Bleak Midwinter

An enormous, rambling, probably incoherent account of a day in which nothing really happened.  It’s like Waiting for Godot as a blog post.

I don’t know what time I got to bed last night.  It was very late, I know that.  It was going to be late anyway, as I’d been ambushed by loneliness and despair and had the usual trade-off between doing chores late at night and oversleeping the next day or going to bed early and trying to get up early to add them to tomorrow’s to-do list.  I stayed up late trying to do things, but largely being stopping by events outside my control.  Among other things, I discovered my membership of CILIP, the Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals has shot up and I’m not sure if I can afford to renew it.  My attempt to remove what I recently realised (probably too late) was mould on my wood flooring was only partially successful and my toilet suddenly got blocked and kept me up much longer.  I think I sorted it, but I worry about having to call a plumber in; it’s my landlords’ responsibility to pay, so I’m not worried about that, only about the hassle of having to stay in, and the annoyance of having someone in the flat, which triggers my Aspie hatred of having my space invaded and can trigger the religious OCD (as the kitchen is right by the bathroom).  And then to make matters worse, by around 1.00am I was tired, but also insatiably hungry and I stayed up late eating kosher pot noodle and cereal (not at the same time) and reading The Prime Ministers: The Office and its Holders since 1945.

I woke up around 12.30pm today.  I probably had something between nine and ten hours sleep after even more the day before, but I was exhausted and only got up because my phone rang.  By 2.20pm, I’d had breakfast and read a few pages of a Doctor Who review book but was still in my pyjamas and feeling as if I could fall asleep at any minute.  Thoughts rattled around my head for a while.  I wrote a paragraph or so of my Doctor Who book.  By 3.30pm I was still in my pyjamas.  I gave up on putting on tefillin and davening Mincha (saying the afternoon service) today as I was too tired to get dressed before sunset.  I decided to have a shower to see if that would wake me up.  I spent about twenty minutes in the shower (I usually only take five, ten at most), fighting OCD thoughts that I haven’t had for a while, the fear that I may have done something illegal without realising it.  My thoughts rattle to depressing places, from the antisemitism of Jeremy Corbyn to George Orwell (one of my favourite political writers) to Stalin.  After a while I sit on the floor because it’s too draining to stand up and I don’t want to go out of the warmth.  I want to cry, but can’t; it’s easier to breathe with my mouth open, but doing so I inhale water vapour.  It’s like being at the swimming pool.  I punch the wall and stick my face under the jet until it feels like I’m drowning.  A lyric from an Elvis Costello song comes into my head: “You said, ‘Young man, I do believe you’re dying.'”  If someone told me I was dying, I would probably believe them.  Eventually I struggle to my feet and get out.

I want to talk to someone, yet I also want to be alone and the thought of talking to someone else fills me with dread.  My family are all out anyway.  By 4.20pm I’m finally dressed, more or less.  I feel a little faint and should probably have something to eat.  Lunch, although it’s nearly supper time.  Indulge in melted cheese on toast.  I ought to shave, but shaving is always a disproportionate effort when I’m depressed, I’m not sure why.  Same as putting on tefillin, which is why I didn’t do so today.  I feel bad about that, as it’s the first time I’ve missed it for years, despite the depression.

Some of my tasks for today are write-offs.  Last week we (the library staff, the few who weren’t off sick) were window-shopping in bookshops for books to buy; I had a panic that I hadn’t found enough, and that those I had found were not suitable for the target audience (my boss told me to remember I wasn’t buying for myself; I couldn’t work out if she was teasing me or not; another Asperger’s moment no doubt, but it worried me, particularly as I wasn’t sure I could think like a ‘normal’ teenager to choose books) so I wanted to find some more on Amazon, but I didn’t feel up to it.

Days like this fuel my solipsism.  I’ve had the blinds down all day because I was undressed until after dark and, aside from briefly talking on the phone to Mum twice, I haven’t spoken to anyone all day.  It’s easy to believe that I am the only living person in the universe.  I don’t feel too lonely today, maybe because I just want to retreat to my depressive/autistic man-cave and watch Doctor Who or other vintage TV science fiction until bedtime.  I guess the time of the year doesn’t help, the cold, dark midwinter when everyone else seems to be celebrating something, but my religious celebrations are over (and were rather overshadowed this year by my sister’s wedding, with everything that that entailed).

Angelfish wrote on yesterday’s post, “You are a much better person than you think you are… You aren’t lazy, you just mis-label yourself as that because of self-esteem issues. I can tell from what you write that you try very hard to do things. You try very hard to keep going whilst struggling with the huge burden that is depression. You deserve praise for it – but again it’s hard to see it.”  Similarly, one of my non-biological sisters wrote me a lengthy text of praise.  But it’s hard to see what other people see in me.  Particularly on days like today, when I can hardly keep my eyes open and the only thoughts I seem able to follow are upsetting ones (self-critical or about unpleasant things in the world).  And I wish I wasn’t so dependent on others for my self-esteem.

By 6.00pm I’ve davened Ma’ariv (the evening prayers) with zero kavannah (concentration) and done literally two minutes of Torah study and was trying to work out what I can do with the rest of the day, given I feel exhausted, but don’t want to sleep (it’s not that kind of exhaustion anyway).  I did somehow manage to do some work on my Doctor Who book for forty-five minutes or so, finishing off the second draft of chapter nine (taking me to the early eighties and the end of Tom Baker’s time on the show).  I then spent another forty-five minutes sorting out emails and standing orders for various things.  I have now officially stopped going to the Monday night Gemarah shiur (class) i.e. I’m not paying them any more.  As well as sending a formal email to the organisers, I left a message on the What’sApp group which briefly mentioned health issues without giving details as well as changed work hours as reasons for my leaving.  I hope that was not a bad idea.  At any rate, I’m increasing the number of people who know a little about my issues (most of the people from shiur also go to my shul, so I’ll see them again).  I’m still procrastinating over going to the shul Friday night dinner, though.

I also decided to pay to renew my membership of CILIP (the Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals) even though it costs a lot more than it did last year now I’m working longer hours and earning more, doubly so as their graduated pay scale has, I think, changed.  I think there used to be various levels at which you paid, depending on income, whereas now there are only two levels, “Member” and “Member (concession)”.  I now earn too much to count as a concession, without feeling particularly rich.

Around 8.50pm, I shaved, which was probably silly (shaving at night), but my two day’s worth of stubble was annoying me and I knew I needed to shave to help me focus to cook dinner.  I cooked pasta (to go with a bought sauce) and finished reading Asperger Syndrome in Adults, except I got distracted proof-reading this post and the water in my saucepan boiled away.  Asperger Syndrome in Adults makes having a romantic relationship where one partner is on the spectrum sound almost impossible.  I did better than that in my previous relationship.  Then again, I also got badly hurt by that relationship, which just makes me think that only someone even needier and more damaged than myself would choose to be in a relationship with me.  Maybe that was what the first woman I asked out meant when she turned me down, saying if I liked myself more, I would want to date someone more like myself: more messed up, like myself.  I couldn’t work out what she meant otherwise, as I thought we had things in common, at least as much or as little as I have in common with most people, which is not very much.  The main thing I have in common with my close friends is depression, which is probably not a healthy basis for a romantic relationship; with others it’s shared memories of school or Oxford and we don’t actually meet up or email very much, just occasionally get together to catch up on what we’ve done since we last met and then go our separate ways for a year.

I can’t imagine having a relationship with someone who has common values and  interests with me, because I know so few people, if any, like that, people that I have a lot of things in common with.  Actually, the book reminds me of someone else I asked out a long time ago who turned me down because she said I would be able to meet her needs when she voiced them, but she wanted a partner who could anticipate her needs without her needing to voice them.  This sounded unrealistic to me even without the Asperger’s, but there you go.  It does make me wonder if I could manage a relationship again, particularly as I seem to be in a liminal area, neither fully autistic nor neurotypical, so I would likely find it hard to have a relationship with either a neurotypical or Aspie woman.

Well, my day is nearly over, by the clock, but I’ve only just woken up.  Three days off and I’m already nocturnal again.  I’m not sure what to do, stay up late or go to bed and hope to sleep despite having slept for well over twenty hours out of the last forty-eight.  The intrusive anxious/depressive thoughts are, of course, likely to get (even) worse now, as they always worsen in the evenings.  At any rate, I ought to eat dinner now that I’ve cooked it (assuming it is edible despite my incompetence in letting the water boil over).

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Vices

Some days I merely hate myself.  Some days I can even forget about myself for a while, usually at work, or while watching Doctor Who.

Other days I hate, loathe, detest and despise myself.

Today is in the latter category.

My grandfather used to tease me, saying I was too good, that I had no vices.  He was wrong, although to be fair, none of my vices are illegal or particularly extreme and certainly they are all common, even (especially) the ones I don’t want to talk about her.

I sleep too much, particularly when depressed.  I hurt myself sometimes.  I am self-critical.  I find it hard to keep up with my self-imposed targets for prayer and religious study.  I avoid things that make me socially anxious rather than confronting them.  I go on too much about my issues.  I procrastinate.  I want to be loved, but I get too scared to take the steps to find someone who might love me and let me love her.  When I’m lonely, it’s too easy to fall into fantasy and avoid reality, both pleasant fantasies and also unpleasant fantasies, suicidal ones or simply self-loathing ones that make me out to be worse than I actually am.

I did most of these over Shabbat and in the hours afterwards, as well as other things that I won’t go into.  It’s easy to convince myself that I’m a bad person.  I’m certainly acting contrary to halakhah (Jewish law) in numerous respects (e.g. missing shul due to depressive oversleeping and socially anxious avoidance).  It’s particularly hard at the moment to keep up with davening (prayer) and studying Torah – it’s hard to try to connect with a God who I’m convinced hates me and turns down all my requests.  I haven’t done any Torah study yet today; I did a bit amount yesterday, but almost none on Thursday.  It’s very hard to get the energy to daven at the right time, particularly in the morning.  It’s hard to carry on generally.  I thought I was losing my faith, but I’m not, it’s just hard to get the energy together to start on davening or Torah study.  I’m just too depressed, but I’m afraid of going backwards in my recovery (which is arguably not a recovery; for all that I’m still a lot better than I was this time last year, I’m a lot worse than I was in the spring and early summer).

My parents and my non-biological sisters are encouraging me to go to a different shadchan (matchmaker) after the one who didn’t get back to me.  I’m tempted, but all the frum (religious Jewish) books/websites/teachers say don’t date when suffering from serious illness.  Wait until you’re over it.  Particularly for mental illness, which can change your whole persona.  Except that I don’t think I’m ever going to be ‘over’ my depression.  It’s just a question of trying to manage it.  And at the moment I don’t feel like I’m managing it well.

I just feel I have so many marks against me when dating, that it’s not even worth trying.  I have depression.  I have social anxiety.  I may be on the autistic spectrum and even if I’m not, I have a lot of autistic traits.  I still get occasional flare-ups of OCD (religious OCD and pure O).  I don’t daven or learn Torah enough.  I didn’t go to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary).  I’m too sarcastic and irritable at times.  I’m needy and emotional.  I’m extremely introverted.  I procrastinate.  I have other vices.  I can’t see why someone would go out with me.  I have nothing really in my favour, except that I’m not violent, which isn’t very much.  I should just give up, but I’m so lonely.  I really hope there’s someone out there who I can connect with, in a way that I don’t really connect with my parents or my friends.  Someone really on my wavelength.  Someone willing to make space in her life for me.  Someone I can communicate with without the autistic communication difficulties I get into with my parents, or the fact that I can only see most of my friends for short periods at long intervals for fear of running out of things to say.  That’s probably asking too much, though.  Everything seems to be asking too much.

I probably will sign on the matchmaking site I’ve identified later in the week, although I want to talk to my rabbi mentor about it first.  I feel like I’m signing up under false pretences i.e. that I am a psychologically healthy, normal, attractive person when I’m not.  It all seems very pointless, but I suppose I need to go through the motions.  The site offers various matchmakers; I read their mini-biographies and found one studying counselling and psychotherapy, so I hope she will be more understanding of my situation.  It’s a fairly arbitrary choice, as all the matchmakers have access to the same database of clients.

I don’t really know how to end this post.  I guess I’m just complaining about my issues (another one of my vices).  I wish I was the super-adept frum Jew I want to be.  Tonight I was supposed to go to shul, study some Torah, do various chores and get an early night.  I missed shul, struggled to daven at home, have done no Torah study, no chores, am unlikely to get to bed early (and unlikely to sleep, given how much I slept over Shabbat) and will probably have to postpone most of tonight’s chores to tomorrow, making tomorrow even more of a rush than it should be.  I’ve only started my ‘holiday’ and already I’m behind on my chores, and very lonely and depressed.  I feel like I’m just rambling.  This post probably needs editing and re-ordering, or deleting, but I’m too fed up and tired.

