Celibacy

Despite my worries, I managed to get up early for volunteering and got there on time. It was fine. A couple of people asked if I was OK as I haven’t been for a fortnight, which was nice. I’m always amazed when people notice I’m absent. Someone donated fresh jam donuts for the volunteers and I had one. Possibly my waistband says I shouldn’t have. I still feel that I make mistakes and do stupid things there, although it’s more that what seems logical to me doesn’t always seem logical to other people and vice versa for various (autistic?) reasons. Sometimes it’s probably poor executive function or me not processing spoken instructions properly, but other times it can be me applying rules over-rigidly. Then again, maybe I’m being perfectionist and looking to autism to excuse behaviours that don’t really require excusing (again).

I was pretty exhausted in the afternoon and didn’t do very much other than a few minor chores. I intended to listen a shiur (religious class) that I missed, but it wasn’t up online. I did some other Torah study, but it was just bits and pieces, little audio vorts (short religious ideas) and articles in a religious magazine. I couldn’t face anything heavier. I did a little bit of ironing and thought about trying to force myself to do more chores, but I was worried about being burnt out tomorrow when I have work. I wish I knew why I still get so tired so easily even with the mood aspect of depression being rather easier than in the past. I just read and watched DVDs. I had been eating dinner in front of the Chanukah candles this week, but at dinner today I was drained and couldn’t face eating dinner alone with noise from my parents’ TV and ended up eating in my room, which was also alone and with TV, but at least it was my TV.

Reading this back, I see I actually did quite a lot, but I still feel guilty about not doing “enough” and not having “enough” energy considering I’m not depressed “any more”. There probably are imaginary standards of “normality” and “mentally ill” here that aren’t helpful to me.

***

I saw the next two paragraphs a few days ago on Elisheva Liss’ Jewish mental health blog. The bit I’m about to quote actually isn’t the main point of the post, but is the part that is pertinent to me and set me thinking.

As a woman, I don’t pretend to understand what it’s like for a young man to grow up in a society where extra-vaginal ejaculation is forbidden, especially in such stark contrast to the permissive sexual norms of the broader secular culture. I see the struggle, the emotional and sexual complexity involved…

What I do know, is that from the onset of puberty at anywhere from around ages 9-14, until marriage, which doesn’t happen until at least the ages of 18-22, boys are expected to both not have sex and to try not to ejaculate. I’m fairly certain that the majority are unable to completely refrain from any masturbation, fantasy, or ejaculation during these hormonal and turbulent developmental years. The way they navigate this challenge often impacts their self-concept and adult relationships. Some repress developing libido and disassociate from their sexual selves. Others split, embracing one conscious, religious identity, and another secret sexual life, often involving pornography and sexual experimentation. Still others recognize that the ideal they are presented with might be unrealistic for them, and try to limit sexual behavior, while allowing for and forgiving their human needs.

This isn’t really spoken about in the frum (religious Jewish world). I’m conscious of not wanting to reveal my entire life history online, but also of wanting to talk about this for reasons that are not entirely clear to me. (I’ve tried speaking about it in therapy, but I feel that writing this has made me realise there’s a lot more to say there.) My background is that I was brought up traditional, but not fully Torah observant and gradually became more observant in my teens. At the same time, I went to a co-educational (Modern Orthodox Jewish) school and eventually became interested in girls when I was about sixteen (I was a late developer, which I definitely think was a blessing). I also had sex education, at home and at school, but it was pretty functional. It was not the Haredi minimal or no sex education, but it focused on the biological “How do we make babies?” side of things. It was a long time before anyone ever really spoken to me about the emotional side of things, and probably most of the conversations I have had about dating and sex have been in therapy.

The problem with this is, being (probably) on the autism spectrum, I do not always pick things up easily if they aren’t explicitly spelt out to me, particularly regarding social interactions. No one ever said anything about masturbation, but somehow I intuited that it was wrong, and that sexual fantasy was likely to lead to it. Pornography was a lot harder to access when I was a teenager than it is these days, but there was already a lot of quasi-pornographic imagery in society; I think the infamous Wonderbra “Hello Boys” billboard advert (the one that supposedly caused numerous car crashes from men looking at the model’s cleavage and not at the road) came out shortly before I hit puberty, and there was a lot of similar adverts around and, anyway, you shouldn’t underestimate what sexually-frustrated teenage boys can find arousing (illustrations of Dark Elf warrior women in the Warhammer rule book…).

Being autistic, depressed and socially anxious did not make it easy to find girlfriends, or to work out how to find girlfriends (to this day, my few relationships have been either via dating websites or from the other person making the first move). During my time at school, I hardly spoke to girls, except a bit to my best friend’s girlfriend. In retrospect I wish I had, as looking back I see that there were intelligent, gentle girls in my year and even in my social group, and maybe my life would have gone differently if I’d just tried to talk to them, not necessarily to date, but just to get practise socialising with women, but I was too shy to really speak to them. I had a huge crush on one girl throughout my time in the sixth form (equivalent of high school, broadly), but was rarely able to speak to her and when I did, I think she was bored and embarrassed by me.

I did manage to build female platonic friendships at university, but that backfired when I asked one out. I was twenty, and it was the first time I had ever done that. She wasn’t interested and it ended badly.

I didn’t actually go on a date until I was twenty-seven. I’m now thirty-seven and still a virgin and unmarried. I don’t have any particular animus about the Jewish “no sex before marriage” rule, as I know that, emotionally, I couldn’t cope with casual sex anyway. I’m sure some people can, and chafe at the rule, but I know I can’t. I have just slowly begun another relationship, but there are reasons, that I won’t go into here, that mean that it will be years before we can get married, should we decide to do so, so I’m stuck with celibacy for now.

I can’t really put into words the huge amount of frustration, fascination, confusion, envy, guilt and even anger I feel around sex and celibacy. There is also fear, but I wrote about that on Hevria a number of years ago. (That’s aside from the worry that I have so much anxiety around sex that I’ll never be able to have a genuine healthy sexual relationship, even if I get married.) As a frum Jew, I’m not supposed to talk about it; as someone somewhat internet-savvy, I’m worried about being branded a misogynist “Incel” just for raising the topic. I’ve spoken about it in therapy quite a lot, and in more detail than I will go into here, but somehow I feel that I’ve never got to the bottom of it. I’ve barely spoken about it with my current therapist, even though I’ve been seeing her for over seven months. I don’t have the words. I’m not sure if that’s because of my upbringing or my issues.

From adolescence onwards, I’ve had a huge amount of guilt and shame around my sexual thoughts and feelings. For many years I tried to repress them and mostly failed. I’m not sure if it is really feasible to repress sexual thoughts and feelings long-term; it’s certainly not possible if one is at all engaged in hyper-sexualised Western society. Sometimes I can see why Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews try to avoid Western society entirely, but I know that’s not my path.

One of the reasons I didn’t go to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) between school and university as many people expected to was because of feelings of guilt around sex and the belief (which I now realise was completely mistaken) that I was the only frum or would-be frum teenage boy struggling with it. Admittedly there were half a dozen other reasons I didn’t go to yeshiva, but that decision had massive repercussions for the rest of my life, down to today, including why I feel so unmarriable in the frum community. I already had low self-esteem and a tendency to over-intellectualise things, and that and the added sexual guilt probably triggered an emotional downward spiral that fed in to my depression. It may not be coincidental (although it has only occurred to me writing this) that my first episode of depression followed about six months after the start of my first “real” crush (by which I mean the first one where I actively thought and fantasised about her all the time when she wasn’t around, rather than simply feeling vaguely anxious and attracted when I saw her).

Sometimes I feel that it’s eating away my insides. I feel that, at thirty-seven, I should not be desperate to have sex, and certainly I know it’s a bad idea to get married just to have sex. I wonder if I will ever be “ready,” emotionally. I can’t shake the feeling that middle aged sex (which is all that’s left for me) is dull and perfunctory and that if I was going to ever enjoy sex, it would have happened before now. I know this isn’t true, but it’s another lie the media perpetuates, and I can’t shake free of it.

