Meaning from Suffering

A random selection of stuff that went through my head today with even less thematic unity than normal…

Ashley Leia commented on the previous post regarding the high level of socialisation required in the Orthodox community.  I guess that’s what a lot of my blog is about, really, and certainly what I would want a book on mental health and autism in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community to be about: that Orthodoxy does require a lot of socialisation and it isn’t always possible for people to fit in.

This dovetailed with a thought I had last night after I posted.  When frum people talk about what they like about Judaism and when non-Jews say what they admire about Judaism, some things often come up: strong family life, close-knit communities and many festivals with their unique rituals.  The problem is that because of my mental health issues and autism, things I struggle with in Judaism include family life, close-knit communities and many festivals with their unique rituals.  It feels sometimes like I have the usual difficulties of Judaism and more without the positives, or without many of the positives.  Sometimes I wonder why I’m frum, but I just “happen” to believe and am not hypocritical enough to believe and not do, or at least not try to do.

***

I’m having silly crush thoughts about someone I knew from a previous shul who I haven’t seen for about four years and who I have never (as far as I can remember) spoken to, not even to say hello.  When she saw my parents at a party last year, she apparently asked them how I was, by name.  I didn’t think that she knew me, let alone knew my name.  Somehow I can’t see that going anywhere, but I’ve been thinking of her for the last few days for no very obvious (or good) reason.  Even if I thought it was a good idea for me to be dating (which I don’t) and that she might be interested in me (which she almost certainly isn’t) I wouldn’t really know how to get in contact with her, nor would I have the confidence to do so.  But, still, I keep thinking about her.  My Dad once claimed that he’d had a dream where I was married to her.  (My Dad thinks his dreams are precognitive, which is why he isn’t worried about me not getting married and having children, because he’s seen my wife and kids in dreams.  I’m rather sceptical of things like that.)

I’m a very lonely person.  I’ve never had many friends and, even now, when I do have a small circle of friends, most of them live far away and I communicate with them by blogging, emailing, texting and/or What’sApping.  I long for real intimacy.  I mean the feeling when one really opens up to a close friend or especially a partner and is understood, and they open up and are understood in return.  This has been a rare and short-lived phenomenon in my life.  I suppose it’s related to what I said last week about existentialist Judaism and finding holiness in the interpersonal.

***

I went out to do some shopping for ingredients for dinner.  I was out walking for an hour and came back with nothing.  I couldn’t find lentils in the two small supermarkets and I’d forgotten that the big Sainsbury’s shuts early on Sunday and they were closed when I arrived.  I became so focused on finding the lentils that I forgot we needed apples too.  By the time I got home I was feeling too depressed and exhausted to cook much anyway.

***

I felt very depressed and despairing when I was out, not about myself, but about society as a whole.  Sometimes it’s easy to convince myself that society is just corrupt, and that Jewish society has been corrupted too, and that (as per the Rambam) I should go off somewhere and be a hermit.  I don’t think society has passed the point of no return, and as a student of history, I’m not really convinced that society is worse than ever before, overall, but one only needs to look in a newspaper to see that there’s a lot wrong with the world.

Nevertheless, I felt very agitated when trapped with my thoughts, despite taking advantage of the heter (permission) to allow depressed people to listen to music in the omer.  I don’t know why I experience this agitation sometimes, what triggers it or ends it, nor do I understand the anger and grandiosity that can accompany it.  I don’t know where it comes from or why or how to calm down without just waiting until I’m burnt out and exhausted, not to mention still depressed, just too tired to think.  I’ve been told it isn’t mania, as I once thought.  It seems to be associated with loneliness and comes particularly on days when I am alone.  It started while my parents were out today and continued while I was out shopping, but when I got home and saw my parents it subsided (maybe I do need to get married ASAP).  The immediate triggers are usually seeing political stuff online or in the newspapers, particularly stuff about antisemitism or other political events that trouble me.  But I’m not sure if they are really the triggers; it feels like they are just the proximate causes and there’s a deeper psychological cause somewhere that I haven’t identified.

Sometimes, particularly when I’m very agitated, I feel, on some level, that I want to die for everyone’s sins, although that’s not a very Jewish thing to say (in theory we don’t believe in vicarious punishment.  It does appear in some sources, but we downplay it).  When I was at university I had a couple of borderline-psychotic episodes for for a second or two I was convinced that I was Mashiach (the Messiah).

I just want my suffering to be meaningful beyond myself.  It’s hard just thinking that, at best, I might be atoning for some of my sins and saving myself from different suffering in Gehennom (Purgatory).  It’s much better for my ego and sense of purpose to feel that every day I suffer somehow pushes the world towards redemption, that every tear I shed spares a child from a terrorist’s rocket.  It’s hard to find real meaning in my suffering, so it’s easy to slip into fantasy.  I suppose that’s why I want to write a book about my experiences, to try to rescue them (the experiences, I mean), to let other people find meaning in them.  There is very little written about mental health from a frum Jewish perspective and, as far as I can tell, virtually nothing at all about high functioning autism.

***

In the end I did manage to do a few useful things today: I went shopping/walking for an hour, did ten minutes of Torah study (all I could face, really) and spent an hour and a half redrafting another chapter of my Doctor Who book as well as watching and taking notes The Ghost Monument episode for the chapter I still have to write.  I also cooked a packet of couscous.  I feel I should have done more, though.  I wanted to do ‘real’ cooking, not convenience food and I feel frustrated that I can spend an hour and a half or more on my book (not to mention blogging) and only ten minutes on Torah study, but the latter is draining while the former is restoring.  Still, it feels like a wasted day.  I can sort of see that maybe (maybe!) it shouldn’t feel like a wasted day and maybe I shouldn’t be beating myself up for not doing enough Torah study, especially as at one point I didn’t think I would manage any, but it’s hard to think like that.

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Politics and Despair

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

Thanatos

Trigger warning: suicide

Also, rather long and involved, if that needs a warning

Well, that was an awful, awful day.  The stupid thing is that nothing particularly bad even happened.  I made some stupid mistakes at work and looked like an idiot in front of my line manager and her line manager, but it wasn’t anything really terrible.  But it just sent me over the edge.

I woke up feeling depressed, which was not a good start.  Already by the time I was on the way to work I was feeling that “I don’t deserve to live.”  I felt I just couldn’t cope and wanted to die.  There was a feeling of wanting to attract attention.  People look down on people who hurt themselves as a cry for attention, but that seems to ignore the fact that sometimes there just aren’t the words to say how you feel.

At work I went very slowly, not deliberately, but I was just struggling to work and to feel that I could cope.  Already by lunchtime I messaged E. to say I was having a lousy day, even though I could see that nothing bad had happened.  By mid-afternoon I had embarrassed myself in front of my line manager and was locked in a vicious circle of feeling useless –> making mistakes –> feeling useless –> making mistakes.  I felt like an idiot, which, as my brain helpfully reminded me, is from the Greek idios meaning private or on one’s own.  I have been on my own for so long that I have turned into an idiot.

Also, my brain now sends me depressive self-hating thoughts in Greek…

Floundering, I felt that I should be doing menial work instead of my actual job, but then felt that I couldn’t actually do that either.  I’m not suited for menial labour.  I need intellectual work, but narrowly defined and without the need for special qualifications.  I don’t think this work exists, unless I can find a way to get paid for my writing.

Feeling that I was unemployable did not cheer me up, unsurprisingly, and I started thinking about hurting myself again and about suicide.  I felt that I wanted to die, more than anything.  I texted E. to say that I was only holding on for family and friends, but really that was a lie.  I was just holding on for my parents.  It pains me to say it, but I was so far gone that the thought of my friends or even my sister might not have been enough to keep me going by themselves.  Things just seemed so hopeless.  It seems so impossible that my career could improve or that anyone could ever love me, especially without a good career (note the way that I see a career as valuable primarily to make me more marryable).

This cycle carried on for the rest of the afternoon.  It’s hard now, hours later, now I’ve calmed down, to really describe how I felt.  I know I’ve tried to write these thoughts down and blog them in the past, but it’s hard, because at the time there’s a tension and an agitation and my thoughts start racing, but I think not being able to communicate the thoughts makes them worse; once I can start to write them down, I can begin to see logical flaws in them and even the act of writing them down or speaking them through with someone (if I can see a therapist or phone Samaritans) can help to calm me down.  But at work I was trying to plough on regardless with my job and that just increased the pressure and the agitation.

Eventually, the day finished and I could come home.  Or so I thought.  I was halfway to the station when I started having OCD thoughts about not having locked up the rare books store room properly.  I tried to stay with the thoughts and go home, but it was too much for me and I went back to check.  By that stage I could see that I was in a state.  My blood sugar was probably very low and I was thinking all kinds of self-loathing thoughts, thinking that I should stop being frum (religious) if I want to get married.  I thought that if I walked back to the station straight away I would end up in a terrible state, so after checking the rare books, I went to the staff room and ate all the food I had with me (an apple and a cereal bar), after which I felt somewhat better and went home.

I was still having difficult thoughts though.  I don’t use profanity as a rule, but I’m ashamed to relate some of the things I was thinking.  I was still thinking that I just wanted to die, that I would rather die than recover, because recovery seemed so impossible.  Because Gehennom (the ‘bad’ afterlife in Judaism, but more like Purgatory than Hell) couldn’t be worse than how I felt.  Because Gehennom lasts for only one year, and because at least in Gehennom I wouldn’t be humiliated in front of other people on a regular basis.  Feeling really angry with God.  Just furious.  I can’t even remember everything I thought, it was so terrible and strong.

And the final insult, I returned home to a letter from the taxman (or taxwoman, in this case) informing me that, no, they made a mistake previously, I do really owe them another £60 from the last tax year.  I don’t mind paying the money – well, I do, but it’s not the main irritant.  It’s having yet another thing to sort out because other people screwed up.  It’s not like our public services are doing much for me.  Maybe I ought to phone the crisis team and demand my money’s worth.

I usually blog my day when I get in to offload, but I was too worried about what I would write if I went straight into it, so I forced myself to daven Ma’ariv (say the evening prayers), eat dinner and watch TV for a bit to calm down.  I felt – I still feel – exhausted and somewhat in shock.  I usually avoid caffeine in the evenings, but I drank some tea because I really did feel in shock.  I watched some of The Quatermass Experiment (the live 2005 remake of the 1950s science fiction serial).  Part of it was set in my place of work; I think they might even have filmed some of the non-live cutaway shots in the street I was walking down two hours earlier when I was having OCD thoughts, which was a bit unnerving.

I still feel exhausted and a bit in shock and my shoulder muscles are really tense, but my mood is better.  I have a bit of a ‘coming down’ feel, except I’m coming down from something bad rather than good.  Coming up, maybe.  At least I’m home and safe in my room with my books and DVDs.  I guess for an autistic person quiet, space, familiarity and special interests (books and DVDs) are all important (perhaps even all-important).  I bought some chocolate (minstrels, one of my favourites) on the way home because I felt I needed to have some kind of reward for getting through the day in one piece, even if it won’t be help me lose weight.

***

When I’d calmed down a bit, I recalled the first time I was suicidal, in fact when I nearly took an overdose, when I was in my third year at Oxford.  I sat down to take an overdose, but at the last instant changed my mind and phoned someone (a friend who wasn’t talking to me because she couldn’t cope with my being suicidal, but that’s another story).  About a week later I casually mentioned this to the university counselling service counsellor I was seeing and she was astonished that I had neglected to mention this suicide attempt and that I didn’t think it was worth telling her.  She asked me what my parents would think if I killed myself and I said they would be upset; she said they would be devastated.

I wonder now, over fifteen years on, whether this was autism, not the suicidality, but not thinking it was important enough to mention to my counsellor and only being able to express my parents’ grief in a partial and limited way.  It’s like the way I downplayed my sister’s grief and my friends’ grief if I were to kill myself.  It’s hard for me to conceptualise it and I don’t know how much is self-loathing (no one cares about me) and how much is autistic ‘mindblindness’ (not being able to imagine how other people feel generally).

