The Final Hours

I think my particularly bad day, depression-wise, on Friday was a result of forgetting to take my lithium on Thursday evening (so it does do something).  The last couple of days have been better, but somewhat listless.  I’m trying to gather my resources for the final Yom Tov (festival) of the Jewish autumn holiday season.

Friday evening was difficult.  My sister, her husband and his sister were here, but the atmosphere was subdued.  I don’t want to go into details, as I don’t know if they would want it online, but my sister’s in-laws are going through a serious health crisis, so there was a heavy cloud over the evening as we were all worried, particularly my brother-in-law and his sister.

I was up late yesterday evening, which was not my intention.  I wanted to catch up on some emails after Shabbat (the Sabbath), which have been neglected lately because of Yom Tov and inter-Yom Tov busyness at work.  In particular, I wanted to respond to an acquaintance who wrote to say that she thinks that she is on the autistic spectrum and wonders if I might be too.  That was a difficult email to write, as I wasn’t sure how much I wanted to reveal.  I opened up a bit about my autism non-diagnosis and mental health issues, but I refrained from mentioning the blog (at this stage).  But I obviously found it hard to write, as I kept letting myself get distracted with aimless internet surfing.  The result was a very late night (I think I got to bed around 3.00am) and a late start today.  I feel depressed and drained.  Just getting dressed was a tremendous effort.

I’ve neglected my non-depression writing of late, partly due to the job change and Yom Tovim.  I wanted to write a Doctor Who blog post today and even wrote the first paragraph, but I just feel too drained.  I hope it wasn’t a mistake paying for a professional (advert-free) blog to use to promote my Doctor Who writing, because I have hardly posted anything on it so far.

I am trying to get back into the habit of regularly studying Nakh, the post-Mosaic books of the Hebrew Bible.  It is hard, as I tend to do much of my Torah study on the train, and taking a big Tanakh (Bible) along with the smaller JPS English-only Bible (because the translation is sometimes more accurate, particularly with obscure words) is impossible, even without the heavy Brown-Driver-Briggs biblical Hebrew dictionary.  I do sometimes find it somewhat restoring, rather than draining (as Talmud is), although I do not know how much is down to being inspired by the subject matter or how much due to the literary qualities of the poetry and prose and how much just from the challenge of translating and understanding an ancient language.

We are headed for the last forty-eight hours of the month long Jewish holiday season.  I can cope with Shmini Atzeret as there aren’t really any special mitzvot or practices, but Simchat Torah is very hard for me.  I suspect it’s a nightmare for anyone with introversion, depression, social anxiety or autism, let alone all of them.  It’s mostly celebrated through ecstatic (alcohol-fuelled) dancing with the Torah scrolls in shul (synagogue) to celebrate completing the annual cycle of reading the Torah.  Once or twice, when the depression has been in remission, I have given myself over to it and those experiences were liberating, but mostly I just feel overwhelmed by noise and embarrassment and not wanting to be there, feeling a Bad Jew and a failure as a human being for not joining in, even for not feeling able to join in.  Standing on the sidelines watching everyone else dancing reminds me of how many things there are that other people enjoy that I can’t experience because of my depression, anhedonia and social anxiety: simple everyday things like happiness, love, friendship, community, family (people dance with their children or grandchildren), simcha shel mitzvah (joy of performing the commandments),religious meaning, love of Torah, even just whisky…

Even worse, at my current shul they auction off honours at the start of the service.  I had heard of honours being auctioned on Simchat Torah in return for gifts to tzedaka (charity) or to the shul, but until last year I had not seen them auctioned off for ‘learning’ (Torah study).  The idea is to get the whole community to study the whole of the Mishnah each year, so Simchat Torah honours are auctioned off for a number of chapters of the Mishnah and sometimes for pages of Talmud.

I don’t like this for a couple of reasons.  At the moment I can’t commit to much in the way of Torah study because of my depression.  Last year the bidding started at thirty chapters of Mishnah; I’m not sure that I managed that number over the last year (I think I managed about twenty-nine).  Plus I’m working my way through the Mishnah in order, whereas people seemed to be assigned Mishnayot based on the number of chapters they bid for, so I would probably get some other section to what I am currently studying.  Plus, as I’ve said before, I’m really sensitive about how much Torah study I do and the fact that I never went to yeshiva and can’t really study Talmud independently, so this is very anxiety- and inferiority-provoking for me (from that point of view, bidding in terms of study is more equitable than bidding in monetary donations, but still creates a hierarchy of high-achievers and under-achievers, and I’m very much in the second category).  In any case, I object to advertising how much Torah study I do and I don’t even want the honours on offer (mostly reading stuff out or carrying the Torah scrolls in the dancing).

So, I had decided to skip Simchat Torah this year, although I’m undecided about how much to skip: leave before the dancing starts or miss Ma’ariv (the evening service) too?  Or don’t even go for Mincha on Shmini Atzeret?  I’m not sure, and it will partly depend how depressed I feel and when they do the auctioning.  The problem is that the three biggest honours (chatan Torahchattan Bereshit and the person called to the Torah with all the community’s children), which are not auctioned, but given to three people who have done a lot for the community, are going to friends of mine.  I feel I ought to go to support them, but I just can’t face it.  My Dad said to email them to apologise, but I can’t face admitting to all my issues (one knows a bit about my issues, one knows that I have some health problems, but not that they are mental health problems and one doesn’t know why I’m mysteriously absent from shul for long periods at all).  So, this will be a more difficult Simchat Torah than most.  I hope I can just quietly slip away after Shmini Atzeret Mincha, but I have a feeling that it won’t be that easy.

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Ambushed by Despair

It’s nearly Shabbat, but I wanted to blog quickly.

Work is difficult.  The noise of the open plan office (not good for autism), the boring nature of the task and the uninspiring field make it hard to concentrate.  I’m working faster, but with less thought.  The processes have become automatic; every so often I ‘wake up’ with a start and hope I’m doing the right things by rote.  I’m still very worried that I’m making mistakes and think that if I get told off less, I must be disguising the mistakes better, or just eliminating the really obvious ones and leaving others buried.  I still feel like I’m learning the ropes after a month (admittedly a month disrupted by Yom Tov (Jewish festivals)).

Being bored leaves headspace for depression.  I felt depressed, self-critical and self-loathing today.  Also fantasies of self-harm, fantasies because I’m too scared to actually hurt myself.  Perhaps it was good that I even noticed and labelled these depressive and self-critical thoughts as thoughts rather than accepting them as givens.

At 2pm, in the toilets, I just froze.  I wanted to cry, but couldn’t.  I felt useless, not good at this job, not good at any job.  I wasn’t sure I would be able to cope with shul (synagogue) tonight.  It took me five or ten minutes to get myself together enough to go back to my desk.

On the way home I was overwhelmed by sadness.  Why am I so lonely?  Why can’t I function normally in the world the way other people can?

Sukkot and Stress

Today has been stressful and isn’t over yet.  I had to phone someone to make an appointment with a psychiatrist.  I phoned at lunch time and was told the person I needed to speak to (I assumed the psychiatrist) was with a patient; he would phone back later.  I wasn’t brilliantly happy about being phoned at work, but I consented.

I was phoned near the end of the day, when I was rushing to finish the work I was set (I was set more than usual and as my boss was off sick, I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to do all of it or not, so I rushed the last bit to get it done (although I was still late) and I am now worried that I made mistakes; the other temp said she sees it as an ongoing project and doesn’t rush to finish).  Because I was stressed, I was not in a positive state of mind to start with, but it quickly became apparent that the person I was talking to was not a psychiatrist, but some type of administrator (the NHS is full of administrators).  He also clearly had no idea of my case history.  One might think that one advantage of a huge socialised healthcare system is easy sharing of information.  One might think that.  It never happens.  I don’t think there are actually accurate records of all the medication I’ve been on over the last fifteen years, which scares me.

He seemed horrified that I haven’t had CBT (actually I have, I clarified, but fifteen years ago).  I got the impression that he seemed bemused that a quick burst of CBT and some antidepressants hadn’t sorted me out long ago, because obviously no one could have serious depression.  He suggested that I access the IAPT and self-refer to some local group that offers… well, I’m not quite sure what it offers as the guy was not talking clearly and I had half switched-off when I realised that he had no idea of who I was and what my problems are and was trying to fit this very square peg in a round hole.  (The other half switched off when he admitted he was phoning me from his car.)  But I think they offer occupational support and group work, although I’m not sure if that’s proper occupational therapy and group therapy.  I don’t need the former as I’m working at the moment (the guy browbeat me into saying that I could go on my day off as I only work four days a week; I couldn’t be bothered to tell him about Shabbat and early winter Fridays) and I don’t really need a therapy group as I have depression group and autism group.  But I said I would self-refer, because it can’t hurt and because I felt it was the only way I could get my real prize, a referral to a proper psychiatrist and maybe some CBT on the NHS (rather than privately) to work on my self-esteem and social anxiety, which would be a win if I can get it to fit with work and Shabbat.

