Good and Evil and Other Everyday Questions

I don’t know why davening (praying) makes me cry at the moment, but it does.  Mainly Shacharit (morning prayers) for some reason.  It’s not from intense prayer, as I have zero kavannah (concentration), I just put on tefillin and rush through the two main prayers for ten minutes (out of about thirty) right before the (halakhic) midday deadline.  But I feel like crying by the time I’m finished, if not earlier, and I do.

Lately I’ve been finding myself getting caught up reading political stuff online and ending up depressed and sometimes angry.  I guess a lot of people feel the news makes them depressed and angry at the moment.  When I’m depressed, I always fluctuate between wanting to run away from the news because it’s too depressing and feeling I should at least be informed of what’s happening.  That was even before the huge events of the last year, which make me feel like a snowflake caught in an avalanche.  I feel I should know what’s happening, but I don’t feel able to change anything, particularly events abroad.  I’m not even always sure how I want to change things.  My politics, as I may have mentioned, are slightly unconventional; I don’t really want to go into it, but I’m in a liminal zone between parties.  On some issues I’m more left-wing and on some I’m more right-wing and on some I don’t really fit anywhere.  So I can’t (for instance) join a party or protest movement as some of my friends have done to cope with their feelings of disempowerment because none is a good fit for me.  In any case, I hate the adversarial nature of politics.  My instinct is for dialogue, compromise and cooperation, values currently in short supply on all sides.

I did manage to go for a jog, although I think I walked most of the last half mile.  My pace was very poor, but I was glad to get out.  I was less glad to discover that jogging seems to make me want to cry too, although I didn’t actually cry.  I did shed a tear when eating lunch and reading Daniel Deronda, though, which had nothing to do with the contents of the book.  It just happened.

I have heard from both the rabbis I asked about the OCD worry, and it was indeed OCD.  I feel a bit bad about having given in to the OCD, although I am bolstered slightly by the knowledge that I have other OCD worries that I have recognized as such and not asked about, even though sometimes they concern me.

I tried making a vegetable curry, but worrying about insects in the cauliflower sent me down the path towards OCD anxiety and despair.  Given the difficulty of checking for non-kosher insects, I’m wondering whether I should keep eating cauliflower, or at least buy the expensive pre-checked type.  There is no halakhic standard for checking vegetables for insects.  My rabbi mentor suggested finding a website of guidelines to follow, but unfortunately none of them are comprehensive, which means I can’t follow just one of them, and they do sometimes contradict each other as to the best method of checking.  For example, with cauliflower, at one extreme one site says it is better to avoid it entirely because it is so hard to check and so often infested; at the other extreme, one site says just break off the florets, examine and rinse, with other sites offering suggestions with intermediate levels of difficulty.  The real problem is that Mum cooks broccoli and/or cauliflower as the main vegetables (alongside potatoes) every Shabbat and doesn’t follow even the most lenient option; my rabbi mentor said to just surreptitiously look at the food before eating it to avoid an argument (shalom bayit) on the grounds that these vegetables are usually either fine or completely infested, in which case Mum would have noticed when cooking it, but I worry if that is too lenient.  Or do I just feel I’m not making life difficult enough for myself?  Or am I worried about an avoidable argument with Mum?  It’s very hard to tell when something that should be a straightforward practical/halakhic decision becomes an interpersonal relationship one.  I realized this is why I haven’t made a vegetable curry for months.  I need to find some substitute for the cauliflower.  I guess I could just remove it and increase the amount of potato, carrot and beans (I don’t really want to increase the onion).  At least insects can’t treif up my pots if one gets through, it’s just another big sin for me.  It’s also a bit disgusting.  I guess this must sound quite crazy to my non-Jewish readers, but I did find one definite insect today (it was moving) and a couple of possibles.

There’s an exercise you can do if you have low self-esteem and/or obsessive (OCD) thoughts of being sinful, where you imagine a scale with the most righteous person you can think of at one end and the most wicked at the other and place various people you know in between and then you try to place yourself on there.  You’re supposed to see that you’re an OK person.  Whenever I try this, I start out somewhere in the middle and slowly drift towards the Hitler end of the scale, usually ending up saying, “Well, I would be as evil as Hitler or at least as Jack the Ripper, if I had the same opportunities and experiences that they had.”  I felt like that today, trying to respond to a friend who emailed to say that God loves me.  I don’t feel that God could love someone as bad as me.  I didn’t email back, because it sounded melodramatic, but then again I know she’s reading this, so I guess I’m still being melodramatic.  Maybe I’m not as bad as Hitler, but I still feel I’m pretty bad, within the confines of normal human badness.

There’s a prominent Charedi religious leader (I won’t give him the honorific of ‘rabbi’) who was arrested for sexual assault a few months ago.  He admitted rape both in court and privately to his disciples and said he deserved to be executed for what he had done.  But he also told his followers that he was allowing himself to be framed as a suffering he has taken on himself to help the Jewish people, so a lot of his disciples still insist he is a great, saintly man.  If I think of him, I feel revulsion and disgust, but after a few seconds, I feel maybe I’m nearly that bad.  I would never rape someone (God forbid), but I feel attracted to women who I’m not in a relationship with, which feels nearly as bad (certainly some feminist literature I’ve encountered would say it’s as bad).  And I have never told a lie as big as his claim to be innocent and saintly, but I feel I let people believe I’m a better person than I really am, which is the same kind of thing.  This seems silly written down, but it is how I feel when I think about him, which I have been doing a lot recently, I guess because it upsets me (I mean, I think about it because there’s a part of my mind that wants to upset myself).

My flat is my landlords’ garage converted into a flat and the rear door opens into their garden.  I had it open today, because the flat is poorly ventilated and that’s the best way to ventilate it when it’s hot and especially when I’m cooking.  One of my landlord’s children and his brother or friend discovered me for the first time.  I clearly posed a philosophical problem for the primary school-age mind, inasmuch as he discovered, from asking me, that I’m neither a daddy nor a teenager and I don’t live with my Mummy.  This clearly exhausted all the lifestyle options that he could think of (his family is also frum).  I was actually amused by the incident (maybe my Mum and my aunt are right that I’m good with children.   I certainly find it easier to talk to pre-teen children I don’t know well than to adults I don’t know well), but it did make me feel that I’m in a very anomalous position, being a frum single thirtysomething man living alone.

Oh well, the curry is now cooked, although I need to cook some rice.  I know there are positives to focus on today: jogging, cooking, shopping for a belated engagement present for my sister without getting too depressed and hopefully I will manage a bit of Torah study before bed, but part of me wants to count on the failures: oversleeping, missing most of Shacharit again, missing shul yet again, the OCD worry that my landlords’ son might have got something in my microwave’s air vents when he put something down on it while he was standing in my doorway (for lack of space, the microwave sits on a little table in the doorway, which is not ideal)…  I must try to focus on the positives.



I just tried to talk to my Dad about the bank account I mentioned in the last post and he got frustrated with me.  I honestly don’t know if I was being unintentionally difficult because I’m feeling depressed or if he was explaining himself badly.  I got annoyed with him when he asked why I’m depressed today, which was bad of me, although I wish, after fourteen years, I could help my parents to understand that you don’t have to have a reason to be clinically depressed any more than you have to have a reason to have cancer.  (Sometimes I wish my parents read my blog, although usually I’m glad they don’t.)  And then Dad got frustrated with me because he’s also sure that I haven’t made the kettle milchig and he can’t understand why I think it’s a problem.

So I’m kind of glad today that I’m single and have no one else around me that I can annoy and argue with, because I’m obviously in one of those moods where everything everyone says to me sounds stupid and offensive even if they don’t mean it to; everything I say to everyone else sounds angry and aggressive even if I don’t mean it to; and where my depression and OCD are making me worry about stuff that seems incredibly worrying to me and completely stupid to everyone else.  On days like this I can see myself staying single for a very long time.

Buried Alive

I wanted to write something more discursive than I’ve written previously today, but I feel terrible and don’t have the brainpower to write anything other than what is going through my head right now.

I obviously spoke too soon about the OCD being under control, as I’m suffering with it at the moment.  I’m really worried I made my parents’ kettle milchig, and, as my Mum doesn’t believe me that there might be a problem, I’m worried she’s going to make the parev stuff milchig too, and the fleshig stuff treif.  I tried emailing first one rabbi then another, but I think both are away; certainly neither has yet got back to me.  I don’t know what to do.

The only things I’ve done today is to have a therapy session and go shopping.  Therapy was hard, as we focused on my break-up of three weeks ago, which may have been a mistake.  I think my therapist wanted me to stop repressing my feelings and express them, but I think it’s just brought everything back, although I’m not consciously thinking about the break-up.  I do feel pretty broken, though.

I nearly had some kind of breakdown in the supermarket.  I wanted to buy some vegetables to make vegetarian curry tomorrow, but I stood in front of the cauliflowers thinking that I wouldn’t have the energy to cook and especially to check the cauliflower for insects (not sure how much that is OCD or genuine worry) and I nearly just left it and decided not to cook or at least to come back later in the week when I was more sure of what I wanted to do.  I got a bit worried about being seen buying food that people from shul might see as insufficiently kosher (cauliflower, because of the difficulty of checking for insects, and also milk, because I rely on the leniency for drinking ordinary cows’ milk in the UK (chalav stam), but I suspect most people at my shul don’t, so I’m always worried about being caught with ordinary milk).  I did buy the food in the end, but I’m not sure I’m going to use it.

I have come back from the shops feeling very depressed and despairing.  I had vaguely suicidal thoughts.  I’m not going to hurt myself (please don’t worry or phone, those of you who know my number), but it is hard to keep going today.  I worry how I’m going to be able to go back to work next week, while also hoping that I do manage it, because I think the structure and social environment will help me.  But right now it’s hard to do anything.  I actually feel a bit light-headed and faint since coming home, which probably means my blood sugar has dropped and I should eat something, as low blood sugar makes me physically and makes the depression and OCD worse.

My Dad wanted me to open a new bank account with a better interest rate now I’m earning more money, but I need to ask him some questions about the account he recommended, but I don’t feel up to it.  I’m scared to phone my parents because I feel guilty about feeling so depressed today, because I feel I’ve let them down.  On the other hand, I was saying too much on Hevria again.  My poem there didn’t make much of an impression, although I did get two positive comments and a couple of likes.  Nothing negative, thankfully.  So that was good.  But it’s hard to hold onto the good today, when it feels like the world is just collapsing and I’m stuck under the rubble unable to get out.

Three-Quarters of the Way Through My “Holiday” Post

I’m three-quarters of the way through my holiday and I feel I’ve wasted it all in depression.  To be honest, I’m anxious to go back to work, despite my nervousness over working on enrollment when I return and the vague (probably OCD) worry that I’ve got the wrong date for restarting.  All support staff have to help with exam invigilation and enrollment of new students.  I will be given a job for enrollment pretty much at random when I get to work next Monday.  I’m hoping it’s something like entering data rather than speaking to new students or, my absolute fear, directing people around the building.  It’s not a huge building, but it is a rabbit warren and after a couple of months there I know where the library is and where reception and HR are and not much else.  Given that my depression has got worse over the last few weeks, I am worried about whether I will be able to get up in time and do a full day’s work at the moment, even before I move from three to four days a week in September, as well as whether I will end up in the library office quietly weeping, but I think having a routine, something to focus on and (maybe) feel good about and being around other people will help to dispel at least some of the extreme depression I’m currently experiencing.  It will also give me an opportunity to try to work more on my social anxiety in smaller steps than I can take at the moment, where the opportunities are more ‘all or nothing’ (see below).

I suppose the holiday hasn’t been a total waste.  I survived being dumped on virtually my first day off, even if it did push me into depression again.  I survived Tisha Be’Av too.  I’ve continued going to shul on Shabbat, even managing to go on Shabbat mornings, when the depression and social anxiety would have stopped me in the past, although I feel frustrated that I haven’t managed to go on weekdays as I originally intended.  I did a tiny bit of socializing.  I want jogging less often that I would have liked, but more often than would have been the case if I’d let my depression win.  I said I was going to work on my Doctor Who book and while initially I feared I was just going to be watching old episodes, I think I must have written somewhere between two and four thousand words in three weeks, probably nearer the latter, having gone through a lot of television episodes and taken a fair amount of notes on them.  I still have my concerns about what I’ve written (there’s definitely a fear that cutting and pasting new observations into an existing structure could lead to a very bitty and incoherent argument, but that’s something to work on at the third draft stage, I think, when I’ve finished all the research and the bulk of the writing.  I also worry about not being able to expand the later chapters enough or to write a new chapter covering the last few seasons), but on the whole I’m making progress, and faster than I expected.  I’ve blogged a great deal.  Whether that’s a good thing is open to question, I suppose, but at least writing here has largely stopped me drama queening on Hevria and elsewhere.

I tried going through more of my social anxiety self-help book.  It’s difficult, as it’s cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and I’m having the same difficulty I’ve had with CBT for depression: CBT tries to replace negative or anxious thoughts with more helpful ones, but my negative thoughts are so deep-rooted that it’s hard to change them.  I believe them too much.  It’s worth noting here that the CBT I had for the OCD was very different, being exposure therapy, where you expose yourself to the things that provoke the OCD anxiety until the anxiety naturally disipates rather than trying consciously to change how you think about things.  Incidentally, I guess it’s worth noting that even though my depression and social anxiety have been bad over the summer, the OCD is mostly under control, which is something positive.  I still have obsessive, anxious thoughts, but I’m better at fighting against them rather than looking for reassurance from my parents or rabbis.

In a comment on yesterday’s post, my friend Louise said that maybe I should see bearing witness as my life’s mission.  It’s a tempting idea.  I’m not quite sure what to do with it yet, though.  I mentioned in my response a study covered in the Jewish press that found  mental health sufferers stigmatized and ignored in the Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) world and while I am not Charedi, I do have a foot in that world these days and maybe just writing here from a Jewish perspective will help someone, although at the moment  I only know of a couple of Jewish readers.

On the surface, bearing witness seems, I suppose, more of a Christian idea than a Jewish one.  It is certainly found in biblical and rabbinic Judaism but in a modern context is used for Holocaust commemoration more than for anything religious.  I suppose my writing is a form of bearing witness (which was Louise’s point), I’m just not sure where to take it from there.  Certainly my posts on Hevria have all been about bearing witness to feelings that are marginalized in one way or another (sexual anxiety, loneliness, the experience of antisemitism).

Still, today has been a mixture of positive and negative.  I overslept again (unsurprising given that I didn’t go to bed until after 2.30am) and struggled to get going again.  I drifted into depressive thoughts while out shopping, thinking morbid thoughts about my own funeral (I think about that a lot, wondering if there will be anyone there and what the eulogies will be) as well as some OCD thoughts (having already written here that I was doing well on that front), which fortunately I managed to push away fairly quickly.

