Wind Up Where You Started From

I feel exhausted today and rather depressed, which isn’t really a surprise, considering that yesterday was a busy day with a lot of social interactions and then I stayed up late writing a blog post that was supposed to help me process the events of the day, but actually made me feel more stressed.  I suspect despite ten hours of sleep, I am still running a deficit of energy spoons.  I went for a twenty minute walk that exhausted me, which definitely makes me feel out of spoons.  I wanted to do my weekly Talmud study today and work on my Doctor Who book, but I don’t feel like doing either at the moment, although I might try again after dinner, when my mood might be a bit better.  Everything is just an effort at the moment, I feel so exhausted and depressed.  I’m just sitting in front of my laptop and vegetating, which is bad, as sooner or later I hit something that upsets me even more.

***

I wonder if I should have posted what I did yesterday.  In trying to process my feelings, I said more than I would normally say in public about my political views.  I tend to hide most of my opinions (about anything) from other people as much as possible to avoid confrontation and rejection.  This is probably not particularly helpful or conducive to making friends.

***

Despite writing a post that was twice as long as usual last night, I realised this morning that I forgot things I should have mentioned, such as being my being upset by my friend’s defence of Jeremy Corbyn against alleged [real] antisemitism accusations, but hiding my feelings to avoid causing offence; discussion of my nihilistic despair about the state of the world; and thoughts about the Jewish educational conference Limmud that my other friend was just back from.

Limmud is one of the few positive innovations to come out of Anglo-Jewry in the last few decades, a non-denominational religious educational conference aimed at all Jews which has now spread globally.  It’s very popular, albeit controversial among some Orthodox Jews, who refuse to attend events where non-Orthodox rabbis and educators speak.  That doesn’t bother me, but it would bother me a bit that my community would probably not be so happy with me going.

However, the real reason I’ve never gone is social anxiety and autism: literally thousands of people go to Limmud and attend talks, communal meals and entertainment together and the idea frankly terrifies me.  This despite the fact that I’ve been told it’s a good way to meet a partner who is serious about Judaism (as if I would have the confidence to talk to strangers there…).  I really ought to go, as a number of my friends have gone in the past, as have my sister and brother-in-law and they all enjoyed it (but then, they aren’t autistic and socially anxious).   I just haven’t worked up the courage to go yet.  I guess I feel that I do have a reason not to go now that I understand my social anxiety and autism a bit more.  I wish I could have told that to people who questioned my social withdrawal years ago at Oxford.  It’s funny that I accept my social anxiety more as a ‘real’ thing now it’s linked to autism than I did when it was just something free floating.

***

On a positive note, here are the Doctor Who miniatures I painted last week (left to right: first Doctor, fourth Doctor, K9, fifth Doctor, tenth Doctor, eleventh Doctor, twelfth Doctor).

DSC00758

Miniatures 2

***

The last few days I’ve been wondering if maybe I could write that book about Orthodox Judaism after all.  I think I should avoid apologetics, but maybe it’s not a bad thing to write a personal account if it’s honest about being personal and non-generalising.  It’s still a scary thing to contemplate writing, though, both from the effort required in research and writing and the backlash I might get from things I write from people whose opinions I care about.  In the worst case scenario, my book ends up in cherem (banned).  That’s not likely to happen, as I’m not important enough in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world for it to be worth banning anything I write, but people might regard things I write as incorrect, heretical or (more nebulously), true, but not something one should tell non-Jews and non-frum Jews about.

***

I’ve never really celebrated secular New Year’s Eve, less from religious reasons than social anxiety.  My plan for tonight involves DVDs (probably Sherlock: His Last Vow) and perhaps a book (Mythago Wood) if I have enough energy spoons to read, which does not seem so likely at the moment.

My parents have got ten friends over for dinner tonight.  I will be expected to come down and say hi, something I hate doing.  I can feel everyone staring at me and asking small talk questions that I can’t answer easily, like “How are you?” (“Really depressed” isn’t an acceptable answer) and “What are you doing?” (“About to start a job I’m terrified I’m going to mess up”).

It’s difficult reading people reflecting on happy and successful years, when I don’t feel that mine was like that.  It’s difficult in another reading about sad things that happened to people in 2018 (because I’m not a sadist).  Jews greet the new year with a mixture of awe and trepidation, which seems to fit better with the types of years I experience than alcohol-induced levity and blind optimism. According to the Jewish calendar, we’re nearly a third of the way through the current year (5779) already and it hasn’t been great, so I don’t think things are going to go much differently via the Gregorian calendar.

Anyway, felicitations and what-not.

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Virtue Signalling

It’s been a slightly strange day, with a lot of emotions this evening in particular.  As usual, I’m writing as much to process and understand my thoughts for myself as I am to present them for other people.  So, apologies if this is less coherent than usual.  Also, apologies for the mammoth length, about twice as long as usual.  There’s a lot to say, and I feel I could probably write more if I had the time.

***

I’m only vaguely aware of my anxiety.  I think I mentioned that at the CBT assessment I had a few weeks ago, the result was that I was told that I have at least elements of anxiety as well as depression, but over the years I have not been so aware of the anxiety, other than social anxiety and, at times, OCD (which is an anxiety disorder).  This is despite the frequent comorbidity of anxiety with both depression and autism.  One therapist felt that the depression was so strong that it drowned out the anxiety except when the anxiety was itself very strong.  It’s also possible that I just haven’t noticed the anxiety because of alexithymia (difficulty identifying and understanding my emotions).  Certainly when my mental health issues first became identifiable, at school, I was feeling nauseous every morning on the way to school, but it was only years later that I realised that that was almost certainly anxiety rather than general feelings of being “emotionally low” (which was the non-diagnosis my doctor gave me at the time to try to avoid prescribing any medication).  At any rate, the anxiety this morning may have started as social anxiety about volunteering, but quickly spiralled into general catastrophising about other aspects of volunteering and my new job.

***

I volunteered at the asylum seekers drop-in centre again today.  As mentioned, I was feeling rather anxious about it beforehand, primarily because I wanted to slip out near the end to go to Mincha (the Afternoon service) in the shul (synagogue) (the drop-in centre is in the shul hall, not the main shul building) and I was worried about not knowing the code to the shul door and getting locked out (I should clarify that the drop-in centre is not in my shul, but another one some way away).

The format of the day is two hours of preparation for the asylum seekers, which I usually spend sorting donations of clothing, two hours with them, where they can get food, donations of clothing, nappies and toiletries and see professionals (varying according to who has been able to come, but usually lawyers and doctors, sometimes dentists or counsellors) and then a certain amount of tidying up afterwards.  I was initially sorting donations of clothing to start with and as is often the case, I felt more than a little awkward.  The clothing tends to come all mixed up and I’m not always good at separating male and female clothing or adult and children’s clothing.  Obviously there are some things that are clearly in one category or another, but others are less clear.  To be fair, other people struggle sometimes too, but I do not feel confident asking for help.  I also feel that the other volunteers are able to talk to each other more easily; I always feel like I have a sign on my forehead saying AUTISTIC-SOCIALLY ANXIOUS-DEPRESSED and that everyone can see how awkward I am.  This is probably my paranoia, but it feels real.

After that, when the asylum seekers came, I volunteered in the childcare area again.  There were a lot of children there today.  Thankfully there were quite a few volunteers, although many were older children themselves (the children of volunteers tend to help in the childcare area, probably because it’s more fun than helping adult asylum seekers sort through clothes and unused nappies.  That’s why I help there, anyway).  The autistic side of me I was quite overwhelmed by the amount of noise and things going on at times.  I tried to focus one level of attention on the children I was with at the time while I focused another level of attention on the childcare area as a whole, to check nothing dangerous/unpleasant was going on.  The children were well-behaved (actually, they almost always are well-behaved), although one boy has a habit of trying to take my glasses off me.  I spent a lot of time today looking after a toddler who kept trying to crawl over to where some of the older children were playing with a ball.  As I had visions of her getting trampled, I kept trying gently to encourage her away from them and at one point picked her up and carried her away, although I’m not confident carrying children and try to avoid it, as they can usually sense I’m anxious and sometimes start crying.

I realised, for all my parents say I’m good with children (and I’ll concede that on some levels I am good with children; I’m certainly patient with children and willing to play repetitious games for long periods), I don’t know how to talk to them.  If I recall correctly, one of the symptoms of autism spectrum disorders can be difficulty talking in age-appropriate ways and I do struggle to do that.  My instinct is to talk far too formally to them.  I usually suppress that instinct, but I don’t really know what to say instead and tend to ask very simple questions or distract them with toys.  (Bear in mind that most of the children at the drop-in centre are five or six at most, often much younger, although I’m not quite sure how that should affect how I talk to them.)  I’m struggling to put this into words, but when I see the other volunteers talk to the children they seem to do it much more naturally and age-appropriately.  To be fair, as I say, I do have the patience and stamina to spend two hours sitting on the floor drinking imaginary cups of ‘tea’ and waving teddy bears about, which the other volunteers tend not to do, going for breaks or changing activities.  I just point this out as another autism symptom I need to note before my assessment.

***

Another social thing I struggle with at volunteering is talking to the other volunteers.  I do know a few people by sight or even by name now and one volunteer I actually know from my previous shul, before I moved house.  But I find it hard to make conversation with them or to introduce myself to people I don’t know.  I’ve heard people say that volunteering is a good way for shy people to find a partner, but that hasn’t been my experience, partly because I’m the wrong age (most of the volunteers are ten or twenty years older than me), partly because I’m too shy and don’t really know what to say to women I don’t know.  I know the first time I went I did get talking to two sisters who seemed to be about my age, but I haven’t seen them since, sadly.

***

(Pause, change ends, eat oranges)

(I really did just eat an orange)

***

In the evening, after coming home for a much needed shower and Doctor Who break, I went for dinner with a couple of old friends from my university days at Oxford.  We get together every six months or so to catch up.  Our lives have gone in quite different ways, so it’s good that we still want to meet.  One of my friends is a political scientist working on migration and statelessness (a hot topic at the moment, obviously – she was recently in Mexico interviewing women on the caravan bound for the USA).  She spoke at length tonight about the plight of the stateless.  I had no idea that there are so many people in this category (an estimated fifteen million) nor the reasons for it.  I would have assumed they were mostly refugees, but apparently a lot are people who have simply failed to fill in the appropriate paperwork through suspicion of the authorities (e.g. Roma) or traditional lifestyles (e.g. migrant pastoral farmers), particularly when new states have been created in post-colonial territories or following the break up of states like Yugoslavia and the USSR.   They have now missed the appropriate deadlines for application for citizenship and fallen through the gaps in the bureaucratic systems and can’t work, marry or travel; they can’t even officially die.

I mentioned the asylum seekers drop-in centre.  I was pretty blatantly virtue signalling, but I wanted to find common ground with my friend.  I usually avoid politics as I feel my political views are a little unusual.  I suppose they aren’t monumentally weird; I’m not a Fascist or a Pantisocrat.  Realistically, I’m just a centrist with small-l liberal and small-c conservative aspects to my personality, but I have a fondness for George Orwell’s term ‘Tory Anarchist’, which to me reflects not a hyphenated identity, but a dialectical tension between the ordered and anarchic sides of my nature (it’s an anarchism rooted less in Bakunin and Kropotkin and more in the prophets and rabbis of ancient Israel, who had a deep-seated suspicion of governments, money, power, authority and militarism.  As Philip K. Dick said, the Jews have always fought for freedom).  Whatever the reason, I have an instinctive ability to take the opposite view of whoever is talking to me.  This is not from natural contrariness on my part, or not consciously.  I am naturally conflict-averse and long to avoid any kind of political quarrel.  But I seem doomed to offend everyone if I speak my mind.  My frum (religious) friends and acquaintances are likely to be conservative.  I don’t know, so I could be stereotyping, but Orthodox Jews tend to be conservative.  On the other hand, my other friends tend to be very liberal.  When I’m with the former, I feel liberal, even anarchist, but when I’m with the latter I feel super-conservative.

Today I did not feel super-conservative.  I was actually deeply moved by my friend’s account of the plight of the stateless.  In retrospect, I fear that there is very little that can be realistically done in the short to medium term, but I guess this is the conservative side of me speaking (progressives tend to see all problems as solvable; conservatives tend to see some problems as manageable at best).  In retrospect I can see why governments might be unwilling to award citizenship to literally millions of strangers from unstable parts of the world, sight unseen.  But I feel that dialectical tension again, because I want to do something to help.

Hence, my doing something I would not normally do and virtue signalling by bringing up my voluntary work.  I am not entirely sure what I was thinking, but I think I wanted to signal agreement and empathy for the people she has met, as well as tacit support, in broad, non-committal terms, for her goals (“tacit support, in broad, non-committal terms”… I even sound like Sir Humphrey Appleby.  Ugh).

***

On the way home I thought about my friends, and how I feel too liberal for some and too conservative for others.  I thought about my shul, and how the rabbi would probably not approve of my voluntary work at a centre for non-Jewish (often Muslim) asylum seekers, even though the shul that runs the centre is Orthodox.  I was in a Jewish part of London and, seeing the frum men and women, I thought as usual about wanting to have a frum wife, but in this context I wondered if it would be possible.  After all, I could end up with a wife who liked my friends, but not my shul, or one who my rabbi would accept, but my friends would loathe.  I remembered that E. was quite adamant about not being married by my rabbi when we were dating.  At volunteering, I wondered if I would ever meet someone right for me.  Sociologically, the Anglo-Jewish community is polarising into the Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) and the Jewishly unaffiliated and uninterested.  Even the United Synagogue middle-of-the-road types are generally not frum enough for me any more.

***

I sometimes feel like a man of far too many parts, unable to really fit in anywhere.  I want my wife to be someone I feel completely comfortable with and accepted by, but this seems impossible.  Granted, that’s partly because I feel so ill at ease with myself, but even if I did like myself, it seems impossible for anyone else to accept me.  And now I remember a friend who I opened up to a bit about my political thoughts who never responded to that email… did he simply overlook it or run out of time?  Or was he shunning my views?  He is at least still my friend, so he can’t have found them that obnoxious.

And, if it wasn’t nearly 2.00am, I could raise the Z word (‘Zionism’) which is a whole can of worms in itself.  But I should get to bed.

***

Sigh.  Writing this was supposed to help me calm down and sort out my thoughts before bed, but it has actually made me much more tense and anxious as well as more alert and not ready to sleep.  I wish I just could be a normal person, with normal, straightforward views, rather than trying to make myself an outlier in every community of which I could vaguely be considered a member.  And I wish I could accept that it’s possible for people to like me without their agreeing with every political, religious and cultural opinion I have.

Feeling Lost

I’m still depressed today.  I feel a bit guilty today as my parents and cousin went to see a National Trust property and I said I might come with, but in the end felt too depressed and tired.  I feel like I’ve let them down, especially as Mum went to a lot of trouble to change the time of her grocery delivery in case I went with, although I did say not to bother and that I wouldn’t come and would stay in for it.  Part of me feels that I’ve been to a million stately homes with my parents and, much as I’m interested in history (my BA subject), visiting stately homes gets repetitive unless you’re really obsessive about history of interior design, but I feel I should probably do something with my parents and especially my cousin.  I did at least watch TV (Jonathan Creek) with my parents last night and tonight, so I am doing some things as a family and my cousin will still be with us over Shabbat (the Sabbath) so I will see her then.

***

My shul (synagogue) rabbi is probably moving to a new community.  It looks like they’re looking for a new rabbi to replace him, rather than just promoting the assistant rabbi, who is probably still a bit too young.  I didn’t rely too much on the rabbi, taking most of my questions to my rabbi mentor, but he did know a bit about my struggles and had some understanding of mental health issues; it will be difficult to open up to a new rabbi when he comes.  Pesach (Passover) in particular is a time when the religious OCD can get out of hand with the special eight-days-only dietary laws and my rabbi mentor is hard to get hold of then (he generally doesn’t check his emails during chol hamoed).  I’m not quite sure what I feel about this, but it feels like another thing making shul difficult for me.

