I had what I suppose were wish fulfilment dreams last night, first dreaming that I was James Bond and then (I think – it wasn’t so clear) that I was the Doctor from Doctor Who. I suppose I just want to feel capable, charismatic and worthwhile. My parents feel that I am capable and worthwhile, and PIMOJ seems to feel that too, but somehow that isn’t enough; part of me still wants to be Napoleon and conquer the world, not literally, but through some worthwhile act. The dreams were PG rated, but I still feel vaguely embarrassed about having had them, as they seem infantile things to dream, although not embarrassed enough to stop me sharing them with the world on my blog. They weren’t restful, though, as I woke up exhausted and burnt out after the first dream, fell asleep again and dreamed the second one and woke up exhausted again, but by then it was very late and I had to get up.
The main achievements of the day were (a) I helped Dad take down more the sukkah, wishing I was taller, stronger, and less prone to fearing that I’ll fall off ladders; and (b) I cooked Jewish-Ethiopian vegetable stew (wot), which I hadn’t cooked before. I was supposed to cook a half recipe, but then tried to adjust as it didn’t seem to have many filling ingredients, then I confused myself about how much to cook (this is when I feel incompetent and unable to do even basic tasks). Then it turned out that it was only supposed to be a side-dish, but I’d run out of time, so Mum defrosted some soya ersatz “meatballs” and cooked some rice to go with it. I also did some Torah study (not as much etc. etc.), but I haven’t really been out of the house, or at least off the property (I’ve been in the garden) for days, only partly because of the wet weather.
I felt rather overwhelmed today. I guess lots of religious Jews feel like that at this time of year, recovering from a month of religious festivals. I don’t have a paid job to catch up on, but I have chores that need doing, some of which have been pushed off for months because of lockdown, plus I have to find a new job. All of which is between me and what I want to do, which is work on my novel, something I felt too depressed to do today. I probably should schedule some novel time in over the next week or so and work on it even if I feel I should be doing something else, otherwise it will never get redrafted because naturally I put what I want to do at the bottom of the to do list.
Plus, this week I had depression group on Zoom yesterday, a Zoom panel discussion on autism and creativity/art today, a webinar on time management and Skype therapy tomorrow and a Skype call with my oldest friend (who I haven’t seen for several years) on Thursday. This would be busy for most people, even if they weren’t a semi-hermit like me (even pre-COVID, even more so with COVID). To hit this after a month of Yom Tov (festivals) really is too much. Of course, I didn’t think that when I booked all this stuff in.
Unlike many autistic people, I don’t get full-blown meltdowns, but when I’m stressed and overwhelmed I get sucked into a negative thought spiral of feeling overwhelmed, not being able to focus on the big picture, being unable to make even minor decisions, catastrophising and feeling everything is hopeless. Eventually it builds up and I have to be “talked down” by my parents, although it’s often the case that initially what they say just feels like another factor overwhelming me. This was what happened today, about my bank account, which is often a trigger for these things. My Dad and my sister read the financial papers and find good interest rates or whatever and persuade me to move my money around, but because I have a low (almost zero) income, it’s questionable whether it’s worth the hassle. Certainly it often leaves me confused about where my money is and what I should do with it. The problem is also that I have a tendency to do what authority figures in my life say, so I try to follow what Dad says while simultaneously confused, overwhelmed and vaguely resentful.
As I say, it’s often finance-related stuff that sets this off. I feel that I should be good at this sort of thing. I was good at maths at school, but somehow lost that with lack of practice. I did A-Level economics too, but that actually tells you very little about managing money, more about managing economies, which is not at all the same thing. I guess it’s not so much the maths but the details that I find overwhelming, the feeling of being overwhelmed on a sea of facts that are too many to be comprehended in their entirety in one go.
Shopping can also be overwhelming and I did that today too (online). Again, Mum was trying to get me to consider different stores and styles; I felt I had to impose boundaries on what I was going to look at, even if they were arbitrary, just to stop myself from getting overwhelmed. I can accept that I might lose a few pounds or not find the “perfect” style of shoe (whatever that would be) just to be able to get through the process.
As well as overwhelmed today, I feel burnt out and somewhat depressed. My mood is low, but it’s hard to tell why. I guess it comes from the burnt out and overwhelmed feelings.
In the evening I “attended” a Zoom panel discussion on autism and art. The three panellists, all women, were two autistic artists and an autistic writer/editor. I wasn’t sure if the (male) chair was also on the spectrum. I wondered if it was significant that all three panellists were female. It did make me feel somewhat “not good enough” about my writing, but I’m not sure why. Perhaps because the writer said that autistic writing is always very sensory, and I’m not good at describing sensory stuff which made me think I’m either not really autistic or not a good writer. There was an auction of art for charity afterwards, but I left before that.
I feel less overwhelmed now, but perhaps a bit lonely, I’m not sure (I’m not always good at understanding my own emotions, known as alexithymia). I feel that maybe PIMOJ is willing to support me despite my issues, but I’m still scared to open up about what I feel, partly because it’s led to rejection in the past, partly because I feel I misrepresented myself to her as no longer strongly depressed, when it looks like my apparent recovery was just seasonal (longer days and more sunlight in summer), partly I guess because I wonder how I will respond to her positivity on a depressed and overwhelmed day like today. But not saying anything just raises fears of the relationship collapsing through apathy (my apathy) so it’s a lose-lose situation.
We actually spoke a bit about this just now. We were talking about Sefer Iyov (The Book of Job) and somehow got onto it. She said that I should be open with her about when I actually want advice about something and when I just need to vent and she will try to respond appropriately, which is good of her. I do still worry about being too negative for her, though. And also that I think she’s far too good for me.
I’m thinking this evening… other autism sufferers seem to place a lot of emphasis on things like sensory sensitivity being their primary experience of autism or executive function issues or special interests or communication issues. I guess I feel that for me autism is… well, autism is literally from the Greek autos meaning self, the term ‘autism’ apparently meaning ‘morbid self-absorption’ (according to this etymology site anyway – I assume ‘morbid’ in the sense of ‘pathological’). That connects with the other aspects, particularly communication issues, but is also separate. I think autism for me is about being locked into my world – my brain – and being unable to connect with other people, lacking a vocabulary to describe what I feel and experience. I guess this is connecting to alexithymia, which I mentioned earlier, given that I don’t lack a vocabulary for describing emotions in the abstract, it’s labelling my own personal experiences that gives me the trouble. There’s a frequent feeling of being alone. I like being on my own a lot, but not always, I need a few good friends and I have spent most of my adult life wanting to be in a relationship and not knowing how to do that. Now I have it and I’m worried I’m going to mess it up.
I woke up feeling depressed and lonely again. E. is concerned about my tendency to turn everything into guilt, that I assume that everything bad in my life is my fault and if I was a good person I could change it. She thinks that this is not really the case. She feels in particular that I shouldn’t feel guilty about not being emotionally connected to Judaism. I guess it’s hard not to when Judaism presents a lot of things (perhaps most things) in moral terms and assumes that good people can change them, at least with the right tools. It’s assumed that a person who wants a better relationship to God or Judaism can ‘fix’ that; it doesn’t take into account that my brain chemistry might prevent that, or say what I should do instead or how I should cope.
That said, I wonder if this is really guilt or if I’m misunderstanding my emotions again. I don’t think what I see as guilt is really sadness, but maybe it’s loneliness or disconnection. I was reading about domestic abuse again (see below) and came across the idea that abusive men express all their emotions as anger; I wonder if I express all my emotions as depression or guilt. I don’t know if that idea even makes sense. At the very least, alexithymia (difficulty understanding my own emotions) makes it hard to understand what I feel.
I’m worried about the future too. I want lockdown to be over, but at the same time, that would shift my worries about career and relationship up a gear as I have to confront things again. I’m already dreading the cataloguing test I have to do soon for a job application.
I’m also struggling with political thoughts that I don’t really want to write about here, worries about the situation across the Atlantic, worries about my participation in racist societies, but also about the much greater coverage of and sensitivity around racism by most people in the West compared with antisemitism. Jews aren’t more likely than most people to be killed by the police, but they are more likely than many to experience violence. In the USA, Jews are the victim of well over half religious hate crimes, far more than any other religious group. I don’t feel this is a particularly appropriate time to talk about antisemitism. We need to concentrate on racism right now. The problem is that much of the world has shown that it never thinks the time is right to talk about antisemitism.
Mind you, I can get upset by little things, for instance, a letter in an old Jewish Chronicle criticising Orthodox rabbis unfairly.
I’m not sure how these thoughts would be classified. They’re kind of on the boundary between depression and anxiety, with some anger, but not what people generally mean when they refer to those feelings in a psychotherapeutic context.
I spent an hour or more trying to work on my novel. I wrote about 450 words, which was not bad, but not great either. I procrastinated a lot, got upset about irrelevant things (see the paragraph above) then read abuse survivors’ accounts to try to get me back into the mindset of writing about abuse, but that just made me feel more miserable and made it harder to concentrate.
I tried to look at my notes from my librarianship MA on cataloguing in preparation for doing a cataloguing test some time this week or next for a job application. It was hard to concentrate because I felt so depressed, and because I was aware that I probably know this stuff as well as I ever will. I feel I probably know the stuff, I just have no confidence in my ability to show it. I’ve really lost confidence in my ability to do librarian stuff in recent years. It’s hard to remember that I once thought that I would be a good librarian, even a professional cataloguer.
I didn’t do much Torah study (about fifteen minutes). I wrote this rather long email to my rabbi mentor instead (slightly edited here):
I’m really struggling religiously lately. It’s hard to daven and to learn Torah in particular. It also feels like I have no meaningful connection to HaShem [God] and to Torah much of the time. It’s hard to work out why. Or, there are many possible reasons:
– my depression/general mental health (which has got worse the last couple of weeks) – one rabbi once told me that I wouldn’t be able to connect emotionally to God and Torah until I recover, but it increasingly looks like there is no recovery for me, just being able to manage my condition better;
– resentment of simplistic theologies in the frum world that see working at Judaism and especially having bitachon [trust in God] as immediately positive results. I think these are wrong, but they make part of my brain think, “God must be angry with me, or He would have healed me/got me a job/let me get married by now;
– feelings of despair regarding my life, relationship, career, etc. and feeling that I won’t be able to build anything because HaShem keep testing me by making me suffer and taking away what I’ve achieved;
– generally feeling like a social misfit in the frum world: the United Synagogue doesn’t take Torah and davening [prayer] seriously enough for me, in the Federation I feel like have to hide various beliefs and interests because they’re unacceptable, and the people at the London School of Jewish Studies are mostly a generation older than me. I felt in particular that my local shul has not always supported me well in terms of helping me be part of the community or regarding my mental health (as well as setting me up on shidduch dates [arranged blind dates]), although things had been a bit better at the start of the year and I felt that after four years, I was fitting in a little bit better… and then coronavirus came and disrupted even that.
Lately I wonder if I won’t fit in anywhere, ever. It seems everywhere I go, I feel that I don’t fit in, and I’m beginning to wonder if that’s just in my head, or from my autism. I really feel that I struggle to fit in and to follow the unspoken social codes, which is a classic autistic symptom. On the other hand, I’ve never had the kind of support that the frum world is said to provide to most people in need.
And underneath it all is the feeling of emptiness, loneliness, isolation. Of feeling that HaShem is so far from me and indifferent to me, or that He will invalidate all my mitzvot on some technicality. I feel I can’t connect with Him. Sometimes I feel that I don’t know what it would be like to feel joy at all. I saw something the other day about the need to have spiritual pleasure, but I’m not even able to have physical pleasure.
Sometimes I worry I’m frum more out of habit than anything else these days, which does not make me feel good. To be honest, the non-Orthodox/non-religious world is just as off-putting to me as the frum world, but I know E. finds aspects of the frum world difficult, especially the lack of appreciation of serious culture, and I find it hard to “sell” her the frum life when I feel so negative about it.
I do still enjoy Shabbat, even though I feel that is partly a relaxation thing as much as a spiritual one. Occasionally I do see Torah that resonates, but it’s hard to build on it; likewise if I daven well one day. I do enjoy writing my weekly divrei Torah [Torah thoughts], although I do experience that as a stress sometimes, and a drain on time for Torah study.
This is what I’ve been feeling. Would it be possible to discuss it, by Skype or email, please? I don’t know if there is an answer, but I feel I need to try something new. I mean a new strategy to engage with my religious life. It’s just so hard to keep going sometimes.
I’m not sure what I expect to get from it. He can’t wave a magic wand and solve my troubles and we have spoken about this in the past. I suspect if I was more confident in myself and worried less about what other people think of me, I would fit in to frum society better, and if I fitted in better socially, a lot of my lack of religious connection would go away. But I’m not sure how to do that.
I was thinking about something for my novel, and it turned into a wider thought which is this: there is a danger, probably in any religion, but certainly in Judaism, that it could turn into a Cargo Cult. This refers to islanders in the Pacific who saw the US armed forces build bases and airstrips in World War II and, magically (it seemed to them), after they built them, big planes would land with boxes of food and supplies. So after the war, the tribes-people cleared airstrips and built imitation military bases, thinking planes would come and bring them food, but, of course, they didn’t.
So there’s a danger of thinking that “I keep Shabbat, I keep kosher, I pray, I learn Torah therefore I’m a good Jew.” Whereas Shabbat, kashrut, davening, Torah etc. are preconditions for being a good Jew, they hopefully help send us on the direction to being a good Jew, but they are not the same as being a good Jew. One needs to have a whole bunch of other emotions and intuitions towards God and towards other human beings: love, awe, compassion, enthusiasm, self-denial, generosity… the things that frum (religious) Jews label as good middot (character traits). One needs in particular to have the emotional connection with God.
I struggle with this, partly because of alexithymia and not understanding my own emotions very well, partly because perhaps I don’t have such a road map or checklist of things to do, which is not good for my autistic mind. Autistic mind copes fine with Shabbat, for example. Shabbat is thirty-nine forbidden (primary) actions not to do and a couple of positive commanded actions to do. Oneg Shabbat, the delight of Shabbat, is another matter because that’s an emotion. It comes from keeping the forbidden and commanded actions, but it’s possible to keep all those commands without experiencing it. As it happens, I usually do experience Oneg Shabbat these days, but there have been times in my life when I didn’t, even though I kept all the Shabbat laws, because Oneg Shabbat is an emotion, and I was not in a good place emotionally, so I had no Oneg Shabbat and Shabbat seemed more of a chore.
There are categories within the halakhah (Jewish law) that delineate these ideas, concepts like naval bereshut haTorah, a vulgar person with the permission of the Torah, meaning someone who acts over-indulgently, but within permitted bounds e.g. gluttonously eating kosher food; or the hassid shoteh, the pious fool, who focuses on the wrong issues in a clash of values, the classic hassid shoteh being a man who won’t save a drowning woman because he doesn’t want to see her in disarranged dress.
It’s something to think about anyway. I do want to have that kind of emotional connection with God, but I’m not sure how to go about it or if it’s even possible to consciously move towards it.
Otherwise it’s been a slightly stressful day with religious OCD. I’m just trying to tell myself that I’m not responsible for the behaviour of other people; that it’s unlikely that any of the things I’ve seen are a serious breach of religious laws; and that I’m trying to do the right thing and even if I’m making a mistake, it’s a genuine mistake and not a deliberate attempt to break the Pesach laws. It’s hard though.
Off for another two days of Yom Tov (festival) now…
I’m breaking with my usual post-Yom Tov (festival) habit of trying to catch up on blogs and stuff in the hope of getting to bed before 2am. For the same reason, this is going to be more of a summary of the last three days than a blow-by-blow account.
The shortest version is that the first two days (Yom Tov proper) where an emotional rollercoaster, but I was broadly coping, but Shabbat (the Sabbath) was just too much and I was not good. To be honest, three day Yom Tovs, or “Three Day Events” as my parents call them, are pretty draining for everyone even without COVID-19 disruption and without depression and OCD.
As for the more detailed version… well, the first two days I was up and down. At times I was worried or depressed about some things, but mostly I was able to calm myself by reminding myself that my rabbi mentor told me not to worry about chametz (leaven food, forbidden on Pesach) smaller than an olive (although I know he is being lenient with me here, so it doesn’t always help) and by reminding myself that I’m not responsible for what my parents choose to do. I think there was probably in the background the usual current worries: worries about my Mum, her cancer, and her risk of COVID-19 infection; worries about COVID-19 in general; worries about E.; worries about my relationship with E. (which is going well, I hasten to add, but is at a crossroads, which is exciting but also scary, or was at a crossroads until COVID-19 put our plans on a back burner). And so on.
The sederim went quite well, considering there were just three of us, although it felt a bit weird. Usually we would have about ten or so people in total one night; the other would be me, my parents, my sister and my brother-in-law. This year it was just three of us both nights (“Why is this night so different?”). We did have some more discussion than usual, which gives me an idea of how to do things differently in the future. I had a migraine on the afternoon of the first day, but it had subsided by the second seder, which was good. I still struggled to learn anything new at the seder, and to connect emotionally with the ideas of the night. I still end up over-thinking things and not feeling them. I wish I could get more out of seder, and out of Judaism in general. The only real feeling of connection I had was via guilt and anxiety when I did something wrong (see below).
One interesting thing while I was eating the matzah (unleavened bread) was a strong feeling that freedom is being able to “just go,” which obviously connects with the story of the matzah in the Torah, that the Israelites did not have time to bake bread before leaving slavery in Egypt, but is interesting in terms of my usual procrastination and my awareness that my relationship with E. is going to require quite a bit of risk-taking and adventurous departures if it’s going to work.
I made some mistakes, in terms of forgetting to do a few things. Most of them were rectifiable, but in opening some celery I had forgotten to open before Yom Tov I tore some writing on the packaging, a big no-no on Shabbat and Yom Tov (it’s considered erasing). I felt very upset about this, and then managed to do it again the next day on something else (that was less obviously my fault though). As I say, I felt upset, but I did manage to move on.
