Appointments and More Disappointments

(Apologies for the contrived title, riffing on yesterday’s post’s title to show some sort of link or continuation.  It’s not even strictly accurate, as it’s questionable whether the events here really count as “appointments”, certainly not in the plural.  I’ve never been good at titles since my school days…)

I was hoping to go to my depression group tonight, but I didn’t go, not because of the snow (I was ready to risk an arduous journey home), but because I had a migraine this afternoon.  It started at work and I had to dash out of a meeting with my line manager because I thought I was going to throw up (luckily I didn’t, not least because the nearest toilet was on another floor).  The headache and nausea had more or less gone by the time I got home, but I still felt light-headed and shaky on my legs, so I decided that staying in was the best option even without snow.  For that reason I skipped the shiur (religious class) I would normally go to on Thursday evenings too.  It’s a shame I’m missing depression group, though, as I had quite a lot to talk about in terms of my autism screening and new job and was looking forward to venting some of my conflicted feelings about both of those things as well as telling my friends there that there has at least been some progress.  Hopefully I can go next month.

On the plus side, the outcome of the meeting at work was that my line manager is happy what I’m doing and is still sympathetic about the depression and autism.  I’m still not really looking too hard for new work, even though this job currently due to end in March, because I would rather stay here as long as possible and use the free days for mental health courses at The Network and working on my books.  I’m still torn between which book to work on primarily.  The Doctor Who book is further along (I’ve already largely done a second draft), but it will take time while I do more research before I can move to a third draft.  I’m still hoping to finish the whole thing by the autumn.  In the meantime, I don’t know whether to work on the ‘understanding Judaism for non-Jews’ book or the ‘Jewish mental health and autism’ book based on my blog.  The latter will probably win out, because it’s more important and because it’s easier at the moment as the first task is to look over two years worth of old blog posts for reusable material.  Possible first line: “My life has never been of much interest to me, but my inner life, my auto-analysis, has been of overwhelming interest to me since adolescence.”

Last night, after saying here that I wasn’t going to join the values-based dating service, I went and signed up for it.  I’ll have to meet with a matchmaker to discuss my values and those that I’m looking for in a wife, so I won’t be set up with any dates yet.  I don’t know how long that takes to happen and they do say that they won’t match you unless they find someone who seems to be a good match, values-wise, so nothing may come of it at all.  And of course finding someone with a values match doesn’t guarantee we have anything else in common, or that we have good chemistry, or that she can cope with my depression-autism-social-anxiety-low-income nexus.  But I guess it can’t hurt.  (Actually, it can hurt, but I’m risking it anyway.)

I was going to write about some political stuff that upset me today, but I got scared.  I was going to write why I got scared, but I got too scared to write that too.  Suffice to say that I don’t live in one of the echo chambers people say everyone is in these days, and I don’t necessarily believe what other people assume people like me believe.  I don’t think that makes me a bad person, but I know others will disagree, so I’m keeping quiet.  This saddens me.

Despite all this, I’m coping with today’s disappointments better than yesterday’s and I’m feeling fairly positive overall, hence this shorter than usual post.

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Disappointments

I overslept this morning and was very drained and a bit depressed once I got up.  Those feelings have pursued me all day.  I feel better for a bit, but then they come back.  Still, I’m doing a lot better than I was.

I had a meeting at The Network, the local government (I think) organisation that runs the well-being course I went on.  I arranged to go on another course in February that might help with assertiveness and dealing with difficult thoughts.  It’s at a place that is harder to get to than the last course.  To be honest, I’m not sure if it will help, or how much the other course helped, but I’m wary of turning down free help, both because it’s free and because it shows people I’m still trying to get better.  It will give me less time for writing, though.  I still haven’t really spoken to my parents about not looking too hard for another job so that I can write.

I find myself struggling again this afternoon.  Some of it is probably the tiredness, but some of it is a phone call I just had with a lawyer.  I think I’ve mentioned once before that my Dad was in a road accident years ago with a motorcyclist who is now suing for damages (even though she insisted she was unhurt at the time and turned away the ambulance my Dad called).  I just spoke to the lawyer to tell my side of the story (what I can remember, which isn’t much given (a) that it happened very fast and (b) it happened three years ago), in particular to state that I think that one of the witness statements was wrong.  I feel that I could make my father’s case stronger by lying and saying that I’m certain that my father’s car was stationary when the motorcycle hit and that there is no way the witness could have seen what he says he has seen, but I feel that while the first statement is possibly true and the second is probably true, I can’t honestly swear to either as absolute truth.  My parents say I should just tell the truth as I remember it, but I feel vaguely disloyal.  The reality is that it isn’t my father who will pay damages, but the insurance company, but he may have to pay court fees, although I still have a suspicion that the insurance company will opt settle out of court (which doubtless is how unscrupulous ambulance-chasing lawyers make their money, not that I’m suspecting the motorcyclist’s lawyers of being like that).  Still, the thought of giving evidence in court under oath is scary.

I’ve also discovered that I missed the deadline for my shul’s (synagogue’s) communal Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner.  A What’sApp message went out about it a week or so ago, but there wasn’t an email until late on Monday evening.  The email didn’t say that the online payment would close that evening!  So I’m too late.  That is a bit frustrating, but maybe it’s for the best, as I wasn’t sure if it would leave me feeling more depressed.

I just phoned to try to find out how much longer I’m likely to wait for CBT.  There was no answer – typical NHS.

Then I tried to look over old posts from this blog for paragraphs that can be removed from their original context and expanded or grafted on to other paragraphs (newly written or from other old posts) to form into chapters that I could form into a book on mental health.  This is going to take much longer than I thought, especially as I hate re-reading my old writing, as it just depresses me and makes me feel that I’m a terrible writer, that I have nothing interesting to say and why do I think people would want to read a book of my introverted auto-analysis?  So I feel more depressed than before, but at least I did something.  Although mostly I ended up distracted by reading about the supposed “Shidduch (Orthodox dating) Crisis” online.  I don’t know whether that really exists, but if it does, it ought to have played a lot more to my advantage than is the case.

I was going to register with We Go Together (values-based Jewish matchmaking service), but then thought that maybe I’m lapsing back into depression and shouldn’t be dating and postponed registering.  But thinking about dating leaves me feeling lonely again…

***

Lately I find myself wondering if I’m a kind person.  A few people have said I am.  I struggle to accept it, and not just from low self-esteem.  I acknowledge that I’m a compassionate person who feels other people’s pain, but I find that often I can’t understand how to help other people in practical terms; sometimes I am just too selfish to do help too.  I suppose it’s the divide between emotional empathy, recognising other people’s emotions, and cognitive empathy, taking other people’s perspectives and knowing how to respond.  Autistic people have emotional empathy, but not cognitive empathy.  One psychiatrist told me that I will never understand other people and should stop trying; similarly, a therapist told me (more sympathetically) that I want to help people, but I don’t know how.  So I find it strange that people seem to think I’m kind.

It’s probably been on my mind because I’ve been thinking about dating again and I know I would want someone who is gentle, kind and understanding to deal with all my issues, but I worry that I don’t have anything to offer in return.  I probably come across as kinder online than in real life because I’m better with text than words and actions – it’s easier to take time thinking things through in writing and perhaps I can imagine what I would want someone to say for me more easily than imagining what someone would do for me.

Draining Workarounds, Unfinished Conversations and Accessories to Murder

I had another reasonably good, if tiring, day today.  This is beginning to look like A Trend.  Which is good, but also scary, as whenever I get used to things going well and start talking about Recovery, things go horribly wrong.  I haven’t been well for more than six months in the last sixteen years, so I shouldn’t read too much into six days, but it feels as if things might be getting better… which leaves me wondering when they will get worse.  Maybe “Recovery” isn’t the right mindset for someone in my position to have.  Maybe I should be thinking of a succession of short-terms, permanently.  I probably will always have some depression, or the threat of it, and certainly I will always be autistic.  I have been thinking for a while now of managing my mental health issues and managing my autism rather than recovering.

I had some anxiety on the way into work this morning, some of it understandable (work anxieties, dating) some of it less so (beating myself up for not davening with a minyan (praying with a community) and feeling no one who would be frum (religious) enough for me to date would want to marry me unless I was davening with a minyan more often, at least on Shabbat (Saturday) mornings).  My new affirmation (“My thoughts are not always my friends”) was quite useful here and I was reasonably calm, albeit that I did accidentally set off the alarms at work by being too hasty to check on some things I did in the vault last week.

I could also feel my OCD trying to get me again this evening.  Actually, I’m not sure that it is OCD.  Years ago someone on a mental health forum I used to frequent said that her grandmother was euthanized by a doctor, in a way that implied she approved, and periodically I remember this and wonder if I should have told someone, although as I don’t have a name, date or country, let alone place, where this is supposed to have happened, if it is even true, it seems unlikely that I could actually report it to anyone, let alone that a police force would take it seriously.  But every so often something makes me think of it and I feel like an unwitting accessory after the event and worry that there was something I should have done.

On the plus side, my mood was pretty good for most of the day, aside from these blips, and my kavannah (mindfulness) when davening has been much better the last few days.  Davening a little bit with kavannah is seen as better than davening a lot without it, so this makes me feel a bit better.

Despite this, I did have a couple of awkward moments at work.  I realised that I have trouble knowing when a conversation is finished or how to conclude a conversation that I sense is almost over.  I’ve been aware of this problem on some level for a while and I think it’s another autistic thing, but it’s become more of a problem in my new job, because it’s resulted in several awkward moments with my line manager.  I also had a difficult conversation in the staff room at lunch time.  I was staring into space, feeling tired and possibly a bit anxious when someone said, “Great book!”  It took me a minute to realise that he was speaking to me and another minute to realise that he was referring to the copy of The Dispossessed by Ursula le Guin that was on my lap.  He asked if I had read any more of her work and I did the autistic/fanboy thing of listing book titles I’ve read instead of having a normal conversation.

I have a lot of workarounds for social functioning with autism so that I can at least try to interact in the worlds of work and socialising, but these workarounds are very draining.  Imagine if your body worked fine, except that all of the processes that are now autonomic suddenly required conscious thought: breathing, heart beat, digestion etc.  Now imagine that you are trying to live a normal life while also consciously telling yourself, “Breathe in, breathe out, heart beat, digest lunch., breathe again…”  This is how I feel when talking to people I don’t feel comfortable with (which is most of them, on some level): I’m constantly telling myself to make more eye contact, but not too much, trying to read their body language, trying to read my own body language and check it’s saying what I want it to say, trying to process what they’re actually saying and respond to it in real time even though I don’t always take in spoken information easily and making snap decisions (like responding to a spoken stimulus) is very hard… no wonder I find conversation so anxiety-provoking, even without my childhood history of bullying.

My parents are speaking of paying for me to have a private autism assessment.  I am not convinced that it is a good use of money.  I don’t see a particular urgency in needing a diagnosis at this stage (their reasoning is if I get a new job I will need a diagnosis to get reasonable adjustments – see below) and private assessments are a lot of money.  Even then I could be told yet again that I’m not autistic.  By now I’m almost completely convinced I am autistic, but I’m worried I might be told again that my symptoms are not serious enough to warrant diagnosis, despite things like my comments in the immediately previous paragraph.

I’ve slacked off a bit in my job search since getting my current job.  The job is only two days a week and is technically only until the end of March (although I think unless I seriously mess something up in the next two months my line manager will lobby for me to stay longer, but only if the money is available, which is always the big if in higher education).  I feel I should be looking for something else either for Mondays and Wednesdays or for after March… yet I don’t feel inclined to look hard.  My last two jobs were so difficult and upsetting that I’m glad to be in a less intense work environment, both in terms of a job that is more suited to my personality and skill set and a reduced number of days per week that lets me recuperate more between work days as well as giving me time to work on my writing.  It’s much easier to see myself working in a salaried job for half a week and writing professionally for the other half than it is to see myself as working full-time or writing full-time.  I haven’t quite told my parents this yet, although I think I did tell them I was using my off time for writing.  I’m not quite sure how to tell them.

Virtuous Circles

22 Shevat: Yortzeit of the Kotzker Rebbe

I’m still feeling quite good.  I’m waiting for the depression to come back, as it always does, but I’m trying to enjoy it while it lasts.  It’s interesting that my desire and ability to study Torah and to daven (pray) with kavannah (mindfulness) grows when my mood is better.  There probably is a virtuous circle of good mood –> more engaged with Judaism –> better mood.

***

I want to work on my books on non-(paid) work days (Mondays and Wednesdays; Fridays, at least when Shabbat starts later in the day; and potentially Sundays when I don’t volunteer.  Maybe also Saturday evening after Shabbat in the winter, although that’s hard).  I actually feel like a child in a sweetshop, getting to write about my special interests: Judaism, Doctor Who and mental health (OK, analysing my own psyche).  It’s just difficult to know where to start.  A while back I said I wanted to get paid for writing about my special interests; I’ve got some way still to go for that, but at least I can set aside some time aside in the hope that one day I will get paid for at least one of them.

Unfortunately after having gone to well-being group (see below), done some chores and spoken to my rabbi mentor (again, below) today, I was too tired to do much writing, but I did twenty minutes or so of working on the structure of the Jewish book.  I oscillated between excitement at writing and anxiety at the scale of the task and whether my book would be distinctive or well-written enough to compete in the marketplace.

***

I had the last session of well-being group today.  We looked at how far we have come and how to continue to grow.  It was a bit disappointing for me.  I have achieved things since starting the group, not least that I’m now working again two days a week; smaller, but potentially longer-lasting achievements include getting back into meditating daily and finding an affirmation that works for me when my thoughts get out of control, one that handily works for depression, OCD and social anxiety.  However, I feel there is so much more to do.  In particular, I haven’t been to shul (synagogue) on Shabbat (Saturday) morning for a year or more.  I don’t know how to get to that goal.  I can’t see a way to break it down to smaller steps as we have spoken about in the group.  I think part of the problem is that there is so much anxiety, guilt and self-loathing around where I fit in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community that I don’t really want to go to shul.  On Friday afternoons and Shabbat afternoons I go from habit or I can psych myself up to go if I have to, but on Saturday mornings the temptation to sleep through my alarms is too strong.  I’m not sure what to do about this.  I need to find a way to build up to it in small steps, but I can’t think of any.

We also spoke about self-care in well-being group.  Everyone else seemed to think they don’t do enough, whereas I suspect I do too much, but it doesn’t really help me to cope better.

***

I have an appointment with the psychiatrist booked for 28 February.  This was booked before I was working, so is on a Thursday.  As I only work two days a week, it seemed a bit much to ask for a morning off to go, so I just tried to book a replacement appointment on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday, only to be told that the earliest free appointment is in May!  This is ridiculous.  To be fair, in this instance, unlike some (many) previous problems I’ve had with the NHS, this isn’t really their fault.  It’s basic economics that zero price means infinite demand, in theory.  Obviously there isn’t going to be literally infinite demand for psychiatric services, but demand is still going to far outstrip supply no matter how well the NHS is funded.  It’s still pretty awful service, though.  At least the receptionist was polite and apologetic, which isn’t always the case (something less justifiable by hard economics).

***

I spoke to my rabbi mentor about some of my recent experiences.  He said I sounded very positive and that my book ideas sounded interesting.  He was a bit concerned that my Jewish book idea sounded too much like this book, but I see mine as being less academic and more about explaining Judaism from the point of view of questions non-Jews actually ask me, based on how we appear to outsiders, rather than the things you would need to know to do a degree in Jewish Studies or Comparative Religion.  So, less on the history of Jewish theology and more on why we wear strange clothes and use unusual words when ostensibly speaking English.  But it might be worth trying to get hold of a copy of that book and one or two others before I get too involved in the project to nudge it in a different direction.

My rabbi mentor was also supportive of my decision to try dating again.  He agreed with me that there probably won’t be a time when I’m not dealing with my mental health on some level, so waiting until I’m “better” is pointless.  He felt that when I was in a relationship with E. that had a positive effect on my mood and that even going through relationship breakups has been a learning experience for me, so that it was worth trying again.

Writing this post, I wonder if dating will give me an incentive to go to shul on Shabbat mornings again?  Not for practical reasons so much as so I don’t have to explain to dates why I don’t go.

***

I emailed one of my colleagues from my further education job.  He replied saying they were just wondering where I was working now.  I always feel funny when people say they were talking about me.  It’s not paranoia, but a sense of, “Wow, people actually remember me when I’m not in the room.”

Overload, But Good

I need to write about my day for my private journal, so I may as well write it here; you read about the bad days, so I guess you should see the good ones too.

I got up quite early (for a Sunday), but struggled with exhaustion.  I did eventually get going.  I went to volunteer at the asylum seekers drop-in centre (I still think there should be an apostrophe in that, but it’s how they spell it).  I deliberately arrived over an hour late because I knew I had a busy day and I wouldn’t be able to cope with four hours plus of volunteering.

