Short Update

Sorry for the meaningless title. I hate picking titles, and this post is less than 500 words long, with no real theme.

Not a lot to report today. Work was fine. I’m taking an inventory of various assets, mostly in the form of antique Jewish ritual objects. I don’t really want to go into what they are and why we have them, as I’m trying to avoid making where I work obvious. It’s at least different, but also a bit frustrating, inasmuch as I have some documentation, but it’s not always clear, and sometimes I’m comparing two or three different objects of the same kind to see which one best fits the description. But the day passed quite quickly. I did make some mistakes when writing invoices though. I hope these are learning experiences.

A job that I “should” have applied for (entry-level librarian job at a major London museum, part-time) came up just now and I don’t have the confidence to apply for it – no confidence in my ability to do the job or my ability to cope with more hours than I’m currently doing.

I decided not to contact my GP for now regarding sleep and tiredness issues, but I will try to phone the psychiatrist’s secretary tomorrow to chase the letter that will change my medication. I think it’s worth seeing if the medication change I agreed with the psychiatrist works before pursuing other avenues.

I “went” to Zoom depression group. I didn’t have much to say, but thought I could at least listen to other people. However, I struggled to concentrate. I find concentration hard on Zoom anyway and I think going after work meant that I just couldn’t keep up. It’s probably worth still going, though, as I would still like the option to talk, and it’s good to hear how other people are doing even if I probably won’t remember much of it half an hour later.

I spoke about my job and my fears of messing it up, but I didn’t go into details. I didn’t mention PIMOJ. Whenever I think I could mention her, I think that we could have broken up by the next time we speak and then I’ll have to tell everyone we’ve broken up. I’m also not sure what to say at the moment. PIMOJ keeps saying that we’re “getting to know one another” and I’m not sure if she’s waiting for me to say that we’re in a relationship. I’m pretty bad at knowing what to do in these situations and I think she is, if anything, less experienced and confident than me. I’m pretty sure that she’s keen to continue, but I’m not sure what to say.

Another Overwhelmed Day

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

Mostly About Autism

Today’s good news is that no sooner had my alarm gone off than my phone rang. It was the Maudsley Hospital, who do autism assessments. They wanted to talk to my Mum (I’m not sure why they phoned me) and arranged to a phone appointment with her for 12 October. I understand that this would be the first stage in my assessment and that they would want to ask her about my childhood. So hopefully that’s moving on now. This is probably a case of the squeaky wheel getting the grease, as Mum has been chasing them lately trying to find out where I am on the waiting list.

***

I had autism support group today, but I struggled with it. I didn’t feel able to say anything and there was someone in the group who would not stop talking, even when asked to stop by the facilitators, which annoyed me and just increased my social anxiety around the group. I guess its inevitable that in a group for people with social communication issues that things like this will happen. There was also distracting noise from outside, even with the windows shut. By the end I was drifting out of it and struggling to concentrate. I also feel there is a kind of anti-neurotypical sentiment sometimes in meetings like this which I find distasteful, people talking as if neurotypical behaviour is somehow defective compared with autistic behaviour, which is just reversed prejudice. Someone also said to see autism as a gift which always upsets me, because I don’t experience it like that at all. I was disconnected more tangibly at one point when I lost my internet connection. I’ve started having problems staying connected online since we changed our hub the other week, even though it was supposed to be an upgrade.

The focus of the group was on autism and details. Attention to detail is a symptom of autism. I’m not sure that I focus on detail the way other people in the group do, although a small number of people did dominate the session. I don’t think I see lots of details when looking at objects, for example, the way other people described, which is the kind of thing that makes me wonder whether I’m really autistic, although people do exhibit symptoms in different ways. I do find that I bring in a lot of detail when relating something, even though I get annoyed when my Dad does the same thing. I get overwhelmed by all the details he brings in and can’t concentrate on the important bits. I think I used to be good at noticing details in writing, for proof-reading and cataloguing, but in recent years I’ve been struggling with those, particularly cataloguing. I do notice details in ongoing TV programmes or novel series, particularly Doctor Who and can get annoyed when these contradict each other.

***

Perhaps unsurprisingly I was tired after that, even after I had had lunch, and struggled to do anything else, although I did manage a few things. I tried to send some emails and leave blog comments for friends who are struggling with different things, but it was hard, as I was worried about saying the wrong thing.

I did some Torah study and worked on my devar Torah (Torah thought). I also cooked dinner, bean burgers, which is perhaps the hardest recipe in my repertoire of ten or so recipes that I cook regularly as they tend to disintegrate when I fry them, particularly when I flip them to cook on the other side.

***

I got another job rejection. I also applied for a proofreading job. I’m pretty sure I could proofread well (despite my issues with attention to detail in recent jobs), but it’s hard to fill out a CV and cover letter when none of my experience is in that area. So that brought me down, as did wondering if I’ve lost my attention to detail skills.

***

My mood was generally good today, but in the afternoon I was upset about the young women Ashley blogged about, who were raped and killed themselves. My mind kept returning to them, the pointless waste of young lives and wondering how the men who assaulted them could do such a terrible thing. I’ve also been thinking about friends who are going through hard times.

People sometimes think that autistic people are emotionless or lack empathy. In fact, we experience emotional empathy (feeling someone else’s pain, wanting to help others), but lack cognitive empathy (putting oneself in another person’s position). This means we can get very emotionally moved by other people’s problems without knowing what they would want us to do to help, which is a difficult situation to be in. (This is the reverse of psychopaths, who can put themselves in other people’s positions to manipulate them, but don’t feel any pain if they hurt others.)

The Perfect Storm

I want to get into a better sleep pattern, so I asked my Dad to wake me up and open my blinds in the morning. It didn’t really work; I just went back to sleep. I’m so drained when I wake up in the mornings, even if I’ve had a lot of sleep, and also quite down, which is probably related to being drained. I used to say, “It’s depression,” but now I’m not sure if I’ve been clinically depressed in recent months. I guess now I can say, “It’s autistic burnout” although it probably isn’t, at least not every day.

I struggled with the job exam thing today. I had poor concentration and struggled to take in what I was trying to learn. I was just staring at the screen, unable to process what I was reading; alternatively, I procrastinated online. I’m struggling learn all the abbreviations and special words used in the process. I guess I’ve lost enthusiasm for it too. I felt tearful and depressed while trying to study for it, so maybe I am still depressed after all. I said a few days ago that my depression is now reactive to my life situation (unemployment; loneliness; Mum’s cancer) and the season/light level and not based on unresolved childhood issues. I think this is maybe not as significant a distinction as I had hoped.

I’m struggling on to try and get this job, and I’m not quite sure why, given it’s underpaid and not directly related to my career progression, as well as requiring unpaid self-training in a short timescale. I guess I’m desperate for a job, more for self-esteem than money (I don’t spend much and my parents are letting me stay without rent). Also, I suppose, to make myself more attractive to potential dates, but today I don’t feel like that that’s going to work out for me either (see below).

If I had more time, maybe I could learn this stuff, but I’m struggling to learn it in less than a week. I hope things might be a little easier once I practise with the practise data, but I need to read the user guide first, which is taking ages.

The fact that it feels like winter doesn’t help matters, with heavy rain. I wanted to go for a walk, but it was too wet. Dad had to drive me to the pharmacist to pick up my prescription. It’s less than ten minutes away on foot, but I would have got soaked.

Reading Ashley’s latest post, I wonder if I’ve internalised stigma. I feel I “only” have depression (the vanilla ice cream of mental illness), not anything that would “allow” me to be really ill, and that I would be better off if I had a job. Actually, the latter is probably true in my case, at least if I could find a job that was within my capabilities, part-time, in a safe environment, with a supportive line manager. My job in early 2019 was like that. I was hoping the job I’m applying for would be like that, but so far it has not been like that. However, I did feel a bit better after doing some ironing today, which I think was occupational therapy on some level.

***

I just feel exhausted and useless today, and rather desperate. A perfect storm of depression, despair, loneliness, low self-esteem and touch hunger. I’m trying to tell myself that I can build a career, preferably as a writer, and that I can find love, but it’s hard to believe sometimes. It feels like dating, job hunting and working are all necessary for my recovery, but all also require tremendous resources of energy, motivation, concentration and self-belief that I can’t access because of depression, anxiety or low self-esteem. I could probably say the same for other activities that are supposed to be good for me, like exercise, meditation and prayer.

I can see that there’s a lot of catastrophising going on today (“Everything is awful”), along with black and white thinking (“Things aren’t perfect, therefore they’re absolutely awful”) and emotional reasoning (“I feel bad, therefore everything must be objectively bad”). It’s not always easy to deal with those unhelpful thinking styles (black and white thinking in particular is basically the default autistic thinking style), but I guess it’s a start that I can spot them.

***

In terms of what may have triggered all this… aside from the onset of autumn… aside from the awful self-training I’m doing under pressure… aside from the stuff that has been in the background for months (COVID, Mum’s cancer)… it doesn’t help that I’m worried I scared off the women I was messaging on JDate. It’s probably too early to tell, but I do feel like I may have done that. I’m waiting for some replies and feeling very negative. I let my anxiety (possibly even OCD) get the better of me in one conversation the other day and said something stupid and now I’ve probably scared her off for good.

I’m questioning whether I did the right thing breaking up with E. again. Deep down, I know (in my “wise mind”) that I made the right decision, even if I can’t go into my reasons here (I know to readers here it seemed to be a sudden, impulsive decision, but it wasn’t). But emotionally it’s easy to think, “Oh, if only I was still in a relationship.”

In a weird way… I wonder if doing the job stuff instead of working on my novel today brought down my mood. Lately I have been feeling better; I’ve also been feeling that I’ve been making progress on my novel. Coincidence? Inasmuch as I believe I have any understanding of my mission in life (I believe everyone has a mission in life, it’s just not always easy to find it), it’s writing Jewish-related fiction. When I was pursuing that, I seemed happier. Suddenly I was talking to someone on JDate who also writes. Then I pause the novel, and suddenly my mood drops, I can’t function and I worry I’ve upset the JDater and cut her off. Some of that may be coincidence, but I don’t think I have to be superstitious to think that distancing myself from what I see as my vocation (writing) to do something that is strenuous, badly paid and which I worry will trigger my OCD (long story) might have triggered my depression again.

I don’t know how I “sell” this interpretation to other people though.

***

A WhatsApp devar Torah I listened to spoke about trust in God being rooted in awe of God, i.e. if we recognise that God controls everything in our lives, we will trust everything will be for the best. I find that hard when it seems like so much of my life has been negative (and I haven’t even had such a bad life compared to many people). I guess I feel that if God wanted my life to become good, He would have done it by now. It’s hard to think of having twenty really bad years and then suddenly everything is OK. I believe God could do that (He can do anything), yet from looking at the world, it seems such sudden and miraculous interventions are rare and I don’t know how I could deserve such a fate. An analogy: I believe that one day God will send the Messiah to redeem the world, but if I saw someone in the street claiming that he was the Messiah, I would assume he is probably suffering from a mental illness, even though I believe that theoretically it could be the real Messiah.

***

My GP at Oxford used to tell me “A bad day is just a bad day,” but there’s always a fear that one bad day will lead to two and then three and then keep snowballing.

***

Achievements: I spent a couple of hours trying to train for the job, but I don’t know how much sunk in. I did some ironing. I listened to divrei Torah for about five minutes.

Depressed, Anxious, Vegetating

Despite feeling very depressed, I did the cataloguing assessment I had to do for a job application.  I don’t feel that I did it very well and certainly it took longer than it should have done.  It was hard to concentrate and I got up to pace the room with agitation at some points.  I experienced a lot of anxiety and agitation doing it.  I also struggled with the content.  I felt I didn’t understand all of the instructions and I wasn’t sure if that was their fault or mine.  I also struggled with the online Library of Congress Subject Headings website.  I hadn’t used LCSH for nearly ten years, since I did my librarianship MA, and I think even then I only used the hard copy books, not the online database.  I struggled with it.

I’m also experiencing other anxiety.  I mentioned yesterday that three books on writing novels that I ordered arrived.  Today they were followed by belated copies of the latest Doctor Who Magazine and Jewish Review of Books.  I’m feeling overwhelmed by stuff I have to read, and the writing guide books make me wonder how much I’m going to have to edit and redraft my novel.

***

I still feel very depressed after finishing the cataloguing test.  I worked on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for over an hour, but I wasn’t particularly happy with it.  I had misunderstood a couple of things and the corrected idea wasn’t as powerful as I had thought at first.

I wanted to work on my novel, exercise or do more substantial Torah study, but didn’t feel well enough and decided the rest of the afternoon would have to be a mental health day.

I’m giving up on doing anything else today.  I’m just too depressed to do anything other than vegetate in front of the TV.  I’m trying not to feel hopeless and useless, but it’s hard.  Doctor Who, from the original run (The Web of Fear), because (a) it hits my autistic special interest comfort zone more than anything else and (b) because I know all the stories inside out, so it doesn’t matter if I lose concentration.

Struggling

I did not have a good morning.  I was woken at 10am by my phone ringing, but I didn’t recognise the number.  I assumed it was another therapist phoning me after yesterday.  I couldn’t face that having just woken up so I let it go to voicemail.  I feel asleep again, but had an upsetting dream and woke up before 11am, but was too depressed and exhausted to get up until I was forced to do so again, this time by a knock on the front door.  I knew that Dad was praying and Mum had gone back to bed because she was feeling very ill from chemo side-effects, so I had to answer it (it was the postman delivering new headphones I had ordered and which came in a ridiculously large box).  I tried to stay up and get dressed and I did at least manage to stay up, but I only got half dressed before deciding I had to eat before I could do anything else.

When I checked my emails I saw that another therapist emailed me, but she didn’t answer any my question about fees, just asked if I’d like to phone to speak or book an appointment, which makes me vaguely wonder if she’s going to be sensitive enough to social anxiety and autism issues.  I then checked my voicemail and saw that that voicemail message was from the same therapist who emailed.  Now I’ve heard from three of the four therapists I messaged.  I do feel uncertain what to do at the moment.  The voicemail therapist did seem less pushy than the one who phoned yesterday, but maybe that was because I didn’t answer the phone and so didn’t get put on the spot.

