I went to bed late last night because I was trying to Do Stuff. This was basically a mistake, as I struggled to get up in time for work today. Although if I hadn’t done it, I would probably be feeling even more useless and even further behind with all the things I have to do. I felt intensely depressed today and was wondering again if I have Seasonal Affective Disorder, or an element of it. My depressive episodes tend to start at this time of year, although they can persist through spring and summer, so it’s probably SAD co-existing with an underlying vulnerability to depression. Although I should see how I feel over the coming weeks, as I’ve only had a couple of bad days; I might feel better next week (maybe).
I don’t think I made any mistakes at work, but J discovered a bad one I must have made recently, not updating the address on an invoice that I was revising from a template. I’m not quite sure how it got to the right person. But even without many obvious errors, I was stuck in self-criticism and negativity today. I felt that it’s so hard to change my life, particularly to change it enough to be able to get married (having enough money to support ourselves, but also so that E can be allowed to immigrate). I wish I could work more and earn more, just for those practical reasons rather than because I want money or consumer goods in and of themselves.
Since I’ve got home from work and have snacked on some fruit, I feel quite a bit better. I think work is a not-ideal environment for me. The people are really nice, but the building itself is dark and gloomy and that does affect my mood, doubly so when I’m also tired or hungry. I don’t really begin to feel myself until after lunch most days because of that.
On the way home I listened to an Intimate Judaism podcast about whether Judaism is ‘sex positive’. There was some talk on the podcast about how the Jewish community should think about people who can’t have sex in the way that Judaism wants because they’re gay, transexual and so on. The sex therapist on the podcast was probably more liberal here than the rabbi. I’m not gay or trans, but that feeling of moral dissonance is something I’ve been experienced I hit adolescence over twenty years ago. E says I’m “strong” for staying a virgin for so long, but I rarely had the option not to be one. The actual times I’ve consciously made a choice not to have sex can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand. On the other hand, the times I’ve deliberately or unintentionally broken Jewish law around sex and sexual fantasy (without ever actually having sex) are far too many to be counted. However, I really feel strongly against any kind of “making excuses” for myself. But at the same time, I want people to understand what I’ve been through, hence the books I want to write. I want people to understand without lowering their standards, but having more compassion.
Some months ago, E sent me a link to an Instagram post from Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt where she said:
How about we invest in real Orthodox art? What if instead of investing in askanim & bloggers to whine about misrepresentation – we empower frum independent-minded artists to do creative work, tell stories of our communities, bravely, *candidly*? The beautiful & challenging, the inspiring but also the systemic issues that emerge in communities in which there is the inevitable tug-of-war between individualism & conformity, tradition & modernity...
No, not “my Orthodox life is fun & perfect” tales, but stories of faith, conflicts, struggles? Not sanitized hagiography, but flesh & blood. Not “content,” but art. Stories that show we are human & nothing more.
I want to do this, to the limit of my ability, and it’s one of the main things that motivates me to want to keep writing and keep searching for an agent/publisher even when (as at the moment) things are hard both in my head (mood) and in the world (rejection or just lack of time and energy).
I don’t think I’ve suffered more than most people, although I don’t think I’ve suffered less than them either. I’m not sure that many people are free of suffering for long. When I think of other people suffering, it motivates me to want to write to let people know that this suffering exists. However, when I think of my own suffering, I just want to give up. It’s hard to get to the right mindset.
It did occur to me last night that Rebbetzin Chizhik-Goldschmidt, as a prominent Jewish journalist and also as a rebbetzin (rabbi’s wife) might have contacts in the world of publishing and I was vaguely thinking about trying to email her to say what I’ve just said here and outlining some of my projects and ask if she had any suggestions of where to look for an agent or publisher. But when I started to look for contact details online I discovered that her husband has literally just been fired from his job and the family has been made homeless, as well as facing a huge amount of criticism from their former community. So it’s probably not the best time to try that.
There was a time when I tried to read one poem a day. I stopped doing that in an earlier episode of depression; it was just one more ‘should.’ Now I only read poetry when blog friends post it, and not always then (sorry). I have been wanting to re-read T. S. Eliot lately, though, primarily The Waste Land, but The Hollow Men has been on my mind a bit, thinking about wanting to write and writing not being the same thing:
Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom
Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long
I woke up late again, and drained/fatigued. I feel that I need to make more money so E and I can get married, but I don’t know how. I feel I have so little confidence on my abilities in the workplace in general, and librarianship (the career I’m actually trained for) in particular. My attempts to sell magazine articles have not succeeded up until now, although I find it hard to think of ideas and worry that I don’t pitch them properly. I have a vague idea of writing something about being high-functioning on the autism spectrum and frum for one of the Jewish newspapers (my Mum has been saying for ages that I should write this), but I feel that professional magazines and newspapers publish from a small group of regular journalists they know they can trust. As with anything, I feel I don’t know how to get accepted in the first place. It’s hard even to find submissions guides and find out what word count or format they want.
I guess it’s come to a head partly from having a serious conversation about finances with E yesterday, and also because I keep coming across things written by Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt, who is a very successful frum (religious Jewish) journalist (and community rebbetzin!) and I wonder how other people can juggle creative (or non-typically-frum) careers and frumkeit and I can’t — is it just because I’m neurodivergent? How do I get around that? I really hope I’m not just congenitally useless. I know other people who juggle creativity and frumkeit. I guess they are not autistic, but then they have families and other responsibilities too.
I know, it’s hard to get established as a creative. Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime. Stephen King was rejected by thirty publishers and gave up on writing completely until his wife secretly saved his manuscript and sent it to another publisher. The Beatles were told that “Guitar bands are on the way out.” And so on. It’s hard to stay positive sometimes. At least I’m trying to think of ideas. Autism and low self-esteem tend to shut me straight into “I can’t do this, it won’t work” catastrophising mode.
Other things bringing me down: it’s less than a week since E went back to the States, but it feels like longer, especially as we don’t know when we’ll be together again. And now the clocks have gone back, it feels like winter is suddenly here. The nights have been getting longer, but suddenly they feel a lot longer, an effect that is probably at least in part psychological, as the clocks only go back one hour, but it still feels grim, especially with gloomy weather. I’m aware that this is exactly the time of year when I usually relapse into depression, even if I’ve been in recovery since spring. I hope this is just a bad day and not the start of a relapse.
I feel like both my chosen careers are very woke and focused with inclusion, diversity and minority voices — but not for Jews. Today I was looking at a supplement produced by CILIP (the Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals) on children’s books, very focused on racial and gender minorities; no Jews. Although judging by what I’ve read, including the Jewish science fiction and fantasy anthology I’m currently reading, most Jewish writers have little interest in or knowledge of most of Jewish history and culture, particularly the traditional and religious parts (which is most of it, historically).
E suggested I have a rest day, but I wanted to try to do something productive. Possibly this attitude just stores up trouble for me. Maybe I should listen when my body/mind tells me it’s tired. I seem to be caught in a no-win situation sometimes of feeling exhausted and needing rest, but also feeling like time is running out on me and I need to sort out my career ASAP, and that taking a day off (other than Shabbat) will just leave me feeling lazy and useless. So I push myself to do things and feel exhausted again the next day.
I sent my updated CV to a recruitment agent. She is supposed to specialise in library jobs and did actually get me one or two short-term jobs (I can’t remember exactly which ones, I think the really awful one outside the library sector and the surprisingly good one at a university library). I just wish looking at my CV didn’t make me feel like I totally failed at building a CV.
I also wrote a pitch email to a major Anglo-Jewish newspaper, pitching that article on high-functioning autism in the frum community. I do feel it’s problematic that most of the stuff I’ve had published in professional or semi-professional websites isn’t stuff I really want to show to prospective editors, given the subject matter, often depression, suicide or sexuality (but not in a good way, rather about loneliness and celibacy). I probably spent two hours or more in pitching mode today, whether talking about it with E and my parents; sketching a plan; and writing a pitch email (that took nearly an hour and a half by itself). I should probably apologise to E and my parents for being negative; I feel I have to vent a load of negativity before I can actually start a scary task. It’s generally just best to let me vent and then quietly wait for me to start regardless.
All this meant I didn’t get a chance to pitch my novel to another agent or to research the second novel. I wish I could do more in a day, but there it is. I probably won’t send the pitch email until Tuesday, as one site I read advised not to pitch on Thursday night or Fridays (no one wants to deal with a new project at the end of the week), over the weekend or on Mondays (editors are dealing with the weekend email backlog on Mondays and will delete pitch emails unread).
Other than that I went for a walk and spent some time on my devar Torah, but most of the stuff on my To Do list is still there.
My parents’ suspected COVID has turned out to be a heavy cold, fortunately, although I’m still hoping to avoid it. I’m actually not particularly susceptible to colds and viruses, so I’m hopeful. It would not be good if E comes to the UK and I’m too ill to leave the house!
I went to bed early last night as I had had an exercise headache after running and was not feeling 100% even though the pain had subsided. However, I couldn’t sleep. I’m not sure if I couldn’t sleep because I was worrying, or if I just had time to worry because I was lying in bed unable to sleep. I thought I would write down my anxieties and possible plans for dealing with them. I didn’t want to go on the computer in case the light made the insomnia worse, so I wrote it on paper. I tried to write some suggestions to deal with the anxieties too, rather than just rehearse them.
Looking over it today, some of it seems catastrophising. It’s true that the publishing industry leans somewhat progressive/woke, and that few books (fiction or non-fiction) presenting the Orthodox Jewish community (or other conservative religious communities) in a positive light exist. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I won’t find an agent or a publisher for my book, especially as I think the Jewish non-representation issue is as much a problem of supply as demand; there aren’t enough good writers in a community that does not value artistic creation highly. On a practical level, as I am struggling to send query letters to five or ten agents in one go each month, maybe it would be more realistic to send to two agents a week.
I do also worry that the novel I am planning will get me a terrible reputation for writing about sex and pornography use in the frum (religious Jewish) community, but I feel driven to write the novel regardless. A bigger problem is my fear that I won’t be able to pull the whole plot together and created rounded characters, but I have no way of knowing except by trying. I also fear that writing about sex when I’m a thirty-eight year old virgin is not the most sensible thing to do, but I guess I have a unique voice, and writing about pornography addiction is not exactly the same as writing about sex (not that I have experience of addiction either, but I’m researching).
More realistically, I was worried that COVID would disrupt E’s trip here. That’s less likely now my parents’ tests came back negative, but it’s still possible. It’s just something we (= the world) will have to learn to live with.
My biggest worry last night was actually the easiest to resolve today. I was worried about talking to J about mistakes at work, but when I did that today, he seemed laid back about it. On reflection, I think it’s only one or two tasks where I continually make mistakes and J seems to think I will improve with experience.
Other than that, it was an ordinary day at work, but I managed to do about an hour of work on my new novel in the evening! I wanted to plan out the story, but realised I needed to work understanding the characters first. It’s that idea of knowing if I can do it by trying. I have a better idea of character and plot now. I don’t think I’m going to get much time to focus on it in the immediate future, though, with E coming here soon and the fact that I want to spend some serious time finding an agent for my first novel. But I’m glad to have made some progress, as I want to get some kind of an outline written for the novel soon, so I can see if it has potential before I invest too much time in it. I would have liked to have spent even more time on it, but I got too tired.
