Title quote: Donnie by Ace of Base
This morning I started thinking about my birthday, which is in a month, which led on to thinking about the last five years. Whether things have changed a lot or a little, for better or for worse, to try and work out the odds of the next five years changing substantially for the better. We moved to this house, and this community, almost exactly five years ago, in the summer of 2015, so it’s a useful cut-off point. At the time I was in the midst of deep depression and also religious OCD (itself at least partly caused by the house move) and I didn’t really want to move, but I was vaguely hopeful of making a new start in a frummer (more religious) community. I had vague hopes of making friends and finding a spouse.
My depression was not initially affected by moving. It probably has been better since going on clomipramine in late 2017, although it’s still present, mostly just in mornings now, but occasionally during the day or on mental health days. My social anxiety is almost as bad as it used to be, despite having CBT last year. My religious OCD is a lot better though, thanks to exposure therapy a few years ago, which is good – probably the biggest positive psychological change since moving. I have gone to various support groups since moving, which has also helped a bit, plus I’ve been in and out of various therapies with various degrees of success. I’ve been screened for autism and found out that I’m probably on the spectrum, but I’m still waiting for a formal diagnosis, and every new month in lockdown only pushes that further away.
I was working part-time when we moved. Since then I’ve had four more jobs. Only one was really a potential long-term career-type job, rather than a short contract. I felt I messed up that job and left when they wanted to change the job description to something that I felt would give me more social anxiety, especially as I felt my boss had made clear that she didn’t have confidence in my ability to do the job properly. That was probably a big mistake, though, as I’ve struggled to find permanent work since then. I’ve largely lost faith in my ability to do a librarian-type job, as well as discovering that my autism stops me doing regular office work, so I feel useless and unemployable.
I wrote my non-fiction Doctor Who book (partly based on material going back to 2012 or so, but with a lot of new research done in the last five years) and self-published it after failing to interest any publishers in it. I’m also working on a novel.
When we moved to this area, I initially went to a Modern Orthodox shul (synagogue) with my parents, but I felt swamped by the large numbers of people, I didn’t like the chazan (cantor) and choir, and I felt no one spoke to me other than my parents’ friends, so I switched to another shul, more Haredi (ultra-Orthodox), but smaller and friendlier. I did feel like an outsider at times because I am more Modern and not so Haredi. I was slowly beginning to feel a part of that shul when lockdown happened.
Before lockdown I was still struggling to get to shul, especially considering I was going to two or three services a day before we moved. I feel that my current shul is too Haredi in outlook and I have to hide aspects of myself, but I don’t have an alternative. I used to lead services and give drashas (religious talks) in my old shul, but haven’t had the confidence to do that much in the new one. I feel like the least religious person in the shul.
I do write my weekly devar Torah (Torah thought) now which I sort of enjoy. I send it to various people, although only two from my shul. I don’t feel I’ve grown religiously in the last five years and in some ways am probably less religious than I used to be.
I did for a while move out of my parents’ home when I was in a nearer-to-full-time job and had more money. That was good for my independence, but lonely at times. I used to go home for Shabbat (the Sabbath) anyway. I’m glad I moved back in with my parents long before lockdown started.
My social life has been as insignificant as ever. I’ve made some friends over the last few years, mostly online, but I’ve lost a lot too, which is partly my fault. I feel bad about that, although some were probably disasters waiting to happen. People with mental health issues probably understand me more than most people, but putting lots of people with mental health issues together is probably a recipe for Drama with a capital ‘D’.
I’ve dated five (I think) women in the last five years, plus someone tried to set me up on a further shidduch date (arranged blind date) which didn’t happen because the woman went super-Haredi and started doing lots of background checks on me and perhaps found something she didn’t like; at any rate, she did not communicate and eventually I gave up. The three shidduch dates I really did go own were not great, usually due to lack of shared interests and values, and one had a problem with my mental health issues. (One of the dates was with a “real” matchmaking agency, two were set up by friends or friends-of-friends.)