I feel bad that I was a bit short with this guy, but I was at work and had nowhere private to go (it’s an open plan office) so I was in the toilet, with other people, with the cleaner going in and out, trying to be heard on the phone but not by other people, talking aloud about really private stuff, realising I was talking to someone who had no idea who I am or what my problems are and who is just trying to tick a load of boxes that are either unhelpful or which I ticked over a decade ago without result.  (I actually really hate the NHS and half hope someone will have the guts to privatise it, which is not what long-term NHS users are supposed to say; we’re supposed to be all, “Oooh, Jeremy Corbyn, save the NHS from Evil Tories!”  I don’t think a privately-run system will be any better, but at least it won’t be a political football any more and we might get rid of some pointless bureaucrats.)

Anyway…

The other news is that on my lunch break I finished the complex PTSD book (albeit that I skipped some not so relevant bits).  It was a useful description of trauma and emotional flashbacks and makes me think that there probably is an element of trauma in my history and it might be why I struggle to make progress with traditional depression treatments.  I have, however, already mentioned my fears that the attitude of “Your parents were abusive and you have to stop wanting to please them” isn’t terribly helpful for someone who wasn’t actually abused.  Also, while the book keeps talking about the need for unconditional self-love, it doesn’t always make clear (a) how to do this (although it did make me realise that my catastrophising about being single forever is a form of self-criticism) and (b) how to self-love without becoming a narcissist.  I have fears that if I stop beating myself up, I will inevitably end up like Donald Trump.  Plus, it doesn’t tell me how to love myself when I feel that I have genuinely done terrible things that are not deserving of forgiveness, or at least not until I have improved my ways a lot more than I have managed until now.

But my ordeal was not over.  I came home exhausted and hungry, but my father’s oldest friend was coming over to eat in the sukkah (the temporary hut Jews eat in on Sukkot to remember the Israelites in the wilderness).  I get annoyed at the way that my parents make me say hello to their friends generally, as it always seems awkward (I don’t know what to say or do), but at least I know their local friends.  Their non-local friends are harder to talk to, but this friend is hardest of all.  I have always found him overbearing, both in size (he’s well over six foot tall) and manner.  Frankly, although I can only remember one or two concrete instances, I always think of him as teasing me in a way that feels less friendly for me than he probably thinks.  (And this was before he spent a couple of years in a German prison for drug smuggling – seriously.)  I said hello from a distance, and disappeared.  He made a comment about hearing me from a distance and my parents were annoyed, but these days I have not got patience for difficult people.  Plus, I suppose my father’s oldest friend being here just reminds me how I’ve drifted from my own oldest friend, who I am still vaguely in contact with, but who I haven’t seen for years and who forgets I’m not on Facebook, so I found out about the birth of his children late, through my sister, which upset me, although I suppose it’s not his fault.  My father’s friend is still here and I can here him and my parents through my window, which is depressing me and making me worried that I will still  have to speak to him.

Shiur (religious class) also upset me.  The usual self-critical thoughts about not being holy like everyone else, not having simcha shel mitzvah (joy in the commandments) or simcha at all, not being married… plus everyone else got there early (I’m guessing there was a WhatsApp message I missed because my phone is not working properly) and was seated in the sukkah and eating before I got there, so I missed the social side and I didn’t get a drink because the plastic cups ran out and I was too shy to ask for another one.  I was too shy to answer any questions too, although I knew the answers to a few and could have showed off, although I suppose that’s no great loss.  Someone there was very rude, pressuring people to go to a fund-raising event and to bring whisky to shul on Simchat Torah next week when he doesn’t know people’s time and financial commitments (and some may, like me, avoid things due to social anxiety or some other legitimate reason).  This was the same person who, on finding out that I’m single, responded that it was “time” for me to get married, as if I was overwhelmed with offers of marriage and was foolishly wasting my time in hedonistic pleasure seeking (which is the exact opposite of my depressive anhedonia).  (To be fair, he did also offer to have me over to his house for Shabbat meals while I’m single.)  This shouldn’t have upset me, but obviously it did, because I’m still angry nearly two hours later.  This person is probably very holy (at any rate, all he seems to do is “learn” Torah), but perhaps he is so holy he forgets how ordinary people have to live.  Maybe that’s something I can take from my misery, that at least it has made me marginally more empathic and non-judgemental than I might otherwise have been, although if this is me with empathy and tolerance, I worry what me without them would look like.

Alone, Miserable and Unloved

I’ve stumbled home late, thanks to crowding at Kings Cross Station (it took about twenty minutes to walk from the Metropolitan Line platform to the Northern Line via a circuitous route), and in pain, thanks to backache (I’m going to have to switch from a rucksack to a cabin bag as I take too much with me.  That’s probably a psychopathology in itself).  I’m also hungry, but dinner won’t be for ages.  Because dinner is late and because I want to eat in the sukkah (the booth where we eat during Sukkot), I’ll have to eat with my parents and their friends, which means I won’t get to relax by reading while I eat, which means I’ll go to bed tense and tomorrow will be difficult and the problem will probably happen again only I’ll be in a rush because of shiur… OK, this is probably catastrophising now.  But I do feel stressed.

I’ve become paranoid at work.  I feel certain that I’m making loads of mistakes, but I’m scared to ask questions for fear of drawing attention to them.  I overthink things, which may be a trace of OCD or plain anxiety.  Whenever I go to get a drink or to the toilet, I’m sure my boss is thinking that I’m getting up too often and not working hard enough.  At the same time, I feel I should be talking to the other team members more and that everyone is thinking that I’m weird and anti-social (there’s a fair amount of background chatter in the office, but the marketing team, which is what I’m part of, doesn’t seem to chat much, although not in an unfriendly way).  I have a continual feeling of incompetence from when I enter the office in the morning until I leave at the end of the day.

At work I’m looking up lawyers’ biographies online to copy and paste their contact details into a spreadsheet.  Their hobbies are usually predictably boring: reading, cooking, theatre, socialising with friends and family, travel…  I did find one Doctor Who fan (and a female one at that, although I guess that’s less noteworthy than it was twenty years ago), but generally it seems that while being a fan of a sports team is socially acceptable, being a fan of a TV programme is not.  This just reinforces my feelings of weirdness, although I doubt I should be comparing myself to lawyers in any way, shape or form.  I’m sure a lot of my peers from school and university have ended up as lawyers though; even in my small friendship group, I have a solicitor and a barrister.  I do feel that I could/should be earning lots of money, if I wasn’t depressed.  Earning lots of money doesn’t interest me much in itself, but if I had a choice between being miserable and rich and being miserable and poor, I’d choose miserable and rich.

I feel lonely.  I shouldn’t think about how unlikely it is that I will ever get married, but I do.  I feel that it is not surprising that the two relationships I have had have been with someone who was not religious and someone who, although initially religious in a somewhat unconventional way, became less and less religious while we were dating.  I feel that no frum woman would pick someone as weird, geeky and religiously dysfunctional as me.  Any woman who picked me would be ‘settling’ in some way, either a religious woman ‘settling’ for a husband who didn’t go to yeshiva and who doesn’t learn or daven as he should and who is too obsessed with ancient science fiction TV programmes, or a geeky woman who is ‘settling’ for someone who is frum (religious).  I also worry that I seem to always be a rebound relationship, but that might just be coincidence.  Even so, I can’t imagine being anyone’s first choice, or being any kind of choice except out of desperation, fear of loneliness and late-thirties broodiness.

My complex PTSD book tells me that recovery from complex trauma takes years.  Factor in dealing with the social anxiety and depression separately and learning to deal with autism (if I really have it…) and I feel that it could be years until I’m remotely functional (I do not feel functional at all at work), let alone able to experience joy and love.  I fear I will always be alone, miserable and unloved.

Addendum: I got through dinner OK.  I ended up eating my dinner while everyone else was sitting around eating snacks as aperitifs, so I felt like everyone was staring at me eat.  I ate far too fast because of that, although I was also exhausted and in need of food and relaxation.

I felt bad for a couple of reasons which I probably shouldn’t go into here… sometimes I wish I could be more unconstrained here.  But things tonight made me remember that I had a wonky childhood, even if it wasn’t actually abusive or neglectful, and that my relationship with my parents will probably always be a bit wonky.  They also (for different reasons) stoked my fears that one day I will just lose control and do something terrible.  It’s difficult.  Now I need to go to bed very tense and try to sleep to get up at 6.00am tomorrow for extra Sukkot prayers and extra time to eat in the sukkah… and now I’m catastrophising again…

Sukkot 1 and 2

I shouldn’t really be writing this when I need to go to bed to be up so early tomorrow, but I need to stop the racing thoughts in my head.  I’m not translating all the Hebrew words because I’m in a hurry.  Google is your friend.