At first I felt completely out of place.  Even after volunteering there for several months, I don’t feel that I know anyone well enough to say anything deeper than “Hi, how are you?”  I struggled with sorting piles of clothes (I can’t always easily tell men’s from women’s or adults’ from children’s… to be fair, I’m not the only person there with this problem).  When the asylum seekers arrived, I went to volunteer in the creche area as I usually do, but at first I found it difficult to connect with the children; there were other volunteers there who seemed to find it much easier to connect with them.  I actually thought about coming home, but after a while there were so many children there that they really needed me to help, plus I found it easier to play with some of the younger (pre-school) children, who seemed to like me.  There was one little baby there in particular who happened to share my first name who seemed to feel very comfortable with me; at one point he tried to feed me his half-eaten biscuit, which was cute and slightly gross at the same time!

I then came home and vegetated in front of Doctor Who for an hour and a half to regain some energy (not exactly relaxing, though, as I’m watching as research for my Doctor Who book) before going out to dinner with my family.  It was my sister and my father’s birthdays last week and this was the celebration at the local kosher Chinese restaurant (my sister’s favourite).  I was limited in my food choices as I’m vegetarian during the week (I only eat meat and fish on Shabbat (the Sabbath) and Yom Tov (Jewish festivals)) and the restaurant had limited vegetarian options.  Kosher meat restaurants have limited vegetarian options as a rule and I’m not entirely sure why.  I suppose not being allowed to serve cheese or milk (because of kosher laws preventing meat and dairy in the same meal) limits them, but you can still do things with tofu or soya; this restaurant had one tofu side dish only, which is frustrating.  I did have vegetarian spring rolls, vegetarian dim sum, various vegetable, rice, noodle and tofu side dishes (as a family we ordered five different side dishes, all meat free, and shared them around) and hot chocolate cake and parev (non-dairy) ice cream.  We had a good time, but I struggled with the noise in the restaurant, which was somewhat uncomfortable for me.  It’s strange that it’s only in the last few years, since I’ve learnt about autism and sensory overload, that I’ve realised how uncomfortable I can feel in noisy places.  I suppose one needs to know a concept and have a name for it before one can identify it.  Before then, I probably just put uncomfortable feelings down to introversion, social anxiety or depression or just went home in a bad mood without knowing why.

I ought to go to bed now, as I have the last session of my well-being group tomorrow and I’m likely to be exhausted.  I’d like to do some work on one or more of the three books I am writing/would like to write if I have the energy.  Still, today was a positive experience after a difficult start, which is good.  I even got some Torah study in there at some point.

Writing, Dating and Other Diversions

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was good, although I’ve got the post-Shabbat slump at the moment.  Whether Shabbat finishes at 10.30pm in the height of summer or 4.45pm in the middle of winter, I always feel exhausted afterwards, probably because, by definition, it’s dark outside (Shabbat finishes when the stars come out) and, of course, there’s always tidying up to do (which admittedly is harder at 11.00pm in the summer), and although I’ve done my share of that tonight, I was struggling a little bit with some religious OCD thoughts that came up while I was doing it.  Telling myself that “My thoughts are not always my friends” does seem to help though.

Otherwise I’ve been quite well the last few days.  I still didn’t get to shul (synagogue) this morning, but I think I need to psych myself up for that at some point rather than just expect to start going again.  It’s a pity it’s hard to break it down to smaller steps that I can work on gradually (going later is almost as hard, in some ways harder, than being there for the start).  But my mood overall for the last few days has been positive, with optimistic thoughts about dating and writing and a lack of anxiety and depression, for all that I’m a bit worried about something I did at work.

***

I watched Star Trek Beyond this evening with my parents.  Watching films always seems to leave me drained in a way that watching TV does not.  When I go to the cinema, I assume it’s probably the sensory overload that does it, but I don’t know what does it on DVD.  Maybe concentrating for two hours is draining, even on days when I’m not consciously feeling depressed.

***

I’ve got a vague idea about writing the depression book a few people have said that they would like me to write.  I think, potentially, I could wade through the 1000 posts on this site (actually probably only about 600; the others are brief, private, personal journal posts) for material that can potentially be reworked and/or augmented as a book about depression.  But whereas I blog stuff as it happens to me or as I think of it, I could pick apart different themes (depression, autism, being mentally ill in the frum community) and stitch fragments of posts together to arrange the book thematically.  Maybe.  Or maybe this wouldn’t work, I’m not sure.  It needs some thought.  I don’t know what type of book people would want, what ‘value added’ they would want beyond the blog.  Please let me know your thoughts, particularly if you’re one of the people who has encouraged me to write a book on depression.

I want to set aside time on days when I don’t work to write the three (!) books I’m hoping to write: the Doctor Who book that is two-thirds written and which I’d like to get reasonably close to finished by Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) in the autumn; the book on Orthodox Judaism for non-Jews; and the depression book, if I can get it to work.

***

CILIP, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, has sent me a pencil, badge and cardboard bookmark to mark my renewing my subscription.  The bookmark says, “I’m taking my career seriously – ready for the next challenge!” which seems a bit of a stretch for me.  I’m really not sure where I am with my career at the moment.  I’m hoping my job gets extended past March, but I’d rather spend the non-work days in the week working on my writing than working in a library.

***

I’m still thinking about trying to date again soon.  It requires working up a certain amount of courage.  I feel positive about it, but once I stop to think, it’s harder to accept that someone could want me, depression, autism and all.  I just read a couple of articles about “older singles” in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community, which basically means singles over thirty or so years old.  They always say “X is in his late thirties and still single despite having nothing wrong with him.”  I know what they mean, but it always makes me feel, “If you’re neurotypical and mentally healthy and can’t get married, we’ll feel sorry for you, but if you’re autistic and depressed… well, what do you expect?”  I know that’s not quite what they mean, but it’s how it comes across.

Weirdly, I keep thinking about an acquaintance from school who I hadn’t thought about for years.  I didn’t really know her (it was a big school, with 240 children in a year and we didn’t have any classes together), but she always said hello to me using my name and it suddenly occurred to me the other day that maybe she liked me.  It’s weird to think that anyone at school could have had a crush on me, though, as I had terrible acne and was not good at making friends or even talking to people outside my immediate tiny friendship circle, especially not girls.  So maybe she was just being friendly.  But I’ve been vaguely wondering what would have happened if I had asked her out.  Or even if I’d actually spoken to her properly (I don’t think we ever really had a conversation).  I’m not sure why I keep thinking about her, though, particularly as I can’t really remember what she looked like.  Maybe that’s it: I remember her as a cheerful, positive and friendly presence (I didn’t experience many of those at school) more than a physical body and maybe I want that in my life.

Is This Coping?

Just a quick note (to myself as much as to anyone else) to say that I feel OK today.  I was very exhausted and “mentally hungover” on waking, but I’ve been out for a (routine) blood test and helped my Dad with Shabbat shopping.  I’m hoping to spend a little time working on my Jewish book before Shabbat starts.  That may not happen, but it’s’ good that I’m thinking very proactively about it.  And I managed to fight off some OCD anxiety.

More than this, I actually feel reasonably positive.  It feels like I might be able to find ways to manage the depression and autism.  I don’t think I’ll ever have a “normal” life, inasmuch as I don’t know if I will ever have a full-time job, get married and have children, but I think I can cope with working part-time and maybe dating for a bit, as long as I accept that I have less energy and socialising ability than most people.  That’s OK.  I think I’m probably going to have to depend on the kindness of others (particularly my parents and, if I find one, my wife, but also in the workplace and elsewhere) more than most people, but I guess that’s OK.  If I was blind or in a wheelchair I wouldn’t feel bad about needing help and I don’t think depression and autism are any more shameful.

I’ve got a busy weekend (shul (synagogue) tonight, volunteering on Sunday afternoon and family dinner on Sunday evening), so I’m going to try to rest a bit today and tomorrow.  I know this is just one good day (and yesterday was quite good), so I’m going to try not to read too much into it, but it’s good while it lasts.

Pensées

My mood was rather better today than it has been recently.  It felt a bit like my emotional ‘crash’ at work on Tuesday has helped me to get some things off my chest and now I feel I can work more confidently.  This is doubly so as my line manager was very pleased with my work today, including some where I was using quite a bit of initiative, so it’s good that she has seen what I’m capable of.  I did have some slight OCD anxiety about locking up the office and the rare books which I’m going to have to monitor to make sure it doesn’t get out of control.

I did manage to use an affirmation to try and fight my negative thoughts at work, including the OCD anxiety, which I don’t usually manage to do.  I’ve tried positive affirmations before (“I am a good person” etc.) without much success, as I don’t believe them, but at well-being group yesterday they gave us a long list of possible affirmations, a couple of which seemed to me to be more realistic.  I’ve opted for “My thoughts aren’t always my friends” to be used when depression, self-loathing, guilt or anxiety (including OCD anxiety) are threatening to get out of control.  I will see how I get on with this.  I think the actual affirmation was supposed to be “My mind is not always my friend” but I unconsciously changed it.  I think my version is better, because it’s less self-critical (talking about bad thoughts rather than my mind/self being wrong).

***

I saw the doctor this morning and we discussed why I felt so bad on Tuesday.  To be honest, I’m not sure what the trigger was, but it may have been going out for dinner with a large crowd of people I didn’t really know on Friday, plus trying to go to the shul (synagogue) meeting on Sunday and not making it, plus my parents being out on Monday evening and my mind spiralling downwards as sometimes happens when I’m alone.  We discussed ways to prevent this in future and I’m already thinking about how to avoid similar slumps after social engagements in the next few weeks.  I mentioned this to my parents, introducing them to the “spoon theory” of mentally ill/autistic energy levels; they seemed receptive.

***

As a result of the meeting I missed on Sunday, I’ve now found out about the six principles of my shul (synagogue).  They’re not really unexpected or controversial (fortunately), so I don’t feel that I’m in completely the wrong place, but two of them are about family, which makes me feel a bit… not unwelcome, but out of place.  But I think that would be the case wherever I went in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world.  It’s a very family-centred religion.

***

I’m slowly inching towards writing the book about Judaism for non-Jews and non-religious Jews.  I’ve just started brainstorming a few ideas and I have some idea of what the structure will look like.  After my well-being course finishes next week, I’m hoping to spend some time writing on days when I don’t work.  That way I can think of myself as working partly in a library and partly in trying to become a semi-professional writer.  I will probably do some job hunting too, although my line manager hinted on Tuesday that she’s hoping to extend my contract past March if the money is available (“if the money is available” – the mantra of all libraries and universities).  I want to make progress with my Doctor Who book, but as I’m doing research and writing at the same time, my work won’t be continuous, as periodically I will write up all my notes and be waiting to do more research.  I hope to make progress with the Jewish book then (although that will also involve a mixture of researching and writing).

I’m less worried about the book being banned now.  I think that was the social anxiety speaking.  I still think I’m going to say stuff that would not be considered 100% OK in my community, I just don’t think anyone is going to notice or care (not noticing is quite likely; not caring less likely).  After all, no one in my shul is realistically part of the target audience.  I do need to talk to my rabbi mentor about what Torah I can write in a book for non-Jews, as technically non-Jews are supposed to learn Torah (except the first eleven chapters of Bereshit/Genesis and the whole of Iyov/Job), but I’ve raised the subject with him beforehand in the context of writing Torah on my blog and he didn’t think it was a problem (I just found the email where he told me, “We are required to be ambassadors to non-Jews, especially in today’s world where there is so much distorted
information out there… You MUST continue feeding informative and positive information to your friend, and others…”).

***

Yesterday I said I would consider dating if my contract gets renewed after March.  Today I found myself wondering if I need to wait that long.  The game-changer was realising that I actually need to date for quite a while to find out if a person is right for me and that the frum “dating for marriage in eight weeks” model of dating just won’t work for someone with so many issues and such poor people skills, not to mention such little dating experience and difficulty understanding his own feelings and emotional needs.  I need to date for many months to be sure my date can cope with me and that I can cope with her and to ease myself back into the idea of being in a relationship with someone else (bear in mind that in thirty-five years, my total time in a relationship amounts to about one year).

So, I don’t think I will be going to frum matchmakers just yet, but the dating service I linked to yesterday is, I think, for more ‘modern’ people and might be a way to meet someone who can cope with me and is on a compatible values level, which would include some basic religious compatibility (as religious observance is one of my core values, along with integrity).  I don’t think my wife would have to be as religious as me, as long as she kept what are sometimes thought of as the core mitzvot (commandments) of Jewish home life: Shabbat (the Sabbath), kashrut (the dietary laws) and niddah (the rules about when a couple can have sex), at least in a basic way.  While it’s tempting to fantasise about marrying a really shtark (super-frum) woman, it’s debatable whether I could actually cope with living with such a person even if I wasn’t mentally ill; it’s certainly unlikely she could cope with someone whose religious life is as impaired as mine necessarily is, not to mention issues about television, involvement in wider culture, my having non-Jewish and female friends etc.

I discussed dating with a friend who also has depression and autism recently.  She thinks it’s unfair that people say “If you aren’t happy single, you won’t be happy in a relationship” on the grounds that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has love, sex and emotional security as fairly basic needs.  She thinks that most people in relationships would be pretty miserable if you separated them from their partners.  I can see her point.  I think I do still need to do a lot of work to be happy, and I probably never will be 100% happy, but I think it’s worth seeing if someone can accept me as I am as long as I don’t see her as the sole source of my happiness (which I think would be a mistake).  I know my mood is still very low, but I’m a lot more functional than I have been in the past and I think if I was in a successful relationship, my mood would be somewhat better even if it wasn’t 100% better.  Certainly when I’ve been in a relationship in the past, my mood has got visibly better to those around me.

Dating is scary, though.

***

An odd thing happened at shiur (Torah class) this evening.  Shiur is a slightly unusual place for me, in that there’s a bit of a “the weekend starts here” atmosphere.  It’s Thursday night, it’s a group of men away from their families and jobs and there is whisky.  Plus, the assistant rabbi, who gives the shiur, has a slightly mischievous sense of humour.  However, much of this is not normal for me.  There is some good-natured teasing, mostly in the form of running jokes e.g. a lot of people who attend are South Africans, so there’s rivalry to see each week the proportion of English-born vs. South African-born attendees and people tease the South Africans about their accents.  I don’t always understand the jokes nor do I always completely approve of the atmosphere; I don’t know whether that’s coming from autism or my history of being teased at school.

Today the assistant rabbi asked a question which no one could answer (not actually a Torah question; he was looking for a formal English word) and he said something like “amazing, we have an intellectual [points to the person on my right], an academic [points to the person on my left] and an intellectual and an academic [points to me] and none of them know!”  Now, I know that’s meant in good spirits and I know it’s a backhanded compliment because he’s saying I’m clever and well-educated, but something about it made me feel uncomfortable even as I laughed.  I’m sure he wouldn’t tease like this if I said I don’t like it, but I feel that saying something is a bit petty and maybe me being autistic/socially anxious and not entering into the proper spirit of the thing, but I don’t feel 100% comfortable with it.  Plus, I suppose part of me does like the fact that I’m apparently considered “one of the lads” and able to be part of this little group.  It’s difficult to know what to do.

Paradigm Shifts and General and Specific Vagueness

I feel a lot better today.  Going to my well-being group helped a bit, as did realising yesterday that what happened (telling my line manager about my issues and going home early) was probably for the best.  Although I had a terrible time at work yesterday and spent much of the evening feeling exhausted and shaky, it was probably just as well that my line manager is now aware of my issues and it’s definitely good that she is supportive.  She also said (which I think I forgot to write yesterday) that I am doing well especially considering that she essentially threw a lot of new tasks and procedures at me in the space of three or four working days (because my contract is only for short periods for financial reasons, so she wanted to cover a lot of induction very quickly), which was good to hear.

That said, I still struggled when I woke up this morning.  I actually woke up at 5.30am and felt OK, but it seemed silly to get up so early, so I went back to sleep.  When I woke up again at 8.30am, however, I was exhausted and depressed.  Now, post-well-being group, I’m very tired, but my mood is OK.

The afternoon was spent doing some chores, mainly writing important emails, and looking at some mental health apps that were suggested in my well-being course.  These afternoons after well-being course are hard, as I’m very drained and don’t really want to do anything, but am reluctant to vegetate in front of the TV all afternoon and instead try to do some things, but I often end up neither achieving very much nor relaxing very much either.

***

This is something I’ve been thinking about recently that may come across as strange, but it’s been bothering me.  I worry that people think I’m not going to like or approve of them for religious reasons, when in reality I don’t think like that.  I know that most frum (religious Orthodox) Jews socialise mainly with other frum Jews.  I’m unusual in that I have non-frum and non-Jewish friends, mostly because I’m involved in non-frum ‘spaces’ be they Doctor Who fandom, depression and autism and support groups (real-world and online) or people from my university days.  A lot of these people have lifestyles or life-choices that would not be considered acceptable in the frum world, particularly regarding gender and sexuality issues.  That doesn’t bother me particularly (I pride myself on being non-judgemental, although I’m probably open to the accusation that I’m “collecting” unusual people to prove to myself how open-minded I am), but I worry that people see my kippah (skullcap) and get nervous of talking to me.  This could be my paranoia, though.

I’m not sure what I can do about it, short of wearing a t-shirt that says, “I’m religious, but really non-judgemental”.  I guess this is why I’m thinking of writing that book on Orthodox Judaism.  Judaism seems to be a much misunderstood religion/culture, partly because there are so few Jews (only about fourteen million globally, more than half of them in Israel) so that many people, even in the Western world, have never met one, certainly not a frum Jew; partly because of the legacy of millennia of antisemitism; and partly because Judaism is a non-missionary religion, so we generally don’t bother explaining ourselves to non-Jews unless actively forced to by some kind of antisemitic attack.  Even non-religious Jews can be surprisingly misinformed or ignorant about traditional Judaism.

