Heights and Depths, and Special Interests

I’m feeling very depressed and anxious about something I can’t write about here.  I suppose it takes my mind off being depressed and anxious about being unemployed and single, or about the job interview I have tomorrow.  I feel I just mess stuff up, however hard I try not to.  I don’t even know how I do it.  Sometimes I wonder if there’s any end to things.

I didn’t manage to do much today, just a little bit of interview preparation for tomorrow and a short walk.  Otherwise I just brooded on things.

***

Last night I was flicking through The Spiritual Revolution of Rav Kook: The Writings of a Jewish Mystic.  One passage (pp. 18-19) attracted my attention.  Rav Kook says there are two types of temperament: some people are straightforward, conventional and internally stable.  They can achieve a  lot, particularly in the practical sphere, but they can’t reach either highest heights or lowest depths.  However, the second type “never have any rest… either they are ascending to the sublime heights of heaven or they are descending to the bitter depths of disaster.  These people need to concentrate on spiritual growth every single day” because if they find a way of life that suits them, they will keep growing, but if they don’t grow, they will “most likely collapse” and fall to the lowest depths.  “These people need to be immersed constantly in Torah and self-improvement, ethics, and sacred emotions.  And God forbid that they should live a life of conventional work and practical knowledge.”  (Elsewhere he writes about very spiritual people often struggling with practical matters.)

I feel that I am probably in the second category.  I don’t say this because I think I have achieved great heights, but because I think I sink to great depths.  This upsets me, because I want just to be a normal, conventional person, able to achieve a certain amount and able to coast, to some extent.  I want to be comfortable.  I don’t want to have to struggle all the time for things other people manage easily (healthy emotions, career, marriage and family, community, friendships).  Instead I have to fight to manage to cope with ‘normal’ things, in order to try to reach heights I don’t think I will ever actually attain.  I don’t feel particularly spiritual, which I suppose suggests that I’m down in the the depths (as does the thing I can’t talk about).

***

Sometimes I wonder if I should keep blogging.  My Dad asked me yesterday why I do it.  He doesn’t “get” social media at all and wonders why people need to update all their friends on what they had for lunch.  I tried to explain that writing is how I process what happens to me and that I’ve tried writing a private diary, but it’s hard to keep it up without feeling there is some kind of audience.  I also hope that, by talking about depression and autism in detail, other people struggling with these conditions might understand themselves better, and be reassured that they aren’t ‘weird’ or ‘abnormal.’  There are maybe ten or fifteen people who regularly ‘like’ my posts; one or two look spammy, but most seem to be ‘real’ people, so I feel I must be doing something right.  But sometimes I wonder if I’m just being self-obsessed, writing about my life as if it’s of great importance.  Really, as I say, I’m just trying to process what happens to me, given that I struggle to understand my life a lot of the time.  Whether because of depression or autism, I can’t instinctively process my emotions the way most people can.  I have to literally spell them out to myself and examine them like a therapist to understand them.

***

I’m watching the 1979 BBC adaptation of John le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.  I’ve seen it before, and I’ve read the book (one of my favourites) three or four times.  I still enjoy it.  Savouring it, one episode a day.  I know the plot, and half the dialogue, by heart, but I drink in the acting, the direction, the atmosphere.  No one really points out that the books of le Carré’s strongest period (particularly the Smiley versus Karla trilogy, after he’d written a few books and honed his skills, but before the Cold War ended and left him in search of other material) are as fully-realised a fictional world as Tolkien’s Middle-Earth or Lucas’ Star Wars universe, a fictional world similar to, but running deeper than, our own, with its own geography, heroes and villains and, above all, its own vocabulary (the Circus, moles, lamplighters, scalphunters, Moscow rules and the like).  For me I think much of the appeal lies in this world-building.  It’s quite well-established that autistic people like these kinds of fleshed-out fictional worlds, although science fiction and fantasy are the more normal sources than spy novels.  I think George Smiley’s world is as much an autistic special interest for me than Doctor Who.  It’s certainly a comforting thing to return to when I feel depressed and anxious, as at the moment, like Doctor Who and one or two other series.

In many ways, Smiley’s world is more cohesive (despite all the “retcons”) than the Doctor Who universe, which is vastly larger, but open and less defined.  There are only nine Smiley novels (albeit that several non-Smiley novels arguably take place in the same fictional world, from little details) and they form a reasonably coherent whole, although it took a few novels for all the details to come together.  The secret vocabulary which is so important to me (because I like language?) only really first appears from the fifth novel in the sequence, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

I wallow in George Smiley’s world.  I imagine myself inside it, and not just when reading the books, but when visiting or working in buildings that remind me of how I imagine the Circus (British Intelligence), old buildings housing large institutions that have seen better days (I’ve worked in one or two of those).  I couldn’t be a field-agent, but I imagine myself in Research in the Circus archives, working with Connie Sachs to ferret out Soviet agents.  Le Carré’s post-Cold War books don’t really have that same background and are, to me, a lot less interesting (and his politics are more predictable and, to my thinking, less nuanced, particularly his knee-jerk anti-Americanism).  Certainly I generally prefer the scenes of bureaucrats (“espiocrats” as le Carré calls them in his later books) sitting around talking to the scenes of undercover agents, especially as le Carré doesn’t really do action scenes very well (most of the Smiley stories are structured as mystery stories rather than conventional thrillers, again a difference to le Carré’s later books, and part of the reason I don’t like the later books as much).

(Although one day I’m going to have to write that essay on le Carré’s presentation of Jews…)

It’s funny how I can write 500 words on something I care about without thinking even on a bad day, while more mundane tasks just seem impossible.

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Anxiety Central

Today is a bad day for anxiety and self-recrimination.  I discovered that the Oxford Doctor Who Society team did get to the quiz on Sunday.  I’m not sure how I missed them, although only one team member from Sunday was there when I went previously, so perhaps it’s not surprising that I didn’t recognise them.  And I had an acknowledgement email from one science fiction magazine (that I probably shouldn’t have mentioned by name – I have amended that) for my pitch, which is making me more anxious than any job interview.   I suppose it’s understandable that receiving a formal acknowledgement sets off anxiety, but I’m not sure why it sets off self-critical and self-loathing thoughts.  I feel that I just beat myself up for trying things even before I get rejected.  There is, I suppose, a hope that everything will work out this time – or that at least something will work out – coupled with a fear that, judging by past experience, it probably won’t work out.

I’m also struggling with irrational guilt.  I had a question about my job interview on Thursday and emailed the head of HR, but my Dad said I should have phoned.  He is right that it might have been quicker (assuming she was at her desk), but I hate using the phone.  Many autistic and socially anxious people feel the same.  The autistic time lag in processing and responding to conversations seems worse on the phone.  So I emailed, but felt guilty, which is the worst of both worlds.

One Jewish newspaper I wrote to for submission guidelines asked to see copies of my work.  As it’s a fairly religious newspaper, I didn’t want to send any Doctor Who/science fiction criticism.  However, this meant going even further back in time to when I had an article on antisemitism published on a site now absorbed into Tablet Magazine.  I feel awkward about this too, especially as, unlike yesterday, today I sent screenshots of the articles I had written on the sites as well as sending them as Word documents; then I realised afterwards that the sites might be considered inappropriate by a religious newspaper (nothing unsafe for work, just geeky stuff on one site and the fact that the other (a Jewish cultural site) had a “Sex & Love” column tab at the top of the screen).  Nor did I mention that one column was pseudonymous.  The newspaper said they’d keep my details on file and consider me on an ad hoc basis in the future, which I think was a polite brush-off.  Everything today seems to be triggering social anxiety and self-recrimination.

Also, it turns out that I have few copies of material I have had published online.  I guess a mixture of tidiness and low self-esteem regarding my writing have led me to delete much of my writing after posting it online or not to bother transferring it when I’ve upgraded computers.  This applies not just to material from my blog, but even stuff I’ve had published professionally or semi-professionally.  I just never thought I would want or need a copy of it ever again.  Silly of me.  I had to copy and paste stuff I’d written from the web.  There’s a lesson in there about self-esteem and confidence in my work.

I guess the outcome of all of this stuff in the last two paragraphs is a need for better curation of my work.  It probably doesn’t help that I have varied interests that I’ve written about in the past, while it’s only really in the last few months that I’ve been thinking seriously about a career as a writer, with the need to target consistent markets and build up a portfolio of work rather than just writing about anything I fancy and sending it wherever anyone will take it.

Other than that, the day was largely spent in interview preparation and a long phone call to some friends who are sitting shivah (Jewish mourning ritual).  I was glad I was able to phone them, but I find long phone calls draining at the best of times.  I did some Torah study for about forty-five minutes, but I felt quite tired and struggled to concentrate; then my mood plummeted in the late afternoon.  I went to shul (synagogue) in the evening despite these feelings.  I made sure to arrive exactly on time rather than early as the new rabbi has been making a point of speaking to everyone before the service and I didn’t feel like talking, but he wasn’t there (he only works part-time).

The optimism I felt a day or two ago is beginning to evaporate again as I feel lonely, unlovable and unemployable.  I keep thinking of ‘near-misses,’ women I have a lot in common with, but where there is one key difference that stops us turning the friendship into a relationship, or one key reason it wouldn’t work.  I ask myself if I should compromise, but I know that would not be a sensible idea for either of us.  And I worry that I’m not actually employable, that my mix of depression, social anxiety and autism makes it impossible for me to do a job, while not being severe enough for me to qualify for state benefits.  I’m not sure where I go from here.

This all sounds depressed and pessimistic again, when it shouldn’t be.  Nothing really bad has happened to me today.  My friends sitting shivah should be an example of how life can go badly wrong and how lucky I am in comparison.  But I just can’t feel any positive feelings.

Fever Pitch

I got two emails today that made me feel anxious.  The shadchan (matchmaker) from the values-based dating service got back to me and said she’s put me back in the system and I got an email from the assistant editor of a science fiction magazine saying that they don’t have formal submissions guidelines, but I can pitch ideas to them.  Both these things are terrifying me.  With regard to dating, I was hoping I’d somehow slipped through the cracks, to be honest.  I don’t feel up to dating right now despite my loneliness and despite what my parents and my rabbi mentor say.  However, this soon slipped from my mind as I focused on the other worry.

With regard to the science fiction magazine, it’s more complicated.  I googled the rumoured Blu-ray releases of TV science fiction for later this year as this magazine often ties articles to merchandise.  The rumoured releases aren’t confirmed yet, but they gave me an idea of some things to pitch.  It’s a start anyway.  I spent the afternoon and early evening brainstorming article ideas and writing a pitch based on them.  I do feel awkward that the clips (examples of my work) are all several years old, but I guess that’s what happens when one is starting out.

I do feel anxious writing the pitch.  It’s fear of rejection, but also social anxiety fear of drawing attention to myself and possibly looking stupid.  Or maybe even fear of moving on with my life.  I suppose a therapist would suggest I’m self-sabotaging out of fear of moving forward and that’s probably true on some level.  I’m trying to treat it as a learning curve and tell myself I will be rejected (at some point), but I can grow from rejections.

A flier sent out by my shul (synagogue) had a quote from Rabbi E. E. Dessler (twentieth century ethicist) who said, “When you have a true ambition for something, you will not give up hope.  Giving up hope is a sign that you are lacking in ambition to achieve that goal” so we shall see how much ambition I have.  I’m trying to believe that things could go well and that God could want this to work out for me, but it’s hard.

(It also feels deeply weird to be writing to someone whose opinions I’ve been reading in this very magazine since I was thirteen years old, but that’s a side issue.)

Uneventful Shabbat

Uneventful Shabbat (Sabbath).  Quick update, more for me than anyone else.

Friday night Mincha and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Services) at shul (synagogue) was hard.  There were more people than usual because of a bar mitzvah.  A lot of people were clapping during the singing and making a lot of noise which I found uncomfortable, then the new rabbi initiated circle dancing after Lecha Dodi, which he seems to do a lot, even though there isn’t a huge amount of space for it.  I struggled with the noise and I’m not sure if I struggle more with it now I am aware of my autism or if it’s just that in the past I would have wrongly attributed my discomfort to depression or social anxiety.  I sat out (well, stood out) the dancing again.  I was exhausted from the autistic difficulties I had with going to the barber earlier, plus walking a lot during the day, plus the noise in shul and didn’t feel I could cope with holding hands with people I don’t know very well, being squeezed into a space too small for the number of people there and feeling awkwardly like everyone was staring at me (although it’s debatable whether I felt less stared at sitting it out, given how few people didn’t join in).

I had hoped to go to shul this morning, but after a night of insomnia and, when sleep eventually came, very strange dreams (upright talking orangutans who use public transport and patronise kosher cafes) I overslept.  And then slept for a further two hours after lunch and so am wide awake now.  I went to shul for Mincha today, but there was no seudah and shiur (third meal and religious class) as usual because a Famous Rabbi was in town and everyone was going to another shul to hear him speak after an hour of chevruta (paired) learning to prepare.  My experiences of chevruta learning in the past, including last week, have rather put me off it and I suspected Famous Rabbi’s shiur would be drily halakhic (on Jewish law), so I came home and read (parts of: a Doctor Who graphic novel (The Phantom Piper), a book on the Spanish Civil War and Rabbi Hayyim Angel’s fascinating book on Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi).

That was about it, really.  A little bit of anxiety about the quiz I’m going to tomorrow and about trying to sell my writing, but mostly I was OK.  Admittedly that was because I was asleep a lot.

I Have No Idea What to Call This Post And Don’t Have Time to Think About It (1.5 Hours to Shabbat)

I’ve had feedback from both the friends I wrote to about writing.  What they wrote seems really useful, but also daunting.  I suppose if it was easy, they wouldn’t have to pay people to do it.  I fee like I’m drowning in self-disbelief (is that a word?  The opposite of self-belief).  I struggle to see myself writing professionally.  Yet I want to write.  Writing feels like it’s the only thing I’m any good at.  (Despite having ended that last sentence with a preposition.)  And it’s restoring for me rather than draining, which is unlike most things.  I think I need to find a way to start small and build confidence.  The actual writing is less of a problem than finding the right market and submitting ideas and articles and coping with rejection, not to mention the social anxiety that stops me from making contact with publishers for fear of saying or doing the wrong thing.  I did try to pitch an idea to a geeky website once and didn’t even get a response.  I don’t know if the idea was bad or I just pitched it badly.

I do feel a certain excitement about the thought of writing professionally that I haven’t felt with librarianship for a while.  The other thing I take from the experience of writing these emails is that two people who have never met me in person and just know me from my writing took a lot of time to respond to my emails which indicates (a) that they think my writing is fairly good and (b) I must, on some level, be a likeable person.

I keep positive emails from friends and blog comments in an email folder.  Periodically I print them out, so I can see them at times when my computer is off.  I printed some out today as I wanted to see them over Yom Tov earlier in the week and thought I might want them over Shabbat (I don’t use my computer on Shabbat and Yom Tov).  That does help to boost my confidence a little, at least when I remember to read them.  In the past I’ve had them blue tacked to my wardrobe doors, but after a while I stopped noticing them.

I went for a haircut.  I shook.  I feel a bit upset about that, even though it’s not my fault.  The shaking is a medication side-effect, but it was worst when the barber moved my head about rather roughly, which suggests that it is related to social anxiety and autistic problems with being touched.

