The Day of Judgement

I feel awful.  The month of Tishrei (the month chock-full of festivals, each with their own unique stress for me and my issues) doesn’t even begin for another hour and a half, but I already feel exhausted.  I don’t know how I managed to get up this morning.  I just wanted to stay in bed.  I still want to go back to bed.  I somehow dragged myself out of bed, ate breakfast and davened (prayed) a tiny bit of Shacharit (morning prayers) at the very last minute.  (I almost never have the time and energy to say much of Shacharit, which is quite a long service even on weekdays without the extra Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbath and festival) prayers, and I usually daven it at the last minute.  Mornings are my worst time for depression.)

I’m back to how I was feeling last year, more or less hoping that I don’t get written for another year of life because I just can’t cope with this world and feel I’m not contributing anything to it.  The chance of God inscribing me for a good life seems so remote as to be impossible; death really does seem the only way out.  I’m not suicidal though.  I just want not to be here.  I don’t think I’m going to manage to finish my novel; anything else (career, family, community) seems even more impossible.  I’m not suicidal, but I really feel that I don’t want to be here any more, for all that I know my family and E. would be upset by that.  I do feel guilty (for my family and E., not for the religious reasons God wants me to stay alive), but also worn down to nothingness by my life.

The weather (wet and miserable) isn’t helping my mood at all.  I feel like I don’t care whether I make it to shul (synagogue) over Yom Tov (festival), not even for the shofar, the blowing of the ram’s horn trumpet, the primary commandment of the day.  People blow the shofar outside of shul for people who are sick and can’t get to shul (in my previous community the rabbi used to walk to the local hospital to blow for Jews there), but I haven’t got the courage to tell anyone that I might not hear it and arrange to hear it privately or with other sick people because feel guilty that I’ll miss shul because I’m depressed and asleep.  It doesn’t feel like a valid reason to ask for special treatment.  I don’t know if I care or not about missing the shofar.  It’s hard to tell.  Right now I feel like I might not not even make it to shul in the evenings, even though I usually find those services less stressful.  I just want to withdraw.  I  just want curl up and sleep.  I don’t trust myself to pray spontaneously to HaShem (God) because I’m worried what I might say to Him, that I might ask to die or something.  I’m safer with the set prayers, but I’m not sure how much energy I have to read the very different and longer prayers of Rosh Hashanah.

I just feel barely functional today.  I didn’t manage anything other than Yom Tov chores – no working on my novel or studying Torah.  I don’t know how I’m going to get through shul tonight at all, and it’s not even a long service (about forty minutes).  With our previous rabbi, people used to stay behind after first night Rosh Hashanah to get a personalised blessing from the rabbi.  I’m not sure if the new rabbi will do that.  I’m not sure how I feel about that generally (asking for blessings from people is something that I feel uncomfortable with, at least with the way it’s done in Haredi circles) and I’m nervous as to what he might say.  The previous rabbi knew about my issues last year and wished me a year of equanimity, which was nice even if it didn’t really happen; the then assistant rabbi blessed me that I should get married, which was meant well, but I think ultimately fed my feeling that I need to be married to be accepted in the community.  I’m worried the new rabbi will do the same as he doesn’t know about my issues, just that I’m single, and in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world being single is about the worse thing that can ever happen to you.

So, no computer, phone or internet for me for two days.  Shana tova tichtavu ve tichtamu/may you be written and sealed for a good new year.

A Root Bearing Gall and Wormwood

The last Shabbat (Sabbath) of the Jewish year 5779 turned out to be as difficult as many of the previous ones.

To be fair, Friday night was quite good.  I coped with shul (synagogue) and even joined in the circle dancing after Lecha Dodi, albeit rather half-heartedly and more because I didn’t want to stand out than because I wanted to join in.  Then I went for dinner.  I was invited by one of the men I usually sit with in shul.  He had also invited the other person I sit with as well as the latter’s wife.  These are the people I feel most comfortable with in the shul, I guess I could call them friends, so it was a good evening.  Part of the conversation was about where on the spectrum between “Modern Orthodox” and “Haredi” (ultra-Orthodox) the shul is and where we see ourselves.  I probably had more I could have said than I felt confident saying, particularly when talking about placing figures like Rav Kook and Rabbi Lord Sacks on the frum (religious) spectrum, but I did join in and it was interesting to see that not everyone in the shul considers themselves Haredi.  So it’s not just me.  As an aside, I very much think it is a spectrum, not a binary distinction and someone can be Haredi in some ways and Modern in others and, in theory at least, there isn’t a huge need to pinpoint yourself at some precise spot on the spectrum.

I got home late, though.  I spent some time with my parents and then read for a while as I needed my “introvert time” to unwind from five or six hours of “peopling.”  I got to bed at 1.30am, which was very late, but then I could not sleep again.  I don’t really understand why I have this highly specific insomnia on Friday nights.  I think I eventually fell asleep around 4.00am, so unsurprisingly when I woke up at 8.00am for shul I didn’t have the energy to get up and go to shul, even though I wanted to.  I kept thinking, “I’ll just lie here another minute and then I’ll get up” but of course eventually I fell asleep again and missed shul.  I dozed for an hour after lunch too.  I decided to read downstairs rather than on my bed as I usually do to avoid falling asleep, but I just fell asleep on the sofa.

It was at shul in the afternoon that things took a turn for the worse.  Sitting in Gemarah shiur (Talmud class) I felt I didn’t really connect with the topic.  I had this vision of the hierarchy of status in the frum world.  At the top comes the great Torah (read: Talmud) scholars.  My brain doesn’t work like that and my depression stops me concentrating or being able to study, so I’m never going to be one of those.  Then come the people who organise the community.  I don’t have the necessary organisational and people skills because of autism and my depression prevents me from giving up that amount of time (my Dad used to do it in our old shul, I know how long it takes), so I’m never going to be one of those.  Then come people who regularly make up the minyan (prayer quorum); I used to do that in my old shul, but I can’t do it now because of social anxiety.  Then comes the people who spend ages davening with great kavannah (praying with great concentration); again, nixed by depression.  I’m not quite sure where I can find room to exist.  Even if I manage to write “Jewish” novels, the type of novels I want to write will almost make me hope that no one in my community reads them or goodness knows what will happen.  I want to write about people on the fringes of the community, survivors of domestic abuse, people who struggle to mix modernity and tradition (e.g. re: Creationism and evolution), false messiahs.  Not Artscroll stuff.

Then came seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal), which today was a siyuum for Shas Mishnayot (celebration for finishing religious study, in this case the whole of the Mishnah, the oldest part of the Talmud).  My shul has a thing where on Simchat Torah (Jewish festival at the end of the autumn new year festivals) people sign up to study a certain amount of Mishnah over the coming year, culminating in this siyuum before Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year).  I never participate in this, for various reasons, the biggest being that I feel I can’t commit to studying that much Torah while I’m this depressed.  So I felt out of place from the start and I forced myself to stay partly to be part of the community, partly to support my friend, who sponsored the siyuum in honour of his late mother.  A guest rabbi spoke about the importance of Torah study.  I suppose I should feel positive when he spoke about the reward for Torah study being for the effort rather than the amount “learnt” or level of comprehension, but I just felt inferior for not studying enough.  Could I study more?  I really don’t know, nor do I know how to find out.  I also always feel uncomfortable with the Hadran (prayer at the end of studying a section of Torah), where it says “We give thanks before You, HaShem our God and God of our fathers, for you gave us a share among those who sit in the study hall, and not among those who sit on street corners. For we arise early, and they arise early; we arise for words of Torah, and they arise for words of emptiness. We work, and they work; we work and receive a reward, and they work and do not receive a reward. We run, and they run; we run towards eternal life, and they run to a pit of desolation.”  I find the whole thing offensive to people who can’t study as well as to non-Jews, plus I imagine that I’m one of the ones running to the pit of desolation.  This was reinforced when, after the seudah, while we were waiting for Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers), I read a dvar Torah which basically said that Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (one of the most prominent Haredi rabbis of the twentieth century) said that someone who keeps Torah and mitzvot (commandments), but finds them hard is a “root that bears gall and wormwood” as he might become lax in his observance or his children will stop being religious because he won’t have passed true dedication on to them.  One has to find find Torah and mitzvot a source of happiness.  So obviously I’m a bad person.

The guest rabbi also spoke about the importance of being a teacher (he meant a Jewish studies teacher in a Jewish school).  I did wonder if I was meant to hear this, as my parents and E. have been encouraging me to think about teaching primary school children or at least being a teaching assistant.  I really don’t think I could do it, though, and wonder why so many people think otherwise.  Still, it would be a job and potentially I could be in a Jewish school and not have to worry about taking off Jewish holidays.

After Ma’ariv I helped tidy up a bit.  There was lots to do to get the ready for Rosh Hashanah, but I just couldn’t face it and fled, which was also bad.  The whole way home I was having difficult thoughts, not about suicide per se, but feeling that I would be better off dead, even if I end up in Gehennom  (the nearest thing to Hell in Judaism) as at least Gehennom only lasts a year and you can’t actually do anything else wrong while you’re  there, while here I’m constantly doing the wrong thing and incurring more punishment.  I thought about Rosh Hashanah being tomorrow and that I’m going to be written for a bad year again, I just know it, because I’ve had bad years almost every year I’ve been an adult, loneliness and depression, to the extent that I can’t imagine anything going right for me.  I can’t imagine getting a career I enjoy and am successful at (as a writer or anything else), I can’t imagine getting married (perhaps only one person has ever really cared for me romantically and that seems unlikely to ever work out for a whole host of reasons), I can’t imagine ever fully fitting in to a community (it wouldn’t be so hard if everyone was like the people I spent Friday night with, though).  I can’t ever see my life, or my religious life/Torah study and mitzvah performance being enjoyable or meaningful.  It just all seems so hopeless.

I came home in such a state that my parents said I looked awful and excused me from helping to tidy up as I didn’t look capable.  I suppose I should have something to eat.  It has taken me over an hour to write this, as I keep getting distracted, which may be depressive poor concentration, but I suspect is more procrastination to avoid facing up to what I’m writing here.  “Facing up” in two senses: the literal sense I’ve written here, that, rightly or wrongly, I feel that I’m in a no-win situation and I can’t fit in to the culture I want to be accepted in, nor can I live according to the values I want to live by; but also face up to the fact that deep down I know, or at least I suspect, that it’s not as obvious as I write, that I am trying to be a good Jew and that has to count for something with someone, but I can’t see how I can really be a good Jew when I seem to try so little and when I seem to get so little joy from it, when so many people say that having joy in it is the main thing.  I mean, I could have tried harder to get up and go to shul this morning, I could have tried harder to study Torah instead of sleep and read other things this afternoon, I could have tried harder to understand the Talmud shiur, I could have tried harder to help getting the shul ready this evening.  I feel somehow there is a trick that I could do to have joy at shul or studying Torah or at a religious social event like the siyuum, but I don’t know how to do it, so I will get punished.

OK, time out, time to eat a cheese bagel and watch The IT Crowd.

Pre-Rosh Hashanah Blues

I’m struggling again today.  Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) might not start until sunset on Sunday, but it hit me that the Jewish autumn holidays really start today because of Shabbat (the Sabbath) being so close to Rosh Hashanah.  Sunday will really just be getting ready for Yom Tov (festival).  I just feel totally unprepared.  I had plans for how I wanted my new year to be, how I was going to improve and be a better person and a better Jew and hopefully receive divine mercy and have a good year, but right now I just feel a mess.  I don’t know how to change, I can’t see myself finding a new job or building a new career as a writer; I can’t see things working out with E. (or anyone else, for that matter); I can’t see myself fitting in to my religious community…  Everything just seems a mess.  I’m thirty-six, but I still feel like a messed up teenager.

I got up very late again and struggled to get going because I was feeling so depressed and exhausted, which makes me feel that I’m not going to make it to shul on Rosh Hashanah morning on time or at all.  That bothers me less for the religious aspect of missing davening (prayers) and missing the blowing of the shofar (ram’s horn trumpet) and more for what everyone else will think.  Last year people were concerned rather than judgemental, but I still worry about being judged.

Ashley Leia said on my last post that I’m dedicating a lot of my limited resources towards religious observance.  This is true, but I still feel that so much goes to other things.  I can justify job hunting and I can just about justify trying to write a novel, but I waste so much time on depressed procrastination.  It’s hard to tell realistically how much I could devote to Torah and davening and other mitzvot (commandments) and how much more I could or should be doing.  There isn’t, so far as I’m aware, an easy way of calculating this, not least because there isn’t an easy way of calculating, or predicting, my energy levels from day to day, or even from hour to hour.

Plus, a lot of my fear is not so much about what God thinks of me, but what other people in my community think of me.  It’s easy to say that I don’t care, but I do.  It’s the problem of invisible illness that no one knows is there.  I want to be accepted and liked by at least some people in my community.  My shul (synagogue) may not be ideal for me, but it’s the best option at the moment and I have to work with it.  Working with it includes at least trying to meet the standards of the community, in terms of communal prayer and Torah study.

As for other things, I feel I’m frittering my life away on procrastination.  I’ve done a bit of Torah study this week, but not much and no Talmud study for the first week in quite a while because I was feeling too depressed to concentrate on something so difficult.  I didn’t make it to shul this week.  I didn’t go jogging either.  I’ve hardly worked on my novel this week; having written a whole chapter which I then decided to bin, I’ve restructured my plan, but have only written a little bit more.  I managed to write about 350 words in under an hour today, which is OK.  I also discovered that fourteen years on, my memories of Oxford are fading; I had to google to check some student slang.

And that’s it, really.  I need to go now as Shabbat starts soon.  I want to do more, to write more, but I’m out of time.  Story of my life, really.

“It’s my soul of pain”

(A rather mammoth post, sorry.  I’ve got a lot of stuff I’m trying to process today.)

I felt really depressed and exhausted on waking again today.  It was very hard to get going (although it always is).  I was thinking about E. a lot and wondering what will become of us.  I don’t even know how I would describe our relationship to a third party.  I mean, technically we’re both clear that we’re just friends and that a deeper relationship wouldn’t work at the moment, but we both know that we care about each other.

The house was busy as we had the cleaner and the gardener here, so there was a lot of noise.  Just having other people around can be hard when I’m very depressed, one of those things were it’s not clear if it’s triggering depression, autism or social anxiety, but it feels bad either way.


I had a brief appointment with my CBT therapist to check in on progress.  She was pleased that the anxiety is better and that I’m pushing myself socially, but as my depression has been a bit worse this week, we’ve booked another check in appointment for a few weeks’ time.  That will be a phone appointment.  I wish today’s had been a phone appointment, as I had to walk both ways.  The walk is thirty-five minutes each way, albeit both journeys were interrupted by trips to shops.  It left me pretty exhausted again.

