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.

Colonel Runaway

One problem of the concept of ’emotional flashbacks’ that I’ve mentioned is the difficulty I have in distinguishing an emotional flashback (if there really is such a thing) from my ‘normal’ feelings of depression, despair, anxiety and self-loathing.  Or maybe there is no difference – they really are the same thing.  The book I’m reading on C-PTSD did seem to imply that a lot of what is diagnosed as depression and anxiety is actually misdiagnosed C-PTSD, which might explain why the usual depression treatments have been so ineffective for me, but I’m wary of doing my usual thing of finding a potential new diagnosis and getting very involved and emotionally-invested in researching it before a psychiatrist tells me I don’t actually have it (cf. bipolar disorder, autism and other things).  I guess I feel like the boy who cried wolf with myself.

Emotional flashbacks or not, it has been a difficult Shabbat (Sabbath) and I am ashamed to say that, yet again, I mostly responded by running away.  I ran away from shul (synagogue) early during Ma’ariv (the evening service) this evening.  This was partly because I had a migraine (and was aware that I’m likely to feel just as bad, if not worse, on Wednesday, as fasting always makes me ill), but also because I was feeling deeply depressed and socially anxious.  I’m not quite sure what triggered it.  There are too many possible causes, or maybe it was the cumulative effect of all of them.  I was initially a bit upset that I couldn’t join in the lechaim (drink, in this case whisky) at the Talmud shiur (class) for finishing the first perek (chapter) of Talmud because I don’t drink because of the depression and my anti-depressants.  Then at Mincha (the afternoon service) someone took my usual seat, which upset me more than it should have done (symbolic of my not having found my place in the community?), then I didn’t realise there was going to be a seudah shlishit (third Shabbat meal) and had already eaten mine at home (after eating seudah shlishit one can’t eat again until after Shabbat) and the rabbi’s Shabbat Shuva shiur (class) about Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) depressed me – I’m not sure if I felt I couldn’t be forgiven or that I would be, but didn’t deserve to be (or maybe it was something else).  The last straw was an acquaintance coming up and talking to me and I was reluctant to mention that I haven’t been at shul much recently because of depression and social anxiety, but then I got trapped in my white lies about everything being fine… so it all got to much for me and I ran away from shul during the Amidah, skipping the extra post-Shabbat prayers.  I suppose also ran away by sleeping too much to avoid my thoughts and to avoid shul, as usual.

As I mentioned, the rabbi’s shiur about Yom Kippur upset me and I’m not entirely sure why.  He quoted a parable from Rebbe Shneur Zalman of Liadi, that what happens on Yom Kippur is as if a king gave his friend the crown jewels, and the friend dropped them in raw sewage, and then the king personally wiped them clean.  Likewise HaShem (God) gives us a pure soul, which we sully over the year with all our sins, and then on Yom Kippur He personally cleans our souls and returns them to a pristine state.  The rabbi also compared it to a king changing his baby’s nappy, not caring about how disgusting it is and even cooing over the baby while doing it to show his love.  That should be a reassuring image, but somehow it wasn’t.  I just feel inadequate and undeserving of forgiveness.   Perhaps – and this is somewhat speculative – I feel I would rather die than be forgiven, not in some kind of rebellious Miltonic sense, but just that I don’t feel I deserve forgiveness and I’m scared of HaShem, but not in the way we’re supposed to be.  I’m sure it’s all rooted in my childhood, in the traumatic experiences that I can’t talk about here, although I want to, but it’s hard to know what to do.

I suppose I just want to be told that I’m good, but am scared of it.  Scared of being told that I’m not good, but also scared of being told that I am good.  I don’t feel I deserve to be told that.  Sometimes I fantasise about meeting some great rabbi (past or present) who could tell me that I’m a good person, or having some kind of semi-prophetic dream about it, but I think that scares me, without my really knowing why.  He didn’t mention it today, but the rabbi has often stated the kabbalistic (mystical) that sinning creates a negative spiritual entity, which God sustains Himself, when he would be justified in telling it to sustain itself off our souls.  I don’t know what that means or whether I believe it (I’m wary of saying that I don’t believe in kabbalah at all, but I find it impossible to understand and, unlike halakhah (Jewish law), which I also struggle to understand, I don’t even understand the general principles behind it or connect with it at all, and a lot of it does seem illogical in a way that I don’t find with other aspects of Torah).  I haven’t heard that idea from anyone else, although I have heard the idea that male masturbation creates demons from the unused semen.  I don’t know whether I believe that either.  But I find it easier to believe that I’m creating hundreds of negative spiritual creatures every year from my sins than that HaShem forgives me for everything and coos over me like a loving parent.  Maybe that makes me a terrible person, or maybe I’m just messed up.

Quick Notes from the End of the Week

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

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

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

Childish

I dropped some blogs from my reading list.  This is always a big thing for me, as I have such a limited social life that the blogs I read often seem like friends (hence over-sharing and drama queening).  I feel bad for culling friends, even if they probably weren’t really friends any more, if they ever were.  And it did confirm that I’m still very angry with one person, even coming up to Yom Kippur when I should be feeling forgiving.

I feel that social media should be a way for me to ‘meet’ like-minded people and make friends, and sometimes it has been, but not always.  Facebook and Twitter in particular seem full of echo chambers and sarcastic ‘take-downs’ instead of genuine discussion.  I like to read well-written, well-argued pieces that challenge my views, but the type of snarky one-liners one sees online are triggering to me regardless of whether I agree or disagree with them, I suppose because I see the target as being the victim of the playground bully, as I was.  Identity politics in particular seems to exist almost entirely in this aggressive state, with competitive victimhood thrown in for good measure, which I think is unhelpful even when factually correct.  Unfortunately, I see a lot of this online, especially in Doctor Who fandom.  Reading things like that really upset me, particularly if I feel under attack.

***

I went to see my sister’s new house today.  I know it sounds horrible to say this, but between this and being sort-of forced to donate something to buy a present for the assistant rabbi’s new baby last week (the assistant rabbi is my age), I feel as if I’m getting my nose rubbed in my inadequacies.  But I can’t say anything (except here).  It would seem ridiculously petty to refuse to go to the house or to refrain from joining in with the present.  But I do wonder if I will ever get any positive attention from people (and whether I could cope with it if I did) and especially whether I will ever reach those stages in life (owning a home, having a child), or some kind of alternate stage that would seem as rewarding to me.

I felt bad as I couldn’t stay for dinner at my sister and brother-in-law’s flat (the house is about to be renovated, so they’re renting, currently leaving them with two homes while I have to live with my parents) with my parents because of differing kashrut standards.  The house was very nice, but did make me feel inadequate, as I can’t imagine I will ever be able to afford a house, let alone one as nice as that one will be (it needs a lot of work currently.  I wasn’t really able to visualise what my sister says they’re going to do).  I really can’t imagine getting married and buying a house or even a flat.  E. was right that I’m too dysfunctional and don’t earn enough.  I don’t know what hope that gives me for the future.  It makes me feel very depressed.

The other thing that upset me was that we were there for a long time and I got impatient to come home and get ready for work tomorrow, so now I feel stressed and upset at a time when I need to be in a good state of mind to rest tonight and go to work for the first time in six weeks or so tomorrow.

***

I spoke to my rabbi mentor this afternoon.  To be honest, I was not in the best state of mind because of the prospect of going to see my sister’s house and probably came across as surly and miserable.  I didn’t realise it until after talking to him, but being told to visit my sister’s new house put me in a childish mood, in terms of transactional analysis.  If I get treated as a child, I sulk, which I think is what I used to do in childhood rather than act up and throw tantrums.  In this instance, being asked if I wanted to go and, on saying that I’d rather see the house some other time as I had other plans, being told that actually, I should come or else people will get upset, did seem worryingly like the way things went in my childhood.  I suppose this might be an emotional flashback of the kind I learnt about at autism group and from the CPTSD book.  Watching Doctor Who as escapism to cope with it doesn’t work today, as I only had one episode left in my viewing of the whole series and it’s one that annoys me and, I feel, insults the memory of a character I liked.

My rabbi mentor encouraged me to do a cheshbon nafesh (moral self-audit) to focus on the things I’ve achieved in the last year.  I don’t really feel like I’ve achieved anything.  Likewise, he seemed to be a lot more hopeful about me eventually getting married than I am (I’m not sure if he felt that things might work out with E. one day or just that if E. likes me someone else could.  To be honest, both scenarios seem ridiculously optimistic to me).  The only positives I can think of are things which are simply not as negative as they might be e.g. despite struggling, I davened Mincha and Ma’ariv every day (without kavannah or a minyan), I did a tiny bit of Torah study every day (even though I didn’t really want to most days)…  The only other things I can think of is volunteer at the asylum seekers drop in centre, but I’ve only done that twice, and go to a couple of new shiurim (religious classes), one of which was replacing an old one (the Talmud shiur).  I suppose you could include going on holiday by myself and going to autism group, but they hardly seem a religious achievements.  So I guess that’s not total stagnation, but it’s not really growth either.  Nor do I know how to get past my anger and shame to engage in the teshuva process in an adult way.  I really do not feel like doing this cheshbon nafesh.

***

Busy Day

Today was a day when a lot seemed to happen, even though I don’t necessarily have much immediately obvious to show for it.

I was woken up by the phone ringing at 10.00am.  It turned out to be the person who interviewed me last week.  I got the job!  It’s for twelve weeks with the possibility of being extended for a few more.  I was told at the interview last week that the job is boring and not something I would want to do as a career, but I’m glad not to be unemployed.  Although I’m nervous about going into a new job and then almost immediately going into the autumn Yom Tovim (Jewish festivals), which are going to disrupt the first month or so.  At least my employer seems to be OK with that.  I’ll be working Monday to Thursday most of the time, so I won’t have to worry about leaving early on Fridays to be home for Shabbat except for the first few weeks when I’m making up Yom Tov time on the Fridays.  The job is ‘data researcher’ which sounds very grand, but I’ll basically be googling people’s contact information on company websites and cutting and pasting into a spreadsheet.  The offices looked really expensive, though, which I guess I found a bit intimidating, coming from the education sector.

Already I’m feeling anxious and telling myself that I won’t be able to do it, that I’ll be too slow, that I’ll get fired (although I would have to do something really bad for them to try and end such a short contract early) and so forth, but I’m glad that I’ve got some money coming in and something else to put on my CV and I feel a bit excited.  I rewarded myself with scrambled eggs on toast for lunch, which I hadn’t had for ages.

***

Yesterday I realised I was making sloppy mistakes in my job applications.  Mostly things like spelling and grammar, things which I’m usually very good at getting right.  I think I mistook a recruitment agency for the law firm I was applying to work at (law librarian), although to be honest their website is not entirely clear on this.  I find it easy to make that mistake when a job is advertised by a recruitment agency without the name of the company they are recruiting for being given.  I don’t know why so many jobs are advertised that way.

I know what it means: it means I don’t want to be job hunting and I probably don’t want to be working in this sector, so my brain is simply refusing to cooperate, the way it does sometimes.  Usually it does this by just shutting down and going into depressed mode.  I suppose, as it was already doing that, and I was trying to push through it, it felt the need to up its game.  I’m not sure what to do about job hunting now.  Obviously this job isn’t going to lead to a career and probably by the end of 2018 I’ll need another new job, so I need to keep looking, but I don’t need to keep applying for every job that looks vaguely doable as I am at the moment.

