I had a number of responses to my previous post, on the blog and via email.  I feel bad that I went into autistic ‘black and white thinking’ more, as I often do when people give me advice, and felt that it didn’t help.  The reality is that after I’ve had time to process it, I’m more able to decide what might help me now, what might help me down the line and what isn’t relevant to my situation, but I feel bad that I come across as too negative.

I’m also thinking that I should make more of an effort to get to depression group, which I haven’t done since it switched location to a less convenient site.  But it would be good to speak to people about depression again.  Unfortunately I can’t get to next week’s meeting.

***

Today was a slow day with depression and exhaustion.  I’m still recuperating from the Jewish festivals.  I did some chores and I worked on my novel a little today, writing for about an hour and a quarter in three small chunks as I couldn’t get a continuous period of time to work on it.  I wrote over a thousand words and dealt with a passage that was quite emotional for me, tapping in to difficult emotions that I’ve experienced in the past.  I’m not sure if writing is really therapy per se, but it does bring up difficult emotions, which may or may not be good.

I really should (that word again) go back to job hunting, but I couldn’t face it.  (I should be exercising too.)  I look at job listings and think, “I can’t do that.”  Now I wonder if that is also black and white thinking.  However, I had another job rejection today without even getting to the interview stage, so maybe I have the wrong skills and experience.  I’m volunteering again on Sunday, assuming I feel well enough, so I’ll try to gauge how comfortable I feel with the children there and how they seem with me, to help me think about working in a school, although I don’t feel very hopeful about it.

***

It’s weird how autism and depression symptoms can vary depending on how I’m feeling generally, and the way they interact.  When I was a child, I was sensitive to the feel of some fabrics.  In particular, I found wool and woolly clothes prickly and uncomfortable.  Over the years I’ve become more tolerant of them.  However, today I was wearing a sweatshirt, not even wool (it’s acrylic), but it felt so prickly and uncomfortable that I had to take it off, even though it hasn’t been uncomfortable in the past.  It seems likely that that is because I’m feeling very depressed and exhausted today and that reduces my ability to tolerate other symptoms of my conditions.

***

Shiur (religious class) tonight was good, but I did feel overwhelmed at the start by the sheer number of people (eleven) in a small room.  This may have contributed to eating more than I wanted to do, I’m not sure.

The key part of the shiur that I took home with me was the idea that we should not think of our yetzer hara (difficult to translate, but a person’s negative desires or an anthropomorphised version of their temptations) as being ourselves, in the sense of our actual identity.  In other words, you should not think “I’m a really angry person” even if you have anger issues.  I’m not sure that I’m explaining this well.  It did make me think about the discussion in the online mental health community about you not being your mental illness.  I’m not quite sure if this was what the rabbi had in mind, but it did make me feel that I possibly do over-identify with my yetzer hara and I probably do over-identify with my ‘issues’ in the sense of telling myself, “Oh, I can’t do X because I’m autistic” or “I’m useless at Y because I have depression.”

There was some debate after the shiur was formally over which I stayed for.  I felt a bit awkward, as I couldn’t really follow the cut and thrust of the debate and I suspect I would have done before I was depressed.  I was also too wary to mention the parallel with mental illness that I referred to above, even though I’ve told two of the people there that I suffer from depression and one of the others is a doctor.

***

Today’s anxiety: next week is my cousin’s bar mitzvah in Israel.  I’m already nervous for several reasons.  I always get nervous going to Israel, partly because I’m afraid of terrorism (although I’m not convinced that London is much safer these days), partly because of being in a country where I am not fluent in the language.  My Hebrew is probably better than I give myself credit for (even if I do mess up the verb conjugations), but I don’t really have confidence in speaking Hebrew.

Perhaps the biggest anxiety (aside from travelling around the country by myself to see my rabbi mentor, although that may not happen anyway as I can’t get hold of him) is the Shabbat (Sabbath) itself.  There will be something like seventy-five or a hundred people coming, to a youth hostel or kibbutz (I’m not sure which) that my uncle and aunt are hiring for Shabbat.  There will be big meals and, of course, my cousin (let’s call him C5 as he is the fifth of five siblings) will lein (chant from the Torah) in shul on Shabbat morning.

