I didn’t blog yesterday. I had a busy day, but there wasn’t much to put on a mental health blog, except for one thing that wasn’t time-related and was too long for the time available to write. The only other thing worth mentioning is discussing with my rabbi mentor my OCD anxiety about missing words of the Megillah (Book of Esther) on Purim. He said that it’s not my responsibility to check it is read correctly and that there should be other people in the room to do that (usually the rabbi, although he wasn’t in my reading this year because of the socially distanced parallel readings). He said he was once in a Megillah reading where someone in the congregation kept calling the ba’al koreh (reader) out on real or imagined mistakes. It was embarrassing for everyone and eventually the rabbi had to intervene to stop him.
As for today, I woke up early (6.50am) today to try to pray more before going to work, but I stayed in bed too long, actually getting up later than when I usually try to get up, so it was not a success.
At work J started training me for a task which is scary, because it’s client-facing and very serious and potentially dealing with people in emotional distress, so I’m a bit apprehensive. It’s definitely social anxiety provoking. However, I think it’s positive because it means J is at least still hoping to have a permanent job for me. It could also be exposure therapy for social anxiety. I’d like to explain more, but I don’t think I could do so without making where I’m working too obvious. I didn’t take notes when J was explaining it and although I wrote some notes once he had finished, I’m not sure I got it all down. He did say we would role play some situations on Thursday so I can practise it.
I went to depression group on Zoom this evening. We split into smaller groups this time with breakout rooms, which seemed to work well. I do feel lately that I’m not sure how much to share, how much I have the time (or the energy) to share of my history, particularly now the depression part (the reason for being there) is no longer really present for me on a day-to-day basis. I spoke mostly about my worries about my autism assessment next week. I experienced a lot of social anxiety and mostly looked at the keyboard rather than the screen or the camera. I am definitely struggling to keep going to the group now it’s Zoom only, and the fact that I’m not feeling so depressed means I feel I have less of a reason to go, although I do want to hear how other people are getting on. (Some people do keep going to the group after recovery for that reason and to support others.)
I also struggled to concentrate on the group because I was feeling agitated about something I didn’t want to bring to the group. Just before the group started, I was reading Contact. I thought it was going to be a fairly realistic science fiction book about what a near future first contact with aliens would look like, but it’s turning into a religion vs. science story. Or a Christianity vs. science story, as Carl Sagan’s arguments are more anti-Christian than anti-religious. The idea that Tanakh would be more believable if it contained a testable scientific law seemed to be a spectacular exercise in missing the point, like saying King Lear would be a more meaningful expression of the meaning of love and power if the Fool related Newton’s Law of Motion. Christianity is about belief and in a sense so is atheism; Judaism is about deeds. The test of Tanakh from a Jewish point of view is living Jewish practices and values and seeing how it changes you. Tanakh isn’t meant to be a science book. When I get annoyed by something like this, it runs over and over in my head
It reminded me that years ago I started writing a short story with a similar premise to Contact (radio telescope picks up signs of alien life, with a realistic tone, although I knew a lot less of the science than Sagan, obviously) except mine saw the presence of alien life in the cosmos as perhaps affirming of the existence of God, although I can’t remember how I reached that conclusion. Anyway, I didn’t finish it and now I can’t find the draft I started.
I don’t want to abandon the book, because I’m interested in its realistic presentation of a near-future first contact scenario and because I believe in encountering alternative viewpoints. I may end up skimming bits (maybe. I’m pretty bad at skimming things). I looked at the review on Goodreads and people were suggesting it’s positive about religion, but I think it’s positive about awe in nature, which isn’t the same thing. I find nature beautiful, but I find God in the miraculous survival of the Jewish people and perhaps in good deeds and “I-Thou” interactions (I’m actually not sure what I find God in).
Goodreads might need to refine their algorithm. It just suggested that “Because you read The Complete Peanuts 1987-1988: Volume 19 [you might like to read] 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep“. Aside from the fact that I automatically switch off whenever anyone says “late capitalism” (capitalism has been “late” for about 150 years now), I struggle to see the link between Snoopy and Marxist economics. Maybe Snoopy wrote “It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly the end of capitalism rang out!”
I had sleep trouble again last night, going to bed early, but waking around 3.30am and not being able to get back to sleep until 5.00am. I got to work on time, but I was a bit tired. Worse, I was rather anxious. This was particularly the case when I had to wear my mask, on the Tube to work and when I went to the bank and the post office. Wearing a mask can feel very constricting and suffocating at the best of times, and I was wondering what would happen on the Tube if I suddenly needed to breathe fresh air. I didn’t actually have a panic attack, but I feel vaguely apprehensive about mask situations in the near future.
Other than that I had some anxiety about work and about PIMOJ, but was mostly OK, except for feelings of physical discomfort and aching in my limbs, and also in my teeth/gums, like my teeth are being scraped at the dentist. At one point I was shaking somewhat and unable to type accurately. I just checked the haloperidol leaflet; agitation is a possible side-effect, but anxiety is not, so maybe that’s “just” anxiety from everything going on in my life (work, relationship, autism assessment) and the world at large (COVID) and perhaps the olanzapine was keeping it at bay.
I got home from work very early and tried to work on my novel. I managed about half an hour, but I didn’t do very much other than correct some passages that had been initially written in the first person and then mostly, but not entirely, switched to the third person. I got through another chapter, but I feel very much like I need external criticism (dread word!) as I can’t judge it objectively.
I tried to do some extra Torah study as I hadn’t done much on the Tube into work, because when I felt anxious, I switched to listening to music. I didn’t have much time though because I prioritised working on my novel and going to Zoom depression group. I read some interesting things in Rabbi Sacks’ Morality, but I feel too tired to engage with it now.
Depression group was draining, as I think it always is, but worthwhile. I find the second half more draining than the first and really should volunteer to speak in the first half more often. I spoke about PIMOJ for the first time, really in an off-hand way. I’m still not sure what I feel comfortable sharing about the relationship there – or here, for that matter. It’s hard to know what I feel comfortable sharing, especially in the somewhat artificial environment of Zoom (as opposed to in-person meetings).
I’d like to be able to start a post without talking about my sleep pattern, but it seems to be a big part of my life at the moment, so here goes. I went to bed about 12.00pm. I wasn’t sure if I would sleep or not. Being sick can make you sleepy, but I had done nothing all evening since being sick except watch TV, so I didn’t feel particularly tired. I couldn’t sleep. I’m not sure if it was a lack of tiredness or the constant agitated thoughts about the Zoom meeting on Tuesday evening Rabbi B. Eventually I got up and watched some more Doctor Who to calm myself down. I did actually enjoy the second half of Logopolis more than the first, although that may be because it was 1.00am and my standards were not as high. I did eventually fall asleep around 2.00am, but slept through the morning again, which I was hoping to stop doing. I guess it was not entirely unexpected, given the evening I had (being sick, but also having a difficult conversation with my parents and arranging the call with Rabbi B). What did upset me a little was waking up with some religious OCD thoughts, which had not really bothered me for some time. I was a little surprised to experience them, although I know there’s always a risk of the religious OCD coming back at times of stress and exhaustion. They did at least go after I’d eaten breakfast – low blood sugar also exacerbates OCD for me.
After breakfast I felt better, but also a bit down and lethargic. It was hard to do very much. I guess it’s not surprising, given that I had been very sick less than twenty-four hours previously. At lunch I opened the box of vegetables that I was eating with PIMOJ yesterday and saw that the leftover cucumber had gone off. It was completely mouldy and furry. So I suspect I was sick from food poisoning from eating gone off cucumber. I knew it was a little past its best, but it still looked edible yesterday. Obviously not.
I was pleased to get thoughtful messages from PIMOJ, but also a message from J asking how I was, which was nice. He said I could do some work from home one day this week, putting 300 invoices in envelopes, stamping and posting them. I think I can do that on Wednesday, hopefully working around my therapy in the afternoon. I had already decided I was going to skip volunteering this week as I have too many stressful things even without being sick. I’m a bit upset at letting them down, but I need to look after my mental health. I skipped depression group tonight too, as I didn’t feel I had enough stamina to spend a long time on Zoom, as well as not feeling able to speak about the things that most concern me. I feel a bit bad about missing it again, but I feel that I need to focus on the autism assessment, meeting with the rabbi and paid work this week.
I spent an hour or so in the early evening working on my novel. Once I got into it, it flowed quite well for a while and I wrote 500 words, but around seven o’clock I suddenly became very anxious. It was a feeling of nausea and apprehension rather than specific voiced fears, but I suspect the meeting with Rabbi B tomorrow evening is at the root of it, and maybe also the autism assessment tomorrow afternoon.
I guess the Rabbi B fear is wondering what he will think of me, feeling that I’ve done something in good faith and on the advice of my rabbi mentor, but which on the face of it appears bad to someone from an Orthodox Jewish background. Although my rabbi mentor got in touch with Rabbi B before I made contact with him, I’m not sure how much of my story he told him. I guess below that is guilt, which probably isn’t justified. Beyond this, when I knew Rabbi B when I was at university, I felt that I was constantly embarrassing myself in front of him and looking like a freak or an idiot (for reasons I would now identify as being down to autism or social anxiety) and wondered what he thought about me…
Other than that, I didn’t achieve much. I didn’t go for a walk (I actually only just realised that I didn’t go out all day). I did some Torah study and preparation for my devar Torah, but wasn’t satisfied that I’d done enough, nor was I satisfied with my preparation. I may have to start from scratch, but it’s much too late to do that now.
I got distracted this evening reading stuff online that only left me upset, frustrated, guilty and uncertain of things, but I don’t really want to go into it here. Now it’s nearly midnight and I should go to bed as I have a busy day tomorrow (autism assessment, Rabbi B), but I feel very tense and unsleepy. And I haven’t even mentioned my thoughts about Lockdown 3: The Mutant Strain.
I was voicing my anxieties to PIMOJ and she was trying to calm me down. Then I watched the first episode of the Doctor Who story Castrovalva and saw the same scenario play out as the composed Nyssa tried to calm down the panicking Tegan, saying that panicking doesn’t achieve anything and so on. To be honest, there’s an element of geeky Adric about me too, and I’ve long suspected that I don’t appreciate Peter Davison’s Doctor as much as I should because he’s the Doctor who’s most like me (polite, but given to moments of panic and ultimately not that good at being the Doctor, with fatal consequences). Suddenly my future life seems like Season Nineteen of Doctor Who… I guess there are worse things it could be, although I hope it’s more Kinda than Earthshock.
I commented on someone else’s blog today to say that I’ve only been paid for one piece of writing, although I have done some professional or at least semi-professional writing for free. This, it occurred to me afterwards, is not true any more, as I have sold a couple of copies of my non-fiction Doctor Who book, and while so far only friends and family have bought copies, at least two people have read and enjoyed it (my oldest friend and my sister’s nephew). It’s a bit frightening how my mind can keep positive memories and thoughts away from me when I need it.
Sorry for the meaningless title. I hate picking titles, and this post is less than 500 words long, with no real theme.
Not a lot to report today. Work was fine. I’m taking an inventory of various assets, mostly in the form of antique Jewish ritual objects. I don’t really want to go into what they are and why we have them, as I’m trying to avoid making where I work obvious. It’s at least different, but also a bit frustrating, inasmuch as I have some documentation, but it’s not always clear, and sometimes I’m comparing two or three different objects of the same kind to see which one best fits the description. But the day passed quite quickly. I did make some mistakes when writing invoices though. I hope these are learning experiences.
A job that I “should” have applied for (entry-level librarian job at a major London museum, part-time) came up just now and I don’t have the confidence to apply for it – no confidence in my ability to do the job or my ability to cope with more hours than I’m currently doing.
I decided not to contact my GP for now regarding sleep and tiredness issues, but I will try to phone the psychiatrist’s secretary tomorrow to chase the letter that will change my medication. I think it’s worth seeing if the medication change I agreed with the psychiatrist works before pursuing other avenues.
I “went” to Zoom depression group. I didn’t have much to say, but thought I could at least listen to other people. However, I struggled to concentrate. I find concentration hard on Zoom anyway and I think going after work meant that I just couldn’t keep up. It’s probably worth still going, though, as I would still like the option to talk, and it’s good to hear how other people are doing even if I probably won’t remember much of it half an hour later.
I spoke about my job and my fears of messing it up, but I didn’t go into details. I didn’t mention PIMOJ. Whenever I think I could mention her, I think that we could have broken up by the next time we speak and then I’ll have to tell everyone we’ve broken up. I’m also not sure what to say at the moment. PIMOJ keeps saying that we’re “getting to know one another” and I’m not sure if she’s waiting for me to say that we’re in a relationship. I’m pretty bad at knowing what to do in these situations and I think she is, if anything, less experienced and confident than me. I’m pretty sure that she’s keen to continue, but I’m not sure what to say.
I slept badly last night. I couldn’t sleep, perhaps because I took my medication very late. I had agitated thoughts going through my head. Not negative thoughts (they were just interpretations of Twin Peaks), but I couldn’t stop them looping around and restarting again. I did eventually fall asleep, but it was not restful sleep. I had a disturbing dream, although now I can’t remember anything about it except that it disturbed me.
I feel really burnt out again today. I guess I did a lot yesterday even before I slept badly. At least I am working on Tuesday rather than today (Monday) this week.
The autism hospital phoned Mum again. They cancelled my appointment in December, when I was supposed to get my final diagnosis, because they want me to have an “observational assessment” first. This is with a psychiatric nurse who is booked until January. I now have an appointment for the observational assessment on 5 January. I can’t book to see the psychiatrist until after that, so I’m worried that this will drag on until February, which would be well over two years since my initial screening. I was worried that they have suddenly changed their minds about me given that they suddenly want me to have this screening, but Mum’s response was, “It’s the NHS, the doctors and nurses don’t work together.” She thinks it’s poor coordination again, and that I should have had the assessment before now. I hope she is right. A friend of mine who is also being assessed had an observational assessment, so it’s probably routine.
I had an — I’m not sure what you’d call it — a depressive moment or an autistic moment. I went out for a short walk and to get some sandwiches for lunch at work this week (it’s a strictly kosher site, so I have to buy pre-made kosher sandwiches from a kosher baker or deli). They only had one lot of sandwiches that I liked. I was already feeling drained and a bit down, but suddenly I felt overwhelmed, thinking about getting more sandwiches later in the week, thinking about future weeks, thinking about all the chores I’m supposed to do this and that I don’t think I can get them all done with work and therapy too. Just overwhelmed by everything that is happening to me, particularly with my new job. It subsided by the time I came home and spoke to my parents, and began devising strategies to deal with the chores (etc.), but it is a reminder that autism is always there, and depression lurks in the background, and they can come out when I’m feeling stressed and overwhelmed and that autistic rigid thinking can make it hard for me to find solutions unaided.