***

I’ve had some kashrut OCD again today, from some things my parents did.  I wouldn’t have done what they did, but I know it was all OK after the event, but the OCD voice in my head keeps asking me if I’m sure it was OK and shouldn’t I ask a rabbi to be 100% sure, even though I know that makes the OCD worse.

***

Overall, I feel rather lost.  I’m still worried about my new job, that I’m going to mess it up.  As it’s only a one month contract at the moment the cost of messing it up couldn’t be too great, but I’m a perfectionist and I don’t like making mistakes, still less being told off.

I did at least confirm my attendance at the resilience class in January and checked that the letter about my autism screening arrived with my GP.  He has been on holiday, but the receptionist kindly left a note on the system for him to remind him to refer me for a formal assessment when he gets back.  And I did some more miniature painting, so the day was not a total waste.  But I do feel like I should have been job hunting or doing chores this week instead of painting Doctor Who miniatures and feeling depressed.

I drafted an email ages ago to the counsellor who does the ‘Q & A for Teens’ feature on Jewish website Aish.com.  I feel I want to ask someone frum (religious) for advice about my self-hatred, the lack of direction in my life and the feeling that God hates me.  But I’m hardly a teen (even though the questions are ones that I could have asked in my teens had I been more self-aware) and I’m not even sure they are still running the column.  E. has kind of talked me into sending the email, but I’m still not happy with it, redrafting and editing it, removing a lot of stuff about dating, my (non-)career and feeling that God hates me to focus just on my issues with fitting in to the frum community.  It’s under 300 words now, but I still feel it’s too long, so I’m procrastinating over it some more.

Down Again, Down Again, Jiggity Jig

My parents and my cousin went to football today (Spurs vs. Bournemouth… perhaps inevitably, the family are Spurs fans (they have a reputation for being the most Jewish club).  Spurs won 5-0).  I’m not sure whose idea it was; I think it was my parents’ and then my cousin asked to join them, but I’m not sure.  I don’t like spectator sport, so I stayed at home.

***

I woke up feeling really drained and quite depressed again.  It’s only got worse as the day has gone on.  I wish I could have a good day that wasn’t followed by a bad one as ‘payment’ for it.  I don’t feel up to doing the chores I was supposed to do today.  I forced myself to go for walk and to do ten minutes of Torah study.  I should also try to write back to the author Yaakov Klein, who emailed me about my recent comment about his book on my blog, although I’m procrastinating about that because I feel ashamed that I got annoyed with what he wrote.  But really, I just want to eat and sleep.  My problem with depression used to be fighting the urge to sleep too much.  That’s still an issue (I got up after 11.00am today), but lately it’s become just as much of a struggle to avoid eating.  I’m probably better at fighting the urge to comfort eat than the urge to oversleep, but it’s hard.

I don’t even feel particularly motivated to watch TV, let alone do anything more active.  I’ve got a lot of anhedonia today, although there’s a lot of exhaustion and depression too.  I just wrote the following about anhedonia in a comment on the Mental Health at Home blog:

Anhedonia is hard too. I find that it can be the hardest thing because the people around me will give me more sympathy if I’m visibly exhausted or suicidal, but if everything just seems meh, no one really cares or even knows that I’m sitting there not enjoying things that in the past I would have liked. To make it worse, I suspect I’ve had anhedonia since my early teens (at least) so it’s difficult to remember by this stage that I used to enjoy stuff a lot more.

***

I’m thinking about relationships again.  I don’t know why I’m so desperate to be in one, considering I usually avoid social interactions.  Actually, that’s not really true.  I do know why I want to be in a relationship: because I have a complicated relationship with my parents and sister stemming from a difficult, love-starved childhood (for reasons not in my family’s control) and so I’m desperate to be loved by someone to try to meet that long-felt, rarely-met need for affection and care.  This is not a particularly healthy reason to want to be in a relationship, doubly so when you consider that it’s compounded by a lot of religious repression and guilt about perfectly normal sexual desires, plus the fact that my lack of romantic success in the past makes me feel that I’m destined to be romantically and sexually inadequate forever, even if I do end up getting married.

I just wish someone really understood me and connected with me, I suppose.  I want to love and be loved, which probably isn’t surprising given my personal history (loneliness, bullying), but I worry I want to be loved more than I want to love someone else.  I’m not sure I could express love correctly anyway.  Whatever “correctly” is in the context.  Autism, social anxiety and depression do not make it easy to develop social skills, and I guess that loving is a social skill.

I’ve been told that I’ll meet someone when I least expect it, but that’s not how dating really works in the Orthodox world, where people mostly get set up on blind dates by third parties and it’s often all researched and thought out beforehand.  That said, I did start dating E. out of nowhere (she contacted me through my blog and we emailed for a while platonically before dating), but that didn’t end well and I can’t imagine lightning striking twice with another random emailer.  Actually, thinking about it, I met someone else I briefly dated through my blog, in a slightly different way, so maybe I’m wrong.  Or maybe lighting will strike twice, but not thrice.  Although I find it hard to imagine that anyone could like me even platonically, let alone romantically, having read the embarrassing, self-centred rambles I post here.

I just feel it would feel good if someone loved me, and let me love her, but I would still be depressed, anxious and autistic, so it wouldn’t really change anything.

It’s Normality, Jim, But Not As We Know It

My sister and BIL didn’t leave until 11.00pm last night.  Then I desperately needed some of what I term my ‘introvert time’ after four hours of socialising (albeit with family).  I blogged and then WhatsApped E. for a while (she was trying to convince me to write the book on Judaism I’ve spoken about recently) and watched Doctor Who for a bit and I didn’t get to bed until nearly 2.00am.  I probably should have ducked out of the WhatsApp conversation earlier to get to bed, but I didn’t want to interrupt it, because I am genuinely conflicted about writing this book and wanted to hear what E. had to say.  Despite going to bed so late, I woke up at 7.30am and rapidly spiralled into anxiety and OCD.  It seemed pointless to stay in bed feeling so anxious, so I got up even though I was still tired.  I calmed down a bit after breakfast, but by that stage I was up and awake and caffeinated, so it seemed a bit pointless to go back to bed.

The scary thing about OCD anxiety is that it can come back to haunt you later and even if you feel better, it’s easy to find yourself thinking, “Well, it seemed really scary and important then – maybe I should still be anxious now?  Maybe it’s my current, non-anxious, state of mind that’s ‘wrong?'”  I did that a bit, and had to try hard not to be sucked back down.

***

25 December is always a weird day for me, as it’s the day crazy religious stuff is going on and it’s not me doing it (Easter at least often coincides with Pesach (Passover), which trumps pretty much everything in the crazy religious festivals stakes).  In recent years, some Jews have started doing voluntary work at hospitals and the like so people who do celebrate can have time off with their families, which is a nice idea.  I thought about doing that this year, but procrastinated from social anxiety until it was too late for me to do anything about it.  Maybe next year.

***

Because I woke up early, I had time to do some more miniature painting this morning.  I’m making good progress, but the perfectionist in me wants the miniatures to look better than I’m realistically likely to get them.  The frustrating thing is knowing that I used to paint better in my teens, but that was before I had issues with shaking, and perhaps when I had more patience (because I had less depression, I assume).

***

The other creative thing I’ve been thinking about is the book people said I should write about Judaism.  I still don’t know if I could do it.  As I explore ideas, I feel I’m getting drawn in two directions, both of them wrong.  One is apologetics, defending what Orthodox Jews believe and writing about it in prescriptive, rather than descriptive, tones.  The other is producing a personal account of what Orthodox Judaism means to me.  I find that once I start thinking about ideas for what to write, I inevitably drift towards one or the other of these two forms.  There is arguably a time and a place for both of these things, the apologetic and the personal, but neither was what I was aiming for.  Indeed, those people who were potentially interested in what I had to write were interested because it was neither of these things, particularly not apologetics.  And both of these things would be more likely to bring me into conflict with people in my community than the purely descriptive.

To pick one obvious example, I don’t know how I could deal with the fact that many ultra-Orthodox Jews are Young Earth Creationists without wanting to stress that I’m not and I believe I have strong religious grounds for not being one… but that is a belief that, if publicised, could bring me into conflict with the rabbis at my shul.  They would probably be polite about it, but it’s not a conversation I’m in a hurry to have.  And that’s just one example!  There are all kinds of other hot button issues I would have to deal with if I wanted to deal realistically with the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world, from the nature of the soul to gender roles to Israeli politics.  I feel my mission in life, if I have one (and I’m reliably informed I do) probably involves writing, as it’s the only thing I seem to do even vaguely well, but I can’t see it being this.

***

I did at least go to shul (synagogue) with Dad for Mincha and Ma’ariv (the Afternoon and Evening services) even though the noise in the Beit Midrash was uncomfortable for me.  Noise issues, among other things, seem to have got worse as the possibility of autism has grown and I don’t know if I’m observing my discomfort more now that I have a category to put it in or actually feeling it more from psychosomatic reasons.  I think it’s the former, as I used to get really angry about noise in shul when I was a more regular shul-goer, but it’s hard to be sure.

***

I feel a bit bad tonight, because I think my Dad wanted to watch TV as a family tonight and I ducked it, partly because I wanted to watch something in particular, but I think on some level I didn’t want to do a quasi-social thing after yesterday (it doesn’t help that I don’t like watching TV with my parents because I say they talk too much, which they dispute.  There aren’t many programmes I watch, but I watch those programmes with obsessive intensity).  I try to give myself a break now that I know that I may be autistic, but on the other hand I probably do isolate myself too much. I’m in two minds about whether to go out with my parents and cousin on Thursday.

***

Still, on balance I would have to say it was a good day.  The depression flared up at odd moments, as did the anxiety about antisemitism, about which I can do almost nothing, and I think I had one or two moments of anxiety about my new job, but mostly I was OK and I did a surprising number of things, so I’m counting that as a victory.

Trying To Be Normal

I tried to phone Samaritans twice yesterday, but couldn’t get through.  The ringing phone was just making me feel more anxious and agitated, so I didn’t wait very long.  I guess they are busy and under-manned at this time of year.  A couple of friends saw my posts and texted/WhatsApped me, which made me feel a bit better.  Thank you to them and the people who commented here and emailed, although I only saw those messages this morning.  It’s good to feel that people do care about me, even if they live far away and can only stay in contact remotely.

I do wish I didn’t hate myself so much, but I feel I could not in all honesty hate myself less unless I was a better person and a better Jew, and I don’t know how to do that.

I just feel overwhelmed by the world, and by my life.  In my mind personal things (my self-hatred and despair) mix with Jewish worries (antisemitism) and global things (hate-based populism) and I can’t breathe or focus.  Everything feels like… if not my fault, then at least my responsibility to fix.  (I’m not sure I’m expressing this well, that’s not quite what I feel, but I can’t find the words.)  But I can’t.  I know I shouldn’t have to fix the world and that I can’t, but I feel I should.  I can’t even fix myself, but I feel I should be able to fix antisemitism.  I was still in my pyjamas at 1.15pm.  I don’t know how I can do that and still expect to be able to save the world.

I don’t know why my life feels so hard so much of the time.  I don’t think I deserve an easy life, but it’s getting so hard just to keep going.  It’s arguably not even objectively that hard (I’m not physically ill or in dire poverty), I just cope so badly at the moment.  I feel a bit pathetic that I can’t do things other people can manage easily.  It’s hard to give myself a break for being depressed and autistic and struggling with stuff that other people find easy.

***

In the end I did manage to go for a walk for half an hour (which was incredibly exhausting, as much as running used to be) and I spent some time painting my Doctor Who miniatures and trying to accept that they are going to take a while to paint (I tend to be impatient with big projects) and that they are not going to be perfect (I’m a perfectionist).  I’m glad that Peters Davison and Capaldi are both about 75% done, although Davison’s striped trousers are giving me difficulties and I don’t know where to draw the line (in both a literal and metaphorical sense).  But I also feel vaguely guilty for not doing something “worthwhile” with my time.

***

Liora suggested I try to assess my activity levels each day in a more objective way.  I tried to apply some numbers representing emotional energy expended to tasks I regularly do to work out how much energy I expend, although it’s hard to tell, as it can vary from day to day and even during days e.g. my walk to the station in the morning is a lot easier than the same walk home at the end of a working day, the difficulty of which can also vary according to how tiring the day was.

I worked out that a typical work day would involve expending a bit over 400 units.  The last few days, since I’ve been doing this, I’ve been expending 100-200 units a day, which is understandable given that I’m not working at the moment, if a little disappointing, but yesterday I only managed 65, but I was completely exhausted all day.  I’m not quite sure what this demonstrates.  I’ve been measuring my mood each day for years, but I’m not sure how useful that is either the way I do it, but I don’t really want to monitor my mood repeatedly across the day.

***

“Your unique contribution to the world is a very specific activity which you love and excel at” is today’s quote on Aish.com.  It sounds very sentimental and mushy, but I can see where it’s coming from.  However, I can’t think of anything I love and excel at and which seems like a worthwhile contribution to the world.  I feel like there’s no reason for me to be here at all.

I think occasionally of the book I mooted a few weeks ago, about Judaism aimed at non-Jews and/or non-religious Jews, but I can’t get round the problems.  I don’t feel qualified to write it without research in books in languages I can’t read fluently and without using a library I’m nervous of using given the criticism I received when I was volunteering there.  Plus, I can’t work out who the primary audience would be (the background and needs of non-Jews and non-religious Jews are not the same) or what my aim in writing would be or if I’m writing about the whole spectrum of Orthodox observance or just my views, in which case I would probably get into trouble with my community for various things… Whenever I have a new idea it ends up like that and I give up.  I probably don’t have enough self-confidence to write that book, although I’m still working on the Doctor Who one.

On a related note, I was surprised to get an email from the person who wrote the book I quoted here.  He said he was sorry if he upset me and that he didn’t mean to imply that the religious life is easy or that someone who struggles isn’t really religious.  He also said he read several of my posts and that I have a talent for writing.  A few people have said this to me, on the blog and elsewhere, but I’ve never had the confidence to really sit down and work out what I could do with my writing or known how to go about it.  Similarly, I’ve mentioned that my parents, my aunt and some people at the asylum seekers drop-in centre where I volunteer say that I’m good with children, but again, I don’t know how to do something with that beyond doing volunteering with them.

I feel a bit like my understanding of the world of work (or the world full stop) is rather like a child’s and I struggle to understand the mundane day-to-day tasks required in a job or how to apply myself to them.  This is not a positive thing by any means, but I don’t know how to deal with it.  I don’t know if it’s an autistic thing or a depressive thing or just me being strange and incompetent.

***

My cousin is staying with us for a few days from tonight.  She’s in her early twenties.  My first cousins all live in Israel, and life there is so different to life in any other Western country that it can be hard to connect sometimes.  For instance, she hasn’t gone to university yet (she’s hoping to go next year), but she has done a couple of years of military service.  I sometimes wonder how I would have coped with military service.  I think I would have ended up having a breakdown and getting discharged, even if I wasn’t on the front line.

My sister and brother-in-law came over for dinner and my cousin arrived afterwards.  We sat around talking for a long time and I did join in and enjoy, but I did get drained too and ate too much as I do when nervous and bored.  I was trying to find a polite way to slip away when my sister and BIL left.

It’s interesting that when I thought I didn’t enjoy social gatherings because of depression, introversion or social anxiety, I thought of that as a problem of mine, but now I think it’s autism, I feel a bit more understanding of myself.  I’m not sure whether that’s a good thing or not.  I feel I should try to work on myself to be more ‘normal’ (i.e. to pass better as neurotypical).

One autistic thing I noticed myself doing was switching off a bit when the conversation was about stuff I’m not interested in, which was quite a lot.  I struggle to concentrate on conversations about jobs, house renovations and people my family know who I don’t know.  Maybe this is also normal.  I don’t know.  I do feel guilty about it, as I expect people to listen to me.  But some people in my family talk in a way that seems rather autism unfriendly to me: lots of details about people and places I don’t know and struggle to picture given over too quickly.

