Heights and Depths, and Special Interests

I’m feeling very depressed and anxious about something I can’t write about here.  I suppose it takes my mind off being depressed and anxious about being unemployed and single, or about the job interview I have tomorrow.  I feel I just mess stuff up, however hard I try not to.  I don’t even know how I do it.  Sometimes I wonder if there’s any end to things.

I didn’t manage to do much today, just a little bit of interview preparation for tomorrow and a short walk.  Otherwise I just brooded on things.

***

Last night I was flicking through The Spiritual Revolution of Rav Kook: The Writings of a Jewish Mystic.  One passage (pp. 18-19) attracted my attention.  Rav Kook says there are two types of temperament: some people are straightforward, conventional and internally stable.  They can achieve a  lot, particularly in the practical sphere, but they can’t reach either highest heights or lowest depths.  However, the second type “never have any rest… either they are ascending to the sublime heights of heaven or they are descending to the bitter depths of disaster.  These people need to concentrate on spiritual growth every single day” because if they find a way of life that suits them, they will keep growing, but if they don’t grow, they will “most likely collapse” and fall to the lowest depths.  “These people need to be immersed constantly in Torah and self-improvement, ethics, and sacred emotions.  And God forbid that they should live a life of conventional work and practical knowledge.”  (Elsewhere he writes about very spiritual people often struggling with practical matters.)

I feel that I am probably in the second category.  I don’t say this because I think I have achieved great heights, but because I think I sink to great depths.  This upsets me, because I want just to be a normal, conventional person, able to achieve a certain amount and able to coast, to some extent.  I want to be comfortable.  I don’t want to have to struggle all the time for things other people manage easily (healthy emotions, career, marriage and family, community, friendships).  Instead I have to fight to manage to cope with ‘normal’ things, in order to try to reach heights I don’t think I will ever actually attain.  I don’t feel particularly spiritual, which I suppose suggests that I’m down in the the depths (as does the thing I can’t talk about).

***

Sometimes I wonder if I should keep blogging.  My Dad asked me yesterday why I do it.  He doesn’t “get” social media at all and wonders why people need to update all their friends on what they had for lunch.  I tried to explain that writing is how I process what happens to me and that I’ve tried writing a private diary, but it’s hard to keep it up without feeling there is some kind of audience.  I also hope that, by talking about depression and autism in detail, other people struggling with these conditions might understand themselves better, and be reassured that they aren’t ‘weird’ or ‘abnormal.’  There are maybe ten or fifteen people who regularly ‘like’ my posts; one or two look spammy, but most seem to be ‘real’ people, so I feel I must be doing something right.  But sometimes I wonder if I’m just being self-obsessed, writing about my life as if it’s of great importance.  Really, as I say, I’m just trying to process what happens to me, given that I struggle to understand my life a lot of the time.  Whether because of depression or autism, I can’t instinctively process my emotions the way most people can.  I have to literally spell them out to myself and examine them like a therapist to understand them.

***

I’m watching the 1979 BBC adaptation of John le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.  I’ve seen it before, and I’ve read the book (one of my favourites) three or four times.  I still enjoy it.  Savouring it, one episode a day.  I know the plot, and half the dialogue, by heart, but I drink in the acting, the direction, the atmosphere.  No one really points out that the books of le Carré’s strongest period (particularly the Smiley versus Karla trilogy, after he’d written a few books and honed his skills, but before the Cold War ended and left him in search of other material) are as fully-realised a fictional world as Tolkien’s Middle-Earth or Lucas’ Star Wars universe, a fictional world similar to, but running deeper than, our own, with its own geography, heroes and villains and, above all, its own vocabulary (the Circus, moles, lamplighters, scalphunters, Moscow rules and the like).  For me I think much of the appeal lies in this world-building.  It’s quite well-established that autistic people like these kinds of fleshed-out fictional worlds, although science fiction and fantasy are the more normal sources than spy novels.  I think George Smiley’s world is as much an autistic special interest for me than Doctor Who.  It’s certainly a comforting thing to return to when I feel depressed and anxious, as at the moment, like Doctor Who and one or two other series.

In many ways, Smiley’s world is more cohesive (despite all the “retcons”) than the Doctor Who universe, which is vastly larger, but open and less defined.  There are only nine Smiley novels (albeit that several non-Smiley novels arguably take place in the same fictional world, from little details) and they form a reasonably coherent whole, although it took a few novels for all the details to come together.  The secret vocabulary which is so important to me (because I like language?) only really first appears from the fifth novel in the sequence, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

I wallow in George Smiley’s world.  I imagine myself inside it, and not just when reading the books, but when visiting or working in buildings that remind me of how I imagine the Circus (British Intelligence), old buildings housing large institutions that have seen better days (I’ve worked in one or two of those).  I couldn’t be a field-agent, but I imagine myself in Research in the Circus archives, working with Connie Sachs to ferret out Soviet agents.  Le Carré’s post-Cold War books don’t really have that same background and are, to me, a lot less interesting (and his politics are more predictable and, to my thinking, less nuanced, particularly his knee-jerk anti-Americanism).  Certainly I generally prefer the scenes of bureaucrats (“espiocrats” as le Carré calls them in his later books) sitting around talking to the scenes of undercover agents, especially as le Carré doesn’t really do action scenes very well (most of the Smiley stories are structured as mystery stories rather than conventional thrillers, again a difference to le Carré’s later books, and part of the reason I don’t like the later books as much).

(Although one day I’m going to have to write that essay on le Carré’s presentation of Jews…)

It’s funny how I can write 500 words on something I care about without thinking even on a bad day, while more mundane tasks just seem impossible.

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Anxiety Central

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celestial Intervention

I sent off four emails to get submissions guidelines for different publications (three Jewish newspapers and a science fiction magazine).  This was a way of testing the water for potentially submitting articles as a freelancer.  I’m scared that I’ve said the wrong thing or written to the wrong person and will stop them ever employing me, but obviously saying nothing wasn’t going to lead to them employing me either.  Later in the week I hope to buy some copies of some of the American Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) newspapers, which I don’t normally read, to see if I could write for them.  I’m not sure if I could write for them, or if I would really want to do so, as the culture shock is quite big.

***

I started to wish Dad a happy father’s day and to thank him for being “a good Dad,” but realised this was damning with faint praise and switched mid-sentence to “great Dad,” but the resulting confusion sounded worse than if I’d said nothing.  This is why I prefer writing to speaking.  Similarly, I had an awkward, but necessary, conversation with my sister, but I think I will have to talk to her again about this (something I don’t want to go into here).  I’m struggling with a halakhic (Jewish legal) matter arising from this, but can’t raise it with my rabbi mentor, as I sent him a couple of emails last week and he hasn’t responded, which usually means he’s very busy or has some kind of family crisis and I should leave him alone for a week or two.  I don’t want to take this matter to other rabbis, as they lack his understanding of my family background and they may lack his insight in dealing with families where some members are more religious than others.  So I feel a bit stuck.

***

I went to the Doctor Who pub quiz I went to a few months ago, with the Oxford University Doctor Who Society team… except that when I got to the pub, they weren’t there.  I knew my friend (who is the only real contact I have with them nowadays) wasn’t going, but I’d been in contact with someone else who said they were going.  But either a completely different group went to the one I was expecting from last time (possible, I suppose, as the society is much bigger and more active than it was in my day) or they changed their plans, perhaps because of traffic coming from Oxford.  You can’t join the quiz late and you need two for a team, so there didn’t seem much point in staying.  I did see a couple of other fans I knew from Oxford, but I was never close with them and wasn’t sure if they remembered me, so social anxiety won out and I came home.

On the way home I was feeling a mixture of anger and resignation.  I think more resignation than anger.  Why do things like this always happen to me?  I did what I have been told to do since I was a child, I went out of my comfort zone, I put myself out there, I tried to make friends… and yet again I was disappointed again (and ripped off – Tube and bus fairs across London aren’t cheap).  Am I cursed or something?  That everything I do goes wrong.  Am I being punished for something?  For not going to see the Famous Rabbi yesterday?  I try to accept that things can turn out well, that my suffering is a tikkun or a kapparah or something, but it just feels like God hates me and delights in making everything go wrong for me.  Aish.com, Chabad.org and Hevria.com have very different outlooks, but they all seem to have the same basic idea that if you trust in God, He will basically do what you want.  This is theologically immature, and they would probably deny it if you asked them, but it’s what posts like this and this seem to amount to, when I read them.  Do what God wants, trust in Him and expect Him to help, and everything will turn out fine.  But what if it doesn’t?  What if you can’t expect God to help because of a lifetime of misery and loneliness?  What if you don’t know if you’re doing what He wants?  If you don’t know what He wants you to do?

Yesterday I was feeling a bit confident about writing, but today I have a feeling of stumbling through life (work, writing, family, friendships), making big mistakes and needing other people’s help.  I doubt whether I could ever get anything published.  I wish I could just be normal.  I feel bad saying this, as I’ve got friends whose mother just died, so my problems seem insignificant in contrast… except they aren’t insignificant.  Someone said, “the worst thing that’s ever happened to you is the worst thing that ever happened to you, regardless of its place in the continuum of bad things ever to happen to people.”  Missing these people is not the worst thing that ever happened to me, but a life of misery and loneliness is and I don’t know how to change it.

Merely Existing

Much of today it felt like it has never not rained and will never not rain.  I feel like that myself, like I have never not been depressed and never will not be depressed.  Given that I have been depressed almost all of my adult life, maybe that’s not surprising.  Still, lately I had been feeling a bit better, but apparently I still haven’t recovered from three days of Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbath and festival) earlier this week.  I had an answer to an email about writing professionally that has just made me think I will never be able to do it, will never be able to be functional in the world of work at all.  I also needed to decide if I wanted to go to a social thing on Sunday (Doctor Who quiz) without the friend who I thought might be going.  I decided that I would like to go, if I there is room for me on the team, as I enjoyed it the last time I went and it’s good to do something social that isn’t shul (synagogue) or support group, but it’s another anxiety.  Everything just feels too difficult right now.  I didn’t go to autism group tonight, as I couldn’t face it today, especially after the last time (last time I failed to talk to anyone and left after just fifteen minutes, feeling lonely and depressed).

I think by this stage it’s obvious that there is no quick fix, or even medium term fix, for my problems.  I don’t know how to survive in this world as an adult.  I got stuck somewhere in adolescence.  Or maybe I know how to survive, at a basic level (I haven’t actually tried to kill myself, despite coming very close sometimes, nor do I turn to substance abuse or the like to cope).  But I don’t know how to thrive, which I would define as functioning in a way that I enjoy, at least on some level, rather than merely existing.

I wanted today either to go to autism group or to get a haircut, but I didn’t feel up to either (I find haircuts very stressful for autistic and social anxiety reasons as well as having problems with shaking from medication side-effects).  I did manage to go for a twenty-five minute walk and to send some emails, as well as redrafting the final chapter of my Doctor Who book for half an hour or so.  It’s hard to know whether to be pleased with this or not.  I didn’t manage to do much today; on the other hand, I felt so depressed that I achieved far more than I thought I would when I woke up.  Is that good or bad?  Or both or neither?

I just want to be normal.  I want to have a meaningful career and a steady income.  I want to have a wife and children.  I want to have friends and a community.  I want to have a meaningful and enjoyable religious life, to love God and Torah and Judaism in an uncomplicated way, not a difficult and twisted one.  I would like to know, at the very least, why I can’t have these things, and how to cope without them.  They never taught us that at school.

***

Of course, there are different interpretations of ‘normal.’  I was thinking before about what ‘normal’ is for frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) men.  What I feel I should be like to fit in to a community and to be marryable.  These were my thoughts:

Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) man: should ideally spend all day in Talmud study, but if he has to work, should have first studied for many years in yeshiva and kollel (rabbinical seminary).  Should study Talmud for two or three hours a day with a chevruta (study partner).  Should daven (pray) with a minyan (community) three times a day.  Should want to have eight to ten children.  Should not own a TV and only use the internet for work.

Modern Orthodox man: should have a BA and if possible a higher degree.  Should have studied for many years in yeshiva before qualifying for a profession, preferably law, accountancy or medicine.  Should daven (pray) with a minyan (community) three times a day (unless he is a doctor).  Should study Talmud for about two hours a day, ideally with a chevruta.  Should want to have three or four children.  May own a TV, but doesn’t have time to watch it.

Religious Zionist man: similar to Modern Orthodox men, but should live in Israel and have served in the Israeli army, perhaps becoming a career soldier.  Is allowed to study Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) as well as Talmud because of its nationalistic overtones.  Should want five or six children.

I’m being somewhat facetious, but this is the image I have in my head of frum men.  I’m not sure how realistic this image is, but you can see why someone with depression, social anxiety and autism and everything those things entail in terms of energy, concentration, motivation, social communication issues and so on is going to struggle to compete and have feelings of low self-esteem reinforced.  I do wonder how I could find out if my image is accurate.  For what it’s worth, my rabbi mentor has a BA as well as smicha (rabbinic ordination), has worked in the rabbinate, the charity sector and now privately in business, has five children, but no TV.  I don’t know how he would define himself, but he’s closest to Modern Orthodox.

***

Career-wise, I was told today that I have an interview for a job I forgot I’d applied for next week.  I hope I feel somewhat better next week, as I’m in no state to prepare for an interview today.  Apparently the interview includes “a five minute presentation.”  It is not clear if they are presenting to me as part of the scheduled library tour before the interview, or if I am supposed to present to them, and if so, what about.

I had a positive response to some questions from one of my writing contacts about getting started.  I emailed someone else with similar questions.  I do feel very uncertain how to proceed.  It’s scary to think of starting out on this route, but, the interview next week notwithstanding, I’m struggling to build any kind of library career, let alone a mental health and autism-friendly one.  I try to focus just on the next step, but it’s hard not to think that I’m going to mess this up, just as I feel I’ve messed everything else up.

***

I finished reading Fatherland.  It was very good and not as depressing as I thought it would be, at least for the most part.  I don’t know what to read next, though.  I have a long list of books to read; actually, I have several long lists on Goodreads: Want to Read; To Read Non-Fiction; To Read Torah; Part Read to Finish; and Possibly to Read, as well as books I’ve read, but want to read again, particularly if I’m older and would understand them better now than when I first read them.  This is a product of a couple of factors: working in libraries for a number of years, I acquired a lot of cheap or free books, usually unwanted donations or withdrawn books; I often visit charity shops to look for bargains or just for retail therapy when depressed; on the other hand, because of the depression, I don’t often read the non-fiction or heavy fiction that sits on my shelves.  I want to read more non-fiction and classic fiction.  Even looking at my non-fiction list, there are lots that look interesting: Gershom Scholem on the history of Kabbalah, Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia (read in conjunction with an undergraduate level introduction to The Spanish Civil War), America During the Cold WarThe Islamist…  In addition, I’ve long meant to re-read Great Expectations which I suspect I would understand better, psychologically, than I did when I read it as a set text for GCSEs aged fourteen or fifteen.  I feel like a boy in a sweetshop, but also a boy who is aware that he might feel sick if he tries to eat too much i.e. I really might struggle with Dickens or non-fiction.

