I’ve mentioned that I’m using Rabbi Lord Sacks’ omer calendar, which has inspiring statements for each day of the omer. Tonight’s statement was, “Never define yourself as a victim. There is always a choice, and by exercising the strength to choose, we can rise above fate.” This is something I have heard before from Rabbi Sacks and also from Viktor Frankl and Jordan Peterson.
I want to define myself by my choices, but it feels like so much of my life has not been created by my choices, but by my autism and my mental illnesses, so it becomes very easy to slip into a victim mentality (something encouraged by a wider culture that divides society into victims and oppressors with no middle ground). I do want to stop defining myself as a victim, but it’s very hard and I’m not really sure how to do it. What positive choices have I made? It is hard to tell. Again, if I compare myself with my peers, they seem to have successfully chosen career A or to marry person B or to have child C, or to be involved in their shul or voluntary work or whatever they do. I do have elements of that, but at a much lower level, with much less actual meaningful choice. If I wasn’t depressed and autistic, I would be much freer to live my life as I would want.
I suppose Frankl in particular (Man’s Search for Meaning) would argue that I have the choice of how to respond to autism and depression, whether or not to define myself as a victim, but I’m not sure (or no one has ever revealed to me) what the alternative to victim status is while living a life that is (a) very far from what I want and (b) very far from what either the Jewish or Western communities present as a good or meaningful life. I understand that I can possibly embrace my neurodivergence, but it’s hard to embrace the depression because the depression of its very nature pushes me towards a despairing/victim state of mind. It’s like trying to cure diabetes by trying to mentally will a stable blood sugar level rather than regulating diet and taking insulin. I feel I could only really choose how to respond to depression if I was cured, which is a paradox.
On a related note, during the shiur (class) during seudah (the third Shabbat meal) yesterday, the rabbi spoke of humility and that it is not about knowing our weaknesses, but rather knowing our strengths, acknowledging them as gifts from God and using them to help others. This was an idea I had heard before, albeit not quite in those words, but I find it hard to identify my strengths and work out how to use them to help others. This is perhaps partly due to low self-esteem. People have told me that I write well, but I find that hard to believe and it is impossible to work out how to use that ability to help others. I do want to write about mental health issues, Judaism and Doctor Who, but I find it hard to dedicate the time to it and I don’t have the confidence to take time out from my career (or job hunt, at the moment) to try writing professionally. Not knowing the practical steps needed to get something published does not help either.
As an interesting sidelight on this, there’s a regular feature in Doctor Who Magazine where a Doctor Who celebrity is asked twenty randomly-selected interview questions from a box. One of them asks which member of the opposite sex they would want to swap places with for a day. I thought about this, and I realised there isn’t anyone of either sex that I would particularly want to swap places with. I either lack imagination or at a very basic level I’m happy with who I am, I just wish I could be less depressed/lonely/inhibited/anxious/self-critical/etc.
I had some difficult thoughts and experiences over Shabbat (the Sabbath). I mentioned on Friday someone I know from shiur who just had a child. He was in shul (synagogue) on Friday night, but I was too anxious to wish him mazal tov. I always get nervous doing things like that in case I’ve made a mistake and got the wrong person or the wrong life event. I didn’t introduce myself to the new rabbi either, although he came and spoke to me on Shabbat afternoon. It was bad of me not to do those things, but I don’t know how to force myself to do things like that, except by guilt-tripping myself.
I had some disturbed dreams that night and again when I dozed on Shabbat afternoon. I don’t remember all the details, but there was a lot of darkness and I think violence; one was set in World War II, although it was drawn as much from Dad’s Army as from the reality of the war (and my unconscious got the dates wrong, perhaps to prolong it). I woke up in time for shul in the morning, but again my social anxiety got the better of me and I went back to sleep, probably to avoid the new rabbi, at least on some level. As a result, I ended up upset again at sleeping through so much of Shabbat (about eleven hours at night/morning and a three hour nap in the afternoon) and also about running away from things so much at the moment: shul, autism group last week and the farewell seudah for the previous rabbi and assistant rabbi a few weeks ago.
There were some more positive thoughts and experiences. I liked the new rabbi’s style of delivering the weekly Talmud shiur (Talmud class). It seemed a little more structured than the assistant rabbi’s style, with frequent recaps of what we had learnt. He has extended the shiur by ten minutes, which was good too, giving more time for the page of Talmud, although we still did not quite finish it. (Rabbis are often bad timekeepers, for some reason. Actually, stereotype would suggest that all Jews are bad timekeepers, except for Yekkes (German Jews). I’m only one-eighth Yekkish, but I conform to Yekkish stereotype: punctual, pedantic, detail-focused, obsessively honest.) I also thought about making some small changes in my religious life and practices, dropping some non-obligatory things and making slight changes to try to have more kavannah (mindfulness) in prayer and to study more Torah, or at least to enjoy it more.
As usual after being in shul for so long (nearly three hours, counting two shiurim, Mincha, seudah, Ma’ariv and helping to tidy up) I was left drained. I was thinking back to the person from shiur with the new baby. At a baby boy’s brit (circumcision), we say, “Just as he has entered into the covenant, so may he enter into Torah, chuppah (the wedding canopy) and good deeds.” It makes it sound so natural for people, that one should just flow into Torah, marriage and good deeds, but it’s so hard for me to manage any of them. I can’t do any of them ‘naturally,’ only with a lot of effort and focus; with marriage, not even then (plus there is an idea I heard from Chief Rabbi Mirvis, that “good deeds” comes after marriage in the prayer because the primary place for good deeds is to benefit your spouse, that marriage is holy because it offers so many opportunities for good deeds in a way not possible in other relationships, so I won’t ever really be able to do good deeds unless I marry).
I cancelled the paid part of my non-anonymous Doctor Who blog, downgrading to a free blog. I hadn’t used it as much as I had intended, partly because I’ve decided that writing instant reviews of Doctor Who episodes isn’t really playing to my strengths as a writer (I tend to be quite polarised for or against something on first viewing and develop a more nuanced view after repeated viewing and discussion with others), partly because the time I thought I would spend re-posting old articles has been spent working on my Doctor Who book. I may put old or even new articles up there at some point, but right now my priority is finishing the book.
Other than that, it’s been a ‘treading water’ type of day, running just to stay in the same place to paraphrase Lewis Carroll. Aside from catching up with my blog for Shabbat, I went for a walk to buy ingredients to cook for dinner, and cooked them. That’s it, really, aside from some Torah study, although I’m hoping to grab a bit of time to work on my Doctor Who book for half an hour or so before bed, so that I feel like I’ve accomplished something.
I don’t feel too depressed today, but I do feel lonely. I keep having ‘crush’ type thoughts on someone I haven’t seen for four years and have never had the confidence to speak to. I keep wondering if she’s seeing anyone. I would probably have heard if she was married (married again, as she was divorced), the Jewish grapevine being what it is, but my parents do sometimes try to hide things like that from me in the believe it would depress me to know (it would, but not knowing causes problems too). It’s stupid to think she could be interested in me, or that we would have anything in common, or that I could even speak to her (bearing in mind in twenty-five years I didn’t say a single word), but I suppose that is what loneliness does to me. I should really try to focus on the real world and not the imaginary world that only exists in my head. In the real world, I will probably never get married, I will probably be single and lonely forever, and I need to find ways of accepting that and not feeling like a victim because of it.