Not Sure What This Says About Me…

I can’t sleep.  This thought is rattling around my head and I need to get it down.  I’ve hinted at it in the past, but it seems very stark and clear at the moment and I want to put it down.

When I was at school, there was a girl in my year who always smiled at me and said hello, using my name.  I didn’t really know why she did this and was probably vaguely suspicious that I was the butt of some unseen joke (I was bullied a lot at school and it made me suspicious of people outside my small friendship circle).  We didn’t have any lessons together and I wasn’t entirely sure how she even knew my name (I don’t know how I knew hers).  It’s only really in the last few weeks that I’ve realised, twenty years after the event, that the reason she always smiled at me and said hello was because she liked me.  Not necessarily in a teenage crush way (but maybe), but in a friendly, platonic way.

I don’t know what it says about me that it’s taken me twenty years to work this out.  I suppose I can blame that on autism and mind-blindness.  Now I can’t stop wondering what might have happened if I had realise this at the time.  I feel that in some sense I let her down, that I should at least have stopped and talked to her, not that I would have known what to say.  I wonder what would have happened if I had done that.

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Speaking a Dead Language

The usual post-Yom Tov (festival) depression has set in.  Actually, it is more accurate to define it as post-mass social interaction (i.e. interacting with lots of people at shul (synagogue) and elsewhere) depression.  I was not tired last night so I stayed up late blogging and unwinding from the stresses of the last three days, but inevitably slept late this morning and woke up utterly drained from the last few days.  I feel pessimistic about all my recent plans to write professionally and to date again.  I feel that I can’t write well, that I don’t know anything (except my own moods) well enough to write about at length, that no one would date me while I’m unemployed and so on.

It’s been a day of procrastination and feeling too drained and depressed to do anything.  I did send an email to the values-based dating service matchmaker saying I would like to date again if they find anyone (I had said I wanted to stop until I can find a job).  I hope that’s not a terrible idea.  It feels a bit like a terrible idea, despite what people have said to me, here and elsewhere.  I briefly started signing up for another dating service, but backtracked when I realised that the free membership was limited, while it didn’t say anywhere on the site how much the paid membership was.  I can’t really afford a hefty monthly fee at the moment, so that was more time/energy wasted.  I guess this is a way of ensuring that unemployed people don’t date.

I also went for a very short walk to do some shopping, which completely exhausted me, and I cooked dinner for myself and my parents (macaroni cheese, about the easiest recipe I know) which also exhausted me.  I somehow managed about twenty minutes of Torah study as well as writing letters of complaint about a couple of secondhand items that were advertised as “very good,” but arrived in a poor condition.  So this was not a totally wasted day, but it was not a productive one.

However, I did not have time, energy or mood/brainpower for a load of other things I hoped to get done today (write to a couple of friends asking for help starting to write professionally; proof-reading and submitting a job application; trying to get submission guides from various periodicals I’d like to write for; and studying the weekly page of Talmud for my shiur).  All those things will get postponed to later in the week, assuming I feel better.

In the meantime, I’m fighting the urge to eat junk food after all the junk, especially ice cream, I ate over Yom Tov (it is customary to eat dairy produce on Shavuot).  I’m wondering if I really have what it takes to write professionally, considering the small number of people reading my blog and the fact that I haven’t really written much professionally in the past and my autistic/socially anxious/low self-esteem difficulties with networking and pushing my work out there.  Actually, I wonder if I have what it takes to do anything meaningful at all.  I feel so useless so much of the time.

***

Doctor Who Magazine has been running a cosplay feature for some time now.  Cosplaying is when fans of something dress up as their favourite characters, often for conventions (because part of the point is being seen by people who get the reference).  Part of my mind thinks it is a pointless waste of time and money; another part thinks it looks a lot of fun; a third agrees it looks fun, but is too anxious for either cosplaying or going to conventions.  Broadly, the Jewish, fannish and autistic/mentally ill parts of my head, I suppose.  I did dress up as the Doctor for Purim, albeit in what a dedicated cosplayer would consider a very inaccurate costume (only the scarf was authentic; the rest was just a vague approximation of Tom Baker’s costume from stuff I had to hand).

I feel torn into pieces by the thoughts in my head.  I want to be frum, yet I lack energy and enthusiasm for Torah and mitzvot and sometimes I’m angry with God.  I like classic British telefantasy, but I worry it’s a trivial thing to waste my life on.  I love writing, but am scared to do anything with it.  I’d like to make friends with people like myself, but I’m terrified of rejection, so avoid places where I might meet people like myself (shulDoctor Who conventions).  I assume that the fact that I’m not a typical Orthodox Jew or typical Doctor Who fan makes me unlikeable by more conventional members of those communities, when it might be the reverse, at least for some people (maybe, possibly).  Anxiety and autism make me stay in my comfort zone when I might enjoy moving out of it (writing professionally, including doing serious research; going to conventions).

Sometimes it feels like being a frum geek is like knowing a nearly-extinct language, that there are nuances or connections in Jewish stuff or fan stuff that only I can see.  That’s fun on some level, but it’s also lonely.  I guess loneliness is fundamental to my life.  Perhaps surprisingly, I did have a couple of friends at school, but never many and sometimes they were all away or busy and I was left on my own.  Then at Oxford it grew to being one of the dominating emotions of my life and has never really gone away.  I don’t know if I could cope with having a partner, it would be so strange.  Maybe I would still feel lonely, and therefore guilty that my wife wasn’t enough for me.

This mental division might affect my writing.  It’s possible that what I want to write is not going to align very well with the readership of various periodicals.  I want to write something on chronic illness, especially depression and high functioning autism, in the Jewish community, but I worry that anything I write will be too frum (religious) for the Jewish Chronicle, but too irreligious for any of the frummer Jewish newspapers (which I don’t read anyway, so I would need to research style and tone.  Plus, I think on principle, I don’t want to write for newspapers that refuse to run pictures of women, as is the case with many Orthodox newspapers).

“I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member”

I’m feeling lost today.  Can’t concentrate on anything.  Slipping into daydream and fantasy, as I do when very depressed (and maybe when not depressed, I’m not sure).  We’re all the stars of the films of our lives, but I probably take that too literally.  Listless.  Feeling unable to do anything.  I’m worried that last week (two job interviews and a breakup) has pushed me a long way backwards.

Procrastinating.  Aimlessly browsing online, not reading anything.  Why is everything online so angry?  Isn’t anyone open to the idea that they might not be right, or at least that other people might also be right?  I know that when I feel like this, it’s companionship that I’m searching for rather than socio-political or cultural commentary, but I can’t find that online.  So I’m just wasting time.  I wish I had more real-life friends, and I wish they lived more locally, but it’s doubtful whether I would see them if they did.  I don’t even really have the confidence to talk to my shul (synagogue) friends at kiddush or seudah.  I don’t get to sit with them or I’m too shy to say anything or I assume that they don’t want to speak to me.  There was a message on the shul What’sApp about trying to organise a trip to see the Cairo Geniza collection at Cambridge.  This ticks almost all my boxes (Judaism, history, libraries), but I haven’t yet responded, because I don’t know the person’s phone number to respond (all posts on the What’sApp are via the shamash or the rabbi) and am too shy to ask around.

Similarly, I should stop procrastinating over asking my fan friends to look at my Doctor Who book and just ask them.  ‘m worried that they have too much on, but that they would say yes anyway and I would feel guilty.  Beyond that, it boils down to the fact that I like writing, but am less keen on showing people my writing or getting feedback on it.  Perhaps this is not so different from being too shy to speak to people, even my friends, at shul.  Then again, I’ve never had more than twenty likes on a blog post, so maybe almost no one is interested in my opinions after all.

***

I guess in my head there’s an unhealthy binary choice between “Being Myself” and “Fitting In”.  I don’t think, objectively, that most people sacrifice their inner selves to fit in, but at the same time, I probably should accept that, with my history of being bullied and ignored, and my strong, but unusual/autistic personality and interests, it is probably inevitable that I feel deeply ambivalent about fitting in anywhere.  I find it hard to believe anyone could accept me for who I am, so I hide myself (or hide my ‘self’) in any community.  That goes double for my shul where I’m aware that there are issues where I absolutely don’t agree with this community and never will, it’s just the least worst option currently available.  Probably if I was accepted somewhere, I would feel that I had sold out in some way. As a great man said, “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.”  (I just left a similar comment on this post on Hevria.)

I guess I just want someone to tell me that I’m a good person, but I don’t think I would believe them if they did.  I recently hit 300 followers on my blog, but I think a lot of them are spammy and I suspect (from my likes) that most of them aren’t actually reading it.  TL;DR is my middle name.

***

I somehow managed to apply for another job.  Nevertheless, I feel I should have done more today, and better.  I know I wrote a job application (although most of it was reused from an earlier one), I did some laundry and cooked dinner (a new recipe, Indian lentils and rice.  I burnt the rice) and went to shul for Mincha and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Services).  But all the same, I feel I should have worked on one of my books and done more Torah study and davened with more kavannah and written a better job application.  And not burnt the rice.  No, I know I should do more and better.  I’m not supposed to be seriously depressed and low functioning, I’m supposed to be moderately to mildly depressed and functional.

I use ‘should’ a lot and I’ve been told not to, but it seems to me that Judaism is a religion of ‘shoulds’ not choices or ‘maybes.’  In any case “I should not use shoulds” just becomes another ‘should.’

***

I finally got feedback from the academic librarianship job I was interviewed for a couple of weeks ago.  The said I had good answers and “a good deal of empathy in my answers”, which is positive, but also that I’m “reserved and quite serious” and lacking in personality; they also felt I was unable to understand the relative informality of the institution.  It was better feedback than that from the Very Important Organisation, but still a bit dispiriting.  I didn’t get the law librarian job either, but the feedback from that was much better; they said that I gave good examples and coped well even though I was nervous and that they would be willing to look at me again if another position in the library became vacant.

***

There’s a long article in The Economist’s 1843 Magazine about the struggles of gifted children that I empathised with.  Talk of loneliness and bullying sounds all too familiar, as do not being able to connect to other children and having intellectual development that runs far ahead of their (the gifted children’s) emotional development.  Sometimes I wonder what would have happened to me if I had gone to an educationally-selective school.  Would that have helped my socialisation?

The strange thing is, in a 5,000 word article that mentions intellectual precociousness, sensory sensitivity, anxiety and overthinking, poor social skills and social meltdowns, the words “high functioning autism” or “Asperger’s Syndrome” are not mentioned once.  No wonder I’ve struggled to get diagnosed.

***

I told my father that I asked the values-based dating service shadchan (matchmaker) not to look for anyone for me for a while.  I didn’t want to tell him, but he kept asking questions until I had to either tell him or lie outright and I’m not dishonest (I’m also a terrible liar).  I don’t think he thought it was a particularly good idea, which was why I hadn’t told him.  He seemed to think that if I hadn’t told the shadchan, she would have found someone else suitable for me very quickly, which I think is wishful thinking, bearing how long it took her to find L.  He also thinks someone could be interested in me even though I’m unemployed, which I think is unlikely, L. notwithstanding.  I also feel I need time out from dating to decide what I want to do with my career, whereas I think my parents are assuming I’m just looking for the right library job.

His concern does make me think that I’m running out of time to get married, certainly if I want to have children, but I think that anyway.  Nevertheless, I do get lonely and I do find myself wishing someone would drop out the sky and accept me the way E. did, but then even E. only managed to accept me for two months.

***
I had distressing violent thoughts of dying again today.  I don’t know what to do with them.

On Being Liked

Last night I was still thinking about the Doctor Who Society anniversary party after I posted about it.  One thing that came to mind, which has also come to mind a bit with some people from shul (synagogue) lately, is that some people seemed to actually like me.  This is a big thing for me to get my head around.  At school I thought only a handful of geeky kids liked me.  At university I was quite reluctant to describe anyone as my friend, as I only saw them at society events (Doctor Who Society or Jewish Society) and thought that they didn’t want to see me outside that.  Then for a long time when my depression was bad I thought, on some level at least, that people were only really my friend out of pity, because they were sorry for the state I was in.  So it’s been quite a shock recently (I mean over the last few months) to realise that some people seem to actually like me for who I am, even if they are aware of my mental health issues and the way I feel I don’t always quite fit in the communities I would like to belong to (Jewish community, Doctor Who fan community).  I’m still not quite sure how to process this.

***

Another thing I’m trying to process is my date with L.  I don’t really want to say too much about it as I don’t feel it’s appropriate to talk too much about dating while I’m actually going out with someone.  I don’t really know what to think, but that’s quite normal for me after a first date, particularly if it’s a blind date.  I guess L. in many ways is not the type of woman I have dated before or assumed I would marry, which may be a good thing, but I need time to process it.  We decided to go on another date, though (L. brought the subject up as I was going to wait, having been told in the past that I’m too quick to ask for another date).

Rabbi Lord Sacks has produced a calendar of thoughts, one per day for the omer (the period when we count the days between Pesach and Shavuot (Passover and Pentecost)).  I suppose it’s a kind of advent calendar, but with inspirational thoughts instead of chocolates.  One recent one stated that “Next time you meet someone radically unlike you, try seeing difference not as a threat but as an enlarging, possibility-creating gift.”  So I’m trying to see possibilities rather than worries.  But I am of course worrying and over-thinking everything, as usual.

Pain

I feel bad today, but I can’t work out what ‘bad’ means.  I guess it means ‘depressed.’  I’m struggling to understand my feelings again.  I did feel close to tears at times.  Earlier I was virtually crying, except that I couldn’t quite manage it.  I should feel anxious, about Pesach and about working late tomorrow (I’m going in at 1pm and working until 9pm to help with a public evening event, which will mean – gulp! – talking to strangers) and I do feel a bit anxious about these things, but I’m not sure that that’s what I am really feeling.  For much of the day I just wanted to curl up in a ball and ignore the world, really.  That’s more depression than anxiety, although, looking at the news, maybe it’s a rational response to the world (cf. Catch-22).  At any rate, it’s hard to do anything today.

I feel guilty, too, because I make myself out to be a better person here than I actually am.  I confess a lot here, but I can’t quite bring myself to confess everything.  So people think I’m better than I actually am.  I feel bad about that.  I suppose I have the idea that if everyone knew all my faults and accepted them, maybe I could accept them myself or forgive myself or something.  Or maybe I just feel bad that that people think I’m a good person when… well, in the past I would have said “when I’m not a good person,” but today I feel more that it should be “when I’m not such a good person,” which I suppose is an improvement of a kind.

***

I did look for extra cataloguing training on the CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) website, but I couldn’t find anything current.  I tried to sign up to some education and research mailing lists on JISCMail, but got panicked by the sheer numbers of lists there and the obscure areas they deal with (A forum on Hoshin Kanri [?]; Huddersfield Consortium College Libraries; Hull Geochemistry and Geobiology; Historians of Women Religious of Britain and Ireland – that’s just some of the Hs).  I signed up to a higher education list in the end and thought I would see how that goes before I decide whether to sign up for any more.  I’m not very good at CPD, or anything connected with my career, really.

***

My self-perception has really altered in the last year.  I used to think that I would be good at a job if I could find the right one, that depression was the main obstacle to my building a career, that one day the right combination of therapy, medication and activity/occupational therapy might – might! – help me deal with my depression, that I was an organised person and so on.  Now I have this huge thing called ‘autism’ looming over me as a potential diagnosis.  In some ways that’s good, because it leaves open the door to hoping that one day I will find the ‘right’ way to work and to live in order to have a career and potentially a family with my mental health issues managed at the root rather than just treating the symptoms, but in the meantime I am struggling to know who I am, what I could/should be doing about my career and relationships (relationships with family and friends as well as romantic relationships), how I can live and what I can expect of myself in my religious life.  I guess it’s no wonder I feel depressed, exhausted and confused so much of the time.

