Delays and Burn Out

I slept badly last night. I couldn’t sleep, perhaps because I took my medication very late. I had agitated thoughts going through my head. Not negative thoughts (they were just interpretations of Twin Peaks), but I couldn’t stop them looping around and restarting again. I did eventually fall asleep, but it was not restful sleep. I had a disturbing dream, although now I can’t remember anything about it except that it disturbed me.

I feel really burnt out again today. I guess I did a lot yesterday even before I slept badly. At least I am working on Tuesday rather than today (Monday) this week.

***

The autism hospital phoned Mum again. They cancelled my appointment in December, when I was supposed to get my final diagnosis, because they want me to have an “observational assessment” first. This is with a psychiatric nurse who is booked until January. I now have an appointment for the observational assessment on 5 January. I can’t book to see the psychiatrist until after that, so I’m worried that this will drag on until February, which would be well over two years since my initial screening. I was worried that they have suddenly changed their minds about me given that they suddenly want me to have this screening, but Mum’s response was, “It’s the NHS, the doctors and nurses don’t work together.” She thinks it’s poor coordination again, and that I should have had the assessment before now. I hope she is right. A friend of mine who is also being assessed had an observational assessment, so it’s probably routine.

***

I had an — I’m not sure what you’d call it — a depressive moment or an autistic moment. I went out for a short walk and to get some sandwiches for lunch at work this week (it’s a strictly kosher site, so I have to buy pre-made kosher sandwiches from a kosher baker or deli). They only had one lot of sandwiches that I liked. I was already feeling drained and a bit down, but suddenly I felt overwhelmed, thinking about getting more sandwiches later in the week, thinking about future weeks, thinking about all the chores I’m supposed to do this and that I don’t think I can get them all done with work and therapy too. Just overwhelmed by everything that is happening to me, particularly with my new job. It subsided by the time I came home and spoke to my parents, and began devising strategies to deal with the chores (etc.), but it is a reminder that autism is always there, and depression lurks in the background, and they can come out when I’m feeling stressed and overwhelmed and that autistic rigid thinking can make it hard for me to find solutions unaided.

The main thing I did today, other than that, was to cook dinner. Mum offered to do it, but she was ill this morning, so I wanted to do it. I did miss one of the ingredients, or at least put it in late, which I guess comes from doing things when depressed and burnt out. I guess it’s an autistic executive function issue again (short-term memory and organisation). I think that’s the type of thing autism observational assessment will test. (Dinner tasted OK.)

I didn’t go to Zoom depression group. I was already thinking of skipping it, as I have to go to bed early to get up early for work tomorrow, but then I felt too depressed. I know that sounds silly, but I knew my problems were mostly stress and exhaustion and I didn’t really feel like talking. I felt an evening of TV would be better for me than talking and listening on Zoom, which can be very draining. My main reservation is that I will miss the next session too, as it clashes with a virtual shiur (religious class) PIMOJ and I are both attending.

I didn’t do much Torah study either, just listened to a short five minute devar Torah (Torah thought) on WhatsApp and spent a few minutes thinking about my own devar Torah for the week. I’m not sure when I’m going to write that, or how good it will be (or how long it will be, actually). But I just couldn’t do any more today.

***

A present to myself as a reward for the new job and because I was having a bad day: a cheap second-hand DVD of Blade Runner 2049, and a somewhat more expensive new copy of Tunnel of Fear, an early episode of The Avengers (the British, John Steed Avengers) that was missing and was rediscovered and released on DVD a couple of years ago. Because it was missing when the complete Avengers box-set came out, it was the only surviving episode I haven’t seen.

Because of that I ended up watching a different early Avengers episode (Concerto, by Doctor Who writers Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke). It was diverting, but I find that not many of the pre-Diana Rigg episodes are that memorable. I plan to watch Doctor Who before going to bed to unwind a bit more.

Anxiety and Autism

…which sounds like some kind of weird Jane Austen spoof.

I’ve been having trouble with sleep this week, trouble falling asleep or waking up in the middle of the night.  Last night I went to bed early again as I was very tired, too tired to relax after the virtual museum tour I went on (I find Zoom events draining).  I thought I would be OK, but I woke up some time after 3.00am and couldn’t get back to sleep again.  I ate porridge (warm milk helps me sleep, but I don’t like drinking warm milk, hence eating porridge) and watched Doctor Who for a bit to unwind, but neither helped.  I went back to bed, but tossed and turned without falling asleep again.  I tried to stay in the present, but when you can’t sleep at 5.00am, it’s hard not to get sucked into worries.  Eventually, at about 6.30am, I decided to get up, despite feeling tired on only three or four hours of sleep.

A lot of the anxiety I’m experiencing at the moment is about dating.  I’ve been messaging someone on JDate.  I’m always scared to get my hopes up (for anything, not just dating) in case something goes wrong.  So many things could go wrong.  So I get sucked back into catastrophising.  I’m trying very hard not to do that, but rather to stay in the present, so I’m not going to say much more here for now, other than I’m pleased with what’s happening, but also anxious about whether good things can happen to me.

