Bad News/Good News

I don’t have time to write much today (Shabbat (the Sabbath) starts in a couple of hours and I’m still in my pyjamas), but I wanted to note a couple of things:

After feeling better at my depression support group yesterday evening, I feel bad again this morning, all “mental hangover-y,” depressed and exhausted.  I wish I could feel better for a little bit without there being a psychological price to pay later.

I’m still not sure if I’m supposed to be on security duty at shul (synagogue) tomorrow.

I’ve already received an appointment at the autism screening clinic, for next Friday morning.  I need to check whether it will be finished in time for me to get home for Shabbat, though, but I’m assuming it won’t be a full-scale assessment, so it will probably be OK.  I really wasn’t expecting to be seen that quickly; I’ve got a lot of anxiety now about what this will mean and whether I’m wasting their time and what happens if I get told I’m not autistic again.  It’s weird that being told I’m “normal” feels so terrifying, but it feels like autism would explain so much that being neurotypical just raises more questions than it answers.

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Quick Note: Depression Group, Job Interview and Autism Screening

Just a quick note before I go to bed:

I went to depression group this evening.  I wasn’t sure that I felt well enough to say anything and I was seriously considering remaining silent, the first time I’ve been anxious enough at a meeting to do that, I think.  However, I did speak and it turned out to be very helpful.  I spoke about my job interview and the presentation I’ve been stuck on for days now.  People felt that I was interpreting the question too narrowly.  My Dad and E. said the same thing.  To be honest, I’m not entirely sure they are all right, as the question does seem quite precisely worded to me, but I feel there’s enough reasonable doubt for me to interpret the question in a wider way without coming across as a complete idiot (only a partial idiot).  I will try to write something over the next few days and get to the interview, treat it as interview practice and try not to think of them laughing at me the minute I leave the interview room.

I also spoke about the autism screening and people were generally supportive of that too.  Someone said if I feel strongly that I’m autistic after doing research, that it’s a good fit for me, that’s a sign that I am autistic.  I have now asked for an appointment for an autism screening.  Again, I’m somewhat apprehensive, fearing wasting their time and that I might end up with a negative or inconclusive result as in the past, but perhaps I understand myself, and autism, better than at my last assessment ten years ago and can give clearer and fuller answers.

***

One job I’ve just seen advertised, for an assistant librarian at a private school for girls, has “A healthy sense of humour” as a requirement for candidates.  I wonder what that says about the students – and staff? – at the school.  I have visions of St Trinians…

Shut Down

I feel very tired and depressed again today.  It’s amazing how quickly I feel worse without structure, even though I felt so anxious and depressed at work.  I feel as anxious and depressed at home now, and unlike at work I can’t leave the feelings behind for the evening and 5pm.  It’s just a hideous effort to do anything, even to get dressed or make lunch, and my concentration is poor.  I’m reading an Agatha Christie novel at the moment, which is not exactly heavy-going, but I’m struggling to read for long.  (It probably doesn’t help that I have read the book before; I thought I’d forgotten enough of it for it to be worth re-reading, but the details have come back to me as I’ve been reading it.  I don’t like giving up on books, though, even when I remember whodunnit).

I can’t think what to write for the presentation I’m supposed to give next week.  I just can’t think of anything.  No one seems to believe me.  I think everyone’s waiting for me to “knuckle down” and do it.  But I just can’t.  I know I’ve can’t.  When I’m this depressed (and it’s happened quite a few times over the years, when doing my BA and MA and when working), I just can’t do anything.  It’s like my mind is saying it has been overworked and is simply refusing to do any more.  This can go on for months or even years.

It’s not the only thing my mind is refusing to do.  We received a parcel on Monday for a house further down the road (the delivery man misread the house number, somehow transposing the digits).  My Dad has already tried to twice to return it, but no one is answering the door.  He wants me to have another go, but so far I haven’t worked up the courage.

I haven’t had a response to either email I sent to shul (synagogue), one about fees and one about security.  Technically that means I’m still down to do security this week, but I doubt I can make it.  I don’t know what to do.  Again, my mind is just shutting down and going into denial.

I did at least manage to phone to move the appointment about employment support that clashed with my interview next week and move it to a different day, although that looks rather pointless if I won’t be going to the interview after all.

The good news is that I emailed the charitable organisation (not local government as I originally thought) that provides pre-assessment screening for autism (to show whether you should consider formal assessment and to provide access to support services even without assessment – this could potentially be a way of moving towards a reassessment on the NHS) and they said I would qualify for screening even if I’ve already been assessed and told that I’m not autistic.  I guess if I’m going to go for it, it would be best to do it soon, both to try to get help with job hunting and to avoid needing time off from work to go.  But it’s scary putting myself up for assessment again and I don’t know whether to go for it or not, especially as I keep going back and forth in my mind about how likely it seems that I’m on the spectrum.  I do feel I have something wrong with me beyond depression.  The other people at depression group manage to converse with each other during the refreshment break no matter how depressed and anxious they are, while I just sit there feeling useless and alone unless someone talks to me, in which case I respond awkwardly.  But I guess that could just be social anxiety.  And lots of people, including a psychiatrist and a therapist, both of whom saw me for years, think that I’m somewhere on the spectrum.  But I do seem to lack certain crucial symptoms and it’s hard to tell if I had them at one point and learnt workarounds for them or if I never had them.  Plus I’ve already had two assessments that said I’m not autistic.

I need to tell my parents at least some of this stuff.  I’ve told them I can’t write the presentation, but I’m not sure how seriously they took it.  I need to see what they think about the autism screening.  I’m so nervous about what they might think.  I know I’m thirty-five and should make my own decisions, but I do rely on them emotionally still as well as financially.  I would feel uncomfortable cancelling the interview as they are supporting me financially and I feel I should be trying to find a job.  I moved away from the idea of having pets when I saw how opposed my Mum was, even though I wasn’t sure how reasonable her fears were, and even though my rabbi mentor thought it was a good idea.

I don’t really know what to do about anything right now, and the clock is ticking away on a lot of things…

Broken

“But to understand Graham [Chapman] properly, you have to realise he didn’t really work properly.  If he was a little machine, you would take him back and somebody would fiddle with it, and then it would come back working properly.  So he was a very odd man; he was in many ways highly intelligent and quite insightful, in other ways he was a complete child, and not someone who was really any good at taking any sort of responsibility and discharging it.” – John Cleese in Monty Python Speaks

The first bit of that quote has resonated with me for a long time.  I feel someone should take me back to the shop and fix me (or replace me).  I’d forgotten the second bit until looking it up just now, but it fits too, in a different way.  I don’t think I’m immature in the way that Graham Chapman could be, but I do get overwhelmed by responsibility and struggle with day-to-day living.

I feel very broken today.  I’m just so slow and sluggish.  I slept for ten hours or more, but still couldn’t get going.  It doesn’t help that I don’t want to do any of the things I’m supposed to do.  I don’t want to work on my presentation, because I think it’s going to be an embarrassing failure.  I don’t want to go shopping, because it’s miserable outside.  I’m not sure that I even want to read or watch TV particularly.  I don’t really want to do anything.

I’m still thinking about those dead whales.  I’m also thinking about antisemitism.  I wish I could stop thinking about both, as I can’t do anything about either.  I feel uncomfortable with competitive victimhood, but increasingly our polity rewards people who shout loudest, which creates perverse incentives to do badly and blame oppression.  But it’s easy to get caught up in the blame culture, especially if you feel ignored in the face of real danger (like Pittsburgh).  However, I think the people with the strongest connection to Judaism focus on the positive Jewish contribution to mankind rather than on non-Jewish persecutions of the Jews.  Still, it is hard not to get sucked in sometimes.

***

Social anxiety is beating me today.  I feel bad about having sent that email about my refund on my shul (synagogue) fees yesterday, even though I know I’m right.  I haven’t heard back from them yet.  I texted someone to find the email address I need to write to about the security rota.  I haven’t heard back from them either.  I’m now worried I won’t cancel my shift on security this Shabbat (Saturday) on time and will have to find a way to get there (maybe not such a bad thing, but social anxiety-inducing in itself).  I worry about asking to come off the security rota too.  I feel a bad congregant for both the security rota and the refund.

***

I phoned The Network to try to change my appointment (work support thing, I think – it’s not exactly clear).  I phoned them last week and was told they would phone me back and they never did.  The same thing happened today and I have visions of this going on indefinitely, or at least until I’m supposed to have the appointment, next Wednesday, then I’ll get removed from the system for missing an appointment and have to re-refer.

***

I went shopping.  I got the second volume of the Artscroll Talmud Brachot.  I’ve been keeping up with the weekly study of this at shul so I decided to lay out for the second volume in the sale, even though we won’t reach it until the spring because the local Jewish bookshop had a sale on certain items, including this one.  I thought it was a 30% discount, but the assistant said it was 20% and I was too shy to challenge it.  The sign had been taken down since yesterday, so maybe they decided that 30% was too much, in which case it’s my bad luck for not going in to buy it yesterday.  Otherwise, my social anxiety cost me £3.50 or so.

***

On the way home I got phoned by the job agency I saw yesterday.  To be honest, half the time I struggle to understand what the person is saying to me, as she talks very quietly and rapidly with quite a thick Greek accent.  But I think she was asking if I can apply for jobs where I may have to work on Friday afternoons, which is Shabbat in the winter.  My parents and my sister always told me never to mention that until I get called for a second interview or made an offer, although it has usually come up at the first interview anyway.  But now I’m worrying about whether I made the right decision on that.  She also said that one of the jobs she was sending me for was in Surrey and was I OK with that; I looked online and it looks like a commute of two hours or more each way.  I do not feel up to a four hour plus commute at the moment, so I turned it down, but I’m worried I’m self-sabotaging again.  Sometimes I really feel like I’m in the wrong career, but I don’t know what the right one would be.  Actually, I feel like I’m in the wrong life.

***

I was planning to work on my presentation for my job interview next week, but I’ve been struggling since I got home earlier.  I can’t think what to write for it.  I was trying to think about it before, but I felt too depressed and I laid on my bed.  I think I probably dozed off.  At any rate, I couldn’t think of anything.  I just feel lousy.  It’s a struggle even to read something light, let alone do anything that requires thought.  I don’t know how I could actually work at the moment.

Beached

I feel depressed again, and a bit overwrought.  One thing that came out of my assessment yesterday is that I now seem to have anxiety as an issue beyond social anxiety, which isn’t terribly surprising.

***

I had a meeting with someone from a recruitment agency that didn’t go particularly well.  I realised I was unconsciously (practically consciously) self-sabotaging in my job search.  I’m usually quite well-organised, but this time I didn’t fill in the form they asked for, pleading lack of time (they only sent it to me yesterday); I didn’t check where I was going carefully enough or print off a clear enough map from Google Maps and then forgot that I had printed off directions from the Tube station; and I was nearly late because I didn’t rush when I got up.  Worst of all, I realised I have a tendency to become vague and even somewhat resentful when confronted with employment stuff.  I try to curtail conversations with my parents or people at shul (synagogue) about work, I deleted the information on the job I’m being interviewed for next week, not considering that I would need it if I got an interview, and I can never remember what my salary is (something E. found strange and off-putting).  Some of it is social anxiety about work and my feeling that I’m just not capable of holding down a proper job.  Some of it may be autism symptoms again, being overly focused on my special interests and struggling to focus on things that don’t interest me, like work.

It would be good if I could find a job that connected with my special interests somehow, like when I used to work in a Jewish library.  I didn’t realise how lucky I was then.  Then again… I realised I’ve had three paid jobs and three voluntary jobs (one of the voluntary jobs became paid so gets counted twice), and half of them went badly: the last two paid jobs and one of the voluntary jobs.  I thought that it was at least partly the fault of my bosses, but it does look like the problem is ME.  I worry I’ve become one of those people who drift through life sponging off others, unable to hold down a proper job.

If I think about dream jobs, I’d like to write professionally in some way and people tell me I’m a good writer.  However, I’ve only ever managed to get two articles published professionally.  Admittedly I got a couple more semi-professionally, and I haven’t exactly been pushing my work out there.  To be honest, I see some professional stuff out there that I think is inferior to my own writing, but I am still reluctant to do anything about promoting my work.

***

A couple of people have sent me information about free resources (state-provided or charitable) that exist for people with mental health issues or autism, to help them into work and, in some cases, to support them while they’re in work, so I need to look into those.  Someone also suggested the free autism screening service offered in my borough.  I feel bad about using that, as I’ve technically been assessed and found neurotypical, but I will try to email them and see what they suggest about reassessment.  I do feel like an autistic fraud, like I’m pretending to be autistic for some bizarre reason known only to my unconscious (probably as an excuse to explain my all-round incompetence).

***

One job I’m applying for requests candidates who have “A clear focus on solutions and outcomes, rather than problems and outputs.”  I’m not quite sure what “outputs” are in this context and how they vary from “outcomes”,  but I’m definitely focused on problems rather than solutions.  I hate this kind of officialese or management-speak job adverts are written in.  I used to see it in the corporate websites I had to look at in my previous job.  I used to spend a while reading corporate websites so I could correctly fill in the box stating what sector they are in and I would still be unable to answer the question.  They are all selling “solutions” rather than products or expertise.  Impossible to tell if the “business solutions” they are offering involve software, hardware, financial services, consultancy…  Ridiculous.

***

That job application also wants someone “Proactive and able to use initiative and to embrace change”.  I don’t know whether I’m really autistic or not, but I’ve never been good at initiative and embracing change.  I may not have the right autism traits for diagnosis, but I have the right ones to keep me unemployed: problems multitasking or switching tasks; problems remembering spoken instructions; sensitivity to noisy working environments; difficulty interacting with other people; lack of flexibility and initiative…

***

My appointment at the recruitment agency was at 12.30pm, so by the time I got home and had a late lunch, the working day was practically over, so it feels a bit of a waste.  I have not been job hunting so far this week (I suppose the meeting today was job hunting), but because I’ve had other appointments and things, I haven’t really been relaxing either, so I don’t feel refreshed, but I still feel stressed about not sending off enough applications.  I’ve been wading through emails (job application stuff and blog stuff) for the last couple of hours, but keep ending up aimlessly surfing online because it’s too boring and anxiety-provoking.

However, the news is just depressing.  I had to stop reading a story on the BBC about beached whales that was too upsetting.  I guess photos of 145 dying whales is the only thing more distressing than politics at the moment.  I don’t think that death (whether of animals or people) necessarily disproves the existence of God (I can accept that pain and suffering here serves a purpose and is outweighed by reward in the next world), but it does make it harder to feel a connection with God.  This is why the most impure thing in Judaism, i.e. the thing that distances a person most from God is a human corpse, because when you come into contact with a corpse, you feel distanced from God.  Interestingly, many animal corpses also transmit impurity this way.

***

More stress: I just had to write two assertive (I hope not aggressive) emails to people from shul (synagogue).  I am very bad at this sort of thing and my parents told me to be more assertive.  One email was to the people responsible for finance, to request a refund of over £70 that I have been owed – and have been chasing – since February, the other to the security officer reiterating that I can not do voluntary security in the mornings at the moment as I have health issues (I did not specify depression and social anxiety) that prevent me from being able to guarantee being there and please could he take me back off the rota.  I was taken off a few weeks ago, but have ended up back on there, which I suspect is because people saw me in shul and assumed I was OK.  I guess that’s the problem with invisible illnesses.

I feel bad that I threatened the finance people with stopping the automatic payment of my shul fees if this isn’t sorted out in a week, but it had got ridiculous.  I kept politely asking what was happening and they were just ignoring the emails.  And I feel bad about not doing security, as it’s important (today’s Pearls Before Swine cartoon sadly applies to the UK too in that regard at least).  In fact, both emails make me feel like a troublemaker, but I had to write them.  I worry what will happen.  The security email hasn’t even been sent yet, as I discovered I didn’t have the security officer’s email address, so will have to ask around for it tomorrow.  I’m supposed to be doing security on Shabbat, but don’t think that I can make it.

***

One of my non-biological sisters sent me this image about depression, which is very true.

