Realignments

I was quite depressed and very sluggish on waking and I had to go to my mental health class without having shaved, which I don’t like doing.  The class was OK, more CBT stuff really.  I still struggle with CBT, despite wanting to try it again for my low self-esteem.  It always seems so fake to challenge my negative thoughts when there seem to be so many objectively true reasons for me to worry about the state of my life.  One psychiatrist said I was too clever to be fooled by it.  But I took some blank sheets for setting out and challenging negative thoughts in the week ahead and will try to challenge my thoughts.  We did an example in the class, which happened to reflect my job fears, and then I privately tried another example with my dating fears.  To be honest, I was still quite pessimistic afterwards, but perhaps slightly less so than before.

***

Related to this, I phoned to try to find out how long I’m going to have to wait for CBT on the NHS to deal with my low self-esteem.  As with the last time I phoned a week or two ago, there was no answer (typical NHS efficiency and customer service).  This time I left a message, but I doubt anyone will get back to me.

***

While I was in my mental health class, my parents were down the road at a workshop for families of people with autism.  I think they understand me better now they have been to the workshop.  At any rate, they said they felt they could understand me more.  They also wondered if my maternal grandfather was on the spectrum.  I think it is impossible to tell at this distance, but I guess it would explain why, as I grew up (he died when I was nineteen) I felt that he was more on my wavelength than other family members.

***

Despite this, I feel a bit better about the world today.  Maybe it’s the possible political realignment in the air; as someone in the centre, I’ve felt stranded in recent years as the political world has polarised to the extremes of right and left.  On the other hand, the extremes aren’t going to just go away without a fight, and third parties and centrist parties tend to do badly in UK elections because of the way our voting system works, plus, as the BBC news website says, the cross-party nature of the new group could put off as many people as it attracts.

I once heard it said that conservatives believe that people are inherently bad and need laws and traditions to keep them in check, whereas progressives believe that people are inherently good and if they do bad things it’s because they’ve been corrupted by bad laws and traditions or other systemic social issues.  To be honest, I don’t really believe either of these things.  I don’t think people are really inherently good or bad.  They probably are closer to good than bad most of the time, but then there are times when almost anyone is capable of being bad, when they’re tired, hungry, angry or scared.  Maybe this is why I struggle to locate myself politically.  I don’t really feel tribal feelings for any one party and I haven’t for many years.

Anyway, enough politics!!!!

***

I finished another chapter of my Doctor Who book in second draft (or ‘revised second’ draft/draft 2.5).  I only added 400 words, which, considering I spent fourteen and a half hours watching Doctor Who for research seems like a poor return BUT I think the chapter would have definitely read as sub-par, hurried and lacking in detail in places compared with some of the later chapters had I not made the revisions, so I will continue on to draft 2.5 of the third chapter.  After that, and possibly some very slight work to chapter four, it’s a big jump ahead to chapter fourteen, the final one… unless I get forced to write a chapter on last year’s episodes, which I’d rather not do, as I don’t think I have the necessary distance from them or a sense of where the series is going at the moment, but I can see that a publisher might want it.

***

I’m very tired though.  I don’t know why my mental health group leaves me so tired when I get so little out of it, and largely feel too anxious and overwhelmed to participate (unlike the previous course, where I participated a lot).  I think I dozed off for a few minutes in the afternoon.  I did a few minor chores, but didn’t try to do too much and I’m trying not to feel like I wasted the day.  I’m a bit upset I didn’t really feel up to doing any real Torah study, but I was just too tired.

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Illegitimi Non Carborundum

I was very depressed on the way in to work today.  I was too depressed to do my usual Torah study on the train.  I had thoughts like “I can’t do this.  I can’t go into work.  I just want a normal life.  I just want someone to share my life with.  I want to die.  I’m useless and weak.”  Just feeling that my life is a mess and that I can’t sort it out.  I was worried by how quickly my thoughts go from “I feel depressed” to “I want to die,” which may be an autistic and/or alexithymic inability to really distinguish between emotional states except for the most extreme.

It was a boring day at work.  I felt that I made some mistakes, although my line manager seemed supportive.  She also let me change my workdays so that I can see the psychiatrist after being messed around by the NHS (not entirely their fault, but it’s happened too many times for me to feel forgiving).  But a lot of the time I was doing fairly boring, menial work which let my mind wander, which is never good.

I try not to be political here, but I was thinking a lot about antisemitism today.  The catalyst was the seven MPs who left the Labour Party yesterday.  The media and social media have mostly focused on the Brexit aspect, but I was glad that they publicly called out Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party on the antisemitism that has consumed the party in the last few years.  There has been an antisemitic element on the hard-left long before Israel (the usual “excuse” for left-wing antisemitism) was created, back through the antisemitic oppression of the USSR to the origins of the organised left in the nineteenth century, the assumption that ‘capitalist’ and ‘Jew’ are synonyms and if there is a shadowy group of people controlling the world’s economies, they are Jewish as well as rich and powerful (see the antisemitic mural Corbyn supported on Facebook), but it has only received a fraction of the coverage that the antisemitism of the far-right receives, on both a popular and academic level.  So far as I can tell, most historians writing academically about the history of far-left antisemitism are Jewish, which is not the case with people writing about Nazi antisemitism.

It was difficult to have all these thoughts (and more) in my head all day, although to be honest, there are probably few days when I don’t think about antisemitism at all and this has been the case for nearly twenty years.  I’m constantly obsessing and worrying about it, less about whether I will be attacked or have to leave the country and more what Jews as a group can do when we are defamed and attacked.  How we can stop people hating us.  The answer, of course, is that we can’t.  We can be the best people we can possibly be, but even that won’t stop people hating us.  The problem lies with them, not us.  It was thinking that the problem lies with us that led to unprecedented numbers of Jews abandoning Jewish life in the last two hundred years as a burden or a curse.

Whenever I hear or think about Corbyn and his coterie, I feel angry, anxious and depressed at once, but when Jews voice our fears of growing antisemitism (antisemitic attacks in the UK reached a new high in every one of the last three years) we are smeared as “racists” and “Trumpers” and, yes, part of a shadowy international Zionist conspiracy (one Labour MP and Corbyn ally is claiming the seven breakaway MPs are funded by the Israeli government…), rather than receiving the support that progressives usually give to persecuted minority groups who try to speak out against hatred and abuse.  Unfortunately, these thoughts get triggered in my head a lot and it is likely to get worse before it gets better.

Then, after writing this, I went downstairs and my Dad told me about nearly one hundred Jewish graves desecrated in France.  This time it was the far-right.  It’s unbelievable.  Struggling with low self-esteem, I’m supposed to dismiss thoughts that everyone hates me as irrational, but since I was a young child, I’ve been aware that, as a publicly-identifying Jew, lots of people hate me for “reasons” that have nothing to do with anything I’ve ever said or done.  That’s hard to cope with even if you aren’t suffering from mental illness.

The thought I hold on to is that I honestly believe that most British people are not antisemitic (which might not be the case in some other countries).  They may be ignorant, but I think most Brits have a ‘live and let live’ attitude.  It’s just three groups of extremists who are very antisemitic: the far-right, the far-left and the Islamists (not all Muslims).  They basically blame the Jews for all the troubles of the world.

This is one of the posts I’ve been most scared to write.  I’ve confessed to some pretty ‘out there’ mental health experiences here and elsewhere on the web (religious OCD; suicidal ideation; fear of sex, but obsession with it), but I’m scared how people will react to this.  Will I lose readers?  Will anyone start a fight?  Sadly, I’ve had to deal with antisemites many times before, both online (which is upsetting) and in the real world (which is a thousand times scarier).  But I had to speak my truth.

I feel exhausted and frail now.  It’s probably not so much the effort of writing this post as the result of work today, which was tiring, even if I was glad just to get through it and get a reasonable amount done.

I am OK(ish)

I am OK.  I know I was talking about feeling suicidal at the end of my last post.  I didn’t do anything silly.  I texted a friend and watched Doctor Who until I felt a bit better.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I had calmed down a bit that I realised that I should have phoned Samaritans to offload.  Unfortunately, I often don’t think to do that until after the event, like today.  Then it seemed that it would just rake up bad thoughts by repeating everything that happened on the phone to Samaritans after I had calmed down.

The trouble is, there are ongoing issues in my life that I can’t easily resolve.  Obviously my career and my desire for an autism diagnosis and fear that I won’t get one can’t be solved quickly and easily, but there are other things that I feel that I can’t talk about here that are never going to go away.  I spent years in therapy trying to come to terms with them, without success.  I have always been told that if you want to fix a relationship, you can only fix your side; you can hope that your changes will cause the other person to change, but ultimately you have to accept the other person’s actions or walk away.  I don’t feel that I should walk away from the difficult relationships in my life, but I also have tried to change things and have got sucked down into the black hole of dependency again because of depression and autism.  The only real solution (becoming independent and building a new life) is nixed by the depression and autism stopping me working anything approaching full time and stopping me from finding even finding a new job easily.

I don’t know what the solution is to this.  It’s frightening to realise that my inner emotional regulation thermostat goes almost immediately from frozen (too depressed to do anything) to scorching (self-harm and suicidal thoughts) without any ‘comfortable’ range.  (I’m not sure how good a metaphor that is, but you get the idea as suicidality isn’t the opposite of depression, far from it, but you get the idea.)  I don’t really have any resilience to even minor troubles (and today’s problems were fairly minor, objectively).

I’m calmer now, but still somewhat tense and worried about a lot of things: asking for rearranged hours at work for my psychiatrist appointment and Purim; finding a job after March; finding some kind of meaningful way to resolve the problems I can’t talk about, which sadly seem tied up in a way, at least emotionally, with my inability to forge close friendships and a romantic relationship.  I feel the post-trauma paralysis, not wanting or being able to really do anything, but I need to get ready for work tomorrow, somehow, and to shower and go to bed.

Thanks for reading.  It helps me understand myself to write things down (there was a lot in the last post that I didn’t really understand until I wrote it down) and I can only write things down if I think that someone might read it (don’t ask me why).  I would say that I hope other people find this meaningful, but I wouldn’t wish what I’m experiencing on anyone else.

(And, yes, again the thought of pets comes to my mind as a method of emotional regulation, but, again, I feel that my Mum doesn’t really want me to have them and I don’t have the courage to go against that.)

Weary, Stale, Flat and Unprofitable

I feel exhausted today.  Also, I’m quoting Hamlet for my title again, so I must be depressed.  I’m not sure why.  The meeting with the matchmaker yesterday was stressful, but I thought I had got over it.  I did some work on my books (the Doctor Who one and the mental health one) yesterday evening which I usually find restoring, although I procrastinated quite a bit over the mental health one, which might indicate that I should have just gone to bed.  Some of it was probably realising that the mental health book isn’t going to be a case of just stitching together old blog posts; it’s probably going to require significant new material.  Which is OK, aside from my usual lack of confidence in my own abilities, it just means it’s a bigger undertaking than I thought/hoped it might be.

Still, I slept for about nine hours and didn’t wake up too late today, but somehow I just can’t get going or focus today.  Some of it is that I feel a bit physically ill as if I’m coming down with a cold (although I spend a lot of time feeling like that without ever actually having a cold.  It’s true that depression can mimic the ‘coming down with something’ feeling indefinitely).  But I think the main issue is that I have some anxiety about rearranging work days for the moved psychiatrist appointment and for Purim.  If I give in, I’ll start to have the annual anxiety about Purim and Pesach too (tonight is Purim Katan, which means a month to Purim and two months and a day to Pesach, yikes – given how much winter depresses me, I think I’d welcome spring a lot more if it didn’t mean getting through Purim and Pesach again).

