Quick Update

Today was more successful than yesterday.  I got to work on time despite train delays, thanks to getting a lift to the station from  Mum, which I don’t normally ask for, to save time.  I’ve been relying on my parents for lifts home from the station in the evening too, because I’m so exhausted when I come home.  I feel bad about that.  Still, I processed about 110 records today as opposed to 89 yesterday, which is good, although still below the 120-130 I was averaging a week or so ago.  I really feel that work is having a negative cumulative effect on me.  By 4.00pm today I was feeling not just exhausted but actually ill and I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to make it to the end of the work day.  Even after having been home for hours and having eaten dinner and watched some TV, I still feel exhausted and somewhat ill.

I can’t describe what ‘ill’ feels like, tired and faint, but more than that.  I just want to rest in a dark, quiet room.  This hasn’t really happened to me before and I wonder if reading about autism and other conditions to try to understand myself has made me into a hypochondriac or if I would have benefited from sensory calm in the past, but it just never occurred to me to try it.  Similarly, I don’t know if I really have a problem with fluorescent lights or if that’s just something else my mind has fastened on.  At any rate, on the train home I was largely too tired to read and too overwhelmed to keep my eyes open in the train lights or to listen to my iPod.

I had the thought on the way home that I should move to Israel and live on a religious kibbutz, which is a silly fantasy rather than a serious plan, but I feel I would benefit from being around nature a bit more and around artificial light and noise a bit less, even if I suspect I couldn’t stand the rustic life for long (and I wouldn’t cope with the communalist aspect of kibbutz life).  I’m not sure how it compares with getting a pet in the realism stakes.

Tomorrow I hope I shall feel well enough to get to depression support group after work.  I haven’t been since June, I think, and I feel a bit nervous about going, especially as I feel I want to talk about autism, but I’m not sure how people will respond.  I hope to get the confidence to speak first, which is selfish, because the main facilitator is a bad timekeeper and the people who speak first get to speak more than those left until the end and I feel I would rather not be hurried, even though I’m not sure how much I want to say.  Usually no one wants to go first and there’s an awkward pause, so I wouldn’t feel too bad about it.

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“I Told You I Was Ill”

Ugh, I don’t know if I can write today.  I feel totally drained.  At work I usually get through about 130 records; on a good day, I think I’ve done up to 150.  Today I managed 89.  I’m not sure how much of that was because I felt terrible (depressed and sensory overload – I really wanted to strangle some noisy people.  I’m not usually an angry person, but I was feeling very angry towards them) and how much was that it was just a difficult batch of data.  Unfortunately, the next few lots look just as bad.  If my boss was here and if my contract didn’t end in less than a month, I would probably be having the “I need to talk about my mental health” talk.  The one I hate having, but keep having to have at different universities and workplaces.  Asking for “reasonable adjustments” (ugh again).  Then my Dad gave me a lift home from the station and I bickered with him.  It’s my fault, but I guess his autism-unfriendly style of talking was not something I could cope with when feeling drained and overwhelmed after a difficult day at work and a difficult journey on the Tube.  Then I argued with my Mum, which was less my fault, but not entirely.

I feel so tense today, like elastic stretched to breaking point.  I worry what will tip me over the edge and what will happen if I go there.  The fear I’ve had for years that if I get stretched too far, I’ll become unpleasant or even violent.  Or that I’ll become psychotic or spiral downwards into worse mental illness.  I feel like I have so many rules.  My rules, family rules, friends’ rules, society’s rules, Jewish rules, playground rules…   Honour your parents.  Love HaShem your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your might.  Love your neighbour (and not his wife).  Stand up straight.  Always be punctual.  Pray and study and do good deeds.  Read improving books and a newspaper you don’t agree with.  Eat your fruit and veg and not processed sugar.  Never be cruel or cowardly, never give up or give in.  Don’t let them see you cry.  Keep silent or make small talk, but don’t talk about what matters.  Don’t lose your temper.  Don’t be stupid, but don’t be too clever.  Don’t show off, but don’t shirk duty.  Don’t conform, but don’t stand out.

Don’t think that, don’t think that.  Don’t even feel it.  Not ever.

I just wish everything wasn’t so difficult for me.  I don’t know how I was so functional at school and am so dysfunctional now.  I guess that’s one reason I would like an autism diagnosis, so I wouldn’t feel completely rude and incompetent the whole time.  To show myself and others that I have a reason to be screwed up.  Hence my fantasies of not just getting an autism diagnosis, but sharing it with people: the first woman I asked out, my first girlfriend, my former boss… everyone who I think saw me at my worst and probably thought badly of me as a result.  I don’t know if that’s an apology on my part (“I’m sorry for being screwed up and for screwing up our interactions”), a desire for understanding or a somewhat defiant explanation.  I don’t think it’s revenge.  But it also makes me question whether I really am autistic.  If I’m this sensitive to things (fluorescent lights, noise, stress, people, multitasking), shouldn’t it have been more obvious when I was growing up?  I was just shy, perhaps socially anxious and almost certainly alexithymic, but I didn’t react the way I do now.  I don’t know the answer (as usual).

Man Out of Time

You find me on the horns of a dilemma.  After yesterday I felt I should spend my downtime after work in a quiet, not-over-bright room, avoiding excessive stimulation, because of autism (or whatever it is that makes working in a noisy, electric-lit open plan office staring at a computer screen all day so painful for me).  This is to improve my mental health.  Unfortunately, my mental health also requires me to write about my feelings to try to deal with them.  So I’m caught between autism (stay off the computer) and depression (blog).  Hmm.  At any rate, if you write one of the blogs I read and my comments and likes become less frequent, then it’s nothing personal, I’m just trying to cut down on internet time (which should also help with depression, as internet time becomes procrastination until I see something that triggers depression, usually about politics or religion).

I had a very stressful day.  I had some minor changes to my routine because of the evacuation of Moorgate Station, but while changing trains at King’s Cross instead, I decided it would be quicker to walk up the stationary escalator as if it was a staircase rather than deal with the slowness and crowding on the moving escalator (there were three escalators, up, down and stationary).  About halfway up I suddenly had a panic attack, or something approaching one, and felt I was going to fall off and plummet to my death or at least severe injury.  I somehow forced myself to keep climbing, while having visions of being stuck halfway up, unable to go up or down and I did eventually get to the top, but then on the platform overcrowding meant that I was standing right on the edge and I nearly had another panic attack fearing that I was going to fall in front of the train.  I don’t know what triggered all of that.  Usually anxiety for me is tied strongly to either social interactions or OCD thoughts, not straightforward fears like these.  I was still shaken when I got to work and didn’t really calm down until nearly lunch time.

I remained anxious much of the day.  I did not cope any better with the noisy environment and wanted to shout at people to shut up.  There are a couple of people who pace up and down the office while on the phone, presumably on the grounds that if they sit still and make a call they annoy a few people around them, but if they walk up and down they can annoy the whole office.  I really want to pace up and down behind them making exaggerated imitative gestures like Harpo Marx, but so far I have lacked the courage to do so.

I felt overwhelmed all day.  It’s hard to tease out what made me feel so bad; I would guess noise, social anxiety, fear that I was doing my job badly and going to get in trouble with my boss and maybe some other things (I’m trying to work out how I feel about the fluorescent lighting, autistically-speaking.  I’m not sure).  As it went on, it got worse, because the more depressed and anxious I got, the harder it became to work, which increased the fear that I was going to screw it all up and get in trouble, which made me more depressed and anxious.  I ended up wanting to self-harm and biting my fingers, although that may have been autistic stimming/attempted self-soothing as much as self-harm.  I did think some masochistic thoughts about being hurt.

My boss is now on holiday until after my contract expires, so if my work is bad, she’ll only be able to complain behind my back.  Unless it’s really bad and they sue me for my wages.

On the way home I reflected that I don’t fit in to the world.  I feel like a man in the wrong time.  I don’t think this is my world, but, realistically, I don’t think it ever was.  I’m not nostalgic for a real or imagined past.  I used to think my utopia lay in the future, but now I’m not sure.  As an Orthodox Jew I believe in a utopian future, but it is hard to see how we could get to it from here and even if it happens, I can’t see myself living in utopia, being happy and carefree.

I also reflected that I envied the wicked, but then corrected that thought.  I don’t envy the wicked, I envy people who are joyous and content.  I’m not entirely convinced that there are many wicked people among the truly joyous.  I think joy comes from meaning and love and I don’t think the wicked have that (hence they chase money, sex, power, fame and other inadequate substitutes).  I don’t really have meaning in my life.  I thought I did, but I don’t.  I don’t regret keeping the mitzvot (commandments), but they don’t bring me meaning and joy the way they are supposed to.  I know the Midrash and the Talmud would say that this is my fault, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to do differently (“If it is an empty matter, it is from you,” “If someone says ‘I sought and did not find,’ do not believe him” – I’m quoting from memory, but that’s the gist).

I guess I do have love, but it’s always fraught with difficulty.  The friends who care most about me are the furthest geographically and I rarely, if ever, get to spend time with them.  I don’t think I will ever experience the special loves of marital love or the love for children.  As for my family, they do care about me, but there is a barrier of communication between us.  I’m not sure if it’s autistic vs. neurotypical or very depressed vs. more mentally healthy or just plain old personality and communication differences (it’s not male vs. female as I have trouble understanding and being understood by my Dad as much as my Mum and my sister), but it’s hard to understand them and to make myself understood by them.

So, that’s where I am tonight.  Not really very different from every other workday night.  Overstimulated, exhausted, depressed.  Not anxious, but I will be in twelve hours.  Oh, and I still haven’t heard when or where my psychiatric appointment is other than “some time next Thursday (8 November).”  I just sent another letter, not as angry as it should be, but I used bold italics.  I somehow kept a straight face when typing, “Thank you for your help.”

“Maybe I’m nervous. Or just socially awkward. I’m still working myself out.”

I listened to music in the semi-darkness for a bit.  I’m not sure how long.  My attempt at finding soothing music was not so successful.  I probably have some amongst the 135 classical pieces I recently downloaded, but I’m not good at remembering the names of classical pieces, or much about them, and most of my other music is louder and rockier (unexpectedly, I discovered in recent years that I like (some) loud rock.  But after a while I find the noise too much and turn it down/off).  But it seemed a better strategy than my usual depressive strategy of idly surfing online, getting progressively more depressed, whether from upsetting things in the world or comparing myself to others (one way or another) or from witnessing online arguments (which always upsets me for some reason).  After a while I got up and played patience (what Americans call solitaire) for a while (without winning), which was also calming.

Probably I should limit myself to one session online per day.  I go online to try to connect to people, but, while I do have successful ‘connections’ online, mostly they happen when other people reach out to me (usually by commenting on my blog, or emailing me after reading it) or sometimes when I read mental health blogs, but not when I read other stuff online, particularly news, politics or stuff about Jewish society.  And I should stay away from the nightmare that is Twitter!  (I used to say that the only thing worth reading with 140 characters is War and Peace, but now Twitter has expanded their letter-count so that joke doesn’t really work any more.)  I’m pessimistic about my ability to do this, as I’ve often resolved to reduce my depressive internet usage/procrastination in the past, without success.  The only thing that works is being more active and having less time to spend procrastinating and less depression and loneliness to try to alleviate with random internet surfing/blog reading, but I can’t will myself into that state.

I watched tonight’s new episode of Doctor Who, which was good, but it left me tense and anxious and I’m not sure why.  I’m not afraid of spiders (tonight’s monster) and lived in a spider-infested flat for two years without a problem.  Partly there was some dialogue that should have been cut in the light of the shooting in the shul (synagogue) in Philadelphia yesterday, but I wonder if modern TV drama, or just modern Doctor Who (compared with twentieth century Who) is not autistic friendly, with lots of noise and fast dialogue that is hard to follow and lots of emotional drama.  I don’t know.  I don’t know about a lot of things at the moment.  Still, it gave me the quote in this post’s title.  I did at least spend forty-five minutes or so working on my Doctor Who book before bed, writing about 800 words, which was very good.  So, not a good day, but I managed to salvage some of it.

Blogging Too Much (Sorry)

My head feels like someone stole my brain and replaced it with cotton wool.  I went for a walk for about twenty minutes.  Bought tomatoes.  I motivated myself to go by saying that I would go into the charity shop afterwards and browse the books, but it was shut.  The sign said “Back in 5m (ish)” but I didn’t want to wait.  Walking was difficult, I was so drained.  I’m worried about getting to work tomorrow.  I could see myself getting signed off work again.  On the way to the shops I passed someone I know from shiur and his kids.  He was driving, so I didn’t have to talk to him or feel guilty for not talking, but it just reminded me that other people my age (he is somewhat younger than me – I was at kindergarten with his elder brother) have lives and children.