I probably shouldn’t write too much about my creative process here, for fear of killing it, but it helps me to process things to speak a bit about it.
I struggled with insomnia again last night. I still managed to get up reasonably early to do the Very Scary Task for work. At first it seemed to be becoming a bit more manageable with experience, although it still is quite scary as I have to balance the needs of lots of stakeholders alongside important halakhot (Jewish laws), as well as making phone calls, which socially anxious and/or autistic people tend to see as one of the hardest social tasks. I feel that I’m not good at reading people, particularly on the phone, and I lack the experience of doing the task to make judgement calls and see how things are going, especially judging timescales, which is important. I feel J can judge these things, but I can’t, and he was not checking his texts all the time today. Hopefully I will gain experience with time, but reading people is hard, although it’s an issue in any work situation. It’s still a struggle to do something involving so many people, so little time, and which is a very serious and important thing in itself.
As time went on, the task became harder. As is often the case when I have the VST, I found myself hanging around waiting for phone calls, not willing to start anything in case I suddenly have to stop. I wish I understood this process and the time it takes better, but I guess I will only learn by doing it. I had time to think and overthink what I had done, which was not good, especially as there was no one around to talk it over with. Mum was at work, Dad with his friend, E asleep and J out with his family. This left me too much time to overthink and catastrophise. I wrote essentially the same work ‘to do’ list twice in the space of a few minutes without realising what I was doing, trying to get my thoughts out of my head. I don’t like being left by myself to brood on things, as well as feeling as if I’ve dropped off the planet when people don’t answer phones or texts. I shouldn’t be so insecure in my work and emotional needs to require constant reassurance that I’m doing the right thing, but given that I do feel like that I don’t know what to do about it, especially as the consequences of making a mistake are potentially quite serious.
I feel like I spent all day working on this and it’s still not completed, so I need to get up early to work on it tomorrow too. I actually only spent an hour or two in terms of actual activity, but I’ve been on edge all day waiting for phone calls, and planning phone calls, and I haven’t been able to do anything else. By the mid-afternoon, I felt really tense and uncomfortable. I also don’t know many hours I can justifiably bill J for. In the end I texted some people instead of phoning, as it was 7pm and I was totally out of energy spoons. I think if this becomes a regular part of my job, I need to think seriously about how I manage the stress and if I can claim any adjustments. And I’ve still got to deal with it again tomorrow, because we’re waiting on some bureaucrat to get off their backside and send the paperwork so people can do their actual jobs. I would be quite worried about what will happen tomorrow and how I will cope, except that I’m now too tired to care, which I guess is good. Isn’t it?
“Let go and let God” is a term from addiction treatment. I’d seen it before, but today I saw it right when I was struggling with things. It seems to apply to me. Unfortunately, I’m not good at letting go, particularly when I feel I’m letting other people or God down, or both, in the case of the VST.
In terms of other scary things, I survived a prolonged social interaction with my Dad’s best friend (despite having eaten lunch quickly to avoid him). He seemed a lot older than when I last saw him and more subdued than he used to be. I think he’s been through a lot. I shouldn’t have mentioned his criminal conviction yesterday, as it makes him sound like a career criminal, rather than someone who made some bad decisions. I’d also forgotten that he has mental health issues that influenced those bad decisions. So, I feel a bit guilty. He asked me a lot of questions about work, which is good in that it makes me seem normal, but bad in that sometimes I’m unsure of the answers. Despite having been there for ten months, I feel there’s a lot I don’t know.
Then I had to have dinner with my parents’ other friends in the sukkah, with no spoons (of the energy kind, but it was pizza so no literal spoons either). I didn’t want to “people,” I just wanted to watch TV, but it’s Sukkot, so I had to eat in the sukkah, which meant people and no TV (and no spoons). It wasn’t as bad as I feared, mostly because I tuned out of the conversation and just ate my food and went. Then I skyped E, which is strange for me, as it seems to be a social interaction that doesn’t drain me and maybe even restores me, which obviously bodes well for our future.
I decided I didn’t have the wherewithal to write a devar Torah (Torah thought) this week, especially as there is no regular Torah reading because of Sukkot. I missed last week too, which makes me feel a bit bad. Next week is back to the beginning of the Torah, so hopefully I’ll be able to write one there. I tried to do some Torah study, but first was too on edge waiting for phone calls, then too tired and stressed, and worried about tomorrow. Sigh. I did a little, but not much.
I did at least spend a little time on my short story. I got it to a point where I was happy enough with it to be able to let E see it (she liked it). I’ll probably post the short story in a day or two in a locked post. Please let me know if you want me to email you the password so you can read it.
I did realise recently that the novel I’ve written is about the demons and mistakes of my adolescence and early adulthood, whereas the one I want to write next is about the demons of my childhood and also the present day, at least in some sense. I’m not a rabbi who is secretly a porn addict, but in other ways it is about me. I’m very drawn to the idea that a novel about addiction is really a novel about teshuvah (repentance/return to God/return to the true self/soul), at least in a Jewish context, an idea that is hard to explore in the secular Western setting, which has become a lot more about public shame than private guilt.
I went for a walk to try to destress (it didn’t entirely work, I got two work-related calls). I went to the book box and re-donated IT, along with Religion and the Decline of Magic by Keith Thomas, a big history book that I bought at a charity shop years ago and instantly regretted because the cover was such a mess (coffee stains) that I could never bring myself to read it. It is now easily the most intellectual thing in the box. I hope someone else can see past its cover.
E booked her tickets to the UK for later this year, which is exciting, although because of COVID there is a layer of uncertainty and the worrying feeling that everything could get called off at the last minute because of a bad test or an escalation of infection in the US or UK. It seems strange to think there was a time when you could book a plane ticket and, aside from extreme unforeseen incidents, you would know that you would definitely be in that country on that date. We seem to have drifted back to a pre-twentieth century idea of travel.
I wrote most of this during the day, when I was feeling quite down. I’m posting it just as a record of my emotions, and that I can come out of slumps better than I used to be able to do.
I feel down today, even somewhat depressed. I’ve been a bit self-critical and I’ve been catastrophising a lot. I don’t know why I feel like this suddenly. I guess there are reasons. There’s family members struggling with things; COVID is getting to me, and making me worry when E and I will be able to meet again; I’m stressed about the coming Yom Tovim (Jewish festivals); and I’m probably a bit hurt still from my novel rejection and wondering what my next step is, trying to process that now my intense two weeks covering for J at work is over. So I guess there is over-causation, if anything. Still, I thought I was getting better at emotional regulation and dealing with the down days. I still struggle to understand my own emotions a lot of the time, which doesn’t make dealing with them any easier.
As there has often been a seasonal element to my depression, it could be that as the days get shorter and the weather colder and more inclement (not that we had a particularly hot or dry summer!) I am still going to get more down/mildly depressed, despite no longer suffering general depression. Or maybe it’s my worries about getting through the next few weeks.
I missed E a lot and worried about how we can move our relationship on. There are so many obstacles: COVID, long-distance, finances, dealing with our separate ‘issues’… I worry that more will appear as we progress and can already catastrophise some into existence if I’m not careful. In terms of COVID, it’s not at all clear that the UK will still be allowing visitors from the US over the next couple of months. I worry that the US will become some kind of permanent plague zone that Europeans avoid contact with, like something out of a zombie film, and the type of Americans that refuse to get vaccinated won’t care because they have zero interest in the outside world anyway.
Another possibility is envy, sadly. I’m just feeling the “Will I ever make anything of my life? Will I become a successful writer? (Will I actually get the energy/headspace to write anything else?) How did I become such a professional failure when I did so well at school?” feeling again looking at more successful peers or even younger contemporaries. To quote Crusade, the abortive spin-off from Babylon 5, “When Mozart was my age, he was dead.” I don’t want to be Mozart, or the literary equivalent, but I do want to be able to at least help support E and myself and hopefully even children one day. I’d also like to write something that I can be proud of, something clever, idiosyncratic and unique like the stories I love like The Prisoner, Twin Peaks, The Third Policeman or Ubik. But at the moment I’m too focused on getting through the next couple of weeks to write much, and today everything feels such an effort.
A while back E sent me the link to this Instagram post, saying that there’s a need for my writing in the Jewish community. I look at it periodically when I need encouragement about my writing, but I guess today it just makes me think, “There are already Jewish creatives, why would anyone want to read my writing? I can’t write nearly well enough to capture the conflict between tradition and modernity. My writing’s too humdrum for the secular market and too negative for the religious market. And I don’t know how to get an agent.” And so on, back into catastrophisation.
I managed about three hours of work today, which is probably a minor miracle and I shouldn’t be surprised I can’t write too. Today is a bank holiday (public holiday), but I agreed with J to do a day’s work, split over today and tomorrow. I didn’t really want to do it, but I wanted to show willing, given that I want J to make my job permanent, and I’m aware I won’t work much in September because of Yom Tov (Jewish festivals) and hopefully I’ll want time off in October if E comes here.
I went for a run. It wasn’t very good, but I was just glad to get out, as I felt like going back to bed. I think it did help shift my mood, as did speaking to E in the evening. I feel OK now.
It doesn’t look like I’m going to be able to speak to the rabbi about my autism before Yom Tov, which is vaguely annoying, but he’s been away and then I had that not good time when I was covering for J and now it’s nearly Yom Tov. Maybe I can try to speak to him before Sukkot at least.
Last night I had a dream that seems somewhat relevant. I was watching some Hasidic men dance. They tried to drag me into the dance, but I didn’t want to join in; however, I didn’t want to go away either, I wanted to watch.
When I awoke, it made me think of Otto Rank, Freud’s pupil who postulated that life divides into the fear of life (fear of individuation) and fear of death (fear of absorption and losing individuality). I want to watch the dance (connect), but I am afraid to join in the mass of dancers (lose individuality). It’s probably about me and the Orthodox Jewish community, my inability to find my place in it and my uncertainty about where E and I will feel comfortable.
There seems to be a lot of drunken partying/arguing/fighting going on in someone’s back garden with a lot of noise reaching us despite the lateness of the hour (gone 11pm). It might be a long night…
I’m in two minds about blogging today. I feel the need to offload a bit, but I am aware that I can’t actually say that much here about my job, plus I feel tired and want to get away from computer screens (although I was barely on the computer at all at work today).
Suffice to say I had to go somewhere by myself this morning for work without preparation, somewhere vaguely eerie to be by yourself if you haven’t been there much. I dealt with it OK, I think. To be honest, I was more worried about missing my bus stop than anything once I actually got there.
In the afternoon J and I went over the valuables I inventoried some time ago. Unfortunately, it was some months since I worked on this and I had forgotten some of what I had done. J was also critical of the way things had been assigned reference numbers in the past. I had not done this, I had just used the reference numbers provided, but I worried irrationally that he was annoyed with me too.
I didn’t feel autistically burnt out today, but I was exhausted by the time I got home. I read a novel for a while as I didn’t want to sit at my computer, but reading was a bit of a struggle. I really just wanted to vegetate, but I didn’t want to watch TV until later in the evening when I was really tired.
