Update

Today was mostly a reasonably good day, but quite a lot happened.  I’m not sure how interesting any of it is in and of itself, but as most of it either follows on from things I have written in the past or is setting up potential things for the future, I thought I should give a quick update for regular readers and friends.

I spoke to my boss about my depression and my worries that it might get worse after my sister’s wedding.  As I hoped, but didn’t dare admit even to myself, she said I should take the next day off and make up the time by coming in for one day during the February half-term.  So that’s very positive for me (I get time off to recover) and also for my parents (I’m planning on staying the night at their house, partly for practical reasons, but, as my Mum said, it will stop them waking up feeling lonely and having empty nest syndrome).

Regarding the depression in general, she said she hadn’t noticed a change in my work, except that I’m not so pro-active in dealing with students, which she thought was probably my personality more than depression.  I didn’t say that this was more likely the social anxiety or Asperger’s because I didn’t want to complicate things, especially as I don’t have an official diagnosis of either of those things.  I said that I was worried about being late or taking time off sick and she basically said I shouldn’t worry about things that haven’t happened and which I have limited control over.  I felt afterwards that I’d said the wrong things, but that as probably just social anxiety.  On the whole the meeting went well.

At the end of the day, my boss also said that I had spent the whole day staring at books with a puzzled look on my face.  I thought that is probably how I spend all of my work days, but I didn’t say anything.  I know that while I have problems reading other people’s expressions, my facial expressions are literally as plain as the nose on my face.  It can be irritating at times, and is one of several reasons why I’m a very bad liar.

I also managed to get through a kashrut crisis at work without lapsing back into religious OCD, which was very good, although I do need to contact someone to ask if I’m still allowed to use the work kettle now non-kosher vinegar has been used to descale it.

I have managed to get myself exempted from security duty at shul (synagogue) for the moment, because the depression is likely to make me struggle to get up on time to do my slot and I don’t want to let them down by not showing up.  I am not happy to have to ask for exemption, which just puts more pressure on other people (it’s a small community, so we all have to take our turn fairly regularly), but I’m glad they were understanding (it helps the person in charge of security is my closest friend in the shul).

I just phoned the rabbi I was trying to get hold of about the date I had been set up on.  Apparently my potential date is making her own inquiries into my background.  But the rabbi said I should phone back tomorrow “at the latest.”  I do vaguely feel that if politicians were vetted the way Orthodox Jews vet people for a shidduch (match), there wouldn’t have been so many resignations from governments on both sides of the Atlantic recently…

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Growing Up Neurodivergent

I’ve been reminded a couple of times today of the Red Queen in Through the Looking-Glass: “My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place.  And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.”  It feels like that at the moment, with my struggles, that I’m running just to stand still or even to go back just a little bit rather than a lot, while others are moving ahead just by casually walking.

Work today was hard.  I don’t have any great anecdotes, nothing notably bad or annoying happened, it was just a boring day doing boring work for people I can’t communicate with (I mean that literally, not in terms of Asperger’s or social anxiety – I was in our secondary campus where most of the students are either immigrants with very poor English or people with very serious learning disabilities) in a library that is dark and gloomy and generally depressing-looking.  (It also smells, which doesn’t help, especially as my boss said I can’t use air-freshener because of allergies.)  Thankfully, I only have to go to this campus once a week.  I don’t think I could stand any more.  To make matters worse, for much of the afternoon teacher was working with an adult student in the library, who was practising his reading and comprehension by reading aloud a newspaper article on Islamic fundamentalism and female genital mutilation, really not what I wanted to listen to when feeling depressed and trying to get on with my own work.

My boss has agreed to speak to me tomorrow about my mental health and I hope to mention my sister’s wedding.  I need to plan what I want to say.  I’m hoping that it goes well.

I just deleted a load of stuff because it was just whinging about an unprofessionally-run shiur (religious class) and an equally problematic GP’s surgery.  A more interesting thought occurred to me while davening Ma’ariv (saying the evening prayers).  Growing up, I was religiously traditional, but not shomer mitzvot, which means that my family kept elements of Jewish law, but not all of it.  Shabbat (the Sabbath) was special and I didn’t do homework on it, but I watched TV and my Dad went to football.  We kept a reasonably kosher home, but not entirely and we ate vegetarian food in non-kosher restaurants and so on.  Still, as I got to my teens, I began to become more interested in Judaism and Jewish study and to think about taking on more aspects of Jewish law.

I think a number of people wanted me to get more involved in Jewish life, particularly in terms of study events, shul (synagogue) youth services, religious youth movements, kiruv organisations (organisations that try to make non-religious Jews more religious, essentially a sort of internal proselytisation) and the like, culminating ultimately in my school teachers wanting me to go and study in yeshiva (rabbinical seminary.  One can study there for a year or two without obligation to become a rabbi).  I think various rabbis wanted me to go so I would become more religious; my Mum was just looking for a social outlet for me that was more introvert-friendly than sport or scouts.

At the time, I shied away from all this stuff without really being able to articulate why.  In later years I would say that these groups were too Charedi (ultra-Orthodox), which was not always true.  Later, I was able to get past that and thought that being in large crowds of people my own age brought up too many memories of being bullied at school, often by the very people attending these groups (I still find it a bit weird that some of the kids who used to mess around in school and bullied me are now super-religious and married with lots of kids.  I really can’t reconcile who they were (not like me) with who they are now (like me, or at least how I want to be).  I don’t know if that says more about me or them).

But I think there is more to it than that.  It strikes me that all this stuff is really bad for someone with social anxiety and Asperger’s Syndrome.  I certainly had the former and may have had the latter.  These things are all about crowds of people getting together and while some of them focus on study, all of them have a socialising component built in that can be overwhelming and any youth movement is going to have an element of deindividuation in a group which I find so frightening.  I correctly identified that some of that sense of being overwhelmed came from being bullied at school and fearing that the patterns would repeat in youth movements or kiruv organisations, but even without that, just being in a loud room full of strangers is always going to freak me out, no matter what the context.  Add to that the fear (justified or not, I don’t know) that some at least of the rabbis wanted to change me into something I wasn’t comfortable with being (deindividuation again) and it’s no wonder I ran a mile.  Similarly, when I got to university all my friends were on the Jewish Society committee and tried to get me to join, but I resisted.  I said it was because the society was essentially a social group, not a religious one (which was basically true) and I had nothing to offer in that context, but I was very afraid of deindividuation and being in social groups, even in an environment where I was realistically safe from overt bullying (although someone did have a real go at me for not joining in).

It’s a bit reassuring realising this after all these years.  I don’t feel I need to worry so much about what might have been if I had gone to these things, as I would probably have just panicked and stood in painful silence rather than making life-long friends or meeting my wife.  It is less helpful knowing how to apply that information to events that I could potentially go to now.  I am still trying to see how much I can push myself to fight the social anxiety.  The way to beat social anxiety, like any anxiety, is to expose yourself to what you fear, but if I am autistic, then I’m just not going to be comfortable in certain situations no matter how hard I push myself.  It is hard to know what to do, particularly given my weird non-diagnosis regarding Asperger’s.

My rabbi mentor just told me not to be so hard on myself.  He wasn’t thinking about this, but I guess it applies here too.  I just wish I knew how not to be hard on myself…

Missions and Needs

First, I emailed my boss today to arrange a time to talk about my sister’s wedding.  I’m putting it in the context of my mental health (and its deterioration) generally, rather than specifically asking for leniency regarding the wedding.  We shall see what happens.

I was given some personal/religious tests over the weekend and I failed them.  I won’t go into many details.  The hardest one might have been a test I could never have passed, only one should not say such things.  At any rate, I failed it, and even if I was set up to fail, I might have done better than I did.  This all makes me feel singularly unprepared to date for marriage (rather than for fun), which is what I am on the point of doing, assuming that rabbi ever gets back to me.  I am not in the best of moods at times at the moment and I continually feel burnt out.  I miss shul and do not always daven (pray) at home in full or with kavannah (concentration).  I skip Torah study.  I skip household chores.  I have little time to relax.  I feel at the end of my tether at times.  How can I date like this?  How could I be remotely attractive or ready to marry?  Certainly how can I date a frum woman?  How could she be remotely interested in me?

My parents think that dating will help me, arguing that if I find someone to love me, I will feel better.  This may be true, but I doubt anyone could love my current irritable, sarcastic, burnt out self.  Everything I’ve read about dating for marriage (which is the Orthodox way of dating) says that one should be ready for marriage and its demands, that one should have resolved one’s inner problems and know who one is.  I have not resolved my inner problems, and given that I have been struggling with them for perhaps twenty years or more, I probably never will do so.  Which means I will never be ready to marry or be loved.

Someone whose blog I read is contemplating divorce from a husband of many years, on the grounds that his depression makes him emotionally distant and unresponsive.  She married him to fix him and now realises that she can’t fix him.  I fear that that could be me and my wife if I got married.

Related to this is the issue of values, of knowing one’s mission in life.  I have heard from a couple of sources that one can find this by looking at what you would do if you had a very large sum of money (millions) and six hours a day to do what you want.  Related to this is what, of all the things you have done, has brought you the most pleasure.

I have no idea what I would do with a large sum of money.  If I had free time and no financial needs, I might write, but then again my self-criticism of my writing is strong enough that I might not, and even if I did, I don’t know what I would write about.   I have no confidence in my writing.  I enjoy writing about Doctor Who, but I can’t imagine that is my mission in life, nor that I can do it particularly well in a crowded marketplace; I feel it is unlikely that I will manage to sell my book if I finish it.  Other than that, I don’t know.

I can’t tell what has brought me most pleasure in life, because so few things have got through the depressive anhedonia and brought me any pleasure, at least as an adult.  I like helping people, but I’m not terribly good at it and I have to fight the social anxiety to do it.  My parents would probably say that I don’t help that much, that I’m always too eager to scurry off to my private world.  Certainly I struggle to deduce other people’s needs, to think of supplying them and to get the motivation to neglect my own tasks to help (Asperger’s again, perhaps).  Sadly, introspection is not a divinely-inspired life mission, nor does it make me happy, but more agitated and depressed.  I like playing with children, but think I’m unlikely ever to have any of my own and I’m wary of searching out opportunities to work or volunteer with them because I don’t feel that I’m good with them and worry about being responsible if something goes wrong as I have no real experience of being an adult responsible for young children, my sister being only a little younger than me and my cousins largely growing up abroad.

I used to enjoy being involved in my old shul, where I led services and gave drashot (short classes), but I feel too religiously inadequate in my current community to put myself forward for anything like that, even when the opportunities are available.  In my old community, I was one of a very small number of religiously capable people, but here everyone else is much better at that sort of thing that I am, so I leave them to it.  Anyway, I used to feel bad for enjoying those things, as it felt too much like showing off.

As I’ve mentioned before, I think love and intimacy are what I’m looking for in life, but it’s hard to be sure when they are so fraught with danger for me and hard to find so I don’t really know what they are like very well.  I don’t know if getting married and having a family can be one’s life mission; at any rate, this article, suggests otherwise, that family is a general mission everyone has, not one’s unique, divinely ordained purpose in being here.  Anyway, if it is my life mission, I’m failing at it spectacularly.

A number of books I was cataloguing today had Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in them, which I was already familiar with, but which reminded me again how few of my needs are being met.  On the lowest level of the pyramid, my basic physiological needs are met, except for sex.  In theory my safety needs are met, except that my financial position is precarious (and still dependent on my parents), but my social anxiety often leaves me feeling unsafe.  On the third, level, love and belonging, I have some friends and relatives I am somewhat close to, but my friends tend to live far away and be inaccessible, while friends and family alike do not always understand me, nor do I always understand them.  Certainly my love and belonging needs are not met enough even if they are met in part.  As for the highest levels of esteem and self-actualisation, I have zero self-esteem (I don’t know if I have respect from others) and no self-actualisation – as I say, I don’t know what self-actualisation would look like for me.

So there you go, I feel pretty useless and despairing today.  I struggled to do my work because I was feeling depressed and I spent part of my lunch break drafting this, which was a mistake, as it put me in a bad state of mind for the afternoon rather, whereas working on my book in my break is somewhat refreshing.  I suppose I’ll muddle through, I usually do, but I’m fed up of muddling through.  I want to have a proper, stable life, with love (of all kinds), friendship, stability, self-esteem and maybe even one day elements of self-actualisation.

Shut-Down Shabbat

It was a difficult Shabbat (Sabbath).  I got to shul (synagogue) on Friday night, but that was it.  I didn’t get to the communal ‘learning’ (Orthodox Jews say ‘learning’ when they mean ‘study’ because of Yiddish influences, a fact that annoys me no end, doubly so given that it’s a bad habit I’ve lately adopted, which at least shows that I’m trying to fit in with frum people, however maladroitly) event and I missed shul today because I was feeling burnt out: exhausted and depressed.  My sister was with us all over Shabbat and her fiancé was with us today.  I got to talk about my feelings of burn out and work and dating stress at dinner on Friday, but today at lunch the talk was almost entirely about the wedding and I got bored and anxious and walked off and ate pretzels instead of joining in because I had nothing to say.  I’m a bit annoyed about something that’s happening at the wedding, but am too polite to say anything to my sister, especially as I can sort of see the reason for it, but that doesn’t make me feel any better.

I did get to speak to my parents and my sister about working the day after the wedding.  I don’t think I made it clear in my previous post that I can’t just take the day after the wedding off as holiday.  Because I work in a college, I’m not allowed to take holiday during term time and had to take Yom Tov off as time off in lieu and work it off later.   I don’t think I’d be allowed to take another day off, especially as I think my boss thinks I’ve been slacking off.  My plan is to meet with my boss and explain that I have to go to the wedding, but that I’m worried my mental health issues might make my work sub-par for a day or two afterwards and see what she says.  But I’m not hopeful.

Regarding dating, I emailed the person who set me up on the date to ask her to tell my potential date that I’m interested, but that I can’t get hold of the rabbi to arrange to meet.  She emailed me back to say that my date can’t get hold of the rabbi either.  I’m quite glad, as I’m burnt out and can’t see myself managing to date, let alone get married.  In any case, I’m pretty sure she’s going to find me not frum (religious) and religiously knowledgeable enough for her, not least because of her super-frum insistence on organising the date through the rabbi rather than in person.

I was hoping to clean my flat tonight, but I’m too tired and depressed after a busy week and a day listening to people talking about weddings and making me feel lonely, miserable and anxious (about the wedding).  Also, my family can be quite loud when they’re talking and when everyone is shouting at once the Aspie/introvert part of me spaces out and gets drained, which is how I feel now.  I plan to eat something and watch Doctor Who for a bit.

Reflections on Work, Social Anxiety and Related Issues

1) My sister’s wedding is in less than a month.  I know it is likely that the morning afterwards, which is a workday, I am likely to be exhausted (I’m only expecting to get four or five hours sleep whereas I need at least seven, preferably eight or nine – at the moment I’m getting around eight hours on work nights, but that includes getting up half an hour later than I would like).  It is almost certain that being around such a big crowd of people for so long at an event that drives home my single and lonely status will push so many depressive, socially anxious and autistic buttons that I will be very depressed and struggle to work the next day.  It’s entirely possible that I simply won’t function for at least a day or two afterwards.  I mean literally not function, barely able to get up, let alone leave the flat.

