See-Saw

I sometimes wonder what happened to the people I was at school and university with, the people who were indifferent to me, the people who might have been my friends if I had had more confidence and social skills and the people who bullied me.  (I don’t know why they bullied me.  Because I was clever?   Because I was awkward and Aspie?  Because I was a Doctor Who fan?  Because it was easy?  All of the above?  I don’t know.)  I think sometimes about the girls I could have asked out who might have said yes, but who probably would have said no.  I can’t remember all the names or even all the faces, just a sense of not fitting in, of not being accepted.

I assume they are all happy, successful and loved, no matter how unpleasant and socially maladjusted they seemed twenty years occur.  It occurs to me that this might not be true.  Yet it seems pretty impossible for them to be miserable if I am miserable.  Like Yaakov and Esav (Jacob and Esau), Jerusalem and Rome, if one goes up the other must surely see-saw down.  If I’m miserable, they must be happy.

Sometimes I tell myself that my suffering is a kapparah (atonement) for the world.  This is a lie, but it helps me to get through the nights.

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Stuck in the Middle with Who?

I finally feel I achieved something this holiday: I went for a run for the first time in nearly eight months.  My trainers were covered in dust from lack of use.  To be honest, I walked quite a bit of it, which was bad even by my standards (I still find it hard to run continuously for twenty minutes or more and I do wonder how much is the depression depleting my stamina), but at least I was out for half an hour when I only expected to manage fifteen or twenty minutes.  I came back exhausted and a bit faint, but also somewhat reinvigorated.  So that’s a positive result.  I’ll try to go for another run on Sunday.  I’d like to build a run every Sunday and Friday through the summer, although the latter might be harder to fit in between therapy and Shabbat (the Sabbath).

I guess I’ve achieved a couple of things this holiday, actually.  I managed to get through Pesach OK, albeit with depression and some religious OCD, but less than the last couple of years except for one bad twenty-four hour hour period.  I did some chores that needed doing and I went out yesterday with my Dad.  I proof-read another two chapters of the second draft of my Doctor Who book today and have been taking notes for revisions on the next chapter.  I realised that writing the book has required me to read the feelings and motivations of various characters implied, but not explicitly stated, by the scripts and body language and intonation of the actors.  I think I’ve done this better than I expected, but it is something I often have to do consciously and struggle with sometimes; I’m not always sure I’ve read them correctly.  I’m not sure where that puts me on the autistic spectrum inasmuch as I find this hard (autistic),but I can do it to some extent (not autistic).  I guess it is a spectrum, with various degrees of severity.

I’m also trying a couple of new techniques for dealing with the depression, using my davening (prayers) as a mindful meditation technique (as per Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan in Jewish Meditation) and trying to accept my difficult thoughts and emotions rather than repressing them or getting anxious or depressed about them or indeed encouraging them, but I’m still trying to learn how to deal this and I wouldn’t like to say if they’re working at this stage.  Maybe I will write more on this when I’m more certain of how I’m managing it.

I suppose that those are all positive achievements, considering I was only off for two weeks and most of that was Pesach.  It’s always hard to accept that I’ve achieved things, though.

The rest of this post might be considered a very long digression, but it’s necessary to shed some light on something I’ve referred to here before more than once.  In fact, there might be a couple of people reading this who know that this is something I’ve been writing about and worrying about for many years, but I’ve seen something that makes me think this isn’t just my paranoid/introverted/depressed/autistic/whatever feelings, but something that others have observed in more objective ways.  If you want the short version, it’s mainly just me saying that a clever academic somewhere else online agrees with me about my being socially isolated in the Jewish community.  As for the long version:

On the Judaism Without Apologies blog Israeli polymath (computer scientist, political scientist and Talmudist) Moshe Koppel has been writing a sort of comparative psycho-sociological study of Orthodox Judaism and the Orthodox community versus the liberalism of non-religious American Jews.  I find it fascinating, even though I would query some of it and need more time to digest more of it (I’m hoping there will be a book version, because I suspect I internalise and evaluate information better in book format than blog format), partly because of the light it has shone on my evolving political views and my uncomfortable position in the Orthodox world.  I’m going to leave my (possibly somewhat unusual) politics out of this post and just look at the sociological side of things.

Koppel has been making his study concrete by looking at a couple of stereotypical fictional characters to represent each world, primarily Shimen, an Orthodox Jew and Holocaust survivor, and Heidi, a fairly secular American Jewish baby-boomer.  His most recent posts have been looking at the fine balance of Shimen’s religious world and the way this world has vanished in the next generation to be replaced by two streams of Orthodoxy going in opposite directions: a religious fundamentalism rejecting Western culture and a somewhat conflicted (or hypocritical), accommodationist attitude in more moderate religious thinkers.  Broadly, the former corresponds to Charedi (Ultra-Orthodox) Judaism, the latter to Modern Orthodoxy (I would question this a bit, as I felt he was taking examples from the extreme of Modern Orthodoxy and Open Orthodoxy and ignoring what is sometimes described as Centrist Orthodoxy, but we can leave such hair-splitting of practice aside for now).  Various posts have used game theory and sociological theory to show how forms of communal identification and ideological progression in both worlds result in a need for ever more extreme virtue signalling and radicalisation in both directions i.e. the fundamentalists become ever more fundamentalist to prove they aren’t liberal, while the liberals become ever more liberal to demonstrate they aren’t conservative.

The reason I bring this up is that the most recent posts explained to me my position in the Jewish world, and it is precarious.  Koppel describes Shimen’s generation as neither Charedi nor Modern Orthodox, preceding the evolution of these viewpoints, taking what it wanted from the wider world (some secular education, some bits of mainstream culture) while quietly ignoring what it deemed problematic.  Likewise, Shimen was able to balance the universal and particular elements of Jewish ethics.  Shimen probably didn’t know many non-Jews, but he probably didn’t really hate them either or think about them much at all, really, as long as they left the Jews alone.  But the next generation, confronted with an increasingly seductive, but increasingly anti-religious (both in the formal, atheist sense, but also in the sense of simply having ethical norms that are very different) wider culture is locked into one of two responses: build a ghetto and shut out Western culture as much as possible by demonising it or bend halakhah (Jewish law) as far as possible, if not further, to accommodate as much of contemporary Western thought and practice/society as possible.  Again, the former is the Charedi way, the latter the Modern Orthodox.

My rabbi mentor once said I have a strong dislike of religious hypocrisy.  It’s one of the most treasured things anyone ever said about me.  As a result, I find both approaches problematic.  I feel uncomfortable bending halakhah to fit ever-changing political and social mores and I have enough of a philosophical problem with postmodernism to be wary of trying to live my life in accordance with postmodern liberal standards.  But I also disagree with entirely shutting out Western civilisation, which has many good points (as a geek, I have to say there is little geek culture in the Charedi world).  Neither approach seems to me to do justice to the entirety and complexity of Jewish thought, the former prioritising liberal values ahead of problematic Jewish ones, the latter downplaying the universalist aspects of Jewish thought and at times adopting a prejudiced attitude to non-Jews and non-religious Jews that I can not share.  Hence the aspects of my life that I am wary of sharing with my fellow shul (synagogue) congregants: my love of Doctor Who and other vintage television science fiction; my deep and treasured friendships with non-Jews and non-religious Jews, some of them female; my reading of non-Orthodox theologians and bible critics; the fact that I used to work for a non-Orthodox rabbinical college and so on.  And, I suppose, the aspects of Judaism I don’t talk about much here, where I have a mostly non-Jewish audience, although this is due to irrelevance to my blog’s main topics as much as controversy.

Koppel’s argument is that Shimen’s middle ground has largely vanished.  I think, for various reasons (smaller community size; older communities; more antisemitism; different attitudes to religious education in state schools; a non-Jewish political culture that is different and where religion and identity politics are less contested) the division isn’t quite as stark in the UK and perhaps other European countries as in the USA (Israel is certainly a whole other kettle of fish which Koppel hasn’t got on to yet).  But it did give me some sociological back up for why I feel so alienated in my religious community, why I have the classic moderate Orthodox dilemma of “The people I pray with, I can’t talk to; the people I talk to, I can’t pray with” and why that makes it difficult for me to achieve the intimacy needed for close friendships and marriage within the community.

I do feel nostalgic for Koppel’s (or Shimen’s) world of “Litvishe gedolim [Lithuanian Talmud scholars] playing chess at the opera” and am saddened that it’s a world that has largely gone for good.  I don’t know what the solution is, either for me or for the wider community.  Koppel has hinted that he sees the possibility of growing a uniquely Jewish culture in Israel, which might be possible if the religious and secular communities don’t tear each other apart and if the Arab-Israeli Conflict doesn’t flare up again, neither of which looks likely to happen for long.  But even if that’s the case, while an idealistic part of me would like to make aliyah (move to Israel), I don’t see it as a realistic idea for me for a whole tranche of reasons, not least my mental health situation and the language barrier.  So I don’t know what I can do about meeting people like myself.

Maybe compartmentalisation, keeping my geeky friends/life and frum (religious) friends/life separate, is the only solution, but it doesn’t feel like a long-term answer.  Unless I can find a wife as unusually positioned as my self, my children are likely to end up significantly more fundamentalist or significantly less religious than I am*.  But I’m not sure how to find such a woman (even aside from all my other issues – mental health, geeky, etc.), but then, I don’t suppose many Charedi or less-frum/fundamentalist women would be particularly interested in me with my traits from the other side of the divide.

* And perhaps not even if I do find such a wife, as school and yeshiva mould character as well as parents and there is a well-known phenomenon of teenagers becoming significantly more or less religious/fundamentalist than their parents due to these influences.

The Death of a Thousand Cuts

I still feel exhausted and depressed, although not as much as yesterday (I’m off work this week as it’s still the end of term break).  I was texting a friend who asked how I was.  I said that I was OK, just burnt out and down, before realising that that meant that I’m not OK, even if that is how I have felt most of the time for as long as I can remember.  The weather doesn’t help: rainy, but not even a proper storm (I like thunderstorms), just interminable drizzle.  I’ve also got food cravings, which is probably partly boredom, partly clomipramine.  I’m trying to graze on fruit, nuts and vegetables rather than carbohydrates and processed sugar, but it’s hard when I feel so down and could do with comfort eating.

I’m still struggling with concentration.  My boss noticed that at work a while back.  For example, today I needed to get my wallet.  I went to the cupboard, opened the door, stood there looking at my books for a couple of seconds, thinking about what I should be reading and trying to work out why on earth I was standing at the cupboard looking at the books.  Then I remembered I wanted my wallet, which is in my coat pocket, which is in the wardrobe next to the cupboard.  So I went to the wardrobe, opened the door and again stood staring for a second before I realised that the coat isn’t there, because when I came home it was wet from the rain, so I left it to dry in the bathroom.  This all takes time, even before I got back to my desk, wrote this paragraph and then wondered where I’d put my wallet in the meantime.  It doesn’t take a lot of time, but the cumulative effect is quite a lot of time, particularly at work, where I struggle every time I have to shut one computer window or open another (and I have to do that a lot on our library management system).  I don’t know how much of this is depressive poor concentration and how much is autistic poor executive function.  Having been depressed most of my adult life, it is hard to tell.

I went to the dentist today.  My teeth are fine, but I was upset that I shook a little.  It was my desire not to shake that triggered the shaking.  I had to just try to relax and not try not to shake, which is difficult.

My depression group meets this evening, but I don’t feel I have the stamina to sit through an hour and a half talk about medication options when I know none of them really work for me, except clomipramine, which works a bit, but has led me to put on a ton of weight.

Following on from recent posts, I’ve sort of come to the conclusion that I probably shouldn’t date for a while.  It’s probably sensible not to put a time limit on it, but I suspect I should wait at least six months to see if I can sort out the social anxiety as my rabbi mentor suggested, although I’m more sceptical than he is as to whether I will suddenly get a rush of people offering to set me up on dates if I do wait that long, and I’m pretty sceptical of ever meeting someone who ticks all my boxes: compatible religious beliefs and practices; compatible character; compatible values (integrity, family, growth, learning); tolerates my geekiness; and tolerates my mental health issues.  As I can’t do anything about my geekiness and mental health or her tolerance level, it’s easy to think I should at least compromise on religion, character or values, as I think I mentioned the other day.  Likewise, I feel that I might possibly be an OK person by the not-very-stringent standards of pluralistic/permissive Western society, but that I’m a very bad frum (religious) Jew, so the temptation is to date non-frum women (who might think I’m OK) rather than frum women who will be angry that I don’t daven (pray) enough or with a minyan (quorum), that I didn’t go to yeshiva (seminary), that I don’t study Talmud and so on.