Crazy Logic

I phoned Samaritans, but I was held in a queue and I chickened out after a minute and hung up.  I hate myself so much, I hate my life so much, I just want to be free of everything, but I can’t.  I want to hurt myself, but I’m too scared.  I could do anything if I wasn’t so scared of everything.  I’ll try Samaritans again in a minute, but I guess they’re undermanned at this time of the year.  It makes me feel like I shouldn’t phone, because I’m not feeling bad enough.  After all, I won’t kill myself and my parents will be home later.  This is probably all crazy logic.

New Logic

I had a whole post I thought of while I was cooking dinner, one of my ‘crazy’ agitated posts where I get caught up in some bizarre chain of reasoning about myself and my life…  As Philip K. Dick said, “Either I’ve invented a whole new logic or, ahem, I’m not playing with a full deck.”  I think we know I’m not playing with a full deck, it’s just a question of how long I can last in the real world.

The chain of thought potentially had an interesting kernel for me to consider some other time, but it is frightening how I get caught up in things and get so agitated and upset.

I feel really upset right now and lonely.  My parents are still at the wedding and probably will be until very late.  I don’t know how I managed to cook dinner; I certainly don’t feel able to do anything else.  I watched some Jonathan Creek.  I don’t know what to do now.  I hate myself right now.  I really, really hate myself.  I half-heartedly tried to self-harm before, hitting the walls.  I feel like I’ve gone mad, but everyone expects me to carry on and function like a normal (that word again) sane person.  I hate myself for not living up to my own standards.  I hate myself for screwing everything up again, as I always do.

I ought to phone Samaritans.  At any rate, that would be better than writing here or hurting myself (literally or metaphorically).  I don’t know what to say to them, though.  I’m scared what’s going to happen to me and I feel so completely alone right now – not because my parents are away, I mean in my life at the moment – a few people care about me, but no one can actually help me, because there’s nothing that can be done for me.

The Stuff in My Head

Another night of strange, disturbing dreams.  I should probably be glad that I usually don’t remember my dreams if they’re going to upset me.

***

I don’t really pay much attention to this time of year.  Not my festivals.  I do my introspection for Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year).  But 2018 has been crazy.  I had two jobs and got a third, but I messed the first two up and I’m worried I’m going to mess the new one up too.  I don’t know if I’m actually capable of holding down a job.  I did go on holiday by myself this year, for the first time, which was an achievement.  But otherwise the year was just depression and anxiety, and confusion about whether I’m autistic (still not conclusively resolved).

I guess if I take a longer-term view things are a bit better.  Five years ago I was limping to the end of an MA that should have taken one year, but actually took three and a half.  I was pleased about being nearly finished, but then the university started saying that because I had taken so long, they might give me a diploma instead of an MA, which would not have made me a qualified librarian (I got the MA in the end).  I had broken up with my first girlfriend earlier in the year after being sure that (a) we would get married and (b) I would never find another girlfriend if we broke up (the second of these wasn’t quite true, but nearly, at least so far).  I had never had a paying job, not even part-time (I don’t count coming in on occasional afternoons to do the filing at the office where my Mum worked when I was sixteen).

Since then I’ve got my MA, had three jobs and won a fourth and briefly been in another relationship.  This doesn’t make me feel much better, though, as the jobs were mostly disastrous and the relationship just got my hopes up only to dash them again; jobs and relationship alike both make me feel like an incompetent failure.

I probably have more friends than in 2013, but my social life is still largely based on the internet, despite moving to a different community with different shuls (synagogues) and starting going to support groups.

***

I feel so depressed today that it’s impossible to do anything.  Earlier I had Happy Xmas (War is Over) by John Lennon stuck in my head for some reason (I don’t think I’ve actually heard it yet this year), which is officially my least favourite song ever.  Not only is it a saccharin-sickly, sentimental (a choir of children!) and miserable dirge (and inaccurate – war is not over, however much you want it), it is indelibly associated in my mind with the winter of 2003/04, which was the worst time of my life, when I very nearly attempted suicide.

I was stuck in Oxford, first during term and then during the holiday, too depressed to work, but encouraged by my tutors to stay around in case my anti-depressants kicked in and I could catch up on the term.  I was regularly being visiting by psychiatric nurses, or irregularly visited, I should say, as I would have to wait in for them, but they would usually be very late, which messed up my plans and made me more depressed (although my plans were basically, “Try to get the energy to go out and buy food”) – this was long before autism was suggested, so I didn’t know just how bad I am at adjusting to changes.  My best friend (the woman I mentioned the other day) had stopped talking to me and I didn’t feel like opening up to anyone else in case they rejected me too, or perhaps just because I always find it hard to open up about depression (the woman who wasn’t talking to me had spotted the depression in me and asked me about it, which is pretty much a unique occurrence and one reason she was so special to me).

Happy Xmas (War is Over) was playing in a lot shops and getting a lot of airtime on the radio.  I don’t usually listen to music radio, but I also had terrible insomnia and was awake half the night in bed, listening to the BBC World Service, which has (or had) some music programmes late at night GMT.  I think as well as the Lennon original, someone had just released a cover that year.  Anyway, I heard it a lot and hearing it again just reminds me of that miserable winter and everything that happened in it.

***

The other thing in my head, weirdly enough, is Geoffrey Howe’s resignation speech, not because of Brexit or splits in the Conservative Party that might bring it to mine, but for the famous quote about “It is rather like sending your opening batsmen to the crease, only for them to find, as the first balls are being bowled, that their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain.”  I feel like that in my life, that my bat was broken before I even got onto the field.  I feel that whatever chance I might have had of love, family, friendship, community, happiness, anything I might want really, was taken away from me before I even had a chance to live in the world, first by autism and then by the difficult, perhaps even traumatic, things that happened to me as a child.  I know a lot of people with autism don’t consider it a disability, but a difference, even a positive difference.  However, I feel that I have gone so long without a diagnosis or help and have been on the receiving end of so much anger, hatred and incomprehension from other people that I simply can’t function in the world and would gladly get rid of this difference if I could, if I could just have a normal life.

I just want to have a normal life, with the normal amounts of love, friendship and happiness that normal people have.  Apparently this is too much to ask.  I think even then I could cope if I knew why I have to live like this.  I believe in God, so I believe there is a reason for my life being like this, being so miserable; ironically, it might be easier to cope with if I didn’t believe and just assumed there was no reason beyond blind chance.  It’s the not knowing the reason that makes coping with misery and loneliness extra hard, just as I can’t stand not knowing if I’ll ever find love and happiness.

I don’t know where I go from here.  I’ve been having thoughts of death all day, but I’m not really suicidal.  I went for a walk for half an hour and did some grocery shopping, but the effort of it exhausted me as if I had run a couple of miles.  I was supposed to sort out papers and emails today, but I’m not sure that I will be able to do so.  I also need to cook dinner as my parents are out tonight (a wedding, again, of someone rather younger than me – I am on the shelf).  All I want to do, all I feel capable of doing today, is sitting in my room and watching Doctor Who.

I just want to be loved.  Is that too much to ask?  My family do love me, they just don’t understand me, or always express affection in a way I can understand.   And I do have a couple of friends who care about me, but they’re so far away.  Knowing that doesn’t really make it any easier.  And still, I want to have a romantic relationship, which is a different kind of love.

***

I feel that I’m a really tightly wound-up person.  I worry that eventually I will explode or, more likely, implode, and I wonder what kind of damage that would do, and to whom.

***

I fear that this post has degenerated in incomprehensibility. I wonder sometimes what the people reading this blog think of me.  I get some likes, so I guess some people must find this interesting or moving, but I find it hard to believe that.

Always Have, Always Will

I struggled last night, but I can’t say why, because of lashon hara (malicious speech) issues.  Basically, there is someone in my life who periodically upsets me to a very great extent for no good reason and who for a variety of reasons I have to keep in my life.  I think this person has undiagnosed issues of their own, but they won’t seek help.  It’s very difficult.  The upshot was that it ruined my Shabbat evening.  I was very upset and couldn’t even read very much.

The other thing that upset me a bit last night was reading this paragraph in the book Sparks from Berditchov by Yaakov Klein:

Every Jew who is serious about his avodas Hashem [service of God] knows how many benefits this lifestyle yields, not only in the next world, but in this world as well… A life lived per the Torah’s Divine guidance is one of utmost vitality.  Every moment is packed with meaning and every circumstance inundated with the possibility of earning a piece of eternity.  There is hardly a situation that an oveid Hashem [servant of God] can’t handle; the raging rapids of life’s ups and downs may toss him about but he remains safe, ever protected by the lifejacket of “Gam zu letovah – This too is for the good,” and “Whatever the Merciful one does is for the best.”

I hardly know where to begin with this, so remote is it from my experience of Judaism.  Vitality?  Meaning and the possibility of earning eternity?   Handling difficult situations?  None of these reflect my religious reality.  I feel such a bad Jew reading this.  I don’t think I’m earning much reward and I don’t feel vitality or meaning, nor am I able to handle difficult situations through my trust in HaShem (God).  I do what I have to do because that’s what God says, because I happen to believe that the Torah is true and that I should follow it.  It looks like I am following because I have an autistic adherence to rules as much as anything more spiritual.  I don’t have the personal connection with God that my rabbis and teachers say is necessary to have reward in the Next World (not having a share in Olam HaBa (the Next World) is not a punishment as such, but a reflection of the fact that one has not built a connection with God in the spiritual world through good actions in this world).

I had some strange dreams at night after all this.  I had a work anxiety dream.  I don’t remember the details, but it was a mash-up of my first two jobs, and I had to go back to work there, except I think I was a volunteer again, rather than a paid employee (I had been a volunteer in the first library I worked in before being paid).  I also dreamt about the first woman I asked out, who turned me down and eventually stopped talking to me because of my depression (she was worried she would say the wrong thing and make me suicidal, but her stopping talking to me actually made me suicidal).  I stop thinking about her for long periods, particularly when I’m dating, but then she comes back to my mind.  In some ways she matters as much to me as the two women I was actually in proper relationships with.  At any rate, we were friends for quite a long time.  I do periodically google her, so I know she’s married with children and living in Israel.  Sometimes I wish I could just tell her that, yes, I’m still depressed, but there’s a reason I’m so messed up (autism) and I don’t blame her for what happened, and please would she at least feel pity for me.

I’ve been thinking about her all day and, after Shabbat, playing music that makes me think wistfully about lost love.  I wonder if anyone could ever care about me this much?  But it’s just fantasy, not real love.  I suppose I don’t really care about her, I care about her as she was fifteen years ago, when I last saw her, and she would say I care about an image of her in my mind, not the real her.  She said if I liked myself more, I would fall in love with someone more like myself; I still think she was a lot like me, more so than the two women I have actually dated (both of whom I thought at times that I was almost certain to marry), but obviously not enough.   It’s never enough, really.  I’m never enough for anyone.

After Shabbat I spent some time starting to paint my Doctor Who miniatures.  I like having a hobby that isn’t just reading or writing (as I seem to have stopped jogging), but I can tell that I don’t paint miniatures as well as I did in my teens.  I’m not sure how much is patience or skill – it’s just another thing I seem to be less good at than I was years ago.  I feel that I’m becoming useless.  The fact that my hand shakes when I’m trying to paint the fine detail doesn’t really help.  I painted for about an hour, excluding preparation and tidying time, but then my attention began to wane and I started getting a headache, probably not from paint fumes (they are very small pots of paint), but I thought it was a good idea to stop.  I basically finished K9 (because he’s easy), but the Doctors will require a lot more work.  I hope to spend some time on it in the next fortnight, before I have to start work.

Wishy-Washy Charlie Brown

Today is a burnt out day after two busy days.  At least it’s nearly Shabbat (the Sabbath).  The bit of optimism I had yesterday is hard to find today.  I worry that I’m going to mess up my new job the same as I messed up my last two jobs.  I worry that I’m simply not well enough to work.  I worry that no one could ever love me, particularly if I can’t get and keep a full-time, or at least closer to full-time, job.  I feel that I missed my chance to get married, that everyone my age is married by now, which is not true, but feels true.  I dreamt last night about the daughter of my parents’ rabbi’s wedding, thinking that rabbi’s children, like royal children, get married easily without any problems.  I woke up thinking that rabbis are the aristocracy of the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world in many ways.  In some ways I’m glad to be part of a community that values education so highly, but (a) it’s often education in a highly specific area that is valued (although more modern communities can value wider knowledge) and (b) it’s not an area that I excel in or have studied in depth.

I just want to be loved, really, and to be able to love someone who loves me.  I’m fed up with crushing on people who aren’t interested in me and having to hide my feelings and be careful what I say in case they think I’m a creepy stalker.  I feel unlovable.  Yesterday I was trying to think of reasons why someone might want me as a husband.  It was hard, but it feels even harder today.

Some years ago, two Orthodox Jewish sex therapists (one is a rabbi) produced a sex manual aimed at Orthodox Jews, because they felt too many frum people are ignorant and nervous about sex.  It’s probably the only contemporary sex manual aimed at people who are virgins on their wedding night.  The psychotherapist I was seeing earlier this year encouraged me to read it, because I was curious and nervous about sex.  I tried to order it, but there was a problem with the order and I took it as a sign that I shouldn’t read it.  Then when I was dating E. earlier this year I ordered it again and it arrived, but then E. and I broke up and I haven’t picked it up since then.  I do still have a lot of questions and anxiety about sex, but the thought of reading it just makes me feel that no one will ever want me.  I can’t see myself ever getting married.  It’s hard to imagine that I could even date again.  I wouldn’t even try to do that unless I was working for longer hours and earning more money.  Not that earning more money would make me that much more attractive, but it would marginally help.

When I was growing up, there was a girl at primary school in the year above me who had a striking appearance, very red hair.  She went to my shul (synagogue) as well, so I used to see her a bit, from a distance – I never spoke to her or even knew her name.  When I got older I thought she was pretty, but she grew up and got married, then got divorced.  I moved out of the area and didn’t think about her.  But then last year my parents went to an engagement party and she was there and asked after me by name.  This surprised me, as I didn’t think she even knew of my existence, let alone my name (I didn’t know her name at the time, but then, I’m bad with names).  So now every so often I think about her.  She was probably only being polite, but part of me wonders if she asked after me because she liked me.  It’s silly really.  Even if I saw her again, I wouldn’t have the confidence to talk to her.  All my crushes are silly.  No one could ever like me.

I don’t know why I’m even writing all this.  I’m pathetic, really.  No one could like some with depression AND social anxiety AND autism AND on a low income.  Then factor in that they have to be Jewish, with a compatible level of belief and observance, and my difficulty fitting in to the community…  It’s silly to think that there could even be someone out there for me, let alone that I could meet her and build a relationship with her.

I was davening (praying) before and crying, not through great kavannah (mindfulness) or devekut (cleaving to God), but just through loneliness and despair.

Emotions

I went to bed late having achieved very little of what I planned for yesterday, but at least it was for a good reason (having my plans disrupted by getting a new job).  I did sleep through the whole morning, though and still woke up exhausted.  To be honest, when I sleep more than nine hours, I suspect I sleep too much; too much sleep can actually make you more tired.  But it can be hard to get up when I’m depressed and/or burnt out.  I spent the afternoon filling in paperwork for my new job, when really there are other tasks (mostly different paperwork, and emails to friends I have neglected) that I want to get on with before I start my new job.

I feel a bit more positive today, although I’m still terrified that I’m going to make huge mistakes in my new job.  My confidence in my ability to function in the workplace has plummeted thanks to my last two jobs.  It doesn’t help that I’m still not sure why I find it so hard to function: is it depression, social anxiety, autism or an interaction of all three?  Comorbidity is difficult.  It’s hard to build coping strategies when you aren’t sure what the problem is.  I just hope it’s not laziness or incompetence.  I don’t think it’s laziness, but I worry that it might be incompetence.  I do feel that depression has made me stupider.  I doubt that I could win a place at Oxford these days as I did in my teens.

Still, I do feel more positive about my position and about my life in general today.  This job fits so well with the other things I’ve managed to get set up, particularly the resilience course I’m doing, that it does feel bashert (predestined), not a  word I use very often.  It’s easier to believe that HaShem (God) is controlling my life in a positive way when things seem to be going well, even though perhaps it shouldn’t really make a difference, given that I don’t significantly doubt the existence of an omnipotent, benevolent God, just whether He cares about me or, more accurately, whether I’m good enough for Him to care about me.

