behaved students suddenly become super-frum and, in some cases, get smichah (rabbinic ordination) and I wish I knew what the secret was.  It seems like I was academic and well-behaved enough for me to get on well in the frum world, but somehow it hasn’t worked out like that.  My inability to study Talmud, or even to really want to study it, is a massive liability in a community built around Talmudic study (at least for men) and my social anxiety makes community life in general and daily communal prayer difficult.  And then of course there’s the way that my mental health issues and my ‘weirdness’/geekiness/possible autism make me feel alone and uncomfortable around most frum people and make it hard for me to date, even though marriage is, if not the passport into the frum community, then at least the proof that you are a mature and responsible adult (even if you’re only nineteen).

In Loco Parentis

I had some anxiety about volunteering at the asylum seekers’ drop in centre (held at a shul (synagogue)) today, including anxiety dreams last night.  It went OK in the end, I think.  As with last time, I helped set out donations of second-hand clothes that guests (which is how we refer to the asylum seekers) can take and then helped look after the children’s play area.  The children were more of a handful than last time, partly because I was the only adult looking after them the whole time (a couple of adults came and went and a girl of about ten who was volunteering with her mother also helped; she was pretty mature for her age and was a good helper), partly because they had probably been indoors all weekend because of the weather and really needed to go outside to burn off some energy, but that’s not really possible in the shul hall where it takes place.  They weren’t badly behaved, just a bit boisterous, but as the afternoon went on it grew harder and harder to keep them in the corner of the hall where they were supposed to be playing and to stop them running round the whole hall and disrupting the conversations their parents were having with volunteer lawyers and medics.  At least the experience seems to be helping me to overcome the anxieties I have about being able to look after children without doing anything catastrophically wrong.  I am probably an over-cautious ‘parent,’ as I realised I was saying, “Careful” more than anything else.  That came partly from being conflict-averse and wanting to stop the children doing certain not-good things without actually saying “No” and telling them off, but it was partly from nervousness about what sort of activities were suitable for them; not having had much experience with children, I was really feeling my way through this as the afternoon went on.  I do feel that there should be clearer guidelines about what the adults looking after the children should be doing.  I had particular problems when they needed to go to the toilet, as I didn’t think it was appropriate for me to be alone with them at any point (a sad, but necessary reflection of the times we live in).

My rabbi mentor thinks that I should not be thinking about doing a PhD right now.  I know I probably rely too much on what other people say, but he is the wisest person I know and I always take his advice very seriously.  On the other hand, I have been thinking a lot about PhDs and about antisemitism.  It is a topic that excites me, if not exactly in a good way.  I do tend to have ideas that excite me and then get dropped as Real Life gets in the way or my interest just fizzles out or switches to something else.  It can be hard to tell what will stick long enough to get acted upon.

I currently would like to work on the following projects (given unlimited time, energy and resources):

  1. finishing my book on stylistic change in Doctor Who (second draft nearly finished);
  2. writing children’s stories based on the religious tales of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov;
  3. writing a book on Doctor Who comics;
  4. doing something to engage with and understand the topic of antisemitism, preferably something that can have a useful or practical outcome in terms of either helping Jews understand where antisemitism comes from and not internalise negative messages from it or to proactively challenge antisemitism in the wider world.

I would like to be working on any one of these and, in theory at least, the first three could eventually pay for themselves – in theory!  The reality is that they would probably only pay for themselves partially if at all.  Only the fourth option is one that could be funded in advance by some kind of research grant.  At the moment, the first option is the only one I’m actively working on and it’s probably better not to be working on too many things at once, especially as I realise that these four projects pull me in three or four very different directions (Doctor Who fandom; the frum (religious) Jewish community; academia and the general Jewish community).

A lot of people write on Hevria about the dangers of being a frustrated creative.  I thought I was a frustrated creative, but now I realise I’m a frustrated academic.  I want to analyse and understand existing things and explain them to others rather than create things for others to enjoy directly (it’s worth noting that I see my proposed children’s stories as effectively functioning as child-friendly commentaries to Rebbe Nachman’s stories as much as being original creations of my own).  As for what I analyse and understand, in many ways that’s less important than analysing something.  It could be Doctor Who or Judaism or antisemitism (or myself, on this blog).  But I think I need to be writing something serious and analytical and to feel that what I think matters to someone.

I have a couple of books to read here about antisemitism and am about to buy some more, so maybe that will help firm up my thoughts on the matter.

Well, my parents are off to sunny, er, Liverpool tomorrow for most  of the week, so I’ll have the whole house to myself for the first time in a long time, given that I’ve been living in a converted garage for the last two years.  It’s tempting to say that I’ll do something fun and/or productive, but based on past experience, I’ll probably be depressed and lonely and procrastinate, spending all my energy on necessary chores like cooking and shopping and not on useful things like job applications or working on my Doctor Who book.

The Wrong Path

I was offered the chance to lead Ma’ariv (the evening service) in shul (synagogue) tonight.  In my old shul I used to do that a lot and got a bit of a buzz from it (albeit that I felt guilty about ‘showing off’), but I hadn’t been asked in the three years that I’ve lived in this area.  I assumed everyone had me down as not knowledgeable and/or religious enough, given how little I get to shul because of the depression and social anxiety, so I was surprised to be asked.  However, I panicked and turned it down, which I feel bad about, as I may never get asked again now.  I really need to do something about my social anxiety, as not only did I turn down Ma’ariv today, but I avoided shul this morning because of it.

The shiur (religious class) today during seudah shlishit (the third Shabbat (Sabbath) meal) at shul reinforced my feelings that I’m barely even treading water at the moment regarding Judaism.  The idea was that not only is it important to to the right actions, but one has to be on the right path too.  Otherwise one can end up doing the right thing, but in the wrong place.  I don’t have a clue what path I should be on, or what that would even mean in terms of my life.

A weird thing happened during Ma’ariv.  At one point I just stopped and realised that the top of the letter tzaddi looks like two horns (צ).  This reminded of the Midrash where Aharon (Aaron) is afraid to become High Priest, as the horns of the altar look like the horns of a calf, reminding him of his role in the Golden Calf.  He has to be reassured by Moshe (Moses) that HaShem (God) has forgiven him.  I stopped for about minute (which is quite a long time) thinking about this, unable to go on.  I’m not quite sure what my unconscious was trying to tell me, but I guess it may be related to being asked to lead Ma’ariv.

Weird mind thing number two: this morning I dreamt about the twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) telling me, “Whatever you do, be a Doctor” which may mean that my unconscious wants me to do a PhD.  Or it may mean that I’ve been watching too much Doctor Who (got one full season and one special episode (= thirteen episodes) left of my epic re-watch of all surviving TV Doctor Who from its creation in 1963).  (Also, Clara told the Doctor to “Be a Doctor” and not a warrior when she was killed, but I’m not sure how that fits in.)

Furious

I am furious.  I am so angry about this.  “Zionists” apparently don’t understand history or “English irony”.  I have a BA in Modern History from the University of Oxford; Jeremy Corbyn got two Es at A-Level and did not move into higher education, so I think I know which one of us is more qualified to be doling out history lessons.  And as for the irony… well, the fact that the most humourless man in British politics, a man with all the comic sensitivity of being hit in the face with a plank of wood, is accusing people of lacking a sense of irony is ironic in itself.

But this isn’t a politics blog and I wouldn’t mention this here were it not for the adjective “English,” which, combined with the statement that British Zionists have “having lived in this country for a very long time, probably [emphasis added] all their lives” leads to the suggestion that they possibly haven’t lived here all their lives, or that even if they have lived here all their lives, they still have the whiff of the shtetl about them.  That Jews – and I think the implication has to be that he means Jews, not, say non-Jewish Zionists like Tony Blair – aren’t really English.  That we don’t belong.  And this is the leader of the largest “progressive” party in the country, the man who could easily be Prime Minister in eighteen months if (when) the Brexit negotiations go wrong, using language more usually associated with the far-right.  They don’t belong here.  They haven’t lived here as long as we have.  They don’t understand us.  They aren’t really us.  No wonder he’s been praised by neo-Nazi Nick Griffin and former KKK leader David Duke.

This ends up on a mental health blog because of the emotions this brings up in me.  Remember what I said earlier this week about not fitting in?  Well, now I begin to feel that on an epic scale.  The old feeling that, however long we live somewhere, Jews are never quite accepted.  That we never belong.  As they say, paranoia is when you think everyone is out to get you; Jewish paranoia is when everyone really is out to get you.  I don’t think that’s true, I don’t think all non-Jews are antisemites, but I think a lot more of them are than I thought five years ago.  I feel a bit frightened.  I feel glad that, if things continue getting worse, I can indeed move to Israel (ironically – that word again! – the better Corbyn and Momentum do, the more Jews move from Britain to Israel).  But most of all I feel angry.

Anger is a hard emotion for me to deal with.  Because of stuff that happened in my childhood that I can’t go into here, anger feels dangerous to me.  I admit I get sarcastic with my parents sometimes, particularly when the depression is bad, but when I get really angry, as with my American friend the other week, I stifle it inside myself and burn myself up inside holding on to it.  I run conversations or blog posts or comments that I’ve read or that I want to write in my head over and over, I can’t concentrate, my mind races, I want to EXPLODE with all the stuff in my head.

Not this time.  I feel fairly calm, or I was until I sat down to write this (I’ve got a bit worked up now).  Just coolly, calmly angry and determined that I have to do something to fight the spread of antisemitism in this country and the ‘mission creep’ that lets its spread from legitimate criticism of the State of Israel to dubious anti-Zionism (dubious because why should this one state out of all the dozens in the world involved in some kind of conflict with neighbours be destroyed?  Plus I have yet to see a blueprint for its destruction that wouldn’t end in ethnic cleansing or genocide of its Jewish citizens) and then on to foul antisemitism.

And so, I come again to feeling that I ought to be doing a PhD in history, focusing on some aspect of antisemitism.  Even before I saw the story, I had been thinking earlier today that it might be sensible to buy a couple of the books I wanted on antisemitism and use some of my time, now I’m out of work, to read them, seeing if I can cope with immersing myself in antisemitism and if they spark questions in my mind that might be fruitful for PhD research.  I still don’t know if I have the energy (in terms of depression) or inclination for a PhD, but I really feel that I’ve been given a good shove in that direction.

(Oh, the job interview was OK, but not great.  I should know by Wednesday whether I was chosen.  Thanks, Jeremy Corbyn, for selfishly relegating my main news to a footnote in my own blog.)

Not Fitting In

I was just out shopping and I saw someone I knew from shiur.  I was going to talk to him, but I found myself walking past him and out and hoping he didn’t see (he was doing something on his phone and didn’t seem to notice me).  I hate it when social anxiety makes me do things like this, but I don’t know how to change.  I need to speak to my parents about trying CBT for it.

I was actually thinking a few minutes before this happened that so many of the things that upset me and which I brood and ruminate about boil down to feeling rejected and not good enough.  I feel that I’m not good enough to get married, that I’m too ‘modern’ for my religious community, that I’m too conservative for the Doctor Who fan community, that I don’t fit in to any political party and so people will reject me if they know my political views. Antisemitism seems a very personal rejection, when it shouldn’t do, it’s just morons being morons; Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t know me personally.  When I had a job, I worried that I was not good at it and would get found out.  I worry about how people will react if I tell them about my mental health issues, but in my support groups I still feel different: “too” depressed, “not autistic enough.”  Or perhaps I start to notice other differences, like class and background, always feeling that no one could accept me if they knew the ‘real’ me.  They would always have a reason to hate and reject me.

I constantly feel like I’m hiding my true self and trying to ‘pass’ in different ways in different places.  There isn’t really one place where I really feel I can be myself, except maybe here on my blog, but then again I feel that so few people read this that I’m not sure it really counts as acceptance.

I don’t even know who the ‘real’ me is. There are things about the frum (Orthodox Jewish religious) world that scare me and make me want to leave, but then, when I go to the secular Western world, that’s just as scary and corrupt, if not more so.  So where do I go?  In the USA there’s a bit of middle ground, but there isn’t much vibrant Modern Orthodoxy in the UK, just the middle-aged and largely non-religious United Synagogue.  I don’t know where I go from here.

