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.

***

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.

***

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.

Be Careful What You Wish For

Sometimes it feels that I do actually get almost everything I want, or think I want, if I wait long enough, but then it turns out not to be as good as I hoped.  In fact, it usually turns out to be painful.  That’s what happened with going to Oxford, being in a more frum (religious) community, getting a job with longer hours and more responsibility, dating and being published on a professionally.  It makes me wonder if I should really want anything (career, marriage, children) or is it just going to leave me longing for the days I was so depressed that I did nothing except sleep and watch TV (some people’s dream life, I suppose, although the reality was pretty awful).

Despite feeling that getting the things I want always goes wrong, it’s easy to envy other people, not so much for their money as their lives: the meaningful and sure career, the loving spouse or partner, the beautiful children, the meaningful religious life…  all “apparently” of course, as often the reality is different.  I suppose most people have to deal with suffering in the end, I’m just getting mine out the way first, although I’m worried that I’m just going to get a double serving.  And I’m not sure that everyone gets the same level of suffering.  The reward is proportional to the effort says the Mishnah.  Well, I hope so, although I’m not sure that suffering is the same as effort.  I don’t always feel that I’m putting in enough effort religiously, because I don’t always have the energy, motivation or concentration because of depression and perhaps because of laziness.

***

The job agency I have the interview through tomorrow sent me interview preparation advice.  I was concentrating so much on cataloguing preparation yesterday for the test that I hadn’t really thought about interview preparation.  It’s fair to say that I don’t usually do much of the interview preparation they suggest and am failing in ways I didn’t even recognise.  There’s some an element of autistic, “Why would I care about that?” (e.g. asking the interview panel about the office culture or why they like working there). There’s often a lot of feeling that I haven’t shown the desired competencies or experience and can’t do anything about that (usually accompanied by, “Why are they even calling me to interview?”) and some autistic “Well, I can’t read their minds well enough to guess what they will ask, so why bother?” and the equally autistic “I can’t describe what I would do, I just do it.”  There might also be an element of autistic hyperfocus on things that interest me, but poor concentration (worsened by depression) on things that don’t interest me.  There’s a fair bit of feeling that librarianship isn’t the right sector for me any more although I don’t know how I’d fair with an interview for a writing position.  I think part of the attraction of writing for me is that I can let my work speak for itself.  I suppose there is also the feeling that “Everything goes wrong for me so why am I even trying?”  And I don’t know why I would want tomorrow’s job other than I need the money and something to put on my CV.  Other things being equal (which they aren’t), why would I even want to work in a law library?

I suppose I don’t actually feel capable of getting and doing a job like most people.  There might be a bit of arrogance in there (“I’m above this”), but it’s mostly low self-esteem (“I can’t do this”) and the autistic feeling of, “I’m not like other people, I can’t function the way they can or in the environments they can.”  Not everyone with autism feels like that, obviously, so maybe it’s mostly low self-esteem.  I was supposed to be doing CBT to work on that, but the NHS seems to have forgotten me.  I tried chasing them, but I got fed up sending emails that were not answered and leaving answerphone messages that weren’t returned.

I tried to follow the agency’s preparation instructions, but I froze up.  The anxious/depressive “I can’t do this I can’t do this I can’t do this.”  Trying to describe how I dealt with a difficult situation (a question which, with variations, has come up a lot for me), I can’t think of anything they would think of as difficult that I handled well.  I can think of  things I’ve found difficult that neurotypicals would not find difficult, or that I handled badly, or at least not well from an interview point of view (trying established procedures or asking a colleague or superior for help would not be viewed positively by people looking for initiative and adaptability (not very autistic traits) and the fact that some of my decisions were over-ruled by superiors is not great either).  I don’t think I coped well with a difficult boss either; I don’t know how I would cope with difficult colleagues, as I’ve never had them, but I’m guessing it would be the same.

It’s hard to remember details from other jobs anyway.  I’ve twice been asked in the past about my favourite library management system and failed to give a good answer.  It’s the autistic/Sherlock Holmes “It doesn’t interest me so why should I bother to remember?” issue again.  I could give them a detailed answer comparing my favourite Doctor Who writers.

