“Everyone I know is lonely”

My Mum had a phone appointment today for my autism assessment. I’m a bit worried… I’m pretty sure I’m on the spectrum, and that’s why I struggle with some things like job interviews. It’s hard for my parents to remember thirty years ago or more, but part of the diagnosis is based on how I was as a child, so I may not get the diagnosis I think I need. I think I learnt to mask from a young age, and as a child I was quiet, well-behaved and self-contained, so adults generally left me alone and focused on more needy/vocal children. I have noted before that I have a presentation of autism that has more in common with autistic women than men (particularly masking and finding strategies to “pass” as neurotypical in conversation and life in general, and being more imaginative and creative than autistic stereotype) – unfortunately, autism in women is arguably under-diagnosed because it doesn’t seem like “classic” autism, and I suspect the psychiatrists will be even less receptive to finding “female” autism in me.

Ironically, while she was doing that, I had a classic autistic moment. I was helping Dad take down the sukkah, or some of it, and he said, “Go up the ladder,” which I did – without moving it to where it needed to be first. Classic autistic literalism. The thing is, things like this can seem autistic, but they can also just seem absent-minded or eccentric. When I was younger, my parents viewed me through the “absent-minded” lens (my Mum even used to call me her “Absent-Minded Professor”). Now I see myself more through the autism lens. Maybe I’m wrong to do so. I guess I’ll find out soon; usually the appointment with the suspected autistic person is within six weeks of the appointment with the parent/guardian, but lately they’re doing them faster online so I should get an appointment soon.

***

I opened up to PIMOJ about some of this (autism and also depression) and she’s been really supportive, but I can’t shake the fears that one day it will be too much for her and she will walk off, particularly if I can’t find a job soon. I guess because that has happened to me before.

***

Other than that, today felt like trench warfare: a lot of noise, but not much movement (possibly watching The American Civil War triggered that – trench warfare is more associated with World War I, but it was actually first used in The American Civil War). I’m struggling with the disappearance of daylight as days get shorter and cloudier; it is probably time to start using my light box again. I helped Dad with the sukkah, as I said, and spent quite some time catching up on emails, including one to a potential voluntary opportunity (more in a few days, hopefully, when I hear back from them). Other than that, I felt too tired to do much. Post-Yom Tov (festival) burnout, I guess. I spent a lot of time writing and answering emails. I feel like anyone who has a white-collar job spends a huge chunk of the day treading water answering emails, although technically none of these were about paid employment.

No time or energy for a walk, and it was too wet. Mum suddenly felt ill about 6.00pm, so I hurriedly made dinner – just plain pasta with a bought sauce as I was short of time and energy. Part of the lack of time was because I wanted to go to depression group on Zoom, which I did, although I always feel curiously uncertain as to what to say and how coherent I sound. It’s good to have somewhere I can admit to difficult feelings. I spoke about the job interviews and feelings of inferiority and wanting my autism diagnosis to reassure myself, but not about the worry that PIMOJ would not cope with my issues.

I didn’t have time to do any further job hunting today. I have four jobs to apply for on my job spreadsheet, but two are for school librarian positions and I feel reluctant to apply for them given that I was rejected from the other school librarian position for lack of relevant experience. One is a law library position which raises the same experience issues, plus that would, I imagine, be a very fast-paced, high-pressure environment. The other job, a research support librarian position at a major museum, scares me in terms of the responsibility involved and my fears about my skillset.

I didn’t feel up to doing much Torah study so listened on an online shiur (religious class) on the goal of life. To be honest, it didn’t tell me much I hadn’t heard before from similar shiurim and books. Another problem with these types of class is that they tell you that true pleasure is eternal pleasure i.e. pursuing eternal, meaningful things like prayer and Torah study, but I can end up feeling despondent because depressive anhedonia means I don’t always enjoy spiritual things any more than narrowly material things, sometimes less so. Still, that was half an hour of Torah study that I probably wouldn’t have managed if I was still narrowly focused on reading religious texts for my Torah study.

***

I feel upset that so many people I know seem to be struggling right now (hence the title quote, from the Police song O My God). Some of that is COVID, but some, I guess, is that life really is hard for a lot of people. There’s a pithy rhyming quote, I think from Oliver Goldsmith (eighteenth century English poet) that I have been trying to locate again for some time now without coming across it, about how small are the elements of human suffering that can be relieved by governments and kings. I guess that is an unfashionable and conservative view nowadays, where we are supposed to think that the state could and should solve every problem and that social justice is best dealt out in real-time on Twitter, but a lot of people I know are struggling with anxiety, depression, loneliness, autism, not fitting in, arguments with family, sometimes abuse… There can be a material aspect to these things, and sometimes governments can help, but it’s not always the main problem or the key to addressing things. Thank God, I’m not struggling financially because my family are looking after me, but my problems are still very real. It’s hard enough for government to try to secure access to the essentials of life, without factoring in that happiness or sadness are often driven by non-tangible factors, and that dependency on others, especially an impersonal state, can be a strong driver of low self-esteem and depression… I just felt on the brink of tears by dinner time today, thinking about things.

***

I noticed something interesting when I went to shul (synagogue) last week. Obviously masks are compulsory there and a couple of children had dinosaur masks on, so far as I could tell from a distance. I found this interesting, as our previous rabbi was a Creationist and I assumed that most of the congregation were too and I was in a minority for not being one. Moreover, the father of the boys wearing the masks is very religious and involved. Of course, it could be that these are children and no one minds; still, it made me think maybe I’m not as unusual as I thought and I don’t have to feel as constrained as I do to hide my thoughts.

Depressed, Lonely and Shielding

Chaconia mentioned that I have a habit of quantifying my depression into minutes or hours of activity, numbers of negative thoughts and so on.  I had noticed this, at least to some extent, but it doesn’t seem unhelpful so I’ve never challenged it.  If anything, it shows me most days that I do more than I would otherwise subjectively believe.  Nevertheless, I wonder if it’s connected to the fears of losing control that I wrote about last week.  That if I stopped monitoring myself, I would become out of control somehow, probably through inactivity.

***

I felt very so depressed and exhausted again today.  I’m not sure why I’ve been feeling worse the last few days.  It could be the break up, but I thought I was over that.  Maybe I’m not.  It wouldn’t be surprising if I wasn’t, as while it only lasted a few months (a) we had been together before and (b) it very intense both emotionally and in the amount of time we spent Skyping.  I also feel that lockdown is getting to me a bit, but I’m also very worried about what the end of lockdown means for me, in terms of applying for jobs again, but also in terms of other activities such as shul (synagogue).

***

My shul sent out an email the other day regarding services coming out of lockdown, but I didn’t get it.  I chased it and got it today.  They are limiting services to thirty people, outside when weather permits, with masks and bringing your own siddur (prayer book), tallit (prayer shawl) etc.  I have very mixed feelings about it.  Part of me would like to get back to the routine of shul, not least to challenge my social anxiety, which has probably got worse over the last four months without me pushing against my urge to run away from people and events.  There is also the fact that the social element of shul may help my mood (or worsen it).

On the other hand, I feel I don’t get much out of shul, certainly not at the moment, and maybe I should leave it to other people who get more out of it.  I would be sorry to miss Talmud shiur, which is resuming on Shabbat (Saturday), especially as that can be hard to catch up on subsequently, so if I miss a few weeks now I may never catch up (I would like to finish even one masechta (volume) of Talmud once as whenever I go to a shiur, we never complete one).  My big reservation is whether it would be dangerous for Mum if Dad and I to go back to shul.  We are still supposed to shield her until 31 July and even after then her immune system will be weak.  The government guidelines are that shielded people should not go to places of worship, but they don’t say anything about other members of the household.  My Mum has a meeting with the oncologist tomorrow and has promised to raise the question.

***

I found writing really difficult today.  My difficulty writing is not helped by the fact that I’m writing a novel with two different viewpoints, and whose characters do not intersect directly in the middle of the novel.  This has proved unexpectedly difficult to write.  Every time I alternate viewpoints, which happens with most new chapters, I struggle to get back into the head and situation of the main character of that chapter.

I went for a walk to try to jump start my brain.  I wrote for a short while when I returned, but still struggled.  Then I had to have dinner and get ready for shiur (religious class) on Zoom.

While out walking I had a lot of rapid images going through my head.  Autistic people often think in images rather than words.  I usually think in a mixture of the two, but when I’m feeling agitated the images become faster and more vivid, some times distressingly so.  Today’s images were not distressing, but they were rapid and agitated.

***

My therapist suggested getting in contact with friends to ease my loneliness.  The problem (aside from lockdown) is a lack of friends to contact, at least away from the blogosphere.  I emailed two friends, one of whom has already replied.  I’m not convinced email contact alone will do much to alleviate loneliness, and even without lockdown, it’s hard to see people, as so many of my friends are long-distance.  It is good to hear from other people though, and to get outside my own head for a bit.

I wish I had some way of contacting other religious Jews who are struggling religiously.  Ideally on a message board or mailing list or similar, probably not in person as I’m not good at that and we would probably all want to be anonymous.  I feel like I’m still struggling with being a good Jew, even though breaking up with E. reduced some of the cognitive dissonance I think I was under.

These thoughts were triggered by looking at the Beyond BT website again, which I shouldn’t do as it makes me feel inadequate, as no one there seems to have the same struggles I do.  When the Jewish blogosphere was more active years ago, there used to be “OTD” blogs (OTD = off the derekh (road) = people becoming non-religious) blogs, but they are not what I want.  Those were mainly for people with issues with Torah and science or Bible criticism.  I just struggle to have positive feelings about my religious life because of depressive anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure) and because I struggle to find meaning in my pain, which leads me to feel God must hate me to make me suffer so much pain with no obvious meaning.  I don’t really have much of a spiritual life at all, as distinct from a religious one.  I don’t think I’m a very spiritual person at the best of times, even without depression and anhedonia.  Maybe I’m being unfair to myself.

***

Zoom shiur was OK this week.  I participated rather more than usual, although the flipside was making more mistakes.  That was the last in that run of shiurim (on Rashi), although I have one more week of my Monday shiur (on meaning).

***

You may remember my Dad’s car’s catalytic converter was stolen a while back, right at the start of lockdown.  Now someone has stolen the replacement!  It’s unlikely to be the same thief, as the first time it was taken from the hospital car park and this time it was taken from our front drive.  It’s quite expensive to replace and needs to be fitted by a mechanic, so this is a huge expense and hassle.  Apparently they’re very easy to steal and very valuable, so there’s a lot of incentive for thieves.  They’ve damaged the car too.  This is very frustrating and we’re all angry about it.

Self-Critical Thoughts and Studying Torah

I’ve been feeling drained again today, and more depressed than the last few days.  Although CBT has never worked well for my depression and self-esteem, I started monitoring my self-critical thoughts and feelings today, just out of curiosity, to see how many I had.  I had about eleven self-critical negative thoughts (including one sudden self-critical feeling without a clear thought).  Six were before lunch and three were while walking, whereas there weren’t any while I was working on my novel (not even “I’m a bad writer” thoughts) and only one while cooking dinner, which suggests that distraction works well for me.  “I hate myself” or variants thereof was the most common type of thought by a long way.

That seemed quite a lot of self-critical thoughts considering that I had thought that my depression is currently only an issue in the morning and not later.  In fact, nearly half of these self-critical thoughts occurred after lunch.  It is also surprising considering that I thought my self-esteem was better these days.  On the plus side, I suspect that even a few years ago I would have been having a lot more self-critical thoughts.  Eleven was fairly manageable.

That said, my mood was persistently low all day without obvious negative thought triggers.  This is probably why I’ve never found CBT helpful for depression or self-esteem.  I had anhedonia today too; I was snacking on fruit mid-afternoon and it just seemed… not nice, even though it wasn’t off.  It was quite uncomfortable and I had to force myself to eat it as I was hungry.

***

I’m still feeling lonely.  I had a whole long section here that was me speaking about being lonely and thinking I will be single forever because of my issues and where I live in the world (in terms of Jewish community), but I cut it because I’ve said it before and will probably say it again.  And I wasn’t even supposed to be thinking about this until I had a job or some kind of income.

And I miss E.  I can see it wasn’t going to work out, but I miss her as a friend as much as a girlfriend.  We used to text a lot during the days, at least until a couple of weeks before we broke up.  Part of me wants to text again, but I’m worried about getting sucked back into a relationship.  I’ve always told myself not to get into on/off relationship situations.  I told myself not even to think about contacting E. until after my birthday (another three weeks away) to try to get over her.  But I wish I had someone to message with.

***

This article deals a bit with the question I have about how much Torah study I should do.  It notes that, theoretically, every adult Jewish man should spend every free moment studying Torah; the reality is that very few people could do that.  The article notes that “I suspect that expectations are very much a factor of one’s personal level of Torah accomplishment.”

The problem is I don’t know how much Torah study is right for me.  When I’m spending two hours writing a day and nine or ten hours sleeping a night (really) and an hour or two watching TV and reading (largely during meals, to be fair) and goodness knows how long procrastinating, doing thirty minutes to an hour of Torah study a day seems minimal… but it often does feel that I can’t do more.  It sounds strange, but an hour of writing for me is often easier than an hour of Torah study, even before you factor in energy levels that are lower than normal and sink faster than normal because of depression.  Plus, I see writing as the nearest thing to earning a livelihood in my life at the moment, in that I hope to be able to get my novel finished and published and earn royalties from it, so it seems important.  Today I was exhausted by dinner time and doing any Torah study at all seemed almost impossible.

Incidentally, that article mentions Rabbi Nehorai’s comment in Sanhedrin 99a which is the basis for the later literature, but does not quote it.  I looked it up and it says, “Rabbi Nehorai says: Anyone for whom it is possible to engage in Torah study and who nevertheless does not engage in its study is included in the category of: “Because he has despised the word of the Lord.”” (From the Koren Noé Talmud edition on Sefaria; bold text is literal translation, non-bold text is contextual explanation).  This makes it sound like a lot would depend on what “possible” means for any given person, in terms of time, energy and so on.

***

Achievements: I spent an hour and ten minutes proofreading the chapter I finished yesterday.  I’m more happy with it than I was, but I still think a section will have to be reworked significantly in redrafting.  I cooked dinner and went for a walk.

Torah study was hard, as I mentioned.  I thought doing it after dinner would be easier, as I would be refreshed, but I felt depressed and exhausted and my brain was just not working.  I spent fifteen minutes reading Tehillim (Psalms) in Hebrew and that was it.  I wanted to read some of Sacred Fire, but my brain was just not functioning any more.

That was it for today, really.  I just felt too exhausted and depressed to do much after that and watched TV, a Star Trek Voyager episode about depression and self-harm (Extreme Risk) that established the situation quite well, but resolved it far, far too easily, and the Doctor Who episode Time Heist to try to cheer myself up.

Trying to Think My Own Thoughts

I woke up feeling OK: tired, but OK.  But then I looked at some news online and drifted down into depression and despair.  I felt disgruntled with political stuff.  I wrote some stuff here, but deleted it to avoid arguments.  I will say that it certainly is hard, when I’m being told by therapists and psychiatrists not to personalise and not to feel guilty about everything, when the media, politicians and activists tell me that I’m “part of the problem,” and that I’m full of unconscious privilege that makes me an inherently bad person no matter what I do.

I’ve been having difficult religious thoughts too, thinking I will never fit in to frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) society.  I feel like I’m torn by opposed ideas.  This is true in politics and culture, but particularly in religion.

I was thinking today about Rav Kook, one of the most important Orthodox Jewish thinkers of the twentieth century.  He was also a man of opposites: mystical, yet accepting much of modern science and academic scholarship; a Zionist, but also a universalist; a halakhicist and posek (Jewish legal expert/decisor) who was also an accomplished poet and advocate of Jewish cultural revival; a religious Jew who was friends with non-religious Jews; a Litvak who thought like a Hasid…  Somehow Rav Kook took outlooks that feel like opposites in me and integrated them into a flawless whole.  Sadly, his writings are very difficult, and the more controversial aspects were suppressed by his son and his chief student after his death to make him look more conventional.  I do have a couple of recent books that either present his thought with explanations or paraphrase more complex teachings.  But I feel like I need something more personal and more able to reach my core.  I also feel that I don’t need a book, but a teacher I can have prolonged conversations with, maybe even be set tasks.  I can speak to my rabbi mentor sometimes, but generally not for long and I don’t like to do it too often.  I would be asking a lot of anyone to guide me the way I feel I need.

In a previous crisis of faith, about ten or fifteen years ago, I read books and articles by apologists, who tried to prove the existence of God, the veracity of the Torah and the integrity of the biblical record in various ways.  I regard these attempts as mostly flawed if not nonsense now.  These days I prefer what I might call “soft” apologetics, that stress Judaism as a system of meaning and a way of being part of a living three thousand year culture and history (as opposed to what I call “hard” apologetics that try to prove God etc.).  The problem for me currently is that the “meaning and living” approach is tied up with ideas of community and family that I feel distanced from because of my situation (being single, not having a community I completely fit with) and my issues (depression, social anxiety, autism), as well as assuming a degree of joy and meaning in religious performance that I rarely experience because of depressive anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure).  It makes it very hard to keep going.