On a purely materialistic level, a new graphic novel I pre-ordered ages ago and the publication of which was then much delayed finally arrived today (The Clockwise War, the latest Doctor Who Magazine comic collection).  Doctor Who Magazine comics tend to read better in one or two sittings than a handful of pages a month, particularly when they have long and complicated story arcs like this one, so I’ve been looking forward to this.

Merely Existing

Much of today it felt like it has never not rained and will never not rain.  I feel like that myself, like I have never not been depressed and never will not be depressed.  Given that I have been depressed almost all of my adult life, maybe that’s not surprising.  Still, lately I had been feeling a bit better, but apparently I still haven’t recovered from three days of Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbath and festival) earlier this week.  I had an answer to an email about writing professionally that has just made me think I will never be able to do it, will never be able to be functional in the world of work at all.  I also needed to decide if I wanted to go to a social thing on Sunday (Doctor Who quiz) without the friend who I thought might be going.  I decided that I would like to go, if I there is room for me on the team, as I enjoyed it the last time I went and it’s good to do something social that isn’t shul (synagogue) or support group, but it’s another anxiety.  Everything just feels too difficult right now.  I didn’t go to autism group tonight, as I couldn’t face it today, especially after the last time (last time I failed to talk to anyone and left after just fifteen minutes, feeling lonely and depressed).

I think by this stage it’s obvious that there is no quick fix, or even medium term fix, for my problems.  I don’t know how to survive in this world as an adult.  I got stuck somewhere in adolescence.  Or maybe I know how to survive, at a basic level (I haven’t actually tried to kill myself, despite coming very close sometimes, nor do I turn to substance abuse or the like to cope).  But I don’t know how to thrive, which I would define as functioning in a way that I enjoy, at least on some level, rather than merely existing.

I wanted today either to go to autism group or to get a haircut, but I didn’t feel up to either (I find haircuts very stressful for autistic and social anxiety reasons as well as having problems with shaking from medication side-effects).  I did manage to go for a twenty-five minute walk and to send some emails, as well as redrafting the final chapter of my Doctor Who book for half an hour or so.  It’s hard to know whether to be pleased with this or not.  I didn’t manage to do much today; on the other hand, I felt so depressed that I achieved far more than I thought I would when I woke up.  Is that good or bad?  Or both or neither?

I just want to be normal.  I want to have a meaningful career and a steady income.  I want to have a wife and children.  I want to have friends and a community.  I want to have a meaningful and enjoyable religious life, to love God and Torah and Judaism in an uncomplicated way, not a difficult and twisted one.  I would like to know, at the very least, why I can’t have these things, and how to cope without them.  They never taught us that at school.

***

Of course, there are different interpretations of ‘normal.’  I was thinking before about what ‘normal’ is for frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) men.  What I feel I should be like to fit in to a community and to be marryable.  These were my thoughts:

Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) man: should ideally spend all day in Talmud study, but if he has to work, should have first studied for many years in yeshiva and kollel (rabbinical seminary).  Should study Talmud for two or three hours a day with a chevruta (study partner).  Should daven (pray) with a minyan (community) three times a day.  Should want to have eight to ten children.  Should not own a TV and only use the internet for work.

Modern Orthodox man: should have a BA and if possible a higher degree.  Should have studied for many years in yeshiva before qualifying for a profession, preferably law, accountancy or medicine.  Should daven (pray) with a minyan (community) three times a day (unless he is a doctor).  Should study Talmud for about two hours a day, ideally with a chevruta.  Should want to have three or four children.  May own a TV, but doesn’t have time to watch it.

Religious Zionist man: similar to Modern Orthodox men, but should live in Israel and have served in the Israeli army, perhaps becoming a career soldier.  Is allowed to study Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) as well as Talmud because of its nationalistic overtones.  Should want five or six children.

I’m being somewhat facetious, but this is the image I have in my head of frum men.  I’m not sure how realistic this image is, but you can see why someone with depression, social anxiety and autism and everything those things entail in terms of energy, concentration, motivation, social communication issues and so on is going to struggle to compete and have feelings of low self-esteem reinforced.  I do wonder how I could find out if my image is accurate.  For what it’s worth, my rabbi mentor has a BA as well as smicha (rabbinic ordination), has worked in the rabbinate, the charity sector and now privately in business, has five children, but no TV.  I don’t know how he would define himself, but he’s closest to Modern Orthodox.

***

Career-wise, I was told today that I have an interview for a job I forgot I’d applied for next week.  I hope I feel somewhat better next week, as I’m in no state to prepare for an interview today.  Apparently the interview includes “a five minute presentation.”  It is not clear if they are presenting to me as part of the scheduled library tour before the interview, or if I am supposed to present to them, and if so, what about.

I had a positive response to some questions from one of my writing contacts about getting started.  I emailed someone else with similar questions.  I do feel very uncertain how to proceed.  It’s scary to think of starting out on this route, but, the interview next week notwithstanding, I’m struggling to build any kind of library career, let alone a mental health and autism-friendly one.  I try to focus just on the next step, but it’s hard not to think that I’m going to mess this up, just as I feel I’ve messed everything else up.

***

I finished reading Fatherland.  It was very good and not as depressing as I thought it would be, at least for the most part.  I don’t know what to read next, though.  I have a long list of books to read; actually, I have several long lists on Goodreads: Want to Read; To Read Non-Fiction; To Read Torah; Part Read to Finish; and Possibly to Read, as well as books I’ve read, but want to read again, particularly if I’m older and would understand them better now than when I first read them.  This is a product of a couple of factors: working in libraries for a number of years, I acquired a lot of cheap or free books, usually unwanted donations or withdrawn books; I often visit charity shops to look for bargains or just for retail therapy when depressed; on the other hand, because of the depression, I don’t often read the non-fiction or heavy fiction that sits on my shelves.  I want to read more non-fiction and classic fiction.  Even looking at my non-fiction list, there are lots that look interesting: Gershom Scholem on the history of Kabbalah, Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia (read in conjunction with an undergraduate level introduction to The Spanish Civil War), America During the Cold WarThe Islamist…  In addition, I’ve long meant to re-read Great Expectations which I suspect I would understand better, psychologically, than I did when I read it as a set text for GCSEs aged fourteen or fifteen.  I feel like a boy in a sweetshop, but also a boy who is aware that he might feel sick if he tries to eat too much i.e. I really might struggle with Dickens or non-fiction.

***

I just watch the Blake’s 7 episode that contained this line: “However much you might like to pretend you’re a loner, you’re not really.” (Terminal by Terry Nation).  Just going to leave that hanging there…

Difficult Day

Sometimes I try to say something meaningful about depression and autism here, even if it is only my personal, subjective experience of them.  Other days I just off-load.  Today is an off-loading day (sorry).  Actually, it’s more to update the handful of people following this blog regularly, as there isn’t even a lot to off-load, emotionally.

Today was not tangibly better than yesterday.  I still feel exhausted and depressed.  My main achievements were finishing a job application (which was fairly easy once I got down to it) and walking to and from the shops and going shopping.  This took an hour or so, but by the time I got home, I was feeling faint from exhaustion, so tired did it make me.  I didn’t get to shul (synagogue) as I had hoped either.  At times like these, I wonder how I am supposed to function ‘normally’ in the world.  Last time I checked, I do not qualify for disability benefits (although my psychiatrist thought otherwise last week, so I need to check), but I struggle to work even part-time; at the moment, it’s a struggle to apply for some jobs and do some chores.

I did manage half an hour of Talmud study, somehow (it was a surprisingly easy amud (page), fortunately) and ten minutes or more of other Torah study.

I tried to write some emails asking writer friends for advice about starting a paid writing career, but it was hard to engage my brain to ask meaningful, non-trivial questions.  I feel I need help quite desperately if I am to build a completely new career with very little knowledge and no contacts, but I don’t know what questions to ask.  Perhaps it’s the autistic thing of poor executive function: difficulty seeing the big picture rather than the details (I’m focused on what are probably minor points), difficulty coping with a blank sheet of paper (“Ask me anything!”  “Um…”) as well as social anxiety (“Why would they even respond to my questions anyway?”).  I need to find questions to ask, but I just want to scream “HELP!!!”  I was lucky that E. helped me a bit with writing the questions.  I’ve sent one load of questions off and hope to send some more in a day or two.

The good news is that I got positive results from the complaint emails I sent yesterday: a full refund on the DVD with the broken casing and a partial (50%) refund on the book with the damaged spine.

And that was it, really.  I watched two episodes of Blake’s 7, one awful (Moloch) and one okay (Death-Watch).  I’ve realised that from this point on, good Blake’s 7 episodes are going to be a minority.  I have one quite good episode from series three, but most of the fourth and final series was pants, to put it bluntly.  Maybe it was a mistake to decide to watch the whole series again.  I might interrupt it with the BBC Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy/Smiley’s People DVD that arrived the other day (the one with the broken case) and save Blake’s 7 for when I’m too tired or depressed to concentrate on George Smiley.

Speaking a Dead Language

The usual post-Yom Tov (festival) depression has set in.  Actually, it is more accurate to define it as post-mass social interaction (i.e. interacting with lots of people at shul (synagogue) and elsewhere) depression.  I was not tired last night so I stayed up late blogging and unwinding from the stresses of the last three days, but inevitably slept late this morning and woke up utterly drained from the last few days.  I feel pessimistic about all my recent plans to write professionally and to date again.  I feel that I can’t write well, that I don’t know anything (except my own moods) well enough to write about at length, that no one would date me while I’m unemployed and so on.

It’s been a day of procrastination and feeling too drained and depressed to do anything.  I did send an email to the values-based dating service matchmaker saying I would like to date again if they find anyone (I had said I wanted to stop until I can find a job).  I hope that’s not a terrible idea.  It feels a bit like a terrible idea, despite what people have said to me, here and elsewhere.  I briefly started signing up for another dating service, but backtracked when I realised that the free membership was limited, while it didn’t say anywhere on the site how much the paid membership was.  I can’t really afford a hefty monthly fee at the moment, so that was more time/energy wasted.  I guess this is a way of ensuring that unemployed people don’t date.

I also went for a very short walk to do some shopping, which completely exhausted me, and I cooked dinner for myself and my parents (macaroni cheese, about the easiest recipe I know) which also exhausted me.  I somehow managed about twenty minutes of Torah study as well as writing letters of complaint about a couple of secondhand items that were advertised as “very good,” but arrived in a poor condition.  So this was not a totally wasted day, but it was not a productive one.

However, I did not have time, energy or mood/brainpower for a load of other things I hoped to get done today (write to a couple of friends asking for help starting to write professionally; proof-reading and submitting a job application; trying to get submission guides from various periodicals I’d like to write for; and studying the weekly page of Talmud for my shiur).  All those things will get postponed to later in the week, assuming I feel better.

In the meantime, I’m fighting the urge to eat junk food after all the junk, especially ice cream, I ate over Yom Tov (it is customary to eat dairy produce on Shavuot).  I’m wondering if I really have what it takes to write professionally, considering the small number of people reading my blog and the fact that I haven’t really written much professionally in the past and my autistic/socially anxious/low self-esteem difficulties with networking and pushing my work out there.  Actually, I wonder if I have what it takes to do anything meaningful at all.  I feel so useless so much of the time.

***

Doctor Who Magazine has been running a cosplay feature for some time now.  Cosplaying is when fans of something dress up as their favourite characters, often for conventions (because part of the point is being seen by people who get the reference).  Part of my mind thinks it is a pointless waste of time and money; another part thinks it looks a lot of fun; a third agrees it looks fun, but is too anxious for either cosplaying or going to conventions.  Broadly, the Jewish, fannish and autistic/mentally ill parts of my head, I suppose.  I did dress up as the Doctor for Purim, albeit in what a dedicated cosplayer would consider a very inaccurate costume (only the scarf was authentic; the rest was just a vague approximation of Tom Baker’s costume from stuff I had to hand).

I feel torn into pieces by the thoughts in my head.  I want to be frum, yet I lack energy and enthusiasm for Torah and mitzvot and sometimes I’m angry with God.  I like classic British telefantasy, but I worry it’s a trivial thing to waste my life on.  I love writing, but am scared to do anything with it.  I’d like to make friends with people like myself, but I’m terrified of rejection, so avoid places where I might meet people like myself (shulDoctor Who conventions).  I assume that the fact that I’m not a typical Orthodox Jew or typical Doctor Who fan makes me unlikeable by more conventional members of those communities, when it might be the reverse, at least for some people (maybe, possibly).  Anxiety and autism make me stay in my comfort zone when I might enjoy moving out of it (writing professionally, including doing serious research; going to conventions).

Sometimes it feels like being a frum geek is like knowing a nearly-extinct language, that there are nuances or connections in Jewish stuff or fan stuff that only I can see.  That’s fun on some level, but it’s also lonely.  I guess loneliness is fundamental to my life.  Perhaps surprisingly, I did have a couple of friends at school, but never many and sometimes they were all away or busy and I was left on my own.  Then at Oxford it grew to being one of the dominating emotions of my life and has never really gone away.  I don’t know if I could cope with having a partner, it would be so strange.  Maybe I would still feel lonely, and therefore guilty that my wife wasn’t enough for me.

This mental division might affect my writing.  It’s possible that what I want to write is not going to align very well with the readership of various periodicals.  I want to write something on chronic illness, especially depression and high functioning autism, in the Jewish community, but I worry that anything I write will be too frum (religious) for the Jewish Chronicle, but too irreligious for any of the frummer Jewish newspapers (which I don’t read anyway, so I would need to research style and tone.  Plus, I think on principle, I don’t want to write for newspapers that refuse to run pictures of women, as is the case with many Orthodox newspapers).

Dating Procrastination

Last night I decided that I probably should start dating, or at least contact this dating service and see what they think.  I thought that, if I want signs, then it probably counts for something that my parents and my rabbi mentor think I should be dating.  And, while I have no real idea what God thinks, getting married and having children is a mitzvah (commandment), so I should probably be pursuing it.  The more I thought about it, the more I felt that I have a certain calm when I thought I should be dating, albeit accompanied by anxiety.  It didn’t seem particularly immoral to go on dates with my mental health issues; the worst that can happen is the women don’t want to see me again.  Plus, I should do my hishtadlut (effort) if I want HaShem (God) to send my soulmate.

This morning the calm was gone.  I felt very depressed again, albeit not particularly anxious (too depressed to be anxious.  Anxiety requires a certain amount of energy, concentration and motivation).  I felt that I’m too depressed and my self-esteem is too low to face multiple rejections again.  I felt that I’m too weird and screwed up for anyone to be able to love me (the evidence from previous crushes/dates/girlfriends supports this thesis).  I worried that I want sex more than I want love (given that I’m a celibate virgin, it is hard to judge how realistic this fear is) and wouldn’t be able to cope with a real relationship, for all that my ex-girlfriends felt that I was attentive to their emotional needs.  It felt like dating in this state would just be misleading people (shadchan (matchmaker), dates) into thinking I’m a functioning human being when I’m blatantly not.  I’m sceptical of whether shadchanim and dating sites really help (some evidence suggests they don’t); I don’t think there’s a science, or even an art, to matching people, it just seems like pot luck whether you get set up with someone compatible even if you’re ‘normal,’ let alone a freak like me.  And it seems immature to think that someone else could solve my problems, or even help me to live with them better.  It seems pretty inevitable that I’m going to be miserable and lonely all my life, simply because I’ve been miserable and lonely all my adult life so far.  And if I’m going to be miserable anyway, I’m much better off being miserable by myself than making someone else miserable.