My worries are that it can be difficult to (for many people, not just me) to be with extended family for long periods because of personality clash (even if no one argues with me, if there is a family argument, as happens in many families, it will upset me) and that big, crowded events are not easy with depression, social anxiety and autism.  I was also asked to lead bentsching (grace after meals), singing in Hebrew, which worries me in case I shake.  Hebrew and singing are OK here as I’ve probably sung bentsching thousands of times in my life and, except for one little bit, everyone will join in anyway.  However, I was also offered the chance to make kiddush (the blessing over wine at the start of dinner and lunch on Shabbat), but I turned it down because I worried I would shake and spill the wine.  I’m worried that I’ll be so exhausted after Friday night that I’ll be too exhausted to get to shul for my cousin on Saturday morning; I might even be too tired to make it to lunch on time.

I thought all of that was enough to be worrying about, but apparently not.  My cousin’s grandfather (not the mutual grandfather, who is dead, the one on the other side of the family) has written a comic song about the family to be sung, or at least read, by the family at lunchtime.  To my surprise, my parents, sister and brother-in-law are going along with this.  I can not see myself doing this.  It’s alright for my uncle, aunt and cousins.  They’re mostly extroverts who thrive on being the centre of attention.  I really can’t see myself doing it.  But now I see myself as the only person not joining in.  I fear it will look bad, I’ll seem to be the spoilsport even before the effects of depression, social anxiety and autism kick in.  Plus, there’s always the feeling of, “I wish I could do that,” similar to what I feel when I see people lead services in shul, knowing that it is within the range of my Jewish knowledge and that I have done it in the past, but that it is beyond the range of my current confidence level.

It often happens that when I’m with extended family, there is an argument (either with me or that I witness) and I end up feeling, “What am I doing here?”  Feeling that I can’t cope, that no one in the family is on my wavelength, that I should just push myself harder to work through everything.  Sometimes depression, social anxiety and autism provides an excuse, sometimes it doesn’t.  When it was my other cousin’s (C4’s) bat mitzvah, I was supposed to go to be photographed with my family on the Sunday afterwards and I flat out refused because I was feeling so overwhelmed.  There wasn’t an argument, but my Mum really wanted me to go and was disappointed I didn’t.  I think I skipped the actual party too, but in that case the party for friends was separate from the small family meal on the Shabbat, so everyone felt that I’d gone to the main event.  Here there are two massive meals and I am very worried about getting through them.  I’m even worried if I made the right decision about bentsching.  I’ve got a week to think/worry about this…

7 thoughts on “Family Values

  1. Oh wow. That all sounds like too much! I’m totally in your corner in saying that even a little of that would overwhelm and exhaust me. Goodness! I’d say to be the spoilsport and just limit what you do! That just sounds like an awful lot.

    I’ve always thought that not identifying with your anger (or other emotions) is just a way to detach from those sides of ourselves that are less than desirable. It’s a little different than identifying (or not) with a mental illness or other issue. Emotions are human (as are health conditions), but with emotions, if we overidentify with anger, we see ourselves as being like Darth Vader. (That’s what happens to me when I do it.) But identifying with a mental illness is more of a way to understand our limitations. Like, “I can’t handle that stress level because I’m [fill in the blank with whatever].” I think we SHOULD identify with issues that cause problems, like being autistic or schizophrenic (in my case). For years when I was striving to be “normal,” I was so hard on myself all the time because I didn’t understand what was working against me despite my best efforts.

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    1. I do think we should recognise our limitations and not be hard on ourselves. I meant more that we should not identify totally with our conditions. Like, not to think that I’m totally defined by depression and autism and that I shouldn’t even try to do social things because I won’t succeed. Also, not to think, “Oh, I can’t have friends because I’m depressed and autistic” and overlooking the fact that I still have other things to offer in a friendship.

      I hope this is coherent as it’s late and I’m tired!

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      1. Ohh, I see what you mean! You’re right! My late Granny Smith was always saying that you can accomplish anything you put your mind to, and I think she was right! 🙂 Yeah, you’re tired–go get some sleepytime!! I’m going to lie down too, because I’m conked.

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  2. I wonder what the risk is of being caught up in a terrorist act in Israel compared to places like London and Paris. No one does security like the IDF.

    The bar mitzvah sounds like a gong show. I would need significant amounts of benzos to get through something like that.

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  3. Was just thinking today about how our stories change over our lives. We repeat the same stories about ourselves. They become condensed and change slightly over time. At some point, I’m not sure they’re terribly helpful.

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