Warning: this is rather more rambling and pity partyish than usual. Please don’t feel obliged to read.
Nietzsche wrote about mental illness being “fierce dogs in the cellar.” I think they’ve been barking a lot more in the last few days and I don’t know why. I was practically in tears while davening Shacharit (saying Morning Prayers) again today, and again at lunch, and a third time in the afternoon when doing Torah study, and I still don’t know why. I don’t know why specifically Shacharit and not the other prayers either; Shacharit is the least logical service for me to cry in, as I’m invariably late and rushing through just a few prayers before the final deadline. It would make more sense if I was in tears in the other services where I say the whole thing and at least try to have some kavannah (concentration/mindfulness).
I was actually doing OK early today at trying to stay in the present and not worry and obsess about the future, but over the day I drifted into one of my “I’m Fouled Up Beyond All Hope” moods.
Early today I felt that I should just rip up my novel and my Asperger’s article and start over, because neither of them have truth in them. Perhaps truth is the main thing distinguishing a good writer from a hack. George Orwell wrote about this, I think. Not some transcendent religious or philosophical truth, but simply the truth of someone’s experiences. I think my blog sometimes has truth, but not my other writing.
I thought of a particular saying from the Kotzker Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, nineteenth century Hasidic leader) “The Evil Urge has found a new method, in which it succeeds; no longer must it do battle day and night. It toils only to take from you the delicate chord of truth in your heart, and afterwards it lets you do as you will: to work, to study, to pray… for without the point of truth, whatever you do is no longer important to the Evil Urge.” (The Sayings of Menahem Mendel of Kotsk [sic] edited by Simcha Raz, ellipsis in original) I think it’s a long time since I’ve had the “point of truth” in my writing, my study or my prayer.
I don’t think I’m that truthful in friendships and relationships either. By truthful I don’t mean ‘not lying’ (I’m not dishonest), but being fully open and ‘myself.’ I’m quite truthful with my parents, but I generally only talk about the dark stuff when it gets unbearable. I’m not always truthful with my sister. I can joke around with her, and my parents, but not always talk about the dark stuff. With most of my friends, I’m not really myself and not open at all. I would want to be truthful and to be myself in a relationship, but I don’t know if I could. I think I did with E. There were things that didn’t work in that relationship, but that aspect did work. Sometimes I wonder if I made the right decision in breaking up, although it was already an on/off relationship, so clearly something wasn’t working. I wasn’t able to be truthful with PIMOJ at all, which is why the relationship failed, although to be fair she expected me to be truthful without being the same herself. I was truthful with my first girlfriend, but, again, she wasn’t with me, and again, it contributed to the failure of the relationship.
I was going to say I’m truthful with my therapist and my rabbi mentor, but even then I’m not entirely. I’m fairly truthful with my rabbi mentor, probably more than with other people. I try to be truthful with God. I don’t know how much I succeed. I can’t hide anything from God, although a lot of things seem too trivial to mention to him, even though they upset me a lot. I don’t joke with Him much, but it hardly seems important to do so with Him.
On a more positive note, when I went to look up that quote from the Kotzker, I found a bookmark pointing to the page that had this quote that I had forgotten about: “We have not found in any place in the Torah that a person is commanded to be a scholar and erudite in all the chambers of the Torah. For the purpose of study is not to be a scholar, but to be a good man, to do what is good and to act beneficently towards your fellow.” This is pretty much entirely against the prevailing worldview of the Haredi world, or at least the Yeshivish part of it, which sees becoming a great scholar as the only purpose of Judaism, at least for men. It reminds me of the man who boasted to the Kotzker Rebbe that he had been through the whole Talmud three times. “Yes, but how many times has the Talmud been through you?” the Rebbe responded.
Of course, it’s entirely open to question whether I’m a good man who does what is good and acts beneficently towards my fellow, but it’s a more viable target for me than going through the Talmud three times.
I did eventually sit down to work on my article. I read some published articles about Asperger’s and learning disabilities on Aish as research and I think my article isn’t hugely wide of the mark, although there are still many reasons it might be rejected. I spent about an hour reading and re-writing. I think tomorrow I will actually write the pitch and see what happens. I tend to be less successful at pitching things than writing them, I think.
I went for a walk after that. It was very windy, the wind blowing clouds of blossom around so that it felt like walking through snow or confetti.