***

I’ve gone back to thinking about guinea pigs.  Somehow it feels worse being lonely when my parents are around than when they weren’t in the country.  I think guinea pigs would only respond to me because they want food (they aren’t dogs), but they would respond to me.

***

I think the dead whales are haunting me.  It’s such a stupid waste, obviously (and for once it doesn’t even look like people had anything to do with it, the school of whales just swam into a shallow bit of water and got caught at low tide), but it’s also somehow a metaphor for how I feel at the moment, like I’m thrashing around, stranded on a beach when I can only survive in the water.  Although goodness knows what ‘water’ in this context could correspond to.

***

The end result of this stressful day is that it’s nearly 11.30pm and, while I’m not tired, I feel really stressed out.  I’ve done a few things: had that meeting, written those emails.  But I feel I haven’t done enough.  I haven’t done any Torah study.  I haven’t worked on my presentation.  I still have a couple of outstanding emails to answer and I need to email about the autism screening.  And there are other odd chores hanging over me.  I feel really tense and stressed and have not relaxed properly today (internet procrastination is stressful rather than relaxing, which means I really need to find a way to curtail it).  Tomorrow I need to start working on my presentation for my interview on 5 December, although I have a list of other things to do tomorrow too.  I just feel stressed and in need of breathing space.  Like those poor whales, I’m out of my element and not coping.

Jews, Diversity and Role Models in the Media

(This is really a continuation of my last post with added thoughts from the last few hours.)

I managed to get to the shiur (religious class) at the London School of Jewish Studies this evening, despite some social anxiety.  The class was interesting and despite my problems with concentration at the moment just flew by; I didn’t look at my watch once in an hour and a half.  Much of it was familiar to me, but I learnt some things and it was good to hear Torah that was coming from a slightly different perspective to what I’m used to hearing at shul (synagogue) and, one closer to my personal hashkafa (religious philosophy).

The audience was a bit depressing, though.  Out of maybe sixty or seventy people (I’m bad at estimating numbers) there were three or four people roughly my age; everyone else was my parents’ generation or older.  I think that’s a fairly accurate reflection of Modern Orthodoxy in this country.  The moderate Modern/Centrist Orthodoxy represented by the United Synagogue is polarising; some are becoming Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) (which I guess is what I have done, even if for practical rather than ideological reasons); the rest are just leaving – either leaving Judaism entirely or leaving Orthodoxy for Progressive Judaism or, more usually I think, simply not joining any kind of organised community.  All of which makes me worry about how I can meet people with a similar hashkafa to make friends and maybe to get married (one day, maybe, perhaps).

***

On my previous post, Ashley Leia suggested I was mistaken in complaining of antisemitism in this week’s Doctor Who, so I should probably clarify that I wasn’t suggesting the writers are consciously antisemitic, merely that they used a trope that has traditionally been used by Christian antisemitic (or anti-Jewish, if you want to split hairs over the difference between antisemitism and anti-Judaism) polemicists to attack Judaism (presenting Judaism as a religion of justice or even vengeance as against Christianity as a religion of love, even though Christianity’s commandments of love are quotations from Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible, what Christians call the Old Testament)).  This was unfortunate, particularly in a series that has trumpeted its own commitment to diversity, doubly so in the second episode this series to portray organised religion as primarily a force for division and persecution with few positive points.  It increasingly, uncomfortably, feels to me like “diversity” is often circumscribed (in Doctor Who and in Western culture in general) and that cultures that are truly alien to the writers’ (and most of the audience’s) worldviews, that is religious and traditional cultures, are met with criticism rather than acceptance, something that is only applied to “safe” cultures that do not threaten postmodern liberal values.  As Alan Verskin put it in a recent review in The Jewish Review of Books “Tolerating a culture because it is no different from your own is not a good test of toleration.”

The entirety of Verskin’s review, of a recent children’s fantasy novel dealing with Medieval Jewish history, may be of interest to some readers here, to people interested in fantasy and especially in diversity issues in fantastic and historical fiction.  Verskin also talks about realising “how remarkably few Jewish characters there are in books that are not expressly made and marketed for Jewish children (the exception being Holocaust literature, which, of course, is a different matter).”  I would say that if you are looking for specifically religious Jewish characters (not necessarily Orthodox, but with some meaningful connection to Jewish tradition, texts and practice), they are almost non-existent, whether in children’s fiction or adult fiction and whatever the medium, even in stories written by Jews.  Many years ago I read the Jewish science fiction and fantasy anthologies Wandering Stars and More Wandering Stars; the engagement with Jewish texts, traditions and substantive culture (not necessarily religious culture, but more than the odd Yiddishism or bagel) was limited in most of the stories, many of which saw Judaism as defined by antisemitism as much as by Jews and their culture (cf. Jean-Paul Sartre).

The main exceptions are books, film and TV from Israel, which, by their nature often have limited impact in other countries, both due to the language barrier and the fact that culture from small countries often struggles to penetrate foreign markets.  Sometimes one can find translated books or subtitled films, but it is not always possible.

I used to think that I didn’t need to see fictional characters who reflect my life experiences and thoughts, but lately I have found (partly thanks to all the talk of diversity in Western culture) that I do.  In the absence of figures like me, religious Jewish figures, I find myself drawn either to surrogates (I have alluded in the past to the article in European Judaism that the Doctor from Doctor Who, despite being an alien time-traveller, is in fact the most positively-portrayed Jew on British television, at least symbolically speaking) or to biblical, Midrashic or rabbinic figures.

There is definitely a danger in taking prophets and tzaddikim (saintly people), whether ancient or more modern, as my heroes, especially for someone such as myself with a poor sense of self and a perhaps permeable boundary between the real and the imaginary, not to mention a psyche given to extreme self-criticism, but with occasional counter-veiling moments of delusions of grandeur.  In particular, I look for figures who can model Jewish observance alongside mental health issues or neurodivergent traits.  I have already spoken a few times about the eighteenth and nineteenth century religious leaders, Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav and the Kotzker Rebbe and their importance for me as figures who combined active religious life with bouts of extreme (probably clinical) depression, self-criticism and/or withdrawal thus providing some kind of model for my own attempts at building a religious life despite my mental health issues.  Perhaps I will try to explore some of these role models and mentors in future posts.

Another Psychiatric Assessment, and the Orthodox Jewish Religious Spectrum

I desperately feel like I need a break after my last job for the sake of my mental health, but I’m not sure that I’m going to get one.  I was woken up at 9.30am today (I wanted to lie in) by someone from an agency who wants to register me tomorrow so that I can apply for a short-term job.   So I had volunteering yesterday, my therapy assessment today and now registering tomorrow.  After that I’ll need to get to work on my presentation for the job interview on 5 December and if I don’t get that job, it’s back to job applications (realistically I’ll continue with the applications in case I don’t get the job).  I just feel exhausted and burnt out; goodness knows how I’ll feel by the end of the year (hard to believe that’s about a month away now).  Now I’m feeling sulky and miserable about the whole situation.  I suppose it’s probably good to keep busy, as once I stop the depression takes over and it’s hard to start again, but I feel miserable about it.

I feel bad that I got so annoyed about yesterday’s Doctor Who.  I told myself I wasn’t going to write long critical reviews any more, but it annoyed me.  I probably also over-reacted to the line about “Love your neighbour” being from the New Testament (it’s not.  It’s Tanakh/”Old Testament”).  I know they weren’t being intentionally antisemitic, but it is a classic antisemitic line.  I feel that identity politics and Twitter create a situation where everyone is shouting about being REALLY OFFENDED so you have to over-react to everything just to get heard and taken seriously.  I wish I didn’t get caught up in it all though.

Tonight I’m off to the London School of Jewish Studies to hear Rabbi Rafi Zarum speak about Chanukah (from their website: “This timely lecture will look at the clash between Athens and Jerusalem as it plays out today in the assimilation of Jews into modern culture.  Can traditional Jewish faith survive in the face of Western secularity?
What are the rules of engagement?”).  He’s a very good speaker and the topic is interesting, if potentially somewhat triggering for me, so it should be good, and I’m looking forward to hearing a more Modern Orthodox speaker after spending so much time lately in the more Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) world.

I’ve spoken quite a bit about Modern Orthodox vs. Charedi without really explaining the difference.  It may surprise you to know that there aren’t really any major differences in belief or practice between the communities.  The Charedi world accepts extra stringencies and is more literalist in its approach to sacred texts, but the essence of the commandments and beliefs are the same, unlike the differences between the Orthodox and Progressive communities.  And, in a sense, the Modern Orthodox and Charedi worlds aren’t really different communities.  It’s more a spectrum with very Modern at one end and very religiously conservative at the other and most people on a point somewhere in between with a fair bit of mingling between people who are somewhat more or less modern.  The difference is about approaches to modernity and it plays out in a number of ways.  For instance, attitudes to secular education, attitudes to Torah/science conflicts, attitudes to mainstream culture, attitudes to Israel and Zionism, gender roles, and so on.  Someone may be quite modern in some areas and more conservative in others, but usually are at a similar place on most or all areas.

However, in this country at least (I think things are different in the USA and Israel) more modern communities tend to have a membership comprised largely of people who are ‘traditional’ but not fully observant of the mitzvot (commandments) and who don’t take prayer and Torah study particularly seriously.  There is a lot of talking in the services, difficulty getting a minyan (prayer quorum) during the week, poor attendance at educational events and so on.  So, if one is (like me) quite Modern philosophically, but also very serious about Judaism, it can be hard to find a community that fits.  The choice is between a community that fits ideologically, but doesn’t offer the kind of vibrant Jewish life one wants or between a more active community that doesn’t fit philosophically.  It’s a difficult choice.  In my case the choice was made easier by the fact that the nearest Modern Orthodox shul (synagogue) was just too big and unfriendly for me and also by the fact that it’s my parents’ shul and I had no independent identity there, I was just my father’s son.

For me another problem is finding a wife at a similar place on the religious spectrum.  If I go to a professional shadchan (matchmaker) I suspect (perhaps wrongly) that I will be matched with people on the more Charedi end of the spectrum and certainly if people from my shul try to match me up that is where they will be coming from.  That’s not necessarily a problem if she doesn’t have a problem with my own outlook; however, I feel she might well have such a problem.

Sigh.  I’m OK when I’m thinking or writing about Judaism or Doctor Who or history, but then I stop and think about the Real World again and reality seeps back in.  I’m not sure what I’m more afraid of at the moment: a long period of unemployment or another job I can’t do well.  I wish I could get some sense of what is different about me and why, and what I could do to function better in the world.  I don’t even know where to look.  I’ve just typed up a ‘to do’ list, which makes me feel a little better.  At any rate, a printed list will look better than scraps of paper, and saves me continually copying things from one day to the next in my diary when, inevitably, I only get a couple of things done every day before being overwhelmed with depression (or procrastination).  There are sixteen things on the list (albeit that one is “Peanuts exhibition” because I’m worried if I don’t write it somewhere I’ll forget until it’s over.  But fifteen unpleasant tasks).  The list ranges from the minor (polish my shoes) to the major (open a new bank account that my Dad thinks would be good for me; do serious clothes shopping as many of my clothes have worn out or no longer fit because of all the weight I’ve put on with clomipramine – I hate clothes shopping).  Then there are the small, but tricky tasks, like writing for the umpteenth time for the £70 refund of money I’m owed by my shul, this time threatening to stop paying my fees unless they at least tell me why they won’t even respond to my emails (the treasurer is the wife of an old friend of my father and I know they have had a number of major life-cycle events, good and bad, in recent months, so I would be understanding if she’s busy, but she should at least respond to my emails to say she is aware of the situation).   And, of course, there’s job applications that I should be working on daily.

And then it goes from feeling I can’t cope to feeling that I’m a terrible person and that I want to die.  It’s quite frightening how fast it can change and with no obvious reason.

Later

I just had an hour long telephone assessment for CBT on the NHS.  I feel very drained.  Assessments are draining anyway, and I find speaking on the phone even harder than in person.  I had a lot of thoughts about whether I was describing my symptoms accurately and comprehensibly, whether I’ve been on therapy too much to qualify for more NHS therapy, whether the fact that CBT didn’t help in the past for my depression means that they will assume it won’t work now for my self-esteem, whether I’m wrong to feel that helping my self-esteem will have a knock-on effect on my depression rather than the other way around…  I had to talk about the behaviour I am not proud of and why it makes me hate myself, which is difficult to talk about to someone I don’t know, over the phone.  I was also asked a lot of questions about suicide and self-harm that were hard to answer.  I think about death and suicide a lot, but it’s hard to put a figure on what I think the probability is of my trying to kill myself.  How does one even put a number on that?  Pressed to give a probability out of ten, I said three, which seemed small, but the psychiatrist seemed incredulous or just worried that I was saying there was a 30% chance I would try to kill myself and put that way it did seem large and worrying.  I honestly don’t know what the correct answer is as there are so many factors involved.

Apparently I should find out whether I’m on the waiting list for CBT either later today or next Monday (I assume the psychiatrist only works on Mondays), but the waiting list itself is three to five months at the moment.

I feel I need to stop to relax for a bit before I go out to my shiur later, so I’m not going to try to do anything else today except finish off the laundry I started earlier.  I feel somewhat tearful and depressed.  Also alone; I’m glad my parents are home this evening, as I doubt I will talk to anyone at the shiur later.

Anxiety and Low Self-Esteem

(That’s possibly the most banal, least attention-grabbing title ever, but I’ve never been good at titles even at the best of times, and now is not the best of times.)

I went to bed really late last night, but couldn’t sleep, as I expected after having slept so much during the day.  I don’t drink milky drinks, so I ended up eating porridge at 2.00am when I wasn’t hungry as a way of having warm milk to sedate me.  It seemed to work.  I actually woke up earlier than I expected after all that, but was depressed and slow to get going and was half an hour late for volunteering at the asylum seekers drop-in centre (although volunteers come and go as they please, really, the advertised times notwithstanding).

Part of my lateness was avoidance as I was feeling very anxious about going.  Part of me wanted very much not to go, but I forced myself to get there somehow.  I wish I had the confidence/ability to talk to the other volunteers more, although there aren’t many people my age there (the two sisters I spoke to a bit the first time I went haven’t been there since, at least not when I’ve been).  I don’t know what to say in such circumstances, although a few people tried to speak to me, in a way that suggested that they remembered me from previous times.  Once again, I feel that if I had a proper autism diagnosis, I might get support with things like this, or at least might have had it had I been diagnosed as a child; but with no diagnosis and no real likelihood of getting one, it is difficult to know what to do.  I’m not even that confident any more that I am autistic, but I do feel that there’s something different about me (something wrong about me, if you want to be judgemental), something not like other people.  Whether that’s autism or social communication disorder or something else I don’t know, but it feels like there are more symptoms there than fit just depression and social anxiety.  I’ve never really fitted in anywhere.

I helped look after the children again at the drop-in centre and one of the other volunteers said I had a talent for it.  I think I sounded more shocked than was really polite.  People keep saying this to me and I don’t understand it at all.  I am patient with children, especially when playing the type of repetitive games that very young children like, but I never really know what to say to them, and I get nervous holding babies and young children.  One of the boys today was rather boisterous and kept trying to take my glasses and try them on himself.  He also came up behind me while I was sitting on the floor and put his arms around my neck and I couldn’t work out if he was being affectionate or trying to hurt me.

It does feel like nothing can shift my low self-esteem.  I should feel good about myself for helping a cause I feel strongly about, but I don’t, and I don’t feel good about myself for being told I’m good with children either.  I did at least get the confidence to go into the main shul (synagogue) building for Mincha and Ma’ariv (the afternoon and evening prayer services), which was harder than it would be for most people, having not been inside this shul before (the drop-in centre is in a separate building).  I had visions of not working out what room it was in (most shuls in my experience don’t go to the bother of opening up the main shul for weekday Mincha and Ma’ariv and hold those services in a smaller Beit Midrash (study room) or the like), but I did manage to ask someone.

