Unplugged

I had a crazy start to the day. I woke up at 5.30am and thought it was time to get up. It was with some difficulty that I realised that I could sleep for another hour and a half. Then I fell asleep and overslept, having some crazy dystopian dream. Then, after I got up, when I was davening (praying), a magpie sat on my window sill and looked like he (or she) was trying to come in. Fortunately, the window was shut, but I could not shoo him away, he just sat there staring at me. It was a bit disquieting.

The doctor phoned me at work (as arranged). I asked him to refer me for autism-adapted CBT, but he says the psychiatrist at the hospital where I was assessed is supposed to write to the CCG (funding body) to start the process. He said he will write to her to say she can do that. I worry about this bouncing around the NHS bureaucracy indefinitely.

I spent much of the day at work poring over spreadsheets, trying to track down payments that were listed as outstanding to see if they really were outstanding or if they had been paid and not been recorded properly. If they hadn’t been paid, I needed to write them off or phone to see if the debtor would pay. Fortunately I only had to phone once, as that was quite an awkward call.

I was pretty exhausted by the end, and my eyes felt strained from staring at spreadsheets. There wasn’t much traffic on the way home, but the conversation on the radio annoyed me. I don’t like to ask J to change it as he’s doing me a favour by giving me a lift. When I got home I sat and read in the garden for half an hour, which was wonderful. I really should try to be online less. It makes me much happier. I’m not really on social media much and don’t follow many political blogs, but even regular news sites are full of silly stories about “X is AWFUL and you should be REALLY ANGRY about it.”

I didn’t make it to Zoom depression group, as dinner was late and I was exhausted. I ate dinner outside with my parents. Afterwards, I went for a walk. I was still tired, but it was good to go out in the cool evening air and listen to the birds. It’s probably too late now for a really early night (I was watching Doctor Who followed by The Simpsons), but I hope to get to bed earlyish, as I’m pretty tired, albeit aware that a shower is likely to wake me up, but I won’t be able to sleep if I feel sweaty.

Books and Thoughts

I couldn’t sleep last night and ended up only getting about five hours of sleep. I think I was excited from speaking to E! I somehow managed to get up more or less on time for work. Work was pretty dull. I spent a lot of time this morning searching through old records (computerised and ledgers) looking for information and then in the afternoon looking through old papers to see which could be thrown away. Not terribly interesting, but it pays, and lets me feel less guilty about spending time writing, not that I’ve worked on either novel much lately.

I decided not to go to virtual depression group tonight, partly as I was tired and didn’t have the energy — Zoom calls are draining, as is trying to be a good listener to others in distress. Not going was supposed to let me catch up on some chores after I ran out of time for them yesterday, and take some of the pressure off the next few days, which are busy, although the reality was that the chores took longer than expected and I was very tired, so I didn’t achieve much.

I received a letter from my GP’s surgery saying I should phone to discuss the results of my autism assessment. I hope this will be a chance to talk about being referred for autism-adapted CBT. However, I have to navigate the awful phone switchboard, which involves phoning at 8.30am for an appointment and spending ages waiting to get through. I don’t usually get up for 8.30am on non-work days! I can’t face doing it tomorrow; maybe Friday or next Tuesday. I also hope I can speak to my usual GP. Technically, the surgery doesn’t let you have your ‘own’ GP, you have to take the first appointment available. But, if I can find the confidence, I will try to say that I have one GP I’ve seen a lot about my autism and mental health issues and I really would like to speak to him. The worst that can happen is they say no.

I wanted to go for a walk and do some more Torah study after dinner, but I felt exhausted and it was raining heavily so I was not inclined to force myself to walk. I guess I feel lately that I can achieve some of the things I want in my life (relationship, work, writing, exercise, religious study, prayer), but not all of them, and that’s without going down the route of marriage and children (yet — E and I are both clear that we want these if we can cope with them). I guess I worry that I’ll never be able to balance all these things or that I’ll have to completely write some things out of my life if I want to be successful at others. Maybe no one can balance everything, and other people are just better bluffers than I am.

I somehow managed to do some more Torah study despite being rather tired. That done, I needed to fill the hours until bed. I’m about to start the fifth and final season of Babylon 5 in my re-watch. I don’t think season five is quite as bad as “everyone” says, but it is the weakest season by far, and the first half is definitely worse than the second. So I wasn’t in a hurry to watch it. The book I started reading at lunch is a serious introductory book on Islam and I didn’t feel up to returning to it. Fortunately, the second-hand James Bond omnibus book I ordered arrived today. (Although I feel that a “James Bond omnibus” is technically the double-decker Roger Moore drove in a car chase in Live and Let Die.) The omnibus book is slightly frustrating, as it contains the first two books of the loose “Blofeld” trilogy, but not the third, which is a slightly weird decision, plus the books are not printed in order of internal chronology, even though there is some continuity across the books. Still, I got five books I haven’t read (plus a sixth I’ve read, but didn’t own) for £5, so I can’t really complain. Very good condition too. I read for a while, until I felt too tired to carry on.

***

Lately I’ve been feeling a desire to post something deeper here than my usual daily updates. When things were not good for me, I felt I was expressing deep emotions and self-analysis, but now things are (thankfully) a lot better, I feel I don’t have much to say. Part of me would like to write about the things I think about, about antisemitism or Israel or Jewish theology, not in the abstract (I don’t want this to be a politics blog or a theology blog), but how my understanding of them affects my inner thoughts, feelings and worldview (if that isn’t terribly millennial and self-obsessed). However, I never seem to get around to it. I’m scared of writing anything about antisemitism or Israel, however bland and inoffensive, because just sticking those words in a post brings out the haters. Jewish theology has other problems. Partly it’s that I’m not sure that anyone would be interested, partly that there would be so much to explain just to make it intelligible to the lay reader that I’d write hundreds of words before even getting to what I want to say, plus I’m conscious that I have no formal training in theology, in either its rational philosophical or mystical kabbalistic forms, and I’m hardly an expert on Jewish thought. I would fear that I would be talking rubbish. So I stay quiet and bottle a lot of thoughts and feelings up inside of me out of fear and, I suppose, laziness.

Season Finale

Most days are just “filler episode” days, but some days are “season finale” days, when dramatic and unexpected life-changing things can happen. Today was definitely a season finale, with a dramatic and unexpected (if not entirely surprising in hindsight) revelation, but I don’t really feel comfortable in going into detail here yet.

What did happen that wasn’t dramatic, unexpected or life-changing was going for my regular lithium level blood test. I had tremor again, as I always seem to have when having my blood taken these days. It seems to be worse since lockdown, as I can’t breathe deeply to calm myself while wearing a mask. I actually got a bit out of breath with the mask on and I think the phlebotomist was concerned; at any rate, he kept asking if I was OK. I can accept occasional tremor as one of the prices I pay for being on medication that helps with my mental health, but I do feel awkward and embarrassed, especially when it happens at the blood test, as the phlebotomist always assumes I’m scared of needles. I’m not, it’s just that being conscious of the need to sit still and not shake actually starts me shaking.

Oh, another NHS story: I got home to discover an email saying my appointment had been shifted from 2.40pm to 2.35pm. The email was sent at 2.31pm! Fortunately, I was there early (or on time, depending on how you look at it).

More NHS fun: I phoned the autism hospital again about getting my report corrected and the leaflet of resources. It turns out I had forgotten to email them about after my last phone call. Whoops. I could say that an autism hospital ought to know that autistic people have trouble processing verbal instructions, but really I should have written it down. I’ve sent that email now. Sometimes it’s not the NHS that’s at fault. I hope I get the corrected report and leaflet soon, as I’d like to get on the very long waiting list for autism-adapted CBT to (hopefully) help with my social interactions.

I submitted my article to Aish.com. I’ll have to wait and see what they think.

That was it, really. I walked back from my blood test, I cooked dinner and listened to some shiurim (religious class) while cooking. I worked on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week. I have a better idea of what I’m writing, imperfect though it is. It was a busy day, but to be honest, very little of what I’ve written about here registered. I was just thinking about the thing that I don’t want to share yet.

Tomorrow I have volunteering at the Jewish food bank for the first time in several months, as they think it’s safe enough now to let people volunteer together and not just in family bubbles.

Someone is WRONG on the Internet!

I was worried my burnout would continue to today, as sometimes happens, but I had one of those days after a very burnt out day where it’s as if the storm has exhausted itself and I feel fine.

The hospital phoned me back early in the morning about the issues I had with my autism diagnosis report. Hopefully, they will sort things soon. I do have to go back to my GP if I want to be referred for autism-adapted CBT. I’m a bit nervous about doing that, as my experience with CBT has not been great, but hopefully it will be better if I have autism-adapted CBT.

I sat down to finish the job application I was filling out yesterday, only to discover that I have none of the desirable, but not essential, criteria. Not one! As that was the main thing left to do, it was easy. I made a coffee for no reason! (Hot drinks help me think.) I don’t think I’ll get called to interview, but if I do, I asked to have the questions in advance because of my autism processing issues with spoken conversations. In my experience, potential employers refuse to do this, saying it is not fair on the other candidates. I can sort of see their point, but it does make things hard for me, because of difficulty processing verbal information, in addition to the problems I mentioned yesterday about autistic people struggling with open questions. I sit there trying to think of something to say. Sometimes I realise the question didn’t actually register in my brain and I have no idea what they just asked me. I have to ask them to repeat it or just bluff my way through. The only potential employer that let me see the questions in advance was, tellingly, an institute for the study of child psychology. One could get involved in a lengthy legal argument about what constitutes a “reasonable” disability adjustment here.

***

It’s funny how I different I am when I’m doing something I enjoy compared to when I’m doing something I don’t enjoy. I spent over two hours working on my devar Torah (Torah thought) with no breaks more than two or three minutes. I didn’t even notice the time going. I wasn’t happy with my initial idea for the devar Torah, so I thought I would look at Ramban’s (Hebrew acronym for Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, thirteenth century biblical commentator) first comment on parashat Kedoshim, which was the starting point for my original idea. The comment turned out to be much longer and wider-ranging than I realised, taking me to a Midrash which led to a better idea for the devar Torah, but one that took a while to get on paper, picking up some stray comments from Rashi (Hebrew acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, eleventh century biblical commentator) along the way. I didn’t even feel tired by the time I finished. It was one of the longest divrei Torah that I’ve written too. I don’t like to count my devar Torah as the entirety of my Torah study for a day, but I did here, because of how long I spent on it and because a lot of it was new to me.

Afterwards I postponed the chores I was supposed to do (I had thought the devar Torah would only take an hour, which it probably would have done if I stuck to my original idea) and went for a run, which was pretty good once I got going. No exercise migraine afterwards either, thankfully.

***

I have always been conflict-averse, but I find myself less willing than ever to contradict people or get into arguments online. Any arguments, even about trivial things, but certainly not about politics and religion. I would rather let them think that there are no counter-arguments to their views than to get into a debate with them. It doesn’t help that I can’t really distinguish between disagreement and personal dislike. I tend to assume that anyone who disagrees with me, dislikes me, although I know the reverse (which would be that I dislike people I disagree with) is untrue.

It doesn’t help that I no longer think that most people make up their minds on major topics based purely or perhaps even largely on data and logic. I think emotions, tribalism, peer pressure and habit are a big part of that (that’s not even necessarily a bad thing in and off itself, although I think in the current political climate, it’s been carried to a dangerous extreme). I don’t think I rate particularly highly as a polemicist either.

I suppose it’s rooted in my childhood, as things usually are. Being bullied for being different, but also certain childhood experiences that made me feel that disagreement would lead to people storming out of my life forever. Autistic issues distinguishing criticism from anger are probably also relevant. Paradoxically, it all may be related to my belief that it’s my fault if people don’t like me — I don’t want it to be my fault that someone doesn’t like me, so I minimise the likely points of contention (and also avoid people, because they can’t hate me if they can’t see me).

In a way it’s wrong of me, because someone might want to hear what I have to say and benefit from it, unlikely though that seems to me. And I suppose one would traditionally add something here about the need to fight for justice and progress and truth, and that all that is needed for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing, and so on, but these days I feel pretty disenchanted about party politics generally.

I was thinking about what might happen if I do autism-adjusted CBT and look at my social anxiety (I did ordinary CBT for it two years ago, but it was not a great success for me). I could potentially have to push myself into situations where I contradicted people deliberately to see what happened. Maybe deliberately express my opinions online even if that seems likely to lead to arguments. It seems a terrifying idea, to be honest. I’d much rather not say anything and let others believe things that I think are factually wrong.

(The title of the post comes from this famous cartoon. It’s not how I feel at all. I just brood on things for days.)

Powerless To Be Born

I’ve had a fragment of poetry in my head lately. Searching online, it’s from Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse by Matthew Arnold, a poem I don’t remember ever having read, although I have read Arnold’s Dover Beach, which is where I initially thought the line was from. It goes, “Wandering between two worlds, one dead/The other powerless to be born”. It sums up how I feel lately, in terms of my autism diagnosis, relationship breakdown and job situation.

I do think things can change. Ten years ago, I was twenty-seven. I had never had a paid job because of severe depression, was struggling with my Master’s degree again because of depression, had never been in a relationship or even gone on a date (actually, my first ever date was pretty much exactly ten years ago). I had largely put aside ideas of being on the spectrum after being assessed and told that I was not on the spectrum. I lived in a much smaller Jewish community and went to a shul (synagogue) that wasn’t an ideal match for me. I had occasional minor religious OCD, which would get a lot worse before I would get over it.

I still seem to struggle with low mood, even though I’m not sure I meet the diagnostic criteria for depression any more. And I’m still single and not in full-time work (or anywhere near), but I am in work and I have had enough relationships to think I’m not inherently unworthy of being in a relationship at least some of the time. And I’m diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome/high functioning autism, which has been a relief to finally have confirmed, despite all the difficulties that I have to deal with because of it. And I live in a much larger Jewish community and go to a shul that fits me better, even if it isn’t perfect. So things can change, just geologically slowly. Or that’s how it feels.

It’s strange that things seem so finely balanced between the good and the bad at the moment. I don’t really know what to think. I still hope to have some kind of career, in a meaningful sense, and not just isolated jobs. I’d like to be a professional writer, but that seems an unlikely thing to aim for, especially given my lack of success pitching articles to people. I hope to become financially self-sufficient at some point, unlikely though that sometimes seems. I really, really hope I have a relationship that works out at some point (where “working out” ideally means successful marriage and children, although I’m getting to the stage where I wouldn’t rule out getting married in my fifties or older, if that’s how long it takes for me to get my life together and meet the right person).

The thing is, there’s very little I can do at the moment to advance any of these things at the moment. I have to wait and hope it all works itself out somehow, which is scary. I should trust in God (PIMOJ would have said to trust in God), but, as I’ve mentioned before, although I believe in God and consider myself to live a frum (religious) life, I have a mental block around bitachon (trust in God). I believe that He does what He feels is best for me, but I fear that “what He feels is best for me,” will involve a lot of emotional pain and suffering, as it apparently did ten years ago.

***

I went to bed late last night and woke up late this morning. I think my sleep was disturbed, judging by the state of the sheets when I woke, but I don’t remember particularly disturbing dreams or anything like that. I had a lot to do today and didn’t really want to do any of it. I needed to phone the autism hospital about the mistakes they made in my diagnostic report; cook dinner; continue with my job application and start my devar Torah (Torah thought). Usually when I read the week’s Torah reading on Sunday, I get an idea of what I want to write about, but this week I had no idea. The double sedra (portion) had lots of mitzvot (commandments), but none really grabbed me as something I wanted to write about, except for one bit that was too similar to something I wrote about a couple of months ago.

However, I just felt depressed and burnt out. At 2.45pm, I was still in my pyjamas and hadn’t done anything since eating breakfast. I would get up, fiddle around on the computer for a bit, and go back to bed to feel lonely and depressed. I played the “I’m depressed and burnt out enough to listen to music in the omer” card, as my rabbi mentor said I could, but quietly, because I still don’t feel comfortable explaining that to my parents. I don’t know why I don’t feel comfortable explaining it.

I did eventually get dressed, somehow put on tallit and tefillin and davened Minchah (said the Afternoon Prayers) as I had missed Shacharit (Morning Prayers). I had lunch (watching The Simpsons to try to raise my mood a bit) and tried to Do Things. It was 4.30pm by this stage. I phoned the number my Mum has for the autism hospital (not the main switchboard, one of the secretaries’ work mobile number that she somehow got hold of and has been using as it’s more direct). There was no answer, but I left a message.

Dinner seemed the next priority, on the grounds that I could apply for the job tomorrow, but if I didn’t cook dinner, we’d all go hungry, especially as Mum was tired from treatment today. I listened to a twenty minute online shiur (religious class) while cooking, but it didn’t tell me much I didn’t already know. I’ve been unlucky picking shiurim that way lately. The idea was to listen to the shiur while cooking so that I could do some Torah study even if I was too burnt out and depressed to read anything afterwards.

I went for a walk after cooking dinner. I had a lot of thoughts and feelings that are hard to categorise, beyond noting they are negative. I’ve noticed that my thoughts become more visual when I feel depressed and agitated, snatches of images, and also negative feelings without thoughts (I’ve never agreed with the CBT idea that negative feelings are always caused by negative thoughts). I’m not sure I can put anything I was feeling into words, just feelings of being useless, of my novel being bad, of not contributing anything online, of wanting to withdraw from people, but also, I suppose, hoping they will follow me if I do. Wondering how many of my thoughts (about politics, religion, culture) are my own and how much are other people’s. Not in a psychotic “I think the government is beaming ideas into my head” sense, but just that we pick up stuff without really thinking from friends and family, colleagues, broadcast media, social media… I find it’s hard to really think about things and reach meaningful conclusions that are completely my own, or at least rigorously interrogated by me until I am sure they are true. Is that just me?