Nevertheless, I think that compromising religiously would probably be a mistake, at least beyond a certain point.  Identifying that point is difficult, though, as some compromise is necessary in a relationship.  My Mum likes to ask hypothetical questions about whether I would marry someone who disobeyed such and such a Jewish religious law, but it’s impossible to tell in the abstract.  My gut instinct is never to compromise on religion, because it will just lead to problems down the line, but surprisingly my rabbi mentor didn’t think it should be an automatic red line for me.  I can’t remember exactly what he said (it was some years ago), but he was of the opinion that chemistry and trust were the key elements in a relationship and that a relationship with partners on different religious levels could work if they trusted each other and compromised.  This is quite different to what the frum websites and dating advisors say and seems strange to me, yet my rabbi mentor is the wisest person I know and not usually radically wrong.

It’s hard to know where to draw the line, though.  I know someone who doesn’t want to have a TV for religious reasons who was dating someone who does watch TV.  She was willing to give it up for him, but he still stopped seeing her, because he was afraid she would come to resent him for getting her to give it up.  I can see where he’s coming from, but I still feel he made the wrong decision.  Then again, I don’t know what I would feel if a less frum (religious) woman was offering to become more frum for me.  To be honest, I can’t really see myself as enough of a catch for that to actually happen, but if it did, I would probably feel that a big burden was being placed on me to be a super-good husband to be worth the change.  And the bigger the change, the expectation to be super-good.  I suppose I should try to avoid the question by dealing with my social anxiety and self-esteem such that frum people will set me up with frum women as normally happens in the frum community, rather than leaving me to find my own dates in situations where most of the women I meet are not frum.  I just can’t really see that happening.

I think I’ve mentioned that I have emails and blog comments from friends printed out and blue tacked on my cupboard doors to build confidence.  One thing I want to put up somewhere, if I can find somewhere respectful to put it, is Rashi’s commentary on Devarim/Deuteronomy 18.13.  The verse says, “You shall be perfect [tamim] with HaShem your God.”  The obvious question is how can human beings be perfect?  Rashi quotes the Midrash (Sifrei) and answers, “Walk with Him with simplicity [temimut – the same etymological root] and depend on Him and do not inquire of the future, rather, everything that comes upon you accept with simplicity [temimut] and then you will be with Him and His portion.”  Inquiring of the future is really about not soothsaying and fortune telling, but I it’s not too much of a stretch to see it as a warning against the anxious procrastination and catastrophising that I do too much.

The other thing I mentioned the other day was trying to use mindfulness techniques when davening (praying), as I wasn’t having much success in doing breathing meditations.  I think it’s helping me to have kavannah (concentration), but just now I found myself bursting into tears while davening Mincha (afternoon prayers).  I suppose that’s good in a way, but I’m not sure how good.  I should be cooking dinner now, but I feel too sad to do anything.

Back to Reality

Things are mostly back to how they were before Pesach (Passover).  Unfortunately, this includes the weather (a dull, wet, depressing day) and my mood, which is still low.

I’m trying to work out if I should try dating again.  I suspect I’m not ready, but I also suspect that I will never be ‘ready.’  I also suspect that the only person who would be in a relationship with me is someone with similarly serious issues.  This isn’t necessarily a problem in itself, but my only previous relationship resulted in my having to take care of myself and my girlfriend, while she ignored my issues and was in denial about her own (her words, more or less, not mine) and I couldn’t cope with that any better now than I did five years ago (is it really five years ago more or less exactly that we broke up?).  I suspect I find it easy to fall for vulnerable women who (a) are less likely to reject me for being broken myself and (b) have mental health issues in common with me (because so few people have anything else in common with me).  I also probably feel that I don’t deserve, and couldn’t find, someone without major issues willing to go out with me for more than one or two dates.

I know logically I shouldn’t be dating, but I worry that I’ll never be ready, for all that my rabbi mentor suggested that I could be a lot better in six months.  I can’t see the self-administered CBT for social anxiety really going anywhere, although I’ve promised myself to have a proper go at it now that Pesach is over.  Nor do I know how to deal with the loneliness.  All the cures for loneliness I’ve heard of (talk to people, do a group activity, attend a place of worship) presume neurotypicality or at least an absence of social anxiety and depression.  For me, doing those things just increases my sense of being socially incompetent and alone forever, if I’m even able to do them in the first place (cf. my failed attempts to get to shul (synagogue) in the mornings recently).

Another reason I’m likely to struggle to maintain a romantic relationship is the problems I have maintaining a good relationship with my parents when I feel like this.  There’s a vicious circle that goes: someone shouts at me for something that is or isn’t my fault (it doesn’t matter which) –> I feel more depressed –> I snap at others –> other people shout at me –> I feel more depressed (etc.).  This is why I couldn’t cope with being paired up and it’s better that I live on my own.  I’m dreading having to move back in with my parents if my work contract isn’t renewed.  I could cope with getting married if my wife was particularly understanding, but I don’t deserve such a wife and couldn’t get one anyway (not least because of the loop noted above, although I have lots of other off-putting bad habits and vices too that I don’t generally blog about), so anyone I could marry would likely get into arguments with me a lot, which I couldn’t cope with.  Hence, I should/will be single forever.

I feel so alone today.  It’s not even loneliness in the usual sense of the word, because I’m not wishing someone was here with me.  It’s more feeling that no one can understand, accept or even tolerate me.  I feel like I’m walking on eggshells with my parents and I suspect that they feel the same about me, with good reason, which saddens me, but my attempts to be more sociable seem to make things worse.  I don’t even feel like I want anyone today, as a friend or girlfriend or wife.  I just feel so different to everyone else, that no one could understand me, and that I’m such a bad person and a bad Jew that no one could ever like or accept me.  I feel bad that I get no joy out of Judaism or Jewish festivals, for example (I didn’t enjoy Pesach at all, not even seder which I used to love), and telling myself that that’s because of my mental health and family situation doesn’t really help.  I know other people with mental health issues and families much less religious than mine who live joyous and meaningful Jewish lives.  Admittedly getting married and having kids seems to have been a big part of that, as does a period of sustained religious study in yeshiva or seminary.  Still, I feel that if they can manage it, I should too and God is angry with me for not doing so, and for acting out.

The quote of the day on the Jewish site Aish.com today says, “If you are not happy with what you have, you will not be happy with what you get.”  This just seems to tell me that I’m going to be miserable forever and there’s nothing I can do about it, because every attempt to move past the depression to get meaning and joy out of life ultimately fails.

There are a lot of disturbing thoughts in my head, and I don’t know how much is depression, how much is pure O OCD, how much is loneliness and how much is that I’m just a terrible, terrible, depraved person.  Or just someone who can’t cope with what’s going on in his head and as a result acts out in various bad ways, of which sniping at my parents is the least problematic.

More on neurotypicality, or otherwise: when I was young, I was sensitive to certain fabrics, particularly woolly ones.  Over time, this seemed to go away, but lately it seems to have come back somewhat.  I have a sweater that I’m finding it hard to wear suddenly because it feels too uncomfortable, even though I’ve been wearing it for years without a problem.  This is weird.  I haven’t heard of sensory sensitivity like that changing back and forth over time.  I suppose my sensitivity to noise varies with time, mood, activity and so forth too, but not in such a big way.

Mene, Mene, Tekel Ufarsin

Pesach is over for another year (or thirteen months, as next year is a Jewish leap year, which means an extra month added in).  I made it through, just about.  I had one twenty-four hour period (over two days) of more bad OCD, but was mostly OK, which is to say some OCD, but not overwhelming.

The last two days were hard in other ways, though.  I’ve been anxious/angry about antisemitism and thinking that this is the beginning of the end of Anglo-Jewry, that what is happening in France, where brutal antisemitic murders are increasingly common and largely ignored by the police for political reasons (because they are carried out by certain members (by no means all) of a particular minority group that the politicians don’t want to antagonise) and where the Chief Rabbi has told Jewish men not to wear kippot (skullcaps) in public because it’s too dangerous, is going to start happening here soon.  Over the last twenty years there has been a massive increase in aliyah (immigration to Israel) from the French Jewish community (many of whom only moved to France in the post-war era, fleeing antisemitic violence in previously French-occupied North Africa).  I could see myself moving to Israel some time in the next thirty years.  I could see myself having to move.

That said, while historically there has been a lot of intellectual antisemitism in the UK, including from the left (Bernard Shaw (as far as I know, the first person to say that the Jews are the same as the Nazis, less than a week after Kristallnacht), the Webbs, Chesterton, Belloc, Eliot, etc.) and although England had one of the earliest blood libels, in the modern era there has been little in the way of popular antisemitism in this country.  Mosley’s Black Shirts were never a mass movement in the way political antisemitism created mass movements across Europe in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries or in the way political antisemitism has returned (on the left as well as the right) in the last twenty years or so.  I believe that Momentum is largely antisemitic, but I don’t believe that the majority of Labour Party members, let alone the population at large, are antisemitic.  The fear is that Corbyn and Momentum will offer enough bread and circuses that people will vote for them anyway, because while most people don’t agree with antisemitism, they don’t strongly disagree with it either, or even understand it will enough to disagree with it, particularly after decades of the BBC (which has a massive news monopoly in this country) insinuating that Jews (sorry, Israelis) are a uniquely racist and imperialist people/religion.

Such has been part of my thinking over Yom Tov, along with general thoughts about Western Civilisation tearing itself to pieces as the far-left and the far-right take over, or come close to taking over, in one country after another.  And, lo, I look at the news after Yom Tov and there’s been another terrorist attack in a European city.  The Jews’ revenge for being demonised by Europe: your cities are now as unsafe as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and for the same reasons.

However, all this has been a distraction from more personal angst.  I’ve felt very depressed for the last couple of days.  The OCD has been at bay, but I’ve been feeling cut off from God again, lonely and misunderstood.  I feel bad that I didn’t make it to shul (synagogue) in the mornings.  My parents say I need more “will power” which I find a bit upsetting.  I have the will to go to shul, I just don’t have the power, ha ha.  It’s hard to do things when the depression and social anxiety team up against me.  I was thinking again in shul today that God should have created me as a FFB (frum from birth) yeshiva bochur (Talmudic student) because He clearly loves them all much more than He loves me.

I argued with my parents a bit today.  I could see that I had woken up depressed and in a state where everything I say is going to sound grumpy and critical (I’m not sure how much this is depression and how much autism), so I tried to apologise in advance and say I didn’t mean to sound grumpy, I just couldn’t help it, and I tried to sound even-tempered but somehow there was still an argument.  I guess it was not entirely my fault.  I tried to defuse the situation.

What I have learnt from all this is that I probably do need to date only frum (religious) women.  I had been wondering, as frum women apparently aren’t interested in dating me, whether I should date non-frum Jewish women, if we had other values in common (integrity, family, love of learning, personal growth).  A lot of people in my family have done this, my Mum has long been encouraging me to do this (I have no idea why) and even my rabbi mentor surprised me by saying it wasn’t necessarily a bad idea, but I feel that if I marry a non-frum woman the mitzvot (commandments) will become a focus for resentment and argument.

Anyway, I’ve avoided the post-Pesach tidy up too long by writing this so off I go…

Whoops

“A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.” – Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams

You remember before Pesach when I said that it should be impossible for me to think that I might end up accidentally eating chametz (leavened bread, food made with it or made or served on utensils that have been used with it)?  Famous last words.  Someone just did something I would never have done and we have a Problem.  I think it’s OK, but I’m not sure.  I messaged my rabbi on whatsapp, but the message hasn’t registered as being seen.  He’s probably in bed.  So, it’s another anxious night.

It’s at times like this that my OCD reinforces my depression and social anxiety and I just want to avoid other people so I can do things my way without having to worry about other people messing things up.

In other mistake news, I did another autism online test.  Then I discovered I already did it last year.  At least the results were almost the same: 117/200 both times for neurodiversity (Asperger’s), 77/200 for neurotypicality as opposed to 84/200 last time.  So I read as about 60% autistic, which I guess would fit with the psychiatrists being contradictory about whether I’m on the spectrum or not; I have some symptoms strongly, but not others.

Tonight I feel lonely and want to be hugged, but I’m nervous of talking to my parents for fear of my OCD and irritability triggering an argument or something.  I wish I was in a relationship with someone who really understood me and was able to show affection for me and calm me, but I don’t think that such a person exists.

“These fragments I have shored against my ruins”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s a pity/That I’m like me”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pesach 1 and 2

The first two days of Pesach (Passover) have been and gone.  I spent a lot of them waiting to get on the computer to send a panicked email to my rabbi mentor asking about things I was anxious about or writing here to offload, but now the first two days of Yom Tov (festival) are over, that seems less urgent, which I suppose is good.