Strangely, on the way home the politics-related anger I was experiencing yesterday came back out of nowhere.  I just wanted to “do a Donald Trump” and angrily vent my frustrations (albeit that the things that frustrate me are not the things that frustrate him).  It’s weird how this happens.  I usually like nuance and reasoned debate, but sometimes I just want to scream and shout and call people names.  I guess Trumpism (which is more an aggressive style of politics than an ideology) is infectious.  I guess, given how reserved I usually am, it’s not surprising I sometimes fantasise about completely losing it one day.  Jumping on the table and screaming at people.

So many news articles and political statements these days seem designed just to get one side riled up against the other.  Everyone condemns the other side for doing it, but seems blind to their own actions.  This article suggests that polarised politics is here to stay, in the UK as in the US.  The author’s response to it: “I don’t watch a whole lot of news, as the news that matters finds me anyway. I don’t do social media. I do read poetry, and visit state parks with my family, and listen to music. Recently, for instance, I got through all ten of Mahler’s symphonies, plus Das Lied von der Erde. That was nice.”  That sounds good.  Better than thinking about Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn and Jo Swinson, anyway.


I subscribed to a Jewish website a while back, via email rather than my blog reader as per usual for some reason that I don’t remember.  I rapidly realised that it wasn’t for me.  It was for “BTs” (ba’alei teshuva, people raise secular who found religion late in life) and I thought it might help with my issues fitting in to the community.  Maybe other people have the same issues.  It turned out to be written by super-frummie people (using frummie in the somewhat derogatory sense of people who are really religious in an OTT way).  I unsubscribed, but they periodically send stuff to me anyway (naughty!).  Today a post arrived and I was going to delete it without reading, but something about the title made me look inside.  Skimming the article depressed me.  It says there are three types of people who serve God:

1) The lower kind of eved [servant], one who serves Hashem [God] only because he needs Him.
2) The higher kind of eved, one who serves Hashem because he lives his life for Him.
3) Ben [child], which is when one serves Hashem out of a love for Him.

I don’t know  where I fit here.  I don’t serve God because I need Him (I mean, I do need him, but that’s not what motivates me), but I don’t live my life for Him and I don’t know I really love Him, although identifying any kind of emotion with depression, autism and alexithymia (difficulty identifying and understanding emotions) is hard.  My depression is so bad that I can’t live my life for myself, let alone anyone else.  I serve Him because I feel it’s right.  So I don’t know where I fit in.  I guess this is the question I’ve had for some time.  I can just about accept that God cares about me (inasmuch as we can talk about God having emotions, which is a whole other philosophical debate).  But I feel that I just do what I can, when I can, because I feel I a sense of duty and responsibility.  I know that’s not right, from a Jewish point of view, that we are supposed to love God and feel an intense connection to Him, but with my issues, that’s all the emotions I can manage.

Another thing I saw today was this post from a blogger I like a lot, although he hardly ever blogs nowadays.  I wanted to comment, but I wasn’t sure what to say.  I feel that I do experience the religious exhaustion he talks about from trying to find my place in the religious and secular worlds.  I feel I should be (as he says) “at a stage where we have our peer groups, our work and our histories; we made the big religion and lifestyle decisions years ago.”  But depression and social anxiety force me to make those decisions again every single day.  Every time I go into shul (synagogue) or shiur (religious class) it can feel almost as nerve-wracking as if it was the first ever time.  I still worry about saying the wrong thing or being caught out.  I have a degree of acceptance of my choices, but I’m not comfortable that those I respect and want to be respected by would accept those choices.  It’s hard.


It has been a bad day for my religion making me miserable.  I went to shiur (religious class) in the evening.  I worry that I really go only for the social side, to try to mix with people from my shul in a semi-social setting (most of the people I’m somewhat friendly with at shul go to the shiur).  The content of the shiur seems to be over my head a lot lately.  It is often quite mystical and I don’t really connect with that.  Tonight the rabbi giving the shiur was talking about Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year, starting Sunday evening).   I had heard the idea that Rosh Hashanah is a microcosm of the coming year before, that your experience over the two days of Yom Tov (festival) affects the rest of the year.  There’s an idea to sleep less on Rosh Hashanah for that reason, but that’s not always easy with depression.  Today the ex-assistant rabbi said that the amount of energy and enthusiasm for davening (prayer) and Torah study in the coming year and all the chiddushim (innovative Torah interpretations) one will have in the new year are decided on Rosh Hashanah.  I don’t know why this upset me, but it did.  It somehow felt that it was all my fault that I have no energy or enthusiasm for anything religious any more.  I feel like I screw up every year and get written in God’s ‘bad’ book and if only I could be a better Jew, I wouldn’t be depressed.

The shiur rabbi was also talking about needing to find an authentic connection with God in our Jewish observance based on our personalities and personal strengths.  In theory I would agree with this, but he said that he knows that everyone present has strengths because we all have jobs and careers which mean we all have a marketable skill.  He forgot, if he knew, that I’ve been unemployed for six months.  He certainly didn’t know that I’m struggling in my career in librarianship and feeling I’m not skilled enough and can’t cope with it, but I’m also struggling to build a new career as a writer.  I don’t want to sound critical because he probably didn’t know about my situation and he certainly didn’t mean to hurt me, but it did upset me a bit.  Then he said he knows we all have enthusiasm because we have hobbies and that just made me feel bad that I have to hide my hobbies in my community because I think they would not be considered quite “kosher” (no pun intended).

He also said that people today have “cushy lives”…  OK, I know I’m not in a death camp or conscripted into the Tsarist army, I know that historically most Jews have had much harder times in terms of antisemitic violence, poverty, endemic and epidemic disease and so on and that I have, in historical terms, a huge amount of “modern privilege.”  I know that I’m lucky that my parents support me, both financially and emotionally and that lots of people with issues like mine are faring much worse than I am.  Even so, I feel that life on the autistic spectrum with treatment-resistant depression and social anxiety is not by any means “cushy.”  I know he didn’t mean to upset me, but… well, I got upset.  Some of this is the classic “invisible illness syndrome,” that people don’t realise I’m ill and have issues and they make assumptions about how my life is based on superficial criteria.

On a more mundane note, I intended not to eat any of the snacks provided as I usually binge far too much on them (I’m not sure if that’s a product of anxiety (distraction) or gluttony).  I still ended up eating two home-baked chocolate chip cookies, which were very nice.  I shouldn’t really blame my poor self-control on feeling upset.  At least I didn’t eat any crisps.


I save positive emails from friends and positive blog comments.  The idea is to read them when I’m depressed, but I don’t always remember, so sometimes I print some out and blue tack them to my wardrobe.  To be honest, after a while I stop noticing them, but sometimes I suddenly see one when I need to.  I hadn’t blue tacked any up for quite a while.  I decided to print some recent ones so I have something to support me over the upcoming Jewish festival season.  I felt quite emotional reading them.  Emotional that people say positive things about me, but also emotional that I’ve lost touch with so many people.  I know it’s not really my fault (except for the friends I upset), that online friendships can be more fragile than real-world friendships and just because someone stopped reading my blog doesn’t mean they think I’m a bad person; it could be that they’ve just run out of time for blog reading.  Still, it did make me feel happy and sad at the same time.  (I’ve quoted this before, but it’s so true: “It’s a smile, but you’re sad. It’s confusing, it’s like two emotions at once. It’s like you’re malfunctioning.” – Doctor Who: Mummy on the Orient Express.  If David Tennant was the ADHD Doctor and Tom Baker was the bipolar Doctor, then Peter Capaldi was the high-functioning autism Doctor.)


I feel on edge and I don’t know what to do to unwind.  I feel a bit anxious and quite depressed.  I’m in one of those moods where I say the wrong thing to everyone, or maybe I just worry that I do.  Did I say the wrong thing here about shiur?  I get terrified of mentioning anyone else on my blog since falling out with people over it, but I feel I made clear that I’m not blaming the rabbi, just saying that I was upset and it wasn’t his fault.  I’m sure he wouldn’t have said what he said if he had known it would upset me.  I shouldn’t mention it, but I need to write to process my feelings.

I need to retreat to my Fortress of Solitude.  I would normally watch TV, but I feel anhedonic (unable to feel pleasure) and don’t really feel like watching anything.  I doubt I will sleep at the moment though so I need to find something to do.


The WordPress random keyword suggestion thing suggested I look for posts on “Anime, WordPress, sharks.”  I think Anime WordPress Sharks could be a hit cartoon series, no?  About Japanese cartoon sharks that write blogs.

The Trouble with Tribes

I recently joined a WhatsApp group for high-functioning people on the autism spectrum.  The conversation today turned towards autism vs. neurotypicality (the condition of not having autism or any other neurological issues), with several people describing autism as a “superpower” and one person asserting that autistic people are superior to neurotypical people in terms of both cognitive abilities and morality (the example of The X-Men was used as an analogy).  I found the latter view rather insulting to neurotypicals.  As for autistic superpowers… well, good for you if that’s how you perceive your traits, but in my life they have only manifested as disabilities (still not being diagnosed officially doesn’t help).

I posted a comment saying I would rather be neurotypical as most of my problems (employment, socialising, dating, not fitting into religious community) seem to be rooted in my autism.  Someone responded with a whole series of long comments saying that I need to be more positive and if I try hard enough with socialising, dating (etc.) eventually my hard work should pay off.  It was also asserted that I should see other autistic people as “my tribe” and not worry any more about having to find people who understand me.

I don’t want to play the easily offended snowflake, but I found this whole conversation massively insulting and off-putting, from the suggestion that all neurotypicals are back-stabbing, greedy liars (some of my best friends are neurotypical…) to the idea that if I just tried harder in life, I would succeed.  I’ve been struggling for over thirty years (since I started school) with social interactions, for twenty years or so with depression.  This person does not know me at all, yet she assumes I can easily fix things by changing my attitude.  It’s actually my attitude that is the product of years of unsuccessful struggling to fit in to societies and cultures/sub-cultures that are not good fits for me.  I try so hard to persevere, and I don’t get anywhere.  (This could be an example of where what autistic people perceive as “radical honesty” is actually just tactlessness.)

And just because other people see the autistic community as their “tribe” doesn’t mean I automatically will.  I have other attributes, particularly religion, that mark me off from many people on the spectrum.  I don’t think I will ever fit easily in any one group.  I think I will always be flitting between different groups and the best I can hope for is limited acceptance in each one.

I know people say I should be more open with people in my religious community about the way my depression and social anxiety get in the way of things like shul (synagogue) attendance and Torah study, but this type of interaction is the kind of thing that scares me off being more open.  If people who share some of my issues don’t get it, what chance people who don’t have any of them?


I’ve just been a mess of depression, anxiety and repressed anger all day.  I’m not sure where the anger came from.  I think it was set off by the WhatsApp exchange above, but mutated into general feelings that I can never fit in, which I guess is still connected to the feelings above,  as well as to thoughts of not fitting in politically and culturally, feeling that I will never be accepted in secular Western culture.  I’m not sure how I got onto that train of thought, but it’s where I was all afternoon.  (I’m not sure if reading things like this is a cause or an effect of this.)  Then when I was out shopping I saw a bunch of frum (religious Jewish) mothers with children and the mothers all looked a lot younger than me.  I also got an email about an educational event over the festival of Sukkot in a few weeks that made me feel that my religious values don’t completely correspond with my community’s.  So I feel I don’t fit in to secular Western culture, but I don’t fit in to the frum counter-culture either (saying “frum counter-culture seems weird, but it is essentially a counter-culture even if it is conservative).

I just feel emotionally overwhelmed today, which is probably unsurprising when you consider that I’ve been up for eight hours and have spent most of them feeling depressed, anxious, agitated, angry and attacked.  I don’t know how much is me being over-sensitive and how much is genuinely worth being upset about (if anything is “worth” being upset about).  I hate that things like this happen to me when my depression is bad, that I have this vulnerability to… I’m not even sure what I’m vulnerable to.  Criticism, other people’s anger, feeling abandoned?

I just wrote the following comment on the Mental Health at Home blog and it seems relevant here:

<i>”The author explores the idea of needing someone who is “strong enough” to love her, and touches on concerns about having kids with a serious illness and medications that would need to be stopped. She also writes about how difficult it is when fellow Christians equate her illness with a lack of faith”</I>

I can share all these concerns. The latter is part of the reason I don’t really talk about my issues with anyone in my community. In the Jewish community it would be phrased differently, as abstract faith is less a part of Judaism than Christianity. In Judaism it would be, “You should <i>daven</i> [pray] harder” or “If you feel depressed, go and learn <i>Torah</i>” but it’s a similar thing.

The funny thing is, I’m not sure if anyone ever said anything like that to me in real life. Maybe once or twice, but not often, because I haven’t told many people. I think I’ve heard about stigma other people have experienced online and in books and articles and was so scared that I don’t ever dare to stick my neck out.


It’s Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) in four days and I feel completely unprepared.  I’m not as unprepared as last year (when I seriously considered praying for God not to give me another year of life, in a reversal of the usual Rosh Hashanah prayers), but I still feel somewhat unready.  I suspect that my lapse into depression this week is a result of the coming month of Jewish festivals and my feeling of unpreparedness.  Paradoxically, I think the depression as per usual is setting me up to fail, making me too depressed and anxious to get to shul (synagogue) on time or at all, so that others notice my absence and judge me (or I feel that they’re judging me) or so I miss mitzvot (commandments) like hearing the shofar (ram’s horn trumpet blasts).  Then that will feed more depression and social anxiety for the later Yom Tovim (festivals) particularly Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) and Simchat Torah (Rejoicing of the Torah), the latter of which I will almost certainly skip because it’s just too difficult for me to cope with.

I just feel I’ve lost another day to my out of control emotions.  Another day out of so many months and years, even decades, lost to my emotions and mental illnesses.  Then the fact that I’ve lost so much time feeds the depression even more.


Deep breath.  I’m going to post this now rather than later in the evening as per usual.  I’m going to forget about the emails I was supposed to write today and the charity appeals I wanted to donate to as well as the job adverts E. suggested I look at (sorry E.  Maybe later this week).  Tell myself I did make some scary phone calls and sent some emails (including one about volunteering at a museum).  Daven Ma’ariv (say the Evening Prayers – sorry, no midweek shul attendance this week), eat dinner, watch TV for a bit, try to feel a bit better and work on my novel for a while and do a little bit of Torah study before bed.

Thanks for reading.

Crashing Out

Forget Brexit, I feel like I’m “crashing out.”  I’m feeling really depressed again today.  I just feel like my head is stuffed with cotton wool again.  I didn’t feel well enough to do any job hunting or novel writing.  I got an email offering to meet to discuss volunteering at a museum, but I’m too scared to follow it up today.  I didn’t do any of the other, Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year)-related, chores I had either (emailing friends good wishes and trying to work out how much tzedaka (charity) I can afford to give on my low/zero income).  I only did about ten minutes of Torah study.

