I got up reasonably early today, but somehow slowed down somewhere and was a bit late leaving for work. Then, when I was partway to the station, I realised I’d left my mask at home and had to walk back to get it, so I was a bit late for work, although J didn’t seem to mind. I tried to walk mindfully on the way to the station, but got rather overwhelmed by the sounds and smells. Maybe this is why I usually listen to music.

I felt impostor syndrome and negativity at work, feeling that I can’t really do my work. Sometimes it feels that I’m doing make-believe work like a child rather than a real job. I feel I can do difficult things like write books, but not easy ones (I messed up writing an invoice twice, even though it was based on a template). Not that I feel particularly confident about my novel at the moment; I actually feel quite negative about it and am wondering why I want to show it to my editor friend. I felt a bit better after lunch, but then I realised I’ve been going about an inventory of some property the wrong way and have wasted time in the process.

It’s funny, because after work I saw Ashley’s post for today, about mental health and Britney Spears. I’m not terribly interested in Britney Spears, but her comment that she is “taking the time to learn and be a normal person” didn’t seem that strange to me, or at least it feels like it’s what I’m trying to do now that I think I’m on the autism spectrum (if I don’t get diagnosed then there’s a whole new identity crisis… I need to chase when my final assessment appointment is as I should have heard by now). I think I still have a long way to go if I want to learn to be a normal person.

***

It’s my parents’ fortieth wedding anniversary today. It’s a bit muted in lockdown, but we had a Zoom call with my sister and brother-in-law. I still find these difficult. Everyone seems to shout. I’m not sure if the microphones aren’t good enough or everyone just thinks you have to shout for some weird psychological reason. Either way, I find it painful. I’m not usually someone whose autism makes loud noisy physically painful, but Zoom shouting down my ear seems to do it. Plus, a lot of the conversation was about work, specifically BIL’s promotion at work and voluntary charity work, so I felt a bit like the idiot child with his make-believe job again (back to learning how to be a “normal” person again).

We had take away dinner to celebrate. It threatened to set off my religious OCD again, as although it was from a kosher restaurant, the delivery company was a mainstream company, and the restaurant did not package the food according to the London Bet Din’s ideal guidelines. It met the more lenient “What if my food turns up packaged wrongly?” minimum guidelines, so I ate it, but I felt a bit anxious about it. At least I didn’t go into full-blown OCD meltdown. I’m not sure whether to complain about it. It’s probably too late to complain to the restaurant, but I might ask the Bet Din for more guidance for the future.

I feel just about ready to crash now. I wanted to do some Torah study this evening, as I only managed twenty-five minutes on the Tube and of the book that wasn’t helpful, but I’m too tired.

***

PIMOJ gave me a book on emunah (faith) that I’ve been reading on the train but I think I will stop. It seems to be lacking in nuance and reinforcing negative thoughts I have about myself. It talks about the importance of emunah and that someone who has it will feel happy whatever happens. I have two problems with this. One, it doesn’t say how to get emunah. It just seems to assume it can be switched on by a conscious act of will. Two, I know that, given that I believe in an all-powerful, benevolent God, I should logically believe that everything in my life will work out for the best. And on one level I do believe that. But I also feel that the long-term, overall best can still involve a lot of suffering in the short-term, and usually does, and that upsets and worries me. What if God thinks it’s for the best that I be lonely and depressed forever so that I can be happy in the Next World? That’s not something I would look forward to, even if I can accept intellectually that it’s for the best.

The book says that most suffering is rooted in punishment for sin, which seems questionable to me, although when I’m in the depths of depression I can believe it. My depression started when I was in my teens, but the Talmud states that a person doesn’t get punished for their sins until they reach the age of twenty (to give them time to become mature and repent) and obviously my autism would be lifelong from birth, so it seems that it can’t be down to sin completely — unless you want to go down the route of previous lives, which the author does, but which I’m sceptical of (it’s fairly accepted in kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), but seems relatively new to Judaism as a whole). I think using suffering as an opportunity for introspection and repentance is one thing, but assuming all suffering is due to sin is counter-productive and victim blaming.

Beyond this, it has a Hasidic attitude of sadness being a sin and a sign of ingratitude for God’s blessings, which, again, is something I don’t agree with and which I know is hardly universally accepted in the Jewish world. The book is based on the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, who said it is a great mitzvah (commandment) to be happy all the time, but he himself had many intense bouts of depression (if you read Arthur Green’s academic biography, it seems likely he struggled with bipolar disorder) which makes me struggle to accept it as a rule. I’m actually very interested in Rebbe Nachman, but part of the interest is the dichotomy between the joy and despair in him.

Overall, the book seemed not to be the type of thing you would want to put in the hands of someone with a mood disorder. I didn’t want to do a big attack on the book (hence the fact that I’m not naming it), but I do feel like these attitudes, if unchallenged, can do a lot of harm in the frum (religious) community. So, I think I will rest this book for a while if not permanently. It makes me a bit sad, though, as PIMOJ says she got a lot from it and I’d like to see that, but I just don’t. I think we have quite different ways of looking at things, which I guess is part of the attraction.

***

I feel a bit bad that I complained here about Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) children still going to school despite the lockdown. Apparently most of them are allowed to go, as they have crowded houses and no internet for online learning.

10 thoughts on “Make-Believe Work

  1. It’s great that PIMOJ wants to share her philosophy with you through the book. Is there one that you identify with that you could have her read? (for mutual understanding) Children going back to in-person school is a tough call and I’m glad that I don’t have to deal with it. I wish that teachers could get vaccinated before that happens though.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. The book sounds like toxic positivity dressed up in a shtreimel. And while not everything has to come back to the holocaust, suffering as punishment for sin in that context just seems absurd. Also in that context, if you’re happy that your wife is being sent to the gas chamber, something’s wrong.

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    1. The Holocaust makes it complicated, yes. Some Haredi Jews do believe that the Holocaust was punishment for sins, albeit on a national level rather than an individual one, but most Jews can’t believe that (I can’t). The idea that suffering is punishment goes back long before the Holocaust though.

      As for being happy in the Holocaust, I heard a story about a Breslover Hasid who said, “I’m in Bergen-Belsen [or wherever] and I’m happy!” When everyone said, “You’re crazy” he replied, “If I wasn’t happy, where would I be?” I can kind of see the point to that, but I don’t think I can do it, and I don’t think most people can do it.

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  3. You don’t have to like or continue reading the book. Different things speak to different people and it is entirely appropriate to put it aside if it is having a negative effect on you. My Dad and I are very similar in many ways. I read the book he says changed his life, and while I thought the book was ok, it didn’t have anywhere near the same impact on me.

    Correct me if I’m wrong (I’m not a scholar on this), but if it is a positive mitzvah to be happy all the time, does that necessarily mean it is a sin not to be? Perhaps in the Hasidic view, but I didn’t think that was necessarily the thinking re: positive mitzvot generally.

    It is unfortunate how our society values certain types of work more than others. It’s also normal for people to be good at something many people find challenging and not good at things other people find easy. I am good at some things (eg. leyning) and bad at other things (eg. time management).

    Zoom is exhausting and painful sometimes.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, I’ve stopped reading the book.

      Good point about positive mitzvot.

      Agreed about society valuing some types of work over others, although at the moment I’m struggling to find any work I can do well.

      Zoom is very painful…

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  4. The book sounds frustrating and “off.” I think there are nuances we cannot know when terms like “sadness” are used. Surely such broad statements can’t refer to clinical depression and other diagnosed conditions. I don’t think your autism is a punishment.

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