“Asperger Syndrome in Adults”

I’ve been skimming through Asperger Syndrome in Adults: A Guide to Realizing Your Potential by Dr Ruth Searle (skimming as it’s a library book and I don’t have time to read properly and a lot of it was familiar or uninteresting to me anyway) and as with all things about autism/Asperger’s, I find some things that aren’t me at all, but other things that are exactly me.  I haven’t quite finished the book (I’m reading the section on romantic relationships, which is useful for me), but here are a few things I learnt about myself and about Asperger’s so far:

  1. Aspies tend to feel more comfortable with opposite sex friendships than same sex ones.  It is suggested female Aspies prefer to talk to men, because there is less obligation to talk about emotions, while male Aspies prefer to talk to women, because they are more tolerant of lack of confidence.  While I don’t quite understand why these tendencies don’t apply the other way around (so Aspie men prefer unemotional men and Aspie women prefer tolerant women), this definitely describes me.  Since I was at university, and despite my general lack of friends, at any time I have almost always had one strong friendship, always with a woman, generally non-romantic/non-sexual, although in at least one case it was ruined by my wanting to make it a romantic relationship.  The woman in question usually has some personal experience of mental health issues and/or is borderline autistic herself.  A disproportionate number of my other friends are women too.  This is difficult in the frum (Orthodox Jewish religious) world where cross-gender friendships (other than marriage) are discouraged and rare, because of fears that they will lead to extra-marital sex.  I struggle with this and wonder how I will find a wife who will let me keep my female friends.  I wouldn’t break off my friendships just to get married.
  2. Aspies tend to latch on to one person in a social situation.  If forced to go to parties or networking events, we find one person who seems to tolerate us and don’t let them out of our sight.  I do this a lot too, but I’m sufficiently self-aware these days to try not to outstay my welcome or take people away from their other halves.  A number of the friendships referred to in my last point started this way.
  3. I think systematically.  Dr Baron-Cohen, one of the UK’s leading autism experts, is famous/notorious for thinking that the autistic brain is an extreme “male” brain, assuming men think more systematically than women.  Ignoring the gender essentialism (which I have my own views on, but I don’t want to start a fight about it), I always thought that this was evidence against my having Asperger’s, as I am not conscious of thinking particularly systematically.  I suppose I do like all-encompassing religious, political or historical theories, but I have grown wary of them and suspect that they are often untrue, although I do still sometimes resort to them.  But the book quotes Baron-Cohen as listing six different types of system that the human brain can construct and that autistic people might like.  Type five is “organizable systems: a taxonomy, a collection, a library etc.” (emphasis added).  This is my job!  I am an assistant librarian, I catalogue and my work reorganising the subjects and keywords on our OPAC (online public access catalogue) is essentially creating a simple taxonomy.  While I have said for a while that I deliberately ended up in a (mostly) autism-friendly job, I hadn’t seen it written down so starkly before, and presented as a type of system that is ‘legitimately’ systematic/autistic.  I suppose I was resistant to thinking of myself as systematic as I tend to associate systematising with mathematical systems and in my family it’s my Dad and my sister who love those, not me – ever since childhood my father has stereotyped me as the artistic child and my sister as the scientific/mathematical one, even though we were both science/humanities/arts all-rounders at school.
  4. I have emotional issues.  OK, I knew that already.  But there is a list in the book of thirty-nine emotional states.  The idea is to try and remember when you last felt them, to understand emotions better.  I found it really hard to associate feelings with memories; I could remember situations, but not the emotions I felt in them.  Some of the emotions I knew only intellectually and a lot of them seemed very similar to me.  I’m not sure of the difference between being angry and being mad or perplexed and puzzled and while I know intellectually the difference between being distressed and anxious or terrified and afraid, I’m not sure how well I could identify them if I was feeling them.  I don’t know how much of this is Asperger’s and alexithymia (the inability to identify one’s emotions) and how much is depressive blunting of all emotions except a handful of negative ones (depression, despair, anxiety, loneliness).

(I’ve written a proper summary for this post that should come up in people’s readers.  If this works, I will try to write one for future posts, as I know my titles can be a bit cryptic.  Let me know what you think, please!)

The Other ABC: Asperger’s, Bullying and Communication

I’ve been thinking yesterday and today about bullying and Asperger’s/autism.  Not so much in the obvious way, whether being on the spectrum left me open to bullying (although obviously it did), but whether it contributed to it in a more subtle way.

When I was about thirteen, I was bullied by two girls who were friends with each other.  I don’t remember much of what they said or did to me.  I guess I’ve blotted it out.  I imagine it was a lot of verbal harassment (the usual pattern for when I was bullied), although I do have vivid memories of them throwing bits of broken saw blade at me in woodwork class.  After a couple of weeks I went to the teacher to complain about them, only to discover that they had already complained about me.  One of the girls was black and they said that I was bullying her because I was racist and bullying her friend for being friends with her.  This horrified me and I didn’t know what to say.  When the teacher asked if I was racist, my self-doubt kicked in and all I could say was that I didn’t think so.

At the time I was very upset by all of this.  In retrospect, I feel the teachers could have handled it better, maybe getting her to tell why she thought I was racist and what she thought I had been doing to bully her.  Lately I’ve been wondering if my Asperger’s played a part.  At the time, I assumed that the racism allegation was a deliberate lie to get me in trouble and to avoid being punished for their own bullying of me.  Now I wonder if it was a misunderstanding.  As virtually the only black girl in a Jewish school, I’m sure the girl who bullied me was on the receiving end of bullying herself.  This thought didn’t occur to me at the time, when I divided the world into bullies and victims with no movement from one side to the other; I probably also only associated racism with neo-Nazi extremists, not the more subtle everyday racism many people experience.  I wonder if, primed by her own experience of being bullied, my bully took my social anxiety and possible autistic spectrum disorder as evidence of deliberate rudeness to her on my part.  I can’t remember if she ever tried to be friendly towards me and I reacted awkwardly, but it certainly could have happened.

The pain and confusion around the incident still hurts, though, and the racism accusation may well have fed in to my pure O (pure obsession) OCD, my belief/fear that I could do terrible things and my pure O and depressive/low self-esteem thoughts that I am a terrible person.  By a curious chance, I happen to know that she seemed to turn out OK, becoming an actor and musician.  I saw her on TV a couple of times, although IMBD and Wikipedia don’t list her as having done anything for a couple of years, so I don’t know if she is still working in those industries.  I used to feel resentful about that, but now it’s just yet another instance of other people doing well while I stay lonely and in psychological distress.

Even many years on, my inter-personal communication is not always good.  I can be blunt and to the point at times; at other times I over-compensate by becoming too verbose.  I just had a conversation with my parents which went downhill rapidly, probably in part because of communication differences.  It was over the phone, which I always struggle with anyway, but I like focused conversation, whereas my parents like to ramble, with all kinds of unnecessary details and tangents.  I think they also like to talk for the sake of talking, to get things off their chests or just to create a social interaction, whereas I, like many autistic people, assume that every conversation has a point my interlocutor wants to get across or a problem to solve and I become confused, frustrated and/or irritable if I can’t find the point of what they are saying.

I also tend to be precise with my language and I can be quite pedantic about things like grammar and correct word usage, whereas my parents, my father in particular, can make mistakes in grammar and use malapropisms.  These annoy me a lot, even though I know they shouldn’t.  I can usually understand what they are saying, but part of my brain says that this is not standard English and I can’t understand it, so I query it, resulting in annoyance for them as well as for me, as they think I’m being pedantic and deliberately obtuse, which I suppose I am in a way.  They also make huge jumps from one subject to another and sometimes back again later that make sense in their heads, but not in mine or, again, I sort of understand what they are talking about, but find myself impelled to question to be sure.  I’m not quite sure how many of these communication issues are autistic, but I know some of them are.

Otherwise today has been a difficult day.  I had a blood test in the morning and an eye test in the afternoon.  The latter was very problematic because I shook again, which I haven’t done for a while.  It’s probably a medication interaction, but triggered by anxiety.  Before the test I had to stare into various machines for physical measurements of my eyes and when the puffed air into my eyes to check their pressure, I shook a little from the shock of it.  This probably set me up to feel that I would shake in the eye test itself, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Sure enough, I felt my space was being invaded when the optician was changing the lenses I was wearing or held anything over my eye and I shook, which I guess is Asperger’s again, as it’s the sense of space being invaded that creates the anxiety.  I hope that didn’t change the outcome of the test, because apparently I need new lenses in my glasses.

Small Victory

I had a whole post in my head, but I didn’t want to post two big things in one day, plus I’m too tired to write at the moment.  I’ll see if I am willing/able to post it tomorrow.

However, I do want to note that, with a lot of effort and willpower, I avoided writing a manipulatively self-loathing and drama queening comment on this Hevria post (the one I referred to in my last post).  It’s a Pyrrhic victory, as I self-loathed and drama queened here instead, but it’s better here, where at least people know what they’re letting themselves in for, than there.  Although to be honest I think most regular writers and readers of Hevria know what to expect from me too by now.

I feel bad about the way my depression and self-loathing sometimes manipulates me into trying to manipulate others into feeding me compliments or agreeing with my self-loathing.  I think I really want the self-loathing support rather than the compliments, believe it or not.  I guess because then my depression makes sense, becomes a rational response to my freakish and wicked uselessness rather than a painful, but apparently random event, or, if not random, part of some divine plan too esoteric to be of any comfort to me.  If everyone agrees that I’m a useless freak, then my self-loathing and depression are justified and I might as well give up on trying to recover.  But if people think I’m a good person, a good writer, a good anything, then I have to decide if and how I’m going to play to my strengths.  But I’ve spent about seventeen years – half my life! – struggling with severe depression, loneliness and self-loathing, feeling that I just can’t escape the dark side of my psyche/soul.  So if people say that they can see good in me despite that, then I have a duty to myself and to others to somehow accentuate the good and ‘recover’.  But I don’t know how to ‘recover’ and other people tend to be short on useful advice.  So I’m left struggling by myself.

Ugh, sorry, this has turned into another long and incoherent post.  (There I go self-loathing again.)  It’s really just the second paragraph that’s the important bit.  The rest is just self-justification, really.  I should go back to watching Doctor Who, but Castrovalva just isn’t that good.

On Not Belonging to Clubs that Would Have Me as a Member

I feel exhausted, physically and emotionally.  The last two days have been difficult, and I have a stack of mostly boring chores to do during my thirteen days off (“holiday” if you like, but I’m not going away and probably not relaxing much, between depression and chores, although I intend to enjoy not having to get up around 6.30am).  I can’t go into all the details publicly, but here is what I can say.

I was over-stretched at work yesterday because three people were off sick out of a team of seven, so I spent five and a half hours (out of seven excluding lunch) on the issue desk to cover for them, which was very difficult.  I found it hard to concentrate on my other work: I tried to catalogue while on the issue desk, but it was difficult and cataloguing meant I was less aware of students coming up and asking questions or returning books, so I kept having to respond to coughs as they tried to attract my attention; eventually I gave up on cataloguing there.  I am still having difficulty with some requests and have to ask my colleagues for help or advice, which I feel bad about.  I feel I should be settled in the job by now.  I also tend to mis-hear requests or need to ask people to repeat what they said because I’m so socially anxious that I can’t concentrate on what they are asking at first, because I’m too busy thinking “Oh no, someone’s talking to me!  What should I do?”  I was upset by something unpleasant one student said (not about me, but it was still upsetting to hear), which I had better not repeat here.  One adult student said I’m friendly, though, which was nice and unexpected.

Yesterday was the last day of teaching, but I had a staff development day today before my holiday starts.  It was OK, not really worth talking about here.  We had an activity in the afternoon that has left me completely exhausted, not helped by disrupted sleep the last few nights.  I keep waking up in the middle of the night and when I look at the clock, no matter what time it is, I think I’ve overslept and then think maybe I haven’t overslept after all and can not remember what time I’m supposed to get up and what order the numbers come in.  This isn’t insomnia and it’s not exactly depressive ‘early waking’ either as I fall asleep afterwards.  I don’t know what it is, or if anyone else suffers from it.

I should probably cut this paragraph, because I don’t come out of it particularly well, but here goes: I just saw a post on Hevria that upset me, through no fault of its own.  They are really building up a community there and I feel excluded on multiple counts: because I don’t live in New York to take part in meetings, because I would be too socially anxious to go even if I did live in New York; because I’m not sure I can justify to myself donating the money they are asking for on my current income; and because I really wanted to write regularly for them at one point.  To be fair, Elad did say a while back that he would like me to write more regularly for them, but nowadays I don’t see myself as a Hevria writer.  I’m too depressed and depressing, not creative, radical, optimistic and spiritual.  Anyway, I’m a very bad writer.  And all my writing time (such as it is) goes on my Doctor Who book (which will never get published because it’s a saturated market and, as I said, I’m a very bad writer) or blogging, which is procrastination and venting, really, but necessary to get stuff out of my system and function, like sneezing (and about as literary).  Like this post, really, which is just a blatant attempt to fish for compliments (again).

Still, it upsets me to see this big club which I’ve never quite managed to join, even though I know a lot of the people involved are really nice and I would like to be friends with them, but they live on another continent and they wouldn’t want to know me if they met me in person, because I’m weird and boring and not creative, radical, spiritual, optimistic etc. etc. etc.  I do wish I had a community, though (I also wish someone would pay me for my writing, which is vulgar, but it’s about being valued as much as the money).  My shul is doing  a communal Friday night dinner in a few weeks and I know I should go, but I also know I will feel lonely and depressed because I will be practically the only single, childless person there (it’s billed as a family event) and will probably be too shy to talk all evening and maybe not even able to sit with anyone I like, so I’ve been procrastinating on paying for a space.  I feel such a freak sometimes always.

On a related note, various friends and relatives are trying to persuade me to go to a shadchan (matchmaker) after the one I contacted a few weeks ago did not get back to me.  I feel reluctant to, because the service it makes most sense for me to go to requires a monthly payment (it’s essentially a cross between the traditional shadchan and online dating) and because I’m a freak (I may have mentioned this before*) and not only do I feel unable to mention my Doctor Who geekery, yeshiva non-attendance, mental health issues (and their religious impact) and general religious struggles to a date, I don’t even feel I could mention them to the shadchan because I feel so ashamed of who I am and what I do.  But I don’t have any other way of meeting suitable women, so it’s either go or be single forever.  I do wonder if I’m too depressed to date, too lacking in energy, concentration and time.  I’ve been told energy and so on will come if I start dating, which doesn’t seem very likely.  I’ve also read that one shouldn’t date when very depressed, which would mean never dating in my case, as my non-depressed periods only last a couple of months;  just as I think I’ve “recovered” (whatever that means) and can think about moving on with my life, I start feeling depressed again.

I suppose I might as well admit that I’ve been having vague suicidal thoughts again.  I don’t want to kill myself, but sometimes I fantasise about doing so in an unrealistic way and a lot of the time I just wish that I wasn’t here.  There doesn’t seem to be very much going on in my life that makes me want to look forward to 2018, let alone 2020, 2030 or 2050 and, as I’ve said before, I don’t feel I have the usual religious get-out of reward in the next world, because I think I’ve sinned too much and that God just hates me.  I feel guilty about this as I know I have a few friends and family who would be upset and in any case, I don’t approve of suicide religiously, but I can’t really control where my mind goes (the reason CBT never worked for my depression) and trying to do so just provokes guilt for thinking of ‘forbidden’ thoughts.

This post sounds so adolescent, I can’t believe I’ll thirty-five next year.  I feel like a sixteen year old.  Actually, I wasn’t even this adolescent when I genuinely was a depressed sixteen year old.  Be that as it may, pizza and the start of Peter Davison’s time on Doctor Who beckons, if I can get the energy and motivation to daven Ma’ariv (say the evening prayers) and actually cook the pizza.

* Wasn’t I trying to stop the negative self-talk?  It’s very difficult, because it seems so true.

