Washed Out

I feel washed out today.  I got up at 10.30am, which is early for me on a Sunday, but I just feel depressed, lethargic and unable to motivate myself.  The last month has been very stressful and I desperately need some downtime, but I have a long to do list today, most importantly applying for a job.  I should probably have lunch and drink coffee to get myself through the afternoon.

I still feel lonely, but I don’t have the confidence to do anything about it.  I mean confidence that someone could like me, and that I could find her, rather than confidence to talk to people, although I lack that too.  My rabbi mentor said that this time last year I felt I would never find anyone who was into me and then I met E., which rather misses the point that (a) E. isn’t frum (I still struggle to imagine anyone frum being into me) and (b) even E. couldn’t cope with my mental health issues in the end and  broke up with me (I can’t imagine anyone coping with them).

I just want to be a good Jew.  It’s very hard, though.  Sometimes I feel that I “should” be an atheist.  I mean that atheism would fit my personality and life-style a lot better than frumkeit (being a religious Jew).  A lot of the people I know/have known through Doctor Who fandom are atheist or agnostic; the people I’ve had most success with romantically have been non-religious or going that way; sometimes I have doubts and even when I don’t have doubts about the existence of God, I can’t believe that He loves me.  My depression, social anxiety, possible autism and possible complex trauma place a huge added burden on my religiosity in different ways.  If I wasn’t frum, I might think of myself as a good person or at least a better person; the things I do that really upset me are not considered so bad in the secular world.  And so on.  But deep down, I really believe, and I have reasons to believe that make sense to me.  And if I believe, I want to be frum.  I hope at least my desire to be frum counts for something, even if I can’t realise it.

Sometimes militant atheists say religious people are focused on an illusory ‘next world’ whereas they (atheists) are living in the here and now.  I don’t know how much that applies to Jews.  Judaism downplays the afterlife a lot.  We believe in it, but it’s not our focus, and “Do it because you’ll be rewarded in Olam HaBa (the Next World)” is an argument I associate more with less-educated people than with rabbis or professional educators, who tend to speak about fulfilling God’s will for its own sake or tikkun olam (making this world better) or the inherent beauty of Jewish life.  I do honestly and genuinely believe that an Orthodox Jewish life, for all its difficulties, its hardships and its occasional apparent illogicalities, is a beautiful way to live, the most beautiful I have ever come across.  The problem is that my mental health issues and possible autism make it so hard for me to live it.

I guess I really just want someone to hold me and say they love me.  It doesn’t matter so much if that’s God (not that God can literally hold me, but you get the idea) or a wife.  I guess my parents hug me and say they love me, but that’s not always easy to hear because of my childhood.

It feels like the only thing in my life at the moment is work, and I don’t do that well or enjoy it.  I haven’t had much time to work on my Doctor Who book or blog lately or to paint the Doctor Who miniatures I bought a while back or to run or to cook.  I guess that’s Tishrei.  And now I’m working my way through all the stuff I should have done over the last month and couldn’t because of Yom Tov (Jewish festivals).

I feel that even my blog posts are repetitive, going over the same ground again and again.  I’m not sure whether anyone’s still reading.  Part of me is hoping I don’t get the job I’m about to apply for, so that when my contract finishes in seven weeks I can have a break.  A proper break, not Yom Tov (non-Jews/non-religious Jews tend not to realise that Jewish festivals are as much stressful as relaxing).

I glanced at the news.  The world is still continuing in its insanity.  I think I should leave it alone until it grows up and decides to behave like an adult.  It’s hard to avoid it, though.  Sometimes I want to be a hermit.

“Good Ol’ Charlie Brown… How I hate him”

I seem to be stuck in a rut, getting neither better nor worse.  Last night in shul (synagogue) I was thinking of writing a bitter, sarcastic post about not fitting into the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community, but today I don’t feel so bitter, although I’m still pessimistic.  The frum world is a community where one fits in largely by contributing.  There are various different roles available, but I can’t find one that suits me.  I don’t earn enough to be a big philanthropist, I don’t have the confidence to lead services (although I have in the past), my social anxiety keeps me away from a lot of chessed (social care) opportunities and so on…  I feel there must be something I’m good at that contributes meaningfully, but I can’t find it.  Even my blog seems to be read more by non-Jews than Jews, which wasn’t really what I expected (I think the number of Jewish blogs has declined in recent years, but that could be a subjective impression or reflective of my own reading habits.  They may have been crowded out by professional or semi-professional sites like HevriaTabletThe Wisdom Daily and Mosaic.)