My parents say I should ask for some time off in lieu from work, at least an hour or two on on the morning afterwards.  However, I have already had three days and a couple of hours off as time off in lieu for Yom Tov and I don’t want to push my luck (and build up a huge debt of time I will have to pay back at some point), especially as a couple of unfortunate events and a big mistake on my part this term have left me worried that my boss mistakenly thinks that I’m a slacker.  So I am not sure what to do.  I am thinking about ‘warning’ her and leaving it up to her to decide how to respond (give me time off, say I can phone in ill if I’m too depressed, etc.), but I’m not sure what to say or how.  She knows I have mental health issues, but not much detail.  She doesn’t know about the Asperger’s and I’m wary of mentioning it given that I don’t have an official diagnosis (indeed, have twice officially been told I don’t have it, although I have been told unofficially by a psychiatrist and I think also a therapist who knew me well that I probably do).  Any thoughts?  I would be grateful for advice from people with more experience of work.

2) My boss was shepping naches (basking in reflected glory) over her son getting a distinction in his MA and having a poem published professionally.  I decided that this was not the time to mention that I also passed my MA with distinction and have had things published professionally.  I never know when is the socially acceptable time to blow my own trumpet, so I usually stay quiet about my achievements and let people write me off as inadequate.  I know I made the right decision today, but I wish I could have the courage to speak up sometimes, when it is socially acceptable, so that I could have some esteem from my peers.

3) I work in a college where a lot of the staff and probably 80-90% of the students are Muslims.  I’ve only come across two other Jews, both students.  A couple of times I’ve thought I heard students whisper “Jewish” behind my back when I walked past, but I put it down to my paranoia.  However, today I definitely heard a girl whisper “… he’s Jewish…” after I walked past, but I couldn’t hear the context.  I don’t think she was a student, but a prospective student there for the open evening (so probably about fifteen or sixteen years old).  I don’t know what to do about this.  No one has actually done anything unpleasant or threatening and I don’t want to come across as paranoid or confrontational, but I don’t want things to escalate either.

4) I came across a ‘found story’ (like a found poem) today in the library catalogue.  The subject word authority file had four consecutive subjects that read, “Teenage boys/Teenage girls/Teenage horror/Teenage pregnancy”, which is actually a properly-structured story with a beginning, a middle and an end.

5) Not work-related, but I keep phoning the rabbi who is supposed to be finding out if my potential date wants to go out with me, but he does not answer.  This is frustrating and I don’t know what to do.  When I phoned on Friday, he hadn’t spoken to her and told me to phone on Monday or Tuesday.  I didn’t want to be too persistent (and I was running short of time anyway), so I didn’t phone on Monday.  I phoned several times on Tuesday but didn’t get through, so left a message asking him to phone me back.  I didn’t think he would phone, but I wanted to remind him that I exist.  I phoned a couple of times again too, but again no answer and I didn’t leave a message because I wasn’t sure what to say.  I feel very frustrated and am wondering if he turns his phone off after 7.00pm (which would be a stupid thing for a rabbi to do – rabbis can’t keep office hours) and if I should phone from work during my lunch break, which could be awkward.  Again, any advice gratefully accepted.

Monologuing

I slept too much over Shabbat and don’t feel tired now, even though it’s past 1.00am, so I thought I would write a few words about monologuing.

It’s quite well-known that people with Asperger’s Syndrome often have special interests that can be quite all-absorbing.  It is also well-known that they can launch into monologues on these subjects very easily.  This occurs a lot as children, but it often results in a frosty reception from adults and other children, who either find the monologue subject too obscure or simply object to being talked at without being allowed to get a word in edgeways.  This often means that adult Aspies are scared to monologue and simply stay quiet the whole time, but sometimes monologuing does continue into adulthood.

I think this was my experience growing up.  I honestly don’t remember whether I literally monologued, in the sense of delivering a long and perhaps (to others) tedious lecture on a subject, but I did like to talk about things that Other People perhaps did not want to talk about: history, politics, science (I think), Judaism (probably, I can’t remember for sure) and especially Doctor Who, about which I knew a lot (although nowhere near as much as I know now – my eight year old self couldn’t have written the book I’m currently writing and not just for the obvious reasons!).  I don’t know if I literally monologued about these, but I did like to talk about them, and the people around me often did not.  I was told that Other People did not want to talk about these things, and that I should talk about things that Other People wanted to talk about, like football and gossip.  I did not want to talk about football or gossip, particularly once I found out that Judaism is strongly opposed to gossip.  (Actually, there were periods when I was more interested in football.  When I was a toddler, I could apparently name all the players in Tottenham Hotspur’s squad.  It’s slightly bizarre that despite behaviour like that, two psychologists insisted that I’m not on the spectrum!)  Worse, Other People said that I was an “intellectual elitist” for wanting to talk about these things, and for using long words that Other People could not understand.  (They thought I was showing off, but I actually did not realise that they did not know these words.  I don’t know if that was naivety or an autistic failure to understand others.)

This label of “intellectual elitist” has haunted me all my life.  I’m sure it makes me wary of sharing my passions with others.  I am particularly reluctant to talk about Doctor Who with anyone other than die-hard fans and tend to change the subject quickly if it comes up.  I am certainly no monologuer now.  I am very quiet in person and say very little, generally just listening to Other People’s conversations and not having the courage to join in much.

For this reason, I assumed that I was not a monologuer and thought that was more evidence of me not having Asperger’s (remember that I’ve had mixed messages about this from mental health professionals).

However, recently I have been reconsidering this.  I think I do monologue, but not out loud.  I go through long monologues in my head, about Judaism, Doctor Who, history, politics… much the same stuff as I used to like when I was a child, but on a more sophisticated (I hope) level.  It’s not spoken, but it’s hard to stop, particularly if the thoughts are triggered by something that I’m upset or anxious about.  Then it can become a runaway anxious thought as I try to solve the world’s problems in my head or justify myself to an imaginary critical audience (e.g. regarding my political or religious beliefs, if I’ve read something attacking them).  The thoughts can be so strong that it is hard to do anything else and they can loop round so that no sooner have I got to the end than they start again (this is probably the obsessive part of my personality).

The other place I monologue is online.  Obviously I have my blogs, which are often written to try to exorcise thoughts from my head.  That’s why I write in my lunch break at work sometimes – to get the thoughts that were distracting me in the morning out of my system before the afternoon’s work is ruined too.  But I also monologue on other people’s blogs, in the comments section.  I am ashamed to say I have become quite notorious on Hevria.com for my long self-pitying posts about my mental health, which I can shoehorn in on quite unrelated topics when there is something I want to say.  In my defence, I suppose I should say that quite a few people have said they find my comments interesting, informative and well-written, so I probably stick to the point better than I’m making out here.

Do you monologue internally like this?  Please let me know in the comments!

Went the Day Well?

Sometimes I write here because I have something that I really want to say; other times I just want to update the people who I know are reading regularly about something that happened in my life.  This post falls in the latter category and although the update isn’t particularly major, I wanted to record a small, but significant victory after some recent difficulties.

I overslept this morning quite dramatically, by about half an hour, but I managed to rush out and actually left the flat ten minutes early for work.  Between arriving early for work and leaving late because I was working on something, I did nearly half an hour of (unpaid) overtime.  Unfortunately my boss was not around to see this.  I think I managed it because I went to bed early last night and that combined with oversleeping meant that I got nearly eight hours of sleep last night and for once I actually woke up feeling refreshed rather than lethargic and depressed, so I want to see if I can go to bed around 10.30pm on work nights in the future, even if it means getting very little of an evening, although I am not sure how I will manage it, particularly not on nights when I have Talmud shiur (class).

I managed to go to the parasha shiur (class on the week’s Torah portion) at the assistant rabbi’s house that I mentioned a day or two ago.  I was somewhat nervous about going, but not as much as I might have been in the past.  There were about ten people there, all people that I recognised from shul (synagogue) and a few who I would consider myself friendly with (I get nervous of referring to people as my friends, but probably one or two would count as friends).  I was the first person to arrive, which may have been good – at least I didn’t have to walk into a room full of people.  There was some food and drink, but I didn’t have any, partly because I’m watching my weight (I have put on a lot of weight on clomipramine), but also because I was worried I might shake if I was eating in front of other people, although I don’t generally have a problem with that at the moment.  I guess I was just feeling extra-nervous.  I had a slight moment of embarrassment when someone asked me to pass him a can of coke, but I did not hear properly and passed him various other things until I realised what he said.

The shiur was interesting and pitched at a good level: not so basic as to be boring, but not so complicated as to be hard to follow after a long day at the end of a long week.  The assistant rabbi directed a few questions straight at me i.e. he asked me by name.  He has done this before in his shiurim when I have been to them, but he doesn’t seem to ask anyone else by name, although he did ask one person if they followed a particular point.  I don’t know if he thinks I must know the answer and he is letting me show off or if he thinks I am drifting off or not following and he wants to involve me.  I have been told that when I don’t follow something, it is very obvious from my face and sometimes people even think from my expression that I am not following when I actually am following, so maybe that is what is going on here.  At any rate, I don’t think he is doing it to catch me out or anything troubling like that as he is too nice a person, but I do worry that one day he will ask something and I won’t know the answer.  I guess that would just be good exposure therapy as my new book says, doing things that feel embarrassing to learn not to be embarrassed.  I do wonder why he is doing it, though.  If you remember, he also tried to get me to ‘bid’ study Mishnayot in order to get an honour on Simchat Torah, which I was reluctant to do for various reasons, although he did that to other people too and he think he was just trying to involve me.  The thing is, he was at school with me (he was in the year below) and his parents are good friends with my parents, so I feel like there is a connection between us there, but a tenuous one and one that I don’t fully understand.  This is probably me being an Aspie again and not understanding how to interact with people.

At any rate, it was a victory against social anxiety and in favour of getting more involved in my shul (synagogue) community and doing more Torah study generally, given that I have worried recently that I am not doing enough of it.

The Downward Spiral

I just started writing something about the bad day I’m having, but I realised (a) it was going to bore everyone if I just moan about what went wrong and (b) if I carried on writing in as much detail as I was, it would be very impossible not to write in far too much detail to protect my anonymity, so I will just briefly state that a couple of bad things happened at work that really upset me.  Nothing horrendously bad, no disciplinary procedures or bruises (except to my fragile ego), but stuff that upset me a lot.

The first thing was partly caused by, and also reinforced, my social anxiety.  The second thing was linked to my Asperger’s.  Essentially, a student told a fairly transparent lie to myself and my boss, but while my boss immediately realised he was lying, I initially assumed that he was telling the truth and that there had been some kind of misunderstanding.  Naivety is not a crime, but it is a symptom of autistic spectrum disorder, in terms of taking people at face value and not thinking that they might be deliberately saying something they know to be wrong.  I know that I tend to be very trusting, and also that the students sometimes tell fibs when they want to avoid overdue fines and the like and I need to be more cynical.

I can learn to be less trusting (I no longer think it’s an amazing coincidence when a shop assistant claims that the item I’m dithering about buying is exactly the one they use), but it’s hard.  I guess everything just felt hard today.  I went into a downward spiral, thinking I am not suited to this job, that I should leave further education and go back into higher education where at least the library users are mature adults (except that I always felt inadequate hanging around academics) or that maybe I can’t cope with working at all and that I’ll have another episode of depression so severe that I won’t be able to work and how can I even think of starting dating-for-marriage again (and my phone conversation yesterday made it very clear to me that that’s what I’ve started doing) if I can’t even work part-time without cracking up…

…pause for breath…

I know that I need to stop the downward spiral.  I know I need to spend tonight eating pizza, watching Doctor Who, forgetting about work and low self-esteem and depression and social anxiety and Asperger’s and dating and marriage and just relaxing so I can get through work tomorrow and hopefully even stick to my plans to go to a Torah shiur (class on the week’s Torah portion) in the evening (doubly nerve-wracking as I haven’t been to this one before and it’s at the assistant rabbi’s house, really out of my comfort zone).  And I will probably manage to do some of that.  But it’s hard.  It’s hard when it feels like every few days I get reminded of how much I struggle with things that other people get to take for granted.

To end on a happy note, I mentioned the other day writing a really long and self-pitying comment on Hevria.  It was about struggling to be a depressive, socially anxious introvert Aspie in the frum (religious) world.  Someone wrote a really nice comment to me which you can see in the link, but I’m going to copy and paste it here anyway, because it’s my blog and I can blow my own trumpet occasionally:

Hi there. I just wanted to say that I am so impressed that rather than letting your challenges in life break you down, you are still working hard to build the life that you want for yourself and stay committed to yiddishkeit. It seems like you struggle with some things that you could use an excuse to give up but you aren’t and that is awesome!

So that does give a bit of strength to pick myself up and get back in there.

 

The Calm Before or After the Storm?

I was going to write a target-by-target breakdown of how I’ve been doing with the targets I set myself for the Jewish year (we’re already nearly six weeks in!) and for the half-term week, but I decided not to.  I know I’m not doing that well.  I know that the last week was pretty awful, although I did manage to do most of the chores that needed doing, despite my low mood.  I know that, whether I’m actually autistic or not, I don’t cope well with the removal of routines, even when I desperately need a break from work.  I think my ideal would be odd days off work or even afternoons off, but obviously that’s not a workable plan for a college with a strict academic timetable.

This reached a point over Shabbat (the Sabbath) where I was wondering how I could stay frum (religious) if it is so hard for me to keep the social aspects of halakhah (Jewish law) and Jewish culture (because of depression, social anxiety and borderline Asperger’s) and where I feel so distant from HaShem (God) so much of the time and get so little simcha shel mitzvah (joy in fulfilling the commandments).  Fortunately today I feel quite a lot better.  I don’t know why.  Something really scary but potentially good unexpectedly happened last night, but it will be a long wait until it comes to fruition.  Or it could just be that I’m looking forward to going back to work tomorrow.

Certainly I tried to give myself a not-too-stressful day today, as my last holiday day after a stressful ‘holiday’ week.  I did some shopping and a lot of Torah study to try to make up for the last week when I did very little (I realised that listening to shiurim (Torah classes) on my iPod while out and about is a good way of ‘multitasking’ extra Torah into the day without having to remove desperately needed relaxation time or other needed activities).  I also worked for a while on my book, which is one of my main enjoyable activities at the moment.  I will cook some plain pasta with a shop-bought sauce for dinner and I need to sew on some buttons, but other than that I am not planning on doing much else today, just watching some TV, making my lunch for tomorrow and hopefully getting an early night.

So today I feel calm and ready to go back to work, albeit not knowing if the weeks ahead will be another storm or a period of calm.

Thoughts on “Asperger’s and Me”

When I mentioned at my depression group that I had been thinking that, despite being assessed twice and told I don’t have Asperger’s Syndrome, that I do have it after all or at least am somewhere on the autistic spectrum, someone suggested that I watch Asperger’s and Me, a recent BBC documentary.  I watched it this evening and while I’m wary of posting on my blog for a third time this evening, I want to record a few thoughts I had while watching it and thinking about it afterwards.