Overwhelmed by Emotions (written over two days)

Written Sunday 17 December:

I feel very depressed today and I don’t know why.  I just want to curl up in bed and sleep.  It’s pretty much impossible to do anything, even to read.  I managed a little bit of work on my Doctor Who book and three minutes (!) of Torah study and a few minutes sorting some stuff on online banking, but that was about it.

I took another Asperger’s test online.  As with many of these things, I came out quite neurotypical in some ways, quite autistic in others.  I might have come out more neurodivergent if some of the questions hadn’t been oddly worded, and there hadn’t been so many questions about relationships and sex that I couldn’t answer properly from lack of experience.

One of my non-biological sisters sent me a link to a page with “15 Easy Things You Can Do to Help When You Feel Like ****“.  The problem is I do or have done almost all of them.  One or two help a little bit (e.g. exercise, which I haven’t done for too long), but most of them don’t help much, or at best make sure I’m ‘merely’ very depressed and not suicidally depressed.  Another article on the same site (which I gave up on) stressed the importance of exercise and social interaction, but the former is hard when you have no time because of work, a long commute and religious obligations and it’s cold and dark out when you’re not at work (I can’t afford to join a gym) and the latter is almost impossible with social anxiety and Asperger’s (and when you’re a freak who doesn’t know how to talk to other people and that no one wants to talk to anyway).

Written Monday 18 December:

I’m still in the office.  I have finished work for the day, but I need to type to try to get rid of some of my thoughts.  I was more or less OK this morning, although it was hard to concentrate (end of term, I guess) and I had some OCD at lunch, but the afternoon has been hard.  About 2.30pm one of my colleagues came to the office to talk to the second in command in the library (my boss being at the other campus).  They went into the conference room and I could hear my colleague crying.  I don’t know what she was so upset about, but I nearly burst into tears in sympathy just from hearing her.  She went home shortly afterwards, so I ended up being on the issue desk for most of the afternoon to cover for her.  I didn’t know what to say to her when she left, and felt bad for not handling the situation well.

My social interactions on the issue desk were difficult again and I made some mistakes.  I am probably beating myself up for trivial things, but I feel that I am not coping here.  I suddenly started feeling really anxious about three quarters of an hour ago and I don’t know why.  I guess it’s partly guilt/self-criticism for the mistakes and partly from the books I was cataloguing.  I was cataloguing a book about the use of psychological profiling to help the police solve serious crimes.  I started worrying about my own dark side and whether that corresponded with those profiles.  Worrying if I would ever commit a serious crime.  This is probably OCD (pure O – obsessional worrying without compulsions) and indeed I did have some religious OCD today too.  But that doesn’t make it easier to live with when you are beating yourself up for crimes you haven’t committed.  It’s not too out of control, I can see they are just thoughts, but it’s still hard.  For the last half-hour or so my muscles have been painfully tense and my brain is just not working.  For the last five or ten minutes of the work day I couldn’t really do much more than just try to breathe because I felt so tense and anxious.  I haven’t felt this bad for nearly a year, when I was often missing work in my old job.  I hoped I wouldn’t be that bad in this job.  I’m glad that we are almost at the end of term, because I feel I can’t cope.

For the first time, I have borrowed some books from the library where I work to read over the holiday: two books on Asperger’s Syndrome (to try to understand myself better and find some tips on coping with social interactions – one book has a whole section on romantic relationships) and one on Gothic fiction (as background research for my Doctor Who book).

Sex, Love, Virginity and Fear of Missing Out

(My first scheduled post, I hope it posts OK.  Apologies if it hasn’t.)

I’ve noticed that, without really intending it, I’ve mentioned more than a few times here that I’m in my mid-thirties and a virgin.  It’s been on my mind a lot recently.  I think it comes out here because, outside of therapy, I don’t have anywhere to voice these thoughts.  I have never really been able to talk to my parents about sex and relationships.  I don’t really have friends that I feel comfortable talking to much about them either, certainly not to send them stuff like this out of the blue.  Actually, that’s not quite true, I talk to my non-biological sisters a bit about it, but then I feel embarrassed afterwards and wonder if I said too much and even then I don’t do it often.  Obviously I can’t talk about it at work, although sometimes I feel conscious that all my colleagues have at least one child, so they have all had sex at least once (let’s limit ourselves to the observable facts here, Watson.  And discount IVF for the moment).

I feel bad about mentioning it.  I feel I should be, somehow, above such things.  As a frum (religious) Jew, I’m supposed to think that sex is really good and important, but only in marriage and even in the context of marriage, one shouldn’t talk about it.  (It can be quite comical watching rabbis struggling with euphemisms when they have to talk about sex in sermons and drashas, although I still prefer such bowdlerisations to the stark vulgarity of postmodern slang.)  So within the frum community people are supposed to be having a lot of (marital) sex, but no one ever mentions it, even as the number of children ever multiplies.  And no one ever stops to talk about what the people who aren’t married should be doing (or shouldn’t be doing).

Beyond that… well, I’m probably somewhat autistic, so I’m not good at understanding and expressing interpersonal and emotional stuff at all.  So I can’t really understand what love and sex means to other people and I struggle to say what it means to me (hence this rambling post, as I try to understand what I think and express it somehow to you).  And I have mentioned that a lot of the fiction that resonated with me growing up implicitly celebrated celibacy: Tintin, Sherlock Holmes, the original Doctor Who (before Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffatt decided that the Doctor was a babe-magnet and that the original series was flawed for not featuring enough romance (I am actually worried about what incoming show-runner Chris Chibnall will do to the programme, given his track record, but that’s a subject for another time and another blog, when I’m ready to face the flame war).  Star Trek is an odd one, as Kirk was obviously a womaniser, but I was much more interested in Spock and later Data, both asexual (mostly).  I liked James Bond, but fast-forwarded through the sex until I got to about eighteen and realised I loathed everything about the character.

I doubt that this fiction messed me up emotionally.  More likely I looked (unconsciously) for heroes who also didn’t know what to say to girls and weren’t really interested anyway.  There was a reasonably big gap for me between hitting puberty physically and being emotionally interested in girls, about two or three years where I could have been dating but had no real interest in doing so.  That golden age eventually ended and I discovered that girls simply didn’t like me (actually I spent several years pining after them, but being too shy to ask them out, or really to talk to them at all), so asexual fiction became an escape from my intuition that I would be alone forever.

(I will add parenthetically that when Doctor Who came back in 2005 with a libido, those of us who felt uncomfortable with this were often branded online as emotionally-retarded freaks who couldn’t get girlfriends.  The fact that I already saw myself as an emotionally-retarded freak who had never had a girlfriend did not make me feel less ashamed or stigmatised.)

These days I think the fact that I can’t stop thinking about, and feeling vaguely ashamed of, being a thirty-something single virgin has less to do with sex, however.  To some extent, it’s about love, about wanting to love and be loved, to be accepted, and instead feeling ignored and forgotten by those around me.  But I think it’s largely about fear of missing out.  Feeling that being a single virgin makes me inadequate, proof that I’m a freak and emotionally disturbed and that no sensible woman would ever go near me.  Fear that I’m missing out on a world of adult pleasures both in terms of sex and love and the less-romantic things that follow on from that (home-building, child-rearing, being part of a community that tends to see single people as exceptions in need of help in conforming by being partnered up).

But also that sex comes to stand for various other pleasures and experiences that I have never had and probably never will have, because the depression, the social anxiety and the Asperger’s/autism get in the way.  This is a list of stuff that I’ve never done and in some cases would never want to do (usually because of the Asperger’s) but which many people in the Western world have done at least once and are considered highly enjoyable and/or meaningful (in no particular order):

  1. drunk alcohol (excluding kiddish wine, one or two sips of my parents’ drinks when I was a child and a shot of whisky I downed by mistake in kiddish once having mistaken it for grape juice);
  2. gone to a rock concert;
  3. really enjoyed a party, without having to go outside to escape at times (as an adult);
  4. had a friend who is close enough, emotionally and geographically, that we can just pop round to each others’ houses for a chat or tea;
  5. had a ‘peak experience’ (in Maslow’s terms);
  6. had an intense religious experience (not the borderline-psychotic experiences I had at university, where for a second or two I believed I was mashiach (the messiah);
  7. gone travelling by myself or with a friend/partner (not family);
  8. been able to meditate properly (I’ve tried.  I’ve managed a bit when the depression isn’t bad);
  9. flirted with someone (I’m only vaguely aware of what flirting is.  My therapist said I flirted with my ex a bit and I once ended up saying something that sounded more flirtatious than I intended to a girl I had a crush on at Oxford, so maybe that should be flirted successfully with someone);
  10. had someone flirt with me (my ex tried a few times, I think, but she came across too strong and explicit and used to scare me.  This was probably part of the reason she thought I was frigid);
  11. been kissed properly and enjoyed it (not what happened that felt more like abuse);
  12. exercised properly (I run a little bit, but can only run for a minute or two without dropping back into a walk, which worries me enough to make me wonder if I have undiagnosed physical health problems.  I haven’t done any real exercise since starting to work longer hours, though);
  13. talk meaningfully to a stranger;
  14. had a pet other than goldfish.  I mean a pet I can pet, like a cat or a rabbit;
  15. been loved romantically, properly;
  16. brought up children;
  17. been happy for a reasonably prolonged period rather than just vaguely content and not depressed (although I would settle for content and not depressed right now);
  18. really felt part of a community.

Some of these things are trivial; others are major parts of the human condition.  Some I suppose I may have experienced a bit (I did qualify several of them), but others, like sex, are totally unknown to me.  I feel like I’m missing out a big part of life and my virginity is emblematic of that.

I don’t know what to do about this.  By this stage I feel that I don’t know how to become a mentally-healthy person and never will know.  Which in turn means that no one could ever love me and I probably wouldn’t be capable of truly loving someone else.  My parents were encouraging me to go to another shadchan (matchmaker) after the one who didn’t get back to me recently, but I don’t feel much inclined to do so.  My Mum said, what if there is a woman out there who is perfect for me wondering if she will meet someone, but I doubt it and if she is there I doubt I could meet her anyway.  It seems easier just to give up and resign myself to being single forever.

I guess I better stop there, as writing this post has brought up a lot of difficult feelings that I had suppressed and did not understand for a long time and I actually feel very depressed, despairing, agitated and anxious (I think – alexithymia again) just thinking about these things.

Leaping Souls

I’m writing this idly while waiting for Mum to wake up so we can light Chanukah candles (she’s not feeling well, so we haven’t lit yet).  I wasn’t planning on writing as I don’t really have much to say today, or rather, I do, but I need time to process things, discuss them with my therapist (who is away until January now) and internalise them and even then some of them may be too personal to write.  But I’m at a loose end, so I’ll write a bit of what I’ve been feeling over the last few weeks and especially over Shabbat (the Sabbath).

Shabbat was hard again.  I felt quite depressed and socially anxious in shul (synagogue) on Friday night again and slept through Shabbat morning after insomnia on Friday night.  The depression really does hit me in shul on Shabbat evening, when I’m away from the displacement activity of work.  I felt better during dinner, but felt very depressed and anxious during my hitbodedut.  Hitbodedut (literally ‘making oneself alone’) combines elements of prayer, meditation and, I guess, therapy.  Whereas prayer in Judaism usually means set prayers, in Hebrew, with a minyan (prayer quorum), hitbodedut is just talking to God in the vernacular, for as long as you want, saying whatever you want.  During the week it’s been very hard to do lately, partly from tiredness, partly from the ‘blocked’ nature of so much of my life, particularly my religious life, at the moment.  But on Shabbat it all comes out.  A lot of pain and depression and guilt and probably some anxiety and maybe sometimes anger.  Feelings of inadequacy and wondering how I can go on.

Lately I wonder how I can go on, why I’m still a frum (religious) Jew when Judaism probably causes me some pain and certainly uses a lot of energy, motivation and concentration that is in short supply with the depression, social anxiety and Asperger’s.  It’s not for reward, because I feel like God hates me and wants to punish me and that I don’t deserve a share in Olam HaBa (the Next World).  It’s not for fear of punishment, because even though I know rationally that punishment in Olam HaBa is worse than anything in this world, what I have been suffering over the last seventeen years or so seems as bad as anything else I could suffer; anyway, suffering in Olam HaBa only lasts one year, then you go to your reward or, if you’re really bad, your soul just stops existing.  That seems better than what I’m going through now, which has been going on for seventeen years (at least) and could go on for another seventy. It’s not for family reasons, because I’m the most religious person in my immediate family, so I’m not fitting in with the others.  It’s not from peer pressure, because most of my friends are not frum or not Jewish and most of the Jewish friendships have been made after things got hard for me.  It’s not for community, because I don’t feel I belong to one.  It’s not for simcha shel mitzvah (the joy of performing the commandments) because I don’t generally feel it because of the depression, although I do love Shabbat.

All I know is the story told by the Kotzker Rebbe (my hero), that all the souls come down to Earth from Heaven and the angel pulls up the ladder behind them.  God says, “Leap up to Heaven.”  Some souls say, “It’s impossible to leap from Earth to Heaven” and don’t even try.  Some try for a bit, but soon give up.  But some say, “If God tells me to leap into Heaven, I must keep trying” and they try and try and eventually God has mercy on them and reaches down and pulls them into Heaven.

I guess for me the jumping is an end in itself.  It’s the triumph of will over experience.  I believe in God and in the divine authorship of the Torah, so I jump, even though it hurts and even though I don’t expect to get anything positive out of it.

Anyway, I can’t imagine not being a Jew and I can’t imagine Judaism without halakhah (Jewish law/practice) – all attempts at creating cultural or non-halakhic Judaisms seem to me to be problematic and question-begging.  So I keep halakhah to be a Jew, because I am a Jew and I know I want to be a Jew.  Maybe it doesn’t have to be any deeper than that.

Too Much Too Much

I made some mistakes at work again.  They weren’t really awful, in the grand scheme of things, but I probably beat myself up about them more than I should.  One of the students said I had a bad attitude.  I suspect she was projecting her own anger and bad attitude onto me, but I felt guilty in case she was right and my tone of voice was harsher than I intended.  This does happen to me sometimes, probably a lot more when I was a child. I understand that it’s another Asperger’s/autism trait.  Poor executive function (another Asperger’s issue) has been a problem at work lately too.  I used to think that this wasn’t a problem for me, but now I increasingly suspect it is.  I know I’m indecisive, but I thought that was just my personality, but it could be the Asperger’s.  More pertinently, while I’m very self-motivated, I do find it hard to get down to things and to switch from one thing to another.  It’s another reason I hate being on the issue desk, because I will be doing some work and then a student will come up and ask a question or return a book and I have to go back and forth from one task to another, involving a multitude of windows and programs on my computer and I get lost.  I worry that I made a fool of myself to my boss today getting confused when switching windows and doing different tasks while we were working on something together on my computer.