Another thing I’ve never really got to the bottom of is whether I really want sex, or just (“just”?) intimacy. To be honest, I probably want both, and that’s probably healthy; I don’t think secular society, which says you can have healthy sex without intimacy, is particularly well-adjusted in that way. But if I absolutely had to choose, I think I would choose emotional intimacy over sex. I think that’s my absolute desire in many areas: marriage, yes, but also I want a few close friends (rather than many distant ones) and my conception of Heaven is an intimate closeness with God and perhaps with loved ones. But a successful, intimate marriage is the one I want most of all. Although I don’t feel myself particularly successful at achieving intimacy in those other areas either. I think I’m a very lonely person, and have been since my teens. Again, I can blame autism, depression and social anxiety, but I’m not sure how helpful that is.

I’m not sure what I want in writing this. I think a lot of it is about recognition. That I think I’m carrying some kind of burden by following Jewish law in this area, and especially doing it while more open to the sexualised Western culture than some parts of the community. I think it’s the best – or least worst – option for me right now, for a host of halakhic (Jewish legal), emotional and moral reasons, but it’s still a burden and one I hope I will put down one day, but fear that I will be carrying it for a long time. And somehow I want that acknowledged, which it isn’t, not by hyper-sexualised Western society or by the frum world, where most people are married by twenty-five. In some ways I don’t mind that many non-religious would not understand why I’m doing this, but I feel that I would like people in the frum community to understand the strain of long-term celibacy for “older singles,” beyond issues like loneliness, not fitting into the community etc. (not that those are particularly well-appreciated).

Actually, I’m not sure how much is recognition from society and how much is recognition by myself. That I really want to hear (ideally from God, but at least from someone frum who knows me well and who I respect) that I’m a good person, that I’ve done well in staying a virgin all these years, despite my failure to be 100% Torah observant in other areas of sexuality.

***

Today’s donuts: jam (very fresh) at volunteering.

Date and Zoom Chanukah

I know I get fixated on my sleep here, I guess because it’s the most tangible area where I still struggle, so I’ll just note that, thanks to insomnia and early waking, I only got about five hours of sleep last night before my date with PIMOJ today, admittedly after a day in which I had slept far too much.

The date itself went very well. We spent several hours walking around Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. It was raining much of the time, but we had a good time, even though a miscommunication meant PIMOJ was expecting me to bring food for both of us, whereas I thought we were each bringing just for ourselves, so we both ended up sharing one bagel and some vegetables. PIMOJ put her arm through mine a lot, which was nice, but felt a bit weird. I have never really done that with anyone before. Physical contact still prompts elements of guilt for me, for both religious and COVID reasons, and even without that, new physical sensations can be difficult on the autism spectrum.

We exchanged Chanukah gifts. I was glad I got PIMOJ a book I think she will really like, as she gave me chocolates and two books, which took me aback a bit. PIMOJ said she wants to see me in person more often, and that, and one or two other things, made me think that she’s serious about me. She said communicating via text is not always easy for us, especially as English isn’t her first language, which is true. Also, I find that I can’t always tell when she’s joking. I know that’s a typical autistic trait, but 90% of the time it’s not a problem for me, but with PIMOJ it frequently is an issue (hence the food mix-up). So trying to meet more regularly, despite COVID and the weather, seems to be the way forward. She also said that she doesn’t want me to compromise on anything, so I’m not sure where I got that idea from.

I came home exhausted, unsurprisingly. I was surprised to find donuts and chocolates left for me by my shul (synagogue) and a refund of money from a communal institution who I had paid twice, the result of a direct debit or standing order that was paid despite not showing up on my list of regular payments in my bank account. The latter will require further investigation to find out why it’s not showing.

My parents and I did a Zoom Chanukah candle lighting with my uncle and aunt in Israel, along with cousins 3 and 5. Singing in tune over a Zoom connection was not easy. We sat around talking afterwards. I didn’t really say anything. I don’t say much when I’m with my extended family in person and I never feel comfortable and able to talk at these kinds of Zoom meetings, and I was already quite drained, so I was a bit relieved when the battery on Mum’s laptop ran out after nearly an hour and brought the meeting to an end.

Tonight’s donut ended up being a chocolate-filled one again, although I honestly don’t only eat chocolate donuts! They didn’t have the iced type I wanted. The chocolate-filled one was nice though.

Grief and Nostalgia

I felt very drained on Friday and struggled to get up and get going in time for Shabbat (the Sabbath). Shabbat started earlier on Friday than any other day in the year, at 3.36pm. I went to shul (synagogue), but felt uncomfortable there. I’m not sure why; there were elements of mask discomfort and social anxiety. I probably have not adapted to the social distancing and other COVID safety measures, and Kabbalat Shabbat without communal singing is a rather sad and subdued affair.

In the evening, I spent quite a while on Torah study, reading the essay on Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs) and love in Judaism by Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tl in his Pesach Machzor (Passover Prayerbook) as well as the first chapter of Shir HaShirim with Rabbi Sacks’ commentary in the same book. I found it all rather moving and it felt a bit like one of the religious experiences I often want to have, but never manage. I did also feel grief about Rabbi Sacks’ recent death. I’d often wondered if I would get a chance to have a conversation with him one day and it suddenly hit me that that would never happen now and I felt a stab of grief.

I did some recreational reading too. When I got back from shul, feeling very drained and slightly depressed, I spent half an hour reading my recent purchase, Doctor Who Magazine #242 from August 1996 (the issue before I started reading regularly). I’m rather more excited about it than I am about the current issue of DWM, which seems less analytical and also less joyful. Or maybe modern DWM readers and writers just get excited about different things to me. At £3 including postage, my old DWM was cheaper too. It’s weird to think that this is a new thing that dates from my adolescence. I have a horrible feeling I’m going to start hunting eBay for DWM back issues, at least for the rest of Gary Gillatt’s time as editor. Nostalgia is as good as it used to be.

Friday’s Chanukah donut: chocolate-filled.

***

Today was a normal Saturday. I slept too much again. I actually woke up about 7.15am, but it was so dark outside that I couldn’t face getting up and ended up falling asleep again. I wish I could find a way out of this sleep disturbance. When I was awake, I davened (prayerd) and we had the usual Shabbat meals. The evening was mostly filled with Torah study.

I haven’t eaten today’s donut yet, but it will be chocolate-iced. I also had a kosher mince pie, which is as close as I get to celebrating Christmas.

Finding My Tribe, and People With Logical, But Annoyingly-Argued Views

I woke up in the middle of the night last night and struggled to get back to sleep. I think I’m still feeling overwhelmed, with some anxiety and depression that may be heading back to clinical levels with the winter and the persistence of COVID. I’m not settled into my new job, and I’m worried about my relationship with PIMOJ, and one or two other things, and there’s still COVID… Still, my devar Torah (Torah thought) this week was on God not letting us retire from life and have it easy when there is work to be done here in this world.

I didn’t do much at work. J took me with him when he went out in the morning; I’d love to say where we went, as it would strike you as unusual and perhaps a little Gothic, but I probably shouldn’t, for reasons of anonymity. The afternoon was largely spent trying to work out why Dropbox wasn’t working for either of us (on Monday it was just me who had a problem). I felt vaguely guilty about this, as my Dropbox stopped working first, despite knowing that I have no rational reason to feel guilty. Then J said we should leave early, I guess because there was little that we could do without Dropbox. I did at least speak to the helpdesk on the phone. Like many autistic and/or social anxious people, I hate the telephone and find it harder than any other form of interaction, so it was good that I made myself do that even if I didn’t get an answer.

Other than that, today I managed about half an hour of Torah study, which was a little disappointing, and finished off my devar Torah for the week. I find that during Chanukah (which started tonight) a large part of my evening is preparing and spent lighting “candles” (I use oil lights, although Mum uses candles, but we still call them candles for some reason), sitting around the candles with family and eating dinner near them (which is not obligatory, but is nice), so it eats into Torah time and relaxation time. Despite that, it is an oasis of calm when winter is beginning to bite. Tonight’s donut: jam.