The positives: I got to shul (synagogue) every evening and even walked home with someone who lives in the same road as my parents, making conversation with him, which was good for social anxiety.  The sederim went reasonably well in terms of doing all the mitzvot (commandments).  I learnt on Friday night that I probably hadn’t been leaning correctly to fulfil the mitzvot of leaning while drinking wine and eating matzah in the past, so I was able to do that correctly this year, albeit that I felt bad for not having done it in the past, but I guess I am a tinok shenishbo (literally a Jewish child raised by non-Jews and hence ignorant of the halakhah (Jewish law) and not culpable for violations until he or she learns about it, but used by extension to apply to Jews raised in a non-observant way) here.  I enjoyed the second seder in particular with my sister’s in-laws.  I managed to talk a bit to my sister’s sister-in-law, who has special needs; she wanted to hug me when she left (she’s very affectionate and likes hugging everyone), which I guess means that she felt comfortable with me.  I usually try to be shomer negiah (not having affectionate physical contact with members of the opposite sex other than close relations), but I thought that in this instance I wouldn’t be able to explain myself to her because of her special needs and it was better just to avoid upsetting her.

The other positive experience was that some family friends came over today for kiddush (refreshments before lunch) and I got to spend some time playing with their young children (aged one and three or four), which I always enjoy.  I know that some autistic people find it easier to be with animals than people; I get nervous around animals, but I like young children.  I feel children just accept me for who I am without my needing to pretend to be anything I’m not.  And it’s easier to make conversation with young children than adults; just point to something and ask what it is or what colour it is and they’ll be happy to tell you and if you can’t think of anything to say, they don’t care about that either.

The more negative side of Yom Tov was that parts of the sederim were difficult (the seder is the meal on the first two nights of Pesach when we recite the story of the slavery and exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and eat symbolic foods).  The first night in particular we had some guests who weren’t particularly religious or into the seder service and I struggled to involve them.  I always find a few commentaries to go a bit deeper than the basic text of the story of the exodus, but I felt, perhaps wrongly, that people weren’t that interested.  I would like to ask some open questions to involve people (e.g. “do you think we are still enslaved today?” type questions), but I always find that hard – it always sounds a bit fake to me, or perhaps fake coming from me, as I don’t really speak like that generally.  I also worry that people will feel put on the spot and forced to join in.  I would love to go to a seder where there is a deep religious discussion of the exodus story and the Jewish conception of slavery and freedom, going much further than the prescribed text, but instead every year I find myself trying to involve other people.  To be fair, it varies from year to year and the first seder this year was a particularly difficult one, but I feel a bit like I’m doing kiruv (trying to get non-religious Jews to be aware of their heritage), which is not something I’m naturally good at.  I don’t want to sound arrogant or snobbish, but it can be very frustrating being the most Jewishly-educated and Jewishly-involved person at the seder, trying to learn something myself and pass on some of my enthusiasm to others, all the while dealing with my own social anxiety, depression and/or borderline autism.  I don’t think I managed it very well, although, as my parents say, these relatives do keep coming back year after year, so they must get something out of our seder.

The other biggish problem was OCD.  Over the last two days I had quite a bit of this, albeit at a much less intense level than in the past.  Some of it was the usual Pesach OCD, worrying that I had come into contact with chametz (leavened bread and food cooked with it or in vessels it has been cooked in, all forbidden on Pesach), which I expected, but some of it was new.  Lately I find that I have had a bit of OCD in prayer and mitzvah performance, worrying that I don’t have enough kavannah (usually translated as ‘concentration’ or ‘intent’, but perhaps a more appropriate word is (to use an overused buzz word) ‘mindfulness,’ being aware of the meaning of a prayer or mitzvah and doing it consciously and thoughtfully).  I worried that I had the wrong intention in listening to prayers and doing mitzvot and repeated them, or I felt I hadn’t listened to my father’s prayers properly and repeated them quietly, then worried that I had upset him or shamed him in front of others by implying that I didn’t think that his recital was good enough.  I don’t quite know what to do about this, other than trying to speak to my rabbi mentor about kavannah at some point.  It is not a bad thing to be aware of kavannah, and it is essential for both prayer and mitzvah performance, but as always with the OCD it gets out of control and becomes an impediment to spiritual growth rather than an aid to it.

I also slept rather too much.  I actually dozed off for twenty minutes or so during Pesach preparations on Friday, which was probably a good thing overall, but I felt a bit bad about sleeping when there was so much to do.  Obviously the sederim meant the last two nights were very late, but I slept late into the morning both yesterday and today, sleeping right through my alarms, being exhausted and having what I term a ‘mental hangover’ from late nights and intense social interactions during then days and then sleeping for another two hours after lunch, waking just in time to go to shul (synagogue) for Mincha and Ma’ariv (afternoon and evening prayers) before starting the cycle all over again.  Sleeping too much during the day probably led to my being insomniac last night, lying in bed with racing thoughts and not able to do much to calm down (I did eventually read a little bit until I felt more tired).  It’s nearly midnight now and I don’t feel at all tired and I still have to have something to eat and to shower before I go to bed.

It has to be said that things were much better than they had been for the previous few years.  The OCD, when it came, was much more subdued, with none of the extreme agitation and fear that God hates me and most of the time there was at least part of my mind that had things in the right perspective; I was often able to do things that the OCD was telling me were wrong because part of my mind told me that they were not wrong, and if they were, that would be a genuine mistake, not a deliberate sin.  I held on to a few anxieties all through Yom Tov to ask my rabbi mentor about afterwards, but having now sat down with them, most of them seem obviously trivial and OCD and I don’t know if I will ask about all of them, although I will probably ask about some.

One last thing that happened was that some of the yeshiva bachurim (rabbinical seminary students) at shul gave ten minute divrei Torah (religious talks) today between Mincha and Ma’ariv.  While this did make me feel a bit upset that I no longer feel able, or have the opportunity, to give such divrei Torah as I have in the past, I got a lot out of the talks.  In particular, it was interesting to see that the four men had different personalities, educational styles and topics, which reassured me a bit that becoming frum (religious) doesn’t necessarily mean becoming a conformist, although I do still fret that I’m too much of a non-conformist.  One thing that did resonate was a little one-line tangent in one of the divrei Torah; the main theme was the idea that everything comes from God and that we should use it to serve Him.  As an aside, the person noted that while people understand this to mean money, it really means everything, including things such as talents.  It resonated with my current thinking that I need to use my writing in a more productive way.  I don’t know why God would give me a talent for writing about science fiction television – it seems a very strange talent or mission to have, from a religious point of view – but that seems to be where He wants me to be right now.

OK, off to eat matzah and cheese and/or matzah and jam now, which, perhaps surprisingly, I haven’t had yet this Pesach (not jam and cheese at the same time, though, that wouldn’t be good).

I am an Autistic Woman

I don’t have time to write a proper post today (Pesach in less than 100 hours!), but over lunch I read this article on the BBC news website, about women who were diagnosed with autism in adulthood, and found it resonated with me a lot.  Like the women in the article, I wonder if I was never diagnosed with autism when I was a child because I was highly intelligent and highly functional and because I was clever enough to imitate (some of) the social behaviour I didn’t intuitively know to do.  It was only when I went from school to university and onwards and especially into my current job, where I suddenly have to interact with other people in a spontaneous way for a considerable amount of time that my “social impairments” have become so painfully obvious.  I know that I have been tested for autism twice and both times told I don’t have it, yet the more I read about it, especially the personal stories of people on the spectrum, rather than the ‘outside looking in’ psychiatric diagnostic criteria, the more it seems to fit me, particularly over the last year, in my current job, where my social impairments have been more obvious than at any time in the past.

Panic!

I’m writing (or at least starting) a post on the train for the first time. I had a lousy day. All optimism in my writing or confidence in God’s love for me is gone.

I woke up with a headache in the middle of the night and took ages to get to sleep again, which was a bad start to the day. I’ve been anxious about my job, my career, my future and Pesach (Passover) all day. Then I had a panic attack, or something approaching one, while on the library issue desk. For an hour or so I felt simultaneously claustrophobic (tight muscles, hard to breathe, feeling crushed) and agoraphobic (exposed and open to critical observation, unable to run away), plus sweaty and dry-mouthed – typical anxious fight or flight reactions.. I somehow got through the hour, but I don’t know how. I certainly wasn’t doing my job well, even worse than usual. I worry I have withdrawn books that shouldn’t have been withdrawn, or kept ones that should not have been kept.  My Mum says that at least I didn’t give in to it as I have done in the past, although I’m not quite sure how I could have run away without causing more anxiety by telling my boss that I was in the middle of a panic attack.

Just to make things worse, I had to flick through Eat Pray Love at work to catalogue it, the famous memoir of self-fulfilment through food, meditation and love/sex.  It just makes me feel that other people are doing spirituality and love (and sex) a lot better than I am, although I’m wary of the type of spirituality that promises the most benefits for the least effort.  Also, Elizabeth Gilbert left the man she married at the end of the book for a woman with terminal cancer, which at the very least should be a warning to me about thinking I can understand other people’s lives from the outside, let alone decide to envy them.

I ran into someone from shul (synagogue) and shiur (Torah class) on the way home from work.  I must have had a bad day, because when he asked how I was feeling, I was honest.  My therapist has so confused me about opening up to people I don’t know if I was supposed to do that or not.  To paraphrase Mostly Harmless, I know there are times to open up to others about my mental health and I know there are times not to open up to others about my mental health; I just need to be able to tell the difference between the two.  It didn’t help that, as often happens with anxiety-provoking conversations, I completely lost my ability to understand the ‘he talks, then I talk, then he talks again’ nature of a conversation and kept inadvertently interrupting.  This is probably Asperger’s again.

I’m not sure if I’m going to shiur tonight. I’d like to, but I’m pretty tired (anxiety is exhausting) and I need to be up early in the morning for a doctor’s appointment.  The appointment was booked a month ago, when I was so depressed that the doctor increased my medication, but it’s probably come at a good time, considering the state I’m in.

Job Problems

I feel terrible.  Anxiety and depression are battling for my soul.  I had quite bad Pesach OCD anxiety this morning, but this has now been drowned out by despair and self-hatred.  I had an appraisal at work, my first annual appraisal in this job.  My boss still thinks I’m working too slowly and am not good enough at dealing with the client-facing side of the library.  I said that the depression makes it hard to concentrate and slows me down and I think she accepted that up to a point at least, but I didn’t want to over-stress it, lest I make it sound like they would be better off terminating my contract and hiring someone else.

I didn’t like to mention the social anxiety and Asperger’s/autism with regard to interactions in the public part of the library because I don’t have an official diagnosis of either of those things, so I couldn’t substantiate my claims.  But I know how I feel, and I feel panicked and confused when confronted with a lot of the students and with a lot of requests, even from the well-behaved, polite students.  My boss asked if I get anxious about going on the issue desk and I said no, because I’m not conscious of feeling nauseous or panicked beforehand, but I do feel anxious when I’m interacting with the students.  Afterwards I told her that I feel that I do have that anxiety in my interactions, so at least I’m being honest there, even though it feels like I’m using my mental health for special pleading again.

To be fair, we did discuss changing or shortening work hours to try to help, but I’m not convinced that either of those could help.  I just feel like I’m in the wrong job.  The problem is working out what the right job would look like and then finding something that approximates to it.

This is painful for me because I have always been good at my work, whether at school, university or in my previous job.  I have always taken pride in doing well.  It’s about the only thing I’ve had to hang my self-esteem on.  Now it’s gone and I don’t know what to think about myself.  I feel like I’m a terrible person.  I feel like I’m stealing from the college by not doing the amount or quality of work that they were expecting, even though I’m trying my hardest, and even though every day is a struggle against depression just to get up and come in.

I worry what this means for me.  Will I ever manage to do a ‘proper,’ adult, 9 til 5, five days a week job?  (This job is two thirds of full time – I don’t work on Fridays or much of the school holidays.)  And if I can’t hold down a full-time job, what does that mean about living away from home, marriage, children… ?  My parents help me with rent and food bills as it is, living in my tiny, one person studio flat (a converted garage).  Am I going to be dependent on my parents forever?

Socialising

I had a rather… combative session with my therapist.  It didn’t help that it was marred by technical problems.  I have therapy over Skype now and Skype had somehow lost my contact list when I logged in so I couldn’t call my therapist, then we had connection problems, so I logged out and tried to log in on my old computer, but it wouldn’t accept the password it had accepted on my current computer two minutes earlier.  We did eventually connect and have most of a session.

We spoke about dating.  My therapist thinks that I try to tell people about my mental health issues too early.  I don’t deliberately try to do that, but it almost invariably comes up by the second date, simply because it’s shaped my life so much that it’s hard to have a conversation about who I am without it coming up.  So, of course, they get overwhelmed and can’t cope and dump me.  We didn’t really have a solution to this, except that I shouldn’t tell people early in a relationship, which is pretty much impossible to do without lying (which I also shouldn’t do).  She wasn’t too happy with me telling a shadchan (matchmaker), but I felt there is a moral obligation; shadchanim do say that you should tell them about long-term health issues and it affects who they set you up with.