When I stop to think seriously about the future, I feel less optimistic.  I guess I’m like a cartoon character than can run off a cliff and keep going until I look down and realise there’s nothing supporting me.  I can feel OK and positive about the future, but then I think, “This is a short-term, part-time job; I’m still no closer to finding a permanent job or to being able to take a full-time job; and without a job, and with all my ‘issues,’ I have nothing to attract a partner, and I doubt I will ever earn enough to support myself when my parents aren’t able to…” and so on.  That’s when I plummet like Wile E. Coyote.

I don’t think I’m particularly logical much of the time; to be honest, looking at the world, I doubt whether most people are logical most of the time, regardless of their religious views or lack thereof (I’m not even thinking of big, scary socio-political things here, just day to day things).  I know I’ve said before that I used to think of myself as a logical person, but in recent years I’ve come to realise that I’m a very emotional person who just thinks he’s logical.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being emotional some of the time, but it’s problematic when I’m emotional, but think I’m being logical e.g. when I come up with complicated ‘proofs’ to show that I’m a bad person, that no one cares about me, that my future will be terrible etc.

Actually, one of the scary things about mental illness is how it warps your perception of reality.  I remember stuff that I thought was true when my OCD was worse, stuff that now seems unlikely or even completely illogical, but which I was sure was demonstrably true at the time.  Scary stuff.  And that was just neurosis, not psychosis!

I find emotions difficult, particularly from a religious viewpoint.  I guess the fact that, like many autistic people, I’m probably somewhat alexithymic (have difficulty identifying and understanding my emotions) doesn’t help.  The Torah commands, or appears to command, various emotional states: loving HaShem and one’s neighbour, not  coveting other people’s things or bearing grudges etc.  I think there was a disagreement between the Medieval commentators about this.  Some said, the Torah does indeed command emotions.  Others said, it commands actions only; if the Torah commands love, it only commands to act lovingly; if it forbids bearing a grudge it forbids only acting on a grudge.  This is easier to accept than the idea that we can switch our emotions on and off (and also fits with the fact that Jewish thought generally prefers to deal with particular actions rather than abstract concepts, unlike Western philosophy).

It only occurred to me last night that the alexithymia might influence me in another way.  I’ve written before about being upset that I don’t experience simcha shel mitzvah (joy in the commandments) and that one rabbi told me that I won’t experience this until I have got over the depression (which I no longer think will happen; I just think I will have to learn to manage it) while my rabbi mentor said I should have some simcha shel mitzvah even now.  It occurs to me that I might not really know if I’m experiencing any simcha shel mitzvah and maybe I shouldn’t beat myself up so much for not experiencing it.

Elementary

It’s funny how I sometimes feel the ‘wrong’ thing i.e. not what I think most people would say I should be feeling.  I don’t know if this is due to depression or autism (or both or neither).  After hearing about my new job, I was initially excited and nervous, which is understandable.  But then a while later I was in shock: numb and a bit nauseous, with slight tremor.  Later I felt on the brink of tears, for the second time today (the first was while sitting waiting for my job interview).  I’m fairly sure they weren’t the happy sort of tears (although that has confused me in the past, I suspect like a lot of people with autism and/or alexithymia), but I’m not sure why I felt sad.

Like a lot of autistic people, I get upset by changes of plan.  I had planned to go to my interview today, come home, have lunch and watch Sherlock to unwind, then tackle some emails and chores.  Except that I found out about getting the job at lunchtime, which I didn’t expect (I thought I would have to wait until tomorrow or even Friday) and so my afternoon has been disrupted by conversations with family and friends in person, on the phone and via text and WhatsApp message, so that it was long past 6.00pm before I did anything else and I only managed a fraction of what I wanted to do.  It’s understandable, but the autistic part of me is frustrated and upset and threatening to catastrophise it into a huge disaster.

***

I’m not sure how coherent the rest of this post is, so please bear with me.  I’m writing about emotions that I don’t fully understand or even experience clearly, trying to understand them…

One day I need to look carefully at how I react to fiction, particularly DVDs and books.  I think I discussed it a bit with my therapist when I was in psychodynamic therapy.  I know I mentioned here recently that I see books and DVDs as friends; I suspect I’m not the only autistic person who finds fictional characters easier to understand than real people.  Fictional characters are more likely to have their motivation and thoughts spelt out by narrators (whether first or third person) and one can always go back a line or rewind a few minutes and replay an action or conversation until you can understand it.

At my autism workshop yesterday, it was mentioned that women with autism, unlike many men with autism, can build or enjoy elaborate fantasy worlds, but that they sometimes have difficulty distinguishing reality from fantasy.  They didn’t elaborate on this, though, as there were no women present.  I may have mentioned that I have some autistic traits that I think are found more in autistic women than autistic men (from my research, which is ongoing), particularly my ability to rote-learn neurotypical behaviours like small talk and eye contact and to prepare certain topics of conversation before a social encounter (I can consciously make myself do these things to some extent, which I couldn’t when younger, but it takes a lot of energy and I feel very self-conscious doing it).

Certainly I feel that I enjoy certain fictional worlds.  I don’t believe them to be real exactly, but they do exist in a very vivid and real way to me, perhaps more than aspects of the real world.  I probably do know more about Doctor Who than about my friends’ lives, perhaps even more than some close family members’ lives.  I think I also vividly project myself into these stories to try to understand my emotions, because I usually struggle so much to understand myself and my emotions (alexithymia).  Certain images or moments in stories can become a mental short-hand for me about certain emotions.  As I may have mentioned before, I don’t think just in words (as is apparently normal for neurotypicals) or in images (as many autistic people do), but a mixture of the two, like a blog post with embedded pictures of GIFs.

I mention all of this because I watched the Sherlock episode The Reichenbach Fall today and it brought up a lot of confused feelings.  In the story, Moriarty frames Sherlock Holmes for a series of crimes and eventually forces him to (apparently) commit suicide.  The episode made me think quite a bit.  The image of Holmes jumping of the top of Bart’s Hospital is one of those ’embedded images’ in my brain that comes to mind a lot when I’m feeling overwhelmed by depression or social anxiety, when I just feel that I’m in free-fall and I don’t know what to do and I just want to die.  (Maybe it’s a comforting image, in a way, because I know that Holmes’ death would later be revealed to be faked.)  Holmes’ reactions to his friends also interested me.  In earlier episodes he has said that he has no friends and is incapable of friendship, yet in the end he risked his life to save Dr Watson, Mrs Hudson and Inspector Lestrade (even though he only faked his death, there must have been a risk that his plan would go wrong – you can’t jump off a tall building without some risk).

I sometimes tell myself that I have no friends, but deep down I know there are people who I am pretty sure do like me and would do things for me and I would do things for them.  It is possible that this is an immature, or at least imprecise, definition of friendship, doubtless due to autism again (my understanding is that some autistic children can manage friendships when very young, when friendship is just about sharing toys, but struggle with adolescent and adult friendships based on emotional intimacy.  This was my experience).  But it can be hard to work out where the boundaries lie.  I upset friends sometimes by saying that I am alone; on the other hand, sometimes I think I would make sacrifices for people who I should not make sacrifices for, people who aren’t really my friends, and, if I do that, I will end up feeling used and angry (this happened to me a few months ago, with someone I thought was a friend who treated me badly; when I did something positive for him, far from supporting the friendship, I ended up feeling angry and used).

I also thought about Sherlock’s relationship with the pathologist Molly Hooper.  Throughout the series, Sherlock treats Molly very badly and exploits her crush on him to get her to do pathological work for him and to give him access to corpses.  Yet in this episode he sort of apologies to her (as much as he ever apologises to anyone) and says that he respects her.  If I recall correctly, we discover in the next episode that she was one of the few people he let into his plan to fake his suicide and that the plan could not have worked without her help.

This made me think quite a bit.  I mentioned recently that I have a kind of crush on Molly – not on the actress, but on the character – and this made me wonder what it says about me as a person and what I should look for if I ever try dating again.  I like Molly because she’s intelligent and gentle, traits I would look for in a mate.  She cares deeply about Sherlock, and I would want a wife who cared about me, but I also feel empathy for her and the bad way Sherlock treats her; I would not want to treat my wife that way.  On one level she is exploited by Sherlock, but she is really one of only about two people (Watson being the other) who can call Sherlock out on bad or reckless behaviour and have any chance of being listened to and I would want a wife who can be honest with me like that.  And she always forgives Sherlock; I feel that, while I would want to treat my wife better than Sherlock treats Molly, I would inevitably upset her inadvertently sometimes, because of my autism and depression (irritability) and I would need to find a wife who is more than averagely patient and forgiving.

I am not sure how I go about finding someone with these traits and identifying them in her, though, or if I’m really looking for an ideal that can only exist in fiction.  The latter seems likely, especially as I feel that even if I could find an intelligent, gentle, honest and forgiving woman, she would be unlikely to find me attractive, particularly as I feel I have few positive points of my own to offer in return and that I have a lot against me in terms of autism, depression, social anxiety and low and insecure income, even before one factors in the fact that I want to find someone who shares my Jewish religious beliefs.

Good News

(I now second-guess my every move, looking for signs of autism.  I suspect I have told the story in this post in an autistic way, putting the wrong details first, but I can’t work out how to restructure.  Feel free to read the last paragraph first, which has the actual good news.)

I went to bed just after midnight last night, knowing I had to be up reasonably early for a job interview this morning, but I couldn’t sleep.  Around 2.30am it occurred to me to check whether I had taken my evening medication and I hadn’t.  It’s frightening that it can have such an immediate effect.  I only wish it worked as well on my mood as my sleep.  I eventually got to sleep around 3.30am and got around four hours sleep.

I arrived half an hour early for my interview this morning at the library of a London university and had to wait as they were running late.  The interview itself mostly went OK, but not great, with one exception.  I was asked about ‘historical bibliography,’ a term I had come across in the job description and thought I understood, but, as they asked a very precise question about it, I realised with a sinking feeling that it had a technical meaning that I had not encountered before.  I probably should have at least asked them to rephrase the question, but I think I catastrophised and thought I had ruined everything and just tried to bluff my way through.  I think I answered the other questions OK, but not exceptionally, but I’m worried that answer will cost me the job.

I spent much of the journey to and from the interview worrying about my career and whether I will ever have enough of one (or enough of an income, which isn’t quite the same thing) to justify looking to get married, and whether I could find someone who would take me.  I still feel the only reason someone else would have me is because she was “settling” for someone less than ideal.  On the way home I did however, feel some… not exactly optimism, but trust in God that things might turn out OK.

Since writing the second paragraph of this post, I’ve heard from the recruitment agency that was arranging the job.  To my surprise, I’ve been offered the job and have accepted.  It’s two days a week for one month at the moment with the potential to be extended for a further two months, which is pretty much ideal for me at the moment, as I can’t work Friday afternoons in the winter because of Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath, which starts at sunset) and I’m committed to employment and resilience workshops two other days a week in January too and which I want to attend as they sound helpful.  I’m nervous and excited at the same time.  I’m still worried that I will mess this job up too.  I worry depression has made me stupid and prone to careless mistakes.  But I’ll be working with rare books and I think I’ll be largely focused on back-room roles, so at least that will be more interesting, and potentially more autism/social anxiety-friendly, then my recent jobs.  I was so nervous I forgot to ask about the salary, though.  I really do have different priorities to everyone else sometimes.  When the phone call came, I was in the middle of watching one of the better episodes of Sherlock to relax (The Reichenbach Fall), but feel too emotional to concentrate now.  I may post again later when I’m a bit calmer!

Spoon Theory

I went to another autism workshop today.  The first half was a sort of ‘what is autism?’ overview that was mostly familiar to me, but the second half, on coping strategies, was more helpful.  It has made me feel that I ought to be less afraid to make my issues known at work, not just autism (if I ever get a proper diagnosis), but also depression.  That said, although it’s illegal to discriminate based on illness or disability, it doubtless does still occur, so I would be wary of admitting to anything before I’d actually signed a contract, otherwise they might suddenly “discover” that I’m not the best candidate.

On which note, I have an interview tomorrow at the library of a London university (there are enough of those for that to be vague and anonymous).  I only found out about this late yesterday (although I heard I was potentially up for it last week to be fair), so I haven’t done any preparation.  This may be self-sabotage on some level, as I’m terrified of getting another job and doing badly at it.  Because I was at the autism workshop this afternoon, I couldn’t do any preparation then either.

***

At the autism workshop they spoke about “spoon theory,”  which I had heard of before, but not really applied to myself.  The idea is that everyone starts the day with a certain number of “spoons” of energy.  Performing tasks expend “spoons”; relaxing increases them.  People with disabilities, including mental health issues (e.g. depression) and developmental disabilities (e.g. autism) often start the day with fewer “spoons” in their bank and use more “spoons” than healthy, neurotypical people in doing the same tasks.  So, spending an hour working in an open-plan office might be one spoon for a neurotypical person, but two or three spoons for me, despite the fact that I’m probably a spoon or two less before I even start work.  The exact number might be more or less depending on many other factors e.g. how tired, hungry, stressed, anxious, depressed etc. I was feeling.

I think “spoons” is a slightly odd way of looking at it (the Doctor Who fans reading this might be having flashbacks to Sylvester McCoy…), but I guess it makes it more concrete than talking about energy levels in a vague way as I usually do.  Certainly I should be a lot more forgiving of myself.  Talking about “reasonable adjustments” in the workplace made me realise how little leniency I give myself.  This applies not just to autism (which technically I’m not diagnosed with yet), but to depression and social anxiety, even though I was diagnosed with those fifteen years ago.  I expect myself to do what a healthy, neurotypical me from a parallel universe would do and get annoyed when inevitably only manage a tiny fraction of that.  Nor do I really accept that things that are considered low-energy consuming or even restoring to neurotypical, healthy people are incredibly draining for me e.g. conversations with acquaintances, going shopping.

Related to this, Liora suggested the other day that I should find a more objective way to assess my activity, so I’ve drawn up a list of basic tasks I do most weeks and awarded them points (“spoons”, if you want) based on how tiring and difficult they are.  I didn’t discriminate between things that are physically tiring (going for a walk) and things that are emotionally draining (socialising).  I didn’t want to make it hugely complicated, so I’ve awarded 5 points for easier things and 10 for harder; I may refine this over time.  I probably ought to assess my moods more often during the day too, rather than just before I go to bed, which distorts things as nighttime is a good time for me, moodwise.  I’ll see how that goes.

On the way home from the autism workshop I suddenly got a migraine.  My head really hurt and I felt like I was going to throw up, which is normal for me with a migraine (and for some strange psychosomatic reason even though for medical reasons I don’t fast on the minor Jewish fasts, I still get ill on them, as happened today (the Fast of Tevet)).  What was unusual and frightening was shaking a lot, so much so that I felt that I could not walk and had to phone my Dad to give me a lift home from the bus stop, even though it’s only a ten minute walk away.  I feel better now, but I still have a bit of a headache which is getting worse again (I probably need to eat and sleep).

This is a comment I just posted on this post on Hevria.com, about fitting in to the Orthodox community.  I thought it was relevant to some recent discussion here so I’ve copied and pasted it (without my usual translations/explanations of Jewish stuff):

I struggle with this a lot. I don’t feel I’ve ever really fitted in to a community (any community, not just a frum one) and I don’t know how much is natural differences, how much that I’m almost certainly autistic (pursuing diagnosis) which makes any kind of social interaction really difficult and how much is just my depression and social anxiety making things seem harder than they actually are. It’s hard to tell how much people are really judging me and how much it’s my imagination (or my desire to see myself as a loner). Plus I find making friends really difficult. I’ve been going to my shul for two and a half years and I have about three friends, none really close.

But even though I hate standing out and would not rebel for the sake of rebelling, I find it hard to make myself fit in if it involves changing something that’s important to me (and, being autistic, even quite minor things are really important to me, if they’re part of my routine and regular way of living).

