Creativity

I had a burst of creativity for half an hour or so last night, where I suddenly had to stop what I was doing and write up some of my depression story, but fictionalised, as a novel, both to try to get around the problem of writing about real people and perhaps to reach a wider audience than turning my blog into a misery memoir would have (although I think it might be a different audience rather than a wider one).  It was quite liberating to be able to write what feels true emotionally or what reads well rather than what actually happened.  This enabled me to write about a more extreme version of events.  It was also interesting to think that I could write about things that I would never have the courage to write about here, although in the event I got tired before reaching those bits.  After a bit over half an hour, I got exhausted and had to stop (it was quite late), but I carried on being creative for a bit longer as I had an idea for a second novel, this one not directly autobiographical, but still connected with the idea of being isolated in the frum (Orthodox Jewish) community.  I wrote a few hurried notes to save the idea.

It does happen periodically that I have a burst of inspiration for a project or novel.  I have an idea and become excited by it and think that this is the time I will make it work, but it burns out very quickly.  I fall back into depression and despair and think I don’t have the skill to make it work or I feel I should be focusing on job hunting or other tasks and neglect it.  I’m not quite sure how to stop that this time.  I suppose I could stop blogging for a while and try to focus on writing fiction, but they come from different parts of my head and I would probably also have the need to blog about my life, to process what has happened to me and my feelings.  I woke up today with no inspiration to write and thought the cycle of despair had started again, but as I got going and went to my interview, I wished I was writing again and I spent some time writing this afternoon despite having a headache.

I shall have to wait and see if I can keep up the motivation to write long-term, as well as seeing if I have the motivation and ability to plot and create characters, things necessary for a novel that are not needed for a blog.  Already I can see that blogs are static, while novels are dynamic; blogs tell you what already happened, while novels show you things happening in real time.  That’s a big leap to make.

I remember a discussion on Hevria.com when the site editors wanted to stop people submitting anonymous articles that said that if you have something that can’t be submitted under your name, fictionalise it.  I felt that I couldn’t write fiction; if nothing else, I feel my autistic empathy issues stop me understanding other people well enough to write about them, so it may be a leap to try and do it now.  However, I don’t have much to lose, especially if I continue redrafting my non-fiction Doctor Who book at the same time (unfortunately I’ve now lost the people who were going to look over a couple of chapters to give me feedback).

***

I woke up today feeling exhausted and depressed (the heat probably meant I didn’t have great sleep).  I wasn’t even particularly anxious about my job interview, I was just feeling depressed and wishing I could get out of it somehow.  I mentioned when I was called to interview that I am in the process of being assessed for autism and they let me see the interview questions a bit in advance.  I’m not sure whether this really helped, as I was left sitting with them for half an hour or so as the interview panel members’ previous meetings overran and I was worried about over-rehearsing.  I think in the end that I was still incoherent at times, particularly when new ideas occurred to me during the interview.  I struggled to find the right words quite a bit.  I’m a lot more eloquent in writing than in speech.  I also felt that my answers were too short and lacking in detail.  I think when I’m in an interview, part of my unconscious mind realises that I can get out of the anxiety-inducing situation faster if I just give short answers, which is not good.

I have a migraine now.  I tried to do some more fiction writing because I was motivated and excited about it (when my rational mind is telling me to work on my non-fiction book or an article I’m hoping to sell to a Jewish newspaper), but my head hurts too much and I’ve come to a halt.  I feel a bit better than I did, but not really up to writing much (most of this post was written earlier).

“It’s a pity/That I’m like me”

(Another one of my written-piecemeal-during-the-day update posts.  And a super-mammoth one at that.  Possibly I should just go on Twitter or Facebook, except that neither is good for my mental health.)

12.10pm  I don’t know what time I went to bed last night.  I know it was very late, probably around 3.00am, but earlier than two nights ago (about 4.30am).  I got really hungry late at night and stayed up late eating matzah and jam and junk food.  Not good on any level, really.  I have been eating more junk food over the last few days, which I tell myself is OK because of being happy on Yom Tov (Jewish festival), but is more comfort eating than anything else, and the cravings I’ve had since I was put on clomipramine.  Anyway, I woke up today about 11.30am after a strange Doctor Who dream.  I feel completely drained.  My Dad just asked if I was OK because I was huffing and puffing as I went up the stairs.  I just want to go back to bed.

1.50pm  Still in pyjamas, having got no further towards getting dressed than putting on socks.  Idly browsing the web was a mistake, because it led to politics which led to antisemitism.  Depressing.  I should avoid this stuff, but I care too much.  I wrote a long paragraph about antisemitism here, but cut it because this is a mental health blog, not a political one and I don’t have the stamina to get arguments.  I will say that I believe the way forward is empathy and dialogue, but I don’t know how you enter into dialogue with people who have already judged that you have nothing to say to them.

2.40pm  Dressed.  Davened Musaf and Hallel (said the additional Pesach prayers and Psalms), but left Minchah (the afternoon service) and tefillin (my custom is to wear them on Chol HaMoed with a silent bracha) until after lunch because I’m still too exhausted.  I suddenly had intense religious OCD while davening.  I asked my rabbi mentor something about Pesach two years ago that he said was fine, but I’m worried (this is where the OCD comes in) that I didn’t explain it well enough, so I asked him again the other day, but he hasn’t got back to me.  (I’m guessing that he’s not checking email over Chol HaMoed (the intermediate days of the festival, where some work is allowed) or is busy with his children off school.)  Deep down I know that if there is an issue, it’s not my fault, as he said it was OK, but I worry that I didn’t ask the question properly and that it is my fault.

3.30pm  I watched Are You Autistic? (recorded last week) over lunch.  It just confused me.  It made me wonder if I’m not autistic after all, which, of course, was what I was told when I was assessed.  It’s hard to process the fact that I have lots of autistic traits, but am also missing lots of traits that should be present for diagnosis.  Perhaps my difficulties really do stem from strong introversion and social anxiety (which I was also told I don’t technically have); reduced concentration from depression could account for the poor executive function.  I don’t know how many of my non-autistic traits can be attributed to social masking and other coping mechanisms (see this post I wrote recently).  I feel that if I was diagnosed with autism, I would be able to understand myself and seek support, not least at work, but just being a bit weird leaves me confused and unable to ask for help.

I had more OCD over lunch too.  I sort of kept it under control, but I have a nagging feeling of having done something wrong (religiously) and that I should ask a rabbi about what happened, even though I know that would also be wrong (psychotherapeutically).

4.00pm  There’s more feelings of inadequacy around my writing.  The feeling that I should have been a regular writer for Hevria, but I got turned down for reasons I never really understood and feel guilty about mentioning so often.  What should have been a boost to my confidence (that they’ve published me several times) turns into another reason to beat myself up (that they didn’t want me to write regularly and pay me.  The payment is more symbolic than mercenary – it would show that someone values my writing.  I’ve only been paid once for a piece of writing, two if you count the professionally-published piece where the writers’ fees were donated to charity).  I wouldn’t have been able to cope with writing regularly anyway.  I have several pieces for Hevria on my computer that I’ve never submitted, I’m not sure why.  I don’t know if it’s fear of rejection or, worse, fear of acceptance.  There’s the worry that I’ll never sell my Doctor Who book(s),  that I don’t write well enough, that I don’t write originally enough, that I’m too out of sync with standard fan criticism (which these days is just identity politics and sarcasm)…

I feel too exhausted to do any creative writing today.  It would just be painful.

Edited 10.30pm  I think when I wrote this, the previous two paragraphs were not connected in my mind.  Reading them back, they clearly are connected.  It’s easier not to even try to do something than to try and fail, or be rejected.  I guess I will have to try harder to write tomorrow.  This is why I’m not cutting the previous paragraphs, even though I do not come out well from them; in fact, I come across as petty and bitter.  I hope that’s the depression talking.

5.00pm  I finally managed to daven Mincha.  It felt like an endurance test with depression and exhaustion, with OCD thoughts in the background.

5.35pm  Fighting the urge to go back to bed and start the day over again.  Or just to go back to bed.