The main thing I did today, other than that, was to cook dinner. Mum offered to do it, but she was ill this morning, so I wanted to do it. I did miss one of the ingredients, or at least put it in late, which I guess comes from doing things when depressed and burnt out. I guess it’s an autistic executive function issue again (short-term memory and organisation). I think that’s the type of thing autism observational assessment will test. (Dinner tasted OK.)
I didn’t go to Zoom depression group. I was already thinking of skipping it, as I have to go to bed early to get up early for work tomorrow, but then I felt too depressed. I know that sounds silly, but I knew my problems were mostly stress and exhaustion and I didn’t really feel like talking. I felt an evening of TV would be better for me than talking and listening on Zoom, which can be very draining. My main reservation is that I will miss the next session too, as it clashes with a virtual shiur (religious class) PIMOJ and I are both attending.
I didn’t do much Torah study either, just listened to a short five minute devar Torah (Torah thought) on WhatsApp and spent a few minutes thinking about my own devar Torah for the week. I’m not sure when I’m going to write that, or how good it will be (or how long it will be, actually). But I just couldn’t do any more today.
A present to myself as a reward for the new job and because I was having a bad day: a cheap second-hand DVD of Blade Runner 2049, and a somewhat more expensive new copy of Tunnel of Fear, an early episode of The Avengers (the British, John Steed Avengers) that was missing and was rediscovered and released on DVD a couple of years ago. Because it was missing when the complete Avengers box-set came out, it was the only surviving episode I haven’t seen.
Because of that I ended up watching a different early Avengers episode (Concerto, by Doctor Who writers Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke). It was diverting, but I find that not many of the pre-Diana Rigg episodes are that memorable. I plan to watch Doctor Who before going to bed to unwind a bit more.
I struggled to get up again this morning. I felt like my sleep was not at all refreshing, which is not unusual for me, but this time seemed particularly bad. I had weird dreams, which I can’t really remember, but I think shul (synagogue) was part of it, so I probably feel guilty for leaving the online AGM early or am just feeling again that I don’t fit in and that everyone else is doing “better” than me in life, whatever that means. To be honest, I probably would have stayed in bed longer, but I knew I had a dentist’s appointment at 2pm and wanted to get up and have lunch first.
I felt rather depressed for much of the day. I’m catastrophising a bit, worried that things won’t work with PIMOJ or in my new job, and that I’ll let my friend down in the latter. The slow pace things are going with PIMOJ is probably good overall, as I don’t think either of us has much relationship experience, but it is frustrating.
I was also worried about the dentist, partly because I’ve been nervous about it since having my first filling a year or so ago, partly because it’s a dentist I haven’t been to before and there’s a lot of autistic “new situation” anxiety there. In the end, I was fine. I have receding gums because I brush too hard, but otherwise fine. I’m not sure how to stop brushing so hard; this is not the first time I’ve been warned about it. There was some slight tremor, but not much.
I went for a walk for about an hour. I have usually been walking for half an hour most days when I don’t run, but I think I should try to increase it a bit as it’s going to become harder to run now the days are shorter, the weather wetter and I’ll be working two days a week. That said, in retrospect, I wonder if walking too long exhausted me and brought my mood down as my mood seemed even worse in the afternoon, the opposite of what usually happens.
I spent an hour or so on my novel. I procrastinated quite a bit. I’m struggling with redrafting. I feel like I’ve lost all ability to judge the quality of my writing, so I have no idea what to change as it seems equally good/bad. Actually, what it seems like most of the time is just indifferent. Also, actually fixing stuff is a lot harder than realising that just spotting that something needs fixing!
While redrafting, I kept getting distracted by tinkering with a draft blog post I’ve got saved about politics that I may never get the courage to post. Eventually I gave up working on either novel or post as I clearly wasn’t getting anywhere and I wanted to be in a reasonable state of mind for Zoom depression group in the evening.
I only managed about fifteen minutes of Torah study, which upsets me a little, but there you go. Realistically, I probably did too much yesterday, especially that overlong AGM, and am suffering burnout today.
At depression group I had the courage to go first (no one ever wants to go first). I spoke about my anxieties about my new job and COVID Tube travel as well as my autism assessment. I didn’t speak about PIMOJ again. I don’t know why. I think I struggle to share with the group the way other people can, particularly on Zoom; I think when we met in person pre-COVID I shared more. I suppose it’s harder to feel a rapport and sense any kind of empathy over Zoom. I certainly find it harder just to speak and listen on Zoom. There’s a function to turn off your camera; I wish there was a function to turn off everyone else’s cameras when I speak as I find the movement (and, on speaker view, the cutting between cameras if someone hasn’t muted themselves) distracting.
I’m trying to focus on the present, otherwise I slip back into depression and self-criticism. I find myself missing PIMOJ and wondering how much of that is genuine and how much is just loneliness. I hope it’s genuine, but it’s probably too early to say. We’ve only been in contact for two months.
I also find myself feeling “touch hunger,” the need to be held. I feel this a lot lately. Hugging my parents helps a bit, but not completely and lately I’ve found it hard to hug my parents, I don’t know why. I guess I just feel withdrawn. As someone on the autistic spectrum, and as an Orthodox Jewish man who tries to keep the laws about not having affectionate physical contact with unrelated women, touch is doubly difficult for me even without COVID. PIMOJ and I hugged on our last date and I don’t really regret it, even though both Jewish law and COVID regulations forbade it. It is hard to know what to do sometimes. I feel like I did what I had to do, even though it’s probably objectively wrong from a variety of viewpoints. Just don’t tell my rabbi or the police (although the idea of being fined for hugging my date is amusing). I know this probably sounds strange from a secular perspective, where sexual contact is assumed to be the norm even in the under age, but for me just hugging is a big, guilt-inducing thing.
I guess today, and other recent days, feels like stalemate, with nothing moving. I’m aware that things are going to change from next week when I start work again. I just hope things change for the better.
I’m watching Twin Peaks: The Return, the sequel series to Twin Peaks. I’m in the middle of episode four of eighteen. I don’t think it’s as good as the initial series, or at least the initial series was until they solved the murder of Laura Palmer (halfway through the second season). The original series had a strong hook (the murder), interesting characters and an intense sense of place (Twin Peaks and the surrounding forest). With this background, the style was allowed to flow naturally into a strange and wonderful mash-up of police procedural, soap opera, paranormal horror story and surreal comedy. The Return feels all over the place: no focus of plot or place, no interesting characters. It feels like the only character we’ve really seen at length is Agent Cooper, and he’s done nothing except wander around in a daze, repeating words other people say.
In the original series the weirdness felt like it had an underlying logic that we could not understand. In The Return, it feels like weird things happen because this is Twin Peaks. Rather than juggling different genres expertly, it’s hard to find any genre for it. I can see why they wanted to avoid simply rehashing the original series and do something new, but I think they over-compensated. I’m sufficiently invested in the series to watch more, primarily in the hope that Agent Cooper’s consciousness returns and rejoins his body, but I doubt I would be interested if I hadn’t seen the original series.
I woke up at 9am and for once felt refreshed, so I got up straight away. I did manage to say most of the morning prayers at the right time, but not in the right order (I changed the order to say the most important prayers at the right time). This allowed me to do an hour of work on my novel before lunch. I went to apply for another job, this time as a law librarian, but they were looking for a lot of industry-specific experience and skills that I don’t have. I also passed on a school librarian job, partly because it was in South London and the trip would have been too long, but also because I’m nervous about dealing with teenagers again. It was a maternity cover job, so would not have been for too long anyway. That said, there is another secondary school librarian job that I might apply for tomorrow that is worth applying for because it’s relatively local, although possibly not that easy to get to on the bus.
I spent about two hours working on my novel (actually a bit under, as I spent some time looking at a library-related blog post). I would have liked to have written more, but I ran out of energy before the end and some of it was not great quality. I’m currently plugging a plot-hole, but I’m not sure I’m doing it particularly well and I feel like I’m losing my place in redrafting the story with all the interruptions (Jewish festivals, job applications). There’s also a kind of pull between what I feel people would expect to happen to my main character and what happened to me in a similar situation. I feel that what actually happened to me would be considered unrealistic if I wrote it in a novel, but I don’t feel that I can write the alternative for different reasons (lack of skill as well as what I think would really happen) so I’m in some weird compromise situation now which might be the worst of both worlds. Still, I wrote about a thousand words, which is something, even if I fear the quality is not good.
I did some Torah study and filled in the application form for a job agency for people on the autism spectrum, but then got nervous and didn’t book the appointment I will need to have about my skills and abilities before I can go on their books. It’s partly (mostly) social anxiety, but also an element of thinking they won’t be able to help, as other organisations aimed at helping people on the spectrum into work, or people generally into work, have not helped me. It doesn’t help that careers advisors I’ve spoken to don’t always have a good idea of what librarianship involves or what skills are transferable and I’m not good at explaining. People suggest I look at archives, but archival work is actually very different to librarianship and the skills are not transferable without significant retraining. Anyway, I feel I have too much on this week to speak to them, but maybe next week.
I went to depression group on Zoom. It still feels a strange experience after all these months. Zoom/Skype therapy doesn’t seem so hard, although I’ve been doing that for much longer, long before lockdown. I don’t think I’m particularly eloquent at in person meetings, but I feel even less eloquent on Zoom and I never seem to have as much to say as other people, possibly because I’m not so good about talking about my emotions outside of a formal therapy setting (as opposed to writing about them). It is good to hear that I’m not alone and that other people are going through the same things as me, even if it is simultaneously hard to hear so many people suffering. One thing that was suggested tonight was that people with a creative outlet are doing better than those without one, which may be true. I certainly feel that my novel has given me something to focus on beyond job applications that never seem to go anywhere.
I didn’t talk about PIMOJ on depression group. I am always reluctant to talk about dating at depression group, I guess because after I spoke about E. there, the first time we were dating, we broke up. I don’t think it jinxed the relationship, I just felt awkward when I went back again and had to say we had broken up. When I was dating E. again earlier this year, I didn’t mention it at depression group at all, or when we broke up. But maybe I should talk about PIMOJ next time, as it is a big thing for me, and it’s not easy to date in lockdown. Although I know some people from depression group read this and I talk about her here. Somehow that doesn’t bother me, maybe because I feel more in control here. In control about what I say, I mean.
I’m thinking about letting PIMOJ know about my blog. I think I’ve mentioned journaling as a coping strategy, but not that it’s on a public blog. I was worried she would want to see it and it would show her a load of negative things about me, in particular my lack of positivity (she is very positive). That still is a concern to me, although I don’t think I’m as negative here as I used to be. I’m probably still somewhat negative, particularly about my employment prospects. But lately I’ve been wanting to open up more to her emotionally (as encouraged by my therapist), but I find it hard to do, perhaps in part because of what I said above about finding speaking about my emotions hard. COVID means we aren’t meeting much in person (although we are still trying) and I find it hard to start a serious conversation on instant messenger. I worry about suddenly becoming very serious. I think I’m still learning to feel comfortable with PIMOJ, to converse at a deeper level, but it’s hard to find the way to start that conversation. So maybe it would be a good idea to start a conversation that way, by letting her read my blog. Or maybe it wouldn’t, I’m not sure.
I probably do have more to say about all of the above, but it’s late and this post is long and I should get to bed…
My Mum had a phone appointment today for my autism assessment. I’m a bit worried… I’m pretty sure I’m on the spectrum, and that’s why I struggle with some things like job interviews. It’s hard for my parents to remember thirty years ago or more, but part of the diagnosis is based on how I was as a child, so I may not get the diagnosis I think I need. I think I learnt to mask from a young age, and as a child I was quiet, well-behaved and self-contained, so adults generally left me alone and focused on more needy/vocal children. I have noted before that I have a presentation of autism that has more in common with autistic women than men (particularly masking and finding strategies to “pass” as neurotypical in conversation and life in general, and being more imaginative and creative than autistic stereotype) – unfortunately, autism in women is arguably under-diagnosed because it doesn’t seem like “classic” autism, and I suspect the psychiatrists will be even less receptive to finding “female” autism in me.
Ironically, while she was doing that, I had a classic autistic moment. I was helping Dad take down the sukkah, or some of it, and he said, “Go up the ladder,” which I did – without moving it to where it needed to be first. Classic autistic literalism. The thing is, things like this can seem autistic, but they can also just seem absent-minded or eccentric. When I was younger, my parents viewed me through the “absent-minded” lens (my Mum even used to call me her “Absent-Minded Professor”). Now I see myself more through the autism lens. Maybe I’m wrong to do so. I guess I’ll find out soon; usually the appointment with the suspected autistic person is within six weeks of the appointment with the parent/guardian, but lately they’re doing them faster online so I should get an appointment soon.
I opened up to PIMOJ about some of this (autism and also depression) and she’s been really supportive, but I can’t shake the fears that one day it will be too much for her and she will walk off, particularly if I can’t find a job soon. I guess because that has happened to me before.
Other than that, today felt like trench warfare: a lot of noise, but not much movement (possibly watching The American Civil War triggered that – trench warfare is more associated with World War I, but it was actually first used in The American Civil War). I’m struggling with the disappearance of daylight as days get shorter and cloudier; it is probably time to start using my light box again. I helped Dad with the sukkah, as I said, and spent quite some time catching up on emails, including one to a potential voluntary opportunity (more in a few days, hopefully, when I hear back from them). Other than that, I felt too tired to do much. Post-Yom Tov (festival) burnout, I guess. I spent a lot of time writing and answering emails. I feel like anyone who has a white-collar job spends a huge chunk of the day treading water answering emails, although technically none of these were about paid employment.
No time or energy for a walk, and it was too wet. Mum suddenly felt ill about 6.00pm, so I hurriedly made dinner – just plain pasta with a bought sauce as I was short of time and energy. Part of the lack of time was because I wanted to go to depression group on Zoom, which I did, although I always feel curiously uncertain as to what to say and how coherent I sound. It’s good to have somewhere I can admit to difficult feelings. I spoke about the job interviews and feelings of inferiority and wanting my autism diagnosis to reassure myself, but not about the worry that PIMOJ would not cope with my issues.
I didn’t have time to do any further job hunting today. I have four jobs to apply for on my job spreadsheet, but two are for school librarian positions and I feel reluctant to apply for them given that I was rejected from the other school librarian position for lack of relevant experience. One is a law library position which raises the same experience issues, plus that would, I imagine, be a very fast-paced, high-pressure environment. The other job, a research support librarian position at a major museum, scares me in terms of the responsibility involved and my fears about my skillset.