I feel I missed the boat with my life.  People say that childhood is the happiest time.   Mine wasn’t awful, but in retrospect it seems quite difficult.  So I wonder how I will ever have any joy in my life if those were the happiest days of my life.  Plus our culture (I guess I mean secular Western popular culture) sends out the message that it’s only possible to find love (or enjoy sex, for that matter) if you’re under forty, and I’m aware that I’m climbing closer to forty than thirty.  And frum (religious Jewish) culture assumes everyone is happily married by twenty-five.

Lying on my bed with music playing.  I don’t really want to listen to music.  I don’t really feel like doing anything.  Part of me wants to read or watch a DVD, but I can’t get involved in anything.  Just feeling overwhelmed at the thought of reading one book or one DVD.  I want to read/watch everything… and nothing.  I just don’t have the energy/concentration/motivation.  I also can barely keep my eyes open, even though I’m not tired in the sleepy sense.  I had to daven Mincha (say the afternoon prayers) largely by rote before because I couldn’t focus on my siddur (prayerbook).  So, blogging too much today, because I can that without thinking (which says a lot about this blog…).  Sorry for taking too much space on your blog reader/inbox.  Maybe I’ve been over-stimulated this week.  I just made a playlist of music to listen to for a bit, so I don’t have to keep getting up and skipping a track.  Draw the curtains and lie in the dark with my eyes shut and the music on quietly.

“Nothing will come of nothing”

I didn’t go volunteering.  I just have no energy or concentration or motivation or anything, really.  I felt that I would not be able to look after children, let alone speak to adults and that I would be more of a liability than an asset.  I just feel so drained today.  My Mum wanted me to go.  She gave me the same talk about “forcing myself” to do social things that I’ve had since childhood.  I guess this is why I want some kind of diagnosis of autism or social communication disorder, so other people might understand me better.  Or, I guess, so that I would be more forgiving of myself, because I feel bad for not going.  I want to at least work on my Doctor Who book, but I haven’t got the energy or concentration for that either.  I tried watching TV, but even a comedy programme was triggering.  I feel that I should just go back to bed.  I’ve got nothing to say, but I want attention/sympathy/love/I-don’t-know-what-but-I-haven’t-got-it.

I’m going to force myself to go for a walk in a minute, although I don’t feel like it.  The only think I really feel like doing is sleeping.  Not even vegetating in front of the TV or eating junk.  Just tuning out of the world.  I haven’t been this bad in a long while and I wonder how I will get to work this week.

Effort : Reward

The news is so depressing today.  Sometimes it’s hard to work out where my life ends and the world begins, they’re so awful.  I’m not sure if that even makes sense.  I mean… actually I don’t know what I mean.  I don’t think that the world is a product of my depressed mind (which would be solipsism and/or psychosis).  But I don’t quite mean that my depression is a product of the world (although on one level it is).  I guess I mean that they complement each other in a disturbing way.  That the world is bad enough to fit my mood, and my mood is bad enough to fit the world.

A few people have said that I should focus not on the religious stuff I don’t achieve, but on how much I’m achieving compared to the effort I put in and my abilities, taking into account depression, social anxiety, possible autism or social communication disorder and so on.  To be honest, this is a Jewish idea.  The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot says that the reward is proportional to the effort and I have heard from a couple of sources that the Chazon Ish (Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz), one of the leading Orthodox rabbis and halakhicists of the twentieth century, would stand for someone with Down Syndrome out of respect because they are serving God on their level better than other people.  However, it’s hard for me to hold on to it, because I have no realistic understanding of what I should be able to achieve and how much effort I put in.  Sometimes I feel like I’m working flat out, putting in all the effort I can, but mostly it doesn’t feel like that.  I have no objective way of knowing, I can only compare myself with other people – my peers – who are doing so much more than me, even though I don’t know how much effort they put or how much effort they can put in.

I still feel very lonely.  It’s hard to work out what that loneliness is.  If I say I want to connect with someone, that feels OK, but if I say I want (to be blunt) to have sex with someone, that feels not OK, even though both Judaism and psychiatry recognise sex as a basic human need, and even though for me the desire for sex is connected to the desire for love and intimacy (I couldn’t be promiscuous, just from my personality).  Mind you, sometimes even saying I want to be loved feels selfish and wrong.  I should just love other people without expectation of return.  I find it hard to love people.  I guess it’s the autism, and the alexithymia.  It’s hard to understand what I feel.  E. said I was an “amazing boyfriend” but that still wasn’t good enough.  I don’t know how I could ever love someone properly, or have someone love me the way I need.

I’m supposed to go to volunteer at the asylum seekers drop-in centre (I can never work out if there should be an apostrophe in that – I would think so, but the organisers don’t seem to put one in) , but I don’t feel up to it.  I just want to go back to bed.  I’m still in my pyjamas at 11am, even though I need to leave in half an hour.

Ramblings

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was OK, but this evening has been tough.  The shooting at a shul (synagogue) in America has really upset and depressed me (for what it’s worth, it’s already been knocked off the top story spot on BBC news online by a football club owner’s helicopter crash).  I keep going back to the news online, but I don’t know why.  It can only get worse.  I suppose I want to understand why someone would want to do something like that.

I had a waffley paragraph of political despair here, which I decided to cut (it wasn’t controversial, just rambling), but I do worry about the way the world is going, polarising between equally repulsive far-right and far-left views.  As a natural centrist (albeit with a bit of an anarchist streak), it is hard to feel comfortable in the world.

I guess it all does make going to volunteer at the asylum seekers drop-in centre tomorrow (today now) seem more important.  At least I’m helping people, and people who are different from me in terms of race and religion.  I just hope it makes a difference somehow, even a very small difference.

More banally finishing the job application for a major British public institution proved very difficult, although I’ve sent it off now.  I answered some questions badly and one I could not really answer at all.  I just fudged it.  I won’t even be called to interview, but it’s too late tonight to start another application somewhere else.  I don’t know if I’ll have time tomorrow, as I’m volunteering and I need to cook dinner when I get home as Mum and Dad are out (and, yes a new episode of Doctor Who is on in the evening).  And then I got a migraine that thankfully responded quickly to painkillers, but made me feel worse for a while and slowed down the job application writing.

I didn’t mention that I got a rejection this week for more or less the only job that I’ve applied for recently that I really wanted to get.

A friend emailed me out of the blue to see how I’m doing, which was nice, but on the whole I’m still feeling very lonely, although it’s hard to tease apart exactly what the loneliness is, how much is about friendship, love, sex, attention, empathy, support or what.  I’m thinking more and more seriously about getting a pet (guinea pigs at the moment) but I’m unsure.  Mum turned out to be open to the idea when I raised it, but Dad didn’t say anything.  My worries are that I read that they need really big cages ideally and I’m not sure how much space I have in my room.  Plus, given that I daven (pray) and study Torah in my bedroom, I would have to ask a halakhic question about whether that is permissible with guinea pig litter around.  But I don’t know if getting a pet is a good idea.  Would it help me and be a step on the road to finding a wife and kids or would it cement my life as a loner, the male equivalent of the Crazy Cat Lady?  Can pets even help someone who really wants a meaningful adult romantic relationship?

I still feel really confused about what is ‘wrong’ with me and whether I can ever get the help I need.  Even if I don’t have autism, I have a lot of the symptoms, yet because I don’t have a diagnosis, I can’t access any support services (not that I’m sure that there is much for adults on the spectrum – it seems to be mostly geared up to children).  Yolanda commented on a previous post to say that a diagnosis might help me to be kinder to myself.  I responded that I was thinking the exact same thing today, but that really my depression diagnosis should also allow me to be kinder to myself, but I still beat myself up for being depressed for so long, for not managing to do things I could do years ago (although I do other things I didn’t do then), for not managing as well as other people with mental health issues might be managing and so on.

Still, at least we get an extra hour tonight.  I wish that happened more often than once a year.  I don’t need material things much more than the basics (food, shelter, books and science fiction DVDs), but I wish people could buy me more time for Chanukah or my birthday.

Quote

I guess this is an addendum to the previous post.  I’d been meaning to google to look up this quote, which has been in my head in a mangled form lately, but it was the events of tonight that made me remember to do it:

“The pure righteous do not complain of the dark, but increase the light; they do not complain of evil, but increase justice; they do not complain of heresy, but increase faith; they do not complain of ignorance, but increase wisdom.” – Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook

Going Round in Circles

I managed to phone the private clinic where I’d like to try and do some CBT to work on my self-esteem and social anxiety.  They said I need to be seen by their psychiatrist first who would assess my needs and the most appropriate type of therapy.  When I said I was seeing an NHS psychiatrist in two weeks, they said to go to that appointment and try to get a referral.  I phoned the NHS psychiatrist too, twice, to have another go at finding out when my appointment is, but I got voicemail both times.  I didn’t bother to leave a message as I know they won’t get back to me.

I’m nervous about being pushed down the wrong therapy path at the private clinic or having my understanding of my needs ignored by either the private clinic or the NHS psychiatrist.  Worried about being told something about myself that doesn’t fit my self-image, although that image is so confused that I’m not sure what being told something that doesn’t fit would entail.  (I think I have autism, except when I don’t.)  There’s something horrible about being told you aren’t who you think you are.  It’s why identity politics is so much more explosive than ordinary politics.  I guess I identify myself on some level as being depressed and autistic, which makes it hard to move on from the former and from my non-diagnosis of the latter.  I guess the only thing I would feel as strongly is if someone said I wasn’t really Jewish.  I’ve had some good psychiatrists and therapists over the years, but also some who have blundered around telling me what they think is wrong with me and what I should do without listening to me (plus one or two who have moved from one group to the other).  It’s quite scary not knowing which category the next appointment will be in and, in the case of the NHS, not easily being able to change and find someone else.

I’m trying to work on the job application for a librarian role at an major public institution that I started last weekend and have not had enough energy to finish yet.  It’s hard.  I feel pretty useless and unlikely to get the job, but I feel I ought to try now I’ve started, even though I’ve subsequently found other potential jobs I have (marginally) more chance of getting.  I hate questions like being told to show I have “Demonstrable enthusiasm for the Library and Information Management profession and an interest in the information needs of a … Library” or show an “Aptitude for enquiry work using a range of information resources and tools, including the ability to find, evaluate and explain information”, both questions to be answered with relation to specific tasks and situations and with reference to the required characteristics for the job.

The Great Clomipramine Shortage of 2018

The Great Clomipramine Shortage of 2018 is continuing.  To cut a very long and boring story short, I should be able to get a repeat prescription tomorrow, but not the 50mg tablets I want and had been prescribed initially or the 10mg tablets the doctor prescribed as a ‘here’s one I prepared earlier’ fallback, but 25mg tablets.  The pharmacy are at least saving them for me while the surgery comes up with the requisite paperwork.  But I think when I see the psychiatrist on 8 November (if the NHS ever deigns to tell me when my appointment is…) I need to talk seriously about changing meds, because these aren’t available and aren’t doing much when they are available.  No idea where we go from here though.  MAOIs?  ECT?

The other thing I need to talk to the psychiatrist about is alternative diagnoses.  I’m still going back and forth in my mind about autism and social communication disorder.  Tony Attwood writes in The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome that diagnosis is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.  When it is 80% complete (enough diagnostic criteria are met), the jigsaw is considered completed, BUT only if the corners and edges are in place too (certain criteria have to be met, regardless of how many other criteria are met).  I have the 80% complete, but I don’t have all the corners and edges, there are some symptoms I just don’t have, or not at a high enough level, to count as autistic.  I can see the autism picture, but because I haven’t got the right pieces, no one will give me any help with it.  So maybe social communication disorder is a better bet, or going to a CBT therapist and trying to work directly with self-esteem and social anxiety.

The other thing I get from reading the book at the moment is gratitude.  I thought my childhood was not great, but it could have been so much worse.  The bullying could have been even more intense and violent, I could have been unable to defend myself in any way except violence (which would have got me in bigger trouble) and, most of all, I could have been without my “mentor friend” who guided and protected me (literally protected me – he was tall and strong and even though he was a geek, he wasn’t bullied as much as I was).  No wonder I used to get upset and maybe even anxious if he missed a day of school.  My Mum wanted to split us up, because she thought he was holding back my social development and I would make more friends in another class or school, but I suspect I would just have been even more alone if that had happened.

Speaking of mentor figures, Attwood says of romantic partners sought by people with autism, “The partner they seek is someone who understands them and provides emotional support and guidance in the social world – someone to be a ‘mother figure’ and mentor.”  I’ve realised this before about myself.  It makes me pessimistic.  I’m a weird enough person to be trying to matched up as it is, without putting pressure on women to mentor me and even mother me (even without getting into the complexity of my far-from-straightforward relationship with my actual mother).  This seems like asking too much.  I can’t imagine anyone ever consenting to marry me on those terms.  But I worry about what will happen when my parents are gone.  Complex though my current relationship with them is, they are still doing a lot of mentoring and guiding, e.g. today, when Mum came to resolve the clomipramine prescription confusion at the doctor’s surgery, when my social anxiety/autism/social communication disorder/shyness/whatever was just making me shutdown and run away.