I wish I could have some kind of careers advice session, except not just about my career, but about the whole of my life, that someone would tell me what kind of career would suit me, where I fit in with the Jewish community, what type of woman I should be trying to date and how to meet her, how to cope with everyday life…  A S Mentoring might be able to help with some of that, but I’m not sure how to formulate the questions I need to ask yet, as well as being nervous about asking for help and embarrassed that I seem to need to rely on charities (mental health (JAMI) and autism (A S Mentoring, Mencap)) all the time when I feel I should be able to do things for myself.  Plus, I feel somethings are harder because I have more than one issue.  Autism and depression can interact in different ways and it’s not always clear which is predominating at any given time e.g. when should I try to push through exhaustion on the grounds that it’s just a symptom of depression and when should I accept it as a sign that I’m overstimulated and need quiet and rest.

I did fill in the online form for A S Mentoring, so that’s something positive I’ve done today.

***

Other than that, I didn’t do much today.  I went for a forty minute walk in the sunshine, which was good.  I started to apply for another job, but it was hard to overcome the depression.  This one is listed as a librarian role, but from the qualifications they are looking for, I think it’s another job where a librarian would be over-qualified and that it’s really a glorified library assistant role.  I tried to fill the online form in, but kept lapsing back into despair.  I find this whole process so tedious and I’m terrified that while I have the skills to write job applications and I apparently interview well, I’m actually incapable of holding down a real job.

***

This article is very true.  It would have been pretty much impossible for me to have had support for autism at school, certainly at primary school, as high-functioning autism/Asperger’s Syndrome wasn’t recognised until the year I started secondary school; when I was a child, if you were verbal, you weren’t autistic, end of story.  Even so, I think my parents and teachers were aware that things weren’t right in some way and that I was a target for bullies (but usually different bullies; I wasn’t usually consistently targeted by the same people, which made stopping it hard, especially when it was kids I didn’t know from other years shouting stuff at me in corridors when we passed) and was lacking in confidence, but that wasn’t considered special needs.  My Mum tried to get me to see the school counsellor, but handled it badly and just upset me and my form tutor once told me I needed to… I can’t remember his exact words, but he basically told me I was working too much and needed to develop my life outside of work .  But the general view was that my grades were good, so I was doing well, even if I wasn’t socially integrated, especially as I don’t get meltdowns or stim in a very obvious way or have other external symptoms of autism.

I suppose I was also lucky, going to a Jewish school, that there were voluntary shiurim (religious classes) to go to at lunchtimes, so I didn’t have to spend them in the playground.  On days when there weren’t shiurim I could be quite lonely and miserable if I got separated from my small circle of friends (e.g. they were at music practice or we got split up in the lunch hall crowd), which happened quite frequently.  I do wonder if I would be in the emotional/psychological state I’m in today (depression, social anxiety) if more support had been available when I was growing up, but I guess that way madness lies.

***

I keep having mini revelations about my autism.  I used to think I was a bad writer because I don’t use much metaphorical language, not in my blogs and non-fictional writing, but also not very much when I was writing fiction or poetry.  Now I realise that that could be autism.  I don’t struggle with non-literal language the way some autistic people do, but I don’t use it much and I’m very aware of, and irritated by, clichéd language, which often consists of tired metaphors that are just taken for granted and not even used as metaphors any more.

***

I looked at some articles on Neshamas, which I hadn’t done for ages.  I don’t know why, because I could have guessed it would be upsetting.  I suppose I was lonely and I just wanted to connect with people who feel as awful as I do, even if it’s just by reading what they wrote.  I read stuff written by women who are being abused/raped by their husbands.  It makes me angry and upset that this happens.  But also, it makes me think that I do have something to offer in a relationship, in terms of not actually being abusive.  But then after a moment it somehow seems inadequate.  That those women deserve better than the men who are abusing them, but that they would also deserve better than me.  That I wouldn’t be able to meet anyone’s needs, I just wouldn’t hurt her.  That I’m objectifying women just by wanting to be in a relationship with someone, even though I just want to be able to give to someone.

It’s possible that I’m not thinking straight about something here, but it’s hard to tell what.

Progress and Burn Out

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

Not Good Enough

I got very/even more depressed after posting last night, and very lonely.  There might have been anger in there too, I can’t remember.  I should probably have phoned Samaritans, but I didn’t think of it and I didn’t have the energy.  I eventually crawled into bed about 1.00am, slept for nine hours and had anxiety dreams I can only vaguely remember.  I managed to get up fairly soon after I woke up this morning, but I rather than get dressed, daven (pray) and start the day, I sat around in my pyjamas reading.  I feel bad about this, a bit, but not as much as I should.

***

It feels like I used to be clever and competent, at school and maybe even first year at university, but these days I’m just stupid.  That’s probably not true.  While depression probably does have an effect on my cognition, slowing me down and occasionally making me do stupid things, it’s more that I was high-functioning enough to cope at school, but as studying and later work became less about regurgitating information and more about thinking for myself, and as relationships (in the broadest sense) became less about structured play and more free-form, my autistic deficiencies in executive function and social interactions became more obvious.  My low-powered current job means I don’t have to do much of that kind of thinking, so it suits me, but I can feel that I’m overqualified and should be doing something more demanding and higher paying, not to mention something that continues past the end of the month.

***

On my last post, Ashley Leia commented, “It seems like the effort you put into practicing your religion in spite of the various illness obstacles you’re faced with should “count”, if there is such a thing, as much as someone who’s fulfilling more commitments but without having to climb over barriers each and every day.”  I responded, “I would hope so, and there are Jewish sources that would say so, but sometimes I wonder. Do I put “enough” effort in? Sometimes I feel I could do more. And sometimes it feels like good intentions are not enough, I have to actually do stuff.”

This was a slightly disingenuous answer.  The Talmud has a long discussion on suffering in Brachot (the volume I’m studying at shul (synagogue)), in which there’s a discussion (Brachot 5b) of Rabbi Elazar being sick and Rabbi Yochanan visiting him.  Rabbi Yochanan sees that Rabbi Elazar is crying and asks him why and rhetorically answers, “Why do you weep? Is it because you did not study enough Torah? Surely we learnt: The one who sacrifices much and the one who sacrifices little have the same merit, provided that the heart is directed to heaven.  Is it perhaps lack of sustenance? Not everybody has the privilege to enjoy two tables [spiritual and physical success].  Is it perhaps because of [the lack of] children? This is the bone of my tenth son! [Rabbi Yochanan had ten sons who all predeceased him and he would comfort those who lost children by telling them how he coped.]”  (Translation lazily copied from here, sorry, first and last square bracket comments by me.)

The interesting thing is that Rabbi Yochanan, in talking about not studying enough Torah, brings a proof-text about sacrifices; the sacrificial service is usually seen as having been replaced by prayer in the post-Temple era, not Torah study.  So this would seem to indicate that the principle of “the one who does much and the one who does little are the same, provided the heart is directed to Heaven” applies to both prayer and Torah study.

This should cheer me up, but it doesn’t.  I suppose I feel the little prayer and Torah study that I do, I do on autopilot, not with kavannah (mindfulness) and “directing my heart to Heaven”.  I don’t feel that I have the connection with HaShem (God) that I would need for that.  I also feel that, even if I can’t do as much as other people, I could do more than I currently do, if I just pushed myself harder, but somehow that never seems to work.  I do feel that I “should” do more, that I’m not suffering “enough” to do the little I do.  I still can’t accept that I do enough even if I accept that I can’t do as much as other people.

I suppose it comes back again to feeling that God hates me and that I can never be good enough for Him.

There is more to say about this, but my brain is in depressive shut-down today and just isn’t cooperating.  Perhaps more after Shabbat.

The Happiest Days of My Life

Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner alone went OK.  I read more of The Complete Peanuts and was distracted by the craziness of the forthcoming Israeli general election in The Jewish Chronicle, so I didn’t read much of 13 Minutes, which is less of a thriller than I thought from the blurb on the back and more of a teenage school story (I had a similar experience with Turtles All the Way Down a few months ago).  I slept too long and missed shul (synagogue) in the morning again and dozed off as well in the afternoon, which is frustrating.

Now I’m facing a busy and stressful week combined with my parents being away and am wondering how I will cope.  At least the hardest thing, the networking workshop, is over first.

***

On Shabbat in shul (synagogue), I found myself reflecting about the values of my shul against my own values.  We both value prayer and Torah study (in both cases the shul value both much more than I’m able to right now with my mental health issues).  But the shul places value on quarantining oneself from the wider culture, to a greater or lesser extent, while I do not.  I think Jews can learn things from the best of other cultures, if we’re careful, and we can teach things too.  I wouldn’t want to be set up with someone like my shul on a date, which is problematic as someone from shul might try to set me up with someone one day… but as it’s never really happened before now (slightly, once), that’s not really much of a concern.  More pertinent is the fact that I don’t know how to find a shul that fits more of my values.  I would probably have to be earning a lot more money and be more emotionally stable and independent so I could move out of my parents house and to another area and even then I might not find one.

***

I found myself feeling glad that I have Judaism, and books, and Doctor Who and other vintage science fiction/telefantasy to hold onto.  (Are they autistic special interests?  I’m not sure that they all are; I feel uncomfortable with the way some autistic people I know list all their hobbies as ‘special interests’ which I feel devalues the notion.  My interest in literature and even Judaism, important though they are, don’t seem as intense and self-soothing as my interest in Doctor Who and vintage telefantasy)  They give me a refuge and alternative ways of conceptualising the world.  A link to the past, something bigger and older than myself, somewhat bigger and older in the case of Doctor Who, immeasurably bigger and older in the case of literature and Judaism.  I feel sorry for people who have nothing larger than themselves.  I suppose that’s why it’s so important to me to try to find friends/a partner who share all of these interests, because they are so central to my sense of self.

***

I was feeling OK, but I suddenly felt quite depressed.  I don’t know if it’s apprehension about the week ahead, especially the networking workshop and coping without my parents, or if 13 Minutes is bringing up bad memories from school.  I would stop reading it, but I don’t like giving up on books, plus I want to know the reason behind the book’s central mystery, how Natasha Howland ended up drowning in the river in the middle of the night.  So much for trying new things.

My depression and autism make me feel that I won’t enjoying new things and they are sometimes right, but I’m not sure that they don’t sabotage things to prove themselves right.  When I was a child, my parents would push me to do social stuff saying, “Just try it once.”  Then, if I didn’t like it, they would press me to try it again on the grounds that the first time might be atypical.  I actually did more social stuff when I was very young (pre-teen), cubs, scouts, karate, but I’m not sure that I actually enjoyed any of them and I certainly didn’t make friends through them.  Mostly I just pined for my mentor friend and felt unable to talk to other people or feel comfortable without him.  I don’t think I could express or even understand my ambivalent-going-on-negative feelings about these activities.  I just avoided doing things as much as possible.

When I was eleven and twelve I got invited to bar and bat mitzvah parties of people in my class at school.  I hated them, all noise and music and dancing and emergent adolescent sexuality (boys and girls were dancing together (they weren’t frum simchas), which I simply didn’t understand as I didn’t hit puberty for another year).  Although I knew everyone, I had few friends, especially as my mentor friend simply didn’t go on the grounds that he didn’t enjoy discos and his parents didn’t push him to go, whereas mine said that if I was invited, it was rude not to go.  I used to hide in the toilets, which I thought was ruder than not going at all, but my parents disagreed.  I put it down to shyness, as did everyone else, but in retrospect the whole thing is an autistic deathtrap.  The funny thing is that I can’t remember consciously disliking the noise.  Trying to think back to it, I get a strong feeling of get me out of here, but it’s hard to identify the cause and I can see why I and everyone else assumed it was just my shyness at work.  Even my own bar mitzvah was like everyone else’s, because no one told me I had the option of another way.  My parents would have allowed something else, but, I suspect that in the absence of being presented with other options, I couldn’t think of anything.  Or perhaps I had been offered other options, but didn’t really understand them because I hadn’t been to similar parties, or lacked the imagination and self-awareness to predict what I would like.  Anyway, at my own bar mitzvah, I went outside and played in the entrance hall with a friend for most of the evening.  I remember that at my sister’s bat mitzvah my Mum got really angry with me for not standing with the rest of the family at the end of the evening; I think my issues was less noise and sensory overload there and more shyness and not wanting everyone staring at me.  At least these days my parents are more understanding of my mental health and neurodivergence, although I worry that I hide behind these things.  Then again, without them, maybe I wouldn’t want to hide.

***
I’m just struggling to do things today, to go for a walk and cook dinner.  I don’t exercise or cook as much as I used to, even when the depression was worse than it is now and I was still working more days per week.  I don’t know why this is the case.  I’m cooking red bean chilli because I’ve done it loads of times before.  I feel guilty that I’m not using the cookery book I got in the summer for my birthday.   I’ve only used it once, but I’ve hardly cooked anything since then and have mostly relied on known recipes.  I shouldn’t feel guilty about this, but I do.  I feel guilty about lots of things that aren’t my fault, and some that are.  I feel guilty that I burnt the onions again and that I probably damaged my Mum’s pot.  Actually, I probably should feel guilty about that.

***

Feeling like an anxious mess now.  I volunteered to help with something today; it took an hour, but I can’t do very much and that plus shopping plus cooking plus Talmud study has eaten up my whole day, so I probably won’t be able to work on my books as I wanted.  I still plan to do too much each day, or at least each non-work day.  I don’t know how most people manage to live much busier lives than me; I’m barely functional.

I’m so anxious about tomorrow, coping with the networking workshop and getting to the theatre on time in the evening for the Jewish Book Week talk and then getting home in time to get some sleep before work on Tuesday.  I feel, probably somewhat arrogantly, that I ought to be giving talks at Jewish Book Week one day.  I don’t mean that I’m a gifted or insightful writer, merely (yet again) that I feel in some nebulous way that everyone expected me to be a “success”, whatever that means, that I got through school telling myself that once I left and was free of the bullies, once I got to university, I would be a success, and yet I am a miserable failure who can’t even cook dinner.  How can I even think of careers and relationships when I’m such a non-functional mess?  I do feel that if the kids who bullied me at school could see me now they’d die laughing.

Busyness, Loneliness and Jewish Studiousness

I didn’t have work today, having gone in on Monday instead, so I got to sleep in.  I actually slept for something like eleven hours and finally woke feeling refreshed.  I don’t know why I need to sleep so long; I used to assume it was the depression making me exhausted, but it may also be the effort of masking depression and autism in social situations and at work.  I started sleeping longer at weekends when I was a teenager, which is probably fairly common, but that was also the time I first started showing symptoms of depression and when school perhaps started becoming harder from an autistic point of view, as the nature of friendship changed and became less about playing together and more about sharing emotions.

The downside of sleeping in is that doing everything I wanted to do today became harder, especially as I was feeling a bit down, or at least sluggish (it’s not always easy for me to tell the difference between the ‘low mood’ and ‘low energy’ aspects of depression, which I guess is alexithymia again).  I probably wanted to do too much anyway, but as I said yesterday, chores have a habit of breeding.  I needed to get a haircut and buy an anniversary card for my uncle and aunt, catch up on this week’s Talmud study, speak to Remploy about career’s advice and workplace support options for someone with depression and autism and a few smaller things.  I also wanted to get through some more Doctor Who episodes for research (not relaxation, as it’s become a chore at times to do it, although I enjoyed the much-maligned The Gunfighters). 

