Everything and the Kitchen Sink

I’m going to switch my computer off in a minute as there is a lot to do this afternoon, but I just wanted to update the blog as I’ll be out of contact for a couple of days.

Things are going well.  I nearly said “surprisingly well” which would be a bit unfair, but I am surprised how well things seem to be going.  I did have an issue with kashering the kitchen sink last night, but I got it resolved OK and I kashered the sink in four or five goes rather than eight or nine.  The trick, it seems, is not to boil a whole kettle of water at once, because I lack the strength and dexterity to move that about fast enough.  Even when I made a mistake with the sink, I saw it as one of those things and not as a sign that I’m useless and that God hates me.

I got up in time for shul this morning (can I do that on Yom Tov too?  At least one day out of four?), went to the siyum, came home, helped put the last bits of chametz (leavened bread) away and tidy the kitchen, emptied the hoover and made the declaration nullifying any chametz I might have missed, all done on time.  There’s still a LOT to do today to get ready for seder, but this is an amazing start.  The atmosphere at home is very calm for Erev Pesach, everyone is just pulling together and getting things done as a team.

The one bad thing was that I couldn’t sleep last night and only got about five hours in the end, so I’m slightly worried about making it through the day and then on to seder in the evening.  I actually went for a nap for an hour and a bit after the chametz was all disposed of and that has helped, so hopefully I’ll be OK.

Pesach in six hours!

Advertisements

Pesach Surprises

Another weird anxiety dream last night, this time about being bullied somewhere that felt like a mix of school and my last job and not knowing if my friend was secretly behind it.  At least I feel asleep easily last night and got up at 10am, which is earlier than I’ve managed all week, I think.  I wish I didn’t sleep for nine or ten hours each night, though.  I can’t work out how much of that is depressive hibernation and how much is that I get so overwhelmed by things (from mental health issues, but also autism) that I need to sleep longer than most people.

Some OCD anxiety yesterday and today and emailing of my rabbi mentor late last night, but I’m trying to keep things under control.  The full Pesach (Passover) preparation craziness starts today, though, and goes on until 7.30pmish tomorrow, when Yom Tov (the festival) actually starts.  After that there is a lot less to do and a lot less risk of something going wrong, although there are still contamination (or “contamination”) fears for the eight days of Pesach.

***

I’ve got a job interview on Tuesday, on Chol HaMoed Pesach (the intermediate, semi-festive, days of Passover).  I’m going to go as one can work on Chol HaMoed to avoid a significant loss, which turning down the interview potentially would be, but I’m not happy about it, especially as lately interviews seem to be a chance for me to humiliate myself.  I suppose the experience will be good (this is one of those things people say to make things sound better that doesn’t actually make things sound better).  The job is full time Monday to Friday, which I don’t think I can cope with at the moment, plus occasional late nights and weekends (obviously I couldn’t do Saturdays or late on Fridays at all).  Working full-time will make it hard for me to go to support groups and will probably lead to burn out.  The job specification is very long and terrifies me.  Then there is the fact that I’m waiting for CBT therapy and don’t know how I could fit that in.  Also, this is a job through an agency, and I haven’t told anyone there about my autism, so I won’t get any adjustments for that.  But, I will go, and try to put aside this catastrophisation, and ask if I can make it a job share if necessary.

Strangely, the job interview makes me feel depressed more than anxious.  I just don’t feel that I can do the job, but then, I don’t really think I’ll do well at the interview either – one of those situations where the feared outcomes can’t both happen, but I worry about them both anyway.

***

I find with Pesach there is sometimes a nasty surprise in the last day or two.  I think of it as analogous to an October Surprise in the American presidential election.  Something where you plan and plan and everything seems to be going to plan, but then a big disruption happens and you have to improvise.

Last year I had a migraine the day before Pesach.  I was right the other side of London for a work staff development day and I was supposed to come home (a two hour trip), tidy my flat, then go to my parents’ house, help tidy there, kasher the sink and do bedikat chametz (search for leavened food).  I came home with a bad migraine, went back to my flat, took some painkillers, fell asleep for an hour or two and woke feeling a lot better.  I got everything done.  So it can be done.

This year our cleaner, who was supposed to come today, cancelled at the last minute.  For a while it looked like we had to magically find a couple more hours to make up the shortfall, but fortunately we managed to get another cleaner through the same agency.  I’m just hoping that that’s the last nasty surprise (I’m telling myself the job interview is a good surprise, difficult though it is to believe it).  A few other minor things have happened, but so far nothing major.  I’m worried that something will go wrong, though.

***

Tonight I have my least favourite part of Pesach preparation: kashering the sink.  This is to remove any traces of Pesach food taste that might linger.  To kasher a sink, you clean it thoroughly, don’t use it for anything hot for twenty-four hours and then pour boiling water all over it, including the taps, followed by cold water (this is a simplification; ask your local Orthodox rabbi if you want to know how to kasher an actual sink).  The tricky parts are (a) the water must be boiling, not boiled, which means you only get about five seconds to do this before the water in the kettle is too cool and has to be reboiled and (b) the water must be from the main spout from the kettle or at least a small radius around it, not water ‘downstream’ (so to speak), again so that it stays hot, so no pouring it just at the top and letting it flow down.

The problem is partly that I’m not that dexterous and find it awkward to pour a very full kettle of boiling water quickly at different angles to get all four sides of the sink, but mainly that there is no way to see how much of the sink has been done correctly or if it was quick enough, so my OCD makes me do this repeatedly.  I think most frum (religious) people do it in one or two goes, but I take seven or eight or even more.  I wish someone would make a sink that changes colour when boiling water is poured on it so I could see what I have done.

This is so triggering to my OCD that when I moved out of my parents house and into my own flat, for nearly a year I refused to put things in the sink itself, because I didn’t believe that I had kashered it correctly.  That was partly because I misunderstood a few things about how to do it, but mostly because of my anxiety about the whole process.  Even now I ask my Dad to kasher with me, so that he can check I don’t take too long or miss bits… except that then my OCD tells me he is wrong, so I do them again anyway.  I know several rabbis who can’t understand why I find this so stressful, they can just do it in a matter of minutes and then move to the next thing, but I find it a nightmare.  And we always leave it to the night before Pesach because we need to use the sink for chametz (leavened food) as long as possible, which means it gets done late at night at the same time as searching for chametz (which is fun, but takes a while) when I want to go to bed early to try to get up in time for shul (synagogue) the next morning so I can go the siyum and get out of fasting the Fast of the First-born (not even going to try explaining that, sorry).

Still, I have just made the charoset (one of the symbolic foods at the seder: a sweet brown paste symbolising the mortar the Israelite slaves made and used to sweeten the bitter herbs), which is a job I enjoy more, perhaps partly because my Mum always says it reminds her that her father used to do it.  I’m trying to stay calm and focused and just hold on to the fact that so far, things are going according to schedule.

More Variations on a Theme of Pesach Anxiety

I’m glad I’m not in my FE job today, as I would doubtless have been caught in the climate change protests in the Docklands, which I really wouldn’t need when there is Pesach stuff to be done.  I don’t know why the protesters are bothering anyway; no one is going to catastrophise about climate change when we’re all too busy catastrophising about Brexit…

***

I’m sleeping really badly at the moment.  It takes me a couple of hours to fall asleep, and then I sleep through the whole morning.  This is not good with Pesach stuff to do.  I don’t think I’m consciously lying awake thinking about Pesach, but I’m sure that’s the reason for the insomnia.

***

Our usual kosher butchers were out of shank bones (symbolising the Pesach lamb on the seder plate), but I remembered another, small kosher butcher my parents had forgotten about.  I went down today and they still had so I feel like I have Officially Saved Pesach.  (No one else feels thinks I Saved Pesach, but it’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

***

kashered the hob for Pesach.  I had some problems with this, which I won’t go into, but I did make a hurried Skype call to my rabbi mentor in the middle to check some things, which I wouldn’t normally do.  But I think I did it OK.  I’m not feeling OCD anxious about it.

***

I felt really stressed and anxious this afternoon, less OCD anxiety about preparing for Pesach wrongly and more general anxiety about leaving everything to the last minute because much of the preparation requires help from my parents (either because it’s a two-person job or because I don’t know where things are) or can only take place after certain things have happened which my parents want to leave until later, so I’m waiting for them and plutzing and worrying how I will sleep tonight and how I will do everything tomorrow night and how I will sleep tomorrow night and how I will get up early on Friday morning and how I will do everything on Friday…  It doesn’t help that I tend to view small mistakes or setbacks as catastrophic, or at least as signalling that bigger mistakes are to come, which is not always the case.  I don’t usually have big meltdowns the way some autistic people do, but I probably do experience small ones, when I get overwhelmed by a mixture of anxiety, stress, tiredness and helplessness, usually because of things that are out of my control.  I felt that building inside of me earlier and I managed suppress it by going for a brisk walk and so far we haven’t had a major Pesach argument this year, but it’s hard.  I think I am coping OK overall, although I’m wary of saying anything for superstitious reasons that I’m afraid it will all go wrong if I mention it.

I guess that as with many of my issues (in life in general), a lot boils down to living with my parents and having to play by their rules where their rules are not good for me with depression, anxiety, OCD and autism (autism likes to know when things will happen, anxiety likes not to leave things to the last minute, depression, autism and OCD all need lots of sleep).  I really should not be living with my parents aged thirty-five.

I do feel bad that, because of preparation, I haven’t had much time for Torah study or to go to shul.  Although I suspect that men who can keep up with Torah study and shul at this time of year are either super-organised or are exempted from much of the cleaning and kashering by their wives (or even forcibly expelled from the house by their wives for the duration).

***

So now half our kitchen is Pesachdik and half is still chametz.  My rabbi mentor says that this is the most dangerous time of year, when it’s easiest to mix up chametz and Pesachdik.  I agree, and it’s doubly hard with religious OCD.  I guess if you want to know what it’s like, the comparison would be to take someone with germ contamination OCD and dump a load of raw sewage in her kitchen and expect her to just carry on as if it wasn’t there.  Not going to happen.

Forty-six hours to go…

***

Looking at this inventory for self-stigma of mental illness, I think I have quite a bit of self-stigma about my mental health, especially if I include the autism too.  I know autism isn’t a mental illness, but just rephrasing the questions to be about autism gets similar results for me.  I knew I had poor self-esteem, but I didn’t realise how much I see myself as inadequate because of mental illness and autism until I was agreeing with statements like “I feel inferior to others who don’t have a mental illness/autism” or “I can’t contribute anything to society because I have a mental illness/autism”.  Even statements that I don’t actually agree with cognitively or about others, I intuitively agree with about myself e.g. “Mentally ill people shouldn’t get married” which I don’t believe for other people, but I do feel that I shouldn’t get married, or at least that I won’t be able to.

Variations on a Theme of Pesach Anxiety

Someone should write a thesis on the way that anxieties grow in the absence of sleep or food.  I couldn’t sleep last night and things that seemed OK during the day suddenly turned into bigger OCD anxieties when I was lying alone in the dark.  I ended up emailing my rabbi mentor, but I woke up today, very late again, to see that he hasn’t replied yet (as of 7pm, which is 9pm where he is), which just makes the worries worse.  I’m trying to keep things in perspective, as I’m not as anxious as I would have been in previous years, but I do feel that things are getting to me and I’ve got three more days of Pesach (Passover) preparation to get through.  As it is, I’ve got a knot of anxiety in my stomach that has come and gone all day.

I’m trying to accept that it’s OK to be stressed, and depressed, and OCD-anxious, even/especially at this time of year.  Trying not to think that other people seem to waltz through Pesach preparations without any worries, halakhic or otherwise.  It’s hard; I’m not on Facebook and I don’t use Twitter, but it’s still easy to compare my insides (horribly emotional) with other people’s calm outsides.

Clearing out some files on my computer last night (stuff that I thought would trigger OCD if I left it there) I found some notes following a meeting with my parents’ rabbi, who at the time was my rabbi too: “Torah was not given to the ministering angels [a rabbinic phrase that basically means that God doesn’t expect us to keep the Torah perfectly, because we aren’t perfect.  He has angels who are perfect, but He prefers our service to theirs because we have to struggle past our temptations and flaws].  We do our best, and leave the rest.  Pesach has fences and safeguards.  Don’t obsess over the last details of cleaning and kashering.  Enjoy Yom Tov.  Plan things to do, focus on things I enjoy about it.”  It’s hard to do that, though.  I’m actually struggling to think of enjoyable things I can do during the week.  I was nearly in tears davening (praying) before, just feeling overwhelmed by emotion and by events.  I feel that I’ve failed, that I’ve let everyone down, by giving in to my depression and anxiety again.

I went for a haircut this afternoon, which was awful.  I mean, the process of getting it, not how it has been cut.  I shook a bit, to the extent that the barber was unwilling to start at first, until his boss said something to him in a language I don’t understand.  I sat there with my eyes scrunched tight almost the whole time, repeating in my head that God loves me and that He has so much confidence in me that He has given me all these challenges (depression, OCD, social anxiety, loneliness etc.) because He knows I can cope with them.  Except that I don’t feel that I can cope with them.  The experience left me feeling shattered and exhausted.  I went into a couple of charity shops on the way home, but I didn’t buy anything.  Maybe I should have done.

I just keep thinking that I’ve let everyone down: family, friends, God, L. (who I’m not even quite dating yet).  It’s not my fault if I shake or feel depressed or feel OCD anxious… but somehow it feels like it is.

Baking

I slept for about eleven hours again.  My Dad woke me about 12.15pm (he sounded rather annoyed that I was still asleep, which didn’t help), but I lay in bed for another hour feeling too tired and depressed to move.  I think I was just burnt out from all the things I did yesterday, the Pesach preparation and the stressful experience I had at shul that I blogged about.  I think I drifted in and out of sleep for a while.

At some point in the night (or morning) I had a weird, disturbing dream that I can only vaguely remember, something about a Jewish (?) youth organisation which was actually secretly being run as some kind of cult or gang and that young people were being brainwashed into murder and other criminal activities.  Aside from maybe picking up on things in the news about radicalisation and “Jihadi brides” in Syria, I guess it reflects the fears I had as a teenager and still do have to a large extent that frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) institutions and communities would want to brainwash me out of my wider interests, particularly Doctor Who, and my friendships with my non-frum and non-Jewish friends.  It is a bit silly that I still have these fears when, by objective standards, I am very frum, although I do still feel painfully on the fringes of the community rather integrated as I should be.  I feel that I have capacity that I’m not using; I feel I should be going to shul (synagogue) more often and not be put off by depression and social anxiety.  Likewise, if I wanted to, I could do more in the community, in terms of leading services and writing divrei Torah (Torah thoughts), but I don’t have the confidence to do it any more because of my feelings of inadequacy compared to other people in the community.  I don’t know where I go from here.

***

I spent much of the afternoon baking biscuits for Pesach.  It proved to be good exposure therapy for the OCD, as I had the choice of washing my hands virtually once a minute or accepting that I can touch things and then touch foodstuffs and crockery without transferring invisible amounts of forbidden chametz (leaven) onto them.  I even coped with a minor kashering issue without panicking.

