Delays and Burn Out

I slept badly last night. I couldn’t sleep, perhaps because I took my medication very late. I had agitated thoughts going through my head. Not negative thoughts (they were just interpretations of Twin Peaks), but I couldn’t stop them looping around and restarting again. I did eventually fall asleep, but it was not restful sleep. I had a disturbing dream, although now I can’t remember anything about it except that it disturbed me.

I feel really burnt out again today. I guess I did a lot yesterday even before I slept badly. At least I am working on Tuesday rather than today (Monday) this week.

***

The autism hospital phoned Mum again. They cancelled my appointment in December, when I was supposed to get my final diagnosis, because they want me to have an “observational assessment” first. This is with a psychiatric nurse who is booked until January. I now have an appointment for the observational assessment on 5 January. I can’t book to see the psychiatrist until after that, so I’m worried that this will drag on until February, which would be well over two years since my initial screening. I was worried that they have suddenly changed their minds about me given that they suddenly want me to have this screening, but Mum’s response was, “It’s the NHS, the doctors and nurses don’t work together.” She thinks it’s poor coordination again, and that I should have had the assessment before now. I hope she is right. A friend of mine who is also being assessed had an observational assessment, so it’s probably routine.

***

I had an — I’m not sure what you’d call it — a depressive moment or an autistic moment. I went out for a short walk and to get some sandwiches for lunch at work this week (it’s a strictly kosher site, so I have to buy pre-made kosher sandwiches from a kosher baker or deli). They only had one lot of sandwiches that I liked. I was already feeling drained and a bit down, but suddenly I felt overwhelmed, thinking about getting more sandwiches later in the week, thinking about future weeks, thinking about all the chores I’m supposed to do this and that I don’t think I can get them all done with work and therapy too. Just overwhelmed by everything that is happening to me, particularly with my new job. It subsided by the time I came home and spoke to my parents, and began devising strategies to deal with the chores (etc.), but it is a reminder that autism is always there, and depression lurks in the background, and they can come out when I’m feeling stressed and overwhelmed and that autistic rigid thinking can make it hard for me to find solutions unaided.

The main thing I did today, other than that, was to cook dinner. Mum offered to do it, but she was ill this morning, so I wanted to do it. I did miss one of the ingredients, or at least put it in late, which I guess comes from doing things when depressed and burnt out. I guess it’s an autistic executive function issue again (short-term memory and organisation). I think that’s the type of thing autism observational assessment will test. (Dinner tasted OK.)

I didn’t go to Zoom depression group. I was already thinking of skipping it, as I have to go to bed early to get up early for work tomorrow, but then I felt too depressed. I know that sounds silly, but I knew my problems were mostly stress and exhaustion and I didn’t really feel like talking. I felt an evening of TV would be better for me than talking and listening on Zoom, which can be very draining. My main reservation is that I will miss the next session too, as it clashes with a virtual shiur (religious class) PIMOJ and I are both attending.

I didn’t do much Torah study either, just listened to a short five minute devar Torah (Torah thought) on WhatsApp and spent a few minutes thinking about my own devar Torah for the week. I’m not sure when I’m going to write that, or how good it will be (or how long it will be, actually). But I just couldn’t do any more today.

***

A present to myself as a reward for the new job and because I was having a bad day: a cheap second-hand DVD of Blade Runner 2049, and a somewhat more expensive new copy of Tunnel of Fear, an early episode of The Avengers (the British, John Steed Avengers) that was missing and was rediscovered and released on DVD a couple of years ago. Because it was missing when the complete Avengers box-set came out, it was the only surviving episode I haven’t seen.

Because of that I ended up watching a different early Avengers episode (Concerto, by Doctor Who writers Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke). It was diverting, but I find that not many of the pre-Diana Rigg episodes are that memorable. I plan to watch Doctor Who before going to bed to unwind a bit more.

Poor Executive Function

I dragged myself out of bed to go to Zoom autism support group, which was probably not worth doing. I don’t know if I’m going to keep going, unless perhaps there’s a topic I find particularly interesting. I don’t really learn coping strategies, which is what I really want. My symptoms are often not the same as other people’s, so there isn’t necessarily the same empathy that exists in my depression group. I don’t know why there is such wide variation on the autism spectrum, but it’s true (hence the saying, common in high functioning autism circles, that “If you know one person on the autism spectrum, then you know one person on the autism spectrum”).

In addition, one of the moderators seems to have some prejudices against neurotypicals, which I find just as problematic as the reverse. I guess I also feel that although living in the neurotypical world is difficult, some neurotypical rules are worthwhile, even if I struggle with them. Maybe that’s autistic rule-keeping on my part, but some people in the group seem to think that neurodiverse people should be allowed to do what they want and neurotypicals should just deal with it; again, which, again I find as problematic as saying that neurodiverse people should just be forced to conform completely to neurotypical society. Adjustments should be reasonable. Society is about finding compromises, whether you’re on the spectrum or not.

It made me also think again about attention to detail and me. Attention to detail is generally recognised as something people on the autism spectrum usually have and can often put to good use in the labour market. I used to have good attention to detail, but I feel that in recent years I have lost this, particularly in the workplace. I hope that it’s just a consequence of being in environments that were not right for me (noisy, requiring multitasking or rapid task changes, or having a line manager I didn’t like) and when I was working in other environments without those challenges, I think I did have much better attention to detail. Still, I worry about it, particularly as I’m about to start a job that will probably require good attention to detail in an environment that might stress me out a bit because I’ll have a friend as my line manager.

All that said, the autism group session today was about executive function issues and then in the afternoon, I made a plan and then did something completely different to what I planned, which is a classic autistic executive function issue. Perhaps the fact that I fell into this behaviour again shows that the group really didn’t help.

***

I went for a 5K run, despite some slight pain in my foot and knee which mostly passed after a few minutes. It was good to get out again, as I hadn’t run for a while. I don’t know why I always seem to think about political stuff that annoys me when I’m running. I listen to music, but that doesn’t help. Maybe I should try something I have to concentrate on, like an audio drama or audio book. I came back feeling a bit ill, headachy and faint, as always seems to happen these days.

***

As well as thinking about politics when running, I procrastinate on Twitter too. 90% of Twitter consists of people being outraged about things they can’t change and the other 10% is videos of cute animals. I feel I should find out what people are outraged about, but a lot of the time it is stuff that is irrelevant out of their bubble, or stuff that simply isn’t true (everyone thinks it’s only the “other side” that does this; sorry, as someone who doesn’t easily fit on either side, I can tell you it’s both sides). Well, I do really know why I spend time on Twitter: it’s because I want to feel less lonely and confirmed in my views, but it’s pretty bad at doing that (particularly as I don’t post or comment, I just read). I’m not sure I should be trying to confirm my views, and I don’t think Twitter will stop me being lonely. Still, I get sucked in.