Looking at the company website terrified me, the sense of this being a massive multinational law firm and I couldn’t cope with such a large and pressured environment as the job spec stated.  When I applied for the job, I didn’t think I’d make it to interview, so I never thought I would really have to deal with this.  I was just trying to reassure the agency that I am genuinely looking for a job and putting myself forward for things.

I feel a bit like Icarus.  Once I was a high-flyer, but then I started falling, further than anyone had fallen before.  It’s very hard to know what to do when your wings have melted.  I suppose Icarus got what he wished for too.

***

Today I was feeling depressed even before the interview preparation email came through.  As usual, I woke late, struggled to get going and prayed a very minimal amount of Shacharit (morning prayers).  I cried a bit while doing so, I think more from frustration and perhaps despair as much as anything else.  I feel OKish now, but the depression and anxiety come and go.  This seems to be the “new normal” at the moment: bad mornings and days that are mostly good, but which have negative blips and low energy.

Tired of Life, But Afraid of Trying

Perhaps predictably, I woke feeling very drained and depressed today after the interview yesterday.  It didn’t help that I was woken up (and not early) by a phone call from the recruitment agency that have got me my interview on Friday.  The interview is now in the morning, not the afternoon, which is better for me in terms of having time to come home and relax a bit (and if necessary blog my experiences to offload) before Shabbat (the Sabbath), although I might have to miss my shiur (religious class) on Thursday night this week to have an early night.  I’m still terrified that I’m going to mess up the exam component of the interview.  I feel my interview experiences lately have not gone well and even the jobs I have managed to get have left me feeling that I’m under-performing, either in terms of not managing the tasks well or managing well, but in a role for which I am overqualified.

***

I was up late last night, partly because when I wanted to go to bed, I had an idea for a post for my Doctor Who blog (which I haven’t written on for months) that could be a bit controversial, although as only about three people read it, that’s not a huge worry (it’s on the programme’s diversity agenda, but not from the usual angles, either for or against).  I do feel it is something worth saying, which isn’t always my impression of my writing, including here.  I took some notes for it, but I didn’t really have the right mood or the time to write it today.  It could probably usefully wait until I’ve re-watched some more of the last series of Doctor Who.

***

My mood did improve as the day wore on, albeit that I could suddenly plunge back into depression if triggered.  I did some cataloguing practice and feel more confident than I did when I failed that cataloguing test last year.  I think I know how to use the indicators and sub-field codes reasonably well, I just need more confidence.  I think my bad performance in the test was partly due to depression or anxiety and partly to the type of test being different and potentially confusing (autism again?).  However, my concentration is appalling.  I hope it would be better in the test or at work.  Still, I managed two hours of cataloguing practice, a half hour walk (listening to a slightly gross In Our Time about parasitism), half an hour of Torah study and helping with the laundry, which is a lot more than I thought I would be able to manage when I woke up this morning.  I also managed to edit/redraft another chapter of my Doctor Who book (on the TV Movie, which reminded me of the quote referenced obliquely in this post’s title).  I still lost an hour of cataloguing practice from my plan, though.  My Dad is right: I really can’t stick to plans.

***

Regarding being triggered occasionally during the day: I think on some level I want to be triggered.  There are websites I’ve blocked because they’re triggering, usually political stuff or sites that discuss antisemitism or controversies within the Orthodox world or occasionally because the people involved in the site have upset me on a personal level.  However, I do frequently turn off the blocking software to visit these sites, which is counterproductive.  It doesn’t help that I don’t really have any sites that are meaningful for me to read and which are updated frequently enough to use them when I need a break from job hunting.  Or maybe the rush of righteous indignation is empowering, alerting or even enjoyable in some way.  Perhaps there’s even a kinship of outrage; they are outraged at this, I am outraged at this, therefore I am, on some level, like them and included with them, even if they don’t know of my existence.  The problem is that I can’t switch it off afterwards and end up brooding at how bad the world is.

