Acceptance

A few things were on my mind over Shabbat and afterwards.

One is whether my friends secretly hate me.  I know many of my friends think very differently to me regarding politics and religion.  I don’t judge them, but I wonder what they think about me.  A lot of people can be judgmental about religion and politics, particularly politics; in this country it’s assumed by a lot of people that anyone even slightly right of centre is just Evil and hates poor people and wants to exploit them.  I haven’t, for instance, mentioned my relief at the election result to those of my friends who think it’s terrible, because I know that while it was probably the least-worst outcome for me and the Jewish community, lots of other people think otherwise, and if they didn’t experience the fear of the last few months, they’re not going to understand the relief.  Nor am I going to give them a mini-tutorial in economics (I did A-Level Economics at school) and how that influences my voting, or explain how being on benefits and a long-term NHS user has influenced my views of state welfare (clue: it’s not the way it’s ‘supposed’ to have influenced me).

OK, my friends probably don’t hate me (I don’t think they’re two-faced), but do they think, “Luftmentsch, you’re a nice guy, but how does that fit with not voting for X” or “Luftmentsch, you’re really clever, so how come you believe in God?  And a really fundamentalist one at that?”  I’m not really one for debating with people.  If people feel differently to me, I’d rather change the subject to something we have in common than try to convince them or even explain my point of view (although I do get angry inside when I’m told how great the NHS is and how lucky I should feel to be in its caring hands).  I wonder if that’s the right thing to do.

***

One crazy thing that happened on Friday, which I ran out of time to blog, was that, when I fell asleep mid-morning (after a night of insomnia), my Dad went to get the medical certificate that I need to claim benefits only to be told that the doctor had not written it and it would be another ten working days.  Then, in the afternoon, someone phoned to offer me an appointment at the Jobcentre next week, which is pointless until I get the medical certificate.  The one time the state is actually efficient is the one time I could do with some stalling for time.  I had to turn down the appointment, and the woman I spoke to wasn’t authorised to offer me one in January, so I’ll have to spend nearly an hour on hold again in a couple of weeks to get approved again so that I can get another appointment somewhere down the line.

***

Despite having only had three and a half hours of sleep in the last thirty-five, I couldn’t sleep on Friday night, although unlike Thursday I did eventually fall asleep (and then slept through shul (synagogue again).  I sat up late reading Doctor Who: Ground Zero, the latest Doctor Who Magazine comic strip compilation, containing a story I’ve waited literally twenty-three years to read.  So that was good.

***

Three thoughts I’ve had lately that are positive:

  1. I feel somewhat more accepted at shul.  A few people do talk to me in a friendly way, even if I am not always sure how to respond, or how to deepen the friendship.  The two people I sit with were concerned that I was not there last week, when I was staying with my sister and brother-in-law.  Also, although I complain about being more “modern” in outlook than the rest of the shul, I think part of me does like being on the boundary between the more modern and ultra-Orthodox streams.  That said, I did chicken out of going to a shul social event tonight, because I can’t see myself being happy in such a setting (lots of families, tempting junk food, people just milling around and chatting rather than something more structured).
  2. I am beginning to accept that my writing is somewhat good and that it can improve.  Some of my favourite authors clearly developed over time, not always for the better and sometimes not in a straightforward way.  Likewise, some of my favourite authors were not deemed successes in their lifetime.  My first novel doesn’t have to be my best.
  3. I am beginning to accept that I am, on some level, a good Jew, or at least trying my best to be one.  I am trying not compare myself to other people as much as I used to.  To be honest, hearing about the success (regarding religious involvement/prayer/Torah study, finances, career, or family) of my peers doesn’t seem to bother me so much these days, perhaps because I’m so far behind them that it’s like I’m living in a parallel universe.  Success in my world and success in their world are just two completely different things and I can’t cross into their world and succeed like them.  It’s just not possible.  So, I try to succeed in my world.

