I was half-awake when the phone rang this morning. It was the mental health clinic saying I had an appointment with the psychiatrist today after all, but on the phone. Phone appointments are my least favourite kind. Like a lot of people on the autism spectrum, I do not like the phone at all. I feel very anxious and self-conscious on the phone, even more so than in person, and I find it hard to connect to the person on the other end. I often struggle to hear and process information on the phone too, particularly if the line is not great. Then there is the fact that NHS telephone appointments rarely seem to happen as scheduled, but often are very late (leading to anxious waiting) or very early (when I’m not ready and am doing something else).
Fortunately, the psychiatrist phoned when she said she would, at midday. I know I’ve had bad experiences on the NHS before, and have been critical of that, but this psychiatrist seems really good (I think I saw her twice before lockdown). I did struggle to hear everything on the phone call though and am worried I may have missed something. I said that I’ve been feeling worse in the last few weeks and we spoke about increasing or changing medication, but both agreed to wait a few more months to try and get out of lockdown and see if the real-world triggers (Mum, E.) subside a bit. She did want me to go for my regular lithium blood test now (over three months after the last one) rather than in September (six months) when the GP surgery wants me to go. She also said she would also try to see where my autism referral has got to. I assumed it was completely frozen where it was before lockdown, but the psychiatrist said she thinks they are doing some video assessments. We booked another appointment for October. Hopefully things will be a bit more normal by then, the Jewish autumn holiday season notwithstanding. Whatever “normal” is.
I tried to book the blood test, but the online appointments are not working due to COVID (?!) and I will have to phone tomorrow. Did I mention I hate phoning?
I don’t feel quite so depressed today, but I am still feeling some level of depression. I also feel lethargic and drained, lacking in energy and motivation. I start something, but then I hit an obstacle, however small, and grind to a halt. A few minutes later, I start up again, until I hit another obstacle.
In terms of achievements, I advanced quite a bit with the bank accounts. I think I’ve got it all set up now, I just need to transfer the money to the right account.
I did about an hour of novel writing. I procrastinated a bit in the middle of it, but I felt better for having done it, although I realised I’m going to have to revisit one of my worst experiences at my further education job for the novel. Sadly, my narrator’s life has to be as difficult as mine was. At least I know he gets an ending that, if not exactly happy, is at least on some level redemptive. I should be so lucky.
I did some Torah study, but I lost track of how much. I think about fifty minutes, plus some time finishing my devar Torah (Torah thought). I also did a bit of ironing and quickly wrote a review of a Doctor Who episode which I will post to my other blog once I’ve posted this and can log off my Secret Identity and onto my real name.
Today’s anxious/autistic stress moment: I went to pick up my blood test form from the doctor’s surgery (walking to/from there was my exercise for today). I hadn’t been there since lockdown started and was not sure what to expect. When I got there the doors were locked and there were signs saying only people with an appointment could come in. Anxiety set in – social anxiety and autistic “new situation” anxiety. I thought of ringing the buzzer, but was too scared of being told I was doing the wrong thing and being stupid. In the end I phoned the surgery (while standing right outside) and asked them what to do. They said to ring the buzzer and say why I was here and they would bring the form out, which I did, so it was OK in the end, but it made me feel useless again, and anxious.
Ordinarily I would probably have gone to the charity shop around the corner from the surgery afterwards and browsed the books to try to restore myself a bit, but I decided it wasn’t worth the risk with COVID, thus potentially depriving the economy of the pound I might have spent on a second-hand book.
Why do I feel the desperate need to love someone? It seems so pointless, as I struggle to imagine ever being in a relationship again, both from a practical point of view of being ready and in terms of finding someone. “More than the calf wants to suckle, the cow wants to nurse” says the Talmud. It does seem hopeless, though. I don’t know how I would even go about it now. I guess via a professional shadchan (matchmaker), although I’m sceptical of them, or a dating website, although they seem expensive.
I feel like Orthodox Judaism is supposed to be about trading a degree of independence and freedom for security: security in terms of family, community, meaning and, above all, God. I never got the security. Maybe I didn’t make enough sacrifices. I don’t know. There is a part of me that says, “I won’t give up my books and Doctor Who and other telefantasy even if God wants it of me.” That’s part of why I didn’t go to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) and part of why I’ve never been able to fully embrace Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Judaism. There’s a part of me — arguably a neurodivergent, autistic part of me — that won’t give those things up for God, because they’re too important to me. I can give them up for periods of time, but not permanently. That’s a blemish in my service of God, from a religious perspective. But, given who I am and how much a part of myself these things are, from an autistic special interest perspective, I don’t think I could ever have passed that test. So maybe I do deserve to suffer, on some level, or at least not to be accepted by the community whose values of religious self-sacrifice I do not fully embrace.
I think I’m having a lot of vaguely morbid thoughts lately, sometimes going into suicidal ideation, perhaps because it’s my birthday next week. I had hoped that thirty-six would be a good year, but it largely wasn’t. I had vague hopes of finding work, finding love, even becoming more involved in my community. I hoped it would be the year of “twice chai” (in gematria, Hebrew numerology, “chai” (life) is eighteen, so multiples of eighteen e.g. thirty-six are seen as auspicious). I was also aware that the Ba’al Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism was thirty-six according to legend when he started publicising his teachings.
The reality was that I was unemployed for all bar one month, Mum got ill, the world imploded with COVID lockdown and exploded with riots. I had a girlfriend for a few months, but it didn’t work out, leaving me despondent. My one month of employment didn’t lead on to anything bigger. I spent three months not moving more than a mile from the house. I did a few minor things — I led some services in shul (synagogue) and started writing and publicising my divrei Torah as well as self-publishing my Doctor Who book — but it hasn’t been a great year.
I feel that I’ve missed out on so much of life. I haven’t done a lot of the things people say make life meaningful, whether somewhat self-indulgent (I don’t mean that in a judgemental way) things like travel or going to concerts or using alcohol (etc.) or sex, or more religious/self-denying things like helping others (I have obviously helped others, but not enough), significant Torah study, meaningful prayer and so on (actually, Judaism would say that good sex should be in the religious/helping others category, but that’s not strictly relevant to my point).
What have I done? Written a book on Doctor Who that couldn’t find a publisher and which one person has read. Written three-quarters of a first draft of a novel. Some library work. A few divrei Torah and shiurim (religious classes). It’s not nothing, but it’s not very much. I might be over a third of the way through my life. (I might fall under a bus tomorrow, of course, which just makes me feel worse.) I want to help people, I want to connect with other people and with God, I want to feel good about myself. I want to write, and to be read. I want to feel that there’s meaning in my being here, which I fear I have not felt since childhood (if I even felt it then). I did two good things in my life, which I won’t mention here, but I don’t feel I can keep relying on them as sources of merit.
In his biography of Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav, Tormented Master, Arthur Green quotes Rebbe Nachman, in his depression, as saying that we believe in two worlds, This World and the Next World. However, while the latter certainly exists, maybe This World does not exist, because a lot of the time it feels like Gehennom (Purgatory). That’s an image that resonates with me, and turns up a bit in stories that resonate with me (TV and prose). It feels that way at the moment, the endless loneliness and self-loathing.
Do I really feel so self-loathing right now? I used the word instinctively, but have I been feeling self-loathing recently so much as frustration with myself and my world? That’s not the same thing.
Sometimes I feel the reverse, that I’m somehow carrying the world on my shoulders. That my suffering should be redemptive in some sense. That’s probably just as dangerous a thing to think.
I just want my life to have meaning. I don’t know what I’m here for.