I have other anxieties too.  I’ve got the exam next week for the job I want (and apparently it’s not 100% sure that I’ll even get to the exam stage – today this is less clear than yesterday).  I know it’s normal to be anxious before a job application exam, normal to be nervous when contemplating a new job and normal to be nervous when messaging someone new on a dating site.  So everything is normal.   But I still feel anxious.  Like I say, I’m trying to stay in the present and tell myself that, one way or another, this won’t last indefinitely.  That probably sooner or later I will get a job, whether it’s this one or not.  That I do have some good qualities to offer a prospective partner.  And so on.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

***

Because of my complicated history with my autism diagnosis (being assessed and told I don’t have it, then going into the world of work and not coping at all, for reasons that sounded a lot like autism, then having a preliminary screening that suggests I do have it, and waiting and waiting for an assessment that could still be a year or even two away), I sometimes wonder if maybe I’m not on the autism spectrum and I’m just incompetent.  Then other days I do things that are so classically autistic that I wonder how it could ever have been missed.

Today I had a blood test (routine to check my lithium level because of my medication) and I planned to do some shopping afterwards.  My Dad gave me a lift to the hospital.  As I was about to get out of the car, he asked me to get some soap, and without thinking I went into classic autistic rigid thinking, saying I couldn’t do that because he hadn’t told me early enough for me to put it on my shopping list and why was he springing it on me suddenly?  Even as I was saying it, I could see it was an over-reaction and that it was the autism talking, but the scary thing is in the moment, it was hard to change it and back down and say I could do it.

I had some tremor when I had my blood taken.  I have tremor as a medication side-effect when I get anxious.  I get a little anxious about blood tests anyway (anxiety about possible tremor, ironically, rather than the needle), but I think COVID made things worse, because of the discomfort of wearing a mask and the “new situation” aspect of the hospital being socially distanced – autism again.  I was uncomfortable doing shopping for the same reason: my mask and confusion about the social distancing rules in the shopping centre, which I hadn’t been to since lockdown started.  I was also apprehensive about people standing close to me (everyone had masks, but I’m not convinced masks stop COVID being transmitted).  I got a bit agitated in Boots too.  I think it was a build up of autistic triggers.  The fact that they had changed the packaging on the vitamins I was trying to buy just threw me further – again, autism doesn’t like change.  Normally I wouldn’t care about a small change like that, but I think the fact that I was already agitated meant that it was just another factor.  Still, I guess it’s more evidence to put in my big document on my autism symptoms to take to my assessment, when I finally get it.

***

Otherwise it was a boring day, mostly doing odd bits of jobs: bits of housework, a bit on my novel, a bit on my devar Torah (Torah thought), a bit of Torah study.  Lots of bits.  I forced myself through the day until dinner and now I’m too tired to do anything so am off to bed soon.

***

As this is a shorter than usual post, and as it touches on some issues I’ve raised in the last few days about trusting God, I will post my devar Torah for this week in a minute, for those who are interested.

Wanderer in the Fourth Dimension

It’s been a very difficult day.

I was feeling quite anxious on waking up this morning.  Then Mum was quite ill very suddenly.  I was going to write what happened, but then I thought she might not want me to.  She’s OK now, but I was very worried for a time and thought briefly I might have to phone for an ambulance.  It was very frightening.  So that added a new level of anxiety.  Fortunately she’s seeing her surgeon tomorrow, so she can tell him about it.  I’m not sure he’s the best person to tell, but it’s a start.  But it’s a reminder of my parents’ mortality, and of the fact that while Mum’s prognosis is good, she is still seriously ill.

After a while Mum seemed to be OK and the adrenaline rush from dealing with the situation wore off, and I drifted back into depression, possibly worse for being post-adrenaline.  I managed to work on my novel and wrote quite a bit without too much procrastination, but once I had stopped, the depression came rushing back at me again, with agitation and probably also anxiety and loneliness, although it’s hard to be sure.  I felt pretty overwhelmed.

I tried to get myself to do some Torah study without using “should” language about it, but it was hard.  It was just a slog to get through it.  Here are some things that are hard to read in the Torah, from a contemporary perspective: genealogies, descriptions of sacrificial Temple rituals and censuses, because they are all very long and repetitive and it’s hard to connect them to anything in modern spirituality.  I struggle to connect them.  And they were all in this week’s sedra (Torah reading).  There was a little bit of narrative, but not much.  I did get through it and technically I didn’t “should” myself into it, but I think that was because autistic determination/absorption took over, and not in a good way, and I sort of forgot that I had the option of stopping.

I’m also trying not to think about the future, but it’s hard.  And it’s hard not to do it without “shoulding” myself into not doing it (“I should not think about the future.”).

About 8pm it hit me that it’s been a really hard day.  I hadn’t really thought about it that way before then, I’d been too busy living through it.  I felt a bit tired, but really tense.  It was late, but I wanted to go for a run before dinner to relieve some of the tension.  Possibly there was some “shoulding” there, but I did feel that I would be tense all evening unless I went out for a bit.  I had a reasonable run, and didn’t get an exercise migraine, so that was good.  I was still feeling stressed, so I ate ice cream for dessert after dinner, which probably put back the calories I lost running.  Oh well.