And then we got to Shabbat… It was going well, and then there was an Issue. There was an oversight in the kitchen (I won’t go into the details which are fairly complex) and potentially we had messed up the Pesach kosher-ness of some food. I was 80% sure it was OK, but still couldn’t bring myself to eat it. I didn’t argue with my parents, but they did eat it, and put it on our plates, which meant that the plates were now potentially problematic. I tried to stay calm, but it was hard to do that with all the worries I mentioned above in my head plus the minor Pesach worries and now plus this. I tried not to eat anything potentially ‘contaminated’ for the rest of the day, but it was hard to keep track of what cutlery had gone where and by lunchtime on Saturday I was de facto relying on my opinion that the food was OK (which at least had now grown to 90% certainty).
After Shabbat we emailed my parents’ rabbi and he said what I had thought: it was OK, we had just infringed a protective measure intended as an extra level of safety. But it’s hard to spend Pesach every year wrestling with feelings that God is going to deny me any reward in the afterlife because of confused and panicked decisions I take at Pesach, especially as those are motivated more by a desire to avoid arguing with my parents than some selfish desire to eat chametz on Pesach. I thought I was past this stage, but apparently not, or at least, not in this crazy year.
It’s hard to treat OCD at a time of the year when we are supposed to be worried about what we eat. I suppose the analogy would be to someone who had germ contamination OCD and was trying to treat it with exposure therapy, but now has to deal with COVID-19 and suddenly being told to wash her hands all the time.
I also ate a load of junk over the three days and little fruit and veg, again because of a complicated religious/not-arguing-with-parents reason (I usually eat a lot of fruit and veg). On the plus side, my biscuits tasted good, despite the cinnamon balls turning into macaroon shape and the almond macaroons ending up as a solid block that my Mum had to hack into smaller chunks.
Other than that it was the usual Yom Tov mix of over-eating, oversleeping, praying and reading. My parents more or less forced me to go for a half-hour walk each day, which I needed. I worked through a couple more Tehillim/Psalms in Hebrew and read more of Ani Maamin as well as more than half of a murder mystery set in a Haredi community, the first in a long sequence. I’m enjoying it enough to stick with it to see how it ends, but I’m not sure if I’ll be reading any more. It’s not really as interesting as I thought it would be, maybe because the Haredi community doesn’t seem so exotic; if anything, it seems less strict than my own community, which probably wasn’t the intention.
I should really go to bed. I’m already violating my “No screens after 11pm” rule just to write this, but I’ve been struggling for the last few days with trying to keep going without being able to off-load. I feel like I need to watch some TV to unwind. I know it might keep me awake, but not relaxing will also keep me awake and I don’t really feel like reading any more.
Shabbat (the Sabbath) was fairly normal, at least according to the new normal (no shul (synagogue)). I finished the Doctor Who book I was re-reading, The Scales of Injustice. It was better than I remembered, but I think the open-ended ending annoyed me when I first read it as a teenager. I think there were semi-sequels that continued the story, but I don’t feel particularly motivated to seek them out. It has to be said that I’m not entirely sure what the point of the story was. I’m slightly scared to elaborate though. From being someone who used to be quite willing to review things online, including (what I felt were) justified negative reviews, I’ve become reluctant now I realise that it could be my work being reviewed. I know other frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) people who will only write positive reviews for fear that negative ones contravene Jewish law about gossip and negative speech. I was not convinced by that argument in the past, but now I wonder about it, worried that one day all the negative things I’ve said will crash back on my head in bad reviews of my writing.
Mind you, part of me would be glad of negative reviews if it meant people were buying my book. So far sales of my self-published book are stagnant. I’ve sold six copies, two to myself (one a proof copy and one to send to Doctor Who Magazine when things are more normal as a review copy), one to my parents, one to E. and two to fan friends. I need to publicise it better, but am not sure how especially as I won’t link to it here, as it’s published under my real name. WordPress won’t let me back into my Doctor Who blog which is the logical place to publicise it. I’m not good at publicity and marketing anyway. Someone said I should set up a Facebook page for the book, but I’m not sure what good that would do, given that I don’t have a personal Facebook account and have no intention of going back into that bear pit just to sell a few more copies of my book.
In terms of Jewish stuff, I read some more of Ani Ma’amin: Biblical Criticism, Historical Truth and the Thirteen Principles of Faith by Rabbi Joshua Berman. There was some interesting stuff about the improbably large numbers of Israelites in the exodus from Egypt and what those numbers might really be signifying.
I know I say here I struggle being Jewish in some ways. Not so much through doubts as lacking inspiration and connection. Judaism is important to me, but depression just wipes out my passion and enthusiasm and social anxiety gets rid of anything that’s left. I see people at my shul (when we were allowed to go to it) who seemed to really connect to God in prayer or Torah study and I can’t do that, at least not for long. It’s possible other people are faking it, on some level, but I’m not cynical enough to believe that everyone is faking it all the time.
I thought about a passage in the Talmud that says (I’m quoting from memory) if someone tells you they have sought and not found, don’t believe them; if someone tells you they have not sought, but have found, don’t believe them; but if someone tells you they have sought and found, believe them. I’m not going to discuss the first two clauses, but on the third one, the Kotzker Rebbe said, many centuries later, “The seeking is the finding.”
I was thinking about this and that it does seem to apply to me, that I’m more conscious of the existence of God when I feel very far from Him. It’s pretty much in the tradition of religious existentialism, which I’ve mentioned in the past that I used to be quite into. I read it a lot less nowadays, but it still influences my worldview, and I feel that’s what is happening here. I just feel so far from God so much of the time, yet when I feel consciously very far from Him, I feel on some level connected, whereas a lot of the time I’m not even thinking about Him.
There definitely is something to be said here about being able to feel things rather than just thinking them, but I’m not sure I really have the vocabulary to say it. Judaism is a very intellectual religion, but I increasingly feel that I can’t cope with pure intellect and need to engage better emotionally, but I don’t know how.
Possibly I did too much yesterday, as I felt very depressed on waking again today and struggled to get up and get dressed. I felt a bit lonely today, despite my parents being around, and I miss E. We don’t know when we’ll get to see each other in person again, which in some ways is no different to before coronavirus, except that previously E. was supposed to be coming to the UK for work reasons and now that’s been postponed indefinitely. I didn’t really feel like doing anything, but my parents were depending on me for dinner, especially as Mum was feeling quite ill today with chemo side-effects.
Even once I had worked through the initial depression, or some of it, I had quite a lot of anxiety. Some of that was Pesach (Passover) related. Some was listening to another Intimate Judaism podcast and worrying about my relationship with E., although there isn’t any rational reason to do so. Worrying that our religious differences would be too big to bridge despite all the other similarities. Wondering if we will ever get to move our relationship forward, and how. Wondering when we will be on the same continent!
On the plus side, I dropped the parev (neither dairy nor meat, according to the kosher food laws) measuring spoon into the milchig (milk) sink and calmly rinsed it off and moved on rather than going into a religious OCD panic and emailing my rabbi mentor as would have happened a few years ago.
In terms of achievements, I cooked dinner (while listening to the podcast) and helped look after Mum who, as I say, was quite ill today. I also went for a jog. I jogged for longer than usual both in terms of time (another five minutes or more) and distance (over half a mile more) and my pace was reasonably good; I think it actually improved in the added bit as I got my second wind. I did end up with an exercise migraine, though, and I hurt my foot somehow, although both feel better now. I Skyped E. and did about twenty-five or thirty minutes of Torah study; I don’t seem to be able to do much more at the moment except on Shabbat (the Sabbath).
I feel a bit like I should be volunteering at the moment. In a way I am, because I’m helping with housework and especially cooking now Mum is ill and we don’t have a cleaner. Still, I feel I should do more for the wider community, but the sad truth is that I’m barely coping with everything I have to do as it is (in fact, I’m not doing stuff I would want to do, like write fiction) and the Pesach stress is only just starting; next week will be much harder. It’s hard just to keep going at the moment with depression and anxiety. The clinching argument, of course, is that volunteering would probably expose me to coronavirus and other contagious illnesses that we’re trying to keep away from Mum at the moment.
I watched a(nother) silly Star Trek Voyager episode where the ship was attacked by a virus that has grown to macroscopic size and is now a foot long and flies through the air attacking people with its stinger (?!). Maybe coronavirus isn’t so bad.
Two religious thoughts I’ve been thinking about:
- Although a lot of Judaism is intellectual and text-focused, much of it is emotional and experiential, especially the festivals, none more so than Pesach with the symbolic foods we eat and the foods we deliberately don’t eat. Given the problems I’ve historically had accessing and accepting my emotions, it is perhaps not surprising that I struggle with this. On seder night, the first two nights of Pesach, when we tell the story of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and eat the symbolic foods of matzah (unleavened bread) and maror (bitter herbs) and drink the four cups of wine (grape juice in my case, because of medication interactions), I seem to end up thinking hard about the symbolism rather than emotionally connecting to it. Possibly if I could stop thinking about things (things in general) and just experience them, my life, and especially my Jewish life, would be much better. I need to focus less on thinking and more on feeling.
(An aside: the Kotzker Rebbe was once confronted by a Chabad Hasid who waxed lyrical on the Chabad mode of prayer, all emanations and unifications. But where, said the Kotzker, is the pupik (literally the belly button), where are the emotional guts of the matter?)
2) I have historically struggled with bitachon, trust in God. In particular, the idea that good can come of my long mental health history is something that I struggled to engage with emotionally, even if I could vaguely see it intellectually (that thinking-feeling dichotomy again).
Lately, as E. and I have tried to make our long-distance relationship work, I can sort of see how some negative or difficult things brought me to where I am now, where I’m in a relationship with her. If I hadn’t been depressed, I would never have set up this blog and I would never have met E. If I had been better integrated into the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community, I probably would not have contemplated being with E. If I hadn’t struggled growing up with being more religious, or at least wanting to be more religious, than my parents were, I wouldn’t have learnt how to handle such conflicts in my relationship with E. And so on.
Still, even though I can see that maybe there was a reason for all those things, I’m still terrified that things won’t work out for E. and me, that this is setting me up for another disappointment, the worst one yet. I’m trying to trust, but it’s hard.
It’s also late. My “No screens after 11pm” rule has been broken flagrantly this evening, but I am up late partly because I was being a good boyfriend and a good son, talking to E. and looking after my Mum, so I don’t feel too bad. I am tired though, and hungry. So hitting ‘Publish’ now.
I had weird dreams last night that I can’t really put into words here, both because they were too personal and also too incoherent and stream-of-consciousness for me to really put them in words at all. I did my usual thing of drifting in and out of consciousness in the morning, waking up enough to feel I should get up, but feeling too tired and depressed to do so. I eventually got up when the phone rang, although whoever it was rang off before I could answer. I somehow managed to stay up after that.
Shabbat (the Sabbath) is going to be weird without shul (synagogue). Orthodox Jewish law is that the ideal for men is to pray three times a day with a community (the Afternoon and Evening Services are usually recited consecutively in the summer so you only need to go out once). There have been times in my life when I’ve been going to shul two or three times a day, but there have been other times when depression or social anxiety has intervened and I’ve gone far less often. There were periods when I wasn’t going at all. Now, everyone is in that situation of not going. Strangely, I find that I’m missing shul, even though my weekday attendance in recent years has been patchy. It’s always harder to get back into going after a period of being away because avoidance stokes social anxiety and I worry a bit about what this will do to me when we get to the other side. I’m glad I’m with my parents for Shabbat as Shabbat alone can get lonely, and I’m sorry for people who will have to experience that this week. That’s another thing I’ve experienced from depression and social anxiety that the world is experiencing because of COVID-19.
Speaking of Shabbat, I spoke yesterday of not having an emotional connection to it. On reflection, that’s probably not true. I definitely feel something on Shabbat, something positive. Shabbat has a different feel to the rest of the week. I can’t put it explain it to you if you’ve never experienced it, but it is something I feel at some point each Shabbat and it’s a good feeling. I just can’t exactly put a name to it, which is perhaps not surprising, given that I have alexithymia, difficulty understanding and processing my own emotions.
I remembered one of my rules for OCD, which is that if I’m embarrassed to ask a question, it’s probably OCD and not something real. I was reminded of this by wanting to ask my rabbi mentor something last night and thinking that I would have to explain that I can see it’s a silly question… so I eventually realised, if it’s a silly question, why am I asking it?
Social anxiety hasn’t been such an issue lately, given that I’ve only really been around my parents because of COVID-19, but I did have some when phoning my GP’s surgery to ask about my medical certificate (the copy they sent me via text wouldn’t download or print properly). I got vaguely worried that I would be told not to bother with such a trivial thing at a time of medical crisis, but they didn’t say that.
I still have quite a bit of general anxiety, the same worries as before, about my parents getting sick, especially my Mum, and how the situation will impact on our Pesach preparations even if we all stay healthy. I’m trying not to worry, difficult though that is. To remember to tell myself it’s OK to be worried, scared, stressed or depressed and that this is an unprecedented event for everyone.
I got up marginally earlier today! I know that’s not such an exciting thing to report for most people, but given how much I’ve been struggling with sleep recently it seems important to me.
Mum actually came in at something like 9.30am to tell me that my sister had phoned to report doing Pesach (Passover) shopping and the kosher supermarket was packed with people panic buying for Pesach. (I’m not quite sure why she felt this was worth waking me up for.) I then slept intermittently, dreaming about Pesach and, for some reason, the allied bombing of Dresden in 1945 (perhaps not as weird as it sounds, as there is a family story about that which makes it prominent in my mind, although not particularly at the moment) before waking up again around 11.15am and getting up soon thereafter. I did actually feel a bit better than I usually do on getting up and even just managed to do some of my morning prayers while it was still morning, whereas lately I’ve been too depressed and exhausted to pray before the afternoon.
I was pretty worried about the Pesach food shopping. We managed to dissuade Mum from doing it. Dad and I should really have gone ASAP, but Dad had to take Mum to a scan and another meeting with the oncologist and then I had a skype meeting set up with my rabbi mentor, so we couldn’t get out until mid-afternoon. Normally lack of food wouldn’t be such a problem, but for Pesach the Jewish dietary rules are stricter and everything has to be produced under special conditions so we can’t just pull food from the freezers (yes, we have five freezers. Yes, I feel that is excessive. Yes, Mum feels she doesn’t have enough freezer space and could really do with another one. Yes, Jewish mothers do show their love for their family through cooking a lot. Plus at the moment we have a freezer that is almost entirely full of apple desserts because we had a bumper crop from our apple tree last year and Mum was baking faster than we could eat).
Dad and I spent an exhausting two hours out shopping, much of it in the smallish kosher supermarket. Not everything had arrived yet, but some things had already sold out. There weren’t many matzahs left, with no Rakusen’s or Aviv brand matzahs at all, which was a bit shocking. We managed to find substitutes, although we later found loads of Rakusen’s matzahs in Sainsbury’s and bought some there, so we now have a ton of matzahs. I feel vaguely bad about this in case other people can’t find any. I am slightly concerned about the food we still need to find, although most of it is not essential and/or has to be bought nearer the time because it spoils. When we popped into Sainsbury’s afterwards, was almost totally empty of fruit and vegetables, just a few cucumbers and cooking apples, and, bizarrely, a crate of pomegranates.
I did have some slight religious OCD in that the kosher supermarket was set out part for Pesach, part for ordinary food and the demarcation was not always obvious. I think I checked for “Kosher for Pesach” seals on everything we bought in the shop, but I got worried that I missed something and I went to the garage, where all the Pesach food currently is, and checked again. I knew that this was giving in to the religious OCD on some level, but it was hard to resist. At least I stopped myself from checking the meat Dad bought without me and I just relied on the fact that he asked in the butcher what was Pesachdik. It is easy to slip back into OCD modes of thought at this time of year and I have to try to be vigilant against it, while not beating myself up when I give in. Certainly the OCD flare up happened at a time when I had several of the HALT (Hungry, Anxious, Lonely, Tired) indicators.
I wouldn’t be so worried about the coronavirus situation if it wasn’t for (1) Mum being at high risk of complications and (2) worry about how we will manage Pesach if we are ill or in self-isolation. My big worries at the moment are (i) if Mum gets coronavirus; (ii) if our oven cleaner has to cancel our pre-Pesach clean due to illness or anything else, which would make kashering it for Pesach much harder; (iii) the stores run out of horseradish and romaine lettuce for marror, the bitter herb eaten at the Pesach seder. I can see that (iii) is potentially a situation where we do our best and have to trust that God understands; (ii) is more problematic, but probably not insoluble; but (i) is obviously much more scary and frightening as well as largely out of our control.
Once Pesach is out the way I hope I will feel a bit less anxious, although Mum will obviously still be a high risk for many months. Listening to Rabbi Lord Sacks interviewed online and reading Mary Harrington’s article on UnHerd today makes me think that I’m lucky to already live in a close-knit local community rather than to need to build one from scratch as per Harrington’s article. Even though I don’t feel fully integrated into the Jewish community, I can think of a couple of people locally who I could call on if my parents and I were housebound, and certainly my parents have lots of local friends who would help us. Not being allowed to drive on Shabbat (the Sabbath) is one of those Jewish laws that has positive unexpected consequences, in that Orthodox Jews all live in walking distance of a synagogue and hence of other community members, which isn’t necessarily the case in non-Orthodox synagogues or other places of worship.
I went to an online shiur (religious class) on Zoom that my rabbi was giving about what to do when self-isolating from a religious perspective. To be honest, I didn’t learn that much; years of depression meant I’m quite familiar with which parts of the prayer services can be said privately and which can only be said with a community.