It just seems my life is to be one long stretch of misery and loneliness, occasionally punctuated by brief moments of hope, just to seem more painful when they are gone.  It doesn’t seem a lot that I can do about this.  Being single is only part of this, but it’s probably the least amenable to improvement (although the longer I’m unemployed, the more questionable that seems).  I’m back to feeling I would rather die than be like this forever.  My habit of seeing everything in life as an ethical question (“Is it morally right for me to date?”) rather than a pragmatic question (“Would dating make me happier/more energised/more motivated/less depressed?”) probably doesn’t help, as it makes the question too complicated.  Although, to be honest, I’m not sure what the answer to the pragmatic question would be either.  A lot would depend on how quickly I found someone right for me, or whether I would find someone at all.

Well, anyway, my rabbi mentor just got back to me while I was writing this and said I should continue dating “even though it is difficult at times.”  I suppose that’s as near to the word of God as I’m going to get (although I trust my rabbi mentor because he’s a trained counsellor and the wisest person I know as much as because he’s a rabbi).  I don’t know how I keep going with it despite disappointment.  It’s like job applications, and I’m getting quite disenchanted with those, except that I find it easier to believe that someone could employ me than be in a relationship with me.

***

Speaking of job applications, I’m applying for a part-time job somewhere that sounds potentially good, if they could accommodate my need to leave early on winter Fridays, but writing the personal statement shows me that while I have some of the skills and experience they want, I don’t have all of them by any means.

***

A bookmark that came free with a book I purchased this week advises me that it’s better to be happy and odd than miserable and ordinary (the quote is apparently from Goodnight Mister Tom, which I’ve never read).  I would agree, except that I seem to be both odd and miserable.

***

I feel apprehensive about getting through Shabbat (the Sabbath) and Shavuot (Pentecost), but there’s not a lot I can do about that now.  See you on Tuesday (or possibly late on Monday night).

Time’s Wingèd Chariot

A friend suggested an Orthodox shadchan (matchmaking service) to me (this one).  I had actually already heard of them – nearly used them, in fact, before using the values-based dating service.  I don’t think I should be dating right now, because of my unclear employment situation, not just being unemployed, but not even being sure I’m in the right career, wanting to try to be a writer, but being too scared to try and not really knowing how to go about it.  My parents and my rabbi mentor disagree with me and think I could be dating, but it just feels wrong to me.  Actually, if I asked any rabbi, they would almost certainly tell me I should be dating, because I’m not likely to get much better, mental health-wise,  marriage and children are mitzvot (commandments) and the right woman would overlook my mental health issues and unemployment because we would be soul-mates (really?!!).  I suppose I agree, up to a point, I just don’t believe there is a magic “right woman” out there for me and I can’t face opening up to women only to be rejected again and again.  Particularly as I can’t find a shadchan in the UK who deals with people with ‘issues’ like mine.  But I’m lonely.

It makes me wonder what women would think if I did turn up on a date without a job.  L. didn’t seem to care, but I think most women would.  In the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world it’s more common for men to date while not in employment, but that’s because people date while still in yeshiva (rabbinical seminary), and in some communities the man is expected to stay in yeshiva or kollel permanently, with the woman supporting the family while he studies.  I disagree with this behaviour and don’t particularly want to go down that path in a weird sort of secular way (being supported by my wife while I try to build a career).  And I really, really, really can’t imagine what type of woman would be interested in a depressed, autistic, unemployed frum-but-not-frum-enough geek.

But I do get really lonely.  Then again, dating just because I’m lonely isn’t necessarily the best idea either, although lots of people do it.

“But at my back I always hear/Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near”.  I feel I should have got my life sorted out by now.  I should have dealt with my adolescent angst and my mental health issues, I should have got my autism diagnosis, I should have sorted my career and started a family already.  My peers at shul are all married with children and careers.  Assuming I marry someone my own age, it’s going to start getting harder to even have children soon.

***

I feel like my shul is trolling me.  Shortly after writing the above paragraphs, I saw they had sent out the text of a special prayer that I had never heard of before to say on Rosh Chodesh Sivan (tonight and tomorrow) to pray for one’s children to be righteous and that they should find righteous spouses from families of Torah scholars.  Seriously?!  You really want to rub in that I have no wife and children?!  For the sake of some obscure minhag (custom) that comes from just one seventeenth century kabbalist?  It’s an unfortunate coincidence that this should happen today, but it does reinforce the feeling that if you don’t have a spouse and children, there really is no room for you in a frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community.  You are just too weird and unusual.  I shouldn’t get annoyed about this stuff, but it feels too much sometimes.  I don’t think it’s just my shul either.  I think any Orthodox community, Modern or Haredi, would assume everyone my age is married.

As if this wasn’t enough, another bad shul thing happened today.  I went to shul for Mincha and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Prayers).  I got there early and started reading Pirkei Avot to pass the time.  Suddenly I noticed out of the corner of my eye most of the people standing up and on some level I knew the new rabbi must have walked in (I’m very bad about standing up for rabbis, which is taken very seriously in the Haredi world).  I glanced up and saw him, but I just couldn’t stand up.  I don’t know why.  Maybe on some level I didn’t want to.  So I hoped it looked like I hadn’t seen him, but I was worried we had made eye contact when I looked up.  Then he started going around the shul talking to people.  I didn’t realise until he had almost got to me.  I stood up when he started talking to me, but I was so anxious my legs started shaking quite badly and I found it hard to stand upright.  I don’t know if he noticed.  Then he said something about he hoped I wasn’t working too hard and I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.  I wasn’t sure if it was a joke or a genuine question or what.  My autism means I don’t always get jokes in casual conversation with people I’m not so familiar with, particularly if I’m nervous, and also that I can’t always tell when people are asking something out of politeness or if they really mean it.  So I wasn’t sure whether to say that I’m out of work or what.  Then, when davening (prayers) started, I suddenly had a fear that he thought I was in school and coming up to exams.  I’m nearly thirty-six, but I look a lot younger and have been mistaken for a sixth-former in the fairly recent past.  (I guess it’s better than looking older than my years.)  So, I have no idea how that interaction went.  I know it went badly, but I’m not sure just how badly.

The whole experience left me very anxious and agitated and unable to concentrate on davening.  During davening and afterwards I had violent agitated thoughts of having my throat slit or of maggots eating my rotting flesh.  It was horrible.  I started wondering why social interactions are so hard for me.  Not in the literal sense of having autism and social anxiety, but in a deeper, metaphysical way.  In Judaism there is a concept of middah keneged middah (measure for measure), that we get punished in the way we sinned, so I started wondering if I embarrass people in public (which is a very serious sin in Judaism).  I do tease my Dad and get annoyed with him more than I should and some of that may count as being in public, but it didn’t really seem to explain why I find it so hard to go through social situations (sometimes including just going shopping) without feeling embarrassed.  So, perhaps there is another reason, but I don’t know what it is.  I don’t know why I can’t just live an ordinary life like most people get to do.  Some Jews believe in gilgul neshamot (reincarnation).  I find that it raises more problems than it answers, but sometimes it’s tempting to believe I was just a horrible person in another life and that outweighs whatever it is I’m doing now.

***

I feel that I hate myself today.  I just feel that I hate everything about myself.  I’m not even sure why.  It’s probably just frustration with my life.  Sometimes I wish I believed in da’at Torah, the mystical clairvoyance that Haredi Jews believe their rabbis have that allows them to prophetically answer difficult life questions.  I wish I could believe someone could just tell me what to do with my life and then I could go and do it, or at least try to do it.  But I don’t think life works like that, certainly not my life, where I have to struggle for every little thing.  Plus there probably is some self-sabotage going on here, in dating and career.

But I’ve said all this before.  I wish I could break out of the loop my thoughts run around, but I don’t think that’s going to happen until someone either publishes me or marries me, neither of which seem very likely right now, and perhaps not even then.  I can’t believe I could meet someone like me through an Orthodox dating service anyway, and I certainly don’t believe I could meet someone in another way, so I’m stuck.  There just isn’t anyone like me (weird and dysfunctional).  I’m weird, crazy and lonely, I’m religious, but not enough.  When God made me, He made me too broken for anyone to match with me.

There’s a lot online about body image.  I don’t particularly struggle with that.  I don’t think I look great, but I don’t feel self-consciously ugly either most of the time.  But I don’t like myself as a person and I find it hard to believe that anyone else could like me either (I mean even as a friend, let alone for dating).  I don’t feel that I have any particularly good character traits and on the rare occasions people have said what they like about me, they tend to focus on my intelligence, which is problematic as (a) I don’t consider it a particularly strongly positive character trait (it’s not bad, but it’s not good like being kind or generous, it just is) and (b) my intelligence seems to have been negatively affected by my depression and I feel stupid a lot of the time these days, especially in social situations where social anxiety and autistic impairments kick in.

***

I didn’t have any jobs to apply for today, aside from a school librarian job I really don’t want, so I focused on my writing, managing to write much of the first draft of the final chapter of my Doctor Who book, covering the most recent episodes.  It feels a bit unsubstantial and I may have to rewatch some of those episodes before attempting a second draft.  I might try to get some feedback from friends first, though (I would like more feedback in general, if possible, if anyone else would like to volunteer).  Other than redrafting that chapter, the main thing to do now is to wait for feedback from friends I have shown chapters to and to decide whether to attempt a fourth draft or to submit it.  I think I probably will do at least one more draft.

Other than that, my only achievements today were going to shul, including walking there and back, and doing about an hour of Torah study.  I should be pleased with my writing, and on one level I am, but I always feel bad about prioritising writing over job hunting.  I wish I could get the courage to dedicate serious time to writing professionally, but I don’t have the guts.  Oh, and somehow I lost my to do list and I can’t remember what was on it.  I also watched a forgetable episode of Blake’s 7 (Volcano).  So not a great day in all.

Victimhood

I’ve mentioned that I’m using Rabbi Lord Sacks’ omer calendar, which has inspiring statements for each day of the omer.  Tonight’s statement was, “Never define yourself as a victim.  There is always a choice, and by exercising the strength to choose, we can rise above fate.”  This is something I have heard before from Rabbi Sacks and also from Viktor Frankl and Jordan Peterson.

I want to define myself by my choices, but it feels like so much of my life has not been created by my choices, but by my autism and my mental illnesses, so it becomes very easy to slip into a victim mentality (something encouraged by a wider culture that divides society into victims and oppressors with no middle ground).  I do want to stop defining myself as a victim, but it’s very hard and I’m not really sure how to do it.  What positive choices have I made?  It is hard to tell.  Again, if I compare myself with my peers, they seem to have successfully chosen career A or to marry person B or to have child C, or to be involved in their  shul or voluntary work or whatever they do.  I do have elements of that, but at a much lower level, with much less actual meaningful choice.  If I wasn’t depressed and autistic, I would be much freer to live my life as I would want.

I suppose Frankl in particular (Man’s Search for Meaning) would argue that I have the choice of how to respond to autism and depression, whether or not to define myself as a victim, but I’m not sure (or no one has ever revealed to me) what the alternative to victim status is while living a life that is (a) very far from what I want and (b) very far from what either the Jewish or Western communities present as a good or meaningful life.  I understand that I can possibly embrace my neurodivergence, but it’s hard to embrace the depression because the depression of its very nature pushes me towards a despairing/victim state of mind.  It’s like trying to cure diabetes by trying to mentally will a stable blood sugar level rather than regulating diet and taking insulin.  I feel I could only really choose how to respond to depression if I was cured, which is a paradox.

On a related note, during the shiur (class) during seudah (the third Shabbat meal) yesterday, the rabbi spoke of humility and that it is not about knowing our weaknesses, but rather knowing our strengths, acknowledging them as gifts from God and using them to help others.  This was an idea I had heard before, albeit not quite in those words, but I find it hard to identify my strengths and work out how to use them to help others.  This is perhaps partly due to low self-esteem.  People have told me that I write well, but I find that hard to believe and it is impossible to work out how to use that ability to help others.  I do want to write about mental health issues, Judaism and Doctor Who, but I find it hard to dedicate the time to it and I don’t have the confidence to take time out from my career (or job hunt, at the moment) to try writing professionally.  Not knowing the practical steps needed to get something published does not help either.

As an interesting sidelight on this, there’s a regular feature in Doctor Who Magazine where a Doctor Who celebrity is asked twenty randomly-selected interview questions from a box.  One of them asks which member of the opposite sex they would want to swap places with for a day.  I thought about this, and I realised there isn’t anyone of either sex that I would particularly want to swap places with.  I either lack imagination or at a very basic level I’m happy with who I am, I just wish I could be less depressed/lonely/inhibited/anxious/self-critical/etc.

***

I had some difficult thoughts and experiences over Shabbat (the Sabbath).  I mentioned on Friday someone I know from shiur who just had a child.  He was in shul (synagogue) on Friday night, but I was too anxious to wish him mazal tov.  I always get nervous doing things like that in case I’ve made a mistake and got the wrong person or the wrong life event.  I didn’t introduce myself to the new rabbi either, although he came and spoke to me on Shabbat afternoon.  It was bad of me not to do those things, but I don’t know how to force myself to do things like that, except by guilt-tripping myself.

I had some disturbed dreams that night and again when I dozed on Shabbat afternoon.  I don’t remember all the details, but there was a lot of darkness and I think violence; one was set in World War II, although it was drawn as much from Dad’s Army as from the reality of the war (and my unconscious got the dates wrong, perhaps to prolong it).  I woke up in time for shul in the morning, but again my social anxiety got the better of me and I went back to sleep, probably to avoid the new rabbi, at least on some level.  As a result, I ended up upset again at sleeping through so much of Shabbat (about eleven hours at night/morning and a three hour nap in the afternoon) and also about running away from things so much at the moment: shul, autism group last week and the farewell seudah for the previous rabbi and assistant rabbi a few weeks ago.

There were some more positive thoughts and experiences.  I liked the new rabbi’s style of delivering the weekly Talmud shiur (Talmud class).  It seemed a little more structured than the assistant rabbi’s style, with frequent recaps of what we had learnt.  He has extended the shiur by ten minutes, which was good too, giving more time for the page of Talmud, although we still did not quite finish it.  (Rabbis are often bad timekeepers, for some reason.  Actually, stereotype would suggest that all Jews are bad timekeepers, except for Yekkes (German Jews).  I’m only one-eighth Yekkish, but I conform to Yekkish stereotype: punctual, pedantic, detail-focused, obsessively honest.)  I also thought about making some small changes in my religious life and practices, dropping some non-obligatory things and making slight changes to try to have more kavannah (mindfulness) in prayer and to study more Torah, or at least to enjoy it more.

As usual after being in shul for so long (nearly three hours, counting two shiurimMincha, seudah, Ma’ariv and helping to tidy up) I was left drained.  I was thinking back to the person from shiur with the new baby.  At a baby boy’s brit (circumcision), we say, “Just as he has entered into the covenant, so may he enter into Torahchuppah (the wedding canopy) and good deeds.”  It makes it sound so natural for people, that one should just flow into Torah, marriage and good deeds, but it’s so hard for me to manage any of them.  I can’t do any of them ‘naturally,’ only with a lot of effort and focus; with marriage, not even then (plus there is an idea I heard from Chief Rabbi Mirvis, that “good deeds” comes after marriage in the prayer because the primary place for good deeds is to benefit your spouse, that marriage is holy because it offers so many opportunities for good deeds in a way not possible in other relationships, so I won’t ever really be able to do good deeds unless I marry).