***

At well-being group today we used a “decisional balance model” to make decisions.  This is basically a pretentious name for a pros and cons list, albeit carefully done to include the consequences of inaction as well as action, which I don’t always think to do.  I tried to look at whether I should be dating.  There were more cons than pros, but the pros, if they happened, would be life-changingly good, whereas the cons were more trivial, or inevitable e.g. rejection from a break-up is not that different to rejection from a crush and as I get crushes all the time (and go back to adolescence or university to revisit old crushes in my head if I don’t have a ‘current’ crush) I think objectively the pros are greater than the cons.  However, I still struggle to believe someone would want to date me with all my issues and precarious financial state.

While doing this I had the paradigm shift moment that dating probably isn’t going to work for me right now because dating in the frum community is strictly for marriage (certainly in the more Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) world and even to some extent in the Modern Orthodox world), whereas I want to just date for a period of months and get to know someone and experience being with someone as in secular dating, but without the physical side of things, which will hopefully help me feel better and experience more what a relationship with that person would be like.  I might be able to find some more ‘modern,’ but still Orthodox, women here who are more willing to date as an end in itself for a while, but I’m not sure (my sister told me one of her not-so-frum friends used the service).  I guess I worry that frum women would be pushing me to marry quickly (maybe not in eight dates, but within a few months) whereas not-so-frum women won’t be a good match and would want to be more physical.  Plus almost any woman my age is going to be conscious of her biological clock ticking and wanting to move things on from that point of view.

I worry that even then I feel I would be inadequate.  I think, for now, I should wait and see what happens when my contract ends in March.  My line manager hinted yesterday that she would like to extend my contract IF the money is available, which is always the big if in higher education.  I think if I had a permanent job, even if it was part-time, then it would be worth looking to meet someone.  That said, I do think that my girlfriend/wife would have to be super-understanding to put up with all my issues (psychological/emotional, autistic, financial) and I don’t think I can offer an equal amount in return.  I suppose she might have big issues of her own, but I wonder how well I could cope with them.  My Mum and my aunt like to joke about their husbands really being one of their children, but I think in my case it would be uncomfortably near to the truth.

***

An example of more practical issues I struggle with: I just had to ask my Dad for help with my payslip and I’ve had to email payroll to find out the answers to questions that neither of us could answer.  I hope I’m not being stupid.  I can imagine the payroll team laughing at my ignorance.  I think that I’m a lot worse with money than I previously thought I was.  Because I don’t spend much, I convinced myself that I’m OK with money, which I’m probably not, or not necessarily; I just don’t see the point of spending it in large amounts because the things I like to buy (books and DVDs, basically) can often be bought really cheaply second-hand or in sales, remaindered bookshops and the like.  But I’m not sure that I’m actually that good about handling it.

Like E., Dad was surprised that I can’t remember my salary in my previous jobs.  Numbers do not stick in my brain, or not easily.  In one job I can only remember the gross monthly salary; in another the hourly rate; in a third, nothing clearly at all.  Autistic people are stereotypically good with numbers, so this may not be an excuse for me this time; on the other hand, they are stereotypically disorganised (which wasn’t true for me for a long time, but has become more so lately) and have difficulty being motivated to deal with things that don’t interest them (e.g. my finances) so that could be the solution.  I do worry how I will cope when my parents are not here.

Mind you, I can’t remember the make of my phone and how to download apps, so there’s definitely a sense in which this could be general vagueness about things that don’t interest me rather than specific vagueness about money in particular.

Crash

Today I crashed.

I suppose it started yesterday, when I got into a very agitated state in the evening when my parents were out.  I went to bed trying to count the number of people I thought would be upset if I killed myself, which was not an encouraging sign although it was good that I did at least acknowledge that some people would be upset, whereas in the past I might have assumed that no one would really care.

I woke up feeling much the same this morning.  I wanted to try positive self-affirmations again (don’t ask me why, as they haven’t worked in the past), but for every time I can tell myself I’m a good person, I tell myself several hundred times more that I’m a wicked, defective freak.

At work I felt terrible, really despairing and sure I couldn’t do my work properly.  I felt like I was going to fall asleep and had a powerful urge to hurt myself, because I felt so unable to cope.  I struggled to work because I was thinking about death so much, fantasising about overdosing and calling myself a defective freak who can’t do anything right.  I was feeling that I hate myself so much that there are no words for it and that I don’t hate anyone else this much, not even those who made me like this.

I somehow got through the morning, but was not restored very much by lunch.  I’m struggling more than I expected to with a forty-five minute lunch and wonder if I should ask to switch to one hour lunches and leave at 5.15pm instead of 5.00pm.  It didn’t help that there were two people in the staff room watching different programmes on their phones without headphones, which I felt was rude and antisocial.

Things came to a head when I went to prepare some books in the book store and virtually had a panic attack, terrified that I was going to damage one of the rare books.  I got into a complete state and phoned my Mum to ask what she felt I should do as I wasn’t being particularly rational.  She said to come home as I sounded too agitated to do any work.

I obviously needed to tell my line manager that I was not well, but I decided to tell her about the depression in some detail.  She was really supportive and said I should think about whether there are any changes I could make at work that would help me.  She also said that she’s really pleased with my work so far and that I’ve picked up a lot in a very short space of time; also that there isn’t much that I can do disastrously wrong in my job and that I’m very careful with the rare books.  I mentioned going too slowly in previous jobs because of my fear of mistakes and she didn’t think that that would be an issue here.  She was so supportive I went for broke and mentioned the autism as well.  I’m not quite sure why I did that, but it seemed appropriate to mention it as context and it turns out just as well that I did as she said she had already wondered if I’m on the spectrum (it seems that everyone thinks I’m autistic except the psychiatrists making the assessment…).

On the way home I had a telephone appointment with the duty GP at my doctor’s surgery.  It was slightly awkward as I had a couple of ‘autistic misunderstanding’ moments, which I guess is not surprising when I’m agitated and taking a serious private call in the street.  He felt that I should see my regular doctor, but unfortunately the regular doctor is off tomorrow, so I’m booked in for Thursday morning, which will make me late for work.  I did get a bit annoyed that he said that, if I’m suicidal, I should phone the crisis team, not the surgery.  I’ve done this in the past, only for the crisis team to say if I’m not actually about to try to kill myself, I should go to the GP.  Seriously, when I phoned the crisis team to report suicidal thoughts within twenty-four hours, I was told only to phone if I was actually having them at that moment.  As I know the GP will speak to me if I’m in crisis, even if he says I should phone the crisis team, whereas I know the crisis team will not speak to me, it’s a bit of a no-brainer as to which one I phone, regardless of what the proper protocol is supposed to be.  (More NHS fun and games.)

It was awkward telling my parents all this.  I suppose there isn’t an easy way to tell anyone you’re having suicidal thoughts.  My Mum got very emotional when I told her; perhaps because of this, I couldn’t tell my Dad that at all, just saying I was having “difficult” thoughts.  It’s awkward because most people don’t realise that (in my case, at any rate) there are a spectrum of thoughts that I would describe as “suicidal” from suicidal ideation (thinking or fantasising about suicide and dying) to vaguely noting how you could kill yourself to actively working out how you would kill yourself.  I don’t always find it easy to tell the difference between them, to be honest, so maybe I shouldn’t expect others to do so.

Mum burst into tears when I spoke to her.  Dad… I just struggle to talk to Dad at all these days.  We literally don’t speak each other’s language any more and I don’t know why.  His speech has become more garrulous and rambling, full of unnecessary detail, diversions and repetitions as well malapropisms and vague pronoun use (using pronouns without making it clear what objects they refer to) which are not easy for my autistic brain to understand.  He, on the other hand, has always found my vocabulary difficult to understand and I probably do some of the things I complain about him doing, like not sticking to the point or throwing in unnecessary detail.  Things are not helped by the fact that I think that both my parents are beginning to go a bit deaf and I can’t always tell if they’ve not heard something, heard it and are processing it or are just choosing to ignore it.  My Dad and I seem to bicker a lot more than we used to because of this and I’m not sure why it’s happened.  It upsets me, not least because I think it’s at least in part my fault, but I don’t know what I can do about it, especially as I can’t seem to explain to them about autistic thought patterns and how difficult Dad can be for me to understand.  Any suggestions would be welcome.

So that was my day.  I’m still feeling elements of post-trauma shock.  I know it sounds silly to say ‘trauma,’ but I guess that was how I felt telling my line manager about my issues.  I’m still feeling rather shaky and in shock.  I’m about to watch some Doctor Who for distraction and to make progress with the research for my book, which hopefully will make me feel a bit better.

The Exiled Child

“We are not of your race.  We are not of your Earth.  We are wanderers in the fourth dimension.” – Doctor Who: An Unearthly Child (I think only the untransmitted pilot)

7.30pm: just back from picking up my prescription (I got it all in the end).  Really agitated when out.  Images of hurting myself, wanting to hurt myself.  Agitation, perhaps unfocused anger.  I want to write about my childhood trauma.  I want to write about the wicked things I do that make me hate myself so much.  I don’t want to be here.  I can’t function in this world.  One day I’m going to lose it, hurt myself or someone else or just scream and shout until they come and take me away and section me and hospitalise me.  I’ve had a couple of close calls over the years, my luck can’t last forever.  I’m an incompetent defective freak.

I don’t belong here.  This place, this time, this isn’t my home.  Please let me go home.  I’m a very small child and I want to go home.

9.00pm Mid-watching a Jonathan Creek episode I had never seen before to try to cheer myself up.  Bad mistake.  The Clue of the Savant’s Thumb, about the murder of a Jonathan Miller-type scientist/comedian/intellectual, turns out to be fall of stuff about how stupid and evil religious people are.  Plus, it’s also full of sex, which I guess is no surprise (murder mysteries are generally about sex or money, they’re the main reasons to murder someone, and sex is more interesting to write about), but also Jonathan Creek’s new wife has persuaded him to sell out, stop living in his antique windmill, creating magic tricks and become a high-powered business man, which just makes me feel more inadequate.  I couldn’t – and wouldn’t want to – be a big businessman (I would live in an antique windmill, though), but E. might not have broken up with me if I was, nor would I get people asking me (as happened on Friday) if they’re right that no one becomes a librarian for the money.  Actually, senior librarians are paid well and I think being a senior librarian at a university library is comparable to being a senior academic, but, let’s face it, I’m never going to manage that either.  I’m too depressed and unworldly (not in a good way), uninterested in anything beyond my autistic special interests and simply bored and panicked by the thought of professional development or networking (social anxiety!).

9.45pm DVD finished.  Exhausted, but not sleepy.  Agitation is tiring, fantasising about hurting myself is tiring.  Not hurting myself is surprisingly tiring.  Not telling anyone about this is emotionally draining.  I should go to bed because I have work tomorrow, but I feel like I’m carrying a lot of agitated nervous energy in my muscles.  I don’t know what to do.  My life is such a mess.  I’m such a mess.

I don’t belong here.  This place, this time, this isn’t my home.  Please let me go home.  I’m a very small child and I want to go home.

Missing Goals

There was more to say after my second post yesterday, but I decided not to inflict a third post on you in one day.  I missed my meeting at shul (synagogue) because I felt too depressed.  I was having a lot of suicidal ideation and although I didn’t think I was seriously at risk of hurting myself, I just couldn’t face going to a meeting and pretending to be normal and interested for three hours.  I hope this decision doesn’t come back to haunt me.  I phoned the Samaritans helpline, essentially as a the price I made myself pay for not going to the meeting, but once I got through to someone, I realised that I didn’t actually know what I wanted to say and found the ‘encouraging’ noises the volunteer was making really off-putting and after seven minutes I apologised and quickly hung up.  I felt bad about that, but I wasn’t sure what else I could do.

***

At well-being class today we were speaking about long-term goals in love, work, play and exercise.  I felt lazy, because I probably play too much (admittedly it’s more procrastination than play) and I was vaguely upset that religious goals were not on there because they are really important to me (or were, before I lost all motivation to be a good Jew) and obviously are not important to most other people.  But I was really stuck on work and love.  I know my long-term work goal is to work full-time, or nearly, and permanently rather than on short-term contracts.  But I don’t know what short-term goals to set to work to that.  I asked the facilitators for help, but the stuff they said (join agencies, sign up for job alerts) were mostly stuff I’m already doing without success, although I did agree to do an online personality test to see if I’m in the right career.

As for love, I know my long-term goal is to get married, but I’ve no idea how to get there and I suspect it is not a feasible goal while I’m this depressed and on such a low income.  I probably should have asked for help here too, but I couldn’t face explaining about frum dating (dating for marriage only; shadchans (matchmakers); almost all events in my community being gender-segregated; non-gender-segregated events at Modern Orthodox places mostly attracting an older crowd; why I don’t think going to young professionals kiruv events to try to meet women my age who might be interested in becoming more religious is a particularly good idea (it’s depressing that, writing this, I can see it is better than nothing, painful as it would doubtless be); etc.).

I can’t face going to a shadchan on my current income level and with my current levels of depression, because I think I would get thrown out, but I have zero chance of meeting someone frum without meeting a shadchan, so I think the realistic thing is to learn to live without love, somehow.  I know my parents can’t meet my emotional needs, partly because of personality differences and autism/neurotypical differences, partly because no one’s parents can’t meet all their adult emotional needs.  So I don’t know how to feel loved and worthwhile.  I’m not sure how much I ever have felt loved and worthwhile; very little I suspect.  (I don’t know at this stage if having pets would make me feel more loved or just used to dispense food.)

There was a touching article in The Jewish Chronicle last week about a charity in Israel that helps people with learning disabilities to marry (I did just try to find the article to link to, but I couldn’t find it on the website and the other news there was too depressing for words).  They provide practical, emotional and possibly financial support for people with learning disabilities to marry and live independently as a couple.  I feel if people with autism who are not high functioning can have full-time jobs and get married, I should be able to too, but somehow it’s all too difficult juggling depression alongside autism (even high-functioning).  There isn’t really any help in the community for more functional people with depression or autism; regardless of how we’re feeling, it’s assumed we can cope with things.  I feel like I’m stuck in the emotional equivalent of the benefits trap, where moving off benefits into work entails a reduction of income.  I’m too functional for anyone to believe there is anything wrong with me.

***

It just feels really scary living in my head all the time.  All day I’ve been seeing Sherlock Holmes jumping apparently to his death in Sherlock: The Reichenbach Fall and I know my mind is telling me that that’s how I feel right now, falling so far and no one can help me (except he was faking his own death and had half of British Intelligence on hand to help him, we later discover).  I think so much about being a wicked person, being useless and defective, not being able to put things right, about God and everyone else hating me… it’s scary.  More than that, it’s tiring.

***

There was a problem with my medication again.  This time somehow my lithium was removed from the repeat prescription area as if I wasn’t on it any more.  My Mum (who I had asked to pop in to the surgery on the way home from work to pick it up for me) managed to sort it in the end, but I think she ended up arguing with the receptionists and I ended up arguing with her because she said I was being angry (when I was being assertive) and shouting (I was speaking loudly because I had her on speakerphone).

Why is it that whenever I try to be assertive, I get accused of being aggressive, and whenever I try to talk clearly (e.g. when I’m on speakerphone), I get accused of shouting?  I know it is possible for autistic people to be accused of being aggressive when they’re not trying to be aggressive.  I’ve spent half my life being told off by my parents for giving people “dirty black looks” when I thought I was just looking normally.  I suppose this is a similar thing, combined with the fact that shy people are often accused of being aggressive when they become more confident and assertive.  I think people prefer me as a doormat to someone who can take charge of a situation, and they prefer it when I listen politely to their (boring) conversations more than when I want to say something.

The whole experience has left me feeling tense, angry and self-critical.

***

I just did a personality test for my well-being course.  The outcome was not laid out particularly helpfully and what I could understand of it was not terribly surprising: I’m restrained, structured and sympathetic.  I’m bad at relaxing, being calm or keeping my composure.  I’m not daring, a thrill-seeker or a natural leader.  I like to reflect and to daydream.  I am, perhaps a little paradoxically, quite trusting and quite questioning.  This is all very predictable.  I did another test that suggested specific careers, which was a little surprising, because it gave me a 89% aptitude for archival work and only a 71% per cent aptitude for librarianship, despite no obvious questions that differentiated between the two, so far as I can tell.  The other jobs were typical Jewish jobs (and indeed typical autistic jobs) that would nevertheless bore me (IT, accountancy, actuarial work, financial analyst).  I do feel my life as an autistic person would be easier if I liked, and was good with, numbers.

***

Speaking of numbers, I haven’t sorted out my gift aid form for the shul yet.  I can’t summon up the courage to go through two years’ worth of payslips to see what I was earning and how much tax I was paying (not just a result of my vagueness about money; I had a couple of jobs and a couple of periods of unemployment in that time, so I think not knowing exactly what I was earning is more understandable for once).  I think the real reason has nothing to do with money or figures, though, and everything to do with the mixed feelings I currently have about my shul, and about Judaism.  I don’t think I would be happier as an atheist, though, although I might feel under less pressure (but not necessarily so).  It’s hard to think of myself being happy at all, to be honest.