Sluggish

I was trying to get an earlyish night last night, but then the electricity fused at around midnight and we (my parents and I) spent more than half an hour trying to resolve the problem, without success.  An electrician is here at the moment.  Fortunately, when the house was rewired when we moved in (the old wiring was downright dangerous) the electrician put it on two separate circuits as a safety measure: if one fuses, we at least have lights and power in some of the house.  Hence we have electricity for internet, for now at least.  But as a result, I didn’t get to bed until late yet again.  I’m not sure how late, I think it was around 2.00am.  Certainly after 1.00am.  Then I slept until 11.00am and woke up exhausted again, which even caffeine has not completely helped with.  At times I feel  too depressed and exhausted to keep my eyes open.  It’s 4.15pm and I still haven’t had the energy to daven (pray).  This could be the increased dosage of clomipramine, as it’s sedating.  It’s probably too early to tell whether the increased dosage will make me less depressed.

I’m trying not to think about politics, antisemitism or PhDs, but it’s hard.  Scary stuff just keeps coming up in apparently innocuous places.  I should work, but I feel too exhausted and depressed.

I have a job interview tomorrow.  I’m worried about problems with Shabbat and Yom Tov if I get the job, but also that I will be too depressed tomorrow to perform well at the interview.

It’s the Jewish month of Elul, which means it’s time for introspection (as if I didn’t do that all the time).  I haven’t done a cheshbon nafesh yet.  This may be the first year I don’t do one in twelve years.  Cheshbon nafesh is a sort of ethical and religious self-audit, assessing how you have been as a Jew in the last year.  I’ve been putting it off partly from lack of time, with job hunting and other necessary things, but partly because I’m afraid of what it will show, and afraid I don’t care.  This year I intended to work on my depression and social anxiety, which hasn’t happened.  I intended to daven (pray) with more kavannah (mindfulness), which has maybe happened a tiny, tiny bit, but on the other hand I daven with a minyan (prayer quorum i.e. a community) even less than last year.  And I intended to study one Mishnah a day, which I haven’t done and in fact am doing significantly less Torah study (religious study) than I used to do.

To be honest, I’m worried about the upcoming Yamim Noraim (High Holy Days i.e. Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement).  I don’t feel capable of spending hours in shul (synagogue) and I don’t really want to do it either.  I’m not sure if I feel angry with HaShem (God), but I certainly feel disconnected from Him and from Judaism.  The fact that I have no simcha shel mitzvah (joy in performing the commandments) is really upsetting me and I don’t know if it’s my fault or a product of the depression or what to do about it.  One rabbi said it’s the depression and there’s nothing I can do until I get better, which I don’t really see ever happening; another said I should at least have a bit of simcha, which just makes me feel that I’m a bad Jew and it’s all my fault.  I feel resentful of the fact that, until recently at least, I was trying for years – decades – to be a good Jew despite feeling terrible and having depleted energy levels and I have nothing to show for it except the feeling that I’m a bad Jew and it’s possible all my fault, but even if it’s not, then HaShem obviously hates me and doesn’t want my mitzvot.  The fact that I feel completely disconnected from my community, and the fact that it looks like I’ll never get married and have children (which is a key part of being accepted in a frum community as well as something I want for myself) just makes things worse.  I genuinely feel that it is at least likely that HaShem views me as wicked and hates me.

It’s a struggle to daven or to study Torah with this mindset or to do mitzvot.  I’ve been slipping with my mitzvah performance a little, mostly in minor things, like following lenient views on certain matters that I wouldn’t have done previously.   I worry that soon I will move on to bigger things, though.

Burnt Out

Today was a bit of a wasted day.  OK, not totally wasted.  I was at least not very emotionally depressed today, even if I was still suffering from exhaustion and poor motivation.

I slept late again (having stayed up later than I wanted watching Doctor Who for my book.  I should really have just gone to bed as I was very tired).  I felt burnt out all day.  I spent two or three hours making a spreadsheet of all the jobs I can apply for.  It was helpful, as I can now instantly compare job title, salary, closing dates and more to decide which job to apply for next and which to leave (temporarily or permanently), but it took much longer than I expected.

It didn’t help that I procrastinate too much and spend time idly internet browsing, which I suppose is a sign of lack of interest or enthusiasm in job hunting.  I got caught up in the ends of yesterday’s Doctor Who identity politics hooha (or should that be Whoha?) and another online argument today and again these bled in to my feelings about antisemitism and the left.  (According to the Labour Party, Jamaican-style jerk rice is unbelievably racist and offensive, but Holocaust denial, Protocols of the Elders of Zion-style antisemitic conspiracy theories, blood libels and being friends with terrorists who target Jewish civilians aren’t.)

Ugh, I can feel myself getting sucked back into politics.  These days I hate politics.  I dislike all the political parties in the UK and don’t feel represented by any of them.  But the whole Labour antisemitism thing has taken me by surprise.  It’s been ticking over since Jeremy Corbyn became leader in 2015 and I’ve known about it and been intermittently angry, upset and worried about it, but suddenly in the last week or two it’s really got hold of me and I’ve been looking at websites that deal with Israel, antisemitism and the left, something I usually only do when there’s a specific scandal or flare up of Middle East violence.  I’m not sure which came first, though, that or the thought of doing a PhD that deals with antisemitism in some way, but they do seem to go together.

The first thing I had published semi-professionally on the internet (semi-professionally in that it was for a commercial website, but I didn’t get paid for it) was on antisemitism and anti-Zionism (when the latter turns into the former) and I’ve read quite a bit about it over the years and thought about it a lot.  I suppose I want to understand it, but I’m worried that part of me thinks that if only I could understand it, I could do something to stop it or persuade people to think differently, but I don’t think that life is that easy and I’m not at all sure that it’s sensible to do a PhD with that kind of expectation.

Today I also posted a review on my Doctor Who blog, which I have neglected of late, and I tweeted for the first time to try to raise its profile.  I think it may take me a while to get the hang of Twitter, though, and I still have to be sure I don’t get sucked into more procrastination and more depressing politics and antisemitism.  Twitter seems to be the general clearing house for abuse and hurtful speech of all kinds (religious, political, cultural) and even people I know and like as nice and good people away from Twitter give in to their angrier side on Twitter, in retweets and likes, if not in tweets, particularly about politics (Trump and Brexit as well as Corbyn).

I’m beginning to wonder if it’s worth being on it just to raise the profile of my blog, particularly as I’m not sure that I’m able to do that effectively anyway.  Maybe I should just buy a book on SEO?  To go with some more books on antisemitism (I already have a couple) to see if they spark any ideas?  (I’ve catalogued this book and wanted to read it for years, but I’ve never got around to it, partly because it’s depressing and partly because I read a lot on public transport and it weighs about as much as a brick.  Also this book, this one and a few others.)

Twitterings, Thoughts and Theses

Today has been a rather better day than recently (actually, although yesterday was hard, the evening was good: my sister and brother-in-law came over and I told everyone about my New York trip and showed them my photos).

The bad news first (to get it out of the way): I spent three hours filling in an online application only for me to lose the whole thing when the internet crashed, as it periodically does on my laptop for reasons unknown.  I was actually trying to save it at the time, because I got worried that the internet would crash and I would lose it.  Which it promptly did.  I don’t know whether to apply again, as it was a long-shot application and I’m not convinced I would be any good at it, or enjoy it, if I somehow got the job.

Also, today was a bad day to chose to set up a Twitter account to promote my new Doctor Who blog as there was a big argument in the Doctor Who online community about racism.  Doctor Who fans can be very ‘right on’ and also very argumentative and dogmatic, weirdly, for fans of a programme that is supposed to be about tolerance and open-mindedness.  In the context of the ongoing argument about antisemitism in the Labour Party, this made me wonder why people who are (rightly) so aware of most types of prejudice can be so blind about antisemitism in their ranks.  The fact that argument had spiralled out of something in the latest Doctor Who Magazine and rapidly turned into people telling two half-Chinese journalists who edit it that they should be offended by, and not enjoy, a particular episode from the seventies that treated the Chinese in a way which now seems racist, even though these journalists enjoyed anyway just reminded me of the way Jews get told by certain non-Jews to be offended by some things and not offended by others, which doesn’t necessarily correlate with what I actually find offensive and antisemitic.

This all reignited the thoughts about whether I should do a PhD in the history of antisemitism and then move into some kind of career involving researching antisemitism to fight it, an idea I have been toying with (in a “someone should do that” sort of way) for years without ever thinking I would seriously act on it… more on this later.

I didn’t realise how aggressively Twitter markets other people to you, though.  I haven’t been on Facebook for years, so I wasn’t expecting to see every single thing that the people I follow do turn up on my timeline.  And I’m only following four people at the moment!  (Strictly speaking only one is a person, the others are groups or organisations.)  I’m going to have to be careful with this, it’s going to be easy to get sucked in, both into procrastination and into arguments.  Bear in mind my political views in particular can be idiosyncratic so no one agrees with me.

With all that out of the way, the good news: I managed to get an appointment with a doctor this morning.  My usual doctor is away, but I saw another one.  He was very understanding, increased the dosage of my antidepressants and referred me to an NHS psychiatrist.  He also booked me in with an appointment with my usual doctor later in the week to keep him in the loop.  He booked me in directly, so I didn’t need to go back to the receptionists.  It also looks like the larger dosage tablets of clomipramine are back in stock at the pharmacists, so I should be able to reduce the number of tablets I take while increasing the dosage I take.

I also got a job interview!  The Jewish careers advice service where I saw the careers advisor last week had sent my CV out to some places and one is interested.  It’s only short-term (eight to sixteen weeks, depending on whether they decide to employ one person or two) with the possibility of being flexible with hours.  It’s billed as research, but it looks mainly like searching names and contact details on company websites and inputting them into a database.  At least it’s a start.  The date of the interview hasn’t been set yet.

That said, I was feeling strongly today that I need to do something academic-ish.  I felt in the past that academic librarianship would be that thing, but I’m increasingly unsure.  The CBT therapist I saw for the OCD was not convinced that it was intellectually-stimulating enough for me and she may have been right.  Certainly cataloguing doesn’t involve as much reading as I’d hoped!  And working in libraries for the last couple of years has made me itch a bit to something that involves more abstract thought and writing.

So, I’ve been kicking around thesis ideas again.  To summarise my thinking so far, I looked at all the areas I’m interested in and tried to see what might work.  A cultural studies thesis on Doctor Who or science fiction?  Not sure it’s really considered rigorous enough to open the doors I want and certainly I would feel a bit silly spending years on end writing about Doctor Who, much as I would probably enjoy it.  Plus, I’m not into the jargon and postmodernist theory that accompanies so much of the field.  Jewish stuff?  My language skills aren’t good enough for Tanakh (Bible) or the teachings of the Kotzker Rebbe and I don’t have the grounding in general philosophy for a PhD on Jewish philosophy.  I’m not sure that I feel any great affinity for any general historical topic at the moment and my gut tells me that the main topic in Jewish history that I feel I could write about is antisemitism.  I think I have some things I could say here, but it’s hard to know if I’ve got anything substantial and new to say or anything that could be said at thesis length or how I would go about researching it or if I have the right language skills, or, or, or, or…  I don’t know.  It’s scary and I don’t know who to talk to about it and I still don’t know if I’m willing/able to do a thesis.  But I do think something about antisemitism, either historical or contemporary, and probably focusing on antisemitism, perhaps on Israel and the political left or maybe a more general thesis on the image of the Jew in wider culture and how this informs political and philosophical debate on Israel and Judaism in Western society… despite decades of secularism, I think a lot of Westerners, even militantly secular ones, view Jews through the spectacles of Christianity, which is hugely problematic (the former Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, once called Richard Dawkins a “Christian atheist” in a debate; Dawkins was apparently not amused, but his view of Judaism does seem to be unconsciously filtered through centuries of Christian anti-Jewish polemic).

So unfortunately I spent a lot of the day thinking about antisemitism, and about the ongoing hooha in Doctor Who fandom, and how the two are linked, conceptually, if not directly.

In other news, more evidence of my being tuned to a different wavelength to other people: I suddenly stopped dead in the street while walking home to watch some ants (but there were a lot of them, probably a whole nest), which maybe isn’t so normal.  Then when I got home watched Dad unloading the dishwasher and it was genuinely not until he had about three plates left that what he was doing registered in my head and I realised I should help (to be fair, I had just put the washing on the line, so I did some housework).  Then I couldn’t concentrate on job hunting because I was really pleased with a joke I came up with and kept replaying it in my head (someone on Twitter was posting about portraits of American Presidents and I wanted to say that you can tell that Nixon’s a portrait is good because of the way the lies follow you around the room).  I need to find some kind of way to live in this world like a normal person. (I’m normal, it’s everyone else who is weird.)