***

The comment I mentioned in this post led to a blog comment conversation in which I said some stuff I had been thinking for some time without saying: I know I compare myself to other people too much, but I have the impression, which may be completely wrong, that everyone in my shul (synagogue) is basically a tzaddik (saint). OK, not a tzaddik exactly, but that they are all doing exactly what they should be doing and only need to refine their middot (character traits) even more.  Whereas I feel that I have a lot more to do even to get back to where I was the last time the depression was in remission for a long time, let alone to move forwards.

I wonder sometimes what sort of targets people have if they’re FFB (frum from birth i.e. raised religious) or if they’ve been a BT (ba’al teshuva, someone who became religious late in life )or a ger (convert to Judaism) for a long time.  When they do all the ‘basic’ stuff (Shabbos (the Sabbath), kashrut (the dietary laws) etc.) and their goal is just to be even more grateful or patient or generous or whatever.  I guess I mean that I know that we’re all on a never-ending life-long journey, but everyone else seems to me to have arrived, and I haven’t even left yet.

I’ve been mentally ill for as long or longer than I’ve been frum (religious) and certainly longer than I’ve been an adult, so I don’t really know who I am away from mental health issues. Because of that, it’s hard to tell what is the ‘me’ that needs to be worked on and what is just poor mental health.

The person I was communicating with in that exchange opened up about some of the things that challenge her, which was a bit reassuring that even other frum (religious) people have difficulty with fairly basic things, but I still can’t shake the feeling that I should be better at things than I am.  People say I’m a perfectionist, but certainly in my last job my boss was not entirely happy with my work, which suggests to me that I’m not very good in at least some areas.  It’s hard to work out what those areas are though.

I still feel that, even at the age of thirty-five, I don’t know why I’m here on earth, what my unique mission is.  I don’t know what I bring to the table, so to speak, and I don’t know how to find out.  I feel that I’m probably doing the wrong sorts of things without knowing what the right sorts of things would be.  I feel I need to find out soon, as I feel it would take a lot of work to complete my mission and I need to start on it soon, but I don’t know how to find out what to do.  Maybe I’m wrong and I’m already doing it, but that seems unlikely as I don’t seem to be doing much that’s worthwhile.  This is where I end up comparing myself to friends and peers who seem to be doing a lot more than me and/or a lot better than me.

***

I went to autism group in the evening.  I was somewhat quiet at first, even though it was a much smaller group than last time.  I did manage to join in though.  I ended up having a really long conversation with someone.  The group was sitting outside on the terrace at the Barbican.  About 8.00pm, people started to leave, but the two of us were still talking as the light got dimmer and the outside got colder and we eventually relocated inside.  We were talking about autism and mental health issues.  In particular, she felt a lot of people on the spectrum have undiagnosed complex PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) or post-traumatic stress without it being a disorder.  I had never really considered the possibility before, as I associated it purely with war veterans and survivors of abuse.  The part that particularly interested me was the idea of emotional flashbacks, where you experience the emotions of a traumatic time in response to a contemporary trigger without the memories of the original event experienced in other flashbacks.  I think I do experience things like this, although it could just be my awareness of my emotional history from therapy.  Having briefly looked online since getting home, I’m far from convinced that I have some kind of trauma issue, but I think it’s worth looking into further.

We also spoke about unconditional self-love as a way of dealing with trauma or depression and she gave me one or two tips for this.  I was already thinking about going back to the CBT therapist who helped me with my OCD to try to deal with self-esteem and/or social anxiety issues, although a lot will depend on fitting in with work, which is going to be in flux for a while longer.  Still, it was all worth thinking about and it was nice that I was able to talk to a stranger for so long.  It certainly seems like a friendly group, and I would want to keep going (despite the uncertainty over whether I have autism), although juggling autism group, depression group and shiur might prove a challenge, especially while working.

Shame

I went to the doctor about my medication.  He prescribed 10mg tablets, but was wary of giving me a lot given that I was feeling suicidal last week.  He prescribed for two weeks (upping the dosage to 80mg twice a day, to avoid having to split a tablet), to get me through the holiday and gave me a post-dated prescription for another two weeks that I can’t get until I come back.  However, the chemist has now run out of the 10mg tablets.  I should have enough to get through the holiday, when I add in the tablets I’ve already got, but I don’t know what will happen if they still don’t have any when I get back.  Taking twenty-four tablets a day is going to be a pain, but going cold turkey from the only antidepressant that has ever been really effective for me will be worse.

I go to New York on Sunday.  I may be able to see some friends other than E. when I’m in New York, but it’s not clear.  They’ve left it to the last minute and are squeezing me in at the end of the trip, if I’m lucky.  I hope I can get WiFi there, as all my arrangements are going to have to be via WhatsApp.

I’m just thinking depressed stuff about not having friends, God hating me and so on.  I was going to write about it, but I’ve written it before and I don’t know how true it is.  I mean, people probably don’t hate me.  Even the friends who don’t get in touch (which is most of them) probably just forget about me rather than hating me, especially as I don’t use Facebook.  My oldest friend forgot to tell me about the birth of both his daughters because I’m not on Facebook.  I heard through my sister.  I haven’t seen him in years now.  I guess he’s always busy now he’s a rabbi.  But it does seem that I have a history of being friends with unreliable people who stand me up or don’t get in contact.  At least E. and my non-biological sisters contact me and respond when I contact them.  For years I didn’t have any friends like that.

I feel the frum (religious) world I feel can be cliquey.  People have their friendship groups and it’s hard to join, even aside from my issues about talking to strangers.  I think people often make new friends through mutual friends, so it’s hard for me to as I don’t have many frum friends.  Nor do I go to shul (synagogue) much to meet people that way, and I don’t have children to meet people through their school.  I guess also people don’t know what to do with single people in the frum world, at least over the age of twenty-three or so.  I guess if you invite them to meals, you have to invite two, to balance the numbers (because everyone else is there with a spouse), so it’s easier not to invite them.  People aren’t rude to me about my being single, but I’ve heard other people complain they are, which also scares me off from trying to make friends a bit and makes me even more ashamed to be single, which I guess is silly as I won’t get set up on dates if I don’t try to socialise more.  That said, I’m more scared about being rejected for being not frum enough and being geeky.  A lot of frum people only socialise with people on the same level of frumkeit.  I’m weird in having non-frum and non-Jewish friends (I sometimes wonder what would happen if I do get married and all my friends get to be in the same room as each other.  I’m not sure how they would react).  I feel too weird to fit into the frum world and am ashamed of my geeky interests and try to hide them as much as possible from other frum people, although I feel anxious about sharing my geekiness and Doctor Who fandom with anyone really, a legacy of childhood bullying.  Now I’m unemployed too, so that’s a whole new measure of shame (actually, I’m technically still under contract for another three weeks or so).

I don’t really enjoy anything in the world and I haven’t since I was a teenager.  I don’t care much about food, I don’t drink, I’ve never taken drugs or smoked, I don’t travel much.  I don’t enjoy my religious life, I get no simchah shel mitzvah (joy in the commandments).  I envy the people who enjoy Torah study and are refreshed by davening (prayer); they are just chores to me most of the time.  I don’t get much enjoyment from music.  I get a bit of pleasure from books and my favourite TV programmes, but perhaps not as much as other people seem to get.  I don’t get hyper about new Doctor Who episodes the way some fans do, and probably not just because I prefer the original series.  I don’t even binge watch really.  Even when I’m very depressed, it’s very rare for me to watch more than an hour or an hour and a half of TV in a day.  I can’t spend a whole afternoon and evening watching TV the way my mum and my sister can, I just feel too guilty for wasting my time.  The same goes for reading, although when I’m depressed it’s hard to read for long anyway.  Someone at my shul only seems to enjoy three things: Talmud study, his family and whisky, but he is a very happy person with these three things.  I just have anhedonia and can’t enjoy anything.

The only joy and pleasure I really want is to love and be loved, and it seems that is denied me.  I really want to talk about my childhood and the root causes of my issues here, but I can’t for various reasons.  I just feel that I have never experienced love in an uncomplicated, healthy way since I was four or five years old.  All the authority figures in my life have made love conditional or just ignored me.  Because of this, I just assume that HaShem (God) is the same, that His love for me needs to be earned, and whatever I do won’t be good enough to earn it.  So He punishes me by withholding the one thing I want, to love and be loved by a gentle, kind woman, and by making me depressed and socially anxious all the time.  People tell me HaShem doesn’t hate me, but it definitely seems that way looking at my life, especially when I compare to that of many other people.  I know shouldn’t compare, but it’s hard.

My oldest friend, who I mentioned above, has had big issues in his life, but he always bounces back.  When I had to take time out from university in my final year, I never fully recovered and I struggled through my final year with severe depression and loneliness.  When he had to take a year out, he recovered within a few weeks, spent the rest of his year off in paid employment, then went back to university and finished his degree.  He got paid to train as a rabbi and was assured of a job.  I try not to envy him, but it’s hard.  We grew up together and everyone compared us, because we were inseparable until we were thirteen or so and we looked somewhat alike (except that he was much taller, stronger and more striking with red hair).  But, like the two identical goats from the ancient Yom Kippur service, our fates since then have been very different.

Mind you, it’s not just him I compare myself against.  One of the friends I might possibly see in New York just had an article published in my beloved Jewish Review of Books.  I feel I should be doing things like that.  He’s had several books published.  I feel so inadequate compared to both of these friends, and to most of my friends.  Maybe that’s why I find it so hard to form friendships, because I’m ashamed of myself compared to most people.  It would explain why my close friendships are with people who are also struggling, and why they sometimes end when they get their lives together again.

I know I can’t tell what will happen in the future, my life may improve (I don’t want his life to get worse.  I don’t want to take away other people’s blessings, just to have some for myself).  But it doesn’t feel like it could after all these years, especially as I don’t know why HaShem would suddenly decide to bless me when I’m such a wicked person and when He seems to hate me so much.

I don’t feel I’m asking much out of life from HaShem: the mental health to fulfil and enjoy the mitzvot (commandments) like a good Jew, someone to love who really loves me and understands and accepts me, and with whom I can have happy and healthy children, and enough money to pay the bills and save a little for my old age.  A few friends who can accept me.  But it seems even that is too much and I don’t know why.  I feel like since childhood I’ve been told (by actions and sometimes explicitly in words) that I’m useless, I’m not good enough, I’m not deserving of love.  I’ve had to work twice as hard as everyone else to get any kind of recognition or support and even then I’m constantly told that I’m not doing well enough, I’m not trying hard enough, even though I’m trying my best with minimal energy, concentration, motivation, mental health…

I know I have to love and accept myself before anyone else will love and accept me, but (a) I have heard of lucky people who were loved without loving themselves and were healed as a result and (b) I don’t know how to love myself when it has been drilled into me that I’m useless and reprehensible and deservedly hated by almost everyone and by HaShem.  Even reading this post back it just seems clichéd, pointless and badly written, like every other post on my blog.

The Biggest Almighty Screw Up in the World; or, More Family Tensions

(You probably need to read this post first, if you haven’t already.)

My sister just phoned.  I feel doubly bad because (a) I vented about my parents, which I probably shouldn’t have done (stuff I didn’t put in the previous post because of honouring parents and not gossiping) and (b) we argued a bit.  Actually, we didn’t argue per se, it just felt like that because I’m sensitive and conflict-averse, but she sounded annoyed with me and I was annoyed with her.  I thought, after my previous post, that I would be clever, and ask her not to problem solve, and tell her that my issues were social anxiety and fear of the unknown, not anything she could fix.  When she offered to find someone for me to go to for Shabbat meals, I said I was happy eating alone in my room (OK, “happy” is an exaggeration, but “sufficiently socially anxious for eating alone in my room to be preferable to a roomful of strangers” is a mouthful) and she sounded annoyed and then when she started problem solving my fear of getting lost/mugged by saying get maps I said I have maps and the problem is that I’m terrified of going to New York BY MYSELF!!! not a realistic fear of getting lost and she sounded annoyed about that too.