I managed everything except speaking to Remploy, which was good, especially as I can now put aside the second drafts of another two Doctor Who book chapters.  I shook quite a bit while having my hair cut, which wasn’t good.  I’m trying hard not to beat myself up about not getting everything done.  As I said, I probably wanted to do too much anyway.  The problem is I hate having my haircut and I was nervous about having to contact Remploy so the urge to procrastinate is there, along with the fear that I was procrastinating even if I wasn’t.  Of course, the reason I’m so sluggish today is probably at least in part because I did quite a bit yesterday, so to some extent there’s a trade off.  I will see if I can speak to Remploy before I go into Shabbat mode tomorrow afternoon.

***

I try to push myself sometimes to read things that are out of my usual comfort zone, so I’m reading 13 Minutes, a thriller about teenage girls and their cliques and bitchiness.  It’s been making me think of my school days, which were miserable, but I realise from the book that a lot of what was going on went over my head.  I just wasn’t aware of a lot of stuff in terms of interpersonal dynamics (friends, lovers, enemies).  I don’t know if that was autism or just being out of the loop, if the two aren’t really the same thing.  I certainly wasn’t really aware of my peers having sex like the characters in the book.

Now, of course, I think about it too much.  I feel that there’s a huge part of life I’m locked out of.  I don’t know why I fixate on that.  I’m not a great traveller, but I don’t feel that I’m missing out much there.  I don’t touch drugs or alcohol, but I don’t feel that I’m missing out on them.  Maybe because I long for intimacy more than sex per se and feel I’ve never or rarely experienced the kind of closeness I want with people.  Or because from a frum point of view, sex is bad until you get married, when it’s good, which makes it harder to write off.  My frum peers have lots of children by this point.  I hope I get rewarded for my abstemiousness at some point, but I worry that I won’t.  It’s not like I really had a choice; I couldn’t have sex even if I wanted, women have never exactly thrown themselves at me.  Tehillim/Psalms asks God to store our tears in a flask and record them as a sign that He is with us.  It can be hard to feel that my suffering is somehow preserved for a meaningful goal, though.

***

On a more positive note, I mentioned doing the weekly Talmud study above and while I still feel that I understand very little of the actual arguments of which the Talmud is mostly comprised, I think I am slowly learning key words and logical terms.  In the long run, that’s probably more important than actually understanding the arguments.

In the last few days I’ve felt more confident in my own Jewish knowledge in general, at least compared with other ba’alei teshuva (people ethnically Jewish but raised non-religious who became religious later on in life), which is a positive thing given that many of the people in my shul are ba’alei teshuva.  I feel that I probably do know a lot compared to the average ba’al teshuva, although most of the time I’m too scared to reveal my knowledge.  I also feel that I have more of a sense of an underlying philosophy of Judaism than many Jews have.  I feel like a ba’alat teshuva or geyoret (convert to Judaism) might accept me as a husband, although there is still a feeling that she would be ‘settling’ for me in the absence of someone better and that a frum (religious) from birth Jewish woman wouldn’t accept me.  I don’t know whether this is true.

***

Related to this, I do feel today that someone might want to marry me; the problem is finding a job to support a family/make myself more attractive and in working out how to actually meet women, given that I’m not integrated into the frum community enough to get set up on dates.  Plus, as I said, I do still have the nagging sense that if someone did marry me, she would be ‘settling’ for me, not marrying me because she really wants me in the first instance, although for a while today even that feeling disappeared.  But there’s no telling what I will think tomorrow.

Scenes from an Autistic Childhood

Someone took my seat at shul (synagogue) yesterday.  I didn’t say anything, but I was quite annoyed.  Taking seats is a thorny area in most shulsHalakhically (according to Jewish law) one should sit in the same seat in shul every day.  However, one should also be friendly to visitors and new people at shul who don’t know which seats are free and might take one by accident.  Shuls where people throw people out of “their” seats by claiming ownership can get a bad reputation.  So I never know what to do in a situation like this.  I like my seat because I sit with the two people I’m most friendly with in the shul.  I had to sit in a different seat with someone else, which made me a bit uncomfortable.  The silly thing is, the person who took my seat sometimes sits behind me, so I thought he might know that I sit there.  I hope he isn’t planning to make it his seat permanently, especially as the people I sit with actually invited me to sit with them.

***

At dinner I had a very long discussion with my parents (a couple of hours long) about autism.  My Mum said she had read the leaflet I lent her and that it sounded a lot like me.  We spoke a lot about childhood events.  My parents didn’t think I really had autistic meltdowns.  They said when I was stress or overwhelmed I would go quiet and go off to the corner or to my room, but I’m not sure if this is really an autistic shutdown.  It doesn’t sound extreme enough.  They felt I avoided the type of situations that might have pushed me into a full-blown meltdown.  I avoided a lot of things as a child and as a teenager.

We spoke about my executive function, which was more textbook.  I said what I wrote here the other day, that I always thought I was organised because I plan, but now I realise I don’t stick to my plans.  My Dad’s response was, “You’re terrible at planning” agreeing that I don’t stick to my plans.  I get distracted from things.  I also spoke about not being good with choices and not liking it when Mum wants me to decide between a lot of things.  If I have to make a big decision e.g. changing my phone contract (something I’ve been putting off for months… procrastination is another trait my Dad brought up), my Mum will love to shop around and get loads of options for me, but I just get overloaded by that.  I prefer to be given a choice of just two or three of the apparently best options and accept that I may miss something even better.

Mum said something interesting about my desire for predictability which I didn’t know.  Apparently when I was young enough that Mum started to let me go out by myself, if Mum was sending me out to do some shopping I would bombard her with questions about what would happen – what should I say, what would the shopkeeper respond, what should I do if the shopkeeper said something else and so on.  She thought it was a bit weird, but as I am her eldest child, she didn’t really have anything to compare it with until my sister came along and was happier with short instructions.  I am still like that.  If I have to do something new, particularly if it involves social interactions, I still plan in detail, but I didn’t realise I did it in such detail from such a young age.

We also discussed my career a bit.  They both think I’ve been much less depressed lately since I started my new job, because I feel I can do it, I feel accepted by my colleagues and I feel my boss understands my issues, which was not always the case in my previous two jobs.  I said I would be happy if my contract was extended past March to stay in this job for a while.  Ideally I would rather be working three days a week rather than two, but I would like to use my non-work days to work on my writing.  They both seemed reasonably happy with that.

***

I was really exhausted after this long conversation, but I needed alone time before I could sleep, so I didn’t get to bed until very late, I think after 1.00am.  I actually woke up early this morning and could have gone to shul, but I panicked and didn’t go and went back to sleep instead.  I was worried that people would ask why I’m not normally there, which was a bit of a strange thing to worry about.  I think there must be something about shul that I really don’t like, because since my teens it has been hard to go even though I’m frum (religious) and I don’t think it’s just about sleeping in.  But on the other hand, I do find it easier to go in the evenings.  I think there might be a mixture of sensory overload, social anxiety, and issues with getting up early/depression.  I need to go a few times and become conscious of what is driving me away and work out how to either adapt so I can go or accept why I can’t go, but I don’t know how to actually get to shul a few times to make those observations.  In the past I’ve done it by making myself accountable to an occupational therapist saying, “I will get to shul by 10.00am every other Saturday in the coming month” but I don’t know who I can make myself accountable to now.  It doesn’t seem to work with my parents for some reason and I don’t think it would help doing it here, as I am too used to admitting failures here.

***

An aside from that discussion with my parents: the big traumatic events of my childhood that have scarred me so much have largely been forgotten by my Mum and also (I know from another conversation) my sister.  My Dad remembers, but perhaps doesn’t place so much emphasis on them.  It’s strange.  It feels wrong of me to remember them as so difficult, but that is how I remember them, albeit partly because therapy has made them feel so formative.  On the other hand, my Mum said she remembers me running out of the room with my hands over my ears at my sister’s engagement party, which I don’t remember at all.  I remember that I was there for an hour or so and then I got overwhelmed and went to another room, but I don’t remember running out with my hands over my ears.  Strange.

One Better Day

Today was a better day.  I seem to be relying on work days to give me a jolt of energy and snap me out of depression and into active mode.  Which is good so far as it goes, but I worry about not having much positive in my life outside of work (my writing is positive, but as yesterday showed, the thought that I could/should be writing is not always depression-defeating).  I also worry what will happen if my contract doesn’t get renewed past March.

***

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned that my part of the library where I work is running an event/exhibition later this month for students from an art school.  My line manager asked me to find material for it.  The theme is ‘protest’ so I picked a load of pamphlets and books dating from the English Civil Wars and Interregnum, Chartism, Jewish emancipation debate and early editions of famous satirical novels (before everyone jumps on me, I was going to include women’s suffrage too, but my line manager said that was the theme last year and to avoid duplication).  There was some other interesting material too, but I can’t really talk about it as it would make it more obvious (at least to some people) which university I’m working It’s a shame I can’t mention some of the unique material that would identify the university, as some of it is really interesting or exciting.  In particular, we’re the semi-official archive for the papers of writer I really like, so it’s quite exciting to work with that.

I was talking my line manager and one of the curators through my choices today.  My line manager has a PhD in history, but not in any of the periods I was dealing with and the curator I think didn’t have a direct history background.  I was really nervous about talking to them and trying hard not to shake, but I think they liked it.  To be honest, I hadn’t looked at the Civil Wars and Interregnum for nearly fifteen years (final year of my BA); Chartism for even longer (secondary school) so I probably made some mistakes, but it seemed to be good enough on the whole and my line manager was very pleased.  I’m terrified of having to go through this again in a few weeks with a bunch of strangers (art students!  Scary bohemian types, who probably drink pot and smoke acid!).

I did get a bit of a buzz from presenting, though.  I’ve done public speaking in the past, but it’s something I haven’t done for a long time, because my previous experience was mostly in my old shul (synagogue); at the current one there aren’t opportunities to present and I would feel too inadequate and shy to do so if there were.  I don’t lead services any more for the same reason.  I do get something from presenting, though, even if I drive myself crazy with fear of shaking and over-analysing my mistakes.

Other than that, work was fairly straightforward today, except that there were severe train delays on the way in and I had to go via an alternative route.  I was only a few minutes late in the end and I did work into my lunch to make up the time (and still ended up leaving late at the end of the day), but I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to tell anyone I was making up the time or if that just sounded silly and childish.  My line manager wasn’t in when I arrived, so I told her line manager why I was late, but I wasn’t sure if that was the right thing to do or if I should have told my line manager when she arrived.  It’s this kind of pragmatic social interaction that I find really difficult, being on the autism spectrum.

There were a couple of other moments of social awkwardness today, too trivial to mention, which could be plain old social anxiety and self-consciousness rather than autism, but I do feel like I’m in a world I don’t understand a lot of the time.  I follow a blog written by the co-carer for a boy with autism and I was thinking recently of commenting to say that if he seems sometimes to be unintelligible to his carers, from his point of view everyone in the world is unintelligible, and then it hit me that that’s exactly how I feel, albeit with the caveat that my autism is not so severe and I’ve learnt masking and coping strategies over time and built empathy and perspective-taking skills.

***

I have also had some anxiety around locking doors at work, especially the strong room where the rare books are stored.  I probably need to keep an eye on this to stop it turning into full-blown OCD.  I’ve been going back to double-check things and I probably should not do so and just tell myself that I’ve got to move on (exposure therapy).  This is easy to say, but hard to do.

***

I’m signed up to a newsletter with links to articles on autism on a health website and I came home to find a LOT today.  Some of them look useful, at least for my family if not for me, but I’m not sure when I’m going to get the time to read them.  Lots of useful-looking stuff about what “mild” or “high functioning” autism actually means and how to explain it to people, now that the term “Asperger’s Syndrome” has officially been scrapped.  On the other hand, reading this kind of stuff makes me worry that I’m not ‘really’ autistic, I’m just lazy and useless, which I guess is the problem of having some symptoms strongly, but others very mildly or not at all.

There is a whole article about how mild autism can be masked in some people by high intelligence and strong language skills which I guess is what happened to me.  I certainly learnt early on not to talk about my special interest (Doctor Who) to most people, and I remember my parents telling me after one parents’ evening that I didn’t make eye contact with my teachers all evening; ever since I’ve struggled consciously to make eye contact, even though it feels very uncomfortable and I have no idea if I’m doing it too much/not enough.  I don’t know if I exhibited any obvious stimming or echolalia when I was very young, but I’m pretty sure Authority would have stopped me soon enough if I had.  I do stim, but so subtly I’ve only become aware of it in the past couple of years and while I like the sound of some words (like ‘echolalia’) it would feel ‘wrong’ to say them aloud for no reason, although lately I have started to sometimes say words for no reason other than liking the sound when no one else is around.

A sympathetic psychiatrist might diagnose me, but an unsympathetic one would just reiterate all the assessments that said I was not on the spectrum.  Naturally, I hear the voice of the unsympathetic one in my head and tell myself I’m stupid, incompetent and lazy.  Actually, that’s not quite true.  Since my positive autism screening it has been a little bit easier to accept myself for who I am, but I do think another negative assessment could set me back a long way.  I don’t think I could easily be persuaded that I’m neurotypical now, though.  I think there’s something different about me, whether or not it’s autism.

***

I’m getting more into The Dispossessed, which turns out to be as much about loneliness as about science fictional technology or anarchism vs. capitalism.  There was a paragraph I read today, too long to quote in full, about how painful it is for a child to feel different and that the only way to alleviate this pain is to know adults who are also different to show that this is OK.  Like Shevek, I had loving adults in my life, but none who were different and could show me how to be different and cope with solitude.

***
I need to respond to the email from the dating service I signed up to.  I have very mixed feelings about that.  Part of me wants to leave it already or at least procrastinate over taking the next step, while part of me wants to go ahead with it.  I begin to suspect that Brexit will be quicker and easier to resolve than my love life…

Rules You Never Told Me

Today was a “no spoons” sort of day…

1.15pm: I had weird dreams, woke up exhausted, depressed and OCD anxious, had breakfast, still felt exhausted and depressed, went back to sleep and woke up too late to daven Shacharit (say the morning prayers), none of which is good.  I still feel exhausted and depressed (I keep going back to bed), albeit less so and at least the OCD anxiety seems to have gone.  It’s probably good that I have work to focus on tomorrow.

It’s 1.15pm and I’m still not fully dressed.  Sitting half-dressed, feeling exhausted, lonely and overwhelmed.  Yesterday I thought that my ‘downs’ were at least better than they used to be, but today I’m not sure.  It’s probably that there’s more variation over a day than over several days, that I still dip as low as ever some days, but I get higher up every day too.  Right now I can’t do anything, though, just struggling to get dressed.  Spent a while lying in bed in a quiet dark room, which suggests I was overstimulated yesterday, even though I was only at the party for an hour.  (Of course, today it’s probably good that I’m due to watch more of Doctor Who: The Sensorites as it’s difficult to think of anything less stimulating!)  My Dad just said I’m “slow today” which doesn’t exactly help things.

2.40pm: After lunch and an episode of The Sensorites.  Still very depressed and drained.  Not sure what sort of targets would be realistic to set today.  I don’t want to waste the whole day, but not sure what I can do, given that I’ll feel worse if I set a target and fail to meet it.