***

Meanwhile, I need to start serious job hunting again, as my contract expires in six weeks.  My sister told me that statistically men will apply for jobs that they only meet 60% of the criteria for, whereas most women will only apply if they meet 100% of the criteria.  I seem to be statistically female here, as I do the same thing.   I also struggle to apply for jobs where I would have to ask to work different hours, either because they want someone who will work on Saturdays or because I want to work part-time and they want someone full-time.  My parents and my sister say that I don’t lose anything by applying, but I guess I feel that I’m being ‘difficult’ again.  I’m not convinced that the perfect job, or anything approaching it, is actually out there, at least not for me.  I have so many, um, issues at the moment (need to work part-time, need to be in an autism-friendly environment, need to be able to take Shabbat and Yom Tov off, don’t cope well with pressure, and some of my professional work skills have gone rather rusty) that I struggle to imagine any employer wanting me.  Or me wanting any of the jobs: of the three job descriptions I was just looking at, one was in a law firm’s library (boring) and required working late on Fridays, into Shabbat, as well as a host of law library experience that I simply don’t have; one was so strangely worded that I’m not entirely sure what the job involves except that it, too, requires working on Friday nights and Saturdays; and the third requires a lot of precise skills for a short-term job and turned out to have been filled despite the job advert still being up.

Just looking at the job description and desired attributes on adverts makes me feel anxious and useless; I can’t really imagine being able to do anything.  My cataloguing skills have gone very rusty through disuse, as my job interview a few months ago showed.  I don’t keep up with CPD; it’s an effort just to work part-time, let alone to do unpaid “work” in my free time.  I quiver at the thought being required to show “problem-solving skills, interpersonal skills, teamwork, and ability to deliver work under pressure” and the like.  Strangely, I do actually seem to interview well, surprisingly given my autism and social anxiety, which is possibly an unexpected extra benefit of the Oxbridge interview training my school provided (it was a state school, but had a good record of getting students to Oxbridge, at least for a comprehensive school).  Half the time I don’t even understand what a job description wants, with silly bureaucratic-ese like “You will enjoy working to effect positive change” (I wanted a job where I could effect negative change, maybe in the oil industry or local government).  I wish they could write in plain English (maybe this is autism again).

***

You might tell from all this that I’m still lacking in self-esteem, with no sign of the CBT to help with it that I’ve been on the waiting list for since early December.  I struggle to think of anything I can do well.  I’m told I can write quite well, but I struggle to believe it, or to find a way of earning a living through it.  Some of my friends say I’m a good friend, but one can’t really live off that (the world would probably be a better place if we could).

***

The World of an Autistic, Dyslexic, with Depression and Spinal Problems wrote recently about the need to  have something to look forward to.  I’m struggling with that at the moment.  I mentioned about my growing anxieties at this time of year.  Plus so many of the things in my life at the moment I’m just trying to “get through”.  Watching Doctor Who, which is usually one of my favourite things, is a chore at the moment as I’m just doing it for research for my book without necessarily wanting to watch the episodes for themselves; I really want to just get it over with, so I can focus on redrafting, and watch other things on TV.  Likewise, reading The Dispossessed is just something I’m trying to do, even though I can see it’s a good novel; it’s just taken me too long and I’ve lost track of the characters,  not helped by everyone having made-up science fiction names.  There’s some hopefully-good-but-stressful things later in the year, which inspire hope and anxiety in equal measure, but nothing purely good or in the short to medium term.

***

Another classic autistic moment today when my Dad said that I could withdraw cash in the post office.  I thought he meant there was a cashpoint in there, but he meant for me to go to the counter with my debit card and withdraw that way.  I flatly refused to do this because I got so confused and panicked (I’m ashamed to say) until my Dad told me what to say.  Then there was another autistic moment as my Dad asked the attendant if it was true that the branch was being shut down soon; the actual meaningful part of the conversation lasted just a few seconds, but they carried on talking about the evils of management for a couple more minutes even though no new information was added and I wasn’t entirely sure they were really listening to each other.  This is neurotypical conversing and I can’t do it, and it’s really hard to network or make friends not being able to do it.

***

Later

Really upset.  I can’t explain why.  I’m not sure how much of that is depression (I’m too depressed to introspect and speak) and how much is autism (I don’t understand my emotions and can’t articulate them, at least not in person).  I spent a while trying to write a job application for a job I probably am not qualified for and definitely could not accept without negotiating different terms (unlikely to happen) because it is full-time and requires working evenings and Saturdays.  After a while, I thought I might be better off looking at the Remploy website and seeing what help they could offer me.  They have online advisors, but I don’t know what I want to ask.  My mind froze up and I was catastrophising and assuming nothing can help me.  I tried to ask my parents for help, but it all went horribly wrong for reasons I don’t understand, as it often does, and ended up with Mum apparently accusing me of wanting to do no work for the next year before I get an autism diagnosis when I just meant that legally I can’t legally claim support for autism yet, only depression.  I worry that I’m in the wrong career, but I don’t know who I can talk to about finding a more autism-friendly career or about improving my work skills and CPD.

I can write this down; why can’t I say it?  Is it autism again?  Or what?  I guess I want people to make choices for me, because I find decisions so hard.  That is autism.  My parents are going to a workshop for families of people with autism on Wednesday; I hope they might understand me better afterwards.

The other scary thing is that I go really quickly from “I have a problem” to “I want to kill myself.”  Just now having job difficulties made me feel depressed, and then when my Mum accused me of not wanting to work, I ran off to my room and just wanted to kill myself.  I have heard that this is a common autistic problem too, a lack of nuance in emotional responses, so you go from nothing to the most extreme reaction really quickly.

***

In Iyov (Job), Iyov has a repeated fantasy of suing God in a court of law, feeling if only he could do this, he would be vindicated as suffering unfairly.  I wonder if wanting to write my mental health book isn’t just an attempt at bring the world to account for being beastly to me.  That doesn’t reflect well on me, but more to the point, it isn’t going to happen.  There isn’t going to be a day when my family, friends, colleagues, line managers and peers apologise to me, even if they have really hurt me unfairly.

Over-Thinking?

Early afternoon:

The Doctor Who story The Space Museum, most of which I watched last night, has the regular characters trying and apparently failing to change their own futures, only to realise that they have had an effect on the people around them that has saved them.  I find myself wondering if I’ve ever had a substantial positive effect on those around me, as I can’t think of anything I’ve done myself that will change my own future to something even vaguely positive.

***

I woke up in the middle of the night with a headache and spent the next couple of hours alternately trying to sleep and watching Doctor Who again (The Chase now, perhaps Doctor Who‘s least successful attempt at comedy.  Say what you like about The Horns of Nimon, at least it raises a smile).  I did eventually fall back to sleep, but not before a lot of lying in bed feeling depressed and lonely.  I suppose I did at least steal a march on my Doctor Who research viewing.

***

I have a meeting later today with a matchmaker from the values-based matchmaking service.  This feels like a huge mistake.  Every time I’ve tried dating it goes horribly wrong.  Now I’m going to have to list my core values as religious commitment and integrity while covering up that I don’t do a lot of stuff frum (religious Orthodox Jews) Jews should do because of mental health issues and autism.  So much for religious commitment and integrity.

Basically, I’m just too broken for anyone to be able to love me and perhaps for me to really be able to love anyone else.  I think I should wait a couple of weeks and then ask for them not to set me up with anyone for the foreseeable future, ostensibly while I find a permanent job with longer hours, but also until I get ‘better’ (which is never going to happen).

***

Just seen an article stating that people with mild/high functioning autism/Asperger’s Syndrome do no better in life than people with more severe autism, in terms of careers and relationships, even if (like me) they were highly functional as children.  “‘The implication of our findings is that the consequences of having an autism spectrum disorder with profound difficulties in communication skills and social impairment can’t be compensated for by either high intellectual level or normal language function,’ says lead investigator Anne Myhre, associate professor of mental health and addiction at the University of Oslo in Norway.”  Apparently high quality early intervention is the only real way of having a positive outcome, which is bad news for me (I’m thirty-five and still not officially diagnosed, although convinced that I’m on the spectrum).  I don’t think I will qualify for benefits and having been on benefits for depression in the past, I would not to live off them (it’s pretty soul-destroying even if you have no alternative), but I don’t want to be a burden to my parents and I worry what will happen when they are gone.

***

Later…

The meeting with the matchmaker was OK in the end.  Much quicker than I expected; she asked for some personal details, briefly asked about career, hobbies and interests and then values (my own core values and those I am looking for).  I was expecting that she would ask questions to help me articulate and understand my values.  As it happens, I have a fairly good idea of my values from thinking about them with regard to previous relationships and my well-being class, but I felt a bit under pressure to rattle off a list of things I see in myself and want to see in a partner.

I listed my core values as religious commitment (which she didn’t count, apparently because I’d already asked to be matched only with shomer Shabbat women), integrity, and pursuing knowledge.  I think I may have also put personal growth on the list too.  In terms of what I’m looking for, it’s religious commitment and integrity again, but also empathy and trust.  I think the matchmaker may have put empathetic on my list of own values, but on reflection they probably are core values for me too.  I never think of myself as empathetic because I think, “Oh, I’m autistic, I don’t understand people” but (a) autistic people can feel empathy and (b) a lot of people say I’m empathetic, so maybe it’s true.  I certainly try to understand what people feel, even if that’s something I have to do consciously and with difficulty because of the autism rather than doing it intuitively like neurotypical people can do.

I did mention a bit about depression and autism, despite feeling overwhelmed with different advice from different people about whether to do so.  I don’t think they can legally tell anyone something like that anyway and the matchmaker didn’t seem to think it would be a problem, but there’s obviously no telling how a date would react if I told her.  I do still feel pretty pessimistic about dating, partly because of my financial situation, partly because I can’t believe anyone could really care about me with all my issues.

I felt really tense afterwards, as if I had had a very traumatic experience.  This seems to happen to me a lot lately; I suppose I’ve always been somewhat anxious, but nowadays I seem to experience everything remotely stressful as actual trauma.  Or maybe I’m more aware of existing feelings?  A while back my therapist (when I was in therapy) lent me a CD on dealing with trauma and maybe that made me more aware of the symptoms, bearing in mind that I often have a poor understanding of what I’m feeling.

The dating service is free and only matches people if they can find a someone who meets the criteria (i.e. both people’s values match); they don’t just match people for the sake of it the way professional matchmakers do.  So there’s no way of knowing whether I’ll even get a single date out of this, but I guess I feel like I’ve done something.

I am doing OCD second-guessing at the moment, going back over what I said and wondering if I should have said something else.  I feel I fudged it a bit.  I thought of preparing a list of values beforehand, but decided against it because I thought they would ask me questions to help me understand myself in more detail.  When this didn’t happen, I floundered a bit and now I’m worrying if I said the right thing.  I have to say that I think about my core values quite a lot, but the ones lower down the list shift a bit depending on my recent experiences, which values I think I’ve been showing more recently and which I’ve not focused on so much.  So I do worry a bit about whether I chose the right values.

I guess sooner or later I have to just accept that everything is in the hands of HaShem (God) and accept I can only do so much, doubly so with something like marriage.  Unfortunately, while I don’t currently feel that HaShem hates me, I feel He probably does want to put me through a lot of difficult situations, for whatever reason, so it’s hard to be confident and trusting.  I suppose that takes me back to The Space Museum at the start of this post and the feeling that our lives are essentially unpredictable and the patterns we think we see turn out to be illusory, while things we miss turn out to be far more important.

Or I could be over-thinking things again.  I have been told that I do that.

Pessimism

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was difficult at times.  I had forgotten until I arrived at shul (synagogue) that the shul was having their communal dinner this week, the one I wanted to go to, but missed out on due to not realising when the application deadline was (partly my fault, partly the shul‘s fault for sending the publicity out at the last minute).  That made me feel a bit upset, especially when I realised that a neurotypical person might have followed my parents’ advice and emailed the admin office to ask if I could come if someone cancelled or if they could squeeze one more person in (there have to be some advantages to being one of the few single people in the shul).  However, I was too socially anxious and caught up in autistic black and white thinking (“It is past the deadline therefore there is nothing I can do”) to do any of this.