  1. The presenter, Chris Packham, felt that he would not want to ‘cure’ his Asperger’s, because, while it caused him many difficulties, particularly with social interactions, it gave him many benefits, particularly in terms of heightened sensory awareness.  I have heard other people on the spectrum speak like this too.  I don’t want to get into the question of curing autism per se, which I know is very emotive for people on both sides, but I do feel that I don’t have many of those positives.  I don’t feel that I have particularly strong sensory awareness, for example.  I probably get irritated by noise, particularly talking, when I’m trying to work more than many people do and by light when trying to sleep, and when I was a child I was sensitive to certain fabrics, but I don’t think I would describe myself as having particularly acute senses the way Packham described his own perceptions.  I probably can immerse myself in a problem or train of thought more than some people and I have a good memory for things that matter to me (and a lousy one for things that don’t which, can be an embarrassing way of demonstrating my priorities e.g. not remembering birthdays without my diary), but that’s about as far as it goes.  I’m certainly not any kind of savant or technological whizz kid.
  2. That said, like Packham, I have managed to find a job that plays to my Aspie strengths.  He took his passion for wildlife and particularly for monologuing about it, and became a wildlife TV presenter.  I found work as a librarian, a job that needs Aspie skills of focus, attention to detail and repetitious adherence to strict rules.  The parts of my job that I don’t like and sometimes complain about here are the non-Aspie friendly bits, mostly dealing with people and their problems and moods.  I am also hoping to get some money out of one of my main special interests (Doctor Who), if I ever find a publisher for the book I’m writing on it.
  3. Speaking of special interests, I think Packham’s family sounded quite indulgent of his special interest in nature when he was growing up, inasmuch as he roped his sister into helping him find birds’ nests and his parents allowed him to keep a kestrel, which he had illegally taken from the wild.  When I was growing up, I felt that my interests were not always encouraged by those around me.  It goes without saying that the kids at school bullied me for being a geek and a Doctor Who fan (nowadays Doctor Who is a major global entertainment franchise, but in the nineties, when I was growing up, there had not been a new series for a couple of years and the programme had been a critical laughingstock for many years before that, being widely perceived as cheap, badly acted, badly made and out of date).  But harder to deal with was the attitude of certain adult authority figures in my life who branded me an “intellectual elitist”.  They thought that when I tried to talk about Doctor Who or history or any of the other subjects that interested me or even when I used long words, I was trying to show off how clever I was and make everyone else look stupid.  This was not my intention.  I genuinely didn’t realise that other people did not share my interests or that adults did not always understand the words I had found in my books and wanted to use.  But the term “intellectual elitist” has stayed with me my whole life and to this day I am wary of sharing things I know with people and absolutely hate to talk about Doctor Who except with other card-carrying fanboys and fangirls.
  4. Packham said that while he doesn’t agree with ‘curing’ autism, particularly not the ‘cures’ he investigated, he thinks there is one safe and painless cure: being alone.  However, this would not suit me.  I am an introvert and a bit of a loner and I do need time by myself.  Nevertheless, I could not cope with being completely alone.  I long for intimate company with a few good friends as well as being accepted by a religious community.  I also want to get married one day and have children.  Certainly my depression gets worse when I am forced to spend significant time alone.  Even just a day or two by myself can bring me quite far down.  I was pleased to see that Packham does have a relationship, albeit with someone he doesn’t live with, as well as having a parental relationship with his step-daughter.  His partner said after ten years she still finds the way his mind works fascinating, although I’m sceptical that anyone could ever find me fascinating.  I do think I would be more willing to force myself into social situations to please my spouse, though, although maybe that is wishful thinking on my part.  (On a related note, my parents were both insistent today that they thought that dating would be beneficial to me, but neither of them has as yet made inquiries about setting me up on a blind date with the daughter of friends of theirs who suffered from OCD.  I’m still not convinced that shared mental health issues are necessarily the best way to start a relationship, though.)

Are You Lonely Tonight?

Funnily enough, most of what I want to write about my Shabbat (Sabbath) was covered in the parasha post I just posted, about the desire for a place where I belong and for  children.  But I will quickly go into more detail.

I was thrown a bit on entering shul (synagogue) on Friday night to see it was laid out a bit differently and as a result I couldn’t sit in my usual place.  I thought I was OK with things like that, but yesterday I was not (another mark in favour of Asperger’s… I wish I had been reading autistic blogs before I had my formal assessment years ago, maybe I would have got a different outcome.  Or maybe not; it does seem that the criteria that the psychiatric community use to assess high functioning autism are not the same things that those on the spectrum see as the most notable or difficult elements of their lives).  Someone who probably counts as a friend (if I haven’t completely alienated him by turning down a lunch invitation the other week out of social anxiety… I’m never sure who I can count as my friends) asked where I was last week and if I was OK, which was nice.  I said I have some ongoing health problems but didn’t go into details because I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate and it was in a very public area.  I would have liked to have said more, but I was glad that I said anything about my health not being 100% as this is usually very hard to admit to.

I didn’t go to the oneg (Shabbat party thing) on Friday evening.  I felt too tired and was worried that I would just feel out of place and I wouldn’t be able to leave early because of the guest speaker.  I was too depressed to go to shul this morning which was probably social anxiety making me avoid it.  I’m going to have act to stop that becoming a habit, as I have missed shul on Shabbat mornings three consecutive weeks now (more if you count Yom Tov too).

I did manage to go to shul this afternoon, albeit that I dozed off after lunch and so arrived late.  We had the family seudah shlishit (third Shabbat meal) which was as awkward as I feared.  I think I was almost the only person over eighteen who wasn’t there with their spouse.  The one or two other single or divorced people must have decided to give a “family” event a miss.  Most people had children with, although I managed to sit on a table without young children, just two teenagers (twin brothers).  I sat with my friend H, but felt out of place and the noise of all the children in the room participating in a game and generally being noisy kids was difficult for me.  I was glad when it was time to daven Ma’ariv (say the evening prayers).

I actually just bought a new book about social anxiety for teenagers (because emotionally that’s where I still am, at least with social anxiety, sadly) and it says you have to force yourself to do things you don’t want to do.  From that point of view, I did the right thing in going to the seudah and the wrong thing in missing the oneg.  Yet that is not what it feels like at all.  I feel guilty for not going to the oneg, but that feels like my internal parental voice repeating what my parents would have told me when I was younger, not what I really feel, although that does not make it easier to ignore it.  I feel like I actually missed something I would not have enjoyed, because I would not have spoken to anyone there or felt that they were my friends.

On the other hand, I should feel good for going to the seudah, yet while I am glad I was seen to be joining in with the community, I didn’t really enjoy it very much (maybe a little bit).  I know I have to go to social events to make friends and to be accepted in the community, but when I manage to get to events, I find it impossible to speak to people and progress from being acquaintances to being friends.  The social anxiety book seems to be based on the premise that with repeated exposure, social interactions will become easier.  It does not seem to be geared up for people who might be on the autistic spectrum and whose brains are not designed to work in social situations the way neurotypical brains work.  And yet I really do want a few friends and a community where I belong.

On the way home I felt very lonely and despairing, feeling that God hates me and wants to hurt and punish me (I’m not sure that ‘punish’ is the right word, as half the time even I don’t know what I’ve done wrong, despite my over-active conscience).  In shul the rabbi spoke of the nachas (untranslatable, sorry) that God must be experiencing from so many Jews keeping Shabbat this week (because of The Shabbat Project/Shabbat UK) especially those who don’t normally keep it.  And I thought God must love the tzaddikim, the righteous Jews, the Jews who keep Shabbat, kashrut, davening etc. flawlessly.  And He must love the tinokim shenishba, the non-observant Jews who don’t know any better because they were brought up non-religious, particularly if they take a step towards observance.  And I’m sure He loves those who left observance because they were abused or their questions were not taken seriously.  But how can He love someone like me, who ostensibly tries to be good, but screws up everything, and I mean everything?  I don’t think I keep any mitzvot (commandments) properly; even today I think I messed up something regarding serving food the appropriate way on Shabbat.  At best I rely on leniencies and bedieveds (things that are OK after the event, but which should not be done deliberately in the first instance).

In shul I was wondering if I still believe God exists.  I think I do, although I rarely feel particularly close to Him.  It is hard to do mitzvot without getting any simcha shel mitzvah (joy in fulfilling the commandments) out of them, especially without feeling like a valued member of a community and especially given that I believe I have done karet sins and have no share in Olam HaBa  (the Next World i.e. Heaven), so I can’t hope for a reward in the future.

Talking/Not Talking

I went to my depression support group last night.  I hadn’t been for a couple of months.  It’s hard to go now I’ve started my new job because I come home tired and hungry and if I was going out to depression group (which is quite a way away) I would have very little time to eat something and try to relax a bit before going out again.  Also, with the Monday meetings (meetings are on the second Monday and last Thursday of the month) I would get home late and struggle to get up early for work the next day; I don’t work on Fridays, although I do have therapy then, so the Thursday meetings would be less of a problem, so I’m hoping to get back to going to those at least, having missed some due to Yom Tov.

I did feel I wasn’t always talking entirely coherently at depression group last night.  A couple of times I started saying something and then had to break off to add in another piece of information I needed to say before I got to the next bit.  I’m not good at talking spontaneously.  I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to say anyway, I just needed to talk.

It just occurred to me that although everyone there has depression and some have anxiety too, few people seem to display the shyness and communication difficulties I have.  I don’t have problems talking about my feelings when it’s my turn to talk, but I do struggle to talk to people during the tea break and usually go and browse the books in the small library of depression books rather than make awkward small talk.  I don’t know whether this is evidence in favour of Asperger’s or just social anxiety, but it is interesting.

When I came home, someone had written a blog post that triggered thoughts of something that happened to me that I’ve been wrestling with lately, wanting to write about it here or on Hevria, but not feeling that it was a good idea.  I emailed the blogger about it, but in retrospect I wonder if that was a mistake, as I don’t really know her and it was quite private.  I had emailed some friends about it, but they were busy and never got back to me and I don’t like to chase them.  I open up to people too much online, and not enough in the real world.

I overslept again today.  I have no idea how I will get up for shul tomorrow.  I’ve discovered that the oneg (Shabbat party) tonight is open not just to my shul (synagogue), but all the shuls in the area, which has further scared me off going, even though there is a guest speaker who a blogger I read raves about.  That makes me want to see what he’s like, but also irrationally puts me off (I asked the blogger out earlier in the year, but she wasn’t interested.  Rationally that has nothing to do with the speaker she likes, but somehow it makes me uncomfortable.  I suppose, as she said we have nothing in common, I wonder whether that means I won’t like the speaker and triggers fears about where I fit in the frum community which have been further triggered by seeing the subject matter of his talks over Shabbat).

I think I need to come up with some precise targets for the social anxiety, but also to work out where my boundaries are and accept that there are some things I am never going to be able to do and probably will not want to do.   My parents used to try to send me to lots of social things and I’ve internalised the voice telling me I should go to things, but I’m not sure there’s much point going if I’m not going to enjoy them much.  However, it’s hard to know what I will enjoy in advance.

Social/Anti-Social

So here we go again with social anxiety.  Having discovered that I haven’t alienated my friends yesterday I’m now plunged into worrying what I should do about some events that are happening at shul (synagogue) over Shabbat (the Sabbath).  First is an oneg (Shabbat party thing) on Friday night, then a “family seudah” (the third Shabbat meal) on Saturday afternoon.  I would unhesitatingly go to the seudah, as I go to them every week that we have them (spring/summer time), except that it’s billed as a “family” seudah, which makes me worry that I’m going to be virtually the only unmarried and childless person there over the age of eighteen, which will prompt thoughts about being unloveable and alone forever.  Even if there is nothing out of the ordinary about the seudah, I’ve now been prepared to feel like this by the name.  But I get the impression that there is a quiz for the children at the very least.

I was going to try to go to the oneg, largely because of my resolution to try to do more social things to attack the social anxiety but, having been depressed all week, I’m not sure I can face it.  My parents are out for dinner, so I’m not sure I wouldn’t be better off having a quiet evening in by myself.  I’ve been so depressed I’ve barely opened a book all week, so it would be good to read for a bit.  However, I’ve a feeling I will end up guilt-tripping myself into going and either having a lousy time not talking to anyone or standing outside crying, unable to get the courage to go in, both of which have happened on previous occasions when I tried to go to onegs.

I find it hard to say, “I don’t like social things and I don’t want to go to them” not least because it isn’t quite true.  I do enjoy some social things, it’s just hard to predict in advance which ones I will like and which ones to avoid.  Also, I was pushed to go to a lot of social things I disliked by my parents when I was younger and I’ve internalised the voice that says I must go to these things, even though I can’t find a good reason why I must go.

I sometimes wish I could be more open about my mental health issues and possible autistic spectrum disorder at work and at shul.  My life might be a bit easier if people knew.  At the very least, it might make me less paranoid that people are judging me when I turn up late for shul or miss it completely and it would save me having to lie about how I feel at work.  I have told my boss, my rabbi and one other person at shul a bit about my mental health, but not everything; I have not told anyone about the Asperger’s because it seems wrong to bring it up when I was told I don’t have it.  I think I have only briefly mentioned to my parents that I’ve been thinking a lot more about it.  In any case, I’m worried that if I say too much about my mental health or Asperger’s at work they will find a pretext to fire me.  That’s probably paranoia, but I do worry that if I say, “Look, I struggle with being on the issue desk and dealing with students sometimes because I’m autistic and not always good at social interactions and thinking on my feet” that will be seen as making excuses or, worse, they will say I won’t get better with time and will fire me.

It isn’t just the fear of dismissal (in all senses of the term) and stigma that keep me from admitting to my mental health issues and the Asperger’s.  It’s just a big subject to ‘casually’ drop into the conversation, especially when you have poor social skills as I do.  And the more I delay having the conversation, the harder it gets to say it.  I only told my boss about the depression because I thought it was relevant to my work and my rabbi because he said something about depression in his shiur (class) and I wanted to ask him something about it.  I did mention the Asperger’s at depression support group tonight (going there was also anxiety-provoking as I haven’t been for some months because it’s hard to go after work although going today it was quite positive in the end), but I think I only managed that because I knew that someone there had a child on the autistic spectrum which made me feel more confident about it.  Someone said there was a good programme on TV the other week about Asperger’s that I might try to watch on iPlayer when I’m at my parents’ house after Shabbat (I don’t have a TV in my flat (I play DVDs on my laptop) so if I watch iPlayer I can get arrested “because of the unique way the BBC extorts money is funded”).

 

Night

This is a follow on from the previous post.

I think I’ve just annoyed or lost two of my few friends.  I’ve probably alienated everyone on Hevria too.  I feel I don’t deserve to live.  I tell myself I don’t deserve to have friends if I’m going to alienate them, but it doesn’t help.  Also, if I feel lonely, I don’t know how not to say it.  It’s not intended as a criticism, I know they don’t live locally, but I still feel lonely and want to say I feel lonely.  I know I can phone them, but I don’t know what to say (Asperger’s) and I don’t want to interrupt them or make demands on them (social anxiety).  Also, I don’t always think the same way they do, which can lead to misunderstanding.