I don’t know what to do.  I tried really hard to navigate that conversation more successfully and failed.  Admittedly it didn’t turn into an argument, but it was tense.  I literally do not understand my family.  My family literally do not understand me.  Interactions with my family are often triggering (not quite in the PTSD sense, but triggering of depression and anxiety because the roots of my issues are based in stuff that happened in the family when I was a child and that is, in some sense, still happening, albeit in an attenuated way and I can’t talk to them about it because I don’t want to upset them and they would just get defensive and, yes, we have tried family therapy).  I don’t know whether we don’t understand each other because I’m autistic and they’re not or if I’m not autistic but they still don’t get me for some other reason, but right now I feel like THE BIGGEST ALMIGHTY SCREW UP IN THE WORLD.  (And I nearly used a much ruder word than ‘screw up’.  It’s how I feel about myself right now.)

It’s 10.00pm.  I haven’t davened Ma’ariv or done any Torah study today.  I haven’t had dinner, or finished emptying crates from the flat (and hunger is now making me faint, stressed, irritable and depressed).  I haven’t emailed the friends who are finally trying to make arrangements to meet me on my holiday.  I really want to act out in a number of interesting, but unhealthy ways right now, but I’m trying not to.  I haven’t done more than five or ten minutes of Torah study a day most days for two or three weeks now, which makes me feel lousy and that HaShem (God) hates me almost as much as I hate myself right now.

Anyway, I remain, yours etc.

The Biggest Almighty Screw Up in the World

Family Tensions

I will admit from the start that this story doesn’t reflect well on me.  I started writing to vent, but the more I wrote, the more I realised that it really is my own fault.  I’m writing partly to get perspective, partly to explain why the next X number of months while I live with my parents are going to be tough, and why it’s doubtful that anyone could bear to live with me for long.  Also, no explanations of Jewish words/concepts this time as I’ll be here all night.  Sorry.  If you’re not Jewish, you’re just going to have wing this one.

I just had a conversation with my Mum that went something like this:

Me: My friend who I thought was taking me to shul on Friday night next week when I’m in Crown Heights has said he doesn’t go, so I’ll have to daven at home.

Mum: Why don’t you go online and see if there are shuls in Crown Heights?

Me: I don’t want to wander around Crown Heights by myself at night in case I get lost.  It’s an area with a lot of crime.

Mum: But there may be a shul on your road.

Me: If I did, it would be Chabad.  I’ll be the only person there not in a suit and is clean-shaven.

Mum: We davened at Chabad and we didn’t stand out.

Me: You davened at Chabad House.  It’s geared up for kiruv.  It’s not the same.

Mum: So you’ll be a guest and they’ll make you feel welcome.

Me: They’ll try to convert me.

I can’t remember what Mum said next, but it ended with me saying that I understand the frum world more than her and her storming out while I said something unpleasant (I am not proud of this, but I am being honest).  This was just after Mum and Dad had a conversation across me while I was in the room, but as if I wasn’t there, asking who is giving me a lift to the doctor tomorrow morning when I hadn’t asked for a lift and was planning on walking.

OK, I admit I handled this whole situation badly, partly because I’m tired, hungry, stressed and anxious.  I know I’m a difficult person to live with, but there are also psychological issues here.  I guess the specific issues here that I can see now I’ve calmed down a bit are:

  1. My parents think of me as a child.  This is partly because I always will be their child, but mostly because I’m unmarried, live at home, am unemployed and am lacking in some life skills.  They don’t treat my sister as a child to the same extent, even though she’s younger than me.
  2. I hate being thought of as a child, especially as I realise that in many ways, I am still a child.
  3. I don’t like it when people try to solve my problems.  A lot of the time, when I raise a problem, especially if I don’t specifically ask for advice, I’m looking to vent, not to have a solution thrust on me.  I’m not good at taking advice.
  4. Worse than that, what I say the problem is is not always what the problem actually here.  Here I came up with lots of problems, all of which were true to a greater or lesser extent, but the real problem was only vaguely touched on: I hate walking into a new shul by myself.  The fact that the shul would be Hasidic makes it worse, but that is the issue.  When I calmed down, I googled shuls in Crown Heights as Mum suggested and in a few seconds found two on the road I’ll being staying on, albeit I think quite a way away.  One at least was Hasidic (although not Chabad), but that isn’t the point.  The point was, I had said my problem was one thing, when it was really something else.
  5. The something else here, and probably usually, is social anxiety.  That’s what stops me walking into a new shul.
  6. As I think I’ve mentioned before, I tend to try to tell people that my problems are hopeless.  I generally want either to be agreed with and proved that they are hopeless or to be disagreed with and proved that there is hope.  However, no one can prove the future, so people just try to problem solve or dismiss my problems, both of which anger me.
  7. I just have personality clashes with my parents which naturally lead to a lot of bickering.  To be fair, there is a family dynamic of bickering.  I am not by any means the most argumentative person in the family.  There are deeper issues here that would carry me outside what I think I can halakhically say in public, even anonymously, but there are historical family issues that mean that when arguments start, a lot of bad buttons get pressed for me – not anger management ones, but catastrophising, feeling frustrated, not taken seriously, isolated and ignored and so on.
  8. You may have noticed that being ignored and isolated is pretty much the worst thing in the world for me, and I spend a lot of my life worrying that I will die lonely and unloved and then go to the afterlife where God will tell me that He hates me and isn’t interested in me.  Basically 90% of the biggest mistakes I’ve made and sins I’ve done, and perhaps also a lot of arguments I’ve got into, come from my fear of being isolated and ignored.  It’s not an exaggeration to say that almost ALL my problems are rooted in this dynamic of the family dynamic of bickering leading to feelings of isolation and rejection.

There probably is a lot more I could say if this was a therapy session, but the takeaway point is that I realise that that argument was (a) largely my fault (my parents might have realised after thirty-five years that social anxiety is at the bottom of most of my fears, but I don’t blame them for not doing so) and (b) was largely preventable.  But I can’t work out how I could have got out of the argument.  From the point where I nonchalantly said I’d have to daven at home (when I was just venting, not looking for a solution to a problem or even much of a response), I was basically locked in to an argument because every further step pressed more of my buttons about rejection, isolation and not being listened to, but because I couldn’t openly admit to my fears, I was just driven to more bizarre (albeit logical in my head) reasons to defend my position.  Logically, my Mum was right: google and find a shul (plus I don’t know how dangerous Crown Heights really is, as a non-New York resident.  I was just freaked out by people on Hevria joking about crack addicts on the streets.  I basically don’t want to be in Crown Heights at all and am only there because of a friend who has seriously let me down and am finding more and more reasons to hate the fact that I’m going to be there and worry that they’re going to find my bullet-ridden corpse in the gutter).

In my defence, all I can say is that some of my fears are justified.  Orthodox shuls are often not welcoming, sadly, and ultra-Orthodox communities in particular are notoriously insular and suspicious of outsiders, especially those who, by dress and bearing, are clearly not ultra-Orthodox themselves.  That doesn’t really justify what I said, though.

The Infinitely Deferred Marshmallow

I need to write, but don’t really feel able.  Just had therapy.  I sat in almost complete silence for forty-five minutes (like when I first went to counselling, more than half a lifetime ago), then ended the session early because there seemed no point in continuing.  I felt that my therapist was saying that I made the wrong decision in turning down the job and that there was nothing she could do to help me if I was moving backwards from employment and living independently.   This is probably true.  It underestimates how much I thought my boss was telling me not to take the job I was offered, though.  My therapist focused on my boss’ surprise when I turned the job down and ignored what I said about my boss making it very clear that she did not feel I had the people skills for the new job I was being offered.

I feel I’m just a screw up.  I feel I let everyone down: my therapist, my friends, my non-biological sisters, E., my sister and especially my parents.  Everyone was right: I should have taken a job that would have left me miserable, but would at least have had a steady income.  I can’t see myself getting a new job.  I certainly can’t see myself getting the other things I want in life (community, wife and kids).  I’m just a completely useless screw up.  I haven’t really succeeded since the sheltered, structured environment of school, which suited my (real or imagined) autism.  Even at Oxford, where initially I did well academically, I failed socially.  I used to cry in my room with loneliness, even in my first year, before the depression ‘officially’ began in my second year.

I used to cry in my job.   I don’t think my therapist believed me when I said that, or at least she didn’t think it was a good reason to give up on the job.  I don’t know how many people literally cry at work and whether they should all keep their jobs.

There’s a famous experiment where researchers offer children one marshmallow now or two marshmallows in twenty minutes.  Being able to wait for the second marshmallow is seen as a predictor of self-control and adult success.  I feel like my life is one whole string of infinitely deferred marshmallows, with other people stuffing their faces with their marshmallows and blaming me when I say it must surely be time for me to have one now.

My therapist seemed to make it clear that she can’t do anything else for me and doesn’t think we should continue meeting.  We’re not meeting next week while I think about it.

Today is my birthday.  Thirty-five.  Felicitations, ha ha ha.  I still feel like an anxious, emotionally neglected, bullied child.  I want to go back to bed.  I want to hurt myself.  I want to die.  I don’t have the energy to do any of these things.

I’ve let everyone down.  I’m such a screw up.

Suicidal Thoughts

I probably shouldn’t blog for a third time in one day, especially when the first post was long and drifted into incoherence (as of 10.00pm it hasn’t had a single ‘like’ which I don’t  think happened for a while – I usually get one or two) and the second was probably drifting along a line between neurosis and psychosis.  But I’m still agitated and my mind is still racing and I’m trying to cope.

I feel quite suicidal again.  I went to shiur (Torah class), but struggled.  I lied and said I was fine when I should have been honest about how I feel.  But how do you say to people that you don’t know well that everything is not fine, that everything is pretty awful all things considered and that the things they take for granted on waking up every day – family, job, income, community, life, sanity – I have to get up and fight for.  Every.  Single.  Day.

I didn’t jump off the pedestrian walkway onto the dual carriageway even though part of me really wanted to.  (It would be a horrible way to go, though.  About the opposite of dying painlessly in your sleep.)

I thought a lot about suicide during shiur.  The assistant rabbi spoke in the shiur about concepts that can’t be explained in words, either due to their inherent depth or the speaker not really understanding them.  For me suicide is only partly from despair, although total despair and lack of hope for any improvement in my life at all is a necessary precondition for feeling suicidal.  I am not sure, however, that it is a sufficient condition.

For me suicide, as I fantasise about it, is in part a performance, an action done to communicate an emotional state to other people.  Suicide comes from loneliness, but probably not from being utterly alone.  It comes from having things that I want to say to other people that I can not say, either due to shyness, inarticulacy or the fact that I no longer have any contact with them.  Inherent in my suicidal fantasies is the concept of somehow knowing that other people will hear of my suicide, that they will know and that they will understand a particular message, the message that I am unable to cope with life and, as a subtext, that they are partially to blame for my inability to cope.  Hence the fact that suicidal thoughts are linked strongly for me with googling to try to find out what peers from school and Oxford are now doing, people who on some level I blame for my problems.  (This does not reflect well on me, I know.)