I feel I should have some kind of religious response to coronavirus, but I don’t. I feel the same emotional disconnection I feel on Shabbat (the Sabbath) and Yom Tov (festivals), where if I try, I can engage somewhat intellectually with the meaning of the day, but not emotionally. I’ve heard different people suggest different possible religious reasons for this crisis, from lack of community to a lack of personal connection to God to climate change, and nothing really resonates that much with me. Plus, while I do believe everything happens for a reason, I’m sceptical about how much of that reason we can intuit and understand in this world, especially in the short term. It’s easy to project one’s own personal gripes about the world or the community and say that that is the reason for this. Rabbis are suggesting pray more intensely, say Tehillim (Psalms), study Torah and give tzedaka (charity), but that’s kind of the rabbinical equivalent of the doctor saying eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, avoid sugar, and take regular exercise, something that is applicable to everyone at every time and a useful fallback for emergencies rather than something unique to this crisis.
If anything, I feel gratitude to God: gratitude that we live in a time when we have the medical and communications technology to make our lives continue in some way, gratitude for living in a part of the world where central government can stay in charge despite this crisis without falling into anarchy, gratitude that I’m not likely to starve any time in the near future, gratitude that I have my parents still and that we should manage to have some kind of Pesach, even if it’s a weird and subdued one (the oncologist said that my sister and brother-in-law should not stay with us for Pesach, although they are allowed to visit for a couple of hours one day in chol hamoed).
I should probably add that all the rabbinical responses I’ve seen to coronavirus have stressed the importance of staying healthy and obeying government medical guidelines and said that halakhah (Jewish law) mandates staying safe and healthy and that doing so overrules most mitzvot (commandments). I was pleased that most of these responses have also stressed our responsibility to pray for non-Jews to be healed and protected too.
The Further Education library where I used to work is advertising for a senior librarian. I’m not sure if this means my ex-boss has left or if she was higher than senior librarian in the restructuring and they’re looking for someone below her. Part of me wants to apply, part of me thinks I would be crazy to do so, considering it was not a good environment for me, and this is a more skilled/responsible job. As someone on the autistic spectrum and with social anxiety, it was hard for me to deal with noisy teenagers, people with poor English language skills and being expected to change tasks quickly and deal with problems as they arose, and I can only imagine this being worse in a senior librarian position rather than an assistant librarian one, as I was before.
It feels weird to be worrying about work rather than Mum or coronavirus.
I was eating dinner and watching Life on Mars earlier when my Mum came into my room and shoved her phone under my nose. I thought she was trying to show me a video; it took a minute to realise it was a video conference with most of my Israeli family. I wasn’t really sure what to say or do and after waving I made an excuse and left. This is the kind of situation where I feel that autism affects me as social communication disorder in that I struggle to know how to react in social situations and get overwhelmed, doubly so if, as in this case, it’s a situation I’m thrust into unexpectedly without preparation. Social anxiety doesn’t help in here either. I guess that hasn’t happened so much recently because self-isolation has removed some of those interactions from my life.
I’m going to violate my “no screens after 11pm” rule because I’m completely exhausted from today and need to relax after two hours of shopping and a long period of time on Skype and Zoom by finishing watching the Life on Mars episode I started before. I also want to try to do a little Torah study before winding down the for the night, even if it’s only ten or fifteen minutes. I feel this post has turned into a general dumping ground for every anxiety I had today and I hope it wasn’t too negative or boring. I should probably try to get some relaxation time before bed.
I had insomnia last night. I realised just before going to bed that I’d forgotten to take my evening meds, which was doubtless why I was alert enough to work on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for two hours after dinner. My meds aren’t sleeping tablets, but they do make me drowsy and I struggle to fall asleep without them. I think I eventually fell asleep around 4.00am. So it was even less of a surprise than usual that I woke exhausted and depressed again.
The weekly job email from CILIP (The Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals) comes out on Thursdays. I found one job that’s potentially worth applying for, but that was all. It’s easy to feel disheartened when there seem to be so few jobs that fit my skills, experiences and especially my needs for a safe, calm environment with few people and the ability to work only two or three days a week.
I emailed the therapist I used to see if I could see her again. She says that she doesn’t think she can help me any more and that if I want more therapy I should look for a new therapist who might offer something new. On one level, I can see that might be valid (I was with this therapist for something like eight years, which is a long time, particularly when there isn’t much of an improvement), but looking for a new therapist from scratch is scary, particularly given that the family finances are worse off than they were a few years ago, and the old therapist was probably charging less than a new one would charge. The finance problem is partly because my father now only works part-time (my Mum has worked part-time for years), with the added complication that it looks like my Mum’s paid sick leave is going to be a lot less than we had hoped.
In the past in this situation I would have been very despairing. That’s not how I feel, but that’s probably because I haven’t been in therapy for a year or so, so I know I’m coping on some level. I do feel that it’s hard to unpick my emotions at the moment and understand them and that I would like to talk to a therapist, but I’m daunted by the thought of finding one, let alone one in the right and geographical area and price bracket. At the moment I feel “depressed” and “anxious,” but am struggling to define and understand my emotions in more detail. As someone who has become perhaps over-reliant on such therapeutic analysis, it is scary and difficult. I know I’ve focused a lot on the forthcoming Jewish festivals of Purim and Pesach and the stress and mental health triggers around them as a target for worry, but maybe this is another case where what I overtly worry about is a proxy for something more nebulous and undefined, in this case issues about coping as an adult without my parents and the whole concept that my parents will die one day and I will be left alone, which connects with other issues (my autism assessment and benefits troubles; my relationship with E.; my relationships with my other family members).
I struggled a bit at depression group because of that. I didn’t feel I understand myself well enough at the moment to say much that was meaningful. Perhaps because of that, I felt that people asked a lot of questions to prompt me and I ended up with my conversation drifting in the direction of the questions. It’s a criticism of myself rather than anyone else, but not really even of myself. I simply didn’t know what to say and as nature abhors a vacuum, people guided me to say something. Maybe I should have just signalled that we could move on.
I worry that some of my responses made me seem uncaring and incompetent, although it was really my autism that was the issue. People asked how my family are coping and I didn’t really know, because autism means I can’t intuit how people are feeling unless they tell me, and it also means I don’t necessary think to ask people how they are feeling, certainly beyond the “how is your day going?” level. I did ask my Mum how she was most days when she was first diagnosed, but I fell out of the habit. I was also asked where my Mum is going to be treated and I couldn’t remember because my autism means I don’t remember a lot of stuff that my brain doesn’t label as important, and it has a different system of ranking importance to most people. It doesn’t rank the name of the hospital as important, because I’m not going to have to go there myself, let alone go there alone, and I don’t have a special interest in hospitals, so my brain is quite happy just knowing that Mum is going to The Hospital without caring about which hospital it is (actually, it’s several hospitals for several treatments – that much did travel into my brain).
It’s a shame, as I wanted to go to depression group, but I don’t think I really had anything to say about how I’m feeling and I felt tense from being around people a lot of the time.
Shiur (religious class) got cancelled so I didn’t have to tell anyone that I was missing it to go to depression group. This happened last time I was going to miss shiur for depression group too. E. wondered if it was a sign that I shouldn’t tell anyone. I’m not superstitious like that, but I wonder if the maths is against it. Of the people in the WhatsApp group, three know a little bit about my depression, one knows I have some illness but not what it is and three I don’t think know anything. There are another two people who go who aren’t on WhatsApp so won’t see it. It’s possible that the small numbers involved make this not worth worrying about.
I can see that if a lot of people at shiur and shul (synagogue) knew about my issues and were understanding that could lead to a big improvement in my life and in my relationship and comfort level with the community. However, if they were not understanding then the reverse could happen. Two of the people who know do seem to worry if I’m not in shul or shiur when normally I would be, which may be because they’re aware of the issues. Other people don’t say anything. So far no one who knows has said anything negative. It is a bit of a conundrum.
I woke up feeling very depressed and lonely today. Mum and Dad were both out for most of the day, which probably reinforced the loneliness; it’s strange how even an introvert loner like me gets used to waking in a house with at least one other person up and about. I went back to bed for over an hour after breakfast because I was so depressed. Work does seem to take a lot out of me. I get through the work days OK and perhaps there is some adrenaline during them, as I sometimes have a burst of energy in the evening after work, but I’m a wreck the next day.
I decided not to go for a run, as it would take too much time. After a lot of procrastination, I wrote an email to a company that installs software for library management systems and online catalogues to ask if they have a system that would be suitable for where I work and if they would be able to install it. I always feel bad asking questions like this, like I should somehow know in more detail what’s on offer. I also realise that sending this stuff to the “contact” box on the website is not ideal and I should have a personal contact somewhere. Plus, I always feel guilty doing things like this by email when I can hear my Dad saying I should phone, although as has been noted by commenters here before, that’s not always the best approach and may be a product of generational divide or differing communication styles as much as by autism or social anxiety.
As well as not going for a run, I didn’t move further towards getting my non-fiction book self-published. I did cook dinner (vegetarian kedgeree, the easiest recipe I know) and emailed a friend who is struggling with her own issues. I also spent half an hour reviewing last week’s Talmud shiur (class). It seemed to make more sense, although it’s taken me three or four attempts to get to this stage and I don’t know if I have the time/energy/concentration to do this regularly. I also managed to work on my novel for half an hour. I would have liked to have spent longer on it, but I wanted to get to bed reasonably early so stopped. I hit my 500 word target comfortably, which was good.
I’ve been beating myself up for stupid things. I worry I’ve upset someone with an innocent blog comment that I would not have made if I had known what the reaction would be, which I should really have guessed. I worry about losing my friends. It feels like it’s objectively true that my friendships seem to end eventually. This is obviously true if one takes a long enough perspective, but that’s not terribly helpful. I do have friends from university (over fifteen years ago) and one from school (albeit that we haven’t seen each other in years), but lately I’ve lost a lot of friends, sometimes my fault, on some level at least, and sometimes not, but it makes me worry that I can’t keep friends. Lately I seem to be some sort of disaster area for social interactions. I didn’t eat dinner with my parents either, because I wanted to eat, watch TV (to try to relax a bit) and then try to do some things I didn’t do during the day (to get some feeling of accomplishment) and the only way to do that was to eat while watching TV so I felt bad for not eating with them.
I worry about losing E. too, particularly as I don’t know how I keep losing friends to avoid doing it in the future. I also worry that I don’t care about her enough, where “enough” is a problematically vague label to fit on an emotion that can’t be easily quantified, particularly when (a) I have always had trouble understanding my own emotions and (b) severe depression is warping my emotional life generally. I suppose I care about E. enough so that she thinks I’m a good friend, which is probably all that’s needed at the moment. I do worry that I can’t cope with people, though. What if E. and I get married (halevi) and then we discover that I can’t cope with living with anyone other than my parents (who I cope with by hiding in my room most of the time)? It’s good that we’re thinking of moving our relationship on, but I’m terrified of hurting E. To be honest, if I can’t make things work with E., I very much doubt that I can make them work with anyone else. I wish we could just date like “normal” people, with issues about religious difference, geographical distance or mental health issues.
I guess there I go talking about “normality” again, as if there is such a thing. “Normal” and “should” are words I should (!) ban from my vocabulary.
Well, I “should” go to bed…
I woke up feeling really depressed and anxious again. I think I woke up about 11.00am, but I didn’t get up until after noon. I am not entirely sure what I was doing in between; I think I must have just been lying there feeling awful. I just feel a mess really, super-anxious and depressed about my new job, which I feel I’ve already messed up. I’ve been having lots of anxiety dreams about it. I worry that I should have gone back for a second look at the library before estimating how long the initial work will take, as it was really a guess. I didn’t get a good enough look at it initially to tell. I don’t even know how many books are there. No one knows. I need to take a tape measure tomorrow to estimate (the librarian’s rule of thumb is an average of thirty-three books per metre of shelving).
My life just seems a mess. I wish I had something more interesting to blog about than the inside of my head, but I don’t. That goes double for my first novel (I do have more interesting ideas for subsequent novels, but I’m not sure I will be able to get them to work. Concentrate on the one that’s primarily my life history).
I had to rush out after lunch to get to the baker before it closed to buy sandwiches for when I go to work (it’s an Orthodox institution, so all food has to be rabbinically supervised, so I can’t bring my own sandwiches). I felt very agitated on the way there, a lot of angry and self-loathing thoughts, fantasies of harming myself etc. By the time I got home I was too exhausted to hurt myself, but also too exhausted to go for a run (I suppose I had a fairly brisk forty minute walk, albeit interrupted by five or ten minutes of shopping in the middle). I want to write more of my novel, but I’m struggling to channel my thoughts the way I want or to express emotions (it’s hard to write about emotions when you have difficulty understanding one’s own emotions). Matthue Roth (yes, I’m name-dropping, I used to have a somewhat famous internet friend) told me not to say my writing is “bilge” because it disrespects my history and my thoughts, but I don’t think my thoughts are worth respecting and I hate my history and wish it had never happened. I just hate myself so much and I hate my life so much too, albeit for different reasons (my self for being a bad person and a loser, my life for being too painful for me to bear, although if I was less of a loser maybe I would be able to bear it the way other people with similar issues seem to bear their lives).
I’m sorry that I didn’t really reply very well to the comments on the last post. I appreciate them, I’m just struggling to find words/energy/headspace for stuff at the moment. I’m still not sure how people can tell from my self-obsessed writing here that I care for others, but I’ll let that go.
So today was mostly a write-off, aside from going out shopping. I had one or two ideas for my novel, but I haven’t got the energy to write and I don’t know how those ideas will work out. I thought my novel would be meticulously planned, but increasingly I’m just winging it and that seems, surprisingly, the only way I can write.
I just hate myself so much today. I wish I had never been born because I can’t see what good I’m doing here. Today is just marking time, trying to keep going. I’m not even trying to write. I did about three minutes of Torah study and a similar length of time working on my novel, just jotting down some ideas so I don’t forget them. I’m going to watch TV in a bit, Star Trek Voyager and then tonight’s new Doctor Who episode (I hope it doesn’t bore me like last week’s did).
That was a difficult Shabbat (Sabbath). I didn’t really want to go to shul (synagogue) on Friday evening (afternoon really; Shabbat started at 3.48pm) because I just felt too tired and overloaded. I forced myself to go and probably would have felt worse if I had missed it, but I didn’t get much out of it. I don’t seem to get much out of shul any more, if I ever did. The mini-shiur (class) in the middle was on an obscure halakhic (Jewish law) matter that is, I suspect, primarily a superstition that has crept into minor law codes, but which has been unearthed by Haredi scholars who are looking for more laws and assume that nothing external to Judaism could enter the halakhic process so it must all be authentic and meaningful. If you’ve read the famous essay Rupture and Reconstruction by Rabbi Haym Soloveitchik you’ll know what I mean (the essay concludes “Zealous to continue traditional Judaism unimpaired, religious Jews seek to ground their new emerging spirituality less on a now unattainable intimacy with Him [God], than on an intimacy with His Will, avidly eliciting Its intricate demands and saturating their daily lives with Its exactions. Having lost the touch of His presence, they seek now solace in the pressure of His yoke.”).
I came home and got through dinner with my family, but then I went and lay on my bed in the dark for half an hour. I’m never sure, when I do that, if it’s a type of autistic withdrawal from emotional overload or just depression. I guess they could overlap.
I just felt all evening that I’m running on empty, religiously. I suppose emotionally too, although I’m only realising that now. I still believe in God, and the Divine origin of the Torah, and the importance and meaningfulness of halakhah and the mitzvot (commandments), but it’s a struggle to get motivated to do anything Jewish. I try to daven (pray) and do some Torah study (more on this below), but it’s hard. Perhaps it would be easier if someone external was congratulating me when I do these things, or perhaps that would just feel patronising and make it seem worse. I don’t know. I just feel I have nothing left to give. I want to keep Shabbat (it’s currently the only truly meaningful or enjoyable Jewish practice in my life) and I wouldn’t do anything drastic like stopping keeping kashrut (the dietary laws), but davening and Torah study get harder and harder, as do mitzvot that aren’t particularly strongly embedded in my life, like not listening to women singing (I was just listening to Annie Lennox/Eurythmics) or not watching stuff that has a lot of sex and violence (my recent binging on James Bond films that I had seen for decades, although to be honest I’m not greatly fond of sex and violence in fiction generally… I like the Roger Moore Bond films because they’re all deliberately cartoonish and unreal).
I don’t think I’ve ever got much out of my religion. I know my parents became more religious because they found adopting certain practices meaningful or enjoyable, but that’s never been my motivation. I’ve enjoyed too little for that to motivate me. I used to enjoy Torah study. I suppose I still do, if it’s about something that interests me. I’m enjoying the Maggid Koren series of literary critical books on Tanakh (Hebrew Bible). In fact, I finished the volume on Bereshit (Genesis: From Creation to Covenant) over Shabbat. But these days I rarely experience any kind of meaningful connection with God when I daven or “learn” (study Torah… it’s probably telling that I usually say “study Torah” rather than “learn” as most Orthodox Jews do). I’ve largely stopped meditating.
I know we’re supposed to serve God because it’s the right thing to do, because we’re in His covenant, but we’re supposed to enjoy it as well. Other Jews talk about what they get from Judaism, whether it’s intellectual stimulation from “learning” or connection from davening or meditation or the feeling of emotional support in the community, or the warmth of Jewish families… Religious Jews will say that Judaism enables us to enjoy the physical world meaningfully rather than hedonistically over-indulge or ascetically abstain, but I don’t enjoy much generally (depressive anhedonia), have had to curtail my diet because of medication-led weight gain and, am not allowed to have sex because I’m not married, which I suspect is the main thing people are thinking of when they say that Jews are allowed to avoid physical stuff within boundaries. I know we’re supposed to serve God as an end in itself, but it’s hard to keep going when I’m getting nothing in return, just on a simple practical need for refuelling. All I can say is that depressive anhedonia means that not being frum would probably be just as miserable for me, so I might as well stick with Judaism in the hope that there is an afterlife and I get something there that I can’t get here. Which is entirely the wrong attitude, for practical reasons as much as religious ones.
For a while I thought that at least I could model positive aspects of Judaism to non-Jews/non-religious Jews, but I don’t think that’s true any more. If anything my recent bursts of religious OCD just present it in a bad light here.