***

I had a long conversation with my parents over dinner about where my life is at the moment.  I can’t remember many of the details, but they were a lot more optimistic about my meeting with a matchmaker tomorrow than I am.  I feel deceitful and manipulative even arranging the meeting, as I don’t feel there is any realistic chance I can marry any time in the near to medium future.  I believe in God and Torah, but I struggle to believe that there I have a bashert (soulmate) out there who will see the good in me and be able to cope with the many, many difficulties that someone would encounter in a relationship with me, from my low/soon to be non-existent income to depressive low moods, socially anxious withdrawal and autistic empathy issues.  My parents’ insistence that someone might want me was not convincing, unless you somehow assume that all other frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) men are really unpleasant and unmarryable (they aren’t) or that someone would marry me just because she wants a child and needs someone, anyone, as a father (I can’t see that ending well).  E. was more into me than anyone I’ve ever dated (not admittedly a high hurdle to clear), but she couldn’t cope with me for more than two months, so I really can’t see anyone else tolerating me.  To be honest, if it was ‘just’ a question of depression, social anxiety and autism, I might still have hope, but my low income and uncertain career path is just too much for me to expect anyone to deal with, given that I want to have children and would be looking for a woman who wants to have children and children require lots of money.

***

I wanted to try to go to shul this morning and I actually woke up at 9.00am (shul starts at 8.45, but I would consider getting there by 10.00am a victory at the moment), but I fell asleep again before I could get up.  When I got to shul for shiur (Talmud class) this evening, I realised I had only read half of this week’s page of Talmud.  To be honest, I don’t think I understood any less than usual.  I really struggle to understand Talmudic logic.  Aren’t autistic people supposed to be good at detail?

***

On the way home from shul this evening it really hit me that I don’t belong anywhere in the Jewish world, at least not as it is in the UK.  I was thinking about the upcoming festival of Purim, where people wear fancy dress.  One of my friends dared me last year to wear my Doctor Who scarf, but I was too scared.  I’m trying to get the confidence to do it this year, but I’m not sure I’m going to manage it.

Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) communities like the one I belong to advocate keeping clear of most of the world outside the community.  I shouldn’t read biblical archaeology or secular literature or watch Doctor Who, because it’s all likely to raise questions and temptations and plant bad ideas in my head.  I don’t believe questions are resolved by running away from them or by giving them easy answers.  Likewise, most Charedi Jews (to be honest most religious Jews in general) avoid non-Jews and non-religious Jews outside of work situations.  Again, they’re seen as potentially tempting and corrupting.  But I need to go to my support groups for my mental health and if people there are in trouble, I will try to help them.  Likewise, with people who read my blog.  And I like talking to people about Doctor Who and I feel bad that I have not been able to do that much in recent years and want to get to situations where I can do this again, which means going into non-Jewish environments where many people’s ethics are going to be different to my own.  I feel that I know who I am and what my values are, but I do realise that my worldview has potentially been changed (“corrupted” if you want) from my interactions outside the community.

More Modern communities might be more understanding of these things, but I don’t think there are many Modern Orthodox communities in this country where most people are frum (rather than ‘traditional’, but not shomer mitzvot/keeping the commandments) and take davening (prayer) and Torah study seriously.  Certainly that’s not been my experience.  In my parents’ shul, which is virtually the only Modern shul I could realistically go to for the foreseeable future, there is too much talking during the services, too much chazanut and choral singing, too many people in general, too many people who aren’t frum and a rather cliquey and unfriendly feel to the community.  I didn’t fit in there at all when I used to go, even without the problem that there I was just seen as an extension of my father, not a person in my own right.

I would like to find a community that takes Torah and davening seriously, but is also friendly and open to the outside world and ideas from the humanities and sciences as well as popular culture and which doesn’t look down on non-Jews.  I don’t think such a place really exists in this country.  I do sometimes go to shiurim at the London School of Jewish Studies and they do have the right hashkafa (religious philosophy) for me.  The trouble is, everyone there is my parents’ age or older.  It’s depressing.  I feel that wherever I am, I’m hiding or stifling part of myself.

I know I’ve said most of this a lot in the past, I just need to vent at the unfairness of it.  If I was in America or Israel I wouldn’t have to twist myself to fit into one of a small number of boxes.  If I was well enough to be able to get a job and live by myself I would perhaps consider emigration, but it’s not realistic to do so now.

***

The other scary thought that I had on the way home is that it is a month to Purim, and from Purim another month to Pesach.  I will doubtless write more nearer the time, but these are the hardest, scariest two festivals for me, in terms of triggering OCD, depression, autistic triggers, everything.  Plus, I need to go in to work late on Purim, but I’m scared to ask for the time off after the whole situation I blogged yesterday about my psychiatrist appointment (I hate the NHS).

***

Tonight I’m drifting from one task to another without really finishing anything.  I had a pile of emails that arrived during Shabbat to sort through and most were job alerts i.e. scary stuff.  I think even though I knew there was little or no realistic chance of my job being extended past March, I was in denial about it and was hoping I would somehow stay in this job, which is the one I’ve been most comfortable in since leaving my first job in 2017.  I feel pretty pessimistic about finding anything remotely as good any time soon.

Stresses and Social Anxiety

My mental health group was a little better today.  I didn’t really learn anything I didn’t already know, but it did make me decide to try to be better at catching my negative thinking, although I’m not quite sure how I’m supposed to do that in practical terms.  I think I just have a mismatched personality to get on with most of these people, which is unfortunate, but there isn’t much I can do about it.

One person said something she said she feels inferior to people she was at university with who are all now running the country, which made me wonder if she was at Oxford like me, as that’s something I feel a lot.  Usually I would have let that go, but I asked her afterwards and it turned out she went to Cambridge, so I was close.  I’m glad I’m not the only Oxbridge person who feels like a failure, though.

Someone at the group said I’m intelligent.  I get weirded out when people say that to me.  I’ve hardly said anything on this course, having been too socially anxious and overwhelmed by the noise; how can people think I’m clever?  Maybe I just give off ‘vibes.’  More prosaically, he probably overheard me tell the other person that I went to Oxford.  He did say that if you’re high functioning and mentally ill, you don’t do fewer “stupid” things, you just realise that you’re behaving in a stupid way, but don’t still know how to change it.  The course was supposed to help with that, but I’m not sure that it has…

***

Today’s bad news: my psychiatrist appointment at the end of the month has been moved to 6 June, despite the fact that I’ve already moved my work days around so that I could keep the appointment.  I think it’s appalling the way the NHS treats patients like cattle.  Yes, they’re short of money.  But the charity sector is even more short of money, and they don’t treat people like this.  Indeed, the private sector doesn’t have infinite funds and they also don’t treat people like this, despite the supposed “inhumanity” of treating people for “profit.”  It doesn’t cost anything to treat patients like human beings.  The NHS has messed me around like this so many times over the last seventeen years, costing me time, energy (which is precious to me) and, on occasion, money.  But they have a virtual monopoly over healthcare in this country so they’re isn’t much anyone can do about it unless you happen to be super-rich and able to be seen privately (to be honest, when I was in psychodynamic psychotherapy my parents were paying for me to be seen privately, but we were only able to do this because we were fortunate to find someone who charged means-adjusted fees, which isn’t always possible).  A lot of people don’t have health insurance because, in theory, you aren’t supposed to need it (or you pay it in your tax, depending how you want to look at it).  And monopolies, whether in the private sector or the public sector, don’t have to care about bad customer service, because where else can you go?

Anyway, I calmed down and phoned to ask why my appointment had been changed.  The psychiatrist is ill and they were assuming she won’t be back for months.  They offered me an appointment with a different psychiatrist a week after the cancelled appointment.  As I didn’t feel the previous one really listened to me, I was not upset about this, but the appointment they offered was on a day when I work, right in the middle of the day so I would have to take the whole day off and this was after having already changed one work day because of the cancelled appointment.

I decided to take the appointment for now and see what my line manager says next work; if the worst comes to the worst, I’ll cancel the new appointment and go in June.  But it does reinforce my current feelings of fatalism over recovery and work.  I have fallen back into pessimism after feeling better for a few days.

***

I have also booked for the networking class that is on the same day as the Jewish Book Week talk I’m going to.  I suppose this is work-centric, but I’m terrified that I simply won’t be able to network even in practice settings (role-play).  I hope I can relax enough in the afternoon to get to work the next day.  I would really like to see a careers advisor who understands about autism and mental illness, but I’m not sure how to find one.  I was told at the class today that I could raise work issues with my key worker, which I may try to do.  To be honest, I’m only vaguely aware of what my key worker’s job description is and what things I can talk to her about, but I think she’s a social worker who is supposed to direct me to courses like the class and other mental health and social services in the area, so perhaps that will help.  Reading this back, there are some positives in it, but I’m still in one of those depressive moods where everything just feels awful.  I’ve given up on ‘recovering’ (whatever that means), but I want to achieve some degree of day-to-day functionality (work, family etc.).  I just don’t know how.

Toads

(My post titles become more elliptical as my mood goes down.  You can tell I’m not actually trying to attract readers.  The reference is to Philip Larkin, in case anyone cares.)

My mood has gone back down again, mostly because of my uncertain future.  I coped OK at work, but I overheard one conversation where my line manager’s line manager was advising some young people on a career in librarianship which made me realise (remember would be a better word) that I’m not actually doing anything to push my career on and wouldn’t know where to begin.  Then I had a meeting with my line manager where she said she’s pleased with my work, but reminded me that my contract expires in five weeks (which I took as a sign that it won’t be extended) and asked me where I would like to gain more experience while I’m here?  This offer is good in itself, but I did what I always do when faced with (a) an on the spot decision or (b) careers stuff in general: I froze and couldn’t think of anything (classic autistic executive function issues).

I did eventually say something reasonably positive, but I feel down overall.  I can’t seem to work out how to do something that I’m reasonably good at, enjoy at least a bit, and which doesn’t leave me a nervous wreck the whole time.  Because of depressive anhedonia, the only thing I even vaguely enjoy is writing and I don’t know how to get paid for that when I have no contacts, no confidence in my writing and a range of interests that is too wide in some ways and probably not deep enough in others.  I saw this post, which should be useful for me, but it just makes me feel panicked and confused.

Now twice I’ve been asked by different line managers in different jobs if I really want to be a librarian; my insistence that I do is becoming less and less convincing.  I don’t actually know what to do with my life or how to do it.  I just feel stuck.  I’m just waiting for someone to help me, because I do not feel capable of actually doing anything.  Twenty-two years of education (approximately, on and off) did not actually prepare me for the real world, not even the career-focused MA that was supposed to train me for a career.

I literally do not feel able to function in the real world, in terms of career, socialising, family or anything else important.  I admit I can function at a basic level (cooking, shopping, laundry, cleaning), but nothing harder than that.  I really feel that I want help with mental health and autism in the real world, but the courses I’ve been on that are supposed to help with those things didn’t tell me much I didn’t already know.  So either I know more than I think I know and need to learn how to apply it in practice or I’m not getting the help I need, possibly because of the difficulties of dealing with multiple diagnoses.

In addition, I have a meeting with a matchmaker on Sunday and I really don’t feel that I could possibly be attractive to anyone while I’m only working part-time and imminently about to be unemployed.  I feel guilty for even arranging to see the matchmaker, which is a bit silly.  I suppose I don’t have to go on dates, I could say my financial situation is problematic and could they keep me on file, but not actively set me up with anyone just now, but that is quite embarrassing to have to admit to.  I think I will have to do so, though, otherwise I’m only setting myself (and other people) up for heartache.

I’ve returned from shiur (religious class) feeling a little better, but I think this is tiredness rather than truly improved mood.  I struggle with the usual banter at shiur at the best of times, but I really wasn’t in the mood for it tonight, nor for the talk before and after of families (again) and the shul (synagogue) dinner tomorrow that I can’t go to because I missed the deadline (partly my fault, but partly because of poor marketing).  I did at least eat less junk food there than usual, but I’m fatalistic about losing weight while on clomipramine (I’ve put on a ton of weight since I started taking it), and I don’t think my GP or psychiatrist will let me come off it; they insist its working and the fact that I’ve felt somewhat better lately only strengthens their argument.  The weekend looks set to be difficult emotionally, between going to shul knowing many people will be staying for the meal and I won’t and the meeting with a matchmaker on Sunday (I already feel a fraud).  For now, I will go to bed, and hope that I feel better tomorrow.