I did manage to spend about an hour on my novel after dinner, which was good. I felt a bit more positively towards it (I mean, positively about the quality of what I’m writing; I’ve always felt that the subject matter is worthwhile). I also cooked dinner (vegetarian kedgeree) and spent twenty-five minutes on Torah study and researching my devar Torah. I would have liked to have done more Torah study and more work on my novel. I always would like to do more of these things, but I always run out of time and energy. It’s frustrating that I never have enough time and energy (which may take us back to procrastination time and poor executive function). The Talmud says no one dies with even half their desires fulfilled; I think this refers to meaningful/spiritual desires as much as physical/hedonistic ones. At the same time, I know I procrastinate and get distracted (see above!). It is hard to change.

***

I felt a bit on edge for much of the day, although I think running got rid of this. I was vaguely irritable, although I think I kept from sniping at anyone. I do feel that I don’t know how I would like PIMOJ to react when I feel a mildly depressed. Do I want problem solving advice, empathetic support or just to be given space? The problem is, it could be any of those things at any time. With my first girlfriend, she largely ignored me when I was feeling depressed. My second girlfriend was long-distance, so there was a limit to what she could do as she was usually asleep or at work when I was feeling bad, although she would send supportive empathetic texts. But this feels like uncharted territory in that I think PIMOJ wants to support me and is in a position to do so. And I don’t really know what to ask her to do. I guess our relationship feels a bit like we’re making it up as we go along. Maybe everyone feels like that, or maybe we’re weird because I don’t think either of us has much relationship experience, despite our ages.

***

More thoughts about Twin Peaks: The Return; feel free to skip.

There’s basically no incidental music. Given that successive scenes can take place in totally different parts of the US (Twin Peaks; New York City; Las Vegas) with characters that don’t seem to relate to each other or interact, and that after the first couple of episodes, it seems to be largely played for comedy, the whole thing comes across as a bizarre experimental comedy sketch show with no laughter track, the type of thing the BBC seems so fond of, where a bunch of twenty-something comedians try to be Monty Python. Or maybe I just have a weird sense of humour.

Struggling Through

I had hoped to get up at 9am to give me lots of time to get ready for my autism support group Zoom call at 11am, but I overslept by three-quarters of an hour and had to rush. The meeting got off to a bad start with someone challenging the group agreement. The agreement says something about we have to respect each others’ opinions and he got annoyed saying some things are empirical facts and need to be challenged, which was possibly an autistic way of looking at the exact details of the agreement rather than the general gist of the thing. I don’t know why he suddenly got annoyed about this today when he’s been in previous meetings without saying this; maybe he recently got in an argument with a conspiracy theorist or something. This incident put me on edge and made it hard for me to focus on the meeting and really listen to other people and I kept being distracted and found it hard to concentrate, doing other things, which I feel is unfair to the people speaking and usually avoid. I should probably have just left early, especially as it was only on Zoom.

Afterwards, I felt exhausted and somewhat depressed. It was hard to do anything as I felt so drained, but I know tomorrow will be worse (early start, volunteering and therapy, plus a family Zoom call in the evening) so I felt the need to try to do some things. I had poor executive function, making plans and not sticking to them, which is an autistic trait probably worsened by tiredness. I also had anxious/depressed thoughts about not experiencing autism the same way other people in the group do, leading to doubts about whether I’m on the spectrum.

I somehow fought through the tiredness to work for an hour on my novel, although I didn’t get a lot done beyond finishing off and tidying up the bit I was working on yesterday. I did manage to go for a walk. I had some negative feelings while walking. I was thinking that I don’t particularly want, or feel able, to live the type of life I’m “supposed” to live according to general consumerist society or according to frum (religious Jewish) society, but it’s hard to work out what type of life I actually could lead and find fulfilling.

***

I spent the better part of an hour working on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week. This was despite the fact that I am reusing an old piece I wrote many years ago (I think about ten years ago). I just wanted to polish it a bit as well as bring the referencing in line with my usual standard (I don’t do Harvard referencing on something that seems so ephemeral and non-academic, but I do like to indicate where my sources came from). Even so, it took forty-five minutes or more to be happy with it.

***

Regarding telling PIMOJ about my blog, some commenters suggested not to do so. I think they’re probably right, but I do need to find a way to open up to her with more of my emotions. I possibly find it easier to speak to her in person than in text/instant messenger, which is unusual compared with previous relationships (perhaps because English isn’t her first language?), but because of COVID it’s hard to meet in person. We’re hoping to Skype on Thursday.

***

This post is being posted somewhat half-finished, as I just realised it’s 10pm and I need to be up in eight and a half hours so should get to bed soon.

Autism Questionnaires

I wanted to get up at 9.00am to give me lots of time to get ready for my autism group at 11.00am, but I overslept (again) and had to rush. Even then I went to the group unshaven, which always frustrates me. The group was good (on sensory issues), but I always feel I don’t meet the exact same profile as other people, which makes me worry about not being on the spectrum. I think my sensory issues are subtle and not always noticeable to or understood by me, let alone other people. I have also always been good at masking and avoiding things, so again I don’t necessarily notice them as autistic sensory issues. Ironically, I had to shut the windows to block out the noise of someone mowing their lawn, a sensory issue that threatened to distract me from the meeting about sensory issues. I also find that even with a five minute break in the middle, I can’t concentrate for two hours and end up getting fidgety and looking at other things online in the last half-hour or so.

I felt completely exhausted after this, even after breaking for a long lunch. I forced myself to work on the questionnaires that the autism hospital sent me (in a classic piece of NHS inefficiency, they didn’t say where to send them when completed. My Mum phoned and discovered they should not go to the most intuitive place). There were some obviously autism-related questions and also questionnaires about general mental health and what I guessed was ADHD and maybe some other things they might want to rule out. I worry about not showing enough autism symptoms, now or in the past (being imaginative seems to work against me, the stereotype being that autistic people are not imaginative). I think the reality is that I masked well and that I use my imagination (reading and TV as well as writing) to try to understand people and situations that confuse me in real life, but I have a poor visual imagination; I have little sense of what the characters in the novel I’m writing look like, even if I can work out how they act. I was pleased that there were questions on my employment history, which I feel ought to set off some kind of alarm bell, even if I’m not sure what exactly. I didn’t have any of the reasons suggested for difficulty in the workplace, which were things like problems taking orders or frequent lateness or disorganisation, but I did have a load of my own issues, like difficulty with social interactions and problems multitasking and changing tasks. I was pleased that some of the questions seemed to be looking for autistic behaviour that is not one of the “classic” impairments, as well as asking about masking behaviour – I’ve felt penalised in the past for deliberately modifying my behaviour and body language (etc.) to fit in e.g. forcing myself to make eye contact even though I hate doing it, not talking about my special interests except with others who share them etc.