I didn’t feel up to doing much Torah study so listened on an online shiur (religious class) on the goal of life. To be honest, it didn’t tell me much I hadn’t heard before from similar shiurim and books. Another problem with these types of class is that they tell you that true pleasure is eternal pleasure i.e. pursuing eternal, meaningful things like prayer and Torah study, but I can end up feeling despondent because depressive anhedonia means I don’t always enjoy spiritual things any more than narrowly material things, sometimes less so. Still, that was half an hour of Torah study that I probably wouldn’t have managed if I was still narrowly focused on reading religious texts for my Torah study.
I feel upset that so many people I know seem to be struggling right now (hence the title quote, from the Police song O My God). Some of that is COVID, but some, I guess, is that life really is hard for a lot of people. There’s a pithy rhyming quote, I think from Oliver Goldsmith (eighteenth century English poet) that I have been trying to locate again for some time now without coming across it, about how small are the elements of human suffering that can be relieved by governments and kings. I guess that is an unfashionable and conservative view nowadays, where we are supposed to think that the state could and should solve every problem and that social justice is best dealt out in real-time on Twitter, but a lot of people I know are struggling with anxiety, depression, loneliness, autism, not fitting in, arguments with family, sometimes abuse… There can be a material aspect to these things, and sometimes governments can help, but it’s not always the main problem or the key to addressing things. Thank God, I’m not struggling financially because my family are looking after me, but my problems are still very real. It’s hard enough for government to try to secure access to the essentials of life, without factoring in that happiness or sadness are often driven by non-tangible factors, and that dependency on others, especially an impersonal state, can be a strong driver of low self-esteem and depression… I just felt on the brink of tears by dinner time today, thinking about things.
I noticed something interesting when I went to shul (synagogue) last week. Obviously masks are compulsory there and a couple of children had dinosaur masks on, so far as I could tell from a distance. I found this interesting, as our previous rabbi was a Creationist and I assumed that most of the congregation were too and I was in a minority for not being one. Moreover, the father of the boys wearing the masks is very religious and involved. Of course, it could be that these are children and no one minds; still, it made me think maybe I’m not as unusual as I thought and I don’t have to feel as constrained as I do to hide my thoughts.
It’s September. “Harvest has passed, summer is gone, but we have not been saved.” (Yirmiyah/Jeremiah 8.20) COVID is still with us and I still feel uncomfortable being near other people or entering a shop, as I had to do today. The autumn Jewish festivals are approaching and I feel unprepared for those too, uncertain of whether I will even feel comfortable setting foot in my shul (synagogue), given the risk of infection and the discomfort of having to wear a mask.
I got up at 10.15am again, which is good, but I wish I could get up an hour earlier (at least). I guess I wish I was a morning person when I’m really not one, but 10.15 seems very late, even if I’ve got up later. I did feel too tired to get dressed straight after breakfast and ended up reading online (including a depressing article on Minneapolis in Tablet Magazine, which probably wasn’t the best thing to read) while the coffee slowly kicked in. Again, this was a bad habit I wanted to kick, but haven’t managed to do so yet. I am probably trying to change too much of my life at the moment without enough of a plan; when I do a cheshbon nafesh (moral/religious self-assessment) later this week in preparation for Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), I should try to set myself some realistic goals.
I was sent an email on high functioning autism and social interactions. This was as a result of the autism support group Zoom meeting last week. There was a list of attractive qualities in friends or partners often found in people on the spectrum. One was “detail orientated.” This is one of the things autistic people are known for, at least in stereotype, the trainspotter-type with an encyclopaedic and detailed knowledge of some very arcane topic, as well as the ability to focus on very mundane and repetitive tasks.
I wonder if I still have that detail orientation. I feel I used to have it, but I don’t any more, except I suppose about Doctor Who. As I’ve said before, in the last few years I feel I’ve lost my ability to focus on details when cataloguing or in the practise exam work I was doing the last few days. I don’t know what has caused this change. Maybe just a loss of confidence, maybe something more troubling.
I spoke about this a bit on the depression group Zoom call. People said that I should try to do things and see if that will bring my confidence back up, which I know is sensible, I’m just not sure how to go about it. I think that unemployment, and my previous unsuccessful jobs, have sapped my self-confidence about work just as lockdown and isolation have worsened my social anxiety and lack of self-confidence about socialising.
“The fact that a person is always prone to stumble, to deviate from justice and morality, does not discredit his perfection, since the basis of his perfection is the constant striving and the desire for perfection.” From The Lights of Penitence in Abraham Isaac Kook: The Lights of Penitence, The Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters, and Poems, emphasis added.
I finished The Islamist and moved on to the latest Jewish Review of Books. I find that the JRB covers all aspects of the Jewish experience: religion, history, Israel, culture and so on in a fairly balanced way not easy with a civilisation 3,000 years old and spread across the entire globe, but I feel it does ascribe slightly out-sized importance to various “classic” twentieth century American Jewish writers and critics. People like Philip Roth, Saul Bellow and Lionel Trilling. This issue we got five pages on Philip Roth, which seemed excessive (articles in the JRB are usually two to four pages long); for comparison, last issue the Bible only got three pages. I’m being slightly facetious, but I do think there is sometimes an excessive focus on twentieth century American literature, although as it’s mostly an American publication, maybe there’s more desire for Philip Roth than (I don’t know) Mendele Mocher-Seforim, Rav Saadia Gaon, or Jewish society in eighteenth century Poland.
Achievements: I worked on my novel and finished reading through the book as a whole for the first time. There’s a lot I want to change and it’s hard to assess my own work, but it’s not as awful as it might have been. I think there are some good bits in there, or bits that could be good with more work. I also went for a walk and did shopping. I spent an hour and a half cooking dinner, which was a bit longer than I wanted. I only did half an hour of Torah study, but I did finish reading Mishlei (The Book of Proverbs) in Hebrew, a couple of weeks earlier than I expected. I went to depression group via Zoom too. I had some trouble with my connection which made it somewhat frustrating, especially as other people had connection problems too.
I struggled to sleep last night. Often, after experiencing a migraine, I feel tired, but not actually sleepy. I don’t know what the migraine does to my brain chemistry to do that. I didn’t fall asleep until long after 2.00am. Despite that, I woke up at 9.15am, feeling very tired, but also upset by an unpleasant dream I had (no relation to my usual worries) and feeling rather anxious about dating. I decided there was no point in lying in bed feeling anxious, so forced myself to get up and have breakfast, which was a good decision. I did at least say some of the Morning Prayers on time.
I tried to focus on staying in the present, difficult though it feels at times. I learnt a grounding technique recently that works for me, so I’m trying to stick with that (when I spiral into depressive or anxious thoughts, I try to notice five things I can see, four things I can hear, three I can touch, two I can smell and I you can taste. The last two are not always easy. I think some people carry sweets or smelling salts, but I haven’t gone that far). Despite this, I did have quite a bit of anxiety over the day.
I applied for another job. It was a simple application on LinkedIn, just sending them my CV and profile page link. Much easier than yesterday’s one. There was an unexpected question at the end about how many years of experience I have with a particular software that I’ve never heard of before. I don’t know why that wasn’t on the job specification. It’s not a library job, but would use some information management skills. The hours sound a lot though – forty hours a week. I think that would be too much for me, if that’s all they will accept. About fifteen minutes after I sent the application, I got phoned by the agency who was recruiting for the position. They talked me through some questions. I felt I did badly, because I was unprepared and on the phone and couldn’t always understand the person I was talking to well (I hate the phone), but they said that they would forward my application to the company.
I also emailed a recruitment agency who got me two jobs in the last two years to say that I’m still looking for work.
I spent some time working on my novel, reading about plot structure. I can see what I was already intuiting: that my novel is under-plotted, particularly in the middle. What is harder is to see how to change it. I may have to ditch some of what I have written completely and re-plot some of it. That’s somewhat dispiriting. On the other hand, I feel the structure the “how to write” book suggests is overly schematic and forcing myself to follow it slavishly will disrupt the flow of the novel. I need to work out what will work and what won’t, which may involve trial and error. It’s also possible that my novel, or the autobiographical plot-line, is based too much on my own life. I changed chunks to make it flow better, but even so, I think some things don’t “fit” properly. Real life doesn’t always flow the way fiction should.
I ran into these issues right before dinner. I couldn’t come back to it after dinner because I was going to a Zoom depression group meeting , so I finished work today on a downer, worrying if my novel was workable. This led to some catastrophising about the novel, my career, my dating prospects, everything really. It was partly anxiety and partly low blood sugar – this was late afternoon and I had not eaten much. After dinner I had better perspective, especially as I got an email from a writer friend saying not to feel bad if my novel seems bad when I re-read the first few times.
I attended depression group on Zoom. I was glad I went, as it’s good to talk to people, but the meeting was emotionally draining and I felt exhausted afterwards even though it wasn’t yet 10.00pm.
I signed up for an autism group peer support meeting on friendships and relationships next week too (not the informal autism group I used to go to, a more formal one).
Overall, I felt very anxious today with dating (waiting for responses to my messages or getting one line answers that imply that the person doesn’t really want to engage any more), job applications and working out what I need to do to my novel. Part of me thinks, “Why am I doing all this if it’s going to make me so anxious?” But I guess the anxiety is itself the reason why I have to push through this, if I’m going to make any progress with my life. I’ve been feeling “stuck” lately, with lockdown and loneliness and depression. Maybe that was why I unconsciously felt the sudden need to move on with things, so suddenly signed up for dating services and applied for jobs and support group things. It is all scary, but I have to go through with it.
I’m trying to be gentle with myself. I’m going outside my comfort zone suddenly and that’s going to be difficult even without the ongoing COVID situation.
I’m about two thirds of the way through Mishlei (The Book of Proverbs in the Hebrew Bible). It’s more interesting than I remembered, although there seems to be a lot of repetition of similar ideas (ancient societies had greater appreciation for repetition than we do, perhaps because it made memorisation easier in mostly oral cultures). The terse, context-free, stand-alone proverbs can be very hard to translate, often just seven or eight words. A couple of verses stand out strongly. “The heart alone knows its bitterness,/And no outsider can share its joy.” (14.10). I’ve felt that a lot over the years. Also, “A man’s spirit can sustain him through illness;/But low spirits — who can bear them?” (18.14) is something I’ve often thought. People say things like “I had cancer, but I kept going because I was happy,” but what do you do if a symptom of your illness is the inability to be happy? (Translations from The JPS Bible).
I’ve been a bit sceptical of Divine Providence stories in the past, but I find myself finding them in my own life suddenly. At Purim this year, I was upset not to be invited to friends for the seudah (meal), especially as Mum and Dad were at a medical appointment so I had to eat alone. But the friend who I was hoping would invite me came down with COVID soon afterwards and perhaps I would have contracted it from him if I had gone (it has been suggested that Purim parties and seudahs partially explain the disproportionately high fatality rate in the Jewish community. Purim this year was just as COVID hit, but before most people were taking it seriously and many parties and events went ahead as planned with large numbers of people together, some of whom may have been carrying the virus).
Similarly, if I had still been living away from home, I would either have been in lockdown alone (including doing Pesach alone) or would have had to pay rent on an empty flat while I locked down with my parents. If I hadn’t been here (because I had my own flat or because I was married), my parents would have had much more of a struggle dealing with lockdown and shielding with Mum’s cancer, both in terms of practical things like the fact I’ve been cooking a lot and also emotionally from being separated from both their children for months on end.
I tell myself things like this to try to “prove” to myself that I shouldn’t assume that God only wants to do negative things to me and that He won’t let my life get any better. It is difficult to believe that sometimes, but I’m trying.
I woke up early today, at least by my usual standards. I usually wake up in the early morning, but then I feel tired and usually fall asleep again until much later. I decided the other day that I would try to force myself to stay up, which I managed today. I was pretty tired (even though I had about seven hours of sleep), but I managed it. I was OK once I drank coffee and I was glad to get an earlier start on the day and say the morning Shema and Amidah on time.
I did doze for half an hour in the afternoon though.
Achievements (although the above are really achievements too): I spent two hours on my novel and finished another chapter. Only one more chapter to go! I’m up to 72,000 words too, which is novel length, just about. Hopefully the manuscript will grow a bit in redrafting. The time taken to write each chapter seems to be becoming shorter too, even though they chapters are mostly the same length. I have mixed feelings about the quality though. Some of that is probably low self-esteem and it is just a first draft. My English teacher used to say that a first draft is 99% of the work, and for non-fiction I would tend to agree, but I think writing fiction is more organic and individual and I need to redraft more, particularly as I’ve never written something this long before.
I did an hour of Torah study, much of it difficult Mishnah, which was good.
I also went for a half hour walk. My ankle felt a bit strange when I woke up. I’m not sure how to describe it – kind of weak and fragile. It wasn’t painful, but I didn’t want to put too much weight on it. I think something is wrong when I run, but I’m not sure if it’s my trainers or if I’m running incorrectly (it can happen). I don’t really want to go shopping for new trainers at the moment because I’m avoiding shops except for essential items to shield Mum. I could mail order, but my parents have put me off that by saying that returning them would be hard if they’re a bad fit.
I attended depression group online via Zoom. I hadn’t attended for a while because I’ve been having therapy on Mondays and was too tired after that to go, but I’ve moved therapy to Wednesdays so that I can go again, plus my therapist is away this week anyway. I mentioned my novel and people were really supportive, which was nice.
My mood was mostly good today, although it was drifting downwards when I dozed off in the afternoon, so maybe it was just as well that I fell asleep at that point. My mood did dip slightly into self-recrimination and worry while walking, but mostly I was able to focus on the present.
Someone at depression group asked if I find it easier or harder online. I find it harder, but I’m not sure why. I think some of it is feeling that I’m being stared at by the camera the whole time, whereas in person I can see people are focusing on the person speaking, not me. I also think there’s blurred boundaries when Zooming in from home (am I at home or in the group?) and less of a transition from home to group and back again and transitions are really important for people on the autism spectrum. I find it hard to give people my full attention on Zoom, harder than in person, and I was getting fidgety by the end, which I know is autistic stimming and my way of trying to focus (rather than boredom), but I was glad that people couldn’t see that I was tapping my fingers because it might have looked rude.
I didn’t stick exactly to my limits on internet usage/email checking that I agreed with my therapist, but I did mostly stick to them and that does seem to help stay present-focused, not to compare myself with others so much and to avoid negative thoughts. Actually, depression group can provoke comparing thoughts, a kind of procrustean bed where if they’re doing well, I feel I should be doing as well as they are, but if they aren’t doing well, I feel that I should be doing more things as I’m not so depressed. I try not to think like that, but it’s not always easy.
I didn’t feel like I’d done much today, but writing it down I see that I have done quite a bit.
