Not Sure What This Says About Me…

I can’t sleep.  This thought is rattling around my head and I need to get it down.  I’ve hinted at it in the past, but it seems very stark and clear at the moment and I want to put it down.

When I was at school, there was a girl in my year who always smiled at me and said hello, using my name.  I didn’t really know why she did this and was probably vaguely suspicious that I was the butt of some unseen joke (I was bullied a lot at school and it made me suspicious of people outside my small friendship circle).  We didn’t have any lessons together and I wasn’t entirely sure how she even knew my name (I don’t know how I knew hers).  It’s only really in the last few weeks that I’ve realised, twenty years after the event, that the reason she always smiled at me and said hello was because she liked me.  Not necessarily in a teenage crush way (but maybe), but in a friendly, platonic way.

I don’t know what it says about me that it’s taken me twenty years to work this out.  I suppose I can blame that on autism and mind-blindness.  Now I can’t stop wondering what might have happened if I had realise this at the time.  I feel that in some sense I let her down, that I should at least have stopped and talked to her, not that I would have known what to say.  I wonder what would have happened if I had done that.

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Uneventful Shabbat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merely Existing

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

Difficult Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bounded in a Nutshell

“I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.” Hamlet, William Shakespeare

I felt a huge amount of anger with HaShem (God) yesterday evening.  I’m just so lonely and feel so useless and I can’t see any way out.  It’s illogical to be angry with Him about my own failings, but I feel that if I wasn’t autistic and depressed, I wouldn’t be so lonely and isolated, which leads on to anger with Him for making me autistic (blame for the depression is more complicated).  I feel if I wasn’t autistic, I would be able to function in the frum (religious) world as He wants, but as it is, I can’t function.

I didn’t know how to process the anger, so I ended up hurting myself for the first time in a while.  I hit my legs with my fists while trying to talk to HaShem;  later I scratched myself slightly, but I’m not quite sure why I did that.  I have been fantasising about death again lately too, mainly just thinking that however bad things are here, one day I’ll be dead and unable to feel any more pain.

***

I’m still struggling with what to do about dating.  It still feels wrong, morally wrong, to date while I’m not just unemployed, but not even sure what I want to do with my life any more.  And I can’t face the thought of rejection and it seems there are so many reasons why someone would reject me (autistic, depressed, weird geeky interests, didn’t go to yeshiva or otherwise tick the appropriate frum boxes) even without being unemployed too.  Nor do I look forward to having to turn down someone I don’t feel is right for me.  And I’m wary of thinking that things will be better if I’m in a relationship (although it is true that I have felt better when I’ve been in a relationship in the past, even if I wasn’t “recovered”).

However, I just feel so lonely.  I feel like everyone has their partner except me.  This is blatantly untrue (a number of my friends are single), but reflects how I feel.  I feel that I am mostly self-contained.  I don’t need other people with me all the time.  I have solitary hobbies and even things like watching TV I prefer to do alone (I don’t like watching TV with other people because I don’t watch TV casually.  I don’t channel hop, I only watch things I want to watch and which I think are worth my time, but then I watch them with complete concentration and dislike noise and interruptions, particularly as the programmes I watch tend to be plot-heavy and reasonably complex to follow).  I should really be happy living alone as I’m an introvert and a bit of a loner.  But, as seen when my parents are away, when I’m actually alone, I do get more depressed, even though logically I should welcome being alone.  I do, on some level, need people around me, even if I don’t interact with them much.  I also need to be able to love and to feel loved and I’m rather starved of both of these things and have been much of my life.  My parents and my sister do care about me, but there are so difficulties in those relationships, most probably stemming from my autism and my having different “love languages” to my family.  We probably aren’t very good at showing love to each other in ways the other person can comprehend.

I try to cope with things and be self-contained (“If you are miserable alone, you will be miserable in a relationship” as everyone says), but I just feel so unbearably lonely and unloved that it’s impossible to escape the depression for long.

***

I saw the psychiatrist today.  It didn’t go well.  She focused on my unemployment, repeatedly telling me that I should get a job, which wasn’t terribly helpful.  She did suggest doing voluntary work, which is probably a good idea.  I didn’t feel like she was really listening, nor did I have the confidence to tell her that my depression and social anxiety are just as bad, if not worse, when I’m working, because of issues surrounding autism and mental illness in the workplace.  In fact, I haven’t told this psychiatrist about my autism at all, as the last one said that if I’ve been told I haven’t got it by the Maudsley Hospital, I don’t have it and that’s final.  As my GP has referred me for another assessment at the Maudsley, I’m not going to raise the issue again until I’ve had that assessment.

As well as sounding disappointed with me for not having a job, she sounded disappointed with me for not having friends.  I said I had “one or two” which is a simplification (I have two or three I’m in contact with regularly, but via text as they live elsewhere; I have one or two friends who live locally, but I usually only see them in shul (synagogue)).   I couldn’t really be bothered to explain as she didn’t seem interested and I was struggling to understand her accent; possibly she was struggling with mine too.  She asked if I am in a relationship; she didn’t really react when I said I’m not.  When she asked what I do when I’m not job hunting, I said I write a bit, which she misheard as “write a book” which is basically true so I didn’t correct her.

She asked if I have thoughts of self-harm or suicide and I said yes, because I have had them in the last couple of days, but she didn’t really seem to care as I said I wouldn’t act on the suicidal thoughts, which is probably true, and that I wouldn’t act on the self-harm thoughts, which was a lie because I did last night.  I don’t know why I lied; probably because it was very minor and I just wanted to get out of the appointment room.  I just didn’t feel comfortable opening up to her as she seemed to just want to process me quickly and get to the next patient and seemed to think that finding a job will be a panacea for me.