Other anxiety has been floating around my interview on 5 December.  I’m not sure if I’m more nervous about embarrassing myself or somehow getting a job I’m convinced I can’t do.  Still, as I have forgotten what the job involves and can’t find the information about it online, the chances of my getting the job seem slim.  I’m terrified of shaking when I do my ten minute presentation, though, always assuming I can find something to say.

I have also been feeling anxious about Doctor Who.  I enjoyed last week’s episode, but apparently I was wrong to do so as it was supportive of Evil Capitalism.  The week before everyone else liked the episode, but I was upset (although not surprised) that the moral of the story was that wanting to preserve your culture is Wrong (I don’t think wanting to preserve your culture means hating other people’s cultures either; that’s a straw man argument).  I guess I feel this more as a Jew, because (a) our culture was nearly wiped out within living memory and is still arguably still on life support and (b) Westerners tend not to notice that often their “universalism” is often a promotion of their own values at the expense of other people’s (e.g. the whole assumption that kicks in at this time of year that everyone celebrates Christmas, which is supposedly a universal holiday rather than a particularist religious one, and one often used as a pretext for antisemitic violence EDIT: I mean in the past!  Not nowadays).  Plus, I suppose, everyone is talking about how good it is that Doctor Who has people from different under-represented groups – and it is, but there isn’t anyone like me there, or anywhere else really.  Jewish.  Religious.  Mentally ill.  Socially awkward (to be fair, the eleventh Doctor was sometimes awkward, when he wasn’t being a superhero and getting married).

So I’m now living in dread that all my online reviews are going to show my colours as an Evil Religious Capitalist Conservative Bad Person and everyone will hate me (including half the people reading this, although I suppose it would be a way to work out who actually reads this rubbish I write, by seeing who leaves my list of followers).  The irony is that I don’t really identify as a straightforward conservative and I don’t feel that I fit in with my co-religionists.  In fact, at volunteering, when I went to daven (pray) I silently compared the shul unfavourably with my usual community: the service was faster than my shul with a lot more talking.  My shul would have been slower and quieter… but my shul would not have put on a drop in centre for non-Jewish refugees.  I feel torn again between the Modern and ultra-Orthodox worlds.  I feel torn everywhere, really.  I don’t know how I find wholeness (wholeness = shalem = shalom = peace).

(I wrote this before watching Doctor Who, but have to now add that I didn’t like it for various reasons I have just spent an hour or more writing up on my other blog, but I was particularly annoyed at the inclusion of the antisemitic idea that “Love your neighbour” isn’t in the “Old Testament” when it is.)

I feel I ought to be good at something, but I don’t know what.  I’m pretty sure that if I was in school (I mean school school, not university/college that Americans call school) now, I would not do anywhere near as well as I did when I was younger.  Depression has made me stupid.  I struggle to grasp concepts I would once easily have understood.  I think I am not quite as well organised either, although maybe I’m wrong about that.  I don’t think I would be academically-gifted any more.  I’m not a particularly good librarian.  I don’t think I’m a particularly good writer.  I don’t know what I’m good at, really

I seem to spend much of my days assuming that everyone thinks I’m weird and that they get offended by me, without really having any solid evidence for it.  I don’t have any solid evidence against it though.  Someone said that being ignored is worse than being hated, and I think on some level I’d like to provoke people to hate me, just to get some kind of a reaction out of them, even if the reaction is simply them unfollowing me (is unfollowing a real word?  I suppose if ‘unfriend’ is…).  It’s better than being ignored, which is what most of my life has been, really, to the extent that if someone does show me positive attention, I panic and run away.

Why does it matter to me so much what other people think of me, particularly people who I don’t know?  It’s not like it takes much effort on other people’s behalf to follow me online; it’s not proof of friendship.  People seem to take friendship very frivolously; if I say I’m someone’s friend, it matters to me.  I might not do things differently, because of social anxiety and depression, but at a deep level I feel bound to them.  I would pray for them, which is about the most intimate thing I know, and something I’m reluctant to do willy-nilly.  I suppose I’m looking for friends who feel similarly strong things for me.

A Stranger in a Foreign Land

My mood’s just sunk despite eating.  I messed something up regarding kashrut (Jewish dietary laws).  I know it’s OK, but (a) I feel stupid and think it could have been problematic and (b) my religious OCD is looking for any excuse to start me worrying again.  Even so, I will probably email my rabbi mentor to double-check my reasoning was OK.

I feel like I don’t fit in anywhere.  Online Doctor Who fandom just demonstrates how little I fit in there, from my failure to use (and sometimes to understand) the fashionable slang or online writing style, to my political and religious differences.  On the other hand, I don’t fit in to my religious community either.  My political views are slightly unusual (not least in my dislike of party politics and desire to – gasp! – understand the complexity of an issue before coming to a conclusion about it and to listen to views of people on both/all sides) and my religious views are too (not quite true; in America I think I could find people who share my religious views, but they probably would not share my political ones).  These days I actually feel uncomfortable with politics and politically-minded people of all kinds for spreading anger and hatred and nothing good.

Ger hayiti be’eretz nachria – I have been a stranger in a foreign land.  I wish I could find my ‘home’ and my ‘tribe’.

I’ve started reading Arthur Green’s Tormented Master: The Life and Spiritual Quest of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav again even though I’ve read it twice before.  At the moment I intend to read one or two pages a day and to think a bit about what I read; that way the book will take six months to a year to read (depending on whether I read one or two pages).  It’s a book that has always resonated with me, without my always being able to explain why.   Rebbe Nachman almost certainly did experience psychological issues of his own, including depressions, possible social anxiety (including shaking) and guilt and self-esteem issues.  Green avoids psychoanalysing, which is probably best with someone who has been dead for two hundred years, but he hints at bipolar disorder, which would seem to fit.

This passage from the introduction resonated (Green is talking about Rebbe Nachman’s use of Jewish texts and his “wild imaginative fantasies”:

“…one might say that here the entirety of Jewish tradition is being used in a wholly personal way, to a degree unknown previously.  The psychological complexities of the individual and the theological mysteries of the universe are intertwined to an extent that makes any attempt at separating them seem foolhardy.” (p. 4)

I feel that I do that myself a bit.  I respond to Jewish texts, particularly narrative ones, in a very personal way, as I do to Doctor Who and other classic science fiction TV series.  It’s hard to tell sometimes where the text ends and my understanding begins.  I can’t always express these thoughts, I experience them as mysterious, inchoate feelings and images.  I guess it ties in with the solipsistic fantasies that I’ve experienced since childhood, the feeling that I’m a microcosm of the universe, or even that what is in my head is the true or only universe, and the world is an illusion of some kind or at least secondary to my thoughts.

I don’t think any of this post paints me in a good light, but there you go.  I don’t think many people are reading this any more anyway.  I have over two hundred followers, but I think most are spammy (I’ve never removed any) and I’m not sure how many others are still reading.  Certainly only a handful of people comment on or “like” posts.  This is probably just as well.

I’m worried I’m going to be too depressed and socially anxious to make it to volunteering tomorrow, but I will try.  I missed it last month because of depression and don’t want to miss two on the trot.  So I should really think about bed, as it’s nearly half-past midnight, but I don’t feel tired (I said I slept too much), just agitated and self-critical.

Frustrations

I’m writing on a break from the post-Shabbat (Sabbath) tidying up, which is exhausting, while also What’sApping my Mum (who is still in Israel), so this may be even less coherent than usual.

Shabbat was OK, but somewhat lonely.  I didn’t get into as much of a depressed/agitated state as I have sometimes in the past when spending Shabbat home alone, but this was probably because I spent most of it asleep.  I didn’t get to shul (synagogue) at all, which was frustrating, not least because I’m not sure how much was depressive exhaustion and how much was social anxiety, although why that should be worse when my parents are away is a mystery, as I go to a different shul to them.  Maybe when other people are around I feel I need to put more of an effort into trying to get out.

I went to bed early for Shabbat (before midnight) and slept for about thirteen hours or more; I then dozed for another two and a half hours after seudah shlishit (the third Shabbat meal), which was one reason I missed shiur (religious class) and Ma’ariv (the evening service).  Sleeping extra on Shabbat is a mitzvah (commandment), but I think one can take it too far.  I’m certainly worried I won’t sleep tonight, even though I need to be up early tomorrow to volunteer at the asylum seekers drop-in centre.

I’m already feeling somewhat anxious about volunteering – a vague sense that something will go wrong, or I will do something wrong, without really knowing what, and a fear that for one reason or another I won’t be able to slip out and into the main shul building for Mincha (the afternoon service), even though there isn’t really any reason why I shouldn’t be able to do so (the advantage of volunteering in an Orthodox shul).

I was also supposed to do some things tonight, particularly replying to an email from a friend that I’ve been putting off because it was very long and will take ages to reply to, which is wrong of me, as well as buying Chanukah presents for my family, which may not arrive in time.  It doesn’t look like any of this is going to happen, because of sleeping until 6.30pm and then being slow and depressed.  To be fair, I tried to buy the presents during the week, but was prevented by various issues with Amazon (who I usually try to avoid) and they may have to wait until my parents get home and can decide for themselves what they want to do.

I’m struggling a lot again with thoughts and feelings that I can’t put into words.  There’s a lot of religious stuff in my head at the moment that may not be healthy.  I wish my suffering could be some kind of tikkun (rectification) or kapparah (atonement) for myself or the Jewish people or the world, but I doubt it is the latter.  I suppose on some level it probably is a kapparah for myself, but it would be good to know what it is atoning for, so it seemed less arbitrary.  Really I want to help other people somehow in my suffering, but it seems unlikely that that is the case.

This may be part of what lay behind a dream I had last night.  I can’t remember the details, but in the dream there were two women I asked out in real life who had turned me down.  One (in real life) was someone I knew online who I thought I had connected with (another frum geek) and the other was someone I was at school with and then met years later through a Jewish mental health charity and became friends with for a while.  I thought she was flirting with me, but apparently I was wrong (she repeatedly said I was a “genius” and also that I would have “really cute children”).  Neither was interested in me; I still comment on the former’s blog, but the latter cut of all contact with me.

In the dream, the latter was talking to the former about her issues (in the real world she had bipolar disorder and had repeatedly been hospitalised as a suicide risk; she also had a history of anorexia).  I wanted to help too, but she kept refusing to speak when she was aware that I was listening, until I realised that she didn’t want my help and that the only way I could help her was to leave her alone (there was then a surreal sequence I can’t fully describe about a dead tortoise in the garden; no idea what that represents).

This seemed to be an unconscious articulation of the fact that I want to help people, but often can’t do it, either because of my own issues or because I don’t know how to help people because of my autistic symptoms.  In particular, I had been reflecting before going to bed, and not for the first time, how frustrating it is to me to see all the discussion on Jewish websites and newspapers about the need to re-engage young Jews with Judaism and Jewish culture and encourage the raising of Jewish children (assimilation is still running strong).  I want to have children and give them a strong grounding in Judaism and a love of Judaism and Jewish culture (not just the religion, but the wider cultural aspects), but it looks like I never will marry and have children.  This upsets me a lot.  I suppose if I had to rank what I most dislike about my various conditions, the actual depression and social anxiety would probably come in about third, because I’m used to coping with them (up to a point anyway).  First would be the loneliness, particularly the romantic/sexual loneliness and second would be the feeling that I will never have children, the feeling of being the end of the line, that the tradition will, in some sense, end with me (in a manner of speaking… I’m still hoping that my sister and cousins will have children, but who knows what will happen?).

OK, now I’ve brought my mood really far down, I guess I should try to finish tidying up and then have something to eat, do some Torah study (done none at all today, thanks to falling asleep this afternoon) and get to bed at a reasonable time.  Hopefully eating might help my mood a bit, as I may have low blood sugar again; I haven’t eaten anything for nearly six hours, nor have I drunk much.

Up and Down

Today was my last day at work.  I finished the work I was set early and as my boss is still away and hadn’t left me any extra work, there was no reason to stay, so I left at 2.15pm.  I’m glad to be away from the office.  The people were nice, but it was not a good environment for me: too noisy and busy and I was too shy to talk to anyone, although I guess that’s partly the problem of being a temp and not ‘really’ on the team.  Plus, I made too many big mistakes, although I think some of them were because I misunderstood how the search engine on LinkedIn functions rather than pure incompetence (or depressive poor concentration) as I initially thought.  The early finish meant I could do some Shabbat shopping before it got too late as well.  I’m glad I got through the whole three month contract without a single sick day or late arrival due to depression, although I nearly fell at the proverbial last post, as I overslept by nearly half an hour this morning, but I rushed and took the bus to the station instead of walking and arrived at work on time.

I’m glad that I’ve got an interview for another job lined up, but I’m already terrified about it.  The interview is scary and so is the cataloguing test.  I feel that my cataloguing skills have gone really rusty, especially as I haven’t really done big number-building in Dewey (building up the long shelfmarks) since my MA eight years ago.  However, the really terrifying thing is the ten minute presentation about which I have no idea what to say.  It doesn’t help that I can only vaguely remember what this job involves and I don’t have access to the online job description.  Plus, I’m sure I’m going to start shaking when I speak and that anxiety in itself can trigger shaking.

***

Someone at work asked me about librarianship and what I had to do for my MA and I panicked and my mind went blank.  This happens to me a lot: people ask me questions about myself and topics that I know a lot about and that mean a lot to me, but I panic and can’t think of anything.  I tend to dread those kinds of conversations, rather than ones where I can hurriedly pass back the conversation by asking the other person a question (or the same one they just asked me).  With Doctor Who it’s even worse, as I grew up in the nineties when the programme was not in production (except for one TV movie) and its memory was a laughingstock, so I feel embarrassed and uncomfortable and change the subject.

***

I’ve been put back on the security rota at shul (synagogue) even though I’ve said that I have health issues and can’t guarantee to get there.  I may have to be more explicit and say that I have mental health issues and can pretty much guarantee to not be there in the mornings at the moment because that’s when things are worst and the fact that I get to shiurim (classes) and services in the evenings is not proof that I am well enough to get there in the mornings.  I always hate to say things like that, though.  I get scared how people will react if I say I have mental health issues.

***

I filled in the questionnaire that I was supposed to fill in before my therapy assessment on Monday.  I’ve done so many of these things now that I did it in just a couple of minutes, whereas the first time I did one, at the counselling service at university, I took so long over it that the therapist told me to just stop wherever I’d got up to.  Here the difficulty is more focusing on the last twelve days when the depression has lasted, with occasional brief gaps, for fifteen or twenty years.  Other than that it’s just ticking the worst box for most of the questions.  In the past I would probably have agonised over exactly how depressed I’ve been in the last two weeks, but this time I just answered for how I’ve been feeling “lately” as I know there hasn’t been much variation for months; I also don’t want to distort the answers by focusing too much on one or two better days when the average is so awful.  I guess I’ve been in the NHS long enough to learn to play the system, although I’m not sure that anyone really pays much attention to these questionnaires anyway.

(Also, is it autistic of me to wonder why “filling in” a questionnaire is the same as “filling out” a questionnaire when they sound like they should be opposites?)

***

Problem: I want to interact with Doctor Who fans on Twitter, both because it’s fun and to promote my blog.  Unfortunately, many Doctor Who fans are very political, whereas I want to avoid politics at the moment (including/especially Brexit).  I’m not sure how to do this (and wasting more time online is possibly not a goal I should be exploring).  Although I’m wondering if I should be using my blog to review new Doctor Who episodes at all.  My better reviews tend to be written after multiple viewings, often long after the event, and I want to reserve that blog for high-quality writing with an eye to professional publication one day.  On the other hand, if I don’t review there, I only end up writing mini-reviews in the comments on my friends’ blogs or in response to emails/texts.

***

I ate too much unhealthy food at shiur (Torah class) again.  I don’t know why I do this.  I do the same on Shabbat (the Sabbath), particularly at shul (synagogue) at kiddush (the refreshments after the service) or seudah shlishit (the third Shabbat meal).  I thought it might be a social anxiety thing, that I eat to distract myself or to look busy so no one talks to me, but I over-eat on Shabbat at home too.  Although today I didn’t intend to drink what my family refers to as “fat coke” (non-diet coca cola), which I don’t even like much.  I am possibly coming down from a sugar rush now.