***

This morning, while my thought processes were getting out of control, I thought that knowing that I’m probably autistic, I need to find adaptive solutions to my problems, accepting the reality of autism and probably also of some kind of permanent level of depression, at least in the background, rather than technical ‘tweaks’ of the kind I have been trying to make for years.  The tweaks were sometimes successful (the occupational therapist I used to see probably made more positive changes to my life than anyone), but I really need to change the way I live to adapt to the reality of my situation, I just don’t know how.  It’s possible – probable, even – that adaptive changes have been suggested by therapists and psychiatrists before now, but that I couldn’t implement them, perhaps partly because I hadn’t been diagnosed as autistic (technically I still haven’t been diagnosed, of course).

I don’t know what changes I could make, though.   I’m already more or less accepting not going to shul (synagogue) on Shabbat (Saturday) mornings without trying to guilt-trip myself, which may or may not be a good thing; today I was wondering if I would make it to shul for the morning Megillah reading on Purim next week or if I just feel too overwhelmed to do that too.  It seems to be easy to feel that I can’t do things with autism rather than that I can do things.  Maybe I should be accepting that I can make it to shul.  Should I just accept that I will never have a job I feel comfortable in, that I will never get married?  It’s hard to know what is realistic, much too easy to try to do too much or too little.

When the depression was feeling bad earlier I wondered if I would find it easier to get married if I wasn’t frum.  I couldn’t give up Shabbat and kashrut, but anything else would seem like fiddling at the margins.  Should I be looking for non-frum women who are willing to compromise (as E. was)?  I’m afraid of the tensions that might result and what sort of compromise I would have to make in return.  But a non-frum woman would not care about my not davening with a minyan (community) or learning (studying Torah/Talmud) enough.  I would date a frum woman with ‘issues’ although I would be nervous of how our issues would combine, particularly if she had mental health issues.  However, a lot of ‘issues’ in the frum world are not things that I would consider issues at all (ba’alat teshuva or geyoret, parents divorced, siblings stopped being frum etc.) and I would be happy to date such a person.

On the other hand, lately I’ve felt my frumkeit slipping in little ways.  Nothing big.  I still believe in God (even if I’m angry with Him some of the time), keep kosher, keep Shabbat and so on.  But I don’t beat myself up so much for missing davening or shul or Torah study and it’s getting harder and harder to avoid cultural stuff (books, TV, films, music) that feels treif and that I would previously have avoided.  I don’t know where this is going though.

The Exiled Child

“We are not of your race.  We are not of your Earth.  We are wanderers in the fourth dimension.” – Doctor Who: An Unearthly Child (I think only the untransmitted pilot)

7.30pm: just back from picking up my prescription (I got it all in the end).  Really agitated when out.  Images of hurting myself, wanting to hurt myself.  Agitation, perhaps unfocused anger.  I want to write about my childhood trauma.  I want to write about the wicked things I do that make me hate myself so much.  I don’t want to be here.  I can’t function in this world.  One day I’m going to lose it, hurt myself or someone else or just scream and shout until they come and take me away and section me and hospitalise me.  I’ve had a couple of close calls over the years, my luck can’t last forever.  I’m an incompetent defective freak.

I don’t belong here.  This place, this time, this isn’t my home.  Please let me go home.  I’m a very small child and I want to go home.

9.00pm Mid-watching a Jonathan Creek episode I had never seen before to try to cheer myself up.  Bad mistake.  The Clue of the Savant’s Thumb, about the murder of a Jonathan Miller-type scientist/comedian/intellectual, turns out to be fall of stuff about how stupid and evil religious people are.  Plus, it’s also full of sex, which I guess is no surprise (murder mysteries are generally about sex or money, they’re the main reasons to murder someone, and sex is more interesting to write about), but also Jonathan Creek’s new wife has persuaded him to sell out, stop living in his antique windmill, creating magic tricks and become a high-powered business man, which just makes me feel more inadequate.  I couldn’t – and wouldn’t want to – be a big businessman (I would live in an antique windmill, though), but E. might not have broken up with me if I was, nor would I get people asking me (as happened on Friday) if they’re right that no one becomes a librarian for the money.  Actually, senior librarians are paid well and I think being a senior librarian at a university library is comparable to being a senior academic, but, let’s face it, I’m never going to manage that either.  I’m too depressed and unworldly (not in a good way), uninterested in anything beyond my autistic special interests and simply bored and panicked by the thought of professional development or networking (social anxiety!).

9.45pm DVD finished.  Exhausted, but not sleepy.  Agitation is tiring, fantasising about hurting myself is tiring.  Not hurting myself is surprisingly tiring.  Not telling anyone about this is emotionally draining.  I should go to bed because I have work tomorrow, but I feel like I’m carrying a lot of agitated nervous energy in my muscles.  I don’t know what to do.  My life is such a mess.  I’m such a mess.

I don’t belong here.  This place, this time, this isn’t my home.  Please let me go home.  I’m a very small child and I want to go home.

Fragile with Tears

After posting last night, I became very agitated and morbid.  I wrote the following paragraphs, but didn’t post them, partly because I didn’t want people to think I was about to kill myself, partly because I try to avoid posting more than once in a day (trigger warning for suicide):

I can’t stop thinking about suicide.  I don’t even want to kill myself, I just think I will one day, maybe in a week, maybe in fifty years.  More likely in fifty years, to be honest, when my parents are dead and I’ve lost touch with most of my friends.  I was just looking at suicide prevention stuff online and it was all about “If you kill yourself, your wife and kids will remember you as a corpse, they’ll have to move house because the resonances of the room where they found your body is [sic] too strong, they’ll be questioned by the police.”  Nothing about what if you want to kill yourself because you’re never going to have a wife and kids.

I have to hold on to the belief that my parents care about me, but sometimes it’s hard.  They don’t understand me at all and I don’t understand them at all.  It’s partly neurotypical vs autistic brains, but also different personalities, values and intensities of religious belief…

I’ve been told that God loves me, but I find it hard to believe, unless God on some level loved Hitler too.

I’m not in any danger of killing myself tonight, but I know I can never be sure I’m safe forever.

The ellipsis in the second paragraph covers some stuff I’m angry with my parents about, very trivial, but I had second thoughts about putting it in the public domain again.  In hindsight, it’s clearly an exaggeration to say that my parents don’t understand me at all and vice versa.  They probably do understand me to some extent, but not completely or anywhere near completely (I don’t know if anyone understands anyone else completely, even people who have lived together for decades).  But they don’t understand a lot about my mental health issues and autism and it’s hard to explain it to them.  Likewise, we’re on different religious levels with very different outlooks on life.  I don’t know how much I understand them.  Our brains are wired very differently is all I can say, but that’s not terribly helpful even to me, let alone to them.

***

I hear a lot regarding autism that autistic brains are “wired differently”.  I’ve taken to wondering what that actually means.  Maybe I’m being, well, autistic about this, but brains don’t have actual wires in them.  Does it mean the synapses don’t function properly or the connections between areas of the brain aren’t there?

***

At my well-being group today (what I was referring to as “resilience class”, but this is a more accurate name) I opened up a bit about autism, mostly because someone else there was being open about being on the spectrum and another person was talking about having brain damage from being in a car crash.  I hope I opened up for the right reasons, though, as I’m not always sure that I do.  It felt fairly safe, not least because there were little more than half the number of people who attended the first session.  I guess that’s how these things go.  I started the session very depressed and tense, but finished somewhat better, but my mood went down again on the way home; I’ve probably been  up and down all day.

I do think that the group is really for people with minor depression though.  The facilitators were talking about triggers and saying if something triggers you and you still feel depressed after after a couple of days, it might be an episode of depression.  Someone spoke about being depressed for months on end, but I’m just permanently depressed.  Out of the last sixteen years, I’ve probably been ‘not depressed’ for about two years in total, split into chunks of up to six months.  So that made me feel a bit hopeless.

Someone did say something helpful about “You can’t control the first thought, but you can control the second one.”  I thought that was interesting.

***

I looked over the notes I took at my new job last week, but I’m still worried there is so much for me still to know, even though officially I’m only contracted for another six days (over three weeks).  I really worry I’m going to mess it all up, but I’d like to stay working there if I can, as a higher education library with few client-facing interactions seems to be the best working environment for me so far.

One of the papers, detailing the handling of rare books and papers, cautioned me to be careful when handling things that are “fragile with tears”.  It meant “tears” as in “rips”, but I keep reading it as “crying.”  I think I’m “fragile with tears”.

***

I’m still lonely.  My experience of dating E. has taught me that there’s no point in dating anyone until I’m more financially secure, though, which could take years.  I’ve decided I need to wait until I have a permanent job, even if it’s part-time.  At least that shows I’m serious about my career and supporting a family, even if I can’t do it alone.  If something drops from the sky, I might reconsider, but I don’t think it’s likely.  Things like that rarely happen to me, although twice I’ve ended up dating or nearly dating someone who contacted me through my blog.  “Did you wish really hard?” to quote Doctor Who: The Doctor’s Wife.  Obviously I can’t wish hard enough.

***

A discussion on another blog makes me realise that, for all I talk about the frum (Orthodox Jewish) community, I’m too much on the fringes to really talk about it.  I was brought up going to an Orthodox shul (synagogue), but we were traditional rather than fully observant and I didn’t become fully shomer mitzvot (keeping the commandments) until around university age.  I still don’t really have many friends in the frum community, which marks me out as unusual for a frum person as they usually socialise within the community and often express the opinion that they would struggle to find common ground with non-observant Jews or non-Jews.  For me, I suspect I gravitate towards non-frum people not for the reasons I would have told myself in the past (I hate false piety; the frum world doesn’t accept my interests) and more because, in terms of the mental algorithms I use to function in a neurotypical world, it’s a relief not to have to run the “don’t say anything heretical/socially unacceptable” algorithm when I’m already using a lot of energy running the “how to interact with neurotypicals” algorithm, the “how to talk about my special interests to people who don’t share them” algorithm and the “how to share appropriately about mental health” algorithm.

***

I was going to do a whole big thing about this article, but it would be wrong and pointless of me to do so.  I just wish I knew how to have the kind of joy and purpose in my life, and in my Judaism, that the author speaks of and the belief that God loves me and believes in me.  As for “committing suicide in installments”… it’s an effort not to commit suicide in one literal go, just surviving is good even if I die a little more inside each day.  It’s a shame that the author of the original seven questions has died and so I can’t email him and ask.

***

An aside: when I started this blog, I used both ‘autism’ and ‘Asperger’s syndrome’ in posts and as tags, as I know both are used online.  A few months ago I became aware that ‘Asperger’s syndrome’ has been dropped as a separate condition in the DSM-5 psychiatric guidelines and also that it now appears that Hans Asperger, the doctor after whom the condition is named, collaborated with the Nazis in his native Austria.  I feel very uncomfortable calling myself someone with ‘Asperger’s’ now or ‘an Aspie’ but I wonder if calling myself ‘autistic’ or ‘on the autism spectrum’ to people who don’t know much about autism is a good idea.  I suppose it summons up images of the severely autistic and non-functional (e.g. Rain Man, although I’ve never seen that film) which can lead to stereotyping or disbelief that someone as outwardly functional as I am could actually be on the spectrum, especially as I don’t have a firm diagnosis yet.

Does anyone else have any ideas?  This comes up mainly at my well-being and depression support groups, which is the main place I would be open about my difficulties.  I have only opened up to one or two friends who don’t read my blog about this so far and am wary of saying anything at the moment, although part of me would like to do so.  I generally don’t even discuss my depression with friends who don’t read my blog, let alone the autism.

“Let me speak, then, and get relief”

For I am full of words;

The wind in my belly presses me.

My belly is like wine not yet opened,

Like jugs of new wine ready to burst

Let me speak, then, and get relief;

Let me open my lips and reply.

