Optimism/Pessimism

Today seems to be the first hot day of summer.  I’m not good with heat, particularly not the humid heat we have today.  I can’t really win, because I don’t mind the cold in autumn and winter, but I need more light than is available in the UK then.

I have a job interview tomorrow for a job that looks quite good.  There’s another job I applied for last week and one I want to apply for this week that also look quite good.  Which is all good, but scary.  Scary to think I could get a job and scary in a different way to think I might not get one.  Plus the scariness of the hours as some of the jobs are full-time and I’m not sure if I could cope with that right now and others are part-time, but require work on Fridays, which can be problematic in the winter when Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) starts mid-afternoon.  This is a problem most frum (religious) Jews have, but it’s easier to negotiate with a boss when you’re working a full week, rather than Friday being one of only three days in the office.

I’m having another day where just doing anything is an effort because I feel so depressed.  That’s not good when I need to do interview preparation, apply for a job, cook dinner, sort out bank paperwork…  I’d also like to write a short article on managing with chronic illness in the frum Jewish community and try to sell it to a Jewish newspaper, but I don’t know when I’ll have the time.  I suppose it’s good to be busy, but with depression at the same time, it can be a struggle.

What I am trying to do that takes no time, but quite a bit of effort, is to “thought stop” my worries, particularly about employment and marriage (or rather, the absence of both).  It’s hard when it feels logical to be worried, but I can see the worry does not actually help me, as it so rarely leads to positive action; if anything, the wallowing in despair stops me taking action and alienates those around me (as seen with my friends recently).  I’m trying even to feel hopeful that things could change for me, even though this seems like magical thinking (“The Law of Attraction” etc.) rather than reality.  I’m trying also to be at least open to the idea that God loves me, and that I’m not a terrible, useless, stupid person.  It’s hard.  It’s hard to know what’s realistic.  At the moment I don’t feel that I can write professionally, but I don’t know if that’s realistic or not.  And I keep remembering my friends telling me that I have a “whiny, self-obsessed blog” and I can’t stop it, even though I know it’s not helpful to think about it.

Another thing I need to decide on is whether I’m going to volunteer at the asylum seekers drop-in centre on Sunday.  I haven’t gone for a couple of sessions (it’s monthly).  I’ve become nervous about it.  I used to enjoy helping and looking after the children, but lately I’ve found it harder.  I feel awkward sorting the donations of clothes, feeling that I am confusing men’s and women’s garments as well as adult’s and children’s, but I’m embarrassed to ask anyone for help.  I thought volunteering would help me to meet people, but no one really talks to me, I’m too shy to talk to anyone else, and there’s no one my age there anyway (most are either older than me or teenagers/older children).  Few people are as frum as me either, so far as I can tell from clothing styles, although that’s not so much of an issue.  But the worst is that now there are so many children in the creche area that I feel totally overwhelmed.  It’s impossible to keep the children in the creche area and not running around the hall and onto the raised stage at the far end of the hall (which they love to escape to and go up – I have visions of them falling off) and they seem to be more disobedient lately (possibly because of competition for toys) and I struggle to control them.  Telling off other people’s children seems wrong and I lack the authority to do it.  I also struggle to engage with children over the age of seven or eight, which I suppose was the age where my own differences from other children started becoming obvious, although that may be rationalisation on my part.  So, I’m scared to go, but maybe that’s a reason why I should go, to confront my fears rather than running from them.  I seem to have done a lot of running away lately.

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Rearranging the Deckchairs on the Titanic

Talking to my parents at dinner last night was difficult.  I was really too drained to really put up with so much small talk and there was a bit of friction with my father over my inability to deal with small talk and his preference for it.  I was agitated and anxious last night, then slept a lot.  I could have got up in time for shul (synagogue) this morning, but was too tired, so went back to sleep, which I guess is an improvement from being too socially anxious to go (maybe).  I had lunch by myself as my parents were at friends, late because I overslept and cold because the hot plate (the only way we can heat up food on Shabbat (the Sabbath)) was on a timeswitch and had turned off because I was eating so late.  I dozed off after lunch too, so now I’m awake.

I can’t remember all my anxious thoughts last night, but I think they basically boiled down to: I used to worry I would never get over the depression and I would never get married, while I now worry that I will never even learn to manage the depression; never learn to manage my autism; never build a career; never even have a job I can cope with; never be able to support myself independently of my parents; never do an acceptable amount of daily davening and Torah study (prayer and religious study); never be accepted in my religious community; and, because of all of the above, I would never get married.  I don’t know where to start working on eight major, interconnected worries.  There is also a worry that that the cumulative effect of all of this would be that I stop being religious, but that seems somewhat less likely than the other worries.  I guess getting an autism diagnosis is the first step, but that depends on the vagaries of the NHS waiting list and whether I can convince the psychiatrist this time that I really am autistic.

***

I wonder how much I want to get married.  Consciously I want it a lot, but I wonder if I’m unconsciously afraid of rejection/effort/loss of freedom/something else and self-sabotaging, hence avoiding ways of dating (dating sites, professional shadchanim (matchmakers), my parents’ efforts to set me up with their friends’ children).  I tell myself no one could love me at the moment while I’m depressed and about to be unemployed, but maybe I should be more active in seeking dates and see what the women think.  Put like that, it sounds almost rational, but I think it’s disingenuous to present myself as ready to date when I’m a psychological and financial mess.  But maybe that’s just an excuse.  Maybe I can’t cope with the idea of dating.

I guess it applies to non-romantic social contact too.  I want to connect, but I don’t know how (autism) and I’m scared of rejection (social anxiety).  I don’t know how to live with loneliness and isolation, but I don’t know how to move on from it.

I guess this is where psychodynamic therapy comes in ahead of CBT.  CBT assumes we just need to clarify our thoughts so we can think the right things, whereas psychodynamic therapy deals with internal conflicts where we are actually torn about what the ‘right’ thing to think is.  So maybe it’s good that I might be able to see my psychodynamic therapist at the end of April, whereas my wait for CBT is indefinite.

***

I wasn’t tired this evening, unsurprisingly, so I spent some time tidying my desk drawers (although avoiding the bottom one, which has various Jewish papers in, which should really be buried at some point).  This is what the title of this post is referring to (not the government’s Brexit strategy).  There were various papers from the job I had last year, the one that I really messed up, as well as a lot about pensions, which is something else that worries me (I don’t have one, and I know I should, but I don’t earn enough money.  I worry what will happen to me).  I found something from CILIP (the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals), which I belong to largely in order to try to convince myself I’m a professional with a career and not a child trapped in an adult’s body/life.

I used to think of myself as an organised person, but along with my ability to plan (Dad: “You’re a terrible planner!”), I fear that this is more apparent than real i.e. I was organised when I didn’t have a busy enough life to produce much to organise.  My “organising” tends to involve shoving bits of paper from my desk in to drawers, and then periodically I clear the drawers by shoving the paper in ring binders.  Tidying ring binders happens very rarely, every few years, and tends to involve throwing a lot of stuff away.  I suppose tidying drawers happens every few months, but I  keep the top of my desk tidy most of the time, which creates the illusion of organisation, albeit that a pile of ring binders and papers mostly related to my writing projects has taken up residence on one side, which I tolerate on the grounds that they are at least meaningful projects that might bring in income one day and are more likely to be worked on if in view.

I also found a psychiatrist’s letter announcing that I was free of another episode of depression, which is vaguely depressing.  It shows I do come out of these episodes, but the time out of depression lasts a couple of months, whereas the episodes of depression themselves last a couple of years and I never have enough time in between to really build up my life.

Doctor Who and the Purim of Doom

This will be another ‘written across a whole day’ post.

11.15am  I’m not sure how long I slept, but I think it was about eleven hours, which was probably too long.  I woke up utterly drained and depressed and I’m not sure if that was from sleeping too long or from the pressure of working two consecutive days.  Today I still feel that no one could ever love me, but I’m too exhausted to really care any more.

11.45am Today is the Fast of Esther, which I think is the most obscure Jewish fast day (this or the Fast of the Firstborn, but arguably that doesn’t count).  I used to assume it dated from Esther’s fast in Megillat Esther (the Book of Esther), which is the key text for the festival of Purim (tonight and tomorrow), but apparently it’s from the Gaonic era (early Middle Ages) although it does commemorate the earlier fast.  At any rate, I’m not allowed to fast on lithium except for Yom Kippur, so I’m not fasting today.  I think I’ve gone past the point of feeling bad about not fasting.  Eating some breakfast and drinking coffee makes me feel a bit better, but not much.  I really just want to go to bed and sleep through the next day and a half, although I am sort of looking forward to the Purim seudah (festive meal) I’ve been invited to tomorrow, just as long as no one tries to force me to drink alcohol.  I don’t think they will, but it’s hard to be sure.

I want to have a quiet day (afternoon really now – it’s nearly noon) to recover from the last two days and prepare for the Megillah reading tonight, which will be draining for depression, social anxiety, OCD and autism reasons.  Not the easiest religious ritual for me, by any means.  In the meantime, I want to watch more of Quatermass and the Pit (1950s BBC science fiction serial) and work on my Doctor Who book a bit, if I feel up to it.

2.15pm  Thinking again about being single and that no one could love me, albeit that the thoughts aren’t as intense as yesterday.  I wonder what the CBT response to these thoughts should be.  I suppose to look for evidence to disprove the assertion that no one could love me.  Which is hard, as there is really no evidence against.  I’ve only had two romantic relationships (and a third thing that perhaps approached becoming a relationship), which ended in ways that make me worry that no one could ever love someone as messed up as me, albeit that they all focused on different elements of my messed upness.  To some extent I’m probably manipulating the data to fit my theory; certainly my first relationship ended for fairly complex reasons that were at least partly down to my girlfriend.  But it is hard to hold on to that when everything fits my theory at least partially.  There isn’t much data to base a theory on, which is one thing to hold on to, but, again, that basically means that I haven’t had much romantic success, which is not encouraging.  CBT is hard to do when all the evidence supports your “thinking errors”.  I guess I’m catastrophising and jumping to conclusions, but it’s hard when the evidence points that way.  I don’t have “proof” that no one would marry me, but I won’t have proof until I either die single or get married and I can’t stop myself worrying in the meantime.  I know, worrying doesn’t help either, it just feels as if it should.  Also, this is probably my way of expressing loneliness to myself and others.  Maybe it would be more fruitful to search for different ways to express loneliness rather than to worry about the future.

***

3.00pm  Moving photo albums from one room to another with Dad.  Dad says I’m always irritable with him these days.  This is true and it saddens me, but I don’t know what to do.  Part of it is that I am under a lot of strain at the moment with work and depression and have been for nearly two years now.  I have to mask autism and depression at work, but that makes it harder to keep up appearances at home.  But part of it is that Dad tends not to do things in an autism-friendly way.  He asks me to help him with things, but he doesn’t tell me when and then expects me to drop anything I’m doing and help, which upsets me because it messes up my plan for the day; autism hates surprises and last minute changes.  He’s been nagging me to help with the photo albums for ages, but hasn’t given a time.  Last week he asked me and I said let me finish X, but he never came back and then suddenly today he asked me again.  I started to move the photo albums, but then he expected me to put them out in order; I got annoyed at this change (although I was probably being autistic and overly-literal here and should have guessed he would want me to put them out) and he got annoyed that I didn’t want to help.

Dad also talks in a very unhelpful way, from an autistic point of view, with too many details and jumping from topic to topic without making it clear what he’s talking about.  Then I get annoyed and tell him to stick to the point and things escalate.  I don’t like this aspect of myself and my current life, but I don’t know what to do about it.  I can’t think how to change things; telling myself to “try harder not to be irritable” doesn’t really help and just undermines my self-esteem even more.

***

3.30pm  I just read two essays by Rabbi Lord Sacks (the former British Chief Rabbi) about finding meaning and being called to something in life.  I don’t have a clue what the meaning in my life is or what I am being called to do.  Rabbi Sacks says that “Where what we want to do meets what needs to be done, that is where God wants us to be”, but I don’t seem to be able to do anything and my understanding of my own wants is not particularly good.  Mostly I want to just avoid certain situations and people.  I’ve thought in the past of writing to him about things like this, but his office staff doubtless open his mail and he probably wouldn’t even see the letter, let alone respond.

***

4.55pm  I began redrafting my Doctor Who book with the introduction and first chapter.  It was OK, but I’m not entirely happy with it, which may be my immaturity as a writer as much as anything, and while I pruned a couple of hundred words, I probably need to be more ruthless with later and longer chapters.

Feeling exhausted and depressed and not entirely sure why.  Some of it is doubtless bickering with Dad before, some is being tired from working on my book, some is general depression, so I intend to watch TV for a bit before I have to get ready for Purim.

***

19.00 Purim

Purim is a minor festival, so work is permitted and I can blog.  I moved my work days around this week so that I wouldn’t have to go to work, though, which is good.  It’s the most carnivalesque Jewish festival, which can be hard for me with depression, autism and social anxiety.

“There’s no point in being grown up if you can’t be childish sometimes!” Doctor Who: Robot

There is a custom to wear fancy dress on Purim.  I made my way to shul (synagogue) for Purim dressed as the fourth Doctor.  My scarf was the only item that was strictly accurate (a friend knitted it for me years ago according to the official BBC pattern and air mailed it to me from Texas), but I was more nervous about going dressed as a TV character to a shul where lots of people don’t own TVs and look down on TV as the most corrupting and least acceptable of all media.  As it happened, no one said anything, except someone who made a joke about the length of the scarf.  I don’t know if no one understood who I was dressed as.  I don’t really talk to many people at shul anyway.

The Doctor: Well, you’d better introduce me.
Romana: As what?
The Doctor: Oh, I don’t know… a wise and wonderful person who wants to help. Don’t exaggerate.

Doctor Who: The Power of Kroll

I heard once that if one dresses up on Purim, one should dress up as the person one wants to be.  I don’t know if this is true (I only heard it once).  I’m not sure what it says about me that I want to be the Doctor, or specifically the fourth Doctor, or even if I do really want to be him in a meaningful way, but I wish I had his confidence and his ability to wear his eccentricities on his sleeve and not worry what other people think about him, as well as for keeping his sense of humour when faced with danger and evil.

“Even the sonic screwdriver won’t get me out of this one” Doctor Who: The Invasion of Time

I listened to Megillat Esther (the Book of Esther).  One is supposed to hear every word, but there is also a custom to make noise after the name of Haman, who tried to wipe out the Jewish people.  This is fertile ground for my religious OCD.  I actually did OK.  I told myself I wasn’t going to catch up words, let alone go to another reading, unless I was really sure I had missed something.  Three or four times I thought I heard a word, but wasn’t sure and wanted to repeat it, but I didn’t let myself because I knew it would just stoke the flames of OCD.  It is theoretically possible that I did not fulfil the mitzvah (commandment), but I think I did the right thing.

“You’re a beautiful woman, probably.” Doctor Who: City of Death

At dinner afterwards, my Dad tried again to persuade me to go out with our neighbours’ daughter (or our neighbour, I suppose, as she lives with her parents).  I’m not quite sure what to make of this.  I don’t know if I have anything in common with her, other than having lived in two of the same communities and being frum.  I’ve never picked up any feeling that she is at all attracted to me (although admittedly I’m not good at such things).  By coincidence, I passed her while I was on the way to shul this evening and we said hello, but if she spotted the significance of my Doctor Who scarf, she didn’t say anything.

“Failure is one of the basic freedoms” Doctor Who: The Robots of Death

I was having dinner with my parents, everything was going well… and then, suddenly, it wasn’t.  Something happened that I can’t talk about here, sadly.  But it brought my mood crashing down.  I know that people say that you can’t make your happiness dependent on other people, but the fact is that human beings are social animals (even someone as introverted and autistic as I am) and the moods and behaviour of those around us do affect us, especially the moods of those close to us.  We pick up other people’s moods just as we infect people with our moods.  I’m not sure what I can do for this.

So, tomorrow is the bulk of Purim.  I hope I will be OK.  I’ve been invited out to a seudah (festive meal) in the afternoon, which will hopefully be good.  I’m more nervous about getting to shul in time to hear the Megillah again (one should hear it twice, evening and morning), but I’m less worried about hearing the words as there isn’t usually much noise at the morning reading because there aren’t many children and some people are going to work, so they need to get through it quickly.

For now I’m going to get some retail therapy buying a second-hand copy of the next Complete Peanuts volume (1963-1964), because Peanuts has been keeping me sane recently with it’s resigned acceptance of life’s ups and downs, as well as a second-hand copy of the House of Cards trilogy; not the Netflix series, the original 1990s BBC serials with Ian Richardson as Sir Francis Urquhart.  I’ve never seen it, but I need a break from wall-to-wall science fiction.

Chase: What do you do for an encore, Doctor?

Doctor: I win.

Progress and Burn Out

Over Shabbat (the Sabbath) I thought quite a bit about the job I applied for on Friday, despite the fact that I shouldn’t think about work on Shabbat.  I got alternately excited and anxious.  It doesn’t help that the advert didn’t really give an idea of what the job would involve, except that it would be some kind of news-related writing in “a leading magazine” and that I would be based partly in an office and partly at home.  I assume it is for a Jewish magazine, given that they were advertising on an Orthodox Jewish mailing list, although I suppose that may not be the case.  I have no experience in journalism and so don’t think that I will get the job, but it was worth trying.  At any rate, the fact that I had to send out samples of my writing may lead on to something, somewhere at a later stage.  Although if it is a Jewish magazine, I may have blown my chances of selection with some very non-frum writing.

Of course, looking at the news, both mainstream and the Jewish newspapers, is a thoroughly depressing experience, so maybe I don’t want to be immersed in that for a living.  Or maybe writing would at least feel like I’m doing something to fight back against the darkness.  I don’t know.

***

I mentioned to my parents about the woman I blogged about the other day, a daughter of their friends, who Mum wanted to set me up with some time ago because she felt she would be understanding of mental health issues, but couldn’t because she was seeing someone else and who I now know is single again.  Mum was anxious to set me up with her ASAP, which I don’t think is particularly sensible, given that I’m probably going to be unemployed again in a fortnight.  But inevitably thoughts of getting the magazine job mixed in with thoughts of dating again, if I can find a steady income.  Dad suggested set me up with the daughter of our neighbours.  For my part, I can’t really see why anyone would want to date me, certainly while I am not working full-time, but really why anyone would want to date me at all, given all my issues, unless she had serious issues of her own.  This is probably a problematic attitude, but I don’t know how to change it.  So far my dating experience has been limited and difficult.  I think my parents only see my strengths and ignore the considerable drawbacks I have that someone dating me would have to be able to accept.  Perhaps I only see the drawbacks and not the strengths; at any rate, I find it hard to see why anyone would date me, let alone marry.

