I was up late last night.  I mean, I’m up late every night, partly because depression makes me nocturnal and partly because having a girlfriend in a timezone five hours behind me makes for a lot of late night Skype calls, but I was up particularly late, partly writing my blog post (which shouldn’t have taken that long) and partly dealing with difficult emotions.  Watching an episode of Ashes to Ashes had triggered a lot of thoughts and feelings about could I have become a really bad person, like the villain in that episode (a sexually frustrated and religiously-motivated rapist and murderer), if my life had gone just a little bit differently.  Really there’s no end to counter-factual questions like that, because there’s no way to test which of our characteristics are innate and which are acquired, or even how much of each.  But depression (and, I guess, pure O OCD) love those kind of “Am I really a bad person?” questions, particularly if they can lead to me beating myself up for things I’ve never done and would never too.

I probably do ask myself these type of hypothetical questions too much.  I know I was asking here the other day about whether I would continue any Orthodox Jewish practice if I lost my belief, and I do often wonder if I was an atheist what my source of moral inspiration would be and so on.  Up to a point those questions are interesting, but once you go down the “How close am I to being a murderer?” route it’s more a sign of mental illness.

Then I realised (this is still late last night) that an invitation I had to a Zoom anniversary get-together for a shul (synagogue) friend’s thirtieth wedding anniversary (yes, my shul friends are mostly a lot older than me) was yesterday and not next Tuesday.  I was a bit upset to have missed it.  I wasn’t entirely looking forward to it, as I find Zoom events hard, but if I didn’t go I would have wanted to send a message beforehand to explain why I find them hard, rather than just not show up.  I sent an apologetic text today, but I still feel a bit upset.  I guess it is easy to lose track of time in lockdown.

I got woken up early in the morning, unfortunately by Mum being sick from chemo side effects.  I got her some water and she said she thought she was OK, so I went back to bed and then fell into a deep sleep for hours, waking up after midday, which was disappointing when I’ve been trying so hard lately to move my wake up time a bit earlier in the day.  It was almost the end of time for Shacharit (morning prayers), so I somehow managed to get dressed quickly and pray a little bit before breakfast, which I usually find impossible because I’m too drained and depressed until after eating cereal and drinking coffee.

I didn’t do as much as I would have liked today, partly because of that late start.  I spent a bit over half an hour working on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week, which might not have been the best use of time.  I’ve been trying to give my divrei Torah more definite conclusions.  The typical way most people would do this is either ending on a takeaway practical moral or personal development point or a quasi-prayer that the world should be redeemed soon.  I don’t really feel comfortable with either of those, but I feel like I should try them.  The topic for this week pretty much forced me down the “prayer for redemption” route this week, but I think generally I’d be happier with the “moral point” version.

I worked on my novel for a little while, but I didn’t do much.  That was partly due to starting late and finishing early (as I had a Zoom shiur (religious class) this evening), partly due to feeling a bit stuck.  I’m starting to write a new chapter, and that can be hard, and this time it’s 100% events from my research and imagination, not drawing from my personal experience except in the most general sense.  It doesn’t help that my confidence in this project is a bit reduced.  I don’t think it’s going to be amazing.  I am trying to stay confident that it might get published and speak to people, but I think there’s a limit to how good could be, and that’s difficult for a perfectionist like me.  In the end I wrote about three hundred words in an hour so, which I guess illustrates how productive I have been recently, that this now seems very substandard.

I also went for a walk for half an hour or so.  It has turned cold again.

In the late afternoon, my mood dipped.  I tried to accept the difficult feelings without fighting or giving in to them, but it was hard.  I was thinking that my life is so much better than it was a number of years ago, when my depression was a constant and unbearable thing, but I also reflected that I’m still struggling with my mood and especially with my engagement with the world (which is a combined depression/social anxiety/high functioning autism thing).  I no longer have the confidence in my ability to work as a librarian or cataloguer.  At the same time, I don’t yet have confidence in my ability to write professionally, and especially not in my ability to sell my writing to publishers, which stems from a mixture of low self-esteem and social anxiety, perhaps also some autistic social ineptitude.