***

I cancelled the paid part of my non-anonymous Doctor Who blog, downgrading to a free blog.  I hadn’t used it as much as I had intended, partly because I’ve decided that writing instant reviews of Doctor Who episodes isn’t really playing to my strengths as a writer (I tend to be quite polarised for or against something on first viewing and develop a more nuanced view after repeated viewing and discussion with others), partly because the time I thought I would spend re-posting old articles has been spent working on my Doctor Who book.  I may put old or even new articles up there at some point, but right now my priority is finishing the book.

***

Other than that, it’s been a ‘treading water’ type of day, running just to stay in the same place to paraphrase Lewis Carroll.  Aside from catching up with my blog for Shabbat, I went for a walk to buy ingredients to cook for dinner, and cooked them.  That’s it, really, aside from some Torah study, although I’m hoping to grab a bit of time to work on my Doctor Who book for half an hour or so before bed, so that I feel like I’ve accomplished something.

I don’t feel too depressed today, but I do feel lonely.  I keep having ‘crush’ type thoughts on someone I haven’t seen for four years and have never had the confidence to speak to.  I keep wondering if she’s seeing anyone.  I would probably have heard if she was married (married again, as she was divorced), the Jewish grapevine being what it is, but my parents do sometimes try to hide things like that from me in the believe it would depress me to know (it would, but not knowing causes problems too).  It’s stupid to think she could be interested in me, or that we would have anything in common, or that I could even speak to her (bearing in mind in twenty-five years I didn’t say a single word), but I suppose that is what loneliness does to me.  I should really try to focus on the real world and not the imaginary world that only exists in my head.  In the real world, I will probably never get married, I will probably be single and lonely forever, and I need to find ways of accepting that and not feeling like a victim because of it.

The Return of Colonel Runaway

I slept for about twelve hours again.  It’s quite awful, sleeping so long and waking more tired than I went to sleep, too tired to get up, but in many ways the worst of it is not being able to tell people, because it sounds luxurious and lazy.  It’s terrible.  I don’t have refreshing sleep, although as far as I can tell it’s not particularly interrupted (I must wake up enough to turn off my alarm, but I don’t consciously notice it).  I eventually get the strength to get up and eat breakfast, but it takes an hour or more after that to get the energy and motivation to get dressed.

I feel lethargic and depressed, like Sherlock Holmes after solving a difficult case.  Except I haven’t caught a murderer or found a missing treaty.  I haven’t really done anything for about a week and a half, except a bit of work on my Doctor Who book.  Is this still exhaustion from breaking up with L. and having two job interviews in a week?

Today not only did I get up too late to daven Shacharit (say morning prayers), as often happens, I even postponed Mincha (the Afternoon Service) until after lunch because I didn’t have the energy – I actually felt physically faint and weak.  I did try to fill in a job application, but I struggled to get the energy and concentration, plus they asked some quite detailed questions about types of tasks I’ve never done (e.g. designing and delivering information skills workshops) or things that I’ve never really thought about (e.g. the single most pressing issue for higher education).  Not for the first time, I wonder how most people can have full-time jobs and do CPD and have homes and families and have social lives and have hobbies all at the same time.  I can’t manage any of them.

It’s just a struggle to get through the day.  I was determined to get to autism group tonight, as I haven’t been for six months or more.  That’s where all my energy went.  It was a waste of time, though.  It was supposed to start at 6pm, but my experience is that no one gets there then.  I was aiming for 6.15, but because I miscalculated and my train was delayed, I didn’t get there until 6.45.  By this time, everyone was deep in conversation.  I had only seen one person there previously.  None of the people I was hoping to see, people I’ve ‘clicked’ with and been able to talk to in the past were there.  I sat on the fringes of conversations for a bit, trying to get in, but I wasn’t able to do so.  I’m very bad at that sort of thing.  One or two people said hi, but no one really spoke to me.  So far as I could tell, most of the people were talking about computer games.  I don’t play computer games.  And I was spacing out from the noise and struggling to hear properly (I’ve often wondered why a group for autistic people meets in such a busy, noisy place).  After fifteen minutes, I was desperate to leave.  The final straw was when the man and woman to my left who were talking to someone who hadn’t been before mentioned in passing that they were in a relationship and met through the group.  This provoked an inevitable comparison of myself to them, and the way I just can’t meet women who are interested in me.  So, I pretended my phone went off and left.

I am not proud of myself, not least because I wasted the extortionate cost of a Tube fare into London, and really wasted the whole day, because I could have tried harder to fill in the job application if I hadn’t left around 5.10pm.  To be fair, I was practically in tears on the Tube going to the group, so maybe I wasn’t in the best state of mind to start with.

Inevitably, I’m thinking again what a mess my life is and how I have not made anything of it.  Thinking that I’ve never really managed to fit into any community, be it academic, religious or fandom-based.  I didn’t fit in to the Jewish Society in Oxford, nor did I fit in with the other historians in my college (who seemed to be quite drink-and-party orientated, or maybe they just seemed that way in comparison to me, someone who went to bed at 11.00pm and tried to get up early even though he was a humanities student).  I fitted in a bit better to the Doctor Who Society, but had to miss a lot of their events because of Judaism (meals in non-kosher restaurants, location visits on Saturdays).  I don’t fit in to my shul (synagogue).  I despair of ever getting married.  I just can’t see it happening.  No one likes me that much and my lack of income is a serious issue.  I can’t build a career, I can’t live the type of religious life of community, prayer, religious study and mitzvah performance that I want.  I just can’t.  I don’t know how to try any more or who to turn to for help.  No one – I mean friends and family – seems to think things are so hopeless, but they don’t have any constructive suggestions other than to keep applying for jobs I don’t want and to go to shadchanim (matchmakers) to try to get set up with women even though I’m unemployed and not what any frum woman would be looking for.

OK, going to stop now because I’m just making myself feel more depressed.  One last thing: today I got the results of a routine blood test I had a couple of weeks ago: my lithium level is rather low.  The doctor didn’t query it, but I think it’s below the therapeutic range (I’ve long had issues trying to get my lithium level right on lithium tablets).  So maybe that’s why I’m struggling at the moment, if there weren’t enough other reasons.  I will try to mention it to the psychiatrist when I see her next week.

OK, Blake’s 7 and/or Doctor Who now.  I feel too depressed to do anything, but I’m going to force myself to watch something and not sit with my thoughts or aimlessly browse online.

You Can’t Win

My parents are away for a few days, starting this morning, and I have the house to myself.  This is good in some ways, but bad in others.  In particular, my loneliness gets worse when they’re away.  Even though I don’t talk to them that much, I seem to benefit from other people being in the house, which I guess sheds light on my desire to get married.  Of course, when they’re here, I get frustrated with them, particularly if I feel they’re treating me as a child.  It’s difficult being an adult living with my parents, especially as, to some extent, they have good reason for assuming I can’t cope by myself because of my high functioning autism and depression.  More on this below.

***

I felt very depressed again today and lacking in energy, motivation and concentration.  I really wasted the day sleeping as I struggled to sleep last night, then slept through the morning and dozed off again after breakfast.  I kept going back to lie on the bed because I feel so drained.  That was how I dozed off after breakfast.  I just have no energy for anything.  I felt as limp as a rag doll much of the day and didn’t feel able to do anything except type a bit.  I didn’t even feel able to read much, although my mood energy and concentration got a bit better in the late afternoon.  I don’t know why my mood has sunk recently.  It’s possible that the busy week I had two weeks ago, with a break-up and two stressful job interviews and then three job rejections (actually two rejections, plus belated feedback from a third) knocked me out and I have recovered, which feels a bit pathetic.  I feel I should (that word again) be better at recovering, but I can’t make myself better by beating myself up, sadly.

Well, all I managed to do today was go for a half hour walk and buy bananas, as well as ten minutes of Torah study.  I did find a new job to apply for, only to find that it seems I had wanted to apply for it in February, but the advert was taken down before I applied for it.  As I haven’t seen it advertised lately, I’m guessing they didn’t fill the post first time around or possibly they’re advertising for a similar, but non-identical role, so I decided to try again, but I got dismayed by the lengthy online application and request for evidence CPD and the like (with my issues it’s hard just to hold down a part-time job, let alone do CPD).  Other than that, the only productive thing I did was watch an episode of Doctor Who as research for my book.

***

My life seems to be about contingency planning right now.  What career can I build for myself given that I don’t seem to be able to build one in librarianship?  Will I manage to make one as a writer?  This is hard, especially as I don’t know anyone who could advise me and am not convinced that I am a good writer (albeit that my low number of blog followers may be due to my writing in a style that might fit better in a weekly magazine or newspaper column than a daily blog post and not necessarily a sign that I should not write book-length pieces).  What religious community should I go to, given that my current is not perfect, but might be the least-worst option for now, and how can I integrate if I can’t find a perfect fit?  What outlets can I find for my loneliness, my need to give and receive love and my sexuality, given that Jewish law and social anxiety seem to rule most options out?  I guess pets might be an option again, but I’ve gone off the idea a bit.

***

There’s a beautiful piece in the latest Jewish Review of Books that I read today, John J. Clayton reflecting on getting old with Parkinson’s Disease.  It would have caught my attention anyway, for being quite religious, which is unusual (admittedly not quite so unusual in the JRB than in a mainstream newspaper), but I found a lot of it seemed familiar to my situation, even though depression is a very different illness to Parkinson’s (although I do have medication-induced tremor at awkward times).  The sense of trying to stay positive and grateful when you can feel your strength, even your life dripping away.  Wanting to stay positive so other people will be able to praise your inner fortitude and gratitude when you’re gone, but really not feeling up to it.  The sense of life not going according to plan, the feeling of this isn’t supposed to happen.  I can’t shake the jealous feeling that somehow I lost my life, the feeling, as Clayton said, of being a ghost, of watching my peers live the life I wanted to live, that I felt I would/should live.

***

My Mum just called on What’sApp.  It didn’t go well.  I think the line was bad; at any rate either I couldn’t hear her properly or she was hesitating a lot.  I thought she couldn’t hear me and spoke louder, so she said I didn’t need to shout.  We both ended up getting annoyed with each other.  The underlying cause, of course, is that I’m nearly thirty-six and have lived alone before, but because of my “issues,” my parents feel the need to check up on me in a way that they don’t do to my (younger, married) sister.  And knowing that, on some level, I probably do need to be checked up on only makes it feel worse.  It doesn’t help that, because of my autism, I don’t like speaking on the phone generally and I especially don’t like sudden phone calls out of the blue, which disrupt my plans (even if, as tonight, I don’t really have concrete plans, they still make me worry how long the call will take, what I should say and so on) and feel like an invasion of my metaphorical space.  Now I feel angry and guilty, feeling worse for knowing that I don’t have a legitimate reason to get angry.  Plus, of course, the worry that “If some horrible holiday-related disaster happens to my parents, then the last time I spoke to them would be an argument” (rather than it being me grunting goodbye when I was basically asleep this morning).

Now I’m trying to work out if I’ve ever told my family any of the above, or if I’m just autistically assuming that they know it.  This has all come about because I was depressed yesterday and also because when they went away for a week in the winter, they didn’t tell me to phone, so I assumed they didn’t want to hear from me and stayed out of contact all week.  They assumed I would phone, but I didn’t.  I was depressed all week and I think they blamed themselves, although if they had phoned I would almost certainly have lied and said I was fine, because I’m not good at opening up about my emotions in person (as opposed to in writing), particularly with my parents, with whom I don’t always have a straightforward relationship.

I did text them to apologise, but I still feel bad.  I also feel bad (a different type of bad) about not being able to cope with basic social interactions because of my autism.

***

This post seems to be full of my pleading “issues” to explain why I do, or don’t do, the things people expect me to do.  This just makes me feel useless, even if it’s true.  I feel that if things had been even slightly different for me perhaps I could have turned my autistic traits into strengths rather than weaknesses and succeeded in the work sphere at least, even if not in my social/family/romantic life.  Maybe I will be able to turn things around, I just can’t see how.

Crisis of Faith

I didn’t want to post much tonight, as Shabbat (the Sabbath) finished late and I’m going to go to bed late as it is and doubtless will struggle to sleep, given how much I slept over Shabbat (yes, I failed to make it to shul (synagogue) this morning again and dozed in the afternoon for about three hours too).  Tomorrow I hope to be volunteering, although “hope” is a somewhat tricky word there as “dread” might be nearer the mark.  I feel I ought to go, but like almost everything else in my life at the moment, I’ve lost confidence in my ability to actually do it properly.  Then in the evening I’m out for dinner with my family to celebrate my Mum’s birthday.  So I may not have the time/energy to post much tomorrow either, so I wanted to get a few thoughts down, for myself as much as anyone else.

Shabbat was difficult with a lot of depression and difficult thoughts.  I can’t remember all of them, but they were pessimistic thoughts about the future of Western society and frum (religious Jewish) society as well as my place in them, or rather my inability to find a place in either of them.  It sometimes feels like a race to see whether postmodern Western society or Orthodox Jewish society will self-destruct first.  Do I really want to be a part of either?  Lately I feel I just want to go off and be a hermit somewhere, but that’s not a very Jewish thing to want to do.  I have to existed somewhere and I’m not introverted and autistic enough to be able to cut other people out of my life completely.

I realised today that I’m going through a crisis of faith again, albeit a strange one.  I make it my third: years ago (probably around 2008, I’m not sure) I had a ‘traditional’ crisis of faith, not being sure what I believed, wanting proof for the existence of God and so on.  Then, over the last couple of years, particularly when my religious OCD was bad, I believed in God, but couldn’t believe that He loved me.  Now I can sort of believe that God loves me, but I don’t believe I can find a community that is right for me, that has the right balance between tradition and modernity, that takes Torah study and prayer seriously, but is also open to the (post)modern world, doesn’t stereotype non-Jews and non-religious Jews and doesn’t turn wicked people into heroes for political reasons.  It’s very difficult.

A Jew can’t be a Jew without a community.  That’s one of the major differences between Judaism and some other religions.  So I feel stuck.  I just feel that I stick out wherever I go and don’t fit in.  It doesn’t help that I don’t understand the nuances of social interactions because of autism, so I don’t know when some things are allowed.  For example, my shul isn’t Zionist, but some people are quite open about their Zionism and that seems to be OK, beyond a little teasing.  I don’t really understand it.  It’s hard to know what I have to do/believe and what is optional.

It doesn’t help that I don’t do the things a good Jewish man is supposed to do.  Between them, autism, depression and social anxiety keep me away from shul a lot and mean I study a lot less Torah than I should.  Similarly, I struggle to understand Talmudic study.  At shiur (religious class) today the topic was a very technical halakhic (Jewish law) topic and people were asking all kinds of kashas (high-level questions based on finding logical or conceptual flaws in a halakhic argument).  Meanwhile, I struggled to keep up.  I don’t know why so many people seem to be able to do this and I can’t.  I don’t know how many of them have spent significant time in yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) or studying Talmud with a chevruta (study partner) to learn this.  I assume most did not go to Jewish schools where they would have learnt it at a young age, although their children do.  But I just fell behind very quickly.