I just got back from shiur (religious class).  It’s become quite difficult.  I really enjoy the content, but the number of people going has gone up and I feel uncomfortable with the number of people in the room, especially as some are noisy and constantly interrupting with questions and interjections (Jews don’t really do quiet listening).  I don’t really cope very well with people who like to talk for the sake of talking, or because they like the sound of their voices, doubly so if I’m trying to concentrate on someone else talking.  Plus just being around so many people is anxiety-provoking for me – Attwood says that for autistic people the difficulty of being around people, in terms of energy needed in alertness, anxiety and reasoning out the correct social interactions on the spot, increases exponentially (rather than linearly) with the number of people.  At shiur, as well as normal fears of a social faux pas, I’m worried about a religious faux pas too.  Just to make things worse, I’m juggling more balls because some people at the shiur know a bit about my mental health issues and some don’t and some have been acquaintances since childhood and some have not, so there is a lot to think about.

I’ve been thinking again about pets.  Attwood recommends them as affectionate and understandable companions for autistic children (unlike neurotypical children, who are difficult to understand).  I’ve see them recommended for people with depression too.  As a child I had a couple of goldfish, but that was it.  My family aren’t really pet people.  But now I wonder if it would help me to have a pet.  It would also let me see if I can cope with responsibility, given that I want to have children one day (although, as I say, that seems unlikely to happen).  Small mammals seem the best bet, guinea pigs or rabbits (both are social animals and should ideally be kept with at least two – I’ve done some reading on this already).  But I haven’t got the confidence to mention this to my parents (who in any case think the pet will die and leave me even more depressed), not least because I worry whether I am non-depressed enough to look after a pet, especially when I come home from work exhausted.  And then there’s the financial cost.

In other news, my contract isn’t being renewed at work, if I happen not to have finished the work by the end of my current contract (23 November).  I was told it was because of internal problems and bureaucracy, but I worry that it was secretly because I was a disappointment and they aren’t happy with my work and the mistakes I make.  It’s rather academic, as I strongly suspect I will be more or less finished by 23 November anyway.  To be honest, I think I might be self-sabotaging my job hunting.  I don’t really feel capable of working, at least not until I have dealt with my self-esteem and social anxiety issues and the autism/social communication disorder/whatever issues, plus I’m just plain exhausted from two months (with another to come) of constant alertness and anxiety to deal with social interactions and noise at work.  I need to stop for a bit and calm down and get my bearings.  I know that sounds lazy and entitled, but I feel like I’m at breaking point and I need time out – more than the three day weekends I have (which tend to be spent on chores and job applications and sometimes volunteering).  Although I was tempted by the job I saw advertised for Information and Records Manager for MI5 and MI6.  I want to be licensed to kill people who talk in the library or bring back books late.

Planet NHS, Planet Autism

On Planet NHS:

Me: 

Hi,

I was referred to the psychiatrist by my doctor some weeks ago.   In early October, I spoke on the phone to Mr …. who referred me through the … Team.  However, I have not been sent an appointment letter yet.

My mother phoned last Tuesday and was told I have an appointment for 8 November, but the person she spoke to would not tell her the time of the appointment, saying it would be written in the letter.  However, I have still not received any letter.

Please could you let me know as soon as possible when my psychiatrist appointment is, as I need to arrange time off with my employer.

Thank you and regards,

Luftmentsch

Him:

8th November with Dr …

Me:

Hi …

Thank you, but please could you let me know the time of my appointment on 8 November with Dr …

Regards,

Luftmentsch

Him:

A letter will be sent to you with all the details once booked on the system.

Me: 

Please could you let me know when this is likely to be as I need to clear the time off with my employer.

Regards,

Luftmentsch

Him:

8th November will be the day.

Me:

[Stunned silence.]

This is why I get so annoyed at the idolatry of the NHS that goes on.  If, as someone said, the NHS is the religion of the British people, then I’m definitely agnostic.

Meanwhile, back in the real world:

Work was OK today, or at least not unbearably awful.  It was hard, but I felt a bit more together and I got by without any coffee at work (although I had one at home at breakfast and a couple of cups of tea) and without crying.  I did shake slightly when talking to my boss, and when drinking tea (both of which were completely due to psyching myself out by realising how bad it would be to start shaking).  My boss goes on honeymoon on Tuesday and will be away until after my contract is due to finish and her boss finished working there today, so my boss from next week will be someone I know slightly, but not well.  Change makes me anxious (another autistic trait).

A previous psychiatrist, the one who felt I was somewhere on the autistic spectrum (but didn’t give me a proper assessment or diagnosis) once told me that “You can’t understand people, so stop trying.”  It’s possible that my whole life has been trying to understand people, like the robot Commander Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation.  At any rate it explains why I ended up on the humanities/social sciences side, unlike many autistic people, despite being good at science at school.

Other autism-related thoughts today: I mentioned yesterday having a few geeky but non-autistic friends at school.  One very much fitted Tony Attwood’s idea of a non-autistic mentor friend who helps with socialisation.  We were friends from age five and are still occasionally in touch, although we haven’t seen each other in person in some years.  We were best friends until we were about fourteen, when we drifted apart a bit.  I remember being upset when we were told to write a passage about our best friend in Hebrew class and he read his out and it was about someone other than me.  It would be an exaggeration to say that that was a key moment in my life, but it probably was another step down a very long road.  As Attwood suggests, once the mentor friend is gone (in my case this really happened when I went to university and he, although going to the same university, went on a gap year first), social integration becomes much harder, particularly as in my case it coincided with living away from home for the first time.

I realised today that I had such limited social interactions in my first job, that it was no wonder that I found it so much easier than my current and immediately previous one.  I rarely had to deal with more than one or two people at a time, my boss was understanding, I rarely saw other staff members, library users were mature adults and the library was quiet (perhaps too quiet as I could get lonely sitting in the basement all afternoon).  Plus I did three days a week of three hours each, very different to my hours in my other jobs which are much closer to full-time.  Even so, I sometimes went off to cry in the toilet or didn’t get to work because I had a panic attack on the way.  This, I think, disguised my autistic socialisation problems and made me think I had workarounds until I got to my previous job, especially as university was also a somewhat protected environment.  It was only in my previous job, when my socialisation problems became more apparent, when I started thinking seriously about being misdiagnosed when told that I was not autistic, and thinking that the misdiagnosis could matter rather than being an abstract problem.  In particular, it became obvious that I have problems with certain types or levels of noise and with interpersonal interactions beyond simple shyness and that I’m not great with vague or implicit instructions or dealing with grey areas.

I also think my sensory sensitivity has been greater than I realised previously.  As a child, I found wool uncomfortable.  I often find wearing my watch uncomfortable (sometimes at work I take it off and put it in my pocket) and I’ve gone through periods of thinking that way about shoes.  I think mostly I’ve just soldiered on until I get inured to these feelings, although I still avoid wearing wool against my skin.

Emotional Pain

I cried at work again.  I’m in constant emotional pain, at least at work, but I can’t describe it to people, so I don’t get taken seriously.  (EDIT: not “taken seriously” is a bit harsh.  But I can’t tell even my parents how I feel, how I spend my whole time at work struggling just to keep my head above the water, let alone actually do my work.  See the quote below about autistic people being in a constant state of alertness and anxiety.)  Things aren’t so bad at home, but work is unbearable.  I feel trapped in my life.  At times I really don’t want to live, but I won’t commit suicide either, so I’m stalemated.  One of the Renaissance writers, someone like Sir Thomas More, said that the worst test God can give a person is to make him think that God wants him to kill himself.  I don’t think God wants me to kill myself, but I don’t know what he does want me to do.

I don’t want to think of myself as a victim, but the alternative seems to be thinking of myself as a failure, because I seem to fail at everything I try.

I wanted to go to a shiur (religious) class tonight, but I feel too exhausted, even a little faint (even after dinner), which might possibly be psychosomatic from the depression or, more likely, social anxiety.  I should fight it, but I don’t think now is the time.  I’m too tired and depressed at the moment and I worry that if I stay out late tonight, work tomorrow will be impossible.  The shiur was on sadness in Jewish thought, which might have been helpful, but might have been problematic, as ‘sadness’ isn’t the same as ‘depression’ and I could have ended up guilt-tripping myself into feeling that I am a bad person for being depressed, or for being depressed in the ‘wrong’ way.

More autism stuff that could be written about me from The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome:

“One of the problems faced by children with Asperger’s Syndrome who use their intellect rather than intuition to succeed in some social situations is that they may be in an almost constant state of alertness and anxiety, leading to a risk of mental and physical exhaustion.” (p. 29)

“Blame [for social difficulties] is directed at oneself: ‘I am stupid’; or others: ‘It’s your fault.'” (p. 30)

“”The child, sometimes as young as seven years old, may develop a clinical depression as a result of insight into being different and perceiving him- or herself as socially defective.” (p. 35)

The book also states that autistic children can use fantasy as an escape.  I think Doctor Who and Star Trek were for me escapes into a world where intelligence, difference and even eccentricity were prized, very different to my school.  I had a couple of geeky-but-non-autistic friends at school (primary and secondary), which probably kept me sane, although even there I kept somewhat distant from some of them and I think I was a bit nervous about going to other people’s houses if I didn’t know them well.  I did fantasise a lot, though.  Strangely (or perhaps not), I think my Walter Mitty life started in my teens, when most people are moving away from fantasy.  My friends were getting into things I had no interest in (wargaming, RPGing) and was sometimes scared by (girls, soft drugs), so I retreated into fantasy scenarios of saving the school from Daleks.  As I got older, aliens turned into terrorists and wish-fulfilment fantasies of escaping without a scratch like James Bond turned into masochistic fantasies of being hurt and on to suicidal fantasies of redemptive death, or just death.

My romantic life has largely been fantasy too, necessarily so, but problematically so.  Having such little real experience of relationships makes it harder that I ever will manage to adjust my expectations, and meet someone else’s expectations of me.

The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome also says that people with sub-diagnostic autism symptoms (which realistically is what I probably have and what I’m currently diagnosed with) can benefit from the same help that people with a diagnosis get, which is good, if I can find a way of getting help.  It’s also interesting that my sister and my Dad have some sub-diagnostic symptoms, which again is supposed to be common in families of people on the spectrum.  Although no one is going to mistake someone who likes small talk and hates silence as much as my Dad for someone on the autistic spectrum.  I guess that’s another reason why I want a diagnosis.  Growing  up my parents told me that they were shy as children and I should just ‘push myself’ to talk to other people and that it would get easier with practise.  It never did, and I suppose if I was diagnosed as being on the spectrum, that would be a kind of justification for failing to master small talk and social skills.  Maybe that’s not a good thing, maybe it will just encourage me to isolate myself.  I don’t know.  I don’t really know about a lot of things right now.

Stuff and Nonsense

Today’s autism speculation: the book I’m reading reminded me that children with autism often use pedantic and ‘adult-seeming’ language and are mocked for it.  As a child, I was told off by Adult Authority Figures for being pedantic and using long words (it was wrongly thought that I was trying to show off and belittle everyone else).  I also used to get teased a lot by other kids at school for a variety of reasons, but sometimes for “speaking posh.”   I assumed that this was because of my accent; I don’t have a particularly posh accent, but my peers mostly assumed Estuary English and I did not, but perhaps they meant my vocabulary.  Even today I struggle to use slang in my writing, even something as informal as blogging.  Sometimes I write something with slang and then edit it into something more formal.  It took years to get me to use contractions in my writing.

Then again, I’ve always read a lot and at an advanced level for my years, so maybe that explains it.  Certainly today is a “I don’t think I am autistic after all” day, which leads to, “Then how did I end up this messed up?”  I still don’t think I can cope with careers and relationships.  Just the thought that it could be ten years before I’m ready to date again is depressing me, both from loneliness and the thought that I will probably never have children (everyone laughs at me for saying that, given that I’m a man, but I can’t see myself marrying someone twenty years younger than me).  I don’t know how I get through this.

I feel I should try to think positively about recovery, career, dating, everything, if I’m to stand a chance of changing anything, but my life has been so miserable for so long that it’s hard to see things ever changing.  I’m trying to get back into applying for jobs, as my contract expires in a month, and I’ve found a couple of good-seeming ones, but I can’t see myself getting them, let alone managing to do them (even ignoring the fact that they’re all full-time and working just four days a week is already fuelling my depression and stress).  Even reading the job specs, I feel panicked and out of my depth.  I don’t even know what career I should be pursuing.  It seems silly to give up on librarianship having fought so hard to qualify as a librarian, but I’m really not sure it’s right for me.  But is anything right for me?  The ongoing antisemitism furore makes me feel an obligation to do some kind of PhD on antisemitism and then work for someone like the CST (the NGO that monitors and tries to prevent antisemitism in the UK) or a Jewish think-tank, but that doesn’t seem quite right either.  And my Mum is still trying to encourage me to be a primary school teacher, but that’s not any more right than the others.  And comparing my writing about Doctor Who with that of others only makes me despair of selling anything else I write.  I must be here on this Earth for some reason, but I don’t know what it is.  All I can do is write about myself.  I fear I have made myself and my neuroses into my autistic special interest.