2.45pm: Yuk.  Just came across this post online about why to study in yeshiva.  Reason number three is that your children won’t respect you if you don’t go, because you won’t be able to help them with their kodesh (Jewish studies) homework.  The number one reason, ahead of even getting spiritual inspiration or study skills, is that it will move you up in the “Jewish marriage market” and you won’t get “a great spouse and a beautiful family” without it (those are exact quotes from the article).  So, pretty much all my fears about no one frum (religious) enough for me wanting to marry me because I didn’t go to yeshiva are vindicated.  Because marriage is a market and the idea is to marry the “best” person (the most learned man, the prettiest woman (or the one with the richest father)), not the person who is right for you.  At least my rabbi mentor disagrees strongly with this viewpoint (and I wouldn’t want to marry someone Chabad anyway, and they wouldn’t want to marry me for more reasons than just that I didn’t go to yeshiva).

That said, I do sometimes wonder if I should have gone to yeshiva, if the experience might have helped me avoid depression or if I would just have been as lonely there as I was at university; or whether it would have helped me fit in to the frum community or if my autistic symptoms and social anxiety would just have been exacerbated in the noise of a beit midrash (study hall, where students debate loudly in pairs) or if the depression would have been exacerbated by the long working days (eight hours or more of study with few breaks and little recreation allowed, plus early starts and late finishes to mess up my sleep pattern) and the communal living with, I think, little opportunity for me to have the time I need alone (unless you go to a yeshiva that encourages meditation, but only Breslov and some Mussar yeshivot would do that).

E. says it’s a shame that I don’t have any distraction/procrastination sites that don’t end up upsetting me (usually about religion or politics) sooner or later.  I suspect the problem is more that I get upset really easily even when looking at stuff that shouldn’t be triggering.

3.10pm: struggling to work out what to do today.  I still haven’t put on tefillin or davened (prayed) yet today, so I really ought to do that.  I would also like to try to go for a walk, as I need exercise.  But I think doing my weekly Talmud study is out of the question, ditto cooking dinner or working on my mental health book.  I’m just too depressed and drained.

I got a letter from HMRC (the taxman).  They wrote to me some months ago saying I hadn’t paid enough tax in the last fiscal year (although I’ve no idea why, as I’m taxed PAYE) and that I owed them about £60.  When I queried this they said I still owed them a “small” amount of money (they didn’t say how much), but that I didn’t have to pay because the administrative costs in processing it were too great.  Today I received another letter from them saying I do have to pay the £60 after all, and I have to pay in less than three weeks.  I do not know what to do.

The money itself isn’t the issue.  I can pay £60.  I do feel like I’m having money extorted out of me and that there are other tax evaders and avoiders they should be focusing on, but I believe in a mixed market system of capitalism-plus-a-welfare-safety-net and I don’t really begrudge paying towards that, even though I feel I’m not really earning enough to justify treating me as one of society’s wealthy rather than needy.

However, I struggle to understand and deal with things like this and get panicked by them, which troubles me.  I don’t know whether it’s because of depression, autism, laziness, stupidity, or something else…  It’s worrying, because I wouldn’t know how to cope with these things without my father to help me.  I suppose it’s also a blow to my self-esteem, because tax demands feel like a ‘book learning’-type thing that I used to be good at, so it’s disappointing not to be able to cope.

I do wonder how I would cope at school these days, given that the depression seems to have eroded my intelligence and autism-masking skills.  I certainly don’t think I could get in to Oxford again if I was seventeen again.  Mind you, I suspect that even at the time my academic success was masking practical and social failure.  I was certainly often told that “For a clever boy, you can be very stupid sometimes.”  It’s just a shame I can’t remember what mishaps provoked that sentiment, as I’m sure it would be useful for my autism assessment.

Actually, I doubt I could lead shul (synagogue) services or give divrei Torah (Torah talks) as I did in my previous shul, although that may be as much to do with feeling inadequate in my new community as to the effects of the depression per se.

6.00pm:  A matchmaker from the values-based dating service I applied to last week got in touch to arrange to meet to discuss what I’m looking for in a wife.  I feel too depressed to think that it’s a good idea to respond at the moment.  I guess I’m scared to do it too.  I can’t see trying to have a relationship ending well in any circumstance.  There is the problem that anyone frum enough for me would probably think I’m not frum enough for her, while anyone who could accept my geeky interests and non-yeshiva education would probably not want to accept my level of religious commitment.  But beyond this, and arguably more problematically than it, I have the problem that I’m just too broken for anyone ‘normal’ to take and while I’ve dated women with issues of their own, that always ends in my getting hurt by them.  It’s so tempting to email the matchmaker and say that this was all a huge mistake and/or I’m too ill or to make some other excuse and duck out of this.

***

Things done today:

  • Got up and got dressed (eventually – it was a bad enough day for this to be worth noting);
  • davened twice;
  • blogged;
  • shaved (albeit very late);
  • ca10 minutes of Torah study;
  • twenty-five minute walk (fairly brisk, but with quite a lot of agitated thoughts);
  • cooked plain pasta for dinner for self and parents;
  • made lunch and packed for work tomorrow;
  • 5 minutes breathing meditation, ten minutes hitbodedut unstructured prayer/meditation;
  • showered;
  • watched TV to distract myself instead of some online procrastination (Doctor Who and The Avengers (the British John Steed and Mrs Peel Avengers).

Things not done today:

  • weekly Talmud study;
  • dealing with tax demand;
  • responding to dating service email;
  • doing more work on either/any of my books;
  • reading any more of The Dispossessed (really struggling to get into this book, even though I can see it’s objectively good.  Maybe it’s just not the right time).

The Exiled Child

“We are not of your race.  We are not of your Earth.  We are wanderers in the fourth dimension.” – Doctor Who: An Unearthly Child (I think only the untransmitted pilot)

7.30pm: just back from picking up my prescription (I got it all in the end).  Really agitated when out.  Images of hurting myself, wanting to hurt myself.  Agitation, perhaps unfocused anger.  I want to write about my childhood trauma.  I want to write about the wicked things I do that make me hate myself so much.  I don’t want to be here.  I can’t function in this world.  One day I’m going to lose it, hurt myself or someone else or just scream and shout until they come and take me away and section me and hospitalise me.  I’ve had a couple of close calls over the years, my luck can’t last forever.  I’m an incompetent defective freak.

I don’t belong here.  This place, this time, this isn’t my home.  Please let me go home.  I’m a very small child and I want to go home.

9.00pm Mid-watching a Jonathan Creek episode I had never seen before to try to cheer myself up.  Bad mistake.  The Clue of the Savant’s Thumb, about the murder of a Jonathan Miller-type scientist/comedian/intellectual, turns out to be fall of stuff about how stupid and evil religious people are.  Plus, it’s also full of sex, which I guess is no surprise (murder mysteries are generally about sex or money, they’re the main reasons to murder someone, and sex is more interesting to write about), but also Jonathan Creek’s new wife has persuaded him to sell out, stop living in his antique windmill, creating magic tricks and become a high-powered business man, which just makes me feel more inadequate.  I couldn’t – and wouldn’t want to – be a big businessman (I would live in an antique windmill, though), but E. might not have broken up with me if I was, nor would I get people asking me (as happened on Friday) if they’re right that no one becomes a librarian for the money.  Actually, senior librarians are paid well and I think being a senior librarian at a university library is comparable to being a senior academic, but, let’s face it, I’m never going to manage that either.  I’m too depressed and unworldly (not in a good way), uninterested in anything beyond my autistic special interests and simply bored and panicked by the thought of professional development or networking (social anxiety!).

9.45pm DVD finished.  Exhausted, but not sleepy.  Agitation is tiring, fantasising about hurting myself is tiring.  Not hurting myself is surprisingly tiring.  Not telling anyone about this is emotionally draining.  I should go to bed because I have work tomorrow, but I feel like I’m carrying a lot of agitated nervous energy in my muscles.  I don’t know what to do.  My life is such a mess.  I’m such a mess.

I don’t belong here.  This place, this time, this isn’t my home.  Please let me go home.  I’m a very small child and I want to go home.

Draining Shabbat

Well, that was a difficult Shabbat (Sabbath).  The main difficult thing was an argument with my Mum.  I won’t go into details.  It’s difficult to use this blog to vent (which I need to do at the moment as I’m not in therapy and my rabbi mentor is unreachable) while also keeping the laws of honouring parents and not gossiping.  I wrote a couple of paragraphs trying to do that, but then felt I still said too much.  I need to ask my rabbi mentor for guidance on what is OK to say on an anonymous or perhaps more accurately, semi-anonymous, blog but he’s really busy with work at the moment and I can’t get hold of him.  A lot would depend on how much this blog can be considered truly anonymous, and safe to remain anonymous indefinitely and I would not like to swear to that as there are half a dozen people reading this who know me away from the internet and who might theoretically meet my parents one day.  Some of those friends have offered to listen to my feelings about family privately, but it’s the same situation about not feeling I can share things.  I could phone Samaritans, but frankly it seems too petty and I’m worried about making such a big thing about it as it would set me off again.

I want to say more and keep trying to do so, but every time I try writing, it drifts into stuff I don’t think I should say.  I’ve wanted to deal with these feelings/thoughts/events in fiction before, but I’ve never really worked out how to do and suspect I don’t have the skill to disguise things particularly well, so the truth would be obvious.

The other thing that happened, which was more positive, was that someone I only vaguely know at shul (synagogue) invited me for Shabbat dinner next week.  He is one of the few people in the shul more or less my own age, so that is positive, both in terms of making friends my own age and in terms of being more accepted in the community (and maybe getting set up on shidduchim (dates) one day).  He is someone I envy somewhat, as he has the things that I can’t manage to get, in terms of family and career, but also someone I admire, inasmuch as he seems to be very frum (religious) and involved with the community as well as having a sharp intellect for Talmudic study and good middot (ethical character traits).  I’m very anxious though, worried that I will do or say the wrong thing somehow or come across as not frum enough.  I came home from shul on Friday night rather anxious because of this.

On the plus side, I did deal in a fairly calm way last night with a situation that a year or two ago would have triggered my kashrut OCD in a big way, although on the down side I did get triggered again and responded less well today.  I suppose life and especially mental health issues and autism are all about growth, but sometimes (often) it seems to be some steps forward and then more backwards; the difficulty comes in the periods where the backwards steps outnumber the forwards ones.  But perhaps unsurprisingly after all this psychological stress, I was exhausted last night and slept for a long time.

I had a strange dream about having a cat who, despite never having been let out the house, was somehow pregnant and apparently had five kittens, but then I realised there were ten and then fifteen.  I’m not sure what this means, except that I’m thinking seriously again about getting a pet (although not a cat) and maybe the dream was a reflection of that.  We did once have a cat give birth behind our garden shed, but that was about thirty years ago and probably not directly on my mind last night.  We thought it was a stray, but it turned out to belong to someone who lived in the area who claimed cat and kittens, much to my disappointment and my parents’ relief.

I’m still struggling with my thoughts for a book on Judaism aimed at non-Jews and non-religious Jews written in an informative rather than apologetic (in the sense of ‘defensive’) manner.  I keep thinking it could only work if it was personal, though, as I don’t have the knowledge to write an academic work, but I can’t work out how to marry the personal with the informative.  I guess I can’t work out what exactly it is that I want to say.  Maybe if I could do that, it would be easier to work out how to say it.  Of course, there is a whole halakhic question in how much I could write about Judaism for a non-Jewish audience; another thing to discuss with my rabbi mentor when he’s free.

Beethoven’s Birthday

I’m still here.  I feel less suicidal, but still not good.  I’m thinking of phoning the Samaritans helpline, but I don’t know what to say.  I’m also somewhat congested from the cold I have, so I’m not sure I could do much talking anyway.

I went for a walk for twenty-five minutes, as I did the last few days and, as with the last few days, it’s pretty much the only effort I’ve been able to make.  OK, not quite true, as I’ve davened (prayed) a bit every day and done a bit of Torah study (from five to thirty minutes) every day.  And today I cooked plain pasta (badly – I forgot to add salt, then accidentally poured in far too much and nearly let the whole thing boil over.  I feel very incompetent in my life) and did some online shopping, which I hate and which went badly.  But it is hard to do anything and I worry about starting my new job next week.  I wonder if I will have to resign before I even arrive.

After my last two jobs, I worry about doing something so disastrously wrong that I get fired.  I think I could cope even with being fired; it’s getting told off in person and realising how much I have disappointed everyone that upsets me.

I’m also not sure what it says about me that, in thirty-five years, only two people have cared for me romantically, of whom one was on the rebound from a boyfriend she still cares about and the other was essentially… I was going to say “using me” but that would be unfair.  But she expected me to drop everything to run halfway across London when she needed me, but ignored my texts for help when my depression was bad (I thought I was being paranoid in thinking this, but then she admitted that she was doing this deliberately) and kept telling me she needed me to drop out of her life for a couple of weeks while she decided if she actually cared about me at all (something she did to me two or three times) and who repeatedly pressured me into doing stuff physically that I wasn’t ready for (not ready for both religious, and I now realise, autistic/touch-sensitive reasons).  So, I don’t know what you would call that, but I haven’t had an actual “normal” relationship of caring for someone who cares about me and both investing similar amounts of effort and emotional energy in the relationship and the other person not trampling all over my boundaries.

(I don’t want to sound critical of E. because she didn’t make me feel that she was still pining over her ex while we were together, it’s just that as we’re still friends I can see that she still misses her time with him and not her time with me, which makes me wonder about our relationship.  Plus it makes me wonder if the reason she ended the relationship, which other people in my life thought was slightly strange, because she didn’t think we would be able to support ourselves financially together, would have been so important to her if she had cared for me as much as she cared for her ex.)

I read two short articles just now, aimed at parents of autistic children (by implication, high functioning autistic children), telling them to have realistic ambitions for their autistic children and that they (the autistic children) may not want to have successful careers (or will define “successful” differently), have relationships, have children and so on.  To be honest, I don’t really care about my career and, as the articles stated is normal for autistic people, I find it hard to think abstractly about what I want from the future in that way at all, although perhaps I would care more if I could find the right field.  I think I do genuinely want to marry and have children.  How much of that is simply a product of childhood emotional starvation and/or peer pressure in a community where family is the norm and single people between the ages of thirty and sixty are few in number and virtually invisible socially is hard to tell.  The latter (social pressure), perhaps not so much, the former (childhood emotional starvation), probably quite a bit, and I feel that’s a ‘wrong’ reason to want to have a family, but it doesn’t do anything to resolve my need to give and receive love.  Then there is also the religious obligation to marry and have children which isn’t so prominent in my consciousness, but is there.  I guess this is all pushing me back towards having pets as a way of giving love and receiving… gratitude for food, at any rate.

I just feel I’ve really let my parents down just by being me, instead of someone else, someone good.  Someone not defective.  Someone more like my sister.  I should say that my parents don’t say this to me.  But I still feel that it would be better for everyone if I was more ‘normal’ like my sister.

***

I’m reading The Complete Peanuts: 1953 to 1954 and two cartoons I saw today resonated (both on page 237).  In the first, Schroeder can remember Beethoven’s birthday and death anniversary, but can’t remember his own father’s age.  This is me with my knowledge of my special interests (Doctor Who and perhaps also Judaism) versus my knowledge of my family and friends.  In the second, Charlie Brown laments, “Sometimes I think I must be a misfit… I just don’t seem to fit in any place.”  When Schroeder suggests that he joins “a group of misfits”, Charlie Brown remarks that, “I probably wouldn’t even fit in there” which is me with depression, autism and especially social anxiety and my forays into socialising in support groups and the like.