I struggled through the day with low energy, concentration and motivation.  I drank coffee mid-afternoon to wake myself up, which is rare for me.  I usually only drink coffee in the morning and tea in the afternoon.  I had a Skype call with E.  She is also struggling.  I guess with Mum and E. both struggling today, it probably isn’t surprised that I was upset too, as I was worried about them both.  I was lucky in the end that Mum felt better in the afternoon, so I didn’t have to do the Shabbat cooking as I was initially expecting to have to do.  I would have struggled to do that and speak to E.

I ran out of time, energy and concentration for novel writing, but I did post my short story on a password protected post, so that was one achievement, aside from my usual pre-Shabbat chores and helping to deal with the big Tesco delivery that arrived while I was finishing lunch.

On the plus side, the Amazon Marketplace seller I contacted has offered to replace the broken Life on Mars DVD box set I had, which is good.

Groundhog Shabbat

Today was difficult.  I woke up and had a weird Groundhog Day moment when I realised it was Shabbat (the Sabbath) again.  Too many days lately have been ShabbatYom Tov (festival), Erev Shabbat and Erev Yom Tov (day before Shabbat or Yom Tov).  I just want some normal days, where I can write and Skype E. and go jogging and vegetate in front of the TV.

I was quite drained over Shabbat and didn’t do a lot of the stuff I would normally do.  I went for a walk and I did a bit of Torah study, but not as much as I would usually have done.  I have finished re-reading the first fifty Psalms in Hebrew, which makes me exactly a third of the way through the book, but it’s taken me a very long time to get here (about ten months, I calculate with help from Goodreads).  I did a bit of recreational reading too, but not a huge amount.  I slept a lot again.

I feel even more than before that I need to speak to a therapist.  I have a lot to process about the changes in my life: Mum’s illness, getting back together with E., continuing unemployment and the fact that I’ve dropped a mental health coping strategy without really having considered what the emotional side-effects would be.  I mean, I was right to stop it, as it was very negative, but I’m not sure how well I’m coping.  There’s probably a lot to say in therapy about my relationship with my parents, which I’ve spoken about before, but not regarding confronting their mortality, which has only just become a non-theoretical issue.  Likewise about my sexuality – I’ve spoken a lot about it in therapy in the past, but I probably did not say everything I needed to say or work through everything, and suddenly it’s more relevant than at most times in the past.  I mean about the way being single in a community that only permits sex after marriage forced me to repress my sexuality for so long, with a concomitant build up of guilt, shame and who knows what else, as well as interactions with other emotions and thoughts.  I’m not expressing myself clearly here, and that’s partly deliberate, but partly not – I don’t really know what to say about this other than things feel so difficult so much of the time.

Tonight I’m feeling listless again, and lonely.  It’s frustrating that my girlfriend lives on the other side of the world, although I worry I would mess things up somehow if she was here.  I’m in two minds about watching TV tonight.  It’s after 11pm, so I shouldn’t, but I need to relax and I feel too depressed and lacking in concentration to read.  I’m not likely to sleep soon anyway, given how much I’ve slept today.

I feel the interest of these posts is diminishing, if there ever was an interest to other people (apparently there was, but I find it hard to believe).  I’m just trying to dump my thoughts so I can move on from the evening and towards sleep.  I feel unless lockdown ends soon (which it won’t), even I am going to run out of things to blog, just endless lists of runs and books read and self-criticism about not enough Torah study.

I hope to use some of the energy that would have been spent on writing long blog posts on fiction writing.  I want to finish the short story I’m working on and then move on to the novel, away from the dull, but necessary bit I’m writing and onto the more interesting/disturbing stuff, although as I’ve said before, the novel isn’t exactly the type of thing I read, or want to write, but it makes sense to start with something semi-autobiographical.  I have so many images in my head so much of the time, but forming them into stories is really hard.  I suspect that most of them are pilfered from other books/TV/films/comic strips, but talent borrows while genius steals.

Busy But Anxious

I wrote this yesterday, but for some reason it didn’t publish properly and went to my saved drafts instead.  I’m posting it here with one addition at the end.

I fear these posts are becoming repetitive, or even more repetitive than usual.  Each day is much the same as the one before at the moment, except for different Pesach (Passover) preparations.  That said, I’m struggling with a lot of anxiety today, more than usual, which isn’t so surprising as a lot of anxiety-triggering things happened.  On the plus side, that meant that I was doing a lot despite being anxious.

I discussed with Mum and Dad whether the oven cleaner should still come later in the week to clean it for Pesach.  We generally get him to come to clean the oven before we kasher it (clean and heat it up, basically) for Pesach use.  I was surprised he was still working and felt it was a bad idea for him to come while Mum is vulnerable from chemo, which was a kind of health anxiety, but anxiety for Mum’s health rather than mine.  My parents initially wanted him to come, but I managed to talk them around, probably because I think none of us really wanted him to come, we just thought that everyone else wanted it and were going along with it.  We won’t get the oven as clean as he would, but I think the risk of Mum getting coronavirus or even something else like the flu is too high to be worth it.  Nevertheless, my anxiety level shot up when my parents said that he should come and didn’t subside when we decided he wouldn’t.

Then I cleaned the sinks in the garage today, the ones we use for Pesach (Passover).  This involved confronting a lot of religious OCD fears about “contamination” (to use a non-Jewish, OCD word) of Pesach surfaces and utensils with crumbs of leaven food, forbidden on Pesach.  The fear wasn’t totally imaginary, as we do occasionally put non-Pesach food down out there during the year, but the reality wasn’t as bad as I feared.  This type of religious OCD anxiety is going to be present for the next week and a half at least, until Pesach starts.

I went to the pharmacist to try to request a repeat prescription under the new system, whereby repeat prescriptions are requested via the pharmacist, not the surgery.  I’m not sure if this is because of coronavirus as they were planning to change the system around now anyway.  I was going to a different chemist to the one I usually use.  This chemist has opened recently, some time before the coronavirus hit (which is either exceptionally good timing or exceptionally bad timing).  This brought up autistic anxieties about doing new things and not knowing what to expect, as well as social anxiety about talking to new people.  There was some confusion about whether I was registered correctly (I think the doctor’s surgery hadn’t set it up properly), but I got it sorted in the end.  I walked straight home as I thought it was about to rain, but it didn’t, so I could have gone for a longer walk for exercise.

I dusted and hoovered my bedroom for Pesach (no food in there now until after Pesach!) as well as hoovering the upstairs hall and spare bedroom.  This took a couple of hours to do thoroughly, especially as I moved my bed and bedside table to hoover underneath them, as I’ve found crumbs there before.  I decided against moving my desk, although I’ve done it in the past.  I didn’t have enough time or energy, and it’s unlikely that any crumbs of significant size could get underneath it.

I joined an online session of my depression group via Zoom.  I’d used Zoom before, but usually for one-to-one conversations and I found the way the main picture shifted from person to person as different people spoke somewhat distracting.  Also, I found it strange to go straight from home life to the meeting without an intervening journey.  Since I began exploring whether I’m on the autistic spectrum I’ve noticed certain autistic traits I have that I hadn’t noticed before, and this idea of difficulty with transitions is a well-known autistic trait that I hadn’t noticed so much in myself before now.  I did find it just as draining as a regular meeting and as hard to concentrate by the second half.  I somehow found it harder to speak than usual, but I’m not sure why.  That may have been less due to the technology and more because I’m coping better with isolation than some other people (partly, of course, because I live with two other people, not on my own, and because I’ve been busy with chores and Pesach preparation) and I vaguely felt that I shouldn’t complain.

I’m also reluctant to speak about my relationship with E. in meetings and I’m not sure why; I know a couple of people from the group read my blog, and I’m fine with that, so I don’t know why I don’t feel comfortable talking about the relationship with others.  Maybe it’s not wanting to go into the whole story of how we ended up together, which is quite complicated or maybe it’s magical thinking and the fear that if I talk about the relationship something will go wrong with it.

I also managed five minutes of seder preparation today and ten minutes of Torah study.  I’d like to do more Torah study before bed, but I’m flagging and don’t know if I will get the time.  It was a busy day and I mostly was OK from a depression point of view.  Anxiety was a lot higher, but I mostly pushed through and did what I had to do.  I do need some downtime now, though, even if it means breaking my “No screens after 11pm” rule a bit.  EDIT: in the end I decided it was too late to watch TV and read for a bit, but ended up struggling to sleep anyway because I felt too tense.

Lockdown

It looks like Mum’s cancer isn’t one of the ones requiring twelve week isolation, which is good.

I went for a half-hour walk and posted my medical certificate for benefits, which arrived from the doctor today.  I’m not sure when I should hear if I still qualify for ESA.  I’m going to try to take exercise most days, either walking or jogging.  While walking, I listened to an Intimate Judaism podcast on sexual abuse and halakhah (Jewish law) that turned out to be somewhat relevant to my novel, although that was not my original reason for listening.

Afterwards, I spent thirty-five minutes working on things to say at the sederim over Pesach (Passover), editing some essays by Rabbi Lord Sacks down to get the relevant points and writing a mini-devar Torah (Torah thought) about having sederim at the time of coronavirus.

The approach to Pesach is one of the times of the year when Jewish charities send out appeals.  It’s horrible to look at where I am this year and see that I have little to give and so many people in need, particularly with the damage coronavirus is inflicting on the economy, particularly for people on low income jobs.  I have to think hard about where money would be best spent, which is horrible.  I hate not being able to give more.

***

The above was written before the lockdown announcement.  I walked in while that was on the news.  I found it quite frightening.  I had a whole bunch of thoughts go through my head, perhaps not all rational: should I still go to my blood test tomorrow?  Will we get all the Pesach food we still need (particularly romaine lettuce for maror, the bitter herbs for the sederim)?  Will we be OK cleaning and kashering our ovens without disassembling the fan?  How will I cope going months on end without a haircut?  I have very thick frizzy hair, I could be a ball of fuzz by the time the barbers open again.  I had some vague worries about exercise even though one period of outdoor exercise a day is still permitted.  Some of my worries were more “out there”  – worrying if I would get arrested while walking to and from my blood test tomorrow, which isn’t that likely, but autistic fear of change + social anxiety = crazy fears.  I do wonder how my parents feel about indefinite separation from my sister.

The announcement completely threw me, even though it’s not unexpected and it took me a while to come back to normal.  My stomach cramps have come back, looking more psychosomatic than ever.  Autism doesn’t like change and uncertainty, and change and uncertainty is what we will have for the next few months/year.  It’s hard to know what to do.  In a strange way, Pesach might be a bit easier than in a non-lockdown state.  It is a principal of Jewish law that “ones Rachmana patrei” “The Merciful One exempts the coerced from punishment” i.e. if we try to do the right thing and are prevented by external events, it doesn’t matter.  Perhaps I will feel less psychological pressure even as we feel greater physical difficulty?  On this note, the London Beit Din (rabbinical court) sent out a list of food items that would normally require special Pesach supervision, but which this year they are permitting without supervision.  I think milk was the main one that might affect us, although Mum thinks we live in an area with enough Jewish shops that we should get some, even if we have to buy it just one or two pints each day.

I’m still telling myself stupid jokes to keep going.  On hearing that weddings and baptisms are to be stopped, but funerals permitted, I said, “That’s good, I was afraid I would be late for my own funeral!”  I guess it’s gallows humour.  My parents laughed.  I keep feeling really hot and worrying that I’m coming down with a fever, then realising that my parents have the central heating up high again.

The thought that occurred to me is that we’re going to end up like E. M. Forster’s The Machine Stops, all living underground in isolation.  We will all go separately when we go, as Tom Lehrer might have sung.

***

I didn’t get time to do much after the lockdown announcement.  I polished some of the silverware while watching Star Trek Voyager.  It’s another day when I’ve prioritised health, Pesach and helping around the home over writing.  I did actually try to do half an hour of writing, but I ran out of concentration after fifteen minutes and decided it was better to get off the computer as close as possible to 11pm than to carry on trying to write.

Second Gear

I didn’t feel overtly so depressed or anxious today, but I felt emotionally run down.  It was not always easy to concentrate or get motivated to do anything.  I did manage to do some stuff (see below), but it was an uphill struggle.  I wasn’t necessarily consciously thinking about Mum’s cancer or my employment and benefits issues or my relationship with E., but I think they were probably there on an unconscious or semi-conscious way.  This is especially the case given that Mum starts chemo tomorrow, given that I filled in a form about my benefits situation and why I don’t have a medical certificate yet and given that I listened to a podcast about how people with different religious levels can be in a relationship together.

***

I did do a few things.  I cleared out some old papers in my top desk drawer.  I tend to be tidy, but also to stay tidy by shoving stuff in cupboards or drawers until they get really messy.  I was looking for papers about my benefits situation, but found some other important papers I had more or less forgotten about, including the form to claim money I paid into a pension fund when I was in regular work in 2017-18.  I had held off from taking the money in the hope that I would be in regular employment again soon and could pay the money directly into a new pension fund, but now it’s looking more like I should take the cash while I can and stick it in bank somewhere, not that interest rates are good for savers right now.  I also found some papers and leaflets about therapy from a much earlier therapy-hunting period that I thought I had somewhere, but wasn’t sure where.  These might be useful when I have the headspace to deal with that.

***

I still have abdominal pain.  I think it’s just anxiety, but I should probably talk to the doctor about it when I speak to him about my medical certificate.

***

I tried to work on my novel for an hour or so.  I felt very blocked until I started to write an unplanned 500 word semi-surreal, semi-religious fantasy dream sequence, which flowed straight out.  I had planned a fantasy interlude for when my narrator’s mental illness is at its height in a later chapter, but it seems to have “leaked out.”  I worry that my book is too straight-laced for me to write well, given that I tend not to be so interested in very straight realistic fiction, but I fear that a more magic realist perspective won’t sell and will jar in a novel about mental illness, autism and domestic abuse.