***

E. said yesterday that she doesn’t think I’m ever going to fit into my shul community, which is probably true.  She says that she thinks I do push myself really hard to do social things and communal things, but I don’t enjoy them when I do them, not because of social anxiety, but because I’m not on the same wavelength as other people to be able to talk to them, which I guess is true.  I feel I “ought” to push myself to do these things, because I can hear my parents pushing me to do them when I was younger, but I don’t really enjoy them much.   She said I’m not a screw-up, I’m just dealing with some “really hard things” which is reassuring in a way, but I can’t see a way out.

Inadequate and Defective

(Massive trigger warnings for suicide)

I feel awful.  Just totally inadequate and defective.  I bought a present for the people who invited me for Shabbat dinner and was relieved when no one answered the door (although I thought I could hear people indoors) and I had an excuse just to write a note and leave the present on the doorstep without speaking to anyone.  I don’t feel up to going to this big shul (synagogue) meeting tonight.  I don’t really feel fully part of the community anyway and I hardly ever make it to shul.  I wouldn’t know what to look for in a rabbi or be able to explain a vision for the kehilla (community).

I feel that I can’t find a role in the world.  Some people with autism can find a role, sooner or later, and I think that helps them to function and to feel they don’t have to succeed at things neurotypicals succeed at if they don’t want to.  A lot of people at my autism group seem to have jobs in IT, particularly programming, which probably isn’t a surprise to anyone.  I don’t have a role.  I thought librarianship might be it, but it looks like it isn’t, at least not without doing a considerable of remedial training.  I don’t have a role in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world, which has a very narrow selection of roles largely determined by gender.  I don’t fit frum male roles.  I’m not a great Torah scholar, I didn’t go to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary), I can’t really study much Talmud, in fact I don’t have the energy, concentration and motivation to study much Torah at all.  In a previous community, I was involved with the shul, I was a regular attendee at minyan (prayer services) and often led services, but I’m too scared and ashamed of myself to do that in this, more religious, community and again, I don’t have the energy, concentration and motivation to get to minyan every day, let alone three times a day.  I’m never going to earn enough money to be a big philanthropist, I don’t have a home of my own to invite Shabbat guests to (and single men inviting people to meals would be considered weird; cooking is definitely gendered female (so my culinary abilities are a liability more than an asset in dating, sadly)) and it looks increasingly likely that I’m not even going to have children to get nachas (pride, reflected glory) off them.

That pretty much rules out all the frum roles open to me.  I don’t know what I do with the rest of my life now, especially as I’m not well enough to work full-time.

I’m having suicidal fantasies again too.  I guess the thought of spending two and a half discussing how to pick a new rabbi would make a lot of people contemplate death, but I really do feel a lot of the time that life has no promise for me.  Who would really want to live without love?  And not only does it seem certain that no one will be able to really love me the way I would want or let me love her, it seems unlikely that I will ever be financially secure, confident, well-liked or happy either.  I can’t see anything in my life that makes it worth living, but I can’t talk to anyone about this.  If I had cancer and missed the meeting tonight because I was too ill from chemotherapy, everyone there would understand and be concerned about me, but with depression it’s a completely different question.  I’ve hardly even told anyone about my depression because I’m so scared of the response I might get.  I guess stigma affects a person even if, like me, people have rarely said anything directly to me that could be considered stigmatising; it’s the fear of stigma that terrifies me.

It’s actually scary that suicidal thoughts have been such a part of my life for so long that they don’t even scare me any more.  I know I’m unlikely to act on them while my parents are alive, so they’re just more mental noise, like all the other static between my ears.  I’m such a drama queen that I would probably want to kill myself in some big, operatic way, like Sherlock Holmes faking his death by jumping off a tall building in public in the Sherlock episode The Reichenbach Fall.  That said, I think I’m more likely to kill myself with an overdose than anything else as the thought of doing anything that gets blood everywhere is not appealing to me.  To be honest, the two main things keeping me alive are (1) knowing, on some level, that my parents care about me and would be upset by my death and (2) the fear of making a bungled suicide attempt and ending up with permanent physical injury as well as depression.

I feel that anyone else having regular suicidal thoughts would be signed off work and focusing on recovery, whereas I’m so used to it that I just try to function, go to work, go to shul, go to this meeting, try to daven (pray) and study Torah and so on, feeling terrible all the while and no one (outside this blog, where I play the drama queen) knows anything about what is happening in my head, how much pain I’m in and how hard it is to keep going.  Sometimes I wish people did know.  That’s an attraction of suicide to me, actually.  Sometimes I want to make a failed suicide attempt, so I could let people know how I feel, because I don’t know how to tell them; I guess jumping off a building is a way of showing people that you have a problem.  I guess people would call that a cry for attention, I just don’t see that as a negative thing, I feel I’ve had very little attention in my life and it’s only fair that I get some when I need it.

It’s just horrible to spend the whole time feeling like a defective, inadequate freak.  Not feeling loved.  Not feeling worthwhile or useful.  I know I need to love myself and feel happy in myself before anyone can love me, but I don’t know how I can do that.  It’s not something you can just suddenly do.  I’ve tried positive mantras, but I just don’t believe them, just as I don’t believe that God loves me (and no one frum has been able to prove to me that He does love me).  The problem with the CBT approach of thought control is that I have too much evidence of not being good, lovable or worthwhile for me to easily accept that I am any of those things.  So I end up just fantasising endlessly about death and dying as a release.

Shidduch Crisis? What Shidduch Crisis?

I still feel really drained today, if anything more so than yesterday.  I was naughty and stayed up late watching a long (and sloooow) Jonathan Creek episode that I really remembered too well to justify re-watching if I wasn’t working my way through the box set.

Today I feel really depressed and exhausted and annoyed that I have to go to a shul (synagogue) meeting this evening about finding a new rabbi.  I also have to buy a present for the family that invited me for dinner over Shabbat (the Sabbath).  I would normally do this beforehand, but they didn’t invite me properly until the evening.  I don’t really feel like I have the energy for the meeting or shopping.  It would be good if I could cook dinner too, but I don’t think I have the energy.  I need to get a passport photo taken too, as my passport expires soon and I’m hoping to go to Israel later in the year for my cousin’s bar mitzvah.

I just feel so depressed and lonely.  I know rationally that being in a relationship would not cure my mental health issues or make the autism less challenging, but it’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming that if someone really loved me romantically then I would feel better.  Because for most of my life love (all love, not just romantic love) has been difficult, conditional, absent… not the way it should be.  It’s easy to feel that if someone really loved me I would feel better, even though it is unlikely to be the case.

A while back, I saw the former British Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, advise some American students not to call themselves Modern Orthodox Jews, because that makes them “a minority of a minority of a minority” (Jews are a tiny minority of the world population, Orthodox Jews are a minority of Jews, Modern Orthodox Jews are a minority of Orthodox Jews).  I feel that as a Modern Orthodox Jew with autism and mental health issues, I’m a minority of a minority of a minority of a minority.  No wonder I can’t find a mate.  Supposedly there’s a real shortage of potential husbands in the frum community for various demographic reasons (google ‘shidduch crisis’), but this has yet to play to my advantage.  So far no one has been desperate enough to want me.  To be honest, I don’t really get set up on dates at all, which is problematic as that’s the main way of meeting one’s partner in the Orthodox world.  I have hardly any friends in the community who could set me up with anyone.

This is all over-familiar for readers of my blog, but I don’t know what else to say.  I’m just so lonely and miserable all of the time.   I wonder a lot what it would be like to be in a real, healthy relationship.  All of my friendships and family relationships are either problematic on some level or long-distance.  My romantic relationships were relatively short-lived and problematic too in different ways.  Is it even possible for me to love someone, being so messed up, let alone for someone to love me?

When I was with E., it was really good for two months.  I was still depressed and it was awkward that our relationship was long-distance with a big time difference, but she cared about me and I cared about her and that made things easier.

I wish I was asexual.  Not caring about being loved would make my life so much easier.  Or, I wish I wasn’t so weird.  I wish I didn’t care about not fitting in to my community, or I wish I did fit into my community.  I wish I was a neurotypical, mentally healthy frum person with normal interests and a full-time job.  I wish I wasn’t an unmarriable, fudged-up-beyond-all-repair semi-unemployable autistic depressive fannish weirdo-freak.  Someone who can’t do normal frum things like go to shul (synagogue) for Shacharit (the Morning service) every morning or “learn” a page of Gemarah every day or two.  Things that would help me fit in.

But, no, God fudged me up beyond all repair so that I wouldn’t be happy in this world and can’t earn reward for the next world.  I’m pretty sure that in Olam HaBa (Heaven) I’ll be on the sidelines watching everyone else have a good time, as happens in this world, except that in Olam HaBa, I won’t be able to slip out and go home after a while.

I hate myself so much for being me, for being such a weird, useless freak who can’t do anything right.

Shabbat Dinner

It turned out that I was invited out for dinner yesterday after all.  It was interesting, I suppose, good in some ways and bad in others.

The bad: I was asked a lot of questions about my job and religious background.  This is quite normal in frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) circles.  I guess asking about a person’s background is normal in any situation where you meet new people, only the nature of Judaism as a way of life rather than simply a set of faith propositions means that childhood background is interwoven with religious connotations; within reason, you can make an educated guess about a person’s religious background by asking about their family (especially given the small, interwoven nature of the Jewish world), school, home town, and so on.  As for my job, that attracts a lot of attention in the frum world, I guess because it’s not a ‘normal’ frum job (lawyer, accountant, doctor, Jewish shop owner etc.), so people ask a lot of questions to understand it.

The problem for me is that I hate being asked these questions, particularly by frum people.   I get terrified that I will let slip some detail that will reveal me to be inadequate in some way, be it religiously or in terms of my mental health.  So, I was upset to be forced to admit to only working part-time because of health reasons, just as I was upset to be forced to admit that I hadn’t looked in to whether I could find a minyan for Mincha (prayer quorum for the Afternoon service) in the university where I work (it actually didn’t occur to me to do it, but I’m reasonably happy davening (praying) quickly by myself rather than using my already-short lunch break (I only get forty-five minutes) to go somewhere to daven with a minyan when I need the break time for my mental health).  Plus, these are small talk-type questions that typically bore autistic people like me.  So for these reasons, I find these questions anxiety-provoking, and then the anxiety makes me speak incoherently or forget basic facts about myself and even get things wrong.

Perhaps because of this anxiety, I shook a lot at dinner.  I don’t think anyone noticed, but I felt very self-conscious of it and was worried I was going to get food down my shirt, especially as there were no serviettes.

The conversation didn’t really rise about the small talk-ey, which frustrated and bored me a bit, plus some stuff was said that made me feel like I didn’t fit in in the frum world once again.  The person next to me, who asked me a lot of questions, was quite happy to admit he had only become religious in the last few years, but he had now gone the whole hog (so to speak), was davening with a minyan three times a day, setting time aside for religious study with a chevruta (study partner) and so on and even though I knew a lot more than he did religiously, I felt that he was actually more dedicated to Judaism.  Indeed, my host (who has been frum all his life) and this person rhapsodised at one point about how great a frum life is, how much joy and meaning it brings even the most trivial aspects of one’s life and so on.  I can’t share these feelings at all.  While it is not quite true that I have no joy or meaning in my Jewish life, I have very little, because of depression, social anxiety and consequent social isolation.

It didn’t help that some things were said about non-Jews that made me feel uncomfortable.  Likewise the conversation about the length of time one should date before becoming engaged, five or even three dates being deemed acceptable (“That covers the fundamentals; the rest you can work out on the way.”)  As I dated my first girlfriend for eight or nine months before realising she wasn’t right for me, and dated E. for two months, despite in both cases what seem in retrospect a number of big red flags, I am glad I was not under social pressure to propose quickly.  I worry a bit about getting set up with a very frum woman in the future and being expected to decide quickly whether to propose to her, albeit that with a very frum woman it would be more likely that I was signalling red flags to her than the other way around, given, that my red flags in the past have related to my girlfriends not being frum enough for me, or still being on the rebound from previous relationships.  It is probably true, as some of my friends say, that if you’re a conformist member of a fairly conformist sub-culture, it’s relatively easy to find a compatible mate, but if you are unusual in some way, it becomes much harder.  I’m hoping that if I meet the right person, it will be very obvious, but as I thought I was sure to marry both my exes, I worry that it won’t be, or if it is, I won’t trust my feelings (I’m great at overthinking).

On the plus side, despite my discomfort at times, I stayed for about four and a half hours (long winter Shabbat (Sabbath) meals…) before the noise and social interactions got too much for me and I made an excuse and left.  I did participate in the conversation a bit, even if it was generally only when other people spoke to me and I didn’t always feel comfortable doing so.  I did answer an obscure question on the week’s Torah portion that was asked at the table correctly even though no one else could, which I think earned me brownie points.  I enjoyed seeing my host’s young children at play, even if their volume and (as the evening went on) their fights drained me.

Perhaps most importantly, I mostly avoided feeling envious of my host and his family situation or the newly-wed couple there, although it helped that there were other unmarried men there, so I didn’t feel totally out of place.  (I’m assuming that my host is sufficiently religious that he wouldn’t invite single men and single women to the same meal, an attitude that I find counter-productive, but as I can’t imagine ever talking to a woman at such a meal, let alone ending up asking her out, the point is rather academic.)

I came away reasonably happy and proud of myself, but also thoroughly drained and thinking of the old Modern Orthodox saying about, “The people I can pray with, I can’t talk to and the people I can talk to, I can’t pray with.”

I came home and chatted to my parents for another half an hour, but after all this interaction I was somewhat agitated and on edge and I needed time to read and calm down, but I spent a lot of time pacing around and thinking about the evening and about other things.  I eventually got to bed around 1.00am.

Today, unsurprisingly, has been a draining day.  I managed to go to shul for my shiur (Talmud class) and Ma’ariv (the Evening service), but have done little else.  Today’s social embarrassment was being the only person who had to ask what the Mishnaic Hebrew word for ‘sex’ was in shiur, which I think the assistant rabbi would rather not have had to explain.  I have been feeling very drained, despite eleven hours sleep last night and half an hour this afternoon.  I really just wanted to vegetate in front of the TV this evening, but I had things to do especially as a chunk of tomorrow will be taken up with what promises to be a long and boring evening meeting at shul about choosing a new rabbi, which I feel obliged to attend as I was specifically asked to do so to give the perspective of single people (because all single people are the same… if anything I should be representing the neurodivergent and mentally ill, although I’m not quite sure how autism or depression would practically affect my choice of rabbi, nor am I aware if there are any other people like me in the community).

Belonging Somewhere

I just feel depressed today.  Unfocused and exhausted.  Lonely.   Nervous about not knowing if I’m out for dinner tonight,  extra nervous if I am going and extra extra nervous if I somehow have to intuit for myself if I’m invited (it’s not polite to say, “Have you invited me for dinner today?”).  Dad got annoyed with me before because I didn’t hear the doorbell when he was in the toilet.  I didn’t like to say I was in bed with the covers virtually over my head, being depressed.

I worry that I’ll never really get my life where I want it to be.  I think the prognosis so far isn’t good, considering how lots of other people with autism end up.  I worry how I will end up if I can never get a full-time job and get married.  Who is going to support me when my parents are gone?  Am I ever going to live the frum (religious) life I want?  How much do I even want that any more, when I seem to feel like I just can’t live in that world?

***

I got a WhatsApp message from the finance person from shul (synagogue) asking if I’m coming to the meeting about finding a new rabbi on Sunday.  I wonder if it was that rather than the Gift Aid form that he wanted to talk to me about the other day?  He said there aren’t many single people in the shul and they want to be sure they’re catering for us, which is nice on one level, but also makes me feel like a freak again.  I’m not sure how my single-ness would contribute to my choice of new rabbi.

I will try to get to the meeting, although I don’t have anything to say and if I’m depressed, I’m not going to force myself to go.

I feel that, as with most things, I need to pay the price of being part of a religious community, in terms of boring meetings and expensive fees, without having much of the benefit of spiritual growth and satisfaction, friendship, acceptance and so on.  I feel disconnected from the community, really.  Lately even at shiur, which I used to enjoy, I sometimes feel disconnected religiously, but also socially, in terms of personality.  I suppose I shouldn’t really have expected to connect anywhere properly.

I found myself wondering how much I really want to be part of a community.  Despite the fact that most frum people only socialise in the frum community, I seem to have almost as little in common with frum Jews as I have with non-frum Jews and non-Jews.  I can’t really connect with anyone.  Years ago, a psychiatrist (the one who thought I was autistic) told me that “You’ll never understand people and you should stop trying.”  I wonder if she was right and if it’s not possible to connect with people without understanding them.

Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

I had dreams last night about being autistic and whether that was ‘really’ a disability, although my unconscious mind got the terms wrong.  Perhaps unsurprisingly after that I woke up really depressed this morning and I was fighting back the tears as I had breakfast and got dressed, although the thought of being at work without my boss on what is only my fourth working day would probably have done that even without the dreams.  Yet again I couldn’t read on the Tube into work as I was too anxious and depressed.  I was worried that I was about to have a panic attack walking through the rush hour crowd at the station, but managed to stay calm with deep breathing.

