Fear of Rejection (Mini-Post)

Last night (well, this morning, really), I dreamt about the friends who cut me off when I mentioned them on my blog in a way that they thought was critical, although that was not my intention. When I woke up, I wondered if my unconscious was telling me that my comments about PIMOJ yesterday could be seen as critical. She is unaware of the blog at the moment, but who knows what could happen in the future. I looked over the post today and was unsure, although the comments I received were positive about my conversation with her (i.e. positive about her as well as the interaction). So now I am confused. I feel I may make yesterday’s post private in a day or two to be on the safe side. My rabbi mentor once encouraged me not to mention anyone else on my blog, but I’m not sure how that’s really possible given that a major part of my struggles involves dealing with a social communication disorder, which means I struggle with interactions and need to write them down to process them, and it can help to have feedback from other people here.

I woke to find that PIMOJ had sent me several long messages continuing our conversation from yesterday. I did worry that this meant that she would reject me, but she also sent me messages saying that she is still here for me… It feels strange… I tend to assume if people disagree with me, that’s it, they will leave me, even though my (adult, as opposed to childhood) experience of that does not always fit entirely with that worldview.

I haven’t done much today other than get ready for Shabbat (the Sabbath). I feel so burnt out. I will try not to mind if I can’t do much Torah study over Shabbat, or if I can’t write my novel tomorrow evening after Shabbat. I feel I just need some recharging alone time with a novel (or classic Doctor Who after Shabbat) or whatever.

Blogging for Myself

When I started blogging, on some level at least I wanted to become internet famous. I’m not sure why exactly, as I’m fairly sure that fame would make me thoroughly miserable. Some of it was about wanting my voice to be heard, which on some level I still want, or I wouldn’t be trying to build a career as a writer. But I think a lot of it was to do with having mixed feelings about people I had been at university with. I started blogging less than a year after I came down from Oxford and I had a lot of confusing (to me) feelings of anger, frustration, loneliness, friendship and maybe love towards various people which I had failed to make known to anyone in person. I think I hoped in some way that I would become known through my writing (at the time I was too depressed to become known in any other way) and people would find out. I’m not really sure what I thought/hoped they would feel or do.

A small part of me still feels like this, but it’s mostly transferred itself to my novel-writing ambitions. I think I keep those feelings reasonably in perspective these days, although there probably is a part of me that at least sometimes wants people I know to intuit my life story and battles with depression and autism from my writing, which is a dangerous thing to hope. Still, this does mean that my blog writing is more for myself nowadays.

When I wanted to be internet famous, I never had many followers (or friends, as they were called on Livejournal). Paradoxically, in the last year or two, as I’ve decided I write primarily for myself, to record my activity, thoughts and feelings each day, I have gained more readers. I’m now approaching 500, which is a milestone I didn’t expect to reach. I know many of these followers are spammy and others don’t actually read anything, but quite a number ‘like’ and comment on posts. I now have what I wanted years ago, when I was in the pits of depression, which is a place where I can post how I feel honestly and people will be supportive. I don’t mean that to sound mercenary or manipulative. I’m not trying to provoke positive comments, I’m just aware that people usually leave them and grateful for that.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I know my posts have become more repetitive and less interesting as my mental health has stabilised somewhat, and that today’s post is probably tedious and certainly short (or it was, until I appended this introduction), so I’m sorry for that.

***

I spent the morning volunteering, packing food parcels, which was fine, but we ran out of vegetables, which was sad, as those people aren’t going to get as much as they should, although I think we made sure that everyone got something.

I tried to work on my devar Torah (Torah thought) after lunch. After thinking the last two weeks’ divrei Torah were too reliant on my own untested ideas, I think this one is based too much on other peoples’ thoughts. I can’t really win. In any case, I was very tired and struggled to think coherently and will need to finish it off tomorrow. If I get this tired after spending a morning volunteering, I worry how I will cope when I’m working two days a week as well. I successfully avoided Twitter during the afternoon, but ended up reading an old article from The Atlantic on the QAnon conspiracy theory, until I realised it was just making me fret about American society without being able to do anything, so I stopped reading. I do worry about a country that combines so many conspiracy theorists with so many guns – it’s not a good combination.

***

A couple of things about volunteering today: I was putting tea lights in little bags that would then be put in bigger bags to be distributed with food (the tea lights were to be used as Shabbat candles). It was a repetitive job and there were several of us doing it. A couple of the other volunteers started chatting while they were doing it. It was clear from their conversation that they I had never met before, and I marvelled at how easily the spoke to each other and made small talk. I feel like whenever I try to do that, people can notice that I’m reading from a mental “script” and that after two or three minutes, I run out of things to say or start repeating myself.

The person who runs the volunteering side of the organisation wanted me to do a particular task which I hadn’t done before. Then before I could do anything, she said I “looked lost” and gave me a different, easier, job to do instead. I think she probably made the right decision, but I am not sure what to think about the fact that my thoughts and emotions are very easy to read on my face, even though I was wearing a mask, whereas I can’t read other people’s emotions at all. I know it’s autism that stops me reading other people, but I feel that the fact that I’m so easy to read gives other people an unfair advantage!

I had some thoughts that could easily have slipped towards OCD, thoughts about taking responsibility for things that are not my responsibility and about COVID contamination, but I recognised these thoughts for what they were and kept them under control, which was good. Nietzsche described mental illness as being “fierce dogs in the cellar.” Lately the dogs have been fairly quiet for me, but today they were barking again. Not too loudly, but enough to remind me that they’re still there.

***

This year is the first since I was a very young child where I haven’t worn a poppy for the British Legion. Some years I had lost it by the time armistice day came around, but I always wore one at some point. I did give them a donation online this year, but because of lockdown I haven’t been out much and haven’t seen anyone collecting in the street or collection tins in shops. Beyond the actual donation, I like to wear it to show empathy with those killed or wounded in action or bereaved by war. I guess it’s something else that 2020 has forced on us.

Struggling Through

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

Writer’s Woes

It’s been a slightly difficult day, a day when it was hard to do things. In some ways, I feel very “blocked;” in others, I’m making progress, of varying degrees. It’s hard to assess how it’s been overall. The good news first.

I’m going to be volunteering tomorrow morning, packing food packages for the vulnerable. Hopefully this will be every Wednesday morning until at least the end of the year. I will have to get up about 6.30am, as if I was going to work! However, it will be finished by 11.00am, so I should be home by lunchtime and able to take things easy in the afternoon. It is through a major Jewish organisation, the one that ran the asylum seekers’ drop-in centre where I used to volunteer until that was stopped by COVID. I just hope I can do what I’m supposed to do; at the drop-in centre, I came to feel that I was not doing much good, if not actually being a liability. I’ve heard autistic people say they just get in the way when people want them to help and I fear that describes my attempts to help too. I don’t know if it’s something about not being able to “read” a large group of people and follow implicit or unspoken instructions well enough to do what needs doing and not get in the way, but I seem to get stuck and get in the way, more so than if I’m just left to sort something out by myself.

PIMOJ is really positive about my volunteering, which is good, as I worry she will lose interest in me if I can’t find work, although she has shown no sign of that so far.

I did manage to get through to the psychiatrist’s secretary today, but there is no sign of a letter from the psychiatrist to the GP. The secretary said she would speak to the psychiatrist. I’m worried that I may have misunderstood something about changing lithium brands.

Other achievements: I tried to go for a run, but after changing and warming up, my foot started hurting. The pain didn’t go after a minute or two of running, so I decided not to risk pulling something and went home. I cooked dinner, but had an, um, culinary malfunction (too much salt fell into the pasta and changing the water didn’t help), so it was rather salty, less than ideal (or healthy), although still edible. I spent half an hour editing something I wrote here a while back into a devar Torah (Torah thought). It’s a bit shorter than what I usually write, but will probably be OK. I’d like to add 100 words to it, but I’m not sure that I will be able to do so. I tried to do some Torah study after that, but was too tired and a bit depressed and also anxious about tomorrow (this was late at night; I’m not narrating in chronological order).

The main thing I did this afternoon was some redrafting on my novel. It was one of those days when it’s really hard to write, and I was dealing one of the most autobiographical passages, and one that brings up difficult memories for me. I did more cutting than anything else. I cut a load of stuff as irrelevant and/or verbose and over-written, including one of the surreal interludes I wrote that I now think simply didn’t work, much as I like the idea of having them in theory. I think I only spent about forty-five minutes on working it, excluding procrastination time.

I feel a lot more negative about the last couple of chapters I’ve redrafted than I did about the first couple. I guess some days go like that, particularly as I had other things to do. It just makes me think that I’ve got a lot to learn and do if I want to be a writer, or even to get this book into a sellable shape. Sometimes it’s so hard to find the words to express what I think and feel. Do other writers feel like this sometimes, struggling to write anything at all? I guess I associate the “churn it out regardless” type of writing with people who write reams of genre fiction of little depth as opposed to more emotionally-real, thoughtful or experimental writing, but maybe that’s me being a literary snob. Part of me feels I should just give up, except that I feel that I have something to say and don’t know how not to say it any more. Plus, I’m beginning to doubt whether a career other than writing is really open to me any more.

A different problem about self-expression is the fact that I increasingly feel I need to write something here about politics – not policies and people, but how lonely and scared I feel at the moment. Scared that I’ll be rejected for what I think. Scared because there are people I respect who I fear don’t respect people like me. Writing something about it, however short or inadequate, has become a challenge I feel I need to meet regardless of the outcome, in the name of fighting social anxiety and self-censorship, but I’m lacking bravery or, today, time.

The other reason to write about politics is that I feel I’m running out of things to say, while still needing my blog as an outlet. I feel that at the moment things are OK, but there isn’t a lot that’s changing that I can comment on. I write this for myself, but I don’t really want to either bore or alienate my readers. I guess I don’t really know why anyone reads this, but I feel dependent on my blog commenters as part of my support network, alongside more traditional support like therapy, my parents and depression and autism support groups.

Who Killed Laura Palmer?

I wrote the first chunk of this yesterday, but the internet died when I was trying to send it and didn’t come back until after I’d gone to bed. As today is a “short” day i.e. Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) starts in the afternoon and I would have to post early, before that, it seemed easiest to just add to this post rather than post in the morning, then post briefly again in the afternoon.

Thursday

Today was another day when I made a plan and completely failed to stick to it. This is another occasion where I think, “If I’m autistic, then this (poor executive function) is understandable and expected, but if I’m not autistic, then I’m just useless.” This is probably not a compassionate train of thought, but I’m not sure what to change it to, particularly not knowing if I’m autistic or not.

I wrote my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week. I find I tread a fine line with these divrei Torah between wanting to put forward my own ideas and explanations and wanting to look at those of other commentators, to engage with the tradition, and also because I know some people in the Orthodox community would rather see traditional sources than new ideas from someone who isn’t a rabbi. This week it was mostly my own ideas on a topic I hadn’t seen much about before (Chanoch (Enoch) the son of Cain, of Cain and Abel fame). That always makes me vaguely nervous about how people will respond. Then, after sending out the devar Torah I happened to look at the devar Torah I wrote this time last year, and I was arguing something very different, really something contradictory, from the same point! In Judaism there’s a surprising openness to interpretation of the Torah’s text in non-halakhic (non-legal) matters, so having two contradictory views isn’t necessarily a problem, but it made me wonder if I was jumping to conclusions, especially given that I wasn’t 100% confident that what I had written made complete sense. It’s too late to change it now though.

I Skyped my oldest friend, who I hadn’t seen for years – we didn’t fall out or anything, just both got busy with our lives. It was really good to speak to him again.

I found it hard to get back down to working on my novel after Skyping my friend. It is hard to “change gears” with autism, and the shift from social mode to work mode seems to be particularly hard. I did manage an hour or so in the end (I know, I said yesterday not to count time spent on things). I feel like I’m having a bit of a crisis of confidence in my work, but as I don’t feel ready to share it with anyone yet, I have to contain those feelings by myself for the moment.

One problem with writing something semi-autobiographical is that it can be upsetting to revisit bad experiences from the past, which is what happened today. The other fear, which I can push away for now, but not forever, is that people might realise the book is semi-autobiographical and make incorrect assumptions about which bits are autobiographical and which bits aren’t. This is less of a problem for a general readership and more for people who know me and might feel unfairly (or fairly) insulted or guess things I don’t want them to know.

I went for a dusk run, which was fun in the summer (later in the day, obviously), but seemed a bit miserable and damp today. It was a reasonably good run though. My iPod told me afterwards that it was my longest workout, timewise, which isn’t quite as positive as it sounds, as I’ve been running the same route for a while now, so it means I was running a bit slower, although looking at my jogging record, I’m not convinced there was a significant change. More positively, it was my first run in about five weeks, having been focused on Yom Tov (Jewish festivals) and job interview preparations as well as put off by bad weather. I had a slight headache afterwards that did come and go across the evening even after I’d taken medicine, which was irritating, but fortunately it was not a full-blown exercise migraine.

**

I’ve felt on and off for many months now that I want to write something about my political opinions here, less in terms of parties and policies and more about feeling fearful of sharing my opinions with people (online and in real life) in an increasingly turbulent and judgemental society. Also, I guess, to write about the non-religious aspects of Jewish identity, the “Israel, peoplehood and antisemitism” aspects which are as much about politics and ethnicity as religion and which have come to affect my general political views and how I feel in non-Jewish society. To write about how those fears of rejection fit with my general social anxiety and also with my feelings of not fitting in completely in my religious community, as well as my thoughts that maybe I’m not actually that weird and I’m just catastrophising and assuming the worst about other people and what they might think of me when they probably don’t care. I’m also concerned about the fact that our political culture (politicians, media, social media, right and left) has become dependent on manufactured outrage, performative virtue and competitive victimhood, which I can’t really cope with, but seem strangely addicted to. But every time I try to write about all of this, I panic and delete what I’ve written without completing it or else save it as a draft to be returned to later, but I never do. I’m not quite sure where I’m going with this, as I don’t really intend to write about it now, but maybe if I put this out there I’ll return to it one day when I feel braver (or angrier).

Friday

Today has been a busy day, mostly doing Shabbat preparation. I am going to shul (synagogue) later, which I am a little anxious about, but I’m more focused on feeling drained and wanting to curl up and needing to push through this until the evening.

I don’t have a lot else to say about today, so I’m going to talk about television again. I’m rapidly losing myself in the world of Twin Peaks. I’ve seen the first three episodes; the first was double-length. It’s a strange programme, pitched as a murder mystery that unfolds like a soap opera, but with increasingly supernatural elements and horror overtones alongside moments of mild surrealism. It has awkward silences, interruptions, eccentrics and eccentricities, and moments of pure incongruity and surrealism. In a weird way, it feels like being autistic, in the sense that I feel that ordinary social interactions for me do feel confused and confusing, taking turns that I can’t predict, people seem to do things I don’t understand and that seem irrational to me and I’m just left to deal with it. I guess that’s why I like weird TV drama; sometimes “realistic” drama feels a lot less like how I experience life than Twin Peaks or The Prisoner.

Weird Stuff

I was in a deep sleep this morning and had some weird dreams. In one I had to control a very disruptive child, while also doing some important professional tasks and I struggled to do both at once. Perhaps the disruptive child is my negativity, which needs to be allowed to “play” a little, but also not to derail my job search, novel work or dating PIMOJ.

In the other dream, I was at school and had handed in some English homework, but I hadn’t done it properly. We were supposed to read and analyse a novel and I had read and analysed a short story because I felt too depressed (I think) to read a novel. I was waiting to see what my teacher would say, fearing he would tell me off.

I think this represents some thoughts I had last night about not being able to write “properly” because I read eclectically across genres, but paradoxically also focusing on reading specific authors that I read in depth and repeatedly (Jorge Luis Borges, Franz Kafka, Philip K. Dick, John le Carré) rather than reading widely in a specific genre, as authors are “supposed” to do. This may be autistic, certainly sticking with favoured authors and re-reading them instead of reading something new seems somewhat autistic, not that that really makes a difference.