My rabbi mentor says that these days before Pesach are harder than Pesach itself.  On Pesach, all the chametz is gone, burnt or sold, so the opportunities for mishaps are relatively limited.  It’s the days before when we’re still eating chametz, but getting ready our Pesach stuff, kashering utensils and cooking in advance, when the real risk of problems comes.

I feel exhausted after the baking.  It seems strange, having slept so long last night, but I guess this is an emotionally draining time of year for me.  There’s a lot of stress and anxiety.  I think I’m mostly coping OK, but it is taking its toll.  I still feel a lot of stress and anxiety even if I am ultimately coping with it better than in recent years.  Tomorrow I need to get a haircut, which I always dread in case I start shaking and because I don’t like strangers touching me, and then on Wednesday things shift up a gear in terms of Pesach preparation (again) when I have to kasher the hob.

“You don’t know what it’s like to listen to your fears”

Mid-afternoon: There’s not a lot to say today.  Things have been continuing as they have been for the last week or so: I’m OK much of the time, but then suddenly my mood tanks and I have strong depression or (more usually) anxiety.  My anxiety is a mixture of religious OCD anxiety about the laws of Pesach (Passover), social anxiety about going to my shul’s (synagogue’s) weekday premises, which I haven’t been to much, and some kind of anxiety (I’m not quite sure what) about dating.  In the meantime, I’ve helped my parents with Pesach preparations.  That’s about it, really.

Evening: I wrote that paragraph above mid-afternoon, when I thought I would not have much to say today and just wanted to say that I’m coping.  However, I just had a stressful experience.  The prohibition on owning chametz (leavened bread and its derivatives) on Pesach is so severe, that religious Jews take a belt and braces approach: we destroy trivial amounts (usually by burning); larger amounts are sold to a non-Jew for the duration of the festival (it’s a binding sale and the non-Jew is under no obligation to sell it back afterwards, although the reality is that 99.99999% of the time they do as a matter of course) and, just in case we’ve missed anything, we declare any chametz that we own that is not destroyed or sold to be legally ownerless.  (I might write a post over Pesach about why we go to this extreme for a bit of bread, but I haven’t got time tonight.  Just accept it as another crazy thing Jews do.)

Today I sold my chametz or rather, gave my rabbi power of attorney to sell it on Friday morning.  I could feel my anxiety building in the afternoon.  I knew I was going to have to go to my shul‘s weekday premises and I felt uncomfortable and anxious about it.  I just haven’t been there enough to feel comfortable in the building, which is probably an autism familiarity thing as much as anything.  I was worried about doing the wrong thing or saying the wrong thing.  The anxiety was stronger for not being well-defined.  I just felt that I would do something wrong.

I got locked out when I arrived there, which was unfortunate.  I thought I knew the door code, but I didn’t.  Then the assistant rabbi said that he didn’t usually see me here.  It was an innocuous comment, but just made me feel that I’m being judged for not going to shul enough.  I felt very socially anxious during the afternoon and evening prayers.  There was then a long wait while the rabbi saw other people, during which my anxiety rose further.  I felt that I was going to say something wrong or the rabbi would judge me badly or think I was doing something sinful.  Of course, none of these things happened, but I did shake when I signed the document to give him power of attorney.  I walked home again feeling very shaken, physically shaken, and having OCD thoughts about having done things “wrongly”.

The positive thing to have come out of this is that I think I have an idea of why I struggle in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community.  My Jewish identity is very strong and positive, and I see my Judaism as my most important identity, much more so than being a Doctor Who fan, autistic, depressed, an Oxonian or anything else.  Yet I find it so hard to interact with other frum Jews.  Low blood sugar, an unfamiliar setting (difficult with autism) and social anxiety today probably didn’t help things, but I think a lot of it goes back to my autism.

I have mentioned before that the reason I think my autism went undiagnosed for so long is because I have developed mental ‘algorithms’ for dealing with social situations.  I have one for eye contact and body language, one for making small talk and so on.  But with frum people, the algorithms become much more complex.  I need to factor in not saying anything that seems too secular and working out what “too secular” is (sometimes very frum people make jokes or comments that I would never dream of trying to get away with, which just confuses me).  I need to process words from foreign languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Yiddish) that I may not be familiar with and which may be pronounced differently to how I would pronounce them (people in my shul tend to use Ashkenazi (Northern European) pronunciation, whereas I use Modern Hebrew pronunciation which is rooted in Sephardi (Iberian/Middle Eastern) pronunciation e.g. the final ‘t’ in Modern Hebrew often becomes ‘s’ in Ashkenazi pronunciation so Shabbat becomes Shabbos).  I need to process details of Jewish law and avoid transgressing it.  Then there are the social mores of the frum world, more formal in some ways (e.g. children refer to their elders as “Mr X” or “Mrs Y” not their first names), but more relaxed in others (e.g. people are far more relaxed about dropping in and out of their friends’ houses unexpectedly than in general, at least in anti-social London).  All this on top of my low self-esteem and feelings that I am religiously inadequate (e.g. the assistant rabbi’s comment), which just fuels the flames; it is hard to avoid a social/religious faux pas if you are in a state of some anxiety about making such a mistake.  It’s very difficult and it’s no wonder so much about my religious life leaves me feeling anxious, or that I have become such an infrequent shul-goer in recent years since moving to a new, frummer community.

Later: I’ve recovered now.  I’ve eaten (including a Magnum, reward for a difficult day) and watched some Doctor Who (I was supposed to have a break from it after watching so much as research for my book, but I’ve ended up watching the animated Shada because I’ve been stressed the last few days and needed the support that I can only get from my special interest).  I spoke to my parents about some of the ideas in this post and they felt that they made sense.  I know it seems silly to say that I worry how frum people will see me when I know that, compared with a lot of people I have a good understanding of Judaism and Jewish law and a reasonable Hebrew vocabulary, but there we go; anxieties aren’t rational.

Tested

I felt quite depressed on waking again.  Although I must have been in bed for about twelve hours (this was at nearly 1pm), I still felt tired.  On the whole I’m probably doing OK, mental health-wise, at the moment, but I get bursts of depression and/or anxiety most days that last for a while and I’m definitely struggling to find my ‘place’ or role in terms of career, family, dating and fitting in to the Jewish community.  I tried telling myself that where I am (moderately depressed and anxious, autistic, unemployed etc.) is where God wants me to be, but it’s hard.  I keep wondering why I have to be like this.  But I don’t think we can know such things, at least not at the time.  Maybe years later, when we see how things turn out.

I just did a civil service initiative and judgement test for a job at a ministerial library that I applied for.  Part of the test was on attitudes to work.  I think the ideal candidate bounds out of bed in the morning and hurries joyfully to work and sets him or herself a number of career goals culminating in becoming the head of a department by the age of forty.  The test is not really set up for someone confused about their career choice and suffering from depressive anhedonia (lack of enjoyment) and lack of motivation.  My concentration during the test was poor too.

Then there was an initiative test which was based largely around management issues.  I’m not ready for a management job (and probably never will be), which suggests that the job is not right for me.  I found the multiple choice framework frustrating, as I frequently wanted to add clarification or a caveat, or felt that none of the answers given were very good, even though I could not think of a better one.  I suspect that I’m not management material.  I got through it rather quickly.  I was told it should take about fifty minutes, but I did it in thirty, which makes me worry I went through it too fast, but I couldn’t really connect the questions to anything that might really have guided me.  I did do some study of management for my librarianship MA, but nothing that really helped here.  Although it is fun to imagine Sir Humphrey Appleby, the Machiavellian civil service chief from Yes Minister being made to sit one of these tests (“Where’s the option ‘brief against your critics to their boss until he fires them’?”).

I did, apparently, pass the test and am still being considered for the job, which is good.

More Over-Thinking

I had another anxiety dream last night, this time explicitly about kashering the oven (preparing it for the special Pesach/Passover dietary laws), although it ended in a stranger strangling me for no very obvious reason.  I think the stress is getting to me.

***

I got feedback on my job interview from last week.  Surprisingly, I did quite well in the test part of it (the one I thought I messed up because I had to skip a bit).  But they said I lacked experience with periodicals (which is completely true) and that my answers lacked depth and focused on what rather than how, which made me feel that my skills and experience were less important than my inability to talk about said skills and experience.  This was in regard to the very open (= not autism friendly) question where they gave me the person spec and asked me to describe how I’ve met those requirements in other jobs.  So I guess I have to put it down to one of those things.  At least the test answers were better than I thought at the time.

***

I’m struggling to write job applications.  Somehow all the jobs seem to be things I’m not qualified for or things I’m overqualified for, sometimes even both at the same time e.g. today I was applying for a job that was intended for new librarianship graduates (overqualified), but that also desired experience at a health library (under-qualified).  It is so hard to stay focused to write these applications, partly from boredom, but also because they just remind me of how badly I’ve struggled at work over the last year or two and of my fears that I just can’t function in a work environment.

***

I’m trying not to over-think things, but it’s hard.  I went for a walk after writing the job application to try to clear my head, but it didn’t work.  The walk was brisk at first, but became slower as I got tired and as the thoughts came out: that I am not good enough to get a job or a partner; that I have already messed things up with the woman I’m texting (call her L.); that I’m making a very large mountain out of a very small molehill regarding selling my chametz (leavened bread and the like), which nevertheless I worry I won’t do correctly; and that I can’t fit in to the Orthodox Jewish community.  I started wondering if I should have stayed working in further education last year after all.  It would at least have been a job.  I just felt that I couldn’t do it, and that my boss had no confidence in me either.  I have at least decided to look seriously into working as a proof-reader/editor to supplement my income after Pesach.

Dating is the hardest thing not to over-think.  I am more or less resigned to being unemployed for a while, perhaps because so far all the job opportunities I have found have been more terrifying than unemployment.  I haven’t really seen anything that has made me say both, “I could do that!” and “I want to do that!”  I’m trying to take Pesach preparations one day at a time and I seem to be doing OK with that, at least some of the time.  But it’s very hard not to catastrophise dating.  It’s hard to get an idea of someone from a few texts, but I constantly fear that we won’t be compatible and that I’ll have to break up with her and either I won’t have the courage to do it and will get stuck in a dysfunctional relationship or I will do it and she’ll be upset and I’ll feel terrible.  Strangely, it doesn’t really occur to me that if I don’t connect with her, she probably won’t connect with me and she may break up with me first.

I do worry that I’m so, um, unusual (weird) that no one will really connect with me.  I don’t honestly expect to find someone who is anything approaching a perfect match for me, the kind of fantasy female version of me, but I don’t know what I should realistically expect and what I should compromise on.  Sometimes I feel that I can’t connect with anyone, not family or friends, so maybe I should just accept the first person who seems to care about me regardless of how much we have in common.  I’m not sure how sensible this is.

Still, as I said yesterday, I’m trying to “look to Him [God] and do not inquire of the future, rather accept everything that comes to you with wholeheartedness”.  It’s very hard though.  The worst part is the feeling that I’m leading L. on somehow and am going to hurt her in a way that would be avoidable if I was a good enough/clever enough person to see it, even though it’s hard rationally to see any reason for thinking like that, beyond the fact that I look for reasons to beat myself up.

Ugh, I ate sugary ice cream earlier (Ben and Jerry’s chocolate fudge brownie) and now I think I’m crashing from the sugar because my mood is plummeting.  I should probably stop writing.

Living the Questions

Anxiety comes and goes a lot at the moment.  I’m like a cartoon character who can run off a cliff and keep going provided I don’t look down.  Once I do that, I plummet, and so does my mood.  “Looking down” sometimes means a direct trigger about the three topics that are making me anxious at the moment (Pesach, job hunting and dating) and sometimes means a physical trigger such as tiredness or hunger.  The two types of triggers interact, I think, so it’s easier to get panicked about Pesach when I’m tired or hungry.  I do have to engage with all three topics directly, so I can’t bury my head in the sand.  I have to engage with Pesach because it’s little over a week away and my parents need my help; with job hunting because I need to find a job I can do; and dating because I’m texting the woman I was set up with from the values-based dating service, although neither of us has time to meet before Pesach.

The funny thing is that, with regard to the job search and dating, it’s not so much rejection that makes me anxious as a feeling of letting people down.  I feel that I’m wasting people’s time by applying for jobs where I don’t have all the experience that seems to be required, even though I know that employers do not expect to find a candidate who meets all their criteria; I suppose now I also worry about not being able to function in a job, as I feel I didn’t function properly in my recent jobs.  With dating too I worry as differences emerge between us, fearing that will doom the relationship and I should terminate it now otherwise I’m leading her on, even though relationships always have differences and it’s hard to tell whether those differences are surmountable without meeting a few times (at least).

I just finished reading Jonah: The Reluctant Prophet by Erica Brown.  Near the end she quotes the poet Rainer Maria Rilke on loving and living the questions in your heart without seeking the answers, as you couldn’t get the answers until you are ready to live them too.  I suppose I should try to do this, however grudgingly (I want answers).  I also think of a comment from Rashi (Hebrew acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki), the greatest of the Medieval Jewish commentators.  Devarim/Deuteronomy 18.13 exhorts us to “Be wholehearted with HaShem your God” which Rashi (quoting Sifrei) explains as “Walk with Him with wholeheartedness and look to Him and do not inquire of the future, rather accept everything that comes to you with wholeheartedness and then you will be with Him and His portion.”  The comment is more about not practising divination, soothsaying, fortune telling or any other magical way of discovering the future, but I do try to remember it when I’m spiralling down into anxiety about the future and catastrophising about what might happen.  To try to trust in God and not to worry about what might happen.

***

The job I applied for today asked for “Patience, resilience and a good-humoured approach”.  Halevi (if only).  At least I seem to be a bit more understanding and forgiving of myself than I used to be.  I think this is as much due to being more certain about having autism as anything else.  I don’t know why I find it easier to accept my limitations from autism more easily than those from depression, but somehow I do.  Maybe it’s because I feel I should be over the depression by now, after so many years, whereas I can accept that autism is a lifelong condition.

***

I just came across some emails from E. from when we were dating.  I’d forgotten I had them.  I felt that I couldn’t be dating now while I still had copies of these emails and so I deleted them, but I feel a bit sad now.  Not that I think it would be possible or even desirable to get back together with E. – that’s over now, it came at a particular time and now it can’t be recaptured.  But it makes me wonder if anyone would ever seem so compatible again.  To be honest, I don’t think that anyone I’ve dated was really compatible with me.  There are always similarities and differences, but up to now, there has always been some significant difference that derails everything (religious level, income etc.).  I suppose the difficulty with E. is that it wasn’t really a difference that was the problem (although we had very different religious levels), but a similarity: we were both struggling in low income jobs because of mental health issues.  It just makes me worry that all my relationships will end eventually.  How can I tell which relationships might work and which are going to be destroyed by the differences (or the low income)?  I can only tell by trying them and seeing what happens, but this shatters my desire for control.  Which takes us back to Rashi and Rilke, I suppose, living the questions and not looking to the future.

