Another Busy Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

Two Years

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Socially Anxious Duckling

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

“If you’re lonely you can talk to me”

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

Negativity and Value

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

Self-Critical Thoughts and Studying Torah

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

Therapy Hunting

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

Anxiety Mostly Contained

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

Back to anxiety and depression…

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

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

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

“I am not a number, I am a free man!”

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be seeing you!

Square Peg, Meet Round Hole

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

The Real Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

“It’s my soul of pain”

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

Wanting to Curl Up and Escape the World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

Working on Myself, and On My Novel

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

Wilting from the Heat

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

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

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

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

***

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

Fitting In

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

Productive Day

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

Hunting the Crowned Saxe-Coburg

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

Meaning

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

Running Away Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts vs. Feelings

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

Up/Down

I managed to get up at 10.00am on a day when I didn’t have an interview and managed to avoid going back to bed after breakfast, which is a kind of progress.  I spent a couple of hours writing my presentation for my job interview on Wednesday.  I went for a walk for forty minutes and wrote a pitch for my Doctor Who book and emailed it to a writer friend for feedback, as I’m worried I’m not writing effective pitches.  I also emailed about starting volunteering next week.

Mostly I’ve been feeling good today.  I did have lower mood and some anxiety when walking, which I think was triggered by having my daily CBT “worry time” then.  Otherwise, I’m still feeling that I won’t get a job, get published, get married etc., but have a sense of stoic indifference, feeling that I’m doing all I can for these things at the moment and it’s pointless to worry any more.

My mood did sink after dinner.  I’m not sure why.  I ate with my parents, so maybe it was the ‘peopling.’  Maybe I really can’t cope with being around people much, even my family (which is not good news for trying to get married).  Or maybe I was just exhausted from the day.  Which is also not so good, if three or four hours of activity leaves me burnt out.  Because of this drop in mood, I only managed about half an hour of Torah study when I had hoped to do more.

My real worry is that this feeling of OKness won’t last.  I mean, if it didn’t last a whole day, how will it last over weeks?  I’ve had periods of remission before and eventually the depression comes back.  At the moment I almost wish I was a little more anxious and depressed, as it would give me more to work with in CBT.  I feel I need the practice in challenging my negative thoughts and would like to do that while I’m still seeing a CBT therapist who can guide me rather than when I’m left to function on my own again.

***

I had another anxiety dream last night, but with more obvious sources of anxiety: sitting in shiur (religious class) worrying that I would have to admit to watching TV, and watching science fiction at that; plus also something about a religious OCD trigger that made me wake up with OCD anxiety.  Fortunately, I can keep my religious OCD under control most of the time nowadays, which is progress, so it didn’t bother me for long on waking.

As Good as Tisha B’Av Gets

Still, Tisha B’Av-ing today.  If I talk about Jewish festivals, people have some idea of what I might mean, even though Jewish festivals in the Orthodox community are arguably very different to Christmas or Easter as most (i.e. not religious) Christians/post-Christians observe them.  But Tisha B’Av isn’t like anything most Westerners encounter any more.

Anyway, I probably fell asleep around 3.00am last night (after the insomnia mentioned it my last post) and slept until noon.  It was a struggle to get up because of depression and low blood sugar.  I suffer from this every morning.  I would normally try to force myself to get up and eat something to deal with this, but I wanted to fast until chatzot which is halakhic midday (the middle of the day according to Jewish law i.e. the midpoint of daylight hours, which because of British Summer Time is currently around 1.06pm).  The reason for doing this is that the Tisha B’Av laws are lessened somewhat after then, so I would have fasted for the most important bit, which amounts to about two-thirds of the total.  Sure enough, once I managed to eat something, I felt quite a bit better.  (The only Jewish fast day I fast on in its entirety these days is Yom Kippur, because it’s dangerous to fast while taking lithium.)