It’s complicated by the fact that I would describe myself as Modern Orthodox, but there isn’t really a vibrant MO community in the UK (I mean YU-type level of observance and outlook). I belong to a synagogue that would probably be described as moderate Yeshivish in US terms (I’ve almost never heard anyone say ‘Yeshivish’ in the UK) because it’s the best – or least worst – fit in many ways, but in some ways it’s a bad fit.

I still dress in a particular way. I’m almost the only person who wears a kippa srugah (which I don’t do for ideological reasons, but because I have dandruff and a kippah srugah can go in the washing machine which a suede one can’t!) and I’m the only person who wears non-white shirts on Shabbat. I know that this makes me stand out and I don’t want to stand out, but I don’t want to change who I am either.

There is bigger stuff that I keep private, though, certain beliefs and opinions that would not be considered strange in an MO community, but would be here, like attitudes to Torah/science controversies or academic Bible criticism. I worry a bit about people seeing my bookshelves one day. And I’m very worried about being ‘outed’ as a Doctor Who fan which does not seem appropriate. (Last year a friend (not from the community) dared me to dress up as the Doctor for Purim and I chickened out. Not sure what I’ll do this year.) I worry that if the Doctor Who book I’m writing gets published, word will get out in the community and I don’t know what the response will be. People in the community own TVs, but at the same time it’s something that is not talked about and looked down on and seen as a concession to weakness.

The other hard thing is being single. So much of the frum community is geared up to families. Being an “older single ” (I hate that phrase) is tough. I try to force myself to go to family social events at shul sometimes, but I’ve noticed I’m the only single/childless person there. There are a few other singles in the community (I think mostly divorced/widowed rather than unmarried), but the community basically assumes, with some justification a life trajectory that goes: school –> yeshiva/sem –> marriage –> children and career/housewifing. I’ve missed almost all the points on that flow diagram and it’s difficult.

Of course, the difficulty talking about autism or depression and social anxiety only adds to the issues – I mean the general stigma around them in any community, not just the frum one (although in the frum world we add in lots of “Bad for Shidduchim” fears too).

Funnily enough, because I mix in non-Jewish communities (autism and mental health support groups and blogs, Doctor Who fandom), there I experience the opposite, where instead of being the super-progressive and rebellious one, I worry that every sees me as reactionary and bigoted or at least really backwards. So I don’t feel that I fit in completely there either, although I do feel the mental health communities and fandom can be more welcoming in some ways.

A Just So Story (Fiction)

Years ago I went through a phase of writing fiction.  Then I stopped.  Then, after a long break, I wrote one more story/parable.  I know more or less exactly when that was: the summer of 2015, when we moved house and I was not coping well with the stress of moving.  I started the story in our old house and finished it in the current one.

I was going to send the story to Hevria.com, but for some reason I never did.  Now I seem to have burnt my bridges there, I thought I might as well post it here instead.  I’m not re-reading it, because I know that if I do, I won’t post it, so apologies if there are errors in there and also there are doubtless aspects of it that I would change if I was seriously revising it now.

The story probably should have changed my life, but didn’t, which I guess shows that you can believe something intellectually without it actually affecting your behaviour for the better.

 

A Just So Story

There was a wise and righteous man in the land of Utz and it came to pass that the man grew angry with God, for the world had corrupted its way and everywhere was evil and poverty, murder and war, sickness and death.  And the man entreated before God for forty days and forty nights saying, “Why do you let the world corrupt its way?  Why not return it to how it was when it was created, when everything was just so.”  And at the end of forty days and forty nights God hearkened unto him.  And God said to him, “You may do as I do, but you may not know as I know.  And as for me, I will leave you alone, for you think you can do better than Me.”

And it came to pass that the man looked at mankind, and it had corrupted its way and everywhere was evil and poverty, murder and war, sickness and death.  And the man saw that the inclination of the thoughts of man’s heart was evil all day.  He said, “Let the evil inclination be removed from mankind and after this everything would be just so.”  And it was so.  The people had no free will.  They were like angels: they prayed and did acts of kindness and studied Torah like the angels and they did not sin, but did everything just so.  And they were like animals: when they were hungry, they ate, when they were thirsty, they drank, when they were tired, they slept and when they were aroused, they procreated and everything was just so.  But they felt no love and they felt no joy and they felt no fear or hate or guilt and they made no art or music or poetry for everything for them was just so and unchanging.  And it was evening and it was morning, one day.

And the man saw that the people felt no love and they felt no joy and they made no art or music or poetry.  And the man saw that although they had no free will, they still made mistakes and ruined things, and as a result everything was not just so.  And so the man said, “Let there be no people at all” and there were no people at all.  And there was only the sound and the movement of the animals, the birds, the insects and fish on the land and in the sky and in the sea.  They did not deviate from their appointed roles, yet still the big animals ate the little animals and the big birds ate the little birds and the big fish ate the little fish and everything was not just so.  And it was evening and it was morning, day two.

And the man saw that the animals, the birds and the fish still killed each other and so the man said, “Let there be no animals, no birds, no insects and no fish” and there were no animals, no birds, no insects and no fish.  And there was only the sound of the leaves of the plants rustling in the breeze.  Yet the plants lived and shed their leaves and died, leaving decaying matter and everything was not just so.  And it was evening and it was morning, day three.

And the man saw that the cycle of life and death continued with the plants and that nothing stayed the same and everything was not just so.  And so the man said, “Let there be no plants or living matter of any kind.”  And there were no plants or other living things.  Yet the continents continued to move away from each other and towards each other and so there were earthquakes and volcanoes and everything was not just so.  And it was evening and it was morning, day four.

And the man saw that the continents yet moved and there were earthquakes and volcanoes and everything was not just so.  And so the man said, “Let there be no continents, but let the Earth be a single lifeless, motionless rock.”  And the Earth was a lifeless, motionless rock.  Yet the weather continued and there were storms and lightning and chaos and everything was not just so.  And it was evening and it was morning, day five.

And the man saw that there were storms and lightning and chaos and everything was not just so.  And so the man said, “Let there be no planets whatsoever.”  And there were no planets whatsoever, just stars of diverse kinds.  Yet there were solar flares and supernovae and black holes with radiation and gravitational effects and everything was not just so.  And it was evening and it was morning, day six.

And the man saw that there were solar flares and supernovae and black holes with radiation and gravitational effects and everything was not just so.  And the man said, “Let there be nothing at all.”  And there was nothing at all, for the universe returned to being tohu vavohu, unformed and void.  And even God could not be found, for He had said He would leave the man alone.

And it came to pass that the man was lonely, for there were no people and no animals, no birds and no fish and no insects and there were no plants and there was no God.  And the man was astonishingly lonely, lonelier than ever a man has been before or since.  And the man entreated God for forty days and forty nights saying, “I renounce my words and reconsider, for I am but dust and ashes and nothing I have done has made a world that is just so.”

And God hearkened to the man’s words and it was as if he had never spoken for all returned to how it was: the stars and the planets and the storms and the continents and the plants and the animals and the birds and the fish and the insects and the human beings.  And God said to the man, “Behold, you went wrong even from your beginning, for the good does not spring from the just so.  And now, behold, you may no longer do as I do, but you may know as I know, that you may know the reasons for My awesome goodness.”

And the man’s eyes were opened and he saw left and right, up and down, front and back, in and out, before and after all at once and everything for him was now.  A thousand years were as a day in his sight and a day was as an instant and all was happening now.  He could see why what happened, must happen, and how the future causes the past.

And the man begged to return to normal because he was no longer human, for he had no hope and no fear and no happiness and no sadness for he knew why everything was, is, will be, and must be and he knew only being, all at once.  And God hearkened unto him this time also and he was as he had been.

And it was good.

Still Feeling Like the Most Evil Person in the World

Warning: this is a stream of consciousness-type set of thoughts I had today, even more than usual.  It’s also really long.

I tried to apply for a job again, but I found it hard even to concentrate on reading the job description, let alone apply.  My eyes just glazed over and I couldn’t focus, literally as much as metaphorically.  In the end I sent in applications for two jobs at the same institution (one higher-ranking than the other).  I don’t really think I will get either of them, and I think a job agency has already submitted my CV for one of them.

***

I cooked dinner (I mean a proper meal from fresh ingredients) for the first time in months.  Hungarian ragout from a cookery book I got for my birthday in July and hadn’t yet used.  E. recommended the book.  Dinner tasted really good, but my feeling of triumph was undermined by feeling bad that I didn’t eat with my parents.  I was set to eat by myself and watch Sherlock when they asked if I was going to eat with them and I am autistically bad at last minute changes of plan.  I felt I should be more flexible.

***

The other thing I did today was going for a twenty minute brisk walk in the cold and dark and drizzle because I needed the exercise.  I kept thinking cheery thoughts like, “People like me shouldn’t exist.  There ought to be a law against it” and being glad my sister is married and hoping she has children so that my parents can be grandparents and generally feeling that I have let my parents down and not given them enough naches (reflected pride).

My Mum told me today that someone whose parents used to live down the road from us and who I was at primary school with, has moved to Peru (?!) and had a child.  This person had learning difficulties and, I think, quite serious behavioural problems when we were younger.  She also said that his brother, who was a couple of years below me at Oxford and who has held some high positions in the Israeli civil service service has just got engaged.  So I feel like a real under-achiever and failure again.

***

I did a search for ‘autistic shidduch‘ (blind date) and rapidly came across a post of my own and very little else that was relevant.  The number of resources for people with mental health issues in the Jewish community and in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community is slowly increasing and stigma is slowly reducing.  However, I have not come across anything at all for people with high-functioning autism in the frum community (in the UK or elsewhere), yet there must be such people.  ‘Autism frum community’ didn’t turn up anything relevant, although search engines often read ‘frum‘ as a mis-spelling of ‘from’ and ignore it as a stop word.  (This was on duckduckgo.com which, unlike google, gives you a straightforward list of hits rather than adjusting it according to your previous searches.)

As I’ve said before, I think that you can go far with high-functioning autism in the frum community IF you’re male and IF you can make Talmud study your special interest (although there was some discussion of this idea here).  If  you do that then you will be seen as a great scholar for studying fifteen hours a day and your perhaps poor social and communication skills and lack of interest in money and material goods will be seen as evidence of extra piety.  Even stimming is considered normal if you can do it as shockling (swaying back and forth rhythmically during prayer or religious study).  If  you are recognised as a Talmid chacham (great scholar), you will be provided with a wife and an income and people who will take care of the practical side of your life so you can spend all day studying.  The problem arises if you are female or a man who is not good at Talmud study or any other type of Torah study.  Then it is much harder to find a place in the community.

***

Liora suggested I should write down an objective record of my religious growth, but I don’t know where to start.  I literally can not think of anything that I am doing well at the moment, certainly not where I’ve had growth over the last year or two.  The only thing in my life going better is that the religious OCD is more under control now than it was two years ago, and even that flares up a bit at times (like recently).

***

I wonder why anyone reads this blog.  It’s so boring and repetitive, and badly-written.  I only write it to try to shut up the monologue in my head, but it doesn’t work.  According to WordPress, I have 207 followers at the moment (although I think I have a few more following in other ways), but most of those are spam sites that I don’t weed out.  From my likes and comments I think there are ten or twenty people regularly reading what I write, which is ten or twenty more than I would have expected.  Maybe it’s like people staring at car crashes.

***

I’ve had this crazy idea lately that I should write a book titled Everything You Wanted to Know About Orthodox Jews, But Were Too Scared to Ask.  It was originally to be written for non-Jews, because frum (religious) Jews don’t generally explain themselves to non-Jews because Judaism is a non-missionary religion, but I often (well, sometimes) get random non-Jews coming up to me in the street and asking me stuff about Judaism.  But then I thought that maybe non-religious Jews (who, sadly, often know very little about their own heritage) might want to read something non-kiruv-ey (not trying to make non-religious Jews more religious) that was just factual and accessible and also covered non-religious/not only religious topics like “Where does Jewish humour come from?” and “Why do Jews care so much about Israel?”.  But then my mind starts throwing up all the difficulties, like, “I would have to go back to primary sources, the Talmud and the law codes, and my Hebrew (not to mention my Aramaic) isn’t good enough?” and “How can someone as wicked and flawed as me write a religious book?”  Possibly also, “I would write something not acceptable to my rabbi/community and suffer for it.”  Bear in mind I already worry about that with regard to the Doctor Who book I’m working on.  Just writing a book about a TV programme is problematic and I have little hope of hiding it from the community, as if I get published my parents will tell their friends, which include the assistant rabbi’s father, who will tell his son because I know how these people behave.  Still, at the moment it’s hard to believe it will actually get finished and published.  So then I think it is better that I don’t write the book and just hope that someone else does it.

To be honest, there are several books I’d like to write that I don’t think I’m ever going to write, on Judaism and on Doctor Who.  I just don’t seem to be able to get my act together with things, plus I’m still doing a lot of research for the book I’ve started writing.  Part of me wants to just try writing as my job rather than applying for jobs, but I’m too scared to do so.

***

My Dad is upset as it’s his mother’s yortzeit (death anniversary) today, plus tomorrow is the English date of her death; my sister’s mother in law is also having major surgery tomorrow.  In his mind the link is ominous.  I don’t really notice anniversaries that way and this is going to sound terrible, but I don’t get worried about other people the way the rest of my family do.  I feel a terrible person for saying that.  It may be autism (I rather hope it is, otherwise I’m a terrible person), but I don’t really know how to fix other people in my mind in order to worry about them as much as I worry about myself.  I’ve mentioned that I’m somewhat solipsistic in that the world in my head seems infinitely more real than the world of other people.  I struggle to make connections with people, even friends and family.  I suspect I would worry more if I had a wife or children, but it’s hard to be sure.  When I have a crush on someone, she does loom larger in my mind.

Dad wanted me to go to shul (synagogue) with him for Mincha and Ma’ariv (the Afternoon and Evening Services) when he went to say Kaddish, but he didn’t tell me and I had already davened Mincha because I got up too late to daven Shacharit (say the Morning Service) and so wanted to put my tefillin on at Mincha, which I would not do at shul as it would attract attention.  So I feel bad for not going, but on the other hand he didn’t ask me to come (he dropped a hint to Mum, who told me), so I also feel autistic and unable to read other people’s minds.  I feel like a ‘normal’ person would know he wants me to go, given that he usually does, and plan his day accordingly, but I didn’t, because I’m not good at thinking about other people.  This makes me feel like a bad person who is just using autism as an excuse for selfish behaviour.

However, I do have some empathy.  There was a terrorist shooting in Israel last week (the mainstream UK news typically ignored it).  A lot of people were injured, including a pregnant woman and her husband.  Her baby was born by emergency cesarean, but died after a couple of days.  I think the parents are still in hospital, the mother in a medically-induced coma.  This really upset me and I have been praying for the family, but it’s not something I keep thinking about the way I think about my loneliness and depression.  When I see it on a Jewish website or when it is time to pray for them, I feel upset and somewhat angry (at the terrorists and the mainstream global news media that ignores or downplays violence against Jews), but it’s not something I really focus on.  I don’t know if that also makes me a bad person.

***

I don’t even know if I really am autistic.  I’ve had so many conflicting diagnoses that I don’t think I’ll ever be 100% sure one way or the other.  Even in my screening two weeks ago I worry I said the wrong thing, emphasised the wrong traits, gave the wrong answers in the questionnaire, “wrong” in this context meaning things that don’t really apply to me and which I said to get an autism diagnosis.  I know enough about autism now to be able to distort the results even unconsciously.

***

I want to eat all the time at the moment.  I guess it’s comfort eating from depression or clomipramine-induced carbohydrate craving, another reason to want to change meds.  It’s not something I’ve really struggled with in the past, at least not to this extent.  It’s a real effort not to eat junk.  I was eating a lot of nuts and raisins, but then I thought they’re also fattening, so I’m trying not to do that, but when I’m depressed and anhedonic and not enjoying anything, it’s hard to cut out something I do enjoy.  However, I have ended up overweight lately and it isn’t doing anything for my self-esteem or belief that I might be able to date one day.