I made a mistake online. Not a major one (it was less something I didn’t know and more something I phrased badly), but normally I would beat myself up about it, but I’m trying not to, which I guess is good. With CBT for social anxiety, one technique is to make deliberate mistakes to become inured to them (one nineteenth/early twentieth century yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) used to get the students to do something similar, and there is an XKCD cartoon with a similar point…). I did not do that when I did CBT for my social anxiety; as I think I’ve said, I don’t think I tried hard enough with CBT for social anxiety, although what I did seemed quite difficult at the time.
This passage in Healing from Despair: Choosing Wholeness in a Broken World (by Rabbi Elie Kaplan Spitz and Erica Shapiro Taylor) resonated with me: “A sensitive child, burdened by his natural physical desires and the emotional and intellectual demands he inherited… Rebbe Nachman entered into depressed periods throughout his life.” My emotional and intellectual demands were not inherited, but came partly from social expectation and partly from my own inner drive for excellence, but otherwise it was very similar to my childhood and adolescence.
I dreamt about a duckling last night and woke up wondering feeling like the ugly duckling and wondering when I will turn into a swan…
My Dad tried to wake me up at 8.00am so I could phone the GP’s surgery, but I didn’t get up. I think it was partly tiredness, but mostly social anxiety. I don’t like it when my social anxiety is that extreme. I definitely think I’ve gone backwards since lockdown started in terms of social anxiety. At 10.00am my Mum gave up and phoned the doctor, but all the non-emergency appointments had gone by then. Because of COVID, they’re only releasing appointments on a day to day basis, so we’ll have to phone again tomorrow. I asked Dad to phone, as I don’t think I will manage to get up again.
My social anxiety has historically been a lot less of a problem than my depression (or my OCD, when it was at its height), but it has always been there. It has tended to ebb and flow. There was a time when I was able to lead services in shul (synagogue) and give drashot (religious talks). I did lead services a couple of times this winter just gone, but I felt very anxious and only partly did it because I wanted to. Part of me did it because I didn’t like to say no when I was asked, which is partly a social anxiety problem in itself. I did some CBT last year, but in retrospect, I probably didn’t push myself hard enough with the exercises, plus on the NHS I only got ten sessions, which probably wasn’t enough.
Lockdown has made everything worse, because I’ve got used to just seeing my parents, and occasionally my sister and brother-in-law. The thought of seeing other people, or talking on the phone, is suddenly more scary than in the past. Plus, because of COVID, most places have new rules about masks and distancing, so almost everything has autistic “new situation” anxiety as well as social anxiety. I need to do something about this, but it is hard to see what I can do while I still need to shield Mum and when my depression is the bigger impediment. I might try to attend Zoom depression group meetings again. I stopped because it was the same day as therapy and I was too tired for both, but my therapist is away soon. Alternatively, my therapist says she is happy to change days if I want to go to depression group, and that might be sensible.
Home was noisy and busy today. A few days after my Dad’s catalytic converter was stolen from his car for a second time, we got a note through the door from the police saying there was a burglary in a house in our road. My parents became super-security conscious and we had various security devices fitted today. I can see the point, but was worried about some electricity on Shabbat (the Sabbath) issues. We did ask my parents’ rabbi about it some weeks ago and he said it was OK in certain circumstances. It seems to be OK in our case, but this is the type of thing that can trigger my religious OCD to say, “But what if I’m not 100% certain it’s OK?” I’m trying to sit with that doubt and not give in to it, just as I’ve been sitting with another, unrelated, issue where I wanted to ask a question of my rabbi mentor, but decided that deep down I know the answer and it would just be fuelling the OCD to ask. It’s hard, though, because in the frum community one is expected to ask in the case of doubt, but treating OCD involves living with (some) doubt.
The gardener was here this morning too, so there was a lot of noise and a lot of people, albeit mostly outside (necessarily, because Mum is shielding). I do vaguely wonder if we should have waited until after COVID, but I guess the criminals are still working.
Achievements: I split my writing time in two today. It was hard to start the second session, but overall I was more productive than ever, writing about 1,700 words in two hours with relatively little idleness (some idleness is probably necessary for creativity, at least for me).
I watched a series of four short videos by Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik about Jewish survival as an argument for God. I learnt a few things, but I already knew the gist of what he was saying. It was more a history lecture than a religious one. It was similar to a post I started writing, but am not sure whether to finish, about why I’m religious even though I find Judaism very difficult much of the time because of my autism, depression and social anxiety. I wasn’t sure whether anyone would be interested in that, or whether it would offend anyone who isn’t Jewish. Or if I really wanted to hold my beliefs up for comment, to be honest.
I went for a walk. My mood dropped somewhat. I seem to be OK if I’m doing something that engages my brain, but my mood gets worse when I’m not. I saw someone who went to my school and who is now married with children and is a rabbi. I’m not sure if I was because of that, but I ended up thinking about people I was at university with and wondering what they’re doing. In particular, someone who I fell out with while I was there, which has gone into my novel. It was originally a key event in the novel, although as the novel has grown organically, it’s not so important now, which is probably for the best. I ended up feeling quite downbeat. I listened to some music (using the heter (permission) for depressed people to listen to the music during the mourning period of the Three Weeks, which we are currently in), but it was not terribly cheerful music (Donnie and Losing My Religion) and probably made things worse. I spent the first fifteen minutes or so trying not to listen to music, but in the end I decided I was feeling too depressed and it wasn’t worth it.
In the evening, I did a little bit of ironing and some more Torah study; I would have liked to have done more, but I was too tired, as ever. I spent twenty minutes or so writing a review of a Doctor Who story from my birthday present box set, but I don’t think I can engage with Chris Chibnall’s view of the series enough to write particularly positive reviews. If my review of Spyfall, which I did, on some level, enjoy, seems overly negative, I shudder to think what a review of Orphan 55 might look like.
I got sent an email advertising a job as a “lecturer in conservation of easel paintings.” I have no idea why I got sent that. If only I knew something about conserving easel paintings. All I can think of is Thomas the Tank Engine: “Coughs and sneezels spread diseasels.”
That title… I think I’m clever and funny when really, I’m not.
I just feel inadequate today.
I was pretty exhausted last night after Skype therapy and Zoom shiur (religious class) and I went to bed early (for me at any rate – midnight) hoping I would get up earlier today, but I still slept very late. I just feel so depressed and exhausted on waking. Maybe it’s not surprising given that I had a very draining day yesterday. I think a lot of the problem about waking tired is to do with low blood sugar, which has always affected me badly, although I don’t plan on getting up in the middle of the night to eat.
Even after breakfast and getting dressed, I still felt really depressed and exhausted. Struggling to do anything.
I feel like I’ve sunk into some kind of religious crisis (again) without really realising how. Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav says that religious crises are inevitable and unending in this world; as soon as you achieve some kind of certainty about something, it brings with it a whole load of new unknowns for you to worry about (it’s not clear if the unknowns are completely new, or old ones on a deeper or more intense level). I believe in God, but I find it harder and harder to connect to Him and to Torah and mitzvot (commandments). I know a lot stems from not fitting in to a religious community for moral and practical support and also feeling like I’ve transgressed the community’s standards in ways that I’m not always sure about (as in, I’m not sure if I’ve transgressed them or not). I’ve always felt alone, even in my religious practice, even when I was a more regular attendee at shul (synagogue). I’ve always felt that in the final analysis, it came down to just me and God without other people really being involved. That’s probably a horrible thing to say, but it ties in with my lack of friends, my difficulties communicating with my parents, the fact that I was single for most of my adult life and my fascination with solipsism and solipsistic fiction.
I guess now I feel that I have to “sell” Orthodox Judaism to E. or she won’t join me in it and I don’t know how to sell something I feel so increasingly equivocal about. Depressive anhedonia is a big part of the problem too, more so than anything theological. It’s hard to enjoy Judaism when I can’t enjoy anything, even things that are easier to enjoy.
Ashley Leia asked me on the last post if I felt that God causes my suffering. I said yes. Conceptually that doesn’t bother me so much. I came to the conclusion a while back that we aren’t here on Earth to be happy, but to grow, and growth often requires suffering as a stimulus, therefore suffering is to be accepted as part of the human condition in this world. Nevertheless, I feel exhausted and not sure how to carry on sometimes. It just feels so overwhelming and unending. There is definitely a difference between accepting suffering intellectually and feeling emotionally accepting of it. I can accept it intellectually (I know other people have it much worse than I do), but it’s hard to accept emotionally. Hard to accept that I might always feel like this, that I’ve lost the life I thought I would have at this stage of life (career, wife, kids, community, self-love). It’s hard to see so many other people apparently living that life with no idea if I will ever achieve it.
It doesn’t help that I’m feeling quite blocked with my writing at the moment. I sit in front of the computer, drink a lot of tea, idly surf online and blog, but it’s a struggle to write anything for the novel. I wonder if the story I’m trying to tell is too complicated for me, or if I’m cut out to be a writer at all. Maybe it was absurd to think I could write about domestic abuse, a subject which I have not experienced directly. All my writing about it seems crass and ill-formed.
Religious crisis, low mood and writer’s block are probably connected with isolation. I haven’t been on the depression group Zoom call for weeks as I get too tired after therapy now, which is on the same day. E. and I haven’t spoken much for the last few days because of Shabbat and my shiur yesterday and E.’s workload, although we did speak today. Some people who used to comment here haven’t done so for a while and nor have some bloggers I follow/am friends with posted on their blogs lately and I’m worried if everyone is OK, or if they’re angry with me and are avoiding me/have taken me off their friends’ list. I guess I feel isolated. I didn’t have much in the way of social contact even before lockdown, but I feel like I’m losing more of it. My shul (synagogue) is doing another Zoom Kabbalat Shabbat service (beginning of the Friday evening service), but I found the last one awkward and uncomfortable, so I probably won’t do it again. My parents are hoping to have my sister and brother-in-law over either socially distanced in the garden or via Zoom on Sunday to celebrate my Mum’s birthday, so hopefully that will help, although I’m nervous about even socially distanced meeting.
The Kotzker Rebbe spoke about the evil inclination stealing “the delicate chord of truth from your heart”. After that, it no longer worries if you work or pray or study, because without the chord of truth, whatever you do is of no interest to him (i.e. it’s meaningless). I feel like I lost the chord of truth a long time ago.
I’m just feeling today that I failed at everything. I failed at being a good Jew. I failed at being a good writer. I failed at being a good blogger. I worry that I’ve failed at being a good friend and boyfriend, and probably also at being a good son and brother.
I feel that other people I meet online have a reason to be mentally ill (often abuse or trauma of some kind), but I haven’t experienced anything bad, I’m just too useless to function properly. I should get over myself. Alternatively, they produce something with their pain, some art or something to help others, something that somehow justifies and explains what they endured. I haven’t managed that either.
Part of me says that this is just my inner critical voice speaking, but it seems kind of reassuring to say that. Much harder to confront the reality of having failed at everything I tried.
The sudden upswing of depression might also be because Mum has asked me to go with her to her oncologist appointment tomorrow. Mum likes to have someone with her, as she gets overwhelmed sometimes and misses information. Dad went to the first few meetings, then COVID-19 happened and non-patients were not allowed in the hospital. Now one non-patient is allowed in “At their own risk” (which is a bit scary in itself). Mum wants it to be me rather than Dad because he may not be able to park the car there (I’m not sure why) so will have to drop us off, go home, and come back to collect us later.
There is also some genuine fear about me and E., in that we know that we both have real anxieties about the relationship over things that we can’t do anything about at the moment and we have to just sit with those feelings and see what happens in the long term.
Achievements today: I cooked dinner (spicy rice and lentils), and spent forty minutes or so researching and writing my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week. It’s easier to write a devar Torah sometimes (like today) than it is to study Torah for some reason, perhaps to do with concentration and motivation. I was also anxious that I would not find enough material for this weeks’ sedra (Bamidbar, focusing on the census of the Israelites in the wilderness – not easy to talk about) so was I trying out ideas and looking for sources when I found something.
I went for a run, which I hoped would help my mood, but I struggled to run, walking lots of the time, partly because of depression, but also because of the heat and, in the second half, an exercise migraine. I had a lot of negative thoughts buzzing around my brain: that I’ve disappointed my parents and never given them any naches (reflected glory from children or grandchildren); that E. will realise sooner or later what a useless, pathetic, needy, screwed up boyfriend I am and leave me (she’s told me I’m catastrophising about this, but it was still what I was thinking); that I’ll probably die lonely, impoverished and unloved, maybe even homeless and living on the streets… just a negative thought spiral.
I came back too exhausted and migrainey to think negative thoughts; post-migraine I tend to feel physically fragile, but emotionally OK (a rather extreme and counter-productive way of shifting a low mood). However, the negative thoughts are already creeping back. I need to daven Ma’ariv (say Evening Prayers) and I want to do a little Torah study if I can today, even if it’s only a few minutes. I want to chill out in front of the TV for a bit, but it’s getting late and I’m not sure if that will just keep me awake later.
The rabbi from my shul WhatsApped me to check how I am, which was nice. I do feel a bit more a part of the community when he does that. I’m not quite sure what to say at the moment, though.
There aren’t many jobs being advertised at the moment, unsurprisingly, but I just got an advert for a “Cybrarian” which sounds (a) horribly like something out of Doctor Who*, (b) horribly like something from dot-com boom of the nineties and (c) like a overly-modern company where I would not fit into the corporate culture, particularly as they put “The ability to laugh at yourself” on the job description. How do they interview for that? I worry they make fun of you and then say, “What’s the matter? Can’t you laugh at yourself?” Mind you, they put “a profound love and passion for Technology [sic]” on the list too, which sounds even more disturbing, particularly as “Technology” was capitalised throughout the advert and job description.
* Which has given us Cyberman, Cybergun, Cybercontroller, Cybermat, Cyberplanner, Cyber-megatron bomb, Cyberleader, Cyberwar, Cyberbomb (“The most explosive devices in the universe!”), Cyberlieutenant, Cybermite, Cyberiad, Cyberium and Cyberdrone.
I did the usual today: got up late, did some shopping (panicking a little about social distancing not being observed/observable), walked a bit, cooked dinner while listening to Intimate Judaism, did nearly an hour of Torah study (very good), tried to work on my novel… Most of that was successful, but there was no rice in Tesco and after walking, cooking and Torah-ing I was too tired to do more than twenty minutes or so of work on my novel and only wrote about 150 words.