Tisha B’Av is such a long, strange day.  It’s a full day fast, like Yom Kippur, but Yom Kippur is spent mostly in shul (synagogue), whereas a lot of Tisha B’Av is not.  Shuls do usually try to put on educational programmes in the afternoon, but even this is strange, because one is not really supposed to study Torah on Tisha B’Av, because it’s considered too enjoyable, so the educational programmes tend to be on sad moments in Jewish history, particularly the Holocaust, or on how to avoid baseless hatred and gossip (which caused the tragedies we commemorate on Tisha B’Av and are therefore considered acceptable topics for the day).  Unlike Yom Kippur and other festivals, one can work, but ideally one should not if one can avoid it.  And then it’s stranger for me because I’m not fasting any more because of being on lithium.  When I was younger I would spend the whole day sleeping and studying acceptable (sad) religious topics.  The sleeping was not good, but one can perhaps blame that partly on depression.  But these days I struggle to throw myself into it so much.  I think I’ve been too depressed for too much of my life to add extra misery on top.

I lay on my bed again, feeling not exactly depressed, but struggling to get involved with anything.  About two and a half hours passed; I think I must have fallen asleep.  When I woke up, it was late afternoon.  There was a programme of talks and prayer services that was about to begin at my shul (synagogue).  I had been in two minds whether to go; I now wanted to go, but felt I should do more of my CBT homework instead.  Fortunately, the CBT homework was about not beating oneself up for perceived faults, so I was able to use my feelings about missing the talks as raw material for this.  I did eventually get to shul for some of the later events, although I missed the talk I most wanted to go to, about the Eish Kodesh, a book that contains series of sermons given by Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust.  I have actually read the book, so I suppose I wanted to feel that I knew what was being spoken about for once, although I can’t remember much about it and have been meaning to re-read it at some point.

So, on the whole Tisha B’Av went about as well as it could go, considering (a) I still have depression and (b) it’s Tisha B’Av and until Mashiach (the Messiah) comes, it’s going to be the most miserable day in the calendar.  I didn’t spend the day angry and resentful of God, as I had been worrying I would do and I went to some stuff at shul yesterday and today.  That’s probably as good as it gets.

We now have just under seven weeks to get ready for the autumn festival season…

Good Stuff

A quick note to say that I have finished my Doctor Who book!  I hope to think about sending it to a publisher next week.  I want to get some advice on sending submission letters, as my previous attempts (with articles rather than books) have not gone well.  The last minute tidying of my prose style seems to have been a good idea, as I had a lot of unnecessary howevers, neverthelesses, indeeds and the like.  I am now worrying that I have been too ruthless in purging them, of course (of courses were another culprit).

I also have a job interview next week, at a really weird place that I didn’t think would need a librarian, but I’m wary of saying too much here.  I do have to give a five minute presentation, which I’m not looking forward to, but I guess it’s all good practise for CBT/working on self-esteem and social anxiety.  It’s hard to believe I used to like public speaking, at least on some level.

Interesting thing: a couple in my shul (synagogue) are celebrating their fifty-second wedding anniversary this coming week.  Now, I know that the husband is in his nineties, so he must have been nearly forty, or in his forties when he married.  They have children too.  I always feel that I have missed the marriage boat, or that if I do marriage, the marriage won’t last long before I die (yes, I’m morbid),  or that we won’t be able to have children, so this is reassuring to me.

I’m not sure when I’ll be writing again, as it’s Shabbat (the Sabbath) soon and then we go into Tisha B’Av, the saddest day of the Jewish calendar and I don’t know if I will blog then.  In the past I would have said, “Absolutely not,” but I find it harder to get into the right atmosphere when I feel depressed, paradoxically.  It will probably depend on whether there’s anything I really feel I need to off-load.

 

Experiments in ‘Peopling’

Today was another better day.  I was still depressed in the morning, but I spent two hours working on my Doctor Who book in the early afternoon and got about halfway through tidying up the formatting and removing various sentence connector words and phrases that I felt I was overusing.  I’m hoping to finish it tomorrow, or the beginning of next week at the latest, depending on whether I have urgent job applications to write first.

Then I had CBT.  The CBT therapist felt it would be good to do an experiment on observing how I talk to other people, as this is a key area of social anxiety for me.  I had two short conversations with one of her colleagues, one structured (i.e. I knew in advance what I could talk about, in this case my Doctor Who book, which the therapist suggested because I feel embarrassed about liking Doctor Who), one unstructured and free-flowing.  My therapist recorded these conversations on her phone so we could watch them afterwards; we also got the other therapist to answer some questions afterwards about how she perceived me and how she felt the conversation went.