Work, once I got there, was pretty good, though.  I coped with my line manager being out of the office and did a lot of the work she left for me even though she had forgotten that I had a meeting that I needed to go to another building outside the main campus.  She wasn’t expecting me to do all the work today anyway; she left too much in case I got stuck and couldn’t finish something.  I actually felt that I was enjoying work a bit today, which isn’t something I’ve felt for a while.  Higher education seems to be calmer than further education.  It’s frustrating to handle rare books without being able to peek at them (the books in the store are wrapped in paper); I feel a bit like an intellectual eunuch.  I’m sitting in on a class next week, though, so I should be able to see some of them then.  (When the books go out of the library, there have to be two people with them so that in case of emergency one stays with the books while the other goes for help, so I get to be the second person next week.)  I even started having ideas for things to show in the exhibition I’m supposed to be helping to plan.

I had some OCD worries about whether I had locked up the rare books store properly, but I fought it and resisted going down to check.  Slightly worse was a wobble I had when my line manager’s line manager was talking to a new library volunteer in the office.  She’s a librarianship student at the university and I was a bit envious of her and her clear career plan, given the improvised and only sporadically successful nature of mine (if I can really be said to have a career plan at all), doubly so as the university where I now work is the one that was first choice for my librarianship MA, but they weren’t accommodating of my mental health issues so I went to a much worse university where various things went wrong for me.

I also had an awkward moment when I went to the off-site meeting, as I wasn’t sure if the woman who looked like she was waiting to meet me was the person I was meeting or not.  She looked similarly unsure if I was the person she was meeting.  Very awkward.  Then I went into autism overload and was unable to say anything other than “Yes” “Right” and “Thank you” while she spoke to me.

Shiur (religious class) this evening was more difficult.  It is harder for me when there are a lot of people there, especially now the rabbi has new, wider, arm chairs in his dining room, which are comfortable, but made me feel a little as if the people next to me were invading my space a bit.  Some people made some jokes at the beginning that I thought were a bit rude and tasteless and show how, if you are secure in the community, you can take liberties, but I would never feel so secure (not that I would tell rude or sexist jokes, but I hide my hobbies, interests and beliefs for fear of being considered unacceptable).  Before the shiur started people were talking about their wives and the shiur concluded with the assistant rabbi talking about the Gemarah that says that matching husband and wife is like splitting the sea which underlined my single state.

The assistant rabbi also said that we should have a clear plan of where we want to go this year and in coming years spiritually and we should be planning on a week-by-week basis to get to that goal, which made me feel bad, because I don’t have spiritual goals any more.  My spiritual goal for this year is to get to Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) without trying to kill myself, or at least to try to improve my mental health a little.  I don’t have any wider goals.  I’d say I have a goal to get a full-time job and get married (both of which I think are spiritual goals), but I don’t think either is feasible any time in the next few years.  As for davening (praying) more with a minyan (prayer quorum) or with more kavannah (mindfulness) or studying more Torah, I don’t think these would be feasible goals even if I cared that much about them, but I’ve been so worn down by my illness that I don’t really care any more.  I’m such a rasha (wicked person), but there you go, I have no energy left even to beat myself up about being a rasha.  This train of thought makes me lose the desire to write that book about Judaism, because who wants to read (or should read) what a rasha says about Judaism?

Plus the assistant rabbi’s baby started crying near the end and he didn’t hear and his wife didn’t hear.  It felt wrong to interrupt to say something, but I really can’t bear hearing children crying, so I felt helpless, upset and confused.  Eventually the rabbi’s wife heard and calmed the baby.

I have no idea if I’m out to dinner tomorrow night, which is also scary.  You might recall that at shul (synagogue) last week I was invited to someone’s for dinner, but the person said he would phone me to confirm.  I still haven’t heard anything.  I think I’m probably still invited (assuming he hasn’t forgotten to tell his wife, which is possible) because frum culture is very laid back like that about times and invitations, which drives me crazy because I’m autistic and need to plan and can’t make last minute changes (and I’m also one eighth Yekkish – the Yekkes (German Jews) are the exception and are stereotypically pedantic and obsessive about punctuality) .

Anyway, now I’ve brought my self down after having a good day, so I’m going to meditate (breathing meditation and hitbodedut spontaneous prayer/meditation) and shower, watch Star Trek and go to bed, trying to focus on the good parts of the day and not the anxieties and failures.

Boldly Going

Today’s good news is that my contract at work has been extended to the end of March.  I don’t know how much credit I can take for that, as I’ve only done three days work so far, most of which has been spent on induction and training!  But it’s good news and takes some of the pressure of job hunting (which I’ve let slide somewhat in the last fortnight).  I am still terrified of making some huge and staggeringly costly mistake with the rare books, though.

***

I mentioned yesterday an issue with my shul (synagogue) fees.  I got phoned by one of the finance people just now.  I was taken by surprise – I do prefer to plan ahead for phone calls, otherwise I tend to panic, be confused, or just want to hang up because I’m not mentally in the right place.  This happened earlier when it was just my sister phoning to see how I am, so a surprise call from shul (which is causing me a lot of anxiety at the moment, both about being mentally well enough to attend about whether it has the right hashkafa (religious outlook) for me) and finances (which cause lots of people anxiety) was not welcome.  I confess I panicked and when he asked if it was a good time to speak, I said no.  Not really a lie, as I do need to get ready for bed soon, but I feel bad about it.  And now I’ve got a return call hanging over me, although he has at least given me the option of What’sApping.

Sometimes depression, social anxiety and autism make me do things I wish I didn’t do.  I mean things that are against my core values, like lying to someone (OK, I didn’t really lie, but I kind of did), the acting out that I don’t like to talk about here, or just being irritable.  I feel I’m far too irritable with my Dad in particular, but I don’t know how to change.  His method of communicating isn’t exactly great for communicating with someone on the spectrum, but I don’t know how to tell him that, especially if he won’t read the leaflet I left for him.

***

I got upset by something on Aish.com yesterday, which I felt was victim-blaming me for my issues and implying that if I really believed in God I would not be depressed, or at least I would not be unmarried and in a difficult financial situation, because if I really believed in God, He would make everything better.  E. said that I shouldn’t read Aish.com so much and that she sees their essays as pure propaganda.  I actually do see the theology presented there as simplistic.  I find some of their self-improvement and relationship advice interesting and useful, but reading more theological posts tends to get me annoyed sooner or later, but I do it anyway.  Maybe I should try to stop.

I just feel I need for contact with people sometimes and, given that my rabbi mentor is snowed under with work and not responding to my emails and that the rabbis at my shul are more Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) than I feel comfortable with, and that given that I have almost no frum (religious) friends, it is difficult to see where else I can go for religious discussion/support.  I do have a couple of frum friends, but I don’t like to bother them all the time.  There is the London School of Jewish Studies, but going to their classes involves staying out late, which is hard to do on work nights (and all the people there are twenty years or more older than me anyway, which doesn’t help from a social point of view).  Hevria used to help, but I’ve got hurt there in the past and I struggle to connect with many of the current crop of writers; I’m currently trying to avoid it as I probably should avoid Aish.  From that point of view, reading Aish is probably inevitable, like the way I aimlessly surf blogs and the like online trying to connect with people in other ways, even though I usually end up ‘triggered,’ lonely and miserable one way or another.

Re-reading this post from another blog today, I saw the following quote:

“For some, the satisfaction of leading a life bound to Torah is its own reward, but others might need to be assured that the righteous reap rewards and the wicked suffer punishments in the most prosaic of ways, preferably instantly and in plain sight.”

I try to be  in the former category, and, to be honest, my life being as it is, it’s the only really viable strategy for me to stay frum (religious), to accept access to the Jewish tradition as a reward in itself, but Aish is reflective of the idea, common in the frum community, that people get paid back for good or evil really quickly (William Kolbrener has a couple of good essays attacking this mentality in his book Open-Minded Torah).  I find this latter view theologically naive and simply false, but it’s hard not to get sucked into it when I see people on Aish, Hevria, Chabad.org or the parasha sheets in shul on Shabbat (the Sabbath) telling these kind of simplistic miracle stories and feel I inadequate and hated by God for not experiencing these kinds of miracles.

On a related note, I also struggle to cope with the idea of God as an unconditionally loving and forgiving parent.  I have no problem with God as benign Ruler or just Judge nor (more philosophically/metaphysically) with God as an infinite Being or the source of existence.  But because of some of my childhood experiences it’s very hard to accept the unconditionally loving parent.  My parents do love me unconditionally, but stuff that happened to me as a child that I can’t go into here made it hard for me to recognise that and accept it, let alone translate it to another level of reality and believe that I have a supernatural Parent who cares about me and wants to do good for me, or at least that He wants to do concrete goodness for me in the short-term, in this world, rather than some vaguely defined goodness in the future/the afterlife.

***

I’ve been clearing out old health-related papers: a huge pile of psychiatric reports going back to 2009 (which I think was when the NHS started sending them to me; there was apparently no report for my last meeting, late last year), and another big pile of CBT homework and occupational therapy reports.  CBT was helpful for me for my OCD (although not for depression) and occupational therapy was also helpful, as much, if not more so than psychotherapy, CBT and medication in getting me through my MA and into the workplace, but it’s vaguely unsettling to see so much of the last ten years of my life reduced to scraps of paper, and to be aware that much more could have been added that has been disposed of previously or was simply never sent to me (the psychiatric reports from 2003-2009).  Part of me worries that I will need this stuff some day, but I’ve never needed it until now and the NHS ought to keep copies (ha ha ha).  A lot of it is questionable anyway; the reports showed that my psychiatrist was often not listening to what I said, from how to spell my GP’s name to more important matters about my mood and cognitions.

***

(This next paragraph is relevant to a mental health/autism blog, it just takes a while to get there…)

I’m watching Star Trek: The Next Generation: Parallels.  I like Star Trek, but I haven’t watched it for a couple of years.  (I haven’t yet summoned up the courage to watch the latest series, Discovery.  The fact that they’ve made a big thing about being the first Star Trek series to use the f-word makes me wonder what their priorities are and if it is going to be ‘contemporary’ and ‘edgy’.)  The Star Trek universe is a reassuring, but slightly bland utopia, where all angst, doubt or guilt has been eliminated, along with personal eccentricity (unless you consider liking baseball an eccentricity).  The only person I can think of who has any of these traits is the minor character of Barclay, who is gradually therapied into ‘normality’.  Almost every character has won a shelf full of awards at Star Fleet Academy or on active service and several of them were ‘best X in their year.’  I wonder what would become of a weird freak like me in such a world, and whether autism has been medically eliminated in the way that Down’s Syndrome apparently hardly exists in Iceland because almost all foetuses found to have it are aborted.

(That’s at least relevant on a mental health blog; I’ll spare you the rant about the way Federation-style postmodern liberal pluralism strips other cultures of their internal coherence and meaning, leaving an empty, valueless, but inoffensive husk.)

As I say, I do like Star Trek, but this annoys me sometimes.  Doctor Who doesn’t present mental health or developmental disorders in a better way and arguably in a worse one, given how many villains are implicitly or explicitly identified as “mad”, but it does have a better track-record of showing harmless eccentricity in a positive light.

One thing I do like about Star Trek, though, is the camaraderie, the sense that the characters are real friends, although this makes me feel lonely and wish I had a group of close friends I could see regularly or work with.  The series bible forbade interpersonal conflict between the main characters, which is an odd thing to do from a dramatic viewpoint, but did create a cohesive set of characters, as well as providing reassurance for people like me who have difficulty dealing with conflict or accepting that friends can have disagreements and stay friends.

Brief Update and Quotes

Not a lot happened today.  I was a wreck of anxiety and depression on the Tube into work and my line manager was late in, so I spent the first twenty minutes or at work so panicking and trying to work out what I was supposed to do, but once she turned up I calmed down and think I did OK, if perhaps a bit slow.  She’s away on Thursday and her line manager, who is supposed to be the person I speak to if I’m stuck, is in meetings half the day, so that will be a test of how well I’m adapting.  And then I’ll be halfway through my contract already!

Other than that there’s not a lot to say, except that I had another couple of autistic moments.  Someone from the shul (synagogue) financial team wanted me to sort out my gift aid form (a way charities can claim tax revenue back from the government, but only from donors who were taxpayers themselves) and I replied speaking of calendar years when I should have been speaking of tax years, of course.  Sometimes I astound myself at my unworldliness (that’s not good, by the way).  More amusingly, my line manager was talking about one class I need to help prepare for having “students from different time periods.”  I knew she meant students studying different time periods, but for a split-second part of my brain was thinking of time travellers coming to use the library.

Some quotes from the last few days, for me to ponder on as much as anything else:

Me (in a comment here about Google-stalking old acquaintances): Weirdly, more than I want to know what people are doing, I want people who came into my life to know just how hard my life has been. Perhaps the ones who hurt me, but mostly the ones who I potentially hurt (I don’t know if I did) or at least the ones who would have witnessed my craziness and freakishness. I wish they could just know that there are reasons for my being a freak (depression, autism), I wasn’t just some crazy weirdo who messed up their lives on a whim. – I’ve felt like this for years particularly regarding people who were around when the depression became unmanageable when I was doing my BA.  I guess it just reflects how messed up I feel I am and how much I feel other people perceive this.  I don’t know if they really do.  I feel anyone who knew me at university in particular must think that I’m some kind of freak.  I suppose it would be good not to think like this and try to move on, but it’s hard.

E.: Having autism doesn’t cancel out your good qualities.  It just means you might express them differently. – I need to internalise this.  I feel that autism and depression make me a freak (that word again), autism more so than depression, because depression is more common (I think) and somewhat more socially acceptable these days.  It’s a struggle to think of myself as different rather than weird.  I just hope I can find someone who sees that too (the quote from E. was in the context of a discussion about whether anyone would ever want to marry me).

Someone from well-being group: You can’t control the first thought, but you can control the second one.  – This actually seemed really empowering to me.  I wish I had heard it when my religious OCD was at it’s worst, but it’s something to remember if it flares up again.  But also it can apply to other unwanted thoughts (anger, lust, self-hatred, etc.).

Fragile with Tears

After posting last night, I became very agitated and morbid.  I wrote the following paragraphs, but didn’t post them, partly because I didn’t want people to think I was about to kill myself, partly because I try to avoid posting more than once in a day (trigger warning for suicide):

I can’t stop thinking about suicide.  I don’t even want to kill myself, I just think I will one day, maybe in a week, maybe in fifty years.  More likely in fifty years, to be honest, when my parents are dead and I’ve lost touch with most of my friends.  I was just looking at suicide prevention stuff online and it was all about “If you kill yourself, your wife and kids will remember you as a corpse, they’ll have to move house because the resonances of the room where they found your body is [sic] too strong, they’ll be questioned by the police.”  Nothing about what if you want to kill yourself because you’re never going to have a wife and kids.

I have to hold on to the belief that my parents care about me, but sometimes it’s hard.  They don’t understand me at all and I don’t understand them at all.  It’s partly neurotypical vs autistic brains, but also different personalities, values and intensities of religious belief…

I’ve been told that God loves me, but I find it hard to believe, unless God on some level loved Hitler too.

I’m not in any danger of killing myself tonight, but I know I can never be sure I’m safe forever.

The ellipsis in the second paragraph covers some stuff I’m angry with my parents about, very trivial, but I had second thoughts about putting it in the public domain again.  In hindsight, it’s clearly an exaggeration to say that my parents don’t understand me at all and vice versa.  They probably do understand me to some extent, but not completely or anywhere near completely (I don’t know if anyone understands anyone else completely, even people who have lived together for decades).  But they don’t understand a lot about my mental health issues and autism and it’s hard to explain it to them.  Likewise, we’re on different religious levels with very different outlooks on life.  I don’t know how much I understand them.  Our brains are wired very differently is all I can say, but that’s not terribly helpful even to me, let alone to them.

***

I hear a lot regarding autism that autistic brains are “wired differently”.  I’ve taken to wondering what that actually means.  Maybe I’m being, well, autistic about this, but brains don’t have actual wires in them.  Does it mean the synapses don’t function properly or the connections between areas of the brain aren’t there?

***

At my well-being group today (what I was referring to as “resilience class”, but this is a more accurate name) I opened up a bit about autism, mostly because someone else there was being open about being on the spectrum and another person was talking about having brain damage from being in a car crash.  I hope I opened up for the right reasons, though, as I’m not always sure that I do.  It felt fairly safe, not least because there were little more than half the number of people who attended the first session.  I guess that’s how these things go.  I started the session very depressed and tense, but finished somewhat better, but my mood went down again on the way home; I’ve probably been  up and down all day.

I do think that the group is really for people with minor depression though.  The facilitators were talking about triggers and saying if something triggers you and you still feel depressed after after a couple of days, it might be an episode of depression.  Someone spoke about being depressed for months on end, but I’m just permanently depressed.  Out of the last sixteen years, I’ve probably been ‘not depressed’ for about two years in total, split into chunks of up to six months.  So that made me feel a bit hopeless.