Sukkot is Zman Simchatenu, the Time of our Joy, but I’ve been up and down the last few days.  Sometimes I’ve been OK, but at other times I’ve slipped back into depression and occasionally into OCD (about the sukkah).  The depression hit me particularly badly in the shiur between Mincha and Ma’ariv tonight.  It was a highly technical halakhic shiur about arbah minim and I could not follow it at all, but judging by the apparently relevant and incisive questions, some at least of the other men in shul could follow it.  I felt such an idiot.  I don’t know why I’ve never been able to ‘get’ Talmudic/halakhic analysis when so many men who, to be frank, as not my intellectual equals generally do get it.  I’ve decided to try to make time to study Nakh (the post-Mosaic books of the Hebrew Bible) again (in Hebrew), but it’s hard to make time for it or to get in the right headspace when I’m depressed.  But Tanakh appeals to me a lot more than Talmud and halakhah, even if I suspect I’m just reading it for literary reasons and the challenge of understanding the Hebrew as much as for religious reasons.

I know/know of a lot of Jews who have stopped being religious because of mental illness.  Likewise a number of Jews who left because they couldn’t get married or fit into the community (this is particularly true of ba’alei teshuva (people who became religious late in life) and converts).  I feel that logically I should stop being religious, but by some strange fluke I happen to believe and so feel stuck in a religion that I believe is true, but which doesn’t actually bring me any joy or peace and with a God who I still find it hard to believe actually loves me, given all I’ve done, and given the way He treats me.  This feeling is only going to increase as we head towards Simchat Torah next week, which is unbearable for anyone with depression or social anxiety, particularly if they don’t have young children or grandchildren (or great-grandchildren, kayn eiyn hara).

I’m trying not to go on about the fact that I’m never going to get married, as I realised (from the C-PTSD book) that it’s just another form of self-criticism, but trying not to mention it doesn’t actually mean that I don’t believe it.  I really can’t see how I could even meet someone in the frum world where men and women only meet if they are set up on dates together and I don’t have a critical mass of acquaintances who know me well enough to set me up with women.  Plus I hide my true self (mentally ill, geeky, open to non-Orthodox ideas) from everyone to avoid rejection, so they wouldn’t set me up with the right women anyway.  It doesn’t help that I currently exist in a grey area between the Modern Orthodox and Haredi/Yeshivish worlds.  I wish there was more of a vibrant Modern Orthodoxy in this country, but there isn’t.  That being the case, I don’t know how to meet someone.  I’d like to go to a course at the London School of Jewish Studies next month, which is about the most vibrant Modern Orthodox institution in the UK (not to meet someone, just because the course looked interesting and possibly helpful to my mental health), but I’m not sure if I can manage staying out late with getting up early for work.

(Did you notice that I managed to make the paragraph about not complaining about never getting married into a complaint about never getting married?)

It’s very clear to me now that I’m avoiding shul in the mornings because of social anxiety.  What is less clear is why I can get to shul on Shabbat and Yom Tov afternoons when I can’t make it in the mornings.  Is just because I’m already awake and up rather than having to go from sleep to dressing to being in shul in half an hour?  I’m not sure.  Why can I get up for work, but not shul, even though shul is hours later?  And what is at the root of the anxiety?  Is it just fear of rejection and not belonging in my community?  Again, I’m not sure.

In non-Jewish news, I’ve had a backache for about a week, which may be my depressive/low self-esteem slumping bad posture catching up with me as my Dad always said it would.  Plus I can’t hear properly and yesterday I felt really dizzy in the evening, which may be the sign of an ear infection.  There’s been a huge problem with my antidepressants too and I’m worried about whether I’m going to be able to get a repeat prescription tomorrow (long story).  So, I’m generally feeling not at my best at the moment and uncertain of how to move forward.

Moments from the Day

I spent an hour today working on my Doctor Who book, which has been somewhat neglected recently for various reasons.  I have finished the second draft… except that I want to do some more research and writing to five of the chapters to produce a draft 2.1.  After that the third draft will be about streamlining the prose and standardising the style and content (the book has essentially been written piecemeal over five years), with a projected fourth draft for polishing and then, hopefully, submission around this time next year.

I stayed in the office at lunch to work on the book, which may have been a mistake.  I was OK during the morning despite only having had about four hours sleep (insomnia), but in the afternoon the office seemed unbearably stuffy and uncomfortable.  It’s on the fifth floor and the windows don’t open and I don’t think the air conditioning is on, if there is any.  The afternoons are the worst, as the sun shines through the windows on my side of the building after lunch and there’s a greenhouse effect.  I think I will have to go out to get some air at lunchtime, even if it’s only for ten minutes, even if the weather is bad and I would rather stay inside and read.  Interestingly, I was able to tolerate the noise of the open-plan office a lot less when I was feeling uncomfortable than when I felt OK.  This is interesting as at autism group everyone agreed that open plan offices are very difficult for autistic people due to problems filtering out noise.

There was a woman crying on the train.  The woman next to her asked if she was OK and she said she was, but she clearly wasn’t.  I wanted to say something to her, but was worried that she might panic if a strange man started trying to have an emotional conversation with her.  I didn’t really know what to say or have the confidence to say it anyway.  I wish I was better at managing these sorts of interactions.

The minor surgery I had a few weeks ago turned out to probably be necessary rather than simply precautionary, so I feel that God has done something for me.  That said, I’m still struggling to believe He would create someone who could love me.  I had a whole long paragraph here, but I cut it because I’ve said it a million times before.  I really can’t see myself getting married, certainly not in time to have children.  I know everyone says I’m catastrophising, but from where I’m standing, it really does look like I’m too weird (compared with other frum (religious) people) and too mentally ill for that to work.  I just wish I could accept that and move on with other parts of my life.

The Day of the Great Fast

I really ought to go to bed, as I have to be up early for work, but I need to write to process the day.

Today was Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish year.  It’s the only fast day I’m allowed to fast on given my current medication.  I don’t fast well, never have done (most of my family don’t either), which always makes the day problematic.  I secretly envy people who can get through the day without so much as a headache, spend the whole time davening (praying) intently in shul (synagogue) and still be in good spirits by the end.

Yesterday night (Jewish festivals start in the evening) was pretty good.  I went to shul and I remember that I had a fairly moving experience, although I don’t remember the details.  I know I felt very, very angry with HaShem (God) at the start.  I have heard that expressing anger at HaShem in prayer is permitted because prayer is supposed to be authentic, that Chana’s (Hannah’s) paradigmatic prayer in Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) which is the model of all Jewish prayer, was an angry prayer according to the rabbis.  I think after a few minutes it turned into intense sadness and perhaps also anxiety about what kind of a new year I might have.

I was tired afterwards and went to bed at 11.00pm.  Unfortunately, I slept for something like fifteen hours.  I spent the morning drifting in and out of sleep with bizarre dreams (meeting an old friend who promptly treifed up our kitchen; being attacked by gorillas in the garden, who turned out to be people dressed as gorillas; and, most strangely, being a Cabinet minister in John Major’s government.  God alone knows what any of those dreams mean, particularly the last one (which was chronologically first)).  When I was awake, I felt too drained, depressed and anxious to get up.  I could tell that I had low blood sugar.  I knew that all I needed was a glass of water, a bowl of cereal and a wash, but all these things are forbidden on Yom Kippur.  I think for the first time I was tempted to eat on Yom Kippur (fasting on Yom Kippur is one of the most widely-accepted Jewish laws.  Even people who do nothing religious all year fast on Yom Kippur).  I didn’t, but I’m slightly worried by how tempted I felt.  Maybe I’m just judging myself harshly.  I don’t think there was a serious chance that I would have eaten something, but it was strange that the thought even entered my head.

Eventually I got up and went to shul.  I arrived at about 4.30pm; Mincha (the afternoon service) had just started.  I struggled through the next four hours or so.  At times I felt so faint and frail that I had to sit down because I was afraid I would fall over if I stayed up, even in parts of the service where one is supposed to stand.  On the plus side, I didn’t get a bad headache and most of the time I didn’t feel like I was actually going to throw up, so that’s actually an improvement on most years.  But I did feel terrible for missing most of the day, even though I know I was too depressed to get through it.  I know I would have felt less depressed if I had eaten, but I also know that my priorities were right (fasting is a biblical commandment and outweighs the rabbinic commandment of set prayer), but somehow this doesn’t make me feel better.

The rabbi in his drasha (sermon) before Ne’ila (the fifth and final Yom Kippur service – only on Yom Kippur do we pray so many times in one day) spoke of not being an mediocre Jew.  The idea is that ten days ago on Rosh Hashanah we could be judged as righteous, wicked or in between, but on Yom Kippur HaShem takes all the in-betweens and reassigns them to one side or the other.  From now on, we’re all righteous or wicked, spiritually alive or spiritually dead.  No compromises.