On one level this is obviously very artificial.  In fact, it felt weirdly like a shidduch date; (blind date in the religious Orthodox Jewish community).  The outcome was interesting.  I felt that I did have things to say once the conversation started, even though there was a long pause at the start of the unstructured conversation while I tried to find something to say.  My body language was somewhat closed (arm across chest, resting right hand on left forearm), but was more open than I expected.  I did try to make eye contact, even though I was afraid I would shake if I did.  I did actually shake a bit, but it wasn’t noticeable on the phone playback.  I realised that I do  have a tendency to talk quite fast when nervous and then to suddenly pause as my brain tries to catch up with my mouth and think of words to say.  The therapist I was talking to said I seemed nervous, but not awkward or weird and that I was interesting.

She also said she liked my hair, which I keep thinking about because I’ve been self-conscious about my hair since childhood.  I have very think, frizzy hair and I tend to let it grow a bit on the long side, not afro length, but not short, as I hate having my hair cut (a mixture of social anxiety and autistic discomfort), but I used to get bullied for having it long at school, and sometimes the girls would come and pat it, so I don’t really like it either way.  So I was glad that she liked it.

My therapist said that I would become less anxious the more I practise speaking to strangers.  I hope so.  My experience in the past has been that periodically I push myself to talk to people, but I feel that I am not doing well and fall back into social anxiety and solitude.  I think it is probably the case that I will never be completely confident talking to strangers.  My high functioning autism is always going to mean that I have to put extra effort in to the consciously thinking about conversations because I can’t intuitively tell what the right thing to say or do is in a given situation.  But this was positive overall.

The other issue, beyond autism, is whether the things I like to do and to talk about are acceptable in my religious community, which is a rather different question and one I really have to work out on my own somehow.  After today I do feel somewhat more confident in terms of thinking about shidduch dating, perhaps because I think I would be trying to date women who are more modern, although I’m not sure how I would meet them.  I do still feel uncomfortable at the thought of dating without a job (or a writing contract).

***

I feel subdued and tired now.  Shiur (religious class) left me feeling, not exactly depressed, but a little disquieted by a couple of things, but I don’t want to go into detail about them.  Sometimes I feel like I don’t really know what is going on in a particular social setting or what I should do or say or do.  I guess that’s autism again.  I also came away from shiur thinking that apparently I wasn’t born, as I always thought, in the month of strict justice, but in the month of great kindness.  It’s just that we (the Jewish people) haven’t yet made ourselves into the appropriate vessel for that kindness, so it overwhelms us and produces negative effects instead.  I’m not sure what this means for me or for my conception of myself as someone steeped in strict justice and negativity.

I also always seem to leave shiur feeling drained.  I guess it’s a lot of ‘peopling,’ in terms of being in a room full of people for an hour and not wanting to seem stupid or heretical, but also being aware that there is ‘banter.’  Unlike the twelfth Doctor, I am not opposed to banter, but I never know what to say and sometimes I don’t understand the jokes, or whether people are laughing at me or with me, or are laughing about something else entirely something that has nothing to do with me at all.

Green Eyed Monsters

That was another challenging Shabbat (Sabbath).

Friday night was OK.  The noise at shul (synagogue) wasn’t as bad as other recent weeks, which was just as well as I had a bit of a headache.  I just about managed to do one of my CBT homework challenges of wishing a stranger a “Gut Shabbos” in the street.  I got to bed reasonably early, at least for a summer Shabbat, around 12.30am and slept reasonably well.

The good news about Shabbat day was that I went to shul in the morning.  I woke up at 8.15am, but it took me a long time to get going as I stayed in bed or went back to bed after breakfast.  It was less from tiredness or even depression and more from anxiety and avoidance.  I didn’t want to go to shul.  However, I did go, arriving about 10.15am.  (Shul had started at 9.10, an experimentally later time than the usual 8.45am.)  No one stared at me when I was late.  Two people looked pleased to see me.  So this was all positive for my CBT experiment.