I went for a walk and did some shopping, but I felt really anxious and on edge the whole time, worrying I would run in to someone I knew from shul (synagogue) and that they would find fault with something I’m doing.  Most of my “spoons” of energy were spent on cooking dinner for myself, my parents, my sister and brother-in-law.  I enjoyed having dinner with them, but it went on too long for me and used up the rest of my “spoons.”  I always feel like a child at these conversations, because they all talk about work, home-owning, buying furniture and other stuff that I have little or no experience of.  I end up getting bored and eating too much.  Plus, certain members of my family can talk a lot more than I do and it’s hard for me to get into the conversation without interrupting other people.


I had another job rejection today, this time a very long-shot attempt at an editing job.  I also was told by the agency through which I wanted to apply for a job yesterday that I haven’t put the necessary experience down on my CV.  The reality is that I don’t really have the experience and was just applying from desperation and to show willing (to my parents as much as anyone).  I worry that my “apply for anything librarian-related on the off-chance” technique is annoying recruitment agencies who only want me to apply for things I actually have a chance of getting. My parents say I should apply for pretty much anything because they may not get the ideal candidate and sometimes it feels like the agencies want to push me to take jobs I’m over-qualified for simply because they’re in a library.  I don’t trust myself, so I do what my parents want.  This may not be sensible.

I think I need to think seriously about alternative jobs, but I don’t feel well enough.  My sister thinks I should apply for general admin jobs, but I’m scared that would entail more noisy open-plan office work (not good for autism) and that I won’t be able to do it anyway, particularly if it bores me.  I don’t know what admin work I could actually do with my qualifications and experiences or how I would know and it doesn’t seem like an attractive sector to work in.  I struggle so much with the idea of working with all my issues.  I don’t think I’m lazy, but I am confused about what I can/could do and my dream of writing for a living is not coming easily.


I was going to write about a weird/amusing political dream I had, but I’m too scared of political arguments.  I’m fed up with being so apprehensive about my life, hiding so many aspects of my thoughts, feelings, opinions and beliefs.  I’m scared of being thought too liberal by people in shul and too conservative by my online friends and work colleagues (I’ve mostly been a public sector worker).  I’m scared of being thought too religious at work and at support groups and too secular at shul and shiur.  I’m sick of worrying that anyone who disagrees with me about religion or politics no longer simply disagrees about a point of opinion, but thinks I’m actually Evil.  We’ve had the whole “shy Tory” phenomenon for years, which I kind of fall into even though I don’t think of myself as a Tory per se (I don’t really see myself as fitting into any ideological camp).

I think my views are nuanced, but the feeling from some people and much of the media is that certain opinions are not just wrong, but Evil.  The fact that these opinions of mine have been largely formed by experience of using the NHS, receiving benefits and working in the public sector i.e. being in a position of lack of privilege rather than its reverse only makes me more Evil, I fear.  I should know better and follow the party line of other public sector workers/users.  Likewise most of the mainstream media has spent years trying to present Zionism as absolute Evil and Privilege rather than a logical response to centuries of persecution and attempted genocide (both still ongoing and not just historical).  And both sides in the Brexit debate are convinced that the other side is Evil and that no effort needs to be made to understand their viewpoints.  I suppose it’s the intellectual laziness of all this Evil labelling that bothers me as much as being thought Evil.  Why bother to understand a divergent and threatening point of view when you can stigmatise it?

I suppose, theoretically (and this is what my CBT therapist would say), I could try to put myself out there and see what happens.  Say that “I voted Remain, but think we should leave the EU because of the democratic vote.”  Say “I support the right of the Jewish people to a democratic nation state in their historic homeland.”  Say, “I think the welfare state in this country is seventy-five years old and in need of serious overhaul to be fit for purpose in twenty-first century society.”  And then see how many friends that loses me and how many fights I get into (I hate fights.  I would usually rather sit in silence while someone spouts forth views I thing are wrong and dangerous rather than get into a fight).  But I’m too scared.  As I noted the other day, I have hardly any friends, so I don’t want to lose them.  But then, were they really friends if they couldn’t cope with this?  I don’t want to get thrown out of my religious community for having the wrong views and practices either.  Is there another realistic option other than hiding?

I guess I wish there was somewhere I could talk politics safely (I do with my Dad, a little bit), just as I wish there was somewhere I could talk to people about Jewish stuff that is a bit out of the norm for the moderate Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world I live in, like The Spiritual Revolution of Rav Kook (which I’ve nearly finished and have really got a lot from and would like to talk about).  There are actually going to be some lectures on Rav Kook this winter at the London School of Jewish Studies, but I’m going to be away for the first two weeks, which made me think I should go to a different set of lectures that also looked good, where I would only miss one week (the lectures are at the same time, so I can’t go to both).

“Curse you, Red Baron!”

Today has been a “brain stuffed with cotton wool day,” my term for days when the depression just makes me feel sluggish and unable to think.  This happens sometimes: I get better for a bit, in terms of mood, and then after a number of days or weeks or even months, I crash back into depression again.  Then I blame myself and feel I’ve let my family, friends and therapist down.  But I always end up back in depression eventually.

I had another job rejection today.  I don’t really expect to get anything any more and I’m a bit scared of what would happen if I did.  After my experiences over the last year or two, I struggle to believe I could do any job well.  I applied for two jobs today, one directly (it was just a case of sending my CV) and the other by contacting an agency that is supposed to be looking for work for me and asking why they hadn’t put me forward for this job.  The job is just over a two month contract (it’s sick leave cover) and has a lot of very specific criteria for such a short-term job (some of which were revealed to the agency but not clear from the job description online).  The problem for me (aside from getting the job) is the amount of time I would need to take off in the next two months for Yom Tov (Jewish festivals) and leaving early on Fridays and before Yom Tov.  The other job-related thing I did today was emailing my line manager from my job earlier this year to see if there were any vacancies there, but no luck.

I tried to spend a bit of time on my novel, revising the plan, but it was too painful to work while feeling this depressed and I had to stop quite quickly.  I’ve cut the first few chapters completely and am trying to make another character into a bigger character and making him another narrator in addition to the two narrators I already have (changing narrative voice in different chapters).  But this was taking a lot more energy than I had.  It will make the book much less autobiographical more of an independent work of fiction, which is probably for the best.  I spent nearly £15 on research books on domestic abuse for the novel, which will be depressing reading, but necessary.

I didn’t even try to go for a walk because of the weather (rain) and feeling depressed and drained.  A run was completely out of the question.  I managed ten minutes of very basic Torah study and that was all.  I did polish some of the silver for my parents, but I managed to get silver polish down my trousers.

I finally spoke to my parents about the group WhatsApp message I got inviting me (and a load of other people) to the vort (engagement party) of the son of someone I know from shul (synagogue) and shiur (religious class)To my relief, they don’t agree with mass invites either and felt there was no moral obligation to force myself to go to the party or to give a present.  I don’t know why this (group invitations) is common in frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) circles.

I’ve been invited out for dinner on Friday at the shul friend I went to a couple of weeks ago.  Another shul friend and his wife will be there too.  I decided to go, as these are my only real shul friends, but I’m nervous that it will exhaust me before the Yom Tov (Jewish festival) season starts properly on Sunday evening.  I’m worried that I’m still recovering from dinner at the rabbi’s on Friday, although my parents are sceptical that that’s the reason.  It’s another time when non-disabled people don’t necessarily understand the “spoon debt” loss of energy involved.

I watched The Peanuts Movie with my Dad while I was polishing the silver.  He enjoyed it, but I felt it wasn’t that funny and I wasn’t sure they should have given it such a big happy ending, although I appreciate that adapting a comic strip that is significantly about failure and loneliness for the big screen is going to be problematic.  There’s the problem of audience (that the comic was aimed primarily at an older audience even though children read it, while the film is going to end up being seen primarily by children), but the bigger problem is that in print, Charlie Brown can suffer all kinds of things because we know he’ll be back again tomorrow, but on the screen, that last impression of failure would seem more final.  This being the case, I can see why they wanted to give it a happy ending, but I didn’t think it really worked.  Or maybe I’m just worried that secretly people think I’m a good person, which would spoil my self-image of being a wishy-washy failure.

Brief Update

Not much to say today.  I’m feeling completely burnt out, exhausted and depressed today.  If this is from one Shabbat (Sabbath), I shudder to think what sort of state I’ll be in after a month of Yom Tovim (festivals).  It didn’t help that I couldn’t sleep again last night.

Today I feel too depressed and exhausted to do anything.  I wrote a couple of emails and forced myself to go for a forty minute walk, listening to a fifteen minute drasha (sermon) from Rabbi Lord Sacks (about failure and forgiveness) for some of it.  That’s about it.  No job applications, no novel, no jogging.  No donations to the biannual charity appeals.  (Jewish charity appeals come out for Pesach (Passover) and Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year).  I have my favourite charities I like to give to, but as my income for the last six months is less than £100, it is doubtful how much I can give this time, which saddens me)  No shana tova (happy new year) emails to friends I haven’t been in touch with for months either.  All stuff to do this week, before the Yom Tovim kick off next Sunday evening.  Stuff I just don’t have the energy, concentration and mind-power to do at the moment.

Eventually I crashed out and just watched Doctor Who for a bit (the animated The Power of the Daleks).  After a while, something made me want to read more articles about abuse on as research for my novel.  That is a strange thing to do when depressed, I admit.  I suppose it’s the completist side of me.  Sometimes when I’m very depressed I get motivated to finish a long task just to get it out of the way.  That was what happened here: I finished reading the articles I wanted on Neshamas.  I do intended to do some reading in non-fiction books as well.  It was strangely energising; I feel that, more than just having a story to write, writing about mental illness and abuse in the frum community is something worth doing for the people who can’t tell their own stories (for whatever reason).  I hope that isn’t the wrong thing to say.  I don’t mean to “appropriate” other people’s stories, just to share what I have felt myself or seen in other people.

For a moment I was energised, but then I crashed again.  I’m trying not to think too much about the book, so I don’t convince myself I can’t write it.  I will probably spend the evening watching the rest of that Doctor Who story because I don’t feel up to doing anything else.

Wanting to Curl Up and Escape the World

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was a bit of a curate’s egg (I wish I could think of a less clichéd metaphor for something good and bad).

Dinner at the rabbi’s house mostly went OK.  I spoke a bit and had a good time, albeit that I was very nervous about saying or doing the wrong thing.  There were quite a lot of people there, other congregants and their children and the rabbi’s youngest children.  I was the only person there over the age of eighteen who was unmarried.  Someone started talking about getting married young and saying that it is better for everyone to marry as young as possible.  The rabbi, possibly being sensitive to me, said that it’s not always in our hands.  People can be tactless sometimes.  It was good to get to know the new rabbi a bit better and to be known by him.  I would feel more confident approaching him with a question in the future, especially a mental health-related one.  I do worry the rabbi thinks I’m deaf, though.  Every time he speaks to me, my brain does the autistic/socially anxious thing of thinking “OH NO SOMEONE IS SPEAKING TO ME!!!!!” so loudly (so to speak) that I can’t concentrate on what he’s actually saying and have to ask him to repeat himself.  It turns out that the rabbi knows one of the rabbis who taught me at school, who was as responsible as anyone for my becoming frum (religious), which was a nice coincidence.

I got home about a quarter to midnight, which was rather late.  I spoke to my parents for a while, then read for a bit and went to bed at 1.00am.  Unfortunately, I had super-insomnia.  I lay in bed for a bit, read (popular physics) for a bit, lay in bed again, got a migraine, got up again because the migraine hurt too much lying down…  I think I eventually fell asleep around 5.30am.  I decided not to go to shul (synagogue) on two and a half hours of sleep and slept in despite my determination to get to shul on Shabbat mornings again.

This afternoon I read a whole bunch of things, the physics book again (The Elegant Universe), The Spiritual Revolution of Rav Kook and Batman.  I feel a bit like I read anything provided it’s geeky on some level (I feel Rav Kook is geeky, but I’m not sure I could explain why.  Maybe he’s not so much geeky as individualistic; there aren’t many Hasidic rabbis who accept evolution and write about the need for Jewish creativity).

Shul this afternoon was OK until the second shiur (religious class).  There was a guest speaker, a Rosh Yeshiva (head of a rabbinical seminary).  He spoke about a verse from this week’s parasha (Torah reading).  Talking about the many terrible things that would happen to the Israelites if they didn’t follow the Torah, it says, “Because you did not serve HaShem your God with happiness and gladness of heart when you had an abundance of everything.” (Devarim/Deut. 28.47)  The Kotzker Rebbe (who probably suffered from bipolar depression) interprets this as “You were happy and glad not to serve HaShem your God when you had an abundance of everything”, but the Rosh Yeshiva translated the way most commentators do, which is the straightforward way of understanding the verse: “God gave you an abundance of everything, and you served Him, but not with happiness and gladness of heart.”  Given that I don’t get much joy out of mitzvot and Torah study because of depression and not fitting into the community, this is bad news for me.  I do mitzvot, but I don’t have happiness and gladness of heart when I do them, so it looks like I might as well not bother for all the good it’s doing anyone.

My heart lifted a bit when the Rosh Yeshiva asked, what is the button we can use to turn on our happiness and gladness of heart when performing mitzvot?  Sadly, his answer was to focus on the reward we will get in Olam HaBa (the Next World).  I’ve already mentioned that I don’t think I’m going to get any reward in the next world.  Aside from feeling that I haven’t done anything worth rewarding, I’m so used to everything going wrong for me, that somehow I feel that even there, it won’t go well for me.  Somehow there will be a loophole and I won’t get anything.  I know that this is illogical and heretical and theologically stupid, but I can’t imagine things ever going that well for me.

Anyway, as I’ve said before, the traditional metaphors for Olam HaBa mayke it sound like a big party for the righteous or a big yeshiva.  I know it’s not literally either of these things, but that is how it is always described.  Neither of these suits me, as I’m equally scared and uncomfortable with parties and yeshiva-style study.  Too many people, too much noise in both cases, and not enough that interests me or speaks to my unique interests and personality.  I can’t cope.  I guess in Olam HaBa I wouldn’t have autism or social anxiety, but then it’s hard to imagine being me without them.  Anyway, what would I say to my ancestors or the great tzadikim (saintly figures)?  I can’t imagine anyone being particularly proud of me, either my immediate ancestors or the tzadikim of Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible).  What would Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) say to me?  Plus, one is supposed to be with the other half of one’s soul, one’s spouse, which wouldn’t work out for me either, if I die unmarried, as seems likely.

Speaking of yeshivas reminds me that in the first shiur today, the weekly Talmud shiur, I knew a number of answers to the questions and had an (I thought) perceptive question/comment to make, but I was too shy to say any of these things aloud.  There is someone there who always has to answer every question and make some comment; I wish I was a little bit more like him and he was a little bit more like me.  CBT has taught me that I should be more confident speaking out, but it is still as hard as ever to actually do so.


