Virtue Signalling

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.

Emotions

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.

Elementary

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.

Frustrations

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.

Time Capsule Fragment

I wrote this about an hour ago and interrupted myself before posting.  It feels somewhat unfinished.  I don’t feel as bad now as I did then, but I want to post it as a sort of time capsule, albeit one preserving a recent time, but also as a demonstration of how bad I feel at times, often when I’m not able to post.  I kind of wish I could have a reverse time capsule, with my future self sending encouraging messages back to me, but then again, maybe there’s nothing encouraging to say about my future (this is me positive, wait until you see the negative).

I’m feeling really bad and I don’t know why.  My parents haven’t even gone away yet, although they are out at a charity event at the moment (EDIT: they’re back now).  I want to write what I feel, but when I try to write it all becomes sanitised.  I can’t put what I feel into words.  I’m not sure I entirely know what I feel.

I’m beating myself up because of a religious OCD situation that isn’t really my fault and probably isn’t anything to worry about, but I feel I made a mistake and It’s All My Fault if it Goes Wrong.

Sometimes I wish I was asexual (I believe a number of autistic people are).  I can’t see myself ever getting married, and I wouldn’t have sex outside of marriage (my first girlfriend thought that I wouldn’t even if I was married to her and maybe she was right).  It’s a mitzvah (commandment) for men (not women) to get married and have children, but it’s unlikely that I ever will.  It would make my life easier and less guilt-ridden.

I want to hurt myself, but I feel too scared.  I feel that I’m just messed up beyond all hope of repair.

None of what I’ve written remotely portrays how much emotional pain I feel I’m in right now (plus physical discomfort, as my parents turn the heating up far too high for my liking.  I’ve only recently discovered that sensitivity to heat can be an autistic sensory issue, although I shouldn’t say that as Officially I am Boringly Neurotypical and any unusual behaviour is just common or garden weirdness and the intractability of my depression is just Bad Luck).

This was the point where I stopped writing.  Goodnight.

My Family and Other Animals

At work this morning I realised I messed up my timesheet last week.  I think it’s OK; I forgot to date it and only put my name twice when they wanted it three times (twice printed and once signed).  But it makes me feel like a useless idiot again who can’t get anything right.  I hope it’s just depression-lowered concentration.  I feel a lot more stupid than I used to be.  I did at least process about 135 records even though I was feeling very depressed and working slowly.  I had thoughts of wanting to die, though.  I really can’t see my life getting any better.

My parents keep suggesting to me that I should become a primary school teacher (this is the teacher training course they want me to do). I really don’t know what to do about this.  It’s a nice idea, but I can’t see myself doing it at the moment.  I can’t really see myself doing it at all unless I have more experience with children.  I’m also scared of flitting from one career to another without settling on anything.  My sister suggested becoming a teaching assistant first and I thought of looking for another volunteering opportunity with children, although they seem to be few and far between, but I don’t think I feel I could even do that right now.  I don’t really want to be responsible for children while I feel this bad, for all that I do tend to cheer up when I’m with children.

On the other hand, my Mum’s doubts about my ability to look after a pet has taken the wind out of my sails regarding getting one, that and social anxiety about going to a pet shop and asking to hold the animals and buy equipment.  I know little about pets and I have an image in my head of going to a pet shop being like that Not the Nine O’Clock News sketch where Mel Smith goes to a shop to buy “a gramophone” and gets mocked by shop assistants Rowan Atkinson and Griff Rhys Jones for his total lack of technological savvy.

I know I shouldn’t rely on my parents so much for my self-esteem (such as it is) and for advice at my age, but I find it hard not to.  My relationship with them is complicated, to put it mildly.  It’s at times like this that I wish I was still in therapy, but I’ve stopped seeing my psychodynamic psychotherapist for a while so I can see if CBT might help, although I heard recently that people on the autistic spectrum (which may or may not include me) struggle with CBT because they don’t notice their mood changes until they have got quite extreme.  That fits me whether or not I’m on the spectrum.

Plus, as I just noted on the Mental Health at Home blog, I’m still dependent financially on my parents and  I don’t know what will happen to me when my parents are gone, given that I don’t seem to be able to hold down a regular job, but am apparently not sick enough to claim benefits.

There is a lot more I could say, but I’d better not say more in a semi-public setting.  Actually, despite all I write here, there’s so much that I can’t say, for one reason or another.  It’s hard, because writing is the way I process and release emotions, but I’m constrained by the laws of lashon hara (malicious speech) and kibbud av ve’em (honouring parents), as well as by accept conventions of what is OK to talk about in polite society and my fear that if people knew the real me, they would not want anything to do with me.

End of the Week Bits and Pieces

I forgot to mention yesterday that I changed where I was sitting in the office (we hotdesk), so that the two people who pace up and down while on the phone were in front of me rather than behind me.  This seems to have helped.  They’re just as audible, but not so distracting.  It seems that noise behind me makes me more alert and anxious than noise in front of me.  Unfortunately, there is no guarantee about where I’ll be able to sit over the next three weeks.

I just got phoned by a variation on this scam.  Luckily I was suspicious and googled them rather than phoning them back.

I wish I could be as non-judgemental of myself as I am of others.  That said, I am judgemental of others, but then I make myself think about things and realise that what they have done isn’t so bad and they probably have extenuating circumstances.  But I can’t even do that with myself.  I feel that I know that I’m a bad person and that while it isn’t my concern what other people do, it is my concern to make sure that I do the right thing, so I should beat myself up until I change, which never works.  I don’t know what a better method is, though.

Before my meeting with the new psychiatrist on Thursday, I’m trying to write two lists.  I don’t always remember what I want to say and I’m worried I’m not going to be confident about talking about alternative diagnoses, so I want to have something written I can give him/her.  One list is of the depression symptoms, the other is other problems I’ve been having and other things that make me think I’m on the autistic spectrum, although I’m not sure whether I’ll say that I think I’m autistic.  Please let me know if there’s anything I talk about here that I’ve forgotten.

The depression list is:

  • Very low mood.
  • Despair.
  • Occasional thoughts of suicide or self-harm.
  • Anxiety, especially social anxiety and anxiety related to work.
  • Lack of energy.
  • Poor concentration.
  • Lack of motivation.
  • Easily and frequently exhausted.
  • Inability to experience pleasure.
  • Loneliness.
  • Disrupted sleep at weekends, albeit primarily on non-work days.
  • Panic attacks on the way to work the other week.

The other list of symptoms is:

  • Difficulty understanding and describing my emotions.
  • Difficulty making eye contact.
  • Difficulty reading body language.
  • Body language and voice tone that makes others think I’m angry or upset even when I’m not.
  • Intense interests.
  • Difficulty moving from one task to another and multitasking.
  • Poor spatial awareness/get lost easily.
  • Difficulty holding a conversation without a prepared ‘script,’ especially small talk.
  • Sensory overload from noise at work, in restaurants, etc.
  • Fidgeting and stereotyped/repetitive movements (spin on chair, move feet and hands, stroke face, deliberately press on fingers or put in desk drawer).
  • Tactile – I like feeling certain objects with my hands or even lips.
  • I can’t always tell when people are joking.
  • Difficulty remembering or understanding long and/or implicit instructions.
  • I tend to stick to routines.

Some of these could be depressive, some I think point towards autism, but it’s hard to be sure.  I’ve been told that I didn’t experience all of these as a child, which is one reason why I wasn’t diagnosed with autism in the past.

For some of these symptoms I know the technical terms (alexithymia, ideation, anhedonia etc.).  I’ve been to so many psychiatrists and therapists and read so many books I’ve picked stuff up.  But I was worried that if I used the terms, I would seem pretentious and showing off and maybe would make the psychiatrist think I was telling him/her what to do.  But on the other hand they might be helpful and show that I have done some research.  What do you think?

The Language of Music and the Music of Language

I got to depression group this evening.  It was good to speak to people who understand depression, to be heard and to hear others.

I’ve been listening to classical music in the office.  I’ve always felt that classical music is somehow ‘richer’ than the popular music I usually listen to (mostly rock), but I always feel that I don’t have the time or attention to listen to it while walking to the station or doing housework.  I mention this here, because I realised that classical music is a good analogy for me.  I want to describe why I feel classical music has more ‘depth’ and ‘richness’ to it than rock, but I can’t, because I have no musical training and consequently don’t have a vocabulary to describe what I hear and feel.  Even words like ‘depth’ and ‘richness’ do not accurately describe what I feel, they merely evoke it, and that imperfectly.

It is the same for me with emotions.  I don’t understand my emotions, I am not always fully aware of them, and I lack a vocabulary to fully describe them.  People on the autistic spectrum can lack the vocabulary to describe emotions beyond the most basic.    This is why I struggle to express to other people what I feel.  It is particularly bad with my parents, because they have to endure the consequences my bad moods without me being able to explain to them what I am feeling to make them understand why I am not always behaving well.  This is particularly true when speaking; in writing I can take my time and think about the write words and I have the confidence to write at length without being afraid that people will lose interest, whereas when speaking I tend not to speak at length, particularly about mental health.

“I Told You I Was Ill”

Ugh, I don’t know if I can write today.  I feel totally drained.  At work I usually get through about 130 records; on a good day, I think I’ve done up to 150.  Today I managed 89.  I’m not sure how much of that was because I felt terrible (depressed and sensory overload – I really wanted to strangle some noisy people.  I’m not usually an angry person, but I was feeling very angry towards them) and how much was that it was just a difficult batch of data.  Unfortunately, the next few lots look just as bad.  If my boss was here and if my contract didn’t end in less than a month, I would probably be having the “I need to talk about my mental health” talk.  The one I hate having, but keep having to have at different universities and workplaces.  Asking for “reasonable adjustments” (ugh again).  Then my Dad gave me a lift home from the station and I bickered with him.  It’s my fault, but I guess his autism-unfriendly style of talking was not something I could cope with when feeling drained and overwhelmed after a difficult day at work and a difficult journey on the Tube.  Then I argued with my Mum, which was less my fault, but not entirely.

I feel so tense today, like elastic stretched to breaking point.  I worry what will tip me over the edge and what will happen if I go there.  The fear I’ve had for years that if I get stretched too far, I’ll become unpleasant or even violent.  Or that I’ll become psychotic or spiral downwards into worse mental illness.  I feel like I have so many rules.  My rules, family rules, friends’ rules, society’s rules, Jewish rules, playground rules…   Honour your parents.  Love HaShem your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your might.  Love your neighbour (and not his wife).  Stand up straight.  Always be punctual.  Pray and study and do good deeds.  Read improving books and a newspaper you don’t agree with.  Eat your fruit and veg and not processed sugar.  Never be cruel or cowardly, never give up or give in.  Don’t let them see you cry.  Keep silent or make small talk, but don’t talk about what matters.  Don’t lose your temper.  Don’t be stupid, but don’t be too clever.  Don’t show off, but don’t shirk duty.  Don’t conform, but don’t stand out.