(One of the questionnaires was called HADS, which is funny to Doctor Who fans, but no one else.)

The forms took about two and a half hours to complete. Add two hours for the autism group, some time writing my devar Torah (which I didn’t intend to do) and a little Torah study and a half an hour walk, interrupted briefly by tashlich (a water-side ceremony I postponed from Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) on Sunday so I could avoid COVID crowds) and I didn’t have much time or energy for other things. The walk to the stream was bizarre; it was not far away at all, but somewhere I haven’t been much at all in recent months to the extent that it all seemed strange and alien.

I’ve been feeling vaguely down today, vaguely depressed and anxious. I’m not sure why. To be honest, there probably are too many possible causes: an afternoon of form-filling would depress anyone and an imminent job interview for which I am not yet prepared would make anyone anxious. Then there is the fact that the days are noticeably shorter now (it was dark at half-past seven) and the nervousness around my autism assessment, and my new relationship (if it even counts as a relationship yet, which it probably doesn’t)… I just hope I’m not going to relapse into deep depression.

As for tomorrow, I have therapy. Before then, I want to rewrite my interview presentation to talk about the work I was doing at the beginning of the year rather than a project from two years ago, as I think I showed more initiative and have more scope for talking about what I would have done differently if circumstances permitted, plus I simply remember more of the more recent event.

Mostly About Autism

Today’s good news is that no sooner had my alarm gone off than my phone rang. It was the Maudsley Hospital, who do autism assessments. They wanted to talk to my Mum (I’m not sure why they phoned me) and arranged to a phone appointment with her for 12 October. I understand that this would be the first stage in my assessment and that they would want to ask her about my childhood. So hopefully that’s moving on now. This is probably a case of the squeaky wheel getting the grease, as Mum has been chasing them lately trying to find out where I am on the waiting list.

***

I had autism support group today, but I struggled with it. I didn’t feel able to say anything and there was someone in the group who would not stop talking, even when asked to stop by the facilitators, which annoyed me and just increased my social anxiety around the group. I guess its inevitable that in a group for people with social communication issues that things like this will happen. There was also distracting noise from outside, even with the windows shut. By the end I was drifting out of it and struggling to concentrate. I also feel there is a kind of anti-neurotypical sentiment sometimes in meetings like this which I find distasteful, people talking as if neurotypical behaviour is somehow defective compared with autistic behaviour, which is just reversed prejudice. Someone also said to see autism as a gift which always upsets me, because I don’t experience it like that at all. I was disconnected more tangibly at one point when I lost my internet connection. I’ve started having problems staying connected online since we changed our hub the other week, even though it was supposed to be an upgrade.

The focus of the group was on autism and details. Attention to detail is a symptom of autism. I’m not sure that I focus on detail the way other people in the group do, although a small number of people did dominate the session. I don’t think I see lots of details when looking at objects, for example, the way other people described, which is the kind of thing that makes me wonder whether I’m really autistic, although people do exhibit symptoms in different ways. I do find that I bring in a lot of detail when relating something, even though I get annoyed when my Dad does the same thing. I get overwhelmed by all the details he brings in and can’t concentrate on the important bits. I think I used to be good at noticing details in writing, for proof-reading and cataloguing, but in recent years I’ve been struggling with those, particularly cataloguing. I do notice details in ongoing TV programmes or novel series, particularly Doctor Who and can get annoyed when these contradict each other.

***

Perhaps unsurprisingly I was tired after that, even after I had had lunch, and struggled to do anything else, although I did manage a few things. I tried to send some emails and leave blog comments for friends who are struggling with different things, but it was hard, as I was worried about saying the wrong thing.

I did some Torah study and worked on my devar Torah (Torah thought). I also cooked dinner, bean burgers, which is perhaps the hardest recipe in my repertoire of ten or so recipes that I cook regularly as they tend to disintegrate when I fry them, particularly when I flip them to cook on the other side.

***

I got another job rejection. I also applied for a proofreading job. I’m pretty sure I could proofread well (despite my issues with attention to detail in recent jobs), but it’s hard to fill out a CV and cover letter when none of my experience is in that area. So that brought me down, as did wondering if I’ve lost my attention to detail skills.

***

My mood was generally good today, but in the afternoon I was upset about the young women Ashley blogged about, who were raped and killed themselves. My mind kept returning to them, the pointless waste of young lives and wondering how the men who assaulted them could do such a terrible thing. I’ve also been thinking about friends who are going through hard times.

People sometimes think that autistic people are emotionless or lack empathy. In fact, we experience emotional empathy (feeling someone else’s pain, wanting to help others), but lack cognitive empathy (putting oneself in another person’s position). This means we can get very emotionally moved by other people’s problems without knowing what they would want us to do to help, which is a difficult situation to be in. (This is the reverse of psychopaths, who can put themselves in other people’s positions to manipulate them, but don’t feel any pain if they hurt others.)

Reactive Depression

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

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

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

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

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

Anxiety and Trust

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

Pause

I was thinking about the fact that my autism assessment has been delayed months by COVID-19 lockdown.  The NHS hadn’t given me an idea of when it would be even before lockdown (👏👏👏), but eighteen months was the likely amount.  It’s been on hold with lockdown so it will be eighteen months after things get back to normal, whenever that is.

My relationship with E. has been on hold too.  Not literally, as we’re still Skype dating, but we wanted to move it on.  E. was trying to come over here at some point this year so we could spend some time together.  Now we don’t know if that will happen until next year.  I’m still hopeful it might happen this year.  But our hopes of having a romantic time in the summer doing outdoors stuff like going to parks and outdoor attractions is looking less and less likely.  It’s more likely to be a wet and cold November or December (although if E. is her for Chanukah that might be nice, at least if she’s up for visiting my parents).

***

It was difficult to get going today.  I just struggled to do anything other than sit in front of my laptop in my pyjamas.  I wasn’t even reading anything, just flicking through pages, too depressed to get dressed.