I do get lonely, though, and long for understanding and real intimacy (not just sex), which is something I have spent my life looking for, in friends and potentially a partner, but have only ever really achieved for short periods.  I felt some of that loneliness over Shabbat too.  It would be nice to be dating again, but I can’t see it really going anywhere until I have some kind of steady income.

***

I struggled at dinner last night.  As usually happens, my Mum spoke a lot about her work and my Dad spoke quite a bit about his shul (synagogue).  My parents are both very talkative and very neurotypically talkative at that, speaking small talk and about people they know, rather than about more abstract matters like the news or religious things.  I try to stay interested, but there are limits to the amount of neurotypical small-talk conversation I can do, trying to show an interest and be empathetic regarding people I do not know and will never meet.  I tried to make the right noises, but after an hour and a half or more, I unintentionally delivered a very forceful and emphatic “Right!” as if shutting down the conversation, which my parents found hilarious.  They laughed, but I was very drained by the whole dinner and conversation, perhaps because I was already drained from spending the day writing the job application and then being around people in shul.  It did make me realise that one workshop wasn’t really enough to brief my parents on all aspects of autistic behaviour, and that even if they understand me, on some level, behaviour (theirs and mine) still needs to be negotiated in a spirit of compromise.

***

I was so drained from all of this that, despite being in bed before midnight, when I woke up at 9.15am this morning, I felt too tired to get to shul and went back to sleep.  I feel very bad about this, as I really want to get back into the habit of going on Shabbat mornings, but I simply can’t find a strategy to help me to get there.

***

I struggled to concentrate at shiur (Talmud class) today.  I realised halfway through that, strange as it seemed to someone used to thriving academically, I struggle with Talmudic study and my autism may be partly to blame.  But I’m not sure what exactly the issue would be, why I can cope with most forms of study, but not Talmudic study.  I am still coming to terms with the idea of being developmentally behind my peers, which is not something that was really the case when I was a child, when poor social interactions were put down to shyness and the effects of bullying and academic success was interpreted as a sign that I was functioning well in all areas, which in retrospect was clearly not the case.

***

I’ve been thinking of going back to my psychodynamic psychotherapist.  I stopped seeing her to do some CBT on the NHS to work on my low self-esteem, but I’ve been waiting six months or more and I still have not seen anyone.  I’ve phoned and emailed to try to find out where I am on the waiting list, but no one answers or responds.  It’s terrible.  In the meantime, I’m plutzing (fretting) about my career (or lack thereof), my relationships (ditto), my relationship with my parents, my attempt to come to terms with the likelihood that I’m autistic and so on, as well as just generally feeling depressed and anxious a lot.  It would be very helpful to speak to someone who knows me, but who is not emotionally involved in my life again.

***

After more than an hour and a half of work after Shabbat this evening, I have finally completed the second draft of my Doctor Who non-fiction book.  I have mostly been tidying up the various chapters, standardising spelling and layout and so on.  Bear in mind that the book originated in a series of blog posts and has been six years in the making; some of my preferred spellings and stylistic choices had changed over that time and I needed to make sure everything was uniform.  Now I can start on the third draft, this time working on the writing style, which in some ways is the hardest thing.  The second draft, incidentally, weighs in at 113,200 words, which probably means it needs trimming a bit.  If I am due another period of unemployment, maybe I can spend some time working on the book.

The Elephants in the Room

I just feel overwhelmed today.  I should probably explain that this post was one of the ones I write piecemeal during the day, so it may be rambling and also vary widely from optimism to pessimism in successive paragraphs; I’m having a rather up and down day.  I can sort something out and be OK, but then the negative thoughts come back and I can’t cope again.

It’s Purim next week and I don’t feel ready.  And then it’s Pesach a month after that and I’m certainly not ready.  I mean, no one’s ready in practical terms at this stage, but I don’t feel emotionally ready.  Maybe no one is emotionally ready either, I don’t know.  I wish I knew what other people think and feel, not just about Pesach, but generally.  It’s part of my reason for blogging.  I know I write self-obsessed posts, but I have to write it to try to say what I feel, to understand it and to try to see if other people feel the same way, although it seems that most of them don’t.  I know that apparently lots of people have the type of thoughts that distress people with OCD, but they don’t get anxious and obsessive about them.  But no one talks about this.  I have ‘bad’ thoughts (violent thoughts, sexual thoughts, insulting thoughts) in my head all the time and I’m told that other people have the same thoughts, but no one ever mentions it.  That strikes me as bizarre.  How can people not mention this stuff?  Or feel guilty and ashamed (even if they are automatic and not acted on, it’s hard not to feel bad that they’re even in my head)?

***

I did something stupid last night.  I stayed up late working on my Doctor Who book (I’ve now finished the research and am working on tidying up the second draft a bit before starting the third draft).  About 1.00am when I was getting ready for bed, I was thinking about the conversation on my blog yesterday about relationships.  I remembered that last year (pretty much exactly a year ago, actually) I had been trying to find a shadchan (matchmaker) who would work with someone with depression in the UK, but I had no success.  However, my Dad asked the wife of the assistant rabbi at his shul (synagogue) and she suggested someone (I’ll call her Rebbetzin D).  I was going to phone her after Pesach, but then I started dating E. and so didn’t.  After E. broke up with me, I was too pessimistic about anyone ever wanting to marry me to do anything about dating again until recently.

Last night I thought about contacting her at some point soon to see if she could help me meet someone, but I was nervous, so I decided to see if her email address was online anywhere.  I found her LinkedIn page and looked on that to see if I could find an email address… and accidentally added her to my network (or whatever they call the equivalent of friending on LinkedIn).  The only way I could think of to salvage the situation was to take advantage of the facility to add a short note to the friend request.  Which I did, trying to explain my situation in under 300 characters.

I suppose if this was a hasgacha pratit (Divine Providence) story of the kind so beloved by Jewish websites, my mistake would result in her setting me up with someone who turned out to be my soulmate.  The reality is she accepted the request, but has not replied to the message, so far as I can tell (I’m not really good with LinkedIn).  I don’t know what to do now, whether it’s worth messaging again or phoning in a few weeks or just accepting that, like lots of other people I asked about trying to set a depressed person up with someone, she doesn’t know what to do or maybe thinks I shouldn’t actually be looking to get married.

I actually feel less depressed about this for the stupid mistake and more for the aspect of “Oh, there’s another thing I’ve tried that hasn’t worked.  How many options do I have left?  Anything?”  I just feel so hopeless.  That was my last option and it didn’t work.  I feel that I’m going to be alone and unloved forever.  Goodness knows what will happen when my parents aren’t able to support me (financially and emotionally).  I know I should be challenging these thoughts with CBT, but they seem real and not distorted.  I know I’m catastrophising, but I feel I’m also drawing “evidence-based conclusions” from past experience.  It’s not catastrophising to say I’m never going to win the lottery or be a billionaire.  Why is it catastrophising to say I’m going to be alone forever?

***

The plus side: this made me check my LinkedIn page for the first time in ages and realised it was really out of date.  Not just missing my current job, but the one before too.  I keep my CV up to date, but not my LinkedIn page, which is very twentieth century of me.  So I guess it’s good that I noticed.

I have jobs I could apply for, but I don’t want any of them, and don’t think I would get any of them, or could do any of them if I got them, so it’s hard to get motivated.

***

So, today I updated my LinkedIn page, browsed jobs online again and found nothing I felt competent to do, again.  I can’t tell how much is low self-esteem and how is that I’m genuinely not qualified for anything decent.  Looking at my CV and LinkedIn page, I realise just how over-qualified I am – on paper – for my current job, yet I feel I’m only just coping with it and could not manage anything more complicated or time-consuming.  I feel such a screw-up.

***

I just had an instant messenger conversation with an advisor at Remploy, the organisation for helping disabled people in the workplace.  They gave me some links, but I’m not sure that any of them offer what I actually want/need, careers advice about whether I’m in the right sector or if I have transferable skills that might be useful in a more comfortable sector, especially one where I can find part-time work more easily.  I feel I’m doing something wrong with work, but I don’t know what and I don’t know how to find out what I’m doing wrong, because I don’t know the right questions to ask or the person to ask them to.

This did, however, lead on to a longer and more useful instant messenger conversation at the National Careers Service.  The person there said that I’m doing the right sort of thing in my job search, which is good, but also means that if I’m struggling, there are no quick fixes.  But he suggested a couple of other specialist job sites to look at, including one for NHS jobs.  I knew that hospitals have libraries, but it seems there are more information management jobs in the NHS than I was aware of.  Similarly, I knew about civil service libraries (although I think most ministries have shut theirs now because of budget cuts), but there is a specialist civil service recruitment site which might be useful.

I feel I have some options for the future, but I feel my depression and autism are really stopping me finding anything suitable for me and making it difficult for me to pursue a career in a structured and focused way, or to find a job at the moment, while I can’t work full-time.  I don’t know what I can do about that.

***
Other people seem to know how to do useful things, and I feel that the only thing I can do is write about my feelings.  And I don’t even understand them properly, I write to try to understand them.  The world seems not to be set up for people like me to thrive in it.  I just seem to be a huge failure.  I’m not exactly suicidal, but I’m not sure what benefit there is to the world in my staying alive, except that I have a few family members and friends who care about me (although I don’t know why).  I’m such a screw-up.  No wonder hardly anyone wants to employ me and no one wants to date me.

***

I phoned the NHS about CBT again.  I’m on the waiting list for it, but I don’t know how long I will have to wait.  I keep phoning and leaving messages, but no one answers or replies.  In the meantime, I feel I need some kind of therapy.  I’m not entirely convinced CBT will work, although I was willing to give it another try, at least to work on my self-esteem issues, but I’m wondering if I should just go back to my (privately-funded) psychodynamic psychotherapist on the grounds that she would probably see me at short notice and I know I can talk to her.  My parents said I should wait a week now they’re back from holiday and see how I feel.

My parents also said that if I was lonely while I was away, I could have What’sApped them.  It genuinely did not occur to me to do this which is probably autistic rigidity of thought, although if questioned, I would probably have assumed that they were busy or else they would have phoned me, as they usually do (apparently my Mum didn’t want me to think she was over-protective, so she didn’t phone at all).

***

My life just seems a mess right now.  No career, no job (not the same thing), no relationship.  Few friends, but I feel I’m mishandling the friendships I do have as well as my relationships with my parents and sister.  I don’t turn to them (friends and family) for help, because I don’t want to overwhelm them, and my non-blogging friends don’t really know much about my mental health, but then there’s a barrier between us because it feels to me (although probably not to them) that my depression and autism are the huge twin elephants in the room.  It doesn’t help that I can’t really describe what I feel at all in speech and only imperfectly in writing, so non-blog-reading people are not getting me at my most eloquent about my issues and feelings.

I just feel that the whole of my life is just wrong and I don’t know where to start to fix it, let alone how to fix it.  Looking at this comment I left on Rivki Silver’s blog earlier today, I feel like a drama queen, but it also feels completely true.  I genuinely do not know how I change my employment situation or my social/romantic situation (lumping singleness and lack of close real-world friends together, although they are probably different).  And the helplessness and hopelessness is just killing me.  I’m pushing myself to the limits of what I’m comfortable with (in terms of social anxiety in particular) to further my career without getting anywhere.  I just don’t know what else I could do about dating either.  Contacting Rebbetzin D. was my last option.  I suppose I might hear from the values-based dating service one day or I could go back to online dating, but it seems a way to lose a lot of money without getting anywhere, and my sister does not approve of it.  And there are still professional shadchanim, although everyone seems to be sceptical of those.  And the issue is as much about getting women to date me after they meet me or hear my story than to get set up on dates in the first place.

Professor Quatermass Appeals to the Mutated Astronaut’s Vestigial Humanity

Trigger warning: suicide

Feeling incredibly depressed today.  I got to bed really late last night.  I’m not sure when exactly.  I wasn’t surprised, given how much I slept during the day.  Somehow I woke up when my alarm went off at 10.00am and knew I wouldn’t get back to sleep (I don’t know why this doesn’t happen to me on Shabbat), so I got up, ate breakfast, glanced at the newspaper, felt depressed.  Or more depressed, as I was already feeling depressed.

I feel alone, but I’m supposed to see my sister and brother-in-law today and I want to cancel because I can’t face socialising.  I suppose I felt that my sister was pushing me to see her and I wasn’t quite sure why, except that she always sees me when our parents are away.  It feels a bit like she’s checking I’m still alive.

***

I went back to bed after breakfast.  Buried myself under the duvet.  Try to shut out the world, but it’s still there.  No matter how vividly I try to imagine someone who loves me, she doesn’t exist.  She can’t exist, I suspect.  I just want someone to hold me and tell me I’m OK.  I’m such a screw up.

***

Just feeling awful today.  My parents are back tonight (they land about 1.00am so I probably won’t see them until tomorrow).  I’m not sure if that’s good or bad or both or neither.

I tried a bit to use CBT to challenge my thoughts, but it’s hard, partly because they (the thoughts) started as something inchoate at the moment, emotions and impressions rather than clear thoughts (I know CBT therapists would say that can’t happen, but I often wake up feeling depressed).  Trying to accept that things can get better.  Five years ago, I had just finished my MA, which took three and a half years rather than the single year it should have taken.  I wasn’t sure I was ever going to be able to work, but after a month or two of ‘recovering’ (sitting around feeling depressed), I started volunteering at a library again, turned that into a paid part-time job within a year (just), then went on to other jobs, which is all positive so maybe in another five years I could be somewhere else, much more positive than where I am now… but at the same time, I’ve never had a full-time job, most of my jobs have left me feeling useless and a burden on society and I’ve only had one real relationship since then (one and a half, maybe) and I can’t imagine any of this changing.  I’ve never been well enough to work full-time or rarely felt that I’m doing good work in a job.  Everything just seems so hopeless, I can see myself being in exactly the same situation in five years time, struggling through part-time, short-term jobs, depending financially on my parents, no romantic relationships, loneliness, self-loathing and depression.

I want to love and be loved so much, and it’s just been impossible for me for so much of my life.  I made a couple of good friends, which is something.  I can see that things have got better, or at least different, in some respects, but IF my life is improving (and I’m not sure that it is), it’s moving slowly.  Geologically slowly.   I can’t see it getting good enough any time soon, and probably not in time for me to ever have children.

***

I feel frail and mortal.  I’m not suicidal, but I just wish I wasn’t here.  I wish I’d never been born.  I wonder if I should try to go back to my psychodynamic therapist, as I don’t think CBT on the NHS is likely to happen any time soon and I’ve got sceptical again about whether CBT is able to help me; I can’t ‘prove’ to myself that my problems are just from thinking about things “wrongly” when my problems are objectively real and hard to tackle.  I have autism.  I have few friends.  I did not go to yeshiva, which is an important part of my religious community.  These are objective facts.  I suppose a CBT therapist would say that what matters is the interpretation I put on them, that I catastrophise my autism when some autistic people live happy lives, I devalue my existing friends and say they can’t satisfy my emotional needs and I catastrophise my yeshiva-non-attendance when there are plenty of ba’alei teshuva (Jews who became religious late in life) who didn’t go and thrive in the community.

***

I’m worried about seeing my sister and brother-in-law later.  I don’t feel able to ‘people’ today.  I want to work on my books.  I feel I should (that word again) be applying for jobs, and cooking dinner, and doing chores.  I’m not sure why she wants to see me, intellectually I can see she’s probably worried about me, but I can’t feel that.

I feel agitated and angry and despairing and I’m not good at reading people when I feel like that.  I can’t intuit that anyone cares about me, I can only know it intellectually.  Maybe that’s why I feel so alone, because it doesn’t feel like anyone cares about me, it’s just something I know, like the Ten Commandments or lists of Doctor Who actors and stories.  Maybe that’s why I’m so desperate to be held, to make love, because maybe then I will feel loved instead of just knowing it.

Maybe that’s why I don’t feel like God loves me.

***

For reasons I can’t say here, I feel that I was never good enough for my ex-girlfriends, that I was a rebound relationship or someone to go out with because there was no one better.  That’s probably also partly paranoia, but also partly rooted in things that were said or done to me over the years.  It just reinforces the feeling I’ve had for a while that only someone who was previously in really bad, abusive relationships would want to be with me, because only if someone was really hurtful would I seem better in comparison.  That I can only be second choice.  That I can only be with someone who is ‘settling’ for me.

***

So despairing.  Last night and today watched World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls, which I consider Peter Capaldi’s last ‘real’ Doctor Who story (I tagged on the last five minutes of Twice Upon a Time, which I otherwise can’t stand).  I’ve mentioned that my grip on reality is not the always strongest, sometimes, particularly when feeling bad, I escape into fantasy, but often masochistic, self-hurting fantasy.  Imagining myself in the ‘deaths’ of all the Doctors.  Imagining dying and then turning into someone else, someone alive and potent and different and not me.  Better than me.  Anyone else would be better than me.

I want to die, but I haven’t got the guts.  I’m living for other people.  I’m living because I don’t want to upset my parents, and maybe my sister and friends, and because I’m scared of pain and hurting myself permanently, but non-fatally.  I don’t think good things will ever happen to me and I probably don’t believe that they should.

***

I finished the second draft of my Doctor Who book.  Which is good.  But I’m not going to have the time to do much else today, which is a pain, not least because of going out to eat.

I also went for a brisk half-hour walk.  I feel calmer, probably because I tired myself out (I have little stamina these days), but still struggling with thoughts and fantasies.  Apparently women with high-functioning autism are less likely to have special interests in mechanical objects (e.g. trains) and more likely to immerse themselves in fantasy worlds and to have trouble distinguishing fantasy and reality.  In this, as in some other things, I come across more like an autistic woman than a typical autistic man.  I fear that my grip on reality is not strong and one day I will flip over into psychosis (which I think is also more common in autistic people, although I’m not sure about that).  My fantasy life is vivid, but unimaginative and alternates between narcissism and masochism associated with my suicidal thoughts, although working out which triggers which is a chicken and egg situation.

Running Faster to Stand in the Same Place

I had the last session of my mental health class today.  I think part of the reason I was less excited about the class than the other people in the group, apart from feeling overwhelmed by the noise and the people, is that for many people in the group this was the first time that they had met people with the same issues as them, whereas I’ve been going to various support groups for several years now plus I have a network of friends with mental health issues built up through my blog, so it wasn’t such an eye-opening and validating experience for me.  It has at least got me thinking about CBT stuff again and trying to use it a bit while waiting for CBT on the NHS, which could take months, although I still feel a bit like CBT tries to place a little plaster on a wound that really requires many stitches.