Having been ignored most of my life, the desire to be known, the desire for my pain and my struggle to be known is almost overwhelming.  I want to scream; dying would be the biggest scream I can imagine, the only scream I could make that might have the chance of pushing Trump, Brexit and Syria off the news for a few minutes, at least for the small number of people who have met me at some point in my life.  And they might think, “I didn’t know he felt so bad.”  And they might think, “Maybe I should have said something to him.”

I understand that these feelings are quite common, common enough for suicide prevention charities to ask the media to downplay reports of suicide and avoid romanticising them or attaching any kind of aura of glory or fame to the deceased (see here).

Of course the idea of killing myself to communicate my inarticulable feelings to other people is based on several false premises.  One, that I can actually survive long enough to see and get some satisfaction from the result (I do sometimes fantasise about making a failed suicide attempt, but that would most likely result in people being angry with me, the usual response of friends and family to a failed suicide attempt).  It also assumes that my suicide can and will be understood the way I want, whereas it is likely that many of the people I would like to know about my death would never hear (the global Jewish community is small and close-knit, but we don’t all hear about each other).  Many people I remember have probably long-forgotten about me and even if they have not and they hear, they might still not draw the conclusions I want.  They might think, “I always knew he was weird/screwed up/a failure.”  They might assume that the trigger for my suicide came long after they knew me, which would not be entirely inaccurate.  Or they might descend into permanent blame and depression themselves, which I don’t really want because I’m not a sadist or vengeful.  I want to be understood, not ruin everyone else’s lives the way mine was ruined.

The other side of suicide, about which there is not much to say, is the idea of a redemptive death.  Suicide can’t really be construed in that way.  Since adolescence I have fantasised about a heroic death that would somehow save others.  It’s not likely to happen, not least because I know I’m a coward and could never do anything brave.

There are a couple of reasons why I’ve never gone through with a suicide attempt, although there have been a few close calls.  The first is a fear of pain.  I don’t fear death very much, but I do fear pain and the thought of a long, lingering death or a failed attempt resulting in permanent, painful injury is not pleasant.  Few methods of suicide seem even remotely painless and certain of success.  Second is not wanting to upset my family and, now, my close friends (it’s probably only in the last year or so that I feel I have friends close enough to care).  Third is the flipside of what I said about wanting people to feel guilty: I’m not a cruel person and I don’t really want people to feel guilty about my death for the rest of their lives.  It’s a fantasy when I feel very angry and alone, but not one I really want to come true.  I have no desire to hurt anyone, just to be understood.

The problem is that I don’t know how to communicate these feelings healthily.  I suppose I have therapy and I have this blog, but both run into barriers of articulacy – I can not articulate all the things I feel, because I am overwhelmed by my feelings and lack the vocabulary to describe them.  Plus neither is much of an audience.  Therapy is with one person and my blog is with a handful of people, most of whom don’t know me in real life.

Somehow I wish a bit of my feelings could be known to the people around me without having to go to the extreme of hurting myself or trying to kill myself, but without my needing to find the words and the confidence to say them.  Of course, people probably wouldn’t know how to react if I did tell them, even assuming that there is a type of reaction that I am looking for that wouldn’t leave me feeling embarrassed or useless.

Hieronimo is Mad Againe

I technically have treatment-resistant depression, which means, as the name implies, that it doesn’t go away whatever I do to try to shift it.  I feel like I’ve tried everything over the last fifteen years: medication, psychotherapy, CBT, occupational therapy/work, diet, vitamin supplements, meditation, exercise, light therapy (admittedly with a sunrise alarm clock rather than a light box), trying to get alternative/supplementary diagnoses (bipolar disorder, autism), creativity, prayer… apart from ECT, which my psychiatrist, when I was seeing her, wouldn’t allow me to have, I’m not sure what else I can do (I don’t believe in alternative medicine (despite my attempt at light therapy) or segulot).  But, of course, strangers don’t know that and everyone has their method that “must” work, which is one reason I shy away from telling people about my depress

Not having a job or a spouse is depressing, but it’s hard to get either when you are depressed, which makes getting better very difficult.  Likewise, although perhaps not to the same extent, with loneliness.  I don’t think people like me can maintain friendships long-term or hold down jobs long-term, let alone date and marry.  Only recovery would hold any hope for me, but I have long since given up hope of recovery.

I feel I have let everyone down again.  I think I’m probably incapable of feeling love.  I’m too selfish.  Maybe people intuit that and stay away from me.

One of my non-biological sisters (friends who are like older sisters to me) read my post last night and said my only priority should be getting better.  I guess it should be, but I don’t know how.  I spent a few minutes proof-reading and posting a post I wrote a week or two ago, but never got around to posting, on my Doctor Who blog, about the narrow sub-genre of TV science fiction I enjoy so much.  For a few minutes, I forgot how depressed I am.  I need to find a way to get paid for doing this, even if it isn’t my main career.  I don’t really know how to get started though and I fear my interests are too narrow and my lack of awareness of academic cultural studies jargon and theory would be a fatal handicap.

Every so often I seem to think of the story of Jeff in this article from Aish that I read years ago, although today I came across it again by chance.  It upsets me.  Apparently, God doesn’t answer my prayers because I’m not “sincere” enough.  This is apparently shown by the fact that I don’t expect good things from him and don’t think myself worthy of good things.  Sigh.  I’ve been bullied and emotionally neglected from a young age.  I’ve been depressed for fifteen or twenty years or more.  I have learnt from this to have zero self-esteem and to think that I’m wicked and worthless.  How am I supposed to expect things to get better when all the evidence shows that God hates me (as does almost everyone else) and only wants difficult things for me?  It’s hurtful to say it’s all my own fault when I have faulty brain chemistry and a difficult mental health history.

How am I supposed to change what I believe?  I believe in an omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent God, which is hard enough at times.  Ignoring the question of whether I should in fact be rewarded for that belief rather than punished, the only way I can square this with my life-long experience and pain is to believe this is somehow what I deserve or at least need.  So how do I believe that things will change when I have no evidence that I am less wicked, or that God has changed what He thinks about me, or that He wants me to do anything in this world other than suffer, for whatever reason?  All the evidence of my life points that way.  Whenever things seem to go better for a moment, like when I started my last job or was dating E. and I become thankful to God and hopeful that things will change, I seem to be punished and have everything taken away from me again.  There’s a concept in Judaism that while we believe in  miracles, we aren’t allowed to pray for them, only for natural salvation.  If you lose your job, you can pray for a new one, but if you lose your legs, you can’t pray that you spontaneously grow a new pair, not because God can’t do it, but because the average person is not worthy of such a miracle.  I think it’s clear by this stage that my depression is not going away by anything less than miraculous intervention.  Unfortunately, the article is nearly twenty years old and the rabbi who wrote it  has passed away, so I can’t ask him what I should do.

I have twice in the last twenty-four hours, without really intending it, found myself shouting at God to “F*** off,” at least in my head.  I don’t even feel guilty, as I feel He’s been saying the same to me for thirty-five years.  I feel agitated again.  I suddenly had a burst of energy and went for a brisk walk and after ten minutes I ran out of energy and had to get home somehow.  I thought about throwing myself under a car and I wasn’t sure if that was a serious suicidal thought, a symptom of the agitation or just more pure O OCD.  It’s hard to tell when it’s so quick, like I can’t really tell if I really want to tell God to f*** off or if it’s just my depressed/agitated/who-knows-what thoughts.

This article from Aish was more helpful than the other one, although I’m not sure I know how to use the ideas.  I can’t do things that make me happy, because nothing much makes me happy right now (anhedonia).  I did mention writing above, but I feel whatever energy and brainpower I have for that should be going on job hunting and I’m not sure I really have the concentration and motivation to write right anything coherent now (this post is increasingly incoherent).  I will try to accept that resilience takes time, although I don’t think I’ve grown more resilient over the many years that I have been depressed.  And while I accept there are major lows, there don’t seem to be any countervailing highs.  And the ‘new normal’ has been my normal for so long that it’s the good times that seem like the aberrations and I don’t know how to adjust to this.

I also came across an old Hevria post from last year that I had forgotten about.  It’s about being an introvert in the frum (Orthodox Jewish) community.  I had written a long self-hating comment there about not fitting in and generally being a useless person.  Someone commented back but I didn’t receive the comment at the time because he replied to the comment below mine by mistake.  S/he said that my introversion is part of my life mission.  This may be true, but as I have no idea what my life mission is, except that it seems to involve an inordinate amount of psychological pain and that no one can help me find out what it is, this is not terribly helpful.

I revised my CV, although there was not a lot to add to it from the last few months.  I really hate the personal interests section.  I don’t know why employers ask for it.  What they are basically asking is, “Please tell me that you have unusual and interesting hobbies, preferably ones that involve intelligence, extroversion and team work, but also imply that you rarely get a chance to pursue these hobbies because you’re so fanatically devoted to work.  Do not under any circumstances imply that you enjoy solitary, introvert things like reading, watching TV, blogging, going for walks (hiking in groups is acceptable) or just sitting idly with your thoughts.  Don’t even think about implying that you prefer your hobbies to your career and that in the ideal world, you would find a way of making your hobby into your job.”  Apparently, rather than just listing stuff I’ve been paid to do, I also need to highlight “Key Achievements”.  I have literally no idea what my key achievements are.  Sometimes (like this week) just getting through the day without hurting myself is an achievement, but that’s not really something to put there.

Stuff online reminds me that most people are having a lot more sex than I am.  Some people are even loved with it.  Mind you, the monks in The Name of the Rose were having more sex than I am, and they were supposed to be celibate.  I feel so lonely.  And, for all a a few people have said I’m a good writer, I find it hard to believe, given that I’ve had such little interest in my writing.  Nor does it seem better to me than the bulk of writing online and in the press, although to be fair it doesn’t seem much worse (and I use a lot less cliquey slang, although in these postmodern, anti-elitist times, that’s probably a criticism).  But I’m never going to be a literary novelist or even a literary essayist.  Even if my thoughts weren’t word soup.

Other stupid things I’ve done today: google my ex (not E., my first ex, from five years ago) even though I know she’s no longer religious and I would probably have very little in common with how her life has gone now, which makes me sad for reasons I can’t explain, and also because, as a bi-pride campaigner, she’s dealing with her sexuality issues in a rather more tangible way than I’ve ever managed to deal with mine.  Also: think about suicide, google to see how lethal my antidepressants are, and start counting up how many I had “just out of curiosity.”  Feeling very agitated and worried for myself again.

Trying to listen to calming classical music, but I don’t really know classical music, and what I do know is lively, so it was Pachelbel’s Canon again.  Music to go mad to, I suppose.  Dave Owen suggested years ago that one day the Doctor should regenerate because of insanity rather than physical injury.  I’d like to see that.  I suppose it would be considered unheroic nowadays.

So: agitation, can’t concentrate, racing thoughts, pacing, biting nails, wringing hands, hitting myself, thinking and reading about death and suicide… I should probably be on suicide watch, but I’m scared of telling my parents.  I was planning on being home from tomorrow afternoon to some time on Monday anyway for various reasons, so I guess that’s good, I can see what happens without telling anyone.

Screw Up

I stayed up late last night.  It was my fault.  I was doing various things, some necessary, some just acting out from my mental health issues, but also watching the Doctor Who episode Nightmare in Silver, which I found myself enjoying somewhat, even though in the past I have disliked it.  Usually re-watching stuff while very depressed makes it less enjoyable, but occasionally I get lucky.  Obviously that episode needed to be watched in  a “I’m exhausted, show me something silly and escapist that I won’t think about too seriously” frame of mind.