Chores, Jobs and Puddle-Ducks

I did a few chores yesterday, but spent some time procrastinating and putting off Pesach (Passover) chores number.  In the evening I went to depression group.  The Monday meetings (which I haven’t been going to for a while because of work commitments on Tuesday mornings) tend to have a speaker or theme for the first half.  Yesterday we were talking about hobbies and other ways that we distract from our mental health issues.  Lots of people shared some (very good) artwork, so I spoke about my blog and read part of a post out.  Although I had spent some time beforehand choosing a post, I didn’t really hit me until I read it how suicidal I sounded in the post; I think one person was quite worried about me.  A few people said it was very powerfully written and a couple of people asked for the URL to read it, so I may have picked up a few more readers.  I do feel a bit embarrassed thinking about it today.  I always get embarrassed when people congratulate me on my writing, plus I wonder if maybe I did pick a very negative post to read (it was the beginning of this post).

Today was split between Pesach preparations and writing a job application.  I was slow to get up and get going because I was feeling depressed, but I managed to do a few things in the afternoon.  I feel frustrated by not being able to do as much in a day as I used to be able to do because of the depression, although “used to be able” is now going back so far that it isn’t really helpful any more.  Plus, I think that even when I was younger I still got distracted.  It’s possible that I just set targets I could never reach or, as my Dad says, that I’m just bad at planning.  Someone from the therapy group I attended at The Network said she only puts one thing on her to do list each day now and, depressingly, I could see the appeal of that.  I usually try to do far more than I actually manage to do and end up making myself more depressed by failing to meet my plan.

***

I found out that I didn’t get the job I was interviewed for last week.  It was not surprising, given how long I have been waiting to hear and how badly I did at the interview.  I suppose I should just put it down to experience, but it reinforces my feelings about not being able to work.  Related to these fears, I spoke to someone from A S Mentoring today, an organisation that helps people with autism in the workplace.  They could potentially help me, but there is a quite steep charge for seeing them after a free trial meeting as well as a three month waiting list.  My Mum is in favour of going on the waiting list, while my father was more sceptical of whether they could help.  I’m not sure what to do.  It doesn’t help that I’m not sure what my support needs actually are.  A lot would depend on what job I end up in.  Some of my issues, like needing extra-long processing time when asked an open question, my difficulty changing tasks at short-notice or my preference for written instructions over verbal ones, would apply in many environments.  If I had an understanding boss, as I did in my last job, but not in an earlier one, that would make things easier.

***

I seem to be having disturbing dreams at the moment, perhaps because of my high anxiety levels.  A couple of nights ago was a Nineteen Eighty-Four dream which, perhaps fortunately, I didn’t really remember, I was just left with a vague impression of it.  Then last night I dreamt about terrorism, shootings and plane hijackings.  And Beatrix Potter’s Jemima Puddle-Duck.  Don’t laugh, it really upset me as a child (when the dogs eat her eggs).

Weekend Round-Up

The weekend went reasonably well.  I slept too much on Shabbat (the Sabbath) again and missed shul (synagogue) in the morning, although I went in the evening to see our potential new rabbi.  He seemed nice enough, but I suppose I feel slightly upset that as I was trying to build up relationships of trust with the current rabbi and the assistant rabbi and opening up a bit about my various issues and how they affect my Jewish life (mostly in a negative way), I now have to start all over again with a new rabbi.  Obviously it’s going to take time to build up trust again, and coming at a time when I feel that my depression and autism have largely pushed me to the fringes of the frum (religious) community, it’s not necessarily going to be easy to begin again.  I was too tired to go to the community meeting to vote him in this evening because I was out in the afternoon (see below), but I assume he was voted in (“elected” isn’t quite the right word as there were no other candidates).  He had to get 66% of the vote to secure the position, though, which made me wonder if someone was worried of a Brexit-type scenario.  (EDIT: he was voted in unanimously, which is definitely not like Brexit.)

Today I went to my sister and brother-in-law’s newly-refurbished house for tea.  They invited a lot of family, but my brother-in-law’s family is much larger than our side of the family, so it was just my parents and me for our side and a lot more people from the other side, although I think I’m the only person who still feels self-conscious around the other side of the family.  I coped OK.  I didn’t get depressed about not being married or owning a house as I thought I would.  I played a bit with my sister’s three year old nieces, although they were too tired to really be interested.  I ate too many biscuits and rogelach (pastries) though, which is probably a nervous thing – I don’t talk to people, so I sit there feeling anxious, so I eat to give me something to distract myself.  I think I’m crashing now from the sugar, feeling a bit depressed and anxious.

Other than that it’s been a slow weekend, some Pesach (Passover) preparation today, but not much else.  Tomorrow I should find out about the job I was interviewed for on Friday, although given that they were expecting to decide on Friday afternoon (there were only four people on the shortlist) and I still haven’t heard, it seems unlikely that I’m the first choice.

I’m hoping to go to depression group tomorrow (assuming that I’m not working on Tuesday).  The theme of the evening is hobbies, things people do to deal with depression and anxiety.  I’m trying to get the courage to read out a blog post or two from here, given that writing is my biggest hobby and my most effective way of dealing with my depression and anxiety.

***

I realised that my Pesach fears are different to previous years.  In the past I was worried that we would not prepare for Pesach correctly and I would end up eating forbidden chametz (leavened bread and its derivatives) on Pesach or that I would end up having a huge argument with my parents about the correct way to kasher things (make utensils usable for Pesach by purging of all traces of chametz).  This year I’m fairly confident that for the last few years, our Pesach has been kosher and it probably will be this year too.  Next week will be a crazy and stressful and rushed, but everything will probably turn out OK in the end.  I probably will argue with my parents at some point, but that will be because we’re all stressed and not over some huge kashering issue that is going to sour our relationship forever.  So my worries are more realistic now, although there is still the vague fear of something going really wrong unexpectedly – but that has happened in the past too and we’ve coped.  It’s why we pay so much in shul membership, so that we can phone the rabbi three hours before Yom Tov (God forbid) with a difficult sha’alah (question) as I had to do a few years ago (everything was OK in the end).  There’s less of the fear of divine punishment too, less feeling that God is waiting to pounce as soon as I make a mistake.

Anxious Again

I was quite anxious when I woke up this morning.  This wasn’t surprising, as I had a job interview, but a lot of the anxiety was about other things, about Pesach preparations and dating.  I got to the interview nearly three quarters of an hour early and as I didn’t want to wait inside, I went to a nearby park, only to be pooped on by a bird.  I got most of it off, but it did stain and I did feel I should explain at the interview that I was smart when I left home this morning.

I don’t know whether it was because of that incident or not, but I did badly on the practical test.  It was just about locating items on the library catalogue, which I should have found easy, but some of the terms I was not familiar with (to be fair, these can vary from library to library) and I just could not find one item, either on a basic search or an advanced search.  I have no idea what I was doing wrong.  I felt very stupid.  It didn’t help that it was in a noisy office (deliberately, as that was where I would be working) and I struggle to work in noisy offices because of my autism.

The interview itself also went badly.  They asked me a few questions, but then gave me a list of personal qualities they were looking for and asked me to describe how I have shown them at work.  Of course, being autistic, presented with such a wide open question my mind just went blank and I struggled to say anything coherent at all.  I was hoping they would pick up on something I said and ask me to expand on it by asking a more focused question, but they didn’t, they just asked me to say more in a general way.  So that wasn’t good either.

To do badly in the test was a blow to my self-esteem, particularly coming after the cataloguing test at a different university that I failed a few months ago and the general feeling that has been growing over the last  year that I just can’t cope with the world of work.  I knew that I was overqualified for this job, at least on paper; this was not a role that called for a qualified librarian like myself and I was only applying for it because I felt desperate, so to feel that I had messed it up was painful.  I just feel that I can’t function any more.  I feel I was only ever competent in the rather artificial environment of school and, to a lesser extent, university, where tasks were clearly defined, significant instruction was given and tests were more of memory than of initiative.  I’m glad I’ve got the call with the person from A S Mentoring (an organisation providing workplace support for people on the autism spectrum) next week, so I can discuss this.

I haven’t heard back from the university yet and I’m guessing I won’t now until next week, given that it’s gone 5pm on a Friday, although they did say they would get back to me today (perhaps their first choice has asked for time to decide).  It certainly seems quite obvious that I wasn’t the first choice for the job, which is frustrating.

I’ve had a lot of dating anxiety too.  I don’t really want to go into it, and I’m not entirely sure that I understand what I’m feeling well enough to even try to go into it, but there is the anxiety of meeting someone on a blind date and wondering what would happen if there is a match ‘on paper’, but there isn’t enough chemistry or attraction.  It’s hard to feel that anyone could like me.  Plus there is always the fear of rejection, or of hurting someone else by rejecting her.  Then there is the fear that I don’t earn enough money to support a family, linked to previous fears of not being able to fit in to a work environment, and that I therefore shouldn’t even be looking to date right now.  I hope things can work out for me somehow, some day.

To try to cheer myself up, as Shabbat starts quite late now the clocks have gone forward, I spent some time this afternoon working on my Doctor Who book.  At least I find that restoring rather than depleting.  Writing is about the only thing I do currently feel somewhat competent at.  Even then I still struggle with the gap between how I want to write and how I feel I do write, the latter not being as good as the former.  It’s hard to let my own distinctive voice come out and not to try to impersonate other writers who have influenced me.

Update and Anxieties

I’ve got a job interview tomorrow for a job that I feel I’m in some ways overqualified for and in other ways not qualified for, but it’s a job, so I’m going for it.  I do need to tell the job agency to stop putting me up for ‘library assistant’ jobs rather than ‘assistant librarian’ jobs.  I know the difference sounds trivial, but there’s a huge difference in skill sets: a library assistant has no professional training and basically puts books on shelves, whereas an assistant librarian has significant training (usually an MA) and is qualified to do run a library.  The job agency just put me up for every job with ‘library’ in it.  But this is a job and I’m desperate, and it might be good experience at using another library management system.

That job is supposed to start ASAP; I don’t know if that means they literally want me to start next week.  Pesach (Passover) preparations are starting in earnest now too, so that will take up a lot of time over the next two weeks.  My blog posts might get a bit shorter and/or more intermittent for the next few weeks, although I doubt I’ll stop entirely.  I just hope I can keep going through the stress.  I had a huge amount of anxiety today about Pesach, my job interview and about dating.  It was actually quite a struggle at times, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better, certainly regarding Pesach, but potentially regarding work and dating too.

I spoke to the shadchan (matchmaker) who found someone for me to potentially date with shared values.  It turns out I went to school with her (the woman I would be dating).  I’m struggling a bit to separate her in my mind from her twelve year old self.  I guess it will be easier once I actually see her as an adult.  I didn’t know her terribly well as I went to a very big school.  The school year was divided in halves and even for things where you mixed with students from other classes, like PE, it was only within your half of the year.  She was in the other half, so I didn’t really have much contact with her.  To be honest, unless someone was either my friend or was bullying me, I didn’t really pay much attention to them, particularly not if they were female (I didn’t really begin to notice women until I was in the sixth form, by which time she had left).  I know I have been set up on a date before with someone I was at school with, and given the small size of the Anglo-Jewish community, perhaps it’s not surprising, but it’s hard to try to get rid of associations I might have about someone I used to know, whether what I remember about her (which might not reflect how she is now) or the fact that I suppose I want to escape my schooldays, which weren’t terribly happy.

We will hopefully go on a date, but it probably won’t be for a while, because of Pesach preparations and Pesach itself, as well as me potentially starting a new job.

I guess overall the news here is good.  I suppose the biggest worry is that I’m being pushed to the wrong jobs.  The kind of library jobs suitable for someone with my level of training and experience aren’t really out there at the moment, which may be seasonal (I think/hope that academic librarian jobs are going to be more common in the summer, hiring to start in the new academic year in September), but I also have the worry that autism is creating an imbalance between my skills and training on the one hand and my ability to cope in a real work environment on the other, that I just can’t cope with a lot of jobs, particularly not those involving significant interpersonal interactions, such as school librarians.  I’ve seen quite a few school librarian jobs but have generally not applied for them after my previous experiences in further education.  That’s potentially a long-term problem that I need to solve.  There is also the problem that I have probably neglected my CPD, because with the depression it’s enough of an effort just to manage a part-time job without having to do extra reading or courses as well.  I have an appointment booked in for next week with someone from A S Mentoring, a charity that provides workplace advice and support for people on the autism spectrum, which might help a bit, but if I do start a job next week, I might have to postpone that.

I guess I need to have a serious think about my career path over the coming weeks.  And probably to try not to think about dating someone I was at school with, for fear of overthinking the situation and ruining the date before we even get to it.

Anxious Again

I feel a lot better today than I did yesterday, when I had a stomach bug.  I don’t feel sick or dizzy as I did yesterday, but I haven’t tried much food yet, just toast with margarine, a few tomatoes and a banana, with nothing to drink other than water and tea.  I still feel really achy, though.  I think I must have strained some muscles while I was being sick.  I was going to go for a walk today, but I decided I still don’t feel up to it.

It’s strange, although I have been used to an almost constant level of mental illness since my teens, I’m very rarely physically ill.  This was one of the worst physical illnesses I’ve ever had.  I don’t think I cope with physical pain terribly well.  I was thinking yesterday about people who are in worse pain than I am all the time.  There’s a Jewish belief, not so much a serious theological belief as a folk belief that people talk about, that if we could choose any type of suffering, we would choose that which we have anyway.  I’ve always been sceptical of that and assumed that if there is any truth to it, it’s because the suffering we have is the suffering we have tried to develop coping strategies for, but maybe there is more to it than that.

The other thing that I learnt yesterday was that maybe I’m not as bad a frum (religious) Jew as I thought.  Yesterday I was too sick to study Torah at all, too sick to daven Shacharit, Mincha and part of Ma’ariv (pray the Morning, Afternoon and part of Evening services).  I didn’t even change out of my pyjamas all day.  It made it clear that usually I do these things at least to some extent.  However depressed I am, I do pray two or three times a day, even if not in the ideal way and I do some Torah study every day even if only a few minutes.  I always change out of my pyjamas unless I’m physically ill, however depressed I am.  So, I guess those are all positives.

I was doing OK today mental health-wise, but I’ve suddenly become very anxious and have started catastrophising.  I have a job interview on Friday and am worried I am going to fail the cataloguing test, that I don’t know how to use their software well enough and that my cataloguing skills are too rusty.  I am also worried that if I do get the job, I will have to work through Chol HaMoed Pesach (the intermediate days of Passover, where it is permit to work, but discouraged if possible).  I am also catastrophising about the potential date I have, although I still have not spoken to the shadchan (matchmaker) about this.  I am concerned that I am making a huge mistake, although working out exactly what the mistake is at this stage, when I haven’t committed myself to anything more than a conversation with the shadchan is harder to tell.  I just have nightmares about getting married to the wrong person for the wrong reasons (loneliness, desperation or not wanting to hurt someone else’s feelings by rejecting her).  And I’m worried about Pesach, which seems to have come out of nowhere and leapt on me; I realised that I only have a little over two weeks until it and not three as I vaguely thought.