6.10pm  Back from a twenty minute walk.  I didn’t realise how cold it was and went out without a coat.  Thoughts about antisemitism mutated into general despair about politics and the Western world.  I could hardly hear the music I was listening to, my thoughts were so loud.  (Does that even make sense?  It happens to me a lot.  I get sucked into a maelstrom of thought and lose contact with everything around me.  Sometimes at work I’m trying to work, but my depressive thoughts start and become so vivid that I don’t even notice my physical surroundings any more.  When I’m with my parents, they see me staring into space sometimes and ask if I’m OK when I’m just thinking, which of course breaks the concentration, for good or for ill.)

6.50pm   Feeling lonely and unlovable.  I don’t have the energy/motivation to actually talk to anyone, but I wish there was someone to (literally and metaphorically) hold my hand and watch TV with me.  I feel more unmarriable than ever, particularly as I’ve more or less decided that I shouldn’t date until I’ve made progress with my social anxiety, which seems unlikely to happen any time soon, and that the depression is constantly going to hold me back from forming a serious relationship, which also doesn’t seem like changing any time soon.  I found myself thinking that maybe I shouldn’t have broken up with my ex (five years ago this month!), which is a scary thing to think when she herself admitted that she wasn’t really there for me and our religious paths had diverged.

It seems unfair that other people get to have fun and I don’t (not that marriage is just for fun by any means, but I’m talking generally).  I tell myself that this life is for growth, not for pleasure, but that just seems like “the opiate of the masses.”  Anyway, Judaism is not opposed to the sensual pleasures of this world, it merely seeks to harness them for a holy purpose.  Which reminds me that my shul (synagogue) rabbi said I won’t feel simcha shel mitzvah (the joy of performing the commandments) until I’m over the depression (which makes me despair) and that my rabbi mentor disagreed and said I should feel a bit (which just makes me feel guilty for not feeling it at all).  I am nearly halfway through Pesach and while I am not as OCD anxious as I feared I would be, I have not really had any simcha shel mitzvah (unless you count playing with my friends’ children) and am not sure how to get it in the next four days.

8.00pm  Just watched the first two episodes of the DVD of 1960s science fiction thriller A for Andromeda.  I knew that all bar one of the episodes were missing and reconstructed from photos, surviving clips and captions, but for some reason I thought there was audio too (as per missing Doctor Who episodes), but in fact this is not the case and watching the episodes was harder work than I expected, probably harder than I really needed.  I do feel calmer for having watched it, although this partly because OCD anxiety and depression have been replaced by feeling too exhausted to care about anything.  Still, it was involving enough, if showing its age in places.  I really like old British TV science fiction and feel they don’t really make anything like it any more.  I look forward to reaching the surviving sixth episode and then the sequel, The Andromeda Breakthrough, which survives in its entirety.  Apparently there was a remake of A for Andromeda a while back which I will probably check out at some point.  Another book I could write at some point: something about the Quatermass and Andromeda serials and their various spin-offs and remakes.  Although I don’t know who would buy it…

9.00pm  Over dinner I thought that I want to feel reciprocated love, even (I’ll say it) to feel lust that is reciprocated for once.  I’m fed up of having my most powerful emotions being invalidated by others by their one-sided nature.  I suppose no one can actually invalidate my emotions, but I’ve been told a couple of times over the years by women I’ve liked, “You don’t love me,” which was probably true, I probably didn’t literally love them, but in my naivety I thought I did love them and being told that I didn’t hurt.  It’s hard to have a good understanding of love and related emotions when (a) you have an alexithymic incomprehension of all your emotions and (b) every time you feel something romantic or sexual you end up rejected and burdened with guilt.

10.40pm  Another day over with very little done.  I did manage fifteen minutes of Torah study, which was fifteen minutes more than I thought I would manage, but other than a short walk and this post I haven’t achieved much.  I haven’t even hoovered the bedroom carpet, which is filthy and which I haven’t got around to doing since last week.  Tomorrow, I suppose, is another day, one on which I have a routine blood test, so I will at least have to be up earlyish.

Exhaustion and Upheavals

Yesterday, you may remember, I felt terrible most of the day, but I started to feel better in the evening and managed to do some chores.  In the end I stayed up late doing more chores, knowing I might not have the energy to do them today.  (It’s silly that my holiday is mostly spent doing things I don’t want to do that I don’t have time to do while working, rather than relaxing, but there you go.  Maybe I’ll get a proper holiday one day.  Although not doing anything at all just gives time for the depressive thoughts to come out.)  As I expected, I went to bed late and got up late today.  I think I slept for over ten hours again.  I think I’ve been having upsetting dreams lately, but I don’t remember them, I just have flashes of strange, impossible memories during the day without being able to place them properly.  Anyway, I woke up feeling depressed and lethargic, also faint, which was probably low blood sugar, but didn’t get much better even after eating breakfast.  I just feel limp and unable to do anything, like a rag doll.

It’s hard to explain how difficult everything is at the  moment.  Just getting dressed, for instance, is a lengthy and difficult procedure.  I can’t just ‘get dressed’; whether I want to or not, it gets broken down into smaller tasks and I have to stop in between, say, getting out my clothes and taking off my pyjamas.  Tasks that can’t easily be broken down are extra hard, which I guess is part of the reason davening (praying) is so hard, as I can’t stop for a break part-way through, particularly when I’m wearing tefillin (I don’t like wearing tefillin and I get slightly amused that for some women, wearing them is a feminist thing, as I would avoid wearing them if I could.  It may be an Aspie thing, as I find wearing them quite uncomfortable and distracting).  But my brain is still going, although perhaps not as normal.  Sometimes I can think as normal or even have bursts of rapid agitated thought, other times my thoughts are as sluggish as my actions.  I think – it’s hard to be sure, as I sort of drift into a timeless zone when I’m depressed and not doing anything and it’s hard to keep track of my thoughts, although they usually go to negative places.

I have had some positive future-oriented thoughts, which is good, but I doubt I will act on them.  I am torn about the Doctor Who book I am writing, whether it will be good or not (publishable or not).  The blog posts it’s based on got some positive feedback, but not much and I worry it’s not innovative enough.  I would also like to write about the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip, which is very important to me.   I’d also like to write a proper analytical article for every Doctor Who story.  I tried that years ago, but looking back at those posts, they were variable and often just lists of things I did or didn’t like.  I’d like to be more analytical, although I don’t know if I have something to say about every story and, again, whether it would be innovative enough to sell.  I also had a vague idea for writing a more personal book about Doctor Who or maybe science fiction TV in general and my mental health and Asperger’s (The Neurodivergent Guide to Telefantasy?), as it’s been a key coping strategy, but I’m not sure what to do with that at all, whether it ties into the review/analysis idea or should be something else entirely.

I get frustrated that ideas don’t come to me fully-formed, but need to be worked at, although even good authors have to work on their ideas.  I cut a huge amount from yesterday’s blog post, including a load about being Jewish at Christmas that just didn’t belong there.  But somehow that feels like failure, like I should get everything right first time.  When I get an idea I sometimes think it is really great for a bit, but soon enough I’m sure it’s silly, or it’s good, but I won’t be able to get it to work.  Sometimes I jump to the ‘it’s silly’ stage without the ‘good’ stage first.  I wish I could feel comfortable talking about these ideas with someone who might understand them.