***

It occurred to me that I’ve spent years trying to find my “tribe,” the way you see people write about finding their “tribe” (usually counter-cultural in some way, from LGBTQ to fandom to the Liberal Democrats). I’ve never found it. Over time I’ve tried and hoped that Orthodox Jews, Doctor Who fans, Oxonians, autistics or depressives might be my tribe, but none of them really are. I realised today I was hoping to find a group that was uniformly thoughtful, introspective and intelligent; probably also cultured and witty. None of them are that, obviously. It’s too much to ask one group to be all that. Maybe the point is to stop trying to find people who are like me, and to concentrate on finding people who can accept me. I’m not sure where to start, though.

***

My shul (synagogue) fees are going up. I’ve been paying full price even though I’ve been out of work for most of the last two years, and have only been working two days a week when I have been working. I’m not quite sure why I didn’t ask to have my fees reduced; maybe shame at admitting my employment situation. Now the fees have gone up and I feel I need to ask for a reduction, but I worry they’ll say, “But if you paid when you were unemployed, why can’t you pay when you’re working?” Also, the contact details if you want to talk about a reduction is phone number only. As I said, like many autistic people, I hate the telephone and find it harder than any other form of interaction and it’s making an awkward and difficult interaction much worse.

***

There ought to be a term for an argument that you feel is logically sound, but which you reject because of the pompous, sanctimonious way it’s put forward. I experienced this twice today. While on our work excursion, J had the radio on in the car and A Well-Known Talk Radio Host was talking ranting about Brexit. I am agnostic, if not downright confused, about Brexit these days. I think the economic and geopolitical arguments favour Remain, while the domestic political arguments (sovereignty) favours Leave, as well as the democratic need to see the referendum result through. So I am at least open to the idea that Brexit will cause major economic problems in three weeks’ time. But the Host seemed so self-righteous and gloating in his delivery that he really annoyed me, especially as I felt he was putting up so many straw men, he could open a scarecrow factory.

Then in the afternoon, I confess I was bored enough to look at Twitter on the way home, and George Takei (Mr Sulu from the original Star Trek) had tweeted that vaccine refusal is “not living up to the ideals of Star Trek.” I am completely in favour of vaccination. However, it seems a little ridiculous for an actor to use a TV show he used to be in as an argument in favour of what is an entirely medical decision. I’ve seen similar things in online Doctor Who fandom too, people with the wrong opinions being told that they are “against the ideals of the Doctor” or whatever. I’ve seen some debate online as to whether these people really derive their personal values and ethics from a TV show or if the programme just resonates with already-held beliefs. I hope it’s the latter, but I worry.

Another Overwhelmed Day

I slept too long again, with disturbing dreams, which I will try to keep short, as I know some people are bored by dreams. (Feel free to skip the rest of this paragraph if that’s you.) One, a rather disgusting one about maggots in a hotel bedroom, was apparently based on the James Bond novel I’m reading. The other was more interesting, about being in Theresa May’s government (!!!) in some way, but not being aware of my job title or role, or if I was a political appointee or in the Civil Service, or what level of seniority I had; I was rebuked for sitting towards the back of a group photograph when I was important enough to be in the front row. On a basic level, it reflects the fact that I’ve realised that I don’t actually know my proper job title in my new job, if I have one, as I didn’t have to apply for it in the usual way, I was just offered it informally by J. On a deeper level, I think it reflects fears that I don’t know what I’m doing with my life, or, more pertinently, what I should be doing with it (in terms of my divinely-mandated mission that I believe everyone has), and feeling that everyone around me is doing much better (in the dream, one old school friend was the Head of MI5).

***

I still felt overwhelmed today, and also burnt out and depressed, even a bit tearful, although I didn’t actually cry. Things are better with PIMOJ, but historically arguments and misunderstandings have generally happened for me shortly before breakups and it’s hard to escape feeling that that will happen again, even if I know rationally that all couples argue from time to time and it doesn’t necessarily presage problems. I’m not good at handling arguments in any context, for reasons going back to my childhood. I want to run off and avoid them, which I guess is what I have done here.

I also feel bad about missing volunteering today, especially as I was told that I informed them rather late last night (it was a late decision on my part). Plus there’s the usual winter overwhelm feelings from lack of sunlight and poor weather. I feel the need for time out for myself, and I’m not sure how to get it.

I felt like the unlovable autistic/depressive freak again today, which I hadn’t done for a while. I worry that PIMOJ and my personalities are too different for this to work, especially with my autistic issues, issues that make us very different, but also make it hard for me to communicate those differences. I know my autistic rigid thinking can be off-putting to people, particularly when combined with social anxiety and depressive negativity and catastrophising. I don’t know how to change this, or even if it’s possible.

I spoke about much of this in therapy. My therapist wondered if I was rushing too far ahead; she said I can just spend time with PIMOJ and learn about her without having to decide if she is compatible with me. This admittedly has not been helped by COVID, which has meant our relationship has largely been conducted over text and video rather than in person, and when in person has largely been in one or two environments (park and coffee shop). She (therapist) also said I should ask PIMOJ what she wants me to compromise on. She also reminded me to be compassionate to myself. I think I’m getting better at that (compassion), but it’s still hard to feel that I deserve it. The therapist also warned me about catastrophising and turning my fears into reality by assuming they are real.

I did feel a lot better after therapy, and also a text from PIMOJ saying that she can’t wait to see me in person at the weekend (we decided to change from a video meeting on Saturday evening to an in-person meeting on Sunday morning).

I didn’t really do much other than write my devar Torah and go to therapy on Zoom because I was feeling so burnt out and depressed.

***

In the evening, I watched Blade Runner 2049. I hadn’t seen it since I saw it in the cinema in 2017. It was good, but not as good as the original, although it’s a very different sort of film. I don’t have time to go into details on that, though.

What I did realise is that I struggle to concentrate for two and a half hours, both in terms of following the plot and physically sitting still. Maybe I am still somewhat depressed. At least I know why I keep watching original run Doctor Who stories when depressed: it comes in twenty-five minute chunks and I know all the stories backwards so it doesn’t matter if I tune out for a bit.

***

My rabbi mentor seems to think that writing about abuse in my novel is OK. He said that some people in the frum (religious) community will shy away from it, but many would appreciate the honesty. I hope so.

***

Chanukah starts tomorrow evening. On TV and in films, Chanukah always exactly corresponds with Christmas, but in reality it’s usually a bit earlier. Also, on TV and films Chanukah is the only Jewish festival, whereas in reality it’s one of about seven, and probably the least important, religiously.

In recent years Chanukah has been a time of stability and calm for me when all the other Jewish festivals were made difficult by mental illness (religious OCD, depression, social anxiety, excessive guilt etc.), but somehow it feels like it won’t be calm this year, with COVID in particular, as well as fears that I will not be well enough to get to work or volunteering and worries about dating.

***

J has said that if I need to take off time for health reasons, I can. I’m not quite sure why he said it, but it was after I took the psychiatrist’s call on my lunch break at work, saying it was “medical” so I guess he realises I have some kind of health issue. Even so, I don’t want to take off time if I can help it. The money is good, but I need the structure and self-esteem more than money, and I hate feeling that I’ve let people down, as with the volunteering today.

***

I haven’t been reading much recently. Actually that’s not true; I just finished Iyov (the biblical book of Job, in Hebrew) alongside Job’s Illness: Loss, Grief and Integration: A Psychological Interpretation and I’ve made my way through two-and-a-bit novels in the spy stories omnibus I’ve borrowed from my Dad. I guess I’m using a lot of my reading time for religious reading, particularly on the journey to work and on Shabbat (the Sabbath). I usually read at lunchtime, but at work I only have forty-five minutes for lunch, of which about fifteen minutes goes on Minchah (Afternoon Prayers). Even with the remaining half-hour, I feel self-conscious reading at my desk while J works through his lunch. I would normally read on the way home from work, but J has been giving me a lift in his car, so I can’t read then. I think I need to make more time for recreational reading, as it is important to me.