On the plus side, I read a few pages of Daniel Deronda over lunch for the first time in weeks (it’s very well-written and I hope to read more of it).  I’ve nearly finished Horeb, at last (hopefully by the end of the week IF I can keep reading ten pages a day, which is a big if).  And my therapist is back in the UK and we have a session tomorrow, my first since my break-up.  The depression always gets worse when she’s on holiday and unfortunately she now takes longer holidays, as, due to Brexit, her husband has had to relocate to the continent, so whenever her children are on school holidays she goes off to Spain.

The final good thing (at least, I hope it’s good) is that, for better or for worse, my poem about antisemitism is up on Hevria.  I think people will assume that it’s about Donald Trump and the alt-right in the USA and/or about Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum on the hard left in the UK, but actually I wrote the poem back in June 2013, when Trump was just a property tycoon and reality TV star and Corbyn was an obscure backbench MP, although recent events did push it back into my mind and prompted me to dig the poem out and submit it.  Unfortunately, the events of Saturday have made it more relevant, although the discussion of the events have largely ignored the antisemitism of the white supremacists to focus on the race issue (the race issue is obviously very real, but the antisemitism should be covered too – the flyer for the rally called on people to “end Jewish influence in America”).  I can’t remember exactly what caused me to write the poem, but a lot of the feelings in it come from my personal experience of antisemitic abuse on the streets (the use of profanity, which I would not normally use, is partly a direct quotation of things shouted at me).

I can’t bear to re-read the poem now it’s up and I’m nervous about what kind of response it will get, both artistically and politically.  So far it’s had a couple of likes and shares on Facebook, but nothing more.  Maybe I’m being greedy after my last two posts had more readers.  My first post was about sex, so inevitably it got a lot of readers…  Whenever I get something published on Hevria, I feel a bit of an interloper, as everyone there seems comfortable in their Yiddishkeit (Jewishness), very creative, very open, self-confident and optimistic.  Well, I suppose I’m open about my feelings here, and on Hevria, in my posts and comments (too open, probably), even if it’s a depressive sort of openness, which doesn’t seem very ‘Hevrian’ somehow.  Still, I have made friends through Hevria, from my comments there as much as from my posts, which is something, even if I do wonder about people who want to befriend me after my drama queening, although I suppose my comments aren’t all drama queening, I do try to write perceptive comments most of the time, it’s just that if I’m having a bad time or someone writes something that triggers me, it’s hard to hold back my feelings.

I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down

“He talks to himself sometimes because he’s the only one who understands what he’s talking about.” Doctor Who: The Ark in Space by Robert Holmes

I couldn’t sleep last night.  Pretty much immediately after havdalah I spent over an hour writing a blog post to try to get my anxiety out of my system, then spent half an hour looking at the news (depressing) then I watched some Doctor Who to unwind from everything else which probably amounted to far too much blue light late at night and certainly amounted to being up too late, which, combined with self-loathing and agitation, meant I didn’t fall asleep until some time around 3.30am.  I don’t remember what I was thinking about when I was trying to fall asleep, but I got pretty agitated about something to do with my depression and mental health.

Whatever hope I might have had yesterday that I have some kind of share in Olam HaBa (the next world) has dissipated.  Thinking about my posts about not knowing what my mission is (which is obviously connected to having a share in Olam HaBa – our reward depends on fulfilling our missions) – I found this article I’d saved to my bookmarks ages ago and forgotten about which asks two questions to find your mission:

Rabbi Nivin offers two methods for discovering your mission:

  1. Ask yourself (and write down): What were the five or ten most pleasurable moments in my life?
  2. Ask yourself: If I inherited a billion dollars and had six hours a day of discretionary time, what would I do with the time and money?

I honestly don’t know the answer to either question.  Regarding the former, I find it hard to remember any pleasurable moments in my life since adulthood.  Anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure) is a key symptom of depression.  I think I’ve found socializing with known friends somewhat pleasurable, but I can’t do that for long without needing to be alone to recharge and anyway it can’t be my mission to socialize and it’s almost impossible for me to socialize anyway, due to lack of friends and social anxiety about making new ones or getting in contact with existing ones.  Likewise it’s doubtful that watching and writing about science fiction counts.  Before I moved communities two years ago, I used to get something from leading services in shul and giving drashot (religious talks), but with one very tiny exception, I haven’t done that since moving, partly from lack of opportunity, partly from lack of confidence now I’m in a much frummer community, partly from the fear that enjoying doing them was pride and that it would be punished by my making a fool of myself if I ever tried to them again.  Other than that, things I might enjoy are mostly stuff that I wouldn’t want to encourage myself to do, like self-harm (which can be a real release) or posting self-loathing comments here and on Hevria.  Jogging?  We’re getting silly now.  As for the second question, I don’t have a clue at all.  I know I’m supposed to say Torah study or maybe chessed (acts of kindness), but I know I wouldn’t do that really.

This is why I will have no share in Olam HaBa, because when I die they’re going to ask me, “Why didn’t you do X?” and I’ll say, “Because I didn’t think I was good enough to do it” or even “I never even thought about doing it.”  I want to be a husband and a father, but I don’t think that’s a life mission (otherwise most people would not have a mission beyond that) and it’s not going to happen anyway.

I just tried looking at some blog posts about how to hate myself less, but they either list things I’ve tried without success (think of my skills, achievements and virtues; write a list of my values; say positive affirmations every day) or stuff that I don’t think I can do (worry less about what other people think of me (this was why I got dumped a few weeks ago); accept other people’s positive views of myself as being as valid as my negative ones (why should I when they clearly don’t know me as well as I know myself?  And what about people’s negative views of me – how can I accept one and not the other)).  In particular, everyone says not to care what other people think of me, but no one can give me a practical way of reaching this zen-like state.  What’s the point of telling me, as one site did, “You may be in a tough place right now where you feel lonely or like a loser. No worries, we’ve all been there. But it’s time for you to realize how common these things are, and that they’re experienced by even the most successful and happiest people in the world. Those people get past them, and you will too” when for twenty years I haven’t managed to get past these feelings?

This article says that when you criticize yourself you should imagine part of you shouting abuse at the other part of you, perpetrator and victim, so you can see you have learned the hatred (the perpetrator) and direct love at the victim part of you.  The problem is, when I was thinking “Luftmentsch, why don’t you just **** off and DIE!” I tried to imagine seeing the perpetrator-me and tell him to **** off himself, but I automatically imagined him shouting it back at me (the real me, not the victim-me) so vividly and loudly that I actually flinched in real life.  Now I’m being bullied by imaginary people…  Maybe some people are just messed up beyond all hope?

I managed to go for a jog, at least and now feel too exhausted to hurt myself, which I suppose is good, although I also feel too exhausted to make dinner, which is less good.

Tune in tomorrow when you can see how much flak I’ll have taken for my poem on antisemitism on Hevria…

Heaven Sent, Hell Bent; Or, Doctor Who is my Spirit Guide (Maybe)

(No wise mind today, this is too weird and it’s too late at night after Shabbat.)

I had a weird Shabbat.  At shul (synagogue) this morning, someone asked me to lunch.  I panicked and said I had to go home because my parents were expecting me, which was true, but it was early enough that I could have gone home, told Mum I was going out to lunch and gone back out again.  Really, I panicked.  It happened so fast that I’m not even sure why I panicked.  I think I was worried about not having anything to say or saying something stupid, but it might even have been more fundamental than that, just worrying that someone wants to see me socially worrying me in itself, feeling I will disappoint in someway or that some ill-defined bad thing will happen.  I felt guilty for not going, particularly as this person was going to be eating alone because I wasn’t going but also relieved.  I don’t know what I’ll do if I get asked again, by this person or someone else.  I say I want to have friends, but when I’m presented with the possibility, usually I panic and run away.

On a more positive note, I did speak a little at seudah shlishit (the third meal) at shul.  I made some suggestions about interpreting some Torah passages we were discussing and made a (very slight) attempt at humour.  So that was something positive.  It’s taken nearly eighteen months to get to this stage…

I slept a lot over Shabbat again.  I nearly dozed off during the leining (Torah reading) in shul, which was very bad.  I had a weird dream this afternoon.  I don’t normally relate my dreams, partly because I usually can’t remember them (either coherently or at all), partly because other people’s dreams are usually not terribly interesting, but I thought this one says something about me, although what it says is open to interpretation.

At the start of the dream my parents were annoyed with me.  They thought I was being short-tempered when I wasn’t intending to seem like that.  This happens to me a lot and has happened since childhood.  I think it might be one of my borderline Asperger’s symptoms, that I’m not always as expressive as I would like to be in my tone of voice and facial expressions and so I seem angry when I’m not.

My memory of the next bit is fairly incoherent (something about superheroes loosely based on the graphic novel Superman: Red Son?!).  The next bit I can sort of remember is being with characters from Doctor Who (second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe, I think).  I think there was some sort of void between universes (as in The Mind Robber) and then we were in another universe, which I somehow knew was Heaven.  I think.  This is the clearest bit of the dream for me, but I still don’t remember it coherently.  I think I felt intense pleasure in this other universe/Heaven, like nothing I had experienced before.  It made all my suffering worthwhile.  And then I was fighting against myself: part of me wanted to stay there, part of me was trying to wake up.  I felt I had to wake myself up (I have had this experience before when finishing a dream).  Eventually I woke up and it was much later than I intended and I only had a little bit of time to study Torah before going back to shul.

On waking, I wondered if this was a prophetic dream and I had really been shown that I do have a share in the next world (see my comments about feeling I don’t have a share in the next world here) and that it is worth suffering in this world to get it.  Even if I never get any joy or pleasure in this world, it would still be worth it to have the next world.  The void between universes would be Gehennom.  The longer I’ve been awake, though, the more I doubt it.  In Judaism dreams can have prophetic meaning (e.g. Yosef’s/Joseph’s dreams) but even prophetic dreams have a nonsensical element (again, even Yosef’s dreams had this) and some dreams are completely nonsensical.  Why would I be shown that I have a share in the next world?  (My only possible explanation is because I was thinking about death and suicide recently, especially after what happened regarding lunch.)  Especially when I was not even in a state of ritual purity?  And if I was shown the next world, how could I even understand it?  It makes much more sense to see this as a fantasy dream – I wrote during the week about thinking I have no share in the next world, and now my unconscious produces a wish-fulfillment dream about it.  But I can’t shake the feeling that maybe I have been shown something important, if I could just put aside my scepticism.  (Interesting article on dreams in Judaism here.)

The final distressing thing that happened to me was looking through a booklet of Torah thoughts in shul this evening.  There was an essay on prayer.  I brought the booklet home after Shabbat so I can quote it:

Being real about tefilla [prayer] means we realize we are praying to our Father in Heaven Who wants only our good and has the power to do anything.  Therefore, we should anticipate that Hashem [God] wants to help us…

If we do not expect that Hashem will answer our tefilla, Hashem will not invade our space and shock us with success.  He wants us to earn the realization that He is our Father in Heaven and that we can always count on Him.

This worries me greatly.  I suppose it could explain why I don’t get the “miracles” that other frum Jews claim to have received (you can read a million of these stories on,, etc.).  I admit I get a few things (I’ve been fortunate with my career), but I have spent all my adult life, if not more, struggling with mental illness, loneliness and misery.  I just don’t expect things to change.  I think God wants me to be this miserable, for some reason.

I feel I have just experienced so much misery in my life, so much bullying, emotional neglect and occasionally behaviour bordering on abuse, that it is hard to believe that God only wants good things for me.  I believe that God is omniscient, omnipotent and benevolent… to everyone else.  My experience is simply that he doesn’t want me to have a happy life, for whatever reason, because I have not experienced that kind of positive experience in life generally.

And even if I can get past my own experiences, I am haunted by the Holocaust, especially by the one million babies and children who were murdered by the Nazis.  When I try and pray for good things, for myself and others, I often see the Holocaust victims, particularly the children, and I think, if God didn’t help them, what guarantee do I have that He will help me?  I can’t adopt the simplistic attitude that so many religious people seem to have that God will always step in at the last minute to stop anything terrible from happening.  I even wrote a poem about seeing the Holocaust children years ago, although I don’t really remember what I wrote and don’t intend to dig it out now.

I suppose this ties in with everything else I have written about tonight, about being asked to lunch and panicking and turning it down (running away from a potentially good thing) and then having a dream that might have a positive interpretation and insisting on giving it a negative one, even though in Judaism one can ‘force’ a dream to have a good interpretation by believing in that good interpretation.  I just can’t open myself up to the possibility of goodness, if only because of the depression and despair in which I am mired.  This seems really unfair, as it seems to guarantee that narcissists and other unpleasant people will have a good time while good people who have been made self-critical by suffering and abuse will not receive anything good.

Flow My Tears, The Librarian Said

I’m carrying on with my depressed mind in black and my wise mind in red.

I keep crying today without really knowing why.  I just sit there and suddenly my eyes are moist and I really want to let go and sob, but I can’t.  It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it could just be a release, although as I don’t know why I’m crying and as I find it hard to really cry, it probably isn’t much of a release.

I overslept again and struggled to get going, managing very little of Shacharit again.  At least I did some.  I’m achey (I must have pulled a lot of muscles doing aerobics), lacking motivation and energy and I want to comfort eat (resisting so far).  I did manage to spend thirty-five minutes proof-reading the second draft of the sixth chapter of the book I’m writing on Doctor Who covering the bulk of Jon Pertwee’s time in the role and Tom Baker’s first story (the odd divisions are from my following stylistic changes, usually revolving around changes of producer or script editor, rather than lead actor).  The chapter nearly doubled in size for the second draft, weighing in at nearly 8,200 words.  This is now the longest chapter in the book (so far), but rather than feel good about it, I just worry I won’t be able to increase the later chapters to the same length, or write a new chapter on Peter Capaldi’s time on the show.  I certainly don’t feel much of a sense of achievement in having written it, just frustrated that it’s not as good as I would like it to be.  This is still good, even if I don’t feel anything.  It’s done for now and I can move on to the next chapter.  I have also sort of restarted my Doctor Who blog (no link as it’s currently under my real name), not for anything detailed, just odd reflections, quotes and silly jokes.  Not sure how long I’ll continue with it.  It’s good that I’m reaching out there too.