One last good thing: I put up posters of Doctors one through twelve (plus the Valeyard and the War Doctor) in my room a few weeks ago and now, thanks to the latest Doctor Who Magazine I’ve got the incoming thirteenth Doctor up too.  It’s silly, but having her picture on the back of my door makes me feel more optimistic about the thirteenth Doctor and the upcoming episodes.  (I was worried I wouldn’t like the new series.  Doctor Who fans do this a lot.  I have hardly ever gone into a new series without at least a bit of worry that it wouldn’t be as good as it used to be.)

“How Are You Going to WIN?”

“Rule one of dying: don’t. Rule two: slow down. You’ve got the rest of your life. The faster you think, the slower it will pass. Concentrate. Assume you’re going to survive. Always assume that. Imagine you’ve already survived. There’s a storeroom in your mind. Lock the door and think. This is my storeroom. I always imagine that I’m back in my TARDIS, showing off. Telling you how I escaped—making you laugh. That’s what I’m doing right now. I am falling, Clara. I’m dying. And I’m going to explain to you how I survived. Can’t wait to hear what I say. I’m nothing without an audience.” – Doctor Who: Heaven Sent by Steven Moffat

So, there’s this time traveller.  And on the worst day of his life, when he’s lost everything he cares about, he finds himself in a clockwork castle inhabited by his worst nightmare, his own bespoke prison, designed to extract his deepest secrets.  And the only way out is to get through a twenty foot thick wall four hundred times harder than diamond.  And the only way to do that is to punch it repeatedly – billions and billions of times – until it cracks open, each time effectively reincarnating himself whenever he gets killed, horribly and in agony, killed by his nightmare.  Only he comes back without his memory of what’s going on and has to go through the whole process of discovery again to realise that he has to punch the wall again for a bit and die and come back again and punch it some more and die and come back and punch it even more, until eventually after four and half billion years (4,500,000,000 years) he punches through it and out (and then his problems have only just begun, but that’s a story for another time).

Doctor Who: Heaven Sent is supposed to be about grief, but I’ve found it a metaphor for depression, particularly treatment-resistant depression.   By the end of each loop of the story, at the point where he’s in emotional and physical agony, when he can suddenly remember all the times he’s been through this already and knows how much he’s going to have to go through it again, the Doctor wants to give up.  He just wants to die.  But he doesn’t.  Because that’s the most basic fact about the Doctor.  He is never cruel or cowardly, he never gives up and he never gives in.

“I can’t keep doing this, Clara. I can’t! Why’s it always me? Why is it never anybody else’s turn?  Can’t I just lose? Just this once? “

I don’t know how he doesn’t give up.  I feel like I’m running round my own clockwork castle, alone, chased by my own worst nightmare.  And it always catches up with me sooner or later and it always kills me, but somehow I get the strength to send myself through that teleporter again and reincarnate myself for another day.  Just one more day.  But I don’t know how to get through to the other side.  Maybe it will take billions of years?  But I’m not a Time Lord and I can’t live forever.  It’s just a constant struggle getting through the day without hurting myself (I’m having thoughts of suicide and self-harm again).  It’s exhausting, but it’s hard to get people to understand that.  People think I can push myself so much harder, but the reality is that I face a constant battle just to stand in the same place.

I didn’t intend to apply for a job after my surgery yesterday, but I ended up doing so, except that the process was so long (and, to be fair, I procrastinated so much over it initially), that I didn’t get it finished, especially as I needed to cook dinner (and walk to the shops for ingredients which it turned out were in a cupboard and not the fridge as I thought – I haven’t got used to my mother’s kitchen again).  I only did five minutes of Torah study too.  At least I made a good start on the application.  I stayed up late working on it and doing essential (and inessential) shopping, mainly shoes, which I hate buying (I can’t think of any other item of clothing which you buy knowing it won’t quite fit and hoping it will be OK once you’re “worn it in” and softened it up).  Of course, today I feel depressed and can’t get going again.

I’ve finished that job application today, although I worry that I’m unconsciously self-sabotaging, telling myself I don’t have the relevant skills and not answering the questions as well as I might.  I certainly find it hard to tailor my CV, cover letter or application form to the job in question, rather than just handing in a standard CV.

I found out today that I didn’t get called to interview for the job I applied for a couple of weeks ago at a London university library, for a position similar to my last job, even though I was over-qualified for, at least in terms of job title (library assistant instead of assistant librarian – the difference sounds trivial, but it masks very big differences in training and responsibility).  That was the only job so far that I really wanted (the one I applied for today is a tentative second, although I think I’m under-qualified for that one).

My parents want me to apply for this job, researching kosher food products for the London Bet Din (rabbinical court).  I’m reluctant to do so.  Apart from the fact that I’m probably overqualified and would get bored, which may have been part of the problem with my old job, and that I suspect the pay won’t be great, I fear it would trigger my religious OCD even worse than before: not only would I risk treifing up my kitchen, I would risk treifing up thousands of kitchens!  I don’t need that kind of responsibility.  The fact that they want someone who has studied at yeshiva or seminary doesn’t help either.

It often happens that my parents want me to do something and I feel it would be a really bad idea and then I end up doubting myself because I can’t work out if they don’t understand me or I’m being influenced by my mental health issues.  Sometimes I do what they say and it goes wrong as I predicted, not that that has led to anyone trusting me in the future.  My parents don’t always get my mental health issues and underestimate how much they affect me, but then sometimes I genuinely am blinded to reality by them.

E. messaged me late at night saying I’m a good person and shouldn’t beat myself up (I assume that was based on yesterday’s post).  I don’t feel like a good person, though.  I don’t feel like a competent person either.

I had the weird idea to email the agony aunt who writes the Teen Q&A section on Aish.com (Jewish website).  I’m hardly a teen, but my problems did start when I was a teen, but the main reason is she seems to give good advice.  I wanted to ask not so much about practical things (like changing my therapist), but whether God loves me, what should I do about having no simcha shel mitzvah (joy in performing the commandments) and how I can fit into the frum (religious) community?  It might be helpful to have a perspective from someone who hasn’t known me for years and isn’t so close to things.  But then I think this is just drama queening again, like when I comment on Hevria.com, and why would a complete stranger understand me better than my family, friends, rabbi mentor, therapist I’ve been seeing for six years etc.?  I often think about reaching out to people I don’t know personally to try to talk through things.  It’s rarely a good idea, as it usually just leads to me drama queening on their blogs in the hope of getting sympathy, which I don’t usually get and which I feel bad for asking for when I do get it.

The saga of trying to get a doctor’s appointment continues: last week I was told to phone back at 6.30pm today.  I did that, only to find that the surgery had shut (I was sure they had a late night opening on Mondays, so maybe they just switch off the phones).  The automated system didn’t have any appointments at all with my usual doctor, nor were there any on the online booking system.  I could try to get an appointment with a different doctor, but it’s so hard to find a doctor who understands me that I’m reluctant to do so at this stage.  I will try to get up early tomorrow morning and make an appointment, and tell them I’m suicidal if they refuse.  The problem with playing the suicide card (aside from them getting tired of it, as it’s not the first time it’s happened – it’s not my fault that suicidality is something I live with on an ongoing basis) is that they can then respond that if I’m suicidal I should phone the crisis team or go to A&E.  In the past I’ve been pushed back and forth between the GP’s surgery and the crisis team (who are literally worse than useless – they actually make me want to kill myself even more.  They won’t help you unless you are literally about to kill yourself; when I told them I had wanted to kill myself the previous day, they said they couldn’t help me).

Thoughts for the Day (Depression, PhD, Job Hunting, Sexual Frustration)

I had minor surgery (local anaesthetic) this morning.  It went OK, but I shook a bit.  I didn’t even notice I was doing it, the nurse pointed it out to me.  My shoulder hurts where the incision was, but I’m otherwise OK.  I’m annoyed that I have to go to the nurse at the GP’s surgery next week to have the stitches removed though, as last time I had a similar procedure they used stitches that dissolved (they used those here for internal stitching).  The problem is less the hassle of going (it’s not like I’m taking time off work) and more the difficulty of now having to make two appointments at a surgery that does its best to stop you making even one!

I’ve been encouraged to google think tanks and see if any of them want researchers.  I googled The Institute for Jewish Policy Research, but pretty much everyone who works there has a PhD, which makes me think I’m not suitable.  Years ago the Community Security Trust, the charity that monitors antisemitism in the UK and provides training and education for Jewish organisations (schools, synagogues, charities) to provide voluntary security (because the police admit they haven’t got the resources to keep the Jewish community safe from violence.  Seriously.  And the Corbynistas say Jews invent antisemitism) was looking for a researcher.  I can’t remember why I didn’t apply for the job at the time.  I was probably working on my MA at the time and I didn’t think I would want to go into research, but I would apply for it now, although it would be the most depressing job in the world.  Around the same time the former Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks was looking for a researcher.  I probably didn’t apply for that one either because of my MA and doubts about my Hebrew reading abilities (not to mention my Aramaic), but, again, I would apply now if it came up.  It would pretty much be my dream job right now, actually.

I’m still wondering if I should do a PhD and if so what in.  I need to find something (1) that interests me, (2) that I have the right skill set to work on, (3) that is worthwhile and meaningful, (4) that doesn’t mean I have to sign up to political/critical perspectives that I find problematic and (5) preferably isn’t really depressing (antisemitism again) and right now I can’t really think of anything.

Still job hunting.  I hate the jargon the adverts are written in.  I’m a big fan of George Orwell, not so much the novels as the essays, and articles like Politics and the English Language have made me suspicious of people who can’t speak in plain English, be they humanities professors, political activists or big companies (or, I suppose, some Orthodox Jews, who speak Yeshivish). I have no idea what phrases like “Consolidates business requirements” and “Inputs into overall content strategy” actually mean and suspect they don’t mean anything.  I’m also irritated by online application forms that ask for CV and then ask you to manually re-enter a load of information already on your CV (employment history, qualifications etc.), only in lots of little boxes, so you can’t copy and paste.

One job advertised for a temporary librarian until October (starting in July, so either I missed their advert until now or they haven’t been advertising well), hours 8.30am – 6.00pm which seems excessive even for someone who isn’t depressed.

I was thinking today about my energy levels.  I was beating myself up for having procrastinated and not achieved much today (surgery, half an application and a trip to the shops to buy ingredients I hope to cook for dinner, but I’m running out of time).  But if I think of myself like a computer, with free memory being analogous to energy levels, then for me running a basic ‘program’ like ‘write job application’ or ‘walk to shops’ takes vastly more ‘memory’ (energy) than it does for other people or even for myself when not so depressed.  Plus I have several programs working in the background, such as ‘don’t kill/hurt self’ and ‘don’t go back to bed,’ programs that take up a lot of memory (energy) all the time and which non-mentally ill people (or even not so mentally ill people) don’t have to run at all.  Seriously, people don’t realise how tiring not hurting yourself can be.

I probably do beat myself up for things that I shouldn’t.  I’m surely not the only frum (religious) Jewish male, certainly not the only single frum Jewish male in his thirties, to have sexual thoughts, even towards people who I shouldn’t (married women, nineteen year olds), but I beat myself up endlessly about them.  I worry that if I don’t beat myself up I will end up as a rapist or an adulterer or something, I suppose.  It’s very difficult not to have any legitimate outlet for sexual release long-term.  Because however one tries to deal with one’s feelings one ends up doing something forbidden, even if it’s just hirhurim (fantasies), which just adds to my guilt.  I’d like to know how other people cope, but (a) the number of single frum men my age is vanishingly small and (b) such things are not talked about.  There’s a parable in the Talmud which is too long to go into in detail here, but the gist of it is that the sages captured the drive for sexual excess, but they were warned by a prophet not to kill it, because that would destroy the world, because sexuality is a natural and healthy part of the world.  So they tried it reduce it to half its size to limit it to marriage, but “no half things are granted by Heaven.”  Sexuality is a blessing and there are no half blessings.  If you are going to be attracted to any women (including your wife, if you ever have one, however unlikely that seems), you are going to be attracted to married women and younger women.  It is up to you to police your behaviour and avoid turning into another Harvey Weinstein.  But it seems unfair to have to worry about this without even a legitimate outlet for my sexuality (marriage).  I often wish I was asexual.  As I don’t think I will ever be able to marry and have children, being asexual would make my life a lot easier and would dramatically reduce my negative emotions (depression, despair, anxiety, loneliness, guilt etc.).