***

Today’s potential jobs: a school librarian maternity cover job (I don’t want to work in further education again after struggling previously); an “information assistant” that seems to be a library assistant role rather than an assistant librarian and has a lethal-looking commute; and a role billed as “knowledge librarian” but which also seems to be a library assistant role rather than a trained librarian role, judging from the lack of professional skills in the job description and which also requires SharePoint experience that I don’t have.  I was then reminded that I applied for a “knowledge librarian” role a few days ago; I think it was the same job as the job descriptions are similar, although it’s hard to be sure, as both jobs are advertised through different agencies and don’t state the name of the company that is advertising the job (this happens a lot and is very frustrating).

It is probably no wonder that I really want to do something else with my life, something I find more rewarding.  But, just as I don’t have the courage to start dating again, I don’t have the courage (or knowledge and perhaps the ability) to try to write professionally.

***

I feel like I’m coming down with a migraine, so the rest of the day is probably a wipe-out now.

Time’s Wingèd Chariot

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

Victimhood

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

The Return of Colonel Runaway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Can’t Win

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

I’m Gonna Be (Drained)

I woke up today feeling totally wiped out, exhausted and depressed.  In a way these days are a little easier than days when I’m a bit down, but still feel I ought to job hunt or work on my books or study a lot of Torah because it’s easier to accept that I can’t do as much as I would like.

Although I hoped to go to volunteering late, in the end I missed it completely.  I wasn’t well enough.  I felt useless and sinful.

I went for a walk and did literally two minutes of Torah study.  That’s all I managed.  Other than that I just watched TV (Doctor Who, research for my book including the terrible, historically inaccurate and antisemitic The Witchfinders which was only watched because I needed to do so) until it was time to go out with my family for my Mum’s birthday.  The food was good, but they ran out of dessert and we had to pay by cash as their card reader broke.  The restaurant was too noisy for me, with a lot of customer noise plus ‘background’ music at just the right level to annoy me: too quiet to listen to properly, but loud enough to distract me with vaguely-recognisable beats and stop me listening to the conversation as my autistic brain tries to tune in to it properly.  I mostly let the conversation wash over me and didn’t worry too much about joining in.  It seemed the easiest option.  Although I did identify Come On EileenDancing Queen and I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles); also some Beatles, but I forget what.

Because there was no dessert, my sister and brother-in-law came back to our house for hot drinks and cake.  I found that a bit easier because it was quieter, even if the conversation centred on our shared dismay at the political situation.  I do feel bloated after everything I’ve eaten this evening.

While we were out, my Mum mentioned that the woman she wanted to set me up with some time ago (daughter of her friends who had mental health issues) is now engaged.  So that’s another missed opportunity, or a narrow escape from more rejection, depending on how you want to look at it.

I feel lonely.  It’s still hard to believe anyone could ever want me.  I certainly don’t think I could find someone in time to have children, which upsets me, let alone that I could be well enough for dating, marriage and children to be realistic prospects any time in the next few years.  It’s frustrating that there is no religiously legitimate outlet for my sexuality and no practical outlet for my desire to love and be loved romantically.  It’s frustrating that the women I have liked were not interested in me.  It’s also frustrating that I recently found someone who was interested in me, but she wasn’t right for me at all.  Although probably on days like today I’m being selfish anyway.  I want someone to love me, but I don’t have the energy/capability to love anyone else.

I suspect people like me don’t get married or have children or find communities they fit in.  I should be glad I even have a few friends, as I don’t think I deserve/could cope with that.

Crisis of Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And I think it’s going to be a long, long time”

Lately I’ve been waking around 10am, getting up after a while, but spending hours eating breakfast and idly browsing online or going back to bed instead of getting dressed, because I don’t have the energy or motivation to get ready.  Listening to music, despite the omer, because depressed people are allowed to listen to music.  Fighting scary, violent thoughts about myself.

I had three potential jobs to apply for today.  None of them was very appealing, nor was I particularly likely to get them, but in the end I applied for a law research post rather than a law librarian or school librarian post.  That was a simple application (basically set up an online account with a job site and attach my CV), so I tried to apply for the other law librarian post, only to discover I had already applied and been rejected.  I’m not sure I can face the idea of school librarianship, so I’m leaving that for now.

I still haven’t dared raise the subject of reading some of my Doctor Who book with my fan friends.  I moved towards asking some, but haven’t done it yet, as they really do seem very busy and stressed with family crises.  I wish I knew more people I could ask.  I feel envious of books that have an acknowledgements announcement that goes on for three pages; how do they know so many people?  I’m not satisfied with the book, but don’t know how to move forwards with it.  I wrote some notes for a blog post for my Doctor Who blog the other day which, when I looked again the next day, turned out to be incoherent nonsense, which didn’t help my self-esteem.

***

On my last post, Ashley Leia asked me if fitting in is a prerequisite for acceptance.  I feel it is, but have trouble developing that thesis beyond getting bullied at school for being different.  In the conformist world of the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community, there can even be a religious imperative to not accepting the nonconformist, as people are encouraged to choose their friends carefully to make sure they are good influences.  That has never happened to me, but I’ve read online about people being ostracised or fearing ostracism for artistic endeavours, having the ‘wrong’ political opinions or accepting modern science and it scares me into preemptively disguising my beliefs and interests as well as my autism and depression.

There’s a paradox in the frum community in that many prominent rabbis have spoken of the need to cultivate one’s individuality (the Kotzker Rebbe said this a lot or, for a more modern perspective, see Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik’s essay Religious Styles in the collection Halakhic Morality: Essays on Ethics and Masorah, in which he says that as well as needing to perform the mitzvot (commandments), one must also develop a unique personal religious style), but the community as a whole seems to remain conformist.  Or maybe it only seems that way from the outside, because I don’t know enough people?  Perhaps I’m wrong.  I hope I’m wrong.  The general rule is that the more conservative the community, the more conformist.  In addition, people higher up the social scale can get away with more than other people, which I suppose is true in most cultures.  I know I’m at the bottom of the heap, so I keep schtum.