I also have a poem coming out on on Monday.  That’s also good.  I suppose it’s all go, creatively, except that I wrote the poem years ago, but didn’t show it to anyone.  So?  It’s still my poem.   Perhaps that gives me some distance on it, not to feel so worried about it or critical of it.   Or maybe not, as I am still somewhat nervous about it, as it’s about antisemitism and might be seen as controversial.  It also has some profanity (use of the f-word, quoting things that have been shouted at me in the street), which I don’t normally use, but  which seemed necessary given the context.

I feel a bit bad because my Mum just phoned me with some sad news from her work (someone died), but after listening politely for eight minutes I said I need to go (which was true) because it’s hard to empathize over the death of someone you never knew and she had even finished talking about work and was just going through everything that had happened to her today.  I didn’t think I was rude, but I think she got upset anyway, so now I feel bad for upsetting her.  It’s my fault, I was trying really hard to be patient, but I slipped up and probably annoyed her.  I can’t be responsible for other people’s reactions.  I did try to be polite and she had finished telling me about her issues at work.  I probably could have been more polite and waited a bit longer, though, if I had tried.

Signals from Fred

(Signals from Fred explained.)

The ancient Greek historian Herodotus said that the Persians would consider every great decision twice, once while sober, so they would not be lacking wisdom and once while drunk, so they would not be lacking courage.  I don’t know whether this is really true or not, but it reminded me a bit of my CBT therapist trying to get me to favour my “wise mind” over my “OCD mind.”  I thought I would try to write this post twice, once with my depressed mind (in black) and once with my wise mind, trying to think more positively (in red).  It turned into autoanalysis.

I felt a bit better on waking than I had done for the past few days, albeit achey (I probably didn’t warm up properly before exercising yesterday), but again procrastinated, eating breakfast slowly, reading online (about social anxiety and about antisemitism, probably not the best thing to be reading) and avoiding getting dressed and davening (praying), although I did at least shave (eventually).  I finally said a tiny bit of Shacharit (morning prayers) mere seconds before it was too late to do so and while I was davening I started crying, I’m not sure why.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  It can be a release, although this didn’t feel much like one.  I had zero kavannah (concentration in prayer).  The rabbi in my shul (synagogue) spoke recently of praying rapidly without kavannah being like asking for a favour in a hurried and inattentive way, insulting to the person you are talking to, but I am incapable of doing otherwise at the moment.  True, but at least I was davening.  Someone once told me that a rabbi had told her that davening at all when depressed is a great thing.  I don’t know how true that is.

I just heard that a friend of mine from Oxford got engaged.  I’m trying to feel happy for him, but it’s hard.  What I mostly feel is a sense of loneliness and isolation, as well as social anxiety about having more parties to go to and to feel awkard, bored and out of place at, as well as wondering when he got engaged and if this is another announcement I missed through not being on Facebook (his telling me was in response to my emailing him out of the blue to ask if he wanted to meet, as we haven’t seen each other for some months, maybe more than a year).  I did wonder how he met his fiancée and I suppose I could have asked him, but it’s doubtful the answer would have been any help to me anyway.

Even before this, I was thinking that if I had to sum myself up in two words, they would be “lonely” and “tormented.”  I meant that as a general comment, not one limited to how I feel today.  I’ve felt for some time that I am fundamentally a lonely person and today I added in the tormented part.  I’m not sure how to move on from them.  There is probably a lot of negative self-definition here.  Like I want to have problems.  I wonder what my therapist would make of this.  She used to talk of the “mantra” I had, telling her how bad my week had been.  Most of my peers from school and university (I’m thinking mainly of Oxford, for various reasons) have long since dropped off my radar, but the Jewish community is small and I do hear from time to time what people are doing, and it’s usually very positive: high-powered careers (going to Oxford means I know a lot of over-achievers;  also know quite a few who became rabbis as well as a couple of academics), marriage, children etc.  I think there may have been one or two divorces, I don’t know.  I just googled a few names which was very stupid of me and saw that someone who used to bully me at secondary school now has a business, a pretty wife, a baby and a dodgy beard.  I don’t wish him ill, but I wonder where I went wrong.  Interesting I said “where I went wrong”, not “where my life went wrong”, like I did something stupid, incorrect or immoral.  Like this is all  my fault.

I sometimes wish that my suffering could be some kind of kapparah (atonement) for other people, but Judaism doesn’t believe in vicarious punishment (actually, the historical reality is more complex than that, but certainly contemporary Judaism downplays it almost to non-existence and with good reason).  I used to want to be a lamed-vavnik, one of the thirty-six supremely righteous people on whose existence the world depends, but I have given up on the chances of achieving that particular ambition.  Ego, much? I was just thinking I’d rather be Mashiach ben Yosef than Mashiach ben David, because Mashiach ben Yosef gets killed before the messianic era begins.  That’s even worse!  I should probably add here I add a couple of borderline psychotic episodes at Oxford where I thought I was Mashiach, albeit only for a second or so.  When I told my therapist, years later, she pretty much freaked out about it.

I have long had an intuition that I have no share in Olam HaBa, the World to Come (essentially the Hebrew idiom for Heaven).  I can’t prove this to anyone, obviously.  Then why do I believe it?  Usually I’m reluctant to believe things without proof, purely on the basis of intuition.  Why is this different to ghosts, reincarnation, near death experiences and other things I’m sceptical of?  I’ve done some pretty bad things, but I don’t know that they will cost me my share in Olam HaBa.  Right.  But conversely,  no one can reassure me that I do have a share.  At school I was taught that almost everyone has a share in the next world and there is a famous teaching that all Jews have a share in the world to come, yet the Talmud lists a load of biblical characters who don’t have a share in Olam HaBa and with one exception they are all Jews.  At any rate, sometimes I feel I have done the three cardinal sins of murder, sexual immorality and idolatry.  ?!  Obviously I haven’t literally done those things.  I haven’t literally killed anyone or slept with a married woman.  But I feel I’ve done things equivalent to that e.g. the rabbis say that gossip and embarrassing someone in public are equivalent to murder and I’ve done those.  But regardless of what the rabbis say, there isn’t a literal equivalence.  You are supposed to die rather than murder, but you aren’t supposed to die rather than gossip.  I suspect I’ve also experienced baseless hatred, which is considered as bad as the three cardinal sins put together.  I said “suspect” because I can’t actually think of an instance of really hating someone, even someone who hurt me.  Dislike, yes, but not hate.  I can’t really think of very much positive that I’ve done.  I can think of two good things I did, which is not much, but more than nothing.  I don’t always keep Shabbat properly and I worry I don’t keep kashrut and Pesach properly.  Translation: sometimes I have accidentally broken Shabbat and my OCD tells me that I don’t keep kosher or Pesach properly, not my rational mind.  I don’t daven with kavannah, I skip a lot of Shacharit and I don’t do enough Torah study.  True, but as I said above, doing any Torah study or davening while depressed is impressive.  I did a lot of bad stuff before I became frum.  No, I did some fairly tame stuff that happens to be against halakhah before becoming frum, like eating vegetarian food in treif restaurants and watching TV on Shabbat.  I was a tinok shenishba and can’t be held responsible for it.  True, but it took me a long time to become frum and I made some mistakes.  I also had serious personal reasons for not becoming frummer sooner.  But there are still big things I still do that are against halakhah that I can’t mention here.  I have no reply to this, except that my mental health pushes me to do things I would rather not do e.g. being irritable and sarcastic to my parents.

Other people seem to have managed to do a lot more good than I have.  I just feel too paralyzed by my mental health, which isn’t really an excuse, as I know people who also have mental health issues who have triumphed over them, whether individuals I know (at least online) like Elad and Rivka Nehorai and Matthe Roth of Hevria or famous people like Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill (and possibly various eighteenth and nineteenth century Hasidic rebbes, although it’s hard to diagnose people in retrospect).  Sometimes I daydream about being murdered by terrorists to have some kind of redemptive death al kiddush HaShem.  The irritating thing is, you would think if I have no Olam HaBa, I would at least have some Olam HaZeh (this world).  I suppose I have food, water and shelter, so maybe that’s all I deserve.  And at least I’m doing a job that feels socially useful.

I guess the last few paragraphs are a fairly transparent attempt at getting people to disagree with me and say I’m a good person.  I doubt it will work, but I shouldn’t even be manipulating people (my friends!) like this.

Oh well, I did at least manage to finish my painting of the bathroom woodwork today, to go for a walk and do some shopping as well as managing forty minutes of Torah study (which is all good!), again mostly Horeb which I have to say I am anxious to finish as I’m not getting much from it (I have about eighty pages left), which is probably not the right attitude (but at least I’m reading it and I’m doing it so I can move on to other things).  On the downside, I got involved in writing this post and making myself depressed googling people I knew and forgot to sort through my work papers, which was supposed to be one of my tasks for today.  I did manage to do a few things, though.  It wasn’t a totally wasted day and I did this experiment of trying to argue with my negative thoughts here.

“I have of late – but wherefore I know not – lost all my mirth”

I wrote most of this post earlier today (in fact, one paragraph was written last night), but at 6pm I had a short Skype call with my rabbi mentor which made me feel a lot better.  I didn’t want to delete the post I had written, because it was true this morning and may be true tomorrow, but I didn’t want to ignore how I feel now either.  So I decided to make a sort of mosaic: the bits in black ink are from earlier, the red bits have been added after 6.15.

I feel lethargic and depressed again.  I couldn’t be bothered to shave today, always a bad sign.  I had enough energy and motivation to shave by the evening, but it seemed a bit pointless that late in the day.  This really does look like another full-blown episode of depression.  I really thought I was over it (again).  I’m very worried about working four days a week from September now.  Maybe it will help me feel better… or maybe I won’t make it at all.  Ugh.

I’ve been feeling tired of life a bit again recently.  I didn’t think very much of this as I’m not actively suicidal, but this article says I should be concerned.  Also that I should be taking care of myself and of others and I’m not sure that I’m doing either of those.  Looking again, it also says I should be doing the things I love and which make me feel alive and excited and I’m not really doing that either.  I don’t know what I love, really, and nothing really makes me feel alive and excited (writing about Doctor Who?  Maybe, but that’s problematic on multiple levels).  Ugh.  Similarly, this second article states:

“Most people who don’t feel good about themselves want frequent reassurance that they are loveable and worthwhile, and become upset if it is missing. They expect a partner always to be warm, happy, and uncritical. That is hard for most partners, and unrealistic to expect of a mate. Instead, insecure people should do whatever is necessary to feel less dependent on others’ positive feedback. That may require psychotherapy, a job change, or appreciating aspects of themselves that they now denigrate.”

I know that this is true, but I don’t know how to change.  Years and years of therapy have not made me like myself more (although perhaps I did like myself a bit more a few months ago, before the depression started again) or less dependent on the praise of others.  It sometimes seems to me that the people who need praise and reassurance most are the ones who get it the least.  The article goes on to say, “Nothing external can undo years of emotional deprivation. If we can’t make ourselves happy, no one else will be able to do so.”  I don’t think this leaves me much hope, as so far I have not been able to change myself.

I feel these posts are getting repetitive and just voicing my self-loathing.  Ugh again.  And I’ve put on weight eating too much and not exercising while on “holiday” (and, to be fair, being on medication that causes weight gain as a side effect) and my work trousers are now tight.  Everyone puts on weight on holiday, though.  Ugh, ugh, ugh.

I didn’t have the energy to do any exercise again today.  I was at least going to try to go for a walk, but it was raining too heavily.  It was too wet outside to jog, but I did twenty-five minutes of aerobics and got quite tired in a good way.

I did manage to paint the woodwork in the bathroom.  It only took about twenty minutes, admittedly excluding preparation and cleaning up and it will probably need a second coat tomorrow.  So that is something achieved, even if it doesn’t seem like very much.  I managed half an hour of Torah study too, although I don’t think I managed to take anything in.  I also managed to do some work on my Doctor Who book for fifteen minutes.  I’m still a bit worried about wasting my time on it, but my rabbi mentor said that if I enjoy writing it and think other people might enjoy reading it, it’s enough reason to write it.

As mentioned, I also had a fifteen minute Skype call with my rabbi mentor, which was positive, partly just from talking to someone about how I’ve been (he’s a trained counsellor, so I feel comfortable sharing things with him that I’m reluctant to tell my parents; my therapist has been on holiday for a month, which always leaves me feeling depressed).  He suggested that I try gardening, which my non-biological “twin sister” also suggested.  I don’t have a garden, but I will see if my parents need anything done in theirs, even if it’s just harvesting the apples and pears from the trees.  I also felt good for not asking some of the questions I had that I thought were probably coming from OCD (asking questions seems a positive way to deal with OCD doubts, but it is actually a form of compulsion that perpetuates the obsession).  I did ask him a non-OCD question and he gave me a much more lenient answer than I expected, which was nice.

I am experiencing a lot of loneliness at the moment (another reason to look forward to going back to work).  I wander aimlessly around the internet looking for something I can relate to or someone I can communicate with.  I look for things written by people I know (at least online) so I can comment.  I’m sure my drama queening on Hevria is just trying to get a response because I’m lonely.  Is it trolling if I’m just trying to get a reaction if I don’t say anything rude and just want to be told I’m a good person?  Or alternatively, that I’m just a bad person.  As long as people interact with me, treat me like I exist.  I googled a couple of old loves, which I really shouldn’t have done.  No, I really shouldn’t.  I didn’t really learn anything new, but it just makes me feel depressed that other people are happy and moving on with their lives and I’m stuck here alone and miserable.

I saw this article about making friends yesterday, but I didn’t want to post a third time in one day.  My response was that it’s very hard to “just be myself.”  At shul and shiur I fear that just being myself will lead to me being ostracized for having weird or even forbidden interests and for not being a straightforward conservative (in all senses of the word) Orthodox Jew.  Among Doctor Who fans I fear that just being myself will lead to my being ostracized for being religious and not being a straightforward liberal.  At work I fear that just being myself will lead to me being ostracized for being too clever or for being a Zionist.  On Hevria I fear that just being myself will lead to me being ostracized for drama queening, for not being a mystic/Chabadnik and for fairly deliberately repressing my creative urges (especially as it was rejection from Hevria that led to that repression).  Everywhere I fear that just being myself will lead to me being ostracized for being mentally ill – even if people aren’t prejudiced against mental illness per se, it’s almost impossible to ‘casually’ bring up an ongoing history of serious illness of any kind without seeming like a drama queen, especially after not having mentioned it previously.  It’s no wonder I mostly hang out online where the few other people also in that tiny overlap on the Venn diagram of my life (frum, geeky, cultured, mentally ill) can say “Hi” (I admit it happens occasionally) and the rest can just ignore me rather than having actual negative interactions.  Actually, it’s worse than that, as usually I don’t say anything at all, even online.  But I’ve had so many rejections over my life and especially over the last few months that it’s hard to keep hoping and not to give up.  At times it’s tempting just to retreat to my flat and focus on my books and DVDs and forget about having friends or getting married.

