That was another challenging Shabbat (Sabbath).
Friday night was OK. The noise at shul (synagogue) wasn’t as bad as other recent weeks, which was just as well as I had a bit of a headache. I just about managed to do one of my CBT homework challenges of wishing a stranger a “Gut Shabbos” in the street. I got to bed reasonably early, at least for a summer Shabbat, around 12.30am and slept reasonably well.
The good news about Shabbat day was that I went to shul in the morning. I woke up at 8.15am, but it took me a long time to get going as I stayed in bed or went back to bed after breakfast. It was less from tiredness or even depression and more from anxiety and avoidance. I didn’t want to go to shul. However, I did go, arriving about 10.15am. (Shul had started at 9.10, an experimentally later time than the usual 8.45am.) No one stared at me when I was late. Two people looked pleased to see me. So this was all positive for my CBT experiment.
Things began to become more uncomfortable after the service. The assistant gabbai again said that I should have been there earlier so they could have called me to the Torah. They eventually called me at Mincha (Afternoon Service). I was too shy to say, “I have some health issues and struggle to get here in the morning” even though my parents said I should say it. I was also too shy to really talk to anyone at kiddush (refreshments) and just ate a load of cake and left after a few minutes. All the men my age seemed to be carrying their babies on their shoulders. With hindsight, I probably only noticed the ones with babies, but I left anyway.
As I was walking home, a very Haredi man with a silk kapote (frock coat), wearing his tallit (prayer shawl) came up to me and asked, “Who is the tzaddik (saintly person)?” It took me a minute to realise he meant me. I think I have heard the idiom before, it’s just a very polite way of asking a stranger his name (implying he is a good person), but it would probably have thrown me even without autism slow response time and social anxiety. An awkward conversation ensued for a minute or so.
When I got home my parents were still at their shul. I think I must have dozed off for an hour or even more. I had a lie down after lunch too, but thankfully didn’t fall asleep then. I spent the afternoon reading two Doctor Who novellas (short stories, really), one OK, one rather good and then a chunk of the latest Jewish Review of Books. One interesting article further convinced me that if I really wanted to have a meaningful Jewish life and meet people like myself, I should make aliyah (move to Israel), but that isn’t likely to happen for many reasons, at least not in the foreseeable future. The centre of gravity in Jewish life is shifting back to Israel for the first time for 2,000 years or more and there are some big, exciting religious and sociological shifts going on, but I’m not really in a position to benefit from them.
I could have done some Torah study, and felt a bit guilty that I didn’t, but I was worried that I wouldn’t cope with an evening of shiurim (religious classes) and prayer services in shul as well as ‘peopling’ at seudah shlishit (the third Shabbat meal) if I did that. It was a judgement call and I’m not sure I made the right decision. I probably could have gone for a walk too, although it was rather hot.
I went to shul for Talmud shiur, Mincha, seudah shlishit and Ma’ariv (evening prayers) as well as tidying up. It was OK. I was beginning to relax a bit and feel that maybe I was fitting in, for all that I was feeling guilty for not really talking to the people around me even when one person tried to talk to me (I didn’t know what to say) when something happened. I can’t say what it is, but it shocked me a bit and made me think again, “Are these really my people?”
The difficult thing in life is that we can’t make other people conform to our wishes. It would be easy if we could create our ideal partners, children, friends, communities, but people tend to have minds of their own. The most we can do is be careful who we pick (although that doesn’t apply to family), but it’s sometimes a question of balancing good points X, Y and Z and against negative points A and B. Sometimes it’s hard to know where to draw the line.
A couple of interesting things came out of the shiur at seudah. There was talk about whether we can stop ourselves being jealous or coveting. There was a nice definition of the difference between coveting and jealousy. It took me years to understand the distinction; I wish I had heard this definition years ago: coveting is, “I want something like that thing you have”; jealousy is, “I think I should have that thing that you have and you shouldn’t have it.” I don’t have a huge amount of trouble with jealousy, although sometimes it appears, but I do struggle with coveting, not so much for physical things (except when I have autism completism about series of books or DVDs), but mainly for friends, a wife, children and so on. The life I feel I wish I had. (I’m struggling with this right now – it’s hot and I’ve got the window open and I can hear my neighbours are in the garden planning their daughter’s wedding. Their daughter who is not much more than half my age. I can’t even really hear what they are saying, but it’s hard for me).
The rabbi spoke about the Mishnah in Pirkei Avot that we read today, that a person should set aside his or her will to do God’s will. I wondered what I should be doing that God wants me to do. I mean, there are lots of mitzvot (commandments) that I don’t do because of depression or social anxiety, but I wondered if there was anything in particular. I don’t really know. The thing I kept thinking of is that my rabbi mentor has said that I should be dating, and, even though I get into trouble when I ignore him, I’m still not dating. I say that I can’t afford to go to a paid shadchan/dating site (which is sort of true and sort of not) and I just refuse to go to Rebbetzin D, the person my father’s shul‘s assistant rabbi’s wife suggested might be able to find a match for someone with depression. Partly it’s fear of using the telephone and fear that I won’t be able to explain my whole story easily (I’m not good at explaining things verbally, another autistic trait). I suppose I’m scared of rejection too, from Rebbetzin D (saying she can’t help or worse, that I have chutzpah for even thinking I should be dating when I’m such a mess) as much as from anyone I would be dating. Also, I really can’t imagine anyone marrying someone with depression AND autism AND no job (not to mention all the points against me in the frum community), so it’s hard to try, although I know Ashley Leia has said I should let the women decide that. I just feel too ashamed to date at the moment.
At Mincha we read chapter two of Pirkei Avot, which starts with the Mishnah that a person should do the thing that is honourable to himself and which brings him honour from others. I think writing is honourable and it’s the only thing I ever seem to get praised for. It’s still scary to think about doing it professionally. It’s tempting to wish for the kind of miracle stories people on Hevria.com or Aish.com relate in their lives. I suppose that’s coveting again.
One other good thing that came out of Shabbat is that I have been trying some grounding techniques for my CBT homework, to bring me back to the world when I feel depressed or anxious. My therapist gave me a whole list of them. I’ve been trying three: describing the room I’m in, which hasn’t really helped; feeling my chair (or similar), noticing the sensations, which has been quite good, mostly because autistically I like feeling pressure from pressing against surfaces and tend to do it when stressed anyway so it’s just a question of being more mindful of it; or telling myself something positive. I didn’t think the last one would help, as I’ve not had much success with CBT mantras and the like in the past, but telling myself “I’m dealing with a lot of difficult things” seemed to help a bit. At least I could believe “I’m dealing with a lot of difficult things” more than something like, “I’m a good person.”