The other thing that worried me over Shabbat is whether I actually care about anyone. I know my parents care about me and my sister does and E. certainly cares about me, but I find it hard to know what I feel about other people. My feelings are often a black box that I can’t easily access except with therapy or slowly writing stuff here. I know some people think that this blog is self-indulgent navel-gazing, but really it’s a kind of archaeology, slowly trying to unearth and understand what I’m thinking and feeling at any given time. I just happen to let other people read it too. I’m not sure that I know exactly what “caring about someone” would feel like. I worried that I didn’t care much about my cousins, but then when we were worried that my cousin had gone missing last Shabbat (which I think I downplayed here because by the time I could write she was home, but I was really worried at the time) I was very upset that something might have happened to her, so maybe I do care about people.
Asking myself “Would I do X for person Y?” to try to see how much I care about them doesn’t really help as I’ve conditioned myself to think that I should (my favourite word again) give anything, my life even, to help others, even though the reality is that if I had to go out of my way for most people, it would make me resentful, but some of that would be autistic annoyance at disruption. If someone said, “Can you do something minor for me right away?” or “Can you do something major for me in a week’s time?” I would probably find the former harder, because I wouldn’t have time to plan for it and accept it, whereas the big thing I know is coming and can prepare for, practically and emotionally, which is much easier from an autistic point of view (my parents have never entirely grasped this, one reason we don’t see eye to eye lately).
I read a bit and went to bed earlyish even though I didn’t feel tired and had no intention of trying to go to shul in the morning. Even so, I couldn’t sleep, so I got up and read some more. I don’t know what time I fell asleep in the end. Probably somewhere around 2.00am.
I slept through the morning again, struggled to get ready for lunch and then had to go back to bed for a bit afterwards, before eating seudah quickly and hurrying to shul. I did somehow daven a bit at home and get to shul for shiur and Ma’ariv (Evening Service). I only really did that because I have my little job tidying up the papers after Ma’ariv. I didn’t really want to go to the shiur or the service.
The shiur was on Daf Yomi. Daf Yomi is a thing whereby you study one page (that’s both sides of a page) of Talmud a day and you complete the whole Talmud in approximately seven and a half years. It’s been going since the 1920s I think. They just completed/re-started another cycle (in fact I think the re-start is tonight/Sunday), so it’s been in the air in the Jewish community recently. In theory it allows ‘ordinary’ people to study the whole of the Talmud, although I’ve never been sure if the average person really understands that much Talmud in one go, even if they go to a shiur. It would take me about an hour to study that much Talmud, but that would really just reading through it. Serious comprehension would take longer, possibly indefinitely. But apparently tens of thousands of people manage it, including growing numbers of women (although not in the Haredi world).
The rabbi spoke about making a set time each day to study Torah. He said even doing five minutes, even two minutes, a day was OK if you genuinely could not do more, which reassured me a bit. Unfortunately, he then undermined this by saying that we should all really do Daf Yomi, that Rav Moshe Feinstein (the leading Haredi posek (jurist) of the twentieth century) said that there’s a mitzvah to study the whole of the Talmud that can be fulfilled through Daf Yomi (I very much doubt any rabbi before the twentieth century would have said there’s a mitzvah for all men to study the whole of the Talmud; Talmud used to be for an intellectual/religious elite, not everyone) and that everyone should have a set time for studying Torah morning and evening even if they’re ill. So that just fed a load of my fears about not doing enough and thinking that I will never be a good enough Jew and that even thought I’m ill, I should be doing a lot more study.
I’m home now, obviously, and back in weekday mode. I still have these worries about running on empty religiously, and how much worse I might feel once I start work and have that drain on my resources, and whether I care about my parents or E., not to mention what caring for E. would/could/might one day actually entail and so on.
It was hard to do anything this evening. I didn’t manage any proofreading, but I spent a bit of time working on my novel – a bit under an hour, and even less when you take out the procrastination time dotted inside that hour. I did write over 600 words, which is better than my usual target of 500 per hour. The procrastination just made me feel more depressed, seeing things online that upset me one way or another, not necessarily in ways that are easy to explain, but tied in with my weak sense of self and identity, and my isolation in the frum community.
I had upsetting dreams last night. One was so bad when I woke up in the early hours I had to write it down so I didn’t forget it later, because I wanted to mention it here. My notes don’t seem to really capture what I felt, though and in the light of day (literally) it doesn’t seem worth mentioning the dreams in full. Suffice to say that one was about being useless as a university undergraduate (which is probably really about feeling useless at work, unless I’m genuinely still upset about not getting a first from Oxford nearly fifteen years on) and the second one was that no one would ever love me romantically (which is not entirely true as E. cares about me a lot even if it’s not clear how things could work out practically between us right now). The third dream was about not fitting in with Doctor Who fandom and fan culture generally (doubtless after my comments yesterday), although this dream was arguably more optimistic as I did sort of fit in, albeit bending some of my religious beliefs/practices and hoping neither frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) people nor fans would question me too carefully; it also had some arguably more positive bits about learning how to cope with my autistic traits as well as being able to help others, particularly children.
I suppose I do wonder how many people in the frum community are hiding parts of themselves, either minor misfitting beliefs or practices or much bigger ones (I know from the Jewish blogosphere that there are people who don’t believe in Judaism at all living very Orthodox lifestyles for family or social reasons). I also wonder how many people with somewhat conservative political or cultural views are hiding in “woke” Doctor Who fandom, just talking about Doctor Who and keeping quiet about wider views. I guess it would be easier to fit in if I went to conventions, as I imagine that Twitter conversations are much more political and contentious than in-person conversations. But the thought of going to a convention does scare me somewhat. I’d like to have more fan friends, but the thought of being with so many people is scary and I don’t have a particularly burning desire to meet people who worked on the programme or to buy rare merchandise, the other reason people go to conventions. I think the focus of fandom has also moved now from specific Doctor Who conventions to general film/TV science fiction conventions, which interest me even less.
I mentioned my feeling over Yom Kippur that God loves me and that I can just do the best I can. I forgot to mention that I realised that I probably do have a deeper connection to God and Judaism than just duty and obligation. I don’t think I would do so much, at such cost to myself (financially, plus also in terms of time, precious concentration and mental energy, and the dramatic narrowing of my dating pool) unless it was deeper than that. I’m not good at understanding my emotions, though. It is hard to express what God, Torah and Yiddishkeit (“Jewish-ness”) mean to me.
I have more to say, but I just cut a chunk I wrote because I don’t want to get into it now as it’s too long and complicated. I need to get ready for Shabbat (the Sabbath). Just one thing I will note for now: this review makes the book look really interesting, both in itself and as a sign that maybe there are other people out there who want to read literature that deals with religious Jews in neither a critical or apologetic way, but just shows the complexity of the religious culture and the contemporary religious life for its own sake. The book is apparently written under a pseudonym by a rosh yeshiva (head of a rabbinical seminary) who is clearly learned in Western literature and philosophy as well as Jewish Talmud. I can’t find the publisher, A. B. Ruth, online, so it may be a self-published books (sometimes people disguise the fact a book is self-published like that). So that’s somewhat more hopeful for my writing ambitions.
I’ve been exhausted all day. I’m not sure how depressed I’m feeling. I struggle to understand my moods a lot of the time. It’s always hard to tell what I feel when I’m not ultra-despairing. I don’t think that I feel good or happy (I’m not sure that I really know what they would feel like), but I’m not sure if I feel mildly depressed or sort of neutral. I did wake up with religious OCD anxieties about Pesach (Passover), which isn’t for another seven months. This was partly the result something that happened recently, which I’m going to have to carefully sort out nearer the time, but I’ve been aware of the issue for a week or more and was able to shelve it for now; the fact that it’s suddenly leapt to the forefront of my thoughts is probably due to other stresses. At least the anxieties mostly subsided during the day.
I got another job rejection today. I did, however, finish painting my parents’ shed, assuming it dries evenly and doesn’t need a third coat (it seems OK so far). It used up whatever energy I had left, but it was the first thing I’ve actually done to earn in the last five months. Afterwards, I went to shul (synagogue) for Mincha and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening prayers) afterwards, which may have been a tactical error as I was very tired. I managed twenty or thirty minutes of Torah study, which was more than I expected given how tired I was after painting, but because of all of this I had no time or energy to work on my novel.
It was a day for finishing things in other ways too. I finished reading
J, a surprisingly bleak conclusion from a novelist (Howard Jacobson) who insists he’s “the Jewish Jane Austen.” It’s a fairly laugh-free book, being about hatred and antisemitism. I am not sure I agree with Jacobson’s idea of Jewish identity as being mostly intellectualism and contrariness. I mean, that probably is a part of it, but he over-stresses it, here and in his non-fiction writings (in three separate essays, I’ve heard him say how disgusted he was with a rabbi and his family who invited him for Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner and spent the time talking about musicals rather than anything more intellectual which seems rather petty to me, going on about it so much).
I also finished reading a not-very-good Batman graphic novel (Bruce Wayne: Fugitive). Jacobson doubtless would not approve (this does get to mental health in a minute, I promise!). I went through a phase of reading a lot of Batman a few years back, off the back of the Christopher Nolan films. I liked many of the storylines from the nineties, but found more recent stories became disturbingly sadistic, with a lot of real world-type violence (people being tortured with power tools etc.) that I found out of place in an essentially fantasy setting (Batman may not be as obviously fantasy as Superman or The Flash, but it is a comic about a man who dresses up as a bat to fight insane master-criminals. I feel there’s quite a large of wish fulfillment fantasy in the premise). Plus, Batman, who is supposed to be The World’s Greatest Detective, hardly does any detecting any more. He just beats people up. Yawn. Watching the two Tim Burton Batman films a few weeks ago on a whim whet my appetite for the Dark Knight Detective, though, and I’m pondering what graphic novels to re-read from my collection or whether to try something new.
The reason I bring this up is that I realised I actually don’t like Batman much as a character any more. I like the characters around him (many of whom have not be presented on screen in detail or at all) a lot more. And I like the idea of Batman as someone who says he is a loner, but actually does have friends. That was actually one point that was handled well in the graphic novel I was reading, where he upsets all his friends by going it alone, but they still stick around because they care about him. I find that comforting, given that I am not good at making or, apparently, keeping my friends (having lost at least three over the last year and a bit).
Awkward: the Head of Employment for the charity I was volunteering for emailed to say he’s sorry I’m leaving and can he do anything to help? My parents think he’s offering to help with my job search, given his job is helping people with developmental issues into work and that he knows about my autism. I think he’s offering to help me stay at the charity somehow, which I’m not so keen on. I don’t know how to politely ask the question, so I’ve agreed to meet and will see what he says at the meeting.
Also awkward: at my parents’ behest, I emailed a couple of job agencies who seem to have forgotten about me. I hate doing stuff like that.
I’ve wanted to write something about my friendship with E. for a few days, but I wasn’t sure what to say. I also wanted to get her permission (given my experience a few months back).
I guess it’s a slightly weird relationship. The background is that we met online through my blog and live on different continents. We dated long-distance for a couple of months, but then we broke up, but stayed friends, because E. couldn’t see things working out while we both had emotional issues and financial problems (which has only got worse since then now I don’t have a job at all). But we still WhatsApp each other all the time. We do basically act like we’re long-distance dating even though “officially” we’re not.
E. does sometimes say I should be trying to look for a frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) wife in the UK, but I can’t really see it happening. Aside from my parents and my sister, I don’t think anyone cares for me like E. does and I think she understands me just as well as they do, maybe better in some ways. Plus, as I’ve said many times, I really don’t fit into the frum community in the UK and can’t see myself meeting anyone or getting set up with anyone any time soon.
Lately we’ve both been open with each other that we’d like to date each other again, but we can’t see it working at the moment. E. is scared of the financial/practical side of things (we can’t afford to support ourselves and neither of us is earning enough to be able to immigrate) and I’m scared that I’m so much more religious than E. (she said she would take on a lot of stuff if we got married, but I worry that that is not a good way to go about things, although lots of people do become frum that way).
Having been in therapy for so long in the past, I can put myself into the therapeutic mindset, and I just know that a good therapist would challenge this. S/he would say, “Are you sure it’s just money/religion you’re worried about?” Because I feel we probably are scared of the relationship on some level. I’ve only had one girlfriend before and have been lonely most of my adult life. E. has been through some difficult stuff too. Maybe we’re both scared of rejection, and maybe we’re both even more scared of acceptance. By which I mean, I’ve certainly got a strong self-image of being “not good enough” or “unlovable” and maybe E. is the same (she is in many ways the female me, which my first girlfriend really wasn’t). It is quite scary to think of being loved romantically, if that hasn’t really happened to you in the past.
It is frustrating that we can’t take the relationship further because of our financial situation/my job situation and the fact that we live on different continents. But I’m glad we do at least communicate so much. E. is super-supportive and encouraging when I’m depressed or anxious.
Related to this, I was thinking about the forthcoming Jewish festivals and what I want for the Jewish new year. I used to think I just needed to sort my mental health. If God would deal with that, everything else would fall into place. Now I realise that I need to daven (pray) for and work on so many things individually: mental health, career, community, friends, spouse… It’s like there’s no end to the things I need. I suppose, logically, or theologically, everyone needs to pray for all those things. It’s just that most people would need to pray for them to be maintained, not to start from scratch, only needing one or two things. However, I am trying not to get too depressed about things. Trying to use the CBT techniques I’ve been taught. Speaking of which, I have CBT tomorrow, so I should really get to bed…
Today I spent somewhere between an hour and an hour and a half working on my novel and made good progress, writing over a thousand words for the first chapter. I also cooked dinner and managed fifteen minutes of Torah study. However, I didn’t manage to do more Torah study or to go for a walk, so I feel a bit disappointed. I would have liked to write for longer too, although I ran out of both time and energy/brainpower. It is hard to cope with the fact that even on days when I seem ‘well,’ my energy levels can be significantly lower than most people’s. It makes thoughts about working or even volunteering that much harder.
I had an anxious feeling in the pit of my stomach earlier. I’m pretty sure that it’s nerves about volunteering tomorrow. I had a similar feeling every Sunday when I was at secondary school and university. In those days I didn’t understand my feelings so well and was not entirely aware that it was anxiety. I think I did and didn’t realise what it was; I knew I was not looking forward to the working week, but I don’t think I felt that I had Anxiety with a capital A. I had the same feelings on the way to school every morning when I was in my mid to late teens, in retrospect the first sign that my mental health was not great, although we (me and my doctor) did spend fruitless time looking for physical causes of this and other symptoms (disrupted sleep, always the first symptom of any emotional upset in my life).
Despite this, I always insisted to adults that I liked school, mainly because I felt I was the sort of child who should like school. I think I really did like school; it was just the other students who I didn’t like, mostly because many of them were so unpleasant to me.
I associate the anxious feelings particularly with dusk and evening in the autumn and winter, which I guess is where we are heading. School and university were not limited to those times, but somehow Sundays in the summer were less anxiety-provoking because they were lighter. I like autumn and winter in the abstract, but the lack of light and the miserable weather (discouraging exercising) contribute to lower mood every year. Almost all my episodes of depression have started in the autumn or early winter and I worry that I can already feel the gains I’ve made in recent months slipping through my fingers as sunset gradually creeps earlier.
Plus, there are Jewish festivals that mark the big seasonal changes of the year that are difficult for me. Pesach (Passover) at the start of spring can trigger OCD (although thankfully I was OK this year), while the many festivals in the month of Tishrei in the autumn can be difficult with depression, social anxiety, autism and, to a lesser extent, OCD again. To be honest, Chanukah and Shavuot are the only Jewish festivals that aren’t difficult for me in some way because of my mental health or autism and it’s probably no coincidence that those are the ones with the fewest rituals to perform and the least emphasis on shul (synagogue) attendance.
I have an other, big, issue that is on my mind at the moment (in addition to my struggles to find work and a publisher for my Doctor Who book) so I really feel that the summer is over and, if I’m not careful, depression will be back.
For CBT I’m supposed to fill in questionnaires on my mood before each session to judge my progress. I think my depression goes through long cycles that are longer than a week or a fortnight, while my mood can change quite a bit in a day, so I’m not sure how useful it is, but I suppose it is some kind of metric. My mood varies, but I realised I don’t really tick the box for thinking I would be better off dead, even on my worse days whereas in the past I’ve believed that a lot. I guess that is progress.
Today I feel drained and mildly depressed, but not too badly, I think. It’s hard to tell; as I have noted in the past, I struggle sometimes to identify my emotions, and I suspect sometimes emotions and physical feelings can get mixed up. That probably sounds weird, but my previous therapist (when I was in psychodynamic psychotherapy) spoke quite a bit about feeling emotions in different parts of one’s body. I usually feel drained and depressed at the same time, so it’s easy to assume if I feel one, I feel the other too, but that may not be the case.
At CBT we repeated the experiment we tried a fortnight ago of me talking to a therapist (not my usual one) for a few minutes while my therapist filmed it on her phone; then we watched it so I could see how I appear when talking to other people. The therapist I spoke also answered some questions on how I came across to her. It seems I do not really come across to people as weird, despite my fears. Also, when I talk about something I know about, I can become quite animated. I had it drilled into me for years as a child that I am boring and no one wants to talk about what I want to talk about. It’s hard to get past that and accept that people might find me interesting.
It’s doubly hard in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community, where I’m never sure what is considered OK to talk about. I mean, the rabbi was talking about The Omen last week! But I never know what I can say. I think an awareness of secular culture (even horror films) would be seen as different to being an obsessive Doctor Who fan, with the emphasis on obsessive, but I’m not sure how differently it would be seen. I go to a ba’al teshuva shul (synagogue) meaning most people there were not raised religious, but came to it later in life, so people do have some understanding of secular culture. Some people do have TVs and I think everyone has internet access (very Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) communities would not allow even that, or else would permit it for business use only). The people who do have TVs are not necessarily the ones you might expect to have them. But I think admitting to being an obsessive fan the way I am would be seen as at least a bit weird. I mean, I’m probably a little bit weird in my fannishness even in the secular world. I don’t mean that in a bad way, just that it probably is a bit caused by my autism rather than how most people would act, in terms of things perhaps like watching episodes multiple times even when I know them by heart, but especially things being able to list every Doctor Who story in order from memory (nearly 300 stories), and not only that, but being able to list showrunners, producers, script editors, writers and directors for many of them (new series personnel are harder to remember, either because of relative newness or the fact that I’m not as emotionally invested in the stories).