Intimations of Mortality

I was going to go to autism group after work, but on the train I felt terrible, exhausted and overstimulated.  It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what I struggle with, especially as some times I’m fine with some things, but not at other times.  I have no problem with trains most of the time, but they are hard at rush hour, and I’m not sure if it’s the noise, the heat or the people, which means it’s hard to tell if it’s social anxiety or autism.  Similarly, I can’t tell if I struggle at work from the noise (autism) or the fear of interactions with others (social anxiety) or the feeling that I’m doing badly and am going to get fired (depression and low self-esteem).  Then being depleted makes my blood sugar drop and I feel faint and sometimes start trembling, so I have to eat, which makes me worry about clomipramine-induced weight gain…

Whatever the reason, my work days are terrible ordeals at the moment.  At some point in the afternoon today I found myself crouched on the floor of the toilet, trying to escape from things.  If this was a permanent job, I would be seriously considering resigning.  As it is, I’m counting down the next six weeks.

I do worry if I’m fit to work, but, again, it’s hard to tell anyone that, because I’m not sure myself if the problem is depression, social anxiety or autism.  Someone told me that where I live one can have free (i.e. state-provided) help with autism, including a pre-assessment (for want of a better word) where they tell you whether you are likely to be diagnosed with autism and what that would entail.  I don’t know if I qualify because I’ve already been assessed twice and told I’m not autistic, but if I can go, I’m seriously thinking of going and saying that I really think that I’ve been wrongly diagnosed and that I’m autistic, that much of my life only makes sense if I’m autistic and that several mental health professionals (and some friends) strongly believe that I’m autistic, especially as the diagnostic criteria have been revised and broadened since I was assessed.

I had a lot of death fantasy today, not so much wanting to die, although there was some of that, but wondering if I’m dead and in Gehennom (Purgatory).  It’s probably just as well that I’ve finished reading VALIS, as that was probably encouraging me in that kind of solipsistic fantasy.  I just want not to be here.  I can’t imagine my life ever being worth living.  I just seem to be a mass (or mess) of mental illness and autism and trying to unpick and cure – or even just alleviate – one part of my problems runs into the problem that they are all interconnected and you can’t deal with one without dealing with all the others first.

My self-belief is at an all time low (which is saying something).  I can’t see myself managing to get a permanent job and stay at this level of functionality indefinitely.  I don’t even need to worry about getting married, just worrying about functioning is bad enough.  I don’t think I have ever worked as hard with depression this bad as I have this year.  Usually when working with depression in the past I was doing very short hours or studying with control over my study schedule, but now I’m nearly working full time with a long commute at rush hour.  On one level it’s impressive, but I worry that I’m going to burn out; goodness knows what that would entail – suicide? psychosis?  To be honest, I don’t think it would be either, but I don’t know what it would be.

I feel inclined to withdraw from social things, as I did with autism group and as I have been doing with shul (synagogue).  It occurred to me today that I probably do have a couple of friends, or potential friends, who could accept me if I would open up to them, but I’m scared that if I do that they won’t accept and I’ll be worse off than I am now, where at least I have them as somewhat friendly.  So I don’t open up and so never get to move those friendships on to closer friendships.  I don’t know how to talk to people about my mental health/autism and I don’t know how to explain that they dominate my entire life to the exclusion of almost everything else.  And then there’s the shame I feel about my geeky interests with other frum (religious) people, so that’s another key part of me I don’t open up about.