Online I came across an old debate from over ten years ago.  One of the participants was someone then struggling with Orthodox Judaism who I used to encounter sometimes in various online fora.  He could be very critical of Orthodox Jews, but once said that he felt that I was one of the few he knew who made him think that we aren’t all [rude word].  So now I feel that I’ve somehow let him down, let myself down and let down the Judaism I was modelling by slipping into despair and scepticism.  Possibly this is me making everything about guilt and despair again.

***

It’s hard sometimes to be sure that I’m thinking my own thoughts, and not having someone else think them for me.  I don’t mean in terms of psychosis, but in terms of originality, and resisting propaganda and indoctrination and even the subtle effects of peer pressure and language (not to mention the incongruous and hypocritical virtue signalling of woke multinational corporations… I don’t think Amazon are in a position to lecture anyone about ethics).  This applies regarding culture, religion and politics.  Especially politics at the moment.

***

I tried to do some practice library cataloguing to prepare for my job application test, as I hadn’t catalogued anything for nearly two years.  I made some stupid mistakes initially, but I think I was OK after that, but I don’t have much confidence.  I read the rubric for the test, and I think they are asking for a lot of related stuff I only vaguely remember from my MA course or can’t do easily without resources I don’t have in lockdown, like Library of Congress subject words, which I haven’t used since my MA.  I would have to use the online version when I’m used to the hardcopy version.  I was also taught how to catalogue with the new standard, RDA, but everywhere I have worked used the old standard, AACR2, so I can only vaguely remember RDA.  They did say it was OK to use AACR2 if necessary, but I don’t know whether to try and risk failure or not.  As I’ve said before, I’ve rather lost my confidence in my ability to catalogue and I don’t know how to get it back.  I’m not sure there’s much point in practising any more.  I need to jump in and do it.

I don’t know how long I spent on cataloguing.  Probably not long if I took out the procrastination time involved.  I also spent a bit of time on my novel (just under an hour writing over 600 words) and went for a half-hour walk again.  I feel frustrated that the novel is going slowly, but it is going steadily.  It’s hard to judge how long the first draft will take at this stage.  I discovered today that I’ve been working on it for eleven months so far.  Of course, there was a lengthy interruption when I concentrated on my non-fiction Doctor Who book.  It does seem a long time though.  I’m about half way through, maybe a bit more.

***

I had shiur (religious class) on Zoom again.  It was difficult.  I still struggle with the noise and changing pictures on group Zoom calls, and my usual social anxiety around speaking up is even worse when I need to unmute myself first.  I had an autistic “I think they’re joking, but I’m not sure” moment too.  The worst bit today was when the teacher thought I had answered a question, but it was someone else, but I couldn’t tell who.  I’m not sure that I gave the credit to the right person.  I started stimming (autistic self-soothing touch or movement), stroking my face and pressing my fingers in my desk cupboard door.  I felt self-conscious about this, but also unable to stop.  As autistic people will tell you, it is hard to consciously stop stimming especially if stressed.  I didn’t learn much I didn’t already know from the class either.

On the plus side, the handouts this week included useful lists of Hebrew abbreviations and key words.  These are primarily intended for Rashi’s Torah commentary (the focus of the shiur), but I suspect will be useful for rabbinic literature in general, as key phrases are often abbreviated in all the Medieval commentaries, as well as in the Talmud.  It can be very irritating if you don’t know what the abbreviation stands for.

***

Good things today: Ashes to Ashes series two so far is a lot better than series one, on a par with its predecessor Life on Mars; I don’t think I’ve put on weight during lockdown; and some how-to-write books I was waiting for arrived today, although I’m still waiting for one more.  It is daunting to think of reading the writing books and then applying them to my own writing.

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.

Quick, Let’s Drink a Million Cups of Tea While We Procrastinate

That title…  I think I’m clever and funny when really, I’m not.

I just feel inadequate today.

I was pretty exhausted last night after Skype therapy and Zoom shiur (religious class) and I went to bed early (for me at any rate – midnight) hoping I would get up earlier today, but I still slept very late.  I just feel so depressed and exhausted on waking.  Maybe it’s not surprising given that I had a very draining day yesterday.  I think a lot of the problem about waking tired is to do with low blood sugar, which has always affected me badly, although I don’t plan on getting up in the middle of the night to eat.

Even after breakfast and getting dressed, I still felt really depressed and exhausted.  Struggling to do anything.

***

I feel like I’ve sunk into some kind of religious crisis (again) without really realising how.  Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav says that religious crises are inevitable and unending in this world; as soon as you achieve some kind of certainty about something, it brings with it a whole load of new unknowns for you to worry about (it’s not clear if the unknowns are completely new, or old ones on a deeper or more intense level).  I believe in God, but I find it harder and harder to connect to Him and to Torah and mitzvot (commandments).  I know a lot stems from not fitting in to a religious community for moral and practical support and also feeling like I’ve transgressed the community’s standards in ways that I’m not always sure about (as in, I’m not sure if I’ve transgressed them or not).  I’ve always felt alone, even in my religious practice, even when I was a more regular attendee at shul (synagogue).  I’ve always felt that in the final analysis, it came down to just me and God without other people really being involved.  That’s probably a horrible thing to say, but it ties in with my lack of friends, my difficulties communicating with my parents, the fact that I was single for most of my adult life and my fascination with solipsism and solipsistic fiction.

I guess now I feel that I have to “sell” Orthodox Judaism to E. or she won’t join me in it and I don’t know how to sell something I feel so increasingly equivocal about.  Depressive anhedonia is a big part of the problem too, more so than anything theological.  It’s hard to enjoy Judaism when I can’t enjoy anything, even things that are easier to enjoy.

Ashley Leia asked me on the last post if I felt that God causes my suffering.  I said yes.  Conceptually that doesn’t bother me so much. I came to the conclusion a while back that we aren’t here on Earth to be happy, but to grow, and growth often requires suffering as a stimulus, therefore suffering is to be accepted as part of the human condition in this world.  Nevertheless, I feel exhausted and not sure how to carry on sometimes. It just feels so overwhelming and unending. There is definitely a difference between accepting suffering intellectually and feeling emotionally accepting of it.  I can accept it intellectually (I know other people have it much worse than I do), but it’s hard to accept emotionally.  Hard to accept that I might always feel like this, that I’ve lost the life I thought I would have at this stage of life (career, wife, kids, community, self-love).  It’s hard to see so many other people apparently living that life with no idea if I will ever achieve it.

***

It doesn’t help that I’m feeling quite blocked with my writing at the moment.  I sit in front of the computer, drink a lot of tea, idly surf online and blog, but it’s a struggle to write anything for the novel.  I wonder if the story I’m trying to tell is too complicated for me, or if I’m cut out to be a writer at all.  Maybe it was absurd to think I could write about domestic abuse, a subject which I have not experienced directly.  All my writing about  it seems crass and ill-formed.

***

Religious crisis, low mood and writer’s block are probably connected with isolation.  I haven’t been on the depression group Zoom call for weeks as I get too tired after therapy now, which is on the same day.  E. and I haven’t spoken much for the last few days because of Shabbat and my shiur yesterday and E.’s workload, although we did speak today.  Some people who used to comment here haven’t done so for a while and nor have some bloggers I follow/am friends with posted on their blogs lately and I’m worried if everyone is OK, or if they’re angry with me and are avoiding me/have taken me off their friends’ list.  I guess I feel isolated.  I didn’t have much in the way of social contact even before lockdown, but I feel like I’m losing more of it.  My shul (synagogue) is doing another Zoom Kabbalat Shabbat service (beginning of the Friday evening service), but I found the last one awkward and uncomfortable, so I probably won’t do it again.  My parents are hoping to have my sister and brother-in-law over either socially distanced in the garden or via Zoom on Sunday to celebrate my Mum’s birthday, so hopefully that will help, although I’m nervous about even socially distanced meeting.

***

The Kotzker Rebbe spoke about the evil inclination stealing “the delicate chord of truth from your heart”.  After that, it no longer worries if you work or pray or study, because without the chord of truth, whatever you do is of no interest to him (i.e. it’s meaningless).  I feel like I lost the chord of truth a long time ago.

***

I’m just feeling today that I failed at everything.  I failed at being a good Jew.  I failed at being a good writer.  I failed at being a good blogger.  I worry that I’ve failed at being a good friend and boyfriend, and probably also at being a good son and brother.

I feel that other people I meet online have a reason to be mentally ill (often abuse or trauma of some kind), but I haven’t experienced anything bad, I’m just too useless to function properly.  I should get over myself.  Alternatively, they produce something with their pain, some art or something to help others, something that somehow justifies and explains what they endured.  I haven’t managed that either.

Part of me says that this is just my inner critical voice speaking, but it seems kind of reassuring to say that.  Much harder to confront the reality of having failed at everything I tried.

The sudden upswing of depression might also be because Mum has asked me to go with her to her oncologist appointment tomorrow.  Mum likes to have someone with her, as she gets overwhelmed sometimes and misses information.  Dad went to the first few meetings, then COVID-19 happened and non-patients were not allowed in the hospital.  Now one non-patient is allowed in “At their own risk” (which is a bit scary in itself).  Mum wants it to be me rather than Dad because he may not be able to park the car there (I’m not sure why) so will have to drop us off, go home, and come back to collect us later.

There is also some genuine fear about me and E., in that we know that we both have real anxieties about the relationship over things that we can’t do anything about at the moment and we have to just sit with those feelings and see what happens in the long term.

***

Achievements today: I cooked dinner (spicy rice and lentils), and spent forty minutes or so researching and writing my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week.  It’s easier to write a devar Torah sometimes (like today) than it is to study Torah for some reason, perhaps to do with concentration and motivation.  I was also anxious that I would not find enough material for this weeks’ sedra (Bamidbar, focusing on the census of the Israelites in the wilderness – not easy to talk about) so was I trying out ideas and looking for sources when I found something.

I went for a run, which I hoped would help my mood, but I struggled to run, walking lots of the time, partly because of depression, but also because of the heat and, in the second half, an exercise migraine.  I had a lot of negative thoughts buzzing around my brain: that I’ve disappointed my parents and never given them any naches (reflected glory from children or grandchildren); that E. will realise sooner or later what a useless, pathetic, needy, screwed up boyfriend I am and leave me (she’s told me I’m catastrophising about this, but it was still what I was thinking); that I’ll probably die lonely, impoverished and unloved, maybe even homeless and living on the streets…  just a negative thought spiral.

I came back too exhausted and migrainey to think negative thoughts; post-migraine I tend to feel physically fragile, but emotionally OK (a rather extreme and counter-productive way of shifting a low mood).  However, the negative thoughts are already creeping back.  I need to daven Ma’ariv (say Evening Prayers) and I want to do a little Torah study if I can today, even if it’s only a few minutes.  I want to chill out in front of the TV for a bit, but it’s getting late and I’m not sure if that will just keep me awake later.

***

The rabbi from my shul WhatsApped me to check how I am, which was nice.  I do feel a bit more a part of the community when he does that.  I’m not quite sure what to say at the moment, though.

***

There aren’t many jobs being advertised at the moment, unsurprisingly, but I just got an advert for a “Cybrarian” which sounds (a) horribly like something out of Doctor Who*, (b) horribly like something from dot-com boom of the nineties and (c) like a overly-modern company where I would not fit into the corporate culture, particularly as they put “The ability to laugh at yourself” on the job description.  How do they interview for that?  I worry they make fun of you and then say, “What’s the matter?  Can’t you laugh at yourself?”  Mind you, they put “a profound love and passion for Technology [sic]” on the list too, which sounds even more disturbing, particularly as “Technology” was capitalised throughout the advert and job description.

* Which has given us Cyberman, Cybergun, Cybercontroller, Cybermat, Cyberplanner, Cyber-megatron bomb, Cyberleader, Cyberwar, Cyberbomb (“The most explosive devices in the universe!”), Cyberlieutenant, Cybermite, Cyberiad, Cyberium and Cyberdrone.

Anhedonia and Resentment

Another struggling morning.  It’s so hard to get going.  I just feel so tired and depressed.  It’s also easier to get sucked into despair and loneliness (missing E. – not exactly the dictionary definition of loneliness, but it’s hard to think what else it is) than at any other point of the day, although I am be glad that nowadays there are times when I’m less likely to be sucked in to them.

I wrote a job application, mostly tidying up my CV and template cover letter.  I decided to leave it before sending it and have another look at it tomorrow, as I was quite depressed today and didn’t think I really concentrated on it well.  I ought to be able to do the job well, but I’ve completely lost confidence in my ability to do the job I was trained for to the extent that I don’t think I can do this job and on some level don’t want to get it.  Nevertheless, I intend to send it tomorrow.

Other stuff done today: therapy (see below), thirty minutes of Torah study, a thirty minute walk, and a Skype call with E.  I had an idea for my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week, but it needs developing and I’m not sure where to take it.

***

Therapy today was useful.  We spoke a bit about grieving for parts of my life that I lost or never had (e.g. the stereotypical frum (religious Orthodox Jewish life)) rather than internalising them as a critical internal voice (e.g. “I’m useless because I’m not married).  We also spoke about the persecutor-victim-rescuer drama triangle, a relationship model where all three roles are unhealthy (“relationship” in this context means any relationship of people, not necessarily a romantic one).  I think a lot of my friendships/romantic/would-be romantic relationships in the past were victim-rescuer relationships, one way or the other, whereas with E. that’s not the case.  It’s a lot healthier; even though both of us have a lot of issues, we don’t really play the victim or rescuer, we support each other as equals and have good boundaries.

***

One thing I touched on in therapy was the feeling I have of God being critical and punitive, even though that’s not the type of theology I was brought up with or read nowadays.  It’s hard to see where that comes from except my general internal critical voice, which is hyperactive.

Related to that (which I didn’t discuss in therapy), is that I’m still struggling to emotionally connect with God or Judaism.  I was trying to work out earlier how much Jewish stuff I would still do if I knew there was no reward or punishment for it.  I would still keep Shabbat, because I feel that’s very positive for me in a very tangible way.  I would still study Torah, but maybe shift my focus (then again, maybe not).  Keeping kosher doesn’t bother me so I would keep that up.  I might reduce prayer.  It’s hard to tell.

Looking at the last paragraph, I looks like overall I would stick with most of Jewish practice: (Shabbat, Torah, kashrut and davening covers the bulk of daily Jewish practice for a non-married person.  I just wish it brought me more joy.  Is it the lack of connection to God that strips it of joy or is it the depressive anhedonia (inability to experience pleasure)?  Because obviously depending on what the cause is, the solution would be very different.  It’s not like there’s much joy in my life from other sources, so it could well be that I just don’t experience much joy or pleasure.

E. and I have been studying Pirkei Avot, the volume of Talmud that deals with ethics, together.  She keeps saying that while it’s interesting and some of it seems reasonable, it wouldn’t change her life.  I’m not sure if I can think of a single Jewish teaching that changed my life in that way.  I think it’s a cumulative effect of learning lots of things and doing lots of things that made me more religious.  Nevertheless, I am aware that a lot of my religious growth was driven by not wanting to be a hypocrite in picking and choosing elements of Jewish belief and practice, and that other people won’t necessarily feel the same need for consistency.  Indeed, outside of certain parts of the Orthodox Jewish community, pick and choose Judaism is the norm.

I would say that I doubt I could pass my religiosity to others because of that lack of joy and focus on integrity, but somehow I have influenced people around me to become more frum in some ways, even if not as much as me, so obviously I’m doing something right, I just don’t know what.

***

I do struggle with feelings of jealousy connected to anhedonia, feeling resentful and upset that other people can enjoy their lives whereas my enjoyment has been limited for the last twenty years and not that great even before that.  The most resentment and jealousy is over sex and over religion, people who enjoy their religious lives and find meaning and joy in it as well as friendship and community.

I don’t know why these two areas are the big sources of resentment for me.  I have never been a great traveller, but I don’t really resent people who do travel, perhaps because I was taken on a number of holidays in Europe as a child.  But I don’t resent people who have been to Asia or South America or other places I’ve never been to.  I don’t really resent people who can drink alcohol safely (which I’ve always been too scared to do) or who can drive (which I’ve also always been too scared to do).  I suppose I do feel resentful when there’s a party or social community event and I’m too depressed, autistic and socially awkward to attend.  Even so, sex and religion seem to be the big sources of resentment.  Or maybe I’m just confronted with them more often.