When I got home, I tried to force myself to work on the job application, even though the format — separate boxes to write in for every essential and desirable criterion — made it quite clear that I don’t have all the skills and experience they want. I persevered, but mostly because I felt my parents wanted me to. They say to apply for jobs I don’t meet the criteria for in the hope that I will (somehow) still be the best candidate (see what I mean about not coming to my own conclusions). I worry for the academic library sector if I’m the best candidate for this job. I don’t even know what terms like “synchronous and asynchronous library inductions” and “bibliometrics” mean, although I can guess. I am certainly not up-to-date with developments in higher education and copyright law, let alone in pedagogy. And I don’t think I have the “Ability to think innovatively and creatively to solve problems and improve services”.

Some of the jobs I see require so many skills that I feel daunted to compare the skills and experiences of those who I imagine are applying with my own. And these aren’t even particularly high-flying jobs! I just feel like I somehow picked up a library MA and library work experience by muddling through somehow and have been floundering ever since.

Not for the first time, I feel like the man in Kafka’s Parable of the Law (originally from The Trial, but also published as a separate story) who tries everything to get to the Law, but never makes it, even though the door he was at was only made for him, eventually dying on the threshold. I feel like I keep trying to get a job, get published, get married, make friends, and fit in to my community, but I can never quite do it. But I keep trying. I’m not sure if that’s perseverance or stupidity.

I feel that, as an autistic/Aspie, I struggle with applications and interviews. They tend to ask open questions, and autistic people do not fare well with open questions. We don’t know what to say. I know when I get a statement like write about “Experience of providing excellent support in an academic or research library” I should try to find concrete examples of things I’ve done in different jobs, but it’s hard to even think of examples, let alone relate them. I’m sure I have provided excellent support (OK, “more than just adequate support”), but I find it hard to work out what exactly they mean and think of examples where I’ve done it.

I spent about fifty minutes on the application, although technically a big chunk of that time was spent writing part of this blog post to vent my irritation. I went back and did another ten or fifteen minutes after dinner too, so it’s nearly completed.

I was just sitting down to dinner (and Babylon 5) when my phone rang. It was one of my shul (synagogue) friends phoning to ask about the fundraising for the new building. We had arranged it, but I forgot to put it in my diary, and if it’s not in my diary, I forget about it. I was probably somewhat incoherent, from being taken by surprise and from the subject matter, but I did not agree to make a bigger donation than I can afford, and I did not agree to set up a “team page” for my family (i.e. me) on the shul‘s forthcoming fundraising page. It was awkward doing this with my friend, but I think if it was anyone else, I would not have had the confidence to say no.

After dinner I worked on the job application a while longer, as I mentioned, and did another fifteen minutes of Torah study, but then I started to get tired and decided to call it a night.

For a day where part of me would have stayed in pyjamas, feeling lonely, depressed and burnt out, I did manage to do quite a few things. It’s easy to focus on the negative (I didn’t write my devar Torah, or do as much Torah study as I wanted; I didn’t finish the job application), but I managed quite a bit despite low mood and energy. I just wish life on the spectrum for me wasn’t just damage limitation, constantly running to get things done without any sense of purpose or direction (there’s a line from Babylon 5: Signs and Portents where Londo says “I want to stop running through my life like a man late for an appointment…afraid to look back, or to look forward.” He’s talking politically, about the decline of the Centauri Republic but that’s how I feel in my whole life). And I wish I didn’t still have such deep lows (whether I’m clinically depressed or not). And I wish I wasn’t lonely (although I’m probably less lonely than I was now I have an online support network to supplement my other support).

Anyway, this is a super-long post (really two posts in one), so thanks if you read to the end!

My Friends, and Other Animals

I went to bed at 10.30pm last night, which is early for me even for a work night. I was just completely exhausted, although I didn’t fall asleep straight away. I wonder if the emotional stress of the week is affecting me physically.

Work was a bit slow today and I was doing a mundane, repetitive task that gave me too much time for thought. I think I made the right decision breaking up with PIMOJ, but it sunk in that I think she was quite angry with me when we broke up. She doesn’t usually get angry, and she didn’t scream and shout, but I think she was angry about some things, although I’m not good at reading situations like that. I think in particular she felt that our being boyfriend and girlfriend meant more than I thought it did, inasmuch as I think she felt it was a significant commitment, almost like marriage, and that I should work on the relationship rather than breaking up. I agree that being boyfriend and girlfriend is serious and I was “dating for marriage” (in frum-speak), but I thought that what she wanted was so far from what I could offer, or be, that it would be wasting both the time and energy of both of us trying to get me to give or become it and would only end in more pain for both of us down the line. Plus, there were things she wanted that I thought were a bit unreasonable or at least not what I had signed on for.

But it made me think about other times people I liked and trusted got angry with me, perhaps unjustifiably. The worst was when I was at university and I managed to anger a friend by relying on her too much when I was depressed until she was no longer able to cope with me, a fact made more complicated by the fact that I had a huge unreciprocated crush on her. Nowadays I would not use someone else for support to the same extent (maybe partly why I was scared to open up to PIMOJ) and I know realise that having a crush on someone who you’re also offloading your darkest thoughts onto isn’t sensible. This is the type of situation where I really feel my autism and lack of social skills made me mess things up.

The other situation I handled badly was when I was close friends with two sisters who lived at the other end of the country. They read my blog (I knew they read it) and got angry when I mentioned that I was tired after phoning them when their mother died. I still don’t entirely see their point; I wasn’t blaming them for being tired, and people who read my blog regularly know I tire easily, especially after social contact. They read it as blame, however, and cut off contact with me.

It does make me wonder if I’m an accident waiting to happen, socially. It seems that most of my friendships stay in a sort of neutral space where we see each other socially every so often (usually six months to a year), but never really open up about personal things, just engage in light conversation. No risk, but no gain. Then there are the people I really open up to, often encountered in some kind of mental health safe space, such as depression group or the online mental health blogging community. Some of these fade away when their lives change or they move on, literally or figuratively, but there’s definitely a sub-set that get angry with me eventually. I wonder if it’s my fault and what I can do about it, or how it will affect future friendships or relationships.

***

Perhaps because of this, I’ve been thinking about getting pets again, to deal with loneliness in a safer way. It might also be a way of seeing if I might be able to cope with having children, to see if I can cope with being responsible for someone else, and for dealing with excrement and mess. I went down this path a number of years ago, almost psyching myself into getting guinea pigs, but I chickened out, mostly from social anxiety. I didn’t really know where to start in terms of thinking what to get and I frankly freaked out at the thought of talking to pet shop or rescue workers about animals, because I have zero experience. The only pets I’ve ever had were goldfish. I wasn’t even sure if I’d be able to hold the guinea pigs (I can be nervous with animals) and wasn’t sure if I could to hold them before buying them to see if I was confident with them. My parents weren’t keen on the idea of pets either. So all of that put me off, but given that I feel it’s not a good idea to date again for a while, having pets seems like a good idea again.

***

My autism assessment report arrived today. The diagnosis they have technically given me is “Asperger syndrome” [sic], which interested me as I didn’t think it was given as a separate diagnosis any more, being subsumed in autism spectrum disorder. Apparently it depends on which diagnostic manual is being used. In some ways, I prefer Asperger’s as a diagnosis as ASD covers such a range of people, from the non-verbal to the highest functioning. However, it was discovered a while back that Hans Asperger was involved in the Nazi euthanasia programme, and now I feel incredibly uncomfortable whenever the syndrome named after him is named. Which is a shame, because I used to like the term “Aspie.”

The report recommended that I have CBT, a type specially adapted for people on the spectrum (ordinary CBT tends not to work well for people on the spectrum, which is my personal experience). Unfortunately, there is a very long waiting list, and it is not clear how I ask to be put on it, whether I would have to go back to my GP or what — I suspect there is more NHS bureaucracy to manage. Also, I wasn’t sure what the CBT would actually be treating, exactly. Would it just be life skills?

The report also managed to have me down in places as a “woman”, “Ms [Luftmentsch]” and “she”. I am not sure how they managed to get so many typos misgendering me in there! Most of the time they did get my gender right, although I got thrown for a bit until I realised that with one exception the person they referred to as “Ms Luftmentsch” was my mother, not me. I would have expected them to say “Mrs Luftmentsch”.

There was supposed to be a leaflet about ASD resources included too. This was not included, so I need to phone tomorrow to complain. Why is it never easy with the NHS?

Other than that, it was weird to read the report. It’s strange to see myself analysed so dispassionately and at such length (twenty pages). It was actually uncomfortable in places. The descriptions of my poor social skills read like criticism, even though I knew they weren’t. One line in the report said that my Mum reported that I would not spontaneously share as a child, but would share happily if prompted to do so. Future girlfriends please note, I suppose.

***

Other than that, it was a slightly boring day. I did some miniature model painting when I got home while listening to some of the last series of Just A Minute, although I felt that I have too much tremor, and too little patience, to paint as well as I did as a teenager. I should probably stop comparing myself to my fourteen year old self and accept I just don’t paint as well.

Actually Autistic

I had the final autism assessment today.  I was told that I do meet the diagnostic criteria for high functioning autism (what used to be called Asperger’s Syndrome).  The psychiatrist spoke a bit about why she was diagnosing now when it had been missed when I was assessed back in 2006, mainly because I now had experience of difficulties in a work environment and also because some of the symptoms were put down to depression in 2006 whereas my depression is mostly gone now.

The psychiatrist also spoke briefly about help the hospital might be able to give me in the future in terms of specialist CBT. Ordinary CBT doesn’t work well for people on the spectrum, which is probably why I’ve struggled with it. That may help with social interactions. There is a one year waiting list though.

I’m also now eligible for legal support in the workplace from disability discrimination legislation (one of my main practical reasons for pursuing the assessment).

I was relieved when I got the diagnosis, but have also been feeling quite numb since then and in the last hour or so a bit sad without really understanding why I feel like this.  I guess it’s a big change to adapt to, even if I had suspected it and pursued it for several years now.  I’m going to take some time out today to process things. I guess adjusting to change is hard, even if it has been expected for some times.

I went for a walk after the assessment to try to process things, but I don’t think it helped much. I’m going to do what I don’t usually do and post this now and then maybe post something more considered this evening.

Another Busy Day

I woke up early today, at least by my usual standards.  I usually wake up in the early morning, but then I feel tired and usually fall asleep again until much later.  I decided the other day that I would try to force myself to stay up, which I managed today.  I was pretty tired (even though I had about seven hours of sleep), but I managed it.  I was OK once I drank coffee and I was glad to get an earlier start on the day and say the morning Shema and Amidah on time.

I did doze for half an hour in the afternoon though.

Achievements (although the above are really achievements too): I spent two hours on my novel and finished another chapter.  Only one more chapter to go!  I’m up to 72,000 words too, which is novel length, just about.  Hopefully the manuscript will grow a bit in redrafting.  The time taken to write each chapter seems to be becoming shorter too, even though they chapters are mostly the same length.  I have mixed feelings about the quality though.  Some of that is probably low self-esteem and it is just a first draft.  My English teacher used to say that a first draft is 99% of the work, and for non-fiction I would tend to agree, but I think writing fiction is more organic and individual and I need to redraft more, particularly as I’ve never written something this long before.

I did an hour of Torah study, much of it difficult Mishnah, which was good.

I also went for a half hour walk.  My ankle felt a bit strange when I woke up.  I’m not sure how to describe it – kind of weak and fragile.  It wasn’t painful, but I didn’t want to put too much weight on it.  I think something is wrong when I run, but I’m not sure if it’s my trainers or if I’m running incorrectly (it can happen).  I don’t really want to go shopping for new trainers at the moment because I’m avoiding shops except for essential items to shield Mum.  I could mail order, but my parents have put me off that by saying that returning them would be hard if they’re a bad fit.

I attended depression group online via Zoom.  I hadn’t attended for a while because I’ve been having therapy on Mondays and was too tired after that to go, but I’ve moved therapy to Wednesdays so that I can go again, plus my therapist is away this week anyway.  I mentioned my novel and people were really supportive, which was nice.

My mood was mostly good today, although it was drifting downwards when I dozed off in the afternoon, so maybe it was just as well that I fell asleep at that point.  My mood did dip slightly into self-recrimination and worry while walking, but mostly I was able to focus on the present.

Someone at depression group asked if I find it easier or harder online.  I find it harder, but I’m not sure why.  I think some of it is feeling that I’m being stared at by the camera the whole time, whereas in person I can see people are focusing on the person speaking, not me.  I also think there’s blurred boundaries when Zooming in from home (am I at home or in the group?) and less of a transition from home to group and back again and transitions are really important for people on the autism spectrum.  I find it hard to give people my full attention on Zoom, harder than in person, and I was getting fidgety by the end, which I know is autistic stimming and my way of trying to focus (rather than boredom), but I was glad that people couldn’t see that I was tapping my fingers because it might have looked rude.

I didn’t stick exactly to my limits on internet usage/email checking that I agreed with my therapist, but I did mostly stick to them and that does seem to help stay present-focused, not to compare myself with others so much and to avoid negative thoughts.  Actually, depression group can provoke comparing thoughts, a kind of procrustean bed where if they’re doing well, I feel I should be doing as well as they are, but if they aren’t doing well, I feel that I should be doing more things as I’m not so depressed.  I try not to think like that, but it’s not always easy.

I didn’t feel like I’d done much today, but writing it down I see that I have done quite a bit.

***

I made a mistake online.  Not a major one (it was less something I didn’t know and more something I phrased badly), but normally I would beat myself up about it, but I’m trying not to, which I guess is good.  With CBT for social anxiety, one technique is to make deliberate mistakes to become inured to them (one nineteenth/early twentieth century yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) used to get the students to do something similar, and there is an XKCD cartoon with a similar point…).  I did not do that when I did CBT for my social anxiety; as I think I’ve said, I don’t think I tried hard enough with CBT for social anxiety, although what I did seemed quite difficult at the time.

***

This passage in Healing from Despair: Choosing Wholeness in a Broken World (by Rabbi Elie Kaplan Spitz and Erica Shapiro Taylor) resonated with me: “A sensitive child, burdened by his natural physical desires and the emotional and intellectual demands he inherited… Rebbe Nachman entered into depressed periods throughout his life.”  My emotional and intellectual demands were not inherited, but came partly from social expectation and partly from my own inner drive for excellence, but otherwise it was very similar to my childhood and adolescence.

Two Years

Shabbat was good.  The usual mix of praying, studying Torah, eating, sleeping (too much) and reading.  I came last at Scrabble.  I had some rotten letters, far too many vowels.  I’m not very competitive, but I am getting annoyed that I’ve only won one game so far this summer.  There was some discussion as to whether ‘boxy’ (my word) is a word or not.  Our dictionary (Collins) says no, but now Shabbat is out, Merriam-Webster online says yes.  Maybe I’d have been better off with ‘oiled,’ but I couldn’t remember how many ‘L’s were in it.

I finished Sacred Fire: Torah from the Years of Fury, 1939-1942, kept up with weekly page of Talmud and read a bunch of Tehillim (Psalms) in Hebrew.  I didn’t do much recreational reading, just a little bit more of Muck, which is very good.  I didn’t go for a walk, partly because I slept and then wanted to study Torah and read, partly because it looked like rain.

***

Yesterday I realised it is nearly two years since I left my further education job (it’s nearly two years since I stopped working, although I was technically under contract for a couple of weeks in August when I was on holiday).  It feels much longer.  I think leaving may be the worst decision I ever made, and I’ve made some pretty bad ones.

For those of you who don’t remember or weren’t reading then, my initial contract was up.  I was not sure if it would be renewed, as everything in the library world, and the education world, is suffering from lack of funds.

I was offered a permanent contract, but my boss made it quite clear that she didn’t think I was handling the job as well as she expected.  The permanent contract was in many ways a new job, working all the time at the college’s secondary site (instead of once a week there and usually at the main site) where I would be expected to have much more contact with staff, talking to them, getting book recommendations from them and trying to get them to bring students to the library more often.  This terrified me given my social anxiety and the fact that the interpersonal aspects of the job so far had convinced me that I am autistic.  My boss had also made it clear that she felt that this interpersonal interaction side of the job was something I was particularly bad at.  I agreed, and decided to turn the job down, which seemed to astonish her, even though her vocal lack of confidence in my skills was a major factor in my turning it down.

If I’d realised how hard it would be to build a career or even to find a new job that is mostly backroom librarian stuff with minimal interpersonal interactions, maybe I would have taken that job.  Since then I’ve only worked for seven months in total out of twenty-three (not counting that August when I was paid, but not working).

I made a list of everything I’ve done in the last two years to try to work out if they were good or bad.  Aside from only seven months working, I had some interviews and tests and did badly in a lot of them, but not quite all (obviously two I did well in as I got the jobs).

I went on two dates with one person via a matchmaking site (not a success) and was in a long-distance relationship with E. for four or five months that also ended badly.

My mood (depression) has been extremely variable, and although I had some CBT last year for social anxiety, my social anxiety has got worse because of lockdown.  I also think I didn’t push myself hard enough with the CBT, although being restricted to ten sessions on the NHS didn’t help.

On the plus side, I finished my Doctor Who non-fiction book, but failed to get a publisher, or many readers when I self-published.  I have written most of the first draft of a novel.  This is the biggest thing in my life at the moment, aside from helping around the house now Mum has cancer.

My therapist, who I’d been seeing for years (seven?  Something like that) stopped seeing me in late 2018 because she said there was nothing else she could do for me.  That made me feel hopeless (not the first time mental health professionals have basically said that they can’t do anything for me as my issues are too difficult for them).  I started with a new therapist a few weeks ago.  She seems good, but I have seen so many therapists over the years, I see it as being more about letting off steam than being “cured” or one day having a “normal” life.