Shiur was interesting, but left me somewhat depressed again.  The assistant rabbi was talking about the importance of building an ‘inside,’ an internal world.  He said that’s his primary message in the Torah he teaches.  I worry I don’t have an inside.  I spend a lot of time in thought, but I don’t know that my thoughts are worthwhile and they go round and round inside my head without going anywhere.  Sharing many (not all) of my thoughts here is not keeping my “inside” inside me in the way the assistant rabbi said we should.  I can’t remember everything he said, but he was talking about challenges and how they are often about engaging with things externally only.  I feel attracted to someone and then I feel guilty because that’s focusing on externals.  I think that I really want to have a meaningful relationship with someone which would be an interior relationship, but maybe I’m wrong and I could only relate to someone in a superficial way.  I don’t think that was my experience when in a relationship, but that was for such a relatively short period and I wonder sometimes what would happen if I was married and was with someone for years.

The other thing that happened at shiur was the subject came up of the time when the rabbi offered to give £50 to tzedaka (charity) if someone could answer a particular question that he was sure no one would be able to answer and I answered it correctly.  I still feel embarrassed about that, without really knowing why, and then I feel guilty (??? I find it hard to understand or name what I feel a lot of the time, let alone why I feel it) that I feel embarrassed.

***

Well, my mood is sinking fast and I’m tired, so I probably ought to get ready for bed.  I doubt I will blog tomorrow as Shabbat starts at 3.45pm and I have a lot of preparation to do as I’m home alone (which reminds me that I need to take some food out of the freezer before I go to bed tonight), so I probably won’t have time, especially as I’m likely to sleep in.  Last time I did Shabbat alone I said I would get myself invited out for at least one meal if it happened again, but when it came to it, I chickened out and didn’t.  In the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world it’s considered normal and acceptable to ask for dinner invitations if home alone or visiting for Shabbat and people who were not raised religious often cite it as something they love about Judaism, but the only time I tried it (when I went to New York in the summer), I got turned down flat.  Normal frum community stuff just doesn’t seem to work out for me (see also getting set up on dates, or not).

List of Good Things

Things were a bit better today.  I’m in a rush, so a quick list.

  1. I have a job interview on 5 December!  I seem to have lost all the details about the job, though, and can’t really remember anything about it.  I’ve applied for several recently and I find I’ve forgotten the details five minutes after sending the application off, if not earlier.  It’s a cataloguing role at a London university.  I’ve a vague feeling it’s cataloguing rare books, but I’m not sure and am uncertain how I find out.  It’s not clear, but it looks like I have to give a ten minute presentation on how I as a cataloguer (!) can encourage students to use the library catalogue instead of Google (no idea yet).  Plus a sixty minute cataloguing test.  I don’t mind the latter, as it will at least prove to myself that I deserve the job, if they decide to give it to me (as if that will stop me thinking I can’t do it…), but ten minutes is a very long time.
  2. I will have to rearrange my appointment with The Network, which is currently on the same day.  Fortunately I hadn’t got around to confirming it yet.  The Network is… actually, I’m not sure, but it’s an NHS thing that’s supposed to help people with mental health issues find jobs or just be more active.  I’m guessing it’s an occupational therapy-type thing.
  3. The autism group workshop meeting on coping with anxiety in the workplace that I was hoping to go to next week has been cancelled, which is frustrating.
  4. I had dinner out with my sister and brother-in-law.  It was good, although the restaurant was noisy (even though it wasn’t very full) and I couldn’t always hear my sister.
  5. I got to Golders Green early for dinner and to kill time and get out of the rain I went into a bookshop, which had a sale on, so I got copies of Dr Bloodmoney by Philip K. Dick (the only one of the most acclaimed half dozen or so of Dick’s books that I haven’t yet read, which I guess means it’s downhill from here) and The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin.  I haven’t decided whether I have bought them myself or if my parents will give them to me as Chanukah presents.  In our family we don’t do surprise gifts, we either specify presents to be bought or say, “Here’s £X, buy what you want, give it to me and I’ll give it back to you as a gift.”  It sounds brutally mercenary when put like that.  The Jonathan Creek and Sherlock DVDs I mentioned retail therapy-buying the other week have already become Chanukah presents.
  6. Today was a better day overall.  Work was still hard at times, though, and I had to have an unprecedented three coffees to stay awake through the morning.

Anxiety and Anger

I have a triage phone appointment next Monday to discuss CBT.  I have to fill in a questionnaire first, so I hope I can find the time to do that with work and being home alone.  I’m nervous that things won’t go the way I want even though I have only a vague idea of what I want from this.   I guess I’m used to being disappointed.

I’ve been pretty depressed today and also quite anxious about things, silly things, like when am I going to finish doing the research for the Doctor Who book I’m writing?  When am I going to have time to read all the books I want to read and re-read (I’m a re-reader and a re-viewer.  I don’t really understand people who only read a good book once.  I find I need to read or watch a story at least twice to fix it in my mind, and like revisiting good stories and characters)?  And so on. There was a lot of anxiety about politics too.  I should keep off Twitter, but I need to use it to promote my Doctor Who blog, which I’m only doing very tentatively.  So I read a bit and post almost nothing and don’t follow anyone, which is the worst of all possible worlds.  I was also feeling some anger, about politics and other stuff.  I’ve fallen out with someone (quietly – he doesn’t know he upset me) and the organisation he’s involved with (which wasn’t involved this time, but has upset me in the past) seems tainted now and I’m struggling to process what I feel even several months down the line.  I’m not very proud of that, but it’s there.  And anger about politics, but it seems like everyone’s angry about politics at the moment, not that that’s a sign of anything good (see Twitter again).

One of the things I was angry about was my autism non-diagnosis.  I was told that I have some autistic symptoms (I think I have more than was recorded, because I now realise I do things like stimming very subtly and wasn’t really aware of what I was doing or that it was relevant at the time), but not autism, so I couldn’t have any help.  The NHS just told me to continue with psychotherapy and medication.  It’s like being told that you aren’t diabetic, but you have some symptoms of diabetes and you could still die from it, but we aren’t going to give you insulin or teach you how to manage your diet because you don’t tick the right boxes.  So that’s getting me angry today.

Time Capsule Fragment

I wrote this about an hour ago and interrupted myself before posting.  It feels somewhat unfinished.  I don’t feel as bad now as I did then, but I want to post it as a sort of time capsule, albeit one preserving a recent time, but also as a demonstration of how bad I feel at times, often when I’m not able to post.  I kind of wish I could have a reverse time capsule, with my future self sending encouraging messages back to me, but then again, maybe there’s nothing encouraging to say about my future (this is me positive, wait until you see the negative).

I’m feeling really bad and I don’t know why.  My parents haven’t even gone away yet, although they are out at a charity event at the moment (EDIT: they’re back now).  I want to write what I feel, but when I try to write it all becomes sanitised.  I can’t put what I feel into words.  I’m not sure I entirely know what I feel.

I’m beating myself up because of a religious OCD situation that isn’t really my fault and probably isn’t anything to worry about, but I feel I made a mistake and It’s All My Fault if it Goes Wrong.

Sometimes I wish I was asexual (I believe a number of autistic people are).  I can’t see myself ever getting married, and I wouldn’t have sex outside of marriage (my first girlfriend thought that I wouldn’t even if I was married to her and maybe she was right).  It’s a mitzvah (commandment) for men (not women) to get married and have children, but it’s unlikely that I ever will.  It would make my life easier and less guilt-ridden.

I want to hurt myself, but I feel too scared.  I feel that I’m just messed up beyond all hope of repair.

None of what I’ve written remotely portrays how much emotional pain I feel I’m in right now (plus physical discomfort, as my parents turn the heating up far too high for my liking.  I’ve only recently discovered that sensitivity to heat can be an autistic sensory issue, although I shouldn’t say that as Officially I am Boringly Neurotypical and any unusual behaviour is just common or garden weirdness and the intractability of my depression is just Bad Luck).

This was the point where I stopped writing.  Goodnight.

Bleargh Again

I thought I only cried at work, but I started crying while davening Shacharit (saying morning prayers), or at least the tiny fragment of them that I say, about ten minutes out of forty or so.  Then I did it again during Ma’ariv (evening prayers).  I don’t know what triggered it.  To be honest, I don’t think there usually is a clear triggering for my tears.  Just a general sense of pervasive awfulness in life, in my personal life and in the world.

***

Psychiatrists don’t always seem to really believe me or worry about my being suicidal, because I don’t have a plan.  I don’t think I really need a plan.  Because of the clomipramine problems, I’ve ended up with three months worth of antidepressants.  I don’t need a plan just to swallow all my pills, particularly with my parents away for the next week or so.  I’m not feeling suicidal, just to clarify.  But I could become suicidal easily without spending ages working on a plan.  I have strong suicidal ideation/fantasy at times, but because I don’t literally have a plan, I worry I don’t get taken seriously, especially now I’m moved back in with my parents, even though I sometimes get very strong visual images of overdosing, which would be easy enough to act on (unlike other suicidal images/fantasies I have, about jumping off tall buildings or shooting myself, which would probably be impossible to act on in my situation).  But psychiatrists on the NHS don’t always seem to take me seriously in general.  A few have, and one took me seriously for a long time (the one who said I’m autistic), but then flipped and started treating me like a problem patient and bossing me around and not really listening to me.  To be fair, it could be that they do take me seriously, but don’t want to show it.  And I don’t know what they could do anyway.  Changing my meds could make suicidal thoughts worse in the short term, although I think it needs to be done (I must assert myself more next time) and I don’t think I should be in hospital right now.

***

I’m just feeling depressed today and unable to put it into words.  I think my depression has been underestimated by medical professionals at times because of my difficulty even understanding how depressed I am, let alone putting it into words for other people (the same probably goes for my autistic difficulties).  I’m good with words, but not with expressing emotions.  It often seems that outsiders underestimate my depression because I mask it well and try to keep functioning, while other problems are more visible.  When my religious OCD was at its worst, my father in particular thought that that was the main problem, more than the depression, because it had effects he could see (e.g. me preventing my parents using crockery that I thought had become treifed up and contaminated until I checked with a rabbi that it was OK), whereas the depression was in my head and he couldn’t see it.

***

I’m worrying about finding a job.  The jobs I find seem to be ones that I fear I can’t do (although that generally doesn’t stop me applying, but I feel sure I won’t get called for interview) or for which I’m either over-qualified or under-qualified.  Worrying about getting a job (a job I can actually do, unlike the last two) seems to be moving up to rival worrying about getting married, although the two are connected, as my experience with E. convinced me that no one is going to date me until I find a long-term, stable job and some kind of career plan.  I’m worried about just drifting through life, that I’m going to become one of those people with mental health issues or autism who can’t handle careers or relationships and just end up dependent on other people.  I worry what will happen to me when my parents aren’t here, because I don’t see myself being settled even in twenty or thirty years time.

***

I’m still procrastinating about getting guinea pigs.  I feel they would be too much work, and it would be too social anxiety-provoking to go to a pet shop and ask to hold them, but then I feel depressed and lonely and wish I could play with a tame animal.  I wish I didn’t procrastinate so much about things.  I’m pretty sure it’s my worst character trait.  It’s certainly one I wish I could get rid of.

***

I tried to apply for some jobs today.  I don’t think I’m really doing a good job of editing my CV to suit the different jobs I’m applying for, but I don’t really have the energy or concentration to do it properly. How could I actually do a job?  Maybe I’m unconsciously self-sabotaging.  It wouldn’t be the first time.  Or I’m just procrastinating again, to avoid or because I’m too depressed.  The thought of actually getting an interview terrifies me, maybe even more than the prospect of being depressed for the rest of my life.  I’m probably taking too long on finishing my Doctor Who book in order to delay considering it completed and sending it to publishers – the fear of rejection slips (like Snoopy…), but also the technicalities of getting it in the right format, finding publishers’ addresses, sending the manuscript and so on.

I started applying for a job that seemed interesting, but halfway through the form I found a more detailed job description than I had originally found and it requires training and experience with archives than libraries (very different skill sets, although not many people realise this).  I don’t know if I missed the detailed job description initially from my incompetence – or at least depression-induced poor concentration – or if the layout of the job description was poor.  In the end I decided to avoid the sunk cost fallacy and cut my losses; I’d wasted a couple of hours on it, but there was no point continuing to labour over an application for a job I clearly wasn’t going to get and probably couldn’t do if I did get it.  I wanted to start another application, but felt too depressed.  I had at least managed one job application today, for a research assistant role, although I suspect they will say I’m over-qualified as it’s intended for recent graduates.  I don’t feel much further up the careers ladder than most recent graduates, though.

Applying for jobs would be much easier if employers just wanted a CV and a cover letter; instead, most of the jobs I’m applying for have a unique application form with slightly different questions and/or lots of boxes to be filled in manually.  Google Chrome’s autofill helps a bit, but not with unusual questions, and sometimes it puts data in the wrong boxes.  Maybe it’s a deliberate way of weeding out depressives with poor concentration and motivation and low energy?

And how can I take seriously a Russell Group university that doesn’t know how to use an apostrophe on its forms?  About as much as all those over-educated lawyers I come across at work who also don’t know either.  Or the university which apparently wanted to know the names of all my employers down to 2029.  I’d like to know that too.  That university also got the names of both the universities I studied at wrong on their form.

***

This article is very moving.  I wish I could move on from my own negative self-perception like that.  Also, I posted a link to this article last week and I still think it’s a good article, but I still can’t do any of the actions.  I don’t think that I’ve accomplished much worthwhile or contributed to the world, or that I have worthwhile attributes, or that I deserve to cut myself some slack or pamper myself (yuk).  I don’t know how to surround myself with people who reaffirm my value and I don’t think there is anything that I’m good at that I could do.  As for challenging myself to do what’s hard, at the moment everything is hard.  I suppose I could imagine myself doing good, but I wouldn’t know how to convert it into action.

***

I was feeling nauseous just now, which is how anxiety manifests in me.  I don’t know why I feel like this.  Doctor Who (which has just finished) was good, but about unrequited love and coping with difficult workplaces, so was possibly triggering.  I need to force myself to eat something, though, especially as I cooked pasta earlier.

***

People say to hang in there and things will get better, but they just don’t get better for me.  I can’t see things ever getting better for me, long-term.  Things have been bad for so long, it’s difficult to believe I could be happy and competent as an adult.

Up and Down

I didn’t speak to the lawyers as they didn’t phone after all.  I was ill (headache, then complete exhaustion) and so I didn’t phone them, so I’ve still got that hanging over me.  I guess the whole family has had this lawsuit hanging over us for two years or so now, like something out of Kafka, so maybe it’s not such a big change.  As I was still exhausted when Shabbat (the Sabbath) started, I didn’t go to shul (synagogue).

I did have a positive evening.  I spoke to my Dad about Brexit (my Dad is the only person I really feel comfortable talking about politics to).  It was a bit of a mutual despair society meeting.  Neither of us is hugely Europhile, for different reasons, but both of us think that staying in the EU was better than leaving, and that it’s no surprise that the EU is determined to punish Britain for wanting to leave, not least to deter countries like Greece and Italy for thinking that there’s an easy escape in the future.  My Dad thinks that a stock market crash is due soon (although, to be honest, I can’t remember a time when he didn’t think that a stock market crash was due soon) and we’re both worried by the rise of the far right and the return of antisemitism.  Politics depresses me, but sometimes it’s good to voice that depression.

Afterwards I did some Torah study and stayed in thought for a bit about politics, history and Jewish stuff.  I think I’ve mentioned before that, unlike many autistic people, I don’t monologue aloud to other people about my special interests because I had too many bad experiences doing that as a child, but I do do it in my head.  Sometimes it can get coloured by my mental health and become despairing, anxious and/or obsessive, particularly if I’ve read or heard something attacking something that matters a lot to me (e.g. Judaism, Israel, Doctor Who) and I need to ‘prove’ it’s wrong to myself, but on Friday I wasn’t doing that, I was just thinking.  Suddenly I realised I was feeling a bit happy for the first time in several months.