I thought Doctor Who today was more than slightly rubbish (Steven Moffatt apparently having done his research by watching precisely zero first Doctor stories and just listening to people bad-mouthing William Hartnell), which has probably brought my mood down further.  This has combined with the realisation that I’m going to have extra work to do soon because my parents have insisted on having my room at their house redecorated in January.  I don’t particularly want it done and don’t know when I’m going to have the time/energy to pack and unpack my 1,000 or so books and countless DVDs (literally countless, because how many do you count box sets as?).  Dad volunteered to do the packing and unpacking, but I suspect that if I want everything put back as I want it in, I’m going to have to do it myself, although I’ve just photographed all the bookshelves so in theory he could do it.  I don’t even live here any more, except for Shabbat, so why would I want the room decorated?  Admittedly it is in a bad shape from the previous owners and it’s my parents’ house and they’ve almost completely redecorated it in the two and a bit years since they moved in.  Just my room and the spare bedroom left.  I say spare bedroom, it’s actually functioning as a lumber room with nine packed boxes of stuff from the old house (so you see why I’m worried about what will happen to my boxes of stuff).  Dad just predicted three months of upheaval (so that means four or five…).  Sometimes I wonder if my parents fully understand the whole ‘depressive Aspie just holding on to his life with the tips of his fingers’ thing and why I can’t cope with upheaval, especially several upheavals in rapid succession (and for me starting to work longer hours, my sister’s wedding and the redecoration within six months counts as rapid succession).

And tomorrow I’m supposed to ask my rabbi mentor if he thinks I should be dating.  I wish I could easily say, “No,” because a part of me thinks I just can’t cope, but I can sort of see the point of the people who think I need to change my life around and at least that has the potential to be a significantly positive change (unlike the bedroom), even if it could also be very negative.  I wasn’t particularly lonely today, in the sense of wanting someone to talk to, but I did find myself wishing there was someone around even though I didn’t want to talk, just being there.  It’s hard to decide what to do, because I want to be in a relationship, but I’m also frightened that I can’t cope with one and, being frum, this would be dating-for-marriage so the idea of just going out with someone for a year or two for fun and to take things slowly is not an option.  Instead, I have to panic thinking that I could end up going to another big wedding and I won’t be able to slip away from this one.

Envy

I don’t think of myself as an envious person, but over the last few years I have been increasingly visited by envy.  It probably started a few years ago, when Hevria was launched and I felt strongly that I wanted to write for it, but wasn’t asked.  After about six months I volunteered, only to be turned down; I’m still not entirely sure why.  I got very upset and my writing never really recovered.  I’ve written odd bits and pieces since then, including a couple of guest posts for Hevria and one piece for Den of Geek that I got paid for, but almost no poetry and it took a long time before I turned back to writing regularly when I started this blog and started editing various Doctor Who blog posts into a book.  (In the end I was sort of offered the chance to write regularly for Hevria, but I no longer have the time and I still feel blocked from that kind of writing, although I’m not sure how serious the offer was anyway.  But it felt good to be offered anyway.)

Then last year I managed, somehow, to go out for a Shabbat tisch (community Sabbath party thing) hosted by someone from the shul I’m trying to move to.  He is my age or even younger and as I walked into his house and saw his lovely home and cute children and beautiful wife (I didn’t actually see his wife.  I once saw him talking to a woman who I assumed was his wife, given that he’s very frum and probably doesn’t talk to other women if he can avoid it, but I could be wrong) and felt that he had all the things that I wanted.  I had to force myself not to feel envy and it was hard.  I felt a similar thing when I went to my ex-date for lunch this last Shabbat: her flat is so much larger and more comfortable and attractive than my tiny converted garage.  I told myself more space means more housework, but I’m not sure how convinced I was.

I envy a lot of my peers their lives, their friendships, their relationships and their children, all the things I want and lack, but I also envy their Torah learning and mitzvot (commandments).  I want to be a better Jew and I assume my peers are all doing better at that than I am.  I know we are told that what matters is the effort, not the achievement, and I have to put in a lot of effort just to stay in the same place, let alone to grow and I have no idea how much effort they put in.  But it is hard not to feel inadequate, to feel that I could be better if I was more like them.  I feel I lack the joy and passion others can find in religion; I feel as if I’m doing things out of obligation and saying prayers by rote rather than really connecting with God and Torah.  I still believe, I just don’t feel, I suspect my depression stops me feeling.  It is difficult.

I suppose what it all boils down to is a feeling that life has passed me by, that I will never have the joy or pleasure or love or simple satisfaction in my achievements that other people get to experience.  Funnily enough, it has been suggested to me that other children were envious of me at school and that this was why they bullied me.  I find this hard to believe, but also vaguely unfair, given that I think my academic achievement was the product of hard work rather than natural cleverness; I was intelligent at school, but I had to work hard for my grades.

I try to feel gratitude as the antidote to envy.  I try to thank God for at least five things every day (even if it’s “Thank you that I didn’t hurt myself when I felt so depressed”).  I get on better with my family than I used to do, certainly better than a lot of other people do.  I have a job (two-thirds of a full-time job now), which is worth something in this economy and also given that a few years ago it seemed completely impossible that I would ever be working.  I live by myself without trouble and I have some friends, even if they do largely live inside my computer.  But I feel I need something more.  I have no joy, no romantic/sexual love, no passion, no purpose and it is hard not to envy those who do have these things.

I suspect I need something else in my life.  Sherlock Holmes turned to drugs to stimulate his brain when work dried up; I suspect I too need something to fill my non-work hours, but hopefully something healthier and more socially acceptable.  My work on my book precludes other hobbies, but it offers one possible outlet, but it is going slowly thanks to my having to watch so many old episodes of Doctor Who for research.  I’m not sure my religion can offer me anything more than more frustration at the moment.  I can’t stand any party enough to get involved in politics.  That leaves dating and volunteering.  The former is tempting, but maybe the latter is more sensible (in the sense that I don’t know if I’m ready for dating, but also that I doubt anyone would want me anyway and maybe it’s just easier not to bother looking).  But I haven’t the time or energy for either at the moment; I’ll just have to hope things get easier if and when I have settled into a new work routine.

‘And your English summer’s done.’

Today was the last day of my mini-holiday.  I go back to work tomorrow and from then on I should be working four days a week, health permitting.  Onwards through enrollment, a longer week, the Yom Tovim (festivals) and into the autumn, when my mood traditionally drops.  I am feeling rather apprehensive about all of this and the effect it might have on my mental health.

Today wasn’t a totally wasted day, although I did oversleep again.  I had therapy, finished reading Rabbi Lord Sacks’ introduction to the Koren Sacks Yom Kippur Mahzor (prayerbook for the Day of Atonement), so I feel marginally better-prepared for Yom Tov (Jewish festivals) than I did last year, went shopping and pitched an article proposal to a geeky website.  This last was scary, as it involved confronting my social anxiety, even if only by email, and risking rejection, the two things I most hate.  Whenever I’ve had articles rejected in the past, it has sent me into deep despair and writer’s block, so I hope that won’t happen this time when if I get rejected again.

Therapy was mostly spent thinking about social anxiety, dating and my rabbi’s questions about what I would wish for and what I can never get enough of (all interrelated for me), so these questions have been on my mind a bit this afternoon.  In particular, I was thinking again about stopping dating, or rather not re-starting dating.  I shocked my therapist a bit by explaining frum (religious) dating, that people are not really supposed to ask each other out (although this varies from community to community – in some parts of the Orthodox community, even the Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) community, there are singles events, speed-dating (which was invented by an Orthodox rabbi!) etc. or even, in the Modern Orthodox world, casual interactions between the sexes that can lead to dating), but get set up on dates (shidduchim) by third parties, either professional matchmakers (shadchanim) or friends or friends-of-friends.  This is where I suffer from being on the fringes of the community, because no one really knows that I am looking for a wife and what type of person I am and what type of person I’m looking for and not many people know that I even exist.  I don’t consider myself fully in the Charedi community, but still part of the Modern Orthodox community even if I go to a somewhat Charedi shul (synagogue), so I would be open to going to events where the sexes mix and asking women out myself and have asked women out in the past, but in reality I don’t go out much or meet women and when I do I’m too shy to speak to them or ask them out.