Of course, all human communities are conformist to some extent, that is where the feeling of kinship comes from.

As some of you may have seen me complain elsewhere, I feel a lack of clear role models for my boundary-breaking self, in both the Jewish and the non-Jewish community.  There are a lack of both real-life and fictional heroes who show you can be e.g. modern and religious, believing and questioning, frum and geeky and so on.  It is hard to orientate myself armed only with Chaim Potok novels.

Related to this is my relationship with HaShem (God), which has lately felt strained.  My davening (prayer) and hitbodedut (spontaneous prayer/meditation) have become very mechanical and routine.  My Torah study, when I do it, is as much about learning ancient languages as engaging with HaShem.  When I was very depressed, I sometimes used to feel very far from HaShem, but at other times I would feel close (there probably was some grandiosity here, perhaps almost psychotically so).  Now I feel distant, but I don’t feel yearning.  I don’t really feel anything.  I want to be religious, but I no longer feel that I know how, if I ever did.  I don’t know how to connect with people, which is necessary in Judaism as one finds God in community not in isolation, and this is problematic enough, but I if I can’t connect with people, I certainly can’t connect with HaShem.  On this note, it seems that most of the autistic people I’ve come across online or at autism group are not obviously religious.  I don’t really know what to do.

The Diogenes Club Shtiebel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

Existential Angst

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

Be Careful What You Wish For

Sometimes it feels that I do actually get almost everything I want, or think I want, if I wait long enough, but then it turns out not to be as good as I hoped.  In fact, it usually turns out to be painful.  That’s what happened with going to Oxford, being in a more frum (religious) community, getting a job with longer hours and more responsibility, dating and being published on a professionally.  It makes me wonder if I should really want anything (career, marriage, children) or is it just going to leave me longing for the days I was so depressed that I did nothing except sleep and watch TV (some people’s dream life, I suppose, although the reality was pretty awful).

Despite feeling that getting the things I want always goes wrong, it’s easy to envy other people, not so much for their money as their lives: the meaningful and sure career, the loving spouse or partner, the beautiful children, the meaningful religious life…  all “apparently” of course, as often the reality is different.  I suppose most people have to deal with suffering in the end, I’m just getting mine out the way first, although I’m worried that I’m just going to get a double serving.  And I’m not sure that everyone gets the same level of suffering.  The reward is proportional to the effort says the Mishnah.  Well, I hope so, although I’m not sure that suffering is the same as effort.  I don’t always feel that I’m putting in enough effort religiously, because I don’t always have the energy, motivation or concentration because of depression and perhaps because of laziness.

***

The job agency I have the interview through tomorrow sent me interview preparation advice.  I was concentrating so much on cataloguing preparation yesterday for the test that I hadn’t really thought about interview preparation.  It’s fair to say that I don’t usually do much of the interview preparation they suggest and am failing in ways I didn’t even recognise.  There’s some an element of autistic, “Why would I care about that?” (e.g. asking the interview panel about the office culture or why they like working there). There’s often a lot of feeling that I haven’t shown the desired competencies or experience and can’t do anything about that (usually accompanied by, “Why are they even calling me to interview?”) and some autistic “Well, I can’t read their minds well enough to guess what they will ask, so why bother?” and the equally autistic “I can’t describe what I would do, I just do it.”  There might also be an element of autistic hyperfocus on things that interest me, but poor concentration (worsened by depression) on things that don’t interest me.  There’s a fair bit of feeling that librarianship isn’t the right sector for me any more although I don’t know how I’d fair with an interview for a writing position.  I think part of the attraction of writing for me is that I can let my work speak for itself.  I suppose there is also the feeling that “Everything goes wrong for me so why am I even trying?”  And I don’t know why I would want tomorrow’s job other than I need the money and something to put on my CV.  Other things being equal (which they aren’t), why would I even want to work in a law library?

I suppose I don’t actually feel capable of getting and doing a job like most people.  There might be a bit of arrogance in there (“I’m above this”), but it’s mostly low self-esteem (“I can’t do this”) and the autistic feeling of, “I’m not like other people, I can’t function the way they can or in the environments they can.”  Not everyone with autism feels like that, obviously, so maybe it’s mostly low self-esteem.  I was supposed to be doing CBT to work on that, but the NHS seems to have forgotten me.  I tried chasing them, but I got fed up sending emails that were not answered and leaving answerphone messages that weren’t returned.

I tried to follow the agency’s preparation instructions, but I froze up.  The anxious/depressive “I can’t do this I can’t do this I can’t do this.”  Trying to describe how I dealt with a difficult situation (a question which, with variations, has come up a lot for me), I can’t think of anything they would think of as difficult that I handled well.  I can think of  things I’ve found difficult that neurotypicals would not find difficult, or that I handled badly, or at least not well from an interview point of view (trying established procedures or asking a colleague or superior for help would not be viewed positively by people looking for initiative and adaptability (not very autistic traits) and the fact that some of my decisions were over-ruled by superiors is not great either).  I don’t think I coped well with a difficult boss either; I don’t know how I would cope with difficult colleagues, as I’ve never had them, but I’m guessing it would be the same.

It’s hard to remember details from other jobs anyway.  I’ve twice been asked in the past about my favourite library management system and failed to give a good answer.  It’s the autistic/Sherlock Holmes “It doesn’t interest me so why should I bother to remember?” issue again.  I could give them a detailed answer comparing my favourite Doctor Who writers.