***

I followed someone on Twitter even though I’m trying not to use it any more.  And I did it mainly because she follows this blog, and I thought she might want to be nudged in the direction of my Doctor Who blog and couldn’t think how else to flag up its existence without betraying my Secret Identity.

Basically, I don’t understand half the stuff I do and I don’t know whether it’s autism, mental illness or me just being stupid and weird.  Currently, my mind is on me being stupid and weird.

***

I’m trying to do what Yolanda said and write something good about myself, but I can’t think of anything.  I really am a terrible person.

The Great Procrastinator

On this post, Yolanda commented to suggest that I should say something positive about myself in every post.  It’s an interesting idea, but I worry it would make me arrogant; also, I really don’t think there are many good things to say about me.  I don’t know what I would say, really.  I find it very hard to think of anything positive about myself.  I keep emails and blog comments were people say nice things about me, but I don’t know that they have much effect in the long term.  When we were dating, E. sent me a list of about ten reasons she thought I was a good boyfriend which I still have somewhere, but it’s hard to hold on to that, because obviously it wasn’t enough to keep her dating me.  Similarly, I’ve got comments people have sent to me, but so many of them have drifted out of my life.  It’s not really anyone’s fault, as these are long-distance online connections, but it’s hard to think anyone really thinks I’m such a good person when there are so few people really involved in my life.  Someone on Hevria once said that I’m a “special neshama” (special soul), but I don’t know why anyone would even say that in the first place about me.  I can’t see anything special in myself.

***

Moving one step closer to an autism diagnosis, even though there is a long road ahead, has brought up all kinds of thoughts about aspects of my life that I thought were ‘normal’ or at least me ‘just being strange/different/difficult’ and made me wonder if they are connected to autism.  For example, I used to react very strongly to the smell of paint and would get a bad headache if there was any decorating going on in the house.  These days I think I’ve become used to it, but it used to be something I really struggled with and I wonder if it could be autistic sensory overload.  It’s sometimes hard to identify what is autism, what is mental illness and what is just me being me, particularly regarding things that have changed over time.  I was interested to hear my Mum say at my screening that when I was a very young child I would happily play near other children, but I wouldn’t play with them, which is very typical autistic behaviour that I wasn’t aware that I exhibited.

***

I keep thinking about the huge number of autistic people, even high-functioning, who don’t manage to get a job or hold together a relationship, and how much it’s looking like I’m drifting into the former category (no job), being already clearly in the second one (no relationship).  I feel that at my previous job I would have been facing formal warnings for poor quality work if my contract hadn’t been so short that it wasn’t work the bother.  Maybe that’s just my paranoia, but I made a lot of mistakes.  And then in the job before that, it became clear that my boss simply didn’t think I could do my job properly, still less the more revised version of the job specification (with much more personal interaction) that I was being offered when my contract expired, even if she was weirdly shocked when I decided to turn the revised contract down (I don’t know how she expected me to do a job with a boss who was openly contemptuous of my abilities).  I just can’t think of a job that I think I could actually do with all my issues.  I don’t know what I would do if I was offered any of the jobs I’ve applied for lately.  I don’t feel that I could really do any of them.

It’s easy to fall down the hole of thinking that I’m a completely fudged up person with no positive traits whatsoever.  (I meant positive traits for a job, but it would apply to dating and life in general too.)

***

I’d put the idea of pets on the back burner recently.  I felt that my Mum was not at all comfortable with the idea and so my desire for a pet cooled.  I had a bit of a social anxiety freeze up when I realised I would have to go into a pet shop and ask to hold the guinea pigs and say what type of pet I wanted and buy all the necessary equipment.  It wasn’t the pet that was scary, it was the thought of talking to the shop assistant and asking for things, asking questions and wondering if the shop assistant would be judging me.  But I was just sent this article that says that pets are really beneficial for people with autism and anxiety.  So now I’m procrastinating about this again.  It would be good if I had a friend who had a pet that I could look after for a few days while they were away, so I can see how I cope with a pet, but I don’t know anyone with a pet.  Pets are not so common in the frum community.  Still, having pet guinea pigs would probably be a better way of flexing my social muscles and receiving affection than going on Twitter (insert your own joke about rats on Twitter).

***

I finished Turtles All the Way Down, a young adult novel with a narrator who suffers from OCD.  It was quite good, although not very much like the back cover blurb implied it would be.  I was expecting some kind of mystery or adventure story and it was a novel of character/semi-love story, with a slightly depressing open ending.  I did enjoy it, until last night, when I suddenly realised I wasn’t enjoying it any more and it was possibly triggering my own OCD, which is mostly under control these days, and I forced myself to read the last thirty or forty pages before bed so I could just finish it.  (I don’t like to just abandon books unfinished.)

The Most Evil Person in the World

I don’t really have anything to say today (plus ça change) and I don’t have much time before Shabbat (yikes), but I needed to say something.  I feel so depressed and lonely today and the internet is my main way of reaching out to people.  I’m trying to stay off Twitter and random internet surfing, so that means blogging.  I’m glad I’ve met some people who read my blog offline, even if most of them live too far away for me to see them regularly.  I feel worryingly self-obsessed here, though, like the OCD-suffering narrator of the Young Adult book I’m reading, who is about to discover that her best friend has written her into her Star Wars fan fiction as a self-obsessed and useless character.  She has just got a boyfriend, though, whereas I’m terminally single.  I didn’t go on a date until I was twenty-seven, whereas she’s still in high school.

On my last post, Ashley Leia commented, “is there any sort of widely accepted Orthodox view of what God is likely to think of non-frum Jews? It’s a very broad generalization, but I would imagine the average non-frum Jew is committing quite a few more sins than the average Orthodox Jew.”  The problem – and I’ve travelled on this train of thought a lot – is that not only are we not supposed to judge others, we aren’t even supposed to be able to judge others, because God judges everyone uniquely, based on their personal history, situation, strengths and weaknesses and temptations.  So I shouldn’t compare myself with other people who I might feel are doing worse than me to boost my self-esteem and even if I did, I can’t really know that I’m better than them; maybe on their level they’re meeting 100% of their potential while I’m meeting only 25% of mine.  Judaism focuses on meeting potential more than absolute values.  (Technically we are allowed to envy the good deeds of people better than us if it inspires us to do better, but that’s a depressing thing for me to do.)  So, even if I want to say, “Well, I may do X wrong, but at least I keep Shabbos and kosher which that person doesn’t do” that may be meaningless, because maybe that person is even expected to keep Shabbos and kosher while I’m supposed to do that and a load more besides.

The problem (aside from having major sins on my conscience that I feel terribly guilty about) is that I have no real objective view of how I’m doing religiously.  I’ve tried asking my rabbi mentor, but he refuses to answer the question and no one else knows me well enough to be able to tell me.  So that makes it easy for the depression and low self-esteem to convince me that I’m the most evil person in the world.

The Tunnel at the End of the Light

My main activity today was a workshop on autism and employment and higher education.  This included a lot of helpful information about whether to disclose autism (and by implication mental health issues I might also want to disclose) and employers’ legal obligations towards the disabled.  I was hoping for some information on coping strategies and adjustments for various problems one might experience, but I guess people with autism are too varied for a ‘one size fits all’ approach or perhaps there will be a workshop on that topic at another time.

In fact, the workshop really did bring home to me how autism affects different people very differently.  I knew this in an abstract way, but it was interesting to see it in action.  For instance, some people get affected by bright lights or loud noise and needed warning about a video that included these; I am usually fine with those, although sudden loud noises make me jump (I guess that’s the same for a lot of neurotypicals, though), but put me in a room with a lot of talking, even quiet talking, and pretty soon I will start spacing out as my brain tries to work out what everyone is saying (not consciously; I’m not eavesdropping ) and gets overloaded.  Similarly, even bright or flashing lights during the day are fine for me, but when I’m trying to sleep, even dim light or a little light under the crack in the door, will keep me awake.  Similarly, with communication, I did not feel confident saying much at all, and some other people looked similarly socially anxious and reluctant to join in, whereas other people were chatty or even a little disruptive by not know when to stop talking.

Part of my brain was trying to work out how I fitted in with this diverse group of people: was I ‘more’ or ‘less’ affected?  It’s not really a helpful perspective.  My therapist said that I tend to see mental illness as a competitive sport and part of me wants to be the ‘most depressed’ person or the person with the most diagnoses.  This, I would guess, stems partly from self-pity and partly to try to explain (to myself as much as to others) how badly my life has seemed to have gone wrong over the last fifteen years and to make excuses for myself or at least to provide mitigating circumstances.  But it was impossible really to create such a hierarchy at the autism workshop; even on the very superficial level at which one can get to know people in a two hour workshop, we all seemed incommensurable, each too different to compare to anyone else.

Related to this, I have been finding it hard over the last few days to work out how to conceptualise myself.  I think one problem of our society (by which I mean Western society rather than Jewish society for once) is a tendency to think in terms of oppressor/victim binary pairs (the Leninist “Who?  Whom?” – who is oppressing whom?), whereas in reality (a) things are not usually so clear cut and (b) even if one is a victim, it is not particularly helpful to think of oneself as a victim.  It leads to learned helplessness and low self-esteem.  Take it from someone who has ended up there.  But how to think of myself in a more positive light is hard.  Judaism as a culture/religion is less focused on victimhood, despite the fact that for many centuries Jews were (are) victimised.  Unfortunately, Jewish religious identity would focus on fulfilling the Torah,or at least fulfilling one’s potential, and being loved by God, which is problematic for me as I feel that I do not meet my religious obligations or even my potential and that consequently God does not love me.  I hope that CBT will help me frame things in a more helpful way.

It’s hard to do this with so few role models.  I don’t really expect there to be loads of books or TV programmes about autistic-depressive-socially-anxious-Orthodox-Jews, but there isn’t really much I’ve come across remotely like me.  I’m currently reading the novel Turtles All the Way Down, which is a reasonable portrayal of OCD.  However, in terms of portrayal of autism, The Imitation Game made me feel lonely and useless and that was a reasonably positive portrayal; I absolutely hated The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time which I felt failed to engage with people with autism at all sympathetically.

As for Jews… well, there are lots of Jews out there in fiction, but ninety-nine times out of a hundred they’re ultra-assimilated, there to provide a dash of ‘diversity’ without the author actually having to do any research.  In terms of detailed, positive portrayals of religious Jews, there’s Chaim Potok and that’s about it.  I haven’t read/seen Disobedience because the story wasn’t my type of thing and I worried it was going to be critical of Orthodox Judaism.  Don’t even mention The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, which started promisingly, but ended up by supporting every crazy antisemitic conspiracy theory going (author Michael Chabon has since distinguished himself as a rabid critic of Jews, Judaism, the Jewish State, and pretty much everything Jews do other than assimilating themselves out of existence).

So I’m left to turn back to nineteenth century Yiddish literature which is (a) hard to get hold of in translation and (b) often targeting Orthodoxy satirically as much as positively and even when it’s not, I find it hard to see myself as peasant or even a rabbi back in the shtetl (Jewish towns of Eastern Europe).  I did watch a bit of webcast comedy series Soon By You but the relationship-driven plots just made me feel more alone and upset that I don’t live in the USA where I would have a statistically greater chance of meeting someone like myself.  I haven’t seen Israeli drama Srugim, but I imagine that would inspire similar feelings, only replacing the USA with Israel.

Most of my heroes growing up were outsiders in other ways (aliens, robots and time-travellers) and were role models only via metaphorical interpretation.  More recently, watching Sherlock again I expected to empathise with Sherlock Holmes, but while the nineteenth century original was possibly autistic and probably bipolar, the modern-day TV version is, by his own admission, a “high-functioning sociopath” and almost sadistically rude.  I find myself more drawn to the minor character of Molly Hooper, a pathologist with apparently low self-esteem and an unrequited crush on Sherlock.  To be honest, if she was real, I’d want to date her (if she was Jewish), but I fear I wouldn’t measure up to Sherlock, even if he does manipulate her and generally treat her appallingly.

The sad truth is that, here in the real world, 99% of the time people with autism, depression, anxiety or OCD don’t actually have compensatory superpowers.

(As an aside, there’s an amusing poem by Philip Larkin called A Study of Reading Habits in which he reviews the literary heroes and anti-heroes of his childhood and adolescence, notes that these days he identifies more with the cowards and failures than the heroes and finally advises the reader to “Get stewed:/Books are a load of crap.”  Thus spake the Librarian of Hull University.)

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but Israeli statesman Shimon Peres was asked if he saw a light at the end of the tunnel regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; he replied, “There is a light, the problem is there’s no tunnel” which I took to mean that the outlines of a peace deal are obvious to most people (other than fanatics on both sides); the problem is working out how to get there.

Similarly, I know what my ideal life would look like: mental health issues under control (I’ve given up on comprehensively escaping them and want just to manage them); a job I can do, which pays the bills and which stimulates me intellectually; the time/energy/mental health to meet my religious obligations (prayer, Torah study etc.); a wife and children; a certain amount of free time; a few friends; and a community I feel comfortable in.  This seems a lot (although most people seem to manage with most of these things) and I have absolutely no idea how to achieve these goals.  I don’t think I have a realistic image in my head of what they could look like in the real world.  I’m not even sure that I have a clear fantasy image of my dream job, let alone a realistic one and while I do have a fantasy image of being loved by someone, I’m not sure I really have the experience to know what a real relationship is like.  I don’t know how it is that some people can plan out their lives and then systematically achieve their goals; it seems quite beyond me.

The frum (pious) thing to say is that I trust that HaShem (God) will provide for me, but I don’t.  I fear that He hates me because of all my sins; worse, I worry that His plan for me involves only suffering, which is worse than punishment, because punishment can be mitigated by repentance, whereas if He simply plans for me to suffer for some reason that is beyond my comprehension, then there simply isn’t anything I can do about it.  I don’t know what to do about this or even how to raise the issue with other frum people e.g. my rabbi mentor.

Don’t Stand So Close to Me

I woke up feeling drained and depressed again, after a weird dream about octopus-like alien creatures (I think even in the dream it was unclear if they were real or toys), probably triggered by a character eating octopus in the Jonathan Creek episode I watched yesterday.  (Not that I would eat non-kosher octopus anyway, but I do wonder at how someone can look at octopus or squid and think, “That looks tasty.”  Mind you, I’ve always felt uneasy eating dead animals and I’m virtually vegetarian these days).

I really need to stop reading Twitter.  I’ve found very little content there to interest me and even after filtering my reader to try to make it apolitical, I get upset by the politics there.  It isn’t one side either; everyone seems to take the view that their side is obviously right and the other side must be either stupid or malicious not to agree.  Even people who I know to be fair-minded and moderate act like this online.  No one seems to think that intelligent people acting in good faith could come to different views about complex questions.  As someone whose usual response to politics is confusion or a sense that there’s probably some truth on both sides, I find this distressing.  But I keep coming back, in the hope that I could somehow make friends on Twitter.  I guess I’m very lonely.  And yet I struggle to send texts and emails to real friends.

Liora posted on a previous post that “I hope you realize what an amazing job you’ve done at holding things together as well as you have while having autism. Advanced education, jobs, demanding interviews, social events through synagogue and more.”  I responded that “It doesn’t really occur to me that it is hard [in order to give myself credit], I just beat myself up when I can’t do things. At the moment I should feel good that I’m at least trying to job hunt, given that there were whole years when I was too depressed to even look, but somehow it’s hard to give myself credit.”

It’s true, I don’t give myself credit for the things I do, I just criticise myself for the things I can’t do, whether from autism, depression or social anxiety.  I don’t think I have that much more energy or that much more of a positive mood than I did in the years when I was unemployed and not even looking for work, but I just beat myself up for not having a job yet and worrying about how I would cope with working rather than saying I’m doing well just looking for a job.  I don’t know how to support myself better emotionally (there probably is a topical vote somewhere about having a vote of no confidence in myself, but I’m not up to making it right now).  I’m hoping CBT will help with that, when I get to the top of the waiting list.

That said, not having a job long-term is a worry.  I don’t have immediate financial issues as my parents are supportive, but I feel bad for relying on them while I’m in my mid-thirties and I worry what will happen when they aren’t here.