I still haven’t had an(other) autism assessment, despite being pushed towards it by the further education job and then by the following office job, which nearly drove me insane and made me realise my brain really isn’t wired like most people’s.

I made some new friends, mostly online, but quite a few friends have stopped talking to me, or I’ve stopped talking to them to prevent arguments (or from fear we would drift back into a relationship again in the case of E.).  I feel incredibly bad about this, but don’t know how to stop it happening again.

I think I had begun to fit in slightly better at shul (synagogue) and talk to one or two more people before lockdown.  I led services a couple of times too, but wonder if I should have done that (I had tremor issues again someone said I looked “like you were going to have a coronary”).  I still feel the community is not a perfect fit for me, but it’s the best on offer.  A few people know I have medical issues even if I haven’t told them the details, but I don’t always feel supported, although the rabbi has been messaging to check in regularly during lockdown, which is good.

Reading this back mostly makes me feel despairing, seeing how little has gone right in the last two years.  The plus side, I suppose, is that a lot happened, even if much of it was bad, so perhaps I should be hopeful that the next two years won’t be stagnant, even if I feel the chances of finding a job (let alone a good job), finding a girlfriend/wife or finding a publisher for my book all seem slim.

Socially Anxious Duckling

I dreamt about a duckling last night and woke up wondering feeling like the ugly duckling and wondering when I will turn into a swan…

My Dad tried to wake me up at 8.00am so I could phone the GP’s surgery, but I didn’t get up.  I think it was partly tiredness, but mostly social anxiety.  I don’t like it when my social anxiety is that extreme.  I definitely think I’ve gone backwards since lockdown started in terms of social anxiety.  At 10.00am my Mum gave up and phoned the doctor, but all the non-emergency appointments had gone by then.  Because of COVID, they’re only releasing appointments on a day to day basis, so we’ll have to phone again tomorrow.  I asked Dad to phone, as I don’t think I will manage to get up again.

My social anxiety has historically been a lot less of a problem than my depression (or my OCD, when it was at its height), but it has always been there.  It has tended to ebb and flow.  There was a time when I was able to lead services in shul (synagogue) and give drashot (religious talks).  I did lead services a couple of times this winter just gone, but I felt very anxious and only partly did it because I wanted to.  Part of me did it because I didn’t like to say no when I was asked, which is partly a social anxiety problem in itself.  I did some CBT last year, but in retrospect, I probably didn’t push myself hard enough with the exercises, plus on the NHS I only got ten sessions, which probably wasn’t enough.

Lockdown has made everything worse, because I’ve got used to just seeing my parents, and occasionally my sister and brother-in-law.  The thought of seeing other people, or talking on the phone, is suddenly more scary than in the past.  Plus, because of COVID, most places have new rules about masks and distancing, so almost everything has autistic “new situation” anxiety as well as social anxiety.  I need to do something about this, but it is hard to see what I can do while I still need to shield Mum and when my depression is the bigger impediment.  I might try to attend Zoom depression group meetings again.  I stopped because it was the same day as therapy and I was too tired for both, but my therapist is away soon.  Alternatively, my therapist says she is happy to change days if I want to go to depression group, and that might be sensible.

***

Home was noisy and busy today.  A few days after my Dad’s catalytic converter was stolen from his car for a second time, we got a note through the door from the police saying there was a burglary in a house in our road.  My parents became super-security conscious and we had various security devices fitted today.  I can see the point, but was worried about some electricity on Shabbat (the Sabbath) issues.  We did ask my parents’ rabbi about it some weeks ago and he said it was OK in certain circumstances.  It seems to be OK in our case, but this is the type of thing that can trigger my religious OCD to say, “But what if I’m not 100% certain it’s OK?”  I’m trying to sit with that doubt and not give in to it, just as I’ve been sitting with another, unrelated, issue where I wanted to ask a question of my rabbi mentor, but decided that deep down I know the answer and it would just be fuelling the OCD to ask.  It’s hard, though, because in the frum community one is expected to ask in the case of doubt, but treating OCD involves living with (some) doubt.

The gardener was here this morning too, so there was a lot of noise and a lot of people, albeit mostly outside (necessarily, because Mum is shielding).  I do vaguely wonder if we should have waited until after COVID, but I guess the criminals are still working.

***

Achievements: I split my writing time in two today.  It was hard to start the second session, but overall I was more productive than ever, writing about 1,700 words in two hours with relatively little idleness (some idleness is probably necessary for creativity, at least for me).

I watched a series of four short videos by Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik about Jewish survival as an argument for God.  I learnt a few things, but I already knew the gist of what he was saying.  It was more a history lecture than a religious one.  It was similar to a post I started writing, but am not sure whether to finish, about why I’m religious even though I find Judaism very difficult much of the time because of my autism, depression and social anxiety.   I wasn’t sure whether anyone would be interested in that, or whether it would offend anyone who isn’t Jewish.  Or if I really wanted to hold my beliefs up for comment, to be honest.

I went for a walk.  My mood dropped somewhat.  I seem to be OK if I’m doing something that engages my brain, but my mood gets worse when I’m not.  I saw someone who went to my school and who is now married with children and is a rabbi.  I’m not sure if I was because of that, but I ended up thinking about people I was at university with and wondering what they’re doing.  In particular, someone who I fell out with while I was there, which has gone into my novel.  It was originally a key event in the novel, although as the novel has grown organically, it’s not so important now, which is probably for the best.  I ended up feeling quite downbeat.  I listened to some music (using the heter (permission) for depressed people to listen to the music during the mourning period of the Three Weeks, which we are currently in), but it was not terribly cheerful music (Donnie and Losing My Religion) and probably made things worse.  I spent the first fifteen minutes or so trying not to listen to music, but in the end I decided I was feeling too depressed and it wasn’t worth it.

In the evening, I did a little bit of ironing and some more Torah study; I would have liked to have done more, but I was too tired, as ever.  I spent twenty minutes or so writing a review of a Doctor Who story from my birthday present box set, but I don’t think I can engage with Chris Chibnall’s view of the series enough to write particularly positive reviews.  If my review of Spyfall, which I did, on some level, enjoy, seems overly negative, I shudder to think what a review of Orphan 55 might look like.

***

I got sent an email advertising a job as a “lecturer in conservation of easel paintings.”  I have no idea why I got sent that.  If only I knew something about conserving easel paintings.  All I can think of is Thomas the Tank Engine: “Coughs and sneezels spread diseasels.”

“If you’re lonely you can talk to me”

I went to bed late, the usual post-Shabbat (Sabbath) in the summer issue of Shabbat finishing late, then davening (praying) and tidying up, off-loading my thoughts onto my blog and needing some time to decompress.  I watched the first episode of the Doctor Who story Warriors of the Deep, a story I used to hate, but now see some virtues in.  I don’t understand why fandom remembers Peter Davison as the “bland and boring” Doctor when he’s actually the energetic and sarcastic one.  OK, enough Doctor Who for now!

I struggled to sleep when I went to bed.  I think I fell asleep around 3.00am.  I woke up (for the second time) about 10.00am after the dreams I wrote about here.  The dreams, and thinking about them after waking, left me in a thoughtful mood, not depressed, but not as happy as when I woke up from the second dream.  It does seem easier to make friends in dreams than in real life.  Mind you, it seems easier to make friends online than in real life too.

My mood did go down again after a while, though, and I felt quite lonely again too.  Then around 12.30pm, I was hit by a sudden tidal wave of loneliness and despair which persisted for much of the day.  It’s not just despair and loneliness, but thinking I’m too weird to ever be in a lasting relationship.  “The most terrible poverty is loneliness and the feeling of being unloved.” (Mother Theresa)  I wonder if I will ever be happy and loved romantically… My parents love me, it’s true, and I know that’s something other people can’t take for granted and I try to be grateful for it.  Still, I feel romantic love is different and not replaceable with parents’ love.  Plus, lately I am struggling to express myself to my parents again.  It seems I go through phases of being close to them and then less close.  Maybe I don’t want to upset them by saying I’m depressed while Mum is ill.  Or maybe I don’t want to admit that sometimes I have begun to worry that I made a mistake breaking up with E.  I feel like I just need to be held.

I feel that I’m spiralling downwards into a pit of loneliness and despair at the moment and I don’t know what I can do about it.  I’m hoping that getting past my birthday, and past Tisha B’Av next week, will help, but who knows?

What I posted the other day (about God so to speak experiencing our suffering) no longer cheers me up as much as it did.  I have found this a lot.  CBT in particular seems to assume that if you can find one thought or affirmation that really raises your mood, that sorts out your depression or anxiety permanently.  You just have to repeat the magic phrase or affirmation.  Whereas I find that after a while, thoughts that raise my mood lose their potency somehow.  Like the Borg in Star Trek, the depression adapts to my shields and weapons (the thoughts or affirmations) and breaks through them.  I suppose I find other things to feel anxious or depressed about.  Or maybe mental health ruminations just aren’t logical and can’t be fought with logic.

***

I forced myself to apply for a job that came up.  Job adverts and related bumf is the most horribly, Orwellian, meaningless mass of jargon, cliché and meaningless phrases.  The public sector (where this job is) is, if anything, even worse than the private sector.  The purpose of the job is “contribute to the delivery of [institution’s] knowledge and library services”.  So the job of the assistant librarian is to deliver library services.  Someone thought that sentence was meaningful and non-obvious enough to be worth writing down.

Anyway, it’s another assistant librarian job that I feel I ought to be able to do, but worry that I can’t.  It’s also full-time, and I don’t think I could cope with that.  But I’m applying anyway, to show willing.  I forced myself to fill in the application, although if it’s so hard for me to fill in the application (and much of it was saved in the system from a previous application to a job at the same institution), I have no idea how I will manage the work.  Writing the application just makes me revisit all the jobs I messed up in the past.  I just feel so useless these days.

***

I went for a run and came back with a painful foot (left ankle and under the left arch) and an exercise headache (verging on migraine).  I think my trainers, which I bought last winter, are possibly not the best or don’t fit properly, as I keep getting minor pains in my feet, although this is the worst I’ve had.  I probably should have stopped halfway through the run when it started hurting, but I am stubborn and I wanted to see whether a slightly different route I was taking took my run over three miles (it did, with reasonable pace, foot notwithstanding.  It was over five kilometres too).  I felt I could cope with it.  This is what I do: I set myself a target, then I push myself to meet it, and when I feel I can’t cope, I still push on because I don’t want to admit failure (to myself as well as to others), and then I crash and hurt myself and can’t do anything for a period of time.  It’s a pattern that has repeated for years, usually with mental health, but sometimes with physical health.

Fortunately, after showering, eating and taking some solpadeine, both foot and head seem to be rather better, although both ache a little still.

I do seem to have lost some weight.  I think I’m now on the borders of being overweight rather than being clearly overweight.  This is pretty good, as clomipramine made me put on a lot of weight, but is a non-negotiable part of my treatment regimen as it’s the only anti-depressant that has ever done much for me long-term.

My mood has been a bit better since my run; still somewhat depressed and lonely, but not so much.

***

I managed some Torah study for an hour or so too, and brainstormed some ideas for this week’s devar Torah (Torah thought).  So I guess it was a fairly productive day even if I feel exhausted and slightly headachey.  I did watch the rest of Warriors of the Deep, and will probably watch an episode of Star Trek Voyager before bed.  That’s quite a lot of TV by my usual standards, but I feel I need to balance out the activity with mindless relaxation for my own mental health.

***

I’ll be thirty-seven in under an hour.  Thirty-seven isn’t such a big event as thirty or forty because humans use a base ten counting system and like round numbers, and thirty-seven isn’t evenly divisible by ten.  Still, it feels like I should have got my life together by now, that I should have a career or at least a job and a network of friends and a place in my religious community and some kind of relationship, maybe even children.  I looked up 37 on Wikipedia, but there weren’t any factoids that I could understand easily without having more maths knowledge than I have, except that it’s a prime number (which I already knew) and also normal body temperature in degrees Celsius and the atomic number of rubidium.  I worked out that the thirty-seventh Doctor Who story was The Tomb of the Cybermen, which I’ve always found over-rated.  I don’t know what this proves, except that I shouldn’t let one day out of 365 in the year (one out of 366 this year) have such power over me.

I’m not going to say that thirty-seven can’t be worse than thirty-six, because clearly it could be.  But I will say I’m going to hope for a better year.  In the immortal words of Delta and the Bannermen (going back to Doctor Who, sorry), “Here’s to the future/Love is the answer.”  (Also, “Can we have space buns and tea?”)

Negativity and Value

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was fairly low-key.  My Dad and I didn’t go to our reopened shuls (synagogues) because we were worried about shielding Mum, who has low immunity.  We were worried that even with social distancing, the risk of bringing home infection was high.  I was upset at missing my Talmud shiur (religious class) and tried to keep up with it at home by guessing how far they were likely to go.  This was the first time I had studied Gemarah (the later, more complex part of the Talmud) since the start of lockdown.  I went for a walk right after lunch, which meant that I didn’t fall into a deep sleep for hours as I’ve been doing recently after Shabbat lunches.  I did still end up in bed at times in the afternoon because I was feeling depressed and wanted to retreat a bit, but I don’t think I slept much, maybe dozed for ten or twenty minutes at most.  Hopefully my sleep won’t be so messed up tonight.

I beat my Dad at Scrabble (Mum didn’t feel well enough to play).  I thought I got a few good words; I was glad to get rid of both a difficult Z (zen) and a Q (quad).  I wasn’t sure if qi is allowed.  I think it is, but we don’t have an official Scrabble dictionary and then Dad used the square that I needed to do it – a shame, as it would have been on a triple word score.

The illegal minyan (prayer quorum) next door disappeared, but returned tonight for Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers) just when I thought it was gone for good.

***

I want to be less negative, but it’s hard to work out how.  Just before Shabbat, I wrote a list of negative attitudes that I have.  I found six, corresponding fairly obviously to a few CBT unhelpful thinking styles.  The problem is working on them.  I have tried CBT a few times for depression and self-esteem and it has never worked very well, perhaps because it generally does not work for people autism spectrum (I think there’s an adapted CBT for autistic people).

I think I do find it easier to reframe things than I did in the past, but I still do find it hard, and it still takes me a while to realise I can reframe thoughts.  Plus, I do feel that I have had an objectively difficult life since adolescence, which does make it hard to think that things will improve.  And “shoulds” are particularly hard to get rid of.  Orthodox Judaism is not about possibilities and values, but obligations, precisely defined obligations at that.  (If I was Reform, it would be a different issue.)  That’s a hard barrier to get around.

***

Somewhat related: when I see people living (apparently) successful and happy lives, it’s easy to get sucked into thinking that life should be joyous and feel inadequate for not having that type of life.  It’s only when I see other people who are suffering that I feel that life is a “vale of soul-making” (as Keats said) and feel that my life is meaningful for enduring mental illness and trying to support others with it.

***

I feel Western culture tends to put too much emphasis on individualism and not accepting help, and also on economic production as a indicator of worth.  It’s hard to feel that I’m worthwhile while unemployed “just” because I try to be kind, supportive and non-judgemental of others.  Even when I map out possible futures, the idea of earning money, as a librarian and/or writer comes up, as does marriage and children.  I want those things, but they may not be realisable for me.  But Western culture says without a job I’m not contributing much, just as Judaism says that without a family, I’m not “really” part of the community.

***

I have a nagging feeling that there were more thoughts that came up over Shabbat, when I couldn’t write them down, but I can’t remember them, and it’s late and I’m getting tired.  Hopefully I will remember them tomorrow, if they really existed.

Self-Critical Thoughts and Studying Torah

I’ve been feeling drained again today, and more depressed than the last few days.  Although CBT has never worked well for my depression and self-esteem, I started monitoring my self-critical thoughts and feelings today, just out of curiosity, to see how many I had.  I had about eleven self-critical negative thoughts (including one sudden self-critical feeling without a clear thought).  Six were before lunch and three were while walking, whereas there weren’t any while I was working on my novel (not even “I’m a bad writer” thoughts) and only one while cooking dinner, which suggests that distraction works well for me.  “I hate myself” or variants thereof was the most common type of thought by a long way.

That seemed quite a lot of self-critical thoughts considering that I had thought that my depression is currently only an issue in the morning and not later.  In fact, nearly half of these self-critical thoughts occurred after lunch.  It is also surprising considering that I thought my self-esteem was better these days.  On the plus side, I suspect that even a few years ago I would have been having a lot more self-critical thoughts.  Eleven was fairly manageable.

That said, my mood was persistently low all day without obvious negative thought triggers.  This is probably why I’ve never found CBT helpful for depression or self-esteem.  I had anhedonia today too; I was snacking on fruit mid-afternoon and it just seemed… not nice, even though it wasn’t off.  It was quite uncomfortable and I had to force myself to eat it as I was hungry.

***

I’m still feeling lonely.  I had a whole long section here that was me speaking about being lonely and thinking I will be single forever because of my issues and where I live in the world (in terms of Jewish community), but I cut it because I’ve said it before and will probably say it again.  And I wasn’t even supposed to be thinking about this until I had a job or some kind of income.

And I miss E.  I can see it wasn’t going to work out, but I miss her as a friend as much as a girlfriend.  We used to text a lot during the days, at least until a couple of weeks before we broke up.  Part of me wants to text again, but I’m worried about getting sucked back into a relationship.  I’ve always told myself not to get into on/off relationship situations.  I told myself not even to think about contacting E. until after my birthday (another three weeks away) to try to get over her.  But I wish I had someone to message with.

