Interview and After

I think my job interview this morning went quite well. I got a bit put off by the multiple images on the video conference, especially when I could see myself talking. They didn’t ask any questions about my presentation, which hopefully means it was amazing and not terrible! It sounded like a nice place to work and the panel (of four) were very friendly and I think I connected with them quite well, which is good. Flexible working is a possibility, including working part-time or from home, which is very encouraging, although they sounded a bit unsure about part-time. The work sounds interesting, although I still suffer from confidence problems about accuracy in technical library jobs. I used to be really accurate, but then at jobs in unsuitable environments, I became inaccurate, and now I’ve lost my confidence. I answered all the questions in the interview, but some I definitely answered better than others. I can’t always think of responses including concrete examples from my life/work experience, which may be an autistic thing on several levels. I did try to force myself to give such examples, but one or two questions I just answered in the abstract because I couldn’t think of examples. I should hear back on 12 October.

I had therapy afterwards, but had time to kill before then. I was too tired to do much. I watched another episode of The Civil War, Ken Burns’ documentary on the American Civil War, which I started watching on DVD a few weeks ago after watching Lincoln. It’s a good documentary series, but was really too heavy-going for post-job interview viewing, especially as the episode I was watching was over an hour and a half long, and also focused mainly on the battles rather than the politics and the personalities of the major figures, which I am more interested in.

I tried to go for a walk after lunch, but literally seconds after I stepped out, it started to rain heavily so I beat a hasty retreat indoors.

I didn’t have much to say in therapy, mostly because things seem to be going well. I haven’t had much to say for a couple of weeks, as things have mostly been OK, but I don’t want to cancel the sessions just yet, as some issues may come up associated with the potential new job or dating. I brought this up in therapy and we agreed to move from a weekly session to a fortnightly one, which I think is a good idea for the moment.

I tried to do some Torah study between therapy and dinner. As I was too tired to read (again), I listened to another online shiur. It was on piyyutim (Medieval Jewish liturgical poetry) and was really designed to be listened to before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement), to prepare for the prayers, although as I davened (prayed) at home this year and skipped most of the piyyutim it probably wouldn’t have made much practical difference to me. It was an interesting shiur, but an hour on Medieval liturgical poetry was probably at least fifteen minutes too long for me, certainly on such a depleting day as today.

***

I did something I rarely do, which is to write an angry comment somewhere. It was on an article on Unherd, about mental illness in the young, which made some valid points about over-prescription of drugs and treating ordinary negative emotions as pathological, but whose author wrapped her message in a shell of stigma, using the words “mad” and “madness” to describe the mentally ill four times in one article. The author’s biography describes her as a campaigner against sexual violence; I’m really surprised that she fails to grasp that many mental illness sufferers are also survivors of violence and abuse, and that’s why they’re mentally ill. I am somewhat worried about receiving negative comments, but I had to get my thoughts off my chest because it was really annoying me.

The King is in the Field

I felt quite calm today, although the last half hour has seen some dating anxiety resurface. My friend Stoic Wannabe recently posted on a her blog a lists of books she wishes someone would write, and I would add to that list How to Find Your Soul-Mate, and Be Completely Sure He/She/They are the Right One, Without Suffering Rejection Along the Way. But I don’t think life works like that.

Today was mostly pre-Shabbat (Sabbath) chores, dusting and working on my novel. Working on the novel was hard to day. I think I wrote last week about the “running out of energy” feelings of Fridays, that the mystics say that the world is rejuvenated every week on Shabbat, and that I can believe that because Friday always seems to be a day when the world is running down and out of energy, as am I. Even if I don’t do much on Fridays, somehow it’s all a bit of a struggle. I did read over another chapter of my novel. There’s a lot of rewriting to do, but somehow it seems a bit funnier than I remembered. It’s a serious book, but there is some observational humour in there.

***

It occurred to me today that perhaps most of my mental health issues now are rooted in autism and the general uncertainty of my life (which is also related to autism and the way it impacts my career and dating, particularly while I’m self-diagnosed rather than by a psychiatrist). I know in the past I had childhood issues to work through, but I think I’ve mostly processed those in therapy now. I can accept that the adults around me did not always do the right thing for me, but that this was because they were imperfect humans like the rest of us and not malicious. OK, I never felt they were malicious as such, but I did feel a lot of blame. Likewise I accept that I was bullied a lot by the other children, but that there isn’t much point still hanging on to that.

My depression tends to flare up now at times of tiredness (particularly first thing in the morning) and at times of stress and exhaustion, especially when I’m around people, which also triggers social anxiety. This could mean that it’s related to autistic burnout as much as anything else. A day of draining activity will leave me burnt out and depressed the next day; prolonged draining activity (such as working in an environment that is stressful for me, as when I had an office job for several months), might trigger a more prolonged burnout. “Draining” in this context means emotionally draining more than physically draining; a day of housework and work on my novel might be significantly less tiring than a few hours in a noisy environment where I have to “mask” my autism, such as a busy shopping centre.

I will try to observe over the coming weeks and see if this hypothesis is correct, but I think it is at least partially correct.

***

Today is the first day of the Jewish month of Elul. This is the introspective month before the Yamim Noraim, the High Holy Days, the most solemn festivals in the Jewish calendar. Elul is a time of personal reflection and soul-searching about how we’ve grown over the last year, but it’s also seen as a time when God is particularly close and accessible to those who seek Him (“The King is in the field” as the mystics say).

I think this time two years ago I was in a bad state, deeply depressed about life and very angry with God. I believed in Him, but I was angry about how much pain He had put me through with depression, loneliness and autism. By 2019, I had more of a sense that I wanted to be a writer, but I was still struggling with getting there. I was also on the waiting list for an autism assessment and I think that just knowing that I probably am on the spectrum helped me to accept myself and my “weird” characteristics more, but of course I’m still waiting for the assessment itself because of COVID halting so much non-urgent NHS treatment.

This year I feel a lot better. It has been a very strange year that no one was expecting, and we’ve had the additional challenge of Mum’s cancer, but I’ve used much of the lockdown time to make progress on my novel, which I think in a curious way has helped work through some of those childhood/adolescent issues that I mentioned above (the novel has a semi-autobiographical thread). I also self-published my non-fiction book about Doctor Who. That has not sold well, but I feel due to marketing issues rather than anything else. I’m not sure how to promote it.

I don’t feel anger towards God any more, but I do feel some apprehension. I’m trying to accept that I’m never going to completely fit into the Orthodox community, and that that’s OK (partly the effect of autism and mental illness, partly that I have a more “modern” outlook for Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews, but am more passionately engaged than most people in United Synagogue shuls (synagogues)). It would be nice to feel more accepted, but I’m not sure what that would feel like. I feel like I have made a couple of friends at shul, but also that I have not managed to build up the close friends that I’ve lost over the last couple of years, now including E.

I didn’t mean this to turn into a formal cheshbon nafesh (self-analysis)! That’s how I feel contemplating Elul this year: a bit more confident and happier than previously. Of course, some of that is knowing that I will probably escape some of the harder parts of the festivals this year, particularly spending so much time in shul, because of lockdown limitations. But I definitely feel more upbeat about the new year and the autumn festival season than I did for the last couple of years.

Love Your Neighbour

I don’t have much to write today.  It was a normal lockdown Shabbat.  I slept too much, and at the wrong times, but that’s also normal.  I won at Scrabble this week.  I started playing strategically.  I think in the past I would just have gone for the longest or most obscure word, but sometimes a really basic word can get a higher score, if it has a high-scoring letter or hits a double word (etc.) square.  I do get a bit frustrated that it’s hard to play a lot of obscure words that I know, but I guess that’s just showing off.

I tried to stay in the present and not worry about the future or beat myself up about past decisions (breaking up with E., going to the school I went to and not the one my Mum wanted me to go to).  I probably have made some bad decisions in my life, albeit partly because a big part of my life was unknown until recently (high functioning autism – which technically has still not been diagnosed, so who knows where this will go?).  There’s not a lot I can do about that now, though.  If I do manage to build a career as a Jewish author, then I think a lot of my past decisions and difficulties will have led me to it.  If I can’t do that…  who knows, really?

My big struggle today is with loving my neighbour, literally and metaphorically.  Literally, I have a lot less time for our Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) neighbours than I did in the past, because of the illegal minyanim (prayer service).  They have stopped most of these since shuls (synagogues) reopened (although they are still doing Saturday nights).  I still feel angry and resentful.  I still feel that they were risking our lives, especially Mum’s life, for the sake of their spirituality, even though the actual risk to Mum was probably small, even when she was in our garden at the same time they were davening (praying) in their garden.  People breaking the rules annoys me a lot.  In my experience, people on the autism spectrum either obsess over every tiniest rule and can’t bend a rule no matter how justified or alternatively can’t stand any rules at all, however logical.  I’m definitely in the former camp.  It was not always easy at work to work out when I should bend the rules for people and when I should be strict.  Maybe I should write a letter to the neighbours and not send it?  That was a technique my therapist suggested for dealing with feelings about E.; I should probably try it there too.

In a more general sense, I am in this weird situation of being frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) and wanting to stay frum, but also having a lot of resentment against the frum community.  I think it’s mainly about feeling I don’t fit in, which is probably largely because of the lack of a vibrant, committed, Modern Orthodox community in this country, unlike America and Israel.  Here the United Synagogue has a hashkafa (philosophical outlook) I agree with, but most US members are not shomer mitzvot (keeping the commandments), not even close.  Most are “traditional” and are members of an Orthodox shul (synagogue) out of family tradition, convenience or a vague sense that Reform Judaism isn’t “real” Judaism.

The Haredi world is a lot more committed to Torah study, meaningful prayer and mitzvah performance (keeping the commandments), yet has an outlook I often disagree with, whether over the place of secular study and the sciences, the role of women or various other things.  I could probably cope with that if that was all, although it does make me feel that I’m hiding myself, but I feel there is a level of casual sexism, racism/anti-non-Jew feeling and so on that sometimes appears and upsets me.

I think there is a lot of hesed (kindness) in the frum world, but not much empathy.  If you have a “normal” problem, people will help, but if you have an unusual situation or something that is stigmatised and not spoken about (the classic “bad for shidduchim” (potential marriage chances) problem) people won’t help and probably won’t even be able to understand what your problem is.  My thought on this matter were provoked from reading about a Haredi woman who adopted a black girl and has experienced a huge amount of unthinking racism, but it applies to mental health stigma, homosexuality, children who stop being religious… lots of things.

I feel that I do have a lot of anger and resentment towards what really is my own community that I have to work through somehow if I’m to keep functioning and I’m not really sure how to do it.  I kind of hope that one day I’ll marry someone who fits into the community better than I do and somehow things will slot into place, that suddenly I’ll have more frum friends and feel able to be myself, but I’m not sure that that’s a realistic idea.  Realistic in that I don’t think finding a wife would necessarily let me fit in a lot better and in that I’m not sure how likely it is that I will find a frum wife.

Masked

I possibly did too much yesterday as I feel really drained today.  Also despairing about the future (career, writing, marriage, family), which I was trying not to give in to.

***

I had to go to the pharmacist to request a repeat prescription.  Perhaps surprisingly, I wore a mask for the first time in the pandemic.  I haven’t gone on public transport since lockdown started, which is the only place masks are compulsory in the UK.  It has become an accepted thing to wear them in shops in recent weeks, but I haven’t been going shopping either.  I was very anxious and apprehensive about it, stupidly so.  Some of it was worrying that it would be uncomfortable or that I would inadvertently spread germs taking it off wrongly or adjusting it.  I guess it also feels wrong not to show the shop assistant my face when we’re talking.  However, I think much of the anxiety was autistic issues about doing something new.  I remember years ago I went to an art gallery in Tel Aviv and there was an art installation there that was made of some kind of dangerous material and you had to wear a mask to go inside the room.  I just completely freaked out about that and refused to go in and I couldn’t work out why, I just felt stupid and useless.  I guess it’s an autism thing, although I’m not sure if the issue was fear of discomfort or of new experiences.

Once I put the mask on, I did feel very uncomfortable, both from the actual touch on my face and from the smell of it.  It made my glasses steam up too.  I cut my walk short partly because I couldn’t cope with it, but also because it was cold out (despite having recently been unbearably hot) and because I was exhausted from therapy.

***

I had a difficult therapy session.  It was difficult because I was speaking about difficult subjects, particularly my feelings of lack of control over future events and fear of never having a job or getting married.  This led to a lot of uncomfortable physical tension in my body while speaking.  We spoke about my tendency to catastrophise being a way of coping with uncertainty by fearing the worst instead of being open to uncertainty, but my therapist said that it’s a form of hurting myself by going to the worst possible outcome, strengthening my inner critical voice.  We also spoke about being more accepting of my physicality/physical nature and she gave me some tips for dealing with feelings of physical tension.

My therapist also spoke about dealing with loneliness by reconnecting with friends.  The problem with that is that I don’t have many friends, not least because I’ve lost so many in the last couple of years.  This is at least partly my fault, which makes me fearful of alienating more people.  I can try to email a couple this week and check in with them and see how their lockdown is going.

***

I spent two hours working on my novel.  I wrote 550 words, finishing a chapter and then proofreading it, but I was very tired while doing some of the proofreading and will probably have another look at it tomorrow.  I’ve written about 53,000 words in total so far.  I’ll need to get to at least 70,000 words, ideally 80,000 to 100,000, for a complete novel.  I have the rest of the chapters planned out, but I worry I haven’t got enough incident to sustain 30,000 more words.

I also somehow did forty minutes of Torah study when I was feeling exhausted.  This was good, but I hope I have not overdone things as I’m absolutely shattered now.  I’m going to chill out with Doctor Who for a bit (Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS)/

“It’s like watching a car crash in slow motion”

Thus spake Detective Inspector Drake in Ashes to Ashes, and it feels a lot like my life at the moment.

Lately I just want to withdraw.  I spent a lot of Shabbat in bed, wrapped in my duvet even when I wasn’t sleeping.  It’s a classic autistic self-comforting tactic.  I’ve been wanting to do it today too, although I’ve fought against the urge.

I’m scared to talk to anyone, even to blog or to read other blogs, for fear of getting into an argument.  There’s too much anger in the world at the moment.

I did at least manage to watch a talk between Rabbi Rafi Zarum (British, half Yemenite) and Rabbi Shais Rishon (American, black) about race and Judaism so I’m not totally running away from the world.  It was about as depressing as I expected (I’ve read some of Rabbi Rishon’s writing before so I knew what to expect; Rabbi Zarum apparently didn’t judging by his shocked reactions), although there was one funny joke.