I would not show regard for any man,

Or temper my speech for anyone’s sake;

For I do not know how to temper my speech –

My Maker would soon carry me off!

Iyov (Job) 32.18-22, translation from The JPS Bible (I would normally do my own translation, but Iyov is really hard).

I didn’t intend to write again tonight, certainly not at gone 1.00am, but I feel incredibly agitated, upset and angry.  There are a few things on my mind.

The main thing making me angry is something within the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community that I wish I didn’t have to speak about because it is a chillul HaShem (desecration of God’s name; something that makes non-Jews and non-religious Jews think badly about religious Jews, Torah and HaShem (God)), but I feel so upset and angry I have to.

Sholom Rubashkin is a convicted fraudster who was jailed for twenty-seven years for massive fraud at the kosher abattoir he owned.  He also happens to be a religious Jew, although “religious” here requires qualification.  He doubtless would never dream of breaking Shabbat (the Sabbath) or eating non-kosher food, but he apparently has not heard of the Talmudic dictum that dina demalchuta dina, the law of the land has the status of religious law, nor does he seem to realise that stealing from non-Jews is still stealing.

Even before he was jailed his business had close run-ins with the law, most of which were resolved outside of the courts, for issues concerning animal welfare, food safety, environmental safety, child labour and employing illegal immigrants.  He is not a good man.  But his sentence was viewed as excessive even by people outside the Jewish community and there was a big campaign involving, to be fair, a large number of prominent American politicians of both parties and lawyers, including Nancy Pelosi and the ACLU.  President Trump commuted his sentence (not a pardon as some people think) and he was released after serving eight years.

Rubashkin is now touring Jewish communities as a inspirational speaker, speaking about emunah and bitachon, faith and trust in God which he says helped him in prison.  He is coming to the UK soon; in fact, he might even be here already, which is why this has suddenly come on my radar.  His promotional material describes him as a “baal haness,” someone who has experienced a miracle.  He has apparently written a book, the blurb on Amazon.com for which states “Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin has become a symbol of spiritual endurance for Jews around the world.”  One Jewish newspaper even disgustingly compared him to Captain Dreyfus, the Jewish soldier framed for espionage who became a cause célèbre in nineteenth century France.

I feel so sick writing this.  He’s an criminal who should slink off into a hole instead of which he’s being portrayed in some parts of the community as a hero.  As far as I’m aware, the money raised from his speaking (minimum donation £20, which is a LOT) is going to charity rather than to him, but even so, money is being generated by a narrative which turns a very bad man who defrauded others into a hero who survived incarceration in prison through piety and which implicitly misrepresents him as a prisoner of conscience who survived by his faith, instead of someone who should have been stopped by his conscience and his faith from committing his crimes in the first place.

The reason this upsets me so much on a personal level is the fact that I feel so isolated in the frum community as it is and then to see it fêting this ganav (thief) is so painful, another rejection.  He is the hero and I’m – what? – some ignored, lonely, isolated freak who almost no one even invites for Shabbat meals.  I have been depressed for at least sixteen years, I have spent twice as long as Rubashkin’s prison sentence in the ‘prison’ of mental illness.  My emunah and bitachon, my faith and trust in God is very, very weak at times, apparently unlike Rubashkin’s, but I’ve had to hold on to it knowing not that God was punishing me for doing something wrong* but that I was suffering terrible mental and emotional pain for no obvious reason (my mental health issues began before the age of twenty, the age at which Jewish tradition states one becomes liable to punishment for sins, although I suppose that only proves that the initial cause of the depression was not punishment; later on it could have been a punishment) and had to somehow find a way to keep my faith and trust in a God who was doing this to me for no obvious reasons.  And now to see this ganav being praised to the skies and held up as a spiritual hero and master of bitachon is just sickening and painful.

I don’t think I’m a particularly good person and sometimes I think I’m a very bad person, but most of my worst sins have been the product of years of emotional neglect, bullying, loneliness and despair.  I am ashamed of them, I don’t try to profit by them and I would stop committing them if I could.  Yet it sickens, angers and, frankly, terrifies me to be in a world, in a community that lauds someone like that.  I don’t know what to do.  I should say that no one from my own shul (synagogue) has been praising Rubashkin to me, it’s just the wider Anglo-Jewish community, seeing his face looking out from newspapers and emails promoting his talks.  The worst thing was seeing one particular rabbi lauding Rubashkin in his Jewish newspaper column and attacking people who thought he was a criminal; this rabbi had been supposed to help broker a shidduch (blind date) between me and one of his congregants in 2017.  I think the failure of the shidduch to materialise was not his fault, but he certainly did not help me, being very difficult to get hold of.

When I turned on the computer again to write this, I wanted to write about several things that were upsetting me, but I feel burnt out and this is a long enough post already, and it’s nearly 2.00am, so good night for now; perhaps I will turn to the other things after sleeping.

* This assumes that Rubashkin actually realises he did something wrong.  Aside from his appeal to the judge in court before sentencing, I don’t think he has actually admitted any guilt or shown any remorse.

Trying To Be Normal

I tried to phone Samaritans twice yesterday, but couldn’t get through.  The ringing phone was just making me feel more anxious and agitated, so I didn’t wait very long.  I guess they are busy and under-manned at this time of year.  A couple of friends saw my posts and texted/WhatsApped me, which made me feel a bit better.  Thank you to them and the people who commented here and emailed, although I only saw those messages this morning.  It’s good to feel that people do care about me, even if they live far away and can only stay in contact remotely.

I do wish I didn’t hate myself so much, but I feel I could not in all honesty hate myself less unless I was a better person and a better Jew, and I don’t know how to do that.

I just feel overwhelmed by the world, and by my life.  In my mind personal things (my self-hatred and despair) mix with Jewish worries (antisemitism) and global things (hate-based populism) and I can’t breathe or focus.  Everything feels like… if not my fault, then at least my responsibility to fix.  (I’m not sure I’m expressing this well, that’s not quite what I feel, but I can’t find the words.)  But I can’t.  I know I shouldn’t have to fix the world and that I can’t, but I feel I should.  I can’t even fix myself, but I feel I should be able to fix antisemitism.  I was still in my pyjamas at 1.15pm.  I don’t know how I can do that and still expect to be able to save the world.

I don’t know why my life feels so hard so much of the time.  I don’t think I deserve an easy life, but it’s getting so hard just to keep going.  It’s arguably not even objectively that hard (I’m not physically ill or in dire poverty), I just cope so badly at the moment.  I feel a bit pathetic that I can’t do things other people can manage easily.  It’s hard to give myself a break for being depressed and autistic and struggling with stuff that other people find easy.

***

In the end I did manage to go for a walk for half an hour (which was incredibly exhausting, as much as running used to be) and I spent some time painting my Doctor Who miniatures and trying to accept that they are going to take a while to paint (I tend to be impatient with big projects) and that they are not going to be perfect (I’m a perfectionist).  I’m glad that Peters Davison and Capaldi are both about 75% done, although Davison’s striped trousers are giving me difficulties and I don’t know where to draw the line (in both a literal and metaphorical sense).  But I also feel vaguely guilty for not doing something “worthwhile” with my time.

***

Liora suggested I try to assess my activity levels each day in a more objective way.  I tried to apply some numbers representing emotional energy expended to tasks I regularly do to work out how much energy I expend, although it’s hard to tell, as it can vary from day to day and even during days e.g. my walk to the station in the morning is a lot easier than the same walk home at the end of a working day, the difficulty of which can also vary according to how tiring the day was.

I worked out that a typical work day would involve expending a bit over 400 units.  The last few days, since I’ve been doing this, I’ve been expending 100-200 units a day, which is understandable given that I’m not working at the moment, if a little disappointing, but yesterday I only managed 65, but I was completely exhausted all day.  I’m not quite sure what this demonstrates.  I’ve been measuring my mood each day for years, but I’m not sure how useful that is either the way I do it, but I don’t really want to monitor my mood repeatedly across the day.

***

“Your unique contribution to the world is a very specific activity which you love and excel at” is today’s quote on Aish.com.  It sounds very sentimental and mushy, but I can see where it’s coming from.  However, I can’t think of anything I love and excel at and which seems like a worthwhile contribution to the world.  I feel like there’s no reason for me to be here at all.

I think occasionally of the book I mooted a few weeks ago, about Judaism aimed at non-Jews and/or non-religious Jews, but I can’t get round the problems.  I don’t feel qualified to write it without research in books in languages I can’t read fluently and without using a library I’m nervous of using given the criticism I received when I was volunteering there.  Plus, I can’t work out who the primary audience would be (the background and needs of non-Jews and non-religious Jews are not the same) or what my aim in writing would be or if I’m writing about the whole spectrum of Orthodox observance or just my views, in which case I would probably get into trouble with my community for various things… Whenever I have a new idea it ends up like that and I give up.  I probably don’t have enough self-confidence to write that book, although I’m still working on the Doctor Who one.

On a related note, I was surprised to get an email from the person who wrote the book I quoted here.  He said he was sorry if he upset me and that he didn’t mean to imply that the religious life is easy or that someone who struggles isn’t really religious.  He also said he read several of my posts and that I have a talent for writing.  A few people have said this to me, on the blog and elsewhere, but I’ve never had the confidence to really sit down and work out what I could do with my writing or known how to go about it.  Similarly, I’ve mentioned that my parents, my aunt and some people at the asylum seekers drop-in centre where I volunteer say that I’m good with children, but again, I don’t know how to do something with that beyond doing volunteering with them.

I feel a bit like my understanding of the world of work (or the world full stop) is rather like a child’s and I struggle to understand the mundane day-to-day tasks required in a job or how to apply myself to them.  This is not a positive thing by any means, but I don’t know how to deal with it.  I don’t know if it’s an autistic thing or a depressive thing or just me being strange and incompetent.

***

My cousin is staying with us for a few days from tonight.  She’s in her early twenties.  My first cousins all live in Israel, and life there is so different to life in any other Western country that it can be hard to connect sometimes.  For instance, she hasn’t gone to university yet (she’s hoping to go next year), but she has done a couple of years of military service.  I sometimes wonder how I would have coped with military service.  I think I would have ended up having a breakdown and getting discharged, even if I wasn’t on the front line.

My sister and brother-in-law came over for dinner and my cousin arrived afterwards.  We sat around talking for a long time and I did join in and enjoy, but I did get drained too and ate too much as I do when nervous and bored.  I was trying to find a polite way to slip away when my sister and BIL left.

It’s interesting that when I thought I didn’t enjoy social gatherings because of depression, introversion or social anxiety, I thought of that as a problem of mine, but now I think it’s autism, I feel a bit more understanding of myself.  I’m not sure whether that’s a good thing or not.  I feel I should try to work on myself to be more ‘normal’ (i.e. to pass better as neurotypical).

One autistic thing I noticed myself doing was switching off a bit when the conversation was about stuff I’m not interested in, which was quite a lot.  I struggle to concentrate on conversations about jobs, house renovations and people my family know who I don’t know.  Maybe this is also normal.  I don’t know.  I do feel guilty about it, as I expect people to listen to me.  But some people in my family talk in a way that seems rather autism unfriendly to me: lots of details about people and places I don’t know and struggle to picture given over too quickly.

New Logic

I had a whole post I thought of while I was cooking dinner, one of my ‘crazy’ agitated posts where I get caught up in some bizarre chain of reasoning about myself and my life…  As Philip K. Dick said, “Either I’ve invented a whole new logic or, ahem, I’m not playing with a full deck.”  I think we know I’m not playing with a full deck, it’s just a question of how long I can last in the real world.

The chain of thought potentially had an interesting kernel for me to consider some other time, but it is frightening how I get caught up in things and get so agitated and upset.