***

This article deals a bit with the question I have about how much Torah study I should do.  It notes that, theoretically, every adult Jewish man should spend every free moment studying Torah; the reality is that very few people could do that.  The article notes that “I suspect that expectations are very much a factor of one’s personal level of Torah accomplishment.”

The problem is I don’t know how much Torah study is right for me.  When I’m spending two hours writing a day and nine or ten hours sleeping a night (really) and an hour or two watching TV and reading (largely during meals, to be fair) and goodness knows how long procrastinating, doing thirty minutes to an hour of Torah study a day seems minimal… but it often does feel that I can’t do more.  It sounds strange, but an hour of writing for me is often easier than an hour of Torah study, even before you factor in energy levels that are lower than normal and sink faster than normal because of depression.  Plus, I see writing as the nearest thing to earning a livelihood in my life at the moment, in that I hope to be able to get my novel finished and published and earn royalties from it, so it seems important.  Today I was exhausted by dinner time and doing any Torah study at all seemed almost impossible.

Incidentally, that article mentions Rabbi Nehorai’s comment in Sanhedrin 99a which is the basis for the later literature, but does not quote it.  I looked it up and it says, “Rabbi Nehorai says: Anyone for whom it is possible to engage in Torah study and who nevertheless does not engage in its study is included in the category of: “Because he has despised the word of the Lord.”” (From the Koren Noé Talmud edition on Sefaria; bold text is literal translation, non-bold text is contextual explanation).  This makes it sound like a lot would depend on what “possible” means for any given person, in terms of time, energy and so on.

***

Achievements: I spent an hour and ten minutes proofreading the chapter I finished yesterday.  I’m more happy with it than I was, but I still think a section will have to be reworked significantly in redrafting.  I cooked dinner and went for a walk.

Torah study was hard, as I mentioned.  I thought doing it after dinner would be easier, as I would be refreshed, but I felt depressed and exhausted and my brain was just not working.  I spent fifteen minutes reading Tehillim (Psalms) in Hebrew and that was it.  I wanted to read some of Sacred Fire, but my brain was just not functioning any more.

That was it for today, really.  I just felt too exhausted and depressed to do much after that and watched TV, a Star Trek Voyager episode about depression and self-harm (Extreme Risk) that established the situation quite well, but resolved it far, far too easily, and the Doctor Who episode Time Heist to try to cheer myself up.

Therapy Hunting

I got up at 11.00am again today, although as with the last few days I struggled to get going.  I wasn’t feeling overtly depressed in the sense of despairing, but I did lack energy and motivation, which I guess is still depression of a kind.

I weighed myself for the first time since Pesach.  I have put on weight, but not much (half a kilo), which is a weird kind of victory.  I feel fat though.  Some of my clothes don’t fit so well (despite buying some larger ones a while back) and I know I’m two or three kilos overweight, which I haven’t been able to shift for years, since I was put on clomipramine.  I did go for a run again today.  I ran for most of the thirty-five minutes without going into a walk much, which was good.

I discovered that my self-published Doctor Who book is now available from Barnes and Noble as well as Lulu.com and Amazon UK.  I still can’t find it on Amazon US though.  I had an email from Lulu on Friday saying I should receive payment for the copies I’ve sold so far, but the money hasn’t reached my account yet.

I finished the short story I was writing and sent it to E. to see what she thinks.  E. and I Skyped again as we have been doing most days since the lockdown started.  I did twenty-five minutes of Torah study too, although I would have liked to have done more.

***

I spent nearly two hours looking for a therapist online.  I tried the questionnaire to find a therapist at welldoing.org.  The questionnaire had a long, long, looooong list of possible issues and I could easily have ticked six or seven that pertain to me, but I was only allowed to click three, so I went with depression, autism/Asperger’s and interpersonal relationships.  I hope the latter can cover my relationship with my Mum and need to come to terms with her mortality as well as my relationship with E. and understanding the changes that could entail in my life.  Autism isn’t exactly something I need to discuss in itself, but it informs my thoughts about my relationship with E. in particular and I would like to get someone who understands it if possible.  I think in many ways I’d prefer a therapist who understands autism to one who understands Orthodox Judaism, as I have a lot of experience explaining the latter to people, whereas autism is much harder to explain, especially as I feel like I don’t fully understand how it manifests in me.

Narrowing down the list of therapists is difficult, especially as I would be willing to do Skype sessions and would have to start with them.  I know it’s slightly weird to say this, but I have had male and female therapists/counsellors and I find it easier to open up to women than men (despite having had one positive male therapist and my rabbi mentor being male).  So I found myself biased in favour of women, even though that’s somewhat irrational.  Although a disproportionate amount of therapists and counsellors are female anyway.

Aside for checking BACP (British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy) membership, so far I’ve narrowed down primarily by cost and partly by locality (just in case I ever want an in-person meeting post-COVID-19), and also by type of therapy.  I am quite clear that I don’t want CBT, as it has never helped me much (except with my OCD, but that’s a different type of CBT) and, having had a some psychodynamic therapy in the past (I think… therapists do not always make it clear) I was interested in trying a new approach.  I looked primarily at therapists offering existential therapy, although I know little about it.  I did this because of my interest in Jewish existentialist thinkers, although I’m not sure how much overlap there is (therapists would probably have heard of Martin Buber and maybe Emmanuel Levinas, but are less likely to have heard of other Jewish figures).  Existentialism generally focuses on issues like purpose, choice and authenticity, which obviously inform my thoughts on a lot of subjects I would like to address, like my relationship with E. and my attitude to my sexuality generally, my position in the wider world/working world and my relationship with the wider Jewish community (the latter two not issues I would bring to therapy per se, but which are likely to come up in passing).

Tomorrow I might try to find some other names and then narrow down the list to a few who I can email to ask for more information about their fees for unemployed people.  Most therapists seem to offer concessions for those in financial need, but I need to see if I would qualify and what the concession rates are.

***

Overall it was another good day and I’m glad to have made progress with the therapy hunt.  Now that Pesach (Passover) is over, I feel like I’m coping with lockdown quite well.  There are no jobs to apply for giving me time to help around the house and write and study Torah, although I probably procrastinate too much and I struggle with mornings and compensate by staying up late, which probably isn’t healthy.  E. and I have been able to Skype most days because of the greater flexibility she had when working from home which paradoxically may have been good for our relationship (not that I wanted her potential trip to the UK to be postponed).

Anxiety Mostly Contained

I did quite a lot today, although it was mostly Pesach (Passover) preparation, so not terribly interesting to record here.  I went shopping and extended my walk home a bit for exercise, although not for as long as I would have liked if I hadn’t had so many other things on today or been nervous about staying out with COVID-19.  I kashered the hob for Pesach, which basically involves boiling pots of water on each burner until it all gets really hot, then, when it’s cooled, covering the tops of the grates in aluminium foil.  I cooked some biscuits, almond macaroons, which spread too much and turned into two giant biscuits.  I think Mum cut them back into biscuit shape; from a baking point of view they were fine.  I cleaned the kitchen sink thoroughly to kasher it tomorrow and printed a load of signs so we can see where the Pesach and non-Pesach stuff is in the rearranged kitchen (then discovered we had some from last year).

I’ve been trying hard to fight the Pesach OCD that worries about the special dietary laws of the festival and the necessity of cooking not just different food, but in different utensils and with purged work surfaces, sinks, ovens and the like.  I’ve been trying hard not to give in if I want to physically check something multiple times; or email my rabbi mentor to check I’ve done something correctly; or to look up a detail that I know about, but want to double-check; or to ask my parents if they’ve washed their hands before touching Pesach food stuff…  It’s hard to do exposure therapy for Pesach OCD because unlike my ordinary kashrut OCD, where I was able to gradually expose myself to my irrational fears until the anxiety subsided, I’m not able to expose myself to Pesach OCD over a prolonged period of time.  I just have to sit with the anxiety and push through things despite it.  Dialing back the handwashing is harder, though, as Pesach and COVID-19 team up against me there and it usually feels like at least one of them mandates washing my hands in any given situation.  My hands are cracked, itchy and sometimes painful, but, to be honest, I’ve had worse Pesachs from a chapped hands point of view.

The other thing I had today was another depression group online meeting.  I found myself feeling very anxious during this meeting.  Some of it may have been residual anxiety from Pesach preparations, but I think a lot of it was social anxiety.  I can find the in-person depression groups challenging sometimes, but I find the online meetings so far much harder.  I’m fine Skyping E. one-to-one, and I’ve had one-to-one Skype therapy and meetings with my rabbi mentor, but a group meeting (and this was a slightly larger group than last time) seems to be exponentially harder.  I think I feel self-conscious with my picture on the screen, I don’t always talk loudly enough for the microphone to pick my voice up and the problems I have in sessions in terms of judging when I can speak and what to say somehow seems even more difficult to deal with online.  I still struggle with what I feel comfortable talking about and feel self-conscious of not expressing myself as clearly and as confidently as I would like.  I would like to continue going to these meetings as the lockdown continues, but I need to think about the best way of dealing with them.

It also occurred to me in the meeting that I’ve been completely focused on getting Pesach done despite COVID-19 and Mum’s cancer.  Soon, Pesach will be over, but the two Cs (as Mum calls them) will still be here and I will probably need to think of a new coping strategy or at least something else to occupy my time.

***

This post on trans-generational trauma was interesting.  I was interested because the case study is of a Holocaust survivor and his family.  My family had surprisingly little Holocaust connection, thankfully, although I’m sure every Jewish family suffered from institutionalised or persistent violence and persecution at some point.  I don’t think anything was passed down my family in that way, but perhaps because I take my Jewish identity very seriously I feel a sort of inchoate responsibility for the world in general and the Jewish people in particular and a desire to change things for the better without really knowing how, beyond a vague hope/fear that my suffering will somehow achieve some kind of vicarious atonement.

***

I feel a bit bad, as I just did give in to the OCD on a relatively minor thing, but I could see it spiralling out into something bigger (with OCD once you give in to one doubt or anxiety, it often snowballs into something much larger) and drew a line in the sand.  But it does indicate that I am too tired to function.  I will do a few minutes of Torah study as I haven’t done any today and don’t want to go a whole day without even five minutes, break my “No screens after 11pm” rule even further to relax a little for twenty minutes, and go to bed.

Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases

“You’re a loser, Joni, or whatever your name is, because you live in fear and that isn’t really living at all, is it?  Now, I don’t live in fear.  I’m alive.” – Life on Mars episode 1.4 by Ashley Pharoah

I woke up at 10am today and got up at 11am, which was good.  It was late, but earlier than recently.  In terms of activity, I tried to work on my novel for an hour after lunch.  I made a little progress, but struggled to write light, witty, flirty date dialogue unsurprisingly.  I’m not sure how I’m going to get through this chapter.  Hard work, I suppose.  I wrote about 250 words, which is half of my usual hourly target.  I spent a lot of time procrastinating and read a “long read” article on the BBC news website about the US government’s response to coronavirus when I should have been writing.

I felt very anxious and depressed today, which also didn’t help me to get in the writing zone.  I had less specific anxiety about coronavirus or Pesach (although a little about the former) and more general feelings of depression and anxiety.  I know from my past that anxiety about X can manifest as worrying about Y, even though X and Y are totally unrelated and X may be vastly more important and serious than Y.  Some of that may be happening here.  I do over-analyse myself, “What am I feeling?  Am I feeling the right thing?”  As if there’s a “right” thing to feel.

I’ve never had much success with mental health/CBT affirmations, but I’m trying to tell myself “My thoughts are not always my friends” which helped somewhat with controlling my religious OCD in the past.  The anxiety and depression fluctuated throughout the day, getting better after my run (see below), but by the evening I was feeling awful, just wanting to curl up and sleep while the world went away.  I had a brief Skype call with E., but I felt bad at being in a state, although I know she cares enough to want to see me when I feel like that.

***

I went on my Officially Sanctioned Single Daily Exercise Session (I went for a run).  I added a bit more distance to my usual run, which coincidentally took the time taken up to exactly thirty minutes, which is good.  Pace and stamina were pretty good too, at least by my recent standards.  There were a few people around, but most looked like they were exercising rather than going anywhere in particular.  The run did seem to help with the anxious thoughts, which is good to know for the future.

***

I joined in with a global simultaneous Jewish prayer meeting.  No Skype/Zoom connection, just thousands of people praying at the same time.  I stuck with the shorter list of Tehillim (Psalms) and prayers on the Orthodox Union website rather than the longer, more mystical list of prayers sent out by my rabbi (although that list confirmed my suspicions that Tehillim chapter 120 on the OU list should have read 121).

The other virtual community thing I did today was watch a live shiur (religious class) given by Rabbi Lord Sacks via YouTube.  I haven’t really been part of a streamed event like that before, so it was interesting to see the number of viewers grow.  There were about 770 by the end, which was good considering that it was only advertised today.  It’s weird how social isolation is bringing people together.  I then spent nearly an hour researching and writing my weekly devar Torah (Torah thought).  So it was a fairly solid day from a religious point of view.

***

Back to anxiety and depression…

Another of parents’ friends had another baby.  I just feel… It’s like other people have bad times – illness, bereavement, relationship breakdown, unemployment – and then after a while it goes and something good happens.  And with me, I have bad things, and they stick around, and eventually other bad things join them and I feel even worse.

Compared with the quote at the top, I do feel like I’m living in fear, of everything (illness, bereavement, relationship breakdown, unemployment), and it isn’t really living, but it’s all I’ve got.  Which leads to all the “Why is this happening to me?  Am I a bad person?  Does God hate me?” questions.

Anyway, I need to go, or I’ll miss my “No screens after 11pm” deadline.

“I am not a number, I am a free man!”

I know I went on a rant yesterday about politics.  I feel very conflicted about politics at the moment.  I know that civil society depends on people campaigning for change, I just feel disenfranchised and not sure what to do.  There was an interview in The Jewish Chronicle with Ian Austin, the former Labour MP who resigned in protest over antisemitism in the party and is now telling people to vote Conservative to keep Labour out because of their antisemitism problem.  I think he did the right thing, but I’m not sure it’s going to make any difference.  There isn’t a party that represents what I think, and I’m terrified by what some of the parties are campaigning for, particularly Labour, which has gone in the space of just a few years from a moderate social democratic party to rabidly antisemitic crypto-Marxist one (maybe not so crypto).  Challenged about antisemitism, the standard response seems to be, “We aren’t antisemitic, there genuinely is a massive international Jewish-capitalist conspiracy that controls all Western governments and owns all the banks and media.”  All said with no trace of irony (English or otherwise).  I just feel a huge dread of what’s going to happen to our country, and the world, in the coming years.

I’m not sure I can really comment on politics objectively at the moment.  I read an article by someone I used to be friends with and my disagreement with elements of his politics blends into my upset at the way he treated me personally, which had nothing to do with politics, but showed up his desire for brotherly love and treating people kindly as a bit of a sham.  I don’t know how much my annoyance with him is political and how much is personal.  Probably a bit of both, as I don’t think I disagree with his politics enough to explain this much of a negative response.  But I don’t know.  Can we ever truly separate the political and the personal?  Should we?  I really don’t know.

I put Twitter back on my blocked sites list for now.  I just needed to get away from it.  I may go and network on there at some point, but not at the moment.

***

I feel that dread in my own life too.  I just can’t seem to get out of the depressed rut.  I know what I should be doing to work on my life and my career, it’s just so hard to do it.  I still feel a lot of social anxiety even after CBT and that’s holding me back along with the depression itself.

I woke feeling very depressed again today.  It took me more than two hours to get up, eat breakfast and get dressed.  I kept going back to bed and it was impossible to have the energy to get going.  I davened (prayed) after lunch rather than before because I didn’t have the energy earlier.  I hope this does not become a habit.  I had a bit of religious OCD today too, wondering if some frozen microwave food in our freezer was really kosher even though I was fairly sure my Mum had told me she I had bought it from a kosher shop.  I worried that I was mis-remembering and checked with her (which I shouldn’t do).  Now I’m worried that the kosher shop made a mistake.  I know my kashrut OCD flares up when I’m under stress, so that’s a sign that I’m not doing well at the moment.

I’ve been sucked into online procrastination again.  I’m trying to apply for benefits, but the form is so dense and off-putting (probably deliberately).  I felt agitated and on the brink of tears.  I would fill in one or two boxes and then feel overwhelmed (by what?) and stop because I want to cry.  I feel that my life is a mess and there’s nothing I can do about it, that the world is a mess and there’s even less I can do about it.  I don’t want to be on benefits, but I can’t see myself getting any kind of job while I’m in this state, but I need structure and activity…  The form asks for when my illness started and I don’t know what to put.  2003?  2000?  Who knows by this stage?

In the end I gave up on the form and went for a twenty-five minute run in the cold and dark instead, which exhausted me, but gave me some respite from my negative thoughts, although I worried about politics most of the time, when I wasn’t worrying that every shadowy passer-by was a mugger (7.30pm is well after dark at the moment).  I was exhausted when I got home even after a shower and dinner, but I worked on my novel for thirty or forty minutes.  My concentration was poor, but I got through a difficult scene.  I also managed ten or fifteen minutes of Torah study.  I ate a Magnum ice cream, partly as a reward for getting through a difficult day, partly to keep me awake long enough to do a bit of Torah study.  I know this will probably put back any weight I might have lost jogging, but I don’t really care.  I had to get through the day somehow.

I do feel like I’ve really tearing myself apart about a lot of things lately, some obviously trivial (like whether it would be a betrayal of my values to watch James Bond films), some genuinely worrying (the election).  I strongly suspect the trivial and maybe even the serious worries are standing in for something else, or are a return of clinical anxiety, which I’ve never been good at identifying in myself.