I know I sound like a lazy, entitled child, but I genuinely feel completely lost and overwhelmed, unsure of what I’m actually capable of doing or how to do it.  The fact that I’m probably autistic means that I can’t actually do the thing that most people in this situation would do, which is network and talk to people.  I was thinking of going to a networking workshop, but it’s the same day as the Robert Alter talk I already booked to go to.  The talk isn’t until the evening, but I don’t think I can do the workshop and the talk  in one day and still have the energy to get to work the next day.  I hate the way my issues make me so pathetic and useless.

People Can Be Draining

My mental health group was difficult again today.  There was a lot of talking, including small talk (which I struggle with) before the session and a lot of loud participation during the session, which is good, but still difficult for me when it is so loud (because of autistic sensory overload issues), especially with a lot of interrupting and going off at a tangent away from the point.  I did actually say at the end that I was feeling very overloaded from all the noise and someone else complained that we aren’t getting through the material.

I knew most of the material today anyway, as it was basic CBT stuff and material about the fight or flight response.  But I feel I should go as it’s free and someone else could have had the place if I don’t go – except that’s not quite true, as I only got on the course at the last minute as someone else cancelled, and the course is over-subscribed anyway, that’s part of the reason it’s so noisy.  Still, I don’t like to turn things down in case they help and because it seems arrogant to say that I know everything already and because people say you aren’t trying to get better if you don’t try anything, but I am worried that I’m not going to get anything out of the rest of this class.  I got a little bit out of the previous one, not a huge amount, but what I did pick up was helpful, so I’m still hoping I’ll get something out of this, but who knows?  I do know a lot about depression after seventeen years, from my experience and from my reading and therapy.

***

Since getting home from the group, I’ve been exhausted and trying to recuperate.  It didn’t help that I was up late last night working on my writing and did not have a refreshing sleep, which was probably a mistake after a day at work.  I started to listen to a very long (hour and a half) online shiur (religious class) on Jewish medical ethics regarding mental illness and mitzvot (religious commandments).  To be honest, this was probably not recuperating, but I didn’t want to waste the afternoon.  I am very bad at giving myself time off when I need it for mental health/autism reasons which is probably self-defeating in the long run.  The shiur was interesting, but I could not concentrate for all of it in one go.  Also, it has not left me much clearer about what I should be doing practically; a lot of it was about extreme cases, not chronic lower level issues, while high functioning autism is another issue again and was not covered (although some of the shiur was probably relevant to severe autism).

***

I do feel exhausted still, from this morning and from the shiur, not helped by a difficult  conversation I just had that I can’t go into here, but it’s hard when one feels misunderstood and drained by those around you.  I struggle with one particular interaction.  I don’t know if it’s autism or depression or just me being a Bad Person, but long-term readers of this blog will know that I often jump to “I’m a Bad Person” which is not terribly helpful.  Anyway, I’m going to turn my computer off, have dinner and try to get an early night.

Metaphysics, Loneliness and Doing OK

Today went OK.  I felt that I messed some stuff up at times and that my boss was downplaying how badly I was doing because she’s nice.  I dropped a nineteenth century book on the floor at one point in front of her, picking a pile of books out of a crate and thinking there was one big book at the bottom, when it turned out there were two small ones, and I was only holding one of them.  I also had some anxiety about some other things.  However, I was able to calm myself most of the time with deep breathing and telling myself that sometimes my thoughts are not my friends and in retrospect I can’t remember everything I was anxious about, so this one is probably a win overall.

I do wish I had something better to look forward to at the end of the day than some of the Doctor Who story The Web Planet (Doctor Who fans may appreciate the reference; for the rest of you, imagine experimental, minimalist surrealist avant-garde theatre crossed with plotless primary school kids TV overlaid with a soundtrack of car alarms and broken pipes, only weirder and bizarrely more boring, for two and a half hours).  Perhaps to compensate, the last slice of blueberry pie was consumed, with Haagen Dazs vanilla ice cream.

***

Ashley Leia mentioned in a comment a while back about my thoughts not being my self, which she said is from acceptance and commitment therapy.  I find this a weird thought to hold on to.  If I’m not my thoughts, what am I?  I’m not my body, I believe I have a non-physical soul.  Is my soul not my thoughts?  I have automatically assumed they are the same and have done for years, but theologically it makes sense to assume they aren’t the same, that a soul is an expression of being rather than thinking, particularly if the soul is somehow a part of a God Who is seen as the Source or Essence of existence rather than an old man in the sky.  Certainly a God of Being and a soul of being is more Jewish than Greek philosophical notion of God being pure thought thinking itself.  In Judaism, God’s essential name is etymologically related to the verb ‘to be’ and He says He is “I Will Be What I Will Be” – being not thinking.  But this is too metaphysical for 10pm.

***

A similar thought to the above, but from earlier today:

I think most people, when they think of Heaven (whether they believe in it or not), they think of other people.  Being reunited with departed relatives, lost loves, meeting heroes from a bygone age.  It’s interesting that when I think of the afterlife, it is of being alone, either literally or alone with God.  When I think of Gehennom (Purgatory), I think of being alone with my thoughts of guilt and shame indefinitely; when I think of Heaven, it is of being somehow with God and able to understand my life, why so much of it has been suffering, why so much of everyone’s life is suffering.  But I struggle to imagine a blissful afterlife with other people, even though I loved my late grandparents.  I can’t imagine how disembodied souls could interact.  Maybe this will change as I get older.  I want to say: maybe this will change as I get older and more people I care about begin to die.  But I know that I should not say this, although I suspect it is true.  It is one of those things that is known to be true, but which we should not say.  One of those things that puzzles my autistic head.

***

I feel a bit lonely again tonight.  I’ve been thinking about Sunday, the Doctor Who quiz, and wondering if I can overcome my social anxiety and autism enough to be a bit more involved in fandom and make new friends.  I don’t think online fandom is really going to work for me any more; it’s too hard to make friends and the online world (generally, not just for Doctor Who fandom) is far too explosive and argumentative for me to stay in.  These days I’m trying only to stay on certain quiet corners of the internet, like this one.  But it’s fun to talk about Doctor Who with people who know about it in detail, in person.

But I always feel “too Jewish” when I mix with non-Jews socially, just as I feel “too geeky” and “too modern” with other frum Jews.  My friend M. sent me some photos taken on Sunday and I felt my kippah (skullcap) is weirdly prominent in some of them.  This is probably self-consciousness.  Certainly it’s hard to go to social events when you can’t eat or drink very much, and conventions are often held on Saturdays, at least partially.  I try to compartmentalise my life, but it’s like I’ve got my Jewish life in one closet (that’s probably not the best metaphor in the circumstances, but I can’t think of another) and my geek life in another and people from one aren’t even allowed to know that the other really exists for fear of what they might think of me.  I’m not so much afraid of rejection as total incomprehension.

Conventions are scary from an autistic and social anxiety point of view too: people, noise, but that seems like more of a surmountable challenge, IF I can get the courage to go.  Let’s face it, I’m not going to be the most autistic person (whatever that means) at a Doctor Who convention.

At any rate, I just booked to see Rabbi Rafi Zarum interview literary critic Robert Alter about translating Tanakh (The Hebrew Bible) in Jewish Book Week, so maybe I may make to a convention some day after all.

Optimism

I’m surprisingly not wiped out and ‘mentally hungover’ today, which is good.  I was expecting that there would be a price to pay for enjoying myself and socialising yesterday.  I did have struggle sleeping (hence blogging at 3.00am last night) and didn’t get to sleep until around 4.00am and slept through the morning, but otherwise I feel OK.

Today was a slow day.  I did some chores, including finally (I hope) sorting out the problem with my online medication repeat prescription requests and spent an hour working on my Doctor Who book (excluding time spent watching/half-watching some episodes for research while eating or dusting), finally confirming that it is just another three chapters that need a bit more detail before I can consider the second draft finished and start redrafting for style.  I admit that drafting a book for content and then polishing for style might not be the most sensible way of writing, but it’s really a product of the way this project grew from a series of blog posts, albeit that it is now much more than twice as long as the original series of posts.  Frustratingly, the actual writing won’t take more than a couple of hours, it’s watching the episodes for research that takes so long.

I feel like I’ve found a little oasis of calm in the last week or two.  I’ve got a job I feel reasonably comfortable with (albeit with moments of anxiety), I’m pushing myself a little bit socially and that seems to be going OK, my kavannah (mindfulness) in prayer is better, I’m more motivated for Torah study, I feel more comfortable describing myself as autistic (in select environments) even though I’m aware I may never get an official diagnosis, and perhaps I’ve come to terms with the label a little bit more than in the past.  I’m even feeling that maybe I do actually have a reasonable level of Jewish knowledge, particularly about the stuff that isn’t seen as crucial in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world although it’s questionable about how much knowledge of Jewish history or Yiddish literature is really useful to a frum lifestyle.  I’m even feeling less anxious about the future.  On the whole, things feel reasonably positive.  I do wish I could get to shul (synagogue) on Shabbat (Sabbath) mornings, though.

I hope to have a meeting with a matchmaker from the values-based Jewish dating service next week, which is scary and exciting at the same time.  It’s difficult to know how much of my ‘issues’ to mention.  E. said to mention the autism; my rabbi mentor said to mention the depression, but not the autism (he was worried about stigma), but also that I should make an on-the-spot decision based on how the conversation goes.  Dating is hard, especially frum dating, doubly so with mental health issues and autism.  I am still concerned that I shouldn’t be looking for someone while I’m in such a low income job, but I’m assured that it’s not dishonest or problematic.

Of course, I’m aware that I have some very stressful and triggering Jewish festivals coming up in the next two months, that my contract only lasts until the end of March, that dating could be painful, that I am unlikely to ever be completely recovered from depression and that autistic people tend to struggle with employment and relationships… basically, I know that things could go very badly wrong at any time.  But I do feel a bit more confident in myself than I have for a while, which is good.

Adventures in Doctor Who Fandom

I’ve been to bed (very late), but couldn’t sleep and I’m not even that tired any more, so I’ve got up and am trying to do some things so if I sleep in tomorrow, it won’t matter so much.

The reason I went to bed so late and so hyped up was that I went to a Doctor Who pub quiz, the same one I wanted to go to last month (it’s a monthly event).  I arrived just on time, having underestimated how long the journey would take with a Sunday bus timetable.  Our team was comprised of past and present members of the Oxford University Doctor Who Society (actually, technically we were all present members, as membership is life membership).  I knew two people there; my friend M. I knew would be going, but it was a pleasant surprise to see someone I hadn’t seen since I left Oxford in 2005.  There were also a couple of other old Oxford fans in another team.  There were three current Oxford undergraduates too, two of them from my old college.  One asked me about the society when I was president, which made me feel a little old (although M’s connection with it goes back considerably further).

We won the quiz on a tie-breaker.  I answered quite a lot of questions correctly.  It was fun and good to do something social that isn’t either Jewish or related to my issues (depression, autism etc.).  There was a LOT of noise in the pub though.  There were thirteen teams AND other people drinking at the bar AND a gig going on downstairs.  I covered my ears instinctively at a couple of points which was an autistic trait I didn’t think I had.  Obviously I’m more sensitive to noise and sensory overload than I thought I was; I’m just good at avoiding.  One awkward moment came when someone asked how I knew so much Doctor Who trivia and I said “I’m probably autistic and this is my special interest” which in my head sounded light-hearted-yet-meaningful, but in reality sounded stupid and weird.

I travelled part of the way home with my team-mates.  This probably added some time to my journey, as I had to take an indirect route, but I wanted to continue socialising plus I felt safer walking in a crowd in a not so nice part of London at 10.30pm than I would have done travelling alone.