The rabbi spoke about taking on one area to improve in, religiously, in the coming year.  I had already decided I was going to focus on curtailing my negative self-perception, ending my “internal critic” as the C-PTSD book I’m reading puts it, or talking lashon hara (malicious speech) about myself as I think of it, to try and make it sound religious and therefore more important to deal with, to encourage me not to back off from it.  (The Chafetz Chaim (Rabbi Yisrael Meir HaKohen) spent his life campaigning against lashon hara and he said it’s forbidden to speak maliciously about yourself too – there’s an amusing story about this which sadly I don’t have time to share now).  I still feel I should do something more overtly ‘religious’ like commit to davening  with a minyan more, or with more kavannah (mindfulness) or saying more of Shacharit (morning service) or studying more Torah… I feel lacking in so many crucial areas, and knowing that it’s largely due to my emotional/mental health issues doesn’t make me feel any better.  But I feel that I’ve put off dealing with my low self-esteem for years and that’s probably why I haven’t succeeded at dealing with these other emotional issues.

The rabbi also spoke about the need to do something that is a kiddush HaShem (sanctification of God’s name – something that makes people think positively about Jews, Judaism and the Jewish conception of God).  I don’t know that I really do that, and I’m not sure that dealing with my negative self-talk will really help with that, but I don’t think I can prioritise that today.

After Yom Tov I checked my emails and saw that the CBT therapist who I saw about my OCD and who I emailed to ask if she could help me with my self-esteem and social anxiety isn’t taking on any more clients right now, so I’ll have to find another option.  I’ve got one potential idea, but I need to make some inquiries.

I never know what one is supposed to wish other people after Yom Kippur.  It seems strange to wish shana tova (good new year) now the new year period is officially over and we’re moving towards Sukkot, but it also seems anticlimactic to wish people shavua tov (good new week), particularly as the week is nearly over.  Technically you can wish people Shabbat shalom (peaceful Sabbath) from Wednesday onwards, but that always seems strange.  Still, whatever it is you’re supposed to have at the moment, I wish you a good one.

The Inner Critic

I overslept again this morning.  I would have got to work on time, but there was a slight train delay and I was a couple of minutes late.  This office doesn’t seem to be as strict about timekeeping as my last job, but I felt bad.  I think of myself as a punctual person, at least when other people are involved (when I just want to do something by a certain time for myself, my time management is not always the best, largely due to depressive procrastination and probably also to self-sabotage stopping me doing things I enjoy).

Previously, I had been working through most of the data my boss gives me each day, but leaving some over for the next day.  Today I was asked to go through all the data by the end of the day.   I managed it, but I had to stay a little late and I felt that I was rushing a bit, which worried me as I am still making mistakes, although I think I have found a new way to check my work before submitting it.

The stress of having to do all that work on time and the stuffiness in the office, combined perhaps with my inner critic attacking me for lateness, slowness and mistakes (more of the inner critic in a moment) resulted in a headache by lunch time.  I went for a walk instead of working on my Doctor Who book, although the headache didn’t really go until I took some painkillers.

I’m having some trouble with my Complex PTSD book.  The book tells me that I need to challenge my inner critic.  The book says the inner critic is an internalisation of the voice of one’s abusive parents.  The problem is that I don’t hate my parents the way the book thinks I should and I certainly don’t think they were abusive.  I acknowledge that my issues date back to childhood experiences, albeit not just with my parents, but I don’t think my parents were terrible parents and certainly not abusive ones; there were a number of difficult things going on when I was a child that were not in my parents’ control that were the source of my problems, including my borderline autistic traits (at a time when these were not widely recognised) and some other family issues, as well as bullying at school.  My parents would have benefited from guidance that could have helped them make some better parenting choices, but I don’t hate them or feel furious with them.  It’s upsetting to read a book that seems predicated on my seeing my parents as being hugely abusive and my needing to challenge them.  At the same time, it is silly to deny that a lot of my childhood was upsetting and maybe even traumatic in the technical use of the term and years of psychodynamic therapy still haven’t exhausted all the things I would like to say about it (but feel I shouldn’t say here).  I don’t know where this leaves me, especially as I’ve just stopped psychodynamic therapy.

The other issue is that to challenge the inner critic, I am supposed to state that I don’t deserve to suffer.  The problem is that I think I do deserve to suffer.  I suppose I can acknowledge that I’m not so bad.  Although I don’t really think I’m a great Jew, I’m not doing anything really terrible in the Harvey Weinstein school of awfulness.  But… when the depression (and/or all my other issues) is bad I act out.  I won’t spell out what I do (and it isn’t anything illegal, dangerous or which directly hurts me or anyone else), but I think it’s bad, Judaism thinks it’s bad and some secular people think it’s bad.  I sometimes feel like I deserve the depression (and/or everything else) to punish me and that not being able to marry is very much a punishment middah keneged middah (measure for measure).  But then I think I became depressed when I was in my teens and Judaism teaches one doesn’t get punished until one reaches the age of twenty (God gives a cooling off period to gain maturity) so the depression can’t be a punishment.  But then I think that even if it wasn’t a punishment then then, it could be now.   And I go back and forth.  My therapist and my rabbi mentor know about this stuff.  My therapist says I’m normal and loveable.   My rabbi mentor says that lots of people struggle with this halakhah (law) and that I’m a good person.  But I can’t internalise it.  And the self-loathing and despair just makes me act out again.  (This is probably why the rabbis said not to think of yourself as wicked.)

I used to get pure O OCD thoughts, worrying that I had accessed illegal websites without realising it and would go to jail and be disowned by my friends and family.  It was probably built on this self-loathing and fear of discovery… yet there is also a desire for discovery.  I want to write in more detail about my acting out and have been dropping heavy hints.  I’m just fed up with hiding myself.  I want everyone to see how awful I am.  Then there is no risk that anyone will ever love me again, and I won’t suffer any more disappointment.

I think I need to see a CBT therapist, as I’m not going to be able to challenge these thoughts alone.  I emailed the therapist who helped with my OCD, but she hasn’t got back to me yet; I see on her website that she has, however, put up her prices…

Oh, and Dad thinks that the ginger cat that lived near my parents’ house and which seemed to like me (s/he rubbed affectionately back and forth against my legs once, wich is more affection than I’m used to getting) died.  I keep thinking about whether I could look after a cat.  I suppose that, having resigned myself to never being well enough to get married and have children, I’m thinking about other options of someone to care for.

Colonel Runaway

One problem of the concept of ’emotional flashbacks’ that I’ve mentioned is the difficulty I have in distinguishing an emotional flashback (if there really is such a thing) from my ‘normal’ feelings of depression, despair, anxiety and self-loathing.  Or maybe there is no difference – they really are the same thing.  The book I’m reading on C-PTSD did seem to imply that a lot of what is diagnosed as depression and anxiety is actually misdiagnosed C-PTSD, which might explain why the usual depression treatments have been so ineffective for me, but I’m wary of doing my usual thing of finding a potential new diagnosis and getting very involved and emotionally-invested in researching it before a psychiatrist tells me I don’t actually have it (cf. bipolar disorder, autism and other things).  I guess I feel like the boy who cried wolf with myself.

Emotional flashbacks or not, it has been a difficult Shabbat (Sabbath) and I am ashamed to say that, yet again, I mostly responded by running away.  I ran away from shul (synagogue) early during Ma’ariv (the evening service) this evening.  This was partly because I had a migraine (and was aware that I’m likely to feel just as bad, if not worse, on Wednesday, as fasting always makes me ill), but also because I was feeling deeply depressed and socially anxious.  I’m not quite sure what triggered it.  There are too many possible causes, or maybe it was the cumulative effect of all of them.  I was initially a bit upset that I couldn’t join in the lechaim (drink, in this case whisky) at the Talmud shiur (class) for finishing the first perek (chapter) of Talmud because I don’t drink because of the depression and my anti-depressants.  Then at Mincha (the afternoon service) someone took my usual seat, which upset me more than it should have done (symbolic of my not having found my place in the community?), then I didn’t realise there was going to be a seudah shlishit (third Shabbat meal) and had already eaten mine at home (after eating seudah shlishit one can’t eat again until after Shabbat) and the rabbi’s Shabbat Shuva shiur (class) about Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) depressed me – I’m not sure if I felt I couldn’t be forgiven or that I would be, but didn’t deserve to be (or maybe it was something else).  The last straw was an acquaintance coming up and talking to me and I was reluctant to mention that I haven’t been at shul much recently because of depression and social anxiety, but then I got trapped in my white lies about everything being fine… so it all got to much for me and I ran away from shul during the Amidah, skipping the extra post-Shabbat prayers.  I suppose also ran away by sleeping too much to avoid my thoughts and to avoid shul, as usual.