I feel really upset right now and lonely.  My parents are still at the wedding and probably will be until very late.  I don’t know how I managed to cook dinner; I certainly don’t feel able to do anything else.  I watched some Jonathan Creek.  I don’t know what to do now.  I hate myself right now.  I really, really hate myself.  I half-heartedly tried to self-harm before, hitting the walls.  I feel like I’ve gone mad, but everyone expects me to carry on and function like a normal (that word again) sane person.  I hate myself for not living up to my own standards.  I hate myself for screwing everything up again, as I always do.

I ought to phone Samaritans.  At any rate, that would be better than writing here or hurting myself (literally or metaphorically).  I don’t know what to say to them, though.  I’m scared what’s going to happen to me and I feel so completely alone right now – not because my parents are away, I mean in my life at the moment – a few people care about me, but no one can actually help me, because there’s nothing that can be done for me.

Hurricane

Today was a struggle at work.  The usual story: do I go slowly to be thorough, but not get enough done or speed up and make mistakes, but process more?  I’ve probably been going too fast, or maybe I’m just not used to the work yet.  And at any rate, I’ve been making mistakes, but also feeling that I’m too slowly.  My boss has sent work back to me to be repeated, but hasn’t commented on speed, so I should probably slow down a bit.  It frustrates me that I can mess up such a superficially easy task.  I don’t know how much of that is laziness, depression, anxiety or boredom.

I went to autism group in the evening instead of shiur (religious class) and also instead of an early night.  This might have been another mistake, given how tired I was this morning and how drained I was feeling even before socialising at autism group drained me some more.  I feel a bit of an impostor at autism group.  There are other self-diagnosed people there, but as far as I know, I’m the only one to have been told alternately that I both am and am not on the spectrum.  I just feel a mess there, as most of the other people seem more socially able.  Someone there said I shouldn’t compare myself with other people.  I know this, but it proves impossible not to, and the comparison is always negative.  I’ve noticed that quite a few people at autism group work in computing, specifically software programming.  I don’t know of a humanities-style equivalent, although cataloguing might be it.  Pity I could never find a pure cataloguing job with the right hours and salary, or anything near it.

I just feel like the whole time my mind is a hurricane of depression, loneliness, anxiety, self-hatred, agitation and despair. Sometimes also suicidal thoughts, anger, bitterness and lust, although the latter is probably just a form of loneliness (actually, the anger and bitterness are probably loneliness half the time too).  Different elements dominate at different times, but one of them is usually there.  However, finding the right diagnosis (treatment-resistant depression/social anxiety/autism/C-PTSD/all of the above/none of the above) is like nailing the proverbial jelly to the wall.  I hope to see a psychiatrist soon and I will try to ask about reassessment.

 

Thoughts from the Last Shabbat of the Year

Just a few thoughts I was wrestling with over Shabbat (the Sabbath).

I couldn’t sleep on Friday night.  I’m not sure why.  I had a lot of somewhat agitated thoughts during the evening and they just continued when I got to bed.  Eventually I got up and read an anthology of (not very good) Doctor Who comic strips until I felt tired enough to sleep.

The agitated thoughts raced around, but were mostly about the idea of belonging somewhere in the frum (religious Jewish) community and whether HaShem (God) loves me.  The Jewish Chronicle had devoted quite a bit of space to Chief Rabbi Mirvis’ thirty-six page document laying out guidelines for United Synagogue  Jewish schools regarding LGBT+ students.  Obviously Orthodox Judaism has a more rigid and prescriptive approach to gender and sexuality than the secular West, but Rabbi Mirvis was concerned (quite rightly, in my opinion) about people feeling excluded from the community and especially about the high rate of suicide among LGBT+ people and the homophobia and transphobia people encounter in the Orthodox community.  His aim was to create an inclusive community where pupils feel able to talk about their gender and sexuality without prejudice.

Although I’m not LGBT+ (and I’m technically not part of a United Synagogue shul any more, although I have links as my parents are), the fact that he was making a big effort to reach out to people that historically the mainstream Orthodox community has seen as being on the fringe, or beyond it, was comforting to me, as it implied a more inclusive community for everyone.  Particularly as his argument for inclusion was based on “love your neighbour as yourself” and “do not stand by your brother’s blood” (i.e. don’t stand by when other people are in danger) and the fact that schools have a duty of care for all their students, rather than more pragmatic considerations (e.g. the community is shrinking and we can’t afford to turn people away).

So, I was thinking about this a lot.  I’m not sure I can fully reconstruct my thought processes, but I suppose it was on the lines of, “Rabbi Mirvis implies HaShem loves everyone, regardless of who they are, therefore He must love me, regardless of all the bad things I do.”  This obviously was not a new thought for me, but in the past I always follow it up with, “Well, if HaShem loves everyonedoes He love Hitler then?  Or Osama bin Laden?” and then I end up feeling that if He doesn’t love people who are evil, maybe I’m evil too.  But I got thinking that if everyone is holy because they are created in the image of HaShem, with a holy soul, then it would only be if I committed murder (i.e. destroying the image of HaShem in someone else) or rape (equivalent to murder according to the Torah) that He would stop loving me.  And, bad as I am, even at my most self-loathing I can’t claim to have committed rape or murder.

I’m not sure how coherent this reasoning is.  Certainly the Jewish tradition argues that you can destroy your connection with HaShem with other sins, some of which I’ve done, but it also adds a load of caveats to that stating that you have to really understand the spiritual consequences of the bad things you’re doing and do them deliberately to anger HaShem in order to cut yourself off from Him forever and it’s generally assumed that these days people don’t have that awareness.  But I guess this area of feeling loved or hated by HaShem is something I’m going to struggle with for a while longer, but I do feel as if I made a step forward last  night.

In recent years I’ve influenced by a lot of Jewish religious existentialist thinkers.  Jewish existentialism tends to focus a lot on relationships as the core of the religious experience, with ritual and study being subsidiary to that.  The core idea is the encounter – the encounter with HaShem and the encounter with other human beings – when two people meet and are able to respond to each other from the depths of their souls.  This appeals to me very much, but I feel I’m very bad at it.  I do try to go to my support groups and to comment on mental health blogs online and to keep in touch with friends who have mental health issues.  I feel that that is where I’m supposed to be right now, being there for other people, even if it’s just to listen and validate.  (In my experience being heard – really being heard – is one of the most therapeutic things.)  It’s hard though.  I’ve let some bloggers whose blogs I read know that they can email me via my blog if they want, but I subsequently worried that that was too forward and maybe I scared them.  I find interpersonal interactions laden with difficulty.  Still, if anyone reading this feels lonely or distressed and wants to email, please use the link at the top.  Although I say it myself, I consider myself a very non-judgemental person.  I’m pretty good at responding to emails quickly, although there will be quite a few days this month when I can’t check my emails due to all the Yom Tovim (Jewish festivals).

At shiur (religious class) on Thursday someone assumed I was married with children and I had to tell I am single and childless.  Tonight he asked how old I was and when I said I was thirty-five, he said I should get married.  I said I want to, I just haven’t met the right person yet.  Then I felt bad, because I still hope that E. might be the right person and I have met her, she just doesn’t feel that we should be dating right now, which I kind of agree with and kind of don’t agree with.  We both really care about each other a lot and message each other a lot (multiple times a day, far more than I message anyone else).  But there’s a lot of obstacles to making that a relationship though.  I wasn’t going to tell him that I was in an “It’s complicated” situation, though.  Frum people aren’t supposed to get into “It’s complicated” situations.  He did at least wish that this year would be the year I get married.

My parents asked me again about E. at lunch too.  They do that quite a bit, which I’m slightly worried by.  Every so often my Dad asks if I’m still in touch with her.  I’m not sure whether he realises what the situation is, as I haven’t had the confidence to tell him exactly that we both still really like each other.  My Mum knows a bit more.  She is worried that I would wait for E. so long that I would miss other opportunities.  I understand that, but I don’t feel up to dating other women right now anyway.  E. was right that I’m too dysfunctional and (let’s be honest) too poor (I mean financially poor) to think about marriage and family.  If I can de-dysfunctionalise myself… well, maybe E. might be interested then and if not, I can think about dating other women, but at the moment I think I need to concentrate on getting myself better.

I feel sad writing this post.  It’s brought up so many mixed emotions for me.  I really want to reach out to people.  I really just want to help people, but I feel that I don’t have anything to offer other than a sympathetic ear and a non-judgemental nature.

And now it’s the last Jewish day of the Jewish year 5778 (Jewish days run sunset to sunset).  I already wished everyone here shana tova/good new year earlier in the week, because I wasn’t sure I would have the time or inclination to write again.  Still, knowing that a disproportionate number of my readers have difficulties of one kind or another, I hope everyone is written for life, health, prosperity and happiness tomorrow (we believe that everyone gets judged by HaShem on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) regarding whether they will have a good new year, non-Jews as well as Jews).  We should all have the joy that comes from knowing and accepting who we are, and having people around us who accept that self-definition and care about us.  Shana tova.

Lost in Thought

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was pretty awful.  I spent most of it asleep.  When I wasn’t asleep, I was lost in agitated thought, mostly about death.  I spent a long time last night lying on my bed after dinner, wanting to die.  I was thinking obsessively about the Talmud, where it lists seven people who have no share in Olam HaBa (the World to Come i.e. Heaven), but later says that some interpret that six of them (the six Jewish ones) will have a share in Olam HaBa.  This became hugely important to me.  I suppose I was thinking that if Yerovo’am, Achav and the rest have a share in Olam HaBa, then I would too, although my reasoning doesn’t strike myself as hugely convincing today.  I don’t really feel that HaShem (God) could love me.

At times like this I get lost in my thoughts and drift away from the world.  I guess it feeds my tendency towards solipsism.  The stuff going on in my head feels a lot more real  than stuff in the external world, which can’t be healthy.  That’s probably always been my problem, but particularly when things are bad.  It’s hard to remember that other people exist and that some of them care about me, because I just get caught in the labyrinth that is my thoughts, my books and my DVDs.  I’m really worried about starting my new job this week, because I have no idea how I’m going to give the right level of attention to it.  I guess when my mind is screaming “I want to die, I want to kill myself” the whole time, I end up focusing on that to survive.  My thoughts seem really loud sometimes.  Like they drown out everything else.  I don’t think other people can hear them, but somehow it wouldn’t surprise me if someone said that they could hear them.

The book I ordered on C-PTSD arrived, which was very quick.  I wanted to read the stuff in it on self-love.  I’m not sure when I’m going to get to read it, though.  I usually read on the train to/from work or on lunch, but I’m not sure I really want to be seen reading this in public.  Then again, I don’t really want my parents to see me reading it at home either.  It still feels wrong to even think that I might possibly have C-PTSD, as if I’m attacking my parents or laying claim to an illness that I have no right to (as with autism – I still wonder if I’m seizing that unfairly too).

Bipolar Expeditions

I’m probably writing too much today.  I haven’t done much of anything else, except help clean my old flat.  But I need to get my thoughts out of my head.  I’m not getting much site traffic at the moment anyway, so I’m hardly putting people off.

Although the depression usually makes me ‘flat’, I sometimes seem to go through cycles of growth and retreat, expansiveness and contraction (chessed and gevurah, if you want).  That is what is happening at the moment.  “I should start a Doctor Who blog!”/”I don’t have enough time to write two blogs and a book and do all the other things I should be doing !”  “I should get a new career!”/”I’m too scared to do anything about getting a new career!”  “I want to write Jewish children’s books based on religious stories!”/”I don’t have the language skills to adapt stories written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Yiddish!”  “I should write a roman à clef misery memoir!”  “I can’t write fiction, even fiction based on fact and people will use the fiction to find the truths I want to hide.”  “I should do a PhD!”/”I’m not good enough to do a PhD!” “This is a really good PhD topic!”/”No, it’s a really terrible PhD topic!”  And so on.  It’s hard to know what is real and what is too good or too bad to be real.  It’s also hard to tell if the more ‘outwards’ facing feelings are genuine attempts to engage with the world or just passing agitation.  A lot of the feelings fade away too quickly to have any kind of lasting effect.

I might still be jet lagged.  Or I’ve just fallen straight back into a bad sleep pattern.