***

I went to shul (synagogue) for a mini-shiur (religious class) and Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers).  I want to get back to going to shul a couple of times during the week.  On my walk to and from shul, I listened to another Intimate Judaism podcast, this time on marriages where one spouse becomes more or less religious than the other.  It was talking more about marriages where both partners started more or less on the same level religiously and then one changes and becomes more or less religious, whereas E. and I have gone into our relationship knowing that we do and believe different things and will probably continue to do so indefinitely.  It was scary on one level, because there is obviously a lot of scope for argument and bitterness, but it was reassuring inasmuch as the rabbi and relationship therapist on the podcast felt that a couple who accept that the other person is different and where the communication is good should be able to navigate a lot of such issues, and E. and I do have very good communication and acceptance of our differences.

***

Just in case we didn’t have enough stress, the legal dispute my Dad is involved in has reached the courts.  Dad was in an accident a few years ago where his car and a motorbike collided at a turning (I blame myself a bit, as he had only come out to give me a lift home from the station).  It was hard to tell who was responsible, but no one seemed to be hurt and the damage to the car and bike was relatively minor.  We phoned for an ambulance for the motorcyclist, but she insisted she was fine and cancelled it.

Some time later, she launched a claim for damages, claiming she’s had health problems ever since.  It’s not impossible, but it did feel a bit like some ambulance-chasing lawyers are helping her make a quick buck out of ailments that may or may not be a consequence of an accident that may or may not be our fault.  Well, not a quick buck as the case has rumbled on for years, but some money at any rate.

The case reaches court next Thursday.  The lawyers are offering to settle out of court.  Mum wants to fight it, but Dad isn’t sure.  I’m inclined to agree with Dad; Dad’s insurance premiums have already gone up, so why waste the time and energy fighting this while Mum is very ill and the rest of us are feeling stressed and suffering minor ailments when the insurance company can take the hit instead?  This is the type of court case that only benefits the lawyers.

It reminds me of something W. S. Gilbert said, about if someone stops you in the street and demands your watch, punch him on the nose and walk on (I fear this would lead to assault charges nowadays…), but if someone threatens to take you to court to get your watch, just hand it over and consider that you’ve got off lightly.

***

I’m about to post on my Doctor Who blog for the first time in a very long time.  It is good to get it going again.  I’d like to post there more often, but I’m glad not to be writing a review of each story on transmission, as that becomes a bit of a conveyor belt of instant emotion (often shock and upset, at any rate if you’re a fan like me who tends towards the possessive of things he loves and pessimistic about change) that considered thought would challenge.  I don’t know if I’ll go through with the plan I had years ago of posting selected old blog posts and reviews of mine there, a plan that got disrupted when I started moving more urgently to completing my Doctor Who book and then to start work on my novel.

The Return of the Indefatigable

Bureaucracy! is never defeated, merely subdued temporarily.  Today I got a letter from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) saying that my medical certificate has expired and I need a new one.  If I want to keep receiving benefits (which I have not received at all yet) I am to send them the new one by 28 February i.e. three days before this letter arrived.  I am not entirely sure what I am supposed to do, given that the medical certificate I had before was apparently not a proper medical certificate.  I wish they didn’t have to make things so difficult for people who are already struggling with life.  This is one reason why I’ve become so sceptical of people who think that the state can and should take on so responsibility for so many aspects of life, because I don’t think it’s managing with what it’s got already.

***

Mum had a tube put in her arm today under local anaesthetic to prepare for her chemo later in the week.  Perhaps because of this, I suddenly felt really depressed this afternoon.  I think it’s a mixture of worrying about her and worrying about myself (whether I’ll ever get another job and what will become of me and E.).  My Dad has had a backache for two weeks now.  It’s not dangerous, but it’s left him in a lot of pain.  Both my parents being ill at the same time has just reinforced the “facing my parents’ mortality” thoughts and everything that entails, in terms of worrying about them dying and worrying about how I would cope without them (emotionally and materially, given that I can’t currently support myself).  I felt bad that Mum sorted out dinner as I was doing a job application, which had only taken so long because of depressive oversleeping and procrastination.  Then we heard that the son of my parents’ friends (who is younger than me), who has been fighting leukemia for years and years, is not doing well in his current battle, which just made me feel more depressed and morbid.

***

I spent about an hour and a half on the job application (including procrastination time, sadly).  I filled in all the basic “name, address, education, previous jobs” stuff, but I still need to write the actual “why I would be good at this job” bit tomorrow.

I tried to work on my novel for about half an hour.  I procrastinated a lot, but wrote about 350 words.  I realise that my mind is working while I’m procrastinating and there’s no real point beating myself up about not concentrating (within limits).  Unfortunately after about thirty minutes, I realised I was getting tired and the quality of my writing was deteriorating, so I gave up.

I spent ten or fifteen minutes revising Saturday’s Talmud shiur (class).  I didn’t understand it much better this time around.  I spent nearly another thirty minutes on other Torah study.

Other than that, I went to the doctor’s surgery to ask about getting a new medical certificate (which is a twenty minute walk each way, plus a lot of time waiting in the queue at the surgery).  While walking, I listened to a podcast that E. suggested I listen to about sexuality intended for religious Orthodox Jews.  I listened to the first podcast in the series and will probably listen to some of the others.  I wish I could have heard it years ago, as it probably would have helped me not internalise some of the guilt that I’ve internalised about my sexuality.

The post title was intended to refer to bureaucracy, although I suppose it could apply to me.  I’m not sure what I feel about that.

Xeno’s Chapter

Things are quiet.  I’m bored.  Who wants a referendum on leaving NATO?

Just kidding!  (I hope.)

Seriously, Shabbat (the Sabbath) actually was quite quiet, but that was good after this stressful week.  I am still struggling to get motivated to go to shul (synagogue) on Friday and Saturday afternoons.  I woke up in time to go to shul this morning, but decided I couldn’t face it and went back to sleep.  I think a lot of it is to do with not feeling like I fit in and being worried that if I say the wrong thing, I’ll be… not thrown out, but perhaps pushed to the fringe of the community (or the fringe of the fringe, because I feel I’m on the fringe now).  If I feel that uncertain about being there even on Friday and Saturday afternoons, where I do quite enjoy the services, it’s no wonder that the service I already struggle with is impossible to get motivated to go to.

Similarly, I thought of sending some friends my weekly devar Torah emails and then thought better of it when I thought of basing some upcoming essays on controversial rabbis or ideas.  This happened during my weekly Friday night insomnia, which I now think is anxiety-related, like my pre-work insomnia.

I did have a better time doing Torah study, managing about an hour and twenty minutes on Friday (very good), and mostly having the time/energy/patience to do it properly i.e. read Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) in Hebrew, study Talmud in Aramaic, look up words I didn’t know in the dictionary or the Reference Guide to the Talmud, take time to think about things and so on.  I do get much more out of Torah study when I do it this way, but I don’t always have the time, energy or patience to do it, and certainly I can’t take several thick books on the Tube with me.

My mood was rather better having remembered to take my tablets, but I’m still worried about a lot of stuff, including my relationship with E. (although, as she said, we’ve got to a stage where not trying to be together is as scary as trying.  We care about each other too much by this stage for “It’s complicated, let’s give up” to be a pain-free option) and the other thing I can’t blog about.  I’m not so worried about work, mostly because I’ve become hugely pessimistic about my job prospects and can see myself stuck doing odd jobs on short-term contracts with long gaps of unemployment in between for the rest of my life.

I do need to move on with applying for benefits now I know I can work part-time and still claim ESA.

***

There’s a lot of noise from downstairs.  A charity my Mum is involved in does a quiz at home each year, basically a supper quiz where you get a group of friends together in a house and fill in the answers online, allowing the charity to save on overheads and have many more tables than would be possible in an ordinary supper quiz.  My parents always host a table.  I used to join in, but I can’t always cope with the people and the noise (they usually have fifteen to twenty people, all talking at once) and, anyway, to make googling the answers harder, the questions are mostly lateral thinking rather than general knowledge and I’m no good at those.  They gave me some unanswered questions and I answered one of them, so I guess I’m good for something, although I felt vaguely that I was cheating.

***

I struggled to work on my novel.  It was hard, given the noise from downstairs and the fact that my brain does not want to engage with the current chapter, which is based to some degree on the most difficult time of my life; like Xeno’s Paradox, I work on it and work on it, but only seem to get halfway there.  I worked for about an hour, but a lot of that was spent on procrastination.  I try to tell myself that my mind is working at those moments, ticking over in the background, but I’m not sure that it is.  I did at least almost meet my 500 word target.

I tried to work after dinner too, but I felt too depressed.  Guilt-tripping myself for the times I slipped up and wrote things here that I shouldn’t have written about my parents.  Stuff that should have gone into therapy or not been said at all, that I wrote down here.  And I invariably went back afterwards and deleted it, but anyone subscribing to my blog by email would have seen it.  I’m a terrible person sometimes.  I try to be a good person, but I don’t manage it, and I feel awful for those slips.

I tried watching Star Trek Voyager over dinner, hoping to come back to my writing refreshed, but it was one of those episodes focused on a character we’ve never seen before, which can be hard to get into, and about a Big Moral Dilemma, which was arguably too big to be dealt with in a forty-three episode in which several cast members are made up to look like aliens.  So my mood was, if anything, worse, and I didn’t feel like writing any more.

Ugh, I should write off the rest of the evening.  Watch TV, something more fun than the Voyager episode.  The Avengers or something (Avengers or New Avengers).

The Puzzle

I woke up feeling super-anxious.  I was diagnosed with anxiety a while back, but I’ve never been entirely convinced, as my general anxiety levels seem to fluctuate a lot and perhaps get “drowned out” by depression (as opposed to social anxiety, which I’m sure I have).  Today I felt super-anxious though: about my job, about my relationship with E., about her work situation, and about the big thing I can’t talk about here.  Trying to breathe and be mindful, I do feel a bit better.  But the worries creep back in.

Other things I’ve been doing are being irritable (got into a silly argument with my Dad) and blaming myself for something, anything.  Just feeling I’m a terrible person and everything is my fault, which I guess distracts from all the things that are not my fault and which are totally outside of my control.

I went to the dentist for a check up.  Everything was fine, except that I’ve somehow slightly chipped one of my teeth, I don’t know how.  But the discomfort when the dentist was scraping plaque off my teeth just reinforced my anxiety.

I tried to work on my novel and managed to do so for about half an hour, writing nearly 300 words, but I couldn’t concentrate.  I felt like my head was going to explode with all the things in it.  There’s so much I’m scared about.  A lot of this is inchoate feelings and some of it is things that maybe should not be voiced.  I texted my sister about some of this and she is feeling a lot calmer than I am although she is only worried about one of the things I’m worried about, albeit the biggest one.  I just don’t know what to say or where to begin.  It’s at times like this that I drift back to childhood, mentally, asking my parents for hugs, crying or taking refuge in favourite TV programmes.

I went depression group tonight.  Coincidentally, the shiur (religious class) I usually go to on Thursdays got cancelled tonight, so I don’t need to message the group, but it will happen sooner or later, so it would be good if I can think of a non-melodramatic way of admitting to going to depression group.  Depression group was helpful, but I came away wondering if I’d handled the interpersonal interactions well enough; in fact my autistic traits made concentration difficult at times and I felt a bit overwhelmed.

I’m trying to be kind to myself, but it’s hard, partly from personality, partly, I guess for religious reasons.  These days, lots of frum (religious) Jews would say that it is good to be kind to yourself, particularly at times of stress, only to make small changes to your life at any one time and so on.  The problem for me is that, although I’m not an expert, I haven’t really come across these attitudes dating from more than two hundred and fifty years ago or so (from the rise of Hasidism) and in many ways they have only become mainstream accepted ideas in recent decades (since the rise of neo-Hasidism, the ba’al teshuva movement and the rise of popular psychology in the world generally).  I’m more open than most Orthodox Jews to the idea that Judaism changes over time, but my poor self-esteem makes me worry, what if this is a mistake God doesn’t want me to be kind to myself?  What if I’m really bad at judging what I should be pursuing in life and He will keep sending me pain and suffering until I turn my life upside down?  This is probably not true, but I have enough doubt to worry about things.

***

The Reference Guide to the Talmud arrived today.  I’m looking forward to using it in my Talmud study.  It explains a lot of Talmudic terminology.  As well as using legal terminology, the Talmud also employs a precise vocabulary, so the term used to introduce a counter-argument will tell you whether it is going to be an argument based on a contradictory text or one based purely on logic.   There are also grammatical guides to Aramaic (the language of most of the Talmud) and a section on historical background to the Talmudic era that I might read in full at some point, chronological tables of Talmudic rabbis, a diagram of the Second Temple, guides to Talmudic weights and measures and a guide to Rashi script (a type of calligraphic Hebrew script used primarily for commentaries on the Hebrew Bible or Talmud – I can mostly read Rashi script, but some of the letters are similar and I get confused occasionally).  This is all fascinating stuff to a history geek like me and I hope it will help with my studies, both to understand the language used and so to understand the arguments and also to provide the contextual information that my brain needs to understand and remember abstract legal thought.

***

On the way back from depression group, I started thinking about the final scene of the BBC adaptation of John le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (not in the book).  George Smiley is with his estranged wife, Ann.  Smiley is able to unearth the traitor in MI6, but not to understand human beings, particularly not his wife.  “Poor George,” remarks Ann.  “Life’s such a puzzle to you, isn’t it?”  I felt like this tonight.  I can at least sometimes understand things, concepts, ideas, words, stories, histories like the Reference Guide to the Talmud… but I struggle to understand people at all.  I don’t know what people thought of me tonight, when I felt a bit overwhelmed.  For all my struggles with the Talmud, I suspect I find it easier to understand than people.

2020 Vision

I seem to be able to get to bed a bit earlier than a few weeks ago, but I don’t get up any earlier; later, if anything.  I think I slept about for twelve hours last night.  I basically have the type of depression where my body tries to hibernate: eat lots and then sleep for the rest of winter.  I’m trying to cut back on the eating, but the sleeping is harder to change.

Speaking of eating, my weight is the same as it was before Chanukah.  After eight doughnuts and a couple of mince pies, I’m counting that as a victory.