My current novel is mainstream fiction and I haven’t read much contemporary mainstream fiction since I stopped going to a book club a decade ago. My next novel I hope will be some weird merger of fantasy and/or science fiction with historical fiction and Jewish topics, possibly aimed at a Young Adult audience, and I don’t feel I read any of those genres enough and certainly not contemporary authors in those genres (it takes a long time for new authors to reach me, and for me to build up courage to read them). I would be willing to read a lot for research, although I don’t quite know where to start, plus I feel that although I would be advised to research, really I want my writing to be a bit weird and sui generis, deliberately not fitting with other authors.

I realised a while back that while I say I like science fiction, it isn’t really that simple. A lot of science fiction doesn’t interest me that much. I do watch and like programmes like Star Trek and Star Wars, but really my favourite stuff is in this weird zone (The Twilight Zone, if you like), where science fiction, fantasy, (mild) horror, surrealism and magic realism can meet, not necessarily all at once, but some of them. Authors like Borges, Kafka and Dick, and also Flann O’Brien and the Yiddish humourist Mendele Mocher-Seforim (Mendel the Book-Seller) are important to me and I think about them a lot. Also (perhaps more so) TV programmes like Doctor Who (particularly the original series), Saphire and Steel, The Prisoner, Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, Quatermass, bits of The Avengers and even Mr Benn and The Clangers which were aimed at very young children, but amuse me. Stories where the normal and the weird are mashed against each other like a collage. Absurdist-type stories taking place in black or white voids. Mr Benn was probably the gateway drug to that, when I was a very young child, the idea that he would put on a costume in a fancy dress shop and then when he walked out the changing room door, he was in another time and place, something relevant to how he was dressed, and would have an adventure.

***

Today I did some shopping and ended up arriving at Tesco the same time as the children were coming out of the primary school next to the supermarket. I’d get frustrated by all the people at the best of times, but I just felt viscerally uncomfortable being there and worried that I was going to catch COVID, although I did at least do what I had to do and panic and run away. It showed that I really have work to do before I’m going to be comfortable at shul (synagogue) or busier shops.

I painted the garden shed again for Mum and Dad as it needed a second coat. I wanted to do a lot of hoovering (the stairs need hoovering), but postponed it until tomorrow as I was too tired to do more physical work. I spent some time redrafting another chapter of my novel. I hoped it would take an hour. In the end it took nearly two, partly because it was long, but also because I interrupted it to look after Mum who was feeling sick (we think indigestion rather than anything to do with cancer treatment, but still worrying). My concentration was pretty good, though.

I listened to a shiur (religious class) while painting the shed, although I didn’t have the time I wanted to do further Torah study in the evening. I’m finding it hard to balance everything that I want in my life and wish I could get up earlier, but I don’t know how to change that short of having some external reason to get up like a job. PIMOJ is an occupational therapist and part of me wants to ask her advice, but a bigger part is worried of scaring her off if she knew just how late I get up and how long it takes me to get going in the mornings (she is very much a morning person).

***

New reasons to hate the WordPress block editor: unless I’m missing something, you can’t easily insert letters with accents, as in ‘John le Carré’. Please let me known if you know how to do this!

Love of God; Loss and Gain of Friends

Shabbat was good. I slept too much though: about ten hours at night and another two and a half after lunch. It meant I didn’t have time for much Torah study or recreational reading.

***

I had a thought about being loved by God. I used to say that I couldn’t believe that God loves me, then that I could accept God loves me intellectually, but not emotionally. I thought this was all tied up with suffering, mine and that of the world in general. I realised yesterday that that’s not the issue, or not the main issue. While I’m not sure how much I accept that God loves me, my real worry is that I won’t be able to cope with the future suffering he makes me go through, whether it’s physical pain or even greater loneliness (when my parents aren’t here). I worry that I won’t cope and (a) will be in extreme pain (physical or emotional) and (b) will stop being religious out of anger or despair. I’m not sure where to go with these thoughts right now.

***

I realised I’ve changed a lot of my social contacts in the last six months or so. I’ve lost touch with shul (synagogue) friends and acquaintances because of lockdown. I have not been in touch with E. properly since we broke up (although she tried to get back together with me, or at least to get back in contact, I did not think it was a good idea). I think there has been a high turnover of people reading my blog in the last six months to a year, with some people vanishing and others starting to read. I guess I find all the change a bit disconcerting (blame autism if you want). I’m still blaming myself for friends that I lost a couple of years ago (real life and online), which was at least partially my fault.

***

I was trying not to think about my novel over Shabbat, but a possible solution, or part solution, to the problem of the climax came into my head suddenly. It will take a lot of restructuring, but I’m open to that at this stage.

***

More Rav Kook: “Every person who feels within himself the depth of penitential remorse and the anxiety to mend his flaws — both those whose redress is within his reach and those he hopes to redress in time by the mercy of God — should include himself in the category of the righteous.” from The Lights of Penitence in Abraham Isaac Kook: The Lights of Penitence, The Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters, and Poems p.65

***

I don’t like to use the word “hate,” but can I just say how much I hate the new WordPress editor? I thought I would get used to it over time, but the more I use it, the worse it seems. I can’t work out how to get back to the classic editor (properly, not just for a particular block). I can only assume the new editor was developed by a mole for rival blog platform, trying to bring the company down from within; I can’t believe someone actually thought it was a good idea.

Online Friends, Doctor Who and Anti-Psychiatry

I woke up late (there’s a story there, but too complicated and trivial to be worth relating) and rather depressed.  I felt a bit better after breakfast, but not great.  I felt depressed enough to listen to music while getting dressed, and intermittently during the day which I have been avoiding recently because of The Three Weeks of Jewish national mourning.  But I listened really quietly, because I’m still avoiding explaining to my parents that my rabbi mentor said it was OK to listen to music when I’m depressed.  I’m not sure why I feel self-conscious like that, because it’s hardly the most problematic thing I do when depressed.  Sleeping through the whole morning is worse, both Jewishly and pragmatically, as is becoming irritable and sniping at my parents.

Incidentally, I came across this post yesterday that shows it’s not just me who struggles at this time of the Jewish year.

***

I tried to work on my novel, but it was hard.  Aside from being upset by more antisemitism reported by The Jewish Chronicle (I probably shouldn’t read it), it was hard to engage with writing.  A new chapter is always hard, I think because I’ve been switching perspective in alternate chapters, so I need to change how I think each time, but this chapter needs to be handled sensitively (a woman fleeing her abusive rapist husband with her baby) and I was so caught up in my own negative feelings that I found it hard to enter into someone else’s and I didn’t want to write something inappropriate, so it was easiest not to write.  All this, plus a strong background level of depression and exhaustion.  Plus, I had therapy in the afternoon, which is normally when I do most of my writing.

Eventually I gave up and did a bit of Torah study for twenty minutes to fill the gap until therapy.  I don’t think I would have been able to do much more even without therapy, as I was feeling so depressed.  My main other achievement, after therapy, was to go for a walk.  It was raining lightly when I left, but I decided I needed the exercise.  Unfortunately it then rained heavily, but by the time I got home, it was easing up.

***

Therapy was good.  I shared that I’m trying not to worry about my parents’ mortality and instead to focus on gratitude that I have a good relationship with them and am able to spend so much time with them.

I also spoke about feeling dependent on online interactions.  A lot of my friends are online, certainly the ones I communicate with most regularly.  I like having online friendships, especially with people who also have struggles, and I think it’s good to have mutual support there, but I was worrying that I’ve become someone who is constantly checking his emails or blog reader for the “hit” of having a comment on my blog or a new post to read on someone else’s blog.  I’m going to try to limit myself to internet use only twice a day, when I get up and in the early evening.  My therapist is away for a few weeks now, so I’m going to be able to have a few weeks to practise that and get back to her about it.

I’m too tired after therapy to do much, so I mostly watched TV, aside from walking and eating dinner with my parents.

***

The Doctor Who bit with some general mental health bits:

I didn’t feel like watching more current Doctor Who after therapy, so watched some of my birthday present to myself, The Macra Terror.  This is a Doctor Who story from 1967 that, like nearly 100 episodes, is missing from the archives.  It was broadcast before commercial video recorders existed, but some fans taped the soundtrack of these episodes (basically put an old reel-to-reel tape recorder by the TV speaker while it was being broadcast) and that’s been used as the basis for an animated version.  There’s some discussion among fans as to whether animation is the best way of experiencing missing episodes, and certainly the animation is not Pixar standard, but at least it gives an idea of what the story was like.  I find watching the animations easier to follow than listening to the narrated soundtrack on CD.

The story has some interesting aspects from a mental health point of view (which is why I’m writing here rather than on my Doctor Who blog).  The toxic positivity and conformity of the futurist Colony came across well, with conformity enforced by peer pressure, brainwashing and hospitalisation for euphemistic “correction” with dissent being conflated with psychosis by the authorities, an effective depiction of the co-option of psychiatry by oppressive regimes.  One could interpret the story as being somewhat anti-psychiatry (in the R. D. Laing sense), in that the dissidents are treated as psychotic, but in fact are genuinely seeing something in society that everyone else has been brainwashed to deny, although given that this is Doctor Who, what they can see are giant crabs, rather than abstract oppression or power structures.

I don’t really agree with the anti-psychiatry movement in general.  I think medication and therapy are often helpful.  I think they may be right that one can suffer mental illness as a result of being aware of negative things in society, although I think there probably is a personal trigger too.  I also think the anti-psychiatry movement was too narrow and ideological in outlook (mostly Marxist, although Thomas Szazz was liberatarian).  I don’t share such a dogmatic outlook.  I’m sure my experience of antisemitism, which I do feel affects the ups and downs of my depression on a day to day basis (see above), even if it’s not a cause as such, would not be accepted as a legitimate society cause of my mental illness by the Marxists in the movement, given that an increasing amount of antisemitism is coming from the hard-left, who are in denial of it (see the latest Twitter incident).

“I was shot and found myself in 1983”

Well, unlike Alex Drake in Ashes to Ashes, I wasn’t shot, but I did find myself in 1983 when I came into this world thirty-seven years ago.

My birthday got off to a bad start today.  Mum had a bad turn soon after I got up and we were worried about her for a while, although she’s fine now.

Then I tried to book my blood test, but failed because of COVID restrictions on where it can be done at the moment.  There’s a whole long story here that I won’t go into, but the short version is that I don’t know where I can have it done and am struggling to get hold of my psychiatrist to find out.  Typical NHS bureaucracy.  I know this sounds a trivial problem, and it is, but it leaves me feeling very flustered with social anxiety about asking people things and autistic confusion about new situations that I’m not prepared for, and being put through to receptionists who are short with me just leaves me feeling worse.

Also, on weighing myself, it looked like I hadn’t lost weight after all.

However, I was cheered up by getting a LOT of birthday messages here!  Thank you so much!  Also some messages from family during the day.  My ankle seems a lot better today too, although I need to work out what’s causing the pain to find a long-term solution.  Dad suggested insoles to cushion my feet more which might be a good first step.  That said, I did avoid going for a walk today to help it heal.

***

I did a bit of work on my novel, but between my problems phoning about my blood test, therapy, and decompressing from therapy afterwards, and then having family over for my birthday, I didn’t get much time today.  On the downside, I realised that when I sent Doctor Who Magazine a review copy of my Doctor Who book last week, I forgot to put my email address and phone number on the covering letter, although I did put my physical address.  I tell myself, I had never sent such a letter before, but it still annoys me that I make sloppy mistakes like that, even though I know it’s the kind of practical/interpersonal thing that you might expect someone on the autism spectrum to get wrong.

I guess it’s frustrating as I never had the organisational issues at school or university that might have flagged up autism.  I had a friend at school who was very intelligent, but also not at all organised and (to be honest) rather lazy.  He never did his homework or had the right books with him and only engaged with his studies inasmuch as they interested him.  He didn’t go to university when the rest of us did, but didn’t really do much in the way of career-building; I don’t even remember if he even had a job when I last saw him, back when I was still doing my BA.  My sister knows his sister and ran into him a few years back.  He had a girlfriend who was pregnant; I got the impression he still didn’t have much of career, maybe not even a job.  His parents always seemed super-permissive and content to just let him coast through life.  They were a wealthy family, so maybe he didn’t need to do any more than that to survive.

My point is that in many ways he fitted the autism stereotype a lot more than I do, the stereotype of intense interest in some topics, but complete uninterest in others and total disorganisation and lack of social savvy.  I never forgot my books, but perhaps that was only because I was super-careful to follow my routine of packing every evening before bed, checking against the timetable and my diary notes so that I didn’t forget anything and even checking my bag multiple times on the way in to school to see if I had forgotten anything (autism loves routines).   The further I get from the organised routine of school and, to a lesser extent, university, the more I make sloppy mistakes and end up blaming myself.  My parents help me with some stuff (I’ve mentioned my Dad helping me with money), but they don’t know anything about writing and publishing.  I just feel so useless and incompetent at times.  I try to tell myself it’s not my fault, but I worry that it is my fault and that when I have my assessment, I’m going to get told I’m not autistic, just useless.

***

Therapy was good.  We spoke about loneliness a lot.  I also went back and forth with guilt and anxiety about breaking up with E., which I guess is looking for validation on some level.  I spoke about not always being aware of when my inner critic is talking when I’m depressed and not being able to think of practical strategies to beat loneliness when I feel lonely.  The therapist suggested making some charts (I guess I could do flow charts) e.g. “If I feel depressed –> ask if it’s my inner critic talking” or “If I feel lonely –> email a friend /or –> phone Samaritans” rather than sit ruminating.  I will try to do that this week.

I spoke a bit about dating too.  The therapist did say that someone who could cope with my issues is probably going to be a very “special” and kind person, which is something I’ve thought about myself, even down to describing her as “special.”  How do I even find such a person?  According to stereotype, every frum guy is looking for a kind (and pretty) wife; it’s hard to see how I can stand out from the crowd, especially as, also according to stereotype, every frum woman (outside of the yeshiva world of full-time “learning”) is looking for guy who can support a family while taking prayer and Talmud study seriously, which is not exactly me right now.  It would probably also have to be someone who had some kind of issues of her own or the relationship would be unbalanced.  I don’t know how I could deliberately find such a relationship with someone with issues, other than wait and hope God will intervene.  I don’t think dating is going to happen again for me for a very long time…  That may be just as well, as I think I still have a lot of difficult feelings to work through regarding E.

***

As today was my birthday, my sister and brother-in-law came over and we had takeaway pizza in the garden, socially distanced, followed by chocolate cake and ice cream.  It was good, but I always end up feeling vaguely guilty that I get “peopled out” before anyone else gets tired.  I always seem to get fidgety a good hour before anyone else seems to.

Presents: Doctor Who: The Complete Twelfth Series DVD from my parents.  This was the 2020 series.  I know, I was lukewarm about the series when it was broadcast earlier this year, so why did I ask for it as a present?  (We don’t really do surprise presents in my family, we just tell each other what we would like.)  I admit I did have second thoughts about that.  To cut a long story short, I wasn’t sure what could be ordered because of COVID hitting my favourite online bookshop with supply issues.  I decided I would rather have something on the day than wait for months.  I also know I do often dislike new episodes of Doctor Who on first viewing and then like them a lot more on repeated viewing.  I think it’s something about the area where fannishness meets autism that means I need time to adjust to new ideas in my favourite programme.  I used to think the 2008 series was absolutely the worst series of Doctor Who ever; now I think that its second half in particular is a really exemplary run of episodes.  I didn’t think most of these episodes (the 2020 series) were bad, just so-so (except Orphan 55, which was pants and antisemitic).  As Peter Davison (the fifth Doctor) said, if a Doctor Who fan thinks an episode is “bad,” that means he “only” watches it thirty times.  If nothing else, reviewing the episodes for my Doctor Who blog ought to be fun; I deliberately didn’t review them on first viewing because I was worried I would be overly negative.  And there is still £10 or so in the budget to get one or two books when the supply chain restarts.