Then WordPress recommended one far-right antisemitic blog and one far-left anti-Zionist/borderline antisemitic blog to me.  I think WordPress’ recommendation algorithm picked up the word ‘Jews’ and decided they must be like my blog.  This stuff upsets me more than it should.  I should be immune to antisemitism by now, having experienced so much of it, but it always gets to me.  I think it’s the injustice of it that hurts me, because unlike other unjustified criticism (e.g. that student who thought I had a bad attitude) I don’t really worry that it might be true (well, maybe some anti-Zionist criticism, but not the blog that argued that Donald Trump is a puppet of the international Jewish conspiracy and will convert to Judaism any day now).  Anyway, I don’t want to make this into a political blog, so I’ll stop there, but I can internal-monologue on this for hours (Asperger’s again).  Sigh.  As an aside, there don’t seem to be many Jewish blogs on WordPress, judging by the blogs I get recommended and the people who follow my blog, who seem to come mainly via recommendations on WordPress, so far as I can tell.  Few people seem to come here from my comments on Hevria.

I’ve had a few things I’ve wanted to blog about the last few days, but I haven’t really had the time with Chanukah and work.  I’ve been at my parents’ house for ‘candle’ lighting every night (candle in inverted commas because I actually use olive oil lamps).  This has been good but it takes a whole chunk out of my evening.  I’m desperately trying to get to the end of term in one piece.  I’ve just got to get through two ‘proper’ work days and one staff development day, then I have thirteen days off.  Thirteen days to sleep in and to work on my Doctor Who book and maybe do some of the exercising and cooking I have been neglecting lately, but also thirteen days to potentially be depressed and lonely – the depression, loneliness and self-loathing have been lurking in the background again lately.  I’ve been using very negative self-talk in my internal monologues again.  I don’t think I ever stopped really, but I think I might have done it less for a bit, but am doing more again.  I’m calling myself a “freak” a lot again, thinking I’ll never get married (the shadchan (matchmaker) I contacted never got back to me).  My parents were all excited that they have three weddings of friends’ children to go to next year and it was hard for me not to say something inappropriate about how depressed they were making me feel.  At least my sister’s marriage is out of the way, but I still need to deal with my friend’s wedding next year.  It’s a year (pretty much exactly) since I last felt suicidal, but I was feeling a bit that way today.  Not that I actually wanted to kill myself, but that I wished I wasn’t here.  The pure O (obsession/OCD) thoughts of throwing myself under a train, which is normally just a distraction that doesn’t bother me much somehow seem more worrying, less a fear that I will go crazy and impulsively jump for no reason and more a worry that one day I might really jump from real despair.

Anyway, what I wanted to write about tonight (this post has been a massive digression to vent so far) is something that happened at shiur tonight.  I realised that I knew quite a bit, Jewishly and secularly, but that I was too scared to share it.  Scared of being wrong (I did answer one question incorrectly, probably due to nerves/social anxiety as I did know the right answer), but also scared of being right and seeming ‘too clever’, like I was bullied and told off for being when I was growing up, especially if I say that someone else is wrong.  Also scared of knowing something I shouldn’t.  I’ll explain the last two points.

The shiur was about ChanukahChanukah, for those who don’t know, commemorates when the Greeks who ruled the land of Israel (actually the Seleucid (Greek-descended) rulers of Syria, but their culture was Hellenic/Greek) tried to impose Hellenic culture on the Jews there and basically destroy Judaism as a religion, or at least turn it into something less monotheistic and distinctively Jewish and more pagan and universalist.  The Jews rebelled and won, purified the Temple and struggled to light the menorah (lamp) because the Greeks had defiled all the olive oil, but found a tiny jar of pure oil that miraculously burned for eight days, exactly the time needed for them to prepare more oil.

The rabbi who gave the shiur constructed a whole philosophical structure around this about Greek culture, what it was and how it compares with Jewish culture.  It was interesting, but I had two problems.  One was I had heard a different interpretation, probably a complementary one, I haven’t really thought it through, which I was too scared to share with people in case it looked like I was criticising the rabbi or showing off.  There was also some general discussion at the end that I could have joined in with, but was scared to for the same reason.  But there were also things I was scared to say for fear of showing off secular knowledge and privileging that over Torah.  I wasn’t 100% convinced that his analysis of Hellenic culture fitted with what I have read in secular sources and I certainly wasn’t convinced that his analysis of Sadducee religion, which he brought in, was at all correct.  The Sadducees were a Jewish sect in late antiquity.  He was correct that they were heavily influenced by Hellenism, unlike the Pharisees, the ancestors of rabbinic Judaism, but I’m not convinced that they didn’t want to serve God; rather they were textual literalists who rejected the oral tradition, which isn’t the same thing to my way of thinking, even if it did lead to major differences in belief and practice from Pharisaic/rabbinic Judaism.  I suppose it says something about me that I’m still thinking about this, trying to find a way to reconcile what the rabbi said with what I have read and learnt elsewhere rather than just saying he’s wrong.  But I’m scared to ask the question for fear of looking too ‘modern’ and secular-influenced and for fear of looking like I’m attacking him with my degree in history (not that I studied ancient history or Jewish history at university).

I do feel that I often have things to share with people (comments, jokes, even quotations that I feel are appropriate or amusing), but I hold back for fear of what people would think.  Too intellectual.  Too elitist.  Too geeky.   Too weird.  Too religious.  Too secular.  Too irritating.  Maybe this is wrong of me.  Maybe I hold too much of myself back for anyone to be able to get to know, and maybe even like, the real me, let alone to build up intimacy and friendship.  But I’m too scared of rejection, from my childhood experiences and from my experiences on dates where I have opened up to women and tried to show them a bit of the real me (not the intense things I share here, but just my knowledge and personality, plus sometimes the existence of my mental health issues), only to be rejected.  I know I share a lot of things here, but I think I don’t really believe that other people are going to read this when I write, at least on some level and I do hold some things back, actually in some ways more now that I know that I have more readers and I can try to predict what they want to read (so fewer irrelevant quotations from Doctor Who, for example).

It is hard to know how I can open up to more people in an appropriate way in the future.  I guess this is something that the book I bought on social anxiety might be able to help me with (I haven’t started using it yet because I’ve been too busy), but I worry that the Asperger’s prevents me from judging when it is appropriate to say something and so I err on the side of caution and say nothing.  I worry that this is impossible to change and so I will never fit in, make friends, find a community or get married.

Chanukah Present

It’s Chanukah!  The present I would most like (apart from things like world peace and health and happiness for my friends and family) is to be set up on a date with a woman who actually likes me and is suitable for me.  Doesn’t look like happening though.  The woman my Mum was trying to set me up with doesn’t seem to be interested and I’m still waiting to hear back from the shadchanit (matchmaker) who specialises in people with health issues or other ‘sensitive’ circumstances.  I don’t know where I go from here, as I was pinning a lot of my hopes on one of those two working.  I suppose I should go to an ordinary shadchan who might turn me away or try to set me up with a “normal” woman (we know how well that works).  Sigh.  The possibility of ever getting married seems to recede into the distance…

Addiction (Books Do Furnish a Room)

I don’t have many vices, or indeed things I enjoy, but I have an addiction to buying second-hand books.  Being a librarian allows me to feed my addiction, as I can buy cheap books off the withdrawn pile.  But whatever slight boost I get from buying them (and it is a slight boost, my anhedonia sees to that) is eroded later when I realise I’m never going to read all the books I buy.

Today I ended up with four books from the “for sale” pile.  One on Islamism, one on politics and economics (deliberately buying something that will challenge my political views, vague and contradictory as they are), one on political history (probably the most interesting-looking) and one on psychology: one of Maslow’s books on self-actualisation.  I thought should at least own the book, given that I use his hierarchy of needs to beat myself up about the impossibility of my ever being happy and having “peak experiences” when so many of my basic needs can not be met.

Goodness knows when I will get to read the books.  I don’t have much time for recreational reading as it is between my job, the book I’m writing, my blog (which is often a need for self-expression rather than a luxury) and my religious obligations; when I do have time to read I’m often too tired or too depressed to do so, and all these books look heavy-going.  I already have a huge ‘too read’ pile (or piles, plural, as I’m a re-reader – it often takes me two goes to really ‘get’ a serious book, whether fiction or non-fiction; the same goes for TV and film, incidentally) and I’m getting stack more books for Chanukah, possibly indicative of a lack of imagination on my part.  There was no point asking for DVDs as I’m going to be stuck watching Doctor Who for another year or so as research for my book.  I would like a new tie for shul, but other than that I hate getting clothes for presents, as I have little interest in them.  I wanted something I would enjoy after a difficult, tiring term with resurgent depression and lots of little somethings on several nights of Chanukah (rather than one big one on first night) so I could feel I had some parental attention after my sister’s wedding even if the monetary cost to them is the same.  We don’t do surprise presents very much in my family and anyway my sister is the only person I really trust to buy me surprise presents, so I had to choose something.  Anyway, the librarian doth protest too much, methinks.

Still, I once worked out I spend about £1 a week on books.  Even if I spend twice that, it’s still only about £100 a year and I do at least read some of them.  As hobbies go, it’s cheaper than most.  £100 would be fewer than ten trips to the cinema, and I must get more than 30 hours of pleasure out of a year’s worth of books.

Feeling like a Depressive Autistic Freak

I’m mildly snowed in, but I’ve got to go out soon to see some friends and do urgent food shopping.  It has at least stopped snowing now.  I haven’t really done anything all day except sleep and eat.  I feel depressed and lacking in motivation.  I did email the shadchanit for people with health issues.  I will have to wait and see how that turns out.

I did manage to clean the flat.  This doesn’t take very long in a flat this tiny, but it takes a lot of effort to get going, which could be depressive lack of motivation and energy, or autistic poor executive function or plain procrastination/laziness.

I texted my boss to check that college will be open tomorrow despite the snow.  I had to ask, or else risk a long trip across London for no purpose, but I’m worried she will think I’m hoping to skive (again).

Added 8.45pm: I’m just back from dinner with some friends.  I feel the Asperger’s and the social anxiety won out over me.  My friends asked about my sister’s wedding and I was unable to answer the way they wanted.  Things like the food, the decor and my sister’s dress don’t matter much to me and I didn’t really notice much or have the vocabulary to describe what I did notice.  I was surprised that one (female) friend who has never shown much interest in fashion or the like before was suddenly desperate to find out what my sister’s dress looked like (it was white and had a long train and beyond that I neither know nor really care).

One of my other friends who was there recently got engaged and his fiancée came.  I had not known of her existence until I heard they were engaged a few weeks ago, but apparently they have been together for three years.  You may guess from this that most (all?) of my friendships are not close.  I can’t go to the wedding because it’s in another city in term time and I won’t be able to get the time off work, but I didn’t say anything because I’m too embarrassed and ashamed, although I don’t know why.  Maybe because part of me is secretly glad not to have to go to another party.

I tried to make a good impression on his fiancée, but found myself unable to say much; when she tried to engage me in conversation directly, I was unable to say anything other than “yes” and “no,” although I wanted to be more communicative.  My friend pointed out that I was wearing my college scarf (we were at the same Oxford college) and she asked if I’ve ever been back.  I said yes and she asked if I enjoyed going back; I didn’t like to say that I felt terrible when I went back because all I could think of were the places where I was lonely, the places where I was despairing, the places where I was suicidal…  Then I had to run off to catch my bus to avoid waiting in the cold for twenty minutes, which was probably rude.  So she probably thinks I’m a freak (she would be correct).

I’m glad that my friend has got engaged, but I feel secretly envious that he has a pretty, friendly and intelligent fiancée and I’m a freak who will be lonely forever.  I also felt envious that everyone at the table had a good job, whereas I’m a “poor devil of a sub-sub-librarian”.  That said, I wouldn’t want to be a property or tax lawyer, but I did envy the doctor and the academic.  I don’t even work full-time.

The score from the weekend: Luftmentsch 1, depression 1, social anxiety 1, Asperger’s 1.  So Luftmentsch 1, mental health and developmental disorders 3.  And that’s probably being generous to myself.

(I wonder if this bad mood is entirely from feeling I did badly from a socialising point of view or whether the rich chocolate mousse-meringue-cake I had for dessert has led me to have a blood sugar crash?  I always crash when I eat out with friends or family and I always assumed it was from feeling lonely and incompetent (I worry about saying the wrong thing at the meal, eating with people reminds me how rarely I see friends, and seeing couples out makes me feel painfully single), but maybe it’s a blood sugar thing.  In which case I will have to cut back on one of my few pleasant luxuries, the occasional piggy chocolate dessert.  Blast.)

Thoughts I’ve had this Evening

Someone as messed up as me doesn’t deserve to be happy…

…so it’s just as well that I can’t ever be happy.

I just want someone to tell me I’m a good person…

…and let myself believe them, which is harder.

I feel so lonely…

…I wish there was someone here with me…

…which I can now understand as wanting someone I feel comfortable talking to or just being with, but also someone I feel comfortable touching and letting her touch me, gently and affectionately more than just sexually…

…One of my (female) friends once said that I tend to fall for “alpha women” who aren’t interested in me.  I’m not sure if that’s completely true (about them being alpha women, they certainly aren’t interested in me), but I guess some of them would qualify…

…but saying I’m looking for someone gentle, caring, quiet and family-focused is hard, because I feel like I’m saying that I’m looking for some stereotyped pre-feminist Victorian Stepford Wife, when really all I’m saying is that I want to marry someone like myself (I’m not sure if I’m caring, but I’m gentle, quiet and family-focused)…

…for the record, I cook, clean, grocery shop and can launder, iron and sew (the latter very badly).  I’m not looking for a domestic servant or living doll.  I have no problem with my wife going to work leaving me as a house-husband if it makes economic sense for us.  I just want to meet someone like me, someone I would feel able to trust: thoughtful, intelligent, gentle, caring, quiet, family-focused and with a sense of integrity both in terms of being honest and in terms of being true to herself and her unique character…

…Maybe if I show that last paragraph to the shadchanit she might know someone suitable?