I was woken up early today, I think around 8.30am, maybe earlier, by the builders next door starting work noisily.  Very considerate of them.  Then they accidentally cut off the electricity to my flat and my landlord’s house and they had to come in to turn off the circuit breakers because I was too tired to get involved.  Unfortunately, once it was sorted I went back to sleep because I was too exhausted to stay awake.  I didn’t wake up until 3.00pm or later.  I must have slept for twelve or thirteen hours.  The builders had cleared off early.

I got an email from the careers advisor I applied to see last night (one of the job-related things I stayed up late to do).  My appointment is in the middle of my holiday in New York and there is no option to apply for a different slot.  I’m not cancelling a holiday that cost over £1000 for a careers advice slot, so I will email, but I’m worried they won’t let me change, only cancel.

I’ve been thinking about Hevria.com again and getting turned down as a writer.  At the time writing was just a hobby, but now I wonder if a regular writing gig, even unpaid (I believe Hevria writers are paid now, although they weren’t when I applied) would have helped my career.  It can’t have harmed it.  I don’t like to admit this, but getting turned down was a massive blow to my confidence as a writer and even several years on (I can’t remember exactly how many; it must be three or four) I still feel ‘blocked’ on some level.  I know I’ve hardly written any poetry since then, when I was writing a poem a week or so for eighteen months or so before it.

Mind you, Hevria is really political now, for a site that was never meant to be political, although by ‘political’ I mean ‘anti-Trump.’  I don’t like Donald Trump, but I don’t think he’s Hitler, and it’s a bit tedious continually being told he is, especially as I am neither an American citizen nor an American resident and have other things in my life.  That was another thing I thought I could offer Hevria, a reminder that not all Jews are North American or Israeli (though statistically about 90% are, to be fair).  Anyway, it was not to be, and I should let it go, like all the other things in my life that were not to be that I can’t let go (going to a different school, asking someone out when I was at school, going to yeshiva, sticking with counselling when I was sixteen, getting diagnosed with depression earlier, getting diagnosed with autism at all, staying in my job, E…. most of these things I turned down or self-sabotaged, so I can’t really blame anyone else).

Sigh.  It’sgone  5.30pm, I’m still in my pyjamas and the only thing I’ve done today that could be called worthwhile is tracking down a rogue quote from Doctor Who ex-showrunner Russell T Davies (just one word!) for my book.  The job hunt websites I stayed up late signing up to yesterday are sending me wildly inappropriate stuff, but maybe I’m just too unskilled, mentally ill, autistic and useless to do a real job.  I was just lying on my bed, trying and failing to cry, just thinking how much I hate myself and I hate my life and I wish things could go differently, the way other people’s lives go, but I don’t know how.  I’m just a screw up, in every sense.

Being Happy’s Only for the Wealthy

I struggled to sleep last night, I suppose from the heat and having slept about sixteen or seventeen hours during the last twenty-four (!).  I had a thought about my post from yesterday.  I know I drifted back into self-loathing in my last post.  I know the reason for this and have known for a while.

Children assume that the world is logical and if things happen for no apparent reason, they try to find a reason.  Abused children assume that if people do bad things to them, they (the children) must be misbehaving or ‘bad’ on some level.  I was not by any means an abused child, but it is probably true that, like an abused or neglected child, I have taken on the worldview that I am a bad person and that is why bad things happen to me.  Sometimes it gets too much and I rebel and say I’m a good person and get angry with God (or humans) for treating me like this, but mostly I blame myself, because it’s safer that way.

I’ve known all this for a long time.  The twist last night was that I realised that my self-loathing is keeping me sane.  If I gave up on my self-loathing, I would have to assume that people don’t like me for no reason I can control, that my life is miserable because God wants it to be miserable for no obvious reason, and that I can’t control anything.  So it’s going to be very hard to move away from self-loathing into a healthier view of myself.  The problem is that I really do perceive myself as a bad person.

I feel marginally better about work.  I spoke to my parents again and to my rabbi mentor.  My rabbi mentor said to take advantage of the fact that I don’t have to make a final decision yet and have a look at what other jobs are available.  It says something about how I feel about my current job, and my fears about this new job, that even though I found pretty much no jobs in the library sector this afternoon at my level of experience and expertise (except one job that was basically the same as the job I’m being offered where I am, but in Manchester), I still think I should turn the new job down.

I’m thinking of trying to move into some kind of writing, which might give me more flexibility with hours and less pressure to interact with people in settings that I find uncomfortable.  As I’ve noted in the past, I think I neglected this as a job outlet because I thought writing = creative writing (or journalism, shudder), whereas there are lots of other writing and editing jobs e.g. copy writing, sub-editing, non-fiction writing, ghost writing and so on.  I don’t really want to write copy for cereal boxes for a living, but if it pays the bills, I think I’d rather do it than talk to classes of sullen teenagers about information literacy.  I just found a major academic publisher looking for new writers for books for primary school children.  I probably don’t have the skills or experience for that right now, but I thought it’s worth applying in case they have other jobs that I could do or opportunities for training.  I am also looking for a careers adviser who might be able to help me work out how to apply for writing or editing jobs, plus I have some friends who work in research and proof-reading who I can talk to.

I feel a little bit more hopeful now, but not much.  I do think that I need to find new, healthier avenues for me.

I also heard from E., who says she wants to stay friends and will meet me when I’m in New York.  This is good, because otherwise I’m going to be very lonely, but I worry it’s not good because her email basically made it clear that she still likes me and is only breaking up with me for practical/financial reasons, so I’m worried that we’re both just going to be miserable if we’re together.  At depression group last week, people were encouraging me to see her in the hope that she might change her mind when she meets me in person.  I didn’t really feel comfortable with doing that, but now I feel that I am doing that.  It is hard to know what to do.  There were issues with us being together, like the religious differences, but we felt we could probably deal with those; the main reason we broke up was financial, which is painful.  We both like each other, we’re really good together, supportive and encouraging (we both need a lot of support and encouragement…), and we have some key values and interests in common, but we both need to be with someone who works full-time so that we can work part-time for mental health reasons.  It’s rather sad, but I don’t know what we can do about it.

The New Normal

E. broke up with me.  Aside from the obvious issues I knew about (religious differences, geographic distance, her earning more than me), she listed a load more I didn’t expect: that she thinks she wants a higher standard of living than I want or could provide; and she worries that I can’t handle practical things like finances without help and advice from my parents and so on.  All probably true, although I don’t think I’m quite as incompetent as perhaps I make out.

It’s funny, a frum (religious) woman once turned me down saying I was “too worldly”; now it seems I’m not worldly enough.  Anyway, the already impossibly long list of things I need in a prospective wife has now been expanded to: gentleness; a supportive nature; mutual physical attraction; compatible personalities; compatible interests; compatible values and goals; acceptance of my depression, OCD, social anxiety and borderline autism; accepting of my geekiness; a compatible level of frumkeit and compatible hashkafa (religious philosophy) but acceptance that my mental health issues severely impact my davening (prayer) and Torah study; acceptance of the fact that I didn’t go to yeshiva; acceptance of the fact that I’m not really integrated into the frum community; acceptance of the fact that I’m on a low income; acceptance of the fact that I don’t really function well in the world (I’m not sure how much that’s depression, social anxiety or autism, but it doesn’t really make much difference either way); and preferably being based in the UK, despite the tiny size of the Jewish community here and the even smaller size of the frum community.

It all seems staggeringly unlikely to happen.  I feel I should do something to warn myself off dating ever again, although as no shadchan (matchmaker) will take me on and as I don’t know enough people in the frum community to be set up on dates informally, and as I’m largely too shy to talk to women, and as there are few opportunities for single men and women to meet casually in the frum world anyway, it hardly seems worth the bother.

I feel that the odds would be against me even in the mainstream Western world.  In the narrow world of frum Jews, with its mishegases (“crazinesses”) and bizarre rules and expectations, I don’t have a chance.

I do wish my geekiness/autistic special interests were focused on Torah study, though, as I would be a lot better integrated into the frum community if they were, not just regarding dating, but regarding friends and community in general.  As I’ve noted before, I think autistic men can not just live in the frum community, but actively thrive and attain positions of responsibility, respect and leadership in it, provided they can make Talmudic study their autistic special interest.

The weird thing is that to me, most people, in general, do not seem particularly pious or intelligent or even particularly interesting.  There aren’t that many people I’m desperate to have as friends and it’s interesting that a lot of my romantic crushes have been from a distance, or on people who I knew had significant differences from me.  I assume that this is a function of my depression/autism-warped brain, or possibly just plain old arrogance, because most people make friends and find a partner just fine.  Maybe I’m too judgemental or elitist, or maybe I’m too neurodivergent, or maybe everyone looks boring if you’re too shy to start a conversation with them.

I’m not ruling out dating again one day, although I find it unlikely, but it looks like it won’t be for another five to ten years, when hopefully I will be more comfortable with myself and my community and maybe earning more money.  However, this in turn makes having children much less likely, as I don’t want to be a creepy forty-something dating women fifteen years younger than himself.  I just hope I can build some kind of life for myself in the meantime.  I probably do need to come to terms with my position in the frum community (not really inside it, but not exactly outside it either, more tangentially touching it) before I can really think about dating again.  The thing is, the community is too big and established to change for me, so I either need to change to fit in or leave.  I don’t really want to do either of those things.  I don’t think there is much of a position for the neurodivergent, mentally ill or just plain weird Jew is in the frum community.

I felt so alone today, even before E. broke up with me (although I had known she was likely to break up since Sunday).  I found myself crying at work again and I wasn’t sure if it was hay fever or depression.  I think it probably was not hay fever.  I just want to be loved, and to give love, passionately and romantically, physically as well as emotionally (obviously my parents love me, but that’s not the same thing at all), but it never seems to last long on the very rare occasions that it happens.

I hope that things will somehow miraculously rectify themselves, but somehow I doubt it.

I feel that I’m a wretched disappointment today.  I disappointed God by not being a good Jew, I feel I disappointed my parents by not giving them grandchildren or nachas (reflected glory) (not much nachas, anyway).  I disappointed my schoolteachers and didn’t justify the effort they put into my education by meeting my promise as an early high flyer.  I know my boss considers me a disappointment at work, too slow, lacking in confidence with the students and prone to making stupid errors (speaking of which, I feel I have made a serious blunder in my role in the reorganisation of the library as part of the college restructure).  I disappointed E. in the end.  I think of the all the children who scorned and bullied me at school and who now have some modicum of money, status, love or happiness, looking down on me and feeling vindicated.  (Actually, they probably don’t care any more.  They probably don’t even remember me.  To be honest, I struggle to remember them a lot of the time and they had a much bigger effect on me than I ever had on them.)

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been reading Moshe Koppel’s fascinating Judaism Without Apologies blog, which has been looking at the interaction between traditional Jewish values and Jewish society and comparing them with secular liberalism, essentially combining ethics with descriptive sociology and a little microeconomics and game theory.  He concluded that Jewish life – rich, meaningful, multidimensional Jewish life, of the kind I want, religiously and culturally rich, non-ghettoised and open to the wider world, but without being assimilatory – is increasingly possible in Israel, but nowhere else.  I asked him if he thinks there is any hope for those of us unable to leave the diaspora (there are many reasons why I can’t leave); his response was a paraphrase from the Mishnah in Pirkei Avot (which pleasingly he expected me to recognise and understand in the original Hebrew), that “in a place where there are no people [i.e. distinguished people], endeavour to be such a person.”  That’s complimentary, but not very reassuring, as it paints me as the sort of lone voice in the wilderness that I tend to think of myself as when very depressed, but which is counter-productive most of the time, as it stops me reaching out to other people and just encourages my solipsistic introversion.  Maybe it’s just as well that it seems that I won’t manage to have children, as I’m not sure what sort of Jewish heritage I could leave them.