Lately I feel as if I’ve had OCD-type thoughts and catastrophising thoughts lurking at the fringes of my consciousness. I try not to give in to them, but the more I think about not thinking about them, the more I think about them. I’ve also noticed that over the years I’ve had varying level of discomfort about some things, like wearing shoes and watches, something I now associate with autistic sensory issues. It’s got worse recently, to the point where I regularly take my watch off while at work and put it in my pocket (possibly rendering wearing it redundant, although it’s easier to look at it quickly on my journey to work than getting my phone out of my pocket). I don’t take my shoes off at work, although sometimes I wish I could, but I do take them off at home. I’m not sure why this would suddenly get more difficult and intense, but I wonder if it’s part of a general feeling of being overloaded recently.
Speaking of which, I’m not going to volunteering this week. I do get a lot out of it, but I feel exhausted and can’t really face the early morning. I feel like I need to take some recuperation time. I feel a little bad, as I know they probably have fewer volunteers this week, but I feel that I need to look after myself to avoid more burnout.
I’m still watching The Blue Planet wildlife documentary. The undersea photography is as awe-inspiring as the sundry whales, sharks and other marine life. Watching nature reminds me of something my rabbi mentor once said to me, that two people can look at the night sky and say diametrically opposite things. One can say, “How can you look at that and not believe there is a God?” and the other can say, “How can you look at that and believe there is a God?” I guess you can say the same about the wonders of the plant and animal kingdoms, that some people see in them God’s handiwork and others just see nature. And it’s not even a creationism/evolution issue. I can accept evolution as a proof of God’s prowess. There’s a quote I think from Rav Hirsch in the nineteenth century that evolution proves God’s creative power more than separate individual creations, as all He did was create one single-celled creature and the principle of evolution and from that millions of species evolved. I think the point is that nature can point to God, but you have to be leaning that way in the first place. It doesn’t necessarily point there of itself.
For myself, I have always tended to find God more in the apparent vicissitudes of history, particularly Jewish history as well as my own personal history, and also in the depth of the Jewish tradition, as well as in human dignity and moral fortitude, but I’m aware that these don’t necessarily point to God of themselves either.
Today I slept a lot, had anxiety dreams (I don’t know why I still get anxiety dreams about breaking Shabbat when I’ve been shomer Shabbat for twenty years), woke up still feeling burnt out, as well as overwhelmed at the things to do in the next few days, in particular fitting Talmud study and writing my devar Torah around work, dinner with my family and therapy, as well as buying Dad a belated Father’s Day present, collecting my repeat prescription and hopefully continuing to work on my novel.
Once I got going, things got a bit easier and I began to work out when I could do things. I spent an hour redrafting my novel. There was some procrastination, but I actually did quite a lot, writing about five hundred words, although I’m not sure if I should necessarily be writing much more at this stage. I probably need to cut and rewrite as much as write more. I do need to force myself out of narrating and into showing, and hopefully the new bits helped do that. It also showed my protagonist’s interactions with his family a bit more, another of my main targets for this redraft.
I was a bit stuck for both ideas and time for my devar Torah this week and spent forty minutes or so revamping an old one from years ago and expanding it significantly. I’m not really happy with this, but I feel overwhelmed this week and it seemed the best thing to do.
I went for a walk and my mood went down a bit. The future seems scary sometimes. Even the good things, like building my relationship with E, will lead to scary things, like possibly changing communities or even countries or dealing with immigration law in the UK or US, buying a house, and other scary “adult” things. Then there are the things that are scary without any positives, like the fear that I might never being able to hold down a full-time job, while simultaneously not being eligible for compensatory state benefits. E and I have been told to stay in the present and not race ahead to the future, but it’s hard, particularly when (a) we’re both pessimists and worriers by nature and (b) the present is frustrating because we don’t know when we can spend time in the same country due to COVID travel restrictions.
E and I “went” to a Zoom shiur (religious class), the first of five on Devarim (Deuteronomy). It was very interesting, with a lot of information to grasp in a short period. One thing that happened that I found curious, not related to the content, was that the teacher had made a mistake on one of the handouts, mistranslating “eleventh month” as “twelfth month,” which had a knock-on effect to which month was being referred to. I noticed the mistake, both spotting the word and knowing that the month should be the eleventh one, but I didn’t say anything because I was too shy. The strange thing was that I became filled with a lot of anxiety lest someone else point it out and embarrass the teacher. Eventually someone did pick up on it, and I felt quite embarrassed for several minutes on the teacher’s behalf, as it were.
I know people think that autistic people don’t feel empathy; I think the reality is the reverse, that we feel a lot of empathy and can “pick up” other people’s emotions without really understanding them or being able to process them properly, which is what happened here.
I woke up in the middle of the night again – 4am this time. I had a slight headache that was threatening to turn into a migraine, so took some solpadeine. My thoughts were getting somewhat agitated, so I ate porridge to ate warm milk to calm me and make me sleepy, although I’m trying to stop eating cereal late at night as an easy win in my attempt to lose weight (and I think I have lost some weight recently, which is good).
I did fall asleep again eventually, but I didn’t manage to get up properly until after midday again and struggled to get going. I felt completely burnt out after yesterday.
Tonight and tomorrow is Tu BeShevat, the Jewish New Year for Trees and essentially the first day of spring in Israel. This provokes the normal mixed emotions in me: relief that winter will soon be over (doubly so in this awful lockdown winter), anxiety around the spring festivals of Purim and Pesach, which are difficult to handle with depression, autism and religious OCD. On the whole, if I can’t have lockdown ending, I would at least like the return of longer days, milder weather and more sunlight. Unfortunately, spring doesn’t really start in the UK for another month or two.
I was feeling very depressed and burnt out today and it was hard to do anything. I went for a walk and unlocked two of the credit cards I locked last week; I need to work out what the PIN is for the third. Walking was difficult, I just felt too tired and depressed. I was catastrophising and self-blaming a lot. Just feeling relentlessly negative. I managed about an hour of work on my devar Torah for the week, getting a first draft written, but I didn’t manage much other Torah study or any work on my novel.
When I got home from my walk, I phoned the psychiatrist’s secretary to see if I could speak to my psychiatrist this week. The psychiatrist phoned me back within the hour, which surprised me because it was after 5pm and I didn’t think she even worked on Wednesdays. I explained that I’ve been having side-effects on haliperidol and that my mood has got quite a bit worse since stopping the olanzapine and we agreed that I could go back on the olanzapine immediately and cut out the haliperidol. She suggested that in six months, I can try to reduce the olanzapine a little while staying on it to see if that improves my sleep without destroying my mood.
I struggled to get up again this morning. I felt like my sleep was not at all refreshing, which is not unusual for me, but this time seemed particularly bad. I had weird dreams, which I can’t really remember, but I think shul (synagogue) was part of it, so I probably feel guilty for leaving the online AGM early or am just feeling again that I don’t fit in and that everyone else is doing “better” than me in life, whatever that means. To be honest, I probably would have stayed in bed longer, but I knew I had a dentist’s appointment at 2pm and wanted to get up and have lunch first.
I felt rather depressed for much of the day. I’m catastrophising a bit, worried that things won’t work with PIMOJ or in my new job, and that I’ll let my friend down in the latter. The slow pace things are going with PIMOJ is probably good overall, as I don’t think either of us has much relationship experience, but it is frustrating.
I was also worried about the dentist, partly because I’ve been nervous about it since having my first filling a year or so ago, partly because it’s a dentist I haven’t been to before and there’s a lot of autistic “new situation” anxiety there. In the end, I was fine. I have receding gums because I brush too hard, but otherwise fine. I’m not sure how to stop brushing so hard; this is not the first time I’ve been warned about it. There was some slight tremor, but not much.
I went for a walk for about an hour. I have usually been walking for half an hour most days when I don’t run, but I think I should try to increase it a bit as it’s going to become harder to run now the days are shorter, the weather wetter and I’ll be working two days a week. That said, in retrospect, I wonder if walking too long exhausted me and brought my mood down as my mood seemed even worse in the afternoon, the opposite of what usually happens.
I spent an hour or so on my novel. I procrastinated quite a bit. I’m struggling with redrafting. I feel like I’ve lost all ability to judge the quality of my writing, so I have no idea what to change as it seems equally good/bad. Actually, what it seems like most of the time is just indifferent. Also, actually fixing stuff is a lot harder than realising that just spotting that something needs fixing!
While redrafting, I kept getting distracted by tinkering with a draft blog post I’ve got saved about politics that I may never get the courage to post. Eventually I gave up working on either novel or post as I clearly wasn’t getting anywhere and I wanted to be in a reasonable state of mind for Zoom depression group in the evening.
I only managed about fifteen minutes of Torah study, which upsets me a little, but there you go. Realistically, I probably did too much yesterday, especially that overlong AGM, and am suffering burnout today.
At depression group I had the courage to go first (no one ever wants to go first). I spoke about my anxieties about my new job and COVID Tube travel as well as my autism assessment. I didn’t speak about PIMOJ again. I don’t know why. I think I struggle to share with the group the way other people can, particularly on Zoom; I think when we met in person pre-COVID I shared more. I suppose it’s harder to feel a rapport and sense any kind of empathy over Zoom. I certainly find it harder just to speak and listen on Zoom. There’s a function to turn off your camera; I wish there was a function to turn off everyone else’s cameras when I speak as I find the movement (and, on speaker view, the cutting between cameras if someone hasn’t muted themselves) distracting.
I’m trying to focus on the present, otherwise I slip back into depression and self-criticism. I find myself missing PIMOJ and wondering how much of that is genuine and how much is just loneliness. I hope it’s genuine, but it’s probably too early to say. We’ve only been in contact for two months.
I also find myself feeling “touch hunger,” the need to be held. I feel this a lot lately. Hugging my parents helps a bit, but not completely and lately I’ve found it hard to hug my parents, I don’t know why. I guess I just feel withdrawn. As someone on the autistic spectrum, and as an Orthodox Jewish man who tries to keep the laws about not having affectionate physical contact with unrelated women, touch is doubly difficult for me even without COVID. PIMOJ and I hugged on our last date and I don’t really regret it, even though both Jewish law and COVID regulations forbade it. It is hard to know what to do sometimes. I feel like I did what I had to do, even though it’s probably objectively wrong from a variety of viewpoints. Just don’t tell my rabbi or the police (although the idea of being fined for hugging my date is amusing). I know this probably sounds strange from a secular perspective, where sexual contact is assumed to be the norm even in the under age, but for me just hugging is a big, guilt-inducing thing.
I guess today, and other recent days, feels like stalemate, with nothing moving. I’m aware that things are going to change from next week when I start work again. I just hope things change for the better.
I’m watching Twin Peaks: The Return, the sequel series to Twin Peaks. I’m in the middle of episode four of eighteen. I don’t think it’s as good as the initial series, or at least the initial series was until they solved the murder of Laura Palmer (halfway through the second season). The original series had a strong hook (the murder), interesting characters and an intense sense of place (Twin Peaks and the surrounding forest). With this background, the style was allowed to flow naturally into a strange and wonderful mash-up of police procedural, soap opera, paranormal horror story and surreal comedy. The Return feels all over the place: no focus of plot or place, no interesting characters. It feels like the only character we’ve really seen at length is Agent Cooper, and he’s done nothing except wander around in a daze, repeating words other people say.
In the original series the weirdness felt like it had an underlying logic that we could not understand. In The Return, it feels like weird things happen because this is Twin Peaks. Rather than juggling different genres expertly, it’s hard to find any genre for it. I can see why they wanted to avoid simply rehashing the original series and do something new, but I think they over-compensated. I’m sufficiently invested in the series to watch more, primarily in the hope that Agent Cooper’s consciousness returns and rejoins his body, but I doubt I would be interested if I hadn’t seen the original series.