Achievements: forced myself to work on my novel for an hour and wrote 650 words even thought I was too depressed to write anything today.  Went for a thirty-five minute run that was surprisingly good, although an exercise migraine set in hours later.  I tried to do some Torah study, but the migraine set in then and I only managed five minutes.  I haven’t felt well enough to daven Ma’ariv (say Evening Prayers) yet either.  Going to watch TV until hopefully the solpadeine kicks in, although I feel like I could throw up any time now.

***

I spoke to my rabbi mentor this morning.  I’m still processing the conversation.  He said that everyone in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) struggles with trying to feel inspired or to find meaning in Judaism and that I’m not the only person to struggle with the way the frum community can be narrow-minded or lacking in dynamism or inspiration.

This is all true, but I wonder where this leaves me.  I still feel that I have less meaning and inspiration going for me than a lot of religious Jews, and perhaps more frustration with the frum world than most frum Jews.  Sometimes (not all the time) lately it feels like I’m very close to walking out on the frum world and there are only a few things keeping me here.  If it were possible to be some kind of Jewish hermit, I probably would be one.  I guess I am one, in a way.

***

I know I have it easy compared to a lot of other people, but that doesn’t mean I’m not struggling.  A wise person once said, the worst thing that ever happened to you is still the worst thing that ever happened to you, even if even worse things have happened to other people.  While it’s true that a man who has had his legs eaten by an alligator should be grateful that he still has his life, arms, eyes, hearing etc. I’m not sure that makes it any easier to cope with the loss of legs.  I haven’t lost my legs, but I’ve never really got my life functioning properly and I feel that I’m running out of time to sort that, plus most of the time I feel too depressed, anxious and tired to do anything about it, not to mention too alone in the world (yes, despite family and friends).

***

OK, TV now, and trying hard not to throw up…

Loneliness and Fitting In

I woke up feeling depressed and lonely again.  E. is concerned about my tendency to turn everything into guilt, that I assume that everything bad in my life is my fault and if I was a good person I could change it.  She thinks that this is not really the case.  She feels in particular that I shouldn’t feel guilty about not being emotionally connected to Judaism.  I guess it’s hard not to when Judaism presents a lot of things (perhaps most things) in moral terms and assumes that good people can change them, at least with the right tools.  It’s assumed that a person who wants a better relationship to God or Judaism can ‘fix’ that; it doesn’t take into account that my brain chemistry might prevent that, or say what I should do instead or how I should cope.

That said, I wonder if this is really guilt or if I’m misunderstanding my emotions again.  I don’t think what I see as guilt is really sadness, but maybe it’s loneliness or disconnection.  I was reading about domestic abuse again (see below) and came across the idea that abusive men express all their emotions as anger; I wonder if I express all my emotions as depression or guilt.  I don’t know if that idea even makes sense.  At the very least, alexithymia (difficulty understanding my own emotions) makes it hard to understand what I feel.

I’m worried about the future too.  I want lockdown to be over, but at the same time, that would shift my worries about career and relationship up a gear as I have to confront things again.  I’m already dreading the cataloguing test I have to do soon for a job application.

***

I’m also struggling with political thoughts that I don’t really want to write about here, worries about the situation across the Atlantic, worries about my participation in racist societies, but also about the much greater coverage of and sensitivity around racism by most people in the West compared with antisemitism.  Jews aren’t more likely than most people to be killed by the police, but they are more likely than many to experience violence.  In the USA, Jews are the victim of well over half religious hate crimes, far more than any other religious group.  I don’t feel this is a particularly appropriate time to talk about antisemitism.  We need to concentrate on racism right now.  The problem is that much of the world has shown that it never thinks the time is right to talk about antisemitism.

Mind you, I can get upset by little things, for instance, a letter in an old Jewish Chronicle criticising Orthodox rabbis unfairly.

I’m not sure how these thoughts would be classified.  They’re kind of on the boundary between depression and anxiety, with some anger, but not what people generally mean when they refer to those feelings in a psychotherapeutic context.

***

I spent an hour or more trying to work on my novel.  I wrote about 450 words, which was not bad, but not great either.  I procrastinated a lot, got upset about irrelevant things (see the paragraph above) then read abuse survivors’ accounts to try to get me back into the mindset of writing about abuse, but that just made me feel more miserable and made it harder to concentrate.

I tried to look at my notes from my librarianship MA on cataloguing in preparation for doing a cataloguing test some time this week or next for a job application.  It was hard to concentrate because I felt so depressed, and because I was aware that I probably know this stuff as well as I ever will.  I feel I probably know the stuff, I just have no confidence in my ability to show it.  I’ve really lost confidence in my ability to do librarian stuff in recent years.  It’s hard to remember that I once thought that I would be a good librarian, even a professional cataloguer.

***

I didn’t do much Torah study (about fifteen minutes).  I  wrote this rather long email to my rabbi mentor instead (slightly edited here):

I’m really struggling religiously lately.  It’s hard to daven and to learn Torah in particular. It also feels like I have no meaningful connection to HaShem [God] and to Torah much of the time. It’s hard to work out why. Or, there are many possible reasons:

– my depression/general mental health (which has got worse the last couple of weeks) – one rabbi once told me that I wouldn’t be able to connect emotionally to God and Torah until I recover, but it increasingly looks like there is no recovery for me, just being able to manage my condition better;

– resentment of simplistic theologies in the frum world that see working at Judaism and especially having bitachon [trust in God] as immediately positive results.  I think these are wrong, but they make part of my brain think, “God must be angry with me, or He would have healed me/got me a job/let me get married by now;

– feelings of despair regarding my life, relationship, career, etc. and feeling that I won’t be able to build anything because HaShem keep testing me by making me suffer and taking away what I’ve achieved;

– generally feeling like a social misfit in the frum world: the United Synagogue doesn’t take Torah and davening [prayer] seriously enough for me, in the Federation I feel like have to hide various beliefs and interests because they’re unacceptable, and the people at the London School of Jewish Studies are mostly a generation older than me. I felt in particular that my local shul has not always supported me well in terms of helping me be part of the community or regarding my mental health (as well as setting me up on shidduch dates [arranged blind dates]), although things had been a bit better at the start of the year and I felt that after four years, I was fitting in a little bit better… and then coronavirus came and disrupted even that.

Lately I wonder if I won’t fit in anywhere, ever. It seems everywhere I go, I feel that I don’t fit in, and I’m beginning to wonder if that’s just in my head, or from my autism. I really feel that I struggle to fit in and to follow the unspoken social codes, which is a classic autistic symptom. On the other hand, I’ve never had the kind of support that the frum world is said to provide to most people in need.

And underneath it all is the feeling of emptiness, loneliness, isolation.  Of feeling that HaShem is so far from me and indifferent to me, or that He will invalidate all my mitzvot on some technicality.  I feel I can’t connect with Him.  Sometimes I feel that I don’t know what it would be like to feel joy at all.  I saw something the other day about the need to have spiritual pleasure, but I’m not even able to have physical pleasure.

Sometimes I worry I’m frum more out of habit than anything else these days, which does not make me feel good. To be honest, the non-Orthodox/non-religious world is just as off-putting to me as the frum world, but I know E. finds aspects of the frum world difficult, especially the lack of appreciation of serious culture, and I find it hard to “sell” her the frum life when I feel so negative about it.

I do still enjoy Shabbat, even though I feel that is partly a relaxation thing as much as a spiritual one.  Occasionally I do see Torah that resonates, but it’s hard to build on it; likewise if I daven well one day.  I do enjoy writing my weekly divrei Torah [Torah thoughts], although I do experience that as a stress sometimes, and a drain on time for Torah study.

This is what I’ve been feeling.  Would it be possible to discuss it, by Skype or email, please?  I don’t know if there is an answer, but I feel I need to try something new.  I mean a new strategy to engage with my religious life.  It’s just so hard to keep going sometimes.

I’m not sure what I expect to get from it.  He can’t wave a magic wand and solve my troubles and we have spoken about this in the past.  I suspect if I was more confident in myself and worried less about what other people think of me, I would fit in to frum society better, and if I fitted in better socially, a lot of my lack of religious connection would go away.  But I’m not sure how to do that.

Self-Hating Jew

Our Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) next-door neighbours held more socially distanced, but (I think) still lockdown-breaking, minyanim (prayer meetings) in their garden over Shabbat (the Sabbath) again. There was also some kind of gathering or party going on last night in the garden of the house behind us. They didn’t go in until 2am and made a lot of noise before then. Strangely, I got bothered more by the minyanim and couldn’t work out why, as the party seemed more antisocial (assuming they weren’t all from the same house, which is possible).

My eventual reasoning was that, despite being an Orthodox Jew myself, I’m carrying around a lot of anger and possibly other emotions around Orthodox Jews and my place in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community, particularly around feeling that I never found my place in the community, that I have to hide who I really am or fear ostracism, as well as anger about people not being friendly or setting me up on shidduch dates when I was single. It’s something I might bring to therapy this week, although there is some other stuff I’d also like to talk about (I might have to prioritise). The anger and hatred is kind of weird. Jewish self-hatred is a real thing, but it’s usually associated with people right on the edge of the community, not people who are religious and integrated to the community (and I am integrated on some level).

I think it ties in with my view of God as punitive, or at least indifferent to me. I don’t believe God is punitive or indifferent to other people, just to me. It might be related to low self-esteem in general, or to my feelings of not fitting into the community. Not being a good enough Jew, which then leads to anger back at the community.

***

Otherwise it was a fairly normal Shabbat. I struggled to sleep again on Friday night. I’m not sure why. It seems to happen sometimes without cause, but this time it could have been the noise (although insomnia carried on for two hours after the noise stopped), the fact I drank some Diet Coke at dinner (I don’t know why I’ve got in the habit of doing this again, although I’m not convinced it really makes much difference) or the fact that I forgot to take my tablets until right before I went to bed. The latter is probably the key factor.

Because I couldn’t sleep, I lay in bed for quite a long time with my thoughts, which was not comfortable. I thought I was feeling more comfortable with my thoughts and in control of them lately, but obviously not. I can’t remember exactly what I was thinking, just that it was unpleasant. I did intermittently get up and read, a mixture of The Siege: The Saga of Israel and Zionism (which is really good) and Batman graphic novels.

I fell asleep around 4am and slept through the morning, being woken intermittently by the Shacharit minyan (Morning Prayer Service) next door and falling asleep again (I dreamt I wrote them an angry letter of complaint), then I slept for three more hours after lunch. Not good. I will struggle to sleep tonight. I did wake from my nap refreshed though, which was good as generally I don’t feel so refreshed from sleep, either night sleep or naps.

Other than that I just did some Torah study and ate with my parents. There’s not a lot else to report.

Building Characters

I spent the day wrestling with negative feelings of depression and despair. I would feel OK, and then something would set me off again. It has to be said, though, that my mood was mostly reasonably good and optimistic, particularly in the afternoon (mornings are still hard). That said, little things can bring me down.

***

Every year there is a “Forty Under Forty” list in The Jewish News listing the top forty communal leaders in the Jewish community under the age of forty, whether religious, political or cultural leaders. It’s a fairly horrible concept and I try to avoid it, as there are always people I know on the list, and it makes me feel like I’ve wasted my life while other people have built careers and made a difference to the world, particularly as I won’t be “under forty” for much longer. Looking at part of the list today (it’s always published in installments) I saw someone I knew, but I didn’t feel as jealous or despairing as I might have done in the past. Likewise, lately I don’t feel as jealous and lonely when people much younger than me get married or have children. And I don’t carry as much anger and resentment as I used to about my childhood and adolescence. I feel I’ve made a lot of progress in therapy dealing with my issues. And yet I can’t seem to permanently shake the depression, despair, loneliness and other negative feelings. I feel like I’ve done everything I should do to recover, but it still doesn’t help. Somehow it persists.

***

I keep checking my email, blog reader, WhatsApp… I know when I do this it’s a mixture of boredom and loneliness. Just wanting to connect with someone, but usually not finding anyone or, worse, making the wrong kind of connection, usually by seeing something that upsets me, typically by making me feel attacked.

***

I probably shouldn’t relate all my dreams here (the ones I can remember anyway) as other people’s dreams are not usually as interesting as they think they are, but I had a classic anxiety dream about being in my rabbi mentor’s yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) on the day he was taking his rabbinical exams and feeling that everyone was looking down on me for not being religious enough. I wonder what that could be about? Sometimes you don’t need to be Sigmund Freud to work it out. There was also some weirdly OCD stuff about trying to do the ritual hand washing on waking and before eating, but not being able to find a big enough cup.

***

I have a new webcam, which I ordered weeks ago, and which has finally arrived. So that’s good. I had been borrowing my Dad’s laptop for every Zoom or Skype interaction. In other ways I feel like I’m ready for lockdown to be over. I know, everyone else reached this point weeks, if not months, ago. But lockdown seemed to suit me: I didn’t have to meet people, there weren’t jobs to worry about applying for, I didn’t have to go anywhere or do anything, I had time to write. But I feel I probably should be trying to move my life on and get back in the habit of actually doing things other than writing, jogging, cooking and cleaning. Plus, it would be good to move towards moving my relationship with E. on. And seeing other people, actually going to shul (synagogue) and to physical shiurim (religious classes) would probably be good for me, not least because I feel like my social anxiety is getting worse while I avoid people. Online socialising isn’t working so well for me, as it’s just made me more dependent on likes and follows, behaviour which I thought I had grown out of, and, as I’ve said before, I struggle with Zoom calls – too many people, too many things happening at once, too easy to psychologically check out and refuse to interact with other people.

***

I felt blocked in my writing this week, so I emailed a writer friend to ask for advice. She recommended some books and also some exercises to try to clarify (to myself) who my characters are and what they want. I learnt two things from this. The first is that I have a weak idea of what my secondary hero wants or needs, which is probably why she has felt like the biggest weak link in the novel so far, too vaguely written to really cohere or stand out.

The second is… well, this is a slightly edited version of the character profile I created for the hero, who is kind of a fictionalised version of myself (I was going to say “Mary-Sue,” the fan term for a character who is a wish-fulfillment figure for the author, but this character is more an anti-Mary Sue, annoying, self-obsessed and useless).

  • Wants/needs: consciously wants love, acceptance.  Unconsciously needs to accept himself, his autism, his depression
  • Weakness: lack of self-knowledge
  • Obstacles that play to weaknesses/show growth: struggle in environments not designed for autistics; contemplate suicide because can’t cope with self.  Not upset with God or world, just with himself.  Can’t accept his autism/depression means that he needs to live differently to other people.
  • Choice: choose life or death, which is choosing to love himself
  • What he learns to achieve his goal: to choose life because even without God, he recognises his own uniqueness and worth.