***

I just watch the Blake’s 7 episode that contained this line: “However much you might like to pretend you’re a loner, you’re not really.” (Terminal by Terry Nation).  Just going to leave that hanging there…

Difficult Day

Sometimes I try to say something meaningful about depression and autism here, even if it is only my personal, subjective experience of them.  Other days I just off-load.  Today is an off-loading day (sorry).  Actually, it’s more to update the handful of people following this blog regularly, as there isn’t even a lot to off-load, emotionally.

Today was not tangibly better than yesterday.  I still feel exhausted and depressed.  My main achievements were finishing a job application (which was fairly easy once I got down to it) and walking to and from the shops and going shopping.  This took an hour or so, but by the time I got home, I was feeling faint from exhaustion, so tired did it make me.  I didn’t get to shul (synagogue) as I had hoped either.  At times like these, I wonder how I am supposed to function ‘normally’ in the world.  Last time I checked, I do not qualify for disability benefits (although my psychiatrist thought otherwise last week, so I need to check), but I struggle to work even part-time; at the moment, it’s a struggle to apply for some jobs and do some chores.

I did manage half an hour of Talmud study, somehow (it was a surprisingly easy amud (page), fortunately) and ten minutes or more of other Torah study.

I tried to write some emails asking writer friends for advice about starting a paid writing career, but it was hard to engage my brain to ask meaningful, non-trivial questions.  I feel I need help quite desperately if I am to build a completely new career with very little knowledge and no contacts, but I don’t know what questions to ask.  Perhaps it’s the autistic thing of poor executive function: difficulty seeing the big picture rather than the details (I’m focused on what are probably minor points), difficulty coping with a blank sheet of paper (“Ask me anything!”  “Um…”) as well as social anxiety (“Why would they even respond to my questions anyway?”).  I need to find questions to ask, but I just want to scream “HELP!!!”  I was lucky that E. helped me a bit with writing the questions.  I’ve sent one load of questions off and hope to send some more in a day or two.

The good news is that I got positive results from the complaint emails I sent yesterday: a full refund on the DVD with the broken casing and a partial (50%) refund on the book with the damaged spine.

And that was it, really.  I watched two episodes of Blake’s 7, one awful (Moloch) and one okay (Death-Watch).  I’ve realised that from this point on, good Blake’s 7 episodes are going to be a minority.  I have one quite good episode from series three, but most of the fourth and final series was pants, to put it bluntly.  Maybe it was a mistake to decide to watch the whole series again.  I might interrupt it with the BBC Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy/Smiley’s People DVD that arrived the other day (the one with the broken case) and save Blake’s 7 for when I’m too tired or depressed to concentrate on George Smiley.

Speaking a Dead Language

The usual post-Yom Tov (festival) depression has set in.  Actually, it is more accurate to define it as post-mass social interaction (i.e. interacting with lots of people at shul (synagogue) and elsewhere) depression.  I was not tired last night so I stayed up late blogging and unwinding from the stresses of the last three days, but inevitably slept late this morning and woke up utterly drained from the last few days.  I feel pessimistic about all my recent plans to write professionally and to date again.  I feel that I can’t write well, that I don’t know anything (except my own moods) well enough to write about at length, that no one would date me while I’m unemployed and so on.

It’s been a day of procrastination and feeling too drained and depressed to do anything.  I did send an email to the values-based dating service matchmaker saying I would like to date again if they find anyone (I had said I wanted to stop until I can find a job).  I hope that’s not a terrible idea.  It feels a bit like a terrible idea, despite what people have said to me, here and elsewhere.  I briefly started signing up for another dating service, but backtracked when I realised that the free membership was limited, while it didn’t say anywhere on the site how much the paid membership was.  I can’t really afford a hefty monthly fee at the moment, so that was more time/energy wasted.  I guess this is a way of ensuring that unemployed people don’t date.

I also went for a very short walk to do some shopping, which completely exhausted me, and I cooked dinner for myself and my parents (macaroni cheese, about the easiest recipe I know) which also exhausted me.  I somehow managed about twenty minutes of Torah study as well as writing letters of complaint about a couple of secondhand items that were advertised as “very good,” but arrived in a poor condition.  So this was not a totally wasted day, but it was not a productive one.

However, I did not have time, energy or mood/brainpower for a load of other things I hoped to get done today (write to a couple of friends asking for help starting to write professionally; proof-reading and submitting a job application; trying to get submission guides from various periodicals I’d like to write for; and studying the weekly page of Talmud for my shiur).  All those things will get postponed to later in the week, assuming I feel better.

In the meantime, I’m fighting the urge to eat junk food after all the junk, especially ice cream, I ate over Yom Tov (it is customary to eat dairy produce on Shavuot).  I’m wondering if I really have what it takes to write professionally, considering the small number of people reading my blog and the fact that I haven’t really written much professionally in the past and my autistic/socially anxious/low self-esteem difficulties with networking and pushing my work out there.  Actually, I wonder if I have what it takes to do anything meaningful at all.  I feel so useless so much of the time.

***

Doctor Who Magazine has been running a cosplay feature for some time now.  Cosplaying is when fans of something dress up as their favourite characters, often for conventions (because part of the point is being seen by people who get the reference).  Part of my mind thinks it is a pointless waste of time and money; another part thinks it looks a lot of fun; a third agrees it looks fun, but is too anxious for either cosplaying or going to conventions.  Broadly, the Jewish, fannish and autistic/mentally ill parts of my head, I suppose.  I did dress up as the Doctor for Purim, albeit in what a dedicated cosplayer would consider a very inaccurate costume (only the scarf was authentic; the rest was just a vague approximation of Tom Baker’s costume from stuff I had to hand).

I feel torn into pieces by the thoughts in my head.  I want to be frum, yet I lack energy and enthusiasm for Torah and mitzvot and sometimes I’m angry with God.  I like classic British telefantasy, but I worry it’s a trivial thing to waste my life on.  I love writing, but am scared to do anything with it.  I’d like to make friends with people like myself, but I’m terrified of rejection, so avoid places where I might meet people like myself (shulDoctor Who conventions).  I assume that the fact that I’m not a typical Orthodox Jew or typical Doctor Who fan makes me unlikeable by more conventional members of those communities, when it might be the reverse, at least for some people (maybe, possibly).  Anxiety and autism make me stay in my comfort zone when I might enjoy moving out of it (writing professionally, including doing serious research; going to conventions).

Sometimes it feels like being a frum geek is like knowing a nearly-extinct language, that there are nuances or connections in Jewish stuff or fan stuff that only I can see.  That’s fun on some level, but it’s also lonely.  I guess loneliness is fundamental to my life.  Perhaps surprisingly, I did have a couple of friends at school, but never many and sometimes they were all away or busy and I was left on my own.  Then at Oxford it grew to being one of the dominating emotions of my life and has never really gone away.  I don’t know if I could cope with having a partner, it would be so strange.  Maybe I would still feel lonely, and therefore guilty that my wife wasn’t enough for me.

This mental division might affect my writing.  It’s possible that what I want to write is not going to align very well with the readership of various periodicals.  I want to write something on chronic illness, especially depression and high functioning autism, in the Jewish community, but I worry that anything I write will be too frum (religious) for the Jewish Chronicle, but too irreligious for any of the frummer Jewish newspapers (which I don’t read anyway, so I would need to research style and tone.  Plus, I think on principle, I don’t want to write for newspapers that refuse to run pictures of women, as is the case with many Orthodox newspapers).

Three Day Eventing

I’ll try to keep this brief, as it’s gone 11.30pm as I sit down to write (nearly 12.30am now I’m proof-reading), but it’s been a packed “three day event” (as my parents refer to Shabbat (the Sabbath) and two days of Yom Tov (festival) consecutively).  My sleep pattern has been thoroughly messed up by Tikkun Leil (staying up all night studying Torah) and long afternoon naps, so I doubt I’ll get to sleep soon anyway.

I got to some of the “learning” events (Orthodox Jews tend to refer to Torah study as “learning” because of a quirk of Yiddish; I think it makes it sound misleadingly basic).  Some were definitely better than others.  I was glad to do Tikkun Leil, as I mentioned, even though the topic (what Torah subjects should one be studying) was something liable to make me feel religiously inadequate.  The big inadequacy-making event was today, however, when a whole bunch of local shuls (synagogues) got together at my parents’ shul for two hour study fest.  I couldn’t find a chevruta (study partner) from my shul, so the Rosh Kollel paired me up with someone who turned out to be a nice guy, but far ahead of me in Talmudic studies.  He just raced through the set texts, through the Gemara and Rashi and on to other Rishonim and Acharonim (Medieval and modern commentators).  I could barely follow any of it.  For one thing, the sheer number of people in the hall meant that my autistic brain was overwhelmed with noise and half the time I couldn’t even hear my study partner.  Even when I could, I struggled to think of anything to say, which I suspect/hope is an autistic executive function issue, the same thing that makes me stop and ask for more time to think in job interviews.  My brain just doesn’t work that fast.  Then add in the social element of chevruta learning, the fact that not only do I have to engage the part of my brain that deals with Talmud, but I have to engage the part that deals with social interactions too, and it’s all too much for me, even without the fact that my partner had a natural flair for Talmudic study and just tore through everything.  I used to have this problem with paired or group learning in school, too, so it’s not a problem unique to religious study for me.

Then there was a shiur (lecture) that was supposed to clarify the sources, but just left me more confused; it didn’t help that I could barely hear it.  Then there were songs I didn’t know and by the time we got to the end, I was wondering if my Judaism is really the same as that of everyone else in the hall.  There were a couple of people I was at school with in the hall, people who were not my intellectual equals at school, but who have become rabbis and can “learn” properly.  I can’t really study Talmud, although I try a little.  I mostly study Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and theology for Torah study.  No self-respecting yeshiva bochur (rabbinical seminary student) wastes time studying Nakh (the non-Mosaic books of the Bible) (unless they’re at a Religious Zionist yeshiva) or theology.  My theology shelf is full of suspect people like Rabbi Sacks, Rav Steinsaltz and Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits, let alone outright non-Orthodox and unacceptable thinkers like Abraham Joshua Heschel and Emil Fackenheim.  (Rav Soloveitchik just about gets a pass because he was a halakhicist and has yichus (great ancestors)).

Fortunately, the Rosh Kollel in his closing address spoke about the concept of kiddush hashem, sanctifying God’s name by being a good person publicly or even privately abstaining from temptation because of God’s command rather than from fear of being caught.  So I felt maybe I can do something as a Jew.  It is depressing, though.  I am struggling to be Jewish at the moment, simply because I can’t engage with texts and enjoy Jewish life the way I am supposed to do, because of depression and autism.

The good stuff: as well as getting to these study events, I stayed at shul for Shacharit (Morning prayers) after Tikkun Leil; I also – somehow, do not ask me how – got up this morning for shul.  I still got there very late (shul started at 8.45am; I turned up around 10.00am and struggled to get a seat as it was packed), but I got there.  Hopefully I will make it again on Shabbat.  I did feel a bit more comfortable being in the shul than I have done recently (admittedly this was before the upsetting study session today).

I read a lot, both my novel (Fatherland by Robert Harris, thankfully not as depressing as a ‘what if Hitler won?’ alternate universe-Holocaust-murder mystery-thriller could be) and Tanakh.  I finished reading Nevi’im, the Prophets.  I’ve read Tanakh through from the first page to the last in English and I’ve read every individual book in Hebrew (I struggled with the Aramaic bits), but not in the right order, as I alternated ‘easy’ and ‘hard’ books (‘easy’ and ‘hard’ in terms of prose vs. poetry and early vs. late Hebrew).  For several years, I’ve been reading through Tanakh in Hebrew and in order, sometimes with commentaries.  It’s taken a long time because (a) it’s long and (b) it’s longer if you add in commentaries and (c) it’s really hard to read a language that isn’t your first language if you’re very depressed, especially if it’s in archaic poetry.  I’ve gone through periods of months when I just haven’t read anything.  So this was a milestone.  I can’t remember how long it’s taken me to get through Nevi’im, probably four or five years.  Hopefully it won’t take as long to get through Ketuvim, the third and final section of Tanakh, but realistically it will take as long or longer, as I have more commentaries to read plus significant numbers of Aramaic chapters as well as some of the most complex poetry in Tanakh.

I had a difficult discussion with my parents on the first night of Yom Tov over dinner, just before I went to shul for the Tikkun Leil.  We got on to my career and my struggles with finding a library job.  They encouraged me to try to sell some of my writing.  Like, now, not in months or years when I think I’ve finally got something good enough.  I went into autistic/depressive black and white “It’s impossible” mode and actually ran off to my bedroom and lay in bed in the dark fully dressed for a few minutes, which I guess might be a form of autistic shutdown, albeit from emotional overload rather than sensory overload (I do this kind of running away a lot when I’m emotional; I’m not sure if it’s really the same as the types of shutdowns other autistic people experience).  Still, I did calm down after a few minutes and finish the conversation with my parents as well as getting to Tikkun Leil (it looked for a minute like I would just go to bed and stay there).

I realised I have a couple of contacts I can email for advice about starting to write professionally.  I can also write to the Jewish newspapers and see if they have submission guides.  Perhaps also Doctor Who Magazine, although lately they don’t run the kind of analytical articles I could write.  I have a couple of ideas for articles about mental health and autism in the Jewish community for the mainstream (non-religious) Jewish newspapers – they publish quite a bit about mental health, although really the articles need to be more in the frum (religious) newspapers, but I don’t know if I have the right contacts for that or if they would print anything on mental health and autism, especially articles saying that people with mental illness or autism might not function in the community the way they “should” (e.g. my experiences above).  So, hopefully this week I can send some emails and try to work out what I can write.  I am nervous about approaching people for help.  I always am, I guess because at school showing signs of weakness was a fatal mistake, and also because I feel, “Why should anyone help me?  Why would they think I’m worth helping?”  Plus there’s the element of “All beginnings are difficult” (as the Talmud says).

I also came across a passage in a book that resonated with me.  It was a short piece, just a couple of paragraphs, in an anthology of essays on Judaism.  It was by Rabbi Dr Abraham Twerski, who is a Hasidic rabbi and practising psychiatrist in the USA who has written extensively on Judaism and mental health issues.  It was just a short thing saying that some people go out of their way to give others the benefit of the doubt, but beat themselves up about every little mistake and that this is not a positive behaviour and that we should be realistic with ourselves.  So, it seemed significant that I “happened” to come across that passage over the long weekend.

So, that was Shabbat and Yom Tov.  It was probably objectively quite good, but it’s hard for me to feel positive feelings, while the negative ones (like the study session today) are overwhelming.  Some of that is the nature of depression, of course.  I realise I haven’t explicitly spoken about depression in this post, only autism and low self-esteem, but it’s always there, in the background, poisoning my mood and warping my view of myself and my life.  Now I need to have something to eat, watch some Blake’s 7 and go to bed.

