I felt quite depressed again today. Dad took Mum to her appointment with the surgeon and then for a socially distanced visit to my sister’s house, so I had the house to myself for a bit, which I like. It’s nice to have personal space, not that we get in each others’ way very much (I’m usually in my bedroom, my parents in the lounge or office). I did feel very depressed and lonely, trying not to catastrophise my thoughts about the future into complete despair (about marriage, children, having my writing “cancelled,” etc.).
I tried to work on my novel before therapy, but really I just wanted to cry. I did, eventually get down to it and wrote quite a bit. It was a violent scene, and although that was hard on one level, because domestic violence is pretty draining to write, I did find the actual writing flowed more than recently. I definitely think that mainstream literary fiction is not 100% right for me (although I intend to finish the book) and I should be writing science fiction/fantasy adventure or something similar in the future. It’s bits like that that have been easiest to write.
Therapy was difficult and very draining. We spoke a lot about family and childhood. Also about Mum’s illness and being increasingly conscious of my parents’ mortality. I mentioned what Ashley has said about my having lots of “shoulds” and we worked a bit on finding alternative thoughts. I don’t like replacing “should” with “could” because I feel I could do just about anything so saying, “I could do X” doesn’t help me make decisions, especially as it makes it hard to see how urgent or important a task is. So we’re trying with phrases like “I would like to do this because…” or “This is in line with my values because…” I like the latter, because sometimes I do things I don’t enjoy because it’s in line with my values e.g. prayer (which is not always enjoyable or uplifting, although it can be) and housework. I’m also writing some questions to identify when I’m being self-critical e.g. “Is this my critical voice?” and “Would I talk to someone else like this?”
I often go for a walk after therapy, but I felt too tired today, especially as I knew I had shiur (religious class) later. The shiur was on meaning, the last of three shiurim on the topic. The first was on what meaning is; the second was on whether a person has to be religious to have meaning; and this one was on how can we make our lives more meaningful. The shiurim were given by Dr Tamra Wright and Rabbi Dr Michael Harris.
The shiur this week was not so much a religious shiur as a talk on philosophy and positive psychology, but it was interesting. Some points I took from it:
- The optimal level for a meaningful element in your life is not always the maximal one. In other words, if praying is meaningful for me, that doesn’t mean that praying 24/7 would be the most meaningful level of prayer.
- Meaningful events/things can be small, not major life-changing things.
- Recognising meaning or value that is already present is important. Even increasing this recognition a little is good even without recognising the good perfectly. (All of the above points taken from a book by the Israeli philosopher Iddo Landau.)
- Writing a gratitude journal of things that went well and why they happened helps make life meaningful. I already list things that I’m grateful for, but I don’t write it down or write why they happened. Maybe I should change that. Writing why they happened is supposed to show your agency more clearly.
- One can have a flourishing, meaningful life even without a cheerful disposition via pro-social emotions (e.g. compassion), engagement, relationships, a sense of something greater than me and achievement.
- Spirituality is independent of religion (I knew that) and is “a sense of a close personal relationship to God (or nature or the universe or whatever term each person used for higher power) and a vital source of daily guidance.“ (From work by Lisa Miller) This is associated with meaning. I’m not sure how much I have this. I struggle to feel a close personal relationship with God, although I believe in Him. I suppose He is a source of daily guidance for me inasmuch as I try to live according to Jewish law and values, but I’m not sure that that was quite what was meant.
- George Vaillant identified six tasks of adult development. They’re too long to list here, but I’m not sure I’ve achieved any of them yet, maybe not even “identity” fully (separation from parents), which I should have managed by now. The only one I might have achieved is “Becoming a keeper of the meaning – role of ‘wise judge’; impartial; conservation, preservation, passing on traditions.” Because I’m more Jewishly observant and knowledgeable than my immediate family, they look to me for religious guidance.
- Vaillant also says that self-worth is a dead end and meaning is found in thinking of ourselves less. I find this hard. I have noted my rather solipsistic self-absorption, which is perhaps partly from autism (after all, the name “autism” is about being self-contained), partly from social anxiety (not reaching out to others) and partly by temperament (tendency to ruminate).
Speaking of which, I did not really interact in the discussion because I was feeling too socially anxious. Sigh. I need to think about how to add some of those meaning-techniques to my life.