Looking at the company website terrified me, the sense of this being a massive multinational law firm and I couldn’t cope with such a large and pressured environment as the job spec stated.  When I applied for the job, I didn’t think I’d make it to interview, so I never thought I would really have to deal with this.  I was just trying to reassure the agency that I am genuinely looking for a job and putting myself forward for things.

I feel a bit like Icarus.  Once I was a high-flyer, but then I started falling, further than anyone had fallen before.  It’s very hard to know what to do when your wings have melted.  I suppose Icarus got what he wished for too.

***

Today I was feeling depressed even before the interview preparation email came through.  As usual, I woke late, struggled to get going and prayed a very minimal amount of Shacharit (morning prayers).  I cried a bit while doing so, I think more from frustration and perhaps despair as much as anything else.  I feel OKish now, but the depression and anxiety come and go.  This seems to be the “new normal” at the moment: bad mornings and days that are mostly good, but which have negative blips and low energy.

Tired of Life, But Afraid of Trying

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

High Anxiety

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

The Guidebook to Depressed, Autistic Life

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

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

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

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

My Song

I feel burnt out again today, which probably isn’t surprising after yesterday.  The good news for today is that I have an job interview next week at a Very Important Organisation.  HR were supposed to send me an email, but didn’t.  The first I heard was when I received an email from someone else in the organisation (I assume a librarian) adding additional information.  I still don’t have the HR invitation, so I hope I’m not missing important instructions.

I tried to write a piece of writing with deliberate grammatical errors that I can correct and put on my proofreading profile page as a portfolio to try to get proofreading work.  It proved harder than it looks.  I could make and correct the mistakes just fine, but I found it impossible to just write ‘something’ without any kind of idea of what to write.  Like platonic soup, platonic writing, writing that isn’t about anything, but which is just writing, turns out not to exist.  I wasted quite a bit of time trying to do that and procrastinating as I realised I wasn’t getting anywhere.  I tried taking a book review I wrote years ago and inserting mistakes, but that didn’t really work either.  So I switched to writing a job application for a law library job I don’t really want and won’t get, but I had zero enthusiasm for that either.

Eventually I gave up and went for a walk and to do some shopping.  By the time I got home from that, I was exhausted.  I hate not having energy, motivation and concentration any more.  The only thing I wanted to do was to write.  Actual writing, not writing pseudo-nonsense to show I can correct grammatical errors.  I feel that the only thing I can really do well is write about my feelings and experiences.  That’s the only thing I do that other people show much of an interest in.  I want to try to find a way to monetise that, but it’s scary.  Apart from the fact it’s a rather niche thing to be good at, with any creative job, there is always the fear (for me at any rate) that one day inspiration and talent will just dry up.  That’s not good for someone on the autism spectrum who doesn’t like uncertainty.  Although my autism means I don’t much like most workplaces, so there are advantages as well as drawbacks.

***

Ashley Leia wrote this post about not using the word “should.”  I have heard this before and always struggled with it, perhaps because of my religious beliefs.  I really think there are things I should and shouldn’t do.  However, a little later I was writing something about autism and I realised that actually a lot of my shoulds come from being autistic and having other people try to adjust my behaviour to neurotypical norms, particularly when I was a child: that I should make eye contact and I should have open body language and I shouldn’t stim and I should socialise even when I don’t want to and I should know how to have a conversation and I shouldn’t have to ask for help with basic everyday tasks. That’s actually quite scary, to see how much I’ve been made into a malfunctional neurotypical rather than a functional autistic person.

Mental Health Day

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

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

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

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

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

Careers, Autistic Organisation, Yom HaShoah and the Half-Life of a Blog

A rather long and varied post today, as it’s been a long day.  Here goes…

I had a phone interview with someone from a recruitment agency that specialises in library and information roles.  It seemed to go OK, apart from her suggesting I change something on my CV that she found inadvertently misleading, which made me feel foolish.  I don’t know why I feel such an idiot when people point out my mistakes, especially as in this case I don’t think what I wrote really was misleading.  I always feel inadequate when talking about my work experience and I fear that people will ask about the gaps on my CV or somehow intuit that I’m wondering if I’m in the right career.  And of course any personal interaction brings fears that because of my autism I’m saying too much or too little or saying the wrong thing, things that neurotypical people would manage more intuitively than I can do.  To my relief she was actually positive when I said I was ideally looking for part-time work for health reasons, as she said that those roles can be hard to fill, as most people are looking for full-time work.  The jobs she wants to put me up for now are full-time, though.

The woman who interviewed me was nice, but I always find interviews stressful and I couldn’t do any real work immediately afterwards, just processed some emails and went for lunch to recover.  Even after lunch I was procrastinating and found it hard to get down to job hunting.  It doesn’t help that looking at job specs for corporate law librarian work doesn’t fill me with enthusiasm.  I’m really just applying for these on the off chance, without relevant experience or much interest.  I just want to feel like I’m doing something, and if I waited only for jobs that I was enthusiastic about, I feel I would be waiting a long time.

Filling in job applications is almost impossible.  I did fill in a couple of simple forms, but I should have done more.  (I know people say I use ‘should’ too much and should (ha ha) be more compassionate on my self, but it’s hard when I achieve so little.)  I wasn’t feeling so depressed today, but something about these applications makes me feel depressed and I procrastinate or feel like crying.  It doesn’t help that the application I’m currently filling in (for a job at the library of a major public sector organisation) is, realistically, for a job that is far above me (the salary is about £10,000 more than I’ve been earning), so I don’t have the experience and skills they are asking for, but having told myself to fill it in, it seems wrong to back out, so I stick with it, trying to find examples of my relevant professional skills.  (It doesn’t help that I don’t always have great recall for things that don’t interest me, like work.  If ever there’s a job application that requires knowing a lot of trivia about Doctor Who, I’ll cope much better.)  But I keep getting distracted by aimless internet browsing or reading Alex or Cul de Sac comics.  Maybe I should just accept that this isn’t the job for me and give up?  But I hate giving up on things.