***

I downloaded an app thingy to Google Chrome to block websites, to try to keep me off Twitter.  I may block other things if it works.  To be honest, it may not work, as when I’ve tried this in the past, it fails because I can always turn it off for a bit.  I’m blocking it not from a productivity point of view (which I think is what it’s primarily intend for, and for policing children’s internet use), but because it’s too triggering (I hate that word too), not just, or not even, the content, just the sheer level of anger and vitriol being sprayed in all directions at the slightest provocation.  I wish it were possible to participate in laid back discussions of Doctor Who and the like on Twitter and see whimsical humorous posts, but even these get politicised half the time and even when they don’t it’s hard to filter effectively.  So, total abstinence seems to be the answer.  I may delete my Twitter account, as I only set it up to promote my Doctor Who blog which (a) I’ve been doing very badly and (b) I’m not writing much on my Doctor Who blog at the moment anyway.

***

I came across this poem by the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai.  It’s not very relevant to the post, but it reminds me of me so I wanted to share it.

Poem Without End

Inside the brand-new museum
there’s an old synagogue.
Inside the synagogue
is me.
Inside me
my heart.
Inside my heart
a museum.
Inside the museum
a synagogue,
inside it
me,
inside me
my heart,
inside my heart
a museum

Below Zero Utility

K9: The accuracy of this unit has deteriorated below zero utility.

Adric: You mean you’re worse than useless?

– Doctor Who: Warriors Gate by Steve Gallagher

I have indeed got a bit of a cold, but not much.  I feel very depressed though.  I felt too ill, physically and emotionally, to do anything other than watch TV yesterday.  I feel bad about that.  It didn’t help that most of what I was watching wasn’t very good.  I just feel useless and depressed today.  It takes me so long to get up, get dressed and daven (pray) on non-work days.  I just feel so depressed and unmotivated.

I managed to go out in the afternoon and help Dad deliver some stuff to a charity shop and went to Boots to find out if they have any clomipramine (they weren’t answering the phone).  I felt like Mr Super-Useless-Autistic-Depressive-Socially-Anxious.  I did at least manage to do a couple of things today, albeit fewer than I wanted, but even after a week and a bit off, I’m running on empty.

I forced myself to email my oldest friend (the one  who was my “mentor friend” as a child – the one who was my role model in neurotypical behaviour) who I haven’t seen in years.  I mentioned about my new job, but not about the trouble I had with the previous two jobs.  I did mention autism.  I hope that’s not a mistake.  To be honest, I’ve probably been avoiding him these last few years and I’m not sure why.  Maybe because we were so similar growing up that the differences between us now (in terms of career, family, social networks, perhaps even spiritual fulfilment, everything) are too painful.

Today seems to have been a day of anxiety and miscommunications.  I struggle to communicate well with my parents.  I don’t think they know how to talk to an autistic person.  I’m only learning myself, to be fair.  My Dad changes subjects abruptly, starts pointless small talk conversations that confuse me and overwhelms me with irrelevant details.  My Mum today tried to get me to choose between umpteen different types of shirt over the phone when I don’t really have the executive function to decide, nor do I care that much (she likes to shop around for the best item at the best price; I prefer to just find something suitable at a reasonable price because of lack of executive function and patience).  Then I argued with them because they say I cook pizza too low (we always have pizza on Wednesdays… I’m not the only person obsessed with routine here), so I cooked it higher and burnt it, probably because I was cooking pizza from room temperature rather than frozen.  My Dad said he would eat it and I was torn between feeling I should punish myself by eating the burnt pizza and knowing that he considers burnt food palatable or even tasty, whereas I don’t.

I concede that my problems communicating with my parents are largely my fault: I have not told them much about autism nor am I particularly calm and pleasant when talking to them, although that’s as much from depression as autism.  I don’t mean to sound so grumpy, but depression and autism can both lead to curt replies in a flat tone of voice that sounds grumpy, even without depression making me more irritable than usual.

I left them a leaflet about autism a few weeks ago that I thought was useful, but I don’t think they’ve looked at it.  They don’t like written communication much and I don’t like talking, which is problematic.  They’re going to a workshop for family of people on the spectrum which might help, but it’s not until late February.

Other miscommunications: looking at Twitter, I don’t connect with other Doctor Who fans, who seem to enjoy different things about the programme/different episodes to me – which is fine, but makes me feel lonely.  And online fandom’s obsession with diversity and identity politics annoys me, partly because I’m not into identity politics, but also because the awful representation of Jews, especially religious Jews, on TV gets ignored.  (According to identity politics rules, Jews aren’t allowed to have an identity, or have to have one only on lines prescribed by non-Jews.)  I’m hoping to go to a Doctor Who pub quiz thing in week or two where I only know one person and I’m terrified that no one will like me.

I’m still anxious about my new job next week.  The only real progress I’ve made in the last ten or fifteen years, is finishing two degrees and moving in to work… except that I don’t seem to be able to actually do a job properly.  I just make stupid mistakes.  I can’t work full-time either.  I worry about not being able to support myself without my parents.  If my parents weren’t around, I’d have to try to qualify for state benefits, which would be hard (I’d have to use up all my savings first, for one thing, and it’s very hard to get assessed as needing benefits these days).

Regarding job hunting, I’ve been advised to “Write down a vision of what you want your life to look like (realistically) in three or five or even fifteen years’ time – money, work-life balance, type of work etc.”  I have no idea.  I do not know even vaguely how much I should be earning – and what does “should” even mean?  Based on my age?  Or my experience, which is much lower than most people my age?  “Should” for a mentally healthy neurotypical person or a depressed autistic person?  I don’t know what a realistic work-life balance would look like, what type of work I should be looking for and would enjoy/cope with/get through the day without wanting to hurt myself…  I can see why E. found this aspect of my personality too off-putting.  I’m not proud of it (I’m not proud of pretty much anything in this post).  But it’s hard to know how I can change it, just to function in the world without my parents, let alone to find a spouse.

If I hadn’t got depressed perhaps I could have drifted into academia as I vaguely intended and become one of those people who go to Oxbridge and never leave.  It’s not like there’s a shortage of intelligent, but somewhat eccentric people at Oxford or Cambridge.  Or if I had been better at studying Talmud and had gone to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary), perhaps I could have ended up staying there.  I suspect the yeshiva world is also home to a disproportionate number of very clever, but somewhat unusual people, or at least people who know what to do to function in society purely because it says what to do in the Shulchan Aruch (the primary Jewish law code) and through imitating others in a conformist sub-culture, rather than through innate social intuition.

It’s not that there are just a few things wrong with my life that I need to sort out; my whole life is broken and I don’t know how to get it working (not working again, because it hasn’t ever worked, at least not since I left school).

I don’t like asking for adjustments, although I have done it in the past (for depression).  Sometimes I’ve got them and sometimes I haven’t, but I hate asking for them.  I hate telling people I’m different (where ‘different’ feels like ‘defective’) and I hate showing weakness (probably because of being bullied as a child).  I suppose as a child when I tried to get out of things because of what I would now identify as social anxiety or autism, I was usually told to suck it up, albeit not in so many words, which probably doesn’t help.  There probably is an Aristotlean golden mean (or Maimonidean middle path) between forcing myself to pass as an extrovert on the one hand and hiding in my bed with the duvet over my head on the other, but it’s very hard to find it sometimes.

I’ve gone back to thinking about pets, but I’m procrastinating over it because of the social anxiety in buying them and my Mum’s obvious discomfort with the whole concept.  I wish I didn’t procrastinate so much.  It’s one of my worst character traits, along with self-loathing and fantasising too much about dying.  I do new year’s resolutions for Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) not 1 January, but I ought to try to beat myself up less, somehow.  And realise that when I say my blog is awful, I’m implicitly insulting everyone who spends the time to read it (sorry).

Anyway, I should be thinking about bed, although I don’t feel tired and feel I should be Doing Things…

Before/After

Earlyish morning:

I’m drained again today.  I guess I’m depressed too, but I’m feeling so exhausted that my mood doesn’t really matter.   I couldn’t sleep again last night and this time it had nothing to do with forgetting medication.  I suppose I was tense and stressed from the day, although I wasn’t consciously thinking about the job interview.  I’m terrified of speaking to them again, though, which one way or another I will have to do.  My sister said to ask for interview feedback even if (when) they tell me I haven’t got the job.  I know why I messed up, though.  I was badly prepared, I don’t do enough CPD (Continuing Professional Development), I don’t take my career seriously enough and I’ve forgotten most of what I once knew about cataloguing.  I was also nervous and either rambled incoherently or sat in silence until prompted – not to every question, but to enough of them.  I feel like no one could ever take me seriously.

There probably is a parallel universe out there where I beat the depression for good in 2010, when I started my MA, did the MA in a year and went on straightaway to a serious cataloguing job like the one I was interviewed for yesterday.  Oh well.

Oh, look, it turns out I am depressed as well as drained, and self-loathing.

Another engagement was just announced on the shul (synagogue) What’sApp group.  I didn’t realise we had so many young people in the kehillah (community).  I guess they’re all at yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) or sem (female seminary).  Or they daven (pray) elsewhere, I guess, as the mazal tovs go to the parents.  I try to tell myself that any bracha (blessing) is good, even if it’s not for me, but deep down (or not so deep down), I wish things would go better for me.  I get so lonely.  I don’t know why I particularly want to get married, given that I feel reluctant to take practical steps about making friends to deal with the loneliness that way.  I don’t know if getting married would actually help.  You either love yourself or you don’t, and what other people think, even a partner, doesn’t change that.  Which means you either had enough unconditional love as a child or you didn’t, and I had enough difficult events as a child to make me feel unloved, even if I wasn’t.  Even if someone did love me unconditionally now, I don’t think it would make much difference by this stage.

Later:

I’m back from my meeting with The Network now and have had lunch.  (I got home late; it will soon be time for supper.)  I feel exhausted, but not so depressed.  The meeting was in a couple of Victorian (?) suburban houses that have been knocked together.  The student counselling services were in a similar building when I was in Oxford; the Jewish mental health charity Jami has a similar house too.  Buildings like that always make me think of a Secret Service safe house in a John le Carré novel.  I half expect to bump into Control and George Smiley, launching some new conspiracy.

The Network turns out to offer state-funded support for people with mental health issues.  The support is neither therapy nor medication (I’m having those sorted elsewhere, hopefully), but support in terms of empowerment and life skills, including skills needed for employment.  The meetings are more like classes than group therapy/support group meetings, but are friendly and I think the activities are not obligatory, although obviously one would get more out of them by doing the ‘homework.’

The support worker I saw did a “Recovery Star” with me.  I did this exercise years ago, when I was seeing an occupational therapist through Jami.  It’s a useful way of tracking mood and activity over time.

The exercise is based on a ten-pointed star, with a label at each outward point denoting a life area.  The numbers 1-10 run along each arm, with 1 at the centre and 10 at the tip of each arm.  One then rates oneself in each area, with 1 being as bad as possible and 10 as good as possible.  I was pleased to see that I was doing better in some areas than expected.  I scored highly (7 or over) for ‘living skills,” “addictive behaviour” (meaning I have no addictive behaviour) and “responsibilities” and 4 or 5 for ‘managing mental health’, ‘physical health and self-care’, ‘social networks’, ‘work’ and ‘relationships’.  My worst areas were ‘identity and self-esteem’ and ‘trust and hope’; even here I scored 3/10, which is not the worst possible rating.  So the exercise reminded me that, however bad I feel, I have some degree of functionality.  I am still job hunting and I went to an interview; I volunteer each month; I write my blog and have online friends; I go to shul and shiur (synagogue and religious classes) a bit, even if I would like to do more; I still look after basic health and hygiene needs.

The support worker told me about two of the classes on offer (I’m not sure if they only offer two or if there were only two that she thought would be relevant from the Recovery Star).  Both seemed potentially useful, but I picked the one that looked like it would overlap less with the CBT I’m hoping to have to deal with my self-esteem issues soon.  The course will focus more on coping strategies and resilience to triggers, which will hopefully be useful for me.  There is a class starting in January; I think they meet twice a week for four weeks.

Now I’m home, I feel exhausted and slightly ill: hot and run down.  My parents usually keep the house too hot for me in the winter, so it could be that or it could be exhaustion or the beginnings of a cold.  I can’t really concentrate and don’t intend to do much other than trying to get to my shiur this evening and maybe writing a couple of emails.  Other than that, I don’t think I’m good for much other than vegetating in front of the TV tonight; I don’t think I could even read much.

Tomorrow I have my autism screening.  Either way opens on uncertainty: either the uncertainty of deciding whether to try for another formal assessment or the uncertainty of having to deal with a definitively non-autistic (or at least non-diagnosably autistic) identity.  I probably won’t have time to write that up before Shabbat tomorrow, which starts at about 3.30pm at the moment, so you will have to wait until Saturday night for my thoughts on that, I’m afraid.

***

At The Network, the support worker said that by a strange coincidence, I was the second person she had seen today with depression who had a BA in History, was pursuing an autism diagnosis and ideally wanted to work as a writer, and that the other person was a woman.  Immediately, I wondered if she was Jewish (entirely possible given the demographics of the borough) and whether I would run into her at some point.  But then I think, how would I talk to her, and why would she be interested in someone as messed up and financially insecure as me?  These days I can just about accept that there might be women out there who match my weirdnesses, but it’s still hard to believe I could meet them, still less that any of them would like me.

“And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,/And in short, I was afraid.”

I’ve been having morbid thoughts all day.  I basically write my blog posts over the day.  If I’m at home, I have a blog window open on my computer and add to it across the day.  If I’m out, I send myself texts with notes of what I want to say.  The stuff I wanted to say today, particularly the stuff I was thinking about when I was walking home just now, was morbid in the extreme, stuff about wanting to die and everyone being better off without me and my not having done anything even vaguely good with my life and the unlikelihood of things ever changing.  I feel a bit better now I’m home.  I guess I still feel I do want to die, just not so urgently.  I don’t know whether I’ve done anything good or whether everyone would be better off without me.  It’s hard to tell, which is pretty damning in itself.

It is hard for me to believe that things could get better.  I don’t even believe my life will be better in Olam HaBa (The Next World).  I have said this a number of times, but I’ve never explained it.  It probably started when my religious OCD was bad.  I was fixated on the laws of Pesach (Passover), when the dietary laws are even more intense and complex than usual.  Certainly when I was growing up we did not keep these laws properly.  The punishment for not obeying them properly is karet, which is an ambiguous term, but probably means not having a share in Olam HaBa.  I had been told that no one gets karet these days because we’re on such a low spiritual level that we don’t have the level of conscious, knowledgeable hatred of God and Torah needed to incur it (I’ve never seen a source for that belief, but it seems to be widespread among Orthodox Jews).  I had likewise been told that you get karet for deliberately breaking the Pesach laws, not for not knowing the correct laws or making a mistake with them.  Nevertheless, I was sure I had incurred karet (although not my family, which also makes little sense).

Even though the OCD is less intense now and even though we probably do keep Pesach properly now, the feeling of being hated and punished by HaShem (God) persists.  I guess my life has been so awful for so long that I can’t believe that anything good could ever happen to me, and the only way that could be the case is if HaShem does not exist or desires to make me miserable.  As I strongly believe that He does exist, it is easy to feel He wants to make me miserable forever.  I know there are reasons why a good person might suffer, but I find them hard to internalise when the depression (and maybe pure O OCD) are going full-strength.  Even so, if my mission in life is to endure in misery, it is hard to see that as a positive thing, even if it is “only” for another fifty or sixty years before my eternal reward.  Fifty years of misery is not long compared to eternal reward, but fifty years is long compared to the fifteen or twenty years of depression I have already endured and I don’t know how I could get through another fifty years like the last fifteen.