As I mentioned, the rabbi’s shiur about Yom Kippur upset me and I’m not entirely sure why.  He quoted a parable from Rebbe Shneur Zalman of Liadi, that what happens on Yom Kippur is as if a king gave his friend the crown jewels, and the friend dropped them in raw sewage, and then the king personally wiped them clean.  Likewise HaShem (God) gives us a pure soul, which we sully over the year with all our sins, and then on Yom Kippur He personally cleans our souls and returns them to a pristine state.  The rabbi also compared it to a king changing his baby’s nappy, not caring about how disgusting it is and even cooing over the baby while doing it to show his love.  That should be a reassuring image, but somehow it wasn’t.  I just feel inadequate and undeserving of forgiveness.   Perhaps – and this is somewhat speculative – I feel I would rather die than be forgiven, not in some kind of rebellious Miltonic sense, but just that I don’t feel I deserve forgiveness and I’m scared of HaShem, but not in the way we’re supposed to be.  I’m sure it’s all rooted in my childhood, in the traumatic experiences that I can’t talk about here, although I want to, but it’s hard to know what to do.

I suppose I just want to be told that I’m good, but am scared of it.  Scared of being told that I’m not good, but also scared of being told that I am good.  I don’t feel I deserve to be told that.  Sometimes I fantasise about meeting some great rabbi (past or present) who could tell me that I’m a good person, or having some kind of semi-prophetic dream about it, but I think that scares me, without my really knowing why.  He didn’t mention it today, but the rabbi has often stated the kabbalistic (mystical) that sinning creates a negative spiritual entity, which God sustains Himself, when he would be justified in telling it to sustain itself off our souls.  I don’t know what that means or whether I believe it (I’m wary of saying that I don’t believe in kabbalah at all, but I find it impossible to understand and, unlike halakhah (Jewish law), which I also struggle to understand, I don’t even understand the general principles behind it or connect with it at all, and a lot of it does seem illogical in a way that I don’t find with other aspects of Torah).  I haven’t heard that idea from anyone else, although I have heard the idea that male masturbation creates demons from the unused semen.  I don’t know whether I believe that either.  But I find it easier to believe that I’m creating hundreds of negative spiritual creatures every year from my sins than that HaShem forgives me for everything and coos over me like a loving parent.  Maybe that makes me a terrible person, or maybe I’m just messed up.

Six Symptoms in Search of a Diagnosis

I’m not usually much of a hypochondriac, except with mental health/developmental stuff.  Reading Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving by Pete Walker has thrown up a lot of questions about whether I have complex PTSD, as I’ve mentioned in recent posts.  Today I read about the Flight-Freeze Hybrid.  The idea is that there are four primary responses to trauma (fight, flight, freeze, fawn) , but lots of people have a mixture with two predominating.  If I have C-PTSD, then I’m probably a flight-freeze hybrid.  Flight means I run away from danger, freeze means I shut down.

According to Walk, people with a flight-freeze hybrid response are usually men who were traumatised for being vulnerable in childhood.  They work until exhausted (flight often translates as workaholism or sometimes OCD) and then collapse and vegetate (freeze translates as depression) until recovered enough to take flight again.  They seek isolation or intimacy-lite relationships and often have love lives that are primarily fantasy/pornographic.  It would, I suppose, explain why I go through cycles of work-depression.  I haven’t been well enough to be a workaholic since 2003, but I do push myself with work, recovery and, sometimes, social engagement, which sometimes gets results and sometimes results in burn out, often both.  I have had psychiatrists say to me that for someone experiencing the kind of intense depressive thoughts that I have, I’m surprisingly functional.  It would also suggest that I’ve been self-sabotaging my attempts to find like-minded friends and a wife, although I’m not sure how I’ve done that, as it looks to me that I’ve just been really unlucky.

I guess it’s something to think about, although I don’t know if I would have the confidence to speak to a psychiatrist about it.  I feel that psychiatrists can be dismissive of my ideas about what might be wrong with me.

Hurricane

Today was a struggle at work.  The usual story: do I go slowly to be thorough, but not get enough done or speed up and make mistakes, but process more?  I’ve probably been going too fast, or maybe I’m just not used to the work yet.  And at any rate, I’ve been making mistakes, but also feeling that I’m too slowly.  My boss has sent work back to me to be repeated, but hasn’t commented on speed, so I should probably slow down a bit.  It frustrates me that I can mess up such a superficially easy task.  I don’t know how much of that is laziness, depression, anxiety or boredom.

I went to autism group in the evening instead of shiur (religious class) and also instead of an early night.  This might have been another mistake, given how tired I was this morning and how drained I was feeling even before socialising at autism group drained me some more.  I feel a bit of an impostor at autism group.  There are other self-diagnosed people there, but as far as I know, I’m the only one to have been told alternately that I both am and am not on the spectrum.  I just feel a mess there, as most of the other people seem more socially able.  Someone there said I shouldn’t compare myself with other people.  I know this, but it proves impossible not to, and the comparison is always negative.  I’ve noticed that quite a few people at autism group work in computing, specifically software programming.  I don’t know of a humanities-style equivalent, although cataloguing might be it.  Pity I could never find a pure cataloguing job with the right hours and salary, or anything near it.

I just feel like the whole time my mind is a hurricane of depression, loneliness, anxiety, self-hatred, agitation and despair. Sometimes also suicidal thoughts, anger, bitterness and lust, although the latter is probably just a form of loneliness (actually, the anger and bitterness are probably loneliness half the time too).  Different elements dominate at different times, but one of them is usually there.  However, finding the right diagnosis (treatment-resistant depression/social anxiety/autism/C-PTSD/all of the above/none of the above) is like nailing the proverbial jelly to the wall.  I hope to see a psychiatrist soon and I will try to ask about reassessment.

 

Rosh Hashanah

In the end I did a half-hearted chesbon nafesh (assessment of my spiritual standing last year) in the closing hours of year while I was doing other stuff.  I didn’t write it down, unlike the previous twelve years or so that I have filed on my laptop.  I’m not sure I can remember what I found, but did feel I had done slightly more than I expected, but not much more.

I had a surprise short-notice invitation to the rabbi of my shul (synagogue) for dinner.  I must have slipped out at the end of Ma’ariv on first night Rosh Hashanah (New Year) last year because I didn’t know that the rabbi gives everyone (well, every man, but there weren’t many women there) a personal bracha (blessing).  He wished me a year of equanimity, which was nice.  The assistant rabbi blessed me that I should find someone to marry “at right time”.  I’m glad that he said “at the right time” because I really don’t think I am marryable right now.  See also the person from shiur (religious class) who said a fine person like me deserves beautiful wife… there are several questionable assumptions right there, but I’ll leave that for now.  It’s all meant well, but I feel realistically I would be better off with a blessing to accept that I’m always going to be single.  I can’t tell the rabbi or assistant rabbi about E, but I don’t think either would approve (my rabbi mentor does, but he is probably more broadminded).  But the Talmud says that a man without a wife is without blessing, life, joy, help, good and peace so opting to stay single doesn’t really come in to it.  Plus, one has to be socialised into the norms of the community (more on this later).

I enjoyed dinner, but I didn’t say much.  I really take with me two things from the evening: the person sitting next to me played a little practical joke on me, telling me something obviously untrue that I completely fell for and one of the other women at the dinner looked familiar, but I couldn’t work out why; only later did I realise I think tried to talk to her on a Jewish dating site years ago (she wasn’t interested – she thought I was too “wordly” and would find her boring).

On the morning of the first day of Rosh Hashanah, I was too depressed and socially anxious to get up, so I missed shul and the blowing of the shofar yet again.  I feel bad about this, but it has happened so many times that I don’t feel that bad about it any more and not in a good way.  It was harder to explain my absence to the people I was sitting with (the seating has been rearranged for chaggim (festivals)) when I saw them in the afternoon.  I said that I have health issues without say what.

Based on a dvar Torah sheet I read on first night, I tried to focus on accepting my feelings when davening (praying), even thought that meant most of my davening was full of very sad feelings.  It wasn’t always possible, though, and sometimes I was on autopilot or just too socially anxious to concentrate.

On the second night I went to dinner with one of the people I usually sit with in shul, the closest friend I really have there, and his family and the other person who sits with us.  This was a less anxiety-provoking meal and I enjoyed it, but on the way home I suddenly developed a migraine.  It’s like I’m not allowed to enjoy myself without something going wrong.

I was supposed to be on security duty at 12.30pm on the second day.  I was feeling depressed, but forced myself out about 12.15pm (shul had started at 7.45am, I think) only to discover there was some kind of mix up about the security rota and I didn’t need to be there.  I took the opportunity to daven and to hear some of the shofar blasts, although I’m not convinced I heard enough to fulfil the mitzvah because I was so late.  I was overwhelmed by the noise and the close proximity other people (far more people come for Rosh Hashanah  and Yom Kippur than for ordinary services, so we are packed in to the small school hall where we daven).