***

As I mentioned, I had an online shiur (religious class) for an hour and a half on Zoom this evening.  The class was on Rashi (Hebrew acronym for Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchak), the most important biblical commentator.  I struggled with it.  I find Zoom classes very difficult.  Even in speaker view, where you see primarily just the person talking (as opposed to gallery view, where everyone on the call is visible at once) the picture changes too much for me and there is often too much extraneous noise.  I think a lot of people struggle with this even without autistic sensory overload issues.  I feel self-conscious moving even slightly knowing that I’m on everyone’s screens and my usual lack of confidence in answering questions was magnified.  I didn’t really say anything at all, even when we were in smaller groups.

It didn’t help that I think I seemed to be more familiar with the texts in question than most people there, so I knew a lot of the answers in advance, but not because I worked them out, just because I had encountered them previously, so I was reluctant to say anything.  I struggle to find the confidence to speak out in classes and shiurim in general, even though by this stage I know that I am often right, and that at the London School of Jewish Studies I’m usually one of the more knowledgeable people in the class, and my confidence could use the boost of being told I’m right sometimes (which is probably a horribly arrogant thing to say).

So, I’m slightly apprehensive about the other five classes in this course.  I’m also somewhat apprehensive about another Zoom shiur I’m booked for next Monday, but I think that will be a more traditional “one person talks and everyone listens” format; likewise a three session course I’m thinking of going to in a few weeks on meaning (I feel desperately in need of more meaning in my life).  Monday’s course might help me decide what to do about the meaning course, although my current thinking is that I should have skipped the Rashi course and done the other two shiurim/courses.  However, I have paid for the Rashi course, so I will try to get the most out of it.

8 thoughts on “Hypotheticals and Counter-Factuals

  1. I found it quite interesting what you mentioned about atheism and moral inspiration. For myself, I’ve always had the view that morals that are based on my own observations and reflections about the world around me are more likely to be personally meaningful than morals of a group that I might be expected to adopt en masse. Granted, not everyone blindly accepts everything that their religion tells them without critical thought, but the very idea of that is one of the reasons why I don’t think organized religion would ever be a good fit for me, regardless of whether or not I believed in the existence of a God.

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    1. I don’t know that I would feel confident of knowing what to do in every situation without some kind of external guide.

      I heard it said years ago that progressives see people as basically good if left to their own devices while conservatives see people as bad and needing laws and traditions to make them good. I wonder if this is similar.

      When I was younger I was more politically progressive and also … not less religious, but more liable to emphasise the more free-thinking side of Judaism. Now I feel that Western society is losing the wisdom of the ages and have doubts about whether people make good decisions unaided.

      Not just about morality either. I feel strongly about wanting to write as part of a living Jewish literary tradition and get annoyed that Jewish writers I encounter online seem to have such little understanding of pre-World War II Jewish literature (not that I’m an expert). This probably would not have bothered me in the past.

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      1. On the other hand, there have been a lot of very bad decisions made in the name of religion throughout history. If people choose to cause harm, they’ll find an excuse to do so regardless of what guidance they follow (or claim to follow).

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  2. I like that you have a schedule, even if it’s not what you want. I think it’s positive that you force yourself to do activities that frustrate you, like Zoom. You continue to reach out and involve yourself in the world when it’s probably tempting to withdraw. Before my current boyfriend, I dated a man for two years who suffered with immense bouts of depression. He would completely withdraw which wasn’t healthy for him or for our relationship.

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    1. Thanks.

      It is tempting to withdraw sometimes, although more so when I’m faced with options that really involve going out into the world, which isn’t likely to happen again until lockdown ends.

      I was completely withdrawn for a number of years much earlier in my depression. It’s not good.

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  3. I’m curious if you’ve made a connection as to why your mental health has improved so much from years ago? Medicine, lifestyle changes, both or something else?

    I’m sorry to hear the chemo is making your mom sick. I hope she’s got a good doctor who will give her good antiemetics so those episodes are few. How many more weeks of treatment does she have left?

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    1. I’m not sure why my mental health has improved. Some of it is probably medication (clomipramine, which makes me fat but helps my mood somewhat) and maybe therapy. Otherwise it’s probably lifestyle: at least trying to look for work, although they build off each other.

      I can’t actually remember how many weeks Mum has left – enough to not be worth counting at this stage.

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