I think it’s helped clarify my main character, but it’s certainly helped clarify my own needs. To be honest, “lack of self-knowledge” isn’t really my fault, but that of the character (who is really me some years ago, not me now). I understand myself, I just struggle to put what I’ve learnt in therapy and elsewhere into practice, hence the comment above about having addressed issues, but been unable to move on. Still, it was interesting to realise I still haven’t really accepted my depression and autism (the latter partly because it’s still undiagnosed) and my consequent need to live a different life to other people with different standards of success. For example, for me success might be maintaining reasonably positive mood over time, engaging on some level with my community and friends and getting some kind of job (which probably won’t be high-powered/high-stress) as opposed to having a dynamic career, getting married and having children, having lots of friends and taking some kind of community leadership position.

Anger and Resentment

I had a not so good Shabbat (Sabbath).  It wasn’t bad exactly, just not great.

Our Haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) next door neighbours had a minyan (prayer quorum) in their garden again for all the Shabbat prayer services.  I got annoyed about this because I worry about whether it could expose Mum to coronavirus.  Last week some rabbis from the local community sent out some guidelines saying that now lockdown has lifted a little, garden minyanim are OK, but only if people stay in their own garden and just daven (pray) at the same time as their neighbours.  This on the other hand was ten men in one garden and it annoyed me a lot (plus there was the noise when I was trying to pray in my own room).  So that upset me.

I was tempted to write a load of angry stuff about Haredim, given that there have been a LOT of incidents of Haredi Jews breaking lockdown in the UK, US and Israel, some of which have got into the mainstream media as a result of the police breaking gatherings up.  I decided I shouldn’t stereotype, because some Haredi Jews are keeping lockdown, but not only have they got themselves a bad name, they’re giving other Jews a bad name too, which upsets me.

I guess I have a degree of anger and frustration over the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community (I’m deliberately blurring the line between Modern Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox there).  I felt that I wasn’t particularly well supported with my mental health or integrating into shuls (synagogues) and the wider community.  I don’t get many Shabbat meal invitations, as single people in the frum community normally do and certainly not many people tried to find me a wife they way the community “should” do for “normal” people. I know a lot of people with similar issues to me (“older” singles, depressed, ba’alei teshuva (became religious later in life), not accepting certain Haredi beliefs and practices) complain of being marginalised in the community.  I haven’t experienced that clearly, but it could be a factor.  I hang out sometimes on… not antiHaredi blogs per se, but blogs by people who see problems in the Haredi world that they want to change (or mock).  It’s easy to get sucked into a negative, critical attitude, particularly as I don’t really subscribe to a lot of things the Haredi world believes in.

On the other hand, I admit I feel like a square peg in a round hole not just here but in every community I try to fit into (e.g. Doctor Who fandom, group therapy).  I never feel like I fit and that’s probably at least partly my fault, or the fault of my social anxiety and high functioning autism.  “High functioning” can be a bit of a misnomer, as there can be plenty of situations, especially social situations, where I don’t function well at all.  I feel like it’s partly my fault and I should find a healthier way to work through my anger and resentment.  I worry that even if I find a Modern Orthodox community that is a better fit on paper, I still won’t be able to fit in and make friends.

***

I got a bit upset around seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal, so effectively dinner time) today.  Mum and Dad had accepted some food from friends during the week that I wouldn’t have accepted because of kashrut (Jewish dietary law) fears and there was a bit of discussion about what to do with some other food that was OK, but had a question mark on it for another reasons.  Things became a bit tense for minute.  We didn’t have an argument, but it made me think.  I used to look forward to leaving home so I could run my kosher kitchen the way I wanted.  The reality is that because of depression, I’m thirty-six and still live with my parents and their rules.  I have to compromise.  And I have to compromise with my sister’s rules when I go there.  And on one level that’s OK, because life is about compromise and only crazy fundamentalists are happy about riding roughshod over other people in the name of Absolute Truth.  But on another level, I feel envious of other people whose families all keep the same level of kashrut.  It must be so much easier on so many levels.

***

I couldn’t sleep last night.  I had finished the Doctor Who short story collection I had been reading and didn’t feel like engaging with the history book I just started, so I ended up reading a Batman graphic novel (Death and the Maidens).  It wasn’t a particularly good one, sadly.  I hadn’t read Batman for quite some time.  I got really into it for a while, then drifted out again.  I just started a re-read of a long arc that I had mixed feelings about first time around.

I did fall sleep this afternoon, so my sleep pattern is going to be messed up now, particularly as I’m having a lot of late-night, post-Shabbat screen time, offloading here and catching up on blogs posted today.  This might be a mistake.

Well, I should probably think about bed, as it’s long past midnight now.  I’m not sure how coherent this post is, either in the abstract or to anyone who doesn’t understand the intricacies of the Orthodox Jewish community, but it’s too late to work on it any more, so here goes…

Zapped

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nymph, in thy orisons/Be all my sins remembered”

I woke up feeling really depressed and anxious again.  I think I woke up about 11.00am, but I didn’t get up until after noon.  I am not entirely sure what I was doing in between; I think I must have just been lying there feeling awful.  I just feel a mess really, super-anxious and depressed about my new job, which I feel I’ve already messed up.  I’ve been having lots of anxiety dreams about it.  I worry that I should have gone back for a second look at the library before estimating how long the initial work will take, as it was really a guess.  I didn’t get a good enough look at it initially to tell.  I don’t even know how many books are there.  No one knows.  I need to take a tape measure tomorrow to estimate (the librarian’s rule of thumb is an average of thirty-three books per metre of shelving).

My life just seems a mess.  I wish I had something more interesting to blog about than the inside of my head, but I don’t.  That goes double for my first novel (I do have more interesting ideas for subsequent novels, but I’m not sure I will be able to get them to work.  Concentrate on the one that’s primarily my life history).

I had to rush out after lunch to get to the baker before it closed to buy sandwiches for when I go to work (it’s an Orthodox institution, so all food has to be rabbinically supervised, so I can’t bring my own sandwiches).  I felt very agitated on the way there, a lot of angry and self-loathing thoughts, fantasies of harming myself etc.  By the time I got home I was too exhausted to hurt myself, but also too exhausted to go for a run (I suppose I had a fairly brisk forty minute walk, albeit interrupted by five or ten minutes of shopping in the middle).  I want to write more of my novel, but I’m struggling to channel my thoughts the way I want or to express emotions (it’s hard to write about emotions when you have difficulty understanding one’s own emotions).  Matthue Roth (yes, I’m name-dropping, I used to have a somewhat famous internet friend) told me not to say my writing is “bilge” because it disrespects my history and my thoughts, but I don’t think my thoughts are worth respecting and I hate my history and wish it had never happened.  I just hate myself so much and I hate my life so much too, albeit for different reasons (my self for being a bad person and a loser, my life for being too painful for me to bear, although if I was less of a loser maybe I would be able to bear it the way other people with similar issues seem to bear their lives).

I’m sorry that I didn’t really reply very well to the comments on the last post.  I appreciate them, I’m just struggling to find words/energy/headspace for stuff at the moment.  I’m still not sure how people can tell from my self-obsessed writing here that I care for others, but I’ll let that go.

So today was mostly a write-off, aside from going out shopping.  I had one or two ideas for my novel, but I haven’t got the energy to write and I don’t know how those ideas will work out.  I thought my novel would be meticulously planned, but increasingly I’m just winging it and that seems, surprisingly, the only way I can write.

I just hate myself so much today.  I wish I had never been born because I can’t see what good I’m doing here.  Today is just marking time, trying to keep going.  I’m not even trying to write.  I did about three minutes of Torah study and a similar length of time working on my novel, just jotting down some ideas so I don’t forget them.  I’m going to watch TV in a bit, Star Trek Voyager and then tonight’s new Doctor Who episode (I hope it doesn’t bore me like last week’s did).

I Don’t ♥ the NHS

I had a lousy afternoon.  My doctor’s surgery didn’t tell me that my (routine) blood test today was supposed to be a fasting test, with the result that I didn’t fast and couldn’t have my blood test.  So that’s a wasted NHS appointment and a waste of my time – and energy – going to the hospital.  That wasn’t what made me angry.  The anger came from the contempt that the GP’s surgery receptionists treated me with when I tried to find out what was going on, if I was really supposed to have a fasting blood test or if it was a mistake, as if I had no right to ask why the doctor wanted someone to stick a needle in me and take my blood.  Because I’m just the patient and should shut up and do as I’m told.  I actually left because I could see they weren’t going to listen to me, but I was still angry.  When I realised I had forgotten to collect my repeat prescription from the surgery, I went back and decided to ask if they could check with the doctor that I was supposed to have a fasting blood test.  They said they had checked with him, presumably after I had left.  So either they were worried that they were not right to dismiss my questions, in which case they have even less justification for treating me so badly for asking, or they lied to me to shut me up.  I couldn’t say anything as I couldn’t prove that they had lied and was too tired to continue.

Seriously, I am coming to hate the NHS, although saying that publicly in this country makes me about as popular as Richard Dawkins on a tour of the Bible Belt, and for much the same reason.  I forget who said the religion of Britain is the NHS, but it is, and a useless little tin idol it sometimes is too.  Not that anyone will say that on this election campaign; the NHS has long been Labour’s not-so secret weapon.

Because of anger and tiredness, my shopping afterwards took longer than it should have done and I got home at 5.30pm exhausted and unable to do much useful.  I didn’t really do anything all day other than my two-hour-plus afternoon of trying to sort out the blood test and some related shopping and my shiur (religious class) in the evening, although I did find the time to speak to my sister and to write a devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week.

I’ve thought up a devar Torah for every week so far for this cycle of Torah readings (five weeks so far), although one was thought up while we were away and didn’t get written down.  I thought about sending them to some friends from shul (synagogue), but I’m too wary that people may not like my interpretations rather those of rabbis that are, so to speak, certainly kosher, particularly not when I do things like query whether there have been scribal errors in religious texts like the Midrash, as I did this week.  I suppose I can change my mind in the future.

And that’s it for today really.  I’m exhausted and don’t have anything else to say.  I was too busy being angry and frustrated to be depressed or particularly introspective.

Good/Bad

A mixture of good and bad stuff happened over Shabbat (the Sabbath).

I led Mincha (the Afternoon Service) in shul (synagogue).  I was asked and, somewhat to my surprise, found myself saying yes.  I think the person who asked me was surprised I said yes too.  I shook really badly the whole time, to the extent that I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to get through it, but no one said anything (not even the rabbi, who was only two feet away from me), so it probably wasn’t noticeable (or people were too polite to mention it).  It did mean that I had no real kavannah (mindfulness) though, which I feel bad about.  Hopefully it will be easier if I do it again.

***

I had an argument with my parents when I got home.  It came out of nowhere really.  It was probably partly my fault, or at least the fault of my poor communication skills.  It scares me when arguments come out of nowhere.  The reality was that we were all stressed and were probably a bit fed up of each other after spending eight days together all the time, but still, it upset me.  There’s a lot more I could say here, but I don’t want to talk even semi-publicly here.  It’s at times like this that I wish I was still in therapy, or could talk to my rabbi mentor.  On that note, I couldn’t get in touch with my rabbi mentor while I was in Israel and am now rather worried about him, but unsure how to contact him.  I do have a landline number for him, but am unsure if it’s still a current number, don’t know what time to phone, and have a great deal of social anxiety about using the phone and especially having to speak to his teenage and pre-teen children who I haven’t seen since they were young children.

***

I missed Shacharit (Morning Service) again today.  I woke up at 7.30am and thought I would stay in bed until 8.00am, even though I knew I would probably fall asleep again.  I forgot to tell myself to just get up and eat something and then make a decision about whether to stay up or not.  Everything (depression, social anxiety, motivation) is so much easier once I’ve eaten, but getting to that stage is hard.

***

In shul, the person who gave me the job of tidying up the papers after Shabbat said he really appreciates my doing it.  From the fact he said it out of the blue, I eventually realised he was politely reprimanding me for not doing it the last two weeks (two weeks ago I was sick and last week I was in Israel).  By the time I realised that, he was gone and I didn’t go back and explain it to him, which was more a product of social anxiety than humility.

***

Someone else who I am somewhat friendly with at shul and who knows I am a librarian made a joke about me sorting out his own personal library, but, he added, “I have some books you wouldn’t approve of.”  I was rather dumbfounded.  This was coming from someone with a long, untrimmed beard and black hat, the trappings of Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) conformist piety.  The reality is that I probably would approve and may even have read them, but I was again too shy to say anything.  What could I say in that situation anyway?  It’s not like he said, “Oh, I’ve read book X” and I could say, “Oh, I’ve read that too.”  Still, it shows that my shul may be more diverse in practice and ideology than I thought.  And I guess he is indicating a degree of trust in me to make such a remark.

***

This Jewish year I set myself three targets to meet, to get to shul more frequently, especially on Saturday mornings; to be more patient and less angry or sarcastic with my father; and every evening to list three positive personal characteristics that I exhibited by my actions during the day (to boost self-esteem).  I didn’t really want to do three things, as I thought even one target would be difficult to meet if my depression is bad, but I could not decide what was the biggest priority; in any case, I read somewhere that one should make targets for mitzvot (commandments) between me and God (shul), me and other people (Dad) and me and myself (personal characteristics).  A little over one month into the year, I feel that I’m not doing well on any of them.  However, while I didn’t mean to focus on this, I have made some slight improvements on kavannah (mindfulness) in prayer and mitzvah performance and perhaps also in the amount of Torah study I do and how much I enjoy it.  I’m not quite sure what to make of all this.  Again, something I’d like to discuss with my rabbi mentor.

***

This is a post-Shabbat thing, but I stopped following a blog I’ve been following for many years.  The blog is by a somewhat geeky moderate Haredi woman who at the start of her blogging career was an “older single” (which in Haredi terms is anyone who gets to about twenty-five without being married).  For a long time it was a positive thing for me to see there were other frum (religious) geeky people out there, even in the Haredi world, and even women, and also that other people in the frum world were struggling to find their mates.  But lately the site has been difficult for me to read.  I’m not entirely sure why.  I don’t think it’s because she got married, but it seems to stem from around then, so maybe it is that, on some level.