***

I felt a bit bad that my sister seemed more worried about Mum than I was.  Of course, by the time Mum told her, I’d seen that Mum was feeling a lot better, whereas my sister didn’t know and was probably imagining the worst, so in some ways it’s not surprising that she was very upset while I was calm.

I spend all my time worrying about some fairly abstract things in my life and the world at large (if I’ll ever have a proper job, if I’ll ever get married, if antisemitism is getting worse), but I can be pretty detached about people who I actually care about.  I feel like it makes me a bad person, but I’m not sure what worrying would achieve; if anything, I’d rather worry less about myself than more about my family and friends.   I guess it can be hard distinguishing caring from worrying, the former being good and the latter bad.  Maybe this is another “should” to avoid.  I just wish I didn’t feel inhuman and uncaring sometimes.

Detachment can be another autism symptom too, of course.  It could be that I do care about my family and friends, I just express it in a different way to most people.

***

NB: this next isn’t really anything to do with today or anyone I mentioned here today, just something I’ve been thinking about recently.

I find it hard to understand people.  They’re… complicated.  Sometimes one person has apparently contradictory character traits.  They can be supportive to some people, but cold to others, or caring when they’re in a good mood, but unbearable when they’re angry.  I find it difficult to understand.  Maybe I’ve been an avid reader since childhood to try to get inside other people’s heads.  I know autism doesn’t make it any easier.  I wonder if I will struggle to invent believable characters in my writing because of this.  Already I think my second most important character is flat and bland, while the villain is probably too nasty.  He’s a psychopath; psychopaths are usually very charming to most people and I think I’ve struggled to show that.

I struggle to understand people on a societal level too.  I don’t feel like I belong to either twenty-first century Western society or to contemporary frum society.  I can “pass” in both, but not always very well.  I’m not good on details like slang or popular culture in either society.

Maybe I’m just afraid of opening up.  Maybe people would be OK with my idiosyncrasies if I did so.  Or maybe not.  I suspect on some level I studied history to try to understand societies better.  I’m not sure if it helped any more than reading novels helped me understand individuals.  Sometimes I try to look at our current society as if I were an outsider, a future historian.

Maybe that’s why I’ve always liked time-travel stories.  I’d much rather have a time machine than a spaceship.  Maybe that’s why I prefer Doctor Who to Star Trek (OK, among several other reasons).  The idea of being lost in time is scary, but sometimes that feels how I live my life.

“Have you ever thought what it’s like to be wanderers in the fourth dimension?  Have you?  To be exiles…?” – Doctor Who: An Unearthly Child by Anthony Coburn

Depressed, Anxious, Vegetating

Despite feeling very depressed, I did the cataloguing assessment I had to do for a job application.  I don’t feel that I did it very well and certainly it took longer than it should have done.  It was hard to concentrate and I got up to pace the room with agitation at some points.  I experienced a lot of anxiety and agitation doing it.  I also struggled with the content.  I felt I didn’t understand all of the instructions and I wasn’t sure if that was their fault or mine.  I also struggled with the online Library of Congress Subject Headings website.  I hadn’t used LCSH for nearly ten years, since I did my librarianship MA, and I think even then I only used the hard copy books, not the online database.  I struggled with it.

I’m also experiencing other anxiety.  I mentioned yesterday that three books on writing novels that I ordered arrived.  Today they were followed by belated copies of the latest Doctor Who Magazine and Jewish Review of Books.  I’m feeling overwhelmed by stuff I have to read, and the writing guide books make me wonder how much I’m going to have to edit and redraft my novel.

***

I still feel very depressed after finishing the cataloguing test.  I worked on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for over an hour, but I wasn’t particularly happy with it.  I had misunderstood a couple of things and the corrected idea wasn’t as powerful as I had thought at first.

I wanted to work on my novel, exercise or do more substantial Torah study, but didn’t feel well enough and decided the rest of the afternoon would have to be a mental health day.

I’m giving up on doing anything else today.  I’m just too depressed to do anything other than vegetate in front of the TV.  I’m trying not to feel hopeless and useless, but it’s hard.  Doctor Who, from the original run (The Web of Fear), because (a) it hits my autistic special interest comfort zone more than anything else and (b) because I know all the stories inside out, so it doesn’t matter if I lose concentration.

Frazzled

Late last night (about 1am), I was still wide awake, and feeling rather tense and agitated.  Yes, I’d forgotten to take my meds again.  I had something to eat and took them, but I couldn’t sleep, so I got up and looked for something calming to watch.  I decided on my childhood favourite, Mr Benn.  My sister bought me the DVD years ago.  This was a series of short cartoons from the early seventies about a man who tries on clothes from the fancy dress shop; when he wears them, he gets caught up in an adventure related to the type of clothes he’s wearing.  It’s for very young children, so the “adventure” is usually something simple, non-violent, and with a clear moral, like “Be grateful for what you have” or “Don’t cheat” (from the two episodes I watched last night).  That said, one proposed episode was never made, banned as politically subversive (Mr Benn becomes a convict and cheers the other convicts up by decorating the prison in bright colours).  The animation is extremely basic, often just still pictures, but I find the incidental music really haunting and atmospheric.  David McKee, who created and wrote all the episodes also did some of the animation too.  In the USA he’s best known for creating and drawing Elmer the Patchwork Elephant.  The series was probably the gateway drug that introduced me to classic British telefantasy.  Little did my parents realise what they were getting me into…

I didn’t fall asleep until about 3am or later.  I got woken up around 8.00am by the *cough cough* in the garden next door, but shut the windows and went back to sleep.  I was too depressed and exhausted to see much of the morning and the early afternoon.  I felt somewhat better after lunch, but still fragile and drained.