There were some Big Name Fans there.  This weirded me out a little as I’m not used to in-person fan meetings these days, certainly not with people whose picture I recognised from Doctor Who Magazine.  I used to want to be a Big Name Fan years ago, but I don’t think I would want that any more.  Nowadays I just want to have some friends.  My Doctor Who book isn’t intended to make me famous in fandom, but to give something back to the fan community I have enjoyed being part of (to varying extents) over the years, as well as for the intellectual fun of writing it.  The evening did make me wonder what it would be like to go to a Doctor Who convention, but I’m wary of how that would work practically with autism, kashrut and Shabbat (the Jewish dietary and Sabbath laws).  Maybe if there’s a London-based convention on a Sunday I’ll think about going.

(As an aside, I’m thinking about going to see Robert Alter talk about his Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) translation in Jewish Book Week, which would be a big step for me in terms of going to something new and big, but I haven’t worked up the courage yet to book a ticket, largely because I would have work the next day and am worried about having a late night.  It would be good to hear Alter, as I got a lot from his books The Art of Biblical Narrative and The Art of Biblical Poetry.)

I did feel self-consciously Jewish at times.  Whenever I’m in one environment, I obsess about how people view my traits from other aspects of my personality.  With Jews, I worry about seeming fannish or worldly; in non-Jewish environments I wonder how people view my Jewishness.  I know most Orthodox Jews (and many non-Orthodox Jews) avoid socialising with non-Jews, but I can’t do that without cutting off too many aspects of my life (Doctor Who, mental health, autism).  I just try to be a good ambassador.  I might wear one of my Doctor Who kippot (skullcaps) next time.  I might as well embrace being in a ghetto of one (OK, probably not literally one, but not many).  Although there are probably fewer people in fandom who have a problem with Jews than there are frum people who think geek culture should be avoided (I’m remembering the time my shul rabbi went off onto a rant about the dangers of imagination, which still seems a bizarre thing to say, although I have yet to think of an answer to him that he would see as valid).

Anxiety and Progress

I stayed up late last night watching The Dalek Invasion of Earth for research for my Doctor Who book.  Realistically, it was probably too much Doctor Who in one go (two and a half hours), but I just want to get the rest of my research out of the way so I can get to work on redrafting for style rather than content and also so that I can watch something other than 1960s Doctor Who, which I’ve been watching for nearly five months, albeit interrupted for a while by Sherlock and Jonathan Creek.  I worked out that at my current rate I should be able to finish my research within five weeks, just in time for Purim (and, currently, the ending of my contract at work) if all goes well.  We shall see.  It’s become a slog, though, which is sad.  When I started my research for the book in 2016, watching Doctor Who in order from the first episode until I caught up with the ongoing TV series for Twice Upon a Time at the end of 2017, I mostly enjoyed it.  But this is too recent to my last viewing and I’m too impatient to finish the second draft and get on to the third draft.  I did at least finish the second draft of another chapter today; just three more to go.

I’m also trying to cram in a skim reading of Inside the TARDIS by James Chapman (a cultural studies history of Doctor Who).  I read it when it was published many years ago and my memory is that a lot of it is repetition of established fan interpretations, some of which I am challenging or developing in my book, so it probably won’t be that helpful, but it’s worth skimming as I have a copy.

***

I had anxiety dreams last night.  Ever since I became shomer Shabbat (keeping the Sabbath) about twenty years ago I’ve had occasional anxiety dreams about breaking Shabbat.  They’ve never gone away despite my being shomer Shabbat (at least at a basic level – it took me a while to learn all the details) for so long.  Last night’s dream had added shul (synagogue) anxiety too, perhaps a product of my thinking about why I struggle to go to shul on Shabbat mornings.

I was in my parents’ shul for some reason (although it didn’t look like their shul) on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and my Dad was warden (as he was in our old shul years ago before we moved).  For some reason I had my phone with me, even though carrying phones is forbidden on Shabbat and Yom Tov (festivals) and I had some legitimate, life-threatening reason to carry it, but no one else knew that, so I wanted to put it somewhere safe where no one would hear it if it rang which resulted in my literally running out of shul during Kol Nidre (the opening of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) prayers even though it was clearly Rosh Hashanah and people were drinking unlike Yom Kippur) and someone saw the phone, I think, and I ran home to hide it… it all got rather confused, and there’s a lot of detail that I’m skipping over as irrelevant, but I suppose underneath it was about feeling that I might have legitimate reasons not to go to shul or participate in the community in certain ways because of depression, autism and social anxiety, but that other people would not understand and maybe that my current shul isn’t 100% right for me, but it’s the best option at the moment.

***

I woke up feeling anxious about work, which was a little surprising – I mean surprising that I was feeling anxious about work and not shul.  There’s one task I have to do at work about which I worry that I did not write down clear enough instructions for myself; I mentioned it to my line manager that I was worried that I was not doing it correctly, and she felt that I probably was doing it OK as it is not a very difficult task, just a time-consuming and boring one.  But I still can’t shake the feeling I’m missing out a step, even though I can’t think what that step could be.  This is probably just anxiety too.  I’m not sure that it would be a good idea to seek further reassurance from my line manager, both from a work point of view and because it would probably further stimulate any anxiety.  I don’t know why I woke up thinking about it after a completely different anxiety dream, unless it’s that all my anxieties are linked somehow, or at least that feeling anxious about one thing can quickly lead to feeling anxious about another.

***

I’m off soon to a monthly Doctor Who pub quiz.  I wanted to go last month, but got a bit overwhelmed by anxiety, depression and the need to get up early the next day for my well-being course.  I hope to actually make it there today, although I’m a bit nervous about being in a pub full of strangers (bar one friend who I know is going).  I don’t think I’ve been in a pub for about fifteen years and wonder what I will make of the noise given my growing awareness of my issues with noise.

Scenes from an Autistic Childhood

Someone took my seat at shul (synagogue) yesterday.  I didn’t say anything, but I was quite annoyed.  Taking seats is a thorny area in most shulsHalakhically (according to Jewish law) one should sit in the same seat in shul every day.  However, one should also be friendly to visitors and new people at shul who don’t know which seats are free and might take one by accident.  Shuls where people throw people out of “their” seats by claiming ownership can get a bad reputation.  So I never know what to do in a situation like this.  I like my seat because I sit with the two people I’m most friendly with in the shul.  I had to sit in a different seat with someone else, which made me a bit uncomfortable.  The silly thing is, the person who took my seat sometimes sits behind me, so I thought he might know that I sit there.  I hope he isn’t planning to make it his seat permanently, especially as the people I sit with actually invited me to sit with them.

***

At dinner I had a very long discussion with my parents (a couple of hours long) about autism.  My Mum said she had read the leaflet I lent her and that it sounded a lot like me.  We spoke a lot about childhood events.  My parents didn’t think I really had autistic meltdowns.  They said when I was stress or overwhelmed I would go quiet and go off to the corner or to my room, but I’m not sure if this is really an autistic shutdown.  It doesn’t sound extreme enough.  They felt I avoided the type of situations that might have pushed me into a full-blown meltdown.  I avoided a lot of things as a child and as a teenager.

We spoke about my executive function, which was more textbook.  I said what I wrote here the other day, that I always thought I was organised because I plan, but now I realise I don’t stick to my plans.  My Dad’s response was, “You’re terrible at planning” agreeing that I don’t stick to my plans.  I get distracted from things.  I also spoke about not being good with choices and not liking it when Mum wants me to decide between a lot of things.  If I have to make a big decision e.g. changing my phone contract (something I’ve been putting off for months… procrastination is another trait my Dad brought up), my Mum will love to shop around and get loads of options for me, but I just get overloaded by that.  I prefer to be given a choice of just two or three of the apparently best options and accept that I may miss something even better.

Mum said something interesting about my desire for predictability which I didn’t know.  Apparently when I was young enough that Mum started to let me go out by myself, if Mum was sending me out to do some shopping I would bombard her with questions about what would happen – what should I say, what would the shopkeeper respond, what should I do if the shopkeeper said something else and so on.  She thought it was a bit weird, but as I am her eldest child, she didn’t really have anything to compare it with until my sister came along and was happier with short instructions.  I am still like that.  If I have to do something new, particularly if it involves social interactions, I still plan in detail, but I didn’t realise I did it in such detail from such a young age.

We also discussed my career a bit.  They both think I’ve been much less depressed lately since I started my new job, because I feel I can do it, I feel accepted by my colleagues and I feel my boss understands my issues, which was not always the case in my previous two jobs.  I said I would be happy if my contract was extended past March to stay in this job for a while.  Ideally I would rather be working three days a week rather than two, but I would like to use my non-work days to work on my writing.  They both seemed reasonably happy with that.

***

I was really exhausted after this long conversation, but I needed alone time before I could sleep, so I didn’t get to bed until very late, I think after 1.00am.  I actually woke up early this morning and could have gone to shul, but I panicked and didn’t go and went back to sleep instead.  I was worried that people would ask why I’m not normally there, which was a bit of a strange thing to worry about.  I think there must be something about shul that I really don’t like, because since my teens it has been hard to go even though I’m frum (religious) and I don’t think it’s just about sleeping in.  But on the other hand, I do find it easier to go in the evenings.  I think there might be a mixture of sensory overload, social anxiety, and issues with getting up early/depression.  I need to go a few times and become conscious of what is driving me away and work out how to either adapt so I can go or accept why I can’t go, but I don’t know how to actually get to shul a few times to make those observations.  In the past I’ve done it by making myself accountable to an occupational therapist saying, “I will get to shul by 10.00am every other Saturday in the coming month” but I don’t know who I can make myself accountable to now.  It doesn’t seem to work with my parents for some reason and I don’t think it would help doing it here, as I am too used to admitting failures here.

***

An aside from that discussion with my parents: the big traumatic events of my childhood that have scarred me so much have largely been forgotten by my Mum and also (I know from another conversation) my sister.  My Dad remembers, but perhaps doesn’t place so much emphasis on them.  It’s strange.  It feels wrong of me to remember them as so difficult, but that is how I remember them, albeit partly because therapy has made them feel so formative.  On the other hand, my Mum said she remembers me running out of the room with my hands over my ears at my sister’s engagement party, which I don’t remember at all.  I remember that I was there for an hour or so and then I got overwhelmed and went to another room, but I don’t remember running out with my hands over my ears.  Strange.

Quick Note

I started a new depression course today.  It was quite good, but there were a lot of people and a lot of talking and I got quite overloaded.  People were more friendly than on the previous course inasmuch as they spoke to each other before the course started and during the break instead of sitting in silence, but that of course triggers my social anxiety and also my autistic sensory overload at times.  Also, people did interrupt a bit during the actual course, mostly to try to make helpful or supportive comments, but I do find that kind of interrupting distracting and I hope the facilitators will be a bit more politely firm about people respecting other people when they are speaking.

Today’s autism moment: Dad gave me a lift to the course.  When the satnav said to “Keep right” for a moment I thought, “How?  We drive on the left in this country!”  D’oh!  (Do I just notice these things more now I’m aware of them and aware there is a label for them or are they becoming more common?  Logically it should be the first option, but it’s a bit weird all the same.)

Counter-Factuals

Trying to be brief as I took writing time to go to shiur (religious class) and work on my book, plus I need to go to bed as I have a new mental health course starting in the morning…

I was thinking while getting dressed this morning that my life would be so much better if I was not autistic (admittedly this assumes that I am autistic, which is still not certain.  “If I didn’t have autistic symptoms” might be more accurate).  I would be able to interact normally with people, probably wouldn’t be depressed and socially anxious, would have a better chance of a good job and a stable income and of a lasting relationship.  But by the time I had got to the station, I thought that there are just too many counter-factuals in something like that.  Once you start changing things, where do you stop?  If I wasn’t autistic, what would I be?  I think this is progress, of a kind.

***

Work was mostly fine today, except that when I left I was pleased with myself for not OCD checking I’d locked up the rare books store, except that by the time I was halfway down the road I was so anxious about it that I went back.  I need to work harder on exposure therapy.  There was also a nagging feeling throughout the day that I had forgotten something and wasn’t doing my job properly.  I don’t trust myself any more at work.