Today yet again I knew answers in shiurim (religious classes), but was too shy to speak up.  There’s a guy in one shiur I go to who seems to like the sound of his own voice too much.  He knows a lot, but he does speak more than anyone else, both asking and answering questions (and sometimes answering questions that were asked of the rabbi before he can answer).  This is starting to really annoy me, but I’m sure it’s only because his over-answering throws makes my shyness look even worse.

I spoke to my parents about dating last night.  It was a mistake, because it was me playing ‘Ain’t it awful’ again and getting annoyed when the disagreed, but I guess some good came out of it.  First, my Mum said that the woman she was trying to set me up with lives in America, so I’m not quite sure why she even got mentioned.  I asked my parents if they thought I would ever get married and they both said yes.  I knew my Dad would, because he’s dreamt about my being married and having children, and he thinks his dreams are precognitive (I disagree).  I still don’t think I’m going to get married, but in the course of the discussion we did come up with the name of one Modern Orthodox rabbi (and Doctor Who fan) who might be able to find me a suitable shadchan.  It does seem hard though as I have two separate (although not contradictory) set of criteria: within the category of frum women, I want to find someone who is geeky (or at least tolerates my geekiness), but I also need to find someone who accepts my mental health issues.  It’s hard to go in both directions at the same time.  My Mum tried to encourage me to go back to dating websites or to try dating apps, but I’m wary of them.  My experience was that dating websites are expensive and, for whatever reason, women were generally not interested in me (either in contacting me or responding to emails I sent them), although to be fair I met my first girlfriend through J-Date.  I actually had more success on J-Date than I did on J-Wed (which is a more specifically frum site geared particularly for dating for marriage rather than just looking to date generally), which seemed counter-intuitive.  Mind you, I’m not sure whether I had a reasonable sample size in terms of numbers of people and amount of time I was on there.  I still don’t think they’re the way to find geeky and/or mental health-tolerant individuals, although I’m not sure what a better way to do that would be.

I read various online cartoons every day.  I saw a Peanuts cartoon today (obviously not a new new one, but one newly on this site) where Peppermint Patty refers to Charlie Brown as “boring, dull, wishy-washy ol’ Chuck” and says that no one could love him,  not knowing that he is hiding nearby.  I feel that one could say the same things about me.  Actually the very first Peanuts cartoon reads “Well!  Here comes ol’ Charlie Brown!  Good ol’ Charlie Brown!  Yes, sir!  Good ol’ Charlie Brown… How I hate him!”  I worry that that’s me too.

(It also slightly disturbs me nowadays that all the children in Peanuts are in love with each other.  Patty loves Charlie Brown, Sally is in love with Linus (“My sweet babboo”), Lucy is in love with Schroeder and of course Charlie Brown is in love with the Little Red-Haired Girl who we never see.  (The bird Woodstock once tragically fell in love with a worm.)  This never bothered me as a child, but it does bother me as an adult.  I also have a horrible feeling that one day I’m going to buy the Complete Peanuts books, which run to twenty-five volumes and will cost serious £££ (that’s serious $$$$$ if you’re American).

A couple of people have told me lately that I’m a good person.  I find that really hard to believe, especially as no one ever gives me concrete examples of the good things I’m supposed to have done.  I don’t know why they believe I’m a good person; it’s certainly not a belief I’ve ever tried to spread.  And I think about sex far too much for a frum person, although to be fair people who don’t read my blog won’t know that, as I don’t talk about sex at all.

I had a weird dream last night.  I don’t remember all the details, but my boss from my old job was my step-mother (yuk!) and she was telling me off for various things and I answered her back and said she had no right to tell me what to do.  I’m hoping that means that my resolution to reduce my negative self-talk has gone down to a deep level, although so far all I’ve really been able to do is try to be consciously aware of my self-critical thoughts rather than challenge them.  I still worry that if I don’t beat myself up all the time, I’m going to turn into a narcissist.  I did just send an email to find out if a nearby therapy centre could potentially offer me CBT for my low self-esteem.

Tomorrow I’m writing a job application and talking to my rabbi mentor and, if I get time, trying to catch up with the pile of stuff that has built up over the Yom Tov (festival) period.  The job actually looks like a good one, primarily cataloguing, fairly easy commute and well-paid, but full time, which would be hard.

New Doctor Who in less than twenty-four hours…

The Struggle

Not much to report today.  Work is a struggle against boredom, tiredness, exhaustion (in my mind the tiredness I fight in the morning is qualitatively different to the exhaustion I fight late afternoon, the former the result of lack of sleep, the latter of working too much without enough of a break), hunger (some of which is probably disguised boredom and some exhaustion), depression and anxiety about doing the wrong thing or making mistakes, and general self-consciousness. I’m currently feeling particularly self-conscious for carrying around a big cabin bag, as, while my backache has largely gone, I’m wary of it coming back if I take a heavy rucksack again; yesterday my boss asked me if I was staying away from home in the evening.  I was crying at my desk again this morning.  I feel that something has to give, but I know from experience that I can stay in the ‘something has to give’ state indefinitely, even for years, before an outside event makes things somewhat better or worse; the melodramatic and violent (in multiple senses) ‘breakdown’ of fiction is not really the everyday reality of depression.