I did manage to write 500 words of my novel after lunch, my minimum daily target.  I somehow wrote that in under an hour, which was good, because I was too tired to carry on after that.  I felt pretty frazzled after yesterday.  After that I had therapy today because yesterday was bank holiday, but I was not really looking forward to doing it while drained.  I still “gushed forth” a flood of thoughts and feelings.  I spoke mainly about my interactions with my religious community.  My therapist noted that with autism it is much harder to judge the informal rules of a community as opposed to the formal ones, but autism can also create a greater desire for clear formal rules.  She also said some useful stuff about some people in the community being higher up the hierarchy and therefore able to make comments and jokes that would not be permitted to other people because they are risque mocking or e.g. the previous rabbi in my shul (synagogue) used to joke about the Moshe (Moses) grumbling about having to tell the Israelites about tefillin (“We have to strap leather boxes to our arms and heads during morning prayers”) which other people might not be able to do.  We also spoke about religious communities not always encouraging individuality and self-expression; I said that’s true, but that perhaps having something to kick against gives me a reason to write.  I would be much less likely to write a novel about a depressed, autistic person in the secular community because I think the Jewish nature of my novel is a new angle on the topic.

Just as I was writing this bit about community, there was a knock at the door and someone dropped off a box of chocolates and a packet of flowery paper napkins, from my shul.  Some people in the community have sponsored this for everyone in the community as a way of uniting us for the festival of Shavuot this week when we’re still in lockdown.  I’m slightly puzzled as to the significance of the paper napkins.

I was quite exhausted after therapy and spent longer decompressing than I would have liked.  Since childhood, I have always taken longer decompressing and moving from one activity to another than I would have liked.  I think it’s primarily an autistic trait, although it can probably be worsened by depression.  It’s one of the reasons I fail to stick to plans.  I was OK moving between lessons at school, possibly because there was an order to packing and unpacking my stuff and, as I went to a large school, there would be several minutes in the crush of getting to the next lesson and then waiting outside talking before the teacher came.

I was going to try to cook something for dinner, but as I was tired, I just cooked plain pasta to eat with bought sauce.  I did also manage to go for a half-hour walk and Skype E.  But other than that, I was too exhausted to do anything this evening.

Productive Day

In my rush to get to my Zoom shiur (religious class) last night I forgot to take my medication.  I remembered before bed, but it meant that I didn’t feel tired when I went to bed, despite it being late.  My default is basically insomnia, and if I fall asleep easily most nights nowadays, it’s because of my medication making me drowsy, something driven home when I forget to take it, to the extent that if I can’t sleep, the first thing I do is check if I took my meds.  I did eventually fall asleep after doing my usual insomnia trick of eating porridge as a way of eating warm milk (I don’t like the taste of ‘neat’ milk, and we don’t have hot chocolate), but I had to spend quite a long time in bed wrestling with agitated thoughts first.  Not necessarily ‘bad’ thoughts, but agitated ones that I couldn’t stop.

Today was reasonably productive.  I spent an hour and three quarters or so working on my novel.  Admittedly some of that was procrastination time, but I wrote 500 words and went over my plans for the current chapter and some of the later ones to make them more detailed and coherent so that I’m sure that the plot develops more smoothly and I’m not improvising important details.  I am beginning to get worried that this isn’t going to stretch to a full-length novel, at least not on the first draft.  Then again, I know I’ve got stuff to go back and add in the second draft, so maybe that’s not such a huge problem.

I worked on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for fifteen minutes and did fifty minutes of Torah study, which is the most I’ve managed to do on a weekday for a while.  I went for a half hour walk and was a bit frightened by the fact that more people seemed to be out now that the lockdown restrictions have been loosened a little.  I don’t blame them, but I was worried about carrying some kind of infection home to Mum, who has a low immune system at the moment from chemotherapy, and it was difficult to avoid everyone.  At one point I was walking in the middle of the road to avoid people on both pavements; even then I think I passed near to some people.

I would have liked to have made my novel writing time up to a round two hours, but I can’t deny that my day was fairly productive.  My mood was more variable.  It was mostly OK, but every so often I’d hit something that would trigger difficult (depressive, agitated, anxious) thoughts for a bit.  The subjects were typical for me: religion (theology and sociology of religion); politics; dating anxieties.  I think the thoughts mostly didn’t stay around too long, but I’m not sure how much that was due to me neither fighting nor wallowing in them.  I think I did wallow in them a bit, or at least some of them.  Well, maybe “wallow” is too harsh, but I wasn’t always able to welcome my thoughts, learn from them and dismiss them.  It’s hard to remember how to deal with these thoughts when they hit me.  Still, some of the stuff I was thinking of would have upset me all day in the past and that wasn’t the case today.  Nor did E. being too busy to Skype for long leave me worrying that she was about to dump me, as it probably would have done in the past.