A lot of people from the group are planning on meeting in the future.  I don’t know whether that will happen.  My experience of these things is that people always say they’ll stay in touch, but rarely do.  They have started a What’sApp group though.  I don’t know if I’ll go to the meet up, but I’ve been added to the What’sApp group.

***

Today I more or less resolved the mistake I was so worried about on Friday (definitely anxiety) and spoke to my rabbi mentor about a matter that had been troubling me recently (not mental health-related); he gave me some useful advice.

Less optimistically, I’ve been wading through job emails, but most of them are for things I’m under-qualified for (as if I didn’t feel inadequate already) or things I’m over-qualified for (as if I wasn’t worried enough already about many autistic people being underemployed, especially after one of my colleagues said I’m over-qualified for my current job) or require working on Saturdays.  I’m applying for full-time jobs because there aren’t many part-time jobs in my field (which surprised me a bit, as I thought librarianship was a job that lends itself easily to part-time work and jobshares); if I get further I will ask if working part-time is possible, although how many days I want to work is harder to work out.  I’m not convinced they would employ someone who isn’t willing to work the way they want though.  The other problem is working out how many days I should be working.  Two probably isn’t enough, four was too much (although that was a punishing environment anyway) so I suppose I should try three days.

***

I hoped to have an afternoon off after a stressful couple of days, but speaking to my rabbi mentor, dealing with job emails and other chores took up much of the time.  I wasn’t even applying for jobs, just reading job alerts and adding potential jobs to apply for to my spreadsheet of potential jobs.  As for the chores, they just seem to breed; I have a list and sometimes I can cross things off, but it grows faster than I can cut it down.  Similarly, I’m a neat person, but lately bits of paper have been appearing on my desk faster than I can get rid of them.  I shove some of them in the drawers, but that is just postponing the inevitable.  The worst breeders are emails, not so much rabbits as Tribbles (the Tribbles from Star Trek, it will be recalled, are cute balls of fur that can overrun a starship rapidly because they are born pregnant).

***

I did manage some work on my Doctor Who book (I hope to have second drafts of two more chapters finished by the weekend) and my mental health book.  Work on the latter consists of revisiting old blog posts and copying and pasting passages that look like they might still be coherent, meaningful and interesting out of context into a Word document.  I have a bunch of these on topics like depression, OCD, autism, the frum community and so on, about 25,000 words so far (that’s about a quarter of a book already and I’ve still got eighteen months of material to look at, even if I don’t use my old Livejournal), but I worry that I don’t have a clear shape in my head of what the book will look like.  I’m just experimenting at the moment, in my head and with my selections, on the various ways a book could look without really knowing what I’m doing.  I hope a clearer idea will materialise over time, but it might not.  It’s entirely possible that I won’t have a workable idea at the end of all of this.  Plus looking at old posts brings up bad memories sometimes or triggers feelings of loneliness and depression.

***

Lately there have definitely been some better days, in terms of mood at least and perhaps energy, although I still have bad days and even on ‘good’ days I can suddenly hit depression, self-loathing or OCD anxiety, sometimes with an obvious trigger and sometimes out of nowhere.  “Out of nowhere” might really be a physiological, rather than psychological, trigger, if I had a full understanding of myself: hunger or tiredness.  Exhaustion is a frequent presence too.  I think the improvement is mostly down to the arrival of spring (although apparently the cold and wet is due to come back by the end of the week) and feeling comfortable with my current job for the first time in a year or more, which makes it more unfortunate that my contract ends in a month’s time.

Recovery is, as I implied yesterday, more about finding coping strategies for surviving (a) in the world and (b) specifically in the Jewish community with autism, depression, social anxiety and occasional bouts of OCD.  I don’t think I’ll ever be ‘cured’ of my mental health issues and it’s impossible to ‘cure’ people of autism.  Some days the strategies work and some days they don’t.  On the days when they don’t work, there’s not a lot more I can do than struggle through work (or call in sick, but I very rarely do that these days) and come home and just vegetate in front of a Doctor Who/telefantasy DVD.

“You’ve won it once. Now you’ll have to go out there and win it again.”

I’m very tired after a difficult few days (with more stress to come in the next few days), so I’m just listing a few things from today with one slightly longer reflection.

I had a disturbing dream last night.  I even know what inspired it: an episode of Jonathan Creek, although why my unconscious mind waited a month since I watched the episode before forcing it on me is a mystery.  Perhaps because of this, I woke tired and struggled through the early morning.

***

I had to fight my religious OCD last night and today.  It’s generally under control, but I know that I can easily slip back into it, particularly when tired, stressed, hungry or depressed, so I have to keep on fighting, which can be draining when combined with my other issues.

***

I had some success using CBT techniques to ignore or challenge negative thoughts about myself (thoughts that my colleague hated me and my insistence on precisely following security procedure with the rare books).

***

One of my other colleagues congratulated me on my book choices for yesterday’s exhibition saying they were powerful and she was still thinking about them.

***

I had a migraine by the time I finished work again.  I’m not sure why I keep getting them lately.  It may be because I work so long without breaks.  I worked for three hours without much of a break this morning and four hours after lunch, with one or two toilet breaks, but no food breaks and little or no water because of the fact that I’m not supposed to bring food or drink near the rare books.  This was after deciding that the basement was too hot to work in and taking the books up to the office despite the extra time taken in the hope I wouldn’t get a headache from the heat.  Then again, one of the migraines was not at work, so I could be seeing patterns where there are none.  I felt so bad that when the working day finished I stayed in the staff room for a long time because I was worried that I would throw up on a hot and crowded Tube train.  Eventually I felt well enough to come home, by which time the Tube was less crowded and I got a seat easily, but I had to walk home from the station as my parents had gone out.

***

I listened to/watched three of the four episodes of The Celestial Toymaker today “listened” because 97 episodes of 1960s Doctor Who survive only as off-air audio recordings made by fans in the days before home video.  Listening at least meant that I could do something when I was in the staff room with a migraine.  The Celestial Toymaker is one of my least favourite stories, but I found a nugget of new insight for my book, so it was worth it.

***

The more likely it seems that I’m on the autistic spectrum, the easier it gets to “forgive” myself for not having the lifestyle I “should” have (career, spouse, children) or the religious life I “should” have (career, spouse, children again; plus daven (pray) more often, at greater length, with greater kavannah (mindfulness) and with a minyan (community); study more Torah, especially more Talmud; and improve my character traits more).  I don’t know why depression on its own was not enough to make me forgive myself, but somehow with autism, depression, social anxiety and occasional OCD, I feel I have a “reason” to be where I am.

I do feel a bit like I have to constantly reinvent the wheel every day, though.  Every day I have to learn how to cope and be Jewish with autism and depression.  The fact that I managed it yesterday is no guarantee that I can manage it again today.  The quote that came into my head today, even though I don’t like football, was England manager Alf Ramsey to the team before extra time in the 1966 World Cup final: “You’ve won it once. Now you’ll have to go out there and win it again.”  That’s how it feels, that every day I have to learn how to win, how to be me, how to be depressed and autistic and Jewish and survive, and then the next day I have to do it all over again.

More Peopling

By the time my sister and brother-in-law left last night, I was exhausted from ‘peopling’ with family and at the asylum seekers drop-in centre.  I watched Doctor Who (an old-style, twenty-five minute episode) for a bit.  By 10.30pm I did not feel relaxed and thought I would not sleep, but I went to bed anyway, because I thought I would feel guilty if I stayed up watching TV.  Sure enough, I couldn’t sleep.  An hour later I got up, watched Doctor Who and ate porridge (the only way I can consume warm milk to make me drowsy) which is what I probably should have done in the first place; I fell asleep soon afterwards, but by that time it was gone midnight and I only got six hours sleep.

I got into work feeling that I had walked into The Twilight Zone.  The library was completely empty of both students and staff, at least above the ground floor; the office I work in was also empty.  When I turned on my computer, I discovered that my line manager had food poisoning and her line manager, who shares our office and usually gets in to work at 8.00am, was out in the morning and working from home in the afternoon.

This was a bit problematic, as my line manager was supposed to be helping with the event/exhibition we were running.  Fortunately the other staff members who were helping were around.  I think I managed to do everything that was needed.  Nothing went disastrously wrong, at any rate.  I did end up standing up from about four hours straight, spending about two of those hours talking almost non-stop about rare books and the historical periods they came from.  I hadn’t really had time to revise these things from university or even school, so I hope I didn’t say anything too incorrect.  I think I was mostly coherent, but I have a bad habit of interrupting myself when explaining things to add information I should have mentioned earlier.  I shook a little bit, but not much and I think/hope not visibly to other people.

The event seemed to be popular with the people who came and the numbers were good (according to one of the other staff members, who had an idea of what is normal for these things).  The only negative thing was when one staff member said I was surely overqualified for my job.  She meant it as a compliment, but it just reminded me of what a mess my career is and how years of mental illness has sidetracked me.

I didn’t get to eat lunch until 1.30pm.  I usually have early lunch, because my blood sugar tends to drop by late morning, so you can imagine the state I was in by that stage, especially after all the standing and talking.  Work was difficult in the afternoon as I was exhausted and ready to shutdown.  It involved some rather tedious checking and amending of dates from catalogue records, which I kept messing up, probably because of exhaustion.  I went rather slowly and did much less than I would have liked.

By the time I finished for the day, rather late, I was exhausted and probably had low blood sugar again.  I felt depressed by being in a building full of undergraduates, remembering how miserable and lonely I was when I was an undergraduate and feeling what George Orwell described as the envy of the ghost for the living, although I was thinking more literally of the ghost soldier from Sapphire and Steel and his resentment.  By the time I got to the station I was feeling literally hopeless and making melodramatic comments to myself about wanting to die, but I was aware in some way that this was probably low blood sugar even if I didn’t have the energy or presence of mind to challenge the thoughts with CBT.  I ate an apple on the Tube which helped somewhat, although I had to stand for most of the journey.  I felt exhausted enough to phone my Dad for a lift home from the station, which I hate doing, but do a lot lately because work exhausts me so much.  By the time he arrived, I was virtually in shutdown and unable to say anything to him much more coherent than grunts.

I’m not sure how much this is genuine autistic shutdown or just depressive withdrawal.  I’m not sure whether I have ‘real’ autistic shutdowns, although I usually have things closer to shutdowns than meltdowns when exhausted and overstimulated.  Autism is a spectrum, which means a lot of the behaviours can be exhibited to a greater or lesser degree.  I’m slowly learning to recognise behaviour I exhibit in a lesser degree in myself where I once thought that I did not show this behaviour at all, which contributed to my negative diagnoses.  Of course, one doesn’t have to exhibit every form of autistic behaviour to be diagnosed on the spectrum.

This week I have two consecutive work days for the first time in a couple of months, so I need to somehow not crash tomorrow morning after two busy days.

Realignments

I was quite depressed and very sluggish on waking and I had to go to my mental health class without having shaved, which I don’t like doing.  The class was OK, more CBT stuff really.  I still struggle with CBT, despite wanting to try it again for my low self-esteem.  It always seems so fake to challenge my negative thoughts when there seem to be so many objectively true reasons for me to worry about the state of my life.  One psychiatrist said I was too clever to be fooled by it.  But I took some blank sheets for setting out and challenging negative thoughts in the week ahead and will try to challenge my thoughts.  We did an example in the class, which happened to reflect my job fears, and then I privately tried another example with my dating fears.  To be honest, I was still quite pessimistic afterwards, but perhaps slightly less so than before.

***

Related to this, I phoned to try to find out how long I’m going to have to wait for CBT on the NHS to deal with my low self-esteem.  As with the last time I phoned a week or two ago, there was no answer (typical NHS efficiency and customer service).  This time I left a message, but I doubt anyone will get back to me.

***

While I was in my mental health class, my parents were down the road at a workshop for families of people with autism.  I think they understand me better now they have been to the workshop.  At any rate, they said they felt they could understand me more.  They also wondered if my maternal grandfather was on the spectrum.  I think it is impossible to tell at this distance, but I guess it would explain why, as I grew up (he died when I was nineteen) I felt that he was more on my wavelength than other family members.

***

Despite this, I feel a bit better about the world today.  Maybe it’s the possible political realignment in the air; as someone in the centre, I’ve felt stranded in recent years as the political world has polarised to the extremes of right and left.  On the other hand, the extremes aren’t going to just go away without a fight, and third parties and centrist parties tend to do badly in UK elections because of the way our voting system works, plus, as the BBC news website says, the cross-party nature of the new group could put off as many people as it attracts.

I once heard it said that conservatives believe that people are inherently bad and need laws and traditions to keep them in check, whereas progressives believe that people are inherently good and if they do bad things it’s because they’ve been corrupted by bad laws and traditions or other systemic social issues.  To be honest, I don’t really believe either of these things.  I don’t think people are really inherently good or bad.  They probably are closer to good than bad most of the time, but then there are times when almost anyone is capable of being bad, when they’re tired, hungry, angry or scared.  Maybe this is why I struggle to locate myself politically.  I don’t really feel tribal feelings for any one party and I haven’t for many years.

Anyway, enough politics!!!!

***

I finished another chapter of my Doctor Who book in second draft (or ‘revised second’ draft/draft 2.5).  I only added 400 words, which, considering I spent fourteen and a half hours watching Doctor Who for research seems like a poor return BUT I think the chapter would have definitely read as sub-par, hurried and lacking in detail in places compared with some of the later chapters had I not made the revisions, so I will continue on to draft 2.5 of the third chapter.  After that, and possibly some very slight work to chapter four, it’s a big jump ahead to chapter fourteen, the final one… unless I get forced to write a chapter on last year’s episodes, which I’d rather not do, as I don’t think I have the necessary distance from them or a sense of where the series is going at the moment, but I can see that a publisher might want it.

***

I’m very tired though.  I don’t know why my mental health group leaves me so tired when I get so little out of it, and largely feel too anxious and overwhelmed to participate (unlike the previous course, where I participated a lot).  I think I dozed off for a few minutes in the afternoon.  I did a few minor chores, but didn’t try to do too much and I’m trying not to feel like I wasted the day.  I’m a bit upset I didn’t really feel up to doing any real Torah study, but I was just too tired.

Weary, Stale, Flat and Unprofitable

I feel exhausted today.  Also, I’m quoting Hamlet for my title again, so I must be depressed.  I’m not sure why.  The meeting with the matchmaker yesterday was stressful, but I thought I had got over it.  I did some work on my books (the Doctor Who one and the mental health one) yesterday evening which I usually find restoring, although I procrastinated quite a bit over the mental health one, which might indicate that I should have just gone to bed.  Some of it was probably realising that the mental health book isn’t going to be a case of just stitching together old blog posts; it’s probably going to require significant new material.  Which is OK, aside from my usual lack of confidence in my own abilities, it just means it’s a bigger undertaking than I thought/hoped it might be.

Still, I slept for about nine hours and didn’t wake up too late today, but somehow I just can’t get going or focus today.  Some of it is that I feel a bit physically ill as if I’m coming down with a cold (although I spend a lot of time feeling like that without ever actually having a cold.  It’s true that depression can mimic the ‘coming down with something’ feeling indefinitely).  But I think the main issue is that I have some anxiety about rearranging work days for the moved psychiatrist appointment and for Purim.  If I give in, I’ll start to have the annual anxiety about Purim and Pesach too (tonight is Purim Katan, which means a month to Purim and two months and a day to Pesach, yikes – given how much winter depresses me, I think I’d welcome spring a lot more if it didn’t mean getting through Purim and Pesach again).

***

Meanwhile, I need to start serious job hunting again, as my contract expires in six weeks.  My sister told me that statistically men will apply for jobs that they only meet 60% of the criteria for, whereas most women will only apply if they meet 100% of the criteria.  I seem to be statistically female here, as I do the same thing.   I also struggle to apply for jobs where I would have to ask to work different hours, either because they want someone who will work on Saturdays or because I want to work part-time and they want someone full-time.  My parents and my sister say that I don’t lose anything by applying, but I guess I feel that I’m being ‘difficult’ again.  I’m not convinced that the perfect job, or anything approaching it, is actually out there, at least not for me.  I have so many, um, issues at the moment (need to work part-time, need to be in an autism-friendly environment, need to be able to take Shabbat and Yom Tov off, don’t cope well with pressure, and some of my professional work skills have gone rather rusty) that I struggle to imagine any employer wanting me.  Or me wanting any of the jobs: of the three job descriptions I was just looking at, one was in a law firm’s library (boring) and required working late on Fridays, into Shabbat, as well as a host of law library experience that I simply don’t have; one was so strangely worded that I’m not entirely sure what the job involves except that it, too, requires working on Friday nights and Saturdays; and the third requires a lot of precise skills for a short-term job and turned out to have been filled despite the job advert still being up.

Just looking at the job description and desired attributes on adverts makes me feel anxious and useless; I can’t really imagine being able to do anything.  My cataloguing skills have gone very rusty through disuse, as my job interview a few months ago showed.  I don’t keep up with CPD; it’s an effort just to work part-time, let alone to do unpaid “work” in my free time.  I quiver at the thought being required to show “problem-solving skills, interpersonal skills, teamwork, and ability to deliver work under pressure” and the like.  Strangely, I do actually seem to interview well, surprisingly given my autism and social anxiety, which is possibly an unexpected extra benefit of the Oxbridge interview training my school provided (it was a state school, but had a good record of getting students to Oxbridge, at least for a comprehensive school).  Half the time I don’t even understand what a job description wants, with silly bureaucratic-ese like “You will enjoy working to effect positive change” (I wanted a job where I could effect negative change, maybe in the oil industry or local government).  I wish they could write in plain English (maybe this is autism again).

***

You might tell from all this that I’m still lacking in self-esteem, with no sign of the CBT to help with it that I’ve been on the waiting list for since early December.  I struggle to think of anything I can do well.  I’m told I can write quite well, but I struggle to believe it, or to find a way of earning a living through it.  Some of my friends say I’m a good friend, but one can’t really live off that (the world would probably be a better place if we could).

***

The World of an Autistic, Dyslexic, with Depression and Spinal Problems wrote recently about the need to  have something to look forward to.  I’m struggling with that at the moment.  I mentioned about my growing anxieties at this time of year.  Plus so many of the things in my life at the moment I’m just trying to “get through”.  Watching Doctor Who, which is usually one of my favourite things, is a chore at the moment as I’m just doing it for research for my book without necessarily wanting to watch the episodes for themselves; I really want to just get it over with, so I can focus on redrafting, and watch other things on TV.  Likewise, reading The Dispossessed is just something I’m trying to do, even though I can see it’s a good novel; it’s just taken me too long and I’ve lost track of the characters,  not helped by everyone having made-up science fiction names.  There’s some hopefully-good-but-stressful things later in the year, which inspire hope and anxiety in equal measure, but nothing purely good or in the short to medium term.

