I’ve been thinking about my attitude to self-care.  I struggle to think that self-care is OK for me.  I feel reluctant to be lenient on myself as I feel like I don’t do enough as it is, whether in comparison to others or comparison to my own standards.  However, I do have a lot of “issues” that most people don’t have, with major impacts on my own life experiences, such as work, friendships, relationships and community.  I’m slowly coming round to the idea that I can’t always expect the same as other people from myself or even what I used to expect from myself before I was depressed (which is such a long time ago that I hardly ever compare myself to how I was then).  Nevertheless, I do feel that that kind of attitude is a slippery slope to becoming a bad person, that I should do more for my parents (even before my Mum’s cancer), that I could get a job that I could do if I tried hard enough and so on.  It is hard to find the balance.

Yesterday Ashley Leia commented to the extent that I’m confusing my conscience with my inner critic.  If I understood her correctly, she felt that I could silence the inner critic without abandoning my conscience.  This made me pause as I’d never thought of it in those terms before.  On reflection, I do feel that I tend to rely on my inner critic for judgment about my life as much as my conscience.  The voice of my conscience possibly seems very weak and faint, which seems a bizarre thing to say for someone who takes his ethical life very seriously and thinks about it a lot, but I think I do rely on the inner critic, or on the heteronomous (externally imposed) voice of halakhah (Jewish law) rather than my morally autonomous sense of conscience.  Usually when I’m conflicted about what the moral thing to do is in a situation, I decide I should do very easily, but I worry about conflict with other people (usually family members or community members) who want me to do something else.  Perhaps I’m not analysing myself correctly, but it’s rare that I’m faced with two different outcomes and have to decide at length which is more moral or religiously acceptable.

My morality must seem very black and white to outsiders, which perhaps is quite normal for someone on the autistic spectrum, but it does not fit with the fact that I try to be non-judgemental and to see multiple sides of moral dilemmas, even when halakhah gives an unambiguous answer.  So, Judaism is fairly (although not absolutely) anti-abortion, yet I have a good friend who has had two abortions, and that does not affect how I relate to her.  I don’t know how I can see moral complexity in the abstract and be very forgiving of other people, yet be very regimented and strict on myself.

I guess with my depression in particular I struggle to make allowances for myself given that it’s been going on so long.  For example, I feel that, after over seventeen years, I ought to be better at mornings than I am (generally I sleep through most of them unless there’s something I absolutely must be up for).  Also as I do not have a clear high functioning autism diagnosis, so I feel that I shouldn’t play the autism card (so to speak) too much, even though it clearly explains a lot about me.

***

I did eventually get out and do various chores: collected a repeat prescription, bought an anniversary card for my uncle and aunt and went to the library and got my library card.  The library seems quite nice, not a huge selection of novels that interested me, but a lot of graphic novels, which is good as I like reading graphic novels, but they’re hugely expensive, even second-hand, and feel like a bit of a waste of money unless you’re going to re-read them a lot as they can be read in a couple of hours.  I borrowed V for Vendetta, which I’d been meaning to read for ages, but don’t think I’m going to enjoy enough to buy.

The chores took longer than expected and I didn’t get much else done, just a little work on my bibliography and restarting my spreadsheet of jobs I could apply for (nothing particularly interesting or relevant at the moment and I’m definitely struggling to find part-time work as opposed to full-time).

***

The shiur (religious class) today was on honouring parents.  It just reminded me how lacking I am in this area and that I need to work on it.  The next year is pretty much going to force me to work on it.  I suppose, trying to observe my thoughts and feelings this evening, that this is an area where conscience and self-criticism are intertwined and hard to distinguish.

I ate a lot of junk at shiur again.  I think some of it is that I tend to need fidget when I’m listening to someone.  It’s an autistic stimming thing.  I think I eat at shiur to give me something to do with my hands and perhaps also to distract myself from my self-consciousness in front of other people.  Likewise, when I read or watch TV at home, I tend to eat.  If I’m reading for work, as I often have to do when cataloguing, I fidget with a pen or pencil.  That’s also part of the reason why I eat more junk on Shabbat (the Sabbath) – because I’m reading a lot, but limited in what I can touch and play with.

***

Another scary thing: I think I’ve mentioned that since the annual Torah reading cycle restarted a few months ago, I have been writing a devar Torah (Torah thought) each week for my parents and I’ve been emailing it to my sister and E.  I’ve been struggling for a while with wanting to send it to some other friends from shul, but not feeling confident to do so.  It’s fear of rejection if they don’t want to read it, but also fear that they will object if I quote a non-traditional source (which I guess is another kind of rejection).  Perhaps there is also a fear of success, which tends to haunt me when things are going right: the feeling that I don’t deserve to succeed and that I will be punished.  I discussed it with my rabbi mentor who said I should go for it (and asked if I could add him to the list too).  So, I just messaged two shul friends to see if they’re interested in being added to the mailing list and so far one has said yes.  It’s scary, but exciting.

6 thoughts on “The Voice of Conscience

  1. Terrific news about sharing the Torah thoughts. You are constantly working at improving your connections with others, which I very much admire. It sounds like it’s particularly hard for you since you have to work through insecurities and lack of confidence in yourself. My older daughter has had clinical depression and still fights depression. She is also extremely hard on herself. I ask her to imagine what she would say to herself as a friend, and point out that she would never treat a friend as harshly as she does herself. Sometimes my words help, and other times not.

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  2. It’s not just the voice of conscience vs one’s inner critic. It’s also one’s perception of other people’s opinions of you as well i.e. the “outer critics”. You are very much affected by what you think others may think of you – so much so that even if you know they are mistaken, your own self-belief is challenged. (And this has some interesting philosophical dimensions where we can be led to question our very sense of self – very much in line with Bishop Berkeley’s “to be is to be perceived”). Like you, I am self-critical and can spend a huge amount of time feeling guilty about things. Worrying about what others think of me is an added burden I could do without. But I do think you can work on reducing that burden in lots of ways. One way is by having those you really value and trust affirm your worth – as you have been doing by sending your Torah thoughts to “safe” people. Another is by taking small risks – such as sending your Torah thoughts to a slightly wider circle. It is so easy to avoid taking these risks in order to stay safe. So, I think it’s great that you are doing this even though it can feel scary as you put it. Look forward to hearing how they are received!

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    1. Yes, I’m definitely affected by what I think others are thinking of me.

      I want to push myself to take some of those risks, but it’s hard to do so. I think maybe I’ve been aiming too high and need to start smaller. I’m hoping to go to an educational event at my synagogue this evening. It’s only for an hour or so, which will hopefully make it easier than some longer events (e.g. Saturday morning services, which can go on for nearly four hours at this time of year).

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