I usually do my hitbodedut meditation/prayer in the dark, but I had to turn on the lights tonight, even though I felt stupid for doing so.  I just felt I couldn’t sit in the dark, feeling awful, hating myself.  Hitbodedut is supposed to make one feel closer to God, but I feel sure God hates me as much as everyone else does.  I feel like I’ve alienated all my friends and family, so I’m sure I’ve alienated Him too.

I want to eat, but I shouldn’t as I’m not hungry.  I’m on three psychiatric medications and they all cause weight gain and I’ve put on a lot of weight lately and am heading towards being overweight, although I don’t look it.  I’ve got rid of all the junk food in my flat so I won’t eat it (except one tiny piece of chocolate, saved for an emotional emergency), but I want to eat cereal, porridge or muesli.  It’s comfort eating, but still fattening.  I don’t know what to do.

A Day in the Life

Disjointed ‘early morning’ (actually after 11.30am, but I’d only just got up) thoughts:

“I didn’t realise I was crying until I felt the tear on my cheek.”

“Why can’t I get anything right?”

“I’ve done things that would make everyone hate me if they knew about them.”

“I am such an idiot.”

“If I’ve been shomer Shabbat for half my lifetime, why am I still having anxiety dreams about breaking Shabbos?”  [It was also a yeshiva anxiety dream, which is at least new for me.]

“The world is sick and crazy” (this on looking at the BBC news website).

“I hate myself.  I hate myself.”

“I feel sick.  I sicken myself.”

“Would I rather be dead or happy?  I’m not sure.”

“Weirdo.  Freak.”

“Why would I be happy as myself?  I hate myself.”

Afternoon thoughts:

Thoughts of scratching myself with my (very blunt) desk scissors (not acted on).

I want friends, I even try to make contact, but they don’t get back to me and live far away anyway and I lack the confidence and energy to chase them or make new friends.  I doubt that I’ll get to the oneg (Shabbat party) organised by my shul this week, and as my parents are out for Shabbat dinner it will be a lonely Friday evening, feeling everyone is having fun without me (it’s Shabbat UK/The Shabbat Project).  I will try to get to depression group for the first time in ages

Mid-afternoon:

Retail therapy: I just bought a load of books.  I bought a book on the laws of muktzah (things that can’t be touched on Shabbat) from the local Jewish bookshop and three books from the charity shop: Homage to Catalonia (which I’d been meaning to get around to reading for ages), a popular economics book and The Writer’s Tale, Russell T. Davies’ book on writing Doctor Who.  The latter was only bought as background for the book I’m writing and I probably won’t read it all, because it’s huge and because I don’t like Davies’ writing or the persona he projects very much and I doubt I can stick with it for 700+ pages.  Maybe that was a mistake, though, as I’ll probably end up reading it (I just flicked through for a couple of minutes and already found something that (a) really annoyed me (for two different reasons) and (b) is important for my book so it’s swings and roundabouts.  I just have to be able to write the chapter without it turning into abuse.  Also, Davies says that Martha is the only one of his companions who is genuinely selfless, which probably explains why she’s my favourite).

Late afternoon: I’ve been sitting aimlessly browsing online for about an hour (to be fair, I did catalogue my new books on Goodreads and eat some fruit (yes, I catalogue my own books.  I am a librarian!)).  Even though I told myself not to.  Even though I didn’t read anything interesting and mostly ended up skimming pages without reading properly (and did read something upsetting in an old blog post by someone who reads my blog – upsetting that she’s struggling with life rather than something offensive).  Even though I told myself to read a book when I’m depressed or even watch a DVD if I’m too depressed to read a book.  Actually, now I think about it, I did spend some time browsing through the Russell T. Davies book, but that was annoying too.  What I’m really doing is procrastinating to avoid cooking dinner.  I feel like crying again.

Early evening:

Still haven’t cooked dinner.  Struggled to daven Ma’ariv (say the evening prayers) when I feel so distant from God and feel like He doesn’t care about me.

I realised I have barely spoken to anyone all week, just a couple of phone calls to my parents, a few words with shop assistants and davening.  I just phoned my Dad and kept shouting at him without really intending to do so.  My parents thought that I’ve been well this week, so I’m obviously becoming a better liar, but made me think that was what prompted him to ask why I’m depressed today, so if I’d been truthful, perhaps that wouldn’t have happened.  Or maybe it was just small talk again.  I don’t see the point of small talk.

My relationship with my parents does make me wonder if I could get married.  I’m not always good at tolerating their quirks and different personalities and I think there has historically been a lot of incomprehension (unstable, unsociable introvert vs. stable, sociable introvert and extrovert, incomprehensible (to neurotypicals) Aspie tendencies, depression and OCD… the depression is probably the thing they deal with best although to be fair they have promised that at my sister’s wedding, they’ll try to get a room for me to go off and be Aspie and introverted (and probably depressed, but I shouldn’t say that)).  All of which makes me wonder if I could cope with someone who wasn’t improbably like me… and if she was improbably like me, then I still probably wouldn’t get on with her, because I hate myself!

I managed to cook dinner in the end, and even did a few minutes (OK, about fifteen or twenty minutes) of Torah study.  I felt tearful again over dinner, watching Doctor Who (The Ribos Operation, not even a particularly bleak or emotional story).  I’ve edited out quite a bit from this post, because it was too personal and too bleak.  I didn’t want people worrying about me.  And yet, that just leaves me feeling lonelier.

There is so much pain in the world and I do so little to alleviate it.  I probably make things worse (e.g. shouting at my parents).  I wish I could do something.  I wish I could say that my suffering is somehow a kapparah (atonement) for the world.  That would make it all worthwhile.  But I’m not a tzaddik (saint).  I wish I was like my childhood hero, the fourth Doctor, saving the universe every week with a smile, a joke and bag of sweets.  There’s an often-repeated idea that your favourite Doctor is the one you grew up with, but I grew up with the first seven in rapid succession.  I think the fourth is my favourite (I have cosplayed, without calling it such) because he’s the one I most want to be: confident, casually intelligent, funny, charismatic and eccentric-yet-endearing (rather than shy, intelligent-but-too-shy-to-speak, serious and freakishly weird.  And I genuinely am as stupid as I seem).

“Quiet, you. I’ve been inside you. There’s not as much there as you think.”

I went to bed before 2.00am last night, but not by much.  I woke up late again, about 11.30, feeling lethargic and depressed, but unlike the last few days once I had managed to get up and eat some breakfast, I felt a lot better, so I decided I would go to see Blade Runner 2049 after all, despite my reservations (about my ability to concentrate, about the film making me depressed and about possible gore), primarily to try to get something positive out of this holiday other than a load of chores completed (most of which will have to be done again soon).

I tried to see it as a bit of an experiment regarding my tolerance for sensory stimulation.  I think I was mostly OK with loud noise, except when it was very loud and I could feel the vibrations.  But sudden loud noise was more problematic, not just explosions and gunshots, but people shouting and even a single note played on a piano in an echoey room.  They all made me jump and feel uncomfortable.

The film was also too gory for me, but I coped, mostly by avoiding looking at the screen during the violence.

Emotionally, I was mostly OK, but in the last fifteen minutes or so I started feeling quite lonely.  I don’t know if that was because loneliness was perhaps a theme of the film (the hero has a holographic girlfriend, presumably because as a replicant, he isn’t allowed a real one, but it could be that he just has “issues”), but in any case, going to the cinema or the theatre always makes me feel depressed and lonely particularly at the end, I’m not sure why (because there’s usually a love story?  Because people go to the cinema or theatre with their significant other?  Because the story in the film or play is neatly tied up, even if the ending is sad, whereas my life goes round in circles, on and on without getting better?  Or just because the actors get applauded for their work (literally in the theatre) and I feel no one notices me?).  I had noticed the depression before and know it’s something I just have to put up with in my very rare trips to the theatre or the cinema, but I don’t think I really registered the loneliness as something that happens until today.  But then on the bus on the way home I didn’t feel like reading and I wasn’t sure why, whether I was depressed or just wanted to rest my eyes, but listening to music I was suddenly on the verge of tears and was for some time afterwards.

Like the Doctor in Logopolis, I sometimes feel I should be running a tighter ship.  On the bus I was thinking that perhaps I should stop blogging, because it feels a bit like prostituting my deepest thoughts (well, some of them.  Most of them, if I’m being honest.  This is about as deep as it gets, sorry) for very little return.  I rarely get comments, although I love to get them (positive ones, anyway), but I think I offended the last person who commented, which wasn’t my intention.  I get a few likes on most posts, so I guess there are about a dozen people out there who get something out of what I write, although don’t ask me what.  I won’t stop, though.  I know I don’t have the self-control.  I’ve tried to stop confessional blogging in the past, but I always come back to it, unlike my other types of writing.  I’m obviously a very confessional person, at least online, which doesn’t fit at all with the image I would like to have of myself as someone self-contained and resilient.

This also makes me worry about relationships – that I’m too self-centred to cope with a proper relationship.  It’s easier to fantasise about what I would like to gain from a relationship than it is to think about what I can give.  Is that the same for everyone, I wonder, or is it just my romantic or even social inexperience?  Or am I just plain selfish?  I should have the evidence of my one previous relationship to disprove that (where my ex repeatedly told me that I was good at being there for her, better than she was at being there for me), but it’s hard to hold on to something like that when a holographic girlfriend seems like the only one who could be interested in me, and not be pushed away by my mental health issues and borderline autism and the solipsism they sometimes induce.

Words, Words, Words

It seems I can’t cope with being on holiday.  I feel very depressed again.  It’s hard to do anything.  I have a list of holiday chores.  Most of them should be relatively quick and easy: clean the flat, make some dinners at least partly from fresh ingredients (omelette tonight, more ambitiously lentil dal tomorrow), do more shopping, continue sorting out my finances, do some proper Torah study, sew two buttons on my trousers and various other things, but everything takes longer than it should because I just want to curl up in bed.  It’s hard even to watch a DVD (see below).  I spend time aimlessly surfing the net without really reading anything.

I was up late last night.  I told myself I was watching Blade Runner, but I actually watched less than an hour of it.  I kept stopping.  Partly, I kept wondering if Blade Runner is really about autistic people.  The plot is about Deckard, a detective (‘blade runner’) who hunts down rogue replicants, androids that are deemed non-human because they can’t feel emotions.  But, the subtext of the film suggests, this is wrong, factually and morally, and the replicants can learn to feel emotions and they shouldn’t be killed.  Similarly, people think autistic people can’t feel emotions whereas we simply struggle to understand and express them.  The replicants struggle to learn human emotions because although they are created as adults, they only have a lifespan of four years, so they are effectively adults learning emotions like children.  This is how I feel.  I feel not so much like a child, but like an adolescent, with my emotions and many of my life experiences (little romantic or work experience).  Maybe that’s reading too much into it.

(Also, did you notice I automatically used “we” for autistic people without qualifying it by saying that I don’t have a proper ASD diagnosis?  I guess I’ve been thinking of myself as autistic-but-misdiagnosed lately.)

It was also hard to concentrate on the film because I was angry with God for hurting good people, or letting them get hurt.  I argued with Him, pleaded with Him.  I don’t think He agrees with me.  Sometimes I think it would be easier if I didn’t believe in Him, but to me the world only makes sense with Him.  There’s too much that doesn’t add up for me without God and Torah and Judaism.  So, we’re kind of stuck with each other.

Anyway, I watched about half of Blade Runner until I was too tired to go on and finished watching it this afternoon, fast-forwarding through the gory bits.  I don’t think I’m going to see the sequel in the cinema, though.  I don’t feel up to living in that bleak future for three consecutive days.

Getting back to how I feel at the moment, there is a quote, attributed to various people, that goes, “The grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for.”  I have something to do, inasmuch as I have a job, during term time, although it isn’t enough to make my mood much better.  I don’t have someone to love and I suspect I never will.  I want someone I can love and be tender with, and who will love me the same way.  I want to marry a sweet, girl-(geek)-next-door-type, but I can’t imagine one being interested in me.

And I feel like I have nothing to hope for.  I’ve struggled with mental illness certainly all my adult life, going back an indeterminate way into adolescence and maybe even childhood.  How can I hope for things to get better?  Things are a lot better than they were… and yet I am still very depressed most of the time.   I try to open up to people a little bit to make friends, but even on the rare occasions I can open up, people aren’t interested or I don’t know what to say or how to progress the friendship.  They don’t respond to me.  I spend much of the day aimlessly surfing the internet (do people still say that?), ostensibly searching for something interesting and thought-provoking or helpful to read, but really looking for connection, for someone who thinks like me (I’m not even talking romantically or even platonically now, just a think-piece author who shares my slightly unconventional views).  Or checking email endlessly hoping someone will get in touch or will like one of my posts (I’ve given up on hoping for comments).

I feel I should give up on dating.  I don’t feel ready for it.  I’ll probably never be ready for it.  I’m just too messed up for anyone to love.  And I know that (contrary to what I quoted my father as saying yesterday), if I’m not happy by myself, I won’t be happy with someone else.  Happiness comes from within, etc., but my ‘within’ is just loneliness and despair.  The problem is, my parents are supposed to be trying to set me up with the daughter of friends of theirs.  I should tell them not to, but somehow I can’t, I don’t know why.  Maybe it’s because my parents keep telling me how well I’ve been doing lately, how proud they are of me and I don’t want to disappoint them by telling them what a mess-up their son is (I haven’t phoned them today because I don’t want to tell them how bad I feel).  Or maybe I just hope being set up with someone who has experienced mental health issues would work, somehow, even though I suspect we don’t have much else in common.

Half the time I don’t have the energy to move.  I can’t get involved in anything.  Reading is just words, music is just noise.  I can’t write coherently.  I have things to do and no energy or motivation to do them.  I can’t use my holiday productively and I can’t use it to relax.  In a few days I will be back at work and desperate for another break.  I’ve only managed a few minutes of Torah study, yet I feel bad about not joining the Mishnah study scheme I mentioned the other day.

Later: I checked two eggs for kashrut purposes without slipping into OCD and then made and ate an omelette (it fell to pieces when I lifted it out of the frying pan and ended up being more like scrambled eggs).  I read a Jewish book for a few more minutes while the eggs were cooking.  I also submitted some mini sagas to Hevria earlier, the first writing I have sent for a major forum since my attempt to sell a Doctor Who article to Den of Geek failed.  I emailed my landlady about the bathroom door jamming and I sorted out the papers in my work folder, a task I was dreading but which only took about five minutes once I sat down to it.  I also set up a direct debit and a standing order to pay my shul (synagogue) fees and emailed a friend to try to organise a social thing, although I have got problems with the direct debit that I need to sort tomorrow.