I had another go at online dating, but didn’t get much of a response, except for one person who I ruled out because I felt she was dishonest (no, I’m not going into details). Maybe that was a mistake too.
I had one nearly-girlfriend (a friend of my sister’s who I asked out). We only went on four dates, but we texted between them a lot as she was out of the country. That seemed to be going well, but we weren’t really that similar and she didn’t like my indecision and social anxiety.
Then I dated E., who seemed almost ideal for a while, but then wasn’t right for me. I think I’ve posted enough about that recently to avoid the need for further elaboration.
Given that my experience with shidduch dates was so awful, not to mention limited (three in five years), I’m not hopeful for finding someone in the frum community in the future, given that shidduch dating is the normal way of dating there (I haven’t seen solid evidence, but anecdotal and semi-scientific evidence suggests most frum people meet their spouses through informally-arranged dates via friends and family, not professional matchmakers/agencies). I wouldn’t ask out any more of my sister’s friends, partly as the others aren’t frum enough, partly as most of them are married now, partly as I don’t think my sister approved. I do vaguely feel I should try online dating again, but it was a massive drain on my income for minimal response, so it’s hard to justify it. I did find myself looking on one site briefly today though.
E. just dropped out of the sky and found me, which is unlikely to happen again, but is sadly the most likely way I could meet someone.
Overall there are some positives in the last five years: I’ve held down some jobs, sometimes, working four days a week even when very depressed, as part of a team and using my librarian skills as well as some (admittedly limited) ability to deal with problems and queries on the spot. I dealt with my OCD and my depression is somewhat better. I wrote my Doctor Who non-fiction book. I’ve found shul that is a slightly better fit than the previous one and felt like I was beginning to fit in. I write my devar Torah. I lived alone for a while successfully. I made a few friends and successfully dated E. for a while which at least exercised my relationship muscles and showed me that I can still be kind and compassionate and to listen.
On the downside, my depression and social anxiety are still present. I don’t feel I’ve grown religiously and feel in some ways like I’ve gone backwards. I’ve done badly in a couple of my jobs. I couldn’t find a publisher for my book. My shul is far from being a perfect fit. I lost about as many friends as I gained, partly through my own fault. Most of my dating experiences were negative and none worked out in the long-term. I felt like I did prove that I could still be “present” and emotionally supportive in a relationship, but I also proved that I lack what lots of women seem to look for (stability, confidence, the ability to support a family, having “normal” interests and hobbies).
I spoke about some of this unemployment angst and dating angst in therapy. The therapist said to reframe my experiences to try to focus on positives from them and things I can be curious about rather than negatives and self-criticism. This is hard. While there are some positives, as I noted above, there are lots of negatives too and little about this analysis really makes me feel optimistic for the future, except being able to cope practically and psychologically with living alone and also the improvement in my mood since being on clomipramine.
Filling in a job application reminds me of how long I’ve been out of work, how hard I’m finding it to find a suitable job, how badly I’ve fared in so many of my jobs, how out of place and incompetent I feel in the “real world” so much of the time… It’s not a good feeling. I just feel so useless. I don’t have a lot of the skills and experience they want. This often happens to me. I haven’t managed my career and CPD well enough. I just feel like a useless librarian (also a useless person, son, brother, friend, etc.).
Also, they wanted job references. OK, that’s normal. But they want character references to cover periods of unemployment. Because I might be normal when in work, but turn into a psychopath when unemployed, presumably. Do they think I’m Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde?
Today’s achievements: an hour and a half or so working on the job application, plus therapy and shiur (religious class, although it was more of a philosophy class, or at least philosophy of religion – are God and religion needed for meaning?). I felt a bit ill after therapy and I knew I wanted to feel better for shiur, so I didn’t go for a walk after therapy as I usually do. Because shiur was philosophy as much as Torah, I wanted to do some additional Torah study, but after five minutes reading Sacred Fire decided I was too tired. No time to work on the novel today because of job application, therapy and shiur.