Don’t think that, don’t think that.  Don’t even feel it.  Not ever.

I just wish everything wasn’t so difficult for me.  I don’t know how I was so functional at school and am so dysfunctional now.  I guess that’s one reason I would like an autism diagnosis, so I wouldn’t feel completely rude and incompetent the whole time.  To show myself and others that I have a reason to be screwed up.  Hence my fantasies of not just getting an autism diagnosis, but sharing it with people: the first woman I asked out, my first girlfriend, my former boss… everyone who I think saw me at my worst and probably thought badly of me as a result.  I don’t know if that’s an apology on my part (“I’m sorry for being screwed up and for screwing up our interactions”), a desire for understanding or a somewhat defiant explanation.  I don’t think it’s revenge.  But it also makes me question whether I really am autistic.  If I’m this sensitive to things (fluorescent lights, noise, stress, people, multitasking), shouldn’t it have been more obvious when I was growing up?  I was just shy, perhaps socially anxious and almost certainly alexithymic, but I didn’t react the way I do now.  I don’t know the answer (as usual).

Effort : Reward

The news is so depressing today.  Sometimes it’s hard to work out where my life ends and the world begins, they’re so awful.  I’m not sure if that even makes sense.  I mean… actually I don’t know what I mean.  I don’t think that the world is a product of my depressed mind (which would be solipsism and/or psychosis).  But I don’t quite mean that my depression is a product of the world (although on one level it is).  I guess I mean that they complement each other in a disturbing way.  That the world is bad enough to fit my mood, and my mood is bad enough to fit the world.

A few people have said that I should focus not on the religious stuff I don’t achieve, but on how much I’m achieving compared to the effort I put in and my abilities, taking into account depression, social anxiety, possible autism or social communication disorder and so on.  To be honest, this is a Jewish idea.  The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot says that the reward is proportional to the effort and I have heard from a couple of sources that the Chazon Ish (Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz), one of the leading Orthodox rabbis and halakhicists of the twentieth century, would stand for someone with Down Syndrome out of respect because they are serving God on their level better than other people.  However, it’s hard for me to hold on to it, because I have no realistic understanding of what I should be able to achieve and how much effort I put in.  Sometimes I feel like I’m working flat out, putting in all the effort I can, but mostly it doesn’t feel like that.  I have no objective way of knowing, I can only compare myself with other people – my peers – who are doing so much more than me, even though I don’t know how much effort they put or how much effort they can put in.

I still feel very lonely.  It’s hard to work out what that loneliness is.  If I say I want to connect with someone, that feels OK, but if I say I want (to be blunt) to have sex with someone, that feels not OK, even though both Judaism and psychiatry recognise sex as a basic human need, and even though for me the desire for sex is connected to the desire for love and intimacy (I couldn’t be promiscuous, just from my personality).  Mind you, sometimes even saying I want to be loved feels selfish and wrong.  I should just love other people without expectation of return.  I find it hard to love people.  I guess it’s the autism, and the alexithymia.  It’s hard to understand what I feel.  E. said I was an “amazing boyfriend” but that still wasn’t good enough.  I don’t know how I could ever love someone properly, or have someone love me the way I need.

I’m supposed to go to volunteer at the asylum seekers drop-in centre (I can never work out if there should be an apostrophe in that – I would think so, but the organisers don’t seem to put one in) , but I don’t feel up to it.  I just want to go back to bed.  I’m still in my pyjamas at 11am, even though I need to leave in half an hour.

Reflections

I seem to be in the habit of long days (Sunday evening until Thursday afternoon), going to bed at 11pm and getting up at 6.20am and trying to pack my day with work and whatever Torah study and prayer I can manage, and shorter days (extended weekends from Thursday evening until Sunday afternoon), going to bed any time after midnight and sleeping for ten to twelve hours and trying to do more Torah study and prayer, as well as household chores, than I can manage on work days, but generally feeling too burnt out to do very much.  Long work days are filled with intense depression and I think also anxiety (although it can be hard to tell — alexithymia again) at work, but the fear of missing work and getting in trouble keeps me going somehow.  Weekend days have less intense emotions, at least most of the time, but also a general feeling of lassitude and difficulty in getting motivated to do anything, even though I have lots to do, just not as obviously urgent as on work days, or at least things that won’t lead to immediate conflict if I miss it or am late.  Consequently, I don’t have time for hobbies (working much on my Doctor Who book and blog, cooking, jogging, painting miniatures) and I still don’t have much energy for prayer or Torah study.  Often the lack of time on the Tube that I can use to read Mishnayot means I do less on non-work days, while I usually sleep through Shacharit (morning prayers) on these days although I do at least get to a couple of shiurim (classes) which I can’t seem to manage on work nights and I tend to get shul (synagogue) at some point on Shabbat (the Sabbath) which I don’t manage at all on work days.  This routine is not healthy, but I don’t know how else to get through the week right now.

I don’t think it’s particularly feasible for me to be thinking about dating while my mental health is so unbalanced and my income stream (such as it is) is about to be cut off in five weeks when my contract ends, but I’m still quite lonely (although I’ve been worse) and I wish I had a wife and children to love and share my life with.  I suspect I’m a more affectionate person than I’ve ever really had the chance to demonstrate, if I could find the right woman.

Other than general lassitude (and consciousness that it’s getting close to Shabbat, which starts about 5.40pm today), I feel some social anxiety and inadequacy.  I feel that my boss must surely regret hiring me and that the people at my shul (synagogue) community might look down on me; even if they don’t, I look down on myself for not davening (praying) or studying Torah as much or as well as they do.

Further to what I wrote yesterday about finding something I can do well, my Mum is trying to encourage me to consider retraining as a primary school teacher, specifically limudei kodesh (Jewish studies) in a Jewish school.  I’m not convinced that I’m as good with children as she thinks, though, or that I could handle working full-time in a school.  Also, the thought of being in charge of a whole class of children terrifies me; I get nervous enough looking after a handful at the asylum seekers drop-in centre, and their parents are only in the next room.

I tried to phone a local private therapy centre (the ones who were supposed to phone me back last week, but didn’t) about CBT for low self-esteem and social anxiety.  It was a struggle with my social anxiety just to make the call about treating my social anxiety (!), but they were shut anyway (they may shut early on Fridays because I think the practice owner is Jewish and frum (religious) although I don’t think all the staff are).  I shall have to try earlier next week, but I was just too exhausted to phone earlier today.

Mood Rating

(This is really a note to myself, but I thought I would post it publicly in case anyone else is interested or finds it useful.)

Since 2003 I have been rating my moods out of ten every evening (except Shabbat and Yom Tov), where 1 is unbearably awful (I have sometimes reached 0, added when I reached new depths that I had not guessed existed when I rated myself 1/10) and 10 is normal (actually 8 is my de facto normal; even in periods of remission, I’ve rarely felt able to award myself 10/10, but over time 8 became shorthand for “basically OK”).

Between 2003 and 2010 (really more like 2015) for long periods – months and at times years – I was unable to study or work because I was so depressed.  At these times I think I floated consistently around 3/10.  Lately I’ve been feeling that I’m doing better than at times in the past.  I’m going to work every day and staying there, not coming home early with panic attacks and suicidal thoughts as happened a few years ago.  But I think I’m judging myself as much on achievement as mood (I think I used to rate achievement every evening too, but over time I dropped it as unnecessary).  I am achieving things, in terms of working despite my depression.  But my mood is often incredibly low.  I’ve been rating myself 4s, 5s and 6s on work days – bad compared with non-work days, which can be mildly depressed 7s or effectively normal 8s, but better than times when I’ve felt at 1, 2 or 3 for months on end.  But I wonder if I should be rating myself lower than I actually am because my mood at work is so low that it’s almost impossible to work and I just sit at my desk crying.

The other tricky thing is change over the day.  I do feel a lot better when it reaches 5pm and I leave the office for another sixteen hours.  I rate my mood at the end of the day, so there’s an immediacy bias to how I feel after having blogged, had dinner, watched some TV and relaxed a bit rather than how I felt during the day.  Sometimes I put a range of values to reflect this change e.g. 5-7/10, but I wonder if I’m not doing that often enough.

It’s difficult to deal with the subjectivity of emotions, even without alexithymia (difficulty feeling and understanding one’s emotions)…

Messed Up

I have a somewhat strange relationship with anxiety.  On the one hand, I have had a number of psychological assessments over the years and I often surprised the psychologists at how little anxiety I registered on their questionnaires, considering how strongly depression registered (the two usually go hand-in-hand).  On the other hand, I am no stranger to the gnawing feeling of dread about the future.  When I was at school and university, I used to feel particularly nauseous on Sunday evenings, dreading the coming week, and first thing in the mornings.  It was the latter that brought my mental health problems to light for the first time.  I went to the doctor complaining of disrupted sleep and inexplicable nausea during the day, especially on the way to school.  It turned out, after a number of physical tests had drawn a blank, to probably be my first major depressive episode with anxiety explaining the nausea, although this was not diagnosed at the time.

One therapist suggested that the depression was so strong that it ‘drowned out’ the anxiety except at certain points when the anxiety was very strong.  That may be true, although I think it may also be the case that the anxiety had been present for so long that I stopped noticing it, at least the morning/Sunday evening type of anxiety, and/or that as far as possible I dealt with the anxiety by avoidance, particularly in the years 2005-2008 or so, when I simply stopped functioning and spent all my time in my bedroom, reading and blogging online and watching Doctor Who, only going out for meetings with psychiatrists or therapists, being too depressed to work.

Sometimes the anxiety shades into pure O OCD, where I go from worrying that I’ll be fired to obsessing that I’m going to do something that would get me fired even though I know it to be wrong and have no conscious intention of doing it.  OCD is classified as an anxiety disorder (although apparently this has recently changed in DSM-V, but not ICD 10), so I guess that isn’t surprising.  At other times the anxiety would catastrophise into despair, where I would stop worrying that something bad would happen and just assume it would happen and feel depressed as if it already had happened, particularly regarding careers, dating and recovery.

***

I was a drama queen on someone’s blog again yesterday.  I wish I didn’t do this.  It was about the coming Yom Tovim (Jewish festivals) and setting targets for growth over them and in the Jewish new year.  I just feel that I can’t cope with any of that right now, that I’ve got a lot of anger and resentment issues with God and I can’t cope with the idea of making him my King (which is what Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) is all about) or asking for forgiveness (Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement)).  I feel, if anything, that He should be asking me to forgive Him for everything that He’s done to me over the last twenty years, but then I feel bad for feeling that.  I’m hopefully speaking to my rabbi mentor on Sunday, but I’m not sure how much of this I will be able to bring up.