The thing that strikes me about all this is how disproportionate the fears are compared to what I have actually experienced as an adult.  Yes, as a child I was bullied mercilessly by the other kids and even adult authority figures were dismissive of my interests and attempts at conversation.  But as an adult, outside of dating (where I have been rejected for my interests and my mental health), I have rarely experienced real rejection for these things, mostly because I haven’t flagged them up enough to even find out how people will react.  At Oxford I did get laughed at by one or two people at the Jewish Society when it came out that I was a Doctor Who fan, but that’s twelve years ago.  I’m assuming that people will react to my political and cultural views in a particular way, based on my fears and on the experiences of other people (e.g. Orthodox Jews who have been verbally abused by other Orthodox Jews for being anti-Trump) rather than based on my own experiences, which probably isn’t sensible.

I wish I hadn’t started Daniel Deronda, it’s become just another thing to beat myself up about.  Well, that’s silly.  What’s really annoying is that I was actually enjoying it, before I stopped reading because of the depression, so I don’t want to give up on it completely.

Watching the Defectives

(Did you see what I did with the title?)

I’ve been feeling pretty bad again, with a head full of brain fog, and it seems to be going on too long to be simply the result of the break up of my non-relationship two weeks ago.  I’m worried that I’ve drifted back into another episode of full-blown depression, two weeks being the minimum period for a diagnosis.  It would fit my general pattern of recovering for six months or so every few years and then falling straight back into depression again.  My lithium level was a little low at my last blood test and I’ve used this as an excuse to try and get an appointment with a psychiatrist, or at least to get some advice.

Today felt like a wasted day because of the depression.  I wish I had work to distract me, but I worry I couldn’t make it in if I did.  I suppose the day wasn’t entirely wasted, but I failed to achieve several objectives.  I wanted to repaint the (now mould-free) woodwork in the bathrooom and to go for a run.  I didn’t manage either.  I did at least manage to walk down to the shops and to somehow find the energy and motivation to cook dinner.  I had to fight the OCD to do this, which I suppose is good (good that I fought it, not that I had to fight it).

I also managed about forty minutes of Torah study, mostly Horeb, Rabbi S. R. Hirsch’s book on the philosophy of the mitzvot (commandments).  I have been reading this, or rather, re-reading it (as I read it many years ago) for a long time now, certainly well over a year, possibly over two years (I don’t like giving up on books).  It is written in a flowery nineteenth century style that is not easy to read while depressed (the same reason I haven’t made much progress in Daniel Deronda lately).  I was hoping to finish it this holiday.  I might still manage it, as I only have one hundred pages left, but it will depend on how depressed I am over the next week and a half before I go back to work.  I did read some depressing political and cultural stuff on Mosaic Magazine, however, which was probably a bad idea.

I feel pretty exhausted now.  I feel bad that when I saw Dad before, I lied and said I was feeling fine today and he believed me.  I didn’t want to admit that I feel depressed, because I feel like a failure, and because he’ll ask why I feel depressed and I’ll get annoyed and say I don’t know, because non-depressed people don’t realize you don’t need a reason to feel depressed (although you can have an obvious trigger, like my break-up), just as you don’t need a reason to have cancer (although you can have one, like smoking).  I don’t think I’m depressed because of my break-up, I’m over the woman I was seeing, but once the depression has started, it becomes self-sustaining.

I have, however, been drama queening on Hevria again.  I suppose I do feel envious of someone who is twenty-one, married and feels her life is going well, even if she does seem to be suffering from mild anxiety; when I was twenty-one I was struggling to finish my BA, feeling utterly alone and unloved in Oxford, semi-seriously contemplating drowning myself in the weir… I wouldn’t take away anyone else’s happiness, but I wish they could share some round with me.  I feel bad about drama queening as however bad my life is, other people have it worse (my parents’ friends’ son has leukemia and he’s considerably younger than me), although someone once said that the worst thing that happened to you is still the worst thing that happened to you, even if others have had it even worse.

I actually wasn’t drama queening too badly this time… but here I am drama queening here instead.  I do wonder why people read and like this stuff.  I wish people would comment more, though.  My friends are almost all virtual friends.  To quote Hancock: The Radio Ham (by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson) “I’ve got friends all over the world… none in this country, but friends all over the world.”  I have one friend in London and I haven’t seen him for months, maybe over a year.

I’m still procrastinating over joining the shul.  I’ll need to do it soon if I want to daven there on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  I haven’t emailed the rabbi yet (I think he’s on holiday anyway), but I did just email the administrator to check what the fees are and when they are due.  I had to really fight my social anxiety even to do that, I was so worried that it would be considered a rude or stupid question, I don’t know why.

I don’t know if I’ve described my flat.  It’s a garage that my landlords converted into a flat.  75% is taken up with the bedroom/living room/dining room – basically the room with my bed, main storage space and tiny tables and desk.  Behind that is a tiny kitchenette and behind that is a similarly tiny toilet/bathroom.  The window of the main room looks onto the street, albeit that it is set back somewhat from the road.  There have been glaziers at work fitting new windows and doors to my neighbours’ house the last two days.  If I leave the blind up, they can stare right in at me and my bedroom.  If I draw the blind, it’s really dark.  Difficult.  There’s quite a bit of noise too (banging and radio), although I’m better at mentally tuning that out.

On the plus side, my viewing of Doctor Who in order has very nearly reached Tom Baker’s time in the lead role, my favourite era (or eras plural, but you’ll have to buy my book when it comes out to learn why!) of the show.  If I’m going to be too depressed to do anything other than vegetate in front of a DVD, I might as well vegetate in front of something good.  But for now I am watching Planet of the Spiders in a flat infested by spiders.

Marrying Young and Stereotypes

I woke up about 8.30, possibly woken by the building work going on next door.  I certainly felt lethargic and a bit down.  I’ve got the ‘brain fog’ feeling of not being able to think properly and I struggled even to get the energy and motivation to get dressed.  I skipped a lot of Shacharit (morning prayers), relying on the Talmudic idea of “it doesn’t matter whether you do a little or a lot, provided you direct your heart to God,” except that I couldn’t concentrate well enough to direct my heart very well.  Again.

I’m procrastinating about emailing the shul (synagogue) I want to join to ask about their fees and especially about meeting with the rabbi, because I’m worried about being judged or even being told that I’m not right for the community.  Which brings me to:

The daughter of a rabbi I know from a different shul got engaged.  I guess she’s in her late teens, early twenties at most, likewise her fiancé.  I started looking online for anything to tell me how frum (religious) people manage to get married so young which might give me a clue about what I should do.  As frum people we are constantly told that common values are more important than physical attraction or even common interests, but we are also told to marry young, when surely most people don’t know what their values are, or at least only vaguely.  I’m in my mid-thirties and I’m still exploring who I am (and I’m very introspective and have been in therapy for years).  I searched online for an answer, but only came up with this article about marrying young: apparently people who marry young are richer, happier, more fertile and have a more satisfying sex life… so, even if I do find a woman weird enough or desperate enough to marry me, I’ll still be poor, miserable, childless and sexually frustrated, all because I was too shy and mentally ill to talk to women when I was in my twenties.

I guess it’s made easier for very frum people inasmuch as frum society seems to limit what values and interests are seen as acceptable and in what order of priority, e.g. chessed (kindness) is rated highly for women, but ranks below studying Torah for men; personal growth, caring for family and hospitality are seen as very important while creativity and environmentalism are vaguely suspect.  I don’t know what stereotypical frum women are interested in, but judging by conversations at kiddush and seudah in shul stereotypical frum men are mostly interested in Torah (meaning Talmud), whisky, politics and sport, which are not key interests of mine (I do love Torah, but aspects of it other than Talmud).  Then again, I suppose most stereotypical men in wider Western society are interested in beer, politics and sport, at least judging by what the culture seems to prioritize in newspapers and television.

But how many stereotypical people (frum or otherwise) actually exist, that is the question?  Do stereotypes exist because lots of people broadly fit that category or do they have no relationship to reality (e.g. the antisemitic stereotype of the money-grabbing Jew)?  Maybe this isn’t the case, maybe frum people are interested in other things if I had the courage to talk to them more, to raise unusual topics of conversation.  I don’t know.  I  heard recently about a Facebook group for frum female science fiction and fantasy fans, which is good (I wish I knew how to meet some in real life!).  I’ve met some of geeky frum men online, but haven’t known any in real life since leaving school half a lifetime ago.  It can certainly be hard being unusual in either frum or Western society.  Sometimes I wish I lived in New York, so I could go to Hevria events and meet other geeky and creative frum people, but then again, maybe I would just feel too shy and too much of a fraud (I don’t feel like I’m particularly creative) to go or to talk to anyone there.

Shelo Asani Psychopath

I felt quite washed out and a bit down today.  I woke reasonably early (OK, about 9.30am, but that’s early considering (a) how late I went to bed last night and (b) how late I was waking up over the last couple of weeks rather than by comparison with my waking up at 6am on work days), probably the result of yesterday, not just going out with my family, but also something that happened in the evening.  I had some OCD thoughts late at night and then I got very agitated about something in the Jewish world and how that made me see myself.  I’m not sure what that agitation would count as, possibly OCD or anxiety, possibly neither.  I did write a blog post about it, but I decided not to publish it, for various reasons.  I’m actually still a bit agitated about it, actually.

I don’t really want to re-write that post here, but the bottom line is that although I know there are problem areas of my life, things I want to change and repent from, I am slowly accepting that my worst sins are generally the result of years of loneliness and bullying resulting in my mental health issues or from the mental health issues themselves (e.g. the fact that I was too tired and depressed to daven Shacharit (say the morning prayers) until 12.35 today and even then had to skip parts of the service).  I feel genuinely grateful to God that He implanted a conscience and a sense of integrity in me such that there are certain things that I simply would not do even if I wasn’t told not to do them by the Torah and that however bad I think I am, most of my sins are between me and God, not me and my fellow human beings.  For all I sometimes lose my temper with my family or make a joke that is a little more hurtful than intended, I would never seek to harm someone in a serious or premeditated way and I do try hard to guard my speech and actions and not to hurt people even in minor ways, even unintentionally.  I don’t think this makes me a particularly outstanding human being, just an ordinarily good one, but unfortunately we live in an age where violence and abuse are rife and perhaps even being averagely good is extraordinary.

So there are mixed feelings today of depression and guilt (for davening late), but also of disgust with corruption in high places and thankfulness that God made me an ordinary person and not a psychopath, let alone a psychopath masquerading as a tzaddik (saint) (the worst sort of psychopath).  I’m supposed to be getting on with some chores, but I just feel tired and lacking in motivation, as well as a bit lonely.  I need distraction from brooding about myself and the ills of the world, other than internet browsing, which just keeps bringing me back to the things that upset me.  I guess I just need to take the plunge and start doing something.

I realized that I am halfway through my holiday and have not done very much because of the depression.  Maybe I need to let myself be depressed a bit sometimes.  I have also hardly done any reading since going on holiday over two weeks ago.  I haven’t really made any progress with Daniel Deronda, it’s just too heavy going, and the chapters too long, for me to feel like picking it up when my mood has been down, plus I have been watching Doctor Who as research for my book rather than pure enjoyment.  As someone who always has a book on the go (several in fact: Jewish books, a novel, sometimes secular non-fiction) this feels wrong, although I have done a bit more reading than this would imply (some Jewish reading, Doctor Who Magazine, some of the latest Jewish Review of Books).

Family Weekend

I think I’ve returned to where I was before I broke up two weeks ago, emotionally.  I managed to navigate a number of things this weekend without falling back into depression, social anxiety or OCD (at least not too much).

The background to the weekend is that my aunt and one of my five cousins were over here from Israel.  I was a bit nervous about how I would be over the weekend in terms of my mental health.  The plan was that my aunt and cousin would be with us (me and my parents) over Shabbat alongside my sister and, on Shabbat lunch, my sister’s fiancé and then I would go out with my parents, aunt and cousin on Sunday.

Shabbat meals passed off well.  No arguments or anything like that.  Across the whole weekend I didn’t have much depression or social anxiety around my aunt, cousin or my sister’s fiancé (who asked my advice on what Yom Tov machzor (festival prayer book) to buy – he was probably just making conversation, but it was nice that he asked me).  There were a few OCD thoughts, but I tried hard to keep them under control, with a reasonable degree of success.

My sister was the only person who noticed that I’d deliberately left my sideburns a bit longer and more tapered than usual when I shaved off my Three Weeks beard last week.  Somehow I thought she would notice.  It was a bit of a whim on my part.  I’ve always liked long sideburns (although my sideburns aren’t hugely long) and have been toying with growning the longer for a while.  I felt facial hair is back in fashion, so I decided to go for it.  I’m vaguely nervous about how they will be seen at work and especially at shul (synagogue) as peyot (sidecurls) are common, but not long sideburns.  I guess this is something where I have to be willing to stand out, as with wearing a kippah sruga (crocheted skullcap) and coloured shirt.

I got to shul on Shabbat morning, albeit quarter of an hour late (I somehow slept through my alarm).  I still didn’t really talk to anyone in the kiddush, but I did talk a little bit at the seudah shlishit (third meal).  I nearly answered a question in the shiur (class) during seudah, but chickened out at the last minute.  I guess social anxiety won that one.

On Saturday night, after Shabbat went out, I sat around in the kitchen with my parents, aunt and cousin, just chatting.  I’ve written before here about not being good at just “hanging out” with people and tending to go off by myself either because I don’t think I’ll enjoy being with other people or because I’m worried what they will think of me or what I will say, so it was good that I managed to do this.  I then went to bed, but couldn’t sleep because of a migraine, so I ended up lying in bed watching Doctor Who, waiting for my painkillers to kick in (in the end a Cool ‘n’ Soothe strip proved more effective).  Death to the Daleks is far from being seventies Doctor Who at its best and it wasn’t improved by being watched at 2.00am with a sick headache.

Today I went out to the park with my parents, aunt and cousin.  Again, it’s something I might have used the depression to avoid in the past, but I wanted to spend as much time as I could with my family, particularly as I’ve now realized how important family is to me.  We had a good time and bumped into a couple of people we knew, including my primary school teacher from when I was about five.  She hadn’t changed.  She said I hadn’t changed either, but I’m not sure if that was because I do tend to run into her every couple of years.