There is more to say, but I ought to have some dinner and go to bed.

Mediocrity

Most things are average, by definition, but it is hard to accept one’s own mediocrity.  As a lonely and bullied child, I comforted myself, at least on some level, with the thought that I was somehow different to the children who rejected and hurt me, that I was more intelligent and a better person morally and that one day I would get my reward.  I thought that when I got to university I would come into my own among like-minded people, but in Oxford I was distinctly average compared to some of the geniuses there and it became clear that I lacked the social skills to make friends and that even in a community that might be expected to have an above-average amount of geeks, I didn’t fit in.  I did well in my first year exams, but as the depression took hold in my second year, I achieved less and my final grade at the end of the BA was distinctly average.

This struggle over my identity has never really gone away and lately I have been thinking a lot about what I want out of life.  Some of it comes from dating E. and discussing what kind of a life we might build together, but I was thinking along these lines even before we started dating.  A lot of the things that I told myself were important to me have come to seem unattainable, at least for me and in some cases I am losing interest in them, particularly regarding religious activities.

I feel I can’t do as much Torah study as I would like or focus on the subjects I would or ‘should’ want to study (Talmud, mainly).  I feel I can’t daven (pray) with the right kavannah (mindfulness), the right number of times a day and with a minyan (prayer quorum).  I feel my life lacks meaning and spirituality.  I’m only vaguely aware, and by repute, of what ‘spirituality’ even is or what it means to experience God as being close.  I’ve been very religious about half my life, over a decade and was moderately religious even before then, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a “spiritual experience.”  As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve heard conflicting things from rabbis about whether it’s even possible for me to get simcha shel mitzvah, joy in Judaism, while still depressed, which makes me feel hopeless as I can’t see a time when I’m ever not at least vaguely depressed, in the background.  While I know that not everyone in the Jewish community or even the frum (religious) community is living on a permanent spiritual high, the conversations  I’ve had or heard and the fact that people persist in living a frum life, with all it’s costs (financial costs, psychological costs, opportunity costs) indicate that they are getting something out of it.

Even aside from joy, I’m living a fairly hand-to-mouth existence at the moment.  My depression is less prominent, but it is there and even when my mood is low, my energy and concentration are affected and I can’t do what I would like.  Most of my energy goes on work, some on trying to nurture my relationship with E. so it isn’t stillborn, most of the rest goes on basic chores (shopping, cleaning).  Only a small amount is available for Jewish stuff, so I don’t have much time or energy for religious study or prayer.  I’m trying to make some time at least for studying Jewish topics that interest me rather than just Mishnah and a bit of Gemarah, but, again, it’s hard, and results in my taking several big books in my rucksack to work (I will have back issues one day).  I tried to take on a volunteering opportunity, but they never got back to me.  As for other things that are important to me: cooking, exercise, writing… forget it.  These things have largely faded away lately.  I haven’t even been reading much, concentrating on watching Doctor Who as research for my book.

It is very clear now, if it was ever in doubt, that I am not a tzaddik (saintly person) Jewishly, nor am I ever going to be a great a writer, based on the quality of what I write and my failure to fight for it… a real writer would give up religious ritual, or find a way to combine the two (the Hevrian way, but Hevrians wouldn’t understand my lack of spiritual experiences, given that they all seem to experience miracles every five minutes).  And I guess that’s OK.  I have plans for low-key writing and at some point I’m going to have to decide whether to take time out from contracted work to pursue serious, but non-literary, writing as a career or not.  But a real writer wouldn’t be sitting here feeling exhausted and stressed and depressed and hot and hungry and frustrated that this post isn’t saying what I want it to say, he would make it sing!

And I guess it was silly of me to even hope that I could aspire to being a good Jew.  I didn’t even go to yeshiva!  I can’t even make it to shul more than twice a week!  I do half an hour or less of very basic Torah study a day (sometimes only five minutes, when I’m very stressed or busy or the depression is bad).  I can’t concentrate on my prayers at all and I find it impossible to get any positive emotions from my ritual observance, even if I can write long essays justifying halakhic (Jewish law) observance and ritual as a key part of the religious life.  I can engage intellectually, at least when I’m not too exhausted and depressed, but not emotionally.  I can’t live my Judaism, I just go through the motions and observe myself and others from a distance.

I’ve tried to be OK with all of this lately and I thought I was getting there.  I thought I was learning to accept that other Jews will look down on me and that on some level they are right to look down on me.  I thought I was learning to accept that while I might be able to make some kind of basic career as a jobbing writer, true literature (and acclaim) will always escape me.  But today I just feel depressed and unable to accept anything.  Part of that is work stress and part of it is probably hunger and exhaustion.  But those aren’t going away; well, the hunger hopefully will, for a few hours, but work stress and exhaustion and new relationship anxiety (worth a post in itself) and the intense heaviness of living an ordinary life: working, shopping, cleaning, cooking, showering – the heartache and the thousand chores that flesh is heir to – they aren’t going away.  So I need to find some other way to accept my mediocrity.

Trying to Trust

I’m still feeling very anxious and I still can’t say why (and might not say why for a long time).  I was so anxious last night it was a struggle to eat anything and I couldn’t even watch Doctor Who.  I stopped after three minutes.  I’m not that bad today, things seem to be moving OK at the moment, but they could change in an instant.

I’ve mentioned before that I sometimes feel like Charlie Brown coming to kick the football: I try so hard, but it’s always moved away at the last minute.  It’s funny, I think I’m actually a trusting person overall.  I think I trust most people unless they show me I shouldn’t.  But it’s so hard to trust HaShem (God).  I wasn’t abused as a child, but I did have a difficult childhood, with a lot of isolation and bullying and I guess that’s left me feeling like a lot of abused children, feeling that I can’t trust HaShem to be there for me, or at least assuming that His plan for me probably includes a predominant amount of loneliness and pain.  It’s hard to believe things could suddenly swing around and get better, although as a Jew I have to believe this, and recent events have at least shown that things can change very quickly (it’s hard to believe it is less than a month since Pesach; it feels like something from years ago as so many things seem to have happened in between).

So, I’m trying to have bitachon, to trust that good things can happen to me.  It’s hard though.  I know that trusting HaShem is the religiously correct thing to do, but I’m so scared that if I do, He’ll turn around and say, “How can a sinner like you think you deserve good things?  For that, I’m going to make things even worse.”  I know rationally it doesn’t work like this, but it’s hard to push through thirty years of emotional programming.

The fact that the freak heat wave we had earlier this week seems to have gone and April showers have set in probably doesn’t help my mood.  I don’t know whether the heter (permission) I had to listen to music in the mourning period of the omer, when music is normally forbidden, applied to anxiety too, but I had to take a chance and listen to some music on the way home, because I could feel my anxiety slipping down into depression again.  It helped a little.  I’m trying to hold on.  But it’s hard.

I just commented on AshleyLeia’s post about writing a letter to one’s younger self that, “for many years, long before this fad, I’ve wanted to go up to my really young self (about five years old) and just hug him and tell him that he’s OK.”  And I kind of wish someone would do that to me now, really.

See-Saw

I sometimes wonder what happened to the people I was at school and university with, the people who were indifferent to me, the people who might have been my friends if I had had more confidence and social skills and the people who bullied me.  (I don’t know why they bullied me.  Because I was clever?   Because I was awkward and Aspie?  Because I was a Doctor Who fan?  Because it was easy?  All of the above?  I don’t know.)  I think sometimes about the girls I could have asked out who might have said yes, but who probably would have said no.  I can’t remember all the names or even all the faces, just a sense of not fitting in, of not being accepted.

I assume they are all happy, successful and loved, no matter how unpleasant and socially maladjusted they seemed twenty years occur.  It occurs to me that this might not be true.  Yet it seems pretty impossible for them to be miserable if I am miserable.  Like Yaakov and Esav (Jacob and Esau), Jerusalem and Rome, if one goes up the other must surely see-saw down.  If I’m miserable, they must be happy.

Sometimes I tell myself that my suffering is a kapparah (atonement) for the world.  This is a lie, but it helps me to get through the nights.

“You’re tired of life, but afraid of dying”

(Don’t worry, I’m not suicidal.  I just watched the (not very good and occasionally laughably bad) 1996 Doctor Who TV Movie, for my sins, and the quote leapt out at me as being vaguely relevant.)

I’m obviously scatty today and I forgot some things in my last post.  Then some other things happened after I posted.  For a day in which nothing happened, I have a lot to say.  Anyway…

I wanted to go for a run, but even walking back from the shops was a painful effort.  It was actually quite upsetting.  Even unpacking my bags from shopping and staying at my parents’ house took ages, although that was probably due to getting distracted as much as to lack of energy.  So I didn’t exercise today.

I just submitted something to Hevria (about mysticism and religious existentialism).  I wrote it over three years ago, but I’ve only showed it to one person until now.  I was naughty/daring and didn’t actually re-read it before submitting, because I’ve been putting that off for ages.  I’ve tinkered with it on and off over the years and I knew that if I waited until I had re-read it again, I would just procrastinate indefinitely.  I just sent it as is and hoped I’d got it into a good enough state.  To be honest, I don’t really care if they reject it.  I’m not particularly invested in it, I just want to do something with it.

I was trying to write something semi-autobiographical recently.  I thought that I can’t tell the story of how my mental health issues started (outside therapy) without hurting a lot of people and violating various Jewish laws, but I wanted to try to write a sort of exaggerated absurdist or magic realist Alice in Wonderland/The Prisoner version of my childhood, interspersed with more philosophical chapters that are like my blog posts.  I kicked ideas around for a few weeks and then spent about half an hour on it last week and have now completely lost any enthusiasm I might have had for it.  I can’t see how I ever thought it could have worked, or at least how it could have been within my extremely limited capabilities.  This type of thing happens to me a lot, the initial burst of enthusiasm and then the loss of confidence once I realise how big an undertaking a project is and how little skill I have for doing it.

I’m losing confidence in my Doctor Who book too.  I had a couple of ideas for non-fiction books about Doctor Who or science fiction and this is probably the least adventurous or original.  I went with it because it was essentially largely written in blog form already – except that as I began to expand and redraft, it grew rather bigger than expected (good), but I’m not sure it’s really worth the expanded word count (bad).  Does the world really need another analytical book on Doctor Who, even one without the snark and politics that characterise so many of the others?  I don’t know any more.  I just feel there isn’t enough chiddush (novelty) to justify its existence.  Still, at least I’m enjoying working on it, which is more than I can say about pretty much anything else in my life at the moment, except perhaps the Thursday evening shiur (Torah class).

I had a bit of a paradigm shift realising that ‘kavannah‘ in prayer can be loosely translated as ‘mindfulness’ (a conceptual rather than a literal translation).  I’ve never really managed to do mindfulness meditation, although I have tried.  Now I’m trying to use my davening (prayer) as a mindfulness practice.  This is similar to something Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan writes about in Jewish Meditation.  I will try to remember to report back on how that goes.  Hopefully it will be a way to practise mindfulness and improve my kavannah in davening and score two wins rather than one (or zero).

I’m in two minds about whether to include the following paragraph.  I’ve decided to include it as a record of how I was feeling earlier today, although I don’t feel like this at the moment.  (Eating pizza in my pyjamas while watching even quite bad Doctor Who is obviously helpful.  I wonder how I would feel if I had been watching something good.)