It’s funny, being a sort-of member of two different cultures and not quite a full member of either.  I mean Orthodox Jewish society and secular Western society.  Both seem to me to have a lot of flaws, some quite serious, and sometimes I wonder how long either can survive without change, although change in a positive direction does not always seem likely.  But then, it could just be a product of me being on fringes looking in; maybe things seem more rational and sustainable from the inside.  It does seem sometimes that the world is going to a variety of Hells in a variety of handbaskets.  On the plus side, I can only die once; if the antisemitic terrorists get me, I can’t die of climate change, and so on.

***

I came across a blog post by someone I used to follow online, who I haven’t regularly followed for years.  She said she was once an “influencer” but now her time is mostly taken up with work and family, rather than writing, which is her dream (although her job is some kind of writing, I assume just not the type she had in mind).  Surprisingly, I find myself less envious of the work, spouse and children than of the idea of living my dream.  I can’t imagine seriously being able to do that.  I’m not even entirely sure what my dream actually is.  I assume writing on subjects that interest me (Doctor Who and classic British telefantasy; Judaism and antisemitism; mental health and autism).  I’m not sure how to monetise that.  Realistically, most people are probably not living their dreams and I’m not quite sure why I would be the exception.  Although being a professional writer does seem more slightly likely than getting married and having children.

It probably doesn’t help that I’m not ambitious.  There isn’t really much I want, or maybe there just isn’t much that I expect to get.  I’m not suicidal, but I am a bit world-weary.  The good things of this world seem to be outweighed by the bad, at least for me, and the good can only be gained by going through a lot of bad.  I’m not really convinced I have much in store for me in Olam HaBa (the Next World), but at least there is a possibility of the pain ending.  Also, significantly I always imagine the Next World, whether good or bad, as being alone.  I know most people who believe in life after death believe they will be reunited with dead friends or family and I suppose I’m open to the idea, but when I brood on it, I tend to think of myself alone with God and my thoughts, whether good or bad.  That feeling of “Oh, well at least I won’t be embarrassed in front of other people any more” is dangerously seductive to someone who has struggled to fit in and deal with social conventions all his life.  (I don’t know why I don’t think I’ll be embarrassed in front of God; perhaps because He knows all my sins and bad thoughts already.)

It probably would be good for me if I had more life-goals.  My Mum wanted to try to set me up a while back with the daughter of friends of hers, but I was reluctant because I knew she wanted a professional and I didn’t think I really fit the bill.  I suspect other women would think similarly.  But even beyond dating, more goals to root myself in this world would be useful.  Even having clearer writing goals might help.  I don’t have a dream income (I have absolutely no idea what a good income even is, as I’m pretty vague about money), dream house, dream car (don’t drive, no intention to learn in the near future)… I’m not even sure I have a particularly strong idea of my dream wife, despite laying out some criteria yesterday.  I’m just floating through life, fortunate enough to have parents who are willing and able to support me, trying to work through my ‘issues’ and get some kind of career/life, but totally uncertain about how to do it or what a successful result would look like.

Job Hunting and Writing

My sleep seems to have fallen into a pattern of occasional mild insomnia followed by oversleeping and waking more tired and depressed than I went to bed.  That was the pattern last night and this morning.  I woke mildly depressed and allowed myself to take advantage of the heter (permission) that allows clinically depressed people to listen to music in the omer (the period between Passover and Pentecost, observed as a period of national mourning by Orthodox Jews, during much of which time music and other forms of celebration are prohibited).  I wish I had known about this years ago, as it does make things easier for me.  I’m not a great fan of music and don’t have particularly sophisticated tastes, but it can shift my mood a bit in a positive way and give me motivation to get dressed in the mornings or walk briskly.

I wanted to go to autism group as I haven’t been for months, but I felt that I lost too much away time today to depression and procrastination and that I could do with a quiet day/evening after more than a week of Pesach (Passover), the Doc Soc celebration and my date yesterday, especially as I hope (if that’s the right word) to go to a Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) event tomorrow.  So, I stayed at home and job hunted.