On a different note, I spent much of the evening downloading photos from my sister’s wedding.  I didn’t even take that many, and some came out blurred because of problems with my camera’s flash, or off-centre because I had to stay out of the way of the official photographer.  Oh well.  I don’t know if anyone’s interested in seeing them.  I can’t put them up here because of my anonymity and because there are photos of young children that I wouldn’t put up without their parents’ permission, but if anyone I know in real life (or have known online for a long time) wants the Snapfish link, please email me.  I didn’t take many photos (even fewer once I weeded out the really bad ones).  Maybe I was too busy experiencing the event or maybe I just felt too nervous too much of the time.  I’m not sure.  Certainly I spent a lot of the evening elsewhere, during the dancing.

New Perspectives

I had a fairly awful Shabbat (Sabbath), but I think I realised some new things about myself.  Firstly, I seem to be OK during the work week.  In the mornings I feel depressed, but I have to rush to work.  Then work is a distraction and in the evenings I’m exhausted and just eat and go to bed.  On Thursday evening I can begin to wind down a bit and Friday is rushing with therapy and Shabbat preparations, but then I go to shul and suddenly I have limited distractions for the next twenty-five hours and not much distraction for a day or so after that and things can get difficult.

In shul I was feeling very depressed and self-critical.  I can’t remember exactly what I was feeling, but it was stuff like, “I’m a freak, I’m a bad person, God hates me, I’m much worse than everyone else in my community, I have no share in Olam HaBa (the World to Come i.e. Heaven)…”  I started thinking about what would happen if, It’s a Wonderful Life-style (I’ve never seen the film, but I know the plot),  I was shown what life would be like for those around me if I had never been born.  I found it hard to imagine that it would be much different.  My parents would still have my sister.  My friends all have other friends.  I’ve done one or two good things in my life, but not many, certainly not many that were difficult enough that I can really take credit for the effort involved.  I carried on thinking like this until I got home, depressed enough that I crawled into bed fully dressed (this would be about five o’clock) and eventually dozed until dinner at six.  (This meant I couldn’t sleep later.)  I felt better at dinner, but was probably a bit irritable and felt worse for quite a while after dinner, although I improved before bed.

I woke up at 8.00am today and should have gone to shul (synagogue), but was feeling too depressed and just went back to sleep.  I didn’t get up until something like 1.00pm and it took even longer to get dressed, even after I’d had some breakfast.  By that time there were only a couple of hours of Shabbat left, so that was spent mainly eating and davening (praying).  I didn’t do much Torah study as I have a bit of headache, not a bad one, but it won’t shift.  I was too tired/depressed/lazy to go back to shul for Ma’ariv (the evening service).

I hadn’t felt that self-loathing and depressed for a while.  I had decided that I was going to email the shadchan (matchmaker) I found who specialises in people with medical and other ‘issues’ (having given up waiting for my parents to contact the friends whose daughter they want to set me up with and not being at all sure that she is frum (religious) enough for me anyway), but now I wonder if that’s at all a good idea.

The other thing worth noting happened today when I realised that what I describe is loneliness really is loneliness, but also sexual frustration.  It’s hard for me to describe that because, being a virgin (at thirty-four!) I don’t really know what I want nor do I have a vocabulary to describe it (even without alexithymia making it hard to understand what I feel), plus as a frum Jew I’m not supposed to talk about sex at all, really, especially as I’m single; it’s something that is supposed to happen between husband and wife and isn’t supposed to be mentioned outside that context.  When I had an essay published on Hevria about being scared of sex, I didn’t show my family for fear of what they would say and I didn’t let Hevria publish it under my real name.  I wanted to talk about sex to my therapist this week, but somehow we got distracted on to something else, but I didn’t really know what I wanted to say anyway.

I’ve mentioned that sex for me is tied up with feelings like love, intimacy and acceptance.  I can’t imagine that I could ever be promiscuous, even if I wasn’t frum.  So it’s easy to see that sexual frustration is part of what I feel when I experience what I call ‘loneliness’, because my desire for love, intimacy and acceptance (loneliness) is inseparable from my desire for sex.  It might (I’ll put it no stronger than that) explain why, since I was eighteen (i.e. about half my life) all my closest friends have been women.  Since then I’ve generally had one close friend (inasmuch as I have close friends) who ‘happens’ to be female, and usually I feel that, if things were different, I would like to go out with her.  Usually I can’t because she’s not Jewish or not frum or not interested in me like that; sometimes there’s some other reason of incompatibility.  It’s very frustrating.

Right now I’m supposed to be downloading my photos from my sister’s wedding or doing some Torah study (now my headache has mostly gone), but I just want to go to bed (my flat is freezing – I’ve got my dressing gown on over my clothes (several layers) and I’m thinking of boiling some water on the hob just to warm the flat up!) or, failing that, watch Doctor Who, which is probably a better idea given what happened yesterday when I went to bed early (i.e. insomnia later).

More Psychologically-Inspired Thoughts (Empathy, Alexithymia and Asperger’s)

I mentioned the other day that I wonder if I have a proper theory of mind (intuitive understanding that other people think differently to me, thought to be absent in autistic people – I’m going to assume for this post (and in most of my posts) that Asperger’s Syndrome is synonymous with high functioning autism).  Today I was flicking through a book at work, deciding whether to withdraw it, and came across a theory of mind test.  It is hard for me to analyse myself properly using these, as I have seen them before and know the right answer (when I first saw them, I was unaware that I might be autistic and did not use them to test myself), but I was skim reading fast enough that I was not so aware of the context.  I think I failed it (i.e. failed to realise that another person would not know something I knew, indicating that I might be autistic), with the caveat that I was skimming very fast and so (a) am not 100% sure what I answered and (b) am not 100% sure whether I read the question properly.  So the result is rather suspect, but suggests that I might be more autistic than I thought.  I suspect that I have learnt logically how to work out what other people might be thinking to avoid obvious social blunders, which would fit with specifically high functioning autism.

This prompted me to go online to see if I could find a version of the theory of mind test that I hadn’t seen before to get a more objective answer.  I could not find one, but I did find tests of empathy and alexithymia (inability to identify, describe and interpret emotions) and the scores did not surprise me at all with the caveat that these tests done online are not always scientific and even scientific ones can be controversial in what they test, how they test for it and how they interpret the results.  So take this post with a pinch of salt.  I scored somewhat below average for empathy, again indicating Asperger’s/autism.  I do feel some empathy; when the depression is bad, I avoid the news because it is so depressing.  However, I find it hard to know intuitively what other people are thinking.  I think I have learnt how to hypothesise what other people are feeling (from experience observing other people and their actions and from reading novels, which are a way of learning what other people’s inner worlds look like) and to interpret their cues in a very laboured and conscious way, rather than an intuitive way like neurotypical people.  Again, this mixture of problems with empathy and moderately successful workarounds fits with being both autistic and high functioning, as I understand it.

The alexithymia score was even less surprising as my therapist identified that a long time ago, in a context separate from autism without knowing the name, although she was pleased when I told her, as she knows I like labels; she may have been being slightly teasing or ironic (in a friendly way), I’m not sure – another autistic trait.  I scored highly overall for alexithymic traits, which was really not a surprise.  There is a detailed breakdown into different categories: I have high alexithymic traits for identifying, describing and interpreting feelings (definitely all true and what my therapist noticed), as well as for externally-orientated thinking, which apparently is about focusing on external rather than internal events and experiences.  I am not sure about that, as I do think a lot about what I feel, but that could be a product of keeping a daily mood diary for over a decade to assess my progress with the depression.  I certainly do find it hard to say how I feel about external events e.g. my sister’s wedding.  It’s easier for me to say “Everyone else enjoyed it” or “I was not as depressed as I feared I would be” than “It went well for me; I enjoyed it.”  I also scored high for restricted imagination, which is interesting as I did well at school in English, which requires a lot of imagination and I used to write stories and poetry for fun.  However, I do find it hard to find inspiration; I’m not one of those writers who is overflowing with ideas and I am frequently ‘blocked’ and have been for most of the last couple of years, with brief intervals of inspiration.  Certainly my imagination goes round in restricted circles and probably piggybacks on ideas I have seen in books and on TV.  I apparently have some alexithymic traits in sexuality, although I found these questions impossible to answer, as I am still a virgin.  I do have my experience of moderately sexual experiences (hugging, kissing) with my ex-girlfriend, but that was complicated by other emotions and thoughts surrounding it.  I do still worry about being frigid, having scored so highly on most of the other alexithymic traits; I think the moderate score here comes from me answering ‘undecided’ in the absence of a ‘I don’t know, I’m a virgin’ button.  I do apparently have no alexithymic traits regarding problematic interpersonal relationships, but I’m not quite sure what that means.  From the questions, I think it means that my difficulty understanding emotions does not lead to conflict with others; they don’t complain that I don’t meet their emotional needs.  I think that this was more of a problem when I was a child, based on some childhood memories.  I suspect that, as with some of the empathy questionnaire questions, I have learnt rules and workarounds to let me identify what other people are feeling and respond appropriately e.g. when Mum has yortzeit (anniversary of a death), expect her to be upset and possibly irritable; phone and see how she is making sure to listen to her emotions before telling her how I feel.

I suppose that I still don’t know, and probably never will know for sure, whether I have Asperger’s, but it probably does show that I am neurodivergent in various ways.  What I do with the information is another question.  I doubt it will cause me to make allowances for how I feel/think, let alone stop beating myself up about my difficulties interacting with others and taking care of my emotional needs.

Get Out of That

There is so much I want to say here sometimes, and so much that I can’t say because it will hurt other people or because it will probably hurt me or at least make people think badly of me (and rightly so).  I think I write because I think writing will stop things hurting or at least provide some release, but it doesn’t really.  I want to get a response, more than just likes, but on the rare occasions I get a comment, they don’t help much either.  I suppose they can’t, as I want people to agree with me that my life is awful and I’m awful, but also to contradict me and tell me that the future will be good.  Maybe on some level I think that if I write about my fears for the future, they won’t materialise.  Maybe I even think that if I write about my past it will unhappen.  It’s no good though.  The past is set in stone and no one has yet reassured me that my worst fears for the future won’t happen.  “But at my back I always hear/Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near”  The future is coming, and sooner than you think…

Psychologically-Inspired Thoughts

This had various thoughts today, perhaps because I was weeding the psychology collection at work and so I was looking at books about mental health, autism, emotions and so on, throwing up all kinds of thoughts after work.  I was too tired and depressed to read on the way home and so drafted this post on paper and thought a lot about it.

It wasn’t so much clear thoughts I was having as questions and fantasies.  Questions about Asperger’s: do I have an innate theory of mind or have I just learnt to guess what others might be thinking from experience?  (It is suggested people with Asperger’s Syndrome have impaired theory of mind.)  But if I do have Asperger’s, why was I very capable of imaginative play as a child?  Then again, if I don’t have it, why did I also love to make tableaux of my toys, which seems to be a cross between autistic and neurotypical play?

I also thought about relationships.  What would it be like to be in a proper,  mutually-loving relationship?  [I had stuff here about my relationship that didn’t work out, but I decided to redact it.  Suffice to say it wasn’t my fault it didn’t work out, but it leaves me wondering if anyone could ever really love me.]  What would it be like to come home to someone who loved me and wanted to see me rather than a cold and lonely flat?  At the risk of sounding vulgar, I even found myself wondering what sex feels like.  Would I enjoy it or would it be like every other ‘normal’ pleasure that my depressive anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure) stops me enjoying?  Or another physical thing that is too difficult with my mental health issues, borderline Asperger’s and neuroses?  Like when my ex tried to kiss me and I hated it and found it initially disgusting and then when she tried to get me to trying again, I found myself literally unable to work out how to do it.  Am I frigid, as she suggested?  Will I ever get to find  out?  It seems unlikely, although I have sort of decided to go to a shadchan (matchmaker) soon if my parents don’t manage to set me up with the person they want to set me up with.

Sometimes it seems like vast, basic areas of human experience are shut off to me by my mental health, borderline Asperger’s and personality: love, sex, travel, alcohol, intense friendships, community… I don’t even remember my dreams most of the time, let alone have the kind of complex dreams with strong narratives and psychologically revealing symbolism that people like my father report.

I got upset and slightly scared by something at work which I’ve decided not to narrate as this post is too long and self-indulgent as it is (suffice to say I think I overheard some students being antisemitic).  As I mentioned above, I tried to read on the Tube home, but was overcome with sadness and tears without being sure why.  I don’t know why I write self-indulgent rubbish like this (which probably reveals too much about my ex, if anyone knows my real identity, which I don’t hide particularly well, but I need to try to process what happened to me somehow and it was several years ago, so I don’t know how many people who know me remember we dated).  I guess I want to hear that someone understands or cares.  I’m not sure that ‘likes’ on a blog post really do that,  though.

Off Sick and Romantic Probabilities

I’m home early today.  I made a cup of tea at work this morning.  I try not to drink tea in the morning except with my breakfast, as drinking it on an empty stomach seems to make me nauseous sometimes.  I thought I would be OK today as I had just eaten a banana, but within twenty minutes or so of finishing my tea, I was very sick.  I was going to stay at work, but when I asked my boss if someone could take over from me at the issue desk in case I was sick again, she insisted I go home in case it was a virus and I’m infectious.  I suppose it’s understandable that she doesn’t want to risk the whole team to going down with a virus at the same time, but I feel like I’m malingering, as I’m 99% sure it was just the tea.  I feel fine now, except for being a bit tired, probably because I went to bed a little later than intended last night and didn’t sleep well and/or the after-effects of the wedding.  So I have some time to kill this afternoon, perhaps to work on my book or download wedding photos.

One thing I was thinking about this morning which seemed too small a thought for the blog, but which can, I suppose, be added to the paragraph above to turn two small ideas into one post, concerns dating.  I have said that I haven’t dated many women and that most of the women I have dated haven’t been much like me.  I have also said that I despair of finding someone really like me: frum (Jewish-Orthodox-religious), geeky and with an understanding of mental health issues and Asperger’s, probably someone who has similar issues of her own so I’m not just making demands on her.  Every so often I meet someone who meets two of these categories or even all three, but it never works out, either because of the criterion they don’t meet or for some other reason.  I know that I should think that if I’ve met one or two women who meet some or even all of my criteria, then there must more women like that out there and I just need to work out how to meet them (which admittedly is difficult, but is another reason to go to a shadchan (matchmaker)).  However, I assume that there was only one such woman and now I’ve lost my only chance at happiness by messing up with her.  Sometimes I dangerously think I should have stayed with my ex, even though we clearly weren’t right for each other on multiple levels.