The last hour or two has been a bit harder.  I’m back in my flat by myself now and I’m tired from the afternoon out (I do worry a little that my energy levels are still low; I’m not sure how much it’s depression or just that I’m older now.  It makes me worry about being able to cope with having children) and ended up feeling a little down and OCD, although I’ve mostly kept things under control.  Eating the wrong food probably doesn’t help (my Mum took a lot of junk food out with us, but no fruit other than grapes; I would have taken apples and bananas).  Hopefully eating dinner will help.

Missions, Marriage and Children

I went to a science fiction exhibition in London with my Dad today.  I saw, among other things, Leonard Nimoy’s spacesuit from Star Trek: The Motion Picture and John Hurt’s spacesuit from Alien (a film I have never had the guts to watch, pun intended; I’m a big scaredy cat).  That isn’t particularly relevant to this post, but while I was coming home, I thought about how I have been feeling lately, about the loneliness and sexual frustration.  I was worried that I was looking to get married purely to have sex, which is obviously a monumentally stupid thing to do.  The more I thought about it, the more I felt I was being too hard on myself, though.  Religion aside, there are certainly ways of having no-strings sex if you want it, but it doesn’t attract me as an idea, even as a fantasy.  It actually scares me as much as anything.  I think what I want is closeness, intimacy.  Love, in other words: to give it and to receive it.  I’m obviously not getting as good at reading my feelings as I thought it was if I had to reason them through like this, but I got there in the end.

And I definitely want to have children.  That’s another reason why I worry about getting older while still single.  Obviously I don’t have a biological clock per se, but I don’t intend to be a creepy older guy who trys to date nineteen year old girls.  If I want to marry someone roughly my age, her biological clock is going to be ticking loudly by this stage.  Explaining why I want to have children is hard, and again, part of me worries I’m doing it for the wrong reasons, but it would include giving love (again) and passing on my Jewish heritage and values to the next generation.  (This may seem odd, given I’m such a pessimist and given I worry about passing on my mental health issues.  I know a number of people who think that they or the world are too screwed up for it to be safe for them to have children.  I guess I trust in my values and think that the more good people who have children, the more chance the next generation has of producing people who can fix some of our screw-ups.)  I think about it a lot, about what kind of father I would like to be, what I would do in various parenting situations, how I would try to have kids who don’t go through the difficult things I had to go through (I’m sure they’ll go through traumas of their own).

Actually, I saw this article ages ago and was puzzled by the fact that it said you should know your mission in life before dating.  I didn’t know what my mission is.  I still don’t know, but I have come to the conclusion that part of it at least is about passing on values and wisdom to the next generation.  I’m not a teacher in a straightforward way, but as a librarian, this is my job too.  It’s why I feel a lot more comfortable in my current job as assistant librarian at a further education college, helping students from deprived backgrounds get essential qualifications and (in many cases) helping immigrants and people with learning disabilities with basic English literacy and numeracy than I was in my old job, helping privileged middle class people become clergy for a religious denomination that I don’t belong to.  So becoming a father is a key part of my life mission, I think.

It is still hard to answer the first question on that list in the linked article, though: what I have to offer a potential mate, because it often seems like very little except stuff that should be fitted as standard, like being dependable and trustworthy and the fact that I’m not violent or abusive.  I can’t see why someone would want to date me when there are plenty of other functional guys out there, many of them with better looks, more virtues, and more interesting personalities as well as fewer vices and neuroses than I have.  This is where I typically start worrying about the fact that I didn’t go to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) like most frum (religious) young men and that my mental health issues keep me from attending shul (synagogue) as often as I would like or from studying Torah as much and on as high a level as I would like – all things that would typically be expected of a man in the frum world and things a potential date might well be justified in asking for in me.  So I feel today I have a clearer idea of who I am and what I want, but I am still very pessimistic about being able to get it.

I also had some thoughts about platonic friendships today, but I think this post is long enough and I really ought to have some dinner and think about getting to bed, so I will leave it here for now.

Dating Thoughts

Today was mostly good, but I didn’t get as much done as I would have liked, partly (I admit) through procrastination, partly because I went out shopping and for some reason came back feeling very faint and unwell.  I felt better after eating something, so maybe it was low blood sugar.  I got into an interesting discussion with Rivki Silver on Hevria about authenticity and identity and my feeling of having a fractured personality.  In brief, I feel there are four different aspects of my personality: the frum (religious), the geeky (particularly Doctor Who fannish), the cultured and the mentally ill and not all of these fit easily with the others.  In particular, I often feel in frum society that I shouldn’t be geeky and maybe not even cultured, and I feel generally that I can’t share my mental health struggles with others (except online!) which makes it hard to build intimacy and friendship, let alone romantic relationships.

Rivki said that there are many frum geeky women out there, which is good to know, but I really don’t know how to meet them.  I’ve only met a couple in person.  I’m guessing most of them live in Israel and the US, simply because that’s where most Jews live.  There are about fourteen million Jews in the world, six million in Israel, another six million in the US and the other two million spread thinly over the rest of the world, mostly in Europe and Canada.  There are only about 400,000 Jews in the UK.  Only a tiny percentage of these are frum and only a tiny percentage of that tiny percentage are geeky; divide by two to remove the men and that’s a tiny, tiny bunch of women before you even take into account age, philosophical outlook, marital status, personality etc. – all the things that go into choosing a partner.  So the odds of my finding someone easily are not good.

Because of all this, I’ve been thinking for a while of going to a professional shadchan (matchmaker) because I think the chances of finding a wife by myself are slim.  I’m thinking of going in about three months time, after I have got used to doing four days of work a week as well as having got through the autumn Yom Tovim (festivals).  It’s scary though, as it will be hard to admit to a frum stranger that I’m looking for a geeky wife and that I have mental health issues.  I have also heard so many horror stories about shadchanim even for ‘normal’ people!  In addition, I don’t know whether to be open to dating women from abroad, given what I said about American and Israeli Jews being the majority of the world’s Jewish population.  It’s scary, both to think I might have to move abroad to get married and also because I think dating someone from abroad is somewhat artifical even in the age of email and Skype.  I know from my recent ‘relationship’ (which didn’t really last long enough to be a real relationship) that it’s easy to think a relationship is going well based on a few thoughtful texts (no, not flirty ones!  Just “How was your day?  Something interesting happened to me” ones), but then when you meet in person you suddenly realize you have nothing in common and can’t stand each other (well, I liked her, but apparently she didn’t like me, or at least my social anxieties).

I’m not sure if it’s because of this, but I have drifted back into agitation and pessimism this evening, which is a shame, as things seemed to be coming along better during the day.  I’m hoping to go to a science fiction exhibition tomorrow with my Dad, which should at least stop me bombarding you with blog posts (I was hoping only to send one today, but I felt I needed to get this off my chest before I went to bed).

Pure Obession

I woke up late this morning, about 9.30, but actually earlier than I expected to wake up (I was expecting to still be asleep at 10.00, if not 11.00).  I had a bit of a headache that was threatening to become a migraine, though, so I took some painkillers and ate breakfast and went back to bed, reading and thinking.  After the headache started to go I felt tired (as I usually do after a migraine), but better than I have done since breaking up a week and a half ago.  I had a supportive email from my therapist, which was good too.

davened (prayed) most of Shacharit (the morning service), which again is more than I’ve done for a while, albeit rather late.  I noticed the OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) was bad again, though.  In fact, it has been for a while (probably since I broke up), but I hadn’t fully registered it.  Like the depression, it tends to flare up at times of stress, so it is no surprise that it has returned after my breakup and my worries about being single and lonely forever.

I don’t think I’ve really explained my religious OCD (scrupulosity).  I was going to link to the article I wrote about it for Den of Geek‘s Geeks vs. Loneliness slot (the only writing for which I’ve actually been paid!), but the page currently seems to be down.  Basically, rather than worrying about cleanliness, safety or order (which is what most people associate with OCD), my OCD takes the form of worrying about religious things, which is known as scrupulosity.  The most difficult aspect, in terms of the amount of distress and disruption to my life, has been with the Jewish food laws: the everyday laws of kashrut and the special food laws of Pesach (Passover).  This has been better recently, since I had some CBT a number of months ago, but it lurks in the background and comes to the fore at times of stress, and I’m often still not 100% convinced that my flat is really kosher; I do live with the vague expectation/fear that I’m going to have to replace all my crockery at some point.  The thoughts are the obsession; the compulsion is either to wipe and clean crockery or to check with a rabbi that all is OK – the latter is particularly difficult to deal with, as normally one would check a question with a rabbi, but here it fuels the OCD so it is hard to know what to do.

The other set of obsessions don’t have accompanying compulsion (known as pure O).  I am better at dealing with them these days, so I tend to mean the dietary worries when I talk about OCD, but actually the pure O has been around for much longer, on and off, since not all that long after I was diagnosed with the depression, back in 2003.  Sometimes it takes the form of violent thoughts that I worry I might act on one day.  I have been reassured that people who have such obsessive thoughts are the least likely to be violent, as they are generally gentle people who are horrified by their thoughts; that is why they find them so disturbing.  I should probably point out here the nature of OCD: everyone has potentially disturbing thoughts from time to time, but people who develop OCD take them very seriously as meaning something true and important about themselves and become unable to stop thinking about them (the analogy usually used is that if someone says to you, “Don’t think about a white bear” it becomes impossible for you to think of anything except a white bear).  In short, they become an obsession and the compulsions develop to try to control the obsessive thoughts.  So I am aware of the violent thoughts, but I try not to let them worry me, although it is difficult.  I really want to have a family (my wanting to have children has been in part responsible for breaking two potential relationships recently), but sometimes I worry that I should not do so if there is even the slightest risk that I have violent thoughts lurking inside of me.

More disturbing, at least recently, is the fact that I do also get idolatrous thoughts, basically thoughts of other religions and deities than the One I believe in, which tend to be worst when I am davening.  As one is supposed to keep one’s thoughts clear, I worry that my prayer is worthless or, worse, actually considered idolatrous, praying to a false god.  I know that worrying about these thoughts just makes them worse, so I try not to let them get to me, but just to ‘wash out’ of my mind as they washed in, but it can be very hard.  This is what happened this morning, leaving me feeling a bit self-critical and annoyed with myself.  So I hope I have not just traded the depression for more OCD.  I know the depression and OCD will probably always be there on some level, but I would like to go back to how I was in the months before the breakup, with the depression and the OCD firmly in the background.

Tisha Be’Av Part II

Weirdly, even though it’s the saddest day of the Jewish year, and even though I was in a terrible state last night, I’m actually OK today.  I slept through the whole morning, fairly deliberately.  I didn’t set my main alarm, thinking my phone alarms would wake me, but I forgot I had turned them off in case I wanted to go to shul (synagogue), so I slept until about 11.30 or 12.00, eventually getting up around 12.30.  I waited until 1.07pm (halakhic midday) until breaking my fast properly (not counting taking my tablets last night).  I felt better for eating; since childhood my mood has been strongly affected by my blood sugar levels.

I spent a couple of hours writing emails and sorting through my accounts.  Not stuff I would normally do on Tisha Be’Av, but I was wary of going too far into the depression after last night.  I tried reading Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust, but didn’t get very far with it.  It set off a load of difficult thoughts, partly obvious upsetting thoughts about the Holocaust, but also thoughts closer to home, about lost childhoods, loneliness, thinking that my lot in life is obviously enormously better than that of the Jews in the Holocaust, so why am I so depressed?  I should stop being depressed, I don’t ‘deserve’ to be depressed!  Also conflicted thoughts about stories of people’s lives apparently being changed by blessings from rebbes – I am enough of a Mitnaged in outlook to be sceptical of such things, but sometimes I wish I could find an easy answer, go to some rabbi and get a blessing for health and marriage.

I spent a lot of the day sleeping or lying in/on the bed or working on my Doctor Who book.  I don’t know why I can’t get motivated to read depressing Tisha Be’Av books as I would normally do.  It can’t be because of the depression, because I have gone through many years of being depressed, far more so than I am today, on Tisha Be’Av while reading appropriate books.  Maybe because I hope I’m coming out of the hole I’ve been in for the last week and a bit and don’t want to risk pushing myself back into it.  Or maybe that’s just rationalizing.  I feel a bit guilty about it all, but I just can’t do it this year.  Maybe I’m scared after last night: I hadn’t been that depressed and anxious in shul for nearly a year (when I had a panic attack in shul on Rosh Hashanah last year).  That’s why I didn’t go back to shul today, which in retrospect was probably a mistake: one needs to confront anxiety rather than letting it grow.  I must make sure I get to shul on Shabbat this week.

Less than forty minutes left…

Tisha Be’Av and Feeling Hated By God

Tonight is the start of the fast of Tisha Be’Av, commemorating the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, the exile of the Jews from the land of Israel and pretty much every bad thing that ever happened to the Jews, down to antisemitism and terrorism today (which is a lot of bad stuff).  It’s the saddest day in the Jewish calendar and a strict fast.  I’m not allowed to fast on the minor fasts like this one because I’m taking lithium tablets and it’s dangerous for me to get dehydrated.  I usually fast on Tisha Be’Av until midday (halakhic midday, the midpoint of daylight hours, which is around 1pm in London in the summer), but I suddenly realized about fifteen minutes into the fast that I had forgotten to take my medication before the fast started.  I can usually swallow pills without water, but my lithium tablets are enormous and I have to take water with them.  So I had to break my fast almost immediately, feeling stupid and guilty (again).  Still, it was better to break the fast than to skip the tablets and risk becoming suicidal.

We aren’t really supposed to do anything fun today.  I normally would not blog, but I’m struggling already today and I need to get my thoughts down or I won’t sleep.  I am conscious that I am often posting multiple times a day at the moment, which isn’t very fair on my readers, even if I have a lot to offload while my therapist is away, so I will try to post only once a day in future.

I suspect the reason I forgot to take the tablets is that I was feeling quite anxious about going to shul (synagogue), which in turn led me to feel anxious about some quite trivial things – I think the shul anxiety was displaced (if that’s the right term) onto something else. It was very hard to go to shul.  I nearly turned back while walking there.  I was consumed with anxiety and self-hatred.  The anxiety about shul was displaced again, this time into agitation about feeling sinful and being hated and rejected by God.  As I mentioned, on Tisha Be’Av we mourn the destruction of the Temples.  Jewish tradition ascribes the destruction of the first Temple to the three cardinal sins of murder, idolatry and sexual immorality (meaning primarily, in this context, adultery) and the destruction of the second Temple to baseless hatred.  I felt (and I have felt this a bit recently) that I am guilty of all four of these sins, in a manner of speaking.  Obviously I have not literally murdered someone or slept with a married woman, but I feel I have done things tantamount to these sins, such as speaking gossip and embarrassing others, which the Talmud considers equivalent to murder.  All this was probably worsened by my guilt over taking my tablets after the fast started.