From my sister and brother-in-law, I got Minority Report, which is volume four of The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, one of my favourite authors.  (I have volumes one to three of the short stories already.)  Also, Muck by Dror Burstein, which is a sui generis modern re-telling of the biblical book of Jeremiah, a “comedy with apocalyptic stakes” that looks fun and also worth checking out if I want to write Jewish-themed fantasy and science fiction.  I guess it’s appropriate Three Weeks reading too.

Mum and Dad also gave me a MoonPig birthday card with my picture on it.  It’s not such a bad picture, which I saying something as I usually hate looking at pictures of myself.

I’m pretty tired and “peopled out” now.  I did some late night Torah study just now (about half an hour, not bad considering how late it is) and I ought to go to bed, but I feel I need to decompress a bit with TV or something to unwind from therapy and peopling.

***

There’s been a weird, intermittent humming sound from somewhere nearby today, which makes my bedroom sound eerily like the TARDIS.  I really would like to be able to take my room anywhere in time and space.  But probably not to 1983.

Blogs and Blogging

Today I felt very drained all day, not just until lunch time like most days.  I’ve been drifting in and out of feelings of depression.  It has been a long week, and I am looking forward to Shabbat.  I’m taking a few days off from my novel today and at the beginning of next week to take care of some admin-type stuff at home, including, hopefully, buying some ads on Amazon to advertise my self-published Doctor Who book.  I do not like Amazon and avoid buying from them, but they have a monopoly on book sales and it’s the easiest way to try to get some interest in my book.  So far, trying to set up a seller account has been difficult, thanks to unclear instructions and faulty links on the website.  It looks like a whole long process that I don’t have the time or headspace to work on today.

On Sunday we will hopefully be going to my sister and brother-in-law’s for socially distanced barbecue in the garden, although that’s looking less likely from a weather point of view.  If that goes ahead, that’s probably another day I will do little/nothing either on the novel or other chores.  I don’t want to pause the novel for more than a few days, though, for fear of losing momentum.  I want to finish a first draft by around Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year, this year starting in the evening of 18 September).  So I need to get those chores done quickly.

***

The depressed feelings today, when they come, are sometimes just what I think of as “depressive hibernation” feelings, the desire to eat lots of carbs and then curl up in bed and sleep for a few months (and, yes, I am aware that this is technically the middle of summer, although you wouldn’t necessarily know that from the weather in the UK recently), partly more coherent thoughts about my not having a “normal” life.  I think everyone’s definition of what a “normal” life is has been modified in the light of the last four or five months, but I’m still worrying that I won’t ever make friends, find a community I feel comfortable in, find a job and build a career, get married, and have children.

I’ve written about these thoughts a lot, so I’ll try not go on about them too much.  I know there’s a lot of catastrophising going on in my head about them, but looking at my adult life, it’s hard not to feel that the catastrophic, or at least the somewhat bad, did often happen.  The way my relationship with E. ended left me thinking that there’s no point even in looking for another relationship until I have some kind of job and a clearer career path (rather than vague aspirations, which is all I have right now), and am less depressed than I seem likely to be any time soon.  I thought someone with similar issues to me would understand me, and accept my issues more easily, but experience suggests that that is not necessarily the case, and that my issues would be off-putting for most women.  I know, I know, I don’t want to marry “most women,” I just want to marry one woman, but experience suggests that finding her will be even more of a needle in a haystack search for me than for most people.

***

I’ve been blogging, on one platform or another, since 2006 – not quite continuously, but for much of the period (I think I had eighteen months or two years off somewhere along the line – I think circa 2015-2017).  I realised yesterday that the way I use blogs, as a reader and a writer, has changed.  When I started, I wanted to use blogs to exchange information.  I wanted to put out information that I thought was interesting and useful and I wanted to read similar information, mostly about Judaism or Doctor Who.  I was also more open about discussing politics then.  I was quite ruthless in avoiding blogs that I thought were not interesting.  I didn’t really get the etiquette of “If someone friends you, you should friend them back” that prevailed on Livejournal at the time, which was probably why I had so few Livejournal friends.

Somewhere along the line, probably when I came back from my hiatus, I shifted, without really realising it.  I do still read many blogs for information, but I blog myself just to offload my thoughts about my life and “issues” (depression, autism, social anxiety, low self-esteem).  It doesn’t matter to me so much whether I have many followers, although I do greatly value comments.  Similarly, I’m more likely to follow people just because they seem like nice people and have similar “issues” and I think we might be able to offer each other moral support online even if I don’t think they are sharing particularly world-shattering information.  Blogging for me is increasingly about mutual support rather than exchanging information.  It probably indicates personal growth in terms of my autistic views of what constitutes meaningful conversation or friendship as well as my social anxiety.  (That said, even early on in my blogging career, I’ve been surprisingly open to meeting other bloggers in the real world.)

The main things holding me back from following people these days are (1) that I still can’t shake the feeling that I should read every post from someone I follow, even if it looks uninteresting, so I worry about being overwhelmed with posts to read and (2) I get put off by people who are very aggressive about their political views, even if it’s not a political blog (actually, especially as it’s not a political blog, as it seems unnecessary).  I don’t mind people who think differently to me and I like being exposed to different ideas, but I get upset when I see people making aggressive generalisations about what others think and feel, or just being aggressive in general.  I also feel uncomfortable if I feel like I’m being told to sign onto a bunch of unrelated ideas about the world just to read a blog.  I left an autism WhatsApp group on the night of the general election last year, because apparently some people on the group couldn’t believe that anyone on the group could have voted a particular way and I really have much time for that any more.

I feel like this is a problem in society, that growing numbers of people are unable to accept that intelligent, thinking people have different worldviews to them.  I think I possibly quoted the statistic that while people in the Western world are much more accepting of inter-racial relationships than a couple of generations ago, they are much less accepting of relationships with people of differing political views than they used to be.  That saddens me.  I follow people with different views to me, but I’m less and less tolerant of people being aggressive and unthinking.

Trying Not to Wallow

I’m trying not to wallow in loneliness and despair today.  I had some blog comments last night that I saw when I put on my computer this morning that cheered me up.  I’m grateful to everyone who comments – I appreciate comments a lot, even “I-don’t-know-what-to-say-so-hugs”-type comments.  It’s good to know that I’m not alone and that people are reading.  I usually forget to “like” comments, because I focus on replying to them, but it doesn’t mean I don’t value them.  I am trying to remember to “like” them more.

***

Today’s achievements: I finished and sent the job application I started yesterday (that took about fifty minutes).  I don’t think I’ll get the job, and I’m not sure if I want it, because it’s full-time and I don’t think I can cope with that.  It is also potentially at high risk of infection from COVID or other illnesses and I’m not sure that’s a good idea while Mum’s immune system is suppressed.

I spent a while working on my novel, writing 600 words in one hour or so.  I worry that it is possibly turning into the most boring novel ever written.  The part that is based on my own life feels constrained by what happened to me.  I have fictionalised a lot of details, but it still feels lifeless.  The main character is irritating (although this may be my self-loathing speaking, as he’s based on me).  I have a female protagonist who is too passive and boring.  The supporting characters are featureless and barely appear.  The writing lacks zest.  The whole thing is humourless.  I have a lot to fix in future drafts.

I don’t think I’m really cut out for writing “serious” literary fiction, which is what this is trying to be.  I want to pursue my ideas about time-travel and monsters, and historical figures like Shabbatai Tzvi and Jack the Ripper, but I also want to finish one project before I start a new one, so I’m tied to this novel for now, until I finish it or find it totally unworkable.  I also worry whether I could write prolonged fiction without the “scaffolding” of writing about my own experiences to provide some structure for the story.

As well as writing and applying for a job, I also cooked dinner (vegetable curry), which took longer than I would have liked and, for complicated reasons, made me think about E.  I think I made the right decision to break up with her, but I miss her as my friend as well as thinking that I won’t manage to find anyone else willing to see past my issues and baggage.  I might stay friends, after a break, but I’m worried we’ll drift back into dating in a crazy on-off relationship, which would be a very bad idea.

Since I was eighteen or so, I’ve usually had one close female friend, usually platonic and generally an email- or text-based friendship.  Sometimes I’ve wanted that friend to be my girlfriend (and for a few short periods that was the case), but that was usually disastrous.  Things have been better when the friend is safely off-limits, due to not being Jewish or being significantly older than me.  Then she is someone I can turn to for emotional support and practical advice, particularly about interpersonal stuff that I struggle with because of autism.

I guess I have a vacancy at the moment, but I can’t really see myself pursuing even platonic female friendship at the moment (even if I knew someone to befriend), partly because of the risk of it turning into something more, partly because I feel disinclined to open up to anyone at the moment.  Plus, most of those friendships ended badly, often because of me.  So I should resign myself to being alone.  I wish I did have someone to text during the day, though.

After dinner I went for a half-hour walk.  I ended up feeling morose.  I was on edge from watching Ashes to Ashes while eating dinner.  It was a good episode, but violent and bleak and left me feeling on edge and wary of something awful happening to me, even though it was broad daylight and there were still people around.  I thought about Ashley’s post for today, and whether I will ever be happy.  I feel that I probably won’t be happy, and I’m onto worrying about whether I will be comfortable.  I worry about being alone when my parents die.  I wouldn’t want to impose on my sister and brother-in-law by moving in with them.  I worry about dying alone, in pain, without dignity (possibly in my own excrement, like Stalin).  Will I be OK financially?  Will anyone still care about me?  It’s scary.

Even if I did somehow find meaning and happiness, would I just feel guilty?  A kind of survivor syndrome that I turned my life around when so many others can’t?  I already feel vaguely guilty that my childhood was not awful and abusive (even though I was bullied at school, and adolescence was rather lonely and miserable), given how many abuse survivors I’ve come across in the mental health community.

After the walk, I tried to “snap out” of my moroseness (which never works) and do some Torah study, as I had been too busy to do any earlier.  I was tired and depressed and my room is very hot and uncomfortable, so I didn’t get very far.  I spent nearly fifteen minutes on a mishnah which I felt that the Artscroll commentary made more difficult than it needed to be (I feel they do this a lot).  I had a look at ideas for my devar Torah for twenty minutes or more, which was a bit more fruitful, until my brain gave up with heat and fatigue, but I need to do a lot more work on it.  My divrei Torah have not come easily lately, which is frustrating.

The Wild Pomegranite quoted Rebbe Nachman of Breslov:

“Sometimes a person’s goals and desire for holiness are beyond his capabilities. Therefore, he must control himself. He must limit his yearnings and fulfill – simply – whatever service to God he is capable of in that moment. Then he must pray to be led on the proper path for his level by serving God with joy and simplicity.” (Likutei Halakhot, Bet Knesset 5:24)

I feel this describes me.  I want to move to higher levels of holiness in terms of kavannah (mindfulness) in prayer and mitzvot (commandments), more and deeper Torah study, doing some kind of meaningful work (ideally writing), and marrying and having children, but these are beyond my capabilities at the moment, which is frustrating for me.  It is difficult and frustrating to accept being at a much more “basic” level of service, especially as I’m only vaguely aware of what exactly that would entails.  Nevertheless, it is where I am.

It reminded me of this quote also from Rebbe Nachman that I’ve blogged before:

The main thing is this: It is forbidden to despair!  Even a simple man who cannot study at all, or one who finds himself in a place where he is unable to study, or the like, should in his very simplicity be strong in worship and in the fear of God…  Even he who stands on the very bottom rung, God forbid, or in the very depths of hell, may God protect us, should nevertheless not despair.  He should fulfil the Scripture: ‘Out of the belly of the deep I cried’ (Jonah 2:3), and be as strong as he can.  Even he will be able to return and receive the Torah’s sustenance, by means of the zaddiq [saintly person].  The main thing is to strengthen yourself whatever way you can, no matter how far you have fallen.  If you hold on even just the slightest bit, there is yet hope that you will return to God. (quoted in Arthur Green Tormented Master: The Life and Spiritual Quest of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav  p. 264)

I wrote these paragraphs earlier in the post, above the paragraphs about today.  I cut and pasted them here to end the post on a positive note.  It feels vaguely wrong.  I feel I should try to be positive, but it seems dishonest to end on a positive note that I don’t feel.  The “happiness is a choice” people would say to cut and paste and it will make me happier.  I think happiness is not always a choice, and rearranging things does not always help.  Some people are just in pain, and are going to stay in pain, and there isn’t much they can do about it.  But I also want to acknowledge that even in pain, there can be hope.  Whichever one I finish on – pain or hope – will be stressed more.  Concluding on something is taking a stand in favour of it.  But I see the two, pain and hope, at the same time (like duck/rabbit illusion).  Pain/hope.  Hope/pain.  Pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope/pain/hope…

The Cat Who Walked By Himself

I feel like I’ve become rather misanthropic lately.  That without consciously choosing to do so, I’m retreating into a sulk.  Lockdown is being eased, but I want to stay in my room.  I see myself as too scared to try dating again, and I’m worried that one day I will not feel like that and I’ll get hurt again, as I always do.  Perhaps “fortunately” I see no point in trying to date while my financial position is so negative, and I see little chance of that changing any time soon.

As I’ve said before, consciously I say I want love, but deep down, what I unconsciously need is to accept that depression and autism mean that my life is going to be different to other people’s, that I will probably never be financially self-sufficient and that I will almost certainly not get successfully paired off, as well as never having many friends or fitting in to a community.  If I could accept that most of my life is going to be miserable, perhaps I could enjoy parts of it.  But I keep getting my hopes up that I can beat the odds, somehow, and then I get disappointed and hurt all over again.  Silly boy.

***

I’m still feeling super-lonely.  I feel sexually and romantically frustrated (is “romantically frustrated” a thing?  I want to love someone), but I’m lonely in a wider sense too.  I’m thinking about (not) fitting in, one of the well-worn themes of my inner monologue, let alone this blog.

I mostly don’t say anything about my mental health or autism away from this blog and similar blogs.  It’s just easier than dealing with embarrassment, confusion and sometimes stigma.  It’s easier to let people think I’m unusually dysfunctional than to admit what the issue is.

I don’t say much about my religion or politics either.  I worry that my religious and political views are sufficiently idiosyncratic to put off everyone who knows them, so I keep them fairly private.

I don’t mind talking about religion here, but I’m not sure why.  I suppose I don’t go into details about theology here, just say what “weird” stuff I do and how it affects me emotionally.  Sometimes strangers see that I’m Jewish and ask me questions in the street.  Strangely, I’m kind of OK with that.  At least they’re curious, not belligerent (I’ve had belligerence too, and attempted proselytisation).  The Jewish population of the UK is sufficiently small that it’s doubtful whether many people have ever met a Jew in many parts of the country, let alone a frum one, although in London that’s less likely.

I don’t like to pin down my views when talking to other religious Jews.  As Rabbi Lord Sacks said, Modern Orthodox Jews are a minority of a minority of a minority (Jews are about 0.02% of the world population; Orthodox Jews are about 10% of Jews; Modern Orthodox Jews are a small percentage  of Orthodox Jews).  I know I’m more “modern” in many ways than most frum (religious Orthodox) Jews.  Actually, I avoid talking about religion outside the community too, for fear of scorn from militant atheists, but sometimes I have to bring the subject up (usually at work) to ask for special dispensation e.g. not eating the same food as everyone else, leaving early on Fridays in the winter etc.

I don’t talk about my politics with anyone at all.  I talk politics a little bit with my parents, but somewhat abstractly.  They don’t know how I vote (which assumes I vote consistently…).  I don’t really fit with any party and I’m not sure that any ideology is an adequate model of a complex reality.  I dislike most politicians and activists these days.

I don’t like the current political atmosphere.  Too violent and opinionated on all sides; also pretentious.  “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.”

My chosen professional sector is often more radical than I am (unsurprisingly, as most members are working in the public sector).  I know a lot of my friends, particularly my online friends, wouldn’t agree with me if they knew my views.  I left an autism WhatsApp group a while back because they were criticising a particular type of political viewpoint without it apparently occurring to them that people like that could be on the list, let alone that they might pass as “normal” people.