I do feel depressed today and I’m not sure if these lonely thoughts are a cause or an effect of the depression.  Over dinner I was fighting back both tears and OCD anxieties.  Hopefully I’ll feel better once I’m back at work except that, as I mentioned above, it will be stressful heading towards the chaggim (festivals).  Related to them, I’ve been thinking again about feeling hated by God.  It does feel like He’s arranged things so that I can’t be a good Jew and do mitzvot, while I can’t get any joy out of this world either.  There are people on Hevria who claim to have had open miracles in their lives, but I’ve never experienced anything remotely like that, which makes me feel hated by God.  They do say that you have to believe you can have a miracle to get one, which does make it seem even more like God has deliberately set things up so I can’t get help by giving me years of loneliness and abandonment so I can’t trust Him to step in to help me.  I believe God can and does help people, I just thinks He hates me too much to do anything for me.  To be fair, as I mentioned the other day, with regard to career and income I’m OK.  Not rich or financially secure, but OK for now.   I only work part-time (67%) and technically my contract expires in eight months and I don’t know if it will be renewed, but with my parents helping me out I can pay my bills for now.  And I acknowledge that that’s a big thing that not everyone has.  And I mostly get on with my parents and sister these days.  But with regard to mental health, friendship, love, joy, community, most of the things that make life worth living, I seem to have very little, although not quite nothing, so I still feel bad on some level for complaining.

I seem to have drifted into self-pity and despair again, which wasn’t my intention.  (My non-biological sisters decided that I’m a Marsh-wiggle which is probably true.)  I do try to cultivate an air of gratitude.  For many years I’ve been thanking God for at least five good things every day, but it’s hard to internalize that when I feel so depressed for reasons that have as much to do with brain chemistry than positive thinking.  It’s also hard to truly feel grateful when some days you’re reduced to saying, “Thank you that I didn’t hurt myself although I really wanted to.”

The bottom line, I suppose,  that unites these ideas and others I’ve been writing about recently is that I can’t be grateful for life, or be ready to ask God for another (good) year of life, or be satisfied with my work or creativity or allow anyone to like me (friendship) or love me (marriage) unless I love myself.  But I loathe myself and it seems dishonest to do otherwise, knowing myself and my deeds and thoughts as well as I do.  I’ve read stuff on self-esteem and even did a year-long confidence and self-esteem adult education course, but nothing seems to work in the long term.  I can feel better for a few months (as happened earlier this year), but then I hit an obstacle and back I go again.  I haven’t gone more than six months without serious depression since I was nineteen.

I mentioned Rabbi Lord Sacks above (I consider him one of my main teachers, although I have never personally interacted with him, although I have heard him speak once or twice) and writing this reminded me of a story he told in one of his Covenant and Conversation parsha emails.  The story can be found here but he concludes:

The idea that each of us has a fixed quantum of intelligence, virtue, academic ability, motivation and drive is absurd. Not all of us can paint like Monet or compose like Mozart. But we each have gifts, capacities, that can lie dormant a throughout life, until someone awakes them.  We can achieve heights of which we never thought ourselves capable. All it takes is for us to meet someone who believes in us, challenges us, and then, when we have responded to the challenge, blesses and celebrates our achievements.

I feel that I lack those people who believe in me; or at least, a few people do believe in me (my parents), but I find it hard to accept that because of things that happened to me when I was growing up and I rationalize away any praise I get.  I have four A4 sheets of positive emails and blog comments from friends and even from strangers blue tacked to my cupboard door that I printed out to try to boost my self-esteem, but it is hard to believe in them.  And I tend to run away from challenges, or to insist I have failed them even if other people say I did well e.g. letting my creativity stagnate because I suffered rejection, even though I also received praise.  Rabbi Lord Sacks talks in that essay about celebrating something – anything – to boost self-esteem and drive, but my depressive anhedonia stops me celebrating anything even if I had something to celebrate and even if I could celebrate, practically I don’t know how.  I don’t drink and with my mental health and medication I shouldn’t start.  I’m trying to cut down on food as my meds are making me put on weight even without the depression making me want to eat more.  I have a couple of friends, but I can’t celebrate with them because they mostly live elsewhere or are too busy to see me.  And so on.  This all seems like refusing to take responsibility for my life, though, which in turn just leads to more self-loathing.

I’ve now read over this essay a couple of times trying to make it work.  It’s rubbish.  I should delete it, but I’m too much of a drama queen and want people to see that I’m not functioning.  I have no idea how I’m going to deal with enrollment at work tomorrow and Thursday or with going out for lunch on Saturday.  My writing is rubbish and I’m sorry I churn this stuff out every day and expect people to read it.  It’s no surprise no one likes me.  I don’t even like myself.  I’m sorry, really.

Absent Passion

No work again today as it’s a public holiday in the UK, although I’ve had some slightly OCD anxiety about it and keep checking my diary and phone to see that it really is a holiday.  Sigh.  I went to bed very late again last night (this morning, really), because I got upset and agitated late at night, as sometimes happens.  Then I overslept this morning.  It was a struggle to get up again.   I think there was some mild depersonalization.  I wanted to get up, but my legs wouldn’t move and for a brief period they some seemed not to belong to me.  Things like this happen to me occasionally.  It’s a bit disturbing, although it’s hard to tell how much is actual depersonalization from my depression and how much is me thinking it’s happening from the fear that it is happening, if that makes sense.

I achieved one or two things, like doing more Torah study/preparation for the forthcoming Yomim Noraim (High Holidays) and going for a run, but my heart was not really in anything.  So much of my life seems to be done by rote, out of obligation or need rather than desire or will (ratzon).  I suppose this goes back to my rabbi’s questions on Shabbat (the Sabbath): what would I ask for if God offered me one wish?  And what, when I get it, can I never have enough of?  I have some ideas what the answers to these questions are, but they aren’t anything I can currently get in the way I want and feel I need.

I’ve started thinking seriously about my cheshbon nafesh (self-analysis of what I’ve done and how I’ve grown over the last year).  On the whole, I would have to say it was a good year.  I brought my depression and OCD under control (to varying extents, but I stopped being suicidal and self-harming), I got a new job with much longer hours in a very different environment and seem to have adapted to it and to getting up earlier reasonably well.  I continued living by myself and managed to keep up with cooking, cleaning and shopping.  I kept up with my religious obligations (prayer, study including my Talmud shiur (class)) to some extent and I now to get to shul (synagogue) for every service on Shabbat.  I made a couple of new friends, began to fit in better to my new community, coped with my sister’s engagement and had a significantly less stressful Pesach (Passover) than I’ve had for the past couple of years.  I started writing a book, or at least making one out of blog posts.  I started this blog and have a couple of regular readers and I write fewer drama queen comments on Hevria now I can write here instead.

Still, it is difficult not to see the negatives too: I still work significantly less than full-time, I still don’t daven (pray) as often as I would like, with as good kavannah (concentration) as I would like or, on weekdays, with a minyan (prayer quorum).  I still feel lonely, but I’m on the point of giving up on making new friends or dating again because they are so hard and they hurt so much.  I still get tired very easily and I still have some religious problem areas, mostly triggered by stress or depression, but probably not excusable (e.g. irritability and sarcasm at times, particularly towards my parents).  Like I said, so much of my life seems to come from routine rather than passion.  My life at times runs like clockwork, which is certainly an improvement from the depths of paralyzing depression, but it’s about as interesting and joyous as clockwork too.  I’m still lonely and miserable a lot of the time and I still feel like a misfit in too many situations, particularly among my co-religionists.  Perhaps related to this stagnation, my creativity has suffered.  I write here about how I feel and I’m working on re-writing and editing that Doctor Who book, but I have not written much in the way of poetry or fiction or articles for Hevria.  I still feel blocked creatively, partly from experiencing rejection (it all comes down to rejection with me).

Going back to my rabbi’s questions, I enjoy work quite a bit, but not fully; I can tell, because I clock-watch a lot.  I enjoy jogging and cooking sometimes (not simultaneously!), but they also both feel like chores a lot of the time.  I’m not sure whether I enjoy writing or I just need to do it, I feel a compulsion to get my feelings down on paper (I think I do enjoy writing about Doctor Who, but it’s increasingly hard to feel I have something new to say, and I feel my style of writing doesn’t really fit in with the trends in critical thought in fandom).  Religiously, I do enjoy Torah study at times, but not as much as I feel I should.  I don’t really enjoy prayer or find it meaningful much of the time, I do it from obligation and because I know that to get to the few times when it is meaningful, I have to go through all the times when it is not.  I don’t get much in the way of simcha shel mitzvah (joy in the commandments).  I meet my religious obligations not from fear, habit or social conformity, but from strong belief, understanding and acceptance of the teachings of the Torah and perhaps from love of God and Judaism, which is all good, but I don’t perform them from joy, as I should do.  I have been told by my rabbi that I won’t be able to feel simcha shel mitzvah until I’m over the depression, but I don’t think I will ever fully be over the depression.