I guess that was a pretty good day overall, even if that doesn’t make for the most interesting blog post.  Even Ashes to Ashes was reasonably good, even if it did rip off Edge of Darkness and have some whopping big plot holes (Gene and Alex get into a top secret military establishment with one forged pass between them; then Ray, Chris and Shaz get in with no ID at all.  Riiiiiight.  Possibly there was a cut scene somewhere).

***

My sister came over this morning while I was still asleep and left some stuff on the doorstep for us: cooked meat for Shabbat (Saturday) meals and, more importantly, chocolate rogelach (pastries).  I think she feels frustrated that she can’t really help with Mum’s cancer because of lockdown.

***

Mum asked me why I didn’t applaud the NHS as per usual.  The real answer is that I was busy and didn’t want to interrupt what I was doing, but also that it’s beginning to annoy me.  As I’ve mentioned before, my experience of the NHS (for mental health) has been so variable and sometimes so awful.  It seems disloyal to say that publicly now though.  I feel a bit like I’m the first person to stop applauding Stalin and now I’m going to be sent to the gulag as a traitor (I mean in relation to everyone else on the street, not Mum).  Then again,

Eat Pray Read Sleep Fret

It was another ordinary COVID-19 Shabbat of eating, praying, reading and sleeping.  However, there was also quite a lot of agitated thoughts about religion.  I was thinking a lot about a few things, most notably Rambam’s (Moses Maimonides’) thirteen principles of faith and his understanding of reward and punishment.  These thoughts came from a number of things I’ve been reading recently, most notably Rabbi Joshua Berman’s Ani Maamin: Biblical Criticism, Historical Truth, and the Thirteen Principles of Faith and debates on the Rationalist Judaism blog about whether God can be meaningfully said to have “caused” COVID-19, which led me to re-read the appendix on Rambam’s view of reward and punishment at the back of Menachem Kellner’s Must a Jew Believe Anything?

Rabbi Berman’s book has left me wondering whether I really believe in Rambam’s thirteen principles in a way he (Rambam), and other Orthodox rabbis, would accept as truly Orthodox, mostly because lately I find myself drawn to some Medieval rabbis who believed that certain apparently anachronistic phrases and short passages in the Torah (e.g. the long list of Edomite kings which seems to cover more people than can easily fit in the gap from Esav’s (Esau’s) birth to the giving of the Torah) can be explained by saying that they were inserted by a later prophet or by Ezra the Scribe as an explanatory gloss, similar to a modern editorial footnote.  This seems logical, and more traditional than the answers proposed by modern biblical criticism, which see whole chunks of text as later insertions by otherwise unknown “redactors” (as this version is limited to just a few verses and still assumes some kind of prophetic source).  However, Rambam said Jews have to believe in the unchangeability of the Torah‘s text for reasons that Rabbi Berman ascribes to the influence Islamic polemics (basically, Muslims said that Jews had edited the Torah to remove references to Mohammed being the greatest prophet, so defending the integrity of the text became of paramount importance).

On the other hand, the more I think about Rambam’s view of reward and punishment, at least as explained by Kellner, the harder it is for me to see it as (a) authentically Jewish, (b) coherent in a world that no longer accepts Aristotlean metaphysics and (c) morally and emotionally viable, especially post-Holocaust.  As I understand it, Rambam’s view of the afterlife is based on Aristotle’s idea of the “acquired intellect”.  According to Rambam, the more we learn about God in this world (partly through Talmud study, but mostly through studying Greek philosophy, which he believed contained universal truths lost from Judaism in the exile), the more we perfect our intellects and join them to God’s intellect in the next world, which is the only true happiness or reward.  There is no get out clause for people who can’t do this for some external reason such as mental impairment or dying in infancy.  There is no mechanism whereby God can miraculously extend them reward.  So Rambam would say that there is no reward for the million children murdered by the Nazis.  He doesn’t believe in next-worldly punishment either, so at least they don’t go to Gehennom/Hell… but then neither does Hitler, whose only punishment was to live long enough to see his Thousand Year Reich destroyed by the Allies, which does not really seem enough.  It’s a hugely austere and elitist approach to life that in some ways I admire for its bravery and unwillingness to offer cheap comfort, but really it does nothing for me either religiously or emotionally.

As for why this upset me, well, there are two slightly different reasons, or rather the same reason in two slightly different ways.  I’m rejecting a belief, which of course leads to the fear that I may be making a mistake and rejecting true dogma and condemning myself to eternal non-existence, but I’m also rejecting communities.  Although both sets of opinions I’m rejecting were proposed by the same Jewish thinker, I’m actually rejecting two very different communities.