I felt really tired by about 7pm and decided not to attend online depression group as I just felt too tired to “people.” Depression group can be draining for me even at the best of times, doubly so on Zoom. When I feel really exhausted and burnt out, I get this sensation of heaviness in my brain, like a dull ache, and it’s hard to think or speak to people or to do anything really other than vegetate in front of the TV or internet or lie down. I won’t necessarily sleep, because it’s a different kind of fatigue, not so much a physical tiredness as an emotional/psychological one. If it’s very bad, I end up in a state that I think is somewhat similar to autistic shutdown, just not doing anything. That’s how I used to get after work in environments that were overwhelming from an autistic point of view; I would come home and just crash in front of my laptop, just browsing online or writing my blog to offload some of the thoughts.
After dinner, I felt a lot better and managed to spend rather more than an hour working on my novel (that’s more than an additional hour, excluding the work I did earlier in the day). Overall I wrote nearly 1,000 words today, albeit that one huge chunk of text I wrote I later realised needs to be cut and then pasted back in quite a bit later in the chapter. I did eat ice cream (cornetto) for dessert at dinner. I’m not sure whether that contributed to feeling more energised. It would be good to know.
I Skyped E. too this evening, so it was a busy day in all. I was feeling good about things, but then I upset my Mum without intending to do so or really being aware that I was doing it, and now my mood has come down again.
I heard back from another therapist. Of the four I contacted, one didn’t get back to me, one charges £40 a session and two charge £30. Of those, one is the male therapist I feel vaguely worried about because (a) he’s male and I feel that I find female therapists easier to talk to (although I’m not sure how true that is or if it’s just a feeling); (b) he’s a psychodynamic therapist and I had a vague idea about trying a new approach; and (c) he sounded a bit pushy on the phone (which is very much an impulsive prejudice on my part). So it’s almost the other one by default, but I’m worried about making a decision that way and so am procrastinating again. (I also have a gut feeling the “default” therapist might be Jewish. That’s totally unscientific and I wouldn’t bet on it being accurate, especially as I’m always telling my Dad not to make assumptions like this, but it might be true. That would probably be good, but maybe not.)
We haven’t stocked up on post-Pesach (Passover) food yet, so when I was hit by hunger late last night I sat up late eating matzah and jam because the alternatives were toast or cornflakes, both of which I had already had earlier in the day. More matzah and jam was not the healthiest option, and I know I’ve put on weight again over Yom Tov (the festival).
I did manage to get up at 11am again today, although I felt quite sluggish and struggled to get going. I went shopping and went for an extended walk on the way back. I hadn’t been shopping in a supermarket for a while, so I was surprised to see the aisles measured out into two metre long blocks, although there were still bottlenecks at the tills and doors.
I cooked dinner, which was the reason for going shopping. I cooked vegetable curry, even though I cooked it recently, as it’s pretty basic and I wasn’t sure what ingredients would be available. As it was, I couldn’t get the beans I wanted. We also had a load of potatoes, so I knew I could use some of them. Cooking took longer than expected, though, and I didn’t have time for much else, particularly not looking for a therapist which I rashly said I would do today without considering my desire to go shopping and cook.
I attended (online) the weekly depression group lockdown session. I think it’s useful for me to have the social contact, even though I don’t say much at these things. I always feel self-conscious, or even more self-conscious than usual, with the online meetings and I don’t know why, as I’ve had Skype therapy and Skype dates, so one would think Zoom depression group should not be harder. Some of it might be that therapy and dates were one-to-one, whereas with depression group there are eight or ten or people and the time lags and the cutting to the wrong screens based on accidental noise are more obvious. Next week it has been suggested that we talk about books we’ve read recently. I have an idea of a book to talk about, although it’s not one I’ve read recently, but I’m not sure if I’ll have the confidence.
During the short break in the depression group session I went downstairs and lit a yellow yortzeit candle for Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day – the Jewish one, as distinct of International Holocaust Memorial Day in January). The candle is in memory of a named child who was murdered; Dad said he was told we should also add in the children we lit for last year (this could potentially lead to very long lists of names in a number of years time). There are four modern Jewish festive or memorial days at this time of year, Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron (Israeli Memorial Day), Yom Ha’Atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) and Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day) and I have never been entirely sure how to celebrate or commemorate them, although this is a matter of discussion in the wider Jewish community too, generally with a Modern Orthodox/Religious Zionist vs. Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) split, but even in the Modern Orthodox/Religious Zionist world there are widely divergent opinions. There was an online Yom HaShoah service tonight, but I decided depression group would be better for my mental health. I don’t know how I would have responded to a one and three-quarter Holocaust memorial service.
After depression group I squeezed in a Skype call with E. and half an hour of Torah study, but I feel pretty tired now and it has got very late again, so I should get to bed, although as with yesterday I feel very hungry…
I felt really defensive on waking today. I think it was because I dreamt about one of my secondary school Jewish Studies teachers last night. He was telling me off because I had come to class without shoes, as I had left them in the P.E. changing room locker. In reality, this was the teacher who really introduced me to Torah study at a more advanced level, the level of Mishnah and Gemarah (Talmud). I guess he also made it seem possible to be frum (religious) while still being a ‘normal’ person with a sense of humour. He was an important person in my journey to becoming frum.
I know I disappointed him and some of the other Jewish Studies teachers by not going to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) after school, although it wasn’t really where I was on my journey of religious growth or personal development when I was eighteen. I think the dream came about because I assume he would not approve of my relationship with E. either, that he would want me to marry someone more conventionally religious. Like I said, this left me defensive today. I could not articulate my reasons for not going to yeshiva when I was eighteen, but I don’t think I would have been ready, realistically, at that age, particularly given what I know now about how I function, or don’t function, in high stress academic environments, social environments, and especially noisy social environments (yeshiva is really noisy, because everyone studies out loud, in pairs, arguing loudly to be heard above everyone else arguing loudly). I also think that E. is right for me, and that frum people who haven’t had issues with mental illness, high functioning autism and difficulty fitting in socially in the sometimes narrow and conformist frum world shouldn’t judge our relationship. Ashley Leia asked the other day if the idea of bashert (destiny, especially a destined soul-mate) affects my thinking about E., and really it doesn’t, but inasmuch as I believe in bashert at all, I strongly suspect that E. is my bashert and people who haven’t been through everything I’ve been through in the last twenty years don’t really have a right to judge me for thinking that (cf. Pirkei Avot 2.4: “do not judge your fellow until you have been in his place.”). Plus, as E. said when I told her about this dream, it’s not fair for people not to support me in the community then turn on me for dating someone from outside it.
Reading the last paragraph back, it seems very defensive. I guess I feel defensive today, maybe because I feel anxious and depressed. I’ve never been one to follow fashions and I’ve always been myself privately, but it’s hard to openly break with one’s community. I do find it hard to be frum socially a lot of the time, even though I am objectively very religious. I guess being in frum society brings up a lot of fears about where I stand religiously, where I should stand, am I good enough and so on, as well as fears about my relationship with E., what the stresses would be with that and so on. E. was saying that she’s enjoying a Jewish book I recommended for her, but that its description of how Jewish communities should work does not match her experience of how they do work in reality and she has a point. I guess I’ve always just tried to get on with my own stuff and not worry about fitting in so much, except that I get lonely and now I feel that I do need to put down roots somewhere where I fit in.
As for activity, today I worked on my short story for an hour or so, writing nearly 900 words, which was very good. I spent half an hour writing my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week. I stopped when I felt I had run out of energy. Soon afterwards I started feeling very depressed. I went for a run (thirty-five minutes, mostly running with little walking), but while I was out I started feeling really anxious. I wish I was in therapy at the moment; there are so many things that are making me anxious and I can’t tell which ones are legitimate and which aren’t. I suppose all anxieties are “legitimate” in that it isn’t “wrong” to have an anxiety, but I feel some would worry anyone and others are more pathological and unique to me. I would like to be able to talk things through with someone objective. I speak to my rabbi mentor sometimes, and he is a trained counsellor, but I feel like I impose too much on him and it isn’t always easy to find time to talk, plus it’s hard to do it long-distance.
My sister and brother-in-law came around to drop some stuff off and have a socially distanced, two metres away conversation on the doorstep, which was nice, particularly for my parents.
I decided I needed a break from the weekly COVID-19 depression group Zoom meeting. I just didn’t have the energy and mindset to relate my feelings and listen for long periods to other people’s experiences. I feel that I’m still recovering from Yom Tov, plus my worries at the moment are mostly religious OCD/Pesach-based rather than COVID-19/lockdown-based. Perhaps I’ll participate again next week.
It was a reasonable day for Pesach OCD worries. I feel bad that this year has not gone as well as last year, but that was probably unfeasible, given everything happening to my family and in the wider world. I’m still better than all the years where I ended up a quivering wreck of anxiety at some point before or during the festival.
I did quite a lot today, although it was mostly Pesach (Passover) preparation, so not terribly interesting to record here. I went shopping and extended my walk home a bit for exercise, although not for as long as I would have liked if I hadn’t had so many other things on today or been nervous about staying out with COVID-19. I kashered the hob for Pesach, which basically involves boiling pots of water on each burner until it all gets really hot, then, when it’s cooled, covering the tops of the grates in aluminium foil. I cooked some biscuits, almond macaroons, which spread too much and turned into two giant biscuits. I think Mum cut them back into biscuit shape; from a baking point of view they were fine. I cleaned the kitchen sink thoroughly to kasher it tomorrow and printed a load of signs so we can see where the Pesach and non-Pesach stuff is in the rearranged kitchen (then discovered we had some from last year).
I’ve been trying hard to fight the Pesach OCD that worries about the special dietary laws of the festival and the necessity of cooking not just different food, but in different utensils and with purged work surfaces, sinks, ovens and the like. I’ve been trying hard not to give in if I want to physically check something multiple times; or email my rabbi mentor to check I’ve done something correctly; or to look up a detail that I know about, but want to double-check; or to ask my parents if they’ve washed their hands before touching Pesach food stuff… It’s hard to do exposure therapy for Pesach OCD because unlike my ordinary kashrut OCD, where I was able to gradually expose myself to my irrational fears until the anxiety subsided, I’m not able to expose myself to Pesach OCD over a prolonged period of time. I just have to sit with the anxiety and push through things despite it. Dialing back the handwashing is harder, though, as Pesach and COVID-19 team up against me there and it usually feels like at least one of them mandates washing my hands in any given situation. My hands are cracked, itchy and sometimes painful, but, to be honest, I’ve had worse Pesachs from a chapped hands point of view.
The other thing I had today was another depression group online meeting. I found myself feeling very anxious during this meeting. Some of it may have been residual anxiety from Pesach preparations, but I think a lot of it was social anxiety. I can find the in-person depression groups challenging sometimes, but I find the online meetings so far much harder. I’m fine Skyping E. one-to-one, and I’ve had one-to-one Skype therapy and meetings with my rabbi mentor, but a group meeting (and this was a slightly larger group than last time) seems to be exponentially harder. I think I feel self-conscious with my picture on the screen, I don’t always talk loudly enough for the microphone to pick my voice up and the problems I have in sessions in terms of judging when I can speak and what to say somehow seems even more difficult to deal with online. I still struggle with what I feel comfortable talking about and feel self-conscious of not expressing myself as clearly and as confidently as I would like. I would like to continue going to these meetings as the lockdown continues, but I need to think about the best way of dealing with them.
It also occurred to me in the meeting that I’ve been completely focused on getting Pesach done despite COVID-19 and Mum’s cancer. Soon, Pesach will be over, but the two Cs (as Mum calls them) will still be here and I will probably need to think of a new coping strategy or at least something else to occupy my time.
This post on trans-generational trauma was interesting. I was interested because the case study is of a Holocaust survivor and his family. My family had surprisingly little Holocaust connection, thankfully, although I’m sure every Jewish family suffered from institutionalised or persistent violence and persecution at some point. I don’t think anything was passed down my family in that way, but perhaps because I take my Jewish identity very seriously I feel a sort of inchoate responsibility for the world in general and the Jewish people in particular and a desire to change things for the better without really knowing how, beyond a vague hope/fear that my suffering will somehow achieve some kind of vicarious atonement.
I feel a bit bad, as I just did give in to the OCD on a relatively minor thing, but I could see it spiralling out into something bigger (with OCD once you give in to one doubt or anxiety, it often snowballs into something much larger) and drew a line in the sand. But it does indicate that I am too tired to function. I will do a few minutes of Torah study as I haven’t done any today and don’t want to go a whole day without even five minutes, break my “No screens after 11pm” rule even further to relax a little for twenty minutes, and go to bed.
I wrote this yesterday, but for some reason it didn’t publish properly and went to my saved drafts instead. I’m posting it here with one addition at the end.
I fear these posts are becoming repetitive, or even more repetitive than usual. Each day is much the same as the one before at the moment, except for different Pesach (Passover) preparations. That said, I’m struggling with a lot of anxiety today, more than usual, which isn’t so surprising as a lot of anxiety-triggering things happened. On the plus side, that meant that I was doing a lot despite being anxious.
I discussed with Mum and Dad whether the oven cleaner should still come later in the week to clean it for Pesach. We generally get him to come to clean the oven before we kasher it (clean and heat it up, basically) for Pesach use. I was surprised he was still working and felt it was a bad idea for him to come while Mum is vulnerable from chemo, which was a kind of health anxiety, but anxiety for Mum’s health rather than mine. My parents initially wanted him to come, but I managed to talk them around, probably because I think none of us really wanted him to come, we just thought that everyone else wanted it and were going along with it. We won’t get the oven as clean as he would, but I think the risk of Mum getting coronavirus or even something else like the flu is too high to be worth it. Nevertheless, my anxiety level shot up when my parents said that he should come and didn’t subside when we decided he wouldn’t.
Then I cleaned the sinks in the garage today, the ones we use for Pesach (Passover). This involved confronting a lot of religious OCD fears about “contamination” (to use a non-Jewish, OCD word) of Pesach surfaces and utensils with crumbs of leaven food, forbidden on Pesach. The fear wasn’t totally imaginary, as we do occasionally put non-Pesach food down out there during the year, but the reality wasn’t as bad as I feared. This type of religious OCD anxiety is going to be present for the next week and a half at least, until Pesach starts.
I went to the pharmacist to try to request a repeat prescription under the new system, whereby repeat prescriptions are requested via the pharmacist, not the surgery. I’m not sure if this is because of coronavirus as they were planning to change the system around now anyway. I was going to a different chemist to the one I usually use. This chemist has opened recently, some time before the coronavirus hit (which is either exceptionally good timing or exceptionally bad timing). This brought up autistic anxieties about doing new things and not knowing what to expect, as well as social anxiety about talking to new people. There was some confusion about whether I was registered correctly (I think the doctor’s surgery hadn’t set it up properly), but I got it sorted in the end. I walked straight home as I thought it was about to rain, but it didn’t, so I could have gone for a longer walk for exercise.