***

I just feel tired a lot of the time.  Physically tired and tired of life.  I’ve felt like this on and off for many years.  I just feel that my life is not good, that I don’t enjoy it or have meaning or purpose, or feel that I’m doing anything useful with it.  I feel I have no reason to want to stay alive.

I feel confused too.  I don’t know where my life is going.  I have ideas for what I could do, but I don’t know how feasible they are or whether I would actually enjoy them.  The world frightens me, both on a personal level and, increasingly, on a social/political level.  This doesn’t feel like my world, but I don’t think it ever was.  I don’t know what’s going to happen with me and E. and I’m not sure I really know what I want to happen or what would be sensible.  To be honest, I don’t know what I feel about HaShem (God) either.  It’s easy to say that I hate Him and am angry with Him, but I’m not sure that that’s an accurate picture of what I feel, at least not all the time.  I don’t know if this is alexithymia (difficulty feeling and understanding emotions) again.  It’s hard to know what I feel about HaShem.  I feel strongly that He exists and is omniscient, omnipotent and benevolent.  I’m not doubting in that sense (and I have had times of doubt in the past, so I know what I’m talking about).  But I find it hard to believe that He cares about me and even think that He hates me, which I guess means that I think that I deserve to be hated.

I just wish I could sort out my life somehow, but I’m not sure what a ‘sorted out’ life would look like.

***

Just further to what I wrote here over the last few days, I did a tiny bit of reading on complex PTSD.  I did seem to have quite a few of the symptoms and certainly there was an ongoing situation in my childhood that seems to my unprofessional mind to be potentially traumatic, but in my mind I would not feel confident at all to say I’m a sufferer.  I suppose I feel that I have so many issues that have not been ‘officially’ diagnosed (autism being the big one, as I have had repeated and conflicting diagnoses, but also I was never officially diagnosed with OCD or social anxiety, even though both seem very likely) that I am wary of adding any others, especially as my therapist feels I have a tendency to want to be The Most Mentally Ill Person in the World.  So, I’ll probably shelve that for now, but it is at the back of my mind.

***

I just got back from shopping.  This led to several bad things: the realisation that even walking briskly for five or ten minutes exhausts me; the discovery that there is a supply problem with my antidepressants again, leading me to suspect that they are no longer being produced; and suicidal thoughts.  In just over a week, Jews all over the world are going to be literally praying for their lives, hoping for a good new year, a year of life, and part of me just wants to die.  I do not want to be here any more.  I feel that I’m a disappointment to everyone and that it would be no different if I was never born.  I’m just holding on because a few people care about me, which I don’t understand, but I don’t want to upset them, and because I’m a coward and scared of making a failed suicide attempt and ending up physically damaged, but still alive and depressed.  I don’t feel I have any real hope for the future.  I’ve been depressed for so long now, it’s impossible to believe things can get better.  In fact, I think things will probably get worse.  I just screw everything up.

People tell me I have to stop comparing myself to other people and to learn self-love, but no one tells me how to achieve these things.  I don’t feel I deserve to love myself, I don’t understand how other people could love me, I don’t believe that HaShem loves me and I don’t know how to love myself without becoming even more wicked than I already am, because I’ll just end up ignoring or justifying all the bad things I do.  I don’t know what the way forward from this is.

(I’m not sure how much of the last two paragraphs is true.  It feels true, but it also feels true that there’s part of me that doesn’t want to die, although it’s pretty confused about why, as it’s not much more hopeful for the future.)

Too Late for the Pebbles to Vote

“The avalanche has already started.  It is too late for the pebbles to vote.” – Babylon 5: Believers by David Gerrold

Today was my last day in my job, although technically I’m still under contract until mid-August and the next few weeks are paid holiday, although I’ll be using a lot of it to start job hunting.  I’ve already started getting in touch with contacts I have in the areas of writing and researching that I might be interested in to get an idea of what would be involved.

Today was a slightly odd day, as I’d done most of my work and there wasn’t much point starting anything new, so I just helped out with the library reorganisation a bit.  About 11.00am all the library suddenly trooped into the office and stood in front of my desk, rather to my surprise, and presented me with a leaving card and present (a mug decorated to look like the scrabble tile of the initial of my first name), which must have been bought quickly, given that I only turned the contract down yesterday.  I had a bit of an autistic/alexithymic moment, being overwhelmed by a rush of different emotions that were hard to identify: pleasure, embarrassment, happiness, regret and probably more.  But I was really glad that I seemed to have made such an impression in a relatively short period of time.  I just hope I communicated that, as the overwhelming emotional rush made it hard for me to know what to say or do.  A little later an ex-colleague, who got transferred to one of the other colleges in the super-college a few months ago, popped in to say goodbye.  She happened to be in the building and heard I was leaving, so she came up, which was really nice, as I was worried I wouldn’t get the chance to say goodbye to her.

There is a bit of regret and maybe even a little self-recrimination that maybe I should have tried out the new contract and seen how it goes and maybe I’m running away from social stuff a bit, but something happened today that I won’t go into here that made me think I was right to leave.  Plus, while I should push myself on the social anxiety front, I also need to play to my strengths and the new job description was just too much too quickly (in terms of required interpersonal interactions).

E. is really supportive of my decision too, which matters a lot to me, as I respect her opinion a lot.  My family, while I think initially leaning towards encouraging me to take the contract, are now more supportive of my decision, even though I’m going to have to move back in with my parents soon for financial reasons.  And my non-biological sisters have been really supportive while I’ve been trying to make up my mind too and they think I’m doing the right thing.

At shiur tonight someone asked how I am and I mentioned about my job, even though my instinct was to hide it.  Afterwards, while I was walking back, I stopped to respond to a text and someone from shiur and caught up with me and spoke to me.  After I got panicked enough about talking to him that I got my address wrong (!) he asked the question I dread most i.e. where do daven (pray) on Shabbat (Sabbath) mornings?  I am usually asleep, a combination of depressive exhaustion after the work week with a bit of socially anxious avoidance of crowds.  I mentioned that I have some health issues and don’t always make it to shul (synagogue) without going into details.  I always feel really awkward saying that, but I don’t know what else to say.  It’s better than lying and pretending I daven elsewhere, I guess.

On a somewhat related note, I wanted to respond to this post (about a podcast for frum (religious) women who struggle with balancing careers, family and religious lives) by saying that I feel the need for one for men too, but I was worried I might be deemed sexist (to be honest, I’m so scared of identity politics calling out that I’m scared to express an opinion on a lot of things).  But I would like someone to tell me what is normal and what is halakhically acceptable (acceptable according to Jewish law) for frum men (and if ‘normal’ is the same as ‘halakhically acceptable’ here).  I know that women have their own challenges which in many ways are harder, but as a frum guy I feel a pressure to: 1) earn money to support a family (a particularly sticky point for me at the moment, given that this was why E. and I broke up); 2) do my share of the chores to support said family as well as 3) spend quality time with said family, especially encouraging my children’s religious education and growth.  Furthermore I have to 4) daven three times a day 5) with kavannah (mindfulness) and 6) a minyan (prayer quorum) as well as 7) study Torah for a couple of hours daily 8) ideally at least some of the time with a chevruta (study partner) (not my preferred mode of study) and 9) ideally Talmud and halakhah (Jewish law) (which are not my favourite areas of study, either for interest or ability – this post just made me feel totally inadequate, as the author is so far ahead of my ability) and 10) working on developing my character attributes in line with Jewish teachings while still 11) staying sociable at shul social events like kiddush (refreshments after Shabbat morning services) and seudah shlishit (the third Shabbat meal) and discussing work, politics and sport (boring!).  Most of these things I find hard because of my mental health and probable neurodivergence.  I guess I would like to know what is ‘normal’ here and what the basic level of ‘acceptable’ is.  I feel everyone from my shul does all of the above, at least to some extent (OK, they don’t all study Talmud, but they do all seem to study Jewish stuff) and I’d like to know how much (and how they fit it in), but it’s not really the done thing to ask, and asking would entail speaking about the way depression, social anxiety and probable autism hold me back.

Pressure

I’m struggling at the moment, not so much with my breakup as with the emotions it has released.  The feeling that I will never find someone who can see past my considerable baggage and drawbacks (the religious inadequacies, but also my low income and professional status, lack of a full-time job, still being quite dependent on parents etc.).  I had real stabs of envy recently.  I won’t go into details, but I got hit with strong feelings of envy and even anger about other people’s success and settled family life.  This is completely incongruous, absurd even, as other people’s happiness is not taking away from mine.  I find it hard to deal with powerful destructive emotions like this.  It’s probably taken me years to really admit that I have them.

The good that came out of this is that I was discussing things in the comment section of a blog I read (I’m not going to link, as I didn’t comment anonymously there – I still have some non-anonymous (nonymous?) accounts out there), but I was discussing my religious inadequacies with someone frum (religious) and, in the course of the discussion, I came to realise that a lot of my feelings of envy and anger at frum people and, even more so, my feelings that they will reject and hate me are reflections of my own fears and perceptions of my own religious inadequacies.  I hate myself and I think I’m not meeting my religious obligations, so I think no one in my community could like me and certainly no woman from my community would want to marry me.  It’s hard to know what to do with those feelings, though.

There’s a lot of pent-up emotion inside me at the moment.  This post has only scratched the surface, partly from lack of time and partly because I don’t want to share all my dark thoughts, but also because I don’t really understand everything I feel, which makes me worry that I’m just going to explode dangerously one day, in some way that I can’t predict.

Half-Term Halfway

Hi!  I’m still here!  I haven’t written much lately because my relationship with E. continues to be great and I’m scared of tempting fate by writing about it (not that I believe in fate, but you know what I mean), but the rest of life is a struggle at times.  I’m on half-term this week.  It had been going OK, but not great, catching up on chores I don’t have time to do in term time and wishing I could have a proper break, but today has been difficult.  I’ve been slipping further behind with my chores (I wanted to work on a short story I started writing months ago and haven’t even been able to sit down to it; likewise I haven’t done much of the Torah study I had planned), but today I found I couldn’t find one of the ingredients for a recipe E. recommended, so I can’t make it and now I have the other ingredients sitting in my fridge with me not sure what I can do with them.  (If anyone knows of uses for corn flour, spring onions, feta cheese and yoghurt, I would like to hear from them.  The spring onions and maybe the yoghurt are the only ones I think I could eat by themselves, although maybe I should summon up the courage to try the feta by itself.)

The rest of my shopping trip today was more successful, resulting in a new tie (a very belated Chanukah present from my parents), two new pairs of work trousers (sadly a larger size than in the past with the weight I’ve put on since being put on clomipramine), a new drainer for the kitchen and a picture frame to replace one I broke nearly three years ago and had been unable to replace (it’s an unusual shape, being nearly square).  And my Mum said she really enjoyed going shopping with me as a mother-son bonding thing.   So that was all positive.