And, of course, I’m not married and I don’t have children, which is both a cause and an effect of my dislocation from the community.  In a community where almost every adult is married, not being married locks me out from a lot of social interactions, including some that might help me get married (given the strict gender segregation at most shul events).

The interesting thing about my earlier crises of faith (the ones I mentioned above) is that I never resolved them.  I never proved that God exists beyond all doubt or that God loves me.  They just stopped being important after a while.  I either learnt to live with the uncertainty, or they just stopped mattering.  Maybe one day this will stop mattering too.

This was supposed to be a short post just to announce what I was thinking, but it has become much longer, so I’ll leave this here.  There is, of course, much more to be said and I will probably return to this topic in the coming days.

“You should never have your best trousers on when you go out to fight for freedom and truth”

Today is Lag B’Omer and the end of the mourning period part of the Omer, at least according to the minhag (custom) I follow, so I’m clean-shaven again and can listen to music without worrying about anyone asking why I’m doing it (even though my rabbi mentor told me that people suffering from depression can listen to music, I feel uncomfortable about my parents or anyone from my shul (synagogue) catching me doing it).  Shaving again does lift my mood somewhat; at least I’m not so itchy.  Still, it’s always seemed a slightly weird day to celebrate, especially as I don’t actually believe Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai wrote The Zohar, which is ostensibly the main cause for celebration, and another difference between me and my community (although I just read that the connection between Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s death and the celebrations is very recent – as in Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai lived in the second century, but the connection was only made in the seventeenth or eighteenth).

The other thing happening today is the most pointless election in the history of British democracy, elections to the European Parliament, an organisation we were supposed to have left weeks ago and which we may still, in some sense at least, leave, or at least lose our voting rights in (which would probably be worse than either fully leaving or not leaving at all).  It’s basically being used as a protest vote by everyone annoyed with either the government or the opposition, which is pretty much everyone in the country.

I was always brought up to believe that there I have a moral duty to vote at every election, however pointless it might seem because “people died to win you the vote.”  Ignoring the fact that this is arguably a weird version of the sunk cost fallacy and that, as Oscar Wilde wrote in The Portrait of Mr W.H., the fact that someone died for an idea does not make it true, I’ve always stuck to that, but today I can’t.  I just can’t bring myself to vote for any of the parties.  Not the Conservatives, with their incompetence and infighting, not the Lib Dems and Change UK with their insistence on overturning the referendum result (I voted remain, but I think that overturning the referendum will be far worse for our democracy than leaving the EU even without a deal), and certainly not for the gang of Marxist antisemites running the Labour Party or the racist neo-Nazis of UKIP.  I can’t bring myself to vote for the Brexit Party either, so I spoilt my ballot by writing pretty much what I wrote here only more succinctly.

I feel really bad about it, like I done something not so much wrong as sacrilegious.  Like I’ve somehow offended against the spirit of democracy and if Britain ends up as a dictatorship, it will be my fault (whereas in reality I felt I was making the only gesture I could reasonably make towards saving British democracy, if that’s not pretentious).

Anyway, enough politics.

***

I had a sudden burst of religious OCD, worrying about some kashrut issues.  I’m not quite sure where this came from all of a sudden.  I know that OCD thoughts never go away fully and one has to be vigilant not to give in to the compulsions or checking that goes with them, but I’m not sure why they have suddenly flared up today.  I checked the first one with my rabbi mentor, but when the second thought came, I realised I was falling back into checking and (so far) resisted asking the question.  In OCD, as in politics, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

***

Dayenu is a song from the Pesach seder.  After describing the Egyptian slavery and exodus, we sing “If [God] had brought us out of Egypt, but not wrought justice on them, it would have been enough.  If He had wrought justice on them, but not on their gods, it would have been enough.”  And so on, for fifteen verses, saying how even if God had not done everything he did for us, but only some of it, we would still be grateful (it’s fun to sing, though).

I realised I do a kind of reverse dayenu.  “If I was only a geek and not autistic, it would be enough (to stop me getting married or building a career).  If I was only autistic and not depressed, it would be enough.”  And so on.  I need to find a way to stop doing this.  It may be entirely true that I am not going to build a career or get married, but endlessly repeating my mantra (as my therapist used to say) doesn’t make anything better and probably makes things worse.  I probably do something similar regarding fitting in to my community; I did that again today after reading something on a frum site online that I really disagreed with and feeling that I will never be accepted in the community, but don’t fit in in secular Western society either.

***

Speaking of which, shiur was difficult again.  First there was my stupidity: someone who goes passed me on the way there and offered me a lift, which I took out of politeness, even though I was literally just down the road from the assistant rabbi’s house.  He saved me all of two minutes.  Then I somehow ended up trying to get out the car while the engine was possibly still going and certainly before the handbreak was on.  I just get so nervous around people that I end up doing stupid things.

Then I had another “Is this really the right community for me?” moment, when I just do not believe some of the things the assistant rabbi was says; I don’t believe Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai wrote the Zohar and I don’t believe that all aggadata (non-legal material in the Talmud, but in this case specifically narratives about biblical characters and sages of the Talmudic era) literally happened.  That’s a relatively minor point on one level, because I do believe that these narratives, whether they happened or not, were written and preserved because they are meaningful, but I just feel like a dissident or a spy in a hostile country sometimes, where if I’m not careful I’ll slip and be ostracised.

But what really upset me was the substance of the shiur, which was about our ability to understand Torah being proportionate to our effort (in a supernatural way i.e. the reward is disproportionately greater than the amount of toil, as a reward from HaShem) and that toiling in Torah study is a goal in itself.  I feel I just don’t understand anything, certainly not Talmud, but I don’t feel I can toil any more.  I know I hardly do any Torah study at the moment, it’s just so hard when I often feel depressed and I’m trying to learn how to juggle mental illness and working/job hunting, and chores and community stuff and davening (prayer), which I still haven’t learnt after a couple of years of working several days a week (when I actually have a job).  Maybe I could/should do more.  I’ve been trying to do more just the last few days.  But I never really understand Talmud, no matter how hard I try.  I can understand Jewish philosophy sometimes, but that’s not considered important or particularly worthwhile.  But I can’t understand Mishnah and Gemarah and it’s hard to make the effort to try.  Even with Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), which I used to love, it’s hard to really connect and find anything meaningful (and, again, it’s not really considered meaningful study for an adult male).  I used to find a chiddush of my own on the sedra (innovative comment of my own devising on the weekly Torah portion).  I think I did that every week for about four years, but then the depression intervened and my inspiration dried up and I couldn’t think of anything.  I haven’t been able to get back into it.

I just feel so separate from God, it’s hard to make the effort to study, particularly when I don’t understand and often can’t connect it to anything in my life.  There’s so little meaning in my life, and I have so little drive to do anything, other than perhaps to write.  Maybe I’ve just got lazy.  When I was too depressed to work, I studied Torah every day (OK I did skip a bit in 2003-04), often for an hour, I think.  Nowadays I’m struggling to do half an hour.  When the depression is bad, even five or ten minutes can be hard.  So maybe it is my fault.  Maybe I’m just lazy or maybe I just don’t care any more.  I don’t know.  I’m just blaming myself more now, which isn’t going to help me make a positive change, like doing more Torah study.

This all made me think of the Gemarah (Shabbat 31a) about the six questions you get asked after death.  Supposedly when you die, you get asked six questions by the Heavenly Court.  They are:

  1. Were you honest in your business dealings?
  2. Did you fix times for Torah learning?
  3. Did you engage in procreation?
  4. Did you hope for salvation?
  5. Did you engage in the dialectics of wisdom?
  6. Did you (intellectually) differentiate between one thing and another?

However, this only helps you if you have awe of HaShem.

This is before getting judged for all your deeds.  This builds up a sort of character profile of whether you had the right life philosophy before they examine all your deeds.  Also, the whole thing – questions, court etc. – is deeply metaphorical and not literally what happens, which is probably beyond our comprehension.)

Of these, questions two, five and six are all about Torah study, so I’m pretty much stuffed there.  (Apparently the Vilna Gaon saw all six as allusions to the six orders of the Mishnah, so they’re all about Torah study.)  I’m obviously not going to succeed with number three either.  I don’t know if I hope for salvation enough.  I very much doubt that I have enough awe of HaShem.  I don’t really think about Him much.

I do feel, sometimes, what is the point of my even being Jewish?  Because I’m so bad at it.  I don’t learn enough and I don’t daven enough, or with kavannah (mindfulness) or with a minyan (community), I don’t do chessed (kindness) or any of the things I should do.  I don’t connect with God.  I don’t have a worthwhile job.  I don’t live in Israel.  I don’t really know why I’m here.

There was probably more I wanted to say, but I’ve just descended down into depression and self-loathing again, after being OK most of the day (albeit not achieving very much either).  I want to eat ice cream, but I shouldn’t (that word again) given that I ate junk at the shiur and will doubtless eat a huge amount of junk over Shabbat, but this has just upset me.  And now I’ve spent an hour writing this when I should be winding down for the night.

I really am a bad advert for Orthodox Judaism.  Please don’t judge all frum (religious) Jews by me.

The Diogenes Club Shtiebel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

Existential Angst

I had another job interview today, at a very large law firm for a law librarian-type job.  I left my self lots of time to get there, which was lucky as I struggled to find their offices and wandered around a bit until I found them.  I’m not sure if the fault was Transport for London’s online directions or inadequate signage in central London.  I still got there early, though.  Then on the way home, I accidentally went into Farringdon mainline station instead of Farringdon Underground station, a mistake that seems to have cost me £2.40 just to go through the ticket barriers (which accepted my oyster card (Underground ticket)).  The signage is all done in the same font as the Underground signage, which is confusing.

There was a test before the interview, which was on proofreading and cataloguing, plus a trickier question about how I would respond to a problematic library user.  I was glad that I practised my cataloguing this week.  I was also glad that I prepared more thoroughly than in the past for the interview, as they threw twenty or thirty questions at me for an hour, which is a more intense interview than I’ve had since I applied to Oxford (not that I’ve had many job interviews, but you get the idea).  I had a sense of doing OK, but perhaps not great, but I’m a very bad judge of these things.  I think, like dating, chemistry with the office culture is important, and also how good the other candidates are (maybe also like dating).

I’m not sure if I would take the job.  I’m guessing the salary would be decent and the offices are very swish, as you would expect, but I don’t know that I’m ready, in terms of my psychological health, to work full-time even without the fact that the job description expects overtime, plus there may be a problem with Shabbat i.e. Friday afternoons in the winter, but also from a comment in the interview occasional Saturday work might be required too.  But even beyond that, I think the corporate culture at a place like this might not be right for me.  I find the idea of working somewhere that exists primarily to make money vaguely unsettling.  I’ve only worked somewhere like that once, on a short contract, and I didn’t like it (admittedly a lot of other things were wrong there too).  Even writing a book on Doctor Who seems more socially useful: people would hopefully enjoy the book, whereas spending my time helping lawyers to trace legal precedents to help big companies make deals seems… not quite my kind of thing.  I’m not an anti-capitalist by any means, I am just really uncertain that it’s where I would like to invest my energies, which, after all, are rather limited at the moment.  I feel like a precious snowflake saying that, but I’m not sure I would be happy in a job that was both high-pressured and not socially useful in any obvious kind of way.

I suppose the real trouble is that, deep down, I want to at least try to make a career as a writer of some description, I’m just scared and don’t know how to start.  I picture myself at the school swimming pool, standing on the side in my swimming trunks, trying to get the courage to jump into the freezing water…  Lately I’ve been interviewed for or considered librarianship jobs in academia, law and the civil service, and they all make me feel inadequate.  I know that, in theory, with my BA I should have been able to at least try to get jobs in any of those areas, either as a librarian or as an actual academic/lawyer/civil servant.  And I didn’t, because I was scared and didn’t believe in myself (granted I never wanted to be a lawyer, I just know that some huge proportion of Jews go into law).  And now I’m trying to work out what I do believe in my ability to do.

***

The assistant rabbi in his shiur (religious class) the last couple of weeks has spoken a lot about kedusha (holiness) and the importance of having it in our lives, but also the difficulty of obtaining it.  He says we can keep the whole of Jewish law, but even then we might not obtain kedusha because it is ultimately a gift from God; we have to prepare ourselves for it (do the mitzvot (commandments) and work on our characters), but we might not get it.

I do wonder if I am making any attempt to find kedusha in my life.  So much of the time at the moment I feel like I’m just going through the motions with davening (prayer), Torah study, mitzvot…  I know it’s hard to feel engaged with depression and the resultant poor concentration and motivation and I know feeling engaged can trick you into thinking you’ve got holiness when it’s just pleasure/joy/ego.  Even so, I feel there ought to be more to my religious life, but when I try to learn more/better or daven more/better, I just hit a barrier.  I know the barrier is probably depression or sometimes social anxiety, but I feel I should be able to get through it somehow.

I’m not sure I really know what kedusha is anyway, beyond thinking I don’t have it (I assume I would know it if I felt it, although that may simply not be true).  I haven’t read much Jewish philosophy lately, but a number of years ago I was quite into Jewish religious existentialist philosophy: Rav Soloveitchik, Emmanuel Levinas, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Emil Fackenheim, Franz Rosenzweig (couldn’t understand a word of him), Martin Buber’s Tales of the Hasidim…  A key idea in Jewish existentialism is that kedusha is found in relationships, in our interactions with others as much as ritual.  There is also emphasis on the longing for HaShem (God) and the feeling of distance from him (Rav Soloveitchik’s The Lonely Man of Faith is a key text here; also Arthur Green’s reading of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov and his Tales).  I know the longing, but I feel that I experience it less than I did when the depression was at its worst.  Has recovery (however partial and limited) made me less religious and God-aware?  It’s a scary thought.  My autism and social anxiety make it hard for me to find HaShem in personal interactions, although I try when I volunteer at the asylum seekers drop-in centre.  I try to reach out to people who are struggling online and find some satisfaction in doing that, although I worry about saying the wrong thing and think I have done so in the past.

***

Today has left me feeling exhausted.  I will try to go to shul (synagogue) tonight, but I doubt I will make it for tomorrow morning.  I will try to go to the seudah shlishit (third meal) being held as a farewell for the rabbi, the assistant rabbi and their wives, although with my shiurMincha and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening services) it will last for about three and a half hours, which is a lot of ‘peopling’ particularly if I’m feeling exhausted.  Other than that, I will try to relax after a very stressful week, whilst musing in the background on what to do if I am offered either of the two jobs I was interviewed for this week.

Tired of Life, But Afraid of Trying

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

High Anxiety

I had a job interview today at a Very Important Organisation.  The Very Important Organisation is so important that just going there for an interview is worth talking about, but also so important that it’s pretty much impossible to talk about it without giving away what it is, so I’m going to be silent here.  Suffice to say I nearly couldn’t find it, but got there on time in the end.  I thought I did OK in the interview because I only had a little autistic mental freeze, but the interview lasted about twenty-five minutes and at the start they said it would be forty-five minutes to an hour, maybe more, so I either aced it or did so badly they just wanted me out of there.