I get very angry about antisemitism, but mostly don’t say anything about that either, because it feels like almost no one outside the Jewish community really understands or cares, or is willing to listen.

I don’t like identity politics, which I find aggressive.  I prefer existentialist encounter and dialogue.

I just try to be kind and non-judgmental, and to really listen to people.

I change my mind quite a bit.  I like reading new ideas, if they’re argued well, and I try to be open-minded about things.  I get the impression that most people don’t do that.

I don’t mind having friends who have different views, but my experience is that fewer and fewer people are willing to do that (see here for the way acceptance of inter-political (progressive + conservative) marriage has declined even as acceptance for inter-racial and same-sex marriage has grown).  These days people seem to just want to hate people who are different (often in the name diversity, ironically) and mute or unfriend people with different views.  I just keep my head down and try to avoid arguments.  Life’s easier that way, but lonelier and scarier: I don’t feel accepted for who I am and I worry about slipping up and being rejected.  I sometimes wonder how many of my friends (particularly online) would ditch me if they knew what I really think about some things.

I do feel that there’s no one like me: religiously, politically, psychologically.  It was a relief to meet E., who was like me in many ways even if she wasn’t religious.  (Maybe we were too much alike; probably we were both too unstable.)

***

Today I just feel unlovable and unacceptable to anyone I might want to befriend me, date me or employ me.  I feel utterly useless in any context.  The only thing I feel vaguely good at is writing, and I don’t feel great at that.  I’ve certainly struggled to get paid for anything I’ve written.  It’s a long time since I’ve felt good at my job as a librarian, and I only intermittently see myself as a good son, brother, friend or good boyfriend/husband material.

***

Today’s achievements: a couple of library jobs have come up.  I’m was going to apply for both even though both are full-time, short-term jobs (both are maternity cover), where I really want a part-time, long-term job.  I would go for part-time short-term, but I’m not sure whether I would take a full-time job.  I don’t think I could cope, even for nine months.  If I got offered the job, I would probably ask to job share.

I spent twenty minutes trying to navigate a badly-designed website to apply for one job, only to eventually be told that it was open to internal candidates only.  (Then why was it advertised publicly?  I suspect it has to be, legally.)

With the other job I think there would be higher risk of COVID – or any infectious illness – for reasons I won’t go into here, and we’re still supposed to be shielding Mum who will have reduced immunity for some more months.  It is in any case a high stress, full-time job on multiple sites that could involve long travel times.  I really don’t feel I could do either job, but I feel under pressure (from myself as well as other people) to apply for whatever jobs are available, which at the moment is not many.  I would rather be working on my novel…

I’m not sure how long I spent dealing with job applications in total, but I didn’t actually write much of an application.  I just looked at job descriptions etc.

I did forty-five minutes Torah study, reading this week’s Torah portion, but I didn’t get much out of it and felt very stressed while I was doing it.  I would have liked to have done more, but did not have the time or energy.

I went for a thirty-five minute run; my pace was better than it has been for a while.  I didn’t get a migraine even though it was hot out; thank Heaven for small mercies.

I wanted to work on my novel after dinner, but I was too tired.  I realise that as we come out of lockdown, job applications are going to encroach on my writing time more and more.

We had a family Zoom meeting, me, my parents, my sister and brother-in-law and my aunt and uncle from Israel.  I hardly said anything again.  I’m pretty quiet even in in-person meetings, but on Zoom I just clam up completely.

***

I’ve made my blog find-able on search engines again.  My reasons for making it hidden (that I worried that I was saying too much about other people who might be identifiable) seemed less realistic, and so many people were finding it through my comments elsewhere on the blogosphere that it didn’t seem such an issue any more.  I thought about adding a contact form again so people can email me, but I’m more reluctant to do that.  I’ve made a couple of good friends through having that in the past (and ended up going out with E.), but I had a bad experience with it recently (not E.) and don’t know if I should do it again.

Of course, a few hours on and I already think it was a bad idea to make my blog fina-able and that I should switch it back to hidden again.  I can flip back and forth indefinitely, and probably will.

Today’s Difficulties

I’m still feeling very depressed, although perhaps marginally less than the last few days and less anxious.  Next week looks set to be difficult though.

If I’m religious, then I must feel that there must be some purpose to my life, but I have no idea of what it is or how to achieve it.  I don’t seem to be able to do very much.  I hope it’s something to do with writing, not least because it seems to be the only thing I can do well any more, but I am not certain that it is.

***

I did chores today, usual pre-Shabbat chores plus cleaning the oven, which didn’t come particularly clean.  Depression: The Curse of the Strong by Dr Tim Cantopher talks about the “hoover in the middle of the room” test.  The idea is that when recovering, you should not push yourself too hard; the sign of a healthy recovery is a hoover in the middle of the room because you took a break in the middle instead of pushing to do it all in one go and then burning out.  I’m not always good at this, but I’ve been trying to do it.  I am aware that Dr Cantopher intended it to be something done for a few weeks or months at most while anti-depressants kick in, but in my case, it’s ongoing, which is not easy.  I feel like I’m not able to function like most people.

I should dust my room, but I don’t have the energy to move all my ornaments/bric-a-brac/junk.  I have a load of stuff like mementos from places I’ve visited, mementos from places other people have visited and given to me and the war gaming miniatures I used to paint.  I don’t think many of them would pass the Marie Kondo “Does it spark joy?” test.  Most of the holiday mementos seem to come from another lifetime and the mementos from other people I only really keep to avoid offending them or out of a superstitious reluctance to throw away things associated with them, especially if they’re dead.  Some of the war gaming miniatures do spark joy, mainly the ones I painted as a teenager, which are done to a high standard; the more ones painted more recently are not as good, because of my tremor and perhaps loss of patience, which also brings me down a bit.  However, I’m not sure if they spark enough joy to justify being out on display as dust traps.

I feel I should be more minimalist, but I struggle with that.  I also probably have too many books and DVDs, but I’m reluctant to give them away or sell them and the events of this week have reinforced that.  The only TV programme I like that was “cancelled” is Fawlty Towers, but even regardless of political issues, appearances on streaming services are liable to change suddenly so I like to own things.

***

I’m feeling upset about antisemitism in the news today.  There’s a feeling that a lot of Jews have something bad happens in the news.  A feeling of, “Oh, when are we going to get blamed for that?”  Not if, but when.  Wars, recessions, revolutions, terrorist atrocities, even natural disasters get blamed on the Jews.  So it was probably inevitable that the Jews (in the form of Israel) would get blamed for racist police tactics in the USA and specifically for the death of George Floyd.  Meanwhile, in the last few days Jews have been physically attacked in the UK and the US (and also in Israel, although that doesn’t seem connected).  Depressing, but sadly none of it is surprising.

***

Not related to the last point, I feel the model I see on the media for dealing with suffering and inequality – the identity politics model – goes like this:

  1. Suffering occurs;
  2. The suffering person(s) angrily protest and “speak truth to power”;
  3. The person(s) causing the suffering “check their privilege” and make amends.

I’m not going to go into what I think about that as a political model, but it’s not what I want to see in my own life with my own suffering, partly because there aren’t really other people causing my suffering.  My own model, which is a more religious existentialist model is:

  1. Suffering occurs;
  2. The suffering person has a “dialogue” with other people;
  3. Mutual understanding and empathy occurs.

It’s hard to get that to happen, especially as my social anxiety stops me “encountering” (another religious existentialist word) other people away from the internet even before lockdown.  It is useful to have understanding and empathy here on my blog, but sometimes I wish I could “dialogue” with some of the people I know in real life.

***

Well, the illegal minyan (prayer meeting) next door is starting, which is a sign it is time for Shabbat so I should go.  (One of our neighbours was going to inform on them, but the police apparently ignored it.  I was hoping it would be like The Sweeney: “Get yer shtreimels on, you’re nicked!”)

Against a Sea of Troubles

I’m still feeling pretty bad, very depressed and anxious.  I feel like my life has unravelled and I don’t know what to do next.  I feel like I’ve lost so many people who mattered to me in the last year or two, and a lot of it has been my fault, albeit that I doubt I could have known it beforehand.  I suspect autistic difficulties reading people and situations is part of the problem, or maybe that’s just an excuse.  It doesn’t help that because there are so few people in my life, they take on disproportionate importance.  I don’t think that people whose blogs I read or who comment on my blog should really matter that much to me, but they do, because I have so few friends.  I feel withdrawn.  I want to hide in my room from the world.

I forced myself to do some things today: fifty minutes or so working on the novel (it felt like crawling over broken glass, but I did get a bit done), just over an hour working on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week, a thirty-five minute run.  I feel a little bit proud of getting the devar Torah written while I felt so bad, although it was mainly based on one book rather than several as I usually like to do.

I feel like I have tried everything you’re “supposed” to try for depression: therapy, CBT, medication, routine, volunteering, working, exercise, seeking social contacts, involvement in a religious community, creativity… nothing seems to work for very long and most of it doesn’t work at all.  It is hard to know what to do.  I’m hoping that a firm autism diagnosis will help, but I’m not sure how, and I could be two years away from such a diagnosis.  I’ve learnt a lot about myself over the years, but I’m not sure if I’m a better person, or a better Jew, as a result.  And self-knowledge is good, but also limited: it won’t buy you food or comfort you when you’re down.

I feel like my one remaining chance in life is to manage to make some kind of a career as  a professional writer, which is a big thing to ask of myself with almost no experience of professional writing and a few rejections already.  I feel I’ve pretty much failed at librarianship although I’m still looking for work in the sector.

I’m going to try to go easy with myself over the next few days.  I’ll try to do some Torah study tonight, but probably not much else.  Tomorrow I have my usual Friday pre-Shabbat chores and I told Mum I would clean the oven.  I will try to do some work on the novel on Friday and Sunday, but I won’t beat myself up if I don’t manage much.  Monday I have therapy and then a Zoom shiur (religious class) in the evening; I’m not planning on doing much else.

***

I don’t know who is still reading this, if anyone (I think maybe two or three people).  I wonder again if I should make it a private blog, but I worry that when I’ve tried that in the past, I ultimately end up stopping writing; it’s hard for me to write without some kind of implicit audience.  I’d be tempted to try password-protected posts, but in the past when I’ve tried them my experience is that no one is interested enough to log in, particularly as they don’t usually show up in blog reader feeds.  I do feel a bit exposed here at the moment, which is the whole point, in a sense, but also feels a bit dangerous sometimes.  I worry that I experience my life by writing about it, which probably isn’t healthy.

The Problem of Suffering

There are some things going on in my life at the moment which I can’t blog about.  I just feel bad about a lot of things.  Defining “bad” is harder: probably sad, despairing, anxious, frustrated and guilty.  I just feel a lot of difficult feelings and it is hard to tease out what each one is.

***

I’m also still getting upset by the news, different thoughts and feelings, back and forth.  Worried that I’m not thinking the ‘right’ thing, that people would be angry with me if they knew what I thought.  Feeling that I can want to end racism and police brutality without particularly wanting to “end capitalism” (whatever that would even mean).  Wondering why, if Sir Keir Starmer is so opposed to prejudice that he will “take a knee” to oppose racism, that he spent three and a half years on the Labour front bench as the party became a safe haven for antisemites and Holocaust deniers without uttering a word of protest.  Then feeling guilty for “making everything Jewish.”  There’s more, but I don’t want to go there.

I try to tell myself that “It doesn’t matter what other people think.  That’s just their opinion.  I’m allowed to have my own opinions,” but still I feel the need to justify everything, argue everything back and forth in my head.

***

Achievements today: I blogged on my Doctor Who blog for the first time in ages, excluding an advert post for my book.  I spent an hour and a half working on my novel, or trying to, amidst difficult thoughts.  I went for a half-hour walk and cooked dinner.  I guess that’s quite a bit, although it is hard to see it as an achievement.

I went to a half-hour Zoom shiur given by the rabbi of my parents’ shul (synagogue).  It was on love of God and how to love God when things are difficult.  I’m not sure how helpful it was.  The idea was that if we are aware of God’s greatness and His wisdom, that should lead on naturally to love of Him.  I struggle with doing that.  It should also lead on to thinking that anything bad that happens must really be for the good.  I can understand that intellectually, but it’s really hard to internalise when so many things in my life seem so bad, or just so painful.  It’s not so much that I can’t accept that bad things might be good or necessary or that a benevolent God wouldn’t put me through them, it’s more that I feel I have nothing left to give any more.  I’ve used up all my energy coping with the last thirty-seven (nearly) years.  Everything just hurts too much for me to carry on.

“It’s like watching a car crash in slow motion”

Thus spake Detective Inspector Drake in Ashes to Ashes, and it feels a lot like my life at the moment.

Lately I just want to withdraw.  I spent a lot of Shabbat in bed, wrapped in my duvet even when I wasn’t sleeping.  It’s a classic autistic self-comforting tactic.  I’ve been wanting to do it today too, although I’ve fought against the urge.

I’m scared to talk to anyone, even to blog or to read other blogs, for fear of getting into an argument.  There’s too much anger in the world at the moment.

I did at least manage to watch a talk between Rabbi Rafi Zarum (British, half Yemenite) and Rabbi Shais Rishon (American, black) about race and Judaism so I’m not totally running away from the world.  It was about as depressing as I expected (I’ve read some of Rabbi Rishon’s writing before so I knew what to expect; Rabbi Zarum apparently didn’t judging by his shocked reactions), although there was one funny joke.

Achievements: forced myself to work on my novel for an hour and wrote 650 words even thought I was too depressed to write anything today.  Went for a thirty-five minute run that was surprisingly good, although an exercise migraine set in hours later.  I tried to do some Torah study, but the migraine set in then and I only managed five minutes.  I haven’t felt well enough to daven Ma’ariv (say Evening Prayers) yet either.  Going to watch TV until hopefully the solpadeine kicks in, although I feel like I could throw up any time now.

***

I spoke to my rabbi mentor this morning.  I’m still processing the conversation.  He said that everyone in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) struggles with trying to feel inspired or to find meaning in Judaism and that I’m not the only person to struggle with the way the frum community can be narrow-minded or lacking in dynamism or inspiration.

This is all true, but I wonder where this leaves me.  I still feel that I have less meaning and inspiration going for me than a lot of religious Jews, and perhaps more frustration with the frum world than most frum Jews.  Sometimes (not all the time) lately it feels like I’m very close to walking out on the frum world and there are only a few things keeping me here.  If it were possible to be some kind of Jewish hermit, I probably would be one.  I guess I am one, in a way.

***

I know I have it easy compared to a lot of other people, but that doesn’t mean I’m not struggling.  A wise person once said, the worst thing that ever happened to you is still the worst thing that ever happened to you, even if even worse things have happened to other people.  While it’s true that a man who has had his legs eaten by an alligator should be grateful that he still has his life, arms, eyes, hearing etc. I’m not sure that makes it any easier to cope with the loss of legs.  I haven’t lost my legs, but I’ve never really got my life functioning properly and I feel that I’m running out of time to sort that, plus most of the time I feel too depressed, anxious and tired to do anything about it, not to mention too alone in the world (yes, despite family and friends).

***

OK, TV now, and trying hard not to throw up…

“Here comes your nineteenth nervous breakdown”

(I don’t like The Rolling Stones much, but Dad was just playing this and it seemed appropriate.)

I feel very depressed today, but quite not as much as yesterday.  I still feel alone somehow, even though I know people care about me.  I worry about my life, my future,  if I even have a future.  I just want to withdraw, from everything.  I’m still trying to accept and experience my feelings, but it’s hard when they are like this, so strong and overwhelmingly negative with no obvious truths to teach me.  I try to focus on E. and on my parents.  Maybe I’ve become over-reliant on this blog, and reading other people’s blogs.  Maybe it’s no substitute for real-life contact and friendships, not that real-life contact of any kind is easy at the moment.  I thought a bit about going cold turkey from blogs (mine and other people’s), but I don’t think I could do it.  I’m glad I’ve been in lockdown with my parents; I think we would all have gone crazy if I hadn’t been, particularly given Mum’s chemo.