That said, I doubt I would believe myself to be a good person even if HaShem told me I was.  I had disgusting thoughts on the way home and while I know on some level that they are OCD, it is hard not to think that I have corrupted myself over the years with bad behaviour and thoughts to the point where I can no longer control my thoughts.  I just hope I don’t lose control of my actions.

I avoid the news at the moment, but I saw a report last night that triggered conflicting emotions.  It was about disruptive children being placed in solitary confinement in schools so they can’t disrupt other children’s lessons.  The reporter made it quite clear that he thought that this was wrong.  Skipping over the fact that the solitary confinement booths looked a lot like the workspaces at my college library at Oxford, this left me conflicted.  The opponents of this disciplinary procedure argued that many of the disruptive students have mental health or developmental disorders such as autism/Asperger’s (the only condition named).  Obviously I felt sympathy to people with autism, but at the same time, I was conscious that the type of students being disciplined were basically the ones who made my life hell when I was at school and I would dearly have loved some of them to be shut up far away from me so I could work.  In particular, they interviewed one student about the treatment he received and the mental health issues that developed from prolonged solitary confinement, but they didn’t ask him what he did that was so disruptive that he was disciplined in this way.  This is the trouble I have when thinking about people who hurt me when I was younger.  As an adult, I know they most likely had “issues” of some kind of their own, but the fact is that I am dealing with decades-worth of misery and mental illness because of the behaviour of other people, people who have never asked for my forgiveness or perhaps even realised that they hurt me.  This is difficult.  At the same time, I know I have probably hurt other people, maybe as much as I was hurt.  This is also difficult.

Here We Go Round

I feel utterly wiped out.  I felt so weak on waking that I nearly had two breakfasts, but on reflection I decided that I was probably drained from the activity of the last few days rather than having low blood sugar, so I only had one bowl of cereal, not two.

My thoughts go round in circles.  If it’s not how awful (and increasingly antisemitic) the world is, it’s how awful my life is.  I know I’ve said this before, many times, but I feel like I missed the boat.  My childhood and adolescence, far from being “the best days of my life” were problematic.  I think at the time I would have said I was fine, but in retrospect I can see the signs of loneliness, depression and possible autism.  However, it’s hard to be sure my memories aren’t being coloured by how things are now.  Certainly by my late teens I was clinically depressed and have been almost constantly ever since.

Now people ten years younger than me are moving on with careers, marrying, having children and I feel left behind (since typing that sentence another mazal tov (congratulations) on an engagement at my shul (synagogue) has come through on the shul’s WhatsApp group).  I was miserable throughout my twenties and early thirties, sometimes suicidally so, and it’s easy to think things can never get better.  I’m trying to move my mindset from ‘wanting a career-marriage-children’ to ‘accepting who I am,’ but it’s hard when, in different ways, both the frum (religious Jewish) world and the secular Western world have such expectations.  In both communities ‘being happy with your lot’ tends to take, at best, second place to ‘fitting in, running the rat race, doing what everyone else is doing.’

‘Being happy with my lot’ would, I think, be the right thing to do, but it’s difficult when there doesn’t seem to be much good in my life right now.  I have my physical health, but my mental health is so terrible that it seems impossible to think of myself as a healthy person overall.  I have some friends, but most of them live far away and I can’t see them, and socialising even with people I like is a struggle from depression, social anxiety and borderline autism.  I’m lucky that I don’t have imminent financial issues because my parents are supporting me, but that just makes me feel like a sponge when my younger sister has long since flown the nest.  I don’t know what to think, really.  I worry that thinking about getting pets is just another thing that would seem good until I actually get it and then it will seem bad, which is one of the things holding me back from it.  (Happiness is a warm guinea pig?)

I reflected today that one of the themes of Bereshit (Genesis), which is the Torah reading at this time of year, is sibling envy and wanting to be someone you’re not, and the problems that result from that.  But I don’t know what to make of it, except that I should try to be happy being myself, which is hard.  I do think – and I realise how unpopular this will be in today’s climate – that on the whole people are better off accepting who they are rather than trying to be someone they aren’t.  Trying to be someone you aren’t is difficult, often impossible and never satisfying.  At any rate, that’s my experience.  I don’t think people should be stopped from doing things, but I think on the whole it’s better to embrace who you are rather than trying to be someone you’re not.  But I’m struggling to do that because I dislike myself so much, even though I know I have never really managed to be anyone else and haven’t enjoyed trying.

I just feel so tired.  It’s hard to do anything.

The emeritus life president of my previous shul (synagogue), the one from before we moved to this area three years ago, died.  He was ninety-eight or ninety-nine.  He was sprightly when I last saw him (probably about four years ago), but had lost most of his long-term memory after a fall some months earlier.  I felt torn, as I should go to the funeral, as I did know him, but I also needed to apply for jobs and I didn’t have the time or energy to do both.  In the end I decided to stay at home, both to apply for jobs and because doing another social thing this weekend would not good for me.  It’s a struggle to get through work even when I am rested, let alone after a lot of social activity.

Staying home and working on job applications is depressing, as I can’t see myself being able to do any of the jobs I’m applying for and it’s a struggle to force my CV and cover letter templates to fit these jobs.  I’m very bad at the type of ‘creative’ thinking needed to modify CVs and cover letters to fit job specifications.  I find it hard enough to admit I can do anything, let alone present myself positively.  In the end I applied for three jobs, but none of them look like a good fit and I can’t really see myself even being called for interview at many of them.  I found myself holding back the tears again in frustration and despair, something that usually only happens at work or while commuting, not at home.  I found myself writing that I had “honed my strong interpersonal skills”, before deciding that, even on a job application, I didn’t have the chutzpah to say that I have “strong” interpersonal skills and took the adjective out.

Growing up, my self-esteem was largely based on being clever and doing well academically.  Then I went to Oxford and found that I wasn’t actually that clever; there were thousands of people as clever than me and more so, and most of them had more vibrant and enjoyable social/romantic lives and better social skills.  I’ve got to a stage in my life where ‘achievement’ is less about academic knowledge and more about experience, continual professional development and soft skills that are often linked to social skills and/or neurotypical or mentally healthy outlooks: people skills, leadership, flexibility, decisiveness, self-motivation…  And even if you say that career isn’t anything (but bear in mind that I have never had a job that allowed me to support myself without the financial support of my parents), I still fail at friendships, relationships, family, community…

It’s hard to know what I can fix my self-esteem on that won’t leave me feeling like a total failure.  I don’t think that I succeed at anything at the moment, not even that nebulous thing, ‘being a good person.’  I know it’s a trap to say, “If I get this job/relationship/child/purchase I will be happy and think I’m a good person,” but I don’t know how to find healthy self-esteem when I feel so useless and incompetent.  As I’ve said before, I don’t feel myself to be the answer to anyone’s question, whether in terms of job, friendships or relationships.

“I Told You I Was Ill”

Ugh, I don’t know if I can write today.  I feel totally drained.  At work I usually get through about 130 records; on a good day, I think I’ve done up to 150.  Today I managed 89.  I’m not sure how much of that was because I felt terrible (depressed and sensory overload – I really wanted to strangle some noisy people.  I’m not usually an angry person, but I was feeling very angry towards them) and how much was that it was just a difficult batch of data.  Unfortunately, the next few lots look just as bad.  If my boss was here and if my contract didn’t end in less than a month, I would probably be having the “I need to talk about my mental health” talk.  The one I hate having, but keep having to have at different universities and workplaces.  Asking for “reasonable adjustments” (ugh again).  Then my Dad gave me a lift home from the station and I bickered with him.  It’s my fault, but I guess his autism-unfriendly style of talking was not something I could cope with when feeling drained and overwhelmed after a difficult day at work and a difficult journey on the Tube.  Then I argued with my Mum, which was less my fault, but not entirely.

I feel so tense today, like elastic stretched to breaking point.  I worry what will tip me over the edge and what will happen if I go there.  The fear I’ve had for years that if I get stretched too far, I’ll become unpleasant or even violent.  Or that I’ll become psychotic or spiral downwards into worse mental illness.  I feel like I have so many rules.  My rules, family rules, friends’ rules, society’s rules, Jewish rules, playground rules…   Honour your parents.  Love HaShem your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your might.  Love your neighbour (and not his wife).  Stand up straight.  Always be punctual.  Pray and study and do good deeds.  Read improving books and a newspaper you don’t agree with.  Eat your fruit and veg and not processed sugar.  Never be cruel or cowardly, never give up or give in.  Don’t let them see you cry.  Keep silent or make small talk, but don’t talk about what matters.  Don’t lose your temper.  Don’t be stupid, but don’t be too clever.  Don’t show off, but don’t shirk duty.  Don’t conform, but don’t stand out.

Don’t think that, don’t think that.  Don’t even feel it.  Not ever.

I just wish everything wasn’t so difficult for me.  I don’t know how I was so functional at school and am so dysfunctional now.  I guess that’s one reason I would like an autism diagnosis, so I wouldn’t feel completely rude and incompetent the whole time.  To show myself and others that I have a reason to be screwed up.  Hence my fantasies of not just getting an autism diagnosis, but sharing it with people: the first woman I asked out, my first girlfriend, my former boss… everyone who I think saw me at my worst and probably thought badly of me as a result.  I don’t know if that’s an apology on my part (“I’m sorry for being screwed up and for screwing up our interactions”), a desire for understanding or a somewhat defiant explanation.  I don’t think it’s revenge.  But it also makes me question whether I really am autistic.  If I’m this sensitive to things (fluorescent lights, noise, stress, people, multitasking), shouldn’t it have been more obvious when I was growing up?  I was just shy, perhaps socially anxious and almost certainly alexithymic, but I didn’t react the way I do now.  I don’t know the answer (as usual).

Blogging Too Much (Sorry)

My head feels like someone stole my brain and replaced it with cotton wool.  I went for a walk for about twenty minutes.  Bought tomatoes.  I motivated myself to go by saying that I would go into the charity shop afterwards and browse the books, but it was shut.  The sign said “Back in 5m (ish)” but I didn’t want to wait.  Walking was difficult, I was so drained.  I’m worried about getting to work tomorrow.  I could see myself getting signed off work again.  On the way to the shops I passed someone I know from shiur and his kids.  He was driving, so I didn’t have to talk to him or feel guilty for not talking, but it just reminded me that other people my age (he is somewhat younger than me – I was at kindergarten with his elder brother) have lives and children.

I feel I missed the boat with my life.  People say that childhood is the happiest time.   Mine wasn’t awful, but in retrospect it seems quite difficult.  So I wonder how I will ever have any joy in my life if those were the happiest days of my life.  Plus our culture (I guess I mean secular Western popular culture) sends out the message that it’s only possible to find love (or enjoy sex, for that matter) if you’re under forty, and I’m aware that I’m climbing closer to forty than thirty.  And frum (religious Jewish) culture assumes everyone is happily married by twenty-five.

Lying on my bed with music playing.  I don’t really want to listen to music.  I don’t really feel like doing anything.  Part of me wants to read or watch a DVD, but I can’t get involved in anything.  Just feeling overwhelmed at the thought of reading one book or one DVD.  I want to read/watch everything… and nothing.  I just don’t have the energy/concentration/motivation.  I also can barely keep my eyes open, even though I’m not tired in the sleepy sense.  I had to daven Mincha (say the afternoon prayers) largely by rote before because I couldn’t focus on my siddur (prayerbook).  So, blogging too much today, because I can that without thinking (which says a lot about this blog…).  Sorry for taking too much space on your blog reader/inbox.  Maybe I’ve been over-stimulated this week.  I just made a playlist of music to listen to for a bit, so I don’t have to keep getting up and skipping a track.  Draw the curtains and lie in the dark with my eyes shut and the music on quietly.

The Great Clomipramine Shortage of 2018

The Great Clomipramine Shortage of 2018 is continuing.  To cut a very long and boring story short, I should be able to get a repeat prescription tomorrow, but not the 50mg tablets I want and had been prescribed initially or the 10mg tablets the doctor prescribed as a ‘here’s one I prepared earlier’ fallback, but 25mg tablets.  The pharmacy are at least saving them for me while the surgery comes up with the requisite paperwork.  But I think when I see the psychiatrist on 8 November (if the NHS ever deigns to tell me when my appointment is…) I need to talk seriously about changing meds, because these aren’t available and aren’t doing much when they are available.  No idea where we go from here though.  MAOIs?  ECT?

The other thing I need to talk to the psychiatrist about is alternative diagnoses.  I’m still going back and forth in my mind about autism and social communication disorder.  Tony Attwood writes in The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome that diagnosis is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.  When it is 80% complete (enough diagnostic criteria are met), the jigsaw is considered completed, BUT only if the corners and edges are in place too (certain criteria have to be met, regardless of how many other criteria are met).  I have the 80% complete, but I don’t have all the corners and edges, there are some symptoms I just don’t have, or not at a high enough level, to count as autistic.  I can see the autism picture, but because I haven’t got the right pieces, no one will give me any help with it.  So maybe social communication disorder is a better bet, or going to a CBT therapist and trying to work directly with self-esteem and social anxiety.

The other thing I get from reading the book at the moment is gratitude.  I thought my childhood was not great, but it could have been so much worse.  The bullying could have been even more intense and violent, I could have been unable to defend myself in any way except violence (which would have got me in bigger trouble) and, most of all, I could have been without my “mentor friend” who guided and protected me (literally protected me – he was tall and strong and even though he was a geek, he wasn’t bullied as much as I was).  No wonder I used to get upset and maybe even anxious if he missed a day of school.  My Mum wanted to split us up, because she thought he was holding back my social development and I would make more friends in another class or school, but I suspect I would just have been even more alone if that had happened.

Speaking of mentor figures, Attwood says of romantic partners sought by people with autism, “The partner they seek is someone who understands them and provides emotional support and guidance in the social world – someone to be a ‘mother figure’ and mentor.”  I’ve realised this before about myself.  It makes me pessimistic.  I’m a weird enough person to be trying to matched up as it is, without putting pressure on women to mentor me and even mother me (even without getting into the complexity of my far-from-straightforward relationship with my actual mother).  This seems like asking too much.  I can’t imagine anyone ever consenting to marry me on those terms.  But I worry about what will happen when my parents are gone.  Complex though my current relationship with them is, they are still doing a lot of mentoring and guiding, e.g. today, when Mum came to resolve the clomipramine prescription confusion at the doctor’s surgery, when my social anxiety/autism/social communication disorder/shyness/whatever was just making me shutdown and run away.

I just got back from shiur (religious class).  It’s become quite difficult.  I really enjoy the content, but the number of people going has gone up and I feel uncomfortable with the number of people in the room, especially as some are noisy and constantly interrupting with questions and interjections (Jews don’t really do quiet listening).  I don’t really cope very well with people who like to talk for the sake of talking, or because they like the sound of their voices, doubly so if I’m trying to concentrate on someone else talking.  Plus just being around so many people is anxiety-provoking for me – Attwood says that for autistic people the difficulty of being around people, in terms of energy needed in alertness, anxiety and reasoning out the correct social interactions on the spot, increases exponentially (rather than linearly) with the number of people.  At shiur, as well as normal fears of a social faux pas, I’m worried about a religious faux pas too.  Just to make things worse, I’m juggling more balls because some people at the shiur know a bit about my mental health issues and some don’t and some have been acquaintances since childhood and some have not, so there is a lot to think about.