Dating Procrastination

Last night I decided that I probably should start dating, or at least contact this dating service and see what they think.  I thought that, if I want signs, then it probably counts for something that my parents and my rabbi mentor think I should be dating.  And, while I have no real idea what God thinks, getting married and having children is a mitzvah (commandment), so I should probably be pursuing it.  The more I thought about it, the more I felt that I have a certain calm when I thought I should be dating, albeit accompanied by anxiety.  It didn’t seem particularly immoral to go on dates with my mental health issues; the worst that can happen is the women don’t want to see me again.  Plus, I should do my hishtadlut (effort) if I want HaShem (God) to send my soulmate.

This morning the calm was gone.  I felt very depressed again, albeit not particularly anxious (too depressed to be anxious.  Anxiety requires a certain amount of energy, concentration and motivation).  I felt that I’m too depressed and my self-esteem is too low to face multiple rejections again.  I felt that I’m too weird and screwed up for anyone to be able to love me (the evidence from previous crushes/dates/girlfriends supports this thesis).  I worried that I want sex more than I want love (given that I’m a celibate virgin, it is hard to judge how realistic this fear is) and wouldn’t be able to cope with a real relationship, for all that my ex-girlfriends felt that I was attentive to their emotional needs.  It felt like dating in this state would just be misleading people (shadchan (matchmaker), dates) into thinking I’m a functioning human being when I’m blatantly not.  I’m sceptical of whether shadchanim and dating sites really help (some evidence suggests they don’t); I don’t think there’s a science, or even an art, to matching people, it just seems like pot luck whether you get set up with someone compatible even if you’re ‘normal,’ let alone a freak like me.  And it seems immature to think that someone else could solve my problems, or even help me to live with them better.  It seems pretty inevitable that I’m going to be miserable and lonely all my life, simply because I’ve been miserable and lonely all my adult life so far.  And if I’m going to be miserable anyway, I’m much better off being miserable by myself than making someone else miserable.

It just seems my life is to be one long stretch of misery and loneliness, occasionally punctuated by brief moments of hope, just to seem more painful when they are gone.  It doesn’t seem a lot that I can do about this.  Being single is only part of this, but it’s probably the least amenable to improvement (although the longer I’m unemployed, the more questionable that seems).  I’m back to feeling I would rather die than be like this forever.  My habit of seeing everything in life as an ethical question (“Is it morally right for me to date?”) rather than a pragmatic question (“Would dating make me happier/more energised/more motivated/less depressed?”) probably doesn’t help, as it makes the question too complicated.  Although, to be honest, I’m not sure what the answer to the pragmatic question would be either.  A lot would depend on how quickly I found someone right for me, or whether I would find someone at all.

Well, anyway, my rabbi mentor just got back to me while I was writing this and said I should continue dating “even though it is difficult at times.”  I suppose that’s as near to the word of God as I’m going to get (although I trust my rabbi mentor because he’s a trained counsellor and the wisest person I know as much as because he’s a rabbi).  I don’t know how I keep going with it despite disappointment.  It’s like job applications, and I’m getting quite disenchanted with those, except that I find it easier to believe that someone could employ me than be in a relationship with me.

***

Speaking of job applications, I’m applying for a part-time job somewhere that sounds potentially good, if they could accommodate my need to leave early on winter Fridays, but writing the personal statement shows me that while I have some of the skills and experience they want, I don’t have all of them by any means.

***

A bookmark that came free with a book I purchased this week advises me that it’s better to be happy and odd than miserable and ordinary (the quote is apparently from Goodnight Mister Tom, which I’ve never read).  I would agree, except that I seem to be both odd and miserable.

***

I feel apprehensive about getting through Shabbat (the Sabbath) and Shavuot (Pentecost), but there’s not a lot I can do about that now.  See you on Tuesday (or possibly late on Monday night).

Bounded in a Nutshell

“I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.” Hamlet, William Shakespeare

I felt a huge amount of anger with HaShem (God) yesterday evening.  I’m just so lonely and feel so useless and I can’t see any way out.  It’s illogical to be angry with Him about my own failings, but I feel that if I wasn’t autistic and depressed, I wouldn’t be so lonely and isolated, which leads on to anger with Him for making me autistic (blame for the depression is more complicated).  I feel if I wasn’t autistic, I would be able to function in the frum (religious) world as He wants, but as it is, I can’t function.

I didn’t know how to process the anger, so I ended up hurting myself for the first time in a while.  I hit my legs with my fists while trying to talk to HaShem;  later I scratched myself slightly, but I’m not quite sure why I did that.  I have been fantasising about death again lately too, mainly just thinking that however bad things are here, one day I’ll be dead and unable to feel any more pain.

***

I’m still struggling with what to do about dating.  It still feels wrong, morally wrong, to date while I’m not just unemployed, but not even sure what I want to do with my life any more.  And I can’t face the thought of rejection and it seems there are so many reasons why someone would reject me (autistic, depressed, weird geeky interests, didn’t go to yeshiva or otherwise tick the appropriate frum boxes) even without being unemployed too.  Nor do I look forward to having to turn down someone I don’t feel is right for me.  And I’m wary of thinking that things will be better if I’m in a relationship (although it is true that I have felt better when I’ve been in a relationship in the past, even if I wasn’t “recovered”).

However, I just feel so lonely.  I feel like everyone has their partner except me.  This is blatantly untrue (a number of my friends are single), but reflects how I feel.  I feel that I am mostly self-contained.  I don’t need other people with me all the time.  I have solitary hobbies and even things like watching TV I prefer to do alone (I don’t like watching TV with other people because I don’t watch TV casually.  I don’t channel hop, I only watch things I want to watch and which I think are worth my time, but then I watch them with complete concentration and dislike noise and interruptions, particularly as the programmes I watch tend to be plot-heavy and reasonably complex to follow).  I should really be happy living alone as I’m an introvert and a bit of a loner.  But, as seen when my parents are away, when I’m actually alone, I do get more depressed, even though logically I should welcome being alone.  I do, on some level, need people around me, even if I don’t interact with them much.  I also need to be able to love and to feel loved and I’m rather starved of both of these things and have been much of my life.  My parents and my sister do care about me, but there are so difficulties in those relationships, most probably stemming from my autism and my having different “love languages” to my family.  We probably aren’t very good at showing love to each other in ways the other person can comprehend.

I try to cope with things and be self-contained (“If you are miserable alone, you will be miserable in a relationship” as everyone says), but I just feel so unbearably lonely and unloved that it’s impossible to escape the depression for long.

***

I saw the psychiatrist today.  It didn’t go well.  She focused on my unemployment, repeatedly telling me that I should get a job, which wasn’t terribly helpful.  She did suggest doing voluntary work, which is probably a good idea.  I didn’t feel like she was really listening, nor did I have the confidence to tell her that my depression and social anxiety are just as bad, if not worse, when I’m working, because of issues surrounding autism and mental illness in the workplace.  In fact, I haven’t told this psychiatrist about my autism at all, as the last one said that if I’ve been told I haven’t got it by the Maudsley Hospital, I don’t have it and that’s final.  As my GP has referred me for another assessment at the Maudsley, I’m not going to raise the issue again until I’ve had that assessment.

As well as sounding disappointed with me for not having a job, she sounded disappointed with me for not having friends.  I said I had “one or two” which is a simplification (I have two or three I’m in contact with regularly, but via text as they live elsewhere; I have one or two friends who live locally, but I usually only see them in shul (synagogue)).   I couldn’t really be bothered to explain as she didn’t seem interested and I was struggling to understand her accent; possibly she was struggling with mine too.  She asked if I am in a relationship; she didn’t really react when I said I’m not.  When she asked what I do when I’m not job hunting, I said I write a bit, which she misheard as “write a book” which is basically true so I didn’t correct her.

She asked if I have thoughts of self-harm or suicide and I said yes, because I have had them in the last couple of days, but she didn’t really seem to care as I said I wouldn’t act on the suicidal thoughts, which is probably true, and that I wouldn’t act on the self-harm thoughts, which was a lie because I did last night.  I don’t know why I lied; probably because it was very minor and I just wanted to get out of the appointment room.  I just didn’t feel comfortable opening up to her as she seemed to just want to process me quickly and get to the next patient and seemed to think that finding a job will be a panacea for me.

***

Today’s potential jobs: a school librarian maternity cover job (I don’t want to work in further education again after struggling previously); an “information assistant” that seems to be a library assistant role rather than an assistant librarian and has a lethal-looking commute; and a role billed as “knowledge librarian” but which also seems to be a library assistant role rather than a trained librarian role, judging from the lack of professional skills in the job description and which also requires SharePoint experience that I don’t have.  I was then reminded that I applied for a “knowledge librarian” role a few days ago; I think it was the same job as the job descriptions are similar, although it’s hard to be sure, as both jobs are advertised through different agencies and don’t state the name of the company that is advertising the job (this happens a lot and is very frustrating).

It is probably no wonder that I really want to do something else with my life, something I find more rewarding.  But, just as I don’t have the courage to start dating again, I don’t have the courage (or knowledge and perhaps the ability) to try to write professionally.

***

I feel like I’m coming down with a migraine, so the rest of the day is probably a wipe-out now.

Fouled Up

There was another shul (synagogue) engagement of someone around my age today, albeit this time a divorcee.  I think I once tried to ‘talk’ to her on a dating site (when I didn’t know she was from my shul), only for her to say that I was “too worldly” for her, which reinforced my feeling of having put myself in a position between two worlds (Modern Orthodox and Haredi (ultra-Orthodox)) where no one could be interested in me.  The feeling of “when is it my turn?” never seems to go away, despite my occasional feeling that getting married would not solve my problems and perhaps would worsen them.

In a comment on yesterday’s post, Ashley Leia said, “if you put off dating until you feel you are likeable/acceptable to a woman, but you don’t consider yourself likeable/acceptable full stop, and being unmarried reinforces the idea of being unlikeable/unacceptable, that seems like a vicious circle that’s never going to end. Why not let the potential dates decide for themselves?”

This is probably true, but hard for me to accept.  It just seems so ludicrous to think that anyone could ever love me.  Anyone wanting to marry me would basically be marrying my issues (autism, depression, unemployment and more) and I don’t think I have enough positives in my favour to counter-balance that.  I’m seriously not kind enough or rich enough or clever enough or good-looking enough or frum enough or whatever to be worth marrying in my own right.  So I would basically be marrying someone who wants to care for someone, which isn’t a healthy basis for a relationship.  I know people say you shouldn’t be dating if you don’t love yourself, which pretty much means I will never date again.

I also feel I have exactly as much chance of getting married by doing nothing proactive at all as I have by going to shadchanim, on dating sites or asking women out i.e. no chance at all.

Of course, if I did get married, I would still be depressed and have low self-esteem and my first girlfriend was probably right that I’m frigid (certainly I have autistic issues with touch and intimacy, both physical and emotional), so I could end up in a worse situation than I’m in now.

***

Am I punishing myself too much?  With dating, or rather, not dating, and other things?  I don’t know.  Probably.  There is definitely self-sabotage in not going to shadchanim and not going on dating websites, but there has probably also been self-sabotage in doing those things too, in going to shadchanim and on to dating sites when I didn’t feel ready as well as asking out women who had little in common with me and apparently didn’t like me much (which seems to be most of them).

I’ve had thoughts of self-harm again, yesterday and today.  I haven’t acted on them, at least, not physically, but I feel that, as I try to live my life on multiple levels (physical, spiritual, ethical) there are ways I can hurt myself that don’t involve physical harm, but which can be just as dangerous and lasting, if not more so, at least to someone who believes in the soul.  “For he who lives more life than one/More deaths than one must die.”  I don’t like myself very much.

It’s a number of years since I read The Brothers Karamazov, but there’s a bit in there I’ve been thinking of yesterday and today.  The Karamazovs are all hedonists and libertines except for Alyosha, who is an ascetic, but someone says that, even so, he’s still a Karamazov.  He still has the libertine streak, he just uses it for asceticism.  The idea is that one can be a hedonistic ascetic.  I’m not a hedonist and I’m not really an ascetic, but I do have an ascetic streak, but it’s probably more about punishing myself than withdrawing from the world.  Maybe I’m being too hard on myself again.  I think I probably do like to punish myself, on some level, but then I feel I deserve it.  Sometimes I feel like I want to list all my sins here so no one would read this any more.  When the depression is bad (like now), I just want to hurt myself, physically and perhaps also by shaming myself (I’m not sure if that’s a desire or a fear, maybe both).

I just feel my life isn’t a story that can end well for me.  It’s doubtful that I will ever manage a career, a relationship or a family.  It’s doubtful that my writing will be published (more than the little scraps that have been published).  I don’t perform mitzvot (commandments) or daven (pray) well or study much Torah.  So I’m not sure, without all those things, how my life could ever be worthwhile.  I just feel fouled up beyond all repair.

***

Someone elsewhere on the internet said that if people at my shul (synagogue) won’t accept me, they aren’t worthy of my time.  The problem is that I don’t know if people accept me or not, or where the boundaries of acceptable behaviour lie.  Plus, I don’t have a better community to go to, and you can’t be a frum Jew (certainly not a frum Jewish man) without having a community.  The silly thing is that lately, when I was feeling a bit better, I was beginning to believe people liked me.  I don’t know what I think now.  I also don’t know how much I think people like me because they don’t really know me; if they knew me better, they wouldn’t like me.

***

Otherwise today has been a slow day.  The summer seems to have evaporated and it’s another dreary grey English June day here.  I sent off another job application (for a Knowledge Librarian post at a large company), but all they wanted was my CV, no covering letter to adapt or long application form to fill it.  This was good, as the forms usually just cover the same information as the CV, but in different little boxes making cutting pasting fiddly.

Because I didn’t have any more jobs to apply for, I finished the first draft of the final chapter of my Doctor Who book.  I need to redraft it at some point and it might be worth re-watching some episodes again to help flesh the chapter out; at the same time, the book as a whole needs some serious pruning, so a fourth draft will probably be necessary when I get feedback from my friends.  It does feel never ending at times.  Still, I’m probably on target for my aim of finishing around Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year, in the autumn).

***

I just hate myself and my life, really.

Time’s Wingèd Chariot

A friend suggested an Orthodox shadchan (matchmaking service) to me (this one).  I had actually already heard of them – nearly used them, in fact, before using the values-based dating service.  I don’t think I should be dating right now, because of my unclear employment situation, not just being unemployed, but not even being sure I’m in the right career, wanting to try to be a writer, but being too scared to try and not really knowing how to go about it.  My parents and my rabbi mentor disagree with me and think I could be dating, but it just feels wrong to me.  Actually, if I asked any rabbi, they would almost certainly tell me I should be dating, because I’m not likely to get much better, mental health-wise,  marriage and children are mitzvot (commandments) and the right woman would overlook my mental health issues and unemployment because we would be soul-mates (really?!!).  I suppose I agree, up to a point, I just don’t believe there is a magic “right woman” out there for me and I can’t face opening up to women only to be rejected again and again.  Particularly as I can’t find a shadchan in the UK who deals with people with ‘issues’ like mine.  But I’m lonely.