I’m going to try to recuperate over Shabbat (the Sabbath).  Not to worry too much about prayer or Torah study (although it might be helpful to read a few more pages of Sacred Fire), just to read light things and try to relax.

***

I wrote the above in the early afternoon.  After that I managed to engage with the day a bit: I picked up my prescription, went for a walk, did my Shabbat chores, finished my devar Torah (Torah thought) and spent an hour or so working on my novel (only writing 400 words, but doing some research and planning, so pretty good overall) as well as having a quick Skype call with E.  I’m not sure how much this engagement was a cause or an effect of my mood picking up in the afternoon i.e. did I do things because I felt better or did I feel better because I did things?

The Long Dark Night of the Soul

I was hit by a thought today that surprised me.  Since blogging on WordPress, I have come across a lot of Christian mental health blogs.  Sometimes there’s a kind of conversion narrative of a fall from the world into a pit of suffering and despair (this is particularly the case when substance abuse features in the narrative), followed by the turn to religion and the feeling of grace and salvation, which leads to renewed success (if that’s the right word) in the battle with mental illness or addiction.

The surprising thing is that this kind of writing does not really exist in post-Biblical Judaism at all.  I mean very deeply personal introspection of the long, dark night of the soul and the religious journey from suffering to redemption.  Judaism is a non-missionary religion and the vast majority of Jews were born Jewish even if they did not have a religious upbringing, so it’s perhaps not surprising that there are so few literal conversion narrative, but there could be narratives of suffering and despair leading to faith and joy, but by and large there are not.

There are Tehillim and Iyov (Psalms and Job) in Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible).  In post-biblical literature there are some of Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav’s teachings that deal (directly or indirectly with his suffering).  Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik deals a little with this in The Lonely Man of Faith and parts of Halakhic Man .  There are bits in the Sacred Fire of Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira, the Piaseczno Rebbe where he approaches this, but his focus is not so much the personal journey as the communal experience of Nazi persecution.

I am not familiar enough with the Holocaust literature to see how that fits in.  I think you might find something there, but not quite the same as the Christian type, not least because of the presence of clear villain figures in the Nazis, not to mention the fact that many Jews lost their faith in the Holocaust rather than finding it.  I’m not sure that I would class the writings of Elie Wiesel, for example, in this category.  I don’t think it is really that personal, inner type of despair, rather the despair from being dehumanised by an outside force.

I don’t know the Medieval poetry of the paytanim (liturgical poets) to know whether they dealt with these feelings.  Possibly they did (they did right rather erotic love poetry, something airbrushed out of the biographies of some major figures).

I have a few Judaism and depression books which include personal narratives.  The Road to Resilience by Sherri Mendell is a fairly practical book about overcoming loss.  I remember very little of Healing from Despair by Elie Kaplan Spitz, although it probably is the closest to what I’m looking for, in that it deals with the author’s despair in detail (but by a Reform rabbi, not an Orthodox one, tellingly).  It might be worth me re-reading that soon.  Some of the personal stories in the anthology book Calling Out to You edited by Tehilla Edelman fit in this category at least partially, but as I recall the focus is more on the practical story of mental illness and recovery than the spiritual crisis.  Some are definitely what I have in mind e.g. “I had to unravel all of my preconceived notions about Hashem.  I used to think that G-d only loved me if I behaved.  The idea that Hashem loves me like a father didn’t work for me, because with a father like mine [abusive] it didn’t mean much.  I also didn’t understand how Hashem could let abuse happen to children, and I didn’t know if I could ever trust Him…  After much soul-searching, I came to believe that Hashem does care about me and that it doesn’t matter if I can’t call Him Father.” (From My Journey to Hashem through Depression and Addiction: Miriam’s Story in Calling Out to You.)

That’s about all I can think of, in a three thousand year tradition.

It’s worth comparing with the narratives I’ve seen written by people who became Orthodox Jews in adulthood, either non-Jews who converted to Judaism or ba’alei teshuva, non-religious Jews who became Orthodox.  These seem to be largely calm and peaceful narratives that start by laying out the writer’s initial antipathy to and/or ignorance of Orthodox Judaism, the story of how they encountered it close up for the first time, their experience of the beauty of Torah and mitzvot (commandments) and how they overcame a few sticking points (e.g. Torah/science conflict or gender and sexuality issues) to become devout Orthodox Jews.  There is occasionally tension with friends or family members who do not like the religious change, but there is no sense of suffering or trauma here, the dark night of the soul to which religion is the solution.  The truth is that if I was writing my own ba’al teshuva narrative, it would also be largely separate from my mental health journey, which did not really start in earnest until I was some way along my religious journey.

It’s just interesting that we don’t really have the vocabulary to express this kind of narrative.  I am experiencing that first-hand, in the difficulty I have expressing my inner religious life here and, fictionalised, in my novel.  I do not have a model to use.  It’s doubtful how much anyone could model themselves on Tehillim (Psalms) nowadays without falling into self-parody, let alone the difficult, complex poetry of Iyov (Job).  But there are few more recent models to look to.

I wonder if this is another reason why “leaving Orthodoxy” narratives, fictional and non-fictional, are so much more common than “joining Orthodoxy” narratives, as I have discussed here before.  It’s not really a genre that we promote (not that Orthodox Judaism encourages the writing of fiction or memoirs, or creative writing generally).

Doubtless part of the reason is that Christianity is a religion based on the personal salvation of the individual through the personal sacrifice of Jesus and mediated through the introspective writings of Paul in the New Testament.  Whereas Judaism is a communal/national religion based, at the very least, on creating communities based on love and mutual aid, building together to a nation state built, ideally, on love and compassion and eventually an example for a new world order built on love and compassion through monotheism.  There isn’t much room in that narrative for the individual’s long dark night of the soul.  It’s just not relevant.  It took some fairly unique circumstances to produce figures like Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav or Rav Soloveitchik who can let us peek a little at what a kind of Jewish dark night of the soul literature might look like.

***

As for Yom Tov (the festival), it was OK, but I struggled to connect with the religious ideals of the festival (hence, in part, this post).  I prayed a lot, studied Torah a lot, ate a lot, slept a lot.  I had a lot of aches and pains from my workout on Wednesday.  I think I’ve pulled a lot of muscles in my arms, legs and torso.  I did still go for a couple of walks despite the pain.  I also woke up in the middle night with a migraine yesterday.  My mood was mostly OK, but dipped a bit this afternoon.  That’s about all there is to report, though, aside from continued irritation at the illegal minyan (prayer quorum) next door.  I think I’m getting a better idea of why that annoys me so much (aside from all the obvious reasons), but it’s too late to deal with that now and this is a long enough post already.

Hollow, Empty and Dead Inside

I didn’t have to go to the hospital with Mum today after all.  My parents discovered that a hotel near the hospital is renting out car park places, so Dad could park and go in to the appointment with Mum as her extra person.  That’s better for everyone, although I had a weird feeling of disappointment after having psyched myself up for it.

***

I woke up earlyish, but I’m not sure if that was due to thinking I had to be up early to go to the hospital or because our next door neighbour’s son was sitting in the garden listening to a Zoom shiur (religious class) really loudly, then was on a really loud chevruta (paired learning), far above my intellectual level and he’s only in his teens, so that probably brought my mood down early on.  (Why do Jews get so overexcited when “learning” and start shouting?  Or when talking, to be honest?)

Yesterday was burning agitation.  Today is quiet and still, but the stillness of depression and the grave, the stillness of nothing happening inside.  I didn’t do any real Torah study yesterday, because of depression and migraine, but I did spend forty minutes writing my devar Torah (Torah thought) which I hope should count for something.  I didn’t do my hitbodedut meditation/unstructured prayer either, but that has been perfunctory for quite a while.

I’m just feeling awful today, hollow and empty and dead inside.  I feel almost physically ill and struggle to do anything.  I wish E. was here, but part of me is saying that it can’t last (our relationship, I mean) and that I’ll be hurt sooner or later.  Yesterday we (E. and I) agreed to focus on the present and not to worry about the post-COVID world, which is too unpredictable, whether big things like the economy or personal things like our job prospects and our relationship.  But it’s easy to believe that everything will go wrong, same as it always does for me.  I feel I can’t do anything, that my life is not going anywhere.

I tried to work on my novel, but I struggled to write anything, either for the chapter I was working on or when I tried to jump ahead to the next chapter.  I ended up giving up and watching TV (Ashes to Ashes then Doctor Who).  I forced myself to go for a walk, although I didn’t really want to (because of the heat as well as the depression/exhaustion) and while I was walking my internal monologue/internal critic asked me, “Why don’t you just **** off and die?” and I didn’t have a good answer.  Most people with high functioning autism don’t manage to do paid work (despite being defined by the wider world as “high functioning”) and anecdotal evidence (at least) suggests they don’t manage to maintain relationships either, so I don’t know why I think I can buck either trend.

I had my online Zoom shiur (class) this evening.  I still feel I’m not going to learn a lot I don’t already know.  I did manage to speak up though, once.  It’s a shame I’m too socially anxious to share knowledge much that others might benefit from.  Selfish even, if I want to blame myself (I usually do).  I don’t know if it’s because I was on my Dad’s computer (the replacement webcam for my one still hasn’t arrived), but I just felt extra-awkward the whole time.  I just sat through the shiur thinking, “I am such a **** up” and that no one could ever like me and that my life will never get sorted out.  There was some fantasising about self-harm, which I haven’t done for a while.

***

I’m worried about a couple of blog friends who haven’t posted for a while, but I’m also worried that if I send them “Are you OK?” emails that will just put them in the awkward position of having to tell me that they’ve taken me off their friends lists.  I worry I’m too weird and depressing for people to cope with, let alone relate to.

I just discovered that some nasty comments from someone I had to mute on the blog were sitting in my trash folder on WordPress.  They had been there for several months unnoticed.  I had assumed that blocking bounced them back into the ether, but apparently they go into the trash folder and sit there.  I deleted them all, but it upset me even more, and the content of the comments reinforced my feeling of being useless and having no justification for being depressed.  It also makes me worried, as one of these comments was a reblog notification – the person reblogged my post, apparently to criticise and mock it.  It makes me wonder what other negative stuff this person has put out there about me.  Naturally, I assume I deserve it.

***

The Midrash in Sifra on last week’s sedraBehukotai, says there are seven stages of apostasy that lead on one to the other:

  1. Not studying Torah;
  2. Not performing commandments;
  3. Despising those who keep the commandments;
  4. Hating the sages who teach the commandments;
  5. Preventing others from observing the commandments;
  6. Denying that God gave the commandments;
  7. Denying the existence of God.

It’s hard to tell where I am.  I’m not studying much Torah.  I perform some commandments, but not others, some because of depression, some to compromise with E., some because I don’t have the strength any more.  I don’t “despise” anyone, but there’s aspects of the Orthodox world I don’t like, I don’t have much respect for sages who preach full-time yeshiva study and denigration of the wider world.  Sometimes I worry I’m heading for points six and seven.  Is this catastrophising again?  Possibly perfectionism too.  I have kashas (difficulties, questions) on Judaism, but I also have big kashas on the secular world of humanism, Enlightenment and postmodernism too.  Of course, my biggest kasha is on the world: how can I fit into it?

Another Day

I went to bed late last night.  I did a lot during the day, but then I got an exercise migraine after running and had dinner late, then Skyped E. for quite a long time.  I spent quite a while blogging and then finished watching the first episode of Life on Mars sequel Ashes to Ashes, which I felt shared some flaws with Doctor Who of the same time, but was broadly entertaining.  I got to bed very late and then struggled to get up today.  I was awake at 10am when I could hear my Mum sharing some bad news with Dad about a friend of theirs, but then I must have fallen asleep again as it was suddenly 11am.  I got up, but struggled to get going as usual.  I missed E. a lot.

I didn’t leave that comment on the blog where I was worried I had angered the blogger.  Someone else left a similar comment to what I intended to write, so I left it alone.

I went for a walk and collected my repeat prescription.  I did find myself faffing a bit at home and struggling to get down to work on my novel.  I tried to work at it for half an hour or so, but mostly felt too tired, both physically and intellectually.  I’m not so depressed in terms of mood; it’s slightly low, but it’s been worse, but I do feel very tired and end-of-week-ey.  I’m a little frustrated, but I did do a lot of writing during the week, so I’m going to try at least not to beat myself up so much about it.

I feel sometimes like my ideal work schedule (if I wasn’t so depressed and was working full days) would be something like 11.00am to 7.00pm each day rather than 9.00am til 5.00pm and also working an Israeli work week, Sunday to Thursday with Fridays for Shabbat (Sabbath) preparation.  I never get much done on Fridays other than Shabbat stuff.  If I do make it as a professional author, I think that is how I would organise my work days and weeks.

***

My shul (synagogue) rabbi got in touch to see how I’m doing and to ask if I still would like to speak on Zoom.  You may recall I was going to speak to him before Pesach (Passover) about my Pesach stress and Mum’s chemo, but then lockdown happened.  I said I would like to speak, although that was mostly out of politeness.  It seemed rude to say, “No, I’m fine now.”  We probably won’t speak for long.

He did say that he hasn’t seen me at the online Zoom shiurim (religious classes) he’s been running in lockdown and I wasn’t sure if he was asking if I was OK or if he wanted to interest me in joining some of the shiurim.  This is the type of interaction that throws me and I don’t really know what’s happening or how to respond, in particular how to say that none of the shiur topics really interested me and that I’ve been focused on my own private Torah study and also on trying to cope with lockdown and Mum being ill and trying to work a bit on my novel.

So far as I can tell, there seem to be two stereotypical lockdown experiences: either really manic struggling to cope or relaxed and having loads of free time.  I’m in between the two, but closer to the manic; I’ve done a lot of housework, cooking and exercise as well as working on my novel and I haven’t had lots of time sitting around downloading plays or Zooming shiurim, although I have booked some London School of Jewish Studies shiurim for the next few weeks now their term is restarting.  I think I prefer LSJS topics to shul ones, to be honest.

In the Details

I had another late night last night, largely due to spending two hours writing a blog post that got out of hand.  I originally intended just to write vaguely that I had some agitated thoughts about religion, but as I wrote, I felt I kept needing to go into more and more detail.  I’m not even sure it was particularly coherent, or expressed what I wanted to say (if I even understand what I’m feeling well enough to say something coherent).  Maybe I should have a “no blogging after Shabbat in the summer” rule, but sometimes I need to offload thoughts or I fear I won’t sleep.  I struggled to get up and get going again this morning, which has become a repetitive mantra for me, but is true.  As usual, I said only the smallest part of Shacharit (morning prayers), at the last minute and with poor kavannah (concentration/mindfulness).

I felt depressed and exhausted for much of today, which isn’t so unusual.  More troubling was a feeling of uselessness.  My Mum watches a lot of property programmes on TV like Location, Location, Location and A Place in the Sun where people try to buy a dream home, sometimes in a foreign country.  The attraction of the programmes, I assume, is looking at the splendid and luxurious houses under consideration.  I feel that I will never be able to afford a house anything like that.  I worry that E. will have to support us single-handed as I won’t be able to hold down a job and we will never afford anywhere nice to live, or to be able to have children.  I can cope with being a house-husband, but I want to contribute more, but unless I can somehow manage to write a best-selling novel, that seems unlikely.  I think I probably could write a novel, but a best-selling novel is probably beyond me; even getting a book published by a real publisher seems impossibly difficult.  At times like today I wonder if I’ll even be able to finish a novel, or at least if I have more than one novel in me.

In the afternoon we had a family Zoom call with me, my parents, sister and brother-in-law.  It was a poor quality call with very patchy audio and I found it hard to hear and understand what was being said.  As is often the case with family meetings, I struggled to engage with my family’s chosen topics of conversation a lot of the time, although I’m not sure why.  My sister is younger than me, but I feel she has somehow overtaken me and successfully made the transition into adult life that I have only made partially, if that.  I left the call after an hour and a half.  I felt a bit bad for leaving early (albeit that in the end the call only lasted for a few minutes after I left), but then again, I lasted about half an hour longer than I expected.