I spent a long time doing my hitbodedut spontaneous prayer.  I was thinking a lot about the passage repeated several times in the Talmud, that it doesn’t matter whether you do a lot or a little as long as you direct your heart to Heaven.  This was originally said in regard to sacrifices, but was later applied to Torah study and prayer.  I find it hard to hold on to this.  I know I don’t do enough (quantitatively or qualitatively) Torah study, prayer and good deeds, but maybe I’m not expected to do more given how depressed I am.  It is hard to tell and I wish there was some kind of objective measure whereby I could tell if I’m doing enough.  Ten minutes of Torah study most days doesn’t seem enough, even though I do try to get to a two shiurim (classes – see below) each week, but maybe I really can’t do more right now.  Likewise with davening (prayer), hurriedly racing through Mincha, Ma’ariv and sometimes a bit of Shacharit (afternoon, evening and morning prayers) with little kavannah (mindfulness) and without a minyan (congregation) is far from ideal, but maybe it’s all I can do.   I don’t know.

I stayed up late because of this, especially as, while not on a high exactly, I did feel somewhat alert and awake afterwards.  I couldn’t really read and was just thinking about things.

I had some other thoughts which I won’t go into here that made me feel better, but today I reflected negatively on some of what happened last night.  I overslept this morning and was drained and depressed again, spending ages lying in bed or sitting down, not doing anything except trying to find energy.  I felt that some of my thoughts from last night were potentially heretical or even idolatrous, but it is hard to know where I went wrong.  I ate my meals hurriedly (Mum and Dad were out for lunch, hence my being able to sleep in late without being woken for lunch) and dashed to shul for shiur and Ma’ariv, having initially felt that I would miss both.  I’m glad I went, as I would have beaten myself up if I had missed them.

I just finished another job application after Shabbat and am still pessimistic about my future.  I know it’s not clear whether I really am on the autistic spectrum, but I do have a lot of symptoms and certainly people with these symptoms do indeed struggle to hold down jobs and to build relationships and often end up permanently dependent on their families or the state, which does not encourage me.  I’m not sure what I can do, practically.  Without a diagnosis of autism, I’m limited in the help and “reasonable adjustments” that I can apply for in that area (although I’m not sure that there is a huge amount of help available for those diagnosed), but it’s quite clear that the NHS has no interest in paying for another assessment (to be fair, they’ve already paid for two) and a private one would be hugely expensive, especially as I’m not confident that I would get a clear diagnosis.  I think I have to learn to accept that I exist in a grey area where the autistic blurs into the neurotypical, and that I simply can’t receive any help.

To be honest, if I could deal with my depression and social anxiety and find the right job (and an understanding girlfriend/wife), the autism would be less of an issue.  But I do wonder if my boss in my previous job was right that I’m not cut out for contemporary librarianship, just as my current job has made clear that I’m not cut out for working in a noisy, contemporary office.  Both jobs have made clear, though, that I simply can’t work effectively while I’m so depressed, but as I am not considered sick enough to receive benefits, I’m not sure what my options are.  To be honest, I don’t want to live off the state (or my parents); I want to be doing something productive IF I can find something I can do competently without feeling in a terrible depressed-anxious-autistic state the whole time.

Thinking today about my religious thoughts from yesterday, I realised once again that I am desperate for love and intimacy.  In different ways, that desire drives my engagement with potential partners, friends, my religious community, HaShem (God) and even my thoughts about having pets.  I’m not sure if one can really be intimate with a pet exactly, even a dog, but maybe I’m wrong, having never had pets other than goldfish, which are not really very responsive and certainly they would be a receptacle for my love, even if they can’t truly love me back.  The funny thing is, though, that when I try to conceive of the afterlife, it is of being alone, either being alone feeling shame reflecting on the negative aspects of my life (Gehennom (purgatory)) or close to HaShem but no one else (Heaven).  It doesn’t occur to me that I would be with other people in Heaven, even though the Talmud does seem to suggest this, although Jewish afterlife beliefs are intentionally vague compared with most religions.  Presumably, like Jean-Paul Sartre, I think that Hell is other people.  But this fits ill with my desire for love and intimacy.

I finished re-reading The Empty Chair: Finding Hope and Joy: Timeless Wisdom from a Hasidic Master Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.  The penultimate quote is one of my favourites: “If you believe that you can damage, then believe that you can fix.  If you believe that you can harm, then believe that you can heal.”  It can be hard to believe that sometimes.

Bleargh

I feel totally wiped out today.  Exhausted and depressed.  I ate two bowls of cereal and I still feel somewhat faint.  I forgot to take my meds last night, which probably didn’t help, but I think I’m wiped out from work.  I don’t think I can work four full days a week.  I definitely got worse when I increased my hours in my old job from three to four days, although a number of other things went wrong around that time, so it’s hard to be sure.  Unfortunately, all the jobs I see advertised are full time, or hours I can’t do (usually weekend jobs where you have to work on Saturdays).

Jewish inspirational sites just depress me.  I can’t do the things they tell me will make me happy and spiritually fulfilled.  They just leave me feeling despairing and guilty for being such a bad Jew.  These ideas on ways to love yourself are good, but I just can’t do them, or I’ve tried them and they don’t work for me.

The news is depressing.  It’s either terrible things, or trivial stories about ‘celebrities’ I’ve never heard of.  On the other hand, I’m pleased with myself for dubbing ex-minister Jo Johnson “BoJo’s bro Jo.”  And I rolled my eyes at the BBC inexplicably describing a new standard measure of a kilogram as “more egalitarian” – apparently identity politics now rules SI units (the rest of the article made perfect sense and gave no sense of what on Earth they were on about in that phrase.  I’ve long suspected BBC news of going slightly nuts).

More craziness: the otherwise very useful Goodreads.com has decided that because I’ve read The Brothers Karamazov in English translation, it should recommend me Arabic books in Arabic (not translation).  I can’t even work out what the titles are.  Must be something wrong with their algorithms.  But somehow it seems appropriate today, when I feel like the world is talking a different language to me.

I have to speak to lawyers today.  About three years ago, I was really exhausted coming home from therapy and decided to phone my Dad for a lift from the Tube station rather than walking for twenty minutes.  This turned out to be one of the most fateful decisions of my life.  As the car pulled out of the station drop-off area, a motorcycle courier smashed into it.  My Dad phoned an ambulance, but the courier said she was fine and cancelled it.  Meanwhile (not knowing the courier was fine) I went back inside the station and got one of the station guards (or whatever they’re called) in case he knew first aid.  The police were also called and questioned everyone, but eventually went away satisfied there was no dangerous driving.

About nine months later, my Dad got a letter from his insurance company saying he was being sued for damages by the courier, who claims she has problems with her leg now.  I’m pretty sure she got in touch with one of those ambulance-chasing “no win, no fee” law firms that cold call people touting for business.  I suspect the point of the exercise is to get my Dad’s insurance company to settle out of court in the belief that it’s cheaper to pay a sum outright rather than go to court and fight it.  However, the station guard is now claiming that he saw the accident (which is more or less impossible, as he was inside and talking to someone else when I came in) and that my Dad was to blame, so I have to talk to my Dad’s insurance company’s lawyers today.  This is not something I particularly needed right now.

It reminds me of something W. S. Gilbert (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame) said, that if someone comes up to you in the street and demands you give him your watch, you should punch him on the nose and send him on his way, but if he says he’s going to sue you for your watch, it’s easier and cheaper just to hand it over.  (Of course, nowadays if you punched a mugger on the nose you’d get arrested for assault and sued for damages.)

I’m supposed to be applying for two jobs today too, or one and a half as I started one application last Sunday, but with Shabbat (the Sabbath) starting at 3.54pm, and I’ve still got to have lunch and do my Shabbat preparation chores, that doesn’t seem very likely to happen, not while I feel this exhausted and depressed.

Fifteen Years

I’ve had some difficult thoughts today.  I had a vague feeling today that I should stop writing this blog, because I don’t think I present Judaism well.  Not compared with sites like Aish.com or Chabad.org or even Hevria.com.  I make it sound like it’s all sin and impossible rituals and guilt, when really it isn’t.

I hate myself and have thoughts of suicide.  The main things stopping me are thinking of what it would do to my parents (I don’t think about my friends, which makes me feel guilty) and the fear of making a failed suicide attempt and ending up with terrible, permanent injuries.  It did occur to me that it’s more or less exactly fifteen years since I nearly attempted suicide (it was in Michaelmas Term of 2003 at Oxford, so any time from October to early December, but I think more towards the start or middle than the end).   I find it hard to think of tangible things that would be worse if I had killed myself then.  I’ve done some extra mitzvot (commandments) in the meantime, but also some extra averot (transgressions), so I’m not sure how that balances out.  I haven’t really done anything worthwhile with my life.  Or is that just the depression talking?  It’s hard to be sure.

The pharmacist had a big bag of clomipramine for me as some of the tablets have finally come in.  With my parents away next week, I’m a bit scared to have them in the house with me feeling like this, but I don’t know what to do with them.  There isn’t anyone I could give them to.

I’m fairly sure I’m not actively suicidal at the moment, but I do wish I had never been born and I would like to die (I guess that’s one ambition I’m sure to fulfil eventually).  I can’t see things improving.  Life is an endurance test for me; I can accept that HaShem (God) has His reasons for this, but I wish I had a clue of what they are, just to give me some chizuk (strength, inspiration).

My parents have been encouraging me to do teacher training again.  It seems to have become an idée fixe for them, a panacea that will cure all my problems (Dad seems to think being a teacher will make it easier to get married, possibly because I might meet a single female Jewish frum (religious) teacher at a Jewish school, although I doubt I could talk to her much if I did).  I can’t really blame them, as I have my own idées fixes.  Getting married or getting a girlfriend was one for a long time and still is, to some extent.  Getting an autism diagnosis has probably taken the first place now, although I don’t know what good it would do me.  I thought of emailing Dr Tony Attwood, who wrote The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome to ask what he thinks I should do, but it seemed chutzpahdik (someone or something having chutzpah – is that accepted enough in English now to not need translation?  Audacity is the nearest word).  I would basically be asking for a free consultation (via email – he lives in Australia).  In any case, the email address on his website probably goes to a secretary.

I’ve cooled off on the thought of buying guinea pigs.  I guess what my Mum said about my not being able to look after them, or to look for jobs if I use my energy up looking after them, has worried me.  Plus the thought of going into a pet shop and asking to hold the guinea pigs (as Dad said, to check I can do it) and of asking for help choosing a cage etc. has triggered my social anxiety to a great extent.  I don’t know how much I want them any more.  Maybe they were just another idée fixe.

I do feel lonely though.  I nearly wrote “I want to get laid,” but that’s not exactly true (and vulgar).  I do want physical affection and in-person support from someone who loves me.  I guess long-distance support from my friends isn’t enough.  My parents are sources of support and physical affection, but… I don’t know, it’s difficult with them sometimes, because of how they are and how I am and because of things in the past, but I can’t talk about that here, which is frustrating.  I feel guilty because of this.  If my parents aren’t good enough and my friends aren’t good enough, it could be that the problem is ME and I’m not good enough at accepting love.  In which case getting married or having a girlfriend wouldn’t make any difference.

I feel that my role in life is to suffer and endure.  At least, that’s what I’ve been doing more than anything else in my adult life.

I don’t want anyone to read this and worry about me.  I think the chances of my hurting myself are slim.  I’m pretty sure I would phone Samaritans if it got that bad, and I don’t think it will.  I’m tired more than suicidal.  I’ve just spent fifteen years or more struggling to survive, and I don’t know what else I can do.

Suffering

I just saw something on the blog of someone I know who is losing her religious faith a story about a child who was mauled by a mountain lion and severely injured, which, it was argued, is evidence against the existence of God.  The funny thing is, with one slight change, the story could be used on a religious website to argue for the existence of God.  The change, obviously, is to focus on the miraculous survival of the child rather than the fact that she was injured in the first place.

I don’t really want to get into a debate about the existence or non-existence of God.  I know what I believe and why and don’t have much interest in debating the issue.  I’m not a good debater and wouldn’t do my beliefs justice; anyway, debating anything doesn’t interest me much.  I don’t have an argumentative personality.  In fact, argument tends to upset me and I avoid it.  But I want to flag up something I noticed about myself, a point of psychology rather than theology.

Intellectually, I accept that my suffering (depression, loneliness, anxiety etc.) could have meaning and purpose.  It’s not actually that hard to think of reasons that could explain it.  But I find it very hard to engage emotionally with that and because I can’t engage emotionally with it, I find it very hard to internalise it and stay inspired to keep going.  As I’ve mentioned, all my religious activities (prayer, Torah study, good deeds, hitbodedut) are suffering at the moment.  I’m not doing much religiously at all.  That’s partly due to lack of energy, concentration and motivation directly from the depression, but also because of my irrational, but deep-seated, feeling that HaShem (God) hates me and wants me to suffer out of anger, hatred and even spite.  Intellectually, I think this is nonsense, but our emotional brains are older and stronger than our rational brains and they tend to win.  As the rabbi of my shul (synagogue) said to me, I won’t experience simcha shel mitzvah (the joy of performing the commandments) until I’m over my depression.  Of course, at the moment it looks like I will never be over the depression, which takes me back to “God hates me” even though He could be storing up infinite reward to recompense me for my suffering, in this world or the next.

What matters to me is not the philosophical issue of whether God exists; as I said, I think, on balance, that He does, but even if He doesn’t, the issue doesn’t interest me that much these days.  What matters to me is finding a way to function and, on some level, to find joy in life despite the suffering that seems to be a fixture.  I don’t know how to do that (yet?).

“And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,/And in short, I was afraid.”

I’ve been having morbid thoughts all day.  I basically write my blog posts over the day.  If I’m at home, I have a blog window open on my computer and add to it across the day.  If I’m out, I send myself texts with notes of what I want to say.  The stuff I wanted to say today, particularly the stuff I was thinking about when I was walking home just now, was morbid in the extreme, stuff about wanting to die and everyone being better off without me and my not having done anything even vaguely good with my life and the unlikelihood of things ever changing.  I feel a bit better now I’m home.  I guess I still feel I do want to die, just not so urgently.  I don’t know whether I’ve done anything good or whether everyone would be better off without me.  It’s hard to tell, which is pretty damning in itself.

It is hard for me to believe that things could get better.  I don’t even believe my life will be better in Olam HaBa (The Next World).  I have said this a number of times, but I’ve never explained it.  It probably started when my religious OCD was bad.  I was fixated on the laws of Pesach (Passover), when the dietary laws are even more intense and complex than usual.  Certainly when I was growing up we did not keep these laws properly.  The punishment for not obeying them properly is karet, which is an ambiguous term, but probably means not having a share in Olam HaBa.  I had been told that no one gets karet these days because we’re on such a low spiritual level that we don’t have the level of conscious, knowledgeable hatred of God and Torah needed to incur it (I’ve never seen a source for that belief, but it seems to be widespread among Orthodox Jews).  I had likewise been told that you get karet for deliberately breaking the Pesach laws, not for not knowing the correct laws or making a mistake with them.  Nevertheless, I was sure I had incurred karet (although not my family, which also makes little sense).

Even though the OCD is less intense now and even though we probably do keep Pesach properly now, the feeling of being hated and punished by HaShem (God) persists.  I guess my life has been so awful for so long that I can’t believe that anything good could ever happen to me, and the only way that could be the case is if HaShem does not exist or desires to make me miserable.  As I strongly believe that He does exist, it is easy to feel He wants to make me miserable forever.  I know there are reasons why a good person might suffer, but I find them hard to internalise when the depression (and maybe pure O OCD) are going full-strength.  Even so, if my mission in life is to endure in misery, it is hard to see that as a positive thing, even if it is “only” for another fifty or sixty years before my eternal reward.  Fifty years of misery is not long compared to eternal reward, but fifty years is long compared to the fifteen or twenty years of depression I have already endured and I don’t know how I could get through another fifty years like the last fifteen.

