Striving

It’s September. “Harvest has passed, summer is gone, but we have not been saved.” (Yirmiyah/Jeremiah 8.20) COVID is still with us and I still feel uncomfortable being near other people or entering a shop, as I had to do today. The autumn Jewish festivals are approaching and I feel unprepared for those too, uncertain of whether I will even feel comfortable setting foot in my shul (synagogue), given the risk of infection and the discomfort of having to wear a mask.

***

I got up at 10.15am again, which is good, but I wish I could get up an hour earlier (at least). I guess I wish I was a morning person when I’m really not one, but 10.15 seems very late, even if I’ve got up later. I did feel too tired to get dressed straight after breakfast and ended up reading online (including a depressing article on Minneapolis in Tablet Magazine, which probably wasn’t the best thing to read) while the coffee slowly kicked in. Again, this was a bad habit I wanted to kick, but haven’t managed to do so yet. I am probably trying to change too much of my life at the moment without enough of a plan; when I do a cheshbon nafesh (moral/religious self-assessment) later this week in preparation for Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), I should try to set myself some realistic goals.

***

I was sent an email on high functioning autism and social interactions. This was as a result of the autism support group Zoom meeting last week. There was a list of attractive qualities in friends or partners often found in people on the spectrum. One was “detail orientated.” This is one of the things autistic people are known for, at least in stereotype, the trainspotter-type with an encyclopaedic and detailed knowledge of some very arcane topic, as well as the ability to focus on very mundane and repetitive tasks.

I wonder if I still have that detail orientation. I feel I used to have it, but I don’t any more, except I suppose about Doctor Who. As I’ve said before, in the last few years I feel I’ve lost my ability to focus on details when cataloguing or in the practise exam work I was doing the last few days. I don’t know what has caused this change. Maybe just a loss of confidence, maybe something more troubling.

I spoke about this a bit on the depression group Zoom call. People said that I should try to do things and see if that will bring my confidence back up, which I know is sensible, I’m just not sure how to go about it. I think that unemployment, and my previous unsuccessful jobs, have sapped my self-confidence about work just as lockdown and isolation have worsened my social anxiety and lack of self-confidence about socialising.

***

“The fact that a person is always prone to stumble, to deviate from justice and morality, does not discredit his perfection, since the basis of his perfection is the constant striving and the desire for perfection.” From The Lights of Penitence in Abraham Isaac Kook: The Lights of Penitence, The Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters, and Poems, emphasis added.

***

I finished The Islamist and moved on to the latest Jewish Review of Books. I find that the JRB covers all aspects of the Jewish experience: religion, history, Israel, culture and so on in a fairly balanced way not easy with a civilisation 3,000 years old and spread across the entire globe, but I feel it does ascribe slightly out-sized importance to various “classic” twentieth century American Jewish writers and critics. People like Philip Roth, Saul Bellow and Lionel Trilling. This issue we got five pages on Philip Roth, which seemed excessive (articles in the JRB are usually two to four pages long); for comparison, last issue the Bible only got three pages. I’m being slightly facetious, but I do think there is sometimes an excessive focus on twentieth century American literature, although as it’s mostly an American publication, maybe there’s more desire for Philip Roth than (I don’t know) Mendele Mocher-Seforim, Rav Saadia Gaon, or Jewish society in eighteenth century Poland.

***

Achievements: I worked on my novel and finished reading through the book as a whole for the first time. There’s a lot I want to change and it’s hard to assess my own work, but it’s not as awful as it might have been. I think there are some good bits in there, or bits that could be good with more work. I also went for a walk and did shopping. I spent an hour and a half cooking dinner, which was a bit longer than I wanted. I only did half an hour of Torah study, but I did finish reading Mishlei (The Book of Proverbs) in Hebrew, a couple of weeks earlier than I expected. I went to depression group via Zoom too. I had some trouble with my connection which made it somewhat frustrating, especially as other people had connection problems too.

Odds and Ends

I got up a bit earlier today, at 10.00am. I’m trying to be pleased with myself for doing so, as I was still tired (although I had slept for nine hours) and really wanted to sleep more.

I did a couple of hours on the job application exam practise. I didn’t do very well. I made significant mistakes on every attempt. I don’t know why I’m struggling so much with it. I felt it was a task that should be autism-friendly. Rating websites according to certain criteria seemed the kind of repetitive, structured task people on the spectrum would succeed at. I think the problems are (a) I was not taught well how to apply the criteria; just reading and watching a webinar was not enough. I need more time on the practise data and clearer – ideally interactive – feedback; and (b) a lot of criteria are more subjective than I expected, although I can’t really go into details here. Both these factors mean that it all seems arbitrary to me and not logical. Or am I just making excuses for myself again? It’s hard to tell sometimes. If there was a simple “cheat sheet” or flow diagram for rating the websites it would be easier, but I’m expected to remember everything or to be able to find it easily from a seventy page set of guidelines.

***

I had another message from the Person I’m Messaging On JDate (PIMOJ). She still seems a really nice person, although I feel that I can’t quite get a full sense of who she is from her messages, even though they’re very long, perhaps because English is not her first language. But she passes my rabbi mentor’s dating test, that “everything you learn about her should make you want to learn more.” I’m wondering whether to suggest a Skype date soon or to stick with writing to each other for a while longer. My big worry at this stage is that, with her positivity, she’ll find me too negative, particularly given that my depression has been worse this last week. Or, I guess, I could find her positivity too much for me. I can see that we could balance each other… or we could drive each other crazy. Maybe both (I can think of at least one couple in my family who balance each other on one level and drive each other crazy on another).

Stuff PIMOJ and I have in common (values and goals): both very religious; both very focused on biblical study; both want to ideally build careers as writers (although she is further on with her non-writing career than I am); both want marriage and family and are close to our parents. That said, it’s very easy to think that my depression is going to ruin this. I’m trying not to think like that, but it’s hard.

She messaged me again in the evening, so I think she’s reasonably keen for now.

***

I read an article online about God and suffering. I found the article a little trite in its assumption that God does everything for a reason. I believe that, but the article felt a bit insensitive to genuine suffering. However, in the comments someone took issue with the entire premise of the article, essentially arguing for the viewpoint, “Children suffering can never be rationalised, therefore there is no God.” I was more annoyed with this viewpoint than the article itself, so I guess that shows I do really believe in a benevolent God and that suffering can have meaning, I just struggle to connect with Him emotionally. It is hard to know how to feel more emotional connection, though.

I do wish I knew how I can understand something intellectually and not feel it emotionally. I know my depression (which is still present even if it’s more short-lived and more obviously focused on particular events) steamrollers over positive emotions like love (of God) and spiritual fulfillment. I don’t know how I can move forward with this though.

***

I feel like my main problem areas and the things keeping me from resolving them are:

  • lack of understanding and especially acceptance (by me) of how autism affects me and what adjustments I can make. I am kept from resolving this by waiting to be assessed and hopefully supported afterwards. I’m not sure how much more support is available. I’ve had quite a bit, but still I feel I struggle with knowing and accepting myself and finding things I can realistically do. Further help is largely on hold until I get a proper diagnosis, which is still on hold due to COVID and waiting lists.
  • unemployment. This is held in place by my not feeling able to (or being able to afford to) commit to writing 100% and autistic, depressive and low self-esteem struggles in the workplace (I don’t believe I can work any more). There is also a lack of jobs available at the moment, particularly because of COVID.
  • lack of spirituality and meaning in my life. I struggle to solve this because depression stops me enjoying my religious life and social anxiety and autism (and COVID) making communal involvement difficult.

PIMOJ has a very deep and pure spirituality and love of God, and I hope that some of that might rub off on me (although I don’t know what I could offer her in return). I feel I should be doing something myself too, though.

***

I just watched the film Lincoln with my parents. It was a very good film, although when I watch historical drama, I wonder how much is true. The film is largely about how Abraham Lincoln got the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, through the House of Representatives, so that slavery would be declared unconstitutional. Otherwise he feared that after the Civil War was over, the courts would declare the wartime emancipation of slaves unconstitutional and re-institute slavery. I’ve been meaning to read up on Lincoln for a long time and still haven’t got around to it, so this was interesting to watch. It was a very well-made film, and feels in some ways more relevant now, given the ongoing racial unrest in the US, than it probably did when it was released in 2012, when there was a black president and race seemed less of an issue.

My parents asked me a lot of questions about US history and the Constitution and government, not all of which I could answer, although I think I answered most of them. My father tends to assume I know everything, particularly about history and Judaism. This is flattering but not true. My Dad was rather astounded that in the nineteenth century the Democrats were the party of slavery and the Republicans the party of abolition. I guess it does seem surprising, I’ve just known about it long enough that I’m used to it. (Liberals in Europe mostly supported the South at the time too.)

The Perfect Storm

I want to get into a better sleep pattern, so I asked my Dad to wake me up and open my blinds in the morning. It didn’t really work; I just went back to sleep. I’m so drained when I wake up in the mornings, even if I’ve had a lot of sleep, and also quite down, which is probably related to being drained. I used to say, “It’s depression,” but now I’m not sure if I’ve been clinically depressed in recent months. I guess now I can say, “It’s autistic burnout” although it probably isn’t, at least not every day.

I struggled with the job exam thing today. I had poor concentration and struggled to take in what I was trying to learn. I was just staring at the screen, unable to process what I was reading; alternatively, I procrastinated online. I’m struggling learn all the abbreviations and special words used in the process. I guess I’ve lost enthusiasm for it too. I felt tearful and depressed while trying to study for it, so maybe I am still depressed after all. I said a few days ago that my depression is now reactive to my life situation (unemployment; loneliness; Mum’s cancer) and the season/light level and not based on unresolved childhood issues. I think this is maybe not as significant a distinction as I had hoped.

I’m struggling on to try and get this job, and I’m not quite sure why, given it’s underpaid and not directly related to my career progression, as well as requiring unpaid self-training in a short timescale. I guess I’m desperate for a job, more for self-esteem than money (I don’t spend much and my parents are letting me stay without rent). Also, I suppose, to make myself more attractive to potential dates, but today I don’t feel like that that’s going to work out for me either (see below).

If I had more time, maybe I could learn this stuff, but I’m struggling to learn it in less than a week. I hope things might be a little easier once I practise with the practise data, but I need to read the user guide first, which is taking ages.

The fact that it feels like winter doesn’t help matters, with heavy rain. I wanted to go for a walk, but it was too wet. Dad had to drive me to the pharmacist to pick up my prescription. It’s less than ten minutes away on foot, but I would have got soaked.

Reading Ashley’s latest post, I wonder if I’ve internalised stigma. I feel I “only” have depression (the vanilla ice cream of mental illness), not anything that would “allow” me to be really ill, and that I would be better off if I had a job. Actually, the latter is probably true in my case, at least if I could find a job that was within my capabilities, part-time, in a safe environment, with a supportive line manager. My job in early 2019 was like that. I was hoping the job I’m applying for would be like that, but so far it has not been like that. However, I did feel a bit better after doing some ironing today, which I think was occupational therapy on some level.

***

I just feel exhausted and useless today, and rather desperate. A perfect storm of depression, despair, loneliness, low self-esteem and touch hunger. I’m trying to tell myself that I can build a career, preferably as a writer, and that I can find love, but it’s hard to believe sometimes. It feels like dating, job hunting and working are all necessary for my recovery, but all also require tremendous resources of energy, motivation, concentration and self-belief that I can’t access because of depression, anxiety or low self-esteem. I could probably say the same for other activities that are supposed to be good for me, like exercise, meditation and prayer.

I can see that there’s a lot of catastrophising going on today (“Everything is awful”), along with black and white thinking (“Things aren’t perfect, therefore they’re absolutely awful”) and emotional reasoning (“I feel bad, therefore everything must be objectively bad”). It’s not always easy to deal with those unhelpful thinking styles (black and white thinking in particular is basically the default autistic thinking style), but I guess it’s a start that I can spot them.

***

In terms of what may have triggered all this… aside from the onset of autumn… aside from the awful self-training I’m doing under pressure… aside from the stuff that has been in the background for months (COVID, Mum’s cancer)… it doesn’t help that I’m worried I scared off the women I was messaging on JDate. It’s probably too early to tell, but I do feel like I may have done that. I’m waiting for some replies and feeling very negative. I let my anxiety (possibly even OCD) get the better of me in one conversation the other day and said something stupid and now I’ve probably scared her off for good.

I’m questioning whether I did the right thing breaking up with E. again. Deep down, I know (in my “wise mind”) that I made the right decision, even if I can’t go into my reasons here (I know to readers here it seemed to be a sudden, impulsive decision, but it wasn’t). But emotionally it’s easy to think, “Oh, if only I was still in a relationship.”

In a weird way… I wonder if doing the job stuff instead of working on my novel today brought down my mood. Lately I have been feeling better; I’ve also been feeling that I’ve been making progress on my novel. Coincidence? Inasmuch as I believe I have any understanding of my mission in life (I believe everyone has a mission in life, it’s just not always easy to find it), it’s writing Jewish-related fiction. When I was pursuing that, I seemed happier. Suddenly I was talking to someone on JDate who also writes. Then I pause the novel, and suddenly my mood drops, I can’t function and I worry I’ve upset the JDater and cut her off. Some of that may be coincidence, but I don’t think I have to be superstitious to think that distancing myself from what I see as my vocation (writing) to do something that is strenuous, badly paid and which I worry will trigger my OCD (long story) might have triggered my depression again.

I don’t know how I “sell” this interpretation to other people though.

***

A WhatsApp devar Torah I listened to spoke about trust in God being rooted in awe of God, i.e. if we recognise that God controls everything in our lives, we will trust everything will be for the best. I find that hard when it seems like so much of my life has been negative (and I haven’t even had such a bad life compared to many people). I guess I feel that if God wanted my life to become good, He would have done it by now. It’s hard to think of having twenty really bad years and then suddenly everything is OK. I believe God could do that (He can do anything), yet from looking at the world, it seems such sudden and miraculous interventions are rare and I don’t know how I could deserve such a fate. An analogy: I believe that one day God will send the Messiah to redeem the world, but if I saw someone in the street claiming that he was the Messiah, I would assume he is probably suffering from a mental illness, even though I believe that theoretically it could be the real Messiah.

***

My GP at Oxford used to tell me “A bad day is just a bad day,” but there’s always a fear that one bad day will lead to two and then three and then keep snowballing.

***

Achievements: I spent a couple of hours trying to train for the job, but I don’t know how much sunk in. I did some ironing. I listened to divrei Torah for about five minutes.

Reactive Depression

I struggled to sleep again last night. I was quite tense and anxious. I’d had an anxiety-provoking experience emailing the person I’m messaging on JDate. It was really a misunderstanding, possibly mixed with “pure O” OCD on my part, although I only realised that today. I’m glad we seem to have got through it OK, but I felt very tense last night, perhaps made worse by exhaustion from going for a late 5K run immediately beforehand.

My body wanted to sleep in again this morning, but I made myself get up early (at least by my standards) to go to an autism peer support group. This is not the informal group I went to a few years ago, but a new, more structured and moderated group through a charity, the same organisation that gave me a positive autism screening some time ago. I was quite shy there, although the advantage of an autism-specific group is that there was no pressure to talk. As it was on Zoom, we were able to send messages in text as well as to speak aloud; I wrote a few times and managed to speak up once. I struggle to work out when it is appropriate to speak on group Zoom meetings.

I was quite tired after this support group meeting. Two hours is quite a long time to be on Zoom, fighting social anxiety and talking about somewhat emotional stuff, although it was helpful to know the other people were going through similar struggles; in fact most people in the meeting communicated through chat text, not speaking aloud. I also had to help this afternoon when Mum was unwell (she felt very sick; she feels better now, but missed a meeting with her surgeon as a result). Then my sister and brother-in-law came over for socially distanced pizza before we go into stricter shielding for Mum before her surgery. There was an end of summer feel. It got darker earlier than when we last did this and it was colder with a little rain. We had a good time though. I didn’t feel so anxious afterwards. However, I didn’t have much time today for novel work.

I did manage to go for a walk and spent about fifty minutes working on my novel. It’s a chapter I’m not hugely satisfied with, about an abusive marriage, drawn from research and imagination rather than personal experience and I worry it’s not realistic, particularly the sex, which I suspect is embarrassing, but I feel is necessary (if it wasn’t necessary, it wouldn’t be there, as I don’t believe in writing gratuitous sex – I wanted to show how abusers can manipulate the boundaries of consent without overt violence). At some point I’m going to have to show someone my work, but I’m not sure who or when. I don’t know who could really advise me about abuse sections. I did think of emailing a women’s charity, but somehow it seemed wasting their time when there are people in need.