Someone did say something helpful about “You can’t control the first thought, but you can control the second one.”  I thought that was interesting.

***

I looked over the notes I took at my new job last week, but I’m still worried there is so much for me still to know, even though officially I’m only contracted for another six days (over three weeks).  I really worry I’m going to mess it all up, but I’d like to stay working there if I can, as a higher education library with few client-facing interactions seems to be the best working environment for me so far.

One of the papers, detailing the handling of rare books and papers, cautioned me to be careful when handling things that are “fragile with tears”.  It meant “tears” as in “rips”, but I keep reading it as “crying.”  I think I’m “fragile with tears”.

***

I’m still lonely.  My experience of dating E. has taught me that there’s no point in dating anyone until I’m more financially secure, though, which could take years.  I’ve decided I need to wait until I have a permanent job, even if it’s part-time.  At least that shows I’m serious about my career and supporting a family, even if I can’t do it alone.  If something drops from the sky, I might reconsider, but I don’t think it’s likely.  Things like that rarely happen to me, although twice I’ve ended up dating or nearly dating someone who contacted me through my blog.  “Did you wish really hard?” to quote Doctor Who: The Doctor’s Wife.  Obviously I can’t wish hard enough.

***

A discussion on another blog makes me realise that, for all I talk about the frum (Orthodox Jewish) community, I’m too much on the fringes to really talk about it.  I was brought up going to an Orthodox shul (synagogue), but we were traditional rather than fully observant and I didn’t become fully shomer mitzvot (keeping the commandments) until around university age.  I still don’t really have many friends in the frum community, which marks me out as unusual for a frum person as they usually socialise within the community and often express the opinion that they would struggle to find common ground with non-observant Jews or non-Jews.  For me, I suspect I gravitate towards non-frum people not for the reasons I would have told myself in the past (I hate false piety; the frum world doesn’t accept my interests) and more because, in terms of the mental algorithms I use to function in a neurotypical world, it’s a relief not to have to run the “don’t say anything heretical/socially unacceptable” algorithm when I’m already using a lot of energy running the “how to interact with neurotypicals” algorithm, the “how to talk about my special interests to people who don’t share them” algorithm and the “how to share appropriately about mental health” algorithm.

***

I was going to do a whole big thing about this article, but it would be wrong and pointless of me to do so.  I just wish I knew how to have the kind of joy and purpose in my life, and in my Judaism, that the author speaks of and the belief that God loves me and believes in me.  As for “committing suicide in installments”… it’s an effort not to commit suicide in one literal go, just surviving is good even if I die a little more inside each day.  It’s a shame that the author of the original seven questions has died and so I can’t email him and ask.

***

An aside: when I started this blog, I used both ‘autism’ and ‘Asperger’s syndrome’ in posts and as tags, as I know both are used online.  A few months ago I became aware that ‘Asperger’s syndrome’ has been dropped as a separate condition in the DSM-5 psychiatric guidelines and also that it now appears that Hans Asperger, the doctor after whom the condition is named, collaborated with the Nazis in his native Austria.  I feel very uncomfortable calling myself someone with ‘Asperger’s’ now or ‘an Aspie’ but I wonder if calling myself ‘autistic’ or ‘on the autism spectrum’ to people who don’t know much about autism is a good idea.  I suppose it summons up images of the severely autistic and non-functional (e.g. Rain Man, although I’ve never seen that film) which can lead to stereotyping or disbelief that someone as outwardly functional as I am could actually be on the spectrum, especially as I don’t have a firm diagnosis yet.

Does anyone else have any ideas?  This comes up mainly at my well-being and depression support groups, which is the main place I would be open about my difficulties.  I have only opened up to one or two friends who don’t read my blog about this so far and am wary of saying anything at the moment, although part of me would like to do so.  I generally don’t even discuss my depression with friends who don’t read my blog, let alone the autism.

The Seven Beggars

I had a silly Doctor Who dream last night, but for some reason I woke up very anxious about work, really worried that I don’t know what I’m doing and that I’m going to make a terrible mistake.  I’ve been thinking again that I wish I was dead just to be away from these worries and this loneliness.  I can’t see things ever get better in a substantial way.  Things seem so hopeless at the moment, although “at the moment” has really been for most of the last sixteen years, give or take the occasional six months of remission.  I’m trying to stay open to the idea that I might have a full-time job “one day” and manage to get married “one day” but “one day” is probably years if not decades down the line, which means I probably won’t be able to have children.  I worry what will happen to me when my parents are gone, given I rely on them for financial, practical and, to a lesser extent, emotional, support.

On the Mental Health at Home blog, Ashley Leia posted about being “over-educated and under-functioning” and having to revise career goals because of mental illness, all of which seems familiar to me.  I don’t know how to make more feasible goals, though. I still want to have some kind of full-time/nearly full-time job that will make me financially independent, able to have place of my own and a wife and kids, but none of those things seem at all likely to happen any time in the short or medium term and would require some major unexpected changes to happen in the longer term.

***

I went out today for about an hour and a quarter to do some shopping, but came back feeling exhausted and depressed, really just wanting to go back to bed.  I felt strong feelings of self-loathing and a feeling of not wanting to be alive while not being suicidal as such.  I messed around online for a while, which I shouldn’t have done, but then laid in the dark for a while, first listening to music, then silently, which seemed to help a little; I was still depressed and tired, but felt less exhausted and totally drained.  Perhaps I get autistic sensory overload when out shopping; it seems likely even if I’m not always good at recognising the signs because “I’m always like this” or “everyone gets tired.”  I should probably factor in more recovery time in the future, and after work, and do so in quiet and darkness rather than in front of the computer or TV.

***

I have mentioned before that my presumed autism went undetected for a very long time, even through psychiatric assessments, because I’ve learnt a lot of workarounds and algorithms (for want of a better word) for dealing with certain situations, especially social situations.  I suppose I have a different algorithm for interacting with non-depressed people, one for interacting with neurotypical people, one for frum (religious Jewish) people, one for non-frum people…  The reason I like to find people who are a lot like me, I suspect, is that I have to run fewer algorithms to interact with them or more simply, I don’t have to hide as much of myself.  To interact with non-depressed, neurotypical frum people takes up a lot of ‘processing power’ to avoid saying or doing the wrong thing, even before you factor in the fact that for many autistic people, the amount ‘processing power’ needed in a social situation or interaction increases exponentially with the number of people present.  Like running a lot of apps at once, using so many algorithms, so much processing power, is very draining.  So, at a social event, like the Shabbat (Sabbath) meal I’ve been invited to on Friday, I use a lot of energy just being in the room regardless of what I’m actually doing.  And, of course, work also requires a lot of processing power both for autism and depression.  This is why having a more client-facing role or being in a large noisy office was so difficult for me, because they were so draining.  So, I finish work or social situations incredibly drained, which triggers depression, and I can take hours or even days to recover (in which time I may have to go to work or into social situations again).

***

My Mum thinks I was at kindergarten with the person who invited me for Shabbat dinner this week.  The Jewish world is very small.  The flipside of this is that you can’t escape, or at least that it’s very hard to, which I find a bit depressing.  Sometimes I think I want to be forgotten.

***

I wish I could find the key to unlock the potential and joy hidden in my life, assuming such potential and joy could even exist for me, which I doubt.  I certainly can’t imagine anyone finding enough potential in me to date me for long.  I do really want to love someone though, which I guess brings me back to pets as an object of doting again, despite my Mum’s objections.

***

There was another engagement announced from children of members of my shul again.  It was also announced last Friday – engagement and birth announcements seem to be made twice, as soon as the rabbi hears, he posts something on the shul What’sApp group and then later there’s an email from the administrator.  There is a certain logic to this so that no one misses the news, but it feels like rubbing salt in an open wound.  I don’t really want to opt out of communal announcements, but I do feel like someone trapped outside in the cold, looking at a fun party happening indoors through the window.  I do feel bad for getting so upset and envious when this happens, though.  I don’t want other people to be miserable and lonely, I just wish I wasn’t so miserable and lonely.

***

Listening to Queen’s Greatest Hits while cooking dinner (red bean chilli, a familiar recipe because, once again, I feel too depressed to try something new – I’ve only once used the Jewish cookery book my parents bought me for my birthday in the summer), listening to the loud and angry chords for some reflection of my own inner turmoil.  By the time dinner is ready, I’m very agitated and wanting to hurt myself and am not sure if it’s from my thoughts (which have been going on all day), the music or looking out of curiosity on Only Simchas (not a site I usually frequent) and googling old friends and crushes to see what they’re doing.  Some of the men on Only Simchas are… less attractive than I am, or was, before clomipramine made me put on weight, but I guess they don’t have autism or depression and low incomes.  At any rate, not everyone looks younger than me, but the trend is definitely that the frummer-looking people do look younger than me, and the people I know (yes, it’s a small Jewish world) are significantly younger than me (like ten or fifteen years younger).  I shouldn’t look there again…

***

I keep thinking that I could bear my suffering if I knew it had a purpose, to help someone else somehow, but thinking that it’s just so I can reap more reward in the next world, or worse, to punish me for something, is not enough to be able bear it.  There’s a parable in the Talmud (somewhere early on in Brachot, can’t remember the exact page and I’m not going to look it up now) which in context isn’t relevant to me, but out of context sums up how a feel.  A man is in prison (presumably wrongfully… the Talmud was written when people, especially Jews, could be locked up by the monarch without having done anything wrong) and everyone says to him, “Hold on, tomorrow they’re going to release you and give you an expensive treasure to repay you for your experience” and he responds, “I don’t want the treasure, just get me out of here now!”

I feel that I can’t bear this any more, but somehow I have to.  Vicarious suffering is a complicated area in Judaism, but it doesn’t seem likely that my suffering could help anyone else, which is the only thing that I feel could keep me going.  I feel that I would gladly give up my life to help people, but I can’t live like this, so miserable and lonely, indefinitely without knowing why.  Maybe that’s just a reflection of how little I value my life, how little joy or meaning it gives me, that dying would be a release and potentially more invested with meaning than living.  I’m not suicidal, but it’s hard not to think about being hurt or killed right now.

Draining Shabbat

Well, that was a difficult Shabbat (Sabbath).  The main difficult thing was an argument with my Mum.  I won’t go into details.  It’s difficult to use this blog to vent (which I need to do at the moment as I’m not in therapy and my rabbi mentor is unreachable) while also keeping the laws of honouring parents and not gossiping.  I wrote a couple of paragraphs trying to do that, but then felt I still said too much.  I need to ask my rabbi mentor for guidance on what is OK to say on an anonymous or perhaps more accurately, semi-anonymous, blog but he’s really busy with work at the moment and I can’t get hold of him.  A lot would depend on how much this blog can be considered truly anonymous, and safe to remain anonymous indefinitely and I would not like to swear to that as there are half a dozen people reading this who know me away from the internet and who might theoretically meet my parents one day.  Some of those friends have offered to listen to my feelings about family privately, but it’s the same situation about not feeling I can share things.  I could phone Samaritans, but frankly it seems too petty and I’m worried about making such a big thing about it as it would set me off again.

I want to say more and keep trying to do so, but every time I try writing, it drifts into stuff I don’t think I should say.  I’ve wanted to deal with these feelings/thoughts/events in fiction before, but I’ve never really worked out how to do and suspect I don’t have the skill to disguise things particularly well, so the truth would be obvious.

The other thing that happened, which was more positive, was that someone I only vaguely know at shul (synagogue) invited me for Shabbat dinner next week.  He is one of the few people in the shul more or less my own age, so that is positive, both in terms of making friends my own age and in terms of being more accepted in the community (and maybe getting set up on shidduchim (dates) one day).  He is someone I envy somewhat, as he has the things that I can’t manage to get, in terms of family and career, but also someone I admire, inasmuch as he seems to be very frum (religious) and involved with the community as well as having a sharp intellect for Talmudic study and good middot (ethical character traits).  I’m very anxious though, worried that I will do or say the wrong thing somehow or come across as not frum enough.  I came home from shul on Friday night rather anxious because of this.

On the plus side, I did deal in a fairly calm way last night with a situation that a year or two ago would have triggered my kashrut OCD in a big way, although on the down side I did get triggered again and responded less well today.  I suppose life and especially mental health issues and autism are all about growth, but sometimes (often) it seems to be some steps forward and then more backwards; the difficulty comes in the periods where the backwards steps outnumber the forwards ones.  But perhaps unsurprisingly after all this psychological stress, I was exhausted last night and slept for a long time.

I had a strange dream about having a cat who, despite never having been let out the house, was somehow pregnant and apparently had five kittens, but then I realised there were ten and then fifteen.  I’m not sure what this means, except that I’m thinking seriously again about getting a pet (although not a cat) and maybe the dream was a reflection of that.  We did once have a cat give birth behind our garden shed, but that was about thirty years ago and probably not directly on my mind last night.  We thought it was a stray, but it turned out to belong to someone who lived in the area who claimed cat and kittens, much to my disappointment and my parents’ relief.

I’m still struggling with my thoughts for a book on Judaism aimed at non-Jews and non-religious Jews written in an informative rather than apologetic (in the sense of ‘defensive’) manner.  I keep thinking it could only work if it was personal, though, as I don’t have the knowledge to write an academic work, but I can’t work out how to marry the personal with the informative.  I guess I can’t work out what exactly it is that I want to say.  Maybe if I could do that, it would be easier to work out how to say it.  Of course, there is a whole halakhic question in how much I could write about Judaism for a non-Jewish audience; another thing to discuss with my rabbi mentor when he’s free.

On Not Pushing My Luck

I didn’t blog yesterday because there wasn’t much to say and I was busy (OK, I went to shiur (religious class) and I stayed up very late watching a two-hour Jonathan Creek special).  I was very anxious and depressed on the Tube into work in the morning and couldn’t read, either Mishnah or a novel.  I just focused on calm breathing, which seemed to help a bit.  Work was good, though.  I am actually feeling somewhat comfortable and enjoying being back in a higher education institution.

However, I’m still largely being shown what to do.  The scary bit will come next week when I have to start doing things by myself, especially as there was a LOT of information to take in, and largely orally, whereas I (like many autistic people) am better with written instructions.  I wrote some notes, but I’m not sure how coherent they are.  There is a checklist for the most important job I have to do, though, so I’m hoping to work from that.  I’m still not sure I know 100% what to do (or even close to 100%) and I will have to email or talk to people (yikes!) and go to get rare books from the vaults, which I’m worried will trigger OCD worries about having locked up correctly (or alternatively locking other people in).  And I already realised this morning that I have already forgotten to do something I meant to do yesterday.

However, I kind of find myself hoping that my contract might get extended, which I didn’t think in my previous job.  However, I don’t think an extension is likely.  I’m contracted for January with a possibility of extension to March, but apparently not beyond that and I’m not sure why – is it financial (the perennial problem in education and in libraries generally) or is there another reason?  If it’s just financial then maybe there’s hope?  But I don’t like to sound positive because I’m afraid if I am I will start messing things up or they will go wrong some other way.  I don’t like to hope any more.

***

I was thinking yesterday that if I can find a permanent job, even part-time, I should try dating again.  Last year the wife of the assistant rabbi at my parents’ shul (syngagogue) gave Dad the phone number of someone she felt might be able to find me find a shidduch (match) despite my depression.  This was in the run-up to Pesach which is the most stressful time of the Jewish year (think the days before Christmas, but much worse) so I said I would phone after Pesach, but I procrastinated a little and then I started dating E.  When we broke up, I thought if E., who was really into me, felt that she couldn’t cope with someone who wasn’t earning enough to support a family, then no one would be able to cope, so I didn’t make any effort to look for anyone else, but now I think E. might have been influenced by the confused feelings she still had for her ex.  But it’s still hard to think that someone might like me enough to look past my finances, my mental health and the fact that I’m not meeting my religious obligations as a good frum (religious) man should, in terms of prayer and Torah study.  It occurred to me yesterday that a marriage is for two people, but my wife would have to accept that in our relationship she would have to be one and a quarter, maybe one and a half of the two people, in terms of emotional support and finances.  That’s a lot to ask of someone and I don’t think I have enough to offer in return.  So now I’ve nearly talked myself out of it again and think I should just get a pet as a focus for my affection.  I mean, if I want someone gentle who will be affectionate to me and let me be affectionate to her maybe I’m better off with a guinea pig anyway.

***

Today I feel a bit exhausted, but not too depressed or anxious, which is good, despite lingering fears that I’m going to disappoint my boss at work.  I haven’t felt like this for a long time.  I’m not going to push my luck, though – I’m not doing much over the weekend.  There’s a big cross-shul oneg (Sabbath event) tonight which I’m skipping because I don’t think I’ll enjoy it much and it will drain me, whereas in the past I might have tried to force myself to go.  Likewise, I was hoping to go to a Doctor Who pub quiz on Sunday, but the friend I was going to go with isn’t going now, I won’t know anyone there and it finishes rather late and the other side of London, so I’m skipping that for now too.  It just seemed too risky to do either of those after a week when I did too new big things (new job and new well-being course).