I started thinking again about the people I know through who talk about all the miracles they have experienced.  I wondered again why I do not experience miracles.   Perhaps miracles happen all the time, but it takes a certain mindset to realize that it is a miracle, not a chance event or a coincidence.  This makes me feel ungrateful for what I have (my job, my flat, my friends) and for downplaying what I have (saying my friends are not my friends) and focusing on what I don’t have (a wife and children).  However, the people on Hevria do seem to describe miracles far greater than anything I have ever experienced.  This makes me feel like God hates me, reinforced by my feeling guilty of all those sins (murder, sexual immorality, idolatry, hatred).

By the time I got to shul, I was already quite distressed.  When I got there, there were no chairs.  I should explain that until midday on Tisha Be’Av we sit on low chairs as a sign of mourning (I am writing this sitting on the floor of my flat, with my laptop on the bed).  All the special low chairs were gone, so I had to sit on the dirty floor, although this probably turned out well for a couple of reasons that I will explain later.

After the beginning of Ma’ariv (the evening prayers), Megillat Eichah (the Book of Lamentations) was read.  Normally I would follow this in Hebrew, translating in my head and looking across to the English translation for the difficult words (of which there are quite a few).  However, I quickly realized that I could not follow it at all, not even just reading the Hebrew without translating.  I was too distressed.  I thought of leaving, but from where I was sitting, it was impossible to just slip out; I would have had to stand up and cross the whole room and ask people to move out of my way (the shul was quite packed) and I couldn’t face making such a fuss and having everyone notice me, so I just sat there on the floor, thinking my distressed thoughts.  I self-harmed a bit for the first time in some months, biting my fingers, pulling at the hairs on my arm and digging my finger nails into my hands and arm.  Because I was sitting on the floor, no one could really see me.

I thought for a bit about chapter three of Eichah, which says:

It is good for a man that he bear a yoke in his youth.  Let him sit solitary and wait, for He has laid [it] upon him.  Let him put his mouth into the dust; there may yet be hope.  Let him offer his cheek to his smiter; let him be filled with reproach.  For the Lord will not cast [him] off forever.  Though he cause grief, He will yet have compassion according to the abundance of His kindness. (3.27-32, translation from here)

This is a passage I think about sometimes.  I suppose it should be hopeful for me, as it suggests that if you have to suffer, it is better to do so when you are young, not least because it allows God to show compassion to you later.  However, I wonder if I have really internalized the message of my suffering and used it to repent and become a better person so that I will be worthy of God’s kindness in the future.  This is one reason I sometimes wonder if I will ever get married, because I feel too sinful to be blessed with meeting the right woman.  I started wondering about my mission in life, something I have been thinking about recently in terms of dating and trying to find a wife with a  compatible life mission.  I don’t know what my mission is.  People help me, but I am not able to help other mentally ill people very much.  I try to support my friends who have mental health issues, but they don’t usually turn to me and I don’t blame them.  So I don’t know what the reason for my suffering is.

Sometimes I feel totally rejected by God for my sins, but strangely this does not make me want to stop being frum (religious).  I think it is worth being a good Jew even without hope of reward.  I don’t believe I can exempt myself from my obligations just because I don’t often manage to meet those obligations.

Once we got to the end of Eichah, we read the kinnot (elegies).  In other shuls I have been to, these are read aloud by a reader, as was done with Eichah, but here they were read privately.  I did not have the head for this.  I tried reading one in Hebrew, could not concentrate and switched to English, read another one in English, but skipped the other two.  Again, because no one could see me, I didn’t worry about this.  Still, we got through this quite quickly compared with shuls where they read it aloud.

At the end of the service, the rabbi announced that the small chairs were actually too high for anyone to be sitting on them today, so I suppose I had a lucky escape, as being on the floor meant I didn’t feel guilty for sitting on a higher chair (even inadvertently), and it allowed me to get away with not feeling a part of the service.  On the other hand, it also encouraged me to disappear into my anxious and agitated thoughts and to self-harm.  So perhaps my lack of a chair was one of those hidden miracles (because I didn’t feel guilty), but it is a strange miracle that makes it easier for me to self-harm and to get lost in anxiety and despair instead of following the service.  This is what I mean about not having miracles the way other people do.

I don’t plan on going to shul in the morning.  The morning service will go on until about 1pm with kinnot – not just reading them as there is going to be some explanation (which is useful as they are written in very obscure, allusive Medieval Hebrew, sometimes with reference to largely-forgotten events), but I think I will just be depressed, distressed or anxious if I go.  I may go in the evening, I am not sure.  I do not know what I will do all day.  Really one should not do anything enjoyable.  Usually I read depressing texts like Eichah and Iyov (Job) or books on the tragic parts of Jewish history e.g. the Holocaust, but I am not sure I can face that this year.  I feel bad about this, as I have been more deperessed in the past and not ‘chickened out’ of doing and reading appropriate things, but I just don’t feel that I can face making myself depressed this year and I can’t explain why except that I feel I have reached some kind of internal limit and to push myself further will tip me over the edge back into extreme depression again.

Social Anxiety and Assumptions

I survived the hygienist and the dentist today.  I wasn’t worried about my teeth, but about shaking (from anxiety and olanzapine).  There was some slight tremor, but if the hygienist or dentist noticed it, they didn’t say.  I’m saving my energy for shul tonight, planning on spending a quiet afternoon blogging and watching TV so I have my best chance at getting to shul (synagogue) tonight for Ma’ariv (the evening service), Eichah (The Book of Lamentations) and kinnot (elegies) and staying there for the whole service.  If nothing else, it’s a chance to monitor and record my social anxiety on a day when I can write soon after experiencing the anxiety.  As for tomorrow, I will play it by ear.  I do feel a little better today, which might be from getting out and doing something, which would indicate that I need to press on with at least some of my plans for the summer, even on days when I feel very depressed and despairing, and try to achieve at least some things even if I can’t do everything I want to do.

I reflected some more on my social anxiety after my post yesterday.  Not for the first time, I found myself wishing I could be more like I am online when I meet people in person.  Online I can hold a conversation, talk about a variety of things (Judaism, history, politics, culture and geek culture), make jokes and reveal details about myself to encourage greater intimacy (to be honest, I probably reveal too much online, here and especially on Hevria).

I have an email folder for emails and blog comments from people saying nice things about me.  I know this sounds pathetic, but I do sometimes look through it when I feel depressed and need encouragement.  I even printed out three A4 sheets-worth of them and blue tacked them to my wardrobe doors so I can see them when I feel down and at other times when I need a boost.  Most are from people I know, at least online, but I have a couple from complete strangers on my posts.  It’s strange to think that people know me from there and like me, considering I have, over the years, spent a lot of time there finding slender pretexts to complain about how bad my life is.  I’ve been told that people appreciate my honesty, and people with similar problems find that I can express what it feels like to be depressed or socially anxious in a way that they are not always able to do.  I suppose this must be true, or people wouldn’t say it to me, but it is hard to believe it.  I imagine there are also people who roll their eyes heavenwards when I comment; at any rate, someone challenged me a while back, asking if I had some kind of “agenda,” but most of the feedback I’ve received has been positive.

The problem is that I can’t translate any of the confidence or eloquence I have online into the real world.  When I met up with my non-biological older sisters last week, who I had known only online and via email, they said I was a lot more socially functional than the impression I give of myself online when describing myself as socially dysfunctional and friendless.  Still, I felt I said very little all evening.  Usually when I’m in a social situation, I stay pretty quiet and let the others talk.  Sometimes I think of interesting or witty things to say, but I usually keep quiet about them.  This is particularly true when I’m around other frum (religious Orthodox) people: I keep quiet about secular things, for fear of talking about something I’m not “supposed” to talk about (e.g. TV, literature) and I keep quiet about religious things because I assume they all know more than I do and I don’t want to make a mistake or say something that they all think is too obvious to need saying.

There are probably a number of false assumptions here and elsewhere that fuel the social anxiety: that everyoneis judgmental, especially all frum people; that I have nothing interesting to say; in particular that I am an am ha’aretz (religious ignoramus); that I can’t be funny or clever; that people are waiting to catch me out; that I have few or no friends and that they tolerate me at best, rather than really liking me.  A lot of these assumptions stem from things I learnt the hard way as a child, from years of bullying and emotional neglect.  It is very hard to change something that has been internalized so painfully and for so long, particularly when being lectured about my incorrect assumptions (I’m thinking of my date telling me to be more confident and not scared of her shortly before dumping me last week) just feels like proving the idea that I’m stupid and no one likes me.

I do certainly under-value the friendships I do have, assuming my friends don’t like me or think about me when I’m not around, then upsetting them by saying I have no friends, although these days I find it hard to maintain friendships for long periods, as increasingly my friends seem to get married and/or move away, which I suppose is why I was so upset by my sister’s engagement.  My friends tend not to initiate contact with me, which encourages me to think that they don’t really like me and also means that it’s easier to avoid them.  Perhaps that’s one reason I get so focused on marriage, because it is supposed to have more permanence.  If someone chooses to marry me, then she’s expressed affection for me in a major and lasting way, although I suppose I would still be insecure even if I was married (again, I’m thinking of my date).  I have a friend with low self-esteem who is married to someone with low self-esteem; early on in their relationship, they spent a lot of time look for reassurance from each other that they weren’t about to split up.  I can imagine doing that to my girlfriend/wife and I’m sure it would drive her nuts unless she had similar problems.

I saw a cartoon years ago of a guy on a unicycle about to go on a TV talent show and the director is saying to him, “Remember, millions of people are waiting to see you fall flat on your face.”  That’s how I feel all the time in public, so it’s no surprise that I prefer to be in my flat by myself, lonely though that often is.  I don’t know what to do about this, as psychodynamic therapy hasn’t really helped deal with the symptoms of social anxiety, although it’s helped me to understand the causes.  I will try the CBT book I have and I suppose I could always go back to the CBT therapist who helped with the OCD, although it will be harder to find the time when I am working four days a week.

Social Anxiety, Again

I’m loath to blog again today, but I just remembered something that happened on Shabbat that I should have mentioned.  As usual, I didn’t stay long at the kiddush (refreshments) after the morning service at shul (synagogue).  As I walked out, briskly, as is my wont (not least because I was struggling a bit with social anxiety and more with OCD), someone called after me, “You’re always in a hurry to leave!”  This was the same guy who said a while back that I should have gone to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary), thus reinforcing a lot of negative thoughts I have about myself and my social and romantic prospects because of that decision; now he was reinforcing my social anxiety by saying I should stay at events even when no one is talking to me and I’m feeling really out of place, or perhaps that I shouldn’t walk quickly home (even though it was raining!).

I thought of several sarcastic or meaningful retorts to the “You’re always in a hurry” comment on my way home, but was too late to say them (l’esprit de l’escalier).  Of course, I would have been too shy to say them even if I had thought of them in time.  But I guess what comes to mind now is, “Yes, I am always in a hurry to leave, because I have no friends here and I’m worried about people judging me.  Like you did just now.”  It’s all very well my former date and my parents saying I shouldn’t care what other people think, but sometimes it hurts.  Likewise, it’s hard to accept the advice of my CBT book that I should be able to ‘prove’ to myself that other people don’t think negatively of me when I have a lot of evidence that they do and while some of this evidence is perhaps out of date (coming from my childhood), as this incident shows, some of it is more recent.

I don’t know if this is related to why I’ve been so down since getting dumped, when I coped pretty well with several previous romantic rejections in the last six months or so, being a bit down for a few days, but not so depressed and certainly not for such a long period.  Granted there was a bit more of a relationship this time and my hopes for the relationship were higher, but perhaps some of the depression is related to being lectured on how I could be more eligible if I was less “frightened” of other people and cared less about what they thought of me.  It was probably meant well (but then most bad things are), but it left me feeling not “We aren’t right for each other” but, “I’m broken, no one could ever be right for me.”  Then again, that’s really no different from the woman who dumped me over my mental health issues (and chickened out of telling me straight) and I think I got over that much more quickly.  Of course, it doesn’t help that my therapist is away.

Incidentally, I don’t know if I really don’t have any friends in shul.  There are a couple of people I talk to a little and who seem to like me a bit, but I find it hard to sustain a real conversation.  Does that mean they aren’t my friends?  I don’t know.  I haven’t had many Shabbat meal invitations (one and a half, really in about seventeen months going to this shul) whereas single people at Orthodox shuls are, I understand, usually inundated with them, although I suppose things are complicated by my wearing a tallit (prayer shawl) which normally denotes that a man is, or has been, married, so maybe some people don’t realize I’m single.

Miscellany 2

“Some kind of solitude is measured out in you/You think you know me, but you haven’t got a clue.” Hey Bulldog, The Beatles

I went back to bed for half an hour or so this afternoon.  I was too tired and depressed to do very much.  I only got up to answer the phone, otherwise I might still be there.  I wanted to go for a run, but didn’t have the energy.  I’m worried that I still let life get to me, that I can’t accept my alone-ness as a fact of life.  I’m not the only thirty-odd year old virgin and I’m certainly not the only lonely person in the world.  I just can’t see how I can actually meet someone.  To be honest, at the moment I can’t see how I can get through the next week, or go back to work in August, let alone worry about something as abstract as dating.  Forget dating, I can’t even make dinner: I boiled some eggs for lunch, hoping to use some of them to make kedgeree this evening (about the easiest recipe I know that actually is a recipe not just cheese on toast), but it took all afternoon before I could face cooking the rice to go with it and it threatened to spark off kashrut OCD.  I did manage to daven Mincha (say the afternoon prayers), but I had zero kavannah (concentration), even with Tehillim/Psalms 6 which should have expressed what I was feeling.  I managed some Torah study for ten or fifteen minutes, but it was basic and poor; it was hard to read and translate Hebrew, even from my bar mitzvah sedra.   I did at least spend half an hour or so working on the Doctor Who book and I feel I’m getting to grips with the current chapter.

The rabbi was talking yesterday about the need to know oneself before one can grow in any way.  I don’t know that I know myself very well.  In some ways I do understand myself, I think I know what my core values are and I know what triggers the mental health issues (which is not the same as being able to cope with the triggers).  However, I think I might overestimate my negative points and underestimate my good ones.  I don’t actually think I have any good points.  One friend said today that I’m “lovely”, another that I’m “saintly”.  I find it hard to accept any of this.  Not that I would accuse them of lying, just that I think they don’t know me well enough or are trying to cheer me up (I think I already upset both of them for different reasons today without calling them liars too…).  I certainly don’t know what my purpose is in life or how I find out (years of therapy haven’t really helped here).  I would say I don’t have one, except that my religious beliefs indicate that everyone has one.