I felt somewhat depressed and anxious in the evening. I don’t think this contradicts what I said the other day about my problems largely centring on autism these days. I have a lot of stuff going on at the moment that is anxiety-provoking, and prolonged anxiety can produce depression. I’m currently (1) working on a novel, trying to assess how good it is; (2) about to do an exam to get a job; (3) beginning to “talk” to a potential date online; (4) worrying about how to reply to my ex-girlfriend and work out what level of contact I want with her, if any; (5) and helping to care for my mother, who is unwell and undergoing treatment for cancer. All this against the backdrop of COVID and lockdown, and the interminable wait for my autism assessment. So I guess it isn’t surprising I don’t feel brilliant all the time. But I still feel somehow guilty for being depressed and anxious, as if I should be past that by now. I also feel guilty that I’m certain to hurt E., as I think it would be a bad idea for us to get back together, even if we stay friends (and I’m not sure even that staying friends is a good idea). But I do think my depression is now reactive to these external stresses rather than endogenous (from within and occurring regardless of external stresses). Even when I feel like I did today, I’m not sure I would meet the diagnostic level of low mood most of the day most days for fourteen days any more. However, knowing that doesn’t necessarily make the depressive hours/days easier to bear.

Trying to Live My Life as Well as I can

I had a slight headache when I went to bed last night, too slight to take anything for it, or so I thought.  Once I was lying down, it got considerably worse, as sometimes happens to me, so I ended up taking painkillers and waiting until they kicked in and I could lie down again.  I watched Star Trek: Voyager to pass the time, but the episode, although well-written and acted, turned out to be very dark and bleak, not the best thing to watch with a headache at 1.00am.

Once I did get to sleep, I had a weird dream.  I was at the Biblical Museum of Natural History in Israel, the museum I did a virtual tour of last week.  In reality, they have a few small live animals in small enclosures in the museum, but in the dream they were pretty much a fully-fledged zoo.  They had a large area for primates.  They wanted to introduce an orphan baby orangutan to their orangutan family, but the adults rejected him and they could not keep him in the enclosure for fear they would harm him.

On waking up, I realised that I’m the baby orangutan, or I fear I am.  I’m very fond of orangutans and gorillas; when I was a child, I had a big poster of an orangutan over my bed.  I fear that my “tribe” (the frum (religious Jewish) community) would reject me if they “really” knew me, just like the baby orangutan was rejected.  I’m not sure what prompted this thought right now, as I thought that lately I’d become more accepting of the fact that I’m never going to 100% fit in to frum society, or any other society and that I can still try to make friends there, daven (pray) there and so on.  Maybe I still have a long way to go before I can accept it emotionally.

***

I woke up to find that E. had emailed me.  She apologised for what happened at the end of our relationship and is really sorry for it and takes the blame for it.  She said that she’s trying to fix aspects of her life that I won’t go into here.  She said if I want to get in touch “in any capacity” she is willing too.

I don’t think it’s a good idea for us to get back together romantically, even if I wasn’t already talking to someone on JDate.  We had two attempts at that, and I think a third would be a bad idea.  In theory I’m open to staying friends.  I miss her a lot, as a friend.  I think she was a good friend, and I don’t think she gives herself enough credit for that.  I didn’t really blame her for what happened.  I think it was mostly a product of lockdown and the bad place she was in, literally and metaphorically.  However, I worry that the mutual attraction between us is so strong that we couldn’t stay platonic friends and we would end up in some never-ending on/off relationship, which I do not want, not least because it would stop me moving on.  So, I need to spend some time to think about this and whether I can manage a close platonic friendship that doesn’t “boil over” into something more dangerous and complicated.  To be honest, my gut instinct is that I can’t, which saddens me, but I’m not sure what I can do about it.

***

Just a few weeks ago everything seemed stagnant.  I was feeling a little frustrated, but also aware that a return to movement would be a return to anxiety.  Now, movement has come back: JDate, work (the exam I will hopefully have this week), E., the approaching Jewish festival season…  From this coming Friday my parents and I go back into very strict shielding for the two weeks before Mum’s operation, so that’s another thing approaching.  There is some anxiety at times, particularly late at night.  It’s hard to remember sometimes that it’s a good anxiety (ish), from things moving on.

***

As for today, I felt a bit down initially today, despite saying the other day that my depression is not such an issue and is mainly a reaction to autistic burnout.  I felt little motivation and low energy early on today, as well as somewhat low mood, but nowhere near as bad as it’s been in the past.  I feel today’s depression is probably primarily a response to anxiety, to things that I’m anxious about and to the experience of anxiety in the last few days.  I guess too much anxiety can lead to burnout too.

I tried to fight through the tiredness and lack of motivation to read over more of my novel.  I wrote notes to myself for when I’m redrafting, mostly to add or remove words or expand passages (especially “show don’t tell”), but I found myself writing DO NOT LIKE at one passage I particularly disliked.  I find it hard to judge how well-written the novel is.  I can perhaps tell with individual paragraphs, but assessing the ongoing narrative and character arcs is a lot harder.  This is why I’m re-reading the whole novel before really getting to grips with redrafting, to get an idea of the bigger picture.

Working on the novel helped lift my mood a bit, even if I worry that I won’t be able to get it into good enough shape to find a publisher.  At the moment, it’s a target to focus on.  I am trying to break down rewriting into small, finite, tasks, starting with re-reading the whole novel and listing the major incidents to get a better idea of how the plot is flowing, if it is unfolding evenly or not.

***

I felt anxious again by the early evening, and I wasn’t sure if it was about dating, E.’s email, or worrying that I would get an exercise migraine if I went for a run.  Or maybe something else entirely that I was consciously unaware of.  Sometimes it is hard even for me to read myself.  I had the sudden horrible worry that all I’ve done is swap depression for anxiety.  I guess time will tell.

Some stuff happened in the evening that was very anxiety-provoking, but I don’t feel comfortable sharing it here.  I think I navigated it OK, although perhaps not great.

***

Achievements: an hour or two of working on my novel (I lost track of exactly how long); a 5K run (no exercise migraine, thankfully); about forty-five minutes of Torah study.  It doesn’t look like so much, but I was fighting depression and anxiety at times, so it’s a bigger achievement than it appears.  I guess even if I think my depression and anxiety are now largely driven by external events and autistic burnout, that doesn’t mean they are going to vanish or suddenly become easier to deal with.  It’s a process every day of forcing myself to get up, to get going, to do some productive activities, to make sure I get the food, rest and relaxation that I need to avoid burnout.  Just to keep going, trying to live my life as well as I can.

Quiet Shabbat

Someone is playing loud music outside at 10.30pm…

Shabbat was pretty good. No insomnia this week. I woke up at 9ish and said the Shema (the most important morning prayer, which at the moment should be said by 9.30ish). I wanted to stay awake, but was tempted to wrap myself in my duvet to self-comfort and fell asleep BUT I woke up in time for the later deadline for saying the Shacharit Amidah (second most important morning prayer), so I’m counting this morning as a win as usually I don’t manage those at all. I didn’t doze this afternoon either (read, studied Torah and went for a walk), so I might go to sleep at a reasonable time tonight (if the music stops).

I mentioned to my parents my theory that my depression is now mostly autistic burnout after doing too much and they agreed. They said they’d thought that for a while, but hadn’t known how I would react if they said anything. I definitely still have odd days when I hit clinically depressed-type lows when burnt out, but I don’t think they stick around long enough to be classified as clinical depression (which should last two weeks). I look forward to hearing what my therapist says about this on Tuesday. (For what it’s worth, I think I still do have things to bring to therapy at the moment.) I do still struggle with mornings, although as my Dad said, none of us in the family are morning people (actually my sister is now, but only since she married a morning person).

That was it, really, aside from some dating anxiety. I seem to be able to keep a lid on it during the day, but it explodes in the evening for some reason. I’m excited to be messaging the person I’m messaging and so far things seem good, we seem to be connecting well, but I’m just terrified some unsolvable problem will open up somewhere down the line. I know, it’s been LESS THAN ONE WEEK that we’ve been messaging each other, I really shouldn’t be worrying that far ahead. But I do jump ahead when thinking about dating. I get so terrified of rejection, or of losing someone who I have come to care about, that I worry about it from the off, which is not good on multiple levels.

***

Speaking of JDate, I got an amusing message from someone who does not think we are a match but who recognised me from primary school! I have to say I don’t recognise her, but I suspect her hair in her profile picture is not her natural colour or style. In any case, I don’t really remember most of the girls from primary school, I didn’t really speak to them much at that age. I mean, I didn’t speak to most of the boys, let alone the girls.

***

I mentioned that I’ve been reading Mishlei (Proverbs in Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible) and that I’ve struggled in the past with its rather rigid theology that good is always rewarded and evil punished in this world, which is not what I see. It’s fair to say that many of the proverbs do read like that, but some don’t. I found one I liked over Shabbat: “The way of a man may be torturous and strange/Though his actions are blameless and proper.” (21.8, The JPS Bible translation). I like that. I don’t know if my life is bad, but it does feel torturous and strange at times, so it’s good that I don’t have to blame myself for that. Also, the Hebrew word translated as ‘torturous’ is ‘hafakhpakh,’ which is a good word to say aloud (the ‘kh’ is a guttural like in the Scottish ‘loch’).

The King is in the Field

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

Anxiety and Autism

…which sounds like some kind of weird Jane Austen spoof.

I’ve been having trouble with sleep this week, trouble falling asleep or waking up in the middle of the night.  Last night I went to bed early again as I was very tired, too tired to relax after the virtual museum tour I went on (I find Zoom events draining).  I thought I would be OK, but I woke up some time after 3.00am and couldn’t get back to sleep again.  I ate porridge (warm milk helps me sleep, but I don’t like drinking warm milk, hence eating porridge) and watched Doctor Who for a bit to unwind, but neither helped.  I went back to bed, but tossed and turned without falling asleep again.  I tried to stay in the present, but when you can’t sleep at 5.00am, it’s hard not to get sucked into worries.  Eventually, at about 6.30am, I decided to get up, despite feeling tired on only three or four hours of sleep.

A lot of the anxiety I’m experiencing at the moment is about dating.  I’ve been messaging someone on JDate.  I’m always scared to get my hopes up (for anything, not just dating) in case something goes wrong.  So many things could go wrong.  So I get sucked back into catastrophising.  I’m trying very hard not to do that, but rather to stay in the present, so I’m not going to say much more here for now, other than I’m pleased with what’s happening, but also anxious about whether good things can happen to me.

I have other anxieties too.  I’ve got the exam next week for the job I want (and apparently it’s not 100% sure that I’ll even get to the exam stage – today this is less clear than yesterday).  I know it’s normal to be anxious before a job application exam, normal to be nervous when contemplating a new job and normal to be nervous when messaging someone new on a dating site.  So everything is normal.   But I still feel anxious.  Like I say, I’m trying to stay in the present and tell myself that, one way or another, this won’t last indefinitely.  That probably sooner or later I will get a job, whether it’s this one or not.  That I do have some good qualities to offer a prospective partner.  And so on.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

***

Because of my complicated history with my autism diagnosis (being assessed and told I don’t have it, then going into the world of work and not coping at all, for reasons that sounded a lot like autism, then having a preliminary screening that suggests I do have it, and waiting and waiting for an assessment that could still be a year or even two away), I sometimes wonder if maybe I’m not on the autism spectrum and I’m just incompetent.  Then other days I do things that are so classically autistic that I wonder how it could ever have been missed.

Today I had a blood test (routine to check my lithium level because of my medication) and I planned to do some shopping afterwards.  My Dad gave me a lift to the hospital.  As I was about to get out of the car, he asked me to get some soap, and without thinking I went into classic autistic rigid thinking, saying I couldn’t do that because he hadn’t told me early enough for me to put it on my shopping list and why was he springing it on me suddenly?  Even as I was saying it, I could see it was an over-reaction and that it was the autism talking, but the scary thing is in the moment, it was hard to change it and back down and say I could do it.

I had some tremor when I had my blood taken.  I have tremor as a medication side-effect when I get anxious.  I get a little anxious about blood tests anyway (anxiety about possible tremor, ironically, rather than the needle), but I think COVID made things worse, because of the discomfort of wearing a mask and the “new situation” aspect of the hospital being socially distanced – autism again.  I was uncomfortable doing shopping for the same reason: my mask and confusion about the social distancing rules in the shopping centre, which I hadn’t been to since lockdown started.  I was also apprehensive about people standing close to me (everyone had masks, but I’m not convinced masks stop COVID being transmitted).  I got a bit agitated in Boots too.  I think it was a build up of autistic triggers.  The fact that they had changed the packaging on the vitamins I was trying to buy just threw me further – again, autism doesn’t like change.  Normally I wouldn’t care about a small change like that, but I think the fact that I was already agitated meant that it was just another factor.  Still, I guess it’s more evidence to put in my big document on my autism symptoms to take to my assessment, when I finally get it.

***

Otherwise it was a boring day, mostly doing odd bits of jobs: bits of housework, a bit on my novel, a bit on my devar Torah (Torah thought), a bit of Torah study.  Lots of bits.  I forced myself through the day until dinner and now I’m too tired to do anything so am off to bed soon.

***

As this is a shorter than usual post, and as it touches on some issues I’ve raised in the last few days about trusting God, I will post my devar Torah for this week in a minute, for those who are interested.

A Step Closer to Employment?

I slept a lot last night, perhaps unsurprisingly given how little I slept the night before and how much I did during the day.  I woke up feeling drained, depressed and anxious and thought it would be a written off “mental hangover” day (which I guess I should call a “burnout” day, but I prefer my term), but I was pleasantly surprised that after breakfast I managed to stop catastrophising and focus on the present and feel a lot calmer.  That didn’t last the whole day as there was still some anxiety (job hunt and dating) and tiredness, but not so bad.  The anxiety came and went during the day in response to things that happened.

The big thing that happened was that I got an email saying I was through to the next round on a job application.  I had to read some terms and conditions information, fill in a questionnaire to show I’d done that and then put myself forward for a test.  If I pass the test, I will be doing some crowd-testing work on software.  I don’t think I can really go into more details because of nondisclosure of trade secrets.  The pay is low and it’s not a good career-progression job (because only tangentially related to librarianship and not at all to writing), but it would be a job at a time of high unemployment.  It would also be working from home (no exhausting commute or autistically-difficult office environment) and only working 20 hours a week with flexible timing, so I would have time to work on my novel and could potentially work 10am-6pm, which would suit me a lot better than 9am-5pm.

I do feel nervous about work though.  My experiences in the workplace in the last few years has led to a loss of confidence in my ability to work, a loss not repaired by doing good work in my last couple of jobs.  The fact that I know that my difficulties are caused by depression and autism rather than inherent incompetence doesn’t really make me feel that much better.  I know the problem is my issues, not me, but it still means that I am stuck with them for a while at least.  I hope doing relatively easy work in a safe, quiet environment (home) will boost my self-esteem.

There was a lot to read through, so it took most of the afternoon.  I had done a little work on my novel before the job details came through, but will probably have to do that again tomorrow because of the interruption.

It was a busy day and I was exhausted by the early evening and that brought my mood down a bit.  I kept thinking that people on the autism spectrum often end up in jobs they’re over-qualified for (like the one I’m applying for) and that people on the spectrum often struggle to build friendships and relationships.  I know there are some very successful autistic people out there, and some in successful relationships, but statistically the odds are not great for me.  These are thoughts I’ve had many times, and rehearsed here many times, and I’m trying to stay present-focused and not to worry about them (and also to remember that aspiring writers often take low-status jobs to give some income while writing).  Still, it’s difficult.

***

In the evening, I went on a virtual tour (via Zoom, as is everything these days) of The Biblical Museum of Natural History in Israel, via the London School of Jewish Studies.  I’ve wanted to visit it in person for a while, but that looks unlikely to happen any time soon, so this was an alternative.  The Director of the Museum, Rabbi Dr Natan Slifkin has written some interesting (and controversial, in the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world) books on Judaism and science, although the Museum, unlike his books and blog, deliberately avoids controversial issues like creationism or the factual accuracy of statements about the natural world in the Talmud so that Haredi schools and families can visit.  It was very interesting, although the picture and sound quality were not always great.

***

I didn’t have much time or energy for Torah study today, only about ten minutes, although some of the Museum tour could be considered Torah study I suppose.

***

I also signed up for an online site from a Jewish mental health charity.  To be honest, I’m not sure what exactly it offers.  I think there’s some articles on the site and also a forum with other people with mental health issues and a chat function with mental health professionals.  I’m not sure how much I will use it, but it might be useful in the future, particularly if more people sign up for it.

***

Writing my devar Torah (Torah thought) yesterday led me to re-read a transcript of a lecture by Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, one of the leading Modern Orthodox thinkers until his death a few years ago.  The lecture was on trust in God.  Rabbi Lichtenstein suggested there are two types of trust, “faithful trust”, thinking that God will always make the best option happen, and “loving trust,” thinking that even if the worst happens, I will stay loyal to God and assume that everything has happened for a good reason, even if I don’t understand what that is.  He says both are valid, but laments a focus on the first at the expense of the second in the Orthodox community and educational system.  I find “loving trust” easier, difficult though it sometimes is.  I find it hard to assume that what I think is best will happen, because usually it does not.  I might post the whole devar Torah here later in the week, as I think it might be of interest.