***

Ashley Leia commented on my last post to say it must be exhausting hiding my life from my religious community, but I’ve been hiding all my life.  At school it was hard to know which of my interests would be OK and which would be a target for the bullies, but Doctor Who was resolutely unfashionable; even at the more mature age of being an undergraduate, people stared at me in amazement or laughed when it emerged that I was a fan (this was before the relaunch of the programme and its return to popularity).

***

In terms of enjoyment, I’m wondering if I’m not enjoying things at the moment or if I’m just reading/watching/listening to the wrong things.  Over the last few weeks I’ve listened to some Doctor Who audio books and audio dramas.  A couple were good, but most weren’t.  I’ve never been able to get into these audios and I’m not sure why.  Some of it is probably difficulty concentrating on audio when I’m depressed, but I’ve been equivocal about these even when not depressed.

I’m also reading volume three of the complete short stories of Philip K. Dick.  Dick is one of my favourite authors, but I’m struggling to connect with the stop/start pace of reading short stories and having to understand a new set of characters and a new world with each story (“new world” literally, given that these are science fiction stories) so I might switch to a novel.

On the other hand, I started watching The Prisoner again, for the umpteenth time.  I don’t know if it’s autism, but I can watch my favourite things over and over without getting bored, but be really apprehensive about watching or reading anything new unless I’m very confident that I’m going to enjoy it and not be upset by it.  Watching The Prisoner is probably a bit dangerous for me.  For those who don’t know, The Prisoner was an espionage/science fiction series from the sixties.  A British spy resigns from his job and wakes up in a strange Village where people are numbers.  He wants to escape, the authorities want to find out why he resigned (that’s just the title sequence).  They only made seventeen episodes, which, alongside star/co-creator/executive producer/sometime writer and director Patrick McGoohan’s significant input gives the whole thing an auteured feel unusual in British TV of that era.

The reason it’s dangerous for me is that it deals with issues of individuality, conformism, freedom and so on and I respond strongly to it, probably too strongly.  While Doctor Who is my favourite TV series, The Prisoner is the one I connect to most emotionally.  I discovered the series when I was at university, when I was at my most depressed, and in my head Oxford and the Village became one, as did the Prisoner’s loneliness and struggle for agency and my own.  As with Kafka and Dick, the casual surrealism reflected the way I experience life, which often seems disturbing and illogical (this may be the result of autism, but maybe not).  The final episode, which suggests the Prisoner may literally be his own worst enemy only adds to my emotional connection with it, as well as my self-hatred.  The reading of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, that “The Prisoner who continues to resist brainwashing may have brainwashed himself into a prison of the mind.  The series’ thesis may thus be that freedom is impossible, as is opting out” is something that resonates a lot with me.  I do wonder if I’m my own worst enemy, and I do want to drop out of society while simultaneously seeing dropping out as both impossible and immoral.

I can see the Oxford parallels with the Village; in the years when I was too depressed to study or work, I could see parallels with the apparently endless therapeutic process and the byzantine bureaucracy of the benefits system; nowadays I can see the parallels with my position in the Jewish community, and the Jewish community’s position in the country.  Watching the first episode, Arrival, tonight, what I noticed more than before is the way the Village infantilises people to make them placid and docile; there are real-world examples with the market and the state, but what resonated with me today was my illness infantilising me.

The Prisoner is a very fun series to watch, from a time when British TV could deal with serious issues in a popular way without becoming condescending or self-important and self-righteous, and was able to question its own values.  There was a six-part American remake miniseries ten years that wasn’t nearly as fun, although it did have its good points.  And that’s without getting into the non-political readings, that the Prisoner is dead and stuck in Purgatory or a cycle of reincarnations.  It’s a series you can really immerse yourself in.

(And I haven’t even mentioned the enigmatic, silent, butler or the weird Rover weather balloon robot guards or the use of diegetic use of music or the jokes or the theme music or the way the Prisoner/McGoohan (never has it been easier to blur the lines between character and actor) loses it at someone or something in most episodes or the fact that it’s a TV programme with it’s own font or, or, or…)

Be seeing you!

Square Peg, Meet Round Hole

I use this blog for daily private journaling as well as this public side.  The private journal is mostly just a list of things I did that day plus a note on how I felt and a link to that day’s public post, but yesterday I wrote a terse note about how I was interpreting my life: “Managed to do quite a lot, but frustrated that I couldn’t do more and that I procrastinated; this level of guilty may be unfair and counter-productive.” (Emphasis added.)  I know it doesn’t sound much, but it’s a big thing for me to note my guilt and suggest it might be misplaced.

***

I had a phone call with my CBT therapist.  It was just to check in and see that I haven’t relapsed in the three weeks since our last session so that she can discharge me.  My social anxiety is somewhat better, but my depression is worse.  She was somewhat concerned about this.  I wasn’t so worried, because I think my depression can’t be cured, only managed (although arguably at the moment I am not managing it well).  I think I’ve learnt some useful CBT tricks with this therapist for dealing with social anxiety and self-esteem, albeit that I still struggle in these areas.  However, the depression is bad, but I think it will always be bad, or at least much of the time.  Certainly CBT has not helped the depression much in the past and I would have mixed feelings about trying it again – it would feel like wasting everyone’s time and money, including my own.

***

I tried to start writing a devar Torah (Torah thought/essay), but rapidly realised that (a) the idea I was hoping to use wasn’t enough for a 1,000 word essay, (b) the idea had no particular point to it and (c) I would have to quote a Midrash from an unpublished manuscript quoted by Aviva Gottleib Zornberg and I wasn’t sure I could get away with unpublished manuscripts found by a modern, non-Haredi scholar (who also happens to be a woman, to make it more shocking).  Maybe one of those things, but not all three (manuscript; modern/non-Haredi; female).  The alternative is to write about the idea I wrote about yesterday, but I don’t know the original source for that idea and, again, I don’t think I could get away with quoting it in the name of a Modern Orthodox Rosh Yeshiva.  It’s a shame, as you could take the “children of Rachel = spirituality in physicality” idea and run with it looking at the way that the Yosef (Joseph) narrative in Bereshit (Genesis) mirrors Queen Esther’s story in Megillat Esther (Esther) – both Yosef and Mordechai (and presumably therefore Esther) were descendants of Rachel.  If you had room, you could then potentially talk about hester panim, the hiding of God’s presence in the latter story but not the former.

My life would be a lot easier and potentially happier if there was a more lively and engaged Modern Orthodoxy in this country in general and in my area in particular that I could engage with.

***

I do feel depressed today, partly because of the devar Torah disappointment, partly perhaps from finishing CBT and wondering if I should have tried to stay in therapy to work on the depression despite my reservations, or even just realising (again) that my depression is here to stay.  I’m also getting concerned that I still haven’t heard when my autism assessment is (I was referred in December with a waiting list of eight to twelve months).  My Mum emailed the hospital; no response.  The GP offered to check and I said yes; no response from the GP.  The charity that did my autism screening offered to check and I said yes; no response from the charity.  It’s getting a bit troubling.  I guess the wet, dark weather and the shrinking amount of daylight don’t help the depression either.

***

I spoke to my parents’ primary school teacher friend about volunteering as a Teaching Assistant.  Actually, my Mum spoke, as I was in full autistic ‘this is big and scary and is an implicit open question and I don’t know how to approach it’ lack of executive function mode.  She said she could probably get me voluntary TA work at the primary school she works in either a secular or limmudei kodesh (Jewish Studies) classes, but there is quite a long commute on the bus.  She thought she might be able to get me into a local Jewish primary school too, which would be better from a commute point of view, but she doesn’t know the school now it’s a state school run by a private company (rather than the state itself).

I’m terrified by the whole idea of working with children.  I really don’t know why so many people think I’m good with young children.  On the other hand, librarianship is not working for me at all, and if I do manage to make a career as a writer, it isn’t going to happen for a long time and I need to earn money in the meantime which means working in another sector, even if I volunteer to try that sector out first.  The fact that so many people (critical people, to be honest) have said I’m good with children must count for something, but, talking to my parents’ friend, I was just feeling that this is going to be yet another thing that I fail at.  By the end of the conversation (only a couple of minutes) I was feeling completely overwhelmed and worried that I was about to burst into tears.

***

I went to my Thursday shiur (religious class).  I feel very out of place now, but I don’t want to attract attention – and potentially discussion of my beliefs – by not going.  The hashkafa (religious philosophy) of the rabbi doesn’t really align with mine.  I don’t know why I used to tolerate that, but find it harder now, maybe because now I feel that the community isn’t right for me, or that I have gone back to reading the Rationalist Judaism blog (although I have big problems with that too).  It’s quite kabbalistic (mystical).  I feel like I’m hiding myself there.  Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad if I did manage to write that devar Torah, but…  Still, I want to write a novel one day (not the one I’ve already started) about mysticism, religious rationalism and religious existentialism in Judaism/the Jewish community, so I guess it counts as research on that.

On the way to shiur I listened to a five minute devar Torah from Rabbi Lord Sacks on Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) which is read on the Shabbat of SukkotKohelet is all about the futility of life and how to give it meaning.  Rabbi Lord Sacks says that Kohelet sees meaning in joy, specifically the joy of honest work, the joy of marriage and the joy of being grateful and living in the moment.  I don’t have the first two; I try to be grateful and live in the moment, but somehow I struggle with it and never get any actual joy out of it.  I don’t know what to do.  Based on what I’ve seen him write elsewhere, I suspect Rabbi Sacks would say I should stop seeking joy and just focus on other people and it will come naturally, but social anxiety makes it impossible for me to come into contact with other people without becoming hugely focused on myself.

Tomorrow the rabbi of my shul is hosting an oneg (a sort of Sabbath party with alcohol, junk food, singing and divrei Torah/Torah thoughts) in his sukkah.  I struggle with these things.  When I was new to my shul, I tried to go to a couple and ended up standing outside literally crying with social anxiety.  I think I would probably get in the door now I feel somewhat more at home in the community, or at least more familiar with it, but I feel I don’t enjoy these things the way I should and I’ve got less chance of getting to shul on Shabbat (Saturday) morning if I go to the oneg, so I should think strategically and stay away.  That would all argue against going, but I feel I should try to be a part of the community and maybe one day I’ll enjoy something like a normal person would…  Life is hard.

***

I feel like a square peg in a round hole.  Some of it is being ‘modern’ in a moderate Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community, but I think it’s deeper than that.  I don’t fit anywhere; moreover, I have to admit that there’s a part of me that actively sabotages fitting in anywhere.  I honestly think that part of my problem is that a part of me wants not to fit in anywhere and finds reasons why I don’t fit in whatever the situation is.  Reasons that no one could accept me if they knew the ‘real’ me.  Reasons to withdraw and stay away.  Call it Groucho Marx Syndrome: “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.”  In my shul I feel too modern, but when I go to Modern Orthodox shiurim, I feel that people aren’t frum (religious) enough.  I am not naive and I can bring kashas (questions based on contradictions and logical flaws) on Jewish philosophy, but I can bring kashas on Enlightenment and postmodern thought too, so I’m staying Jewish and frum.  I don’t have wisdom or understand the meaning of life or how to live it.  I’m not sure that I can even describe myself as a seeker of meaning or wisdom (perhaps.  I hope so).  I don’t know what I am, really and I don’t know who can accept me.

***

It feels like it’s just been a pointless, wasted day that should have been a fun Chol HaMoed day if I was a “normal” person, which I’m not.  I really need a day of nothing to recover from all the Yom Tovim (festivals), but I have more Yom Tov coming next week and then job hunting and then a trip to Israel that I’m dreading, then more job hunting… I just got an email for a training day for people considering changing career that I should (that word again) go to, but I can’t face it.  I wish I could access the hidden positive feelings I recently said I must have about God and Torah and Judaism, because right now they would be very useful, but they’re very hidden.  I try to connect, but I can’t.

***

I had weird dreams again last night, although I can only remember fragments: Boris Johnson, the London Underground, World War I (I think, but maybe World War II, or both) and giving away lots of my books to charity shops and then trying to buy them all back again because I regretted it.  Also raising someone else’s baby, and dying.  All life is here in my subconscious.  I wish I knew what it all means, or could access it in my writing.

The Real Me

It’s supposed to be a bad sign if it rains on Sukkot, the Jewish festival we’re partway through.  This is because we eat (and sleep, if you’re brave) in thatched huts in the garden to remember the Israelites living in portable huts in the wilderness.  So if it rains and we can’t do that, so it’s a sign of Divine displeasure.  I think this probably only applies in Israel, as rain at this time of year is rare there.  Unlike here in the UK, where it’s been raining quite a bit (my family in Israel were too hot to go outdoors…).

It’s tempting to use that to segue into the story of my last two days, but it wouldn’t be entirely accurate.  There were some not-so-good things, and those are uppermost in my mind at the moment for reasons that will become obvious, but I can see objectively that there were good things too.  For a change, I will do this topically rather than chronologically.

Shul (synagogue): I got to shul quite a lot: both evenings and this morning (I was about twenty minutes late this morning, on time for the others).  The services were OK, although I was clock-watching after a while this morning, which may have been more to do with anxiety about having guests for lunch afterwards (see below).  I did struggle with the shiurim (religious classes) between Mincha and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Service) both days.  They were halakhic (Jewish law-focused) and somewhat triggering of my religious OCD in terms of making me worry that we were not fulfilling the festival laws properly.  Moreover, seeing so many people from the community engaging with the discussion and answering questions while I felt confused and unable to follow the argument made me feel that I just can’t engage with perhaps the most important area of religious practice for an Orthodox Jewish man: Talmudic and halakhic study.  I realised Torah as taught at a high level for men is largely left-brain/logical (Talmudic and halakhah) not right-brain/creative.  I need the creative aggadic (narrative) side.  This is often neglected.  Although to be fair, the shiur I go to on Thursdays is less halakhic, but I don’t participate as much as I could due to lack of confidence.  I felt like the shiurim told me how to fulfil the mitzvot (commandments) of Sukkot, but didn’t explore why we do these specific things, the symbolism and meaning.  Although, if they had done that, they probably would have gone for a kabbalistic (Jewish mysticism) approach that I would find equally problematic…

I was left feeling that I will never feel useful in my community.  I’m too scared to lead davening (lead the service), if they even ask me again, and I can’t do Talmudic and halakhic study (when I came in for Mincha someone was sitting at the table with three Hebrew-only books open, tracing some arcane point of halakhah, and he’s not even one of the people I have down as a really good scholar!).  I am hoping to write a devar Torah (essay on the weekly Torah reading) for later in the year, if I can manage it and if they still have the slot open to anyone (the same guy writes it each week, but I think that’s because no one else volunteers rather than because he really wants to write 1,000 words every week).

Mum said I should focus on the positive, saying I connect to God in my shul, but I don’t really.  I don’t really connect to God anywhere at the moment.  I just like my shul because there’s no talking and not much chazzanut (cantorial singing) and the people are nice.

Sukkah (sitting in the hut in the garden): this was pretty successful.  We had dinner out there on the first night, which is the most important meal of the holiday to have there.  I had kiddush (the blessing over wine and snacks before lunch) on the first day, but then it started raining and we had to eat lunch inside; it actually stopped raining, but my parents didn’t want to go out and I didn’t argue as the rabbi had said that if you go inside because of the weather you don’t have to come out if it stops raining, although I wasn’t sure that applied as technically we hadn’t started lunch itself when the rain stopped.  We had most of dinner last night, hurriedly coming in when the heavens opened towards the end of the main course.  And we had lunch out there today.  So, a reasonable success there.

Mental health: not so good.  As mentioned above, I had some religious OCD regarding the sukkah and the arbah minim (branches and a really expensive citrus fruit held and shaken during the Sukkot shul services), worrying that I wasn’t following the laws properly.  That was partly due to the shiurim, but probably mostly due to myself.  This was disappointing, as the religious OCD has been under control lately.  There was quite a bit of depression, which was partly a result of the OCD, but maybe a cause of it too.

On Monday evening after dinner I lay down on my bed in semi-darkness for a long time, unable to move or do anything.  I was somewhat similar today after lunch, albeit with a more obvious cause (see below).  I wonder if this was an autistic shutdown.  I’ve mentioned that my autism was not diagnosed for a long time (technically is still undiagnosed) and one of the reasons is an absence of some traits, such as meltdowns (overloaded, emotional responses to sensory and/or emotional overload).  I don’t really understand shutdowns as well as meltdowns and they seem to be less accepted as legitimate autistic behaviour, but they do seem to suit my behavioural pattern better, but it could just be depression.  It’s sometimes hard to see where one of my issues ends and another begins.

Social: we had our neighbours over for lunch today.  I don’t really know them well, although I’ve known them for a number of years.  Some time ago my Dad wanted to set me up with their daughter (who also came today), which made the whole situation feel more awkward to me, as I don’t think she’s interested in me at all.  I coped, but I largely found the conversation overwhelming: loud and uninteresting (neurotypical small talk).  As I said, I had a bit of a shutdown afterwards and didn’t really get time to recover before shul and the shiur that left me feeling bad, which may have been strategically unwise, although I would have had to go to shul anyway as my tallit and machzor (prayershawl and festival prayer book) were still there.  I upset my parents by coming home from shul in a bit of a state and snapping at them.  Mum said they don’t like it when I come home from shul beating myself up, so now I’m beating myself up even more for upsetting them and beating myself up.

Sigh.  Sukkot is also known as Zman Simchateinu, the Time of our Joy.  It’s supposed to be the most joyous Jewish festival.  I could see the depression trap there a mile off, but I still kind of fell into it.  I tried to focus on the halakhic definition of joy, but that didn’t really work either.  Eating meat and wine – I don’t like meat much and I don’t drink alcohol because it’s a depressant and doesn’t go with my meds.  Sleeping more than usual – well, that’s a problem in itself.  Buying jewellery for one’s wife and sweets for one’s children – nooooooo.