Having written this all down, it does seem that my anxieties are getting out of control and that I am worrying about things that are either not within my power (the job stuff) or which would have to go through a lot more stages of bad decisions to actually be problematic (dating).  But it’s hard to internalise that.  Plus what is an objectively real concern is that the job is for a library assistant role rather than an assistant librarian one which sounds trivial, but library assistant is a much lower, less skilled, less well-paid job than I’m qualified for.  I think the agency who keep putting me up for these jobs don’t understand the difference between assistant librarians and library assistants, which is a bit ridiculous for an agency that handles so many library jobs.  But I feel that I need to keep in work, so I accept these jobs, or at least put myself up for them, but I wonder what it will do for my career to have these things on my CV.

I wish I was in therapy, or had a friend I could talk to about this, but I’m not in therapy and my friends are busy dealing with major life issues of their own.  Maybe I should try to phone Samaritans later, but it seems silly to bother them with this stuff.

I’m not pretending that this isn’t anything other than a blatant bid for sympathy…

… even by my usual standards.

I woke up early this morning feeling achey and nauseous.  Since then I’ve thrown up three times.  Lying in bed just makes me feel worse, so although I’m still in my pyjamas and dressing gown (with my hand inside my dressing gown breast soothing my stomach like Napoleon), I’m going to try to stay up.

I watched two episodes of House of Cards (the BBC version from the 90s) before deciding it was too grim and, in an odd way, realistic.  The plot is wildly improbable (I don’t believe politicians in Western countries literally murder their way to the top or that a conspiracy on that scale could be kept quiet for long), but the arguing and backbiting and scandal and privileged white men taking it upon themselves to speak for minorities got too much (not to mention the government’s poor response to a disaster in a council estate in the middle of an election), so I’m switching to Star Trek for a bit, maybe with The Avengers (the British John Steed and Mrs Peel Avengers) later.  I’m just trying not to brood on my job situation and why the shadchan (matchmaker) from the values-based dating service didn’t phone yesterday.

I hope I can keep down some food later; I don’t want to have to take the rehydration powders we bought when my sister had norovirus some years ago, which by all accounts were vile.  Going to autism group certainly seems out of the question.

Over-Thinking

This morning:

I’m depressed, anxious and tearful again today.

I couldn’t sleep last night, despite being very tired, and I ended up getting up at 1.00am to work on my Doctor Who book for a while to get something productive done from the time.  When I did finally get to sleep, I dreamt about shul (synagogue) and being embarrassed there because I did not sign up to do the joint Mishnah study this year, and also for doing the wrong thing when called to read from the Torah.  Both these things have happened in real life and make me feel rather useless.  I then overslept this morning and woke feeling exhausted and drained, which persisted after breakfast and coffee.

The shadchan (match-maker) from the values-based dating service thinks she has a match for me.  I’m terrified that dating at the moment is a very bad idea, but am going to go along with it.  I’m catastrophising enormously, though, and blaming myself for dating when I’m not in a good mental health or financial situation.  To be honest, I thought I wasn’t going to meet anyone through the values-based dating service so I didn’t think to say that I am not in such a good situation and am not looking for anyone.   Now it seems too late to back out… plus, I suppose there’s the hope that it might work out.  I’m catastrophising and self-blaming a lot, though.  Dating always seems such a negative experience for me.  I get terrified of getting hurt, but I also get terrified of hurting someone else.  Or of somehow ending up trapped in a dysfunctional relationship out of misplaced politeness and not wanting to upset someone, or out of fear that I won’t find anyone else.

When I was working in a further education library, my boss frequently accused me of “over-thinking” things, which I suspect is true of me in lots of situations, including/especially dating.  This is probably very silly and I wish I could just take things as they come, but I can’t.

I read in The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome of a young autistic boy who was feared to be suicidally depressed because he would repeatedly say that he wanted to die.  On investigation, it was discovered that he was not depressed, he just thought that this was something said on very minor setbacks, having seen it on TV and misunderstood the context.  I wonder if my brain does something similar and goes to ‘I want to die’ as the result of feeling overwhelmed, which can happen with relatively minor things that trigger difficult emotions.  I suppose it’s good that I can recognise these feelings as anxiety, while in the past I think I misunderstood them as depression, although there may genuinely be some despair in there.

I certainly wish I had someone to talk to at the moment, but I can’t get hold of my rabbi mentor, my previous therapist has no free appointments at the moment and my close friends are all busy with major life problems, much bigger than my issues, so I don’t want to bother them.

This evening:

I got through the day somehow.  The shadchan didn’t phone  or email with more information; I don’t know why, so I’m still in suspense, but now I’m wondering if the shadchan also asked the woman if she would be interested in dating me and she said no.  It’s possible.  In some ways that would be a relief as well as a disappointment.

I felt anxious quite a lot during the day.  Usually I write these posts during the day, either whole paragraphs in odd moments or writing notes to myself of things to write in full later, but today I decided not to do that, as I felt it was fuelling my anxiety by making me constantly analyse myself and my emotions.  I tried using some of the coping strategies I was taught on my group therapy/well-being courses.  Challenging my catastrophising helped a little bit (telling myself I’m unlikely to be trapped in a relationship out of not wanting to hurt the other person, although it has to be said that I passed a lot of red flags before I broke up with my first girlfriend); deep breathing helped rather more.

I spent about three hours or more working on a job application, as well as about half an hour of Talmudic study and a brisk thirty minute walk to the shops and back.  This was probably the best thing I could do to distract myself.  The job application was also significantly anxiety-provoking and I struggled to answer a lot of the questions, but I’ve put together draft answers for most of them and I have an idea about how to answer the other one, which is an improvement on earlier this afternoon when I felt completely overwhelmed and unable to complete the application.

I am trying not to worry about dating and what might happen, but it’s hard.  I don’t want to get hurt (obviously), but I don’t want to hurt someone else either.  It’s hard to know what the right thing to do is sometimes.

***

In other, differently anxiety-provoking, news: I’m very worried that Brexit is going to lead to significant civil unrest.  Whatever happens, about half the country are going to be sure that we’ve ended up in a terrible situation foisted upon the country undemocratically by the other half.  That’s the best scenario; if there’s a messy compromise, as seems likely, everyone could be angry.  Respect and trust for politicians and our democratic institutions is sure to plummet.  Easy pickings for a demagogue of either the far-right or far-left.  I’m just glad the UK doesn’t have the USA’s gun culture, that could be very messy.

***

Finally, more anxiety-provoking, news of another kind: while I was writing this, I got an email from my shul (synagogue) stating that not only is the rabbi leaving in the next few weeks (as I already knew), but the assistant rabbi is leaving too.  We have a new rabbi lined up, although not confirmed yet until he gets to meet the community properly this coming Shabbat, but I don’t know if we will be replacing the assistant rabbi.  I wasn’t hugely close to the rabbi and the assistant rabbi, but my relationship with them was better than nothing when my rabbi mentor lives in another country and is not always contactable.  I had slowly opened up to them about some of my mental health issues and now I’ll be starting all over again.  My relationship with my shul was already tenuous; this just puts it under greater strain.  I don’t know where else I could go, though.

***

Autistic people do not cope well with change and uncertainty, and I seem to be going through it on every level today: personal, communal, national.  I guess it’s good that I survived in one piece and even managed to get a few things done.  Still, it’s late and I’m exhausted, physically tense from all the anxiety I’ve been dealing with today.  I need to unwind a bit and go to bed.  Tomorrow hopefully I will be able to make more progress on that job application and go to my autism support group for the first time in some months.

Politics and Despair

I went to bed far, far too late even without losing an hour from putting the clocks forward.  It was mostly down to posting late at night and then procrastinating.  I’ve mentioned before that I idly browse online when I feel lonely.  This is not terribly helpful, because I can’t get the kind of contact I want/need, plus lately I’ve blocked a lot of sites for being too triggering, so there aren’t many places I can actually go (unless I switch the block off.  Which I just did out of boredom/curiosity.  Not good).  Anyway, I spend ages flitting around the internet, not knowing where to go, often until I hit on something that upsets me (usually the news).

The upshot of this was that I overslept, and then was too depressed to get up.  I did eventually get up and somehow got out the house and to my volunteering at the asylum seekers’ drop-in centre, albeit without davening (praying) first.   I was very late for volunteering, but they were understaffed, so they were just grateful I was there.  I spent the afternoon looking after the children in the play area, struggling to watch all of them at once because of a lack of other volunteers and trying to get the children to play together nicely.  It’s hard to discipline other people’s children, especially when they don’t say anything and you can’t work out if they’re pre-verbal or just don’t speak English.  I survived, but have come home completely exhausted.  I somehow did a few minutes of Torah study on the bus home; I’m not sure that I will manage much more.

***

Just now I skipped over what happened at home between crawling out of bed this morning and getting to volunteering.  I had lots of very self-critical thoughts.  I felt tired of being the person no one can rely on at work, in my family, in my religious community or at volunteering.  I wanted to burrow into the earth and get away.  I actually crawled under my desk (I’m not entirely sure why; it seemed like a good idea at the time).  I tried to cry but I had no tears, I just made sobbing noises.  I told myself a lot of very harsh, self-critical things: “I’m a ******* waste of space.  No one could love you, you’re ******* incompetent.  You’re a ****** retard.”  (Don’t ask why my inner monologue flips between the first and second person.)

I’m not sure what I can do when I feel like that.  I think I only stopped because I went out to volunteering.

***

Pretty much anything in the news is triggering.  I no longer know what to think about Brexit.  I have a kind of mental tutorial essay on the history of Britain’s post-war involvement with Europe that gets triggered when anyone starts talking about Brexit, a commentary running from Churchill’s belief in European unity without Britain and Attlee’s negativity to de Gaulle’s “Non!” to Heath speaking bad French and Wilson’s referendum to Thatcher’s downfall, Major’s paralysis and now this.  I think whether we had never gone in to the EU, or whether we had voted to Remain, the tensions would still be there, because they come from the fact that Britain is on Europe’s doorstep, but has a very different political system and history to most of Europe, which produces centrifugal and centripetal forces pulling the country in and out simultaneously.  Whatever happens, the forces are still there; in or out, Europe is going to be a major issue in British politics for the foreseeable future.

I want to vent about Jew-hatred too, but I’m too scared.  I just wrote a paragraph on this, but I deleted it.  I’m too scared of being attacked.  I hate being attacked by antisemites, because I know they’re wrong, but their hatred of me fits with my self-hatred, so the attacks don’t bounce off as they should. Then I spend hours/days obsessing over their hatred, even though the fault is with them not us; it is in fact antisemitic to suggest that Jews “provoke” antisemitism, just as it is misogynistic to say that women in short skirts are “provoking” sexual assault.  I hate that I can’t speak about the hatred that is upsetting me for fear of provoking more of it.  I hate that I still have to deal with this.

I wish I had the mental strength to do something productive to fight antisemitism and anti-Zionism, but I don’t have the mental stamina.  I feel I have let my people down.  I also wish I could turn off the pain and the obsessive, agitated thoughts that seeing this hatred causes me.

***

Happier things: I ordered some more Doctor Who miniatures to paint last night, partly a reward for getting through my job, partly because if I’m going to be unemployed again, it’s probably worthwhile having a non-screen-based hobby (i.e. not watching DVDs, blogging or working on my books).  Just under £45 bought me twelve Daleks, Davros, the TARDIS and the thirteenth Doctor to paint, which should keep me busy for a while.

All The Lonely People

I’m a bit torn about staying up late writing this.  I wanted to get to bed early because the clocks go forward, so I’ll lose an hour of sleep, plus I have to be up early tomorrow for volunteering.  However, I slept about twelve hours last night and dozed for another two this afternoon so I’m far too wide awake.  My Mum said I didn’t do much on Friday, so why was I so lethargic today?  I think I’m just burnt out from a busy and emotionally-draining week.  Autism + depression + work stress + social interactions (at work and at depression group) = exhaustion.  I missed shul (synagogue) this morning through being too tired to get up, rather than too socially anxious, which seems like an improvement, weirdly.

I do feel rather lost at the moment.  It feels that my life has… well, I can’t say “unravelled” as it wasn’t very ravelled in the first place.  I just feel I don’t know what I should be doing about my career and I don’t feel at all comfortable with my religious life, feeling I should be more involved in prayer and Torah study and pursuing meaning in ritual and prayer, while at the same time I feel isolated in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community and unable to fit in (more on that in a minute).  I struggle socially and don’t even know what I can do about that or what I even want to do.  I’ve given up on dating in the near future.  Realistically, I fear it could take me years to sort out my career and only then could I think about dating, which could have a knock on effect on whether I can have children, given that I can’t see myself marrying someone ten years younger than me.  I guess the bottom line in all these areas, career, Judaism, social life and dating, is that I don’t even know what I want or even how to find out what I want, let alone how I can get it.

And then on top of all this comes the start of a month of pre-Pesach stress and hoping that Pesach and its extra-strict dietary laws doesn’t set off my religious OCD again.  To be fair, last year I had just one bad twenty-four hour period (split over two calendar days) and whereas for the last few years I’ve spent all year worrying about Pesach and writing long lists of (mostly OCD) questions to ask my rabbi, this year I have not really had any of that, with only a few questions to ask, mostly relatively small points of clarification.  So that’s all good.

***

What I wanted to write about, while I don’t feel tired, is something interesting that happened at work this week.  I was sorting through some piles of “little magazines,” which are magazines, mostly about art, literature and/or politics (especially politics), produced cheaply and somewhat amateurishly for distribution to like-minded individuals, with content usually too iconoclastic and extreme to sell to established journals.  As a Doctor Who fan, it struck me that they were basically fanzines, but directed at artists or political obsessives/revolutionaries.

Looking in one radical feminist magazine, Jewish terms in a poem caught my eye.  It was about the author’s fascination with Hasidic Judaism and her feeling that she, as a woman, lesbian and feminist, could never be accepted by these religious thinkers that she admired.  Reading to the end of the poem, I saw that it was written by a female Reform rabbi I knew of.  I don’t think I ever met her, but in my first job, at a non-Orthodox rabbinical seminary, I spent some considerable time cataloguing part of her library, which she donated to the seminary after her death.  I was always intrigued and intimidated by her, intrigued because of the unusual mixture of radical feminist and traditionalist Orthodox material (or at least material about traditionalist Orthodoxy) in her collection, intimidated because I felt she would have no time for a conservative (in multiple ways), Orthodox person like me and because the general consensus among staff and students in the college (who all adored her) seemed to be that she didn’t suffer fools gladly, and whenever I meet someone like that, I worry that I come across as rather a fool.  (As an aside, I think “doesn’t suffer fools gladly” is a stupid phrase.  Is there anyone who wakes up in the morning thinking, “I hope I have to suffer some fools today, as I’d certainly be so glad to do so!”)