Trying to Trust

I had some anxiety again today, mostly work/job hunt anxiety and dating anxiety.  I’m trying to keep my focus on the present, and trusting that what God plans for me is for the best, but it’s not always easy, particularly when I feel hungry or tired.

The tiredness is because I didn’t sleep very much last night.  I went to bed early (for me), before midnight, but I couldn’t sleep.  Then I woke up at 5.15 and couldn’t get back to sleep.  I didn’t feel tired, so I rested in bed for a while and then got up.  I think I dozed for an hour or so mid-morning, but I’ve been going on about five hours of sleep in total, which probably hasn’t helped my anxiety level.

***

I watched a disturbing documentary on domestic violence in lockdown as research for my novel.  I worked on my novel after this, but it was hard to focus.  I was probably a bit upset from the documentary, then there was a thunder storm and we think the house got hit by lightning, damaging the phone.  I tried to help Mum and Dad a bit with sorting the phone problem, so that took some time.  I felt tense after this and struggled to concentrate and couldn’t work out if it was from the disturbing documentary or the loud thunder that made me jump.

I also stopped working on the novel so I could discuss some things with my parents.  One was a possible job that’s come up at the institution I worked in back in 2019, but with a very different job and a different part of the (very big) library team.  I’m not sure it’s a great job for me, but I’m going to put my name forward to get more information, as I found the information I was sent (via an agency) unclear.

I did manage some work on my novel (aside from the documentary), re-reading the first two chapters to refresh my memory so that I can see how the plot flows.  It’s many months since I looked at the early chapters, and I have not read the whole novel straight through to see how it reads as a whole.  I would have liked to have done more, as ever, but ran out of time and energy.

I wrote most of my devar Torah for the week too, which took over an hour and led me to re-read a transcript of a lecture by Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein on trust in God, to help with the feelings I mentioned above.  I went on a Zoom call with my family in Israel too, so from a productivity point of view, today was pretty good, although I left the Zoom call a bit early as I was exhausted coming straight to it from a webinar.

***

The webinar was on autism in the workplace.  It was interesting, although I’m not sure how much of it is relevant to me at the moment without an autism diagnosis.  It was interesting to hear that a lot of autistic people end up self-employed because it gives them more control over their workplace and interactions; that’s part of what has pushed me towards writing.  It was reassuring to hear that other people have problems with things like needing extra processing time during job interviews or struggling with informal office procedure like who makes the tea.

***

I’ve been hearing lately about autistic burnout.  This is a newly-discovered concept that researchers have only become aware of in the last few years.  It is when autistic people become exhausted and unable to function.  One website states:

Burnout is often a consequence of camouflaging, or masking, a strategy in which autistic people mimic neurotypical behavior by using scripts for small talk, forcing themselves to make eye contact or suppressing repetitive behaviors. These strategies can help autistic people in their jobs and relationships but require immense effort.

It can also result from sensory overstimulation, such as a noisy bus commute; executive function demands such as having to juggle too many tasks at once; or stress associated with change.

It’s obviously difficult to say what is autistic burnout and what is depressive burnout, but I certainly experience a different type of exhaustion after work outside the home or intensive socialising as opposed to working a lot at home.

This post speaks about a more severe burnout, when masking and over-stimulation continue in the long-term, resulting in a more long-lasting burnout that can lead to, or be mistaken for, clinical depression.  I am beginning to wonder if, while I am genuinely depressed, my major episodes of depression have often been triggered by autistic burnout rather than anything else, particularly the huge episode that lasted from around 2003 to around 2010, during and after my undergraduate degree.  Unfortunately, I am still on the waiting list for assessment, the waiting list having been frozen for months due to COVID.

***

I mentioned yesterday that I realise that lockdown would have been very hard on my parents if I had not been here.  That’s been helpful to me in understanding why I’ve struggled with depression for so long.  I believed that logically, God could make me struggle for any number of justifiable reasons, but I always found it hard to accept emotionally.  Now I feel that I have a reason why I have struggled, I find it easier to accept, and also to accept that maybe I can move on now.

 

Anxiety and Trust

I struggled to sleep last night.  Often, after experiencing a migraine, I feel tired, but not actually sleepy.  I don’t know what the migraine does to my brain chemistry to do that.  I didn’t fall asleep until long after 2.00am.  Despite that, I woke up at 9.15am, feeling very tired, but also upset by an unpleasant dream I had (no relation to my usual worries) and feeling rather anxious about dating.  I decided there was no point in lying in bed feeling anxious, so forced myself to get up and have breakfast, which was a good decision.  I did at least say some of the Morning Prayers on time.

I tried to focus on staying in the present, difficult though it feels at times.  I learnt a grounding technique recently that works for me, so I’m trying to stick with that (when I spiral into depressive or anxious thoughts, I try to notice five things I can see, four things I can hear, three I can touch, two I can smell and I you can taste.  The last two are not always easy.  I think some people carry sweets or smelling salts, but I haven’t gone that far).  Despite this, I did have quite a bit of anxiety over the day.

***

I applied for another job.  It was a simple application on LinkedIn, just sending them my CV and profile page link.  Much easier than yesterday’s one.  There was an unexpected question at the end about how many years of experience I have with a particular software that I’ve never heard of before.  I don’t know why that wasn’t on the job specification.  It’s not a library job, but would use some information management skills.  The hours sound a lot though – forty hours a week.  I think that would be too much for me, if that’s all they will accept.  About fifteen minutes after I sent the application, I got phoned by the agency who was recruiting for the position.  They talked me through some questions.  I felt I did badly, because I was unprepared and on the phone and couldn’t always understand the person I was talking to well (I hate the phone), but they said that they would forward my application to the company.

I also emailed a recruitment agency who got me two jobs in the last two years to say that I’m still looking for work.

***

I spent some time working on my novel, reading about plot structure.  I can see what I was already intuiting: that my novel is under-plotted, particularly in the middle.  What is harder is to see how to change it.  I may have to ditch some of what I have written completely and re-plot some of it.  That’s somewhat dispiriting.  On the other hand, I feel the structure the “how to write” book suggests is overly schematic and forcing myself to follow it slavishly will disrupt the flow of the novel.  I need to work out what will work and what won’t, which may involve trial and error.  It’s also possible that my novel, or the autobiographical plot-line, is based too much on my own life.  I changed chunks to make it flow better, but even so, I think some things don’t “fit” properly.  Real life doesn’t always flow the way fiction should.

I ran into these issues right before dinner.  I couldn’t come back to it after dinner because I was going to a Zoom depression group meeting , so I finished work today on a downer, worrying if my novel was workable.  This led to some catastrophising about the novel, my career, my dating prospects, everything really.  It was partly anxiety and partly low blood sugar – this was late afternoon and I had not eaten much.  After dinner I had better perspective, especially as I got an email from a writer friend saying not to feel bad if my novel seems bad when I re-read the first few times.

***

I attended depression group on Zoom.  I was glad I went, as it’s good to talk to people, but the meeting was emotionally draining and I felt exhausted afterwards even though it wasn’t yet 10.00pm.

I signed up for an autism group peer support meeting on friendships and relationships next week too (not the informal autism group I used to go to, a more formal one).

***

Overall, I felt very anxious today with dating (waiting for responses to my messages or getting one line answers that imply that the person doesn’t really want to engage any more), job applications and working out what I need to do to my novel.  Part of me thinks, “Why am I doing all this if it’s going to make me so anxious?”  But I guess the anxiety is itself the reason why I have to push through this, if I’m going to make any progress with my life.  I’ve been feeling “stuck” lately, with lockdown and loneliness and depression.  Maybe that was why I unconsciously felt the sudden need to move on with things, so suddenly signed up for dating services and applied for jobs and support group things.  It is all scary, but I have to go through with it.

I’m trying to be gentle with myself.  I’m going outside my comfort zone suddenly and that’s going to be difficult even without the ongoing COVID situation.

***

I’m about two thirds of the way through Mishlei (The Book of Proverbs in the Hebrew Bible).  It’s more interesting than I remembered, although there seems to be a lot of repetition of similar ideas (ancient societies had greater appreciation for repetition than we do, perhaps because it made memorisation easier in mostly oral cultures).  The terse, context-free, stand-alone proverbs can be very hard to translate, often just seven or eight words.  A couple of verses stand out strongly.  “The heart alone knows its bitterness,/And no outsider can share its joy.” (14.10).  I’ve felt that a lot over the years.  Also, “A man’s spirit can sustain him through illness;/But low spirits — who can bear them?” (18.14) is something I’ve often thought.  People say things like “I had cancer, but I kept going because I was happy,” but what do you do if a symptom of your illness is the inability to be happy?  (Translations from The JPS Bible).

***

I’ve been a bit sceptical of Divine Providence stories in the past, but I find myself finding them in my own life suddenly.  At Purim this year, I was upset not to be invited to friends for the seudah (meal), especially as Mum and Dad were at a medical appointment so I had to eat alone.  But the friend who I was hoping would invite me came down with COVID soon afterwards and perhaps I would have contracted it from him if I had gone (it has been suggested that Purim parties and seudahs partially explain the disproportionately high fatality rate in the Jewish community.  Purim this year was just as COVID hit, but before most people were taking it seriously and many parties and events went ahead as planned with large numbers of people together, some of whom may have been carrying the virus).

Similarly, if I had still been living away from home, I would either have been in lockdown alone (including doing Pesach alone) or would have had to pay rent on an empty flat while I locked down with my parents.  If I hadn’t been here (because I had my own flat or because I was married), my parents would have had much more of a struggle dealing with lockdown and shielding with Mum’s cancer, both in terms of practical things like the fact I’ve been cooking a lot and also emotionally from being separated from both their children for months on end.

I tell myself things like this to try to “prove” to myself that I shouldn’t assume that God only wants to do negative things to me and that He won’t let my life get any better.  It is difficult to believe that sometimes, but I’m trying.

ANXIOUS!!! Scrupulous?

In the last few days I’ve been feeling confident in some ways, not in others.  I feel curiously confident about my ability to write – I don’t think I’m a great author and I’ve definitely got a lot to learn, but I feel I could write.  However, I don’t feel confident about my ability to get published, in terms of producing what publishers want as well as persevering through rejection and learning the technical procedures for laying out submissions and so on.

I’ve found a job to apply for that might be good for me.  It’s slightly unusual.  The job description was not detailed, but it involves working to improve search engines by rating keywords and search terms.  From the company site, I think it is really about training AI algorithms, although I won’t be doing the technical stuff, just collecting data.  The attraction is (a) although not intended for a librarian/information manager, my information management skills may be useful, (b) I can work from home, (c) I have flexible hours, maximum 20 hours a week.  So this would be in a non-stressful environment (home), allowing me to work, say, 10am-6pm each day, three days a week with two days for writing!  It is a freelance, contract position, so no job security, but you can say that about most jobs nowadays (even before COVID).  I spent nearly two hours applying (one of those annoying cases where they want a CV plus an online application form that just paraphrases your CV).

***

Eliza recommended Shabbat.com as a dating site, which I had not heard of (I’d possibly heard of it as a site to find a Shabbat host, but not as a dating site).  I signed up and created a profile.  Unlike JDate, it’s free.  There were a lot of Anglo-Jewish women on there (including the daughter of friends of my parents who lives down the road and who my Dad has been trying to set me up with for years, but I’ve never seen the slightest sign that she’s interested in me), but I just got overwhelmed and shut it down.  Sigh.  Maybe I don’t have the stamina for online dating, to contact so many people to try to find The One.  It’s an effort for me to open up to anyone.  I suppose it does reassure me that there are women out there, if only I could work out how to meet them.  Someone has to like me, right?  (No, they don’t, says my inner critic.)

I couldn’t cancel my JDate subscription (the three day grace period turned out to be only in parts of America) so am committed for three months and might as well use them.  Losing £90 is a pain, but it’s only money, and money isn’t a huge problem for me right now (I have no job, but I also have no life beyond buying occasional books and DVDs, mostly second-hand and cheap; my parents aren’t charging me rent).  I’m trying to focus on trusting God that everything is for the best, even if nothing works out and it all just turns out to be expensive social anxiety exposure therapy.

That was my thought in the early afternoon, when I realised I couldn’t cancel.  Since then, four people sent me a “flirt” on JDate, which as far as I can tell is a way of signifying interest in someone’s photo and profile without saying anything substantive in case they don’t reciprocate.  You just get a message saying “Person X sent you a flirt” and you can decide whether to respond with a more substantial message or not.  Two of the flirters didn’t have information or photos on their profiles beyond living in the US, so I put them to one side for now.  Both looked slightly suspicious (beyond the lack of data) in apparently being willing to date anyone from 35 to 75, which seemed an suspiciously large age range.

As for the women who looked more legitimate, one is Modern Orthodox, but living in the States – which is not impossible given my experience with E.  The other is from someone whose profile says she’s “culturally Jewish,” but when I responded to her flirt with a short message introducing myself, she sent me a longer message which seems very religious.  It is true that some people really don’t like labels and particularly “Orthodox” (which admittedly is kind of a dour and unattractive thing to call yourself: “Right-thinking”).  I’m going to respond to her before going to bed, and to the American woman tomorrow – I don’t think I have the stamina to reply to both now (see below for why).

I guess it’s nice to be thought attractive, given that these women “flirted” me based on a photo and a short profile.  Still, the thought of actually messaging them, or anyone else on either site, makes me feel anxious.  When I’m single and lonely, I just feel how nice it would be to be in a relationship with someone I like and trust.  I forget that to build a relationship of love and trust, I have to start by talking to a lot of women I don’t know and am scared of, and face a lot of rejection.  At the moment, I want to cower under the table until my bashert (soul-mate) finds me.   Sadly, life doesn’t work like that.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t pleased at getting a reaction, though, nor that both these women, but particularly the UK-based one, seem like the type of person I would be looking to meet.

***

I’ve been feeling very anxious today about both applying for the job and internet dating and I wonder if the latter at least is not more than just social anxiety.  ‘Pure O’ OCD (obsessions without compulsions) can sometimes be called “scrupulosity,” because sufferers are often obsessed with being morally perfect.  In the past I have had this with Jewish dietary laws (on the plus side: yesterday someone did something at home that would have sent me into a huge panic and sending emails to rabbis just a couple of years ago and I was fine with it, so I’ve made progress there at least).

While I’m not sure I have scrupulosity regarding dating in a strictly clinical sense sense, I do have a lot of worries about not wanting to mislead women, not wanting to waste their time dating them if I think it won’t work out and so on.  It adds to general social anxiety about dating and makes it hard to cope.  I can have it a bit (to a much lesser extent) with job applications, trying to be honest in my application about my skills and experience.  Whether because of autistic black-and-white thinking or scrupulosity (autistic people are disproportionately likely to suffer from OCD), I have always struggled with the idea that it’s OK to bend the truth a little on job applications, or that it’s OK to chat on dating sites with women up to a point without being sure that you want to go out with them.

Because of the tendency in frum circles to only date if ready to marry, I kind of feel I shouldn’t date without a firm career and good mental health, but if I pursue a career as a writer, I may never have real job security (if anyone does these days) and I don’t think my mental health is ever going to be perfect.

After I’d done all of this, I remembered an email from my rabbi mentor some time ago where he said I should just try to meet a lot of women to see what I want/need from a relationship.  That sounds weirdly unrabbinic advice, but I’m pretty sure it’s what he said (although I can’t find the email).

I did find the email where he said it’s OK to email two or more women at once, as long as I don’t do that once I move one relationship to the point where we’re actually dating.

***

Achievements: aside from job application, setting up a dating profile and messaging on JDate… thirty-five minutes of Torah study (I might try to do a little more) and a run.  So a pretty busy day.  The run led to another exercise migraine, sadly.  I only realised after the run, and after the headache had set in, that I hadn’t davened Minchah (said afternoon Prayers), so it was a struggle to do that by the deadline.  I pushed myself to start, then I stopped and had to go to the toilet because I was retching, came back and restarted, stopped and actually threw up… even then I wanted to finish the service until I realised how silly it seemed.  I suppose it shows how much I push myself to do what I feel I “should” do religiously without taking into account my health.

Embracing Struggles, or I Possibly Just Wasted £90

I possibly just wasted £90.  I subscribed to full JDate membership.  I fiddled around browsing more.  I’m not entirely sure there are really enough frum (religious Jewish) or “willing to marry someone frum” people on there.  I haven’t messaged anyone yet.  Too scared, plus it’s getting to close to Shabbat (the Sabbath) to spend more time on it today.  I suppose it will be practise at “speaking” to strangers, if anyone responds to my emails, which, from experience, is not a given.

In Kafka’s parable Before the Law (written as part of The Trial, but also published separately), the man seeking admission to the law is refused admittance by the doorkeeper.  He is forced to wait outside for many years, but is never let in.  He tries bribing the doorkeeper, who takes the bribes, but still refuses to let him in, stating, “I am only taking it to keep you from thinking you have omitted anything.”  Eventually the man dies.  With his dying breath, he asks why he has never seen anyone else ask admittance to the law here; the doorkeeper responds that, “No one else could ever be admitted here, since this gate was made only for you.  I am now going to shut it.”