There was a shiur in the evening between Mincha and Ma’ariv which made me quite depressed.  It was given by a rabbi who does kiruv (outreach) work with teenagers.  He was talking about the lack of self-esteem in teenagers, which made me feel depressed, similar to the way the rabbi, at dinner the first night, said that one should find one’s tachlit (purpose) by the end of one’s teens; I’m thirty-five and I have absolutely no idea what my tachlit is or how to find out.  On the way home I reflected on my own teen years and felt very lonely and depressed.  I feel there was a way I could have succeeded in my life, particularly my religious life, but probably my mental health too, if I had made certain decisions when I was thirteen or fourteen, even when I was eighteen.  But social anxiety and a feeling of non-conformity, a feeling that other people (peers, but also kiruv rabbis) were trying to bully and twist me out of shape kept me from doing that.  Now I don’t fit into a frum (religious) community; I can’t get married (I’m in a weird non-relationship with a non-frum woman); I have few frum friends, but not many; I have no role in my community, nowhere where I fit in.  I made some bad choices, but I was also pushed into bad choices by family dynamics, social interactions, bullying, loneliness and a fear of a one-size-fits-all approach to kiruv and acceptance in the frum community that allows the secular world to enter in some ways, but not others (yes to football and politics, no to geekyness).  I don’t know where I go from here.

I couldn’t sleep last night, probably due to sleeping too much over Yom Tov (so much for the minhag of sleeping less over Rosh Hashanah).  I eventually got four or five hours sleep and spent much of the day struggling at work, feeling exhausted and not knowing what to do and thinking that I can’t actually do the fairly simple task I’ve been set.  On the way home I saw the frum woman I dated briefly last year only for her to drop me instantly when my mental health issues came out.  And then I managed to run into her again.  I can accept that life is miserable, but why does it have to be so hard?

Thoughts from the Last Shabbat of the Year

Just a few thoughts I was wrestling with over Shabbat (the Sabbath).

I couldn’t sleep on Friday night.  I’m not sure why.  I had a lot of somewhat agitated thoughts during the evening and they just continued when I got to bed.  Eventually I got up and read an anthology of (not very good) Doctor Who comic strips until I felt tired enough to sleep.

The agitated thoughts raced around, but were mostly about the idea of belonging somewhere in the frum (religious Jewish) community and whether HaShem (God) loves me.  The Jewish Chronicle had devoted quite a bit of space to Chief Rabbi Mirvis’ thirty-six page document laying out guidelines for United Synagogue  Jewish schools regarding LGBT+ students.  Obviously Orthodox Judaism has a more rigid and prescriptive approach to gender and sexuality than the secular West, but Rabbi Mirvis was concerned (quite rightly, in my opinion) about people feeling excluded from the community and especially about the high rate of suicide among LGBT+ people and the homophobia and transphobia people encounter in the Orthodox community.  His aim was to create an inclusive community where pupils feel able to talk about their gender and sexuality without prejudice.

Although I’m not LGBT+ (and I’m technically not part of a United Synagogue shul any more, although I have links as my parents are), the fact that he was making a big effort to reach out to people that historically the mainstream Orthodox community has seen as being on the fringe, or beyond it, was comforting to me, as it implied a more inclusive community for everyone.  Particularly as his argument for inclusion was based on “love your neighbour as yourself” and “do not stand by your brother’s blood” (i.e. don’t stand by when other people are in danger) and the fact that schools have a duty of care for all their students, rather than more pragmatic considerations (e.g. the community is shrinking and we can’t afford to turn people away).

So, I was thinking about this a lot.  I’m not sure I can fully reconstruct my thought processes, but I suppose it was on the lines of, “Rabbi Mirvis implies HaShem loves everyone, regardless of who they are, therefore He must love me, regardless of all the bad things I do.”  This obviously was not a new thought for me, but in the past I always follow it up with, “Well, if HaShem loves everyonedoes He love Hitler then?  Or Osama bin Laden?” and then I end up feeling that if He doesn’t love people who are evil, maybe I’m evil too.  But I got thinking that if everyone is holy because they are created in the image of HaShem, with a holy soul, then it would only be if I committed murder (i.e. destroying the image of HaShem in someone else) or rape (equivalent to murder according to the Torah) that He would stop loving me.  And, bad as I am, even at my most self-loathing I can’t claim to have committed rape or murder.

I’m not sure how coherent this reasoning is.  Certainly the Jewish tradition argues that you can destroy your connection with HaShem with other sins, some of which I’ve done, but it also adds a load of caveats to that stating that you have to really understand the spiritual consequences of the bad things you’re doing and do them deliberately to anger HaShem in order to cut yourself off from Him forever and it’s generally assumed that these days people don’t have that awareness.  But I guess this area of feeling loved or hated by HaShem is something I’m going to struggle with for a while longer, but I do feel as if I made a step forward last  night.

In recent years I’ve influenced by a lot of Jewish religious existentialist thinkers.  Jewish existentialism tends to focus a lot on relationships as the core of the religious experience, with ritual and study being subsidiary to that.  The core idea is the encounter – the encounter with HaShem and the encounter with other human beings – when two people meet and are able to respond to each other from the depths of their souls.  This appeals to me very much, but I feel I’m very bad at it.  I do try to go to my support groups and to comment on mental health blogs online and to keep in touch with friends who have mental health issues.  I feel that that is where I’m supposed to be right now, being there for other people, even if it’s just to listen and validate.  (In my experience being heard – really being heard – is one of the most therapeutic things.)  It’s hard though.  I’ve let some bloggers whose blogs I read know that they can email me via my blog if they want, but I subsequently worried that that was too forward and maybe I scared them.  I find interpersonal interactions laden with difficulty.  Still, if anyone reading this feels lonely or distressed and wants to email, please use the link at the top.  Although I say it myself, I consider myself a very non-judgemental person.  I’m pretty good at responding to emails quickly, although there will be quite a few days this month when I can’t check my emails due to all the Yom Tovim (Jewish festivals).

At shiur (religious class) on Thursday someone assumed I was married with children and I had to tell I am single and childless.  Tonight he asked how old I was and when I said I was thirty-five, he said I should get married.  I said I want to, I just haven’t met the right person yet.  Then I felt bad, because I still hope that E. might be the right person and I have met her, she just doesn’t feel that we should be dating right now, which I kind of agree with and kind of don’t agree with.  We both really care about each other a lot and message each other a lot (multiple times a day, far more than I message anyone else).  But there’s a lot of obstacles to making that a relationship though.  I wasn’t going to tell him that I was in an “It’s complicated” situation, though.  Frum people aren’t supposed to get into “It’s complicated” situations.  He did at least wish that this year would be the year I get married.

My parents asked me again about E. at lunch too.  They do that quite a bit, which I’m slightly worried by.  Every so often my Dad asks if I’m still in touch with her.  I’m not sure whether he realises what the situation is, as I haven’t had the confidence to tell him exactly that we both still really like each other.  My Mum knows a bit more.  She is worried that I would wait for E. so long that I would miss other opportunities.  I understand that, but I don’t feel up to dating other women right now anyway.  E. was right that I’m too dysfunctional and (let’s be honest) too poor (I mean financially poor) to think about marriage and family.  If I can de-dysfunctionalise myself… well, maybe E. might be interested then and if not, I can think about dating other women, but at the moment I think I need to concentrate on getting myself better.

I feel sad writing this post.  It’s brought up so many mixed emotions for me.  I really want to reach out to people.  I really just want to help people, but I feel that I don’t have anything to offer other than a sympathetic ear and a non-judgemental nature.

And now it’s the last Jewish day of the Jewish year 5778 (Jewish days run sunset to sunset).  I already wished everyone here shana tova/good new year earlier in the week, because I wasn’t sure I would have the time or inclination to write again.  Still, knowing that a disproportionate number of my readers have difficulties of one kind or another, I hope everyone is written for life, health, prosperity and happiness tomorrow (we believe that everyone gets judged by HaShem on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) regarding whether they will have a good new year, non-Jews as well as Jews).  We should all have the joy that comes from knowing and accepting who we are, and having people around us who accept that self-definition and care about us.  Shana tova.

Quick Notes from the End of the Week

I had my last session with  my therapist.  We spoke a bit about the C-PTSD book I’m reading.  She said that lots of things can be traumatic to a child, so I could well have experienced childhood events as trauma even if I wasn’t actually abused in the strict legal sense, especially as there was bullying and other difficult events for me.  We spoke about not necessarily needing a label of PTSD/trauma, just an awareness of how I feel and why I feel it.