That said, I doubt I would believe myself to be a good person even if HaShem told me I was.  I had disgusting thoughts on the way home and while I know on some level that they are OCD, it is hard not to think that I have corrupted myself over the years with bad behaviour and thoughts to the point where I can no longer control my thoughts.  I just hope I don’t lose control of my actions.

I avoid the news at the moment, but I saw a report last night that triggered conflicting emotions.  It was about disruptive children being placed in solitary confinement in schools so they can’t disrupt other children’s lessons.  The reporter made it quite clear that he thought that this was wrong.  Skipping over the fact that the solitary confinement booths looked a lot like the workspaces at my college library at Oxford, this left me conflicted.  The opponents of this disciplinary procedure argued that many of the disruptive students have mental health or developmental disorders such as autism/Asperger’s (the only condition named).  Obviously I felt sympathy to people with autism, but at the same time, I was conscious that the type of students being disciplined were basically the ones who made my life hell when I was at school and I would dearly have loved some of them to be shut up far away from me so I could work.  In particular, they interviewed one student about the treatment he received and the mental health issues that developed from prolonged solitary confinement, but they didn’t ask him what he did that was so disruptive that he was disciplined in this way.  This is the trouble I have when thinking about people who hurt me when I was younger.  As an adult, I know they most likely had “issues” of some kind of their own, but the fact is that I am dealing with decades-worth of misery and mental illness because of the behaviour of other people, people who have never asked for my forgiveness or perhaps even realised that they hurt me.  This is difficult.  At the same time, I know I have probably hurt other people, maybe as much as I was hurt.  This is also difficult.

My Family and Other Animals

At work this morning I realised I messed up my timesheet last week.  I think it’s OK; I forgot to date it and only put my name twice when they wanted it three times (twice printed and once signed).  But it makes me feel like a useless idiot again who can’t get anything right.  I hope it’s just depression-lowered concentration.  I feel a lot more stupid than I used to be.  I did at least process about 135 records even though I was feeling very depressed and working slowly.  I had thoughts of wanting to die, though.  I really can’t see my life getting any better.

My parents keep suggesting to me that I should become a primary school teacher (this is the teacher training course they want me to do). I really don’t know what to do about this.  It’s a nice idea, but I can’t see myself doing it at the moment.  I can’t really see myself doing it at all unless I have more experience with children.  I’m also scared of flitting from one career to another without settling on anything.  My sister suggested becoming a teaching assistant first and I thought of looking for another volunteering opportunity with children, although they seem to be few and far between, but I don’t think I feel I could even do that right now.  I don’t really want to be responsible for children while I feel this bad, for all that I do tend to cheer up when I’m with children.

On the other hand, my Mum’s doubts about my ability to look after a pet has taken the wind out of my sails regarding getting one, that and social anxiety about going to a pet shop and asking to hold the animals and buy equipment.  I know little about pets and I have an image in my head of going to a pet shop being like that Not the Nine O’Clock News sketch where Mel Smith goes to a shop to buy “a gramophone” and gets mocked by shop assistants Rowan Atkinson and Griff Rhys Jones for his total lack of technological savvy.

I know I shouldn’t rely on my parents so much for my self-esteem (such as it is) and for advice at my age, but I find it hard not to.  My relationship with them is complicated, to put it mildly.  It’s at times like this that I wish I was still in therapy, but I’ve stopped seeing my psychodynamic psychotherapist for a while so I can see if CBT might help, although I heard recently that people on the autistic spectrum (which may or may not include me) struggle with CBT because they don’t notice their mood changes until they have got quite extreme.  That fits me whether or not I’m on the spectrum.

Plus, as I just noted on the Mental Health at Home blog, I’m still dependent financially on my parents and  I don’t know what will happen to me when my parents are gone, given that I don’t seem to be able to hold down a regular job, but am apparently not sick enough to claim benefits.

There is a lot more I could say, but I’d better not say more in a semi-public setting.  Actually, despite all I write here, there’s so much that I can’t say, for one reason or another.  It’s hard, because writing is the way I process and release emotions, but I’m constrained by the laws of lashon hara (malicious speech) and kibbud av ve’em (honouring parents), as well as by accept conventions of what is OK to talk about in polite society and my fear that if people knew the real me, they would not want anything to do with me.

Fierce Dogs in the Cellar

Nietzsche described depression as having “fierce dogs in the cellar.”  I feel like I have a whole pack of fierce dogs in my cellar: depression, anxiety, OCD, and they’re all baying for my blood at the moment.  Even the OCD, which I thought I’d got rid of, has come back.

***

I went to bed late last night (about 1.30am) because I was writing a job application and (I admit) blogging, but I woke up at 6.30am with a headache that wouldn’t shift.  I watched TV for a bit until the headache went, but trying to go back to sleep after that didn’t work; I just lay in bed feeling depressed and having OCD thoughts: I made a kashrut (Jewish dietary law) mistake recently and am waiting to hear back whether I need to do anything practical about it.  I guess it’s a big improvement on how I was two years ago, as then I would be in a total panic, thinking I had treifed up the entire house (made all the crockery etc. non-kosher), whereas now I think there’s probably nothing practical to do, except feeling stupid for making a mistake.  I wish I could accept mistakes as part of life rather than beating myself up endlessly for them.  I try not to get angry with other people for their mistakes, but, as I’ve noted before, I treat myself much worse than I treat other people and worry that if I forgive myself for anything I’ll just become complacent and end up as a terrible person.

***

I tell myself that I don’t care how many people read my blog and to some extent that’s true.  I’m not generally agonising over follower numbers or likes the way I used to.  Still, once I get followers (and I’ve acquired a few recently), I worry about losing them.  It doesn’t help that I don’t really understand why anyone would read my blog.  I worry about being “too much” for people.  Too Jewish, too geeky, too mentally ill.  I look back at some posts (e.g. yesterday’s) and shudder at how much I give rein to what I feel without thinking what other people will think of me.  I don’t have much confidence in my writing ability, especially here, where I give freer rein to my thoughts than in more ‘formal’ writing situations.  I suppose I don’t have confidence in my self as someone other people would want to know, through my blog or in real life.  I guess it’s the classic Jewish thing of not wanting (as Groucho Marx said) to belong to any club that will accept me as a member, a mindset that dogs pretty much all my social interactions.  As with most of my issues, it stems from low self-esteem and a childhood of being bullied and ostracised, but I don’t know how to move on from it.  I’m hoping if I can get some CBT soon it might help, but I’m worried it won’t.

***

Part of my trouble in finding a correct diagnosis is my the difficulty I have in describing what I feel and in understanding how other people experience the world, what is ‘normal.’  This can be particularly true with my religious life, given that religious Jews are rarely portrayed in fiction and are usually presented negatively when they are.  For example, it occurred to me a while back that I have always felt uncomfortable with my tefillin on.  I just thought that this was one of those things, perhaps even a bad reflection on me that I felt uncomfortable performing a mitzvah (commandment).  But now I wonder if it is autistic sensory sensitivity.  Or it could be something that everyone who puts on tefillin feels, but no one talks about it because it’s too mundane and taken for granted.  I think my father finds his tefillin uncomfortable, but he binds his far too tightly.  I’ve never had the courage to ask anyone else.  Likewise, when my OCD was bad, it was a relief to discover I’m not the only frum (religious) Jew who struggles with seeing images of Jesus and Buddha while davening (praying) thanks to OCD.

***

My instinct is to say that I’m a loner, but I’m not sure that it’s true.  I dislike crowds, but I think I need a few good friends.  But I’ve spent much of my life feeling very lonely.  According to Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology, loneliness, from a health/mortality perspective, is “comparable to the risk of smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day… It exceeds the risk of alcohol consumption, it exceeds the risk of physical inactivity, obesity, and it exceeds the risk of air pollution.”  Whoops.  One article I saw suggested that people who don’t fit into their community should move to another one, but that isn’t always possible.  Certainly in my case, my choice of community, although wide by the standards of where I used to live, does not provide any community that would be a perfect fit for me.  My shul (synagogue) has positives and negatives and I have to learn to live with that.  I can’t find a “shul for weirdos” as that author of that article was able to do.

***

I sent off a job application.  I just feel anxiety and despair about the whole job hunt process.  I want to have a job and be financially independent, something I haven’t managed in thirty-five years (I’ve never worked full-time and even when working I’ve still had my income supplemented by my parents because I have never earned enough to be fully self-sufficient), but my experience of my current and previous jobs are too negative: too many mistakes, some of them stemming from social anxiety, but many through sheer carelessness.  I hope that’s due to depression (at any rate in the past I was not a careless person), but I worry that I’ve become a careless person and ultimately whether the carelessness is due to depression or not doesn’t really make a difference to the fact that I don’t feel capable of doing a job well.  In the job before that I made fewer careless mistakes (or maybe they just weren’t found as I wasn’t being supervised so carefully), but was frequently absent due to depression and anxiety, which is not encouraging either.

Looking to complete a second application this weekend, I found myself having to choose between a job I was not really qualified for; a job I probably was qualified for, but for which the employer wanted a recent graduate straight out of library school; a job that had all the negative aspects of the revised job description I turned down at my previous job because I didn’t think I could cope with it, but only on a three month contract (the job seems far too complicated and involved to be done in just three months); another job I’m technically over-qualified for, but which I suspect would still push me to my limits, given how I feel right now; and one I’m applying for out of desperation because it doesn’t seem as obviously a bad a fit as the others.  Actually, on second thoughts, it also looks worryingly similar to the job they were turning my old job into and which I (and my then boss) didn’t think I could do.  I worry – again – that the librarianship profession has changed.  I could have been a great academic librarian… fifty years ago, before the internet, when librarianship was about managing a collection of hard copy books and knowing how to search card catalogues and reference works to answer reader queries.  But now academic librarianship is about teaching information literacy, managing online resources and marketing library services to staff and students.  But I’ve started the application now and will finish it.

I did procrastinate a lot over the application.  I hate the fact that I essentially have two jobs at the moment: my part-time (four days a week) paid job and my unpaid job on non-work days (bar Shabbat (the Sabbath)), applying for a new job.  I don’t have time to tackle various chores that need doing, let alone relax, yet because of my mental health situation, I need time to relax a lot.  So I end up procrastinating and neither applying for jobs or truly relaxing.

Someone at work, interviewing applicants for a position, remarked that there’s a clear difference between candidates who want a job and candidates who want the job.  I fear I’m in the former category.  I don’t actually know what job I could do well and at the moment have very little confidence that I could do anything.  At the moment I don’t really have any ambition.  At times it feels that the only thing I want is… perhaps not to die exactly, but not to be here.  To be on another plane of existence.  Not to deal with the heartache and the thousand shocks that flesh is heir to, and which I seem to be singularly bad at dealing with.  I vaguely want to have a career, friends, community, marriage, children, but I have no real plan of how to get any of these things and I doubt I would know what to do with them if I did get them.  I don’t see myself as really competent to work (although officially I’m fit to work and don’t qualify for benefits) and I can’t imagine anyone wanting to marry me, unless it was someone who was ‘settling’ because she was desperate for children.

***

Walking to the shops, I visualise myself watching my own funeral in ghostly sort of way.  This is a morbid fantasy I have when I’m very depressed, or even mildly depressed.  I worry whether there will be anyone there, or whether I will be so alone that I won’t get a minyan (prayer quorum).  I worry what the eulogies will say, because I can’t think of very much that is positive that one could say about me.

***

I fear this blog is getting tiresome.  The same topics – my ambiguous relationship with autism, my anxieties about work, my loneliness and fear of being single forever, my belief that I am a reprehensible person, my struggles to fit into the community I have chosen for myself – seem to dominate week after week.  It bores me, let alone my readers, but I am not sure what I can do about this.  It all stems from my poor mental health and consequent lack of direction.  Actually, even my mental health may not be the primary issue; it increasingly seems to me that my low self-esteem and lack of self-knowledge is at the root of the depression, rather than the other way around.  I don’t know who I am, and I don’t like what I do know.  I can’t take my friends or family seriously, because they all like me a lot more than I do.

Jewish and Whoish

I’ve often written about my feelings of having a fractured identity.  It’s like there are parts of my life that don’t go together.  Being geeky and a Doctor Who fan doesn’t fit terribly well with being a frum (religious Orthodox) Jew, particularly in a somewhat Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) community that isn’t always a good fit for me in itself.  And so far my attempts at paid employment have not fitted terribly well with my mental health issues and borderline autism, while identifying as autistic makes me feel a fraud, given that two assessments have ended with my being classified as neurotypical, but with a lot of autistic symptoms (but, of course, I can’t access help for those symptoms because I don’t have the appropriate diagnosis).

I started this blog thinking it would be a Jewish blog about mental health, but it turned out to be a mental health blog with Jewish overtones (and Hebrew/Yiddish vocabulary).  My assumption was that most of my readers would be Jews with mental health issues, but so far as I can tell that isn’t the case.  Most of my readers are non-Jews with mental health issues or autism (I didn’t even expect to blog much about autism, given my non-diagnosis).

It’s confusing to know who I am sometimes.  A lot of the time, really.  Maybe that’s why I like being with young children and want a pet (more on both of those things below); young children and animals just accept you as you are without feeling the need to stick a label on you or force your square pegs into their round holes.

(Although I’m aware that the person who labels and forces me the most is myself.)

Working my way backwards through things that happened to me during and after Shabbat, I’ve started another job application, for a cataloguing role.  Good pay, but only an eight month contract.  I’ve applied, even though I feel very negative about my ability to do any job competently at the moment.  The online application form is really badly designed and annoying.  Actually, I can feel my anxiety level rising as I fill the form in.  This is due to my anxiety about coping with work, not the badly designed form, although that doesn’t help.  I’m procrastinating a lot, again out of anxiety; it took an hour and a half just to fill in basic details about my qualifications and previous employment because I keep getting distracted because I don’t want to focus on it.

Someone who lives in our road gave me a lift home from shul (synagogue) tonight.  I accepted because it was pouring with rain.  It was awkward, though.  He had music on very loud and I struggled to hear what he was saying.  I don’t know how much of that was autistic sensory sensitivity, how much was social anxiety (when I’m socially anxious I get so caught up in my anxious thoughts that I don’t take in what the other person is saying) and how much was just that the music was very loud.  I suppose I could have asked him to turn it down, but it honestly didn’t occur to me.  He saw I had a Gemarah (volume of Talmud) with me (because I’d gone to Talmud shiur (class) before shul) and asked what I was learning (Orthodox Jews always talk of “learning” Torah rather than “studying,” a habit that irritates me no end).  He asked which perek (chapter) I was up to and I struggled to answer, as I had noted my progress more by page number and, in any case, I’m struggling to keep up with the shul’s weekly Talmud study programme and am only vaguely aware of what I’m studying (admittedly I understand aggadata (the non-legal part of the Talmud) more than halakhah (the legal part)).  I couldn’t remember the chapter names at all (the chapters are always named after the first two or three words of the chapter) and felt rather stupid, as I generally seem to end up feeling when I talk to people I don’t know well.  This is why I usually try to avoid being given lifts, because I don’t like being trapped in a conversation with someone.

Our shul, like most shuls in the UK, has volunteer security (sadly, the risk of attack is very high and the shooting in Pittsburgh has just reinforced this).  I had asked to be taken off the security rota for health reasons.  My depression and social anxiety mean that I haven’t made it to shul for a morning service for a long time.  I haven’t specified what my health reasons are though.  I didn’t realise that I was supposed to be on duty this morning.  I don’t know if I wasn’t told or if I just deleted the email without reading it because I thought I was not on the rota.  At any rate, in the evening I was told that I had missed my slot.  They weren’t angry about it, but I felt bad, because I don’t like to let people down and also because I think I’m going to have to open up more about the nature of my health issues and say that just because I can make it to shul for Shabbat (Sabbath) evening services, doesn’t mean that they can assume I am well enough to make it for morning services.  I still struggle to tell people about my issues, though, even after all these years.  It’s hard to tell why.  I guess I worry how people will react and I suppose I feel weak and useless for still being depressed after fifteen or twenty years.  I feel that I should have got over it by now.  Maybe that’s why I’m desperate for an autism diagnosis, because then I’ll have something that I won’t need to feel guilty for not being able to change because it’s not something you can cure.  Or maybe I just want to pile up as many diagnoses as possible to justify why I’m not still functioning properly after all this time and treatment.