Things began to become more uncomfortable after the service.  The assistant gabbai again said that I should have been there earlier so they could have called me to the Torah.  They eventually called me at Mincha (Afternoon Service).  I was too shy to say, “I have some health issues and struggle to get here in the morning” even though my parents said I should say it.  I was also too shy to really talk to anyone at kiddush (refreshments) and just ate a load of cake and left after a few minutes.  All the men my age seemed to be carrying their babies on their shoulders.  With hindsight, I probably only noticed the ones with babies, but I left anyway.

As I was walking home, a very Haredi man with a silk kapote (frock coat), wearing his tallit (prayer shawl) came up to me and asked, “Who is the tzaddik (saintly person)?”  It took me a minute to realise he meant me.  I think I have heard the idiom before, it’s just a very polite way of asking a stranger his name (implying he is a good person), but it would probably have thrown me even without autism slow response time and social anxiety.  An awkward conversation ensued for a minute or so.

When I got home my parents were still at their shul.  I think I must have dozed off for an hour or even more.  I had a lie down after lunch too, but thankfully didn’t fall asleep then.  I spent the afternoon reading two Doctor Who novellas (short stories, really), one OK, one rather good and then a chunk of the latest Jewish Review of Books.  One interesting article further convinced me that if I really wanted to have a meaningful Jewish life and meet people like myself, I should make aliyah (move to Israel), but that isn’t likely to happen for many reasons, at least not in the foreseeable future.  The centre of gravity in Jewish life is shifting back to Israel for the first time for 2,000 years or more and there are some big, exciting religious and sociological shifts going on, but I’m not really in a position to benefit from them.

I could have done some Torah study, and felt a bit guilty that I didn’t, but I was worried that I wouldn’t cope with an evening of shiurim (religious classes) and prayer services in shul as well as ‘peopling’ at seudah shlishit (the third Shabbat meal) if I did that.  It was a judgement call and I’m not sure I made the right decision.  I probably could have gone for a walk too, although it was rather hot.

I went to shul for Talmud shiur, Mincha, seudah shlishit and Ma’ariv (evening prayers) as well as tidying up.  It was OK.  I was beginning to relax a bit and feel that maybe I was fitting in, for all that I was feeling guilty for not really talking to the people around me even when one person tried to talk to me (I didn’t know what to say) when something happened.  I can’t say what it is, but it shocked me a bit and made me think again, “Are these really my people?”

The difficult thing in life is that we can’t make other people conform to our wishes.  It would be easy if we could create our ideal partners, children, friends, communities, but people tend to have minds of their own.  The most we can do is be careful who we pick (although that doesn’t apply to family), but it’s sometimes a question of balancing good points X, Y and Z and against negative points A and B.  Sometimes it’s hard to know where to draw the line.

A couple of interesting things came out of the shiur at seudah.  There was talk about whether we can stop ourselves being jealous or coveting.  There was a nice definition of the difference between coveting and jealousy.  It took me years to understand the distinction; I wish I had heard this definition years ago: coveting is, “I want something like that thing you have”; jealousy is, “I think I should have that thing that you have and you shouldn’t have it.”  I don’t have a huge amount of trouble with jealousy, although sometimes it appears, but I do struggle with coveting, not so much for physical things (except when I have autism completism about series of books or DVDs), but mainly for friends, a wife, children and so on.  The life I feel I wish I had.  (I’m struggling with this right now – it’s hot and I’ve got the window open and I can hear my neighbours are in the garden planning their daughter’s wedding.  Their daughter who is not much more than half my age.  I can’t even really hear what they are saying, but it’s hard for me).