I feel that being a Doctor Who fan makes me weird in the frum world, but being frum makes me weird in the secular world, especially the fan world, which is perhaps one reason (among several) for me not going to conventions. I don’t mind being a bit weird, but I worry I’m off-puttingly weird. Doctor Who fandom has a lot of gay and transexual members and I worry that when people see my kippah (skullcap) they think I’m judging them when I’m not.
Yesterday I noted that I went jogging without getting a migraine. Actually, I did get a migraine last night after turning off my computer, albeit delayed by a couple of hours after jogging and not as bad as recent ones. I googled “migraine jogging” and it turns out that exercise can genuinely be a cause of migraines. I don’t want to stop jogging, but I need to work out a way of avoiding this. I’m pretty sure it’s not dehydration or the sun, but I’m not sure what else the trigger might be.
Yesterday I noted an article in the latest Doctor Who Magazine that seemed similar to my Doctor Who book. Having now read it… basically it does in twenty pages, very superficially, something similar to what I did at great length in a whole book, except the DWM article only covers the original run of Doctor Who whereas I went up to the present. More to the point, it was presented as a symposium of contemporary Doctor Who authors talking about their favourite classic series stories; apparently people want to hear what Steven Moffat or Peter Harness think about Earthshock more than what I think. Which is logical in a way, but also frustrating, as I think my book is not just more detailed, but perhaps more willing to depart from established fan opinion. A lot of that DWM article was predictable if you’ve been in fandom for years.
It’s just annoying to see stuff that I could write being published while the stuff I’ve actually written or pitched to write is ignored. I wonder if some of it is my lack of experience and the fact that I’m not known in fan circles. The circle of fans writing for DWM, writing non-fiction Doctor Who books and working on the DVD and Blu-Ray releases is small and perhaps a bit incestuous and maybe I am too much of an unknown quantity for anyone to want to take a chance on. I think these things are often about who you know as much as what you know.
On which note, I submitted the book to a third publisher. I’m running out of specialist Doctor Who publishers. I’m not sure where I go if this doesn’t work out. My Dad keeps saying, “Maybe the BBC will publish it.” Skipping over the fact that BBC Books isn’t actually owned by the BBC (they have a minority share; the imprint is owned by Penguin), BBC Books doesn’t publish many Doctor Who books; those it does publish tend not to be analytical in the way my book is, and are very concentrated on the current TV programme, not 50+ years of history. And I haven’t got a submission address for them. I suspect they may not accept external submissions. Who you know again.
Other than CBT and submitting my book, and looking (pessimistically) for further contact details for future submissions, I didn’t have much time to do things today. I spent half an hour on Torah study and a bit of time on my novel, but that’s about it. I do have a long (1,500 word) chapter-by-chapter plan of the novel now, although later chapters seem a bit light. 1,500 words sounds a lot, but actually some parts of the novel are still very sketchy in my head. But I might start writing soon, and doing research for the chapters that aren’t really based on personal experience.
Some good news for the weekend: the Talmud shiur (religious class) that usually takes place in shul (synagogue) before Mincha (the Afternoon Service) on Shabbat (the Sabbath) has been moved into seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal), replacing the usual shiur at that time. So there is now one shiur instead of two, which may be less tiring for me. I’m not sure if this is a permanent arrangement or just for this week.
I had a job interview today at a Very Important Organisation. The Very Important Organisation is so important that just going there for an interview is worth talking about, but also so important that it’s pretty much impossible to talk about it without giving away what it is, so I’m going to be silent here. Suffice to say I nearly couldn’t find it, but got there on time in the end. I thought I did OK in the interview because I only had a little autistic mental freeze, but the interview lasted about twenty-five minutes and at the start they said it would be forty-five minutes to an hour, maybe more, so I either aced it or did so badly they just wanted me out of there.
I started feeling anxious on the way home about whether I could actually do the job. I became anxious about having to do cataloguing, even though it wasn’t on the job spec or the overview they gave me at the interview, because one of the interviewers said something about seeing it on my CV. I’ve become paranoid about my cataloguing skills, feeling that I’m so rusty that maybe I should not say I can do it any more, but then what would I put on my CV? I also asked if the job could be done as as job share, which did not go down well, so if I get it, I would probably have to do it full-time and I’m not sure I’m ready for that.
Later this afternoon I got a call from an agency offering me an interview and test (gulp) at a law firm (as a law librarian) this Friday. I’ve never really seen myself as a law librarian, but I will go along and see what happens. There is a test, details unknown, which terrifies me after messing up (or more accurately, being unable to complete) the last cataloguing test I did. I worry that my skills are so rusty as to be useless. It feels sometimes like interviews and tests exist just to further lower my self-esteem.
I broke up with L., if “broke up” is the right term when we’d only been on two dates. I just didn’t think there was enough chemistry.
“Chemistry” seems such a stupid, intangible thing to break up over. I can see that L. is kind and gentle and that maybe the fact we had both been through a lot of difficult times could help the relationship. Moreover, in the past, I used to get annoyed when people broke up with me for a lack of chemistry. In fact, I used to think I would date someone with no chemistry and see if it would develop, but now I realise just how important it is, even if it is undefinable. I could see it was just never going to develop on its own, no matter how hard I tried to force it. I feel sorry for L., as she is a nice person who has had a hard life, but marrying someone out of pity is not a good idea and she deserves better than that.
The scary thing is that for a week or so I convinced myself that the chemistry was there. At the end of our first date, I was sure that L. was about to say she didn’t want to see me again and I was fine with that as I didn’t really feel anything, but to my surprise, she wanted to meet again and so I said yes to give it a chance. Then for a week or so afterwards, in my mind I thought we were perfect for each other and were bound to get married eventually, but as soon as I turned up for our second date and met her in the flesh again that certainty evaporated immediately and I realised it was just fantasy. I was projecting what I wanted out of the relationship onto her, not relating to her as a real person.
Breaking up does feel like the right decision, upsetting though it is to have to say that to someone (I’d never really broken up with anyone before, except one instance which was a semi-mutual thing; usually they break up with me). I’ve also asked the dating service I met L. through not to set me up with anyone else for now, as I want to concentrate on my job hunt. I think I have enough uncertainty and stress with that and my wait for an autism assessment without adding any more stress in. My parents and (I think) my rabbi mentor seem to think I could be dating, but I just don’t think I can handle it right now, despite my loneliness. Plus, being unemployed doesn’t make me terribly attractive.
Still, I think I have learnt a bit from the experience. From my dating experience over the last couple of years, I feel that I’m looking for someone kind and intelligent, but who probably is already quite frum (religious). I’ve dated non-frum women who said they would become frum for me, but I worry that that would make Judaism into a barrier, plus I want someone who is interested in active spiritual growth with me, not just doing something as a chore to make me happy. I realise I’ve probably priced myself out of the market here, as someone frum might want a partner who went to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) or who goes to shul (synagogue) or studies Talmud more often than I do. Plus I also need someone who can accept my mental health situation and my financial situation, which is not going to be easy. They also need to accept my geekery, which can be hard in general society, let alone frum society.
Put like that I wonder a bit if I made the right decision with L., but I think I did, although I may be single for a long time yet. The relationship didn’t have any of the joy or excitement I associate with starting other relationships, which is not a promising start.
It’s hard to prise my feelings apart sometimes. My Mum said yesterday that she thinks my depression is a lot better and when I say I’m depressed now I often mean I’m anxious. There could be something in that. I certainly seem more anxious than I was in the past. Thinking about work/career, dating, marrying and having children or just the future in general does make me feel anxious at the moment because it all seems scarily open, but time is ticking on, as I said yesterday.
I feel bad today, but I can’t work out what ‘bad’ means. I guess it means ‘depressed.’ I’m struggling to understand my feelings again. I did feel close to tears at times. Earlier I was virtually crying, except that I couldn’t quite manage it. I should feel anxious, about Pesach and about working late tomorrow (I’m going in at 1pm and working until 9pm to help with a public evening event, which will mean – gulp! – talking to strangers) and I do feel a bit anxious about these things, but I’m not sure that that’s what I am really feeling. For much of the day I just wanted to curl up in a ball and ignore the world, really. That’s more depression than anxiety, although, looking at the news, maybe it’s a rational response to the world (cf. Catch-22). At any rate, it’s hard to do anything today.
I feel guilty, too, because I make myself out to be a better person here than I actually am. I confess a lot here, but I can’t quite bring myself to confess everything. So people think I’m better than I actually am. I feel bad about that. I suppose I have the idea that if everyone knew all my faults and accepted them, maybe I could accept them myself or forgive myself or something. Or maybe I just feel bad that that people think I’m a good person when… well, in the past I would have said “when I’m not a good person,” but today I feel more that it should be “when I’m not such a good person,” which I suppose is an improvement of a kind.
I did look for extra cataloguing training on the CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) website, but I couldn’t find anything current. I tried to sign up to some education and research mailing lists on JISCMail, but got panicked by the sheer numbers of lists there and the obscure areas they deal with (A forum on Hoshin Kanri [?]; Huddersfield Consortium College Libraries; Hull Geochemistry and Geobiology; Historians of Women Religious of Britain and Ireland – that’s just some of the Hs). I signed up to a higher education list in the end and thought I would see how that goes before I decide whether to sign up for any more. I’m not very good at CPD, or anything connected with my career, really.
My self-perception has really altered in the last year. I used to think that I would be good at a job if I could find the right one, that depression was the main obstacle to my building a career, that one day the right combination of therapy, medication and activity/occupational therapy might – might! – help me deal with my depression, that I was an organised person and so on. Now I have this huge thing called ‘autism’ looming over me as a potential diagnosis. In some ways that’s good, because it leaves open the door to hoping that one day I will find the ‘right’ way to work and to live in order to have a career and potentially a family with my mental health issues managed at the root rather than just treating the symptoms, but in the meantime I am struggling to know who I am, what I could/should be doing about my career and relationships (relationships with family and friends as well as romantic relationships), how I can live and what I can expect of myself in my religious life. I guess it’s no wonder I feel depressed, exhausted and confused so much of the time.
I wish I could have some kind of careers advice session, except not just about my career, but about the whole of my life, that someone would tell me what kind of career would suit me, where I fit in with the Jewish community, what type of woman I should be trying to date and how to meet her, how to cope with everyday life… A S Mentoring might be able to help with some of that, but I’m not sure how to formulate the questions I need to ask yet, as well as being nervous about asking for help and embarrassed that I seem to need to rely on charities (mental health (JAMI) and autism (A S Mentoring, Mencap)) all the time when I feel I should be able to do things for myself. Plus, I feel somethings are harder because I have more than one issue. Autism and depression can interact in different ways and it’s not always clear which is predominating at any given time e.g. when should I try to push through exhaustion on the grounds that it’s just a symptom of depression and when should I accept it as a sign that I’m overstimulated and need quiet and rest.
I did fill in the online form for A S Mentoring, so that’s something positive I’ve done today.
Other than that, I didn’t do much today. I went for a forty minute walk in the sunshine, which was good. I started to apply for another job, but it was hard to overcome the depression. This one is listed as a librarian role, but from the qualifications they are looking for, I think it’s another job where a librarian would be over-qualified and that it’s really a glorified library assistant role. I tried to fill the online form in, but kept lapsing back into despair. I find this whole process so tedious and I’m terrified that while I have the skills to write job applications and I apparently interview well, I’m actually incapable of holding down a real job.
This article is very true. It would have been pretty much impossible for me to have had support for autism at school, certainly at primary school, as high-functioning autism/Asperger’s Syndrome wasn’t recognised until the year I started secondary school; when I was a child, if you were verbal, you weren’t autistic, end of story. Even so, I think my parents and teachers were aware that things weren’t right in some way and that I was a target for bullies (but usually different bullies; I wasn’t usually consistently targeted by the same people, which made stopping it hard, especially when it was kids I didn’t know from other years shouting stuff at me in corridors when we passed) and was lacking in confidence, but that wasn’t considered special needs. My Mum tried to get me to see the school counsellor, but handled it badly and just upset me and my form tutor once told me I needed to… I can’t remember his exact words, but he basically told me I was working too much and needed to develop my life outside of work . But the general view was that my grades were good, so I was doing well, even if I wasn’t socially integrated, especially as I don’t get meltdowns or stim in a very obvious way or have other external symptoms of autism.
I suppose I was also lucky, going to a Jewish school, that there were voluntary shiurim (religious classes) to go to at lunchtimes, so I didn’t have to spend them in the playground. On days when there weren’t shiurim I could be quite lonely and miserable if I got separated from my small circle of friends (e.g. they were at music practice or we got split up in the lunch hall crowd), which happened quite frequently. I do wonder if I would be in the emotional/psychological state I’m in today (depression, social anxiety) if more support had been available when I was growing up, but I guess that way madness lies.
I keep having mini revelations about my autism. I used to think I was a bad writer because I don’t use much metaphorical language, not in my blogs and non-fictional writing, but also not very much when I was writing fiction or poetry. Now I realise that that could be autism. I don’t struggle with non-literal language the way some autistic people do, but I don’t use it much and I’m very aware of, and irritated by, clichéd language, which often consists of tired metaphors that are just taken for granted and not even used as metaphors any more.
I looked at some articles on Neshamas, which I hadn’t done for ages. I don’t know why, because I could have guessed it would be upsetting. I suppose I was lonely and I just wanted to connect with people who feel as awful as I do, even if it’s just by reading what they wrote. I read stuff written by women who are being abused/raped by their husbands. It makes me angry and upset that this happens. But also, it makes me think that I do have something to offer in a relationship, in terms of not actually being abusive. But then after a moment it somehow seems inadequate. That those women deserve better than the men who are abusing them, but that they would also deserve better than me. That I wouldn’t be able to meet anyone’s needs, I just wouldn’t hurt her. That I’m objectifying women just by wanting to be in a relationship with someone, even though I just want to be able to give to someone.
It’s possible that I’m not thinking straight about something here, but it’s hard to tell what.
(Sticking with the fourth Doctor quote theme from yesterday)
I struggled to get to sleep, being upset from what had happened earlier, and then had a disturbing dream. I was working or (more likely) doing work experience somewhere for a week. I can’t remember what the job was exactly, but it was some kind of creative work. On my last day, all my colleagues mocked me for my incompetence. I had done everything wrong, including misunderstanding an article by a famous writer even though I should have known his political views and realised I was misrepresenting them. I think I ran away and was possibly pursued by my colleagues. I asked why they kept giving me creative jobs if they could see that I’m not creative, but there was no answer. Obviously there’s a lot of work anxiety in there (my real-life contract ends next week and the famous writer in the dream is one associated with that job), but also social anxiety and anxiety about my ability to be creative as I start the third draft of my Doctor Who book. Perhaps there’s some political anxiety too.
7.30am Despite disturbed sleep, I got to shul (synagogue) for Shacharit (morning prayers) and the Megillah (Book of Esther) reading. I was a few minutes late for Shacharit, which I suppose was partly intentional as I’m out of the habit of davening (praying) the whole of Shacharit and was apprehensive about being there for the whole service. I did hear the whole of the Megillah though. I had the same OCD anxiety as last night about hearing every word as per halakhah (Jewish law), but I think I heard everything without having to repeat anything. I actually felt quite tense and anxious as it went on, worrying that the noise would stop me hearing everything. I think it was probably low blood sugar as I hadn’t eaten breakfast beforehand (really one should not eat before praying, although I usually do because I’m too depressed and exhausted otherwise, but I was trying to be good today), especially as I had some social anxiety after the service. I felt better after breakfast.
2.00pm I went to my Dad’s shul for Mincha (the afternoon service) because the service in my shul was in our weekday premises (the shteible, a small room rented in a larger shul, itself above Tesco). In three years, I had never been to the shteible; I’ve had social anxiety about going in by myself and have been putting off going (more on this below), so I went to my Dad’s shul, which was also less far to walk.
4.30pm I was invited out for Purim seudah (meal) at friends from shul, really my closest friend in the area. I knew all of the men there from shul; the women were mostly their wives. I had a good time and even joined in the conversation/banter a bit, but I did get overwhelmed with the noise at times. I had moments when I felt, “Yes, I can fit in in a frum society, I can “speak Torah” intelligently and make appropriate jokes,” but at other times, I felt that I didn’t fit in with aspects of frum society. I guess I’ll never completely fit in anywhere. That’s probably that’s another reason I’m desperate to find a wife who matches me, so that at least I will have someone like me, and then we can try to raise kids with our values. Still, no one tried to encourage (or “encourage”) me to drink (it is customary on Purim afternoon to get drunk, although Judaism being Judaism there is much dispute about what “customary” and “drunk” mean… amusingly, I got a job email today looking for a Research Coordinator at somewhere called “The Institute Of Alcohol Studies” which was appropriate).
7.40pm Around this time we had finished eating, but hadn’t bentsched (said grace after meals) yet. I was going to ask if we could bentsch and I could go, as I was getting exhausted and ‘peopled out,’ but I didn’t really have the confidence to show that I was flagging, plus I guessed the men would be going on to Ma’ariv (the evening service) and I thought it would look bad if I disappeared just before then. I decided to make the most of it and use it as a chance to go to the shteible with other people and see what it was like. We walked there, as, while no one was drunk drunk, no one able to drive was sober enough to do so safely. Ma’ariv was fine and then I walked home. My Mum said that I looked happy and had had a very full and successful day. I think I felt that, but it’s hard to be sure, as I second-guess and over-analyse myself so much and struggle to identify my emotions (alexithymia).