I dusted and hoovered my bedroom for Pesach (no food in there now until after Pesach!) as well as hoovering the upstairs hall and spare bedroom. This took a couple of hours to do thoroughly, especially as I moved my bed and bedside table to hoover underneath them, as I’ve found crumbs there before. I decided against moving my desk, although I’ve done it in the past. I didn’t have enough time or energy, and it’s unlikely that any crumbs of significant size could get underneath it.
I joined an online session of my depression group via Zoom. I’d used Zoom before, but usually for one-to-one conversations and I found the way the main picture shifted from person to person as different people spoke somewhat distracting. Also, I found it strange to go straight from home life to the meeting without an intervening journey. Since I began exploring whether I’m on the autistic spectrum I’ve noticed certain autistic traits I have that I hadn’t noticed before, and this idea of difficulty with transitions is a well-known autistic trait that I hadn’t noticed so much in myself before now. I did find it just as draining as a regular meeting and as hard to concentrate by the second half. I somehow found it harder to speak than usual, but I’m not sure why. That may have been less due to the technology and more because I’m coping better with isolation than some other people (partly, of course, because I live with two other people, not on my own, and because I’ve been busy with chores and Pesach preparation) and I vaguely felt that I shouldn’t complain.
I’m also reluctant to speak about my relationship with E. in meetings and I’m not sure why; I know a couple of people from the group read my blog, and I’m fine with that, so I don’t know why I don’t feel comfortable talking about the relationship with others. Maybe it’s not wanting to go into the whole story of how we ended up together, which is quite complicated or maybe it’s magical thinking and the fear that if I talk about the relationship something will go wrong with it.
I also managed five minutes of seder preparation today and ten minutes of Torah study. I’d like to do more Torah study before bed, but I’m flagging and don’t know if I will get the time. It was a busy day and I mostly was OK from a depression point of view. Anxiety was a lot higher, but I mostly pushed through and did what I had to do. I do need some downtime now, though, even if it means breaking my “No screens after 11pm” rule a bit. EDIT: in the end I decided it was too late to watch TV and read for a bit, but ended up struggling to sleep anyway because I felt too tense.
I had insomnia last night. I realised just before going to bed that I’d forgotten to take my evening meds, which was doubtless why I was alert enough to work on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for two hours after dinner. My meds aren’t sleeping tablets, but they do make me drowsy and I struggle to fall asleep without them. I think I eventually fell asleep around 4.00am. So it was even less of a surprise than usual that I woke exhausted and depressed again.
The weekly job email from CILIP (The Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals) comes out on Thursdays. I found one job that’s potentially worth applying for, but that was all. It’s easy to feel disheartened when there seem to be so few jobs that fit my skills, experiences and especially my needs for a safe, calm environment with few people and the ability to work only two or three days a week.
I emailed the therapist I used to see if I could see her again. She says that she doesn’t think she can help me any more and that if I want more therapy I should look for a new therapist who might offer something new. On one level, I can see that might be valid (I was with this therapist for something like eight years, which is a long time, particularly when there isn’t much of an improvement), but looking for a new therapist from scratch is scary, particularly given that the family finances are worse off than they were a few years ago, and the old therapist was probably charging less than a new one would charge. The finance problem is partly because my father now only works part-time (my Mum has worked part-time for years), with the added complication that it looks like my Mum’s paid sick leave is going to be a lot less than we had hoped.
In the past in this situation I would have been very despairing. That’s not how I feel, but that’s probably because I haven’t been in therapy for a year or so, so I know I’m coping on some level. I do feel that it’s hard to unpick my emotions at the moment and understand them and that I would like to talk to a therapist, but I’m daunted by the thought of finding one, let alone one in the right and geographical area and price bracket. At the moment I feel “depressed” and “anxious,” but am struggling to define and understand my emotions in more detail. As someone who has become perhaps over-reliant on such therapeutic analysis, it is scary and difficult. I know I’ve focused a lot on the forthcoming Jewish festivals of Purim and Pesach and the stress and mental health triggers around them as a target for worry, but maybe this is another case where what I overtly worry about is a proxy for something more nebulous and undefined, in this case issues about coping as an adult without my parents and the whole concept that my parents will die one day and I will be left alone, which connects with other issues (my autism assessment and benefits troubles; my relationship with E.; my relationships with my other family members).
I struggled a bit at depression group because of that. I didn’t feel I understand myself well enough at the moment to say much that was meaningful. Perhaps because of that, I felt that people asked a lot of questions to prompt me and I ended up with my conversation drifting in the direction of the questions. It’s a criticism of myself rather than anyone else, but not really even of myself. I simply didn’t know what to say and as nature abhors a vacuum, people guided me to say something. Maybe I should have just signalled that we could move on.
I worry that some of my responses made me seem uncaring and incompetent, although it was really my autism that was the issue. People asked how my family are coping and I didn’t really know, because autism means I can’t intuit how people are feeling unless they tell me, and it also means I don’t necessary think to ask people how they are feeling, certainly beyond the “how is your day going?” level. I did ask my Mum how she was most days when she was first diagnosed, but I fell out of the habit. I was also asked where my Mum is going to be treated and I couldn’t remember because my autism means I don’t remember a lot of stuff that my brain doesn’t label as important, and it has a different system of ranking importance to most people. It doesn’t rank the name of the hospital as important, because I’m not going to have to go there myself, let alone go there alone, and I don’t have a special interest in hospitals, so my brain is quite happy just knowing that Mum is going to The Hospital without caring about which hospital it is (actually, it’s several hospitals for several treatments – that much did travel into my brain).
It’s a shame, as I wanted to go to depression group, but I don’t think I really had anything to say about how I’m feeling and I felt tense from being around people a lot of the time.
Shiur (religious class) got cancelled so I didn’t have to tell anyone that I was missing it to go to depression group. This happened last time I was going to miss shiur for depression group too. E. wondered if it was a sign that I shouldn’t tell anyone. I’m not superstitious like that, but I wonder if the maths is against it. Of the people in the WhatsApp group, three know a little bit about my depression, one knows I have some illness but not what it is and three I don’t think know anything. There are another two people who go who aren’t on WhatsApp so won’t see it. It’s possible that the small numbers involved make this not worth worrying about.
I can see that if a lot of people at shiur and shul (synagogue) knew about my issues and were understanding that could lead to a big improvement in my life and in my relationship and comfort level with the community. However, if they were not understanding then the reverse could happen. Two of the people who know do seem to worry if I’m not in shul or shiur when normally I would be, which may be because they’re aware of the issues. Other people don’t say anything. So far no one who knows has said anything negative. It is a bit of a conundrum.
I managed to push through my usual depression and exhaustion on waking to do a few things. I moved closer to publication with my self-published book. It’s technically available through Lulu.com now, but I’m not publicising it until it’s available through retailers. That won’t be until I approve the proof copy, which is in the process of being printed and sent to me from the US. I had to fill in a form in relation to taxes on my profits (ha ha), to certify that I’m not a US taxpayer. I was pleased that I am classified as an “individual” and not an “entity,” hence the Prisoner-esque post title.
I managed to do a lot of work on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week too. I did some work on it in the afternoon and then I ended up staying up late working on it after dinner, for nearly two hours straight. I didn’t intend to do so much, but I ended up hyperfocusing and suddenly it was two hours later. It’s interesting that I can get the energy and concentration for that when I can’t for job hunting. It makes me wonder if I’m looking for work in the right places, although I have no intention of becoming a rabbi.
In fact, I applied for no jobs at all today because I did not have the time or energy during the day. I would not have stayed up until midnight doing job applications after dinner as I did working on my devar Torah, which makes me feel somewhat guilty. Admittedly the reason I stayed up late was partly because I have a lot of shopping to do in the day tomorrow and then I’m probably going to depression group in the evening, so I needed to get the devar Torah done today rather than tomorrow. I probably would not have stayed up so late otherwise, although it is true that when I’m depressed I become nocturnal, because my mood is so much better in the afternoon and evening than the morning. It does show where my mind is, which, sadly, is in the autistic zone where I can hyperfocus on my interests and get bored of dull things like earning a living.
I did do some other things. I went to my shul (synagogue) for the first time on a weekday in ages. It was so long since I had been to the weekday premises that I had forgotten the door code, although that was partly because I have been davening (praying) at other shuls for various reasons, so it wasn’t as bad as it appeared. I walked to and from shul too, so that was two twenty minute walks, good given that I’ve done no exercise all week.
As I said, tomorrow I may well go to depression group, despite the consequent late night, as I feel I need to talk. I also emailed my therapist today to see if I could have some sessions in the near future. I am trying to summon the courage to message the shiur (religious class) What’sApp group tomorrow and say that I’m missing shiur specifically “to go to my depression support group” rather than just saying I can’t make it without giving a reason as I have always done in the past. To be honest, I feel scared that it’s just a weird thing to say beyond any mental health stigma (this is Britain where we don’t talk about emotions, and shiur is an all-male environment). So, we shall see.
Mum had another test today and a pre-meeting about chemotherapy, which starts next week.
Today was the start of the Jewish month of Adar, the month of joy. The Talmud says that when Adar starts, we increase in joy, at the coming festival of Purim in the middle of the month, which celebrates the Jews escaping genocide in the time of Queen Esther, and in anticipation of the further joy of the month afterwards, Nissan, the month of the redemption from Egypt and according to tradition the month when the Messiah will come (unless he comes at a different time… It’s complicated). In the past I’ve written negative things about the difficulty of feeling depressed at this time of year and the truth is I did feel quite depressed, exhausted and anxious today, not least with Mum’s pre-chemo meeting, but, in a manner of speaking, I’m exhausted and depressed about feeling exhausted and depressed and just want to get on with other stuff, so I’m just trying to get on with things.
I woke up feeling super-anxious. I was diagnosed with anxiety a while back, but I’ve never been entirely convinced, as my general anxiety levels seem to fluctuate a lot and perhaps get “drowned out” by depression (as opposed to social anxiety, which I’m sure I have). Today I felt super-anxious though: about my job, about my relationship with E., about her work situation, and about the big thing I can’t talk about here. Trying to breathe and be mindful, I do feel a bit better. But the worries creep back in.
Other things I’ve been doing are being irritable (got into a silly argument with my Dad) and blaming myself for something, anything. Just feeling I’m a terrible person and everything is my fault, which I guess distracts from all the things that are not my fault and which are totally outside of my control.
I went to the dentist for a check up. Everything was fine, except that I’ve somehow slightly chipped one of my teeth, I don’t know how. But the discomfort when the dentist was scraping plaque off my teeth just reinforced my anxiety.
I tried to work on my novel and managed to do so for about half an hour, writing nearly 300 words, but I couldn’t concentrate. I felt like my head was going to explode with all the things in it. There’s so much I’m scared about. A lot of this is inchoate feelings and some of it is things that maybe should not be voiced. I texted my sister about some of this and she is feeling a lot calmer than I am although she is only worried about one of the things I’m worried about, albeit the biggest one. I just don’t know what to say or where to begin. It’s at times like this that I drift back to childhood, mentally, asking my parents for hugs, crying or taking refuge in favourite TV programmes.
I went depression group tonight. Coincidentally, the shiur (religious class) I usually go to on Thursdays got cancelled tonight, so I don’t need to message the group, but it will happen sooner or later, so it would be good if I can think of a non-melodramatic way of admitting to going to depression group. Depression group was helpful, but I came away wondering if I’d handled the interpersonal interactions well enough; in fact my autistic traits made concentration difficult at times and I felt a bit overwhelmed.
I’m trying to be kind to myself, but it’s hard, partly from personality, partly, I guess for religious reasons. These days, lots of frum (religious) Jews would say that it is good to be kind to yourself, particularly at times of stress, only to make small changes to your life at any one time and so on. The problem for me is that, although I’m not an expert, I haven’t really come across these attitudes dating from more than two hundred and fifty years ago or so (from the rise of Hasidism) and in many ways they have only become mainstream accepted ideas in recent decades (since the rise of neo-Hasidism, the ba’al teshuva movement and the rise of popular psychology in the world generally). I’m more open than most Orthodox Jews to the idea that Judaism changes over time, but my poor self-esteem makes me worry, what if this is a mistake God doesn’t want me to be kind to myself? What if I’m really bad at judging what I should be pursuing in life and He will keep sending me pain and suffering until I turn my life upside down? This is probably not true, but I have enough doubt to worry about things.
The Reference Guide to the Talmud arrived today. I’m looking forward to using it in my Talmud study. It explains a lot of Talmudic terminology. As well as using legal terminology, the Talmud also employs a precise vocabulary, so the term used to introduce a counter-argument will tell you whether it is going to be an argument based on a contradictory text or one based purely on logic. There are also grammatical guides to Aramaic (the language of most of the Talmud) and a section on historical background to the Talmudic era that I might read in full at some point, chronological tables of Talmudic rabbis, a diagram of the Second Temple, guides to Talmudic weights and measures and a guide to Rashi script (a type of calligraphic Hebrew script used primarily for commentaries on the Hebrew Bible or Talmud – I can mostly read Rashi script, but some of the letters are similar and I get confused occasionally). This is all fascinating stuff to a history geek like me and I hope it will help with my studies, both to understand the language used and so to understand the arguments and also to provide the contextual information that my brain needs to understand and remember abstract legal thought.
On the way back from depression group, I started thinking about the final scene of the BBC adaptation of John le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (not in the book). George Smiley is with his estranged wife, Ann. Smiley is able to unearth the traitor in MI6, but not to understand human beings, particularly not his wife. “Poor George,” remarks Ann. “Life’s such a puzzle to you, isn’t it?” I felt like this tonight. I can at least sometimes understand things, concepts, ideas, words, stories, histories like the Reference Guide to the Talmud… but I struggle to understand people at all. I don’t know what people thought of me tonight, when I felt a bit overwhelmed. For all my struggles with the Talmud, I suspect I find it easier to understand than people.
After the dream I recounted in my last post, I fell asleep again and slept through the morning, which was sad, but probably inevitable as I had only had about four and a half hours sleep at that point, having stayed up late last night blogging and watching Fawlty Towers to relax as otherwise I felt I would struggle to sleep. I watched The Waldorf Salad episode, and vaguely want someone to make a GIF of the bit where Basil Fawlty starts shouting “This is exactly how Nazi Germany started!” at hotel guests who have the temerity to complain about substandard service, and then use it when people on Twitter are throwing “Nazi” accusations around at people who clearly aren’t Nazis (you can see the clip here).
I felt better on waking than I did yesterday, although it was still a bit of a struggle to get myself to go out for a jog and my pace and stamina were pretty bad when I did go. I procrastinated during the afternoon, although I did spend half an hour or so writing my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week and did another fifteen minutes of Torah study. I didn’t do much work on my novel, or anything else, because a big thing happened that I can’t talk about here, which disrupted things. I guess it’s OK to accept that that is going to happen sometimes.
