“Staying alive too complicated for you?”

The quote in the title comes from the final episode of Blake’s 7, which I watched again tonight.  Sometimes, too often lately, I feel as if it’s me (rather than Blake’s erstwhile revolutionaries) who is being surrounded by gas masked soldiers in black uniforms with no escape.  Staying alive does feel too complicated a lot of the time, not in the sense of being suicidal, but just in being overwhelmed by all the things I’m expected to do.  Today only partly fits that mould, though, as there was some positive in the negative.

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I have an appointment for CBT on the NHS on Thursday.  I’m hoping to work on my self-esteem, as I’ve tried CBT for depression in the past without success.  I’m hoping raising my self-esteem will correct some of the depression, which seems to be rooted at least partially in self-hatred.

I was asked if I was OK seeing a female therapist and I said yes.  Now I wonder why.  I was really worried about having to wait much longer if I said no (I’ve been on the waiting list for seven or eight months).  There is an issue with being alone with someone of the opposite sex under Jewish law (something in the news a while back because the US Vice-President Pence won’t meet women alone either).  It usually isn’t an issue with medical appointments, as it is assumed a health professional will not act improperly and in any case doesn’t have the time because of other patients, but this does not apply with therapist for various reasons.  Usually it’s OK in a place like a hospital (where I’ll be seen) because other people can theoretically come in or because the doors have windows so it’s not considered secluded.  I hope that’s the case here.  The thing is, I find I don’t care that much, a sign of the way may religious observance seems to be slipping slightly around the edges lately.

The other mistake I may have made is going for an appointment at 4.00pm instead of 6.30pm.  I thought that the 4.00pm one would give me more time to go home, eat and unwind a bit before shiur (religious class) at 8.10pm (downtime is important because of depression and autism), but if I get a job soon, that might be problematic.  I’ll just have to wait and see. CBT should only last ten weeks or so anyway.

I filled in some questionnaires for the therapist, about depression and anxiety and how they affect my life.  I’ve been depressed for so long, and filled in so many of these forms, that it is hard to tell if I am answering accurately for the last two weeks rather than the last sixteen years.  I think my depression has eased a little over time, but my anxiety has worsened a little, probably because the improvement in my depression means I’m now involved more in work and social situations, so I have more things to be anxious about.  I hope I answered reasonably accurately.  The anxiety feelings in particular I found hard to stick a value on.

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I pushed through social anxiety to phone the Citizens’ Advice Bureau to ask about benefits, given that I’m unemployed and depressed.  I struggled to hear at times because it was in a noisy call centre, and at one point I thought the person I was talking to was speaking when it was in fact someone else in the call centre.

I discovered that I’m probably not eligible for any government aid.  Although I’m unemployed, I can’t claim Universal Credit (which has replaced Jobseeker’s Allowance) because my savings are too large.  I might be eligible for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) because of the depression, but I’m not hopeful: I was on Disability Living Allowance (DLA), and when that was replaced by PIP, I was reassessed and was told my depression does not affect me enough to let me claim PIP.  PIP, like DLA before it, is basically set up for physical illness or disability rather than mental illness and it’s very hard to prove that you are “ill enough” to qualify with an invisible illness, especially a mental illness.  People who know me can see that I struggle with work and certainly I feel burnt out when working a lot, but it’s hard to say exactly why I feel burnt out or to prove or quantify it.

My politics are complicated these days, but I do appreciate that governments have limited means and, potentially at least, infinite demands made on them and I appreciate the advantages of helping people into work, for the sick and disabled as much as for the economy.  I also realise that I have a fairly comfortable, privileged, middle class existence, at least as far as externals go, and that there are more deserving people than me in the country, let alone the world.  Nevertheless, it is frustrating when the fact that my parents and grandparents (who were not hugely rich) saved money for me rather than spending it prevents me claiming assistance; likewise when the fact that I push myself to try and work somewhat counts against me.