I emailed my rabbi mentor about my feelings that God hates me and he said he feels it’s tied up in my general emotional state and feeling so depressed.  He felt that I need to find “meaning and success” in everyday activities like work and a healthy home environment.  I’m not sure how I can manage that right now, though.  At least I felt a certain amount of satisfaction reviewing this week’s Doctor Who episode for my other blog, but then, as I said, it feels inferior to what other people write, so why bother?

Failure to Thrive

I did not sleep well last night, waking up in the middle of the night with a headache, not being able to get back sleep, getting up and doing some things before suddenly dozing off when I finally thought I would get dressed and start the day.  My uncle and my sister came over for lunch (my brother-in-law is unwell) and we ate together.  Surprisingly, it was warm enough to eat in the garden.  The resultant mental hangover may have contributed to low mood in the afternoon.  At any rate, I was over-analysing things, wondering if I was contributing enough to the conversation, if I was over-sensitive to the sunlight and judging everything through the prisms of autism and social communication disorder.  The conversation got onto the topic of the new series of Doctor Who at some point, and the older generation opined that it was “too politically correct.”  I don’t particularly agree (although I agreed about the lack of Jews in general and frum (religious) Jews in particular in Western culture), but as usual with dissent I withdrew from the conversation rather than state an opposing view, from fear of being attacked or rejected.  This is not particularly healthy.

After lunch (which went on until after 4pm), I went for a walk.  I was feeling very miserable (perhaps from socialising, perhaps from eating too much ice cream, getting  a sugar rush and then crashing), feeling that the world does not have anything to offer me and that I would really like to die (while I was thinking this, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy came on my iPod…).  Then I ran into one of our neighbours with his young children (aged I guess about eighteen months and three or four years) and they were very curious and wanted to talk to me, so I played with them for a few minutes and I did feel somewhat better after that.  Maybe my Mum is right that I should be looking for a job working with young children, I just don’t feel confident to look after other people’s children, let alone teaching them.  On which note, the asylum seekers drop-in group I volunteer at is taking place on Sunday.  I was thinking of skipping this time, because I need to apply for jobs and because I’ve hardly done any cooking in weeks because of Yom Tov and various other things, but I’ve agreed to go now.

After returning home I spent a while working on a job application at a very prestigious public body.  I very much doubt that I have the experience and skills needed to get the job, or even to be called for interview, but I’m trying to fill out the application.  I have quite a bit still to do, but I’ve run out of time tonight, although it has been hard to stay focused on working on the task when the thought of getting the job, or even being called for interview, while appealing on some levels, is also terrifying.  Family lunch plus walk plus application plus (I admit) procrastination means little time for Torah study, which I feel bad about, and possibly a later night than I would like before work, as I ‘timeshifted’ watching tonight’s Doctor Who episode to later to concentrate on the application.

In Jewish thought God interacts with a person according to how much he or she wants Him to do so; He doesn’t force Himself on a person.  To some extent at at least a person receives overt divine intervention (as opposed to things happening apparently by ‘chance’, which is really also divine intervention of a different kind) in proportion to how much he or she wants it and is willing to let God in.  I think this is something of a simplification of a complex idea and God does not act in this way 100% of the time, but aside from the question of the difference between overt and covert intervention, it seems to me that this would act against people who can’t trust from their experiences (e.g. me).  I can understand philosophically that everything God does is for the good and even my suffering must have a purpose, but I find it hard to just trust Him; I assume His plan for me involves much more suffering and very few pleasant experiences, and that He hates me for my sins.  It is very hard to abandon myself to belief that I can recover from mental illness, find a job I can do, marry and have children and generally be happy.  It seems this is another way that the bullies of my childhood win.  Not only did they make me miserable at the time, but they have trained me to expect only the worse for myself, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, whether for religious reasons or just psychological ones.  Even viewing the matter from a secular perspective, lots of cognitive psychologists would say that one’s experiences come to meet one’s thoughts and expectations, rather than the other way around.  I try to tell myself that my life could get better – and it could – but I can’t believe that it will get better or that God wants it to get better or that I deserve it to get better.

I feel I should be doing a lot better than I am with my life.  I had a whole paragraph here which I would have liked to have kept in, but which I thought was probably lashon hara (malicious speech) so I cut it.  But I feel a lack of affection and love in my life.  “Failure to thrive” was the term used when (I think this was in the 1950s) excessive hygiene fears led to parents and nurses being discouraged from holding babies for fear of passing on germs, resulting in unnecessary premature deaths, because babies need hugs and love as well as milk and warmth.  I feel a bit like that, that I’m failing to thrive in many senses of the term, particularly from lack of support, although it seems unfair to write that as I have some support and it is hard to state what exactly I want.  Certainly, despite doing so well at school, I have failed to thrive in any sense since going to university and especially since leaving it.

Feeling a Useless Waste of Space

Well, that was horrible.

My usual way of dealing with difficult emotions is blogging, particularly as I don’t currently have a therapist to talk to.  But I can’t talk about my Shabbat (Sabbath) because of various Jewish laws, particularly lashon hara (malicious talk).  So I have to bottle up what I feel (somehow writing for myself doesn’t work; even though hardly anyone reads my blog, knowing that it can be read somehow makes all the difference).  Anger.  Humiliation.  Loneliness.  Being ignored.  Despair.  Self-hatred, possibly.  Probably more feelings that I can’t identify.  I’m supposed to be catching up on various chores tonight, but I’m not sure I have the psychological strength.  Still, these events, that happen every so often, do at least remind me that my mental health issues didn’t appear in a vacuum; you have to be treated very badly for a prolonged period to end up this self-loathing.  I just don’t know if I can get help to stop hating myself so much, and certainly there isn’t any way at the moment to stop these things from happening.

(It occurred to me after writing this that I could have phoned the Samaritans helpline, but it’s a bit late now.)

I feel that my parents and my rabbi mentor, although trying to support me, sometimes make things worse, because they say that things are getting better when I don’t feel that.  It’s true that I’m doing more; from 2005 to about 2008, I did nothing at all because I was so depressed (nothing in terms of paid or voluntary work – I was doing almost as much davening (prayer) and I think more Torah study then as now) and now I’m working four days a week (while it lasts), but I still feel painfully depressed and self-loathing so much of the time.  But because people can’t see into my mind and see how depressed I am, they assume things are improving, unless I get so upset that I start being rude and aggressive.  Yes, I have a job, but that doesn’t mean I’m feeling well.   I feel that I have to really push myself to go to work; without a huge effort, I would not manage it.  In many ways I feel further from recovery than I did a few months ago.  I don’t know what my diagnosis is any more.  I’m sure there’s something other than depression and social anxiety, but I don’t know what any more.  The Asperger’s book is making me doubt whether I have autism after all; there may be complex trauma, but maybe not; perhaps there is something else?  Social communication disorder?  Something I haven’t even heard of?  I don’t know.  I do not feel confident about being diagnosed and treated correctly on the NHS any more, though.

I wish I knew what I was good at.  I want to do something worthwhile with my life, but I don’t feel competent to do anything, particularly given how badly I’m screwing stuff up at work, in both my current and previous jobs.  My shul (synagogue) was asking for help with various things, but the only I could do was repair talletot (prayer shawls), assuming they just want people to re-wind and re-tie the knots in the tzitzit (fringes), but I’m too scared to do that for other people in case I mess that up too and they don’t fulfil the mitzvah (commandment) properly.  And I can’t imagine anyone could love me, or at least not enough to actually want to marry me with all that entails rather than just being friends.  Because my recent dating experience has always involved being dumped for being too depressed or too weird.  The stupid thing is that I can see myself as a decent husband and father more than a decent librarian, academic, writer or other job I might consider.  Maybe that’s just because I haven’t had a chance to fail at it yet; I don’t think I’m a good son or brother, and I used to think I would be a good librarian, until I actually started being one.

I wish sometimes that I could meet some kind of prophet, gadol or rebbe who could tell me that I really am a good and worthwhile person and a good Jew, because I don’t believe it myself and I don’t think I could believe it unless it was from someone who had some kind of divinely-inspired insight.

I feel such a useless waste of space.

Reflections

I seem to be in the habit of long days (Sunday evening until Thursday afternoon), going to bed at 11pm and getting up at 6.20am and trying to pack my day with work and whatever Torah study and prayer I can manage, and shorter days (extended weekends from Thursday evening until Sunday afternoon), going to bed any time after midnight and sleeping for ten to twelve hours and trying to do more Torah study and prayer, as well as household chores, than I can manage on work days, but generally feeling too burnt out to do very much.  Long work days are filled with intense depression and I think also anxiety (although it can be hard to tell — alexithymia again) at work, but the fear of missing work and getting in trouble keeps me going somehow.  Weekend days have less intense emotions, at least most of the time, but also a general feeling of lassitude and difficulty in getting motivated to do anything, even though I have lots to do, just not as obviously urgent as on work days, or at least things that won’t lead to immediate conflict if I miss it or am late.  Consequently, I don’t have time for hobbies (working much on my Doctor Who book and blog, cooking, jogging, painting miniatures) and I still don’t have much energy for prayer or Torah study.  Often the lack of time on the Tube that I can use to read Mishnayot means I do less on non-work days, while I usually sleep through Shacharit (morning prayers) on these days although I do at least get to a couple of shiurim (classes) which I can’t seem to manage on work nights and I tend to get shul (synagogue) at some point on Shabbat (the Sabbath) which I don’t manage at all on work days.  This routine is not healthy, but I don’t know how else to get through the week right now.

I don’t think it’s particularly feasible for me to be thinking about dating while my mental health is so unbalanced and my income stream (such as it is) is about to be cut off in five weeks when my contract ends, but I’m still quite lonely (although I’ve been worse) and I wish I had a wife and children to love and share my life with.  I suspect I’m a more affectionate person than I’ve ever really had the chance to demonstrate, if I could find the right woman.

Other than general lassitude (and consciousness that it’s getting close to Shabbat, which starts about 5.40pm today), I feel some social anxiety and inadequacy.  I feel that my boss must surely regret hiring me and that the people at my shul (synagogue) community might look down on me; even if they don’t, I look down on myself for not davening (praying) or studying Torah as much or as well as they do.

Further to what I wrote yesterday about finding something I can do well, my Mum is trying to encourage me to consider retraining as a primary school teacher, specifically limudei kodesh (Jewish studies) in a Jewish school.  I’m not convinced that I’m as good with children as she thinks, though, or that I could handle working full-time in a school.  Also, the thought of being in charge of a whole class of children terrifies me; I get nervous enough looking after a handful at the asylum seekers drop-in centre, and their parents are only in the next room.

I tried to phone a local private therapy centre (the ones who were supposed to phone me back last week, but didn’t) about CBT for low self-esteem and social anxiety.  It was a struggle with my social anxiety just to make the call about treating my social anxiety (!), but they were shut anyway (they may shut early on Fridays because I think the practice owner is Jewish and frum (religious) although I don’t think all the staff are).  I shall have to try earlier next week, but I was just too exhausted to phone earlier today.

Thoughts from Rebbe Nachman

The Empty Chair: Finding Hope and Joy: Timeless Wisdom from a Hasidic Master, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, aside from having the type of title that gives a cataloguer like me a headache, is a collection of short thoughts from Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810), who is very important to me.  I’m slightly suspicious of the book, as most of the thoughts seem to be sentences taken from much longer teachings and I wonder what the full context was, but I’ve read the book twice and flicked through it many times.  I’m currently reading two pages a day.  Each page has one or maybe two thoughts on it, so reading them take mere seconds, but I was hoping I might connect with Torah here when I seem unable to do it in other books.  To be honest, nothing much has clicked, until today.  These were today’s quotes:

Go carefully: Spiritual growth must proceed slowly and steadily.  Too often we want to improve ourselves and our relationships so quickly that we make ourselves frustrated and confused.

Never insist that everything go exactly your way, even in matters spiritual.

Believe that none of the effort that you put into coming closer to God is ever wasted – even if in the end you don’t achieve what you are striving for.

These spoke to me.  I have a tendency to push myself too fast, although at the moment I don’t feel like I’m going anywhere at all.  And I do want things to go my way spiritually, even if not in other ways (although I really want them to go my way there too I suppose).  But I think it’s the last one that resonates most.  I wonder sometimes if the effort I have put into trying to be frum (religious) was worth it – not that I really want to be non-religious, but that I feel I haven’t achieved any kind of spiritual growth at all.  I hope it is not wasted.  Certainly in this world I don’t feel that it has led directly to good results, except inasmuch as it might have prevented me from adopting elements of secular Western millennial society that I might have adopted and been the worse for, but even then I’m not sure what the practical outcome would have been, whether I would have done those things if I had had the option.  I just hope the effort I put in was justified, given how much of my life I’ve dedicated to it.  It’s not about reward so much as feeling that I haven’t wasted my life on an impossible dream.  That I’ve managed to do something with my life, because at the moment most of the time it doesn’t seem that way.