***

I was thinking crazy stuff today, at least before therapy.  I don’t know if I can put it in words, but I guess there were elements of catastrophising, self-blame, repressed anger and despair.  I tried to write the job application, but then I get sucked into procrastination online, and that triggered other thoughts and feelings (see the next paragraph).  I’m trying to notice when I’m catastrophising or self-blaming or worrying about stuff that is out of my control, or getting angry with people who I have now cut out of my life, but it can be hard to do that straight away.

***

I saw a comment online earlier that listed “severe depression” as being up there with drink, drugs, diseases, “several” divorces and domestic violence as the only things that would stop “Any eligible Orthodox Jewish man” meeting the proverbial “‘nice’ eligible Orthodox Jewish woman.”  Well, I did find a nice Jewish girl, fortunately, but I guess this is why I had to go outside of the frum community.  Still, “depression is as bad as domestic violence”… talk about stigma.  Reminds me of another article I saw years ago, on a secular website this time, that basically said if you have treatment-resistant depression, you’re never going to find a romantic partner, and that’s not fair, but life’s not fair, so deal with it.  It really was that blunt.

***

Boots has sold out of hair clippers.  I’m going to look like the abominable snowman by the time the barbers re-open.  At least I can shave again tomorrow.

Running on Empty

That was a difficult Shabbat (Sabbath).  I didn’t really want to go to shul (synagogue) on Friday evening (afternoon really; Shabbat started at 3.48pm) because I just felt too tired and overloaded.  I forced myself to go and probably would have felt worse if I had missed it, but I didn’t get much out of it.  I don’t seem to get much out of shul any more, if I ever did.  The mini-shiur (class) in the middle was on an obscure halakhic (Jewish law) matter that is, I suspect, primarily a superstition that has crept into minor law codes, but which has been unearthed by Haredi scholars who are looking for more laws and assume that nothing external to Judaism could enter the halakhic process so it must all be authentic and meaningful.  If you’ve read the famous essay Rupture and Reconstruction by Rabbi Haym Soloveitchik you’ll know what I mean (the essay concludes “Zealous to continue traditional Judaism unimpaired, religious Jews seek to ground their new emerging spirituality less on a now unattainable intimacy with Him [God], than on an intimacy with His Will, avidly eliciting Its intricate demands and saturating their daily lives with Its exactions. Having lost the touch of His presence, they seek now solace in the pressure of His yoke.”).

I came home and got through dinner with my family, but then I went and lay on my bed in the dark for half an hour.  I’m never sure, when I do that, if it’s a type of autistic withdrawal from emotional overload or just depression.  I guess they could overlap.

I just felt all evening that I’m running on empty, religiously.  I suppose emotionally too, although I’m only realising that now.  I still believe in God, and the Divine origin of the Torah, and the importance and meaningfulness of halakhah and the mitzvot (commandments), but it’s a struggle to get motivated to do anything Jewish.  I try to daven (pray) and do some Torah study (more on this below), but it’s hard.  Perhaps it would be easier if someone external was congratulating me when I do these things, or perhaps that would just feel patronising and make it seem worse.  I don’t know.  I just feel I have nothing left to give.  I want to keep Shabbat (it’s currently the only truly meaningful or enjoyable Jewish practice in my life) and I wouldn’t do anything drastic like stopping keeping kashrut (the dietary laws), but davening and Torah study get harder and harder, as do mitzvot that aren’t particularly strongly embedded in my life, like not listening to women singing (I was just listening to Annie Lennox/Eurythmics) or not watching stuff that has a lot of sex and violence (my recent binging on James Bond films that I had seen for decades, although to be honest I’m not greatly fond of sex and violence in fiction generally… I like the Roger Moore Bond films because they’re all deliberately cartoonish and unreal).

I don’t think I’ve ever got much out of my religion.  I know my parents became more religious because they found adopting certain practices meaningful or enjoyable, but that’s never been my motivation.  I’ve enjoyed too little for that to motivate me.  I used to enjoy Torah study.  I suppose I still do, if it’s about something that interests me.  I’m enjoying the Maggid Koren series of literary critical books on Tanakh (Hebrew Bible).  In fact, I finished the volume on Bereshit (Genesis: From Creation to Covenant) over Shabbat.  But these days I rarely experience any kind of meaningful connection with God when I daven or “learn” (study Torah… it’s probably telling that I usually say “study Torah” rather than “learn” as most Orthodox Jews do).  I’ve largely stopped meditating.

I know we’re supposed to serve God because it’s the right thing to do, because we’re in His covenant, but we’re supposed to enjoy it as well.  Other Jews talk about what they get from Judaism, whether it’s intellectual stimulation from “learning” or connection from davening or meditation or the feeling of emotional support in the community, or the warmth of Jewish families…  Religious Jews will say that Judaism enables us to enjoy the physical world meaningfully rather than hedonistically over-indulge or ascetically abstain, but I don’t enjoy much generally (depressive anhedonia), have had to curtail my diet because of medication-led weight gain and, am not allowed to have sex because I’m not married, which I suspect is the main thing people are thinking of when they say that Jews are allowed to avoid physical stuff within boundaries.  I know we’re supposed to serve God as an end in itself, but it’s hard to keep going when I’m getting nothing in return, just on a simple practical need for refuelling.  All I can say is that depressive anhedonia means that not being frum would probably be just as miserable for me, so I might as well stick with Judaism in the hope that there is an afterlife and I get something there that I can’t get here.  Which is entirely the wrong attitude, for practical reasons as much as religious ones.

For a while I thought that at least I could model positive aspects of Judaism to non-Jews/non-religious Jews, but I don’t think that’s true any more.  If anything my recent bursts of religious OCD just present it in a bad light here.

The other thing that worried me over Shabbat is whether I actually care about anyone.  I know my parents care about me and my sister does and E. certainly cares about me, but I find it hard to know what I feel about other people.  My feelings are often a black box that I can’t easily access except with therapy or slowly writing stuff here.  I know some people think that this blog is self-indulgent navel-gazing, but really it’s a kind of archaeology, slowly trying to unearth and understand what I’m thinking and feeling at any given time.  I just happen to let other people read it too.  I’m not sure that I know exactly what “caring about someone” would feel like.  I worried that I didn’t care much about my cousins, but then when we were worried that my cousin had gone missing last Shabbat (which I think I downplayed here because by the time I could write she was home, but I was really worried at the time) I was very upset that something might have happened to her, so maybe I do care about people.

Asking myself “Would I do X for person Y?” to try to see how much I care about them doesn’t really help as I’ve conditioned myself to think that I should (my favourite word again) give anything, my life even, to help others, even though the reality is that if I had to go out of my way for most people, it would make me resentful, but some of that would be autistic annoyance at disruption.  If someone said, “Can you do something minor for me right away?” or “Can you do something major for me in a week’s time?” I would probably find the former harder, because I wouldn’t have time to plan for it and accept it, whereas the big thing I know is coming and can prepare for, practically and emotionally, which is much easier from an autistic point of view (my parents have never entirely grasped this, one reason we don’t see eye to eye lately).

I read a bit and went to bed earlyish even though I didn’t feel tired and had no intention of trying to go to shul in the morning.  Even so, I couldn’t sleep, so I got up and read some more.  I don’t know what time I fell asleep in the end.  Probably somewhere around 2.00am.

I slept through the morning again, struggled to get ready for lunch and then had to go back to bed for a bit afterwards, before eating seudah quickly and hurrying to shul.  I did somehow daven a bit at home and get to shul for shiur and Ma’ariv (Evening Service).  I only really did that because I have my little job tidying up the papers after Ma’ariv.  I didn’t really want to go to the shiur or the service.

The shiur was on Daf Yomi.  Daf Yomi is a thing whereby you study one page (that’s both sides of a page) of Talmud a day and you complete the whole Talmud in approximately seven and a half years.  It’s been going since the 1920s I think.  They just completed/re-started another cycle (in fact I think the re-start is tonight/Sunday), so it’s been in the air in the Jewish community recently.  In theory it allows ‘ordinary’ people to study the whole of the Talmud, although I’ve never been sure if the average person really understands that much Talmud in one go, even if they go to a shiur.  It would take me about an hour to study that much Talmud, but that would really just reading through it.  Serious comprehension would take longer, possibly indefinitely.  But apparently tens of thousands of people manage it, including growing numbers of women (although not in the Haredi world).

The rabbi spoke about making a set time each day to study Torah.  He said even doing five minutes, even two minutes, a day was OK if you genuinely could not do more, which reassured me a bit.  Unfortunately, he then undermined this by saying that we should all really do Daf Yomi, that Rav Moshe Feinstein (the leading Haredi posek (jurist) of the twentieth century) said that there’s a mitzvah to study the whole of the Talmud that can be fulfilled through Daf Yomi (I very much doubt any rabbi before the twentieth century would have said there’s a mitzvah for all men to study the whole of the Talmud; Talmud used to be for an intellectual/religious elite, not everyone) and that everyone should have a set time for studying Torah morning and evening even if they’re ill.  So that just fed a load of my fears about not doing enough and thinking that I will never be a good enough Jew and that even thought I’m ill, I should be doing a lot more study.

I’m home now, obviously, and back in weekday mode.  I still have these worries about running on empty religiously, and how much worse I might feel once I start work and have that drain on my resources, and whether I care about my parents or E., not to mention what caring for E. would/could/might one day actually entail and so on.

It was hard to do anything this evening.  I didn’t manage any proofreading, but I spent a bit of time working on my novel – a bit under an hour, and even less when you take out the procrastination time dotted inside that hour.  I did write over 600 words, which is better than my usual target of 500 per hour.  The procrastination just made me feel more depressed, seeing things online that upset me one way or another, not necessarily in ways that are easy to explain, but tied in with my weak sense of self and identity, and my isolation in the frum community.

2020 Vision

I seem to be able to get to bed a bit earlier than a few weeks ago, but I don’t get up any earlier; later, if anything.  I think I slept about for twelve hours last night.  I basically have the type of depression where my body tries to hibernate: eat lots and then sleep for the rest of winter.  I’m trying to cut back on the eating, but the sleeping is harder to change.

Speaking of eating, my weight is the same as it was before Chanukah.  After eight doughnuts and a couple of mince pies, I’m counting that as a victory.

***

I went to the opticians for a routine eye test.  Aside from being kept waiting for a long time, there was nothing to report.  No change in my glasses prescription and I didn’t shake when I had lights shone in my eyes like I did last time.  I walked back in the rain, feeling guilty about not knowing what to do about all the homeless people who were stuck out in the cold and wet.

***

I tried to work on my novel, but didn’t get very far.  The way my book was structured, it had three main characters who alternately narrate chapters.  I tried writing the first chapter for narrator three and I just couldn’t do it.  It was bad enough that narrator two had covered some ground already covered by narrator one, but doing it a third time was ridiculous.  However, I couldn’t suddenly introduce a new narrative voice in the middle of the book after establishing two narrators early on especially as his story is so intertwined with narrator two’s that the problem of repetition would keep arising.  In any case, narrator three is also not much like me and I was struggling to get inside his head.  I can describe him through narrators one and two, but I can’t find his voice, at least not for long enough to write a chunk of the novel.  So, the important bits of his story are now going to be seen through narrator two’s eyes.  There wasn’t a lot to move or cut, which is telling, but cutting chapters means I’m now significantly below the average number of words per chapter for a novel-length story.  I hope to be able to put on some weight (so to speak) in redrafting, but I’m a bit worried about it.

***

I agreed to do some proofreading/editing for a friend.  I started today.  She’s a good enough writer that I haven’t had to correct much, including a slight tautology which I feel bad for picking up on as you could put down to a stylistic choice.  I also had to check a few British English vs. American English variants, but they were all OK.  I’m not so sure about the editing side of things, as this is a YA book and I don’t really read many of those.  I certainly don’t feel myself able to pass judgement on the accuracy of teenage speech patterns.  I’m going to have to assume she’s got those OK.

I did have trouble with the page layout and I can’t work out why; I couldn’t switch from the page view my friend had to my normal one.

***

I still don’t feel that I’m where I should be religiously.  Building on yesterday’s comments and my responses there, I’ve been told by rabbis that I’m doing OK considering all my issues, but I have high standards and feel that I don’t fit into the community, however understandable that is given depression, social anxiety and autism.  Also, my issues are dynamic; how I feel changes from day to day and even from hour to hour and it is hard to know what is right for me to do right now.  It’s a moving target that is hard to hit.

For example, today I only did ten minutes of Torah study because I was depressed and I used my limited resources of energy to proofread and work on my novel as well as going to my eye test and walking home (Dad gave me a lift there).  I also spent a lot of time procrastinating.  I’m not sure how I could/should have done things differently.  I could have procrastinated less, but I think that assumes non-depressed levels of energy, concentration and motivation.  But it’s hard to be sure.  Maybe I could have done things differently.  I don’t know.

Things are made worse by depressive anhedonia, so I can’t find my religious life enjoyable (no more so than any other part of my life, but this takes more effort than anything except work), and by my social anxiety and autistic socialising issues, which makes it hard to benefit from the close, supportive community that so many people identify as one of the major positives of being an Orthodox Jew.  I don’t feel that God really cares about me either, although going down this route takes us into philosophy (rationalists and kabbalists alike insist that God does not have emotions, although clearly there’s something which it is useful to us to understand as “love” for us) as much as depression and low self-esteem, although those are relevant too.

***

I don’t really think much of New Year’s Eve.  I’ve never even been to a New Year’s Eve party.  Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur)  is a ten day introspective experience that essentially involves a symbolic death and rebirth as a newer, better person (hopefully, anyway); New Year’s Eve involves spending an evening getting drunk and singing Auld Lang Syne.  Moreover, this isn’t the start of a new decade, although I remember from 1999/2000 that convincing people that 2020 is really the end of the 20-teens is going to be a non-starter (plus I’ll concede there is logic in treating 2020 as the start of the ’20s even if it falsely assumes that the calendar began with a year zero.  I will point out that the Victorians said celebrated the start of the twentieth century on 1 January 1901).

Still, I’ve been thinking lately about the last ten years, not so much because of New Year’s Eve, but because of my life.  E. and I have both feeling somewhat frustrated and pessimistic about our future; we both like each other and care about other, but it seems so hard to get the practical problems in being together out of the way.  Looking back over the last ten years shows how much could change in a decade, for better or for worse.

On 1 January 2010: my paternal grandfather was still alive (he died later that year) and my sister was single (she married in 2017).  My relationship with my mother was rather worse than now; my relationship with my father was better, for reasons I don’t fully understand (not understanding makes it hard to change).  I had never lived by myself unless you count university (Oxford is not exactly living by oneself) and never really thought that I might live anywhere other than the area I grew up for the foreseeable future (we moved in 2015).  I didn’t have many friends in 2010, and I don’t now, but I possibly have more now, at least if one counts online friends.  I did lose some friends over the decade, most through the usual “drifting apart through living in different cities, with different lives,” but a couple this year through doing the wrong thing and getting them angry at me.  That still hurts a bit, mostly because the way they reacted made me feel that they had hated me for some time and were just acting friendly out of pity.  There was one other friend I lost because he treated me badly and I just moved out of his life.  He still doesn’t realise how upset he made me and probably never will.

In 2010 I  had never been on date, despite being in my mid-twenties (I went on one for the first time in 2011).  I hadn’t asked many women out, but I had asked a few, all of whom turned me down.  I had got my BA and was preparing to do start my MA later in the year (it was supposed to be two years part-time, but took three and a half, notionally full-time).  I had never had a paid job (I still haven’t worked full-time, but I hadn’t even worked part-time then).  I suppose I felt comfortable in my Modern Orthodox shul (synagogue), although it was too much a fixture of my life to really think about it.  I had never lead services or given a drasha (religious speech/class) (I would lead services for the first time that year, after my grandfather’s death).  I blogged and occasionally wrote fiction and would move on to poetry in a couple of years, but I think by this stage I had abandoned any thought I might ever have had of writing a book, fiction or non-fiction, and would probably be astonished to think that I could do it.

By mid-2010 I felt that I was finally over my depression, but this was illusory.  In fact, I think I was still feeling bad at the beginning of the year and I would have a major relapse in the winter of 2010/11.  I had social anxiety which I did not really pay any attention to.  I had not yet really developed religious OCD, but the seeds of it were there.  At this time, autism was off my radar and hadn’t yet come back on it, having been told I was not on the spectrum and not knowing enough about autism to think otherwise.

I don’t know what conclusion I should draw from this.  There were a lot of ups and especially downs over the decade.  The overall trend was upward until about two years ago, then it slumped back down again.  Despite the improvements in some areas, I’m not really where one would expect a thirty-six year old to be in the abstract, not at all.  I don’t know what the prognosis is for E. and me.