Disconnections

I overslept this morning and was late for volunteering at the asylum seekers’ drop-in centre.  I had anxiety dreams about sitting exams, which seemed a dream association for my new job, which I’m worried about (you might have noticed).  Mind you, I was dreaming about carrying around an atom bomb, which doesn’t fit as neatly.  I think Hitler was in there somewhere too.  Anyway, I set my alarm for the wrong time and then I felt too tired and depressed to get up and stayed in bed for another hour.  I don’t think I wanted to go to volunteering at the asylum seekers drop-in centre any more than I want to start my new job.

I did get there in the end, albeit very late, after all the setting up.  I helped look after the children again, but felt redundant and useless much of the time.  I don’t think I’m good with children, no matter what my parents and my aunt say.  When it came to time to tidy up I had to tidy most of the toys by myself, which is a big task and we try to do it in a relatively short time, so stuff just gets shoved in boxes regardless of what it is, rather than being put away neatly in the right boxes (it doesn’t help that the bags and boxes we have aren’t really the right size or shape, they’re just things people had that got pressed into service).  I think the person who runs the drop-in centre felt that things should be packed away more neatly, and I would agree with that, it’s just difficult to do it by myself in the time available.  So I felt rather useless there too.  I left before moving the last few boxes into the garage where they are stored between sessions as my Dad was waiting for me outside and I felt that I was just messing stuff up (I already managed to break a plastic lid by stepping on it accidentally) plus I hadn’t had much lunch and moving heavy boxes was making me feel faint.

After that I had a break for an hour or two and then my sister and brother-in-law came over for Chanukah candle lighting and presents (and dinner).  We had five Chanukiot, so 45 lights (candles and oil) lit in total.  Dinner was good, but I struggle with family groups sometimes.  I don’t know why.  I guess because the conversation is usually fairly small talky, which I’m not good at; tonight a lot was about football, which does not interest me at all.  Often the discussion at family meals is about work or my parents’ friends and their families or people from my parents’ shul (synagogue) and I usually just zone out and concentrate on eating.

I drifted in and out of the conversation and I had a moment of anxiety about a kashrut (dietary law) issue, which may or may not be OCD.  I went upstairs once or twice as I felt a bit stifled – I wanted to shout to everyone to leave me alone at one point, which may be what the beginnings of an autistic meltdown feels like (I don’t generally have meltdowns, but given that there are a lot of autistic symptoms I used to think I didn’t have, but now realise I have in a subtle or unusual way, I wonder if that’s really the case).

I think I passed for OK most of the time even if I didn’t always feel OK.  My parents asked if I was OK and I lied and said I was, but they didn’t query it, so I guess I seemed OK.  I did enjoy some of the evening.  I probably did need more time to de-stress after volunteering before dinner and again after dinner before bed.  I did watch a Bond film, half after volunteering, half after dinner.  It was The Living Daylights, which I really liked as a child.  Looking at it again, it probably wasn’t the ideal thing to watch today, as I need escapism and this was a surprisingly down-to-earth thriller, the closest Bond comes to John le Carré.  This would usually be a good thing, but I think I needed escapist hokum more.  Here, the plot twists made my head hurt a bit, although I think I followed it in the end.

***

As an aside, It’s weird how autistic special interests work, inasmuch in the last six weeks or so I’ve suddenly got back into Bond films after fifteen or twenty years, but already I’ve filled my head with all kinds of Bond trivia (did you know that Q’s real name is Major Boothroyd?).  On the other hand, I completely forget important facts about my family and friends moments after they tell them to me.  I’m sure that one of the reason I have wide general knowledge is that it’s easy to find a Doctor Who link to so many things, so they stick in my memory that way.

***

I have been limiting myself to one doughnut a day during Chanukah to try to limit the weight gain; not that I would generally eat more than one doughnut a day, but occasionally on first or last night of Chanukah I might have two.  I had a chocolate doughtnut today (the type with the chocolate inside), but I was seriously tempted to have a mince pie too, to reward myself for getting through today in one piece.  (Mince pies are the only even vaguely Christmassy thing I do.)  So far I have resisted temptation, but it was hard sitting around the table with all this nosh and not eating, especially when I wasn’t so involved with the conversation.  Now I feel like I have post-sugar rush slump after the doughnut, but I may eat a mince pie tomorrow or on New Year’s Eve to reward myself for getting through today.

***

I’m struggling with meditation lately.  I used to do ten minutes a day of deep breathing meditation followed by ten minutes of hitbodedut meditation, which is a Jewish technique that is part meditation and part prayer, speaking to God extempore in the vernacular (where most Jewish prayer is a set text in Hebrew or occasionally Aramaic).  I find it hard to still my mind with breath meditation and I struggle to speak to God any more.  I’ve tried various combinations: all breathing, all hitbodedut, five minutes of each, as much as I feel like of each; but none of them really feels right any more.

Sometimes I wonder if I still believe in God or if I’m religious out of habit.  I think I do believe, but I feel that belief flows from actions rather than the reverse and I don’t do things like pray or learn (study Torah) or connect with a religious community enough, or enjoy them enough, to embed God in my life any more.  If you do lots of mitzvot (commandments), you will probably find yourself believing in God, whereas if you don’t do anything religious, you will probably lose what belief you had.  It’s not a hard and fast rule and it’s not hard to find exceptions, but it explains how a lot of people function much of the time.  But I don’t know how to cope with doing those things or making those connections when I’m so tired and depressed so much of the time, plus socially anxious and anhedonic (unable to feel pleasure).

Plus, it feels hard to thank God for things when I’m aware that so much in my life is hard, and hard to ask him for things when so often in the past the answer has been no.  I want to be Jewish, so I do Jewish things (mitzvot), but it’s hard to feel that God is there, if that’s even possible.  I know I have good things in my life, and I hope to write a bit about how my life has changed over the last decade in a future post for the new year, but there is still a lot that I’m struggling with and find it hard to see what good might come from things.

On the whole, I basically do believe in God.  I worry about infringements of Jewish law (as earlier with the religious OCD).  I don’t feel like a hypocrite for davening (praying) or studying Torah, but I do struggle to engage emotionally with God, Torah or mitzvot and I worry where that part of my life is headed if I carry on feeling like this and responding to my life in this way.

Miniature Pic Spam and More

I’ve been going to bed earlier the last few nights, but yesterday I went to bed later again.  Then I couldn’t sleep, because I forgot to take my medication at dinner time.  I remembered before bed, but that didn’t give them enough time to make me sleepy.  I didn’t feel like reading, so I watched the second half of For Your Eyes Only, which may not have been the best thing to do (TV in general + TV violence = still not sleepy).  Consequently, although my parents tried to wake me up when they went to football today with my (female) cousin, I slept through until gone midday.

When I woke, I was still very tired and somewhat depressed.  I’m not quite sure why, as I didn’t do that much yesterday, but it is the middle of winter and that does make me want to hibernate even if my light box helps a bit.  I had intended to go for a run after breakfast, but that was before I slept so late (I didn’t want to make lunch very late) and before I knew it would be raining heavily.  So, no run today.  My weight is the same as it was before Chanukah, which is good inasmuch as eating doughnuts hasn’t piled on the calories, but there are still another four days of doughnut-eating to go.

I did feel better after lunch.  I think when the depression makes me sleep a long time, I wake up with very low blood sugar, and I really need breakfast and lunch to feel “normal.”  I don’t know why breakfast isn’t enough.  It helps a bit, but not completely.  Maybe I’m eating the wrong thing (usually Weetabix or porridge)?