I feel the same reticence with job applications.  Diversity rules mean employers have to ask if you have medical issues requiring “reasonable adjustment” to do a job, but I never mention the depression because I’m worried they won’t employ me, even though that’s illegal.

Over Shabbat dinner my parents were encouraging me to become a primary school kodesh (Jewish studies) teacher.  They’re trying to be helpful, but I can’t really see myself doing that.  They say I’m gifted with children, but I find that hard to believe.  I enjoy being with young children (pre-teen), but I get scared that I’m going to accidentally hurt them or let them hurt themselves somehow (this is probably pure O OCD) and I can’t see myself handling a class of thirty children.  I can see that teaching would be fulfilling, though, and teaching kodesh would mean working in a Jewish school, which would mean I wouldn’t have to worry about having time off for Jewish festivals and Friday afternoons in the winter, when Shabbat (the Sabbath) starts mid-afternoon.  However, I feel I need more experience around children before I make a decision that big, plus I’m not happy about retraining – teacher training, but I’d also have to brush up my Hebrew, particularly my grammar (modern Hebrew and biblical Hebrew have different verb conjugations and I get confused between the two, inasmuch as I can remember either).  I also suspect that I would have difficulty getting accepted as a kodesh teacher, given that I never went to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) as most Orthodox Jewish men do for at least a year.

Going to yeshiva is a big thing for Jewish men.  People form their intellectual out look, meet friends and find role models, but, more than that, in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world people will, rightly or wrongly, read a lot into a person’s choice of yeshiva: their religious outlook (how modern or fundamentalist), their politics (how Zionist), even I think their personality type.  Who a person gets set up with on dates is based a lot on one’s choice of yeshiva or sem (girls’ religious seminary).  If you go to Gush or Mir or YU, people make assumptions about you.

Of course, I know deep down that I would probably have had a lousy time at yeshiva.  I struggle to study Talmud and even in a modern yeshiva that wasn’t opposed to Western culture, there would have been little time for secular interests, certainly not Doctor Who.  Plus the style of study in a yeshivaBatei Midrash (study halls) of hundreds of pairs of students loudly arguing about texts is not good for someone either autistic or socially anxious.  And I wasn’t even that frum when I was old enough to go (which of course is one reason I didn’t go), although I suppose had I not been depressed when I finished at university, I might have gone for yeshiva for a while as some of my peers at Oxford did.

It’s funny, actually.  Although not going to yeshiva has had a huge effect on my life (or at least has convinced me that it’s had a huge negative effect on my life, which may not be the same thing), the actual studies are not really what I regret missing out on.  It’s actually spending time with holy people, great talmidei chachamim (Torah scholars), to learn from their characters.  This is the envy I have when someone says that they knew rabbi so-and-so at yeshiva.  I think a lot about what it would be like to meet one of my heroes from Jewish history.  The answer, I suppose, is that I would be too shy to talk.

On a related note, someone whose blog I read is struggling with religious matters (it’s not fair for me to go into details here and they aren’t really relevant), which reminded me of when I had a lot of religious questions, earlier in my depression and felt like I could lose my faith.  I can’t remember how it ended; probably there wasn’t a day when I woke up and said I didn’t have any major doubts.  I found some answers, but mostly I think I found Jewish religious existentialism, although it was a long time before I found a philosophical name to put to specific Jewish teachers whose writings made sense to me, and that helped reframe the question.

Religious existentialism teaches that doubt and questioning are part of life and that the search for answers is the religious life, not something you go through to become religious.  I realised that ‘proof’ is not how real human beings live their lives, that we base our lives on experience and human interactions, not abstract reasoning (although this is hard for someone who has difficulty with social interactions).  I still struggle with certain passages in Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) and things like the problem of suffering or biblical archaeology, but I realised that the God of my religious heroes, the God of Hillel and Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev and the Kotzker Rebbe – is a loving God because a violent, abusive God would not have compassionate, just and loving followers.  Any questions I had came to seem less important to me than trying to be a good Jew like my great ancestors.  I’m not sure if this makes sense to anyone else. I think in matters of personal philosophy, everyone has to find their own answers, and the answer that satisfies one person won’t satisfy another (which is quite existentialist in itself).  I suppose what I’m saying is that my Yiddishkeit (Jewish-ness) is bound up with the history of my people and the example of great tzaddikim (holy people) much more than abstract philosophical reasoning or the details of texts (which is very Jewish).

I suppose the big question is why, if I’ve learnt to live with doubt, uncertainty and big questions in my religious life, and to some extent in my political life (I don’t really affiliate with any party any more), why do I struggle so much with doubt in my personal life: doubts whether I am autistic, doubts about my career, doubts about relationships and marriage, doubts above all about whether I’m a good person.  Really it’s more like certainty that I’m not a good person, even though lots of people have told me otherwise.

Some of it is low self-esteem and consciousness of the way that my mental health issues sometimes result in my acting in a way that I don’t agree with and would not do if I was not undergoing stress of some kind.  Some of it is what I said before about not fitting in.  I don’t feel that I fit in to any of the communities I find myself on the fringes of.  I don’t feel a fully religious Jew because of my geeky Doctor Who fannishness, but sometimes I don’t feel that I belong in the fan community, which has a lot of vocal militant atheists.  Plus the laws of Shabbat and kashrut (dietary laws) make interacting with non-Jews difficult.  I won’t go to conventions on a Saturday and going anywhere with food is problematic (a problem at my depression group too, where I can’t go to the more social meetings, which are on Saturdays and often involve food).  Although the main thing keeping me from Doctor Who conventions is social anxiety.

On an unrelated note, I spoke to my parents about getting guinea pigs.  My Dad felt I should go to a pet shop first and check I’m OK handling them, which makes sense.  My Mum was worried that I would be too depressed to care for pets or would neglect my job hunting if I was caring for them, which seemed a bit of a remote possibility.  I’m not sure if she’s completely happy with the idea.  Then again, I’m not sure how happy she needs to be, given that the guinea pigs would be in my room.  I probably do care too much about what my family think of me sometimes e.g. part of the reason I gave up on online dating was that my sister was so opposed to me doing it.  For what it’s worth, my rabbi mentor was really enthusiastic about my buying a pet and I trust his judgement on most things.

I suppose I just worry that my Mum might be right and I won’t be able to look after a pet.  I mean, with most things (dating, work etc.) my parents say I have certain abilities, but I find it hard to accept.  Here, Mum is suggesting that I might not be able to do this, so logically I should have absolutely no confidence in my ability, which makes me wonder if this is just a silly idea.  We’ve never had pets other than goldfish (I think my Dad had a budgie as a young child), so I have no idea how I would react to pets, whether I could care for them or what they would do for my mood.  I hope they would make me feel better, but they might not.

Silent Screaming

I think I got about eight hours sleep (I’m not sure, as I can’t remember when I went to bed), but I woke up feeling very tired and depressed and glad that I don’t work on Fridays.  I just feel wiped out by another work week, really (with added psychiatric review and major work mistake), and glad that my contract is nearly over.  I don’t know how I would work in a permanent job for four days a week, let alone five.  Unfortunately, it seems part-time work is hard to find, at least in areas I might be good at.  I’m still not convinced I’m in the right career, but don’t know what else to do.  The idea of doing a PhD in antisemitism and then going to work for a Jewish thinktank has a certain amount of appeal, especially after Pittsburgh, but I’m not sure I could cope with it practically or emotionally (immersing myself in antisemitism), socially useful though it would be.  My Mum still thinks I should retrain as a primary school teacher and it’s true that I find young children restoring rather than depleting, but the prospect of being responsible for thirty children at once terrifies me.  I don’t feel I cope that well with three or four children at the asylum seekers drop-in centre, and that’s only for a couple of hours a month.

Someone on BBC News drew her OCD as a cartoon character.  I’m not an artist, but my depression would probably look like an anthropomorphic cloud, dark (despairing) with downturned mouth (depressed), and rain (tears) and lightning (irritability/anger).

The shiur (religious Torah class) last night was interesting.  I thought over some of the issues that came indirectly out of it afterwards.  I don’t want to go into details, as it’s private, but it did help me a bit to understand how I could understand my suffering without seeing it as a sign that God hates me and is angry with me, which I’ve felt for years, although sadly it seemed to indicate that my main role on Earth is to suffer.  I hope I’m wrong about that.

I talk a lot about Jewish community stuff here, but I tend to shy away from detailed descriptions of Crazy Jewish Ritual, partly because I know most of my readers aren’t Jewish.  Maybe I shouldn’t do that.  Anyway, here is something Crazy I’ve been doing this week, although I don’t think it’s a common thing to do.  Maybe it will help other people psychologically even without the underlying beliefs.

I have mentioned struggling a lot with my religious life lately, feeling guilty, feeling angry with HaShem (God), struggling to daven (pray) and to study Torah.  I came across this passage in The Empty Chair: Finding Hope and Joy: Timeless Wisdom from a Hasidic Master Rebbe Nachman of Breslov:

The Rebbe said: When do I have my meditation?  When everyone is around me, that’s when I seclude myself with God.  I know how to cry out in a silent scream.  What I say is heard from one end of the world to the other, yet those around me hear nothing!

Anyone can do this.  Imagine the sound of such a scream in your mind.  Just as the throat brings a scream from your lungs to your lips, there are nerves that draw sound into your head.  When you do this, you are shouting inside your brain. Direct that shout to the One above and it will open Heaven’s gate.

I had heard of this before, but not tried it.  When I was struggling with my hitbodedut meditation this week I tried this, thinking of everything in the world that makes me depressed and anxious and self-hating and just screaming silently in my head.  I don’t know what it does religiously, but it was surprisingly cathartic psychologically.  I’ve been doing it for a few nights now.  It does feel like a real release of tension, particularly as I open my mouth as wide as I can, as if I was letting out a really loud scream, tensing all the muscles in my jaw.

One of those socially-awkward things that seem to happen to me a lot: I commented on a friend’s Doctor Who blog, forgetting I was logged into this account rather than the one for my non-anonymous Doctor Who blog (I’m always getting my two identities mixed up.  I could never be a spy or a superhero).  He’s now following this blog.  I don’t have a problem with that (my anonymity here is more to hide me from potential employers/dates (ha ha) rather than friends), but I don’t know if he realises this is me, if you know what I mean.  I worry that unless I can find a way to broach the subject in a way that doesn’t embarrass him some confusion will result down the line.

Over the weekend I hope to broach the subject of getting a pet (guinea pigs) with my parents more forcefully than before.  We aren’t really a pet family and my parents are wary of my getting a pet (I think they’re mainly worried how I will cope if/when it dies), but I really think it might help my loneliness and depression, especially as I’m likely to be home in my room alone a lot when my contract ends.  Wish me luck…

NHS Woes

I’m just back from the psychiatrist.  It was not great.

The doctor had a thick Eastern European accent and I couldn’t always understand her.  She couldn’t always understand me either and I worried what might get lost in translation (she certainly misheard ‘autism’ as ‘OCD’ at one point).  She said I should stay on clomipramine even though it’s not doing much and the pharmacy is finding it hard to get hold of, as she thinks my OCD will get worse if I come off it (clomipramine helps OCD as well as depression).  She said she will write to my GP and tell him what to prescribe if they can’t get any more.  I think she said sertraline or venlafaxine, neither of which, to my lay knowledge, are like clomipramine (they’re new generation drugs, SSRIs; clomipramine is an older tricyclic) and both of which I think I’ve been on before (I’ve been on so many antidepressants I can’t remember which ones I’ve had.  My notes should say, but my experience is that my notes are incomplete, if not outright wrong, (“We love the NHS!”)).  The psychiatrist said that medication won’t help me much anyway (a previous psychiatrist said much the same) and encouraged me to get some CBT.  She did at least tell me how I could have that on the NHS with a relatively short waiting time.

I did ask about alternative diagnoses.  She said that if the Maudsley Hospital assessed me and said I’m not on the autistic spectrum, there isn’t a lot else that can be done, as they are the experts.  I was rather afraid of that.  I did ask if there is anything else that I might have to explain my condition, but she was pretty insistent on it just being treatment-resistant depression.  I feel that the psychiatrists must have missed something.  I guess I feel like I have psychiatric man flu.  I feel like ‘mere’ depression shouldn’t go on this long, or be this painful.  Maybe I just have as many prejudices about depression (and myself) as non-sufferers.

That was that, really.  She said she could discharge me or see me again in three months.  I opted for the latter, as I’m worried my condition will worsen when my contract ends in two weeks time and I remembered how hard it was to get into the system to get this appointment.  I reasoned that cancelling an existing appointment if a miracle happens and I feel a lot better will be much easier than getting a new appointment if I feel worse.  The receptionist who I was supposed to tell about the appointment hadn’t got a 2019 diary yet (don’t ask why they’re still using hardcopy diaries.  “We love the NHS!”) and wrote my name in the back of the 2018 diary.  My Mum, mindful of the problems I had getting this appointment (the phone calls and missing letters), was worried that I would get forgotten.  Unfortunately, the receptionist became angry and the confrontation became heated, making me feel uncomfortable (OK, making me wish the ground would swallow me up).  I think my Mum might write to complain.  I’m not a libertarian, but if I was the whole incident would seem to confirm a view of the NHS as an inefficient, under-equipped, unhelpful and bureaucratic organisation.  We love the NHS!

My Mum reminded me that I’m apparently supposed to have a meeting at The Network on 5 December.  So far as I can tell, this is a slightly Orwellian-named service for occupational therapy and support with work or other community-based activity for those with mental health issues.  It is perhaps worth pursuing, if they ever send me a letter telling me about my appointment.

I was so upset by the everything that happened that it didn’t occur to me for another hour afterwards that the appointment had finished early enough that I could have gone back to work for an hour or two.  I’m paid per hour, so it doesn’t make much difference to my employer, but the money might have been useful to me.  Now it’s too late to go back, which is probably just as well, as I still feel tense.  Tea has been consumed (if chicken soup is Jewish penicillin, then tea is English prozac), but retail therapy will probably be required after the stresses of yesterday and today (regarding yesterday’s events, my boss emailed me back from honeymoon saying I should just leave the data as it is.  I still think that she must regret hiring me, but my Mum told me not to mind-read).  I plan on buying cheap second-hand box sets of some of Sherlock and Jonathan Creek and possibly a volume of The Complete Peanuts as I fancy crime dramas to alternate with the Doctor Who episodes I’m watching for the book I’m writing (one could probably make the argument that Jonathan Creek is closer to the spirit of the prose Sherlock Holmes stories than Sherlock).  Other than that, I should use my free afternoon to try to self-refer for CBT and to catch up with emails, as much clearing out my inbox than actually writing to anyone.  I hope to get to shiur (Torah class) tonight too.

Am I a Disappointment?

Today was just awful.  I struggled to get up, struggled to stay awake on the train to work (I didn’t read at all, not Mishnah, not autism book and not fiction).  Then, when I got to work I discovered that I’ve made a mistake, potentially through all my work over the ten or so weeks I’ve been in this job.  I don’t know exactly how serious the mistake is.  I sent an email to apologise, but my boss is away until after my contract finishes.  The person standing in for her didn’t think it was so bad, but she wasn’t sure.  I started catastrophising and worried about them suing me to get my wages back or even my going to jail because the mistake involved potential infringement of GDPR regulations – if this sounds excessive, it’s worth noting that I have a history of pure O OCD fears that I’ve committed a crime without realising it and will go to jail, so that’s probably where that came from (Wikipedia has reassured me that a written warning is the most one would get for a first or accidental offence).