***

I went to the opticians for a routine eye test.  Aside from being kept waiting for a long time, there was nothing to report.  No change in my glasses prescription and I didn’t shake when I had lights shone in my eyes like I did last time.  I walked back in the rain, feeling guilty about not knowing what to do about all the homeless people who were stuck out in the cold and wet.

***

I tried to work on my novel, but didn’t get very far.  The way my book was structured, it had three main characters who alternately narrate chapters.  I tried writing the first chapter for narrator three and I just couldn’t do it.  It was bad enough that narrator two had covered some ground already covered by narrator one, but doing it a third time was ridiculous.  However, I couldn’t suddenly introduce a new narrative voice in the middle of the book after establishing two narrators early on especially as his story is so intertwined with narrator two’s that the problem of repetition would keep arising.  In any case, narrator three is also not much like me and I was struggling to get inside his head.  I can describe him through narrators one and two, but I can’t find his voice, at least not for long enough to write a chunk of the novel.  So, the important bits of his story are now going to be seen through narrator two’s eyes.  There wasn’t a lot to move or cut, which is telling, but cutting chapters means I’m now significantly below the average number of words per chapter for a novel-length story.  I hope to be able to put on some weight (so to speak) in redrafting, but I’m a bit worried about it.

***

I agreed to do some proofreading/editing for a friend.  I started today.  She’s a good enough writer that I haven’t had to correct much, including a slight tautology which I feel bad for picking up on as you could put down to a stylistic choice.  I also had to check a few British English vs. American English variants, but they were all OK.  I’m not so sure about the editing side of things, as this is a YA book and I don’t really read many of those.  I certainly don’t feel myself able to pass judgement on the accuracy of teenage speech patterns.  I’m going to have to assume she’s got those OK.

I did have trouble with the page layout and I can’t work out why; I couldn’t switch from the page view my friend had to my normal one.

***

I still don’t feel that I’m where I should be religiously.  Building on yesterday’s comments and my responses there, I’ve been told by rabbis that I’m doing OK considering all my issues, but I have high standards and feel that I don’t fit into the community, however understandable that is given depression, social anxiety and autism.  Also, my issues are dynamic; how I feel changes from day to day and even from hour to hour and it is hard to know what is right for me to do right now.  It’s a moving target that is hard to hit.

For example, today I only did ten minutes of Torah study because I was depressed and I used my limited resources of energy to proofread and work on my novel as well as going to my eye test and walking home (Dad gave me a lift there).  I also spent a lot of time procrastinating.  I’m not sure how I could/should have done things differently.  I could have procrastinated less, but I think that assumes non-depressed levels of energy, concentration and motivation.  But it’s hard to be sure.  Maybe I could have done things differently.  I don’t know.

Things are made worse by depressive anhedonia, so I can’t find my religious life enjoyable (no more so than any other part of my life, but this takes more effort than anything except work), and by my social anxiety and autistic socialising issues, which makes it hard to benefit from the close, supportive community that so many people identify as one of the major positives of being an Orthodox Jew.  I don’t feel that God really cares about me either, although going down this route takes us into philosophy (rationalists and kabbalists alike insist that God does not have emotions, although clearly there’s something which it is useful to us to understand as “love” for us) as much as depression and low self-esteem, although those are relevant too.

***

I don’t really think much of New Year’s Eve.  I’ve never even been to a New Year’s Eve party.  Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur)  is a ten day introspective experience that essentially involves a symbolic death and rebirth as a newer, better person (hopefully, anyway); New Year’s Eve involves spending an evening getting drunk and singing Auld Lang Syne.  Moreover, this isn’t the start of a new decade, although I remember from 1999/2000 that convincing people that 2020 is really the end of the 20-teens is going to be a non-starter (plus I’ll concede there is logic in treating 2020 as the start of the ’20s even if it falsely assumes that the calendar began with a year zero.  I will point out that the Victorians said celebrated the start of the twentieth century on 1 January 1901).

Still, I’ve been thinking lately about the last ten years, not so much because of New Year’s Eve, but because of my life.  E. and I have both feeling somewhat frustrated and pessimistic about our future; we both like each other and care about other, but it seems so hard to get the practical problems in being together out of the way.  Looking back over the last ten years shows how much could change in a decade, for better or for worse.

On 1 January 2010: my paternal grandfather was still alive (he died later that year) and my sister was single (she married in 2017).  My relationship with my mother was rather worse than now; my relationship with my father was better, for reasons I don’t fully understand (not understanding makes it hard to change).  I had never lived by myself unless you count university (Oxford is not exactly living by oneself) and never really thought that I might live anywhere other than the area I grew up for the foreseeable future (we moved in 2015).  I didn’t have many friends in 2010, and I don’t now, but I possibly have more now, at least if one counts online friends.  I did lose some friends over the decade, most through the usual “drifting apart through living in different cities, with different lives,” but a couple this year through doing the wrong thing and getting them angry at me.  That still hurts a bit, mostly because the way they reacted made me feel that they had hated me for some time and were just acting friendly out of pity.  There was one other friend I lost because he treated me badly and I just moved out of his life.  He still doesn’t realise how upset he made me and probably never will.

In 2010 I  had never been on date, despite being in my mid-twenties (I went on one for the first time in 2011).  I hadn’t asked many women out, but I had asked a few, all of whom turned me down.  I had got my BA and was preparing to do start my MA later in the year (it was supposed to be two years part-time, but took three and a half, notionally full-time).  I had never had a paid job (I still haven’t worked full-time, but I hadn’t even worked part-time then).  I suppose I felt comfortable in my Modern Orthodox shul (synagogue), although it was too much a fixture of my life to really think about it.  I had never lead services or given a drasha (religious speech/class) (I would lead services for the first time that year, after my grandfather’s death).  I blogged and occasionally wrote fiction and would move on to poetry in a couple of years, but I think by this stage I had abandoned any thought I might ever have had of writing a book, fiction or non-fiction, and would probably be astonished to think that I could do it.

By mid-2010 I felt that I was finally over my depression, but this was illusory.  In fact, I think I was still feeling bad at the beginning of the year and I would have a major relapse in the winter of 2010/11.  I had social anxiety which I did not really pay any attention to.  I had not yet really developed religious OCD, but the seeds of it were there.  At this time, autism was off my radar and hadn’t yet come back on it, having been told I was not on the spectrum and not knowing enough about autism to think otherwise.

I don’t know what conclusion I should draw from this.  There were a lot of ups and especially downs over the decade.  The overall trend was upward until about two years ago, then it slumped back down again.  Despite the improvements in some areas, I’m not really where one would expect a thirty-six year old to be in the abstract, not at all.  I don’t know what the prognosis is for E. and me.

***

And that’s about it for today, and 2019, really.  The only other thing I did today, other than cook some plain pasta, was finish watching Licence to Kill, and Timothy Dalton’s tenure as James Bond, which was interestingly down-to-earth, but not particularly fun or escapist.  I did mostly enjoy The Living Daylights, although I’m possibly being generous to it because I enjoyed it as a child.  Licence to Kill was too grim and gory for me.  I will probably pause watching Bond for a bit now; I was getting a bit tired of it anyway and there’s new Doctor Who tomorrow and again from Sunday, I’m hoping to see Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker on Thursday and I want to get started on my Star Trek: Voyager box set.  At least no one could accuse Voyager of being grim and gory.

“I am not a number, I am a free man!”

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be seeing you!

Kill Your Darlings (not your Daleks)

I’m feeling awful again today.  I got up late and kept going back to bed.  I knew it would be hard coming back from holiday, but I didn’t realise just how far backwards I would go.  I know I need structure, but I’m worried about the stuff I have coming up in the next week or two.  I worry about even managing to get to these things on time (I’m basically nocturnal at the moment) let alone get through them.

I’ve got a meeting with a careers charity on Friday, a different one to the one I saw on Monday, not a specifically autism/mental health one, to talk about alternative careers and interview practice, but I’m worried I’m not going to say much and it’s mostly going to be me being told I’m doing everything wrong (that’s how the previous meeting there felt, a bit).  Then it’s going to be hectic to get home in good time before Shabbat.  Then next week I have a day long seminar thing on building a second career (I never really built the first one…).  I just got an email about it; it’s a series of talks over the day, but apparently “Morning and afternoon refreshments, together with lunch, are complimentary, and an important networking part of the day.”  Scary.  I might try to stay for refreshments, but, even aside from kashrut questions (the charity running the seminar is Jewish, but not religious, so it might not be kosher enough for me), I think I will need to get away from everyone for an hour if I am to have any hope of staying in the talks for the whole day.  Oh, and weirdly one of the speakers is the rabbi who was my shul rabbi growing up; he eventually quit the rabbinate and went into finance in which capacity he’s speaking.

***

I’m struggling with concentration and motivation again.  It’s hard to feel that I could be working in this state, yet I feel I should.  I discussed this with someone else online today, that I feel I should be working, even if part-time.  It’s partly that I don’t like being dependent on my parents, partly social expectation, part genuine feeling that I want to do something meaningful with my life.  Plus, although I’m going to have another go at applying for benefits, I doubt very much that I would qualify for sickness benefits.  I’m too functional.  It’s very difficult to claim benefits for mental illness as the system is essentially based around physical incapacity.  If you can see and walk and don’t need constant care it’s difficult to meet the burden of proof for being disabled.  I’m sceptical of whether I will get unemployment benefits, but I need to try and apply while I’m still in a period where I worked significantly in the last two tax years.

***

I did manage to do a few things.  I went for a walk and picked up my blood test form for my next blood test (I have them every three months on lithium tablets).  At the doctor’s surgery I saw someone I dated a number of years ago who dumped me as soon as I said I had mental health issues.  She lives locally, so I run into her from time to time although we haven’t spoken; I’m not sure if I’m good at hiding or she’s good at pretending not to see me.  (I suppose I’m pretending not to see her, really.)

I wrote a devar Torah (Torah thought) for Shabbat (the Sabbath), which took an hour, but I was pretty exhausted afterwards.  I did the slightly naughty rabbinic trick of writing about what I wanted to write about and tying it in to the parasha (weekly Torah reading).  Actually, that’s not entirely true; it’s more that I thought there was a link, and there was, but then when I sat down to write it, the link wasn’t as strong as I thought, but I carried on anyway.  I tried to work on my novel for an hour too and wrote a bit, but then decided that my narrator was acting out of character and the incident should happen later in the chapter, in a different context and perhaps a different way.  So I’m left with a shorter chapter than I started with, and a fragment to be reworked later.  But it’s too late to work on that tonight.  I need to find a way of getting more time to work on my novel, but it’s hard when I’m expected to make job hunting my “job” and still fit in chores, exercise and the like as well as coping with poor concentration and motivation.

***

I mentioned the other day about unfollowing a blog because the blogger said something that I felt was dismissive about mental illness and didn’t respond to my polite response.  Well, she just responded today and said she thought she had responded at the time, but her comment didn’t post properly and she only just realised.  I believe her, because I’ve been reading her blog for years and she’s never struck me as the type of person to casually lie or act rudely, and if she didn’t want to respond at all, why respond now?  (She can’t see that I unfollowed her because she posts on Blogger and it doesn’t show that I was following her on WordPress.)  But I’m undecided about following the blog again as I feel I do seem to end up with differences of opinion with her a lot.  But then again, maybe it’s good for me to see that I can open up to someone with very different opinions to my own, and disagree, and we still stay friends.  In the past we have often disagreed on matters “safely.”  That’s something I do struggle to accept; I usually keep quiet about differences for fear of rejection.

***

It’s also been a day when I’ve wandered into political stuff online again, which just depresses me beyond measure.  The flare-up of fighting in Israel depresses and worries me too; I was within range of some of the 360 rockets fired from Gaza just a few days ago.  Cousin 3 lives in the south of Israel, which is the most dangerous place for rockets.  It’s scary.

Speaking of which, some photos from my trip.

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Yam Kinneret/Sea of Galilee

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View from Bental towards Mt. Hermon and Syria

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Talmudic-era village, Katzrin

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Talmudic-era synagogue, Katzrin

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Goats! Katzrin

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Arbel National Park. I wish I could go to wilderness more often

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Sunset on Kinneret/Sea of Galilee

I Want to Break Free

I went to bed late last night as I was downloading holiday photos and listening to a Doctor Who audiobook (hopefully I will post some of the photos later in the week).  That was probably a mistake – both going to bed late and trying to multitask the photos and the audiobooks, as I’m really not good enough at multitasking to do that (autism again).  Then I got really hungry late and night and needed to eat before going to bed.  I then slept until after midday and was still in my pyjamas at 2.00pm.  I spent much of the day too drained and too depressed to do anything.  I still have confused feelings about E.  I guess it’s good in a way that we both feel confused about what we should do.  Better than one wanting a relationship and one not wanting one, at any rate.  But I do wish it was easier to work out what to do.

I have also been feeling pessimistic about finding work and sorting my life out.  Wading through the job adverts that came in while I was away, there are library jobs available.  Granted a lot are in school libraries and law libraries, not environments where I think I will thrive, but they are there, and there are some higher education jobs too, including another one from a college that keeps advertising lots of different library jobs; not sure what’s going on there.  I’ve applied for a couple of jobs there already and even got one interview, but I don’t think the institutional culture was right for me.  I did think of applying for this one, but the closing date was today (yesterday now) and I was in no fit state to be writing CVs and applications today.  There were a couple of jobs I wasn’t hugely excited by, but was thinking of applying for, but the commute was really too far.

I feel that I need more enthusiasm about working in general and librarianship in particular.  I’m not sure if it’s depression, prolonged unemployment or feeling that I’m in the wrong career that has caused this lack of enthusiasm, but I feel I really need to change it.  A couple of people at shul ask me regularly if I’ve found work; they are trying to be supportive and take an interest in my life, but it just makes me feel useless.  I feel like I must be self-sabotaging in some way, given my qualifications, but part of me knows it’s my illnesses (counting autism and low self-esteem as illnesses for convenience alongside depression and social anxiety) that are sabotaging my job hunt, my illnesses that are stopping me applying, or at least applying enthusiastically, for full-time work or work in noisy or unfamiliar environments when that is most of what is available.

It doesn’t help that so many job adverts are vague, not mentioning the job description, qualities wanted or closing date.  Some agency adverts don’t mention the company or even much about the sector!