Then we got on to socialising with people in general.  My therapist felt that I shouldn’t talk about my issues to people at shul (synagogue) or shiur (class), again because it’s off-putting for people, but she felt I should still be honest and just say I’m feeling sad, lonely, worried etc.  I’m not quite sure how that will work, or that I would have the confidence to do it.  I feel that we’re English, the only acceptable answer to “How are you?” is “Fine, how are you” (or at least “Mustn’t grumble”),  not an honest answer and to be honest about feeling bad without using my mental health to explain that is just inviting trouble.  I actually cope OK with talking to people at work without talking about my issues, because we have work in common to talk about, but I don’t know what I can talk to people at shul about (if I even get the confidence to talk to them at all).  My therapist says not to talk about my mental health, I can’t talk about Judaism because mention of it just makes me feel inferior to everyone else who knows and does a hundred times more than I do (because of the mental health issues which I’m not allowed to mention…) and I can’t talk about Doctor Who because being a total fanboy is embarrassing enough in general circles, but in frum (religious) circles one shouldn’t even admit to watching TV.  So I’m not sure what I can actually talk about, which is why in the two years I’ve been going to this shul, I’ve hardly said a word to anyone.

My therapist says that this is rooted in my childhood experiences, being a brainy and intellectual, somewhat autistic, child who tried to talk about his special interests, particularly history and Doctor Who only to be dubbed an “intellectual elitist” by adult authority figures and bullied and stigmatised by my peers.  My therapist says that I’m not a child any more and people won’t bully me, but I find it hard to believe.  My therapist is insistent that this is the only way forward, and I kind of see her point, but I don’t know what to do to have these conversations, which just bring out the socially anxious autistic child in me.  My therapist also said that I want to be special, so I make out that there’s no one like me, when I’m actually fairly normal, which may also be true.  At any rate a friend implied as much recently.  However, it’s hard to accept that I might be the same as everyone else when so much of my self-esteem is based on feeling myself to be different – better, worse or more intense, but at least different.

So I don’t really know what to do.  I’d like to try to get to shul tomorrow morning, less for the davening (praying) and more to see if I can talk to people at the kiddush, but I’m not sure if this will happen or if depression and social anxiety will defeat me again as they have been doing almost every Shabbat (Sabbath) this winter.

Set-Backs and Achievements

Today was a day of minor set-backs, but also some achievements.  Mostly, I was able to stay positive, but not always, particularly where social interactions were concerned.  I won’t narrate everything that went wrong; suffice to say there are big structural changes coming at work, which may impact on whether my contract is renewed past the summer, but I I can’t work out whether the changes make renewal more or less likely; that I made another mistake at work; that I struggled with various other work activities (possibly not my fault) and that I felt I wasn’t sure if I said the wrong thing when I bumped into someone from shul (synagogue) on my way home.  This was particularly difficult, as I’ve often felt that he might be a good friend for me to have, but I’ve never felt sure how to talk to him – I don’t often get the chance to speak to him and he went to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary), so immediately triggers my feelings of inadequacy, and he gives the impression of being someone who avoids mainstream culture (no TV etc.), so I wonder what he would make of me.  But I just generally don’t know how to keep a conversation going with him, which was what happened today.

I tell myself that I’m individual and eccentric, that I am tuned on a different wavelength to most people, frum (Jewish and religious) or otherwise and that’s OK, that it’s OK to stop on my way home from work and just watch the water flowing in the nearby stream or eschew modern television in favour of DVDs of programmes from fifty years ago… and that’s all OK until I meet actual real people and don’t know how to talk to them and then I feel like a freak all over again.

I had wanted to speak to the assistant rabbi of my shul (synagogue) after parasha shiur (Torah class) about my feelings of not fitting in but he had another commitment.  This would have been my main exposure to what I fear from my social anxiety this week.  I did still try to do a CBT exposure to my social anxiety, so I decided I would be honest about my mental health this week to the first person who asked me how I was at shiur (I thought, correctly as it turned out, that it would not be practical to open up to anyone else, as once the room starts to fill up it’s hard to have a serious conversation – too much noise and too lighthearted and I wouldn’t necessarily be asked how I was as people just drift into general chitchat).  As it happened, the first person was someone who I have told a little bit in the past about my mental health, but I decided to go through with it, so rather than saying that I was fine, as I would normally do, I said I’ve been struggling over the last few weeks.  He was very understanding and asked how I’m coping at work.  I have to fill in forms for the CBT exposure and one of the questions is what I learnt from doing the exposure, which in this case was that other people are genuinely concerned about me and don’t think I’m a freak just because I have mental health issues (I mean people away from this blog.  I know there are people here who are concerned about me, but this is a self-selecting group of people predisposed to like me.)

Beating Myself Up, Again

Today was probably a bad day.  Nothing momentous went wrong, it was just a lot of trivial things.

Work was tiring.  I was at our secondary campus, which always leaves me feeling depleted.  I’m not sure why.  Perhaps it is because the office is not at all sound-proof, so I can here the noise in the library (there was a teacher and a couple of noisy teenage girls sitting the library discussing things; every couple of minutes the teacher would shush the girls, which quickly became even more irritating than the talking/shouting) and the library itself suffers from having an upstairs IT area which a corridor cuts through with a partition wall that doesn’t reach anywhere near the ceiling, so all the noise from the corridor can be heard in the library.  It’s not the ideal layout for a library, and I find it draining, particularly when coupled with dim lighting, little natural light and a strange smell (apparently the building used to be a school, so it may be the ghostly memory of Victorian school dinners).  And I was there by myself for the last hour and a quarter.  I had to phone our main site when a problem I couldn’t solve came up.  And then some kids openly flouted my authority when they came in as I was about to lock up, wanting to use the photocopier.  I said we had shut, but they used it anyway.  It seemed quicker and easier to let them get on with it, but I wasn’t pleased with losing what little standing I felt I had before a bunch of fifteen year olds.

I felt pretty incompetent on the way home, too, when it turned out that I couldn’t even cross the road or the station corridors competently.  Sometimes I wonder if I’m really autistic, but other times my complete inability to read people or situations is painfully obvious.  I cried quite a bit on the way home, even though I was reading (and not something sad – Dracula), just as I had done at work.  Sometimes I wonder if this crying is really triggered by depression or if I have an undiagnosed dust allergy or similar, because I don’t always feel consciously depressed when it happens, except that it mostly happens when I’m at work, particularly when I’m alone with my thoughts, and not at all when I’m at home except when I’m doing my hitbodedut prayer/meditation.

I had a cursory look at some emails advertising jobs once I got home, but nothing seemed suitable.  They all seem to require either much more experience, skill and confidence than I actually have, or are far too basic.  I can’t find anything that’s similar to what I’m doing now, but less stressful (i.e. not at a school or FE college) and with a shorter commute.  I realised I want to explore the idea of research because it’s basically the nearest thing I can think of to being back at Oxford studying history, spending all week researching a topic and then writing an essay on it.  My ideal job would be if someone would actually pay me to write the Doctor Who books I’m writing for fun, but I can’t see that happening.

My therapist wanted me to challenge my social anxiety by talking to the assistant rabbi of my shul (synagogue) about my feelings of not fitting into the frum (religious) world, which I intended to do after shiur (Torah class) tonight.  I had been psyching myself up all week, deliberately trying not to plan what I would say the way I normally would, as my CBT for social anxiety book says that’s a safety behaviour.  And then I found out the shiur was cancelled and assistant rabbi is out of the country.  So I don’t know where I stand with that.  I guess I should try again next week, but I feel I should do something this week, I just don’t know what.  At least I had a conversation with the temp yesterday.  That was a big achievement, silly though it seems to say that.

The other thing I’m beating myself up about is being sarcastic to my Dad.  I didn’t intend to, sometimes things come out harsher than I mean.  And I did feel that he was treating me like a child.  When that happens, I never know how to react, so I tend to resort to sarcasm.  So I feel bad about that, although I’m not sure what I should have done instead, because I felt I needed to say something to stress that I’m old enough to decide what time I go to bed and pretty much anything would have come out aggressively.

With all of this, particularly sitting alternately in a drab office and a library by myself most of the day, it’s no wonder I got to feeling lonely again.  I was thinking that there are 3,500,000,000 women in the world, but there doesn’t seem to be one who can love me (romantically/sexually).  Of course, that’s not really an accurate argument.  If you rule out all the ones who aren’t Jewish, that leaves about 7,000,000, which is a much, much smaller number.  Cutting out the ones who aren’t frum enough for me is harder to judge, but probably leaves under a million.  And then you have to rule out the ones who are too old, too young, married, Haredi… you’re left with a tiny number even before taking into account the usual stumbling blocks of geekiness, mental illness and poor chemistry.  Sigh.  I’m probably feeling desperate enough to apply to that matchmaking service in the next few days, though.  I’m almost tempted to do it now, but it’s late and I’m tired and there are other things I should prioritise ahead of it.  It’s better than doing nothing, and being one of the “strange nutty ones” left behind.

A Great Original

Today wasn’t a great day.  I overslept, felt very dizzy on waking, did even less davening (praying) than usual, had to catch the bus to the station instead of walking to save time, discovered that, due to someone else’s error, I had wasted a day and a half’s work and then got a migraine.  That isn’t why I’m writing, though.

My sister sent me the link for another Jewish dating site, but this one looks interesting.  It was founded by Rabbi Naftali Brawer, who I’ve briefly met (well, stood within a few metres of – he officiated at my great-aunt’s funeral and tombstone consecration) and whose answers to the Ask the Rabbi column in the Jewish Chronicle I admire for their thoughtfulness and sensitivity.  I say this to prove that I know he’s not just some crazy crank with a weird idea.

Basically, the idea is that they match you with someone based on shared values rather than interests or personality.  I think that shared values are really important in a relationship, and my only previous relationship floundered because of a lack of them, but I find it hard to talk about them on dates or to observe them in my date’s actions, so it would be good to meet someone who is likely to share my values from the start.

My concern – aside from the fear that, like lots of other shadchanim (matchmakers), they will run a mile as soon as I say the magic words “mental health issues” – is that Rabbi Brawer is considered to be on the ‘left’ of Orthodoxy (we use ‘left’ and ‘right’ for less or more traditional/strict.  It doesn’t strictly speaking correspond to politically left and right, although there is often an overlap).  I wonder if this would make it less likely for me to meet someone on my level – if I even know where my level is!  People can slice the Orthodox community into very fine strips, which probably isn’t terribly helpful.  So I worry about only meeting women to my ‘left’ who won’t approve of my shul or conversely of being shunned by my current community if they find out I’m using this service[1].  To be honest, I would rather find my wife even if it means a few people shun me.  I guess this is all grist to the mill of the conversation I’m supposed to have with the assistant rabbi from shul (synagogue) on Thursday about feeling I don’t fit in,a conversation I’m already very nervous about.

That said, lately I find that I’m a bit happier about not fitting in.  I’ve started singing in public again.  Not aloud, but mouthing the words along with my music.  I don’t really care who sees, at least until I get self-conscious and stop.  I know I like things that most people consider trivial, stupid or kitsch, but which I see value in, from Doctor Who and other classic television science fiction to Orthodox Judaism.  I call myself ‘eccentric’ because it sounds nicer than ‘weirdo’ or ‘freak’ or even ‘autistic.’  In the eighteenth century, eccentrics were known as “originals,” (as a noun rather than an adjective) meaning ‘unique, a one-off.’  People would say, “Do you know Sir Thomas Winstanley?  He’s a great original.”  Which could mean anything from, “He’s slightly unconventional” to “He’s mad as a hatter.”  But it had a more positive sense than ‘freak’ or even ‘eccentric.’  A great original was someone to be treasured, if not necessarily imitated.  Maybe that’s what I should aim for.  I just need a wife who can appreciate my originality.

[1] I imagine a gameshow called How Frum Are You? (or maybe Have I Got Jews for You?) where contestants have to compete to prove their religiosity.  “Do you have a TV?  Do you have any secular educational qualifications?  Do you say tachanun on Yom Ha’atzmaut?”  The winner gets to become the godol hador (leading Torah scholar/religious leader of the generation).  But if you lose, you get put in herem (excommunicated, although the term means something rather different for Jews than for Christians) and your children will never get married.

“there is nothing more wonderful than a list”

(Quote from Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose)

My mood was down again today, just to serve me right for telling people I thought my meds were working.  I phoned my parents and said I was fine because I didn’t want to worry them, or field questions about why I feel down.  I feel a bit guilty.