I’m trying to rearrange my job interview next Tuesday so I can go to the autism workshop, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to work.  Apparently the interviewer is on holiday from the next day onwards.  I hate to say it, but I’m somewhat relieved as I really don’t feel well enough to work at the moment.  Certainly I intend to prioritise the autism and mental health workshops I’ve booked myself onto in the coming months over jobs at the moment.  I can’t see myself working long-term without learning better coping skills than I currently have.

The main thing I did this afternoon was go for a haircut.  Having my hair cut is one of my least favourite things in the world.  I think it’s primarily an autistic thing about having other people touch me, added to a bit of social anxiety that the barber will talk to me (although I find most barbers are listening to music on their headphones or watching TV while cutting hair, which I find disconcerting), plus these days I worry that I’m going to start shaking, which is often enough to actually start me shaking, as happened today, albeit not as badly as in the past.  It doesn’t help that the barber I go (because it’s the cheapest one around here by far) to is a good twenty-five minute walk away, so nearly an hour round trip especially as I had to do some shopping on the way home (and browsed the book sections of a couple of charity shops to try to calm myself down, albeit without buying anything).  I still ended up sitting watching Sherlock for a while after I got home to try to revive myself.  It now feels too late to do anything worthwhile and I’m not sure what to do with the evening, especially as I need to be up early tomorrow for my autism workshop.  It seems I can only read in short bursts at the moment, so I’m watching a lot of DVDs.

This probably sounds weird, but does anyone else see numbers as letters?  Particularly with numbers on a digital display, where they are squared off.  For example, 5537 is LESS.  At my autism assessment I was asked if I see patterns in numbers and the only thing I could think of was that I associate numbers, particularly times, with dates.  So quarter past six = 18.15 = the Battle of Waterloo.  But I realised today that I do get fascinated with reading numbers on clocks as letters.  I also mess around with words I see on boxes, adverts and so on, looking for anagrams and spoonerisms and reading things backwards.  I don’t know if this means anything.

Good Grief!

I spent the afternoon at the Peanuts exhibition at Somerset House with my Dad, although we ended up going around separately as we react differently in museums.  I read faster than he does and I skip a lot of the audio-visual displays whereas he is more interested in those, so I went round a lot faster than he did.  It was enjoyable, but there wasn’t that much more to it than a lot of cartoons, some interesting, but slightly pretentious commentary and some very pretentious art ‘inspired’ by Peanuts.  The original cartoons were funny, though, and I guess it’s interesting that most of the artists failed to notice that or at least failed to reflect it in their art which was more about Saying Important Things than humour.  Says it all, really.

I began to feel lonely and depressed again soon after leaving, though, and I’m not quite sure why.  Low blood sugar might be a factor by this point, as it’s now 7.30pm and, aside from two pieces of fruit, I haven’t eaten for six hours.  It’s amazing how quickly I fall into the ‘nobody could ever love me’ spiral.

I wanted to start painting my Doctor Who miniatures this evening.  I undercoated them months ago and they have been sitting on my desk, all sprayed white like refugees from The Land of Fiction.  However, it has got late and I’m tired and depressed, so that will have to wait.  My choice for tonight is between watching Jonathan CreekSherlock and Doctor Who.  I feel like Buridan’s Ass.

I have been told by a job agency that I have been offered a job interview next Tuesday at a university.  I didn’t get the phone call as I was on the Tube and by the time I phoned them back it was nearly 5pm and no one answered.  The problem (aside from the fact that I don’t know what the job is) is that I have an autism workshop on Tuesday and it’s an important introductory one that they say to go to soon after screening.  I will have to see if I can rearrange the interview for another day.  To be honest, I don’t actually feel competent to do a job at the moment, but I don’t know how to say that to people without sounding lazy.

I’m actually slightly surprised people are still interviewing this close to the end of the year, although I suppose most places are open until the end of next week at least.  I’m worried about the other workshops and classes I have signed up for in the new year; my parents say to actually get the job first, which is probably sensible.

The Peanuts exhibition led me to think again about diversity and that no one in fiction is really like me (the closest ones are aliens like the Doctor or robots like Commander Data).  If I ever develop the ability to write middlebrow adventure fiction, I want to write about an Orthodox Jewish male autistic social phobic private detective and an equally Orthodox female scientist with OCD and depression who together have science fictional/mystery adventures like John Steed and Mrs Peel in The Avengers.  I haven’t yet decided whether they are celibate outside of marriage or asexual; I guess it depends on whether I want to increase or rule out sexual tension.  I’m definitely male, but I find myself identifying more and more with geeky women for some reason.

Despair, Mostly

I feel drained today and the more I try to do something, the harder it gets.  It feels like my wheels are spinning in the mud.

I watched a few minutes of the debate in Parliament about Brexit.  The actual quality of debate was higher than I expected (maybe my expectations have been lowered by online “debate”), but the whole situation depresses me.  However this works out in the short to medium term, I can see a long-term collapse in support for mainstream parties that don’t seem able to deliver on their promises and a consequent shift to the far-right and the far-left.  Already Labour is basically a doctrinaire Marxist Jew-baiting party, even though historically (before Jeremy Corbyn) the British Labour Party was neither of those things (unlike some continental socialist parties).  This, I fear, is the way democracies die, and you can see similar things happening, in different ways, across the Channel and across the Atlantic.  Everywhere people are losing trust and hope in conventional politics and turning to extremism.

Anyway, I’m trying not to think about that, and this isn’t supposed to be a political blog.  It’s just another thing that depresses me, and when something grabs my attention, the autistic part of my brain won’t stop bringing it up everywhere.

I also saw this article about negative dating beliefs.  I have all six of those negative dating beliefs (five negative self-perceptions and one negative perception about dating itself).  I am not dating at the moment, but it makes me feel I will never manage to get married.  To be honest, if I can get a diagnosis of autism, I think it will actually boost my dating chances.  From my perception of how shidduch dating (dating in the religious Jewish community) works, shadchans (matchmakers) try to set people up in a rather superficial way and certainly if you have an unusual trait or characteristic, they will try to match you up with other people with that characteristic, at least initially, especially if the trait is seen as negative.  The assumption seems to be “like goes with  like.”  So if I have an autism diagnosis I suspect I would be likely to be matched up with women on the spectrum, which I suspect would be more likely to lead to marriage than dating the neurotypical women I’ve mostly been dating in the past.  Then again, autism is arguably under-diagnosed in women, so they may not know or they may know and not admit to it, fearing it would be “bad for shidduchim” (bad for their marriage chances).  Dating is hard, frum (religious Jewish) dating is very hard, doubly so when you aren’t “perfect” enough for other people.

My Dad has found out that there are companies that organise kosher holidays for groups of Jews in their late twenties and thirties and is encouraging me to go on one at some point.  I think he’s hoping I will go on one and meet someone as many of the tours are specifically for singes, although at the moment I doubt I could keep up with the itinerary of an organised tour, nor do I imagine I could start a relationship with someone that way.  It takes a lot for me to be able to ask someone out and I can’t see myself doing it on a tour with lots of other people.  Plus, I do not like being in large groups and tend to withdraw and become unattractive.  It is true that if I wanted to visit somewhere exotic, e.g. South America, Africa or Asia, where usually the kosher options would be limited, I would be better off on a tour where they can organise all that, kasher a kitchen in a hostel or whatever they do.  However, I’m not really a great traveller.  Although I would vaguely like to see Inca pyramids or the Grand Canyon or whatever, the thought of going through all the processes of a holiday (booking, packing, travelling) I find off-putting.  Maybe it’s me being autistic again.

Stuff I did today:

  1. davened (prayed) a bit of Shacharit, the whole of Mincha and Ma’ariv;
  2. wrote a review of yesterday’s Doctor Who episode and the season as a whole that I was reasonably pleased with (for once) for my other blog;
  3. about ten minutes of Torah study;
  4. watched an episode of Doctor Who for research for my book (I feel slightly depressed by how much research I still feel the need to do even after having worked my way through all of (what survives) of TV Who);
  5. applied for a job (basically, just cut and pasted a cover letter and changed the job title as well as slightly editing my CV);
  6. added dates of birthdays, anniversaries and meetings to my 2019 diary;
  7. realised I’d double-booked myself onto a depression course on the same day as an autism course and tried to rearrange the latter, feeling embarrassed and stupid;
  8. finished reading The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome (except for some pages skipped as irrelevant to me);
  9. wrote this blog post;
  10. procrastinated and felt exhausted, listless and depressed.

Last Night of Chanukah

Just a quick note.  My sister and brother-in-law came over for the last night of Chanukah.  I had a good time, but I felt extra autistic at times.  I’m not always good at focusing on the conversation and successfully joining in when lots of people are talking at the same time (I end up either interrupting or, more usually, missing the window for saying something), as was the case over dinner, but the conversation was mainly about the ongoing building works at my sister and b-i-l’s house and my sister’s driving lessons.  The former just made me feel a bit… not upset exactly, but wistful, I suppose for still being unmarried and living with my parents, while the driving discussion made me think that I’m thirty-five and I have never had a driving lesson because of anxiety and fear that I would not be coordinated enough to manage to drive safely.  (Bear in mind I’m two and a half years older than my sister, which makes all this feel worse.)  I feel rather drained now everyone has gone too and am probably coming off a sugar rush from the massive doughnut I ate.  Still, I got some nice books and DVDs as presents over the last eight days (because obviously shabby materialism is more important than family, religion, spirituality or competent maturity).

The last episode of this year’s run of Doctor Who was OK, but not great.  Apparently there’s only one episode next year (New Year’s Day special), but this season was very hit and miss, so perhaps a rethink is needed.  I don’t feel too sad about that, despite my melancholy mood, as I find watching new episodes vaguely painful, in case they’re not good.  It’s easier when I’m rewatching something and know what to expect.  This is probably also autism.  Certainly watching episodes multiple times is.

Why I Felt I Was Misdiagnosed as Neurotypical

I am still digesting the results of Friday’s autism screening that suggested there was an 80% chance that I’m on the autistic spectrum after all, despite my being told years earlier that I was neurotypical.  Anyway, it’s Chanukah and I don’t want to spend all evening on the computer.  So here is a brief note that I wrote on Thursday.  I took it to my screening in case I was asked why I wanted another screening despite my earlier assessments being negative.  As it happened, I didn’t need it (although I did make some of the points in my interview), but I thought it might interest people here.

Why I am Thinking About Diagnosis

I think I coped as a child by learning (consciously and/or unconsciously) certain ‘scripts’ for survival and by concentrating on my academic studies, which were ‘safer’ and more knowable.  I also had a non-autistic friend who supported me.

When I got to my teens and especially when I got to university away from my friend, I began to struggle with social interactions and I became severely depressed.  I was assessed for autism then and told that I had a lot of symptoms, but not in the right categories for diagnosis.

Depression kept me out of the wider world for a number of years.  In that period a psychiatrist and a psychotherapist, both of whom had got to know me very well, felt that I had been misdiagnosed and was on the spectrum; several friends with family/professional experience of autism also asked if I was on the spectrum.

In the last few years I have been trying to move into the world of work.  I have found that many of my coping strategies no longer work and, as I have experienced new environments I have become aware of symptoms that I did not recognise in myself before or which had never been so severe e.g. difficulty coping with the noise in an open-plan office, dealing with lengthy spoken or implicit instructions, new types of social interactions.

Good News/Bad News Again

Or bad news/good news.

  1. I didn’t get the job I was interviewed for this week.  I’m secretly relieved they didn’t phone, as I was dreading having to speak to anyone who interviewed me, but I was a bit annoyed by the very impersonal email notification that wasn’t even signed properly.
  2. My autism screening went very well.  On the screening test I scored 40/50 where 32/50 and above indicates 80% chances of autism, so I’m quite comfortably in that bracket.  My interview answers and those of my Mum also supported that conclusion, which is good.  I can now be referred on for a(nother) formal assessment, but I can immediately attend free workshops about autism at the organisation that did the screening.  Also, my parents can go to a family and careers workshop, which I think will be helpful for them (they’re keen on going).  I did shake through the whole interview with nerves, though.

It’s good to have some recognition that I have genuine problems with communication, and noisy environments and that I’m not just being stupid or difficult.  It’s also good to realise that I haven’t been pursuing an idée fixe all these years that I’ve been wondering if I really am on the spectrum despite my previous negative assessments.

No time for more detail as it’s nearly Shabbat; perhaps more on Saturday night.

Shabbat shalom, Chanukah sameach and chodesh tov!

Before/After

Earlyish morning:

I’m drained again today.  I guess I’m depressed too, but I’m feeling so exhausted that my mood doesn’t really matter.   I couldn’t sleep again last night and this time it had nothing to do with forgetting medication.  I suppose I was tense and stressed from the day, although I wasn’t consciously thinking about the job interview.  I’m terrified of speaking to them again, though, which one way or another I will have to do.  My sister said to ask for interview feedback even if (when) they tell me I haven’t got the job.  I know why I messed up, though.  I was badly prepared, I don’t do enough CPD (Continuing Professional Development), I don’t take my career seriously enough and I’ve forgotten most of what I once knew about cataloguing.  I was also nervous and either rambled incoherently or sat in silence until prompted – not to every question, but to enough of them.  I feel like no one could ever take me seriously.

There probably is a parallel universe out there where I beat the depression for good in 2010, when I started my MA, did the MA in a year and went on straightaway to a serious cataloguing job like the one I was interviewed for yesterday.  Oh well.

Oh, look, it turns out I am depressed as well as drained, and self-loathing.

Another engagement was just announced on the shul (synagogue) What’sApp group.  I didn’t realise we had so many young people in the kehillah (community).  I guess they’re all at yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) or sem (female seminary).  Or they daven (pray) elsewhere, I guess, as the mazal tovs go to the parents.  I try to tell myself that any bracha (blessing) is good, even if it’s not for me, but deep down (or not so deep down), I wish things would go better for me.  I get so lonely.  I don’t know why I particularly want to get married, given that I feel reluctant to take practical steps about making friends to deal with the loneliness that way.  I don’t know if getting married would actually help.  You either love yourself or you don’t, and what other people think, even a partner, doesn’t change that.  Which means you either had enough unconditional love as a child or you didn’t, and I had enough difficult events as a child to make me feel unloved, even if I wasn’t.  Even if someone did love me unconditionally now, I don’t think it would make much difference by this stage.

Later:

I’m back from my meeting with The Network now and have had lunch.  (I got home late; it will soon be time for supper.)  I feel exhausted, but not so depressed.  The meeting was in a couple of Victorian (?) suburban houses that have been knocked together.  The student counselling services were in a similar building when I was in Oxford; the Jewish mental health charity Jami has a similar house too.  Buildings like that always make me think of a Secret Service safe house in a John le Carré novel.  I half expect to bump into Control and George Smiley, launching some new conspiracy.

The Network turns out to offer state-funded support for people with mental health issues.  The support is neither therapy nor medication (I’m having those sorted elsewhere, hopefully), but support in terms of empowerment and life skills, including skills needed for employment.  The meetings are more like classes than group therapy/support group meetings, but are friendly and I think the activities are not obligatory, although obviously one would get more out of them by doing the ‘homework.’

The support worker I saw did a “Recovery Star” with me.  I did this exercise years ago, when I was seeing an occupational therapist through Jami.  It’s a useful way of tracking mood and activity over time.

The exercise is based on a ten-pointed star, with a label at each outward point denoting a life area.  The numbers 1-10 run along each arm, with 1 at the centre and 10 at the tip of each arm.  One then rates oneself in each area, with 1 being as bad as possible and 10 as good as possible.  I was pleased to see that I was doing better in some areas than expected.  I scored highly (7 or over) for ‘living skills,” “addictive behaviour” (meaning I have no addictive behaviour) and “responsibilities” and 4 or 5 for ‘managing mental health’, ‘physical health and self-care’, ‘social networks’, ‘work’ and ‘relationships’.  My worst areas were ‘identity and self-esteem’ and ‘trust and hope’; even here I scored 3/10, which is not the worst possible rating.  So the exercise reminded me that, however bad I feel, I have some degree of functionality.  I am still job hunting and I went to an interview; I volunteer each month; I write my blog and have online friends; I go to shul and shiur (synagogue and religious classes) a bit, even if I would like to do more; I still look after basic health and hygiene needs.