***

Another classic autistic moment today when my Dad said that I could withdraw cash in the post office.  I thought he meant there was a cashpoint in there, but he meant for me to go to the counter with my debit card and withdraw that way.  I flatly refused to do this because I got so confused and panicked (I’m ashamed to say) until my Dad told me what to say.  Then there was another autistic moment as my Dad asked the attendant if it was true that the branch was being shut down soon; the actual meaningful part of the conversation lasted just a few seconds, but they carried on talking about the evils of management for a couple more minutes even though no new information was added and I wasn’t entirely sure they were really listening to each other.  This is neurotypical conversing and I can’t do it, and it’s really hard to network or make friends not being able to do it.

***

Later

Really upset.  I can’t explain why.  I’m not sure how much of that is depression (I’m too depressed to introspect and speak) and how much is autism (I don’t understand my emotions and can’t articulate them, at least not in person).  I spent a while trying to write a job application for a job I probably am not qualified for and definitely could not accept without negotiating different terms (unlikely to happen) because it is full-time and requires working evenings and Saturdays.  After a while, I thought I might be better off looking at the Remploy website and seeing what help they could offer me.  They have online advisors, but I don’t know what I want to ask.  My mind froze up and I was catastrophising and assuming nothing can help me.  I tried to ask my parents for help, but it all went horribly wrong for reasons I don’t understand, as it often does, and ended up with Mum apparently accusing me of wanting to do no work for the next year before I get an autism diagnosis when I just meant that legally I can’t legally claim support for autism yet, only depression.  I worry that I’m in the wrong career, but I don’t know who I can talk to about finding a more autism-friendly career or about improving my work skills and CPD.

I can write this down; why can’t I say it?  Is it autism again?  Or what?  I guess I want people to make choices for me, because I find decisions so hard.  That is autism.  My parents are going to a workshop for families of people with autism on Wednesday; I hope they might understand me better afterwards.

The other scary thing is that I go really quickly from “I have a problem” to “I want to kill myself.”  Just now having job difficulties made me feel depressed, and then when my Mum accused me of not wanting to work, I ran off to my room and just wanted to kill myself.  I have heard that this is a common autistic problem too, a lack of nuance in emotional responses, so you go from nothing to the most extreme reaction really quickly.

***

In Iyov (Job), Iyov has a repeated fantasy of suing God in a court of law, feeling if only he could do this, he would be vindicated as suffering unfairly.  I wonder if wanting to write my mental health book isn’t just an attempt at bring the world to account for being beastly to me.  That doesn’t reflect well on me, but more to the point, it isn’t going to happen.  There isn’t going to be a day when my family, friends, colleagues, line managers and peers apologise to me, even if they have really hurt me unfairly.

Disappointments

I overslept this morning and was very drained and a bit depressed once I got up.  Those feelings have pursued me all day.  I feel better for a bit, but then they come back.  Still, I’m doing a lot better than I was.

I had a meeting at The Network, the local government (I think) organisation that runs the well-being course I went on.  I arranged to go on another course in February that might help with assertiveness and dealing with difficult thoughts.  It’s at a place that is harder to get to than the last course.  To be honest, I’m not sure if it will help, or how much the other course helped, but I’m wary of turning down free help, both because it’s free and because it shows people I’m still trying to get better.  It will give me less time for writing, though.  I still haven’t really spoken to my parents about not looking too hard for another job so that I can write.

I find myself struggling again this afternoon.  Some of it is probably the tiredness, but some of it is a phone call I just had with a lawyer.  I think I’ve mentioned once before that my Dad was in a road accident years ago with a motorcyclist who is now suing for damages (even though she insisted she was unhurt at the time and turned away the ambulance my Dad called).  I just spoke to the lawyer to tell my side of the story (what I can remember, which isn’t much given (a) that it happened very fast and (b) it happened three years ago), in particular to state that I think that one of the witness statements was wrong.  I feel that I could make my father’s case stronger by lying and saying that I’m certain that my father’s car was stationary when the motorcycle hit and that there is no way the witness could have seen what he says he has seen, but I feel that while the first statement is possibly true and the second is probably true, I can’t honestly swear to either as absolute truth.  My parents say I should just tell the truth as I remember it, but I feel vaguely disloyal.  The reality is that it isn’t my father who will pay damages, but the insurance company, but he may have to pay court fees, although I still have a suspicion that the insurance company will opt settle out of court (which doubtless is how unscrupulous ambulance-chasing lawyers make their money, not that I’m suspecting the motorcyclist’s lawyers of being like that).  Still, the thought of giving evidence in court under oath is scary.

I’ve also discovered that I missed the deadline for my shul’s (synagogue’s) communal Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner.  A What’sApp message went out about it a week or so ago, but there wasn’t an email until late on Monday evening.  The email didn’t say that the online payment would close that evening!  So I’m too late.  That is a bit frustrating, but maybe it’s for the best, as I wasn’t sure if it would leave me feeling more depressed.

I just phoned to try to find out how much longer I’m likely to wait for CBT.  There was no answer – typical NHS.

Then I tried to look over old posts from this blog for paragraphs that can be removed from their original context and expanded or grafted on to other paragraphs (newly written or from other old posts) to form into chapters that I could form into a book on mental health.  This is going to take much longer than I thought, especially as I hate re-reading my old writing, as it just depresses me and makes me feel that I’m a terrible writer, that I have nothing interesting to say and why do I think people would want to read a book of my introverted auto-analysis?  So I feel more depressed than before, but at least I did something.  Although mostly I ended up distracted by reading about the supposed “Shidduch (Orthodox dating) Crisis” online.  I don’t know whether that really exists, but if it does, it ought to have played a lot more to my advantage than is the case.

I was going to register with We Go Together (values-based Jewish matchmaking service), but then thought that maybe I’m lapsing back into depression and shouldn’t be dating and postponed registering.  But thinking about dating leaves me feeling lonely again…

***

Lately I find myself wondering if I’m a kind person.  A few people have said I am.  I struggle to accept it, and not just from low self-esteem.  I acknowledge that I’m a compassionate person who feels other people’s pain, but I find that often I can’t understand how to help other people in practical terms; sometimes I am just too selfish to do help too.  I suppose it’s the divide between emotional empathy, recognising other people’s emotions, and cognitive empathy, taking other people’s perspectives and knowing how to respond.  Autistic people have emotional empathy, but not cognitive empathy.  One psychiatrist told me that I will never understand other people and should stop trying; similarly, a therapist told me (more sympathetically) that I want to help people, but I don’t know how.  So I find it strange that people seem to think I’m kind.

It’s probably been on my mind because I’ve been thinking about dating again and I know I would want someone who is gentle, kind and understanding to deal with all my issues, but I worry that I don’t have anything to offer in return.  I probably come across as kinder online than in real life because I’m better with text than words and actions – it’s easier to take time thinking things through in writing and perhaps I can imagine what I would want someone to say for me more easily than imagining what someone would do for me.

Crash

Today I crashed.

I suppose it started yesterday, when I got into a very agitated state in the evening when my parents were out.  I went to bed trying to count the number of people I thought would be upset if I killed myself, which was not an encouraging sign although it was good that I did at least acknowledge that some people would be upset, whereas in the past I might have assumed that no one would really care.

I woke up feeling much the same this morning.  I wanted to try positive self-affirmations again (don’t ask me why, as they haven’t worked in the past), but for every time I can tell myself I’m a good person, I tell myself several hundred times more that I’m a wicked, defective freak.

At work I felt terrible, really despairing and sure I couldn’t do my work properly.  I felt like I was going to fall asleep and had a powerful urge to hurt myself, because I felt so unable to cope.  I struggled to work because I was thinking about death so much, fantasising about overdosing and calling myself a defective freak who can’t do anything right.  I was feeling that I hate myself so much that there are no words for it and that I don’t hate anyone else this much, not even those who made me like this.

I somehow got through the morning, but was not restored very much by lunch.  I’m struggling more than I expected to with a forty-five minute lunch and wonder if I should ask to switch to one hour lunches and leave at 5.15pm instead of 5.00pm.  It didn’t help that there were two people in the staff room watching different programmes on their phones without headphones, which I felt was rude and antisocial.

Things came to a head when I went to prepare some books in the book store and virtually had a panic attack, terrified that I was going to damage one of the rare books.  I got into a complete state and phoned my Mum to ask what she felt I should do as I wasn’t being particularly rational.  She said to come home as I sounded too agitated to do any work.

I obviously needed to tell my line manager that I was not well, but I decided to tell her about the depression in some detail.  She was really supportive and said I should think about whether there are any changes I could make at work that would help me.  She also said that she’s really pleased with my work so far and that I’ve picked up a lot in a very short space of time; also that there isn’t much that I can do disastrously wrong in my job and that I’m very careful with the rare books.  I mentioned going too slowly in previous jobs because of my fear of mistakes and she didn’t think that that would be an issue here.  She was so supportive I went for broke and mentioned the autism as well.  I’m not quite sure why I did that, but it seemed appropriate to mention it as context and it turns out just as well that I did as she said she had already wondered if I’m on the spectrum (it seems that everyone thinks I’m autistic except the psychiatrists making the assessment…).

On the way home I had a telephone appointment with the duty GP at my doctor’s surgery.  It was slightly awkward as I had a couple of ‘autistic misunderstanding’ moments, which I guess is not surprising when I’m agitated and taking a serious private call in the street.  He felt that I should see my regular doctor, but unfortunately the regular doctor is off tomorrow, so I’m booked in for Thursday morning, which will make me late for work.  I did get a bit annoyed that he said that, if I’m suicidal, I should phone the crisis team, not the surgery.  I’ve done this in the past, only for the crisis team to say if I’m not actually about to try to kill myself, I should go to the GP.  Seriously, when I phoned the crisis team to report suicidal thoughts within twenty-four hours, I was told only to phone if I was actually having them at that moment.  As I know the GP will speak to me if I’m in crisis, even if he says I should phone the crisis team, whereas I know the crisis team will not speak to me, it’s a bit of a no-brainer as to which one I phone, regardless of what the proper protocol is supposed to be.  (More NHS fun and games.)

It was awkward telling my parents all this.  I suppose there isn’t an easy way to tell anyone you’re having suicidal thoughts.  My Mum got very emotional when I told her; perhaps because of this, I couldn’t tell my Dad that at all, just saying I was having “difficult” thoughts.  It’s awkward because most people don’t realise that (in my case, at any rate) there are a spectrum of thoughts that I would describe as “suicidal” from suicidal ideation (thinking or fantasising about suicide and dying) to vaguely noting how you could kill yourself to actively working out how you would kill yourself.  I don’t always find it easy to tell the difference between them, to be honest, so maybe I shouldn’t expect others to do so.

Mum burst into tears when I spoke to her.  Dad… I just struggle to talk to Dad at all these days.  We literally don’t speak each other’s language any more and I don’t know why.  His speech has become more garrulous and rambling, full of unnecessary detail, diversions and repetitions as well malapropisms and vague pronoun use (using pronouns without making it clear what objects they refer to) which are not easy for my autistic brain to understand.  He, on the other hand, has always found my vocabulary difficult to understand and I probably do some of the things I complain about him doing, like not sticking to the point or throwing in unnecessary detail.  Things are not helped by the fact that I think that both my parents are beginning to go a bit deaf and I can’t always tell if they’ve not heard something, heard it and are processing it or are just choosing to ignore it.  My Dad and I seem to bicker a lot more than we used to because of this and I’m not sure why it’s happened.  It upsets me, not least because I think it’s at least in part my fault, but I don’t know what I can do about it, especially as I can’t seem to explain to them about autistic thought patterns and how difficult Dad can be for me to understand.  Any suggestions would be welcome.

So that was my day.  I’m still feeling elements of post-trauma shock.  I know it sounds silly to say ‘trauma,’ but I guess that was how I felt telling my line manager about my issues.  I’m still feeling rather shaky and in shock.  I’m about to watch some Doctor Who for distraction and to make progress with the research for my book, which hopefully will make me feel a bit better.

Inadequate and Defective

(Massive trigger warnings for suicide)

I feel awful.  Just totally inadequate and defective.  I bought a present for the people who invited me for Shabbat dinner and was relieved when no one answered the door (although I thought I could hear people indoors) and I had an excuse just to write a note and leave the present on the doorstep without speaking to anyone.  I don’t feel up to going to this big shul (synagogue) meeting tonight.  I don’t really feel fully part of the community anyway and I hardly ever make it to shul.  I wouldn’t know what to look for in a rabbi or be able to explain a vision for the kehilla (community).

I feel that I can’t find a role in the world.  Some people with autism can find a role, sooner or later, and I think that helps them to function and to feel they don’t have to succeed at things neurotypicals succeed at if they don’t want to.  A lot of people at my autism group seem to have jobs in IT, particularly programming, which probably isn’t a surprise to anyone.  I don’t have a role.  I thought librarianship might be it, but it looks like it isn’t, at least not without doing a considerable of remedial training.  I don’t have a role in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world, which has a very narrow selection of roles largely determined by gender.  I don’t fit frum male roles.  I’m not a great Torah scholar, I didn’t go to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary), I can’t really study much Talmud, in fact I don’t have the energy, concentration and motivation to study much Torah at all.  In a previous community, I was involved with the shul, I was a regular attendee at minyan (prayer services) and often led services, but I’m too scared and ashamed of myself to do that in this, more religious, community and again, I don’t have the energy, concentration and motivation to get to minyan every day, let alone three times a day.  I’m never going to earn enough money to be a big philanthropist, I don’t have a home of my own to invite Shabbat guests to (and single men inviting people to meals would be considered weird; cooking is definitely gendered female (so my culinary abilities are a liability more than an asset in dating, sadly)) and it looks increasingly likely that I’m not even going to have children to get nachas (pride, reflected glory) off them.

That pretty much rules out all the frum roles open to me.  I don’t know what I do with the rest of my life now, especially as I’m not well enough to work full-time.

I’m having suicidal fantasies again too.  I guess the thought of spending two and a half discussing how to pick a new rabbi would make a lot of people contemplate death, but I really do feel a lot of the time that life has no promise for me.  Who would really want to live without love?  And not only does it seem certain that no one will be able to really love me the way I would want or let me love her, it seems unlikely that I will ever be financially secure, confident, well-liked or happy either.  I can’t see anything in my life that makes it worth living, but I can’t talk to anyone about this.  If I had cancer and missed the meeting tonight because I was too ill from chemotherapy, everyone there would understand and be concerned about me, but with depression it’s a completely different question.  I’ve hardly even told anyone about my depression because I’m so scared of the response I might get.  I guess stigma affects a person even if, like me, people have rarely said anything directly to me that could be considered stigmatising; it’s the fear of stigma that terrifies me.

It’s actually scary that suicidal thoughts have been such a part of my life for so long that they don’t even scare me any more.  I know I’m unlikely to act on them while my parents are alive, so they’re just more mental noise, like all the other static between my ears.  I’m such a drama queen that I would probably want to kill myself in some big, operatic way, like Sherlock Holmes faking his death by jumping off a tall building in public in the Sherlock episode The Reichenbach Fall.  That said, I think I’m more likely to kill myself with an overdose than anything else as the thought of doing anything that gets blood everywhere is not appealing to me.  To be honest, the two main things keeping me alive are (1) knowing, on some level, that my parents care about me and would be upset by my death and (2) the fear of making a bungled suicide attempt and ending up with permanent physical injury as well as depression.

I feel that anyone else having regular suicidal thoughts would be signed off work and focusing on recovery, whereas I’m so used to it that I just try to function, go to work, go to shul, go to this meeting, try to daven (pray) and study Torah and so on, feeling terrible all the while and no one (outside this blog, where I play the drama queen) knows anything about what is happening in my head, how much pain I’m in and how hard it is to keep going.  Sometimes I wish people did know.  That’s an attraction of suicide to me, actually.  Sometimes I want to make a failed suicide attempt, so I could let people know how I feel, because I don’t know how to tell them; I guess jumping off a building is a way of showing people that you have a problem.  I guess people would call that a cry for attention, I just don’t see that as a negative thing, I feel I’ve had very little attention in my life and it’s only fair that I get some when I need it.

It’s just horrible to spend the whole time feeling like a defective, inadequate freak.  Not feeling loved.  Not feeling worthwhile or useful.  I know I need to love myself and feel happy in myself before anyone can love me, but I don’t know how I can do that.  It’s not something you can just suddenly do.  I’ve tried positive mantras, but I just don’t believe them, just as I don’t believe that God loves me (and no one frum has been able to prove to me that He does love me).  The problem with the CBT approach of thought control is that I have too much evidence of not being good, lovable or worthwhile for me to easily accept that I am any of those things.  So I end up just fantasising endlessly about death and dying as a release.

Boldly Going

Today’s good news is that my contract at work has been extended to the end of March.  I don’t know how much credit I can take for that, as I’ve only done three days work so far, most of which has been spent on induction and training!  But it’s good news and takes some of the pressure of job hunting (which I’ve let slide somewhat in the last fortnight).  I am still terrified of making some huge and staggeringly costly mistake with the rare books, though.

***

I mentioned yesterday an issue with my shul (synagogue) fees.  I got phoned by one of the finance people just now.  I was taken by surprise – I do prefer to plan ahead for phone calls, otherwise I tend to panic, be confused, or just want to hang up because I’m not mentally in the right place.  This happened earlier when it was just my sister phoning to see how I am, so a surprise call from shul (which is causing me a lot of anxiety at the moment, both about being mentally well enough to attend about whether it has the right hashkafa (religious outlook) for me) and finances (which cause lots of people anxiety) was not welcome.  I confess I panicked and when he asked if it was a good time to speak, I said no.  Not really a lie, as I do need to get ready for bed soon, but I feel bad about it.  And now I’ve got a return call hanging over me, although he has at least given me the option of What’sApping.

Sometimes depression, social anxiety and autism make me do things I wish I didn’t do.  I mean things that are against my core values, like lying to someone (OK, I didn’t really lie, but I kind of did), the acting out that I don’t like to talk about here, or just being irritable.  I feel I’m far too irritable with my Dad in particular, but I don’t know how to change.  His method of communicating isn’t exactly great for communicating with someone on the spectrum, but I don’t know how to tell him that, especially if he won’t read the leaflet I left for him.

***

I got upset by something on Aish.com yesterday, which I felt was victim-blaming me for my issues and implying that if I really believed in God I would not be depressed, or at least I would not be unmarried and in a difficult financial situation, because if I really believed in God, He would make everything better.  E. said that I shouldn’t read Aish.com so much and that she sees their essays as pure propaganda.  I actually do see the theology presented there as simplistic.  I find some of their self-improvement and relationship advice interesting and useful, but reading more theological posts tends to get me annoyed sooner or later, but I do it anyway.  Maybe I should try to stop.