I Skyped E. today.  She’s worried about me.  She wants me to try a new psychiatrist or new meds or ECT.  I feel guilty for saying that I’m not sure there is anything I can do.  I’m not sure I can even get referred back to a psychiatrist, although I will try.  At the moment I can’t even get an appointment with my GP.  Beyond this, I feel that although I say I want people to care about me, at the moment I just want to retreat to my man-cave, so I feel like a hypocrite.  To be fair, it’s less misanthropy and more that I don’t have the energy for social interaction (particularly one as confusing as E. and me) and that I’m terrified of angering people because I’m aware that I sound so irritable so much of the time.  Which of course just angers people.

Welcome to Elul

I didn’t intend to post today, because I have to be up early tomorrow, but as I slept too much over Shabbat again (couldn’t sleep last night, then once I did sleep I didn’t wake up until midday, then slept for another three hours in the afternoon), I’m not likely to fall asleep any time soon and I’m probably better off venting than carrying stuff around in my head, which was probably why I couldn’t sleep last night.

I had a weird moment at dinner when my parents were asking my questions about my holiday and I was getting annoyed because I was sure they knew the answers, but then I realised I hadn’t told them.  I don’t know if that was an autistic lack of theory of mind moment and I couldn’t comprehend that they didn’t know something I did or a (depressive?) poor memory moment were I genuinely forgot that I hadn’t told them.  It didn’t help that my Dad was asking a lot of open “what was your holiday like?” questions which I always struggle to answer any more coherently than “good,” although worse still are the “tell me about your holiday?” questions which I struggle to answer at all in any way other than “what do you want to know?” because I have no way of processing that much data in such a vague and unstructured way.  Ask me “what did you do on Tuesday?” or “did you enjoy Ellis Island?” and I can answer, but not something that open.  I don’t know if that’s an autistic thing or what.

It’s Elul,the month of the Jewish calendar when we prepare for the festivals in the next month, particularly Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement).  Jews believe that on these days our lives for the coming year are planned out, dependent on whether we repent from the sins of the previous year.  The shiur (religious class) at shul (synagogue) during seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal) today was on this theme, about this being a time of favour from HaShem (God) where He is eager to help us change for the better and waiting to shower blessings on us.  And I just sat there thinking, who am I kidding?  Why am I even going to bother going to shul on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?  Every year I go through this charade of trying to fight the depression and social anxiety to get to shul at least for a little bit and of trying to introspect and improve and I never change and my life stays awful.  HaShem hates me, He has good reason to hate me, I’m a terrible person and an especially terrible Jew.  When I went to a shul where most people were not frum (religious), at least I could feel that I was frum and that I had a role in the community doing things like leading services and giving drashot (religious talks), but here everyone is a tzaddik (saint) and a talmid chacham (great Torah scholar), or at least that’s how it seems.  I’m probably the least frum person in the kehillah (community).

I just feel that HaShem is constantly plotting ways to hurt me, with good reason.  If something goes well for me for a short while, it’s only so that it will hurt more when it is taken away from me.  The best thing that happened this year was dating E., but that was only so that when she broke up with me, I would know there was no hope for me in the future, because I’m pretty sure that she’s my bashert (soulmate) and as we can’t marry, there’s no chance of my marrying anyone else.  Likewise, I enjoyed going to New York, or at least some of it, but since I’ve been back I’ve been in deep depression.  I feel I made a huge mistake in leaving my job and I can’t imagine that HaShem has any good at all planned for me in the coming year.  I feel so angry with Him, but it’s pointless because He’s right and I deserve to be treated like sh!t because I am sh!t.  I would pray to be written in the Book of Death this year (the idea is that there are two books, the Book of Life and the Book of Death, and on Rosh Hashanah you are written in one for the new year and then sealed into it on Yom Kippur), but I suspect I have been written in it for many years, because the books are for spiritual life and death, not physical life and death and I think I’ve been spiritually dead for years – I don’t do mitzvot or study Torah or anything.

The other thing on my mind is that I need to be careful where I comment online at the moment.  I should probably steer clear of Hevria for a bit, partly because there are a lot Elul posts that tend to prompt me to write comments about how awful my life is, but mostly because I’ve realised that I’m still absolutely furious with one of the writers over how he treated me around my holiday and some of what he writes about (can’t go into detail without falling into lashon hara (malicious talk) territory, but I basically think he comes across as pretentious and self-righteous and has been doing that consistently for a couple of years now and I’m sick of giving him the benefit of the doubt).  There’s another blog I used to love, but the author got married last year and whenever she writes that HaShem (God) has someone for everyone, that everyone will get married eventually, I just want to scream, but I’m scared of saying the wrong as she also lost her mother last year and I don’t want to upset here or get into competitive victimhood.  To be honest, I’m pretty irritable in real life at the moment too; even when I’m not consciously angry, my depression makes everything come out sounding grumpy.  I feel I should lock myself away in my room and avoid people, but that’s not really possible now I live with my parents again.

Stopped

I’ve just stopped.  My brain has just shut down.  I can’t apply for jobs.  I try thinking about PhD ideas, but nothing comes, or nothing substantial enough.  I have vague ideas about writing something on television science fiction or the novels Philip K. Dick or antisemitism and the way it tries, often successfully, to dictate the terms on which Jewish identity is founded… but I can’t get anything right and I don’t really want to do a thesis using identity politics (which I find politically problematic) or antisemitism (interesting and worthwhile, but really depressing and triggering), even though it is tempting to learn identity politics antisemites’ tricks to use them against them ( a Jewdo throw?).

I’ve just… stopped.  I can’t actually do anything.  I don’t know what to do with my life.  Lately I’ve been prone not just to sleeping late, but to dozing off during the day.  I put it down to jet lag initially, but now I’m not sure.  It’s like my brain is just switching off and not cooperating any more.  I have ideas for things, but then the depression sets in and I can’t follow through.  I worry that people are growing tired with me.  It’s hard to convince people how bad I feel sometimes.  I wish I could just follow through on something.  I guess I’ve nearly finished the second draft of the Doctor Who book I’m working on, but I dismiss that and say the other books I want to write that I’ve thought of since would be better if I could work on them instead, but I’m too depressed and I want to work on one thing at a time.

I’ve made a couple of attempts at getting an appointment with my doctor today, but it’s difficult.  I was told either to wait four weeks or to phone on Monday afternoon to try to get a 48-hour appointment for Thursday (which is actually over 48 hours after Monday afternoon, but I’ll let that go for now).  The surgery seems to deliberately make it hard for people to make an appointment, possibly in the hope that patients will naturally recover or drop dead before getting to the appointment; either way they don’t have to worry about numbers on the waiting list.  It’s pretty much impossible to get an appointment for a non-emergency, non-routine matter i.e. something urgent enough that I want to be seen in the next week, but not urgent enough to require hospitalisation.  I feel I need to be seen as I can barely function and want to discuss if I can be referred back to a psychiatrist, but who knows what the NHS bureaucracy will think?

In other bureaucracy news, I’m chasing a non-trivial sum of money my shul (synagogue) owes me (they changed the way they charge membership fees, which meant I paid twice) that should have been paid back to me about six months ago.  I don’t really have the energy to do this kind of thing.

I applied for a job as a proof-reader at a cosmetics internet start up.  I almost certainly won’t get past the first hurdle, as they specified that they wanted someone with three years of work experience proof-reading, but I tried on a day when I didn’t feel that I could do anything.  I also revised my CV and cover letter templates in line with advice from the careers advisor I saw on Tuesday.  So I guess I’ve achieved something today,  however small.

Update and New York Holiday II

I was sent a test to do for a job application earlier in the week.  I’ve been trying to do it the last two days, but I had to give up today, partly from depression and genuine difficulties in working out how to fill it in, but also due to technical problems with pasting images into the form as was required.

I feel terrible, despairing, exhausted, lacking motivation, self-critical…  I am seriously considering asking for a referral back to a psychiatrist, because I can’t go on like this, having a mixture of somewhat subpar weeks, where I can do some work/job applications, but feel miserable and other weeks where I feel too terrible to do anything and no ‘good’ times at all.

I’m struggling living with my parents too.  It’s partly my fault.  I admit that I’m not the easiest person to live with at the best of times and the depression tends to knock the positivity and gratefulness out of my voice.  I could make “I love you” sound like an insult at the moment.  But I guess they do have quirks and traits that I need to find a way to tolerate and live with or this is not going to work.

On to something less negative: the rest of my holiday.

Thursday 9 August

I woke up quite anxious and extremely depressed.  I lay in bed a while feeling awful.  E. messaged and we text-chatted for a bit which helped somewhat, as did eating breakfast.  I packed quickly and checked out only fifteen minutes late, which was quite good considering.

I had booked a 1.00pm tour at The Tenement Museum, but I dramatically over-estimated the time needed and ended up an hour early, so I found a park to eat lunch in.  I felt quite depressed again.  The old feeling of never being good enough to get my life together, to get a full-time job, meet my religious obligations, get married and have children… I decided around this point to go back to the CBT therapist I saw about the OCD to see if she can help with my social anxiety in the hope that that will have a knock-on effect on my confidence and depression (not to mention ability to make friends, feel comfortable at shul (synagogue) and date).  E. says I’m off-puttingly negative, which is true, but I don’t know how to change that when negativity seems a logical response to my life and how the world treats me.  Rabbi Lord Sacks’ Torah email this week said that we can choose to be victims living in the past or we can build a better future.  I’m stuck in the former and I don’t know how to change to the latter.  People urge me to change in this and other areas without giving me the tools to do so, then they blame me or get angry with me when I don’t know how to change.

Since coming to New York City I’ve been thinking, as I have done in the past, about what would have happened if my ancestors had gone to New York instead of London.  It would be easier to find geeky and modern frum (religious) people like me if I grew up in New York.  However, if I grew up in the US, I would probably not have gone to a Jewish school, so I could well have ended up an atheist anti-Zionist religion-hater, which would make finding like-minded Jews moot.  (Although such a person would still find it easier to make friends and find a partner.)  I guess this is being trapped in the past again, but I don’t know how to move on.

I had some trouble getting a taxi to take me to Brooklyn, where I’m spending the next few days, but I got one in the end.  It was expensive, but probably easier than carrying luggage on the Subway by myself.

After getting my stuff to Brooklyn, I went back to Manhattan to see a friend I hadn’t seen in fourteen years, since university.  We had a very enjoyable evening and I even fought social anxiety to talk to two strangers, his wife and one of their friends and I read my friend’s toddler son a story.  However, I was torn between my kashrut OCD pulling me one way and social anxiety pulling me the other and trying not to give in to either.  I hope I did the right thing, but in such a situation, with no time to think and no one to turn to for advice, it can be hard even to identify what the right thing is.

The journey home was not good.  Various things went wrong, including getting lost in the dark (one of my big fears for the holiday), but I will pass over these and try to be less negative.  I didn’t get mugged, which was good, and my friends generously insisted on my taking a lot of leftover food for my Shabbat (Sabbath) as well as directing me to a nearby kosher supermarket open late so I could do my shopping tonight and not waste Friday.

Friday 10 August

E. and I wandered around Crown Heights together.  It did seem pretty gentrified and not like its old reputation as a place of drug addicts and gangs.  We had a really good pizza at a restaurant apparently owned, judging by the chalk slogans on the ceiling beams, by a Na Nach.  The Na Nachs are an off-shoot of the Breslover Hasidim, basicallly ultra-religious hippies who emphasise love and joy.  The slogans were obvious, but some resonated anyway, telling me to do my best and trust God to do the rest etc.

Saturday 11 August

I spent Shabbat alone in the apartment.  I slept through my alarms and missed going to shul with the friend I knew in Crown Heights.  I spent the day (when not asleep) reading, mostly religious stuff and the latest Jewish Review of Books.