I struggled to work on my novel, procrastinating endlessly online.  I wanted the interest of finding some new and startling idea or perhaps just to connect with another human being, having failed to connect well to my family.  I did eventually get a bit further into the novel writing, managing to write about 600 words in an hour and a quarter (the exact number is difficult to see as I was doing some redrafting too), which is above my daily 500 word target, so I did snatch some kind of victory from the jaws of defeat there.  I have very mixed feelings about the level of quality.  I certainly realised my writing is not terribly descriptive and lacks details.  In some ways it reads more like a film script than a novel, with dialogue, but limited description.  That’s something to work on in the coming days.  It probably stems from not having a good imagination for descriptive detail; I don’t see details of the story in my head, and when I read descriptive passages in a book, I struggle to focus on more than one or two details.  Although I do sometimes think in images, these are usually borrowed or repurposed from images I’ve seen elsewhere, on TV or in comics, and the images are usually pretty fleeting and lacking in detail; it’s often the emotional impact that stays with me rather than the detail.

I wonder if it’s possible to write a book from the skeleton outwards, like a house, building the infrastructure of plot and dialogue to get an idea of the shape of the story as quickly as possible and then going back in subsequent drafts to add the descriptive details and more complex character traits.  I suppose it’s as good a way of doing things as anything else.

***

I felt a tension inside myself today.  I’m not sure if it was depression, despair, anxiety or something else, but it was uncomfortable and I didn’t know what to do with it.  I’m trying to avoid turning to particular negative coping strategies that I’ve used in the past, such as eating too much, procrastinating endlessly online, watching too much TV or impulse-buying books and DVDs, but I’m not sure what else to do, other than tell myself to sit with negative feels and accept them for what they are rather than repressing or ignoring them.  It’s hard though.  It’s like being told to hold a burning hot object (a literal hot potato, perhaps) and not drop it, but just accept the painful burning sensation.

I went for a thirty-five minute run in the early evening and I felt a bit better while actually running, but my mood plummeted again on coming back home.  After dinner I had a Skype call with E.  We had decided to spend a Skype session studying a Jewish text together.  This was completely E’s idea, as she wanted to take an interest in the things that matter to me.  We decided on Pirkei Avot, the volume of the Mishnah (the oldest stratum of the Talmud) that deals with ethics and interpersonal behaviour.  Unlike the rest of the Mishnah, it is mostly presented as aphorisms or advice that can be studied in isolation rather than inter-related legal arguments (which neither of us are confident in tackling).  We went through several Mishnayot until I started getting a post-exercise migraine.  We just chatted for a bit after that until my head began to hurt so much I had to stop and take something for it.  I enjoyed this Skype call a lot and it did a lot to raise my mood.  I’m just glad I have a girlfriend like E. who is so supportive and interested in my life.

Golden Ages

I’ve mentioned before my feeling that the “J-blogosphere” (the Jewish blogosphere) that I used to be a part of has declined in recent years.  Yesterday I came across this list of the “Top 50 Jewish Blogs and Websites to Follow in 2020”.  I was surprised that a lot of them are institutional rather than personal blogs, and many of the private blogs are defunct.  I don’t want to read too much into this, as I don’t know how the list was compiled and I think it’s just another online list, but it does reinforce my feeling that the thriving J-blogosphere that I was a part of (or at least, slightly more than a spectator to) ten or fifteen years ago has gone somewhere else, but I’m not sure where exactly.  Probably Facebook and Twitter.  It’s strange that I mourn it now, as I never really felt that I fitted in to it, but I miss particular blogs and feel a sort of wistful regret that I could express my Jewish identity online, and to talk with people whose Jewish identity, however defined (Orthodox, Reform, secular, Israeli, diaspora etc.) was more instinctive and natural than my own.  I don’t think I really appreciated that when it was available.

It occurs to me that I tend to get nostalgic for communities that I was never really a part of.  I participated in the J-blogosphere, but while I commented on some blogs and read others, few (no?) Jewish bloggers read my blog, so far as I could tell.  Similarly, I can get hugely nostalgic for the Doctor Who fandom of the “wilderness years” when the programme was not on air (1990-2004) and when fandom was a kind of club for people who found Mensa insufficiently geeky and obscure, mixing quasi-academic analysis with juvenile humour, yet my active involvement in fandom was limited both in scope and in time.

I don’t really know why this is the case.  Perhaps it’s easy, when looking at my current struggles with socialising, to look back to a “golden age,” but I don’t think there ever was one for me.  There were social groupings that I wanted to join, but I never really managed to infiltrate them (not really the right word, but in many ways exactly the right word).  But, as the Doctor said (Doctor Who: Invasion of the Dinosaurs), there never was a golden age; it’s all an illusion.  Perhaps I should take that as my starting point when trying to make friends.  I am at least slowly making friends and getting known in my shul (synagogue), or was before coronavirus hit, albeit possibly just in time to move somewhere else with E.

Perhaps it’s related to my tendency to avoid categorising my religious, political and cultural opinions, to always opt for the “Yes/And” rather than the “Either/Or.”  To see myself as someone who doesn’t fit into convenient boxes, but rather who unites opposed points of view.  It’s a sense that I’m too big for anyone else’s categories, which is probably self-aggrandising, on some level, as well as providing an overly-convenient explanation for my failure to make friends (“They don’t understand my complexity!”).

***

Good news for the day: my oldest friend got in touch to say he’s read my non-fiction Doctor Who book and really enjoyed it.  He even paid me the biggest compliment you can pay a writer: he stayed up later than intended because he couldn’t put it down!  I feel really pleased about this.  I may ask him to write a review on Amazon or Lulu although he must be incredibly busy at the moment (he’s a rabbi).  Of course, my negative thoughts are already trying to discount his praise…

(This also means that I’ve sold at least one copy more than I thought, and than Lulu.com’s tally suggests.  Possibly Amazon sales take time to register?)

***

I actually got up early today.  Well, earlyish, for a Sunday, when I hadn’t slept well.  I got up just after 10am.  Considering I’ve been getting up around midday for weeks, this is an improvement.  I hadn’t even slept well.  I shouldn’t have watched Life on Mars late last night, as the blue light stopped me sleeping.  I just felt I needed to relax, but I should have read, or rather should have just read, as I read too.  I did eventually fall asleep, but woke just before 10am from a nightmare where my “Dad” (in inverted commas, as it wasn’t my real Dad, but some violent thug) was fighting with me.  I didn’t want to go back to sleep after that.  Maybe I need to have a nightmare every day.

Unfortunately it did take me a while to get going.  I felt tired and got distracted online.  Once I got going, the day was mostly taken up with Pesach (Passover) preparation: cleaning fridges and freezers and cleaning the hob.  I got very tired by the late afternoon.  It’s a continual source of frustration to me that I can only do much less work in a day than most people, because of lack of energy and depressive procrastination.  I would have liked to have done a whole day’s work today rather than just an afternoon’s.  Still, I did manage to go for a decent run in the twilight for about half an hour and had a Skype call with E. that was very enjoyable.  I think I laughed more with E. than I have since the coronavirus hit.

I felt less anxious about Pesach preparations today and more able to keep things in perspective and resist the religious OCD.  What the logic of the Jewish dietary laws, and the special Pesach dietary laws, might be is a subject of debate and from the outside I imagine that they don’t seem to have much logic at all.  Nevertheless, there is an internal logic to how it all works, an understanding of how food or its taste might be passed on that holds true across all the Jewish dietary laws.  As I understand this better, it becomes less a vague and fear-inspiring superstition (“I think that’s wrong, but I don’t know why”) and more something I can assess and analyse for myself and decide if it’s a problem without asking a rabbi.  I still have a long way to go, but I am getting better at this.

One thing I’ve learnt to look out for with OCD (I think it probably applies to any OCD with compulsions) is doing things multiple times.  The mindset of, “I think I’ve done this, but I’ll do it again to be sure” or simply “I must do this X number of times” with no clear explanation.  I fell into that a little bit today while cleaning, cleaning things multiple times, but I have become wary of it.  Similarly, I need to avoid checking things: asking questions of a rabbi when I know the answer or looking through old emails where I’ve asked questions to check the existing answer.  It’s very hard though.  Really the difficulty of OCD is resisting this desire to check things, whether it’s locking doors and windows, or washing hands repeatedly or checking about ritual performance.

Abandonment Mini-Post

Watching Star Trek Voyager last night helped me unwind a bit, but my negative self-criticism came back minutes after it finished.  I went to bed and managed to fall asleep (I was worried I would stay awake ruminating), but could not get up at 11.00am as I had hoped again and just lay in bed feeling depressed until my Mum came in at 12.00pm, which gave me a burst of adrenaline to get up; even then, it actually took my Dad coming in ten minutes later to actually get me up and I didn’t feel anything like OK until after I had eaten and had coffee.

I’m feeling really depressed today.  It’s hard to do anything – I have no energy or motivation.  Doing Shabbat (Sabbath) preparation chores, I kept having to stop to rest e.g. after I’d hoovered half my room I had to stop before hoovering the other half. I don’t know why I feel like this, whether it’s Mum (see below for the latest update) or not being invited to a seudah (festive meal) for Purim (Jewish festival Monday night and Tuesday) or just general end-of-the-week tiredness.  I keep thinking about being alone: worrying that no one will read my blog (there are only about ten people left) or my books…  I guess, realistically, all of those symptoms could just as plausibly stem from being ignored by my shul friends for Purim as from worrying that my Mum will (God forbid) die; it’s abandonment issues either way and I’ve always been lousy at dealing with that.  At least E. says she won’t leave me, and the people still reading my blog seem to be persistent, and comment, which I prefer to likes or hits (I know my blog is pretty repetitive, and I say it’s really just for myself, but I would find it hard to write if literally no one was reading).

***

My Mum had some more problems with the NHS about the scan she should have done before she started chemo.  I think she got it sorted in the end, but it is stressful for her.

Ups, Downs, Social Anxiety and Perfectionism

Mum’s first chemo session went well, aside from being kept waiting for an hour.  Unfortunately, Dad’s car was not functioning well on the way home and he thinks someone has stolen the catalytic converter (there is apparently a black market for them), which is both inconvenient and costly, especially as Mum’s car also needs repair work.  It never rains, but it pours (which is what is happening outside today too).

The other issue is that Mum got a letter today saying she has another nodule (I’m not quite sure what to call it) and needs a further scan, which she was told she should have before chemo, although as the letter only arrived today, this was not very helpful.  Another typical NHS screw-up.

***

I tried to get up by 11.00am today, which doesn’t sound very impressive, but I still couldn’t make it.  I did the thing of dreaming I had got up instead, which is always doubly frustrating when you really have to get up.  When I did get up at 11.45am, I felt incredibly drained and unable to do anything other than eat breakfast and check emails and blogs (which I was also trying not to do before getting dressed – failed again).  I’m trying not to beat myself up about all of this, because it doesn’t really help, but part of me feels that if I don’t beat myself up about stuff, I won’t change.  Not that beating myself up has a great track record of inspiring change.

I used my SAD light box which I haven’t used for a few days.  It’s hard to tell if it helped.

One good thing that happened to today was the delivery of a parcel addressed to me.  I was puzzled by what it could be, but on opening was “surprised and delighted” to see it was my non-fiction Doctor Who book, arriving rather earlier than I expected.  It is pleasingly hefty.  I feel vaguely annoyed that I decided to credit it to [my first initials] [my surname] rather than [my first name] [my surname], which would be more satisfying to see on the cover, but I wanted to distinguish it from the fiction I hope to publish one day and the initials does make it seem slightly more serious for a non-fiction work somehow.

I gave my Doctor Who blog url on the blurb on the back, but that seems to be hard to out of commission (see below).  I’m not entirely happy with the cover either, but I’m no graphic designer.  I am vaguely worried that my bibliographic strategy (providing a comprehensive bibliography at the end, but only citing references in text for substantial use or direct quotation to balance between the popular and academic modes) was not good enough, but I think/hope that’s just anxiety (although part of me is worried about being sued for plagiarism).  I spotted a reference that got left off the bibliography, but that was an example I cited in the text at least; I’ve also spotted an incorrect italicisation, but that’s probably the price I pay for self-publishing and doing my own proof-reading.  This is probably self-blame trying to sabotage a good event again.

There is a temptation to revise and reprint with self-published books, but there’s a very real price on that in terms of having to pay for proof copies, not to mention the fact that I deliberately rushed the final stages through to get it finished around the time the latest series of Doctor Who was finishing.  As a result, I approved it for distribution, so it should be available through bookshops and websites in six to eight weeks, if chosen (Lulu.com seem a bit vague on how this works exactly), although I would prefer sales through Lulu.com, as I get a higher proportion of the price.

I went for a walk in the pouring rain to get some stuff I needed for Purim (upcoming Jewish festival on Monday night and Tuesday) and came back with a slight headache and feeling generally run down, although with depression I feel like that most days.  We’re all super-paranoid about colds and flu at the moment, not because of coronavirus, but because of Mum’s weakened immune system.  I hope I won’t need to self-isolate (although if I do have to, then I will agree with the man in this cartoon).

***
As for my struggles with my Doctor Who blog yesterday, it seems that WordPress are another high tech company that doesn’t do customer support, instead outsourcing to a free (for them) user discussion forum.  I tried to post a comment there to ask how I re-access my blog, only to be told that I was not allowed to post what I had written.  I do not know why I was not allowed or how to change it to something I am allowed to post.  I had been quite impressed with WordPress compared with other blog platforms I’ve used over the years (Blogger, Livejournal), but this is pretty rubbish behaviour.

***

I went to shul (synagogue) and then on to shiur (religious class) and ate a load of chocolate cranberries.  I didn’t eat biscuits, but that was mainly because they were down the other end of the table and I was too socially anxious to ask anyone to pass them down.

I wasn’t sure what to make of the shiur, which was not a good fit for my worldview, being very kabbalistic (mystical) and Haredi (ultra-Orthodox, although ‘insular’ is more the word here).  It ratcheted my pre-Purim nerves up a bit – not the religious OCD I’m worried about, more the sense that I can’t connect emotionally with Purim and grow from it, as we are supposed to connect with and grow from it.  This is the same for me with pretty much every single other Jewish festival and Jewish ritual which I do on some level by rote, but it feels worse here, perhaps because Purim is a day most people connect to, or think they have connected to (religiously-sanctioned drunkenness perhaps confuses the matter).  Sometimes I think it’s lucky that I believe so strongly and have a certain amount of cognitive engagement with Judaism, as I’m clearly not practising Judaism because of any meaning or joy I get directly from mitzvot.  Actually, that’s not entirely true, as I get something from Shabbat, difficult though it is to define what, and I do occasionally do some Jewish study that really appeals, but again, it’s mostly a cognitive process for me, I don’t know how to move things to the emotional and practical spheres.  I’m not sure how I’m supposed to encourage E. to think that what I do is worth doing when I struggle to explain even why I do it.

It also looks like I’m not being invited out for the Purim seudah (Purim festive meal) as I was last year.  Perhaps it’s for the best that I keep Mum and Dad company this year, if they’re around (I vaguely recall that they got invited out and accepted depending on chemo side-effects).  It wouldn’t feel bad had I not been invited out for the first time last year and enjoyed myself.  In the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community it’s generally considered OK to invite yourself to other people’s meals and events unless you know good reasons not to, but I don’t have the courage.  The one time I tried to invite myself to someone else’s meal, it ended badly and the social anxiety is too strong to try it again.  Another mismatch between my values and those of the wider community.  Purim is supposed to be such a day of joy and ahavat Yisrael (love of other Jews) that’s it a struggle to be alone.