I have thought about that parable a lot over the years, with regard to depression and “recovery” as well as dating.  I feel I try everything, but it never helps; it just stops me thinking I have omitted anything.  Hence, the JDate subscription.  Sigh.  But I suppose it is “my” door (loneliness, depression, social anxiety and autism), and I can’t really go anywhere else, or expect anyone else to understand it as I understand it the way I do.  All I can do is embrace the struggles and the “now.”

Happiness is a Warm DVD

I sat outside last night watching a DVD on my laptop.  The weather was a little cooler.  I couldn’t get my Star Trek Voyager DVD to play (my laptop DVD player is temperamental), so I watched Doctor Who instead.  I started a re-watch of my favourite season, the 1978-1979 season, in my opinion the apogee of Doctor Who as science fantasy children’s series (thus, hated by fans who think Doctor Who is Serious Adult Drama… the fault line between fans who think Doctor Who is a children’s programme and those who think it is a Serious Adult Drama is one of the biggest in fandom).  I felt quite happy watching it, despite the fact that I could hear my parents talking despite my earphones, that the security light kept coming on and shining in my eyes, and that the picture quality was not great (my screen needs cleaning and I kept seeing my reflection in it because of the ambient light).  Normally when I watch TV, I try to immerse myself in it, but I was able to enjoy it without doing that 100%.  I suppose it does show that I can be happy, and with quite small things.  My Mum noticed I was smiling.

I had another unrestful night’s sleep.  It’s a little cooler, but still too hot for me.  There is a breeze, and around four o’clock the heavy rain we were forecast finally arrived, but only lasted a few minutes.  It started raining heavily again just before seven, with thunder, to the extent I had to shut the windows, but, again, it didn’t last long.  It’s still quite hot, with a bit of a cooling breeze, but very humid and I still feel quite uncomfortable.  I can concentrate a little better than the last few days, but not brilliantly.

***

Last night I had the thought of logging on to JDate and seeing if there were many women my age and frumkeit (religiosity) level on there, but I couldn’t log on.  I thought I still had a profile on there, but apparently not.  I assume they delete profiles if they’re inactive for a long period of time as I don’t remember deleting it.  I don’t think I could have used JDate since I met my first girlfriend on there in 2012.  My experience at the time made me feel there weren’t enough frum (religious) enough women on the site for me, but maybe I would be willing to be more flexible on “frum enough” now.  I think I probably have to be.  It’s hard to tell what “frum enough” looks like, though, as I worry that I compromised too much when I was dating E. and that it would not have worked in the long-term.

JDate is probably better for me right now than its competitor, JWed.  JWed, as its name implies, is a dating-for-marriage site, not a dating-for-dating site.  It also asks users to categorise themselves religiously, offering them seven different types of Orthodox Jewish identities and several more non-Orthodox ones.  Jews like pigeon-holing other Jews, you might have noticed.  It also asks you to say how often you pray and study Torah, whether you wear tzitzit (ritual fringed garment) if you are a man and if you would cover your hair after marriage if you are a woman, all questions designed to further pigeon-hole religiously.  These are supposed to be proxies to gauge religious devotion, but aren’t always in reality, but the problem of using them as such stretches far beyond the dating world, or even the frum world.  JDate doesn’t quite offer such craziness, although if I recall correctly, it does still offer several different flavours of Orthodoxy (I doubt there are many Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews on JDate though even if there is an option for them).

My main concerns with JDate are that I can’t afford to pay the monthly subscription; and that there are more men than women on dating sites, so women tend not to respond to men on dating sites unless they appear amazing.  I do still have some concerns about not “dating for marriage.”  However, my biggest concern is how to talk about my employment situation or about trying to be a writer in my profile without having sold much, and while worrying that I’m not going to be able to make much of a success of writing.

I feel that E., like my first girlfriend, thought that I was a good boyfriend, but also that my emotional neediness and unemployed status was a lot to cope with, and eventually was too much to cope with.  I find it hard to believe anyone else could see past that permanently, not just for a few months until the novelty of having an attentive and listening boyfriend wore off.

There is also the practical problem, of course, of dating in the time of COVID and social distancing.  This may be less of a problem now, as I think we can stop shielding Mum soon as her chemo is finished.  We have to shield around the time of her surgery, but I think not when she has radiotherapy after that.

I wrote to my rabbi mentor about this today and I look forward to reading his response.  Writing it down did make me think that some of my concerns were due to anxiety or even a kind of ‘pure O’ OCD, in terms of taking the morality an action very seriously, paying more attention to it than it needs, in moral terms.  I think dating at this time is probably not against my values, although I’m not sure if it’s necessarily a product of those values at this time.  Whether it’s sensible is another question.

***

Speaking of being a writer, I’m feeling pessimistic today.  I finished If You Want to Write, the writing book I was currently reading.  It was kind of hippie-ish (although written in the 1930s), all about doing what you want and finding your own truth, which is true, but the opposite is probably true too.  I wasn’t surprised by this, as the book was recommended to me by a hippie-ish friend who I fell out with, someone who described himself as being all about empathy and compassion and then treated me quite badly.    I don’t think I can internalise the “rules” of writing from the books I’m reading, not even this one, which just says to be honest (and is against genre fiction).  I feel a great writer wouldn’t need to internalise rules, but a merely competent one probably does need to do so.  I certainly feel my book could do with more structure and more vivid characters.  But, as I’ve said before, I oscillate between thinking that there are no rules for literature and that there are rules for it, like any other skill, if only I could learn them.

I did half an hour of research for the novel, reading a rape survivor’s statement, which was understandably depressing.  I struggle to see why some men find the concept of “consent” so difficult to grasp.

I also spent twenty minutes or so working on my list of things that I want to add or change in the next draft of my novel, so overall this was a reasonably productive day for the novel.

***

Other achievements: I spent an hour on my devar Torah (Torah thought), getting it mostly sorted to my satisfaction, although I had a vague sense of not having explained it clearly enough to myself, let alone anyone else.  The sense that I sort of understand what I’m saying, but not quite perfectly.  I spent another hour on Torah study, so it was quite a productive day from a religious point of view too.

It’s funny how my feelings writing my devar Torah every week mirror my feelings writing my Oxford tutorial essays: the initial blank incomprehension with nothing to write, the slow research and analysis, the gradual revelation of what I’m going to write, then the actual writing, followed by relief, but a feeling of not having really nailed it.

I also finished re-reading Healing from Despair: Choosing Wholeness in a Broken World.  I didn’t get much from this except to recall that I didn’t like it much the first time I read it.  I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t like it.  I think maybe its use of biblical and historical models for healing from despair was too simplistic.

Incidentally, I have finished three books in two days, although as I was reading them concurrently and not consecutively, it’s not such a notable achievement.

***

Sometimes I just stand, staring into space, completely lost in thought.  My parents invariably then ask if something’s wrong or what I’m doing.  This completely breaks the chain of thought.  (This happened today.)  I’ve never been sure if this is “normal” behaviour or “autistic” behaviour or just a personal quirk.  I do find it frustrating that I can’t just stand and think without someone thinking I’m ill.  I guess if I get married, I’ll have to tell my wife to ignore me when I do this.

Someone To Love

I slept badly, waking up exhausted and covered in sweat.  I really need summer pyjamas, although I’m not sure it’s worth it for the few weeks I would actually need them each year.  It’s hard to believe it was so much cooler at night just a couple of weeks ago.  The hoped-for thunderstorm never materialised yesterday.  Today we could hear distant thunder all afternoon and also saw lightning after a while, but the rain has not reached us, and the sky remains blue.  The thunder has stopped, but there is more of a breeze, which helps a bit.  In late afternoon it was cool enough to go for a walk, which was good, although I came back with a headache.

All I could think of today was how hot and uncomfortable I am, which I guess means I am not feeling anxious about anything else, but also means I am not doing anything productive.  I wish we had air conditioning.

Mum had her last chemotherapy session today, so there’s progress there at least.  Now she has a break for recuperation before surgery in a month’s time.

Achievements: the walk, half an hour of Torah study, an hour or so working on my devar Torah (which still isn’t finished, even though I’m taking most of it from just one book, Rabbi Joshua Berman’s The Temple: It’s Symbolism and Meaning Then and Now).  I did a bit of reading of a book on writing.  That’s about it.

***

At some point I stopped praying every day to get married.  I’m not sure when.  I suppose it was some months ago, when my hitbodedut (spontaneous prayer) became shorter and sporadic, sometimes abandoned completely.  It was around the time I broke up with E.  Hitbodedut was when I used to ask to get married.  I think I stopped asking for much at all, other than the set prayers, and prayers for people I know who are sick in my Amidah (I have also been saying special prayers for the whole world since COVID hit).  To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what I say when I do my hitbodedut at the moment.  I probably do ask for things, but not consistently, and mainly small things like meeting my goals for the next day.  I probably do still pray to get married, just intermittently and not every day.

I suppose it was hard to believe that the big things I asked for would ever be granted.  It felt like God had no interest in giving me what I was asking, so why bother ask?  Like, I suspect, many things I think or feel, this is theologically problematic.  For one thing, we’re supposed to ask for what we want.  For another, there are plenty of Jewish approaches to prayer that see it as a lot more than “Ask, Get.”  I once gave a fifteen minute shiur (religious class) on three approaches to prayer; one did not even deal directly with asking for things at all and the other two saw the asking as subsidiary to other processes.

But still, I struggle to ask.  Some of it is feeling hopeless about ever meeting the right person (or coping with meeting a lot of wrong people first), but a lot of it is what I wrote the other day about not feeling ready to get married, but wanting to be in a serious, committed relationship, even if it’s non-physical.  That doesn’t really exist in Orthodox Jewish culture and it’s hard to ask God for something that is ostensibly wrong.  Sinful, even.  (Admittedly the Talmud says that the burglar prays to God that he won’t get caught before he burgles a house, but this is hardly intended as an example to follow.)  But praying to get married seems silly when I may never get to that stage.

I think I do still sometimes pray to get a job, get married and have children, but not every night, consistently.  Just sometimes.  Praying to get a job AND get married AND have children sounds a lot and something that couldn’t happen for ages, if at all.  I suppose I should be praying to feel a bit less depressed and exhausted, and to sell some writing or something.  Small steps.

***

One of the things I struggle with because of autism is reading people (in the sense of understanding them) and knowing if they’re interested in me, interested either in being my friend or, in some cases, having a relationship with me.  I have probably lost potential friends who I misread or who panicked me and I didn’t know how to talk to them, even though I thought they were nice and would have liked to be friends with them (this is social anxiety).  Similarly, I probably bored and upset a lot of women who I wanted to date, but was too shy to ask, so I just hung around them, hoping something would happen and we would magically be dating.

A third category, which I was thinking about a bit today, is people who drifted into my life and then drifted out again, leaving me puzzled and confused.  This happened mostly online; I think the nature of the internet and blogs is that people drift in and out very quickly.

I came across an email today from 2014.  This was from someone I “met” online, where we were both commenting on a Jewish website.  She was really complimentary and asked for my email address and we emailed back and forth for a bit, but most of her emails were short emails saying she was slowly writing a long email that would tell me more about her.  I never got the long email; after a while the short emails stopped too.  I don’t know if she was interested in me romantically and then lost her nerve or something else.  She was about to start an Orthodox Jewish conversion (her father was Jewish, but not her mother), and the bet din (rabbinical conversion court) would not have been happy to know she was in a deep personal conversation with a Jewish man before conversion (it might make them see the conversion as not motivated by sincere belief, but in order to have a Jewish marriage), so it would be understandable if she wanted to stop emailing.  She was also starting a programme of study abroad, although I forget what, so that might have explained her lack of time to write too, but ghosting me just left me wondering what happened.  That’s an extreme example, but similar things have happened to me and they always leave me feeling puzzled and confused, wondering if I did something wrong or if I misread the whole situation from the start (although in that situation I was fairly confused about what she wanted even from the start).

***

I’m sitting in the garden, because it’s cooler than the house and my room is so hot that my headache gets worse if I sit there.  I just finished reading Muck, Dror Burstein’s quasi-modern reimagining of the biblical Yirmiyah/Jeremiah.  I feel too tired to do anything, but not tired enough to sleep, plus my room, as I say, is uncomfortably hot.  I might watch Star Trek Voyager on my laptop in the garden, with headphones in, as Mum and Dad are out here talking and they will probably go inside and put the TV on loudly soon (the TV is right by the French windows into the garden, which are open).

It’s Too Darn Hot

I slept better last night than Friday night, but it’s still far too hot for me to feel comfortable.  I feel like I could give in to negative thoughts if I let myself, so I’m trying to stay in the present and not in my head.

It’s been hard to do anything today, the whole house is a big sauna.  I’m sweltering.  I never worked out if I’m extra-sensitive to heat as an autistic sensory sensitivity thing, or if I just don’t like it when it’s very hot.  I tried to write a job application, but I struggled to concentrate, because of the heat.  To be honest, I’m not sure that I’m as proactive and confident as they want.  Apparently I should have “The confidence to challenge and persuade where appropriate” – yikes!

After an hour and a half of trying to fill in the application and not getting too far, I gave up for the day.  It’s too hot.

***

Other achievements today: nearly an hour of Torah study.  I saw my sister and brother-in-law (with social distancing) for a bit when they came in their new car, although I went off to my room after a while as the conversation had become completely about cars and I don’t drive.  I very hurriedly wrote a Doctor Who review for my other blog (I can sometimes write these quickly when I have something to say although I haven’t posted it yet).  It was too hot to walk, let alone run, so no exercise.

I watched a film with my parents.  It was good to do something different together.

I do feel I didn’t do everything I wanted to do today, but that’s partly because of the heat, partly because of something that came up and took up a lot of time.  I’m staying up late now, although it’s not particularly cool, just because I don’t feel tired and I want to catch up on some of the things I missed during the day.  There doesn’t seem much point in going to bed yet, as I doubt I’ll sleep in this heat.

***

I was online more than I should have been according to my new “only go online twice a day” rule.  I thought I had good reason to bend the rules, but arguably it was just anxiety on my part.

Also related to anxiety, I think I messed up another social interaction, perhaps with negative consequences.  Sometimes the world in my head and objective reality don’t correspond very closely and it’s difficult to get out of my head and into the real world.

***

I feel a bit bad that when I posted here the letter I wrote to vent my feelings about the frum (religious Jewish) community, I didn’t make it clear that my concerns about racism, sexism etc. where about feelings I’ve found in parts of the community, not everywhere in it.  I don’t want to slander the whole community.  But there are parts I struggle to accept.

***

I am very bad at checking the spam folder on WordPress.  From the few times I’ve looked at it in the past, it seemed it generally did not deleted anything it shouldn’t.  I think once I found a comment that had gone in there by mistake.  However, I just had a look and found a couple of legitimate comments from earlier in the week that it had marked as spam.  Now I’m thinking I need to check more regularly, and I wonder if I’ve missed comments completely in the past.  Apologies to anyone whose comment got eaten, I will try to check more regularly in the future.

Heat and Light

Shabbat (Sabbath) was OK, but a bit of a struggle.  It’s just too hot.  I know that in some places it gets hotter and more humid, but bear in mind houses in the UK are built for cold.  They are insulated and sometimes poorly ventilated.  So it’s pretty sweltering.  I couldn’t sleep at all last night.  I stayed up reading.  I eventually fell asleep around 5.00am.

Once I slept a lot again over Shabbat, despite the insomnia.  I slept late once I got to sleep and I napped in the afternoon, so I’m super-awake now, which is not good.

***

Today we ate in the garden, both lunch and seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal).  I was apprehensive about this, because I had a vague sense it ought to be religiously prohibited, but I couldn’t think of a reason why, or at least, not a reason I couldn’t argue against.  That said, if I hadn’t seen our super-Hasidic next-door neighbours do it last week, I don’t think I would have done it.  Still, I guess it’s progress in being less religious OCD-defined, and more open to things generally.  There’s probably a good deal of autistic “I don’t want to do anything new” in the “It’s halakhically forbidden (forbidden by Jewish law),” as much as OCD and over-caution.

***

My mood was variable.  I had the weird thought that in terms of dates, I’m doing about as well by just posting stuff on my blog and occasionally meeting people romantically that way (meeting online or in person) than I am being proactive in the real world or even hoping non-internet women would want to date me.  Obviously my online presence is more confident, more charming, more I-don’t-know-what than my in-person presence (unsurprising, as in-person presence is socially crippled by social anxiety and autism).  Who knows whether I’ll meet someone else that way?  Still, I do feel the odds are against my finding anyone soon, or even really being able to manage a relationship soon.  It’s just counter-productive to dwell on those thoughts.

(It’s strange, but despite my shyness and social anxiety, I do quite like meeting people in person who I have “spoken” to online.  I’ve done it quite a lot.)

I realised that somewhere along the line I stopped praying to find my spouse.  I’m not sure why.  I know in the last year or so I’ve cut down a lot of voluntary/spontaneous prayer because of feeling depressed and tired and overwhelmed and far from God.  That was probably a bad idea, making me more distant from God, but it’s hard to know how to get back to it.