Also, have I mentioned lately that I hate myself?  Because I do, very much.  Days like today feel like a struggle just to stay where I am and not go backwards, let alone move forwards.  It’s so tempting just to give in and let go, but if I do that, I know I’ll never get up again.  I’m not supposed to be listening to music for the next month (it’s a period of Jewish national mourning for a month between Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot (Pentecost) each year, although there are different customs about when exactly; listening to music is forbidden, as is shaving, cutting hair and holding celebrations, especially weddings), but just one day in and I’m not sure if I can do it this year.  It feels like it would be better to listen to music than to do something more serious.  But just presenting the situation like that seems wrong, when one thing has nothing to do with the other.

Bedroom Picspam

Oh dear, the OCD has come and gone all day (I’m currently resisting the temptation to ask if the superglue I got all over my fingers earlier is OK for Pesach; given my rabbis have found it funny when I asked if kitchen wipes and hair dye are OK, I’m going to assume that superglue is definitely not food and therefore not subject to the Pesach kashrut laws).  I’m also trying not to let J*r*my C*rb*n (yemach shemo) spoil my chag.  And now there’s pre-Yom Tov (festival) stress and resultant family tension.  So, something nice: my room!

My parents had my old room at their house decorated a couple of months ago, but it stretched on and was only finished a week or so ago.  Actually, it’s not quite finished; there’s a picture I still want to put up, but I can’t find a frame that fits.  The room looks a lot fresher and more welcoming than it did when we moved in over two and a half years ago.  This is good, as I come back every week for Shabbat (the Sabbath) and if my contract isn’t renewed past August I will probably have to move back in permanently, at least until I can find a new job.  It’s a pity we didn’t have the budget to do anything with the black wardrobe doors, but the rest of the room looks brighter.

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The view from my desk, with some of my 1,000-plus books (horizontal, vertical, two rows deep in places) on the left, guarded by the wargaming miniatures I used to paint/still occasionally paint and my DVDs on the right, with gaps where DVDs in my flat should be.

 

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The view from the door as you come in.

I tried to photograph some of my fantasy wargaming miniatures (I never much liked wargaming, but I like to think I painted the miniatures well), but the photos didn’t come out well.  This was about the best photo, although far from the best paint job, a Dark Elf lord riding a dragon.

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I have to say, I used to paint these things a lot better when I was in my teens than I do now, although I haven’t painted for a year or more.  I don’t know if I have less patience or a less steady hand or what.  Someone has released a new Doctor Who game and I’d like to paint some of the miniatures, but Daleks, Cybermen and other Doctor Who monsters tend to be predominantly one colour (green or black, usually) and aren’t particularly interesting to paint.  I’d like to paint all the Doctors at least.

Anxious/Loved

I struggled to fall asleep last night.  I got home late from my parents’ house, as I had stayed to have dinner with my parents, sister and brother-in-law.  Although I drove everyone crazy saying I had to leave early, I was still home much later than I wanted.  I got to bed by 11.15pm, which shouldn’t have been too bad, but I was alert and couldn’t sleep; after twenty minutes or so I got up, took a sleeping tablet and watched Doctor Who until it kicked in.  I was probably too stressed and anxious to sleep, but the stress and anxiety isn’t going to go away until after Pesach now and that was my last sleeping tablet, which is a little ominous.

Today was difficult.  There was a lot of anxiety.  It feels odd to have anxiety predominating over depression, which probably hasn’t happened since Pesach last year, which I guess proves that the OCD is under control for eleven months of the year.  The surprise was that not all of the anxiety was OCD-related, or Pesach-related, as my religious OCD focuses on Pesach more than anything, especially now I feel I’ve more or less got to grips with my ordinary kashrut (dietary law) OCD.  I was worried about various potential infringements of the Pesach laws that may have happened last year resulting in us not being able to use our utensils this year and in cleaning and kashering this year.  I also knew that I shouldn’t ask for reassurance from my rabbi, as that fuels the OCD, but should just accept the anxiety and uncertainty, particularly as I was fairly sure that things were OK.  However, in the end I gave in and asked about two of the four questions that were bothering me.  Predictably, the anxiety has shot up since asking (I haven’t heard back yet), so I must try not to ask any more questions unless I’m really sure that something is wrong, or at least that I don’t know the answer.

The other thing I was worrying about is my sister’s welfare.  She’s really stressed at the moment, with Pesach and with work.  She said that she will be fine in three weeks, once Pesach is over, but I catastrophise and worry that something terrible is going to happen to her.  I feel that I would accept suffering to protect my little sister from it, but I don’t think that life works like that.

I had a thought today, building on what I wrote yesterday.  It really hit me that there isn’t really a way I could get karet (spiritual excision, probably losing one’s share of Olam HaBa (the Next World)) for eating chametz (leaven) on Pesach.  Obviously that is the biblical punishment, but (even ignoring the idea that no one gets karet any more), it’s hard to imagine a situation where we would deliberately eat chametz on Pesach.  It is true that for most of my life we didn’t kasher our kitchen properly for Pesach, but that was through ignorance.  I do have particular worries about things that I shouldn’t share here, but for the moment the only way an issue would arise is if something happens that my parents think is OK, but I do not think is OK.  The only thing I can imagine in this category at the moment is if someone brings some questionable food to our house that my parents think is OK, but I don’t.  I know we have not-so frum guests who are bringing food, but I think I can trust them to buy from a kosher for Pesach shop out of respect for our standards and my parents have said I can check the hechshers (rabbinic certification) before we put it out.  What I really worry about is the potential argument more than anything.  It’s the human element that worries me, the having to navigate the feelings that get aroused when my understanding of kosher (kosher for Pesach in this instance) doesn’t correspond with other peoples’.  This can happen, but the fear is the argument more than the sin, the re-enacting of the arguments that have terrified and upset me since I was a small child.  I have to tell myself that I’m not a small child any more, I’m an adult, I can state my case and am usually taken more seriously than I was as a child; if no one accepts what I say, I have the right to make my own decisions for myself.  That’s hard to admit, though, and I do worry about a situation arising where my standards conflict with those around me causing a huge argument and a week-long stand off.

That was actually a digression!  What I wanted to say was that today I had a sense of my worst Pesach sins being accidental and HaShem (God) forgiving me for them.  I have never really had this feeling before, it felt new and pleasant.  I don’t want to be one of those people who assume that God agrees with whatever they do, however bad (that way lies terrible behaviour to people as well as to God), but I did feel… I’m not sure that I can put it into words, but accepting that this is partially rationalisation after the event, I felt that He accepts that I am doing my best, that He has given me a lot of tzores (suffering) and challenges that other people don’t have, and that He forgives me.  Maybe even that He loves me, but I’m not sure about that.

Although reading the last two paragraphs back, the bit about arguments and people bringing the wrong food seems really true and worrying, while the bit about being loved and forgiven seems like wishful thinking!  I obviously have some way still to go…

Socialising

I had a rather… combative session with my therapist.  It didn’t help that it was marred by technical problems.  I have therapy over Skype now and Skype had somehow lost my contact list when I logged in so I couldn’t call my therapist, then we had connection problems, so I logged out and tried to log in on my old computer, but it wouldn’t accept the password it had accepted on my current computer two minutes earlier.  We did eventually connect and have most of a session.

We spoke about dating.  My therapist thinks that I try to tell people about my mental health issues too early.  I don’t deliberately try to do that, but it almost invariably comes up by the second date, simply because it’s shaped my life so much that it’s hard to have a conversation about who I am without it coming up.  So, of course, they get overwhelmed and can’t cope and dump me.  We didn’t really have a solution to this, except that I shouldn’t tell people early in a relationship, which is pretty much impossible to do without lying (which I also shouldn’t do).  She wasn’t too happy with me telling a shadchan (matchmaker), but I felt there is a moral obligation; shadchanim do say that you should tell them about long-term health issues and it affects who they set you up with.

Then we got on to socialising with people in general.  My therapist felt that I shouldn’t talk about my issues to people at shul (synagogue) or shiur (class), again because it’s off-putting for people, but she felt I should still be honest and just say I’m feeling sad, lonely, worried etc.  I’m not quite sure how that will work, or that I would have the confidence to do it.  I feel that we’re English, the only acceptable answer to “How are you?” is “Fine, how are you” (or at least “Mustn’t grumble”),  not an honest answer and to be honest about feeling bad without using my mental health to explain that is just inviting trouble.  I actually cope OK with talking to people at work without talking about my issues, because we have work in common to talk about, but I don’t know what I can talk to people at shul about (if I even get the confidence to talk to them at all).  My therapist says not to talk about my mental health, I can’t talk about Judaism because mention of it just makes me feel inferior to everyone else who knows and does a hundred times more than I do (because of the mental health issues which I’m not allowed to mention…) and I can’t talk about Doctor Who because being a total fanboy is embarrassing enough in general circles, but in frum (religious) circles one shouldn’t even admit to watching TV.  So I’m not sure what I can actually talk about, which is why in the two years I’ve been going to this shul, I’ve hardly said a word to anyone.

My therapist says that this is rooted in my childhood experiences, being a brainy and intellectual, somewhat autistic, child who tried to talk about his special interests, particularly history and Doctor Who only to be dubbed an “intellectual elitist” by adult authority figures and bullied and stigmatised by my peers.  My therapist says that I’m not a child any more and people won’t bully me, but I find it hard to believe.  My therapist is insistent that this is the only way forward, and I kind of see her point, but I don’t know what to do to have these conversations, which just bring out the socially anxious autistic child in me.  My therapist also said that I want to be special, so I make out that there’s no one like me, when I’m actually fairly normal, which may also be true.  At any rate a friend implied as much recently.  However, it’s hard to accept that I might be the same as everyone else when so much of my self-esteem is based on feeling myself to be different – better, worse or more intense, but at least different.

So I don’t really know what to do.  I’d like to try to get to shul tomorrow morning, less for the davening (praying) and more to see if I can talk to people at the kiddush, but I’m not sure if this will happen or if depression and social anxiety will defeat me again as they have been doing almost every Shabbat (Sabbath) this winter.

The Embarrassing Truth

There’s a joke about a man who is lost in the countryside and asks a farmer for directions and the farmer says, “Well, I wouldn’t start from here…”  That’s how I feel today.  I feel like I’ve got to get somewhere and not only do I not know how to get there, but I can’t even get there from where I am now.  More than that, I feel that I could be a great person if I wasn’t me, that I have some good components, but my essential me-ness stops them working properly.

These feelings are in response to an email I got from a friend about my last post about being too shy to talk to people, especially about myself.  She said to talk to one of the people from shul about Doctor Who and see what happens.

There’s about a million things I can see that can go wrong here.  First, I don’t even get to shul (synagogue) any more on Shabbat (Sabbath) mornings, so I’m not in kiddush (refreshments after the service) to even have this conversation, but we’ll skip over that and assume I make it one week.

The most basic problem is that they probably don’t like Doctor Who and think I’m crazy for trying to talk about it.  Even if they don’t actively dislike it and mock me for it (and I’ve been laughed at, quite literally, for my love of this TV programme before), it’s just a strange non-sequitur to bring up.  “Why are you asking me this?”