I can’t tell how much of this is depressive anhedonia (the inability to feel pleasure, caused by depression) and how much is that I’m living the wrong life, doing the wrong things, trying to please the wrong people.  I know that I love Judaism (not just the religion, but the history, the culture and the people, frustrating though all that can be at times) and I could never be happy without it, but I wonder if I need a different approach, somehow, but I’ve never really got into mussar and I can’t see myself as a Hasid and non-Orthodox Judaism wouldn’t work for me on multiple levels, would, in fact exacerbate my problems.

On another note, albeit related to personal growth and forcing myself to do things, I watched more of King Lear.  It was probably not the best thing to watch, not just because it’s bleak, tragic and violent (“Out, vile jelly!”), but because it probably requires too much attention in my current state.  It’s hard to tell what to do about serious culture when I’m depressed.  I like reading big nineteenth century novels and reading and watching Shakespeare, but when I’m depressed it can be hard to get into the appropriate state of mind.  However, I don’t want to give up on them long-term (given that I don’t think I will ever be fully recovered), so every so often I steel myself and try them, as with my currently reading Daniel Deronda and watching this.  I guess it’s like jogging and writing and Torah study and prayer: I have to put a lot of effort in to get something out of it eventually and I just hope the cost-benefit ratio is good enough.  I think I’m still getting something out of King Lear, though.  It’s not my favourite Shakespeare play, but I think it is the most powerful in some ways.  It’s a play that takes us to the limits of betrayal and madness, and beyond.  It has a sort of nightmarish power even when I can’t take in the poetry and I’m going on my memory of the plot rather than what I see.  And the production I’m watching is very well-acted.

“Alison, I know this world is killing you”

I’m writing this paragraphy just after 3.00pm.  I’ve been awake since about 12.15pm, but I’m still in my pyjamas.  I’ve had breakfast and read a bit of the latest Doctor Who Magazine, but that’s about it.  I’ve spent most of my awake-time today so far lying in bed thinking.  I feel really drained and I’m not sure why.  Perhaps it’s the cumulative effect of my first week back at work, enrollment and a reasonably busy Shabbat yesterday, with some social interaction (at least by my standards).  But I just have no energy at all, as if I was physically ill with the flu or something, but with no physical symptoms other than no energy.  I don’t even feel particularly depressed, just drained and a little bit lonely.  The heat in the flat doesn’t help.  I only have a small window, so I mainly ventilate my flat by opening the front and back doors, which I obviously don’t want to do while I’m in my pyjamas.  I was too tired to get up properly, too tired to get dressed and daven Shacharit (say the morning prayers), which I feel bad about, as I was awake, I just literally could not move.

It’s now the evening.  I lost most of the day to that drained feeling.  I did eventually get dressed and do some things, but I was unable to go for a jog as I intended.  I did go for a walk and do some shopping, which was boring but necessary.  I did some Torah study, although not as much as I would have liked.  More enjoyably, I spent an hour and a half working on my Doctor Who book, writing about 1,500 words, which was very productive.  I’m writing about the era of the mid-seventies (broadly, the stories script edited by Robert Holmes and produced by Philip Hinchcliffe), the most popular period of the classic series with fans and the only era of the classic series to consistently rival the new series in ‘best story’ polls, so I feel an obligation both to do justice to the era and to try to say something new about it (well, I want to do both those things in the whole of my book, but particularly here), which can be difficult as in many ways it is a fairly straightforward period in terms of its aims and influences especially when compared with the three or four following years which were more complex in their intentions and allusions and more controversial in their reception.

I wanted to go back to what I blogged yesterday and expand on it a bit, but I’m too tired to write any more.  Maybe tomorrow, if I get time in amongst catching up with the chores I was supposed to do today.  I suppose today wasn’t a total waste – in some ways it was very productive, at least in terms of catching up on the big backlog of notes for my book – but I wish I could have done more.  It is what it is, I suppose, but what is is wrong, as the Doctor said.  So, dinner and more of the DVD of the 2007 RSC production of King Lear with Sir Ian McKellen as Lear and Sylvester McCoy as a slightly Doctorish Fool (in a good way); at least I’m feeling not-depressed enough for Elizabethan tragedy as I’ve had the DVD sitting on my shelves for weeks if not months now.  To be honest, I’m not sure I’m well enough to completely follow it, especially as it’s some time since I read or saw the play, but the acting is of a very high standard.

More on Love and Depression, and a Mini Break

I’ve been thinking more about what I wrote yesterday, about stopping dating and giving up on finding a wife.  I feel frustrated about this.  I’m not the most demonstrative person and I’m far from “romantic” (in the Hallmark-and-Valentine’s-Day sense), but I feel I do have a lot of love to give to a wife and children.  But I still can’t see myself finding someone.  I probably will date again at some point, maybe even in the not too distant future, but I’ll be going in with a sense that it will fail (like the man in Kafka’s parable of the law, I’m just doing it to know that there was nothing else I could have done), which probably increases the chances that it will fail.

I do also feel that I’m never going to be 100% over the depression.  I have good times and bad times.  At the moment I’m probably in an in-between time, functional, but not doing much more than the bare minimum needed to survive.  Well, maybe a little more… and living away from home the bare minimum is actually quite a bit.  But I feel bad for not davening (praying) more or studying more Torah or getting to shul (synagogue) more often and I don’t always keep my flat as clean as I would like (which admittedly is pretty clean).  I ask myself how I can really justify putting a wife and children through this.  Or why anyone would continue a relationship with me knowing this (unless she also had serious issues, which might not be a good combination).

In other news, I fell asleep last night without consciously going to bed.  One moment I was changing into my pyjamas and listening to the news on the BBC World Service, the next it was morning and I was in bed.  I know I didn’t brush my teeth or check the doors were locked and I’m usually very punctilious about those things.  I must have slept for nearly twelve hours, though, which makes me worry a bit about whether I’m going to be able to cope with longer work hours from two weeks time.  It’s certainly hard to balance work obligations, religious obligations, household chores and some relaxation.  I guess everyone has that problem, I just have the disadvantage of added low mood and lack of energy from the depression.

At any rate, the fact that I don’t start working on Tuesdays until September, combined with the bank holiday means I have a mini-break of five days from now until Tuesday.  I hope to write up some of the notes I have on Doctor Who circa 1975 for my book, revise some mini sagas with a view to submitting them to Hevria.com and maybe rewrite a Doctor Who article and submit it to denofgeek.com (which is scary, as it entails a risk of rejection).  I also need to phone the rabbi of the shul I want to join to arrange to meet him.  (Phone… I hate phoning, too scary, but he didn’t reply to my email) and maybe meet him so I can get my membership processed by Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year, in one month).

Trying to Push Myself Back Out There

I’ve re-started my Doctor Who blog lately (no link as it’s currently under my real name, although that might change).  I wrote something as a post for there, but am currently trying to decide whether to submit it on spec to denofgeek.com as it will get a much wider readership and (the real reason) they pay for posts.  The worst that can happen is they say no and I put it on my blog anyway, but I’m finding it hard to get the courage and indeed to work out the appropriate way to word the email (do I send the article with it or just a proposal?  Not sure).  It’s very hard to push myself forward for things.

I got an email from the woman I was dating up to a month ago asking me for Shabbat lunch in a couple of weeks.  I said yes, although I’m nervous about it.  Normally if I break up with someone or have a crush on someone and it doesn’t work out, I keep my distance for a long time, but I think I’m over her well enough not to worry about that.  My shyness and social anxiety are screaming “DON’T GO!!!” but maybe that in itself is reason to go, especially after turning down an invitation last Shabbat.  And I’m guessing there will be other people there, so it’s a chance to socialize with other frum people my age, which I generally struggle to do.  Pretty much all of my contact with other people (work, shulshiur) is with people in very different age groups and at different life stages.  Who knows, there might even be a frum single woman there (not that I would talk to her let alone ask for her number if there she was there, but I can dream).