I started feeling anxious on the way home about whether I could actually do the job.  I became anxious about having to do cataloguing, even though it wasn’t on the job spec or the overview they gave me at the interview, because one of the interviewers said something about seeing it on my CV.  I’ve become paranoid about my cataloguing skills, feeling that I’m so rusty that maybe I should not say I can do it any more, but then what would I put on my CV?  I also asked if the job could be done as as job share, which did not go down well, so if I get it, I would probably have to do it full-time and I’m not sure I’m ready for that.

Later this afternoon I got a call from an agency offering me an interview and test (gulp) at a law firm (as a law librarian) this Friday.  I’ve never really seen myself as a law librarian, but I will go along and see what happens.  There is a test, details unknown, which terrifies me after messing up (or more accurately, being unable to complete) the last cataloguing test I did.  I worry that my skills are so rusty as to be useless.  It feels sometimes like interviews and tests exist just to further lower my self-esteem.

***

I broke up with L., if “broke up” is the right term when we’d only been on two dates.  I just didn’t think there was enough chemistry.

“Chemistry” seems such a stupid, intangible thing to break up over.  I can see that L. is kind and gentle and that maybe the fact we had both been through a lot of difficult times could help the relationship.  Moreover, in the past, I used to get annoyed when people broke up with me for a lack of chemistry.  In fact, I used to think I would date someone with no chemistry and see if it would develop, but now I realise just how important it is, even if it is undefinable.  I could see it was just never going to develop on its own, no matter how hard I tried to force it.  I feel sorry for L., as she is a nice person who has had a hard life, but marrying someone out of pity is not a good idea and she deserves better than that.

The scary thing is that for a week or so I convinced myself that the chemistry was there.  At the end of our first date, I was sure that L. was about to say she didn’t want to see me again and I was fine with that as I didn’t really feel anything, but to my surprise, she wanted to meet again and so I said yes to give it a chance.  Then for a week or so afterwards, in my mind I thought we were perfect for each other and were bound to get married eventually, but as soon as I turned up for our second date and met her in the flesh again that certainty evaporated immediately and I realised it was just fantasy.  I was projecting what I wanted out of the relationship onto her, not relating to her as a real person.

Breaking up does feel like the right decision, upsetting though it is to have to say that to someone (I’d never really broken up with anyone before, except one instance which was a semi-mutual thing; usually they break up with me).  I’ve also asked the dating service I met L. through not to set me up with anyone else for now, as I want to concentrate on my job hunt.  I think I have enough uncertainty and stress with that and my wait for an autism assessment without adding any more stress in.  My parents and (I think) my rabbi mentor seem to think I could be dating, but I just don’t think I can handle it right now, despite my loneliness.  Plus, being unemployed doesn’t make me terribly attractive.

***

Still, I think I have learnt a bit from the experience.  From my dating experience over the last couple of years, I feel that I’m looking for someone kind and intelligent, but who probably is already quite frum (religious).  I’ve dated non-frum women who said they would become frum for me, but I worry that that would make Judaism into a barrier, plus I want someone who is interested in active spiritual growth with me, not just doing something as a chore to make me happy.  I realise I’ve probably priced myself out of the market here, as someone frum might want a partner who went to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) or who goes to shul (synagogue) or studies Talmud more often than I do.  Plus I also need someone who can accept my mental health situation and my financial situation, which is not going to be easy.  They also need to accept my geekery, which can be hard in general society, let alone frum society.

Put like that I wonder a bit if I made the right decision with L., but I think I did, although I may be single for a long time yet.  The relationship didn’t have any of the joy or excitement I associate with starting other relationships, which is not a promising start.

***

It’s hard to prise my feelings apart sometimes.  My Mum said yesterday that she thinks my depression is a lot better and when I say I’m depressed now I often mean I’m anxious.  There could be something in that.  I certainly seem more anxious than I was in the past.  Thinking about work/career, dating, marrying and having children or just the future in general does make me feel anxious at the moment because it all seems scarily open, but time is ticking on, as I said yesterday.

The Knot in My Stomach

I feel depressed and anxious, but there isn’t really much I can say right now.  There’s a lot I want to say, but it is going to have to wait a day.  However, I want to reach out, so I’m trying to find something to say.  This is the blogging equivalent of when I’m depressed and lonely and I go downstairs and hang around until my parents say something to me.

I had a knot of nausea in my stomach much of the day, struggling with anxiety, both dating anxiety and job interview anxiety.  It seems unfair to have both at the same time, but I guess life isn’t fair.  I don’t really want to talk about dating at the moment, but I looked again at the job description for my interview tomorrow and I wondered why they were even calling me to interview.  I only applied on the off chance, because I don’t have most of the experience they want.  I tried to prepare by imagining being asked “Tell me about a time you demonstrated attribute X”-type questions, but I really can’t imagine how I would do that for the things they want as I genuinely have not done them.  I suppose they have their reasons for calling me.  I’m trying to remember if I listed that I had a disability (depression and/or autism) which might have led to them calling me to tick the necessary diversity boxes rather than because they realistically think I could do the job.  I have mixed feelings about positive discrimination, but no one ever points out that it makes the candidates who succeed paranoid that they aren’t good enough and are just meeting a quota.  I do still worry that I wasn’t “really” Oxford material and I only got in to meet a quota of students from comprehensive schools.

I did manage to cook dinner for tonight and tomorrow.  I also went for a blood test (routine lithium level check which I need on my meds), which turned out to have been booked for tomorrow.  I’m not sure how I made that mistake.  Fortunately they squeezed me in today, although the receptionist gave me a stern talking to about the importance of checking appointment times carefully.  It was just one more thing going wrong.

I do wonder if I will ever get my life together, get a career and a home and a wife and children.  Be able to actually function as an independent adult and not be dependent on other people, their time and their money (and their patience).  Get some kind of religious life that seems meaningful to me, rather than flailing about trying to find meaning and purpose and not really finding them.  Everything seems so far away.  I try to tell myself that, viewed over the long-term, my life is definitely getting better.  My mood is better, my activity level is higher, my OCD largely under control.  I probably have more friends than ever before, albeit that I don’t really have much of a social life because most of my friends are long-distance and/or online friends.  It’s just that the improvements are glacially slow, occurring over a decade or more, so slow that it is hard to believe they are happening, and that it is hard to believe that they could continue to happen fast enough and for long enough for me to manage to marry young enough to have children (among other things).  I know I’ve said before that everyone laughs at me when I say I have a biological clock ticking, but (a) older men do have fertility issues, albeit not in the same ways as women and, more to the point, (b) I really can’t see a forty-something version of me dating twenty-something women to have a family.  Yes, I’ve heard all the stories of older men who marry younger women and produce happy families, I just can’t see it happening to me, not least because I expect the attraction of such men to young women is partly that they are rich and settled, and I can’t really imagine being either of those things.

I sometimes think that the worst thing in life is when we get what we want, and it turns out not to be good for us.  That’s what I’m brooding on now.  But it’s impossible not to want anything, unless you’re a complete tzadik (saint) or possibly a Buddhist.

Sleepy Shabbos and Community

It’s late (Shabbat goes out too late in the summer in this country), but I need to off-load some stuff that happened over Shabbat (the Sabbath).

I’m really struggling with my sleep at the moment.  I know I’ve written before about my curious obsession with my sleep pattern and my tendency to write too much about it, but messed up sleep has always been my most persistent depression symptom, and one of the most difficult to deal with.  I wanted very much today to get to shul (synagogue) particularly as there was a kiddush (refreshments afterwards) for the rabbi and rebbetzin, who are leaving soon.  Shul starts at 8.45am, but I knew I wouldn’t make it for then.  I just wanted to get there by 10ish.  I even asked my Dad to open my blinds at 8.30am in the hope that that would wake me up.  It did bring me out of my deep sleep, but I spent the rest of the morning in a not-very-deep sleep, at times almost waking up and being conscious enough to feel I should get up, but not actually waking up enough to do so.  I slept through my alarms as usual.  It was very frustrating.  I eventually got up about midday, much too late for shul.  Once I’d eaten, I felt somewhat better, as is usually the case.  It’s just getting up in the first place that’s the problem.

The silly thing is that I can get up for work or job interviews or health appointments, just not for shul or to start my day at a reasonable time.  I don’t know why this is the case.

And then I did it again after lunch!  I wanted to stay awake and read, but I felt drowsy, probably from overeating and being in a warm room and I slept for two more hours!  I have no idea how I will sleep tonight.

***

At seudah shlishit (the third Shabbat meal, between the afternoon and evening services) the rabbi was doing a Q&A because he is leaving soon.  I’m not sure if this was his intention, but people mostly asked him about his achievements and regrets in the eighteen years he was our rov (rabbi).  He spoke a lot about trying to get people involved with the shul, turning up to weekday services and so on, which made me feel bad for not doing that.  Before we moved to our current area nearly four years ago, I was present almost every day at Mincha and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Services) and was trying to go to Shacharit (Morning Service) more often, sleep problems notwithstanding.  But when we moved, social anxiety and depression undid a lot of the good work I had done over the years in getting to that point of regular attendance and I’m still struggling to get back to that level.  I go to my father’s shul midweek sometimes, but not usually to mine.  I’ve told myself I will try to get to one weekday service a week at my shul for a bit and see what that does.  I’m hoping it will have some kind of unconscious effect on my Shabbat attendance too, but that may be wishful thinking.

The rabbi also spoke about the need to cultivate a relationship with your community rabbi and asking him shaylas/sha’alot (religious questions, usually practical questions on relevant points of Jewish law) and about the need to have friends in your community.  He presented an idyllic picture of a community united by common values and helping each other with personal/spiritual growth.  I would really like to be part of such a community, but I struggle with these things.  I tend to take my sha’alot to my rabbi mentor even though he lives abroad, largely because he knows me very well now (he’s known me for about seventeen years) and he has had some training with mental health issues (many of my questions are mental health-related, on some level).  He is also sensitive with questions about dealing with family members who are less religious and when one can be lenient for shalom bayit (peace at home – again, many of my questions fall in this category).   For those reasons it probably is best for me to keep taking my sha’alot to my rabbi mentor, but it does put me in an odd situation, not quite fully in the community.  It doesn’t help that I have many friends outside the community, and indeed a number of my friends are not Jewish or not frum (religious), which is not typical for Orthodox Jews.

But above and beyond this, there is an issue about my fitting in that has made it hard to open up to people in the way that the rabbi was suggesting, either to a rabbi or to friends.  I know my shul isn’t a perfect fit regarding hashkafa (religious philosophy, which relates to a lot of things, but broadly attitudes towards those things known as modernity and postmodernity).  I like that my shul takes davening (prayer) and Torah study very seriously, but I know I’m more ‘modern’ than many of the community, in terms of things like attitudes to science, to broader Western culture and popular culture, to non-Jews and so on.  But I’m not sure that there are really many shuls in the country that are a good fit for me; United Synagogue shuls (like my old shul and like my parents’ shul) are more modern in outlook, but tend to have a mostly less religious community.  My parents’ shul has a larger than average cohort of committed, frum Jews, but it was far too large and unfriendly for me.

The rabbi’s words did make me worry again about whether I’m in the right place with the right rabbi and the right community/friends.  I think I’m probably in the right place at this precise moment in the sense that there is realistically no better fitting community for me at the moment.  Where I am in five years time, particularly if I get married (it could happen)… well, I suppose that’s another thing to consider as and when.

***

As an aside, there’s a quite famous anthropology/history book about the shtetl (the small Jewish townships of pre-Holocaust Eastern Europe) called Life is with People*.  I think the title sums up how focused Jewish life is on family and community, and how difficult it is if you have issues like autism and social anxiety that inhibit socialisation.

* It’s quite a good book, but apparently methodologically problematic as one of the academics who worked on it faked his academic credentials and seems to have been a KGB spy who probably assassinated Trotsky’s son.  At any rate, he was obsessed with issues of class and status and, as was pointed out in The Jewish Review of Books, spends some time in the book describing in detail who gets to sit in the best seats in shul.

***

When I dozed this afternoon I had a weird dream.  Aside from totally surreal or random elements (carrying a large dining room table up and down escalators in a department store; a box of weird Doctor Who toys based on the Dapol range), the main thing that stuck with me was talking my parents and possibly someone else (I think a former boss (one I got on with), but here she was some sort of teacher or even governess) about some subjects I was studying (A-level? BA?).  There were two subjects and I was sure I was going to fail both of them, but my parents disagreed.  When I woke up, I thought perhaps my mind was expressing anxiety over the career I’m trying to grow (librarianship) and the career I’m trying to build from scratch (writing), both of which I fear I’m going to fail at, but that the fact that my parents didn’t agree that I was going to fail perhaps indicated a deeper belief in myself.

Or it could just be a silly dream.

(Plus, in real life they really would insist that I won’t fail anyway.)

The Guidebook to Depressed, Autistic Life

I feel rather frustrated today.  Most immediately, while I was davening Shacharit (praying the morning service), admittedly very late, my Dad phoned twice and my Mum phoned once in the space of five or ten minutes.  Although they do tend to phone me a lot when they’re out (Dad was shopping, Mum was at work), three phone calls in ten minutes is a bit excessive, so first I got annoyed, but then I started worrying that something was terribly wrong and they were desperately trying to get hold of me to give me bad news.  I wasn’t very anxious, but I was a little anxious.  It was all fine in the end, but it’s left me feeling a bit on edge.

I also feel frustrated about my work life.  I obviously don’t have a job at the moment and on one level that’s frustrating; on another level, it’s a relief, which is probably an indication that I’m in the wrong job or at least of how anxiety-provoking I find the world of work, I think primarily because of my autism.  I think my mood is better since I’ve been out of work, which is worrying.  I’ve been trying to allocate time to job hunting, working on my book(s) and doing various chores that need doing, either regular chores I’m supposed to help with like cooking or various one-off things that need doing, but I’m finding it hard.  I spend too much time feeling lonely or depressed and/or procrastinating.  I feel very sluggish and depressed for parts of the day (I would say morning, but I tend not to wake up until mid-morning), which takes a chunk of useful time out of my day.  Then I stay up late trying to catch up on things.  Even so, the list of chores is barely touched and I don’t spend as much time on my writing as I would like.  I would like to spend three hours on job hunting a day plus an hour on writing or chores, and time on Torah study, prayer and walking (for exercise) each day, but I’m struggling with that, especially as I get exhausted so easily (not to mention distracted, sadly).  Today I managed to finish a piece of writing and submit a job application, but the actual amount of time spent on those things was rather short.

On the plus side, I think the general trend in my mental health is upwards.  It’s hard to notice because I feel depressed most days, particularly on waking, but I’m definitely not where I was when I was at most worst (2003-ca2010) where I was barely functional, if that.  My functionality is obviously a lot better and I have held down a number of part-time jobs, of varying hours.  I think my mood is generally better than it was, even if it is bad some of the time most days and even if it tends to get worse when I’m working (even with jobs I’ve enjoyed, I find myself anxious and depressed on the way in to work, sometimes to the extent that I can’t read on the train).  I don’t think I will ever not be depressed, though.