I wanted to steer clear of dating until I understood myself better, but my CBT therapist felt I understood myself well enough and that frum (religious) couples who get married in their late teens or early twenties don’t know themselves any better than I do (this just adds more confusing feelings about frum people and married people).  Dating has been pretty disastrous, though, with most of the women I have asked out or gone out with this year have apparently decided that I’m too weird or too mentally ill for them.  Maybe there is someone out there who doesn’t think I’m weird (possible) or broken (unlikely… I really am a screw-up), but I think I’m too jaded and hurt to look for her by now.  And unless I marry someone a lot younger than myself (unlikely), a family looks less and less likely.

A friend got annoyed at me for saying on my blog that I have no one to show my writing to, when she would look at it.  I didn’t realize that she would, given that my other friends are unwilling to look at it (they don’t say they are unwilling, they even encourage me to send them stuff, they just don’t give me any feedback).  Anyway, at the moment I have not got the energy, motivation or concentration to write anything other than the Doctor Who book.  I don’t much feel like showing anyone my stuff at the moment anyway.  I’m not very good at taking criticism, it just makes me feel a bad writer and a bad person for even thinking I could write.  It’s bad enough I’ve got a poem coming out on Hevria soon.

I should try to socialize, but I think I hate myself too much to impose on anyone.  Anyway, I only have two friends in London, neither very close and both too busy to see me most of the time.  It was good to see my non-biological sisters last week, though.  If I’m well enough I’m hoping to go to the science fiction exhibition at The Barbican with my Dad later in the week, although I already suspect it is going to bore him and am feeling guilty about going.

I say I want to have people in my life, yet I spend all my time pushing them away.  I’m trying to deal with my social anxiety with a CBT book, but the problem is my social anxiety is worst on Shabbat, when I can’t write down how I feel (and even on other days it is hard to take out pen and paper and write down in a public place, which is where I feel socially anxious).  I bet I don’t even really want to get married to love someone, just to have sex.  As I’m sure I couldn’t cope with casual sex, even if it were religiously permitted, I don’t know what to do about that.

I want to eat junk food, but I don’t have much in the flat, fortunately.  Actually, it’s more that I want to eat, but don’t have the energy or motivation to actually eat anything.  I want to vegetate in front of the TV, but the Doctor Who story I’m watching (Planet of the Daleks) is not very good and I’m stuck watching it for my research for my book (the book that may never get finished…).  It was sufficiently bad that I posted something on my non-anonymous Doctor Who blog to complain, the first I’ve done that in a while (although I have posted some quotes there recently).  I feel the need to press on with the Doctor Who episodes so I can get on with writing the book, although if I’m too depressed to write that’s rather pointless.  I suppose I really want to get done quickly so I can tie it all up with the Peter Capaldi era of the show and not have to worry about writing more chapters for as-yet untransmitted seasons, because I’m not sure I have the ability to come up with new interpretations any more rather than just revising old posts.  I’m also scared that Doctor Who fandom, not always the friendliest place, is about to become very nasty with the new Doctor and I’m afraid that I won’t like the next series as the new show-runner and chief writer isn’t someone whose work I like.

So here I am, playing games of Ain’t It Awful again and waffling in a vaguely stream of consciousness way.  I sometimes wonder what other people’s interior monologues are like; mine are often focused on big religious/political/cultural questions and interspersed with high and popular cultural references (yes, especially Doctor Who), but when I’m depressed like today it becomes full of self-loathing and images of myself being hurt in various ways.  At least I’m doing this on my own blog and not on Hevria.  Last time I did it on Hevria someone said she was sorry that my life had been hard and it took me a couple of reads to realize that she meant it, as I was initially worried she was being sarcastic, which I suppose shows what I think of myself, that I deserve to be criticised and not taken seriously when I say I’m in pain.

Don’t Worry

I don’t know if anyone saw my previous post.  It wasn’t up very long.  I’ve put it on private because it worried someone.  I don’t want to spell out what I’m feeling any more than I did, but what I wrote was sufficiently ambiguous to make someone worry I was about to do something much worse than what I was thinking about doing.  I’m not about to do anything illegal or dangerous or harmful (to myself or others) or anything with serious long-term consequences.  I do feel at the end of my tether, though, and don’t really know what to do to feel better, other than vegetate in front of Doctor Who, my trusty comfort blanket.

A Descent for the Purpose of an Ascent?

I’m still feeling very depressed and I’m getting worried by how long it’s going on.  I wish I was at work, for the distraction, but I’m also worried that I won’t be able to get up at 6am when I do go back to work in three weeks.  My therapist is in Spain (her husband had to relocate there for work reasons due to Brexit so she goes there with her children during the school holidays), but she said that if I got depressed (she actually said if I broke up and got depressed, which just seemed to jinx the whole thing and I’m not even superstitious (or I tell myself I’m not)) I could email and try to arrange a Skype session.  I emailed yesterday, so I’m waiting to here back about when we could speak.

I wanted to go for a run today, but I just didn’t have the energy.  I went for a half-hour walk instead, in the wind and the drizzle, initially briskly, but after twenty minutes slowing down.  I listened all the while to a podcast on the history of Hell in different religions.  It’s OK, as Judaism doesn’t believe in eternal Hell.  In Judaism punishment (Gehennom) is internalized feelings of guilt and distance from God; in extreme cases, condemnation to non-existence.  For me, Hell/Gehennom is other people (Sartre), but also loneliness and aloneness (as well as guilt and self-loathing), so you see the quandry I’m in.

I’m apprehensive about this Shabbat, wondering whether I will be well enough to get to shul (synagogue) at all and how to respond when people ask how I am: open up to the truth or pretend everything is fine.  I usually do the latter, and hate myself for it, as most people don’t really want to know how I am, they are just being polite.  Next week will be very hard.  I have the dentist and the dental hygienist on Monday.   I don’t worry about that the way most people do, as I have good teeth, but I dislike the invasion of personal space and, the way I am at the moment, that could set off shaking from the olanzapine.  And then Monday night and Tuesday is the fast of 9 Av (Tisha Be’Av), the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, when we mourn the destruction of our Temple in Jerusalem and the many, many tragedies of Jewish history.  I can’t actually fast because of the medication I’m on, but I will be cutting down and observing the many other restrictions of the day (basically, no fun stuff, including things that most people wouldn’t even associate with fun, like washing).  It’s a difficult day even if you aren’t feeling quite clinically depressed, and I won’t even be able to vegetate in front of the TV.  Not sure whether I will be able to get to shul, or for how long.  I intend to read Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust for as long as I can, but I don’t know what I’ll do if it all gets too depressing.

At least on Wednesday afternoon the restrictions of the Three Weeks of mourning fall away and I can shave and listen to music again (my beard itches).

I still feel that I’m unmarriable, too weird and broken to get married and have kids.  I keep thinking of my date telling me to stop being scared of her and wonder how anyone could date (let alone marry) someone as screwed up as I am.  Lots of Orthodox Jews are into segulot/segulahs, basically good luck rituals: do X for money, do Y to find a spouse etc.  You can find them all over the internet.  I think they are magical thinking at best, darkhei haEmori (borderline idol worship) at worst.  I don’t believe you can force God to let you get married by reciting Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs) forty days straight or get rich by baking challah (bread) in the shape of a key (which is probably a Medieval Christian or even pagan practice anyway!) and thinking that doing a ritual will force God to give you the outcome you want is paganism, not Judaism.  Our rituals (I mean ritual mitzvot) are meant to teach and improve ourselves, not to bribe or force God, who is beyond coercion or bribery.  Still, sometimes it is tempting to look for the quick fix, for both the depression and being single.  One well-known segulah for marriage is to drink the wine at a sheva bracha celebration (celebration in the week after a wedding).  I have only been to one once, and I nearly got into an argument with some people who practically forced the single people there to drink!  I said I couldn’t because of medication because I didn’t want to cause an argument by calling it idolatry.  My sister rather unwillingly drank; it still took her several more years to meet her fiancée.  My scepticism is maintained.

More On Relationships and Depression

“You’re sorry for everybody, boy!  Is that why you resigned?” The Prisoner: Once Upon A Time by Patrick McGoohan

I managed to do my shopping, although on the walk back I kept just stopping in the street, I’m not sure why.  I think it was probably lack of motivation as much as lack of energy.

I seem to be stupidly emotional today and I’m not sure of the reason for that either.  I’m on the verge of tears again.  My Dad just came round to my flat to drop something off and I was trying to keep it all together until he’s gone.  I tell myself it’s because I don’t want him and Mum worrying about me, but really I’m ashamed to have fallen back into depression again, and for such a stupid reason, over a failed relationship, or two failed relationships, the one which failed after four dates and the one which probably won’t even get to a first date.  Both are probably my fault, on some level.  At least, if I had self-confidence, if I had ‘normal’ interests, whether ‘normal’ frum interests or ‘normal’ geeky interests or ‘normal’ cultured interests, instead of a mix of bits of all three, then maybe someone would want a relationship with me.  And if I didn’t fall for women so easily, I could date without getting hurt from every slight rejection.

I blame myself for everything.  I probably shouldn’t, but I do.

I don’t mind if God doesn’t want me to get married, I can cope by myself, but I’d like to know that I’m going to be single so I can plan and so I can stop wasting my time trying to find a partner and, above all, so I can stop the horrible hoping that things might get better, that this might be The One.  I have a relative who has a habit, when talking about weddings, of saying things like, “…and please God one day this will happen to you too…” which drives me mad because I think I would be better off if I could just accept the fact that I will be single and lonely and unloved and a virgin all my life.

There was just a beautiful rainbow outside my window, showing all the colours really clearly.  It only lasted five or ten minutes.  I suppose some people would take this as A Sign From Above about something or other, but I find it hard to do so.  The day has otherwise been cold and wet and I don’t think that’s significant either.

This is the end of the nine o’clock news and weather.

Tears Before Bedtime

I have just started crying, and I’m not sure why.  I felt like crying for no obvious reason a few minutes ago, thought I’d got past that and then I was looking at some old blog posts on my Doctor Who blog as research for my book and suddenly I can feel tears running down my face.  I need to pull myself together so I can go and do shopping.  I’m not sure why I’m crying, I think it’s something to do to reaching out to the woman who was possibly flirting with me on her podcast and feeling that she’s not going to get back to me and even if she does, nothing will come of it anyway.  I need a cup of tea, but I have to go out before the doctor’s surgery shuts as I need to collect a prescription and do shopping…

Entropy Increases

“The more you put things together, the more they keep falling apart, and that’s the essence of the second law of thermodynamics and I never heard a truer word spoken.” – Doctor Who: Logopolis, by Christopher H. Bidmead

It’s getting towards the end of my first week on holiday and I have done very little, except mooch around my tiny flat (it’s a converted garage) like the Doctor in Logopolis, Tom Baker’s last story in the lead role.  (With it’s themes of entropy and decay, Logopolis comes into my head a lot when I’m feeling depressed, even though it’s not really very good.)  I did at least manage to give the flat a quick clean yesterday and in the evening I met with my non-biological older sisters.  After initially worrying that I was going to be too shy to actually speak to them, I did manage to converse.  Apparently I’m not as socially dysfunctional as I say I am online.  So that was good.

Other than that though, the first week of my holiday feels like a waste.  I suppose that’s not strictly true, as I’ve just established that yesterday was not a total waste and Sunday wasn’t really a waste (I went on a date even if it did end in us breaking up) and there are still a couple more days of the week, if I can sort my sleep pattern out and get some things done.  I haven’t done much reading (I started Daniel Deronda last week, but have been too depressed to pick it up again for days, even though I left it in the middle of a chapter.  I did read the fantasy/SF graphic novel Nimona though, that was good and I just started reading The Complete Far Side which is weird and awesome).

I may have sort of emailed the woman who was maybe sort of flirting with me on her podcast (!).  It was probably a massive mistake inasmuch as she probably wasn’t seriously asking if I was single, I am probably still on the rebound from my last dates, we probably don’t have enough in common, she probably has the wrong personality for me, she probably wouldn’t like my weird politics (my politics are weird enough that I don’t think anyone would agree with them, and I don’t agree with any one party) and I probably couldn’t manage a long-distance relationship.  But she hasn’t emailed back yet and probably never will, so there isn’t much reason to worry!  Oh, yes.

The fact that no women want to go out with me does at least avoid more serious heartbreak down the line, like Oscar Wilde’s student deciding to avoid love for philosophy (“‘What a silly thing Love is,’ said the Student as he walked away. ‘It is not half as useful as Logic, for it does not prove anything, and it is always telling one of things that are not going to happen, and making one believe things that are not true. In fact, it is quite unpractical, and, as in this age to be practical is everything, I shall go back to Philosophy and study Metaphysics.'” – The Nightingale and the Rose.  NB NEVER let children read Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales; they all end with someone dying horribly and everyone else being miserable.  This, from the man who wrote the hilarious The Importance of Being Earnest.)

Anyway, my mood is slowly improving, but by small increments and I worry about not being able to get out of this hole entirely, at least not until I go back to work, maybe not at all.  Historically, it doesn’t take much to undo the work of recovery and it can take years and medication changes to get back to where I was.  My sleep pattern is messed up again, going to bed any time between 1 and 3am, waking up between 10am and midday and getting up at any possible time after that, slowly having breakfast and getting dressed and davening little or nothing of Shacharit (morning prayers).  I worry how I will manage to get up at 6am when I go back to work.  I did at least manage to write a bit of my Doctor Who book today and I hope to do some shopping after lunch, write some important emails and finally buy a fire extinguisher and/or fire blanket for my flat.  My appetite is a bit reduced and I lack energy, concentration and motivation.  All classic depression signs.  It is what it is, I suppose, as I have reflected before; not particulary profound, but true anyway.

Lock Without a Key

“I hope you find the person with the key to your lock soon…she is bound for deep treasures…you both are…in the right time…may it be soon.” – D* in a comment to me on the first post I wrote on Hevria

I feel less depressed than I was, but still quite depressed.  I think I’m ruining my extended holiday, which is a waste, although I was mainly intending to use it for chores rather than anything fun (I have difficulty with “fun” and have had since adolescence).  Instead, I’m just feeling depressed and procrastinating.  I wish I was back at work, for the distraction.  I’m not doing anything useful, studying much Torah or enjoying myself (other than watching some Doctor Who, which I could do if I was working anyway).