I was in bed, drifting in and out of sleep, trying to wake up properly and dreaming about living in a dystopia with an even worse pandemic than ours, when I got woken by my phone ringing. It was the autism hospital, phoning me back from yesterday. They wanted to give me an appointment for tomorrow. I was not keen as (a) it was sudden and I didn’t have time to adjust and (b) tomorrow Shabbat (the Sabbath) starts just after 4.30pm, so it will be tight to get done on time. Nevertheless, I accepted the appointment, as there didn’t seem much choice – they didn’t have any appointments next week, so I’m guessing I’ve been given someone else’s cancellation.
I feel really anxious and upset about it, and I’m already catastrophising. I feel I don’t have time to prepare. Twenty-four hours notice is not good for someone on the spectrum! We don’t like sudden changes of plan at the best of times. Dad said maybe this will play to my favour and show how anxious I get when things happen at short notice, but I’m not sure it will come out.
Some of the panic is that I’m currently reading a memoir by a woman with high functioning autism in the hope this would help me understand and present my symptoms better and get diagnosed (I feel my symptoms are closer to the female model of autism, with better masking and use of social scripts to function in social situations as well as special interests that can be more imaginative than mechanical), but I obviously won’t finish that in time now. Also, over the past few years I have also prepared a ten or so page list of my symptoms and why I feel I’m on the spectrum to give them in the assessment meeting. That was immediately scuppered by COVID and not having an in-person assessment; now I can’t easily send it to them in advance. My parents said just to mention it in the meeting and see if they want me to email it, but I worry they won’t.
I worry that I can’t summarise an understanding of myself that I have built up slowly over the last three years in ninety minutes, with limited preparation time, and over Microsoft Teams – I’m not great on video conference technology at the best of times, and I know teams less well than Zoom or Skype, plus the internet connection trouble I’ve been having lately means I have to use my Dad’s computer, and I’ll have to load Teams onto it today.
I just feel negative about the whole experience already, which is not the best mindset to go into it. I can see it’s probably mostly catastrophising and that having more time wouldn’t necessarily help me, but it’s hard to feel that emotionally.
Oh, and it wouldn’t be complete without an NHS admin mess up. I was told on the phone the appointment was at 10.30am, but when I got the confirmation email, it said 9.30am. I emailed to confirm, but haven’t received a reply yet, and I the phone number was withheld…
I’m going really slowly today because of this, feeling quite depressed without really knowing why, aside from catastrophising. I finished my devar Torah for the week and went for a walk, but I haven’t really done anything else. I had a brief text conversation with PIMOJ (she generally can’t message at work) and she said being seen quickly is what I wanted, which is true, but somehow it seems too quick and I seem too unprepared. I’m not sure what I could/should do today, both in terms of autism assessment preparation and other things, hence posting this early in case anyone has any suggestions – by the time I check emails tomorrow, it will probably be too late.
I had what I suppose were wish fulfilment dreams last night, first dreaming that I was James Bond and then (I think – it wasn’t so clear) that I was the Doctor from Doctor Who. I suppose I just want to feel capable, charismatic and worthwhile. My parents feel that I am capable and worthwhile, and PIMOJ seems to feel that too, but somehow that isn’t enough; part of me still wants to be Napoleon and conquer the world, not literally, but through some worthwhile act. The dreams were PG rated, but I still feel vaguely embarrassed about having had them, as they seem infantile things to dream, although not embarrassed enough to stop me sharing them with the world on my blog. They weren’t restful, though, as I woke up exhausted and burnt out after the first dream, fell asleep again and dreamed the second one and woke up exhausted again, but by then it was very late and I had to get up.
The main achievements of the day were (a) I helped Dad take down more the sukkah, wishing I was taller, stronger, and less prone to fearing that I’ll fall off ladders; and (b) I cooked Jewish-Ethiopian vegetable stew (wot), which I hadn’t cooked before. I was supposed to cook a half recipe, but then tried to adjust as it didn’t seem to have many filling ingredients, then I confused myself about how much to cook (this is when I feel incompetent and unable to do even basic tasks). Then it turned out that it was only supposed to be a side-dish, but I’d run out of time, so Mum defrosted some soya ersatz “meatballs” and cooked some rice to go with it. I also did some Torah study (not as much etc. etc.), but I haven’t really been out of the house, or at least off the property (I’ve been in the garden) for days, only partly because of the wet weather.
I felt rather overwhelmed today. I guess lots of religious Jews feel like that at this time of year, recovering from a month of religious festivals. I don’t have a paid job to catch up on, but I have chores that need doing, some of which have been pushed off for months because of lockdown, plus I have to find a new job. All of which is between me and what I want to do, which is work on my novel, something I felt too depressed to do today. I probably should schedule some novel time in over the next week or so and work on it even if I feel I should be doing something else, otherwise it will never get redrafted because naturally I put what I want to do at the bottom of the to do list.
Plus, this week I had depression group on Zoom yesterday, a Zoom panel discussion on autism and creativity/art today, a webinar on time management and Skype therapy tomorrow and a Skype call with my oldest friend (who I haven’t seen for several years) on Thursday. This would be busy for most people, even if they weren’t a semi-hermit like me (even pre-COVID, even more so with COVID). To hit this after a month of Yom Tov (festivals) really is too much. Of course, I didn’t think that when I booked all this stuff in.
Unlike many autistic people, I don’t get full-blown meltdowns, but when I’m stressed and overwhelmed I get sucked into a negative thought spiral of feeling overwhelmed, not being able to focus on the big picture, being unable to make even minor decisions, catastrophising and feeling everything is hopeless. Eventually it builds up and I have to be “talked down” by my parents, although it’s often the case that initially what they say just feels like another factor overwhelming me. This was what happened today, about my bank account, which is often a trigger for these things. My Dad and my sister read the financial papers and find good interest rates or whatever and persuade me to move my money around, but because I have a low (almost zero) income, it’s questionable whether it’s worth the hassle. Certainly it often leaves me confused about where my money is and what I should do with it. The problem is also that I have a tendency to do what authority figures in my life say, so I try to follow what Dad says while simultaneously confused, overwhelmed and vaguely resentful.
As I say, it’s often finance-related stuff that sets this off. I feel that I should be good at this sort of thing. I was good at maths at school, but somehow lost that with lack of practice. I did A-Level economics too, but that actually tells you very little about managing money, more about managing economies, which is not at all the same thing. I guess it’s not so much the maths but the details that I find overwhelming, the feeling of being overwhelmed on a sea of facts that are too many to be comprehended in their entirety in one go.
Shopping can also be overwhelming and I did that today too (online). Again, Mum was trying to get me to consider different stores and styles; I felt I had to impose boundaries on what I was going to look at, even if they were arbitrary, just to stop myself from getting overwhelmed. I can accept that I might lose a few pounds or not find the “perfect” style of shoe (whatever that would be) just to be able to get through the process.
As well as overwhelmed today, I feel burnt out and somewhat depressed. My mood is low, but it’s hard to tell why. I guess it comes from the burnt out and overwhelmed feelings.
In the evening I “attended” a Zoom panel discussion on autism and art. The three panellists, all women, were two autistic artists and an autistic writer/editor. I wasn’t sure if the (male) chair was also on the spectrum. I wondered if it was significant that all three panellists were female. It did make me feel somewhat “not good enough” about my writing, but I’m not sure why. Perhaps because the writer said that autistic writing is always very sensory, and I’m not good at describing sensory stuff which made me think I’m either not really autistic or not a good writer. There was an auction of art for charity afterwards, but I left before that.
I feel less overwhelmed now, but perhaps a bit lonely, I’m not sure (I’m not always good at understanding my own emotions, known as alexithymia). I feel that maybe PIMOJ is willing to support me despite my issues, but I’m still scared to open up about what I feel, partly because it’s led to rejection in the past, partly because I feel I misrepresented myself to her as no longer strongly depressed, when it looks like my apparent recovery was just seasonal (longer days and more sunlight in summer), partly I guess because I wonder how I will respond to her positivity on a depressed and overwhelmed day like today. But not saying anything just raises fears of the relationship collapsing through apathy (my apathy) so it’s a lose-lose situation.
We actually spoke a bit about this just now. We were talking about Sefer Iyov (The Book of Job) and somehow got onto it. She said that I should be open with her about when I actually want advice about something and when I just need to vent and she will try to respond appropriately, which is good of her. I do still worry about being too negative for her, though. And also that I think she’s far too good for me.
I’m thinking this evening… other autism sufferers seem to place a lot of emphasis on things like sensory sensitivity being their primary experience of autism or executive function issues or special interests or communication issues. I guess I feel that for me autism is… well, autism is literally from the Greek autos meaning self, the term ‘autism’ apparently meaning ‘morbid self-absorption’ (according to this etymology site anyway – I assume ‘morbid’ in the sense of ‘pathological’). That connects with the other aspects, particularly communication issues, but is also separate. I think autism for me is about being locked into my world – my brain – and being unable to connect with other people, lacking a vocabulary to describe what I feel and experience. I guess this is connecting to alexithymia, which I mentioned earlier, given that I don’t lack a vocabulary for describing emotions in the abstract, it’s labelling my own personal experiences that gives me the trouble. There’s a frequent feeling of being alone. I like being on my own a lot, but not always, I need a few good friends and I have spent most of my adult life wanting to be in a relationship and not knowing how to do that. Now I have it and I’m worried I’m going to mess it up.
I think I may have found a really simple way to improve my kavannah (mindfulness) during prayer: speak slower. Like a lot of frum (religious) Jews, I have a bad habit of gabbling my prayers, perhaps because of the sheer amount of prayers that Jewish men are expected to say every day. If I speak slower, my brain gets the opportunity to take in the meaning of the Hebrew. I’m sure I will still end up gabbling them sometimes, from lack of time, energy or concentration, but it’s something to bear in mind for the coming year.
I got up a little earlier today again, but still later than I wanted, and, again, I ended up checking emails and blogs after breakfast because I felt too tired to get dressed straight away. I felt very drained today, perhaps a product of going to the Zoom depression group meeting yesterday, which I tend to find draining.
I applied for a school librarian job. I’m not really sure that I have the right experience for school librarianship, or that I’m really suited to it, particularly after my experiences in further education (although these children would be much younger). I applied via the job website where the job was advertised, only to get an email from HR at the school saying that they can’t accept applications that way and I have to send in an application form (one of those fiddly Word document ones too). Why did they not say that on the advert? I would not have wasted my time sending it. I don’t know why so many employers try to make things deliberately difficult for job applicants. I will try to fill out the proper application tomorrow.
The application and therapy were my main tasks today, although I had to bring in the supermarket delivery by myself as my parents were out, which seemed to take longer than usual, perhaps because I was tired. I tried to work on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week, but struggled to concentrate. I spiralled downwards towards sadness as therapy time approached and I’m not sure why.
Therapy was helpful, although I felt I struggled for words a lot and stumbled over them semi-incoherently. We spoke about career stuff, about the fact that I feel out of my depth a lot of the time with work and job applications. My therapist said that lots of people are struggling with coming out of lockdown even if they aren’t depressed or anxious and that I shouldn’t beat myself up about it and to try to stay in the present and not catastrophise. I did feel overwhelmed not just after therapy, but even during it, feeling the desire to withdraw and cut myself off from the world, to retreat to bed and wrap myself in my duvet. Just feeling too tired to say or do anything. I did get through the whole session though.