“Well, blimey, look at him. He ain’t normal, is he?”

The title quote is from The Underwater Menace, one of the less accomplished Doctor Who serials of the sixties.  Ripped out of context, it somehow sums up how I feel everyone else must think about me today.

On the way into work I read a few pages of The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome.  It looks like I was wrong about the diagnostic criteria for autism having changed.  They have changed, but it’s now harder to get a diagnosis rather than easier.  I’m not sure why this has been done, considering popular awareness of autism is greater than ever before and there are surely more people trying to get diagnosed.  Maybe that was the point.  Maybe they only want people with severe impairments being diagnosed.  I’m not really severely impaired directly by the autism, it’s just that I struggle to understand and communicate with people.  Which reminds me, I found this link about high functioning autism not being the same as mild autism the other day.  I think it’s very useful for understanding how I feel, especially numbers 2, 3 and 5.

On the other hand, there is a new possible diagnosis of “social communication disorder”, which takes some of the social impairments from autism without the restricted interests (and apparently also without the sensory sensitivity, although the book does not explicitly state that).  That might be a possible path for me to take, given that my social impairments are much more severe than my other symptoms, which was part of the reason why I had such a confusing “yes, but no” diagnosis in the first place.

Work today was hard as I got told to redo some work that my boss said was done wrongly.   I had made one mistake, but one other mistake I just could not see on the spreadsheet and two other “mistakes” were not mistakes at all, but judgement calls that I had made, perhaps incorrectly.  Nevertheless, my boss was asking for me to double-check a load of work I did yesterday.  It brought my mood down, though, even before everyone else on the team went out for lunch together and I couldn’t go because there are no kosher restaurants around here.

Then, after lunch, I was told that I had corrected the genuine mistake incorrectly.  Perhaps because I was annoyed about having my judgement calls questioned or perhaps out of plain absent mindedness, I had corrected some columns, but had forgotten others.  My boss was rightly annoyed, but I wasn’t sure whether she still wanted me to double-check the other work or not.  I thought I would quickly do it, except it took nearly an hour in the end and I left work at nearly 6.00pm.  I’ve come home to a pile of emails I should deal with (shiur has been cancelled this week as the assistant rabbi is away), but I just want to eat pizza and watch Doctor Who.

I feel like I can’t actually succeed at anything I do.  I was good at school work, but university put paid to any notion I had of being academically-gifted.  I might have managed a first if I hadn’t been depressed (I was two marks short of a first in my first year exams), but finished up with a low 2.1 after a three years seriously disrupted by depression.  I’m told I can write well, which I tend to doubt, but even if I do, I’m not sure how to do anything beneficial to myself or others with it.  The only things I’ve had success writing about are Doctor Who, depression and antisemitism.  I’m working on my Doctor Who non-fiction book still, but am quietly doubting whether I can write what fans want to read, either in terms of style or content.  Anyway, part of me thinks I’m wasting my time with middle-brow family television.  A couple of people have encouraged me to write a misery memoir or some similar depression-themed work, but I can’t find enough positivity to write something uplifting and any accurate account of my childhood would upset a lot of people whose private details could not be changed enough to make them unrecognisable.  As for writing about antisemitism, it is more socially worthwhile, but also very depressing and unlikely to make much of an impact and would embroil me in a lot of arguments that I would rather avoid, although the idea for a antisemitism-themed PhD thesis continues to bubble away in the background without my ever intending to leave it there.

Well, I have an appointment on the moon with Patrick Troughton and a pizza…

Overthinking

The office was quieter today and I was more productive.  I finished the leftover work from yesterday, did my work for today and finished early enough to ask my boss for more work, so I think I redeemed myself.

I just had dinner with my parents, sister and brother-in-law.  I was depleted enough that I didn’t really want to socialise, but I was good and stayed even though it was draining and even though I may not get the relaxation time I desperately need if I am to be functional tomorrow.  Routine won in the end as I had to make my lunch and start getting ready for bed.  I’m not sure if that’s autistic routine or genuinely necessary routine as I’m starting to second-guess myself (more on that in a minute).  I did struggle at times, though; socialising is never easy for me, even with people I feel comfortable with.

I’ve started reading The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome by Tony Attwood, on the recommendation of someone from my autism support group.  I haven’t got very far, but already I’m having mixed feelings.  Some of it seems very familiar and I’ve taken a lot of notes of things to write down and show at my assessment, if I go for one.  On the other hand, a lot is unfamiliar, or is stressed more than I feel it, reminding me that if I am autistic, I’m very much at the high-functioning end, which in turn (a) makes me feel guilty for being so dysfunctional (in the sense that other people are worse off than me so I shouldn’t complain and in the sense that I “should” function better) and (b) makes me suspect that a putative third assessment will be as ambiguous as the first two assessments.  I’m now scrutinising and questioning my actions more than I probably should, trying to work out what is autistic and what is neurotypical.  I find myself wondering what I would think or do if I don’t get diagnosed (again), how I would square another non-diagnosis with the mental health professionals and friends who think I am on the spectrum.  Do I just want to be autistic for some perverse reason?  Do I think it makes me more interesting?  That it makes concrete the distance I feel from society?  Makes my unipolar depression somehow less mundane, even sexier?  I suppose I need to remind myself that regardless of what the professionals say, I genuinely do struggle with a lot of basic social interaction, over and beyond my mental health issues.  At my depression support group, during the tea break, very depressed people are able to make small talk with each other; it’s only me standing there, feeling too shy, confused and awkward to talk to anyone, unless someone comes and tries to rescue me by starting a conversation, which I usually engage in rather awkwardly.

That reminds me of a passage I read in the book today.  It says that people with high-functioning autism sometimes “avidly observe and intellectually analyze social behaviour” and interact successfully based on imitation and a rehearsed social script.  This sounds like me.  It is apparently more common in girls with autism than boys (I noticed a while back that I behave like a girl with autism more than a boy with it.  Autism in girls seems to be under-diagnosed, perhaps because girls are socialised differently or are better at deliberately compensating for problems.)  The result is that signs of difficulty in interactions may not be noticed by a professional during a short diagnostic assessment.  This sounds like me.  I believe can ‘pass’ as neurotypical up to a point; every week I manage several short conversations with neurotypicals at work, shul and shiur, but if the conversation goes on for more than a couple of minutes, I run out of “script” and start to panic, both at what I should say and how to respond to what they might say to me.  It’s at this point that things can start to go wrong, as I become so focused on my anxiety that I can’t concentrate on their side of the conversation, or even hear it properly.

The other thing I thought about today was my religious life and how much I’m struggling with it.  I feel I’m going through a crisis of faith, albeit a strange one: I believe in God, I just don’t believe in myself.  I have minimal motivation for prayer (set or spontaneous/hitbodedut) or religious study.  Prayer seems pointless, as God always seems to turn my requests down, or at least the important ones.  I suppose He knows best, but then I wonder why I bother saying anything.  I know there are reasons to pray – I gave a shiur (class) years ago on approaches to prayer and why we should pray, given that God knows everything and is benevolent, which would seem to render prayer immaterial.  I know, but I don’t feel.  Similarly my mind has little space or ability to deal with the agricultural laws of the shmittah (sabbatical) year (the Mishnah I’m currently trying to study), the laws of prayer (the Gemarah my shul is studying communally) or even the prophecies of Hoshea (Hosea, the book of Nakh (the post-Mosaic books of the Hebrew Bible) that I’m trying to re-read).  I’m slightly more involved in the weekly Torah reading, but not much (we’re currently in the early chapters of Bereshit/Genesis).  I don’t know what type of study would pique my interest at the moment and still be something that I can study from a practical (energy/motivation/concentration) point of view.  It’s very tempting to give up and take the extra time for myself, for sleep or relaxation.  I suppose it counts for something that I’m still trying to stick with prayer and Torah study, although I’m not sure what it counts for or says about me.

“SHUT THE **** UP!!!”

Today was awful.  Just awful.  Working out why is harder.

I spent the whole day at work feeling terribly depleted.  Lately I have been checking 150 or so records a day, but today I only managed about 110 and had to tell my boss I would finish the rest tomorrow as I was feeling ill (I will now probably have to explain about my mental health, at least a bit, which I was hoping to avoid on this short contract).  I was feeling depleted, my eyes felt strained, I was having trouble ‘gear shifting’ from one aspect of a task to the next, things I associate with stress.  I kept wanting to shout at people to “SHUT THE **** UP!!!”

I don’t know why I was so bad.  I think it was very noisy in the office (although not necessarily more so than usual) and I just couldn’t cope with it.  I listened to classical music on my iPod, but that’s the lesser of two evils as I prefer silence when working on something that requires concentration.  This way I wasn’t being forced to pay attention to the words of the conversation (I can’t easily tune out of words I can hear, at least not at will rather than from my mind wandering when someone is talking to me about something I’m not interested in), but there was the noise of the music, and the muffled noise of the talking in the background.

I don’t normally think of myself as being so sensitive to noise, but maybe I’m used to being in quiet environments (at home, in the library).  I recall that at university I preferred to work in my room to working in the libraries, as I found them all too noisy.  At the time I thought finding libraries noisy a little eccentric, but now it seems downright autistic.  It does make me wonder if I have panic attacks at shuls (synagogues) because of the noise rather than the people and social anxiety – it would explain why I don’t generally have them in my quiet shul, but did in other, noisier, ones – my shul has a strict ‘no speaking during davening (prayer)’ rule.

I’m not going to my shiur (class) now.  I could have just about made it, if I wolfed down my dinner, but I’m really tense and in need of relaxation if I’m to have any chance of doing a decent amount of work tomorrow.  I’ve been irritable with my parents, which I feel bad about, even if some of it is justified.

I’ve been thinking a lot about autism today.  The book I ordered on autism turned up today and apparently it has various diagnostic criteria.  I intend to go through it and write notes on my symptoms (I’ve already started – I had a lot of ideas today) and why I think I’m autistic and intend to type them up before I have an assessment – if I can have another assessment, of course.  I think a lot was overlooked in my previous assessments and that was perhaps partly my fault for not mentioning certain things, but I didn’t know that some things were so relevant and I probably felt ashamed of some things.  Plus, as I understand it the assessment criteria have been revised and widened in recent years.  At the very least, if  I’m not autistic, I would like some psychiatrist to explain what the flip is wrong with me that means I can’t function in society.  I can’t hold down a job, I can’t have a relationship, I’m continually accumulating more mental illness diagnoses.  If there isn’t something wrong with me, then I’m either lazy or incompetent and, much as I hate myself, I can’t in all honesty see myself as either of those, at least not to the extent that would be needed to explain my problems.  There’s just too much evidence of my ability to produce quality work in the right circumstances, even against difficult odds (doing two degrees while very depressed) for me to seem lazy or stupid.  It’s a question of finding out how to find the right environment to thrive in.

A lot of autistic people get annoyed when neurotypical people talk about “curing” autism.  I guess I can see their point, but I don’t always feel it the same way.  I’m not particularly proud of who I am.  OK, I am a bit, and I like trying to have a more individual and intellectual life than some people, but I feel that I would at least consider sacrificing it to be “normal,” to have a normal life with love and happiness and companionship and community and normal, bearable, human sadness,  not this terrible constant misery, loneliness and despair.  I envy the men who have normal frum lives of yeshiva, a career in law or accountancy, a wife and a few kids, evenings “learning” Gemarah, drinking whisky with their cronies at kiddush on Shabbat, and following the football and cricket for innocent relaxation.  I feel like a monstrous, crazy geek-freak who doesn’t fully fit in to any of the sub-cultures I try to belong to (frum, geeky, cultured or now autistic) and who can’t function in ordinary environments.

Later…

I spoke to my parents a bit about this.  They said they’re willing to support me in looking for re-diagnosis if I think it will lead to practical benefits.  They agreed that I’m right to ask for some kind of reappraisal when I see the psychiatrist (which I’ve now discovered is in early November, I think 8 November, although I don’t know the exact time or how it will fit with work yet) as they agree with me that there must be something that’s been overlooked to explain why I’m the way I am.  So that’s all positive.  Until then, I just need to try to think of all the reasons why I think I’m autistic and type them out for the psychiatrist.

Odd Thoughts of an Odd Fellow

The title is more whimsical than I feel.  I’m exhausted and depressed.  I had trouble concentrating at work again today.  I had a lot of ruminations.  I always find it hard to explain my thoughts and feelings because I’m not good at describing them at the best of times and no one has ever really explained to me what their thoughts and feelings are like and how could we even compare them objectively to see if my “happy” is the same as your “happy” or if a “racing thought” for me is the same as a “racing thought” for you?  I sometimes get involved in my thoughts and lose track of time, or even the outside world. I can be walking and thinking and then suddenly I’m somewhere else and I don’t remember walking there.  Or I just stand staring into space and thinking and my parents ask me if there’s something wrong, which really annoys me.  My thoughts seem very ‘loud’ sometimes, if that makes sense. Sometimes I focus so much on what I’m thinking that my sight and hearing get turned down, so to speak.