I never know what to pray for about dating anyway.  I don’t exactly feel like I could get married at the moment, certainly financially and maybe emotionally.  Maybe I should pray to find some other activity or social network that would take away the loneliness?  But it feels unJewish to be in my late thirties and unmarried and not doing the one proactive thing I can really do about it (prayer).

Plus, how would I pray to feel less sexually frustrated, from a Jewish point of view, without praying to get married?  There isn’t another option.  It’s pretty clear from the Talmud that praying to reduce your libido doesn’t work (“There are no half blessings from Heaven”); marriage is the only option.  But what if, financially and emotionally, that isn’t possible right now, maybe never?  What should I pray for?

***

Those thoughts about finding a spouse by just waiting until she finds my blog (maybe) cheered me up a bit, but others brought me down.  I started crying while I was davening Minchah (saying Afternoon Prayers), I’m not sure why.  I had been thinking about a chiddush (novel Torah thought) I had and I’m not sure if it was connected.

In Bereshit (Genesis) chapter 6, God tells Noach (Noah) to build the ark and that it should have a “tzohar.”  It is not clear what a “tzohar” is.  The Medieval commentator Rashi (based on the Midrash in Bereshit Rabbah) gives us two options: “Some say this is a window and some say this is a precious stone that gave light to them.”

However, contrary to the way a lot of people read it, Midrash isn’t just about finding quirky facts about the Torah.  It is about finding deeper meanings.  What is this teaching us?

In his book Genesis: From Creation to Covenant, Rabbi Zvi Grumet notes that the description of the flood undoes the Creation narrative from chapter 1 of Genesis, with the world being uncreated stage by stage in reverse order as everything is destroyed, back to the point where the waters above and the waters below were divided on day two, leaving only the light created on day one.  The only thing not mentioned are the luminaries, created on day four.  We can assume they were covered by clouds, from the point of view of the ark, but this is not explicitly stated.

We might then argue that the “window” opinion assumes that the luminaries were still visible and all that was needed was a window to let the light of the sun and moon in, whereas the “luminescent stone” opinion assumes that the luminaries were invisible, and some artificial (quasi-supernatural) light source was necessary for the ark’s inhabitants.

Perhaps the deeper symbolism is this.  The “window” option assumes that even at a time of strict justice, when God withdraws his mercy and lets destruction reign on the world, even then there is hope as a natural part of the world.  There are intrinsically positive aspects of creation still around, still shedding their light from a distance.  God’s Presence can always be felt.

The “luminescent stone” approach is darker, in all senses.  It says that sometimes the world is so dark that you can find no natural source of light altogether.  The world outside is absolutely awful with no exceptions.  At a time like this, we have to rely on God to cast light for us directly and miraculously because the outside world is just too dark and horrible for us.  (I feel that this is a post-Holocaust type of perspective.)

I thought about the above, then I immediately went to daven Minchah, as I said, and I suddenly started crying and I didn’t know why.  I strongly suspect it is connected to what I was thinking, but I don’t know if I felt overwhelmed that God was providing light for me after all, or upset and alone that I feel He is not providing light for me.

***

My parents and I didn’t play a game on Shabbat this week, partly as Shabbat is finishing earlier now and partly because our neighbours came to the door for a socially distanced conversation with my parents towards the end of Shabbat, when we’d been playing (we all nap in the afternoon).  I’m trying to persuade my parents to play a longer, more involved game on a Sunday afternoon, as we’re all in at the moment, maybe Trivial Pursuit or Risk (my family don’t like to play Trivial Pursuit with me because I win.  I think at one stage they would only play if I answered the Genius Edition questions and they answered questions from a similar, but easier, quiz game).  I don’t remember the rules to Risk, but I’ve been thinking lately that I want to play it again.

***

I’m trying to listen to a long playlist on Spotify, but someone keeps editing it, so every time I open Spotify to listen to it, the track order has been changed and it’s hard to keep track of what I’ve heard to and what I haven’t.  Very annoying.  It’s one of the Spotify-produced (as opposed to user-produced) playlists too.

Post-Success Depression and Negative Self-Talk

I still feel very depressed.  I don’t know if this is about finishing the first draft of my novel or something else, something I don’t want to talk about here.  If it is about my novel, I had something similar when I was doing my MA: I would struggle against depression to finish an assignment, but when I handed it in, instead of feeling positive, I would feel more depressed and often be unable to start the next assignment for weeks.  It took me nearly three and a half years to finish a course that should have taken one academic year.

***

I was thinking of buying some more music and graphic novels and maybe some war gaming miniatures to paint (I don’t play war games any more, but sometimes I paint the models).  Then I started thinking that this was retail therapy, and I felt more guilty about it, and just started procrastinating, which is a worse problem than retail therapy, at least with the relatively small sums of money I’m thinking of spending.  In the end I bought two graphic novels, but am undecided as to whether to buy the miniatures.  It would be good to do something that doesn’t involve thinking (I guess there’s running), but I feel depressed when comparing miniatures painted by me recently with the much better ones painted in my teens, before I had medication-related tremor, and perhaps when my concentration and will power were better.

***

I finished fiddling around with my iTunes playlists, which was good.  I’ve been meaning to sort them out for a while now.  That was my main achievement for the day, alongside my usual pre-Shabbat chores.  I did a little Torah study, and I’ll probably do a bit more later, but it’s hard to do anything today.  It’s partly depression and exhaustion, but also the heat and humidity, which are both high today and make me uncomfortable.

***

I had another weird dream about conflict with my religious community, where a bunch of thugs mobbed the car I was in when it pulled over (which for some reason was being driven by Hugo Drax, the villain of the James Bond film Moonraker) and then I realised they were frum men, with suits and fedoras, and then I recognised some of them from shul.  That might be part of the reason why I woke up depressed and exhausted again.

I’m not sure why that conflict is on my mind when I haven’t had any real contact with the community for five months or so and am not likely to have any for another couple of months at least.  Maybe that’s it, though.  Maybe I’ve forgotten the good parts and the people I like and am only thinking about the negative.  Certainly there’s a lot of social anxiety over going to shul (synagogue) again, wondering if I can remember what to do and how to behave (I mean behave socially more than religiously, although that too, I guess), as well as autistic anxiety about wearing masks and the changed layout of the shul being different and confusing.  Shul has been reopened for a few weeks now, but I haven’t gone as we’re still shielding Mum as she’s immuno-suppressed and the risk is just too great.

Related to that, I don’t know when going to a shop is going to feel safe again.  I’ve hardly been in any for months.  The only one I really go to is the pharmacist, to collect my anti-depressants, but that’s awkward as not only is it often busy, but the post office is in the same shop, separated by a partition wall and that’s also often busy and people have to queue from the post office section into the pharmacist section.  I’d like to go to the nearby charity shop to browse second-hand books and DVDs as I know that’s something that de-stresses me a bit, but I just don’t dare to.

***

I wrote in yesterday’s post about blaming my teenage/early twenties self for not being more social.  After I turned off my computer, I remembered something I once said in therapy, that if I think of my very young self, say five or six years old or younger, I feel a great deal of love and compassion towards him, but I think of my somewhat older self (eight or ten years old and up) suddenly a whole load of negative feelings and internalised anger/aggression comes out about him (me) being too clever, aloof, irritating, an unintentional show-off, a Doctor Who obsessive to the exclusion of all else (even more than I am now…) and so on.  I’m guessing this is because the difficulties of my childhood started when I was somewhat older and that’s the time that I internalised negative thoughts and feelings about myself.  It is hard to know what to do with these thoughts.

***

I just heard that Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz died today (barukh dayan ha’emet).  He was a great man.  Among his many achievements was translating the Talmud into Modern Hebrew (most of the Talmud is written in Aramaic) and writing explanatory commentary, and then overseeing its translation into English and, I think, Russian.  It’s not the only current English translation, but it is very accessible and while the Artscroll Talmud (its main competitor in English translation) is focused on the detail of halakhic (legal) debate and only uses traditional sources, the Steinsaltz one is more focused on basic comprehensibility and uses modern sources and photos (of plants, ancient artifacts, etc.) to illustrate the social and material context of the Talmud.

He wrote many other books too, including a few I own.  I’m very fond of his book Simple Words and his translation of some of the stories of Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav, again with commentary.

He was an important figure for me, not just because of the books that I have read, but also his attitude, being in some ways very traditional and Hasidic and in other ways very modern (he was originally a scientist before becoming a rabbi).  I believe his yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) taught Jewish philosophy and creative writing alongside the traditional yeshiva Talmud curriculum.  He once said, “An intellectual is not necessarily a university professor: he can also be a shoemaker.  An intellectual is a person of boundless curiosity, who has the desire and the ability to discuss everything, and the spark that can make something new out of anything.”  We can apply this to Rabbi Steinsaltz himself.

Catastrophising and Fatalism

The Doctor: Where’s your optimism?

Romana: It opted out.

– Doctor Who: The Armageddon Factor by Bob Baker and Dave Martin

I seem to be stuck back in the habit of waking up late and depressed, even if I go to bed a bit earlier.  I think some of the slump is finishing the first draft of my novel and contemplating the next mountain to climb, which is redrafting, which is looming and ominous, but which I can’t even get started on yet, as I want a short break so I can come to it fresh.  Something else happened that I won’t go into here that brought me down too and is on my mind today.  Plus, I had a weird, upsetting dream last night.  I can’t remember the details, but it was about getting in trouble with my religious community for having the wrong religious beliefs/practices.

I looked at the chart I made for dealing with depression and, yes, some of this probably is my critical voice talking and maybe some “shoulds” and, yes, a lot of it is catastrophising.  I don’t know what’s happening with my career or my writing, which is scary, and it’s hard not to catastrophise that.

There’s a lot of catastrophising about relationships too, feeling that I don’t have ways to meet someone.  There are some ways, but I feel they all have drawbacks and most are unlikely to succeed.  I also feel that I would have the best chance of building a relationship with someone who also has “issues,” but there’s no way of trying deliberately to meet such a person, certainly not within the frum (religious Jewish) community.  There are actually shadchanim (matchmakers) in the USA who specialise in “sensitive shidduchim (matches)” where both parties have some kind of issue (not necessarily mental health), but I couldn’t get any to work with me, largely because I’m not in the US, but in one case because I’m too modern, religiously.  Maybe it’s not sensible to think like that anyway; both my exes had issues and that was at least partly responsible for the failure of both relationships.  Maybe I need someone very stable and kind, although what she would see in me is anyone’s guess.

I also worry that I won’t be able to have children, partly because my issues are too ever-present and exhausting to make it a good idea, particularly if I marry someone with similar issues; partly because, as I get older, having children means finding a wife significantly younger than me, which seems unlikely to happen.   Some shadchanim and dating sites seem to divide the dating pool in two, under-forties and over-forties, the former being presumably for people who can have children, the latter for people who are too late, or who are assumed to already have children from a previous relationship and not to want more.

As I said, this is all catastrophising.  My parents still think I’ll get married and have at least one child, which seems wildly optimistic to me.  It’s hard to turn off the catastrophising voice though, particularly when there seems so little evidence against it.  I need to focus on stuff in the present, as I was recently, but it seems hard today when I feel to depressed to concentrate on anything and when my mind just wanders down the path of least resistance, which is the path of catastrophising and wallowing in self-pity.

I try to tell myself that if God wants me to have a career and a wife and children then it will happen and if He doesn’t, it won’t, and there’s not much I can do about that… except that just reinforces the fear that he doesn’t want me to have those things and there’s nothing I can do about it.  Certainly he hasn’t wanted me to have them so far.  I don’t think belief in God is supposed to make me so fatalistic, certainly not Jewish belief, which is supposed to be proactive.  We’re supposed to think that God wants the best for us, and if it doesn’t suit our desires or plans, that’s because we’re limited whereas He’s omniscient and knows what would be good for us better than we do.  I just wish I knew what His plan is and had some idea if I would ever get there.

Do I even know what I want out of life?  I’m not sure.  Part of me suspects I wouldn’t be happy even in a loving relationship, that I’m just too negative and depressed a person to be happy for long.  I don’t know what would make me happy or bring fulfilment to my life.  Maybe I’ve hit on things like love and career as goals because they make other people happy and I assume they would make me happy too, but perhaps they would not.

Being frum, doing mitzvot (commandments) and studying Torah, which, according to rabbis, are what my soul wants to do and which should make me happy do very little for me.  Does that make a bad Jew?  Or are depression and low self-esteem just too corrosive to happiness for a frum life to make a difference?  Nothing really seems to help conquer the sense of insecurity, loneliness and despair.  Would it help if God Himself told me that He thought I was a good person and a good Jew?  I’m not sure that it would at this stage.

I want to be grateful for the good things in my life, and I’ve been stating them each day for years, but somehow often I feel too lonely, anxious and despairing about the future to internalise that.  I just end up feeling guilty for not being happier and more grateful.  Maybe I’m just selfish and ungrateful, but I just feel like my psychological needs are not being met (as per Maslow) and I can’t fully function.

***

My therapist is away, and maybe that’s hard too.  I share a lot of my life here on the blog, but not all of it.  There’s some that seems too trivial, or too personal, or too shameful or perhaps too weird to share here.  I’m not sure how much of that I would share with my therapist either, but some of it.  Lately it’s also been hard to tell my parents when I feel depressed and to talk to them about things and I’m not sure why.  I think on some level I feel I’ve let them down by being depressed for so long.  I could phone Samaritans.  I’m not suicidal, but the service is technically not just for people who are suicidal or even intensely depressed, but somehow I can’t bring myself to phone just to chat, perhaps because I can’t bring myself to open up to a stranger unless in serious need.

***

This week I’ve been writing letters to people who have upset me or aroused strong, difficult emotions in me.  The letters are not intended to be sent, just to work my feelings through.  I decided to write one to the frum community, which was a slightly flippant idea, but I thought I would see what came out, as I’ve been writing these letters in a fairly stream of consciousness way.  I was quite surprised that it really didn’t go the way I expected, so I thought I’d share:

Dear frum community,

I tried so hard to fit in, but I never felt accepted.  That’s my gut feeling.  Is it true?  I  don’t know.  I think people were willing to accept me at youth stuff at shul when I was a teenager, but I was too scared, and maybe a bit arrogant.  Did I think I was better?  Or smarter?  Or did I just think I could not be friendly with someone who was not a geek?  To be fair, I was carrying a lot of hurt, trauma and guilt, and that only got worse at Oxford, where people were also willing to accept, but I was too scared again.

Nowadays I’m terrified I’m too Modern, too “heretical,” too weird, too guilty to fit in, especially being single, childless, depressed and autistic.  Is that your fault or mine?  Neither really, it just is.

It’s true you do stuff that upsets me.  The casual sexism and racism that exists [in the frum community].  The focus on ritual over ethics.  The anti-gentile feeling.  The lack of culture and imagination, the conflicts over science and sex and gender and work and Israel.  But I think ultimately that’s not the point.  The point is that I think I don’t deserve you and that I think you couldn’t cope with me.

Yours sincerely…

Reading back this letter makes me think that if I look back at thirteen year old Bar Mitzvah Me, I see the me who tried going to the shul (synagogue) youth service, but who couldn’t talk to anyone there, and who was scared of being bullied, as some of the kids there went to his school and weren’t always nice to him and he couldn’t always tell if they were bullying him or not.  The me who got fed up with no one talking to him even though he wouldn’t have known what to say if they had.  The me who was being asked (which he understood as “pressured”) to lein (chant from the Torah) in the youth service because he “leined so well at his bar mitzvah,”  but who was suffering from extreme stage fright post-bar mitzvah because he felt overwhelmed by praise that he didn’t think he deserved and who didn’t want to lein ever again.  The me who was going to start feeling increasing guilt over the next few years about his family’s lax standards of Shabbat and kashrut observance, but not know how to change that, and who was soon going to start feeling a lot of guilt around sex, and not know how to change that either.  And I suppose I should say that I want to hug him or tell him not to worry, but I just feel angry and want to shout, “Why couldn’t you just cope with it?  Why couldn’t you just stick it out and make friends and become part of the community?  And then maybe I wouldn’t be depressed and single and childless and lonely.”  That’s not really very self-loving.

I could say the same about Oxford Me, which was probably the last chance I had to really turn things around.  “Just talk to people!  Just go to events, even if they bore you!  Go on the Jewish Society committee, even though you hate the idea of doing so and you think you have no talents to bring to the table, and even though you think your tutorial work leaves you no time for things like this!  Make the time!  Ask girls out, even if you’re not sure they’re 100% compatible!  Just do something!”

But even now I would make the same mistakes again, there just isn’t the social circle to make it in.  Everyone’s got their friendship circle now, and usually their spouses and children (some I guess are on Spouse Number 2 by now).  There aren’t organisations that cater for single frum people approaching forty (nebbukh).  I wouldn’t be able to go anyway, for the same reason I didn’t go then.  Getting angry with Past Mes is just getting angry with Present Me.  I can’t even keep close friendships going any more.  I don’t really have any close friends any more, and the only people I really open up to (aside from my blog) are my therapist and my rabbi mentor.