The main thing I did during the day (aside from taking the photos below) was more research on domestic abuse for my novel.  Although I feel a bit frustrated about pausing writing to research, I feel I’ve made significant progress with that research this week.  It turned out that many of my thoughts about abuse were correct (probably because I’ve met a number of abuse survivors of one kind or another in group therapy-type situations), but research has given me new ideas for plot developments as well as reminding me again that my characters have friends and family beyond my three narrators (I tend to forget, somewhat autistically, that my characters have relationships and don’t just exist in their own heads all the time.  This is probably because I exist in my own head too much).  I hope to finish the research in the next week or so and move back to writing.

I did about forty-five minutes of Torah study.  I would have liked to have done more, but my head felt that it would explode if I did.  I did a couple of chores too, but that was about it for the day.

***

There’s an oneg at my shul (synagogue) tomorrow evening.  I never know how to translate onegOneg Shabbat means ‘delight of the Sabbath’ which doesn’t get us very far.  It’s a kind of party or gathering to celebrate Shabbat with alcohol, junk food, songs, divrei Torah (Torah thoughts) and so on.  I’ve been to a few of these, or tried to go.  Sometimes I didn’t make it inside, being so overpowered by social anxiety that I just stood outside crying (and then inevitably met people who were going).  A couple of times I made it and even enjoyed it a little, but I’m not sure that I enjoyed it enough to really justify the anxiety and feelings of not fitting in that tend to accompany it.  Plus this one is being hosted by someone I was at school with, who is now a rabbi with a wife and kids and a house.  Lately I’ve been doing quite well at not being jealous of other people whose lives are different/better than mine, but I think this might be pushing my luck.

So, I tell myself not to go to the oneg, but then I feel that I’m avoiding social situations again (which is true), which will just reinforce the social anxiety, and that really I should be going to these things.  I tell myself that I want to spend time with my cousin on Shabbat, and that I will be volunteering on Sunday as well as spending time with my family, sister, brother-in-law and cousin on Sunday evening and will struggle to add another social event in, all of which is also true, but none of which makes me feel much better.

***

I mentioned yesterday feeling dispirited that the miniature models I paint nowadays aren’t as professional-looking as the ones I painted as a teenager and said I would supply photos.  Here goes!

These are the Doctor Who models I just painted (TARDIS, thirteenth Doctor (Jodie Whittaker), Davros):

Jodie2

I wasn’t too happy with the photograph, so here are the fourth and eleventh Doctors (Tom Baker and Matt Smith), which I painted some months ago:

TomMatt1

Here are some Daleks I painted and photographed a while back:

20190815_181934

On the other hand, here are some Warhammer dwarfs (Tolkien spelling!) that I painted as a teenager:

Dwarfs1

Dwarfs2

Even when the photos are blurred (because I’m not good at taking photos on my phone and because of my tremor), the earlier models (the dwarfs) seem a lot more professional to me than the latter ones (the Doctor Who ones).  Admittedly I did cheat slightly in that the most recent models are simply that, the most recent, whereas the dwarfs were some of the best ones of a collection of seventy or so.  But I did also include the fourth and eleventh Doctors, which I think are the best of the ones I’ve done recently, plus the Daleks which are very regular and simple in colour scheme, so they are not as difficult to paint as people despite the fine detail needed for the spheres.  My tremor is particularly clear on the fine detail, which doesn’t photograph well, especially eyes, which are a real pain to do well.  I used to have a technique for doing them with a cocktail stick, but I just can’t get it to work well any more.  It doesn’t help that the model of the thirteenth Doctor is not terribly dynamic, probably because of a lack of reference photographs of her compared with earlier Doctors (although the tenth Doctor model, not pictured, is even less dynamic!).

War and Peace

Chanukah always feels like unfinished business to me.  The festival is born of the culture war (which became a real war for a time) between Hebraic (Jewish) and Hellenistic (Greek) civilisations, but although the Jews won independence for a while, neither has ever won a decisive victory.  As Matthew Arnold noted, Western civilisation is a seesaw between the Hebraic and Hellenistic, one side being more dominant for a period, then the other.  At the moment I would say the Hellenistic is very much in the ascendant.

Maybe that’s why celebrating Chanukah can seem strangely premature.  Or maybe I just feel it more keenly than other Jews because I don’t know how to navigate the seesaw (can you navigate a seesaw?  I’m very tired).  I want to be Western/Hellenistic, but a lot of the (post)modern world terrifies me.  I want to be Jewish, but the Haredi world stifles me.  Where do I go?

***

I went to the Imperial War Museum this afternoon with my Dad.  I was slightly worried about whether it would depress me (it was really just an excuse for some father-son time), but it was OK.  We spent most of the time in the World War I section and saw quite a lot of Edwardiana and then spent a bit of time in the post-1945 galleries, which were quite sparse.  A couple of things stick in my mind: Siegfried Sassoon’s letter of protest against the war (although I’m not sure if it was the original or a copy).  A letter from a general laying out cautious battle plans for the campaign season, in the margin of which a more gung-ho general had written “BALLS!!”  A German propaganda poster (I like propaganda posters) that was supposed to encourage German civilians to trap rabbits so their pelts could be used for the war effort (how?  For clothing?  I don’t know!), which featured a rather sinister picture of a giant rabbit with red eyes like it was possessed by a demon.  I’m not sure what the artist was on.  And a lot of photos of mud and squalor.

I came home exhausted and haven’t really done much.  I’m not doing any work on the novel again today, although I did do some Torah study.  There isn’t much else to say, so this is a poem I wrote in 2014 on the centenary of the war.  It isn’t a great poem (I’m not sure if A. J. P. Taylor is really the right muse to have for a poem), but otherwise this will be a ridiculously short post.  The last line ties in with the ambiguous feelings about modernity that I mentioned in the beginning of this post.

Centenary

The long spring of nineteen-fourteen flowered

With the customary dry platitudes:

Sweet-scented flowers in such brilliant hues;

Intoxicating sunlight flowing like wine

Through the crystal glass of urban windows;

Lovers’ trysts in open parks and cheap hotels.

The streets were awash with women in lace

And men sprouting luscious thick moustaches

The Victorian age in its last bloom.

 

Summer exploded with assassination.

The rest followed swiftly, punctually,

Like the timetables of those old railways:

Gas, machine-guns, mines, shells, planes and tanks.

Factory methods applied to killing,

Slaughter by the million, industrial death.

Empires rose and fell on a conveyor belt.

Soldiers left tearful loved ones behind them,

Their trains running on across the continent

Until they were met by their C.O., Death

And his chilling, intractable greeting,

“Welcome to Modernity.”

Another Fine Mess

Rather than oversleeping as usual, I woke up early this morning and could not get back to sleep, which happens to me occasionally.  Looking out of my bedroom window, I discovered that flat roof of the kitchen was flooded (the gutter was blocked) and when I went downstairs I found water on the kitchen floor, although thankfully not deep.  After breakfast Dad and I went outside to look at the gutters.  I held the ladder as he went up it.  He pulled out a thick plug of moss that was blocking the gutter… and a torrent of water gushed down on us.  We hadn’t thought that through.  I got off fairly lightly, but Dad was soaked.  There’s a running joke in the family about Dad and I doing DIY being like Laurel and Hardy and never was that more true than here.  Another fine mess, indeed.

***
I went for a run before lunch, but fared poorly.  My pace and stamina in daytime runs seems to be much worse than for nighttime ones, which may be because I’m tired in general before lunch.  Unfortunately, at this time of the year if I eat lunch and wait a couple of hours before running, it is nighttime.

(Dog lovers might want to skip this next bit.)  I was not helped by being attacked by a dog, a small fluffy thing, but vicious, that repeatedly ran across the road, away from its owner to chase me down the street.  The owner attempted to call it back, but not very effectively and when she did manage to get it back on the other side of the road and I tentatively tried to move on, it ran back over to attack me again.  Twice.  I only escaped when a new passerby appeared by for the dog to attack.  I really did think it was going to bite me, although I escaped shaken, but not bitten.