I think progress for me now is about managing (rather than curing) my depression, social anxiety and autism, as well as managing my religious obligations and family and social lives.  It’s hard as there isn’t a guidebook.  I have to invent the rules and adapt them as things change.  I’m might never have a full-time job or structured career and I may well never live the ‘normal’ frum (religious) life that is expected in my community of davening with a minyan (community) three times a day, doing extensive Torah study each day and participating actively in the life of the community.  I may never get married and have children.  Sometimes that all seems OK, but sometimes it upsets me.  I don’t want people to think I’m a bad person or a bad Jew for not having a career, not davening with a minyan and so forth.  But I think it’s more that I don’t want myself to feel that I’m a bad person or a bad Jew.

Maror Fressers

Unusually, I woke early and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I got up.  I didn’t get much of an early start on the day, as I frittered away some time listening to podcasts on politics and antisemitism as well as trying to get rid of emails.  I use a free email site for Oxford graduates, but really they intend you to move quickly from the free site to a paid upgrade.  I’m reluctant to do this, but I am fast running out of free space now my email folders are filling up with work- and job hunting-related emails, sometimes with huge attachments.  (It’s telling that it’s taken me fourteen years to get to this stage, whereas their business model presumably expects most people to get to it within a year or so of graduation.)  I am not quite sure what to do about this.  I have a free gmail account with a lot of free space which is associated with my other (non-anonymous) blog, but I know if I switch accounts, some of my friends will miss the email telling them to update their address books.  Then there is the hassle of changing my details on internet shopping sites and the like (I could lose some spam, though).

This was all procrastination as I knew I had to set up some online accounts to try to get some freelance proofreading/copy editing work.  I started to do that, but then I started getting anxious, worrying that I didn’t know the proper procedures for proofreading and would mess it up, not being sure what to put on my profile, worrying I wouldn’t get any work because I have no experience or positive reviews…  I wasn’t hugely anxious, but it was a struggle to work on my profile page.  It turned into a struggle between hope and anxiety/procrastination.  I did email a friend who proofreads to ask for help, although I felt very stupid.  Suddenly I felt like I didn’t have a clue what proofreaders and copy editors do, beyond the most general outline.

I could feel the worries spiralling out like fractals in a way that I am familiar with from my OCD, where each answer leads to another three questions.  Being autistic and fearing the unknown probably didn’t help either; I wanted to know and prepare for every eventuality.  Soon I was drifting into self-critical thoughts, thinking that I’m not good at anything, I’m not going to be able to get a job, even that no one really likes me, feeling incompetent and unskilled compared to other people advertising proofreading and copy editing…  I ended up feeling really depressed again and not sure what to do.

I did complete a profile for one site in the end.  I might go on a couple of others too.  My friend was also really helpful.  So that is all positive.  In other news, however, I got two job rejections, for the job I was interviewed for recently and for another one that I quite wanted.

***

This evening I went to my parents’ shul (synagogue) for a Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) event.  I enjoyed it to some extent, but not hugely.  There was a good magician, but I was terrified he would pick on me to come up on to the stage to help with his act.  I also felt swamped by the number of people, most of whom I didn’t know, and by the noise.  I slipped out during the raffle to get away from it all.  But I think the real reason I was subdued was that, with a small war in Israel over the weekend, the festivities seemed a bit hollow.  They just seemed to show how far we still have to go.  I thought a bit about this story about my hero, the Kotzker Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, nineteenth century Hasidic rabbi).  I found the story here some time ago.  I edited it and tidied it up a little to read at the seder this year, although I didn’t have time to rewrite it totally into my “voice”:

One  year, the Kotzker Rebbe failed to pass out Maror [bitter herb, eaten at the seder in memory of the bitterness of the Egyptian slavery] to his family and those at the Seder.   The people around the table whispered to the Sochatchover Rebbe, the Kotzker Rebbe’s son in law, that he should remind the Kotzker to pass out Maror.   The Sochatchover in a light-hearted comment to the Kotzker Rebbe mentioned a disagreement in the Talmud whether Marror today is Rabbinic or Biblical.  The Sochatchover said to his father-in-law that I have a proof from the Rebbe that Maror is Rabbinic, because the Rebbe has not passed out the Maror.

The Kotzker responded to his son-in-law, you are correct and gave Maror to everyone.  Suddenly, the Kotzker declared in a loud voice, “Maror Fressers”, Maror Fressers translates into, People who indulge in Maror.  Due to the fear of the Rebbe everyone around the table scattered and only the Sochatchover remained.

After a while Reb Hersh Tomashover [the Rebbe’s gabbai, essentially his PA], came in the room and the Kotzker asked him, where is everyone.  Reb Hersh answered that the Rebbe chased them out of the house when the Rebbe screamed out, Maror Fressers.  The Kotzker replied that he did not mean the people around the table.

When the Kotzker screamed out Maror Fressers, he was praying to God.  Maror is bitterness and slavery and persecution.  Enough already.  It is time for Moshaich [the Messiah].  The Jews have suffered and suffered and suffered.   The Jews are constantly eating Maror and it is time for salvation.

Mental Health Day

I’m feeling quite depressed and overwhelmed today.  I have the feeling that I get when very depressed, that my brain has been removed and replaced with cotton wool.  I’m not sure how else to describe it.

I feel a bit anxious and catastrophising about dating, but more confused than anything.  But I’m reluctant to talk too much about that here either.  I don’t mind talking about my feelings about dating and relationships when I’m not seeing anyone, but somehow it seems wrong to do it when I’m actually dating.

I found another job to apply for, but I’m just feeling too depressed right now to tackle the application, especially as I’m not sure that I really have the skills they want.  I’m also feeling overwhelmed by things at home, both the long list of chores and other things that need doing as well as by the piles of unread books and graphic novels I want to get through.  I’m not reading a lot at the moment, thanks to a mixture of depressive poor concentration and motivation.  Unemployment also plays a part, as I read most while commuting, although in the last few months depression has reduced that too and sometimes I sit listening to music or just staring into space feeling anxious, depressed and/or exhausted.

I didn’t want to waste the day, so I worked on my Doctor Who book, passing up watching Blake’s 7 in favour of redrafting/editing the longest chapter and trimming about a thousand words.  I still worry that the book is over-length and doesn’t say enough new things.  I would like to send out copies of some chapters to friends to see what they think, but of the friends who I might send it to, two are thoroughly over-worked at the moment and another two are in the midst of a major family trauma, so I don’t like to ask any of them.  Another one is probably overworked, but I haven’t seen him for a number of years (although we have emailed a little) so asking for help out of the blue seems a bit much.  He’s a rabbi, so he’s probably over-worked too.  Pretty much all congregational rabbis are.

Of course, then I feel the pressure of having to watch Jodie Whittaker’s episodes again and write an analysis of them.  I know I will enjoy doing that, but I had been planning to spend a few weeks watching Blake’s 7 so it feels like something external disrupting my schedule.  I suppose there isn’t really a hurry, as the third draft is going much faster than I predicted, it’s just that the autistic part of me hates my plans being disrupted.  Still, it’s pretty obvious from this (by “this” I mean from not being able to job hunt or really feel like doing anything, but still being able to redraft and enjoy it on some level and even to pass up vegetating in front of the TV to do it) that I should be trying to find more ways to get paid for my writing as it’s the only thing in my life that I feel even vaguely good about.

Doc Soc-ing Again

I’m not quite sure how coherent this is going to be, so bear with me.  Perhaps I will come back tomorrow and add more.  I’m feeling exhausted from a massively draining day; it would have been draining for anyone, but even more so with autism and depression.  But I need to set things down so that I can sleep; as usual, I’m writing for myself as much as anyone else.

I struggled to sleep last night after helping with post-Pesach (Passover) tidying.  I think I fell asleep around 4.00am.  After five hours of sleep, I was up again to go to Oxford for the thirtieth anniversary party for the Doctor Who Society.  When I was there it was the Oxford University Doctor Who Society, but I think it lost the university bit a few years ago when the proportion of students in the society dropped below the critical threshold.  A lot of what happened to me at Oxford was fairly miserable and a previous trip back to the city a number of years ago left me upset, but the Doc Soc (as we called it then) was one of the few places I felt comfortable and accepted, so I wanted to make the effort to go and show my support.  Plus I am a former president.  I know I only did a term, but I still count!

When I arrived in Oxford I spiralled down quite quickly into depression.  It doesn’t help that the bus station is right by my old college.  My college was not the site of good times.  I actually spent much of the day trying to avoid being anywhere I could see it and only consented to have it in my sight (from a distance) at the end of the day when I was feeling better.  Wandering around the town, killing time before the party, I was just feeling that I didn’t belong in Oxford, that I messed up my time there, that the city was full of undergraduates having fun and I was lonely and miserable the whole time I was a student.  I think I even wondered vaguely if should just turn around and go home.

I killed time for a bit until 2pm, when the party was due to start and eventually found the confidence to go in.  The room was packed with people and, again, I started to wonder if I had made the right decision, immediately feeling rather overwhelmed and anxious.

I won’t give a blow by blow account of what happened, mainly because I can’t.  Everything blurs together.  I know I must have stayed feeling awkward and depressed for a bit, but gradually I loosened up and was able to speak to some friends from my Oxford days.  After a while, I was able to get the confidence to speak to one or two people who I recognised from blogs I follow, which led on to being introduced to people who I knew from commenting on those blogs, even though I didn’t know that they were Oxford people too.  I’m not quite sure how I managed to do that, but somehow I did.  I actually managed to speak to quite a few people over the afternoon and mostly didn’t shake, although I was careful when pouring drinks.  It helped that I was aware that this was an environment where people who are neurodivergent, eccentric or just plain different were more likely to be present and accepted than in other environments that I find myself in (work, shul (synagogue), dates).  Someone said she saw me in the street on the way there and thought that I looked that I might be the type of person who would be going to the Doctor Who Society which amused me.  I obviously look geeky even when not wearing my Doctor Who scarf (I decided that the ‘smart casual’ clothing instructions precluded both cosplay and Doctor Who t-shirts, although few other people felt the same way).

There were various events during the afternoon, including a talk on the history of the society by my friend M., a quiz (which my team did reasonably well at although I was inexplicably stricken by social anxiety when the time came to call out results and stayed silent) and various visual presentations that I should probably not go into too much detail about here.

It was a very enjoyable afternoon, but I was thoroughly exhausted by the end, especially as I stood for four hours as there weren’t enough chairs for the number of people.  I managed to get back to London where my Dad picked me up from the station, but I found the journey home painful, as he was making small talk, which I find challenging at the best of times, but I was too ‘peopled out’ to really deal with it.  I read the blog of a carer for a child with more severe autism than I have, and he (the child) apparently tries to stop people talking to him on the way home from school; I could see his point.  I don’t have extreme sensory sensitivities, but sometimes light or noise can be really irritating, and when I need to crash and have ‘alone time’ it is painful to be dragged into conversation, especially small talk.

Then, when I got home, there was some post-Pesach religious OCD anxiety.  I won’t go into details, but I still don’t know if I did the right thing about that.  I was caught (as I usually am with these things) between what I felt was right in the abstract and what I felt I should do to avoid upsetting my parents.  It does underline to me that even though my relationship with my parents is reasonably good at the moment (although it could/should be better and that it is at least partly my fault), there are just gulfs of understanding between us, usually neurotypical brain vs. autistic brain or mentally healthier brain vs. more mentally ill brain, but also sometimes religious gulfs.  My parents are fairly religious, but sometimes there are just gaps in understanding or attitude to Judaism and halakhah (Jewish law).  I don’t want to give examples and probably I shouldn’t really say any more.  I suppose most people are not clones of their parents, even if they have a lot in common.  It’s just hard to bridge the gaps sometimes.

So that was the most social day I’ve had in a very long time.  People are probably expecting me to say I came home and crashed in front of Doctor Who, but I actually watched Blake’s 7 (Blake’s 7, I should probably say for those who don’t know, was Doctor Who‘s unofficial sister show in the late 70s and early 80s.  There were no direct crossovers, but they shared a lot of actors, writers, directors, props, costumes etc.).

Tomorrow is my date with L. (arranged via the values-based dating agency), so I ought to go to bed and get some rest.

Night Before Oxford Nerves

This is an insomnia post, a rather rambling post written to try to empty my mind of thoughts and to tire myself out.  Apologies if it’s less focused that normal.  I don’t feel in the least bit tired, but I have to be up reasonably early tomorrow to go to Oxford for The Doctor Who Society’s thirtieth anniversary.  To be honest, I’m rather scared about going back to Oxford.  I’ve only been to Oxford once since graduating and that ended with me feeling rather depressed about my time there, thinking of all the times I was lonely and suicidal in the city of dreaming spires and lost causes.  And that’s just the city; I’m more nervous about seeing people I haven’t seen for over a decade (will they remember me?  Will I seem like a failure?) and being in a room of people I don’t know.  Plus, there will be one or two people there who are aware of my online persona, but who I have never met, so it’s scary to think of meeting them (I’ll be the guy in the skullcap).  I worry about being a disappointment if we meet in person or discovering that they aren’t actually following me any more.  But I have a fund of goodwill towards the Doc Soc (as we called it in my day; I think the current crop of undergrads call it Who Soc).  A vastly disproportionate amount of the good times I had at Oxford (there were some) were spent there.  I’m not sure I would go back for a JSoc (Jewish Society) event and I certainly don’t bother going back for college events.

It’s weird to think that my matriculation into Oxford was nearly eighteen years ago, half my lifetime.  I hope I’ve changed and grown since then, at least in a positive way.  It’s hard to tell.  I know myself better, and I think I can deal with my emotional issues better.  During my time at Oxford I was very depressed and almost certainly autistic, but I didn’t know how to cope with depression and I didn’t even think that I might be autistic.  Now I do have the awareness to understand and cope with those things better, although there is still a lot of room for improvement.  I do wish I had a clearer idea of where I’m going with my career and relationships, though.  I think I really do want to try to build a career as a writer, but it’s hard to take the plunge and I don’t think it would help that I want to write about very varied topics (Doctor Who, Judaism, mental health, autism).  As for relationships, I have a date with L. on Monday, but I’m trying not to think about it, as when I do I feel pessimistic.  Blind dates are scary anyway and with this one we have the added complexity of knowing each other when we were younger and trying to look past that at where we are now.

Backtracking somewhat, the last two days of Pesach (Passover) were OK.  No significant OCD, which was good, but I was quite depressed at times.  I went to shul (synagogue) in the evenings and also Friday morning, but not Saturday morning.  I wish I could get to shul more in the mornings, at least on Shabbat (the Sabbath) and Yom Yov (festivals), but I’m trying not to beat myself up for not going.  Goodness knows what everyone else makes of my sporadic attendance.  I suppose they think I’m not very frum (religious) or that I daven (pray) elsewhere.  I know I shouldn’t care what other people think of me, but I do.  Still, I got through a whole Pesach without a major OCD anxiety incident or an argument with my parents, so maybe things are looking up after all.  Otherwise Yom Tov was the usual: davening, eating, sleeping, Torah study and reading a bit.

Yom Tov was overshadowed by scary events either side of it: the abduction and rape of a woman from my local area beforehand (she is Jewish, although not so far as I’m aware anyone I know or have a connection with although I may discover otherwise in the coming days – the Jewish community is small and interlinked) and then the shooting at a shul in California, which is scary and disturbing.

Well, I should probably have another go at sleeping, given that I need to be up in six and a half hours.

