Today has been a frustrating day. I got up relatively early, at least for a Sunday, but then after breakfast I think I fell asleep again for two hours. I’m trying to work on my interview presentation, but I feel what I have written is sub-par and doesn’t really answer the question the way I think they want. It’s certainly shorter than it should be, about eight minutes instead of ten, and sure to contract further on the day when I go faster with anxiety. I’m also not sure whether to do a bibliography; I don’t know if they want it and I only have one website on it anyway. I feel that as a librarian I should provide references, but I’m not sure if I was really supposed to do research for it anyway, and especially not online (I used Google to answer a question about not using Google (actually, strictly speaking I used DuckDuckGo, as I don’t use Google so much because I have an anarchist streak, but it’s the same principle)).
I suppose that I should at least be grateful that it looks like I will make it to the interview as a few days ago even that was not clear. But trying to write the presentation I find myself on the verge of tears again, choking up with anxiety and despair, and I procrastinate online or read things that interest me more, like clashing (moderately) ‘pro’ and (violently) ‘con’ obituaries for George Bush Snr. online. I also worry about shaking when I give the presentation or even having a panic attack on the Tube on the way there and not actually making it. It probably is true that I’m not in the career that interests me most, but working out what would interest me more (when I’m interested in many things) and whether I could actually do it (when depression, social anxiety and autistic symptoms make so many things difficult for me) is much harder.
There was anxiety in the evening too, after lighting Chanukah lights and later on. I went on to Twitter to look at Doctor Who stuff and got triggered by political stuff. “Triggered” is probably the wrong word, and one I overuse, but I was reminded that my political outlook is different to that of many of my friends, and that I suspect that many of my friends would reject me if I voiced some of my opinions.
Overall the day was frustrating. I did some work on the presentation (even though not enough) and I dusted my room (which was long overdue), but again I didn’t cook dinner properly, just made something out of a packet and didn’t do as much Torah study as I would have liked (but at least I did some).
Tonight is the start of Chanukah. When I was growing up Chanukah was a favourite festival because we got presents. Nowadays it’s a favourite because it’s the least triggering festival (that word again). It doesn’t involve complex OCD-triggering laws like Pesach and Sukkot. It doesn’t involve drinking and enforced extreme happiness that are so difficult with depression like Purim and Simchat Torah. It doesn’t involve social anxiety-inducing trips to crowded shul (synagogue) services. It doesn’t involve depression-triggering soul-searching and guilt like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It doesn’t threaten to mess up my sleep pattern like Shavuot. I don’t even have to take time off work (not that I am working this year, but you get the idea). Just light the candles, sing the songs and eat latkes and doughnuts.
Chanukah is an unusual festival anyway and not just in being post-biblical. It is sometimes said that Jewish festivals can be summarised as “They tried to kill us, they failed, let’s eat!” Actually only Pesach and Purim can be summarised that way. What is unusual about Chanukah is that it does commemorate victory over persecution, but spiritual/cultural persecution rather than physical. The “Greeks” (actually the Hellenistic Syrian Seleucid dynasty) didn’t want to kill us, merely to destroy our sovereignty, religion and culture, and the war against them for independence was as much a civil war of traditional Jews against Hellenised Jews as much as Jews vs. Greeks. Unlike the Babylonians and the Romans, the Greeks didn’t destroy the Temple (symbol of Jewish religious independence), but defiled it with pigs and idolatrous statues, to turn the symbol of Jewish religious particularism and counter-culturalism (monotheism in a pagan world) into a conventionally Hellenistic Temple. From that point of view it’s the appropriate festival for an era when Judaism as a religion is collapsing in the diaspora due to assimilation and when Zionism is under attack from (among others) secular progressives who are opposed to Jewish sovereignty and present it as an irrelevant to or even in opposition to traditional Jewish identity. As Rabbi Zarum said when I heard him speak last week, Chanukah reminds us that we are all, from the most Modern to the most Charedi, drawing boundaries over what aspects of wider Western culture we let in and what we keep out and that we should at least be doing this self-consciously rather than unthinkingly.