Call for (Technical) Help

I mentioned in my last post about being about to post to my Doctor Who blog.  Well, it seems I can’t.  It was a paid account, but because I’m unemployed, I let the annual fee lapse.  I assumed that people would simply start to see adverts and maybe I would have to change the url at some point, but in fact I can’t log in to the site and WordPress is claiming not to know the email address I’m 99% sure I associated with it (different to the one associated with this site, because that was the only way I could see that WordPress would separate this anonymous site from the Doctor Who one under my real name).

If anyone knows how I go about reactivating that site (which I’ve already mentioned in my new Doctor Who book) I would be grateful to know, otherwise I’ll have to email tomorrow.

Kill Your Darlings (not your Daleks)

I’m feeling awful again today.  I got up late and kept going back to bed.  I knew it would be hard coming back from holiday, but I didn’t realise just how far backwards I would go.  I know I need structure, but I’m worried about the stuff I have coming up in the next week or two.  I worry about even managing to get to these things on time (I’m basically nocturnal at the moment) let alone get through them.

I’ve got a meeting with a careers charity on Friday, a different one to the one I saw on Monday, not a specifically autism/mental health one, to talk about alternative careers and interview practice, but I’m worried I’m not going to say much and it’s mostly going to be me being told I’m doing everything wrong (that’s how the previous meeting there felt, a bit).  Then it’s going to be hectic to get home in good time before Shabbat.  Then next week I have a day long seminar thing on building a second career (I never really built the first one…).  I just got an email about it; it’s a series of talks over the day, but apparently “Morning and afternoon refreshments, together with lunch, are complimentary, and an important networking part of the day.”  Scary.  I might try to stay for refreshments, but, even aside from kashrut questions (the charity running the seminar is Jewish, but not religious, so it might not be kosher enough for me), I think I will need to get away from everyone for an hour if I am to have any hope of staying in the talks for the whole day.  Oh, and weirdly one of the speakers is the rabbi who was my shul rabbi growing up; he eventually quit the rabbinate and went into finance in which capacity he’s speaking.

***

I’m struggling with concentration and motivation again.  It’s hard to feel that I could be working in this state, yet I feel I should.  I discussed this with someone else online today, that I feel I should be working, even if part-time.  It’s partly that I don’t like being dependent on my parents, partly social expectation, part genuine feeling that I want to do something meaningful with my life.  Plus, although I’m going to have another go at applying for benefits, I doubt very much that I would qualify for sickness benefits.  I’m too functional.  It’s very difficult to claim benefits for mental illness as the system is essentially based around physical incapacity.  If you can see and walk and don’t need constant care it’s difficult to meet the burden of proof for being disabled.  I’m sceptical of whether I will get unemployment benefits, but I need to try and apply while I’m still in a period where I worked significantly in the last two tax years.

***

I did manage to do a few things.  I went for a walk and picked up my blood test form for my next blood test (I have them every three months on lithium tablets).  At the doctor’s surgery I saw someone I dated a number of years ago who dumped me as soon as I said I had mental health issues.  She lives locally, so I run into her from time to time although we haven’t spoken; I’m not sure if I’m good at hiding or she’s good at pretending not to see me.  (I suppose I’m pretending not to see her, really.)

I wrote a devar Torah (Torah thought) for Shabbat (the Sabbath), which took an hour, but I was pretty exhausted afterwards.  I did the slightly naughty rabbinic trick of writing about what I wanted to write about and tying it in to the parasha (weekly Torah reading).  Actually, that’s not entirely true; it’s more that I thought there was a link, and there was, but then when I sat down to write it, the link wasn’t as strong as I thought, but I carried on anyway.  I tried to work on my novel for an hour too and wrote a bit, but then decided that my narrator was acting out of character and the incident should happen later in the chapter, in a different context and perhaps a different way.  So I’m left with a shorter chapter than I started with, and a fragment to be reworked later.  But it’s too late to work on that tonight.  I need to find a way of getting more time to work on my novel, but it’s hard when I’m expected to make job hunting my “job” and still fit in chores, exercise and the like as well as coping with poor concentration and motivation.

***

I mentioned the other day about unfollowing a blog because the blogger said something that I felt was dismissive about mental illness and didn’t respond to my polite response.  Well, she just responded today and said she thought she had responded at the time, but her comment didn’t post properly and she only just realised.  I believe her, because I’ve been reading her blog for years and she’s never struck me as the type of person to casually lie or act rudely, and if she didn’t want to respond at all, why respond now?  (She can’t see that I unfollowed her because she posts on Blogger and it doesn’t show that I was following her on WordPress.)  But I’m undecided about following the blog again as I feel I do seem to end up with differences of opinion with her a lot.  But then again, maybe it’s good for me to see that I can open up to someone with very different opinions to my own, and disagree, and we still stay friends.  In the past we have often disagreed on matters “safely.”  That’s something I do struggle to accept; I usually keep quiet about differences for fear of rejection.

***

It’s also been a day when I’ve wandered into political stuff online again, which just depresses me beyond measure.  The flare-up of fighting in Israel depresses and worries me too; I was within range of some of the 360 rockets fired from Gaza just a few days ago.  Cousin 3 lives in the south of Israel, which is the most dangerous place for rockets.  It’s scary.

Speaking of which, some photos from my trip.

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Yam Kinneret/Sea of Galilee

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View from Bental towards Mt. Hermon and Syria

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Talmudic-era village, Katzrin

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Talmudic-era synagogue, Katzrin

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Goats! Katzrin

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Arbel National Park. I wish I could go to wilderness more often

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Sunset on Kinneret/Sea of Galilee

Muppets

I’m having some trouble with OCD thoughts again, albeit on a very small scale at the moment.  I’m not sure where this has come from.  I can identify the immediate trigger, but I’m not sure why I’m back in OCD thought-territory when I thought I was doing so well in recovery.  I hope it’s just the stress of being ill and preparing to go on a trip that I’m anxious about after a month continually interrupted by Jewish festivals.  I’m trying to stay on top of the thoughts, but it’s hard.

***

I’m struggling a lot with procrastination over packing today.  I did pack, but slowly and it’s fairly clear to me it’s because I really don’t want to go on this trip, but it’s too late to back out now.  Shabbat (the Sabbath) and all the bar mitzvah stuff is likely to be tough on me and I just have to do the best I can and hope no one gets angry or upset if “the best I can do” doesn’t correspond to “what others want/expect me to do.”  I can’t get hold of my rabbi mentor to meet him while I’m there either, which is upsetting.  I go to Israel every few years and always meet with him, but this time it looks like it’s not going to happen.  I’m actually worried more than anything else, as he’s not usually this hard to get hold of.  I hope he’s OK.

After Shabbat, hopefully things will be a bit easier.  We’re in a hotel tomorrow night and some kind of youth hostel (??? it has not entirely been made clear to me, but I think my aunt and uncle are renting a youth hostel to put 75 or so people in it) for Shabbat, but then from Sunday onwards we’ll be renting an apartment and if the worse comes to the worse, I can spend the morning or even the day there while my parents go off and do tourist stuff.  I’ve got books, and the latest Doctor Who Magazine had a special promotion of eleven hour-plus long Doctor Who audiobooks that I downloaded, so I can be occupied.  It will be a bit of a waste, but at least I would have done the important family bit.  Unfortunately, I can’t always read much when I feel depressed, and reading a non-fiction popular science book may have been a strategic error, although I’m taking a short story collection and a novel as backup.  The flight may be hard.  Fortunately I’ve charged my iPod.  I wish the latest copy of The Jewish Review of Books had arrived as it should have done (I need to chase that when I get home).

***

I finally started reading the latest issue of Information Professional, the magazine of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP).  They send me this each month because I’m a member of CILIP (mostly to access their job vacancy listings) and I hate it.  The magazine just makes me feel so inadequate.  It’s full of librarians who are doing amazing, creative things with their libraries or who are doing lots of CPD (Continuing Professional Development) and becoming Chartered Librarians or whatever.  I don’t do CPD.  It’s hard enough for me to do a job, or look for a job, with all my issues without having to do unpaid extra work in my free time, just in order to keep up with a changing workplace.  I know this is the reality of the modern labour market, but I simply can’t keep up with the kind of CPD that my peers from university seem to be doing to stay in their well-paid, middle class, professional jobs.  Likewise, I can’t come up with amazing projects in my library (even if I had one), like the article I was reading today about a prison librarian who started a film club that became a massive successful project a famous actor and director getting involved.  That’s just not how my mind works.

***

(The next few paragraphs are a bit of a rant, so if you aren’t interested in politics, or rather with people who are fed up with politics, you might want to scroll down beyond the next row of asterisks.)

One advantage of going away is avoiding general election commentary for a week.  There will be enough of that when I get back.  Sometimes a political party does something that makes you think, “I could never vote for them ever again, or at least not without a fundamental change of personnel and ideology.”  The things is… all the parties have crossed that line for me in the last few years.  What do I do?  Do I abstain?  Do I say I’m an anarchist and don’t believe in government and The System?  (I actually have a bit of an anarchist streak, but not enough to usually consider seriously acting on it.)  Do I swallow my pride and vote to stop the antisemitic party getting in?  It is hard to tell.  I spoiled my ballot at the EU elections earlier this year, but I’m wary of doing that and handing Jeremy Corbyn a victory.

I was brought up to believe that I should always vote for someone, because people died to win me the vote (a somewhat specious argument; as Oscar Wilde pointed out in The Portrait of Mr. W.H., the fact that someone was willing to die for an idea does not, in itself, prove that it was a good idea).  But the last ten years or so have shown how little influence most people have on politics.  Your vote might bring to power people who share your ideas, but it’s just as likely to bring in a coalition (literally or figuratively) who do a little bit of what you want and a whole load of what you don’t want.  Even Brexit, formulated as an ‘in or out’ question looks like ending up as a compromise Brexit that annoys Remainers by formally leaving the EU without pleasing Brexiteers by staying in line with a lot of EU legislation like employment and environmental law.  That’s without the feeling many people have that MPs see themselves and not the voters as the ‘adults in the room,’ and place their own consciences ahead of what the public voted for.  This is possibly the right thing to do morally, but surely requiring more discussion before becoming part of our constitution.

Much of the problem is that we seem to be moving from a political system dominated by two parties with clear winners and one party in power at any time (like the USA) to a system with multiple parties of varying sizes, no clear winners and coalition governments (like much of Europe) so it could be that with time this will seem less frightening and we will find ways to make our voices heard (or just lapse into chaos like Italy).  It’s true that Brexit has been damaging and difficult precisely because the views of most MPs, of all parties, were so out of sync with a dangerously slender majority of the public, making clear decisions difficult and it could be that with Brexit dealt with (hopefully, one day, maybe) the political wounds will heal.  Who knows?  I just know I’m not the only person in the country, or the world, feeling politically powerless and unwilling to engage in the toxic debate that engulfs just about every opinion these days.  It’s much easier, and better for my mental health, to leave the big political questions to my supposed “betters,” the people who care about this stuff and want to argue it, and just focus on my own life, the bits I can actually affect and change.

In Britain we have a tradition of joke candidates.  In the 2017 general election, Lord Buckethead stood against then-Prime Minister Theresa May, just as he had stood against previous Conservative Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major (albeit with different people inside the helmet each time).  Also standing against May was a man dressed as Elmo from Sesame Street, who I thought was a joke candidate, but was actually campaigning for child access rights for divorced fathers.  He got three votes, rather less than Lord Buckethead.

It did make me think that an official Muppet campaign could solve my political woes.  Who wouldn’t vote for the Muppet Party?  Their slogan could be, “Tired of useless muppets running the country?  Vote for the real Muppets.”  The Count from Sesame Street could be Chancellor of the Exchequer.  “I’m raising income tax 1%… 2%… 3%…”  Kermit the Frog could be Environment Secretary.  He could sing It’s Not Easy Being Green with Greta Thunberg.  The Cookie Monster could be Health Secretary.  He would make sure everyone has their five-a-day: chocolate chip cookie, digestive, garibaldi, bourbon, shortbread.  Fozzie Bear could be Foreign Secretary.  He could defuse volatile conflicts with bad jokes.  The Prime Minister would have to be someone with immense charisma and boundless self-confidence.  There’s only one possibility there: Miss Piggy.  If Donald Trump tries anything, she can karate chop him!  Kiii-yyaaaa!!!!!

***

Sigh.  My life still seems so unfocused and drifting, but sometimes – sometimes – it feels like things are moving forward or falling into place, just really, really, really slowly.  It’s like there are two big dramas, the one out there of Brexit and Trump and the economy and the Middle East and identity politics and a million other things and all the shouting and screaming and ranting that goes with all those things.  And then there’s the drama in here, in my head of me trying to sort out depression and OCD and social anxiety and autism and making friends and finding a religious community and sorting out my feelings for E. and a number of other things that I don’t talk about here.  And I can’t really do anything about the out there drama and I don’t really want to any more.  But the in here drama is maybe, possibly, slowly shifting, but it’s far too early to say where or how it’s shifting or what I can do to help it along.  It’s just frustrating that the out there drama tends to get in the way of the in here drama and trying to work that out.

Earlier today I thought I should be back in therapy, but now I don’t think that’s true.  I think I might have to go back to therapy one day, but for now there isn’t anything my therapist could tell me that I don’t already now.  I need to work things through somehow.  The only way I know to do that is writing, here and in the novel I’m working on.  Even that’s not a cure, but a catalyst for different thinking.  Maybe.  To be honest, I’m really not sure about this bit.  Writing has been disrupted a lot recently, by Yom Tov (Jewish festivals) and my cold and now my trip. Hopefully I can set aside some significant amount of time for writing my novel when I get back and we’ll see where that takes me.

Friends, Real and Imaginary; Learned Helplessness; and the OCD Rabbit Hole

I slept too late again, and woke up slightly disturbed from having nightmares about Brexit, a gunman on the London Underground, and being chased by a Tyrannosaurus Rex.  I’m not sure what was the most scary.  I don’t think it was Brexit, so at least now if/when Brexit ever happens, I can say, “Well, at least this is better than being chased by a Tyrannosaurus Rex.”  I still feel somewhat ill from my cold and have a very sore throat and a nasty cough.  I also feel rather depressed.  It’s probably no surprise that I didn’t get much done again today.

***

I struggled to start packing today.  A lot of stuff will have to be packed tomorrow or Thursday morning because I still need it (razor, book I’m reading etc.), but I wanted to get my clothes packed today.  I’m so depressed and tired that what happened was I would procrastinate, eventually look at my list of things to pack, get out all the shirts I need and put them on the bed, stop, procrastinate, look at my list again, get out all the socks I need and put them on the bed, stop and procrastinate again… and so on.  My Mum helped quite a bit.  I tell myself that she’s better at folding clothes neatly and with the spatial reasoning needed to pack efficiently, but this is really learned helplessness on my part and I should challenge it.  It’s just hard to have to challenge myself on so many fronts for such a prolonged period.

I tried to write a devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week’s parasha (Torah reading), but the idea I had didn’t work out and I don’t have the time or energy to work on it or look for other ideas.  I’m sad about this (it’s only the second week of my renewed attempts to write a weekly devar Torah!), but given my physical and mental health and the fact I’m going away, it’s the only realistic option at the moment.  I do have an idea for next week, assuming that doesn’t collapse on inspection, but it will be a bit late.

I’m still worried about the family bar mitzvah over the weekend, but there isn’t much that I’m worried about that I can share in public.  I guess I just have to try my best to get through the next five or six days.  After that things will hopefully be a bit easier, although I imagine I won’t be completely comfortable until back home at the end of next week.

***

This evening marks the start of the Jewish month of Marcheshvan, famous for being the only Jewish month with no special religious days or obligations (more or less true, if you say we have to do teshuva in Elul).  It’s supposed to be the time when we ‘bed in’ the resolutions and behaviours we promised to start on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement) a few weeks ago and meet the challenges of living a religiously meaningful life without special days away from ordinary life.  It usually comes to me as a welcome break of normality after all the autumn Yom Tovim (festivals), but of course this year I have my cousin’s bar mitzvah, so normality is further postponed, by which time we will be far into autumn and the depression-feeding dark, wet and cold.