I just feel I need for contact with people sometimes and, given that my rabbi mentor is snowed under with work and not responding to my emails and that the rabbis at my shul are more Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) than I feel comfortable with, and that given that I have almost no frum (religious) friends, it is difficult to see where else I can go for religious discussion/support.  I do have a couple of frum friends, but I don’t like to bother them all the time.  There is the London School of Jewish Studies, but going to their classes involves staying out late, which is hard to do on work nights (and all the people there are twenty years or more older than me anyway, which doesn’t help from a social point of view).  Hevria used to help, but I’ve got hurt there in the past and I struggle to connect with many of the current crop of writers; I’m currently trying to avoid it as I probably should avoid Aish.  From that point of view, reading Aish is probably inevitable, like the way I aimlessly surf blogs and the like online trying to connect with people in other ways, even though I usually end up ‘triggered,’ lonely and miserable one way or another.

Re-reading this post from another blog today, I saw the following quote:

“For some, the satisfaction of leading a life bound to Torah is its own reward, but others might need to be assured that the righteous reap rewards and the wicked suffer punishments in the most prosaic of ways, preferably instantly and in plain sight.”

I try to be  in the former category, and, to be honest, my life being as it is, it’s the only really viable strategy for me to stay frum (religious), to accept access to the Jewish tradition as a reward in itself, but Aish is reflective of the idea, common in the frum community, that people get paid back for good or evil really quickly (William Kolbrener has a couple of good essays attacking this mentality in his book Open-Minded Torah).  I find this latter view theologically naive and simply false, but it’s hard not to get sucked into it when I see people on Aish, Hevria, Chabad.org or the parasha sheets in shul on Shabbat (the Sabbath) telling these kind of simplistic miracle stories and feel I inadequate and hated by God for not experiencing these kinds of miracles.

On a related note, I also struggle to cope with the idea of God as an unconditionally loving and forgiving parent.  I have no problem with God as benign Ruler or just Judge nor (more philosophically/metaphysically) with God as an infinite Being or the source of existence.  But because of some of my childhood experiences it’s very hard to accept the unconditionally loving parent.  My parents do love me unconditionally, but stuff that happened to me as a child that I can’t go into here made it hard for me to recognise that and accept it, let alone translate it to another level of reality and believe that I have a supernatural Parent who cares about me and wants to do good for me, or at least that He wants to do concrete goodness for me in the short-term, in this world, rather than some vaguely defined goodness in the future/the afterlife.

***

I’ve been clearing out old health-related papers: a huge pile of psychiatric reports going back to 2009 (which I think was when the NHS started sending them to me; there was apparently no report for my last meeting, late last year), and another big pile of CBT homework and occupational therapy reports.  CBT was helpful for me for my OCD (although not for depression) and occupational therapy was also helpful, as much, if not more so than psychotherapy, CBT and medication in getting me through my MA and into the workplace, but it’s vaguely unsettling to see so much of the last ten years of my life reduced to scraps of paper, and to be aware that much more could have been added that has been disposed of previously or was simply never sent to me (the psychiatric reports from 2003-2009).  Part of me worries that I will need this stuff some day, but I’ve never needed it until now and the NHS ought to keep copies (ha ha ha).  A lot of it is questionable anyway; the reports showed that my psychiatrist was often not listening to what I said, from how to spell my GP’s name to more important matters about my mood and cognitions.

***

(This next paragraph is relevant to a mental health/autism blog, it just takes a while to get there…)

I’m watching Star Trek: The Next Generation: Parallels.  I like Star Trek, but I haven’t watched it for a couple of years.  (I haven’t yet summoned up the courage to watch the latest series, Discovery.  The fact that they’ve made a big thing about being the first Star Trek series to use the f-word makes me wonder what their priorities are and if it is going to be ‘contemporary’ and ‘edgy’.)  The Star Trek universe is a reassuring, but slightly bland utopia, where all angst, doubt or guilt has been eliminated, along with personal eccentricity (unless you consider liking baseball an eccentricity).  The only person I can think of who has any of these traits is the minor character of Barclay, who is gradually therapied into ‘normality’.  Almost every character has won a shelf full of awards at Star Fleet Academy or on active service and several of them were ‘best X in their year.’  I wonder what would become of a weird freak like me in such a world, and whether autism has been medically eliminated in the way that Down’s Syndrome apparently hardly exists in Iceland because almost all foetuses found to have it are aborted.

(That’s at least relevant on a mental health blog; I’ll spare you the rant about the way Federation-style postmodern liberal pluralism strips other cultures of their internal coherence and meaning, leaving an empty, valueless, but inoffensive husk.)

As I say, I do like Star Trek, but this annoys me sometimes.  Doctor Who doesn’t present mental health or developmental disorders in a better way and arguably in a worse one, given how many villains are implicitly or explicitly identified as “mad”, but it does have a better track-record of showing harmless eccentricity in a positive light.

One thing I do like about Star Trek, though, is the camaraderie, the sense that the characters are real friends, although this makes me feel lonely and wish I had a group of close friends I could see regularly or work with.  The series bible forbade interpersonal conflict between the main characters, which is an odd thing to do from a dramatic viewpoint, but did create a cohesive set of characters, as well as providing reassurance for people like me who have difficulty dealing with conflict or accepting that friends can have disagreements and stay friends.

My Family and Other Animadversions

I argued with my parents last night.  It wasn’t a big argument, but it really upset me, as the topic isn’t going to go away.  Actually, strictly speaking I didn’t argue, I just got upset and ran off to my room.  I was so upset I spent a while messaging E. about it.  Then, when I was about to get ready for bed, I was still upset and spent half an hour writing about it to process it.  I was going to post it, but I decided at the end that I shouldn’t because it was talking badly about my parents; also, by that stage I had calmed down somewhat, so I posted it privately for my own records; I also emailed my rabbi mentor about it, partly as there was a halakhic (Jewish law) aspect to the argument, partly as he is a trained counsellor.  I miss not having a therapist at the moment and wonder when I will be able to have CBT on the NHS.

The upshot was that I didn’t get to bed until gone 2.00am and even then I was too alert to sleep until something like 3.30, although being rather congested from my cold didn’t help.

The other thing I did last night was write a list of stuff I would need to write that book people were encouraging me to write about Judaism.  I’m still not convinced I can actually write it, plus I’m not sure how financially secure I need to be before I devote time to it.  I don’t think my parents will be happy if I were to write instead of job hunting (the job I start next week is only a one month contract, with a possible extension for another two), but I if I wait until I’m in a much more stable place, I’ll probably never start.  Plus, if I had a job with longer hours, I wouldn’t have the time/energy to start.  It’s hard to know what to do.  I also don’t like the idea of working on two books at once, and I’m not giving up on the Doctor Who book I’m writing, which is about two-thirds finished, but I’m not sure how to balance them at the moment.

It still feels pretty crazy to even think of writing a Jewish book.  And I’m still not sure it won’t get put in cherem (banned).  OK, it probably wouldn’t get banned, as I’m not that important, but it might get me into trouble in my community.  Although that would assume it at least gets written and published, so I’m probably getting ahead of myself there, as I’m still not sure it will get written.  Writing the list of stuff I need was a way of saying to HaShem (God), “I’m willing to try to write this, but I’m going to need a lot of help, and I’m not sure whether you even want me to do this, so please help me or show me what You want me to do.”  I don’t know whether anything will come of that.  Websites like Hevria.com and Aish.com are full of stories about amazing things that happened to people when they resolved to do what (they thought) HaShem wanted them to do, but things like that don’t seem to happen to me.

There probably is more to say, but it’s a short winter Friday, Shabbat (the Sabbath) starts in under four hours and I have things to do, so see you on the other side of Shabbat.

Virtue Signalling

It’s been a slightly strange day, with a lot of emotions this evening in particular.  As usual, I’m writing as much to process and understand my thoughts for myself as I am to present them for other people.  So, apologies if this is less coherent than usual.  Also, apologies for the mammoth length, about twice as long as usual.  There’s a lot to say, and I feel I could probably write more if I had the time.

***

I’m only vaguely aware of my anxiety.  I think I mentioned that at the CBT assessment I had a few weeks ago, the result was that I was told that I have at least elements of anxiety as well as depression, but over the years I have not been so aware of the anxiety, other than social anxiety and, at times, OCD (which is an anxiety disorder).  This is despite the frequent comorbidity of anxiety with both depression and autism.  One therapist felt that the depression was so strong that it drowned out the anxiety except when the anxiety was itself very strong.  It’s also possible that I just haven’t noticed the anxiety because of alexithymia (difficulty identifying and understanding my emotions).  Certainly when my mental health issues first became identifiable, at school, I was feeling nauseous every morning on the way to school, but it was only years later that I realised that that was almost certainly anxiety rather than general feelings of being “emotionally low” (which was the non-diagnosis my doctor gave me at the time to try to avoid prescribing any medication).  At any rate, the anxiety this morning may have started as social anxiety about volunteering, but quickly spiralled into general catastrophising about other aspects of volunteering and my new job.

***

I volunteered at the asylum seekers drop-in centre again today.  As mentioned, I was feeling rather anxious about it beforehand, primarily because I wanted to slip out near the end to go to Mincha (the Afternoon service) in the shul (synagogue) (the drop-in centre is in the shul hall, not the main shul building) and I was worried about not knowing the code to the shul door and getting locked out (I should clarify that the drop-in centre is not in my shul, but another one some way away).

The format of the day is two hours of preparation for the asylum seekers, which I usually spend sorting donations of clothing, two hours with them, where they can get food, donations of clothing, nappies and toiletries and see professionals (varying according to who has been able to come, but usually lawyers and doctors, sometimes dentists or counsellors) and then a certain amount of tidying up afterwards.  I was initially sorting donations of clothing to start with and as is often the case, I felt more than a little awkward.  The clothing tends to come all mixed up and I’m not always good at separating male and female clothing or adult and children’s clothing.  Obviously there are some things that are clearly in one category or another, but others are less clear.  To be fair, other people struggle sometimes too, but I do not feel confident asking for help.  I also feel that the other volunteers are able to talk to each other more easily; I always feel like I have a sign on my forehead saying AUTISTIC-SOCIALLY ANXIOUS-DEPRESSED and that everyone can see how awkward I am.  This is probably my paranoia, but it feels real.

After that, when the asylum seekers came, I volunteered in the childcare area again.  There were a lot of children there today.  Thankfully there were quite a few volunteers, although many were older children themselves (the children of volunteers tend to help in the childcare area, probably because it’s more fun than helping adult asylum seekers sort through clothes and unused nappies.  That’s why I help there, anyway).  The autistic side of me I was quite overwhelmed by the amount of noise and things going on at times.  I tried to focus one level of attention on the children I was with at the time while I focused another level of attention on the childcare area as a whole, to check nothing dangerous/unpleasant was going on.  The children were well-behaved (actually, they almost always are well-behaved), although one boy has a habit of trying to take my glasses off me.  I spent a lot of time today looking after a toddler who kept trying to crawl over to where some of the older children were playing with a ball.  As I had visions of her getting trampled, I kept trying gently to encourage her away from them and at one point picked her up and carried her away, although I’m not confident carrying children and try to avoid it, as they can usually sense I’m anxious and sometimes start crying.

I realised, for all my parents say I’m good with children (and I’ll concede that on some levels I am good with children; I’m certainly patient with children and willing to play repetitious games for long periods), I don’t know how to talk to them.  If I recall correctly, one of the symptoms of autism spectrum disorders can be difficulty talking in age-appropriate ways and I do struggle to do that.  My instinct is to talk far too formally to them.  I usually suppress that instinct, but I don’t really know what to say instead and tend to ask very simple questions or distract them with toys.  (Bear in mind that most of the children at the drop-in centre are five or six at most, often much younger, although I’m not quite sure how that should affect how I talk to them.)  I’m struggling to put this into words, but when I see the other volunteers talk to the children they seem to do it much more naturally and age-appropriately.  To be fair, as I say, I do have the patience and stamina to spend two hours sitting on the floor drinking imaginary cups of ‘tea’ and waving teddy bears about, which the other volunteers tend not to do, going for breaks or changing activities.  I just point this out as another autism symptom I need to note before my assessment.

***

Another social thing I struggle with at volunteering is talking to the other volunteers.  I do know a few people by sight or even by name now and one volunteer I actually know from my previous shul, before I moved house.  But I find it hard to make conversation with them or to introduce myself to people I don’t know.  I’ve heard people say that volunteering is a good way for shy people to find a partner, but that hasn’t been my experience, partly because I’m the wrong age (most of the volunteers are ten or twenty years older than me), partly because I’m too shy and don’t really know what to say to women I don’t know.  I know the first time I went I did get talking to two sisters who seemed to be about my age, but I haven’t seen them since, sadly.

***

(Pause, change ends, eat oranges)

(I really did just eat an orange)

***

In the evening, after coming home for a much needed shower and Doctor Who break, I went for dinner with a couple of old friends from my university days at Oxford.  We get together every six months or so to catch up.  Our lives have gone in quite different ways, so it’s good that we still want to meet.  One of my friends is a political scientist working on migration and statelessness (a hot topic at the moment, obviously – she was recently in Mexico interviewing women on the caravan bound for the USA).  She spoke at length tonight about the plight of the stateless.  I had no idea that there are so many people in this category (an estimated fifteen million) nor the reasons for it.  I would have assumed they were mostly refugees, but apparently a lot are people who have simply failed to fill in the appropriate paperwork through suspicion of the authorities (e.g. Roma) or traditional lifestyles (e.g. migrant pastoral farmers), particularly when new states have been created in post-colonial territories or following the break up of states like Yugoslavia and the USSR.   They have now missed the appropriate deadlines for application for citizenship and fallen through the gaps in the bureaucratic systems and can’t work, marry or travel; they can’t even officially die.

I mentioned the asylum seekers drop-in centre.  I was pretty blatantly virtue signalling, but I wanted to find common ground with my friend.  I usually avoid politics as I feel my political views are a little unusual.  I suppose they aren’t monumentally weird; I’m not a Fascist or a Pantisocrat.  Realistically, I’m just a centrist with small-l liberal and small-c conservative aspects to my personality, but I have a fondness for George Orwell’s term ‘Tory Anarchist’, which to me reflects not a hyphenated identity, but a dialectical tension between the ordered and anarchic sides of my nature (it’s an anarchism rooted less in Bakunin and Kropotkin and more in the prophets and rabbis of ancient Israel, who had a deep-seated suspicion of governments, money, power, authority and militarism.  As Philip K. Dick said, the Jews have always fought for freedom).  Whatever the reason, I have an instinctive ability to take the opposite view of whoever is talking to me.  This is not from natural contrariness on my part, or not consciously.  I am naturally conflict-averse and long to avoid any kind of political quarrel.  But I seem doomed to offend everyone if I speak my mind.  My frum (religious) friends and acquaintances are likely to be conservative.  I don’t know, so I could be stereotyping, but Orthodox Jews tend to be conservative.  On the other hand, my other friends tend to be very liberal.  When I’m with the former, I feel liberal, even anarchist, but when I’m with the latter I feel super-conservative.

Today I did not feel super-conservative.  I was actually deeply moved by my friend’s account of the plight of the stateless.  In retrospect, I fear that there is very little that can be realistically done in the short to medium term, but I guess this is the conservative side of me speaking (progressives tend to see all problems as solvable; conservatives tend to see some problems as manageable at best).  In retrospect I can see why governments might be unwilling to award citizenship to literally millions of strangers from unstable parts of the world, sight unseen.  But I feel that dialectical tension again, because I want to do something to help.

Hence, my doing something I would not normally do and virtue signalling by bringing up my voluntary work.  I am not entirely sure what I was thinking, but I think I wanted to signal agreement and empathy for the people she has met, as well as tacit support, in broad, non-committal terms, for her goals (“tacit support, in broad, non-committal terms”… I even sound like Sir Humphrey Appleby.  Ugh).

***

On the way home I thought about my friends, and how I feel too liberal for some and too conservative for others.  I thought about my shul, and how the rabbi would probably not approve of my voluntary work at a centre for non-Jewish (often Muslim) asylum seekers, even though the shul that runs the centre is Orthodox.  I was in a Jewish part of London and, seeing the frum men and women, I thought as usual about wanting to have a frum wife, but in this context I wondered if it would be possible.  After all, I could end up with a wife who liked my friends, but not my shul, or one who my rabbi would accept, but my friends would loathe.  I remembered that E. was quite adamant about not being married by my rabbi when we were dating.  At volunteering, I wondered if I would ever meet someone right for me.  Sociologically, the Anglo-Jewish community is polarising into the Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) and the Jewishly unaffiliated and uninterested.  Even the United Synagogue middle-of-the-road types are generally not frum enough for me any more.

***

I sometimes feel like a man of far too many parts, unable to really fit in anywhere.  I want my wife to be someone I feel completely comfortable with and accepted by, but this seems impossible.  Granted, that’s partly because I feel so ill at ease with myself, but even if I did like myself, it seems impossible for anyone else to accept me.  And now I remember a friend who I opened up to a bit about my political thoughts who never responded to that email… did he simply overlook it or run out of time?  Or was he shunning my views?  He is at least still my friend, so he can’t have found them that obnoxious.

And, if it wasn’t nearly 2.00am, I could raise the Z word (‘Zionism’) which is a whole can of worms in itself.  But I should get to bed.

***

Sigh.  Writing this was supposed to help me calm down and sort out my thoughts before bed, but it has actually made me much more tense and anxious as well as more alert and not ready to sleep.  I wish I just could be a normal person, with normal, straightforward views, rather than trying to make myself an outlier in every community of which I could vaguely be considered a member.  And I wish I could accept that it’s possible for people to like me without their agreeing with every political, religious and cultural opinion I have.

The Tunnel at the End of the Light

My main activity today was a workshop on autism and employment and higher education.  This included a lot of helpful information about whether to disclose autism (and by implication mental health issues I might also want to disclose) and employers’ legal obligations towards the disabled.  I was hoping for some information on coping strategies and adjustments for various problems one might experience, but I guess people with autism are too varied for a ‘one size fits all’ approach or perhaps there will be a workshop on that topic at another time.