(It’s really not the “Jewish Christmas,” whatever Hollywood says to the contrary, but you probably don’t want to see me on my soapbox about the presentation of Jews in popular culture again. Anyway, Chanukah hardly ever actually coincides with Christmas, even though it always does in Hollywood.)
So Chanukah seems calm and when my OCD was worse in particular it seemed a bit of an oasis compared with other festivals, but once I start to think about the themes of the festival, suddenly it becomes fraught with meaning and with difficulty. Am I too Westernised? (Tellingly, a lot of my problem with recent Doctor Who episodes has stemmed from this idea of Jewish religious particularism.) Am I fighting antisemitism the way I might be (there was a big and worrying survey of antisemitic attitudes in Europe in the Jewish press this week and I wasn’t sure what to make of it)? Is living in Israel the only sustainable way of being Jewish in the long-term now, due to both assimilation and antisemitism? What should I do?
“What should I do?” seems to be the general question of my life at the moment.
Chanukah is at least the tale of the triumph of a few heroes against enormous odds with miraculous Divine assistance, which I guess is reassuring to think about when I’m struggling to cope with all my mental health issues. And there is, of course, the central miracle of the oil that burnt for eight days rather than one, which is why we light candles in the first place. The idea of feeling pushed beyond natural boundaries is one I can empathise with, although it feels painful rather than miraculous to me.
I saw a strange story over Shabbat about a Chassidic rebbe (Rav Ben Tzion, the Bobover Rebbe) and his grandson Naftul’che before the Holocaust. It was Chanukah and the grandson, who was a boy, was playing dreidel (a Chanukah game with a spinning top with writing on the sides; depending on how it lands, you either add to or take from the kitty of coins or sweets in the middle) with him. Naftul’che was winning a lot, but his grandfather suddenly placed his hand over the dreidel before he could see it and said, “We don’t always need to know what the dreidel lands on. The main thing is for a Jew just to keep going.” I think the person who told the story was implying that this was some kind of conscious or unconscious premonition of the Holocaust, in which Rav Ben Tzion was killed; Naftul’che survived and became the Rebbe and his grandfather was teaching him to keep going no matter what. But I guess the idea that resonates is that sometimes all we can do is just keep going, we can’t even tell how the dreidel has landed, how things are going to be or even how they are now, we just have to keep going; that even if we don’t win our rightful prize, just keeping going is enough.
I get lonely sometimes, particularly nights like tonight, where it’s a chag (festival), albeit a minor one, and my parents have gone out and my sister has long since left home and married and I’m home alone… and I like the quiet and solitude, but it also reminds me how few friends I have and that I’m not married and probably never will be. I worry what will happen to me when my parents aren’t here. Financially as much as emotionally. I’ve never had a full-time job, and the last two jobs I had, I performed very badly. I’m not used to doing important things badly and I don’t like it. I hope it was just autism stuff (noise, people) and depression stuff (poor concentration, constant exhaustion) and not that I’m fundamentally a defective person.
Sometimes it feels like there are so many thoughts crowded in my head, sometimes even contradictory ones and certainly some that show me in a bad light. I get angry and disgusted with myself sometimes. A lot, really. It is difficult to know what to do with these thoughts, how to repress or express them. I wonder again what is wrong with me – if not autism, then what? Because it feels like something is very wrong with me, and has been for a long time. Is it really ‘just’ depression? It does seem like I mess up every interpersonal relationship I have sooner or later, as well as most jobs. Is that depression or social anxiety or what?
Sometimes I want to be hugged, but asking my parents can be problematic. I’m not good at navigating personal relationships, even with people who care about me, especially if there is a complicated history. I guess everything I do comes in the context of my own complicated history. Part of me would like to start over from scratch, but that’s not really an option by this stage, although Rebbe Nachman of Breslav would say that is. “If your tomorrow is the same as your today, what need have you for tomorrow,” I think is the quote (quoting from memory).