I spent half an hour researching my devar Torah (Torah thought), using the English translations on Sefaria more than I would like (Sefaria translations are often crowdsourced and sometimes inaccurate). I have an idea of what topic to write about, but not really what to say, which probably means it’s going to be another week where I feel like I’m bluffing my way through it. I think writing a devar Torah each week is a good exercise for multiple reasons, but some weeks I do feel a bit of a fraud (truth again). I doubt I could do it if I worked full-time.
It gets REALLY pity partyish from here. Honestly, I won’t mind if you don’t read it.
I wish I knew how to cope with being celibate. The internet is monumentally unhelpful about this. After more than twenty years of celibacy since I hit adolescence, I feel at my wits’ end. I emailed Intimate Judaism about this, but the sex therapist there didn’t respond to that aspect of the email, only saying she would try to set me up with a shadchan (matchmaker) who works with people with special needs in the UK. She said she has asked her colleagues and is waiting for an answer. I am doubtful, as I have made similar inquires in the past. Even if she finds one, there is also the realistic likelihood of me being too modern for such a shadchan and her clientele. And I still need help to cope with celibacy in the interim, especially as I’m not sure if I should go to a shadchan while only working two days a week and financially insecure, not to mention being emotionally fragile.
(I should probably add in terms of the special needs shadchan that when I tried looking for one a few years ago, my father asked the wife of the then-assistant rabbi at his shul (synagogue) if she knew anyone who could help someone with depression get married — at that stage, depression seemed to be the main issue as I wasn’t diagnosed on the spectrum. She said “Rebbetzin D” who I never got around to phoning. There always seemed to be good reasons (it was nearly Pesach; I found a relationship independently; I went to a different shadchan that seemed more promising and so on), but I suppose unconsciously I was socially anxious and unsure whether she could help or even how I would start the conversation as Rebbetzin D isn’t a shadchan and I was wary of what “help” she might be able to provide and how she would respond to being phoned out of the blue by a stranger. I suppose I could try to contact her now, although it’s three or four years down the line, and, as I said, I don’t know if I should be looking to get married in my current financial situation.)
I need touch sometimes. I live with my parents, so I can still get hugs, although physical contact with my parents can still be awkward for autistic reasons and reasons based on my past. I do long to be with someone I really connect with again. That wouldn’t necessarily be a partner, but could be a close friend; nevertheless, since adolescence, I’ve only had such close friendships with women, which makes them awkward when they are platonic, because usually I want them to be more, but the other person doesn’t, or because the other person isn’t Jewish or isn’t religious enough for me, which is also awkward. I have dated women less religious than me, at my rabbi mentor’s encouragement, but I don’t know how viable such a relationship would be in the long-term. Certainly it put strains on those relationships which contributed to their ending.
Above all, I want to learn how to deal with sexual and romantic desire when single from a halakhic (Jewish law) point of view. I don’t think I have a particularly high sex drive, but I do have a greater desire for love and sex when depressed and lonely — in other words, when marriage seems most distant from me. This is rather cruel. I can’t say that I live my life entirely halakhically regarding sex. I just try to do the best I can, but I don’t know whether I could do better if someone guided me, or if I had more willpower or more control over my thoughts and emotions (autistic emotional regulation is not always the best). And I don’t know what God thinks about me, whether He thinks I’m at least trying to keep halakhah or if He thinks that frankly I could do better and wants to punish me. Or is punishing me. To be honest, while my low self-esteem is rooted in negative childhood experiences like bullying (among other things) the constant level of sexual guilt since I was thirteen and hit puberty probably hasn’t helped much. The Orthodox world’s only answer to this is early marriage, which doesn’t really work when you’re thirty-seven.
(And I should say that although I feel hugely guilty about my sexuality, I’ve still never had anything approaching actual intercourse, which somehow makes the whole thing seem even more pathetic.)
It feels like the most realistic option for me is to learn to be happy alone and celibate, but everyone just says, “No, you can get married,” without doing anything practical to advance that outcome. It’s weird, because I’m used to people saying that you should be “happy with your lot” rather than endlessly daydream about some eventuality that might never come to pass. Yet everyone encourages me to stay positive about finding a mate even after so many years and so many rejections. It’s like everyone was suggesting I should solve my financial problems by trying to win the lottery when I want to find a job.
I feel that what I want more than anything is for God to tell me that He thinks I’m a good person (God, not human beings who don’t know me and might lie to make me feel better). But He won’t, not in this world.