I deleted some emails while I was away, but I still came back to a lot.  I deleted some and have been working through others.  Job adverts tend to be fairly repetitive – if a job is available, it will be listed on every email from that recruitment agency for weeks, so all other than the most recent can go straight in the deleted folder.  I have a thing about trying to keep my email inbox as empty as possible.  I don’t mind storing old emails in other folders, but I don’t like them sitting in my inbox unless they are, in some way, current.

I spent time chasing up the latest issue of the Jewish Review of Books, which hasn’t arrived after nearly two months.  Then I lost more time with some payments that I didn’t remember making on my bank account debit card, relatively small payments, but mysterious.  I phoned the bank fraud number and was put on hold for a while.  The person I spoke to said that the small amounts taken were extremely unlikely to be fraudulent, as fraudsters usually try to clear out your account quickly and run, so the small, but unremembered, payments were likely to be legitimate payments to an organisation that has two names or bank accounts, in this case one for “London School of Jewish Studies” and one for “ISJS”.  I’m not entirely sure why the second account is for “ISJS” rather than “LSJS” (unless someone put on caps lock but then held down the shift key too and ended up with a low case ‘l’), but once he said that, I did remember paying £58 to them a few weeks ago, right before my holiday.  I felt somewhat sheepish.  The sad thing is, as my Mum inadvertently reminded me, I used to be really good at keeping track of my money, but in the last year or two I’ve rather lost the knack or (more likely) feel too depressed and lacking in concentration and cognitive ability to do it.

I did eventually go for a run, which was my biggest accomplishment of the day (second biggest was fifteen minutes of Torah study).  It was late and I had to change my route after seeing a group of teenage boys hanging out on a street corner engaging in horseplay (I was probably being paranoid, but they just screamed ‘gang’ to me), but the run was better than I expected considering how late and dark it was and how depressed I was feeling, even if my pace was poor compared with other runs this year.

I have a lot to do in the coming weeks, including more job hunting; going to various support groups and conferences about job hunting and changing careers; going to a short course of shiurim (religious classes) (the LSJS payment); really getting to work on my novel; applying for proof-reading work; and applying for benefits as well as daily and weekly things like Torah study; exercising; writing a weekly devar Torah (Torah thought) and so on.  I also have a seminar thing to go to on preparing for an autism assessment and would like to make it to another depression group session before the end of the calendar year.  I should also either send my Doctor Who book manuscript to more publishers or bite the bullet and look into self-publishing.  It all seems very daunting and I don’t quite know where to start.  Tomorrow (today now) I have another meeting with the charity that helps people with mental health issues into work, which is as good a start as any, plus I have some other chores to do on the way home.

Family Values

I had a number of responses to my previous post, on the blog and via email.  I feel bad that I went into autistic ‘black and white thinking’ more, as I often do when people give me advice, and felt that it didn’t help.  The reality is that after I’ve had time to process it, I’m more able to decide what might help me now, what might help me down the line and what isn’t relevant to my situation, but I feel bad that I come across as too negative.

I’m also thinking that I should make more of an effort to get to depression group, which I haven’t done since it switched location to a less convenient site.  But it would be good to speak to people about depression again.  Unfortunately I can’t get to next week’s meeting.

***

Today was a slow day with depression and exhaustion.  I’m still recuperating from the Jewish festivals.  I did some chores and I worked on my novel a little today, writing for about an hour and a quarter in three small chunks as I couldn’t get a continuous period of time to work on it.  I wrote over a thousand words and dealt with a passage that was quite emotional for me, tapping in to difficult emotions that I’ve experienced in the past.  I’m not sure if writing is really therapy per se, but it does bring up difficult emotions, which may or may not be good.

I really should (that word again) go back to job hunting, but I couldn’t face it.  (I should be exercising too.)  I look at job listings and think, “I can’t do that.”  Now I wonder if that is also black and white thinking.  However, I had another job rejection today without even getting to the interview stage, so maybe I have the wrong skills and experience.  I’m volunteering again on Sunday, assuming I feel well enough, so I’ll try to gauge how comfortable I feel with the children there and how they seem with me, to help me think about working in a school, although I don’t feel very hopeful about it.

***

It’s weird how autism and depression symptoms can vary depending on how I’m feeling generally, and the way they interact.  When I was a child, I was sensitive to the feel of some fabrics.  In particular, I found wool and woolly clothes prickly and uncomfortable.  Over the years I’ve become more tolerant of them.  However, today I was wearing a sweatshirt, not even wool (it’s acrylic), but it felt so prickly and uncomfortable that I had to take it off, even though it hasn’t been uncomfortable in the past.  It seems likely that that is because I’m feeling very depressed and exhausted today and that reduces my ability to tolerate other symptoms of my conditions.

***

Shiur (religious class) tonight was good, but I did feel overwhelmed at the start by the sheer number of people (eleven) in a small room.  This may have contributed to eating more than I wanted to do, I’m not sure.

The key part of the shiur that I took home with me was the idea that we should not think of our yetzer hara (difficult to translate, but a person’s negative desires or an anthropomorphised version of their temptations) as being ourselves, in the sense of our actual identity.  In other words, you should not think “I’m a really angry person” even if you have anger issues.  I’m not sure that I’m explaining this well.  It did make me think about the discussion in the online mental health community about you not being your mental illness.  I’m not quite sure if this was what the rabbi had in mind, but it did make me feel that I possibly do over-identify with my yetzer hara and I probably do over-identify with my ‘issues’ in the sense of telling myself, “Oh, I can’t do X because I’m autistic” or “I’m useless at Y because I have depression.”

There was some debate after the shiur was formally over which I stayed for.  I felt a bit awkward, as I couldn’t really follow the cut and thrust of the debate and I suspect I would have done before I was depressed.  I was also too wary to mention the parallel with mental illness that I referred to above, even though I’ve told two of the people there that I suffer from depression and one of the others is a doctor.

***

Today’s anxiety: next week is my cousin’s bar mitzvah in Israel.  I’m already nervous for several reasons.  I always get nervous going to Israel, partly because I’m afraid of terrorism (although I’m not convinced that London is much safer these days), partly because of being in a country where I am not fluent in the language.  My Hebrew is probably better than I give myself credit for (even if I do mess up the verb conjugations), but I don’t really have confidence in speaking Hebrew.

Perhaps the biggest anxiety (aside from travelling around the country by myself to see my rabbi mentor, although that may not happen anyway as I can’t get hold of him) is the Shabbat (Sabbath) itself.  There will be something like seventy-five or a hundred people coming, to a youth hostel or kibbutz (I’m not sure which) that my uncle and aunt are hiring for Shabbat.  There will be big meals and, of course, my cousin (let’s call him C5 as he is the fifth of five siblings) will lein (chant from the Torah) in shul on Shabbat morning.

My worries are that it can be difficult to (for many people, not just me) to be with extended family for long periods because of personality clash (even if no one argues with me, if there is a family argument, as happens in many families, it will upset me) and that big, crowded events are not easy with depression, social anxiety and autism.  I was also asked to lead bentsching (grace after meals), singing in Hebrew, which worries me in case I shake.  Hebrew and singing are OK here as I’ve probably sung bentsching thousands of times in my life and, except for one little bit, everyone will join in anyway.  However, I was also offered the chance to make kiddush (the blessing over wine at the start of dinner and lunch on Shabbat), but I turned it down because I worried I would shake and spill the wine.  I’m worried that I’ll be so exhausted after Friday night that I’ll be too exhausted to get to shul for my cousin on Saturday morning; I might even be too tired to make it to lunch on time.

I thought all of that was enough to be worrying about, but apparently not.  My cousin’s grandfather (not the mutual grandfather, who is dead, the one on the other side of the family) has written a comic song about the family to be sung, or at least read, by the family at lunchtime.  To my surprise, my parents, sister and brother-in-law are going along with this.  I can not see myself doing this.  It’s alright for my uncle, aunt and cousins.  They’re mostly extroverts who thrive on being the centre of attention.  I really can’t see myself doing it.  But now I see myself as the only person not joining in.  I fear it will look bad, I’ll seem to be the spoilsport even before the effects of depression, social anxiety and autism kick in.  Plus, there’s always the feeling of, “I wish I could do that,” similar to what I feel when I see people lead services in shul, knowing that it is within the range of my Jewish knowledge and that I have done it in the past, but that it is beyond the range of my current confidence level.

It often happens that when I’m with extended family, there is an argument (either with me or that I witness) and I end up feeling, “What am I doing here?”  Feeling that I can’t cope, that no one in the family is on my wavelength, that I should just push myself harder to work through everything.  Sometimes depression, social anxiety and autism provides an excuse, sometimes it doesn’t.  When it was my other cousin’s (C4’s) bat mitzvah, I was supposed to go to be photographed with my family on the Sunday afterwards and I flat out refused because I was feeling so overwhelmed.  There wasn’t an argument, but my Mum really wanted me to go and was disappointed I didn’t.  I think I skipped the actual party too, but in that case the party for friends was separate from the small family meal on the Shabbat, so everyone felt that I’d gone to the main event.  Here there are two massive meals and I am very worried about getting through them.  I’m even worried if I made the right decision about bentsching.  I’ve got a week to think/worry about this…

“Curse you, Red Baron!”

Today has been a “brain stuffed with cotton wool day,” my term for days when the depression just makes me feel sluggish and unable to think.  This happens sometimes: I get better for a bit, in terms of mood, and then after a number of days or weeks or even months, I crash back into depression again.  Then I blame myself and feel I’ve let my family, friends and therapist down.  But I always end up back in depression eventually.

I had another job rejection today.  I don’t really expect to get anything any more and I’m a bit scared of what would happen if I did.  After my experiences over the last year or two, I struggle to believe I could do any job well.  I applied for two jobs today, one directly (it was just a case of sending my CV) and the other by contacting an agency that is supposed to be looking for work for me and asking why they hadn’t put me forward for this job.  The job is just over a two month contract (it’s sick leave cover) and has a lot of very specific criteria for such a short-term job (some of which were revealed to the agency but not clear from the job description online).  The problem for me (aside from getting the job) is the amount of time I would need to take off in the next two months for Yom Tov (Jewish festivals) and leaving early on Fridays and before Yom Tov.  The other job-related thing I did today was emailing my line manager from my job earlier this year to see if there were any vacancies there, but no luck.

I tried to spend a bit of time on my novel, revising the plan, but it was too painful to work while feeling this depressed and I had to stop quite quickly.  I’ve cut the first few chapters completely and am trying to make another character into a bigger character and making him another narrator in addition to the two narrators I already have (changing narrative voice in different chapters).  But this was taking a lot more energy than I had.  It will make the book much less autobiographical more of an independent work of fiction, which is probably for the best.  I spent nearly £15 on research books on domestic abuse for the novel, which will be depressing reading, but necessary.

I didn’t even try to go for a walk because of the weather (rain) and feeling depressed and drained.  A run was completely out of the question.  I managed ten minutes of very basic Torah study and that was all.  I did polish some of the silver for my parents, but I managed to get silver polish down my trousers.

I finally spoke to my parents about the group WhatsApp message I got inviting me (and a load of other people) to the vort (engagement party) of the son of someone I know from shul (synagogue) and shiur (religious class)To my relief, they don’t agree with mass invites either and felt there was no moral obligation to force myself to go to the party or to give a present.  I don’t know why this (group invitations) is common in frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) circles.

I’ve been invited out for dinner on Friday at the shul friend I went to a couple of weeks ago.  Another shul friend and his wife will be there too.  I decided to go, as these are my only real shul friends, but I’m nervous that it will exhaust me before the Yom Tov (Jewish festival) season starts properly on Sunday evening.  I’m worried that I’m still recovering from dinner at the rabbi’s on Friday, although my parents are sceptical that that’s the reason.  It’s another time when non-disabled people don’t necessarily understand the “spoon debt” loss of energy involved.

I watched The Peanuts Movie with my Dad while I was polishing the silver.  He enjoyed it, but I felt it wasn’t that funny and I wasn’t sure they should have given it such a big happy ending, although I appreciate that adapting a comic strip that is significantly about failure and loneliness for the big screen is going to be problematic.  There’s the problem of audience (that the comic was aimed primarily at an older audience even though children read it, while the film is going to end up being seen primarily by children), but the bigger problem is that in print, Charlie Brown can suffer all kinds of things because we know he’ll be back again tomorrow, but on the screen, that last impression of failure would seem more final.  This being the case, I can see why they wanted to give it a happy ending, but I didn’t think it really worked.  Or maybe I’m just worried that secretly people think I’m a good person, which would spoil my self-image of being a wishy-washy failure.

Brief Update

Not much to say today.  I’m feeling completely burnt out, exhausted and depressed today.  If this is from one Shabbat (Sabbath), I shudder to think what sort of state I’ll be in after a month of Yom Tovim (festivals).  It didn’t help that I couldn’t sleep again last night.

Today I feel too depressed and exhausted to do anything.  I wrote a couple of emails and forced myself to go for a forty minute walk, listening to a fifteen minute drasha (sermon) from Rabbi Lord Sacks (about failure and forgiveness) for some of it.  That’s about it.  No job applications, no novel, no jogging.  No donations to the biannual charity appeals.  (Jewish charity appeals come out for Pesach (Passover) and Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year).  I have my favourite charities I like to give to, but as my income for the last six months is less than £100, it is doubtful how much I can give this time, which saddens me)  No shana tova (happy new year) emails to friends I haven’t been in touch with for months either.  All stuff to do this week, before the Yom Tovim kick off next Sunday evening.  Stuff I just don’t have the energy, concentration and mind-power to do at the moment.

Eventually I crashed out and just watched Doctor Who for a bit (the animated The Power of the Daleks).  After a while, something made me want to read more articles about abuse on Neshamas.com as research for my novel.  That is a strange thing to do when depressed, I admit.  I suppose it’s the completist side of me.  Sometimes when I’m very depressed I get motivated to finish a long task just to get it out of the way.  That was what happened here: I finished reading the articles I wanted on Neshamas.  I do intended to do some reading in non-fiction books as well.  It was strangely energising; I feel that, more than just having a story to write, writing about mental illness and abuse in the frum community is something worth doing for the people who can’t tell their own stories (for whatever reason).  I hope that isn’t the wrong thing to say.  I don’t mean to “appropriate” other people’s stories, just to share what I have felt myself or seen in other people.