***

Achievements: some time finishing off my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week (although I had some negative thoughts about that, about my divrei Torah not being worthwhile).  I did a bit of Torah study.  I read more of Healing from Despair too, which is a Jewish book, but the chapter I read had no religious content and was just about the author’s experience of feeling suicidal, which was probably not the best thing to read.

I did some chores and went for a walk.  I basically did what I normally do, without two hours of writing my novel, so I feel a bit like I underachieved.  The time I would normally spend on the novel was partly spent on procrastination, partly on fiddling around with playlists on iTunes, and writing this mammoth post.

Exciting News

I woke up later this morning than the last few days, feeling really drained and quite depressed, even after breakfast and coffee, which usually helps somewhat.  I hope I haven’t been pushing myself too hard the last few days.  As I’ve said before, it’s frustrating that “pushing myself too hard” for me is not really pushing myself all that hard compared with other people.  I try not to compare myself to others, but I worry what it means for the possibility of having a “normal” life, with a career, marriage, children, friends and community – all those things are very draining!  Whereas the last few days I’ve been quite enthusiastic about greeting the day, today I just wanted to go back to bed and wrap myself in my duvet.  I did eventually get going, but felt sluggish and depressed in the morning and early afternoon.

I made myself work on my novel for half an hour when I didn’t feel much like it.  I proof-read the chapter I was working on yesterday and was reasonably happy with it, which means (drumroll)… I finished the first draft of the novel!  It weighed in at just under 75,000 words, which I think is reasonable, certainly for a first draft.

There’s still a lot to do, a lot I want to change.  I have three pages-worth of things I want to change, including some incidents I want to add in and characters I want to develop or change as well as more general things like adding more humour.  I might pause for a few weeks and come back to it with fresh eyes.  I want to read some books about writing in the meantime to see if they might help with some things.

That cheered me up a little and I managed to work on my devar Torah for an hour and do some additional Torah study as well as a few chores around the house.

I did another 5K run.  It took about forty minutes.  I saw two Jewish wedding parties in houses that I passed.  I’m guessing they were weddings, but lots of frum people going to particular houses in good clothes.  I’ll assume they were all legal and above board.  The reason is that today is Tu B’Av, sometimes referred to as the Jewish Valentine’s Day (although there isn’t much of a resemblance), which was once a happy day when women would dance and try to attract husbands.  It hasn’t really been a festival for about two thousand years, but it has a vestigial presence, part of which is that it’s considered an auspicious day to get married (spoiler alert: it’s not in itself a guarantee of a happy, lasting marriage).  I was mostly OK about it this year, but seeing the wedding parties did make me think of being single forever again.  Fortunately, the thoughts did not last long; ditto for thoughts I had earlier in the run I had been thinking about not fitting in to different social groups I am or have been part of.

I came back with a headache, but fortunately it went very quickly once I took solpadeine.

***

I phoned a hospital about my regular lithium level blood test.  I didn’t phone the one I usually go to, but one my Mum goes to sometimes, because I thought my usual hospital was only dealing with urgent tests at the moment.  I wanted to check I could have my regular lithium monitoring blood test there despite COVID.  My social anxiety makes things like that hard at the best of times and it’s harder than ever now lockdown has atrophied my social skills.

Once I got off the call, I discovered that my local hospital has apparently reopened, so I’m going to try to get the blood test done there as it will be more convenient.  But I did at least push myself a bit with the social anxiety.

***

I finished re-watching this year’s series of Doctor Who last night.  Despite my intentions, I only reviewed the first story on my Doctor Who blog.  I just didn’t have anything interesting to say about it.  I’m not upset that I got the DVD for my birthday, as I enjoyed most of the episodes, on some level.  Some actually improved now I knew where they were going (Fugitive of the Judoon and especially The Haunting of Villa Diodata, which went from nowhere to probably my favourite episode of the year), although one or two went down in my estimation (Praxeus) and I still have no idea what writer/showrunner Chris Chibnall thought he was doing with The Timeless Children (not just the “retcon,” the whole episode).

It does make me feel, not for the first time, that modern Doctor Who isn’t really for me in the way the original series (1963-1989) is, which is why I’m not reviewing the stories on my Doctor Who blog.   I want that blog to be mostly positive, in the hope I can use it as a springboard for professional writing work (it hasn’t worked so far).  I don’t engage with the new series in the same way as the old, even when I enjoy it.  I’m not sure why that is.  I did write some paragraphs probing the reasons for that, as they are somewhat tangentially related to autism and mental health, but I think probably does depart from the focus of this blog, so I got rid of them.

Whatever the reason, at the moment I’m looking forward to the animations of missing episodes from the sixties a lot more than to new episodes – my copy of The Faceless Ones arrived today , and Fury from the Deep is out in a few weeks!

***

Why does Spotify keep playing me adverts for joining the army reserves?  What is their algorithm telling them about me and my interests?

OCD Slightly Resurgent, Otherwise Quiet

I woke up and got up early again (at least by my standards), which was good.  Less good was that I woke up from a very disturbing dream, in which I had tried to do something to promote unity between different groups of Jews and instead inadvertently created a situation which led to more division, and the burning of some religious papers by someone else out of spite (religious papers in Judaism should be buried respectfully, not burned).  The dream ended with me crying uncontrollably as a rabbi said I had done the right thing, but had been let down by other people.

I think the dream was primarily about my feelings of discomfort with the frum (religious Jewish) community.  I feel some (not all) people in it can be divisive and even spiteful, like the people in my dream.  However, I also feel that my feelings of discomfort are a product of my own prejudices as much as reality, so I could be the spiteful people in the dream too.  It is hard to be objective.  I woke up feeling sombre and upset, but I somehow managed to get up rather than just go back to sleep as part of me wanted.

The dream did at least get me up early again today, so I could say the most important morning prayers at the right time, and say more of the morning prayer service than I usually manage.

***

I spent two and a half hours working on my novel.  My main character/narrator just got assessed and diagnosed with high functioning autism.  It brought to mind my worries about whether I am on the spectrum and (different question) whether I will be diagnosed as being on the spectrum, bearing in mind I’ve been assessed twice and told that I’m not on the spectrum, but am challenging that diagnosis given that I have now done more research and have observed myself in new work and social environments (my previous assessments were before I had worked or even volunteered).

I started to worry that I’m not on the spectrum.  I made myself worried enough that I did an online screening (similar to the one I had in person eighteen months ago) which showed that I probably am on the spectrum, but I wish I didn’t have this kind of obsessive worrying about it.  As someone in my novel says, getting a diagnosis won’t change who I am or what I experience, even if it explains it.  However, it would change my perception of myself, so it is no wonder that it seems important and anxiety-provoking.

***

Other than that, today was mostly the usual stuff: cooked dinner (vegetarian kedgeree, because it’s one of my easy recipes), a walk, nearly an hour of Torah study.  I lost a lot of the time I had gained by getting up early.  I’m not sure where it went.

I did write a letter to E., not to send to her, just to express my feelings to myself.  Reading it back, I sounded a lot angrier than I thought I was.  Maybe I’ve been carrying a lot of anger around for the last couple of months since we broke up, or even before then.  I worry about how E. is doing, but I still haven’t got back in contact with her.  I noticed she’s posting stuff on Goodreads (I didn’t unfriend her, I’m not sure why, maybe because I don’t use Goodreads as a social media, only as an online catalogue of my books), so I know she’s still alive and functioning, but I am still reluctant to communicate directly.

***

My religious OCD has been dormant for a while, but it never goes away fully.  Everyone has “crazy” thoughts sometimes; what turns them into OCD is when they won’t go away and you end up obsessing about them (‘pure O’ OCD) or performing compulsions to get rid of them (more stereotypical OCD).  I have in the past had ‘pure O’ OCD about the Jewish dietary laws (kashrut), among other things.

Lately there have been a few kashrut issues where I thought on balance they were OK, but I wasn’t 100% sure.  When my OCD was at it’s height, I would have asked a question of a rabbi or the London Bet Din (yes, I emailed their food technologist a lot when my OCD was raging a few years ago.  I still blush to think of it).  I was trying hard not to ask the question, because asking just provokes more questions – the way OCD grows is that you can never be 100% sure of anything, so every answer provokes more questions, as well as accustoming you to asking questions rather than relying on your own judgement.  I was fairly sure things were OK and was intent on just leaving it like that.

Unfortunately, today I gave in to ask a question, and then it snowballed.  I think I’ve got it under control now, and even for the hour or so that it happened, my anxiety levels were nothing compared with a few years ago.  Nevertheless, it’s a reminder of how fragile my mental health can be and how easily things can unravel.

***

I haven’t got much else to say today.  I feel a lot calmer and present-focused now I’ve cut a lot of internet use.  I haven’t strictly kept to only using the internet and email twice a day as my therapist suggested, but I’m not doing a lot more than that, except for novel research.  I’m also not looking at news and opinion sites much and not at Twitter at all (I haven’t been on other social media sites for years).  I feel a lot happier and peaceful, but I worry that I’m becoming ignorant of the world.  I guess I feel I can’t change the world much anyway, and the areas where I could change it, I still keep up with.  Still, we’re constantly being bombarded with messages about the importance of making a stand, demanding change, “silence is violence” (which I think is a glib and misleading phrase, although it has an element of truth) and so on that not being super-aware of what’s going on seems vaguely immoral.

Another Busy Day

I woke up early today, at least by my usual standards.  I usually wake up in the early morning, but then I feel tired and usually fall asleep again until much later.  I decided the other day that I would try to force myself to stay up, which I managed today.  I was pretty tired (even though I had about seven hours of sleep), but I managed it.  I was OK once I drank coffee and I was glad to get an earlier start on the day and say the morning Shema and Amidah on time.

I did doze for half an hour in the afternoon though.

Achievements (although the above are really achievements too): I spent two hours on my novel and finished another chapter.  Only one more chapter to go!  I’m up to 72,000 words too, which is novel length, just about.  Hopefully the manuscript will grow a bit in redrafting.  The time taken to write each chapter seems to be becoming shorter too, even though they chapters are mostly the same length.  I have mixed feelings about the quality though.  Some of that is probably low self-esteem and it is just a first draft.  My English teacher used to say that a first draft is 99% of the work, and for non-fiction I would tend to agree, but I think writing fiction is more organic and individual and I need to redraft more, particularly as I’ve never written something this long before.

I did an hour of Torah study, much of it difficult Mishnah, which was good.

I also went for a half hour walk.  My ankle felt a bit strange when I woke up.  I’m not sure how to describe it – kind of weak and fragile.  It wasn’t painful, but I didn’t want to put too much weight on it.  I think something is wrong when I run, but I’m not sure if it’s my trainers or if I’m running incorrectly (it can happen).  I don’t really want to go shopping for new trainers at the moment because I’m avoiding shops except for essential items to shield Mum.  I could mail order, but my parents have put me off that by saying that returning them would be hard if they’re a bad fit.

I attended depression group online via Zoom.  I hadn’t attended for a while because I’ve been having therapy on Mondays and was too tired after that to go, but I’ve moved therapy to Wednesdays so that I can go again, plus my therapist is away this week anyway.  I mentioned my novel and people were really supportive, which was nice.

My mood was mostly good today, although it was drifting downwards when I dozed off in the afternoon, so maybe it was just as well that I fell asleep at that point.  My mood did dip slightly into self-recrimination and worry while walking, but mostly I was able to focus on the present.

Someone at depression group asked if I find it easier or harder online.  I find it harder, but I’m not sure why.  I think some of it is feeling that I’m being stared at by the camera the whole time, whereas in person I can see people are focusing on the person speaking, not me.  I also think there’s blurred boundaries when Zooming in from home (am I at home or in the group?) and less of a transition from home to group and back again and transitions are really important for people on the autism spectrum.  I find it hard to give people my full attention on Zoom, harder than in person, and I was getting fidgety by the end, which I know is autistic stimming and my way of trying to focus (rather than boredom), but I was glad that people couldn’t see that I was tapping my fingers because it might have looked rude.

I didn’t stick exactly to my limits on internet usage/email checking that I agreed with my therapist, but I did mostly stick to them and that does seem to help stay present-focused, not to compare myself with others so much and to avoid negative thoughts.  Actually, depression group can provoke comparing thoughts, a kind of procrustean bed where if they’re doing well, I feel I should be doing as well as they are, but if they aren’t doing well, I feel that I should be doing more things as I’m not so depressed.  I try not to think like that, but it’s not always easy.

I didn’t feel like I’d done much today, but writing it down I see that I have done quite a bit.

***

I made a mistake online.  Not a major one (it was less something I didn’t know and more something I phrased badly), but normally I would beat myself up about it, but I’m trying not to, which I guess is good.  With CBT for social anxiety, one technique is to make deliberate mistakes to become inured to them (one nineteenth/early twentieth century yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) used to get the students to do something similar, and there is an XKCD cartoon with a similar point…).  I did not do that when I did CBT for my social anxiety; as I think I’ve said, I don’t think I tried hard enough with CBT for social anxiety, although what I did seemed quite difficult at the time.

***

This passage in Healing from Despair: Choosing Wholeness in a Broken World (by Rabbi Elie Kaplan Spitz and Erica Shapiro Taylor) resonated with me: “A sensitive child, burdened by his natural physical desires and the emotional and intellectual demands he inherited… Rebbe Nachman entered into depressed periods throughout his life.”  My emotional and intellectual demands were not inherited, but came partly from social expectation and partly from my own inner drive for excellence, but otherwise it was very similar to my childhood and adolescence.

Day of Achievements

I’ve felt a bit better the last few days.  Maybe it’s being past my birthdays, English and Hebrew, and being past Tisha B’Av.  Being able to shave and listen to music again cheers me up in itself.  I’m not sure I’m applying for the right jobs, but it feels appropriate to be looking, and I’m making progress on my novel.  Of course, when things go better for a few days, then I start to worry that they’ll get worse again.  There is a fear that the further I get off the ground, the more painful it’s going to be when I fall down again.  I’m trying to stay positive and remember that I have made progress.  My life has a cycle of depressive episodes and better periods and maybe that will never fully go away, but the depressive episodes, though long and painful, are not as bad as they used to be.  I’m not where I was fifteen years ago, when the thought of having even a part-time job or writing a novel or ever being in a relationship would have seemed absurd.  Nor have I been seriously suicidal in a long time.

***

Achievements: I had my best-ever novel writing day, writing 2,750 words in about two hours!  It was a somewhat exciting bit, which makes me think my narrative flows better when I’m writing action rather than character bits (“action” in the sense of “stuff happening” rather than “fights and chases” although there was a bit of that here as one of my characters fled her abusive husband).  I’m nearly finished the penultimate chapter.  I’m just about OK on the word count.

I had a Skype call with my rabbi mentor.  He offered to speak to me when I was feeling very depressed the other week, but I feel somewhat better now I’m past my birthday and Tisha B’Av so I didn’t have a huge amount to say.  We spoke a bit about my novel and about writing letters you don’t intend to send to voice feelings and get them off your chest (see below).  He sounded stressed about work stuff.  I’m worrying a bit about him now, but am wary of asking for too many details in case I seem pushy.

I went for a run for forty minutes, about three miles or five kilometres.  It wasn’t a great run, probably because I hadn’t been running in the last two weeks and because it was quite hot out.  I also started to get an exercise migraine halfway through, which did not help, although I did stick with it.  Possibly I’m pushing myself too much with this at the moment, as I have a tendency to push through when feeling pain in my feet or getting a migraine.  My foot was mostly OK, but was a bit uncomfortable in the last five minutes or so.  Putting inner soles in my trainers seems to have helped a bit, but I probably do need new trainers.  I’m scared to go out shopping at the moment, though, and I’m not sure if it’s sensible to mail order them.

I managed about an hour of Torah study and brainstormed some ideas for this week’s devar Torah (Torah thought).  Also had some thoughts about the problem of suffering as presented in Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) as compared with Iyov (Job) that I want to mull over some more and maybe share here or elsewhere.

I wrote a letter (NOT to be sent) to our next-door neighbour, saying why I was so upset about the illegal minyanim (prayer meetings) he held in lockdown.  This was to voice and process my feelings.  I might try writing one to E. tomorrow about our breakup.

As this post is short, I spent some time working on another post that I’ve been writing recently, which I hope to post shortly (tonight or tomorrow).

I think I managed to stay reasonably in the present and not spend too much time worrying about the future or recriminating about the past.  I think my kavannah (mindfulness in prayer) has been better the last few days, which I think is related to this.  I think trying to limit my internet use helps.   It breaks me out of the search for instant gratification and dopamine hits that I can get locked into when looking for things to read or the wait for blog comments.  It also stops me feeling the whole time that I want to connect with people, but am unable to do so easily.  I didn’t quite make the target of only looking at emails and blogs twice a day today, but was close, although I have excluded necessary internet use for job applications and research for my novel from that limit.