There are so many things in my head at the moment and I can’t write them down here: because they concern other people; because I don’t understand them enough to find the words; or because I get overwhelmed with other stuff, with day to day anxieties and despair (if there is such a thing as “day to day despair”). In the last category comes thoughts about things like politics or the Jewish community, things I write about a bit where they intersect clearly with my emotions, but not on a deeper level about why these things are so upsetting to me. I’d like to write about them, but I guess most of my “excess” writing energy (more than what I use for blogging “day to day despair”) goes on my novel and my weekly devar Torah rather than on these potentially more thoughtful pieces. It would be nice to step back and look at the bigger picture here, to explain why I want to fit into the Orthodox Jewish community yet find it so hard, or why so much political comment these days upsets me.
Yet for the moment I look set to be overwhelmed with the “can’t blog because it concerns other people” type of feeling… a lot of stuff happened today and I haven’t processed it yet, and I usually would write here to process, but I can’t. Ugh, I feel I’m becoming incoherent (I’m very tired, about to go to bed).
A reason to be very, very careful about what I write about other people is that I feel bad about some stuff I’ve written here before, stuff I shouldn’t have said and deleted almost immediately after posting, but anyone who is subscribed to this on email rather than blog reader would have seen the original version. Mostly I try to be good about not saying stuff that’s personal or identifiable, but sometimes, particularly when I’m very depressed or angry, things can slip out. There isn’t any thing that can be done about this and it worries me. There’s a story about someone who gossiped about a famous rabbi, then felt guilty and told the rabbi what he’d done and asked what he could do to make amends. The rabbi told him to cut a pillow open outdoors and let the wind scatter the feathers. He did this and asked the rabbi what to do next, only to be told to gather the feathers, spreading gossip being like scattering feathers because you can’t undo the damage. I feel bad about that.
I’ve been feeling morbid today. Thinking about death, and the death of people close to me. There is no answer to this, death is the only certainty we face. The best we can do is try to live in the present and appreciate the people around us while we can, which I have been trying to do today. It is hard though.
On a happier note, I watched the Marx Brothers film Animal Crackers with my Dad. I’ve seen it many times before, but it was still funny. It’s strange: it’s a profoundly dated film in terms of plot, character, direction, acting, design… and yet Groucho Marx seems very modern in both character and performance (I wonder how they got away with some of the jokes in 1930). I suppose it shows how much modern comedy is still indebted to Groucho’s style ninety years on. Harpo is sometimes modern, when not being awkwardly #metoo and chasing women around, Chico is occasionally modern, Zeppo not modern at all, but Groucho is modern, not all of the time, but a lot of it.
A big thing that I’d be interested to hear people’s opinion on before I make the decision: if I go to depression group tomorrow (Thursday), I will have to miss shiur (religious class). I could message the shiur What’sApp group with a vague message that I’m busy or I could send them a message that “casually” mentions that I’m busy “at my depression support group.” I’m wondering what sort of response the latter would get and whether it could be interpreted as melodramatic/attention-seeking. The shiur rabbi and two people in the group know that I suffer from depression, but the others don’t, although I have vaguely mentioned health issues to one of them.
I went to bed late last night as I was downloading holiday photos and listening to a Doctor Who audiobook (hopefully I will post some of the photos later in the week). That was probably a mistake – both going to bed late and trying to multitask the photos and the audiobooks, as I’m really not good enough at multitasking to do that (autism again). Then I got really hungry late and night and needed to eat before going to bed. I then slept until after midday and was still in my pyjamas at 2.00pm. I spent much of the day too drained and too depressed to do anything. I still have confused feelings about E. I guess it’s good in a way that we both feel confused about what we should do. Better than one wanting a relationship and one not wanting one, at any rate. But I do wish it was easier to work out what to do.
I have also been feeling pessimistic about finding work and sorting my life out. Wading through the job adverts that came in while I was away, there are library jobs available. Granted a lot are in school libraries and law libraries, not environments where I think I will thrive, but they are there, and there are some higher education jobs too, including another one from a college that keeps advertising lots of different library jobs; not sure what’s going on there. I’ve applied for a couple of jobs there already and even got one interview, but I don’t think the institutional culture was right for me. I did think of applying for this one, but the closing date was today (yesterday now) and I was in no fit state to be writing CVs and applications today. There were a couple of jobs I wasn’t hugely excited by, but was thinking of applying for, but the commute was really too far.
I feel that I need more enthusiasm about working in general and librarianship in particular. I’m not sure if it’s depression, prolonged unemployment or feeling that I’m in the wrong career that has caused this lack of enthusiasm, but I feel I really need to change it. A couple of people at shul ask me regularly if I’ve found work; they are trying to be supportive and take an interest in my life, but it just makes me feel useless. I feel like I must be self-sabotaging in some way, given my qualifications, but part of me knows it’s my illnesses (counting autism and low self-esteem as illnesses for convenience alongside depression and social anxiety) that are sabotaging my job hunt, my illnesses that are stopping me applying, or at least applying enthusiastically, for full-time work or work in noisy or unfamiliar environments when that is most of what is available.
It doesn’t help that so many job adverts are vague, not mentioning the job description, qualities wanted or closing date. Some agency adverts don’t mention the company or even much about the sector!
I deleted some emails while I was away, but I still came back to a lot. I deleted some and have been working through others. Job adverts tend to be fairly repetitive – if a job is available, it will be listed on every email from that recruitment agency for weeks, so all other than the most recent can go straight in the deleted folder. I have a thing about trying to keep my email inbox as empty as possible. I don’t mind storing old emails in other folders, but I don’t like them sitting in my inbox unless they are, in some way, current.
I spent time chasing up the latest issue of the Jewish Review of Books, which hasn’t arrived after nearly two months. Then I lost more time with some payments that I didn’t remember making on my bank account debit card, relatively small payments, but mysterious. I phoned the bank fraud number and was put on hold for a while. The person I spoke to said that the small amounts taken were extremely unlikely to be fraudulent, as fraudsters usually try to clear out your account quickly and run, so the small, but unremembered, payments were likely to be legitimate payments to an organisation that has two names or bank accounts, in this case one for “London School of Jewish Studies” and one for “ISJS”. I’m not entirely sure why the second account is for “ISJS” rather than “LSJS” (unless someone put on caps lock but then held down the shift key too and ended up with a low case ‘l’), but once he said that, I did remember paying £58 to them a few weeks ago, right before my holiday. I felt somewhat sheepish. The sad thing is, as my Mum inadvertently reminded me, I used to be really good at keeping track of my money, but in the last year or two I’ve rather lost the knack or (more likely) feel too depressed and lacking in concentration and cognitive ability to do it.
I did eventually go for a run, which was my biggest accomplishment of the day (second biggest was fifteen minutes of Torah study). It was late and I had to change my route after seeing a group of teenage boys hanging out on a street corner engaging in horseplay (I was probably being paranoid, but they just screamed ‘gang’ to me), but the run was better than I expected considering how late and dark it was and how depressed I was feeling, even if my pace was poor compared with other runs this year.
I have a lot to do in the coming weeks, including more job hunting; going to various support groups and conferences about job hunting and changing careers; going to a short course of shiurim (religious classes) (the LSJS payment); really getting to work on my novel; applying for proof-reading work; and applying for benefits as well as daily and weekly things like Torah study; exercising; writing a weekly devar Torah (Torah thought) and so on. I also have a seminar thing to go to on preparing for an autism assessment and would like to make it to another depression group session before the end of the calendar year. I should also either send my Doctor Who book manuscript to more publishers or bite the bullet and look into self-publishing. It all seems very daunting and I don’t quite know where to start. Tomorrow (today now) I have another meeting with the charity that helps people with mental health issues into work, which is as good a start as any, plus I have some other chores to do on the way home.
I had a number of responses to my previous post, on the blog and via email. I feel bad that I went into autistic ‘black and white thinking’ more, as I often do when people give me advice, and felt that it didn’t help. The reality is that after I’ve had time to process it, I’m more able to decide what might help me now, what might help me down the line and what isn’t relevant to my situation, but I feel bad that I come across as too negative.
I’m also thinking that I should make more of an effort to get to depression group, which I haven’t done since it switched location to a less convenient site. But it would be good to speak to people about depression again. Unfortunately I can’t get to next week’s meeting.
Today was a slow day with depression and exhaustion. I’m still recuperating from the Jewish festivals. I did some chores and I worked on my novel a little today, writing for about an hour and a quarter in three small chunks as I couldn’t get a continuous period of time to work on it. I wrote over a thousand words and dealt with a passage that was quite emotional for me, tapping in to difficult emotions that I’ve experienced in the past. I’m not sure if writing is really therapy per se, but it does bring up difficult emotions, which may or may not be good.
I really should (that word again) go back to job hunting, but I couldn’t face it. (I should be exercising too.) I look at job listings and think, “I can’t do that.” Now I wonder if that is also black and white thinking. However, I had another job rejection today without even getting to the interview stage, so maybe I have the wrong skills and experience. I’m volunteering again on Sunday, assuming I feel well enough, so I’ll try to gauge how comfortable I feel with the children there and how they seem with me, to help me think about working in a school, although I don’t feel very hopeful about it.
It’s weird how autism and depression symptoms can vary depending on how I’m feeling generally, and the way they interact. When I was a child, I was sensitive to the feel of some fabrics. In particular, I found wool and woolly clothes prickly and uncomfortable. Over the years I’ve become more tolerant of them. However, today I was wearing a sweatshirt, not even wool (it’s acrylic), but it felt so prickly and uncomfortable that I had to take it off, even though it hasn’t been uncomfortable in the past. It seems likely that that is because I’m feeling very depressed and exhausted today and that reduces my ability to tolerate other symptoms of my conditions.
Shiur (religious class) tonight was good, but I did feel overwhelmed at the start by the sheer number of people (eleven) in a small room. This may have contributed to eating more than I wanted to do, I’m not sure.
The key part of the shiur that I took home with me was the idea that we should not think of our yetzer hara (difficult to translate, but a person’s negative desires or an anthropomorphised version of their temptations) as being ourselves, in the sense of our actual identity. In other words, you should not think “I’m a really angry person” even if you have anger issues. I’m not sure that I’m explaining this well. It did make me think about the discussion in the online mental health community about you not being your mental illness. I’m not quite sure if this was what the rabbi had in mind, but it did make me feel that I possibly do over-identify with my yetzer hara and I probably do over-identify with my ‘issues’ in the sense of telling myself, “Oh, I can’t do X because I’m autistic” or “I’m useless at Y because I have depression.”
There was some debate after the shiur was formally over which I stayed for. I felt a bit awkward, as I couldn’t really follow the cut and thrust of the debate and I suspect I would have done before I was depressed. I was also too wary to mention the parallel with mental illness that I referred to above, even though I’ve told two of the people there that I suffer from depression and one of the others is a doctor.
Today’s anxiety: next week is my cousin’s bar mitzvah in Israel. I’m already nervous for several reasons. I always get nervous going to Israel, partly because I’m afraid of terrorism (although I’m not convinced that London is much safer these days), partly because of being in a country where I am not fluent in the language. My Hebrew is probably better than I give myself credit for (even if I do mess up the verb conjugations), but I don’t really have confidence in speaking Hebrew.
Perhaps the biggest anxiety (aside from travelling around the country by myself to see my rabbi mentor, although that may not happen anyway as I can’t get hold of him) is the Shabbat (Sabbath) itself. There will be something like seventy-five or a hundred people coming, to a youth hostel or kibbutz (I’m not sure which) that my uncle and aunt are hiring for Shabbat. There will be big meals and, of course, my cousin (let’s call him C5 as he is the fifth of five siblings) will lein (chant from the Torah) in shul on Shabbat morning.
My worries are that it can be difficult to (for many people, not just me) to be with extended family for long periods because of personality clash (even if no one argues with me, if there is a family argument, as happens in many families, it will upset me) and that big, crowded events are not easy with depression, social anxiety and autism. I was also asked to lead bentsching (grace after meals), singing in Hebrew, which worries me in case I shake. Hebrew and singing are OK here as I’ve probably sung bentsching thousands of times in my life and, except for one little bit, everyone will join in anyway. However, I was also offered the chance to make kiddush (the blessing over wine at the start of dinner and lunch on Shabbat), but I turned it down because I worried I would shake and spill the wine. I’m worried that I’ll be so exhausted after Friday night that I’ll be too exhausted to get to shul for my cousin on Saturday morning; I might even be too tired to make it to lunch on time.
I thought all of that was enough to be worrying about, but apparently not. My cousin’s grandfather (not the mutual grandfather, who is dead, the one on the other side of the family) has written a comic song about the family to be sung, or at least read, by the family at lunchtime. To my surprise, my parents, sister and brother-in-law are going along with this. I can not see myself doing this. It’s alright for my uncle, aunt and cousins. They’re mostly extroverts who thrive on being the centre of attention. I really can’t see myself doing it. But now I see myself as the only person not joining in. I fear it will look bad, I’ll seem to be the spoilsport even before the effects of depression, social anxiety and autism kick in. Plus, there’s always the feeling of, “I wish I could do that,” similar to what I feel when I see people lead services in shul, knowing that it is within the range of my Jewish knowledge and that I have done it in the past, but that it is beyond the range of my current confidence level.
It often happens that when I’m with extended family, there is an argument (either with me or that I witness) and I end up feeling, “What am I doing here?” Feeling that I can’t cope, that no one in the family is on my wavelength, that I should just push myself harder to work through everything. Sometimes depression, social anxiety and autism provides an excuse, sometimes it doesn’t. When it was my other cousin’s (C4’s) bat mitzvah, I was supposed to go to be photographed with my family on the Sunday afterwards and I flat out refused because I was feeling so overwhelmed. There wasn’t an argument, but my Mum really wanted me to go and was disappointed I didn’t. I think I skipped the actual party too, but in that case the party for friends was separate from the small family meal on the Shabbat, so everyone felt that I’d gone to the main event. Here there are two massive meals and I am very worried about getting through them. I’m even worried if I made the right decision about bentsching. I’ve got a week to think/worry about this…
Today felt like a waste, although this may have just been my negative self-perception. I did a few things. I helped Dad with the sukkah, the temporary booth/dwelling Jews eat in (and sleep in, in warmer climes) for a week during the festival of Sukkot (starting next week). I tried to understand the Department of Work and Pensions’ byzantine and poorly-explained rules about employment benefits and printed off the twenty-three page long application form for New Style Employment and Support Allowance. (Why is complaining about bureaucracy considered a conservative thing when it’s a major gatekeeper preventing the low-skilled from accessing state services? It’s almost as if middle class progressives want to monopolise the benefits they can access for themselves…) I procrastinated more about trying to work as a teaching assistant without coming to a conclusion. I’m still terrified at the prospect of doing that, but don’t know what my other options are.