I did at least get to shiur (religious class), as by the evening I had eaten and relaxed a bit and felt somewhat restored, although I was inwardly a bit disquieted by the unusually large number of men packed into the assistant rabbi’s dining room.  The topic was not so easy for me either as it was about having purpose in life and living according to that purpose, whereas I don’t feel I know my purpose at all and don’t know how to find out; I’ve been told I can work it out by listing the five happiest moments of my life and what I would do with a million pounds and six hours of free time a day, but I don’t think I can think of five times I’ve been really happy and I simply don’t know what I would do with money and time.  This was also tied in to having a spouse and children to take forward your mission, which is obviously sensitive to me.  The assistant rabbi was saying that a person can be studying Torah and doing mitzvot (commandments) and still be messing up by not studying the Torah and doing the mitzvot  needed for his precise mission, so obviously that’s just going to reinforce my feeling that I’m a bad person and I’m not going to go to Olam HaBa (Heaven).  And he spoke about my acting out too and about that being wrong (not that he knows that I do it, he just meant it generally).

In terms of finding my mission in life, sometimes I think I should try to contact the author of this article and ask if she can offer any tips on finding my life’s mission, but I don’t know what she could say that isn’t in the article.  Other than that, I have no idea what to do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Despatches from the Front Line 4 (Purim Day)

Continued from the last post.

I could not sleep last night.  I got to bed late anyway, after 1am, but my mind was full of thoughts about yesterday evening and anxieties about today and my date next week.  Eventually I realized I was not going to sleep and got up and Doctor Who-ed to calm my mind down, finally falling asleep some time around 2.20am.

I could not sleep in this morning, though, as I wanted to get to an early Shacharit (morning  service) and Megillah (Book of Esther) reading.  I managed to do this, getting up at 6.50am (on a Sunday!).  It mostly went well, but I had a bit of an OCD panic.  One is supposed to hear every single word of the Megillah and while I had heard every word, my mind drifted at one point and one word didn’t register properly – I heard it, but I didn’t register what it was until my reading caught up a second later.  I initially thought this was OK, but by the time I got home afterwards I was caught in the spiral of OCD doubt and was ready to find a later reading to hear it all again.  Fortunately, I decided to phone my rabbi first to check if this repetition was necessary and he assured me that everyone’s mind drifts during the reading and it is enough to have been there and heard every word.  Even so, part of me felt, “Maybe I didn’t ask the question properly.  Maybe I should go to another reading to be sure”, but I have been playing the OCD game long enough to know that there is no escape that way.  If I went to another reading, I would surely find another problem to make me think that I had not fulfilled the mitzvah (commandment).  This is the tricky thing about OCD, the way it tells you that you are doing the right thing, that you can never be too careful.  Give in just once and you are laying yourself open to an endless cycle of doubt and checking.  I have been trying very hard lately not to ask a rabbi a question unless I am quite sure that there is a legitimate doubt about what I should do and certainly only to ask the question once, not repeating the question because I think I have not explained myself properly or that I have not been understood.  I tell myself that asking a rabbi creates a halakhic (legal) reality; my job is to follow the ruling I have been given, not to second-guess the rabbi who gave it.  This is hard, but it is the only way to beat the OCD cycle.

There was then a sombre interval, when we found out that my great-aunt had died.  I did not know her particularly well, but my Dad was close to her and especially to my great-uncle (who died about a year ago).  This cast a shadow over the day.

I then managed to go to a Purim seudah (meal/party) with my sister, her boyfriend, her flatmate and various other people.  I had been at Oxford with a couple of people there and as I have mentioned in previous posts, I was worried that they would remember me negatively as aloof and standoffish (although I was actually desperately shy and depressed).  At any rate, they either did not remember me or did not think negatively of me.  I surprised myself by joining in the conversation a lot, even cracking a couple of well-received jokes and my jester’s hat proved a great hit (fancy dress being a Purim tradition dating from the Middle Ages).  It was an extremely positive experience, setting me up well for my blind date next week by making me feel that I can talk to strangers.

Now I’m slowly coming down, hoping that I won’t crash, either tonight or tomorrow morning, which is possible (what I call a mental hangover, when socializing or other activity one day leads to a worsening of the depression and lethargy the next).  Hopefully this is a sign of improvements in my mental health and ability to socialize that I will be able to build on in the future.