It makes me wonder what women would think if I did turn up on a date without a job.  L. didn’t seem to care, but I think most women would.  In the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world it’s more common for men to date while not in employment, but that’s because people date while still in yeshiva (rabbinical seminary), and in some communities the man is expected to stay in yeshiva or kollel permanently, with the woman supporting the family while he studies.  I disagree with this behaviour and don’t particularly want to go down that path in a weird sort of secular way (being supported by my wife while I try to build a career).  And I really, really, really can’t imagine what type of woman would be interested in a depressed, autistic, unemployed frum-but-not-frum-enough geek.

But I do get really lonely.  Then again, dating just because I’m lonely isn’t necessarily the best idea either, although lots of people do it.

“But at my back I always hear/Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near”.  I feel I should have got my life sorted out by now.  I should have dealt with my adolescent angst and my mental health issues, I should have got my autism diagnosis, I should have sorted my career and started a family already.  My peers at shul are all married with children and careers.  Assuming I marry someone my own age, it’s going to start getting harder to even have children soon.

***

I feel like my shul is trolling me.  Shortly after writing the above paragraphs, I saw they had sent out the text of a special prayer that I had never heard of before to say on Rosh Chodesh Sivan (tonight and tomorrow) to pray for one’s children to be righteous and that they should find righteous spouses from families of Torah scholars.  Seriously?!  You really want to rub in that I have no wife and children?!  For the sake of some obscure minhag (custom) that comes from just one seventeenth century kabbalist?  It’s an unfortunate coincidence that this should happen today, but it does reinforce the feeling that if you don’t have a spouse and children, there really is no room for you in a frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community.  You are just too weird and unusual.  I shouldn’t get annoyed about this stuff, but it feels too much sometimes.  I don’t think it’s just my shul either.  I think any Orthodox community, Modern or Haredi, would assume everyone my age is married.

As if this wasn’t enough, another bad shul thing happened today.  I went to shul for Mincha and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Prayers).  I got there early and started reading Pirkei Avot to pass the time.  Suddenly I noticed out of the corner of my eye most of the people standing up and on some level I knew the new rabbi must have walked in (I’m very bad about standing up for rabbis, which is taken very seriously in the Haredi world).  I glanced up and saw him, but I just couldn’t stand up.  I don’t know why.  Maybe on some level I didn’t want to.  So I hoped it looked like I hadn’t seen him, but I was worried we had made eye contact when I looked up.  Then he started going around the shul talking to people.  I didn’t realise until he had almost got to me.  I stood up when he started talking to me, but I was so anxious my legs started shaking quite badly and I found it hard to stand upright.  I don’t know if he noticed.  Then he said something about he hoped I wasn’t working too hard and I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.  I wasn’t sure if it was a joke or a genuine question or what.  My autism means I don’t always get jokes in casual conversation with people I’m not so familiar with, particularly if I’m nervous, and also that I can’t always tell when people are asking something out of politeness or if they really mean it.  So I wasn’t sure whether to say that I’m out of work or what.  Then, when davening (prayers) started, I suddenly had a fear that he thought I was in school and coming up to exams.  I’m nearly thirty-six, but I look a lot younger and have been mistaken for a sixth-former in the fairly recent past.  (I guess it’s better than looking older than my years.)  So, I have no idea how that interaction went.  I know it went badly, but I’m not sure just how badly.

The whole experience left me very anxious and agitated and unable to concentrate on davening.  During davening and afterwards I had violent agitated thoughts of having my throat slit or of maggots eating my rotting flesh.  It was horrible.  I started wondering why social interactions are so hard for me.  Not in the literal sense of having autism and social anxiety, but in a deeper, metaphysical way.  In Judaism there is a concept of middah keneged middah (measure for measure), that we get punished in the way we sinned, so I started wondering if I embarrass people in public (which is a very serious sin in Judaism).  I do tease my Dad and get annoyed with him more than I should and some of that may count as being in public, but it didn’t really seem to explain why I find it so hard to go through social situations (sometimes including just going shopping) without feeling embarrassed.  So, perhaps there is another reason, but I don’t know what it is.  I don’t know why I can’t just live an ordinary life like most people get to do.  Some Jews believe in gilgul neshamot (reincarnation).  I find that it raises more problems than it answers, but sometimes it’s tempting to believe I was just a horrible person in another life and that outweighs whatever it is I’m doing now.

***

I feel that I hate myself today.  I just feel that I hate everything about myself.  I’m not even sure why.  It’s probably just frustration with my life.  Sometimes I wish I believed in da’at Torah, the mystical clairvoyance that Haredi Jews believe their rabbis have that allows them to prophetically answer difficult life questions.  I wish I could believe someone could just tell me what to do with my life and then I could go and do it, or at least try to do it.  But I don’t think life works like that, certainly not my life, where I have to struggle for every little thing.  Plus there probably is some self-sabotage going on here, in dating and career.

But I’ve said all this before.  I wish I could break out of the loop my thoughts run around, but I don’t think that’s going to happen until someone either publishes me or marries me, neither of which seem very likely right now, and perhaps not even then.  I can’t believe I could meet someone like me through an Orthodox dating service anyway, and I certainly don’t believe I could meet someone in another way, so I’m stuck.  There just isn’t anyone like me (weird and dysfunctional).  I’m weird, crazy and lonely, I’m religious, but not enough.  When God made me, He made me too broken for anyone to match with me.

There’s a lot online about body image.  I don’t particularly struggle with that.  I don’t think I look great, but I don’t feel self-consciously ugly either most of the time.  But I don’t like myself as a person and I find it hard to believe that anyone else could like me either (I mean even as a friend, let alone for dating).  I don’t feel that I have any particularly good character traits and on the rare occasions people have said what they like about me, they tend to focus on my intelligence, which is problematic as (a) I don’t consider it a particularly strongly positive character trait (it’s not bad, but it’s not good like being kind or generous, it just is) and (b) my intelligence seems to have been negatively affected by my depression and I feel stupid a lot of the time these days, especially in social situations where social anxiety and autistic impairments kick in.

***

I didn’t have any jobs to apply for today, aside from a school librarian job I really don’t want, so I focused on my writing, managing to write much of the first draft of the final chapter of my Doctor Who book, covering the most recent episodes.  It feels a bit unsubstantial and I may have to rewatch some of those episodes before attempting a second draft.  I might try to get some feedback from friends first, though (I would like more feedback in general, if possible, if anyone else would like to volunteer).  Other than redrafting that chapter, the main thing to do now is to wait for feedback from friends I have shown chapters to and to decide whether to attempt a fourth draft or to submit it.  I think I probably will do at least one more draft.

Other than that, my only achievements today were going to shul, including walking there and back, and doing about an hour of Torah study.  I should be pleased with my writing, and on one level I am, but I always feel bad about prioritising writing over job hunting.  I wish I could get the courage to dedicate serious time to writing professionally, but I don’t have the guts.  Oh, and somehow I lost my to do list and I can’t remember what was on it.  I also watched a forgetable episode of Blake’s 7 (Volcano).  So not a great day in all.

Victimhood

I’ve mentioned that I’m using Rabbi Lord Sacks’ omer calendar, which has inspiring statements for each day of the omer.  Tonight’s statement was, “Never define yourself as a victim.  There is always a choice, and by exercising the strength to choose, we can rise above fate.”  This is something I have heard before from Rabbi Sacks and also from Viktor Frankl and Jordan Peterson.

I want to define myself by my choices, but it feels like so much of my life has not been created by my choices, but by my autism and my mental illnesses, so it becomes very easy to slip into a victim mentality (something encouraged by a wider culture that divides society into victims and oppressors with no middle ground).  I do want to stop defining myself as a victim, but it’s very hard and I’m not really sure how to do it.  What positive choices have I made?  It is hard to tell.  Again, if I compare myself with my peers, they seem to have successfully chosen career A or to marry person B or to have child C, or to be involved in their  shul or voluntary work or whatever they do.  I do have elements of that, but at a much lower level, with much less actual meaningful choice.  If I wasn’t depressed and autistic, I would be much freer to live my life as I would want.

I suppose Frankl in particular (Man’s Search for Meaning) would argue that I have the choice of how to respond to autism and depression, whether or not to define myself as a victim, but I’m not sure (or no one has ever revealed to me) what the alternative to victim status is while living a life that is (a) very far from what I want and (b) very far from what either the Jewish or Western communities present as a good or meaningful life.  I understand that I can possibly embrace my neurodivergence, but it’s hard to embrace the depression because the depression of its very nature pushes me towards a despairing/victim state of mind.  It’s like trying to cure diabetes by trying to mentally will a stable blood sugar level rather than regulating diet and taking insulin.  I feel I could only really choose how to respond to depression if I was cured, which is a paradox.

On a related note, during the shiur (class) during seudah (the third Shabbat meal) yesterday, the rabbi spoke of humility and that it is not about knowing our weaknesses, but rather knowing our strengths, acknowledging them as gifts from God and using them to help others.  This was an idea I had heard before, albeit not quite in those words, but I find it hard to identify my strengths and work out how to use them to help others.  This is perhaps partly due to low self-esteem.  People have told me that I write well, but I find that hard to believe and it is impossible to work out how to use that ability to help others.  I do want to write about mental health issues, Judaism and Doctor Who, but I find it hard to dedicate the time to it and I don’t have the confidence to take time out from my career (or job hunt, at the moment) to try writing professionally.  Not knowing the practical steps needed to get something published does not help either.

As an interesting sidelight on this, there’s a regular feature in Doctor Who Magazine where a Doctor Who celebrity is asked twenty randomly-selected interview questions from a box.  One of them asks which member of the opposite sex they would want to swap places with for a day.  I thought about this, and I realised there isn’t anyone of either sex that I would particularly want to swap places with.  I either lack imagination or at a very basic level I’m happy with who I am, I just wish I could be less depressed/lonely/inhibited/anxious/self-critical/etc.

***

I had some difficult thoughts and experiences over Shabbat (the Sabbath).  I mentioned on Friday someone I know from shiur who just had a child.  He was in shul (synagogue) on Friday night, but I was too anxious to wish him mazal tov.  I always get nervous doing things like that in case I’ve made a mistake and got the wrong person or the wrong life event.  I didn’t introduce myself to the new rabbi either, although he came and spoke to me on Shabbat afternoon.  It was bad of me not to do those things, but I don’t know how to force myself to do things like that, except by guilt-tripping myself.

I had some disturbed dreams that night and again when I dozed on Shabbat afternoon.  I don’t remember all the details, but there was a lot of darkness and I think violence; one was set in World War II, although it was drawn as much from Dad’s Army as from the reality of the war (and my unconscious got the dates wrong, perhaps to prolong it).  I woke up in time for shul in the morning, but again my social anxiety got the better of me and I went back to sleep, probably to avoid the new rabbi, at least on some level.  As a result, I ended up upset again at sleeping through so much of Shabbat (about eleven hours at night/morning and a three hour nap in the afternoon) and also about running away from things so much at the moment: shul, autism group last week and the farewell seudah for the previous rabbi and assistant rabbi a few weeks ago.

There were some more positive thoughts and experiences.  I liked the new rabbi’s style of delivering the weekly Talmud shiur (Talmud class).  It seemed a little more structured than the assistant rabbi’s style, with frequent recaps of what we had learnt.  He has extended the shiur by ten minutes, which was good too, giving more time for the page of Talmud, although we still did not quite finish it.  (Rabbis are often bad timekeepers, for some reason.  Actually, stereotype would suggest that all Jews are bad timekeepers, except for Yekkes (German Jews).  I’m only one-eighth Yekkish, but I conform to Yekkish stereotype: punctual, pedantic, detail-focused, obsessively honest.)  I also thought about making some small changes in my religious life and practices, dropping some non-obligatory things and making slight changes to try to have more kavannah (mindfulness) in prayer and to study more Torah, or at least to enjoy it more.

As usual after being in shul for so long (nearly three hours, counting two shiurimMincha, seudah, Ma’ariv and helping to tidy up) I was left drained.  I was thinking back to the person from shiur with the new baby.  At a baby boy’s brit (circumcision), we say, “Just as he has entered into the covenant, so may he enter into Torahchuppah (the wedding canopy) and good deeds.”  It makes it sound so natural for people, that one should just flow into Torah, marriage and good deeds, but it’s so hard for me to manage any of them.  I can’t do any of them ‘naturally,’ only with a lot of effort and focus; with marriage, not even then (plus there is an idea I heard from Chief Rabbi Mirvis, that “good deeds” comes after marriage in the prayer because the primary place for good deeds is to benefit your spouse, that marriage is holy because it offers so many opportunities for good deeds in a way not possible in other relationships, so I won’t ever really be able to do good deeds unless I marry).

***

I cancelled the paid part of my non-anonymous Doctor Who blog, downgrading to a free blog.  I hadn’t used it as much as I had intended, partly because I’ve decided that writing instant reviews of Doctor Who episodes isn’t really playing to my strengths as a writer (I tend to be quite polarised for or against something on first viewing and develop a more nuanced view after repeated viewing and discussion with others), partly because the time I thought I would spend re-posting old articles has been spent working on my Doctor Who book.  I may put old or even new articles up there at some point, but right now my priority is finishing the book.

***

Other than that, it’s been a ‘treading water’ type of day, running just to stay in the same place to paraphrase Lewis Carroll.  Aside from catching up with my blog for Shabbat, I went for a walk to buy ingredients to cook for dinner, and cooked them.  That’s it, really, aside from some Torah study, although I’m hoping to grab a bit of time to work on my Doctor Who book for half an hour or so before bed, so that I feel like I’ve accomplished something.

I don’t feel too depressed today, but I do feel lonely.  I keep having ‘crush’ type thoughts on someone I haven’t seen for four years and have never had the confidence to speak to.  I keep wondering if she’s seeing anyone.  I would probably have heard if she was married (married again, as she was divorced), the Jewish grapevine being what it is, but my parents do sometimes try to hide things like that from me in the believe it would depress me to know (it would, but not knowing causes problems too).  It’s stupid to think she could be interested in me, or that we would have anything in common, or that I could even speak to her (bearing in mind in twenty-five years I didn’t say a single word), but I suppose that is what loneliness does to me.  I should really try to focus on the real world and not the imaginary world that only exists in my head.  In the real world, I will probably never get married, I will probably be single and lonely forever, and I need to find ways of accepting that and not feeling like a victim because of it.

More In Heaven and Earth

I was woken far too early by a large bee that was trapped between the blind and the window and was making a lot of noise.  I failed to prod it out the window and decided to stay up, open the main windows (I only had the small ones open) and wait for it to leave of its own accord while I had breakfast.

On waking I noticed something odd.  The photo of my maternal grandparents, which sits on the bookcase opposite my bed, was on my bedside table, on the other side of the room.  I’m sure I didn’t put it there.  I do believe in God, but I don’t believe He randomly moves my stuff around.  I don’t believe in demons, ghosts, reincarnation, astrology, the evil eye, clairvoyance and various other things that some of my coreligionists believe in.  I am sure there is a rational explanation.  I just don’t know what it is.  I suppose the most likely explanation is that I got up and moved it in my sleep, somehow, although I have no history of sleepwalking, even as a child.

I am rather disconcerted by this, but I will endeavour not to tell my parents.  Similar things have happened to my Dad and he reads great significance into them, hinting, although not quite explicitly saying, that he feels them to be messages of some kind from his late father, something which I do not feel comfortable with.  I have no wish to encourage thoughts like these.  Still, it is disconcerting.