In fact, I only talk about Doctor Who with other card-carrying fans.  My parents have seen every episode since the series returned in 2005, yet if they try to talk to me about it, I give short answers and try to change the subject.  I have been far too badly burned by the hatred I got for this programme in the nineties and early noughties to feel comfortable sharing it with other people – too scared of mockery, too fearful of being exposed as a superfan who knows the difference between Steven Moffat and Steven Taylor.  As a child I was always being bullied for being too clever and knowledgeable by other kids, and told off for showing off  that intelligence and knowledge by adults and for trying to send the conversation to my favourite topics (what I now think of as my Aspie special interests), even though it was never my intention to shame or show off anyone, so I’m now too scared to show any kind of enthusiasm or knowledge about anything, particularly my subject of subjects, Doctor Who (now you get a glimmer of how hard it is for me to go to shiur (religious class) each week and answer questions – to show off to the people there, even though the assistant rabbi encourages it, indeed, actually asks me questions directly).  Plus, I get a bit proprietorial about this silly kids show that I’ve stuck by over the years.  I feel a bit resentful about people who have only joined since 2005 calling themselves fans when they’ve never seen a black and white episode or winced at bad CSO (early greenscreen, except on Doctor Who it was usually yellow).

But let’s assume that I can talk about Doctor Who on this day.  There is still worse to come.  Worse is if they are too frum (religious) to own a TV.  In my head, I can see the whole shul lapsing into a horrified silence as everyone turns to stare at me, the apikoros (heretic) who watches TV and, worse, is writing a book about it!  The rabbi points silently to the door as I leave, shamefaced, no one making eye contact with me as I go.  I can never return.

(Seriously, this is how I feel about watching TV, just think how I feel about my really heretical opinions…)

But worst of all is this: I do not know how to start a conversation.

I will say that again in case you missed it:

I am thirty-four, I have two degrees and I do not know how to start or keep up a conversation.  Just asking how my colleagues are in the morning is an effort.  I’m so terrified of saying the wrong thing, intruding on a personal area or being so arrogant as to believe that someone might want to exchange words with me (I generally assume people are too important to talk to someone as insignificant and irritating as me) that I can’t actually get the words together into sentences, let alone get the courage to walk up, open mouth and let them out.

I do not know what to do about this.

I’m sure it’s a mixture of low self-esteem, bad childhood memories and Asperger’s symptoms, but I don’t know how to move on.  I literally can not talk to people.  If they talk to me, I answer briefly, but try to shut the conversation down, because I can’t cope with it.  If I’m trapped with someone (e.g. they are giving me a lift in their car), I panic about what is going to happen.  I worry that whether I speak or whether I stay silent, I will be found boring and stupid, but at least if I stay silent I can’t reveal any of my crazy opinions or interests, so staying silent seems preferable.

I know some people on the autistic spectrum see autism as nothing bad, even something good, but I feel I get no positives whatsoever from it and my communication difficulties are a massive, massive burden that I can’t cope with any more.  Because I want friends, I want a community and I desperately, desperately want a wife and children, and autism, low self-esteem and social anxiety are stopping me getting those things that are essential to my sanity.

Goodbye, Frum Geeky Girl

I haven’t written my blog on my lunch break since my boss found out about it, but I’m very depressed today and need to off-load before I go on the issue desk for two hours this afternoon.

I spoke to my rabbi mentor last night.  I mentioned my problems finding a shadchan (matchmaker) who will take me on.  He asked why I need a professional shadchan, why people I know aren’t setting me up on dates informally, as is common in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world.  I said that I don’t know many people in the frum world: most of my family are not religious or live abroad and I don’t have many friends and most of the ones I do have are not frum.  He was a bit surprised and said who do I talk to about Doctor Who and other stuff that I’m interested in and I said most of the time I don’t talk about that stuff, certainly not at shul (synagogue) or shiur (religious class), which,  other than work, are the main place I see people at the moment.  I said I’ve been going to this shul for two years and there are two people I’m a bit friendly with and three or four more I’m slightly friendly with and that’s it.

I don’t talk about Doctor Who from a feeling that a frum person shouldn’t be obsessed with a TV programme, although I don’t really talk about it to non-religious people either, which I guess is a legacy of being bullied about it growing up, when it was not a popular thing to like. Actually, I don’t really talk much to people about anything at all, I usually just listen for fear of saying the wrong thing, particularly in frum circles, where I’m not always sure what is permissible to show an interest in.  I don’t know how to explain my mental health issues to people at shul or work who don’t have the same issues (actually someone at work has anxiety and claustrophobia, but I still haven’t said anything to her about my issues because I don’t know how to bring it up).  And I certainly don’t know how to explain to a ‘normal’ person that I’m obsessed with a children’s TV programme that I have been watching since I was eight years old and which has massively informed my worldview, shaped my wider cultural interests, brought me friends and perhaps helped me to interpret my depression and Asperger’s (it’s certainly helped me to survive them).  I wouldn’t know how to say this to a ‘normal’ person, even though Doctor Who is now one of the most popular programmes on British TV, let alone a frum person who sees TV as a source of impurity, something that is owned as a concession to human weakness at best, ideally not brought into the house at all.

My rabbi mentor thought that this inability to open up about myself and my interests to others was really significant and that I should concentrate on dealing with this in therapy.  He felt that if I really concentrate on improving my social skills, I could be significantly better in six months.  However, I know that my therapist won’t give me practical advice (she has a traditional psychodynamic outlook) and I can’t change therapists because I won’t get one who can fit with my work times or who will charge me a significantly subsidised rate (because I’m on a low income) like my current therapist.  It would be a huge upheaval too.

And I didn’t even mention to my rabbi mentor the way my possible Asperger’s Syndrome stops me ‘reading’ other people and communicating effectively with them because I know my rabbi mentor is a bit sceptical about my being on the spectrum.  Autistic or not, I keep quite from fear of saying the wrong thing or misunderstanding what others are saying.  Nor did I say that I think the social anxiety is itself rooted in my cripplingly low self-esteem.  Actually, that’s putting it mildly: I loathe and hate myself and can’t stand being me.  I know that no one will care for me until I care for myself, but I don’t know how to do that and it seems wrong to try, because I don’t deserve to care for myself (as proved by the fact other people don’t love me – circular logic).

I took this conversation to mean that I shouldn’t date until I sort out my social anxiety, which I can’t see ever happening, although my sister said it wouldn’t hurt to give my profile to a matchmaking website if it’s free.  As I rely on others to guide me with difficult problems due to low self-esteem and (perhaps) Aspie poor executive function (or common indecisiveness), I’m not sure what to do about that.  The whole conversation seemed to be saying that I can never have the wife-children-friends-community-happiness I want until I can open up to people about myself, which I will never be able to do because I was taught as a child that my interests are childish and stupid and I shouldn’t tell other people about them and, paradoxically, that I’m an “intellectual elitist” who can’t hold a “normal” conversation and who wants to be too serious all of the time (another childhood image of myself presented to me by others).  At the root of all of this is my poor self-esteem and inability to feel that I am justified in being myself.  I feel I try so hard, but nothing helps and no one, even those close to me, believes I’m trying.  It’s always, “But if you tried X…” when I’ve usually tried X and failed with it.

I can’t even go off the derekh (become non-religious).  Even though I’ve been slipping lately with prayer and Torah study because of the depression, I still push myself.  I slipped in a big way over the weekend and feel terrible because of it.  My soul said “Na’aseh venishmah (We will do and we will understand)” at Sinai, it just didn’t realise that it would be given a brain that couldn’t do or understand.

Hated By God

Today was pretty awful.  It started OK, but things went wrong across the morning, until by the afternoon I just wanted to go home.  I didn’t, but I fear that I was neither productive nor careful enough in my work.  I just tried to do the best I could, given the circumstances, but I’m not sure that that was good enough.

In a way that fits with this post, which I actually wrote last week (bar a few edits), but sat on for a few days while I checked with my rabbi mentor that I hadn’t breached the rules of lashon hara (forbidden malicious speech).

I had a moment of insight the other week doing my hitbodedut spontaneous prayer/meditation.  I was actually feeling very depressed, despite being rather better during the day.  The feeling of being alone with God is very over-powering and triggers a lot of self-hating thoughts and despair, to the extent that I recently stopped doing hitbodedut for a couple of days or cut it short.  (I usually only do ten minutes, but even that is hard; on Shabbat it tends to become more intense for some reason and I let it run on for half an hour or even an hour, mostly just sobbing, which I shouldn’t really do on Shabbat, but it feels like the only really authentic religious experience I have all week, so I am loath to stop it.)  It wasn’t a new insight.  Rather, something that I have known cognitively for a long time hit me with added emotional force.

I had a difficult childhood in some ways, although I feel guilty for saying that, as nothing serious, nothing illegal happened to me.  There was the bullying at school, which I’ve mentioned before.  But not all bullied children have mental health issues in adulthood and in any case, bullies pick targets who are likely to react as victims.  There were some issues when I was primary school aged, maybe also a bit older.  I don’t want to go into details.  It was, as I said, nothing illegal or immoral.  My parents were not aware of the effects that events were having on me, I’m sure, or they would have done things differently.  But for a long time, several years, when I was impressionable I was in a situation where I was being sent signals that I was not valued and no one really noticed, because I was not the epicentre of the difficulties, just a bystander.  No one was aware of it at the time, but my self-esteem was being eroded.  The lesson I was learning was that even though I was well-behaved and hard working, things could go disastrously wrong and I could be left alone in the world to fend for myself and that no one really cared what I thought or wanted.  That I was not lovable or worthwhile or valued.

Adults can cope with cognitive dissonance, but children can not.  A child can not think, “Bad things are happening to me, but that doesn’t make me a bad person” and certainly can not think, “I am being treated unfairly, but it isn’t anyone else’s fault, it’s just life.”  A child feels, “I am being treated like I am worthless, therefore I am worthless.”  I didn’t consciously think that I was worthless.  I can’t remember much of what I consciously thought and felt at that time, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t anything like what I feel about myself now.  But I internalised the messages that I was worthless and unlovable and that whatever I did, however good I was, it would never be good enough, I would always be rejected, I would always meet with disaster and isolation.  I could never express these feelings, perhaps because I didn’t understand them (I’m not sure if the alexithymia (inability to feel or distinguish emotions) is a cause or an effect of this) and partly because I thought I couldn’t influence events, perhaps also because I had built my self-image into that of a ‘good’ boy.  So the feelings were repressed and probably worsened by my experiences at school, where I was further bullied and devalued by my peers.

Nowadays I have a good relationship with my parents.  It’s taken some work on my part and it’s taken a long time, but I can talk about a lot of my issues to them.  They’re never going to fully understand my mental health issues or my borderline Asperger’s traits and there probably will be some things we will always disagree on (as in any relationship), but we get on well, especially now I live away from them and only go home for Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbaths and Jewish festivals).  But the feelings don’t go away.  So I think I project them onto my cosmic parent, God.  I feel that He hates me and that everything I do is wrong.  I can marshal some evidence in favour of these assertions, but, rationally, it probably isn’t much.  It’s very emotional.  For a long time it was focused on, or perhaps through, my religious OCD, but in the last ten months or so that has been a lot better, so it has become more free-floating, just a general all-pervasive sense of sinfulness and uselessness, combined with some more concrete anxieties (getting time off work for Yom Tov, Pesach cleaning etc.).  Obviously my anxieties over marriage come into play here, as it feels like something that God is withholding from me deliberately and also because I feel that no woman frum (religious) enough for me to want to marry would consider someone as sinful as I feel I am.

Unfortunately, this intuitive, rather than reasoned, nature of my feelings means that it is hard to address them.  I have known more or less all of what I have written here for a long time, it has just been hard to feel it, and lately the emotional part of my brain has been running over the cognitive part.  Still, maybe it means something positive that I felt this for a bit recently even though it’s been a struggle to remember it sometimes.