At times like this I wonder if my psychiatrist was right when she said I’m “somewhere on the bipolar spectrum,” whatever that might mean, although no other psychiatrist concurred, not even the one I specifically asked for a second opinion about whether I might have bipolar.  All I know is that every so often I do have periods of agitation and excitement that quickly fall back into depression, it’s just the agitation and excitement generally doesn’t last long enough or come frequently enough to really feel like manic episodes.

Intermittently, I do have inspiration, my mind races, sometimes even effervesces, I make plans.  But it never lasts.  I never have the confidence and energy long enough to do anything useful.

At times I do seriously wonder if I’ve been misdiagnosed.  It would explain a lot if there was a whole other element to this depression which has been missed.  Depression isn’t usually this difficult to treat.  But I’ve had bipolar fairly unanimously dismissed (despite my psychiatrist’s strange comment quoted above).  Autism has been dismissed less clearly and I go back and forth in how much I think I can be identified as autistic.  I wonder what it would be like to have yet another psychiatric assessment (I’ve had more than I can remember), how I could get one and what I would do if the result is just plain old unipolar depression again.  As my therapist noted, I want there to be something very wrong with me to excuse my perceived inadequacies.

I don’t know where to begin to work on my issues.  Everything seems interlaced.  To solve A, I first have to solve B, but to solve B I first have to solve C, but C can only be solved by solving A first.  I’m thinking seriously about some CBT to deal with the social anxiety, which might be a start.

It’s Elul, the last month of the Jewish year (sort of), a month of introspection and plans for growth.  I should be thinking about how to change and develop in the coming Jewish year, but I just feel stuck.  There is a hole in my life right now and I don’t know what should fill it.  God?  Love?  Joy?  Creativity?  Spirituality (whatever that may mean)?  Meaning?  Purpose?  Community?  Self-esteem?  Sex?  All of the above?  None of the above?  I just don’t know, nor do I know how to find any of those things.  Maybe I will never have any of them.  Maybe I will feel like this forever.

I feel like a child again, lost, lonely, vulnerable and scared.  I want the world to leave me alone with my books and DVDs, but it doesn’t.  “I never asked to be born.”  The classic adolescent complaint.  True, I never did ask to be born.  But neither did anyone else and they’re all coping, so why can’t I?

Slight Update and New York Holiday Part I

Today has been hard.  I tried to take a test for a job I applied for, but struggled with it; I’ll have to finish it tomorrow.  I was depressed anyway, and thinking that I can’t manage to do a PhD after all, then flipped back to having ideas, then to despair again.  I feel like I’ve spent the last two days moving back and forth between agitated/energetic “I can do it” and passive despairing “I can’t do anything.”  Maybe my psychiatrist was right about there being a bipolar element in me, I don’t know.  Then I spent about two hours with my parents cleaning my old flat.  I think I probably had higher tolerance than my Mum for dirt, or less time/energy for cleaning (although she usually has a paid cleaner), which embarrassed me.  I didn’t have much energy or motivation for cleaning today, but struggled through and handed back the key to my landlord, so I guess I’m officially back to living with my parents.

I thought I should really start to write up my notes from my holiday in New York, so here goes:

Sunday 5 August

The flight to New York was OK.  I read quite a bit and tried to write some notes for a book I want to write, but the plane was not really an environment conducive to work.  There was an issue with the shuttle bus to the airport when I landed which worried me, but I got it sorted.

The hotel was fine, but had seen better days.  I had to ask for a safe and a fridge to be put in my room and the WiFi in my room was patchy and I often went to the library downstairs to connect to the lobby WiFi, which seemed to work better.  My room window faced a courtyard with high walls on all four sides, so no natural light came in.  But it was all hygienic and there were no cockroaches or rats, so it was good enough.

Because of US laws about importing food, I had to buy food when I arrived rather than bringing anything in.  The hotel receptionist didn’t seem to know where to suggest other than Whole Foods, which I suspected would be expensive organic stuff and I was right.  However, I desperate, so I got bottled water, fruit, milk and then – joy! – discovered kosher bread, cereal and peanut butter upstairs.

I had some culture shock on arriving in New York, although I’m not sure why.  I’ve lived in London all my life, so a big city should not have been such a surprise to me.  I suppose I live in the suburbs and commute into town when necessary and even when I worked in Canary Wharf, the skyscrapers there aren’t like Manhattan, completely blocking out the sky.  Maybe it was just exhaustion, anxiety, stress and mixed feelings about the thought of seeing E. in person, but I felt close to tears in the shuttle bus, although I did feel better after getting settled at the hotel and having something to eat.

Monday 6 August

E. and I were both running late, but eventually met.  We spent much of the day in Central Park, looking around and chatting.  It felt a bit weird that this was the first time we had met in person.  Afterwards we did some shopping in the area and had pizza for dinner.  It was a quiet day, but I wanted that to deal with jet lag and culture shock.

An amusing story: over lunch, E. told me to believe in myself more.  Then in the afternoon we went into a Jewish bookshop where I picked up a book and opened it to a random page, which was a chapter entitled, “Believe in Yourself”.  I bought the book, although not because of that.

It was a very good day, slightly marred by my getting a bad headache/minor migraine in the evening, possibly from dehydration and I couldn’t take anything because my solpadeine was still in my hotel room and I didn’t know which American painkillers are safe to take with my anti-depressants.

Tuesday 7 August

E. and I went to Ellis Island by boat via Liberty Island, although we didn’t get off at Liberty Island.  I was really disappointed when planning this trip that the Statue of Liberty was sold out, but I think it may have been for the best, as I’m not sure going inside would have added much.  It’s just a statue, really.

Ellis Island was fascinating, though, and I felt it struck a good balance when talking about things like Nativism, slavery, treatment of Native Americans and so on.  It could either have glossed over these things or turned into a politicised privilege-checking fest, but it wasn’t either of those.  I don’t know much about pre-twentieth century American history, so the exhibition about population movements in North America was actually more interesting to me than the one on Ellis Island itself, some of which I had heard elsewhere.

The weather, like the previous day’s, was hot and humid and it really stayed like that for the whole of the trip, although things got slightly cooler and less humid after thunderstorm on Tuesday evening.  The only place I’ve felt so humid is the tropical greenhouse at Kew Gardens (the London one).  It was very tiring being out in the heat and humidity and that perhaps contributed to my getting more tired and doing less than I would have liked over the week.

E. and I went for kosher Mexican food for dinner.  I hadn’t had Mexican food before, so that was a good new experience.

Wednesday 8 August

I woke very depressed and anxious, so anxious in fact that I lay in bed for about two hours thinking that I was physically ill because I felt so nauseous.  Eventually I forced myself to get up, far behind schedule, but I managed to get out on time, if only because I had planned a late start anyway.

I went to the United Nations and had an interesting tour (the General Assembly seemed to have a smaller floor space than it seems on TV), although I was disturbed by the fact they went out of their way to side with the Palestinians against the Israelis even where it was not really necessary.  For example, out of all the international conflicts in the world, there was only one that got its own (big) display, Palestine (it didn’t even say Israel-Palestine, just Palestine).  Then in the gift shop, one could buy postcard of the national flags of every UN member state, with the caption, “Britain”, “India” and so on.  Only one said “State of X,” the “State of Palestine”, even though there is no such internationally recognised state.  It’s just petty, really.

Afterwards, I went back to the hotel to pick up some things, as I hadn’t been allowed to take much with me to the UN.  I ground to a halt for an hour or two, lying on the bed until I got the energy to go out again.

I was thinking of taking a bus tour of New York, but I wanted to see the New York Public Library first, thinking it would not take long, but I ended up staying for a long time.  I have never seen such an ornate library!  I was scared to look around because it is a working library and perhaps I should have been bolder to see more.  I popped in to an exhibition on sixties radicalism, but I found it triggering for me, as all political stuff seems to be these days.  I feel I don’t really fit in anywhere on the political spectrum and that everyone will hate and reject my opinions, one reason why I’m nervous about thinking of doing a PhD in a subject as politically-coloured as cultural studies.

I managed to walk to a small kosher restaurant for dinner.  The food was great, but it was really crowded and noisy.  In fact, I found New York as a whole much bigger, louder and smellier than London.  A  really bad place for autistics/Aspies, in fact.  I’m OK in much of London, which may just be experience and the knowledge that I can go home at the end of the day, but New York was a very difficult experience for me at times in terms of sensory overload.  Still, I navigated my way around the city by myself for the first time and didn’t get lost, mugged or run over, which I think is a win.

To be continued…

I don’t have the words

I don’t have the words to describe what I feel.  Am I dissociating?  First I was googling ex-crushes and university peers, feeling angry in an inchoate way for things that really weren’t their fault, blaming them for how I feel.  Then doing the thing I do that I don’t have words for where I focus on a phrase or image, usually from fiction (nine times out of ten Doctor Who, which is where it is now) and play it over and over in my head, even putting myself into it as a vivid daydream.

This is where I am now:

The Master: It nearly beat me. Such a simple, brutal power. Just the power of tooth and claw. It nearly destroyed me, a Time Lord. But I won. I control that force, Doctor. And now, at last, I have the power to destroy you.

(Doctor Who: Survival by Rona Munro)

Over and over.  And snarling silently.  And hurting myself a bit and wanting to die, or to just explode, to act somehow, to do something to relieve this tension and agitation.

Hieronimo is Mad Againe

I technically have treatment-resistant depression, which means, as the name implies, that it doesn’t go away whatever I do to try to shift it.  I feel like I’ve tried everything over the last fifteen years: medication, psychotherapy, CBT, occupational therapy/work, diet, vitamin supplements, meditation, exercise, light therapy (admittedly with a sunrise alarm clock rather than a light box), trying to get alternative/supplementary diagnoses (bipolar disorder, autism), creativity, prayer… apart from ECT, which my psychiatrist, when I was seeing her, wouldn’t allow me to have, I’m not sure what else I can do (I don’t believe in alternative medicine (despite my attempt at light therapy) or segulot).  But, of course, strangers don’t know that and everyone has their method that “must” work, which is one reason I shy away from telling people about my depress

Not having a job or a spouse is depressing, but it’s hard to get either when you are depressed, which makes getting better very difficult.  Likewise, although perhaps not to the same extent, with loneliness.  I don’t think people like me can maintain friendships long-term or hold down jobs long-term, let alone date and marry.  Only recovery would hold any hope for me, but I have long since given up hope of recovery.

I feel I have let everyone down again.  I think I’m probably incapable of feeling love.  I’m too selfish.  Maybe people intuit that and stay away from me.

One of my non-biological sisters (friends who are like older sisters to me) read my post last night and said my only priority should be getting better.  I guess it should be, but I don’t know how.  I spent a few minutes proof-reading and posting a post I wrote a week or two ago, but never got around to posting, on my Doctor Who blog, about the narrow sub-genre of TV science fiction I enjoy so much.  For a few minutes, I forgot how depressed I am.  I need to find a way to get paid for doing this, even if it isn’t my main career.  I don’t really know how to get started though and I fear my interests are too narrow and my lack of awareness of academic cultural studies jargon and theory would be a fatal handicap.

Every so often I seem to think of the story of Jeff in this article from Aish that I read years ago, although today I came across it again by chance.  It upsets me.  Apparently, God doesn’t answer my prayers because I’m not “sincere” enough.  This is apparently shown by the fact that I don’t expect good things from him and don’t think myself worthy of good things.  Sigh.  I’ve been bullied and emotionally neglected from a young age.  I’ve been depressed for fifteen or twenty years or more.  I have learnt from this to have zero self-esteem and to think that I’m wicked and worthless.  How am I supposed to expect things to get better when all the evidence shows that God hates me (as does almost everyone else) and only wants difficult things for me?  It’s hurtful to say it’s all my own fault when I have faulty brain chemistry and a difficult mental health history.