***

And that’s about it for today, and 2019, really.  The only other thing I did today, other than cook some plain pasta, was finish watching Licence to Kill, and Timothy Dalton’s tenure as James Bond, which was interestingly down-to-earth, but not particularly fun or escapist.  I did mostly enjoy The Living Daylights, although I’m possibly being generous to it because I enjoyed it as a child.  Licence to Kill was too grim and gory for me.  I will probably pause watching Bond for a bit now; I was getting a bit tired of it anyway and there’s new Doctor Who tomorrow and again from Sunday, I’m hoping to see Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker on Thursday and I want to get started on my Star Trek: Voyager box set.  At least no one could accuse Voyager of being grim and gory.

Disconnections

I overslept this morning and was late for volunteering at the asylum seekers’ drop-in centre.  I had anxiety dreams about sitting exams, which seemed a dream association for my new job, which I’m worried about (you might have noticed).  Mind you, I was dreaming about carrying around an atom bomb, which doesn’t fit as neatly.  I think Hitler was in there somewhere too.  Anyway, I set my alarm for the wrong time and then I felt too tired and depressed to get up and stayed in bed for another hour.  I don’t think I wanted to go to volunteering at the asylum seekers drop-in centre any more than I want to start my new job.

I did get there in the end, albeit very late, after all the setting up.  I helped look after the children again, but felt redundant and useless much of the time.  I don’t think I’m good with children, no matter what my parents and my aunt say.  When it came to time to tidy up I had to tidy most of the toys by myself, which is a big task and we try to do it in a relatively short time, so stuff just gets shoved in boxes regardless of what it is, rather than being put away neatly in the right boxes (it doesn’t help that the bags and boxes we have aren’t really the right size or shape, they’re just things people had that got pressed into service).  I think the person who runs the drop-in centre felt that things should be packed away more neatly, and I would agree with that, it’s just difficult to do it by myself in the time available.  So I felt rather useless there too.  I left before moving the last few boxes into the garage where they are stored between sessions as my Dad was waiting for me outside and I felt that I was just messing stuff up (I already managed to break a plastic lid by stepping on it accidentally) plus I hadn’t had much lunch and moving heavy boxes was making me feel faint.

After that I had a break for an hour or two and then my sister and brother-in-law came over for Chanukah candle lighting and presents (and dinner).  We had five Chanukiot, so 45 lights (candles and oil) lit in total.  Dinner was good, but I struggle with family groups sometimes.  I don’t know why.  I guess because the conversation is usually fairly small talky, which I’m not good at; tonight a lot was about football, which does not interest me at all.  Often the discussion at family meals is about work or my parents’ friends and their families or people from my parents’ shul (synagogue) and I usually just zone out and concentrate on eating.

I drifted in and out of the conversation and I had a moment of anxiety about a kashrut (dietary law) issue, which may or may not be OCD.  I went upstairs once or twice as I felt a bit stifled – I wanted to shout to everyone to leave me alone at one point, which may be what the beginnings of an autistic meltdown feels like (I don’t generally have meltdowns, but given that there are a lot of autistic symptoms I used to think I didn’t have, but now realise I have in a subtle or unusual way, I wonder if that’s really the case).

I think I passed for OK most of the time even if I didn’t always feel OK.  My parents asked if I was OK and I lied and said I was, but they didn’t query it, so I guess I seemed OK.  I did enjoy some of the evening.  I probably did need more time to de-stress after volunteering before dinner and again after dinner before bed.  I did watch a Bond film, half after volunteering, half after dinner.  It was The Living Daylights, which I really liked as a child.  Looking at it again, it probably wasn’t the ideal thing to watch today, as I need escapism and this was a surprisingly down-to-earth thriller, the closest Bond comes to John le Carré.  This would usually be a good thing, but I think I needed escapist hokum more.  Here, the plot twists made my head hurt a bit, although I think I followed it in the end.

***

As an aside, It’s weird how autistic special interests work, inasmuch in the last six weeks or so I’ve suddenly got back into Bond films after fifteen or twenty years, but already I’ve filled my head with all kinds of Bond trivia (did you know that Q’s real name is Major Boothroyd?).  On the other hand, I completely forget important facts about my family and friends moments after they tell them to me.  I’m sure that one of the reason I have wide general knowledge is that it’s easy to find a Doctor Who link to so many things, so they stick in my memory that way.

***

I have been limiting myself to one doughnut a day during Chanukah to try to limit the weight gain; not that I would generally eat more than one doughnut a day, but occasionally on first or last night of Chanukah I might have two.  I had a chocolate doughtnut today (the type with the chocolate inside), but I was seriously tempted to have a mince pie too, to reward myself for getting through today in one piece.  (Mince pies are the only even vaguely Christmassy thing I do.)  So far I have resisted temptation, but it was hard sitting around the table with all this nosh and not eating, especially when I wasn’t so involved with the conversation.  Now I feel like I have post-sugar rush slump after the doughnut, but I may eat a mince pie tomorrow or on New Year’s Eve to reward myself for getting through today.

***

I’m struggling with meditation lately.  I used to do ten minutes a day of deep breathing meditation followed by ten minutes of hitbodedut meditation, which is a Jewish technique that is part meditation and part prayer, speaking to God extempore in the vernacular (where most Jewish prayer is a set text in Hebrew or occasionally Aramaic).  I find it hard to still my mind with breath meditation and I struggle to speak to God any more.  I’ve tried various combinations: all breathing, all hitbodedut, five minutes of each, as much as I feel like of each; but none of them really feels right any more.

Sometimes I wonder if I still believe in God or if I’m religious out of habit.  I think I do believe, but I feel that belief flows from actions rather than the reverse and I don’t do things like pray or learn (study Torah) or connect with a religious community enough, or enjoy them enough, to embed God in my life any more.  If you do lots of mitzvot (commandments), you will probably find yourself believing in God, whereas if you don’t do anything religious, you will probably lose what belief you had.  It’s not a hard and fast rule and it’s not hard to find exceptions, but it explains how a lot of people function much of the time.  But I don’t know how to cope with doing those things or making those connections when I’m so tired and depressed so much of the time, plus socially anxious and anhedonic (unable to feel pleasure).

Plus, it feels hard to thank God for things when I’m aware that so much in my life is hard, and hard to ask him for things when so often in the past the answer has been no.  I want to be Jewish, so I do Jewish things (mitzvot), but it’s hard to feel that God is there, if that’s even possible.  I know I have good things in my life, and I hope to write a bit about how my life has changed over the last decade in a future post for the new year, but there is still a lot that I’m struggling with and find it hard to see what good might come from things.

On the whole, I basically do believe in God.  I worry about infringements of Jewish law (as earlier with the religious OCD).  I don’t feel like a hypocrite for davening (praying) or studying Torah, but I do struggle to engage emotionally with God, Torah or mitzvot and I worry where that part of my life is headed if I carry on feeling like this and responding to my life in this way.

“It’s my soul of pain”

(A rather mammoth post, sorry.  I’ve got a lot of stuff I’m trying to process today.)

I felt really depressed and exhausted on waking again today.  It was very hard to get going (although it always is).  I was thinking about E. a lot and wondering what will become of us.  I don’t even know how I would describe our relationship to a third party.  I mean, technically we’re both clear that we’re just friends and that a deeper relationship wouldn’t work at the moment, but we both know that we care about each other.

The house was busy as we had the cleaner and the gardener here, so there was a lot of noise.  Just having other people around can be hard when I’m very depressed, one of those things were it’s not clear if it’s triggering depression, autism or social anxiety, but it feels bad either way.

***

I had a brief appointment with my CBT therapist to check in on progress.  She was pleased that the anxiety is better and that I’m pushing myself socially, but as my depression has been a bit worse this week, we’ve booked another check in appointment for a few weeks’ time.  That will be a phone appointment.  I wish today’s had been a phone appointment, as I had to walk both ways.  The walk is thirty-five minutes each way, albeit both journeys were interrupted by trips to shops.  It left me pretty exhausted again.

Strangely, on the way home the politics-related anger I was experiencing yesterday came back out of nowhere.  I just wanted to “do a Donald Trump” and angrily vent my frustrations (albeit that the things that frustrate me are not the things that frustrate him).  It’s weird how this happens.  I usually like nuance and reasoned debate, but sometimes I just want to scream and shout and call people names.  I guess Trumpism (which is more an aggressive style of politics than an ideology) is infectious.  I guess, given how reserved I usually am, it’s not surprising I sometimes fantasise about completely losing it one day.  Jumping on the table and screaming at people.

So many news articles and political statements these days seem designed just to get one side riled up against the other.  Everyone condemns the other side for doing it, but seems blind to their own actions.  This article suggests that polarised politics is here to stay, in the UK as in the US.  The author’s response to it: “I don’t watch a whole lot of news, as the news that matters finds me anyway. I don’t do social media. I do read poetry, and visit state parks with my family, and listen to music. Recently, for instance, I got through all ten of Mahler’s symphonies, plus Das Lied von der Erde. That was nice.”  That sounds good.  Better than thinking about Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn and Jo Swinson, anyway.

***

I subscribed to a Jewish website a while back, via email rather than my blog reader as per usual for some reason that I don’t remember.  I rapidly realised that it wasn’t for me.  It was for “BTs” (ba’alei teshuva, people raise secular who found religion late in life) and I thought it might help with my issues fitting in to the community.  Maybe other people have the same issues.  It turned out to be written by super-frummie people (using frummie in the somewhat derogatory sense of people who are really religious in an OTT way).  I unsubscribed, but they periodically send stuff to me anyway (naughty!).  Today a post arrived and I was going to delete it without reading, but something about the title made me look inside.  Skimming the article depressed me.  It says there are three types of people who serve God:

1) The lower kind of eved [servant], one who serves Hashem [God] only because he needs Him.
2) The higher kind of eved, one who serves Hashem because he lives his life for Him.
3) Ben [child], which is when one serves Hashem out of a love for Him.

I don’t know  where I fit here.  I don’t serve God because I need Him (I mean, I do need him, but that’s not what motivates me), but I don’t live my life for Him and I don’t know I really love Him, although identifying any kind of emotion with depression, autism and alexithymia (difficulty identifying and understanding emotions) is hard.  My depression is so bad that I can’t live my life for myself, let alone anyone else.  I serve Him because I feel it’s right.  So I don’t know where I fit in.  I guess this is the question I’ve had for some time.  I can just about accept that God cares about me (inasmuch as we can talk about God having emotions, which is a whole other philosophical debate).  But I feel that I just do what I can, when I can, because I feel I a sense of duty and responsibility.  I know that’s not right, from a Jewish point of view, that we are supposed to love God and feel an intense connection to Him, but with my issues, that’s all the emotions I can manage.

Another thing I saw today was this post from a blogger I like a lot, although he hardly ever blogs nowadays.  I wanted to comment, but I wasn’t sure what to say.  I feel that I do experience the religious exhaustion he talks about from trying to find my place in the religious and secular worlds.  I feel I should be (as he says) “at a stage where we have our peer groups, our work and our histories; we made the big religion and lifestyle decisions years ago.”  But depression and social anxiety force me to make those decisions again every single day.  Every time I go into shul (synagogue) or shiur (religious class) it can feel almost as nerve-wracking as if it was the first ever time.  I still worry about saying the wrong thing or being caught out.  I have a degree of acceptance of my choices, but I’m not comfortable that those I respect and want to be respected by would accept those choices.  It’s hard.

***

It has been a bad day for my religion making me miserable.  I went to shiur (religious class) in the evening.  I worry that I really go only for the social side, to try to mix with people from my shul in a semi-social setting (most of the people I’m somewhat friendly with at shul go to the shiur).  The content of the shiur seems to be over my head a lot lately.  It is often quite mystical and I don’t really connect with that.  Tonight the rabbi giving the shiur was talking about Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year, starting Sunday evening).   I had heard the idea that Rosh Hashanah is a microcosm of the coming year before, that your experience over the two days of Yom Tov (festival) affects the rest of the year.  There’s an idea to sleep less on Rosh Hashanah for that reason, but that’s not always easy with depression.  Today the ex-assistant rabbi said that the amount of energy and enthusiasm for davening (prayer) and Torah study in the coming year and all the chiddushim (innovative Torah interpretations) one will have in the new year are decided on Rosh Hashanah.  I don’t know why this upset me, but it did.  It somehow felt that it was all my fault that I have no energy or enthusiasm for anything religious any more.  I feel like I screw up every year and get written in God’s ‘bad’ book and if only I could be a better Jew, I wouldn’t be depressed.

The shiur rabbi was also talking about needing to find an authentic connection with God in our Jewish observance based on our personalities and personal strengths.  In theory I would agree with this, but he said that he knows that everyone present has strengths because we all have jobs and careers which mean we all have a marketable skill.  He forgot, if he knew, that I’ve been unemployed for six months.  He certainly didn’t know that I’m struggling in my career in librarianship and feeling I’m not skilled enough and can’t cope with it, but I’m also struggling to build a new career as a writer.  I don’t want to sound critical because he probably didn’t know about my situation and he certainly didn’t mean to hurt me, but it did upset me a bit.  Then he said he knows we all have enthusiasm because we have hobbies and that just made me feel bad that I have to hide my hobbies in my community because I think they would not be considered quite “kosher” (no pun intended).

He also said that people today have “cushy lives”…  OK, I know I’m not in a death camp or conscripted into the Tsarist army, I know that historically most Jews have had much harder times in terms of antisemitic violence, poverty, endemic and epidemic disease and so on and that I have, in historical terms, a huge amount of “modern privilege.”  I know that I’m lucky that my parents support me, both financially and emotionally and that lots of people with issues like mine are faring much worse than I am.  Even so, I feel that life on the autistic spectrum with treatment-resistant depression and social anxiety is not by any means “cushy.”  I know he didn’t mean to upset me, but… well, I got upset.  Some of this is the classic “invisible illness syndrome,” that people don’t realise I’m ill and have issues and they make assumptions about how my life is based on superficial criteria.

On a more mundane note, I intended not to eat any of the snacks provided as I usually binge far too much on them (I’m not sure if that’s a product of anxiety (distraction) or gluttony).  I still ended up eating two home-baked chocolate chip cookies, which were very nice.  I shouldn’t really blame my poor self-control on feeling upset.  At least I didn’t eat any crisps.

***

I save positive emails from friends and positive blog comments.  The idea is to read them when I’m depressed, but I don’t always remember, so sometimes I print some out and blue tack them to my wardrobe.  To be honest, after a while I stop noticing them, but sometimes I suddenly see one when I need to.  I hadn’t blue tacked any up for quite a while.  I decided to print some recent ones so I have something to support me over the upcoming Jewish festival season.  I felt quite emotional reading them.  Emotional that people say positive things about me, but also emotional that I’ve lost touch with so many people.  I know it’s not really my fault (except for the friends I upset), that online friendships can be more fragile than real-world friendships and just because someone stopped reading my blog doesn’t mean they think I’m a bad person; it could be that they’ve just run out of time for blog reading.  Still, it did make me feel happy and sad at the same time.  (I’ve quoted this before, but it’s so true: “It’s a smile, but you’re sad. It’s confusing, it’s like two emotions at once. It’s like you’re malfunctioning.” – Doctor Who: Mummy on the Orient Express.  If David Tennant was the ADHD Doctor and Tom Baker was the bipolar Doctor, then Peter Capaldi was the high-functioning autism Doctor.)

***

I feel on edge and I don’t know what to do to unwind.  I feel a bit anxious and quite depressed.  I’m in one of those moods where I say the wrong thing to everyone, or maybe I just worry that I do.  Did I say the wrong thing here about shiur?  I get terrified of mentioning anyone else on my blog since falling out with people over it, but I feel I made clear that I’m not blaming the rabbi, just saying that I was upset and it wasn’t his fault.  I’m sure he wouldn’t have said what he said if he had known it would upset me.  I shouldn’t mention it, but I need to write to process my feelings.

I need to retreat to my Fortress of Solitude.  I would normally watch TV, but I feel anhedonic (unable to feel pleasure) and don’t really feel like watching anything.  I doubt I will sleep at the moment though so I need to find something to do.

***

The WordPress random keyword suggestion thing suggested I look for posts on “Anime, WordPress, sharks.”  I think Anime WordPress Sharks could be a hit cartoon series, no?  About Japanese cartoon sharks that write blogs.

Rumours of Death

I don’t know why it’s so painful to think that I’ll never be loved romantically/sexually, but it is.  I mean, there are lots of supposedly-pleasurable experiences that I’ve never tried and have no interest in trying, but somehow I can’t convince myself that this probably won’t make me feel much better either.  Who knows if I would even be any good at relationships?  (Although my exes didn’t seem to complain about my boyfriendness, just about values clashes or my financial situation.)  I’m not terribly good at most things, particularly not things that are emotional or physical rather than intellectual, and I don’t really enjoy many things at all (anhedonia).  E. once suggested that if I slept with someone, I would see that sex isn’t so great and stop thinking about it so much.  I know that I couldn’t cope with casual sex for both religious and emotional reasons, so that’s pretty much a non-starter.  And I suspect my first girlfriend was right about my being frigid, although she didn’t know about the autism.