The poem, then, rather took me by surprise, but perhaps it shouldn’t have done.  The clue, I suppose, was in her library, which, as I say, was filled with radical feminist books, but also with books on Hasidic Judaism (a form of Orthodox Judaism that stresses joy and love and ecstatic prayer) and the Mitnagedim (the opponents of Hasidism, but still very Orthodox, stressing Torah study, particularly legalistic Talmudic study rather than prayer as the centre of Judaism).

It showed me another side of her, something I hadn’t really suspected.  I knew from her books and what her colleagues and students said about her that she was fiercely intelligent, intellectual and strong-willed.  Also religious, in the progressive Jewish way that tends to be rather more political than Orthodox Judaism.  Maybe angry, again mainly in a political way.  But I hadn’t really expected to see vulnerability.  I expected her to be out and proud in her beliefs and scornful of those who didn’t accept them.  The desire for acceptance and the feeling of rejection and isolation took me by surprise.

An article in the same magazine by a different author dealt with her feelings on having to defend Judaism and Zionism among left-wing feminists.  Taken together, the poem and the article seemed to sum up my feelings of wanting to be accepted by the frum (Orthodox Jewish) world and also wanting to be accepted in a more counter-cultural world (in my case Doctor Who fandom rather than radical feminist circles), but not conforming to expectations of behaviour and views in either.

It made me wonder if everyone feels that they are on the fringe of something.  Do lots of frum people feel that they’re on the fringe of Judaism?  Most of the people I know who feel like this are either converts (who feel they aren’t accepted by people born Jewish) and people with non-conventional political views (particularly in the US, where Jews tend to be very party-political: progressive (as in non-Orthodox) Jews are Democrats and Orthodox Jews tend to be Republicans, with anti-Trump Orthodox Jews feeling beleaguered).  I don’t really know many people who feel isolated because of atypical cultural interests and neurodivergent trouble with social interactions in general.

In reality, probably not everyone feels like this.  Some people seem happy alone and some people seem to be in the thick of things (whatever type of social group ‘it’ is) and happy with that.  But clearly other people do share my feeling that I can never be accepted by the people that I want to be accepted by, perhaps even the feeling of being torn between two worlds, neither of which I fear will really accept me.

Drowsy

Really burnt out today.  I guess leaving job + depression group + end of busy week + lots of noise this morning (see below) isn’t a good combination.  I should really be doing job hunt stuff, either trying to resuscitate my lost job application or revise cataloguing to see if I can get that temporary cataloguing job at the library I’ve just left, but I don’t feel able to do anything.  Before I just wanted to eat and watch TV.; now I just want to lie down and nap.  I did at least clear most of a huge backlog of emails.  I have no energy or motivation whatsoever and I suspect that if I did try to do something, I would quickly discover I have minimal concentration too.  I did manage to go out to buy mother’s day flowers for my Mum, although I accepted a lift from my Dad; I tend to get flowers on the Friday before so she has them for Shabbat (the Sabbath), plus I’m volunteering on Sunday so will be short of time.

***

Depression group last night was more difficult than I made out in my last post.  I was feeling very drowsy and it was hard to concentrate on what people were saying, which I felt bad about, but there wasn’t a lot I could do about it.  I’m just glad I made it to the end.

***

My sister was here this morning.  She and her husband are in the process of moving in to their new house (not fully renovated yet, but finished enough that they can move in) and she had removal men here taking a lot of her/their stuff that was still here (she had a lot of her books here, plus a lot of their wedding presents have been sitting here for over a year, waiting for them to have a home with enough space for them).  I somehow slept through most of the noise, drifting in and out of sleep and having strange dreams, but I did get up in time to speak to her briefly before she went.  She brought good health news about her in-laws, which was good, although it reminded me that I have friends who are struggling with a family health issue and I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing to support them.  I feel that I’m not good at that sort of thing.

***

I suppose I should go and try to do something vaguely productive before Shabbat comes in…

Self-Image

It’s late, so just a quick post to note the last day of my job.  I was touched to receive a farewell card and book token; I had only been there for three months and they would have been justified in not noting my departure in any way.  I suppose this means that they liked me, on some level.  It’s funny, I often reflect that I’m glad I’m not telepathic, so I don’t have to experience the negative thoughts people surely think about me, but when people do express their feelings about me, it’s usually positive.  The cognitive dissonance has been building up for some time and possibly my self-image is very slightly and slowly improving.  This despite feeling that I had made mistakes and embarrassed myself in front of my boss again today.

I was rather embarrassed not to have a new job already lined up when people asked me what I will do now.  I had a helpful chat with my line manager about future employment prospects at the institution and elsewhere.  In fact, the job agency through which I was employed at this institution has already forwarded me an advert for another job in the same institution for which I will apply, although I’m not sure I have the required experience.

The job application I spent a couple of hours working on earlier in the week seems to have been wasted, as the helpdesk for the website says there is no record of my email address being used to set up an account to make an application.  This was at the public sector body that has caused me a great deal of wasted time and money over the years, as well as other forms of aggravation.  Realistically, I probably wouldn’t want to work for them, but a job’s a job.

I went to depression group in the evening.  I spoke about my job issues and related autism issues, but despite considering mentioning it, I didn’t mention my loneliness and thoughts about dating.  I didn’t want to spend too long talking (I was the first person to talk), plus explaining frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) dating is something of a culture shock to people used to Western-style dating and relationships.

Related to this, I have come to the realisation that I can’t have a serious relationship right now.  There’s just too much uncertainty in my life with unemployment and autism issues.  I would be open to a more casual type of relationship, but it’s not really allowed in the frum world.  I suspect a lot of women my age are looking for marriage anyway.  Sad, but true: I’m not ready for marriage and children yet.  I wish I was, but I need to learn how to look after myself better first and then how to get more out of the day so I can work, meet my religious obligations, have a family life and still get the autistic alone time I need to function.  I don’t know when I will be ready, though.  It’s very frustrating, as on some level at least I think I’m psychologically ready to love someone, I just don’t know how live in the mundane world at the same time (the reverse of people who have careers, but don’t know how to love and just pursue casual dates and hook ups).

Frustrations

I got to bed about 3.30am, which was rather ridiculous.  I had a horrible, gory nightmare that I won’t go into in detail, which was based on two accounts I read on Neshamas.com of women raped and abused by their husbands.  It makes me angry that some men are so evil and exploitative.

I want to have a wife and children I can love, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to work out – soon or at all?  I don’t know.  I guess it’s good that I’m even acknowledging that I might get married one day.  I’ve realised that accepting that I’m not going to get married isn’t going to work, because it doesn’t make me feel any less lonely.  I can only tell myself that if I get married, then my wife may will have been through some kind of stress or trauma, so I have to be strong for her.  This is probably a stupid thing to think, but it has been somewhat helpful in keeping me going, because I feel like I’m doing something for a reason/for someone else, rather than just trying to accept being unlovable and lonely indefinitely.

***

I feel a bit like I’m marking time until my autism assessment.  That I’m not really able to deal with finding a new job or dating until I know where I stand.  The thing is, there’s no guarantee I will be diagnosed.  After all, I’ve had two assessments that said I’m not autistic, and even if I understand myself and autism better now than I did then, it’s still possible that I won’t be… I nearly wrote ‘accepted,’ which is telling, but I meant ‘diagnosed.’  I’m not sure what would happen then, as by this stage I’m 90% sure I am on the spectrum and I would not really accept that I’m not autistic unless someone came up with an alternative diagnosis that described me even better.  But my assessment probably won’t come for another six months to a year, so I’m not sure what to do in the meantime.  It has to be said, though, that I’ve investigated other diagnosis options (e.g. bipolar disorder) over the years without success, so I may still not be diagnosed autistic.  I just feel there is something different about me, something that is more than ‘just’ depression, that how I think and act is noticeably different to other people, at least after you know what to look for.

***

I had my meeting at The Network, who provide group therapy and support.  There wasn’t much left to offer now I’ve done both their group therapy courses, with mixed success.  I was told that it’s good that I’m being proactive in job hunting and contacting support organisations like Remploy (who help disabled people into work) and A S Mentoring (who offer support in the workplace for people on the autism spectrum).  I was asked what I wanted from The Network, which in my experience is what mental health service providers ask when they can’t think of anything to offer themselves; if they still have options left they tend to suggest them themselves.  I said I couldn’t think of anything.  I wasn’t sure what they actually had left to offer, plus I’m autistically bad with open questions like that.

I cried on the bus home without really knowing why, although I did at least manage to do some Torah study too.  It was hard, as I was feeling too depressed to read.

***

When I got home I wanted to work on the job application I started the other day, but I couldn’t log into the site even though I was 90% sure I had the right password.  I requested a single-use password to login and change my password, but didn’t receive one.  I emailed for help, but by that stage it was after office hours, so I don’t hold out hope of being able to access it today.  Interviews are on the week beginning 8 April, so I’m guessing they want the applications in by the end of this week.  I won’t name the organisation, but it might just be a major institution whose incompetence has often been noted here in the past…  I remembered that the main section I had left was the box where I should write why I wanted to apply for the job and tried to draft a response from memory, but I would have liked to have seen the form again, especially as the job description that I have saved is very vague and I think there was a more detailed one behind the password firewall.

I did at least use the time to work on my Doctor Who book, redrafting chapter four, although I’m still frustrated by how little I’ve been able to cut and by the fact that, stylistically, it isn’t what I want it to be, but I can’t enunciate how or why.

Sex, Politics and Alcohol

(Don’t say I shy away from the big topics here.)

I woke late, later than I wanted.  I was going in to work at lunchtime and staying late at an event this evening, but even so I wanted to be up at 9am, whereas I got up about 9.40am.  I was slow to get going, feeling depressed.  I wondered what I would say to my younger self, about to be diagnosed with depression for the first time seventeen years ago.  It was hard to think of anything encouraging.  I could say that he/I would at least survive, but I’m not keen on pure survival as a goal.

For some reason that I don’t understand, I thought a lot about my two failed relationships.  I don’t know what it is about me that prevents me from forming relationships.  Well, I do know, because on some level it’s autism and depression, but it’s hard to know what specifically stops me.  To be fair, both my exes had issues about as much as I did, so perhaps I shouldn’t just blame myself.  It’s hard not to blame someone, though, and I don’t really want to blame them either (as I said, they had issues too).  Given how long it was before I went out on my first date (I was twenty-seven) and the gap between my first and second relationships, I could be in my forties before I get the chance to try again, which is going to make starting a family harder.

***

I struggled through the early part of the work day (i.e. early afternoon) feeling like the idiot child again.  I felt I was making stupid mistakes and not thinking to do things until they were pointed out to me which could potentially be an autistic executive function deficit, I suppose, but that only occurred to me just now, not at the time; at the time I just thought I was being stupid and useless.  My boss was nice about it, which somehow just makes me feel worse.

Late afternoon brought the event/exhibition we were running.  From my point of view, it was similar to the event/exhibition we ran a few weeks ago, in terms of my curating rare books and trying to remember enough of my history BA to be able to talk about them while secretly hoping that I don’t say anything outrageously wrong.  At any rate, radical politics from the English Civil Wars and Interregnum seem popular again.  I was actually less affected by the crowds and noise than I had feared, except when someone dropped something on the other side of the room with a loud metallic noise which distracted me even though no one around me seemed to notice.  From everyone else’s perspective, this event was different to the previous one as we had food and wine (which I didn’t eat (a) because I was curating and (b) because it wasn’t kosher).

The other, bigger, difference was that we had some guest speakers.  They were interesting, but I didn’t take much in because I had been a bit triggered by the political nature of the event – not anything party political, but just general thoughts about protest (the theme of the event) and where I stand.  I feel counter-cultural in some ways, but I don’t subscribe to any political party or ideology and feel rather disenfranchised by contemporary politics.  I honestly struggle to find anyone I could in good conscience vote for at the next election (unless Elmo from Sesame Street stands against Theresa May again).  I fantasise about dropping out without knowing where I would go.  In fact, not only do I feel counter to mainstream culture, but also to the main counter-culture (to paraphrase The Avengers, I’m counter-counter-counter-cultural).  I feel Orthodox Judaism is strongly counter-cultural too (how could it not be, by far the smallest of the world’s major religions?), but too many Jews miss the point and end up with conformist bourgeois lives.  But the revolutionary potential is there.  For example, Buy Nothing Day is an established anti-consumerist protest day.  I once calculated that Orthodox Jews spend approximately two months not buying anything at all (if you add together Shabbat (the Sabbath) and Yom Tov (festivals) it comes to about two months, depending on whether Yom Tov falls on Shabbat in any given year and on whether you live in Israel and get one day less Yom Tov).  Shabbat itself is a very revolutionary egalitarian idea, a sanctuary in time that everyone receives in the same amount, regardless of wealth or status (cf. Heschel and Seeskin), a day when no one can compel anyone else to do anything.

I feel I am drifting from the point somewhat (sorry, it’s 1.30am and I’m drained, but not sleepy and need to get my thoughts in some kind of order before bed).  It’s just that whenever politics comes up lately (lately = for the last few years) I feel vaguely guilty for not having firm party political views (my opinions are more emotions or attitudes and not necessarily coherent).  But as the frum (religious) community is mostly conservative and my Doctor Who/online friends are mostly progressive, I would offend someone either way, so maybe it’s just as well that I quietly question everything, but say nothing.  It just means I always feel ‘wrong’ and under threat of rejection, as if I didn’t feel like that for umpteen other reasons already.  (My assumption that people would reject me because I don’t share their political views may be false, but in all the talk in the media of social media echo chambers, it’s hard to think otherwise.)

***

I got home at 10.30pm absolutely exhausted.  I had to “people” some more, as my parents had guests: my uncle’s mother-in-law over from Israel for a significant birthday (a tenuous family connection, but she’s essentially a family friend of long standing by now) and some other friends of my parents who are also friends of my uncle’s mother-in-law, including someone I used to work with.  So I had to go in and say hello when I really wanted to crash.  But I managed it.

***

The other thing that upset me a bit today was getting mistaken for a PhD student by the historian guest speaker.  Sometimes I feel I should have gone down that route, that I would be happier reading books than caring for them.  And high functioning autistics can do well in academia.  But every time I go to university, my depression gets bad and I say I will never go back.  Plus, if I was doing a PhD, it would probably end up being in the history of antisemitism, which would be hugely depressing, if necessary.

There was something else that was upsetting me, but I don’t want to get into it at 1.30am.  Maybe tomorrow.  Actually, I am going to go into it, because it’s upsetting me.  I feel I’m a really bad person because I get distracted by being attracted to people of the opposite sex.  I know most people are like that, but… well, I suppose I feel I should be above it in some way.  I worry that it affects my interactions, although I do try hard not to react to people differently based on how attractive I find them, and I certainly don’t flirt with women or anything improper.  I just wish it didn’t happen.  I don’t like being so aware of how attractive I find some women.  Particularly as I don’t think anyone finds me attractive, which makes the whole thing seem one-sided and exploitative.