The final straw was a piece she posted quoting a frum mental health professional who claimed that in the shtetl (the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe in the Medieval and Early Modern era until the Holocaust) people were too busy to suffer from mental health issues; they just forced themselves through things.  This is supposedly why there are no words for many contemporary mental health issues in Yiddish.  I left a polite comment saying that there was no real knowledge of mental illness anywhere in that period; there weren’t words for them in other languages either.  Minor “strange” behaviours were probably ignored as personal idiosyncrasy; more serious problems were dismissed as laziness, weakness, “female hysteria,” “nerves” and so on.  If someone was severely affected and ended up non-functional, they were written-off as “insane” and institutionalised, as probably happened to my great-grandmother (in the UK, not the shtetl).  I also pointed out that, if you know how to read between the lines, a lot of rabbis (the most documented figures) of the last few centuries have shown signs of mental illness.  I forgot to add that the fifth rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch was treated by Sigmund Freud himself.

She didn’t reply.

In the last few years, I have seen myself drifting from a friendly online relationship with her to one where I seem to be annoyed by her a lot and struggling not to show it and this was the final straw.  So, unfollowing seemed more sensible than ending up as a troll.  I would rather check out while we are still on reasonably good terms.  It saddens me, though, as the ending of all friendships do, especially as I have lost too many friends in the last eighteen months for reasons I still struggle to understand.

I do worry about ending up on my own one day.  As I’ve said before, many of my friendships are online, on blogs or via email, and those seem more fragile than in-person friendships.  Since university, I’ve had a lot of close female friends, one at a time, and the friendships often ended badly with some kind of argument; the ones that didn’t ended when they moved away or got married and we drifted out of touch.  E. is the only female friend I’m in regular contact with now.  Maybe the frum relationship advisers are right that men and women can’t be close platonic friends (there was sexual tension in some of those friendships that didn’t last), or maybe I’m just bad at friendship.  Or maybe all friendships are transient and situational and I’m stuck in my situation while my friends move on.

I worry that I will lose E. one day too, but also that I won’t date anyone else while I’m friends with her, because I can’t imagine anyone else being so accepting of me or being so much on my wavelength, nor can I imagine another woman accepting my having such a close friendship with another woman.  At the moment I don’t think I should be dating anyone anyway, so it’s not much of an issue, but I do worry that it will be one day.

Anxiety and Martyrdom Complexes

I saw a psychiatrist today for review.  It was a new psychiatrist; I think the last one is off sick.  Whatever the reason, turnover on the NHS is high and I’ve seen loads of psychiatrists.  I did have one who I saw for several years, but she was the exception.  I mentioned to her that my depression has worsened in the last few weeks.  Neither of us felt that changing medication is an appropriate response at the moment as I’m almost on the highest dose of clomipramine (my main antidepressant) and cutting anything (I’m on three different psychiatric medications) just makes things worse.  We spoke a bit about the effect of unemployment on my mental state and she said she could potentially refer me to somewhere that could help, but we’re not doing that for the moment as it seems that there isn’t much they can offer that isn’t being offered by the two organisations I’m already in touch with.  I also spoke a little bit about being on the waiting list for autism diagnosis, but there isn’t much that can be done about that.

To be honest, I have these reviews every quarter or so and the main reason I go is so that if my mood suddenly gets worse (even worse than currently), I’m on the system and can see someone easily, rather than having to be referred again by my GP, which is a lot of hassle and also slow.  I feel somewhat guilty about wasting NHS resources, especially as one of the bloggers I follow was complaining about lack of NHS resources today, but, as I mentioned the other day, I feel that this is the system I’m in and it’s acceptable to make the most of it.  I do believe in public healthcare, but I think the centralised model of the NHS dates from an era of confidence in central planning that is now long past.  If you were building a public health infrastructure from scratch today, you would not build something like the NHS (as is often stated, the NHS is respected worldwide, but almost never imitated).

Plus, I do believe that with the best will in the world, the NHS will always be overstretched.  If something is free, the demand, economically speaking, is potentially infinite.  If someone was giving out free bars of chocolate, you would potentially take as much as you could, limited mainly by the room you have to store it and the expiry date.  People aren’t going to request chemotherapy without needing it, but potentially many treatments could be over-prescribed to people who want help, but don’t urgently need it (similar to the over-prescription issue with antibiotics).  If they had to pay for it directly, they probably would not get it, being deterred by even a nominal price, but they will take any help that is free.  In an egalitarian, free-at-point-of-use system, it is hard (legally as well as practically) to discriminate between people who urgently need help and those who could benefit from some help, but are not in urgent need.  There is some prioritising of the very needy on the NHS (I think at the discretion of the GP referring the patient, which makes it open to abuse or at least inconsistency), but if you do not need help very urgently you just go on the waiting list with a bunch of people who need help significantly, moderately and perhaps only slightly.

Beyond this,  psychiatry and psychotherapy are incredibly labour intensive (one patient per therapist per hour for therapy; three or four patients per psychiatrist per hour) and requires highly-trained (and therefore expensive) psychiatrists therapists.  Mental illness is common and even people with mild mental health issues could potentially benefit from therapy (to be honest, even some people without a diagnosable condition could benefit from therapy, if money was no object) .  The result is that mental healthcare is always going to be overstretched, until we find a way either to significantly improve human psychological resilience or overcome our limited resources.  It is, however, not politically correct to say this.  Everyone (I mean politicians and commentators of all stripes) buys into the idea that, if only there was more money and less wastage, the NHS would be fine.

The appointment was not particularly long, but I finished exhausted, which was perhaps not the best setup for what happened next…

***

I started to fill in the application form for the school teaching assistant position.  The form is ten pages long, and they still want a cover letter on top of that (to be fair, I don’t think the form has any sections not in standard job application forms; I’m just used to filling them in online where the length isn’t immediately obvious).  I got completely overwhelmed by anxiety and despair.  I feel both overqualified and under-qualified.  Overqualified, because they’re really not expecting someone with an MA to apply for this type of job (to be fair, if I did get the job, I would consider using it as a step towards becoming a qualified teacher).  Under-qualified because I have minimal experience with children and am considering this role primarily because other people think I’m good with children, which is not necessarily the best way to be going about things.  I don’t feel that I’m particularly good with children, although when I do have positive interactions with young children I do find that restoring rather than draining.  But I don’t have those types of interactions (or any interactions, really) all that often.  Plus, I’m not at all sure I could cope with a noisy classroom, autism-wise.  From that point of view special needs teaching, which is often one-on-one, might be better, but I don’t know how to get qualified for that or how to tell if I’m at all suited.

I really feel that this is a bad idea, but I don’t know what else to do about it, especially as everyone around me is saying that it is a brilliant idea.  The frustrating thing is that this job is literally around the corner from where I live.  My commute would be a walk of under ten minutes!  And it’s a Jewish school too.  I don’t know what to do.  I’m thinking of writing to the school I’m applying to and asking if I could volunteer as a teaching assistant for a couple of weeks and see how it goes.  My Mum has also suggested speaking to a friend of hers who is a primary school teacher (and who has apparently been saying for years that I would be a good Jewish primary school kodesh (Jewish studies) teacher).

***

Other stuff is going by the wayside to try and work on this application, and a couple of librarian applications.  “Other stuff” being applying for unemployment benefits and working on my novel.  This time of year is always crazy for religious Jews, with so many festivals in such a short space of time leading to cramming too much stuff (work and other essential activities and chores) into the other days, but I had hoped to make some progress with the novel.

***

I’m not sure whether to write this, as it concerns someone else as well as me, but it’s mainly to criticise myself.  I got annoyed with my Dad for something.  When I decided to contact the school to see if I can volunteer as a teaching assistant, he said I should phone them rather than email and I got annoyed with him.  Like many autistic people, I hate using the phone.  It makes me anxious and I get confused about what to say, when to say it and when and how to end the conversation.  My Dad knows I hate phoning, yet he continually tells me to phone people when I say I intend to email them.  I don’t know why he does this.  I know he says you get an immediate response on the phone, which is true, and that some people don’t answer emails, but email leaves you with a paper trail, which is also useful and the bottom line is that phoning panics me enough that I will procrastinate to extremes, whereas writing an email is (somewhat) less procrastination-inducing.

I just feel bad about getting annoyed with Dad and shouting at him as one of my three Jewish new year’s resolutions was to try to shout at my Dad less and get angry with him less often.  I used to get on well with him, but in the last few years, we clash more and more often. I think his personality has changed quite a bit in recent years and I don’t know why.  I have some ideas, but I can’t go into them here.  I also feel more assertive about saying I have issues from autism now that I have done a lot of reading on it and realise that some of my quirks/difficulties are well-known symptoms of autism, whether it is failing to follow implicit instructions or to take initiative, forgetting verbal instructions and being somewhat pedantic and literal (all points of conflict with Dad).

I know he isn’t going to change and that if I want to improve things, I need to change things myself, but I don’t know how, especially as autistic facial expressions and tone of voice have historically been responsible for me getting into arguments with all my family quite unintentionally i.e. people assume I’m angry when I’m not.  My resolution was to pause before responding to him, but it’s hard to remember that in the heat of the moment and obviously I completely failed to do it here.

***

One last thought: at shiur (religious class) today, the shiur rabbi was saying that, at this time of year (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur/Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement) we should not ask for health, prosperity etc., which we might not use correctly, but rather to be able to serve God in a way without suffering/with health, prosperity etc., but with the emphasis on serving God, not the suffering-free life.  I have a horrid feeling that the reason I can’t deal with my issues is that, on some unconscious level, I don’t want to serve God without suffering, either from self-loathing or a martyrdom complex.

The Trouble with Tribes

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

Thanks for reading.

Running Away Again

I had a difficult Shabbat (Sabbath).  Yesterday I had two autistic/socially anxious moments where I said or did the wrong thing, but, although I beat myself up about them at the time, I felt OK about them today and wasn’t going to blog about them.  I overslept this morning and missed shul (synagogue), which was problematic as I am supposed to go for CBT to counter the social anxiety that keeps me away and I haven’t been for two weeks, albeit more because of depression/exhaustion than because of social anxiety (I just don’t wake up properly).  I dozed this afternoon too, so I probably won’t sleep well tonight.

The really difficult thing, and the reason I’m writing, was this evening.  I’d struggled through seudah (the Third Meal) in shul, worried someone would talk to me or that the rabbi would ask me to lead singing and not sure whether I was misreading other people’s interactions.  Then, when it got to Ma’ariv (the Evening Service), I was asked if I wanted to lead the service.  I’ve led Ma’ariv perhaps hundreds of times, but not since I moved to this community four years ago.  For whatever reason, I instinctively panicked and turned it down.

I felt so angry with myself.  This would have been the ideal chance to get back into davening from the amud (leading services), as there was barely a minyan (ten men) in shul and Ma’ariv is really easy as most of the prayers are private with only little bits read aloud, unlike the other services.  We are supposed to do stuff to help the community.  We are also supposed to use our skills to help others, not sit on them out of fear.  I happen to be reasonably good at leading services, or was when I was doing it regularly.  It was also a chance to get known and accepted in the community, something I struggle with.

Between this and the fact that I generally stay very quiet and don’t show off my Hebrew comprehension (which is reasonably good) or other Jewish knowledge, everyone in shul probably thinks I have bad Hebrew reading skills and that I’m basically an am ha’aretz (ignoramus).  (They probably also think I’m gay for having reached the “ancient” age of thirty-six without having married, but that’s a slightly different issue.)  This was only the second time I’ve been offered to lead a service in three years of going to this shul, so it’s unlikely to happen again any time soon.  (Usually people in mourning have priority for weekday services, so I can only be offered if there are no mourners around or it’s a day when they can’t lead, usually festive days.)

I also feel guilty that I don’t give my parents enough nachas (reflected glory).  They basically haven’t had any from me since I moved to this community four years ago and stopped giving drashot (Torah talks) and leading services.  The last really big thing I did was getting my MA back in early 2014.  I feel bad that they get more nachas from my brother-in-law than they do from me, particularly as it seems very unlikely that I will marry and have children.  I guess it’s another reason to write a novel, although I’m not sure how I would feel about people knowing about my writing.  I’m still wondering if I should write pseudonymously.

When I got home, I filled in one of the thought diary sheets I’m supposed to fill in for CBT when I have negative self-evaluations.  It was actually hard to put into words what I was feeling, but I felt anger at myself (80% intensity) and frustration (90%), possibly some shame (around 60%).  I acknowledged that my thoughts are not helpful, as they won’t help me overcome my anxiety about doing this in the future (if that ever happens).  I couldn’t answer the questions, “How else could I view the situation?  What advice would I give a friend in the this same situation?  (Try to do it next time?  Seems a bit weak and avoiding the real issue.)  What would be more helpful behaviour I could carry out?” (Don’t chicken out and refuse?)  I struggled to find a more balanced evaluation than, “I got anxious and panicked.  I shouldn’t beat myself up about it.”  But knowing I shouldn’t beat myself up doesn’t stop me from beating myself up, especially as I feel that on this occasion I deserve to be beaten up.

You’re So Vain (You Probably Think This Blog Is About You)

The title is directed at myself, before anyone gets upset.

I feel pretty awful again.  Really depressed.  I couldn’t face applying for a law library job today, which are more or less the only viable jobs on my list to apply to at the moment.  I won’t be able to volunteer for a week or two at the new volunteering opportunity I was trying to set up because I procrastinated in responding to an email and now people are away on holiday.

I tried to work on my novel.  I’m doing a lot of planning as I’ve never written fiction at this length or complexity before.  It’s slow.  It’s hard to tell what’s good.  I also wonder if I should start writing, even if I throw it all away later, just to channel some of my enthusiasm and avoid going off the boil (so to speak).  The novel has an autobiographical element, but it’s stripped down in a way; I wanted to write about someone with all my issues, but there were just too many of them for it to be believable or to have space for a plot and other characters.  Actually, I genuinely nearly wrote it with only small roles for other characters, because when I think of things in my life, I genuinely think about my interests and issues long before I think of other people.  And they said I’m not autistic… (autism from autos, ‘self’ because of self-absorption.)  Still, I feel more enthusiastic about writing than about anything else.

I do wonder if it’s worth it.  I wonder if I’ll ever have anything substantial published professionally.  I wonder if I’ll be as successful as a writer as I was as a historian or librarian i.e. not very.  But I don’t have a lot of other options right now.

As I was writing this post, a rejection came in from the publisher I sent my non-fiction Doctor Who book to.  I will keep on submitting it, but it has knocked my already wobbly confidence.  Plus, I told myself I would only date again if I got a job or a book published, despite what my parents and my rabbi mentor said (that I should date right now).  I do get lonely, although these days I think marriage would be just as difficult for me as being single, whether I was living with my parents or not.