Later, I had my windows open and could hear our neighbour’s teenage son “learning” Talmud with another boy, both speaking very fast, throwing concepts around in fluent Yeshivish (mixture of English, Hebrew, Yiddish and Aramaic, rather incomprehensible to anyone who hasn’t spent a lot of time with Orthodox Jews, or rather Orthodox Jewish men as it’s something acquired in the men-only environment of yeshiva (rabbinical seminary)).  I feel bad that I can’t study like that.  It’s not just that I can’t study Talmud like that, I can’t study any Jewish texts like that, in a chevruta (paired study).  I’m not sure how much is social anxiety about not wanting to seem stupid, how much autistic issues about thinking quickly on my feet and interacting with my study partner and how much just the way my brain functions.

I tell myself that I wouldn’t thrive in a community where only one, very narrow, form of knowledge is valued, not even Torah/Jewish studies in general, but just Talmud and really only the halakhic (legal) parts of Talmud.  That’s some consolation, but I still feel my life would be better on several levels if I could study and understand Talmud better (it would help with my thoughts for future novels).  It probably is true that, if I want to write reasonably literate novels with a Jewish background at least partially for a Jewish audience, then I have to be roughly where I am.  Any more frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) and I probably wouldn’t see writing as a worthwhile activity; any less frum and I wouldn’t have the inside knowledge to write about Judaism and Jewish life.  Still, I feel like I’m walking a weird tightrope sometimes, and I do sometimes wish I had spent a year in yeshiva (rabbinical seminary), even thought I probably would have found it awful from an autistic and social anxiety perspective.

I tried to work on my novel, but it was hard to focus for some reason.  It didn’t help that I was distracted by noise not only from the teenagers learning next door, but from ongoing building works somewhere nearby.  I’m not sure if they are supposed to be at work, but they have been for some days now, if not longer.  I got a load of emails too, which probably didn’t distract me so much as allow me to procrastinate more easily, but they didn’t help.  I did write about 500 words in an hour and a half or so, which isn’t too bad.  I’m glad when I’m just making progress.

I went for a walk, but I am still getting panicked by all the people outdoors and the difficulty of avoiding them.  I worry not so much for my own health, but for fear of infecting Mum with her compromised immunity.  However, I don’t think I should stay indoors all the time.  It’s difficult.  Maybe I should start doing some aerobics instead of/as well as running (which might be a good idea anyway, to use different muscles).

***

I’ve nearly finished Decalog 2, the Doctor Who short story collection I’m reading.  I’m getting a bit bored of re-reading Doctor Who novels, and re-reading in general.  I don’t have any unread novels that I feel like reading right now (generally they’re too heavy) and I’m trying not to mail order stuff during lockdown.  I fancy something a bit meatier anyway, so I’m looking at my non-fiction shelves, probably either The Islamist (Ed Hussein’s account of his experiences with radical Islam) or The Siege Connor Cruise O’Brien’s political history of the modern State of Israel.  The latter is dated (it was written in the mid-eighties), but had an intriguingly good review on The Jewish Review of Books a while back as still a valid and worthwhile work.

Either book would violate my “no heavy books in lockdown” but I’m getting a bit sick of just reading fluff to avoid upsetting myself.  I would probably balance with some Batman graphic novels for when I’m not feeling so intellectual.

Defining Success

Today felt like a waste, although this may have just been my negative self-perception.  I did a few things.  I helped Dad with the sukkah, the temporary booth/dwelling Jews eat in (and sleep in, in warmer climes) for a week during the festival of Sukkot (starting next week).  I tried to understand the Department of Work and Pensions’ byzantine and poorly-explained rules about employment benefits and printed off the twenty-three page long application form for New Style Employment and Support Allowance.  (Why is complaining about bureaucracy considered a conservative thing when it’s a major gatekeeper preventing the low-skilled from accessing state services?  It’s almost as if middle class progressives want to monopolise the benefits they can access for themselves…)  I procrastinated more about trying to work as a teaching assistant without coming to a conclusion.  I’m still terrified at the prospect of doing that, but don’t know what my other options are.

I went jogging for the first time nearly three weeks.  The run was average, but at least I burnt off some frustration or even aggression about not fitting in religiously/politically/culturally.  Even if it did come back later…  I had a bit of a headache a couple of hours after jogging, which was probably from exercise again, but at least it wasn’t a bad migraine.  It is frustrating getting exercise headaches when I’m already fighting against depression in my battle to get back into shape.

I worked on my novel for half an hour.  I didn’t write a huge amount and most of what I did write was expanding paragraphs I wrote previously rather than pushing on ahead, but it was good to work on it at all and I’ve basically written off this entire month (and a bit) for novel writing.  I know there is too much going on with Jewish festivals and then I’m going away for my cousin’s bar mitzvah.  Hopefully in November I will be able to begin writing in earnest.  I also managed about half an hour of Torah study, which was less than I intended, but quite good.  I thought this article was really interesting, although I suspect it is fairly meaningless to people who haven’t had a lot of exposure to frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) books or lectures on Yom Kippur.  It’s weird and somewhat frightening how things “everyone knows” so often turn out to be unsourced or based on misunderstandings of earlier sources.

Also for my novel, I bought a couple of books on abusive relationships for research.  This was probably extravagant as I should go to the library for research, but I thought it might be useful to have them on hand while writing.  I should definitely go to the library before buying any further research materials, though. When I was doing my undergraduate degree, I tended to buy one or two basic text books before the start of term as background reading and to have on hand whenever I wanted them, and then borrow the other books from the libraries as necessary, which is similar to what I’m doing here.  I suppose I am vaguely worried of being seen in public with books on abusive relationships…

***

I just posted this in response to StoicWannabe’s comment on my last post:

I don’t know what a realistic definition of success for me is. I’ve never seen money or status as success, but I do see not being dependent on my parents as success. I see a lot of religious observances as success, but I know I can’t meet them, in terms of mitzvot like Torah study, communal prayer, children etc., but also social things like fitting in to the community and having frum friends. I see connection with people as success, but somehow I get distracted from that or forget about it when I need to remember it, or else I don’t believe that I’ve achieved so many connections or I focus on the people I’ve lost touch with or who got angry with me. I do have a sense of wanting to do something that justifies my life and (although I’m somewhat ashamed to admit it) somehow gets back at everyone who bullied me as a child (even though I’m sure they’ve all forgotten me by now – I don’t even remember most of them clearly).

It is hard to think of a definition of success that is both attainable and meaningful in my current condition.