The best way to describe my thoughts today would be ‘echoing’.  As in I would have a thought, usually a somewhat depressive thought about politics and not fitting in, and it would sort of echo around in my head.  I couldn’t stop thinking it, over and over.  This happens to me a lot, but I don’t think I really noticed it in the same way before; certainly this is the first time I thought of the echoing metaphor.  I think this counts as obsession in the OCD sense, but I suspect it counts as depressive rumination too.

I have no confidence in my ability to do my work.  I can accept that most of what I’m doing I can do on autopilot now, finding and checking information, but sometimes there’s a conflict of information, usually when a person’s LinkedIn page says someone is working somewhere, but the company’s website says s/he isn’t, and I have to make a judgement call as to which one is right and I worry that I’m doing it wrongly, or inconsistently (but maybe there isn’t one consistently right answer here).

Speaking of confidence, I still want to find a CBT therapist to work with me on my self-esteem, but I remembered today that I did a confidence and self-assertiveness evening class several years ago (I think it was before my MA, so 2009-2010).  That was largely CBT-based and to be fair it did help a bit at the time (I even did some public speaking off the back of it, which I can’t imagine doing now), but then I started my MA and the stress of producing work hit me and I spiralled back down into depression again (if it ever truly went away) and the improved confidence and self-esteem evaporated.  I ask myself if I can really tell myself “I am a good person” first thing in the morning with a straight face and not want to laugh.  Or cry.  Or punch myself in the face.

I don’t know whether I want another autism assessment.  The diagnostic criteria have changed since my last assessment, so there may be a point to it, but I don’t know what I’m more afraid of: being told I’m autistic (and therefore may struggle for the rest of my life) or being told yet again that I’m not (and therefore having no master narrative to explain and justify my weirdness to myself).

I mention being mentally ill and possibly autistic a lot online.  Not in real life, but a lot online, even where it’s not strictly relevant.  It has become central to my identity and not in a good way (if there even is such a thing as mental illness being central to one’s identity in a good way).  I think I do it to excuse myself.  I know I haven’t done anything with my life, but I’m mentally ill.  I know I’m falling short of my religious obligations, but I’m mentally ill.  I know I go on too much about how awful my life is, but I’m mentally ill.  And so on.

I’m hoping to go to a new series of shiurim starting tomorrow, although I think I may be too tired and home from work too late.  It’s about understanding the mitzvot (commandments) from a psychological perspective.  The rabbi giving it has an MA in organisational psychology.  It might be interesting and useful (or triggering).  It’s at a Modern Orthodox adult educational institution, which is a somewhat better (but not perfect) fit for my type of Judaism than my more Charedi/ultra-Orthodox shul (synagogue).  Unfortunately my experience in the past is that most people who go there are twenty years or more older than me, so from a dating point of view it’s a non-starter and not even great from a friendship point of view, although some of my friends are a lot older than me.

I’ve been playing ‘What if…’ again.  What if I went to a different school?  What if I had stuck with counselling when I was sixteen?  What if I had just asked her out?  (For any given value of “her”.)  What if I had gone to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary)?  What if I wasn’t too religious and conservative to be accepted in Doctor Who fandom?  Or if I wasn’t too geeky and modern to be accepted in the frum community?  Or if I wasn’t too autistic and mentally ill to be accepted anywhere?  Or if I just had the confidence to say, “I’m Luftmentsch, I’m mentally ill and religious and a Doctor Who fan, accept me or reject me, I don’t care any more”?!  That’s the big one: what if I actually didn’t care any more?

“I Will Work Harder”

I worry that I may have lost a – well, friend is too strong a word, but friendly acquaintance – by owning up to my weaknesses/bad habits.  I nearly owned up to them publicly, or rather, I did, but then tried to retract what I said.  I have a pathological need for confession and absolution, and probably a desire to be hated by others as I hate myself by revealing my shortcomings.  This only applies online, though.  In person I can’t even admit to things that aren’t particularly shaming like my mental health or geekyness.

***

I feel like Boxer the horse from Animal Farm.  I beat myself up endlessly about my moral and religious failings and I keep telling myself “I must work harder” just as Boxer was always saying “I will work harder”.  But it never works.  Perhaps I work as hard, or harder, at my religious and moral life than most people (or most frum (religious) Jews), but the results are much less.  I try to judge myself based on my effort (which according to the Talmud is what God judges), but it’s hard.  I can’t accurately measure my own effort, let alone anyone else’s; I can measure outcomes.  I can see that I’m not going to shul (synagogue) as often as others, that I’m not studying Torah as much and so on.

So I try to work harder, but I can’t because I’m already at my emotional limit, if not beyond it (all that crying must signify something).  My rabbi said (at Ne’ilah on Yom Kippur, the holiest time of the year) that making resolutions to do more were pointless as they won’t work; we should be doing things better and smarter than before, using our existing routines and schedules in a better way to get more out of the year.  Don’t try to study an hour of Talmud each day when you get home exhausted, but use your half hour train journey to do it instead.  This is probably good advice, but I’m not sure where I have the free capacity at the moment to follow it.  I don’t know what I can actually change right now.

Indifferent Honest

In which I try to use religious ideas to support myself, but end up self-loathing again.

Today I am alternating between feeling wicked and incompetent.

I woke up early, at least for a Sunday and considering I went to bed so late last night.  For some reason when I woke up this morning I started thinking about a Midrash (ancient rabbinic expansion of the biblical story to interpret or explain it).  It runs like this (translation pasted with slight amendments from here; I don’t have the original):

“HaShem [God] tests tzaddikim [the righteous] whereas His soul despises those who are wicked and who love corruption.”  (Tehillim/Psalms 11:5)

“1) Rabbi Yonatan explains: a potter checking his pots (by tapping on their surface) doesn’t check faulty pots that would shatter after one tap, rather he checks strong pots that can survive even a number of knocks without shattering. So Hashem doesn’t test resha’im (wicked people) but tzaddikim (righteous people).

2) Rabbi Yosi ben Channina explains: When a flax dealer knows that his flax is superior, the more he beats it the more it thickens, whereas if his flax is inferior one beating causes it to split.

3) Rabbi Elazar explains: This is like a farmer who has two cows, one strong and one weak. To which does he attach the yoke, surely to the stronger one?”

– Bereishit Rabbah 32:3 and repeated with variations in 55:2

Three rabbis bring three different parables to explain why good people suffer in this world rather than wicked people.  In none of the parables does God benefit from the test, as He is perfect.  In the first case, the potter hits  his pots to show their strength to potential buyers, so he only hits the ones he knows won’t break.  This sees suffering as a way of demonstrating the strength of the person suffering to the world: God afflicts the righteous so other observers will see their strength of character in adversity.

In the second case, the flax dealer beats his good quality flax to improve it, but he doesn’t beat the inferior flat because it will have the opposite effect and make it worse quality.  From this point of view, suffering is to improve the person suffering.  God afflicts the righteous so that they will grow spiritual through their suffering and become better people as a result.

In the third parable, the farmer has a job that needs doing.  The suffering – the cow pulling the yoke – doesn’t actually benefit the person suffering either directly (parable two) or indirectly (parable one, where suffering made the virtues of the righteous obvious to the world whereas previously they were hidden and known only to HaShem).  It’s just something that needs doing.  From this point of view, God needs some suffering in this world as part of His plan for it; the reasons why aren’t dealt with in this parable.  It doesn’t directly benefit the righteous; God just knows that the wicked won’t be able to cope with it, but the righteous will, so of necessity He tests the righteous, not the wicked (and presumably rewards the righteous later although that isn’t stated here – see the discussion of “the sufferings of love” in Talmud Brachot which arguably deals with this issue).

I tried to apply some of this to me, but nothing seems to stick.  I don’t feel that depression and loneliness is making me stronger.  The opposite, really.  Maybe for a while it was making me stronger, but now I think it’s really holding me back.  Certainly most of my worst sins happen because of the depression, not despite it.  I don’t think it’s demonstrating my worth to others, because I hide my suffering and depression from most people and, anyway, I don’t know that there’s much to demonstrate.  And I don’t feel that I’m doing useful work ‘ploughing’ for God.  I don’t know.

I shouldn’t even say any of this.  I’m so wicked and evil, it isn’t surprising that I suffer.  Really everyone should hate me, but I hide my wickedness and trick people into liking me.

I wanted to write about why I hate myself so much and think I’m such a bad person, but I can’t bring myself to write about the thing I hate most about myself, the negative behaviour and acting out.  I wrote a bit yesterday, but then went back and deleted because I was too ashamed.  I don’t think I deserve to have friends and readers, but having got them, I’m scared of losing them.

What I will say is that I feel guilty that I have strong likes and dislikes about people.  Some people I just don’t like.  I don’t think I show that, but I feel bad about even feeling it.  Sometimes I feel like I’m judging people and although I try hard to see the best in people and find excuses for their bad behaviour, I feel bad that I have to do that consciously and not automatically.  Also, I don’t speak lashon hara (gossip, broadly speaking, although it’s a somewhat wider term than that) much, but I feel I shouldn’t speak it at all and I can feel guilty about that even for years afterwards.  I’m too short-tempered and sarcastic with my parents and sometimes in my head I say terrible things about people who annoy me.  I don’t meet my religious obligations as an Orthodox Jew: I don’t daven (pray) when I should or with a community or with concentration, I don’t do enough Torah study and there’s the fact I never went to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary)…  I’ve been going to Talmud shiur (class) at my shul (synagogue) for six months now, but I don’t understand it.  I would drop out, except that I’d be embarrassed to be the only one to do so.

And then there’s the one big, terrible, inexcusable thing that I can’t get around and which makes me feel everyone would be better off without me, that I’m such a liar and a hypocrite for doing this and trying to make people think I’m a good person and I don’t deserve to have friends and a community.  But I do want those things, so I’m keeping it quiet.

***

From wickedness to incompetence: I’ve been recording my budget/expenditure a particular way since I started university (eighteen years) and it’s worked fine, but in the last few months I’ve had a big discrepancy between what is actually in my bank account according to my statement and what my own records show and I can’t trace the discrepancy, no matter how hard I try.  The discrepancy was a surplus, but today turned into a deficit i.e. the surplus was being eroded and it seems to be self-correcting, as I suspected it would at some point.  I haven’t lost money and I’ve probably just missed something somewhere, but this does not help my feelings of being an idiot or at least not an adult.  I probably ought to run my bank accounts another way, but I’m not sure what would be easiest.  I used to be good at maths at school, but since leaving I’ve struggled with it and get vaguely panicked and confused by complicated calculations and big numbers, which is a self-confidence issue as much as anything: I can do mental arithmetic, but I don’t trust myself to do it correctly and double check myself.  It doesn’t help that my Dad is always getting me to open new savings accounts with different interest rates, which just confuses me (the current problem started when I opened one such account and I’m sure they’re related).

I shook at the barber again.  He noticed and asked if I was OK.  This also adds to the incompetent feeling, even though I know it’s just social anxiety and Not My Fault.  It also turns out I don’t just cry at work or when doing hitbodedut meditation, as I started crying at home while davening (praying).  I try not to beat myself up about that, as I think crying is healthy (even if crying in an open plan office probably isn’t), but it’s just another sign of the bad state I’m in.  My sister phoned to see how I am doing and asked if I’d found a new job yet for when my current contract ends in six weeks; I couldn’t tell her I’m just terrified and think I’m not actually capable of holding down a ‘proper’ job.  I honestly don’t know what to do about work, as I really don’t feel capable of working, but I know I will get even worse if I drop out of the labour market again and I know I won’t qualify for benefits.

Difficult Days

Well, that was a difficult forty-eight hours.

It started on Thursday night, when I was trying to do my hitbodedut prayer/meditation, but couldn’t think of anything to say and slid into bed fully dressed and fell asleep at about 11pm.  I’m not entirely sure what I was thinking.  I think I was hoping to doze for an hour or two and then get up and get ready for bed properly, but I slept until 6am, changed into my pyjamas, slept for another five hours and then had to race to get to my blood test on time.  I had my blood test (and shook again – the phlebotomists think I have a fear of needles, but it’s actually social anxiety, and fear of shaking from social anxiety, that triggers it).  I helped my Dad with some shopping and came home with a headache that felt like it was going to turn into a migraine.  Painkillers helped, but I felt completely exhausted (as I do after a full-blown migraine) and increasingly light-headed, so I skipped shul (synagogue) in the evening.  That may have been a mistake, because it’s going to be harder to go back next week, especially as I was already nervous about what some people might say to me.