In fact, the workshop really did bring home to me how autism affects different people very differently.  I knew this in an abstract way, but it was interesting to see it in action.  For instance, some people get affected by bright lights or loud noise and needed warning about a video that included these; I am usually fine with those, although sudden loud noises make me jump (I guess that’s the same for a lot of neurotypicals, though), but put me in a room with a lot of talking, even quiet talking, and pretty soon I will start spacing out as my brain tries to work out what everyone is saying (not consciously; I’m not eavesdropping ) and gets overloaded.  Similarly, even bright or flashing lights during the day are fine for me, but when I’m trying to sleep, even dim light or a little light under the crack in the door, will keep me awake.  Similarly, with communication, I did not feel confident saying much at all, and some other people looked similarly socially anxious and reluctant to join in, whereas other people were chatty or even a little disruptive by not know when to stop talking.

Part of my brain was trying to work out how I fitted in with this diverse group of people: was I ‘more’ or ‘less’ affected?  It’s not really a helpful perspective.  My therapist said that I tend to see mental illness as a competitive sport and part of me wants to be the ‘most depressed’ person or the person with the most diagnoses.  This, I would guess, stems partly from self-pity and partly to try to explain (to myself as much as to others) how badly my life has seemed to have gone wrong over the last fifteen years and to make excuses for myself or at least to provide mitigating circumstances.  But it was impossible really to create such a hierarchy at the autism workshop; even on the very superficial level at which one can get to know people in a two hour workshop, we all seemed incommensurable, each too different to compare to anyone else.

Related to this, I have been finding it hard over the last few days to work out how to conceptualise myself.  I think one problem of our society (by which I mean Western society rather than Jewish society for once) is a tendency to think in terms of oppressor/victim binary pairs (the Leninist “Who?  Whom?” – who is oppressing whom?), whereas in reality (a) things are not usually so clear cut and (b) even if one is a victim, it is not particularly helpful to think of oneself as a victim.  It leads to learned helplessness and low self-esteem.  Take it from someone who has ended up there.  But how to think of myself in a more positive light is hard.  Judaism as a culture/religion is less focused on victimhood, despite the fact that for many centuries Jews were (are) victimised.  Unfortunately, Jewish religious identity would focus on fulfilling the Torah,or at least fulfilling one’s potential, and being loved by God, which is problematic for me as I feel that I do not meet my religious obligations or even my potential and that consequently God does not love me.  I hope that CBT will help me frame things in a more helpful way.

It’s hard to do this with so few role models.  I don’t really expect there to be loads of books or TV programmes about autistic-depressive-socially-anxious-Orthodox-Jews, but there isn’t really much I’ve come across remotely like me.  I’m currently reading the novel Turtles All the Way Down, which is a reasonable portrayal of OCD.  However, in terms of portrayal of autism, The Imitation Game made me feel lonely and useless and that was a reasonably positive portrayal; I absolutely hated The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time which I felt failed to engage with people with autism at all sympathetically.

As for Jews… well, there are lots of Jews out there in fiction, but ninety-nine times out of a hundred they’re ultra-assimilated, there to provide a dash of ‘diversity’ without the author actually having to do any research.  In terms of detailed, positive portrayals of religious Jews, there’s Chaim Potok and that’s about it.  I haven’t read/seen Disobedience because the story wasn’t my type of thing and I worried it was going to be critical of Orthodox Judaism.  Don’t even mention The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, which started promisingly, but ended up by supporting every crazy antisemitic conspiracy theory going (author Michael Chabon has since distinguished himself as a rabid critic of Jews, Judaism, the Jewish State, and pretty much everything Jews do other than assimilating themselves out of existence).

So I’m left to turn back to nineteenth century Yiddish literature which is (a) hard to get hold of in translation and (b) often targeting Orthodoxy satirically as much as positively and even when it’s not, I find it hard to see myself as peasant or even a rabbi back in the shtetl (Jewish towns of Eastern Europe).  I did watch a bit of webcast comedy series Soon By You but the relationship-driven plots just made me feel more alone and upset that I don’t live in the USA where I would have a statistically greater chance of meeting someone like myself.  I haven’t seen Israeli drama Srugim, but I imagine that would inspire similar feelings, only replacing the USA with Israel.

Most of my heroes growing up were outsiders in other ways (aliens, robots and time-travellers) and were role models only via metaphorical interpretation.  More recently, watching Sherlock again I expected to empathise with Sherlock Holmes, but while the nineteenth century original was possibly autistic and probably bipolar, the modern-day TV version is, by his own admission, a “high-functioning sociopath” and almost sadistically rude.  I find myself more drawn to the minor character of Molly Hooper, a pathologist with apparently low self-esteem and an unrequited crush on Sherlock.  To be honest, if she was real, I’d want to date her (if she was Jewish), but I fear I wouldn’t measure up to Sherlock, even if he does manipulate her and generally treat her appallingly.

The sad truth is that, here in the real world, 99% of the time people with autism, depression, anxiety or OCD don’t actually have compensatory superpowers.

(As an aside, there’s an amusing poem by Philip Larkin called A Study of Reading Habits in which he reviews the literary heroes and anti-heroes of his childhood and adolescence, notes that these days he identifies more with the cowards and failures than the heroes and finally advises the reader to “Get stewed:/Books are a load of crap.”  Thus spake the Librarian of Hull University.)

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but Israeli statesman Shimon Peres was asked if he saw a light at the end of the tunnel regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; he replied, “There is a light, the problem is there’s no tunnel” which I took to mean that the outlines of a peace deal are obvious to most people (other than fanatics on both sides); the problem is working out how to get there.

Similarly, I know what my ideal life would look like: mental health issues under control (I’ve given up on comprehensively escaping them and want just to manage them); a job I can do, which pays the bills and which stimulates me intellectually; the time/energy/mental health to meet my religious obligations (prayer, Torah study etc.); a wife and children; a certain amount of free time; a few friends; and a community I feel comfortable in.  This seems a lot (although most people seem to manage with most of these things) and I have absolutely no idea how to achieve these goals.  I don’t think I have a realistic image in my head of what they could look like in the real world.  I’m not even sure that I have a clear fantasy image of my dream job, let alone a realistic one and while I do have a fantasy image of being loved by someone, I’m not sure I really have the experience to know what a real relationship is like.  I don’t know how it is that some people can plan out their lives and then systematically achieve their goals; it seems quite beyond me.

The frum (pious) thing to say is that I trust that HaShem (God) will provide for me, but I don’t.  I fear that He hates me because of all my sins; worse, I worry that His plan for me involves only suffering, which is worse than punishment, because punishment can be mitigated by repentance, whereas if He simply plans for me to suffer for some reason that is beyond my comprehension, then there simply isn’t anything I can do about it.  I don’t know what to do about this or even how to raise the issue with other frum people e.g. my rabbi mentor.

Don’t Stand So Close to Me

I woke up feeling drained and depressed again, after a weird dream about octopus-like alien creatures (I think even in the dream it was unclear if they were real or toys), probably triggered by a character eating octopus in the Jonathan Creek episode I watched yesterday.  (Not that I would eat non-kosher octopus anyway, but I do wonder at how someone can look at octopus or squid and think, “That looks tasty.”  Mind you, I’ve always felt uneasy eating dead animals and I’m virtually vegetarian these days).

I really need to stop reading Twitter.  I’ve found very little content there to interest me and even after filtering my reader to try to make it apolitical, I get upset by the politics there.  It isn’t one side either; everyone seems to take the view that their side is obviously right and the other side must be either stupid or malicious not to agree.  Even people who I know to be fair-minded and moderate act like this online.  No one seems to think that intelligent people acting in good faith could come to different views about complex questions.  As someone whose usual response to politics is confusion or a sense that there’s probably some truth on both sides, I find this distressing.  But I keep coming back, in the hope that I could somehow make friends on Twitter.  I guess I’m very lonely.  And yet I struggle to send texts and emails to real friends.

Liora posted on a previous post that “I hope you realize what an amazing job you’ve done at holding things together as well as you have while having autism. Advanced education, jobs, demanding interviews, social events through synagogue and more.”  I responded that “It doesn’t really occur to me that it is hard [in order to give myself credit], I just beat myself up when I can’t do things. At the moment I should feel good that I’m at least trying to job hunt, given that there were whole years when I was too depressed to even look, but somehow it’s hard to give myself credit.”

It’s true, I don’t give myself credit for the things I do, I just criticise myself for the things I can’t do, whether from autism, depression or social anxiety.  I don’t think I have that much more energy or that much more of a positive mood than I did in the years when I was unemployed and not even looking for work, but I just beat myself up for not having a job yet and worrying about how I would cope with working rather than saying I’m doing well just looking for a job.  I don’t know how to support myself better emotionally (there probably is a topical vote somewhere about having a vote of no confidence in myself, but I’m not up to making it right now).  I’m hoping CBT will help with that, when I get to the top of the waiting list.

That said, not having a job long-term is a worry.  I don’t have immediate financial issues as my parents are supportive, but I feel bad for relying on them while I’m in my mid-thirties and I worry what will happen when they aren’t here.

I’m trying to rearrange my job interview next Tuesday so I can go to the autism workshop, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to work.  Apparently the interviewer is on holiday from the next day onwards.  I hate to say it, but I’m somewhat relieved as I really don’t feel well enough to work at the moment.  Certainly I intend to prioritise the autism and mental health workshops I’ve booked myself onto in the coming months over jobs at the moment.  I can’t see myself working long-term without learning better coping skills than I currently have.

The main thing I did this afternoon was go for a haircut.  Having my hair cut is one of my least favourite things in the world.  I think it’s primarily an autistic thing about having other people touch me, added to a bit of social anxiety that the barber will talk to me (although I find most barbers are listening to music on their headphones or watching TV while cutting hair, which I find disconcerting), plus these days I worry that I’m going to start shaking, which is often enough to actually start me shaking, as happened today, albeit not as badly as in the past.  It doesn’t help that the barber I go (because it’s the cheapest one around here by far) to is a good twenty-five minute walk away, so nearly an hour round trip especially as I had to do some shopping on the way home (and browsed the book sections of a couple of charity shops to try to calm myself down, albeit without buying anything).  I still ended up sitting watching Sherlock for a while after I got home to try to revive myself.  It now feels too late to do anything worthwhile and I’m not sure what to do with the evening, especially as I need to be up early tomorrow for my autism workshop.  It seems I can only read in short bursts at the moment, so I’m watching a lot of DVDs.

This probably sounds weird, but does anyone else see numbers as letters?  Particularly with numbers on a digital display, where they are squared off.  For example, 5537 is LESS.  At my autism assessment I was asked if I see patterns in numbers and the only thing I could think of was that I associate numbers, particularly times, with dates.  So quarter past six = 18.15 = the Battle of Waterloo.  But I realised today that I do get fascinated with reading numbers on clocks as letters.  I also mess around with words I see on boxes, adverts and so on, looking for anagrams and spoonerisms and reading things backwards.  I don’t know if this means anything.

Good News, Bad News, Twitter News, Anxiety News

The good news: I’ve been offered CBT on the NHS.  I hope to be able to focus on my low self-esteem, as I think that might have a knock-on effect on both the depression and the social anxiety.

***

The bad news: I didn’t do any real work today, job hunting or interview preparation.  I did about two minutes of interview preparation and that was it.  I tried to get off the computer a bit (see below for more Twitter angst), but the novel I’m reading is The Transmigration of Timothy Archer by Philip K. Dick and is… not the best thing to read when depressed.  The book is about the narrator looking back at her life with her ex-husband, his father, the Bishop of California (who loses his faith) and the father’s mistress, who are all now dead, one or two from suicide.  It is actually a very moving book, and actually quite funny in parts, but I probably should not have started re-reading it, but I don’t like giving up on books.  I guess the thing to do now is to read the rest of it really fast and move on to some of the books I’m going to get for Chanukah.  To be honest, I’m probably not in the mood to read much at the moment anyway, just from depressive lack of concentration and motivation, and the fact that the outside world is wintry and winding down for the winter holidays.

***

I should really steer clear of Twitter.  I get annoyed about political stuff even if I don’t particularly agree with what’s being attacked (why?  I don’t know.  I dislike argument for reasons rooted in my childhood and I have a lot of baggage about contemporary politics in general because of antisemitism), and the Doctor Who stuff is just… well, I clearly don’t watch the programme the same way most modern fans do.  I don’t use the same vocabulary either (literally).

To be honest, Twitter was never going to be a good match for me.  The word limit means it’s mostly used for silly jokes and angry rants.  I’m not sure how to engage more with contemporary fandom without it, though.  I’m nervous of joining an online forum for fear of losing my entire life if I go down that particular rabbit hole (particularly as I’m thinking of trying to stay off the computer more) and I’m not sure how different it would be to Twitter, except that political stuff would be off-topic.

It would be good to have some more social contact, preferably some that isn’t mental health/autism-based.  To be honest, I probably need more real-world/local friends.  It would be good if I could be friendlier with people from shul/shiur (synagogue/religious class).  I think a couple of people like me on some level, but I get scared to open up and I don’t know how to hold conversations.

I think I’m basically looking for friends.  That’s why I procrastinate online, on Twitter and so on.  I’m looking for someone who says something that really speaks to me, in my confused uniqueness.  But I mostly just find anger and hatred online.  I don’t really know what I would find in the real world (shul, shiur), because I don’t really have the courage to open up enough to make real friends.  To be honest, most of the time I don’t have the courage to speak to other people at all.

I feel terrible today.  Just lonely and alone (not the same thing) and depressed and despairing and drained, with occasional bursts of anxiety.  I just feel fundamentally weird and unlovable.  You can be lonely even in a house with other people.  I feel fragile and vulnerable and unable to function.

***

Alternatively: why is the world so angry?  Why won’t anyone just listen?

***

I feel sure that this week is going to be full of embarrassment, first at my job interview on Wednesday, which I feel sure that I’m going to mess up, whether through poor preparation or anxiety (I’m very worried I’m going to shake visibly during my presentation, as lately I can’t seem to talk to people at work without shaking, or nearly shaking), then at my autism screening, which I feel sure is going to end with being told I’m not autistic (and, implicitly, why do I keep fantasising that I’m autistic?  Which sounds like a psychopathology in itself.  Is there a term for thinking you’ve got a medical condition when you don’t have it?  Is it just hypochondria?  Munchausen Syndrome is when you think you have lots of rare disorders, I think, not just one issue).

In Jewish thought, embarrassing someone else is a terrible thing to do.  In some ways it is considered worse than murder, because you can only murder someone once, whereas you can embarrass them many times; worse, every time that they think of the embarrassment, it is like you are murdering them again.  I don’t really want to spend the week getting embarrassed.

I guess I shouldn’t preemptively feel embarrassed, it’s just hard not to be negative sometimes.  I suppose the feeling is that if I feel embarrassed in advance, at least I’m prepared.  That’s anxiety for you.  As I mentioned yesterday, the last few years Chanukah has been a time of relative calm, but this year all the things that are going on in my life have, if not ruined that, then at least made it more difficult to feel the positive feelings.

***

Don’t worry about me if I go quiet for a bit.  I’m going to try to cut down my internet time (although at the moment I’m not sure how, particularly if I’m applying for jobs).  If I’m not job hunting, I should be reading hard copy books or watching DVDs, not aimlessly internet surfing or procrastinating.

“It will all be the same in a hundred years”

I spent an hour or more after Shabbat (the Sabbath) working on my presentation for my interview.  Actually, I spent an hour occasionally jotting down ideas, but mostly panicking and procrastinating on Twitter (which I should never have joined – I don’t use it effectively to promote my blog, which was the whole purpose of being on it, although it’s probably just as well my recent blog posts haven’t had much of an audience, so out of touch am I with accepted fan wisdom.  Although it was weird to see a former Doctor Who script writer retweet a (non-Who, political) Tweet by a friend of my sister… small world).  I have something of an idea of the structure of the presentation and a few ideas, but it’s going to need a lot of work before Wednesday.  If the interview goes badly, at least it will be useful evidence for when I have my interview at The Network on Thursday (for employment support with mental health issues) and Barnet Mencap on Friday (for autism screening).

Shabbat itself was more of a struggle.  Friday night was good: I spent time feeling actually frum (religious) for once: I went to shul (synagogue), spent time on Torah study, reading Tanakh in Hebrew and looking up commentaries and Midrashim and things, at least to some extent.  I spent too much time after shul, but before dinner, lying on my bed tired and then I struggled to sleep when I went to bed properly, but on the whole I felt OK and I started re-reading The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, Philip K. Dick’s last and in some ways most beautiful book (I’m not quite sure why The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction thought it was the work of a “finished writer”).

Today was a lot harder.  I slept through the morning again and didn’t go to shul.  This upsets me, but I don’t know how to change it.  Dealing with social anxiety there is just too far down on my list of priorities at the moment, below dealing with less scary social anxiety situations, dealing with low self-esteem and finding a job I can actually do.

Then when I got up, there was stuff going on at home which I can’t talk about here, but which really brought me down.  I know I sound really open and honest here, but what you see is not all of me.  You see a lot of me, but nowhere near all, both in terms of how I feel now and what affects that, and what started all this (my mental health issues) in the first place.  And it’s very frustrating not being able to talk about that, especially now I’m not currently in therapy.  And then after Shabbat we had some more bad news, which I also can’t share here for different reasons, so that was also worrying and upsetting.

I did get to shul for Talmud shiur (Talmud class) (a really weird sugya (argument) about whether the souls of the dead know what happens in our world; after giving arguments back and forth, the Gemarah basically concludes that we just don’t know, which is rather frustrating) and Ma’ariv (the evening service).  The assistant rabbi asked if I was OK as I missed shiur on Thursday and I wasn’t sure whether to say I was at depression group.  Maybe next time there’s a clash (which won’t be until late January now), I should just message the shiur What’sApp group and instead of saying vaguely that I’m not able to come to shiur, as I usually do when I go to depression group instead, I should openly say I’m going to my depression support group.  At least then it forces me to be more open, but who knows how people will react.  (The shiur What’sApp group is very small, about six or eight members, the people I am most friendly with at shul.)

Good news: I have received that money I was owed from my shul and I’ve been taken back of the security rota.

I have a scarily busy, or just scary, week ahead: on Monday I should find out if I’m getting CBT on the NHS; on Wednesday I have my job interview (presentation; interview; cataloguing test); on Thursday I have my meeting at The Network about employment support and on Friday I’ve got my autism screening.  I’ve asked both my parents to come along to this.  Strictly speaking, they only need one parent, but I have wondered since my last assessment whether my Mum unconsciously tries to present me in a ‘good’ i.e. neurotypical light.  I guess it can’t hurt to have Dad there too even if that’s not the case.  And of course, Chanukah is in the background all week, although it will only be tricky on Friday, which will be a rush to get ready and light Chanukah lights after my screening and before Shabbat, which will start around 3.40pm.