Sunday 12 August

I was supposed to have breakfast with the Crown Heights friend.  I did see him, but it didn’t really work out well and I felt taken advantage of a bit.  I did something that I thought was generous and friendly of me, but in retrospect I think that I did it to bury my feelings of anger and try to feel closer to him than I actually am, which didn’t work and if anything left me feeling angrier (so much for mussar).  I was supposed to see another friend in the afternoon and he couldn’t make it either, although that wasn’t really his fault.  As my original plans for the holiday, before I met E., was to visit these two friends, this left me feeling somewhat upset and angry.  I think I have to accept, from this experience and others, that they don’t really consider me much of a friend.  Which does not do much for my feelings of being unlikeable and not trusting or getting close to people.  At least I spent a lot of time with E. and, unexpectedly, with my university friend.

I had booked a late return flight and I assumed I would spend the day with friends.  That of course didn’t happen so I was left hanging around with too much time to kill, but not enough to actually do anything.  I eventually tried to order an Uber cab to take me to the airport, but I couldn’t connect my phone to a US phone network.  I eventually WhatsApp messaged the owner of the apartment I was renting and asked him to call one for me, but I felt stupid.  I suppose I should say that I only had his number because I had misunderstood when he wanted to be paid and he had messaged me to complain, so I guess that is one of those ‘There is a God’ hasgacha pratit (Divine Providence) stories that people have that I always complain about not having.

The rest of the trip home was fairly undramatic.  I didn’t sleep on the plane, but I didn’t expect to as I can never sleep on planes.  My parents met me at the airport and I got home without incident.

I’m glad I went to New York, both to see E. and some of the sites and for the experience of travelling alone, but I think I will think carefully before booking future holidays and certainly I know now which friends I can trust to be there for me and which ones I can’t.  I also felt that I didn’t do as much as I would have liked, partly from lack of energy and sleeping too late, partly from assuming that I wouldn’t have the time or energy to do more and booking things at inconvenient times, which I guess is something else to remember for the future.

Marks Out of Ten

One of the hard things about having been depressed for so long (fifteen years minimum, on and off, mostly on, probably longer) is that the advice I get changed somewhere along the line.  It used to be, “Don’t push yourself too hard.  You have a real illness.   Wait for your anti-depressants to kick in.  Stick with therapy.  Give it time.”  But over time, it became clear that the anti-depressants weren’t going to kick in, at least not the way they should and that therapy wasn’t going to provide all or even many of the answers.  So then it became, “You have to push yourself harder.  Work harder.  Exercise more.  Socialise more” and so on.  Except I don’t always feel much better.

I guess I am somewhat better in that, when I rate my moods out of ten (which I do every evening), where 1 is unbearably awful and 10 is normal, I’m now usually around 5/10, making my way up to 7 on good days and down to 3 or 4 on bad ones, whereas I used to be consistently around 3/10 often dipping lower down to an off-the-chart 0/10 on some occasions.  Actually, having a quick look at my private journal for the last month or so, the surprising thing now is the range rather than the mean average, going from 8/10 (which is basically normal with slight depression) all the way down to 2/10 (which is more or less suicidal) whereas I used to be consistently stuck around 3/10 for months on end.  Even in a single day it can drop quite suddenly from a slightly subnormal 7 or 8 down to a pretty depressed 5.  But, while this may mean I feel better, it doesn’t mean I feel well.  It doesn’t mean I feel significantly more able to work, exercise, socialise, push myself – 7/10 is still subpar, perhaps equivalent to permanently having a bad cold.

But I try, partly because my personality is to try, partly to shut everyone up and sometimes I achieve things for a bit, but sooner or later I burn out and crash because I am not well, just a bit better.  But everyone carries on saying that I need to try harder, push myself more.  This week I’m still feeling completely burnt out from my holiday and unable to push myself, but I’ve had to clear out my flat and see a careers advisor and catch up on the huge pile of job adverts that came in while I was abroad and I’ve got minor surgery on Sunday (which is a bit scary in itself, although it’s all under local anaesthetic and shouldn’t take more than an hour).  I’ve already decided not to go to autism group today because I’m just too exhausted and too far behind on job applications.  I don’t really know what the solution is.

Bipolar Expeditions

I’m probably writing too much today.  I haven’t done much of anything else, except help clean my old flat.  But I need to get my thoughts out of my head.  I’m not getting much site traffic at the moment anyway, so I’m hardly putting people off.

Although the depression usually makes me ‘flat’, I sometimes seem to go through cycles of growth and retreat, expansiveness and contraction (chessed and gevurah, if you want).  That is what is happening at the moment.  “I should start a Doctor Who blog!”/”I don’t have enough time to write two blogs and a book and do all the other things I should be doing !”  “I should get a new career!”/”I’m too scared to do anything about getting a new career!”  “I want to write Jewish children’s books based on religious stories!”/”I don’t have the language skills to adapt stories written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Yiddish!”  “I should write a roman à clef misery memoir!”  “I can’t write fiction, even fiction based on fact and people will use the fiction to find the truths I want to hide.”  “I should do a PhD!”/”I’m not good enough to do a PhD!” “This is a really good PhD topic!”/”No, it’s a really terrible PhD topic!”  And so on.  It’s hard to know what is real and what is too good or too bad to be real.  It’s also hard to tell if the more ‘outwards’ facing feelings are genuine attempts to engage with the world or just passing agitation.  A lot of the feelings fade away too quickly to have any kind of lasting effect.

I might still be jet lagged.  Or I’ve just fallen straight back into a bad sleep pattern.

At times like this I wonder if my psychiatrist was right when she said I’m “somewhere on the bipolar spectrum,” whatever that might mean, although no other psychiatrist concurred, not even the one I specifically asked for a second opinion about whether I might have bipolar.  All I know is that every so often I do have periods of agitation and excitement that quickly fall back into depression, it’s just the agitation and excitement generally doesn’t last long enough or come frequently enough to really feel like manic episodes.

Intermittently, I do have inspiration, my mind races, sometimes even effervesces, I make plans.  But it never lasts.  I never have the confidence and energy long enough to do anything useful.

At times I do seriously wonder if I’ve been misdiagnosed.  It would explain a lot if there was a whole other element to this depression which has been missed.  Depression isn’t usually this difficult to treat.  But I’ve had bipolar fairly unanimously dismissed (despite my psychiatrist’s strange comment quoted above).  Autism has been dismissed less clearly and I go back and forth in how much I think I can be identified as autistic.  I wonder what it would be like to have yet another psychiatric assessment (I’ve had more than I can remember), how I could get one and what I would do if the result is just plain old unipolar depression again.  As my therapist noted, I want there to be something very wrong with me to excuse my perceived inadequacies.

I don’t know where to begin to work on my issues.  Everything seems interlaced.  To solve A, I first have to solve B, but to solve B I first have to solve C, but C can only be solved by solving A first.  I’m thinking seriously about some CBT to deal with the social anxiety, which might be a start.

It’s Elul, the last month of the Jewish year (sort of), a month of introspection and plans for growth.  I should be thinking about how to change and develop in the coming Jewish year, but I just feel stuck.  There is a hole in my life right now and I don’t know what should fill it.  God?  Love?  Joy?  Creativity?  Spirituality (whatever that may mean)?  Meaning?  Purpose?  Community?  Self-esteem?  Sex?  All of the above?  None of the above?  I just don’t know, nor do I know how to find any of those things.  Maybe I will never have any of them.  Maybe I will feel like this forever.

I feel like a child again, lost, lonely, vulnerable and scared.  I want the world to leave me alone with my books and DVDs, but it doesn’t.  “I never asked to be born.”  The classic adolescent complaint.  True, I never did ask to be born.  But neither did anyone else and they’re all coping, so why can’t I?

Slight Update and New York Holiday Part I

Today has been hard.  I tried to take a test for a job I applied for, but struggled with it; I’ll have to finish it tomorrow.  I was depressed anyway, and thinking that I can’t manage to do a PhD after all, then flipped back to having ideas, then to despair again.  I feel like I’ve spent the last two days moving back and forth between agitated/energetic “I can do it” and passive despairing “I can’t do anything.”  Maybe my psychiatrist was right about there being a bipolar element in me, I don’t know.  Then I spent about two hours with my parents cleaning my old flat.  I think I probably had higher tolerance than my Mum for dirt, or less time/energy for cleaning (although she usually has a paid cleaner), which embarrassed me.  I didn’t have much energy or motivation for cleaning today, but struggled through and handed back the key to my landlord, so I guess I’m officially back to living with my parents.

I thought I should really start to write up my notes from my holiday in New York, so here goes:

Sunday 5 August

The flight to New York was OK.  I read quite a bit and tried to write some notes for a book I want to write, but the plane was not really an environment conducive to work.  There was an issue with the shuttle bus to the airport when I landed which worried me, but I got it sorted.

The hotel was fine, but had seen better days.  I had to ask for a safe and a fridge to be put in my room and the WiFi in my room was patchy and I often went to the library downstairs to connect to the lobby WiFi, which seemed to work better.  My room window faced a courtyard with high walls on all four sides, so no natural light came in.  But it was all hygienic and there were no cockroaches or rats, so it was good enough.

Because of US laws about importing food, I had to buy food when I arrived rather than bringing anything in.  The hotel receptionist didn’t seem to know where to suggest other than Whole Foods, which I suspected would be expensive organic stuff and I was right.  However, I desperate, so I got bottled water, fruit, milk and then – joy! – discovered kosher bread, cereal and peanut butter upstairs.

I had some culture shock on arriving in New York, although I’m not sure why.  I’ve lived in London all my life, so a big city should not have been such a surprise to me.  I suppose I live in the suburbs and commute into town when necessary and even when I worked in Canary Wharf, the skyscrapers there aren’t like Manhattan, completely blocking out the sky.  Maybe it was just exhaustion, anxiety, stress and mixed feelings about the thought of seeing E. in person, but I felt close to tears in the shuttle bus, although I did feel better after getting settled at the hotel and having something to eat.

Monday 6 August

E. and I were both running late, but eventually met.  We spent much of the day in Central Park, looking around and chatting.  It felt a bit weird that this was the first time we had met in person.  Afterwards we did some shopping in the area and had pizza for dinner.  It was a quiet day, but I wanted that to deal with jet lag and culture shock.

An amusing story: over lunch, E. told me to believe in myself more.  Then in the afternoon we went into a Jewish bookshop where I picked up a book and opened it to a random page, which was a chapter entitled, “Believe in Yourself”.  I bought the book, although not because of that.

It was a very good day, slightly marred by my getting a bad headache/minor migraine in the evening, possibly from dehydration and I couldn’t take anything because my solpadeine was still in my hotel room and I didn’t know which American painkillers are safe to take with my anti-depressants.

Tuesday 7 August

E. and I went to Ellis Island by boat via Liberty Island, although we didn’t get off at Liberty Island.  I was really disappointed when planning this trip that the Statue of Liberty was sold out, but I think it may have been for the best, as I’m not sure going inside would have added much.  It’s just a statue, really.

Ellis Island was fascinating, though, and I felt it struck a good balance when talking about things like Nativism, slavery, treatment of Native Americans and so on.  It could either have glossed over these things or turned into a politicised privilege-checking fest, but it wasn’t either of those.  I don’t know much about pre-twentieth century American history, so the exhibition about population movements in North America was actually more interesting to me than the one on Ellis Island itself, some of which I had heard elsewhere.

The weather, like the previous day’s, was hot and humid and it really stayed like that for the whole of the trip, although things got slightly cooler and less humid after thunderstorm on Tuesday evening.  The only place I’ve felt so humid is the tropical greenhouse at Kew Gardens (the London one).  It was very tiring being out in the heat and humidity and that perhaps contributed to my getting more tired and doing less than I would have liked over the week.

E. and I went for kosher Mexican food for dinner.  I hadn’t had Mexican food before, so that was a good new experience.

Wednesday 8 August

I woke very depressed and anxious, so anxious in fact that I lay in bed for about two hours thinking that I was physically ill because I felt so nauseous.  Eventually I forced myself to get up, far behind schedule, but I managed to get out on time, if only because I had planned a late start anyway.

I went to the United Nations and had an interesting tour (the General Assembly seemed to have a smaller floor space than it seems on TV), although I was disturbed by the fact they went out of their way to side with the Palestinians against the Israelis even where it was not really necessary.  For example, out of all the international conflicts in the world, there was only one that got its own (big) display, Palestine (it didn’t even say Israel-Palestine, just Palestine).  Then in the gift shop, one could buy postcard of the national flags of every UN member state, with the caption, “Britain”, “India” and so on.  Only one said “State of X,” the “State of Palestine”, even though there is no such internationally recognised state.  It’s just petty, really.