I’m struggling with CBT.  I’m supposed to get to shul (synagogue) tomorrow morning as part of my homework, but I suspect I will be too depressed.  I’m also supposed to be talking to strangers (e.g. shop assistants), but I haven’t, partly because of social anxiety (which is what it is supposed to deal with), but also because autism means I have no idea how to have a conversation.  I want to push myself to be more social, but I genuinely don’t know what I could say to someone, beyond a vague idea that British people make a lot of small talk about the weather.

I feel sickened by the anger in politics in general, online and especially online politics.  Treating ‘politics’ as a wide concept, not a narrow part-political one.  I like to hear people and make my own mind up about things.  I don’t have much time for “calling out” or aggressive posturing.  I should probably go and live in a cave or something.  I just want to hear people’s stories.  I realised that’s what the explosion of thoughts I’ve had lately about writing novels is about: telling stories, the stories that don’t get told, my own and other people who I can empathise with in some way (which is tricky with autism, which makes empathy difficult, but that’s another story – autistic empathy issues are arguably more about not knowing how to react to other people’s emotions rather than not feeling them, so not necessarily such a problem for a writer, but this is controversial).

I’m going to watch Doctor Who for the first time in ages to cheer myself up.  Star TrekBatman and The Avengers are all very good, but when I’m very depressed Doctor Who reaches parts other programmes can not reach.  I picked Warriors’ Gate, because I wanted Tom Baker and a surreal, disturbing environment.

Feeling Weird and Depressed

I’m supposed to go to shul tomorrow morning for CBT homework, but I’m really not sure that I’m going to make it.  I just feel too depressed in the mornings even without the social anxiety that I’m supposed to be challenging.  If I do go, I might cut down some of my evening shul-going, although I doubt I’ll cut it out completely.  It’s hard to know what to cut, though.

I’m still feeling a lot of anger and resentment about the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community.  I blame them for the fact that I’m still single and the fact that I don’t fit in to the community or have many frum friends (not that I have many non-frum friends either).  I feel that they’re trying to force me to think and behave a certain way.  I get angry and resentful, but after a while sometimes I think, “Well, I can’t really blame them for the fact that I don’t fit in.”  To be honest, I probably don’t even try to fit in that much, but it’s hard to try even the little bit that I do, such is the disempowering nature of depression, social anxiety and especially autism.  The problem is that I don’t know what I should actually do to fit in.  As someone on the spectrum, I do not have that knowledge that other people would have intuitively of how to fit in to a community.  I think even people who are not frum could do a better job than I do at talking to people at my shul and trying to fit in.

While beating myself up for blaming my community, I also feel bad about being so upset by people much younger than me getting engaged, but it is what I feel and I don’t know how to change that.  I try telling myself that other people being married doesn’t stop me getting married (it’s not like I’m going to marry a twenty year old) and that the world is miserable enough that it’s good that someone is happy even if it can’t be me, but I still feel like I’m going to be depressed and alone forever.  In my more depressed, but more self-aware moments, I feel like I wouldn’t be happy even in a relationship.  I doubt very much that any of my crushes would have worked out, nor the first woman I dated.  I think E. is the only person I’ve liked where things might have worked out with, except for the financial issue.  Which is a big thing and rather intrinsic to me at the moment.  I do feel that I missed the boat and there are no single women my age left, which isn’t true, but also sort of is, at least in the frum world, where really most people are married well before they turn thirty and most of the single people my age would be divorcées with children.  Not that I would even rule them out, but it would pose even more challenges to the huge pile I already have.

My CBT therapist is trying to get me to think that it is possible for me to get married, but I honestly believe that that, while possible, is hugely unlikely by this stage and that I’d be much better off trying to accept that I will be single and lonely for the near future and try to learn to cope with it.  I might get married one day, if I can sort my life out, but probably too late to have children, and far too far off for it to be much comfort now.  I can see myself getting married in my fifties, if I somehow get my life together and start a a career, rather than in my late thirties.

When I have thoughts like, “I’m weird, I’m never going to get married,” I’m supposed to challenge them, but I do believe that I am weird in my community.  Normal people get set up on shidduch dates by people who know them; I don’t.  I just don’t know enough frum people and/or those I do know don’t know women the right age and/or they simply aren’t interested in helping me.  Maybe that’s not weirdness per se, but it does make it hard to date when the usual means of dating is cut off from me.

I feel such a bad Jew.  I feel I should take responsibility for my actions and not blame other people.  I feel I should have a straightforward loving relationship with HaShem  (God) and Torah the way other people in my community seem to.  I feel I should care again.  I wish I could care again.  I wish I knew how to fit in.  But I can’t do any of these things.

I want to talk to my rabbi mentor about the community angst.  Maybe I’m worrying too much about being excluded if I share my thoughts.  I don’t know.  But I can’t get hold of him at the moment as he’s very busy and travelling a lot.

***

One of the job agencies I’m signed up for has sent me a library assistant role again.  I don’t really want to apply for it, because I’m over-qualified, plus it would be a lot of personal interaction and I’m not sure that I could cope.  But it would be a job and I really need a job.  I really want to focus on my writing, but I haven’t got the courage to say that to anyone.  Am I desperate enough to do a job I’m over-qualified for (again)?  I don’t know.  My parents feel this type of job might lead on to an assistant librarian job, but I’m inclined to think if anything it would be the reverse: that once I have this on my CV, I’ll be tainted forever and never get another librarian job.  But it’s so hard to find work that is within my experience level, let alone that I could do with depression and autism.

I’m trying to job hunt, but I’m practically in tears.  I can’t face any of the jobs available.  I just want to write.  I suppose really I don’t want to be here at all, but given that I am here, I just want to write.  One job advert is looking for someone “Enthusiastic and resilient” which is the exact opposite of what I am.  I applied for one job, wrote to ask for more information on a second and decided I didn’t have the skill set for a third.  This is what passes for productivity in my life at the moment, when I’m not writing.

Doing online job applications when wifi drops every two minutes isn’t much fun either.

***

Today is the first day of the Hebrew month of Av, the saddest month in the calendar (also, the yortzeit of Aharon).  Also my Hebrew birth month.  Apparently it’s supposed to be the happiest month in the year, but only when Mashiach (the Messiah) comes.  This is not much of a comfort to me.  I’m supposed to be mourning the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, but it’s hard to focus on something I’ve never seen when I’m so caught up in my own troubles and when I already have a degree of anger at HaShem for my life.

***

In other news, I finished reading Gershom Scholem’s book on the history of Kabbalah (actually a compilation of his articles for the Encyclopedia Judaica on kabbalah, but also on the Shabbatean movement, which is hardly mainstream kabbalah.  Interesting, though).  It hasn’t made me more inclined to study kabbalah and I remain rather sceptical of its provenance and intrinsic monotheism.  I suppose that’s another thing to hide in shul (synagogue).

The real exciting news today is that police raided a cannabis farm down the road.  I didn’t see it, but I did see a bunch of bored looking police officers standing outside when I came back from CBT yesterday.  Who says suburbia is boring?

I, Claudius?

People half my age are getting married in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community.  I think the daughter of our neighbour just got engaged (there’s a party going on there at the moment and I can’t think what anyone would be celebrating on an evening in The Three Weeks except a vort (engagement)), and certainly the son of someone from shiur (religious class) just got engaged today.  Both must be in their early twenties at most, perhaps even late teens.  It is hard to feel happy for them, although I try.  I just feel that I really missed that boat.  I feel simmering resentment and loneliness, which is irrational (it’s not like they’re the reason I’m not married) and unpleasant.  I try to feel happy, but I can’t.  I’m expected to feel happy for everyone else, but never for myself.  It’s not like anyone is even trying to set me up with anyone.  This is why I feel resentful when people praise the closeness and supportiveness of the frum community.  It never seems to support me.

I know I’m supposed to challenge my negative thoughts for CBT, including my “I’ll never get married” thoughts, but the evidence in favour of being single forever seems a lot stronger than the evidence against, even though I doubt I could convince my CBT therapist, not least because one needs a detailed understanding of the frum community to understand just how broken I would be considered, which my therapist doesn’t have.  Women in the frum community could reasonably expect me to pray with a congregation and study Torah a lot more than I do as well and any woman wanting a family would require a more substantial income (or any income).  More than this, my experiences with my friends – those who have stayed friends and those who have given up on me, often angrily – has shown me that only someone with issues similar to me own and who is willing to see me as a source of support for herself as well as being someone she would have to support could bear to be with me for a prolonged period.  This seems unlikely to happen, based on past experience, and even if it did, it is doubtful that two people with serious issues could afford to marry each other.

***

A theme of today has been, “What is weird?”  At CBT I spoke about feeling weird while doing my CBT homework (asking for help in a shop and shaking hands with and talking to the rabbi after shul (synagogue)).  I felt somewhat weird doing the first of these (because the shop assistant didn’t understand what I wanted) and perhaps the second too (because I felt I wasn’t responding to him the right way).  My CBT therapist felt that the other people involved would probably not have seen me as weird.  She said my homework in coming weeks will involve doing things that will deliberately make me seem weird, so that I can see it is nothing to worry about.  This reminds me of the yeshiva in nineteenth century Lithuania that used to send its bachurim on foolish errands, like asking for eggs in a hardware shop, to teach them not to care what other people think about them.

I’m not sure how I feel about this.  When I’m in therapy, it seems fairly logical that I’m not particularly weird and that other people are mostly too preoccupied with their own stuff to care about me or even to really notice me.  Also that I have no objective evidence that I will never get a job or get married.  But outside of therapy I feel objectively weird and that my autism makes me objectively weird.  Plus, it seems there is a lot of evidence that I will be unemployed and single forever, but that my therapist disallows it because it is (I admit) somewhat circumstantial rather than full-blown logical PROOF that would stand up in court.  Who cares if it stands up in court?  It’s enough to make me miserable even if it is circumstantial.

Maybe it even feels like a choice: I can get over the depression with CBT or I can be diagnosed as autistic (and therefore objectively acknowledged as weird), but not both.  I want to get over the depression, but I feel I am on the spectrum and should be diagnosed as such.  Does that make me weird?

The therapist had a better point saying that worrying about being unemployed and single doesn’t actually achieve anything and is pointless.

When I was growing up, a lot of people said I was weird, some to my face.  It became part of my self-image.  Even people who did not call me weird directly (e.g. adult authority figures) tried to socialise me out of behaviour that I would now consider normal autistic behaviour, making me feel that if I was “just myself” I would be seen as weird by everyone and I would have to change to fit in.

However, all this said, I still feel that I am objectively weird, at least within my community.  I think it is objectively weird in the community to accept evolution and an old universe, to think the Zohar was not written by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, to watch Doctor Who and especially to care about it enough to write a book about it.  Some of these things might be permissible privately, on a small scale, but doing/believing all of them is pushing things.  For example, I remember a shiur a few years ago where there was an argument of sorts between the rabbi and some of the congregants over whether tzedaka (charity) should only be given to Jews or to non-Jews too.  I felt that people disagreed a bit here, although the rabbi was pretty adamant in his view, but to dissent on other things, or too many things, was not right.  I don’t know how to explain this to my therapist.

***

Related to this, I just watched episode three of I Claudius.  I’m enjoying it more now that Claudius is an adult in the main part of the story and not just the framing narrative.  I empathise with Claudius, who stutters, twitches and limps as well as seeming clumsy and stupid.  He is advised to continue doing this to avoid seeming like a threat in the literally murderous imperial court of Rome.  I don’t do all of those things, but I empathise with being the outsider who is seen as weird and unmarryable.  At the end of the episode, he gets married.  As he and his bride stand up to be blessed by the priest, everyone bursts out laughing at the fact that she towers over him.  I could hardly watch it, it felt so painful and real to me.

Alienated

When I said that I was planning not to post tonight, I knew I was tempting fate (not that I believe in fate).  Inevitably, I had a terrible Shabbat (Sabbath) and need to offload.

The good thing was that I did my CBT homework of shaking hands with the rabbi and grinning at his banter (I didn’t really know what to say).  The bad thing was everything else.

On my way to shul (synagogue) I realised I was feeling a lot of anger and frustration directed at shul and the community.  Feeling frustrated that I have to hide my beliefs and behaviours because they would be considered “too modern” and unacceptable.  Things like being a Doctor Who fan and trying to write a book about it, accepting evolution and an old Earth, not taking Midrashim literally and not believing that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai wrote the Zohar.  Stuff that would be normal and accepted in a Modern Orthodox community, but not a somewhat Haredi/ultra-Orthodox one.  I felt like this during shul and things probably got worse because of the noise.  The Kabbalat Shabbat service seems to have got very loud and happy-clappy recently, I think since the new rabbi came, and I struggle with it because of my autism.  I like the tunes, I just wish it wasn’t so loud and there wasn’t so much clapping and thumping the tables.  No dance circle this week at least.

I like the people at my shul, I like the speed and style of davening (prayer), I think we have interesting shiurim (religious classes) even if I don’t agree with them, but I feel like some kind of Marrano the whole time, hiding my true identity for fear of rejection.  And also hiding my illnesses and issues: when the assistant gabbai (the person who runs the service) said that I should come to shul in the morning so they can call me to the Torah, I was too shy to say I have health issues and just smiled in an embarrassed way.

When I came home, I tried to explain this to my parents, but they didn’t really understand.  I don’t think they understand the sociology of the Anglo-Jewish community the way I do.  All the demographic data suggests that the community, specifically the younger members, is polarising: some are becoming Haredi, most are stopping being religious at all.  The middle ground, which once dominated the community in a way unlike the US and Israel, is rapidly vanishing.

My Dad said I should just be myself, regarding both my religious beliefs and my illness.  I was upset and said it is easy to say “Be yourself” if you already have friends who accept you.  I shouldn’t have said it, and immediately realised that, which only added to my upset.  Between this and the friends who stopped talking to me, I’m not having a great time lately with dealing with people.  I probably got into one of my ruts where depression and autism make me super-pessimistic and unwilling to listen to advice.  I leapt on my Mum for describing autism as a “mental health” issues, which strictly speaking it is not, but I should have just let it go.  I really shouldn’t have brought the issue up, because I knew they wouldn’t understand or be able to help, but I needed to vent and I couldn’t blog until after Shabbat, nor do I know when I might be able to speak to my rabbi mentor about it.  My parents suggested trying to talk to various people, but the only one I thought might help is a Modern Orthodox rabbi family friend, although I don’t know what I would actually say to him.