I’ve been thinking recently about what my maternal grandparents used to say to me a lot, “It will all be the same in a hundred years.”  I’ve come across a similar quote from former British Prime Minister Arthur Balfour, “Nothing matters very much and most things don’t matter at all.”  I’ve been thinking about this with regard to the centenary of the end of World War I and with regard to Brexit, but also with regard to my own life.  I think some things do matter on a global scale and some things don’t, but it’s hard to tell what’s what sometimes.  Realistically, World War I did matter, and matters now one hundred years on, but realistically a lot of what I do won’t matter, now or in a century.  (Don’t ask me where Brexit fits in!)  Of course, from a religious point of view, everything matters, but I am not sure that that is the healthiest way to think about things when I’m stuck deeply in anxiety and despair.  It’s like Rebbe Simcha Bunim of Peshischa saying:

Everyone must have two pockets, with a note in each pocket, so that he or she can reach into the one or the other, depending on the need.  When feeling lowly and depressed, discouraged or disconsolate, one should reach into the right pocket, and, there, find the words: “For my sake was the world created.”  But when feeling high and mighty one should reach into the left pocket, and find the words: “I am but dust and ashes.”

(The former quote is from the Talmud, the latter Bereshit/Genesis 18.27.)

Maybe it’s good to think that things don’t matter if one is in danger of overthinking things and turning into an anxious mess.

Another Psychiatric Assessment, and the Orthodox Jewish Religious Spectrum

I desperately feel like I need a break after my last job for the sake of my mental health, but I’m not sure that I’m going to get one.  I was woken up at 9.30am today (I wanted to lie in) by someone from an agency who wants to register me tomorrow so that I can apply for a short-term job.   So I had volunteering yesterday, my therapy assessment today and now registering tomorrow.  After that I’ll need to get to work on my presentation for the job interview on 5 December and if I don’t get that job, it’s back to job applications (realistically I’ll continue with the applications in case I don’t get the job).  I just feel exhausted and burnt out; goodness knows how I’ll feel by the end of the year (hard to believe that’s about a month away now).  Now I’m feeling sulky and miserable about the whole situation.  I suppose it’s probably good to keep busy, as once I stop the depression takes over and it’s hard to start again, but I feel miserable about it.

I feel bad that I got so annoyed about yesterday’s Doctor Who.  I told myself I wasn’t going to write long critical reviews any more, but it annoyed me.  I probably also over-reacted to the line about “Love your neighbour” being from the New Testament (it’s not.  It’s Tanakh/”Old Testament”).  I know they weren’t being intentionally antisemitic, but it is a classic antisemitic line.  I feel that identity politics and Twitter create a situation where everyone is shouting about being REALLY OFFENDED so you have to over-react to everything just to get heard and taken seriously.  I wish I didn’t get caught up in it all though.

Tonight I’m off to the London School of Jewish Studies to hear Rabbi Rafi Zarum speak about Chanukah (from their website: “This timely lecture will look at the clash between Athens and Jerusalem as it plays out today in the assimilation of Jews into modern culture.  Can traditional Jewish faith survive in the face of Western secularity?
What are the rules of engagement?”).  He’s a very good speaker and the topic is interesting, if potentially somewhat triggering for me, so it should be good, and I’m looking forward to hearing a more Modern Orthodox speaker after spending so much time lately in the more Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) world.

I’ve spoken quite a bit about Modern Orthodox vs. Charedi without really explaining the difference.  It may surprise you to know that there aren’t really any major differences in belief or practice between the communities.  The Charedi world accepts extra stringencies and is more literalist in its approach to sacred texts, but the essence of the commandments and beliefs are the same, unlike the differences between the Orthodox and Progressive communities.  And, in a sense, the Modern Orthodox and Charedi worlds aren’t really different communities.  It’s more a spectrum with very Modern at one end and very religiously conservative at the other and most people on a point somewhere in between with a fair bit of mingling between people who are somewhat more or less modern.  The difference is about approaches to modernity and it plays out in a number of ways.  For instance, attitudes to secular education, attitudes to Torah/science conflicts, attitudes to mainstream culture, attitudes to Israel and Zionism, gender roles, and so on.  Someone may be quite modern in some areas and more conservative in others, but usually are at a similar place on most or all areas.

However, in this country at least (I think things are different in the USA and Israel) more modern communities tend to have a membership comprised largely of people who are ‘traditional’ but not fully observant of the mitzvot (commandments) and who don’t take prayer and Torah study particularly seriously.  There is a lot of talking in the services, difficulty getting a minyan (prayer quorum) during the week, poor attendance at educational events and so on.  So, if one is (like me) quite Modern philosophically, but also very serious about Judaism, it can be hard to find a community that fits.  The choice is between a community that fits ideologically, but doesn’t offer the kind of vibrant Jewish life one wants or between a more active community that doesn’t fit philosophically.  It’s a difficult choice.  In my case the choice was made easier by the fact that the nearest Modern Orthodox shul (synagogue) was just too big and unfriendly for me and also by the fact that it’s my parents’ shul and I had no independent identity there, I was just my father’s son.

For me another problem is finding a wife at a similar place on the religious spectrum.  If I go to a professional shadchan (matchmaker) I suspect (perhaps wrongly) that I will be matched with people on the more Charedi end of the spectrum and certainly if people from my shul try to match me up that is where they will be coming from.  That’s not necessarily a problem if she doesn’t have a problem with my own outlook; however, I feel she might well have such a problem.

Sigh.  I’m OK when I’m thinking or writing about Judaism or Doctor Who or history, but then I stop and think about the Real World again and reality seeps back in.  I’m not sure what I’m more afraid of at the moment: a long period of unemployment or another job I can’t do well.  I wish I could get some sense of what is different about me and why, and what I could do to function better in the world.  I don’t even know where to look.  I’ve just typed up a ‘to do’ list, which makes me feel a little better.  At any rate, a printed list will look better than scraps of paper, and saves me continually copying things from one day to the next in my diary when, inevitably, I only get a couple of things done every day before being overwhelmed with depression (or procrastination).  There are sixteen things on the list (albeit that one is “Peanuts exhibition” because I’m worried if I don’t write it somewhere I’ll forget until it’s over.  But fifteen unpleasant tasks).  The list ranges from the minor (polish my shoes) to the major (open a new bank account that my Dad thinks would be good for me; do serious clothes shopping as many of my clothes have worn out or no longer fit because of all the weight I’ve put on with clomipramine – I hate clothes shopping).  Then there are the small, but tricky tasks, like writing for the umpteenth time for the £70 refund of money I’m owed by my shul, this time threatening to stop paying my fees unless they at least tell me why they won’t even respond to my emails (the treasurer is the wife of an old friend of my father and I know they have had a number of major life-cycle events, good and bad, in recent months, so I would be understanding if she’s busy, but she should at least respond to my emails to say she is aware of the situation).   And, of course, there’s job applications that I should be working on daily.

And then it goes from feeling I can’t cope to feeling that I’m a terrible person and that I want to die.  It’s quite frightening how fast it can change and with no obvious reason.

Later

I just had an hour long telephone assessment for CBT on the NHS.  I feel very drained.  Assessments are draining anyway, and I find speaking on the phone even harder than in person.  I had a lot of thoughts about whether I was describing my symptoms accurately and comprehensibly, whether I’ve been on therapy too much to qualify for more NHS therapy, whether the fact that CBT didn’t help in the past for my depression means that they will assume it won’t work now for my self-esteem, whether I’m wrong to feel that helping my self-esteem will have a knock-on effect on my depression rather than the other way around…  I had to talk about the behaviour I am not proud of and why it makes me hate myself, which is difficult to talk about to someone I don’t know, over the phone.  I was also asked a lot of questions about suicide and self-harm that were hard to answer.  I think about death and suicide a lot, but it’s hard to put a figure on what I think the probability is of my trying to kill myself.  How does one even put a number on that?  Pressed to give a probability out of ten, I said three, which seemed small, but the psychiatrist seemed incredulous or just worried that I was saying there was a 30% chance I would try to kill myself and put that way it did seem large and worrying.  I honestly don’t know what the correct answer is as there are so many factors involved.

Apparently I should find out whether I’m on the waiting list for CBT either later today or next Monday (I assume the psychiatrist only works on Mondays), but the waiting list itself is three to five months at the moment.

I feel I need to stop to relax for a bit before I go out to my shiur later, so I’m not going to try to do anything else today except finish off the laundry I started earlier.  I feel somewhat tearful and depressed.  Also alone; I’m glad my parents are home this evening, as I doubt I will talk to anyone at the shiur later.

Up and Down

Today was my last day at work.  I finished the work I was set early and as my boss is still away and hadn’t left me any extra work, there was no reason to stay, so I left at 2.15pm.  I’m glad to be away from the office.  The people were nice, but it was not a good environment for me: too noisy and busy and I was too shy to talk to anyone, although I guess that’s partly the problem of being a temp and not ‘really’ on the team.  Plus, I made too many big mistakes, although I think some of them were because I misunderstood how the search engine on LinkedIn functions rather than pure incompetence (or depressive poor concentration) as I initially thought.  The early finish meant I could do some Shabbat shopping before it got too late as well.  I’m glad I got through the whole three month contract without a single sick day or late arrival due to depression, although I nearly fell at the proverbial last post, as I overslept by nearly half an hour this morning, but I rushed and took the bus to the station instead of walking and arrived at work on time.

I’m glad that I’ve got an interview for another job lined up, but I’m already terrified about it.  The interview is scary and so is the cataloguing test.  I feel that my cataloguing skills have gone really rusty, especially as I haven’t really done big number-building in Dewey (building up the long shelfmarks) since my MA eight years ago.  However, the really terrifying thing is the ten minute presentation about which I have no idea what to say.  It doesn’t help that I can only vaguely remember what this job involves and I don’t have access to the online job description.  Plus, I’m sure I’m going to start shaking when I speak and that anxiety in itself can trigger shaking.

***

Someone at work asked me about librarianship and what I had to do for my MA and I panicked and my mind went blank.  This happens to me a lot: people ask me questions about myself and topics that I know a lot about and that mean a lot to me, but I panic and can’t think of anything.  I tend to dread those kinds of conversations, rather than ones where I can hurriedly pass back the conversation by asking the other person a question (or the same one they just asked me).  With Doctor Who it’s even worse, as I grew up in the nineties when the programme was not in production (except for one TV movie) and its memory was a laughingstock, so I feel embarrassed and uncomfortable and change the subject.

***

I’ve been put back on the security rota at shul (synagogue) even though I’ve said that I have health issues and can’t guarantee to get there.  I may have to be more explicit and say that I have mental health issues and can pretty much guarantee to not be there in the mornings at the moment because that’s when things are worst and the fact that I get to shiurim (classes) and services in the evenings is not proof that I am well enough to get there in the mornings.  I always hate to say things like that, though.  I get scared how people will react if I say I have mental health issues.

***

I filled in the questionnaire that I was supposed to fill in before my therapy assessment on Monday.  I’ve done so many of these things now that I did it in just a couple of minutes, whereas the first time I did one, at the counselling service at university, I took so long over it that the therapist told me to just stop wherever I’d got up to.  Here the difficulty is more focusing on the last twelve days when the depression has lasted, with occasional brief gaps, for fifteen or twenty years.  Other than that it’s just ticking the worst box for most of the questions.  In the past I would probably have agonised over exactly how depressed I’ve been in the last two weeks, but this time I just answered for how I’ve been feeling “lately” as I know there hasn’t been much variation for months; I also don’t want to distort the answers by focusing too much on one or two better days when the average is so awful.  I guess I’ve been in the NHS long enough to learn to play the system, although I’m not sure that anyone really pays much attention to these questionnaires anyway.

(Also, is it autistic of me to wonder why “filling in” a questionnaire is the same as “filling out” a questionnaire when they sound like they should be opposites?)

***

Problem: I want to interact with Doctor Who fans on Twitter, both because it’s fun and to promote my blog.  Unfortunately, many Doctor Who fans are very political, whereas I want to avoid politics at the moment (including/especially Brexit).  I’m not sure how to do this (and wasting more time online is possibly not a goal I should be exploring).  Although I’m wondering if I should be using my blog to review new Doctor Who episodes at all.  My better reviews tend to be written after multiple viewings, often long after the event, and I want to reserve that blog for high-quality writing with an eye to professional publication one day.  On the other hand, if I don’t review there, I only end up writing mini-reviews in the comments on my friends’ blogs or in response to emails/texts.

***

I ate too much unhealthy food at shiur (Torah class) again.  I don’t know why I do this.  I do the same on Shabbat (the Sabbath), particularly at shul (synagogue) at kiddush (the refreshments after the service) or seudah shlishit (the third Shabbat meal).  I thought it might be a social anxiety thing, that I eat to distract myself or to look busy so no one talks to me, but I over-eat on Shabbat at home too.  Although today I didn’t intend to drink what my family refers to as “fat coke” (non-diet coca cola), which I don’t even like much.  I am possibly coming down from a sugar rush now.

Shiur was interesting, but left me somewhat depressed again.  The assistant rabbi was talking about the importance of building an ‘inside,’ an internal world.  He said that’s his primary message in the Torah he teaches.  I worry I don’t have an inside.  I spend a lot of time in thought, but I don’t know that my thoughts are worthwhile and they go round and round inside my head without going anywhere.  Sharing many (not all) of my thoughts here is not keeping my “inside” inside me in the way the assistant rabbi said we should.  I can’t remember everything he said, but he was talking about challenges and how they are often about engaging with things externally only.  I feel attracted to someone and then I feel guilty because that’s focusing on externals.  I think that I really want to have a meaningful relationship with someone which would be an interior relationship, but maybe I’m wrong and I could only relate to someone in a superficial way.  I don’t think that was my experience when in a relationship, but that was for such a relatively short period and I wonder sometimes what would happen if I was married and was with someone for years.

The other thing that happened at shiur was the subject came up of the time when the rabbi offered to give £50 to tzedaka (charity) if someone could answer a particular question that he was sure no one would be able to answer and I answered it correctly.  I still feel embarrassed about that, without really knowing why, and then I feel guilty (??? I find it hard to understand or name what I feel a lot of the time, let alone why I feel it) that I feel embarrassed.

***

Well, my mood is sinking fast and I’m tired, so I probably ought to get ready for bed.  I doubt I will blog tomorrow as Shabbat starts at 3.45pm and I have a lot of preparation to do as I’m home alone (which reminds me that I need to take some food out of the freezer before I go to bed tonight), so I probably won’t have time, especially as I’m likely to sleep in.  Last time I did Shabbat alone I said I would get myself invited out for at least one meal if it happened again, but when it came to it, I chickened out and didn’t.  In the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world it’s considered normal and acceptable to ask for dinner invitations if home alone or visiting for Shabbat and people who were not raised religious often cite it as something they love about Judaism, but the only time I tried it (when I went to New York in the summer), I got turned down flat.  Normal frum community stuff just doesn’t seem to work out for me (see also getting set up on dates, or not).

Anxiety and Anger

I have a triage phone appointment next Monday to discuss CBT.  I have to fill in a questionnaire first, so I hope I can find the time to do that with work and being home alone.  I’m nervous that things won’t go the way I want even though I have only a vague idea of what I want from this.   I guess I’m used to being disappointed.

I’ve been pretty depressed today and also quite anxious about things, silly things, like when am I going to finish doing the research for the Doctor Who book I’m writing?  When am I going to have time to read all the books I want to read and re-read (I’m a re-reader and a re-viewer.  I don’t really understand people who only read a good book once.  I find I need to read or watch a story at least twice to fix it in my mind, and like revisiting good stories and characters)?  And so on. There was a lot of anxiety about politics too.  I should keep off Twitter, but I need to use it to promote my Doctor Who blog, which I’m only doing very tentatively.  So I read a bit and post almost nothing and don’t follow anyone, which is the worst of all possible worlds.  I was also feeling some anger, about politics and other stuff.  I’ve fallen out with someone (quietly – he doesn’t know he upset me) and the organisation he’s involved with (which wasn’t involved this time, but has upset me in the past) seems tainted now and I’m struggling to process what I feel even several months down the line.  I’m not very proud of that, but it’s there.  And anger about politics, but it seems like everyone’s angry about politics at the moment, not that that’s a sign of anything good (see Twitter again).

One of the things I was angry about was my autism non-diagnosis.  I was told that I have some autistic symptoms (I think I have more than was recorded, because I now realise I do things like stimming very subtly and wasn’t really aware of what I was doing or that it was relevant at the time), but not autism, so I couldn’t have any help.  The NHS just told me to continue with psychotherapy and medication.  It’s like being told that you aren’t diabetic, but you have some symptoms of diabetes and you could still die from it, but we aren’t going to give you insulin or teach you how to manage your diet because you don’t tick the right boxes.  So that’s getting me angry today.

My Family and Other Animals

At work this morning I realised I messed up my timesheet last week.  I think it’s OK; I forgot to date it and only put my name twice when they wanted it three times (twice printed and once signed).  But it makes me feel like a useless idiot again who can’t get anything right.  I hope it’s just depression-lowered concentration.  I feel a lot more stupid than I used to be.  I did at least process about 135 records even though I was feeling very depressed and working slowly.  I had thoughts of wanting to die, though.  I really can’t see my life getting any better.

My parents keep suggesting to me that I should become a primary school teacher (this is the teacher training course they want me to do). I really don’t know what to do about this.  It’s a nice idea, but I can’t see myself doing it at the moment.  I can’t really see myself doing it at all unless I have more experience with children.  I’m also scared of flitting from one career to another without settling on anything.  My sister suggested becoming a teaching assistant first and I thought of looking for another volunteering opportunity with children, although they seem to be few and far between, but I don’t think I feel I could even do that right now.  I don’t really want to be responsible for children while I feel this bad, for all that I do tend to cheer up when I’m with children.

On the other hand, my Mum’s doubts about my ability to look after a pet has taken the wind out of my sails regarding getting one, that and social anxiety about going to a pet shop and asking to hold the animals and buy equipment.  I know little about pets and I have an image in my head of going to a pet shop being like that Not the Nine O’Clock News sketch where Mel Smith goes to a shop to buy “a gramophone” and gets mocked by shop assistants Rowan Atkinson and Griff Rhys Jones for his total lack of technological savvy.

I know I shouldn’t rely on my parents so much for my self-esteem (such as it is) and for advice at my age, but I find it hard not to.  My relationship with them is complicated, to put it mildly.  It’s at times like this that I wish I was still in therapy, but I’ve stopped seeing my psychodynamic psychotherapist for a while so I can see if CBT might help, although I heard recently that people on the autistic spectrum (which may or may not include me) struggle with CBT because they don’t notice their mood changes until they have got quite extreme.  That fits me whether or not I’m on the spectrum.

Plus, as I just noted on the Mental Health at Home blog, I’m still dependent financially on my parents and  I don’t know what will happen to me when my parents are gone, given that I don’t seem to be able to hold down a regular job, but am apparently not sick enough to claim benefits.