I also intended to walk home from the station, but by the time I arrived, I was so exhausted I had to phone my Mum for a lift.  Not good in multiple ways (exercise, environment, independence).

***

So far as I can tell, there are only a couple of books on mental health from a Jewish perspective and none at all on autism (high functioning or severe) and Judaism, let alone autism, mental health and Judaism together, so maybe there is room for my misery memoir in a crowded market after all.  I need to find the right tone, though; I’m hoping to use my blog as a basis for the text, but what is right here may not be right there.  I do wonder if there would be any backlash from some of the things I say, but I doubt many (any?) people in my community would read it.  That said, I don’t really want my parents or people from my community, let alone my rabbi, reading my thoughts about being a thirty-five year old virgin in a community that both fears and celebrates sexuality, but only permits it within marriage, which it therefore encourages at a young age… but maybe that fear in itself is reason for writing it.

***

I often wonder what other people really think of me.  I usually assume it’s something bad, or nothing at all.  It’s hard to believe it might be something good, but maybe I’m wrong.  I honestly don’t know what most people, including my friends, think of me.  I don’t know if that’s autism or something else.  (This is inspired by some interactions at work today and trying to work out how successful they were.)

Self-Acceptance

I’m not sure why I’m so obsessed with writing about how much sleep I get.  I’m not obsessed with chronicling other aspects of my life tangentially related to my mental health, such as exercise or diet.  Maybe because it’s an index of normality: eight or nine hours good quality sleep = good, anything more or less or bad quality = depression.  Sleep is always the first thing to go wrong when an episode of depression starts and the last thing to improve.

Be that as it may, I went to bed too late last night (I had a burst of energy after dinner and stayed up blogging and writing emails), slept too much, but had poor quality sleep with strange dreams again (not sure why I’m having so many lately; I don’t usually remember my dreams) and woke up with a slight headache to discover the gas man was just arriving to service our boiler.  Which is in the kitchen.  So I had to be visible while getting breakfast ready while in pyjamas and dressing gown, which makes me feel self-conscious, but I was feeling too tired and depressed to get dressed before eating, as is usually the case (according to strict halakhah (Jewish law) one should always get dressed and pray before eating, but I almost never feel well enough to do that).

Dad and the gas engineer were having a very neurotypical small talk conversation.  Part of me wonders why I can’t manage to do that and another part thinks I would go out of my mind with boredom if I could do it.

***

I went back to bed after breakfast.  Normally that’s something I would try to avoid, usually by being online, but I’ve now blocked most of my procrastination/distraction sites as triggering in one way or another, so in the absence of energy to do anything productive, I ended up going back to bed.  It was good to just lie in the semi-darkness, not being stimulated by anything other than birdsong and the ticking of the clock, even if I did feel guilty (and lonely.  Being in bed by myself makes me feel lonely, even though I’ve never actually shared a bed with anyone; even as a child although my parents would let me fall asleep in their bed if I was upset by a nightmare or thunderstorm, they would carry me out once I fell asleep.  But I can imagine what it must feel like).

Staying too long in bed, it occurs to me, might not just be about exhaustion, laziness, running away from the world or any of the other labels I rightly or wrongly ascribe to it.  My world divides into concentric circles of safety and danger.  Some are probably in flux depending on my experiences (e.g. shul (synagogue), which sometimes feels safe and sometimes feels very dangerous), but my home is safe, my bedroom is very safe and my bed is safest of all.

***

My job search has become very cursory.  I really want to stay in my current job, even though a job that only employs me two days a week is, on a purely financial level, not very satisfactory, even if they do extend my contract past March.  But I feel comfortable in the role demanded of me, which was not the case in my last two jobs, and I get on well with my boss (again, unlike the last two jobs) and the time off to recover, go on mental health courses and work on my writing is useful, even if recently I have been too exhausted and depressed to make much use of the writing time.  But I feel I should still be job hunting for my parents’ sake.  After all, they are supporting me financially.

***

New insights continue to come from my autism identification.  I thought that I don’t have the problems some autistic people have with executive function (planning and decision making).  I acknowledge that I’ve always been indecisive and prefer to have limited choices or even to have someone else make decisions for me.  Sometimes I completely seize up when someone offers me a choice and I don’t know what to say or how to decide, to the point where this is visible to other people (one date got really annoyed with me for this, fuelling my ‘no one could ever love me’ thoughts).  It has taken a long time for me to realise that this could be autism.

More surprising is to realise that I’m not that good at planning.  I make lots of lists and plans, but, since my mid-teens (before severe depression), I’ve had a habit of drifting away from plans once I’ve made them, sometimes within minutes.  I regularly and dramatically underestimate how long it will take me to complete tasks and the amount of energy and concentration that will be expended by them and I let myself procrastinate and get distracted by things if I am not that interested in what I should be doing.  I guess it’s one of those things that is hard to judge, though, because lots of people aren’t good at plans or are easily distracted without being autistic and some of it is that on some level I still assume I have non-depressed reserves of energy even though I’ve been depressed for seventeen-plus years.

Similarly, I always thought that I didn’t have autistic meltdowns, but reading up on them, I think I might, but that they don’t manifest primarily as screaming or physically lashing out, but as crying, catastrophising and asking excessively for reassurance from other people.  I think I tended to interpret these as panic attacks or worsening of depression rather than as meltdowns, but perhaps I have been mistaken.  I probably have also got in the habit of avoiding situations that I find triggering or leaving when things become difficult, which is good, but makes it hard to know how I would react if pushed further.

I think I may have had more explosive meltdowns when I was younger, but I learnt pretty early on that there were other people around me who could shout a lot louder and longer than I could and that explosive anger is just too dangerous, so over time I had fewer angry-type meltdowns and more anxious ones, or just repressed my feelings so that they turned into depression and OCD, what this site calls “implosive” rather than “explosive” meltdowns (“Visible symptoms of this may include withdrawing from communication, hiding, self-harming, curling up in a ball, rocking intensely and may make random sounds and noises to drown out the world around them” – withdrawal, self-harm, crying, curling up in a ball all sound familiar, perhaps also acting out in other ways that would only be obvious to myself).

Past examples might be the crying and catastrophising that I assumed were panic attacks  (again, this site calls meltdowns a form of panic attack) when I went to stay with my first girlfriend’s family for the first time and the occasions when I stood outside social events at shul crying because I felt too overwhelmed to go inside.  Perhaps also the strange feeling, that I assumed at the time was a straightforward panic attack, that I had on the London Underground a few months ago when, after having to suddenly change my usual travel route to work because of a station closure, and while in a big, stimulating crowd of commuters, I felt emotionally overwhelmed while trying to walk up a stationary escalator at Kings Cross Tube station and for a few moments was worried I was going to be so overwhelmed with anxiety and despair that I would not be able to move any further up or get back down to the bottom either.  A similar situation occurred a few minutes later in a very uncomfortable crowd on the platform where I started worrying that I was going to fall under the train and felt a similar unbearable rush of anxiety and feeling overwhelmed.

This might even explain the unexpressed anger and agitation that appears as racing thoughts, often slightly paranoid, self-loathing, or furious at other people, that can appear after social overload, including in positive situations but particularly in negative ones.  This used to happen to me a lot at the Jewish Society when I was at university, where I wanted to fit in and make friends, but found it painfully hard to do so; once depression was added to the mix, I would often leave Shabbat meals early and walk very briskly around Oxford for an hour thinking how angry I was at myself and everyone else, sometimes even mentally composing aggressive suicide notes, until I would finally arrive back home and collapse exhausted onto the bed.

At any rate, it is worth looking out for similar behaviour in the future.

(I would welcome feedback on meltdowns from other people on the spectrum, as it’s the part of autism I understand the least and have greatest difficulty identifying with.)

***

I think I’m learning slowly – very slowly – that I’m autistic and that’s OK.  It was one thing to think I was autistic, but quite a different thing to be able to accept and make allowances for myself.  This is the case even though I still don’t have a diagnosis and I worry what would happen to my self-image if I was told yet again that I’m not on the spectrum.  I’m even being more accepting of some of my religious ‘failings’ (not davening (praying) with a minyan (community) or with kavannah (mindfulness); not liking Purim and Simchat Torah, etc.), even the ones that are due to depression and social anxiety as much as autism.

It’s funny that I never felt that depression or social anxiety were valid reasons for being ‘this way’ but that autism is valid.   I suppose autism explains oddities of my personality that aren’t explicable by depression or social anxiety or were present even when everything else is OK, from the indecisiveness mentioned above to difficulties with eye contact, body language and reading emotions (in other people and myself) to the fact that when I was a child I used to like making Lego models as per the instructions rather than experimenting with my own designs (although I did make Lego Daleks of my own design because my Doctor Who special interest trumps everything).

***

I wrote a not-quite-angry letter written to HMRC querying why they are now pressing me for money they told me I didn’t have to pay months ago.  I also found directions to my course on Friday and emailed the matchmaker from the values dating service.  I have mixed thoughts about how sensible dating is for me right now, although it’s hard to imagine a time when it would ever be substantially easier.  I also read this week’s Talmud page in advance of Shabbat’s shiur (and failed to understand it).  i didn’t have time for much work on my books, but spending a long time writing my thoughts on poor executive function and meltdowns here was really helpful in understanding myself and could be useful for my mental health/misery memoir book, which is all good.  Even so, I didn’t do everything I wanted or planned, and not just because I had a headache, which is frustrating, albeit another demonstration of impaired executive function.

***

I try not to be political here, but I have to say this or my head will explode: every time I see or hear the words “Donald Tusk” on the news, I have a vision of a Babar-type elephant with big tusks, dressed in a suit, standing on his hind legs and carrying a briefcase.  This has bothered me for years.

One Better Day

Today was a better day.  I seem to be relying on work days to give me a jolt of energy and snap me out of depression and into active mode.  Which is good so far as it goes, but I worry about not having much positive in my life outside of work (my writing is positive, but as yesterday showed, the thought that I could/should be writing is not always depression-defeating).  I also worry what will happen if my contract doesn’t get renewed past March.

***

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned that my part of the library where I work is running an event/exhibition later this month for students from an art school.  My line manager asked me to find material for it.  The theme is ‘protest’ so I picked a load of pamphlets and books dating from the English Civil Wars and Interregnum, Chartism, Jewish emancipation debate and early editions of famous satirical novels (before everyone jumps on me, I was going to include women’s suffrage too, but my line manager said that was the theme last year and to avoid duplication).  There was some other interesting material too, but I can’t really talk about it as it would make it more obvious (at least to some people) which university I’m working It’s a shame I can’t mention some of the unique material that would identify the university, as some of it is really interesting or exciting.  In particular, we’re the semi-official archive for the papers of writer I really like, so it’s quite exciting to work with that.

I was talking my line manager and one of the curators through my choices today.  My line manager has a PhD in history, but not in any of the periods I was dealing with and the curator I think didn’t have a direct history background.  I was really nervous about talking to them and trying hard not to shake, but I think they liked it.  To be honest, I hadn’t looked at the Civil Wars and Interregnum for nearly fifteen years (final year of my BA); Chartism for even longer (secondary school) so I probably made some mistakes, but it seemed to be good enough on the whole and my line manager was very pleased.  I’m terrified of having to go through this again in a few weeks with a bunch of strangers (art students!  Scary bohemian types, who probably drink pot and smoke acid!).

I did get a bit of a buzz from presenting, though.  I’ve done public speaking in the past, but it’s something I haven’t done for a long time, because my previous experience was mostly in my old shul (synagogue); at the current one there aren’t opportunities to present and I would feel too inadequate and shy to do so if there were.  I don’t lead services any more for the same reason.  I do get something from presenting, though, even if I drive myself crazy with fear of shaking and over-analysing my mistakes.

Other than that, work was fairly straightforward today, except that there were severe train delays on the way in and I had to go via an alternative route.  I was only a few minutes late in the end and I did work into my lunch to make up the time (and still ended up leaving late at the end of the day), but I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to tell anyone I was making up the time or if that just sounded silly and childish.  My line manager wasn’t in when I arrived, so I told her line manager why I was late, but I wasn’t sure if that was the right thing to do or if I should have told my line manager when she arrived.  It’s this kind of pragmatic social interaction that I find really difficult, being on the autism spectrum.