I’m not a statistician and I don’t know if it’s more true to say that the existence of one woman like me makes the existence of yet another like me more or less likely.  Does the existence of one or two frum, geeky mentally ill women mean that they are part of an existing subculture and there must be more out there for me to meet, or does it mean that I have met all (both) of them and they are unique?  I don’t know.  I also don’t know how much I need to meet someone who is geeky.  I know I need someone frum and probably with some kind of issue – not that I want her to have issues, but otherwise she is going to have to sacrifice a lot with little return which would unbalance the relationship.  But how much do I need to have interests in common with a spouse?  I don’t know.

The Wedding Part III: The Aftermath

Today has been harder than yesterday in some ways.  I woke up late, feeling OK, had breakfast and pottered around a bit.  I had stayed overnight at my parents’ house for convenience and my copy of the new Doctor Who: Shada DVD arrived there in the early afternoon (my post goes care of my parents because my flat doesn’t have a postal address, it’s just my landlords’ garage).  As the day went on my mood slipped lower and lower, especially now I am back in the flat and feeling quite depressed and lonely.  Shada provided some distraction, but I only had the energy for five minutes of Torah study and I’m missing both dinner out with my extended family and/or Talmud shiur (class) as I’m just too tired to go out, let alone be in a big, noisy group.  I don’t know what I’m going to eat for dinner, as I’m too tired to cook anything.

I just stopped myself from saying something I shouldn’t say online.  There was a post on Hevria about post-partum depression and the author was saying that until she had her baby, she was “a rockstar” religiously, going to seminary, studying a lot, davening (praying) a lot and so on and now she can’t do any of that.  She got support from people who said that pre-marriage life is “amazing” because you have no responsibilities and “you can spend hours learning Torah”.  My pre-married life (i.e. all my life) is far from “amazing.”  It’s hard to do or enjoy anything, let alone “spend hours learning Torah”.  She now feels a lot better on medication, whereas I’m on medication that makes me feel ‘awful’ instead of ‘suicidally awful’.  I wanted to say that I never went to yeshiva (although that was not entirely due to poor mental health, if at all), can’t study and can’t daven either, plus I don’t have a supportive spouse.  But it would be rude to say that and I feel bad for even thinking it.  I do really feel sorry for her and am glad she’s doing better.  But it did push my buttons, making me think that I must be so useless that even when I’m well, I can’t meet all my obligations and be a religious superstar or even just enjoy things.  And it makes me feel like a freak for being stuck in this depression for decades when other people can come out of it as soon as they get the courage to ask for a pill.

I may go to the shadchan (matchmaker) for people with health issues soon, or I may just give up on dating entirely, I don’t know.  It does seem very unlikely that there could be anyone out there for me.

Tomorrow work beckons and at some point I will have to revisit the wedding to download my photos.  For now I guess I should forget the wedding, make some dinner, watch the rest of Shada, get ready for work and try to get an early night.  Although I fear I may just procrastinate.

The Wedding Part II: The Big Day

I’m drafting much of this post old style, with pen and paper, on Sunday 3 December in the yichud room of the vast and labyrinthine shul were my sister got married a few hours ago.  The yichud room is the room an Orthodox couple go to briefly after the wedding ceremony to be alone; we have arranged with the shul to use it all evening (the party is here too) as a storage room and a ‘chill out’ room for myself and a cousin who also has mental health issues to retreat to if it all gets too much for us.  It is probably the closest I’ll ever be to being in a yichud room properly (I am literally alone here).  It is the middle of the wedding party and meal.

The day actually went reasonably well for me in the end.  I was nervous in the chatan’s tisch (refreshments for the groom and some male friends and relatives) and didn’t really talk to anyone, even the people I knew.  I was emotional in the ceremony, where I got to stand by the chuppah (marriage canopy; my brother-in-law (as he now is) has a family custom to position men at each corner pole of the chuppah) but I’m not sure why because I couldn’t separate out my feelings.  I think I felt happy for my sister, lonely for myself (thinking I will never get married), anxious from standing in front of 250 people and even upset by the thought of the many tragedies of Jewish history when the groom broke the glass to symbolise our mourning for the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.  All these feelings and maybe more bled into each other.

While my sister and brother-in-law were in the yichud room, I got to meet my sister’s new nephew and nieces.  They took a bit of a shine to me, particularly one of the two year old twins who smiled whenever she saw me.  Eventually my sister and b-i-l came out and we had various family photos taken.  I avoided shaking as I feared I would.  In fact, I think the only time I really shook badly was when one of my b-i-l’s friends pinned a buttonhole flower on me where the anxiety was probably from a total stranger invading my personal space.

I took some photos here and throughout the evening.  Most didn’t come out that well as people were moving  and the lighting was very dim.  I was worried, perhaps unnecessarily, about shaking when asking people to pose, so I tried to surreptitiously take ‘action shots’, but most came out blurred, perhaps due to the long shutter time on that light level or simply due to the very dim lighting.  I got a few nice photos of four of my cousins, although the youngest was camera shy and kept pulling faces.  Got a lovely photo of cousin 1 (the trainee rabbi) looking very rabbinical as if he is pondering a complex Talmudic problem, although he was actually opening the wine. I also got a quite nice shot of my sister’s twin nieces facing each other which looks initially like a trick shot of one girl and her reflection until you realise they are standing at different angles.

After we had our photos taken, I was supposed to go into the reception, but ran into friends of mine who are also friends with my sister, along with their baby daughter.  I chatted with them for a while and let their daughter try out her emerging teeth on my finger.  She was also very cute and smiled at me a lot.  It makes me wonder again that if I can’t have my own children, I should try to find a way of volunteering with children because I can let my guard down with them in a way that I can’t with adults despite my fears of not knowing what to do if there is a problem.  Most of the bits of the wedding I enjoyed most were playing with the children, to be honest.

There was Israeli dancing/simcha dancing before dinner.  I stood and watched for a long time before eventually forcing myself and tentatively joining in.  I mainly did it for my Dad and my sister and I didn’t really enjoy it.  It was OK if a bit anxiety-triggering to dance arm in arm with my Dad and cousin 1 (I felt a bit stupid), but doing circle dancing with people is hard as I don’t like holding hands with strangers or putting my arms around them and having them put their arms around me.  I guess the world didn’t end, but I do wish I could be the type of person who found this type of thing easier or more fun.

The dinner/dancing hall was very noise with music and guests and I felt a bit overwhelmed especially during the dancing when the music was very loud.  It’s hard when my parents’ friends and family keep coming up to wish me mazal tov and I feel funny, I’m not sure why.  I suppose I feel I don’t deserve that or something.  Only one person wished me “Please God by your wedding” (note to non-Jewish readers: “please God by you” is an awful insensitive phrase that people say to unmarried people at weddings or childless couples at brits (circumcisions) and baby-welcoming parties.  It’s well-meant, but really insensitive to a lot of single or infertile people).  At any rate, I think she’ll have a long wait for my wedding, and I wouldn’t want a big party like this anyway (not that I’ll get much say if it ever happens).

I made motzei (the blessing on bread) for everyone OK, except that there was some confusion about where I was supposed to wash my hands (ritually) beforehand, which meant everyone had to wait while I went out, washed and come back in again, which looked unprofessional on my part, even though I was told the wrong thing.

I spent much of the second half of the party in the yichud room, drafting this post and reading the latest Jewish Review of Books.  I was pleased to get texts from three friends during the evening checking that I was OK, so I guess a few people care about me.  I did go back for the cake-cutting and speeches, so I heard b-i-l compliment me on my “sharp, insightful humour.”

Overall, the wedding went better than I expected.  I enjoyed bits of it, particularly playing with children and eating (the vegetarian option was very good) and I was glad that my sister, b-i-l, their parents and b-i-l’s siblings all seemed to have a good time.  I managed to keep going when I had to and put on a brave face for a few people, but when I stopped I sometimes felt depressed and lonely again, beating myself up over silly things and feeling tired.

The Wedding Part I: Prologue

My Israeli family (uncle, aunt, five cousins aged between twenty-five and eleven) are in the country for my sister’s wedding.  They came for dinner on Thursday night.  They are a very loud and boisterous family (one cousin has ADHD and we strongly suspect that another also has it and that a third has ADD; my uncle might have one or the other too).  Hyperactivity, argumentativeness and shouting do not always mix well with Asperger’s and social anxiety, even within family.  The first hour was good, but after that I felt I needed to get away.  I chatted with my Dad in another room for a bit.  By the time I got back to my flat, I was very overwhelmed and depressed.  I don’t remember what I did exactly; I think I procrastinated online for a bit, read a bit, maybe watched a DVD.  Whatever I did, I didn’t get to bed until gone 3.00am which was very bad of me.  Having to go to bed and get up early for work often seems to provoke a reaction in the opposite direction on non-work nights.

My extended family stayed with my parents for Shabbat (the Sabbath).  I stayed in the flat so people could sleep in my room and walked over for meals.  Friday night was good.  Really good.  Everyone was in a good mood, we had a long dinner, lots of talking and joking.  I discovered that cousin number 4 is also turning in to a bit of a geek.  I saw the cover of the book she was reading and asked her if it was fantasy fiction and she said yes “because realism is boring!”  (Her eldest cousin, No. 1 is already a bit of a geek; he’s a sofer (religious scribe) and is also training as a rabbi and is about to start training as a civil engineer (if this sounds a strange combination, bear in mind that ‘rabbi’ in the Orthodox world is an educational qualification like a PhD, not a vocation like priestly ordination.  Lots of rabbis get smikhah (rabbinical ordination) and then go and work in the private sector e.g. my rabbi mentor.)  Cousin No. 5 (the eleven year old) gave me mussar, telling me, “It doesn’t matter if you aren’t good at something – if you enjoy it, do it!”  I wish I could think like that.

However, by the time I got back to my flat, I was exhausted from being around people for so long.  I read for a while, did some Torah study and just lay on the bed too tired to move, but the wrong sort of tiredness to sleep, if that makes sense (if the train companies can complain of the “wrong sort of snow”…).  I went to bed at about 12.20am, which wasn’t too bad.  It was better than Thursday night at any rate.  However, I overslept (one alarm briefly woke me, but the other two didn’t even manage that) and I didn’t get up until something like 11.30am, maybe even later.  I had some breakfast, which I needed as I was feeling drained, dressed and davened before walking over to my parents’ house.

I had missed shul, which I was a bit upset about as my Dad was giving a dvar Torah (Torah thought) and various relatives were leading parts of the service.  I got to my parents’ house a bit late, only to discover my Dad was walking over to my flat to find me even though I had been told they were not waiting for me.  Unfortunately, we missed each other (there is one point where you can walk down one of two parallel roads and we both took different ones) and we had to wait half an hour for him to return.

Lunch was harder.  There were some kashrut issues which I think were genuine and not my OCD, but I was given short shrift.  I think they were OK in the end, but they did genuinely need thinking through and I feel uncomfortable enough that I want to double check my reasoning with my rabbi mentor.  (My extended family is as frum as my parents, but they don’t know my parents’ kitchen or cooking habits as well as they think they do and sometimes put the wrong spoons in things without asking first.)  The noise and bickering was more exhausting this time around.  I gave a little dvar Torah, not a chiddush (novel interpretation) of my own, just something from Rav Kook that I read last night, but I managed to make it segue into a blessing for my sister and her fiancé (who wasn’t here, the custom being for the bride and groom not to see one another for a week before the wedding).

I made it back to shul for Ma’ariv (the evening service) with cousin No.1, which I did mainly because I needed to get out of the house.  I had been thinking of singing havdalah (the end of Shabbat prayer) at home for my sister, but I had a headache and let my cousin do it, but it just reminded me of how little I will be doing tomorrow.  I’m making motzei (the blessing on the bread) and that’s it.  I was offered one of the sheva brakhot (seven blessings on the newlywed couple) at the meal, but turned it down because one has to hold a full cup of wine to make it and I was worried my anxiety would make me shake as happened when I did one of the sheva brakhot for a friend a number of years ago (this was originally to do with drug side-effects rather than pure social anxiety, but now it has happened so often in different situations that simply being in certain situations can trigger it) so I turned it down.  Other than that, I am to stand by one of the poles of the chuppah (wedding canopy) during the service and that’s it.  There are people much more distant from the bride and groom who are doing more than me.  I feel surplus to requirements, but I’m also worry that I will get so nervous that I won’t even be able to make motzei.

I’m worried about the wedding tomorrow.  I have a headache (which is finally shifting) and I’m not sure if it’s from anxiety about tomorrow or the noise today.  Apparently there will be what my parents are calling a ‘chill out room’ for me tomorrow and potentially for another of my cousins, who also has mental health issues, but it is still going to be a tough day.

For now I need to have something to eat, take my medication and get an early night.  I plan to watch a DVD, but I’m not sure what (my Doctor Who viewing is on pause while I wait for Shada‘s DVD release on Monday*, it having come at the exact right time on schedule.  I do feel strange tonight, though.  Not lonely exactly, but wishing I had a frum, geeky, calm wife to watch a geeky DVD with.  There has to be one single, frum, geeky, Asperger’s-and-mental-illness-accepting, family-centred woman my age out there somewhere, right?  Except somehow it doesn’t seem likely that there is, or that I could meet her if she does exist.

* For those who don’t know Shada is a Doctor Who story written by The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams that, uniquely, was only partially filmed and so never broadcast due to a strike at the BBC.  Every ten years or so it gets sort-of completed in another format (video of the filmed footage with added narration to bridge the gaps; an audio drama with primitive animations; a novelisation) and everyone goes wild about it ‘finally’ being as finished as it ever will be, even though most fans don’t even like Adams’ other work on the show (not me though, I really like it).  This latest version marries the filmed footage to new animation voiced by the surviving cast members.  It is being released on Monday exactly in the place it would have been broadcast in my viewing of all of Doctor Who as research for my book.  To be honest (and don’t tell my family I said this), but it’s mostly the thought that I have Monday off work to recuperate and watch the DVD that is getting me through the wedding weekend..

Thoughts on my Last Post

I really need to go to bed, but I do need to note, if only for myself, that, looking over my last post, the self-pity really hits me.  I am aware that I do tend to wallow in self-pity when depressed and lonely, and that blogging isn’t necessarily the answer to that.  A better solution is to be around other people, although this is hard as I have few friends locally and none I feel able to just drop in to see.  I have some friends I can text or email (or, I suppose, phone, but I hate using the phone at the best of times), but I’m always reluctant to be a burden on people by getting in contact like that.  I did text some friends tonight and felt better for it.