***

I submitted the job application I’ve been working on all week, the one where there were a lot of vague open questions that my autistic brain struggled with, and others that indicated that they wanted more experience than I had and a greater commitment to CPD (continuing professional development) than I can manage at the moment.  You know you’re trying to bluff your way through something when you start an answer “I endeavour…”  I think I have zero chance of getting the job and I doubt it even counts as good experience, given how much I struggled with it.  I feel a bit of an idiot.

***

There’s a book I’m reading, one chapter each week on spirituality, based on the weekly parasha (Torah portion read in the synagogue).  I’m struggling with it.  I don’t like to give up on books, but I’m worried it’s having a negative effect on me.  I just can’t work out how to have the kind of dynamic spiritual life the author suggests, full of inspiration and natural highs, enthusiasm, love for God, love for others and more.  I know it’s the depression, but I don’t think there is ever going to not be depression there for me, at least on some level.  I don’t know how I can enjoy my religious life.  This is especially problematic as “going through the motions” religiously, doing stuff by rote is criticised in Judaism, both by this book and by other teachers (e.g. my hero the Kotzker Rebbe said something along the lines of, “Someone who studies Torah and is not moved by it, who sins and forgives himself, who prays today because he prayed yesterday – a completely wicked person is better than him!”).

I wonder if I will ever have the religious life I want.  I want to have religious joy, simcha shel mitzvah (the joy of fulfilling the commandments).  I want to enjoy studying Torah again.  I want to feel part of a community.  I want to build a bayit ne’eman beYisrael (faithful house in Israel, a metaphor for a religious home).  But I worry that I will never manage these things.  For one thing, it seems to be a catch-22: if I don’t have joy, I won’t be able to get motivated to study Torah or to pray enthusiastically and mindfully.  But if I don’t study Torah or pray enthusiastically, I won’t earn the joy of the commandments.  Even at a basic level, if I cut Torah study and prayer to the bare minimum, there’s no room for joy from them.  They’re just chores, quickly dealt with.  Similarly, I can’t become part of a community while I feel myself to be so spiritually impoverished, but I can’t grow spiritually without being part of a community; I suspect I can’t get married without being part of a community either (to get set up on dates), but I suspect if I ever become fully integrated to a community, it would be because of a wife who is able to navigate things better than I can.

***

A related realisation I’ve come to in recent years: probably the biggest argument against the existence of God, or at least the Jewish conception of God, is the existence of suffering.  Why would a benevolent, omnipotent, omniscient God allow so much undeserved suffering?  I think there are really only two possible answers: either there is no God (or at least not a benevolent, omnipotent, omniscient one) or suffering is the point.  Not that we’re made to suffer per se, but that suffering is a key part of what happens to us here, to stimulate character growth and empathy and to give us challenges to overcome.

But it’s hard to believe that all the time.  Some of it is subjective, feeling that I’ve suffered in my life more than other people.  This may be true, but it’s hard to tell as I don’t know everything others have been through or will go through, or what I will go through in the coming years.  But some of it is more objective (although still somewhat subjective), feeling that I can’t go on any more.  I feel tired a lot of the time, and not just depressive exhaustion.  I’m not suicidal, but I often feel I have exhausted everything life has to offer me and that I have no strength to go on any more.  I have no enthusiasm for Jewish life or for life in general.  I don’t really have any hopes or ambitions for the future, and the thought that one day I will be dead is still quite calming – that I won’t have to worry about things any more.  It doesn’t help that these days the world around me (in the news) just confuses and scares me, but even without that, I feel drained and negative.

I don’t know how to get more energy and motivation.  This is, believe it or not, a good day for me.  I don’t feel as depressed and lonely as I did earlier this week, when my parents were away.  I have some energy.  I finished a job application, did nearly an hour of Torah study and worked on my book for an hour or so as well as going for a twenty-five minute walk.  But even so, I feel a lack of enthusiasm, joy and meaning.  Even writing my book, which in the past was restoring, felt like a struggle, although I did manage to write a thousand words or so.

***

An aside: someone who goes to the shiur (religious class) I go to was absent last night.  Today the shul announced that he and his wife had a baby.  He is my age or perhaps slightly older.  I try to feel happy for people, but every time I hear of someone my age marrying or having a child, I seem to feel my life slipping away from me.

Stuckness

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

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

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

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

The Return of Colonel Runaway

I slept for about twelve hours again.  It’s quite awful, sleeping so long and waking more tired than I went to sleep, too tired to get up, but in many ways the worst of it is not being able to tell people, because it sounds luxurious and lazy.  It’s terrible.  I don’t have refreshing sleep, although as far as I can tell it’s not particularly interrupted (I must wake up enough to turn off my alarm, but I don’t consciously notice it).  I eventually get the strength to get up and eat breakfast, but it takes an hour or more after that to get the energy and motivation to get dressed.

I feel lethargic and depressed, like Sherlock Holmes after solving a difficult case.  Except I haven’t caught a murderer or found a missing treaty.  I haven’t really done anything for about a week and a half, except a bit of work on my Doctor Who book.  Is this still exhaustion from breaking up with L. and having two job interviews in a week?

Today not only did I get up too late to daven Shacharit (say morning prayers), as often happens, I even postponed Mincha (the Afternoon Service) until after lunch because I didn’t have the energy – I actually felt physically faint and weak.  I did try to fill in a job application, but I struggled to get the energy and concentration, plus they asked some quite detailed questions about types of tasks I’ve never done (e.g. designing and delivering information skills workshops) or things that I’ve never really thought about (e.g. the single most pressing issue for higher education).  Not for the first time, I wonder how most people can have full-time jobs and do CPD and have homes and families and have social lives and have hobbies all at the same time.  I can’t manage any of them.

It’s just a struggle to get through the day.  I was determined to get to autism group tonight, as I haven’t been for six months or more.  That’s where all my energy went.  It was a waste of time, though.  It was supposed to start at 6pm, but my experience is that no one gets there then.  I was aiming for 6.15, but because I miscalculated and my train was delayed, I didn’t get there until 6.45.  By this time, everyone was deep in conversation.  I had only seen one person there previously.  None of the people I was hoping to see, people I’ve ‘clicked’ with and been able to talk to in the past were there.  I sat on the fringes of conversations for a bit, trying to get in, but I wasn’t able to do so.  I’m very bad at that sort of thing.  One or two people said hi, but no one really spoke to me.  So far as I could tell, most of the people were talking about computer games.  I don’t play computer games.  And I was spacing out from the noise and struggling to hear properly (I’ve often wondered why a group for autistic people meets in such a busy, noisy place).  After fifteen minutes, I was desperate to leave.  The final straw was when the man and woman to my left who were talking to someone who hadn’t been before mentioned in passing that they were in a relationship and met through the group.  This provoked an inevitable comparison of myself to them, and the way I just can’t meet women who are interested in me.  So, I pretended my phone went off and left.

I am not proud of myself, not least because I wasted the extortionate cost of a Tube fare into London, and really wasted the whole day, because I could have tried harder to fill in the job application if I hadn’t left around 5.10pm.  To be fair, I was practically in tears on the Tube going to the group, so maybe I wasn’t in the best state of mind to start with.

Inevitably, I’m thinking again what a mess my life is and how I have not made anything of it.  Thinking that I’ve never really managed to fit into any community, be it academic, religious or fandom-based.  I didn’t fit in to the Jewish Society in Oxford, nor did I fit in with the other historians in my college (who seemed to be quite drink-and-party orientated, or maybe they just seemed that way in comparison to me, someone who went to bed at 11.00pm and tried to get up early even though he was a humanities student).  I fitted in a bit better to the Doctor Who Society, but had to miss a lot of their events because of Judaism (meals in non-kosher restaurants, location visits on Saturdays).  I don’t fit in to my shul (synagogue).  I despair of ever getting married.  I just can’t see it happening.  No one likes me that much and my lack of income is a serious issue.  I can’t build a career, I can’t live the type of religious life of community, prayer, religious study and mitzvah performance that I want.  I just can’t.  I don’t know how to try any more or who to turn to for help.  No one – I mean friends and family – seems to think things are so hopeless, but they don’t have any constructive suggestions other than to keep applying for jobs I don’t want and to go to shadchanim (matchmakers) to try to get set up with women even though I’m unemployed and not what any frum woman would be looking for.

OK, going to stop now because I’m just making myself feel more depressed.  One last thing: today I got the results of a routine blood test I had a couple of weeks ago: my lithium level is rather low.  The doctor didn’t query it, but I think it’s below the therapeutic range (I’ve long had issues trying to get my lithium level right on lithium tablets).  So maybe that’s why I’m struggling at the moment, if there weren’t enough other reasons.  I will try to mention it to the psychiatrist when I see her next week.

OK, Blake’s 7 and/or Doctor Who now.  I feel too depressed to do anything, but I’m going to force myself to watch something and not sit with my thoughts or aimlessly browse online.

You Can’t Win

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

I’m Gonna Be (Drained)

I woke up today feeling totally wiped out, exhausted and depressed.  In a way these days are a little easier than days when I’m a bit down, but still feel I ought to job hunt or work on my books or study a lot of Torah because it’s easier to accept that I can’t do as much as I would like.

Although I hoped to go to volunteering late, in the end I missed it completely.  I wasn’t well enough.  I felt useless and sinful.

I went for a walk and did literally two minutes of Torah study.  That’s all I managed.  Other than that I just watched TV (Doctor Who, research for my book including the terrible, historically inaccurate and antisemitic The Witchfinders which was only watched because I needed to do so) until it was time to go out with my family for my Mum’s birthday.  The food was good, but they ran out of dessert and we had to pay by cash as their card reader broke.  The restaurant was too noisy for me, with a lot of customer noise plus ‘background’ music at just the right level to annoy me: too quiet to listen to properly, but loud enough to distract me with vaguely-recognisable beats and stop me listening to the conversation as my autistic brain tries to tune in to it properly.  I mostly let the conversation wash over me and didn’t worry too much about joining in.  It seemed the easiest option.  Although I did identify Come On EileenDancing Queen and I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles); also some Beatles, but I forget what.

Because there was no dessert, my sister and brother-in-law came back to our house for hot drinks and cake.  I found that a bit easier because it was quieter, even if the conversation centred on our shared dismay at the political situation.  I do feel bloated after everything I’ve eaten this evening.

While we were out, my Mum mentioned that the woman she wanted to set me up with some time ago (daughter of her friends who had mental health issues) is now engaged.  So that’s another missed opportunity, or a narrow escape from more rejection, depending on how you want to look at it.

I feel lonely.  It’s still hard to believe anyone could ever want me.  I certainly don’t think I could find someone in time to have children, which upsets me, let alone that I could be well enough for dating, marriage and children to be realistic prospects any time in the next few years.  It’s frustrating that there is no religiously legitimate outlet for my sexuality and no practical outlet for my desire to love and be loved romantically.  It’s frustrating that the women I have liked were not interested in me.  It’s also frustrating that I recently found someone who was interested in me, but she wasn’t right for me at all.  Although probably on days like today I’m being selfish anyway.  I want someone to love me, but I don’t have the energy/capability to love anyone else.

I suspect people like me don’t get married or have children or find communities they fit in.  I should be glad I even have a few friends, as I don’t think I deserve/could cope with that.

Crisis of Faith

I didn’t want to post much tonight, as Shabbat (the Sabbath) finished late and I’m going to go to bed late as it is and doubtless will struggle to sleep, given how much I slept over Shabbat (yes, I failed to make it to shul (synagogue) this morning again and dozed in the afternoon for about three hours too).  Tomorrow I hope to be volunteering, although “hope” is a somewhat tricky word there as “dread” might be nearer the mark.  I feel I ought to go, but like almost everything else in my life at the moment, I’ve lost confidence in my ability to actually do it properly.  Then in the evening I’m out for dinner with my family to celebrate my Mum’s birthday.  So I may not have the time/energy to post much tomorrow either, so I wanted to get a few thoughts down, for myself as much as anyone else.

Shabbat was difficult with a lot of depression and difficult thoughts.  I can’t remember all of them, but they were pessimistic thoughts about the future of Western society and frum (religious Jewish) society as well as my place in them, or rather my inability to find a place in either of them.  It sometimes feels like a race to see whether postmodern Western society or Orthodox Jewish society will self-destruct first.  Do I really want to be a part of either?  Lately I feel I just want to go off and be a hermit somewhere, but that’s not a very Jewish thing to want to do.  I have to existed somewhere and I’m not introverted and autistic enough to be able to cut other people out of my life completely.

I realised today that I’m going through a crisis of faith again, albeit a strange one.  I make it my third: years ago (probably around 2008, I’m not sure) I had a ‘traditional’ crisis of faith, not being sure what I believed, wanting proof for the existence of God and so on.  Then, over the last couple of years, particularly when my religious OCD was bad, I believed in God, but couldn’t believe that He loved me.  Now I can sort of believe that God loves me, but I don’t believe I can find a community that is right for me, that has the right balance between tradition and modernity, that takes Torah study and prayer seriously, but is also open to the (post)modern world, doesn’t stereotype non-Jews and non-religious Jews and doesn’t turn wicked people into heroes for political reasons.  It’s very difficult.

A Jew can’t be a Jew without a community.  That’s one of the major differences between Judaism and some other religions.  So I feel stuck.  I just feel that I stick out wherever I go and don’t fit in.  It doesn’t help that I don’t understand the nuances of social interactions because of autism, so I don’t know when some things are allowed.  For example, my shul isn’t Zionist, but some people are quite open about their Zionism and that seems to be OK, beyond a little teasing.  I don’t really understand it.  It’s hard to know what I have to do/believe and what is optional.

It doesn’t help that I don’t do the things a good Jewish man is supposed to do.  Between them, autism, depression and social anxiety keep me away from shul a lot and mean I study a lot less Torah than I should.  Similarly, I struggle to understand Talmudic study.  At shiur (religious class) today the topic was a very technical halakhic (Jewish law) topic and people were asking all kinds of kashas (high-level questions based on finding logical or conceptual flaws in a halakhic argument).  Meanwhile, I struggled to keep up.  I don’t know why so many people seem to be able to do this and I can’t.  I don’t know how many of them have spent significant time in yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) or studying Talmud with a chevruta (study partner) to learn this.  I assume most did not go to Jewish schools where they would have learnt it at a young age, although their children do.  But I just fell behind very quickly.

And, of course, I’m not married and I don’t have children, which is both a cause and an effect of my dislocation from the community.  In a community where almost every adult is married, not being married locks me out from a lot of social interactions, including some that might help me get married (given the strict gender segregation at most shul events).

The interesting thing about my earlier crises of faith (the ones I mentioned above) is that I never resolved them.  I never proved that God exists beyond all doubt or that God loves me.  They just stopped being important after a while.  I either learnt to live with the uncertainty, or they just stopped mattering.  Maybe one day this will stop mattering too.

This was supposed to be a short post just to announce what I was thinking, but it has become much longer, so I’ll leave this here.  There is, of course, much more to be said and I will probably return to this topic in the coming days.