***

I’m applying for a job with a massive, involved job description and a lot of responsibility, but which is part-time with relatively short hours and low salary.  I suspect this would be a high-stress job.  I suppose they are probably looking for someone at the end of their career, with lots of experience, but looking to wind down a bit and work part-time for a few years before retiring.  I applied anyway.

I started crying again partway through.  I really don’t want to be here (in my life).

***

I had another go at getting my new phone.  It turns out that I hadn’t ordered it on Friday, but I have done so now and the phone should be in on this Friday.  I felt embarrassed a lot while I was there, because I don’t really understand much about the process of getting a new phone and setting up a new contract and so was not properly prepared.  I don’t really care about phones or even use mine that much, so autistically I just ignore them and everything to do with them.  Then, when the salesman did a credit check, I had to admit that I’m nearly thirty-six, but am unemployed and live with my parents.  Why didn’t I get a new phone earlier this year, when I was working?

On the way to Carphone Warehouse (why do they still call themselves that when carphones don’t exist any more?), I got caught up in a group of Haredi mothers and their young children on the way home from school.  I thought one of them looked like someone I was at school with, although it was hard to tell as she was wearing a sheitel (wig), as per the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) norm.  It would not surprise me if it was her.  I went to a Jewish school, albeit not a very frum one, but I think quite a number of people were “kiruved” (ugly word, half Hebrew, half English, for the process whereby non-religious Jews are encouraged/proselytised to become religious, usually by a formal outreach organisation or movement like Aish or Chabad).  I’ve come across some of the men I was at school with in my shul or the wider Jewish community around here, generally married with children, sometimes with smicha (rabbinical ordination).  I imagine there are more women, as I think more women become frum than men.

It is hard to know how to process this.  For one thing, it is hard to respect rabbis who I remember as not always well-behaved or intellectually outstanding schoolboys.  I suppose that’s a problem a lot of people have when the people they knew grew up.  (I’m sure there are people who were at Eton or Oxford in the seventies and eighties saying, “Boris Johnson?  Really?!”  Mind you, lots of people who weren’t at Eton or Oxford with him are saying that.)  But sometimes I wonder, if I had been “kiruved” in a more formal way, instead of resisting that and becoming frum in my own way, would I be integrated better into the community?  Would I be married with children by now?  (Kiruv rabbis apparently try to marry people off ASAP because early marriage is the norm, but, some say, because if you have a frum spouse, you are socially less likely to backslide, at least not overtly.)  Would I even be a rabbi?  But in order to be kiruved I would have had to have not been resistant to going to Shabbatons and social events, which would probably have meant that I wasn’t autistic (or at least I wasn’t bullied for being autistic), which in turn would trigger more changes downstream and I might not have ended up frum at all.

***

I just feel really lonely.  I try to keep busy, but when I stop, the loneliness comes back.  I feel so depressed and lonely right now and I don’t know why.  I should do some Torah study or work on the books I’m writing, but I just can’t.  It’s not even a question of having enough energy or motivation, my brain is just not working, not even for a few minutes.  I might try to go to shul later, as I don’t have to do much more than I would at home (I would daven at home), just cope with being in a social environment for half an hour.  Plus two twenty minute walks (after two fifteen minute walks earlier).  But I feel a bit agitated, so it will be good to walk.

***

I did a Blake’s 7 marathon recently (does it count as a marathon if you don’t binge-watch, but do one episode a day for months?  I don’t really binge-watch stuff) and I keep thinking about the end of my favourite episode, Star One.  The context is that Blake and his fellow freedom-fighters have discovered that the evil Federation is about to be invaded by alien from Andromeda.  Although they’ve been trying to overthrow the Federation, they decide that the Andromedans would be even worse and determine to take a stand to hold off the invasion force while the Federation brings in reinforcements.  Blake retires injured from the flight deck of the Liberator, leaving the cynical, self-interested Avon in charge.  When Avon doubts whether Blake really trusts him Blake responds, “For what it is worth, I have always trusted you.  From the very beginning.”

I keep replaying this in my mind and wishing that someone would say something like that to me.  That God would say that to me.  No one would, though.  Trusting me would not be a sensible idea (although whether trusting Blake and Avon was sensible is another question – spoilers!).  But still.  I would like to feel that I can do something worthwhile here, but I don’t.

Tested

I felt quite depressed on waking again.  Although I must have been in bed for about twelve hours (this was at nearly 1pm), I still felt tired.  On the whole I’m probably doing OK, mental health-wise, at the moment, but I get bursts of depression and/or anxiety most days that last for a while and I’m definitely struggling to find my ‘place’ or role in terms of career, family, dating and fitting in to the Jewish community.  I tried telling myself that where I am (moderately depressed and anxious, autistic, unemployed etc.) is where God wants me to be, but it’s hard.  I keep wondering why I have to be like this.  But I don’t think we can know such things, at least not at the time.  Maybe years later, when we see how things turn out.

I just did a civil service initiative and judgement test for a job at a ministerial library that I applied for.  Part of the test was on attitudes to work.  I think the ideal candidate bounds out of bed in the morning and hurries joyfully to work and sets him or herself a number of career goals culminating in becoming the head of a department by the age of forty.  The test is not really set up for someone confused about their career choice and suffering from depressive anhedonia (lack of enjoyment) and lack of motivation.  My concentration during the test was poor too.

Then there was an initiative test which was based largely around management issues.  I’m not ready for a management job (and probably never will be), which suggests that the job is not right for me.  I found the multiple choice framework frustrating, as I frequently wanted to add clarification or a caveat, or felt that none of the answers given were very good, even though I could not think of a better one.  I suspect that I’m not management material.  I got through it rather quickly.  I was told it should take about fifty minutes, but I did it in thirty, which makes me worry I went through it too fast, but I couldn’t really connect the questions to anything that might really have guided me.  I did do some study of management for my librarianship MA, but nothing that really helped here.  Although it is fun to imagine Sir Humphrey Appleby, the Machiavellian civil service chief from Yes Minister being made to sit one of these tests (“Where’s the option ‘brief against your critics to their boss until he fires them’?”).

I did, apparently, pass the test and am still being considered for the job, which is good.

Toads

(My post titles become more elliptical as my mood goes down.  You can tell I’m not actually trying to attract readers.  The reference is to Philip Larkin, in case anyone cares.)

My mood has gone back down again, mostly because of my uncertain future.  I coped OK at work, but I overheard one conversation where my line manager’s line manager was advising some young people on a career in librarianship which made me realise (remember would be a better word) that I’m not actually doing anything to push my career on and wouldn’t know where to begin.  Then I had a meeting with my line manager where she said she’s pleased with my work, but reminded me that my contract expires in five weeks (which I took as a sign that it won’t be extended) and asked me where I would like to gain more experience while I’m here?  This offer is good in itself, but I did what I always do when faced with (a) an on the spot decision or (b) careers stuff in general: I froze and couldn’t think of anything (classic autistic executive function issues).

I did eventually say something reasonably positive, but I feel down overall.  I can’t seem to work out how to do something that I’m reasonably good at, enjoy at least a bit, and which doesn’t leave me a nervous wreck the whole time.  Because of depressive anhedonia, the only thing I even vaguely enjoy is writing and I don’t know how to get paid for that when I have no contacts, no confidence in my writing and a range of interests that is too wide in some ways and probably not deep enough in others.  I saw this post, which should be useful for me, but it just makes me feel panicked and confused.

Now twice I’ve been asked by different line managers in different jobs if I really want to be a librarian; my insistence that I do is becoming less and less convincing.  I don’t actually know what to do with my life or how to do it.  I just feel stuck.  I’m just waiting for someone to help me, because I do not feel capable of actually doing anything.  Twenty-two years of education (approximately, on and off) did not actually prepare me for the real world, not even the career-focused MA that was supposed to train me for a career.

I literally do not feel able to function in the real world, in terms of career, socialising, family or anything else important.  I admit I can function at a basic level (cooking, shopping, laundry, cleaning), but nothing harder than that.  I really feel that I want help with mental health and autism in the real world, but the courses I’ve been on that are supposed to help with those things didn’t tell me much I didn’t already know.  So either I know more than I think I know and need to learn how to apply it in practice or I’m not getting the help I need, possibly because of the difficulties of dealing with multiple diagnoses.

In addition, I have a meeting with a matchmaker on Sunday and I really don’t feel that I could possibly be attractive to anyone while I’m only working part-time and imminently about to be unemployed.  I feel guilty for even arranging to see the matchmaker, which is a bit silly.  I suppose I don’t have to go on dates, I could say my financial situation is problematic and could they keep me on file, but not actively set me up with anyone just now, but that is quite embarrassing to have to admit to.  I think I will have to do so, though, otherwise I’m only setting myself (and other people) up for heartache.

I’ve returned from shiur (religious class) feeling a little better, but I think this is tiredness rather than truly improved mood.  I struggle with the usual banter at shiur at the best of times, but I really wasn’t in the mood for it tonight, nor for the talk before and after of families (again) and the shul (synagogue) dinner tomorrow that I can’t go to because I missed the deadline (partly my fault, but partly because of poor marketing).  I did at least eat less junk food there than usual, but I’m fatalistic about losing weight while on clomipramine (I’ve put on a ton of weight since I started taking it), and I don’t think my GP or psychiatrist will let me come off it; they insist its working and the fact that I’ve felt somewhat better lately only strengthens their argument.  The weekend looks set to be difficult emotionally, between going to shul knowing many people will be staying for the meal and I won’t and the meeting with a matchmaker on Sunday (I already feel a fraud).  For now, I will go to bed, and hope that I feel better tomorrow.

I know I sound like a lazy, entitled child, but I genuinely feel completely lost and overwhelmed, unsure of what I’m actually capable of doing or how to do it.  The fact that I’m probably autistic means that I can’t actually do the thing that most people in this situation would do, which is network and talk to people.  I was thinking of going to a networking workshop, but it’s the same day as the Robert Alter talk I already booked to go to.  The talk isn’t until the evening, but I don’t think I can do the workshop and the talk  in one day and still have the energy to get to work the next day.  I hate the way my issues make me so pathetic and useless.

“I don’t believe in modern love”

I’m in a bad autism environment today.  I’ve mentioned we’ve got a decorator in; he’s decorating the room next to mine.  I dislike the smell of paint, which sometimes makes me ill, plus he has the radio on really loudly.  It’s Radio 4 Extra (or whatever they call it these days), which is drama and comedy and so probably somewhat better than music – it’s not loud enough for my autistic brain to attempt to tune in to the words too much, but it is still loud enough to be annoying.  I was glad to be out most of the day, first at my depression/resilience course and then shopping and I will be at work tomorrow.  The smell is going to linger, though, and the decoration will continue for a while.  The decorator is estimating he’ll be finished by the end of the week, but my Dad and I are sceptical, particularly as we’ll want him out of the house by about 3.00pm on Friday for Shabbat (the Sabbath).

***

Resilience course today was focused on activity.  We listing activities done over the week; activities we enjoy; activities that make us feel better; activities that we don’t enjoy, but have to do, but are important for our well-being; and what activities we would like to do.  I realised that I do actually do things I enjoy, at least in theory, perhaps too many given how many essential-but-not-enjoyable things I do (albeit I do more of those now I’m working again)… The problem is that (a) I don’t actually enjoy a lot of the stuff I theoretically enjoy because of anhedonia (inability to experience pleasure) and (b) I spend too much time that could/should be spent doing something either productive or relaxing on procrastination when I feel too exhausted or depressed to read a book or job hunt and just stare into space on the train or aimlessly surf the internet.  I’m going to try to limit internet use to after 5.00pm Monday to Thursday (Fridays and Saturdays I don’t procrastinate on it much because of Shabbat, while activity on Sundays varies too much from week to week to set a rule).  Hopefully if I can reduce procrastination I can increase productive time without reducing enjoyable activities (even if I don’t always enjoy them).

The problem I seem to be having with the course is that while a lot of their tips are straightforward and seem good (and some have been suggested to me before, when I was seeing an occupational therapist), it can be hard to implement them.  I am a bit concerned that the tips would probably be better for someone with mild depression or anxiety.  Some people on the course seem to have done several courses through this scheme and that suggests to me a bit that people with severe depression or anxiety can get stuck in the system, getting enough out of the courses to keep coming back, but not enough to actually recover.  This is something that I have experienced myself in previous occupational therapy.  The other difficulty is appearing to recover, getting discharged from the support system, then getting very depressed again as a result of a trigger, which might not even be a ‘bad’ thing – I think I’ve been triggered by positive events before.  Any change can be difficult for people at risk of mental health issues especially with autism, which craves routine, and even positive or neutral change can remind the unconscious of negative events in the past and trigger a relapse.  Then one has to start all over again, remembering or relearning the skills.  Other people on the course seemed to share this experience.

***

I have a bit of a crush on one of the women at the group.  I even ended up speaking to her briefly today, which is a major thing for me with my social anxiety.  Also, there were a couple of awkward moments when our eyes met and I smiled awkwardly which makes me worry that I come over as stalkerish.  She seemed shy, gentle and geeky, but, statistically speaking, she’s almost certainly not Jewish and from her clothes (trousers) she certainly isn’t frum (religious Orthodox Jewish).  I wouldn’t date anyone who isn’t Jewish and I’d be a bit wary of dating anyone who wasn’t frum although I did date E. who wasn’t frum.

I’ve had crushes on people who are ‘off-limits’ before and they (the ‘bad’ thoughts/feelings) do go eventually.  I don’t believe that crushes are “LOVE”.  They’re just hormones.  I think love is something you build slowly over time through caring actions (being very frummy here, but true) and mostly when people talk about being “in love” (noun as opposed to “loving,” verb) they mean hormones.  Likewise when they think they’re not “in love” any more it often means the hormones have gone and they haven’t built anything deeper.  Nor do I think that LOVE can, or should, conquer all.  I think there are things it can’t overcome and, statistically-speaking for many people religious differences are very hard to bridge long-term.  There are also things I think love shouldn’t overcome and I think (and I’m aware how reactionary this will seem to many people, but I’m going to say it) breaking Jewish law and breaking faith with the traditions I follow are, for me, too big a price to pay for a relationship.  I don’t just want to get married, I want to build a specifically Jewish household.

She is cute though.  So right now I’m trying to sit with the crush feelings and not feel too guilty about ordinary human feelings, even though some people would say I should stop myself from having them (how?  I would if I could).  It wouldn’t be so frustrating if it wasn’t for the fact that I struggle to meet Jewish women who do tick any of the boxes she seemed to tick: gentle, geeky, understanding of shyness and mental health issues.  Very frustrating.  I’m not really sure how I could ever meet someone like that in the frum community.  I’m not sure if I could really go to a shadchan (matchmaker) with a list like that, short though it is, along with my core values, which are probably integrity, commitment to Judaism and desire for knowledge.

Oh, and the person has to actually like me which has been a stumbling block in stopping many of my crushes from turning into relationships.

The Two Minutes Hate

(I have mixed feelings sometimes about the purpose of trigger warnings, but it’s pretty clear that this needs one for suicidal ideation.)

“I hate myself.  I hate my life.  I hate disrupted sleep.  I hate waking up late every day.  I hate being exhausted all the time.  I hate not having the motivation to do anything.  I hate never enjoying anything.  I hate not understanding my emotions.  I hate making stupid mistakes, particularly at work.  I hate sniping at everyone all the time, even when I don’t mean to.  I hate catastrophising all the time.  I hate despairing all the time.  I hate not meeting my religious obligations.  I hate being lonely.  I hate being sexually frustrated.  I hate being overweight due to medication and I hate hating being overweight.  I hate not being able to cope with basic social interactions.  I hate avoiding social occasions I might enjoy if I wasn’t depressed and socially anxious.  I hate freaking out when people try to talk to me.  I hate being overwhelmed by background noise.  I hate the inward-looking narcissism of mental illness.  I hate spending too long aimlessly surfing online because I don’t have the energy/motivation to do anything productive and because it’s the only form of interaction I can cope with, but ending up just making myself more lonely and depressed.

I hate hating myself and my life.  I hate thinking about hurting myself and killing myself so much.

Above all, I hate being so bleeding miserable all the time.”

This is basically how I woke up today.  I went to bed really late (2.00am) because I felt too awake and depressed to actually get ready for bed; then I couldn’t get to sleep because I was too awake and depressed.  So I slept through most of the morning again and woke up catastrophising about starting my new job in under a week and wondering if I’m actually going to make it there.

I wish I could see an upside to my life, but I can’t.  I know the trend among autistic people is to see high-functioning autism as a difference with certain positives rather than a disability, but I can’t see any positives to my autistic traits and certainly not to my depression and social anxiety.  I really just want to die, but I’m too scared to attempt anything (and vaguely aware there are people who would be upset, but I have to concentrate hard to feel that through the nihilism and pain).