Job hunting is hard.  I really feel that my heart has gone out of it, on some level at least.  I would still like to find a part-time assistant librarian job in higher education, but all the jobs I find are full-time, or in further education, or require more skills and experience than I have or think I have (particularly people skills and tech skills).  I also have not seen any cataloguing courses advertised yet; I feel I would be more employable if I could polish up those skills.  But really I want to be writing, here or on my book (or books).  Getting started as a professional writer is hard, though, particularly as I’m not sure that I would want to specialise in one area, but rather to write in different places on science fiction, mental health and autism, and Judaism.

I did try to job hunt today, with some success.  I applied for one job via an agency (I just had to send my CV and edit my covering letter template; it wasn’t an application that asked for a detailed application form to be filled in or asked unusual questions) and started to apply for another before getting an interview at the agency for the first job (I assume to see whether they will put me forward for the job).  But I was easily distracted, including by Ashley’s appeal for writers, which interested me more than the paid jobs, even though it would be unpaid.  I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that I want to write more than I want to do anything else, as it’s the only thing I can easily be motivated to do when the depression is bad and it also is a fairly autism-friendly job (i.e. solitary).  It’s really the only job I can imagine myself doing and being happy in doing it.  I can do it alone, I can start late and finish late (I’m a night owl not a lark), I can pursue my special interests, I can focus on one task at a time without interruption, I enjoy expressing myself in writing and perhaps I could even feel that I’m contributing to the world in a small, but positive way.  The tricky thing is working out how to get paid for all of this, which is much harder, particularly as my interests are niche and they don’t connect with each other easily.

***

Filling in a form for that new agency, I forgot my phone number for a few moments.  I also forgot the third subject I took at A-level.  Forgetting personal information like that is something that happens to me disturbingly often.  Usually it is when I’m confronted with a human being, so that I can put it down to social anxiety.  I suppose in this case it’s depression eroding my concentration. It’s distressing and upsetting, though.

Not Quite An Argument

I guess I posted my last post too soon.  I just had dinner with my parents and it didn’t go well.  Dad wanted to carry on talking about my job interview and told me that I should have answers to why I want the job and where I see myself in five years time.  I sort of have a stock answer for why I want a librarianship job in higher education, but it seems less and less accurate; I really don’t think I’m cut out to be an academic librarian (but then what am I cut out for?).  The five years question is just impossible.  I don’t know where I see myself in five months.  I don’t know if I even want to be a librarian in five years time.  Dad said that I should say I want to take on more responsibility in the library, which might not be true even if I stay as a librarian (like a lot of autistic people, I have very little personal or professional ambition).  I said that I could say that, but it would be a lie.  Dad got annoyed with me and I ended up saying, rather more loudly than I intended, “I’m sorry I’m depressed, I’m trying hard…” and then breaking off.

I know it’s not easy for my parents having their elder child living at home in his mid-thirties, especially as my younger sister has left home long ago and ticked almost all the adult boxes (career, husband, house, mortgage) and I know it isn’t easy that my mood is often low, that I’m often negative, pessimistic and irritable and that they still are, in some sense, my carers (not to mention my bankers).  But it’s not easy for me being in this situation either, and I’m the one who has to live with my emotions and my autism 24/7.

I insisted on doing at least some of the washing up to apologise, even though I have zero energy.

I feel really guilty right now, not so much for the incident above as for other things that I would sort of like to write about, but feel that I shouldn’t.  I don’t feel that I’m a very good or lovable person.

I don’t feel tired enough to sleep, but I have zero motivation, concentration or energy to do anything, not to read and not even to watch TV.  I’m not quite sure how I’m going to fill the next three hours before bed.

Tested

I felt quite depressed on waking again.  Although I must have been in bed for about twelve hours (this was at nearly 1pm), I still felt tired.  On the whole I’m probably doing OK, mental health-wise, at the moment, but I get bursts of depression and/or anxiety most days that last for a while and I’m definitely struggling to find my ‘place’ or role in terms of career, family, dating and fitting in to the Jewish community.  I tried telling myself that where I am (moderately depressed and anxious, autistic, unemployed etc.) is where God wants me to be, but it’s hard.  I keep wondering why I have to be like this.  But I don’t think we can know such things, at least not at the time.  Maybe years later, when we see how things turn out.