“I don’t believe in modern love”

I’m in a bad autism environment today.  I’ve mentioned we’ve got a decorator in; he’s decorating the room next to mine.  I dislike the smell of paint, which sometimes makes me ill, plus he has the radio on really loudly.  It’s Radio 4 Extra (or whatever they call it these days), which is drama and comedy and so probably somewhat better than music – it’s not loud enough for my autistic brain to attempt to tune in to the words too much, but it is still loud enough to be annoying.  I was glad to be out most of the day, first at my depression/resilience course and then shopping and I will be at work tomorrow.  The smell is going to linger, though, and the decoration will continue for a while.  The decorator is estimating he’ll be finished by the end of the week, but my Dad and I are sceptical, particularly as we’ll want him out of the house by about 3.00pm on Friday for Shabbat (the Sabbath).

***

Resilience course today was focused on activity.  We listing activities done over the week; activities we enjoy; activities that make us feel better; activities that we don’t enjoy, but have to do, but are important for our well-being; and what activities we would like to do.  I realised that I do actually do things I enjoy, at least in theory, perhaps too many given how many essential-but-not-enjoyable things I do (albeit I do more of those now I’m working again)… The problem is that (a) I don’t actually enjoy a lot of the stuff I theoretically enjoy because of anhedonia (inability to experience pleasure) and (b) I spend too much time that could/should be spent doing something either productive or relaxing on procrastination when I feel too exhausted or depressed to read a book or job hunt and just stare into space on the train or aimlessly surf the internet.  I’m going to try to limit internet use to after 5.00pm Monday to Thursday (Fridays and Saturdays I don’t procrastinate on it much because of Shabbat, while activity on Sundays varies too much from week to week to set a rule).  Hopefully if I can reduce procrastination I can increase productive time without reducing enjoyable activities (even if I don’t always enjoy them).

The problem I seem to be having with the course is that while a lot of their tips are straightforward and seem good (and some have been suggested to me before, when I was seeing an occupational therapist), it can be hard to implement them.  I am a bit concerned that the tips would probably be better for someone with mild depression or anxiety.  Some people on the course seem to have done several courses through this scheme and that suggests to me a bit that people with severe depression or anxiety can get stuck in the system, getting enough out of the courses to keep coming back, but not enough to actually recover.  This is something that I have experienced myself in previous occupational therapy.  The other difficulty is appearing to recover, getting discharged from the support system, then getting very depressed again as a result of a trigger, which might not even be a ‘bad’ thing – I think I’ve been triggered by positive events before.  Any change can be difficult for people at risk of mental health issues especially with autism, which craves routine, and even positive or neutral change can remind the unconscious of negative events in the past and trigger a relapse.  Then one has to start all over again, remembering or relearning the skills.  Other people on the course seemed to share this experience.

***

I have a bit of a crush on one of the women at the group.  I even ended up speaking to her briefly today, which is a major thing for me with my social anxiety.  Also, there were a couple of awkward moments when our eyes met and I smiled awkwardly which makes me worry that I come over as stalkerish.  She seemed shy, gentle and geeky, but, statistically speaking, she’s almost certainly not Jewish and from her clothes (trousers) she certainly isn’t frum (religious Orthodox Jewish).  I wouldn’t date anyone who isn’t Jewish and I’d be a bit wary of dating anyone who wasn’t frum although I did date E. who wasn’t frum.

I’ve had crushes on people who are ‘off-limits’ before and they (the ‘bad’ thoughts/feelings) do go eventually.  I don’t believe that crushes are “LOVE”.  They’re just hormones.  I think love is something you build slowly over time through caring actions (being very frummy here, but true) and mostly when people talk about being “in love” (noun as opposed to “loving,” verb) they mean hormones.  Likewise when they think they’re not “in love” any more it often means the hormones have gone and they haven’t built anything deeper.  Nor do I think that LOVE can, or should, conquer all.  I think there are things it can’t overcome and, statistically-speaking for many people religious differences are very hard to bridge long-term.  There are also things I think love shouldn’t overcome and I think (and I’m aware how reactionary this will seem to many people, but I’m going to say it) breaking Jewish law and breaking faith with the traditions I follow are, for me, too big a price to pay for a relationship.  I don’t just want to get married, I want to build a specifically Jewish household.

She is cute though.  So right now I’m trying to sit with the crush feelings and not feel too guilty about ordinary human feelings, even though some people would say I should stop myself from having them (how?  I would if I could).  It wouldn’t be so frustrating if it wasn’t for the fact that I struggle to meet Jewish women who do tick any of the boxes she seemed to tick: gentle, geeky, understanding of shyness and mental health issues.  Very frustrating.  I’m not really sure how I could ever meet someone like that in the frum community.  I’m not sure if I could really go to a shadchan (matchmaker) with a list like that, short though it is, along with my core values, which are probably integrity, commitment to Judaism and desire for knowledge.

Oh, and the person has to actually like me which has been a stumbling block in stopping many of my crushes from turning into relationships.

The Five Year Old Child at Work

Work today was surprisingly good.  It was the first day of my new job, working in a university library (I won’t say which one and will have to be careful not to give away obvious clues).  I’m contracted for two days a week for a month with the possibility of extending it for another two months, but I don’t think there’s any possibility of the job being extended beyond that as I got the impression that the person I’m covering for will be back after that.

I was incredibly nervous on the way in.  As often happens, I felt like a child.  It’s hard to actually function as an adult when part of my brain insists that I’m five years old and shouldn’t be doing anything difficult by myself.  I was – and really still am – terrified that I can’t do anything right and that I’m bound to get fired.

The morning was largely taken up with induction stuff: seeing HR, getting my security pass made, setting up IT and email accounts and so on.  Stuff that is important to go through, but which isn’t the main part of my job.  I didn’t realise until I was alone in the staff room at lunchtime how overwhelmed I was by being in busy parts of the university, overwhelmed by the noise and the people.  I don’t know if that’s autism per se or just introversion.  I know I over-analyse feelings like that to try to pinpoint if they’re autism symptoms or not, when it might be impossible to tell.  All I know is that sitting by myself in a quiet room, I felt sudden relief and a desire not to leave.

Actually, I noticed today just how much information I’m trying to process when I’m in with other people, particularly when I’m with a group.  I was aware of what I was being told (i.e. what I was supposed to concentrate on), but also little things like the ticking of clocks and the posters on the walls as well as my constant internal monologue, often struggling with OCD thoughts or other ‘bad’ thoughts…  It’s hard to tell what is responsible for this.  Obviously the OCD thoughts are OCD, but I don’t know what causes the hyper-awareness.  I know autism is often seen as, in part, an inability to filter out information, resulting in overload and difficulty finding and remembering correct information, but I’m not sure whether what I was experiencing really corresponded to how I have seen sensory overload described.  I don’t know whether social anxiety could also contribute to this feeling of alertness and difficulty in filtering out irrelevant information.  Once again, I run up against the problem of trying to compare my subjective experiences and feelings against other peoples subjective experiences and feelings as well as with supposedly more objective clinical criteria.  It’s very hard.

In the afternoon my boss showed me some of the other team members in our department.  The university employs about 350 people in the library (I don’t think they’re all librarians) over a number of different sites.  I’ve never worked at an institution so big.  It’s probably good for my career (something has to be good for my career) that I’ve worked in a variety of libraries: a one-person library (library with only one full-time staff member) in a small college, the library of a busy further education college and now a very big library in a very big higher education college.  To be honest, they all had advantages and disadvantages, but I think higher education is probably a better fit for me than further education.

I was rather overwhelmed by all the people.  I’m not good at names at the best of times and obviously being introduced to a couple of dozen people in different rooms inside a labyrinthine building, trying to take in names, jobs and locations is not easy.  Everyone seems nice, especially my boss, but part of my brain was just thinking that that will only make it worse when I let her down and mess everything up.

This fear of messing everything up only worsened when I was introduced to the rare books.  This will be a key part of my work over the next month.  I was shown the rare books store and was taught how to handle old and fragile materials.  I’m terrified that I’m going to damage something unique and priceless (I would give some examples, but obviously identifying anything rare or unique will make it easier to identify the institution) or that I will simply do something stupid like forget to lock one of the rooms (or lock someone in – I nearly locked someone in the staff room).  When my boss and one of the conservators showed me how to handle the materials, it was difficult to focus on handling them correctly when I was trying really hard not to shake with anxiety (and of course, trying hard not to shake is likely to trigger shaking), more from the anxiety of being watched so intently as to fear of damaging something.

Still, it was interesting to deal with rare books, something that I haven’t had the chance to do for a long time and something that did attract me to librarianship.  It was also interesting to be part of a library staff so big that I didn’t have to play any client-facing role.  If my depression hadn’t started again when I was doing my librarianship MA in 2010, I think I could easily have ended up in a library like this, working as a cataloguer and/or with rare books.  But the depression and the consequent damage to my career, both direct (I’m not well enough to work full-time, I’m impeded by social anxiety) and indirect (my cataloguing skills have atrophied somewhat from lack of use and my MA course, although accredited by CILIP, was not one of the best in the country, thanks to the depression making it impossible to go to my first choice university) means that I’m now trying to work out what kind of career I can make for myself.

So, that was my first day in my new job.  It was probably the best day I’ve had at work in a long time, so it’s frustrating that I won’t be here for very long even if I don’t mess anything up.  Plus, I just did a somewhat scary thing regarding fighting my kashrut OCD, so I guess it was a good day overall even if I do now have a headache and feel exhausted.

One last thing: I didn’t mention the other day that my GP is fine with referring me for another autism assessment.  I’m not sure why he wanted to speak to me about it first.  So that’s also good news, although the waiting list for autism assessments means that I probably won’t be seen for nearly a year.

Sex, Death and Other ‘Bad’ Thoughts

I wrote the first half of this post last night, but I didn’t want to post four times in twenty-four hours.  To be honest, I’m slightly reluctant to post something as despairing and self-loathing as this, but I feel compelled to do so, to confess.  I don’t know why.  It makes it a bit easier to cope, I suppose, although explaining how is trickier.  I hope people get something out of it.  There are twenty or so people ‘liking’ this regularly, so that has to mean someone likes this stuff, right?

I just feel so despairing.  I hate myself so much, and that self-hate seems to me to be entirely legitimate, if anything disproportionately small to the things I have; I should, if anything, hate myself more, not less.  Yet the few people I have let into my deepest secrets (some of them, anyway) tell me that I’m quite normal.  It is difficult to know what to make of this.

People seem to reach the conclusion from a rapid conversation that I’m an intelligent and good person.  This has happened to me on short phone calls to the Samaritans.  I do not know how they come to these conclusions, which seem astoundingly wrong to me.

Sometimes I wish there was a prophet or rebbe that I could go to and find out the meaning of my life and what I should do with it, or even just if I’m a good person.  But I don’t believe in da’at Torah (the belief that great Torah scholars have a quasi-prophetic ability to answer even mundane, practical questions in an inspired way).  Likewise I don’t believe in getting blessings from rebbes or rabbis or praying at the graves of dead tzadikim (saintly people).  I pray to God, but He always seems to say “No.”  I’m willing to trust that it’s for the best, but I wish He would give me more practical fortitude to keep going.

***

My rabbi mentor has not returned my emails for a couple of weeks.  I am a bit worried about him, and also concerned to hear the answers to some of my halakhic (Jewish law) questions which I don’t want to take to the rabbis of my shul, who will be too strict or at least too Charedi (ultra-Orthodox).  Similarly, some kashrut questions I sent to the London Bet Din (rabbinical court) (well, one question several times because I wasn’t sure if it sent properly) has gone unanswered.  I feel vaguely worried, but the fact that I’m coping OK is a sign that the religious OCD at least is under control; a few years ago I was a constant wreck, waiting to hear back from rabbis or the Bet Din about my questions.  Nowadays I can dismiss some at least of the questions as obviously unnecessary.

***

On to today: last night I struggled to get to sleep and then today I struggled to get up.  I actually woke up an hour earlier than I intended and couldn’t get back to sleep because I felt so stiff and achey – I think I had been cold and curled up.  My cold is mostly gone, but I still feel really depressed, unsurprisingly (it wasn’t just going to vanish with the cold).  I still really hate myself too.  I can’t understand how anyone cares about me, except that I must deceive them about who I really am.  Sorry about that.  I shouldn’t say that.  Except that I did, and I’ve struck it through, but not deleted it.  It’s hard to stick to what I said about trying not to criticise my blog here.

***

I started my depression/resilience/activity course today.  It was quite good, but very anxiety-provoking.  In fact, the whole day has been anxiety-provoking, both social anxiety and general anxiety.  I struggled on my course with the activity done in pairs as I did not really know what to say.  I don’t think my pair and I did it properly in the end, but I think I was confused.  I’m worried about having to set an achievable target at the end of each session, which amounts to two a week, as the class is on Mondays and Wednesdays, and then report back on success (or otherwise) in the next class.

On the course they said that one never goes backwards in recovery.  Even if one seems to go backwards, one is in fact learning necessary things about oneself.  It doesn’t seem that way.  Someone said he had been depressed for three years and was worried if he would ever recover; I silently worried that I have been depressed sixteen years or so and don’t seem to be able to recover for more than a few months at a time.

***

Freud, I’m informed, thought life boiled down to eros and thanatos, the sex instinct and the death instinct.  I think that I think about both too much.  I see the skull beneath the skin, to paraphrase Eliot.  I was certainly thinking of dying in my course today, when I was feeling anxious that I wouldn’t be able to set achievable targets and that I didn’t want to be monitored by a class of strangers or even to be in the room with sixteen people.  I just wanted to die.  It’s a release sometimes to think of dying, of killing myself or just of being dead.  I do believe in an afterlife, but most of the time I think I’m too wicked to deserve it, but Jews don’t believe in eternal damnation, so the idea of just not existing seems like some kind of a release.  I sometimes try to visualise my body decomposing, which probably isn’t a nice thing to think about.  I guess this is suicidal ideation, thinking about suicide and death rather than actually planning to kill myself.  My experience, as I think I’ve said before, is that crisis teams are not interested if you are merely thinking about death, only if you actually have a plan to kill yourself, although the distinction between thinking about death and having a plan to kill yourself is, I think, less clear cut than that policy implies.  I was probably thinking about this too much in the course today, a symptom of anxiety and despair.

To be honest, I was probably thinking of sex too much as well as death.  I think that thinking about sex at all is bad for me, both for religious reasons and because it’s fairly obvious to me that no one is ever going to be interested in me.  I beat myself up about sex a lot, though, because of religious reasons and feminist reasons.  For example, just feeling attracted to someone there instantly provokes guilt for hirhuim assurim (forbidden thoughts) and also for objectifying women.  It’s a relief in a way that no one else at the course seemed to be Jewish, so far as I could tell, so everyone is off limits anyway.  It would be good if I could just avoid thinking about sex and love, because I don’t think anyone could ever love me.

***

Whenever I see frum families, especially frum women, with their children, which happens a lot where I live, I feel that I will never get married and have children and I feel so lonely.  I wonder how almost everyone else in the community manages to pair off so easily and I don’t.

I see frum (religious) children where I live and imagine them on a trajectory from school to yeshiva/seminary to careers in accountancy and law (men) or teaching or occupational therapy (women) and marriage and children… A few will be hit by some kind of life issue and a few more will drop out of the frum community, but most are going to be on that path for life.  I felt vaguely today that I made a choice for the religious life over the secular one, thinking although it entailed sacrifices, it would bring rewards.  Actually, this isn’t really true.  I never sat down and said, “Today I’m going to be frum.”  I just drifted into it, from a traditional background to full observance over many years.  My point is that if I was offered that choice – and in a sense it is still before me, I could still stop being religious – that is what I would choose and why.  Except I never received the rewards of being frum, the this worldly ones anyway: family, community, support, meaning, spirituality; but I don’t have the worldly benefits of not being religious either.  I ended up with a non-functional depressive/autistic life that I can’t imagine anyone deliberately choosing.

***

I have so many ‘bad’ thoughts, they frighten me.  I worry about what they say about me, whether I will act on them.  When my religious OCD was worse, I did a lot of reading about it and learnt that everyone has ‘bad’ thoughts and that people who obsess over them with OCD (scrupulosity) are less likely to act on them than anyone else.  But I wonder why I have so many bad thoughts.  I wish I could know what other people think, to know if my thoughts are ‘normal,’ both in nature, intensity and frequency… thoughts of self-harm and suicide, thoughts of death and decay, sexual thoughts, violent thoughts, blasphemous thoughts, offensive thoughts…  I feel I must be a bad person, or at least a very unwell person, to have so many bad thoughts, even if I don’t act on them (and I’ve acted on thoughts that I think do make me a bad person).  I find it hard to dismiss them as just thoughts that everyone has as no one else seems to report them, except very unwell people, which is not encouraging.

***

I start my new job tomorrow.  I really wish I didn’t.  I just feel sure it’s going to go disastrously wrong.  I can’t work out why anyone would want to employ me, except, again, that I deceive them about how useless I really am (which is another thing I’m not supposed to write/think).  They just sent me a massive email with induction information.  I’m not sure why they waited until the end of the day before I start to send this – it would have been easier if I could have had time to read through it properly.

“Dear me, Mr Holmes! Dear me!”