I honestly don’t know how to open up to people.  Dad thinks people would accept my religious heterodoxy; I don’t think they will, and I don’t know how to bring it up with out sounding like I’m trying to be deliberately controversial.  I know some people from shul are more Zionist than the rabbis (past and present), but I haven’t seen people cross any other lines.  Aside from evolution (which they have probably heard about whether they believe in it on not), I don’t know if anyone would have even heard that some people don’t take Midrashim literally or that the Zohar is Medieval not Mishnaic.  And I don’t know how to talk about autism or depression, especially as my psychodynamic psychotherapist warned me that I hide behind my issues to push people away (or something.  I don’t think I ever really understood it).

I struggled to sleep last night again, probably because I was upset.  Today I slept too much, which I think has become a way of avoiding shul.  I decided I was too depressed to go back to shul at all today, especially as I want to try to volunteer tomorrow.  I went for a short walk and saw some people from shul who were friendly, which in some ways made me feel worse.  They are nice people, I just have a different hashkafah (religious philosophy).  There isn’t a shul that is a better fit, though.  My parents’ shul is more modern, but I didn’t like it there for a whole host of reasons.  There is another Modern Orthodox shul, but it’s the other side of town and I couldn’t walk over there regularly.

The other thing that upset me was looking in one of the autism books I bought yesterday where the author defends autistic people against the charge of being “under-achievers” by saying that they don’t do what neurotypical people do, but that’s because they have different priorities.  That’s true up to a point, but I would like to have a career and family as well as meeting my own priorities (which I haven’t met yet anyway – no books published yet).  And, if you went to Oxford, but at the age of thirty-six have still never had a full-time job and only two real relationships, neither lasting more than nine months, it is easy to feel that you did not meet your early promise.

Anyway, I suppose I should think about watching some TV to unwind and then going to bed if I want to go to volunteering tomorrow.

Hypothetical Questions

The house is sporty today.  Mum watched the tennis while Dad watched the cricket.  I should add that this is all on TV (although Dad is going to the cricket later in the week with my brother-in-law).  I have zero interest in cricket and tennis, or netball and formula one racing (which apparently were also on today).  I have zero interest in watching any sport.  I can sort of see the appeal of playing sport, but I’ve never really seen the appeal of watching other people play sport.  Maybe I’m just not competitive.

***

Ashley Leia said on my last post that I do a lot of peopling on Shabbat which I guess is true, although at the moment I’m so focused on the fact that I keep missing morning shul because of social anxiety that I don’t focus on how much other social interaction I have, especially as interactions with my parents feel like they shouldn’t count as draining.  They aren’t as stressful as other social interactions, but they are still draining on some level.  No wonder Sundays tend to be something of a depressive wash out (including today).

***

There was an article in the newspaper about “incels” – “involuntarily celibate” men who become angry and misogynistic.  Well, it could be that they become angry and misogynistic, but equally it could be anger issues and misogyny that keep them celibate.  They seem to have an entitled attitude that assumes that they should get to sleep with whoever they want to.  The thing is, some of the incels mentioned in the article have mental health issues or autism, which made the article resonate with me in a negative way.

I would not identify as an incel, but if I’m asked about my sexuality (which, generally speaking, I’m not), I would define as “celibate” because that does define me more than being heterosexual, at least in some ways.  Even though my celibacy is for both religious and emotional reasons, because I would not have sex outside marriage and because I couldn’t cope emotionally with being with anyone as a casual hookup, it is still part of how I see myself, as someone who, for whatever reason, is not currently seeking sex and struggles being in a wider (Western) culture that permits and, to some extent, expects casual sex as well as in an (Orthodox Jewish) culture that promotes and expects early marriage.

I’m glad I don’t get sucked into outwardly expressing anger about my loneliness or anything else.  I do sometimes fume inside my head about things (mostly antisemitism these days) and in the past I’ve drifted into angry suicidal thoughts (hoping to make people feel guilty for my death), but mostly I turn my anger inward as depression and low self-esteem, which isn’t any healthier but at least isn’t hurting anyone else (incels have been known to murder women).  But I can see that these men have a warped view of sex and relationships as being about taking rather than giving and, as I said, they assume they have a right to sleep with whoever they want.

I desperately want to find someone who I can give to, but with depression and autism I can only give in certain ways.  I certainly wouldn’t blame anyone for not wanting to be around me, either as a friend or as a partner.  I know I’m a lot to take, with all my issues.  I just worry that sooner or later everyone will leave me.

On this note, periodically someone will leave one or more comments on my blog, or even message me through my contact page, saying they like my blog and get a lot out of it.  And I feel pleased for a while.  And then I stop hearing from them.  If they were on my followers list, they disappear from it.  I know people stop following blogs all the time, for a whole variety of reasons, but this always leaves me worrying that I said or did something wrong, doubly so since falling out with the friends who didn’t like my blogging.  I worry I was too religious or too political or said something offensive without realising it.  I’ve had friendships that went like this too.  Possibly I’m overthinking this.  I just want to connect with people, really, and I worry that there’s something about me that stops that (it possibly starts with ‘a’ and ends with ‘utistic’).

It doesn’t help that I’m a great one for wondering “What if…?”  What if I had spoken to the woman I had a crush on (for any given crush)?  What if I had gone to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary)?  And so on.  E. asked me today what I thought my life would be like if I hadn’t become religious.  I think I would probably still be depressed, as the depression stems from autism and childhood experiences as much as anything.  I could see myself as a militantly anti-religious atheist, funnily enough.  I would have a wider dating pool if I didn’t restrict myself just to frum women, but I think I would still struggle to find a partner because of autism and social anxiety.  I would probably fit in better in Doctor Who fandom and maybe in academia; my social life at university would have been either slightly better or significantly worse for not having the Jewish Society to go to.  And if I was more settled in fandom or academia, peer pressure would probably drag my political beliefs further left.  Although I’m not sure it’s sensible to think about this too much, especially as there’s probably an element of chaos theory that makes such changes unpredictable.

***

The library job that I had a year ago (the one I left because they made the job more people-based and my boss said she didn’t think I could cope with it) is still advertising for my boss’ position.  I wonder if I made a mistake leaving that job, if things could have turned out so differently with a different boss.  I wonder if I could have done the new version of the job, as other jobs I have been applying for have been similarly people-based.  I suppose I’ll never know as they aren’t advertising any assistant librarian jobs and I wouldn’t apply for the senior librarian role.

***

My main tasks for today were setting up my new phone (mostly done, although the phone number won’t transfer from the old phone until tomorrow or possibly Tuesday) and reading for CBT.  The latter was largely about safety behaviours and saying that they can be counter-productive.  I agree with that, but I feel that some safety behaviours are necessary, particularly for my autism.  If I avoid going to parties because I’m socially anxious I can see that that would be potentially negative and counter-productive, but what if I avoid them because they make me feel uncomfortable because of sensory overload?  I have the same mixture of social anxiety and autism around Simchat Torah celebrations (which happens more frequently than my getting invited to parties).

CBT and phone took much longer than expected, so I didn’t get much else done other than going for a walk.  I was prepared to cook dinner, but apparently we’re ordering takeaway pizza.  I need to get away from screens for a bit, though, so I’m posting this now.

Pushing Myself Too Hard?

I felt pretty depressed for much of today.  I had insomnia last night and didn’t fall asleep until 5.00am and so overslept this morning and woke up feeling exhausted and very depressed.  This led to me missing volunteering again, largely due to oversleeping and depression, but perhaps it is also avoidance of social situations that I no longer feel comfortable in, if I ever did, which makes me feel guilty, not least for letting people down.  It does feel that I can’t cope with much right now and job hunting and trying to take steps to sell my writing is pushing me to the limit and that shul (synagogue) and volunteering as well as support groups and socialising are being cut back as a result.  That’s not entirely true, as for about three of the last four weeks I’ve managed to get to one weekday minyan (prayer service) at shul, which is an improvement on recent months.  Still, the overall trend is to retreat inside myself.

I feel bad for letting the organisers of the drop in centre down and for running away (essentially).  As I mentioned in a comment on the last post, it was instilled in me from a young age that I shouldn’t run away from social situations, and the fact that I do run away a lot creates a lot of negative thoughts about myself.  Even though I know this approach is not helpful, I can’t get around the fact that it feels “wrong” and that I “should” be able to cope if I “try hard enough.”  Also, that if I do try “hard enough” one day something magical will happen and I will suddenly feel comfortable talking to strangers and being in crowds as supposedly happens to shy people who push themselves out of their comfort zone.

I did manage to do one chore I’d been putting off for ages and also went for a half hour walk, listening to some of an In Our Time podcast on Zeno’s Paradoxes, but that’s about all I’ve managed today.  I tried to do some Torah study, but didn’t manage very much, only about ten minutes.  I formatted the article I want to submit to a Jewish newspaper in accordance with these guidelines, but I’m aware that these are for (a) short stories, not articles and (b) possibly out of date (the content treats word processors as relatively new).  But I can’t find any other guidelines.  I hope to send the article off tomorrow, when I will hopefully feel well enough to draft a decent covering email.  I do feel like a child playing at being an adult and feel sure I will make stupid mistakes.

The article I’m trying to sell is about being understanding of people with mental illness who can’t do as much as other people, but I’m really bad at turning that advice on myself, even though I would never push another person the way I

***

At 4.00am, when I couldn’t sleep, I suddenly felt really angry against the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community, feeling that I have been “cheated” of my place in it.  In theory the community is meritocratic, with positions of honour granted to brilliant scholars and people who sacrifice for the community, at least for men (women’s positions of honour seem to be more complicated, sociologically-speaking, and I don’t fully understand how it works).  I suppose I feel that if I was not depressed and autistic, or if I had gone to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) or if I had been frum from birth instead of a ba’al teshuva (raised non-religious and became observant later in life), my life would have been different.  Of course, there is no knowing what could have happened if one starts going down this route, and the idea that I am somehow “owed” something by the community is disturbingly angry, entitled and perhaps even paranoid.  Still, this is what I was thinking at 4.00am.  I am not proud of it, but there it is.  I suppose it reflects what is going on in my mind at a deep, unconscious level.

It probably also reflects the idea that I feel I need to be a certain type of person not just to be respected in my community, but to get married.  I’m not sure how many people “deserve” to be in a relationship and have children or are “ready” for it.  How many frum people who get married at nineteen or twenty are objectively “ready”?  What does that even mean?  Regardless, I’m used to hearing things like “If you don’t like yourself single, you won’t like yourself in a relationship” or that one shouldn’t start a relationship if one has “issues.”  It becomes easy to feel that if I was somehow visibly, objectively “ready” to get married, I would find love, even that my community (which shows surprisingly little interest in marrying me off) would set me up on dates.

***

Another thing I was thinking about early this morning was making my blog invitation only.  Lying in bed, I realised in my last post I had spoken about other people again, even though my rabbi mentor had really convinced me that I should not do so.  I think I’m good at not saying anything negative about identifiable people, although I do slip up from time to time, but my experiences of the last couple of weeks makes me wonder if I should say anything at all about other people.  Was the comment about the person who asked why I wasn’t at the social event too negative or identifiable?  It does not seem likely, but it does not meet the standard I was aiming for.  But I’m not sure how I could continue blogging with that standard.  I write about my negative feelings and my most negative feelings are often triggered by things other people say or do to me.  As I don’t think I can stop blogging, hiding it from the public seems to be the next best thing.

I briefly looked in to making the blog invitation only, but it looks rather complicated on WordPress compared to Livejournal (who thought I would be nostalgic for Livejournal…).  Also, my experience is if people can’t use their normal blog readers to read a blog, they stop reading it, however much they like it.  I might experiment with password-protected posts, which I have seen other people do, but even that is not ideal.  Essentially, I think there are about twenty people, so far as I can tell, who regularly read this blog (based on comments and likes) and I want to find a way to allow them to read easily while stopping other people, but I’m not sure there is an easy way of doing that.

Bounded in a Nutshell

“I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.” Hamlet, William Shakespeare

I felt a huge amount of anger with HaShem (God) yesterday evening.  I’m just so lonely and feel so useless and I can’t see any way out.  It’s illogical to be angry with Him about my own failings, but I feel that if I wasn’t autistic and depressed, I wouldn’t be so lonely and isolated, which leads on to anger with Him for making me autistic (blame for the depression is more complicated).  I feel if I wasn’t autistic, I would be able to function in the frum (religious) world as He wants, but as it is, I can’t function.

I didn’t know how to process the anger, so I ended up hurting myself for the first time in a while.  I hit my legs with my fists while trying to talk to HaShem;  later I scratched myself slightly, but I’m not quite sure why I did that.  I have been fantasising about death again lately too, mainly just thinking that however bad things are here, one day I’ll be dead and unable to feel any more pain.

***

I’m still struggling with what to do about dating.  It still feels wrong, morally wrong, to date while I’m not just unemployed, but not even sure what I want to do with my life any more.  And I can’t face the thought of rejection and it seems there are so many reasons why someone would reject me (autistic, depressed, weird geeky interests, didn’t go to yeshiva or otherwise tick the appropriate frum boxes) even without being unemployed too.  Nor do I look forward to having to turn down someone I don’t feel is right for me.  And I’m wary of thinking that things will be better if I’m in a relationship (although it is true that I have felt better when I’ve been in a relationship in the past, even if I wasn’t “recovered”).

However, I just feel so lonely.  I feel like everyone has their partner except me.  This is blatantly untrue (a number of my friends are single), but reflects how I feel.  I feel that I am mostly self-contained.  I don’t need other people with me all the time.  I have solitary hobbies and even things like watching TV I prefer to do alone (I don’t like watching TV with other people because I don’t watch TV casually.  I don’t channel hop, I only watch things I want to watch and which I think are worth my time, but then I watch them with complete concentration and dislike noise and interruptions, particularly as the programmes I watch tend to be plot-heavy and reasonably complex to follow).  I should really be happy living alone as I’m an introvert and a bit of a loner.  But, as seen when my parents are away, when I’m actually alone, I do get more depressed, even though logically I should welcome being alone.  I do, on some level, need people around me, even if I don’t interact with them much.  I also need to be able to love and to feel loved and I’m rather starved of both of these things and have been much of my life.  My parents and my sister do care about me, but there are so difficulties in those relationships, most probably stemming from my autism and my having different “love languages” to my family.  We probably aren’t very good at showing love to each other in ways the other person can comprehend.

I try to cope with things and be self-contained (“If you are miserable alone, you will be miserable in a relationship” as everyone says), but I just feel so unbearably lonely and unloved that it’s impossible to escape the depression for long.