The first one is the mainstream Orthodox community, where Rambam’s thirteen principles are seen as the definitive Orthodox dogma.  In the Modern Orthodox community there is some debate about how they became accepted and what to do with the opinions of those rabbis who disagreed with them (and a lot did disagree – see Rabbi Marc Shapiro’s The Limits of Orthodox Theology (I haven’t read the book, but I have heard him lecture on when people stopped believing it was OK to say that God has a body (corporealism)).  Likewise, there is some acknowledgement in the Modern Orthodox world that there is no one perfect Torah text; there are minor variants out there and a history of rabbinic debate about how to preserve the text from corruption and deal with mistakes in copying.  But in the more Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world there is no legitimate academic historical interpretation in the sense that Rabbis Berman and Shapiro are engaged in, attempting to ask how beliefs became accepted and to what extent they were seen as binding at different times as well as placing them in their historical contest.

The second community is the one at the Rationalist Judaism blog.  There was a time when I felt very much a rationalist Orthodox Jew as opposed to a mystic, but over time I’ve moved on.  I’ve learnt that there are ways of understanding mysticism and myth that don’t involve anti-scientific beliefs about the world (as I explained a bit in this essay I wrote for Hevria) and I’ve moved towards a much more “religious existentialist” understanding of the world that has room for doubt, uncertainty and feelings of distance from God.

Still, it does feel a bit like I’m burning bridges in a way, because the idea of rationalism, at least in the rather simplified version discourse on the blog where it’s a shorthand for accepting evolution and an old universe and being opposed to the Haredi kollel system, was important to me once.  And Rambam is such a huge, towering figure in Jewish thought and Jewish history, sometimes seen as the most significant post-Biblical figure: jurist and legal scholar, philosopher, theologian, prolific author…  There’s even a saying that “From Moses to Moses [Maimonides] there was no one like Moses” – it’s just a huge thing to say that I disagree with his principles, even in a very small and non-committal way, given that I was brought up to see them as the essence of Orthodoxy (and despite Rabbi Berman’s arguing at length that Rambam himself walked back most of his principles in his later work, especially the one I’m most concerned about, the unchangeability of the Torah).

I haven’t felt like a member of the Rationalist Judaism blog community for a long time.  I was never a prolific commenter there and I have walked away from it at times from boredom, as it turned primarily into a prolonged attack on the Haredi world rather than a real examination of rationalist Judaism.  Still, I feel like I’m walking away on my own, trying to find where I fit.

Beyond that, there is, of course, a fear of what will happen to me after death, but I can’t pretend to believe something I don’t believe, even if I don’t at this stage accept the “prophets adding to the Torah” hypothesis either, I just find it hard to fully dismiss.  It just fits in with other worries I’ve had over time, wondering what will happen to less religious/outright atheist friends and family after death.  I believe that God is loving and just and I don’t believe that good people lose out on reward.  I also don’t believe that belief is everything.  I hope that that means some kind of eternal reward in the next world, given that good people often seem not to be rewarded in this world.

The reality is, of course, that whether or not there is an afterlife, and who gets to go to it, is nothing to do with me.  Still, reading these writers and other Jewish thinkers and historians makes me realises how small a place faith (in the Christian doctrinal sense) really has in Judaism, how much more focused on good deeds it is, and how present-focused it is.  There is almost no discussion of the afterlife in the Torah, while the Talmud contains three stories (Avodah Zarah 17a and 18a; I can’t find the third story, I think it may be in the Talmud Yerushalmi Ta’anit) about people who have led reprehensible lives managing to attain Olam HaBa (The Next World) with a single good deed or moment of repentance, leading Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi (the editor of the Mishnah, the oldest layer of the Talmud) that some people can acquire Olam HaBa only after many years of toil, while others can acquire it in an instant (I think I’m in the many years of toil category).  Belief seems to play very little role in these stories, which are focused on kindness and repentance.  I view them through a religious existentialist lens, seeing them as being about repentance, encounters with other people and perhaps with God (which is not the same as straightforward faith) and personal authenticity (an extended analysis of one of these stories can be found here and here).

***

I thought about these thoughts a lot over Shabbat, sometimes in a rather agitated way.  Still, I don’t know if it qualifies as religious OCD.  I felt that it just wasn’t as powerful and obsessive as my religious OCD thoughts usually are.

Still, I feel exhausted now.  I meant to write this blog entry quickly and go and read, but I got involved, said a lot more than I intended and it has taken nearly two hours.  These thoughts have been brewing inside me for weeks, though, so perhaps it is just as well that I got them out of my system.

Zapped

I’m averaging a good night’s sleep – I slept for twelve hours last night after sleeping for only four the night before.  I would rather have it spread evenly though.  One of the things I hate most about depression is waking up more tired than I went to bed and spending an hour or more before I feel able to confront the day.

I worked on my weekly devar Torah (Torah thought) for nearly an hour and cooked dinner.  Other than that I didn’t do much except feel vaguely nervous about work, about which I still have something of an Impostor Syndrome.