I was thinking on my way home, not for the first time, that I’m not sure what the difference would be between my life and Gehennom (purgatory).  Gehennom supposedly consists of a constant re-viewing of one’s life, filled with guilt and shame for everything one did wrong.  I can only see two or three differences: Gehennom only lasts a year (then one usually goes to Heaven unless one is very bad, in which case one ceases to exist) and eventually has a therapeutic effect whereby the soul comes to terms with the bad things that it has done.  On the other hand, if I was really in Gehennom, I probably wouldn’t have my books and DVDs, so I’m somewhat better off in that respect.

Similarly, the news – I mean the actual national/international news, not my personal news – is depressing beyond belief.  I’ve largely tuned it out.  It feels like something has to give there too, but, again, I doubt it will.  We’ll probably just carry on, lurching wildly first to the right and then to the left, interspersed with occasional financial crashes and wars, the way we have done for thousands of years.

I’m trying to call myself out on my negative self-talk/internal monologue, but it’s hard.  Harder still to replace it with something more positive.  I still worry that if I don’t beat myself up continually, I will turn into some kind of psychopathically violent narcissist.  Inasmuch as I see myself as a good person, which isn’t much, I fear that it’s less down to natural goodness and more overactive conscience, runaway guilt and social anxiety.

I still don’t know what to do about the woman my Mum wants to set me up with.  My feeling is that if we don’t have much in common, there wouldn’t be much point dating, but if we do have stuff in common, it could potentially lift my mood.  Unfortunately, I can’t find out if we have anything in common without going on a date if she’s even interested, which she may not be.  In the very frum (religious) world, it is common to ask all kinds of questions in advance of a date to see if two people might have stuff in common (even though this is in conformist communities with perhaps less individual variation than normal, at least according to stereotype), but I don’t think I could get away with that.  Also, someone did it to me last year and it was quite irritating.

I’m apparently currently glutted with women being suggested to me, which is unusual.  Glutted only by my standards, though i.e. two.  I’m just back from shiur; it was cancelled, but I didn’t realise until I got there because my phone isn’t working properly, so I didn’t get the WhatsApp messages.  Someone else obviously didn’t get them either, because he was there.  I’ll call him Talmudist, because I don’t think we’ve seen the last of him.  I’ve mentioned him before as the person who was astonished to learn that I’m single and told me to marry.  He greeted me bluntly with “Would you go to Israel to live?”  I could see where this was going, but feigned ignorance to buy time and said that was a big question to suddenly ask me in the street.  Apparently someone’s sister-in-law’s daughter (or was it his daughter-in-law’s sister?  One of the two) is looking for someone, but only if he’s willing to live in Israel.  I made non-committal noises and was told to I need to think about such things (actually, I’ve been thinking on and off about living in Israel for years, but for better reasons than looking to marry, but I don’t think it’s feasible for a number of reasons).  I was also recommended to look for a wife in Manchester, which at any rate isn’t as far away as Israel, with less of  a language barrier.  According to Talmudist, many Jewish men find brides in Manchester, although the laws of supply and demand, not to mention basic biology, being what they are, I wondered what happens to the glut of Mancunian men deprived of native-born wives.  Perhaps they all come to London (or Israel).

Anyway, Talmudist says he wants to see me happy and fulfilled, which apparently is only possible if I marry.  Years ago I would have welcomed this sudden interest in finding me a mate, but lately I feel that I’m better off trying to find ways to be happy while single.  Give me the serenity to accept the things I can not change and all that.  On the way home I wondered what would happen if I publicly admitted to being a weirdo geek freak with depression, social anxiety, complex trauma and high-functioning autism.  I’m honestly not sure.  I don’t think Talmudist would understand.

I suppose this seems all very strange and backwards and Fiddler on the Roof-esque to most of my readers.  The Orthodox Jewish community is small, conservative and traditional; it’s considered quite normal to be overly-interested in other people’s behaviour and to feel threatened by even minor non-conformity.  The assumption is that everyone wants to conform really, so you can help them by nudging them in the right direction.  That’s not to say it’s right, morally or halakhically.  You’re not really supposed to rebuke people (or you are, but only in narrowly-defined situations that most people won’t meet) and talking about sensitive subjects is flirting with ona’at devarim, hurting people with words, a very serious sin according to the rabbis.  But most people in the community marry early and with fewer people suffering fertility issues than in the past, most people don’t really understand what long-term single people or childless couples go through.  It’s a failure of empathy, really.  I suspect this incident may repeat itself…

A curious autistic-type moment today: thinking about the first time my sister brought her now-husband to meet us, I found myself wondering why I was so nervous about meeting him when I get on well with him.  It took me a minute to realise that past-me hadn’t met him yet, and so didn’t have the knowledge of present-me (knowing that we get on well).  I know difficulty with perspective-taking is a common autistic symptom, but I hadn’t experienced it with a younger version of myself.