As to why I feel down… well, your guess is as good as mine, but things to choose from are:

  1. making more mistakes at work;
  2. worrying that I’m working too slowly at work;
  3. fear of being told off at work for making mistakes and being slow;
  4. said mistakes making me feel that I’m not competent at my job and maybe not at any job;
  5. remembering that I could be unemployed in a month when my contract ends;
  6. remembering that it’s Pesach (Passover) in less than a month, with attendant stress, work and possibly OCD;
  7. having thoughts that I worried were the return of non-Pesach pure O/OCD and struggling against them;
  8. remembering my therapist wanting me to tell the assistant rabbi of my shul (synagogue) about my worries about not fitting in to the community because I’m too ‘modern’ and geeky later in the week;
  9. everyone I know getting married;
  10. the assistant rabbi of my parents’ shul not getting back to me with the name of the shadchan (matchmaker), making me wonder if there hasn’t been some misunderstanding and he and his wife didn’t have the name of a shadchan for me after all (there was some talk of helping me with my confidence (as if that’s the main reason I’m unmarried) and I wonder if that was the name they were going to give me);
  11. the new temp at the library where I work starting tomorrow;
  12. remembering being told repeatedly over the years that I should marry someone significantly less frum (religious) than myself and pondering this, even though I know it’s not right for me and even though the non-frum women (okay, woman) I’ve liked have never liked me (or possibly were scared off by my frumkeit) and my only real relationship failed when (among other things) my ex started to become less religious and the existing gaps between us became unmanageable;
  13. the fear that my book will never get published;
  14. the return of my negative self-talk;
  15. feeling very autistic in that other people just seem to like talking, without thinking whether the people they are speaking to are interested or even upset by what is being said.  The newspapers are just as bad as people here;
  16. all of the above;
  17. none of the above, which is possibly the scariest, because it suggests my moods swing completely independently of external stimuli.

At school we used to get marked a lot (excessively, some would say), so I always knew where I stood, what I was doing OK and what I needed to work on.  But life doesn’t get marked, so I don’t know how I’m doing with my job or my friendships and other relationships (community, dating) or my religious life or my personal growth… it’s very confusing to someone who likes clear rules and instructions (autism again).

Equivocal Purim (So Far)

It’s late, I’m exhausted and I need to be up really early tomorrow, but I need to get this out of my system and if I don’t write it here, I’ll have to put it in my private diary/blog, so here goes:

Today was a mixed bag.  I got to work late because of the snow, but my boss was understanding.  I had arranged to leave half an hour early to get home in time for shul (synagogue) for the festival of Purim, but she allowed me to go an hour and a half early in case of more train delays.  So that was all good.

Shul was more problematic.  On Purim we listen to Megillat Esther/the book of Esther twice, morning and evening, and we have to hear literally every word both times.  This is made more problematic by the fact that we are encouraged to make noise at the name of the villain, Haman, the first (or second, depending on how you count Pharaoh) of many people to attempt genocide against the Jews.  As has happened every year since I developed religious OCD, I was worried that I missed a word, but that I would miss more in attempting to catch up.  To cut a long story short, in the end I decided that I probably had heard the word and didn’t go to the late evening reading (for people who work late and missed the first reading) to be sure I heard everything because I could feel myself slipping into a black hole of OCD and despair.  However, my mood stayed lower all evening.

After that there was some food and entertainment.  I put on my jester’s hat (fancy dress is another Purim tradition) and ate.  For practical reasons, the people with young children were eating in a separate room to those without, but it meant that I was eating with the teenagers and the middle aged (or older).  It was OK, as I sat with my friends, but looking back it made me feel like an unmarried misfit again as all the people my age were in the ‘with children’ rooms.  No children was a mixed blessing, as it stopped me feeling broody, but lessened the fun atmosphere of seeing kids in fancy dress.  I attempted some conversation with some success, but failed to make myself vulnerable in the way my therapist advised.  I skipped the entertainment, though, because it seemed quite child-centric.

After that I made a massive detour to my parents’ house to make a bikkur cholim (visiting the sick) call as my Mum has a bad cold and my Dad cut himself badly (doing something that I couldn’t understand with a broken bath plug).  They were pleased to see me, so at least I succeeded there.  I took home a pile of hamantaschen (Purim pastries) as my reward and walked home in what can only be described as an Arctic blizzard, feeling exhausted and depressed and not entirely sure why.

Tomorrow I have to be up about 6.00am for the morning Megillah reading, then on to work.  My Purim seudah (festive Purim meal, which has to be held on the afternoon, not tonight) will be a sandwich and a hamantashen at work.

Purim has always been hard for me.  It’s a difficult festival with Asperger’s and social anxiety because of the noise and general party atmosphere, it’s difficult with depression because everyone else is happy (and drunk, by the afternoon) and it’s difficult with religious OCD because I worry I haven’t fulfilled the various mitzvot (commandments) properly.  I used to think my depression started one Purim.  I’m not sure about that any more, as I think my depression may have extended back into my early teens (at least), but it certainly became noticeable as an illness on Purim eighteen years ago.

I feel I did OK in keeping the OCD at bay, but am still slightly anxious that I haven’t heard the Megillah properly.  I feel like this with a lot of my mitzvot, that everyone seems to think I’m pretty frum (religious), but I feel that I’m not doing anything right on even the most basic level.  Sometimes I wonder if I’ve done even one mitzvah correctly in my whole life.  I would give a lot to know that HaShem (God) finds my mitzvot precious.

Head Games

Today was a rotten day.  I felt I was failing at work.  I spent much of the day alone in the library office crying, struggling to work.  I don’t know which of these (the feelings of failure and the crying) is the cause and which the effect.  My boss operates on the system of not praising achievement, but criticising failure, so I don’t know if the fact I haven’t been told I’m doing things wrong means that I’m not doing things wrong or she just hasn’t noticed my mistakes yet, especially as she’s been at one of our other colleges much of the time for the last few weeks.  I feel like I’m doing tons of stuff wrong and am going to get told off sooner or later.  I almost wish they would tell me my contract isn’t being renewed past the summer and put me out of my misery.

I sent a text on the way home today that read: I feel like a loser, a freak and a failure.  I can’t do my job, I don’t know how to get better, I spend the whole time at work crying, I think God hates me, I don’t know how to stay frum (religious) and I don’t know how to stop the suicidal thoughts and keep going.

I do need to find away out of the depression before I hurt myself and I need to find a way out of the social anxiety, because I keep causing problems through not asking questions or raising issues.  But I don’t have a clue how, because I do feel like I’ve tried everything possible (except some problematic medications and ECT; I’ve tried to get the latter, but the NHS is reluctant to prescribe it).

I wrote a whole post about my issues, but I realised I’ve said it all before.  I’m sorry.  I’m boring myself.  I’d be as happy as anyone – more! – if someone could find me a genuine way out of depression and social anxiety and genuine coping strategies for what may or may not be autism/Asperger’s, but which is certainly disruptive of the life I want.  But so far no one can and I’m stuck on a loop.  I’ve compared myself to Humpty Dumpty here before, but when I fell off the wall, I broke really well.  Yolk everywhere.  Can’t be put together again.

 

The Embarrassing Truth

There’s a joke about a man who is lost in the countryside and asks a farmer for directions and the farmer says, “Well, I wouldn’t start from here…”  That’s how I feel today.  I feel like I’ve got to get somewhere and not only do I not know how to get there, but I can’t even get there from where I am now.  More than that, I feel that I could be a great person if I wasn’t me, that I have some good components, but my essential me-ness stops them working properly.

These feelings are in response to an email I got from a friend about my last post about being too shy to talk to people, especially about myself.  She said to talk to one of the people from shul about Doctor Who and see what happens.

There’s about a million things I can see that can go wrong here.  First, I don’t even get to shul (synagogue) any more on Shabbat (Sabbath) mornings, so I’m not in kiddush (refreshments after the service) to even have this conversation, but we’ll skip over that and assume I make it one week.

The most basic problem is that they probably don’t like Doctor Who and think I’m crazy for trying to talk about it.  Even if they don’t actively dislike it and mock me for it (and I’ve been laughed at, quite literally, for my love of this TV programme before), it’s just a strange non-sequitur to bring up.  “Why are you asking me this?”

In fact, I only talk about Doctor Who with other card-carrying fans.  My parents have seen every episode since the series returned in 2005, yet if they try to talk to me about it, I give short answers and try to change the subject.  I have been far too badly burned by the hatred I got for this programme in the nineties and early noughties to feel comfortable sharing it with other people – too scared of mockery, too fearful of being exposed as a superfan who knows the difference between Steven Moffat and Steven Taylor.  As a child I was always being bullied for being too clever and knowledgeable by other kids, and told off for showing off  that intelligence and knowledge by adults and for trying to send the conversation to my favourite topics (what I now think of as my Aspie special interests), even though it was never my intention to shame or show off anyone, so I’m now too scared to show any kind of enthusiasm or knowledge about anything, particularly my subject of subjects, Doctor Who (now you get a glimmer of how hard it is for me to go to shiur (religious class) each week and answer questions – to show off to the people there, even though the assistant rabbi encourages it, indeed, actually asks me questions directly).  Plus, I get a bit proprietorial about this silly kids show that I’ve stuck by over the years.  I feel a bit resentful about people who have only joined since 2005 calling themselves fans when they’ve never seen a black and white episode or winced at bad CSO (early greenscreen, except on Doctor Who it was usually yellow).

But let’s assume that I can talk about Doctor Who on this day.  There is still worse to come.  Worse is if they are too frum (religious) to own a TV.  In my head, I can see the whole shul lapsing into a horrified silence as everyone turns to stare at me, the apikoros (heretic) who watches TV and, worse, is writing a book about it!  The rabbi points silently to the door as I leave, shamefaced, no one making eye contact with me as I go.  I can never return.

(Seriously, this is how I feel about watching TV, just think how I feel about my really heretical opinions…)

But worst of all is this: I do not know how to start a conversation.

I will say that again in case you missed it:

I am thirty-four, I have two degrees and I do not know how to start or keep up a conversation.  Just asking how my colleagues are in the morning is an effort.  I’m so terrified of saying the wrong thing, intruding on a personal area or being so arrogant as to believe that someone might want to exchange words with me (I generally assume people are too important to talk to someone as insignificant and irritating as me) that I can’t actually get the words together into sentences, let alone get the courage to walk up, open mouth and let them out.

I do not know what to do about this.

I’m sure it’s a mixture of low self-esteem, bad childhood memories and Asperger’s symptoms, but I don’t know how to move on.  I literally can not talk to people.  If they talk to me, I answer briefly, but try to shut the conversation down, because I can’t cope with it.  If I’m trapped with someone (e.g. they are giving me a lift in their car), I panic about what is going to happen.  I worry that whether I speak or whether I stay silent, I will be found boring and stupid, but at least if I stay silent I can’t reveal any of my crazy opinions or interests, so staying silent seems preferable.

I know some people on the autistic spectrum see autism as nothing bad, even something good, but I feel I get no positives whatsoever from it and my communication difficulties are a massive, massive burden that I can’t cope with any more.  Because I want friends, I want a community and I desperately, desperately want a wife and children, and autism, low self-esteem and social anxiety are stopping me getting those things that are essential to my sanity.

Goodbye, Frum Geeky Girl

I haven’t written my blog on my lunch break since my boss found out about it, but I’m very depressed today and need to off-load before I go on the issue desk for two hours this afternoon.

I spoke to my rabbi mentor last night.  I mentioned my problems finding a shadchan (matchmaker) who will take me on.  He asked why I need a professional shadchan, why people I know aren’t setting me up on dates informally, as is common in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world.  I said that I don’t know many people in the frum world: most of my family are not religious or live abroad and I don’t have many friends and most of the ones I do have are not frum.  He was a bit surprised and said who do I talk to about Doctor Who and other stuff that I’m interested in and I said most of the time I don’t talk about that stuff, certainly not at shul (synagogue) or shiur (religious class), which,  other than work, are the main place I see people at the moment.  I said I’ve been going to this shul for two years and there are two people I’m a bit friendly with and three or four more I’m slightly friendly with and that’s it.

I don’t talk about Doctor Who from a feeling that a frum person shouldn’t be obsessed with a TV programme, although I don’t really talk about it to non-religious people either, which I guess is a legacy of being bullied about it growing up, when it was not a popular thing to like. Actually, I don’t really talk much to people about anything at all, I usually just listen for fear of saying the wrong thing, particularly in frum circles, where I’m not always sure what is permissible to show an interest in.  I don’t know how to explain my mental health issues to people at shul or work who don’t have the same issues (actually someone at work has anxiety and claustrophobia, but I still haven’t said anything to her about my issues because I don’t know how to bring it up).  And I certainly don’t know how to explain to a ‘normal’ person that I’m obsessed with a children’s TV programme that I have been watching since I was eight years old and which has massively informed my worldview, shaped my wider cultural interests, brought me friends and perhaps helped me to interpret my depression and Asperger’s (it’s certainly helped me to survive them).  I wouldn’t know how to say this to a ‘normal’ person, even though Doctor Who is now one of the most popular programmes on British TV, let alone a frum person who sees TV as a source of impurity, something that is owned as a concession to human weakness at best, ideally not brought into the house at all.

My rabbi mentor thought that this inability to open up about myself and my interests to others was really significant and that I should concentrate on dealing with this in therapy.  He felt that if I really concentrate on improving my social skills, I could be significantly better in six months.  However, I know that my therapist won’t give me practical advice (she has a traditional psychodynamic outlook) and I can’t change therapists because I won’t get one who can fit with my work times or who will charge me a significantly subsidised rate (because I’m on a low income) like my current therapist.  It would be a huge upheaval too.