So I have achieved a few things today, but not enough to consider this a productive holiday.  At the same time, I haven’t enjoyed myself enough (at all, actually) to consider this a refreshing break.  It’s like one long interminable Sunday afternoon, and a dark and wet autumn one at that.  I wish I had someone to talk to, just to chat with (I don’t mean phoning the Samaritans), but the only people I could phone are my parents and, as I said, I don’t want to tell them how I feel.  Anyway, it’s late now.  Sometimes I just feel lost.

Up and Down

I didn’t intend to write four posts in a little over twenty-four hours, but a couple of things happened that I wanted to get down before I forgot and the day has been a rush of emotions that I needed to get out of my system.  In no particular order:

  1. I was just looking through my diary for the past six weeks or so (or two months, if you want stretch it back to when I re-started work on 21 August).  A lot has happened.  I’ve actually achieved quite a bit in terms of some social things, as well as juggling work and Yom Tov (Jewish festivals).  No wonder I’m exhausted!  That actually makes me feel a bit more positive, knowing that I have achieved some things (maybe not big things for other people, but big for me with my depression, OCD, social anxiety and Asperger’s).
  2. I spoke to my parents the other day about dating and marriage.  I said that I’m not sure whether dating is a good thing or whether I am emotionally ready to marry yet, given my mental health.  My Dad said that he felt that if I could find someone who is a good match for me, it would be very good for my mental health.  I suppose having someone who is on my wavelength to talk to would be helpful.  It is hard to believe such a person exists, though, and that my tendency to self-sabotage and my social anxiety and gaucheness wouldn’t derail things.  I hope I am ready to give to someone as well as to receive (to be fair, when I was in a relationship, I gave a lot and got very little back, so that is hopeful).
  3. A lot of people from my shul (synagogue) have signed up for a big scheme to study four mishnayot a day.  It’s supposed to take about fifteen minutes a day.  I was tempted to join, but don’t think it’s a good idea for several reasons.  I’m struggling to do just one mishnah a day (admittedly that’s with quite a bit of commentary, but I think I wouldn’t understand a lot of the mishnayot without commentary); my rabbi mentor advised me to stick to one mishnah a day; and the group study is starting with a different seder (order: the Mishnah, the primary text of the Jewish Oral law, is divided into six sedarim or orders each dealing with a different topic.  They’re starting with the second order, Moed, dealing with festival laws, presumably because it is more relevant to daily Jewish life than the first order, Zeraim, dealing mostly with agricultural laws that haven’t been practised for nearly two thousand years, but that’s where I started).  Still, it’s a shame I can’t join, as some kind of external target might have given me an incentive to keep going and while I dislike broadcasting my religiosity, it probably wouldn’t be a bad thing to show my rabbi and my community I’m not a total am ha’aretz (ignoramus, but with the implication of also not being religiously observant) because they are probably wondering just how frum (religious) I am considering my patchy attendance at shul and total non-attendance at educational events.  Religious study is REALLY important in Orthodox Judaism, particularly for men.  It’s more important than prayer and is treated as if it is more important than most of the other commandments, including acts of kindness.  I’m really bad at it, so I feel that I’m a bad Jew, and that everyone else thinks that I’m a bad Jew.  So far as I can tell, 90% of the people reading this are non-Jews and sometimes I wonder why I can’t seem to connect with my co-religionists, online or in real life.  Do they all disdain me for not being frum enough?  Or is that the social anxiety speaking?  Maybe no one notices or cares about me.  Still, joining in with my community on something would have been nice, especially as I missed the educational event on Friday and I’m not sure I’m going to get to the oneg (Shabbat party) this Friday because of social anxity.
  4. Also, right now I really hate myself for reasons I’m not going to broadcast, but I feel a lousy human being.  I’ve never read the nineteenth century Jewish mystic, Rabbi Tzaddok HaKohen of Lublin, but I’ve seen him quoted as saying, “Sometimes a person will face a test which is so great that it is impossible for him not to sin; it is as the Sages said, ‘What could the boy do, to avoid sinning?’”  It occurs to me that if this is true, then a person can be caught doing something he can’t avoid, but feeling intensely guilty afterwards anyway.  This is a hard test.
  5. Trying to watch Blade Runner, but I can’t really concentrate on it.  Doctor Who and Dad’s Army are more my level at the moment, in terms of concentration level, lighter tone and also coming in short doses (25-30 minutes rather than nearly 2 hours).  Not sure if I’m going to bother going to the cinema to see the sequel this week, might just get the DVD and watch it in bits, which is what I suspect I will do with the first film.  A pity, as I would like to use those free cinema tickets and test how I react to the cinema from an Asperger’s point of view.
  6. I just interrupted the film to check my blog reader.  I’m not sure why; call it depressive poor concentration.  There’s a blog post from someone whose blog I follow with similar problems to me, except more of them and worse.  She’s currently in hospital and suicidal after being sexually abused during a previous hospital stay.  I get angry with God over things like this.  I get frustrated enough over my own issues, but why does a pleasant and intelligent young woman with everything to live for have to get treated like this until she wants to die?  From her blog post and her Twitter feed, she sounds seriously suicidal and I’m very concerned for her.  It makes no sense to me and makes me furious with Him.

“The heartache and the thousand natural shocks/That flesh is heir to”

When I set up this blog, I wanted to write less personal, more objective essays about Judaism and mental health.  Somewhere along the way that got abandoned, as my creative energies went into my Doctor Who book and this blog became a place to vent.  I’m afraid this post is no exception.

I seem to have already drifted into holiday depression, although unlike in the previous school holiday, I was pretty depressed before this one even started.  Lacking a clear objective during the day, not to mention a distraction, it is all too easy to fall back into depression.  Even trying to create objectives does not help as, unless they carry some kind of externally-enforced penalty for non-completion, it is too easy to postpone them until late at night or tomorrow (or indefinitely) when the depression is strong and my willpower is weak.

I let myself sleep in this morning.  Having fallen asleep around 3.00am (very bad, I know – I slept too much during the day), I woke up at 11.30am.  I was too tired to really get going.  I got up and ate some breakfast, but mostly wasted the next couple of hours reading aimlessly online and doing the Doctor Who Magazine crossword and occasionally going back to bed.  I felt incredibly lethargic, totally lacking in energy.  It’s hard to describe this kind of feeling to someone who hasn’t experienced depression, how you can sleep for over eight hours after a day of napping and still wake up exhausted.  It’s a bit like jet lag, but permanent.  I missed Shacharit (morning prayers) completely and tried not to feel bad about it, but it’s hard.

Aside from doing some shopping, I haven’t managed to do very much today.  I’m very much in the “depressive holiday” mode of sleeping late, struggling to get the energy, motivation and enthusiasm to do very much and spending ages aimlessly browsing online (I should at least read some of the various books and journals I’m trying to read at the moment!).  I always feel drained coming back from shopping and I’m not sure how much is being physically tired because of the depression (I don’t drive, so I have a twenty or forty minute round trip (depending which shops I am going to) excluding the actual shopping itself, the latter half of the trip with heavy bags) or emotionally drained from being around other people from the social anxiety and Asperger’s.  It doesn’t help that I usually do shopping on the way home from work, when I’m already exhausted.  I suppose it doesn’t really make much difference, I’m just curious.

I’m trying to make  up my mind whether to go to the cinema to see Blade Runner 2049.  The first Blade Runner film is great (based on an equally great, but rather different book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, one of my favourite authors).  The problem is Blade Runner already pushes my tolerance for gore, and it’s only a twelve certificate whereas the sequel is a fifteen.  I’m a wimp and I don’t like gore, I freely admit it (I’m also not sure why improbable science fiction and fantasy films suddenly need to be full of ‘realistic’ gore).  I’m tempted to just get the DVD, watching on my laptop being a less immersive experience and one that allows me to fast forward the gory bits.  Also, the original film is fairly bleak and I suspect the sequel is equally bleak (again, not sure why people equate ‘adult’ with ‘bleak’ in science fiction these days – an argument with a long pedigree in Doctor Who fandom) and I don’t really have a head for that right now.  And it’s long.  Nearly three hours excluding the trailers.  Again, concentrating like that is hard with depression, whereas with a DVD you can have a break.  On the other hand, it would be nice to do something out of the ordinary with my week off work and I do have free cinema tickets from a promotion my bank was running.  I also want to test how I deal with being in the cinema.  I don’t go to the cinema much (only about once a year) and I want to see if that’s just because I’m not that interested in film as an art form, or if the cinema actually sets off Asperger’s triggers with noise and light and crowds.  I know I often feel depressed after going to the cinema or the theatre.

Speaking of Asperger’s, I just did this test for Asperger’s from Cambridge University’s Autism Research Centre.  Apparently I have an AQ or Autism Quotient of 37, where 16 is the average in the general population and 32 or higher is the usual for people on the autistic spectrum.  The test isn’t supposed to be a diagnostic test per se, but I guess it does show what I’ve been saying, that I’m very autistic-like even if I’m not actually autistic.  I will probably never know for sure if I’m “really” on the autistic spectrum.  Some of the questions were a bit odd though, particularly the one about not liking reading fiction (the assumption seems to be that autistic people can’t understand emotions and therefore would get little out of reading fiction), which anecdotal evidence says is wrong-headed.  I’m certainly an avid reader and always have been, although I guess my preference is for novels of ideas and plot rather than character – my favourite genres are science fiction and golden age detective fiction, both plot- and, in the case of SF, ideas-driven rather than character driven, although I do read and enjoy character-driven classics (I’m currently reading and loving Daniel Deronda by George Eliot, which is very much a novel of character).  But I think I do sometimes struggle to fully understand motivation in character-based fiction and I certainly prefer the plot-driven original run of Doctor Who to the character-based modern iteration.

I should really do some Torah study, but I feel so down and drained that it’s hard to do so, certainly hard to do any Mishnah study.   I was reading something today on whether Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) Jewish society is good or bad for people with Asperger’s.  The argument goes that, on the one hand, people on the autistic spectrum tend to be individualistic and quirky and Charedi society discourages a lot of individuality, particularly in terms of dress and outside interests (depending on just how Charedi you are, you might not be allowed any outside interests at all other than Torah study, particularly if you are a man).  On the other hand, people on the autistic spectrum tend to like clear and precise rules for everything, especially social interactions and have difficulty intuiting things and Orthodox Judaism has a wealth of explicit regulations, both halakhic (from Jewish law) and societal.  Personally, speaking as someone who does not really consider himself ideologically Charedi, but who attends a moderate-Charedi shul (synagogue) for non-ideological reasons (I basically consider myself Modern Orthodox Machmir but attending a moderate Charedi shul), I’m not sure.  I don’t know how things would work out for women at all, I just don’t know enough about Charedi women and the social and religious expectations on them.  As for the men, I think if you can make your special interest Torah study, specifically Talmud study and your Asperger’s manifests in a love of and skill at detailed, hairsplitting argument then you will go far in the Charedi world, maybe even ending up as a Gadol (a great scholar and religious leader).  On the other hand, if, like me, you find Talmudic study difficult and boring (I would rather study Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible), Midrash or Jewish history) and your love of details does not manifest as a head for complex Talmudic arguments and, worst of all, you have a special interest in something from secular culture (Doctor Who in my case), then the living in the Charedi world will be rather difficult.  Even beyond the normal social interaction problems experienced by people on the spectrum, Jewish men in the frum (religious) world are expected to invest significant amounts of time in Torah study at the expense of other hobbies and interests.  Modern Orthodox culture would allow a certain amount of cultural interests (Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, one of the leading Modern Orthodox leaders of recent years, had a PhD in English literature from Harvard and wrote about the ways that a knowledge of literature can help with religious study and understanding; also, the Modern Orthodox world increasingly allows more leeway for non-Talmudic religious study), but I feel I have to hide my Doctor Who fandom in shul.  This is not new to me, as I grew up as a Doctor Who fan when Doctor Who was deeply unfashionable and had to be hidden even in secular society for fear of being branded a geek and, out of habit, I largely hide my fandom even at work, but it is frustrating to have to hide it at shul.  On the plus side, though, I think dating for people with Asperger’s is somewhat easier in the Charedi world.  While there is more stigma around neurodiversity and mental health in the Charedi world than the secular world, in the Charedi world one does not have to actively approach strangers in bars and singles events to date them; rather, one is (hopefully) set up on blind dates with strangers who are deemed to be compatible and although the actual dating is still hard at least it is easier to get a date in the first place.  I dated three women this year which doesn’t sound a lot, but is as many as I have dated in the rest of my life, and two of those I only met because I was set up on a blind date with them.

Insecurity

It’s been a tough couple of days.  I don’t normally work on Fridays, but I had to yesterday as it was a staff development day.  Part of the training was a lecture on Prevent, the government’s counter-extremism programme.  One slide on the slideshow showed the factors that should be warning signs of potential extremism.  I didn’t take notes, but I noticed that I had a lot of the signs, even more when I was an adolescent.  Things like social isolation, mental illness, anger at people around me and things in the news… it’s quite scary.  This was not the first time I have had a thought like this – there but for the grace of God, etc.  Maybe I’m lucky that there aren’t any Jewish terrorist groups out there.  Still, I took those negative feelings in different directions than violence.  I turned the anger inwards into depression and OCD, which wasn’t good, but was probably better than projecting it onto others and hating them (God forbid).  And I took my pain and turned it into empathy.  But it is still a scary thing to confront the potential for violence and anger that lurks inside you.  Growing up, my sister used to hit me and my Mum would tell me to hit her back and she would stop, but I never did.  I was too scared of where that road would take me.  I don’t drink for the same reason, I’m too worried what alcohol or drugs could do to me.

Having had to go in to work on Friday, I was exhausted today.  I need that day at the end of the week to unwind before Shabbat (the Sabbath) and especially before shul (synagogue) and the socialising that entails.  I missed shul this morning, but I was due to do security duty at 11.30am, so I dragged myself out of bed shortly beforehand and walked down there, only to find the person doing the shift before deep in conversation with someone else.  They both said they would stay out there to continue their conversation and I should go into shul instead.  I felt bad about this, but they insisted.  I wouldn’t go into shul, though, because I thought they would be nearly finished or already on the kiddish (refreshments after the service), but it was hard to explain that I didn’t want to go in.  I said I had davened  (prayed) elsewhere (which was basically a lie, as I’d only had time to say about five minutes of prayers before leaving and I implied I was at another shul when I meant I was at home) and, after asking (I think jokingly) why I was davening somewhere else, they said I should go to the kiddush.  I didn’t feel like doing that either as I was feeling too depressed to be in a social situation and I couldn’t face eating cake and crisps so soon after getting up, so I said I wasn’t feeling well (basically another lie as I implied I was physically ill when it was more mental illness that was the issue).  So I went home, but I felt bad as these were two of the friendlier people in the shul to me and they were both being nice to me, but I slunk off back home because I felt depressed and socially anxious, but I couldn’t even be honest with them about my behaviour.  I felt like I should get a badge that says “HI, I’M LUFTMENTSCH!  I’M DEPRESSED, SOCIALLY ANXIOUS AND BORDERLINE AUTISTIC!” to “warn” people about me or even just to explain my eccentric behaviour and the white lies I continually tell about how I am (saying I’m OK when I’m not, implying I’m physically ill when I’m mentally ill, making excuses to avoid social events – this is hard because I’m basically a very honest person, but it is hard to be honest about mental health and neurodiversity).