I just did a civil service initiative and judgement test for a job at a ministerial library that I applied for.  Part of the test was on attitudes to work.  I think the ideal candidate bounds out of bed in the morning and hurries joyfully to work and sets him or herself a number of career goals culminating in becoming the head of a department by the age of forty.  The test is not really set up for someone confused about their career choice and suffering from depressive anhedonia (lack of enjoyment) and lack of motivation.  My concentration during the test was poor too.

Then there was an initiative test which was based largely around management issues.  I’m not ready for a management job (and probably never will be), which suggests that the job is not right for me.  I found the multiple choice framework frustrating, as I frequently wanted to add clarification or a caveat, or felt that none of the answers given were very good, even though I could not think of a better one.  I suspect that I’m not management material.  I got through it rather quickly.  I was told it should take about fifty minutes, but I did it in thirty, which makes me worry I went through it too fast, but I couldn’t really connect the questions to anything that might really have guided me.  I did do some study of management for my librarianship MA, but nothing that really helped here.  Although it is fun to imagine Sir Humphrey Appleby, the Machiavellian civil service chief from Yes Minister being made to sit one of these tests (“Where’s the option ‘brief against your critics to their boss until he fires them’?”).

I did, apparently, pass the test and am still being considered for the job, which is good.

Chanukah Frustrations

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

My Family and Other Animals

At work this morning I realised I messed up my timesheet last week.  I think it’s OK; I forgot to date it and only put my name twice when they wanted it three times (twice printed and once signed).  But it makes me feel like a useless idiot again who can’t get anything right.  I hope it’s just depression-lowered concentration.  I feel a lot more stupid than I used to be.  I did at least process about 135 records even though I was feeling very depressed and working slowly.  I had thoughts of wanting to die, though.  I really can’t see my life getting any better.

My parents keep suggesting to me that I should become a primary school teacher (this is the teacher training course they want me to do). I really don’t know what to do about this.  It’s a nice idea, but I can’t see myself doing it at the moment.  I can’t really see myself doing it at all unless I have more experience with children.  I’m also scared of flitting from one career to another without settling on anything.  My sister suggested becoming a teaching assistant first and I thought of looking for another volunteering opportunity with children, although they seem to be few and far between, but I don’t think I feel I could even do that right now.  I don’t really want to be responsible for children while I feel this bad, for all that I do tend to cheer up when I’m with children.

On the other hand, my Mum’s doubts about my ability to look after a pet has taken the wind out of my sails regarding getting one, that and social anxiety about going to a pet shop and asking to hold the animals and buy equipment.  I know little about pets and I have an image in my head of going to a pet shop being like that Not the Nine O’Clock News sketch where Mel Smith goes to a shop to buy “a gramophone” and gets mocked by shop assistants Rowan Atkinson and Griff Rhys Jones for his total lack of technological savvy.

I know I shouldn’t rely on my parents so much for my self-esteem (such as it is) and for advice at my age, but I find it hard not to.  My relationship with them is complicated, to put it mildly.  It’s at times like this that I wish I was still in therapy, but I’ve stopped seeing my psychodynamic psychotherapist for a while so I can see if CBT might help, although I heard recently that people on the autistic spectrum (which may or may not include me) struggle with CBT because they don’t notice their mood changes until they have got quite extreme.  That fits me whether or not I’m on the spectrum.

Plus, as I just noted on the Mental Health at Home blog, I’m still dependent financially on my parents and  I don’t know what will happen to me when my parents are gone, given that I don’t seem to be able to hold down a regular job, but am apparently not sick enough to claim benefits.

There is a lot more I could say, but I’d better not say more in a semi-public setting.  Actually, despite all I write here, there’s so much that I can’t say, for one reason or another.  It’s hard, because writing is the way I process and release emotions, but I’m constrained by the laws of lashon hara (malicious speech) and kibbud av ve’em (honouring parents), as well as by accept conventions of what is OK to talk about in polite society and my fear that if people knew the real me, they would not want anything to do with me.

Am I a Disappointment?