After that we had friends of my parents over for dinner.  They’re nice people and I feel more comfortable with them than I do with most of my parents’ friends, but I was feeling out of it and autistic.  I didn’t make much eye contact or contribute much to the conversation.  My parents felt too noisy and the conversation was just small talk, which I don’t like and struggle to make.  (I feel sorry for neurotypicals, condemned by genetics to have boring conversations.)

After dinner I went upstairs.  I tried to do my hitbodedut again.  I spent an hour thinking depressive thoughts and crying a lot.  I guess it was at least authentic, and I felt more connection than I have in prayer for a long time.  I stayed up really late (until about 1.30am) thinking about things, which was also a mistake.

I was thinking about emailing (after Shabbat) the person who does the Q & A for Teens advice column on Aish.com.  I’ve thought this on and off for years.  At first I thought I just want someone to tell me I’m a good person (I fantasise about one of my heroes from Jewish history appearing to me in a dream or something and telling me I’m a good Jew) and as my rabbinic mentor won’t, and I think my parents and friends are biased, I need to find someone else.  Then I realised I really want someone to tell me that I’m a terrible person.  I suspect I genuinely want someone to reinforce my belief that I’m a lousy person and a terrible Jew and that I have no chance of good things ever happening to me.  I don’t know why I need someone else to tell me this when I’m doing such a good job of telling myself.

I did at least realise that a lot of my problems are really the same thing.  I knew they were interconnected, but now I realise they are all actually facets of the same thing: my worries about not having a career, about no one wanting to marry me, about God being angry with me, are all different aspects of the toxic shame and guilt I feel from my childhood and from my continuing behaviour (not having a career, not being married, acting out).  I guess on the plus side that means if I can deal with that, maybe I can sort my whole life out.  On the other hand, the fact that I haven’t sorted it out in thirty years indicates that it won’t be easy (on which note, the therapy clinic that was supposed to phone me on Friday didn’t.  I also wanted to chase my psychiatric referral on Friday, but felt too ill).

On Friday night I found the following quote in the book Sparks from Berditchov by Yaakov Klein: “The Berditchover [Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev] writes elsewhere: ‘If a person gives up on himself and thinks that Hashem [God] has no pleasure from his service, although he may think himself to be quite humble, this is not called humility at all; on the contrary, it leans a bit towards heresy.’”  This was something else I pondered a lot.  I really, genuinely, 100% (OK, maybe 80%) believe that HaShem has no interest in my Torah and mitzvot because they are so insignificant and meaningless in comparison with other people’s and because I do so many big aveirot (sins), particularly acting out when the depression and social anxiety are bad, that I’m a hypocrite even trying to be frum (religious).  So now I feel I shouldn’t think that, but I can’t in good conscience think of HaShem wanting my mitzvot.  So I don’t know what to do.

(Also, why does it lean towards “heresy” and not, say, lying?  Perhaps the idea is related to the fact that people have a divine soul, so saying that God has no connection with you is like saying that you have no soul or that God hates Himself.)

Today was bad.  Really bad.  I woke up late, unsurprisingly.  I was trying to talk to Mum while I was eating breakfast, but somehow it all went wrong.  I don’t talk much about my parents and my childhood here, although there’s a lot I’d like to say, but I’m scared because this blog is not really 100% anonymous and I worry about honouring parents and not gossiping.  I try not to blame my parents for my condition, but I’m aware that my depression, social anxiety and low self-esteem are largely rooted in my childhood family dynamic and while things are better than they were, problems resurface periodically.  So, today my Mum said I was being aggressive, when it was not my intention.  Since childhood, my parents and my sister have accused me of being angry or aggressive in intonation and in how I look at them when it was never my intention and I increasingly suspect that it is my autism and depression that is responsible.  I think that’s what happened here.  I tried to write it off as one of those things, but over lunch I got into an argument with Mum again.  I was partly responsible this time, but only partly.  It’s very hard.  She has her own emotional/psychological issues, but she’s not really trying to deal with them, so I’m left carrying them as well as my own.

I fell asleep after lunch.  When I awoke I had missed the beginning of my Talmud shiur (class).  I felt too depressed and withdrawn to go to shul (synagogue) for Mincha (the afternoon service).  I tried not to beat myself up about that, but I probably will.  I tried to study some Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), but it was hard work and not particularly inspiring (Hoshea).  I should do some chores now Shabbat is over, but I don’t really have much of a desire to do so.  Tomorrow I need to have a haircut, which is my absolute least favourite not-genuinely-bad thing.  I worry about shaking again, which in itself can be enough to trigger it, but even before I had an issue with shaking, I’ve had autistic issues with that kind of close contact with strangers, particularly as I’m feeling very sensitive about touch at the moment (I jumped when my Dad put his hand on my shoulder the other day).

Intimations of Mortality

I was going to go to autism group after work, but on the train I felt terrible, exhausted and overstimulated.  It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what I struggle with, especially as some times I’m fine with some things, but not at other times.  I have no problem with trains most of the time, but they are hard at rush hour, and I’m not sure if it’s the noise, the heat or the people, which means it’s hard to tell if it’s social anxiety or autism.  Similarly, I can’t tell if I struggle at work from the noise (autism) or the fear of interactions with others (social anxiety) or the feeling that I’m doing badly and am going to get fired (depression and low self-esteem).  Then being depleted makes my blood sugar drop and I feel faint and sometimes start trembling, so I have to eat, which makes me worry about clomipramine-induced weight gain…

Whatever the reason, my work days are terrible ordeals at the moment.  At some point in the afternoon today I found myself crouched on the floor of the toilet, trying to escape from things.  If this was a permanent job, I would be seriously considering resigning.  As it is, I’m counting down the next six weeks.

I do worry if I’m fit to work, but, again, it’s hard to tell anyone that, because I’m not sure myself if the problem is depression, social anxiety or autism.  Someone told me that where I live one can have free (i.e. state-provided) help with autism, including a pre-assessment (for want of a better word) where they tell you whether you are likely to be diagnosed with autism and what that would entail.  I don’t know if I qualify because I’ve already been assessed twice and told I’m not autistic, but if I can go, I’m seriously thinking of going and saying that I really think that I’ve been wrongly diagnosed and that I’m autistic, that much of my life only makes sense if I’m autistic and that several mental health professionals (and some friends) strongly believe that I’m autistic, especially as the diagnostic criteria have been revised and broadened since I was assessed.

I had a lot of death fantasy today, not so much wanting to die, although there was some of that, but wondering if I’m dead and in Gehennom (Purgatory).  It’s probably just as well that I’ve finished reading VALIS, as that was probably encouraging me in that kind of solipsistic fantasy.  I just want not to be here.  I can’t imagine my life ever being worth living.  I just seem to be a mass (or mess) of mental illness and autism and trying to unpick and cure – or even just alleviate – one part of my problems runs into the problem that they are all interconnected and you can’t deal with one without dealing with all the others first.

My self-belief is at an all time low (which is saying something).  I can’t see myself managing to get a permanent job and stay at this level of functionality indefinitely.  I don’t even need to worry about getting married, just worrying about functioning is bad enough.  I don’t think I have ever worked as hard with depression this bad as I have this year.  Usually when working with depression in the past I was doing very short hours or studying with control over my study schedule, but now I’m nearly working full time with a long commute at rush hour.  On one level it’s impressive, but I worry that I’m going to burn out; goodness knows what that would entail – suicide? psychosis?  To be honest, I don’t think it would be either, but I don’t know what it would be.

I feel inclined to withdraw from social things, as I did with autism group and as I have been doing with shul (synagogue).  It occurred to me today that I probably do have a couple of friends, or potential friends, who could accept me if I would open up to them, but I’m scared that if I do that they won’t accept and I’ll be worse off than I am now, where at least I have them as somewhat friendly.  So I don’t open up and so never get to move those friendships on to closer friendships.  I don’t know how to talk to people about my mental health/autism and I don’t know how to explain that they dominate my entire life to the exclusion of almost everything else.  And then there’s the shame I feel about my geeky interests with other frum (religious) people, so that’s another key part of me I don’t open up about.

I did at least get to shiur (religious class), as by the evening I had eaten and relaxed a bit and felt somewhat restored, although I was inwardly a bit disquieted by the unusually large number of men packed into the assistant rabbi’s dining room.  The topic was not so easy for me either as it was about having purpose in life and living according to that purpose, whereas I don’t feel I know my purpose at all and don’t know how to find out; I’ve been told I can work it out by listing the five happiest moments of my life and what I would do with a million pounds and six hours of free time a day, but I don’t think I can think of five times I’ve been really happy and I simply don’t know what I would do with money and time.  This was also tied in to having a spouse and children to take forward your mission, which is obviously sensitive to me.  The assistant rabbi was saying that a person can be studying Torah and doing mitzvot (commandments) and still be messing up by not studying the Torah and doing the mitzvot  needed for his precise mission, so obviously that’s just going to reinforce my feeling that I’m a bad person and I’m not going to go to Olam HaBa (Heaven).  And he spoke about my acting out too and about that being wrong (not that he knows that I do it, he just meant it generally).

In terms of finding my mission in life, sometimes I think I should try to contact the author of this article and ask if she can offer any tips on finding my life’s mission, but I don’t know what she could say that isn’t in the article.  Other than that, I have no idea what to do.

Mood Rating

(This is really a note to myself, but I thought I would post it publicly in case anyone else is interested or finds it useful.)

Since 2003 I have been rating my moods out of ten every evening (except Shabbat and Yom Tov), where 1 is unbearably awful (I have sometimes reached 0, added when I reached new depths that I had not guessed existed when I rated myself 1/10) and 10 is normal (actually 8 is my de facto normal; even in periods of remission, I’ve rarely felt able to award myself 10/10, but over time 8 became shorthand for “basically OK”).

Between 2003 and 2010 (really more like 2015) for long periods – months and at times years – I was unable to study or work because I was so depressed.  At these times I think I floated consistently around 3/10.  Lately I’ve been feeling that I’m doing better than at times in the past.  I’m going to work every day and staying there, not coming home early with panic attacks and suicidal thoughts as happened a few years ago.  But I think I’m judging myself as much on achievement as mood (I think I used to rate achievement every evening too, but over time I dropped it as unnecessary).  I am achieving things, in terms of working despite my depression.  But my mood is often incredibly low.  I’ve been rating myself 4s, 5s and 6s on work days – bad compared with non-work days, which can be mildly depressed 7s or effectively normal 8s, but better than times when I’ve felt at 1, 2 or 3 for months on end.  But I wonder if I should be rating myself lower than I actually am because my mood at work is so low that it’s almost impossible to work and I just sit at my desk crying.

The other tricky thing is change over the day.  I do feel a lot better when it reaches 5pm and I leave the office for another sixteen hours.  I rate my mood at the end of the day, so there’s an immediacy bias to how I feel after having blogged, had dinner, watched some TV and relaxed a bit rather than how I felt during the day.  Sometimes I put a range of values to reflect this change e.g. 5-7/10, but I wonder if I’m not doing that often enough.

It’s difficult to deal with the subjectivity of emotions, even without alexithymia (difficulty feeling and understanding one’s emotions)…

Forcing the End

I was given more to do at work today.  Lately I have been researching about 120 names a day; today I was given 300 for today and tomorrow together.  I couldn’t reach 150 by the end of the day, although I was close (145).  In the late afternoon I got faster at researching, which always happens, but this time I got a lot faster and hyperfocused.  I also experimented with listening to music again to blot out the open plan office noises; it helps a bit for nearby noise (the people next to me on the phone), but the music gets just as irritating as low level background noise while I’m trying work.  I do listen to music, but usually when doing something menial and sometimes I find it oppressive and prefer to do without.  The other thing that happened when hyperfocusing was that my blood sugar level dropped after a while.  I ate an apple and a cereal bar, but I still felt a bit shaky.  I worry that I was going too fast, hyperfocusing, but with poor quality concentration and making mistakes.  I guess I’ll have to wait and see, although it’s possible that any mistakes might not be found until the data is used, which could be long after I’ve left.  On a selfish level this won’t affect me, but I want to do a good job because I have a sense of integrity in my work.  I want to do the job they are paying me to do to the best of my ability.

I found myself feeling envious of the high-powered lawyers I was researching.  I don’t know why.  The law has never struck me as an interesting career and I could not cope with the stress and disruption of my life that a high-powered job would entail.  It would be nice to be more financially secure, but I would have to sacrifice too much that is important to me (leisure time, relationships, spirituality/religion and probably conscience) even if I was well-enough and neurotypical enough to do such a job (which I’m not).  But I don’t feel that I’m better off than they are.  They at least are having a good time (possibly).  I have God, but a lot of the time I feel He wants to hurt me and let me deprive myself of Olam HaBa (Heaven).  As Faustian pacts go, it looks like I did badly.  Maybe I’m wrong and it’s the depression talking.  I hope I am.  It’s hard to believe that, though.

