I didn’t really want to blog, but I’m here, so I suppose I do want to blog, on some level, or at least to off-load.

At shul (synagogue) last night someone asked why I wasn’t at the (expensive, black tie) farewell do for the previous rabbi last Tuesday.  I was rather astounded that he even asked this to me, as it was not someone I normally speak to and I just smiled nervously and muttered something about not being able to make it.  The real reasons were (a) I’m unemployed and can’t easily afford £100 for a meal (seriously) and (b) I’m autistic, socially anxious and depressed and I thought that the chances of my enjoying the meal anywhere near enough to justify the £100 price tag were pretty slim even if I wasn’t unemployed.  I gather the food was excellent, as you would expect from (a) £100 a head and (b) a Jewish event.

I struggled with insomnia last night and didn’t fall asleep until gone 2am despite getting to bed reasonably early, at least compared with when I’ve been going to bed lately.  I woke up at 7.00am and wondered if I should get up, but I decided to try to doze for another hour before shul, and, of course, overslept again and missed shul completely.  I suppose on some level I knew that would happen and self-sabotaged.  I slept badly because of the heatwave and because I had somehow hurt my back.  I did at least manage to avoid dozing after lunch, I think (I lay on my bed for an hour, but don’t think I actually slept), so maybe I’ll be asleep before 3am tonight.

My parents were out for lunch, so I read the latest Doctor Who Magazine.  I wish I could break in to writing for them, but I don’t think I’m going to manage it, and I don’t think the type of things I write are what they’re looking for these days.  I really should have been writing for them in the late ’90s, when Gary Gillatt and Alan Barnes were editors, but was distracted by still being at school.

We had a guest rabbi to speak at seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal), who turned out to be someone I knew slightly.  I really knew his younger brother, who was sort of a school-friend of mine and probably could have been a good friend for me, but I was in my mid-teens and very shy and confused about life.  I’d got to the stage a lot of people with high-functioning autism get to in their teens, when friendships stop being about playing games and become about just “hanging out” and “chilling” (never been good at those) and I was just terrified that we would not say anything and he would find me boring, so I used to find excuses to avoid going to his house for Shabbat (the Sabbath) when I really should have gone.  I still feel bad about this episode, partly for being rude to him, partly because he would have been a good friend for me.  I could have done with another frum (religious) friend and maybe I would have gone to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) and my life would have gone down a whole other path.  Who knows?

Anyway, his brother was speaking about the thought of Rabbi E. E. Dessler, ideas about changing your character traits through visualising positive outcomes.  It’s kind of similar to CBT stuff; a lot of mussar (Jewish ethical character growth teachings) material preempts CBT stuff in my experience.  I felt that it was relevant to me and my struggles, but I was so preoccupied with thinking that this was for me to hear and that I should really try to pay attention and remember it, that it was hard to actually concentrate on what he was saying and take it all in, especially as I generally take in written material much better than spoken material.  I was too shy to speak to the speaker afterwards and he showed no sign of remembering me.

On the way home I thought about visualising different outcomes as per the shiur (class).  My problem is not just that I constantly visualise negative future outcomes; it’s also that I reflect on past events in a negative way, even if other people think they were positive and also that I don’t always know what positive outcomes are even possible.  So I feel negative about the article I wrote last week that I want to sell to a Jewish newspaper, even though my parents and E. really liked it.  I feel negative, because they made some suggestions to improve it and I felt I should have known those things from the outset; also, it’s another attempt by me to just moan about how miserable my life is in public.  It’s also hard to visualise having the article sold and published.

Sometimes I feel that I should be more open with people in my community about my “issues” and maybe then I would meet with more friendship and understanding and will feel more comfortable at shul and overcome my social anxiety and go more often.  But I don’t know if this is true.  I once asked my therapist about this, when I was in therapy, and she was non-committal, saying maybe it would help me, but she thought it might not help if I was just doing it to be negative or unconsciously to self-sabotage and scare people away.  Would it have been helpful to have said to the person on Friday night, “I couldn’t go to the event because I have depression, social anxiety and autism and would not have been comfortable there; I hope you had a good time”?  I can’t see that conversation having a positive outcome, really.

5 thoughts on “Owning Up to Issues and Visualising Positive Outcomes

  1. Did you ever watch the documentary by Chris Packham called “Aspergers and me” ? One of the things I found most helpful was the way he had been able to get to the point of embracing his autistic traits and not beating himself up about choosing to avoid social occasions. There is one point in the film where a relative begs him to attend her wedding and he refuses — “why would I put myself through that ?” … he says incredulously. As Packham is a successful and well respected writer and broadcaster, his choice somehow gives permission to us to be different. I find social occasions anxiety provoking and stressful myself. I used to feel bad about this and force myself to attend things I hated. Now if I have a choice I avoid them and don’t feel guilty. You may also be surprised that many people will understand if you say you suffer from social anxiety — you’d be surprised how many others do too and use alcohol to help them cope.

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  2. I did watch that documentary. I struggle to give myself permission to walk away from things like that, probably because as a child I was always given no option and told that if I was invited to a social event, then I had to go, however much I knew I would hate it. Of course, I was not aware of such a thing as high functioning autism then. I’m also still nervous of ‘coming out’ with my ‘issues’ to people I don’t know very well.

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  3. Are you a member of any autism support group? It might help a lot to find others who can closely relate and share how they deal with social things. Even an online group.

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  4. I go to a group sometimes, but it’s a social meet-up group rather than a support group per se. I found it helpful, but then I stopped going for six months or so because of work. When I went a few weeks ago, there was only one person there I had met before and everyone was talking to each other and I couldn’t get involved. I couldn’t really hear anyone because of the noise (I don’t know why an autism group takes place somewhere very noisy, probably because it’s a meet-up group and the site is free). I don’t know whether I’ll go again.

    I used to read a few autism blogs, but they seem to have gone silent over the last year. I guess that happens with blogs.

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