I’ve been thinking again about pets.  Attwood recommends them as affectionate and understandable companions for autistic children (unlike neurotypical children, who are difficult to understand).  I’ve see them recommended for people with depression too.  As a child I had a couple of goldfish, but that was it.  My family aren’t really pet people.  But now I wonder if it would help me to have a pet.  It would also let me see if I can cope with responsibility, given that I want to have children one day (although, as I say, that seems unlikely to happen).  Small mammals seem the best bet, guinea pigs or rabbits (both are social animals and should ideally be kept with at least two – I’ve done some reading on this already).  But I haven’t got the confidence to mention this to my parents (who in any case think the pet will die and leave me even more depressed), not least because I worry whether I am non-depressed enough to look after a pet, especially when I come home from work exhausted.  And then there’s the financial cost.

In other news, my contract isn’t being renewed at work, if I happen not to have finished the work by the end of my current contract (23 November).  I was told it was because of internal problems and bureaucracy, but I worry that it was secretly because I was a disappointment and they aren’t happy with my work and the mistakes I make.  It’s rather academic, as I strongly suspect I will be more or less finished by 23 November anyway.  To be honest, I think I might be self-sabotaging my job hunting.  I don’t really feel capable of working, at least not until I have dealt with my self-esteem and social anxiety issues and the autism/social communication disorder/whatever issues, plus I’m just plain exhausted from two months (with another to come) of constant alertness and anxiety to deal with social interactions and noise at work.  I need to stop for a bit and calm down and get my bearings.  I know that sounds lazy and entitled, but I feel like I’m at breaking point and I need time out – more than the three day weekends I have (which tend to be spent on chores and job applications and sometimes volunteering).  Although I was tempted by the job I saw advertised for Information and Records Manager for MI5 and MI6.  I want to be licensed to kill people who talk in the library or bring back books late.

Planet NHS, Planet Autism

On Planet NHS:

Me: 

Hi,

I was referred to the psychiatrist by my doctor some weeks ago.   In early October, I spoke on the phone to Mr …. who referred me through the … Team.  However, I have not been sent an appointment letter yet.

My mother phoned last Tuesday and was told I have an appointment for 8 November, but the person she spoke to would not tell her the time of the appointment, saying it would be written in the letter.  However, I have still not received any letter.

Please could you let me know as soon as possible when my psychiatrist appointment is, as I need to arrange time off with my employer.

Thank you and regards,

Luftmentsch

Him:

8th November with Dr …

Me:

Hi …

Thank you, but please could you let me know the time of my appointment on 8 November with Dr …

Regards,

Luftmentsch

Him:

A letter will be sent to you with all the details once booked on the system.

Me: 

Please could you let me know when this is likely to be as I need to clear the time off with my employer.

Regards,

Luftmentsch

Him:

8th November will be the day.

Me:

[Stunned silence.]

This is why I get so annoyed at the idolatry of the NHS that goes on.  If, as someone said, the NHS is the religion of the British people, then I’m definitely agnostic.

Meanwhile, back in the real world:

Work was OK today, or at least not unbearably awful.  It was hard, but I felt a bit more together and I got by without any coffee at work (although I had one at home at breakfast and a couple of cups of tea) and without crying.  I did shake slightly when talking to my boss, and when drinking tea (both of which were completely due to psyching myself out by realising how bad it would be to start shaking).  My boss goes on honeymoon on Tuesday and will be away until after my contract is due to finish and her boss finished working there today, so my boss from next week will be someone I know slightly, but not well.  Change makes me anxious (another autistic trait).

A previous psychiatrist, the one who felt I was somewhere on the autistic spectrum (but didn’t give me a proper assessment or diagnosis) once told me that “You can’t understand people, so stop trying.”  It’s possible that my whole life has been trying to understand people, like the robot Commander Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation.  At any rate it explains why I ended up on the humanities/social sciences side, unlike many autistic people, despite being good at science at school.

Other autism-related thoughts today: I mentioned yesterday having a few geeky but non-autistic friends at school.  One very much fitted Tony Attwood’s idea of a non-autistic mentor friend who helps with socialisation.  We were friends from age five and are still occasionally in touch, although we haven’t seen each other in person in some years.  We were best friends until we were about fourteen, when we drifted apart a bit.  I remember being upset when we were told to write a passage about our best friend in Hebrew class and he read his out and it was about someone other than me.  It would be an exaggeration to say that that was a key moment in my life, but it probably was another step down a very long road.  As Attwood suggests, once the mentor friend is gone (in my case this really happened when I went to university and he, although going to the same university, went on a gap year first), social integration becomes much harder, particularly as in my case it coincided with living away from home for the first time.

I realised today that I had such limited social interactions in my first job, that it was no wonder that I found it so much easier than my current and immediately previous one.  I rarely had to deal with more than one or two people at a time, my boss was understanding, I rarely saw other staff members, library users were mature adults and the library was quiet (perhaps too quiet as I could get lonely sitting in the basement all afternoon).  Plus I did three days a week of three hours each, very different to my hours in my other jobs which are much closer to full-time.  Even so, I sometimes went off to cry in the toilet or didn’t get to work because I had a panic attack on the way.  This, I think, disguised my autistic socialisation problems and made me think I had workarounds until I got to my previous job, especially as university was also a somewhat protected environment.  It was only in my previous job, when my socialisation problems became more apparent, when I started thinking seriously about being misdiagnosed when told that I was not autistic, and thinking that the misdiagnosis could matter rather than being an abstract problem.  In particular, it became obvious that I have problems with certain types or levels of noise and with interpersonal interactions beyond simple shyness and that I’m not great with vague or implicit instructions or dealing with grey areas.

I also think my sensory sensitivity has been greater than I realised previously.  As a child, I found wool uncomfortable.  I often find wearing my watch uncomfortable (sometimes at work I take it off and put it in my pocket) and I’ve gone through periods of thinking that way about shoes.  I think mostly I’ve just soldiered on until I get inured to these feelings, although I still avoid wearing wool against my skin.

Emotional Pain

I cried at work again.  I’m in constant emotional pain, at least at work, but I can’t describe it to people, so I don’t get taken seriously.  (EDIT: not “taken seriously” is a bit harsh.  But I can’t tell even my parents how I feel, how I spend my whole time at work struggling just to keep my head above the water, let alone actually do my work.  See the quote below about autistic people being in a constant state of alertness and anxiety.)  Things aren’t so bad at home, but work is unbearable.  I feel trapped in my life.  At times I really don’t want to live, but I won’t commit suicide either, so I’m stalemated.  One of the Renaissance writers, someone like Sir Thomas More, said that the worst test God can give a person is to make him think that God wants him to kill himself.  I don’t think God wants me to kill myself, but I don’t know what he does want me to do.

I don’t want to think of myself as a victim, but the alternative seems to be thinking of myself as a failure, because I seem to fail at everything I try.

I wanted to go to a shiur (religious) class tonight, but I feel too exhausted, even a little faint (even after dinner), which might possibly be psychosomatic from the depression or, more likely, social anxiety.  I should fight it, but I don’t think now is the time.  I’m too tired and depressed at the moment and I worry that if I stay out late tonight, work tomorrow will be impossible.  The shiur was on sadness in Jewish thought, which might have been helpful, but might have been problematic, as ‘sadness’ isn’t the same as ‘depression’ and I could have ended up guilt-tripping myself into feeling that I am a bad person for being depressed, or for being depressed in the ‘wrong’ way.

More autism stuff that could be written about me from The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome:

“One of the problems faced by children with Asperger’s Syndrome who use their intellect rather than intuition to succeed in some social situations is that they may be in an almost constant state of alertness and anxiety, leading to a risk of mental and physical exhaustion.” (p. 29)

“Blame [for social difficulties] is directed at oneself: ‘I am stupid’; or others: ‘It’s your fault.'” (p. 30)

“”The child, sometimes as young as seven years old, may develop a clinical depression as a result of insight into being different and perceiving him- or herself as socially defective.” (p. 35)

The book also states that autistic children can use fantasy as an escape.  I think Doctor Who and Star Trek were for me escapes into a world where intelligence, difference and even eccentricity were prized, very different to my school.  I had a couple of geeky-but-non-autistic friends at school (primary and secondary), which probably kept me sane, although even there I kept somewhat distant from some of them and I think I was a bit nervous about going to other people’s houses if I didn’t know them well.  I did fantasise a lot, though.  Strangely (or perhaps not), I think my Walter Mitty life started in my teens, when most people are moving away from fantasy.  My friends were getting into things I had no interest in (wargaming, RPGing) and was sometimes scared by (girls, soft drugs), so I retreated into fantasy scenarios of saving the school from Daleks.  As I got older, aliens turned into terrorists and wish-fulfilment fantasies of escaping without a scratch like James Bond turned into masochistic fantasies of being hurt and on to suicidal fantasies of redemptive death, or just death.

My romantic life has largely been fantasy too, necessarily so, but problematically so.  Having such little real experience of relationships makes it harder that I ever will manage to adjust my expectations, and meet someone else’s expectations of me.

The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome also says that people with sub-diagnostic autism symptoms (which realistically is what I probably have and what I’m currently diagnosed with) can benefit from the same help that people with a diagnosis get, which is good, if I can find a way of getting help.  It’s also interesting that my sister and my Dad have some sub-diagnostic symptoms, which again is supposed to be common in families of people on the spectrum.  Although no one is going to mistake someone who likes small talk and hates silence as much as my Dad for someone on the autistic spectrum.  I guess that’s another reason why I want a diagnosis.  Growing  up my parents told me that they were shy as children and I should just ‘push myself’ to talk to other people and that it would get easier with practise.  It never did, and I suppose if I was diagnosed as being on the spectrum, that would be a kind of justification for failing to master small talk and social skills.  Maybe that’s not a good thing, maybe it will just encourage me to isolate myself.  I don’t know.  I don’t really know about a lot of things right now.

Failure to Thrive

I did not sleep well last night, waking up in the middle of the night with a headache, not being able to get back sleep, getting up and doing some things before suddenly dozing off when I finally thought I would get dressed and start the day.  My uncle and my sister came over for lunch (my brother-in-law is unwell) and we ate together.  Surprisingly, it was warm enough to eat in the garden.  The resultant mental hangover may have contributed to low mood in the afternoon.  At any rate, I was over-analysing things, wondering if I was contributing enough to the conversation, if I was over-sensitive to the sunlight and judging everything through the prisms of autism and social communication disorder.  The conversation got onto the topic of the new series of Doctor Who at some point, and the older generation opined that it was “too politically correct.”  I don’t particularly agree (although I agreed about the lack of Jews in general and frum (religious) Jews in particular in Western culture), but as usual with dissent I withdrew from the conversation rather than state an opposing view, from fear of being attacked or rejected.  This is not particularly healthy.

After lunch (which went on until after 4pm), I went for a walk.  I was feeling very miserable (perhaps from socialising, perhaps from eating too much ice cream, getting  a sugar rush and then crashing), feeling that the world does not have anything to offer me and that I would really like to die (while I was thinking this, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy came on my iPod…).  Then I ran into one of our neighbours with his young children (aged I guess about eighteen months and three or four years) and they were very curious and wanted to talk to me, so I played with them for a few minutes and I did feel somewhat better after that.  Maybe my Mum is right that I should be looking for a job working with young children, I just don’t feel confident to look after other people’s children, let alone teaching them.  On which note, the asylum seekers drop-in group I volunteer at is taking place on Sunday.  I was thinking of skipping this time, because I need to apply for jobs and because I’ve hardly done any cooking in weeks because of Yom Tov and various other things, but I’ve agreed to go now.

After returning home I spent a while working on a job application at a very prestigious public body.  I very much doubt that I have the experience and skills needed to get the job, or even to be called for interview, but I’m trying to fill out the application.  I have quite a bit still to do, but I’ve run out of time tonight, although it has been hard to stay focused on working on the task when the thought of getting the job, or even being called for interview, while appealing on some levels, is also terrifying.  Family lunch plus walk plus application plus (I admit) procrastination means little time for Torah study, which I feel bad about, and possibly a later night than I would like before work, as I ‘timeshifted’ watching tonight’s Doctor Who episode to later to concentrate on the application.

In Jewish thought God interacts with a person according to how much he or she wants Him to do so; He doesn’t force Himself on a person.  To some extent at at least a person receives overt divine intervention (as opposed to things happening apparently by ‘chance’, which is really also divine intervention of a different kind) in proportion to how much he or she wants it and is willing to let God in.  I think this is something of a simplification of a complex idea and God does not act in this way 100% of the time, but aside from the question of the difference between overt and covert intervention, it seems to me that this would act against people who can’t trust from their experiences (e.g. me).  I can understand philosophically that everything God does is for the good and even my suffering must have a purpose, but I find it hard to just trust Him; I assume His plan for me involves much more suffering and very few pleasant experiences, and that He hates me for my sins.  It is very hard to abandon myself to belief that I can recover from mental illness, find a job I can do, marry and have children and generally be happy.  It seems this is another way that the bullies of my childhood win.  Not only did they make me miserable at the time, but they have trained me to expect only the worse for myself, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, whether for religious reasons or just psychological ones.  Even viewing the matter from a secular perspective, lots of cognitive psychologists would say that one’s experiences come to meet one’s thoughts and expectations, rather than the other way around.  I try to tell myself that my life could get better – and it could – but I can’t believe that it will get better or that God wants it to get better or that I deserve it to get better.

I feel I should be doing a lot better than I am with my life.  I had a whole paragraph here which I would have liked to have kept in, but which I thought was probably lashon hara (malicious speech) so I cut it.  But I feel a lack of affection and love in my life.  “Failure to thrive” was the term used when (I think this was in the 1950s) excessive hygiene fears led to parents and nurses being discouraged from holding babies for fear of passing on germs, resulting in unnecessary premature deaths, because babies need hugs and love as well as milk and warmth.  I feel a bit like that, that I’m failing to thrive in many senses of the term, particularly from lack of support, although it seems unfair to write that as I have some support and it is hard to state what exactly I want.  Certainly, despite doing so well at school, I have failed to thrive in any sense since going to university and especially since leaving it.

Feeling a Useless Waste of Space

Well, that was horrible.

My usual way of dealing with difficult emotions is blogging, particularly as I don’t currently have a therapist to talk to.  But I can’t talk about my Shabbat (Sabbath) because of various Jewish laws, particularly lashon hara (malicious talk).  So I have to bottle up what I feel (somehow writing for myself doesn’t work; even though hardly anyone reads my blog, knowing that it can be read somehow makes all the difference).  Anger.  Humiliation.  Loneliness.  Being ignored.  Despair.  Self-hatred, possibly.  Probably more feelings that I can’t identify.  I’m supposed to be catching up on various chores tonight, but I’m not sure I have the psychological strength.  Still, these events, that happen every so often, do at least remind me that my mental health issues didn’t appear in a vacuum; you have to be treated very badly for a prolonged period to end up this self-loathing.  I just don’t know if I can get help to stop hating myself so much, and certainly there isn’t any way at the moment to stop these things from happening.

(It occurred to me after writing this that I could have phoned the Samaritans helpline, but it’s a bit late now.)