Standing on the Margins

I’ve been up and down again today.  I slept late again, after insomnia last night, which turned out to be because I’d forgotten to take my meds (I fell asleep around 3am, after taking them).  At times today I’ve been OK, but I tried doing some Torah study earlier and started crying.  I still feel very depressed.  There wasn’t an obvious trigger.

I did manage about half an hour of Torah study in the end.  It feels too little, particularly after what I wrote yesterday about “toiling” in Torah study in order to learn anything, but I just don’t feel able to do any more.  Am I being lazy?  Or beating myself up too much?  I don’t know.  My rational brain says I can force myself to do more, but the emotional side of me feels overloaded and unable to go on.  My self-esteem generally is low and I feel that I’m just not doing enough of anything at the moment: I didn’t job hunt today or do much Torah study or work on my books (except for watching Doctor Who: Demons of the Punjab for research for my book; I did work out why I don’t really like it, but that’s not entirely relevant to either this post or the book, although it was oddly mirrored by Michael Weingrad’s article today on Game of Thrones for the Jewish Review of Books).  All I did, aside from that half-hour of Torah study was a few Shabbat chores and some dusting, plus I’m hoping to go to shul (synagogue) in an hour.

I feel jealous of people who love Torah study, particularly men who love, and are good at, Talmudic study.  It must make being frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) so much easier and more enjoyable, just as it seems easier to be extrovert, and especially neurotypical, in such a community-based religion.  The assistant rabbi was speaking last night of spending hours studying with his chevruta (study partner), tearing just a few lines of Talmudic text to pieces and putting back together again in myriad ways until the understand it, and how disgusted he feels afterwards with the simplified “for dummies” explanations in the Artscroll Talmud edition commentary.  I can’t even understand the Artscroll explanations and I certainly can’t function with a chevruta, which is supposed to be the ideal Jewish way to study.

It’s funny, I tend to assume that I have no share in Olam HaBa (the World to Come i.e. Heaven).  Partly it’s that I can’t imagine anything that good happening to me (everything in my life goes wrong sooner or later, usually sooner), but also our images of Heaven – the Heavenly yeshiva where everyone studies Torah with HaShem (God), the great banquet, the circle dance around HaShem – they are all communal images.  True they are only metaphors, there isn’t a literal yeshiva, feast or dance in Heaven, but whenever I try to imagine myself in the images, it’s just awful.  I can’t study yeshiva-style, I get overloaded by the noise and the people and am too shy to say anything even if I understand the subject matter.  I hate parties and avoid them; when I do I’m left standing by the fringes (which I read the other day is what happens if you earn a not-so-good place in Olam HaBa).  And, as I noted recently, I hate circle dancing (not that I like any other type either); again, I leave early on Simchat Torah to avoid it.  I feel that Olam HaBa, if by some miracle I find myself there, will probably turn out to be like a shul Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner: I’ll feel uninspired and lonely while everyone else is having a great time, connecting with HaShem and bonding with their friends and family.

I feel more than ever that I want a frum wife who could help me grow religiously, but there’s zero chance of anyone frum wanting to go out with me.  The last two women I dated were not frum.  I don’t even know how I would even meet someone frum, and I’m sure she would not be interested in me.  My parents just feed my fantasy that I could only marry someone whose previous relationships were severely dysfunctional or abusive by suggesting that I’ll meet someone who isn’t interested in a ‘typical’ frum guy because of a bad previous experience, but I can’t see why she would not want to meet someone frum and a nice person.  Unless she isn’t interested in being frum at all, in which case I still wouldn’t be suitable.  If I make up extreme examples of reasons why no one would marry me, my parents produce equally bizarre and unlikely examples of women who might be interested in me.  I’m not convinced by them.

I’ve been using dysfunctional coping strategies for dealing with difficult feelings.  Doubtless this will include eating too much junk over Shabbat (the Sabbath).  I feel sinful (not for eating, for other things), but feeling sinful just makes it worse because I’m even more likely to react in a dysfunctional way out of guilt, low self-esteem and self-loathing.

“You should never have your best trousers on when you go out to fight for freedom and truth”

Today is Lag B’Omer and the end of the mourning period part of the Omer, at least according to the minhag (custom) I follow, so I’m clean-shaven again and can listen to music without worrying about anyone asking why I’m doing it (even though my rabbi mentor told me that people suffering from depression can listen to music, I feel uncomfortable about my parents or anyone from my shul (synagogue) catching me doing it).  Shaving again does lift my mood somewhat; at least I’m not so itchy.  Still, it’s always seemed a slightly weird day to celebrate, especially as I don’t actually believe Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai wrote The Zohar, which is ostensibly the main cause for celebration, and another difference between me and my community (although I just read that the connection between Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s death and the celebrations is very recent – as in Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai lived in the second century, but the connection was only made in the seventeenth or eighteenth).

The other thing happening today is the most pointless election in the history of British democracy, elections to the European Parliament, an organisation we were supposed to have left weeks ago and which we may still, in some sense at least, leave, or at least lose our voting rights in (which would probably be worse than either fully leaving or not leaving at all).  It’s basically being used as a protest vote by everyone annoyed with either the government or the opposition, which is pretty much everyone in the country.

I was always brought up to believe that there I have a moral duty to vote at every election, however pointless it might seem because “people died to win you the vote.”  Ignoring the fact that this is arguably a weird version of the sunk cost fallacy and that, as Oscar Wilde wrote in The Portrait of Mr W.H., the fact that someone died for an idea does not make it true, I’ve always stuck to that, but today I can’t.  I just can’t bring myself to vote for any of the parties.  Not the Conservatives, with their incompetence and infighting, not the Lib Dems and Change UK with their insistence on overturning the referendum result (I voted remain, but I think that overturning the referendum will be far worse for our democracy than leaving the EU even without a deal), and certainly not for the gang of Marxist antisemites running the Labour Party or the racist neo-Nazis of UKIP.  I can’t bring myself to vote for the Brexit Party either, so I spoilt my ballot by writing pretty much what I wrote here only more succinctly.

I feel really bad about it, like I done something not so much wrong as sacrilegious.  Like I’ve somehow offended against the spirit of democracy and if Britain ends up as a dictatorship, it will be my fault (whereas in reality I felt I was making the only gesture I could reasonably make towards saving British democracy, if that’s not pretentious).

Anyway, enough politics.

***

I had a sudden burst of religious OCD, worrying about some kashrut issues.  I’m not quite sure where this came from all of a sudden.  I know that OCD thoughts never go away fully and one has to be vigilant not to give in to the compulsions or checking that goes with them, but I’m not sure why they have suddenly flared up today.  I checked the first one with my rabbi mentor, but when the second thought came, I realised I was falling back into checking and (so far) resisted asking the question.  In OCD, as in politics, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

***

Dayenu is a song from the Pesach seder.  After describing the Egyptian slavery and exodus, we sing “If [God] had brought us out of Egypt, but not wrought justice on them, it would have been enough.  If He had wrought justice on them, but not on their gods, it would have been enough.”  And so on, for fifteen verses, saying how even if God had not done everything he did for us, but only some of it, we would still be grateful (it’s fun to sing, though).

I realised I do a kind of reverse dayenu.  “If I was only a geek and not autistic, it would be enough (to stop me getting married or building a career).  If I was only autistic and not depressed, it would be enough.”  And so on.  I need to find a way to stop doing this.  It may be entirely true that I am not going to build a career or get married, but endlessly repeating my mantra (as my therapist used to say) doesn’t make anything better and probably makes things worse.  I probably do something similar regarding fitting in to my community; I did that again today after reading something on a frum site online that I really disagreed with and feeling that I will never be accepted in the community, but don’t fit in in secular Western society either.

***

Speaking of which, shiur was difficult again.  First there was my stupidity: someone who goes passed me on the way there and offered me a lift, which I took out of politeness, even though I was literally just down the road from the assistant rabbi’s house.  He saved me all of two minutes.  Then I somehow ended up trying to get out the car while the engine was possibly still going and certainly before the handbreak was on.  I just get so nervous around people that I end up doing stupid things.

Then I had another “Is this really the right community for me?” moment, when I just do not believe some of the things the assistant rabbi was says; I don’t believe Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai wrote the Zohar and I don’t believe that all aggadata (non-legal material in the Talmud, but in this case specifically narratives about biblical characters and sages of the Talmudic era) literally happened.  That’s a relatively minor point on one level, because I do believe that these narratives, whether they happened or not, were written and preserved because they are meaningful, but I just feel like a dissident or a spy in a hostile country sometimes, where if I’m not careful I’ll slip and be ostracised.

But what really upset me was the substance of the shiur, which was about our ability to understand Torah being proportionate to our effort (in a supernatural way i.e. the reward is disproportionately greater than the amount of toil, as a reward from HaShem) and that toiling in Torah study is a goal in itself.  I feel I just don’t understand anything, certainly not Talmud, but I don’t feel I can toil any more.  I know I hardly do any Torah study at the moment, it’s just so hard when I often feel depressed and I’m trying to learn how to juggle mental illness and working/job hunting, and chores and community stuff and davening (prayer), which I still haven’t learnt after a couple of years of working several days a week (when I actually have a job).  Maybe I could/should do more.  I’ve been trying to do more just the last few days.  But I never really understand Talmud, no matter how hard I try.  I can understand Jewish philosophy sometimes, but that’s not considered important or particularly worthwhile.  But I can’t understand Mishnah and Gemarah and it’s hard to make the effort to try.  Even with Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), which I used to love, it’s hard to really connect and find anything meaningful (and, again, it’s not really considered meaningful study for an adult male).  I used to find a chiddush of my own on the sedra (innovative comment of my own devising on the weekly Torah portion).  I think I did that every week for about four years, but then the depression intervened and my inspiration dried up and I couldn’t think of anything.  I haven’t been able to get back into it.

I just feel so separate from God, it’s hard to make the effort to study, particularly when I don’t understand and often can’t connect it to anything in my life.  There’s so little meaning in my life, and I have so little drive to do anything, other than perhaps to write.  Maybe I’ve just got lazy.  When I was too depressed to work, I studied Torah every day (OK I did skip a bit in 2003-04), often for an hour, I think.  Nowadays I’m struggling to do half an hour.  When the depression is bad, even five or ten minutes can be hard.  So maybe it is my fault.  Maybe I’m just lazy or maybe I just don’t care any more.  I don’t know.  I’m just blaming myself more now, which isn’t going to help me make a positive change, like doing more Torah study.

This all made me think of the Gemarah (Shabbat 31a) about the six questions you get asked after death.  Supposedly when you die, you get asked six questions by the Heavenly Court.  They are:

  1. Were you honest in your business dealings?
  2. Did you fix times for Torah learning?
  3. Did you engage in procreation?
  4. Did you hope for salvation?
  5. Did you engage in the dialectics of wisdom?
  6. Did you (intellectually) differentiate between one thing and another?

However, this only helps you if you have awe of HaShem.

This is before getting judged for all your deeds.  This builds up a sort of character profile of whether you had the right life philosophy before they examine all your deeds.  Also, the whole thing – questions, court etc. – is deeply metaphorical and not literally what happens, which is probably beyond our comprehension.)

Of these, questions two, five and six are all about Torah study, so I’m pretty much stuffed there.  (Apparently the Vilna Gaon saw all six as allusions to the six orders of the Mishnah, so they’re all about Torah study.)  I’m obviously not going to succeed with number three either.  I don’t know if I hope for salvation enough.  I very much doubt that I have enough awe of HaShem.  I don’t really think about Him much.

I do feel, sometimes, what is the point of my even being Jewish?  Because I’m so bad at it.  I don’t learn enough and I don’t daven enough, or with kavannah (mindfulness) or with a minyan (community), I don’t do chessed (kindness) or any of the things I should do.  I don’t connect with God.  I don’t have a worthwhile job.  I don’t live in Israel.  I don’t really know why I’m here.

There was probably more I wanted to say, but I’ve just descended down into depression and self-loathing again, after being OK most of the day (albeit not achieving very much either).  I want to eat ice cream, but I shouldn’t (that word again) given that I ate junk at the shiur and will doubtless eat a huge amount of junk over Shabbat, but this has just upset me.  And now I’ve spent an hour writing this when I should be winding down for the night.

I really am a bad advert for Orthodox Judaism.  Please don’t judge all frum (religious) Jews by me.

“And I think it’s going to be a long, long time”

Lately I’ve been waking around 10am, getting up after a while, but spending hours eating breakfast and idly browsing online or going back to bed instead of getting dressed, because I don’t have the energy or motivation to get ready.  Listening to music, despite the omer, because depressed people are allowed to listen to music.  Fighting scary, violent thoughts about myself.

I had three potential jobs to apply for today.  None of them was very appealing, nor was I particularly likely to get them, but in the end I applied for a law research post rather than a law librarian or school librarian post.  That was a simple application (basically set up an online account with a job site and attach my CV), so I tried to apply for the other law librarian post, only to discover I had already applied and been rejected.  I’m not sure I can face the idea of school librarianship, so I’m leaving that for now.

I still haven’t dared raise the subject of reading some of my Doctor Who book with my fan friends.  I moved towards asking some, but haven’t done it yet, as they really do seem very busy and stressed with family crises.  I wish I knew more people I could ask.  I feel envious of books that have an acknowledgements announcement that goes on for three pages; how do they know so many people?  I’m not satisfied with the book, but don’t know how to move forwards with it.  I wrote some notes for a blog post for my Doctor Who blog the other day which, when I looked again the next day, turned out to be incoherent nonsense, which didn’t help my self-esteem.

***

On my last post, Ashley Leia asked me if fitting in is a prerequisite for acceptance.  I feel it is, but have trouble developing that thesis beyond getting bullied at school for being different.  In the conformist world of the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community, there can even be a religious imperative to not accepting the nonconformist, as people are encouraged to choose their friends carefully to make sure they are good influences.  That has never happened to me, but I’ve read online about people being ostracised or fearing ostracism for artistic endeavours, having the ‘wrong’ political opinions or accepting modern science and it scares me into preemptively disguising my beliefs and interests as well as my autism and depression.

There’s a paradox in the frum community in that many prominent rabbis have spoken of the need to cultivate one’s individuality (the Kotzker Rebbe said this a lot or, for a more modern perspective, see Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik’s essay Religious Styles in the collection Halakhic Morality: Essays on Ethics and Masorah, in which he says that as well as needing to perform the mitzvot (commandments), one must also develop a unique personal religious style), but the community as a whole seems to remain conformist.  Or maybe it only seems that way from the outside, because I don’t know enough people?  Perhaps I’m wrong.  I hope I’m wrong.  The general rule is that the more conservative the community, the more conformist.  In addition, people higher up the social scale can get away with more than other people, which I suppose is true in most cultures.  I know I’m at the bottom of the heap, so I keep schtum.

Of course, all human communities are conformist to some extent, that is where the feeling of kinship comes from.

As some of you may have seen me complain elsewhere, I feel a lack of clear role models for my boundary-breaking self, in both the Jewish and the non-Jewish community.  There are a lack of both real-life and fictional heroes who show you can be e.g. modern and religious, believing and questioning, frum and geeky and so on.  It is hard to orientate myself armed only with Chaim Potok novels.