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Aside from that phone call, my main tasks today were cooking dinner (I over-salted the rice and let it spill over) and retying my tzitzit (ritual fringed garment Orthodox Jewish men wear).  I’ve done this before and on paper it’s easy: just alternate a certain number of double knots and loops of string, but I got into a complete tangled mess of string with it and gave up.  Tzitzit only cost about £6 so wasting more than an hour on it seemed stupid, even if I am short of money.  I feel bad about getting into such a mess about something that (a) is objectively easy and (b) I’ve done before (albeit only once or twice).  I don’t know what went wrong.  It just reinforces my feeling about not being good at practical things.  Trouble tying knots can apparently be another autism symptom.  I was no good at knots in the scouts.  I was actually pretty bad at everything in the scouts (don’t like being away from home, had trouble making friends), but I kept going.  I think I felt I ought to like it, even though I actually didn’t.

I didn’t manage to apply for any jobs today.  I did manage to do some Torah study and went to shul (synagogue) and worked on my fiction.  I’m not sure if the balance here is positive or negative.  I’m up to 3,000 words on my fiction, which seems pretty good, albeit tiny in comparison to what an actual novel should be (70,000 – 110,000 words, apparently).  I do have some idea of where this might go, but it is scary.  I haven’t shown it to anyone yet.  When I have a chapter completed in draft (which hopefully will be soon), I will probably show E. and see what she thinks.

I often disagree with Melanie Phillips, but while writing today I found this old newspaper column (behind a paywall) on writing fiction and a lot of it sounded familiar: “For as long as I can remember, I believed some people had the gift of writing creatively while others did not and that I was without doubt in the latter category. So the disjointed fragments of stories and characters that swirled around in my head stayed there” and “It also requires trust that these things will survive being exposed to the light of day. For it leaves you vulnerable to being mocked or rubbished over what may be crucial to your sense of self. Imagination is very revealing.”  I’d say doubly so when my writing is consciously semi-autobiographical.

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I’m struggling still with the question of being loved by God.  Lots of people would say that God loves us unconditionally, but then I wonder if that means that he loves Hitler unconditionally.  This seems to be a no-win question: either He does love Hitler unconditionally, in which case does it really mean very much to be loved by Him?; or He doesn’t love Hitler unconditionally, in which case there is a point at which one stops being lovable and I worry where that point is and whether I have crossed it.  One could perhaps answer the first question by contrasting God’s love and His justice.  I’m not enough of a philosopher or kabbalist to work out what that would mean.  Possibly that one is loved unconditionally on one level, but that one is loved for one’s deeds on another level, which could combine the worst of both outcomes (feeling that love is meaningless, but that there is also a line where it stops).

I used to think that I was at least good at not speaking lashon hara (improper speech about other people), but the last few weeks have made me feel that I share too much publicly here for that to be the case.  I don’t feel that I have any good points any more.

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Related to that, I keep thinking about my ex-friends saying I have a “whiney, self-obsessed blog” and worrying that they’re right.  I am self-obsessed.  Whether it’s a result of autism or loneliness, I do struggle to believe that the world outside of my head is as real as the world inside it.  I suppose that’s why it’s hard to believe that the outside world could be pleasant, when my interior world seems so unpleasant.

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An article on finding part-time work suggests asking those around me to look out for suitable jobs for me.  This sounds awfully like frum (religious Jewish) dating.  If I can’t get anyone to set me up with a wife, I’m’not sure I’ll have more success getting them to set me up with a job…

Small Achievements, God, and Star Trek

I didn’t get the job I was interviewed for last week, although I’d guessed that by now.  I applied for a copywriting job at a Jewish charity, but feel I’m unlikely to get it, as I don’t meet any of the requirements (all about copywriting experience)

I pitched an article to a Jewish newspaper.  I hate writing pitches.  It feels horrible to ask someone I don’t know, a propos of nothing in particular, to publish me.  Plus I worry that I’m making mistakes in the layout and form of the pitch itself that will prejudice an editor against me, but, while I’ve read up online about how to write a pitch, beyond a certain point one just has to work by trial and error.