Other things than noise and social interactions that my autistic brain couldn’t cope with today: a training video for safeguarding children (for my volunteering) that played distracting music in the background while people were talking; and a job application that wanted me to “be willing to accept ‘change’ as part of the daily routine.” The latter sounds profoundly disturbing to me, but it, or things like it, seem to be a common job requirement, like “being a good team player” (again, not always good for autistic or socially anxious people) and being “highly motivated” (not so good with depression). I probably ought to be a hermit, or a lighthouse-keeper.
On days like today, when everything is going reasonably well, and I feel, if not happy, then at least content and not depressed or anxious, and I even go to shul and feel a part of a community, then I can say that God is merciful and everything is for the best in the long-run, and I can accept my suffering and willingly go into the valley of the shadow of death for Him. It’s only the rest of the time, when I’m despairing and anxious and lonely and cut off from everyone that I can’t bear it. In other words, I can bear my suffering except for when I’m actually suffering. Unfortunately, the times when I’m suffering far outnumber the times when I’m not suffering.
That said, I feel a bit down about the way that my family interprets my words and sometimes my body language as angry and aggressive when that is not my intention. This has happened regularly since childhood. This is also common with autism, I believe, but happens with neurotypical people too. It’s upsetting, though, especially as I really do get irritable more than I should because of depression and the strain of masking all my problems in public, as well as my autistic communication problems with my Dad. There is a lot more to talk about regarding my relationship with my family, and the extent to which I’m trying to run away from it/them by getting married, but I can’t really talk about it here; it’s one reason I want to go back to my psychodynamic psychotherapist. I want to make things right, but I don’t know how and I worry it’s not just a problem of human weakness of the kind most people experience (irritability, anger), but of the cognitive and experiential differences between me and my family.
Peopled out now, need a shower and autistic alone time with Quatermass and the Pit before bed or I won’t sleep…
Sometimes I think I should go off and become a hermit somewhere, but I dreamt about Brexit last night. So, you see, there is no escaping the real world…
I’m having another day when I can’t tell if I’m depressed or just tired. I suppose I’m so used to be both that it’s hard to tell when there’s just one without the other. I’m looking at potential jobs to apply for and updating my CV and my confidence in my ability to work is still very low. I can’t see myself doing any of these jobs. I feel that between my depression-interrupted career and my social anxiety- and autism-impaired ability to network and go to CPD conferences and the fact that my librarianship MA was at a not very good university (because of the depression, in a complicated way), I’m not really able to do all the things that, in theory, I ought to be able to do. I know I’m over-qualified for my current job, at least on paper, but I’m OK with that, as I feel I can do my work without freaking out about things. I know lots of people with autism end up under-employed and I’m worried about being one of them, but I’m not sure what to do about it at the moment.
I’m on my own for Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner tonight as my parents are going to friends. I could go to the oneg (Shabbat event) at my shul (synagogue), but, as I said last week (I originally thought it was last week), I don’t enjoy these things and having a more certain autism diagnosis makes me feel that I won’t enjoy these things however much I try. These days I feel less inclined to force myself to try things that I really feel I’m unlikely to enjoy. I am forcing myself to go to a networking workshop on Monday, but that’s because, although I’m sure I won’t enjoy it, I might get something out of it. But I was quite looking forward to having time alone tonight, to do some Torah study and read more of 13 Minutes, at least until my mood dropped.
I’m alone again all next week, as my parents are away in sunnier climes (
Sarn Lanzarote). I hope I cope OK. I’ve got a busy week, with the networking workshop on the same day as the Jewish Book Week event I’m going to (the first time I’ve gone to Jewish Book Week) and then two consecutive days of work followed by an appointment with a psychiatrist. With my parents away, I will need to fit in cooking, laundry and probably also shopping as well, somehow.
Even on days like this, when I’m not really so depressed and haven’t been for a few days, I wonder if I’m always going to be like this. I feel like I’m 50% or 60% there. I’m functional at a basic level. I’m working part-time. I’m doing some basic Torah study and I pray sometimes and occasionally make it to shul. I have some friends (mostly long-distance, but in a way that suits me as I prefer text and email to speech). And I’m working on my books and worrying I’ll never get them finished, or published. But there’s so much more I want. It would be too much to say I have career plans or even goals, but I want to do something useful, enjoyable (on some level) and closer to full-time. I want to have more friends who are really on my wavelength. I want to get married and have children. I want to get my books published. And all these things seem far away.
And then suddenly, mid-afternoon and mid-Shabbat preparations, I was hit by a wave of depression and loneliness, I don’t know where from. It’s scary that it can come out of nowhere like that and hit me. I just feel overwhelmed by things and unable to do anything and I’m no longer looking forward to an evening by myself.
I didn’t have work today, having gone in on Monday instead, so I got to sleep in. I actually slept for something like eleven hours and finally woke feeling refreshed. I don’t know why I need to sleep so long; I used to assume it was the depression making me exhausted, but it may also be the effort of masking depression and autism in social situations and at work. I started sleeping longer at weekends when I was a teenager, which is probably fairly common, but that was also the time I first started showing symptoms of depression and when school perhaps started becoming harder from an autistic point of view, as the nature of friendship changed and became less about playing together and more about sharing emotions.
The downside of sleeping in is that doing everything I wanted to do today became harder, especially as I was feeling a bit down, or at least sluggish (it’s not always easy for me to tell the difference between the ‘low mood’ and ‘low energy’ aspects of depression, which I guess is alexithymia again). I probably wanted to do too much anyway, but as I said yesterday, chores have a habit of breeding. I needed to get a haircut and buy an anniversary card for my uncle and aunt, catch up on this week’s Talmud study, speak to Remploy about career’s advice and workplace support options for someone with depression and autism and a few smaller things. I also wanted to get through some more Doctor Who episodes for research (not relaxation, as it’s become a chore at times to do it, although I enjoyed the much-maligned The Gunfighters).
I managed everything except speaking to Remploy, which was good, especially as I can now put aside the second drafts of another two Doctor Who book chapters. I shook quite a bit while having my hair cut, which wasn’t good. I’m trying hard not to beat myself up about not getting everything done. As I said, I probably wanted to do too much anyway. The problem is I hate having my haircut and I was nervous about having to contact Remploy so the urge to procrastinate is there, along with the fear that I was procrastinating even if I wasn’t. Of course, the reason I’m so sluggish today is probably at least in part because I did quite a bit yesterday, so to some extent there’s a trade off. I will see if I can speak to Remploy before I go into Shabbat mode tomorrow afternoon.
I try to push myself sometimes to read things that are out of my usual comfort zone, so I’m reading 13 Minutes, a thriller about teenage girls and their cliques and bitchiness. It’s been making me think of my school days, which were miserable, but I realise from the book that a lot of what was going on went over my head. I just wasn’t aware of a lot of stuff in terms of interpersonal dynamics (friends, lovers, enemies). I don’t know if that was autism or just being out of the loop, if the two aren’t really the same thing. I certainly wasn’t really aware of my peers having sex like the characters in the book.
Now, of course, I think about it too much. I feel that there’s a huge part of life I’m locked out of. I don’t know why I fixate on that. I’m not a great traveller, but I don’t feel that I’m missing out much there. I don’t touch drugs or alcohol, but I don’t feel that I’m missing out on them. Maybe because I long for intimacy more than sex per se and feel I’ve never or rarely experienced the kind of closeness I want with people. Or because from a frum point of view, sex is bad until you get married, when it’s good, which makes it harder to write off. My frum peers have lots of children by this point. I hope I get rewarded for my abstemiousness at some point, but I worry that I won’t. It’s not like I really had a choice; I couldn’t have sex even if I wanted, women have never exactly thrown themselves at me. Tehillim/Psalms asks God to store our tears in a flask and record them as a sign that He is with us. It can be hard to feel that my suffering is somehow preserved for a meaningful goal, though.
On a more positive note, I mentioned doing the weekly Talmud study above and while I still feel that I understand very little of the actual arguments of which the Talmud is mostly comprised, I think I am slowly learning key words and logical terms. In the long run, that’s probably more important than actually understanding the arguments.
In the last few days I’ve felt more confident in my own Jewish knowledge in general, at least compared with other ba’alei teshuva (people ethnically Jewish but raised non-religious who became religious later on in life), which is a positive thing given that many of the people in my shul are ba’alei teshuva. I feel that I probably do know a lot compared to the average ba’al teshuva, although most of the time I’m too scared to reveal my knowledge. I also feel that I have more of a sense of an underlying philosophy of Judaism than many Jews have. I feel like a ba’alat teshuva or geyoret (convert to Judaism) might accept me as a husband, although there is still a feeling that she would be ‘settling’ for me in the absence of someone better and that a frum (religious) from birth Jewish woman wouldn’t accept me. I don’t know whether this is true.
Related to this, I do feel today that someone might want to marry me; the problem is finding a job to support a family/make myself more attractive and in working out how to actually meet women, given that I’m not integrated into the frum community enough to get set up on dates. Plus, as I said, I do still have the nagging sense that if someone did marry me, she would be ‘settling’ for me, not marrying me because she really wants me in the first instance, although for a while today even that feeling disappeared. But there’s no telling what I will think tomorrow.
I feel exhausted today. Also, I’m quoting Hamlet for my title again, so I must be depressed. I’m not sure why. The meeting with the matchmaker yesterday was stressful, but I thought I had got over it. I did some work on my books (the Doctor Who one and the mental health one) yesterday evening which I usually find restoring, although I procrastinated quite a bit over the mental health one, which might indicate that I should have just gone to bed. Some of it was probably realising that the mental health book isn’t going to be a case of just stitching together old blog posts; it’s probably going to require significant new material. Which is OK, aside from my usual lack of confidence in my own abilities, it just means it’s a bigger undertaking than I thought/hoped it might be.
Still, I slept for about nine hours and didn’t wake up too late today, but somehow I just can’t get going or focus today. Some of it is that I feel a bit physically ill as if I’m coming down with a cold (although I spend a lot of time feeling like that without ever actually having a cold. It’s true that depression can mimic the ‘coming down with something’ feeling indefinitely). But I think the main issue is that I have some anxiety about rearranging work days for the moved psychiatrist appointment and for Purim. If I give in, I’ll start to have the annual anxiety about Purim and Pesach too (tonight is Purim Katan, which means a month to Purim and two months and a day to Pesach, yikes – given how much winter depresses me, I think I’d welcome spring a lot more if it didn’t mean getting through Purim and Pesach again).
Meanwhile, I need to start serious job hunting again, as my contract expires in six weeks. My sister told me that statistically men will apply for jobs that they only meet 60% of the criteria for, whereas most women will only apply if they meet 100% of the criteria. I seem to be statistically female here, as I do the same thing. I also struggle to apply for jobs where I would have to ask to work different hours, either because they want someone who will work on Saturdays or because I want to work part-time and they want someone full-time. My parents and my sister say that I don’t lose anything by applying, but I guess I feel that I’m being ‘difficult’ again. I’m not convinced that the perfect job, or anything approaching it, is actually out there, at least not for me. I have so many, um, issues at the moment (need to work part-time, need to be in an autism-friendly environment, need to be able to take Shabbat and Yom Tov off, don’t cope well with pressure, and some of my professional work skills have gone rather rusty) that I struggle to imagine any employer wanting me. Or me wanting any of the jobs: of the three job descriptions I was just looking at, one was in a law firm’s library (boring) and required working late on Fridays, into Shabbat, as well as a host of law library experience that I simply don’t have; one was so strangely worded that I’m not entirely sure what the job involves except that it, too, requires working on Friday nights and Saturdays; and the third requires a lot of precise skills for a short-term job and turned out to have been filled despite the job advert still being up.
Just looking at the job description and desired attributes on adverts makes me feel anxious and useless; I can’t really imagine being able to do anything. My cataloguing skills have gone very rusty through disuse, as my job interview a few months ago showed. I don’t keep up with CPD; it’s an effort just to work part-time, let alone to do unpaid “work” in my free time. I quiver at the thought being required to show “problem-solving skills, interpersonal skills, teamwork, and ability to deliver work under pressure” and the like. Strangely, I do actually seem to interview well, surprisingly given my autism and social anxiety, which is possibly an unexpected extra benefit of the Oxbridge interview training my school provided (it was a state school, but had a good record of getting students to Oxbridge, at least for a comprehensive school). Half the time I don’t even understand what a job description wants, with silly bureaucratic-ese like “You will enjoy working to effect positive change” (I wanted a job where I could effect negative change, maybe in the oil industry or local government). I wish they could write in plain English (maybe this is autism again).
You might tell from all this that I’m still lacking in self-esteem, with no sign of the CBT to help with it that I’ve been on the waiting list for since early December. I struggle to think of anything I can do well. I’m told I can write quite well, but I struggle to believe it, or to find a way of earning a living through it. Some of my friends say I’m a good friend, but one can’t really live off that (the world would probably be a better place if we could).
The World of an Autistic, Dyslexic, with Depression and Spinal Problems wrote recently about the need to have something to look forward to. I’m struggling with that at the moment. I mentioned about my growing anxieties at this time of year. Plus so many of the things in my life at the moment I’m just trying to “get through”. Watching Doctor Who, which is usually one of my favourite things, is a chore at the moment as I’m just doing it for research for my book without necessarily wanting to watch the episodes for themselves; I really want to just get it over with, so I can focus on redrafting, and watch other things on TV. Likewise, reading The Dispossessed is just something I’m trying to do, even though I can see it’s a good novel; it’s just taken me too long and I’ve lost track of the characters, not helped by everyone having made-up science fiction names. There’s some hopefully-good-but-stressful things later in the year, which inspire hope and anxiety in equal measure, but nothing purely good or in the short to medium term.
Another classic autistic moment today when my Dad said that I could withdraw cash in the post office. I thought he meant there was a cashpoint in there, but he meant for me to go to the counter with my debit card and withdraw that way. I flatly refused to do this because I got so confused and panicked (I’m ashamed to say) until my Dad told me what to say. Then there was another autistic moment as my Dad asked the attendant if it was true that the branch was being shut down soon; the actual meaningful part of the conversation lasted just a few seconds, but they carried on talking about the evils of management for a couple more minutes even though no new information was added and I wasn’t entirely sure they were really listening to each other. This is neurotypical conversing and I can’t do it, and it’s really hard to network or make friends not being able to do it.
Really upset. I can’t explain why. I’m not sure how much of that is depression (I’m too depressed to introspect and speak) and how much is autism (I don’t understand my emotions and can’t articulate them, at least not in person). I spent a while trying to write a job application for a job I probably am not qualified for and definitely could not accept without negotiating different terms (unlikely to happen) because it is full-time and requires working evenings and Saturdays. After a while, I thought I might be better off looking at the Remploy website and seeing what help they could offer me. They have online advisors, but I don’t know what I want to ask. My mind froze up and I was catastrophising and assuming nothing can help me. I tried to ask my parents for help, but it all went horribly wrong for reasons I don’t understand, as it often does, and ended up with Mum apparently accusing me of wanting to do no work for the next year before I get an autism diagnosis when I just meant that legally I can’t legally claim support for autism yet, only depression. I worry that I’m in the wrong career, but I don’t know who I can talk to about finding a more autism-friendly career or about improving my work skills and CPD.
I can write this down; why can’t I say it? Is it autism again? Or what? I guess I want people to make choices for me, because I find decisions so hard. That is autism. My parents are going to a workshop for families of people with autism on Wednesday; I hope they might understand me better afterwards.
The other scary thing is that I go really quickly from “I have a problem” to “I want to kill myself.” Just now having job difficulties made me feel depressed, and then when my Mum accused me of not wanting to work, I ran off to my room and just wanted to kill myself. I have heard that this is a common autistic problem too, a lack of nuance in emotional responses, so you go from nothing to the most extreme reaction really quickly.
In Iyov (Job), Iyov has a repeated fantasy of suing God in a court of law, feeling if only he could do this, he would be vindicated as suffering unfairly. I wonder if wanting to write my mental health book isn’t just an attempt at bring the world to account for being beastly to me. That doesn’t reflect well on me, but more to the point, it isn’t going to happen. There isn’t going to be a day when my family, friends, colleagues, line managers and peers apologise to me, even if they have really hurt me unfairly.
The Doctor Who story The Space Museum, most of which I watched last night, has the regular characters trying and apparently failing to change their own futures, only to realise that they have had an effect on the people around them that has saved them. I find myself wondering if I’ve ever had a substantial positive effect on those around me, as I can’t think of anything I’ve done myself that will change my own future to something even vaguely positive.
I woke up in the middle of the night with a headache and spent the next couple of hours alternately trying to sleep and watching Doctor Who again (The Chase now, perhaps Doctor Who‘s least successful attempt at comedy. Say what you like about The Horns of Nimon, at least it raises a smile). I did eventually fall back to sleep, but not before a lot of lying in bed feeling depressed and lonely. I suppose I did at least steal a march on my Doctor Who research viewing.
I have a meeting later today with a matchmaker from the values-based matchmaking service. This feels like a huge mistake. Every time I’ve tried dating it goes horribly wrong. Now I’m going to have to list my core values as religious commitment and integrity while covering up that I don’t do a lot of stuff frum (religious Orthodox Jews) Jews should do because of mental health issues and autism. So much for religious commitment and integrity.
Basically, I’m just too broken for anyone to be able to love me and perhaps for me to really be able to love anyone else. I think I should wait a couple of weeks and then ask for them not to set me up with anyone for the foreseeable future, ostensibly while I find a permanent job with longer hours, but also until I get ‘better’ (which is never going to happen).