When I wrote an article on Hevria.com years ago about being scared of my sexuality, someone commented to say I see women as “anxiety-inducing sexual objects” which upset me, probably because I’m scared it’s true.  Well, “anxiety-inducing” is true, but I have social anxiety, so everyone makes me anxious.  But, given that it seems unlikely that I will ever get married, I just wish I was asexual so I didn’t have to even worry about this craziness (being attracted to people).  There’s a story called Liking What You See by science fiction writer Ted Chiang, about whether it would be good if we could switch off physical attraction.  I think it probably would be good.

***

It’s 2.15am and I should get to bed.  I am probably coming down from today – not that it was particularly positive, but that social interactions and being busy at work get the adrenaline flowing and I need to unwind.  I can’t really crash tomorrow, unfortunately, as in the afternoon I’m speaking to someone from The Network (the local government-run organisation that provided group therapy courses I have recently attended), although I’m not sure there’s a lot more that they can do for me right now.

Pain

I feel bad today, but I can’t work out what ‘bad’ means.  I guess it means ‘depressed.’  I’m struggling to understand my feelings again.  I did feel close to tears at times.  Earlier I was virtually crying, except that I couldn’t quite manage it.  I should feel anxious, about Pesach and about working late tomorrow (I’m going in at 1pm and working until 9pm to help with a public evening event, which will mean – gulp! – talking to strangers) and I do feel a bit anxious about these things, but I’m not sure that that’s what I am really feeling.  For much of the day I just wanted to curl up in a ball and ignore the world, really.  That’s more depression than anxiety, although, looking at the news, maybe it’s a rational response to the world (cf. Catch-22).  At any rate, it’s hard to do anything today.

I feel guilty, too, because I make myself out to be a better person here than I actually am.  I confess a lot here, but I can’t quite bring myself to confess everything.  So people think I’m better than I actually am.  I feel bad about that.  I suppose I have the idea that if everyone knew all my faults and accepted them, maybe I could accept them myself or forgive myself or something.  Or maybe I just feel bad that that people think I’m a good person when… well, in the past I would have said “when I’m not a good person,” but today I feel more that it should be “when I’m not such a good person,” which I suppose is an improvement of a kind.

***

I did look for extra cataloguing training on the CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) website, but I couldn’t find anything current.  I tried to sign up to some education and research mailing lists on JISCMail, but got panicked by the sheer numbers of lists there and the obscure areas they deal with (A forum on Hoshin Kanri [?]; Huddersfield Consortium College Libraries; Hull Geochemistry and Geobiology; Historians of Women Religious of Britain and Ireland – that’s just some of the Hs).  I signed up to a higher education list in the end and thought I would see how that goes before I decide whether to sign up for any more.  I’m not very good at CPD, or anything connected with my career, really.

***

My self-perception has really altered in the last year.  I used to think that I would be good at a job if I could find the right one, that depression was the main obstacle to my building a career, that one day the right combination of therapy, medication and activity/occupational therapy might – might! – help me deal with my depression, that I was an organised person and so on.  Now I have this huge thing called ‘autism’ looming over me as a potential diagnosis.  In some ways that’s good, because it leaves open the door to hoping that one day I will find the ‘right’ way to work and to live in order to have a career and potentially a family with my mental health issues managed at the root rather than just treating the symptoms, but in the meantime I am struggling to know who I am, what I could/should be doing about my career and relationships (relationships with family and friends as well as romantic relationships), how I can live and what I can expect of myself in my religious life.  I guess it’s no wonder I feel depressed, exhausted and confused so much of the time.

I wish I could have some kind of careers advice session, except not just about my career, but about the whole of my life, that someone would tell me what kind of career would suit me, where I fit in with the Jewish community, what type of woman I should be trying to date and how to meet her, how to cope with everyday life…  A S Mentoring might be able to help with some of that, but I’m not sure how to formulate the questions I need to ask yet, as well as being nervous about asking for help and embarrassed that I seem to need to rely on charities (mental health (JAMI) and autism (A S Mentoring, Mencap)) all the time when I feel I should be able to do things for myself.  Plus, I feel somethings are harder because I have more than one issue.  Autism and depression can interact in different ways and it’s not always clear which is predominating at any given time e.g. when should I try to push through exhaustion on the grounds that it’s just a symptom of depression and when should I accept it as a sign that I’m overstimulated and need quiet and rest.

I did fill in the online form for A S Mentoring, so that’s something positive I’ve done today.

***

Other than that, I didn’t do much today.  I went for a forty minute walk in the sunshine, which was good.  I started to apply for another job, but it was hard to overcome the depression.  This one is listed as a librarian role, but from the qualifications they are looking for, I think it’s another job where a librarian would be over-qualified and that it’s really a glorified library assistant role.  I tried to fill the online form in, but kept lapsing back into despair.  I find this whole process so tedious and I’m terrified that while I have the skills to write job applications and I apparently interview well, I’m actually incapable of holding down a real job.

***

This article is very true.  It would have been pretty much impossible for me to have had support for autism at school, certainly at primary school, as high-functioning autism/Asperger’s Syndrome wasn’t recognised until the year I started secondary school; when I was a child, if you were verbal, you weren’t autistic, end of story.  Even so, I think my parents and teachers were aware that things weren’t right in some way and that I was a target for bullies (but usually different bullies; I wasn’t usually consistently targeted by the same people, which made stopping it hard, especially when it was kids I didn’t know from other years shouting stuff at me in corridors when we passed) and was lacking in confidence, but that wasn’t considered special needs.  My Mum tried to get me to see the school counsellor, but handled it badly and just upset me and my form tutor once told me I needed to… I can’t remember his exact words, but he basically told me I was working too much and needed to develop my life outside of work .  But the general view was that my grades were good, so I was doing well, even if I wasn’t socially integrated, especially as I don’t get meltdowns or stim in a very obvious way or have other external symptoms of autism.

I suppose I was also lucky, going to a Jewish school, that there were voluntary shiurim (religious classes) to go to at lunchtimes, so I didn’t have to spend them in the playground.  On days when there weren’t shiurim I could be quite lonely and miserable if I got separated from my small circle of friends (e.g. they were at music practice or we got split up in the lunch hall crowd), which happened quite frequently.  I do wonder if I would be in the emotional/psychological state I’m in today (depression, social anxiety) if more support had been available when I was growing up, but I guess that way madness lies.

***

I keep having mini revelations about my autism.  I used to think I was a bad writer because I don’t use much metaphorical language, not in my blogs and non-fictional writing, but also not very much when I was writing fiction or poetry.  Now I realise that that could be autism.  I don’t struggle with non-literal language the way some autistic people do, but I don’t use it much and I’m very aware of, and irritated by, clichéd language, which often consists of tired metaphors that are just taken for granted and not even used as metaphors any more.

***

I looked at some articles on Neshamas, which I hadn’t done for ages.  I don’t know why, because I could have guessed it would be upsetting.  I suppose I was lonely and I just wanted to connect with people who feel as awful as I do, even if it’s just by reading what they wrote.  I read stuff written by women who are being abused/raped by their husbands.  It makes me angry and upset that this happens.  But also, it makes me think that I do have something to offer in a relationship, in terms of not actually being abusive.  But then after a moment it somehow seems inadequate.  That those women deserve better than the men who are abusing them, but that they would also deserve better than me.  That I wouldn’t be able to meet anyone’s needs, I just wouldn’t hurt her.  That I’m objectifying women just by wanting to be in a relationship with someone, even though I just want to be able to give to someone.

It’s possible that I’m not thinking straight about something here, but it’s hard to tell what.

Confessions of a Justified Sinner

I feel depressed and listless today.  I don’t know why, aside from the usual reason (depression).

My sister and brother-in-law came over for dinner, but I didn’t feel very social.  I was better once they arrived than I thought I would be, but dinner was mostly small talk, which I struggle with from an autistic point of view.  I get bored by the conversation and struggle to think of anything to say; when I do, I don’t always make myself heard.  I find the conversation draining especially as it seems to be very loud; I’ve noticed Mum and Dad are both getting a bit hard of hearing which may be why it seems to be so loud, but I find it draining.  I don’t know if other autistic people have coping strategies for this kind of thing.  I don’t want to be rude.  I try to take an interest in family members’ lives, especially big life events (my sister and brother-in-law are moving into their first real home together this week and my parents were talking about their recent holiday), but sometimes it gets too much for me.  I feel bad about this, but don’t know what I can do about it.

***

Purim is over now, so I should be in Pesach-preparation mode.  I usually find some interpretations of the exodus story or the haggadah to make the seder more interesting and not just a reading of the same text each year, but I have little enthusiasm for it this year.  It’s partly the depression and partly the – well, religious crisis is putting it too strongly, but lack of religious motivation I currently have, the feeling that I’m a bad person and can never change because God has stacked the deck against me with autism and depression.  Plus, last year I thought that no one actually appreciates what I say, except my Dad and maybe my sister.  I fear the other guests just want to get on to the meal and go home and that they tolerate me at best.  I don’t know if this is true.  I would love to go to a seder one year where there is a real discussion and I learn something, but I can’t see it happening any time soon.

***

I googled “how to deal with sexual frustration.”  Most of the pages assumed I was in a relationship I had got bored of and wanted to rekindle.  The ones that assumed singledom mostly suggested things that aren’t halakhically-acceptable.   Other than that, it just said sports or hobbies as displacement activities, neither of which have worked for me in the past and neither of which are really options at the moment, mainly because of depression leaving me drained.

Perhaps most people would have the confidence to date and if I was like them, I would be asking my parents to set me up with their friends’/neighbours’ children as they (my parents) want.  Certainly the daughter of my Mum’s friend whose profile I saw on a dating website has a couple of things in common with me.  But I’m too scared of rejection, too sure that no one could love someone as depressed, autistic and especially unemployed (or about to be unemployed) as me, especially as her dating profile specified that she wanted to marry a professional.  Maybe, as I implied yesterday, I’m scared to date for reasons beyond social anxiety, scared of losing independence or something, or just scared of yet more rejection.  Or maybe it’s just lack of self-esteem; confident people seem more able to blag their way to what they want, whether it’s a partner, a career or position and esteem within the community.

***

Out shopping today I felt very angry with God.  I know lots of autistic people would not change how they are and see autism as a difference and not a disability, but I keep thinking that so many of the bad things in my life would either not be present or would be easier to deal with if I was not autistic, or perhaps if my autism had been diagnosed earlier.  I might not be depressed, might not be single, might not be lonely, might not be unemployable, might not be so poorly socialised into my religious community… and so on, and so on.  Nor do I have the “autistic superpowers” some autistic people claim to have; I can sometimes go into hyperfocus, but I don’t have useful sensory sensitivity or a special interest that is socially useful or which makes me popular.  I suppose it’s crazy to go down the route of “what if,” but it’s hard not to when real life seems so stagnant.

I just keep asking why God would do this to me.  I’m open to the idea that God makes us suffer to grow or so that we learn to help others, but I can’t see how I can realistically help others when I’m in this state and as for growing, if anything, as earlier paragraphs might have indicated, I’m going backwards, getting less religious.  I guess if my emunah (faith) wasn’t so strong, I would seriously be contemplating going off the derekh (stopping being religious), I find my religious life so dull and sometimes painful and with such few positive aspects to it at the moment.  I just happen to believe that God exists and that this is how He wants me to live, for reasons I don’t understand.  I still worry that one day I will stop believing and doing and then all this effort will have been wasted.

***

There was an article in the Jewish Chronicle a few months ago about a charity in Israel that helps people with moderate learning disabilities, including non-high functioning autism, to get married.  They provide practical and emotional support for a couple with learning disabilities to learn to live together.  I think, how can it be possible for someone with more severe autism than me to get a job and get married, and yet my intelligence just seems to make it harder for me to find a job or a wife, for reasons that I don’t really understand.  It doesn’t help that I’m not sure what help I want/need at the moment.  A friend suggested A S Mentoring to me as being able to help with my employment needs, but having looked at their website, I’m not sure if they’re offering anything that could help me; I want to be more sure what I want before contacting them.  Similarly with dating, maybe if I had the confidence to date, a lot of the issues surrounding it would fall away, but I’m too scared of rejection to dare to ask to be set up with anyone or to ask someone out.

***

I did at least go shopping today and did about twenty minutes of Talmud study.  I also worked on my Doctor Who book for an hour and a half or so (albeit with distractions), sorting out the third draft of chapters two and three.  It’s quite good, but not great, but I’m not sure I really have the skills to make it better.

***

This bit is probably of limited interest to most of my readers, but I’m watching Quatermass, the fourth and final science fiction serial featuring Professor Quatermass, broadcast in the seventies, more than twenty years after the first three serials.  It’s a bleak story to watch while I’m feeling depressed (SPOILERS: pretty much all the sympathetic characters die horribly), but it is haunting and psychologically terrifying by turns, as well as reflective of the social unrest and stagflation of Britain in the seventies.  That things in real life never quite turned out as badly as they did in Quatermass might give hope that Brexit and populism might not lead to the end of civilisation as we know it.  (As an aside, and getting really far off the subject, Nigel Kneale is not often lumped together with John le Carré, but both share an outlook that might best be described as “Tory Anarchist” (to quote George Orwell), horrified by Soviet totalitarianism, but also disgusted by American capitalism, hoping for some kind of kinder, authentically British alternative, but resigned to Britain’s post-imperial decline.  There is definitely more to consider here e.g. the skill both writers have for creating a fictional world through dialogue and a few telling details. </autistic special interests>)

Rearranging the Deckchairs on the Titanic

Talking to my parents at dinner last night was difficult.  I was really too drained to really put up with so much small talk and there was a bit of friction with my father over my inability to deal with small talk and his preference for it.  I was agitated and anxious last night, then slept a lot.  I could have got up in time for shul (synagogue) this morning, but was too tired, so went back to sleep, which I guess is an improvement from being too socially anxious to go (maybe).  I had lunch by myself as my parents were at friends, late because I overslept and cold because the hot plate (the only way we can heat up food on Shabbat (the Sabbath)) was on a timeswitch and had turned off because I was eating so late.  I dozed off after lunch too, so now I’m awake.

I can’t remember all my anxious thoughts last night, but I think they basically boiled down to: I used to worry I would never get over the depression and I would never get married, while I now worry that I will never even learn to manage the depression; never learn to manage my autism; never build a career; never even have a job I can cope with; never be able to support myself independently of my parents; never do an acceptable amount of daily davening and Torah study (prayer and religious study); never be accepted in my religious community; and, because of all of the above, I would never get married.  I don’t know where to start working on eight major, interconnected worries.  There is also a worry that that the cumulative effect of all of this would be that I stop being religious, but that seems somewhat less likely than the other worries.  I guess getting an autism diagnosis is the first step, but that depends on the vagaries of the NHS waiting list and whether I can convince the psychiatrist this time that I really am autistic.