Aside from the job application and the pitch, I managed a walk to do some shopping, twenty minutes or so of Talmud study and half an hour of fiction writing.  I should be pleased, but I just wish I had managed more.  I don’t know how good the fiction was.  It was harder than usual to concentrate, but I wrote about as much as usual for that amount of time, even though it was late (although my body clock is so far shifted at the moment that 9pm doesn’t feel particularly late).

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During the tea break at depression group, I tend to browse the books in the group’s small library of depression-related books, mostly because I’m too shy and awkward to talk to other people.  Last week I flicked through Families and How to Survive Them by Robin Skynner and John Cleese.  I read a bit about religion and psychological development.  It said (as far as I can remember) that people are brought up as children with a sense of God as an Old Man in the Sky and religion as as set of rules for which people are rewarded if kept and punished if broken.  Many people stay at this level of understanding, but more sophisticated believers move on to more abstracted ideas about God being “love” or something similarly impersonal and the commandments being suggestions and God loving us even if we sin.

I wouldn’t make absolutely God abstract; I think on some level we are supposed to relate to Him as a person, but I think the understanding of both Jewish religious rationalist philosophy and kabbalah (mysticism) is fairly abstract (God as the Ayn-Sof, the Infinite) and distant from the Old Man in the Sky approach.  Likewise, while I think the mitzvot (commandments) should be understood as commandments, I think they are for our benefit rather than for God’s and the negative consequences of disobedience stem from moving away from a correct course of action more than God punishing us out of anger (if everyone steals, that society will collapse, not because God is punishing them, but because society depends on mutual respect and the safeguarding of property rights).  It’s interesting that the Zohar, the most important text of kabbalah, speaks of the mitzvot as “pieces of advice”.  So, I should be towards the more sophisticated end of the scale of belief.

And yet, despite this I really struggle to believe that God could love me, mostly because I don’t believe that anyone could love me, even without my faults, but certainly with them.  I really struggle with this, and with getting simcha shel mitzvah, joy from fulfilling the mitzvot.  I don’t really have any joy in my life, so perhaps it isn’t surprising that there isn’t any joy in my religious life (the previous rabbi at our shul (synagogue) said as much to me), but it is frustrating.  I envy other people who seem to have joy and meaning in their religious lives.  Of course, it is probably easier to believe in a loving God and a meaningful life if you have a steady income, settled career, loving spouse, happy and healthy children etc. than if you have none of those things.

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I still feel bad about missing volunteering yesterday and am worried that, as with going to shul on Shabbat morning (which I’ve rarely managed over the last year), this is going to be another area where the social anxiety and depression win.  I probably do punish myself too much, but I feel I do a lot of objectively bad things and can only forgive so much by considering my mental health and autism.

Dad said I should start jogging again.  I don’t know when I last went jogging, but I’m pretty sure I haven’t done it since moving back in with my parents, so nearly a year.  The problem is I don’t have the time, the energy or the motivation at the moment and it’s hard to do it without any of those.  I have been going for a walk most days, which is something.

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In news likely only to interest people who watch television programmes with spaceships in them, I ordered a copy of the first season of Star Trek: Discovery, the latest Star Trek series, which I haven’t seen as it was available for online streaming, but I don’t subscribe to any services.  I’m not even sure if that’s how streaming works, exactly.  I don’t watch much contemporary TV.  So, I waited for the DVD, which arrived today.  I procrastinated over getting it, as I’ve heard vaguely it’s “adult,” full of bad language, sex, violence and gore, and sure enough that’s what the DVD label says.  Hmm.  I hope I haven’t made a mistake.  I’m not sure why people assume adult = sex + violence + swearing.  Possibly one to watch with my finger hovering on the fast forward button.  I wonder if I should have bought Star Trek: Voyager instead.  I haven’t seen Voyager since I was at university (my Dad used to tape it for me during term time and I would binge watch over the holidays).  It was mostly not great, but was comfortable and familiar, which I suppose is why I didn’t give up on it the way I did on Enterprise, which was just dull.  I think I prefer comfortable and familiar to edgy and adult.

Anyway, there’s not much actually happening to me today, which is why I’ve spent a chunk this post talking about TV.  I just feel that nothing works out and am feeling depressed and lethargic.