For a moment I was energised, but then I crashed again.  I’m trying not to think too much about the book, so I don’t convince myself I can’t write it.  I will probably spend the evening watching the rest of that Doctor Who story because I don’t feel up to doing anything else.

Like a Normal Neurotypical Person

The job agency who I asked to put me forward for a job are saying I don’t have the experience for it.  Which is true, I was just applying on the off-chance, but it’s depressing to think how few jobs I actually do have the experience and skills for and how many I’m just applying on the off-chance.  I also had another rejection without interview from a CV application.

When I say I’m looking for work, people often ask if there are many library jobs around.  Sometimes they voice the implicit question, “Aren’t all libraries being shut down or replaced by the internet?”  And I say there are jobs, which is true, but the reality is that a lot of those jobs require quite specific skills and experience, especially in the academic library sector, where I work.  I don’t often have those skills and experiences, for a variety of reasons e.g. the long period of time doing my MA resulting in skills going rusty; the depression and social anxiety stopping me keeping up with CPD; the depression resulting in my doing my MA at a university that was not really as good as I could have gone to.  I feel like I have got in a situation where I can’t get a job in my chosen field, but don’t know what else I could do, especially as I don’t feel that I could work in a normal open-plan office because of the autism.  Having had some jobs that were supposedly within my experience or even at a lower level, and then messed them up because of depression, social anxiety and autism, I feel pretty negative about my ability to hold down a job at all.  I am not sure who I can talk to about this.

I’m trying to pitch for proofreading work on PeoplePerHour.com, but all the proofreading jobs have already had a dozen or even several dozen pitches, and I can’t see why they would pick me, who has zero experience (on site and off it) in professional proofreading.  The proofreading jobs with fewer pitches generally turn out, on closer inspection, to be proofreading and translating jobs (why don’t they just say that upfront?).  I have a nightmare of taking on a freelance job and being too depressed to finish it and getting sued, or just doing the job wrongly because of depression brain and inexperience.

My Mum is very keen for me to do some voluntary work at a charity my sister’s in-laws are very involved with.  I don’t know what it involves, but it’s a charity that runs an online bookshop via Amazon Market Place.  The things I have heard about the role from my sister are not clear.  If it’s dealing with books it might be good for me, whereas if it’s personnel management I don’t think it would.  Even if I take the role, it will be unpaid and while it would be good to have something to do and put on my CV, I have limited time/energy which it would take away from job hunting and writing.  More than that, I suppose I feel that it would be a retrograde step back to when I couldn’t work at all because of my depression and was doing unpaid voluntary work at different places.  I asked my sister to put me in touch with the person who runs the bookshop and we’ll see what he says.

I asked her to pass on my email only, not phone.  Like many autistic people, I hate using the phone.  Part of me feels I should “Push myself” to do things I’m not comfortable with (as I was always told growing up); part of me thinks, “My brain is wired differently and I’m just not comfortable doing this.”  When I pushed myself as a child, the result was usually that I was more miserable and the supposed benefits of pushing myself to do new things (“It gets easier”) never materialised.

Dealing with bank paperwork today, I feel that I can’t cope with the simplest tasks and am utterly unsuited for life.  I’m not sure how realistic this feeling is, or what I can do about it.  Can you get life coaching for everything?  I don’t want to be selfish and self-obsessed.  I want to have a meaningful life that contributes to others.  I want to be part of a community and help other people out.  I want to take responsibility for my life rather than just live parasitically off other people and make excuses for my failure to achieve anything, but I can’t see how I can do that.  I don’t know how to change things regarding work, non-work chores or fitting in to the frum community.

***

I still feel burnt out.  Maybe E. and Ashley Leia are right about Shabbat (the Sabbath) being too much for me right now.  The problem is that I don’t know what to cut out.  I need to do some communal/social things and I would like to go to one Talmud shiur a week.  Plus, as I’ve said, one really has to go to Shabbat morning services to be fully considered a member of a community, make friends and, in my case, have any chance of being set up on a date with someone (not that that seems very likely in any case).

I feel very listless.  It’s hard to do anything, either to have the energy, motivation or concentration to do it.

***

I went out for dinner with my parents, sister and brother-in-law for my birthday.  We had a good time, but the restaurant was very noisy and I felt somewhat uncomfortable and found it hard to hear the conversation.  I do struggle sometimes with family meals because I struggle with “neurotypical conversation,” doubly so when I’m in a noisy restaurant and can’t really hear.  The food was good, though.  There was some talk about forthcoming or hoped for job interviews (not mine!), which made me think that, unlike others at the table, I have not “invested in my own professional development.”  I really am drifting through life.  I had a good time and left in a better mood than I’ve been for a while.

Also in the restaurant was the best Talmud teacher I’ve ever had, the only one who really made the Talmud make sense for me, but I was too shy to say anything to him; I don’t know if he saw or recognised me (he taught me about five years ago).

***

My birthday presents are coming in installments this year, which is quite nice.  Today’s gift, from my sister and brother-in-law, was the novel J by Howard Jacobson, which is a comic dystopian novel about antisemitism.  It sounds weird, but I enjoyed Jacobson’s The Finkler Question, which was about Jewish self-hatred and non-Jewish philosemitism and quite funny as well as serious (Jacobson would, I suspect, agree with Douglas Adams that the opposite of ‘funny’ is ‘not funny’ rather than ‘serious’… he’s certainly rightfully annoyed that the literary establishment overlooked him for years because he was pigeonholed as a ‘funny’ writer).

It struck me on the way home that a lot of non-fiction has been written in the last twenty years about the explosion of antisemitism in Europe, and to a lesser extent in the USA, in the last two decades (I mean, written in the Jewish press and community; comparatively little has been said in the non-Jewish community, which largely affected not to notice until the Labour Party antisemitism thing exploded), but hardly any fiction has been written about it.  I can’t believe Jacobson is the only novelist to have written about it, but I’m struggling to think of anyone else, which is really shocking.

***

My shul (synagogue) is organising a barbecue on Sunday.  It didn’t occur to me to go, partly because I don’t drive and wasn’t sure how I could get there, but partly because I wasn’t sure what I would do there.  I mean, I don’t talk to people at seudah or kiddush (if I’m there for kiddush), so why would I be able to talk to people at the barbecue?  Plus, I’m vegetarian except on Shabbat and Yom Tov and was unsure whether there would be any food for me.  Someone has now messaged me to offer me a lift if I’m going.  It never occurred to me to go and now I wonder if I’ve made a mistake.  I’ve committed to going to volunteering on Sunday now anyway, so I can’t change my mind, but I just wish I could do normal social things like a neurotypical person sometimes.

“We are far too young and clever”

I feel really depressed today and I can’t work out why.  I’m utterly drained of energy, motivation and concentration and my mood is very bleak.  I can’t do anything.  I’m struggling just to get ready for Shabbat (the Sabbath) and to do my CBT homework.  I struggled to go for a short walk to do some shopping, not helped by the fact I’m still aching from running for the first time in a year on Wednesday.  I’m not even going to try to do job applications or work on my books or phone the Citizens Advice Bureau about benefits.

Perhaps this is because tomorrow is my birthday and I feel pretty miserable about it.  Firstly, tomorrow is the Hebrew date of 17 Tammuz, which is a very sad day on which a lot of bad things happened.  It’s a fast day, but the fast is postponed to Sunday (because you can’t fast minor fasts on Shabbat/Sabbath), which is something at least.  One shouldn’t mourn on Shabbat, so at least I don’t have to be miserable.  Then my Hebrew birthday (lots of frum/religious people celebrate Hebrew birthdays now rather than solar ones, although there is no real tradition of celebrating either, and some important Medieval rabbis said it’s the solar one that counts) is three weeks and a day later on 10 Av.  9 Av is an even sadder fast day than 17 Tammuz, but 9 Av is on a Shabbat this year too, so gets postponed to 10 Av i.e. my Hebrew birthday.  So it feels like I’m being told to be miserable on my birthday this year, even without taking in to account that I will be thirty-six, unemployed, single, depressed and generally feeling like I have done nothing with the thirty-six years I have already had.

***

Last night I dreamt I was in Oxford (I think) and was given a semi-rabbinical job giving occasional sermons in the shul (synagogue).  I was very anxious, but everyone seemed to want to hear me.  Huh.

***

I’m also feeling depressed by antisemitism, and the failure of people usually (rightly) sensitive to stereotypes and structural prejudice to even notice antisemitism unless it’s skinheads doing Hitler salutes and shouting “Gas the Jews!” (and sometimes not even then).

Attitudes

I just stopped following a site I was occasionally reading.  It was for ba’alei teshuva (Jews raised non-religious who became religious later in life).  I thought it would be good to find people who share my struggles, but they seem to be on a much higher spiritual level than me.  The article that made me give up said that “as long as a person remains outside the world of closeness with Hashem [God], he will never attain it [closeness to God]”.  One is supposed to have trust in God and in genuine Torah leaders to attain this.  It concludes “If the reader is still doubtful at this point about the words here, then there is no proof we can bring to convince him otherwise. But one thing we can ask of him: For your own sake, and for the sake of the Jewish people, and for the sake of giving your Creator a satisfaction, cry to Hashem every day, hour after hour, and ask Him that he guide you to the truth. If a person really begs Hashem for this, and if he really wants it, Hashem will surely help him get to the truth, that he be able to give a nachas ruach (satisfaction) to Hashem all his life.”  I do at least try to cry out to be guided to the truth, despite the depression and exhaustion.  Maybe I don’t cry out enough or good enough or I don’t really want it.  Maybe, after everything I’ve been through over the years, I don’t believe that things will get any better for me, or that God wants things to be any different for me.  That God created me for anything other than suffering and punishment.  I don’t know.  But I don’t feel satisfaction or love in my life.  Apparently if I loved God, I wouldn’t care about being so lonely among people (perhaps – the article actually said that I would give up lust, which may not be the same thing).  I wish I could, but it’s not working out for me.

(I also don’t think we can give HaShemnachat ruach/satisfaction” and that statements in the Talmud and other authoritative texts to the contrary are “speaking the language of man,” but this is me being Maimonidean and is not the main issue (we can’t give satisfaction to God, because this would imply that God has a lack that we can fill, which is not possible).)

My issue isn’t really this post, it’s the entire outlook of the site which is super-frum (religious) and Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and negative about the wider world and assuming that everyone is on a high spiritual level, which I am not.  I wish I was on the level of the writers and commenters for this site, but I am not.  I wish I could find people on my level and going through things I am going through to support me, but I can’t.  I suspect someone who has been frum for as long as I have isn’t supposed to still be struggling with basic things like davening (praying) and studying Torah every day.

On frum sites like that one, one thing you hear a lot is, “HaShem doesn’t give anyone a test they can’t cope with.”  I don’t think I’m coping with my tests.  Maybe I’m just lazy or wicked, but I don’t feel like I’m coping with autism, unemployment, loneliness or especially depression at all well.  The book Calling Out to You (on depression and anxiety from a frum perspective) did at least say that “coping” is not the same as “functioning normally as if there was no test” and that it’s OK to be sub-par when depressed or anxious.  That helps a bit, but I don’t feel like I’m coping at all.  I feel that every frum site I come across does this to me sooner or later, leaves me feeling wicked and distant from God and other Jews, who apparently don’t have the issues I have.

I do wish I could find a forum for talking with other frum Jews who have these kinds of issues (mental illness, autism, trouble trusting God because of childhood experiences etc.).  I was looking at a frum forum for another issue in the hope that some ideas would transfer or I would see some commonalities, but I couldn’t connect with the attitudes there.  They were just frummie attitudes that I can’t imitate.

***

I felt depressed this morning and while I felt a bit better after lunch, once I tried to do some interview preparation for tomorrow, my mood worsened.  I looked over my notes on ‘classic’ interview questions.  I still doubt my ability to answer them fluently under pressure.  So much depends on feeling confident in the interview despite social anxiety and responding promptly to unexpected questions despite autistic slow processing time.

It’s hard to do anything at the moment and I wonder what will happen if I do get a job.  I am largely caught up in depression and loneliness and struggle to be able to do anything.  I try to find small tasks (go for a walk, do thirty minutes of Torah study, write a job application for an hour), but it can be hard to do anything.  I just went for a walk and did some shopping and I became completely exhausted, even though I was only out for forty-five minutes.  (Low blood sugar may have been a contributory factor, to be fair, but it wasn’t that long since lunch.)  The job I’m up for tomorrow is full-time and I don’t have a clue how I would cope with that.

It’s tempting to say I just want to watch TV all day, but I don’t think I do.  That would show too much initiative, motivation and concentration.  I don’t really want to do anything at all.  I just have to exist, somehow.

The thing that scares me is being like this forever.  I already know that I’ve lost much of my teens, my twenties and half of my thirties to depression.  I feel like I will never have any joy in my life, having lost what are considered the most carefree and enjoyable years.  Even if I fully recovered, I would be struggling for years to establish myself in a career and to build friendships and relationships, all the things normal people do in their youth and twenties before moving on to build families and taking their career to the next level, things that I will probably never get around to doing.  And people have fun when they’re young.  I didn’t and now I feel that I never will.  It’s all very well saying that true spiritual joy will substitute for fake secular joy, but I’m not getting either.

***

(The next two paragraphs are about TV science fiction, past and present, so feel free to skip if that’s not of interest.)

I’ve been watching Star Trek Discovery lately.  I’m about of a third of the way through season one.  It’s very good, probably the best Star Trek since the best days of Deep Space Nine, but it is very, very bleak, full of gore and unpleasant, hard-bitten characters.  It is also more an action series than a science fiction one.  I have never been particularly interested in Klingon culture and wonder why the writers of Star Trek in all its iterations, have been so fascinated by language them.  I would like to see more of the Vulcans.