Reading: I read a fair chunk of both Batman: Knightfall: Knightsend (graphic novel) and Doctor Who: The New Adventures: First Frontier (Doctor Who spin-off novel).  They were quite  good.  To be honest, if they were much better, it would probably have been wasted on me anyway.

***

I came home from shul today feeling useless, feeling that I can’t lead davening or “learn” Torah or do any of the Jewish stuff I should.  I felt I was a third-rate writer and failed librarian (if “failed librarian” is even a thing).  I sometimes feel that I want to win the Booker Prize just to prove myself to… I’m not sure who.  Myself, probably, or the people who bullied me at school (like they (a) remember me or (b) care about the Booker Prize).

It’s funny to come here after Yom Tov and see that I have positive feedback from people here…  It’s weird how people seem to like me more online than in real life.  Am I more “real” here when I have time to think and no pressure of being in a room with someone or do I fake it more here with time to think and draft and edit every comment I make?

This reminded me of a weird story.  Years and years ago there was a letter in Doctor Who Magazine from a teenager called Robert A. J. Newton who started a Doctor Who club at his school.  He got permission from the teachers to put up signs to advertise it.  For reasons that are too complicated to go into here, the society was called HABAFOM (don’t ask, it’s a very obscure Doctor Who reference).

He stuck up over seventy A5 sheets of paper with quotes from the series, intended to demonstrate that the programme is “poetic, brilliant and thought-provoking” only for them to be taken down by staff.  He went to the deputy head to ask why and was told off for putting up material that was, “radical, anti-establishment, contentious and occult” (I liked that so much that I had to look up the exact quote).  He responded that he had permission to advertise his Doctor Who club.  The deputy head said that if the quotes had been attributed to Doctor Who rather than the mysterious HABAFOM, it would have been OK as no one would have taken them seriously.

I feel a bit like this.  That online, people think I’m a good person and clever, but in real life I just come across as an idiot or a freak and can’t believe that I’m capable of good things and if I tried to show them who I am, it would alter their view of me, perhaps for the worst (if they find out I hold certain beliefs or opinions).  I don’t know.  Meg commented on a recent post to say that I’m the most religious person she knows, but I feel that if she knew some of the people I know, she would think that they’re much better than me more religious.

Maybe that’s not true.  I have a certain notoriety at my Thursday night shiur for once answering a question that the rabbi there bet £50 to charity that no one could answer, but I feel I have to live up to that.  CBT was supposed to make me feel that people do like me and find me interesting, and I can sort of see that, but at the same time it’s really difficult to hold on to those beliefs.  I guess the fact that I’m questioning this at all and not just assuming the worst about how everyone sees me online and in real life is some kind of improvement, in a way.

***

Sukkot lasts several more days, so more days with the sukkah and arbah minim, but it’s permissible to do some work on the next few days.  So, we shall see how the next few days go.

“It’s my soul of pain”

(A rather mammoth post, sorry.  I’ve got a lot of stuff I’m trying to process today.)

I felt really depressed and exhausted on waking again today.  It was very hard to get going (although it always is).  I was thinking about E. a lot and wondering what will become of us.  I don’t even know how I would describe our relationship to a third party.  I mean, technically we’re both clear that we’re just friends and that a deeper relationship wouldn’t work at the moment, but we both know that we care about each other.

The house was busy as we had the cleaner and the gardener here, so there was a lot of noise.  Just having other people around can be hard when I’m very depressed, one of those things were it’s not clear if it’s triggering depression, autism or social anxiety, but it feels bad either way.

***

I had a brief appointment with my CBT therapist to check in on progress.  She was pleased that the anxiety is better and that I’m pushing myself socially, but as my depression has been a bit worse this week, we’ve booked another check in appointment for a few weeks’ time.  That will be a phone appointment.  I wish today’s had been a phone appointment, as I had to walk both ways.  The walk is thirty-five minutes each way, albeit both journeys were interrupted by trips to shops.  It left me pretty exhausted again.

Strangely, on the way home the politics-related anger I was experiencing yesterday came back out of nowhere.  I just wanted to “do a Donald Trump” and angrily vent my frustrations (albeit that the things that frustrate me are not the things that frustrate him).  It’s weird how this happens.  I usually like nuance and reasoned debate, but sometimes I just want to scream and shout and call people names.  I guess Trumpism (which is more an aggressive style of politics than an ideology) is infectious.  I guess, given how reserved I usually am, it’s not surprising I sometimes fantasise about completely losing it one day.  Jumping on the table and screaming at people.

So many news articles and political statements these days seem designed just to get one side riled up against the other.  Everyone condemns the other side for doing it, but seems blind to their own actions.  This article suggests that polarised politics is here to stay, in the UK as in the US.  The author’s response to it: “I don’t watch a whole lot of news, as the news that matters finds me anyway. I don’t do social media. I do read poetry, and visit state parks with my family, and listen to music. Recently, for instance, I got through all ten of Mahler’s symphonies, plus Das Lied von der Erde. That was nice.”  That sounds good.  Better than thinking about Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn and Jo Swinson, anyway.

***

I subscribed to a Jewish website a while back, via email rather than my blog reader as per usual for some reason that I don’t remember.  I rapidly realised that it wasn’t for me.  It was for “BTs” (ba’alei teshuva, people raise secular who found religion late in life) and I thought it might help with my issues fitting in to the community.  Maybe other people have the same issues.  It turned out to be written by super-frummie people (using frummie in the somewhat derogatory sense of people who are really religious in an OTT way).  I unsubscribed, but they periodically send stuff to me anyway (naughty!).  Today a post arrived and I was going to delete it without reading, but something about the title made me look inside.  Skimming the article depressed me.  It says there are three types of people who serve God:

1) The lower kind of eved [servant], one who serves Hashem [God] only because he needs Him.
2) The higher kind of eved, one who serves Hashem because he lives his life for Him.
3) Ben [child], which is when one serves Hashem out of a love for Him.

I don’t know  where I fit here.  I don’t serve God because I need Him (I mean, I do need him, but that’s not what motivates me), but I don’t live my life for Him and I don’t know I really love Him, although identifying any kind of emotion with depression, autism and alexithymia (difficulty identifying and understanding emotions) is hard.  My depression is so bad that I can’t live my life for myself, let alone anyone else.  I serve Him because I feel it’s right.  So I don’t know where I fit in.  I guess this is the question I’ve had for some time.  I can just about accept that God cares about me (inasmuch as we can talk about God having emotions, which is a whole other philosophical debate).  But I feel that I just do what I can, when I can, because I feel I a sense of duty and responsibility.  I know that’s not right, from a Jewish point of view, that we are supposed to love God and feel an intense connection to Him, but with my issues, that’s all the emotions I can manage.

Another thing I saw today was this post from a blogger I like a lot, although he hardly ever blogs nowadays.  I wanted to comment, but I wasn’t sure what to say.  I feel that I do experience the religious exhaustion he talks about from trying to find my place in the religious and secular worlds.  I feel I should be (as he says) “at a stage where we have our peer groups, our work and our histories; we made the big religion and lifestyle decisions years ago.”  But depression and social anxiety force me to make those decisions again every single day.  Every time I go into shul (synagogue) or shiur (religious class) it can feel almost as nerve-wracking as if it was the first ever time.  I still worry about saying the wrong thing or being caught out.  I have a degree of acceptance of my choices, but I’m not comfortable that those I respect and want to be respected by would accept those choices.  It’s hard.

***

It has been a bad day for my religion making me miserable.  I went to shiur (religious class) in the evening.  I worry that I really go only for the social side, to try to mix with people from my shul in a semi-social setting (most of the people I’m somewhat friendly with at shul go to the shiur).  The content of the shiur seems to be over my head a lot lately.  It is often quite mystical and I don’t really connect with that.  Tonight the rabbi giving the shiur was talking about Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year, starting Sunday evening).   I had heard the idea that Rosh Hashanah is a microcosm of the coming year before, that your experience over the two days of Yom Tov (festival) affects the rest of the year.  There’s an idea to sleep less on Rosh Hashanah for that reason, but that’s not always easy with depression.  Today the ex-assistant rabbi said that the amount of energy and enthusiasm for davening (prayer) and Torah study in the coming year and all the chiddushim (innovative Torah interpretations) one will have in the new year are decided on Rosh Hashanah.  I don’t know why this upset me, but it did.  It somehow felt that it was all my fault that I have no energy or enthusiasm for anything religious any more.  I feel like I screw up every year and get written in God’s ‘bad’ book and if only I could be a better Jew, I wouldn’t be depressed.

The shiur rabbi was also talking about needing to find an authentic connection with God in our Jewish observance based on our personalities and personal strengths.  In theory I would agree with this, but he said that he knows that everyone present has strengths because we all have jobs and careers which mean we all have a marketable skill.  He forgot, if he knew, that I’ve been unemployed for six months.  He certainly didn’t know that I’m struggling in my career in librarianship and feeling I’m not skilled enough and can’t cope with it, but I’m also struggling to build a new career as a writer.  I don’t want to sound critical because he probably didn’t know about my situation and he certainly didn’t mean to hurt me, but it did upset me a bit.  Then he said he knows we all have enthusiasm because we have hobbies and that just made me feel bad that I have to hide my hobbies in my community because I think they would not be considered quite “kosher” (no pun intended).

He also said that people today have “cushy lives”…  OK, I know I’m not in a death camp or conscripted into the Tsarist army, I know that historically most Jews have had much harder times in terms of antisemitic violence, poverty, endemic and epidemic disease and so on and that I have, in historical terms, a huge amount of “modern privilege.”  I know that I’m lucky that my parents support me, both financially and emotionally and that lots of people with issues like mine are faring much worse than I am.  Even so, I feel that life on the autistic spectrum with treatment-resistant depression and social anxiety is not by any means “cushy.”  I know he didn’t mean to upset me, but… well, I got upset.  Some of this is the classic “invisible illness syndrome,” that people don’t realise I’m ill and have issues and they make assumptions about how my life is based on superficial criteria.

On a more mundane note, I intended not to eat any of the snacks provided as I usually binge far too much on them (I’m not sure if that’s a product of anxiety (distraction) or gluttony).  I still ended up eating two home-baked chocolate chip cookies, which were very nice.  I shouldn’t really blame my poor self-control on feeling upset.  At least I didn’t eat any crisps.

***

I save positive emails from friends and positive blog comments.  The idea is to read them when I’m depressed, but I don’t always remember, so sometimes I print some out and blue tack them to my wardrobe.  To be honest, after a while I stop noticing them, but sometimes I suddenly see one when I need to.  I hadn’t blue tacked any up for quite a while.  I decided to print some recent ones so I have something to support me over the upcoming Jewish festival season.  I felt quite emotional reading them.  Emotional that people say positive things about me, but also emotional that I’ve lost touch with so many people.  I know it’s not really my fault (except for the friends I upset), that online friendships can be more fragile than real-world friendships and just because someone stopped reading my blog doesn’t mean they think I’m a bad person; it could be that they’ve just run out of time for blog reading.  Still, it did make me feel happy and sad at the same time.  (I’ve quoted this before, but it’s so true: “It’s a smile, but you’re sad. It’s confusing, it’s like two emotions at once. It’s like you’re malfunctioning.” – Doctor Who: Mummy on the Orient Express.  If David Tennant was the ADHD Doctor and Tom Baker was the bipolar Doctor, then Peter Capaldi was the high-functioning autism Doctor.)

***

I feel on edge and I don’t know what to do to unwind.  I feel a bit anxious and quite depressed.  I’m in one of those moods where I say the wrong thing to everyone, or maybe I just worry that I do.  Did I say the wrong thing here about shiur?  I get terrified of mentioning anyone else on my blog since falling out with people over it, but I feel I made clear that I’m not blaming the rabbi, just saying that I was upset and it wasn’t his fault.  I’m sure he wouldn’t have said what he said if he had known it would upset me.  I shouldn’t mention it, but I need to write to process my feelings.

I need to retreat to my Fortress of Solitude.  I would normally watch TV, but I feel anhedonic (unable to feel pleasure) and don’t really feel like watching anything.  I doubt I will sleep at the moment though so I need to find something to do.

***

The WordPress random keyword suggestion thing suggested I look for posts on “Anime, WordPress, sharks.”  I think Anime WordPress Sharks could be a hit cartoon series, no?  About Japanese cartoon sharks that write blogs.

Wanting to Curl Up and Escape the World

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was a bit of a curate’s egg (I wish I could think of a less clichéd metaphor for something good and bad).

Dinner at the rabbi’s house mostly went OK.  I spoke a bit and had a good time, albeit that I was very nervous about saying or doing the wrong thing.  There were quite a lot of people there, other congregants and their children and the rabbi’s youngest children.  I was the only person there over the age of eighteen who was unmarried.  Someone started talking about getting married young and saying that it is better for everyone to marry as young as possible.  The rabbi, possibly being sensitive to me, said that it’s not always in our hands.  People can be tactless sometimes.  It was good to get to know the new rabbi a bit better and to be known by him.  I would feel more confident approaching him with a question in the future, especially a mental health-related one.  I do worry the rabbi thinks I’m deaf, though.  Every time he speaks to me, my brain does the autistic/socially anxious thing of thinking “OH NO SOMEONE IS SPEAKING TO ME!!!!!” so loudly (so to speak) that I can’t concentrate on what he’s actually saying and have to ask him to repeat himself.  It turns out that the rabbi knows one of the rabbis who taught me at school, who was as responsible as anyone for my becoming frum (religious), which was a nice coincidence.

I got home about a quarter to midnight, which was rather late.  I spoke to my parents for a while, then read for a bit and went to bed at 1.00am.  Unfortunately, I had super-insomnia.  I lay in bed for a bit, read (popular physics) for a bit, lay in bed again, got a migraine, got up again because the migraine hurt too much lying down…  I think I eventually fell asleep around 5.30am.  I decided not to go to shul (synagogue) on two and a half hours of sleep and slept in despite my determination to get to shul on Shabbat mornings again.

This afternoon I read a whole bunch of things, the physics book again (The Elegant Universe), The Spiritual Revolution of Rav Kook and Batman.  I feel a bit like I read anything provided it’s geeky on some level (I feel Rav Kook is geeky, but I’m not sure I could explain why.  Maybe he’s not so much geeky as individualistic; there aren’t many Hasidic rabbis who accept evolution and write about the need for Jewish creativity).

Shul this afternoon was OK until the second shiur (religious class).  There was a guest speaker, a Rosh Yeshiva (head of a rabbinical seminary).  He spoke about a verse from this week’s parasha (Torah reading).  Talking about the many terrible things that would happen to the Israelites if they didn’t follow the Torah, it says, “Because you did not serve HaShem your God with happiness and gladness of heart when you had an abundance of everything.” (Devarim/Deut. 28.47)  The Kotzker Rebbe (who probably suffered from bipolar depression) interprets this as “You were happy and glad not to serve HaShem your God when you had an abundance of everything”, but the Rosh Yeshiva translated the way most commentators do, which is the straightforward way of understanding the verse: “God gave you an abundance of everything, and you served Him, but not with happiness and gladness of heart.”  Given that I don’t get much joy out of mitzvot and Torah study because of depression and not fitting into the community, this is bad news for me.  I do mitzvot, but I don’t have happiness and gladness of heart when I do them, so it looks like I might as well not bother for all the good it’s doing anyone.

My heart lifted a bit when the Rosh Yeshiva asked, what is the button we can use to turn on our happiness and gladness of heart when performing mitzvot?  Sadly, his answer was to focus on the reward we will get in Olam HaBa (the Next World).  I’ve already mentioned that I don’t think I’m going to get any reward in the next world.  Aside from feeling that I haven’t done anything worth rewarding, I’m so used to everything going wrong for me, that somehow I feel that even there, it won’t go well for me.  Somehow there will be a loophole and I won’t get anything.  I know that this is illogical and heretical and theologically stupid, but I can’t imagine things ever going that well for me.

Anyway, as I’ve said before, the traditional metaphors for Olam HaBa mayke it sound like a big party for the righteous or a big yeshiva.  I know it’s not literally either of these things, but that is how it is always described.  Neither of these suits me, as I’m equally scared and uncomfortable with parties and yeshiva-style study.  Too many people, too much noise in both cases, and not enough that interests me or speaks to my unique interests and personality.  I can’t cope.  I guess in Olam HaBa I wouldn’t have autism or social anxiety, but then it’s hard to imagine being me without them.  Anyway, what would I say to my ancestors or the great tzadikim (saintly figures)?  I can’t imagine anyone being particularly proud of me, either my immediate ancestors or the tzadikim of Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible).  What would Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) say to me?  Plus, one is supposed to be with the other half of one’s soul, one’s spouse, which wouldn’t work out for me either, if I die unmarried, as seems likely.

Speaking of yeshivas reminds me that in the first shiur today, the weekly Talmud shiur, I knew a number of answers to the questions and had an (I thought) perceptive question/comment to make, but I was too shy to say any of these things aloud.  There is someone there who always has to answer every question and make some comment; I wish I was a little bit more like him and he was a little bit more like me.  CBT has taught me that I should be more confident speaking out, but it is still as hard as ever to actually do so.

***

My parents are talking to me about a career change.  I’ve been thinking on these lines anyway.  I can’t support myself writing (yet?  Or ever?) so I need part-time work in some other field.  Don’t have a clue what I could do though.  I may need some more careers advice.

There’s an article in a frum magazine that I was looking at today that interviews frum people with non-typical jobs (a disproportionate number of frum men work as lawyers, doctors and accountants; the women are generally teachers, or therapists of some description I think (psychotherapist, physiotherapists or occupational therapists).  They interviewed someone I was at school with who is now a data scientist.  That fits the type of person she was at school.  I really feel I missed the bus somewhere on my way from school, that all the other clever, well-behaved children became important professionals with interesting, well-paid jobs and families and I got stuck in limbo somewhere with nothing at all.