***

I stopped working on my Doctor Who book for a couple of weeks because of Pesach, but I’ve returned to it now.  I redrafted two chapters this week.  It’s frustrating that somehow the prose doesn’t flow as I would like, although I’ve never liked reading my own writing.  I’m always surprised that so many people have said they like my writing.  Of course, it isn’t the kind of book one would buy for the style.

I worry that it’s overlong too.  I’ve cut it down, but it’s still slightly too long, at least according to this site (which admittedly is about novels, not this particularly niche brand of non-fiction).  I’m about halfway through the third draft and ideally I would like to send out chapters to a couple of friends to look at before I try the fourth draft (somehow I’ve got the idea in my head that four drafts is about right.  I think Terry Pratchett and Steven Moffat have both said something about doing four drafts).  However, I’m wary of asking people.  Partly it’s that I don’t always take criticism well (I tend to catastrophise and assume that my work is unbearably rubbish if someone makes even a constructive suggestion), but mostly it’s that I know everyone is busy and doesn’t have time to do unpaid consultancy work, especially as the friends who I think would be most willing to help have serious real-world concerns at the moment and I don’t want to bother them with this.  So I’m not sure what to do about that.

Nevertheless, I am generally pleased at how well it’s going and that I think I’ve managed to say some new things about classic Doctor Who, which is not easy given its age and the sheer volume of stuff that has been written about it over the years.

***

As well as procrastinating, I find it harder and harder to be organised.  At school I always had the right books, did my homework on time, went to the right lessons and so on, but since leaving the more rigid environment of school and having more control over my schedule and planning it, things have gradually got harder.  I think I’ve mentioned before that my Dad says I’m a terrible planner: I draw up detailed plans, but find it impossible to stick to them.  Similarly, I keep my desk and floor tidy, but I suspect this is often at a cost of just piling things in drawers or shoving papers in folders without necessarily knowing exactly where things are going; financial papers in particular are a struggle for me to organise and I’m often vague and uninterested about my finances and need advice and help from my father to deal with them.

I used to think there was nothing wrong with my planning ability per se, I just got distracted and procrastinated because of depression while depressive exhaustion made everything take longer than I expected, but I increasingly wonder if it’s an autistic executive function issue, that I just lack something in my brain that would help me stick to my plans or fully understand my finances.  Again, it would probably help if my day was spent largely on something I enjoyed or found meaningful, instead of applying for jobs I feel equivocal about.  I wonder if autistic rigid thinking and difficulty thinking laterally or creatively about problems is a factor too, if there might be a better way of organising my time/room that I can’t see because I’m too stuck in “This is how I’ve always done it, this is how I always have to do it.”

***

What is the half-life of a blog?  This is something I’ve been wondering lately.  I used to read a lot of Jewish blogs.  I think they had a positive role in teaching me Jewish social norms and frum (religious) language, something that, as someone with autism, I struggle to learn through observation and imitation as done by most children or ba’alei teshuva (people who are ethnically Jewish, but raised non-religious and who become frum in adulthood).  Nowadays I seem to come across fewer of them and many I used to follow are updated rarely or not at all.  I thought this blog would attract mainly Jewish readers and even used Jewish terms as metadata (‘tags’ to non-librarians) to try to attract them, but most of my readers, so far as I can tell, are not Jewish.  Have all the Jews left what used to be called the J-blogosphere (the Jewish blogosphere)?

I did an experiment and went to a blog I used to follow.  It’s long defunct, but had a very long and comprehensive blogroll (remember those?) of other Jewish blogs.  I picked a dozen or so at random and clicked the links.  Only two or three have been updated in the last five years or so and many were not accessible at all, although it’s not clear for how long they have been inaccessible.  A different blogroll shows more active blogs, but often specifically Jewish food blogs (although that may simply reflect the interests of the blogroll compiler).  I know E. is very involved in Jewish food blogging, so that’s obviously still an active area.

Has everyone else migrated to Facebook and Twitter?  There seem to still be lots of general blogs out there, so where did all the Jewish blogs go?  I know some forms of social media are more popular in some communities than others (e.g. I believe Twitter took off in the UK long before it reached the USA), so maybe that applies here too and people have just left Blogger (which was where most Jewish blogs were hosted) for Facebook or Twitter.  It’s a shame as I don’t like Twitter and Facebook and feel out of the loop.  There is a similar issue with online Doctor Who fandom being increasingly based on Facebook and Twitter, but I do at least still follow a couple of Doctor Who blogs and there are more out there that I know about that I don’t like/follow for one reason or another.

***

Most Jewish festivals and fasts are very old, but at this time of year, there are four days that have been created within living memory and which are therefore somewhat controversial, with many Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews not observing and other Jews debating the best way of observing them.  These are Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, Yom Ha’Atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim (Holocaust Day, Memorial Day, commemorating those who died as a result of war and terrorism in Israel, Israeli Independence Day and Jerusalem Day, celebrating the reunification of the city of Jerusalem).  My personal involvement in these days has varied over time.  My shul (synagogue) does not observe any of these days, but sometimes I go to events at my parents’ shul, which does observe them.