I did something that felt somewhat against Jewish law and downloaded some music that I probably shouldn’t because it was sung by women.  In the Haredi world, it is Not Done for men to listen to women singing.  It is obviously not considered a problem by secular standards, and even in the Modern Orthodox world my rabbi mentor said most people only apply the law to live music and not recorded music.  I suspect it’s one of the things that has suddenly become a lot stricter in the last sixty years or so.  Haredi rabbis used to go to the opera.  Not all of them, but some prominent ones did, apparently (I don’t have documentary proof, but I’ve heard it from a few places I consider reliable).  I had been avoiding listening to female lead vocals in recent years, but over the last year I’ve been feeling so awful and struggling to keep going with my motivation in Judaism and, inevitably, I’ve slipped in a few areas, including this.

Anyway, I downloaded some music on iTunes, but it didn’t download properly and I just spent an hour and a half instant messaging the iTunes helpdesk.  I’m sure some people would say that this is A Sign that I’m not supposed to do this, but I can’t see how I can be on such a high level that it makes any difference to me.  I feel I’m not such a tzaddik (saintly person) that God should zap me (as the shiur rabbi would say) for such a trivial thing.

The guy on the helpdesk talked me through some things that changed which songs were or weren’t downloaded properly, but didn’t resolve the problem.  Then he told me to alter some stuff on my laptop that I had trouble doing because Windows is pants and while I was trying to work out what to do the helpdesk guy hung up on me.  I tried doing what he said anyway and it still didn’t help.  I am not sure what to do, as Apple have lousy customer support (why do people love Apple so much?).  I guess I will have to instant messenger someone again on Thursday.

I still feel like God is punishing me with this problem.  I also lost my novel writing time today because of it and will probably lose it again on Thursday if I have to do this again.  Writing is hard in my new job.  I thought not job hunting would lead to more novel writing, but so far I’ve been too tired to write on work days i.e. Mondays and Wednesdays, which I expected, but also too tired write much on Tuesdays and Thursdays because work tires me out so much, doubly so on Tuesdays because I have to cook dinner.  Fridays are a write-off  in the winter because Shabbat (the Sabbath) starts so early.  I can write a little on Saturday evening, but that time often gets swallowed by tidying up, by other chores I didn’t have time for in the week or by blogging any upsetting things that happened over Shabbat (upsetting things often seem to happen on Shabbat).  That just leaves Sundays for writing, which is ridiculous.

Now I feel super-tense, depressed and agitated from trying to solve the problem and failing, and thinking about having to do it again on Thursday, and not having time to write and thinking about my whole big ‘to do’ list that has sat untouched since I started this job.  The easiest thing to do with the music might be to wait until the invoice comes and refuse purchase stating there’s a problem, and then try to buy it again in a few weeks.  As for feeling tense, depressed and agitated, I don’t have an answer to that.  I started watching a Star Trek: Voyager episode, but it wasn’t terribly interesting.

At the back of my mind, I’m still thinking about two articles I read today, here and here (trigger warning for sexual abuse).  I’m glad I don’t belong to a very Haredi community like the one in the first article (the Tablet Magazine one), but a group of people from my shul (synagogue) went to the siyum in the second post (they wouldn’t have necessarily known about the politics there).  This type of thing makes me really angry.  On a personal level, I know I do stuff wrong, and it’s pretty much impossible for a single man my age not to do some stuff wrong regarding sex, but I don’t hurt other people despite my struggles.  I hate the idea that there have been so many cases of people able to get away with hurting other people because of the attitudes of parts of the frum community, attitudes that are suspicious of the non-Jewish police (or non-Orthodox police in Israel) and which automatically view people on the fringes of the community as being suspect especially when it’s their word against a rabbi or religious leader, particularly one with yichus (good lineage).  There isn’t anything I can do other than try to write books about people on the fringe of the frum community and hope that helps someone, so it’s frustrating when I can’t even do that.

I just feel awful right now and I don’t know how I will get to sleep while feeling so tense and depressed (to bring the post full circle).  Someone recently said that I’m not really ill and I haven’t really suffered anything, I’m just useless undependable.  E. and one of my other friends said not to listen to this person, but it’s hard not to sometimes.  At the moment, looking at how little I achieved today, I feel pretty useless.

The Trouble with Tribes

I recently joined a WhatsApp group for high-functioning people on the autism spectrum.  The conversation today turned towards autism vs. neurotypicality (the condition of not having autism or any other neurological issues), with several people describing autism as a “superpower” and one person asserting that autistic people are superior to neurotypical people in terms of both cognitive abilities and morality (the example of The X-Men was used as an analogy).  I found the latter view rather insulting to neurotypicals.  As for autistic superpowers… well, good for you if that’s how you perceive your traits, but in my life they have only manifested as disabilities (still not being diagnosed officially doesn’t help).

I posted a comment saying I would rather be neurotypical as most of my problems (employment, socialising, dating, not fitting into religious community) seem to be rooted in my autism.  Someone responded with a whole series of long comments saying that I need to be more positive and if I try hard enough with socialising, dating (etc.) eventually my hard work should pay off.  It was also asserted that I should see other autistic people as “my tribe” and not worry any more about having to find people who understand me.