***

I saw the psychiatrist today.  It didn’t go well.  She focused on my unemployment, repeatedly telling me that I should get a job, which wasn’t terribly helpful.  She did suggest doing voluntary work, which is probably a good idea.  I didn’t feel like she was really listening, nor did I have the confidence to tell her that my depression and social anxiety are just as bad, if not worse, when I’m working, because of issues surrounding autism and mental illness in the workplace.  In fact, I haven’t told this psychiatrist about my autism at all, as the last one said that if I’ve been told I haven’t got it by the Maudsley Hospital, I don’t have it and that’s final.  As my GP has referred me for another assessment at the Maudsley, I’m not going to raise the issue again until I’ve had that assessment.

As well as sounding disappointed with me for not having a job, she sounded disappointed with me for not having friends.  I said I had “one or two” which is a simplification (I have two or three I’m in contact with regularly, but via text as they live elsewhere; I have one or two friends who live locally, but I usually only see them in shul (synagogue)).   I couldn’t really be bothered to explain as she didn’t seem interested and I was struggling to understand her accent; possibly she was struggling with mine too.  She asked if I am in a relationship; she didn’t really react when I said I’m not.  When she asked what I do when I’m not job hunting, I said I write a bit, which she misheard as “write a book” which is basically true so I didn’t correct her.

She asked if I have thoughts of self-harm or suicide and I said yes, because I have had them in the last couple of days, but she didn’t really seem to care as I said I wouldn’t act on the suicidal thoughts, which is probably true, and that I wouldn’t act on the self-harm thoughts, which was a lie because I did last night.  I don’t know why I lied; probably because it was very minor and I just wanted to get out of the appointment room.  I just didn’t feel comfortable opening up to her as she seemed to just want to process me quickly and get to the next patient and seemed to think that finding a job will be a panacea for me.

***

Today’s potential jobs: a school librarian maternity cover job (I don’t want to work in further education again after struggling previously); an “information assistant” that seems to be a library assistant role rather than an assistant librarian and has a lethal-looking commute; and a role billed as “knowledge librarian” but which also seems to be a library assistant role rather than a trained librarian role, judging from the lack of professional skills in the job description and which also requires SharePoint experience that I don’t have.  I was then reminded that I applied for a “knowledge librarian” role a few days ago; I think it was the same job as the job descriptions are similar, although it’s hard to be sure, as both jobs are advertised through different agencies and don’t state the name of the company that is advertising the job (this happens a lot and is very frustrating).

It is probably no wonder that I really want to do something else with my life, something I find more rewarding.  But, just as I don’t have the courage to start dating again, I don’t have the courage (or knowledge and perhaps the ability) to try to write professionally.

***

I feel like I’m coming down with a migraine, so the rest of the day is probably a wipe-out now.

Meaning from Suffering

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

The Diogenes Club Shtiebel

I spent Shabbat (the Sabbath) struggling with social anxiety and autism.  It was the last official Shabbat in the community for both the rabbi and the assistant rabbi and their wives and there was to be a celebratory seudah shlishit (third Shabbat meal) in their honour.  On Friday night, after Lecha Dodi, people started circle-dancing.  I dislike this at the best of times.  Autistically, I dislike the enforced close proximity and having to hold hands with two strangers (or at least people I don’t know well).  Social anxiously, I feel self-conscious, that everyone is looking at me and judging me.  Depressively, I can rarely enter into the spirit of things and really enjoy it.  Plus, our shul (synagogue) isn’t always big enough for all the people, so the circle can be rather tight and uncomfortable.  Sometimes I force myself to join in with this, but after a tiring job interview on Friday and perhaps being somewhat disorientated by the layout of the shul being different to usual and, as a result, my not being able to sit with my friends, I just couldn’t face it, so I stood outside the circle with the mourners, feeling self-conscious.

In the morning I woke up on time to go to shul, which you may recall I’ve been trying to do for some weeks now, but then I remembered the previous night and couldn’t face the large numbers of people who would be there this week.  I went back to bed, which was a mistake, as I could have gone to a different shul or even stayed awake and davened (prayed) at home, but I was obviously too tired to think straight.  I did at least avoid napping after lunch by forcing myself to go for a walk.

The real test was in the afternoon.  Talmud shiur (class) passed fine, but then, because the school hall wish usually serves as the shul was being used for the seudah, we davened in a classroom, about eighty men squeezed into a room intended for thirty children.  I felt terrible.  I was just overwhelmed by the proximity to other people.  I managed to stay for the whole of Mincha (the Afternoon Service), although I didn’t really have a choice, as it would have been hard to push past dozens of people to get out.

I washed and went through to the seudah.  I tried to sit with my friends, but I wasn’t able to do so.  I made motzei and ate a bit, but I was feeling very uncomfortable.  There were probably around 120 people, including some young children, all making a lot of noise and crammed close together.  I wasn’t with anyone I knew and no one was talking to me and I did not feel confident to talk to anyone else.  To be honest, this is what usually happens at seudah: I just eat and sit silently and wait for the shiur to start, but I assumed there wouldn’t be a proper shiur here, just a few speeches.  I felt like I couldn’t cope and that I was being overwhelmed, so I decided to quietly bentsch to myself (which I know I shouldn’t do when there is a zimun, but I considered it a health matter) and go.  I went home and read and then went to my father’s shul for Ma’ariv (the Evening Service) even though I think they daven too fast and with too much talking because I couldn’t face the crowded classroom a second time.

Since I was screened for autism and found out that I am probably on the spectrum, I am more confident about avoiding social events if I feel they aren’t right for me.  I know I’m better off coming home when I feel OK than going and feeling terrible.  When I was a child, my parents told me to go to social events and to talk to people I didn’t know, on the grounds that eventually my shyness would go away and it would become easier to cope.  I now know that my brain is wired differently to most people and it will always be like that, however hard I try to make things different.  I feel less inclined to “force myself” to go to social things now.

Still, I wonder how to build a social life for myself.  I feel like I’m some kind of social diabetic.  If I socialise too much – and “too much” is really very little – I get overwhelmed and can’t cope.  But if I don’t socialise at all, I feel lonely and unloved.  It’s hard to find the right level.  Moreover, how can I meet friends, have a sense of community or find a wife (in a community where people are usually set up on dates by mutual friends or family) if I can’t bear to go to social events at shul?  I’ve been going to my shul for several years now and I still only have two or three friends and no one I can really open up to.  Certainly no one in my shul has ever tried to set me up on a date.

Even though I left feeling more positive than on some previous occasions when I have forced myself to attend events where I felt socially anxious and autistically overwhelmed, I was left with a vague sense of resentment and unfairness, a mixture of envy and hatred for all the frum men I saw in my community today who manage to do what I can’t do and socialise happily, with their laughter and their whisky and their sports conversations, not to mention their attractive wives and cute children, all the things I don’t have.  It’s bad of me to feel this mixture of envy and hatred with a dash of lust (for married women at that), but I do.  I beat myself up for it, but it doesn’t go away.  The loneliness it triggered has also led on to “crush” thoughts about someone (not from my shul, but who I’m very unlikely to meet again any time soon), despite my telling myself, and my shadchan (matchmaker) that I don’t want to date until I’ve sorted out my work situation.

A curious side-light on this: there is someone at my shul who irritates me.  I try not to be irritated, because it’s pointless and because it’s sinful, but it’s unavoidable sometimes.  This person always has to answer the questions in shiur and he talks over other people, even the assistant rabbi.  He doesn’t really seem to take much notice of other people’s conversation, but just focuses on what he wants to say.  I never thought much of it, but today he started a huge argument with the people setting up the seudah, saying that he couldn’t sit near a particular food because he can’t stand the smell and that they shouldn’t put it on the table near him.  He got incredibly, shockingly angry about it until someone calmed him down.  I found myself wondering if he was autistic himself (possibly undiagnosed).  It would explain his lack of awareness of social cues and the ‘taking turns’ aspect of conversation, as well as sensory issues (the smell of the food) and emotional management issues around them (getting angry might even have been a meltdown, although this was before the seudah started, so he couldn’t really have been overstimulated).  I thought this would help me to empathise with him, but I just got more annoyed with him.  I feel that I want to say, “You just walk blithely through life not noticing all the people around you who you’re snubbing, you expect people at the seudah to fit in with your needs and your wishes and you don’t care what happens.  You don’t even seem to realise that you are inconveniencing people.  You go to the shiur and enjoy it and enjoy showing off your knowledge, you go to seudah and enjoy it.  I go through life terrified I’m going to upset somebody, I rarely speak for fear of saying the wrong thing (upsetting someone or appearing stupid), I can’t cope with the seudah and have to leave early, yet I’m the one who can’t cope with the deep, powerful, terrifying emotions aroused inside me all the time, I’m the one who represses himself to avoid getting angry with people and takes it out by acting out on himself in different ways (thankfully I don’t self-harm often, but it has happened, and I beat myself up emotionally a lot and lapse into behaviours I’m not proud of like eating junk).”  I suppose it just seemed unfair, but then I don’t believe that life is fair, so I shouldn’t be surprised or complain, but it does upset me, the way I just can’t cope, but other people who may have similar issues somehow do cope, while most people don’t face these problems at all.

***

Despite all this stress, I did spend some time in hitbodedut prayer/meditation thinking about how my life is going.  I still don’t know what I could or should be doing with my life or my career, but I do feel that the law library job would not be right for me.  I just don’t think I could cope in that high-pressure, money-focused environment.  How I explain that to other people if I get offered the job is another question.

I do feel that I need to spend some (more) serious time working on my writing.  Rabbi Lord Sacks, Emeritus British Chief Rabbi says that “Where what we want to do meets what needs to be done, that is where God wants us to be.”  I only have a vague sense of what I want to do and what needs to be done (being a socially anxious autistic person means at times I have only a vague sense of other people’s needs), but at the moment I feel it’s pushing me towards writing.

I do feel that I am making progress in my life, albeit with glacial slowness.  I feel I understand myself a bit better than I did even a year ago: what I can do, what I could do, what I should do.  But it is hard; I’m crawling on my hands and knees in the dark, feeling my way forwards an inch at a time.

Tired of Life, But Afraid of Trying

Perhaps predictably, I woke feeling very drained and depressed today after the interview yesterday.  It didn’t help that I was woken up (and not early) by a phone call from the recruitment agency that have got me my interview on Friday.  The interview is now in the morning, not the afternoon, which is better for me in terms of having time to come home and relax a bit (and if necessary blog my experiences to offload) before Shabbat (the Sabbath), although I might have to miss my shiur (religious class) on Thursday night this week to have an early night.  I’m still terrified that I’m going to mess up the exam component of the interview.  I feel my interview experiences lately have not gone well and even the jobs I have managed to get have left me feeling that I’m under-performing, either in terms of not managing the tasks well or managing well, but in a role for which I am overqualified.

***

I was up late last night, partly because when I wanted to go to bed, I had an idea for a post for my Doctor Who blog (which I haven’t written on for months) that could be a bit controversial, although as only about three people read it, that’s not a huge worry (it’s on the programme’s diversity agenda, but not from the usual angles, either for or against).  I do feel it is something worth saying, which isn’t always my impression of my writing, including here.  I took some notes for it, but I didn’t really have the right mood or the time to write it today.  It could probably usefully wait until I’ve re-watched some more of the last series of Doctor Who.

***

My mood did improve as the day wore on, albeit that I could suddenly plunge back into depression if triggered.  I did some cataloguing practice and feel more confident than I did when I failed that cataloguing test last year.  I think I know how to use the indicators and sub-field codes reasonably well, I just need more confidence.  I think my bad performance in the test was partly due to depression or anxiety and partly to the type of test being different and potentially confusing (autism again?).  However, my concentration is appalling.  I hope it would be better in the test or at work.  Still, I managed two hours of cataloguing practice, a half hour walk (listening to a slightly gross In Our Time about parasitism), half an hour of Torah study and helping with the laundry, which is a lot more than I thought I would be able to manage when I woke up this morning.  I also managed to edit/redraft another chapter of my Doctor Who book (on the TV Movie, which reminded me of the quote referenced obliquely in this post’s title).  I still lost an hour of cataloguing practice from my plan, though.  My Dad is right: I really can’t stick to plans.

***

Regarding being triggered occasionally during the day: I think on some level I want to be triggered.  There are websites I’ve blocked because they’re triggering, usually political stuff or sites that discuss antisemitism or controversies within the Orthodox world or occasionally because the people involved in the site have upset me on a personal level.  However, I do frequently turn off the blocking software to visit these sites, which is counterproductive.  It doesn’t help that I don’t really have any sites that are meaningful for me to read and which are updated frequently enough to use them when I need a break from job hunting.  Or maybe the rush of righteous indignation is empowering, alerting or even enjoyable in some way.  Perhaps there’s even a kinship of outrage; they are outraged at this, I am outraged at this, therefore I am, on some level, like them and included with them, even if they don’t know of my existence.  The problem is that I can’t switch it off afterwards and end up brooding at how bad the world is.

It’s funny, being a sort-of member of two different cultures and not quite a full member of either.  I mean Orthodox Jewish society and secular Western society.  Both seem to me to have a lot of flaws, some quite serious, and sometimes I wonder how long either can survive without change, although change in a positive direction does not always seem likely.  But then, it could just be a product of me being on fringes looking in; maybe things seem more rational and sustainable from the inside.  It does seem sometimes that the world is going to a variety of Hells in a variety of handbaskets.  On the plus side, I can only die once; if the antisemitic terrorists get me, I can’t die of climate change, and so on.

***

I came across a blog post by someone I used to follow online, who I haven’t regularly followed for years.  She said she was once an “influencer” but now her time is mostly taken up with work and family, rather than writing, which is her dream (although her job is some kind of writing, I assume just not the type she had in mind).  Surprisingly, I find myself less envious of the work, spouse and children than of the idea of living my dream.  I can’t imagine seriously being able to do that.  I’m not even entirely sure what my dream actually is.  I assume writing on subjects that interest me (Doctor Who and classic British telefantasy; Judaism and antisemitism; mental health and autism).  I’m not sure how to monetise that.  Realistically, most people are probably not living their dreams and I’m not quite sure why I would be the exception.  Although being a professional writer does seem more slightly likely than getting married and having children.