Tonight was the start of Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Day – distinct from International Holocaust Memorial Day in January, which is not a Jewish creation).  I went to my parents’ shul.  I was apprehensive about how I would cope, worried about being around a lot of people and having to listen to speakers for a prolonged period as much as with the subject matter, but I was mostly OK.  I did cry, but I stayed for the whole thing.  I did notice that I disassociated a bit inasmuch as I would sort of switch off from engaging directly with the speakers and start viewing the event as a historian or sociologist, thinking about how the Holocaust has been commemorated in different times and places and where the emphasis is placed or thinking about theological responses to the Holocaust and things like that.  I think I do that sometimes, particularly with large events like this where I feel uncomfortable.

Part of the event was a short talk about the Holocaust in Libya by a man who was there (albeit as a baby).  Libya was controlled by the Germans’ ally, Italy, during the early part of the war.  I’d always been led to believe that Italy’s involvement in the Holocaust was muted and half-hearted until the Nazis took control of the north of the country in about 1943, but I learnt there was a concentration camp in the Sahara desert for some Libyan Jews and others were sent to European death camps.  This was all news to me and I found it interesting.

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.

Doc Soc-ing Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Night Before Oxford Nerves

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

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

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

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

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

“Spray Painting Daleks” is probably a more interesting title than “Another Interview” or “Have I Just Lost Another Date?”

I had a job interview today, for a position in a higher education library.  I think I did OK, but not great.  I did manage to answer all of the questions, but I struggled to think of specific examples of the things they were asking for.  My autistic mind tends to go blank when confronted with a sudden request to “Tell me about a time when you dealt with a difficult situation” or whatever.  The first question, just to make it harder, was to tell them about a time I received good customer service, which seemed a strange thing to ask.

So, I didn’t answer the questions that well, but they let slip that my CV looks good to them.  Which should be positive, but while they were describing the role, I was thinking that this position sounds a lot like my role in further education, just with slightly older students.  I did OKish there, but my boss was unhappy with my work and I often felt overwhelmed by the interactions I was supposed to have with staff and especially with students.  When someone would come to me with a problem, I would freeze before my brain moved into gear to work out how to deal with it, which is an autistic multitasking/task changing issue, but it suggests this type of environment isn’t right for me.

Plus, this job is full-time (unlike the further education one, which was three and then four days a week, term-time only) with occasional evening and weekend work, which I doubt I could manage right now with my mental health, even without the problem of Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbath and Jewish festivals).  Plus sudden evening work is not good for my autistic need for predictability.

I got shown the library.  I’m sure someone who temped in the further education library I worked at when we were short-staffed was working there, although I didn’t say anything as (a) I’m too shy and (b) I can’t remember what her name is.  I guess librarianship, like the Jewish community and Doctor Who fandom, is a small world.  (Don’t ask why I seem to gravitate to small worlds.)

***

I’m not sure what to do now.  I’m exhausted after this, and after days of rushing around doing Pesach stuff (preparation, then shul and seders and ‘peopleing’) and then a day lost to extreme depression.  I’m not as depressed as I was yesterday, but I am worn out.  I just spray painted some new Doctor Who miniatures I bought with white undercoat, but that didn’t take long and I won’t be able to move on with them until the paint is dry.  I might assemble the as-yet unassembled Daleks once they’re dry, but I don’t think I’ll get much further than that today (frustratingly I also ran out of paint before I could paint the TARDIS).

I don’t want to work on my books on Chol HaMoed (the intermediate, semi-festive, days of Pesach).  I might watch a film if I can decide whether to watch Ghostbusters II for the umpteenth time as ‘comfort food’ viewing or The King’s Speech, which I’ve never seen, but have been told is very good.

I also feel vaguely ill: dry itchy eyes, slightly sore throat, a bit hot and bothered and achey, as if I’m coming down with a cold.

***

L., who I was set up with via the values-based dating service and who I’ve been texting lately as we can’t meet until after Pesach, asked what I’m doing today after my interview.  I’m not sure how much to open up about myself and my hobbies (mental health blogging, Doctor Who, miniature painting), all of which could describe what I’m doing/about to do today.  I worry about seeming weird.  I have a weird intuition that she would be understanding about mental health stuff, but I don’t want to bring it up this early in the relationship, when we haven’t even been on a date yet.  So Doctor Who and painting it is.  She hasn’t texted back yet, so I don’t know if she thinks I’m a weird freak…  I wish there were some things in my life that I could talk about on dates or to people at shul (synagogue) without sounding weird or messed up.

Pesach Cometh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Variations on a Theme of Pesach Anxiety

I’m glad I’m not in my FE job today, as I would doubtless have been caught in the climate change protests in the Docklands, which I really wouldn’t need when there is Pesach stuff to be done.  I don’t know why the protesters are bothering anyway; no one is going to catastrophise about climate change when we’re all too busy catastrophising about Brexit…

***

I’m sleeping really badly at the moment.  It takes me a couple of hours to fall asleep, and then I sleep through the whole morning.  This is not good with Pesach stuff to do.  I don’t think I’m consciously lying awake thinking about Pesach, but I’m sure that’s the reason for the insomnia.

***

Our usual kosher butchers were out of shank bones (symbolising the Pesach lamb on the seder plate), but I remembered another, small kosher butcher my parents had forgotten about.  I went down today and they still had so I feel like I have Officially Saved Pesach.  (No one else feels thinks I Saved Pesach, but it’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

***

kashered the hob for Pesach.  I had some problems with this, which I won’t go into, but I did make a hurried Skype call to my rabbi mentor in the middle to check some things, which I wouldn’t normally do.  But I think I did it OK.  I’m not feeling OCD anxious about it.