Related to this is my relationship with HaShem (God), which has lately felt strained.  My davening (prayer) and hitbodedut (spontaneous prayer/meditation) have become very mechanical and routine.  My Torah study, when I do it, is as much about learning ancient languages as engaging with HaShem.  When I was very depressed, I sometimes used to feel very far from HaShem, but at other times I would feel close (there probably was some grandiosity here, perhaps almost psychotically so).  Now I feel distant, but I don’t feel yearning.  I don’t really feel anything.  I want to be religious, but I no longer feel that I know how, if I ever did.  I don’t know how to connect with people, which is necessary in Judaism as one finds God in community not in isolation, and this is problematic enough, but I if I can’t connect with people, I certainly can’t connect with HaShem.  On this note, it seems that most of the autistic people I’ve come across online or at autism group are not obviously religious.  I don’t really know what to do.

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

Who Would Fardels Bear?

“How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!”

-William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Feeling burnt out, depressed, lonely and stupid today.  I didn’t get the job at the Very Important Organisation.  They give applicants graded feedback; mine was pretty poor, a mixture of threes and fours (out of seven) with a two for effective decision making.  You could put that down to autistic executive function issues, or plain indecisiveness.

I had no energy or enthusiasm for anything, but I forced myself out for an hour or so.  Mostly walking, some shopping and I closed a bank account that had a ridiculously small interest rate.  I bought the lentils I couldn’t get yesterday, but felt too exhausted to go and get a bat mitzvah card for my rabbi mentor’s daughter and so came home.

My mind is visual in some ways and sometimes throws up fantasies or daydreams using imagery from TV or film.  I think I daydream more, or more immaturely, than someone my age should be doing.  It can become quite absorbing, even frighteningly so, particularly when I’m depressed and agitated.  When I was out I had disturbing, agitated mental images of being cornered and outgunned, Blake’s 7-finale style, or chained to a bomb that could explode at any moment.  I’m not sure if the bomb represented the world or my psyche; I’m not convinced that either is in particularly good shape.

I feel that the world might self-destruct under the weight of its iniquities and inequities any time soon; my psyche might collapse under the weight of stress and internal contradictions.  In Politics vs Literature: An Examination of Gulliver’s Travels, George Orwell writes of people like Jonathan Swift who can’t enjoy the world and have no expectations from the next world and that such people end up wanting to stop anyone enjoying anything, “the envy of the ghost for the living” adding that “Swift ultimately blew everything to pieces in the only way that was feasible before the atomic bomb – that is, he went mad”.  I feel that I could join him, one day.  I don’t really want to stop other people being happy, I just want to get some small modicum of happiness for myself, but it doesn’t seem to be possible.

When I got home, I was still too depressed and exhausted to make job applications or to do any Torah study (I managed ten minutes or so in the end), so I worked on redrafting my Doctor Who book.  It says a lot that I was able to spend nearly two hours working on that more or less uninterrupted (or unprocrastinated), which is not something I have managed when working on job applications.  I now have completed third drafts of all fourteen existing chapters, although I’m still re-watching the most recent episodes for research for a fifteenth chapter that will need writing from scratch to cover Jodie Whittaker’s first year in the role.

I’m still not hugely happy with what I’ve written, but it’s hard to see what I should change.  I’m not good at judging my own work at the best of times and having worked on this for six years or more, it could probably do with a fresh pair of eyes, so I need to decide whether to ask my fan friends to read some chapters.  That would probably be more worthwhile than attempting a fourth draft without outside input, but my fan friends all have major life crises at the moment and I’m reluctant to ask any of them.  Plus, I don’t take criticism well and am worried that even constructive criticism could send me further downwards on a “I’m useless” spiral.

I intended to watch another episode of Doctor Who as research tonight, but the next episode is Rosa (about Rosa Parks) I’m too tired for such a heavy-going episode, so tonight will be a Blake’s 7 night (I’m currently mixing Doctor Who series eleven with a Blake’s 7 marathon).

***

It’s hard to tell how much I like to keep my political and religious views to myself and how much I feel I have to from not fitting in.  There’s an old joke about Modern Orthodox Jews that, “The people I can pray with, I can’t talk to; the people I talk to, I can’t pray with” meaning Modern Orthodox Jews are open to modernity and postmodernity and its arguments in academic and culture, but can’t talk about that with Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews; conversely, they can have intellectual discussions with non-religious academics and non-Orthodox Jews, but can’t pray with them as they believe differently or not at all.  I feel that a lot, albeit not as much as I did when I worked in a non-Orthodox religious institution.

In addition to this, lately I have been aware that many of my friends would side differently to me on some major political issues and I wonder what they would think about me if they knew.  I usually keep my views quite even when they post things I find questionable or upsetting on their blogs.  Not using Twitter or Facebook makes this a little easier, but it can be hard.  This happens at depression group too, where one person in particular has strong political views and can be rude and dismissive of people who vote differently.  I’ve never said anything, and I’m sure he thinks I’m too nice to vote for… (or else he just doesn’t care).

Actually, I wonder what people think about me generally.  I sometimes wonder if the non-religious people I encounter at work, in fandom and on the blogosphere think I’m a ‘normal’ person, or at least a normal geek person, except for this weird quirk that I believe in God, and in a very legalistic and old-fashioned God at that, and have taken on lots of bizarre rituals.  They probably don’t really think like that (they’re too polite for one thing).  And, of course, I worry that if the people from my shul (synagogue) found out about my ‘modern’ beliefs and geeky interests, that would also be seen as crossing a line.

I guess it boils down to this: I have friends who have religious and political opinions and lifestyle choices I disagree with (from a Jewish point of view, the whole concept of “lifestyle choices” is fraught with difficulty as it assumes our lives are ours to deal with as we see fit, an idea that Orthodox Judaism would reject, arguing we’re called to a mission regardless of our desires and choices), but I make an effort to stay friends with them, because I don’t think you should ruin a friendship for politics or religion.  I know that makes me unusual, both in the Orthodox community (where people usually socialise with other Orthodox Jews, to avoid these kinds of situations and potential negative religious influences) and in the world at large, where people are mostly friends with people who hold similar views.  We have got used to hearing of families and friendships broken by Brexit or Trump.  So I suppose it’s natural that I wonder what the people I encounter are thinking and whether I really need to hide so much of my life from people.

That said, I feel so disillusioned and disenfranchised with the current political situation that I’m glad to have a reason not to talk politics, even with people who will agree with me.  It seems to me lately that we have a duty to save as much of life as we can from people who drag their angry and aggressive politics into everything.  I appreciate there is a role for political art and literature, but it’s a relief nowadays to find things that are beautiful for purely aesthetic reasons.  I suppose I can’t live in my ivory tower forever, but I can try.

***

If I confound expectation and manage to procreate, my eldest child’s teddy is now likely to be called Fardels Bear.

Meaning from Suffering

A random selection of stuff that went through my head today with even less thematic unity than normal…

Ashley Leia commented on the previous post regarding the high level of socialisation required in the Orthodox community.  I guess that’s what a lot of my blog is about, really, and certainly what I would want a book on mental health and autism in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community to be about: that Orthodoxy does require a lot of socialisation and it isn’t always possible for people to fit in.

This dovetailed with a thought I had last night after I posted.  When frum people talk about what they like about Judaism and when non-Jews say what they admire about Judaism, some things often come up: strong family life, close-knit communities and many festivals with their unique rituals.  The problem is that because of my mental health issues and autism, things I struggle with in Judaism include family life, close-knit communities and many festivals with their unique rituals.  It feels sometimes like I have the usual difficulties of Judaism and more without the positives, or without many of the positives.  Sometimes I wonder why I’m frum, but I just “happen” to believe and am not hypocritical enough to believe and not do, or at least not try to do.

***

I’m having silly crush thoughts about someone I knew from a previous shul who I haven’t seen for about four years and who I have never (as far as I can remember) spoken to, not even to say hello.  When she saw my parents at a party last year, she apparently asked them how I was, by name.  I didn’t think that she knew me, let alone knew my name.  Somehow I can’t see that going anywhere, but I’ve been thinking of her for the last few days for no very obvious (or good) reason.  Even if I thought it was a good idea for me to be dating (which I don’t) and that she might be interested in me (which she almost certainly isn’t) I wouldn’t really know how to get in contact with her, nor would I have the confidence to do so.  But, still, I keep thinking about her.  My Dad once claimed that he’d had a dream where I was married to her.  (My Dad thinks his dreams are precognitive, which is why he isn’t worried about me not getting married and having children, because he’s seen my wife and kids in dreams.  I’m rather sceptical of things like that.)

I’m a very lonely person.  I’ve never had many friends and, even now, when I do have a small circle of friends, most of them live far away and I communicate with them by blogging, emailing, texting and/or What’sApping.  I long for real intimacy.  I mean the feeling when one really opens up to a close friend or especially a partner and is understood, and they open up and are understood in return.  This has been a rare and short-lived phenomenon in my life.  I suppose it’s related to what I said last week about existentialist Judaism and finding holiness in the interpersonal.

***

I went out to do some shopping for ingredients for dinner.  I was out walking for an hour and came back with nothing.  I couldn’t find lentils in the two small supermarkets and I’d forgotten that the big Sainsbury’s shuts early on Sunday and they were closed when I arrived.  I became so focused on finding the lentils that I forgot we needed apples too.  By the time I got home I was feeling too depressed and exhausted to cook much anyway.

***

I felt very depressed and despairing when I was out, not about myself, but about society as a whole.  Sometimes it’s easy to convince myself that society is just corrupt, and that Jewish society has been corrupted too, and that (as per the Rambam) I should go off somewhere and be a hermit.  I don’t think society has passed the point of no return, and as a student of history, I’m not really convinced that society is worse than ever before, overall, but one only needs to look in a newspaper to see that there’s a lot wrong with the world.

Nevertheless, I felt very agitated when trapped with my thoughts, despite taking advantage of the heter (permission) to allow depressed people to listen to music in the omer.  I don’t know why I experience this agitation sometimes, what triggers it or ends it, nor do I understand the anger and grandiosity that can accompany it.  I don’t know where it comes from or why or how to calm down without just waiting until I’m burnt out and exhausted, not to mention still depressed, just too tired to think.  I’ve been told it isn’t mania, as I once thought.  It seems to be associated with loneliness and comes particularly on days when I am alone.  It started while my parents were out today and continued while I was out shopping, but when I got home and saw my parents it subsided (maybe I do need to get married ASAP).  The immediate triggers are usually seeing political stuff online or in the newspapers, particularly stuff about antisemitism or other political events that trouble me.  But I’m not sure if they are really the triggers; it feels like they are just the proximate causes and there’s a deeper psychological cause somewhere that I haven’t identified.

Sometimes, particularly when I’m very agitated, I feel, on some level, that I want to die for everyone’s sins, although that’s not a very Jewish thing to say (in theory we don’t believe in vicarious punishment.  It does appear in some sources, but we downplay it).  When I was at university I had a couple of borderline-psychotic episodes for for a second or two I was convinced that I was Mashiach (the Messiah).

I just want my suffering to be meaningful beyond myself.  It’s hard just thinking that, at best, I might be atoning for some of my sins and saving myself from different suffering in Gehennom (Purgatory).  It’s much better for my ego and sense of purpose to feel that every day I suffer somehow pushes the world towards redemption, that every tear I shed spares a child from a terrorist’s rocket.  It’s hard to find real meaning in my suffering, so it’s easy to slip into fantasy.  I suppose that’s why I want to write a book about my experiences, to try to rescue them (the experiences, I mean), to let other people find meaning in them.  There is very little written about mental health from a frum Jewish perspective and, as far as I can tell, virtually nothing at all about high functioning autism.

***

In the end I did manage to do a few useful things today: I went shopping/walking for an hour, did ten minutes of Torah study (all I could face, really) and spent an hour and a half redrafting another chapter of my Doctor Who book as well as watching and taking notes The Ghost Monument episode for the chapter I still have to write.  I also cooked a packet of couscous.  I feel I should have done more, though.  I wanted to do ‘real’ cooking, not convenience food and I feel frustrated that I can spend an hour and a half or more on my book (not to mention blogging) and only ten minutes on Torah study, but the latter is draining while the former is restoring.  Still, it feels like a wasted day.  I can sort of see that maybe (maybe!) it shouldn’t feel like a wasted day and maybe I shouldn’t be beating myself up for not doing enough Torah study, especially as at one point I didn’t think I would manage any, but it’s hard to think like that.

The Diogenes Club Shtiebel

I spent Shabbat (the Sabbath) struggling with social anxiety and autism.  It was the last official Shabbat in the community for both the rabbi and the assistant rabbi and their wives and there was to be a celebratory seudah shlishit (third Shabbat meal) in their honour.  On Friday night, after Lecha Dodi, people started circle-dancing.  I dislike this at the best of times.  Autistically, I dislike the enforced close proximity and having to hold hands with two strangers (or at least people I don’t know well).  Social anxiously, I feel self-conscious, that everyone is looking at me and judging me.  Depressively, I can rarely enter into the spirit of things and really enjoy it.  Plus, our shul (synagogue) isn’t always big enough for all the people, so the circle can be rather tight and uncomfortable.  Sometimes I force myself to join in with this, but after a tiring job interview on Friday and perhaps being somewhat disorientated by the layout of the shul being different to usual and, as a result, my not being able to sit with my friends, I just couldn’t face it, so I stood outside the circle with the mourners, feeling self-conscious.

In the morning I woke up on time to go to shul, which you may recall I’ve been trying to do for some weeks now, but then I remembered the previous night and couldn’t face the large numbers of people who would be there this week.  I went back to bed, which was a mistake, as I could have gone to a different shul or even stayed awake and davened (prayed) at home, but I was obviously too tired to think straight.  I did at least avoid napping after lunch by forcing myself to go for a walk.

The real test was in the afternoon.  Talmud shiur (class) passed fine, but then, because the school hall wish usually serves as the shul was being used for the seudah, we davened in a classroom, about eighty men squeezed into a room intended for thirty children.  I felt terrible.  I was just overwhelmed by the proximity to other people.  I managed to stay for the whole of Mincha (the Afternoon Service), although I didn’t really have a choice, as it would have been hard to push past dozens of people to get out.

I washed and went through to the seudah.  I tried to sit with my friends, but I wasn’t able to do so.  I made motzei and ate a bit, but I was feeling very uncomfortable.  There were probably around 120 people, including some young children, all making a lot of noise and crammed close together.  I wasn’t with anyone I knew and no one was talking to me and I did not feel confident to talk to anyone else.  To be honest, this is what usually happens at seudah: I just eat and sit silently and wait for the shiur to start, but I assumed there wouldn’t be a proper shiur here, just a few speeches.  I felt like I couldn’t cope and that I was being overwhelmed, so I decided to quietly bentsch to myself (which I know I shouldn’t do when there is a zimun, but I considered it a health matter) and go.  I went home and read and then went to my father’s shul for Ma’ariv (the Evening Service) even though I think they daven too fast and with too much talking because I couldn’t face the crowded classroom a second time.