There were a couple of other moments of social awkwardness today, too trivial to mention, which could be plain old social anxiety and self-consciousness rather than autism, but I do feel like I’m in a world I don’t understand a lot of the time.  I follow a blog written by the co-carer for a boy with autism and I was thinking recently of commenting to say that if he seems sometimes to be unintelligible to his carers, from his point of view everyone in the world is unintelligible, and then it hit me that that’s exactly how I feel, albeit with the caveat that my autism is not so severe and I’ve learnt masking and coping strategies over time and built empathy and perspective-taking skills.

***

I have also had some anxiety around locking doors at work, especially the strong room where the rare books are stored.  I probably need to keep an eye on this to stop it turning into full-blown OCD.  I’ve been going back to double-check things and I probably should not do so and just tell myself that I’ve got to move on (exposure therapy).  This is easy to say, but hard to do.

***

I’m signed up to a newsletter with links to articles on autism on a health website and I came home to find a LOT today.  Some of them look useful, at least for my family if not for me, but I’m not sure when I’m going to get the time to read them.  Lots of useful-looking stuff about what “mild” or “high functioning” autism actually means and how to explain it to people, now that the term “Asperger’s Syndrome” has officially been scrapped.  On the other hand, reading this kind of stuff makes me worry that I’m not ‘really’ autistic, I’m just lazy and useless, which I guess is the problem of having some symptoms strongly, but others very mildly or not at all.

There is a whole article about how mild autism can be masked in some people by high intelligence and strong language skills which I guess is what happened to me.  I certainly learnt early on not to talk about my special interest (Doctor Who) to most people, and I remember my parents telling me after one parents’ evening that I didn’t make eye contact with my teachers all evening; ever since I’ve struggled consciously to make eye contact, even though it feels very uncomfortable and I have no idea if I’m doing it too much/not enough.  I don’t know if I exhibited any obvious stimming or echolalia when I was very young, but I’m pretty sure Authority would have stopped me soon enough if I had.  I do stim, but so subtly I’ve only become aware of it in the past couple of years and while I like the sound of some words (like ‘echolalia’) it would feel ‘wrong’ to say them aloud for no reason, although lately I have started to sometimes say words for no reason other than liking the sound when no one else is around.

A sympathetic psychiatrist might diagnose me, but an unsympathetic one would just reiterate all the assessments that said I was not on the spectrum.  Naturally, I hear the voice of the unsympathetic one in my head and tell myself I’m stupid, incompetent and lazy.  Actually, that’s not quite true.  Since my positive autism screening it has been a little bit easier to accept myself for who I am, but I do think another negative assessment could set me back a long way.  I don’t think I could easily be persuaded that I’m neurotypical now, though.  I think there’s something different about me, whether or not it’s autism.

***

I’m getting more into The Dispossessed, which turns out to be as much about loneliness as about science fictional technology or anarchism vs. capitalism.  There was a paragraph I read today, too long to quote in full, about how painful it is for a child to feel different and that the only way to alleviate this pain is to know adults who are also different to show that this is OK.  Like Shevek, I had loving adults in my life, but none who were different and could show me how to be different and cope with solitude.

***
I need to respond to the email from the dating service I signed up to.  I have very mixed feelings about that.  Part of me wants to leave it already or at least procrastinate over taking the next step, while part of me wants to go ahead with it.  I begin to suspect that Brexit will be quicker and easier to resolve than my love life…

Rules You Never Told Me

Today was a “no spoons” sort of day…

1.15pm: I had weird dreams, woke up exhausted, depressed and OCD anxious, had breakfast, still felt exhausted and depressed, went back to sleep and woke up too late to daven Shacharit (say the morning prayers), none of which is good.  I still feel exhausted and depressed (I keep going back to bed), albeit less so and at least the OCD anxiety seems to have gone.  It’s probably good that I have work to focus on tomorrow.

It’s 1.15pm and I’m still not fully dressed.  Sitting half-dressed, feeling exhausted, lonely and overwhelmed.  Yesterday I thought that my ‘downs’ were at least better than they used to be, but today I’m not sure.  It’s probably that there’s more variation over a day than over several days, that I still dip as low as ever some days, but I get higher up every day too.  Right now I can’t do anything, though, just struggling to get dressed.  Spent a while lying in bed in a quiet dark room, which suggests I was overstimulated yesterday, even though I was only at the party for an hour.  (Of course, today it’s probably good that I’m due to watch more of Doctor Who: The Sensorites as it’s difficult to think of anything less stimulating!)  My Dad just said I’m “slow today” which doesn’t exactly help things.

2.40pm: After lunch and an episode of The Sensorites.  Still very depressed and drained.  Not sure what sort of targets would be realistic to set today.  I don’t want to waste the whole day, but not sure what I can do, given that I’ll feel worse if I set a target and fail to meet it.

2.45pm: Yuk.  Just came across this post online about why to study in yeshiva.  Reason number three is that your children won’t respect you if you don’t go, because you won’t be able to help them with their kodesh (Jewish studies) homework.  The number one reason, ahead of even getting spiritual inspiration or study skills, is that it will move you up in the “Jewish marriage market” and you won’t get “a great spouse and a beautiful family” without it (those are exact quotes from the article).  So, pretty much all my fears about no one frum (religious) enough for me wanting to marry me because I didn’t go to yeshiva are vindicated.  Because marriage is a market and the idea is to marry the “best” person (the most learned man, the prettiest woman (or the one with the richest father)), not the person who is right for you.  At least my rabbi mentor disagrees strongly with this viewpoint (and I wouldn’t want to marry someone Chabad anyway, and they wouldn’t want to marry me for more reasons than just that I didn’t go to yeshiva).

That said, I do sometimes wonder if I should have gone to yeshiva, if the experience might have helped me avoid depression or if I would just have been as lonely there as I was at university; or whether it would have helped me fit in to the frum community or if my autistic symptoms and social anxiety would just have been exacerbated in the noise of a beit midrash (study hall, where students debate loudly in pairs) or if the depression would have been exacerbated by the long working days (eight hours or more of study with few breaks and little recreation allowed, plus early starts and late finishes to mess up my sleep pattern) and the communal living with, I think, little opportunity for me to have the time I need alone (unless you go to a yeshiva that encourages meditation, but only Breslov and some Mussar yeshivot would do that).

E. says it’s a shame that I don’t have any distraction/procrastination sites that don’t end up upsetting me (usually about religion or politics) sooner or later.  I suspect the problem is more that I get upset really easily even when looking at stuff that shouldn’t be triggering.

3.10pm: struggling to work out what to do today.  I still haven’t put on tefillin or davened (prayed) yet today, so I really ought to do that.  I would also like to try to go for a walk, as I need exercise.  But I think doing my weekly Talmud study is out of the question, ditto cooking dinner or working on my mental health book.  I’m just too depressed and drained.

I got a letter from HMRC (the taxman).  They wrote to me some months ago saying I hadn’t paid enough tax in the last fiscal year (although I’ve no idea why, as I’m taxed PAYE) and that I owed them about £60.  When I queried this they said I still owed them a “small” amount of money (they didn’t say how much), but that I didn’t have to pay because the administrative costs in processing it were too great.  Today I received another letter from them saying I do have to pay the £60 after all, and I have to pay in less than three weeks.  I do not know what to do.

The money itself isn’t the issue.  I can pay £60.  I do feel like I’m having money extorted out of me and that there are other tax evaders and avoiders they should be focusing on, but I believe in a mixed market system of capitalism-plus-a-welfare-safety-net and I don’t really begrudge paying towards that, even though I feel I’m not really earning enough to justify treating me as one of society’s wealthy rather than needy.

However, I struggle to understand and deal with things like this and get panicked by them, which troubles me.  I don’t know whether it’s because of depression, autism, laziness, stupidity, or something else…  It’s worrying, because I wouldn’t know how to cope with these things without my father to help me.  I suppose it’s also a blow to my self-esteem, because tax demands feel like a ‘book learning’-type thing that I used to be good at, so it’s disappointing not to be able to cope.

I do wonder how I would cope at school these days, given that the depression seems to have eroded my intelligence and autism-masking skills.  I certainly don’t think I could get in to Oxford again if I was seventeen again.  Mind you, I suspect that even at the time my academic success was masking practical and social failure.  I was certainly often told that “For a clever boy, you can be very stupid sometimes.”  It’s just a shame I can’t remember what mishaps provoked that sentiment, as I’m sure it would be useful for my autism assessment.

Actually, I doubt I could lead shul (synagogue) services or give divrei Torah (Torah talks) as I did in my previous shul, although that may be as much to do with feeling inadequate in my new community as to the effects of the depression per se.

6.00pm:  A matchmaker from the values-based dating service I applied to last week got in touch to arrange to meet to discuss what I’m looking for in a wife.  I feel too depressed to think that it’s a good idea to respond at the moment.  I guess I’m scared to do it too.  I can’t see trying to have a relationship ending well in any circumstance.  There is the problem that anyone frum enough for me would probably think I’m not frum enough for her, while anyone who could accept my geeky interests and non-yeshiva education would probably not want to accept my level of religious commitment.  But beyond this, and arguably more problematically than it, I have the problem that I’m just too broken for anyone ‘normal’ to take and while I’ve dated women with issues of their own, that always ends in my getting hurt by them.  It’s so tempting to email the matchmaker and say that this was all a huge mistake and/or I’m too ill or to make some other excuse and duck out of this.

***

Things done today:

  • Got up and got dressed (eventually – it was a bad enough day for this to be worth noting);
  • davened twice;
  • blogged;
  • shaved (albeit very late);
  • ca10 minutes of Torah study;
  • twenty-five minute walk (fairly brisk, but with quite a lot of agitated thoughts);
  • cooked plain pasta for dinner for self and parents;
  • made lunch and packed for work tomorrow;
  • 5 minutes breathing meditation, ten minutes hitbodedut unstructured prayer/meditation;
  • showered;
  • watched TV to distract myself instead of some online procrastination (Doctor Who and The Avengers (the British John Steed and Mrs Peel Avengers).

Things not done today:

  • weekly Talmud study;
  • dealing with tax demand;
  • responding to dating service email;
  • doing more work on either/any of my books;
  • reading any more of The Dispossessed (really struggling to get into this book, even though I can see it’s objectively good.  Maybe it’s just not the right time).

My Identity = My Thoughts?

Just a thought I had that I thought was worth getting down while it was fresh rather than leaving until tomorrow:

The whole ‘I have no share in Olam HaBa (the Next World, which for this post can be either Heaven or the messianic era)” fixation that I’ve had for the last few years started with my Pesach OCD, thinking (correctly) that we didn’t previously keep the special Pesach (Passover) dietary laws properly through ignorance and (incorrectly) assuming that was the same as deliberately flouting them and would be punished the same way i.e. through losing my share in Olam HaBa.  Since then the feeling has never really gone away for long.  This has puzzled me a little, as my religious OCD is now reasonably under control.  Obviously these thoughts have a receptive audience in me, given that I experienced a lot of rejection from authority figures as a child and it’s easy to project that on to God and assume He hates me, as well as using this a focal point for my own self-loathing.  But I wonder if there is something else here too.

I just found myself thinking that while some people may have to rectify a particular trait or thought process to have Olam HaBa, I would have to change my whole mind, because I’m just full of ‘bad’ thoughts all day long.  I was thinking about having offensive or insulting thoughts about other people at the time, but I could apply it to religiously offensive or violent or sexual thoughts.

When I was doing CBT for my OCD, my therapist gave me some research results that show that, for example, over 50% of people have felt a sudden impulse to say something rude or insulting to a friend even though they were not angry with them; over 20% of people have, on seeing a knife, thought of slitting their own wrist or throat; and 11% or women and 18% of men have had the impulse to masturbate in public.