Today was just awful.  I struggled to get up, struggled to stay awake on the train to work (I didn’t read at all, not Mishnah, not autism book and not fiction).  Then, when I got to work I discovered that I’ve made a mistake, potentially through all my work over the ten or so weeks I’ve been in this job.  I don’t know exactly how serious the mistake is.  I sent an email to apologise, but my boss is away until after my contract finishes.  The person standing in for her didn’t think it was so bad, but she wasn’t sure.  I started catastrophising and worried about them suing me to get my wages back or even my going to jail because the mistake involved potential infringement of GDPR regulations – if this sounds excessive, it’s worth noting that I have a history of pure O OCD fears that I’ve committed a crime without realising it and will go to jail, so that’s probably where that came from (Wikipedia has reassured me that a written warning is the most one would get for a first or accidental offence).

I spent the rest of the day struggling with this anxiety (some of which, as I say, was probably OCD), alongside despair, shame and self-loathing.  Years ago I went to a confidence class where I was told that everyone except brain surgeons and airline pilots has the right to make mistakes in their work, but I seem to do nothing but make mistakes.  Even this mistake came from over-compensating from previous mistakes, trying to avoid making them.  I’m seriously wondering if I should even be in the workforce at the moment, given that my depression-occluded concentration makes it so hard for me to avoid mistakes, even without struggling with depression and anxiety all day.  But I’m not sure what the alternative is.  I don’t qualify for benefits (or I didn’t last time I was assessed) and I don’t want to live off my parents.

I feel such a huge disappointment to everyone.  I was sure my boss regretted hiring me even before today.  I’m pretty certain my boss in my previous job came to regret hiring me.  She more or less told me that she didn’t think I could do my job, at least not the parts that involved interactions with staff and students.  I worry that I’m a disappointment to my parents too.  They say I’m not, but I can’t help but compare myself negatively with my (younger) sister, with a steadily-progressing career, a husband and now a house.  I wonder if I’m a disappointment to my religious community and rabbis.  It seems likely, as I don’t do the things a frum (religious) Jew should do.  I don’t know if I’m a disappointment to my friends.  They probably have minimal expectations for me, so don’t get disappointed, which is probably just as well.  But I feel like I’m a disappointment to everyone else I come into contact with.  I guess even this blog is a disappointment to anyone looking for genuine insight into mental illness, or anything other than self-absorbed navel-gazing, really.

Blogging Too Much (Sorry)

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

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

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

The Death of a Thousand Cuts

I still feel exhausted and depressed, although not as much as yesterday (I’m off work this week as it’s still the end of term break).  I was texting a friend who asked how I was.  I said that I was OK, just burnt out and down, before realising that that meant that I’m not OK, even if that is how I have felt most of the time for as long as I can remember.  The weather doesn’t help: rainy, but not even a proper storm (I like thunderstorms), just interminable drizzle.  I’ve also got food cravings, which is probably partly boredom, partly clomipramine.  I’m trying to graze on fruit, nuts and vegetables rather than carbohydrates and processed sugar, but it’s hard when I feel so down and could do with comfort eating.

I’m still struggling with concentration.  My boss noticed that at work a while back.  For example, today I needed to get my wallet.  I went to the cupboard, opened the door, stood there looking at my books for a couple of seconds, thinking about what I should be reading and trying to work out why on earth I was standing at the cupboard looking at the books.  Then I remembered I wanted my wallet, which is in my coat pocket, which is in the wardrobe next to the cupboard.  So I went to the wardrobe, opened the door and again stood staring for a second before I realised that the coat isn’t there, because when I came home it was wet from the rain, so I left it to dry in the bathroom.  This all takes time, even before I got back to my desk, wrote this paragraph and then wondered where I’d put my wallet in the meantime.  It doesn’t take a lot of time, but the cumulative effect is quite a lot of time, particularly at work, where I struggle every time I have to shut one computer window or open another (and I have to do that a lot on our library management system).  I don’t know how much of this is depressive poor concentration and how much is autistic poor executive function.  Having been depressed most of my adult life, it is hard to tell.

I went to the dentist today.  My teeth are fine, but I was upset that I shook a little.  It was my desire not to shake that triggered the shaking.  I had to just try to relax and not try not to shake, which is difficult.