There is a lot more I could say, but I’d better not say more in a semi-public setting.  Actually, despite all I write here, there’s so much that I can’t say, for one reason or another.  It’s hard, because writing is the way I process and release emotions, but I’m constrained by the laws of lashon hara (malicious speech) and kibbud av ve’em (honouring parents), as well as by accept conventions of what is OK to talk about in polite society and my fear that if people knew the real me, they would not want anything to do with me.

NHS Woes

I’m just back from the psychiatrist.  It was not great.

The doctor had a thick Eastern European accent and I couldn’t always understand her.  She couldn’t always understand me either and I worried what might get lost in translation (she certainly misheard ‘autism’ as ‘OCD’ at one point).  She said I should stay on clomipramine even though it’s not doing much and the pharmacy is finding it hard to get hold of, as she thinks my OCD will get worse if I come off it (clomipramine helps OCD as well as depression).  She said she will write to my GP and tell him what to prescribe if they can’t get any more.  I think she said sertraline or venlafaxine, neither of which, to my lay knowledge, are like clomipramine (they’re new generation drugs, SSRIs; clomipramine is an older tricyclic) and both of which I think I’ve been on before (I’ve been on so many antidepressants I can’t remember which ones I’ve had.  My notes should say, but my experience is that my notes are incomplete, if not outright wrong, (“We love the NHS!”)).  The psychiatrist said that medication won’t help me much anyway (a previous psychiatrist said much the same) and encouraged me to get some CBT.  She did at least tell me how I could have that on the NHS with a relatively short waiting time.

I did ask about alternative diagnoses.  She said that if the Maudsley Hospital assessed me and said I’m not on the autistic spectrum, there isn’t a lot else that can be done, as they are the experts.  I was rather afraid of that.  I did ask if there is anything else that I might have to explain my condition, but she was pretty insistent on it just being treatment-resistant depression.  I feel that the psychiatrists must have missed something.  I guess I feel like I have psychiatric man flu.  I feel like ‘mere’ depression shouldn’t go on this long, or be this painful.  Maybe I just have as many prejudices about depression (and myself) as non-sufferers.

That was that, really.  She said she could discharge me or see me again in three months.  I opted for the latter, as I’m worried my condition will worsen when my contract ends in two weeks time and I remembered how hard it was to get into the system to get this appointment.  I reasoned that cancelling an existing appointment if a miracle happens and I feel a lot better will be much easier than getting a new appointment if I feel worse.  The receptionist who I was supposed to tell about the appointment hadn’t got a 2019 diary yet (don’t ask why they’re still using hardcopy diaries.  “We love the NHS!”) and wrote my name in the back of the 2018 diary.  My Mum, mindful of the problems I had getting this appointment (the phone calls and missing letters), was worried that I would get forgotten.  Unfortunately, the receptionist became angry and the confrontation became heated, making me feel uncomfortable (OK, making me wish the ground would swallow me up).  I think my Mum might write to complain.  I’m not a libertarian, but if I was the whole incident would seem to confirm a view of the NHS as an inefficient, under-equipped, unhelpful and bureaucratic organisation.  We love the NHS!

My Mum reminded me that I’m apparently supposed to have a meeting at The Network on 5 December.  So far as I can tell, this is a slightly Orwellian-named service for occupational therapy and support with work or other community-based activity for those with mental health issues.  It is perhaps worth pursuing, if they ever send me a letter telling me about my appointment.

I was so upset by the everything that happened that it didn’t occur to me for another hour afterwards that the appointment had finished early enough that I could have gone back to work for an hour or two.  I’m paid per hour, so it doesn’t make much difference to my employer, but the money might have been useful to me.  Now it’s too late to go back, which is probably just as well, as I still feel tense.  Tea has been consumed (if chicken soup is Jewish penicillin, then tea is English prozac), but retail therapy will probably be required after the stresses of yesterday and today (regarding yesterday’s events, my boss emailed me back from honeymoon saying I should just leave the data as it is.  I still think that she must regret hiring me, but my Mum told me not to mind-read).  I plan on buying cheap second-hand box sets of some of Sherlock and Jonathan Creek and possibly a volume of The Complete Peanuts as I fancy crime dramas to alternate with the Doctor Who episodes I’m watching for the book I’m writing (one could probably make the argument that Jonathan Creek is closer to the spirit of the prose Sherlock Holmes stories than Sherlock).  Other than that, I should use my free afternoon to try to self-refer for CBT and to catch up with emails, as much clearing out my inbox than actually writing to anyone.  I hope to get to shiur (Torah class) tonight too.

Going Round in Circles

I managed to phone the private clinic where I’d like to try and do some CBT to work on my self-esteem and social anxiety.  They said I need to be seen by their psychiatrist first who would assess my needs and the most appropriate type of therapy.  When I said I was seeing an NHS psychiatrist in two weeks, they said to go to that appointment and try to get a referral.  I phoned the NHS psychiatrist too, twice, to have another go at finding out when my appointment is, but I got voicemail both times.  I didn’t bother to leave a message as I know they won’t get back to me.

I’m nervous about being pushed down the wrong therapy path at the private clinic or having my understanding of my needs ignored by either the private clinic or the NHS psychiatrist.  Worried about being told something about myself that doesn’t fit my self-image, although that image is so confused that I’m not sure what being told something that doesn’t fit would entail.  (I think I have autism, except when I don’t.)  There’s something horrible about being told you aren’t who you think you are.  It’s why identity politics is so much more explosive than ordinary politics.  I guess I identify myself on some level as being depressed and autistic, which makes it hard to move on from the former and from my non-diagnosis of the latter.  I guess the only thing I would feel as strongly is if someone said I wasn’t really Jewish.  I’ve had some good psychiatrists and therapists over the years, but also some who have blundered around telling me what they think is wrong with me and what I should do without listening to me (plus one or two who have moved from one group to the other).  It’s quite scary not knowing which category the next appointment will be in and, in the case of the NHS, not easily being able to change and find someone else.

I’m trying to work on the job application for a librarian role at an major public institution that I started last weekend and have not had enough energy to finish yet.  It’s hard.  I feel pretty useless and unlikely to get the job, but I feel I ought to try now I’ve started, even though I’ve subsequently found other potential jobs I have (marginally) more chance of getting.  I hate questions like being told to show I have “Demonstrable enthusiasm for the Library and Information Management profession and an interest in the information needs of a … Library” or show an “Aptitude for enquiry work using a range of information resources and tools, including the ability to find, evaluate and explain information”, both questions to be answered with relation to specific tasks and situations and with reference to the required characteristics for the job.

Odd Thoughts of an Odd Fellow

The title is more whimsical than I feel.  I’m exhausted and depressed.  I had trouble concentrating at work again today.  I had a lot of ruminations.  I always find it hard to explain my thoughts and feelings because I’m not good at describing them at the best of times and no one has ever really explained to me what their thoughts and feelings are like and how could we even compare them objectively to see if my “happy” is the same as your “happy” or if a “racing thought” for me is the same as a “racing thought” for you?  I sometimes get involved in my thoughts and lose track of time, or even the outside world. I can be walking and thinking and then suddenly I’m somewhere else and I don’t remember walking there.  Or I just stand staring into space and thinking and my parents ask me if there’s something wrong, which really annoys me.  My thoughts seem very ‘loud’ sometimes, if that makes sense. Sometimes I focus so much on what I’m thinking that my sight and hearing get turned down, so to speak.

The best way to describe my thoughts today would be ‘echoing’.  As in I would have a thought, usually a somewhat depressive thought about politics and not fitting in, and it would sort of echo around in my head.  I couldn’t stop thinking it, over and over.  This happens to me a lot, but I don’t think I really noticed it in the same way before; certainly this is the first time I thought of the echoing metaphor.  I think this counts as obsession in the OCD sense, but I suspect it counts as depressive rumination too.

I have no confidence in my ability to do my work.  I can accept that most of what I’m doing I can do on autopilot now, finding and checking information, but sometimes there’s a conflict of information, usually when a person’s LinkedIn page says someone is working somewhere, but the company’s website says s/he isn’t, and I have to make a judgement call as to which one is right and I worry that I’m doing it wrongly, or inconsistently (but maybe there isn’t one consistently right answer here).

Speaking of confidence, I still want to find a CBT therapist to work with me on my self-esteem, but I remembered today that I did a confidence and self-assertiveness evening class several years ago (I think it was before my MA, so 2009-2010).  That was largely CBT-based and to be fair it did help a bit at the time (I even did some public speaking off the back of it, which I can’t imagine doing now), but then I started my MA and the stress of producing work hit me and I spiralled back down into depression again (if it ever truly went away) and the improved confidence and self-esteem evaporated.  I ask myself if I can really tell myself “I am a good person” first thing in the morning with a straight face and not want to laugh.  Or cry.  Or punch myself in the face.

I don’t know whether I want another autism assessment.  The diagnostic criteria have changed since my last assessment, so there may be a point to it, but I don’t know what I’m more afraid of: being told I’m autistic (and therefore may struggle for the rest of my life) or being told yet again that I’m not (and therefore having no master narrative to explain and justify my weirdness to myself).

I mention being mentally ill and possibly autistic a lot online.  Not in real life, but a lot online, even where it’s not strictly relevant.  It has become central to my identity and not in a good way (if there even is such a thing as mental illness being central to one’s identity in a good way).  I think I do it to excuse myself.  I know I haven’t done anything with my life, but I’m mentally ill.  I know I’m falling short of my religious obligations, but I’m mentally ill.  I know I go on too much about how awful my life is, but I’m mentally ill.  And so on.

I’m hoping to go to a new series of shiurim starting tomorrow, although I think I may be too tired and home from work too late.  It’s about understanding the mitzvot (commandments) from a psychological perspective.  The rabbi giving it has an MA in organisational psychology.  It might be interesting and useful (or triggering).  It’s at a Modern Orthodox adult educational institution, which is a somewhat better (but not perfect) fit for my type of Judaism than my more Charedi/ultra-Orthodox shul (synagogue).  Unfortunately my experience in the past is that most people who go there are twenty years or more older than me, so from a dating point of view it’s a non-starter and not even great from a friendship point of view, although some of my friends are a lot older than me.

I’ve been playing ‘What if…’ again.  What if I went to a different school?  What if I had stuck with counselling when I was sixteen?  What if I had just asked her out?  (For any given value of “her”.)  What if I had gone to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary)?  What if I wasn’t too religious and conservative to be accepted in Doctor Who fandom?  Or if I wasn’t too geeky and modern to be accepted in the frum community?  Or if I wasn’t too autistic and mentally ill to be accepted anywhere?  Or if I just had the confidence to say, “I’m Luftmentsch, I’m mentally ill and religious and a Doctor Who fan, accept me or reject me, I don’t care any more”?!  That’s the big one: what if I actually didn’t care any more?

Sukkot and Stress

Today has been stressful and isn’t over yet.  I had to phone someone to make an appointment with a psychiatrist.  I phoned at lunch time and was told the person I needed to speak to (I assumed the psychiatrist) was with a patient; he would phone back later.  I wasn’t brilliantly happy about being phoned at work, but I consented.

I was phoned near the end of the day, when I was rushing to finish the work I was set (I was set more than usual and as my boss was off sick, I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to do all of it or not, so I rushed the last bit to get it done (although I was still late) and I am now worried that I made mistakes; the other temp said she sees it as an ongoing project and doesn’t rush to finish).  Because I was stressed, I was not in a positive state of mind to start with, but it quickly became apparent that the person I was talking to was not a psychiatrist, but some type of administrator (the NHS is full of administrators).  He also clearly had no idea of my case history.  One might think that one advantage of a huge socialised healthcare system is easy sharing of information.  One might think that.  It never happens.  I don’t think there are actually accurate records of all the medication I’ve been on over the last fifteen years, which scares me.

He seemed horrified that I haven’t had CBT (actually I have, I clarified, but fifteen years ago).  I got the impression that he seemed bemused that a quick burst of CBT and some antidepressants hadn’t sorted me out long ago, because obviously no one could have serious depression.  He suggested that I access the IAPT and self-refer to some local group that offers… well, I’m not quite sure what it offers as the guy was not talking clearly and I had half switched-off when I realised that he had no idea of who I was and what my problems are and was trying to fit this very square peg in a round hole.  (The other half switched off when he admitted he was phoning me from his car.)  But I think they offer occupational support and group work, although I’m not sure if that’s proper occupational therapy and group therapy.  I don’t need the former as I’m working at the moment (the guy browbeat me into saying that I could go on my day off as I only work four days a week; I couldn’t be bothered to tell him about Shabbat and early winter Fridays) and I don’t really need a therapy group as I have depression group and autism group.  But I said I would self-refer, because it can’t hurt and because I felt it was the only way I could get my real prize, a referral to a proper psychiatrist and maybe some CBT on the NHS (rather than privately) to work on my self-esteem and social anxiety, which would be a win if I can get it to fit with work and Shabbat.

I feel bad that I was a bit short with this guy, but I was at work and had nowhere private to go (it’s an open plan office) so I was in the toilet, with other people, with the cleaner going in and out, trying to be heard on the phone but not by other people, talking aloud about really private stuff, realising I was talking to someone who had no idea who I am or what my problems are and who is just trying to tick a load of boxes that are either unhelpful or which I ticked over a decade ago without result.  (I actually really hate the NHS and half hope someone will have the guts to privatise it, which is not what long-term NHS users are supposed to say; we’re supposed to be all, “Oooh, Jeremy Corbyn, save the NHS from Evil Tories!”  I don’t think a privately-run system will be any better, but at least it won’t be a political football any more and we might get rid of some pointless bureaucrats.)

Anyway…

The other news is that on my lunch break I finished the complex PTSD book (albeit that I skipped some not so relevant bits).  It was a useful description of trauma and emotional flashbacks and makes me think that there probably is an element of trauma in my history and it might be why I struggle to make progress with traditional depression treatments.  I have, however, already mentioned my fears that the attitude of “Your parents were abusive and you have to stop wanting to please them” isn’t terribly helpful for someone who wasn’t actually abused.  Also, while the book keeps talking about the need for unconditional self-love, it doesn’t always make clear (a) how to do this (although it did make me realise that my catastrophising about being single forever is a form of self-criticism) and (b) how to self-love without becoming a narcissist.  I have fears that if I stop beating myself up, I will inevitably end up like Donald Trump.  Plus, it doesn’t tell me how to love myself when I feel that I have genuinely done terrible things that are not deserving of forgiveness, or at least not until I have improved my ways a lot more than I have managed until now.

But my ordeal was not over.  I came home exhausted and hungry, but my father’s oldest friend was coming over to eat in the sukkah (the temporary hut Jews eat in on Sukkot to remember the Israelites in the wilderness).  I get annoyed at the way that my parents make me say hello to their friends generally, as it always seems awkward (I don’t know what to say or do), but at least I know their local friends.  Their non-local friends are harder to talk to, but this friend is hardest of all.  I have always found him overbearing, both in size (he’s well over six foot tall) and manner.  Frankly, although I can only remember one or two concrete instances, I always think of him as teasing me in a way that feels less friendly for me than he probably thinks.  (And this was before he spent a couple of years in a German prison for drug smuggling – seriously.)  I said hello from a distance, and disappeared.  He made a comment about hearing me from a distance and my parents were annoyed, but these days I have not got patience for difficult people.  Plus, I suppose my father’s oldest friend being here just reminds me how I’ve drifted from my own oldest friend, who I am still vaguely in contact with, but who I haven’t seen for years and who forgets I’m not on Facebook, so I found out about the birth of his children late, through my sister, which upset me, although I suppose it’s not his fault.  My father’s friend is still here and I can here him and my parents through my window, which is depressing me and making me worried that I will still  have to speak to him.

Shiur (religious class) also upset me.  The usual self-critical thoughts about not being holy like everyone else, not having simcha shel mitzvah (joy in the commandments) or simcha at all, not being married… plus everyone else got there early (I’m guessing there was a WhatsApp message I missed because my phone is not working properly) and was seated in the sukkah and eating before I got there, so I missed the social side and I didn’t get a drink because the plastic cups ran out and I was too shy to ask for another one.  I was too shy to answer any questions too, although I knew the answers to a few and could have showed off, although I suppose that’s no great loss.  Someone there was very rude, pressuring people to go to a fund-raising event and to bring whisky to shul on Simchat Torah next week when he doesn’t know people’s time and financial commitments (and some may, like me, avoid things due to social anxiety or some other legitimate reason).  This was the same person who, on finding out that I’m single, responded that it was “time” for me to get married, as if I was overwhelmed with offers of marriage and was foolishly wasting my time in hedonistic pleasure seeking (which is the exact opposite of my depressive anhedonia).  (To be fair, he did also offer to have me over to his house for Shabbat meals while I’m single.)  This shouldn’t have upset me, but obviously it did, because I’m still angry nearly two hours later.  This person is probably very holy (at any rate, all he seems to do is “learn” Torah), but perhaps he is so holy he forgets how ordinary people have to live.  Maybe that’s something I can take from my misery, that at least it has made me marginally more empathic and non-judgemental than I might otherwise have been, although if this is me with empathy and tolerance, I worry what me without them would look like.

Quick Notes from the End of the Week

I had my last session with  my therapist.  We spoke a bit about the C-PTSD book I’m reading.  She said that lots of things can be traumatic to a child, so I could well have experienced childhood events as trauma even if I wasn’t actually abused in the strict legal sense, especially as there was bullying and other difficult events for me.  We spoke about not necessarily needing a label of PTSD/trauma, just an awareness of how I feel and why I feel it.

She sounded pretty hopeful about my chances for the future and we’ve left things open so that I can go back to her if I want/need to after I’ve tried some CBT.  But I really do feel I need to try a more practical form of therapy to work on my low self-esteem now, especially as I feel (and she agreed) that psychodynamic therapy has done a lot of good for me in understanding my feelings and where they come from historically and now I need to move on to something more practical.

My father’s uncle died yesterday.  I didn’t know him very well, but my father was close to him and is very upset.  The funeral was today (Jewish funerals are usually done as soon as possible, preferably within twenty-four hours).  My great-uncle was the last person of that generation (grandparent/great-uncle/great-aunt) in my family, on either side.  It’s sobering to think that my parents are now the elder generation (albeit that my parents both have cousins who are ten or fifteen years older than they are) and that I’m now of the ‘younger adult’ generation; I already have second cousins once removed who see me as an adult figure, and there will perhaps be more children, closer to me one day, who will see me as an uncle, maybe even as a father (it could happen, theoretically).  It’s another reminder of mortality and the inexorable passage of time at a time of year when such things are omnipresent.