This came the day after the rabbi had asked me to attend an educational event on Friday evening, and I said I would consider it, but didn’t show up because I was too tired from work, again leading to my feeling bad for lying to him (as I knew I was unlikely to go) and for missing something that would have helped me to meet more people from the shul.  (I reckon that if I want to meet more people, attending educational events is a better bet than social events, because it’s easier to deal with a text or a class than just talking, even despite my feelings of religious and intellectual inferiority around the other men from the shul, who all seem to be better Jewishly-educated than I am.)

Today ended up being a wasted day.  It wasn’t very Shabbosdik (Shabbat-like), but it wasn’t exactly a relaxing mental health day either.  After having slept in late then dashing to shul for security and then coming straight back home, I dozed before lunch and then slept for longer after lunch.  I was feeling too lethargic and depressed to go back to shul in the afternoon for Minchah, seudah and Ma’ariv (afternoon service, the third Shabbat meal and the evening service).  I only did a few minutes of Torah study.  I read for fun a little bit, but not much.  I was too lethargic and depressed to do much.  Mostly I ate, slept and talked to my parents.  The OCD was a bit worse too.  And now it’s gone 10.30pm and I haven’t had any dinner.  I feel vaguely hungry, but I don’t really feel like eating, but I need to eat something to take my medication and, anyway, if I don’t eat something I’ll get hungry when I want to go to bed.

Finally, as a supplement to what I wrote about my financial situation the other day, I spoke to my parents after Shabbat about my financial situation and dating, particularly my feelings that I don’t earn enough because I can only work part-time and am ten years behind my peers on the career ladder from having been unemployed through illness for so long.  My Dad said I’m never going to be rich, which I knew already (I’m a librarian, for goodness’ sake!), but he felt I could get married, but this was because he was willing to help support me, which wasn’t really what I wanted to hear.  I still feel like I’m a child, having to rely on my parents so much and being aware that I would probably never be rich enough to help my own children in the same way (if I ever manage to have any).  I don’t really want to be rich, I don’t need much money, particularly if I don’t ever get married, but I would like to be independent and more settled and secure and to at least have the possibility of getting married some day.  Because right now I feel no one would ever want to marry me for financial reasons as well as my weird interests and personality, unclear position in the Jewish community and mental health issues.

(I also realised today that I’ve experienced romantic rejection about seven times this year, which is some kind of record for me.  Two of those were mutual things, but all of them were frustrating and upsetting.  I suppose it’s good that I’m putting myself out there, but it frustrating when no one the only people who are interested are not compatible.)

Stuff Happens

“I might as well be useless for all it means to you”

I have been feeling better at work the last few days, although I made another mistake yesterday.  It was pretty much all my fault this time.  I’m not sure if I had Asperger’s “rigid thinking” and “poor social interaction” or if I was just stupid and inept this time.

“You’ve had your fun, you don’t get well no more”

The price for feeling well at work seems to be feeling terrible before and after it.  I still struggle to get up and get going in the mornings because I feel tired and depressed.  I’m barely saying anything at all of Shacharit (morning prayers) and I worry that if things get any worse I’ll have to skip it entirely.  The news and social media the last few days have left me feeling alternately angry, depressed, anxious, despairing, frustrated, silenced, guilty, ashamed, self-loathing and righteously indignant.  I started to write a blog post yesterday, decided it was better not to post it, emailed a friend saying some of the embarrassing stuff I would have said in the post and then somehow managed to send it to her sister too.  Not my finest hour.

“You said, ”Young man, I do believe you’re dying'”

My commute to and from work has been getting harder too.  I’ve been having intense ‘pure O’ (obsessional) thoughts about jumping in front of a train.  I’ve had these on and off for years, but at the moment they’re really intense and distressing.  It’s not suicidal ideation as I don’t want to die, I just think about it.  I can’t even stand back from the edge of the platform until the train comes in as at rush hour only those people standing closest to the train can squeeze on to the over-crowded train (don’t even mention how much of a death trap the London Underground would be in the event of a terrorist attack or even an accidental fire, I’ve spent years staying sane by not thinking about that.  Today the train smelt like it was catching fire; the driver said it was just the brakes overheating, but it was quite scary, and we weren’t even underground at the time and could theoretically have escaped).

I also find it harder and harder to stay on the crowded trains in the morning and evening rush hours, not that there is anywhere to go.  The morning isn’t so bad as my station is the first on the line, so I always get a seat and I try to bury myself in a Jewish book (if I’m awake enough), but I still get somewhat more anxious as the train fills up.  The evening is harder, though, as I generally don’t get a seat for the first twenty minutes or so, standing pressed against other people and unable to read, listening to music on my iPod (listening to a lot of Elvis Costello recently was probably a bad choice).  I don’t know what the difficulty is, if it’s invasion of space or the fear of being trapped and not being able to get off at my stop, but I just feel hot (which I probably am, dressed for winter in a tiny metal cylinder full of equally hot people), oppressed and suffocated.  A couple of times I’ve been worried that I’m about to have a panic attack, as my father has had on crowded Tube trains.  I hope I’m not developing another neurosis, because that would be too much.

“But there’s no danger, it’s a professional career”

I catalogued a career guidance book today and, flicking through it, I whimsically looked at the entry for librarians.  Big mistake.  I should say I’m vague about money.  I’m neither spendthrift nor miserly, I can budget and I know how much my rent and food cost, but money doesn’t matter much to me and I’m only vaguely aware of what is a ‘normal’ salary and how much many things cost.  My Dad is always trying to get me to move my money to better bank accounts, but my parents have never spoken much about how much they earn or how much things cost, which probably contributes to my vague feelings of unease about money.  My parents still help me out financially, somewhat against my will.  I would still need their help a bit, even on my new salary, but I could just about pay most of my bills.  But my parents want to help me more so I can save a bit, and have some money for luxuries, although luxuries for me are a few second-hand books and DVDs (I bought two good-condition books for 50p each today from the library withdrawal pile, one popular history, one popular science) and I really don’t spend much other than that.  I don’t really go out, as my friends all live on the internet.

However, looking at how much a librarian should be earning compared with how much I am actually earning, and how much other professionals are earning (most people in my milieu, by which I mean educated young professionals, are accountants, doctors, lawyers, the traditional Jewish professions), drove home a few things that I’ve been vaguely-but-not-concretely aware, mostly that while I am not on the breadline, I am far from rich, mostly because I am still working part-time (and the experience of the last few weeks has shown me that I’m not ready to work five days a week, although I would still like to work through some of my enforced holidays), because I lost about ten years of my professional life to depression, being too ill to study or work, and because I have chosen to work in a lower-paid sector.  I can’t really complain about the last one, as I knew that going in, but the others worry me a bit.

As I said, my income is low, but so is my expenditure, hence happiness in a Dickensian balanced-budget sense (except for my parents helping me).  I’ve been a bit envious of my friends and peers before for having large flats or houses, but more for the lifestyle they entail in terms of being able to invite friends over, needing a house because of starting a family and so on.

No, the problem is I still want to marry and start a family of my own.  I obviously don’t want to marry someone who just wants to marry someone rich, but I would want to marry someone who wants a family and she would be entitled to expect me to be able to at least contribute something reasonable to the family budget, especially given that the default in the Orthodox-but-modern community is for the man to be the main breadwinner in the household.

“They beat him up until the teardrops start/But he can’t be wounded ’cause he’s got no heart”

This led me to think that I shouldn’t be thinking about marriage.  Not now, probably not ever, really.  It’s silly really.  I spent the last six weeks waiting for the end of the Yom Tov (festival) season so I could start dating, if I was well enough, but given the state of my mental health the last couple of weeks and my financial worries, I am too scared of rejection to go to a shadchan (matchmaker) or pursue the match my Mum suggested.  I’m too fearful that I’m too depressed, too screwed up and now too poor for anyone to be interested in me.  But I still get lonely.

“I woke up and one of us was crying”

A Difficult Mastery of the Usual

I’m still at my parents’ house, having been here for nearly two weeks now.  I hope to get back to my flat this evening, but it will depend on my parents.  They are going to my sister’s future sister-in-law’s birthday party soon, which I have ducked mostly because I felt I just would not cope.  I don’t drive, so I need a lift to take all my stuff back to the flat.  Although I have a lot to do, I wanted to take today as a mental health day to recover from Simchat Torah, but had to help Dad take down more of the sukkah and then go to Brent Cross Shopping Centre to buy a dinner suit (translation for Americans: tuxedo) for my sister’s wedding.  I hate shopping, I hate shopping for clothes and I hate big busy shopping centres (I’m not by any means an anti-capitalist, but I felt a bit sick about the advertising and consumption and that’s aside from the sensory overload and the people), so I’m glad I’m not going to the party.  Even without that, I’ve got to do some Torah study and cook dinner as well as packing and getting home in time to get an early night before work tomorrow, so I doubt I’m going to get much of a mental health break.  It will be nice to have the house to myself for a bit, though.

I’m still slowly working my way through Daniel Deronda and came across a great quote that I meant to append to the Simchat Torah post, but forgot: “To be an unusual young man means for the most part to get a difficult mastery over the usual” which sounds a lot like me and Asperger’s/mental health/generally being considered academically ‘gifted’ and socially inept.

I had my end of probation period review at work on Wednesday.  My boss seems pleased with my work and I was surprised and pleased to get an “excellent” for the “Work relationships (team work and interpersonal communication skills)” tick box.  I’m not sure how much that relates just to working with the team and how much is about interactions with students, but either way it’s good.

The slightly negative thing that happened at work is that I have to work this coming Friday because of a staff development day that my boss wanted me to attend (I usually work Monday to Thursday).  She has said that I can leave early to get home before sunset and the start of Shabbat (the Sabbath) (I want to leave at 3.15pm, but may have to leave at 3.30pm which will be tight) which I hope will be OK.  I can see her point in wanting me there for team-building reasons, but it is another disruption to my routine after months of enrolment and Yom Tovim (festivals) disrupting work.  I think I’ve only had one or two ‘normal’ weeks this term, if that, and it’s half-term the week after next.  On the plus side, I am getting Tuesday off to compensate and not only have I been able to switch therapy from Friday to Tuesday for one week (therapy has also been disrupted because of Yom Tov and my therapist being away), but I will at least have some time for the chores I won’t be able to do today.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been listening to Lehodos Lecha by Eitan Freilich, a modern arrangement of a traditional Jewish prayer that translates as “If our mouths were as full with song as the sea/And our tongues with joy as the multitude of its waves…/We would still be unable to thank you/HaShem our God and God of our forefathers.”  I try to feel this, but I don’t.  I feel like a hypocrite, particularly as the song is catchy and I find myself singing it.  If Yisrael (Israel) is One-Who-Wrestles-with-God, Yehudi (Jew) is One-Who-Gives-Thanks, but I can’t feel grateful.  I’m better off than a lot of people, but I just feel lonely, depressed and social awkward and isolated.  I’m supposed to feel happy with my lot, but because of depressive anhedonia, I can’t enjoy anything, not even simple pleasures or mitzvot and it’s hard to be grateful if you feel like that.  I just feel frustrated with my lot and occasionally angry and bitter.

Simchat Torah

It’s been a busy few days with through Chol HaMoed (the intermediate days of the festival) including my end of probation review on Wednesday and then straight into Yom Tov (festival) on Wednesday evening until Shabbat (Sabbath) today and then helping take down two sukkot (shul (synagogue) and home) (actually, there is more to do on both of them tomorrow).  I have a lot to write, but I will split it into two or three posts for time reasons and to avoid a mammoth post.  Today I am going to slip out of chronological order and focus on Simchat Torah (the festival of the Rejoicing of the Torah, really day two of Shmini Atzeret, itself a semi-independent holiday, but in some sense the eighth day of Sukkot (Tabernacles)) and then hopefully I will go back to what happened at work tomorrow or during the week.

I went into Simchat Torah badly, having missed shul on Thursday morning (Shmini Atzeret) as I was too exhausted and depressed.  It seems to be hard for me to go directly from work mode to Shabbat/Yom Tov mode without an intervening day to adjust.  I went to shul on Thursday evening nervous about what to expect as I hadn’t been in my new shul for Simchat Torah before.  It is a boisterous festival, the second most boisterous after Purim and is celebrated with ecstatic dancing in shul.  I have never liked it much for reasons I will explore below.  In short, it is hard for me to enter into the appropriate spirit of things.  Once or twice I have managed it, but very rarely.

Ma’ariv (evening prayers) started OK, but once we finished the bulk of the prayers, the difficulties began.  First, they started auctioning off honours.  I had heard of shuls where honours (e.g. reciting passages aloud in the service or carrying the Torah scrolls) are auctioned off for charity on Simchat Torah.  This was different, as the ‘price’ of the honours was a commitment to study a specific amount of Torah in the coming year.  The first few honours went for a low ‘price’, forty or fifty chapters of Mishnah, but the more important honours went for literally hundreds of pages of Talmud.  (I think the rabbi bid something like 400 daf (800 pages) of Talmud for one honour, which is a lot.)

I felt uncomfortable with this.  Partly it’s my inner Kotzk Hasid being angry at public declarations of goodness, even good intent, as well as anything that seems to set some people up as better than others.  But mostly it was that I felt unable to join in.  As I have written, I am struggling to keep up with my private decision to learn one Mishnah a day without taking on an additional set to study and even if I could count my current Mishanyot for the bidding (which I don’t think I could, as people were assigned particular Mishnayot so the community would complete certain Sederim) I do not know if I will be able to continue studying them if I get too disheartened or too depressed to set aside much time to study each day.  I already feel inferior to people who can study a lot of Gemarah without having this to rub it in.  The assistant rabbi, who was the auctioneer, tried to get me to bid, so I left the room and stood in the corridor because I was worried I would be forced to bid for something.  I didn’t want any of the honours either – I didn’t really want to read anything out aloud because of social anxiety and I didn’t want to carry a sefer Torah (Torah scroll) in case I dropped it.  Standing in the corridor did attract a certain amount of attention, but I thought it was safer than going back inside.  I stood in the doorway so I had some idea of what was going on and so I looked like I was involved in some sense.

Then they started the hakafot, the circuits around the shul carrying the sifrei Torah and dancing.  The dancing was Jewish dancing, which is dancing in a circle holding hands with those next to you or with your hands on their shoulders and vice versa.  I tried to join in, but I couldn’t manage it and ended up standing at the edge watching.  Pretty much every single one of my issues except the OCD was triggered here.  I was too depressed to get the sense of joy needed to dance, I was too socially anxious to do anything that would risk people looking at me and my borderline Asperger’s was stopping me from being touched by other people or just standing close to them and sharing personal space.  I was generally to inhibited and repressed to let go of my depression and anxieties and just join in.