The rabbi spoke about the Mishnah in Pirkei Avot that we read today, that a person should set aside his or her will to do God’s will.  I wondered what I should be doing that God wants me to do.  I mean, there are lots of mitzvot (commandments) that I don’t do because of depression or social anxiety, but I wondered if there was anything in particular.  I don’t really know.  The thing I kept thinking of is that my rabbi mentor has said that I should be dating, and, even though I get into trouble when I ignore him, I’m still not dating.  I say that I can’t afford to go to a paid shadchan/dating site (which is sort of true and sort of not) and I just refuse to go to Rebbetzin D, the person my father’s shul‘s assistant rabbi’s wife suggested might be able to find a match for someone with depression.  Partly it’s fear of using the telephone and fear that I won’t be able to explain my whole story easily (I’m not good at explaining things verbally, another autistic trait).  I suppose I’m scared of rejection too, from Rebbetzin D (saying she can’t help or worse, that I have chutzpah for even thinking I should be dating when I’m such a mess) as much as from anyone I would be dating.  Also, I really can’t imagine anyone marrying someone with depression AND autism AND no job (not to mention all the points against me in the frum community), so it’s hard to try, although I know Ashley Leia has said I should let the women decide that.  I just feel too ashamed to date at the moment.

At Mincha we read chapter two of Pirkei Avot, which starts with the Mishnah that a person should do the thing that is honourable to himself and which brings him honour from others.  I think writing is honourable and it’s the only thing I ever seem to get praised for.  It’s still scary to think about doing it professionally.  It’s tempting to wish for the kind of miracle stories people on Hevria.com or Aish.com relate in their lives.  I suppose that’s coveting again.

One other good thing that came out of Shabbat is that I have been trying some grounding techniques for my CBT homework, to bring me back to the world when I feel depressed or anxious.  My therapist gave me a whole list of them.  I’ve been trying three: describing the room I’m in, which hasn’t really helped; feeling my chair (or similar), noticing the sensations, which has been quite good, mostly because autistically I like feeling pressure from pressing against surfaces and tend to do it when stressed anyway so it’s just a question of being more mindful of it; or telling myself something positive.  I didn’t think the last one would help, as I’ve not had much success with CBT mantras and the like in the past, but telling myself “I’m dealing with a lot of difficult things” seemed to help a bit.  At least I could believe “I’m dealing with a lot of difficult things” more than something like, “I’m a good person.”

Feeling Weird and Depressed

I’m supposed to go to shul tomorrow morning for CBT homework, but I’m really not sure that I’m going to make it.  I just feel too depressed in the mornings even without the social anxiety that I’m supposed to be challenging.  If I do go, I might cut down some of my evening shul-going, although I doubt I’ll cut it out completely.  It’s hard to know what to cut, though.

I’m still feeling a lot of anger and resentment about the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community.  I blame them for the fact that I’m still single and the fact that I don’t fit in to the community or have many frum friends (not that I have many non-frum friends either).  I feel that they’re trying to force me to think and behave a certain way.  I get angry and resentful, but after a while sometimes I think, “Well, I can’t really blame them for the fact that I don’t fit in.”  To be honest, I probably don’t even try to fit in that much, but it’s hard to try even the little bit that I do, such is the disempowering nature of depression, social anxiety and especially autism.  The problem is that I don’t know what I should actually do to fit in.  As someone on the spectrum, I do not have that knowledge that other people would have intuitively of how to fit in to a community.  I think even people who are not frum could do a better job than I do at talking to people at my shul and trying to fit in.

While beating myself up for blaming my community, I also feel bad about being so upset by people much younger than me getting engaged, but it is what I feel and I don’t know how to change that.  I try telling myself that other people being married doesn’t stop me getting married (it’s not like I’m going to marry a twenty year old) and that the world is miserable enough that it’s good that someone is happy even if it can’t be me, but I still feel like I’m going to be depressed and alone forever.  In my more depressed, but more self-aware moments, I feel like I wouldn’t be happy even in a relationship.  I doubt very much that any of my crushes would have worked out, nor the first woman I dated.  I think E. is the only person I’ve liked where things might have worked out with, except for the financial issue.  Which is a big thing and rather intrinsic to me at the moment.  I do feel that I missed the boat and there are no single women my age left, which isn’t true, but also sort of is, at least in the frum world, where really most people are married well before they turn thirty and most of the single people my age would be divorcées with children.  Not that I would even rule them out, but it would pose even more challenges to the huge pile I already have.