I wanted to go for a walk after therapy, but it was raining, so I didn’t. I still felt rather tired, but wanted to Do Stuff because I felt I hadn’t done much earlier (which is not strictly true, as I applied for a job; it wasn’t my fault I have to apply again).
I did write an email I’ve been putting off, asking a friend if they want to go on my devar Torah mailing list. This person I suspect would want to go on the list, but I was scared of asking her because of social anxiety and not wanting to appear presumptuous. I did about twenty minutes of Torah study too, which is a lot less than I’ve been doing recently, but I was very tired in the evening.
I can see that I did quite a lot today, but it never feels like I’ve done enough. That’s true every day, but particularly on a day like today when I feel I wasted time and accomplished few of my aims.
It is not yet 10.30pm, but I need to go to bed as I’m completely exhausted, so goodnight.
I went to bed at midnight, which is relatively early for me. I was emotionally exhausted. I wanted to get up between 8.00am and 9.00am in case my work exam came through early, but although my parents woke me up when they went to the hospital at 8.30am, I fell asleep again until they came home just after 10.00am. I guess I was still emotionally exhausted. The good news is that when I finally did manage to get up, I was tired, but not particularly depressed, so hopefully I have avoided a relapse into full-blown clinical depression despite being so upset yesterday. I feel upset about what happened with me and E., yet I can’t see what I could have done differently. It’s sad knowing that we could have stayed together if COVID hadn’t intervened, but it does feel like something from God, something outside of my control. I think, given what happened, I made the right decision, but it’s hard.
I haven’t heard back from either the women I was talking to on JDate today. I’m mostly OK with that as I needed some space today after yesterday. I possibly messed up one conversation due to anxiety at the weekend and scared her off. I guess that’s one of those things. I probably was getting over-excited about those conversations anyway. It’s good to come back to reality a bit. I felt calm about dating this morning, quietly confident that I’ll find someone, somewhere, somehow, some time, even if it takes a long time.
The job application exam came through at 3.15pm… except that it isn’t just an exam. There’s a whole thick set of instructions to go through, nearly seventy pages, and a one hour webinar, followed by thirty sets of practise data and only then will I be sent the exam itself. I have to finish all the practice data and the exam by 11.59pm on Tuesday evening. It all looked complicated and daunting. I know, I have two degrees, one of which is from Oxford, but lately I doubt myself all the time and have no confidence in my ability to do anything. For example, I’ve wanted to play Risk with my parents recently, but it’s so long since I’ve played that I can’t remember the rules and I worry I won’t be able to relearn them, that’s how little self-confidence I have right now.
After half an hour reading the guidelines, I was not very far in and was in full “I can’t do this, I’m a screw-up, I’m not going to get the job, the women I’m talking to on JDate are going to stop talking to me because I can’t get a job” self-critical/catastrophising mode. The calm of the morning had gone.
I did regain some calm later. The worst that can happen is I try the test and fail the exam. Then I’ve wasted a few days. The job is not relevant to my career. It uses some librarian skills, but does not specifically require a trained librarian (hence low salary and no requirement for librarians on the job description). I have some reservations about the job, which I won’t go into here, but I won’t really know how justified they are without trying the practise data and exam. And, yes, I realise that I’m essentially being made to train myself quickly and for free, with no certainty of a job at the end of it, rather than being given a job and then being trained by the company, on their time. But I feel like I don’t have better options right now.
I had a chat with my parents about this. They say they’re happy to keep supporting me while I’m unemployed as long as I keep searching for new jobs and pestering the agencies (which I admit I’m not very good at, pestering people does not come easily to me, at least not deliberately). I feel stuck because I’m too advanced for graduate trainee roles, but my employment history and career progression are too inconsistent for higher jobs. A number of difficult jobs (or jobs that were made difficult by autism) and a bad result on some cataloguing tests have eroded my self-confidence in my ability to function as a librarian and especially to catalogue, or to work in any remotely noisy and busy environment. I apply for jobs that I think I can do, but there don’t seem to be that many. I’m not sure if that’s a self-confidence issue or a lack of jobs in the sector or COVID or all of the above.
There is, inevitably, also the feeling of “How will I get a girlfriend/spouse if I can’t get a job?” I don’t really have an answer to that at the moment, particularly as “I can write for money” isn’t working out well at the moment.
It’s nearly September and the nights are drawing in, which means the light level will soon start to bring my mood down. It would be a shame if I got over the depression, only to slump back because of autumn, unemployment and single-hood/loneliness and guilt over E.
I forgot to mention yesterday that Mum has now been told that the household only needs to shield for three days before her operation, not two weeks, as she was originally told. That will be a lot easier for all of us.
I’m reading The Islamist, Ed Husain’s account of his time as an Islamist (Islamic fundamentalist) and how he left the movement. It’s interesting to see the similarities and differences between Jewish fundamentalism and Islamic fundamentalism (the big difference is that Jewish fundamentalists don’t really want to change/convert/conquer the world, they just want to run away from it and build high walls so it can’t get in). I’m about two thirds of the way through; Husain is leaving radical Islam and looking for a more spiritual alternative.
It made me think about the lack of spirituality in my life. The person on JDate who I fear I scared off is very spiritual and more aware of God than pretty much anyone I’ve met before. I hoped maybe if the relationship worked out some of that would rub off on me.
In terms of spiritual thought systems and movements in Judaism, kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) doesn’t do much for me. Practical kabbalah (magic, essentially) is anti-rationalist in a way that does not work for me at all. More theoretical kabbalah just confuses me. I’m not sure how monotheistic it is, but beyond that I just can’t take in the complex systems describing God. I like the ethics of Hasidism, but struggle with the kabbalistic underpinnings, and the constant joy does not work for me with my melancholic personality, even aside from depression. Likewise the loud and performative attitude to davening (prayers) does not work well with autism. I like the teachings of the Kotzker Rebbe (Hasidic leader), but he’s been dead for 160 years and I don’t know how to bring that to the present. I’m interested in Mussar, the Jewish movement for ethical self-development, but I struggled to bring it into my life. For a while I tried reading Mussar texts and doing kabbalot (daily actions to stimulate certain ethical character traits; no relation to kabbalah), but it became just another “Should” for me to beat myself up about, so I stopped.
I just started reading a collection of texts by Rav Kook. The first text in the collection is The Lights of Penitence, so I thought it was appropriate for the run up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Rav Kook was a mystical writer, but not a straightforward kabbalist and not an anti-rationalist at all, an interesting thinker who is not easily put in a box. Universalist as well as particularlist too. I’m hoping this volume will help me, but it’s taken the better part of a week to read the prefaces and introduction. What I’ve read of his writings in the past interests me, but, again, I don’t know where I go with those thoughts on a day to day level. Rav Kook is considered one of the founders of Religious Zionism, but the Religious Zionist movement homed in on just a part of his thought (settling the land of Israel) which doesn’t interest me so much.
Achievements: I spent an hour and twenty minutes on my novel, and nearly two more hours on job stuff (including the long chat I had with my parents about it). I went for a half hour walk (sadly no time/energy for a run today). I also spent forty minutes on my devar Torah, although I was really recycling an old devar Torah from years ago, expanding it and improving the use of sources. I spent about half an hour on additional Torah study. That’s not an insignificant amount of achievements, particularly considering my mood was all over the place, but I wanted to do more on the novel, more on the job stuff and more Torah study.
…which sounds like some kind of weird Jane Austen spoof.
I’ve been having trouble with sleep this week, trouble falling asleep or waking up in the middle of the night. Last night I went to bed early again as I was very tired, too tired to relax after the virtual museum tour I went on (I find Zoom events draining). I thought I would be OK, but I woke up some time after 3.00am and couldn’t get back to sleep again. I ate porridge (warm milk helps me sleep, but I don’t like drinking warm milk, hence eating porridge) and watched Doctor Who for a bit to unwind, but neither helped. I went back to bed, but tossed and turned without falling asleep again. I tried to stay in the present, but when you can’t sleep at 5.00am, it’s hard not to get sucked into worries. Eventually, at about 6.30am, I decided to get up, despite feeling tired on only three or four hours of sleep.
A lot of the anxiety I’m experiencing at the moment is about dating. I’ve been messaging someone on JDate. I’m always scared to get my hopes up (for anything, not just dating) in case something goes wrong. So many things could go wrong. So I get sucked back into catastrophising. I’m trying very hard not to do that, but rather to stay in the present, so I’m not going to say much more here for now, other than I’m pleased with what’s happening, but also anxious about whether good things can happen to me.
I have other anxieties too. I’ve got the exam next week for the job I want (and apparently it’s not 100% sure that I’ll even get to the exam stage – today this is less clear than yesterday). I know it’s normal to be anxious before a job application exam, normal to be nervous when contemplating a new job and normal to be nervous when messaging someone new on a dating site. So everything is normal. But I still feel anxious. Like I say, I’m trying to stay in the present and tell myself that, one way or another, this won’t last indefinitely. That probably sooner or later I will get a job, whether it’s this one or not. That I do have some good qualities to offer a prospective partner. And so on. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
Because of my complicated history with my autism diagnosis (being assessed and told I don’t have it, then going into the world of work and not coping at all, for reasons that sounded a lot like autism, then having a preliminary screening that suggests I do have it, and waiting and waiting for an assessment that could still be a year or even two away), I sometimes wonder if maybe I’m not on the autism spectrum and I’m just incompetent. Then other days I do things that are so classically autistic that I wonder how it could ever have been missed.
Today I had a blood test (routine to check my lithium level because of my medication) and I planned to do some shopping afterwards. My Dad gave me a lift to the hospital. As I was about to get out of the car, he asked me to get some soap, and without thinking I went into classic autistic rigid thinking, saying I couldn’t do that because he hadn’t told me early enough for me to put it on my shopping list and why was he springing it on me suddenly? Even as I was saying it, I could see it was an over-reaction and that it was the autism talking, but the scary thing is in the moment, it was hard to change it and back down and say I could do it.
I had some tremor when I had my blood taken. I have tremor as a medication side-effect when I get anxious. I get a little anxious about blood tests anyway (anxiety about possible tremor, ironically, rather than the needle), but I think COVID made things worse, because of the discomfort of wearing a mask and the “new situation” aspect of the hospital being socially distanced – autism again. I was uncomfortable doing shopping for the same reason: my mask and confusion about the social distancing rules in the shopping centre, which I hadn’t been to since lockdown started. I was also apprehensive about people standing close to me (everyone had masks, but I’m not convinced masks stop COVID being transmitted). I got a bit agitated in Boots too. I think it was a build up of autistic triggers. The fact that they had changed the packaging on the vitamins I was trying to buy just threw me further – again, autism doesn’t like change. Normally I wouldn’t care about a small change like that, but I think the fact that I was already agitated meant that it was just another factor. Still, I guess it’s more evidence to put in my big document on my autism symptoms to take to my assessment, when I finally get it.
Otherwise it was a boring day, mostly doing odd bits of jobs: bits of housework, a bit on my novel, a bit on my devar Torah (Torah thought), a bit of Torah study. Lots of bits. I forced myself through the day until dinner and now I’m too tired to do anything so am off to bed soon.