I finished a masechta (volume) of Mishnah today (the Mishnah is the older, shorter and simpler part of the Talmud).  Four down, fifty-nine to go.  It’s good to have small victories, even though I sometimes fear they just throw the failures and anxieties into sharper relief.  The pile of unanswered emails and jobs to do, grows exponentially, though.  Even the urgent jobs to do list is too long.  Well, I can at least use some of the time I would have spent at shiur trying to sort out the problem with my phone.

Triviality in Extremis

The title is a deliberate contradiction which sums up how I feel at the moment: that I’m struggling with powerful emotions, but the things I achieve are trivial and pointless.  Tonight I was reminded that when you’re exhausted and hungry and lonely and depressed (indeed, thoroughly miserable) and reading about transgressive art and its roots in the collapse of religious faith after World War I, it can be hard to remember that you believe in God and transcendent truth and meaning and purpose.

Other than that, today was dull, in distressing ways.  I sat at my desk crying again this afternoon, trying not to be seen by anyone.  It was easy, because, while in the morning I was seated between my boss and the other temp, around lunch time they moved away.  I’m really trying to tell myself that wasn’t anything to do with me.  I tried listening to music at work to blot out the noise of people talking, but I simply can’t concentrate on anything requiring even a minimum of brainpower with music going.  I thought music might be at least an improvement on chatter, but it turns out to be harder to block out.  Another suggestion of autism.

I think about death a lot, and how much I want to die.  Death does seem seem rather pointless (see my first paragraph), but so does life.  I don’t really enjoy anything at the moment.  I said this to my Mum and she listed a load of things that she thought I enjoy, but I’m not sure that I do, at least not at the moment.  I might enjoy reading and watching Doctor Who on some level, but I think some days it’s a struggle even to do that, and certainly my enjoyment is impaired even if it is there to some extent.  I certainly don’t enjoy (or do) anything further up Maslow’s pyramid, or requiring greater concentration or commitment.  Even with Doctor Who, I’ve basically given myself a task to do with it (write my book) rather than being able just to enjoy watching it.

A couple of people responded to my post from yesterday saying I should try to date the woman my Mum wants to set me up with.  I’m open to that in theory, although really sceptical about whether anything good can come of it.  My track record with shidduchim (blind dates) is not good.  I know shidduchim are the main way people meet in the frum (Orthodox Jewish) world, but I’m fairly convinced the matches happen by pot luck rather than any precise matchmaking logic: throw enough young men and young women together and biology will do its work sooner or later.  I don’t really have any hopes for someone as weird, geeky and messed up as me – or, to put it slightly more nicely, I don’t have hopes of meeting someone equally unconventional.  Up until now, every attempt at dating has been derailed by my geeky weirdness or my mental health issues and related precarious financial situation (worse than precarious, actually, as that would imply a degree of stability that might be lost, whereas I don’t have any stability to start with).  The only exception was the first woman I dated, and that was derailed by her failure to respect my boundaries and the fact that we were going in different religious directions.  She at least was geeky (I guess E. is also geeky, in a way), but her understanding of my mental health issues was unfortunately undermined by her own issues, which resulted in her inability to respect my boundaries in a healthy way; that she simply ignored me when my depression was bad can, I suppose, also be seen as a boundary problem, if you want to be generous.

I don’t know enough about the woman my Mum wants to set me up with (I need a shorthand for that) to know if she’s likely to be geeky or understanding of mental health issues (and related poverty) and it scares me that the only way to find out is to go on a date with her.  I tried asking my Mum for information, but she clearly didn’t know anything beyond, “Single, frum, early thirties, lives locally” nor did she really understand why I would want to know anything more in advance of a date.  I did possibly find her LinkedIn page and she had an unusual choice of degree subject, which makes me think maybe she is somewhat quirky and unusual, but people do sometimes end up doing weird degrees for pragmatic reasons, like not getting on their first choice course.

Beyond that, I just feel that there’s zero point in going on a date at the moment, with my mood and my financial situation as they are.  I feel no one could ever want me in this state (I find it hard to think anyone could want me in any state, but certainly not like this) and I should wait until I see a psychiatrist to discuss medication changes and try to get some CBT to see if that can help my self-esteem issues, but both those things are going to take a while to happen.