Afterwards, I went back to the hotel to pick up some things, as I hadn’t been allowed to take much with me to the UN.  I ground to a halt for an hour or two, lying on the bed until I got the energy to go out again.

I was thinking of taking a bus tour of New York, but I wanted to see the New York Public Library first, thinking it would not take long, but I ended up staying for a long time.  I have never seen such an ornate library!  I was scared to look around because it is a working library and perhaps I should have been bolder to see more.  I popped in to an exhibition on sixties radicalism, but I found it triggering for me, as all political stuff seems to be these days.  I feel I don’t really fit in anywhere on the political spectrum and that everyone will hate and reject my opinions, one reason why I’m nervous about thinking of doing a PhD in a subject as politically-coloured as cultural studies.

I managed to walk to a small kosher restaurant for dinner.  The food was great, but it was really crowded and noisy.  In fact, I found New York as a whole much bigger, louder and smellier than London.  A  really bad place for autistics/Aspies, in fact.  I’m OK in much of London, which may just be experience and the knowledge that I can go home at the end of the day, but New York was a very difficult experience for me at times in terms of sensory overload.  Still, I navigated my way around the city by myself for the first time and didn’t get lost, mugged or run over, which I think is a win.

To be continued…

Still University Challenged

I went to bed very late last night, or early this morning, really.  I was up late trying to do stuff, then I crashed emotionally and wanted to cry.  I feel so confused about so many things.  I know I still have to write up my notes from my holiday, but suffice to say that I saw E. a lot and enjoyed being with her, but that’s just left me more confused about where we are, wanting to be with her, but scared it could never work out.  I’m also worried about my idea of doing a PhD in cultural studies or communication studies: is it the right degree for me, a question I pose for many reasons, and is my thesis idea sensible or crazy.  Yesterday it seemed the former, today absolutely the latter.

That said, my mind has continued working this morning and has moved from Jewish imagery in Doctor Who (or the lack thereof) to Jewish identity in popular culture/television as a whole, embracing a whole slew of TV shows and films, many of which I know only second-hand, but which might support my thesis that unless produced by or for Orthodox or formerly Orthodox Jews, popular culture never represents  Judaism in a substantial manner, but simply as a vague set of ethical values that are essentially compatible with the tenets of secular liberalism, rather than anything more challenging.  Doctor Who might not even make it into this thesis, or maybe as a chapter noting that Judaism is presented in such a slight manner that an atheist alien Time Lord can feasibly be presented as “the most Jewish character on British television.”  (The Doctor is almost as Jewish as Josh and Toby in The West Wing.)

Of course, it now becomes a question whether this is a media/cultural studies question or a Jewish Studies question (or inter-disciplinary).  I feel the Jewish Studies department would be more sympathetic to explorations of Jewishness, the Cultural Studies department towards the use of film and TV as source material.   At any rate, SOAS’s Jewish Studies department seems to focus on the Arab-Israeli Conflict, UCL’s seems to requires better Hebrew language skills than I actually have (or probably need for this topic) and I had a bad experience with them when applying for my MA (they weren’t sympathetic to my mental health, which was why I ended up doing my MA in a not very good university).  I’m not sure that any other London universities actually offer a PhD in Jewish Studies.  I’m not sure how to resolve this, or whether I’m going too far from my area of expertise (such as it is).

I don’t know who to talk to about these things.  My parents are supportive, but not expert on higher education (neither went to university), my rabbi mentor and my therapist are both on holiday and in any case I was strongly thinking of changing therapist and therapy style.  I might email my friend who is a professional historian and has written cultural studies stuff about Doctor Who about my thesis idea, but I’m worried he’ll say that he isn’t qualified to pass judgement.  I could leave things for a week or two and see if the idea matures further, I suppose, but I really don’t know what to do or even who to talk to for advice.

Addendum

Just further to my last post I think it’s probably a good thing that I started thinking idly about what I would write about Jewish influence on Doctor Who (and the Nazi influence on the Daleks) if I end up doing a PhD on it, and I ended up spending an hour with ideas constantly flowing resulting in well over a page of typed notes.  Not sure about the ‘making a contribution to knowledge’ side of things, although I think there is definitely scope to talk about the presentation of both religion and Jewishness in Doctor Who in particular and the media in general, perhaps also to write about the fact that, while many science fiction and fantasy authors have been ethnically Jewish, only a tiny minority have engaged with Jewish identity and issues in a more than superficial way, or indeed in any way at all.

(I also have long had ideas for an essay about John le Carré and the Jews, which would probably be easier to defend as a contribution to knowledge, but harder to spin into a whole thesis.  Though it suggests that I could make a career out of Judaising identity politics and cultural studies…)

University Challenged

I saw a careers advisor today.  He had some helpful advice about CV layout and content and some less helpful advice about career direction.  I felt he didn’t really know that much about librarianship, which I guess is the problem with my having a minority career.  I was annoyed he hadn’t looked at my CV in advance even though I had been asked to send a copy and had done so.  I had the usual social anxiety thing of thinking he hated me and thought I was an idiot every time he suggested I do something differently, particularly when I said I’ve applied for six jobs and he said if I’ve been looking for work for a month, I should have applied for more jobs, one a day.  The thing is, I thought I had been applying for almost one a day and even given that I have been on holiday for nearly two weeks (counting days lost due to moving flat as well as being in New York) that should be more than six jobs.  Now, six jobs was to some extent a number pulled out of the air in desperation when asked on the spot about how many jobs I have applied for, as I honestly didn’t know, but I thought it was a ballpark figure, so I have no idea why I have applied for so few.  Maybe I have applied for more and can’t remember?

The really interesting/scary thing he said was that if I want to work in research, I should do a PhD.  This was even without my telling him my pipe dream of writing about science fiction TV because it seemed too silly and impossible.  The thing is, I don’t know how I would go about doing that.  My initial reservation was that, having been very depressed while doing my BA and my MA and in both cases taking significantly longer to finish than I should have done, a PhD would also make me depressed, but I’m sufficiently depressed now to wonder what difference it would make.

The second issue is that my MA was not at a good university and I wonder whether a good university would accept me for a PhD.  I am not sure if this is a valid concern or how to find out.  I guess I could try writing to admissions tutors.

The third issue is what to study.  I don’t want to work on Library and Information Management (my MA field).  History (my BA) is a possibility, but I don’t know what to specialise in.  My BA curriculum was broad.  I don’t really want to work on historiography (the subject of my BA extended essay, Oxford-speak for my dissertation).  The English Civil Wars and Interregnum, the subject of my special subject (a historical period of a decade or so in length, studied in detail and with primary sources, a specialism of sorts) is more promising, but I don’t feel either interested or capable in engaging with distant historical sources in a detailed way again after so long and I don’t really feel greatly interested in the seventeenth century any more.

Working on the problem from the other direction, my interests these days are interdisciplinary, particularly in the area where history, cultural studies and politics meet.  I’m interested in Jewish history and particularly in the causes and manifestations of antisemitism  and especially in the place where legitimate criticism of the State of Israel mutates into actual antisemitism and support for the Palestinian cause turns into support for anti-Jewish violence (*cough* Jeremy Corbyn *cough* the Labour Party).  I might just go mad if I studied this all the time, though, and given the political climate in much of academia (increasingly very anti-Zionist to the extent of sometimes being in my opinion antisemitic), finding a supervisor I was on the same wavelength with about what constituted legitimate anti-Zionism and what antisemitism could prove difficult.

I’m also – and this would be much more enjoyable to study – very interested in British television science fiction of the fifties, sixties, seventies and eighties, particularly for what it tells us about the values, politics and worldview of writers and audiences of the time.  This is the most exciting area for me to think about working on, but it also has the most challenges.

First, I have no experience of working on cultural history, bar one term at Oxford on eighteenth century British popular culture, although I did do a piece of coursework for my MA on how Doctor Who fans make use of information resources.  Second, I don’t know what exactly it could lead on to (although I’d be interested to find out).  Third, as a librarian I’ve catalogued a bit of cultural studies material and both sixth form and degree level and I’ve found a lot of it does not interest me because it’s very postmodern theory-driven (I find postmodern theory confusing and not as obviously correct and useful as many humanities academics do) and also very driven by left-wing identity politics, which again is not my political viewpoint and has the additional problem that my identity (religious Jewish and Zionist) is marginalised or even demonised by academics working in this field, whereas I feel i have very little meaningful to say about race, gender and sexuality perspectives which are what dominate.

I feel there is nothing really to say about a Jewish perspective on TV science fiction in this period, unless it is to ask why there are no Jews in it despite the presence of some Jewish creators (although I’m not sure how many or how to find out; I can think of a couple off the top of my head); even then the answer is probably that religion as a whole was avoided as too controversial rather than a specifically Jewish response.  That said, some (including me, years ago in a blog post as well as a more serious (if flawed, IMHO) academic article in the journal European Judaism) have suggested that the Doctor could be considered coded as Jewish in some sense.  There was an article I read the other day in the latest Jewish Review of Books that may help here, arguing that Jewish film director Stanley Kubrick consistently took books with Jewish characters or themes, denuded them of obviously Jewish content, but then filmed them with Jewish actors or thematic elements that could be seen as coded for Jewish; one could perhaps see something similar going on with Doctor Who.

Crunch time: if someone gave me a sizeable research grant and the opportunity to work on anything I like, with the proviso that I had to produce a decent thesis at the end of it, my inclination would be to do something on the British television science fiction (TV SF for ease) of the fifties, sixties and seventies.  My current ideas for topics (and this is just from a couple of hours of thought) would be either looking at the presentation of technocratic scientific projects in the TV SF of the era as a way of looking at the breakdown of the “Butskellite” consensus on economic policy in post-war era (Quatermass II, A for Andromeda, late sixties/early seventies Doctor Who, The Avengers and maybe The Prisoner would be key here) OR looking at the presentation of Jews in British television of the time, particularly looking at whether the Doctor (co-created by assimilated Jew Sydney Newman and originally produced by the Jewish Verity Lambert, but originally portrayed by the somewhat antisemitic William Hartnell) can be seen as a symbolic grappling with mid-century Jewish identity[1].

I can actually see myself enjoying writing either of those theses, but whether I could get accepted on a PhD course to write them, and where I would do so, is another question.  I would definitely welcome any feedback from readers in academia or with experience of ‘aca fandom’ (academics who are also Doctor Who fans, writing professionally and academically about Doctor Who, science fiction or fandom), either about whether my ideas are worth pursuing or general hints about picking universities/supervisors/topics, whether having gone to a not-so-good university for my MA (after Oxford for my BA) will count against me and so forth.  EDIT: ideally I would stay in London for my PhD, although I could just about move to somewhere with a Jewish community e.g. which would basically be Manchester or maybe possibly Leeds or Glasgow.

 

[1] For those interested, the short reason why the Doctor is seen as coded Jewish is his consistent presentation as a wander and exile, as per Jewish history and stereotype (the wandering Jew and historic Jewish migrations over the last 2,500 years), but also per many Jewish refugees from Nazism and Communism, many of whom turned up in pre- or post-war London with Doctorates from foreign universities and a suspicion of authority, very like the presentation of the Doctor himself in the very first episode of the series.  Like many Jewish figures (again, Holocaust and Soviet refugees, but also back into the nineteenth century), he espouses progressive values of empiricism and social justice and provides a unique outsider’s perspective on society’s problems.  Like many Jews, he can ‘pass’ as a member of the societies he visits, but, again like many Jews, is often ‘outed’ as different either by enemies who dub him ‘impure’ or by his own principled refusal to approve behaviour he finds unethical.  The first and eleventh Doctors in particular are visually ‘coded’ by their dress, not specifically ‘Jewish’, but certainly visually redolent of mid-century academic refugees from Nazism and the USSR and it’s certainly not hard to imagine the Doctor having tea with Jewish refugees like Albert Einstein (mentioned in The Stones of Blood and glimpsed in Time and the Rani), Sigmund Freud (mentioned as having a comfortable couch in The Curse of  the Black Spot), Karl Popper or Sir Isaiah Berlin (we also know he was friends with Jewish escapologist Harry Houdini (Planet of the Spiders and a recent Doctor Who Magazine comic strip), a less obvious connection, but another Jewish immigrant who debunked spiritualism in the name of science.)