She sounded pretty hopeful about my chances for the future and we’ve left things open so that I can go back to her if I want/need to after I’ve tried some CBT.  But I really do feel I need to try a more practical form of therapy to work on my low self-esteem now, especially as I feel (and she agreed) that psychodynamic therapy has done a lot of good for me in understanding my feelings and where they come from historically and now I need to move on to something more practical.

My father’s uncle died yesterday.  I didn’t know him very well, but my father was close to him and is very upset.  The funeral was today (Jewish funerals are usually done as soon as possible, preferably within twenty-four hours).  My great-uncle was the last person of that generation (grandparent/great-uncle/great-aunt) in my family, on either side.  It’s sobering to think that my parents are now the elder generation (albeit that my parents both have cousins who are ten or fifteen years older than they are) and that I’m now of the ‘younger adult’ generation; I already have second cousins once removed who see me as an adult figure, and there will perhaps be more children, closer to me one day, who will see me as an uncle, maybe even as a father (it could happen, theoretically).  It’s another reminder of mortality and the inexorable passage of time at a time of year when such things are omnipresent.

The World is Waiting, Apparently

Work seems to be going OK and my mood has been better this week.  I don’t seem to be making as many mistakes as earlier in the week and so far my boss hasn’t complained about my speed, although I’m going slower than I would like.  I’m shaking again, though, when I talk to my boss.  Shaking is something that hasn’t been a huge problem for a while.  I shake when I get nervous, probably connected with medication side-effects, but I go long periods of not being troubled by it at all and then it can suddenly come out of nowhere.  My gut instinct is that I was so worried that my boss at this job would be like my boss at my previous job (critical and temperamental) that it led to anxiety and shaking.  Then, once it’s started, I begin to worry about shaking when I go into a social situation and my anxiety about shaking triggers the shaking itself and I become trapped by my own nervous system (nervous in both senses of the word).

The main thing I want to blog about today is something I read.  I’ve been reading Halakhic Morality: Essays on Ethics and Masorah by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.  Rav Soloveitchik (as he is known) is a major figure in twentieth century Orthodox Judaism, a major communal figure and a major thinker.  The book is a selection of previously unpublished essays and lectures on Jewish ethics.  The final chapter, titled Religious Styles, deals with the need to develop a unique personal religious style.  Rav Soloveitchik says that there is the halakhah, Jewish law, which is binding on all Jews in the same way and can be formally taught.  But there is also religious style, the way a person fulfils the commandments, which a person has to develop for himself, based on observing his or her parents and teachers.  One can keep all the mitzvot (commandments) punctiliously and still be a bad person if one has a bad style, for instance if one is short-tempered, rude, gluttonous and so on.

This was interesting to me, because I struggle to find my own religious style and to work out where I fit in the frum (religious) community, and it chimes with my understanding of the teachings of the Kotzker Rebbe a century earlier, which stress individuality.  But then the Rav says,

“Sometimes we walk into shul [synagogue] on Rosh ha-Shanah [Jewish New Year] and we are as cold as if we had just come out of a deep freeze.  We want to ignite a fire, to warm up our personality.  It happens to everybody; it happens to me too.  I do not think then about the philosophy of Rosh ha-Shanah and the concepts of malkhuyot, zikhronot, and shofarot [kingship, remembrance and the blowing of the shofar, the ram’s horn trumpet, the three core concepts of the day’s prayers].  No matter how wonderful and beautiful they are, how fascinating intellectually they may be, they will not light a fire.  One cannot arouse a person by philosophizing.

All I have to do is recollect the tune my grandfather R. Hayyim used while reciting U-Vekhen Ten Pahdekha [part of the Rosh Hashanah prayers] – that’s all!  Suddenly a fire is ignited, my heart begins to warm up and I begin to feel the sanctity of the day.” (pp. 198-199)

I find this interesting, as this is the problem I have been wrestling with in the run up to Rosh Hashanah (starting Sunday night), so it seemed strange to reach this chapter just now when I’ve been reading this book on and off for months.  I also feel cold about the coming Yom Tovim, but I don’t know how to warm myself.  To be honest, I have probably needed warming up for some years.  Unlike the Rav, I do not come from a famous rabbinic dynasty to have examples of ‘warm’ Jews from my ancestors.  To make matters worse, I have a lot of anger and resentment against HaShem (God) to work through and I don’t know how to do it.  Nor do I know what my unique religious style would be.  But I’m glad to know that it’s not just me who struggles.

In a somewhat related way, the assistant rabbi was talking in shiur (religious class) tonight about the need to connect with HaShem and other people in an authentic way, not just out of ego (so we can feel good that we condescend to help others) or to get rewarded.  He said we should find one middah (character trait) that is naturally well-developed in us, something that comes easily to us, and use that to help others altruistically at this time of year so that we will connect with the world in a genuinely altruistic, God-centred way and deserve a good new year.

I don’t know that I have even one good middah.  I can’t think of any good deed or mitzvah (commandment) that comes easily to me.    In the latest of his weekly parasha essays, Rabbi Lord Sacks says “The world is waiting for you” but I don’t know what I am expected to do.  The only thing I can think of where I connect to people in a genuinely altruistic way, doing it for other people rather than to get something for myself, is when I interact with people online, on my blog and other people’s blogs, where I genuinely like to connect and help with advice or support about mental illness.  But if that’s my mission in life, it rather implies that I will always be depressed.

I wish I could tell if I am a good person and a good Jew.  E. told me recently that she thinks that in secular terms, I would be a good person.  Which I guess is good, but I’m not sure if it’s good enough.  I mean, part of the reason I’m frum is that I find the secular Western ethic lacking in many ways and the Jewish ethic to be more meaningful and more fully thought through and in a way actually more humanistic, more attuned to human nature, more aware of its pitfalls and more able to avoid them, but also in some ways more accepting of it.  Somehow it feels that the active good I do is very little, and my goodness, such as it is, is mostly avoiding the bad.  Which is good, at least up to a point.  “Turn from evil and do good” says Tehillim (Psalms) (34.15).  Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz is said to have spent twenty-one years improving himself by following this dictum: seven years removing evil from himself; another seven years finding the good; and a third set of seven years inculcating the good into himself.  Still, I feel that if I started becoming frum when I was twelve, I’ve had well over my twenty-one years by now and I’m far from good.

The world might be waiting for me, but I don’t know what it is waiting for me to do.

Checking In

I am still alive.  I know it’s three days since I posted, which is an eternity for me.  To be honest, I might not be posting regularly for a while, because my new job and the upcoming Jewish festivals are going to take up most of my time for the next month, especially as I don’t dare to blog at work after what happened at my old job, doubly so as this is an open-plan office and I don’t want people reading over my shoulder.

The new job is going OK.  It involves checking lists of data are correct by googling the people on the list and comparing what is written there.  I’m basically being paid to Google-stalk and LinkedIn-stalk people (not Facebook-stalk as this is all business addresses).  It’s boring, but diverting in a way.  There is an element of “quest” about trying to find the data and I like the fact that I get to put my research skills to some use (knowing how to do a Google site search is finally useful).

Mood-wise, I’m OK for a bit and think I’m getting settled, but then I suddenly get hit by a wave of anxiety.  I worry that I’m going too slowly at work and am going to get in trouble for not working fast enough (my previous boss told me off for this), so I speed up my work, but then I make sloppy mistakes and worry I’ll get in trouble for that.  I guess I’m still learning the ropes, but I feel bad about the mistakes my boss caught and worry that I will keep making them.  I haven’t got so much depression at the moment, but I’m dreading what Yom Tov (Jewish festivals) will do.  Fortunately I managed to keep my religious OCD in check, as I was worried it would get worse again now I’m back to living with my parents.

And that’s it really.  My life is mostly work and anxiety about Yom Tov.  I finished watching Doctor Who for the book I’m writing.  I’ve still got a couple of pages of notes that I haven’t had time to write up yet, but the second draft is basically done… but I need to a draft 2.5 to a few chapters because my idea of the book and the ‘evidence’ I needed changed partway through, so I need to rewatch all of 1960s Doctor Who again, plus the 2017 season because I didn’t think I picked up everything I could.  But I’m pausing that re-viewing for a while as I need a break.

I’m reading a book on complex PTSD, but it’s confusing me as to whether I have it or not, especially as I wasn’t abused, and although I did have a traumatic childhood in some ways, I don’t always feel that it was bad enough to ‘deserve’ PTSD.  I fear another autism-type ambiguous situation.  Plus the book has a lot of hippy-drippy stuff about reparenting yourself and talking to your inner child.  I don’t really respond well to that sort of thing.  It’s also all written in the third-person feminine (‘she’) and I know that’s just a stylistic thing, but somewhere in my unconscious it reinforces the feeling that I don’t ‘deserve’ PTSD, that boys shouldn’t be traumatised or, worse, boys are all abusers and get no sympathy.