Just seen an article stating that people with mild/high functioning autism/Asperger’s Syndrome do no better in life than people with more severe autism, in terms of careers and relationships, even if (like me) they were highly functional as children. “‘The implication of our findings is that the consequences of having an autism spectrum disorder with profound difficulties in communication skills and social impairment can’t be compensated for by either high intellectual level or normal language function,’ says lead investigator Anne Myhre, associate professor of mental health and addiction at the University of Oslo in Norway.” Apparently high quality early intervention is the only real way of having a positive outcome, which is bad news for me (I’m thirty-five and still not officially diagnosed, although convinced that I’m on the spectrum). I don’t think I will qualify for benefits and having been on benefits for depression in the past, I would not to live off them (it’s pretty soul-destroying even if you have no alternative), but I don’t want to be a burden to my parents and I worry what will happen when they are gone.
The meeting with the matchmaker was OK in the end. Much quicker than I expected; she asked for some personal details, briefly asked about career, hobbies and interests and then values (my own core values and those I am looking for). I was expecting that she would ask questions to help me articulate and understand my values. As it happens, I have a fairly good idea of my values from thinking about them with regard to previous relationships and my well-being class, but I felt a bit under pressure to rattle off a list of things I see in myself and want to see in a partner.
I listed my core values as religious commitment (which she didn’t count, apparently because I’d already asked to be matched only with shomer Shabbat women), integrity, and pursuing knowledge. I think I may have also put personal growth on the list too. In terms of what I’m looking for, it’s religious commitment and integrity again, but also empathy and trust. I think the matchmaker may have put empathetic on my list of own values, but on reflection they probably are core values for me too. I never think of myself as empathetic because I think, “Oh, I’m autistic, I don’t understand people” but (a) autistic people can feel empathy and (b) a lot of people say I’m empathetic, so maybe it’s true. I certainly try to understand what people feel, even if that’s something I have to do consciously and with difficulty because of the autism rather than doing it intuitively like neurotypical people can do.
I did mention a bit about depression and autism, despite feeling overwhelmed with different advice from different people about whether to do so. I don’t think they can legally tell anyone something like that anyway and the matchmaker didn’t seem to think it would be a problem, but there’s obviously no telling how a date would react if I told her. I do still feel pretty pessimistic about dating, partly because of my financial situation, partly because I can’t believe anyone could really care about me with all my issues.
I felt really tense afterwards, as if I had had a very traumatic experience. This seems to happen to me a lot lately; I suppose I’ve always been somewhat anxious, but nowadays I seem to experience everything remotely stressful as actual trauma. Or maybe I’m more aware of existing feelings? A while back my therapist (when I was in therapy) lent me a CD on dealing with trauma and maybe that made me more aware of the symptoms, bearing in mind that I often have a poor understanding of what I’m feeling.
The dating service is free and only matches people if they can find a someone who meets the criteria (i.e. both people’s values match); they don’t just match people for the sake of it the way professional matchmakers do. So there’s no way of knowing whether I’ll even get a single date out of this, but I guess I feel like I’ve done something.
I am doing OCD second-guessing at the moment, going back over what I said and wondering if I should have said something else. I feel I fudged it a bit. I thought of preparing a list of values beforehand, but decided against it because I thought they would ask me questions to help me understand myself in more detail. When this didn’t happen, I floundered a bit and now I’m worrying if I said the right thing. I have to say that I think about my core values quite a lot, but the ones lower down the list shift a bit depending on my recent experiences, which values I think I’ve been showing more recently and which I’ve not focused on so much. So I do worry a bit about whether I chose the right values.
I guess sooner or later I have to just accept that everything is in the hands of HaShem (God) and accept I can only do so much, doubly so with something like marriage. Unfortunately, while I don’t currently feel that HaShem hates me, I feel He probably does want to put me through a lot of difficult situations, for whatever reason, so it’s hard to be confident and trusting. I suppose that takes me back to The Space Museum at the start of this post and the feeling that our lives are essentially unpredictable and the patterns we think we see turn out to be illusory, while things we miss turn out to be far more important.
Or I could be over-thinking things again. I have been told that I do that.
Shabbat was stressful in several respects. After shul on Friday night, the person who invited me for dinner a couple of weeks ago invited me again, that evening or next week. I can’t really handle the super-laid-back nature of many frum Jews with regard to sudden changes of plan (aren’t religious people supposed to be control freaks?). Autistic people are not good at last minute plan changes. I didn’t want to go to his house without telling my parents and I felt I had a reason not to go next week, but I couldn’t remember what it was. It was only later that I remembered that I had the first session of my new course at The Network on Friday morning and that’s likely to leave me drained for the rest of the day. But I couldn’t really hear everything he was saying to me anyway, partly because I was getting overwhelmed by the amount of noise in the room, partly because of my social anxiety. When I’m talking to someone I’m nervous about talking to, my internal monologue starts saying stuff like, “Oh no, someone’s talking to me, what if I say the wrong thing? What if he thinks I’m crazy?” It’s hard to hear anything over that, let alone to respond appropriately. I would like to be friends with this person, though, especially if he really wants to be friends with me and isn’t just doing it as a mitzvah (commandment/good deed) because I’m single. He may even know a single woman to match me up with, although to be honest it’s doubtful that many of the people he or his wife know that are our age are single.
When I got home I had a conversation with my father that was awkward for other reasons. I’ve mentioned before that we don’t really communicate well at the moment. I find his rambling, discursive mode of conversation confusing while I think he finds me curt and pedantic (which is probably not untrue). I’m trying to sound less blunt, but it’s hard. I’m really not expecting anything to change here until my parents go to an workshop for families of people with autism in about three weeks time.
Anyway, Dad asked me how old my line manager is and I said I can’t tell, which surprised him, although I thought he might have remembered that I can’t really estimate ages at all. Then he asked if I’m enjoying my work and I said I don’t know. I suppose he was more justified in being surprised at that answer, but I really don’t know if I’m enjoying it. I didn’t even try to explain alexithymia (difficulty knowing or understanding one’s emotions) to him as I could see that being a difficult struggle, but I just tried to say that it keeps me occupied, but is pretty menial work, albeit that I get paid quite well because it’s a role that requires care and responsibility in handling rare books and documents. Still, it was once again hard to help him to understand my worldview.
After dinner I tried reading The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin. I like Le Guin, but I just can’t get in to this book, which is probably more a product of the various things going on in my life right now rather than the book itself. After a while I gave up and carried on with The Complete Peanuts instead (I’m up to volume four, covering 1958-1959). While it would be a stretch to read too much in to it, in terms of mental illness, Charles Schulz really knew how to express loneliness and life’s disappointments, but somehow he made us laugh at them.
I went to bed early for a Friday, hoping that I would get up early and go to shul for the first time on Shabbat morning in over a year. However, although I briefly woke up early, I fell asleep again. I don’t know how much of that is laziness, depression or social anxiety keeping me away from shul.
While I was asleep I had a dream that two orangutans were living on the roof of our house. However, these orangutans were very carnivorous, grabbing birds and squirrels and killing them by smashing them hard against the windows before eating them. I was going to call the RSPCA to get rid of them, but conversations about this had to be conducted in whispers at the other end of the house to prevent the orangutans hearing, as they could speak English; one had a pipe in his mouth, but I don’t think he actually smoked it. I have no idea what on earth this dream might mean.
My parents hosted a supper quiz at home tonight for a charity. It’s an annual event. People host friends at their home and different homes compete. They open the envelope of questions at 8pm and have three hours to enter them online. Most of the questions are lateral-thinking ones rather than general knowledge to prevent people Googling the answers. I used to join them sometimes, but these days I get put off by the numbers (usually around twenty people, although this year it’s fewer) and the fact that I can’t really answer lateral thinking questions, only general knowledge ones. There’s a house in Oxfordshire that seems to win ever single year. At any rate, the house was crowded tonight. I’m hiding in my room with Doctor Who, both watching it and typing up over a week’s worth of notes for my book.
Tomorrow I’m off to my sister’s in-laws for her mother in-law’s birthday party. It was delayed as she (my sister’s mother-in-law) is very ill. I’m nervous, as I’m not going to know many people there and I’m worried that, although the food is being provided by a kosher caterer, I may have kashrut OCD issues. I’ve been told I can leave early; fortunately there’s a bus that stops at the bottom of their road that, after a long journey, does eventually stop near our house, so I can get home easily, albeit not quickly.
Thought: I’ve had crushes that went nowhere on lots of women who I thought were perfect for me, but who would, in retrospect would have been terrible for me. Does this mean that God is saving someone amazing for me? Or that there isn’t anyone in the world who could possibly be right for me? The latter seems more logical, especially as if someone is amazing for me, I would (in fairness) have to be amazing for her, and I can’t see myself be amazing for anyone, certainly not in the next five to ten years.
(I have mixed feelings sometimes about the purpose of trigger warnings, but it’s pretty clear that this needs one for suicidal ideation.)
“I hate myself. I hate my life. I hate disrupted sleep. I hate waking up late every day. I hate being exhausted all the time. I hate not having the motivation to do anything. I hate never enjoying anything. I hate not understanding my emotions. I hate making stupid mistakes, particularly at work. I hate sniping at everyone all the time, even when I don’t mean to. I hate catastrophising all the time. I hate despairing all the time. I hate not meeting my religious obligations. I hate being lonely. I hate being sexually frustrated. I hate being overweight due to medication and I hate hating being overweight. I hate not being able to cope with basic social interactions. I hate avoiding social occasions I might enjoy if I wasn’t depressed and socially anxious. I hate freaking out when people try to talk to me. I hate being overwhelmed by background noise. I hate the inward-looking narcissism of mental illness. I hate spending too long aimlessly surfing online because I don’t have the energy/motivation to do anything productive and because it’s the only form of interaction I can cope with, but ending up just making myself more lonely and depressed.
I hate hating myself and my life. I hate thinking about hurting myself and killing myself so much.
Above all, I hate being so bleeding miserable all the time.”
This is basically how I woke up today. I went to bed really late (2.00am) because I felt too awake and depressed to actually get ready for bed; then I couldn’t get to sleep because I was too awake and depressed. So I slept through most of the morning again and woke up catastrophising about starting my new job in under a week and wondering if I’m actually going to make it there.
I wish I could see an upside to my life, but I can’t. I know the trend among autistic people is to see high-functioning autism as a difference with certain positives rather than a disability, but I can’t see any positives to my autistic traits and certainly not to my depression and social anxiety. I really just want to die, but I’m too scared to attempt anything (and vaguely aware there are people who would be upset, but I have to concentrate hard to feel that through the nihilism and pain).
How long is it possible to go on hating yourself and wanting to die? I’ve been suicidal, on and off, for sixteen years or more. Not constantly, but at times. I don’t know how long it’s been cumulatively. When I feel really depressed, let alone suicidal, it’s hard to remember that I’ve ever been not depressed, but at the rare times I’ve been emotionally OK, it’s hard to remember I’ve ever been depressed. So it feels like I’ve been suicidal, or at least fantasising about suicide, for years, but it might not be.
I’ve been told I should phone the NHS crisis team when I feel like this, but unless you’re actually literally about to try to kill yourself, they aren’t interested and tell you to phone your GP, who sends you back to the crisis team… Typical bureaucracy. I could phone Samaritans, but I don’t feel I have much to say at the moment. Maybe eat lunch and see how I feel after that, if I feel up to phoning Samaritans.
I’m not going to do anything, I just feel like **** and wish I wasn’t here.
It’s been a slightly strange day, with a lot of emotions this evening in particular. As usual, I’m writing as much to process and understand my thoughts for myself as I am to present them for other people. So, apologies if this is less coherent than usual. Also, apologies for the mammoth length, about twice as long as usual. There’s a lot to say, and I feel I could probably write more if I had the time.
I’m only vaguely aware of my anxiety. I think I mentioned that at the CBT assessment I had a few weeks ago, the result was that I was told that I have at least elements of anxiety as well as depression, but over the years I have not been so aware of the anxiety, other than social anxiety and, at times, OCD (which is an anxiety disorder). This is despite the frequent comorbidity of anxiety with both depression and autism. One therapist felt that the depression was so strong that it drowned out the anxiety except when the anxiety was itself very strong. It’s also possible that I just haven’t noticed the anxiety because of alexithymia (difficulty identifying and understanding my emotions). Certainly when my mental health issues first became identifiable, at school, I was feeling nauseous every morning on the way to school, but it was only years later that I realised that that was almost certainly anxiety rather than general feelings of being “emotionally low” (which was the non-diagnosis my doctor gave me at the time to try to avoid prescribing any medication). At any rate, the anxiety this morning may have started as social anxiety about volunteering, but quickly spiralled into general catastrophising about other aspects of volunteering and my new job.
I volunteered at the asylum seekers drop-in centre again today. As mentioned, I was feeling rather anxious about it beforehand, primarily because I wanted to slip out near the end to go to Mincha (the Afternoon service) in the shul (synagogue) (the drop-in centre is in the shul hall, not the main shul building) and I was worried about not knowing the code to the shul door and getting locked out (I should clarify that the drop-in centre is not in my shul, but another one some way away).
The format of the day is two hours of preparation for the asylum seekers, which I usually spend sorting donations of clothing, two hours with them, where they can get food, donations of clothing, nappies and toiletries and see professionals (varying according to who has been able to come, but usually lawyers and doctors, sometimes dentists or counsellors) and then a certain amount of tidying up afterwards. I was initially sorting donations of clothing to start with and as is often the case, I felt more than a little awkward. The clothing tends to come all mixed up and I’m not always good at separating male and female clothing or adult and children’s clothing. Obviously there are some things that are clearly in one category or another, but others are less clear. To be fair, other people struggle sometimes too, but I do not feel confident asking for help. I also feel that the other volunteers are able to talk to each other more easily; I always feel like I have a sign on my forehead saying AUTISTIC-SOCIALLY ANXIOUS-DEPRESSED and that everyone can see how awkward I am. This is probably my paranoia, but it feels real.
After that, when the asylum seekers came, I volunteered in the childcare area again. There were a lot of children there today. Thankfully there were quite a few volunteers, although many were older children themselves (the children of volunteers tend to help in the childcare area, probably because it’s more fun than helping adult asylum seekers sort through clothes and unused nappies. That’s why I help there, anyway). The autistic side of me I was quite overwhelmed by the amount of noise and things going on at times. I tried to focus one level of attention on the children I was with at the time while I focused another level of attention on the childcare area as a whole, to check nothing dangerous/unpleasant was going on. The children were well-behaved (actually, they almost always are well-behaved), although one boy has a habit of trying to take my glasses off me. I spent a lot of time today looking after a toddler who kept trying to crawl over to where some of the older children were playing with a ball. As I had visions of her getting trampled, I kept trying gently to encourage her away from them and at one point picked her up and carried her away, although I’m not confident carrying children and try to avoid it, as they can usually sense I’m anxious and sometimes start crying.
I realised, for all my parents say I’m good with children (and I’ll concede that on some levels I am good with children; I’m certainly patient with children and willing to play repetitious games for long periods), I don’t know how to talk to them. If I recall correctly, one of the symptoms of autism spectrum disorders can be difficulty talking in age-appropriate ways and I do struggle to do that. My instinct is to talk far too formally to them. I usually suppress that instinct, but I don’t really know what to say instead and tend to ask very simple questions or distract them with toys. (Bear in mind that most of the children at the drop-in centre are five or six at most, often much younger, although I’m not quite sure how that should affect how I talk to them.) I’m struggling to put this into words, but when I see the other volunteers talk to the children they seem to do it much more naturally and age-appropriately. To be fair, as I say, I do have the patience and stamina to spend two hours sitting on the floor drinking imaginary cups of ‘tea’ and waving teddy bears about, which the other volunteers tend not to do, going for breaks or changing activities. I just point this out as another autism symptom I need to note before my assessment.
Another social thing I struggle with at volunteering is talking to the other volunteers. I do know a few people by sight or even by name now and one volunteer I actually know from my previous shul, before I moved house. But I find it hard to make conversation with them or to introduce myself to people I don’t know. I’ve heard people say that volunteering is a good way for shy people to find a partner, but that hasn’t been my experience, partly because I’m the wrong age (most of the volunteers are ten or twenty years older than me), partly because I’m too shy and don’t really know what to say to women I don’t know. I know the first time I went I did get talking to two sisters who seemed to be about my age, but I haven’t seen them since, sadly.
(Pause, change ends, eat oranges)
(I really did just eat an orange)
In the evening, after coming home for a much needed shower and Doctor Who break, I went for dinner with a couple of old friends from my university days at Oxford. We get together every six months or so to catch up. Our lives have gone in quite different ways, so it’s good that we still want to meet. One of my friends is a political scientist working on migration and statelessness (a hot topic at the moment, obviously – she was recently in Mexico interviewing women on the caravan bound for the USA). She spoke at length tonight about the plight of the stateless. I had no idea that there are so many people in this category (an estimated fifteen million) nor the reasons for it. I would have assumed they were mostly refugees, but apparently a lot are people who have simply failed to fill in the appropriate paperwork through suspicion of the authorities (e.g. Roma) or traditional lifestyles (e.g. migrant pastoral farmers), particularly when new states have been created in post-colonial territories or following the break up of states like Yugoslavia and the USSR. They have now missed the appropriate deadlines for application for citizenship and fallen through the gaps in the bureaucratic systems and can’t work, marry or travel; they can’t even officially die.
I mentioned the asylum seekers drop-in centre. I was pretty blatantly virtue signalling, but I wanted to find common ground with my friend. I usually avoid politics as I feel my political views are a little unusual. I suppose they aren’t monumentally weird; I’m not a Fascist or a Pantisocrat. Realistically, I’m just a centrist with small-l liberal and small-c conservative aspects to my personality, but I have a fondness for George Orwell’s term ‘Tory Anarchist’, which to me reflects not a hyphenated identity, but a dialectical tension between the ordered and anarchic sides of my nature (it’s an anarchism rooted less in Bakunin and Kropotkin and more in the prophets and rabbis of ancient Israel, who had a deep-seated suspicion of governments, money, power, authority and militarism. As Philip K. Dick said, the Jews have always fought for freedom). Whatever the reason, I have an instinctive ability to take the opposite view of whoever is talking to me. This is not from natural contrariness on my part, or not consciously. I am naturally conflict-averse and long to avoid any kind of political quarrel. But I seem doomed to offend everyone if I speak my mind. My frum (religious) friends and acquaintances are likely to be conservative. I don’t know, so I could be stereotyping, but Orthodox Jews tend to be conservative. On the other hand, my other friends tend to be very liberal. When I’m with the former, I feel liberal, even anarchist, but when I’m with the latter I feel super-conservative.