My parents are talking to me about a career change.  I’ve been thinking on these lines anyway.  I can’t support myself writing (yet?  Or ever?) so I need part-time work in some other field.  Don’t have a clue what I could do though.  I may need some more careers advice.

There’s an article in a frum magazine that I was looking at today that interviews frum people with non-typical jobs (a disproportionate number of frum men work as lawyers, doctors and accountants; the women are generally teachers, or therapists of some description I think (psychotherapist, physiotherapists or occupational therapists).  They interviewed someone I was at school with who is now a data scientist.  That fits the type of person she was at school.  I really feel I missed the bus somewhere on my way from school, that all the other clever, well-behaved children became important professionals with interesting, well-paid jobs and families and I got stuck in limbo somewhere with nothing at all.


Now I need to eat something.  I feel I should watch TV to distract myself from wallowing in misery, but I don’t really have the desire to watch anything in particular.  I just want to curl up somewhere and ignore the world.  I joined an autism WhatsApp group last week and just belatedly entered a conversation on employment (belatedly as I didn’t use my phone during Shabbat, so I missed the conversation earlier) and now I’m suddenly regretting opening up to strangers about being unemployed.

Scary Stuff

This is one of those days when I feel depressed and everything seems to go wrong and I can’t work out if things are going wrong objectively, making me feel depressed (or more depressed) or if I’m feeling depressed, so it feels like everything is going wrong.

We’re almost into the last full week of the Jewish year.  I feel a weight of responsibility, trying to change significantly for the better in the coming year, but combined with a sense that I don’t really know where I’m going.  What career should I pursuing?  What will happen with me and E.?  What would be best for us?  Will I ever become financially self-sufficient?  What should I be doing Jewishly?  Will I ever feel comfortable in my community?  Do people even like me (in my community or anywhere)?  I have these questions and probably more.  But right now I feel that, although my preparations have probably been inadequate, at least compared to other people, I just want to get started, to get on with the big month of Yom Tovim (festivals) and end the big build up.  The waiting is getting too nerve-wracking.

There’s an idea in Judaism that the amount of money a person is going to get in the next year is decided on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year).  You can’t get more than that whatever you do (unless you give more to charity).  I feel like that’s it, that I’ve earnt all my money for 5779 (little though it was); more than that, that I’ve done everything I’m going to do this year, that the next week and a half is just killing time before 5780.

In fact, in shiur (religious class) tonight, the ex-assistant rabbi was saying that not only is one’s life and wealth decided on Rosh Hashanah, one’s ability to concentrate in davening (prayer) and the amount of joy one gets from studying Torah in the next year are decided too.  I was slightly suspicious of this, as I hadn’t heard this idea before and it sounds like the kind of “mission creep” one gets in kabbalistic thoughts where someone decides that if X happens, then Y and Z must happen too.  Still, his general point is still valid, which is that we should be thinking hard about making ourselves a “good investment” for HaShem (God) in the coming year, to be focused on spiritual goals and using our physical gifts to pursue those spiritual goals so that HaShem will invest money and other positive things in us in the coming year.

That’s scary for me, as I don’t feel that I focus very much on spiritual goals.  I don’t think I’m really focused on any goals at all at the moment, I’m just drifting through life, trying to hold on to some flotsam to keep me afloat.  I don’t think I’m a good investment for God.  This leads to the following thought: if I apparently have not ever been judged for material wealth, kavannah (concentration in prayer), or joy (from Torah study or anything else) for most of my adult life, it seems unlikely that I’ve ever been judged for life either.  The fact that I am alive does not prove I’ve been written for real life i.e. spiritual life (one is judged on Rosh Hashanah both for physical life i.e. will I die this year? and for spiritual life i.e. am I on target to go to Heaven when I do die, whatever year that is?).  It’s scary stuff, but I don’t know who to talk to about it.  I tried to get hold of my rabbi mentor this week, without success.  I feel bad about taking up so much of his time anyway.


I was initially reluctant to work on my novel after grinding to a bit of a halt yesterday, but I didn’t want to stop completely, especially as I don’t have any jobs to apply for at the moment.  The result was that I spent over an hour reading personal narratives of abuse from survivors on as research for the latter part of my novel.  After a while I had to stop, as it was just too much for me to read.

It’s probably not what I should have been reading today, moodwise, although my mood was a little better afterwards.  I still don’t know what to do with the novel, though.  I think I have a story worth telling and I want to move forward with it, but there’s something not right at the moment.  I went for a walk for half an hour and listened to classical music and toyed with adding characters, changing narrators, but nothing seemed right.  I think I may need to drop the first chapter, and the next few planned chapters, completely.  They are background, but not essential.  I should perhaps pick up the story later on, working out how to weave the key elements from the dropped chapters into later chapters as flashbacks or something similar, as well as expanding the other planned chapters.  That’s quite a lot of work.  I don’t mind work, I just hope I can do it.


Still procrastinating on an invitation to a vort (engagement party) that was posted on the Thursday night shiur (religious class) WhatsApp group.  The vort is for the son of someone who goes to the shiur and he posted the invitation there to invite everyone, but it doesn’t seem very personal and it makes me wonder if he really wants me to be there.  I don’t particularly want to go, but I would feel obliged to make some kind of appearance (and give a present) if I was personally invited.  This is just weirdly informal.  The frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community confuses me like this, really formal and traditional in some ways (e.g. not letting children address adults by their first names, but as Mr X or Mrs X) and really informal in others, particularly things like invitations to simchas (celebrations) as well as present-giving.  This is where I struggle with being a ba’al teshuva (someone who became religious late in life) and autistic as I can’t read the social situations very well and turning to my parents is no good as they don’t understand the community (my parents would never invite someone to such a key event so casually and would see a prompt RSVP as essential.  They would definitely have sent individual invitations to everyone they wanted to invite, not a group invitation).


Writer’s Block, Religious Shoulds and Shul Stuff

In or out… No, not Brexit!  I spent an hour working on my novel.  Actually, I spent most of an hour procrastinating and not doing very much.  I wrote a little bit, but I cut just as much, so the net word count increase was zero.  I can see that I’m telling rather showing, which is not good, but I’m not sure how to fix that.  I feel like my actual story hasn’t started yet (this is only the first chapter) and that I have to tear through some background information first so that people understand my characters.  I guess this is only possible because I have a first-person narrator (actually two narrators; chapter two will pose the same problems for the other one) and I can relate what happened without showing it because it still sounds like someone talking and interpreting his life, rather than a third-person narrator just saying, “My main character went to school, was bullied, had no friends…”  How do you show a bunch of conversations where nothing happened except the main character standing quietly, every school-day for several years?  I’m not sure.

I suppose the bottom line is, if it isn’t stuff happening it isn’t part of the narrative (which is a fancy word for stuff happening) and doesn’t belong in the novel… yet I feel it does belong in it, to help people understand my narrator/main character.  It’s confusing.  Maybe I just don’t trust myself enough to be able to allude to this background in my later chapters.  Or maybe I’m worried that my word count will be too low without it (well, I am worried about that).

If I do cut it, I won’t regret spending time writing what I have written so far (nearly 7,000 words).  It’s been a good warm up exercise and I think it’s helped me understand my main character better, who he is and how he got to where he is.


In a comment on my last post, Ashley Leia said that there are a lot of “shoulds” in my religious life which don’t correspond to “wants.”  Similarly, when I did group therapy a while back, we were taught not to say “should,” but “could” as “could” is empowering rather than judgemental.  This is true, but I don’t know how to change it.  I feel that I can’t get away from the fact that Judaism is a religion of shoulds.  For all that The Zohar, the primary book of Jewish mysticism, sees the mitzvot as “pieces of advice,” the reality is that “mitzvah” means “commandment” (not “good deed” as Reform Jews often translate it).  The Talmud sees someone who does something because he or she is commanded as greater than someone who does it voluntarily, precisely because there is an instinctive resistance to being commanded to do something that makes following the shoulds difficult, but necessary.  I find it hard to imagine any religious Orthodox Jew thinking of the mitzvot as things they “could” do, because by implication that means they could not do them, which is unthinkable.

A lot of frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) apologists say that Judaism is an ethic of responsibility rather than an ethic of rights, unlike Western secular society.  That’s not as straightforward a point as is sometimes projected by the apologists (rights and responsibilities can point to each other), but it is fairly valid as a general rule.  Judaism speaks of what we have a responsibility to do rather than what we have a right to do.  (Note that Viktor Frankl wanted America to have a Statue of Responsibility as well as a Statue of Liberty.)  I find the ethic of responsibility more meaningful than the ethic of rights and wants.

However, there is no denying that I don’t particularly want to do a lot of the “shoulds” in my life at the moment (general life as well as religious life).   That’s a product partly of depression, which makes it hard to want to do anything, but also of the fact that I struggle to cope with anything involving community because of social anxiety, and a lot of Orthodox life is community-based.  I also struggle to study Talmud and lately I struggle to extract much meaning or inspiration from any Torah study at all.  I can’t understand how so many other people at my shul (synagogue), who do not appear to be inherently more intelligent than me, can understand and apparently enjoy Talmudic study when I can not.  Is it just that they spent time in a yeshiva where they were taught how to study properly?  I’m not sure that all of them have spent time in such an environment.  And while some of them may also be “passing,” I can’t believe that they’re all faking it.

I’m not even sure what I would find inspiring.  I’m finding The Spiritual Revolution of Rav Kook quite inspiring, although I was familiar with many of his views even if I hadn’t seen them quoted at length primary sources.  I have actually been wishing I could somehow talk to him and ask his advice on my life, but he’s been dead since 1936.  I think he would have understood some of my problems.

There is a concept in Judaism of “Ones Rachmana patrei” meaning essentially that if you were forced to do something wrong, you don’t get punished.  Forced can mean physical force by a third party or forced by circumstances e.g. not fasting on Yom Kippur is normally a severe sin, but if you are ill and have to eat to stay alive, it is permitted (and quite probably obligatory.  There’s a wonderful story of the nineteenth century rabbi Reb Chaim Soloveitchik, a very great nineteenth century Talmudist and legalist, who was accused of being overly lenient in exempting people from fasting on Yom Kippur.  He replied, “No, I’m very strict about saving lives!”).

The problem for me is applying this to mental health issues.  I haven’t seen any really clear guidelines for lay people about this.  I’ve spoken informally with my rabbi mentor a bit about this over the years, especially regarding Torah study, but it is hard to know where my reasonable limits are, especially when my mood and energy levels can vary enormously over time, from year to year, day to day or even hour to hour.  It’s not like a physical illness where I might feel nauseous or dizzy if I spent too long standing in prayer or concentrating in Torah study and know it’s time to stop.  I worry, “Should I have pushed myself a bit more?”


My mood was persistently mildly to moderately low all day.  My mood usually starts low like this, but it didn’t get better in the afternoon as is usually the case.  The fact that I watched another episode of The Vietnam War over lunch may have contributed to that.  It’s a really compelling piece of documentary television with disturbing contemporary footage and a good balance of high level politics/military details and human interest interviews with people from both sides of the conflict, but it’s very depressing.  Depressing how people can do things they know are wrong because they are drilled to act as an automaton or blinded by politics or patriotism or just too ashamed to dissent.  It’s more depressing how politicians can start and wage wars they know are morally wrong and unwinnable in practical terms for nebulous geopolitical reasons or even for personal political advantage.  And I keep wondering what I would do if I was in that situation.  I’ve still got another three episodes to go.

The rest of the day was variable.  A friend suggested another small press publisher for my Doctor Who book, but on investigation, they turned out not to accept submissions on spec.  I walked to and from shul (synagogue) for Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers).  The brisk walk in the dark and cool was somewhat invigorating, but it’s a bit depressing that it’s dark by 8.00pm now.  I guess it surprised me this year as the autumn Yom Tovim (festivals) are late, in terms of the solar calendar.  (Unlike Christianity/the secular West, which has a solar calendar or Islam, which has a lunar calendar and drifts around relative to the solar year, Judaism has a lunar calendar adjusted with occasional leap years (added month) so that it never falls too far out of alignment with the solar year.  Jewish festivals move around in a window of six weeks or so in the solar year.)  Usually shorter days is something I think of as happening during the Yom Tovim rather than beforehand.

I arrived at shul at the same time as the rabbi, who spoke to me.  My brain did the irritating thing it does (which I attribute to social anxiety and/or autism) where I’m so anxious that someone’s talking to me and worried about saying the wrong thing that I can’t register what they’re actually saying and keeping having to get them to repeat themselves.  I puzzled over one question in particular.  He was asking me about my plans for Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and used what I thought was some kind of strange Yiddish expression I’d never heard before: “Are you ein veyt able?”  It turned out he was asking if I was “invite-able” i.e. could he invite me to dinner at his house or did my parents want me to stay with them for all the festive meals.  In the end he has invited me for this Shabbat (Sabbath) i.e. Friday night.  I will go, but I get nervous about saying the wrong thing and I’m worried whether I will make it to shul on Shabbat morning if I’m anxious the night before and then still exhausted in the morning.  I used to feel comfortable talking to rabbis, but nowadays I’m too scared of saying the wrong thing: there’s the usual worries of being asked about why I’m unemployed and (in the frum community) of being asked why I’m not married, but also the fear of being asked why I don’t come to shul so much or why I didn’t go to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary), or saying something that marks me as “modern.”

I’m still conflicted about the issue that I mentioned a while back, about studying Mishnah for the sake of someone from shul not much older than me who died.  They’ve got a lot of Mishnah being studied, but it’s only a small group of people doing it, all of whom are studying loads (in theory.  I mean, it’s possible that they could just read through the Mishnah without really understanding it.  I assuming they’re really trying to comprehend it).  It would be good to do something with the community, but I don’t really believe that studying Torah can help the dead and it seems wrong to use someone’s death to signal my virtue to the community.  Plus, it would disrupt my already disrupted study pattern (disrupted by depression).  I guess this is more shoulds.

One more should: I suspect I could have been picked to lead Ma’ariv tonight, but the gabbai (the person responsible for the day to day running of the services) asked me once months ago and I turned him down from social anxiety and I suspect he read it as me saying that my Hebrew isn’t good enough.  I suppose I could explicitly tell him I could do it, but that would seem rather brazen and I think my social anxiety would stop me.

Miscellaneous Thoughts on Another Day

Or, I’m Too Tired to Think Up a Real Title for This.

I got another job rejection.  In addition to that, my Mum found an advert for a part-time librarian wanted for a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) girls school, which seemed like it might be a good fit for me (assuming that they didn’t want a female librarian) but when I inquired, it turned out that they are already interviewing, so I’m not sure why they were still advertising at the end of last week.  Rebecca Klempner referred me to this website regarding rejection (creative rejection rather than romantic or social rejection).  The author has a stash of “rejection chocolates” to eat when turned down by publishers.  I feel if I did this for my writing and job applications, I would get very fat.