My depression group meets this evening, but I don’t feel I have the stamina to sit through an hour and a half talk about medication options when I know none of them really work for me, except clomipramine, which works a bit, but has led me to put on a ton of weight.

Following on from recent posts, I’ve sort of come to the conclusion that I probably shouldn’t date for a while.  It’s probably sensible not to put a time limit on it, but I suspect I should wait at least six months to see if I can sort out the social anxiety as my rabbi mentor suggested, although I’m more sceptical than he is as to whether I will suddenly get a rush of people offering to set me up on dates if I do wait that long, and I’m pretty sceptical of ever meeting someone who ticks all my boxes: compatible religious beliefs and practices; compatible character; compatible values (integrity, family, growth, learning); tolerates my geekiness; and tolerates my mental health issues.  As I can’t do anything about my geekiness and mental health or her tolerance level, it’s easy to think I should at least compromise on religion, character or values, as I think I mentioned the other day.  Likewise, I feel that I might possibly be an OK person by the not-very-stringent standards of pluralistic/permissive Western society, but that I’m a very bad frum (religious) Jew, so the temptation is to date non-frum women (who might think I’m OK) rather than frum women who will be angry that I don’t daven (pray) enough or with a minyan (quorum), that I didn’t go to yeshiva (seminary), that I don’t study Talmud and so on.

Nevertheless, I think that compromising religiously would probably be a mistake, at least beyond a certain point.  Identifying that point is difficult, though, as some compromise is necessary in a relationship.  My Mum likes to ask hypothetical questions about whether I would marry someone who disobeyed such and such a Jewish religious law, but it’s impossible to tell in the abstract.  My gut instinct is never to compromise on religion, because it will just lead to problems down the line, but surprisingly my rabbi mentor didn’t think it should be an automatic red line for me.  I can’t remember exactly what he said (it was some years ago), but he was of the opinion that chemistry and trust were the key elements in a relationship and that a relationship with partners on different religious levels could work if they trusted each other and compromised.  This is quite different to what the frum websites and dating advisors say and seems strange to me, yet my rabbi mentor is the wisest person I know and not usually radically wrong.

It’s hard to know where to draw the line, though.  I know someone who doesn’t want to have a TV for religious reasons who was dating someone who does watch TV.  She was willing to give it up for him, but he still stopped seeing her, because he was afraid she would come to resent him for getting her to give it up.  I can see where he’s coming from, but I still feel he made the wrong decision.  Then again, I don’t know what I would feel if a less frum (religious) woman was offering to become more frum for me.  To be honest, I can’t really see myself as enough of a catch for that to actually happen, but if it did, I would probably feel that a big burden was being placed on me to be a super-good husband to be worth the change.  And the bigger the change, the expectation to be super-good.  I suppose I should try to avoid the question by dealing with my social anxiety and self-esteem such that frum people will set me up with frum women as normally happens in the frum community, rather than leaving me to find my own dates in situations where most of the women I meet are not frum.  I just can’t really see that happening.

I think I’ve mentioned that I have emails and blog comments from friends printed out and blue tacked on my cupboard doors to build confidence.  One thing I want to put up somewhere, if I can find somewhere respectful to put it, is Rashi’s commentary on Devarim/Deuteronomy 18.13.  The verse says, “You shall be perfect [tamim] with HaShem your God.”  The obvious question is how can human beings be perfect?  Rashi quotes the Midrash (Sifrei) and answers, “Walk with Him with simplicity [temimut – the same etymological root] and depend on Him and do not inquire of the future, rather, everything that comes upon you accept with simplicity [temimut] and then you will be with Him and His portion.”  Inquiring of the future is really about not soothsaying and fortune telling, but I it’s not too much of a stretch to see it as a warning against the anxious procrastination and catastrophising that I do too much.

The other thing I mentioned the other day was trying to use mindfulness techniques when davening (praying), as I wasn’t having much success in doing breathing meditations.  I think it’s helping me to have kavannah (concentration), but just now I found myself bursting into tears while davening Mincha (afternoon prayers).  I suppose that’s good in a way, but I’m not sure how good.  I should be cooking dinner now, but I feel too sad to do anything.