Despite the Jewish belief in bashert (soul mates) I find it hard to believe there is a woman out there with a Luftmentsch-shaped hole in her life.  I was listening to Radio 4 while doing the (incredibly boring) stock take at work last week and a programme came on about polygamy, which is not something I would normally listen to, but I ended up listening and there was one woman who had been raised in a breakaway Mormon church that still practises polygamy and she was trapped in a polygamous marriage.  She ran away from the church and is now in a monogamous marriage and says her husband so great she would never share him with another woman.  And I just think, I wish someone felt like that about me.

Looking at the women who turned me down or broke up with me (those that gave a reason, anyway, or for whom I can make an educated guess at one, which may be incorrect) shows the following (question marks denote an educated guess from what they said when they didn’t give a clear reason):

  1. Not enough in common (?);
  2. Not enough in common (?); I didn’t go to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary);
  3. Already dating someone else (embarrassing);
  4. Already dating someone else (very embarrassing);
  5. Didn’t say;
  6. Didn’t feel anything for me;
  7. Didn’t say;
  8. Wanted a more physical relationship than I wanted;
  9. Not enough in common (?);
  10. Not enough in common;
  11. Didn’t want children;
  12. Couldn’t cope with my mental health issues;
  13. Didn’t want children; not enough in common (?); couldn’t cope with my low self-esteem (?).

Some of these are educated guesses and there are plenty of women who I didn’t even get the confidence to ask out, but the pattern seems to be that women can’t cope with my weird interests and my mental health (counting low self-esteem as a mental health issue).  I suppose you can also throw in the woman who I didn’t ask out who was interested in me and who I liked, but we both knew it couldn’t work because she wasn’t Jewish.  Number 5 on the list is extra odd, as I am fairly sure she was fliriting with me, from my limited experience of flirting (she repeatedly called me a “genius” and said I would have really cute children), but then turned me down and started blanking me when she saw me after I asked her out.  I really have no idea what happened there.

My weirdness and loneliness doesn’t just apply to dating and love.  There was an article on Hevria that quoted the author Jodi Picoult saying that she felt really tolerant and open-minded for having a black friend at college, but it was only years later that she realized that while she ate lunch with her friend, she never invited her to see a film or go to a party.  I read this and the stuff about race washed over me because I just thought that maybe two or three times in my three and a bit years at Oxford I got invited to the cinema or to a play.  I don’t know if I ever got invited to a party.  I maybe once got invited to hang out in the Jewish Society (JSOC) student lounge after Shabbat dinner or to a tisch.  And I never got invited out with my friends from my MA (to be fair, we were a really disparate group in age and background and probably wouldn’t have had much in common away from the university).

I’m not complaining, because I probably wouldn’t have gone if I had been asked.  I just mean to say that I’m not good at social things.  I certainly didn’t go to those things I did get invited to.  I also got invited to JSOC social events and generally didn’t go, but those felt different as it was usually people on the committee just drumming up trade generally rather than thinking, “Hey, Luftmentsch is a great guy, let’s ask him to come.”  I did go to JSOC meals, which were social, especially Shabbat meals and I did enjoy those at least until the depression and social anxiety stopped me enjoying them from my second year; I also enjoyed going to the Doctor Who Society, which I was involved in running, but again, I often prioritized work over going and enjoying myself with people and I didn’t socialize with them outside of the society (I am actually still friends with one person from there, but we became friends more through my old blog after I left Oxford).  Someone from the JSOC got really annoyed with me for not going on the committee, but he didn’t seem to wonder why I felt distanced from the society; he just seemed to assume I was anti-social and a sponge on other people’s efforts.  I don’t think he understood how shy and socially anxious I was.

The weird thing is, I’ve been blogging on and off, on different platforms, since 2006 and I seem to have the ability to reach out to people of very different backgrounds, in terms of religion and lifestyle.  I don’t know why that is.  I understand that my Doctor Who blog appealed to other fans who were mostly different to me; I suppose I find it harder to understand why people read this blog.  I suppose what I write must resonate with other people with mental health issues somehow, although mostly I write because no one else seems to be going through what I feel.  It does make me wonder how I find close friends and a wife, if the only people I can connect with have mental illness as the only common link.

On a related note, I’m going to meet up today with two women (sisters) who read my blog.  I call them my non-biological older sisters, because they’re like sisters to me, but I’ve never met them before, so I’m a bit nervous about that, but hopefully it will be good.


I watched an interesting TED talk by one of the great influences on my thought, Rabbi Lord Sacks.   Most of the talk is not relevant to this blog (although it’s definitely worth watching), but two things stood out to me.  One was where he mentions the best decision of  his life, meeting and eventually marrying a woman who was nothing like him: someone joyous and friendly when he was a self-obsessed young philosophy student.  My thought here was, “Why can’t something like that happen to me?”  I know I’d love to meet a frum woman who is joyous, friendly, gentle and kind who, for some strange reason, likes me.  I can’t imagine it happening.  I try to work on myself, to be more confident, friendly, outgoing and happy, but it doesn’t seem to help, as shown by my recent date dumping me apparently in part because I lack self-confidence.  I hope today to start work proper on the social anxiety CBT book I dug out a while back, but I’m not confident of it helping.

The other point, less wistful, is where he talks about the culture of the self and suggests replacing the self with the other, literally doing a “find and replace” in our minds and changing phrases like ‘self-worth’ and ‘self-esteem’ to ‘other-worth’ and ‘other-esteem’.  This is something I think about, because in recent years I’ve got into Jewish religious existentialist thinkers a bit and there the emphasis is on the redemption of solitude through helping the other.  The problem is that I’m very bad at this.  I try to be a good friend to my friends who are going through depression and other tough times, but there is a limit to how much I can do given that I am not a trained counsellor or therapist.  I just try to remember to email sometimes and to respond to their emails.  I’m too shy to really get involved in voluntary work or anything like that.  I wanted to get more involved in my depression support group, but because of pressure of work in my new job, I don’t have the time or energy to go very often any more and that pressure is only going to increase next term when I work four days a week.  I’d like to think I am reaching out to people and helping them with my blog, but deep down I know I do it only because I need release from all the words in my head, and maybe for the likes.

In any case, I’m not sure how sensible it is for me to replace ‘self-esteem’ with ‘other-esteem’.  I think my problem is I perhaps esteem others too much and certainly esteem myself too little.  I don’t trust my judgment on anything, but I find it hard to disagree with others, even if deep down I know they’re wrong.  I find it hard to stand out from the crowd.  As I said, I just got dumped apparently in part because my date thought I was “frightened” of her, frightened of disagreeing with her more than some abstract fear.  And she was probably right.

More than that, I feel actually ashamed of myself much of the time, at least when I’m in company.  Ashamed of my political views and perhaps occasionally of my religious views (where I am more ‘modern’ than my shul).  Ashamed of my hobbies and interests, which seem childish and a waste of time that would be better spent in prayer, Torah study and good deeds (from a religious point of view) or more cultured pursuits (from a secular one).  Ashamed of wasting what little creativity I have and also ashamed of wasting my time on it when I do devote some time to it.  That is why it’s safer to be in solitude, despite the loneliness this entails.  This is why I didn’t hang out with my peers in adolescence or at university.  This is why I can’t open up to people and make friends or find a partner.

Some Days All We Can Do Is Endure

I feel agitated and exhausted at the same time.  My Talmud shiur (class) got cancelled, so I don’t need to feel guilty about not going.

I feel lonely today, but I don’t feel particularly inclined to phone my parents, the only people who are realistically going to be around to listen to me.  I don’t know what to say, and my parents aren’t always on my wavelength anyway.  Very few people are.  It’s one reason why I can’t see myself getting married.  I can’t imagine someone who really understands me.  I suppose someone once did, but she was, by her own admission, using me, first emotionally (expecting me to be there for her, but not being around for me, again by her own admission) and then physically/sexually; don’t worry it didn’t quite go that far, but she did try to push it to that, which was when I realized I had to cut her out of my life, however painful that was at the time (and it was painful).

I wish I had more friends on my own wavelength.  Most of my friends have only one or two things in common with me, usually frumkeit (religiosity) or mental health issues.  Neither alone really lead to lasting friendships, or not for me.  I wish I could just sit and chill out with some friends.  I never did that when I was a teenager or at university.  My peers and my friends (I guess you could call them that – more than acquaintances, even if we weren’t really close) did, but I never joined in.  At this distance it’s hard to remember if I just wanted to be invited (not out of pride, but out of fear I would offend people by just turning up unasked, that they didn’t want me to be there) or if I was scared that if I hung around with people too long, they would come to be bored by me, even to hate me and would get rid of what friendship and closeness we did have.  I think it was probably a bit of both.  I guess I’m too old for just hanging out now anyway.  People my age are usually more worried about mortgages and kids and other things that don’t apply to me.  Being Peter Pan is no fun if you’re too depressed to enjoy it.

I tried to go to some onegs organized by my shul (synagogue) last year.  An oneg is basically a big chill out, a sort of Shabbat (Sabbath) party, a gathering for food, alcohol, singing, chat and the sharing of religious thoughts.  I managed to go to one, stood outside for fifteen minutes in the cold and dark because I was too shy to go in, then sort of forced myself to go in with someone else, sat mostly in silence, got upset by the guest speaker, spoke to one person (who I already knew anyway) and left after an hour.  Then a few weeks later there was another one and I didn’t even manage to get inside that one.  I just stood outside crying and eventually went home.  The guy I walked into the first oneg with saw me go.  I think he must think I’m basically nuts (he may be right).

At least I managed to get to the sheva brachos (why do I transliterate that as sheva brachos and not sheva brachot? Eh) a few weeks ago and speak to some people there and enjoy it.  That was progress.  Today I feel like however much progress I have made in the last seven or eight months has been eroded.  I’m glad I have a month to get myself together again before I go back to work, because I think I’m going to need it.

I saw something on Twitter today that really annoyed me (I hate Twitter, I don’t think you can say very much that’s original, interesting and meaningful in 140 characters). “Mental illness is so common for creatives and musicians. We need to destigmatize the conversation around it. It’s okay to not be okay.”  Which is true, but it feels rather utilitarian.  As if to say that if, like me, you are not a great creative, but merely a lowly assistant librarian, you aren’t worth rescuing from the black dog.  Sadly, the myth of the tormented genius means that mental illness is romanticized in some quarters.

Truth be told, I worry about my creativity.  I believe I probably have a tiny amount of talent for writing that I might be able to work into something better if I had the confidence to go on a writing course, to show my work to more people (or any people… of course, this would require having friends and family interested in my work and able to critique meaningfully, which I don’t have) and, above all, to keep working at it.  I don’t have the confidence or, when the depression is bad, the energy and concentration (I wanted to work on my book today, but it’s easier to churn out this drivel instead).  I think my writing is awful and I don’t work at it, except for these rambling nonsense posts that, sensibly, no one reads or takes seriously.  I’m still smarting from my rejection even though the people who rejected me don’t even remember doing it or why they did it.  Sigh.  David Bowie said that the worst thing God can do to you is to make you an artist, but a mediocre artist; I think I know what he meant, although being lonely is worse (I guess the two can be connected).

Watch Me Beat Myself Up About My Romantic Inadequacies (Again)

I woke up around 10.30, which wasn’t as late as I expected, but I just couldn’t get going.  Too lonely, exhausted and depressed, too plain numb to feel or do anything.  I did something almost unprecedented for me, which was watch a DVD over breakfast because I was feeling so depressed.  It didn’t help much.

About two months ago I wrote an email to the makers of a podcast I enjoyed, three frum (religious and Orthodox Jewish) and geeky women.  In the next podcast, they said that my email was “awesome” and one of them asked if I was single.  I didn’t reply, partly because I thought they were joking (I’m vague on the difference between flirting and teasing as women don’t generally flirt with me and I definitely don’t flirt with them.  And certainly no one flirts with me in public, on a podcast) and partly because I was seeing someone by that stage (the woman I broke up with yesterday).  Now I’m wondering if I should email back or if it’s too late, whether we really have anything in common (from her Twitter account, I’m not convinced we do; even within the boundaries science fiction and fantasy, we like different things and I think she might object to my politics), how long I should wait to avoid a rebound relationship, whether I could really have a long-distance relationship with someone on another continent…

As is usual when I meet someone I like, but who inevitably turns out to have very little in common with me, I wonder if we have enough there for a relationship, if it is time to “settle” as I said yesterday, to make do with someone who isn’t my dream girl (whoever that could be) and pick someone vaguely right who seems to tolerate me.  It’s usually academic, as I have yet to meet the woman desperate enough to settle for me (OK, not strictly true, my ex seemed to like me a lot, until her issues got in the way, but that’s one person in a lifetime of waiting).  I know most Jews believe in bashert (destiny, soul mates), but I do find it hard to believe that there is someone out there for me, in all my strangeness and brokeness.

I do honestly believe that God wants me to be alone forever.  Maybe as some kind of kapparah (atonement) for something, although I don’t know what.  I don’t believe in reincarnation, but many Jews do and sometimes I wonder if I was an adulterer in a past life and now I’m being punished by being alone and celibate forever.  Whatever the reason, I only hope it’s worth it.  At shul on Shabbat I overheard the assistant rabbi say to the guest speaker rabbi, “That’s Luftmentsch… he’s not married…” I have no idea what the question was that provoked that response and it was probably innocuous and not intended as some kind of moral judgment on my life, but I do feel like I have “SINGLE” carved on my heart.  Maybe it would be better if I had it on my forehead, maybe then single frum women might come up to talk to me, or someone might set me up on a date (not that that went well when I tried it).

There’s a game I play with myself sometimes where I ask myself, “If I was single, lonely and miserable for twenty years and then was happy and loved for forty years would it be worth it?”  The answer is obviously, yes.  So then I go down to thirty years of happiness, twenty, ten… I usually keep answering yes until I get to about a year.  Even one year of love and happiness would be worth it, I feel.  Less than that and I think the price is too great, although sometimes I hold out for a full decade of happiness in recompense for a lifetime of misery.  But I worry that I won’t get even that year of happiness.  I had a birthday recently and I’m now undeniably in my mid-thirties, older than anyone else in my immediate family when they got married.  The year I have just completed had a sort of totemic significance for me, as it was the age my maternal grandparents both were when they married, and the age of my uncle when he got married.  So I do feel a bit that time is running out.  I do want to have children and while I don’t have a biological clock, per se, my wife will and as I have no desire (or ability) to go cradle-snatching, that could be an issue, particularly as lately the women I have met aren’t interested in starting a family.

On the plus side, I have began to plan out my “holiday” (a chunk of which will be taken up with chores, but there we go).  I feel a bit better for having set down that to do list, even if I might not manage stick to it if the depression persists for more than a few days.  I intend to go out shopping in a minute, more to get out of the flat than because I urgently need anything.  Although it is not encouraging when half an hour after writing the to do list, I am already running twenty minutes late.