 

Sugar

I ate a load of Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food ice cream as a reward for getting through the holiday and now my mood has plummeted.  It’s definitely looking as if binging on the sugar is bad for my mood as well as my waist and is probably at least one reason why my mood often slumps after eating out, as I don’t often eat out and so often indulge in a piggy dessert.  I guess I should monitor my mood on Shabbat, as that’s when I eat the most junk, particularly if I get to shul (synagogue) as I eat a lot in kiddush to avoid talking to people from social anxiety.  So that’s another of life’s innocent pleasures denied me.  I’m not sure how many I actually have left.

(Also, why does Phish Food claim to contain “chocolatey shaped fish” when it actually contains “fish shaped chocolate”.  Chocolatey shaped fish would be lumps of fish shaped like chocolate in your ice cream – yuk!)

Of Therapists, Victims and Friends

I’m back from my holiday.  It was really good in the end, somewhat to my surprise.  I had a couple of nasty surprises, but mostly things went to plan.  I didn’t have easy access to my blog, but I have long handwritten blog posts that I hope to type up, doubtless interspersed with contemporary posts, as I have an eventful week ahead.  I’m too tired and jet-lagged to start on that now (I have spent two nights out of the last four sleeping too much and the other two sleeping too little, culminating in no sleep at all for the last twenty-seven hours; I’m trying to stay awake until the evening in the hope of resetting my body clock), but here are a few rambling, free associative thoughts from my holiday that probably won’t fit in anywhere else.

I’m thinking of leaving my psychodynamic therapist and trying some CBT for my social anxiety, low self-esteem and negativity.  CBT worked for me for OCD, but not for depression, so I guess it’s difficult to say if it could work here.  But this seems to be a problem area that attracts other problems, so if I could deal with it, there might be a multiplier effect across all my issues.  The depression stems partly from feeling disconnected to my religious community (and consequently despairing of getting married), which stems partly from low self-esteem and social anxiety as well as fear of rejection.  Likewise my career has been hampered by my problems interacting with others and nervousness about networking and professional development involving others, while my attempt to write semi-professionally about Doctor Who is doubtless impeded by my avoiding conventions and organised fandom.  I was thinking along these lines before my trip, but am now fairly sure it’s the right thing to do, if I can afford the cost (my CBT therapist charges three times the price of the psychodynamic one).

Related to this, Rabbi Lord Sacks’ weekly Torah essay last week dealt with the idea of not being a victim, that we can see ourselves as passive victims of circumstances or other people’s action, or we can see ourselves as people who the ability to make choices about our lives, even if those choices are only about how we respond emotionally and intellectually to unavoidable adversity.  The former leads to learned helplessness and in some cases to self-loathing and revenge, while the latter leads to inner strength.  I think it’s clear I tend to see myself as a victim, even if I blame circumstances or God rather than human beings and therefore feel passive more than vengeful.  I don’t know how to move to a more positive mindset when so much of my life does seem genuinely negative though.  I guess I could try to think of myself as enduring rather than being punished or overwhelmed, but it’s hard.

I’m still in a weird ‘it’s complicated’ situation with E.  We both really like each other and really enjoyed spending time together, but she feels we’re too dysfunctional to work together at the moment and I can sort of see her point.  This was another reason for working on myself with CBT, to be less dysfunctional.  We’re technically just friends, but we message each other umpteen times a day and say how much we miss each other.  It’s probably just as a well that I don’t really have much of a baseline of ‘normal’ relationships and friendships to judge this against.

Of my other friends in New York, one surprised me by how far he went beyond the bounds of what I expected of him, in a good way.  Some of the others… well, I don’t want to go into details because of lashon hara (malicious speech), but I feel very let down by some friends.  One probably had a legitimate excuse, but one actually quite upset me, but I didn’t have the courage to broach the matter.  This is after a history of these people treating me in a way that seems somewhat hypocritical or unfair and I think I have to consider how much I consider these people my friends, or at least how much I’m going to try to stay close to them when they don’t seem to value my friendship or care about my feelings.  Although I guess it’s easy to get drawn into hasty decisions when jet lagged.

Pre-Holiday Nerves

Shul (synagogue) this afternoon was depressing.  I missed shul this morning again because of social anxiety and perhaps a bit of depression.  I forced myself to go this afternoon.  A few things were triggering.  During the Talmud shiur (class) before Mincha (the afternoon service), the assistant rabbi mentioned someone he knew who was a child prodigy at Talmud study, then became very non-religious in his teens (the assistant rabbi would not say how much, just very bad; apparently he owned a casino, which is bad, but I think I do worse things) and then, because so many people prayed for him, in his twenties or thirties he became religious again and got married (because it’s impossible for Orthodox Jews to imagine a good life without being married…).  So that just made me think how wicked I must be and how much God must hate me to leave me unmarried unlike this guy, and how lucky this guy was to have so many people praying for him (although I’m sometimes privately sceptical about praying for other people in that way).

Then in the shuir during seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal) the assistant rabbi spoke about the complex series of events that happened for him (the assistant rabbi) to get meet his wife and get married, which just made me feel that God must really hate me not to arrange something like that for me.  The shiur was about all kinds of stuff that seemed relevant to me, about marriage and suffering and death and how God rewards us for what we suffer.  Except that because I was depressed my concentration slipped and I missed the bit where it was all brought together and explained, so I don’t really understand anything of what I heard and don’t feel any better.

In under twelve hours, I should be in the air on my way to New York.  I think everyone else is more excited about my holiday than I am. I just want to get through it and home again in one piece.  I wanted to go on this trip to date E. and to meet some Hevria people.  I’m seeing E., but only as a friend and it’s still questionable whether I will actually get to meet any Hevria people.  I feel if I had taken £2,000 out of the bank and just burnt it, it would have been easier.  I feel I’m going to be in a constant state of anxiety for the next ten days.

I feel I’ve let my parents take over too much with my holiday.  I feel that I’m not an adult because I don’t know how to travel by myself.  I already described how my Mum ended up doing more of my packing than I wanted.  She talked me into taking more reading material than I think I need (two novels (admittedly one half-read), one light non-fiction book, a couple of magazines and some religious reading).  She thinks I’m going to read a whole novel on the plane.  I find this unlikely.  It’s a long flight, but I find it hard to read on planes and, in any case, my concentration and motivation to read at the moment is poor because of the depression.  In recent months, when I go on the Tube, time which I used to spend constantly reading, often I listen to music or just stare into space feeling depressed because I don’t have the energy or motivation to read.  I guess it doesn’t really matter.

The holiday has brought up tensions with my parents, tensions that exist all the time, but are worse now I have to prepare for something.  I feel like my parents treat me like a child at times.  Things like my Dad reminding me to do stuff as if I was a young child or Mum and Dad contradicting my suggestions of what to take with and do.  I feel that I’m mostly going to sites that other people have told me I should go to rather than choosing anything for myself, although as I don’t really want to go to New York in the first place, maybe that isn’t surprising.  Sometimes I feel that if I say something, everyone around me feels the need to say the opposite, just to be different.  No wonder I feel like everything I say is wrong.  Of course, if I say that everything I say is wrong, they contradict that too.

Sometimes it feels that everything I try to do on my own initiative is undermined, then when I exist in a state of learned helplessness I get told that I’m a child (which was one reason E. broke up with me, I think).  I’ve felt like this on and off for years, really since my teens.  Every time I’m either in a position of doing something new and ‘adult’ or being with my family for a long time (and holidays are often both of those things), these issues come to a head and I bicker with my parents, but then afterwards I come home and retreat to my room and avoid them and the issue dies away and doesn’t get properly resolved.  It’s probably going to be worse now I’m moving back in with my parents.  I can’t really see how I can learn to be independent of my parents without doing scary stuff totally by myself.  I guess that’s one reason I want to get married so much, to be independent of my parents, but not totally alone.  I don’t have friends I can travel with or do stuff with, so marriage feels like my only option.

I suppose on the subject of childishness, I put some Doctor Who posters up in my bedroom.  I had (different) posters up in the flat, because after a year living there the stark white walls were driving me crazy and making me think of a padded cell.  At my parents’ house I have a couple of pictures up and a map of Israel and, of course, a thousand books and several hundred DVDs, but I just felt I wanted something to make it a bit more ‘me’ and to make the black wardrobe doors a bit brighter, but now I wonder if it’s too childish to have big posters up, doubly so Doctor Who ones.  I suppose I can always take them down later.

Of I go into holiday mode now.  I still feel that this is going to be the worst holiday ever, but I guess if I come home on schedule and in one piece, it will feel like a victory of sorts, albeit an expensive one.

Ramblings

I got the medication situation sorted eventually.  I had to speak a lot to the receptionist at the doctor’s surgery before I discovered I could just go to the pharmacist and get the prescription made up without the out of stock clomipramine.  I apparently I misunderstood when they said that they could not give me half a prescription; they meant they could not give half a prescription and let me take the form to get the other half elsewhere, but just giving me half and having them keep the form is fine.I wish I had known that yesterday.  I struggled to make myself understood.  I think the receptionist probably thought I was stupid or just being difficult.    I feel stupid.

However, as I couldn’t get all of the clomipramine 10mg tablets yesterday, I wanted to book an appointment for when I get back from New York in case they don’t have any clomipramine at all, in which case I will run out shortly after returning.  I can cancel nearer the time if the pharmacist does get the remaining clomipramine in stock.  However, the online booking doesn’t have any appointments and I don’t dare to phone again.  I’m not sure what to do about that.

I feel sluggish.  I went to bed late because I was doing holiday stuff (I’ve been going to bed around 2.00am most nights since leaving my job, locked in to a nocturnal sleep pattern of oversleeping, cramming stuff into the afternoon and evening (job hunting, clearing out the flat and finding space for stuff in my room, organising the holiday), going to bed late and oversleeping again.  I got up at at 8.30 to speak to the doctor’s receptionist, but I feel asleep again for a couple of hours afterwards.

I also feel anxious about my holiday, and lonely again, the latter perhaps triggered partly by writing an email to a (non-Jewish) friend alluding to my issues with the Orthodox community, saying that while I’ve been praying for her fertility issues to be resolved, I’m probably not the best advocate a person could have right now.  I feel such a freak in the frum (religious Orthdox Jewish) world.  I feel I had my one chance of getting married and being happy and I lost it, not by doing anything wrong, but by just being me, that the things that made me attractive to E. were the flipside of the coin of the the things that made her end the relationship.  I feel like Frankenstein’s monster, like I disgust and horrify my Creator so much that He refuses to make me a mate and allow me to breed.

I just want my holiday to be over if nothing else, except that the holiday being over brings a load of other scary things in its train, including my interview with a careers advisor, the possible return of the medication issue and the build up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement) with all the soul searching and self-criticism that entails, as if I don’t do that enough the whole year round…

I feel that I can’t cope.  Not just with my holiday, with my life.  I feel, not suicidal, but I don’t want to be here.  That there was a cosmic mistake and I should never have been born.  That I’ll never be happy in this world or the next, whatever I do.  That I won’t have any share in Olam HaBa (the next world), that after I die, my soul will feel guilty for all the bad things it’s done (which amounts to feeling guilty for almost everything I’ve ever done) and then I just won’t exist any more.  I’m glad Judaism doesn’t believe in eternal damnation.  I’m kind of looking forward to not existing, because at least I won’t be miserable and lonely any more.

I don’t even know why I’m posting this, it’s just rubbish and I’ve written it a million times before.

Testimony

I’m trying to think of my blog as a testimony, rather than a “helping” blog.  A lot of mental health blogs have factual information, encouragement or coping strategies, which obviously my blog doesn’t.  I guess some people must like it, even if I think there are only a dozen or twenty people who read it with any kind of regularity.  It helps me to write down my feelings, which I guess is the point.  If anyone else benefits from reading them, then that’s an added bonus.

So, from the point of view of testimony, I have to say that while I’ve mostly been OK this afternoon, there was a period where I felt suicidal for a while.  I basically felt that I was “a shit” (I don’t normally use profanity, but that’s what I thought) and that I didn’t deserve to have any friends and it would be better for everyone if I got murdered in New York.  For years I’ve been terrified of going to New York in the belief that it’s too violent, although I think recently London has overtaken New York for violent crime.  To be honest, I should probably be more worried about being alone in my hotel in the evenings and especially over Shabbat (the Sabbath) when I could get lonely and suicidal.  At least in the evenings I can message E.  Although now it’s looking like I might get to see some Hevria friends too.  I feel a bit bad for complaining so much that none of them wanted to see me.  I guess some people are just very last minute.