What was less positive was the drive home, which took about fifty minutes, two or three times longer than it should have done.  By the time I got home, I was feeling incredibly depleted from the drive home and from the shopping itself.  I don’t find shopping centres as difficult as some autistic people do, but the noise, the people and perhaps also the lighting do seem to be tiring for me after a while and I spent about three hours shopping today.  So it probably isn’t a surprise that I feel depleted, doubly so as I feel vaguely as if I’m coming down with a cold.

I also felt bad that E. is having a bad day, and I felt powerless to do anything practical to help her, stuck on the other side of the Atlantic.  She was very good natured about it (because she’s awesome), but I felt a bit like a bad boyfriend, even though I know it’s not really my fault.  It’s at times like this that I wish I could find better words, though.  I know I can write about depression and Judaism and Doctor Who, but it’s hard sometimes to express how I feel, even to myself, let alone to anyone else.

I’m going to have dinner in a minute, watch some Doctor Who and write off the rest of the day.  Things seem a bit better just for writing this down and putting it in perspective: I can see that the day wasn’t so bad.  And whatsapping E. has cheered both of us up, I think.  I just wish that I didn’t spiral so easily down into the black hole of depression, anxiety and autistic traits.

Anxious Child Mode

I guess I’m in my anxious child mode again.  Shavuot  was quite good, but one day later it feels like ancient history besides work.  Work at the moment is dull.  I haven’t been blogging about it much because it’s persistently dull.  There’s stuff that needs doing and I’m doing it, but it’s dull and no one could possibly enjoy doing it, at least, not to the extent that I’m required to do it.  I tell myself that if it was fun, they wouldn’t pay me to do it.  I also have to do my first exam invigilation this week, which I’m dreading, partly because I’m worried I’ll do something so disastrously wrong that the exam will be voided, all the students will be failed and the college will lose the right to hold any exams in the future, but mostly because I have to get up half an hour earlier, when I’m persistently unable to get up any earlier than I usually do.  I also come home from work exhausted and depleted, which just triggers depression and anxiety.

The other reason I’m in anxious child mode is the Big Secret I’ve been alluding to in recent weeks.  The secret, in case anyone didn’t guess, is that I’m in a relationship for only the second time in my life.  This is very good and happiness-inducing, but also anxiety-provoking because (a) relationships are scary, (b) this is a long-distance relationship, which I’ve never had before and (c) because there’s a big difference in our respective religious levels (my girlfriend has a strong Jewish identity, she just doesn’t express it so much religiously).  We set out our red lines regarding points (b) and (c) before starting the relationship and we seemed to have a basic level of compatibility, but it’s still a scary thing to go into a relationship with, particularly for someone with minimal relationship experience like me.   Everything else is amazing; my girlfriend (I’ll call her E.) is everything I could have wanted: gentle, caring, intelligent, interesting and fun to talk to, understanding of my mental health and borderline Asperger’s, encouraging of my writing ambitions and, weirdly, really into me.   But I still worry that nothing really good ever happens to me, that something will go wrong sooner or later.

The journey home from work turns out to be the real killer, when I’m exhausted and hungry and stressed and probably a bit dehydrated and packed into a tiny Tube train with a thousand other exhausted, hungry, stressed people, fighting for space, not to mention air… it’s easy to give in to catastrophising in such a situation.  I have sufficiently little successful dating experience, or any dating experience, really, that it’s easy to convince myself that I’m feeling the ‘wrong’ thing or the ‘wrong’ amount of the ‘right’ thing.  It’s a lot harder to just relax and enjoy the ride, which is what my parents and my rabbi mentor said to do (yes, my rabbi mentor has been actively encouraging me to date E., religious differences notwithstanding!).

This whole situation made me aware of an aspect of my personality that I hadn’t really noticed before.  Some people are rational and some people are emotional, and in and of themselves, both modes of thought have their advantages and disadvantages.  However, I’m emotional, but I’m convinced that I’m rational (or have been until the last week or so), which means that I get overwhelmed by emotional inputs (particularly due to depression, anxiety, alexithymia etc.), but I treat them as if they are rational data points.  This has a particular tendency to happen on that journey home, when I start thinking, “I’m really anxious that this won’t work, therefore there must be strong logical reasons that this won’t work” or “I don’t feel as overwhelmingly ‘in love’ as I did this morning, therefore I’m not feeling anything romantic any more.”  It’s rather crazy as it’s clearly being driven by my anxiety and by other factors affecting my mood (tiredness, hunger, etc.), but I’m treating it as if it’s an objective fact.  I’m trying not to pay too much attention to these thoughts, but as someone who overanalyses himself, it’s hard.

If I can get through this work week, next week is half-term.  I don’t have anything particularly exciting planned, aside from my Mum’s birthday dinner, but it will be good to have more time to Skype E. and to plan a trans-Atlantic trip for later in the year to meet her in person.  Naturally, I’m catastrophising on that already, from “What if I get lost?” to “What if I get mugged?” to “What if E. breaks up with me and I’m left on a romantic holiday by myself?”  However, trans-Atlantic trips can’t be planned at the last minute, so eventually one has to hope and pray that the relationship will last the next two and a bit months (at least).

Weekend Post

I haven’t written for a couple of days because I’ve been busy.  On Friday I went for a run without a cap because why would you need a hat in London in April?  I got sunstroke.  Ouch.  Climate change!  It left me feeling so ill that I missed shul (synagogue) in the evening, which I felt bad about.

Yesterday I overslept and missed morning shul again, but I did at least stay awake in the afternoon instead of napping, which gave me time for extra Torah study and a stroll outdoors.  I went to a sheva brachos (marriage celebration) in shul between Mincha and Ma’ariv (the afternoon and evening services) for a couple I didn’t know, but I wanted to be part of the community, who were all invited.  This is a normal type of thing to do in frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) circles.  It was difficult, as I didn’t get to sit with the people I knew best and made awkward small talk with some people I didn’t know so well.  The father of the bride used so much Yiddish in his speech that I couldn’t really understand all he said, which made me feel a bit of a misfit, then the groom’s best friend made a speech that made me feel even more of a misfit, because it was basically about how we should only learn Torah and not have outside interests. This tied in with what one of the people next to me had said, that he used to be a bookworm before he was frum, but now he only reads Torah and Talmud.  It made me wonder if I am in the right community, although I don’t know of another that fits me better, and at least I share some values even if I can’t always live up to them with my mental health issues.  Then I spent the evening writing an email and having serious conversations with my parents and then eating lots when I suddenly got really hungry late at night, so I didn’t get to bed until nearly 3.30am.  Admittedly watching Doctor Who late at night didn’t help (I’ve finished the ninth Doctor’s run now, but have several pages of notes to write up for my book because I haven’t had long enough lunch breaks at work to work on it), but I needed to unwind after the sheva brachos and serious conversations.

I went jogging again today and still did poorly.  I’ve been jogging for about three years now, maybe four (admittedly I barely went out for the last eight or nine months), but I still can’t go more than a couple of minutes without slowing to a walk because of pain and exhaustion.  I can’t work out how other people can push through this.  Am I a wimp?  Do I have a low pain threshold (possible, as I think there is some evidence that depressed people are more sensitive to pain)?  Or do I have some undiagnosed physical health condition (that’s probably hypochondria)?  Certainly at school we had to do a fitness test every term.  I was never amazingly fit, but when I was about thirteen, my fitness suddenly dropped dramatically and never recovered.  No one ever followed it up; the PE teachers were not the best and they ignored me because I was bad at PE; probably there was a government regulation that a fitness test must be given each term, but no regulation that the results should be analysed and followed through, so no one did.  Still, in retrospect, I wonder if that marked the start of my depression.

I found out today that the son of the rabbi of my parents’ shul got engaged.  He must be only a little more than half my age.  I’m trying hard to feel happy for him, and for the couple yesterday (who I’m guessing were also young, although probably not quite so young), but it’s hard.  I don’t want to take away anyone’s happiness, and I tell myself that the world is so painful and upsetting for so many people that more bracha and simcha (blessing and happiness) in it can only be a good thing for everyone, but I feel left out and wonder if I will ever experience real joy or romantic love.

It’s funny, I tell myself that the Orthodox world contains many diverse and varied types of people, with different opinions and interests and if I took my time to get to know more of them better, I would find many interesting and unusual people… yet the ease with which so many frum people manage to pair off and marry at such a young age makes me wonder if 80% of them are basically interchangeable in terms of personality, values and interests (if they have any interests outside of Torah and chesed (acts of kindness) as per that speech yesterday) and can basically marry almost anyone else in the community.  It’s only the 20% of us who are quirky and eccentric (or freakish and weird, if you want to be less charitable) who end up alone.

I’ve mentioned a couple of times that over the last few weeks, I’ve been describing my emotions to myself and trying to accept them for what they are, which seems to help a little with the depression and alexithymia (difficulty feeling and understanding emotions).  I guess it’s a kind of mindfulness technique although, while I’ve tried mindfulness before, I don’t think I saw this technique anywhere in exactly this way.  One thing I’ve noticed since I’ve been doing it is that I have a lot more emotions than I thought I did.  I thought I was mostly feeling depression, loneliness and despair, with a bit of anxiety at times, but actually there are a lot more emotions in there.  Many of them are very difficult to deal with, like loneliness and lust (because I don’t really have an outlet for them) or depression and anxiety (because I don’t really have any practical way of coping with them), but just narrating them to myself does help a bit.  I’m also trying to learn how not to judge myself for feeling things, because emotions are just emotions, although it’s hard when they lead on to actions that are not ideal e.g. when I get depressed and irritable and am sarcastic and short with my parents.

I feel depressed again now, which I hadn’t felt for most of the weekend.  I don’t know if getting tired jogging triggered me or something else.  I could just be hungry.  I know I seem very open about my issues here, but there’s a lot that I don’t share, because it’s too personal, or because it involves other people, or because I don’t understand it well enough to articulate it, or because it’s too shameful.  Quite a few of those lights are flashing now and it’s always frustrating when that happens, as blogging is one of my few ways of at least trying to deal with my feelings.  A lot of it boils down to feeling that I will be alone and unloved forever, and not knowing how I will live with that, and how I can live with my human desire to give and accept love (physically and emotionally) when no one is willing to receive or give to me.  There’s also a fear that just maybe there is someone out there for me,  but because of my social ineptitude or procrastination I will somehow miss her and we will both be alone forever, which somehow seems even worse than there simply not being anyone weird enough to take me.