It also hit me, really for the first time, how much I compare myself to others and how much this makes things worse by making me feel a failure and even someone who can never succeed, because I am too much of a freak or weirdo to succeed in the way ‘normal’ people can.  I’m not sure where this comes from.  I don’t remember doing it much at school, but that might be faulty memory.  My parents certainly weren’t the type of parents who wanted their children to be top at everything; they always stressed effort over achievement per se.  Perhaps it comes from seeing my life drift away from that of my peers over the last fifteen years or more as they moved into friendships, careers, relationships and parenthood and I seem stuck by myself struggling to keep my head above water emotionally and financially.  This is probably silly, as my life is much better than it was even a year ago, when I was seriously suicidal, even if there is much that is still painful and difficult for me.  I need to stop doing it, but I don’t know how.

There is also the confessional element in the post, which I suppose involves confessing my real or perceived failures in the hope that someone will absolve me of them or say that they are just in my head.  People generally refuse to play games like this, but it doesn’t seem to stop me.  I suppose deep down I really want God to tell me that I’m not as bad as I think I am, but He doesn’t speak to me either.  Sometimes I think I confess my failures to try and remove them – if I admit to them, maybe they will go away.  I am fairly sure I have written about my perceived failures with davening and Torah study in the past and I think I want someone to tell me I’m doing OK in these areas and am still a good Jew – except that my rabbi mentor did more or less say that to me last week and it hasn’t stopped the feelings of inadequacy, and especially not the feelings that others will see this failure and punish me in some way, probably by leaving me without friends or spouse.  Again, recognising this tendency in my thought is one thing; changing it is another.  This is the problem I always had with CBT: it was relatively easy to see the way my thoughts spiral in on themselves and get worse, but it is a lot harder to send them spiralling the other way, back up and out into happier thoughts.

Feeling Inadequate

I have been feeling pretty inadequate all day today, in pretty much every aspect of my life from my job (where I am constantly undermined by my mental health) to my inability to understand my emotions (although I might understand them more than I give myself credit for), but, for the sake of brevity and focus, I’m just going to concentrate on two areas, my religious life and the book I’m in the process of writing.

Religiously, a lot is expected of Orthodox Jews.  Men in particular have a host of daily obligations that women are exempt from, particularly set prayer and Torah study.  Prayer is supposed to be three times a day, preferably with a community of at least nine other men (minyan), at set times and with kavannah (concentration, understanding of the Hebrew words and a sense of being in God’s presence).  I mess up almost all of this.  I only pray with a community on Shabbat (the Sabbath) and even then I’m sometimes too burnt out to go to shul (synagogue).  On work days, I only manage to pray for about ten minutes in the morning, about a quarter of the morning service.  I do daven Mincha and Ma’ariv (say the afternoon and evening services), but by myself and with poor kavannah.  I feel inadequate just thinking that there are plenty of men who do daven with a minyan three times a day.   I don’t know how good their kavannah is, but it would be hard to be worse than mine.

Similarly with Torah study.  In theory, a Jewish man should be studying Torah whenever he has a free moment.  In practice, life gets in the way and we are allowed some downtime.  Still, I feel I should be studying for an hour or two a day (as I have done in the past, even when the depression has been bad, albeit when I was not working as long hours, if at all), preferably Gemarah (the larger and more difficult part of the Talmud, consisting largely of complex legal arguments).  What I do is study for anything between five minutes to an hour, focusing on the week’s Torah reading (Torah in the narrow sense of the Five Books of Moses rather than the wider sense of ‘Torah study’ i.e. any Jewish religious study) and one or two Mishnayot.  The Mishnah is the shorter and simpler part of the Talmud, being composed mostly of simple legal statements, although the commentary in the edition I use often seems incomprehensible to me, especially as I have to do my Mishnah study on the Tube into work, when I’m still half asleep.  Again, I am conscious that there are men who spend their evenings studying the Gemarah, alone, with a chevruta (study partner) or at a shiur (class).

 

Then there is my general religious practice and mitzvah (commandment) performance.  Now the religious OCD is more under control, I am no longer terrified that all my food is treif (non-kosher) the whole time, but I do feel that my performance of mitzvot, both ethical and ritual is lacking.  I lack the sense of connection to God or joy in fulfilling His will that I am supposed to feel.  I have even been told that I will not feel that joy while I’m depressed, which seems to indicate that I will never feel it as I don’t think I will ever be free of the depression.  Nor do I think of myself as a particularly kind or generous person.  I help others more out of a sense of obligation than love.  I feel bad about this, but I often feel trapped in a solipsistic prison of depression, social anxiety and borderline Asperger’s and it’s hard to get out of that to connect with other people.

 

It’s hard even to have a benchmark by which I can measure myself.  In theory, in Judaism “According to the pain is the reward” (Pirkei Avot 5.23) – we are judged according to the effort we put in rather than on some absolute scale of achievement.  What is easy for one person might be very difficult for another for all kinds of reasons and worthy of greater reward and the Jewish religious literature from the Talmud to the tales of the Chasidim are full of stories of unlearned and even sinful people who achieved saintly status with a single, simple good deed.  In reality, though, it is hard for me to feel this.  I look for excuses to judge myself negatively and beat myself up and feel guilty about things.  I compare myself to other people, even though I know I shouldn’t, even though I see only a fraction of their lives and don’t know at all what is going on in their heads.  I feel that other people are judging me, and reading articles and blog posts where other people reflect on what they see as the narrow-minded and judgmental attitudes of the frum (religious) community doesn’t help, even though I have had little personal experience of such attitudes.  It does, as I’ve said before, make me assume that no frum woman would want to marry someone as religiously inadequate as me.  It also makes me feel that I have no share in Olam HaBa (the Next World i.e. Heaven).  I have no rational grounds for thinking this, just an intuition that good things simply don’t happen to me and that if I haven’t done an act bad enough to forfeit my share of Olam HaBa (and I often feel I have, even if I can’t pinpoint one), then the cumulative nature of my sins will stop me meriting my place there.  As I’ve said before, I just have a feeling of wrongness and I assume that everyone else, including God, feels the same way.

 

The other thing I have been feeling inadequate about lately is very different.  I have mentioned that I am writing a non-fiction book about Doctor Who.  I don’t want to go into it too much here as it’s not really relevant and might compromise my pseudonym (as I’m reworking material from my real name blog).  Suffice to say it’s an analytical book on Doctor Who.  But I worry that my writing isn’t good enough.  Writing on Doctor Who seems to come in two forms at the moment, the popular and opinionated and the academic and critical theory-rich.  I have no grounding in critical theory to write anything academic,  nor have I done research in production documentation or looked at the secondary literature in anything but a haphazard way.  But I worry that my work is too dry and too often slips into the passive voice for a more informal work and that anyway that market is already saturated.  The popular books annoy me anyway (too informal, too dismissive of what the authors dislike (in Doctor Who and outside it), too quick to bring in the authors’ politics and assume that all sensible people agree with them, too quick to show off wider knowledge which is often incorrect) and I suppose to some extent I’m writing in opposition to those books, that I’m thinking, “Well, if they can do it, so can I!”  But I’m worried that that is pride and we know what that comes before.  And having catalogued a book on writing style at work today, I just feel that my writing simply isn’t good enough to compete in a crowded marketplace.  The passive voice has always been a problem for me in my non-academic writing.

 

I have a new post up on Hevria today.  Only one person seems to have liked it so far.  It was probably a mistake to let them cut the bit where I explained that all the stories are exactly fifty words long.  I feel inadequate.

Six Bullet Points in Search of a Blog Post

  1. I did over five hours (out of seven) on the issue desk today.  Also, this was at the secondary campus, where people are harder to communicate with (either little, if any, English or serious learning disabilities) so it was seriously draining and depleting.  This was partly my fault as I was supposed to split the issue desk time 50:50 with my colleague, but I miscalculated and didn’t feel able to ask to switch, but it was also because we had VIPs turn up so I had to do extra time on the desk while my colleague showed them around.  My mood was variable, to say the least.  Most of the time I was OK, but after a while, doing a boring repetitive task in a gloomy room, my mood would dip (probably also correlating to low blood sugar level as well as tiredness and boredom).  I’ve actually just dipped again, which can’t be low blood sugar as I’ve just eaten.
  2. Calvin Coolidge is still my mentor (not words I ever expected to write).  Stonewalling is the only way to deal with students who swear blind that they have returned books they have lost.  I’m still not good enough at playing psychological chicken like this though and either back down a little (“You can pay the fine next time”) or my colleagues get involved, either at my request or of their own initiative, which is what happened today.
  3. I have been beating myself up again today.  I listened to a Hevria podcast (Rivka Nehorai) and felt guilty about not being at all creative any more and generally feeling inadequate compared to Hevria people.  I left a loooong comment about art criticism and why I felt it was a good thing.  I left a fairly long comment on another post on Hevria too.  I suspect that deep down I just want people to notice me and I abuse the blog comments to be seen.  It’s like trolling, except that I’m polite and try to say constructive things.  I have a vague plan about going to New York in the summer to meet Hevria people (NB: this will probably never happen because I will chicken out for multiple reasons) and today I was imagining meeting Elad, Rivka and others so I could beat myself up in person instead of online.  You could say I have issues.
  4. Not only are two women I’ve dated (out of a grand total of six, count ’em) going to be at my sister’s wedding on Sunday (fortunately we still get on), it’s possible that the woman my Mum wants to set me up with will be coming, due to a complicated set of circumstances that I won’t go into here.  I’m really not sure that this is a good idea, but don’t feel able to say anything about it and in any case am flirting with the idea of being resigned to being single and virginal forever and never trying to date anyone ever again.  Anyway, I’m too busy being apprehensive about the wedding in general to worry about this in particular.
  5. I honestly have no idea how I’m going to get through the wedding.  Sundays are the most depressed day for me and I usually do nothing except sleep, eat, procrastinate online and watch a bit of Doctor Who.  Saturday is going to be extra draining because I’ve got my uncle, aunt and five cousins staying with my parents for the wedding alongside my sister, so meals (Friday night and Saturday lunch) will be LOUD and draining and there will be an energy and mood debt to be repaid the next day.  I’m not sure if it’s good or bad that I volunteered to walk back to the flat and stay there overnight so my cousins can have my room in my parents’ house.  It means I have a fifteen minute walk in the cold and dark, but at least I can get some quiet and some personal space on Friday night.  As long as that doesn’t feed the loneliness and depression that I’m certain to feel over the weekend, as my sister gets married off and I contemplate being lonely and single forever etc. (did I mention one of my exes who is going to be at the party recently got engaged?  I assume her fiancé will be there too, but no one has told me).
  6. I don’t really have anything else to say, having cut a point since coming up with the title, and I feel exhausted, lonely and depressed now and need to go to bed, but I need a sixth point for the Six Characters in Search of an Author joke to work.  It’s not even that funny a joke.  (This is beating myself up again cf. point 3).

Life vs. Lifestyle

I got ‘sunk’ again at work today.  I struggled all day, doing a quite boring, very slow and long task (it will certainly take longer than my current contract) because there were no books to catalogue (three boxes full arrived around midday, but they have to be processed by the library assistants before I work on them).  I don’t know if it was the boredom or something else, but in the mid-afternoon I just felt exhausted and depressed.  It was a real struggle to keep going, even more of a struggle than before.  I got through it and carried on working and I don’t feel that my work was noticeably inferior, but I was struggling with my thoughts.  Hours later I can’t remember what I was thinking, but I suspect it was mostly self-critical thoughts of one form or another.

I should be at my Talmud shiur (class) now, but I’m too tired.  I think I’m going to have to give up on it soon, as I’m just too tired to study the technicalities of halakhah (Jewish law) after work, nor do I really have the time to go and then still get to bed at the time I need to have the seven to eight hours of sleep I need to function at work and keep the worst part of the depression at bay.  Things are only made worse by the fact that the style of teaching is not ideal for me and the way the shiur is run, from an administrative point of view, is something of a shambles, with shiurim frequently cancelled at short notice (once without me even being told until I got there) even before the teacher’s son became seriously ill (which only makes me feel guiltier about stopping going).  I really want to learn the study skills that will one day let me learn Gemarah (another name for Talmud (actually not quite, but near enough)) independently or with a chevruta (study partner), but this shiur is not teaching me that.  To be honest, the main reason I’m going is that I like to be able think of myself as a frum (religious) Jew who studies Gemarah and I won’t be able to do that if I stop going.  It’s more about self-esteem and fitting in to the frum community than about the shiur itself, which is a really bad and shallow thing to do.  That and wanting to be attractive to frum single women who are looking for someone who studies Gemarah, which is probably an even worse reason to do something.

I guess I’m drifting back into that old feeling of not being good at anything.  I think that’s what I was feeling at work this afternoon, the feeling that I’m not that good at my job.  Two of my colleagues were talking about their children and they said that I “have that to look forward to” but I’m exactly the same age as one of them and only two or three years younger than the other with no sign of getting married.  I try to tell myself that marriage, children, sex, even love aren’t everything.  But they are quite a lot, at least they seem that way when I feel lonely and lacking… purpose? motivation? a focus? focus for what? for my love?  I’m not sure that any of those really fits what I feel.  I just know I keep thinking of the young daughter I had in my dream last week, the one with Down Syndrome, wanting to hug her.

I was reflecting on the way home today about something I heard years ago, that “our grandparents had lives, but we have lifestyles.”  I don’t have a problem with organised religion, the free market, high culture or geek culture in and of themselves, but they can, if you’re not careful, sell you a fake lifestyle and stop you getting a real life.  I try hard to have a life, not a lifestyle, but it’s hard to have any kind of life with depression.  I suppose, from that point of view, I should stop going to the Talmud shiur, because unlike the parasha shiur on Thursdays, it’s become a lifestyle thing rather than a life thing.  I’m not becoming a person who can study independently (life), but someone who goes to the shiur to show other frum Jews that I can pass as a frum Jew (lifestyle).  Sigh.  It’s not that simple though.  I worry about upsetting the rabbi who teaches it, particularly given his family issues (his son being ill and his mother died a couple of weeks ago).  I worry whether I should blame work and lack of time or be honest and open up to people a bit about my mental health.  I worry that I am burning my bridges about dating again.  I worry, I worry, I worry.