I spent the rest of the day struggling with this anxiety (some of which, as I say, was probably OCD), alongside despair, shame and self-loathing.  Years ago I went to a confidence class where I was told that everyone except brain surgeons and airline pilots has the right to make mistakes in their work, but I seem to do nothing but make mistakes.  Even this mistake came from over-compensating from previous mistakes, trying to avoid making them.  I’m seriously wondering if I should even be in the workforce at the moment, given that my depression-occluded concentration makes it so hard for me to avoid mistakes, even without struggling with depression and anxiety all day.  But I’m not sure what the alternative is.  I don’t qualify for benefits (or I didn’t last time I was assessed) and I don’t want to live off my parents.

I feel such a huge disappointment to everyone.  I was sure my boss regretted hiring me even before today.  I’m pretty certain my boss in my previous job came to regret hiring me.  She more or less told me that she didn’t think I could do my job, at least not the parts that involved interactions with staff and students.  I worry that I’m a disappointment to my parents too.  They say I’m not, but I can’t help but compare myself negatively with my (younger) sister, with a steadily-progressing career, a husband and now a house.  I wonder if I’m a disappointment to my religious community and rabbis.  It seems likely, as I don’t do the things a frum (religious) Jew should do.  I don’t know if I’m a disappointment to my friends.  They probably have minimal expectations for me, so don’t get disappointed, which is probably just as well.  But I feel like I’m a disappointment to everyone else I come into contact with.  I guess even this blog is a disappointment to anyone looking for genuine insight into mental illness, or anything other than self-absorbed navel-gazing, really.

Pavlovian Responses

I overslept a bit this morning.  Despite having had nearly eight hours sleep, I woke up depressed, thinking morbid thoughts about wanting to die.  I still believe that Judaism, lived properly, is a joyous and meaningful way of life, maybe the most joyous and meaningful way of life, but I feel that I’m prevented from living it properly by depression and social anxiety: I don’t daven (pray) as I should, study Torah as I should, do acts of kindness or have the right kind of family and community to live a Jewish life properly.

Today I also felt a lot of what I suppose you could call anxiety or perhaps even obsession, but of a peculiar kind that afflicts me every so often, worrying about all the books and DVDs I want to own and read or watch, or re-read and re-watch.  I realised today that it’s about completism rather than enjoyment or materialism.  I get anxious about not ticking these things off my ‘to read/watch’ list as much as anything else.  There’s also autistic obsession/special interests in there too, the desire to collect something and feeling that things are wrong if the collection is incomplete.  It’s why I get annoyed when series of books or TV programmes I like extend indefinitely, when I should want that to happen.  I want to contemplate the series in its entirety and (less positively) know I own all of it, which isn’t possible with ongoing series.  It doesn’t help that I basically see my favourite books and DVDs as my friends and want to spend more time with them, going back to favourite stories multiple times if I can justify the time.  Books and DVDs are at least always there for me, whereas friends have a tendency to disappear, or at least to live far away.  People are harder to understand than books and DVDs too, and less amenable to being repeated until I do understand them.

At work I processed about 130 records (good), but also discovered that the other temp has been processing about 200 records a day for weeks, which made me feel more depressed.  I feel sure that my boss regrets hiring me, although I have no objective proof of this.  The temp is going on to a permanent job elsewhere from next week.  I have ten work days left until unemployment.   I will be glad to get out of the office, though.  Today the people next to me spent an hour or more chatting, which was both distracting and depressing, depressing because I realised that other people can afford to waste time, whereas I’m working flat out just to do the bare minimum of work, and that with mistakes.

I think my OCD is trying to come back.  There has been some worry about kashrut (Jewish dietary laws), which was the main focus in the past, but also worrying about pronouncing words properly in davening (prayer).  I’m currently trying to cope with some kashrut anxiety and attendant guilt over some omega-3 supplements that may not be kosher because I misunderstood the London Beit Din’s guidelines.  I don’t think that this could treif up any of our crockery, but I’m not sure.  I emailed the Beit Din about it, but they haven’t got back to me yet.

Today I was reminded of someone I used to have a terrible crush on (all my crushes are terrible) when I was at university.  I realise now that we are not remotely suitable for each other (actually, it would be hard to think of someone less suitable).  We’re still friends, but I’m quite happy to go a year at a time without seeing her, something that would have seemed unbearable seventeen years ago.  Perhaps – perhaps – one day all my crushes will seem so irrelevant and I’ll be glad that nothing came of them.  Perhaps one day I’ll even understand why God thinks I have to be so lonely and miserable, and be glad of it.  Perhaps.  On which note, I managed to comment on this post without the usual Pavlovian response of wallowing in lonely self-pity whenever anyone says the word ‘marriage,’ although I couldn’t shake the “I’m-never-going-to-get-married” thoughts.

Crazy Cat Lady

My letter from the psychiatrist arrived, so I now officially have an appointment on Thursday!  It’s annoyingly at lunch time, which means I will go to work in the morning, come home at noon and go to my appointment, but – unless it’s over very quickly (which has happened to me before with NHS psychiatrists who just want to ‘process’ their patients ASAP) – I won’t be able to go back to work in the afternoon because by the time I get into town, it will practically be time to come back.  As I’m paid hourly, that is a financial loss, but to postpone the appointment would have meant waiting until January for another one.

On the whole I felt better today.  I got through over 130 records at work, which is an improvement on most of last week.  I think I mostly got through the morning by thinking about whether I could own guinea pigs in the back of my mind while working; in the afternoon I was a bit more down and began to doubt whether I could keep them and whether my parents will agree to my getting them (thus far Mum has cautiously expressed abstract approval and Dad has said nothing at all).  I’m glad that my rabbi mentor thinks that my owning a pet is “a wonderful idea” as, while he’s not infallible, he is usually right and he makes me feel a bit more confident that this isn’t a crazy idea.  We’re not really a pet-owning family, though, and I don’t think my parents really understand why this idea has suddenly gripped me.

Reading The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome at lunch brought me down a little, as I worry again that I won’t be diagnosed on the autistic spectrum – or with anything else unexpected – and will be left floating again with treatment-resistant depression and no help from the NHS other than drugs.  I feel there must be something going on other than pure unipolar depression, but I’m not a psychiatrist and I don’t know what it might be, other than guessing at autism or trauma.  But I’ve been wrong about things like this before.  I wish I had a psychiatrist I trusted and knew well, but the NHS doesn’t work like that.  I had one for a while, but only because she broke the rules by continuing to see me.  She thought I was autistic, but didn’t give me an official diagnosis and I think she came to see me as a frustrating problem patient.  She certainly seemed to stop listening to me after a while.

On the way home I felt a bit more down, probably from tiredness and hunger.  I found myself thinking of the wave of recent engagements of people doubtless ten or more years younger than me in my community.  While I try to be open to the idea that there might possibly be someone female out there of compatible age, religious outlook and personality who can at least tolerate my geekiness, borderline autism, social anxiety and depression, however improbable that seems, it is difficult to imagine how I could ever meet her and get talking to her.  I know someone who insists that there is nothing proactive whatever one can do to get married; it is completely up to God when and how you will meet your mate, but you will meet eventually.  I find this hard to accept.  Some people simply don’t get married and, in any case, in Judaism we are supposed to be proactive with our lives, at least up to a point (she accepted proactivity only in accepting arranged dates, but, as I’ve said, people aren’t arranging dates for me).  In any case, without a well-paying job that would let me support a family, talk of marriage seems pointlessly premature.  And without finding out what is wrong with me and finding a way of coping with it, it seems unlikely that I will ever manage much in the way of a career.   I guess this is the problem: that my issues are interlinked and it’s impossible to deal with one at a time.

Well, I seem to have brought myself down pretty well now.  I’m very tired and still somewhat hungry even after dinner.  I want to go for seconds, but I’ve put on a huge amount of weight on clomipramine and am wary of eating too much.  Life can be very frustrating.  I fear I’m going to turn into the male equivalent of a crazy cat lady.

Here We Go Round

I feel utterly wiped out.  I felt so weak on waking that I nearly had two breakfasts, but on reflection I decided that I was probably drained from the activity of the last few days rather than having low blood sugar, so I only had one bowl of cereal, not two.

My thoughts go round in circles.  If it’s not how awful (and increasingly antisemitic) the world is, it’s how awful my life is.  I know I’ve said this before, many times, but I feel like I missed the boat.  My childhood and adolescence, far from being “the best days of my life” were problematic.  I think at the time I would have said I was fine, but in retrospect I can see the signs of loneliness, depression and possible autism.  However, it’s hard to be sure my memories aren’t being coloured by how things are now.  Certainly by my late teens I was clinically depressed and have been almost constantly ever since.

Now people ten years younger than me are moving on with careers, marrying, having children and I feel left behind (since typing that sentence another mazal tov (congratulations) on an engagement at my shul (synagogue) has come through on the shul’s WhatsApp group).  I was miserable throughout my twenties and early thirties, sometimes suicidally so, and it’s easy to think things can never get better.  I’m trying to move my mindset from ‘wanting a career-marriage-children’ to ‘accepting who I am,’ but it’s hard when, in different ways, both the frum (religious Jewish) world and the secular Western world have such expectations.  In both communities ‘being happy with your lot’ tends to take, at best, second place to ‘fitting in, running the rat race, doing what everyone else is doing.’

‘Being happy with my lot’ would, I think, be the right thing to do, but it’s difficult when there doesn’t seem to be much good in my life right now.  I have my physical health, but my mental health is so terrible that it seems impossible to think of myself as a healthy person overall.  I have some friends, but most of them live far away and I can’t see them, and socialising even with people I like is a struggle from depression, social anxiety and borderline autism.  I’m lucky that I don’t have imminent financial issues because my parents are supporting me, but that just makes me feel like a sponge when my younger sister has long since flown the nest.  I don’t know what to think, really.  I worry that thinking about getting pets is just another thing that would seem good until I actually get it and then it will seem bad, which is one of the things holding me back from it.  (Happiness is a warm guinea pig?)

I reflected today that one of the themes of Bereshit (Genesis), which is the Torah reading at this time of year, is sibling envy and wanting to be someone you’re not, and the problems that result from that.  But I don’t know what to make of it, except that I should try to be happy being myself, which is hard.  I do think – and I realise how unpopular this will be in today’s climate – that on the whole people are better off accepting who they are rather than trying to be someone they aren’t.  Trying to be someone you aren’t is difficult, often impossible and never satisfying.  At any rate, that’s my experience.  I don’t think people should be stopped from doing things, but I think on the whole it’s better to embrace who you are rather than trying to be someone you’re not.  But I’m struggling to do that because I dislike myself so much, even though I know I have never really managed to be anyone else and haven’t enjoyed trying.

I just feel so tired.  It’s hard to do anything.

The emeritus life president of my previous shul (synagogue), the one from before we moved to this area three years ago, died.  He was ninety-eight or ninety-nine.  He was sprightly when I last saw him (probably about four years ago), but had lost most of his long-term memory after a fall some months earlier.  I felt torn, as I should go to the funeral, as I did know him, but I also needed to apply for jobs and I didn’t have the time or energy to do both.  In the end I decided to stay at home, both to apply for jobs and because doing another social thing this weekend would not good for me.  It’s a struggle to get through work even when I am rested, let alone after a lot of social activity.

Staying home and working on job applications is depressing, as I can’t see myself being able to do any of the jobs I’m applying for and it’s a struggle to force my CV and cover letter templates to fit these jobs.  I’m very bad at the type of ‘creative’ thinking needed to modify CVs and cover letters to fit job specifications.  I find it hard enough to admit I can do anything, let alone present myself positively.  In the end I applied for three jobs, but none of them look like a good fit and I can’t really see myself even being called for interview at many of them.  I found myself holding back the tears again in frustration and despair, something that usually only happens at work or while commuting, not at home.  I found myself writing that I had “honed my strong interpersonal skills”, before deciding that, even on a job application, I didn’t have the chutzpah to say that I have “strong” interpersonal skills and took the adjective out.

Growing up, my self-esteem was largely based on being clever and doing well academically.  Then I went to Oxford and found that I wasn’t actually that clever; there were thousands of people as clever than me and more so, and most of them had more vibrant and enjoyable social/romantic lives and better social skills.  I’ve got to a stage in my life where ‘achievement’ is less about academic knowledge and more about experience, continual professional development and soft skills that are often linked to social skills and/or neurotypical or mentally healthy outlooks: people skills, leadership, flexibility, decisiveness, self-motivation…  And even if you say that career isn’t anything (but bear in mind that I have never had a job that allowed me to support myself without the financial support of my parents), I still fail at friendships, relationships, family, community…

It’s hard to know what I can fix my self-esteem on that won’t leave me feeling like a total failure.  I don’t think that I succeed at anything at the moment, not even that nebulous thing, ‘being a good person.’  I know it’s a trap to say, “If I get this job/relationship/child/purchase I will be happy and think I’m a good person,” but I don’t know how to find healthy self-esteem when I feel so useless and incompetent.  As I’ve said before, I don’t feel myself to be the answer to anyone’s question, whether in terms of job, friendships or relationships.

Thousand Word Essays

“Sometimes I lie awake at night, and I ask, ‘Is life a multiple choice test or is it a true or false test?’  Then a voice comes to me out of the dark, and says, ‘We hate to tell you this, but life is a thousand word essay.'” The Complete Peanuts: 1999 to 2000, Charles M. Schulz p. 30

I feel very drained today.  Yesterday evening my sister, brother-in-law and my sister’s mother-in-law, father-in-law and sister-in-law all came for dinner.  It was fun and I managed to join in (I’m beginning to feel more comfortable with them), but the evening lasted something like four or five hours which, after an intense work week, was too long for me and I was burnt out by the end.

Today I slept through the morning again, felt exhausted, but forced my self to go to Talmud shiur (class) and Ma’ariv (the evening service) at shul (synagogue) and to help tidy up at home afterwards, but now just want to curl up.  I should really be writing job applications or at least emailing the friend who sent me a very long email some time ago that I haven’t had the time/energy/concentration to respond to yet, but I don’t have the energy for anything other than TV.  I didn’t even read much over Shabbat, just Peanuts cartoons, because I was too drained for even a novel.  Likewise during the week, although I usually read on the train, I have often been too tired to do so this week, or I’ve read The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome instead, so I’m making slow progress through Robots and Empire, the book where Isaac Asimov tried to tie together his RobotGalactic Empire and Foundation series.  It doesn’t help that, 150 pages in (out of over 500), it hasn’t really captured my attention yet.  (I think Asimov was better at short stories and short novels than long novels.)

I had an autistic moment at the start of Talmud shiur when the assistant rabbi said they missed me at the parasha shiur on Thursday and I wasn’t sure whether that was an implied question asking if I’m OK or what I was doing.  I was actually at depression support group on Thursday evening.  The people who were there at the time know (a little bit) about my problems, but I was still too shy to say anything.

My sister, brother-in-law, my sister’s brother-in-law, his wife and their young children have gone to see fireworks for Guy Fawkes Night tonight.  I kind of wish I could have gone to fireworks with someone.  I haven’t really done Guy Fawkes Night for twenty years or so.  (Actually, that correlates approximately with the time that I’ve been depressed…)  I can here fireworks from my room right now, but I can’t see them.  I also find it weird that my sister now has a whole family that aren’t related to me, including nieces and a nephew.  This just makes me feel how unlikely it is that I will ever get married.  I thought again about going to a shadchan (matchmaker), but that seemed pointless until I have a more secure job, which in turn seems unlikely to happen until I have the depression under control and some idea of whether there really is anything else going on in my head that I need to deal with (autism, trauma etc.).  I’m still thinking of getting guinea pigs, so I can have some company and someone to care for, but I’m scared of what it would entail.  I don’t even know where there’s a pet shop.

The only other thing I can think of today is how depressing the world is.  I think all the bad news has just merged in my head into one big, ongoing piece of badness.  Brexitrumputincorbynsaudiran.  As Jews we believe that even small acts of goodness can turn the tide against evil, but sometimes it’s hard to see anything positive happening in the world.

I feel so tired.  It’s not yet 8.00pm but I feel ready to go to bed, although I probably wouldn’t sleep if I did, bearing in mind that I slept for twelve hours or so last night.  I don’t really think it’s a good idea to go to bed right now, so I’m going to watch DVDs instead.  I need to find the energy to make something to eat.