***

Now I need to eat something.  I feel I should watch TV to distract myself from wallowing in misery, but I don’t really have the desire to watch anything in particular.  I just want to curl up somewhere and ignore the world.  I joined an autism WhatsApp group last week and just belatedly entered a conversation on employment (belatedly as I didn’t use my phone during Shabbat, so I missed the conversation earlier) and now I’m suddenly regretting opening up to strangers about being unemployed.

Working on Myself, and On My Novel

As I’ve mentioned, we’re now into the Hebrew month of Elul, which is the introspection month before Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) in a few weeks’ time.  I’m signed up for a couple of daily ideas videos/talks for Elul and one idea that keeps coming up this year is the idea of mitzvot (commandments) that govern your relationship with yourself.

When I was growing up, I was always taught that there are two categories of mitzvot: those between me and God and those between me and other people.  An example of the former is eating only kosher food.  An example of the latter is not gossiping.  When I got older this idea of mitzvot between me and myself appeared, but I’ve rarely heard it dealt with until recently.  To be honest, this time last year I sat through a whole shiur (religious class) on this topic and still left wondering what an example of a mitzvah between me and myself is and how I can work on this area.

I know I do need to work on this area.  I know I have self-esteem issues, needless guilt issues and unnecessary shame.  I know that if I could accept myself more, I would feel more comfortable in my community and find it easier to make friends and to go to shul (synagogue) more often, so there would be wins in the categories of mitzvot between me and other people and between me and God too.  So it would be a win-win, but it’s hard to even begin to unravel what I should do, especially as I haven’t seen many people deal with it at length.  One article I found online suggested it’s about developing good character traits, but that’s still somewhat vague in terms of what the actual mitzvot concerned are.

***

I had my penultimate CBT session today.  My therapist suggested a couple of YouTube videos to watch about self-esteem and CBT.  I do wonder whether I will be able to continue using the techniques I was taught.  I feel as if I haven’t finished learning them all yet.  Still, I had some anxiety today and managed it better than I would have done in the past using techniques of grounding, postponing worry and putting things in perspective.  The therapist was enthusiastic about my volunteering in the museum, as it would give me an opportunity to practise talking to people in an environment where I am knowledgeable, so I guess I should try to pursue that, although it’s very scary.

One of the videos my therapist suggested I watch was a talk from Lizzie Velasquez, who is a woman with a rare genetic disorder (so rare only three people in the world are known to have it) that means she can’t put on weight (not “excessive weight” but any weight at all), which has obviously  affected her body shape and she was bullied a lot at school because of her appearance.  A video of her was put online by someone from her school claiming she was “The ugliest woman in the world” and was watched by nine million people, attracting all kinds of hateful comments, including people saying she should kill herself.  She was talking about how to take the negativity she has experienced and how she channelled it to push herself forward to achieve her goals in life.

I don’t always find “inspirational” stories that inspirational, but I found this quite inspiring.  I suppose I feel that if she isn’t letting herself be defined by her bullies, I don’t have to be defined by mine.  I do feel glad I was at school before social media, so I didn’t experience this kind of super-public online bullying.  The worst I had was when the school yearbook for GCSE (exams taken aged fifteen or sixteen) year, was banned by the teachers, which apparently was because the kids who wrote/edited it put in a lot of nasty stuff about myself and my friends, although I never found out what they said.

***

I read an article today by Howard Jacobson (having coincidentally just finished one of his novels yesterday) about finding his voice as a Jewish writer rather than trying to channel his literary heroes.  I feel that something similar has happened to me.  The books I read are mostly science fiction, murder mystery or nineteenth/early twentieth century classics.  I don’t have the type of logical, analytical mind to write a world-building science fiction novel or to plot a murder mystery story and, as Jacobson writes, trying to channel Dickens or Dostoyevsky isn’t really a sensible strategy these days.  I don’t read much contemporary literary fiction.  I did for a couple of years, when I was attending a book club, but I often struggled to engage with the books.  I thought it was me being an SF geek and not liking anything without a space ship, or at least a murder, but lately I’ve come to suspect that I often didn’t engage with the characters because there was no one like me, someone with mental health issues or from a religious Jewish background (I tended to connect more with stories set in religious cultures in other countries e.g. the devout Muslims in Afghanistan in Khaled Hosseini’s novels).  The breakthrough I’ve had just in the last few months is realising I can write stories about people like me, people with depression or high functioning autism, people caught on the fault-line between traditional Judaism and (post)modernity, people not sure where they fit in Western culture or outside it.  It’s quite exciting.

I spent about an hour working on my novel this evening – really too late in the day to achieve much, but I want to keep the momentum going.  I wrote a thousand words, which was good for (a) one hour and (b) 9.00pm.  I’m pleased with my progress so far, although it’s very early days still.

Wilting from the Heat

I don’t really have much to say today.  The main news, aside from applying for another job I don’t think I’ll get, is that I started to write my first novel.  Actually to write it, as opposed to planning it, which I’ve been doing for a while.  Technically I wrote a bit a few months ago, a fragment that came into my head and I wanted to get down on paper, but this is going to the beginning and writing from the start, with the prologue, with a view to capturing the attention first of an editor and then of potential readers.  I have not got very far.  I wrote about two hundred words before realising I was doing this all wrong, tore it all up (metaphorically speaking) and started again.  I think I will really end up writing the prologue nearer the end, especially as, chronologically, the prologue fits in just before the last chapter, but I just want to get something down to start and then move on to the first chapter, which will hopefully be a bit easier.

Otherwise, it has been a quiet day.  The heatwave has come back and that has made doing anything uncomfortable as the heat is just unbearable.  We’re not used to heat in this country; our houses are built to be warm in the winter (no air conditioning, loft and wall insulation).  It is a bank holiday and my parents were out, so that made work hard too.  I probably should have gone and sat downstairs when my parents were out.  My room is one of the hottest in the house (it’s notably hotter when you walk in), especially in the afternoons as there is only one external wall and a west-facing window which gets the sun all afternoon.  However, I’m territorial and dislike working anywhere else.  Then my parents came home and the TV went on, so working down there became impossible.

As I said, I applied for one job and considered whether to apply for another one (I don’t have the experience they want and I can’t go to interview on the day they want because it’s Yom Kippur but I still feel a moral obligation to apply for any job that is even vaguely right for).  I cooked dinner (macaroni cheese, my standby recipe for days when I don’t want or have time to cook) and had a gross moment when I discovered maggots in the kitchen.  I suspect they came from two boxes full of apples from our garden that had been sitting on the kitchen worktop for days, some of them not in good condition.

I recorded myself speaking for talking again for CBT.  It’s weird.  I was supposed to talk about something I don’t know about.  I obviously can’t talk about something I literally know nothing about, so I spoke about the weather without any preparation.  It wasn’t very good inasmuch as I was hesitant and kept stopping and not knowing what to say.  Five minutes is a long time to speak non-stop.  I drifted from the weather into climate change and back again.  Watching the playback, I looked vaguely nervous and uncomfortable and was stimming a bit (stroking my chin and cheek).  It’s such an artificial exercise and I’m not really sure what it’s supposed to prove or how it would make me feel more confident in a conversation with another person, which is very different to recording oneself on a phone.

***

There seem to be a lot of butterflies and moths out this year, which is nice.

Fitting In

For CBT I’m supposed to fill in questionnaires on my mood before each session to judge my progress.  I think my depression goes through long cycles that are longer than a week or a fortnight, while my mood can change quite a bit in a day, so I’m not sure how useful it is, but I suppose it is some kind of metric.  My mood varies, but I realised I don’t really tick the box for thinking I would be better off dead, even on my worse days whereas in the past I’ve believed that a lot.  I guess that is progress.

Today I feel drained and mildly depressed, but not too badly, I think.  It’s hard to tell; as I have noted in the past, I struggle sometimes to identify my emotions, and I suspect sometimes emotions and physical feelings can get mixed up.  That probably sounds weird, but my previous therapist (when I was in psychodynamic psychotherapy) spoke quite a bit about feeling emotions in different parts of one’s body.  I usually feel drained and depressed at the same time, so it’s easy to assume if I feel one, I feel the other too, but that may not be the case.

***

At CBT we repeated the experiment we tried a fortnight ago of me talking to a therapist (not my usual one) for a few minutes while my therapist filmed it on her phone; then we watched it so I could see how I appear when talking to other people.  The therapist I spoke also answered some questions on how I came across to her.  It seems I do not really come across to people as weird, despite my fears.  Also, when I talk about something I know about, I can become quite animated.  I had it drilled into me for years as a child that I am boring and no one wants to talk about what I want to talk about.  It’s hard to get past that and accept that people might find me interesting.

It’s doubly hard in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community, where I’m never sure what is considered OK to talk about.  I mean, the rabbi was talking about The Omen last week!  But I never know what I can say.  I think an awareness of secular culture (even horror films) would be seen as different to being an obsessive Doctor Who fan, with the emphasis on obsessive, but I’m not sure how differently it would be seen.  I go to a ba’al teshuva shul (synagogue) meaning most people there were not raised religious, but came to it later in life, so people do have some understanding of secular culture.  Some people do have TVs and I think everyone has internet access (very Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) communities would not allow even that, or else would permit it for business use only).  The people who do have TVs are not necessarily the ones you might expect to have them.  But I think admitting to being an obsessive fan the way I am would be seen as at least a bit weird.  I mean, I’m probably a little bit weird in my fannishness even in the secular world.  I don’t mean that in a bad way, just that it probably is a bit caused by my autism rather than how most people would act, in terms of things perhaps like watching episodes multiple times even when I know them by heart, but especially things being able to list every Doctor Who story in order from memory (nearly 300 stories), and not only that, but being able to list showrunners, producers, script editors, writers and directors for many of them (new series personnel are harder to remember, either because of relative newness or the fact that I’m not as emotionally invested in the stories).

I feel that being a Doctor Who fan makes me weird in the frum world, but being frum makes me weird in the secular world, especially the fan world, which is perhaps one reason (among several) for me not going to conventions.  I don’t mind being a bit weird, but I worry I’m off-puttingly weird.  Doctor Who fandom has a lot of gay and transexual members and I worry that when people see my kippah (skullcap) they think I’m judging them when I’m not.

***

Yesterday I noted that I went jogging without getting a migraine.  Actually, I did get a migraine last night after turning off my computer, albeit delayed by a couple of hours after jogging and not as bad as recent ones.  I googled “migraine jogging” and it turns out that exercise can genuinely be a cause of migraines.  I don’t want to stop jogging, but I need to work out a way of avoiding this.  I’m pretty sure it’s not dehydration or the sun, but I’m not sure what else the trigger might be.

***

Yesterday I noted an article in the latest Doctor Who Magazine that seemed similar to my Doctor Who book.  Having now read it… basically it does in twenty pages, very superficially, something similar to what I did at great length in a whole book, except the DWM article only covers the original run of Doctor Who whereas I went up to the present.  More to the point, it was presented as a symposium of contemporary Doctor Who authors talking about their favourite classic series stories; apparently people want to hear what Steven Moffat or Peter Harness think about Earthshock more than what I think.  Which is logical in a way, but also frustrating, as I think my book is not just more detailed, but perhaps more willing to depart from established fan opinion.  A lot of that DWM article was predictable if you’ve been in fandom for years.

It’s just annoying to see stuff that I could write being published while the stuff I’ve actually written or pitched to write is ignored.  I wonder if some of it is my lack of experience and the fact that I’m not known in fan circles.  The circle of fans writing for DWM, writing non-fiction Doctor Who books and working on the DVD and Blu-Ray releases is small and perhaps a bit incestuous and maybe I am too much of an unknown quantity for anyone to want to take a chance on.  I think these things are often about who you know as much as what you know.

On which note, I submitted the book to a third publisher.  I’m running out of specialist Doctor Who publishers.  I’m not sure where I go if this doesn’t work out.  My Dad keeps saying, “Maybe the BBC will publish it.”  Skipping over the fact that BBC Books isn’t actually owned by the BBC (they have a minority share; the imprint is owned by Penguin), BBC Books doesn’t publish many Doctor Who books; those it does publish tend not to be analytical in the way my book is, and are very concentrated on the current TV programme, not 50+ years of history.  And I haven’t got a submission address for them.  I suspect they may not accept external submissions.  Who you know again.

***

Other than CBT and submitting my book, and looking (pessimistically) for further contact details for future submissions, I didn’t have much time to do things today.  I spent half an hour on Torah study and a bit of time on my novel, but that’s about it.  I do have a long (1,500 word) chapter-by-chapter plan of the novel now, although later chapters seem a bit light.  1,500 words sounds a lot, but actually some parts of the novel are still very sketchy in my head.  But I might start writing soon, and doing research for the chapters that aren’t really based on personal experience.

***

Some good news for the weekend: the Talmud shiur (religious class) that usually takes place in shul (synagogue) before Mincha (the Afternoon Service) on Shabbat (the Sabbath) has been moved into seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal), replacing the usual shiur at that time.  So there is now one shiur instead of two, which may be less tiring for me.  I’m not sure if this is a permanent arrangement or just for this week.

Productive Day

I went to my new volunteering thing.  I had an induction and got shown how to do some things there, although there is still a lot that I have yet to be trained with.  It was very busy and noisy.  I couldn’t work out if it was objectively louder than when I first went there or if I was just bothered by it more today.  The noise means it may not be the right place for me, but I can only find out by trying it a few times.  I thought my library skills might be useful here, although I’m not sure that they will, and we have family connections to the charity involved, but these may not be the strongest reasons for going, especially if the environment isn’t right for me.

On the way home I fulfilled my CBT challenge of talking to a shop assistant, asking if he had a busy morning while I was paying.  He didn’t seem to think I was weird, but I’m not sure that I could do such things frequently.

***

I had a double rejection today, a rejection from a job I don’t even remember applying for and a rejection for my Doctor Who book from a second publisher.  I’m not sure what to do about that.  The fact that the latest Doctor Who Magazine (which arrived today) has some features that tread similar ground to my book might show that I have little that is new, but it might also suggest that there is an audience of new fans who are unaware of previous interpretations of the programme’s history or how the new series fits in with them.

I am not sure where my skills and interests should really be pointing me at the moment.  I don’t qualify for disability benefits and I have too much money saved to qualify for unemployment benefits, but I’m struggling to find work that I can actually do.  However, the nebulous and changeable nature of both autism and depression make it hard to explain to people why I can’t do things, either to formulate an alternative job search strategy or to apply for benefits.

***

I wasn’t really sure what to do this afternoon.  My mood has been up and down over the day, but mostly OK.  I felt drained by this morning, and there aren’t any jobs to apply for, except for a graduate trainee post that is really not intended for someone like me, but for someone who has just finished their librarianship MA or even is about to do it.  I managed an hour of Torah study (very good) and worked on my novel for another hour.  Although I’m still at the planning stage, it’s an incredible feeling, to see a world and characters come together that didn’t exist before I thought about them even if much of this book is drawn from my own experiences.  It’s scary to think that I’m going to have to revisit some very dark times of my life before this is done, but it is good to think that I might be able to get something positive out of them.  I also went for a run for twenty-five minutes, managing to keep running most of the time (I think I’m pacing myself better) and without getting a headache.  So fairly positive, all in all.

***

I watched the second episode of The Vietnam War earlier.  It’s very interesting, but also hugely depressing and I’m not sure if I should really be watching it.  Hmm.

Hunting the Crowned Saxe-Coburg

The main thing that happened today was that I went to Buckingham Palace with my parents.  Sadly, I wasn’t getting a knighthood, but was just visiting the rooms that are open to the public.  It was very interesting, from a historical point of view, and I saw some interesting art, mostly seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth century.  We had booked to tour the gardens too, but couldn’t see them as they were flooded from this morning’s rain and unsafe.  I finished about forty minutes before my parents and had to hang around for them at the end, only to come home before them anyway.  It would have been better if it hadn’t been bookended with feeling very depressed and irritable before and afterwards, but at least I felt OK while I was there.

I did feel the anxious-autistic when we went through security, which panicked me for no reason I could really understand, beyond the scariness of being in a room with lots of people and not being sure of what would happen next.

On the way home I missed my iPod, when I felt too depressed to read on the Tube and when I went into the shopping centre too; I didn’t realise how much I rely on music to get me through crowded, busy, noisy spaces.

***

I feel that I’ve messed up my CBT homework for this fortnight.  I slept through Saturday morning shul (synagogue) twice the last fortnight, which I think was more depression than social anxiety, but it’s hard to tell.  I’m also supposed to talk to shop assistants, but I don’t know what to say, plus I haven’t been shopping much anyway.  I did try to go into Tesco and buy some chocolate this afternoon, intending to go to the manned tobacco/alcohol check out rather than the self-service as I usually do.  I was going to casually say that the weather has been crazy today to the cashier.  But when it came to it, I lost my nerve.  There just didn’t seem a logical point in the interaction for me to say something so unconnected.  Plus, when I was about to try to speak the shop assistant went off to help someone on the self-service tills; when he came back he was already asking if I wanted a receipt and it seemed weird to start a conversation then (“Yes, please, I would like a receipt and also the weather today is crazy.”)

Do people really talk about the weather with strangers or is that just something that happens on badly-written TV programmes?  I think a lot of the issue for me is autism rather than social anxiety.  It’s not just that I’m scared of being thought weird if I say something, I actually do not know what to say or when to say it.  Like a lot of autistic people, I view talking as being about exchanging information.  I don’t really get the social aspect of it, the element that is supposedly analogous to chimpanzees grooming each other.