On top of all this was my usual aversion to being part of a big group and being deindividuated and losing my sense of self.  This is always scary for me and explains why I don’t like big crowds especially when designed to unite everyone there in some way e.g. political rallies, concerts (public transport is less of a problem because you are not supposed to give up your identity, accept a political or religious viewpoint or listen to the same music).  I don’t know why I have this problem.  It may stem from having a weak sense of self and being worried about losing it, it may stem from being bullied at school and associating crowds with bullies or it may be because the bullying meant I had to fight hard for my identity and I’m reluctant to let go of it, even for a few hours.  (Incidentally, this article talks about why we do circle dancing; he talks about what I say about deindividuation, except from a positive viewpoint.)

Whatever the reason, I just could not join the crowds dancing around the shul.  I stood there for the beginning of the first hakafa (of seven), before I felt awkward just standing there and went into the corridor again.  I came back for the start of the second hakafa thinking maybe it would be easier to quietly and unobtrusively join this one, but it wasn’t.  I was sort of hoping one of my “friends” (the people I like; I don’t know if they think of me as their friend) would see me and drag me in, to give me the boost I needed to get in (I thought once I started I would probably be OK), but no one did.  The rabbi did try to get me to join and dragged me towards the circle, but he then went off somewhere else before I got there and I lost my nerve again and went back away.  So I gave up and went home.

I should say that the Simchat Torah dancing is fuelled by whisky.  Aside from the children and the young men, I think most people would have difficulty getting past their inhibitions without alcohol.  I can’t drink because of medication interactions and because alcohol is a depressant.  Also, based on the one time I accidentally tried whisky, I think it’s disgusting.  I was also struggling because most of the men vaguely my age were dancing with their young children, so I just felt a failure for not getting married and having kids.  This is before taking into consideration the fact that two of the three most important honourees were people I was at school with, who now have families and rabbinic ordination and basically seem to be better than me in every possible way.

On the way home I was feeling very depressed and self-harming (hitting myself).  I felt bad for missing shul and not being involved.  I also felt bad because I was thinking that I had missed a lot of shul this Tishrei and as I was using the Yom Tovim as a test to see if I was ready to date again, I thought maybe this means I shouldn’t date, in which case, will I ever be ready to date?  I have only managed to dance once or twice on Simchat Torah in my entire life!  If I wait until I manage that again, I might never date again.  Even waiting to have a ‘perfect’ Rosh Hashanah or Sukkot could take a long time.  I came home and told my parents that I hadn’t stayed “because I’m crap.”  I don’t usually use even mild profanity, but I did here because I hated myself so much.

What I omitted to say is that when I was trying and failing to join the dancing, I really wanted to curse God for making me like this, making me so I can’t even enjoy my own religion (which matters to me more than anything else, even Doctor Who) or do the simple things that most people do to get some enjoyment out of life, which is often fairly miserable for most people unless you can seize the day and enjoy basic pleasures like dancing with your friends (assuming you have friends; I don’t always feel like I do.  I suppose I shouldn’t say that, as I do have a couple of friends, but it’s hard to feel it sometimes).  I wasn’t even that angry with God, I just wanted to “act out” and get His attention as I learnt from childhood that the children/people who misbehave the most are the ones who get the most attention.  I do wonder what I’ve done to make Him punish me like this when all I want is to be a good Jew.  If He does miracles for people at Hevria to get them to become frum, maybe He’s telling me to go away because He hates me and doesn’t want me to frum any more.  But Judaism is a one-way ticket; you can convert in, but once you’re in (by birth or conversion) there’s no way out.

I felt terrible the rest of the evening.  I missed shul the next morning fairly deliberately, because I couldn’t face the second lot of dancing.  I went for Shabbat in the evening, but missed Shabbat morning today because I was still feeling depressed and nervous about going back to shul after what I did (or didn’t do).  I managed to go back this evening for Minchah, seudah and Ma’ariv and to help take the sukkah down which made me feel a bit better, as I was doing something for the community in a way that I could manage, but writing this has just brought it all back and I think I had better stop now.

Asperger’s Syndrome and Me

I’ve been meaning for a while to write about how I fit with the symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome/high functioning autism.  I’ve had two formal assessments, which said I wasn’t on the spectrum, but on the other hand, my former psychiatrist said I was.  She didn’t do a formal assessment (and by that stage in my treatment she was saying some unhelpful things e.g. “You’re on the autistic spectrum, so you’re never going to understand people and you should stop trying”), but she had seen me for a long time by then.  Looking at the report from the assessment I had in September 2006 at the Maudsley Hospital, they found no significant symptoms of any developmental disorder whatsoever.  On the other hand, I find when people write about their experience of autism or Asperger’s Syndrome online, I find I share a lot of the experiences and difficulties and when people on the spectrum have produced their own lists of the symptoms that they consider significant, I tend to score more highly.

It is hard to know what to think about this.  I tend to respect the opinion of medical professionals (unlike some people I have encountered on the spectrum, who insist that psychologists have no real knowledge of the experience of autism and are just trying to pathologise people for neurological variation).  On the other hand, since childhood (maybe not early childhood though) I have felt ‘different’ and not just because of my mental health issues, which came later.

I really do feel I think differently to other people, that I have genuine problems with socialising, making eye contact and making small talk (which bores me).  I don’t speak in a monotone, but my voice sometimes seems to come across as flatter than I intend, which sometimes makes me sound angry when I’m not (I was often told off by my parents as a child for looking or sounding angry when it was not my intention).  I can understand non-literal language, but I do like taking idioms literally for humorous reasons.  I learnt to read early and have always been an avid reader with a vocabulary that was in advance of my years, but I can be quite pedantic about language use, although I have learnt to be less so in recent years.

I much prefer interacting one-to-one or in small groups to big ones, although this could be introversion or social anxiety.  I think I get sensory overload sometimes, particularly at busy restaurants and parties (if I can’t avoid going to them) and I think I do stim in various ways, mostly fairly subtle, although there may have been a stimming aspect to my self-harming when the depression is bad.  I’m not sensitive to normal levels of light or sound, but I can’t sleep with the light on (noise is fine; my flat backs on to the A41 and I have no problem with the traffic noise, but the light from my neighbour’s security light, even with blackout blinds, makes it hard for me to sleep and I use an eye-mask).

I have a strong interest in Doctor Who and can reel off lots of lists about it (episode titles, writers, producers etc.).  I’m probably less interested than I used to be, but as a child it was an all-consuming interest.  Judaism might also count as a special interest, albeit a more socially acceptable one where one is actively encouraged to learn, memorise and think about information.

I’m not clumsy, but have never had great hand-to-eye coordination.

I get stressed or even panicked if I have to deviate from my routines.  I think part of me likes to create systematic theories about things that interest me, even as another part is aware that these theories are often not true, or at least simplistic; I certainly love order and clarity.  I can concentrate on things that matter to me to the exclusion of all else for long periods.

I don’t know how I fit in with empathy.  I can feel a lot of empathy for, say, things on the news, particularly anything involving children.  On the other hand, sometimes it is hard to empathise with my family if they are complaining of something I feel is trivial.  Also, even when I do empathise, it is hard to know what to do or say to make someone feel better.  I remember when I was a child and we were on holiday.  I was in bed and my mother leant over me to kiss me goodnight and hit her head on a low beam.  I knew she was in pain, but I didn’t know what to do and my Mum got annoyed with me for not hugging her, which did not occur to me.

I do find it hard to recognise my own emotions, as my therapist pointed out to me.  It’s hard to tell how much is not knowing what I feel and how much is the depression drowning out everything else, especially as I’ve probably been depressed since my mid-teens (at least).  I suspect that at times I have a maelstrom of negative emotions in which it’s hard to identify particular feelings, so I just tell people I’m depressed (by “people” I mean my parents and my therapist and maybe my sister, as I don’t tell other people how I’m really feeling).  I do cry sometimes without knowing why, including at work, but that’s probably the depression again.

It is very confusing to know what to do with all of this.  It clearly is important to me to think of myself as potentially being on the spectrum, because I still go on about it eleven years after being told that I’m not on it.  I used to say that it was enough that I know who I am without having a label, but I think I do want a label.  I guess some of it is the desire for neatness and being systematic, to know for sure who I am.  Some of it comes from worries about dating, feeling I should tell the shadchanit (matchmaker) everything about me and therefore needing to know where I stand as well as wondering if I would be a good match for a woman on the spectrum.  Less positively, perhaps part of me wants an excuse to feel bad about my difficulties socialising and my burn out afterwards (although my depression and social anxieties arguably already provide this).

I would particularly like to hear from other people on the spectrum about this post.  Please do comment!

(Ideas about autistic traits from people on the spectrum from here and here.  I also found this useful.)

Sukkot Part 1: Socialising, Burn Out and Talking to a Cat

I don’t really feel like blogging, but I want to get my thoughts down from the last three days.  We had another three day Yom Tov (Jewish festival: actually two days Yom Tov, one day Shabbat (Sabbath)) – the way the festivals this time of year are spaced out, if you get one three day Yom Tov, you get three (got another one to look forward to next week…) and those are draining even for people without mental health issues.  Three days of prayer and over-eating is probably too much even for the super-frum (pious) (i.e. people not like me).

Tuesday night I went over to my parents’ house to help prepare for Sukkot (Tabernacles) and went to bed quite late as a result.  Wednesday was spent hurrying around.  I did six hours at work (my usual work day is seven hours, so this was nearly a full day) with only half an hour for lunch so I could leave at 3.30pm to get home in time to get ready for Yom Tov).  I went to shul in the evening and atein the sukkah (the makeshift hut in the garden where we eat and ideally sleep (not usually in England, though!) during Sukkot to remember the Israelite’s life in the wilderness) was fine, with no real religious OCD (it was very bad at Sukkot last year).

However, by Thursday morning I was burnt out from a couple of busy days and couldn’t get up.  I missed the whole of shul (synagogue) that morning.  In the evening I was out to dinner at the sukkah of a friend from shul (I’ll call him H) with his family another shul friend.  The OCD was a little worse, but mostly under control and I had a good time without social anxiety.  When the second friend had left and the family had gone indoors I was sitting in the sukkah with H talking and I opened up a bit about my mental health issues.  Not a lot, just a little bit to see if I could do it.  That seemed to go OK.  I don’t think I need to tell everyone all about my depression, OCD, social anxiety and borderline Asperger’s, but I think I can open up a little to selected individuals to explain things like why I wasn’t in shul that morning.

On Friday morning I got to shul very late, but I did make it.  I hate walking in late feeling like everyone is judging me, but I managed it.  I was given an honour of holding the Torah scroll when the community processes around the shul singing Hoshanah.  This is usually given to a mourner (as they aren’t allowed to join the procession), but my shul is small and doesn’t always have a mourner present, which I guess was why they needed someone else, although I have no idea why the shammash picked me.  I made the mistake of telling my Dad, though, as he gets superstitious about it – he was given the honour one year and his mother died a few months later, so I did wish I hadn’t said anything to him.

On Friday evening there was an oneg at the assistant rabbi’s sukkah.  An oneg is a sort of Shabbat party with drinking, junk food, singing and religious stories and chat; this was combined with a Simchat Beit HaSho’evah which is a Sukkot party.  I forced myself to go thinking I wouldn’t like it.  I got in this time, which is more than I managed last time I tried to go to one.  It was OK, but not great.  I seemed to be very sensitive to the noise and found it uncomfortable; I can’t tell if I noticed this because I’ve been thinking about sensory sensitivity because I’ve been thinking about having Asperger’s lately or if I would have felt like this anyway.  I also felt religiously inadequate compared with everyone else there.   It was the usual feeling of feeling bad for not having gone to yeshivah, not doing enough Torah study or Torah study of a high enough standard (Talmud), not being married and not having kids unlike everyone else (in reality or in my head).  Also a bit of envy of people who can keep and enjoy Yom Tov (simchat Yom Tov) as a Jew should without having OCD and anxiety about whether they have kept all the halakhot (laws) properly that stops me fully enjoying it.  To make it worse, the assistant rabbi (whose house it was) and one other person there were people I was at school with and whenever I see them, I reflect on how our lives have led us in different directions, them to get smichah (ordination, although I don’t know if the second one works as a rabbi in some capacity or has a ‘normal’ job), get married and have children and me… not having any of those positive things.  It didn’t help that I didn’t know many of the songs people were singing and I don’t drink so I don’t have the benefit of the good whisky that is always provided at these things and even a lot of the food didn’t really appeal and the food I really wanted was at the other end of the table and I was too shy to ask someone to pass it down.

I did manage to stay for an hour and I wasn’t crawling up the walls trying to escape, so I must have enjoyed it a bit on some level and I will probably try to go to another one before I give up on these things completely.  At any rate, it was good to get seen as part of the community and participate in a collective event, but it was hard and it did make me a bit envious of people who can easily enjoy these types of social events and the camaraderie there is at them.

On the way home I saw a cat I used to see sometimes when I went to my parents’ shul.  I stood in the road talking to the cat for some reason, making silly jokes, including one bilingual one.  I am probably a bit crazy for speaking more to a cat than to the people in the oneg.  I’m not even an animal person.  The cat must have liked me, because it kept purring and trying to rub against my legs and get me to pet it, but the laws of petting animals you don’t own on Shabbat are complicated so I thought it was best not to touch it; I was also worried it would bite or scratch me.  Maybe I’ll walk back to that road tomorrow and see if I can see it again so I can stroke it.  I would have liked to have stroked it, I think.

I came home a bit depressed that the evening didn’t quite go the way I liked and I was still feeling that religious envy, wishing I could be a good Jew, feeling lonely and wishing I could get married and so on.

I was burnt out again today and missed shul in the morning again although I did go in the evening.  I feel really bad about this.  I also wonder if it means I shouldn’t date.  I was trying to use the Yom Tovim to gauge whether I am ready to date, to see if I was able to get to shul, to socialise and if I was consumed with depression, OCD and social anxiety.  I hoped I would get a clear answer, but it’s mixed: I have had some depression and social anxiety, but not all the time and the OCD has mostly been under control.  Simchat Torah next week will probably be extra-hard and confuse things even more, but I will probably write more on that next week.  My Mum said to contact the shadchanit (matchmaker) who specialises in people with health issues and see if she can match me with someone who might accept that I can’t always do the ‘normal’ frum male things (have spent serious time in yeshivahdaven three times a day every day, preferably in shul; go to shul on Shabbat and Yom Tov; do serious Torah study regularly if not every day).  Of course, this makes me wonder if I’m mature enough to accept her issues because undoubtedly I will need to make compromises, more than in a ‘normal’ marriage…  We were talking in the sukkah one night about how many of my parents’ friends children are now divorced.  It’s scary.  I was envious of them when they got married and now I’m scared I’ll end up like them, because I’m not great at interpersonal stuff, although I think like a lot of people with depression or Asperger’s, I’m very loyal to the few people I open up to.

I’m off to have a bite to eat in our sukkah, hopefully before it starts raining again.  My parents have friends here in the sukkah, which is not ideal for me, but I get on with them so it should be OK.  I would like to unwind in front of some Doctor Who later although I don’t know how much time I will get; unfortunately as I’m watching Doctor Who in order, I’m stuck on Underworld which is probably my least favourite story of the seventies.  It isn’t even amusingly bad, it’s just D-U-L-L.