I procrastinated a lot over packing today, but I did actually get done, albeit that my Mum ended up helping me, which was not my intention.  I am trying to be more self-sufficient.  This afternoon’s disaster was that I realised that I was so worried today about getting clomipramine that I forgot that there was also lithium and olanzapine on the prescription that I could not get made up yesterday.  The pharmacy can’t make up half a prescription, so I’ve got to try to get another emergency appointment tomorrow for another prescription, which will doubtless make me very popular with the doctors and especially the receptionists.    I feel stupid, but at least I haven’t self-harmed or worse and I feel better.  Anxious that I’m going to get completely lost in New York and maybe ripped off by taxi drivers, but not suicidal.  I have at least got most of the packing done, except for hand luggage and stuff I need over the weekend (which admittedly is quite a bit of stuff).

Also from the point of view of testimony, one other interesting thing happened.  One of the main tests for autism spectrum disorder deals with theory of mind – essentially whether you realise that other people don’t know the same things you do.  The famous theory of mind test is here.  Unfortunately, I read about it in a psychology book long before I suspected I might have autism, so I can’t really be tested with it.  Sometimes I have come across the test and I’ve tried to read through it quickly and answer impulsively before I remember what the correct answer is.  I think I usually get it wrong, but it’s not clear and it could just be because I’m rushing.

Anyway, I was watching an episode of Dad’s Army where Corporal Jones and company had managed to jam a lighthouse light on during an air raid and in an effort to turn it off, Captain Mainwairing and Sergeant Wilson tried to sabotage the local electricity substation.  The episode ended with Wilson worrying about the bill for the damage they had inflicted.  The thing is, I assumed he was talking about the damage at the lighthouse itself; it took a minute for me to remember that he didn’t know anything about that and was thinking of the substation.  It’s hardly a scientific test, but I definitely lost track of what he knew and assumed he knew the same as I did.  I don’t know if that really proves anything, but I do know that when reading a book or watching a TV series with different characters knowing different things about the plot, I do go over who knows what very carefully in my head, although I don’t think I do this as much as I used to.  I remember when watching Babylon 5 for the first time spending time tracking who knew what about the big, epic five year story arc.  I don’t know if that proves anything either, but I think it’s worth recording.

I don’t know what’s normal, whether other people watching TV or reading a book momentarily lose track of which characters don’t know the same things as the viewer/reader or if that’s indicative of theory of mind issues.  I think it’s believed that high functioning people with autism can reason through some theory of mind problems logically and cover their lack of intuitive understanding, which is what I did here: I worked out what was known by whom, but it took me a moment to do so.

Shame

I went to the doctor about my medication.  He prescribed 10mg tablets, but was wary of giving me a lot given that I was feeling suicidal last week.  He prescribed for two weeks (upping the dosage to 80mg twice a day, to avoid having to split a tablet), to get me through the holiday and gave me a post-dated prescription for another two weeks that I can’t get until I come back.  However, the chemist has now run out of the 10mg tablets.  I should have enough to get through the holiday, when I add in the tablets I’ve already got, but I don’t know what will happen if they still don’t have any when I get back.  Taking twenty-four tablets a day is going to be a pain, but going cold turkey from the only antidepressant that has ever been really effective for me will be worse.

I go to New York on Sunday.  I may be able to see some friends other than E. when I’m in New York, but it’s not clear.  They’ve left it to the last minute and are squeezing me in at the end of the trip, if I’m lucky.  I hope I can get WiFi there, as all my arrangements are going to have to be via WhatsApp.

I’m just thinking depressed stuff about not having friends, God hating me and so on.  I was going to write about it, but I’ve written it before and I don’t know how true it is.  I mean, people probably don’t hate me.  Even the friends who don’t get in touch (which is most of them) probably just forget about me rather than hating me, especially as I don’t use Facebook.  My oldest friend forgot to tell me about the birth of both his daughters because I’m not on Facebook.  I heard through my sister.  I haven’t seen him in years now.  I guess he’s always busy now he’s a rabbi.  But it does seem that I have a history of being friends with unreliable people who stand me up or don’t get in contact.  At least E. and my non-biological sisters contact me and respond when I contact them.  For years I didn’t have any friends like that.

I feel the frum (religious) world I feel can be cliquey.  People have their friendship groups and it’s hard to join, even aside from my issues about talking to strangers.  I think people often make new friends through mutual friends, so it’s hard for me to as I don’t have many frum friends.  Nor do I go to shul (synagogue) much to meet people that way, and I don’t have children to meet people through their school.  I guess also people don’t know what to do with single people in the frum world, at least over the age of twenty-three or so.  I guess if you invite them to meals, you have to invite two, to balance the numbers (because everyone else is there with a spouse), so it’s easier not to invite them.  People aren’t rude to me about my being single, but I’ve heard other people complain they are, which also scares me off from trying to make friends a bit and makes me even more ashamed to be single, which I guess is silly as I won’t get set up on dates if I don’t try to socialise more.  That said, I’m more scared about being rejected for being not frum enough and being geeky.  A lot of frum people only socialise with people on the same level of frumkeit.  I’m weird in having non-frum and non-Jewish friends (I sometimes wonder what would happen if I do get married and all my friends get to be in the same room as each other.  I’m not sure how they would react).  I feel too weird to fit into the frum world and am ashamed of my geeky interests and try to hide them as much as possible from other frum people, although I feel anxious about sharing my geekiness and Doctor Who fandom with anyone really, a legacy of childhood bullying.  Now I’m unemployed too, so that’s a whole new measure of shame (actually, I’m technically still under contract for another three weeks or so).

I don’t really enjoy anything in the world and I haven’t since I was a teenager.  I don’t care much about food, I don’t drink, I’ve never taken drugs or smoked, I don’t travel much.  I don’t enjoy my religious life, I get no simchah shel mitzvah (joy in the commandments).  I envy the people who enjoy Torah study and are refreshed by davening (prayer); they are just chores to me most of the time.  I don’t get much enjoyment from music.  I get a bit of pleasure from books and my favourite TV programmes, but perhaps not as much as other people seem to get.  I don’t get hyper about new Doctor Who episodes the way some fans do, and probably not just because I prefer the original series.  I don’t even binge watch really.  Even when I’m very depressed, it’s very rare for me to watch more than an hour or an hour and a half of TV in a day.  I can’t spend a whole afternoon and evening watching TV the way my mum and my sister can, I just feel too guilty for wasting my time.  The same goes for reading, although when I’m depressed it’s hard to read for long anyway.  Someone at my shul only seems to enjoy three things: Talmud study, his family and whisky, but he is a very happy person with these three things.  I just have anhedonia and can’t enjoy anything.

The only joy and pleasure I really want is to love and be loved, and it seems that is denied me.  I really want to talk about my childhood and the root causes of my issues here, but I can’t for various reasons.  I just feel that I have never experienced love in an uncomplicated, healthy way since I was four or five years old.  All the authority figures in my life have made love conditional or just ignored me.  Because of this, I just assume that HaShem (God) is the same, that His love for me needs to be earned, and whatever I do won’t be good enough to earn it.  So He punishes me by withholding the one thing I want, to love and be loved by a gentle, kind woman, and by making me depressed and socially anxious all the time.  People tell me HaShem doesn’t hate me, but it definitely seems that way looking at my life, especially when I compare to that of many other people.  I know shouldn’t compare, but it’s hard.

My oldest friend, who I mentioned above, has had big issues in his life, but he always bounces back.  When I had to take time out from university in my final year, I never fully recovered and I struggled through my final year with severe depression and loneliness.  When he had to take a year out, he recovered within a few weeks, spent the rest of his year off in paid employment, then went back to university and finished his degree.  He got paid to train as a rabbi and was assured of a job.  I try not to envy him, but it’s hard.  We grew up together and everyone compared us, because we were inseparable until we were thirteen or so and we looked somewhat alike (except that he was much taller, stronger and more striking with red hair).  But, like the two identical goats from the ancient Yom Kippur service, our fates since then have been very different.

Mind you, it’s not just him I compare myself against.  One of the friends I might possibly see in New York just had an article published in my beloved Jewish Review of Books.  I feel I should be doing things like that.  He’s had several books published.  I feel so inadequate compared to both of these friends, and to most of my friends.  Maybe that’s why I find it so hard to form friendships, because I’m ashamed of myself compared to most people.  It would explain why my close friendships are with people who are also struggling, and why they sometimes end when they get their lives together again.

I know I can’t tell what will happen in the future, my life may improve (I don’t want his life to get worse.  I don’t want to take away other people’s blessings, just to have some for myself).  But it doesn’t feel like it could after all these years, especially as I don’t know why HaShem would suddenly decide to bless me when I’m such a wicked person and when He seems to hate me so much.

I don’t feel I’m asking much out of life from HaShem: the mental health to fulfil and enjoy the mitzvot (commandments) like a good Jew, someone to love who really loves me and understands and accepts me, and with whom I can have happy and healthy children, and enough money to pay the bills and save a little for my old age.  A few friends who can accept me.  But it seems even that is too much and I don’t know why.  I feel like since childhood I’ve been told (by actions and sometimes explicitly in words) that I’m useless, I’m not good enough, I’m not deserving of love.  I’ve had to work twice as hard as everyone else to get any kind of recognition or support and even then I’m constantly told that I’m not doing well enough, I’m not trying hard enough, even though I’m trying my best with minimal energy, concentration, motivation, mental health…

I know I have to love and accept myself before anyone else will love and accept me, but (a) I have heard of lucky people who were loved without loving themselves and were healed as a result and (b) I don’t know how to love myself when it has been drilled into me that I’m useless and reprehensible and deservedly hated by almost everyone and by HaShem.  Even reading this post back it just seems clichéd, pointless and badly written, like every other post on my blog.

The Biggest Almighty Screw Up in the World; or, More Family Tensions

(You probably need to read this post first, if you haven’t already.)

My sister just phoned.  I feel doubly bad because (a) I vented about my parents, which I probably shouldn’t have done (stuff I didn’t put in the previous post because of honouring parents and not gossiping) and (b) we argued a bit.  Actually, we didn’t argue per se, it just felt like that because I’m sensitive and conflict-averse, but she sounded annoyed with me and I was annoyed with her.  I thought, after my previous post, that I would be clever, and ask her not to problem solve, and tell her that my issues were social anxiety and fear of the unknown, not anything she could fix.  When she offered to find someone for me to go to for Shabbat meals, I said I was happy eating alone in my room (OK, “happy” is an exaggeration, but “sufficiently socially anxious for eating alone in my room to be preferable to a roomful of strangers” is a mouthful) and she sounded annoyed and then when she started problem solving my fear of getting lost/mugged by saying get maps I said I have maps and the problem is that I’m terrified of going to New York BY MYSELF!!! not a realistic fear of getting lost and she sounded annoyed about that too.

I don’t know what to do.  I tried really hard to navigate that conversation more successfully and failed.  Admittedly it didn’t turn into an argument, but it was tense.  I literally do not understand my family.  My family literally do not understand me.  Interactions with my family are often triggering (not quite in the PTSD sense, but triggering of depression and anxiety because the roots of my issues are based in stuff that happened in the family when I was a child and that is, in some sense, still happening, albeit in an attenuated way and I can’t talk to them about it because I don’t want to upset them and they would just get defensive and, yes, we have tried family therapy).  I don’t know whether we don’t understand each other because I’m autistic and they’re not or if I’m not autistic but they still don’t get me for some other reason, but right now I feel like THE BIGGEST ALMIGHTY SCREW UP IN THE WORLD.  (And I nearly used a much ruder word than ‘screw up’.  It’s how I feel about myself right now.)

It’s 10.00pm.  I haven’t davened Ma’ariv or done any Torah study today.  I haven’t had dinner, or finished emptying crates from the flat (and hunger is now making me faint, stressed, irritable and depressed).  I haven’t emailed the friends who are finally trying to make arrangements to meet me on my holiday.  I really want to act out in a number of interesting, but unhealthy ways right now, but I’m trying not to.  I haven’t done more than five or ten minutes of Torah study a day most days for two or three weeks now, which makes me feel lousy and that HaShem (God) hates me almost as much as I hate myself right now.

Anyway, I remain, yours etc.

The Biggest Almighty Screw Up in the World