My CBT therapist is trying to get me to think that it is possible for me to get married, but I honestly believe that that, while possible, is hugely unlikely by this stage and that I’d be much better off trying to accept that I will be single and lonely for the near future and try to learn to cope with it.  I might get married one day, if I can sort my life out, but probably too late to have children, and far too far off for it to be much comfort now.  I can see myself getting married in my fifties, if I somehow get my life together and start a a career, rather than in my late thirties.

When I have thoughts like, “I’m weird, I’m never going to get married,” I’m supposed to challenge them, but I do believe that I am weird in my community.  Normal people get set up on shidduch dates by people who know them; I don’t.  I just don’t know enough frum people and/or those I do know don’t know women the right age and/or they simply aren’t interested in helping me.  Maybe that’s not weirdness per se, but it does make it hard to date when the usual means of dating is cut off from me.

I feel such a bad Jew.  I feel I should take responsibility for my actions and not blame other people.  I feel I should have a straightforward loving relationship with HaShem  (God) and Torah the way other people in my community seem to.  I feel I should care again.  I wish I could care again.  I wish I knew how to fit in.  But I can’t do any of these things.

I want to talk to my rabbi mentor about the community angst.  Maybe I’m worrying too much about being excluded if I share my thoughts.  I don’t know.  But I can’t get hold of him at the moment as he’s very busy and travelling a lot.

***

One of the job agencies I’m signed up for has sent me a library assistant role again.  I don’t really want to apply for it, because I’m over-qualified, plus it would be a lot of personal interaction and I’m not sure that I could cope.  But it would be a job and I really need a job.  I really want to focus on my writing, but I haven’t got the courage to say that to anyone.  Am I desperate enough to do a job I’m over-qualified for (again)?  I don’t know.  My parents feel this type of job might lead on to an assistant librarian job, but I’m inclined to think if anything it would be the reverse: that once I have this on my CV, I’ll be tainted forever and never get another librarian job.  But it’s so hard to find work that is within my experience level, let alone that I could do with depression and autism.

I’m trying to job hunt, but I’m practically in tears.  I can’t face any of the jobs available.  I just want to write.  I suppose really I don’t want to be here at all, but given that I am here, I just want to write.  One job advert is looking for someone “Enthusiastic and resilient” which is the exact opposite of what I am.  I applied for one job, wrote to ask for more information on a second and decided I didn’t have the skill set for a third.  This is what passes for productivity in my life at the moment, when I’m not writing.

Doing online job applications when wifi drops every two minutes isn’t much fun either.

***

Today is the first day of the Hebrew month of Av, the saddest month in the calendar (also, the yortzeit of Aharon).  Also my Hebrew birth month.  Apparently it’s supposed to be the happiest month in the year, but only when Mashiach (the Messiah) comes.  This is not much of a comfort to me.  I’m supposed to be mourning the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, but it’s hard to focus on something I’ve never seen when I’m so caught up in my own troubles and when I already have a degree of anger at HaShem for my life.

***

In other news, I finished reading Gershom Scholem’s book on the history of Kabbalah (actually a compilation of his articles for the Encyclopedia Judaica on kabbalah, but also on the Shabbatean movement, which is hardly mainstream kabbalah.  Interesting, though).  It hasn’t made me more inclined to study kabbalah and I remain rather sceptical of its provenance and intrinsic monotheism.  I suppose that’s another thing to hide in shul (synagogue).

The real exciting news today is that police raided a cannabis farm down the road.  I didn’t see it, but I did see a bunch of bored looking police officers standing outside when I came back from CBT yesterday.  Who says suburbia is boring?

I, Claudius?

People half my age are getting married in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community.  I think the daughter of our neighbour just got engaged (there’s a party going on there at the moment and I can’t think what anyone would be celebrating on an evening in The Three Weeks except a vort (engagement)), and certainly the son of someone from shiur (religious class) just got engaged today.  Both must be in their early twenties at most, perhaps even late teens.  It is hard to feel happy for them, although I try.  I just feel that I really missed that boat.  I feel simmering resentment and loneliness, which is irrational (it’s not like they’re the reason I’m not married) and unpleasant.  I try to feel happy, but I can’t.  I’m expected to feel happy for everyone else, but never for myself.  It’s not like anyone is even trying to set me up with anyone.  This is why I feel resentful when people praise the closeness and supportiveness of the frum community.  It never seems to support me.