The ‘About Three Quarters of the Way Through Pesach’ Post

Up late again today, despite going to bed a little earlier.  No strong anxiety or OCD, but I’m still in a moderately deep depression with no obvious triggers other than the stress of the time of year, and perhaps too much ‘peopling’ (although that was nearly a week ago now).  Still feeling wiped out today, although the cold symptoms have subsided, and I feel apprehensive about going to Oxford on Sunday for the Doctor Who Society’s thirtieth anniversary get together (there will be lots of people I don’t know!  And probably some who I do know, but haven’t seen for years!) followed by therapy on Monday (a one-off session at the moment via Skype, with my psychodynamic therapist, as I felt the need to talk some issues through) and then my date with L. in the afternoon, which is a lot of anxiety-provoking peopling in rapid succession, particularly if I manage to get to shul (synagogue) quite a bit over Yom Tov (the end of Passover, tonight until Saturday night).

Thinking morose thoughts about the world.  Lots of Jews think that this is ‘the generation of the footsteps of Mashiach (Messiah),’ the final generation before the start of the Messianic Age.  I have no idea if this is true.  The Talmud says that the period before the coming of the Mashiach will be a generation poor in Torah scholarship, arrogant, lacking in true leadership, lacking in respect for the elderly or for parents, impudent and heretical.  This seems true of today, but it seems true of most periods, at least to those who lived through them.  But I hope and pray, and try not to think about it too much; I find the millenarianism of much of the fundamentalist Jewish (and Christian, and Muslim) world disturbing and counter-productive.  One should do teshuva (repentance) and mitzvot (commandments) and study Torah, and leave the rest of HaShem (God).  Although it is probably difficult to avoid it at this time of year – the festival of redemption, in the month of redemption, when the Mashiach will come, according to tradition.  The Hasidim even celebrate the Feast of Mashiach on the last day of Pesach.

I’m not really sure what I’m trying to say in this post.  I really just wanted to check in as I’m going to be out of contact for at least forty-eight hours, maybe much longer.  I suppose I’m feeling lonely and a little apprehensive.  Chag sameach.

Chad Gadya

I still feel that I am coming down with a cold.  I feel hot and bothered and exhausted.  I’m not sure how much is exhaustion and how much is a real virus.  I felt so exhausted and depressed that I got up late and was slow getting ready, so the original plan for the day, to go to The Jewish Museum with my Dad, was abandoned as we wouldn’t get our money’s worth out of the entrance fee.  We went to the British Museum instead, which is free, so we didn’t feel resentful of only going for an hour or two.  I felt a bit better while I was there, physically and emotionally.  It was probably just as well that I missed The Jewish Museum, as I wanted to see the Jews and Money exhibition; spending the afternoon looking at Nazi and Soviet propaganda of Jews as economic parasites might not have been the most enjoyable thing on Chol HaMoed (the intermediate days of Passover).  Instead, at the British Museum, I got to look at relics from ancient civilisations that tried to wipe out the Jews, but have long-since vanished while we’re still here: Egyptians, Assyrians, Greeks, which I think was appropriate for the Festival of Redemption.

***

I have a date with L. on Monday.  This is after therapy at lunch time and spending the previous day peopling in Oxford after two days of Yom Tov, so I hope I will not be burnt out and unable to interact before I even get there (remember to breathe).  I’m trying not to overthink it, but it’s hard.

I’m also trying not to overthink Pesach (Passover) OCD stuff.  The religious OCD has been a lot better this year (three days to go), but it’s hard to let go of some thoughts, silly though they seem.  The biggest fear is that the kosher supermarkets might have accidentally had forbidden chametz (leavened) produce and we bought it, which is really just punishing myself for not having checked the hechshers (rabbinic seals of approval).  Sometimes my OCD means “I don’t think I deserve for this to be OK.”

***

I watched The King’s Speech yesterday.  My Dad insisted on lending me the DVD ages ago, but I hadn’t got around to it as I wasn’t that interested.  I was wrong.  It was really good, but what surprised me was that it’s really about self-esteem and accepting who you are, or rather who God/fate/life wants you to be.  Accepting that you can grow and change.

One exchange resonated with me:

Bertie [the future George VI]: I’m not going to sit here warbling.

Lionel Logue [speech therapist]: You can with me.

Bertie: You’re peculiar.

Logue: I take that as a compliment.

I like being different.  Admittedly this is because I have a low opinion of both the consumerist, hedonist, godless rat-race mainstream Western world and the often narrow-minded, self-righteous, and sometimes also hypocritically consumerist frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world.  I complain that I don’t fit in either, but deep down, I don’t really want to belong in either.  I like being different.  But it’s lonely and I have a history of being bullied and rejected for being different.  So I hide my eccentricities and interests and compartmentalise my life: Jewish stuff, work stuff, geeky stuff…  My oldest friend is much more open about being a geeky.  When we were at school, he would refer to geeky stuff in class work; now he talks about it in his sermons (he’s a non-Orthodox rabbi).  I wish I could be a little bolder in presenting the real me.

I suppose that’s why writing is so important to me, here and in the books I would like to write/am writing.  I want to get the Doctor Who book finished in a couple of months and send it out to publishers so I can start work in earnest on the Judaism/autism/depression misery memoir that seems potentially more worthwhile, worthwhile because it might help other people and worthwhile because I’ll be able to show the real me.

Wasting Time

I’m struggling today, with depression, OCD and irrational guilt.  The depression is probably from exhaustion as much as anything after the last three days.  I just have no energy and low mood without particular depressive thoughts.  Seder has disrupted my sleep pattern again.  I was up until 3.30am or so last night writing my blog, but also because I was not tired from sleeping during the day too much.  I slept until about 12.30pm today and then spent two and a half hours trying to get the energy to eat breakfast and get dressed.

The OCD is about kosher supermarkets, and whether all the food in them is kosher for Pesach if they aren’t rabbinically supervised.  It’s silly really, as I buy food from there during the rest of the year without feeling the need to check the hechshers (rabbinic seals of approval).  I just worry that we might have bought non-kosher for Pesach food by mistake.

The guilt is the silliest thing, because it’s not even primarily for things I have actually done.  I was reading Neshamas.com, a website for people within the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community where they can post anonymously about anything non-insulting.  People write really moving stuff on there about abuse, crises of faith, confusion about their sexuality and so on.  I was reading posts about abuse and marital rape and worrying that if I was married, I would be abusive, even though I have no evidence for that, and possibly some evidence against.  It’s silly, really.  I guess that’s low self-esteem, or more likely pure O OCD, which can make people feel guilty for things they haven’t done.  My CBT therapist said that people who have OCD thoughts about abuse are the least likely to actually be abusive.  Then I commented on some posts on Neshamas, but felt that I had said the wrong thing and might have made things worse and felt bad about that.  It’s hard to know what to do sometimes.

I guess I have some other guilt too today.  I’m not sure how justified it is.  Sometimes I just have to cope anyway I can.  So, for example, today I’m making an educated guess that I’m doing the right thing about the non-supervised, but kosher, supermarkets and carrying on eating food from there, assuming that the desire not to is just OCD.  But it’s hard to know that it’s right; it could be that I’m just trying to find an excuse to stop worrying.  Other things I know are wrong, but are hard to avoid e.g. being irritable when I’m depressed (although actually today I’m not particularly irritable, just exhausted).  Also, I feel that I should be preparing for my interview tomorrow or doing Torah study or something semi-productive, but it’s hard, but because I’ve got the interview tomorrow I can’t say I’m taking Chol HaMoed as holiday.

I don’t think I really want the job I’m up for tomorrow.  It’s similar to the job I did in further education, but with higher education students, which should be good, but I just remember how I messed up that job and how my boss thought I couldn’t cope.  There’s a job description the length of my arm and I just think, “How can I do this?”  I don’t know what I’ll say if I get asked why I want the job at the interview.  I don’t know where I see myself in five years either, the other question my Dad says gets asked a lot.  I don’t really feel able to cope with any kind of job that involves interactions with other people at the moment i.e. most of them.  I feel I could be a writer or a lighthouse keeper and that’s about it.  I feel I should take some positive steps towards becoming a writer, but I’m scared and taking on a career with no experience and no sure and steady income just because a few people have said I can write well.  I feel I should earn a lot of money first to subsidise myself for a couple of years while I try to write, but there isn’t much chance of that happening.

I guess I’m feeling lonely too.  I wish I could connect with someone, but it’s really hard.  I just feel awful, all burnt out and depressed, unable to do anything.  I did go for a twenty minute walk, but that’s about all I’ve done today.  I want to do some Torah study, but I don’t have the energy, concentration or really the motivation.  I suppose I could try to listen to a shiur (religious class) online for a bit.

I’m not particularly anxious, because the depression is so strong today that it drowns out the anxiety, but I’m vaguely worried about that OCD anxiety, about my exhausting my parents’ sympathy and patience for me, about my career, about dating L. (I don’t feel that anyone could love someone as messed up as I am) and so on.

I just feel like I want to cry right now.

***

One thing I forgot to talk about yesterday/last night regarding my seder was the idea that we are supposed to imagine that God redeemed us individually from Egypt.  The idea is that if the exodus had not occurred, we would still be slaves 3,000 years later, or at least that we would still have a slave mentality and not be able to live truly free lives.  I find this hard.  I found I could imagine being a slave and I could imagine HaShem (God) being with me in slavery and suffering, but it was very hard to see myself as actually freed.  I think I may have achieved it for a few seconds, but not for long.  I guess it’s good that I think that God is with me in my suffering, which I wouldn’t have thought a little while ago.

Pesach Cometh

Well, it’s nearly half past midnight and I’m wide awake for reasons I will explain shortly.  I thought I would write up my experiences over the first two days of Pesach (Passover).

I’ve been doing a lot better than in previous years, but the last few days have not been without their difficulties.  The sederim were the hardest things.  The seder is the ritualised meal on the first two nights of Pesach where we discuss the story of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and eat symbolic food.  There are readings from Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible), including several Tehillim (Psalms) known together as Hallel, and further readings from the Talmud.

Some tension emerged, not so much at the time as over the two days, because my brother-in-law felt that he wanted to do more at the seder, whereas I felt replaced by him when he sang some of the Psalms and songs with tunes I didn’t know and couldn’t join in with.  I spent some time thinking about it afterwards, and decided there were two issues.  One was that, since my grandfather died, I’ve read the whole of Hallel each year, most of it alone.  Everyone says how well I do it and compares me to my grandfather (who I was probably closer to than to my other grandparents, at least in the last years of his life).  So I felt sidelined from the family and no longer linked to my grandfather.  I was especially aware over the weekend that my sister and BIL are both professionals with advancing careers and a large, recently refurbished, house and I assume (from the size of their house) that they are planning to start a family.  So I felt that I’m being pushed out of the family and that my sister and BIL and their future children will be the focus of family events from now on.

I know no one is deliberately sidelining me, but that’s how it felt.  I did speak to my BIL today and we did work out a compromise to divide some of the readings of the seder, so I feel a bit better now, but the feeling that my sister and BIL are living a better life than me and that they are more of a source of nachas (pride) to my parents than I am isn’t going to go away and will probably only get worse if they do have children (although I’m looking forward to being an eccentric bachelor uncle).

The bigger struggle is with the seder itself.  I try to find some inspiring Torah thoughts to expand on the set text of the haggadah and try to make it more than just reading the same passages every year, to find something different and, hopefully, meaningful.  I don’t know how much anyone gets out of this.  My parents appreciate it, but I’m not sure that our other guests (usually family and a couple of friends of my parents) do.  At least, they don’t say anything to me.  I would like to start discussions, which is what a seder should be, but it doesn’t seem to happen.  Yesterday one person did ask me something, but I struggled to understand what he was asking (I think it was based on a misunderstanding or false premise, but could not pin down what he was asking to work out what), but it just underlined how much the seder is not what I want it to be.

The problem is this.  This is going to sound arrogant, but at the seder, I’m usually the most Jewishly knowledgeable and religious person present by some margin, so I struggle to find anyone to engage with and surprise or inspire me.  Add to this an autistic lack of social skills that make it hard for me to engage with other people generally and bring a subject to life and it’s a recipe for disaster.  My rabbi mentor and my oldest friend are both rabbis, intelligent and knowledgeable, but I suspect (know, really) that both would enjoy the challenge of this kind of environment.  They would find ways of connecting, of getting the people present to talk about their own experience and thoughts on freedom, liberation, Judaism and so on even if they couldn’t anchor it to specific Jewish texts without help.  I just can’t do it.

At both seders I fell at times into depression because of this.  It didn’t help that sometimes I needed a time-out for autism (too much noise, too much talking) or for OCD (I went out to breathe deeply and to calm myself after being triggered).  I found myself thinking of an old joke after the seder last night.  A man goes to the doctor and says, “I’m really depressed.”  The doctor says, “Pagliacci the clown is in town.  Go and see him, that will cheer you up.”  The man says, “Doctor, I am Pagliacci!”  (Assume this is before the invention of antidepressants.)  I try to inspire everyone year after year, but what do I do if I need inspiration?  I feel the pressure sometimes of being the frummest (most religious) person in my family (OK, second frummest after my cousin who is training to be a rabbi (and a civil engineer), but he lives in Israel).

One thing that was popular was some visual aids I made, which I haven’t really tried before.  They were just some photocopies from the biblical archaeology book Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition by James K. Hoffmeier, pictures of things like slaves and overseers from Egyptian temples, a brick store and a map of the Nile Delta and the probable route of the exodus, but people seemed to like them, so I need to work out what similar things I can find for next year.

I mentioned needing some time-outs during the seder for OCD and autism.  The autism was the main problem, and I couldn’t cope with the meal part of the evening yesterday: the noise, combined with all the emotional upheaval (which triggered my depression) was too much for me and I ate quickly and went upstairs to read The Complete Peanuts until we were ready to resume the ritual side of the evening.  I only had one or two time-outs for OCD, which was pretty good going.  On the whole the OCD has been OK.  I even coped with the weirdness of products that were hechshered (stamped) as kosher for Pesach by some kashrut agencies, but also certified as only suitable for non-Pesach use by others on the same packaging.  I suspect that this is down to differing stringencies (Pesach is a great time of year for some rabbis/communities trying out weird stringencies that no one else worries about).  More taxing was a shiur (class) in shul (synagogue) titled “Kashering Ovens for Pesach“.  My heart sank when I saw that title.  Sure enough it triggered me, even though I knew that my rabbi mentor and my parents’ rabbi had approved how we kashered our oven.  The excessive use of Hebrew halakhic (legal) terminology I didn’t understand just made me feel further alienated and ignorant and reinforced my feelings about not being part of my community.

I woke up earlyish on Shabbat and made it to shul about an hour late.  I stayed for about two hours, until the end of the service, the first time I’d been to a Shabbat or Yom Tov (festival) morning service since Yom Kippur.  However, I struggled to sleep last night and overslept this morning.  I then dozed for two and a half hours in the afternoon and am wide awake now, hence blogging.

And that’s it really.  Another six days of Pesach left.  The last six days are usually easier, but I had a bad spell late on day five and day six last year, so I won’t predict plain sailing from here, but hopefully it should be more manageable.  It’s 2am now (I haven’t been writing this uninterruptedly, but it has taken me a while).  I don’t feel at all tired and I’m vaguely anxious (OCD anxious) about something, but I guess I should at least try to go to bed.