 

***

My laptop is getting old.  The casing is broken.  Its speed is still reasonable, but it develops other quirks.  The Wifi sometimes stops working, which seems to be the computer rather than the router, but it isn’t easy to tell; it’s better than it was a couple of months ago, when it was dropping all the time, but still isn’t perfect.  In the last few days it has developed a new quirk: suddenly turning on the ‘tap to click’ function on the mouse touchpad.  I hate this function, as I’m always accidentally clicking on stuff I don’t want to click on when it’s on, so this is really irritating for me.  I know how to turn it off again, but it’s frustrating to keep having to do it.  This happened to me once before, but I can’t remember how I solved the problem; possibly by reinstalling the touchpad, which I really don’t want to do (I hate having to do things like that, as I always worry about deleting software permanently).  Alternatively, I could use a physical mouse, but I don’t really want to as I don’t have much room on my desk.

***

Lately I seem to be finding places where I think I can fit in and open up to people, in real life or online, but then either discover that I don’t fit in as well as I thought or they aren’t as safe as I thought.  It’s happened with my depression group (I found it harder to connect with people and then they moved to another site that isn’t as easy for me to get to), autism group (there seemed to be different people each time and I found it hard to connect again), autism WhatsApp group (I’m just not connecting with them at all), various Jewish websites and blogs and a politics site.  I suppose that’s also what happened with my shul (synagogue), only in slow motion.  It makes me wonder if I’ll ever really connect with anyone, make friends or find a community.  Am I too picky in my needs?  Do I want everyone to be like me to be my friend?  That’s unlikely, given that the friends I do have are usually quite unlike me.  Some of the problem is a general problem of the internet, and the way that few people who use it seem to be able to disagree in a civil way, which always makes me uncomfortable.

I am glad that there are a few people here who comment a lot.  I find that helpful.  I’ve had blogs where no one at all was commenting, so it’s good to get some response.  Thanks for reading/commenting.

Doomster and Gloomster

I just feel depressed and burnt out again after going out yesterday.  I went to bed very late and slept beyond noon.  This was not particularly good, especially as I need to be up relatively early tomorrow.  My focus for today was getting to autism group this afternoon, at least for a while (more than the fifteen minutes I managed last time).  There weren’t any library jobs to apply for, except for one that I’m not qualified for, so I didn’t need to feel guilty about neglecting the job hunt.  I tried to work for a little while on my novel, beginning to write a detailed chapter breakdown, but I struggled to cope with depression and despair and ran out of time because I had to leave mid-afternoon to get to autism group, which is in town.  I was determined not to arrive late after last time, when I arrived late and people were talking in little groups and I couldn’t join in.  I would also need to leave early to get up early tomorrow, which was another reason for arriving on time.

I have a busy few days and am worried about being overwhelmed.  Today was autism group, tomorrow I am seeing someone about volunteering, Thursday is CBT, Friday is sort of a quiet day for recovery, but is also erev Shabbat (day before the Sabbath), which means preparations and never quite enough time, even in the summer when Shabbat starts late.  Friday night and Saturday are Shabbat, with all that entails and Sunday is the busiest day of all, with my other volunteering in the late morning/early afternoon and then a family barbecue at my sister and brother-in-law’s house.  I am worried about getting overwhelmed long before Sunday.

I did at least manage to get to autism group.  I felt rather uncomfortable, as the moderator was only one person I had seen before.  Every time I go, it seems to be full of different people.  I think there’s a quite rapid turnover of people.  This makes it hard to build friendships.  I did speak to a couple of people.  I even initiated some conversations, as per my CBT homework, but I struggle to know what to say after, “I’m Luftmentsch, how are you?” and my conversations tend to peter out.  One of my big problems, both with small talk and in job interviews, is giving very closed down answers to questions – answering the immediate question, but not going into detail or developing the topic or asking more questions. This is an autistic issue and I’m not sure that CBT can really help with it; I literally do not know what to say and find it easier to sit in silence, whereas I know neurotypicals who would rather say something obvious rather than let a silence continue.  Sometimes I ask people at the group if they work, but I’m wary of saying that in case they’re unemployed (quite a few people in the group are) and don’t want to mention it.  Maybe I’m being over-sensitive.

This is problematic at home too; my Dad in particular gets frustrated with my curt responses (although I do not intend to be rude) and tries to ask more questions, which I find intrusive or bizarre e.g. when I go to shul (synagogue) he often asks me how many people were there, which I used to find a bizarre thing to ask, as he doesn’t know the people and the answer can’t make any difference to his life; also I don’t count the numbers, so I usually say something like “A normal amount” which can’t mean anything to him.  I know now that he’s just trying to show an interest in my life and fill the silence, but I still struggle not to sound irritated.  (I know I try not to write about other people, but my relationship with my parents, while not bad exactly has been strained in recent months or even years.  My Dad’s neurotypical way of talking and my autistic way of talking leads to a lot of needless bad feeling and I’m hoping by putting this here, someone might suggest something I can do.  I don’t mean this to reflect badly on my Dad.)

The group moderator did try to include me in some conversations, but I’m not sure that it was really that good for me to hear that lots of people are struggling to find work, make friends and find a partner.  On one level it is good to hear that, so I know I’m not alone, but if no one has any ideas for how to solve the problems, it just makes them seem more intractable and fuels anxious-depressive thoughts like, “I will never get a job/make friends/get married because I’m autistic.”  The only practical solutions suggested were not helpful.  I am already trying to widen my job search and contemplating switching sectors as suggested, without much success.  With regard to dating, the idea that I should look for a friend rather than a partner and see what develops isn’t really workable for me, as there are minimal opportunities for men and women to meet socially in the Orthodox Jewish world.  It’s mostly gender-segregated, other than formal dating opportunities (shidduchim/blind dates, singles events, speed dating (yes, speed dating was invented by an Orthodox rabbi!)).

I stayed for an hour, but that was all I could cope with.

***

I didn’t get the job I was interviewed for last week, the one at a weird place that I didn’t think would need a library.  (It was a dance school.  They had a small library.)  They said that they picked someone with experience in a similar library.  I don’t know if they were just being polite; I certainly felt I fared very badly in the interview.

***

Something I read online today just increased my belief that I don’t write in the appropriate way for contemporary Doctor Who fans, who are increasingly obsessed with viewing the programme through the lens of cultural studies theory and its source in left-wing identity politics theory (not my cup of tea).  Hence, I doubt my book will find a publisher.