How am I supposed to change what I believe?  I believe in an omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent God, which is hard enough at times.  Ignoring the question of whether I should in fact be rewarded for that belief rather than punished, the only way I can square this with my life-long experience and pain is to believe this is somehow what I deserve or at least need.  So how do I believe that things will change when I have no evidence that I am less wicked, or that God has changed what He thinks about me, or that He wants me to do anything in this world other than suffer, for whatever reason?  All the evidence of my life points that way.  Whenever things seem to go better for a moment, like when I started my last job or was dating E. and I become thankful to God and hopeful that things will change, I seem to be punished and have everything taken away from me again.  There’s a concept in Judaism that while we believe in  miracles, we aren’t allowed to pray for them, only for natural salvation.  If you lose your job, you can pray for a new one, but if you lose your legs, you can’t pray that you spontaneously grow a new pair, not because God can’t do it, but because the average person is not worthy of such a miracle.  I think it’s clear by this stage that my depression is not going away by anything less than miraculous intervention.  Unfortunately, the article is nearly twenty years old and the rabbi who wrote it  has passed away, so I can’t ask him what I should do.

I have twice in the last twenty-four hours, without really intending it, found myself shouting at God to “F*** off,” at least in my head.  I don’t even feel guilty, as I feel He’s been saying the same to me for thirty-five years.  I feel agitated again.  I suddenly had a burst of energy and went for a brisk walk and after ten minutes I ran out of energy and had to get home somehow.  I thought about throwing myself under a car and I wasn’t sure if that was a serious suicidal thought, a symptom of the agitation or just more pure O OCD.  It’s hard to tell when it’s so quick, like I can’t really tell if I really want to tell God to f*** off or if it’s just my depressed/agitated/who-knows-what thoughts.

This article from Aish was more helpful than the other one, although I’m not sure I know how to use the ideas.  I can’t do things that make me happy, because nothing much makes me happy right now (anhedonia).  I did mention writing above, but I feel whatever energy and brainpower I have for that should be going on job hunting and I’m not sure I really have the concentration and motivation to write right anything coherent now (this post is increasingly incoherent).  I will try to accept that resilience takes time, although I don’t think I’ve grown more resilient over the many years that I have been depressed.  And while I accept there are major lows, there don’t seem to be any countervailing highs.  And the ‘new normal’ has been my normal for so long that it’s the good times that seem like the aberrations and I don’t know how to adjust to this.

I also came across an old Hevria post from last year that I had forgotten about.  It’s about being an introvert in the frum (Orthodox Jewish) community.  I had written a long self-hating comment there about not fitting in and generally being a useless person.  Someone commented back but I didn’t receive the comment at the time because he replied to the comment below mine by mistake.  S/he said that my introversion is part of my life mission.  This may be true, but as I have no idea what my life mission is, except that it seems to involve an inordinate amount of psychological pain and that no one can help me find out what it is, this is not terribly helpful.

I revised my CV, although there was not a lot to add to it from the last few months.  I really hate the personal interests section.  I don’t know why employers ask for it.  What they are basically asking is, “Please tell me that you have unusual and interesting hobbies, preferably ones that involve intelligence, extroversion and team work, but also imply that you rarely get a chance to pursue these hobbies because you’re so fanatically devoted to work.  Do not under any circumstances imply that you enjoy solitary, introvert things like reading, watching TV, blogging, going for walks (hiking in groups is acceptable) or just sitting idly with your thoughts.  Don’t even think about implying that you prefer your hobbies to your career and that in the ideal world, you would find a way of making your hobby into your job.”  Apparently, rather than just listing stuff I’ve been paid to do, I also need to highlight “Key Achievements”.  I have literally no idea what my key achievements are.  Sometimes (like this week) just getting through the day without hurting myself is an achievement, but that’s not really something to put there.

Stuff online reminds me that most people are having a lot more sex than I am.  Some people are even loved with it.  Mind you, the monks in The Name of the Rose were having more sex than I am, and they were supposed to be celibate.  I feel so lonely.  And, for all a a few people have said I’m a good writer, I find it hard to believe, given that I’ve had such little interest in my writing.  Nor does it seem better to me than the bulk of writing online and in the press, although to be fair it doesn’t seem much worse (and I use a lot less cliquey slang, although in these postmodern, anti-elitist times, that’s probably a criticism).  But I’m never going to be a literary novelist or even a literary essayist.  Even if my thoughts weren’t word soup.

Other stupid things I’ve done today: google my ex (not E., my first ex, from five years ago) even though I know she’s no longer religious and I would probably have very little in common with how her life has gone now, which makes me sad for reasons I can’t explain, and also because, as a bi-pride campaigner, she’s dealing with her sexuality issues in a rather more tangible way than I’ve ever managed to deal with mine.  Also: think about suicide, google to see how lethal my antidepressants are, and start counting up how many I had “just out of curiosity.”  Feeling very agitated and worried for myself again.

Trying to listen to calming classical music, but I don’t really know classical music, and what I do know is lively, so it was Pachelbel’s Canon again.  Music to go mad to, I suppose.  Dave Owen suggested years ago that one day the Doctor should regenerate because of insanity rather than physical injury.  I’d like to see that.  I suppose it would be considered unheroic nowadays.

So: agitation, can’t concentrate, racing thoughts, pacing, biting nails, wringing hands, hitting myself, thinking and reading about death and suicide… I should probably be on suicide watch, but I’m scared of telling my parents.  I was planning on being home from tomorrow afternoon to some time on Monday anyway for various reasons, so I guess that’s good, I can see what happens without telling anyone.

Listening to Pachelbel’s Canon, feeling agitated

This is a sort of an addendum to my last post.
“What is that noise?”
                          The wind under the door.
“What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?”
                           Nothing again nothing.
                                                        “Do
“You know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember
“Nothing?”
       I remember
Those are pearls that were his eyes.
“Are you alive, or not? Is there nothing in your head?” 
It seemed sensible to post a chunk of The Waste Land, I’m not sure why.  It freaks me out when I feel agitated like this.  It really does feel like I imagine hypomania would, even though I’ve been told by two psychiatrists that I’m not bipolar (mind you, I’ve been told by lots of psychiatrists that I’m not autistic).  It’s when I’m in this state that I’m most likely to hurt myself, not least because in this state I sometimes feel angry and paranoid and my anger and paranoia tends towards self-destruction.  It’s also in this state that I’m most self-pitying, helpless and attention-seeking (this would be how I feel when I leave self-pitying comments on other people’s blogs), so apologies to the three people who have just received cry for help texts from me.  Don’t worry, I’m fine.
I’m listening to Pachelbel’s Canon to try to calm down, but I don’t think it’s helping.  Watching TV is probably not a good idea, but I might watch some Doctor Who to try and calm down.  At any rate, I don’t feel able to get to bed.  Eat porridge for warm milk to soothe and put to sleep.

The Boy You Always Wanted

Donnie was the boy you always wanted by your side./Donnie was the boy your girlfriends fell for one by one./Donnie was the one you always wanted day and night. – Donnie by Ace of Base

“Every lonely monster needs a companion.” Doctor Who: Hide by Neil Cross

At the moment I’m in the nervy, agitated state that for a while in the past I mistook for hypomania and wondered if I really had bipolar disorder (I had a psychiatrist who fuelled this a bit by saying I was probably somewhere on the bipolar spectrum, but I suspect that by that stage she was just saying anything to shut me up).

I think the reality of leaving my job has hit.  I’m not technically unemployed for another five and a bit weeks (I’m technically on paid holiday), but I think I’m already spiralling downwards.  I worry that I should not have left, given how hard it will be to get a new job, but I think if I had stayed I would either have stayed there indefinitely, despite being miserable, or been fired for being incompetent under the new job description.  I gave myself a day off from job-hunting today to sort some chores, but I felt depressed, procrastinated and only did a fraction of what I wanted to do.  I suppose I should allow myself a mental health day, except this hasn’t been that.  It’s fallen between two stools, neither a relaxing day off to recuperate from a draining term (draining physically, mentally and emotionally) nor a day in which I did many chores.  So now I still feel tense and tired, but I haven’t achieved much.

Job hunting in earnest should start tomorrow, but I’m fearful of it.  I spoke to my rabbi mentor today; he seemed to expect me to have surveyed the entire field by now and sent of some applications.  That would seem to underestimate how anxiety-provoking this is, and how inadequate I feel about my ability to do most jobs.

The reality of breaking up with E. keeps hitting me too.  I keep thinking I’m over it, or at least accepting that something might happen in the future, but not now, and then I realise I’m still telling myself we might get back together… well, we might, but it depends on my finding a better-paying job than seems likely and just generally being better at coping with The Real World than I’m likely to be any time soon (I don’t want to deal with The Real World.  The Real World is full of terrorism, antisemitism, sexism, racism, war, famine etc.  I want to leave The Real World to its own murderous devices and escape somewhere quiet).  E. said I could date other women if I get bored waiting for her, but (a) I don’t want other women, I want E. and (b) I can’t imagine there are many other women out there who are (i) interested in me and (ii) willing to be the main breadwinner.  So, I’m alone again, and I’m not good at dealing with that.

I’m beating myself up again and struggling with my thoughts.  I’ve messed stuff up again (I mean procrastinating and acting out in ways that I wish I wouldn’t do when depressed).  I suppose it’s nothing serious, but I always seem to be running in quicksand, sinking fast.  I wonder how I compare with other frum (religious) men, in terms of meeting religious obligations for prayer, religious study, personal development and so on.  It’s hard to tell how much latitude I should give myself because of the depression and other issues and I don’t have anyone to compare with, especially as my own mental health can vary widely from day to day and even across the day.  I also wonder what other people really think of me, but if they tell me they like me, I assume they’re being polite or, more bluntly, lying.

I’ve been using the heter (permission) for depressed people to listen to music in the Three Weeks of mourning when normally it would be forbidden (I wish I’d learnt about that years ago).  Despite never having deliberately listened to Ace of Base in the past (I think I must have been passively exposed to them through my sister), I’ve been obsessively listening to Donnie over and over (in the past I would have worried more about kol isha, but I think my depressed disaffection with Judaism has eroded my ability to care about some rabbinic mitzvot).  I do this sometimes, listen to the same song a million times in a month and then stop as suddenly as I started.  It usually assumes some bizarre significance in my mind, usually about my life, as if the singer is singing directly to me.  This is probably borderline psychotic.

Donnie (not my name, but sounds vaguely like my Hebrew name) is about unrequited love (I suspect I prefer songs about unrequited love to the other kind) and carrying a torch for someone.  I find myself wondering if I want E. to always want me by her side.  I find that I do, and then feel both guilty and frustrated because it could never work and I should want her to find someone else who can make her happy in a way that I can’t.

Sometimes I feel that if I could understand things better, things in the outside world, I could stop them or make them better.  I don’t consciously think this, but I think the feeling is there, on some level.  I spent years trying to understand antisemitism (I probably still do try) and I suspect that I felt that if I understood it, it would go away.  No, that’s not quite it.  That’s fairly psychotic, again.  Well, maybe it is a little psychotic.  It’s hard to put into words, but sometimes the pain in my head seems to have a direct relationship to the pain in the world (The Horrible Real World again), but it’s hard to work out in which direction it goes.  Maybe both ways.  Maybe I feel somehow responsible for things?  That’s not quite it (although it can happen with depression, particularly when it’s on the border of psychosis, as I’ve probably been in the past).  I guess it’s tied up with my quasi-solipsistic feeling of importance, that there isn’t really anything other than my mind.  That the barrier between my mind and the world is somewhat permeable?  I don’t really think that either, but… I can’t really put it into words.  It’s very frustrating.

Sometimes I imagine myself at my own funeral, listening to eulogies, getting angry at the lies to make me sound good, walking behind my own coffin…  This probably isn’t normal.  Sometimes I imagine burying myself, only me and no one else (this is a blatant steal from the Doctor Who novel Alien Bodies).  Sometimes I wonder if I’m dead and this is Gehennom.  That probably isn’t normal either.