When I went to the rabbi’s house for dinner on the first night of Rosh Hashanah, the person next to me said she heard an online shiur (class) where a rabbi said that the current Jewish generation is the strongest since the Akedah (the Binding of Isaac) in order to resist the lures of the outside world.  I’m not sure that I agree with this.  I think the people who lived through the Holocaust, the pogroms, the Crusades, the Hadrianic persecutions and so on were pretty strong.  Even if we’re talking about a different kind of strength, I don’t feel that I personally am doing all that well at resisting temptation.  In fact, I’m doing pretty badly.  But the statement reminded me of a passage from Martin Buber’s Tales of the Hasidim and I’ve been thinking about both recently.  This is the passage from Buber (translated by Olga Marx):

The Time to Come

It was on a sabbath and the rabbi of Rizhyn [Rabbi Yisrael of Rizhyn] sat at his table surrounded by his hasidim.  Then he said to them: “The days are near when all will be well with the common man both in body and in soul, but all will not be well with the extraordinary man, not in body and not in soul, and he will not even be able to recite one psalm.”

And he concluded: “Why do I tell you this?  So that your hearts shall not grieve: it ought to be so, it must be so.”

Another time he said: “In the last three hours before redemption it will be as difficult to cling to Jewishness as to climb a smooth wall of ice.  That is why in the Hoshanot prayer we say: ‘Three hours – pray help!’  Those are the last hours.”

Obviously, it would suit my vanity to think of myself as an extraordinary person, but I suppose beyond that I want to feel that there is some meaning in my life.  If I can’t do something meaningful, I’d like my suffering to be for some kind of eschatological purpose.  I suppose it would be a strange form of revenge, but still revenge, if my suffering helped redeem the people who treated me badly (when I was very ill, at Oxford, a couple of times I briefly thought that I was Mashiach (the Messiah).  I still don’t know if that was technically a psychotic episode and probably never will).  And I suppose I hope that the redemption will come soon, because I can’t cope with this world and if I can’t commit suicide, then I want everything to be magically sorted out without my having to do anything because I don’t know what I can do that I haven’t yet tried.  I suppose I feel that it would take the final redemption and the end of history to get rid of my depression and to get me married.  But I really am finding it hard to cling to Jewishness.  I have that part of it alright.  Just not the good bit, the redemptive bit.

The K is for Kindred

Work is still hard.  It’s very depleting.  I don’t know if it’s the noisy, open plan nature of the office (worse today with a demo of striking Uber drivers outside – their UK headquarters is apparently in the next office block), the fact that I push myself without taking breaks as I would like and probably need, or the boring and repetitive nature of the task, but I struggle with exhaustion the whole time and on through the evening.  I take frequent drink breaks and toilet breaks (the toilet is at least quiet and sometimes I stay there a minute or two longer than I strictly need), but I still get badly depleted by the end of the day.

I went to bed later than I wanted to last night, but I was feeling really tense and felt I had to watch some Doctor Who to relax or I would not sleep.  I still had an anxiety dream, partly about religious OCD-type stuff, partly about the woman I dated two summers ago.  We broke up on good terms (she tried to set me up with someone else a few months later), but she couldn’t cope with my social anxiety (although that was not the only reason we weren’t suited) and the dream made me somewhat anxious and ruminative about dating, especially as there were other anxiety-provoking elements (the OCD imagery and thinking someone was about to attack me in the dream).  I woke up early, but a bit tense and unable to get back to sleep, although it was almost time to wake up anyway.

The dream was probably in part because my Dad wants to talk to a Modern Orthodox rabbi he knows about getting me set up on dates with Modern Orthodox women (a better bet than the more Haredi/ultra-Orthodox women I suspect I would be set up with if I followed the advice of people from my shul), but I’m not sure I can see the point right now.  It seems logical to wait until I’ve had a psychiatric review and some CBT for my low self-esteem and social anxiety.  Part of me can’t see the point of dating at all, because I always end up alone and miserable.  The OCD elements in the dream, which I don’t really remember in detail now, were probably because I’m struggling with my religious OCD in eating at work.  I’ve mostly kept it under control, but I can see how easily I could spiral back down.  The negative side-effect is that I’m the only person on the team who never offers to make tea or coffee for the other team members; I feel bad about it, but I would never cope with handling the non-kosher mugs.  I can’t explain this to them, though.

Part of the reason for the depletion at work is the autism and social anxiety.  So much of the time I feel like a small child trapped in a world he doesn’t understand and can’t cope with.  I feel that my autism has gone undiagnosed because I have learnt coping strategies and workarounds that make me look neurotypical to outsiders, but deep down I struggle to learn and remember what truly neurotypical people intuit automatically.  I feel I have a vast algorithm in my head about how to interact with other people that I have to consult for almost every interpersonal interaction.  Doubtless it started as a simple flow diagram when I was a baby (“Is someone cooing over me? –> Yes –> smile at them”), but with every new situation I find myself in, new branches of questions and answers have been welded on until it takes far too long to navigate a way through it and find quick answers, leaving me unsure what to say or do far too much.  I feel it was only through being in safe, familiar environments (school, academia or at home depressed) that I survived up until now; now in a work environment, I am just not coping.  It was the same in my previous job, so it’s not just this job that is the issue.

***

I’ve been struggling to do my hitbodedut for some time now.  Hitbodedut is considered a form of Jewish meditation, although it’s more like prayer: talking to God spontaneously in the vernacular (not set prayers in Hebrew).  On Friday  nights (Shabbat), perhaps when I’m more relaxed, I sometimes get overwhelmed with thoughts and just lie on my bed crying.  On other nights I just can’t think of anything to say at all.  I just sit there and my mind wanders to other things.  Sometimes I can’t face it at all and just skip it, despite feeling it really helped with the depression in earlier years.  Sometimes I feel angry with God, which is OK in Judaism, but I can’t express it and feel guilty despite knowing it’s OK.  To be honest, all prayer and Torah study is hard, bordering on impossible at the moment, but hitbodedut is hardest, whether because it’s not obligatory or because it brings me face to face with my deepest thoughts and fears.

***

I’m re-reading Philip K. Dick’s VALIS books (Radio Free Albemuth, VALISThe Divine Invasion and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer).  It probably wasn’t a sensible idea.  In 1974 Dick, who was probably pretty unstable already (he thought God had given him the answers to a high school exam and by this stage had drug issues) had what was probably a psychotic episode, but which he interpreted as communication from a gnostic saviour deity.  Except when he thought it was a message from aliens.  Or that he was inadvertently eavesdropping on a Soviet experiment in telepathy.  One of them, anyway, if not all three.  He spent the rest of his life trying to work through and understand what happened to him, both in his “non-fictional” Exegesis and in his final novels.

The novels are related more by theme than by plot.  I’m currently re-reading Valis, which in many ways is the craziest of all of them (Dick is two characters/narrators in the novel, the sane Philip Dick and the unstable Horselover Fat (Horselover = Philip in Greek, Fat = Dick in German).  There’s an amazing evocation of what it feels like to realise that you are losing your sanity and how the twisted ‘logic’ of mental illness works which is both moving and funny and perhaps helps me to understand myself, but to get there you have to read through pages of insane theology about occluded gods and saviours and living knowledge and the Black Iron Prison.  Reading it, I wonder if this is how I sound to my blog readers.  I don’t mean about my religious beliefs, but my self-perception and what I write about my mental health issues and experiences.  When I say, completely honestly, that I think that I will never get married, that I feel that I am very wicked and that God hates me and that, no matter how much good I do and how much evil I avoid, I won’t have any Olam HaBa (Heaven) and how this world feels more like Gehennom (Hell/Purgatory) than Olam HaZeh (the physical world), when I say all that, do people just switch off or even laugh, as people might at Dick/Fat’s Exegesis?  It’s a scary thought.  I know my parents just switch off when I say I’m never going to find someone to love me, because they don’t think it’s true, and someone whose blog I read told me not to predict what God is going to do by assuming I will be single forever.  It’s frustrating when what seems obviously true to me is unintelligible to everyone else and as a result they see me as funny or stupid when I really feel despairing and lonely and in need of empathy.

The other thought I have is to wonder whether this blog is my Exegesis.  I certainly invest a lot of time in it the way Dick invested a lot of time in his Exegesis.  I haven’t read the actual Exegesis, only the extracts in VALIS, and I don’t really want to read it for several reasons, but the published version is nearly a thousand pages and apparently that only represents about a tenth of what Dick wrote.  I don’t know how many pages I’ve blogged over the years, at the four blogs I have, at different times, had (not all were mental health blogs, though).  But it must be a significant amount, given that most of my posts are a thousand words or more.  It’s a horrible image, in a way, writing and writing and writing from early in the morning until late into the night (on days when I’m not at work, I often start a blog post in the morning and add to it throughout the day before posting in the evening; this post was started just before 6.00am, but that was the result of unusual circumstances (waking up from a disturbing dream)).  So much cogitation, so little concrete growth or recovery to show for it!  I suppose I do understand myself a lot better than I did twelve years ago, when I started blogging, but I don’t know how much of that is from blogging and how much from therapy (and growing up).  It’s a disturbing thought, anyway.

Triggers and Case Histories

(I’m experimenting with a timed post here.  I’m writing it on Sunday night, but it should post while I’m at work on Monday morning, so I’ve written it as if it were written on Monday.  So “yesterday” is Sunday not Saturday.)

I submitted a job application for a cataloguing yesterday.  I feel pessimistic about it, but I keep changing how I feel pessimistic.  Sometimes I feel my application will be rejected; other times I feel I’ll get the job, but won’t be able to do it.  I have completely lost whatever confidence in my professional abilities that I might once have had.

I spoke to my rabbi mentor yesterday.  I think I sounded more upbeat than I feel.  He said a lot of frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) people feel far from God, struggle get in the right mood for Yom Tov (sombre for Yom Kippur, joyous for Simchat Torah) and that lots of people feel they don’t fit in to the community.  But I feel a bit as if I hadn’t expressed myself well or helped him engage with what I was trying to say.  I know it’s hard for everyone to engage with Yom Tov (a while back I posted here a quote from Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, one of  the greatest rabbinic thinkers and Jewish philosophers of the twentieth century, where he said that even he sometimes feels “cold” on Rosh Hashanah morning and has to get himself in the right frame of mind), but I feel that it’s harder for me, although I can’t quantify that or prove it.  I feel that I don’t fit in to the community at all, as shown by my difficulties making friends and talking to people.  I feel that I am having a kind of crisis of faith, as although I believe in God strongly and although I can accept intellectually that one day I might find meaning and purpose in my life/struggles (the two seem largely the same to me and have for decades), I can’t feel that at all emotionally.  What I feel emotionally oscillates between a cool disengagement and lack of desire to daven (pray) or study Torah, and a raging anger at God for letting my life be like this (depressed, anxious, lonely) for so long.  Then I feel guilty that I feel like this, not because it’s sacrilegious, but because other people have it so much worse and I should feel angry for them.

Speaking of not fitting in to communities, yesterday evening I was feeling fine, packing for work, when suddenly I got hit by intense despair and perhaps some anxiety.  This time at least I could work out the chain of thoughts that led to it.  It went: looking at Doctor Who stuff online –> thinking I should try again to be more involved in fandom as it would be fun and good to do something social that isn’t shul- or mental health/autism-related –> a lot of Doctor Who fans are very left-wing and into identity politics –> they’ll hate me because currently left-wing people in the UK are insisting that Jews make up antisemitism for political reasons –> vertiginous despair and loneliness, maybe some anxiety.  I’m not sure how I can cope when even positive thoughts (Doctor Who was really good tonight) can be so triggering.

In attempting to get an appointment with a psychiatrist on the NHS, I was told I could also apply to IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) for help.  I’m not quite sure what they can offer me, but I feel I might as well try.  I summarised my condition on the online application form:

I suffer from treatment-resistant depression. I have consistently low mood and despair as well as occasional suicidal thoughts. Very occasionally I self-harm.  This has continued despite medication and talking therapies for fifteen to twenty years. Although I am able to work four days a week, I find work exhausting and struggle to get through the days. I often spontaneously start crying at work for no obvious reason and I struggle to work through intense depression, despair and anxiety. I lack energy and motivation most of the time and on days when I don’t work, I sleep up to twelve hours a day.

I also have social anxiety which may stem from high functioning autism and/or complex trauma. I find it difficult to know how to initiate and continue conversations and to read unspoken social cues. I struggle to make friends and to cope with social situations and avoid social situations as much as possible.

I also have extremely low self-esteem and struggle with negative, critical thoughts about myself as well as intense guilt and shame.

It seems somehow bland and clinical to see it written down like that.  Do I think it sounds whiny and pathetic or is that just the critical inner voice again?  I probably should have put more about my history with medication and therapy (that was supposed to go in a different box, but the drop-down menu wasn’t working properly), although my experience with these questionnaires is that no one reads them, least of all the person who actually assesses you for the service.  And summarising fifteen or twenty years of personal history in 2000 characters is not easy, nor is opening up about your deepest thoughts to anonymous strangers (so not at all like blogging…).  I shall have to wait and see what comes of it.