***

I wonder how much I want to get married.  Consciously I want it a lot, but I wonder if I’m unconsciously afraid of rejection/effort/loss of freedom/something else and self-sabotaging, hence avoiding ways of dating (dating sites, professional shadchanim (matchmakers), my parents’ efforts to set me up with their friends’ children).  I tell myself no one could love me at the moment while I’m depressed and about to be unemployed, but maybe I should be more active in seeking dates and see what the women think.  Put like that, it sounds almost rational, but I think it’s disingenuous to present myself as ready to date when I’m a psychological and financial mess.  But maybe that’s just an excuse.  Maybe I can’t cope with the idea of dating.

I guess it applies to non-romantic social contact too.  I want to connect, but I don’t know how (autism) and I’m scared of rejection (social anxiety).  I don’t know how to live with loneliness and isolation, but I don’t know how to move on from it.

I guess this is where psychodynamic therapy comes in ahead of CBT.  CBT assumes we just need to clarify our thoughts so we can think the right things, whereas psychodynamic therapy deals with internal conflicts where we are actually torn about what the ‘right’ thing to think is.  So maybe it’s good that I might be able to see my psychodynamic therapist at the end of April, whereas my wait for CBT is indefinite.

***

I wasn’t tired this evening, unsurprisingly, so I spent some time tidying my desk drawers (although avoiding the bottom one, which has various Jewish papers in, which should really be buried at some point).  This is what the title of this post is referring to (not the government’s Brexit strategy).  There were various papers from the job I had last year, the one that I really messed up, as well as a lot about pensions, which is something else that worries me (I don’t have one, and I know I should, but I don’t earn enough money.  I worry what will happen to me).  I found something from CILIP (the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals), which I belong to largely in order to try to convince myself I’m a professional with a career and not a child trapped in an adult’s body/life.

I used to think of myself as an organised person, but along with my ability to plan (Dad: “You’re a terrible planner!”), I fear that this is more apparent than real i.e. I was organised when I didn’t have a busy enough life to produce much to organise.  My “organising” tends to involve shoving bits of paper from my desk in to drawers, and then periodically I clear the drawers by shoving the paper in ring binders.  Tidying ring binders happens very rarely, every few years, and tends to involve throwing a lot of stuff away.  I suppose tidying drawers happens every few months, but I  keep the top of my desk tidy most of the time, which creates the illusion of organisation, albeit that a pile of ring binders and papers mostly related to my writing projects has taken up residence on one side, which I tolerate on the grounds that they are at least meaningful projects that might bring in income one day and are more likely to be worked on if in view.

I also found a psychiatrist’s letter announcing that I was free of another episode of depression, which is vaguely depressing.  It shows I do come out of these episodes, but the time out of depression lasts a couple of months, whereas the episodes of depression themselves last a couple of years and I never have enough time in between to really build up my life.

Sad Songs Say So Much

I did get a reasonable amount of sleep in the end, just at the wrong time.  I was hoping to escape a post-Purim socialising ‘mental hangover’ as I woke feeling OK, but it seems to have set in over the afternoon.  I wanted to do some serious Torah study this afternoon, but I’m not sure I’m going to manage more than half an hour or so.

I feel lonely again.  I do wonder if there is anyone really like me.  Some things today made me think that maybe if I went back on Facebook, I could find people like me.  There’s a Facebook page for frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) geeky women that apparently has 2,500 members, so I guess there may be women like me out there.  More platonically, a post on Den of Geek: Geeks Against Loneliness spoke of people, particularly autistic people, finding interest groups for obscure hobbies on Facebook (the one in the article was for fans of electricity pylons, which makes my love of or forty, fifty or sixty year old British science fiction TV drama seem mainstream).  But then I remember what Facebook was actually like, the political posts that, even when I broadly agreed with them, were upsettingly angry and disturbingly question-begging, the fear of missing out, the comparing of my inner life to other people’s external lives and feeling inadequate, the opportunity for looking up people I was at school or university with and seeing they are doing better than I am…  I don’t think it’s for me.  If HaShem (God) intends me to meet my bashert (destined soulmate) that way, He’ll just have to find another way.  I’m not going to risk my mental health there.

As I say, I’m coming round to the ideathat there are frum geeky women out there, which is something, I just don’t know how to meet them.  I guess even “geeky” these days covers a huge number of different subcultures, so I wouldn’t necessarily even have much in common with a geeky woman if she was in to, for example, Game of Thrones and and the Marvel cinematic universe.  I keep nearly meeting the right women, but there’s always something major that knocks the relationship of course.  She’s not frum enough or she’s stopping being frum.  She doesn’t want children.  She wants someone richer.  She lives in another country.  And so on.  Some of these things I’ve tried to overcome and some were just too final.

I’m just looking for a gentle, frum, geeky woman, in her thirties or so, with a sense of integrity, preferably living in the UK and who can cope with my depression, autism, low salary and problematic career path and the fact that I’m not a ‘normal’ frum guy.  Some days that seems like a lot to ask for and some days it seems possible, but even on the good days, I’m not sure how I go about meeting her.  I worry what I can offer her.  Mostly love (if not necessarily shown in the most neurotypical way), fidelity, integrity, kindness and intelligence, but that doesn’t always seem like very much.  I feel like anyone wanting that in a partner would have that as basic and would want extra ‘features’ and traits on top.  I wish I was better-integrated into the frum community, to increase the chances of someone knowing someone who knows someone who is right for me.  But, then again, most of the frum people I know don’t know about my geekiness, mental health issues or autism, so maybe that still wouldn’t work.

Insomnia Again

Like Ahashverosh, I can’t sleep, despite only having slept about six hours out of the last forty or so.  I forgot to take my tablets after shul (synagogue) this morning (yesterday morning I should say, really) and forgot to take them tonight as well after being out for dinner.  I finally took them about 1.00am, but they don’t seem to have made me sleepy yet.  They aren’t sleeping tablets, of course, but they usually make me tired (for much of the day, probably).  Here are a few thoughts that were going around my head while I was getting ready for bed and/or while I was lying in bed trying to sleep:

I feel that so much of my life over the last twenty years or so (the time that I’ve been depressed) has been trying to understand myself.  In therapy, on my blogs and, less healthy, in endless introspection and repetitive, circular thoughts.  Actually, it’s more that therapy and blogging are attempts to stop the repetitive thoughts and turn the circular thoughts into some kind of linear thought (linear, but going where?).  I don’t understand much of my life, but particularly about my social life, constantly complaining that I don’t have friends and a romantic partner, but also running away from them, finding social contact frightening and draining, but also exhilarating at times, wanting love and intimacy, but being terrified of them, experiencing aching loneliness as the constant backdrop of my life, wanting to escape it, but fearing there will be nothing left of me if I do.

The excitement of the potential autism diagnosis is that it explains so much of this mystery.  I constantly see more aspects of personality in a new light, more puzzles solved.  Hence the fear that I could be told (for the third time) that I’m not autistic and will have to start the search for meaning all over again.  For instance, I could understand that social anxiety made socialising with strangers hard, but I could never quite understand why socialising with friends left me drained even when I enjoyed it.  Now, of course, I realise that any kind of social contact, not to mention being in a public space like a restaurant or museum (popular places to socialise for me) is terribly draining for someone on the autism spectrum.

The other thing that I ruminate over (‘obsess over’ might be more accurate, in a borderline clinical sense) is my own sense of inadequacy and sinfulness.  This, I hasten to say, is not very Jewish.  Judaism has a reasonably positive view of human nature and a pragmatic approach to sin: it happens, we can use it to repent and grow.  But I obsess over my mistakes, beat myself up for falling into the same traps again and again, blame myself, devise plans for improvement that never work and so on.  Because ultimately my worst sins, the ones I beat myself up about the most, stem from that same aching loneliness, the chasm or void at the centre of my life or even at the centre of my soul.  My therapist has told me that I don’t do anything wrong by secular standards.  My rabbi mentor says I’m a good person with a one or two challenges.  I feel that some people at least would be understanding and sympathetic, that they would note the void in my life and say that it’s not unreasonable that a normal person would try to fill it, even in somewhat dysfunctional ways, that I could be doing much worse things instead.  And yet.  And yet.  I can’t shake the feeling of sinful inadequacy, even though that very feeling is part of the aching void, such that beating myself up makes me more likely to fall victim to the same emotions again and again.

Somewhat related to this: lately when lying in bed trying to sleep, I have found myself imagining a presence with me.  Not a religious feeling.  Imagining – in a non-sexual way – that I’m in bed with my wife and that she is speaking reassuringly to me, telling me that I’m doing well in coping with my issues, that I shouldn’t blame myself for falling, that she would still love and accept me despite my failures.  I am not sure what to make of this.  It’s good that I can voice some positive, supportive statements about myself now, even if I have to put them into someone else’s mouth to accept them.  But I worry about creating a fantasy life that I can’t escape from, that I am getting my hopes up by making myself believe I will find a supportive wife when I will possibly (probably?  I don’t know, it seems like that) not get married at all.  I worry that I’ve created a pliable fantasy partner who has no needs and just exists to boost my ego, which is very unhealthy.  And I still struggle to believe that God could think any of that positive stuff about me.

***

So, that’s what’s in my head tonight/this morning.  It’s 4.00am and I don’t feel remotely tired, perhaps just a little agitated.  Not quite sure what to do now.

“It’s the end [of Purim], but the moment has been prepared for.”

(Sticking with the fourth Doctor quote theme from yesterday)

Purim

I struggled to get to sleep, being upset from what had happened earlier, and then had a disturbing dream.  I was working or (more likely) doing work experience somewhere for a week.  I can’t remember what the job was exactly, but it was some kind of creative work.  On my last day, all my colleagues mocked me for my incompetence.  I had done everything wrong, including misunderstanding an article by a famous writer even though I should have known his political views and realised I was misrepresenting them.  I think I ran away and was possibly pursued by my colleagues.  I asked why they kept giving me creative jobs if they could see that I’m not creative, but there was no answer.  Obviously there’s a lot of work anxiety in there (my real-life contract ends next week and the famous writer in the dream is one associated with that job), but also social anxiety and anxiety about my ability to be creative as I start the third draft of my Doctor Who book.  Perhaps there’s some political anxiety too.

7.30am  Despite disturbed sleep, I got to shul (synagogue) for Shacharit (morning prayers) and the Megillah (Book of Esther) reading.  I was a few minutes late for Shacharit, which I suppose was partly intentional as I’m out of the habit of davening (praying) the whole of Shacharit and was apprehensive about being there for the whole service.  I did hear the whole of the Megillah though.  I had the same OCD anxiety as last night about hearing every word as per halakhah (Jewish law), but I think I heard everything without having to repeat anything.  I actually felt quite tense and anxious as it went on, worrying that the noise would stop me hearing everything.  I think it was probably low blood sugar as I hadn’t eaten breakfast beforehand (really one should not eat before praying, although I usually do because I’m too depressed and exhausted otherwise, but I was trying to be good today), especially as I had some social anxiety after the service.  I felt better after breakfast.

***

2.00pm  I went to my Dad’s shul for Mincha (the afternoon service) because the service in my shul was in our weekday premises (the shteible, a small room rented in a larger shul, itself above Tesco).  In three years, I had never been to the shteible; I’ve had social anxiety about going in by myself and have been putting off going (more on this below), so I went to my Dad’s shul, which was also less far to walk.

***

4.30pm  I was invited out for Purim seudah (meal) at friends from shul, really my closest friend in the area.  I knew all of the men there from shul; the women were mostly their wives.  I had a good time and even joined in the conversation/banter a bit, but I did get overwhelmed with the noise at times.  I had moments when I felt, “Yes, I can fit in in a frum society, I can “speak Torah” intelligently and make appropriate jokes,” but at other times, I felt that I didn’t fit in with aspects of frum society.  I guess I’ll never completely fit in anywhere.  That’s probably that’s another reason I’m desperate to find a wife who matches me, so that at least I will have someone like me, and then we can try to raise kids with our values.  Still, no one tried to encourage (or “encourage”) me to drink (it is customary on Purim afternoon to get drunk, although Judaism being Judaism there is much dispute about what “customary” and “drunk” mean… amusingly, I got a job email today looking for a Research Coordinator at somewhere called “The Institute Of Alcohol Studies”  which was appropriate).

7.40pm  Around this time we had finished eating, but hadn’t bentsched (said grace after meals) yet.  I was going to ask if we could bentsch and I could go, as I was getting exhausted and ‘peopled out,’ but I didn’t really have the confidence to show that I was flagging, plus I guessed the men would be going on to Ma’ariv (the evening service) and I thought it would look bad if I disappeared just before then.  I decided to make the most of it and use it as a chance to go to the shteible with other people and see what it was like.  We walked there, as, while no one was drunk drunk, no one able to drive was sober enough to do so safely.  Ma’ariv was fine and then I walked home.  My Mum said that I looked happy and had had a very full and successful day.  I think I felt that, but it’s hard to be sure, as I second-guess and over-analyse myself so much and struggle to identify my emotions (alexithymia).

***

Other things than noise and social interactions that my autistic brain couldn’t cope with today: a training video for safeguarding children (for my volunteering) that played distracting music in the background while people were talking; and a job application that wanted me to “be willing to accept ‘change’ as part of the daily routine.”  The latter sounds profoundly disturbing to me, but it, or things like it, seem to be a common job requirement, like “being a good team player” (again, not always good for autistic or socially anxious people) and being “highly motivated” (not so good with depression).  I probably ought to be a hermit, or a lighthouse-keeper.

***

On days like today, when everything is going reasonably well, and I feel, if not happy, then at least content and not depressed or anxious, and I even go to shul and feel a part of a community, then I can say that God is merciful and everything is for the best in the long-run, and I can accept my suffering and willingly go into the valley of the shadow of death for Him.  It’s only the rest of the time, when I’m despairing and anxious and lonely and cut off from everyone that I can’t bear it.  In other words, I can bear my suffering except for when I’m actually suffering.  Unfortunately, the times when I’m suffering far outnumber the times when I’m not suffering.

***

That said, I feel a bit down about the way that my family interprets my words and sometimes my body language as angry and aggressive when that is not my intention.  This has happened regularly since childhood.  This is also common with autism, I believe, but happens with neurotypical people too.  It’s upsetting, though, especially as I really do get irritable more than I should because of depression and the strain of masking all my problems in public, as well as my autistic communication problems with my Dad.  There is a lot more to talk about regarding my relationship with my family, and the extent to which I’m trying to run away from it/them by getting married, but I can’t really talk about it here; it’s one reason I want to go back to my psychodynamic psychotherapist.  I want to make things right, but I don’t know how and I worry it’s not just a problem of human weakness of the kind most people experience (irritability, anger), but of the cognitive and experiential differences between me and my family.

***

Peopled out now, need a shower and autistic alone time with Quatermass and the Pit before bed or I won’t sleep…

Doctor Who and the Purim of Doom

This will be another ‘written across a whole day’ post.