***
I feel lonely again.  I’m glad I have E. as a friend, but feel wistful that we couldn’t make things work romantically.  I don’t think anyone else could ever understand and accept me as much as E does, but in the end even E. couldn’t accept me as a potential spouse, so I doubt anyone else could.  It’s depressing.  I tell myself that I can’t face dating at the moment, both the risk of rejection and feeling of inadequacy that comes from being unemployed and having no career to speak of; from being depressed; from being probably autistic, but still in limbo regarding diagnosis; and from not being terribly well integrated into the frum community where I would be looking for a partner.  It all seems overwhelming.  Maybe in a few years, if I can somehow find a job or (more likely, difficult though that seems) get a novel written and published, things might be different…

Politics, and Work Update

I want to rant about politics.  My politics are pretty confused these days.  I don’t support any political party.  I’m probably somewhere to the right of my online friends, but somewhere to the left of people in my shul (synagogue).  I try to use my training as a historian to see deep-seated trends rather than make party-political points.  I would like somewhere online where I can anonymously talk calmly about ideas without name-calling or people retreating behind dogma, but I don’t know if there is such a place.

I also have a LOT to say about identity politics and the Jews, but this isn’t really the right place for that.  I just want to flag it up as a frustration that bothers (read: angers) me sometimes.  To be honest, most of the time lately I just want to run away from politics, but occasionally I don’t and then I feel frustrated.  I just feel sickened lately, and I want to flag up my frustrations.  One day I’ll probably crack and write something I regret.  Going back under my rock now.

***

I finished another job application.  I struggled with the open questions about proving my skills again.  I usually do struggle with these kinds of questions.  Autism brain does not respond well to open questions saying “demonstrate experience and use of the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules.”  It likes questions that narrow down the possible answers a bit otherwise it looks at the big heap of memories inside it and says “You want me to find a needle in this haystack, and you won’t even tell me what a needle looks like!”  I find it hard to respond in any way other than “I have used Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules in my work at libraries X, Y and Z.”  I try to find some kind of anecdote that shows my skill, but it is not always (perhaps not often) possible.

I don’t have all the cataloguing skills and experience they want anyway.  My skills have grown rusty with disuse and I have not done CPD or kept up with changes in the library/cataloguing world.  It’s been enough these last few years to keep my head above the water with depression and part-time paid work/job hunting without devoting scarce time and energy to CPD.  Sometimes I have the skills they want, but don’t know how to demonstrate that I have them.  I know I have excellent internet search skills, but I have rarely used them at work, if at all; most of my practice has been searching for things for personal use and I can rarely think of a particular case that stands out in my mind.

Asking for a flexible approach and good team skills in someone with autism still seems unfair too.  A lot of the people at my autism group work in IT, which is probably a stereotype of autistic people.  I think they just in their office coding all day, avoiding other people and keeping out the office noise with noise-cancelling headphones.  I don’t have that sort of mind or interest in IT.  I was always more interested in the humanities, which is somewhat unusual for someone on the spectrum (although is may be another way I tend towards “female” autism symptoms rather than male ones).  I’m not sure how to use my autistic issues as “superpowers” the way the autism support books and websites say I should, which just makes me feel worse.

***

I haven’t heard back from the publications I’ve pitched ideas to.  I’m not sure what I do now.  Try to find other places to pitch to, or new ideas to pitch, I suppose.  It doesn’t help that I don’t know if I’m pitching bad ideas or I’m just not pitching properly.

The Return of Colonel Runaway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Job Hunting and Writing

My sleep seems to have fallen into a pattern of occasional mild insomnia followed by oversleeping and waking more tired and depressed than I went to bed.  That was the pattern last night and this morning.  I woke mildly depressed and allowed myself to take advantage of the heter (permission) that allows clinically depressed people to listen to music in the omer (the period between Passover and Pentecost, observed as a period of national mourning by Orthodox Jews, during much of which time music and other forms of celebration are prohibited).  I wish I had known about this years ago, as it does make things easier for me.  I’m not a great fan of music and don’t have particularly sophisticated tastes, but it can shift my mood a bit in a positive way and give me motivation to get dressed in the mornings or walk briskly.

I wanted to go to autism group as I haven’t been for months, but I felt that I lost too much away time today to depression and procrastination and that I could do with a quiet day/evening after more than a week of Pesach (Passover), the Doc Soc celebration and my date yesterday, especially as I hope (if that’s the right word) to go to a Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) event tomorrow.  So, I stayed at home and job hunted.

Job hunting is hard.  I really feel that my heart has gone out of it, on some level at least.  I would still like to find a part-time assistant librarian job in higher education, but all the jobs I find are full-time, or in further education, or require more skills and experience than I have or think I have (particularly people skills and tech skills).  I also have not seen any cataloguing courses advertised yet; I feel I would be more employable if I could polish up those skills.  But really I want to be writing, here or on my book (or books).  Getting started as a professional writer is hard, though, particularly as I’m not sure that I would want to specialise in one area, but rather to write in different places on science fiction, mental health and autism, and Judaism.

I did try to job hunt today, with some success.  I applied for one job via an agency (I just had to send my CV and edit my covering letter template; it wasn’t an application that asked for a detailed application form to be filled in or asked unusual questions) and started to apply for another before getting an interview at the agency for the first job (I assume to see whether they will put me forward for the job).  But I was easily distracted, including by Ashley’s appeal for writers, which interested me more than the paid jobs, even though it would be unpaid.  I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that I want to write more than I want to do anything else, as it’s the only thing I can easily be motivated to do when the depression is bad and it also is a fairly autism-friendly job (i.e. solitary).  It’s really the only job I can imagine myself doing and being happy in doing it.  I can do it alone, I can start late and finish late (I’m a night owl not a lark), I can pursue my special interests, I can focus on one task at a time without interruption, I enjoy expressing myself in writing and perhaps I could even feel that I’m contributing to the world in a small, but positive way.  The tricky thing is working out how to get paid for all of this, which is much harder, particularly as my interests are niche and they don’t connect with each other easily.

***

Filling in a form for that new agency, I forgot my phone number for a few moments.  I also forgot the third subject I took at A-level.  Forgetting personal information like that is something that happens to me disturbingly often.  Usually it is when I’m confronted with a human being, so that I can put it down to social anxiety.  I suppose in this case it’s depression eroding my concentration. It’s distressing and upsetting, though.

Beethoven’s Birthday

I’m still here.  I feel less suicidal, but still not good.  I’m thinking of phoning the Samaritans helpline, but I don’t know what to say.  I’m also somewhat congested from the cold I have, so I’m not sure I could do much talking anyway.