Sometimes I feel like I’m this close to losing my grip on reality.  That’s probably why I take refuge in improbable, surreal fictions.  (I recently wrote a post on this, ostensibly for my Doctor Who blog, which I haven’t got around to posting yet.  Arguably it could fit on either of my blogs, but I can only put it on one, because one is anonymous and the other isn’t.)  Stuff like Doctor WhoThe Prisoner and Sapphire and Steel seem much more reflective of how I experience reality than most ‘realistic’ fiction.

“These fragments I have shored against my ruins”

I somehow overslept this morning.  I heard my Mum shout goodbye when she left for work (I guess just before 9.00am) and I thought I stayed awake, but I must have dozed off because next thing I knew it was 10.20 and my Dad was worried I was going to miss my blood test (a routine check because I’m on lithium tablets).  I must have slept through both my alarms.  I got to the blood test on time, but only because Dad was able to give me a lift.  I was worried that I was going to shake, but I didn’t, although I clearly looked worried enough that the nurse had to reassure me.  I didn’t like to say that the problem is less the needle and more my fear of shaking.

I did at least walk home, which took half an hour.  I was thinking the whole time about antisemitism.  When the depression is bad, I sometimes fixate on it.  As I said yesterday, I don’t want to turn this into a political blog, but it does upset me.  I couldn’t really focus on the music I was listening to again.  I feel a sense of religious certainty that Jews will survive somewhere in the world; we have, after all, survived 3,000 years of persecution while our persecutors have vanished into history, which is, after all, what Pesach (Passover) is about, the festival of redemption.  Still, I hate injustice and I hate feeling hated for no good reason.  I hate feeling hated at all, but these days (i.e. since leaving school) I’m mostly hated by antisemites, not people who actually know me.

I more or less burst into tears while davening Shacharit (saying morning prayers).  I’m not sure if it was because of antisemitism or just depression or something else entirely.  Certainly I had almost no kavannah (usually translated as ‘concentration,’ but ‘mindfulness’ might be a better word), but then I haven’t had much kavannah for ages.

Aside from a half hour walk and ten minutes of very difficult Torah study (reading Yechezkel/Ezekiel in Hebrew – from the really difficult chapters at the end), I haven’t really done anything today.  I just feel too drained.  I don’t really have the motivation to do anything fun for Chol HaMoed (the intermediate days of Pesach) and it’s not appropriate to do chores unnecessarily.  I can’t think of anything to do and when I try the religious OCD makes me panic about taking food anywhere.  I might go to the Sherlock Holmes Museum next week (after Pesach).

I feel lonely and unlovable again.  More unlovable than lonely, I think, although it’s hard to tell (alexithymia).  I can’t imagine that anyone could care about me.  This is a silly thing to think as my parents and my sister care about me and even if that’s because we’re family, I do have a couple of friends.  It never feels enough, though.  I want a deep, intimate relationship and have no idea how to get one or whether I could really manage one.  My experience of my one previous relationship suggests I might be able to, but so much seems different since then.  I was supposed to decide over the holiday whether to go back to dating and, if so, whether to go to the Jewish dating site that matches people based on their values or to a shadchan (matchmaker).  To be honest, I don’t think I have the courage to do either.  I want to be in a relationship, but I don’t feel I currently have the stamina to find and build one.  Sadly, Hevria never acted on my suggestion to find a Hevria shadchan for weird, geeky creative frum (religious) Jews, although as most Hevrians live in America and most of the ones that don’t live in Israel it’s doubtful that they would have been able to help me much anyway.

I just feel so exhausted.  I tried to read, but I just don’t have the energy (it apparently takes less energy to write than to read.  I don’t know what that says about my writing).  I left the following comment on the blog of one of the presenters of Are You Autistic? yesterday: “I have been thinking of being reassessed but I’m terrified of being told I’m neurotypical again. I know that sounds a strange thing to say, but an autism diagnosis would explain so much about me: my treatment-resistant depression, OCD and social anxiety would actually seem like the logical outcome of something ‘real’ rather than a over-reaction to very normal childhood stresses.”  It’s strange to feel that my experiences somehow don’t count just because I’m different in personality, but not medically different, but I do feel as if I “shouldn’t” be depressed and anxious from such relatively trivial childhood experiences, that there has to be a deeper explanation of my depression.  Maybe there isn’t.  Maybe I’m just messed up and that’s all there is to it.  I don’t know how I get unmessed up, or at least learn to manage my messed upness.

The first woman I asked out (this was when I was approaching twenty and at Oxford) said when she turned me down that if I liked myself more, I would want to date someone more like myself.  Aside from the fact that I thought that she was quite like me, this is made problematic by the fact that there are so few people like me.  I won’t quite say there’s no one like me any more as I have met a couple of people somewhat like me (albeit mostly over the internet), but I don’t know how to meet a woman who shares my interests AND values AND can cope with my issues AND whose issues I can cope with (bearing in mind that someone who can understands my issues probably has issues of her own).

My friend Elad Nehorai of Hevria and Popchassid said that writers of personal writing (which I guess is what I am doing here, although calling it ‘writing’ probably gives it more dignity than it deserves) can choose whether to portray themselves as victims of circumstance, witnessing changes around them, or as people with agency who grow, learn and evolve from their experiences.  He obviously sees the latter as better.  I very much fall into the first category.  I don’t think I’ve learnt anything from my depression, OCD, social anxiety or autistic traits.  It’s just a daily struggle to survive each day with them, to go to bed at night still alive and in one piece and not consumed by powerful negative emotions.  Which is another way of saying that I didn’t do any creative writing again today.  I know I should write even when I don’t have inspiration, but I have… is there an opposite of inspiration?  (Exhalation?)  Whatever it’s called, the depression has sucked all creativity out of me.  I’d like to work on my Doctor Who book, but I decided it wasn’t right to do that on Chol HaMoed as I am hoping to earn money from it (ha ha ha) so it felt too much like doing paid work, which is to be avoided if possible on Chol HaMoed.

On the plus side (I have to take the good where I can), I realised that the A for Andromeda DVD had the scripts of the missing episodes as pdfs, so I’ve been reading those.  I should have realised it earlier, given that they did something similar with The Quatermass Experiment.  The episodes are much better read than watching still pictures and text summaries, but reading is hard and slow, doubly so when the text is laid out as a shooting script, not a transcript, with handwritten emendations and technical instructions and the reproduction is not very clear (it’s nearly sixty years old).  The problem is that I feel too depressed and exhausted to do anything other than vegetate in front of the TV, but I have another three episodes to read before I get to the sole surviving TV episode.  I can’t move on with Doctor Who because I’m at my parents’ house and the DVDs are in my flat and, as I said, I don’t really want to move on with my book this week.  So do I watch something else?  Star Trek comes from a very different science fiction tradition and I’m not sure I feel like it.  The Lego Movie is a possibility, but I’m not sure that I’m in the mood for something so upbeat.  It’s a problem.  A first world problem, admittedly, but a problem when I’m depressed and just trying to keep my head above the water.

Quod Erat Demonstrandum

This is the worst feeling.  For much of the afternoon I’ve had a mixture of depression, agitation, despair and loneliness and maybe anger, envy and paranoia running through my head.  I feel that God hates me, that my life is awful and will always remain awful until I die, that everyone hates me, that even my friends and parents only talk to me out of pity and that they secretly don’t like me.  I feel that nothing can ever change for the better and that I am powerless over my own life.  I just want to die and fantasise endlessly about hurting or killing myself, without having the guts to do anything about it.  I wrote stuff I shouldn’t write on Hevria again.

I know that no one can ever love me unless I love myself, but I don’t know how to love myself when there is so little about me that is lovable, and the proof of that is that no one loves me, so how can I break out of this circle?  My therapist once said I was “lovable”, but I don’t see anything about myself that seems remotely lovable.  Surely if I was lovable so people would, you know, love me?

I even found a proof-text that God hates me: “[Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa] would also say: One who is pleasing to his fellow men, is pleasing to God. But one who is not pleasing to his fellow men, is not pleasing to God.”  (Pirkei Avot 3.10, translation from Chabad.org because I was too depressed and lazy to look elsewhere or translate it myself.)  I don’t think I’m very pleasing to my fellows, given that I have about three real friends at most (as in people who actually contact me rather than waiting for me to contact them) and I worry they only contact me out of pity or worry that I’m going to hurt myself.  I seem to alienate all my friends sooner or later with my depression (or by falling in love with them, I’ve done that a few times).

Or maybe I alienate people by saying that they don’t really like me, as I did here.  It’s very confusing, when you are not good at reading people, to tell if people really like you, particularly if it’s a long-distance friendship over email, text and blogs, as all of my close friendships are (if that doesn’t stop them not being close friendships.   I mean, I would associate close friendships with actually seeing each other sometimes).  I guess that’s why I see marriage as the ultimate seal of approval, because then someone would have chosen to actually see me every day and not just that but to live with me.  So then she would have to really like me.  Except that I would probably worry that she didn’t love me any more and would probably end up pushing her away with my self-loathing and paranoia.

A blogger I really admire who recently got married at the “ancient” (for frum Jews) age of 32 (younger than me) said frum singles should trust in God because there isn’t much else we can do.  But what do you do if you are convinced that God hates you and is deliberately sabotaging your life to make you miserable for reasons unknown (but probably to do with you being evil and wicked)?  And that He wants you to be alone and miserable forever (because you’re so wicked) unless you repent (which you can’t do because you’re too wicked and also too mentally ill and because He’s really trying to make it as hard as He can, within the bounds of free will, for you to be frum because He hates you)?  There isn’t really a lot you can do if an omnipotent being is out to make your life miserable.

I feel like my reasoning went wrong somewhere in this post, or maybe in several somewheres.  Maybe my friends do like me and I am lovable and God doesn’t hate me.  Maybe.   Maybe, as Philip K. Dick said, I either invented a whole new logic or I’m not playing with a full deck.  Maybe.  Either way, it doesn’t change what I feel and the way I get carried away by my feelings when the depression and agitation are so powerful, like an ocean wave against the tiny wooden canoe of my reason and self-esteem.

(At least I’m a bit better at recognising and distinguishing these emotions than I used to be – alexithymia.)

Stuck

My day was going OK.  No real problems at work (one or two small mistakes… it’s possible I over-emphasise ‘mistakes’ here) and I wrote 500 words or so of my Doctor Who book during lunch (on Black Orchid… come back Nick Pegg, all is forgiven), but I had growing anxiety once the day was over and I was leaving, which seemed bizarre, then a torrent of unfocused agitation, anxiety and despair on the way home.  At least, I think that’s what it was.  It was hard to tell.  It was just feelings without words and I’m not good and describing and understanding those.  I felt like I was imploding.  I couldn’t concentrate on the book I was reading, although to be fair it was pretty heavy-going.

The doctor phoned while I was on the way home, a follow-up from last week’s appointment.  I agreed with him that changing medication probably wouldn’t do anything, but I silently disagreed that I would naturally feel better over time.  I probably didn’t stress enough that this episode has lasted for about six months now, long before my sister’s wedding and even before the work stress really started.  However, as I’m not convinced there is much he (or even a psychiatrist) can do for me, I don’t really feel inclined to make another appointment at this time.

I hope to speak to my rabbi mentor on Sunday.  The whole situation is silly.  I want to be a frum (religious) Jew.  According to objective analysis, I’m probably doing at least some of the things a frum Jew should be doing, insofar as I can with my mental health issues.  But I’m convinced that I’m a terrible Jew with no share in Olam HaBa (the Next World/Heaven) and that there is no reason for me to carry on living because I’m just accumulating sins.  It’s hard to disprove a belief that’s so nebulous, but so persuasive.