11.15am  I’m not sure how long I slept, but I think it was about eleven hours, which was probably too long.  I woke up utterly drained and depressed and I’m not sure if that was from sleeping too long or from the pressure of working two consecutive days.  Today I still feel that no one could ever love me, but I’m too exhausted to really care any more.

11.45am Today is the Fast of Esther, which I think is the most obscure Jewish fast day (this or the Fast of the Firstborn, but arguably that doesn’t count).  I used to assume it dated from Esther’s fast in Megillat Esther (the Book of Esther), which is the key text for the festival of Purim (tonight and tomorrow), but apparently it’s from the Gaonic era (early Middle Ages) although it does commemorate the earlier fast.  At any rate, I’m not allowed to fast on lithium except for Yom Kippur, so I’m not fasting today.  I think I’ve gone past the point of feeling bad about not fasting.  Eating some breakfast and drinking coffee makes me feel a bit better, but not much.  I really just want to go to bed and sleep through the next day and a half, although I am sort of looking forward to the Purim seudah (festive meal) I’ve been invited to tomorrow, just as long as no one tries to force me to drink alcohol.  I don’t think they will, but it’s hard to be sure.

I want to have a quiet day (afternoon really now – it’s nearly noon) to recover from the last two days and prepare for the Megillah reading tonight, which will be draining for depression, social anxiety, OCD and autism reasons.  Not the easiest religious ritual for me, by any means.  In the meantime, I want to watch more of Quatermass and the Pit (1950s BBC science fiction serial) and work on my Doctor Who book a bit, if I feel up to it.

2.15pm  Thinking again about being single and that no one could love me, albeit that the thoughts aren’t as intense as yesterday.  I wonder what the CBT response to these thoughts should be.  I suppose to look for evidence to disprove the assertion that no one could love me.  Which is hard, as there is really no evidence against.  I’ve only had two romantic relationships (and a third thing that perhaps approached becoming a relationship), which ended in ways that make me worry that no one could ever love someone as messed up as me, albeit that they all focused on different elements of my messed upness.  To some extent I’m probably manipulating the data to fit my theory; certainly my first relationship ended for fairly complex reasons that were at least partly down to my girlfriend.  But it is hard to hold on to that when everything fits my theory at least partially.  There isn’t much data to base a theory on, which is one thing to hold on to, but, again, that basically means that I haven’t had much romantic success, which is not encouraging.  CBT is hard to do when all the evidence supports your “thinking errors”.  I guess I’m catastrophising and jumping to conclusions, but it’s hard when the evidence points that way.  I don’t have “proof” that no one would marry me, but I won’t have proof until I either die single or get married and I can’t stop myself worrying in the meantime.  I know, worrying doesn’t help either, it just feels as if it should.  Also, this is probably my way of expressing loneliness to myself and others.  Maybe it would be more fruitful to search for different ways to express loneliness rather than to worry about the future.

***

3.00pm  Moving photo albums from one room to another with Dad.  Dad says I’m always irritable with him these days.  This is true and it saddens me, but I don’t know what to do.  Part of it is that I am under a lot of strain at the moment with work and depression and have been for nearly two years now.  I have to mask autism and depression at work, but that makes it harder to keep up appearances at home.  But part of it is that Dad tends not to do things in an autism-friendly way.  He asks me to help him with things, but he doesn’t tell me when and then expects me to drop anything I’m doing and help, which upsets me because it messes up my plan for the day; autism hates surprises and last minute changes.  He’s been nagging me to help with the photo albums for ages, but hasn’t given a time.  Last week he asked me and I said let me finish X, but he never came back and then suddenly today he asked me again.  I started to move the photo albums, but then he expected me to put them out in order; I got annoyed at this change (although I was probably being autistic and overly-literal here and should have guessed he would want me to put them out) and he got annoyed that I didn’t want to help.

Dad also talks in a very unhelpful way, from an autistic point of view, with too many details and jumping from topic to topic without making it clear what he’s talking about.  Then I get annoyed and tell him to stick to the point and things escalate.  I don’t like this aspect of myself and my current life, but I don’t know what to do about it.  I can’t think how to change things; telling myself to “try harder not to be irritable” doesn’t really help and just undermines my self-esteem even more.

***

3.30pm  I just read two essays by Rabbi Lord Sacks (the former British Chief Rabbi) about finding meaning and being called to something in life.  I don’t have a clue what the meaning in my life is or what I am being called to do.  Rabbi Sacks says that “Where what we want to do meets what needs to be done, that is where God wants us to be”, but I don’t seem to be able to do anything and my understanding of my own wants is not particularly good.  Mostly I want to just avoid certain situations and people.  I’ve thought in the past of writing to him about things like this, but his office staff doubtless open his mail and he probably wouldn’t even see the letter, let alone respond.

***

4.55pm  I began redrafting my Doctor Who book with the introduction and first chapter.  It was OK, but I’m not entirely happy with it, which may be my immaturity as a writer as much as anything, and while I pruned a couple of hundred words, I probably need to be more ruthless with later and longer chapters.

Feeling exhausted and depressed and not entirely sure why.  Some of it is doubtless bickering with Dad before, some is being tired from working on my book, some is general depression, so I intend to watch TV for a bit before I have to get ready for Purim.

***

19.00 Purim

Purim is a minor festival, so work is permitted and I can blog.  I moved my work days around this week so that I wouldn’t have to go to work, though, which is good.  It’s the most carnivalesque Jewish festival, which can be hard for me with depression, autism and social anxiety.

“There’s no point in being grown up if you can’t be childish sometimes!” Doctor Who: Robot

There is a custom to wear fancy dress on Purim.  I made my way to shul (synagogue) for Purim dressed as the fourth Doctor.  My scarf was the only item that was strictly accurate (a friend knitted it for me years ago according to the official BBC pattern and air mailed it to me from Texas), but I was more nervous about going dressed as a TV character to a shul where lots of people don’t own TVs and look down on TV as the most corrupting and least acceptable of all media.  As it happened, no one said anything, except someone who made a joke about the length of the scarf.  I don’t know if no one understood who I was dressed as.  I don’t really talk to many people at shul anyway.

The Doctor: Well, you’d better introduce me.
Romana: As what?
The Doctor: Oh, I don’t know… a wise and wonderful person who wants to help. Don’t exaggerate.

Doctor Who: The Power of Kroll

I heard once that if one dresses up on Purim, one should dress up as the person one wants to be.  I don’t know if this is true (I only heard it once).  I’m not sure what it says about me that I want to be the Doctor, or specifically the fourth Doctor, or even if I do really want to be him in a meaningful way, but I wish I had his confidence and his ability to wear his eccentricities on his sleeve and not worry what other people think about him, as well as for keeping his sense of humour when faced with danger and evil.

“Even the sonic screwdriver won’t get me out of this one” Doctor Who: The Invasion of Time

I listened to Megillat Esther (the Book of Esther).  One is supposed to hear every word, but there is also a custom to make noise after the name of Haman, who tried to wipe out the Jewish people.  This is fertile ground for my religious OCD.  I actually did OK.  I told myself I wasn’t going to catch up words, let alone go to another reading, unless I was really sure I had missed something.  Three or four times I thought I heard a word, but wasn’t sure and wanted to repeat it, but I didn’t let myself because I knew it would just stoke the flames of OCD.  It is theoretically possible that I did not fulfil the mitzvah (commandment), but I think I did the right thing.

“You’re a beautiful woman, probably.” Doctor Who: City of Death

At dinner afterwards, my Dad tried again to persuade me to go out with our neighbours’ daughter (or our neighbour, I suppose, as she lives with her parents).  I’m not quite sure what to make of this.  I don’t know if I have anything in common with her, other than having lived in two of the same communities and being frum.  I’ve never picked up any feeling that she is at all attracted to me (although admittedly I’m not good at such things).  By coincidence, I passed her while I was on the way to shul this evening and we said hello, but if she spotted the significance of my Doctor Who scarf, she didn’t say anything.

“Failure is one of the basic freedoms” Doctor Who: The Robots of Death

I was having dinner with my parents, everything was going well… and then, suddenly, it wasn’t.  Something happened that I can’t talk about here, sadly.  But it brought my mood crashing down.  I know that people say that you can’t make your happiness dependent on other people, but the fact is that human beings are social animals (even someone as introverted and autistic as I am) and the moods and behaviour of those around us do affect us, especially the moods of those close to us.  We pick up other people’s moods just as we infect people with our moods.  I’m not sure what I can do for this.

So, tomorrow is the bulk of Purim.  I hope I will be OK.  I’ve been invited out to a seudah (festive meal) in the afternoon, which will hopefully be good.  I’m more nervous about getting to shul in time to hear the Megillah again (one should hear it twice, evening and morning), but I’m less worried about hearing the words as there isn’t usually much noise at the morning reading because there aren’t many children and some people are going to work, so they need to get through it quickly.

For now I’m going to get some retail therapy buying a second-hand copy of the next Complete Peanuts volume (1963-1964), because Peanuts has been keeping me sane recently with it’s resigned acceptance of life’s ups and downs, as well as a second-hand copy of the House of Cards trilogy; not the Netflix series, the original 1990s BBC serials with Ian Richardson as Sir Francis Urquhart.  I’ve never seen it, but I need a break from wall-to-wall science fiction.

Chase: What do you do for an encore, Doctor?

Doctor: I win.

Depressing Thoughts

Today was pretty awful.  I started the day feeling more depressed than anxious, which I suppose was at least different to recent workdays.  It was hard to do anything.  I don’t know how I got up and dressed and to work on time.

I had a whole series of spiralling negative thoughts.  On the way to work, I was thinking that my community neither wants nor needs me and that therefore, as per Pirkei AvotHaShem (God) must not want me either.  The quote (Avot 3.10) is “[Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa] would say: Anyone from whom the spirit of creations find pleasure, from him the spirit of God finds pleasure. And anyone from whom the spirit of creations do not find pleasure, from him the spirit of God does not find pleasure.”  (Translation from here because I was lazy; I think “spirit of creations” is a rather archaic translation.)  I don’t think, realistically, that that means that if you have no friends then God hates you.  There’s obviously a lot in the Torah about God caring for those on the fringes of society.  But when I’m depressed, it’s easy to interpret it that way.  At any rate, I felt that the Torah was written for mentally-healthy neurotypicals and I don’t know how to earn a share in it.  It’s probably true that the Torah is written for the majority of people to practise (I think Rambam says that) and I certainly don’t know how to connect to it any more, if I ever did, so that’s true to some extent, perhaps unlike what happened next.

***

Last night I asked some of my friends if they thought I could be happy dating someone who didn’t share my geeky interests.  They were divided on this.  (There is also the question of how closely one has to define “geeky interests” given that some of my interests are very niche even for geeks, whereas lots of popular geek interests pass me by completely, but I’ll ignore that for now.)  Thinking about this prompted a whole morning of negative thoughts.  I can’t find frum (religious) geeky women who will date me, but then I can’t find non-geeky women willing to date me either, despite someone saying that in her experience, frum single women over thirty feel desperate and lower their standards.  In fact, I’ve seen “older” (i.e. over thirty) frum single women online complain that “I only get set up with weird autistic guys; all the normal guys get set up with younger women.”  I guess I’m one of those guys (I’m not sure if they’re literally autistic; more likely the women are just being rude), except that I’m not being set up with anyone.  The two women I was set up with in quick succession two years ago probably felt like that; one dumped me on the grounds we had nothing in common (which I took to mean I have weird, geeky interests, perhaps incorrectly), the other because of my depression.

This led on to fears that even if I could find someone willing to marry me, I would not be her first choice as her husband; she would be ‘settling’ with me from loneliness or a desire for children.  Even if she didn’t have a lost lover somewhere she was still pining for, she would have a mental image of a dream husband that I would always fall short of.  I hope this is just my depression and low self-esteem lying to me, but so far as I can tell, every woman I’ve ever crushed on or dated has liked me less than I liked her, often significantly less.  Maybe this is just me beating myself up again, but I’ve had very little interest from women over the years.

I know everyone says you have to love yourself before other people will love you, but apart from the fact that I simply don’t think that this is true, my childhood experiences make it pretty much impossible for me to love myself at the moment.  I struggle to believe that God loves me.  I can’t really believe that anyone else could love me, although I desperately hope that someone will.  It’s a lot to ask someone to take on though.  I know I’m not an easy person to be around.  I would definitely date the women that are considered a “bad match” in the frum world though.  Those considerations are usually spurious.  Other things being equal, I wouldn’t have a problem marrying a ba’a’lat teshuva, a geyoret, someone with physical or mental health issues, or someone with children from a previous relationship (although admittedly that one is harder and requires more thought than the others)… The problem is that I haven’t got anyone to communicate this intention to who might set me up with someone who is also finding it hard to meet a spouse.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I really struggled to work with these thoughts racing in my head.  I’ve decided not to date for a while, but I still worry because I want to know, somehow, that I will find someone one day.  Not everyone does get partnered up, even in the frum world where marriage is a strongly-enforced social norm.  It’s not knowing what is going to happen to me that is so painful.  If I knew I was going to be single forever, I could at least try to find alternative outlets for my need to love and be loved, somehow.  Get pets or something.  Instead, I’m just faced with a huge question mark.  Sometimes I wish I was asexual; at least in that case I wouldn’t want romantic/sexual love.  The outcome would be the same, but I wouldn’t care.

***

I felt better as the afternoon went on, perhaps because I was distracted from my emotional pain by work and a physical pain (headache), although that at least responded quickly to medication.  I did have more depressing thoughts on the way home.  I was thinking about my career, or lack thereof, again, the fact that I lack direction, experience and confidence at work.  It occurs to me that describing autism as a spectrum running from high-functioning to severe is very misleading.  It implies a consistent and continuous increase in symptoms running along the spectrum.  The reality is that whether someone on the spectrum shows one particular symptom has no bearing on whether they show others.  I don’t generally have meltdowns, for instance, but that doesn’t mean that my other symptoms are less pronounced.  Moreover, symptoms can be situational.  I can be more or less functional depending on how many people are around and who I am with, how tired or hungry I am, how bad my depression and social anxiety are…  I’m high-functional in many ways, but I am really struggling in work environments, even different kinds of work environments, and I find it hugely frustrating that I’m so out of my depth and don’t know where I can turn for help (someone suggested AS Mentoring recently, but I haven’t had a chance to see what they offer).

Some autistic people are lucky enough to find their niche, a task needing a particular skillset that they match more or less exactly.  Some of these people may present symptoms more severely than me at certain times and in certain places, but at work they fit almost 100% and are completely functional.  I just wish I could find my niche.  I feel I’ve made mistakes here, but that could be the depression and low self-esteem talking; I don’t know if things would be materially different if I had gone to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary), had done my MA at a better university, or had continued leading prayer services and teaching Torah when I moved to this area.  I can see that all of these could have led on to other positive things and a more positive life for me overall, but maybe they simply weren’t possible and I shouldn’t beat myself up about having passed them by.