How long is it possible to go on hating yourself and wanting to die?  I’ve been suicidal, on and off, for sixteen years or more.  Not constantly, but at times.  I don’t know how long it’s been cumulatively.  When I feel really depressed, let alone suicidal, it’s hard to remember that I’ve ever been not depressed, but at the rare times I’ve been emotionally OK, it’s hard to remember I’ve ever been depressed.  So it feels like I’ve been suicidal, or at least fantasising about suicide, for years, but it might not be.

I’ve been told I should phone the NHS crisis team when I feel like this, but unless you’re actually literally about to try to kill yourself, they aren’t interested and tell you to phone your GP, who sends you back to the crisis team…  Typical bureaucracy.  I could phone Samaritans, but I don’t feel I have much to say at the moment.  Maybe eat lunch and see how I feel after that, if I feel up to phoning Samaritans.

I’m not going to do anything, I just feel like **** and wish I wasn’t here.

Down Again, Down Again, Jiggity Jig

My parents and my cousin went to football today (Spurs vs. Bournemouth… perhaps inevitably, the family are Spurs fans (they have a reputation for being the most Jewish club).  Spurs won 5-0).  I’m not sure whose idea it was; I think it was my parents’ and then my cousin asked to join them, but I’m not sure.  I don’t like spectator sport, so I stayed at home.

***

I woke up feeling really drained and quite depressed again.  It’s only got worse as the day has gone on.  I wish I could have a good day that wasn’t followed by a bad one as ‘payment’ for it.  I don’t feel up to doing the chores I was supposed to do today.  I forced myself to go for walk and to do ten minutes of Torah study.  I should also try to write back to the author Yaakov Klein, who emailed me about my recent comment about his book on my blog, although I’m procrastinating about that because I feel ashamed that I got annoyed with what he wrote.  But really, I just want to eat and sleep.  My problem with depression used to be fighting the urge to sleep too much.  That’s still an issue (I got up after 11.00am today), but lately it’s become just as much of a struggle to avoid eating.  I’m probably better at fighting the urge to comfort eat than the urge to oversleep, but it’s hard.

I don’t even feel particularly motivated to watch TV, let alone do anything more active.  I’ve got a lot of anhedonia today, although there’s a lot of exhaustion and depression too.  I just wrote the following about anhedonia in a comment on the Mental Health at Home blog:

Anhedonia is hard too. I find that it can be the hardest thing because the people around me will give me more sympathy if I’m visibly exhausted or suicidal, but if everything just seems meh, no one really cares or even knows that I’m sitting there not enjoying things that in the past I would have liked. To make it worse, I suspect I’ve had anhedonia since my early teens (at least) so it’s difficult to remember by this stage that I used to enjoy stuff a lot more.

***

I’m thinking about relationships again.  I don’t know why I’m so desperate to be in one, considering I usually avoid social interactions.  Actually, that’s not really true.  I do know why I want to be in a relationship: because I have a complicated relationship with my parents and sister stemming from a difficult, love-starved childhood (for reasons not in my family’s control) and so I’m desperate to be loved by someone to try to meet that long-felt, rarely-met need for affection and care.  This is not a particularly healthy reason to want to be in a relationship, doubly so when you consider that it’s compounded by a lot of religious repression and guilt about perfectly normal sexual desires, plus the fact that my lack of romantic success in the past makes me feel that I’m destined to be romantically and sexually inadequate forever, even if I do end up getting married.

I just wish someone really understood me and connected with me, I suppose.  I want to love and be loved, which probably isn’t surprising given my personal history (loneliness, bullying), but I worry I want to be loved more than I want to love someone else.  I’m not sure I could express love correctly anyway.  Whatever “correctly” is in the context.  Autism, social anxiety and depression do not make it easy to develop social skills, and I guess that loving is a social skill.

I’ve been told that I’ll meet someone when I least expect it, but that’s not how dating really works in the Orthodox world, where people mostly get set up on blind dates by third parties and it’s often all researched and thought out beforehand.  That said, I did start dating E. out of nowhere (she contacted me through my blog and we emailed for a while platonically before dating), but that didn’t end well and I can’t imagine lightning striking twice with another random emailer.  Actually, thinking about it, I met someone else I briefly dated through my blog, in a slightly different way, so maybe I’m wrong.  Or maybe lighting will strike twice, but not thrice.  Although I find it hard to imagine that anyone could like me even platonically, let alone romantically, having read the embarrassing, self-centred rambles I post here.

I just feel it would feel good if someone loved me, and let me love her, but I would still be depressed, anxious and autistic, so it wouldn’t really change anything.

Still Feeling Like the Most Evil Person in the World

Warning: this is a stream of consciousness-type set of thoughts I had today, even more than usual.  It’s also really long.

I tried to apply for a job again, but I found it hard even to concentrate on reading the job description, let alone apply.  My eyes just glazed over and I couldn’t focus, literally as much as metaphorically.  In the end I sent in applications for two jobs at the same institution (one higher-ranking than the other).  I don’t really think I will get either of them, and I think a job agency has already submitted my CV for one of them.

***

I cooked dinner (I mean a proper meal from fresh ingredients) for the first time in months.  Hungarian ragout from a cookery book I got for my birthday in July and hadn’t yet used.  E. recommended the book.  Dinner tasted really good, but my feeling of triumph was undermined by feeling bad that I didn’t eat with my parents.  I was set to eat by myself and watch Sherlock when they asked if I was going to eat with them and I am autistically bad at last minute changes of plan.  I felt I should be more flexible.

***

The other thing I did today was going for a twenty minute brisk walk in the cold and dark and drizzle because I needed the exercise.  I kept thinking cheery thoughts like, “People like me shouldn’t exist.  There ought to be a law against it” and being glad my sister is married and hoping she has children so that my parents can be grandparents and generally feeling that I have let my parents down and not given them enough naches (reflected pride).

My Mum told me today that someone whose parents used to live down the road from us and who I was at primary school with, has moved to Peru (?!) and had a child.  This person had learning difficulties and, I think, quite serious behavioural problems when we were younger.  She also said that his brother, who was a couple of years below me at Oxford and who has held some high positions in the Israeli civil service service has just got engaged.  So I feel like a real under-achiever and failure again.

***

I did a search for ‘autistic shidduch‘ (blind date) and rapidly came across a post of my own and very little else that was relevant.  The number of resources for people with mental health issues in the Jewish community and in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community is slowly increasing and stigma is slowly reducing.  However, I have not come across anything at all for people with high-functioning autism in the frum community (in the UK or elsewhere), yet there must be such people.  ‘Autism frum community’ didn’t turn up anything relevant, although search engines often read ‘frum‘ as a mis-spelling of ‘from’ and ignore it as a stop word.  (This was on duckduckgo.com which, unlike google, gives you a straightforward list of hits rather than adjusting it according to your previous searches.)

As I’ve said before, I think that you can go far with high-functioning autism in the frum community IF you’re male and IF you can make Talmud study your special interest (although there was some discussion of this idea here).  If  you do that then you will be seen as a great scholar for studying fifteen hours a day and your perhaps poor social and communication skills and lack of interest in money and material goods will be seen as evidence of extra piety.  Even stimming is considered normal if you can do it as shockling (swaying back and forth rhythmically during prayer or religious study).  If  you are recognised as a Talmid chacham (great scholar), you will be provided with a wife and an income and people who will take care of the practical side of your life so you can spend all day studying.  The problem arises if you are female or a man who is not good at Talmud study or any other type of Torah study.  Then it is much harder to find a place in the community.

***

Liora suggested I should write down an objective record of my religious growth, but I don’t know where to start.  I literally can not think of anything that I am doing well at the moment, certainly not where I’ve had growth over the last year or two.  The only thing in my life going better is that the religious OCD is more under control now than it was two years ago, and even that flares up a bit at times (like recently).

***

I wonder why anyone reads this blog.  It’s so boring and repetitive, and badly-written.  I only write it to try to shut up the monologue in my head, but it doesn’t work.  According to WordPress, I have 207 followers at the moment (although I think I have a few more following in other ways), but most of those are spam sites that I don’t weed out.  From my likes and comments I think there are ten or twenty people regularly reading what I write, which is ten or twenty more than I would have expected.  Maybe it’s like people staring at car crashes.

***

I’ve had this crazy idea lately that I should write a book titled Everything You Wanted to Know About Orthodox Jews, But Were Too Scared to Ask.  It was originally to be written for non-Jews, because frum (religious) Jews don’t generally explain themselves to non-Jews because Judaism is a non-missionary religion, but I often (well, sometimes) get random non-Jews coming up to me in the street and asking me stuff about Judaism.  But then I thought that maybe non-religious Jews (who, sadly, often know very little about their own heritage) might want to read something non-kiruv-ey (not trying to make non-religious Jews more religious) that was just factual and accessible and also covered non-religious/not only religious topics like “Where does Jewish humour come from?” and “Why do Jews care so much about Israel?”.  But then my mind starts throwing up all the difficulties, like, “I would have to go back to primary sources, the Talmud and the law codes, and my Hebrew (not to mention my Aramaic) isn’t good enough?” and “How can someone as wicked and flawed as me write a religious book?”  Possibly also, “I would write something not acceptable to my rabbi/community and suffer for it.”  Bear in mind I already worry about that with regard to the Doctor Who book I’m working on.  Just writing a book about a TV programme is problematic and I have little hope of hiding it from the community, as if I get published my parents will tell their friends, which include the assistant rabbi’s father, who will tell his son because I know how these people behave.  Still, at the moment it’s hard to believe it will actually get finished and published.  So then I think it is better that I don’t write the book and just hope that someone else does it.

To be honest, there are several books I’d like to write that I don’t think I’m ever going to write, on Judaism and on Doctor Who.  I just don’t seem to be able to get my act together with things, plus I’m still doing a lot of research for the book I’ve started writing.  Part of me wants to just try writing as my job rather than applying for jobs, but I’m too scared to do so.

***

My Dad is upset as it’s his mother’s yortzeit (death anniversary) today, plus tomorrow is the English date of her death; my sister’s mother in law is also having major surgery tomorrow.  In his mind the link is ominous.  I don’t really notice anniversaries that way and this is going to sound terrible, but I don’t get worried about other people the way the rest of my family do.  I feel a terrible person for saying that.  It may be autism (I rather hope it is, otherwise I’m a terrible person), but I don’t really know how to fix other people in my mind in order to worry about them as much as I worry about myself.  I’ve mentioned that I’m somewhat solipsistic in that the world in my head seems infinitely more real than the world of other people.  I struggle to make connections with people, even friends and family.  I suspect I would worry more if I had a wife or children, but it’s hard to be sure.  When I have a crush on someone, she does loom larger in my mind.

Dad wanted me to go to shul (synagogue) with him for Mincha and Ma’ariv (the Afternoon and Evening Services) when he went to say Kaddish, but he didn’t tell me and I had already davened Mincha because I got up too late to daven Shacharit (say the Morning Service) and so wanted to put my tefillin on at Mincha, which I would not do at shul as it would attract attention.  So I feel bad for not going, but on the other hand he didn’t ask me to come (he dropped a hint to Mum, who told me), so I also feel autistic and unable to read other people’s minds.  I feel like a ‘normal’ person would know he wants me to go, given that he usually does, and plan his day accordingly, but I didn’t, because I’m not good at thinking about other people.  This makes me feel like a bad person who is just using autism as an excuse for selfish behaviour.

However, I do have some empathy.  There was a terrorist shooting in Israel last week (the mainstream UK news typically ignored it).  A lot of people were injured, including a pregnant woman and her husband.  Her baby was born by emergency cesarean, but died after a couple of days.  I think the parents are still in hospital, the mother in a medically-induced coma.  This really upset me and I have been praying for the family, but it’s not something I keep thinking about the way I think about my loneliness and depression.  When I see it on a Jewish website or when it is time to pray for them, I feel upset and somewhat angry (at the terrorists and the mainstream global news media that ignores or downplays violence against Jews), but it’s not something I really focus on.  I don’t know if that also makes me a bad person.

***

I don’t even know if I really am autistic.  I’ve had so many conflicting diagnoses that I don’t think I’ll ever be 100% sure one way or the other.  Even in my screening two weeks ago I worry I said the wrong thing, emphasised the wrong traits, gave the wrong answers in the questionnaire, “wrong” in this context meaning things that don’t really apply to me and which I said to get an autism diagnosis.  I know enough about autism now to be able to distort the results even unconsciously.

***

I want to eat all the time at the moment.  I guess it’s comfort eating from depression or clomipramine-induced carbohydrate craving, another reason to want to change meds.  It’s not something I’ve really struggled with in the past, at least not to this extent.  It’s a real effort not to eat junk.  I was eating a lot of nuts and raisins, but then I thought they’re also fattening, so I’m trying not to do that, but when I’m depressed and anhedonic and not enjoying anything, it’s hard to cut out something I do enjoy.  However, I have ended up overweight lately and it isn’t doing anything for my self-esteem or belief that I might be able to date one day.

***

I followed someone on Twitter even though I’m trying not to use it any more.  And I did it mainly because she follows this blog, and I thought she might want to be nudged in the direction of my Doctor Who blog and couldn’t think how else to flag up its existence without betraying my Secret Identity.

Basically, I don’t understand half the stuff I do and I don’t know whether it’s autism, mental illness or me just being stupid and weird.  Currently, my mind is on me being stupid and weird.

***

I’m trying to do what Yolanda said and write something good about myself, but I can’t think of anything.  I really am a terrible person.

Triviality in Extremis

The title is a deliberate contradiction which sums up how I feel at the moment: that I’m struggling with powerful emotions, but the things I achieve are trivial and pointless.  Tonight I was reminded that when you’re exhausted and hungry and lonely and depressed (indeed, thoroughly miserable) and reading about transgressive art and its roots in the collapse of religious faith after World War I, it can be hard to remember that you believe in God and transcendent truth and meaning and purpose.

Other than that, today was dull, in distressing ways.  I sat at my desk crying again this afternoon, trying not to be seen by anyone.  It was easy, because, while in the morning I was seated between my boss and the other temp, around lunch time they moved away.  I’m really trying to tell myself that wasn’t anything to do with me.  I tried listening to music at work to blot out the noise of people talking, but I simply can’t concentrate on anything requiring even a minimum of brainpower with music going.  I thought music might be at least an improvement on chatter, but it turns out to be harder to block out.  Another suggestion of autism.

I think about death a lot, and how much I want to die.  Death does seem seem rather pointless (see my first paragraph), but so does life.  I don’t really enjoy anything at the moment.  I said this to my Mum and she listed a load of things that she thought I enjoy, but I’m not sure that I do, at least not at the moment.  I might enjoy reading and watching Doctor Who on some level, but I think some days it’s a struggle even to do that, and certainly my enjoyment is impaired even if it is there to some extent.  I certainly don’t enjoy (or do) anything further up Maslow’s pyramid, or requiring greater concentration or commitment.  Even with Doctor Who, I’ve basically given myself a task to do with it (write my book) rather than being able just to enjoy watching it.

A couple of people responded to my post from yesterday saying I should try to date the woman my Mum wants to set me up with.  I’m open to that in theory, although really sceptical about whether anything good can come of it.  My track record with shidduchim (blind dates) is not good.  I know shidduchim are the main way people meet in the frum (Orthodox Jewish) world, but I’m fairly convinced the matches happen by pot luck rather than any precise matchmaking logic: throw enough young men and young women together and biology will do its work sooner or later.  I don’t really have any hopes for someone as weird, geeky and messed up as me – or, to put it slightly more nicely, I don’t have hopes of meeting someone equally unconventional.  Up until now, every attempt at dating has been derailed by my geeky weirdness or my mental health issues and related precarious financial situation (worse than precarious, actually, as that would imply a degree of stability that might be lost, whereas I don’t have any stability to start with).  The only exception was the first woman I dated, and that was derailed by her failure to respect my boundaries and the fact that we were going in different religious directions.  She at least was geeky (I guess E. is also geeky, in a way), but her understanding of my mental health issues was unfortunately undermined by her own issues, which resulted in her inability to respect my boundaries in a healthy way; that she simply ignored me when my depression was bad can, I suppose, also be seen as a boundary problem, if you want to be generous.

I don’t know enough about the woman my Mum wants to set me up with (I need a shorthand for that) to know if she’s likely to be geeky or understanding of mental health issues (and related poverty) and it scares me that the only way to find out is to go on a date with her.  I tried asking my Mum for information, but she clearly didn’t know anything beyond, “Single, frum, early thirties, lives locally” nor did she really understand why I would want to know anything more in advance of a date.  I did possibly find her LinkedIn page and she had an unusual choice of degree subject, which makes me think maybe she is somewhat quirky and unusual, but people do sometimes end up doing weird degrees for pragmatic reasons, like not getting on their first choice course.