When I need some non-bleak TV, I’ve been re-watching random episodes of The Avengers and The New Avengers – the British, John Steed and Emma Peel Avengers, not the Marvel one.  I’ve been mostly watching The New Avengers, which most fans don’t like.  I actually like the first season of The New Avengers (although the second one is mostly not good), possibly because I actually saw some of The New Avengers before the original series, so I’m more nostalgic about it.  It’s cheerier than Discovery at any rate.

“Though I don’t want to die, I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all”

Today was a day when I struggled to do anything, primarily because of feeling depressed, but the heat didn’t help.  I feel lonely and rather depressed.  I feel that there’s no way out for me.  I want to work, but I can’t find a job that I feel capable of doing any more, so low has my self-esteem fallen from the problems I’ve had working over the last year or two.  I’m acutely conscious of living off my parents, of the fact that even when I was working, I was never earning enough to be self-sufficient in London, but I don’t know what to do about it.  I want to write, but I don’t know how to sell my writing.  I want to get married, but I can’t see a woman wanting to marry an unemployed autistic depressive.  I feel I’m never going to be able to afford to live in a community that is right for me religiously, if there even is such a community, at least in the UK (which I doubt).  I worry about losing my few remaining friends; I don’t seem to be able to balance the right amount of contact and opening up.  I either don’t see people at all for months on end and/or don’t tell them much about my emotional life or else I overload them with my issues.  I’ve never managed to work out this balancing act.

Lots of writers were rejected a lot before being published, I know.  Stephen King’s first novel was rejected by thirty publishers.  Then he threw the manuscript in the bin.  His wife fished it out and sent it to another publisher, who published it.  I don’t think I have enough self-esteem to send something thirty-one times.

***

The world suffocates me.  It’s insane.  Actually insane.   Everyone agrees it’s insane, they just disagree on what bits are insane and should be changed and what bits still have some sanity and should be kept.  Like Rebbe Nachman of Breslov’s parable about the objectively totally imperfect chandelier which everyone subjectively thinks has some good features and some bad ones, but no one can agree which is which, depending on their own flaws, everyone thinks the world should be changed “in accordance with how I think, which is objectively true.”  I don’t want to change the world any more.  I just want to run away before I get corrupted, killed or divine insane.  This is not very Jewish.  We are supposed to change the world for the better.

Like Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah), I want to leave the world and run an inn in the wilderness.  OK, not literally an inn in the wilderness, but to get away from things.  When I was dating E. we joked about getting married, living in the countryside somewhere, growing our own food, home-schooling our children and writing.  That’s not a terribly feasible dream, sadly.  Anyway, to be frum (religious Jewish) one has to live with other people, to belong to a community.  If one is looking for a group of frum Jews to live with in a rural setting away from civilisation, you rapidly end up living in a settlement on the West Bank, which I have no intention of doing for a whole host of reasons.  There may be some religious kibbutzim in Israel proper, but I’m not sure that there are many.  The kibbutz way of live proved not really sustainable.

I doubt I could really cut it as a farmer anyway, getting up at 4.00am to milk the cows or whatever.

I just feel that I can’t find a way to live in the world, rather than just existing.  I feel that maybe I am a religious person after all, deep down, but I don’t have an outlet for my religious feelings that isn’t blocked by depression, social anxiety or autism.  Not for the first time, I wish I could make Talmud study my autistic special interest, or even just be able to do it.  I wish someone had noticed when I was at school that I was somewhat different and had helped guide me in how to function in a neurotypical world, but when I was growing up, high-functional autism was unknown and I suspect that few rabbis would have the insight to guide someone like me to an appropriate religious path even today.

In one of the essays in Halakhic Morality, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik speaks of the need of everyone to develop their own unique religious style.  As I recall (it’s a while since I read it), he says to do this by spending time with a religious mentor, observing how they act in life in general.  That’s not really an option for me, although one of my big regrets about not having gone to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) is not having met great Torah scholars and tzaddikim (saintly people).  I do wish someone could guide me, though.  If I was more Haredi (like the people in my shul (synagogue)?) maybe I would try to take my problem to a gadol (great Torah scholar) and see what his da’at Torah (quasi-supernatural insight from years of studying Torah) is, but I’m sceptical of the existence of da’at Torah, at least in the quasi-supernatural sense, and I don’t believe that scholars have supernatural insight into non-halakhic (non-legal) life problems.  I would like to find my “way” though, somehow.

***

I didn’t feel able to apply for any jobs today, even though there’s one closing on Wednesday that I should apply for, although I’m fairly sure I won’t get it.  I just couldn’t face filling in another form.

In terms of actual achievements today, I went for a half-hour walk and managed about half an hour of Torah study.  I wanted to do much more, but ran out of time, which is another way of saying I prioritised other things, like my book, over it, which I probably should not have done.  It was at least Talmud study.  My shul seems to have stopped studying (“learning”) one page of Talmud together a week; we still have the weekly Talmud shiur (class), but we only do a couple of lines in depth rather than trying to cover a whole page.  I find this vaguely disappointing, although I can sort of see why they want to study in depth, because I often don’t understand the text when covered quickly (not that I always understand when it’s covered in depth, to be honest).  I’m trying to keep going with one page a week at home, but it’s going to get harder as I drift further away from the community and when the passages become more halakhic (legal) and complicated, as at the moment I’m in a stretch of primarily aggadic (non-legal) material, which is easier to understand, at least on a superficial level.

The other big thing I did today was start work on the fourth draft of my Doctor Who book, which will hopefully be the draft I will try to get published.  I’ve decided that, since my friends stopped talking to me, there isn’t really anyone I can ask to read some of it, as my other fan friends are super-busy, so I might as well get on with it.  I pruned about 650 words from the introduction to get it under 1,000 words, which is good as I think the book as a whole is too long.  I wanted to go on to the first chapter, but it was later than I intended and the rewriting took longer than expected so I left chapter one and instead formatted the introduction to go to a publisher (although the notes I have on manuscript format are really for magazine publishing, so this may be wrong), sorting out the title page for good measure.

I do feel good that the fourth/final (hopefully) draft is started, even though I will probably need to do at least one extra draft on the final chapter (on the most recent series), which might entail viewing those eleven episodes again.  I hope to get this all done in about three months, to be ready to start submitting at Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year).  I need to revise about five chapters a month to meet that target.

***

It is hard to do anything when I feel so lacking in motivation and concentration, so pessimistic about being able to do anything, and depressed and lonely.  I originally wrote “mildly depressed”, but I don’t think that’s true.  At times I’m mildly depressed, but at other times, particularly in the mornings and sometimes at other times during the day (e.g. tired, low blood sugar or after triggers) I can be more than mildly depressed.

***
Depression is… watching Star Trek Discovery while eating dinner and suddenly wanting to burst into tears and I don’t know why.

Small Achievements, God, and Star Trek

I didn’t get the job I was interviewed for last week, although I’d guessed that by now.  I applied for a copywriting job at a Jewish charity, but feel I’m unlikely to get it, as I don’t meet any of the requirements (all about copywriting experience)

I pitched an article to a Jewish newspaper.  I hate writing pitches.  It feels horrible to ask someone I don’t know, a propos of nothing in particular, to publish me.  Plus I worry that I’m making mistakes in the layout and form of the pitch itself that will prejudice an editor against me, but, while I’ve read up online about how to write a pitch, beyond a certain point one just has to work by trial and error.

Aside from the job application and the pitch, I managed a walk to do some shopping, twenty minutes or so of Talmud study and half an hour of fiction writing.  I should be pleased, but I just wish I had managed more.  I don’t know how good the fiction was.  It was harder than usual to concentrate, but I wrote about as much as usual for that amount of time, even though it was late (although my body clock is so far shifted at the moment that 9pm doesn’t feel particularly late).

***

During the tea break at depression group, I tend to browse the books in the group’s small library of depression-related books, mostly because I’m too shy and awkward to talk to other people.  Last week I flicked through Families and How to Survive Them by Robin Skynner and John Cleese.  I read a bit about religion and psychological development.  It said (as far as I can remember) that people are brought up as children with a sense of God as an Old Man in the Sky and religion as as set of rules for which people are rewarded if kept and punished if broken.  Many people stay at this level of understanding, but more sophisticated believers move on to more abstracted ideas about God being “love” or something similarly impersonal and the commandments being suggestions and God loving us even if we sin.

I wouldn’t make absolutely God abstract; I think on some level we are supposed to relate to Him as a person, but I think the understanding of both Jewish religious rationalist philosophy and kabbalah (mysticism) is fairly abstract (God as the Ayn-Sof, the Infinite) and distant from the Old Man in the Sky approach.  Likewise, while I think the mitzvot (commandments) should be understood as commandments, I think they are for our benefit rather than for God’s and the negative consequences of disobedience stem from moving away from a correct course of action more than God punishing us out of anger (if everyone steals, that society will collapse, not because God is punishing them, but because society depends on mutual respect and the safeguarding of property rights).  It’s interesting that the Zohar, the most important text of kabbalah, speaks of the mitzvot as “pieces of advice”.  So, I should be towards the more sophisticated end of the scale of belief.

And yet, despite this I really struggle to believe that God could love me, mostly because I don’t believe that anyone could love me, even without my faults, but certainly with them.  I really struggle with this, and with getting simcha shel mitzvah, joy from fulfilling the mitzvot.  I don’t really have any joy in my life, so perhaps it isn’t surprising that there isn’t any joy in my religious life (the previous rabbi at our shul (synagogue) said as much to me), but it is frustrating.  I envy other people who seem to have joy and meaning in their religious lives.  Of course, it is probably easier to believe in a loving God and a meaningful life if you have a steady income, settled career, loving spouse, happy and healthy children etc. than if you have none of those things.

***

I still feel bad about missing volunteering yesterday and am worried that, as with going to shul on Shabbat morning (which I’ve rarely managed over the last year), this is going to be another area where the social anxiety and depression win.  I probably do punish myself too much, but I feel I do a lot of objectively bad things and can only forgive so much by considering my mental health and autism.

Dad said I should start jogging again.  I don’t know when I last went jogging, but I’m pretty sure I haven’t done it since moving back in with my parents, so nearly a year.  The problem is I don’t have the time, the energy or the motivation at the moment and it’s hard to do it without any of those.  I have been going for a walk most days, which is something.

***

In news likely only to interest people who watch television programmes with spaceships in them, I ordered a copy of the first season of Star Trek: Discovery, the latest Star Trek series, which I haven’t seen as it was available for online streaming, but I don’t subscribe to any services.  I’m not even sure if that’s how streaming works, exactly.  I don’t watch much contemporary TV.  So, I waited for the DVD, which arrived today.  I procrastinated over getting it, as I’ve heard vaguely it’s “adult,” full of bad language, sex, violence and gore, and sure enough that’s what the DVD label says.  Hmm.  I hope I haven’t made a mistake.  I’m not sure why people assume adult = sex + violence + swearing.  Possibly one to watch with my finger hovering on the fast forward button.  I wonder if I should have bought Star Trek: Voyager instead.  I haven’t seen Voyager since I was at university (my Dad used to tape it for me during term time and I would binge watch over the holidays).  It was mostly not great, but was comfortable and familiar, which I suppose is why I didn’t give up on it the way I did on Enterprise, which was just dull.  I think I prefer comfortable and familiar to edgy and adult.

Anyway, there’s not much actually happening to me today, which is why I’ve spent a chunk this post talking about TV.  I just feel that nothing works out and am feeling depressed and lethargic.

Anxiety Central

Today is a bad day for anxiety and self-recrimination.  I discovered that the Oxford Doctor Who Society team did get to the quiz on Sunday.  I’m not sure how I missed them, although only one team member from Sunday was there when I went previously, so perhaps it’s not surprising that I didn’t recognise them.  And I had an acknowledgement email from one science fiction magazine (that I probably shouldn’t have mentioned by name – I have amended that) for my pitch, which is making me more anxious than any job interview.   I suppose it’s understandable that receiving a formal acknowledgement sets off anxiety, but I’m not sure why it sets off self-critical and self-loathing thoughts.  I feel that I just beat myself up for trying things even before I get rejected.  There is, I suppose, a hope that everything will work out this time – or that at least something will work out – coupled with a fear that, judging by past experience, it probably won’t work out.

I’m also struggling with irrational guilt.  I had a question about my job interview on Thursday and emailed the head of HR, but my Dad said I should have phoned.  He is right that it might have been quicker (assuming she was at her desk), but I hate using the phone.  Many autistic and socially anxious people feel the same.  The autistic time lag in processing and responding to conversations seems worse on the phone.  So I emailed, but felt guilty, which is the worst of both worlds.

One Jewish newspaper I wrote to for submission guidelines asked to see copies of my work.  As it’s a fairly religious newspaper, I didn’t want to send any Doctor Who/science fiction criticism.  However, this meant going even further back in time to when I had an article on antisemitism published on a site now absorbed into Tablet Magazine.  I feel awkward about this too, especially as, unlike yesterday, today I sent screenshots of the articles I had written on the sites as well as sending them as Word documents; then I realised afterwards that the sites might be considered inappropriate by a religious newspaper (nothing unsafe for work, just geeky stuff on one site and the fact that the other (a Jewish cultural site) had a “Sex & Love” column tab at the top of the screen).  Nor did I mention that one column was pseudonymous.  The newspaper said they’d keep my details on file and consider me on an ad hoc basis in the future, which I think was a polite brush-off.  Everything today seems to be triggering social anxiety and self-recrimination.

Also, it turns out that I have few copies of material I have had published online.  I guess a mixture of tidiness and low self-esteem regarding my writing have led me to delete much of my writing after posting it online or not to bother transferring it when I’ve upgraded computers.  This applies not just to material from my blog, but even stuff I’ve had published professionally or semi-professionally.  I just never thought I would want or need a copy of it ever again.  Silly of me.  I had to copy and paste stuff I’d written from the web.  There’s a lesson in there about self-esteem and confidence in my work.

I guess the outcome of all of this stuff in the last two paragraphs is a need for better curation of my work.  It probably doesn’t help that I have varied interests that I’ve written about in the past, while it’s only really in the last few months that I’ve been thinking seriously about a career as a writer, with the need to target consistent markets and build up a portfolio of work rather than just writing about anything I fancy and sending it wherever anyone will take it.