***

Other than running and doing fifty minutes of Torah study, the main thing I did today was looking online briefly to see if there was anything about training as a tutor.  I’ve said I should be able to tutor in English and maybe history, but I worry whether I really can do that.  I didn’t find much.  I did find some exam papers and mark schemes, but crucial parts of the English language paper, passages from real-world texts, could not be included online for copyright reasons.  I am still nervous about the whole idea and don’t really know how I would go about tutoring someone or marking something as complicated and subjective as an A-Level English essay.  I looked at some stuff about self-publishing for my Doctor Who non-fiction book too and that also looked difficult, certainly if I want to avoid selling my soul to Amazon (I think it is basically impossible to sell mainstream books without dealing with Amazon in some way).

I shouldn’t get fazed by things like this, but I do.  I go into autistic rigid thinking and fear of newness and unfamiliarity with added low self-esteem and just think “I can’t do this.”  I know this makes life miserable for my friends and family, because I procrastinate and don’t do stuff and in some cases just hang around until people do it for me, but it’s always hard for me to know what to do; once I know that, I’m often (or at least sometimes) OK.  It constantly amazes me how easily other people are able to do stuff and I can’t.  For example, my second-oldest cousin from Israel is coming to stay with us later this week.  A few weeks ago she decided she wanted to come, she bought the plane tickets, phoned to ask if she could stay, arranged a lift from the airport from her uncle on the other side of the family… and that was it!  I could never do something so easily.

***

And so, Chanukah arrived at last.  My Mum is feeling ill, which perhaps made it less enjoyable.  I was given Penguin Lost, Andrey Kurkov’s sequel to Death and the Penguin, a novel about corruption and organised crime in post-Communist Ukraine that is still clear in my mind sixteen years after reading it.  After we lit candles (I always say “candles” even though I’ve been using olive oil lights for years), my Dad put on easy listening music and I couldn’t cope with it for some reason, probably because I was tired and hungry.  I mean I had an autistic “I can’t cope with noise” reaction, which I don’t usually get unless music is very loud or I’m trying to do something requiring concentration.

I feel I’ve rather wasted the day, and gone into Chanukah unprepared.  Years ago a blogger I followed ran a series of posts on how every Jewish sub-group has its own Chanukah on which it projects its own meanings: the Zionist Chanukah, the Haredi Chanukah, the anti-Zionist Chanukah, the assimilated Chanukah…  I’m not sure what meaning I find in it tonight.  The main thought I think of when I looked at the lights was the idea (a Midrash?) that, like olive oil, Jews produce a pure light, but only when placed under great pressure.  That’s not even a specifically Chanukahdik thought, it’s a general idea about the Menorah (lamp) in the Temple.  Possibly I shouldn’t beat myself up about this, but I never really seem to get as much from Jewish festivals as I feel I “should” (that word again).  I feel I should find meaning and inspiration that raises my service of God progressively higher with each successive festival, but it never happens.  Maybe that only happens to the very devout, or the very lucky.

I do feel better after dinner (tonight’s doughnut: jam), but I’m going to watch TV rather than push myself to do research on domestic abuse for my novel as I can’t really face it.  I feel I haven’t done much today.  This isn’t true, as this post shows, but I feel I didn’t do as much as I should (and again) given the time I woke up.  Tomorrow Dad and I are off to The Imperial War Museum.  I’m not quite sure why I thought that was a cheery day out, but I haven’t been there for years and it’s a chance to do some father-son bonding.  But I don’t want to be up late tonight as we want to have early lunch and then leave.

Invisible Sun

I didn’t have any insomnia yesterday.  I didn’t use my light box either.  Hmm.  As I mentioned in the comments the other day, there does seem to be a correlation between light box use and insomnia, but I’m not sure if there’s actually a connection.  I’m going to have to record this over time and see what happens.

I woke up incredibly exhausted and depressed, which didn’t surprise me after yesterday, but was still a shame.  I got woken up at 10.30am by a call from the GP’s surgery saying my medical certificate for benefits was ready for collection, although I don’t think I’m still eligible to use it now I have a job, even if it’s only two days a week.  I was sufficiently tired that I feel asleep for another hour or more, and still woke up exhausted and depressed.  Apparently oversleeping can leave you as exhausted as undersleeping, if that’s a word, but when I’m depressed I don’t naturally wake up at a sensible time, and usually sleep through alarms if I know I don’t have a major reason to get up (e.g. work).

I felt super-anxious about the new job.  I think over the winter break I need to think carefully about what I’m going to do on my first day and how I can go about reorganising the library, albeit that it’s hard to tell having only had a brief look around.  Breakfast, coffee and my light box have helped with the exhaustion and depression, at least to some extent.

Feelings of self-hatred kicked in around the afternoon.  I managed to do a few things: shopping and collecting the medical certificate, writing my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week, a few other chores.  I was fighting depression and exhaustion.  The darkness, cold and wet outside didn’t help.  I had no time to work on my novel in the afternoon and by the evening I was feeling tense from going out (noise, people, cold streets and hot shops) and all the odd chores I was trying to cram in before shiur.  I decided it was better to use the evening to relax after shiur than work on the novel.  I did go to my Dad’s shul (synagogue) for Ma’ariv and then on to shiur.  I’ve started to do that, as my Dad’s shul is in the same road as the shiur, right afterwards, so it makes sense, but I felt super-tense while I was sitting in shul.

I did feel better in shiur, even if I still felt a bit out of place religiously.  The shiur was about the Jews in exile finding sparks of holiness in the world and radiating holiness out to the world and I while I agree with those sentiments, I think I probably interpret them very differently to the rather Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) rabbi giving the shiur.  I want to write novels with strong Jewish themes for a mainstream audience and I think he would not see that as a particular priority for a frum (religious) Jew to do and I don’t think he’d really approve of my reading and watching so much non-Jewish literature and television.  I did eat too much junk food there.  Feeling tense, it was hard to marshal much willpower, particularly when everyone else was eating so much and there was so much food.

***

As I’ve said before, most of the year went fast, but December is creeping round slowly and it feels like Chanukah will never get here.  In fact, I’m so used to Chanukah not being at the same time as Christmas that I keep feeling like it’s been and gone, or that it isn’t happening this year.  That’s partly because my family has scaled down the present-giving now my sister and I are older, and I’m still not sure how many doughnuts I should eat given that I’m trying to lose weight.  My sister and brother-in-law are coming round to my parents’ house for the last night and my second-eldest cousin with be here for a few days too.  It will be weird for her being in the UK, because she’s Israeli and almost no one celebrates Christmas there.

It’s weird to actually be celebrating something while people are celebrating Christmas, because usually 25 December is just a bank holiday to me (I often find work to do dafka).  Increasing numbers of Jews volunteer at hospitals, homeless shelters and the like to let the non-Jewish staff stay at home with their families, which is nice, but I never summon up the courage against social anxiety to do that.  Or people go to Limmud, the big multi-denominational Jewish`educational conference that is always around this time (although not usually on the bank holidays), but I get scared off by the sheer numbers there, and the unknown in going for the first time (autism and social anxiety again).

***

Invisible Sun by The Police is a song I sometimes listen to while depressed, even though it’s fairly depressing, on one level, and usually I prefer lively music when I’m depressed.  It’s about people living in war zones (primarily inspired by the Lebanese Civil War as song writer Stuart Copeland grew up in Beirut), but it has an optimistic edge because it’s about the “invisible sun” that helps people in awful situations keep going and gives hope for the future, which seems relevant to mental illness even if that wasn’t the intention.  Plus at the moment the sun literally is invisible most of the time, hidden behind clouds and only shining for a couple of hours a day even when not cloudy.

***

I was going to write some political stuff, but I can’t face.  I did observe myself, though, and it’s strange how, as a historian (my undergraduate degree was in Modern History, although “Modern” in the Oxford syllabus means “post-Roman”!) I can see that both sides in a debate can be partly right and partly wrong, but as soon as I look at modern debates, it’s easy to get caught up in the partisanship and wanting one side to be completely right and the other completely wrong.  And I’m not even a particularly partisan person: I don’t consider myself a supporter of any party, let alone being a member of one, and I feel rather politically homeless at the moment.