Otherwise it was a fairly slow day.  I did about forty or forty-five minutes of Torah study, more than half on the Talmud.  I went for a twenty-five minute jog that was at a reasonable pace overall, given that it was late and I had low stamina and struggled to pace myself well (I have a tendency to run too fast when jogging and use up all my energy too fast).  I did get an exercise migraine afterwards, although not  a bad one.  I did some chores for my parents and spent about an hour on my novel, writing about seven hundred words and restructuring some telling into showing (I hope – I’m not always good at that).  I wish I could have done more things today, but I didn’t have the time.  I can do quite a bit some days, but not as much as I could if I was not struggling with so many “issues.”  I do worry about whether I could build a full-time career (in anything) and what will happen to me if I can’t.

Speaking of which, the employment person I met with last week, the head of employment at the charity where I was volunteering, saw on my CV (I assume) that I volunteered at a Jewish library about five years ago and wondered if I would return.  I’m reluctant, because I left under something of a cloud, where the head librarian (who I never even met because she only worked four hours a week – I was line managed by a volunteer) did not like my work and I struggled to know what I was doing wrong.  At the time I thought I had been treated badly, but in retrospect, after three jobs affected by autism and social anxiety, I wonder if I didn’t just mess things up there too.  I don’t particularly think it’s a good idea to go back there, but couldn’t find a way to say that without admitting to possibly having messed things up.  It’s things like this that make me feel like an unemployable freak, even though I’m supposed to be using my CBT to stop those thoughts.

I tried writing an email to someone about guilt and beating myself up about stuff before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement), but I started getting bogged down in verbiage and rambling without actually saying anything meaningful, so I stopped for the evening.  I might try again tomorrow or I might not.


E. says my Judaism seems like a burden more than anything positive (apropos of this post).  She is probably right.  I do experience it as a burden at times, not as much as when I had religious OCD, but to some extent.  I can see that that is largely due to depression and social anxiety, but that only explains the reality I experience, it does not change it.  I enjoy Shabbat (the Sabbath) and I enjoy some religious study, although generally not Talmud, at least not the halakhic (legal) parts.  I enjoy, on some level, or at some times, reading religious texts in Hebrew and Aramaic, just for the intellectual challenge of understanding a language I am not fluent in and for sense of reaching out to people long dead.  I find Jewish wisdom meaningful, if not always easy to plug in to my life.  I enjoy being part of a people that has achieved so much with the odds stacked against us and that has existed for far longer than most civilisations (3,000 years).  But it’s true that I don’t have the joy and meaning that some religious people (of all religions) seem to experience.  Nor do I have the sense of community support that is such a major part of Orthodox Jewish life.  I do feel/hope that the sense of religious loneliness and communal isolation that I feel might lead to writing interesting fiction that can help other people who feel the same way.  But it does seem a big price to pay, especially as it is by no means clear that I will achieve that objective of writing meaningful fiction.

Social Communication

I was very depressed today.  I couldn’t really do anything all day, other than cook dinner, but I had to go out in the evening as I’d booked to hear Aviva Gottleib Zornberg lecture at the London School of Jewish Studies and I wanted to hear her; she lectures there before Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), but I’d always felt too depressed or too busy to go before now.  Her shiur (religious class) was really good, although slightly strangely was about Moshe (Moses) rather than Rosh Hashanah.  She focused on his speech impediment and how important it is that he talked to the Israelites despite it.  She felt it signified the fact that he felt more comfortable alone on the mountain with God than at the bottom with the people (not in an elitist way, in the sense of struggling to connect with people rather than the Infinite), and that his impediment was necessary for him to verbalise the feelings of the Israelite slaves who had no voice in their slavery.  It resonate with me a bit.  I’m not sure that I’m comfortable talking to God per se, but I don’t feel comfortable with people at all.  And part of the reason I’m so determined to try and write is to give voice to parts of society that are left voiceless: religious Jews in general Western society as well as marginal figures within the Jewish community (e.g. the mentally ill, victims of domestic violence, people with unconventional or unacceptable opinions).


Also on the subject of language, Rabbi Lord Sacks, in his WhatsApp Elul thought for the day today, referred to the anthropologist Malinowski who saw speech not as a way of transferring information, but as a way bonding regardless of content.  I think it’s this that I struggle with, being on the autism spectrum, the ability to talk to other when there isn’t actually anything that needs to be said and the conversation is just a way of creating or affirming social bonds.  I’ve just joined a new autism WhatsApp message group, and this was something that people were saying today, that people on the spectrum don’t know what to talk about and worry about saying the right thing, whereas neurotypical people do it instinctively.


I suppose this is also about words as bonding versus words as communication, but I’m struggling with something at the moment.  When I’m very depressed, I want to avoid politics and conflict, yet I also want to be well-informed.  There are some blogs I like that are partially or primarily political and I feel I should not read them, but also that I should read them.  In particular, I don’t want to be stuck in one of the echo chambers of which we hear so much these days (although I’m not sure they are entirely new; most people have long read newspapers they agree with), but sometimes people write things that I think is specious or poorly informed or a half-truth or just plain wrong and I don’t know what to do.  I don’t like to get into fights, so I usually let it go, but then it echos around in my head all day (“Someone is wrong on the internet!”).  But if I get dragged in to a fight, it’s a hundred times worse.  So I end up hiding my views and trying not to get involved, but I do carry it all around with me, which may be worse.

Unsuitable for Children and Those of a Nervous Disposition

I slept badly last night, for various reasons, and woke up late for volunteering.  I felt exhausted and did not have much inclination to be around people, but I didn’t want to give in the depression, so I went anyway, albeit that I was very late and missed most of the setting up.  My Dad gave me a lift.  I feel bad at how much I rely on him for lifts.  I try to walk or take public transport, but he regularly offers lifts and sometimes it’s just much easier to accept, but that probably drives the difficult edge on our relationship, on some level.  I never learnt to drive.  I had all kinds of excuses, but it was basically anxiety at the thought of being in charge of a powerful, dangerous machine, now reinforced by the feeling that “I’m autistic and I can’t multi-task and I have poor spatial awareness, so I’ll never be able to drive safely” which is not a particularly helpful attitude.

Back to volunteering.  There were a lot more children in the creche area than there were adults supervising, which was awkward.  Hard to keep an eye on all of the children at once.  My Mum says I’m good with children, but I struggle sometimes to know how to talk to them, particularly if they’re upset or angry and particularly older and more active children.  I probably cope best with children who are like me at that age.  I also feel inhibited with other people’s children somehow, and with so many other people around.  I suppose I feel inhibited from being silly and messing around with the children with so many adults I don’t know around, which is not always the case when I’m with my second cousins and their children at home.

I hoped to go for a run when I got home, but I’m too tired to do anything.  Four hours after volunteering finished, I still feel utterly exhausted.  I did about fifteen minutes of Torah study on the bus home and I’ve eaten, showered, read some Batman, looked at a few blogs and davened (prayed), but that’s about all.  I’m just going to spent the evening in front of the TV, I think (my parents are going out).  Certainly no writing or job applications today.

Going back to children… I realised over Shabbat (the Sabbath) that if I want to have children, I probably have a narrow window to do so (assuming things don’t work out with E.).  I basically need to get married in the next four years.  If I’m looking to get married in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world, it’s basically going to have to be through a professional shadchan (matchmaker) as I’m not being set up on dates by acquaintances (the usual method of meeting someone in the frum world), there aren’t any singles events (and I doubt I could cope with them if there were) and I don’t really want to try online dating again (perhaps wrongly).  So that means using a shadchan.  The shadchanim I’ve seen divide the dating pool into ‘older’ and ‘younger’ singles, with the dividing line at forty.  I guess they have to draw a line somewhere, but it seems a bit arbitrary.  A forty year old man could feasibly marry a thirty-eight year old woman and have children without it seeming icky.  In fact, a man who is exactly forty is not likely to find his match in the forty-plus group, as men tend to marry younger women.  The bottom line is that I’ve got just under four years before I go in the older pool and pretty much have to give up on hopes of having children.  Given my financial situation, I very much doubt I will be doing any dating any time soon, so I hear the sociological (rather than biological) clock ticking…

I’m trying to focus on what I have, but I’m always on such a tightrope between what I have and what I don’t have.  I have my physical health, but that reminds me that my mental health is poor.  My parents and sister and E. support me, but I feel rejected by my community (while also thinking that it’s really my fault, that I don’t put myself out there enough or make enough of an effort to get to know people).  I don’t have immediate financial problems as my parents are letting me live here for free, but I feel dependent and inadequate because of that and I can’t see myself becoming financially secure any time soon.  And I can’t see myself getting married and building a family while not financially secure and more mentally healthy, which in turn makes me more depressed, so it’s a vicious circle.  It’s hard.  All the Jewish (and other) inspirational sites and books say to focus on gratitude for the good that you have rather than what you don’t have and I try to do that.  Really I do.  However, it feels like I have to define things in a precise way to sound better than the are e.g. specifying that I have good physical health because I don’t have good health in the abstract in the way these books would normally encourage people to see themselves as healthy.  Every evening I thank God for a minimum of five things that happened that day, but so often I seem to be thanking Him that, when things went wrong, they didn’t go utterly disastrously wrong, or that even though I was really depressed, I still got stuff done.

Shul (Synagogue) Thoughts

Last night my parents were out for Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner.  I could have gone with, but didn’t really know the hosts and so stayed at home.  That was OK, but my parents didn’t get home until after midnight, after I’d gone to bed, and in the house on my own, my thoughts started going to dark places, as often happens when I spend Shabbat alone.  I was thinking that it’s nearly Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year).  Tradition states that everyone’s income is determined by God on Rosh Hashanah and I can’t help but realise that there has been at most one year in my whole life (thirty-six years and counting) when I’ve been decreed enough money to survive without massive subsidy by my parents.  OK, I don’t really feel bad about needing support when I was a child or even a university student, but it upsets me that depression (and perhaps also undiagnosed high functioning autism) has kept me out of the labour market for so long, to the extent that I have never had a full-time job and only for one year earned enough to be anywhere close to self-sufficient (I don’t think I quite got there even then).

Similarly, Rosh Hashanah is when various barren women in Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) were “remembered” by God i.e. they miraculously conceived (Sarah, Rachel and Chana (Hannah)) whereas I not only have no children, but I have no spouse and therefore no chance of having children any time soon.  It feels like there is no chance of either of these things (finances/family) changing in the new year and I feel pessimistic about improvements in other areas e.g. acceptance in the community/making friends.  I do have to admit that my mental health is better than it was a year ago and a lot better than just a few years ago, although it is still very far from perfect, but I face the coming Jewish New Year with a great degree of trepidation.

The good news: I made it to shul (synagogue) this morning!  I was less than fifteen minutes late.  In a lot of shuls, there would be hardly anyone there at that time, but I was one of the last people to get there.  That’s one thing I do admire about my shul and why I like it, but it does feel that I have a lot to live up to sometimes.  I got an aliyah (called to the Torah) too.

The downside was, when I went back to shul this evening, there were as many as three different things that I didn’t agree with in the rabbi’s shiur (religious class) over seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal).  That made me feel an intellectual outsider once again.  I wish I could find a shul that was 100% right for me, or even 75%.  I wish there was more of a vibrant Modern Orthodox Judaism in the UK.

The other thing I struggled with was the rabbi’s sermon in the morning, where he appealed for help.  A man from the community (probably not much older than me) died last week, very suddenly.  He was unmarried and had no children, so you can see why I was suddenly paying attention.

Now, to understand the next bit, you have to realise that most Orthodox Jews believe that there are various things the living can do to help the dead have a better portion in Heaven (e.g. say Kaddish, give tzedaka (charity), study Torah).  These things are usually done by immediate family, preferably children.  As this man had no children, the community are “learning” Torah (the men) and reciting Tehillim (Psalms) (the women) in his memory to help him have a better portion in Olam HaBa (the Next World).  However, the rabbi was disappointed by how few people had signed up and made a big appeal for more people.  The aim is to study a significant amount of Mishnah (at a minimum, the whole of Seder Moed) and to recite the whole of Tehillim at least once by the end of the shloshim (first month after death).

However I follow the minority rationalist school of thought within Orthodox Judaism (after the Rambam (Maimonides)) that says that once you die, you are rewarded as per your merits.  Little, if anything, anyone living does can affect you after your death (possibly direct descendants can, but that’s not relevant here).  Anything else that happens down here, however well-intentioned, is not going to help you (see this longish essay by Rabbi Natan Slifkin for more details on the history and authenticity of different customs).  I feel really uncomfortable about the whole notion of doing anything to help the dead, to the extent that it’s practically a standing joke in my family that I disapprove of things like saying Kaddish for non-family or visiting graveyards excessively (I have support here from my hero, the Kotzker Rebbe).

So, on the one hand, I feel that I should join in with the Torah study.  I did vaguely know the man and he was friendly towards me and I’m looking for ways to be more involved with the kehillah (congregation).  But at the same time, I feel like I would be a total hypocrite and using this man’s tragic death to virtue signal to the whole community.  Plus, with my mental health, my Torah study is still subject to interruption and days when I study very little.  I don’t want to interrupt it further by taking on studying umpteen more perakim (chapters) of Mishnah (and different Mishnah to my current Mishnah study routine), especially as doing it properly (trying to understand the Mishnah rather than just read it) would necessitate buying new books with commentaries, something I can not easily afford in my unemployed status.  Yes, I know I just bought a load of stuff for myself yesterday, but I’m about to give the shul £10 to “pay” for my aliyah and I’d like to give some money to tzedaka for the Rosh Hashanah appeals, even though really I shouldn’t because I’ve earnt almost nothing in the last six months, so that giving tzedaka would be coming out of my savings rather than my income (I haven’t been in work since March, unless you count my Dad paying me for painting the garden shed).

It is difficult to know what to do.

A more positive way of getting involved in the community might be writing a dvar Torah (thought on the weekly Torah reading).  I did this a lot in my old shul, but have never done it in this one.  There are several reasons for this.  My old community was not terribly frum (religious).  A few people were, but most weren’t, so one did not have to say anything too intellectual or to search in obscure books for a new thought.  I could also get away with quoting authors who were more modern in outlook (I even once quoted the secular Bible critic Robert Alter, which in retrospect strikes me as chutzpadik.  I think I assumed that anyone who objected wouldn’t want to make clear that they knew who he was by complaining!).  More prosaically, the length wanted was much shorter and more manageable (300-500 words instead of 1,000-1,500).

I don’t know who I could safely quote here.  The person who edits the dvar Torah each week (and usually writes them, as no one else appears to be interested) has quoted Rav Soloveitchik and Rav Kook, so I know they are not considered too modern (although he also made some positive comments about the State of Israel that I suspect the previous rabbi and assistant rabbi did not agree with).  Rabbi Lord Sacks probably is too modern (although a guest rabbi gave him a positive reference in a shiur recently).  But I don’t know if Nehama Leibowitz and Avivah Gottleib Zornberg, both of whom wrote books on the parasha (Torah reading) that could be useful resources for writing a long dvar Torah, are considered too modern, or even banned for being women.  (As an aside, I’m hoping to see Avivah Gottleib Zornberg speak at the London School of Jewish Studies this week, don’t tell anyone in my shul.)  It’s a tough question and, again, I don’t really have anyone to ask without revealing my hand as a “modern” thinker.

