I had my second meeting today with the charity that helps people with mental health issues into work (I was referred via the NHS). We spent most of the time talking about the type of help I would like, but I am still vague on what help they are actually offering. The only thing the case worker (? I’m not sure what her title is) has recommended so far is a course on motivation for work and other skills which I think could be helpful, but it is only run on Friday afternoons and now we are in the winter, Shabbat (the Sabbath) starts very early (because sunset is so early), around 4pm and it will get even earlier as we head into December. I would need to be home around an hour before that, to shower and do various chores and get to shul (synagogue) on time. The course runs from noon to 2.30pm and it will take me around an hour to get home afterwards, so this is tricky. Last time she mentioned it, I went into autistic “black and white thinking” mode and said I couldn’t go; this time I asked for the details of the person who runs it to see if maybe I could go for the first hour or so or find some other compromise.
She did give me some work to do with changes to my CV (fairly cosmetic, changing layout and fonts) and encouraged me to increase my usage of LinkedIn and Twitter. I’m never really sure how to use LinkedIn and largely avoid it, although I do have an account with my job details that I try keep up to date. LinkedIn just makes me inferior to people with a Real Career and panicked that I don’t know where my life is going or what to do about it, let alone how to build a career for myself. As for Twitter… it’s a whole new world of insanity. I did have an account briefly to try to get involved in online Doctor Who fandom, but Twitter is just so aggressive and political that I can’t cope with it at all and even when it’s not aggressive, the sheer volume of information (much of it trivial, if also sometimes funny) is overwhelming. I try not to be glued to my phone all day; I’m less successful at not being glued to my laptop, but I don’t want to make it worse. What I might do is unfollow all the Doctor Who fan accounts, even the ones I know in real life, and just follow a bunch of formal institutional accounts for libraries and universities that hopefully won’t be overwhelming or aggressive/political. The problem is that I think that networking would eventually involve following personal accounts of librarians and maybe academics and they won’t necessarily stick just to libraries. For one thing, academics and public sector workers can be very political; for another, Brexit and public sector spending are genuinely important issues for academic libraries, my chosen sector. To quote Star Wars, “I have a bad feeling about this…”
I had a conversation about careers with my parents, which ended with them saying I have to do some kind of voluntary work now to get motivation back. I don’t really feel capable of doing anything, so low is my confidence in my abilities and basic functionality, but I’ve agreed to get in touch (via my parents’ friend, who has a contact) with the local Jewish primary school to see if I can volunteer as a teaching assistant, although I’m worried that (a) that I’m not as good with children as my parents think, (b) that I won’t be able to cope with a classroom environment from an autistic point of view and (c) that right now I can’t cope with any work from a depression point of view.
I’m also going to force myself to prioritise my novel writing. I was going to postpone that while I focused on other chores and job hunting after a month or more disrupted by Yom Tov (Jewish festivals) and holiday, but I feel I need to be doing something ASAP, and preferably something that might make me feel confident in my abilities. It’s only really writing that does that. Unfortunately, I also want to prioritise exercise and job hunting (and now volunteering), and I’ve signed up for shiurim (Jewish religious classes) starting tomorrow so I clearly have a problem with conflicting priorities, given my lack of energy and motivation, as well as time (given that I sleep for ten or more hours a day). At the moment just functioning on a day-to-day level is hard.
I’m feeling depressed about being single again. I actually understand why Orthodox Judaism puts such an emphasis on marriage and only allows sex (and, in Haredi (ultra-Orthodox circles) friendships between genders) in a marital setting. It sounds bizarre to a secular Westerner, but while Judaism sees sexual satisfaction as important, it values it much less than the secular West (at least judging by the media). It sees family and community values as far more important than sexuality or individualism, and as someone increasingly concerned about where Western hyper-individualism is leading us (particularly in terms of social cohesion, support for those on the fringes of society and in terms of our impact on the environment), I can value that. But there isn’t really a back-up plan if you can’t find your mate, whether through bad luck, illness or not fitting the acceptable heterosexual pattern.
Because the model of the heterosexual family is so embedded in Orthodox Jewish social life, there isn’t really any acknowledgement of the loneliness and sexual frustration that can be experienced by people outside that model (single, divorced, widowed, gay, asexual). The expectation is that anyone without a spouse is looking for one, unless perhaps widowed in old age. Someone at shiur is divorced, and he has to put up with occasional comments that he should remarry, even though he seems to have no interest in doing so. To be honest, if I didn’t keep myself to myself so much I would probably get the same. There isn’t really another option on the menu other than marriage; even celibacy is not seen as a positive thing (unlike Catholicism).
I’m not sure where I’m really going with this. Orthodoxy isn’t going to change for a handful of people who don’t fit in. Most frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) Jews do manage to find someone, usually far before their peers in the wider Western society are even thinking of marriage. I don’t know if anyone has done any research on how happy those marriages are. Certainly divorce is rising in the frum world and there is a growing awareness of issues like domestic violence. I know that people who are married are not necessarily happy or even safe (one of the themes of the novel I’m writing). Still, I wish there was another model for the good life that I could use, or some kind of legitimate outlet or even acknowledgement of my sexuality.
I guess my sexuality frightens me in a way. That it’s a part of myself that I don’t understand and can’t legitimately probe or investigate, but which is constantly tripping me up in little ways, like when I feel attracted to women on TV or whatever (as per Jewish law I shouldn’t really be looking at women like that). When I was in group therapy we did an exercise on values and were given a list of sixty-odd values and told to pick our five core values. One of the values was something like “exploring my sexuality”. This freaked me out a bit. I couldn’t work out how someone could put that as their core value up with things like honesty, kindness, justice, family, friendship and so on. I mean, I really like Doctor Who. I really like Doctor Who. I have invested a significant amount of time and money in it over the last twenty-eight years, not least writing my unpublished book. But I would not put “watching Doctor Who” as a core value and it seems weird to me that someone would put exploring their sexuality as a core value like that. In my head, my image of what such a person would be like and how they would behave is not pretty and doubtless I would get “called out” on it if I shared it publicly in our hyper-sensitive age (so I won’t). But I guess some of the fear (I use the word advisedly) generated by that item on the list is really repressed envy of someone more in touch with their needs than I am, and probably meeting them more than I am too, even if I think those needs are trivial and a distraction from worthier things and may be buying short-term gain with long-term regret.
Other than that today wasn’t that good. I did some chores on the way home from my meeting and I somehow found the energy and concentration for forty minutes of Torah study. But I haven’t done much else. I tried to work on my novel for an hour, but it went slowly and after half an hour I think my mind switched off and I started getting distracted and fiddling around with Twitter without doing any of the things I said I would be doing with it. Bearing in mind what I wrote about about sexuality, I think I was avoiding writing a scene where one of my characters (at university having previously led a sheltered life in religious schools and yeshiva (rabbinical seminary)) gets woken up by the person in the room upstairs having noisy sex. It felt awkward to write, not least because it took me back to my Oxford days when this happened to me on more than one occasion (not woken up, but hearing it when I couldn’t sleep), the embarrassment, annoyance and guilt-inducing jealousy. Still, I am 444 words further forward, which at least has a pleasing symmetry to it, even if I would have liked to have hit 500.