Touch and Fear

I don’t know if this is really what a nice, frum (religious) boy should be writing about so soon after Yom Kippur, but here goes.  It’s a subject I’ve touched on before, but not in as much detail (hopefully not too graphic).

I’ve been thinking seriously lately about going to a shadchanit (matchmaker).  I think I’ve mentioned I found one who specialises in dealing with people with ‘sensitive’ situations, particularly medical conditions.  I told myself I would see how I coped with the Yom Tovim (festivals) and with adapting to my longer work hours and so far things are going reasonably well.  I’ve been thinking lately that maybe it would be a good thing if the shadchanit could set me up with someone with Asperger’s as regardless of whether I’m actually on the autistic spectrum, I have a lot of characteristics of someone who is on the spectrum and I think in some ways I would be a good match for such a person, certainly more so than matching me up with someone with depression or OCD.  In the latter case we could well end up in a situation where neither of us could cope with each other’s problems or where we even reinforce the problems and bring each other down, whereas with another Aspie I think there would be a stronger chance of a shared outlook on life and similar behaviours that would lead to a shared understanding of each other and which wouldn’t necessarily reinforce each other in a negative way (e.g. feeling uncomfortable with crowds, not liking small talk, finding it hard to communicate with neurotypical people… although reading this back, I could probably get that just from someone who is strongly introverted).

Aside from the fact that there simply aren’t many autistic women diagnosed out there, so it may be hard to find a frum one my age and compatible in other ways (not all autistic people are the same!), my fears really come down to this: I’m scared of what will happen about sex.  I’ve done a bit of reading around the subject and I know that some people with autistism/Asperger’s do manage to have sex lives and even to have families (which I very much want), but others can’t cope with physical intimacy at all.  The sensory overload is just too much.  Cynthia Kim in Nerdy, Shy and Socially Inappropriate says that people with Asperger’s can have sexual relationships, even with neurotypical people, but it does take good communication, patience and sensitivity.  I’m OK with that, as I think those are important for healthy relationships generally, but I do get scared about being with someone who can’t cope at all with sex.

I guess I should worry about that if and when I’m in a relationship with an Aspie.  But more than that, I’m worried that I wouldn’t be able to cope at all with sex.  My ex-girlfriend thought I was frigid and that my desire to keep the Jewish laws of no physical contact before marriage was just an excuse to avoid making out with her.  I did give in and did some minor touching.  I liked hugging, but I found hand-holding awkward, I hated it when she stroked my arm while we were watching TV (but didn’t know how to say so without upsetting her) and when she once tried to kiss me, I instinctively jumped about two feet away from her.  It was mostly due to shock, as I wasn’t expecting it, and guilt, but there was also a strong feeling of disgust at her lips on mine, wet and fleshy.  I felt guilty and thought I should try again, but I literally couldn’t do.  Nothing to do with dislike, I simply couldn’t work out how to do it.  Yes, I’m so bad at physical stuff that I couldn’t actually work out how to kiss my girlfriend!  Our brief attempts were inept and abortive and after the third or fourth time I happily gave up (as none of the kisses actually worked, I tell myself I’ve never been kissed because as a first kiss, that was too horrible to contemplate).  Soon afterwards, I wanted to go back to no physical contact at all, as I was feeling too guilty from the whole experience, but she decided she would rather break up.

Ever since I have worried that I won’t be able to kiss even if I get married or if I will find it as disgusting as when my ex tried to kiss me.  And if I can’t cope with kissing, maybe I won’t be able to cope with sex at all.  Maybe my ex had a point when she said I wouldn’t have sex with her even if we were married.

The thing is, I’m desperate for intimacy, physical and emotional (the two are linked for me, I know I could never have sex except with the woman I love and have pledged my life to even if this was not required by Jewish law).  When my rabbi rhetorically asked in his sermon a while back, “What is the thing you can never get enough of?” I knew it was intimacy.  Not sex or even love, but intimacy.  Really opening up to someone, really being known and vulnerable and accepted and having her open up to me in the same way.  But I’m really afraid that I won’t be able to manage it and I won’t know until I’m actually married, which frightens me even more.

I’m kind of pinning my hopes on this book, a sex guide by two sex therapists, one of whom is also an Orthodox rabbi, designed for frum newly-weds who haven’t had any physical contact with the other sex before marriage.  You can’t see much on the Amazon look inside feature, but from reviews and from the contents, it looks like it has a lot about things that would concern an Aspie or a socially-anxious person about sex that I assume isn’t in the normal type of sex manuals aimed at people who have some sexual experience already e.g. discomfort with nakedness, sex smells, negative body image, transitioning from not touching at all to full intercourse etc.  Also guilt about previous sexual experiences (I feel very guilty about not being 100% shomer negiah (not touching) with my ex).

My therapist encouraged me to buy a copy to read to try to set some of my fears about sex to rest and I actually ordered a copy from Amazon, but there was a problem with the order and I was given a refund instead of the book.  I wondered if this was a sign I shouldn’t buy it, especially as I was already worrying how I would explain owning the book to a future wife, so I didn’t try to order it from somewhere else.  Maybe that was a mistake.

The thing is, it really matters to me that I should be able to satisfy my wife, even more than myself.  I wouldn’t want her to have to sacrifice that for the sake of the relationship.  I also don’t want to have sex just to have children, which sounds horrible.  I desperately want to be able to express my love for my wife physically in a way she would enjoy, but I’m terrified that I wouldn’t be able to do it.

Yeah, I know, I should find the woman first before I worry about all this.  But it makes me wonder if I should even be looking.

Inadvertent Asperger’s Post

So much to say, so little time and energy… I’ve just been told that I’ve been added to a list of autism blogs.  I feel a little disingenuous being there.  I have not actually been diagnosed as having Asperger’s or autism and moreover have twice been assessed and told I don’t have it (despite at least one other psychiatrist being very sure I do!). I do have a lot of autistic traits, but I’m not sure how much that’s from undiagnosed/borderline/high functioning Asperger’s or from having a number of neurotypical character traits that are just very similar (introversion, social anxiety, poor social skills, stimming etc.).

Anyway, I seem to be getting back into a routine with work again, ready for it to be disrupted by Yom Tov (Jewish festivals) again over the next two weeks (not liking disruption to routine, another Asperger’s trait!).  Work seemed unproductive today, but I did catalogue ten books despite spending considerable time manning the issue desk, so it can’t have been too bad.  I’m getting better at telling the students off when they break the library rules, but I do find I struggle sometimes with communication sometimes, generally less with the naughty students.  The main problems are those with poor English and/or difficult accents (a lot of the students speak an accent that to my uneducated ear sounds half-Bengali, half-Cockney, which would not be surprising in this area) or who have special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).  I was trying to help one student today who was having difficulty with the computers and I was aware that she seemed like she might be a SEND student, but I was unsure how to raise the subject or find out what extra help she might need and if she had a genuine technical problem or simply didn’t know how to log on properly.  I do try to address the students directly, but when they have limited English, or limited verbal skills generally, I sometimes end up talking to their friends/carers/teachers out of necessity, which I feel bad about.  The fact that at least some of these SEND students are themselves probably autistic, much more so than I might be, is not lost on me.  There was some talk at one point of library staff getting special training for dealing with SEND students which would be very helpful, but nothing seems to have come of it.

And I seem to have turned a work post into an Asperger’s/ASD post, which wasn’t my intention!

Social Anxiety Victories

Some good news regarding social anxiety: I did most of an induction today for about twenty English as a second language students (I would have done the whole thing but I had to leave as I was due at the other campus).  I hadn’t done one by myself before.  Not only did I do it, without any of my colleagues around to help if I got stuck, I even turned down an offer to switch lunch breaks to get out of it.  I did ask my colleague what I should say, but I don’t consider that cheating as the difficulty for me is presenting, not working out what to say.  Not only that, but I didn’t shake either, despite being worried that I might, which can trigger it in itself.  I don’t know how much of the induction the students understood (although some of them seemed to have reasonable English), but it’s always pot luck on that score anyway.  To some extent it’s just a formality so that when we give them overdue fines, they can’t say they weren’t warned (although they say that anyway).  The important thing for me was actually presenting to a group fluently (well, reasonably fluently) for the first time in a very long time.

Even more good news: I asked some rowdy students in the library to be quiet and get on with some work.  They even listened to me (for a bit).  I always get scared of doing this, not just because of social anxiety, but because I’m worried they’ll get argumentative or even violent.  I’m not sure if this fear is rooted in tabloid journalism or memories of being bullied at school, although no one was actually violent towards me at school.

Today I did feel like I’m a bit more confident at the library issue desk and able to deal with more problems, although I still have difficulty thinking of solutions while someone is standing over me with a problem.  Let me go off for five minutes and I can usually find some kind of solution, even if it’s not ideal, but with someone standing over me the social anxiety makes me panic and my mind goes blank and all I can think is that I want to get out of there (probably the adrenaline rush).  And generalizing from knowing specific solutions to specific problems to finding general solutions for whole classes of problems and then narrowing that back down to specific solutions for different specific problems is difficult.  This may be a borderline Asperger’s thing.

Anxieties

I had a tough day, a lot of anxiety and depression at work.  At lunch time I started writing a blog post listing the anxieties I have regarding the (nearly upon us) chaggim (Jewish festivals), but I was running out of time and decided to work on my Doctor Who book instead.  Suffice to say every festival (and we have one a week for a month now) has its own unique anxieties, alongside general anxieties like the fact that I’m finding it harder and harder to get up in the mornings for work and shul (resurgent depression), I keep being too tired to go to Talmud shiur (class) and general social anxiety and work anxiety.  I just sent an email to pretty much every Jewish relative, friend and acquaintance in my address book wishing them shana tova tikatev vetikatem (may you be written and sealed for a good new year), but even that was a struggle with social anxiety.  I kept asking myself if they would want an email from me, maybe they would even be offended by it (now I’m worrying if my non-Jewish friends and readers would want to be included… if you do, consider the greetings extended to you too).

Work was hard not just because of anxiety and depression, but because I was cataloguing a lot of books on childcare (and I have literally just discovered that the catalogue was spelling ‘childcare’ wrongly as ‘child care’ – I should have caught that earlier and am now worried I will get in trouble, although I am really supposed to stick with what is already in the catalogue, which I did) and catalogued a book on learning disabilities and read a lot about Asperger’s Syndrome and autism which reminded me of my odd non-diagnosis.  I was assessed twice for Asperger’s and was told that I have a lot of the symptoms, but not broken down in the right way across the diagnostic categories to be diagnosed.  Then another psychiatrist said she thought I did have it, but without doing an assessment (I think by that stage she didn’t know what to do with me and was just throwing stuff out there).  These days I think I probably don’t have it, as my early childhood was fairly free of symptoms.  I think a naturally introverted personality developed a lot of social anxieties and had somewhat retarded social development as a result of family stress, school bullying and a degree of emotional neglect, but I do feel a certain kinship with people who have Asperger’s and have never worked out quite what to do with my non-diagnosis.  So the book I was cataloguing raised questions I wasn’t really in a fit state to answer, as well as reminding me of some of the more upsetting parts of my childhood.

I missed Talmud shiur again tonight, as I hinted above.  I was too late to say most of Shacharit (morning prayers) this morning too.  I’m struggling to keep my head above the water at the moment and it’s going to get worse before it gets better, with the chaggim and the onset of winter, which always triggers depression in me.  It occurred to me over Shabbat (the Sabbath) that both my rabbi mentor and the rabbi of the shul I am joining are aware that my mental health issues affect/reduce my Torah study and davening (praying) and both are supportive of what I am currently managing to do, so if they are OK with it, maybe I should stop beating myself up.  It’s hard, though.

Anyway, shana tova tikatev vetikatem to anyone I missed out before.  May 5778 be a year of blessing, health, prosperity and peace for us, the Jewish people and the world as a whole.

 

All Work and No Play

I’m back from my first day of enrollment.  I have a lot to complain say about it, but I’ve decided that I had better not go into too many details about work as my false identity here is far from secure and there aren’t that many further education colleges in London.  I already spent a chunk of today feeling anxious about something I wrote in a blog comment (probably innocuous, but I suddenly became paranoid it could be misinterpreted and get me in trouble – this may have been OCD and/or a response to stress).  So I will just say (a) some teenagers would lose their heads if they weren’t screwed on and then deny that they ever had a head in the first place when you tried to talk to them about it and (b) I coped reasonably well, considering the job I was given was not a great one for someone with social anxieties and difficulty making quick decisions especially when surrounded by people I don’t know well (I’m not sure if this is just my personality or my borderline Asperger’s, poor executive function (decision-making) being a symptom).   I felt I was checking with my colleagues a lot that I was doing the right thing, although they were more experienced than I am both with enrollment and with the college in general (knowing who people are and where places are) and I may have made a few mistakes, which I hope were not too significant.  I only called one person back once to check I had given him the right papers (OCD).

The other thing I wondered about at work was opening up to people about my mental health issues.  My boss knows about this a little bit because I told her when she gave me the option to increase my hours per week, but when she asked how my holiday was today I just said it was OK and quickly asked how hers was to divert the conversation from my depressive episode.  I am not sure if it would have been good or bad to be more open about my depression with her, especially as I recently advised someone to be open about mental health at work and that didn’t work out too well.  My other colleagues don’t know about my mental health at all and I’m not sure how to have a conversation about it.  In theory I’m in favour of openness about mental health, but in practice I find it almost impossible.  I’m not sure if I feel ashamed of being ill or scared of the response, or if it’s just a very English/masculine reserve about talking about emotions (at least in person – no problem writing about how I feel here).

On a somewhat related note, I feel pretty despondent about dating and am semi-seriously considering giving up, at least for a while.  The factors in favour of dating are my extreme loneliness and desire for a family, as well as the religious obligation, and my desire to be able to love someone and give to her.  Plus I do actually have a libido (I think it’s at the back of the cupboard).  Against this is that dating is just soul-destroying, or rather being dumped is soul-destroying and dating leads pretty swiftly to being dumped for me.  Given my weird interests and my brokenness (mental health issues plus character defects plus general emotional/relationship problems) I seriously doubt that I could meet the right person even with a shadchan (professional matchmaker), at least not without moving to New York where there are more Jews per square mile than anywhere outside Israel and perhaps weirder and geekier Jews than anywhere at all, although that may be biased by the fact that most of the New York Jews I know are geeky (and not interested in me, so moving may not work either… not that immigration to the US is going to be any easier (or more sensible) under Trump).  I was going to wait until after the chaggim (Jewish autumnal festivals) before going to a shadchan, about two months but now I wonder if I should wait longer, much longer, maybe six months or even longer, to really get settled into the longer work week, plus set aside some time to work on my book.  Against this, my CBT therapist said I’m as ready as anyone to date and while everyone laughs at me if I say I have a biological clock, given that I want to have children and given that I have no intention of cradle-snatching, I think time is an issue.  Of course, I could just procrastinate as usual, which is tantamount to deciding to wait.

EDIT: one good thing: I finished two Jewish books in the last two days (Horeb and God, Man and History).  My tally of Jewish books read this Jewish year is disappointingly low with less than one month left, but I’m glad to have finally finished Horeb after over a year, probably nearer two.