***

Today I’m wondering how much I really want or need real-life friends.  Meg said on my last post that I have blog friends, which is true.  I guess I’m just reluctant to call blog friends “friends” because I’m scared that you (collective you) wouldn’t feel the same way about me or that online friendships won’t last as long or satisfy.  My experience is that, while most friendships are limited to a period of time when two people have certain things in common, which can easily change, that’s even more true of blog friendships.  I don’t want to feel that I’ve lost a friend every time someone unfollows me or stops blogging.  And with online friends, conversations can happen so slowly, because of time differences and being away from computers and the slow way that people reveal things about themselves on blogs.  Plus some people are chattier in blog comments than others; some I like having long conversation threads, but lots of people seem to prefer not to continue conversations past one or two comments.

However, I do seem to cope with online friends a lot better than real-life ones.  I have a couple of friends at shul (although I’m only really beginning to acknowledge that, yes, they do like me and are real friends and I can open up to them a bit) and a couple of university friends who I see once every six months or so and one really long-term friend from primary school who I haven’t seen in years, but we email occasionally.  On the other hand, I’ve had a lot of online friends over the last twelve years or so and I tend to be better at communicating via email or WhatsApp than in person, but it’s easy to fall out of touch when they stop blogging or migrate to a different platform.  There is also the risk of argument when a discussion gets out of hand, which happens more online than in person because of the greater scope for misunderstanding when people are writing fast, but that can happen anywhere, really.

Then there’s E., who I’m in constant touch with via WhatsApp, although I guess we both admit that’s a slightly strange relationship in terms of being clearly more than “just” friends, but not explicitly romantic at the moment because we both know that it couldn’t work where we both are emotionally/financially/geographically right now.

Lately I’d been thinking of watching the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Hollow Pursuits (yes, this does get back to friends in a minute).  It’s about Reg Barclay, a shy, bumbling, crewman on the Enterprise who lacks both confidence and ability and who the regular characters don’t like, but need to work with.  He tends to withdraw into the virtual reality environment of the holodeck, where he lives out his fantasies of answering back his male superiors and romancing the female ones.  He says that “people that I create in there [the holodeck] are more real to me than anyone I meet out here [in reality]”.

I knew from previous viewings that watching this episode would be difficult and uncomfortable because the shy, incompetent and mocked Barclay is closer to what I would be if I lived in the Star Trek universe than any of the other characters, who all seem to have been top in their class at Star Fleet Academy as well as being a sports champion or brilliant musician in their spare time as well as being boundlessly self-confident.  But I figured that if I want to watch it, maybe my unconscious is trying to tell me something, plus I’m somewhat wary of the modern idea that we should always run from anything likely to trigger us, so I watched the episode again today.

As I expected, I was uncomfortable at times.  Barclay is a lot like me.  I think he’s shy and lacking in self-esteem rather than autistic, but watching him bumbling through work meetings unsure what to say and not speaking particularly coherently is like watching myself at work, or at least how I fear I have come across in at least some of my jobs.  Then there is his fantasy life on the holodeck, the life that is more real to him than his real life.  I have mentioned before that my books and DVDs are like friends to me, which is one reason I will read or watch stuff repeatedly even when I know it off by heart.  Like many autistic people, there are fictional worlds I can immerse myself in and know intimately and fictional characters who are like friends to me, while I struggle to understand the real world or to make friends with real people.

Internet/long-distance friends are somewhere between the two categories of real and fictional friends – not that they aren’t real, but that I don’t have to respond to them in real time, which gives me time to stop and think about what to say rather than having to respond on the spot which I find so hard, plus those friendships are usually primarily via text of some kind (blog comments, emails, WhatsApp messages) which allows me to redraft and edit before sending and sometimes even afterwards.  This is much easier for me than communicating with people in person, so it’s probably not surprising that most of my friends are online even if that doesn’t mean they aren’t real.

***

I mentioned yesterday having asked my rabbi a question that I thought was probably religious OCD talking, but wasn’t sure.  Today, early on, when I was waiting for an answer, I thought it was probably OK, as I had felt yesterday after sending the question.  Then when he responded and said it was OK, I seized on one aspect of the answer and started to question that and doubt all over again.

This is how the OCD troll works: if you feed it, it comes back stronger.  If I say “If X happened, is Y OK?” and the rabbi says, “Yes,” then I don’t accept that the situation is OK, I start to worry that X didn’t really happen after all.  I’m going to be strong and not ask the question again, or ask follow-up questions to try to resolve the doubts; I’m going to accept the situation is probably OK with a good enough degree of probability for me to feel that I am meeting my religious obligations.  But it’s a scary reminder of the way that, for me at least, mental illness is, at best, managed, but not cured; it can come back when I’m weak and vulnerable.  It doesn’t take much to push me down the rabbit hole again.

Family Values

I had a number of responses to my previous post, on the blog and via email.  I feel bad that I went into autistic ‘black and white thinking’ more, as I often do when people give me advice, and felt that it didn’t help.  The reality is that after I’ve had time to process it, I’m more able to decide what might help me now, what might help me down the line and what isn’t relevant to my situation, but I feel bad that I come across as too negative.

I’m also thinking that I should make more of an effort to get to depression group, which I haven’t done since it switched location to a less convenient site.  But it would be good to speak to people about depression again.  Unfortunately I can’t get to next week’s meeting.

***

Today was a slow day with depression and exhaustion.  I’m still recuperating from the Jewish festivals.  I did some chores and I worked on my novel a little today, writing for about an hour and a quarter in three small chunks as I couldn’t get a continuous period of time to work on it.  I wrote over a thousand words and dealt with a passage that was quite emotional for me, tapping in to difficult emotions that I’ve experienced in the past.  I’m not sure if writing is really therapy per se, but it does bring up difficult emotions, which may or may not be good.

I really should (that word again) go back to job hunting, but I couldn’t face it.  (I should be exercising too.)  I look at job listings and think, “I can’t do that.”  Now I wonder if that is also black and white thinking.  However, I had another job rejection today without even getting to the interview stage, so maybe I have the wrong skills and experience.  I’m volunteering again on Sunday, assuming I feel well enough, so I’ll try to gauge how comfortable I feel with the children there and how they seem with me, to help me think about working in a school, although I don’t feel very hopeful about it.

***

It’s weird how autism and depression symptoms can vary depending on how I’m feeling generally, and the way they interact.  When I was a child, I was sensitive to the feel of some fabrics.  In particular, I found wool and woolly clothes prickly and uncomfortable.  Over the years I’ve become more tolerant of them.  However, today I was wearing a sweatshirt, not even wool (it’s acrylic), but it felt so prickly and uncomfortable that I had to take it off, even though it hasn’t been uncomfortable in the past.  It seems likely that that is because I’m feeling very depressed and exhausted today and that reduces my ability to tolerate other symptoms of my conditions.

***

Shiur (religious class) tonight was good, but I did feel overwhelmed at the start by the sheer number of people (eleven) in a small room.  This may have contributed to eating more than I wanted to do, I’m not sure.

The key part of the shiur that I took home with me was the idea that we should not think of our yetzer hara (difficult to translate, but a person’s negative desires or an anthropomorphised version of their temptations) as being ourselves, in the sense of our actual identity.  In other words, you should not think “I’m a really angry person” even if you have anger issues.  I’m not sure that I’m explaining this well.  It did make me think about the discussion in the online mental health community about you not being your mental illness.  I’m not quite sure if this was what the rabbi had in mind, but it did make me feel that I possibly do over-identify with my yetzer hara and I probably do over-identify with my ‘issues’ in the sense of telling myself, “Oh, I can’t do X because I’m autistic” or “I’m useless at Y because I have depression.”

There was some debate after the shiur was formally over which I stayed for.  I felt a bit awkward, as I couldn’t really follow the cut and thrust of the debate and I suspect I would have done before I was depressed.  I was also too wary to mention the parallel with mental illness that I referred to above, even though I’ve told two of the people there that I suffer from depression and one of the others is a doctor.

***

Today’s anxiety: next week is my cousin’s bar mitzvah in Israel.  I’m already nervous for several reasons.  I always get nervous going to Israel, partly because I’m afraid of terrorism (although I’m not convinced that London is much safer these days), partly because of being in a country where I am not fluent in the language.  My Hebrew is probably better than I give myself credit for (even if I do mess up the verb conjugations), but I don’t really have confidence in speaking Hebrew.

Perhaps the biggest anxiety (aside from travelling around the country by myself to see my rabbi mentor, although that may not happen anyway as I can’t get hold of him) is the Shabbat (Sabbath) itself.  There will be something like seventy-five or a hundred people coming, to a youth hostel or kibbutz (I’m not sure which) that my uncle and aunt are hiring for Shabbat.  There will be big meals and, of course, my cousin (let’s call him C5 as he is the fifth of five siblings) will lein (chant from the Torah) in shul on Shabbat morning.

My worries are that it can be difficult to (for many people, not just me) to be with extended family for long periods because of personality clash (even if no one argues with me, if there is a family argument, as happens in many families, it will upset me) and that big, crowded events are not easy with depression, social anxiety and autism.  I was also asked to lead bentsching (grace after meals), singing in Hebrew, which worries me in case I shake.  Hebrew and singing are OK here as I’ve probably sung bentsching thousands of times in my life and, except for one little bit, everyone will join in anyway.  However, I was also offered the chance to make kiddush (the blessing over wine at the start of dinner and lunch on Shabbat), but I turned it down because I worried I would shake and spill the wine.  I’m worried that I’ll be so exhausted after Friday night that I’ll be too exhausted to get to shul for my cousin on Saturday morning; I might even be too tired to make it to lunch on time.

I thought all of that was enough to be worrying about, but apparently not.  My cousin’s grandfather (not the mutual grandfather, who is dead, the one on the other side of the family) has written a comic song about the family to be sung, or at least read, by the family at lunchtime.  To my surprise, my parents, sister and brother-in-law are going along with this.  I can not see myself doing this.  It’s alright for my uncle, aunt and cousins.  They’re mostly extroverts who thrive on being the centre of attention.  I really can’t see myself doing it.  But now I see myself as the only person not joining in.  I fear it will look bad, I’ll seem to be the spoilsport even before the effects of depression, social anxiety and autism kick in.  Plus, there’s always the feeling of, “I wish I could do that,” similar to what I feel when I see people lead services in shul, knowing that it is within the range of my Jewish knowledge and that I have done it in the past, but that it is beyond the range of my current confidence level.

It often happens that when I’m with extended family, there is an argument (either with me or that I witness) and I end up feeling, “What am I doing here?”  Feeling that I can’t cope, that no one in the family is on my wavelength, that I should just push myself harder to work through everything.  Sometimes depression, social anxiety and autism provides an excuse, sometimes it doesn’t.  When it was my other cousin’s (C4’s) bat mitzvah, I was supposed to go to be photographed with my family on the Sunday afterwards and I flat out refused because I was feeling so overwhelmed.  There wasn’t an argument, but my Mum really wanted me to go and was disappointed I didn’t.  I think I skipped the actual party too, but in that case the party for friends was separate from the small family meal on the Shabbat, so everyone felt that I’d gone to the main event.  Here there are two massive meals and I am very worried about getting through them.  I’m even worried if I made the right decision about bentsching.  I’ve got a week to think/worry about this…

Pushing Myself Too Hard?

I felt pretty depressed for much of today.  I had insomnia last night and didn’t fall asleep until 5.00am and so overslept this morning and woke up feeling exhausted and very depressed.  This led to me missing volunteering again, largely due to oversleeping and depression, but perhaps it is also avoidance of social situations that I no longer feel comfortable in, if I ever did, which makes me feel guilty, not least for letting people down.  It does feel that I can’t cope with much right now and job hunting and trying to take steps to sell my writing is pushing me to the limit and that shul (synagogue) and volunteering as well as support groups and socialising are being cut back as a result.  That’s not entirely true, as for about three of the last four weeks I’ve managed to get to one weekday minyan (prayer service) at shul, which is an improvement on recent months.  Still, the overall trend is to retreat inside myself.

I feel bad for letting the organisers of the drop in centre down and for running away (essentially).  As I mentioned in a comment on the last post, it was instilled in me from a young age that I shouldn’t run away from social situations, and the fact that I do run away a lot creates a lot of negative thoughts about myself.  Even though I know this approach is not helpful, I can’t get around the fact that it feels “wrong” and that I “should” be able to cope if I “try hard enough.”  Also, that if I do try “hard enough” one day something magical will happen and I will suddenly feel comfortable talking to strangers and being in crowds as supposedly happens to shy people who push themselves out of their comfort zone.

I did manage to do one chore I’d been putting off for ages and also went for a half hour walk, listening to some of an In Our Time podcast on Zeno’s Paradoxes, but that’s about all I’ve managed today.  I tried to do some Torah study, but didn’t manage very much, only about ten minutes.  I formatted the article I want to submit to a Jewish newspaper in accordance with these guidelines, but I’m aware that these are for (a) short stories, not articles and (b) possibly out of date (the content treats word processors as relatively new).  But I can’t find any other guidelines.  I hope to send the article off tomorrow, when I will hopefully feel well enough to draft a decent covering email.  I do feel like a child playing at being an adult and feel sure I will make stupid mistakes.

The article I’m trying to sell is about being understanding of people with mental illness who can’t do as much as other people, but I’m really bad at turning that advice on myself, even though I would never push another person the way I

***

At 4.00am, when I couldn’t sleep, I suddenly felt really angry against the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community, feeling that I have been “cheated” of my place in it.  In theory the community is meritocratic, with positions of honour granted to brilliant scholars and people who sacrifice for the community, at least for men (women’s positions of honour seem to be more complicated, sociologically-speaking, and I don’t fully understand how it works).  I suppose I feel that if I was not depressed and autistic, or if I had gone to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) or if I had been frum from birth instead of a ba’al teshuva (raised non-religious and became observant later in life), my life would have been different.  Of course, there is no knowing what could have happened if one starts going down this route, and the idea that I am somehow “owed” something by the community is disturbingly angry, entitled and perhaps even paranoid.  Still, this is what I was thinking at 4.00am.  I am not proud of it, but there it is.  I suppose it reflects what is going on in my mind at a deep, unconscious level.

It probably also reflects the idea that I feel I need to be a certain type of person not just to be respected in my community, but to get married.  I’m not sure how many people “deserve” to be in a relationship and have children or are “ready” for it.  How many frum people who get married at nineteen or twenty are objectively “ready”?  What does that even mean?  Regardless, I’m used to hearing things like “If you don’t like yourself single, you won’t like yourself in a relationship” or that one shouldn’t start a relationship if one has “issues.”  It becomes easy to feel that if I was somehow visibly, objectively “ready” to get married, I would find love, even that my community (which shows surprisingly little interest in marrying me off) would set me up on dates.

***

Another thing I was thinking about early this morning was making my blog invitation only.  Lying in bed, I realised in my last post I had spoken about other people again, even though my rabbi mentor had really convinced me that I should not do so.  I think I’m good at not saying anything negative about identifiable people, although I do slip up from time to time, but my experiences of the last couple of weeks makes me wonder if I should say anything at all about other people.  Was the comment about the person who asked why I wasn’t at the social event too negative or identifiable?  It does not seem likely, but it does not meet the standard I was aiming for.  But I’m not sure how I could continue blogging with that standard.  I write about my negative feelings and my most negative feelings are often triggered by things other people say or do to me.  As I don’t think I can stop blogging, hiding it from the public seems to be the next best thing.

I briefly looked in to making the blog invitation only, but it looks rather complicated on WordPress compared to Livejournal (who thought I would be nostalgic for Livejournal…).  Also, my experience is if people can’t use their normal blog readers to read a blog, they stop reading it, however much they like it.  I might experiment with password-protected posts, which I have seen other people do, but even that is not ideal.  Essentially, I think there are about twenty people, so far as I can tell, who regularly read this blog (based on comments and likes) and I want to find a way to allow them to read easily while stopping other people, but I’m not sure there is an easy way of doing that.