***

I felt really stressed and anxious this afternoon, less OCD anxiety about preparing for Pesach wrongly and more general anxiety about leaving everything to the last minute because much of the preparation requires help from my parents (either because it’s a two-person job or because I don’t know where things are) or can only take place after certain things have happened which my parents want to leave until later, so I’m waiting for them and plutzing and worrying how I will sleep tonight and how I will do everything tomorrow night and how I will sleep tomorrow night and how I will get up early on Friday morning and how I will do everything on Friday…  It doesn’t help that I tend to view small mistakes or setbacks as catastrophic, or at least as signalling that bigger mistakes are to come, which is not always the case.  I don’t usually have big meltdowns the way some autistic people do, but I probably do experience small ones, when I get overwhelmed by a mixture of anxiety, stress, tiredness and helplessness, usually because of things that are out of my control.  I felt that building inside of me earlier and I managed suppress it by going for a brisk walk and so far we haven’t had a major Pesach argument this year, but it’s hard.  I think I am coping OK overall, although I’m wary of saying anything for superstitious reasons that I’m afraid it will all go wrong if I mention it.

I guess that as with many of my issues (in life in general), a lot boils down to living with my parents and having to play by their rules where their rules are not good for me with depression, anxiety, OCD and autism (autism likes to know when things will happen, anxiety likes not to leave things to the last minute, depression, autism and OCD all need lots of sleep).  I really should not be living with my parents aged thirty-five.

I do feel bad that, because of preparation, I haven’t had much time for Torah study or to go to shul.  Although I suspect that men who can keep up with Torah study and shul at this time of year are either super-organised or are exempted from much of the cleaning and kashering by their wives (or even forcibly expelled from the house by their wives for the duration).

***

So now half our kitchen is Pesachdik and half is still chametz.  My rabbi mentor says that this is the most dangerous time of year, when it’s easiest to mix up chametz and Pesachdik.  I agree, and it’s doubly hard with religious OCD.  I guess if you want to know what it’s like, the comparison would be to take someone with germ contamination OCD and dump a load of raw sewage in her kitchen and expect her to just carry on as if it wasn’t there.  Not going to happen.

Forty-six hours to go…

***

Looking at this inventory for self-stigma of mental illness, I think I have quite a bit of self-stigma about my mental health, especially if I include the autism too.  I know autism isn’t a mental illness, but just rephrasing the questions to be about autism gets similar results for me.  I knew I had poor self-esteem, but I didn’t realise how much I see myself as inadequate because of mental illness and autism until I was agreeing with statements like “I feel inferior to others who don’t have a mental illness/autism” or “I can’t contribute anything to society because I have a mental illness/autism”.  Even statements that I don’t actually agree with cognitively or about others, I intuitively agree with about myself e.g. “Mentally ill people shouldn’t get married” which I don’t believe for other people, but I do feel that I shouldn’t get married, or at least that I won’t be able to.

“You don’t know what it’s like to listen to your fears”

Mid-afternoon: There’s not a lot to say today.  Things have been continuing as they have been for the last week or so: I’m OK much of the time, but then suddenly my mood tanks and I have strong depression or (more usually) anxiety.  My anxiety is a mixture of religious OCD anxiety about the laws of Pesach (Passover), social anxiety about going to my shul’s (synagogue’s) weekday premises, which I haven’t been to much, and some kind of anxiety (I’m not quite sure what) about dating.  In the meantime, I’ve helped my parents with Pesach preparations.  That’s about it, really.

Evening: I wrote that paragraph above mid-afternoon, when I thought I would not have much to say today and just wanted to say that I’m coping.  However, I just had a stressful experience.  The prohibition on owning chametz (leavened bread and its derivatives) on Pesach is so severe, that religious Jews take a belt and braces approach: we destroy trivial amounts (usually by burning); larger amounts are sold to a non-Jew for the duration of the festival (it’s a binding sale and the non-Jew is under no obligation to sell it back afterwards, although the reality is that 99.99999% of the time they do as a matter of course) and, just in case we’ve missed anything, we declare any chametz that we own that is not destroyed or sold to be legally ownerless.  (I might write a post over Pesach about why we go to this extreme for a bit of bread, but I haven’t got time tonight.  Just accept it as another crazy thing Jews do.)

Today I sold my chametz or rather, gave my rabbi power of attorney to sell it on Friday morning.  I could feel my anxiety building in the afternoon.  I knew I was going to have to go to my shul‘s weekday premises and I felt uncomfortable and anxious about it.  I just haven’t been there enough to feel comfortable in the building, which is probably an autism familiarity thing as much as anything.  I was worried about doing the wrong thing or saying the wrong thing.  The anxiety was stronger for not being well-defined.  I just felt that I would do something wrong.

I got locked out when I arrived there, which was unfortunate.  I thought I knew the door code, but I didn’t.  Then the assistant rabbi said that he didn’t usually see me here.  It was an innocuous comment, but just made me feel that I’m being judged for not going to shul enough.  I felt very socially anxious during the afternoon and evening prayers.  There was then a long wait while the rabbi saw other people, during which my anxiety rose further.  I felt that I was going to say something wrong or the rabbi would judge me badly or think I was doing something sinful.  Of course, none of these things happened, but I did shake when I signed the document to give him power of attorney.  I walked home again feeling very shaken, physically shaken, and having OCD thoughts about having done things “wrongly”.

The positive thing to have come out of this is that I think I have an idea of why I struggle in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community.  My Jewish identity is very strong and positive, and I see my Judaism as my most important identity, much more so than being a Doctor Who fan, autistic, depressed, an Oxonian or anything else.  Yet I find it so hard to interact with other frum Jews.  Low blood sugar, an unfamiliar setting (difficult with autism) and social anxiety today probably didn’t help things, but I think a lot of it goes back to my autism.