As this is a shorter than usual post, and as it touches on some issues I’ve raised in the last few days about trusting God, I will post my devar Torah for this week in a minute, for those who are interested.
I struggled to sleep last night. Often, after experiencing a migraine, I feel tired, but not actually sleepy. I don’t know what the migraine does to my brain chemistry to do that. I didn’t fall asleep until long after 2.00am. Despite that, I woke up at 9.15am, feeling very tired, but also upset by an unpleasant dream I had (no relation to my usual worries) and feeling rather anxious about dating. I decided there was no point in lying in bed feeling anxious, so forced myself to get up and have breakfast, which was a good decision. I did at least say some of the Morning Prayers on time.
I tried to focus on staying in the present, difficult though it feels at times. I learnt a grounding technique recently that works for me, so I’m trying to stick with that (when I spiral into depressive or anxious thoughts, I try to notice five things I can see, four things I can hear, three I can touch, two I can smell and I you can taste. The last two are not always easy. I think some people carry sweets or smelling salts, but I haven’t gone that far). Despite this, I did have quite a bit of anxiety over the day.
I applied for another job. It was a simple application on LinkedIn, just sending them my CV and profile page link. Much easier than yesterday’s one. There was an unexpected question at the end about how many years of experience I have with a particular software that I’ve never heard of before. I don’t know why that wasn’t on the job specification. It’s not a library job, but would use some information management skills. The hours sound a lot though – forty hours a week. I think that would be too much for me, if that’s all they will accept. About fifteen minutes after I sent the application, I got phoned by the agency who was recruiting for the position. They talked me through some questions. I felt I did badly, because I was unprepared and on the phone and couldn’t always understand the person I was talking to well (I hate the phone), but they said that they would forward my application to the company.
I also emailed a recruitment agency who got me two jobs in the last two years to say that I’m still looking for work.
I spent some time working on my novel, reading about plot structure. I can see what I was already intuiting: that my novel is under-plotted, particularly in the middle. What is harder is to see how to change it. I may have to ditch some of what I have written completely and re-plot some of it. That’s somewhat dispiriting. On the other hand, I feel the structure the “how to write” book suggests is overly schematic and forcing myself to follow it slavishly will disrupt the flow of the novel. I need to work out what will work and what won’t, which may involve trial and error. It’s also possible that my novel, or the autobiographical plot-line, is based too much on my own life. I changed chunks to make it flow better, but even so, I think some things don’t “fit” properly. Real life doesn’t always flow the way fiction should.
I ran into these issues right before dinner. I couldn’t come back to it after dinner because I was going to a Zoom depression group meeting , so I finished work today on a downer, worrying if my novel was workable. This led to some catastrophising about the novel, my career, my dating prospects, everything really. It was partly anxiety and partly low blood sugar – this was late afternoon and I had not eaten much. After dinner I had better perspective, especially as I got an email from a writer friend saying not to feel bad if my novel seems bad when I re-read the first few times.
I attended depression group on Zoom. I was glad I went, as it’s good to talk to people, but the meeting was emotionally draining and I felt exhausted afterwards even though it wasn’t yet 10.00pm.
I signed up for an autism group peer support meeting on friendships and relationships next week too (not the informal autism group I used to go to, a more formal one).
Overall, I felt very anxious today with dating (waiting for responses to my messages or getting one line answers that imply that the person doesn’t really want to engage any more), job applications and working out what I need to do to my novel. Part of me thinks, “Why am I doing all this if it’s going to make me so anxious?” But I guess the anxiety is itself the reason why I have to push through this, if I’m going to make any progress with my life. I’ve been feeling “stuck” lately, with lockdown and loneliness and depression. Maybe that was why I unconsciously felt the sudden need to move on with things, so suddenly signed up for dating services and applied for jobs and support group things. It is all scary, but I have to go through with it.
I’m trying to be gentle with myself. I’m going outside my comfort zone suddenly and that’s going to be difficult even without the ongoing COVID situation.
I’m about two thirds of the way through Mishlei (The Book of Proverbs in the Hebrew Bible). It’s more interesting than I remembered, although there seems to be a lot of repetition of similar ideas (ancient societies had greater appreciation for repetition than we do, perhaps because it made memorisation easier in mostly oral cultures). The terse, context-free, stand-alone proverbs can be very hard to translate, often just seven or eight words. A couple of verses stand out strongly. “The heart alone knows its bitterness,/And no outsider can share its joy.” (14.10). I’ve felt that a lot over the years. Also, “A man’s spirit can sustain him through illness;/But low spirits — who can bear them?” (18.14) is something I’ve often thought. People say things like “I had cancer, but I kept going because I was happy,” but what do you do if a symptom of your illness is the inability to be happy? (Translations from The JPS Bible).
I’ve been a bit sceptical of Divine Providence stories in the past, but I find myself finding them in my own life suddenly. At Purim this year, I was upset not to be invited to friends for the seudah (meal), especially as Mum and Dad were at a medical appointment so I had to eat alone. But the friend who I was hoping would invite me came down with COVID soon afterwards and perhaps I would have contracted it from him if I had gone (it has been suggested that Purim parties and seudahs partially explain the disproportionately high fatality rate in the Jewish community. Purim this year was just as COVID hit, but before most people were taking it seriously and many parties and events went ahead as planned with large numbers of people together, some of whom may have been carrying the virus).
Similarly, if I had still been living away from home, I would either have been in lockdown alone (including doing Pesach alone) or would have had to pay rent on an empty flat while I locked down with my parents. If I hadn’t been here (because I had my own flat or because I was married), my parents would have had much more of a struggle dealing with lockdown and shielding with Mum’s cancer, both in terms of practical things like the fact I’ve been cooking a lot and also emotionally from being separated from both their children for months on end.
I tell myself things like this to try to “prove” to myself that I shouldn’t assume that God only wants to do negative things to me and that He won’t let my life get any better. It is difficult to believe that sometimes, but I’m trying.
The Doctor: Where’s your optimism?
Romana: It opted out.
– Doctor Who: The Armageddon Factor by Bob Baker and Dave Martin
I seem to be stuck back in the habit of waking up late and depressed, even if I go to bed a bit earlier. I think some of the slump is finishing the first draft of my novel and contemplating the next mountain to climb, which is redrafting, which is looming and ominous, but which I can’t even get started on yet, as I want a short break so I can come to it fresh. Something else happened that I won’t go into here that brought me down too and is on my mind today. Plus, I had a weird, upsetting dream last night. I can’t remember the details, but it was about getting in trouble with my religious community for having the wrong religious beliefs/practices.
I looked at the chart I made for dealing with depression and, yes, some of this probably is my critical voice talking and maybe some “shoulds” and, yes, a lot of it is catastrophising. I don’t know what’s happening with my career or my writing, which is scary, and it’s hard not to catastrophise that.
There’s a lot of catastrophising about relationships too, feeling that I don’t have ways to meet someone. There are some ways, but I feel they all have drawbacks and most are unlikely to succeed. I also feel that I would have the best chance of building a relationship with someone who also has “issues,” but there’s no way of trying deliberately to meet such a person, certainly not within the frum (religious Jewish) community. There are actually shadchanim (matchmakers) in the USA who specialise in “sensitive shidduchim (matches)” where both parties have some kind of issue (not necessarily mental health), but I couldn’t get any to work with me, largely because I’m not in the US, but in one case because I’m too modern, religiously. Maybe it’s not sensible to think like that anyway; both my exes had issues and that was at least partly responsible for the failure of both relationships. Maybe I need someone very stable and kind, although what she would see in me is anyone’s guess.
I also worry that I won’t be able to have children, partly because my issues are too ever-present and exhausting to make it a good idea, particularly if I marry someone with similar issues; partly because, as I get older, having children means finding a wife significantly younger than me, which seems unlikely to happen. Some shadchanim and dating sites seem to divide the dating pool in two, under-forties and over-forties, the former being presumably for people who can have children, the latter for people who are too late, or who are assumed to already have children from a previous relationship and not to want more.
As I said, this is all catastrophising. My parents still think I’ll get married and have at least one child, which seems wildly optimistic to me. It’s hard to turn off the catastrophising voice though, particularly when there seems so little evidence against it. I need to focus on stuff in the present, as I was recently, but it seems hard today when I feel to depressed to concentrate on anything and when my mind just wanders down the path of least resistance, which is the path of catastrophising and wallowing in self-pity.
I try to tell myself that if God wants me to have a career and a wife and children then it will happen and if He doesn’t, it won’t, and there’s not much I can do about that… except that just reinforces the fear that he doesn’t want me to have those things and there’s nothing I can do about it. Certainly he hasn’t wanted me to have them so far. I don’t think belief in God is supposed to make me so fatalistic, certainly not Jewish belief, which is supposed to be proactive. We’re supposed to think that God wants the best for us, and if it doesn’t suit our desires or plans, that’s because we’re limited whereas He’s omniscient and knows what would be good for us better than we do. I just wish I knew what His plan is and had some idea if I would ever get there.
Do I even know what I want out of life? I’m not sure. Part of me suspects I wouldn’t be happy even in a loving relationship, that I’m just too negative and depressed a person to be happy for long. I don’t know what would make me happy or bring fulfilment to my life. Maybe I’ve hit on things like love and career as goals because they make other people happy and I assume they would make me happy too, but perhaps they would not.
Being frum, doing mitzvot (commandments) and studying Torah, which, according to rabbis, are what my soul wants to do and which should make me happy do very little for me. Does that make a bad Jew? Or are depression and low self-esteem just too corrosive to happiness for a frum life to make a difference? Nothing really seems to help conquer the sense of insecurity, loneliness and despair. Would it help if God Himself told me that He thought I was a good person and a good Jew? I’m not sure that it would at this stage.
I want to be grateful for the good things in my life, and I’ve been stating them each day for years, but somehow often I feel too lonely, anxious and despairing about the future to internalise that. I just end up feeling guilty for not being happier and more grateful. Maybe I’m just selfish and ungrateful, but I just feel like my psychological needs are not being met (as per Maslow) and I can’t fully function.
My therapist is away, and maybe that’s hard too. I share a lot of my life here on the blog, but not all of it. There’s some that seems too trivial, or too personal, or too shameful or perhaps too weird to share here. I’m not sure how much of that I would share with my therapist either, but some of it. Lately it’s also been hard to tell my parents when I feel depressed and to talk to them about things and I’m not sure why. I think on some level I feel I’ve let them down by being depressed for so long. I could phone Samaritans. I’m not suicidal, but the service is technically not just for people who are suicidal or even intensely depressed, but somehow I can’t bring myself to phone just to chat, perhaps because I can’t bring myself to open up to a stranger unless in serious need.
This week I’ve been writing letters to people who have upset me or aroused strong, difficult emotions in me. The letters are not intended to be sent, just to work my feelings through. I decided to write one to the frum community, which was a slightly flippant idea, but I thought I would see what came out, as I’ve been writing these letters in a fairly stream of consciousness way. I was quite surprised that it really didn’t go the way I expected, so I thought I’d share:
Dear frum community,
I tried so hard to fit in, but I never felt accepted. That’s my gut feeling. Is it true? I don’t know. I think people were willing to accept me at youth stuff at shul when I was a teenager, but I was too scared, and maybe a bit arrogant. Did I think I was better? Or smarter? Or did I just think I could not be friendly with someone who was not a geek? To be fair, I was carrying a lot of hurt, trauma and guilt, and that only got worse at Oxford, where people were also willing to accept, but I was too scared again.