Buried Alive

I wanted to write something more discursive than I’ve written previously today, but I feel terrible and don’t have the brainpower to write anything other than what is going through my head right now.

I obviously spoke too soon about the OCD being under control, as I’m suffering with it at the moment.  I’m really worried I made my parents’ kettle milchig, and, as my Mum doesn’t believe me that there might be a problem, I’m worried she’s going to make the parev stuff milchig too, and the fleshig stuff treif.  I tried emailing first one rabbi then another, but I think both are away; certainly neither has yet got back to me.  I don’t know what to do.

The only things I’ve done today is to have a therapy session and go shopping.  Therapy was hard, as we focused on my break-up of three weeks ago, which may have been a mistake.  I think my therapist wanted me to stop repressing my feelings and express them, but I think it’s just brought everything back, although I’m not consciously thinking about the break-up.  I do feel pretty broken, though.

I nearly had some kind of breakdown in the supermarket.  I wanted to buy some vegetables to make vegetarian curry tomorrow, but I stood in front of the cauliflowers thinking that I wouldn’t have the energy to cook and especially to check the cauliflower for insects (not sure how much that is OCD or genuine worry) and I nearly just left it and decided not to cook or at least to come back later in the week when I was more sure of what I wanted to do.  I got a bit worried about being seen buying food that people from shul might see as insufficiently kosher (cauliflower, because of the difficulty of checking for insects, and also milk, because I rely on the leniency for drinking ordinary cows’ milk in the UK (chalav stam), but I suspect most people at my shul don’t, so I’m always worried about being caught with ordinary milk).  I did buy the food in the end, but I’m not sure I’m going to use it.

I have come back from the shops feeling very depressed and despairing.  I had vaguely suicidal thoughts.  I’m not going to hurt myself (please don’t worry or phone, those of you who know my number), but it is hard to keep going today.  I worry how I’m going to be able to go back to work next week, while also hoping that I do manage it, because I think the structure and social environment will help me.  But right now it’s hard to do anything.  I actually feel a bit light-headed and faint since coming home, which probably means my blood sugar has dropped and I should eat something, as low blood sugar makes me physically and makes the depression and OCD worse.

My Dad wanted me to open a new bank account with a better interest rate now I’m earning more money, but I need to ask him some questions about the account he recommended, but I don’t feel up to it.  I’m scared to phone my parents because I feel guilty about feeling so depressed today, because I feel I’ve let them down.  On the other hand, I was saying too much on Hevria again.  My poem there didn’t make much of an impression, although I did get two positive comments and a couple of likes.  Nothing negative, thankfully.  So that was good.  But it’s hard to hold onto the good today, when it feels like the world is just collapsing and I’m stuck under the rubble unable to get out.

Three-Quarters of the Way Through My “Holiday” Post

I’m three-quarters of the way through my holiday and I feel I’ve wasted it all in depression.  To be honest, I’m anxious to go back to work, despite my nervousness over working on enrollment when I return and the vague (probably OCD) worry that I’ve got the wrong date for restarting.  All support staff have to help with exam invigilation and enrollment of new students.  I will be given a job for enrollment pretty much at random when I get to work next Monday.  I’m hoping it’s something like entering data rather than speaking to new students or, my absolute fear, directing people around the building.  It’s not a huge building, but it is a rabbit warren and after a couple of months there I know where the library is and where reception and HR are and not much else.  Given that my depression has got worse over the last few weeks, I am worried about whether I will be able to get up in time and do a full day’s work at the moment, even before I move from three to four days a week in September, as well as whether I will end up in the library office quietly weeping, but I think having a routine, something to focus on and (maybe) feel good about and being around other people will help to dispel at least some of the extreme depression I’m currently experiencing.  It will also give me an opportunity to try to work more on my social anxiety in smaller steps than I can take at the moment, where the opportunities are more ‘all or nothing’ (see below).

I suppose the holiday hasn’t been a total waste.  I survived being dumped on virtually my first day off, even if it did push me into depression again.  I survived Tisha Be’Av too.  I’ve continued going to shul on Shabbat, even managing to go on Shabbat mornings, when the depression and social anxiety would have stopped me in the past, although I feel frustrated that I haven’t managed to go on weekdays as I originally intended.  I did a tiny bit of socializing.  I want jogging less often that I would have liked, but more often than would have been the case if I’d let my depression win.  I said I was going to work on my Doctor Who book and while initially I feared I was just going to be watching old episodes, I think I must have written somewhere between two and four thousand words in three weeks, probably nearer the latter, having gone through a lot of television episodes and taken a fair amount of notes on them.  I still have my concerns about what I’ve written (there’s definitely a fear that cutting and pasting new observations into an existing structure could lead to a very bitty and incoherent argument, but that’s something to work on at the third draft stage, I think, when I’ve finished all the research and the bulk of the writing.  I also worry about not being able to expand the later chapters enough or to write a new chapter covering the last few seasons), but on the whole I’m making progress, and faster than I expected.  I’ve blogged a great deal.  Whether that’s a good thing is open to question, I suppose, but at least writing here has largely stopped me drama queening on Hevria and elsewhere.

I tried going through more of my social anxiety self-help book.  It’s difficult, as it’s cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and I’m having the same difficulty I’ve had with CBT for depression: CBT tries to replace negative or anxious thoughts with more helpful ones, but my negative thoughts are so deep-rooted that it’s hard to change them.  I believe them too much.  It’s worth noting here that the CBT I had for the OCD was very different, being exposure therapy, where you expose yourself to the things that provoke the OCD anxiety until the anxiety naturally disipates rather than trying consciously to change how you think about things.  Incidentally, I guess it’s worth noting that even though my depression and social anxiety have been bad over the summer, the OCD is mostly under control, which is something positive.  I still have obsessive, anxious thoughts, but I’m better at fighting against them rather than looking for reassurance from my parents or rabbis.

In a comment on yesterday’s post, my friend Louise said that maybe I should see bearing witness as my life’s mission.  It’s a tempting idea.  I’m not quite sure what to do with it yet, though.  I mentioned in my response a study covered in the Jewish press that found  mental health sufferers stigmatized and ignored in the Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) world and while I am not Charedi, I do have a foot in that world these days and maybe just writing here from a Jewish perspective will help someone, although at the moment  I only know of a couple of Jewish readers.

On the surface, bearing witness seems, I suppose, more of a Christian idea than a Jewish one.  It is certainly found in biblical and rabbinic Judaism but in a modern context is used for Holocaust commemoration more than for anything religious.  I suppose my writing is a form of bearing witness (which was Louise’s point), I’m just not sure where to take it from there.  Certainly my posts on Hevria have all been about bearing witness to feelings that are marginalized in one way or another (sexual anxiety, loneliness, the experience of antisemitism).

Still, today has been a mixture of positive and negative.  I overslept again (unsurprising given that I didn’t go to bed until after 2.30am) and struggled to get going again.  I drifted into depressive thoughts while out shopping, thinking morbid thoughts about my own funeral (I think about that a lot, wondering if there will be anyone there and what the eulogies will be) as well as some OCD thoughts (having already written here that I was doing well on that front), which fortunately I managed to push away fairly quickly.

On the plus side, I read a few pages of Daniel Deronda over lunch for the first time in weeks (it’s very well-written and I hope to read more of it).  I’ve nearly finished Horeb, at last (hopefully by the end of the week IF I can keep reading ten pages a day, which is a big if).  And my therapist is back in the UK and we have a session tomorrow, my first since my break-up.  The depression always gets worse when she’s on holiday and unfortunately she now takes longer holidays, as, due to Brexit, her husband has had to relocate to the continent, so whenever her children are on school holidays she goes off to Spain.