13 thoughts on “Gimme Some Truth”
Could you use excerpts from your blog posts to write an article? You are honest and open here and write well. I don’t know what to tell you about the intimacy issues; it sounds like you may need to explore the matchmaker idea. As long as you continue to try, it’s not a lost cause.
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I think I’d feel that my blog posts are too ‘whiny’ for a mainstream article, and too personal. Maybe that’s not true, I don’t know.
I think it’s a positive sign that you were able to be truthful with E. Sure, it didn’t work out in the end, but at least it demonstrates that you have the capacity to be open in a relationship.
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1) I don’t think truth is a prerequisite for good writing. I enjoy reading murder mystery thriller novels and I certainly hope they are not based on truth! Yes, characters and dialogue need to feel authentic, and yes, plots need to feel plausible. But no, I don’t think truth distinguishes a writer from a hack. Also, don’t rip up your novel.
2) Truth in relationships (incl. family and friends) also depends on the other party being able to receive truth. There is a reason I don’t tell my sister anything – she is a terrible listener and rather judgmental! (I love her anyway). Yes, it is important in romantic relationships to have an environment where one can be truthful and open. One indicator that my marriage was falling apart was when I found myself having to pause in conversation and weigh whether I should say something honest or say something productive.
3) I’m trying to word this delicately. Would it be worth talking to your rabbi mentor re: coping with celibacy? True, Orthodoxy does not offer much in the way of options, but some non-ideal options may be preferable over others if the current situation is not sustainable. (I don’t expect you to answer this point and you can feel free to edit or delete this comment).
For whatever it’s worth, I recall reading a thread from several years ago on Imamother about frum unmarried women who went to the mikvah. More than you might think. I am not giving advice or psak; just remarking that there are other people for whom the Orthodox “get married young” answer did not work.
4) I’m not G-d and I don’t really know you, but I do think you are a good person. (And I’m not lying to make you feel better).
1) I don’t mean literal truth, but emotional truth. I’m not sure how to explain it. And I wouldn’t really tear up my novel.
2) That’s true.
3) I’ve spoken to him a bit, but not so much on practical things. (And I wouldn’t want to have actual pre-marital sex. What I really want is someone to give me tips on subduing desire.)
4) Thank you!
Fair enough re: emotional truth, though I don’t think you necessarily lack that.
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I’m obviously not God, but I think you’re a good person. And you’ve made me want to be a better person, too, more than anyone else I’ve ever known.
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That was supposed to be the blushing emoji, but I’m not sure if it came out right…
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Three thoughts on what you wrote:
1. On being yourself: I think that most of us hide parts of ourselves to just about everyone. You reveal different facets of yourself to different people. I sometimes wonder if any one person could bear to see the whole of me, and even if I was to present this, could understand what is being presented. And yes – this is lonely because we long to be our full selves to someone – and to be loved even despite revealing all. And yet we don’t even know ourselves fully. It is a lot to bear to really see ourselves for what we are.
2. On living without sex – it does strike me that you so often judge yourself by the world’s standards – and yes, to our sex-obsessed world, being a virgin today is not something to be admired, rather it is something to be pitied. But in the eyes of God (and surely your community too?), honouring the call to sexual abstinence outside of marriage is something to be respected. I like this piece, written by a Christian celibate minister in his 40s about living without sex: https://www.livingout.org/resources/articles/32/how-can-you-live-life-without-sex And have you come across the website, Celibrate (celebrating celibacy) – http://www.celibrate.org/? And there is quite a bit on the internet (google sexual sublimation) about ways one can sublimate sexual desire (channel it elsewhere) – as many people may need to do – for a whole range of reasons.
4. I’m interested in your need to know that God thinks you are good – because as a Christian it would not occur to me to want this – we believe that no one can be good and please God perfectly. What I desire is forgiveness and acceptance from God and it is a huge relief to know that I don’t have to beat myself up for not being perfect. There is so much about this in the New Testament, but echoes are in the OT too e.g. Psalm 51 (and remember what the great King David was asking for forgiveness for).
1. Yes I agree.
2. Sexual abstinence isn’t really talked about in the Orthodox community. It’s taken for granted among the unmarried, and a lot of family and communal effort is put in to making sure that most people are married in their early twenties or even late teens. Possibly it would have been different if I had been in a more religious school in my teens, when I was too young to marry. Certainly in my current community almost every adult is married.
3. I think not being perfect (which is not achievable) is not the same as not being good. I think it is possible for human beings to be good.