Nowadays I’m terrified I’m too Modern, too “heretical,” too weird, too guilty to fit in, especially being single, childless, depressed and autistic. Is that your fault or mine? Neither really, it just is.
It’s true you do stuff that upsets me. The casual sexism and racism that exists [in the frum community]. The focus on ritual over ethics. The anti-gentile feeling. The lack of culture and imagination, the conflicts over science and sex and gender and work and Israel. But I think ultimately that’s not the point. The point is that I think I don’t deserve you and that I think you couldn’t cope with me.
Reading back this letter makes me think that if I look back at thirteen year old Bar Mitzvah Me, I see the me who tried going to the shul (synagogue) youth service, but who couldn’t talk to anyone there, and who was scared of being bullied, as some of the kids there went to his school and weren’t always nice to him and he couldn’t always tell if they were bullying him or not. The me who got fed up with no one talking to him even though he wouldn’t have known what to say if they had. The me who was being asked (which he understood as “pressured”) to lein (chant from the Torah) in the youth service because he “leined so well at his bar mitzvah,” but who was suffering from extreme stage fright post-bar mitzvah because he felt overwhelmed by praise that he didn’t think he deserved and who didn’t want to lein ever again. The me who was going to start feeling increasing guilt over the next few years about his family’s lax standards of Shabbat and kashrut observance, but not know how to change that, and who was soon going to start feeling a lot of guilt around sex, and not know how to change that either. And I suppose I should say that I want to hug him or tell him not to worry, but I just feel angry and want to shout, “Why couldn’t you just cope with it? Why couldn’t you just stick it out and make friends and become part of the community? And then maybe I wouldn’t be depressed and single and childless and lonely.” That’s not really very self-loving.
I could say the same about Oxford Me, which was probably the last chance I had to really turn things around. “Just talk to people! Just go to events, even if they bore you! Go on the Jewish Society committee, even though you hate the idea of doing so and you think you have no talents to bring to the table, and even though you think your tutorial work leaves you no time for things like this! Make the time! Ask girls out, even if you’re not sure they’re 100% compatible! Just do something!”
But even now I would make the same mistakes again, there just isn’t the social circle to make it in. Everyone’s got their friendship circle now, and usually their spouses and children (some I guess are on Spouse Number 2 by now). There aren’t organisations that cater for single frum people approaching forty (nebbukh). I wouldn’t be able to go anyway, for the same reason I didn’t go then. Getting angry with Past Mes is just getting angry with Present Me. I can’t even keep close friendships going any more. I don’t really have any close friends any more, and the only people I really open up to (aside from my blog) are my therapist and my rabbi mentor.
Achievements: some time finishing off my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week (although I had some negative thoughts about that, about my divrei Torah not being worthwhile). I did a bit of Torah study. I read more of Healing from Despair too, which is a Jewish book, but the chapter I read had no religious content and was just about the author’s experience of feeling suicidal, which was probably not the best thing to read.
I did some chores and went for a walk. I basically did what I normally do, without two hours of writing my novel, so I feel a bit like I underachieved. The time I would normally spend on the novel was partly spent on procrastination, partly on fiddling around with playlists on iTunes, and writing this mammoth post.
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.
I possibly did too much yesterday as I feel really drained today. Also despairing about the future (career, writing, marriage, family), which I was trying not to give in to.
I had to go to the pharmacist to request a repeat prescription. Perhaps surprisingly, I wore a mask for the first time in the pandemic. I haven’t gone on public transport since lockdown started, which is the only place masks are compulsory in the UK. It has become an accepted thing to wear them in shops in recent weeks, but I haven’t been going shopping either. I was very anxious and apprehensive about it, stupidly so. Some of it was worrying that it would be uncomfortable or that I would inadvertently spread germs taking it off wrongly or adjusting it. I guess it also feels wrong not to show the shop assistant my face when we’re talking. However, I think much of the anxiety was autistic issues about doing something new. I remember years ago I went to an art gallery in Tel Aviv and there was an art installation there that was made of some kind of dangerous material and you had to wear a mask to go inside the room. I just completely freaked out about that and refused to go in and I couldn’t work out why, I just felt stupid and useless. I guess it’s an autism thing, although I’m not sure if the issue was fear of discomfort or of new experiences.
Once I put the mask on, I did feel very uncomfortable, both from the actual touch on my face and from the smell of it. It made my glasses steam up too. I cut my walk short partly because I couldn’t cope with it, but also because it was cold out (despite having recently been unbearably hot) and because I was exhausted from therapy.
I had a difficult therapy session. It was difficult because I was speaking about difficult subjects, particularly my feelings of lack of control over future events and fear of never having a job or getting married. This led to a lot of uncomfortable physical tension in my body while speaking. We spoke about my tendency to catastrophise being a way of coping with uncertainty by fearing the worst instead of being open to uncertainty, but my therapist said that it’s a form of hurting myself by going to the worst possible outcome, strengthening my inner critical voice. We also spoke about being more accepting of my physicality/physical nature and she gave me some tips for dealing with feelings of physical tension.
My therapist also spoke about dealing with loneliness by reconnecting with friends. The problem with that is that I don’t have many friends, not least because I’ve lost so many in the last couple of years. This is at least partly my fault, which makes me fearful of alienating more people. I can try to email a couple this week and check in with them and see how their lockdown is going.
I spent two hours working on my novel. I wrote 550 words, finishing a chapter and then proofreading it, but I was very tired while doing some of the proofreading and will probably have another look at it tomorrow. I’ve written about 53,000 words in total so far. I’ll need to get to at least 70,000 words, ideally 80,000 to 100,000, for a complete novel. I have the rest of the chapters planned out, but I worry I haven’t got enough incident to sustain 30,000 more words.
I also somehow did forty minutes of Torah study when I was feeling exhausted. This was good, but I hope I have not overdone things as I’m absolutely shattered now. I’m going to chill out with Doctor Who for a bit (Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS)/
I struggled to sleep again last night. I got about four hours in the end. I was surprisingly awake in the morning, but flagging by mid-afternoon and had to phone my Dad for a lift home from the Tube station after work as I was too tired to walk home.
Most of the day was OK, although I changed my plans for the library in a large-ish way which I hope wasn’t too much of an impulsive decision or one that will cost me support with library users. I am still adapting to the environment and what is expected of me on the one hand and what resources are available on the other. I need to take some time to think about long-term planning, probably away from the library as it’s hard to sit and plan there because of interruptions and not wanting to look like I’m just spending my time staring into space (I’m very happy to stand staring into space while thinking about things at home, but my parents always come and ask if I’m OK, which breaks the train of thought).
The benefactor who owns the library came in today for Minchah and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Prayers). I tried to show him what I was doing, but I got the impression he thought it was fine and didn’t really want to be hands-on with it. I guess that’s good, I just worry that I won’t be able to cope with being so self-directed.
I was going fairly well until after davening (prayers). The last hour or so of the day was really hard. By that stage I was very tired and my blood sugar had probably dropped. I tend to snack on fruit during the day, but for various reasons that isn’t always easy at work. I was dealing with some books that someone had bought or, more likely, donated to the library at some point by and about Chabad Lubavitch. Chabad is an ultra-Orthodox Hasidic movement noted for kiruv (outreach), essentially trying to encourage/help non-religious Jews to become more religious. They tend to provoke polarising reactions in other Jews and I have mixed feelings about them. Some of the books were by Rabbi Shmuel (Shmuely) Boteach, who is an even more polarising figure. You may have heard of him as he has a media presence far beyond any official position he’s ever held. He even stood for Congress a few years back. He was Chabad shaliach at Oxford. A shaliach is an emissary; shluchim are a couple sent to a particular place to a place, generally a remote one with few Jewish amenities (shuls, kosher food etc.) to run Chabad kiruv there and provide services to Jews who live there or are passing through as travellers. It’s usually a life-long commitment, but Rabbi Boteach outgrew Oxford and he left before I went up, but older students and community members still talked about him a lot during my time there, which shows how big a personality he is.
I flicked through his book, which was titled Moses of Oxford. The title might give you an idea of why Rabbi Boteach is such a polarising figure. (I have to flick through books to get an idea of where they belong in the library, but then I worry about reading too much and wasting time… this is a problem I have never resolved in all my years of librarianship.) The book was a collection of essays he wrote, or possibly lectures/divrei Torah he delivered in Oxford. There was quite a bit about sex. This is one of Rabbi Boteach’s favourite topics. He became quite notorious for writing books with titles like Kosher Sex and Kosher Adultery. His argument is that pornography, masturbation and the general sexualisation of society are robbing us of true intimacy and eroticism within marriage. His argument is not that sex is bad, so it should be limited to marriage, but rather that sex is great, but it only works in marriage.
It’s not an argument I’m particularly opposed to, inasmuch as I know anything about sex, being a thirty-six year old virgin, but that’s kind of the point: it just reminded me that there’s this big thing in life that almost everyone experiences and almost everyone enjoys (to the extent that not enjoying it is seen as a symptom of a problem of some kind) and I’m never likely to experience it. From there on it was just a downward spiral into thinking that E. and I will never move our relationship on. By this stage, the toxic cocktail of hunger, exhaustion and self-pity sent me towards general catastrophisation of my life. Fortunately I was able to eat something on the way home and feel better.
Honestly, lately I’ve been feeling happier about my love life than I have felt for a long time. E. cares about me more than anyone who isn’t an immediate blood relation ever has done and if anything I worry that I can’t reciprocate well enough, not that E. has ever complained (she says I’m a good friend). And I’m glad she’s in my life even if our relationship remains platonic. It’s just that every so often something makes me think about how much is missing from my life, sometimes sex, sometimes children, sometimes a more nebulous sense of contentment, meaning and stability, and then I wonder if I will ever be “normal.” Even if my life comes together at some point, say in my forties, I wonder how I can keep going until then. That’s something that applies to many, many more things than just sex, but sex is somehow emblematic of them all because it is so ubiquitous in secular Western society and covertly signalled in Jewish society with talk of producing children and grandchildren and the sanctity of marriage and the “Shabbat mitzvah.”
Anyway, I went home and crashed. I wrote most of this post, but didn’t hit “publish” then watched a James Bond film, Die Another Day, because it was too early to go to bed, but I was too exhausted to do anything that required brainpower. I struggled not to eat junk food and eventually succumbed to the big box of Quality Street that my parents opened. Not eating any junk at all most days is hard when I have traditionally used small treats as a reward for getting through difficult depression days. I did at least only eat one orange creme. I’m the only person in the house who really likes cremes, so I’ve potentially got a whole stash down there. Diet another day.
Die Another Day wasn’t great, but I was too tired to care. I think I like James Bond for the “wrong” reasons. The sex and violence doesn’t interest me much, but I like the laconic villains, the bad jokes, the gadgets and the lateral thinking problem solving, plus supporting actors like Desmond Llewelyn and Judi Dench. My favourite Bond so far is Roger Moore, which I know makes me a Bad Fan to most Bond fans, but there you go. I like the sillier (I would say fun) films of the seventies too.
Bedtime soon, I think.
I’m feeling quite depressed and overwhelmed today. I have the feeling that I get when very depressed, that my brain has been removed and replaced with cotton wool. I’m not sure how else to describe it.