Sunk

I did indeed have difficulty sleeping last night (after having inadvertently slept for fifteen hours over Shabbat (the Sabbath)), finally falling asleep around 5.30am and sleeping through the rest of the morning.

I mostly kept today as a mental health day, as I seem to need Sundays to be at the moment now I work Monday to Thursday and have therapy on Friday; Shabbat is restful in some ways, but also often draining inasmuch as I am around people a lot at shul (synagogue) or with my parents (although not this week) and get little ‘introvert time’ when I am by myself to recharge except when actually sleeping, which be another factor in oversleeping and missing shul most weeks at the moment.

Today I did a couple of jobs that needed doing, mostly Chanukah shopping online and writing emails of complaint about various things.  I spoke to my rabbi mentor on Skype and he is pleased with my progress.  I told him that I’m struggling to get to shul even just on Shabbat and to daven with kavannah (pray with concentration) and he said that it is incredible that I’m working nearly full-time and still awake enough to daven at all, which I suppose is true, but I feel I should do more, and that other people expect me to do.  Yes, I can see the problem there, guessing what other people think and caring that they might think me lazy even though they don’t know all the facts, which I guess is social anxiety and low self-esteem again.

I was planning to go for a walk today despite it being cold out, as I had not been out of the flat for more than a couple of minutes for well over forty-eight hours and to cook dinner, but suddenly I was sunk.  ‘Sunk’ is the term I use in my head when I suddenly feel exhausted and unable to go on; the image in my mind is of a submarine that has got sunk to the bottom of the sea and can’t get off the sea bed and is slowly running out of oxygen.  This happens more than occasionally and often quite suddenly.  One moment I’m fine and the next I can’t do anything at all, as happened today.  Sometimes, if I am at work or shul or shiur (religious class), I have no option but to try to push through it.  Sometimes that works, but sometimes I just go through the motions or sit there until I can leave.  If I’m not doing anything urgent, I often tell myself I should go and do something relaxing, but I neither do what I need to do nor something really relaxing (like reading a book or watching a DVD), but I procrastinate, aimlessly surfing the internet, checking emails or (as now) blogging, because I find it hard to give myself permission to do nothing.

I also feel like the loneliness that I was worried about feeling on Shabbat alone in the flat has hit me now instead.  Somehow, speaking to my parents and my rabbi mentor as disembodied voices on the end of a phone or Skype connection feels worse than having no contact with anyone at all.  Or maybe it’s because I sent an email to the person who was trying to set me up on a date saying that unless my potential date (PD) gets in contact with me directly, then I’m not pursuing this any more, because it’s been a month and I have not heard directly from PD nor have I heard anything definite from her rabbi, who is supposed to be the middleman.  I think I mentioned that my Mum had a different suggestion of someone to set me up with, but I don’t really know anything about her, except that she has some experience of mental health issues and sounds like she’s in a similar place to me, being functional, but lapsing back at times of stress.  I think I would be happier with someone who had experience of mental health issues and I thought PD sounded out of my league, but as I really know nothing about either woman, it is hard to know who, if either of them, would have more in common with me.

At any rate, I abandoned my plans to go for a walk and to cook macaroni cheese, even though it’s one of the easiest recipes I make.  I just didn’t have the energy.  I found myself lying on my bed, feeling depressed and angry with myself for giving in to the lethargy, and to the other negative emotions that accompany the loneliness.  I think most of my worst actions/sins/mistakes/whatever-you-call-them, have been prompted by loneliness and a desire to be accepted by others.  It’s not the worst character trait one could have, but I’d rather be in control of myself.  Then again, it’s likely that I’m a control freak and I would be better off if I could let go in a ‘safe’ way.  Not that I’ve ever done anything unsafe or illegal in an objective sense, but I should do things in a controlled way rather than in an ad hoc way when I’m too depressed or exhausted to control my actions – deliberately watch that DVD instead of procrastinating online for hours, to go back to the earlier example.

In the end dinner had to be pasta with a store-bought sauce, a trusty fall back that I’m relying on too much.  I’ve done hardly any real cooking since I started working four days a week back in September and I rely on easy meals, whether cooked (pasta, jacket potatoes) or convenience food (pizza, vegetarian schnitzels, tinned vegetarian cholent).  I feel bad about this, but don’t know what to do about it.  There are only so many hours in the day and I only have so much energy, particularly on work days, but even my weekends are spent recovering from burn out.  Similarly, I only managed five minutes of very basic Torah study today when I had hoped to do more.

And so tomorrow is Monday and work again, the last full week before my sister’s wedding…

Oh Dear

In case anyone can see, yes I am posting this at 4.30am UK time.  And no, I don’t feel tired.  I slept for about fifteen hours out of the last twenty-eight or so, which was probably exhaustion from the week, but which has really messed up my sleep pattern now.

I was in the flat by myself for Shabbat (the Sabbath), my family having gone to my soon-to-be-brother-in-law’s auf ruf (call up to the Torah before getting married).  I didn’t go, for various reasons.  I was worried I would be lonely, but I was also worried someone from shul (synagogue) would find out that I was alone and ask me to dinner.  I’m not sure why I was so scared; I was looking forward to having time alone to read, but I was also worried about having to talk to people at dinner.

I wasn’t as lonely as I have been in the past when in the flat by myself over Shabbat.  I read quite a bit, some Torah, much of Doctor Who Magazine and pretty much all of a Batman graphic novel that was quite good, but disturbingly brutal in parts.  (I spent a few years reading a lot of Batman, but have largely stopped recently as I feel in the more recent stories, the content has got too graphic and sadistic.  I mean, it’s about a man who dresses up as a bat, it’s escapism rather than realism, so why include graphic torture scenes?  I suspect the influence of the Christopher Nolan films, which I really like, but which are deeply disturbing in parts.  Anyway, I digress.)

I began to feel lonely and a bit depressed late at night, but I went to bed and hoped everything would be OK.  Unfortunately, as I feared, with no one to wake me, I overslept.  I was woken by my first alarm, but felt too lethargic and perhaps too socially anxious at the thought of going to shul to get up.  I slept through the other two alarms and missed shul completely, getting up around 1.30pm, feeling a bit depressed and very lethargic.  I davened (prayed) a bit and ate a lot and mostly survived a religious OCD scare, but the flat was very cold as I hadn’t set the timer on the heater to come on early enough, although it would not have helped me if I had, as the timer turned out to be broken, running very slow.  I went into bed after seudah (the third meal) to stay warm, but I fell asleep for two hours, by which time Shabbat was long since over and I had slept for fifteen hours out of the last eighteen or so.

Unsurprisingly, I was not remotely tired by evening.  I didn’t want to waste feeling awake and not particularly depressed, so I did various chores and watched the beginning of the three and a half hour (!!!) documentary on Blade Runner included on the DVD.  I’m in something of a Blade Runner mood at the moment, having in the last few weeks watched the film for the third time, watched the new sequel, Blade Runner 2049, and read the novel it is based on, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? for the fourth time.  It’s possible that, as I’ve mentioned, the parallels and differences between the presentation of empathy in the book and films and my experiences of Asperger’s syndrome and related empathy and socialisation issues are what resonates.

I went to bed at 3.15am, but did not feel at all tired, so I got up again some time after 4.00.  I’m not sure what to do.  I will probably watch more of the documentary and eat some porridge, in the hope that warm milk will make me drowsy.  (I can’t drink milk, I can only eat it with cereal.)

Torah from the Depths: Vayetze

Continuing my weekly posts of mental health-inspired reflections on the weekly Torah reading.

Throughout this week’s sedra, Yaakov (Jacob) is cheated by his uncle Lavan (Laban), who first makes him work seven years so that he can marry Lavan’s daughter, Rachel, then tricks him into marrying her sister Leah and insists he work another seven years for Rachel.  He then encourages Yaakov to work for him for wages for another six years, but repeatedly changes the terms of the contract to try and fleece* him of his salary.  Finally, Yaakov goes back to the land of Canaan, leaving secretly for fear that Lavan will keep Rachel, Leah and their children with him by force.  When eventually Lavan catches up with Yaakov, Yaakov finally gives in and delivers a whole speech (Bereshit/Genesis 31.36-42) complaining of his ill-treatment.  Yet Lavan simply rants back at him and they end up making a truce.

From a mental health perspective, this reminds me of the way that when someone with low self-esteem starts to stick up for themselves, those around them who have been used to them being a doormat feel that they are being attacked.  They feel that the formerly timid person has become an angry monster, when they are simply establishing healthy boundaries where none previously existed.  Similarly, Yaakov, although not suffering low self-esteem, suddenly asserted himself when previously he had been quietly forgiving, but rather than admit his guilt, Lavan saw this as an unjustified attack and fought back forcing a face-saving truce rather than an outright victory for Yaakov.

 

* No pun intended, but as Yaakov was working as a shepherd, maybe this is overly appropriate.

Being an Imposter and Crossing Barriers

This post is about two topics which are not really related, but I don’t think either quite warrants a whole post.  Anyway, I’ve been thinking about both of them recently.

One is feeling an impostor.  At work today I helped a student, but I felt I handled the situation badly at first and it took me a couple of minutes to really get to grips with what I should be doing.  I think I’ve mentioned before that when someone suddenly comes to me with a problem, particularly when I’m on the issue desk, my mind freezes and it takes a couple of minutes to engage with what I can do to solve it, probably from a mixture of social anxiety (anxious about appearing stupid or having to speak to a stranger) and Asperger’s (difficulties reading people feeding in to the social anxiety, but perhaps also executive function issues making it hard to come to a snap decision and having difficulty suddenly changing tasks).  Even then, I don’t always feel like I handled the situation well and I still often have to ask my colleagues for help, even after six months here.  I feel like an impostor, like I don’t really belong in this job.

Likewise, I had to work out the long Dewey number for a book and I was dreading it.  I hadn’t had to work out a long Dewey number since my first term on my librarianship MA, seven years ago.  The previous library I worked at used a specialised, simpler, system and the books here normally come from the publishers with the Dewey number, but one book slipped through the net.  Again, I felt like an impostor.  As it happened, I was able to import the Dewey number from elsewhere and it was just a case of deducing how it had been derived so I could work out how to shorten it to fit our standard, which still took me some time, but wasn’t so hard.  I do worry about what would happen if I had to classify with long Dewey numbers as a matter of course, something I used to be able to do, but a skill I have lost with lack of use.

Sometimes, though, the opposite situation happens and I feel a connection with people who I don’t have much in common with, at least at first glance.  I have a number of non-Jewish and non-religious friends, which is quite unusual for a frum (religious) Orthodox Jew.  Most frum Jews in my experience only socialise with other frum Jews, even if they have non-Jewish work colleagues.

Most of my contacts of this kind are online, but not all of them.  Usually the link is mental health issues, which are a great leveller.  Mental illness is completely egalitarian.  It does not discriminate based on age, gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity or religion, it will happily take anyone.  In this way, I have come to know a number of people who I consider my friends, online (through this blog and elsewhere) and in my depression support group.  As far as I can tell, a number of the people reading regularly this are religious Christians.  There are a few Orthodox Jews and at least one atheist and one who I think self-describes as pantheist/pagan.  Of course, there are a lot of people whose beliefs or lack of I don’t know at all, it just depends on whether they say anything in comments here or on their own blogs that make it clear.

I sometimes wonder how I manage to do this, how I, a person with few friends, particularly in the real world, and social anxieties that often prevent me making contact even with people who are like me, manages to reach out and connect with people who are very different to me.  I guess some of it is that I am a fairly tolerant and non-judgemental person.  I can get along with people who believe different things to me and who do things that I would never do.  Perhaps I also have less fear that I have let them down or that they will reject me for failing to live up to the religious and social standards of the frum (religious) community.  I tend to take people at face value and if they are nice to me, I respond in kind (if they are unpleasant, I avoid them).  Plus encountering people online is easier than meeting them in real life.  Like many Asperger’s sufferers, I find written communication much easier than spoken communication, so meeting people on blogs and websites is much easier than meeting them in real life, even at my depression group.

I don’t really know what to do about either of these things, the impostor syndrome and the ability to connect.  I hope the impostor syndrome will go with time as I get more used to my still relatively new job and the very different working environment I now find myself in.  As for connecting, I sometimes wonder if this is part of my mission in life, but I don’t know in what way or how to turn it to good use.  Interfaith dialogue would be the obvious way, but Orthodox Jews tend not to get involved in interfaith dialogue, for religious and, I suspect social/traditional reasons and I have to say that it has never really interested me, for various reasons.  My friend Louise commented here a while back to suggest that maybe my mission is to testify to something.  I would hope at least that I testify in my writing that Jews are normal people (my mental health notwithstanding), that we have the same issues and worries, the same hopes and dreams as everyone else, that we (or some of us, at least) can have wider cultural and geeky interests like anyone else and that our religion offers comfort and challenges like every other great religion or philosophy.  Maybe that is all I need to testify to, at least for now.

(Just as an aside, I’m hoping to write one post a week that is like this one, more of a mini-essay on an aspect of mental health than a ‘what went wrong today’ diary type of post, perhaps using my lunch break for blogging rather than my Doctor Who book one day a week.  I am also experimenting with changing the way I use the tags in an effort to get more Jewish readers.  As far as I can tell (and I may be completely wrong) a lot of my followers have come to my blog through having my blog suggested to them by WordPress.  I’m guessing (and I may be wrong again) that WordPress’ algorithm is based on my tag usage and my existing followers (hence the exponentially increasing numbers of Christian mental health bloggers reading this, who all seem to read each others’ blogs, judging by their likes).  Up until now I have been using the tags with my librarian’s hat on, like catalogue metadata (data about data e.g. keywords to locate a book – a large part of my job involves essentially tagging books in the library catalogue) i.e. only using terms if very relevant and trying to keep a limited, controlled vocabulary for consistency.  I have bent those rules a bit, more than I would at work, to make it easier for me to find particular posts, but I am thinking of using a larger set of core tags even if they are not key parts of the post, provided I think someone might want to find the post using that term, and even if I may never use that term again.  This is intended to increase the number of people who might have my posts recommended to them.  I also intend to use more Hebrew and Yiddish tags, including tagging with the same term in Hebrew/Yiddish and English (e.g. ‘God’ and ‘HaShem‘ or ‘dating’ and ‘shidduch‘) to get my posts recommended to more Jewish bloggers.)