The final good thing (at least, I hope it’s good) is that, for better or for worse, my poem about antisemitism is up on Hevria.  I think people will assume that it’s about Donald Trump and the alt-right in the USA and/or about Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum on the hard left in the UK, but actually I wrote the poem back in June 2013, when Trump was just a property tycoon and reality TV star and Corbyn was an obscure backbench MP, although recent events did push it back into my mind and prompted me to dig the poem out and submit it.  Unfortunately, the events of Saturday have made it more relevant, although the discussion of the events have largely ignored the antisemitism of the white supremacists to focus on the race issue (the race issue is obviously very real, but the antisemitism should be covered too – the flyer for the rally called on people to “end Jewish influence in America”).  I can’t remember exactly what caused me to write the poem, but a lot of the feelings in it come from my personal experience of antisemitic abuse on the streets (the use of profanity, which I would not normally use, is partly a direct quotation of things shouted at me).

I can’t bear to re-read the poem now it’s up and I’m nervous about what kind of response it will get, both artistically and politically.  So far it’s had a couple of likes and shares on Facebook, but nothing more.  Maybe I’m being greedy after my last two posts had more readers.  My first post was about sex, so inevitably it got a lot of readers…  Whenever I get something published on Hevria, I feel a bit of an interloper, as everyone there seems comfortable in their Yiddishkeit (Jewishness), very creative, very open, self-confident and optimistic.  Well, I suppose I’m open about my feelings here, and on Hevria, in my posts and comments (too open, probably), even if it’s a depressive sort of openness, which doesn’t seem very ‘Hevrian’ somehow.  Still, I have made friends through Hevria, from my comments there as much as from my posts, which is something, even if I do wonder about people who want to befriend me after my drama queening, although I suppose my comments aren’t all drama queening, I do try to write perceptive comments most of the time, it’s just that if I’m having a bad time or someone writes something that triggers me, it’s hard to hold back my feelings.

Flow My Tears, The Librarian Said

I’m carrying on with my depressed mind in black and my wise mind in red.

I keep crying today without really knowing why.  I just sit there and suddenly my eyes are moist and I really want to let go and sob, but I can’t.  It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it could just be a release, although as I don’t know why I’m crying and as I find it hard to really cry, it probably isn’t much of a release.

I overslept again and struggled to get going, managing very little of Shacharit again.  At least I did some.  I’m achey (I must have pulled a lot of muscles doing aerobics), lacking motivation and energy and I want to comfort eat (resisting so far).  I did manage to spend thirty-five minutes proof-reading the second draft of the sixth chapter of the book I’m writing on Doctor Who covering the bulk of Jon Pertwee’s time in the role and Tom Baker’s first story (the odd divisions are from my following stylistic changes, usually revolving around changes of producer or script editor, rather than lead actor).  The chapter nearly doubled in size for the second draft, weighing in at nearly 8,200 words.  This is now the longest chapter in the book (so far), but rather than feel good about it, I just worry I won’t be able to increase the later chapters to the same length, or write a new chapter on Peter Capaldi’s time on the show.  I certainly don’t feel much of a sense of achievement in having written it, just frustrated that it’s not as good as I would like it to be.  This is still good, even if I don’t feel anything.  It’s done for now and I can move on to the next chapter.  I have also sort of restarted my Doctor Who blog (no link as it’s currently under my real name), not for anything detailed, just odd reflections, quotes and silly jokes.  Not sure how long I’ll continue with it.  It’s good that I’m reaching out there too.

I also have a poem coming out on Hevria.com on Monday.  That’s also good.  I suppose it’s all go, creatively, except that I wrote the poem years ago, but didn’t show it to anyone.  So?  It’s still my poem.   Perhaps that gives me some distance on it, not to feel so worried about it or critical of it.   Or maybe not, as I am still somewhat nervous about it, as it’s about antisemitism and might be seen as controversial.  It also has some profanity (use of the f-word, quoting things that have been shouted at me in the street), which I don’t normally use, but  which seemed necessary given the context.

I feel a bit bad because my Mum just phoned me with some sad news from her work (someone died), but after listening politely for eight minutes I said I need to go (which was true) because it’s hard to empathize over the death of someone you never knew and she had even finished talking about work and was just going through everything that had happened to her today.  I didn’t think I was rude, but I think she got upset anyway, so now I feel bad for upsetting her.  It’s my fault, I was trying really hard to be patient, but I slipped up and probably annoyed her.  I can’t be responsible for other people’s reactions.  I did try to be polite and she had finished telling me about her issues at work.  I probably could have been more polite and waited a bit longer, though, if I had tried.

Some Days All We Can Do Is Endure

I feel agitated and exhausted at the same time.  My Talmud shiur (class) got cancelled, so I don’t need to feel guilty about not going.

I feel lonely today, but I don’t feel particularly inclined to phone my parents, the only people who are realistically going to be around to listen to me.  I don’t know what to say, and my parents aren’t always on my wavelength anyway.  Very few people are.  It’s one reason why I can’t see myself getting married.  I can’t imagine someone who really understands me.  I suppose someone once did, but she was, by her own admission, using me, first emotionally (expecting me to be there for her, but not being around for me, again by her own admission) and then physically/sexually; don’t worry it didn’t quite go that far, but she did try to push it to that, which was when I realized I had to cut her out of my life, however painful that was at the time (and it was painful).

I wish I had more friends on my own wavelength.  Most of my friends have only one or two things in common with me, usually frumkeit (religiosity) or mental health issues.  Neither alone really lead to lasting friendships, or not for me.  I wish I could just sit and chill out with some friends.  I never did that when I was a teenager or at university.  My peers and my friends (I guess you could call them that – more than acquaintances, even if we weren’t really close) did, but I never joined in.  At this distance it’s hard to remember if I just wanted to be invited (not out of pride, but out of fear I would offend people by just turning up unasked, that they didn’t want me to be there) or if I was scared that if I hung around with people too long, they would come to be bored by me, even to hate me and would get rid of what friendship and closeness we did have.  I think it was probably a bit of both.  I guess I’m too old for just hanging out now anyway.  People my age are usually more worried about mortgages and kids and other things that don’t apply to me.  Being Peter Pan is no fun if you’re too depressed to enjoy it.

I tried to go to some onegs organized by my shul (synagogue) last year.  An oneg is basically a big chill out, a sort of Shabbat (Sabbath) party, a gathering for food, alcohol, singing, chat and the sharing of religious thoughts.  I managed to go to one, stood outside for fifteen minutes in the cold and dark because I was too shy to go in, then sort of forced myself to go in with someone else, sat mostly in silence, got upset by the guest speaker, spoke to one person (who I already knew anyway) and left after an hour.  Then a few weeks later there was another one and I didn’t even manage to get inside that one.  I just stood outside crying and eventually went home.  The guy I walked into the first oneg with saw me go.  I think he must think I’m basically nuts (he may be right).

At least I managed to get to the sheva brachos (why do I transliterate that as sheva brachos and not sheva brachot? Eh) a few weeks ago and speak to some people there and enjoy it.  That was progress.  Today I feel like however much progress I have made in the last seven or eight months has been eroded.  I’m glad I have a month to get myself together again before I go back to work, because I think I’m going to need it.

I saw something on Twitter today that really annoyed me (I hate Twitter, I don’t think you can say very much that’s original, interesting and meaningful in 140 characters). “Mental illness is so common for creatives and musicians. We need to destigmatize the conversation around it. It’s okay to not be okay.”  Which is true, but it feels rather utilitarian.  As if to say that if, like me, you are not a great creative, but merely a lowly assistant librarian, you aren’t worth rescuing from the black dog.  Sadly, the myth of the tormented genius means that mental illness is romanticized in some quarters.