I went for a walk for twenty-five minutes, as I did the last few days and, as with the last few days, it’s pretty much the only effort I’ve been able to make.  OK, not quite true, as I’ve davened (prayed) a bit every day and done a bit of Torah study (from five to thirty minutes) every day.  And today I cooked plain pasta (badly – I forgot to add salt, then accidentally poured in far too much and nearly let the whole thing boil over.  I feel very incompetent in my life) and did some online shopping, which I hate and which went badly.  But it is hard to do anything and I worry about starting my new job next week.  I wonder if I will have to resign before I even arrive.

After my last two jobs, I worry about doing something so disastrously wrong that I get fired.  I think I could cope even with being fired; it’s getting told off in person and realising how much I have disappointed everyone that upsets me.

I’m also not sure what it says about me that, in thirty-five years, only two people have cared for me romantically, of whom one was on the rebound from a boyfriend she still cares about and the other was essentially… I was going to say “using me” but that would be unfair.  But she expected me to drop everything to run halfway across London when she needed me, but ignored my texts for help when my depression was bad (I thought I was being paranoid in thinking this, but then she admitted that she was doing this deliberately) and kept telling me she needed me to drop out of her life for a couple of weeks while she decided if she actually cared about me at all (something she did to me two or three times) and who repeatedly pressured me into doing stuff physically that I wasn’t ready for (not ready for both religious, and I now realise, autistic/touch-sensitive reasons).  So, I don’t know what you would call that, but I haven’t had an actual “normal” relationship of caring for someone who cares about me and both investing similar amounts of effort and emotional energy in the relationship and the other person not trampling all over my boundaries.

(I don’t want to sound critical of E. because she didn’t make me feel that she was still pining over her ex while we were together, it’s just that as we’re still friends I can see that she still misses her time with him and not her time with me, which makes me wonder about our relationship.  Plus it makes me wonder if the reason she ended the relationship, which other people in my life thought was slightly strange, because she didn’t think we would be able to support ourselves financially together, would have been so important to her if she had cared for me as much as she cared for her ex.)

I read two short articles just now, aimed at parents of autistic children (by implication, high functioning autistic children), telling them to have realistic ambitions for their autistic children and that they (the autistic children) may not want to have successful careers (or will define “successful” differently), have relationships, have children and so on.  To be honest, I don’t really care about my career and, as the articles stated is normal for autistic people, I find it hard to think abstractly about what I want from the future in that way at all, although perhaps I would care more if I could find the right field.  I think I do genuinely want to marry and have children.  How much of that is simply a product of childhood emotional starvation and/or peer pressure in a community where family is the norm and single people between the ages of thirty and sixty are few in number and virtually invisible socially is hard to tell.  The latter (social pressure), perhaps not so much, the former (childhood emotional starvation), probably quite a bit, and I feel that’s a ‘wrong’ reason to want to have a family, but it doesn’t do anything to resolve my need to give and receive love.  Then there is also the religious obligation to marry and have children which isn’t so prominent in my consciousness, but is there.  I guess this is all pushing me back towards having pets as a way of giving love and receiving… gratitude for food, at any rate.

I just feel I’ve really let my parents down just by being me, instead of someone else, someone good.  Someone not defective.  Someone more like my sister.  I should say that my parents don’t say this to me.  But I still feel that it would be better for everyone if I was more ‘normal’ like my sister.

***

I’m reading The Complete Peanuts: 1953 to 1954 and two cartoons I saw today resonated (both on page 237).  In the first, Schroeder can remember Beethoven’s birthday and death anniversary, but can’t remember his own father’s age.  This is me with my knowledge of my special interests (Doctor Who and perhaps also Judaism) versus my knowledge of my family and friends.  In the second, Charlie Brown laments, “Sometimes I think I must be a misfit… I just don’t seem to fit in any place.”  When Schroeder suggests that he joins “a group of misfits”, Charlie Brown remarks that, “I probably wouldn’t even fit in there” which is me with depression, autism and especially social anxiety and my forays into socialising in support groups and the like.

***

I downloaded an app thingy to Google Chrome to block websites, to try to keep me off Twitter.  I may block other things if it works.  To be honest, it may not work, as when I’ve tried this in the past, it fails because I can always turn it off for a bit.  I’m blocking it not from a productivity point of view (which I think is what it’s primarily intend for, and for policing children’s internet use), but because it’s too triggering (I hate that word too), not just, or not even, the content, just the sheer level of anger and vitriol being sprayed in all directions at the slightest provocation.  I wish it were possible to participate in laid back discussions of Doctor Who and the like on Twitter and see whimsical humorous posts, but even these get politicised half the time and even when they don’t it’s hard to filter effectively.  So, total abstinence seems to be the answer.  I may delete my Twitter account, as I only set it up to promote my Doctor Who blog which (a) I’ve been doing very badly and (b) I’m not writing much on my Doctor Who blog at the moment anyway.

***

I came across this poem by the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai.  It’s not very relevant to the post, but it reminds me of me so I wanted to share it.

Poem Without End

Inside the brand-new museum
there’s an old synagogue.
Inside the synagogue
is me.
Inside me
my heart.
Inside my heart
a museum.
Inside the museum
a synagogue,
inside it
me,
inside me
my heart,
inside my heart
a museum

The Stuff in My Head

Another night of strange, disturbing dreams.  I should probably be glad that I usually don’t remember my dreams if they’re going to upset me.

***

I don’t really pay much attention to this time of year.  Not my festivals.  I do my introspection for Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year).  But 2018 has been crazy.  I had two jobs and got a third, but I messed the first two up and I’m worried I’m going to mess the new one up too.  I don’t know if I’m actually capable of holding down a job.  I did go on holiday by myself this year, for the first time, which was an achievement.  But otherwise the year was just depression and anxiety, and confusion about whether I’m autistic (still not conclusively resolved).

I guess if I take a longer-term view things are a bit better.  Five years ago I was limping to the end of an MA that should have taken one year, but actually took three and a half.  I was pleased about being nearly finished, but then the university started saying that because I had taken so long, they might give me a diploma instead of an MA, which would not have made me a qualified librarian (I got the MA in the end).  I had broken up with my first girlfriend earlier in the year after being sure that (a) we would get married and (b) I would never find another girlfriend if we broke up (the second of these wasn’t quite true, but nearly, at least so far).  I had never had a paying job, not even part-time (I don’t count coming in on occasional afternoons to do the filing at the office where my Mum worked when I was sixteen).

Since then I’ve got my MA, had three jobs and won a fourth and briefly been in another relationship.  This doesn’t make me feel much better, though, as the jobs were mostly disastrous and the relationship just got my hopes up only to dash them again; jobs and relationship alike both make me feel like an incompetent failure.