It’s reassuring in a way to see that extreme thoughts similar to those that I experience are just normal, albeit perhaps more frequent and intense in my case than for most people, which is probably the result of the OCD anxiety itself (the more you try not to think about something, the more you think about it).  But somehow I still make the equation “My identity = My thoughts” and therefore assume that having ‘bad’ thoughts mean I am a bad person even if I don’t act on those thoughts.  And because bad thoughts have no place in Olam HaBa, they would have to be removed for me to go there… but then there won’t be anything left because I am just bad thoughts!  Or I think I am just bad thoughts, because I think my identity is my thoughts which is tantamount to saying my soul is my consciousness, which is probably not theologically correct.  At any rate, the assumption in Judaism is that a Jew has an element of Jewish identity even if he or she completely rejects Judaism consciously, which would seem to indicate that our soul is something deeper and more durable than our conscious thoughts.

I’m not sure that I’m explaining myself well here.  It’s a shame I’m not currently in therapy, as I would like to know what my previous psychodynamic therapist would have made of this.  There is probably more to say about this, but it’s late and I should go to bed.  Perhaps I will return to this train of thought in the coming days.

The Unwilling Warrior

The improvement I experienced in my mental health last week seems to have quietly drifted away again.  I feel drained and depressed again today, as I did yesterday.  To be fair, I have some level of functionality, so it’s not as bad as it’s been in the past.  Or am I just getting better at coping, or at doing what mentally healthy, neurotypical people would consider “coping” even if it doesn’t necessarily help me?  I sometimes wonder if my mood is still very bad (although it’s objectively better than it has been at some times in the past), but I just do more things so everyone assumes I’m fine until I have one of my suicidal blips.  I think people if people see that you’re functional, they will assume that you’re well, physically and mentally, until you tell them otherwise, sometimes even after that.

I did at least go to shiur (Talmud class) yesterday and manage some work on my Doctor Who book yesterday evening, while today I went to my sister’s mother-in-law’s birthday party, or at least an hour of it.  I hardly knew anyone there and was very anxious so couldn’t stay longer than an hour.  There were some complicated food issues so I didn’t eat much.  I didn’t really talk to anyone I didn’t already know either.  Fortunately my sister’s in-laws are understanding of neurodiversity issues because their daughter has serious learning disabilities.

When my sister’s father-in-law made a toast to his wife, he broke down in tears because of her ongoing cancer treatment, but everyone else in the room, including his wife, started laughing.  My autistic brain couldn’t really cope with that.  As the twelfth Doctor (probably the nearest to an autistic Doctor) said, “It’s like two emotions at once.  It’s confusing.  It’s like you’re malfunctioning.”

***

On the way there, my Dad pointed out the bus stop I would need if I left early, but also pointed out various irrelevant things.  I asked him not to add all this detail saying that the irrelevant details crowd out the relevant ones in my brain.  My Mum said that I hadn’t really explained it to them like this before and it’s easier to understand now why I struggle with my Dad’s verbosity.  She also said that she has now read the autism leaflet I gave her, which is good.  When I left the party she told me to focus on the fact that I went at all, not on the fact that I left early.  I’ve been trying to do that, but not always succeeding.  I did call myself a “defective freak” briefly, but mostly kept the urge to internally monologue about being a terrible, useless person under control.

***

Home now and crashing after “peopling” today.  Struggling to daven (pray) a little and not even going to try more than a tiny five minutes of Torah study.  The problem with watching Doctor Who according to an externally-directed order for research is when something I don’t really want to watch comes up.  The Sensorites is better than its reputation in fandom would suggest, but it’s too slow and predictable for me to want to watch all six episodes (two and a half hours) in one day, so I will stop early and watch something else (probably the last episode of Jonathan Creek.  He’s probably also autistic, to be honest).

***

I’ve been feeling lonely again today.  I guess parties will do that to me.  “V” commented on yesterday’s post to say that one day I’ll find someone who can love me.  It doesn’t seem very likely.  I can’t imagine what Someone could see in me – and my issues – that no one else has seen.  I suspect my sexuality is likely to be forever inside my head, which surely isn’t healthy and certainly is not right from a halakhic (Jewish law) perspective.

***

This line from The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin (p.76) resonated with me: “And he had been fool enough to think that he might serve to bring together two worlds to which he didn’t belong.”  I feel that I’m trying to bring together two worlds, the Jewish world and the contemporary West, despite not really belonging to either of them.  I don’t know where I go from here.

Communication Problems

Shabbat was stressful in several respects.  After shul on Friday night, the person who invited me for dinner a couple of weeks ago invited me again, that evening or next week.  I can’t really handle the super-laid-back nature of many frum Jews with regard to sudden changes of plan (aren’t religious people supposed to be control freaks?).  Autistic people are not good at last minute plan changes.  I didn’t want to go to his house without telling my parents and I felt I had a reason not to go next week, but I couldn’t remember what it was.  It was only later that I remembered that I had the first session of my new course at The Network on Friday morning and that’s likely to leave me drained for the rest of the day.  But I couldn’t really hear everything he was saying to me anyway, partly because I was getting overwhelmed by the amount of noise in the room, partly because of my social anxiety.  When I’m talking to someone I’m nervous about talking to, my internal monologue starts saying stuff like, “Oh no, someone’s talking to me, what if I say the wrong thing?  What if he thinks I’m crazy?”  It’s hard to hear anything over that, let alone to respond appropriately.  I would like to be friends with this person, though, especially if he really wants to be friends with me and isn’t just doing it as a mitzvah (commandment/good deed) because I’m single.  He may even know a single woman to match me up with, although to be honest it’s doubtful that many of the people he or  his wife know that are our age are single.

***

When I got home I had a conversation with my father that was awkward for other reasons.  I’ve mentioned before that we don’t really communicate well at the moment.  I find his rambling, discursive mode of conversation confusing while I think he finds me curt and pedantic (which is probably not untrue).  I’m trying to sound less blunt, but it’s hard.  I’m really not expecting anything to change here until my parents go to an workshop for families of people with autism in about three weeks time.

Anyway, Dad asked me how old my line manager is and I said I can’t tell, which surprised him, although I thought he might have remembered that I can’t really estimate ages at all.  Then he asked if I’m enjoying my work and I said I don’t know.  I suppose he was more justified in being surprised at that answer, but I really don’t know if I’m enjoying it.  I didn’t even try to explain alexithymia (difficulty knowing or understanding one’s emotions) to him as I could see that being a difficult struggle, but I just tried to say that it keeps me occupied, but is pretty menial work, albeit that I get paid quite well because it’s a role that requires care and responsibility in handling rare books and documents.  Still, it was once again hard to help him to understand my worldview.

***

After dinner I tried reading The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin.  I like Le Guin, but I just can’t get in to this book, which is probably more a product of the various things going on in my life right now rather than the book itself.  After a while I gave up and carried on with The Complete Peanuts instead (I’m up to volume four, covering 1958-1959).  While it would be a stretch to read too much in to it, in terms of mental illness, Charles Schulz really knew how to express loneliness and life’s disappointments, but somehow he made us laugh at them.

***

I went to bed early for a Friday, hoping that I would get up early and go to shul for the first time on Shabbat morning in over a year.  However, although I briefly woke up early, I fell asleep again.  I don’t know how much of that is laziness, depression or social anxiety keeping me away from shul.

***

While I was asleep I had a dream that two orangutans were living on the roof of our house.  However, these orangutans were very carnivorous, grabbing birds and squirrels and killing them by smashing them hard against the windows before eating them.  I was going to call the RSPCA to get rid of them, but conversations about this had to be conducted in whispers at the other end of the house to prevent the orangutans hearing, as they could speak English; one had a pipe in his mouth, but I don’t think he actually smoked it.  I have no idea what on earth this dream might mean.

***

My parents hosted a supper quiz at home tonight for a charity.  It’s an annual event.  People host friends at their home and different homes compete.  They open the envelope of questions at 8pm and have three hours to enter them online.  Most of the questions are lateral-thinking ones rather than general knowledge to prevent people Googling the answers.  I used to join them sometimes, but these days I get put off by the numbers (usually around twenty people, although this year it’s fewer) and the fact that I can’t really answer lateral thinking questions, only general knowledge ones.  There’s a house in Oxfordshire that seems to win ever single year.  At any rate, the house was crowded tonight.  I’m hiding in my room with Doctor Who, both watching it and typing up over a week’s worth of notes for my book.

***

Tomorrow I’m off to my sister’s in-laws for her mother in-law’s birthday party.  It was delayed as she (my sister’s mother-in-law) is very ill.  I’m nervous, as I’m not going to know many people there and I’m worried that, although the food is being provided by a kosher caterer, I may have kashrut OCD issues.  I’ve been told I can leave early; fortunately there’s a bus that stops at the bottom of their road that, after a long journey, does eventually stop near our house, so I can get home easily, albeit not quickly.

***

Thought: I’ve had crushes that went nowhere on lots of women who I thought were perfect for me, but who would, in retrospect would have been terrible for me.  Does this mean that God is saving someone amazing for me?  Or that there isn’t anyone in the world who could possibly be right for me?  The latter seems more logical, especially as if someone is amazing for me, I would (in fairness) have to be amazing for her, and I can’t see myself be amazing for anyone, certainly not in the next five to ten years.

Drained

I went to bed late last night after my migraine and then slept for something like ten and a half hours with weird dreams.  I woke up feeling exhausted, drained and ‘mentally hungover’ without quite knowing why.  Maybe it was just from the week.  I’ve felt the same way all day so far.

A job advert has turned up in my inbox that I ought to go for, but I’m reluctant to do so.  Even though my job is due to expire at the end of March, I’m hoping that further funding will appear so I can keep working part-time rather than looking for new work in a new environment that might be full-time (the advertised job is full-time).  I don’t think I can cope with a full-time job, and I don’t think I can handle this particular advertised job.

The sad truth is that the number of jobs that I feel I can actually do, that I can actually cope with in terms of my depression, social anxiety and autism symptoms, is rather small.  I hope this will not always be the case, but at this stage I simply don’t know.  I think I will always have mental health issues, on some level, and if I am autistic, then I will always have that, but I don’t know if I will become better at coping.

In some ways I am better at dealing with things than I was when I left university after my BA nearly fourteen years ago.  Back then I didn’t think I would ever have a job, a relationship or be able to live alone and I thought I was doomed to lose all my friends (I lost some, but on balance I’ve made more new friends).  But I’m still far from fully functional and in some ways I’ve gone backwards: I’ve had relationships and lost them (not entirely my fault, admittedly), I’ve lived alone but moved back in with my parents and had jobs, but my current job is fewer hours than previous ones.  I avoid certain work environments (noise, pressure), which in some ways is a coping strategy, but limits my options.  I’m certainly unlikely to ever have a highly-paid job if I avoid pressured working environments, which will make it difficult to get married and support a family (which already has made it difficult I should say).  After all, E. liked me more than pretty much anyone I’ve ever met who isn’t an immediate blood relation, but even she couldn’t cope with this.  I would be willing to work part-time and be a house-husband, but I’m doubtful many women in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world would go with that, and I worry that I would still get overwhelmed working and housekeeping.

Actually, low income limits my dating options in other ways, inasmuch as some Jews from small communities (basically anywhere other than Israel or the USA) boost their dating options by being open to dating people from another country, but it’s doubtful that I earn enough to be able to emigrate or sponsor anyone else to come here (which was another problem E. and I had), particularly with freedom of movement for Britain and the EU ending soon.

Regarding dating, I was procrastinating by hitting the ‘random’ button on XKCD and this cartoon came up.  I would much rather go on a date with the woman who collects Asian dolls than the one who gets drunk and dances on tables.  Once again, I find myself hoping to meet someone unusual who might find my own distinctiveness and openness to her traits balances my defects (in terms of the depression-social-anxiety-autism-low-income nexus), but then I realise that I live in a conformist sub-culture where it is hard to meet such people.  Even if they exist, they hide it, the way I hide my traits and interests.

I just feel that I want to be held tight by someone who loves me right now, but there’s zero chance of that happening.