And I didn’t even mention to my rabbi mentor the way my possible Asperger’s Syndrome stops me ‘reading’ other people and communicating effectively with them because I know my rabbi mentor is a bit sceptical about my being on the spectrum.  Autistic or not, I keep quite from fear of saying the wrong thing or misunderstanding what others are saying.  Nor did I say that I think the social anxiety is itself rooted in my cripplingly low self-esteem.  Actually, that’s putting it mildly: I loathe and hate myself and can’t stand being me.  I know that no one will care for me until I care for myself, but I don’t know how to do that and it seems wrong to try, because I don’t deserve to care for myself (as proved by the fact other people don’t love me – circular logic).

I took this conversation to mean that I shouldn’t date until I sort out my social anxiety, which I can’t see ever happening, although my sister said it wouldn’t hurt to give my profile to a matchmaking website if it’s free.  As I rely on others to guide me with difficult problems due to low self-esteem and (perhaps) Aspie poor executive function (or common indecisiveness), I’m not sure what to do about that.  The whole conversation seemed to be saying that I can never have the wife-children-friends-community-happiness I want until I can open up to people about myself, which I will never be able to do because I was taught as a child that my interests are childish and stupid and I shouldn’t tell other people about them and, paradoxically, that I’m an “intellectual elitist” who can’t hold a “normal” conversation and who wants to be too serious all of the time (another childhood image of myself presented to me by others).  At the root of all of this is my poor self-esteem and inability to feel that I am justified in being myself.  I feel I try so hard, but nothing helps and no one, even those close to me, believes I’m trying.  It’s always, “But if you tried X…” when I’ve usually tried X and failed with it.

I can’t even go off the derekh (become non-religious).  Even though I’ve been slipping lately with prayer and Torah study because of the depression, I still push myself.  I slipped in a big way over the weekend and feel terrible because of it.  My soul said “Na’aseh venishmah (We will do and we will understand)” at Sinai, it just didn’t realise that it would be given a brain that couldn’t do or understand.

“They say the future’s out to get you”

(Title quote from Worried about Ray by The Hoosiers.)

My boss mentioned today that the situation with my contract (which expires in April) is as precarious as I feared.  Apparently things are “up in the air” (which I assumed alluded to the internal politics and economics of the college in ways that I don’t fully understand and wouldn’t share here if I did).  So I’m somewhat worried about my financial position in the months ahead.  A cost-saving move back to my parents’ house later in the year might be on the cards.  I guess it gives more urgency to the thought I wanted to give about my career direction during half-term next week.  I’m not overly worried, though, perhaps a sign of the relatively low importance I ascribe to money in my life (money bores me, really), or perhaps a sign that I find it easier to believe the Talmudic teaching that all of one’s income for the year is decided on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and, as long as one does a minimum of work, how much you do makes no difference to what you earn than I find it to believe the other Talmudic teaching, that one’s spouse is ordained before birth.

Speaking of half-term, I’m doing some extra work, partly to pay of my time off in lieu, partly to earn overtime.  There’s a library project at another campus (not the one I go to once a week, one a lot further away) that my boss is concerned enough about to offer overtime to those of us willing to help out, hours negotiable.  I thought I would burn out if I did four days in a week (my usual hours) even without the extra-long travel time and, anyway, I have things I need to do at home, but I volunteered to do two slightly shorter-than-usual days on Monday and Wednesday.  Hopefully alternating work and holiday days will keep at bay some of the extra depressive feelings I get on holidays.  And I arranged for a 10.00am start so hopefully I won’t have to leave earlier than usual and may even get to leave a little bit later despite the longer travel time.  I’m also doing an extra two hours tomorrow (we open late on Thursdays) to cover my boss being away, again to pay off more of my TOIL and basically to get in my boss’ good books after making mistakes this year.  It does all mean that I’m unlikely to get the time to sort out my books and DVDs at my parents’ house after they got boxed up because my parents wanted the room decorated.  I don’t know when I’m going to do that, as it’s a big job.

I made more of those mistakes today, although some of them might be me being hard on myself.  I’m not sure how I should have dealt with the student who insisted a book must be in the library because her teacher told her it was even though the catalogue was showing that all copies were on loan.  The other mistakes might stem from depression-induced lack of concentration or Aspie poor executive function or social anxiety in dealing with people, but they might just stem from incompetence on my part.  After all, I made a real mess of using the self-service check out at the supermarket this evening even though I’ve used it hundreds of times before.  I did at least make a phone call for work today, which is a big thing as I hate using the phone.  It seemed to go OK, but writing this I realised that the person I spoke to didn’t get back to me as she said she would, which might mean a follow-up call or might mean that I gave the wrong email address, which would be embarrassing.  I certainly began to give the wrong address, but I thought I corrected it in time.

I’m still waiting for a response from several of the shadchanim (matchmakers) who deal with people with health issues.  One asked for my shidduch (dating) profile, but hasn’t said anything since I sent it, although it was only yesterday.  My Dad spoke to his rabbi to see if he knew any suitable shadchanim.  The rabbi suggested that the shadchan his daughter used might help, even though she doesn’t specialise in people with health issues.  I’m sceptical, but will probably send my profile off in a day or two anyway, although as my financial future is now as uncertain as my mental health future, I’m not at all sure that I should be doing this any more.  I think this whole dating business is not only more an art than a science, but probably pot luck more than an art.  One has to be lucky not just to find one’s spouse, but to find the shadchan who will bring you together.  Someone I know online who recently joined the ranks of the marrieds thinks that most matches are made by friends or relatives who know both parties, not by professional shadchanim, but as I don’t know very many people in the frum (religious) world, this leaves me in a difficult position.

Today’s moment of insight: I want to be part-Jewish tzaddik (saint), part eccentric English intellectual, part geeky fanboy, equally at ease discussing Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, the English Civil Wars, Lewis Carroll or Doctor Who.   The reality is that all of these things are forced poses, at least to some extent, rather than who I really am (whatever that means) and they wouldn’t really fit together even if my mental health and borderline Asperger’s weren’t wild cards that would make operating with even one of these identities almost impossible.  I’m not sure where that leaves me.

Questions, Questions

“Questions are a burden to others, answers a prison for oneself.” – The Prisoner (various episodes)

I haven’t posted here for a couple of days.  I actually drafted something yesterday, but I’m not sure yet whether to post it.   Not a lot has happened.  I’m not as depressed as I was last week, but mornings are still very difficult in terms of the depression and I still struggle with anxiety at work, particularly social anxiety in interactions with students and anxiety about how well I am doing my job.  I also still feel lonely at times and anything about love, marriage, sex or children can set me off.  Today I was weeding a section of the library that had books on health for children and adolescents.  The photos of babies made me feel vaguely broody, although not as much as in the past; the books for teenagers on navigating sex and relationships, while stressing the need to avoid feeling that one “must” have sex because “everyone else is doing it” just paradoxically reinforced my feeling of having permanently missed the boat when it comes to sex, relationships and marriage, but, again, not quite as much as in the past.

I feel vaguely stable today, but that brings a load of other questions to the fore, now that I can think a bit rather than just emote:

  1. What should I do about dating?  Should I take up my rabbi’s offer of advice?  Should I email the US-based health-specialist shadchanim (matchmakers) to see if they know people in Europe or contact UK-based ‘normal’ shadchanim to see if they can help someone with mental health issues?  Should I even summon up the courage for trans-Atlantic dating?  Or am I just too mentally ill to date?
  2. Should I try to get my medication changed again as one friend suggested?  I have been on so many drugs and combinations of drugs over the last fifteen years and I have had two psychiatrists basically say that medication will, at best, keep me from the worst of the depression, rather than “cure” me.  Should I risk things getting worse from coming off my current drugs in the hope new ones will help?  And do I want new ones, given the ones I haven’t tried have side-effects, dietary restrictions or suicide risks?  And what happens six months down the line when those tablets stop working, as all the previous ones have done?
  3. Is there a way to shut off the frequent (not quite continual) depressive/anxious/autistic monologues in my head?  Because they really annoy me.
  4. Should I contemplate changing, not just my job, but also my career if my contract is not renewed in April?  Do I enjoy my job?  Do I know what type of job I would enjoy?
  5. Actually, do I even know what I might enjoy in terms of career or relationships or even hobbies?  Do I even know what enjoyment is?  When did I last enjoy something, really enjoy it?  Pre-depression?  When was that?  Nineteen years old, sixteen, thirteen?  Primary school?  How would I recognise enjoyment if I experienced it?
  6. Speaking of hobbies, a friend of my parents’ complimented me on the photos I took at my sister’s wedding, which reminds me that I’ve often felt that I could have had photography as a hobby, but always let other things interfere, both other hobbies and my confusion and fear of the technical side of photography, the whole light-levels-and-shutter-speed side of things, as well as my feeling that I never see anything worth photographing.  To be honest, I probably have a fear of doing anything new, which probably feeds in to most of these questions.
  7. Looking at other hobbies, am I ever going to do anything with my writing?  Is the book I’m writing going to be publishable?  And what of the ideas for further Doctor Who books I’ve been kicking around – are they worth pursuing and how?

Questions, questions.  No answers, though.

Another Day of Excruciating Brutality

The title of this post comes from a quote from Patrick MacGoohan to Alexis Kanner on the troubled set for Fall Out, the final episode of The Prisoner, probably the second most influential TV programme in my life.  So far as I can remember (the book I read it in is somewhere in a box at my parents’ house) MacGoohan would greet Kanner every morning with “Are you ready?  Because it’s going to be another day of excruciating brutality!”  (He may have used a different adjective, but you get the idea.)  I think about this a lot at the moment, especially as my train pulls in to the station I get off from at work in the mornings.

 

Anyway, Thursday was a day of excruciating brutality.  (I’m throwing Friday and Saturday, which weren’t as bad, into the post because I picked the title on Thursday, but ran out of time to post before Shabbat (the Sabbath).)  On the way into work I was probably not thinking about Patrick MacGoohan, because I was too busy thinking about whether I should buy some razors to self-harm better or even buy some tablets to overdose with.  This was partly from my daily anxiety about work and partly from anxiety about seeing the occupational health nurse there.

As it happened, the nurse turned out to be a really kind person.  We discussed various strategies for work and ended up discarding most of them, as I expected.  I thought that working reduced hours would make it harder to keep coming in rather than easier, just getting me out of the habit of work, and that avoiding the issue desk would just fuel the social anxiety (this comment would come back to haunt me later in the day).  So in the end I just asked for more positive feedback from my boss (something else that would shortly come back to haunt me).  Not much was achieved, but I was just glad to get something down on paper and sent to HR to confirm that, yes, I really am struggling and that I really do have depression.

The nurse also told me not to bang my head on the wall when depressed and anxious and she wasn’t exactly happy about my scratching myself either.  I remembered later that animals in captivity bang their heads on the walls as a sign of boredom and distress…

In the afternoon, my boss pointed out some errors in my work and said that the need for greater speed that she pointed out to me earlier in the week should not come at the expense of accuracy.  I began to worry in earnest that I can not do my job.  As I commented to one of my non-biological sisters (close friends) later, I have a need for reassurance and an Aspie inability to tell the difference between isolated criticism and “I hate you and want to fire you.”

This was bad enough, but I was completely finished off later in the day.  I was on the issue desk from 4pm to 5pm, which I regard as the graveyard slot even on days (like Thursday) when we are open until after 5pm.  However, this time I did get one student with a problem that I had not come across yet who also had a problematic way of requesting help, not really saying what the problem was or what she wanted me to do about it and out-Coolidging me by staying silent until I cracked and started babbling.

By 5pm, I dashed to the toilets to phone my parents.  I didn’t even wait until leaving college as I was so upset, I just wanted to resign and leave this college.  They talked me round, saying that I only have three months left on my contract (and some of that is holiday).  The college may not renew the contract anyway, which would save me worrying about it and they are certainly unlikely to fire me at this stage, as it would be easier just to put up with me for another three months.

Through text conversations with my non-biological sisters, the idea of a career in the research side of librarianship came up.  I worry that I don’t have a good enough MA to do this (I passed with distinction, but it was not at a great university, which I worry could be held against me) and also that my research skills and knowledge are not good enough and that I should have a PhD in a specific subject to research.  I also have a friend who works as a researcher (via academia rather than librarianship) and having seen his financial struggles I am wary of going down the same route as his problems stem from his personality which is very like mine, at least in terms of shyness, difficulty networking, bouts of depression, difficulty selling himself and concentrating on writing that is satisfying, but unpaid (blogging and writing for Doctor Who fan sites) rather than paid writing.

In the evening I was out for dinner with my family, the one good point of the day.  Although it was for two family birthdays, we ended up talking about my work experiences quite a bit.  My parents seemed positive about looking into doing research work.  I’ve sort of come to the conclusion that if my contract is not renewed, I will look at research work; if it is renewed, I will accept the renewal, but think more slowly at changing careers in the future.