***

Achievements of another kind: there were two “mazal tov” notices from my shul (synagogue) today: the wife of someone I know slightly had a baby and the daughter of my closest friend in shul got engaged.    I felt genuine happiness for my friend and was pretty good about not having depressed “I’m never going to get married and have kids” thoughts, even though the daughter who got engaged is about twelve years younger than me, which would normally prompt, “I’m on the shelf and there are no women left for me to marry” thoughts.

Tisha B’Av in Auschwitz

Today I felt depressed and subdued, but it kind of goes with the territory, as it was Tisha B’Av the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, the day we’re supposed to be sad to mourn the destruction of the Temple as well as subsequent tragedies of Jewish history.  (It might sound surprising, but we’re not supposed to be sad most of the time.)  I read some more of Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust.  I’ve been reading this book for about five or six years, only on Tisha B’Av.  I can’t bear to read it on any other day, it’s too upsetting.  I hope to finish it in a couple of years.  Some of the stories did move me to tears, I admit, although I’m probably more sceptical about the supernatural than some of the people who related the stories.  I also went to some online shiurim (religious classes) via my shul (synagogue).

In the afternoon I went on a virtual tour of Auschwitz organised by a Jewish educational group.  (Thanks to Eliza for pointing me in their direction!)   I’ve never been there in person.  I feel vaguely uncomfortable about going to Holocaust sites, although I can see why it’s important for some people.  I discovered there’s not actually much there at Auschwitz any more, which I think I knew, but it had never really registered.  The Nazis destroyed the gas chambers and the crematoria to hide the evidence of the Holocaust.  I was surprised how big the site it was.

It was quite moving, but sometimes with Holocaust things I feel I’m not feeling what I “should” feel, maybe because most of my family did not directly experience it.  Perhaps it’s also hard in a way for me, being frum (religious).  With some secular Jews, their entire Jewish identity is built around the Holocaust and/or Israel; whereas I have so much more to my Jewish identity than that.  There is definitely a danger of being overly-obsessed with how Jews died rather than how they lived (to paraphrase Rabbi Lord Sacks*), but Tisha B’Av is a day to confront these memories.

I still would like to feel that I’m moving on somewhere as well as just focusing on the past.  It’s easier to focus on the Holocaust rather than the destruction of the Temple, because the former is more relatable.  There hasn’t been Judaism based around the Temple ritual for nearly 2,000 years, so it’s difficult to understand what it was like.  But the Holocaust isn’t much easier to focus on, although it has the human dimension, because it’s just unlike anything else.

(As an aside, it’s depressing doing a virtual Auschwitz tour and then after the fast was over going online to see the latest iterations of the “Jews are all rich, powerful, privileged and racist” stuff that’s been coming out in the last few weeks.)

In this respect the rabbi leading the virtual tour said something similar to what my shul (synagogue) rabbi said yesterday, about trying to find areas to grow.  I’ve already said here that I want to focus more on being present in the present and not obsessing over the past or worrying about the future.  That doesn’t sound a very Jewish or religious thing, but I think it is.  It’s connected with ideas like bitachon (trust in God) and kavannah (mindfulness, particularly in prayer).  But to do that, I need to be able to trust that God has my best interests at heart, even if painful things happen to me.  That’s hard on a day like today, when I confront the many tragedies of Jewish history, including the Holocaust.

It’s just an effort to focus on NOW with gratitude and mindfulness, not what I fear/hope will happen in the future.  I will try it for six or seven weeks until Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and see what happens.

***

I already mentioned I believe less in the supernatural than some Orthodox Jews, so I’m taking this with an Everest-sized mountain of salt, but at one of the shiurim today, the guest rabbi presenting told a story about a frum (religious) Jew who was in a coma four days with COVID and had a near-death experience.  He says that his soul was tried in Heaven and he discovered that although keeping all the mitzvot (commandments) are important, the afterlife primarily depends on loving other people and being kind.

As I say, I am sceptical about how true that story is, but it did make me think that while I agree that love and kindness are of the utmost importance (regardless of the afterlife), I struggle to show them the way I should.  I get irritable with my family.  I get annoyed by other people and although I don’t usually show it, I find it hard to love people sometimes (as Linus said in Peanuts, “I love mankind, it’s people I can’t stand!”).  I have a some inchoate anger and resentment towards the frum (Orthodox Jewish) community sometimes because of how I feel I’ve been treated, which I need to work through in a healthier way.  I want to be kind, but so often social anxiety stops me from acting on my kind impulses, or autism means that I can see someone is in need, but don’t know how to respond correctly.  My parents say I’m kind (usually when I say I have no assets to attract a potential spouse), but I guess they would.

I know this is turning into yet another “should” and another “beat myself up” session, so I don’t want to pursue it too far, but it has been on my mind this evening, thinking about how I could be more kind and loving in the future.

 

* What he actually said was that an educationalist complained to him that at Jewish schools, students “Learn about the Greeks and how they lived, and they learn about the Romans and how they lived, and they learn about the Jews and how they died.”  Both Rabbi Sacks and the educationalist felt that with a curriculum like this, it was no wonder so many Jews are just looking to escape from their Jewish identity through assimilation.

Shutdown

I feel quite depressed today, plus I’ve had some anxiety too.  I had a bit yesterday evening, and today it’s worse.  I’m not sure what triggered it exactly.  I’m pretty sure it’s stuff I’ve seen online as it restarted after being online this morning, but I’m not sure what triggered it exactly.  Tablet magazine ran three stories yesterday on antisemitism in left-wing/anti-racist/cancel culture circles, which was a lot even by their standards, so that contributed to it, but it started before then and I don’t know why it restarted this morning.  There’s the usual despair about being alone and unemployed forever too.  I’m not sure whether I should worry about dying alone and unloved or being killed by antisemites.  I suppose they aren’t mutually exclusive.

I feel I have some creeping ‘pure O’ OCD thoughts again lately.  Not the religious OCD so much as scrupulosity “am I a good person?  Maybe I’m secretly sexist/racist/whatever?” thoughts.  Sometimes my thoughts just seem horrible and polluted and I wonder where they even come from.

I want to be more positive, here and in general, but it’s hard.  While my worst fears haven’t fully come true, it would be untrue to say that none of my fears have ever materialised.  The best I can say is that worrying about being lonely in the future is just contributing to loneliness now, not that I think it realistic that I won’t be lonely in the future.  I wonder if I should try to write less here, to be less negative, but I feel I need to be able to vent somewhere and it’s easier in writing.

I tried to write my novel and just started crying without knowing why.  I went back to bed and wrapped myself in my duvet for autistic comfort for a bit, trying not to think about shoulds (“I should get a weighted blanket”) and then went into a bit of a shutdown (I’m not really sure if I experience autistic shutdowns as such, but I don’t know how else to describe what can happen to me when I’m exhausted and depressed).  Eventually I fell asleep, I’m not sure how long for.

I cooked dinner, because I had promised to, as Mum had chemo today so is too tired to cook.  I also worked on my devar Torah (Torah thought), because I really needed to get that more or less finished today.  I’m a bit happier with than yesterday, but not hugely so.  However, overall, this day has largely been a mental health day.  I haven’t been well enough to do much.  I could do some more work on the novel now I feel a bit better, but I’m wary of doing it, because this evening and tomorrow is Tisha B’Av, the Fast of 9th of Av, the saddest day in the Jewish year, when we lament the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the exile of the Jews from the Land of Israel and the many tragedies of Jewish history.  Pretty much anything enjoyable is prohibited, including (among other things) eating and drinking and Torah study.  I feel I need to relax a bit beforehand or I won’t get through it.  I won’t watch TV tomorrow and unlike Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbath and festivals), I won’t read fiction or graphic novels or anything fun.  So I feel that I should relax beforehand.  I’m a bit torn.

It can be hard to fill the day on Tisha B’Av; unlike Yom Kippur, there is a long afternoon to fill with no shul (synagogue) services.  I will be “attending” Zoom services tonight from my shul and hopefully some shiurim (religious classes) tomorrow, depending how I feel.  I have to eat, because I’m on lithium, but I will try to fast until halakhic midday tomorrow (the evening and morning are considered sadder than the afternoon, so it’s better to wait for then until breaking my fast).  I seem to get psychosomatic headaches on fast days as if I was dehydrated.  I don’t know why that happens.  I haven’t decided whether I will work on my novel.  Work is permitted, but “the righteous” are discouraged from doing it.  In the past, I’ve avoided work, but I can get sucked into a huge pit of dangerous despair that is going beyond what is required of the day.  Sometimes it feels like it’s getting harder each year; that each year of Tisha B’Av with clinical depression feels somehow cumulatively harder, like they carry over from one year to the next.  I don’t know what is causing that feeling.

Looking for Work, Writing and Thinking

I used to think that if I was unemployed, I would take any job available, even if it was stacking shelves in the supermarket.   The reality has been different, as I’ve discovered that (a) there aren’t that many jobs I’m actually qualified to do and (b) there aren’t that many jobs that I would feel comfortable and capable of doing with depression, social anxiety and autism.  I’ve also discovered that employers view people who are over-qualified as being as unsuitable as people who are under-qualified.

To be honest, I increasingly feel anxious about getting another job as I don’t believe I will be able to cope with it with all my issues.  I feel there probably are some jobs I could do, but finding them and getting them is hard.  Part of me is glad to be out of work.  In part this is because I want the time to work on my novel, but also because I am terrified of getting another job that is bad for my mental health and bad for my autism, and because I am even more terrified of getting a job that I can’t do.  I have begun to doubt whether I still have the librarian skills that I used to have.  I have had too many cataloguing tests that I have done badly.

It is hard to tell how much of this is realistic and how much is low self-esteem and anxiety.  It does feel like the job I was happiest at in the last couple of years was the one I was probably a bit over-qualified for, although the happiness was only partly from that and partly from having a supportive manager and pleasant colleagues.  Even then, I had social anxiety at times (even though it was a backroom job) and used to come away exhausted at the end of the day, even though I was only working two days a week.  And I still felt I made some stupid mistakes, albeit usually from social anxiety when I was with my manager.

***

I worry sometimes about whether my thoughts are really my own.  Not in a psychotic sense, I hasten to add.  I just worry I pick things up from news media, social media, adverts, my religious community, everywhere really.  Political views, religious views, cultural views, desires, fantasies.  My image of what a good life would be.  I think everyone does this, but I don’t like the thought of my doing it.

I’m not so worried about religious thoughts, because I think I’m quite good about balancing belief and scepticism there and looking for sources I trust.  However, I worry about picking up political views unthinkingly sometimes.  It’s hard to tell.  I think I’m more trusting of some sources than others.  Much of social media seems to consist of being told that certain things are intolerable, but I’m not sure that they all are intolerable, or even worth mentioning.  George Orwell wrote (Politics vs Literature: An Examination of Gulliver’s Travels) that the highest form of totalitarianism is when there is no secret police and conformity is enforced simply by peer pressure.  I think we’re getting there on Twitter.

Cultural views, desires, wants, fantasies and so on are very hard to see past, particularly all-pervasive advertising, which is about selling an idea of a fantasy life (involving conspicuous consumption) as much as selling individual products.  I don’t think I’m very materialistic, but I can see that I might pick up ideas of what sort of life I should lead.  I can see why Haredi people and other religious fundamentalists try to tune out secular culture, but then that would just leave me with frum (religious) Jewish culture, which I don’t always agree with either (the cultural aspect, more than the religious aspect).

I think I want to have a job, with the caveats mentioned above.  I think I really want to get married and have children.  I think I really want, on some level, to be a “good” Jew, davening (praying) at shul (synagogue) three times a day and doing significant religious study, but lately that feels less achievable and possibly less desirable.  But to what extent are these really my thoughts and desires.  I certainly find aspects of both secular and frum culture hard to deal with.  I think my rabbi mentor said that everyone in the frum community finds aspects of it narrow-minded.  That everyone thinks it can be narrow-minded and prejudiced.  I’m not sure how true that is (I mean, how true that everyone finds aspects hard to deal with).

***

As agreed with my therapist, I’ve been trying to stay offline today, except for one period first thing when I get up and one in the early evening (now).  It’s hard to go without constant checking of email, blog comments and blog reader.  It makes me realise how much I did it mindlessly, out of boredom, desire for distraction and desire for connection with other people.  It’s going to be hard to wean myself off it, but I’m trying.  I did have to use the internet a bit today for novel research, but I tried not to use it for email and blogs except in those two periods.

I think when I get stuck on my writing, my brain goes into ‘idle’ for a few minutes and I read online or check emails and meanwhile my unconscious is looking for a solution to the writing problem.  So maybe I shouldn’t be trying to cut all that “unnecessary” online activity.

***

Achievements: I spent an hour writing.  Then, after a break, I tried to write my devar Torah for the week, but it just was not coming, so I went out to go for a walk and do some shopping.  I did nearly another hour on the novel after that.

I didn’t finish my devar Torah.  I wrote about a third or a half and then I got stuck.  I know what I could say, but I’m not sure I really want to go down that route.  I don’t have many alternatives, though.  I’ve been trying to get it sent on Thursday evening lately, because if I send it on Friday my Israeli readers don’t always get it before Shabbat.  The problem this week is that Thursday is the Fast of Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, and Torah study is forbidden except for the sad bits of Tanakh (the Bible) and Talmud, so I can’t work on it then.  Which means I need to finish it tomorrow afternoon.  (I shouldn’t really work on it then, as the studying restrictions ideally start the afternoon before, but I don’t really have an alternative.)  So, I feel a bit stressed and disappointed about this.  I’m not sure how long I spent on it, but the creative juices just weren’t flowing.

I did about half an hour of straightforward Torah study and later might start re-reading Healing from Despair, a Jewish book about dealing with despair written by a rabbi.  To be honest, I don’t remember it being great first time around, but I’ve been desperate lately for Jewish texts about suffering and despair and even if this book isn’t so good, it might point me towards some useful primary or secondary sources.

***

I felt very depressed and sad on my walk, as I had intermittently at least all day.  It definitely feels like my mood slumps when I have free time at the moment, which I guess argues in favour of finding work, assuming it’s work that keeps me occupied.  I think of ‘sad’ and ‘depressed’ as two different states.  I think a person can be sad without being depressed, and I think I’m often depressed without being particularly sad.  Despairing and exhausted, but not sad.  I think sadness is about losing something, whereas maybe depression and despair are about not having something at all, particularly hope.  Maybe that’s not true.  I don’t know.

I felt sad partly about breaking up with E.  There isn’t a lot of point in going over this again, here or in my head, but it’s hard not to sometimes.

My novel isn’t the most cheerful thing either; currently one of my characters is trying to flee her abusive husband.  I think I need to contact a women’s charity and ask exactly what the process would be if someone asked for help, because it’s not completely clear from the websites I’ve been looking at, but I can see that they might not want to tell me, either because they don’t have time to help a writer or because they don’t tell people much for security reasons, to protect their clients.

I know it’s going to sound pretentious and arrogant, but I really hope writing is something I could make some kind of difference with.  Even with my plans for future novels, which will hopefully not be quite so heavy-going.  In the future I want to write Jewish fantasy/science fiction/historical novels that might encourage Jews to investigate their heritage more and make non-Jews more aware of Jewish history and the issues Jews have faced and still faced in non-Jewish societies.  This novel is heavier and more obviously “worthy” in that I’m trying to write about mental illness, autism and domestic violence in the frum community, where these things are not always discussed.  As the cliché goes, if even one person gets help or understands their situation from my writing, it will be worthwhile.  But first I have to write the thing!  But it does help with motivation, whereas I struggle with motivation for library jobs, even though they are also socially worthwhile, because I feel I’m just not making a difference; if anything, I worry I make things worse through messing stuff up at work.

Two Years

Shabbat was good.  The usual mix of praying, studying Torah, eating, sleeping (too much) and reading.  I came last at Scrabble.  I had some rotten letters, far too many vowels.  I’m not very competitive, but I am getting annoyed that I’ve only won one game so far this summer.  There was some discussion as to whether ‘boxy’ (my word) is a word or not.  Our dictionary (Collins) says no, but now Shabbat is out, Merriam-Webster online says yes.  Maybe I’d have been better off with ‘oiled,’ but I couldn’t remember how many ‘L’s were in it.

I finished Sacred Fire: Torah from the Years of Fury, 1939-1942, kept up with weekly page of Talmud and read a bunch of Tehillim (Psalms) in Hebrew.  I didn’t do much recreational reading, just a little bit more of Muck, which is very good.  I didn’t go for a walk, partly because I slept and then wanted to study Torah and read, partly because it looked like rain.

***

Yesterday I realised it is nearly two years since I left my further education job (it’s nearly two years since I stopped working, although I was technically under contract for a couple of weeks in August when I was on holiday).  It feels much longer.  I think leaving may be the worst decision I ever made, and I’ve made some pretty bad ones.

For those of you who don’t remember or weren’t reading then, my initial contract was up.  I was not sure if it would be renewed, as everything in the library world, and the education world, is suffering from lack of funds.