I feel that my parents and my rabbi mentor, although trying to support me, sometimes make things worse, because they say that things are getting better when I don’t feel that.  It’s true that I’m doing more; from 2005 to about 2008, I did nothing at all because I was so depressed (nothing in terms of paid or voluntary work – I was doing almost as much davening (prayer) and I think more Torah study then as now) and now I’m working four days a week (while it lasts), but I still feel painfully depressed and self-loathing so much of the time.  But because people can’t see into my mind and see how depressed I am, they assume things are improving, unless I get so upset that I start being rude and aggressive.  Yes, I have a job, but that doesn’t mean I’m feeling well.   I feel that I have to really push myself to go to work; without a huge effort, I would not manage it.  In many ways I feel further from recovery than I did a few months ago.  I don’t know what my diagnosis is any more.  I’m sure there’s something other than depression and social anxiety, but I don’t know what any more.  The Asperger’s book is making me doubt whether I have autism after all; there may be complex trauma, but maybe not; perhaps there is something else?  Social communication disorder?  Something I haven’t even heard of?  I don’t know.  I do not feel confident about being diagnosed and treated correctly on the NHS any more, though.

I wish I knew what I was good at.  I want to do something worthwhile with my life, but I don’t feel competent to do anything, particularly given how badly I’m screwing stuff up at work, in both my current and previous jobs.  My shul (synagogue) was asking for help with various things, but the only I could do was repair talletot (prayer shawls), assuming they just want people to re-wind and re-tie the knots in the tzitzit (fringes), but I’m too scared to do that for other people in case I mess that up too and they don’t fulfil the mitzvah (commandment) properly.  And I can’t imagine anyone could love me, or at least not enough to actually want to marry me with all that entails rather than just being friends.  Because my recent dating experience has always involved being dumped for being too depressed or too weird.  The stupid thing is that I can see myself as a decent husband and father more than a decent librarian, academic, writer or other job I might consider.  Maybe that’s just because I haven’t had a chance to fail at it yet; I don’t think I’m a good son or brother, and I used to think I would be a good librarian, until I actually started being one.

I wish sometimes that I could meet some kind of prophet, gadol or rebbe who could tell me that I really am a good and worthwhile person and a good Jew, because I don’t believe it myself and I don’t think I could believe it unless it was from someone who had some kind of divinely-inspired insight.

I feel such a useless waste of space.

“Well, blimey, look at him. He ain’t normal, is he?”

The title quote is from The Underwater Menace, one of the less accomplished Doctor Who serials of the sixties.  Ripped out of context, it somehow sums up how I feel everyone else must think about me today.

On the way into work I read a few pages of The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome.  It looks like I was wrong about the diagnostic criteria for autism having changed.  They have changed, but it’s now harder to get a diagnosis rather than easier.  I’m not sure why this has been done, considering popular awareness of autism is greater than ever before and there are surely more people trying to get diagnosed.  Maybe that was the point.  Maybe they only want people with severe impairments being diagnosed.  I’m not really severely impaired directly by the autism, it’s just that I struggle to understand and communicate with people.  Which reminds me, I found this link about high functioning autism not being the same as mild autism the other day.  I think it’s very useful for understanding how I feel, especially numbers 2, 3 and 5.

On the other hand, there is a new possible diagnosis of “social communication disorder”, which takes some of the social impairments from autism without the restricted interests (and apparently also without the sensory sensitivity, although the book does not explicitly state that).  That might be a possible path for me to take, given that my social impairments are much more severe than my other symptoms, which was part of the reason why I had such a confusing “yes, but no” diagnosis in the first place.

Work today was hard as I got told to redo some work that my boss said was done wrongly.   I had made one mistake, but one other mistake I just could not see on the spreadsheet and two other “mistakes” were not mistakes at all, but judgement calls that I had made, perhaps incorrectly.  Nevertheless, my boss was asking for me to double-check a load of work I did yesterday.  It brought my mood down, though, even before everyone else on the team went out for lunch together and I couldn’t go because there are no kosher restaurants around here.

Then, after lunch, I was told that I had corrected the genuine mistake incorrectly.  Perhaps because I was annoyed about having my judgement calls questioned or perhaps out of plain absent mindedness, I had corrected some columns, but had forgotten others.  My boss was rightly annoyed, but I wasn’t sure whether she still wanted me to double-check the other work or not.  I thought I would quickly do it, except it took nearly an hour in the end and I left work at nearly 6.00pm.  I’ve come home to a pile of emails I should deal with (shiur has been cancelled this week as the assistant rabbi is away), but I just want to eat pizza and watch Doctor Who.

I feel like I can’t actually succeed at anything I do.  I was good at school work, but university put paid to any notion I had of being academically-gifted.  I might have managed a first if I hadn’t been depressed (I was two marks short of a first in my first year exams), but finished up with a low 2.1 after a three years seriously disrupted by depression.  I’m told I can write well, which I tend to doubt, but even if I do, I’m not sure how to do anything beneficial to myself or others with it.  The only things I’ve had success writing about are Doctor Who, depression and antisemitism.  I’m working on my Doctor Who non-fiction book still, but am quietly doubting whether I can write what fans want to read, either in terms of style or content.  Anyway, part of me thinks I’m wasting my time with middle-brow family television.  A couple of people have encouraged me to write a misery memoir or some similar depression-themed work, but I can’t find enough positivity to write something uplifting and any accurate account of my childhood would upset a lot of people whose private details could not be changed enough to make them unrecognisable.  As for writing about antisemitism, it is more socially worthwhile, but also very depressing and unlikely to make much of an impact and would embroil me in a lot of arguments that I would rather avoid, although the idea for a antisemitism-themed PhD thesis continues to bubble away in the background without my ever intending to leave it there.

Well, I have an appointment on the moon with Patrick Troughton and a pizza…

Difficult Days

Well, that was a difficult forty-eight hours.

It started on Thursday night, when I was trying to do my hitbodedut prayer/meditation, but couldn’t think of anything to say and slid into bed fully dressed and fell asleep at about 11pm.  I’m not entirely sure what I was thinking.  I think I was hoping to doze for an hour or two and then get up and get ready for bed properly, but I slept until 6am, changed into my pyjamas, slept for another five hours and then had to race to get to my blood test on time.  I had my blood test (and shook again – the phlebotomists think I have a fear of needles, but it’s actually social anxiety, and fear of shaking from social anxiety, that triggers it).  I helped my Dad with some shopping and came home with a headache that felt like it was going to turn into a migraine.  Painkillers helped, but I felt completely exhausted (as I do after a full-blown migraine) and increasingly light-headed, so I skipped shul (synagogue) in the evening.  That may have been a mistake, because it’s going to be harder to go back next week, especially as I was already nervous about what some people might say to me.

After that we had friends of my parents over for dinner.  They’re nice people and I feel more comfortable with them than I do with most of my parents’ friends, but I was feeling out of it and autistic.  I didn’t make much eye contact or contribute much to the conversation.  My parents felt too noisy and the conversation was just small talk, which I don’t like and struggle to make.  (I feel sorry for neurotypicals, condemned by genetics to have boring conversations.)

After dinner I went upstairs.  I tried to do my hitbodedut again.  I spent an hour thinking depressive thoughts and crying a lot.  I guess it was at least authentic, and I felt more connection than I have in prayer for a long time.  I stayed up really late (until about 1.30am) thinking about things, which was also a mistake.

I was thinking about emailing (after Shabbat) the person who does the Q & A for Teens advice column on Aish.com.  I’ve thought this on and off for years.  At first I thought I just want someone to tell me I’m a good person (I fantasise about one of my heroes from Jewish history appearing to me in a dream or something and telling me I’m a good Jew) and as my rabbinic mentor won’t, and I think my parents and friends are biased, I need to find someone else.  Then I realised I really want someone to tell me that I’m a terrible person.  I suspect I genuinely want someone to reinforce my belief that I’m a lousy person and a terrible Jew and that I have no chance of good things ever happening to me.  I don’t know why I need someone else to tell me this when I’m doing such a good job of telling myself.

I did at least realise that a lot of my problems are really the same thing.  I knew they were interconnected, but now I realise they are all actually facets of the same thing: my worries about not having a career, about no one wanting to marry me, about God being angry with me, are all different aspects of the toxic shame and guilt I feel from my childhood and from my continuing behaviour (not having a career, not being married, acting out).  I guess on the plus side that means if I can deal with that, maybe I can sort my whole life out.  On the other hand, the fact that I haven’t sorted it out in thirty years indicates that it won’t be easy (on which note, the therapy clinic that was supposed to phone me on Friday didn’t.  I also wanted to chase my psychiatric referral on Friday, but felt too ill).

On Friday night I found the following quote in the book Sparks from Berditchov by Yaakov Klein: “The Berditchover [Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev] writes elsewhere: ‘If a person gives up on himself and thinks that Hashem [God] has no pleasure from his service, although he may think himself to be quite humble, this is not called humility at all; on the contrary, it leans a bit towards heresy.’”  This was something else I pondered a lot.  I really, genuinely, 100% (OK, maybe 80%) believe that HaShem has no interest in my Torah and mitzvot because they are so insignificant and meaningless in comparison with other people’s and because I do so many big aveirot (sins), particularly acting out when the depression and social anxiety are bad, that I’m a hypocrite even trying to be frum (religious).  So now I feel I shouldn’t think that, but I can’t in good conscience think of HaShem wanting my mitzvot.  So I don’t know what to do.

(Also, why does it lean towards “heresy” and not, say, lying?  Perhaps the idea is related to the fact that people have a divine soul, so saying that God has no connection with you is like saying that you have no soul or that God hates Himself.)

Today was bad.  Really bad.  I woke up late, unsurprisingly.  I was trying to talk to Mum while I was eating breakfast, but somehow it all went wrong.  I don’t talk much about my parents and my childhood here, although there’s a lot I’d like to say, but I’m scared because this blog is not really 100% anonymous and I worry about honouring parents and not gossiping.  I try not to blame my parents for my condition, but I’m aware that my depression, social anxiety and low self-esteem are largely rooted in my childhood family dynamic and while things are better than they were, problems resurface periodically.  So, today my Mum said I was being aggressive, when it was not my intention.  Since childhood, my parents and my sister have accused me of being angry or aggressive in intonation and in how I look at them when it was never my intention and I increasingly suspect that it is my autism and depression that is responsible.  I think that’s what happened here.  I tried to write it off as one of those things, but over lunch I got into an argument with Mum again.  I was partly responsible this time, but only partly.  It’s very hard.  She has her own emotional/psychological issues, but she’s not really trying to deal with them, so I’m left carrying them as well as my own.

I fell asleep after lunch.  When I awoke I had missed the beginning of my Talmud shiur (class).  I felt too depressed and withdrawn to go to shul (synagogue) for Mincha (the afternoon service).  I tried not to beat myself up about that, but I probably will.  I tried to study some Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), but it was hard work and not particularly inspiring (Hoshea).  I should do some chores now Shabbat is over, but I don’t really have much of a desire to do so.  Tomorrow I need to have a haircut, which is my absolute least favourite not-genuinely-bad thing.  I worry about shaking again, which in itself can be enough to trigger it, but even before I had an issue with shaking, I’ve had autistic issues with that kind of close contact with strangers, particularly as I’m feeling very sensitive about touch at the moment (I jumped when my Dad put his hand on my shoulder the other day).

Sukkot and Stress

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

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

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

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

Anyway…

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

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

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

The Inner Critic

I overslept again this morning.  I would have got to work on time, but there was a slight train delay and I was a couple of minutes late.  This office doesn’t seem to be as strict about timekeeping as my last job, but I felt bad.  I think of myself as a punctual person, at least when other people are involved (when I just want to do something by a certain time for myself, my time management is not always the best, largely due to depressive procrastination and probably also to self-sabotage stopping me doing things I enjoy).

Previously, I had been working through most of the data my boss gives me each day, but leaving some over for the next day.  Today I was asked to go through all the data by the end of the day.   I managed it, but I had to stay a little late and I felt that I was rushing a bit, which worried me as I am still making mistakes, although I think I have found a new way to check my work before submitting it.

The stress of having to do all that work on time and the stuffiness in the office, combined perhaps with my inner critic attacking me for lateness, slowness and mistakes (more of the inner critic in a moment) resulted in a headache by lunch time.  I went for a walk instead of working on my Doctor Who book, although the headache didn’t really go until I took some painkillers.

I’m having some trouble with my Complex PTSD book.  The book tells me that I need to challenge my inner critic.  The book says the inner critic is an internalisation of the voice of one’s abusive parents.  The problem is that I don’t hate my parents the way the book thinks I should and I certainly don’t think they were abusive.  I acknowledge that my issues date back to childhood experiences, albeit not just with my parents, but I don’t think my parents were terrible parents and certainly not abusive ones; there were a number of difficult things going on when I was a child that were not in my parents’ control that were the source of my problems, including my borderline autistic traits (at a time when these were not widely recognised) and some other family issues, as well as bullying at school.  My parents would have benefited from guidance that could have helped them make some better parenting choices, but I don’t hate them or feel furious with them.  It’s upsetting to read a book that seems predicated on my seeing my parents as being hugely abusive and my needing to challenge them.  At the same time, it is silly to deny that a lot of my childhood was upsetting and maybe even traumatic in the technical use of the term and years of psychodynamic therapy still haven’t exhausted all the things I would like to say about it (but feel I shouldn’t say here).  I don’t know where this leaves me, especially as I’ve just stopped psychodynamic therapy.

The other issue is that to challenge the inner critic, I am supposed to state that I don’t deserve to suffer.  The problem is that I think I do deserve to suffer.  I suppose I can acknowledge that I’m not so bad.  Although I don’t really think I’m a great Jew, I’m not doing anything really terrible in the Harvey Weinstein school of awfulness.  But… when the depression (and/or all my other issues) is bad I act out.  I won’t spell out what I do (and it isn’t anything illegal, dangerous or which directly hurts me or anyone else), but I think it’s bad, Judaism thinks it’s bad and some secular people think it’s bad.  I sometimes feel like I deserve the depression (and/or everything else) to punish me and that not being able to marry is very much a punishment middah keneged middah (measure for measure).  But then I think I became depressed when I was in my teens and Judaism teaches one doesn’t get punished until one reaches the age of twenty (God gives a cooling off period to gain maturity) so the depression can’t be a punishment.  But then I think that even if it wasn’t a punishment then then, it could be now.   And I go back and forth.  My therapist and my rabbi mentor know about this stuff.  My therapist says I’m normal and loveable.   My rabbi mentor says that lots of people struggle with this halakhah (law) and that I’m a good person.  But I can’t internalise it.  And the self-loathing and despair just makes me act out again.  (This is probably why the rabbis said not to think of yourself as wicked.)

I used to get pure O OCD thoughts, worrying that I had accessed illegal websites without realising it and would go to jail and be disowned by my friends and family.  It was probably built on this self-loathing and fear of discovery… yet there is also a desire for discovery.  I want to write in more detail about my acting out and have been dropping heavy hints.  I’m just fed up with hiding myself.  I want everyone to see how awful I am.  Then there is no risk that anyone will ever love me again, and I won’t suffer any more disappointment.

I think I need to see a CBT therapist, as I’m not going to be able to challenge these thoughts alone.  I emailed the therapist who helped with my OCD, but she hasn’t got back to me yet; I see on her website that she has, however, put up her prices…

Oh, and Dad thinks that the ginger cat that lived near my parents’ house and which seemed to like me (s/he rubbed affectionately back and forth against my legs once, wich is more affection than I’m used to getting) died.  I keep thinking about whether I could look after a cat.  I suppose that, having resigned myself to never being well enough to get married and have children, I’m thinking about other options of someone to care for.