Bits and Pieces

The big news today is that the Jewish institution is going to phone tomorrow about my working there.  I’m guessing they want to negotiate something as they haven’t sent a straightforward yes/no email, although I could be wrong.  I asked them not to phone in the morning as I have a workshop then.  Since hearing, I’ve been feeling quite anxious, which is probably understandable, but might also stem from not being able to use my SAD light box for long today.  I’m also feeling somewhat depressed for the same reason, plus also because I’m wondering if E. and I will ever manage to get our lives sorted out enough to date again, let alone whether we’re right for each other.  I guess it’s good to know that she cares about me even if we aren’t technically together.

I had insomnia again, then slept too long and struggled to get up again.  I’m not sure where this insomnia has suddenly come from or, perhaps more accurately, why my antidepressants don’t knock me out the way they used to do.

I seem to have lost about 1kg of weight, which is good.  I just hope I really have lost it, as my weight can fluctuate.  Also, sometimes I don’t remember to weigh myself until after breakfast, which confuses things.  Of course, it’s nearly Chanukah, which is a super-fattening festival (potato latkes and doughnuts).  I don’t think I can forego the festive doughnuts!

The wifi problem has reached rock bottom.  It’s almost impossible for my computer to connect to our router from anywhere except right next to it, even though it can often locate the router of our neighbours two doors down, including when it can’t locate our router.  I have no idea how that works.  I want someone to look at it, but I suspect I’m going to need a new computer sooner rather than later.  My Dad wants to buy a power booster before we call anyone in to look at it.  I am ashamed to say that I argued with him about this, as it seemed obvious to me that that was a waste of time and money (why would only my computer have trouble connecting if it was a general wifi problem?  And why would it suddenly relatively recently rather than when we moved in four years ago?).  Sometimes it’s hard for me to tell the difference between arguing my case and autistic rigid thinking.

I finished the first draft of chapter three of my novel.  It’s not great, but it’s a start.  I’ve now written over 10,500 for the novel, which is good.

Tonight is the last of this series of Tuesday shiurim and then I need to get up early (about 7.30am) to go to an interview skills workshop, which will hopefully be easier than the last one, although doubtless there will be some scary mock-interview stuff to get through.  I spoke up at the shiur almost for the first time.  I had answered one or two questions in the past,  but only small things.  Here I ventured more of an opinion.  The shiur was on the Tower of Babel, looking at interpretations through the millennia from the Targumim (Aramaic translations) through the Midrash (ancient rabbinic expansions of the biblical story) to Medieval and modern commentaries.  This week we looked at the story modern Jewish religious works, but also in modern literature and art, including a short story by one of my favourite authors, Franz Kafka (The City Coat of Arms).  My contribution, after other people had spoken about the despair and futility evoked by the work, was to say that I found it quite funny.  I told the story that Kafka claimed to have read some of The Trial to his family consumed with laughter while they sat in stony-faced incomprehension and said I felt a bit the same here.  I meant it as a joke, but I worry it might not have been interpreted that way.  I did explain that I thought that the humour was the flip-side of the futility; either you laugh at the absurdity of the world or you fall into despair.  I didn’t say that I usually fall on the ‘despair’ side, which may be why I can find Kafka funny.

It would be a good thing if I could participate more in shiurim and classes and things, but I’m still held back a lot by social anxiety.

Last Night of Chanukah

Just a quick note.  My sister and brother-in-law came over for the last night of Chanukah.  I had a good time, but I felt extra autistic at times.  I’m not always good at focusing on the conversation and successfully joining in when lots of people are talking at the same time (I end up either interrupting or, more usually, missing the window for saying something), as was the case over dinner, but the conversation was mainly about the ongoing building works at my sister and b-i-l’s house and my sister’s driving lessons.  The former just made me feel a bit… not upset exactly, but wistful, I suppose for still being unmarried and living with my parents, while the driving discussion made me think that I’m thirty-five and I have never had a driving lesson because of anxiety and fear that I would not be coordinated enough to manage to drive safely.  (Bear in mind I’m two and a half years older than my sister, which makes all this feel worse.)  I feel rather drained now everyone has gone too and am probably coming off a sugar rush from the massive doughnut I ate.  Still, I got some nice books and DVDs as presents over the last eight days (because obviously shabby materialism is more important than family, religion, spirituality or competent maturity).

The last episode of this year’s run of Doctor Who was OK, but not great.  Apparently there’s only one episode next year (New Year’s Day special), but this season was very hit and miss, so perhaps a rethink is needed.  I don’t feel too sad about that, despite my melancholy mood, as I find watching new episodes vaguely painful, in case they’re not good.  It’s easier when I’m rewatching something and know what to expect.  This is probably also autism.  Certainly watching episodes multiple times is.

Chanukah Frustrations

Today has been a frustrating day.  I got up relatively early, at least for a Sunday, but then after breakfast I think I fell asleep again for two hours.  I’m trying to work on my interview presentation, but I feel what I have written is sub-par and doesn’t really answer the question the way I think they want.  It’s certainly shorter than it should be, about eight minutes instead of ten, and sure to contract further on the day when I go faster with anxiety.  I’m also not sure whether to do a bibliography; I don’t know if they want it and I only have one website on it anyway.  I feel that as a librarian I should provide references, but I’m not sure if I was really supposed to do research for it anyway, and especially not online (I used Google to answer a question about not using Google (actually, strictly speaking I used DuckDuckGo, as I don’t use Google so much because I have an anarchist streak, but it’s the same principle)).

I suppose that I should at least be grateful that it looks like I will make it to the interview as a few days ago even that was not clear.  But trying to write the presentation I find myself on the verge of tears again, choking up with anxiety and despair, and I procrastinate online or read things that interest me more, like clashing (moderately) ‘pro’ and (violently) ‘con’ obituaries for George Bush Snr. online.  I also worry about shaking when I give the presentation or even having a panic attack on the Tube on the way there and not actually making it.  It probably is true that I’m not in the career that interests me most, but working out what would interest me more (when I’m interested in many things) and whether I could actually do it (when depression, social anxiety and autistic symptoms make so many things difficult for me) is much harder.

There was anxiety in the evening too, after lighting Chanukah lights and later on.  I went on to Twitter to look at Doctor Who stuff and got triggered by political stuff.  “Triggered” is probably the wrong word, and one I overuse, but I was reminded that my political outlook is different to that of many of my friends, and that I suspect that many of my friends would reject me if I voiced some of my opinions.

Overall the day was frustrating.  I did some work on the presentation (even though not enough) and I dusted my room (which was long overdue), but again I didn’t cook dinner properly, just made something out of a packet and didn’t do as much Torah study as I would have liked (but at least I did some).

***

Tonight is the start of Chanukah.  When I was growing up Chanukah was a favourite festival because we got presents.  Nowadays it’s a favourite because it’s the least triggering festival (that word again).  It doesn’t involve complex OCD-triggering laws like Pesach and Sukkot.  It doesn’t involve drinking and enforced extreme happiness that are so difficult with depression like Purim and Simchat Torah.   It doesn’t involve social anxiety-inducing trips to crowded shul (synagogue) services.  It doesn’t involve depression-triggering soul-searching and guilt like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  It doesn’t threaten to mess up my sleep pattern like Shavuot.  I don’t even have to take time off work (not that I am working this year, but you get the idea).  Just light the candles, sing the songs and eat latkes and doughnuts.