Truth be told, I worry about my creativity.  I believe I probably have a tiny amount of talent for writing that I might be able to work into something better if I had the confidence to go on a writing course, to show my work to more people (or any people… of course, this would require having friends and family interested in my work and able to critique meaningfully, which I don’t have) and, above all, to keep working at it.  I don’t have the confidence or, when the depression is bad, the energy and concentration (I wanted to work on my book today, but it’s easier to churn out this drivel instead).  I think my writing is awful and I don’t work at it, except for these rambling nonsense posts that, sensibly, no one reads or takes seriously.  I’m still smarting from my Hevria.com rejection even though the people who rejected me don’t even remember doing it or why they did it.  Sigh.  David Bowie said that the worst thing God can do to you is to make you an artist, but a mediocre artist; I think I know what he meant, although being lonely is worse (I guess the two can be connected).

Odds and Ends

I felt rather out of my depth at work today.  I was on the library issue desk alone quite a bit and some questions and issues came up that I was not entirely sure how to deal with.  Sometimes they were new problems I had not experienced before, sometimes I had been told what to do, but I did not remember what to do properly, generally regarding things that you only really learn by doing, which can be problematic if they are situations that only arise on rare occasions (e.g. students needing to reset their passwords).  As a general theme underlying several of the problems, I know there are times to enforce the rules strictly and other times when it is appropriate to look the other way or even actively to be lenient, but I struggle to tell the two apart.  As a rule, I tend to be rule-based (one of my borderline Asperger’s traits, or perhaps a kabbalistic indication that I come from the side of gevurah), but sometimes I over-compensate by becoming too lenient.  Lack of confidence can also lead to excessive leniency as a way of avoiding confrontation, which is problematic, particularly when my colleagues are able to enforce the rules more strictly.  It does not help that I am not always 100% sure of the rules myself, particularly when faced with new situations that I have not been taught about.

I suppose the takeaway points from today is that (a) nothing I did was catastrophically wrong, (b) I usually found a work-around or managed to find one of my colleagues to help me if I was really stuck, (c) I am getting better at being assertive and (d) I think I can remember some at least of the things I was taught today, as well as my plans for strategies with dealing with frequent difficult requests e.g. the frequent request to borrow pens – I intuited that I probably should not do this, but lent the pen anyway as I was not sure why I should not and lacked the courage for a confrontation, having forgotten that we sell them.  I now plan in future to suggest students buy a pen from us instead, particularly as we sell them dirt cheap.  I’m not sure what to do at our other campus, though, where we don’t sell stationery.  Not lending a pen seems petty, but when you consider how many people ask to borrow pens, that’s a lot of ink even if they remember to return the pen.

The other work-related problem was my realization that I may not have been prioritizing my work correctly since starting in April and indeed, that I have been neglecting certain aspects of the job entirely, albeit in part because I had been led to believe that other aspects were more important and because the relevant books had not been given to me.  There is not really a lot I can do about this, except to mention it to my boss when we have a meeting on Monday about one of my main tasks (one I have been concentrating on).  I have only been there two months, so I can not really have neglected anything too badly.

An amusing thing at work was getting invited to an Eid party by one of my Muslim colleagues.  I politely refused.  I think he thought that I was worried about antisemitism, but I was more concerned about halakhic implications of going to a religious event and also by my anxieties about going to new places, meeting new people and being around big crowds (again borderline Asperger’s symptoms and social anxieties).  I did manage to have my photo taken yesterday without shaking and I have generally been able to talk to people without shaking even when nervous or stressed (things that in the past have triggered shaking when suffering from medication side-effects), which indicates that the nervous shaking I experienced recently is not as bad as it has been in the past, although I have emailed my psychiatrist about it.

I have now been living alone in my own flat for a year, which is impressive when I was not sure I was going to make it through even a few months.  It is doubly impressive given that now I am paying a lot more of the rent and not relying so much on my parents now that I have a new job with longer hours.  In theory I could just about manage to support myself without my parents now for the first time in my life, albeit with no real money for luxuries or savings.  I am also glad to say that I generally feel confident about the kashrut of my flat, without the OCD worries that I had failed to kasher it correctly or had managed to treif it up that tormented me for the first eight or nine months here.

I just finished the second draft of the fifth chapter of my non-fiction Doctor Who book, which pleases me no end.  So far I have written about 67,000 words: second drafts of chapters one through five, first drafts of chapters six through fourteen, with a fifteenth chapter still to be written (and possibly more, if it takes me so long to finish that they make a lot more episodes in the meantime!).  I have got a long way to go before I am finished, though, largely because of the sheer number of Doctor Who episodes to re-watch as research.  I hope to binge watch when I have a month off work in the summer, as I’m not going on holiday.  It will still take a long time, though, which I suppose is the problem with writing about something with such a long history.  I lack the time to watch a lot when I am working and anyway I generally feel uncomfortable about watching a lot of TV, or doing any relaxing activity for long periods.

Sometimes I wonder if the Doctor Who book is a worthwhile project to pursue.  I am not sure if the people at my shul (synagogue) and shiur (religious class) would approve, or even understand.  Writing about a television programme, and a children’s (OK, family) one at that is an odd thing to do and I can see why people (especially in my somewhat Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) shul and shiur) would see it as bittul Torah, a waste of time that should be spent in religious study.  In my defence, I don’t think that I am such a tzaddik (saint) that I can realistically spend all my non-working time in prayer and Torah study and if I need a hobby, then tinkering with this book is a harmless one.  The Orthodox world and especially the Charedi world can be sceptical of secular culture and of all the media, television is probably viewed most critically, but I think there is something positive in writing something that expresses admiration for art that has made me happy in the hope that my writing will help others find meaning and beauty in it too (and while I hesitate to call all Doctor Who artistic and beautiful, I think some of it, old and new, is).  I’m not sure I could really express that in religious terms though.  Maybe there’s a Hevria article in that…

Ten More Episodes of Patrick Troughton

“Some kind of solitude is measured out in you./You think you know me, but you haven’t got a clue.” – Hey Bulldog, The Beatles

My cold continues to persist (or persists in continuing), but I feel a lot better.  I feel better moodwise too, although I still brood on whether I will get married and generally feel I won’t.  I’m more accepting of my sister’s marriage, but I’m developing another crush that won’t work out, so the less said about that the better.  I hate the fact that I move from crush to crush without ever developing a real relationship (OK, once I managed that) and usually without even getting a date out of it.  It all feels so superficial and adolescent, a way of life that I should have moved on from years ago.  I want to develop meaningful relationships, but I can’t.  I was thinking yesterday that I actually have quite a developed personality, in terms of emotional maturity, wide interests and interesting views on a number of topics, but I don’t have anyone to share them with.  To be honest, today I feel a lot less positive about myself, but I still feel desperately alone.  I don’t just mean romantic relationships either; a couple of people tried talking to me at shul (synagogue) over Shabbat (the Sabbath), but I was too shy and nervous to respond particularly coherently.  I did at least answer a couple of questions at the shiur (religious class), albeit shyly and quietly and after letting several questions I knew the answer to go.

I’ve been trying to be more creative, starting to write mini sagas (fifty word stories) with a view to sending them to Hevria.com.  Normally with creativity I lose my nerve part-way through and give up on what I’m writing, convinced that it’s awful or I just run out of imagination and enthusiasm, but mini sagas seem to be short enough to carry me through them to completion.  I am also still carrying on with my Doctor Who book, both watching episodes (the title of this post marks my progress towards the end of sixties Who), redrafting the existing essays that will form the bulk of the book and looking into secondary material, although I’m not sure how much of that will be utilized in the end.  It’s going to take me a long time though.  Even just looking at television episodes without the spin-offs, not to mention the enormous secondary literature,  Doctor Who is big.  Really big.  According to Wikipedia (I was too lazy to count) it’s 833 episodes* as of yesterday (with seven more due this year) comprising 270 stories** and 36 seasons.  I’m up to season six, story 50, episode 243 and it’s taken me about six months to get this far…

 

* Episodes vary in length, but original series episodes are usually about 25 minutes; new series episodes are usually 45 to 50 minutes.

** Although counting stories in the new series, with individual episode titles, but no overall story titles can be hard.  Is Utopia part of The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords?  What about Face the Raven, Heaven Sent and Hell Bent – one, two or three stories?  And let’s not get started on the “Is Shada canon, and if so which version?” debate.