Since I was screened for autism and found out that I am probably on the spectrum, I am more confident about avoiding social events if I feel they aren’t right for me.  I know I’m better off coming home when I feel OK than going and feeling terrible.  When I was a child, my parents told me to go to social events and to talk to people I didn’t know, on the grounds that eventually my shyness would go away and it would become easier to cope.  I now know that my brain is wired differently to most people and it will always be like that, however hard I try to make things different.  I feel less inclined to “force myself” to go to social things now.

Still, I wonder how to build a social life for myself.  I feel like I’m some kind of social diabetic.  If I socialise too much – and “too much” is really very little – I get overwhelmed and can’t cope.  But if I don’t socialise at all, I feel lonely and unloved.  It’s hard to find the right level.  Moreover, how can I meet friends, have a sense of community or find a wife (in a community where people are usually set up on dates by mutual friends or family) if I can’t bear to go to social events at shul?  I’ve been going to my shul for several years now and I still only have two or three friends and no one I can really open up to.  Certainly no one in my shul has ever tried to set me up on a date.

Even though I left feeling more positive than on some previous occasions when I have forced myself to attend events where I felt socially anxious and autistically overwhelmed, I was left with a vague sense of resentment and unfairness, a mixture of envy and hatred for all the frum men I saw in my community today who manage to do what I can’t do and socialise happily, with their laughter and their whisky and their sports conversations, not to mention their attractive wives and cute children, all the things I don’t have.  It’s bad of me to feel this mixture of envy and hatred with a dash of lust (for married women at that), but I do.  I beat myself up for it, but it doesn’t go away.  The loneliness it triggered has also led on to “crush” thoughts about someone (not from my shul, but who I’m very unlikely to meet again any time soon), despite my telling myself, and my shadchan (matchmaker) that I don’t want to date until I’ve sorted out my work situation.

A curious side-light on this: there is someone at my shul who irritates me.  I try not to be irritated, because it’s pointless and because it’s sinful, but it’s unavoidable sometimes.  This person always has to answer the questions in shiur and he talks over other people, even the assistant rabbi.  He doesn’t really seem to take much notice of other people’s conversation, but just focuses on what he wants to say.  I never thought much of it, but today he started a huge argument with the people setting up the seudah, saying that he couldn’t sit near a particular food because he can’t stand the smell and that they shouldn’t put it on the table near him.  He got incredibly, shockingly angry about it until someone calmed him down.  I found myself wondering if he was autistic himself (possibly undiagnosed).  It would explain his lack of awareness of social cues and the ‘taking turns’ aspect of conversation, as well as sensory issues (the smell of the food) and emotional management issues around them (getting angry might even have been a meltdown, although this was before the seudah started, so he couldn’t really have been overstimulated).  I thought this would help me to empathise with him, but I just got more annoyed with him.  I feel that I want to say, “You just walk blithely through life not noticing all the people around you who you’re snubbing, you expect people at the seudah to fit in with your needs and your wishes and you don’t care what happens.  You don’t even seem to realise that you are inconveniencing people.  You go to the shiur and enjoy it and enjoy showing off your knowledge, you go to seudah and enjoy it.  I go through life terrified I’m going to upset somebody, I rarely speak for fear of saying the wrong thing (upsetting someone or appearing stupid), I can’t cope with the seudah and have to leave early, yet I’m the one who can’t cope with the deep, powerful, terrifying emotions aroused inside me all the time, I’m the one who represses himself to avoid getting angry with people and takes it out by acting out on himself in different ways (thankfully I don’t self-harm often, but it has happened, and I beat myself up emotionally a lot and lapse into behaviours I’m not proud of like eating junk).”  I suppose it just seemed unfair, but then I don’t believe that life is fair, so I shouldn’t be surprised or complain, but it does upset me, the way I just can’t cope, but other people who may have similar issues somehow do cope, while most people don’t face these problems at all.

***

Despite all this stress, I did spend some time in hitbodedut prayer/meditation thinking about how my life is going.  I still don’t know what I could or should be doing with my life or my career, but I do feel that the law library job would not be right for me.  I just don’t think I could cope in that high-pressure, money-focused environment.  How I explain that to other people if I get offered the job is another question.

I do feel that I need to spend some (more) serious time working on my writing.  Rabbi Lord Sacks, Emeritus British Chief Rabbi says that “Where what we want to do meets what needs to be done, that is where God wants us to be.”  I only have a vague sense of what I want to do and what needs to be done (being a socially anxious autistic person means at times I have only a vague sense of other people’s needs), but at the moment I feel it’s pushing me towards writing.

I do feel that I am making progress in my life, albeit with glacial slowness.  I feel I understand myself a bit better than I did even a year ago: what I can do, what I could do, what I should do.  But it is hard; I’m crawling on my hands and knees in the dark, feeling my way forwards an inch at a time.

Existential Angst

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

Be Careful What You Wish For

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Tired of Life, But Afraid of Trying

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

High Anxiety

I had a job interview today at a Very Important Organisation.  The Very Important Organisation is so important that just going there for an interview is worth talking about, but also so important that it’s pretty much impossible to talk about it without giving away what it is, so I’m going to be silent here.  Suffice to say I nearly couldn’t find it, but got there on time in the end.  I thought I did OK in the interview because I only had a little autistic mental freeze, but the interview lasted about twenty-five minutes and at the start they said it would be forty-five minutes to an hour, maybe more, so I either aced it or did so badly they just wanted me out of there.

I started feeling anxious on the way home about whether I could actually do the job.  I became anxious about having to do cataloguing, even though it wasn’t on the job spec or the overview they gave me at the interview, because one of the interviewers said something about seeing it on my CV.  I’ve become paranoid about my cataloguing skills, feeling that I’m so rusty that maybe I should not say I can do it any more, but then what would I put on my CV?  I also asked if the job could be done as as job share, which did not go down well, so if I get it, I would probably have to do it full-time and I’m not sure I’m ready for that.

Later this afternoon I got a call from an agency offering me an interview and test (gulp) at a law firm (as a law librarian) this Friday.  I’ve never really seen myself as a law librarian, but I will go along and see what happens.  There is a test, details unknown, which terrifies me after messing up (or more accurately, being unable to complete) the last cataloguing test I did.  I worry that my skills are so rusty as to be useless.  It feels sometimes like interviews and tests exist just to further lower my self-esteem.

***

I broke up with L., if “broke up” is the right term when we’d only been on two dates.  I just didn’t think there was enough chemistry.

“Chemistry” seems such a stupid, intangible thing to break up over.  I can see that L. is kind and gentle and that maybe the fact we had both been through a lot of difficult times could help the relationship.  Moreover, in the past, I used to get annoyed when people broke up with me for a lack of chemistry.  In fact, I used to think I would date someone with no chemistry and see if it would develop, but now I realise just how important it is, even if it is undefinable.  I could see it was just never going to develop on its own, no matter how hard I tried to force it.  I feel sorry for L., as she is a nice person who has had a hard life, but marrying someone out of pity is not a good idea and she deserves better than that.

The scary thing is that for a week or so I convinced myself that the chemistry was there.  At the end of our first date, I was sure that L. was about to say she didn’t want to see me again and I was fine with that as I didn’t really feel anything, but to my surprise, she wanted to meet again and so I said yes to give it a chance.  Then for a week or so afterwards, in my mind I thought we were perfect for each other and were bound to get married eventually, but as soon as I turned up for our second date and met her in the flesh again that certainty evaporated immediately and I realised it was just fantasy.  I was projecting what I wanted out of the relationship onto her, not relating to her as a real person.

Breaking up does feel like the right decision, upsetting though it is to have to say that to someone (I’d never really broken up with anyone before, except one instance which was a semi-mutual thing; usually they break up with me).  I’ve also asked the dating service I met L. through not to set me up with anyone else for now, as I want to concentrate on my job hunt.  I think I have enough uncertainty and stress with that and my wait for an autism assessment without adding any more stress in.  My parents and (I think) my rabbi mentor seem to think I could be dating, but I just don’t think I can handle it right now, despite my loneliness.  Plus, being unemployed doesn’t make me terribly attractive.

***

Still, I think I have learnt a bit from the experience.  From my dating experience over the last couple of years, I feel that I’m looking for someone kind and intelligent, but who probably is already quite frum (religious).  I’ve dated non-frum women who said they would become frum for me, but I worry that that would make Judaism into a barrier, plus I want someone who is interested in active spiritual growth with me, not just doing something as a chore to make me happy.  I realise I’ve probably priced myself out of the market here, as someone frum might want a partner who went to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) or who goes to shul (synagogue) or studies Talmud more often than I do.  Plus I also need someone who can accept my mental health situation and my financial situation, which is not going to be easy.  They also need to accept my geekery, which can be hard in general society, let alone frum society.

Put like that I wonder a bit if I made the right decision with L., but I think I did, although I may be single for a long time yet.  The relationship didn’t have any of the joy or excitement I associate with starting other relationships, which is not a promising start.

***

It’s hard to prise my feelings apart sometimes.  My Mum said yesterday that she thinks my depression is a lot better and when I say I’m depressed now I often mean I’m anxious.  There could be something in that.  I certainly seem more anxious than I was in the past.  Thinking about work/career, dating, marrying and having children or just the future in general does make me feel anxious at the moment because it all seems scarily open, but time is ticking on, as I said yesterday.

Sleepy Shabbos and Community

It’s late (Shabbat goes out too late in the summer in this country), but I need to off-load some stuff that happened over Shabbat (the Sabbath).

I’m really struggling with my sleep at the moment.  I know I’ve written before about my curious obsession with my sleep pattern and my tendency to write too much about it, but messed up sleep has always been my most persistent depression symptom, and one of the most difficult to deal with.  I wanted very much today to get to shul (synagogue) particularly as there was a kiddush (refreshments afterwards) for the rabbi and rebbetzin, who are leaving soon.  Shul starts at 8.45am, but I knew I wouldn’t make it for then.  I just wanted to get there by 10ish.  I even asked my Dad to open my blinds at 8.30am in the hope that that would wake me up.  It did bring me out of my deep sleep, but I spent the rest of the morning in a not-very-deep sleep, at times almost waking up and being conscious enough to feel I should get up, but not actually waking up enough to do so.  I slept through my alarms as usual.  It was very frustrating.  I eventually got up about midday, much too late for shul.  Once I’d eaten, I felt somewhat better, as is usually the case.  It’s just getting up in the first place that’s the problem.

The silly thing is that I can get up for work or job interviews or health appointments, just not for shul or to start my day at a reasonable time.  I don’t know why this is the case.

And then I did it again after lunch!  I wanted to stay awake and read, but I felt drowsy, probably from overeating and being in a warm room and I slept for two more hours!  I have no idea how I will sleep tonight.

***

At seudah shlishit (the third Shabbat meal, between the afternoon and evening services) the rabbi was doing a Q&A because he is leaving soon.  I’m not sure if this was his intention, but people mostly asked him about his achievements and regrets in the eighteen years he was our rov (rabbi).  He spoke a lot about trying to get people involved with the shul, turning up to weekday services and so on, which made me feel bad for not doing that.  Before we moved to our current area nearly four years ago, I was present almost every day at Mincha and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Services) and was trying to go to Shacharit (Morning Service) more often, sleep problems notwithstanding.  But when we moved, social anxiety and depression undid a lot of the good work I had done over the years in getting to that point of regular attendance and I’m still struggling to get back to that level.  I go to my father’s shul midweek sometimes, but not usually to mine.  I’ve told myself I will try to get to one weekday service a week at my shul for a bit and see what that does.  I’m hoping it will have some kind of unconscious effect on my Shabbat attendance too, but that may be wishful thinking.

The rabbi also spoke about the need to cultivate a relationship with your community rabbi and asking him shaylas/sha’alot (religious questions, usually practical questions on relevant points of Jewish law) and about the need to have friends in your community.  He presented an idyllic picture of a community united by common values and helping each other with personal/spiritual growth.  I would really like to be part of such a community, but I struggle with these things.  I tend to take my sha’alot to my rabbi mentor even though he lives abroad, largely because he knows me very well now (he’s known me for about seventeen years) and he has had some training with mental health issues (many of my questions are mental health-related, on some level).  He is also sensitive with questions about dealing with family members who are less religious and when one can be lenient for shalom bayit (peace at home – again, many of my questions fall in this category).   For those reasons it probably is best for me to keep taking my sha’alot to my rabbi mentor, but it does put me in an odd situation, not quite fully in the community.  It doesn’t help that I have many friends outside the community, and indeed a number of my friends are not Jewish or not frum (religious), which is not typical for Orthodox Jews.

But above and beyond this, there is an issue about my fitting in that has made it hard to open up to people in the way that the rabbi was suggesting, either to a rabbi or to friends.  I know my shul isn’t a perfect fit regarding hashkafa (religious philosophy, which relates to a lot of things, but broadly attitudes towards those things known as modernity and postmodernity).  I like that my shul takes davening (prayer) and Torah study very seriously, but I know I’m more ‘modern’ than many of the community, in terms of things like attitudes to science, to broader Western culture and popular culture, to non-Jews and so on.  But I’m not sure that there are really many shuls in the country that are a good fit for me; United Synagogue shuls (like my old shul and like my parents’ shul) are more modern in outlook, but tend to have a mostly less religious community.  My parents’ shul has a larger than average cohort of committed, frum Jews, but it was far too large and unfriendly for me.

The rabbi’s words did make me worry again about whether I’m in the right place with the right rabbi and the right community/friends.  I think I’m probably in the right place at this precise moment in the sense that there is realistically no better fitting community for me at the moment.  Where I am in five years time, particularly if I get married (it could happen)… well, I suppose that’s another thing to consider as and when.

***

As an aside, there’s a quite famous anthropology/history book about the shtetl (the small Jewish townships of pre-Holocaust Eastern Europe) called Life is with People*.  I think the title sums up how focused Jewish life is on family and community, and how difficult it is if you have issues like autism and social anxiety that inhibit socialisation.

* It’s quite a good book, but apparently methodologically problematic as one of the academics who worked on it faked his academic credentials and seems to have been a KGB spy who probably assassinated Trotsky’s son.  At any rate, he was obsessed with issues of class and status and, as was pointed out in The Jewish Review of Books, spends some time in the book describing in detail who gets to sit in the best seats in shul.

***

When I dozed this afternoon I had a weird dream.  Aside from totally surreal or random elements (carrying a large dining room table up and down escalators in a department store; a box of weird Doctor Who toys based on the Dapol range), the main thing that stuck with me was talking my parents and possibly someone else (I think a former boss (one I got on with), but here she was some sort of teacher or even governess) about some subjects I was studying (A-level? BA?).  There were two subjects and I was sure I was going to fail both of them, but my parents disagreed.  When I woke up, I thought perhaps my mind was expressing anxiety over the career I’m trying to grow (librarianship) and the career I’m trying to build from scratch (writing), both of which I fear I’m going to fail at, but that the fact that my parents didn’t agree that I was going to fail perhaps indicated a deeper belief in myself.

Or it could just be a silly dream.

(Plus, in real life they really would insist that I won’t fail anyway.)