The support worker told me about two of the classes on offer (I’m not sure if they only offer two or if there were only two that she thought would be relevant from the Recovery Star).  Both seemed potentially useful, but I picked the one that looked like it would overlap less with the CBT I’m hoping to have to deal with my self-esteem issues soon.  The course will focus more on coping strategies and resilience to triggers, which will hopefully be useful for me.  There is a class starting in January; I think they meet twice a week for four weeks.

Now I’m home, I feel exhausted and slightly ill: hot and run down.  My parents usually keep the house too hot for me in the winter, so it could be that or it could be exhaustion or the beginnings of a cold.  I can’t really concentrate and don’t intend to do much other than trying to get to my shiur this evening and maybe writing a couple of emails.  Other than that, I don’t think I’m good for much other than vegetating in front of the TV tonight; I don’t think I could even read much.

Tomorrow I have my autism screening.  Either way opens on uncertainty: either the uncertainty of deciding whether to try for another formal assessment or the uncertainty of having to deal with a definitively non-autistic (or at least non-diagnosably autistic) identity.  I probably won’t have time to write that up before Shabbat tomorrow, which starts at about 3.30pm at the moment, so you will have to wait until Saturday night for my thoughts on that, I’m afraid.

***

At The Network, the support worker said that by a strange coincidence, I was the second person she had seen today with depression who had a BA in History, was pursuing an autism diagnosis and ideally wanted to work as a writer, and that the other person was a woman.  Immediately, I wondered if she was Jewish (entirely possible given the demographics of the borough) and whether I would run into her at some point.  But then I think, how would I talk to her, and why would she be interested in someone as messed up and financially insecure as me?  These days I can just about accept that there might be women out there who match my weirdnesses, but it’s still hard to believe I could meet them, still less that any of them would like me.

Flunked

The job interview today was pretty awful.  It started OK.  I woke up an hour earlier than intended and couldn’t get back to sleep, but as I was awake, I thought I would have an early and slow start.  I got to the interview location forty minutes early.  It was literally across the road from the place I was working from September to November.  Standing outside the building, I could see the office block where I worked.  Because of that, I knew there was a charity shop down the road and went there to kill some time; I saw some stuff I thought about buying, but decided to leave it until after the interview, which was just as well.

From here, everything began to unravel.  I checked in at reception very early, but no one had told the man at the reception desk to expect me, so he didn’t phone anyone to say I was there.  Eventually, the library head came down to see if I was waiting, which I was.

My presentation went OK, but I think it was too short and too light-weight.  Then came the interview proper.  I answered some questions OK, but none brilliantly well and some very poorly.  The experience drove home how little experience I have for my years, how little CPD (Continuing Professional Development) I do, how little attention I pay to what is happening in my chosen field, how localised so much of my professional knowledge is and simply how little attention I pay to my career, partly because of depression, partly because it doesn’t interest me very much and part of me (you can call it the autistic side of me) finds it hard to pay attention to stuff that doesn’t interest me these days (at school it was different, somehow.  I’m not sure why).  The depression makes it harder to do these things, but I’m not sure how much I would do even if I was not depressed.

I left the interview feeling I had done badly, but worse was to come in the cataloguing exam.  I thought I would do OK here.  Not amazingly, but OK.  I thought I was a reasonably good cataloguer.  My first boss thought I was a good cataloguer (although she was not a trained librarian herself) and the boss after that, although she seemed to think that I shouldn’t be a librarian at all, did seem to think that a cataloguing job would suit me better than a front of house one.  But I just froze up when I saw the exam paper.

I wrote something for the first question (there were two questions, the first being worth 25%, the second 75%), but I did not know what to do at all for the second.  I was always taught to write something in exams even if I didn’t know the answer, as nothing can be worse than a blank page, but I just did not have a clue what to write.  I was supposed to amend a catalogue record that had mistakes and omissions, but I just was not sure what to do.  I could not even spot the deliberate mistakes.

To be fair, this was highly technical MARC21 cataloguing which I haven’t seen since I did my MA back in 2010.  These days most library management systems have a simplified data entry system for cataloguing that allows you to skip the technical side of it by just filling in the right boxes and it is that sort of cataloguing that I have been doing in my previous jobs.  But I wasn’t expecting myself to have lost the skills so completely, considering I got 72% for cataloguing and classifying in my MA and 69% for adding metadata back in 2010.

Strangely, I didn’t panic.  My mind went blank as it sometimes does when overwhelmed with depression (like a computer freezing), but I calmly started the paper, doing what I could for the first question and then trying to move on to the second one.  The time for the exam was one hour and I didn’t try to leave early, partly, I admit, because I was ashamed to do so.  The exam was done on a computer and I had to save two files with my name on them with my answers, one file per question.  In the end, I wrote something on the second file apologising for taking their time and saying I have not been able to prepare due to “serious health issues” or words to that effect.  I don’t know that I would have performed better if I hadn’t been so depressed, though.  I think I’ve let my skills go rusty and I’m not sure where I go from here.

I came out and went back to the charity shop for retail therapy.  I bought a slightly dog-eared copy of the anthology collection of eleven young adult Doctor Who novellas (one for the first eleven Doctors) brought out for the programme’s fiftieth anniversary five years ago (I bought it mainly for the stories by Malorie Blackman and Neil Gaiman) and an apparently unused (still in cellophane) DVD of Star Trek: Beyond.  Because I was upset, I also grabbed Fatherland by Robert Harris (the book, not the DVD).  Not bad for £3.25, although I really shouldn’t indulge my book-buying addiction like this, especially considering how many books I’m getting for Chanukah.

After that I came home, helping my Dad buy fresh stocks of Chanukah doughnuts on the way, had lunch and drank a lot of tea (as I have said before, if chicken soup is Jewish penicillin, then tea is English prozac, and more effective than real prozac, in my opinion).  I am not sure what to do now, either this afternoon or further ahead.  This afternoon I will probably try to do some Torah study and watch the first episode of my new Jonathan Creek DVD box set (which if I recall correctly has sixth Doctor Colin Baker as the murder victim).  After that, I just don’t know.  A lot will depend on what happens tomorrow at The Network, which is supposed to be offering me help with moving into work with mental health issues, and on Friday, with my autism screening.

It was tempting to title this post “Failed” which would perhaps be more brutal as it could apply to me as much as to the exam.  I’m trying not to think of myself as a failure, but I really don’t see where I go from here.  On the way home I passed someone I dated briefly eighteen months ago (I run into a lot as she lives near me).  I don’t know if she recognised me (to be fair, it took me a minute to recognise her) and I didn’t say anything, but I remembered that she broke up with me because of my mental health, and E. broke up with me because of my career (or lack thereof) and someone else broke up with me for, I think, both those reasons.  That’s three of the four people I’ve dated in the last five years (the other one simply thought we had nothing in common).  Somehow I can’t see myself ever having a career, let alone the relationship that will surely only follow if I do have a career.

If there is a positive side to this, it is that I feel OKish.  I am worried about the future, but I am not endlessly beating myself up.  Realistically, I know that I did my best after being dealt the proverbial bad hand, going back to getting depressed when doing my MA, if not to earlier episodes of depression, which prevented me from doing the things I might have done with my career.  Although, reading this, I wonder if it is really true that I did the best I could do or if this is a convenient fiction.  Perhaps I could, should, have done better.  I don’t know.  At least I didn’t shake when I gave my presentation and had the interview nor did I go completely blank when they spoke to me, except with one question.  And I will try to note down the interview questions so I can use them to practise before my next interview.

Pre-Interview Angst

Today I was OK, until I remembered that I have the interview tomorrow, or until I remembered how lonely I am, then I sank down again.  By mid-afternoon, I was staying down the whole time.  I feel like I did years ago, when I was too depressed to work.  I don’t know whether I physically can work right now, but I don’t feel able to do so and, in my experience, that’s all it takes to trigger overwhelming anxiety and despair when I even think about working.  I am not proud of this, as I think, generally speaking, people should work, if they can, unless they have some strong reason not to.  I think I should work.  I just don’t know how.

So, today I’m not really working on my presentation for the interview.  I read through it once and I might try to do it again before bed,  but I’m not going to add to it, even though it’s probably too short.  Similarly I’m not going to make a Powerpoint presentation to go with it, although that is mostly because of irrational anxiety that something terrible would happen if I did, even though I couldn’t think what could go wrong, realistically.  My parents suggested that I should write a short summary for the interviewers, which I have done.  I worked out how to get to my interview tomorrow (it’s right by where I was working in my last job), and various other places I’m going to in the next week.  Even that seemed a daunting task.  I’m so ridiculously under-prepared for the interview, there’s no chance of my getting the job.  It’s only a six month contract anyway, which makes the whole thing seem pointless.

I think, after my last two jobs, I have lost confidence in my ability to actually do a job properly.  I’m hunting for some kind of diagnosis that will show what I can and can’t cope with, so that hopefully I can find some kind of job I can do.  It worries me that the only jobs I seem to have done well were those with minimal responsibility.

***

I shook again while lighting Chanukah “candles” (strictly speaking, I use oil lights, not candles), quite badly, bad enough to make it difficult to light the lights, although not, I  hope, enough to be dangerous.  Tremor (a medication side-effect for me, particularly from olanzapine) isn’t as big a problem for me as it once was, but I worry about it getting worse.  At the moment it feels like any time I could shake makes me tense and anxious that I will shake, and that tension and anxiety actually causes the shaking.  I worry a lot that I will shake at my interview tomorrow, particularly when I give my presentation.

***

I get irritated with my Dad and I shouldn’t.  Then again, perhaps my irritation is not wholly unwarranted.  I don’t know.  This type of thing makes me feel guilty and self-loathing.  There’s quite a bit of self-loathing today.  I wish I was a better person.

***

I say I’m lonely, but actually connecting with people is hard.  I’m trying not to be irritable to my Dad.  I’m struggling to send or reply to texts, What’sApp messages and emails.  I was woken this morning by a phone call, but I didn’t answer because I was worried it was about the job interview tomorrow (I had just woken up and probably was not thinking straight).  I should have phoned them back to find out who they were, but I was too socially anxious.

***

I get the urge to eat a lot at the moment.  I guess it’s comfort eating.  I have had it in the past, generally when the depression is very bad.  I have the kind of depression that basically makes me want to hibernate, to eat too much and especially to sleep too much, particularly at this time of year.  I’ve put on a lot of weight with clomipramine, though, and I don’t want to put on more.  I haven’t remembered (or dared?) to weigh myself for ages, but I feel fat and I’m pretty sure I’m overweight for the first time in my life.  I want not to care, but I do, particularly as part of me still hopes to go back to dating at some point.  And there’s the health risks of over-eating to consider.  I try to mostly nosh on fruit and veg, but even that can be fattening (I probably eat far too many nuts and raisins) and I do eat some junk and, of course, with it being Chanukah at the moment there are doughnuts around (see how I worded that in the passive to avoid responsibility for eating them).

***

I forgot to take my tablets last night until I got to bed and couldn’t sleep.  All my childhood I had insomnia and then when I got depressed at university it got very bad, going to bed around eleven, but not falling asleep until 3.00 or 4.00am.  That lasted until I was put on anti-depressants.  Since then, the medication knocks me out.  It’s useful, as if I forget to take the evening tablets, I’m usually reminded by the fact that I can’t sleep even if I’m tired.  However, although I took the tablets last night at 1.00am or so, they didn’t put me to sleep for another hour or two, so I got to sleep very late again which is not good.

***

I broke my ‘No Twitter’ rule already, but after getting annoyed about politics, this cheered me up for fifteen seconds, even though I’m not usually a dog person.

Good News, Bad News, Twitter News, Anxiety News

The good news: I’ve been offered CBT on the NHS.  I hope to be able to focus on my low self-esteem, as I think that might have a knock-on effect on both the depression and the social anxiety.

***

The bad news: I didn’t do any real work today, job hunting or interview preparation.  I did about two minutes of interview preparation and that was it.  I tried to get off the computer a bit (see below for more Twitter angst), but the novel I’m reading is The Transmigration of Timothy Archer by Philip K. Dick and is… not the best thing to read when depressed.  The book is about the narrator looking back at her life with her ex-husband, his father, the Bishop of California (who loses his faith) and the father’s mistress, who are all now dead, one or two from suicide.  It is actually a very moving book, and actually quite funny in parts, but I probably should not have started re-reading it, but I don’t like giving up on books.  I guess the thing to do now is to read the rest of it really fast and move on to some of the books I’m going to get for Chanukah.  To be honest, I’m probably not in the mood to read much at the moment anyway, just from depressive lack of concentration and motivation, and the fact that the outside world is wintry and winding down for the winter holidays.

***

I should really steer clear of Twitter.  I get annoyed about political stuff even if I don’t particularly agree with what’s being attacked (why?  I don’t know.  I dislike argument for reasons rooted in my childhood and I have a lot of baggage about contemporary politics in general because of antisemitism), and the Doctor Who stuff is just… well, I clearly don’t watch the programme the same way most modern fans do.  I don’t use the same vocabulary either (literally).

To be honest, Twitter was never going to be a good match for me.  The word limit means it’s mostly used for silly jokes and angry rants.  I’m not sure how to engage more with contemporary fandom without it, though.  I’m nervous of joining an online forum for fear of losing my entire life if I go down that particular rabbit hole (particularly as I’m thinking of trying to stay off the computer more) and I’m not sure how different it would be to Twitter, except that political stuff would be off-topic.

It would be good to have some more social contact, preferably some that isn’t mental health/autism-based.  To be honest, I probably need more real-world/local friends.  It would be good if I could be friendlier with people from shul/shiur (synagogue/religious class).  I think a couple of people like me on some level, but I get scared to open up and I don’t know how to hold conversations.

I think I’m basically looking for friends.  That’s why I procrastinate online, on Twitter and so on.  I’m looking for someone who says something that really speaks to me, in my confused uniqueness.  But I mostly just find anger and hatred online.  I don’t really know what I would find in the real world (shul, shiur), because I don’t really have the courage to open up enough to make real friends.  To be honest, most of the time I don’t have the courage to speak to other people at all.

I feel terrible today.  Just lonely and alone (not the same thing) and depressed and despairing and drained, with occasional bursts of anxiety.  I just feel fundamentally weird and unlovable.  You can be lonely even in a house with other people.  I feel fragile and vulnerable and unable to function.

***

Alternatively: why is the world so angry?  Why won’t anyone just listen?

***

I feel sure that this week is going to be full of embarrassment, first at my job interview on Wednesday, which I feel sure that I’m going to mess up, whether through poor preparation or anxiety (I’m very worried I’m going to shake visibly during my presentation, as lately I can’t seem to talk to people at work without shaking, or nearly shaking), then at my autism screening, which I feel sure is going to end with being told I’m not autistic (and, implicitly, why do I keep fantasising that I’m autistic?  Which sounds like a psychopathology in itself.  Is there a term for thinking you’ve got a medical condition when you don’t have it?  Is it just hypochondria?  Munchausen Syndrome is when you think you have lots of rare disorders, I think, not just one issue).

In Jewish thought, embarrassing someone else is a terrible thing to do.  In some ways it is considered worse than murder, because you can only murder someone once, whereas you can embarrass them many times; worse, every time that they think of the embarrassment, it is like you are murdering them again.  I don’t really want to spend the week getting embarrassed.

I guess I shouldn’t preemptively feel embarrassed, it’s just hard not to be negative sometimes.  I suppose the feeling is that if I feel embarrassed in advance, at least I’m prepared.  That’s anxiety for you.  As I mentioned yesterday, the last few years Chanukah has been a time of relative calm, but this year all the things that are going on in my life have, if not ruined that, then at least made it more difficult to feel the positive feelings.

***

Don’t worry about me if I go quiet for a bit.  I’m going to try to cut down my internet time (although at the moment I’m not sure how, particularly if I’m applying for jobs).  If I’m not job hunting, I should be reading hard copy books or watching DVDs, not aimlessly internet surfing or procrastinating.