Beyond that, I just feel that there’s zero point in going on a date at the moment, with my mood and my financial situation as they are.  I feel no one could ever want me in this state (I find it hard to think anyone could want me in any state, but certainly not like this) and I should wait until I see a psychiatrist to discuss medication changes and try to get some CBT to see if that can help my self-esteem issues, but both those things are going to take a while to happen.

Sukkot and Stress

Today has been stressful and isn’t over yet.  I had to phone someone to make an appointment with a psychiatrist.  I phoned at lunch time and was told the person I needed to speak to (I assumed the psychiatrist) was with a patient; he would phone back later.  I wasn’t brilliantly happy about being phoned at work, but I consented.

I was phoned near the end of the day, when I was rushing to finish the work I was set (I was set more than usual and as my boss was off sick, I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to do all of it or not, so I rushed the last bit to get it done (although I was still late) and I am now worried that I made mistakes; the other temp said she sees it as an ongoing project and doesn’t rush to finish).  Because I was stressed, I was not in a positive state of mind to start with, but it quickly became apparent that the person I was talking to was not a psychiatrist, but some type of administrator (the NHS is full of administrators).  He also clearly had no idea of my case history.  One might think that one advantage of a huge socialised healthcare system is easy sharing of information.  One might think that.  It never happens.  I don’t think there are actually accurate records of all the medication I’ve been on over the last fifteen years, which scares me.

He seemed horrified that I haven’t had CBT (actually I have, I clarified, but fifteen years ago).  I got the impression that he seemed bemused that a quick burst of CBT and some antidepressants hadn’t sorted me out long ago, because obviously no one could have serious depression.  He suggested that I access the IAPT and self-refer to some local group that offers… well, I’m not quite sure what it offers as the guy was not talking clearly and I had half switched-off when I realised that he had no idea of who I was and what my problems are and was trying to fit this very square peg in a round hole.  (The other half switched off when he admitted he was phoning me from his car.)  But I think they offer occupational support and group work, although I’m not sure if that’s proper occupational therapy and group therapy.  I don’t need the former as I’m working at the moment (the guy browbeat me into saying that I could go on my day off as I only work four days a week; I couldn’t be bothered to tell him about Shabbat and early winter Fridays) and I don’t really need a therapy group as I have depression group and autism group.  But I said I would self-refer, because it can’t hurt and because I felt it was the only way I could get my real prize, a referral to a proper psychiatrist and maybe some CBT on the NHS (rather than privately) to work on my self-esteem and social anxiety, which would be a win if I can get it to fit with work and Shabbat.

I feel bad that I was a bit short with this guy, but I was at work and had nowhere private to go (it’s an open plan office) so I was in the toilet, with other people, with the cleaner going in and out, trying to be heard on the phone but not by other people, talking aloud about really private stuff, realising I was talking to someone who had no idea who I am or what my problems are and who is just trying to tick a load of boxes that are either unhelpful or which I ticked over a decade ago without result.  (I actually really hate the NHS and half hope someone will have the guts to privatise it, which is not what long-term NHS users are supposed to say; we’re supposed to be all, “Oooh, Jeremy Corbyn, save the NHS from Evil Tories!”  I don’t think a privately-run system will be any better, but at least it won’t be a political football any more and we might get rid of some pointless bureaucrats.)

Anyway…

The other news is that on my lunch break I finished the complex PTSD book (albeit that I skipped some not so relevant bits).  It was a useful description of trauma and emotional flashbacks and makes me think that there probably is an element of trauma in my history and it might be why I struggle to make progress with traditional depression treatments.  I have, however, already mentioned my fears that the attitude of “Your parents were abusive and you have to stop wanting to please them” isn’t terribly helpful for someone who wasn’t actually abused.  Also, while the book keeps talking about the need for unconditional self-love, it doesn’t always make clear (a) how to do this (although it did make me realise that my catastrophising about being single forever is a form of self-criticism) and (b) how to self-love without becoming a narcissist.  I have fears that if I stop beating myself up, I will inevitably end up like Donald Trump.  Plus, it doesn’t tell me how to love myself when I feel that I have genuinely done terrible things that are not deserving of forgiveness, or at least not until I have improved my ways a lot more than I have managed until now.

But my ordeal was not over.  I came home exhausted and hungry, but my father’s oldest friend was coming over to eat in the sukkah (the temporary hut Jews eat in on Sukkot to remember the Israelites in the wilderness).  I get annoyed at the way that my parents make me say hello to their friends generally, as it always seems awkward (I don’t know what to say or do), but at least I know their local friends.  Their non-local friends are harder to talk to, but this friend is hardest of all.  I have always found him overbearing, both in size (he’s well over six foot tall) and manner.  Frankly, although I can only remember one or two concrete instances, I always think of him as teasing me in a way that feels less friendly for me than he probably thinks.  (And this was before he spent a couple of years in a German prison for drug smuggling – seriously.)  I said hello from a distance, and disappeared.  He made a comment about hearing me from a distance and my parents were annoyed, but these days I have not got patience for difficult people.  Plus, I suppose my father’s oldest friend being here just reminds me how I’ve drifted from my own oldest friend, who I am still vaguely in contact with, but who I haven’t seen for years and who forgets I’m not on Facebook, so I found out about the birth of his children late, through my sister, which upset me, although I suppose it’s not his fault.  My father’s friend is still here and I can here him and my parents through my window, which is depressing me and making me worried that I will still  have to speak to him.

Shiur (religious class) also upset me.  The usual self-critical thoughts about not being holy like everyone else, not having simcha shel mitzvah (joy in the commandments) or simcha at all, not being married… plus everyone else got there early (I’m guessing there was a WhatsApp message I missed because my phone is not working properly) and was seated in the sukkah and eating before I got there, so I missed the social side and I didn’t get a drink because the plastic cups ran out and I was too shy to ask for another one.  I was too shy to answer any questions too, although I knew the answers to a few and could have showed off, although I suppose that’s no great loss.  Someone there was very rude, pressuring people to go to a fund-raising event and to bring whisky to shul on Simchat Torah next week when he doesn’t know people’s time and financial commitments (and some may, like me, avoid things due to social anxiety or some other legitimate reason).  This was the same person who, on finding out that I’m single, responded that it was “time” for me to get married, as if I was overwhelmed with offers of marriage and was foolishly wasting my time in hedonistic pleasure seeking (which is the exact opposite of my depressive anhedonia).  (To be fair, he did also offer to have me over to his house for Shabbat meals while I’m single.)  This shouldn’t have upset me, but obviously it did, because I’m still angry nearly two hours later.  This person is probably very holy (at any rate, all he seems to do is “learn” Torah), but perhaps he is so holy he forgets how ordinary people have to live.  Maybe that’s something I can take from my misery, that at least it has made me marginally more empathic and non-judgemental than I might otherwise have been, although if this is me with empathy and tolerance, I worry what me without them would look like.

Missing a Plan

I was expecting to be burnt out and oversleep after volunteering yesterday, so I was surprised to wake up and get up before 9.30am.  However,  I turned out to be exhausted in a more subtle way.  I was OK doing basic tasks, but tasks requiring brainpower or needing to force my way through poor motivation (such as applying for jobs I don’t want and don’t think I could get e.g. today’s application for a law librarian post that said that experience of a law firm was essential, which I don’t have) were much harder and I even went back to bed for a bit after lunch.  It’s hard to sound enthusiastic about such jobs.  I did manage to fill in a job application, but as I had to do little for this one other than make slight changes to my CV and template cover letter (I wish all applications were so easy), it doesn’t feel a great achievement – it probably only took me about an hour when I’m aiming to do three hours of ‘work’ on job hunting a day.  Still, I had to save some energy for shopping and cooking as my parents are away.

I was going to post this as a comment on this blog post, but I decided I was drama queening again and only posted a shorter comment, so here is the longer version: I haven’t done a cheshbon nafesh (self-appraisal) yet this year and it’s looking like I might not do one for the first time in twelve years or more.  I failed miserably at last year’s targets.  I’m dreading Yom Tov (Jewish festivals) and I’m not sure how much time I’m going to be in shul (synagogue) for due to depression, social anxiety.

More to the point, I feel really angry with HaShem (God) for the way my life has gone.  I acknowledge that I’ve made some bad choices, but mostly I feel I was set up to fail and even a highly competent person (which I am not) would not succeed with the mental health and other issues I’ve been given from childhood onwards.  I have no simcha shel mitzvah (joy in performing the commandments) and have realised I never really have had any.  I’ve asked rabbis about this and been told that I won’t have any until I’m not depressed (which is scary as I don’t think I’m ever not going to be depressed) or that I should be able to get a bit (which just makes me feel a terrible person for not having any as if I’m deliberately stopping myself enjoying my religious life). I feel like I can’t actually do this any more without getting something back from it, selfish and wicked though that is i.e. I know I should be frum (religious) lishmah (for its own sake), but I’m just not that good a Jew.  I don’t think that most frum people are doing what they do 100% lishmah and not because they enjoy or get satisfaction from Shabbat, Torah study, davening (prayer) etc. at least a bit of the time.  Halakhically, there is nothing wrong with enjoying one’s religious life, quite the reverse.

I don’t feel particularly accepted in the frum world and part of me wonders if I really do want to be accepted there.  So, at the moment I’m basically sulking in my room (having left my job recently) and I worry that I’m going to do that over Yom Tov as well and just not go to shul.  I ask myself why should I apologise to HaShem when surely He has plenty to apologise to me for (making me depressed and lonely all my adult life for starters).  I feel like He hates me and spends all His time trying to make me miserable and I don’t know why.  I feel bad just thinking that let alone typing it, and I wasn’t really conscious of it until I wrote it just now, but I think it’s true (I mean, it’s true that I feel He should apologise, not that I think that an objective observer would say He should apologise. I haven’t gone that far yet).  It’s hard to do a realistic cheshbon nafesh coming from this place, where at least part of me feels unable to take responsibility for my actions, rightly or wrongly.  I know I recently quoted Rabbi Lord Sacks as saying that we can see ourselves as victims or we can take responsibility for our lives and he made it very clear that the latter is better, but I genuinely do not know how I can honestly take responsibility for things that seem to have been largely out of my control.  Nor do I feel able to make positive changes to my life.  I feel zero motivation to actually do mitzvot, except that I know I’ll be hit by guilt if I skip anything or do sins.

An analogy: I’ve put on a lot of weight since being put on clomipramine and it doesn’t seem to bear much relation to what I’m eating.  I’ve tried cutting back, but when I’m this anhedonic (unable to feel pleasure) it’s difficult to stop doing one of the few things I enjoy, to the point where it’s hard to care about my weight or health sometimes.  I haven’t gone completely over-the-top in eating, but I just ate a load of corn chips as a mid-afternoon snack more because it was too hard to resist rather than from real desire and that isn’t something I would have done in the past.  Likewise with my religious life, it’s getting harder and harder to motivate myself to follow those 613 dos and don’ts.  Concentrating on reward and punishment or the meaning of life and Jewish history or what HaShem wants from me is difficult when concentrating on anything is hard and it feels like HaShem is trying to hurt me.   It just seems so pointless to expend so much effort on a religion that I’m not good at and which gives me no satisfaction, joy, sense of community, meaning or purpose.

Rationally, cognitively, intellectually, theologically – whatever you want to call it – when I’m using my intellect, I don’t think that HaShem really hates me.  I’m not sure that He really hates anyone.  But I feel emotionally that He hates me, because He hurts me so much.  I know I’m supposed to assume it will be for the best in the end, but it’s hard to accept that anything good can come of this, particularly as my low self-esteem means I don’t think I’m getting any reward in the next world for everything I’ve suffered here.  Even when I say HaShem doesn’t hate anyone, part of me feels I should make an exception for very evil people like Hitler and then I’m off wondering if maybe I’m that evil.

Coming up to Rosh Hashanah without having done that cheshbon nafesh, I do feel that my life lacks focus and drive.  I’ve never really found my mission in life, the thing that is uniquely me, that I can do indefinitely without becoming depleted and that would make a positive difference to the world.  I thought it might be librarianship for a while, but now that looks unlikely.  Perhaps because of that lack of focus and joy, my relationships (in the broadest sense) and my everyday Jewish practice have to bear a huge burden of providing meaning and satisfaction which perhaps they could never realistically bear.

Well, it took just eight hours for me to start having suicidal thoughts after my parents left on holiday.  I don’t feel seriously suicidal, inasmuch as it’s possible to have non-serious suicidal thoughts.  I just feel that I don’t want to be here and no one would be worse off if I wasn’t here.  The people from my Thursday night shiur (religious class) are having a collection for the assistant rabbi, who gives the shiur, as his wife just had a baby daughter.  This just reinforces my feeling that only people with spouses and children really count in the frum community, even though that isn’t the intention.  Also the suggested donation seemed quite a lot to me, given that I’m unemployed, but I don’t like to ask for special treatment or for financial help from my parents, although I’m sure I would get either if I asked.  I have got an invitation for dinner on second day Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) today, so I’m not feeling totally unwanted, but I do feel on the fringes of the frum community right now.

I feel that there must be some secret to being frum that I’m missing.  I’ve seen people I was at school with who were perhaps not the cleverest or the most academic or the most well-behaved students suddenly become super-frum and, in some cases, get smichah (rabbinic ordination) and I wish I knew what the secret was.  It seems like I was academic and well-behaved enough for me to get on well in the frum world, but somehow it hasn’t worked out like that.  My inability to study Talmud, or even to really want to study it, is a massive liability in a community built around Talmudic study (at least for men) and my social anxiety makes community life in general and daily communal prayer difficult.  And then of course there’s the way that my mental health issues and my ‘weirdness’/geekiness/possible autism make me feel alone and uncomfortable around most frum people and make it hard for me to date, even though marriage is, if not the passport into the frum community, then at least the proof that you are a mature and responsible adult (even if you’re only nineteen).

Shame

I went to the doctor about my medication.  He prescribed 10mg tablets, but was wary of giving me a lot given that I was feeling suicidal last week.  He prescribed for two weeks (upping the dosage to 80mg twice a day, to avoid having to split a tablet), to get me through the holiday and gave me a post-dated prescription for another two weeks that I can’t get until I come back.  However, the chemist has now run out of the 10mg tablets.  I should have enough to get through the holiday, when I add in the tablets I’ve already got, but I don’t know what will happen if they still don’t have any when I get back.  Taking twenty-four tablets a day is going to be a pain, but going cold turkey from the only antidepressant that has ever been really effective for me will be worse.

I go to New York on Sunday.  I may be able to see some friends other than E. when I’m in New York, but it’s not clear.  They’ve left it to the last minute and are squeezing me in at the end of the trip, if I’m lucky.  I hope I can get WiFi there, as all my arrangements are going to have to be via WhatsApp.

I’m just thinking depressed stuff about not having friends, God hating me and so on.  I was going to write about it, but I’ve written it before and I don’t know how true it is.  I mean, people probably don’t hate me.  Even the friends who don’t get in touch (which is most of them) probably just forget about me rather than hating me, especially as I don’t use Facebook.  My oldest friend forgot to tell me about the birth of both his daughters because I’m not on Facebook.  I heard through my sister.  I haven’t seen him in years now.  I guess he’s always busy now he’s a rabbi.  But it does seem that I have a history of being friends with unreliable people who stand me up or don’t get in contact.  At least E. and my non-biological sisters contact me and respond when I contact them.  For years I didn’t have any friends like that.

I feel the frum (religious) world I feel can be cliquey.  People have their friendship groups and it’s hard to join, even aside from my issues about talking to strangers.  I think people often make new friends through mutual friends, so it’s hard for me to as I don’t have many frum friends.  Nor do I go to shul (synagogue) much to meet people that way, and I don’t have children to meet people through their school.  I guess also people don’t know what to do with single people in the frum world, at least over the age of twenty-three or so.  I guess if you invite them to meals, you have to invite two, to balance the numbers (because everyone else is there with a spouse), so it’s easier not to invite them.  People aren’t rude to me about my being single, but I’ve heard other people complain they are, which also scares me off from trying to make friends a bit and makes me even more ashamed to be single, which I guess is silly as I won’t get set up on dates if I don’t try to socialise more.  That said, I’m more scared about being rejected for being not frum enough and being geeky.  A lot of frum people only socialise with people on the same level of frumkeit.  I’m weird in having non-frum and non-Jewish friends (I sometimes wonder what would happen if I do get married and all my friends get to be in the same room as each other.  I’m not sure how they would react).  I feel too weird to fit into the frum world and am ashamed of my geeky interests and try to hide them as much as possible from other frum people, although I feel anxious about sharing my geekiness and Doctor Who fandom with anyone really, a legacy of childhood bullying.  Now I’m unemployed too, so that’s a whole new measure of shame (actually, I’m technically still under contract for another three weeks or so).