I went jogging for the first time nearly three weeks. The run was average, but at least I burnt off some frustration or even aggression about not fitting in religiously/politically/culturally. Even if it did come back later… I had a bit of a headache a couple of hours after jogging, which was probably from exercise again, but at least it wasn’t a bad migraine. It is frustrating getting exercise headaches when I’m already fighting against depression in my battle to get back into shape.
I worked on my novel for half an hour. I didn’t write a huge amount and most of what I did write was expanding paragraphs I wrote previously rather than pushing on ahead, but it was good to work on it at all and I’ve basically written off this entire month (and a bit) for novel writing. I know there is too much going on with Jewish festivals and then I’m going away for my cousin’s bar mitzvah. Hopefully in November I will be able to begin writing in earnest. I also managed about half an hour of Torah study, which was less than I intended, but quite good. I thought this article was really interesting, although I suspect it is fairly meaningless to people who haven’t had a lot of exposure to frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) books or lectures on Yom Kippur. It’s weird and somewhat frightening how things “everyone knows” so often turn out to be unsourced or based on misunderstandings of earlier sources.
Also for my novel, I bought a couple of books on abusive relationships for research. This was probably extravagant as I should go to the library for research, but I thought it might be useful to have them on hand while writing. I should definitely go to the library before buying any further research materials, though. When I was doing my undergraduate degree, I tended to buy one or two basic text books before the start of term as background reading and to have on hand whenever I wanted them, and then borrow the other books from the libraries as necessary, which is similar to what I’m doing here. I suppose I am vaguely worried of being seen in public with books on abusive relationships…
I just posted this in response to StoicWannabe’s comment on my last post:
I don’t know what a realistic definition of success for me is. I’ve never seen money or status as success, but I do see not being dependent on my parents as success. I see a lot of religious observances as success, but I know I can’t meet them, in terms of mitzvot like Torah study, communal prayer, children etc., but also social things like fitting in to the community and having frum friends. I see connection with people as success, but somehow I get distracted from that or forget about it when I need to remember it, or else I don’t believe that I’ve achieved so many connections or I focus on the people I’ve lost touch with or who got angry with me. I do have a sense of wanting to do something that justifies my life and (although I’m somewhat ashamed to admit it) somehow gets back at everyone who bullied me as a child (even though I’m sure they’ve all forgotten me by now – I don’t even remember most of them clearly).
It is hard to think of a definition of success that is both attainable and meaningful in my current condition.
My laptop is getting old. The casing is broken. Its speed is still reasonable, but it develops other quirks. The Wifi sometimes stops working, which seems to be the computer rather than the router, but it isn’t easy to tell; it’s better than it was a couple of months ago, when it was dropping all the time, but still isn’t perfect. In the last few days it has developed a new quirk: suddenly turning on the ‘tap to click’ function on the mouse touchpad. I hate this function, as I’m always accidentally clicking on stuff I don’t want to click on when it’s on, so this is really irritating for me. I know how to turn it off again, but it’s frustrating to keep having to do it. This happened to me once before, but I can’t remember how I solved the problem; possibly by reinstalling the touchpad, which I really don’t want to do (I hate having to do things like that, as I always worry about deleting software permanently). Alternatively, I could use a physical mouse, but I don’t really want to as I don’t have much room on my desk.
Lately I seem to be finding places where I think I can fit in and open up to people, in real life or online, but then either discover that I don’t fit in as well as I thought or they aren’t as safe as I thought. It’s happened with my depression group (I found it harder to connect with people and then they moved to another site that isn’t as easy for me to get to), autism group (there seemed to be different people each time and I found it hard to connect again), autism WhatsApp group (I’m just not connecting with them at all), various Jewish websites and blogs and a politics site. I suppose that’s also what happened with my shul (synagogue), only in slow motion. It makes me wonder if I’ll ever really connect with anyone, make friends or find a community. Am I too picky in my needs? Do I want everyone to be like me to be my friend? That’s unlikely, given that the friends I do have are usually quite unlike me. Some of the problem is a general problem of the internet, and the way that few people who use it seem to be able to disagree in a civil way, which always makes me uncomfortable.
I am glad that there are a few people here who comment a lot. I find that helpful. I’ve had blogs where no one at all was commenting, so it’s good to get some response. Thanks for reading/commenting.
I don’t really have much to say today, but I’m probably not going to get time to write after Shabbat (the Sabbath). I won’t get home from shul (synagogue) until about 11.15pm and then I will need to tidy up and have something to eat and as I want to be up early on Sunday to volunteer, I will only blog if I really need to offload (which is entirely possible, of course).
I went to depression group yesterday. The group is changing meeting place soon and I’m not sure if I will be able to make it to the new place easily. This is a bit disappointing, although I haven’t been much in the last year or two because of work; I don’t like being out so late the night before a work day.
I have mostly finished a piece of non-fiction writing I want to try to sell to a Jewish newspaper (I’m waiting for feedback from my Mum, but my Dad and E. liked it). E. helped me with the conclusion. I tend to struggle with endings.
This week I’ve written about 2,000 words of a piece of extended writing that could be the nucleus of a semi-autobiographical novel. I think I mentioned it earlier this week. Writing fiction is slow compared to blogging. I suspect I can write about 2,000 words an hour for a blog, if I know what I want to talk about, but with fiction I think I’ve been managing 500 words an hour. I struggle to get into the mindset of setting the scene and describing detail instead of just skipping through the salient points. I struggle with reading descriptive passages (I can’t usually ‘see’ things or people when I read novels) so I suppose it’s not surprising that I struggle to write them. The writing seems quite powerful, so far as I can tell, but I’m not sure where it’s going. I’ve got a page or two of notes and a vague idea of where I’m going, but I’m not really sure about a lot of things about the story, including how much I want to reveal of my own demons, albeit in fictionalised form.
One of the reasons I have struggled to write fiction in the past is the issue of planning. I’ve said before that I’ve discovered that I’m not a good planner, despite what I thought and now I wonder if that applies to fiction too. I’ve pushed this current scene on by asking myself what could go wrong next for the protagonist. I’m usually sceptical of writers who say that their characters write the story, but that kind of impulsive “What would he do next?” approach might be worth trying.
I don’t want to neglect my non-fiction Doctor Who book while I do this, but I’m unsure what to do having lost my draft readers/commenters. I ought to at least have a go at a third draft of the last chapter, followed by a fourth draft of the whole book to try to reduce the word count by 10,000 words or so (sounds a lot, but it’s less than 1,000 words a chapter. Which still is a lot, but the whole thing is over 107,000 words). I don’t know if I should watch more of the episodes in the last chapter again (Jodie Whittaker’s episodes). I don’t really have the time to do that right now, but I am conscious of being a lot less au fait with them than with the older episodes. After that I suppose I should format it and submit it. I’m nervous about the correct way to format a manuscript. This site looks very useful, but I’m worried that it might be out of date.
I think that’s about all I have to say today, which is just as well, as I’m out of time before Shabbat.
I did a few chores yesterday, but spent some time procrastinating and putting off Pesach (Passover) chores number. In the evening I went to depression group. The Monday meetings (which I haven’t been going to for a while because of work commitments on Tuesday mornings) tend to have a speaker or theme for the first half. Yesterday we were talking about hobbies and other ways that we distract from our mental health issues. Lots of people shared some (very good) artwork, so I spoke about my blog and read part of a post out. Although I had spent some time beforehand choosing a post, I didn’t really hit me until I read it how suicidal I sounded in the post; I think one person was quite worried about me. A few people said it was very powerfully written and a couple of people asked for the URL to read it, so I may have picked up a few more readers. I do feel a bit embarrassed thinking about it today. I always get embarrassed when people congratulate me on my writing, plus I wonder if maybe I did pick a very negative post to read (it was the beginning of this post).
Today was split between Pesach preparations and writing a job application. I was slow to get up and get going because I was feeling depressed, but I managed to do a few things in the afternoon. I feel frustrated by not being able to do as much in a day as I used to be able to do because of the depression, although “used to be able” is now going back so far that it isn’t really helpful any more. Plus, I think that even when I was younger I still got distracted. It’s possible that I just set targets I could never reach or, as my Dad says, that I’m just bad at planning. Someone from the therapy group I attended at The Network said she only puts one thing on her to do list each day now and, depressingly, I could see the appeal of that. I usually try to do far more than I actually manage to do and end up making myself more depressed by failing to meet my plan.
I found out that I didn’t get the job I was interviewed for last week. It was not surprising, given how long I have been waiting to hear and how badly I did at the interview. I suppose I should just put it down to experience, but it reinforces my feelings about not being able to work. Related to these fears, I spoke to someone from A S Mentoring today, an organisation that helps people with autism in the workplace. They could potentially help me, but there is a quite steep charge for seeing them after a free trial meeting as well as a three month waiting list. My Mum is in favour of going on the waiting list, while my father was more sceptical of whether they could help. I’m not sure what to do. It doesn’t help that I’m not sure what my support needs actually are. A lot would depend on what job I end up in. Some of my issues, like needing extra-long processing time when asked an open question, my difficulty changing tasks at short-notice or my preference for written instructions over verbal ones, would apply in many environments. If I had an understanding boss, as I did in my last job, but not in an earlier one, that would make things easier.
I seem to be having disturbing dreams at the moment, perhaps because of my high anxiety levels. A couple of nights ago was a Nineteen Eighty-Four dream which, perhaps fortunately, I didn’t really remember, I was just left with a vague impression of it. Then last night I dreamt about terrorism, shootings and plane hijackings. And Beatrix Potter’s Jemima Puddle-Duck. Don’t laugh, it really upset me as a child (when the dogs eat her eggs).
The weekend went reasonably well. I slept too much on Shabbat (the Sabbath) again and missed shul (synagogue) in the morning, although I went in the evening to see our potential new rabbi. He seemed nice enough, but I suppose I feel slightly upset that as I was trying to build up relationships of trust with the current rabbi and the assistant rabbi and opening up a bit about my various issues and how they affect my Jewish life (mostly in a negative way), I now have to start all over again with a new rabbi. Obviously it’s going to take time to build up trust again, and coming at a time when I feel that my depression and autism have largely pushed me to the fringes of the frum (religious) community, it’s not necessarily going to be easy to begin again. I was too tired to go to the community meeting to vote him in this evening because I was out in the afternoon (see below), but I assume he was voted in (“elected” isn’t quite the right word as there were no other candidates). He had to get 66% of the vote to secure the position, though, which made me wonder if someone was worried of a Brexit-type scenario. (EDIT: he was voted in unanimously, which is definitely not like Brexit.)
Today I went to my sister and brother-in-law’s newly-refurbished house for tea. They invited a lot of family, but my brother-in-law’s family is much larger than our side of the family, so it was just my parents and me for our side and a lot more people from the other side, although I think I’m the only person who still feels self-conscious around the other side of the family. I coped OK. I didn’t get depressed about not being married or owning a house as I thought I would. I played a bit with my sister’s three year old nieces, although they were too tired to really be interested. I ate too many biscuits and rogelach (pastries) though, which is probably a nervous thing – I don’t talk to people, so I sit there feeling anxious, so I eat to give me something to distract myself. I think I’m crashing now from the sugar, feeling a bit depressed and anxious.
Other than that it’s been a slow weekend, some Pesach (Passover) preparation today, but not much else. Tomorrow I should find out about the job I was interviewed for on Friday, although given that they were expecting to decide on Friday afternoon (there were only four people on the shortlist) and I still haven’t heard, it seems unlikely that I’m the first choice.
I’m hoping to go to depression group tomorrow (assuming that I’m not working on Tuesday). The theme of the evening is hobbies, things people do to deal with depression and anxiety. I’m trying to get the courage to read out a blog post or two from here, given that writing is my biggest hobby and my most effective way of dealing with my depression and anxiety.
I realised that my Pesach fears are different to previous years. In the past I was worried that we would not prepare for Pesach correctly and I would end up eating forbidden chametz (leavened bread and its derivatives) on Pesach or that I would end up having a huge argument with my parents about the correct way to kasher things (make utensils usable for Pesach by purging of all traces of chametz). This year I’m fairly confident that for the last few years, our Pesach has been kosher and it probably will be this year too. Next week will be a crazy and stressful and rushed, but everything will probably turn out OK in the end. I probably will argue with my parents at some point, but that will be because we’re all stressed and not over some huge kashering issue that is going to sour our relationship forever. So my worries are more realistic now, although there is still the vague fear of something going really wrong unexpectedly – but that has happened in the past too and we’ve coped. It’s why we pay so much in shul membership, so that we can phone the rabbi three hours before Yom Tov (God forbid) with a difficult sha’alah (question) as I had to do a few years ago (everything was OK in the end). There’s less of the fear of divine punishment too, less feeling that God is waiting to pounce as soon as I make a mistake.
Really burnt out today. I guess leaving job + depression group + end of busy week + lots of noise this morning (see below) isn’t a good combination. I should really be doing job hunt stuff, either trying to resuscitate my lost job application or revise cataloguing to see if I can get that temporary cataloguing job at the library I’ve just left, but I don’t feel able to do anything. Before I just wanted to eat and watch TV.; now I just want to lie down and nap. I did at least clear most of a huge backlog of emails. I have no energy or motivation whatsoever and I suspect that if I did try to do something, I would quickly discover I have minimal concentration too. I did manage to go out to buy mother’s day flowers for my Mum, although I accepted a lift from my Dad; I tend to get flowers on the Friday before so she has them for Shabbat (the Sabbath), plus I’m volunteering on Sunday so will be short of time.
Depression group last night was more difficult than I made out in my last post. I was feeling very drowsy and it was hard to concentrate on what people were saying, which I felt bad about, but there wasn’t a lot I could do about it. I’m just glad I made it to the end.
My sister was here this morning. She and her husband are in the process of moving in to their new house (not fully renovated yet, but finished enough that they can move in) and she had removal men here taking a lot of her/their stuff that was still here (she had a lot of her books here, plus a lot of their wedding presents have been sitting here for over a year, waiting for them to have a home with enough space for them). I somehow slept through most of the noise, drifting in and out of sleep and having strange dreams, but I did get up in time to speak to her briefly before she went. She brought good health news about her in-laws, which was good, although it reminded me that I have friends who are struggling with a family health issue and I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing to support them. I feel that I’m not good at that sort of thing.
I suppose I should go and try to do something vaguely productive before Shabbat comes in…