I mentioned all this to my therapist the next day.  I’m not sure if she was just being contrary to challenge me, but she seemed a bit worried that I was just running away from things and said that I need to be around people, especially as I don’t live with family or have friends that I see frequently (most of my friends live far away and/or have busy careers that prevent socialising).  I guess this is true, but no job is going to be perfect and this job is probably less Asperger’s-friendly (or my personality-friendly, if I don’t have Asperger’s) than I had thought.

I feel rather confused about all of this.  I am vaguely excited about the thought of doing professional research, as I do enjoy that sort of thing, but I am conscious of the need to network and sell myself, to learn yet another load of skills and techniques and perhaps to find some kind of mentor.  I’m a bit panicked, although I thought I would start by talking to my friend to ask how he got into research.

Friday evening was also difficult.  The rabbi spoke to me after shul (synagogue), saying he got my email about looking for a shadchan (matchmaker) who deals with people with health issues.  He said he doesn’t know anyone, but would be willing to talk to me anyway.  I was too socially anxious to say much in response (I’m not good when people talk to me when I’m not prepared), so I didn’t ask what exactly he meant, but I guess he means tips about the best way to approach looking for someone like me, which might mean someone with ‘issues’ of some kind.  I would be grateful for the help, as I still don’t really understand the shidduch dating process, but I’m pessimistic about the whole thing.  I still thing that freaks like me don’t get married and people as wicked as I am don’t merit God’s attention.

My parents had friends over for Shabbat dinner which is rare for us.  I didn’t really cope well.  I was exhausted from the tough week and couldn’t cope with the noise and the people, even though there were only five of us.  The talk was gossipy, not in the sense of talking behind people’s backs, but just talking about news of family and mutual friends, which I find incredibly tedious and depleting anyway, especially as the talk was of people important to my parents and their friends, not to me.  I spent an hour in bed before dinner and another hour afterwards.  I’m not sure if I dozed or if I just lay there mentally beating myself up.  At any rate, I was too exhausted, depressed and self-critical to do much Torah study or to read much.

I thought a lot about my boss’ comment that my work rate is too slow and I began to wonder if I spend too long looking at the books I am cataloguing as she suggested.  As a librarian, I find that I have to look at the books a bit, both to know the stock and be able to guide students to it and to allocate correct subject words as titles, back cover blurbs and even contents pages can be misleading.  Still, one can get too absorbed in things.  I came to the conclusion that if I had been spending too long on each book, this was tantamount to theft from my employer and my previous employer.

The Talmud talks of the six questions a person is asked after death to get to the afterlife, of which the first is “Were you honest in your business dealings?”  I always thought that at least I could answer that one in the positive, even though it seemed unlikely that I could affirm the others, but now I wonder about even that.  I felt that I had effectively “stolen” large amounts of money by not working 100%, even though I know that other people do things at work that I would never do, e.g. look at social media or have long conversations with colleagues about non-work matters.  I try very hard to give my employers seven full hours of work a day, even when I am very depressed and exhausted, and now I was telling myself that I had “stolen” huge amounts of time (albeit in tiny minutes-long increments over a number of years).  My previous employers seemed to be OK with my work rate and as an academic library, they probably needed more accurate and thorough subject words on their records, but I still felt bad about my time there and especially about my current job.

Today was similarly a wash out.  I was too depressed to go to shul.  I spent a lot of time in bed again, either sleeping or beating myself up about things.  I had a little religious OCD regarding kashrut and I also came to the conclusion that the worry about not working fast enough being theft is probably also religious OCD, but I’m not sure.  I only did about five minutes of Torah study.  I just feel that I can’t be bothered to do more, or I can’t face it, which isn’t quite the same thing.  I obviously slept through Shacharit (morning service) again, did a truncated Musaf (additional service) and struggled to get through the whole of Mincha and Ma’ariv (afternoon and evening services), although I did manage it, despite initially thinking that I wouldn’t.  I don’t really praise myself enough for these things.  It seems silly to praise myself for things that most frum (religious) men would consider basic, like saying, “I’m such an amazing tzaddik (righteous person), I didn’t murder anyone today!”

And Now For Something Completely Similar

It was interesting that yesterday, in listing my former ambitions, I forgot to list ‘become a tzaddik (saintly person)’ because for a long time this was my only real ambition.  Somehow merely being religious seemed inadequate; I had to be superlatively saintly or I had failed.  I wanted to completely fulfil my potential; maybe I wanted to do more than was actually feasible for me, given my issues.  Realising that I was never going to be a tzaddik was probably one of the factors that precipitated my current crisis, which is largely based around feeling religiously inadequate and useless and hated by God.  I find it hard to understand what I can realistically hope to achieve with my life.  We are taught to want to be like the Avot (the Patriarchs) or Moshe (Moses), even though we acknowledge that we won’t manage that, the most we can manage is to meet 100% of our potential just as they met 100% of their much greater potential.  But I don’t know how to interpret this in the complexity of my life, where sometimes I don’t feel I can do anything at all and other times my sins make me seem so loathsome that I can’t bear myself, let alone imagine what HaShem (God) thinks of me.

I felt similarly incompetent at work today.  My boss told me that I was cataloguing too slowly, which I knew already and was trying to compensate for, but obviously was not doing well enough.  I am still having difficulties being on the library issue desk too.  I am seeing the college occupational health team tomorrow to discuss my issues, but I don’t know what I can say.  I don’t want to say that I think I simply can’t do the job and should never have been hired, even though it’s what I feel (in the last few days I keep fantasising of resigning, because I’m afraid if I don’t I will be fired).  I feel that I am generally incompetent beyond the depression.  If I had to pick out specific things then while the slowness is partly depression, it’s also partly my personality.  The key problems I have on the issue desk are social anxiety and Asperger’s Syndrome/autistic spectrum disorder as much as anything else and I don’t have a diagnosis of either of those and so feel unable to ask for help; in fact, I have two diagnoses of being allistic (not being on the autistic spectrum) despite the persistence of the belief that I am on the spectrum (both my belief and that of my former psychiatrist and my current therapist).

The other thing I have been beating myself up for today is my sexuality (again).  I’ve got stuck in one of those ruts where finding anyone vaguely attractive makes me beat my self up for being a misogynist and religiously sinful.  I’ve been told it’s normal (finding people attractive, not beating oneself up about it), but I find it hard to believe that everyone feels like this to the same extent and frequency as I do (it’s a complete myth that men think of sex every seven seconds!).  Sometimes it feels like God was making a bad joke when he made me heterosexual rather than asexual.  It’s just a waste of time, energy and brainpower for me.  Although maybe the problem is that I’m not heterosexual enough.  If I had more testosterone, maybe I would be more forceful at work and more attractive to women (I couldn’t be any less attractive to women).

Sometimes I wish I could to a wise man or a rabbi or someone and ask for advice about where my life is going and whether I’m a good person.  I did try to have that conversation with my rabbi mentor on Sunday, but he was resistant to directly answering my question about how frum (religious) I am, which I guess is his training as a counsellor.  I don’t believe in the Charedi version of da’at Torah (the semi-supernatural ability of rabbis to answer even non-religious questions with spiritual insight), but sometimes I just wish someone with great authority could convince me that I am a good person, because I don’t believe it at all.  Likewise that someone could guide me to my life’s mission, because I feel so distant from it.  I don’t know what I should be doing with my life, nor what I could be doing with it, except that I increasingly feel that I simply can’t cope with the pressure of the world of work.  But if that is the case, then where can I go and what can I do?

Smile Away

(An ironically-intended use of the title of a cheerful song I have been listening to a lot today to deal with stress.)

I often wonder what people really think of me.  Then I usually feel glad that I don’t know, because it’s probably even worse than even I think.  That seems to sum up today.

The day started badly with train delays.  I’ll spare you that particular, rather dull, story.  Suffice to say that I arrived at work on time, but already somewhat stressed.  I was also feeling a bit ashamed of commenting on Hevria yesterday, a rather self-pitying and attention-seeking post (I think I’ve become the village idiot of the Hevria community).  I don’t know if I’m looking for people to confirm my self-loathing and pessimism or to find convincing reasons against them.  I’m not sure that either would satisfy me.  I suppose that goes for these posts too, although people here at least know what they’re getting.  When I got to work there was some drama that upset me that I can’t go into here.  I was not directly involved, but even seeing other people caught up in it was upsetting and even a bit frightening to me.

After that my boss was showing me something on the cataloguing system.  I was slow and confused moving from one window to another and my boss said that I keep losing concentration (it was not the first time this has happened when she has been showing me how to do something), which just made me feel more self-conscious.  I have noticed this problem before and there are several possible reasons for it.  It could be poor concentration from the depression, but I think it is more likely the Asperger’s, with poor executive function making it hard for me to mentally ‘change gears’ when moving from one part of a task to another.  Even when working on the catalogue by myself, I find I open windows and forget why I have opened them, open the wrong windows, go back and forth between windows trying to remember what I’m doing and so forth.  The other possible culprit, again from the Asperger’s, is difficulty in picking up implied, unstated commands.  If I already have window X open and boss says to me, “Open window Y then do Z,” it seems that I don’t necessarily pick up on the unstated command “Open window Y then do Z in window Y, not window X” and I’ll be waiting for more instructions because I have two windows to choose from and am not sure which she means while she’s waiting for me to get on with the task.  Whatever the reason, it is made worse by the social anxiety.  I would feel awkward with anyone next to me, but the fact that it’s my boss is even more anxiety-provoking.

This leaves me wishing that I had a proper diagnosis of Asperger’s, although I’m not sure what kind of consideration I would ask for if I did have it.  The other thing I take from this is that I probably have been too hard on my parents, particularly my Dad, over the years when I complain that their instructions and conversations leap around in ways that I can’t follow.  Perhaps they were more comprehensible and it was the Asperger’s that made it hard for me to keep up.  I always assumed that this aspect of Asperger’s doesn’t affect me, but it looks like it does, at least in a relatively low-key way.

The other problem I had at work was anxious shaking.  I was showing a couple of students how to search in the catalogue and I shook a bit while talking to them.  I’m not sure if they noticed.  I hope they didn’t, otherwise they probably think I’m a freak.  I nervously gabbled through the explanation , but they said they could follow.  I probably gave them a more comprehensive explanation than I would normally give, because I was determined not to give in to the anxiety, so I made sure I dealt with every point in detail.  It’s a shame, because it’s always good to find students who genuinely want to use the library, so it would have been nice to enjoy the interaction more.

Reading Hevria again on the way home made me feel like a fake Jew, a wannabe Jew who acts frum (religious), but isn’t actually doing anything properly and will probably stop being frum at some point from loneliness and self-loathing.  So that didn’t make me feel much better.

Then at shiur (Torah class) tonight pretty much all of today’s issues came together.  I was worried about shaking every time the assistant rabbi (who gives the shiur) caught my eye, which he does a lot (he’s good at looking around everyone there – it’s only a few of us around his dining room table).  I don’t think I did, but I was worried that I was going to.  I tried to focus on his forehead rather than his eyes, but it didn’t really work as I was instinctively trying to make eye contact (even though I usually find that hard!).  For the second week running, he said something which seemed really relevant to me and the struggles that I’m currently going through while making eye contact, like he knew my issues and was directly talking to me, but then on reflection I thought it was probably coincidence and me looking for signs in a desperate attempt to convince myself that HaShem (God) loves me.  Then on the way out, he said that he doesn’t know what I’m thinking during the shiur, if I’m agreeing, disagreeing or what because I don’t have any readable body language.  I guess that might be Asperger’s too, or struggling against social anxiety, trying to look confident and mask anxious body language.

I was thinking of messaging the assistant rabbi to explain some of my issues and how they impact on my body language, but now I’m not sure if it’s a good idea.  I am trying to open up to people more (and generally not succeeding), but I always wonder if it’s a good idea to hit people with this stuff out of the blue, especially as he might think that he upset me, which he did not.

I’m in the flat by myself over Shabbat (the Sabbath) this week.  My parents and I are going to different shul dinners on Friday night and my parents are out for Shabbat lunch too, so there seemed little point in staying with them as I usually do.  I’m a bit worried about being lonely and depressed as tends to happen when I’m alone on Shabbat, but I’m more worried about the shul dinner I have signed up for.  I’m worried that I won’t be able to sit with people I know, that I won’t have anything to say or that I’ll be overwhelmed by the noise and people and want to go home.  I have to stay, though, as I won’t have any other food prepared for dinner.

On Not Being SMART

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

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

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

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

Appointment with the Doctor

Apologies for the boringly prosaic and descriptive title.  I was going to call this post ‘Post-Mortem’, but then I realised that yesterday I was writing about being suicidal, so it might be misinterpreted.  I guess ‘The Story of the Day I Went to the Doctor About My Depression (Again)’ is a bit wordy.