On the plus side, if I could manage to do it, it would be a way of signalling to the community that I do have some Jewish knowledge and things to say, and that I do want to find a way to get more involved with the community, as far as is possible with my “issues.”  Considering I barely have the confidence to talk to anyone at shul, any kind of communication would be a benefit.

(Not Quite) Losing My Religion

I filled in another application for a job I feel unqualified to do, let alone likely to get.  I feel that my MA left me unprepared for life ‘in the field’ as a librarian.  I am not entirely sure why this is the case.  Did I not do enough work?  Was the teaching sub-standard (those of you who have been following me on different platforms for many years may remember that all of us taking the course were concerned about this at the time)?  Or were my work experience and first job too specialised, at a small library that was not involved in many of the types of activities that I am expected to manage at larger libraries?  Or am I just not good enough?  I certainly didn’t expect so many jobs to require Saturday working, although that’s probably part of a shift in recent years towards longer opening hours in academic libraries, in some places moving towards 24/7 opening.


Something I was thinking of last night, and which came up again by “coincidence” (many religious Jews believe there is no such thing as coincidence) again today here (final paragraph): there is a concept in Judaism that if you regret your good deeds, they can get wiped out and you don’t get rewarded for them.  This makes me uneasy, because while I don’t exactly regret being Jewish, sometimes when I have been struggling with religious OCD or now when I’m still struggling with the way depression, autism and social anxiety affect my religious involvement, I do sometimes sort of wish I had never become frum (religious).  It would make my life so much easier, particularly in terms of career, relationships and managing social anxiety/fitting in/dealing with potential social disapproval.

I usually feel guilty and regret my regret (so to speak) almost immediately.  Nevertheless, it is easy to feel that I’m struggling in this world and, despite what reward I might be earning in the next world, the idea of going off the derekh (stopping being religious) seems possible.  I would be punished for that and I wonder if in that case it would have been better not to have been religious in the first place, as would arguably be the case.  In Jewish law, in that situation I would arguably be considered a tinok she’nishboh (Jewish child kidnapped and raised by non-Jews, widely applied by rabbinic authorities to children raised secular).  Although I was raised traditional, keeping some aspects of Judaism, I was not exposed to the fullness of Jewish life until later.  It is doubtful that I would be held as culpable for breaking halakhah (Jewish law) to the same extent as I would be now if I went off the derekh.

I’ve seen other ba’alei teshuva (Jews raised non-religious who became religious later in life) who are struggling with Jewish observance be advised to tap in to the positive feelings that they had about Judaism when they first became religious, but that doesn’t work for me.  I was raised traditional and knew about Jewish law from a young age.  I didn’t exactly “discover” it the way some Jews do.  Nor did I fall in love with it.  I started to become frum from a feeling of duty, obligation and responsibility (aged twelve!).  I didn’t have a honeymoon period of falling in love with the religion.  I don’t think I’ve ever had those strong, positive feelings about Judaism, only abstract, intellectual agreement.  By the time I started keeping Shabbat (the Sabbath), for example, it wasn’t an amazing thing to add on to my life, so much as a way of assuaging years of guilt for not keeping it (and a source of conflict with other family members).  I don’t know what feelings of love and joy I have to tap into.

I have mentioned before that one rabbi said I won’t experience any simcha shel mitzvah (joy in performing the commandments) until I am cured of my mental health issues, which seems unlikely to ever happen.  My rabbi mentor said I should be able to find some simcha shel mitzvah nonetheless, which just makes me feel guilty for not doing so.


I went on a pre-Yom Tov (festival) spending spree.  I bought a religious book that I’m hoping will help with finding meaning in the very long Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement) prayers.  Alongside this, I bought a couple of Batman graphic novels, as the Yom Tovim will probably provide many opportunities when I need a quick break, but don’t have time/energy/concentration to read prose.  I also bought The IT Crowd complete DVD set (slightly surreal British sitcom), as, while I don’t watch DVDs on Shabbat and Yom Tov, when Yom Tov is finished, I’m left with evenings when I can watch TV, but don’t necessarily have time to watch anything long and these episodes are only twenty-five minutes long, which might be useful.  The problem is that I don’t currently have any income at all and while I have savings I can dip into occasionally, I don’t want to use them up.  However, I do need to buy new things sometimes, even luxuries like books and DVDs.


I started this by saying that “I had a bit of a wasted day” but this is not entirely true.  I woke up feeling very anxious again, about my relationship with E. and about other things that I can’t actually remember now (which may be telling – are they insubstantial worries?).  Across the day I worried at times about events that are out of my control: Brexit and the Arab-Israeli Conflict in particular, although I probably could have started worrying about climate change and other things too.

I had a meeting with the employment person from the charity where I was volunteering recently.  We spoke about why I left and about whether I could find any further volunteering opportunities.  We spoke about the museum I want to volunteer at and about a public library run by a Jewish charity that is looking for volunteer library assistants.  I had seen the latter advertised and felt that becoming a library assistant would be the kiss of death to my career as a librarian.  He thought that it would not and it might lead to a job.  I am rather sceptical of this.  I know I’ve practically given up on a career in librarianship, but I haven’t totally given up yet.  The positive side is that he had contacts in both organisations (museum and library) and said he would contact them for me, which is good.  I feel vaguely guilty about all of this, as I wonder if he is giving me this support as my sister’s in-laws are major donors of both time and money to the charity.

I did a little bit of job hunting today, applying for a part-time proof-reading job, although I think they wanted someone with more experience as a writer.  The application forms often as for years of experience as a writer and I have to put 0 even though I have been writing as a hobby for nearly fifteen years!  Other than that there were two library jobs, which I felt I couldn’t apply for: one required experience I don’t have (it was really a museum job than a library job), the other might have been difficult for me to take Yom Tov (Jewish festivals) off and certainly had a two hour commute each way (so four hours travelling each day).

I worked on my novel for a short period, but I got bogged down in some issues and didn’t have the head for the significant rewriting of my plan that I needed to do to fix it.  I did a little bit of Torah study (not really enough, to be honest) and went to shul (synagogue) for Mincha and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Prayers), but I spent a lot of the time today clearing out old papers.

I like to think I’m not a hoarder, but this is blatantly not true (like I like to think I’m logical when I’m actually super-emotional).  Occasionally I have a clear out.  I had folders and folders of Jewish papers that I don’t look at, some of them going back twenty-five years.  Source sheets from shiurim (classes), notes from school Jewish Studies lessons, essays I’d printed off the internet…  I kept them because I thought I might want to refer to them, but I never do and in any case it would not always be easy to find anything.

I cleared out a load of stuff to be buried (Jews don’t put religious papers in the bin, we bury them in the cemetery).  I still kept a couple of folders of stuff.  I decided to keep papers where I had been to a series of classes making up a whole course, at least for now, as it was more likely I would refer to them.  I kept long essays, particularly if they looked like the type of thing I might want to refer to again: Rabbi Joshua Berman on the historicity of the exodus, Rabbi Lord Sacks on happiness, Rav Soloveitchik on suffering, that sort of thing.  One or two other things slipped through too, but I did get rid of a great big pile of stuff which I now have to remember to dispose of appropriately.

I also found a whole folder of my divrei Torah (religious thoughts): old blog posts I’d written on my earlier blogs and printed off, articles I’d written for the shul newsletter, notes for drashot (religious talks) I’d given, all from before we moved to this community.  In my old community I was much more confident about sharing my thoughts.  I can’t bear to look at them, yet I can’t bring myself to throw them away either, which is silly.  I doubt that they are particularly profound, although there are probably a few thoughts I’ve had that are worthwhile.

I heard a story years ago that haunts me.  A frum (religious Jewish) man died.  He was not learned, but every week he had read the sedra (weekly Torah reading) and recorded his thoughts on it in a book that he wanted buried with him.  After his death, his children were reluctant to bury it in case there were great chiddushim (innovative interpretations) in it that would be lost for ever.  They ask a famous rabbi (I can’t remember who) what to do.  He opened the book at random and came on the page for sedra Vayetze, which opens with the story of Jacob’s ladder and the ascending and descending angels.  He had written: why did the angels need a ladder to climb to Heaven when angels have wings?  He answered his own question: “These were baby angels and their wings had not grown yet.”  When the rabbi read this, he said they could safely bury the book.  When I try and publicise my ideas, sometimes I worry that everything I write is just on the “baby angels” level.

Baby angels or not, I now have a usable drawer that I didn’t this morning, and another drawer that is somewhat tidier than it was and which I can use for folders on work, CBT, my psychiatric history and my novel that have been sitting on my desk every evening, being moved to my bed or bedside table every day when I use my desk.

All in all, the tidying took about three hours and was exhausting (how can sorting piles of paper be exhausting?).  If I want to, I’ve got another cupboard full of non-religious papers to sort (bank papers, instruction manuals for electrical goods etc.).  I probably do not need bank statements going back to 2001 (or possibly earlier).  I feel frustrated that I didn’t manage to do much other than this, especially not more Torah (the great cry of my life) and getting further with my novel, but I did at least do some things.

The other way I lost time was watching another episode of The Vietnam War at lunch.  It’s brilliantly produced (the amount of contemporary footage they have of the front line is incredible), but deeply depressing about man’s inhumanity to man as well as man’s inability to see when he is stuck doing something self-destructive.  It took me a while to get through as I had to stop at times and have a break as it was so overwhelming.

More Than Holding On?

I had a night of disturbing dreams about assassins trying to kill me and the like, which I suppose is indicative of feeling trapped in various situations (unemployment; uncertainty with E.; and the whole ongoing Brexit situation, in which I think both sides have behaved fairly badly).  I woke feeling disturbed and more tired than I went to bed, although the latter is fairly normal for me.  Despite initially feeling depressed, today was productive, and I completed a job application, did fifty minutes of Torah study (including some Talmud) and I went for a jog, albeit probably too late in the day, so I was tired, resulting in poor stamina and a slow pace.  I did some work on my novel too, finishing the first draft of the first chapter.  I seem to be OK writing fiction late at night.  I’ve long had nocturnal tendencies and my depression is always worst in the morning.  Being unemployed means I don’t have a strong reason to get up early (except to daven (pray) – I’m ashamed to admit I don’t usually feel awake enough and not-depressed enough to daven Shacharit (Morning Prayers) at the correct time).

I feel I achieved quite a bit today, hence the title of “More Than Holding On?” after feeling I was merely “Holding On” yesterday.  I guess I just feel frustrated that I don’t have a “normal” life (whatever that is) and that I can’t do a 9.00-5.00 job or get paid for writing or meet all of my religious obligations in the most socially acceptable way.  But I should try to be positive about what I have achieved.


I also did a cheshbon nafesh for the last Jewish year, which is almost over.  Cheshbon nafesh means literally “an accounting of the soul” which sounds very ominous, although “an accounting of the self” is probably a better translation (‘nefesh’means ‘soul’ but also ‘self’).  It’s a review of what I did during the year.  Reading it back I see I have achieved some things this year, but not many.  It was a year overshadowed by falling out with good friends, and by being left on hold waiting for a formal autism diagnosis (the job that convinced me that I was on the spectrum started around Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year); the positive screening that indicated that was the first step to diagnosis (hopefully) came in December; I’m still waiting for the actual assessment).  I am wary of taking on resolutions for the new year, but feel I should do something, so I resolved to keep working on a couple of things I’m already trying to deal with.

On his Elul thought today, Rabbi Lord Sacks was saying that, “If you want to find your purpose in life, think about the following sentence: Where what you want to do meets what needs to be done, that is where God wants us to be.”  I guess I feel more positive about this now than I did a few months ago.  Writing, especially writing fiction, has crystallised as something I really want to do, and to try and get paid for doing.  It’s what I want to do, and I think writing about traditional Judaism and the modern world – the conflicts and tensions as well as the positive side – is something that needs to be done, both for Jews and non-Jews, to show the former that one can balance tradition and modernity and to show the latter that religious Jews exist in the world and this is what we do.  Rav Kook also says something about the need for religious writers and creatives in The Spiritual Revolution of Rav Kook, albeit that he was writing a hundred years ago.  It’s just difficult working out the best way to go about writing and getting paid.  Plus, I realise that a couple of years ago I was sure that librarianship was also where God wanted me to be.  At least Rabbi Sacks says that it can take a few tries before you find the right place to be (he said the rabbinate was his fourth choice, after being an economist, lawyer and academic).


I forgot to mention yesterday that a new book, Making Sense of Psychiatrist Diagnosis, by Ashley L. Peterson, who comments here as Ashley Leia, has been released this week.  I have contributed to the chapter on autism spectrum disorder, as well as some thoughts about my struggle to get accurately diagnosed.  You can read more about the book, and where you can purchase it, here.

Holding On

Today was mostly a horrible day full of rejection, despair and anxiety.  I got three rejections, one from a library for a job, one from a publisher for my Doctor Who book, one from a Jewish website for an article.  I felt pretty useless.  The email from the publisher was spelt badly, which somehow made it worse, like they didn’t even have to care what I thought of them.

have applied to about 100 jobs in the last year, an average of two a week.  Actually, strictly speaking, I have about a hundred jobs listed on a spreadsheet; some closed for submissions before I could apply, but I reckon I’ve applied to seventy or eighty (and I did apply for some jobs not listed on the spreadsheet).  I did get two three-month contracts, so it hasn’t been a total loss and I am in a small sector and I’m dealing with depression, which most applicants aren’t, both of which are relevant.  People are advised to apply to apply to a new job each day, something not possible for me without looking in another career sector and without having better mental health as some days I’m just too depressed to deal with applications.  However you look at it, it’s rather dispiriting.

I also had a Skype call with my rabbi mentor where I felt I was unprepared and semi-incoherent.  This is probably not true, but I probably was hoping for more advice than he can actually give.  At some point I have to live my own life, but sometimes I feel so alone.  I was so worried today that I would do the wrong thing and not be able to rectify it and no one would be able to help me.  E. said she would help me and my family would to.  This is true, but I worry that one day I will mess up so badly that they won’t be able to help, particularly as working out what to do about my relationship with E. is part of the anxiety and I worry about scaring her off or being incompatible.  Some other stuff went wrong too, but it’s too petty to write about.  But everything built up so that by 4.00pm I was just feeling absolutely lousy.  I struggled to cook some dinner, do a few minutes of Torah study and go to shul, the latter partly because they are struggling for a minyan (prayer quorum), but mostly so I could give a thank you gift to the person who invited me for dinner last week.