I was offered a permanent contract, but my boss made it quite clear that she didn’t think I was handling the job as well as she expected.  The permanent contract was in many ways a new job, working all the time at the college’s secondary site (instead of once a week there and usually at the main site) where I would be expected to have much more contact with staff, talking to them, getting book recommendations from them and trying to get them to bring students to the library more often.  This terrified me given my social anxiety and the fact that the interpersonal aspects of the job so far had convinced me that I am autistic.  My boss had also made it clear that she felt that this interpersonal interaction side of the job was something I was particularly bad at.  I agreed, and decided to turn the job down, which seemed to astonish her, even though her vocal lack of confidence in my skills was a major factor in my turning it down.

If I’d realised how hard it would be to build a career or even to find a new job that is mostly backroom librarian stuff with minimal interpersonal interactions, maybe I would have taken that job.  Since then I’ve only worked for seven months in total out of twenty-three (not counting that August when I was paid, but not working).

I made a list of everything I’ve done in the last two years to try to work out if they were good or bad.  Aside from only seven months working, I had some interviews and tests and did badly in a lot of them, but not quite all (obviously two I did well in as I got the jobs).

I went on two dates with one person via a matchmaking site (not a success) and was in a long-distance relationship with E. for four or five months that also ended badly.

My mood (depression) has been extremely variable, and although I had some CBT last year for social anxiety, my social anxiety has got worse because of lockdown.  I also think I didn’t push myself hard enough with the CBT, although being restricted to ten sessions on the NHS didn’t help.

On the plus side, I finished my Doctor Who non-fiction book, but failed to get a publisher, or many readers when I self-published.  I have written most of the first draft of a novel.  This is the biggest thing in my life at the moment, aside from helping around the house now Mum has cancer.

My therapist, who I’d been seeing for years (seven?  Something like that) stopped seeing me in late 2018 because she said there was nothing else she could do for me.  That made me feel hopeless (not the first time mental health professionals have basically said that they can’t do anything for me as my issues are too difficult for them).  I started with a new therapist a few weeks ago.  She seems good, but I have seen so many therapists over the years, I see it as being more about letting off steam than being “cured” or one day having a “normal” life.

I still haven’t had an(other) autism assessment, despite being pushed towards it by the further education job and then by the following office job, which nearly drove me insane and made me realise my brain really isn’t wired like most people’s.

I made some new friends, mostly online, but quite a few friends have stopped talking to me, or I’ve stopped talking to them to prevent arguments (or from fear we would drift back into a relationship again in the case of E.).  I feel incredibly bad about this, but don’t know how to stop it happening again.

I think I had begun to fit in slightly better at shul (synagogue) and talk to one or two more people before lockdown.  I led services a couple of times too, but wonder if I should have done that (I had tremor issues again someone said I looked “like you were going to have a coronary”).  I still feel the community is not a perfect fit for me, but it’s the best on offer.  A few people know I have medical issues even if I haven’t told them the details, but I don’t always feel supported, although the rabbi has been messaging to check in regularly during lockdown, which is good.

Reading this back mostly makes me feel despairing, seeing how little has gone right in the last two years.  The plus side, I suppose, is that a lot happened, even if much of it was bad, so perhaps I should be hopeful that the next two years won’t be stagnant, even if I feel the chances of finding a job (let alone a good job), finding a girlfriend/wife or finding a publisher for my book all seem slim.

Someone to Watch Over Me

I’m dealing with difficult feelings today.  I felt overwhelmed when I got up, although I feel calmer now.  Some of it was sitting waiting for the doctor to phone (see below), which is always anxiety-inducing – social anxiety as much as medical anxiety, plus now autistic “new situation” anxiety about socially isolated phone appointments (I’ve only had phone appointments before for follow up calls about mental health which didn’t need to be in person).

Dad phoned the doctor for me at 8.30am and got me a telephone appointment.  The line was quite bad, so I was struggling with the phone call even more than usual.  I was supposed to get a text beforehand allowing me to send a photo of the mole, but somehow I didn’t get it, although I got my Dad to take a photo.  The surgery is not really good at admin things like that.  The doctor said he couldn’t do much without a photo, but said that I could send one on the surgery website – I didn’t know that there is an online consultation feature now for minor illnesses, which is good.  I hope that stays after COVID, as it would be a useful way of getting around the problems booking an appointment.

The online consultation was difficult too.  There was a list of options, but there wasn’t an option for moles and the like.  I did eventually find a “My problem is not listed” option.  There are loads and loads of pages of questions to go through, but I did eventually get to an option to upload photos.

On the plus side, they answered within a couple of hours.  The doctor wants to send it to a dermatologist to be sure, but is pretty confident that it’s benign, which is definitely good.

***

I still feel confused some of the time about whether I made the right decision to break up with E.  I don’t want to explain why I broke up here, because that’s not fair on her, but my parents, who I did tell, thought it was the right decision, but still I worry.  Did I mess up my last chance at happiness?  I hope not.  I don’t think so, but sometimes it’s hard to be sure, particularly late at night, as happened last night.  It’s easy to get sucked into thinking that I continually make bad decisions (in general, not just regarding dating), which is not true, but it does feel that way sometimes.

***

I’m trying not to wallow in guilt right now.  We’re in the time of the Jewish calendar called The Three Weeks.  It’s a time of mourning for the destruction of the Temple, the exile of the Jewish people and many other tragedies of our history.  The last nine days are even more intense, leading up to Tisha B’Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, next Thursday.  In the Three Weeks, we don’t hold weddings or celebrations, shave or cut hair or listen to music.

One is not supposed to wear clean clothes in the last nine days, but it is permitted to “pre-wear” them for ten minutes or so before the nine days start.  I usually do this, but forgot this year, so I’ve been wearing clean shirts.  I feel bad about this.  Everything has just been so crazy this year.  I feel like I’m hardly observing the Three Weeks as I can’t fast the rabbinic fasts that bookend it on my medication and I have listened to music when feeling depressed, although not when feeling OK.  I’m trying not to beat myself up about this and other things and to accept that I’m fallible, but it doesn’t seem entirely right somehow.  I know my therapist said to focus on values rather than “shoulds.”  I am still trying to live in accordance with my values generally, even if I can’t keep these laws properly this year.  It doesn’t feel right, though.  I’m glad that I’m not shaving for the Three Weeks, even though my beard itches like crazy.  I’ll be glad to shave it off next Friday.

***

I managed some writing today, getting close to finishing another chapter.  There’s one important passage that I don’t think I’ve got right, but I’m not sure how to change it.  It’s hard to write something of a religious experience when I haven’t exactly had one myself.

***

I watched the Star Trek Voyager episode Someone to Watch Over Me.  I vaguely remembered watching this one on original UK transmission, but I didn’t remember much of the plot.  It’s basically a Pygmalion rip-off as the Doctor and Tom Paris bet whether the Doctor can educate Seven of Nine enough to get, and keep, a date in a few days, with the Doctor inadvertently falling in love with her while educating her in human interactions.  Seven is a human who was converted to a cyborg and then back to a human.  She is pretty emotionless and remorselessly logical and efficiency-focused.  She comes across as somewhat autistic in some ways, particularly in her inability to make small talk, to build friendships or to intuit the emotional needs of others.  I find her the most interesting character in the programme because of that (and not because of Jeri Ryan’s figure-hugging costume…).

At the start of this episode she’s unable to understand why B’Ellana Torres is angry at her for using her relationship with Tom as a case study on sexual relationships.  Captain Janeway and the Doctor take this curiosity as a sign that Seven unconsciously wants to be in a relationship.  Around the time this was broadcast, I was in my late teens and similarly curious about relationships, but uncertain what to do about them (I didn’t go on a date until I was twenty-seven), so I used to linger when my Mum or my sister were watching soap operas and rom coms, while pretending not to be watching them.  In retrospect, soap operas and rom coms probably were not the best role models, although I don’t think I ever “learnt” all that much from them.  I didn’t know how else to find out about relationships.

The episode was pretty cringey overall, in terms of Seven’s lack of social graces and the Doctor’s inability to express his feelings for her.  I’ve been there regarding both of those things.  It does make me wonder if I’m ever going to be socially graceful and build the friendships and romantic relationship I want.  I’m not sure if I (or anyone else) can really learn small talk and interpersonal interactions from a book or lecture.  I’m also not sure I can really learn them in my late thirties.  It does feel that I should have learnt these things in childhood or adolescence, when my brain was more plastic.

Socially Anxious Duckling

I dreamt about a duckling last night and woke up wondering feeling like the ugly duckling and wondering when I will turn into a swan…

My Dad tried to wake me up at 8.00am so I could phone the GP’s surgery, but I didn’t get up.  I think it was partly tiredness, but mostly social anxiety.  I don’t like it when my social anxiety is that extreme.  I definitely think I’ve gone backwards since lockdown started in terms of social anxiety.  At 10.00am my Mum gave up and phoned the doctor, but all the non-emergency appointments had gone by then.  Because of COVID, they’re only releasing appointments on a day to day basis, so we’ll have to phone again tomorrow.  I asked Dad to phone, as I don’t think I will manage to get up again.

My social anxiety has historically been a lot less of a problem than my depression (or my OCD, when it was at its height), but it has always been there.  It has tended to ebb and flow.  There was a time when I was able to lead services in shul (synagogue) and give drashot (religious talks).  I did lead services a couple of times this winter just gone, but I felt very anxious and only partly did it because I wanted to.  Part of me did it because I didn’t like to say no when I was asked, which is partly a social anxiety problem in itself.  I did some CBT last year, but in retrospect, I probably didn’t push myself hard enough with the exercises, plus on the NHS I only got ten sessions, which probably wasn’t enough.

Lockdown has made everything worse, because I’ve got used to just seeing my parents, and occasionally my sister and brother-in-law.  The thought of seeing other people, or talking on the phone, is suddenly more scary than in the past.  Plus, because of COVID, most places have new rules about masks and distancing, so almost everything has autistic “new situation” anxiety as well as social anxiety.  I need to do something about this, but it is hard to see what I can do while I still need to shield Mum and when my depression is the bigger impediment.  I might try to attend Zoom depression group meetings again.  I stopped because it was the same day as therapy and I was too tired for both, but my therapist is away soon.  Alternatively, my therapist says she is happy to change days if I want to go to depression group, and that might be sensible.

***

Home was noisy and busy today.  A few days after my Dad’s catalytic converter was stolen from his car for a second time, we got a note through the door from the police saying there was a burglary in a house in our road.  My parents became super-security conscious and we had various security devices fitted today.  I can see the point, but was worried about some electricity on Shabbat (the Sabbath) issues.  We did ask my parents’ rabbi about it some weeks ago and he said it was OK in certain circumstances.  It seems to be OK in our case, but this is the type of thing that can trigger my religious OCD to say, “But what if I’m not 100% certain it’s OK?”  I’m trying to sit with that doubt and not give in to it, just as I’ve been sitting with another, unrelated, issue where I wanted to ask a question of my rabbi mentor, but decided that deep down I know the answer and it would just be fuelling the OCD to ask.  It’s hard, though, because in the frum community one is expected to ask in the case of doubt, but treating OCD involves living with (some) doubt.

The gardener was here this morning too, so there was a lot of noise and a lot of people, albeit mostly outside (necessarily, because Mum is shielding).  I do vaguely wonder if we should have waited until after COVID, but I guess the criminals are still working.

***

Achievements: I split my writing time in two today.  It was hard to start the second session, but overall I was more productive than ever, writing about 1,700 words in two hours with relatively little idleness (some idleness is probably necessary for creativity, at least for me).

I watched a series of four short videos by Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik about Jewish survival as an argument for God.  I learnt a few things, but I already knew the gist of what he was saying.  It was more a history lecture than a religious one.  It was similar to a post I started writing, but am not sure whether to finish, about why I’m religious even though I find Judaism very difficult much of the time because of my autism, depression and social anxiety.   I wasn’t sure whether anyone would be interested in that, or whether it would offend anyone who isn’t Jewish.  Or if I really wanted to hold my beliefs up for comment, to be honest.

I went for a walk.  My mood dropped somewhat.  I seem to be OK if I’m doing something that engages my brain, but my mood gets worse when I’m not.  I saw someone who went to my school and who is now married with children and is a rabbi.  I’m not sure if I was because of that, but I ended up thinking about people I was at university with and wondering what they’re doing.  In particular, someone who I fell out with while I was there, which has gone into my novel.  It was originally a key event in the novel, although as the novel has grown organically, it’s not so important now, which is probably for the best.  I ended up feeling quite downbeat.  I listened to some music (using the heter (permission) for depressed people to listen to the music during the mourning period of the Three Weeks, which we are currently in), but it was not terribly cheerful music (Donnie and Losing My Religion) and probably made things worse.  I spent the first fifteen minutes or so trying not to listen to music, but in the end I decided I was feeling too depressed and it wasn’t worth it.

In the evening, I did a little bit of ironing and some more Torah study; I would have liked to have done more, but I was too tired, as ever.  I spent twenty minutes or so writing a review of a Doctor Who story from my birthday present box set, but I don’t think I can engage with Chris Chibnall’s view of the series enough to write particularly positive reviews.  If my review of Spyfall, which I did, on some level, enjoy, seems overly negative, I shudder to think what a review of Orphan 55 might look like.

***

I got sent an email advertising a job as a “lecturer in conservation of easel paintings.”  I have no idea why I got sent that.  If only I knew something about conserving easel paintings.  All I can think of is Thomas the Tank Engine: “Coughs and sneezels spread diseasels.”

Telephone Anxiety

I had to make a couple of phone calls, both medical-related.  One to my psychiatrist try to resolve the question of where I can have my blood test at the moment because most hospitals are either not doing blood tests at all or are only doing urgent ones; the alternative is to travel to a hospital quite some way away.  The other call to the GP because I have a suspicious mole on my back that I’ve just noticed – itchy and I think new, although it’s hard to tell, as I have a lot of skin blemishes.  I’ve had two moles removed in the past and they were fine, but it’s more anxiety-provoking now with Mum being treated for cancer and with COVID disrupting everything, leading to autistic “new thing” anxiety.

I was experiencing very strong social anxiety before phoning.  I generally would experience that before phoning anyway, but it seemed worse than usual.  I really think lockdown has set me back regarding social anxiety.

I spoke to the psychiatrist’s secretary.  She went to speak to the psychiatrist and phoned me back to say I could have the blood test done in September, which was what the GP originally wanted.  Hopefully things will have changed a bit by then.

As for the GP, I was on hold for a long time and then was told that non-emergency appointments are only dealt with at 8.30am.  I suppose I could have known that, as that was sort-of the pre-COVID system (new appointments were only released at 8.30am and 6.30pm, which is a really awful system on so many levels, particularly when dealing with people who may not be keeping straightforward hours), but it wasn’t clear from the surgery website.

It feels like almost every interaction I have with GP reception staff ends with me feeling stupid.  That’s an exaggeration, but does it happen a lot.  I think a lot of the receptionists at the practice are just bad-tempered and I internalise their mood and turn it against myself.  I do dread contacting the surgery now, which is not good.  It took a huge effort to phone today; I can’t imagine how it will feel tomorrow.  The doctors are really nice there, so I don’t want to change practice, but getting past the “gatekeepers” can be a challenge.  They mess up prescriptions and the like a lot too.  Coincidentally, a friend posted on his blog to say that even pre-COVID, a lot of doctors’ receptionists seemed to be trying to stop anyone from seeing a doctor, which is sadly my experience too.

***

Aside from the hour or more that I spent doing that, it was a good day.  (It didn’t take me an hour to phone, but it took a long time to psyche myself up to doing it and to calm myself down afterwards.)

I worked on my novel for about an hour and three quarters.  The writing flowed easily for the first hour, but the second part was harder, and I ended up procrastinating online.  I think I should try to split my writing time into two chunks with a break in-between in the future.  I did write well over 1,000 words, which was good.  I did another fifteen minutes or so after dinner too, to get up to two full hours, which was also good.

I went for a walk after that.  I found I was ruminating on being single and the fact that my therapist said that I should widen my dating pool to include less religious women as otherwise I was likely to struggle to find someone kind and understanding enough to cope with all my issues.  This may be true, but I have noticed that, since breaking up with E., who was a lot less religious than me, some (not all) of my religious anxieties have reduced.  I feel a lot less of a sense of inner conflict about how religious I am/should be.  So I’m a bit wary of dating someone else less religious.   That said, frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) women seem not to like me at all, so maybe I’ll have to date non-frum women.

I found I was sinking into despair about this and quite consciously tried to change my thoughts to think about my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week.  I wrote that when I got home, or at least I wrote a draft.  As is usually the case, I’m not brilliantly happy with it.  In particular, there was one Midrash (rabbinic expansion of the biblical text) that I think I interpreted correctly, but superficially; I felt there were depths to it that I could not reach.  Then I quoted the Medieval commentator Rashi, but couldn’t find his source; the references given didn’t seem to be correct.  It’s frustrating, but at 500 – 1000 words a week, my divrei Torah are never going to be exhaustive, so I shouldn’t feel too bad.

My partial regret for the day is only managing twenty minutes of Torah study, but that is in addition to spending an hour or so researching and writing my devar Torah, so that’s really not bad for one day.