It probably doesn’t help that I’m not ambitious.  There isn’t really much I want, or maybe there just isn’t much that I expect to get.  I’m not suicidal, but I am a bit world-weary.  The good things of this world seem to be outweighed by the bad, at least for me, and the good can only be gained by going through a lot of bad.  I’m not really convinced I have much in store for me in Olam HaBa (the Next World), but at least there is a possibility of the pain ending.  Also, significantly I always imagine the Next World, whether good or bad, as being alone.  I know most people who believe in life after death believe they will be reunited with dead friends or family and I suppose I’m open to the idea, but when I brood on it, I tend to think of myself alone with God and my thoughts, whether good or bad.  That feeling of “Oh, well at least I won’t be embarrassed in front of other people any more” is dangerously seductive to someone who has struggled to fit in and deal with social conventions all his life.  (I don’t know why I don’t think I’ll be embarrassed in front of God; perhaps because He knows all my sins and bad thoughts already.)

It probably would be good for me if I had more life-goals.  My Mum wanted to try to set me up a while back with the daughter of friends of hers, but I was reluctant because I knew she wanted a professional and I didn’t think I really fit the bill.  I suspect other women would think similarly.  But even beyond dating, more goals to root myself in this world would be useful.  Even having clearer writing goals might help.  I don’t have a dream income (I have absolutely no idea what a good income even is, as I’m pretty vague about money), dream house, dream car (don’t drive, no intention to learn in the near future)… I’m not even sure I have a particularly strong idea of my dream wife, despite laying out some criteria yesterday.  I’m just floating through life, fortunate enough to have parents who are willing and able to support me, trying to work through my ‘issues’ and get some kind of career/life, but totally uncertain about how to do it or what a successful result would look like.

Not Quite An Argument

I guess I posted my last post too soon.  I just had dinner with my parents and it didn’t go well.  Dad wanted to carry on talking about my job interview and told me that I should have answers to why I want the job and where I see myself in five years time.  I sort of have a stock answer for why I want a librarianship job in higher education, but it seems less and less accurate; I really don’t think I’m cut out to be an academic librarian (but then what am I cut out for?).  The five years question is just impossible.  I don’t know where I see myself in five months.  I don’t know if I even want to be a librarian in five years time.  Dad said that I should say I want to take on more responsibility in the library, which might not be true even if I stay as a librarian (like a lot of autistic people, I have very little personal or professional ambition).  I said that I could say that, but it would be a lie.  Dad got annoyed with me and I ended up saying, rather more loudly than I intended, “I’m sorry I’m depressed, I’m trying hard…” and then breaking off.

I know it’s not easy for my parents having their elder child living at home in his mid-thirties, especially as my younger sister has left home long ago and ticked almost all the adult boxes (career, husband, house, mortgage) and I know it isn’t easy that my mood is often low, that I’m often negative, pessimistic and irritable and that they still are, in some sense, my carers (not to mention my bankers).  But it’s not easy for me being in this situation either, and I’m the one who has to live with my emotions and my autism 24/7.

I insisted on doing at least some of the washing up to apologise, even though I have zero energy.

I feel really guilty right now, not so much for the incident above as for other things that I would sort of like to write about, but feel that I shouldn’t.  I don’t feel that I’m a very good or lovable person.

I don’t feel tired enough to sleep, but I have zero motivation, concentration or energy to do anything, not to read and not even to watch TV.  I’m not quite sure how I’m going to fill the next three hours before bed.

Confessions of a Justified Sinner

I feel depressed and listless today.  I don’t know why, aside from the usual reason (depression).

My sister and brother-in-law came over for dinner, but I didn’t feel very social.  I was better once they arrived than I thought I would be, but dinner was mostly small talk, which I struggle with from an autistic point of view.  I get bored by the conversation and struggle to think of anything to say; when I do, I don’t always make myself heard.  I find the conversation draining especially as it seems to be very loud; I’ve noticed Mum and Dad are both getting a bit hard of hearing which may be why it seems to be so loud, but I find it draining.  I don’t know if other autistic people have coping strategies for this kind of thing.  I don’t want to be rude.  I try to take an interest in family members’ lives, especially big life events (my sister and brother-in-law are moving into their first real home together this week and my parents were talking about their recent holiday), but sometimes it gets too much for me.  I feel bad about this, but don’t know what I can do about it.

***

Purim is over now, so I should be in Pesach-preparation mode.  I usually find some interpretations of the exodus story or the haggadah to make the seder more interesting and not just a reading of the same text each year, but I have little enthusiasm for it this year.  It’s partly the depression and partly the – well, religious crisis is putting it too strongly, but lack of religious motivation I currently have, the feeling that I’m a bad person and can never change because God has stacked the deck against me with autism and depression.  Plus, last year I thought that no one actually appreciates what I say, except my Dad and maybe my sister.  I fear the other guests just want to get on to the meal and go home and that they tolerate me at best.  I don’t know if this is true.  I would love to go to a seder one year where there is a real discussion and I learn something, but I can’t see it happening any time soon.

***

I googled “how to deal with sexual frustration.”  Most of the pages assumed I was in a relationship I had got bored of and wanted to rekindle.  The ones that assumed singledom mostly suggested things that aren’t halakhically-acceptable.   Other than that, it just said sports or hobbies as displacement activities, neither of which have worked for me in the past and neither of which are really options at the moment, mainly because of depression leaving me drained.

Perhaps most people would have the confidence to date and if I was like them, I would be asking my parents to set me up with their friends’/neighbours’ children as they (my parents) want.  Certainly the daughter of my Mum’s friend whose profile I saw on a dating website has a couple of things in common with me.  But I’m too scared of rejection, too sure that no one could love someone as depressed, autistic and especially unemployed (or about to be unemployed) as me, especially as her dating profile specified that she wanted to marry a professional.  Maybe, as I implied yesterday, I’m scared to date for reasons beyond social anxiety, scared of losing independence or something, or just scared of yet more rejection.  Or maybe it’s just lack of self-esteem; confident people seem more able to blag their way to what they want, whether it’s a partner, a career or position and esteem within the community.

***

Out shopping today I felt very angry with God.  I know lots of autistic people would not change how they are and see autism as a difference and not a disability, but I keep thinking that so many of the bad things in my life would either not be present or would be easier to deal with if I was not autistic, or perhaps if my autism had been diagnosed earlier.  I might not be depressed, might not be single, might not be lonely, might not be unemployable, might not be so poorly socialised into my religious community… and so on, and so on.  Nor do I have the “autistic superpowers” some autistic people claim to have; I can sometimes go into hyperfocus, but I don’t have useful sensory sensitivity or a special interest that is socially useful or which makes me popular.  I suppose it’s crazy to go down the route of “what if,” but it’s hard not to when real life seems so stagnant.

I just keep asking why God would do this to me.  I’m open to the idea that God makes us suffer to grow or so that we learn to help others, but I can’t see how I can realistically help others when I’m in this state and as for growing, if anything, as earlier paragraphs might have indicated, I’m going backwards, getting less religious.  I guess if my emunah (faith) wasn’t so strong, I would seriously be contemplating going off the derekh (stopping being religious), I find my religious life so dull and sometimes painful and with such few positive aspects to it at the moment.  I just happen to believe that God exists and that this is how He wants me to live, for reasons I don’t understand.  I still worry that one day I will stop believing and doing and then all this effort will have been wasted.

***

There was an article in the Jewish Chronicle a few months ago about a charity in Israel that helps people with moderate learning disabilities, including non-high functioning autism, to get married.  They provide practical and emotional support for a couple with learning disabilities to learn to live together.  I think, how can it be possible for someone with more severe autism than me to get a job and get married, and yet my intelligence just seems to make it harder for me to find a job or a wife, for reasons that I don’t really understand.  It doesn’t help that I’m not sure what help I want/need at the moment.  A friend suggested A S Mentoring to me as being able to help with my employment needs, but having looked at their website, I’m not sure if they’re offering anything that could help me; I want to be more sure what I want before contacting them.  Similarly with dating, maybe if I had the confidence to date, a lot of the issues surrounding it would fall away, but I’m too scared of rejection to dare to ask to be set up with anyone or to ask someone out.

***

I did at least go shopping today and did about twenty minutes of Talmud study.  I also worked on my Doctor Who book for an hour and a half or so (albeit with distractions), sorting out the third draft of chapters two and three.  It’s quite good, but not great, but I’m not sure I really have the skills to make it better.

***

This bit is probably of limited interest to most of my readers, but I’m watching Quatermass, the fourth and final science fiction serial featuring Professor Quatermass, broadcast in the seventies, more than twenty years after the first three serials.  It’s a bleak story to watch while I’m feeling depressed (SPOILERS: pretty much all the sympathetic characters die horribly), but it is haunting and psychologically terrifying by turns, as well as reflective of the social unrest and stagflation of Britain in the seventies.  That things in real life never quite turned out as badly as they did in Quatermass might give hope that Brexit and populism might not lead to the end of civilisation as we know it.  (As an aside, and getting really far off the subject, Nigel Kneale is not often lumped together with John le Carré, but both share an outlook that might best be described as “Tory Anarchist” (to quote George Orwell), horrified by Soviet totalitarianism, but also disgusted by American capitalism, hoping for some kind of kinder, authentically British alternative, but resigned to Britain’s post-imperial decline.  There is definitely more to consider here e.g. the skill both writers have for creating a fictional world through dialogue and a few telling details. </autistic special interests>)

Running Away

Today seems to have been a day for running away from people.

I had the penultimate meeting of my mental health group.  Everyone seems to get on well and they are planning on creating a What’sApp group to stay in touch.  I feel that I have struggled to connect with people and I struggle to involve myself in such a loud group.  I also feel that the content of the group has been too familiar to me or the solutions proposed have been too simplistic.  For instance, today we spoke about being assertive, rather than aggressive, passive or passive aggressive.  I feel that I have tried some of the tactics in one relationship that I sometimes struggle with, without success.  They said that sometimes one needs outside intervention in a relationship, but that isn’t realistic for me.  That only leaves me with modifying my expectations from the relationship or just moving away from it, but neither of those are really feasible either.  It is hard to know what to do sometimes.  I thought of trying harder at changing my expectations or using the suggested tactics, but it’s hard to do something when you are so sure it won’t work.  Still, a few people in the group spoke about being stuck in abusive relationships, now or in the past, so I’m better off in that regard.

I wasn’t going to join the What’sApp group, but on the way home I wondered if maybe I should have done so.  I don’t have to actually meet up with them, and maybe it would be a useful online support network that I could use via text, which is a much better medium for me to communicate in.  Of course, most What’sApp groups in my experience turn rapidly into pointless time-wasting…

Continuing the ‘running away’ theme, there is an oneg (Shabbat/Sabbath party thing) run by my shul (synagogue) at someone’s house tonight.  Usually I would force myself to go, at least for an hour, but I really can’t face it this time.  I sit there in silence, eat some junk food, refuse whisky, don’t always find the ‘inspiring’ stories and divrei Torah (homilies) inspiring, join in with the singing, but only if I know the tunes, and then go home after an hour feeling drained and excluded.  In the past I have told myself that if I don’t go to these things, I will never make friends and fit in, but after nearly three years, I have not got many friends at my shul (and the ones I do have I have made in other places e.g. the weekly shiur (class)) and I don’t feel accepted and am beginning to think I never will.

The reason the people from my group want to continue to be in contact is that many of them say this is the first place that they really fit in with people who understand them, but I’m too weird, or at least too complicated, to be understood fully by most people.  That is something I am just going to have to learn to deal with, compartmentalising my life (Jewish bits, mental health/autism bits, geeky bits).  It does make me worry about getting married, though, as I feel one should not do that with one’s spouse.  (One would think, with so many people at my support groups, reporting being in abusive relationships that I would have an advantage in not being an abusive person, but maybe there are enough non-abusive-but-still-normal people out there.)

Then on Sunday I have volunteering and then my sister and brother-in-law are coming in the evening.  I’m worried I’m going to be a wreck. Volunteering exhausts me.  By the time I get home I won’t have much time to recover before they come, nor will I have time after dinner to recover from that before I have to go to bed as this week I’m working on Monday and I really need a minimum of eight hours sleep to function, something my family don’t always appreciate.  I suppose I feel like running away from that, but I can’t.

I am OK(ish)

I am OK.  I know I was talking about feeling suicidal at the end of my last post.  I didn’t do anything silly.  I texted a friend and watched Doctor Who until I felt a bit better.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I had calmed down a bit that I realised that I should have phoned Samaritans to offload.  Unfortunately, I often don’t think to do that until after the event, like today.  Then it seemed that it would just rake up bad thoughts by repeating everything that happened on the phone to Samaritans after I had calmed down.

The trouble is, there are ongoing issues in my life that I can’t easily resolve.  Obviously my career and my desire for an autism diagnosis and fear that I won’t get one can’t be solved quickly and easily, but there are other things that I feel that I can’t talk about here that are never going to go away.  I spent years in therapy trying to come to terms with them, without success.  I have always been told that if you want to fix a relationship, you can only fix your side; you can hope that your changes will cause the other person to change, but ultimately you have to accept the other person’s actions or walk away.  I don’t feel that I should walk away from the difficult relationships in my life, but I also have tried to change things and have got sucked down into the black hole of dependency again because of depression and autism.  The only real solution (becoming independent and building a new life) is nixed by the depression and autism stopping me working anything approaching full time and stopping me from finding even finding a new job easily.

I don’t know what the solution is to this.  It’s frightening to realise that my inner emotional regulation thermostat goes almost immediately from frozen (too depressed to do anything) to scorching (self-harm and suicidal thoughts) without any ‘comfortable’ range.  (I’m not sure how good a metaphor that is, but you get the idea as suicidality isn’t the opposite of depression, far from it, but you get the idea.)  I don’t really have any resilience to even minor troubles (and today’s problems were fairly minor, objectively).

I’m calmer now, but still somewhat tense and worried about a lot of things: asking for rearranged hours at work for my psychiatrist appointment and Purim; finding a job after March; finding some kind of meaningful way to resolve the problems I can’t talk about, which sadly seem tied up in a way, at least emotionally, with my inability to forge close friendships and a romantic relationship.  I feel the post-trauma paralysis, not wanting or being able to really do anything, but I need to get ready for work tomorrow, somehow, and to shower and go to bed.

Thanks for reading.  It helps me understand myself to write things down (there was a lot in the last post that I didn’t really understand until I wrote it down) and I can only write things down if I think that someone might read it (don’t ask me why).  I would say that I hope other people find this meaningful, but I wouldn’t wish what I’m experiencing on anyone else.

(And, yes, again the thought of pets comes to my mind as a method of emotional regulation, but, again, I feel that my Mum doesn’t really want me to have them and I don’t have the courage to go against that.)