I have mentioned before that the reason I think my autism went undiagnosed for so long is because I have developed mental ‘algorithms’ for dealing with social situations.  I have one for eye contact and body language, one for making small talk and so on.  But with frum people, the algorithms become much more complex.  I need to factor in not saying anything that seems too secular and working out what “too secular” is (sometimes very frum people make jokes or comments that I would never dream of trying to get away with, which just confuses me).  I need to process words from foreign languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Yiddish) that I may not be familiar with and which may be pronounced differently to how I would pronounce them (people in my shul tend to use Ashkenazi (Northern European) pronunciation, whereas I use Modern Hebrew pronunciation which is rooted in Sephardi (Iberian/Middle Eastern) pronunciation e.g. the final ‘t’ in Modern Hebrew often becomes ‘s’ in Ashkenazi pronunciation so Shabbat becomes Shabbos).  I need to process details of Jewish law and avoid transgressing it.  Then there are the social mores of the frum world, more formal in some ways (e.g. children refer to their elders as “Mr X” or “Mrs Y” not their first names), but more relaxed in others (e.g. people are far more relaxed about dropping in and out of their friends’ houses unexpectedly than in general, at least in anti-social London).  All this on top of my low self-esteem and feelings that I am religiously inadequate (e.g. the assistant rabbi’s comment), which just fuels the flames; it is hard to avoid a social/religious faux pas if you are in a state of some anxiety about making such a mistake.  It’s very difficult and it’s no wonder so much about my religious life leaves me feeling anxious, or that I have become such an infrequent shul-goer in recent years since moving to a new, frummer community.

Later: I’ve recovered now.  I’ve eaten (including a Magnum, reward for a difficult day) and watched some Doctor Who (I was supposed to have a break from it after watching so much as research for my book, but I’ve ended up watching the animated Shada because I’ve been stressed the last few days and needed the support that I can only get from my special interest).  I spoke to my parents about some of the ideas in this post and they felt that they made sense.  I know it seems silly to say that I worry how frum people will see me when I know that, compared with a lot of people I have a good understanding of Judaism and Jewish law and a reasonable Hebrew vocabulary, but there we go; anxieties aren’t rational.

More Over-Thinking

I had another anxiety dream last night, this time explicitly about kashering the oven (preparing it for the special Pesach/Passover dietary laws), although it ended in a stranger strangling me for no very obvious reason.  I think the stress is getting to me.

***

I got feedback on my job interview from last week.  Surprisingly, I did quite well in the test part of it (the one I thought I messed up because I had to skip a bit).  But they said I lacked experience with periodicals (which is completely true) and that my answers lacked depth and focused on what rather than how, which made me feel that my skills and experience were less important than my inability to talk about said skills and experience.  This was in regard to the very open (= not autism friendly) question where they gave me the person spec and asked me to describe how I’ve met those requirements in other jobs.  So I guess I have to put it down to one of those things.  At least the test answers were better than I thought at the time.

***

I’m struggling to write job applications.  Somehow all the jobs seem to be things I’m not qualified for or things I’m overqualified for, sometimes even both at the same time e.g. today I was applying for a job that was intended for new librarianship graduates (overqualified), but that also desired experience at a health library (under-qualified).  It is so hard to stay focused to write these applications, partly from boredom, but also because they just remind me of how badly I’ve struggled at work over the last year or two and of my fears that I just can’t function in a work environment.

***

I’m trying not to over-think things, but it’s hard.  I went for a walk after writing the job application to try to clear my head, but it didn’t work.  The walk was brisk at first, but became slower as I got tired and as the thoughts came out: that I am not good enough to get a job or a partner; that I have already messed things up with the woman I’m texting (call her L.); that I’m making a very large mountain out of a very small molehill regarding selling my chametz (leavened bread and the like), which nevertheless I worry I won’t do correctly; and that I can’t fit in to the Orthodox Jewish community.  I started wondering if I should have stayed working in further education last year after all.  It would at least have been a job.  I just felt that I couldn’t do it, and that my boss had no confidence in me either.  I have at least decided to look seriously into working as a proof-reader/editor to supplement my income after Pesach.

Dating is the hardest thing not to over-think.  I am more or less resigned to being unemployed for a while, perhaps because so far all the job opportunities I have found have been more terrifying than unemployment.  I haven’t really seen anything that has made me say both, “I could do that!” and “I want to do that!”  I’m trying to take Pesach preparations one day at a time and I seem to be doing OK with that, at least some of the time.  But it’s very hard not to catastrophise dating.  It’s hard to get an idea of someone from a few texts, but I constantly fear that we won’t be compatible and that I’ll have to break up with her and either I won’t have the courage to do it and will get stuck in a dysfunctional relationship or I will do it and she’ll be upset and I’ll feel terrible.  Strangely, it doesn’t really occur to me that if I don’t connect with her, she probably won’t connect with me and she may break up with me first.

I do worry that I’m so, um, unusual (weird) that no one will really connect with me.  I don’t honestly expect to find someone who is anything approaching a perfect match for me, the kind of fantasy female version of me, but I don’t know what I should realistically expect and what I should compromise on.  Sometimes I feel that I can’t connect with anyone, not family or friends, so maybe I should just accept the first person who seems to care about me regardless of how much we have in common.  I’m not sure how sensible this is.

Still, as I said yesterday, I’m trying to “look to Him [God] and do not inquire of the future, rather accept everything that comes to you with wholeheartedness”.  It’s very hard though.  The worst part is the feeling that I’m leading L. on somehow and am going to hurt her in a way that would be avoidable if I was a good enough/clever enough person to see it, even though it’s hard rationally to see any reason for thinking like that, beyond the fact that I look for reasons to beat myself up.

Ugh, I ate sugary ice cream earlier (Ben and Jerry’s chocolate fudge brownie) and now I think I’m crashing from the sugar because my mood is plummeting.  I should probably stop writing.