I know I’m supposed to challenge my negative thoughts for CBT, including my “I’ll never get married” thoughts, but the evidence in favour of being single forever seems a lot stronger than the evidence against, even though I doubt I could convince my CBT therapist, not least because one needs a detailed understanding of the frum community to understand just how broken I would be considered, which my therapist doesn’t have.  Women in the frum community could reasonably expect me to pray with a congregation and study Torah a lot more than I do as well and any woman wanting a family would require a more substantial income (or any income).  More than this, my experiences with my friends – those who have stayed friends and those who have given up on me, often angrily – has shown me that only someone with issues similar to me own and who is willing to see me as a source of support for herself as well as being someone she would have to support could bear to be with me for a prolonged period.  This seems unlikely to happen, based on past experience, and even if it did, it is doubtful that two people with serious issues could afford to marry each other.

***

A theme of today has been, “What is weird?”  At CBT I spoke about feeling weird while doing my CBT homework (asking for help in a shop and shaking hands with and talking to the rabbi after shul (synagogue)).  I felt somewhat weird doing the first of these (because the shop assistant didn’t understand what I wanted) and perhaps the second too (because I felt I wasn’t responding to him the right way).  My CBT therapist felt that the other people involved would probably not have seen me as weird.  She said my homework in coming weeks will involve doing things that will deliberately make me seem weird, so that I can see it is nothing to worry about.  This reminds me of the yeshiva in nineteenth century Lithuania that used to send its bachurim on foolish errands, like asking for eggs in a hardware shop, to teach them not to care what other people think about them.

I’m not sure how I feel about this.  When I’m in therapy, it seems fairly logical that I’m not particularly weird and that other people are mostly too preoccupied with their own stuff to care about me or even to really notice me.  Also that I have no objective evidence that I will never get a job or get married.  But outside of therapy I feel objectively weird and that my autism makes me objectively weird.  Plus, it seems there is a lot of evidence that I will be unemployed and single forever, but that my therapist disallows it because it is (I admit) somewhat circumstantial rather than full-blown logical PROOF that would stand up in court.  Who cares if it stands up in court?  It’s enough to make me miserable even if it is circumstantial.

Maybe it even feels like a choice: I can get over the depression with CBT or I can be diagnosed as autistic (and therefore objectively acknowledged as weird), but not both.  I want to get over the depression, but I feel I am on the spectrum and should be diagnosed as such.  Does that make me weird?

The therapist had a better point saying that worrying about being unemployed and single doesn’t actually achieve anything and is pointless.

When I was growing up, a lot of people said I was weird, some to my face.  It became part of my self-image.  Even people who did not call me weird directly (e.g. adult authority figures) tried to socialise me out of behaviour that I would now consider normal autistic behaviour, making me feel that if I was “just myself” I would be seen as weird by everyone and I would have to change to fit in.

However, all this said, I still feel that I am objectively weird, at least within my community.  I think it is objectively weird in the community to accept evolution and an old universe, to think the Zohar was not written by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, to watch Doctor Who and especially to care about it enough to write a book about it.  Some of these things might be permissible privately, on a small scale, but doing/believing all of them is pushing things.  For example, I remember a shiur a few years ago where there was an argument of sorts between the rabbi and some of the congregants over whether tzedaka (charity) should only be given to Jews or to non-Jews too.  I felt that people disagreed a bit here, although the rabbi was pretty adamant in his view, but to dissent on other things, or too many things, was not right.  I don’t know how to explain this to my therapist.

***

Related to this, I just watched episode three of I Claudius.  I’m enjoying it more now that Claudius is an adult in the main part of the story and not just the framing narrative.  I empathise with Claudius, who stutters, twitches and limps as well as seeming clumsy and stupid.  He is advised to continue doing this to avoid seeming like a threat in the literally murderous imperial court of Rome.  I don’t do all of those things, but I empathise with being the outsider who is seen as weird and unmarryable.  At the end of the episode, he gets married.  As he and his bride stand up to be blessed by the priest, everyone bursts out laughing at the fact that she towers over him.  I could hardly watch it, it felt so painful and real to me.