I feel like I need to do something to fight the inertia and misery that have taken over my life in the last six or seven months.  I’m not sure what.  I don’t have a career as such.  I don’t really have the energy for career-furthering things.  I can barely cope with having a job, let alone a career, and I have no expectation of rising particularly high up the promotion ladder.  Looking at books on childcare at work to decide whether to withdraw them makes me feel broody.  The thought occurs to me that I should chase the shadchan (matchmaker) to whom I sent my dating profile over a fortnight ago without even getting an acknowledgement back, but I’m too ashamed (of what?  Why?  I don’t know) and pessimistic, not to mention convinced that I’m unlovable and half convinced that I’m about to go off the derekh (stop being frum) and shouldn’t go near either frum women for fear that I will end up non-frum.  It’s also painful to feel attracted to women in a normal way when I know that no one could find me attractive, physically or as a person.  That said, I was better when I was dating in spring and early summer of 2017 and breaking up with the person I thought I was building a relationship with (even though we only went on four dates) was the trigger for this episode of depression or at least for an existing episode to worsen.  So that inclines me to try again, but also makes me worry what will happen if (when) I get dumped again.

Actually, it’s very hard to go on in any way when I think I’m going to be stuck forever.  It’s hard to succeed at work or carry on religiously or contact friends or be involved with community or contact family when life seems so bleak and intransigent.  I suppose I carry on somehow, or, at any rate, I have done for fifteen years or more, but I’m not sure how.

“I am but mad north-north west”

I’ve had an awful twenty-four hours.  It’s hard to indicate how disturbed and agitated my thoughts have been.  I don’t want to write in detail and worry everyone… but then, I do feel the need to reach out.  Then again, even if I wanted to, I doubt I could replicate the fast, choppy, agitated and often visual thoughts going through my head this afternoon.

Picking up from yesterday’s post I was very depressed before going to bed.  I didn’t really want to do my hitbodedut spontaneous prayer; in the end I did a few minutes before giving up.  I think I went to bed around 11pm, but I couldn’t sleep and ended up getting up and watching Doctor Who and somehow getting a stomach ache from I don’t know what.

The bottom line was that I overslept this morning and didn’t have time to daven (pray).  I got to work before 9am, so I was able to say the Shema and the Amidah and Alenu prayers in the little conference room, but I couldn’t put on tallit and tefillin today.  On the train in, I was too depressed to read (either Mishnah or recreational reading) or to listen to music.  I just sat with my eyes scrunched shut.  I wondered if I was losing my ability to be frum (religious).  If I believe in God and the Torah surely it should follow automatically that I would at least try to be frum, but apparently not.  It’s as hard to do it now as when the religious OCD was at its worst, but this time with no obvious reason.

I struggled through the morning feeling shattered and having great difficulty concentrating, but it was afternoon when everything really went wrong.  I kept texting myself brief notes of what I was thinking, primarily to write this post, but it strikes me that I do have a timecoded record of my thoughts in case I decide to go to a doctor about this.

Shortly after I got back from lunch at 2pm, I was still struggling to concentrate and feeling exhausted (so no energy boost from lunch).  My anxiety spiked and I started worrying that I was going to be fired or even be arrested.  I haven’t really mentioned this here, but as well as OCD worries about kashrut and other Jewish things, I have anxieties that I might have committed a crime without realising it and I’m going to get arrested for it, or that I will commit a crime or a sackable offence at work.  Mixed in with this were some more or less rational worries about the political situation, but the OCD and related anxieties were more worrying for coming out of nowhere and dominating.  OK, not quite nowhere, as they are clearly based on my experience last week of my boss finding out about my blog, but these types of thoughts had been dormant for a while and I thought I had largely beaten them.

Shortly afterwards, I was crying and thinking about resigning my job.  I can’t remember why this seemed like a good idea, but it was probably because I feel I just can’t cope with it.  I was the only person in the office at this point; I didn’t want to be seen crying… but part of me did, just to get it out in the open.

By half-past three, I was feeling the feeling I refer to as being ‘sunk’, when I feel like a sunk ship at the bottom of the sea, unable to move or do anything.  I was feeling overwhelmed by despair.  Strangely, I was still working with this going on in the background.  I would work for a few minutes, struggle with my thoughts for a bit, work some more… I think the amount of cataloguing I did wasn’t particularly bad.  I doubt my boss will complain or think anything amiss if I don’t tell her what a bad time I was having.

It was around this time (3.40pm) that I was having thoughts of hurting myself.  Either actual thoughts of self-harm and later of suicide, or images of being beaten up by my doppelganger.  The thoughts were vivid enough to make me wince sometimes.  I can’t remember at what point I started thinking about overdosing on my medication, but it persisted through the afternoon.

By the time I finished work at 5pm, I was having intense thoughts of hurting myself/being hurt and of suicide.  I usually phone my parents most days, but I didn’t phone them yesterday and I was trying to think of how to avoid phoning them today, because I feel I have let them down, and that I’ve let the college I work for down too.  I feel I’ve pretty much let everyone down and that I’m not really capable of doing anything right.

Then on the way home I was reminded of a major mistake I made fifteen years ago… the story is too long, not to mention too embarrassing, to mention here, but it makes me feel like I can never escape my mistakes, that they will always come back to haunt me.

I’ve written this down and, as I feared, it sounds fairly rational.  What I can’t really communicate is how frightening this is.  I know I’m not psychotic, but my thoughts are so agitated and violent, they come so quickly and so (apparently) outside of my control that they frighten me, especially when I start thinking of throwing myself in front of a train or overdosing on my meds, even if I don’t really intend to follow through on those thoughts.  It’s the fear that I might have a moment of weakness and act on them.

I don’t know what to do.  I don’t know if I can really go to the doctor having had two or three bad days, particularly as I would have to miss work to do so, possibly most of a day, as I would be an emergency appointment squeezed in when they had time.  And getting time off for an appointment means telling my boss and, realistically, my parents (a) because I tell my parents all my major news and (b) because I’m not sure how much of a fit state I’m in to coordinate making an appointment and getting to it on time without at least having the potential of a lift to the doctor if I’m running late.  I do feel like I’ve let everyone down.

Then there’s the question of what would happen if I did go to the doctor.  I do have a sympathetic GP, but I know from experience that there isn’t much he can do for me when I’m in distress, but not actually hurting myself.  He might refer me back to the psychiatrist, but there’s a waiting list for that.  He might send the crisis team round, but they’re completely inadequate.  I’ve been here before.  All they do is turn up some time during the day to make sure you haven’t killed yourself in the last twenty-four hours.  They’re useless timekeepers too: if they say that they will come at 10.00am, they could turn up at any time from 10.00 to 3.00pm… unless you assume they’re coming late and stay in bed, in which case they’ll arrive at 9.30am.  To be fair I can see that their day would be hard to schedule, but it makes carrying on with work and my routine difficult even though the main thing they say is to carry on with one’s routine and work.  So that would require more time off work.

I’d rather go to work if I can, given that I think being off work for two weeks was what triggered this episode, or at least worsened it.  I’d like to ask for something to be made easier, but I don’t know what is both a “reasonable adjustment” that work will agree to, and which doesn’t render my job meaningless.  What upsets me about work is screwing everything up, so reducing the workload isn’t going to make that fear go away, because however little I do, I will still be afraid of screwing it up.  I could potentially ask to be kept off the issue desk for a while, as that’s the most anxiety-inducing part of the job, but (a) I think that might go beyond “reasonable adjustment”, (b) it would advertise to all my colleagues that I have issues and (c) I don’t think running away is a particularly good strategy.

So I feel fairly stuck.  I don’t feel as agitated as I did earlier, when I was worried that I would become suicidal, but at the same time, I sometimes feel it would be better if I stayed agitated and fantasising of self-harm because that would be easier to deal with than having my mood change all the time.

Shelo Asani Psychopath

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

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

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


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

Some Days All We Can Do Is Endure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Insanity

I feel very depressed today and I’m not really sure why.  I slept in, but woke depressed and tired.  Aside from therapy over Skype, I’ve largely spent the day pottering about in my room/flat (my flat is really one small room with an attached tiny kitchenette and equally tiny bathroom) and trying not to comfort eat (not usually a problem for me, but it has been lately – perhaps because my current antidepressants are linked to carbohydrate craving and weight gain).  I’m reluctant to say too much, as I fear I have said too much here recently; I went back and heavily edited a post that said too much about a third party.  But I suspect part of it is because my sister has booked the hall for her wedding in December now.  It all seems very real, and I seem more alone and unloveable than ever.

I have made good progress with my depression and OCD in recent months, but I think there is one last knot in my mind that needs to be undone.  I am still being held back by fear of what other people will think of me.  This stops me from writing, from trying to make friends and from dating, although paradoxically with dating my sense of honesty tends to prompt me to reveal my mental health issues too early on as well.  I’m not sure if I’m more scared of criticism or praise, acceptance or rejection.  Both are pretty overwhelming.

Then (oh dear) I got really agitated and depressed and wrote a long stupid comment on Hevria.com.  Then I felt bad for writing it, but wanted to leave it because I felt I wanted someone to tell me if there’s something wrong with me (like mania), so I wrote a long introduction apologizing for writing it and saying I was going to delete it, but I wanted to leave it there so someone can tell me if I’m going crazy, but that the moderators should feel free to delete it if they want to.  I haven’t done something crazy like that for a while, and certainly I have never been climbing on people’s walls as I was doing on the way home today.

EDIT: I’ve now deleted the comment because I’ve calmed down and I’m probably not really manic (I’ve been told repeatedly I don’t have bipolar disorder).  I’ve saved a copy on my laptop just in case, though.

Despatches from the Front Line 10

Agitated.  Can’t sit still, can’t concentrate, don’t want to sleep.  Am I too weird to ever get married?  I think so.  I worked out there are only about 1,000 frum single women roughly my age in the UK.  How many of those are going to be remotely compatible with me?  I mean in terms of values, personality and interests.  Very few.  Was trying to explain this to my sister, not sure she got it.  Was trying to explain why I think it is hopeless looking for someone with similar interests and I just have to find someone with similar values and hope we can make it work.  Not that many women like SF, not that many frum Jews like SF; how many single, frum women like it?  Gah!

I get so lonely sometimes.  A lot of the time, really.  I’m not as much of a loner as I’d like to be i.e. if I was more of a loner, I wouldn’t be so lonely.  I want a few close friends, not many, but a few, but I’m hardly gregarious so I struggle to make them.  I lack social skills.  I keep reminding myself – I keep being reminded by events – that I’m a fairly extreme introvert, borderline autistic, borderline socially anxious.  I shouldn’t hold on to these (non-)diagnoses like liferafts, but I do.  I tell myself that it is medically proven that I don’t know how to act around people (except it isn’t, because technically I don’t have a diagnosis only a knowledge of symptoms that I’m told are not intense or numerous enough for a diagnosis).

I feel I’m only truly authentic in my own head.  Somewhat authentic in writing, not authentic at all in person, but only truly authentic in my own head.  Only God knows the real me (even I probably don’t know him).  “O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.”  (Hamlet) I have bad dreams of having friends and being married, being loved.  Bad dreams, because they can’t come true.

I fear that lately I have begun to wear my virginity like a crown of thorns.  Something that hurts, but also redeems.  (This is very Christian imagery for a good Orthodox Jewish boy.  I find the Christian story powerful even as I reject its theological premises.  But if a nice Jewish boy is going to die for everyone’s sins, I want it to be me, not some yeshiva bochur from the Galil.)  I think about marriage too much.  I think about sex far too much.  I wonder what it would be like to be loved, emotionally and physically.  What it would be like to feel safe with someone, really safe and understood and accepted.

If I don’t love myself, how can anyone else?  (Not that many have tried.)  But how can I love myself when I seem to be so loathsome, as shown by the fact that no one likes me.  (As Oscar Wilde said of George Bernard Shaw, I haven’t an enemy in the world and none of my friends likes me.)  This is a vicious circle.  I hate myself, so no one likes me, so I hate myself some more.  How to break free?  Answers on the back of a postcard, or in the comments section below.

“Good night ladies.  Good night sweet ladies.  Good night, good night.”