I feel a bit anxious and catastrophising about dating, but more confused than anything. But I’m reluctant to talk too much about that here either. I don’t mind talking about my feelings about dating and relationships when I’m not seeing anyone, but somehow it seems wrong to do it when I’m actually dating.
I found another job to apply for, but I’m just feeling too depressed right now to tackle the application, especially as I’m not sure that I really have the skills they want. I’m also feeling overwhelmed by things at home, both the long list of chores and other things that need doing as well as by the piles of unread books and graphic novels I want to get through. I’m not reading a lot at the moment, thanks to a mixture of depressive poor concentration and motivation. Unemployment also plays a part, as I read most while commuting, although in the last few months depression has reduced that too and sometimes I sit listening to music or just staring into space feeling anxious, depressed and/or exhausted.
I didn’t want to waste the day, so I worked on my Doctor Who book, passing up watching Blake’s 7 in favour of redrafting/editing the longest chapter and trimming about a thousand words. I still worry that the book is over-length and doesn’t say enough new things. I would like to send out copies of some chapters to friends to see what they think, but of the friends who I might send it to, two are thoroughly over-worked at the moment and another two are in the midst of a major family trauma, so I don’t like to ask any of them. Another one is probably overworked, but I haven’t seen him for a number of years (although we have emailed a little) so asking for help out of the blue seems a bit much. He’s a rabbi, so he’s probably over-worked too. Pretty much all congregational rabbis are.
Of course, then I feel the pressure of having to watch Jodie Whittaker’s episodes again and write an analysis of them. I know I will enjoy doing that, but I had been planning to spend a few weeks watching Blake’s 7 so it feels like something external disrupting my schedule. I suppose there isn’t really a hurry, as the third draft is going much faster than I predicted, it’s just that the autistic part of me hates my plans being disrupted. Still, it’s pretty obvious from this (by “this” I mean from not being able to job hunt or really feel like doing anything, but still being able to redraft and enjoy it on some level and even to pass up vegetating in front of the TV to do it) that I should be trying to find more ways to get paid for my writing as it’s the only thing in my life that I feel even vaguely good about.
I’m depressed, anxious and tearful again today.
I couldn’t sleep last night, despite being very tired, and I ended up getting up at 1.00am to work on my Doctor Who book for a while to get something productive done from the time. When I did finally get to sleep, I dreamt about shul (synagogue) and being embarrassed there because I did not sign up to do the joint Mishnah study this year, and also for doing the wrong thing when called to read from the Torah. Both these things have happened in real life and make me feel rather useless. I then overslept this morning and woke feeling exhausted and drained, which persisted after breakfast and coffee.
The shadchan (match-maker) from the values-based dating service thinks she has a match for me. I’m terrified that dating at the moment is a very bad idea, but am going to go along with it. I’m catastrophising enormously, though, and blaming myself for dating when I’m not in a good mental health or financial situation. To be honest, I thought I wasn’t going to meet anyone through the values-based dating service so I didn’t think to say that I am not in such a good situation and am not looking for anyone. Now it seems too late to back out… plus, I suppose there’s the hope that it might work out. I’m catastrophising and self-blaming a lot, though. Dating always seems such a negative experience for me. I get terrified of getting hurt, but I also get terrified of hurting someone else. Or of somehow ending up trapped in a dysfunctional relationship out of misplaced politeness and not wanting to upset someone, or out of fear that I won’t find anyone else.
When I was working in a further education library, my boss frequently accused me of “over-thinking” things, which I suspect is true of me in lots of situations, including/especially dating. This is probably very silly and I wish I could just take things as they come, but I can’t.
I read in The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome of a young autistic boy who was feared to be suicidally depressed because he would repeatedly say that he wanted to die. On investigation, it was discovered that he was not depressed, he just thought that this was something said on very minor setbacks, having seen it on TV and misunderstood the context. I wonder if my brain does something similar and goes to ‘I want to die’ as the result of feeling overwhelmed, which can happen with relatively minor things that trigger difficult emotions. I suppose it’s good that I can recognise these feelings as anxiety, while in the past I think I misunderstood them as depression, although there may genuinely be some despair in there.
I certainly wish I had someone to talk to at the moment, but I can’t get hold of my rabbi mentor, my previous therapist has no free appointments at the moment and my close friends are all busy with major life problems, much bigger than my issues, so I don’t want to bother them.
I got through the day somehow. The shadchan didn’t phone or email with more information; I don’t know why, so I’m still in suspense, but now I’m wondering if the shadchan also asked the woman if she would be interested in dating me and she said no. It’s possible. In some ways that would be a relief as well as a disappointment.
I felt anxious quite a lot during the day. Usually I write these posts during the day, either whole paragraphs in odd moments or writing notes to myself of things to write in full later, but today I decided not to do that, as I felt it was fuelling my anxiety by making me constantly analyse myself and my emotions. I tried using some of the coping strategies I was taught on my group therapy/well-being courses. Challenging my catastrophising helped a little bit (telling myself I’m unlikely to be trapped in a relationship out of not wanting to hurt the other person, although it has to be said that I passed a lot of red flags before I broke up with my first girlfriend); deep breathing helped rather more.
I spent about three hours or more working on a job application, as well as about half an hour of Talmudic study and a brisk thirty minute walk to the shops and back. This was probably the best thing I could do to distract myself. The job application was also significantly anxiety-provoking and I struggled to answer a lot of the questions, but I’ve put together draft answers for most of them and I have an idea about how to answer the other one, which is an improvement on earlier this afternoon when I felt completely overwhelmed and unable to complete the application.
I am trying not to worry about dating and what might happen, but it’s hard. I don’t want to get hurt (obviously), but I don’t want to hurt someone else either. It’s hard to know what the right thing to do is sometimes.
In other, differently anxiety-provoking, news: I’m very worried that Brexit is going to lead to significant civil unrest. Whatever happens, about half the country are going to be sure that we’ve ended up in a terrible situation foisted upon the country undemocratically by the other half. That’s the best scenario; if there’s a messy compromise, as seems likely, everyone could be angry. Respect and trust for politicians and our democratic institutions is sure to plummet. Easy pickings for a demagogue of either the far-right or far-left. I’m just glad the UK doesn’t have the USA’s gun culture, that could be very messy.
Finally, more anxiety-provoking, news of another kind: while I was writing this, I got an email from my shul (synagogue) stating that not only is the rabbi leaving in the next few weeks (as I already knew), but the assistant rabbi is leaving too. We have a new rabbi lined up, although not confirmed yet until he gets to meet the community properly this coming Shabbat, but I don’t know if we will be replacing the assistant rabbi. I wasn’t hugely close to the rabbi and the assistant rabbi, but my relationship with them was better than nothing when my rabbi mentor lives in another country and is not always contactable. I had slowly opened up to them about some of my mental health issues and now I’ll be starting all over again. My relationship with my shul was already tenuous; this just puts it under greater strain. I don’t know where else I could go, though.
Autistic people do not cope well with change and uncertainty, and I seem to be going through it on every level today: personal, communal, national. I guess it’s good that I survived in one piece and even managed to get a few things done. Still, it’s late and I’m exhausted, physically tense from all the anxiety I’ve been dealing with today. I need to unwind a bit and go to bed. Tomorrow hopefully I will be able to make more progress on that job application and go to my autism support group for the first time in some months.
I’ve stumbled home late, thanks to crowding at Kings Cross Station (it took about twenty minutes to walk from the Metropolitan Line platform to the Northern Line via a circuitous route), and in pain, thanks to backache (I’m going to have to switch from a rucksack to a cabin bag as I take too much with me. That’s probably a psychopathology in itself). I’m also hungry, but dinner won’t be for ages. Because dinner is late and because I want to eat in the sukkah (the booth where we eat during Sukkot), I’ll have to eat with my parents and their friends, which means I won’t get to relax by reading while I eat, which means I’ll go to bed tense and tomorrow will be difficult and the problem will probably happen again only I’ll be in a rush because of shiur… OK, this is probably catastrophising now. But I do feel stressed.
I’ve become paranoid at work. I feel certain that I’m making loads of mistakes, but I’m scared to ask questions for fear of drawing attention to them. I overthink things, which may be a trace of OCD or plain anxiety. Whenever I go to get a drink or to the toilet, I’m sure my boss is thinking that I’m getting up too often and not working hard enough. At the same time, I feel I should be talking to the other team members more and that everyone is thinking that I’m weird and anti-social (there’s a fair amount of background chatter in the office, but the marketing team, which is what I’m part of, doesn’t seem to chat much, although not in an unfriendly way). I have a continual feeling of incompetence from when I enter the office in the morning until I leave at the end of the day.
At work I’m looking up lawyers’ biographies online to copy and paste their contact details into a spreadsheet. Their hobbies are usually predictably boring: reading, cooking, theatre, socialising with friends and family, travel… I did find one Doctor Who fan (and a female one at that, although I guess that’s less noteworthy than it was twenty years ago), but generally it seems that while being a fan of a sports team is socially acceptable, being a fan of a TV programme is not. This just reinforces my feelings of weirdness, although I doubt I should be comparing myself to lawyers in any way, shape or form. I’m sure a lot of my peers from school and university have ended up as lawyers though; even in my small friendship group, I have a solicitor and a barrister. I do feel that I could/should be earning lots of money, if I wasn’t depressed. Earning lots of money doesn’t interest me much in itself, but if I had a choice between being miserable and rich and being miserable and poor, I’d choose miserable and rich.
I feel lonely. I shouldn’t think about how unlikely it is that I will ever get married, but I do. I feel that it is not surprising that the two relationships I have had have been with someone who was not religious and someone who, although initially religious in a somewhat unconventional way, became less and less religious while we were dating. I feel that no frum woman would pick someone as weird, geeky and religiously dysfunctional as me. Any woman who picked me would be ‘settling’ in some way, either a religious woman ‘settling’ for a husband who didn’t go to yeshiva and who doesn’t learn or daven as he should and who is too obsessed with ancient science fiction TV programmes, or a geeky woman who is ‘settling’ for someone who is frum (religious). I also worry that I seem to always be a rebound relationship, but that might just be coincidence. Even so, I can’t imagine being anyone’s first choice, or being any kind of choice except out of desperation, fear of loneliness and late-thirties broodiness.
My complex PTSD book tells me that recovery from complex trauma takes years. Factor in dealing with the social anxiety and depression separately and learning to deal with autism (if I really have it…) and I feel that it could be years until I’m remotely functional (I do not feel functional at all at work), let alone able to experience joy and love. I fear I will always be alone, miserable and unloved.
Addendum: I got through dinner OK. I ended up eating my dinner while everyone else was sitting around eating snacks as aperitifs, so I felt like everyone was staring at me eat. I ate far too fast because of that, although I was also exhausted and in need of food and relaxation.
I felt bad for a couple of reasons which I probably shouldn’t go into here… sometimes I wish I could be more unconstrained here. But things tonight made me remember that I had a wonky childhood, even if it wasn’t actually abusive or neglectful, and that my relationship with my parents will probably always be a bit wonky. They also (for different reasons) stoked my fears that one day I will just lose control and do something terrible. It’s difficult. Now I need to go to bed very tense and try to sleep to get up at 6.00am tomorrow for extra Sukkot prayers and extra time to eat in the sukkah… and now I’m catastrophising again…