I don’t know why I felt so bad.  I did a lot yesterday and it’s not uncommon for me to have a bad mental health day after an active day, which is frustrating, but a fact of life that I’ve learnt to accept.  I think some of it is anxiety about the situation with E., worrying that I will do the wrong thing.  Not even being sure what the right thing is.  There’s a lot of catastrophising everything that could possibly go wrong, even the mutually exclusive stuff.  And I guess the job and publishing anxieties just sit on top of those things.

When I got home from shul I eventually called a time out on the day.  I had dinner and watched The Trouble with Tribbles (a very funny Star Trek: The Original Series episode).  I ate ice cream (Ben and Jerry’s Birthday Cake) even though I’m trying to lose weight – I felt I deserved it.  My mood is somewhat better now, but I feel very tired, too tired to work on my novel (it’s too late anyway) or to do much extra Torah study (I managed about fifteen minutes in total today).  I also feel close to tears, even though I don’t feel so depressed.  All I can say is that I don’t think they’re depressive tears, more relieved or just tired ones

I try to tell myself that I’m doing well given that I’m still struggling with depression and social anxiety.  I sort of believe myself and sort of don’t, which is an improvement on how I used to be, when I just beat myself up endlessly about stuff.  I can see that I’m managing my anxiety better even on a day like today with some of the skills I learnt from CBT (postponing worry; grounding myself; focusing on problems that affect me now, not hypothetical future problems).  I’m very, very grateful that I have E. even if things are very confusing for both of us.


I’m still looking for a publisher for my Doctor Who book.  My Dad keeps saying, “Maybe the BBC will publish it.  They make Doctor Who.”  This is the sort of thing that sounds sensible unless you know otherwise.  “The BBC” don’t publish books (these days I think it’s questionable how much “The BBC” exists as a single corporation the way it did until the 1980s, but set that aside for now).  BBC Books was owned by the BBC, but was sold to Ebury Press which is owned by Penguin.  I can’t find an email address of anyone there who might be an editor.  I think most big publishing houses only take submissions through agents.  The small presses I’ve submitting my manuscript to so far have been very specialised science fiction publishing houses.  I don’t think the BBC/Ebury would accept something submitted on spec even if I could find an email address.  I’m not sure it’s particularly sensible to look for an agent to sell this book when the writing career I want to develop is in a completely different area (literary fiction).

I found some long lists of science fiction publishers to pitch my Doctor Who book to, but it is hard to tell which ones publish non-fiction about science fiction.  Most seem to be American, which is also a problem; I have pitched to American publishers, but only ones that have already published works about Doctor Who.  I don’t know if general American science fiction publishers would know enough about it.  And many of these publishers do not accept unsolicited submissions.


I’ve mentioned being signed up for some Elul/pre-Rosh Hashanah  (Jewish New Year) inspirational thoughts.  Rabbi Lord Sacks was talking on one of them today about the violinist Yehudi Menuhin trying to reconnect with his Judaism in his old age.  I feel that in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community, we go wild over great Torah scholars and saintly people who are really close to God and we go wild over very secular people, particularly famous ones, when they make even a small movement towards Judaism ( is full of this kind of stuff).  But I feel like I’m out alone, struggling to connect with God and Torah.  I’m frum, I try to keep the mitzvot (commandments).  I believe in God, I want to be a good Jew, I’m just struggling with inspiration and feeling that God cares about me and I feel that no one really cares what happens to me.  I suppose this is about feeling alone in my life and having no one to help me too.  The feeling that I’m not good enough for God or for other Jews.  I don’t know what the answer is.

Bridget Jones-Style

Torah studied (OK, not exactly Bridget Jones-style): 30 minutes/one essay and 2/5 of an amud (page) of Talmud.

Ironing done: 40 minutes/eight shirts and a handkerchief (I think).

Pasta cooked: 12 oz. (sauce from a bottle, sorry; I am hoping to cook properly tomorrow).

Distance jogged: 2.20 miles in 25 minutes – apparently averaging 11 minutes 38 seconds per mile.

Material submit to publishers on spec: 1 article, 1 book.

Time spent worrying about politics even though I can do NOTHING about any of it: far too much.  (I would say I could vote or protest or something, but it’s painfully clear that that achieves nothing if the Establishment isn’t listening.)  I worried about Brexit, and… I won’t say I worried about the Vietnam War (I was watching Ken Burns’ documentary series again while I did the ironing), but I pondered the lessons of that conflict and how they could apply to the Arab-Israeli Conflict and to Brexit, and I was saddened and despairing.

Also saw my sister briefly and wrote 750 more words of my novel (I don’t know how long I spent, probably somewhat more than half an hour).

I still feel that I haven’t done much.  Or at least, I have, but I wanted to do more.  I wanted to do a full hour of Torah study and finish that amud.  I wanted to write more of my novel than I did.   I forgot to clean out the fridge where I spilt pickled cucumber brine the other day, leaving the whole thing smelling a bit of pickled cucumber.  E. says I don’t give myself enough credit for the amount that I manage to do given how depressed I feel at times (I wanted to go back to bed after lunch), but I just see the list of things to do and wonder how I will ever get it all done.  At least my mood did pick up as I did more things and I stopped feeling that I wanted to go back to bed.


I’m thinking of a joining a political party just so I can resign angrily from it.  It looks a lot of fun.

Meanwhile, back in the real world…


Friday night was good, Saturday less so.  There was circle dancing in shul during Kabbalat Shabbat (Friday night prayers) again and I didn’t feel able to join in again.  I was practically the only person not joining in (the only other person was the assistant gabbai who looked like he was doing stuff for the running of the service).  I don’t know why I just freeze up when this happens.  I know I find it uncomfortable, but it’s hard to work out why I find it uncomfortable (social anxiety, autism or depression?) or why sometimes I can join in and once or twice I’ve even enjoyed it (I had one Simchat Torah when I enjoyed the dancing…).  I just can’t do it.

(I tried to find video or even pictures of Jewish dancing because I don’t think I describe it very well.  There’s surprisingly little out there.  I did find one YouTube video, but it was at a wedding or bar mitzvah and rather more lively than the type of thing we have in shul, plus all the comments were rabidly antisemitic (“They’re dancing because they found a shekel…  No, they’re dancing because they tricked the USA into invading another country for them…”).  Even Wikipedia only has a few lines of text and a photo of Israeli, rather than frum, folk dancing.)

I got invited out at short notice to Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner by the person who sits next to me at shul (synagogue).  There were two other people there.  I was a bit apprehensive, but it went well.  I forced myself to participate in the conversation and try to initiate conversations when I was tempted to stay quiet.  I did the same thing at seudah (the third Sabbath meal in the synagogue) today.  That was all good.

At dinner someone said that he studies Torah all day on Friday and Shabbat and tries to do an hour of Torah study on other days (he’s semi-retired).  This surprised me a bit, as he’s teased at shul and shiur for spending hours and hours “learning” so I was surprised that his minimum for most days is something that’s not totally out of reach for me.  I used to do an hour or more of Torah study a day, before my depression got bad again (that’s going back several years).  I do occasionally manage it even now, but it’s usually more like half an hour or so, less when the depression is very bad.  Of course, most of what I “learn” isn’t Talmud, so it has less cachet in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world.  I try not to care, but it’s difficult not to feel like a second-class citizen sometimes (twice in two days someone I don’t know well has decided to tell me just how much Talmud he’s studied lately).  I do make sure I do some Talmud study each week, though.

I couldn’t sleep again yesterday evening despite trying to take some time to relax when I got home.  After a while, I got up and started reading The Elegant Universe, a book on physics that I was given as a school prize, so you can guess how long it’s been on my shelves; long enough to go out of date, according to some of the reviews on Goodreads.  I’m trying to read more non-fiction at the moment.  I used to be fascinated by history, economics, physics, politics and so on, but then when I went to university I focused purely on my degree (history) and when I finished the depression made it hard to read non-fiction.  I want to try to get back into reading non-fiction, not least because of the big pile of unread books that have accumulated over the years (mostly bought cheap from charity shops and library sales).  At the moment I’m trying to alternate fiction and non-fiction books.

This morning I got up at 8am.  I wanted to stay up and go to shul, but then I remembered that I would probably be called to the Torah if I did that and I panicked and went back to bed.  I don’t know why I panicked; I’ve been called up enough times before.  I think some of it is that I have low blood sugar when I wake up, which always makes depressive and anxious thoughts much, much worse.  If I can figure out a way to get myself to get up and eat something straight away before deciding whether to go to shul, that might do the trick.  Maybe.  I don’t really know any more.  I felt guilty for not going to shul, and for going back to sleep until 2pm (my parents were out for lunch so didn’t get me up).  I did at least avoid falling asleep after lunch.  I try to tell myself I have issues and can’t compare myself to other people, but it’s hard when I’m conscious that everyone goes to shul on Shabbat mornings.

I did some Torah study in the afternoon and went to shul for Talmud shiur, Mincha (Afternoon Prayers) seudah and Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers).  As I said, I tried to talk a bit more to people at seudah.  I still felt a bit disconnected at shul although why I feel like that is harder to work out.  I have the feeling of not being good enough or not frum enough for these people and I can’t work out why I feel like that.  No one has said anything to me that should make me feel like that.  I do wish sometimes that I knew what other people think of me.  Perhaps it’s better than I fear.  Then again, perhaps it’s worse…

Working on Myself, and On My Novel

As I’ve mentioned, we’re now into the Hebrew month of Elul, which is the introspection month before Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) in a few weeks’ time.  I’m signed up for a couple of daily ideas videos/talks for Elul and one idea that keeps coming up this year is the idea of mitzvot (commandments) that govern your relationship with yourself.

When I was growing up, I was always taught that there are two categories of mitzvot: those between me and God and those between me and other people.  An example of the former is eating only kosher food.  An example of the latter is not gossiping.  When I got older this idea of mitzvot between me and myself appeared, but I’ve rarely heard it dealt with until recently.  To be honest, this time last year I sat through a whole shiur (religious class) on this topic and still left wondering what an example of a mitzvah between me and myself is and how I can work on this area.

I know I do need to work on this area.  I know I have self-esteem issues, needless guilt issues and unnecessary shame.  I know that if I could accept myself more, I would feel more comfortable in my community and find it easier to make friends and to go to shul (synagogue) more often, so there would be wins in the categories of mitzvot between me and other people and between me and God too.  So it would be a win-win, but it’s hard to even begin to unravel what I should do, especially as I haven’t seen many people deal with it at length.  One article I found online suggested it’s about developing good character traits, but that’s still somewhat vague in terms of what the actual mitzvot concerned are.


I had my penultimate CBT session today.  My therapist suggested a couple of YouTube videos to watch about self-esteem and CBT.  I do wonder whether I will be able to continue using the techniques I was taught.  I feel as if I haven’t finished learning them all yet.  Still, I had some anxiety today and managed it better than I would have done in the past using techniques of grounding, postponing worry and putting things in perspective.  The therapist was enthusiastic about my volunteering in the museum, as it would give me an opportunity to practise talking to people in an environment where I am knowledgeable, so I guess I should try to pursue that, although it’s very scary.

One of the videos my therapist suggested I watch was a talk from Lizzie Velasquez, who is a woman with a rare genetic disorder (so rare only three people in the world are known to have it) that means she can’t put on weight (not “excessive weight” but any weight at all), which has obviously  affected her body shape and she was bullied a lot at school because of her appearance.  A video of her was put online by someone from her school claiming she was “The ugliest woman in the world” and was watched by nine million people, attracting all kinds of hateful comments, including people saying she should kill herself.  She was talking about how to take the negativity she has experienced and how she channelled it to push herself forward to achieve her goals in life.

I don’t always find “inspirational” stories that inspirational, but I found this quite inspiring.  I suppose I feel that if she isn’t letting herself be defined by her bullies, I don’t have to be defined by mine.  I do feel glad I was at school before social media, so I didn’t experience this kind of super-public online bullying.  The worst I had was when the school yearbook for GCSE (exams taken aged fifteen or sixteen) year, was banned by the teachers, which apparently was because the kids who wrote/edited it put in a lot of nasty stuff about myself and my friends, although I never found out what they said.


I read an article today by Howard Jacobson (having coincidentally just finished one of his novels yesterday) about finding his voice as a Jewish writer rather than trying to channel his literary heroes.  I feel that something similar has happened to me.  The books I read are mostly science fiction, murder mystery or nineteenth/early twentieth century classics.  I don’t have the type of logical, analytical mind to write a world-building science fiction novel or to plot a murder mystery story and, as Jacobson writes, trying to channel Dickens or Dostoyevsky isn’t really a sensible strategy these days.  I don’t read much contemporary literary fiction.  I did for a couple of years, when I was attending a book club, but I often struggled to engage with the books.  I thought it was me being an SF geek and not liking anything without a space ship, or at least a murder, but lately I’ve come to suspect that I often didn’t engage with the characters because there was no one like me, someone with mental health issues or from a religious Jewish background (I tended to connect more with stories set in religious cultures in other countries e.g. the devout Muslims in Afghanistan in Khaled Hosseini’s novels).  The breakthrough I’ve had just in the last few months is realising I can write stories about people like me, people with depression or high functioning autism, people caught on the fault-line between traditional Judaism and (post)modernity, people not sure where they fit in Western culture or outside it.  It’s quite exciting.

I spent about an hour working on my novel this evening – really too late in the day to achieve much, but I want to keep the momentum going.  I wrote a thousand words, which was good for (a) one hour and (b) 9.00pm.  I’m pleased with my progress so far, although it’s very early days still.

Fear of Being Accepted

I’ve been exhausted all day.  I’m not sure how depressed I’m feeling.  I struggle to understand my moods a lot of the time.  It’s always hard to tell what I feel when I’m not ultra-despairing.  I don’t think that I feel good or happy (I’m not sure that I really know what they would feel like), but I’m not sure if I feel mildly depressed or sort of neutral.  I did wake up with religious OCD anxieties about Pesach (Passover), which isn’t for another seven months.  This was partly the result something that happened recently, which I’m going to have to carefully sort out nearer the time, but I’ve been aware of the issue for a week or more and was able to shelve it for now; the fact that it’s suddenly leapt to the forefront of my thoughts is probably due to other stresses.  At least the anxieties mostly subsided during the day.


I got another job rejection today.  I did, however, finish painting my parents’ shed, assuming it dries evenly and doesn’t need a third coat (it seems OK so far).  It used up whatever energy I had left, but it was the first thing I’ve actually done to earn in the last five months.  Afterwards, I went to shul (synagogue) for Mincha and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening prayers) afterwards, which may have been a tactical error as I was very tired.  I managed twenty or thirty minutes of Torah study, which was more than I expected given how tired I was after painting, but because of all of this I had no time or energy to work on my novel.