Chanukah is an unusual festival anyway and not just in being post-biblical.  It is sometimes said that Jewish festivals can be summarised as “They tried to kill us, they failed, let’s eat!”  Actually only Pesach and Purim can be summarised that way.  What is unusual about Chanukah is that it does commemorate victory over persecution, but spiritual/cultural persecution rather than physical.  The “Greeks” (actually the Hellenistic Syrian Seleucid dynasty) didn’t want to kill us, merely to destroy our sovereignty, religion and culture, and the war against them for independence was as much a civil war of traditional Jews against Hellenised Jews as much as Jews vs. Greeks.  Unlike the Babylonians and the Romans, the Greeks didn’t destroy the Temple (symbol of Jewish religious independence), but defiled it with pigs and idolatrous statues, to turn the symbol of Jewish religious particularism and counter-culturalism (monotheism in a pagan world) into a conventionally Hellenistic Temple.  From that point of view it’s the appropriate festival for an era when Judaism as a religion is collapsing in the diaspora due to assimilation and when Zionism is under attack from (among others) secular progressives who are opposed to Jewish sovereignty and present it as an irrelevant to or even in opposition to traditional Jewish identity.  As Rabbi Zarum said when I heard him speak last week, Chanukah reminds us that we are all, from the most Modern to the most Charedi, drawing boundaries over what aspects of wider Western culture we let in and what we keep out and that we should at least be doing this self-consciously rather than unthinkingly.

(It’s really not the “Jewish Christmas,” whatever Hollywood says to the contrary, but you probably don’t want to see me on my soapbox about the presentation of Jews in popular culture again.  Anyway, Chanukah hardly ever actually coincides with Christmas, even though it always does in Hollywood.)

So Chanukah seems calm and when my OCD was worse in particular it seemed a bit of an oasis compared with other festivals, but once I start to think about the themes of the festival, suddenly it becomes fraught with meaning and with difficulty.  Am I too Westernised?  (Tellingly, a lot of my problem with recent Doctor Who episodes has stemmed from this idea of Jewish religious particularism.)  Am I fighting antisemitism the way I might be (there was a big and worrying survey of antisemitic attitudes in Europe in the Jewish press this week and I wasn’t sure what to make of it)?  Is living in Israel the only sustainable way of being Jewish in the long-term now, due to both assimilation and antisemitism?  What should I do?

“What should I do?” seems to be the general question of my life at the moment.

Chanukah is at least the tale of the triumph of a few heroes against enormous odds with miraculous Divine assistance, which I guess is reassuring to think about when I’m struggling to cope with all my mental health issues.  And there is, of course, the central miracle of the oil that burnt for eight days rather than one, which is why we light candles in the first place.  The idea of feeling pushed beyond natural boundaries is one I can empathise with, although it feels painful rather than miraculous to me.

***

I saw a strange story over Shabbat about a Chassidic rebbe (Rav Ben Tzion, the Bobover Rebbe) and his grandson Naftul’che before the Holocaust.  It was Chanukah and the grandson, who was a boy, was playing dreidel (a Chanukah game with a spinning top with writing on the sides; depending on how it lands, you either add to or take from the kitty of coins or sweets in the middle) with him.  Naftul’che was winning a lot, but his grandfather suddenly placed his hand over the dreidel before he could see it and said, “We don’t always need to know what the dreidel lands on.  The main thing is for a Jew just to keep going.”  I think the person who told the story was implying that this was some kind of conscious or unconscious premonition of the Holocaust, in which Rav Ben Tzion was killed; Naftul’che survived and became the Rebbe and his grandfather was teaching him to keep going no matter what.  But I guess the idea that resonates is that sometimes all we can do is just keep going, we can’t even tell how the dreidel has landed, how things are going to be or even how they are now, we just have to keep going; that even if we don’t win our rightful prize, just keeping going is enough.

***

I get lonely sometimes, particularly nights like tonight, where it’s a chag (festival), albeit a minor one, and my parents have gone out and my sister has long since left home and married and I’m home alone… and I like the quiet and solitude, but it also reminds me how few friends I have and that I’m not married and probably never will be.  I worry what will happen to me when my parents aren’t here.  Financially as much as emotionally.  I’ve never had a full-time job, and the last two jobs I had, I performed very badly.  I’m not used to doing important things badly and I don’t like it.  I hope it was just autism stuff (noise, people) and depression stuff (poor concentration, constant exhaustion) and not that I’m fundamentally a defective person.

Sometimes it feels like there are so many thoughts crowded in my head, sometimes even contradictory ones and certainly some that show me in a bad light.  I get angry and disgusted with myself sometimes.  A lot, really.  It is difficult to know what to do with these thoughts, how to repress or express them.  I wonder again what is wrong with me – if not autism, then what?  Because it feels like something is very wrong with me, and has been for a long time.  Is it really ‘just’ depression?  It does seem like I mess up every interpersonal relationship I have sooner or later, as well as most jobs.  Is that depression or social anxiety or what?

Sometimes I want to be hugged, but asking my parents can be problematic.  I’m not good at navigating personal relationships, even with people who care about me, especially if there is a complicated history.  I guess everything I do comes in the context of my own complicated history.  Part of me would like to start over from scratch, but that’s not really an option by this stage, although Rebbe Nachman of Breslav would say that is.  “If your tomorrow is the same as your today, what need have you for tomorrow,” I think is the quote (quoting from memory).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chanukah Present

It’s Chanukah!  The present I would most like (apart from things like world peace and health and happiness for my friends and family) is to be set up on a date with a woman who actually likes me and is suitable for me.  Doesn’t look like happening though.  The woman my Mum was trying to set me up with doesn’t seem to be interested and I’m still waiting to hear back from the shadchanit (matchmaker) who specialises in people with health issues or other ‘sensitive’ circumstances.  I don’t know where I go from here, as I was pinning a lot of my hopes on one of those two working.  I suppose I should go to an ordinary shadchan who might turn me away or try to set me up with a “normal” woman (we know how well that works).  Sigh.  The possibility of ever getting married seems to recede into the distance…

Addiction (Books Do Furnish a Room)

I don’t have many vices, or indeed things I enjoy, but I have an addiction to buying second-hand books.  Being a librarian allows me to feed my addiction, as I can buy cheap books off the withdrawn pile.  But whatever slight boost I get from buying them (and it is a slight boost, my anhedonia sees to that) is eroded later when I realise I’m never going to read all the books I buy.

Today I ended up with four books from the “for sale” pile.  One on Islamism, one on politics and economics (deliberately buying something that will challenge my political views, vague and contradictory as they are), one on political history (probably the most interesting-looking) and one on psychology: one of Maslow’s books on self-actualisation.  I thought should at least own the book, given that I use his hierarchy of needs to beat myself up about the impossibility of my ever being happy and having “peak experiences” when so many of my basic needs can not be met.

Goodness knows when I will get to read the books.  I don’t have much time for recreational reading as it is between my job, the book I’m writing, my blog (which is often a need for self-expression rather than a luxury) and my religious obligations; when I do have time to read I’m often too tired or too depressed to do so, and all these books look heavy-going.  I already have a huge ‘too read’ pile (or piles, plural, as I’m a re-reader – it often takes me two goes to really ‘get’ a serious book, whether fiction or non-fiction; the same goes for TV and film, incidentally) and I’m getting stack more books for Chanukah, possibly indicative of a lack of imagination on my part.  There was no point asking for DVDs as I’m going to be stuck watching Doctor Who for another year or so as research for my book.  I would like a new tie for shul, but other than that I hate getting clothes for presents, as I have little interest in them.  I wanted something I would enjoy after a difficult, tiring term with resurgent depression and lots of little somethings on several nights of Chanukah (rather than one big one on first night) so I could feel I had some parental attention after my sister’s wedding even if the monetary cost to them is the same.  We don’t do surprise presents very much in my family and anyway my sister is the only person I really trust to buy me surprise presents, so I had to choose something.  Anyway, the librarian doth protest too much, methinks.

Still, I once worked out I spend about £1 a week on books.  Even if I spend twice that, it’s still only about £100 a year and I do at least read some of them.  As hobbies go, it’s cheaper than most.  £100 would be fewer than ten trips to the cinema, and I must get more than 30 hours of pleasure out of a year’s worth of books.