The next month, for me and for most religious Jews, is going to be a mixture of spending hours in shul (synagogue) introspecting and praying; eating too much; fasting too much; spending (too much?) time with family and friends; doing weird Jewey things like throwing our sins in the river, sitting in a hut in the garden eating in autumn and waving branches around; and getting drunk and dancing (er, not all these things all at once.  Different things on different festivals).  And then cramming work in to the days that aren’t festival days, when we’re allowed to work, to make up for all the time off.  Some of this stuff I find hard even at the best of times and with depression and social anxiety it gets ten times harder.  I’m going to try not to be too hard on myself and just do what I can, but it’s going to be a challenge.  I’ll try to check back in periodically, but don’t worry if you don’t hear from me for a bit.

And in case I don’t get the chance to write before Sunday evening, shana tova u’metuka/have a good and sweet new year!

Acting Out, Suicide and Uncrossed Lines

It’s a bit silly to post again today, but I want to get this down before I forget, as it’s a sudden realisation I just had and as it’s not very long it’s probably OK.  And maybe this is something to sneak out when people aren’t looking anyway.

When the depression is bad, I act out sometimes.  Nothing illegal or anything that hurts anyone, but something that the person I want to be would not do.  Imagine I responded to the depression by eating ice cream.  Then, imagine a limit in my ice cream eating that I have never gone beyond: say, eating a whole tub of Ben and Jerry’s in one sitting.  Then imagine that I console myself when very depressed saying, if it gets very bad, at least I could eat a whole tub of Ben and Jerry’s in one go, because I’ve never done that, but I know it’s there, as a concept.  And then I realise that, regardless of the healthiness (or otherwise) of eating a whole tub of Ben and Jerry’s in one go, I will never do it.  I will never go through with it, no matter how depressed I am.  I just can’t cross that line.  Which should feel good, but instead I just feel envy for all those people who do eat a whole tub of ice cream when depressed.  They as miserable as I am, but at least they get to enjoy that ice cream that I never will.

It’s the same with suicide.  Suicidality can be calming (not always, but sometimes), because I can think that I have a way out if things get unbearable.  But now I think I’ll never have the guts (or whatever) to go through with suicide.  So I envy… not people who have committed suicide, but I do wish that I was dead.  I want to be out of the world, and deep down I think I know that I could never bring myself to hasten that (not even by eating whole tubs of ice cream).  So I feel trapped.

I don’t know how to get out of this, how to find a way to feel glad for not eating the ice cream, even to feel glad for being alive.  I’m not sure that I’ve ever really felt glad for being alive.  I either took it for granted or I felt that I wanted to die.

Childish

I dropped some blogs from my reading list.  This is always a big thing for me, as I have such a limited social life that the blogs I read often seem like friends (hence over-sharing and drama queening).  I feel bad for culling friends, even if they probably weren’t really friends any more, if they ever were.  And it did confirm that I’m still very angry with one person, even coming up to Yom Kippur when I should be feeling forgiving.

I feel that social media should be a way for me to ‘meet’ like-minded people and make friends, and sometimes it has been, but not always.  Facebook and Twitter in particular seem full of echo chambers and sarcastic ‘take-downs’ instead of genuine discussion.  I like to read well-written, well-argued pieces that challenge my views, but the type of snarky one-liners one sees online are triggering to me regardless of whether I agree or disagree with them, I suppose because I see the target as being the victim of the playground bully, as I was.  Identity politics in particular seems to exist almost entirely in this aggressive state, with competitive victimhood thrown in for good measure, which I think is unhelpful even when factually correct.  Unfortunately, I see a lot of this online, especially in Doctor Who fandom.  Reading things like that really upset me, particularly if I feel under attack.

***

I went to see my sister’s new house today.  I know it sounds horrible to say this, but between this and being sort-of forced to donate something to buy a present for the assistant rabbi’s new baby last week (the assistant rabbi is my age), I feel as if I’m getting my nose rubbed in my inadequacies.  But I can’t say anything (except here).  It would seem ridiculously petty to refuse to go to the house or to refrain from joining in with the present.  But I do wonder if I will ever get any positive attention from people (and whether I could cope with it if I did) and especially whether I will ever reach those stages in life (owning a home, having a child), or some kind of alternate stage that would seem as rewarding to me.

I felt bad as I couldn’t stay for dinner at my sister and brother-in-law’s flat (the house is about to be renovated, so they’re renting, currently leaving them with two homes while I have to live with my parents) with my parents because of differing kashrut standards.  The house was very nice, but did make me feel inadequate, as I can’t imagine I will ever be able to afford a house, let alone one as nice as that one will be (it needs a lot of work currently.  I wasn’t really able to visualise what my sister says they’re going to do).  I really can’t imagine getting married and buying a house or even a flat.  E. was right that I’m too dysfunctional and don’t earn enough.  I don’t know what hope that gives me for the future.  It makes me feel very depressed.

The other thing that upset me was that we were there for a long time and I got impatient to come home and get ready for work tomorrow, so now I feel stressed and upset at a time when I need to be in a good state of mind to rest tonight and go to work for the first time in six weeks or so tomorrow.

***

I spoke to my rabbi mentor this afternoon.  To be honest, I was not in the best state of mind because of the prospect of going to see my sister’s house and probably came across as surly and miserable.  I didn’t realise it until after talking to him, but being told to visit my sister’s new house put me in a childish mood, in terms of transactional analysis.  If I get treated as a child, I sulk, which I think is what I used to do in childhood rather than act up and throw tantrums.  In this instance, being asked if I wanted to go and, on saying that I’d rather see the house some other time as I had other plans, being told that actually, I should come or else people will get upset, did seem worryingly like the way things went in my childhood.  I suppose this might be an emotional flashback of the kind I learnt about at autism group and from the CPTSD book.  Watching Doctor Who as escapism to cope with it doesn’t work today, as I only had one episode left in my viewing of the whole series and it’s one that annoys me and, I feel, insults the memory of a character I liked.

My rabbi mentor encouraged me to do a cheshbon nafesh (moral self-audit) to focus on the things I’ve achieved in the last year.  I don’t really feel like I’ve achieved anything.  Likewise, he seemed to be a lot more hopeful about me eventually getting married than I am (I’m not sure if he felt that things might work out with E. one day or just that if E. likes me someone else could.  To be honest, both scenarios seem ridiculously optimistic to me).  The only positives I can think of are things which are simply not as negative as they might be e.g. despite struggling, I davened Mincha and Ma’ariv every day (without kavannah or a minyan), I did a tiny bit of Torah study every day (even though I didn’t really want to most days)…  The only other things I can think of is volunteer at the asylum seekers drop in centre, but I’ve only done that twice, and go to a couple of new shiurim (religious classes), one of which was replacing an old one (the Talmud shiur).  I suppose you could include going on holiday by myself and going to autism group, but they hardly seem a religious achievements.  So I guess that’s not total stagnation, but it’s not really growth either.  Nor do I know how to get past my anger and shame to engage in the teshuva process in an adult way.  I really do not feel like doing this cheshbon nafesh.

***

Lost in Thought

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was pretty awful.  I spent most of it asleep.  When I wasn’t asleep, I was lost in agitated thought, mostly about death.  I spent a long time last night lying on my bed after dinner, wanting to die.  I was thinking obsessively about the Talmud, where it lists seven people who have no share in Olam HaBa (the World to Come i.e. Heaven), but later says that some interpret that six of them (the six Jewish ones) will have a share in Olam HaBa.  This became hugely important to me.  I suppose I was thinking that if Yerovo’am, Achav and the rest have a share in Olam HaBa, then I would too, although my reasoning doesn’t strike myself as hugely convincing today.  I don’t really feel that HaShem (God) could love me.

At times like this I get lost in my thoughts and drift away from the world.  I guess it feeds my tendency towards solipsism.  The stuff going on in my head feels a lot more real  than stuff in the external world, which can’t be healthy.  That’s probably always been my problem, but particularly when things are bad.  It’s hard to remember that other people exist and that some of them care about me, because I just get caught in the labyrinth that is my thoughts, my books and my DVDs.  I’m really worried about starting my new job this week, because I have no idea how I’m going to give the right level of attention to it.  I guess when my mind is screaming “I want to die, I want to kill myself” the whole time, I end up focusing on that to survive.  My thoughts seem really loud sometimes.  Like they drown out everything else.  I don’t think other people can hear them, but somehow it wouldn’t surprise me if someone said that they could hear them.

The book I ordered on C-PTSD arrived, which was very quick.  I wanted to read the stuff in it on self-love.  I’m not sure when I’m going to get to read it, though.  I usually read on the train to/from work or on lunch, but I’m not sure I really want to be seen reading this in public.  Then again, I don’t really want my parents to see me reading it at home either.  It still feels wrong to even think that I might possibly have C-PTSD, as if I’m attacking my parents or laying claim to an illness that I have no right to (as with autism – I still wonder if I’m seizing that unfairly too).