I started this post saying that I had been busy, but now I feel depressed, I feel I haven’t done much this weekend, between losing a chunk of Friday to sunstroke, oversleeping on Saturday morning (yet again) and oversleeping this morning (yet again).  I went to the sheva brachos yesterday and did some Torah study (at home and in the new Talmud shiur at shul, where I actually understood the topic for a few minutes), wrote an email, went for a not terribly successful run today and cooked dinner.  I guess that’s not nothing, but it’s not everything I wanted to do either: I didn’t book the holiday I want to go on or do any Torah study so far today (I wanted to get a proper look at this week’s page of Talmud in advance of next Shabbat’s shiur).  I guess I should be thankful for small victories, and I try to be, but it’s hard and I never seem to get any credit for trying.  Actually that’s not quite true as my Mum praised me for going to the sheva brachos and trying to talk to people yesterday.  It is hard to be happy with who I am, though.

Understanding and Accepting My Emotions

I went to bed just after 1.00am, but I woke up before 7.00am.  I’m not sure why.  It was possibly related to a strange dream I had that mixed my previous job with the shul (synagogue) where I used to volunteer and a bit of my current job.  I felt tired, but I knew I wouldn’t go back to sleep.  I lay in bed for a while, thinking and trying to understand my emotions.

This seems like a good time to talk about the way I have been trying to cope with my alexithymia (inability to feel and understand emotions), as I know there is at least one person reading who also suffers from it.  (I should say that I’m somewhat self-diagnosed.  At least, my therapist noted that I have difficulty understanding my emotions, but she didn’t know there was a technical term for it.)  I have only been trying this method for a week or so, and it is something I improvised for myself rather than having learnt it from someone else, but it seems to be helping, so here goes.

When I have a strong emotion, rather than be scared of it or try to repress it or even to wallow it, I simply try to describe to myself what I am feeling and accept the feeling as a feeling, nothing more or less.  So, this morning I was lying in bed, wishing I had a wife to snuggle up to.  In the past, I would have felt guilty for this and tried to repress it or else wallowed in it and made myself feel lonely and frustrated at my apparently permanently single state.  But today I simply told myself, “I wish I was snuggled up with my wife.”  I think I may have described a bit the warm feeling I thought this would give me.  Then I just accepted the feeling and sat with it, neither feeling guilty nor wallowing in loneliness.

So far I have mostly been using this method to deal with the feelings of loneliness and sexual frustration that overwhelm me so much of the time.  I haven’t tried it so much with the depression because it is hard to remember that I can do this when I feel very depressed.  Nor have I tried it with the violent ‘pure O’ OCD thoughts because I haven’t had many of those this week.  An example of these thoughts would be when I am waiting at the train station and imagine jumping in front of the train as it comes in.  This is a common thought for me and I think it is an OCD fear rather than a suicidal/depressive fantasy.  I don’t really want to jump in front of the train, I just worry that I will do so.  What I hope to think when I have these kinds of thoughts in the future is, “I am afraid that I will jump in front of the train” and sit with the fear, rather than panic that I am actually going to jump in front of a train one day or wallow in suicidal fantasies.

It is useful to me just to put a label on my thoughts and feelings.  For so much of my life, I have not really understood what I have been feeling or why.  I have usually been scared of my feelings, particularly strong sexual or angry feelings, which I feel I should repress for religious reasons.  In fact, Judaism generally teaches that our inner drives and emotions are neither good nor evil.  Good and evil applies to our actions rather than our emotions.  Although there are different ideas about dealing with emotions, Judaism generally teaches that all our emotions have at least the potential for goodness, otherwise God would not have created them.  It is up to us to decide to use them in a responsible and ethical way.  With some exceptions, the rabbis did not generally feel that negative-seeming emotions can actually be repressed indefinitely.  One Hasidic rabbi was asked by his student how to “break” his desire for a particular sin.  He responded “you can break your back, but you won’t break a desire.”  Instead, he counselled sublimating the feelings in more positive activity.  For instance, lust can be used to build a loving and nurturing relationship with a spouse, while envy and greed can be used to spur us to greater meaningful achievements.  Even hatred, the most negative emotion, can be used to hate injustice and suffering and work to end it.

I don’t know why I have suddenly started being able to do this.  Some of it probably comes from years of my therapist asking what I am feeling and trying to get me to label my emotions in therapy.  I suppose that this is a good time of year to be doing this, inasmuch as the period between Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot (Pentecost) is a time favoured for personal growth in Judaism, being the period between the exodus from Egypt and the revelation at Mount Sinai when the Israelites worked on their character traits to be ready for the giving of the Torah.

“These fragments I have shored against my ruins”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s a pity/That I’m like me”

(Another one of my written-piecemeal-during-the-day update posts.  And a super-mammoth one at that.  Possibly I should just go on Twitter or Facebook, except that neither is good for my mental health.)

12.10pm  I don’t know what time I went to bed last night.  I know it was very late, probably around 3.00am, but earlier than two nights ago (about 4.30am).  I got really hungry late at night and stayed up late eating matzah and jam and junk food.  Not good on any level, really.  I have been eating more junk food over the last few days, which I tell myself is OK because of being happy on Yom Tov (Jewish festival), but is more comfort eating than anything else, and the cravings I’ve had since I was put on clomipramine.  Anyway, I woke up today about 11.30am after a strange Doctor Who dream.  I feel completely drained.  My Dad just asked if I was OK because I was huffing and puffing as I went up the stairs.  I just want to go back to bed.

1.50pm  Still in pyjamas, having got no further towards getting dressed than putting on socks.  Idly browsing the web was a mistake, because it led to politics which led to antisemitism.  Depressing.  I should avoid this stuff, but I care too much.  I wrote a long paragraph about antisemitism here, but cut it because this is a mental health blog, not a political one and I don’t have the stamina to get arguments.  I will say that I believe the way forward is empathy and dialogue, but I don’t know how you enter into dialogue with people who have already judged that you have nothing to say to them.

2.40pm  Dressed.  Davened Musaf and Hallel (said the additional Pesach prayers and Psalms), but left Minchah (the afternoon service) and tefillin (my custom is to wear them on Chol HaMoed with a silent bracha) until after lunch because I’m still too exhausted.  I suddenly had intense religious OCD while davening.  I asked my rabbi mentor something about Pesach two years ago that he said was fine, but I’m worried (this is where the OCD comes in) that I didn’t explain it well enough, so I asked him again the other day, but he hasn’t got back to me.  (I’m guessing that he’s not checking email over Chol HaMoed (the intermediate days of the festival, where some work is allowed) or is busy with his children off school.)  Deep down I know that if there is an issue, it’s not my fault, as he said it was OK, but I worry that I didn’t ask the question properly and that it is my fault.

3.30pm  I watched Are You Autistic? (recorded last week) over lunch.  It just confused me.  It made me wonder if I’m not autistic after all, which, of course, was what I was told when I was assessed.  It’s hard to process the fact that I have lots of autistic traits, but am also missing lots of traits that should be present for diagnosis.  Perhaps my difficulties really do stem from strong introversion and social anxiety (which I was also told I don’t technically have); reduced concentration from depression could account for the poor executive function.  I don’t know how many of my non-autistic traits can be attributed to social masking and other coping mechanisms (see this post I wrote recently).  I feel that if I was diagnosed with autism, I would be able to understand myself and seek support, not least at work, but just being a bit weird leaves me confused and unable to ask for help.

I had more OCD over lunch too.  I sort of kept it under control, but I have a nagging feeling of having done something wrong (religiously) and that I should ask a rabbi about what happened, even though I know that would also be wrong (psychotherapeutically).

4.00pm  There’s more feelings of inadequacy around my writing.  The feeling that I should have been a regular writer for Hevria, but I got turned down for reasons I never really understood and feel guilty about mentioning so often.  What should have been a boost to my confidence (that they’ve published me several times) turns into another reason to beat myself up (that they didn’t want me to write regularly and pay me.  The payment is more symbolic than mercenary – it would show that someone values my writing.  I’ve only been paid once for a piece of writing, two if you count the professionally-published piece where the writers’ fees were donated to charity).  I wouldn’t have been able to cope with writing regularly anyway.  I have several pieces for Hevria on my computer that I’ve never submitted, I’m not sure why.  I don’t know if it’s fear of rejection or, worse, fear of acceptance.  There’s the worry that I’ll never sell my Doctor Who book(s),  that I don’t write well enough, that I don’t write originally enough, that I’m too out of sync with standard fan criticism (which these days is just identity politics and sarcasm)…

I feel too exhausted to do any creative writing today.  It would just be painful.

Edited 10.30pm  I think when I wrote this, the previous two paragraphs were not connected in my mind.  Reading them back, they clearly are connected.  It’s easier not to even try to do something than to try and fail, or be rejected.  I guess I will have to try harder to write tomorrow.  This is why I’m not cutting the previous paragraphs, even though I do not come out well from them; in fact, I come across as petty and bitter.  I hope that’s the depression talking.

5.00pm  I finally managed to daven Mincha.  It felt like an endurance test with depression and exhaustion, with OCD thoughts in the background.

5.35pm  Fighting the urge to go back to bed and start the day over again.  Or just to go back to bed.

6.10pm  Back from a twenty minute walk.  I didn’t realise how cold it was and went out without a coat.  Thoughts about antisemitism mutated into general despair about politics and the Western world.  I could hardly hear the music I was listening to, my thoughts were so loud.  (Does that even make sense?  It happens to me a lot.  I get sucked into a maelstrom of thought and lose contact with everything around me.  Sometimes at work I’m trying to work, but my depressive thoughts start and become so vivid that I don’t even notice my physical surroundings any more.  When I’m with my parents, they see me staring into space sometimes and ask if I’m OK when I’m just thinking, which of course breaks the concentration, for good or for ill.)

6.50pm   Feeling lonely and unlovable.  I don’t have the energy/motivation to actually talk to anyone, but I wish there was someone to (literally and metaphorically) hold my hand and watch TV with me.  I feel more unmarriable than ever, particularly as I’ve more or less decided that I shouldn’t date until I’ve made progress with my social anxiety, which seems unlikely to happen any time soon, and that the depression is constantly going to hold me back from forming a serious relationship, which also doesn’t seem like changing any time soon.  I found myself thinking that maybe I shouldn’t have broken up with my ex (five years ago this month!), which is a scary thing to think when she herself admitted that she wasn’t really there for me and our religious paths had diverged.

It seems unfair that other people get to have fun and I don’t (not that marriage is just for fun by any means, but I’m talking generally).  I tell myself that this life is for growth, not for pleasure, but that just seems like “the opiate of the masses.”  Anyway, Judaism is not opposed to the sensual pleasures of this world, it merely seeks to harness them for a holy purpose.  Which reminds me that my shul (synagogue) rabbi said I won’t feel simcha shel mitzvah (the joy of performing the commandments) until I’m over the depression (which makes me despair) and that my rabbi mentor disagreed and said I should feel a bit (which just makes me feel guilty for not feeling it at all).  I am nearly halfway through Pesach and while I am not as OCD anxious as I feared I would be, I have not really had any simcha shel mitzvah (unless you count playing with my friends’ children) and am not sure how to get it in the next four days.