I don’t really enjoy anything in the world and I haven’t since I was a teenager.  I don’t care much about food, I don’t drink, I’ve never taken drugs or smoked, I don’t travel much.  I don’t enjoy my religious life, I get no simchah shel mitzvah (joy in the commandments).  I envy the people who enjoy Torah study and are refreshed by davening (prayer); they are just chores to me most of the time.  I don’t get much enjoyment from music.  I get a bit of pleasure from books and my favourite TV programmes, but perhaps not as much as other people seem to get.  I don’t get hyper about new Doctor Who episodes the way some fans do, and probably not just because I prefer the original series.  I don’t even binge watch really.  Even when I’m very depressed, it’s very rare for me to watch more than an hour or an hour and a half of TV in a day.  I can’t spend a whole afternoon and evening watching TV the way my mum and my sister can, I just feel too guilty for wasting my time.  The same goes for reading, although when I’m depressed it’s hard to read for long anyway.  Someone at my shul only seems to enjoy three things: Talmud study, his family and whisky, but he is a very happy person with these three things.  I just have anhedonia and can’t enjoy anything.

The only joy and pleasure I really want is to love and be loved, and it seems that is denied me.  I really want to talk about my childhood and the root causes of my issues here, but I can’t for various reasons.  I just feel that I have never experienced love in an uncomplicated, healthy way since I was four or five years old.  All the authority figures in my life have made love conditional or just ignored me.  Because of this, I just assume that HaShem (God) is the same, that His love for me needs to be earned, and whatever I do won’t be good enough to earn it.  So He punishes me by withholding the one thing I want, to love and be loved by a gentle, kind woman, and by making me depressed and socially anxious all the time.  People tell me HaShem doesn’t hate me, but it definitely seems that way looking at my life, especially when I compare to that of many other people.  I know shouldn’t compare, but it’s hard.

My oldest friend, who I mentioned above, has had big issues in his life, but he always bounces back.  When I had to take time out from university in my final year, I never fully recovered and I struggled through my final year with severe depression and loneliness.  When he had to take a year out, he recovered within a few weeks, spent the rest of his year off in paid employment, then went back to university and finished his degree.  He got paid to train as a rabbi and was assured of a job.  I try not to envy him, but it’s hard.  We grew up together and everyone compared us, because we were inseparable until we were thirteen or so and we looked somewhat alike (except that he was much taller, stronger and more striking with red hair).  But, like the two identical goats from the ancient Yom Kippur service, our fates since then have been very different.

Mind you, it’s not just him I compare myself against.  One of the friends I might possibly see in New York just had an article published in my beloved Jewish Review of Books.  I feel I should be doing things like that.  He’s had several books published.  I feel so inadequate compared to both of these friends, and to most of my friends.  Maybe that’s why I find it so hard to form friendships, because I’m ashamed of myself compared to most people.  It would explain why my close friendships are with people who are also struggling, and why they sometimes end when they get their lives together again.

I know I can’t tell what will happen in the future, my life may improve (I don’t want his life to get worse.  I don’t want to take away other people’s blessings, just to have some for myself).  But it doesn’t feel like it could after all these years, especially as I don’t know why HaShem would suddenly decide to bless me when I’m such a wicked person and when He seems to hate me so much.

I don’t feel I’m asking much out of life from HaShem: the mental health to fulfil and enjoy the mitzvot (commandments) like a good Jew, someone to love who really loves me and understands and accepts me, and with whom I can have happy and healthy children, and enough money to pay the bills and save a little for my old age.  A few friends who can accept me.  But it seems even that is too much and I don’t know why.  I feel like since childhood I’ve been told (by actions and sometimes explicitly in words) that I’m useless, I’m not good enough, I’m not deserving of love.  I’ve had to work twice as hard as everyone else to get any kind of recognition or support and even then I’m constantly told that I’m not doing well enough, I’m not trying hard enough, even though I’m trying my best with minimal energy, concentration, motivation, mental health…

I know I have to love and accept myself before anyone else will love and accept me, but (a) I have heard of lucky people who were loved without loving themselves and were healed as a result and (b) I don’t know how to love myself when it has been drilled into me that I’m useless and reprehensible and deservedly hated by almost everyone and by HaShem.  Even reading this post back it just seems clichéd, pointless and badly written, like every other post on my blog.

Hieronimo is Mad Againe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Struggling

Warning: contains excessive self-loathing and self-pity which may induce vomiting.  Do not drive while reading.

I felt really agitated again late last night, although I managed not to post again, although that was a struggle.  Posting can be compulsive at times.  I overslept again and struggled to get up.  The heat still doesn’t help, but I’m so exhausted even when I wake after hours of sleep.

I’m crying again.

I feel guilty that my non-biological sisters and E. have been in touch yesterday and today and I still feel bad.  It doesn’t really help when I speak to my parents either; if anything, I feel they understand me less, but I feel I’ve let them down even more, which just makes me avoid talking to them, which never works.  I say I want people to be in contact, but when they do, I don’t know what to say and feel awkward and guilty for not feeling better after they message.  I also feel like I’m taking advantage of E.’s feelings for me to stay in contact with her and get her to message me when I’m down when really I should let her have a clean break from me.

Also, friends and parents being in touch means I continually have to tell people that I have a plan, I have a schedule, but in reality I’m just too depressed to stick to them.  I oversleep, take hours to get enough energy to get up and have breakfast, shamble around the flat like an extra in a zombie film, procrastinate (sometimes literally for hours), rush through the late afternoon trying to get stuff done, but also procrastinating, then I stay up late trying to do things and oversleep the next day.  Trying to cut my losses and going to bed early doesn’t usually lead to getting up earlier the next day, though, as exhaustion is due to depression rather than activity and lack of sleep and even if I do sort out my sleep, at the moment late summer Shabbat (Sabbath) times mean Friday and Saturday are guaranteed to be late nights (very late in the case of Saturday where I don’t get back from shul (synagogue) until gone 11.00pm) and disrupt everything again.

I feel stupid and useless.

I cleaned the flat, but felt frustrated that I could only do it half-heartedly.  I would feel better in a cleaner environment, but I don’t have the energy for really thorough cleaning and having a clean flat is lower down my list of priorities than job hunting or exercise (of which I have done very little lately).

The final chapter of my Doctor Who book is floundering on the fact that I can’t think of much original or interesting to say about Steven Moffat’s time on the show, particularly about Clara and about the monsters.  I feel even more stupid and useless.

I had dinner with a friend.  It took about an hour for me to adjust from feeling lonely/depressed/socially anxious to make reasonable conversation.  I have a lot of anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure) at the moment.  I’m an introvert, so it’s unsurprising that I can find conversation hard, but I can’t enjoy watching DVDs or reading.  In fact, I can’t really concentrate to read properly at all (or write properly; I fear this is incoherent).

My friend is a researcher and writer so I asked him a bit about his research and writing jobs (historical and Doctor Who).  He said that they have come either from his PhD work or personal contacts, which is not good news for me.  I think I would go crazy and kill myself if I did a PhD and I am not involved enough in Doctor Who fandom to have contacts in it, for various reasons.  Online message boards can be time-consuming and full of craziness (I was more involved in online fandom years ago, when I was too depressed to even try to find a job).  I’ve been nervous about going to conventions, partly from practical religious reasons (Shabbat, kashrut), partly from social anxiety/autism reasons (crowds, strangers), partly because my experiences of fandom online makes me feel that I don’t really fit in any of the subcultures.  Still, my friend said he would see if he could put my name forward for some freelance work.

As well as that, I signed up to try to get some careers advice and for some more job alert emails from different agencies.

I feel as if I have let everyone down and I’m not even entirely sure how.  I’m avoiding my parents and my sister because I don’t know what to say to them.  E. and my non-biological sisters keep messaging and I feel that I’m not doing what they think I should be doing.  I feel so useless, professionally, personally and religiously.  I don’t feel that I’m the answer to anyone’s question, again professionally, personally and religiously.  I just want to cry.

Some depressed and/or unemployed people work with children or animals.  I like children (young children, not the teenagers I used to work with), but I’m nervous of working with them and they can set off my OCD.  I’m a bit scared of animals.  My family are pretty anti-pets.  I vaguely floated the idea of getting a cat when I move back with my parents only to have it shot down pretty quickly.  Plus they say I’ll just feel worse when it dies, which is probably true, although that seems like the kind of frightened running away they are always telling me not to do.

I sometimes wonder if I seem too functional for my own good.  I’ve met people online and then in person and I always warn them I’m not so functional in person as I am online, but they usually say I’m fine, just quiet.  I wonder if I come across as more functional than I actually am.  If I was just lying in bed all day feeling awful maybe people wouldn’t expect so much of me.  But I would still expect things of myself.  So, I get up every day, even when I don’t feel like it.

In the second Sapphire and Steel story, a malevolent entity, The Darkness, is feeding off the resentment of ghosts whose lives were wrongly cut short.  In the end, Steel rather ruthlessly deals with it by letting it consume innocent ghost-hunter Tully years before his time (this in a children’s programme!).  I feel that The Darkness would have a lot of resentment to feed on from me.  I feel I’ve lost fifteen or twenty years of my life and seem destined to lose the rest and I don’t know what to do about it.

Prufrock

I went to the cinema today to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi.  It was difficult.  Just getting the energy to go there was hard enough.  I nearly turned back at the bus stop.  The shopping centre the cinema is in was full of sales shopper, far too busy for me.  The film did not really hold my attention and I suddenly started crying in the middle of it (silently, thankfully).  My mind kept wandering to other thoughts, some prompted by the film, others just coming out of nowhere.  Well, not really nowhere, they are the thoughts I have all the time, but they weren’t directly sparked by the film.

One thing I have been thinking about recently is the concepts of yeud and tikkun (destiny/mission and rectification) in Judaism.  The concepts are particularly associated with kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) and mussar (ethical character development), but are not unique to them.  Yeud is one’s mission or purpose in life and is a positive action to be done; tikkun is a the key character flaw that one has to rectify in oneself and often manifests as an action to be avoided.

I have been thinking about them with regard to dating and more generally.  I don’t know what my yeud or tikkun are.  I have heard that to find your yeud, you should think about what you would do with unlimited time and money.  I honestly don’t know what I would do.  Going by what I enjoy doesn’t help as depressive anhedonia means that I don’t really enjoy anything very much.  I suppose enjoy writing; at any rate, I give up my lunch breaks at work to write (my book or my blog), so I guess it must have some meaning and joy for me.  But I’m a very bad writer and over a decade of practise hasn’t got me very far.  I very much doubt I will ever get that book published, for example.  In any case, I can’t imagine HaShem (God) put me on earth to write about Doctor Who or to witter on endlessly about how depressed and lonely I am.  When I was too depressed to work I had lots of time (albeit with limited money and no energy and poor concentration and motivation) and I did do a lot of writing.  However, it never really got me anywhere, bar getting a couple of readers who are still with me on this blog.  Even then I spent a lot of time just idly surfing the net, looking for something but not knowing what.  I guess this is where a lot of people start looking at religion, to find meaning or purpose, except that I already have religion and it doesn’t help me in these respects.  Maybe it would be different if I could write something decent and meaningful: poetry, fiction, criticism, mental health-related writing – I have tried all without much success (success both in terms of number of readers and feeling I have achieved something/happiness with what I have done).

As for my tikkun, that’s just as hard to find.  I can think of lots of character flaws or religious flaws that I have.  Working out which is the most serious is rather harder.  Maybe if I understood properly I would see they come under a general heading like, “Be accepting of others” or even “Be accepting of yourself.”

I have been thinking a lot recently of Lord Lundy who, according to Hillaire Belloc (a raging antisemite, but we’ll ignore that for now) “was too freely moved to tears and thereby ruined his political career” and not just because I cry a lot at the moment.  It’s this verse I keep thinking of: “‘Sir! you have disappointed us!/We had intended you to be/The next Prime Minister but three:/The stocks were sold; the Press was squared:/The Middle Class was quite prepared./But as it is! . . . My language fails!/Go out and govern New South Wales!”  I don’t think anyone was literally expecting me to be the next Prime Minister but three, but I have long felt myself to be a disappointment to my parents and teachers.  My parents deny this and most of my teachers have probably forgotten me (they could barely remember me when I was still in school/university), but still the feeling persists.  The feeling that I should have done something with my life, more than just being “a poor devil of a sub-sub-librarian” at an FE college somewhere.  That I had the brains and background to make something of my life, and I lost it because of my mental health.  I look at my peers (the few I’m still in touch with) and see doctors, lawyers, rabbis, executives of big charities, civil servants, political speechwriters…  It’s very dispiriting to compare myself.  I know, I shouldn’t compare myself.  But as long as I can’t find my yeud, my mission and be satisfied that I’m doing something worthwhile, in fact what I was put here to do, the best thing that it is possible for me to do, I will keep comparing myself.  And, of course, I fear any woman I might be interested in is comparing me negatively with a lot of other, more eligible, men.

On a somewhat related note: on a whim I decided to email the shadchan (matchmaker) for people with medical issues a second time before going to the general matchmaking site.  I didn’t think anything would come of it, but within a couple of hours she had replied.  She wants me to send a “shidduch profile”.  I was aware that I would have to write one, but I’m only vaguely aware of what goes on it.  Basic stuff I suppose, as on a CV, like age, height, profession, interests.  What one is looking for in a spouse.  I suppose a man should put what yeshiva he went to, but obviously I can’t.  I’ve done this kind of thing before for online dating, but I don’t know if there are specific frummie (religious) things I should be putting on there and I don’t know who to ask.

This page is helpful, but also frightening.  Do they really need to know my parents’ shul (synagogue)?  And my sister’s name and spouse?  I was aware that this sort of thing goes on in the frum world, but somehow I hoped to avoid it.  Do I put this stuff in or wait to be asked for it?  And I guess I count as having a “non-standard background”.  The frum world really annoys me sometimes.

I feel thoroughly pessimistic about this whole thing.  I sat in the cinema today feeling thoroughly lonely and miserable, thinking that no one could ever love me.  On the way home, I got the email from the shadchan, which just made me feel worse.  I’m sure I’m going to fall foul of an “unknown unknown,” some arcane aspect of frum protocol that has no basis in halakhah (Jewish law), but which I would know if I had gone to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) or if I was better integrated into frum society.  If I somehow fail to do that, my issues and freakish personality will see off anyone who might be interested in my profile.  I feel I shouldn’t even bother writing the profile, but just accept that I’m going to be lonely forever and do something else with my life, something productive.  But, as we’ve seen, I’m not actually capable of doing anything productive.

I suspect I’m going to spend the rest of the evening in a miserable funk.  I’m vaguely sorry for writing such a ridiculously self-pitying post, but I guess it’s my blog and I’m not making anyone read it.  I guess it’s better to write this than go back to self-harming.

Addiction (Books Do Furnish a Room)

I don’t have many vices, or indeed things I enjoy, but I have an addiction to buying second-hand books.  Being a librarian allows me to feed my addiction, as I can buy cheap books off the withdrawn pile.  But whatever slight boost I get from buying them (and it is a slight boost, my anhedonia sees to that) is eroded later when I realise I’m never going to read all the books I buy.

Today I ended up with four books from the “for sale” pile.  One on Islamism, one on politics and economics (deliberately buying something that will challenge my political views, vague and contradictory as they are), one on political history (probably the most interesting-looking) and one on psychology: one of Maslow’s books on self-actualisation.  I thought should at least own the book, given that I use his hierarchy of needs to beat myself up about the impossibility of my ever being happy and having “peak experiences” when so many of my basic needs can not be met.

Goodness knows when I will get to read the books.  I don’t have much time for recreational reading as it is between my job, the book I’m writing, my blog (which is often a need for self-expression rather than a luxury) and my religious obligations; when I do have time to read I’m often too tired or too depressed to do so, and all these books look heavy-going.  I already have a huge ‘too read’ pile (or piles, plural, as I’m a re-reader – it often takes me two goes to really ‘get’ a serious book, whether fiction or non-fiction; the same goes for TV and film, incidentally) and I’m getting stack more books for Chanukah, possibly indicative of a lack of imagination on my part.  There was no point asking for DVDs as I’m going to be stuck watching Doctor Who for another year or so as research for my book.  I would like a new tie for shul, but other than that I hate getting clothes for presents, as I have little interest in them.  I wanted something I would enjoy after a difficult, tiring term with resurgent depression and lots of little somethings on several nights of Chanukah (rather than one big one on first night) so I could feel I had some parental attention after my sister’s wedding even if the monetary cost to them is the same.  We don’t do surprise presents very much in my family and anyway my sister is the only person I really trust to buy me surprise presents, so I had to choose something.  Anyway, the librarian doth protest too much, methinks.

Still, I once worked out I spend about £1 a week on books.  Even if I spend twice that, it’s still only about £100 a year and I do at least read some of them.  As hobbies go, it’s cheaper than most.  £100 would be fewer than ten trips to the cinema, and I must get more than 30 hours of pleasure out of a year’s worth of books.