It was a day for finishing things in other ways too.  I finished reading J, a surprisingly bleak conclusion from a novelist (Howard Jacobson) who insists he’s “the Jewish Jane Austen.”  It’s a fairly laugh-free book, being about hatred and antisemitism.  I am not sure I agree with Jacobson’s idea of Jewish identity as being mostly intellectualism and contrariness.  I mean, that probably is a part of it, but he over-stresses it, here and in his non-fiction writings (in three separate essays, I’ve heard him say how disgusted he was with a rabbi and his family who invited him for Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner and spent the time talking about musicals rather than anything more intellectual which seems rather petty to me, going on about it so much).

I also finished reading a not-very-good Batman graphic novel (Bruce Wayne: Fugitive).  Jacobson doubtless would not approve (this does get to mental health in a minute, I promise!).  I went through a phase of reading a lot of Batman a few years back, off the back of the Christopher Nolan films.  I liked many of the storylines from the nineties, but found more recent stories became disturbingly sadistic, with a lot of real world-type violence (people being tortured with power tools etc.) that I found out of place in an essentially fantasy setting (Batman may not be as obviously fantasy as Superman or The Flash, but it is a comic about a man who dresses up as a bat to fight insane master-criminals.  I feel there’s quite a large of wish fulfillment fantasy in the premise).  Plus, Batman, who is supposed to be The World’s Greatest Detective, hardly does any detecting any more.  He just beats people up.  Yawn.  Watching the two Tim Burton Batman films a few weeks ago on a whim whet my appetite for the Dark Knight Detective, though, and I’m pondering what graphic novels to re-read from my collection or whether to try something new.

The reason I bring this up is that I realised I actually don’t like Batman much as a character any more.  I like the characters around him (many of whom have not be presented on screen in detail or at all) a lot more.  And I like the idea of Batman as someone who says he is a loner, but actually does have friends.  That was actually one point that was handled well in the graphic novel I was reading, where he upsets all his friends by going it alone, but they still stick around because they care about him.  I find that comforting, given that I am not good at making or, apparently, keeping my friends (having lost at least three over the last year and a bit).


Awkward: the Head of Employment for the charity I was volunteering for emailed to say he’s sorry I’m leaving and can he do anything to help?  My parents think he’s offering to help with my job search, given his job is helping people with developmental issues into work and that he knows about my autism.  I think he’s offering to help me stay at the charity somehow, which I’m not so keen on.  I don’t know how to politely ask the question, so I’ve agreed to meet and will see what he says at the meeting.

Also awkward: at my parents’ behest, I emailed a couple of job agencies who seem to have forgotten about me.  I hate doing stuff like that.


I’ve wanted to write something about my friendship with E. for a few days, but I wasn’t sure what to say.  I also wanted to get her permission (given my experience a few months back).

I guess it’s a slightly weird relationship.  The background is that we met online through my blog and live on different continents.  We dated long-distance for a couple of months, but then we broke up, but stayed friends, because E. couldn’t see things working out while we both had emotional issues and financial problems (which has only got worse since then now I don’t have a job at all).  But we still WhatsApp each other all the time.  We do basically act like we’re long-distance dating even though “officially” we’re not.

E. does sometimes say I should be trying to look for a frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) wife in the UK, but I can’t really see it happening.  Aside from my parents and my sister, I don’t think anyone cares for me like E. does and I think she understands me just as well as they do, maybe better in some ways.  Plus, as I’ve said many times, I really don’t fit into the frum community in the UK and can’t see myself meeting anyone or getting set up with anyone any time soon.

Lately we’ve both been open with each other that we’d like to date each other again, but we can’t see it working at the moment.  E. is scared of the financial/practical side of things (we can’t afford to support ourselves and neither of us is earning enough to be able to immigrate) and I’m scared that I’m so much more religious than E. (she said she would take on a lot of stuff if we got married, but I worry that that is not a good way to go about things, although lots of people do become frum that way).

Having been in therapy for so long in the past, I can put myself into the therapeutic mindset, and I just know that a good therapist would challenge this.  S/he would say, “Are you sure it’s just money/religion you’re worried about?”  Because I feel we probably are scared of the relationship on some level.  I’ve only had one girlfriend before and have been lonely most of my adult life.  E. has been through some difficult stuff too.  Maybe we’re both scared of rejection, and maybe we’re both even more scared of acceptance.  By which I mean, I’ve certainly got a strong self-image of being “not good enough” or “unlovable” and maybe E. is the same (she is in many ways the female me, which my first girlfriend really wasn’t).  It is quite scary to think of being loved romantically, if that hasn’t really happened to you in the past.

It is frustrating that we can’t take the relationship further because of our financial situation/my job situation and the fact that we live on different continents.  But I’m glad we do at least communicate so much.  E. is super-supportive and encouraging when I’m depressed or anxious.


Related to this, I was thinking about the forthcoming Jewish festivals and what I want for the Jewish new year.  I used to think I just needed to sort my mental health.  If God would deal with that, everything else would fall into place.  Now I realise that I need to daven (pray) for and work on so many things individually: mental health, career, community, friends, spouse…  It’s like there’s no end to the things I need.  I suppose, logically, or theologically, everyone needs to pray for all those things.  It’s just that most people would need to pray for them to be maintained, not to start from scratch, only needing one or two things.  However, I am trying not to get too depressed about things.  Trying to use the CBT techniques I’ve been taught.  Speaking of which, I have CBT tomorrow, so I should really get to bed…

On Quitting

I had an anxiety dream last night were I was sitting an exam on Doctor Who and couldn’t remember who the costume designers were.  I couldn’t get the locker where I’d deposited my valuables to lock and I left my pens in my rucksack.  The academic Doctor Who theme was probably my unconscious registering my fears that I won’t get any Doctor Who writing, including my book, published because I have no background in academic cultural/media studies and don’t use their jargon, but the presence of anxiety in the first place was surely more due to concern about volunteering today.

I got up late which was not a good start, or a good sign.  I did get to volunteering on time, more or less, but I found the environment noisy and chaotic again and I struggled with my autism.  When I say it was noisy and chaotic, I don’t mean that as an insult or complaint.  It’s in a warehouse where lots of young adults with issues of different kinds are being prepared for the workforce in a way that is necessarily somewhat more lax than the average workplace.  But that doesn’t make it any easier to cope with.  I did also feel uncomfortable with one of the jobs I was given today.  Again, the job was necessary and legitimate, but I just felt uncomfortable doing it because of my personality and background.  I worry that I overcompensated and carried it out too zealously.  In the end, I decided that I couldn’t cope with this any more and decided to quit (I did stay until the end of the day).  I did this by email after the day was over, so I will probably be scared to open my emails tomorrow.

I feel bad, because I don’t like quitting things.  In retrospect, it’s easy to think “I should give it another chance,” but when I was actually there, I felt very uncomfortable and at one point was worried that I was about to have a panic attack.  Perhaps I should have tried one more week, but to do that, I would have had to have gone to a long safeguarding training session tomorrow morning and it seemed a waste of time to do that for no reason.

I just feel bad that in the last year and a bit I have had four jobs, paid or voluntary, one which I really messed up, one (this one) which I couldn’t cope with, one which I left because I didn’t think I could cope with a changed job description (although I now sort of wish I had stayed and tried it) and only one that went really well.  I feel that my life went off the rails somewhere and I don’t know where.  I’m hoping a formal autism diagnosis might help, but it might not.

I am looking at another volunteering opportunity, at a museum.  This would involve a lot of talking to people, but would give me an opportunity to push against my social anxiety by talking about things I know about (history and Judaism) and would potentially be similar to an aspect of the job I had earlier in the year that went well, inasmuch as it would be talking about history and Judaism.  A lot of people have said over the years that when I talk about things I know and care about, I become a lot more animated.  However, I did shake a bit again when talking to people at the shiur (religious class) I went to this evening (see below), which makes me wonder how sensible it is.  My parents do want me to do some volunteering while I’m out of work and I’m not sure what my other options are at the moment.  I feel that I rushed into the volunteering opportunity I’ve just left and that was a mistake and now I’m rushing into something else, but I don’t know whether I have any other options.


I went to a shiur (religious class) at a Modern Orthodox educational establishment this evening.  I do try to go to shiurim at this place when I can, as the religious outlook is more similar to my own than at my shul (synagogue) and the shiurim are of a high standard, but when I go there I feel that (a) everyone is a lot older than me and (b) everyone seems to know everyone else.  I know that Jewish Geography means that basically all Jews know each other (not literally, but close enough), but I always feel that I’ve somehow I missed out and I’m the only person in the room who doesn’t know at least one other person there (actually I vaguely knew one person there, but not well enough to talk to him).


Possibly there could be some politics in the UK sometime soon.  Apparently.  I’m not really sure what I feel about this any more, except to note that I might have stop reading some blogs.  It’s not so much opinions I disagree with that are the problem and more opinions (even ones I actually agree with) that are forcefully argued with the implied or even overt implication that anyone who disagrees must be either stupid or evil.

The Pit of My Stomach

Today I spent somewhere between an hour and an hour and a half working on my novel and made good progress, writing over a thousand words for the first chapter.  I also cooked dinner and managed fifteen minutes of Torah study.  However, I didn’t manage to do more Torah study or to go for a walk, so I feel a bit disappointed.   I would have liked to write for longer too, although I ran out of both time and energy/brainpower.  It is hard to cope with the fact that even on days when I seem ‘well,’ my energy levels can be significantly lower than most people’s.  It makes thoughts about working or even volunteering that much harder.

I had an anxious feeling in the pit of my stomach earlier.  I’m pretty sure that it’s nerves about volunteering tomorrow.  I had a similar feeling every Sunday when I was at secondary school and university.  In those days I didn’t understand my feelings so well and was not entirely aware that it was anxiety.  I think I did and didn’t realise what it was; I knew I was not looking forward to the working week, but I don’t think I felt that I had Anxiety with a capital A.  I had the same feelings on the way to school every morning when I was in my mid to late teens, in retrospect the first sign that my mental health was not great, although we (me and my doctor) did spend fruitless time looking for physical causes of this and other symptoms (disrupted sleep, always the first symptom of any emotional upset in my life).

Despite this, I always insisted to adults that I liked school, mainly because I felt I was the sort of child who should like school.  I think I really did like school; it was just the other students who I didn’t like, mostly because many of them were so unpleasant to me.

I associate the anxious feelings particularly with dusk and evening in the autumn and winter, which I guess is where we are heading.  School and university were not limited to those times, but somehow Sundays in the summer were less anxiety-provoking because they were lighter.  I like autumn and winter in the abstract, but the lack of light and the miserable weather (discouraging exercising) contribute to lower mood every year.  Almost all my episodes of depression have started in the autumn or early winter and I worry that I can already feel the gains I’ve made in recent months slipping through my fingers as sunset gradually creeps earlier.

Plus, there are Jewish festivals that mark the big seasonal changes of the year that are difficult for me.  Pesach (Passover) at the start of spring can trigger OCD (although thankfully I was OK this year), while the many festivals in the month of Tishrei in the autumn can be difficult with depression, social anxiety, autism and, to a lesser extent, OCD again.  To be honest, Chanukah and Shavuot are the only Jewish festivals that aren’t difficult for me in some way because of my mental health or autism and it’s probably no coincidence that those are the ones with the fewest rituals to perform and the least emphasis on shul (synagogue) attendance.

I have an other, big, issue that is on my mind at the moment (in addition to my struggles to find work and a publisher for my Doctor Who book) so I really feel that the summer is over and, if I’m not careful, depression will be back.

Broken Vessels

I woke up feeling exhausted and depressed again, as I usually do (a) every day and (b) every Sunday in particular, and for longer.  Somehow I managed to do forty minutes or so of very difficult Talmud study (I even understood a little of it, and I’m glad my comprehension of Aramaic Talmudic language is improving even if my comprehension of Talmudic arguments is not) and spent some time rearranging bookshelves.  I have over 1,100 books and limited space to put them in.  I probably ought to get rid of some, but I can’t face it.  In particular, I have over 200 Jewish books.  Around fifty are Jewish history books and pose no particular problems, but the rest are religious books and can’t be kept in open shelves in my bedroom, as one can’t be in a state of undress with uncovered religious books, as it’s considered disrespectful.  My parents let me use a bookcase downstairs, but it looked a bit of a mess.  I moved about thirty Jewish books into a cupboard in my bedroom, allowing me to tidy up the ones remaining downstairs.





(Apologies for the blurring.  When I take photos on my phone, my tremor is more noticeable than when I take them on my camera, for some reason.)

I had my best run in quite a while.  I ran for nearly half an hour, running most of the time (rather than dropping into a walk for a bit because I was tired) and covering about two miles.  I seem to be pacing myself better.  So far, I haven’t got a migraine either.  So that’s good.  I tried to work on my novel, but by the time I had been for a run, showered and eaten dinner, it was nearly 10.00pm.  I did sit down for twenty minutes or so and try to write, but I only managed a few sentences.  My brain wasn’t working and I was still exhausted from running.

I feel I did manage to do things today (Talmud study, sorting shelves, running), but also feel that I never manage to do enough.  I always lose a significant amount of time to oversleeping, exhaustion, depression, procrastination, distraction…  I feel that what I accomplish in one day, other people accomplish in a morning, leaving the afternoon and maybe the evening to accomplish other things.  I tell myself that I’m still coping with a lot of things, in terms of mental illness and autism as well as social issues, but I do feel inadequate at times.  I am doing better than I was, in some ways.  My mood is better, although often still depressed.  I am studying more Torah, and davening (praying) with greater concentration, even if I still struggle to get to shul.  I am still applying for jobs and sometimes getting interviewed.  I just wish I was clearer about where my career is going, not to mention my religious, social, family and romantic lives.

I feel that, other than writing, my life lacks direction.  I do things, but there doesn’t seem to be an overall plan or direction of travel.  I don’t know where my life is going.  It’s a Jewish belief that you can’t stay where you are; if you aren’t going up, you’re going down.  I don’t know where I’m going.  That’s why I’m desperately hoping I can get some work published.  If I could write professionally, then my life would begin to have some kind of direction.  Unfortunately, it seems increasingly unlikely I will get my Doctor Who book published and it could be years before I finish my novel.


There’s a thought I had today that fits with this, and with it being Ellul, the Hebrew month of introspection and repentance before the new year.  I’m not particularly into kaballah (Jewish mysticism), but the basic kaballistic myth is that God tried to imbue the universe with transcendent light, a light of spiritual understanding, but the vessels into which He tried to fit it (this is all very symbolic and non-literal) couldn’t stand the level of holiness and shattered, sending sparks of holiness across creation and embedding them everywhere.  I think, on some level, that this was necessary.  Presumably a perfect universe would not be able to separate from God (as Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits puts it, only God is perfect, so the universe by definition has to be imperfect otherwise it would not be distinct from God).  So the idea is that the universe is inherently broken, on some level by design, but we can redeem it, by following the Torah and improving ourselves and spreading love and justice, thereby elevating the sparks of holiness embedded in creation.  So, I’m trying to accept that I’m “broken” and trying to find the holy sparks within me, but it’s hard.