Other than that, the day was largely spent in interview preparation and a long phone call to some friends who are sitting shivah (Jewish mourning ritual).  I was glad I was able to phone them, but I find long phone calls draining at the best of times.  I did some Torah study for about forty-five minutes, but I felt quite tired and struggled to concentrate; then my mood plummeted in the late afternoon.  I went to shul (synagogue) in the evening despite these feelings.  I made sure to arrive exactly on time rather than early as the new rabbi has been making a point of speaking to everyone before the service and I didn’t feel like talking, but he wasn’t there (he only works part-time).

The optimism I felt a day or two ago is beginning to evaporate again as I feel lonely, unlovable and unemployable.  I keep thinking of ‘near-misses,’ women I have a lot in common with, but where there is one key difference that stops us turning the friendship into a relationship, or one key reason it wouldn’t work.  I ask myself if I should compromise, but I know that would not be a sensible idea for either of us.  And I worry that I’m not actually employable, that my mix of depression, social anxiety and autism makes it impossible for me to do a job, while not being severe enough for me to qualify for state benefits.  I’m not sure where I go from here.

This all sounds depressed and pessimistic again, when it shouldn’t be.  Nothing really bad has happened to me today.  My friends sitting shivah should be an example of how life can go badly wrong and how lucky I am in comparison.  But I just can’t feel any positive feelings.

Stuckness

I realised I’ve hardly spoken to anyone in forty-eight hours, since my parents have been away.  Aside from a few words at autism group yesterday, and the What’sApp call with my Mum that went badly on Monday evening, that’s about it, unless you count saying “excuse me” as I tried to get past people on the Tube yesterday.  This is what happens when I’m left on my own.  I’m not even sure if I’m lonely, exactly.  Just lost inside my head.

Otherwise, it’s the same as usual: sleeping too much, impossible to get going when I wake up, loneliness, depression…  I tried to work on a job application, but it’s a struggle to deal with their rather precise questions, which seem to indicate that I don’t have the necessary experience.  Maybe I’ll have another go another day, if I feel better.

Given the trajectory of my life over the last five or ten years, I am beginning to believe things might get somewhat better for me and I’ll learn to manage my mental health issues and autism better.  However, I don’t think I’ll ever be totally free of them.  I’m uncertain as to whether I will ever build any kind of meaningful career for myself (as a librarian, writer or anything else) or whether I will manage it in time to save enough to support myself in old age or in case of other depression episodes.  Likewise, while I am trying to stay open to the idea of marrying “one day,” it is very hard to believe I will marry at an age when I will be able to have children.  I suppose it’s an improvement on how I used to be, when I felt I could never get any better, an idea that was supported by my lack of progress.

I suppose I should try to do something productive with my day.  It’s 6.45pm.  I’ve been awake for nearly six hours and I haven’t done anything except eat breakfast and lunch, get dressed, daven Mincha (say Afternoon Prayers) and try and fail to work on my job application (not to mention procrastinating a lot).  I would like to go for a walk, or work on one of my books or do some miniature painting or study Torah for a few minutes.  I don’t feel like I could really do any of them, let alone all of them, but I will try to go for a walk in a minute and see if that helps at all.

You Can’t Win

My parents are away for a few days, starting this morning, and I have the house to myself.  This is good in some ways, but bad in others.  In particular, my loneliness gets worse when they’re away.  Even though I don’t talk to them that much, I seem to benefit from other people being in the house, which I guess sheds light on my desire to get married.  Of course, when they’re here, I get frustrated with them, particularly if I feel they’re treating me as a child.  It’s difficult being an adult living with my parents, especially as, to some extent, they have good reason for assuming I can’t cope by myself because of my high functioning autism and depression.  More on this below.

***

I felt very depressed again today and lacking in energy, motivation and concentration.  I really wasted the day sleeping as I struggled to sleep last night, then slept through the morning and dozed off again after breakfast.  I kept going back to lie on the bed because I feel so drained.  That was how I dozed off after breakfast.  I just have no energy for anything.  I felt as limp as a rag doll much of the day and didn’t feel able to do anything except type a bit.  I didn’t even feel able to read much, although my mood energy and concentration got a bit better in the late afternoon.  I don’t know why my mood has sunk recently.  It’s possible that the busy week I had two weeks ago, with a break-up and two stressful job interviews and then three job rejections (actually two rejections, plus belated feedback from a third) knocked me out and I have recovered, which feels a bit pathetic.  I feel I should (that word again) be better at recovering, but I can’t make myself better by beating myself up, sadly.

Well, all I managed to do today was go for a half hour walk and buy bananas, as well as ten minutes of Torah study.  I did find a new job to apply for, only to find that it seems I had wanted to apply for it in February, but the advert was taken down before I applied for it.  As I haven’t seen it advertised lately, I’m guessing they didn’t fill the post first time around or possibly they’re advertising for a similar, but non-identical role, so I decided to try again, but I got dismayed by the lengthy online application and request for evidence CPD and the like (with my issues it’s hard just to hold down a part-time job, let alone do CPD).  Other than that, the only productive thing I did was watch an episode of Doctor Who as research for my book.

***

My life seems to be about contingency planning right now.  What career can I build for myself given that I don’t seem to be able to build one in librarianship?  Will I manage to make one as a writer?  This is hard, especially as I don’t know anyone who could advise me and am not convinced that I am a good writer (albeit that my low number of blog followers may be due to my writing in a style that might fit better in a weekly magazine or newspaper column than a daily blog post and not necessarily a sign that I should not write book-length pieces).  What religious community should I go to, given that my current is not perfect, but might be the least-worst option for now, and how can I integrate if I can’t find a perfect fit?  What outlets can I find for my loneliness, my need to give and receive love and my sexuality, given that Jewish law and social anxiety seem to rule most options out?  I guess pets might be an option again, but I’ve gone off the idea a bit.

***

There’s a beautiful piece in the latest Jewish Review of Books that I read today, John J. Clayton reflecting on getting old with Parkinson’s Disease.  It would have caught my attention anyway, for being quite religious, which is unusual (admittedly not quite so unusual in the JRB than in a mainstream newspaper), but I found a lot of it seemed familiar to my situation, even though depression is a very different illness to Parkinson’s (although I do have medication-induced tremor at awkward times).  The sense of trying to stay positive and grateful when you can feel your strength, even your life dripping away.  Wanting to stay positive so other people will be able to praise your inner fortitude and gratitude when you’re gone, but really not feeling up to it.  The sense of life not going according to plan, the feeling of this isn’t supposed to happen.  I can’t shake the jealous feeling that somehow I lost my life, the feeling, as Clayton said, of being a ghost, of watching my peers live the life I wanted to live, that I felt I would/should live.

***

My Mum just called on What’sApp.  It didn’t go well.  I think the line was bad; at any rate either I couldn’t hear her properly or she was hesitating a lot.  I thought she couldn’t hear me and spoke louder, so she said I didn’t need to shout.  We both ended up getting annoyed with each other.  The underlying cause, of course, is that I’m nearly thirty-six and have lived alone before, but because of my “issues,” my parents feel the need to check up on me in a way that they don’t do to my (younger, married) sister.  And knowing that, on some level, I probably do need to be checked up on only makes it feel worse.  It doesn’t help that, because of my autism, I don’t like speaking on the phone generally and I especially don’t like sudden phone calls out of the blue, which disrupt my plans (even if, as tonight, I don’t really have concrete plans, they still make me worry how long the call will take, what I should say and so on) and feel like an invasion of my metaphorical space.  Now I feel angry and guilty, feeling worse for knowing that I don’t have a legitimate reason to get angry.  Plus, of course, the worry that “If some horrible holiday-related disaster happens to my parents, then the last time I spoke to them would be an argument” (rather than it being me grunting goodbye when I was basically asleep this morning).

Now I’m trying to work out if I’ve ever told my family any of the above, or if I’m just autistically assuming that they know it.  This has all come about because I was depressed yesterday and also because when they went away for a week in the winter, they didn’t tell me to phone, so I assumed they didn’t want to hear from me and stayed out of contact all week.  They assumed I would phone, but I didn’t.  I was depressed all week and I think they blamed themselves, although if they had phoned I would almost certainly have lied and said I was fine, because I’m not good at opening up about my emotions in person (as opposed to in writing), particularly with my parents, with whom I don’t always have a straightforward relationship.

I did text them to apologise, but I still feel bad.  I also feel bad (a different type of bad) about not being able to cope with basic social interactions because of my autism.

***

This post seems to be full of my pleading “issues” to explain why I do, or don’t do, the things people expect me to do.  This just makes me feel useless, even if it’s true.  I feel that if things had been even slightly different for me perhaps I could have turned my autistic traits into strengths rather than weaknesses and succeeded in the work sphere at least, even if not in my social/family/romantic life.  Maybe I will be able to turn things around, I just can’t see how.

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

Existential Angst

I had another job interview today, at a very large law firm for a law librarian-type job.  I left my self lots of time to get there, which was lucky as I struggled to find their offices and wandered around a bit until I found them.  I’m not sure if the fault was Transport for London’s online directions or inadequate signage in central London.  I still got there early, though.  Then on the way home, I accidentally went into Farringdon mainline station instead of Farringdon Underground station, a mistake that seems to have cost me £2.40 just to go through the ticket barriers (which accepted my oyster card (Underground ticket)).  The signage is all done in the same font as the Underground signage, which is confusing.

There was a test before the interview, which was on proofreading and cataloguing, plus a trickier question about how I would respond to a problematic library user.  I was glad that I practised my cataloguing this week.  I was also glad that I prepared more thoroughly than in the past for the interview, as they threw twenty or thirty questions at me for an hour, which is a more intense interview than I’ve had since I applied to Oxford (not that I’ve had many job interviews, but you get the idea).  I had a sense of doing OK, but perhaps not great, but I’m a very bad judge of these things.  I think, like dating, chemistry with the office culture is important, and also how good the other candidates are (maybe also like dating).

I’m not sure if I would take the job.  I’m guessing the salary would be decent and the offices are very swish, as you would expect, but I don’t know that I’m ready, in terms of my psychological health, to work full-time even without the fact that the job description expects overtime, plus there may be a problem with Shabbat i.e. Friday afternoons in the winter, but also from a comment in the interview occasional Saturday work might be required too.  But even beyond that, I think the corporate culture at a place like this might not be right for me.  I find the idea of working somewhere that exists primarily to make money vaguely unsettling.  I’ve only worked somewhere like that once, on a short contract, and I didn’t like it (admittedly a lot of other things were wrong there too).  Even writing a book on Doctor Who seems more socially useful: people would hopefully enjoy the book, whereas spending my time helping lawyers to trace legal precedents to help big companies make deals seems… not quite my kind of thing.  I’m not an anti-capitalist by any means, I am just really uncertain that it’s where I would like to invest my energies, which, after all, are rather limited at the moment.  I feel like a precious snowflake saying that, but I’m not sure I would be happy in a job that was both high-pressured and not socially useful in any obvious kind of way.

I suppose the real trouble is that, deep down, I want to at least try to make a career as a writer of some description, I’m just scared and don’t know how to start.  I picture myself at the school swimming pool, standing on the side in my swimming trunks, trying to get the courage to jump into the freezing water…  Lately I’ve been interviewed for or considered librarianship jobs in academia, law and the civil service, and they all make me feel inadequate.  I know that, in theory, with my BA I should have been able to at least try to get jobs in any of those areas, either as a librarian or as an actual academic/lawyer/civil servant.  And I didn’t, because I was scared and didn’t believe in myself (granted I never wanted to be a lawyer, I just know that some huge proportion of Jews go into law).  And now I’m trying to work out what I do believe in my ability to do.

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The assistant rabbi in his shiur (religious class) the last couple of weeks has spoken a lot about kedusha (holiness) and the importance of having it in our lives, but also the difficulty of obtaining it.  He says we can keep the whole of Jewish law, but even then we might not obtain kedusha because it is ultimately a gift from God; we have to prepare ourselves for it (do the mitzvot (commandments) and work on our characters), but we might not get it.

I do wonder if I am making any attempt to find kedusha in my life.  So much of the time at the moment I feel like I’m just going through the motions with davening (prayer), Torah study, mitzvot…  I know it’s hard to feel engaged with depression and the resultant poor concentration and motivation and I know feeling engaged can trick you into thinking you’ve got holiness when it’s just pleasure/joy/ego.  Even so, I feel there ought to be more to my religious life, but when I try to learn more/better or daven more/better, I just hit a barrier.  I know the barrier is probably depression or sometimes social anxiety, but I feel I should be able to get through it somehow.

I’m not sure I really know what kedusha is anyway, beyond thinking I don’t have it (I assume I would know it if I felt it, although that may simply not be true).  I haven’t read much Jewish philosophy lately, but a number of years ago I was quite into Jewish religious existentialist philosophy: Rav Soloveitchik, Emmanuel Levinas, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Emil Fackenheim, Franz Rosenzweig (couldn’t understand a word of him), Martin Buber’s Tales of the Hasidim…  A key idea in Jewish existentialism is that kedusha is found in relationships, in our interactions with others as much as ritual.  There is also emphasis on the longing for HaShem (God) and the feeling of distance from him (Rav Soloveitchik’s The Lonely Man of Faith is a key text here; also Arthur Green’s reading of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov and his Tales).  I know the longing, but I feel that I experience it less than I did when the depression was at its worst.  Has recovery (however partial and limited) made me less religious and God-aware?  It’s a scary thought.  My autism and social anxiety make it hard for me to find HaShem in personal interactions, although I try when I volunteer at the asylum seekers drop-in centre.  I try to reach out to people who are struggling online and find some satisfaction in doing that, although I worry about saying the wrong thing and think I have done so in the past.

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Today has left me feeling exhausted.  I will try to go to shul (synagogue) tonight, but I doubt I will make it for tomorrow morning.  I will try to go to the seudah shlishit (third meal) being held as a farewell for the rabbi, the assistant rabbi and their wives, although with my shiurMincha and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening services) it will last for about three and a half hours, which is a lot of ‘peopling’ particularly if I’m feeling exhausted.  Other than that, I will try to relax after a very stressful week, whilst musing in the background on what to do if I am offered either of the two jobs I was interviewed for this week.