8.00pm  Just watched the first two episodes of the DVD of 1960s science fiction thriller A for Andromeda.  I knew that all bar one of the episodes were missing and reconstructed from photos, surviving clips and captions, but for some reason I thought there was audio too (as per missing Doctor Who episodes), but in fact this is not the case and watching the episodes was harder work than I expected, probably harder than I really needed.  I do feel calmer for having watched it, although this partly because OCD anxiety and depression have been replaced by feeling too exhausted to care about anything.  Still, it was involving enough, if showing its age in places.  I really like old British TV science fiction and feel they don’t really make anything like it any more.  I look forward to reaching the surviving sixth episode and then the sequel, The Andromeda Breakthrough, which survives in its entirety.  Apparently there was a remake of A for Andromeda a while back which I will probably check out at some point.  Another book I could write at some point: something about the Quatermass and Andromeda serials and their various spin-offs and remakes.  Although I don’t know who would buy it…

9.00pm  Over dinner I thought that I want to feel reciprocated love, even (I’ll say it) to feel lust that is reciprocated for once.  I’m fed up of having my most powerful emotions being invalidated by others by their one-sided nature.  I suppose no one can actually invalidate my emotions, but I’ve been told a couple of times over the years by women I’ve liked, “You don’t love me,” which was probably true, I probably didn’t literally love them, but in my naivety I thought I did love them and being told that I didn’t hurt.  It’s hard to have a good understanding of love and related emotions when (a) you have an alexithymic incomprehension of all your emotions and (b) every time you feel something romantic or sexual you end up rejected and burdened with guilt.

10.40pm  Another day over with very little done.  I did manage fifteen minutes of Torah study, which was fifteen minutes more than I thought I would manage, but other than a short walk and this post I haven’t achieved much.  I haven’t even hoovered the bedroom carpet, which is filthy and which I haven’t got around to doing since last week.  Tomorrow, I suppose, is another day, one on which I have a routine blood test, so I will at least have to be up earlyish.

“It goes ding when there’s stuff”

I wasn’t intending to write today, but I have a few minutes to offload.  Unfortunately, most of the things that I want to write about are not a good idea to share publicly, if at all, but there’s something that’s worrying me (aside from Pesach (Passover) which is still worrying me a lot), but also slightly exciting me (exciting me too much), something that’s angering me (that’s partly my fault, but only partly), and something else that’s vaguely amusing and also bewildering me and slightly worrying me.  I guess alexithymia (difficulty understanding and distinguishing emotions) is scoring highly today too.

Pesach preparations are so far mostly going according to schedule, except that I allowed myself to be talked out of cleaning my mother’s hob, which means I have to trust her to do it properly, which is troubling my OCD.  I could be in a much worse state this time tomorrow, especially as she doesn’t like me questioning everything, which is understandable, but makes it hard for me to be clear on what’s happened, which my OCD demands.  Please, HaShem (God), help me to get through the next three/five/eleven days without any major depression, OCD anxiety or arguments with my family!

Tomorrow and Thursday I have to do a big detour on my journeys to and from work because of a strike on the Docklands Light Railway.  I am annoyed about this, as I didn’t need it this week, with so much to do for Pesach.

I finished watching the original 1963-1989 run of Doctor Who the other day and have nearly finished second drafts of all those chapters for my book, although finishing the chapter I’m working on will probably have to wait until after Pesach and at least one chapter (on Patrick Troughton’s Doctorate, plus a bit more) is probably going to require extensive research before the third draft.  The new series awaits!  After the interruption of the 1996 TV Movie.  I’m thinking of halting for a bit, though, and watching some films and/or the 1960s science fiction serials A for Andromeda and The Andromeda Breakthrough which I bought a while back on DVD and haven’t seen yet.

And, lo!  In two more days I will have done a whole year at my ‘new’ job.  That’s something that I should write about, although Pesach is likely to get in the way and I don’t have time to write now (and I wouldn’t risk tempting fate, not that I believe in fate, by doing it in advance).

So Lonely

“Such a lonely little boy. Lonely then and lonelier now. How can you bear it?” Doctor Who: The Girl in the Fireplace by Steven Moffat

My therapist thinks I don’t know the difference between excited, stressed and scared.  This is probably true (alexithymia, Asperger’s).

My therapist also thinks that it’s a bad idea to date purely because I feel lonely and that I just want someone to fix me.  This is what I have suspected for a while, but I don’t know what to do, particularly as my parents have been encouraging me to date.  Part of the problem is that (as my therapist also said), I feel a lot safer with women than with men (just don’t ask me why, as women on the whole have hurt me a lot more than men in the past; maybe that’s it, maybe I want to retroactively vindicate past relationships, although it’s probably more that I have some stereotypically ‘female’ character traits, doubly so now there are a lot more women (or a lot more visible women) in Doctor Who fandom).  This means that I form friendships with women more easily than with men.  This is problematic as (a) sex/love does get in the way sometimes, at least unconsciously, even if I say it shouldn’t and (b) in the Orthodox Jewish community male-female platonic friendships are more or less prohibited.  So the only way I’m allowed to talk to like-minded women in my community is to ask them to date me.

I do also wonder how I’m supposed to cope with my feelings of loneliness and my sexual desires without even the hope of dating.  I don’t know how to make new friends, or to turn my existing friendships (most of which are fairly formal and distant (emotionally and often geographically too) into closer friendships.  And I don’t know how to cope with my sexual desires, which both my religious beliefs and my personal character restrict to marriage (I know I couldn’t cope emotionally with being promiscuous).  I don’t even feel comfortable having crushes on people.  I wanted to write a jokey thing on my Doctor Who blog about having a crush on a character in Remembrance of the Daleks (a crush on the actual fictional character, not (just) the actress who plays her), but I was scared to, ostensibly because I felt a frum (religious) guy shouldn’t write about having a crush even (or especially) jokingly, but also because I was scared to open up about my feelings like that.  To be honest, if I feel desire for a woman (and I do, a lot, I have strong emotions and sex, love, loneliness, despair and self-loathing are all mixed up in me (alexithymia again)), I feel guilty, partly from religious reasons, partly from feminist reasons, both of which in different ways tell me that male sexuality is dangerous.  I feel it to be dangerous.  My worst mistakes come from loneliness and social anxiety rather than from sex per se, but sex is obviously part of the loneliness and my biggest sins (from both a Jewish and feminist viewpoint) have all been sex-related, even though, rather pathetically, despite all this I’m still a virgin (despite being headed towards thirty-five!).

The worrying thing is that if my therapist is right, and I think she is (and my rabbi mentor was saying something not entirely dissimilar), I have to deal with my loneliness and social anxiety before I can date.  This might mean I will never be able to date, as my loneliness and social anxiety have been intractable for even longer than the depression (the depression has lasted eighteen or twenty years, maybe more, but the social anxiety at least goes back ten years further; the loneliness is harder to judge, but at least twenty years like the depression).  Which means I might never know romantic love, and sex, and – even if I assume some middle aged romance – I will probably never have children.  And I really want to have children.  I see it as one of  my main missions in life.  I ended two promising relationships at least in part because of wanting to have children.

I feel pretty awful.  I know I’ve said too much here and it will probably come back to haunt me, but I don’t care right now.  Maybe I’ll edit later.

Quod Erat Demonstrandum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hated By God

Today was pretty awful.  It started OK, but things went wrong across the morning, until by the afternoon I just wanted to go home.  I didn’t, but I fear that I was neither productive nor careful enough in my work.  I just tried to do the best I could, given the circumstances, but I’m not sure that that was good enough.

In a way that fits with this post, which I actually wrote last week (bar a few edits), but sat on for a few days while I checked with my rabbi mentor that I hadn’t breached the rules of lashon hara (forbidden malicious speech).

I had a moment of insight the other week doing my hitbodedut spontaneous prayer/meditation.  I was actually feeling very depressed, despite being rather better during the day.  The feeling of being alone with God is very over-powering and triggers a lot of self-hating thoughts and despair, to the extent that I recently stopped doing hitbodedut for a couple of days or cut it short.  (I usually only do ten minutes, but even that is hard; on Shabbat it tends to become more intense for some reason and I let it run on for half an hour or even an hour, mostly just sobbing, which I shouldn’t really do on Shabbat, but it feels like the only really authentic religious experience I have all week, so I am loath to stop it.)  It wasn’t a new insight.  Rather, something that I have known cognitively for a long time hit me with added emotional force.

I had a difficult childhood in some ways, although I feel guilty for saying that, as nothing serious, nothing illegal happened to me.  There was the bullying at school, which I’ve mentioned before.  But not all bullied children have mental health issues in adulthood and in any case, bullies pick targets who are likely to react as victims.  There were some issues when I was primary school aged, maybe also a bit older.  I don’t want to go into details.  It was, as I said, nothing illegal or immoral.  My parents were not aware of the effects that events were having on me, I’m sure, or they would have done things differently.  But for a long time, several years, when I was impressionable I was in a situation where I was being sent signals that I was not valued and no one really noticed, because I was not the epicentre of the difficulties, just a bystander.  No one was aware of it at the time, but my self-esteem was being eroded.  The lesson I was learning was that even though I was well-behaved and hard working, things could go disastrously wrong and I could be left alone in the world to fend for myself and that no one really cared what I thought or wanted.  That I was not lovable or worthwhile or valued.

Adults can cope with cognitive dissonance, but children can not.  A child can not think, “Bad things are happening to me, but that doesn’t make me a bad person” and certainly can not think, “I am being treated unfairly, but it isn’t anyone else’s fault, it’s just life.”  A child feels, “I am being treated like I am worthless, therefore I am worthless.”  I didn’t consciously think that I was worthless.  I can’t remember much of what I consciously thought and felt at that time, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t anything like what I feel about myself now.  But I internalised the messages that I was worthless and unlovable and that whatever I did, however good I was, it would never be good enough, I would always be rejected, I would always meet with disaster and isolation.  I could never express these feelings, perhaps because I didn’t understand them (I’m not sure if the alexithymia (inability to feel or distinguish emotions) is a cause or an effect of this) and partly because I thought I couldn’t influence events, perhaps also because I had built my self-image into that of a ‘good’ boy.  So the feelings were repressed and probably worsened by my experiences at school, where I was further bullied and devalued by my peers.

Nowadays I have a good relationship with my parents.  It’s taken some work on my part and it’s taken a long time, but I can talk about a lot of my issues to them.  They’re never going to fully understand my mental health issues or my borderline Asperger’s traits and there probably will be some things we will always disagree on (as in any relationship), but we get on well, especially now I live away from them and only go home for Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbaths and Jewish festivals).  But the feelings don’t go away.  So I think I project them onto my cosmic parent, God.  I feel that He hates me and that everything I do is wrong.  I can marshal some evidence in favour of these assertions, but, rationally, it probably isn’t much.  It’s very emotional.  For a long time it was focused on, or perhaps through, my religious OCD, but in the last ten months or so that has been a lot better, so it has become more free-floating, just a general all-pervasive sense of sinfulness and uselessness, combined with some more concrete anxieties (getting time off work for Yom Tov, Pesach cleaning etc.).  Obviously my anxieties over marriage come into play here, as it feels like something that God is withholding from me deliberately and also because I feel that no woman frum (religious) enough for me to want to marry would consider someone as sinful as I feel I am.