I don’t want to play the easily offended snowflake, but I found this whole conversation massively insulting and off-putting, from the suggestion that all neurotypicals are back-stabbing, greedy liars (some of my best friends are neurotypical…) to the idea that if I just tried harder in life, I would succeed.  I’ve been struggling for over thirty years (since I started school) with social interactions, for twenty years or so with depression.  This person does not know me at all, yet she assumes I can easily fix things by changing my attitude.  It’s actually my attitude that is the product of years of unsuccessful struggling to fit in to societies and cultures/sub-cultures that are not good fits for me.  I try so hard to persevere, and I don’t get anywhere.  (This could be an example of where what autistic people perceive as “radical honesty” is actually just tactlessness.)

And just because other people see the autistic community as their “tribe” doesn’t mean I automatically will.  I have other attributes, particularly religion, that mark me off from many people on the spectrum.  I don’t think I will ever fit easily in any one group.  I think I will always be flitting between different groups and the best I can hope for is limited acceptance in each one.

I know people say I should be more open with people in my religious community about the way my depression and social anxiety get in the way of things like shul (synagogue) attendance and Torah study, but this type of interaction is the kind of thing that scares me off being more open.  If people who share some of my issues don’t get it, what chance people who don’t have any of them?

***

I’ve just been a mess of depression, anxiety and repressed anger all day.  I’m not sure where the anger came from.  I think it was set off by the WhatsApp exchange above, but mutated into general feelings that I can never fit in, which I guess is still connected to the feelings above,  as well as to thoughts of not fitting in politically and culturally, feeling that I will never be accepted in secular Western culture.  I’m not sure how I got onto that train of thought, but it’s where I was all afternoon.  (I’m not sure if reading things like this is a cause or an effect of this.)  Then when I was out shopping I saw a bunch of frum (religious Jewish) mothers with children and the mothers all looked a lot younger than me.  I also got an email about an educational event over the festival of Sukkot in a few weeks that made me feel that my religious values don’t completely correspond with my community’s.  So I feel I don’t fit in to secular Western culture, but I don’t fit in to the frum counter-culture either (saying “frum counter-culture seems weird, but it is essentially a counter-culture even if it is conservative).

I just feel emotionally overwhelmed today, which is probably unsurprising when you consider that I’ve been up for eight hours and have spent most of them feeling depressed, anxious, agitated, angry and attacked.  I don’t know how much is me being over-sensitive and how much is genuinely worth being upset about (if anything is “worth” being upset about).  I hate that things like this happen to me when my depression is bad, that I have this vulnerability to… I’m not even sure what I’m vulnerable to.  Criticism, other people’s anger, feeling abandoned?

I just wrote the following comment on the Mental Health at Home blog and it seems relevant here:

<i>”The author explores the idea of needing someone who is “strong enough” to love her, and touches on concerns about having kids with a serious illness and medications that would need to be stopped. She also writes about how difficult it is when fellow Christians equate her illness with a lack of faith”</I>

I can share all these concerns. The latter is part of the reason I don’t really talk about my issues with anyone in my community. In the Jewish community it would be phrased differently, as abstract faith is less a part of Judaism than Christianity. In Judaism it would be, “You should <i>daven</i> [pray] harder” or “If you feel depressed, go and learn <i>Torah</i>” but it’s a similar thing.

The funny thing is, I’m not sure if anyone ever said anything like that to me in real life. Maybe once or twice, but not often, because I haven’t told many people. I think I’ve heard about stigma other people have experienced online and in books and articles and was so scared that I don’t ever dare to stick my neck out.

***

It’s Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) in four days and I feel completely unprepared.  I’m not as unprepared as last year (when I seriously considered praying for God not to give me another year of life, in a reversal of the usual Rosh Hashanah prayers), but I still feel somewhat unready.  I suspect that my lapse into depression this week is a result of the coming month of Jewish festivals and my feeling of unpreparedness.  Paradoxically, I think the depression as per usual is setting me up to fail, making me too depressed and anxious to get to shul (synagogue) on time or at all, so that others notice my absence and judge me (or I feel that they’re judging me) or so I miss mitzvot (commandments) like hearing the shofar (ram’s horn trumpet blasts).  Then that will feed more depression and social anxiety for the later Yom Tovim (festivals) particularly Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) and Simchat Torah (Rejoicing of the Torah), the latter of which I will almost certainly skip because it’s just too difficult for me to cope with.

I just feel I’ve lost another day to my out of control emotions.  Another day out of so many months and years, even decades, lost to my emotions and mental illnesses.  Then the fact that I’ve lost so much time feeds the depression even more.

***

Deep breath.  I’m going to post this now rather than later in the evening as per usual.  I’m going to forget about the emails I was supposed to write today and the charity appeals I wanted to donate to as well as the job adverts E. suggested I look at (sorry E.  Maybe later this week).  Tell myself I did make some scary phone calls and sent some emails (including one about volunteering at a museum).  Daven Ma’ariv (say the Evening Prayers – sorry, no midweek shul attendance this week), eat dinner, watch TV for a bit, try to feel a bit better and work on my novel for a while and do a little bit of Torah study before bed.

Thanks for reading.

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.

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.