I phoned the Samaritans phone helpline this afternoon.  I was feeling very overwhelmed, alone in the house, worrying about all the things happening this week.  It was helpful to talk through some of my thoughts and have someone else respond who isn’t close to me.  My parents and perhaps my friends are sometimes too close to me to help – they get frustrated with me when I put myself down or fail to snap out of black and white thinking or catastrophisation, plus I’m more likely to try to manipulate them (e.g. by attacking myself to try to get them to say I’m not a bad person) than I am a stranger.

The person I spoke to said I’ve taken a lot of positive steps to try to get an autism diagnosis and to try to get a new job and stay in employment, which I guess is true, even if it’s hard to give myself credit for it.  There’s a voice in my head that keeps saying how many people on the autism spectrum are unemployed or single and how many people in my depression group are unemployed or single and that’s hard to silence, but I’m trying to focus on one day or even one task at a time.  It’s hard though.

***

I’m still thinking about pets.  It’s on days like this, when I feel the need for physical contact, but my parents aren’t around, or I feel too many conflicted emotions to ask them for a hug that I really wish I could have a furry pet to stroke or hold.  I could potentially procrastinate about this for a long time, though; I need to find a way to force myself to a decision.  As I’ve said before, if I could look after someone else’s pet for a week or so while they’re a way that would be the ideal way to ‘test drive’ having a pet, but unfortunately I don’t have any local friends with a pet.  Pets are actually quite rare in the Orthodox Jewish world.

***

I was reminded today of a Jewish group I tried to get involved with.  I tried to do some writing for them, but they messed me around a lot.  The organisers actually messed me around a lot in different ways over the years and lately I’ve been avoiding them because I’m too angry.  It’s hard to feel OK with being angry, so my mind keeps pushing the anger towards self-loathing or loneliness.  I had mixed feelings about this group for some time, but still hung around on their fringes because I’m bad at getting toxic people out of my life.  I just want to be liked, really.

Even if I had been in the same city, I don’t know that I would have been able to fit in with that crowd, a very artsy, bohemian crowd of creatives.  They were looking for frustrated creatives who they could turn into actual creatives; I’m a frustrated academic, but ‘criticism’ was a dirty word to them.

Similarly, there is an online geeky community/message board-type thing that I used to be somewhat active on, but which I’ve drifted away from lately.  No big reason this time, just that the things being discussed there aren’t things that affect me very much.

Things like this do make me wonder if there is any group or community out there that I could really join and feel comfortable with.  Compare with the things I’ve been posting recently about my shul (synagogue), feeling that people there wouldn’t approve of my interests or beliefs, worrying that people there might be supportive of unsavoury characters; or about not fitting in to online Doctor Who fandom.  I can’t find anywhere I completely fit in.  (I wonder a bit how much the people reading this would like me in person.)

Maybe that’s not such a huge problem.  Maybe I can compartmentalise my life: frum community here, Doctor Who fandom there.  Maybe everyone does that, to some extent.  But I want to meet someone who I can love and who will be able to love me and that to me speaks of at least acceptance of the different parts of my character, and I can’t imagine someone accepting me like that based on these experiences.  These experiences – and my limited dating experiences – make me feel that no one could ever accept all my ‘stuff,’ my weird combination of beliefs, interests, mental health and developmental issues.

When Autism Fuels Depression

I feel very depressed today.  Drained and despairing.  I was supposed to go with my parents to see my sister’s new house (I’m ridiculously easy to manipulate into doing things I don’t want to do – just guilt-trip me), but I feel too ill, partly my cold, partly depression.  To be honest, it’s probably largely depression, despite the fact that I felt like I was burning up before.  I can barely move, I feel so depressed.

The best book I’ve read on depression is Depressive Illness: The Curse of the Strong by Dr Tim Cantopher.  He argues that people with depression are almost always highly reliable, conscientious, diligent, responsible and morally strong.  They become depressed because in a difficult situation, where most people would back away from the difficulty, they carry on trying to work through it until, in his words, they try to put 100 amps through a 13 amp fuse and it ‘blows’ causing depression.  The cure is medication, to stabilise the situation, but also counselling or psychotherapy to resolve the problematic situation or find a new way to cope with it, as well as learning not to overdo things.  Otherwise the result is recurrent bouts of depression.

Unfortunately, although I’ve had his book for years, and in many ways it has been helpful, he explicitly states that it won’t help with “depression complicating other illnesses… [or] depression as part of long-term personality problems”.  I’m not sure exactly how autism would fit there (it’s not technically an illness or a personality problem per se), but his general point, that depression that is caused by another medical issue is not easily treatable in the way he describes, seems to be true.  I’ve tried so many of the ‘normal’ depression treatments (many different antidepressants, psychotherapy, CBT, exercise, occupational therapy/work) without much success.  This can happen with ‘just’ depression, but it does make me think that there is something else to my state than ‘just’ depression.

I don’t know how to cope, though, what I should be doing when my life just seems so unbearable and so out of control.  I guess “out of control” is an odd thing to say, as it summons up images of mania or drug abuse, not the motionlessness of depression, curling up in bed for hours unable to face the day, but that is how I feel.  I don’t know how to live my life with depression and autism and the things I read seem to only deal with one of those issues, not both, even though autism has a lot of comorbidity with depression and anxiety.

I’m not sure that I’m explaining myself very well.  I’m sorry.

I just found this comment online:

Depression and autism is such a challenging dual diagnosis because traditionally the autism diagnosis coincides with rigidity, perseverating, and rule governed behavior. However when you spend all of your time perseverating on what makes you feel depression, create rules that you will never feel happy, and are rigid enough to be stuck in those ways – you are digging yourself deeper and deeper into a huge hole of despair.

This seems a lot like me.  According to this site, depression in autistic adults correlates with higher IQs, perhaps because they are more aware of their social difficulties, triggering depression.

I wish I was in therapy of some kind at the moment.  I know my psychodynamic psychotherapist has at times said my problems are too all-pervasive for her to help with, but I would just like to talk to her.  Or to try CBT, as I was hoping to do, to see if it can help practically with my low self-esteem, which I think is a key factor in my depression and social anxiety.  But I’m stuck on the NHS waiting list.

***

My rabbi mentor hasn’t responded to my emails lately, which is unlike him.  I’m worried about him, but I’m also worried about getting answers to some questions.  It also adds to my feeling of being lost and abandoned.

***

I’m a bit nervous about the depression/resilience class I start tomorrow and very nervous about the new job that starts on Tuesday.  I haven’t been told about where to go or anything yet (I assume to where I went for the interview, but I’m not sure).  I’m also nervous about speaking to my GP tomorrow about being referred for another autism assessment, as I’m worried he will say I can’t have another assessment on the NHS.

We’ve also got decorators coming in from tomorrow, which always makes things difficult for me both from an autistic point of view and a religious OCD one, as I worry they will bring in non-kosher food.  Hopefully once this room is finished, that will be the end of the intermittent redecorating we’ve had for over three years, since we moved in to this house.

***

I feel lonely, despairing and lost.  I also feel run down from my cold and my lips are painfully chapped, which seems trivial, but is somehow harder to cope with when I feel so bad in other ways.  I want to be happy, loved and comfortable in my life (and in my own head), but it doesn’t seem possible.  Failing that, I’d prefer to be dead, but I’m not suicidal, so no one really takes that seriously.  Plus, I’m scared to mention it to most people.

“Let me speak, then, and get relief”

For I am full of words;

The wind in my belly presses me.

My belly is like wine not yet opened,

Like jugs of new wine ready to burst

Let me speak, then, and get relief;

Let me open my lips and reply.

I would not show regard for any man,

Or temper my speech for anyone’s sake;

For I do not know how to temper my speech –

My Maker would soon carry me off!

Iyov (Job) 32.18-22, translation from The JPS Bible (I would normally do my own translation, but Iyov is really hard).

I didn’t intend to write again tonight, certainly not at gone 1.00am, but I feel incredibly agitated, upset and angry.  There are a few things on my mind.

The main thing making me angry is something within the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community that I wish I didn’t have to speak about because it is a chillul HaShem (desecration of God’s name; something that makes non-Jews and non-religious Jews think badly about religious Jews, Torah and HaShem (God)), but I feel so upset and angry I have to.

Sholom Rubashkin is a convicted fraudster who was jailed for twenty-seven years for massive fraud at the kosher abattoir he owned.  He also happens to be a religious Jew, although “religious” here requires qualification.  He doubtless would never dream of breaking Shabbat (the Sabbath) or eating non-kosher food, but he apparently has not heard of the Talmudic dictum that dina demalchuta dina, the law of the land has the status of religious law, nor does he seem to realise that stealing from non-Jews is still stealing.

Even before he was jailed his business had close run-ins with the law, most of which were resolved outside of the courts, for issues concerning animal welfare, food safety, environmental safety, child labour and employing illegal immigrants.  He is not a good man.  But his sentence was viewed as excessive even by people outside the Jewish community and there was a big campaign involving, to be fair, a large number of prominent American politicians of both parties and lawyers, including Nancy Pelosi and the ACLU.  President Trump commuted his sentence (not a pardon as some people think) and he was released after serving eight years.

Rubashkin is now touring Jewish communities as a inspirational speaker, speaking about emunah and bitachon, faith and trust in God which he says helped him in prison.  He is coming to the UK soon; in fact, he might even be here already, which is why this has suddenly come on my radar.  His promotional material describes him as a “baal haness,” someone who has experienced a miracle.  He has apparently written a book, the blurb on Amazon.com for which states “Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin has become a symbol of spiritual endurance for Jews around the world.”  One Jewish newspaper even disgustingly compared him to Captain Dreyfus, the Jewish soldier framed for espionage who became a cause célèbre in nineteenth century France.

I feel so sick writing this.  He’s an criminal who should slink off into a hole instead of which he’s being portrayed in some parts of the community as a hero.  As far as I’m aware, the money raised from his speaking (minimum donation £20, which is a LOT) is going to charity rather than to him, but even so, money is being generated by a narrative which turns a very bad man who defrauded others into a hero who survived incarceration in prison through piety and which implicitly misrepresents him as a prisoner of conscience who survived by his faith, instead of someone who should have been stopped by his conscience and his faith from committing his crimes in the first place.

The reason this upsets me so much on a personal level is the fact that I feel so isolated in the frum community as it is and then to see it fêting this ganav (thief) is so painful, another rejection.  He is the hero and I’m – what? – some ignored, lonely, isolated freak who almost no one even invites for Shabbat meals.  I have been depressed for at least sixteen years, I have spent twice as long as Rubashkin’s prison sentence in the ‘prison’ of mental illness.  My emunah and bitachon, my faith and trust in God is very, very weak at times, apparently unlike Rubashkin’s, but I’ve had to hold on to it knowing not that God was punishing me for doing something wrong* but that I was suffering terrible mental and emotional pain for no obvious reason (my mental health issues began before the age of twenty, the age at which Jewish tradition states one becomes liable to punishment for sins, although I suppose that only proves that the initial cause of the depression was not punishment; later on it could have been a punishment) and had to somehow find a way to keep my faith and trust in a God who was doing this to me for no obvious reasons.  And now to see this ganav being praised to the skies and held up as a spiritual hero and master of bitachon is just sickening and painful.

I don’t think I’m a particularly good person and sometimes I think I’m a very bad person, but most of my worst sins have been the product of years of emotional neglect, bullying, loneliness and despair.  I am ashamed of them, I don’t try to profit by them and I would stop committing them if I could.  Yet it sickens, angers and, frankly, terrifies me to be in a world, in a community that lauds someone like that.  I don’t know what to do.  I should say that no one from my own shul (synagogue) has been praising Rubashkin to me, it’s just the wider Anglo-Jewish community, seeing his face looking out from newspapers and emails promoting his talks.  The worst thing was seeing one particular rabbi lauding Rubashkin in his Jewish newspaper column and attacking people who thought he was a criminal; this rabbi had been supposed to help broker a shidduch (blind date) between me and one of his congregants in 2017.  I think the failure of the shidduch to materialise was not his fault, but he certainly did not help me, being very difficult to get hold of.

When I turned on the computer again to write this, I wanted to write about several things that were upsetting me, but I feel burnt out and this is a long enough post already, and it’s nearly 2.00am, so good night for now; perhaps I will turn to the other things after sleeping.

* This assumes that Rubashkin actually realises he did something wrong.  Aside from his appeal to the judge in court before sentencing, I don’t think he has actually admitted any guilt or shown any remorse.

Fear and Loathing in the Frum Community

Tonight seems to be the quiet before the storm.  I’m going to try to see my sister’s mid-renovation house tomorrow, even though I’m not entirely happy about it and even though I feel a little grumpy that my parents say I have to “show an interest” in my sister by going to see her house, even though it’s not finished, despite the fact that they still haven’t read the little leaflet I gave them about autism, which to me seems a bigger thing.  I asked my parents if they had read the leaflet, and where it was (as it wasn’t where I left it in the lounge, placed there so they would see it on Shabbat (the Sabbath) when they have time to read without distractions) and was told that they haven’t read it and that it is somewhere on my Mum’s desk, which is a bit like saying that the boat vanished somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle, as stuff on Mum’s desk just disappears in the mess.

Then later in the week, on Monday and Wednesday, I have the first two sessions of my  “Action for Wellbeing” class on coping with depression and on Tuesday and Thursday I’m starting my new job.  Also, on Monday evening I have a phone appointment with my GP about my autism referral and I’m rather nervous about what he will say and whether he will agree to refer me for an assessment.  So, I’m very nervous about all of these things.

Anyway, my parents are at the theatre tonight, so I’m home alone and free to do what I want really for the last time this week.

I had an anxiety dream about work last night, dreaming I was working in a library and feeling that I was enjoying it for once and getting on well with my colleagues, but my contract still didn’t get renewed.  Mixed in with this was more surreal stuff, like spiders laying giant eggs, an episode from Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy about Soviet troops in Czechoslovakia (one of my favourite novels, but an odd thing to turn up in a dream about work) and some kind of student art exhibition.  No idea what the rest of that signifies, but the work fears are pretty obvious.

I spent Shabbat feeling quite angry, partly with my parents (who didn’t take the hint that I wanted them to read the autism leaflet), partly with the Jewish community, particularly the Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) world I seem to have somehow found myself in despite not considering myself fully a member of it.  For the record, I think both the Modern Orthodox and Charedi worlds have problems and each could learn things from the other (I won’t go into detail here as it would take too long and probably not be of interest, but in short the Modern Orthodox world doesn’t take religion seriously enough while the Charedi world doesn’t take the world outside Orthodoxy seriously at all).  While the Modern Orthodox world is somewhat receptive to criticism, the Charedi world sees any criticism from the outside and most criticism from the inside as unjustified and the product of hatred of religion or antisemitism, so things are not likely to change in any good way.  Unfortunately,  the demographics mean that the non-Charedi world (Modern Orthodox and non-Orthodox) is in decline while the Charedi world is growing and will soon dominate Jewish life globally, which is not something I’m looking forward to.

I don’t know what any of this means for me, trying to find a place in a community that will accept me and is reasonably accepting of me, as well as providing friends and a wife and schools that I see as giving a reasonable (i.e. not totally brainwashed fundamentalist) education to my children.

Somewhat related to this fear of not fitting in: at Talmud shiur this afternoon, the assistant rabbi asked if I had a cold as I wasn’t in shul (synagogue) this morning.  I do have a cold, but I was absent because of depression and social anxiety, but I didn’t say that.  I also didn’t say that I’ve been to shul in the morning only once or twice in the last year or more, but only a couple of people really noticed.  I think I was only noticed today because the shamash (the person responsible for the practical running of the service) was asking where I was, I assume because he realised I haven’t had an aliyah to the Torah for a long time as I can’t think why else he would be looking for me.

Part of the issue with having a chronic, but invisible illness like depression is that even people who know about it forget about it (I have told the assistant rabbi a little in the past about my depression).  People don’t generally notice my absence; when they do and ask me about it, I don’t know what to say.  Maybe it’s my social anxiety speaking, but it’s hard to casually drop major depression into the conversation.  Even if I wasn’t afraid of stigma and incomprehension (and I am), it’s just a big thing to casually mention.  Maybe it doesn’t help that my autism means that I’ve had to learn the rules of conversation by rote and by trial and error and I have never learnt a ‘safe’ way to mention my depression easily; I don’t have the social intuition to know what I can say and when I can say it.

On a related note, there is an oneg (Shabbat party/social event thing) next Friday evening.  It’s a cross-shul thing so in theory people from all fifteen or so Orthodox shuls in the area could be there.  Usually I feel like I have to force myself to these things, but then I stand outside crying and overwhelmed with social anxiety or go inside, sit rigidly and anxiously, full of social anxiety, not talking to anyone, eating too many crisps and nuts, refusing alcohol (whisky is a big part of these things), not knowing any of the songs, sometimes having issues with the religious speakers, then making an excuse after an hour or so and leave.  Plus, the person whose house it is being held at is someone I have to confess I feel deeply envious of: about my age, married with a pretty wife and several cute young children and a large house.  I feel I will never have any of these things (yes, I know, he could have some major tragedy or struggle in his life that I don’t know about.  That’s not my point, though).  But not going feels like chickening out, is bound to upset my parents, and will just make me more sure than ever that I will never fit in to the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community, never make friends and never be known enough to be set up on dates with women (the main way of meeting someone in the frum world).  I don’t know what to do.