Today I did not feel super-conservative. I was actually deeply moved by my friend’s account of the plight of the stateless. In retrospect, I fear that there is very little that can be realistically done in the short to medium term, but I guess this is the conservative side of me speaking (progressives tend to see all problems as solvable; conservatives tend to see some problems as manageable at best). In retrospect I can see why governments might be unwilling to award citizenship to literally millions of strangers from unstable parts of the world, sight unseen. But I feel that dialectical tension again, because I want to do something to help.
Hence, my doing something I would not normally do and virtue signalling by bringing up my voluntary work. I am not entirely sure what I was thinking, but I think I wanted to signal agreement and empathy for the people she has met, as well as tacit support, in broad, non-committal terms, for her goals (“tacit support, in broad, non-committal terms”… I even sound like Sir Humphrey Appleby. Ugh).
On the way home I thought about my friends, and how I feel too liberal for some and too conservative for others. I thought about my shul, and how the rabbi would probably not approve of my voluntary work at a centre for non-Jewish (often Muslim) asylum seekers, even though the shul that runs the centre is Orthodox. I was in a Jewish part of London and, seeing the frum men and women, I thought as usual about wanting to have a frum wife, but in this context I wondered if it would be possible. After all, I could end up with a wife who liked my friends, but not my shul, or one who my rabbi would accept, but my friends would loathe. I remembered that E. was quite adamant about not being married by my rabbi when we were dating. At volunteering, I wondered if I would ever meet someone right for me. Sociologically, the Anglo-Jewish community is polarising into the Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) and the Jewishly unaffiliated and uninterested. Even the United Synagogue middle-of-the-road types are generally not frum enough for me any more.
I sometimes feel like a man of far too many parts, unable to really fit in anywhere. I want my wife to be someone I feel completely comfortable with and accepted by, but this seems impossible. Granted, that’s partly because I feel so ill at ease with myself, but even if I did like myself, it seems impossible for anyone else to accept me. And now I remember a friend who I opened up to a bit about my political thoughts who never responded to that email… did he simply overlook it or run out of time? Or was he shunning my views? He is at least still my friend, so he can’t have found them that obnoxious.
And, if it wasn’t nearly 2.00am, I could raise the Z word (‘Zionism’) which is a whole can of worms in itself. But I should get to bed.
Sigh. Writing this was supposed to help me calm down and sort out my thoughts before bed, but it has actually made me much more tense and anxious as well as more alert and not ready to sleep. I wish I just could be a normal person, with normal, straightforward views, rather than trying to make myself an outlier in every community of which I could vaguely be considered a member. And I wish I could accept that it’s possible for people to like me without their agreeing with every political, religious and cultural opinion I have.
I went to bed late having achieved very little of what I planned for yesterday, but at least it was for a good reason (having my plans disrupted by getting a new job). I did sleep through the whole morning, though and still woke up exhausted. To be honest, when I sleep more than nine hours, I suspect I sleep too much; too much sleep can actually make you more tired. But it can be hard to get up when I’m depressed and/or burnt out. I spent the afternoon filling in paperwork for my new job, when really there are other tasks (mostly different paperwork, and emails to friends I have neglected) that I want to get on with before I start my new job.
I feel a bit more positive today, although I’m still terrified that I’m going to make huge mistakes in my new job. My confidence in my ability to function in the workplace has plummeted thanks to my last two jobs. It doesn’t help that I’m still not sure why I find it so hard to function: is it depression, social anxiety, autism or an interaction of all three? Comorbidity is difficult. It’s hard to build coping strategies when you aren’t sure what the problem is. I just hope it’s not laziness or incompetence. I don’t think it’s laziness, but I worry that it might be incompetence. I do feel that depression has made me stupider. I doubt that I could win a place at Oxford these days as I did in my teens.
Still, I do feel more positive about my position and about my life in general today. This job fits so well with the other things I’ve managed to get set up, particularly the resilience course I’m doing, that it does feel bashert (predestined), not a word I use very often. It’s easier to believe that HaShem (God) is controlling my life in a positive way when things seem to be going well, even though perhaps it shouldn’t really make a difference, given that I don’t significantly doubt the existence of an omnipotent, benevolent God, just whether He cares about me or, more accurately, whether I’m good enough for Him to care about me.
When I stop to think seriously about the future, I feel less optimistic. I guess I’m like a cartoon character than can run off a cliff and keep going until I look down and realise there’s nothing supporting me. I can feel OK and positive about the future, but then I think, “This is a short-term, part-time job; I’m still no closer to finding a permanent job or to being able to take a full-time job; and without a job, and with all my ‘issues,’ I have nothing to attract a partner, and I doubt I will ever earn enough to support myself when my parents aren’t able to…” and so on. That’s when I plummet like Wile E. Coyote.
I don’t think I’m particularly logical much of the time; to be honest, looking at the world, I doubt whether most people are logical most of the time, regardless of their religious views or lack thereof (I’m not even thinking of big, scary socio-political things here, just day to day things). I know I’ve said before that I used to think of myself as a logical person, but in recent years I’ve come to realise that I’m a very emotional person who just thinks he’s logical. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being emotional some of the time, but it’s problematic when I’m emotional, but think I’m being logical e.g. when I come up with complicated ‘proofs’ to show that I’m a bad person, that no one cares about me, that my future will be terrible etc.
Actually, one of the scary things about mental illness is how it warps your perception of reality. I remember stuff that I thought was true when my OCD was worse, stuff that now seems unlikely or even completely illogical, but which I was sure was demonstrably true at the time. Scary stuff. And that was just neurosis, not psychosis!
I find emotions difficult, particularly from a religious viewpoint. I guess the fact that, like many autistic people, I’m probably somewhat alexithymic (have difficulty identifying and understanding my emotions) doesn’t help. The Torah commands, or appears to command, various emotional states: loving HaShem and one’s neighbour, not coveting other people’s things or bearing grudges etc. I think there was a disagreement between the Medieval commentators about this. Some said, the Torah does indeed command emotions. Others said, it commands actions only; if the Torah commands love, it only commands to act lovingly; if it forbids bearing a grudge it forbids only acting on a grudge. This is easier to accept than the idea that we can switch our emotions on and off (and also fits with the fact that Jewish thought generally prefers to deal with particular actions rather than abstract concepts, unlike Western philosophy).
It only occurred to me last night that the alexithymia might influence me in another way. I’ve written before about being upset that I don’t experience simcha shel mitzvah (joy in the commandments) and that one rabbi told me that I won’t experience this until I have got over the depression (which I no longer think will happen; I just think I will have to learn to manage it) while my rabbi mentor said I should have some simcha shel mitzvah even now. It occurs to me that I might not really know if I’m experiencing any simcha shel mitzvah and maybe I shouldn’t beat myself up so much for not experiencing it.
It’s funny how I sometimes feel the ‘wrong’ thing i.e. not what I think most people would say I should be feeling. I don’t know if this is due to depression or autism (or both or neither). After hearing about my new job, I was initially excited and nervous, which is understandable. But then a while later I was in shock: numb and a bit nauseous, with slight tremor. Later I felt on the brink of tears, for the second time today (the first was while sitting waiting for my job interview). I’m fairly sure they weren’t the happy sort of tears (although that has confused me in the past, I suspect like a lot of people with autism and/or alexithymia), but I’m not sure why I felt sad.
Like a lot of autistic people, I get upset by changes of plan. I had planned to go to my interview today, come home, have lunch and watch Sherlock to unwind, then tackle some emails and chores. Except that I found out about getting the job at lunchtime, which I didn’t expect (I thought I would have to wait until tomorrow or even Friday) and so my afternoon has been disrupted by conversations with family and friends in person, on the phone and via text and WhatsApp message, so that it was long past 6.00pm before I did anything else and I only managed a fraction of what I wanted to do. It’s understandable, but the autistic part of me is frustrated and upset and threatening to catastrophise it into a huge disaster.
I’m not sure how coherent the rest of this post is, so please bear with me. I’m writing about emotions that I don’t fully understand or even experience clearly, trying to understand them…
One day I need to look carefully at how I react to fiction, particularly DVDs and books. I think I discussed it a bit with my therapist when I was in psychodynamic therapy. I know I mentioned here recently that I see books and DVDs as friends; I suspect I’m not the only autistic person who finds fictional characters easier to understand than real people. Fictional characters are more likely to have their motivation and thoughts spelt out by narrators (whether first or third person) and one can always go back a line or rewind a few minutes and replay an action or conversation until you can understand it.
At my autism workshop yesterday, it was mentioned that women with autism, unlike many men with autism, can build or enjoy elaborate fantasy worlds, but that they sometimes have difficulty distinguishing reality from fantasy. They didn’t elaborate on this, though, as there were no women present. I may have mentioned that I have some autistic traits that I think are found more in autistic women than autistic men (from my research, which is ongoing), particularly my ability to rote-learn neurotypical behaviours like small talk and eye contact and to prepare certain topics of conversation before a social encounter (I can consciously make myself do these things to some extent, which I couldn’t when younger, but it takes a lot of energy and I feel very self-conscious doing it).
Certainly I feel that I enjoy certain fictional worlds. I don’t believe them to be real exactly, but they do exist in a very vivid and real way to me, perhaps more than aspects of the real world. I probably do know more about Doctor Who than about my friends’ lives, perhaps even more than some close family members’ lives. I think I also vividly project myself into these stories to try to understand my emotions, because I usually struggle so much to understand myself and my emotions (alexithymia). Certain images or moments in stories can become a mental short-hand for me about certain emotions. As I may have mentioned before, I don’t think just in words (as is apparently normal for neurotypicals) or in images (as many autistic people do), but a mixture of the two, like a blog post with embedded pictures of GIFs.
I mention all of this because I watched the Sherlock episode The Reichenbach Fall today and it brought up a lot of confused feelings. In the story, Moriarty frames Sherlock Holmes for a series of crimes and eventually forces him to (apparently) commit suicide. The episode made me think quite a bit. The image of Holmes jumping of the top of Bart’s Hospital is one of those ’embedded images’ in my brain that comes to mind a lot when I’m feeling overwhelmed by depression or social anxiety, when I just feel that I’m in free-fall and I don’t know what to do and I just want to die. (Maybe it’s a comforting image, in a way, because I know that Holmes’ death would later be revealed to be faked.) Holmes’ reactions to his friends also interested me. In earlier episodes he has said that he has no friends and is incapable of friendship, yet in the end he risked his life to save Dr Watson, Mrs Hudson and Inspector Lestrade (even though he only faked his death, there must have been a risk that his plan would go wrong – you can’t jump off a tall building without some risk).
I sometimes tell myself that I have no friends, but deep down I know there are people who I am pretty sure do like me and would do things for me and I would do things for them. It is possible that this is an immature, or at least imprecise, definition of friendship, doubtless due to autism again (my understanding is that some autistic children can manage friendships when very young, when friendship is just about sharing toys, but struggle with adolescent and adult friendships based on emotional intimacy. This was my experience). But it can be hard to work out where the boundaries lie. I upset friends sometimes by saying that I am alone; on the other hand, sometimes I think I would make sacrifices for people who I should not make sacrifices for, people who aren’t really my friends, and, if I do that, I will end up feeling used and angry (this happened to me a few months ago, with someone I thought was a friend who treated me badly; when I did something positive for him, far from supporting the friendship, I ended up feeling angry and used).
I also thought about Sherlock’s relationship with the pathologist Molly Hooper. Throughout the series, Sherlock treats Molly very badly and exploits her crush on him to get her to do pathological work for him and to give him access to corpses. Yet in this episode he sort of apologies to her (as much as he ever apologises to anyone) and says that he respects her. If I recall correctly, we discover in the next episode that she was one of the few people he let into his plan to fake his suicide and that the plan could not have worked without her help.
This made me think quite a bit. I mentioned recently that I have a kind of crush on Molly – not on the actress, but on the character – and this made me wonder what it says about me as a person and what I should look for if I ever try dating again. I like Molly because she’s intelligent and gentle, traits I would look for in a mate. She cares deeply about Sherlock, and I would want a wife who cared about me, but I also feel empathy for her and the bad way Sherlock treats her; I would not want to treat my wife that way. On one level she is exploited by Sherlock, but she is really one of only about two people (Watson being the other) who can call Sherlock out on bad or reckless behaviour and have any chance of being listened to and I would want a wife who can be honest with me like that. And she always forgives Sherlock; I feel that, while I would want to treat my wife better than Sherlock treats Molly, I would inevitably upset her inadvertently sometimes, because of my autism and depression (irritability) and I would need to find a wife who is more than averagely patient and forgiving.
I am not sure how I go about finding someone with these traits and identifying them in her, though, or if I’m really looking for an ideal that can only exist in fiction. The latter seems likely, especially as I feel that even if I could find an intelligent, gentle, honest and forgiving woman, she would be unlikely to find me attractive, particularly as I feel I have few positive points of my own to offer in return and that I have a lot against me in terms of autism, depression, social anxiety and low and insecure income, even before one factors in the fact that I want to find someone who shares my Jewish religious beliefs.
I’m writing on a break from the post-Shabbat (Sabbath) tidying up, which is exhausting, while also What’sApping my Mum (who is still in Israel), so this may be even less coherent than usual.
Shabbat was OK, but somewhat lonely. I didn’t get into as much of a depressed/agitated state as I have sometimes in the past when spending Shabbat home alone, but this was probably because I spent most of it asleep. I didn’t get to shul (synagogue) at all, which was frustrating, not least because I’m not sure how much was depressive exhaustion and how much was social anxiety, although why that should be worse when my parents are away is a mystery, as I go to a different shul to them. Maybe when other people are around I feel I need to put more of an effort into trying to get out.
I went to bed early for Shabbat (before midnight) and slept for about thirteen hours or more; I then dozed for another two and a half hours after seudah shlishit (the third Shabbat meal), which was one reason I missed shiur (religious class) and Ma’ariv (the evening service). Sleeping extra on Shabbat is a mitzvah (commandment), but I think one can take it too far. I’m certainly worried I won’t sleep tonight, even though I need to be up early tomorrow to volunteer at the asylum seekers drop-in centre.
I’m already feeling somewhat anxious about volunteering – a vague sense that something will go wrong, or I will do something wrong, without really knowing what, and a fear that for one reason or another I won’t be able to slip out and into the main shul building for Mincha (the afternoon service), even though there isn’t really any reason why I shouldn’t be able to do so (the advantage of volunteering in an Orthodox shul).
I was also supposed to do some things tonight, particularly replying to an email from a friend that I’ve been putting off because it was very long and will take ages to reply to, which is wrong of me, as well as buying Chanukah presents for my family, which may not arrive in time. It doesn’t look like any of this is going to happen, because of sleeping until 6.30pm and then being slow and depressed. To be fair, I tried to buy the presents during the week, but was prevented by various issues with Amazon (who I usually try to avoid) and they may have to wait until my parents get home and can decide for themselves what they want to do.
I’m struggling a lot again with thoughts and feelings that I can’t put into words. There’s a lot of religious stuff in my head at the moment that may not be healthy. I wish my suffering could be some kind of tikkun (rectification) or kapparah (atonement) for myself or the Jewish people or the world, but I doubt it is the latter. I suppose on some level it probably is a kapparah for myself, but it would be good to know what it is atoning for, so it seemed less arbitrary. Really I want to help other people somehow in my suffering, but it seems unlikely that that is the case.
This may be part of what lay behind a dream I had last night. I can’t remember the details, but in the dream there were two women I asked out in real life who had turned me down. One (in real life) was someone I knew online who I thought I had connected with (another frum geek) and the other was someone I was at school with and then met years later through a Jewish mental health charity and became friends with for a while. I thought she was flirting with me, but apparently I was wrong (she repeatedly said I was a “genius” and also that I would have “really cute children”). Neither was interested in me; I still comment on the former’s blog, but the latter cut of all contact with me.
In the dream, the latter was talking to the former about her issues (in the real world she had bipolar disorder and had repeatedly been hospitalised as a suicide risk; she also had a history of anorexia). I wanted to help too, but she kept refusing to speak when she was aware that I was listening, until I realised that she didn’t want my help and that the only way I could help her was to leave her alone (there was then a surreal sequence I can’t fully describe about a dead tortoise in the garden; no idea what that represents).
This seemed to be an unconscious articulation of the fact that I want to help people, but often can’t do it, either because of my own issues or because I don’t know how to help people because of my autistic symptoms. In particular, I had been reflecting before going to bed, and not for the first time, how frustrating it is to me to see all the discussion on Jewish websites and newspapers about the need to re-engage young Jews with Judaism and Jewish culture and encourage the raising of Jewish children (assimilation is still running strong). I want to have children and give them a strong grounding in Judaism and a love of Judaism and Jewish culture (not just the religion, but the wider cultural aspects), but it looks like I never will marry and have children. This upsets me a lot. I suppose if I had to rank what I most dislike about my various conditions, the actual depression and social anxiety would probably come in about third, because I’m used to coping with them (up to a point anyway). First would be the loneliness, particularly the romantic/sexual loneliness and second would be the feeling that I will never have children, the feeling of being the end of the line, that the tradition will, in some sense, end with me (in a manner of speaking… I’m still hoping that my sister and cousins will have children, but who knows what will happen?).
OK, now I’ve brought my mood really far down, I guess I should try to finish tidying up and then have something to eat, do some Torah study (done none at all today, thanks to falling asleep this afternoon) and get to bed at a reasonable time. Hopefully eating might help my mood a bit, as I may have low blood sugar again; I haven’t eaten anything for nearly six hours, nor have I drunk much.