Unfortunately, this intuitive, rather than reasoned, nature of my feelings means that it is hard to address them.  I have known more or less all of what I have written here for a long time, it has just been hard to feel it, and lately the emotional part of my brain has been running over the cognitive part.  Still, maybe it means something positive that I felt this for a bit recently even though it’s been a struggle to remember it sometimes.

Stuck

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

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

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

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

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

On Not Being SMART

I had my meeting with my boss today about my mental health.  I think it went OK.  I think I struggled to express that I on some level at least I know my anxieties about perfectionism (and being fired, although I didn’t say that) are not rational, but they still persist because anxiety isn’t rational.  I think she couldn’t quite understand why I’m still worried about not being good enough at my job when she has said that she would tell me if there was an issue and, so far, she has not had to tell me that.  I do worry that these fears about being fired are in the process of turning into a full-blown anxiety disorder, the way my OCD (which is also an anxiety disorder) appeared almost from no where a few years back (I had had pure O thoughts before, but not obsessions and compulsions centred on Jewish dietary laws the way the OCD was).  I don’t think I’m at that stage yet, but I’m trying to monitor the situation and work out what to do before it gets to that stage.  Obviously these things are better to treat if nipped in the bud before they become major disorders.  I think there is some hope there.  Last year I was worried that I was becoming anxious about travelling on the London Underground at rush hour because of the lack of room, but I persisted in travelling then and those anxieties have subsided.  So I am hopeful that if I continue with my job, these anxieties about being fired will go away.  That’s also why I’m not asking to spend less time on the issue desk, which is the most anxiety-provoking part of my job and probably the part that I’m least good at, because I know that if I give in, things will get worse (plus it would really mess up the team rota and the workplace division of labour if I asked to get out of it).

The irony was that even during the meeting at which my boss was trying to reassure me that things were OK, I was worrying that I was upsetting her (by not being reassured and also by a misunderstanding about which phone line I was supposed to phone her on yesterday to say I was going to the doctor).  I find it very difficult to read people generally (borderline Asperger’s and it fuels the social anxiety), but I find my boss particularly hard to read.  Some of that may be a personality thing, some may be that she is my manager and probably deliberately keeps a bit of distance from the rest of the team.  I did come out of the meeting still feeling quite anxious and worried about being fired, and beating myself up because I could see that I was over-reacting enormously, but I didn’t know how to stop feeling like that.  I think I’ve become a lot better at reading my emotions in recent months, but it’s definitely hard to deal with the ones that I can see are irrational and harmful.  I guess my therapist would say not to “deal with them,” but to experience them and move on.

I feel a bit upset from all this.  At Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) over three months ago, I made three resolutions: to say the beginnings of the three most important prayers with greater kavannah (concentration, devotion); to study one Mishnah a day; and to work on my depression and social anxiety.  I have largely messed up the first one, the second one varies a lot depending on how depressed I am and whether I’m at work (I use being stuck on the train for the morning commute to force myself to do some study unless I’m incredibly depressed, whereas at home at the weekends or on holiday it is easier to convince myself I’m too depressed and short of time), but the third one, working on my depression and social anxiety, I haven’t even begun to deal with, not least because I couldn’t think of any SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely) goals to break it down into.  And now it looks like I’m having to add more anxieties into the mix, although I guess you could argue that my fear of being fired is just an extreme social anxiety with some depressive low self-esteem mixed in, as it stems from not being able to read my boss and colleagues to gauge if I’m liked and trusted and fearing that I will mess up work-related social interactions in such a way as to jeopardise my job, whether interactions with library users (staff, students) or with library staff (particularly my boss).

As ever, I seem to be much better at articulating these fears here than I am in expressing them in person, whether to my boss or to my parents and also better at articulating them than in living with them and not letting them rule my life.

Struggling to Understand Emotions

I wasn’t planning on writing, certainly not at midnight (1am now – writing this took a while and then I got distracted reading hilarious-but-terrifying New Yorker articles about the most powerful man in the world and his enormous ego) but I feel depressed and want to try to get my thoughts out of my head.

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was hard again.  I struggled in shul (synagogue) on Friday night, feeling quite depressed and socially anxious and not really concentrating on the prayers.  I managed to avoid going to bed when I got home, which I’ve done for the last few weeks (this would be around 5pm), but I still went to bed right after dinner, about 8.30pm.  I told myself I wanted to think about things, but really I wanted to wallow in the depression and sleep.  I did both.  I woke up about an hour later, feeling bad about what I had done.  I did my hitbodedut (speaking to God).  I can’t remember what I said, but I know I spent a lot of the time crying.  I think it was loneliness and feelings of inadequacy and wanting to know that God loves me.  I went to bed late because of this.  Hitbodedut on Friday nights can be like this.  I don’t know if it’s because I’m in more of a spiritual mode or something else, but I get much more emotional and often more depressed, but also sometimes I feel some connection with HaShem (God) which I don’t normally feel.  During the week my it’s a struggle to get my hitbodedut to last the ten minutes I try to do and I’m often tired and feel like I’m talking to myself, whereas on Fridays I can speak for thirty or forty minutes and I don’t usually feel tired whatever time it is and sometimes there’s a bit of a connection.  I don’t quite know what to make of this.

Nor do I know what to make of the dreams I had last night.  I don’t normally remember my dreams, but every so often I go through phases of remembering bits and pieces of them.  I know I had odd dreams last night with religious undertones, or maybe even overtones – I don’t remember enough detail.  I woke up with a phrase in my head that I thought was a great chiddush (novel interpretation of a religious text) and its arrival in my head might just be a sign that God was communicating His love to me.  Still, I was sceptical, as I always am of things like that, and as the day wore on, the supposed chiddush seemed less and less coherent or justifiable.  Eventually I dismissed it as an irrational thought from my subconscious, perhaps trying to make myself feel better, rather than anything more supernatural.

I missed shul in the morning again.  I woke up on time, but I felt too bad to get out of bad.  I say “bad” because it’s hard for me to tell if I’m avoiding it because of exhaustion, depression or social anxiety.  I know I’m going to have to face shul again sooner or later, but I can’t find the inner strength to do so.

Another thing I don’t understand is my reaction to films.  I wrote in a previous post that this might be sensory overload in the cinema, but this evening I was watching a film on TV with my parents and felt depressed when it finished without being sure why, or even being sure of what exactly I was feeling, except knowing that it did not feel good.  Other potential reasons why the film might have upset me today was that I didn’t like it  very much (it made a mess of one of my absolute favourite novels, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré; read the book or watch the TV adaptation with Alec Guinness as George Smiley, very faithful to the novel and beautifully acted, unlike the film) and that I abandoned my semi-diet and had an ice cream because I was so disappointed by the film; I’ve mentioned before that I worry that eating too much sugary food can trigger a dip in my mood as my blood sugar level goes up and down and I suppose that could have happened here, although it would have had to have happened very fast.

So it’s gone 1.00am and I’m left feeling a bit tired, but not really sleepy, if that makes sense, a bit lonely and depressed and very hungry (why?!  I’ve done nothing but eat or sleep all day!), but not sure what to do about it.  I don’t know why films and theatre seem to make me depressed in way that books and TV don’t or if sugar really does affect my mood so much.  I wish I wasn’t single and alone at the moment.  I don’t really want to talk and certainly not to do anything physical, just to have someone I feel comfortable being around and being quiet with, if that makes sense.  Someone who can just accept me.  But I know that that won’t happen until I can accept myself.  The problem is that I don’t know how to do that.  I went on a self-esteem course years ago and while it did give me hints about how to say “No” and deal with recalcitrant students at work, the CBT-style hints about self-esteem (say positive affirmations about yourself, congratulate yourself on even trivial achievements) have never really helped me.  My self-loathing seems to be too deeply-rooted for anything to shift it.  Nor has years of psychotherapy helped me, leading me to fear a solitary and self-loathing existence for the rest of my life.

Confusion

I feel a bit apprehensive writing about being a virgin in his mid-thirties, although I have written several times about it (I’m hoping this post doesn’t just duplicate the previous ones.  I suspect it might, as sometimes I need to work at an inner feeling or thought process for a long time, years even, until I understand it or see the flaws behind it).  I guess it’s considered an embarrassing subject.  In the frum (Orthodox Jewish and religious) community it’s very unusual to be a virgin at this age, as everyone is supposed to be married by now.  In mainstream Western society marriage is not such an inevitable feature of life at this stage, but everyone seems to be assumed to have been sexually active since their teens.  Certainly when I was an undergraduate (back in the era of dodos if not dinosaurs) the assumption seemed to be that everyone was having sex and the discussion, so much as there was any, was about safe sex.  I’m assuming these days undergraduates are exposed to a lot more discussion about what constitutes consent, but either way the assumption is that everyone is sexually active and the only question is how to manage that safely, not whether there are circumstances in which celibacy is acceptable, let alone preferable.  Even at the secondary school I went to, which was Jewish, but not particularly religious, the discussion of sex was fairly minimal and largely limited to the biological facts.  I doubt anyone really wanted fifteen or sixteen year old children sleeping around, but the emotional issues around sex or even dating weren’t discussed in class (I don’t know what the students discussed, because I didn’t get involved in those kinds of conversations).

I don’t know why this is such a big issue for me, although I have made a few suggestions in the past.  I don’t drink, due to fear of alcohol as much as the fact that alcohol is a depressant and that I’m on medication, but I don’t obsess on how much I’m missing out on by not having a whisky with the men at kiddush after shul (synagogue) on Shabbat (the Sabbath).  I want to discuss my sexuality in therapy, but I rarely seem to get around to it and I struggle to find the words, including when I post about it.  I’ve posted about it multiple times because I’ve never been able to really understand or articulate the vague and inchoate things I feel, to the extent that I’m wondering if this is some Freudian mechanism and I’m unconsciously stopping myself from talking about it properly, both on the blog and in therapy.