I was up late last night talking to my parents about my mental health and what to do about it.  My Mum was very keen on me going to see the doctor and I thought she was right.  Really I was just waiting for someone to tell me to go, as I always worry in these situations whether I’m bad enough to justify seeking help, bearing in mind that I’ve been very depressed for most of my adult life, so it’s hard to recognise the point where it’s bad enough to take action.  I spent some time last night working out what to say to the doctor and also to my boss, realising that I would have to explain why I was missing work (I wasn’t sure when I’d be able to get an appointment at such short notice, so I was potentially missing the whole day).  One of my parents, I can’t remember which, suggested emailing my boss last night so that she would have something as soon as she got in to explain my absence, in case I was held up in phoning; as an additional bonus, it meant I wouldn’t have to explain too much over the phone, as I can get nervous and semi-incoherent when talking to people over the phone (social anxiety and/or Asperger’s again).  All this took a lot of time and I don’t think I got to bed until around 1.00am, especially as, after my experiences on Sunday (when I went to bed early without relaxing and couldn’t sleep) I made sure to shower and relax a bit before bed after a rather traumatic day.

I managed to get a doctor’s appointment for late morning today.  Fortunately when I was suicidal a year ago, the doctor put a note on my file saying I’m an ‘at risk’ patient (depressed young male living alone) and in an emergency I’m to be given an appointment that day, otherwise I could have been waiting days to be seen.  I got to see my preferred doctor too, which was good.  He was very sympathetic as I explained that my condition has worsened in recent weeks, building up to intense thoughts of self-harm and suicide yesterday.  I explained about family stress (my sister’s wedding) and work stress (relatively new job, my worry over making mistakes and my boss finding out about my blog and self-harm) and how this has all felt like it had reached an unbearable point yesterday afternoon, probably compounded by disrupted sleep over my long weekend (from Friday to Sunday I dozed every afternoon/early evening and then ended up going to bed late and/or struggling to sleep at the right time).

The doctor felt there was no reason to change my medication, which I sort of agree with and sort of not.  I think it’s doing something as if we change the dose or I forget to take it, I go downhill rapidly, but I wouldn’t describe my condition as ‘good.’  I was feeling a lot better from being put on clomipramine last winter until the summer, but since then I have been very depressed, albeit functional and not in danger of hurting myself (until yesterday).  It seems that, as with all the medication I have taken, it either does nothing or produces some improvement until an external event pushes me back into the depression, at which point it at best keeps a degree of stability and functionality, but not positive mood.

Then again, I would agree with the psychiatrists I have seen in the past who say that medication can only help me so much; I need to make changes to my life.  This is the hard part, as I’m not sure what to change or how, particularly when obstructed by social anxiety and my borderline Asperger’s.  Hence all the recent posts musing idly about career changes, volunteering or emigration and more seriously about trying to find a romantic relationship while also struggling to integrate better into my religious community (which currently feels like one step forward and two backwards – I haven’t been to shul (synagogue) on Shabbat morning (Saturday) for a couple of months now, as I’ve been too exhausted, but I suspect that is covering depression and socially anxiety that I need to confront at some point).  The result is a feeling of ‘stuckness’ which I guess I should raise with my therapist this week (a shame I only just thought of it now, not during my appointment with the doctor).

The doctor did, however, think that the immediate trigger for my agitation was my disturbed sleep over the weekend.  This may be true, as I know I need seven to eight hours of sleep a night just to be functional and any kind of physical need (fatigue, hunger, dehydration) can trigger mental health issues very quickly in me (depression, anxiety, OCD).  Still, I think a more likely trigger is the issue with my blog being discovered by my boss and the college hierarchy last week, which is further in the past than the sleep disruption, but Monday was my first full day at work since it happened, which may have been triggering, particularly as I was doing some (non-blog) writing during my lunch break, right before the agitated and self-harming thoughts started, which may have reminded me of writing my blog during my lunch break and inadvertently being ‘caught.’  I did mention some of this to the doctor, but he didn’t change his mind.  He did prescribe sleeping tablets for a few nights, saying I don’t have to take them if I don’t want to.  I think I’ll probably wait until a night when I can’t sleep or my sleep pattern gets messed up (more likely to be during the weekend, as on weekdays I sleep, if not the sleep of the just, then at least the sleep of the exhausted).  I do wonder if they will give me more refreshing sleep, as for many years the depression has made me sleep for long periods, but not refreshing sleep – I wake up as tired or even more tired than I went to bed.

I felt that this was positive overall, especially as the doctor booked in a follow-up appointment (by phone, so I won’t have to miss more time off work) for next Monday.

This took me to lunchtime.  I phoned my boss to let her know what happened and got no answer, just as I had got no answer when phoning in this morning to explain my absence.  I left a message (as I had done earlier too) and a few minutes later she phoned back, saying she was out of the office and had only just got my message (at the time I assumed she meant the message of a few minutes earlier, but in retrospect, she might have meant the first phone message and even the email of the previous night).  She said that she would like to see me tomorrow, which I’m a bit nervous about, but probably shouldn’t be.  She also said there was no point in my going in this afternoon, as by the time I arrived it would be nearly time to come home again, but I said I think I would like the structure of going to work; the last thing I wanted was to be stuck home alone again with my thoughts as I was on Sunday and over the winter holidays.  So I went to work for two hours, spending more time commuting than actually at work, but I think it was the right decision for my health.  It also gave me the opportunity to open up to another of my colleagues about my depression (but not the suicidal thoughts), which was a positive thing as well.

So now I’m home, feeling vaguely anxious about my meeting tomorrow.  I feel I should have some kind of positive action plan to put in place and I don’t have a clue what that would be.  As I mentioned yesterday, employers are supposed to make “reasonable adjustment” to illness under UK diversity law, but it’s hard to tell what is reasonable; also what would be running away from my problems.  For example, I think that even if I could somehow escape from being on the issue desk, it would be a backwards step to do so.  I need to have those anxiety-provoking and mistake-making experiences for growth (something else the doctor said today, actually).  The only real adjustments I can think of are some leniency if I’m a few minutes late to work (which has only happened twice in nearly eight months) or if I need to stop work for a few minutes to calm myself or just to be able to ‘shift gears’ between two different tasks (as I think I’ve mentioned before, I’m not sure how much this is a depressive problem or an Asperger’s one; I guess it doesn’t really matter what it comes from).

Appointments

I summoned up the courage to phone my parents.  When I said I was having suicidal thoughts, my Mum straight away said I should get an emergency appointment with the doctor tomorrow and see if I can get referred back to the psychiatrist or have my medication changed (although my experience of doctors on the NHS in the UK is that they tend to leave medication to the psychiatrist if possible). I should be able to get an appointment with the doctor tomorrow, even though there’s normally a huge waiting list, as when I was suicidal last winter, my doctor put a note on my file saying that I’m a priority and have to be given an appointment that day if I say it’s an emergency (young men living on their own are a massive suicide risk anyway, plus I have a long history of suicidal ideation).  I’ll have to phone my boss first thing in the morning to explain the situation, including mentioning the suicidal thoughts, otherwise it won’t seem bad enough for me to justify missing a day of work (or possibly a half-day if I can get  seen earlier).  I am dreading this.  I have just sent an email to explain the situation so that my phone call won’t be totally out of the blue, because I know I can get panicky and not completely coherent on the phone (not sure if that’s social anxiety or Asperger’s) and I don’t want it to sound as if I’m skiving.

I’m having self-critical thoughts saying I shouldn’t have gone from three days to four a week at work or even that I shouldn’t have left my old job, but I guess I did have to try to push myself and I was doing OK in the spring.  I made decisions based on the information available to me and although I knew there was a possibility of relapse, I didn’t know it would be this bad.  In some respects, I’m just glad it didn’t hit me until the winter break, after my sister’s wedding, as it would have been awful to miss that.  I just hope I can find a way to stick with this job.

I don’t know if there are still medication options.  There might be older tricyclic antidepressants I could try.  There’s MAOI antidepressants, which are a pain because of dietary restrictions, but they might help.  And there’s ECT although in my experience you have to be more or less totally non-functional before psychiatrists will prescribe that.  Still, my thinking – and my therapist agrees with me – is that medication can only keep me stable at best.  Beyond that, I need talking therapy and I need to somehow shift things in my life so I feel better about myself.  It’s hard to see where that could come from when I twist everything to fuel my self-loathing and where my efforts to deal with social anxiety and low self-esteem seem to continually hit the wall of depression and borderline Asperger’s symptoms.

So, I will try to remain positive and hope my appointment tomorrow is helpful.  I will just take some notes based on my previous blog post so that I’m not incoherent when I see the doctor and then get ready for bed.

“You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave”

Having made the decision/mistake to stay up late blogging last night and then got sidetracked into reading news sites with horrified fascination, I didn’t wake up until 11.00am today.  Even then it took another hour to feel well enough to get out of bed and a couple more hours of eating breakfast, going back to bed, getting up again, procrastinating by reading online (mostly political news, mostly horrifying) before I could get dressed.  When my depression is bad, I try to avoid the news, but then I feel ill-informed and a Bad Citizen, so I go back to reading it and get depressed.  I don’t like to talk about politics here, but, whatever one’s views, it does seem that we live in a much more unstable world since the upheavals of a few years ago (Credit Crunch, Arab Spring) where anything can happen (Brexit, Trump, Corbyn) except, of course, what all the pundits expect.  I don’t know whether the Chinese really consider it a curse to live in “interesting times,” but it feels like one to me.

Something else I’ve read today indicates that depression really is making me stupider.  So at least it’s not my imagination.  I do wonder what my IQ is these days.  I certainly seem to have more trouble with reasoning and problem-solving, although as most of my problem-solving is at work, it’s hard to tell what is social anxiety panicking me into making mistakes and what is depression making me less intelligent.  I guess I did get both my BA and my MA while very depressed, so I can’t be that stupid, but it’s hard to believe that sometimes.

The only thing I really achieved today was a only partially successful shopping expedition.  I ran into a load of people I knew who I would rather not have met, particularly the person several years younger than me who was out with his three children, just to make me feel more inadequate.  I had a partial breakdown in the kosher deli, trying to buy bread (the kosher baker was long-since shut).  They didn’t have the wholemeal bread I wanted and I stood there for what felt like an age trying to work out if I should buy granary bread or ask my parents to buy a loaf for me tomorrow (I get home from work long after the baker is shut).  It was only after I had bought the granary bread that I realised that I had other, better, options: come back to the deli tomorrow or buy kosher hechshered bread from the supermarket (not everyone agrees that that’s OK and I always feel vaguely uncomfortable about it even though my rabbi mentor says it’s fine; I suspect that a lot of people at my shul would not eat it, but then I suspect they wouldn’t buy ordinary milk either and I do that… another instance of not quite fitting in to my community).

My iPod battery had died without me noticing, so I didn’t have music to distract me when I was walking to the shops (I don’t drive), so I got my full depressive internal monologue unadulterated for half an hour or more.  I was thinking that I don’t know how I am going to do any cooking tonight or to get to work tomorrow, which led me to feel that I am failing with my life, that I should just resign my job and tell the shadchan (matchmaker) not to bother to set me up with anyone (not that she’s got back to me yet anyway) and generally stop trying to be a grown up because I can’t cope with it.  I had thoughts of self-harm, more to do with trying to avoid work than because I really wanted to hurt myself.  There was some movement towards mental monologuing, but at least I shut that off.

I’m supposed to be cooking chilli for dinner, but I don’t have the energy to do it.  I don’t even have the energy to cook macaroni cheese, which is my standby ‘easy’ recipe.  I’m not sure I can even just cook plain pasta.  I have to think strategically about food now, because I’m too tired and too lacking in time to cook on workday evenings, have limited “freezer” space (I don’t have a freezer, just a small freezer compartment in my small fridge) for convenience food (which I try not to eat too much anyway) or cooking for the freezer and have now lost some easy meals now I don’t eat fish except on Shabbat and Yom Tov.  I need to save easy meals for workdays, but that means I really should be cooking for two days on Sundays, when I feel depressed and exhausted.

I feel very listless.  It’s hard to concentrate for more than a couple of minutes.  I can’t really read properly.  It’s hard to feel motivated to do anything, even just to watch TV.  I just want to go back to bed, but I won’t sleep.  I want to be alone, but I also want someone to reassure me somehow, even though I doubt anyone could.  At any rate, when people try to reassure me here, it doesn’t work, at least not for long.

I’m trying not to beat myself up about these lost Sundays, as it does no good.  I really do think I need the time to recover from the work week.  Still, I wish I could do more and, if I don’t actively do things, I wish I would sit and read a book or watch a DVD rather than browse aimlessly online until I find something that upsets me.  Sometimes it feels like I want to make myself depressed.  But on days like today it’s hard to concentrate on anything or to get the motivation to do something.

I wrote the above on and off during the afternoon.  At 6.20pm, I turned off the lights and went to bed fully clothed, because I couldn’t face being up any more.  I lay there for a long time too depressed to do anything and eventually fell asleep.  I got up a few minutes ago.  I feel a little bit better, although it’s too late to salvage anything from the day.  I’ll scavenge something for dinner and then go to bed and try to go to work tomorrow.