I probably have more friends than in 2013, but my social life is still largely based on the internet, despite moving to a different community with different shuls (synagogues) and starting going to support groups.

***

I feel so depressed today that it’s impossible to do anything.  Earlier I had Happy Xmas (War is Over) by John Lennon stuck in my head for some reason (I don’t think I’ve actually heard it yet this year), which is officially my least favourite song ever.  Not only is it a saccharin-sickly, sentimental (a choir of children!) and miserable dirge (and inaccurate – war is not over, however much you want it), it is indelibly associated in my mind with the winter of 2003/04, which was the worst time of my life, when I very nearly attempted suicide.

I was stuck in Oxford, first during term and then during the holiday, too depressed to work, but encouraged by my tutors to stay around in case my anti-depressants kicked in and I could catch up on the term.  I was regularly being visiting by psychiatric nurses, or irregularly visited, I should say, as I would have to wait in for them, but they would usually be very late, which messed up my plans and made me more depressed (although my plans were basically, “Try to get the energy to go out and buy food”) – this was long before autism was suggested, so I didn’t know just how bad I am at adjusting to changes.  My best friend (the woman I mentioned the other day) had stopped talking to me and I didn’t feel like opening up to anyone else in case they rejected me too, or perhaps just because I always find it hard to open up about depression (the woman who wasn’t talking to me had spotted the depression in me and asked me about it, which is pretty much a unique occurrence and one reason she was so special to me).

Happy Xmas (War is Over) was playing in a lot shops and getting a lot of airtime on the radio.  I don’t usually listen to music radio, but I also had terrible insomnia and was awake half the night in bed, listening to the BBC World Service, which has (or had) some music programmes late at night GMT.  I think as well as the Lennon original, someone had just released a cover that year.  Anyway, I heard it a lot and hearing it again just reminds me of that miserable winter and everything that happened in it.

***

The other thing in my head, weirdly enough, is Geoffrey Howe’s resignation speech, not because of Brexit or splits in the Conservative Party that might bring it to mine, but for the famous quote about “It is rather like sending your opening batsmen to the crease, only for them to find, as the first balls are being bowled, that their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain.”  I feel like that in my life, that my bat was broken before I even got onto the field.  I feel that whatever chance I might have had of love, family, friendship, community, happiness, anything I might want really, was taken away from me before I even had a chance to live in the world, first by autism and then by the difficult, perhaps even traumatic, things that happened to me as a child.  I know a lot of people with autism don’t consider it a disability, but a difference, even a positive difference.  However, I feel that I have gone so long without a diagnosis or help and have been on the receiving end of so much anger, hatred and incomprehension from other people that I simply can’t function in the world and would gladly get rid of this difference if I could, if I could just have a normal life.

I just want to have a normal life, with the normal amounts of love, friendship and happiness that normal people have.  Apparently this is too much to ask.  I think even then I could cope if I knew why I have to live like this.  I believe in God, so I believe there is a reason for my life being like this, being so miserable; ironically, it might be easier to cope with if I didn’t believe and just assumed there was no reason beyond blind chance.  It’s the not knowing the reason that makes coping with misery and loneliness extra hard, just as I can’t stand not knowing if I’ll ever find love and happiness.

I don’t know where I go from here.  I’ve been having thoughts of death all day, but I’m not really suicidal.  I went for a walk for half an hour and did some grocery shopping, but the effort of it exhausted me as if I had run a couple of miles.  I was supposed to sort out papers and emails today, but I’m not sure that I will be able to do so.  I also need to cook dinner as my parents are out tonight (a wedding, again, of someone rather younger than me – I am on the shelf).  All I want to do, all I feel capable of doing today, is sitting in my room and watching Doctor Who.

I just want to be loved.  Is that too much to ask?  My family do love me, they just don’t understand me, or always express affection in a way I can understand.   And I do have a couple of friends who care about me, but they’re so far away.  Knowing that doesn’t really make it any easier.  And still, I want to have a romantic relationship, which is a different kind of love.

***

I feel that I’m a really tightly wound-up person.  I worry that eventually I will explode or, more likely, implode, and I wonder what kind of damage that would do, and to whom.

***

I fear that this post has degenerated in incomprehensibility. I wonder sometimes what the people reading this blog think of me.  I get some likes, so I guess some people must find this interesting or moving, but I find it hard to believe that.

List of Good Things

Things were a bit better today.  I’m in a rush, so a quick list.

  1. I have a job interview on 5 December!  I seem to have lost all the details about the job, though, and can’t really remember anything about it.  I’ve applied for several recently and I find I’ve forgotten the details five minutes after sending the application off, if not earlier.  It’s a cataloguing role at a London university.  I’ve a vague feeling it’s cataloguing rare books, but I’m not sure and am uncertain how I find out.  It’s not clear, but it looks like I have to give a ten minute presentation on how I as a cataloguer (!) can encourage students to use the library catalogue instead of Google (no idea yet).  Plus a sixty minute cataloguing test.  I don’t mind the latter, as it will at least prove to myself that I deserve the job, if they decide to give it to me (as if that will stop me thinking I can’t do it…), but ten minutes is a very long time.
  2. I will have to rearrange my appointment with The Network, which is currently on the same day.  Fortunately I hadn’t got around to confirming it yet.  The Network is… actually, I’m not sure, but it’s an NHS thing that’s supposed to help people with mental health issues find jobs or just be more active.  I’m guessing it’s an occupational therapy-type thing.
  3. The autism group workshop meeting on coping with anxiety in the workplace that I was hoping to go to next week has been cancelled, which is frustrating.
  4. I had dinner out with my sister and brother-in-law.  It was good, although the restaurant was noisy (even though it wasn’t very full) and I couldn’t always hear my sister.
  5. I got to Golders Green early for dinner and to kill time and get out of the rain I went into a bookshop, which had a sale on, so I got copies of Dr Bloodmoney by Philip K. Dick (the only one of the most acclaimed half dozen or so of Dick’s books that I haven’t yet read, which I guess means it’s downhill from here) and The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin.  I haven’t decided whether I have bought them myself or if my parents will give them to me as Chanukah presents.  In our family we don’t do surprise gifts, we either specify presents to be bought or say, “Here’s £X, buy what you want, give it to me and I’ll give it back to you as a gift.”  It sounds brutally mercenary when put like that.  The Jonathan Creek and Sherlock DVDs I mentioned retail therapy-buying the other week have already become Chanukah presents.
  6. Today was a better day overall.  Work was still hard at times, though, and I had to have an unprecedented three coffees to stay awake through the morning.