I feel bad about this, as when I’ve been in CBT before, I’ve always tried to do my homework and if I failed it was usually because of finding it too hard to control my thoughts rather than just not knowing what to do.

I want to at least try to go to autism group tomorrow evening, despite what happened last time (when I left after fifteen minutes because I couldn’t talk to anybody), although I can’t stay late as I have a meeting about volunteering early on Wednesday morning (early for me, anyway).  If I feel up to it, I might try the “talking in a shop” experiment again tomorrow and/or on Wednesday, to try to do it as an experiment even if I do seem weird, just so that I have something to take to therapy.  Although buying a ton of chocolate is probably not a good idea given that I’m putting on weight from medication and a sedentary lifestyle.

The messed up chocolate experiment did prompt some negative self-evaluation thoughts (beating myself up, in non-therapy speak).  I did want to challenge them, but I didn’t have the forms with me to do that (CBT assumes you carry a lot of papers and forms around and fill them in, even if people are watching), so all in all it was a wasted opportunity.

***

I submitted my non-fiction Doctor Who book to another publisher, but I’m beginning to suspect that there isn’t much space for it in a crowded marketplace.  I fear that the bulk of the books in the fan non-fiction marketplace are either full of behind the scenes information or cultural studies theory and mine is neither of those; I suspect it seems like something that belongs in a fanzine (which is basically where it does belong).  This doesn’t raise my mood at all.

I spent an hour after that working on my novel.  I spent most of that hour looking at my plan, trying to see how the story flows, where it’s slow and can be cut, where I need to make sure I write at length, flagging up the main points of conflict to be included…  There’s a lot still to do before I can even start a first draft, but it seems to be going well.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt so in control of a piece of fiction writing before.  The fact that I have a 900 word plan indicates how much more depth it has than my previous attempts at writing fiction.  I want to try a more detailed plan before I start writing, at least of the early chapters, breaking each chapter down by major incident.

***

Otherwise, mood has been up and down all day.  Really down before and after Buckingham Palace; better while I was there.  I don’t know why I’m like this again, or, more to the point, how I stopped being like this for a bit, as “depressed” has been my default setting for twenty years or so.

Meaning

I initially wrote that “today was a wasted, burnt out recovery day.”  That’s not actually completely true.  I did wake up feeling depressed and withdrawn.  I discovered that the Doctor Who pub quiz I wanted to go to (which I’ve only managed to go successfully once so far) was today and decided I was too depressed and it was too last minute for me to go.  I accidentally applied for job may have applied for before and don’t really want (I hit the ‘apply’ button on LinkedIn thinking it would take me to an application page, but it read that as a single-step application).  My parents had friends here, sitting in the garden, below my window, making a lot of noise, so I had to shut the windows to block the noise (laughter) out, but then had to have the fan on as the room was too hot.  I felt again this afternoon like I’m the person who has to be miserable all the time so other people can have fun.  Maybe I was Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa in a past life (“Notwithstanding his wonder-working powers, Ḥanina was very poor. Indeed, it became proverbial that, while the whole world was provided for through Ḥanina’s great merits, he himself sustained life from one Sabbath eve to another on a basket of carob-beans.”).  That was a joke.  I don’t believe in reincarnation and I’m not really a tzaddik (saintly person).   I wish I were.  I wished there was some obvious meaning to my suffering.

I’m currently recording activity and achievement and satisfaction levels for CBT.  I probably do somewhat more than I think, but (a) not as much as “normal” people and (b) although I do quite a bit, I hardly enjoy anything.  I don’t know what to do at the moment, because nothing seems enjoyable.  It’s difficult to concentrate to read or write.  Even watching Doctor Who, The Avengers or Star Trek feels more like doing something I remember enjoying rather than something I am enjoying.  I’ve tried watching some comedy programmes recently, but that’s even worse than science fiction; it’s hard to say “I’m going to be happy now.”  Over lunch I watched the first episode of Ken Burns’ acclaimed documentary series The Vietnam War.   It was far from ideal viewing, but I wanted to feel I was doing something vaguely intellectual, more so than just watching episodes of Doctor Who or Star Trek I’ve seen umpteen times before.

I’ve mentioned in the past that I watch my favourite TV programmes repeatedly.  I also re-read books, although not to the same extent, because of the greater time commitment involved, and the fact that there are more books I haven’t read that I want to read than TV programmes I haven’t watched than I want to watch.  I think they feel like old friends to me, when I don’t have many friends around me.  I think my favourite time for watching something is the second time rather than the first.  True, the twists are spoilt, but you can see the care with which the story is written, the throwaway lines and visual references that only become meaningful when you know how it ends, plus you know whether it’s going to be disappointing.  Actually, some episodes improve without the expectations of the first transmission and knowing what you won’t like.  I hardly ever watch current TV, probably because I don’t know if I’ll like it.  I think this is probably all very autistic: wanting to avoid surprises and know what’s going to happen in advance; relating to fictional characters more easily than re

I really just want to withdraw.  I vaguely want to be held by someone and loved, but I doubt whether I could manage real relationship, now or ever.

***

Later.  I sat out the early afternoon watching the Vietnam documentary and reading some not very good Doctor Who comics (the Evening’s Empire collection… seventh Doctor-era DWM comics were mostly not good).  I Skyped E. and that seemed to help a bit.  I went for a longish walk (forty minutes) and did some shopping while listening to The Beatles album Revolver, which I hadn’t heard right through for ages (am I the only person under the age of forty who still listens to whole albums?  Then again, I’m not that far off forty).  I had hoped to feel better after dinner and be able to work on my novel plan and do some Torah study, but I felt very depressed again.

***

Even later.  I spent a little bit of time working on my novel; a few minutes working on the plan, which I’m fairly pleased with at this stage, and a few minutes research online.  Not very much, but I was glad to do anything on a day when I felt so bad.  I still have a lot of planning and research to do on my book.  The research is going to be hard.  Much of the book is based on things I’ve experienced myself (write about what you know), but there is a plot strand about domestic abuse that I need to research.  There is a fairly obvious link between domestic abuse and depression.  I’ve read some things about it over the years and met abuse survivors at support groups, but I need to read more.  It won’t be fun, though.

I think finishing the Doctor Who book (despite the initial rejection from a publisher) and starting this book have done as much for me as CBT.  I feel I can write this book (whether I can get it published is another question), which is more than I can say for anything in my work life, or in my religious, social or romantic lives.  Rating each activity out of ten for pleasure and achievement for CBT has been an arbitrary and difficult exercise in some ways, especially as I struggle to understand my own emotions sometimes, but working on the novel is one of the few things that rate an ‘eight’ (nothing rates higher than eight at the moment), along with blogging and, surprisingly, eating lunch and reading (that was probably an overly generous eight, from the first day of the log when I was getting used to it).

I think that writing a book is not just an achievement in itself, although it is that, but that writing about depression and suffering is a way of finding meaning in everything I’ve been through, doubly so if others may benefit from it (cf. Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning).

***

A quote I just came across from Rav Kook: “When one realizes that being totally perfect is unattainable, one can finally understand that one’s true greatness is found in the holy journey of constantly becoming just a little bit better.” The Spiritual Revolution of Rav Kook: The Writings of a Jewish Mystic p. 55)

Running Away Again

I had a difficult Shabbat (Sabbath).  Yesterday I had two autistic/socially anxious moments where I said or did the wrong thing, but, although I beat myself up about them at the time, I felt OK about them today and wasn’t going to blog about them.  I overslept this morning and missed shul (synagogue), which was problematic as I am supposed to go for CBT to counter the social anxiety that keeps me away and I haven’t been for two weeks, albeit more because of depression/exhaustion than because of social anxiety (I just don’t wake up properly).  I dozed this afternoon too, so I probably won’t sleep well tonight.

The really difficult thing, and the reason I’m writing, was this evening.  I’d struggled through seudah (the Third Meal) in shul, worried someone would talk to me or that the rabbi would ask me to lead singing and not sure whether I was misreading other people’s interactions.  Then, when it got to Ma’ariv (the Evening Service), I was asked if I wanted to lead the service.  I’ve led Ma’ariv perhaps hundreds of times, but not since I moved to this community four years ago.  For whatever reason, I instinctively panicked and turned it down.

I felt so angry with myself.  This would have been the ideal chance to get back into davening from the amud (leading services), as there was barely a minyan (ten men) in shul and Ma’ariv is really easy as most of the prayers are private with only little bits read aloud, unlike the other services.  We are supposed to do stuff to help the community.  We are also supposed to use our skills to help others, not sit on them out of fear.  I happen to be reasonably good at leading services, or was when I was doing it regularly.  It was also a chance to get known and accepted in the community, something I struggle with.

Between this and the fact that I generally stay very quiet and don’t show off my Hebrew comprehension (which is reasonably good) or other Jewish knowledge, everyone in shul probably thinks I have bad Hebrew reading skills and that I’m basically an am ha’aretz (ignoramus).  (They probably also think I’m gay for having reached the “ancient” age of thirty-six without having married, but that’s a slightly different issue.)  This was only the second time I’ve been offered to lead a service in three years of going to this shul, so it’s unlikely to happen again any time soon.  (Usually people in mourning have priority for weekday services, so I can only be offered if there are no mourners around or it’s a day when they can’t lead, usually festive days.)

I also feel guilty that I don’t give my parents enough nachas (reflected glory).  They basically haven’t had any from me since I moved to this community four years ago and stopped giving drashot (Torah talks) and leading services.  The last really big thing I did was getting my MA back in early 2014.  I feel bad that they get more nachas from my brother-in-law than they do from me, particularly as it seems very unlikely that I will marry and have children.  I guess it’s another reason to write a novel, although I’m not sure how I would feel about people knowing about my writing.  I’m still wondering if I should write pseudonymously.

When I got home, I filled in one of the thought diary sheets I’m supposed to fill in for CBT when I have negative self-evaluations.  It was actually hard to put into words what I was feeling, but I felt anger at myself (80% intensity) and frustration (90%), possibly some shame (around 60%).  I acknowledged that my thoughts are not helpful, as they won’t help me overcome my anxiety about doing this in the future (if that ever happens).  I couldn’t answer the questions, “How else could I view the situation?  What advice would I give a friend in the this same situation?  (Try to do it next time?  Seems a bit weak and avoiding the real issue.)  What would be more helpful behaviour I could carry out?” (Don’t chicken out and refuse?)  I struggled to find a more balanced evaluation than, “I got anxious and panicked.  I shouldn’t beat myself up about it.”  But knowing I shouldn’t beat myself up doesn’t stop me from beating myself up, especially as I feel that on this occasion I deserve to be beaten up.

You’re So Vain (You Probably Think This Blog Is About You)

The title is directed at myself, before anyone gets upset.

I feel pretty awful again.  Really depressed.  I couldn’t face applying for a law library job today, which are more or less the only viable jobs on my list to apply to at the moment.  I won’t be able to volunteer for a week or two at the new volunteering opportunity I was trying to set up because I procrastinated in responding to an email and now people are away on holiday.

I tried to work on my novel.  I’m doing a lot of planning as I’ve never written fiction at this length or complexity before.  It’s slow.  It’s hard to tell what’s good.  I also wonder if I should start writing, even if I throw it all away later, just to channel some of my enthusiasm and avoid going off the boil (so to speak).  The novel has an autobiographical element, but it’s stripped down in a way; I wanted to write about someone with all my issues, but there were just too many of them for it to be believable or to have space for a plot and other characters.  Actually, I genuinely nearly wrote it with only small roles for other characters, because when I think of things in my life, I genuinely think about my interests and issues long before I think of other people.  And they said I’m not autistic… (autism from autos, ‘self’ because of self-absorption.)  Still, I feel more enthusiastic about writing than about anything else.

I do wonder if it’s worth it.  I wonder if I’ll ever have anything substantial published professionally.  I wonder if I’ll be as successful as a writer as I was as a historian or librarian i.e. not very.  But I don’t have a lot of other options right now.

As I was writing this post, a rejection came in from the publisher I sent my non-fiction Doctor Who book to.  I will keep on submitting it, but it has knocked my already wobbly confidence.  Plus, I told myself I would only date again if I got a job or a book published, despite what my parents and my rabbi mentor said (that I should date right now).  I do get lonely, although these days I think marriage would be just as difficult for me as being single, whether I was living with my parents or not.

I’m struggling with CBT.  I’m supposed to get to shul (synagogue) tomorrow morning as part of my homework, but I suspect I will be too depressed.  I’m also supposed to be talking to strangers (e.g. shop assistants), but I haven’t, partly because of social anxiety (which is what it is supposed to deal with), but also because autism means I have no idea how to have a conversation.  I want to push myself to be more social, but I genuinely don’t know what I could say to someone, beyond a vague idea that British people make a lot of small talk about the weather.

I feel sickened by the anger in politics in general, online and especially online politics.  Treating ‘politics’ as a wide concept, not a narrow part-political one.  I like to hear people and make my own mind up about things.  I don’t have much time for “calling out” or aggressive posturing.  I should probably go and live in a cave or something.  I just want to hear people’s stories.  I realised that’s what the explosion of thoughts I’ve had lately about writing novels is about: telling stories, the stories that don’t get told, my own and other people who I can empathise with in some way (which is tricky with autism, which makes empathy difficult, but that’s another story – autistic empathy issues are arguably more about not knowing how to react to other people’s emotions rather than not feeling them, so not necessarily such a problem for a writer, but this is controversial).

I’m going to watch Doctor Who for the first time in ages to cheer myself up.  Star TrekBatman and The Avengers are all very good, but when I’m very depressed Doctor Who reaches parts other programmes can not reach.  I picked Warriors’ Gate, because I wanted Tom Baker and a surreal, disturbing environment.

Thoughts vs. Feelings

I felt pretty awful when I woke up today and was glad that I hadn’t scheduled anything for today other than going for haircut, and that no interesting-looking job adverts had landed in my inbox overnight to demand my attention.  The haircut was the usual awful experience.  I realise now that having my hair cut trips a lot of autism and social anxiety reflexes (being around strangers; being touched; perhaps feeling vulnerable and exposed without escape; worry the barber will start making small talk to me).  This has been the case since childhood, but has got worse over the last I-don’t-know-how-many-years (probably getting on for ten years) when I’ve had a problem with tremor.  When I go for a haircut now, I worry I will start shaking, but it’s worrying that I might shake that often sets off the shaking.  It wasn’t too bad today, but the barber did remember me from my previous haircut there, I suspect because he remembered me shaking.

On the plus side, today did give me a chance to try out some CBT techniques “in the field” so to speak.  I found I was able to challenge my thoughts in the way I was taught and “prove” to myself that I am not doomed to be single or unemployed forever.  The problem is that, contrary to CBT theory, I find that knowing that my thoughts are irrational does not affect the emotions I experience as a result of them.  Even though I may not have evidence strong enough to convict someone in court that I will be single and unemployed forever (CBT demands a high standard of proof to permit anxiety), I feel I do have a lot of circumstantial evidence that does justify worrying (I have had few jobs, no full-time jobs, many of those jobs went badly or I was overqualified for, etc.).  Nor do I think dismissing fears of the future as “hypothetical” really applies to something that will definitely happen one way or another (I will be employed or unemployed; I will be single or married (or divorced)).  I also have a growing suspicion that my depressed and anxious thoughts are caused by my depressed and anxious emotions rather than the other way around.  CBT theory states that thoughts cause emotions and doesn’t really acknowledge that the reverse can happen.  This means that disproving the thoughts does not necessarily dissipate the bad mood as it should.

I don’t want to sound too negative, as CBT is helping a bit, even if it does feel a bit like putting a small plaster on a gaping wound that needs stitches.  I am having more success with grounding techniques: telling myself that I am dealing with a lot of issues to calm myself and deal with self-blame.  I am also trying to be aware of physical sensations to distract myself from negative thoughts.  The latter is particularly good because my autistic stimming tends to take the form of applying pressure on parts of my body e.g. feeling the pressure of my chair on my spine or lightly trapping my fingers in the drawer and this can often be done discreetly in social situations although I fear that this would be considered an improper coping strategy that fuels the social anxiety.  Sometimes it feels as if I can’t win.

***

The haircut was my main achievement for the day.  I spent a bit of time working on my plan for  a novel, but it was hard to concentrate as it’s quite a scary thing to contemplate doing.  I still think I can do it and want to try.  It’s weird to think that I don’t believe I can hold down a job or get married, which are things lots of people do easily, but I do believe I can write books, which is something many people would not even dream of attempting.  Getting books published is another question.

I did a little bit of Torah study, but not much, but I did go to shul (synagogue).  We didn’t get a minyan (prayer quorum), so we went to the other shul that uses that building (it’s really their shul, I think we just lease a room).  They started fifteen minutes later, though, so we had to wait.  It was an even more Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) shul than my one and I felt a bit out of place and was glad when the service finished.

***

I finished watching I Claudius.  I could see that it was objectively good, but I found it hard to connect emotionally to it, even though I usually like “politicking” stories.  Too many characters to keep track of with unfamiliar and similar names, and too many of those characters were fundamentally unsympathetic.

***

E. asked yesterday what one thing would make the biggest difference to my life.  It’s hard to tell.  Money would make a big practical difference, but wouldn’t alter low mood or the psychological need to feel like a contributor to others rather than a burden.  I’ve wanted to be loved romantically for twenty years, and people around me say I always seem better when I’m in a relationship (which is a total of one year or so out of thirty-six) but I know that wouldn’t cure me and living with a wife (rather than parents) would bring in a whole load of new autistic, socially anxious and perhaps depressive issues.  A contract to write books would be nice, I suppose, and I can write while depressed.  But I find it hard to imagine being happy in the long term.