Obviously, unless you’re actually asexual (which I’m not) sex is going to figure in your life in some way, probably quite a big one.  I read somewhere that sex is like water: if you’ve got it, you don’t think about it, but if you haven’t got it, you can’t think about anything else.  That’s how I feel a lot of the time.   I don’t want to think about sex, but often I can’t not think about it.  It doesn’t help that we live in a highly sexualised society compared with even a couple of decades ago.  I went into Smiths (newsagents/stationery shop) to buy writing paper and as I walked past the magazines the covers were yelling at me that they had tips to improve my sex life (well, I guess it couldn’t get any worse).  I feel very guilty if I feel attracted to someone passing by without my really being able to articulate why I feel guilty.  I guess it’s partly halakhic (Jewish law) reasons and partly feminism, but also that it makes me feel so lonely and unlovable.  And I guess there are a load of subsidiary fears, like if I somehow do manage to get married, will my wife even fancy me, let alone love me, or will she just ‘settle’ for me because I’m not an awful person and she’s lonely and wants children?  I don’t want someone to settle for me, I want to be loved for who I am (which I guess is the downside for going to a shadchan (matchmaker) for people with ‘issues’ – the fear that we’re both settling because we have issues).

Partly, as I’ve said before, it’s about being an adult more than being about sex per se.  Sex is practically the most adult thing one can do, I suppose, aside from having a baby.  So it becomes symbolic of all the other adult things I can’t or don’t do: drive, work full-time, drink, pay a mortgage, have dinner guests…  Doubly so now my (younger) sister is married.  But I think I would rather be sexually satisfied than drive or drink alcohol.  I do often feel like a fraud, someone ‘passing’ as an adult rather than really being one.  When my colleagues at work, all of whom have children and all bar one of whom are married or in a relationship, talk about their home lives with children and significant others, I feel infantilised, as if I’m not truly an adult because I do not have a partner or child.  I actually feel much younger than all of them, even though one of my colleagues is my age and another is only two years older.  That feeling is partly from being the newest one to the team, of course, and the fact that I am still learning the ropes at work, but being unable to join in with discussions about home life in the same way doesn’t help.

Beyond that, I suppose I don’t really know how to deal with my inner drives in general.  I’ve mentioned before that I seem to have alexithymia, an inability to understand my own emotions.  Certainly the emotions around sex are particularly difficult to understand, with it provoking love, lust, curiosity, fear, desire, guilt, shame, despair, anxiety, worthlessness, tenderness, perhaps even anger, a whole cocktail of emotions that I don’t really understand or know how to deal with and which I am not always fully aware of.  Often I just feel bad when I find someone attractive and it’s only lately, now that I’m really trying to probe my emotions to deal with the alexithymia, that I can begi to identify these feelings.

It is doubly difficult when the feelings surround a ‘real’ person I’m crushing on (rather than a daydream or famous person I’m attracted to), because I don’t really know how to express those feelings to someone, particularly if they aren’t interested.  I’ve only ever dated six people anyway, but of those six I was set up on blind dates with two and two approached me on a dating site, so there were only two that I actually asked out myself.  I have asked other women who turned me down, including a couple who I thought liked me (one of whom I had an anxiety dream about last night.  It seems that well over a decade later, I’m not fully over the situation, even though I know she’s married to someone else now), but I still find it hard to ask women out, hence part of the reason I’m going to a shadchan (matchmaker), because singles events are a non-starter for me, even beyond the fact that events in the Orthodox world are increasingly gender-segregated (which I think is a massive mistake and totally unnecessary, but that’s a subject for another time).

Freudian psychology is out of fashion, I think, in academia and certainly Freud and Judaism are seen as opposed (by Freud as well as by rabbis).  But I think there is common ground in a number of areas, from my limited knowledge of each.  One thing Freudian psychology and Orthodox Judaism have in common is the sense of the importance of the libido as a key component of the human psyche (libido in psychological terms is not synonymous with sex drive, but sex is a big part of it).  In Judaism there is an acknowledgement that sex within marriage is a positive, healthy thing, essential for psychological well-being.  There is also an acknowledgement that more highly achieving people tend to have higher libidos, which can get them into trouble if they aren’t careful and that curbing the sex drive is very difficult and it is better sublimated than totally repressed.  Hence the whole machinery of Jewish sexual interactions, both active (e.g. early marriage) and precautionary (e.g. limiting interactions between men and women who aren’t married to each other or close blood relations).

Where this becomes difficult is this sense that I have powerful urges inside of me that I fear that I can’t control.  I guess it’s like waking up and discovering that one is flying a 747 with no knowledge of how to fly even a little glider.  I’m frightened of sex, as I’m frightened by any sense of power that I might have (hence avoiding davening from the amud (leading prayers in shul), showing off my knowledge whether Torah or secular etc.).  It’s hard to know what to do or who I can talk to or how to talk about things I have no vocabulary to talk about.  I have no vocabulary because in frum circles sex is simply not talked about, whereas in mainstream circles it’s not spoken about with a vocabulary I feel comfortable using or in language I can understand (not having experienced it and with alexithymia that means that descriptions of emotions are not always helpful to me).  I wouldn’t know who to talk to about it and I don’t know what I would ask.

I guess a lot of it is ‘unknown unknowns’ again, which I can’t prepare for, the biggest being whether I would be able to give to someone in that way and whether I would feel comfortable being ‘known’ so intimately by someone or whether it would feel uncomfortable or invasive.  My highly limited and tame experiences in this regard in the past are not encouraging in this respect.  I want to be accepted and sex and love might feel like acceptance, but then they might be yet more things that make me feel uncomfortable and which I am incompetent at.  It’s impossible to tell, which I suppose makes it such a scary, unknowable thing.

“Life depends on change and renewal”

(The title is another Doctor Who quote, from The Power of the Daleks by David Whitaker.)

I spoke to my rabbi mentor this morning.  It was a fairly brief call, as he was on the way to a meeting, but I spoke a bit about dating and my struggle with motivation to daven (pray) and study Torah, although I wish we had had more time to talk about my feeling hated by HaShem (God).  He felt very strongly that I should look into dating again.  He felt that one should hold back from dating if one has an immediate crisis that severely impedes functioning, whereas my issues are long-term and I have a reasonable degree of functionality (admittedly this feels the case more during term time and on work days than during holiday time and weekends, as at the moment).

He also felt that there was no ethical obligation or practical need to tell the shadchan (matchmaker) about the possible Asperger’s as I have not been diagnosed (have in fact been assessed and told I don’t have it) and there seemed to be little to gain from mentioning it and that labels are not always helpful.  Although this does make me wonder again about where I fit in on the spectrum and if I am a fraud for writing about it here as if I am somewhere on the spectrum.  ‘Asperger’s’ or ‘autism’ is a useful shorthand for various traits that are otherwise difficult to label, or that don’t seem (to others) as difficult to deal with as they actually feel to me.  For what it’s worth, the most used labels on the public part of my blog are: depression (148 uses), anxiety (110 uses), Judaism (74), dating (70), loneliness (67) and then Asperger’s in sixth place (54 uses).  Asperger’s narrowly comes in ahead of OCD and family (52 uses each) and work (50).  I guess that gives a snapshot of what I write about and about what’s going in my head at the moment.

I do regret that I didn’t get to speak to my rabbi mentor more about feeling that HaShem hates me.  He seemed to feel it was connected with a lack of structure at when off work and a lack of simcha shel mitzvah (joy in the commandments) from the depression, whereas I worry that it’s something deeper than that.  I don’t think I’m losing my faith in God or Judaism – I still believe very strongly (more than at some times in the past) and Shabbat and kashrut are no problem for me (kashrut is actually much easier than a year ago, when the kashrut OCD was bad).  If anything, I’ve lost my faith in myself.  I don’t know how someone, even God, could love me, given the things I have done/still do.  This would obviously have an impact on dating.  I’ve been told I need to love myself before anyone else could love me, but I don’t know how I can love myself when I hate myself so much and when I’ve experienced so much rejection.  It’s hard to believe that everyone who hated, bullied or rejected me was wrong.  It seems like a catch-22 situation: I can’t be loved without loving myself, but I can’t love myself without being loved.  I know other people who had low self-esteem who felt better after finding their partner, but I doubt that anything that good could ever happen to me.

I did some shopping this afternoon, but once I got home, around sunset, I felt burnt out, whether from being out shopping or from the darkness.  The long nights at this time of year do get to me.  I spent too long online reading upsetting stuff about racism and trying to distract myself by looking at reviews of yesterday’s Doctor Who only to discover most people liked it (I didn’t) except for the few who hate Steven Moffat’s whole time as showrunner (I don’t), so I was stuck in-between.  I tried to do some Torah study, but I just felt burnt out and aware that I needed what little energy I have for cooking dinner.  I was noshing fruit, trying not to feel like I wanted to eat carbohydrates or sugar.  I have deliberately made sure there is no junk food in the flat (except three small dark chocolate coins), as I’ve put on weight since being prescribed clomipramine, although as my weight seems to have stabilised despite the extra eating of the last few weeks (wedding, Chanukah) that might be just pointlessly denying myself one of the few things I can still enjoy (food) for no good reason.  Which wouldn’t be out of character for me.

The long winter nights increase my depressive desire to hibernate: eat lots of carbohydrates and sleep for hours on end.  Or maybe it’s just feeling, from my reading and speaking to people today, that maybe I’m not on the spectrum, in which case I find it hard to understand myself, let alone forgive myself.  I feel that if I have a disorder then it’s OK for me to be socially anxious and awkward and avoid big gatherings, but if not, then I’m just shy and a freak and running away from things that scare me.  I should ‘man up’ (to use a horrible phrase) and force myself to do things I don’t want to do, like socialise e.g. going to the Friday night dinner at shul (synagogue) that I still haven’t signed up for.

I did eventually manage about half an hour of Torah study, the most I have done since Friday.  I actually got through a difficult chapter from the end of Yechezkel/Ezekiel, the really difficult bit with the measurements of the Temple and all the architectural words, in Hebrew.  Admittedly I cheated.  Normally I would go over each verse until I could understand it properly in Hebrew before going on to the next one; here I worked phrase by phrase instead and didn’t push myself too hard to remember all the difficult words (bear in mind that even the Jewish Publication Society Bible struggles with this bit, lots of terms whose precise meaning is lost).  I also cooked vegetable curry for dinner too, which I haven’t done for a while.

I feel I should be revising my dating profile for the shadchan/dating site I now feel I ought to be using, but I just feel too depressed and exhausted to care, even to care about feeling lonely and unloved forever.  I have mixed feelings about I want to dating right now, even though my parents, friends and rabbi mentor have all suggested that dating might give me something other than work and my mental health issues to focus on, which I desperately need at the moment.  Well, that’s not quite true.  I would like to date, I just don’t feel able to do so.  I guess I want to have a significant other, but I’m scared that I’m too messed up for anyone to want to be with me.  Because looking at my dating history so far, it’s not encouraging.

I just used the word “feel”  or “feeling” six times in one paragraph, modified by “depressed”, “exhausted”, “lonely and unloved” and not able.  For someone who professes to focus on the intellectual over the emotional (because the emotional confuses and frightens me, with or without alexithymia and Asperger’s), I’m driven a lot by emotion right now, and difficult, scary emotions at that.